Wednesday, December 30, 2009

WEDNESDAY'S SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE...

I don't even know what to say about this...





Nevermind that, I have a few things. It is official, nothing from my childhood is sacred anymore. A remake of The Karate Kid? One of the best sports movies of all time, a Rocky tale for the 80s youth, a coming of age story for everyone, a staple of American resilliency? There is absolutely no reason for this idiocracy to continue. What's next? The Goonies? The Neverending Story? Yeah you might be saying "no way" but good god why not?

These Hollywood hammerheads have no soul. And I know the reason for casting Jayden Smith, Will and Jada's little kid, in the lead role. See, everybody loves the big smiles of the Smith family, nobody could be mean to cute little Jayden. I mean, his afro in The Pursuit of Happyness was just so cute. And he's Will Smith's kid. Will Smith!

No excuse.

And let's see, we need an Asian actor, one who speaks fluent English and is old. I know... Jackie Chan! He's all old and stuff and he is funny. Look how funny he was using that flyswatter to kill the fly instead of the chopsticks. Nevermind that the very notion of doing this takes away from the point of the scene in the original when young Daniel snags a fly on his first try with the sticks. We want funny, and what's funnier than the flyswatter bit? Plenty. And isn't everyone tired of Jackie Chan's bit now? I was after Rush Hour 2, before he completed Brett "Hack"ner's toilet trilogy of run-into-the-ground racist humor buddy-cop shitstorm. I don't even know if that last sentence made sense, but nothing about this movie does.

Everyone says Hollywood is running out of ideas. They aren't. People all over the place have great ideas, and I can almost guarantee there are screenplays of original, thoughtful storys and ideas sitting on shelves all over So Cal, being pushed aside so unoriginal bastards can puke out toy franchise blockbusters and remakes of sacred childhood films because they assume America, as a whole, is a collection of soulless lemmings who don't want to have to, you know, think and stuff. They want to watch Jayden Smith dress like a shower and go see his girl at a Halloween party because they recognize it from the original. It doesn't have to take up any extra room in their small brains, it only has to latch on to an existing image.

And I am sure there will be plenty of funny racial jokes in this reboot. Nevermind the original had nothing but respect for the Asian culture and the connection of two drastically different worlds. I can almost see Jayden and Jackie misunderstanding each other and using it for comedy because Jackie Chan "sounds funny." And boy oh boy do I hope that cool rap song in the trailer, you know the one from the TNT NBA Basketball commercials, is in the training montage.

Like I said... I don't know what to say...

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Nine


CINEMA ITALIANO

Nine: Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Kate Hudson, Judi Dench, Nicole Kidman, Fergie (110 min.)

So what if Rob Marshall’s film version of the musical Chicago was the winner of Best Picture on the lowest rated Academy Awards show of all time? It still won Best Picture, and it still allowed Marshall Carte Blanche in Hollywood forever after. With his newest musical adaptation, Nine, Marshall tries to recapture the flair, the energy, and the panache of Chicago with a big budget sing along, complete with a big budget cast. I’m not sure if it’s the source material or the direction of Marshall, or the casting decisions, but that flair, that panache, is decidedly missing for a large portion of the film. Thank goodness Fergie, of all people, saves the day momentarily.

The film focuses on Guido Contini, played by the great Daniel Day-Lewis. Guido (the fans of Jersey Shore are all giggling in their head right now) is a prominent Italian film director modeled, inadvertently or not, after the transcendent Federico Fellini, as the film and Broadway musical is a spin off of sorts of Fellini’s 8 ½. However, as his newest film, Italia, is announced, Guido is in dire straits, struggling to find an idea or inspiration or his general direction in life. He is a man overwhelmed by celebrity, and overwhelmed by the women in his past, present, and future. These are the women who tell the story alongside Guido, some with more impact than others.

There is Guido’s wife, Luisa, played with gentle anger by Marion Cotillard who is one of Hollywood’s finest new talents. Luisa has two musical numbers, the first being a mopey ode to her husband, the second being a much more liberating, fiery number. Then, there is Guido’s mistress, Carla, played seductively and with an expected air of desperation by the lovely Penelope Cruz, who is given several scenes with Guido but only one musical number to flex her singing ability. Criminal.

These two women more directly affect Guido’s daily life, but there are other equally as important women in Guido’s disheveled little world. One is his muse as a director, Claudia, a starlet who is seen only briefly near the end of the picture. Nicole Kidman plays Claudia and she is, well, she is fine I suppose. I don’t really have an opinion of her work here. Yet another woman in Guido’s life is his mother, played gracefully, yet sparingly as a ghost in Guido’s mind, by Sophia Loren. Back in the world of his cinema, Guido’s is advised by Lilli, played by Dame Judi Dench. Her musical number, another slow tune, is nothing more than average.

