Friday, December 31, 2010

FRIDAY SCATTER-SHOOTING: A 2010 Blanket Statement, Black Swan, Zack Snyder Sucks, and, oh Nic Cage...

* 2010 finished strong to say the least. The beginning of the year was incredibly slow. Save for a Scorsese film and a scant gem here and there, it wasn’t until mid summer that things picked up. The fall and the holiday movie seasons have been quite good. At the end of August, I couldn’t have found four movies for Best Picture. Now, at the end of the year, I am having a tough time reducing my list to the ten that will be nominated.

* Take it in, folks, because January and February are here, and there is no worse a time in the calendar year for films than the winter months. Think about the previews you have seen… like Country Strong. Like the ridiculous Nic Cage dragon or witch fantasy… thing… that has been delayed. If it weren’t for awards season I might consider going to sleep for two months.

* However, I would wake up to see The Green Hornet. It looks fun at least.

* Back to Nicolas Cage for a second. How in the world does somebody so talented… ah forget it.

* The more I allow my mind to work, the more I like Black Swan for Best Picture. I don’t think it will win, but I feel like it is a daring, inventive picture that the Academy could recognize, thus shedding the uptight stigma that surrounds their recent picks of films like Crash in the face of more deserving pictures that were too edgy like Brokeback Mountain.

* I counted 8 nominations in my head for Black Swan the other day. I see one, maybe two wins.

* But seriously, Nicolas Cage was in Adaptation for chrissake. He won an Oscar for one of the best roles of the 90s in Leaving Las Vegas. I just cannot understand why… oh NEVERMIND!

* I am sorry, but Sucker Punch looks like the worst movie ever made. It looks annoying, loud, over-stylized, vacant of any real characters, and just plain messy. But hey, that is Zack Snyder for you, the guy who vomited 300 all over the world and proceeded to direct a mediocre version of the best graphic novel of all time, Watchmen. I give you, ladies and gentlemen, the next Superman director… Fail.

* Speaking of Watchmen, how obvious was the choice to put Jimi Hendrix singing All Along the Watchtower in the lead up to the climax? It’s like a sixteen-year old film student edits Snyder’s movies. Or maybe it’s just him.

* I can’t believe they chose this guy to resurrect Superman. It will be terrible, and they will have to start all over again. Again.

* As long as they don’t give the job to Nic Cage… I mean, seriously… what is wrong with him?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

THURSDAY THROWBACK: Full Metal Jacket (1987)

To be honest, you get two films for the price of one with Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, a haunting and unflinching look at the Vietnam conflict. I would say you get two sides of the war, and in a sense you do, but both sides exist within a very military mentality. There is no anti-war faction, or outwardly anti war message attached to the events that unfold. There is the torturous hell of boot camp, complete with its own climax, followed by the torturous hell of the conflict in Southeast Asia. Both storylines are starkly objective, like many Kubrick films, and neither of the narratives takes an outward stance on the conflict itself. But you can see, first through mental damage and later through physical damage, that there is an opinion there. Full Metal Jacket is an unconventional look at a war that has been done to the point of exhaustion in cinema, but thanks to Kubrick’s vision we are given something fresh and startling and engrossing. Thanks in no small part to the introduction of Private Pyle.

Pyle’s real name is Leonard, played by Vincent D’Onofrio, but his real name is no longer relevant once he enters into basic training with a platoon of scared kids. Leonard is weak, stupid, overweight, a screw up, and so the gunnery sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey in the role that made him famous) nicknames him Private Pyle as an insult. Gunnery sergeant Hartman, as a matter of fact, is quite clever with his insults, delivering endless tirades of creative insults to all of the men in the company. It takes some time for any of the other nondescript members of the platoon to separate from the extras, that is except for D’Onofrio, whose constant mistakes draw the ire of the rest of the company. This leads to an unsettling assault with towels and bars of soap one night.

Private Pyle’s closest friend in the company is Private Joker, played by Matthew Modine. Joker wants Pyle to make it through this, but despite his best efforts the constant brow beating and mental torture of camp and of Hartman ultimately becomes too much for Pyle to take. We find out that Pyle is an excellent marksman, but the revelation comes too late. Pyle’s eyes have lost all humanity, and his vacant gaze suggests that Pyle knows what is to come. This entire opening story exists in a self-contained narrative, and exists to show the dehumanizing of the military. There are constant reminders that these kids have been molded to all be like one another – including but not limited to the opening sequence where they are all getting their heads shaved – so when one of the young men buckles the way Pyle does, the way in which he breaks free of the lemming-like mentality feels like the only way he can escape. You could see the showdown coming between these two men from the beginning, but the way in which their final confrontation is filmed works almost like a nightmare in Private Joker’s head as he watches in horror.