The two remaining women who orbit the world of Guido Contini have the best moments in the film. There is an American reporter, Kate Hudson, who is infatuated with Guido’s celebrity and her number, Cinema Italiano, is a high-energy number that is a joy to watch. And there is the prostitute, Guido’s first sexual encounter of any sort as a young boy. Fergie, who had to gain twenty pounds to play a voluptuous minx, plays the prostitute and has the most enticing, well-played musical number, Be Italian. Her number arrives somewhere near the middle of the film and really wakes things up. Up until Fergie is able to sing, the film really plods along in a drab storyline where the characters are not too terribly interesting.

Daniel Day-Lewis, one of the finest actors of all time, seems out of place in Nine. Which makes sense given the fact that his part was originally intended for Javier Bardem who had to back out due to exhaustion. DDL appears uncomfortable in the role, even more so than his Guido character is supposed to be for the story. And his Italian accent feels forced and choppy. It isn’t that he is bad, per se; it’s just that the musical world doesn’t fit his method acting genius.

Nine, for all of its flaws - the uneven pacing of the story, the flat musical numbers - has moments of brilliance, mostly in the performances of Hudson and Fergie, and the second half of Cotillard’s where she becomes a liberated woman not afraid to butt heads with the great Guido. And the cinematography shows off Italy in a few great shots. But all in all, Nine just really made me want to go home and watch Chicago again.

C+

Monday, December 28, 2009

TRAILER BULLETIN: Inception

In between directing Batman flicks, Christopher Nolan manages to fit in some films that are brilliant in their own right. For example, a few years ago in between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, Nolan directed The Prestige, the better of the two turn-of-the-century magician pictures in 2006 (the drab, lifeless The Illusionist being the other). This time around, Nolan directs Leonardo Dicaprio in Inception, a mind-bending thriller set, in part, inside the human mind. The teaser several months back was quite intriguing, and this newest trailer only adds to my growing curiosity... Can't wait for this one already...

Up in the Air


GROUNDED IN THE NOW

Up in the Air: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick (109 min.)

Jason Reitman, the new king of the dramedy, has made the signature picture for our times. Up in the Air is an existential dissection of society at this very moment, of who we are and what makes us tick. It is also an indictment of our current economic malaise more so than any other film before it. It’s also quite an entertaining character study. Up in the Air, as you can see, is a lot of things, and all of these things combine to make it one of the best movies of the year.

Ryan Bingham – played by a comfortable, subtly keen George Clooney – is an ax-man for hire, a guy who will come to your business and fire your employees if you are too chicken shit to do it. And Bingham is one of the best at his job, a job that requires him to fly our friendly skies an average of 277 days a year. Bingham loves being in the air; he loves collecting travel miles and gaining elite status, and he wants it no other way. He is surrounded by people, yet isolated from everyone, just the way he likes it. He even, in his time away from firing people, hosts speaking engagements where he tells people they should “empty out the backpack of their lives” and roam free without anything tying them down. These seminars serve to show how society as a whole is becoming detached from one another, one of the underlying themes of the entire film.
One evening in the Dallas airport, in the Gold Member Club or some such place, Ryan meets Alex, a frequent flyer herself who is quite aroused by Bingham’s godlike elite status among the ranks of the traveling business class. Vera Farmiga plays Alex with a sense of purpose and a quick wit that matches Clooney’s Bingham step for step. Farmiga is Clooney’s strongest leading lady to date. Ryan and Alex coordinate their travel schedules so that they might meet up along the road in various hotels and, well, enjoy each other’s company without having to form any sort of a relationship.

Meanwhile, back at work, things are not going Ryan’s way, as his company has hired a young hot shot, Natalie (Anna Kendrick of Twilight fame), who plans on grounding the workforce and laying people off via teleconference. This notion, that he may have to settle in one place and begin building some form of a normal life, upsets Ryan greatly. Through the suggestion of his boss (Jason Bateman), Ryan takes Natalie on the road to show her the ropes and show her what it’s like to fire someone face to face. While on the road, as you can imagine, the two opposites learn things from each other, and as Ryan rendezvous with Alex he begins to think perhaps he needs more of a connection in this world. This all comes to a head in a collection of touching scenes at Ryan’s sister’s wedding.

Up in the Air is not as conventional as you may think, as things to not follow a formula to an expected conclusion. This is merely a footnote to the long list of what makes the picture important, amusing, and quite brilliant in its own subtle way. The performances here, as you could expect, are all top notch. As I mentioned, Clooney and Farmiga share the screen admirably and their chemistry is undeniable. And Kendrick, who at one point becomes a sort of daughter in a strange traveling family dynamic between the three leads, is solid. And then there are those people that are being laid off.

Mostly done in montage form, the actual duty of firing people carries much of the weight of the film, a film that otherwise focuses on these three main characters. There are a few extended firing scenes done, and for good reason, the most poignant being the one with J.K. Simmons that showcases Bingham’s humanity in these situations. These scenes are tense, uncomfortable, and a wake up call to the audience. In the current economic climate, the booming business of laying people off oozes of irony and is played as such here. Bingham disagrees wholeheartedly with the notion of firing people over a computer, and for good reasons he shows in these firing scenes.
Up in the Air is an important movie, but not one that plays arrogantly, as if it knows its importance and is dead set on showing you. Reitman, one of the best new directing talents around, allows these actors to embody their roles and play off one another with great realism. Clooney has never been better, showing his trademark slickness and charm in Ryan, but also giving the audience a glimpse of his vulnerability and heart. This is the film for our time as a society, much the way Network was in 1976, or Wall Street was in 1988, and Reitman and co-writer Sheldon Turner (working from a novel by Walter Kirn) may have their hand on the pulse of the country more than anyone else in Hollywood.

A

Monday, December 21, 2009

MONDAY OSCAR PREDICTIONS: Best Actress

The Best Actress category this year is, as usual, top-heavy with favorites and needing to stretch to fill out the five spots. Whatever the reason may be, over recent years, there have not been particularly strong leading roles for women. Of course, this year there is one crowd-pleasing performance that is gathering more and more steam, so much so that the Best Actress statue may be a foregone conclusion before March 7 even gets close.

Sandra Bullock’s performance as Leigh Anne Tuohy, the headstrong suburban mother who takes a homeless black kid from the projects under her wing and guides him all the way to the NFL in The Blind Side, is the crowd pleaser to end all crowd pleasers. And Bullock is shouldering most of the praise for a film that, for all its flaws, should get her her first nomination. It should also, I can almost say without a doubt at this point in time, get her the win. While it’s not a show stopping performance by any means, I say good for Bullock either way.

As for the rest of the category, expect Carey Mulligan, the young impressionable girl in An Education, to keep the film rolling in the acting categories. And perhaps the biggest challenge to Bullock thus far is Gabourey Sidibe, the young lady at the center of the heavy-handed Precious. As a lonely young girl struggling to overcome her lot in life, Sidibe is a shoe in for a nomination, and that may be where the Academy stops, although there is a bit of irony in the idea that Bullock could be taken down by an actress playing a kid from the projects.

And then there is Meryl Streep, probably in line for another nod with her role as Julia Childs in Julie & Julia, a film that was met with lukewarm praise and meager box office numbers. But it’s Meryl Streep, so I’m sure she will get the nomination regardless of whether or not she deserves it.

Aside from these three locks, and the possibility of Streep nailing down another undeserving nod, the last two spots are decidedly up for grabs by a collection of actresses in films I have never seen or heard one thing about, so I wont pretend to. Those include Abbie Cornish in a film called Bright Star and Emily Blunt in The Young Victoria. One of these two may get the nod, but there is also the outside chance that Natalie Portman will get noticed for her role as a grieving mother and wife in Brothers, or Samantha Morton as the same type of character with a different angle in The Messengers

PREDICTIONS:

Sandra Bullock – The Blind Side
Gabourey Sidibe – Precious
Carey Mulligan – An Education
Meryl Streep – Julie & Julia
Abbie Cornish – Bright Star

OTHER POSSIBILITIES:

Natalie Portman – Brothers
Emily Blunt – The Young Victoria

LONG SHOTS:

Charlize Theron – The Road
Samantha Morton – The Messengers

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Avatar


The King of Pandora

Avatar: Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldana (160 min.)

It has been 12 years since James Cameron, the self-proclaimed King of the World, took home 11 Oscars for Titanic, the highest grossing film in history. And it’s been at least that long since Avatar, his latest picture, has been floating around in his head. But he needed the technology of the film industry, the camera and effects technology for example, to catch up to the 3D vision he wanted on the big screen. After seeing Avatar, I can easily say that I am glad he waited on the technology to catch up to his big melon, with my only complaint that he would have spent some of those twelve waiting years working on a stronger script.