And just like that, the film shifts into an entirely new story with new characters. Our only thread that ties these two stories together is Private Joker, now working in Vietnam as a correspondent for Stars and Stripes. The subject at hand is the Tet Offensive. This second half of Full Metal Jacket takes on an entirely different tone. The first half was almost a dream sequence that slowly turned into a horrible nightmare. This second half is much more conventional, and it shows the way in which boot camp has flattened these men into drones. Once this new set of men, save for Joker, is thrown into conflict, eventually trapped for an extended time by a sniper in a dilapidated city, their actions and their dialogue feels stiff, cliché, standard. These men have no souls that differentiate them from the man next to them anymore.

And so this is the ultimate message of Full Metal Jacket, that war is not only hell, it ruins people. So many of the young men and women in this country have been dehumanized by training and war and death, sometimes there is but one escape. Kubrick’s film, like most of his pictures, is a self-contained work. It looks and feels different from a war film shot on location, and I know Kubrick intended it this way. The result is a film that is acutely withdrawn and deliberately cold, adding to the haunting and detached atmosphere of the picture. Although you get two films for one admission with Full Metal Jacket, there is no change in the monotonous tone and overwhelming sense of dread and cold lack of humanity that permeates each and every scene.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

True Grit

TRUE GRIT: Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper (110 min.)

In True Grit, the Coen Brothers new “remake” of the 1969 film and – perhaps more accurately – the adaptation of the Charles Portis novel, we are introduced to the coarse and somewhat legendary Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn in an outhouse. A perfect introduction. Young Mattie Ross, a precocious 14-year old girl, is asking for Cogburn’s help in tracking down Tom Chaney, the man who shot her father dead in a petty argument, and bringing him to justice. Cogburn blows her off, in voice alone from the inside of the outhouse at first, but after some dogged persistence and some wheeling and dealing to get the funds necessary to hire the U.S. Marshal, Ross convinces Cogburn to take on the pursuit. Along for the ride is LaBoeuf (pronounced La-Beef), a cocky Texas Ranger – played to perfection by Matt Damon – who shares a sketchy past with Cogburn and has his own reasons for bringing Chaney to justice in Texas.

Jeff Bridges takes over the role that won John Wayne his lone acting Oscar back in 1969. Wayne’s Rooster Cogburn is surely an iconic character, instantly recognizable mainly due to the fact that it is John Wayne behind the eye patch. Bridges has the advantage of not being John Wayne, and his Rooster Cogburn is more of a slob. That is to say, more authentic. If you concentrate, you could probably catch a whiff of his odor in the theater. This Cogburn is not so much iconic as he is realistic, and funny, and despite his fondness for whisky he manages to get the job done. As much as a slouch as he appears to be on the surface, a man wouldn’t live to be his age in such a wild and dangerous world if he weren’t doing something right.

Mattie Ross is played by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, taking over the role made famous by Kim Darby. To call Mattie precocious might be slighting her determination and her quick wit. It is clear young Mattie has seen things to make her age beyond her fourteen years, and she uses that to her advantage in a number of scenes, especially when she is bartering with a stable owner for money and a pony. Steinfeld feels more accurate for the role than Darby did, and that is a testament to the casting choices of the Coen Brothers, who always manage to have the pitch-perfect actor playing only the role the audience could imagine them playing. This can be said for both Bridges and Steinfeld, as well as for Damon in the role of LaBoeuf and the two lead villains we don’t formally meet until the film’s third act.

Once we meet Tom Chaney, much has been made of his villainy and his ruthlessness, so it a bit of a surprise that he is a goofy, mush-mouthed simpleton. Then again, the role fits the story, and fits the sensibilities of the directors in charge. Josh Brolin plays Chaney and manages to pull off humor and menace in brief moments. Once Cogburn, Ross, and LaBoeuf stumble across Chaney, he has fallen in with a band of outlaws led by Luck Ned Pepper, played by Barry Pepper. A funny thing happened while watching Pepper’s performance; I thought of a young Robert Duvall filling this same role without even realizing it was Duvall who played the role in the original picture. Perhaps that was a subconscious correlation. But I think it was also another example of The Coens’ inspired casting.