It is roughly 140 years in the future, and the earth - through a few vague references - is dying, and in desperate need of a mineral on an alien planet in order to sustain life. That mineral, the cutely named Unobtanium, is rich within the thread of Pandora, a moon planet occupied by a wide spectrum of wild creatures and natives. Not much is explained as far as the who or why, but Americans (apparently te only nation here) are occupying Pandora trying to obtain land to farm the mineral to sustain life back on earth. There is the military occupancy, scientific occupancy, and, of course, the money men. All of these factions of American government are imposing their will on Pandora, planning on moving out the Na’vi, the blue-skinned, yellow-eyed, ten-foot tall natives of the planet. The Na’vi represent the Native Americans in this tale, and are clearly modeled as such with their techniques and weaponry.

The military faction of this occupancy is headed by Colonel Miles Quaritch, a rough and tumble Marine to the core played with teeming villainy by Stephen Lang. Quaritch is hardnosed and unforgiving, complete with a mysteriously graphic scar from some unnamed beast along the side of his head. The scientific occupancy is represented by Dr. Grace Augustine, a tough scientist sympathetic to the plight of the Na’vi. Sigourney Weaver plays Augustine. It's nice to see Weavr back in a flick. And the money men here are personified by a decidedly one note Giovanni Ribisi.

The scientific occupancy have been, for some time as the story opens, embodying avatars, Na’vi grown with human DNA in order for humans to infiltrate the native tribes and try and understand their world. As the film opens, one of the scientists has been killed. Luckily, however, that scientist’s twin brother, Jake Sully, is a paraplegic Marine whose DNA match to his brother is perfect for him to take over the avatar and gather reconnaissance for the Marines.

Sam Worthington plays Sully, a Marine who, at first, is more than willing to deliver Intel to Quaritch and his military faction. However, once he becomes entangled with the Na’vi life, his mindset begins to change. The Na’vi, some ten foot tall, are in tune with the world of Pandora, but perhaps not as much as Cameron himself is in tune. The rest of the screenplay follows, willingly, the template set forth by films like A Man Called Horse, Dances with Wolves, and The Last Samurai, as Jake begins to learn the ways of the Na’vi, and even falls for Neytiri, one of the natives, played by Zoe Saldana of Star Trek. While the screenplay has these familiar traits, Cameron also employs modern comparisons to our situation in the Middle East (shock and awe), as well as the environmental problems of our planet these days. Cameron also utilizes some interesting ideas regarding the unity the Na'vi share with the world of Pandora, the creatures and the land itself, and you feel yourself, regardless of how formulaic the story may be, drawn into this world and these situations.

While the story itself follows the Dances with Wolves framework, Cameron transports the audience into Pandora with a conviction so unabashed, so detailed, so completely involving, that I feel as if Cameron could draw out a complete map of Pandora from his memory. There are majestic floating mountains, a variety of fascinating, aggressive creatures, and the glowing nighttime world of Pandora’s foliage, all of which are enhanced to a degree of breathtaking detail by the 3D technology. As Sully and Neytiri feed from one another, dancing through the tall trees and deep valleys of Pandora, one cannot help but be entirely overwhelmed by the depth, the scope, the utter beauty and hue of this world Cameron has worked so tirelessly to create. My breath was decidedly taken away at every thrilling turn.

Not only are there subtly beautiful moments to embellish in the 3D world of Avatar, but the action sequences are nothing short of jaw dropping. The action understandably amps up to eleven once Quaritch and his military realize that Sully may be siding with the natives’ way of life, and the attacks from the American forces become more intense, leading into the final showdown between human and Na'vi. While the final hour of Cameron’s picture becomes a wash of unrelenting action sequences, the payoff comes in the form of the unforgettable 3D technology.

Which creates a bit of a conundrum. As a pure film, Avatar is entertaining and detailed, but without the 3D aspect added to the story, I cannot imagine enjoying it half as much as I did . Seeing Avatar in this new, enhanced, cutting-edge 3D technology must be, if anything, comparable in feeling to what audiences must have felt back in 1939, when Dorothy opened that door to Oz. But beyond that revelation, is Avatar anything to remember? I am not really too sure. The detail, the care, and the emotion that Cameron put into Avatar are all visible in every scene, but I feel like he could have benefited from someone else writing the screenplay for him. Then, perhaps, his vision would be truly perfect.

3D version: A- 2D Version: B

Thursday, December 17, 2009

THURSDAY THROWDOWN: James Cameron vs. Michael Bay

We all know how this will end for Michael Bay, but it’s about the journey not the end. James Cameron is everything Michael Bay wishes he was, but then again he might not even give a damn since his shit movies rake in billions of dollars worldwide. But there is something to be said about quality, about skill and natural talent as a filmmaker, only a few of the more general aspects that make James Cameron the antithesis of Michael Bay. Aside from the sweeping generalizations, however, there are certain films, techniques, and skill sets between the two directors that, when compared, define the careers of these two blockbuster auteurs (well… one auteur, one hack).

First and foremost, James Cameron is a massive nerd. Ever since he was a teen, bearing the brunt of jock abuse in school, Cameron was fascinated with science, more importantly with the depths of the ocean and the expanse of the sky. He worked his way through various film crews and assistant director jobs before he got his first shot at directing. That first film was the critically acclaimed, groundbreaking, epic… Piranha 2: The Spawning. Regardless how big a pile of crap P2 was, it got Cameron in the door, and enough funding to begin changing the landscape of action and science fiction in Hollywood with films like The Terminator and Aliens.

Cameron would spend the next thirteen years churning out big budget, high concept action films like The Abyss, True Lies, and the game-changing Terminator 2, only to direct the biggest moneymaking film in history in 1997, Titanic. Ever since Titanic brought home a record-tying 11 Oscars that year, and Cameron proclaimed himself “king of the world,” he has been in hiding, waiting patiently for film technology to catch up with his imagination so he can finally chase down his white whale in the form of the upcoming Avatar. About the time Cameron disappeared, Michael Bay hit the scene, therein watering down the epic blockbuster for the next decade plus.

Michael Bay started his career in music videos, garnering praise in the form of MTV awards early on before directing Bad Boys in 1995. Bad Boys was a promising start for Bay, as the film was funny, fast moving, and big in scale, despite the fact that it was a bit hollow at the core. Bay’s follow up was The Rock starring Nicolas Cage and Sean Connery, another solid action flick with some decent performances and palpable tension. But then, Bay got a hold of a few blue screens and everything fell apart.

Armageddon was ridiculous from top to bottom. The Bruce Willis action-adventure was a soulless hack job complete with an assault of one-liners, hyperactive camera movements, and empty characters. Three years later, Bay tried his hand at Titanic, this time placing the love triangle in Pearl Harbor. Aside from twenty minutes of breathtaking action, Pearl Harbor was another empty shell of a movie. I couldn’t tell you one thing about it aside from the fact that the attack scenes were pretty cool to watch. After Pearl Harbor bombed (pun intended), Bay never took his foot off the gas, dumping summer shit like the annoying Bad Boys II into the multiplexes and raking in billions from the brainless masses who want to laugh at easy punch lines and see stuff blow up real good. It all came to a head this summer with the loud, long, annoying, brainless, lifeless, tasteless, Transformers 2.

One big difference between Bay and Cameron is the fact that Cameron is interested in science, so no matter how fantastical his stories may be, there is the idea that he has researched the physics and scientific possibilities of his toys. Bay doesn’t give a damn about actual science or scientific boundaries, as evidenced in Armageddon (loud explosions in space, huh…) more than any of his other films. But that difference between Bay and Cameron is merely the tip of the iceberg (another pun alert!).

The most glaring difference between the characters in Bay’s films and Cameron’s films are the women. Cameron has written strong female characters in practically every one of his pictures. Think about Ellen Ripley taking control in Aliens, or Sarah Connor chiseled out of stone, or Rose’s defiance in Titanic, or the sexual liberation of Jamie Lee Curtis in True Lies. Cameron supercharges his women rather than making them damsels in distress. Bay, on the other hand, if the women in his stories are not waiting for the men to save them, they are being objectified. They are draped across a motorcycle in Daisy Dukes, or they are leaning over a car exposing a tan midriff. The women in Bay’s films are there simply to complement the men, not to do anything really substantial in the plot. This might be the biggest, and most disturbing, difference between Bay and Cameron.

There are a whole slew of technical differences between the two directors as well. Cameron can slow his story down and stop the camera for a moment to allow a plot to develop; Bay seems petrified to keep his camera still even in scenes of little or no action. Even when characters are just having a conversation, the camera has to roll back and forth in a never-ending dolly shot, spinning around the action so his audiences don’t get too bored with all the talking and stuff. Cameron also allows the effects, however over-saturated they may be, to serve the story whereas Bay sheds the story to show some cool CGI.

These are a few reasons why I am excited and hopeful that Avatar might wash the sour taste of Transformers 2 out of my mouth, and restore the effects heavy blockbuster to some sort of prominence.

In conclusion, Cameron is a talent, Bay is a hack. Need more evidence? See below...












Monday, December 14, 2009

TUESDAY TOP 10: Most Important Films of All Time...

James Cameron’a Avatar is being billed as, among other things, a technological advance like none other and the threshold of an entirely new way of filmmaking. That has been thrown around in the past (Final Fantasy anyone?) but with James Cameron at the helm, I believe that Avatar may be that next step in the way movies of this scale are done. There have been these stepping stones in cinema since the beginning of the industry, and ten more prevalent, in my opinion, than others…

10) Birth of a Nation (1915) – This was the first true “film,” one with a storyline and a plot and action. Until D.W. Griffith released this, cinema was merely a recording of people moving and whatnot, never really with a story to go with. That being said, the plot involved villainous blacks attacking a family of white people only to be saved in the end by the Ku Klux Klan, but a story nonetheless. Griffith was never proud of what he had filmed after the fact, but his work still marks the birth of a a nation of filmmakers.

9) The Jazz Singer (1927) – Where Birth of a Nation was the first actual movie for audiences to be involved in the story, The Jazz Singer was the first film with sound. It stars Al Jolson as the son of a Jewish Cantor who truly aspires to be a famous Jazz Singer. While primarily a silent picture, the sparse moments of song and sound were revelatory at the time, and the next important step in the modernization of film, and a big technological breakthrough at the time.

8) Psycho (1960) – This Hitchcock classic can be labeled, effectively, as the birth of the slasher pic. While Hitchcock dealt primarily in thrillers, Psycho, about young Motel owner Norman Bates experiencing some major mother issues, was his biggest foray into true horror, violence, and gore. It also broke ground when it filmed young Vivien Leigh taking a shower, a somewhat taboo notion in the eyes of the censors of the time. The effectiveness of a film like this can be marked by the films that borrow from its technique and storyline, and these ideas prevalent in Psycho can be seen throughout any slasher flick from 1960 to the present.

7) Blade Runner (1982) – A certain term is tossed around with Ridley Scott’s science fiction noir, and that is post-modernism. The film, about a replicant hunter with true existential issues, is the first real mash up of different genres. There is action, science fiction, noir, and human drama all throughout Blade Runner, and the ability for the characters to look back into themselves to understand the themes and direction of the plot are all ideas that make this a post-modern story.

6) Terminator 2 (1991) – James Cameron’s sequel to 1984’s The Terminator advanced technology in more ways than any other film has done in the last two decades. More so even than Jurassic Park which opened three years later. The computer technology of the evil terminator, the T-1000, changed the way effects and the combination of the effects with live action would be forever, and for the better. Something T2 also had was a real story, a plot, and characters we care about; a few things that Michael Bay has yet to figure out.

5) Pulp Fiction (1994) – This was the film that made independent cinema cool. It also, paradoxically, made independent films mainstream. Think about it… before Pulp Fiction did independent films even register for the common filmgoer before Tarantino’s genre masterpiece? Aside from becoming the face of indie films, Pulp Fiction also dissected the linear story more than any other film had done before. And, like Psycho, it spawned a bevy of imitators that can still be spotted to this day.

4) Citizen Kane (1941) – This is the film that every person who has ever taken one college course in cinema has seen. For the masses, a question mark often forms over their heads when they hear that Citizen Kane is the most important movie ever made. Personally, I think the flatness of the plot keeps it from the top spot. However, the use of various camera angles (the canted angle for example) the use of contrast, and the fact that it was the first film to use one actor aging over decades, all gave so many ideas to other filmmakers that it cannot be denied as important. Any filmmaker worth his or her salt will point to Citizen Kane as a film from which they studied and learned.

3) The Godfather (1972) – In the thirties and forties, and even in the early fifties, epic American films were a dime a dozen. Lawrence of Arabia; Citizen Kane; Cleaopatra; just a few of the films that were big in scale and story. But they died out somewhere along the way, replaced by shorter more direct films. And then in 1972 Francis Ford Coppola created the biggest, most expansive, most important American epic film in history, a true Greek tragedy frame in the birth of American organized crime, therein reviving the idea that a story, if deserving, should be told on a grand scale.

2) The Wizard of Oz (1939) – This was the first film for the masses to incorporate color into the story. While the rest of Hollywood did not have the technology or the funding to work with color on a film of such grand a scale, MGM released The Wizard of Oz and blew American audiences away. And the story has always been retold through various genres and screenplays ever since young Dorothy befriended the three travelers along the yellow-brick road.

1) Star Wars (1977) – Jaws is often considered to be the birth of the modern blockbuster, however, it was merely the acknowledgment that big budgets can make big movies. That idea was taken to the next level when a year later, a free-thinking USC student named George Lucas created an epic science-fiction fantasy for the ages. Star Wars broke major ground in the special effects area, and also was solely responsible for creating Industrial Light and Magic (ILM). Something else Star Wars managed to do was to incorporate marketing strategies and budgets that would only build for large-scale pictures as the years followed.

MONDAY OSCAR PREDICTIONS: Best Supporting Actor

Over the last couple of years, villains have dominated the best supporting actor category. Two years ago, Javier Bardem took home the award as Anton Chigurgh in No Country for Old Men. Last year, it was the late Heath Ledger taking home the statue for his transcendent turn as the Joker in Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight. I see this villain trend continuing yet another year with yet another favorite that is head and shoulders above the competition. But more on him in a moment.

There are a bevy of actors in films that received lukewarm reception – from the critics and audiences alike – that may have a chance of getting a nomination. The two with the biggest chances of this are Stanley Tucci as the tortured pedophile in The Lovely Bones, Peter Jackson’s family drama that has been surprisingly panned, and George Clooney as the psychic warrior in The Men Who Stare at Goats, another picture met with mediocre reviews and box-office numbers. Out of these two, I expect Tucci to get the nomination, as most of the Clooney love will be deflected towards his lead role in Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air, a film that should be a frontrunner in several major categories.

There are a few other actors that can be shoe-ins one day and on the fence the next. One such performance is Matt Damon as Francois Piennar, the rugby-playing hero of Clint Eastwood’s Invictus. With Eastwood at the helm, all performances are elevated regardless of whether or not they deserve it, and Damon, while I am sure he is excellent in the role, should benefit from the Eastwood Oscar-favorite camp. There is also a film that should bring another nomination, it just depends on which actor will get the nod, because I cannot imagine them both being there.

An Education, a film about a young woman (Carey Mulligan) being romanced by a much older British aristocrat despite the reservations of her somewhat overprotective father, should get some acting nominations. Peter Sarsgaard plays David, the older man romancing young Jenny (Mulligan), and Alfred Molina plays her doting father, Jack. Out of these two, I expect Molina to get the nomination, leaving Sarsgaard out of the loop, simply because it has been Molina garnering the most buzz.

There are a few other fringe possibilities for supporting actor, including Anthony Mackie as Seargent JT Sanborn in Kathryn Bigelow’s war picture, The Hurt Locker, and Richard Kind in A Serious Man, the period picture from the Brothers Coen. Mackie has the possibility for Hurt Locker love being spread around in other categories, while Kind has the disadvantage of A Serious Man being criminally under seen. Another possibility, which may get in simply to fill the fifth category, is Christian McKay as Orson Welles in Me and Orson Welles. But it feels like, right now, that all of these aforementioned nominations are fighting for second place, much like Josh Brolin was last year in Milk up against Ledger.

Christoph Waltz, the viscious Jew Hunter of Quentin Tarantino’s fantasy war epic Inglourious Basterds, is the absolute embodiment of villainy. Whenever he is on screen, no matter his sunny disposition on the outside, there is true menace, true tension that is palpable. Waltz, an otherwise unknown in American cinema, is a lock as of right now, and unlike other acting categories, Supporting Actor has played toward the favorite in recent years. I expect that trend to follow this year with Waltz, who is the most deserving.

PREDICTIONS:

Matt Damon – Invictus
Alfred Molina – An Education
Stanley Tucci – The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz – Inglourious Basterds
Christian McKay – Me and Orson Welles

OTHER POSSIBILITIES:

Peter Sarsgaard – An Education
Anthony Mackie – The Hurt Locker
Richard Kind – A Serious Man

LONG SHOTS:

George Clooney – The Men Who Stare at Goats
Brad Pitt – Inglourious Basterds

Thursday, December 10, 2009

MICKEY ROURKE AND THE YEAR OF "THE DUDE"...


Last year, Mickey Rourke was The Wrestler, Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a broken down former superstar of the 80s who lives on the shadow of what he once was, despite the fact that his body and his mind may not be up to the challenge any more. He wanders through his life in the shell of a body that used to be something people would celebrate, and his addiction to the spotlight is perhaps his most damaging. Rourke, himself, was given a second chance as an actor thanks to Aronofsky’s film. After pissing away his promising early acting career on boxing, arrogance, and overwhelming narcissism, Rourke was able to restart his career as a puffy, scarred version of himself thanks to one director’s bravery.

Fast forward almost exactly a year, to right now, where a small film called Crazy Heart is about to be released on limited screens around the country. The film stars Jeff Bridges as Bad Blake, a broken down former country star who lives on the shadow of what he once was, despite the fact that his body and perhaps his mind aren’t up to task any longer. Much in the way that the “Ram” Robinson is tired, fading, and regretful, so is Bad Blake. The film is getting some early Oscar talk for Jeff Bridges, much in the way it did a year ago for Rourke. But the films, the characters, and the buzz are where the similarities between Rourke’s and Bridges’s situation end. Which means Bridges has a real shot at winning his first Oscar.

It may have seemed like Rourke was the frontrunner most of the season, but it became evident as the days to the Oscars neared, that he really had no chance at winning. The nomination was the victory for Rourke, and it got his career back on track, and that’s all the love he would get from the Academy. You see, Rourke is, and has always been regarded as, well, as a dickhead. His ego and his delusions of grandeur were what doomed his early career. He was Marlon Brando if Brando had become difficult before he ever really did anything substantial. And the statesmen of Hollywood do not soon forget a decade of misanthropy from Rourke. So they gave him the nomination, and that was good enough, because in doing so they gave him the opportunity to be in Iron Man 2 and haul in a big paycheck.

Jeff Bridges, on the other hand, has no such checkered past in Hollywood. Bridges has the family history with father Lloyd and brother Beau, and he also has generally been perceived, over the years, to be quite a nice, laid back dude. Hell, he was “the dude” for god’s sake. How could “the dude” be a bad guy? And Bridges, in my opinion the most talented of his family, has been nominated four times previous, his most recent being in 2001 for his turn as the President in The Contender. So he has the notion that he has “paid his dues” for a long, sustained career of mostly solid roles. Of course, that doesn’t mean he is a shoe in to get the statue. You can ask Tom Cruise or Peter O’Toole about that.

This seems like Bridges’ best chance at nabbing a statue. His last go round, Bridges was up against Tom Hanks in Cast Away and eventual winner Russell Crowe in Gladiator. There doesn’t seem to be one standout this year so far, and I can almost tell you that there is nobody more deserving than Bridges to finally get what he deserves. Mickey Rourke could learn a few things from a “dude” like Bridges.




Tuesday, December 8, 2009

TUESDAY TOP 5: Five Holiday Must Sees...

I suppose I could come up with ten holiday films to watch every season, but some of those pictures you cannot avoid, others aren’t that great. You will undoubtedly catch different portions of different airings of A Christmas Story until you have collected enough scenes to complete the entire film. And It’s A Wonderful Life runs on a continuous loop somewhere on your channel menu. Miracle on 34th Street doesn’t really do it for me anymore, and the same goes for films like White Christmas and Holiday Inn. But there are five, five more contemporary, more hilarious, more exciting, less stale holiday movies that are absolute musts for me…

5) Elf – The sheer size of Will Ferrell is the root of the comedy in Elf, Jon Favreau’s contemporary Christmas yarn about a human raised by elves in the North Pole who wants to travel to (where else) Manhattan, to find his real dad. Elf is high energy, high comedy, and full of wonderful scenes that never run thin this time of year.

4) Serendipity – This one is a bit deceiving, as really only the beginning and the end of the film take place around the holidays. However, a film taking place in Manhattan (again) that revolves around fate and luck, and has a scene in the snow at the ice rink in Central Park, is definitely one to watch around Christmas. John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale keep this film charming, and Jeremy Piven, forever cast as the best friend in the days before Entourage, adds some great comedy alongside EugeneLevy.

3) Home Alone – Forget about the three (yes, three) sequels, the original Home Alone is the only one worth its salt. With an adorable, pre-Emo Macauly Culkin left home by himself on Christmas, forced to fend off the two most idiotic burglars in film history, the holiday spirit is sewn into the fabric of each and every scene. And, as a child, who didn’t somewhat wish they could be left home alone with a couple of hapless burglars to fend off? Who didn’t want to create a funhouse of swinging paint cans, a tar-and-feather machine, icy steps, and flaming booby traps?

2) Christmas Vacation – I know I know… how could this not be number one? Well, perhaps this should be 1a, as Christmas Vacation and the number one film are interchangeable to me. I could just about rewrite the screenplay to this best film of the Vacation franchise, as Clark Griswold, under the pressure of family, work, and an intense decorating scheme, eventually comes unraveled and completely loses his mind in some hilarious scenes. Aside from the obvious comedy in Christmas Vacation, there are so many subtle sight gags and moments of stealth comedy that you can only pick up on after dozens upon dozens of holiday viewings.


1) Die Hard – This is the ultimate male holiday flick. It’s Christmas Eve, and John McClane is in Los Angeles, trying to repair things with his estranged wife and family, only to be caught in the middle of a terrorist takeover of her office building. Aside from the harrowing action sequences, topping out with the iconic jump from the roof of the tower as it explodes, Die Hard really has an underlying story that is more substantial than most run-of-the-mill action films. And of course, there is the Christmas angle of the story, and a dynamite Christmas tune from Run DMC at the beginning to set the scene and keep this penultimate Christmas action epic soundly locked into 1988.