Joel and Ethan Coen flirted with Western themes in 2007 when they directed No Country for Old Men, and with True Grit they go full bore into the genre. But they do not abandon their typical Coen flair. There are oddball characters all over the periphery of the story, including a drunken dentist wearing a bear skin and a member of the outlaw regime who communicates solely through animal noises. It may take some time for the picture to really get started, but the Coens are doing this deliberately, to get a rhythm of the unique dialogue running before springing into action. The speech is rich and detailed and carefully constructed, as most of it was taken from the classic Portis novel. And even though Bridges is tough to hear from time to time what is more important is his cadence and his disposition for a lot of his dialogue. When he says something important that you need to hear, you will hear it.

As I mentioned earlier, True Grit is barely a remake of the 1969 film. All of the original characters are there, but this is more an adaptation of the Portis novel than anything in the original picture. A majority of the dialogue and the action in this version was taken directly from the book, and the authenticity of the words and the actions of these characters shines as a result. What is also fascinating is, although loaded with brilliant actors and well-known faces, it is Steinfeld who steals the show as young Mattie Ross. I expect great things from her, and she has gotten off to a rousing start. I couldn’t imagine my first starring role to be in a feature directed by the great Coen Brothers.

A-

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

OSCARS 2011 PREDICTIONS: The Screenplays

It’s time to get out the stone tablet and start etching my infallible 2011 Oscar predictions. I don’t like to brag (well, maybe I do when it is warranted), but last year, out of the 45 major nominations – screenplays, acting, directing, and picture – I predicted 36. Not too shabby. I am an Oscar apologist, mainly because I have loved the Academy Awards since I was a strange child, and despite the political posturing and mistakes made, I feel like Oscar gets it right for the most part. If you want to get irritated at an Awards show, pick the Golden Globes and their multiple nominations for crap like Burlesque and The Tourist.

Let’s get going with the two screenplay categories, adapted and original. There are a whole host of possibilities for both, and I have narrowed down the field to seven in each. Alas, there can only be five nominees, so we need to trim the fat and figure out who will be the five in each…

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

There is no bigger of a shoe in for either category than Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay for The Social Network, adapted from the book The Accidental Billionaire by Ben Mezrich. This would be the frontrunner for a nomination and the win in the adapted category. That leaves the other four possibilities up to about six films. Next in line will surely be True Grit, and the screenplay adapted by Joel and Ethan Coen from the novel by Charles Portis. The Coen’s have made what is a true novel adaptation, practically ignoring the original film, and in more than one instance using direct passages and dialogue form the novel. They did a similar treatment in 2007 with No Country for Old Men, and won the adapted screenplay Oscar then, so they cannot be counted out.

I also believe that Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy’s 127 Hours, adapted from Aron Ralston’s Between a Rock and a Hard Place, will get a nomination. The story is simple, but truly compelling, and Boyle and Beaufoy inject the screenplay with a twenty-first century energy that will not go overlooked. And Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini’s screenplay for Winter’s Bone, the little Sundance film that could, will be recognized. The screenplay, adapted from Daniel Woodrell’s novel of the same name, effectively explores the seedy underbelly of middle America and creates a world unseen by many, but a world of meth and backwoods mafia figures that tragically does exist.
That leaves what I feel to be three possibilities for the final slot. First, there is The Town, a screenplay from Ben Affleck, Peter Craig, and Aaron Stockard, adapted from the novel by Chuck Hogan (called Prince of Thieves, a better title in my opinion). I would personally love to see this smart, tight crime thriller get a nomination here, but I think The Town has but one major nomination in its future (more on that in a few weeks). Second, there is Never Let Me Go, a small dramatic picture with a screenplay from Kazuo Ishiguro adapted from the Alex Garland novel. This clever screenplay has the best chance to fill out the category in my opinion. Finally, the couples drama Rabbit Hole and the screenplay from David Lindsey-Abaire, adapted from his own play, could sneak in under the radar depending on the momentum the film might be able to get these last few weeks. But, like The Town, I still see one nomination out there for Rabbit Hole.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

The King’s Speech is this category’s version of The Social Network; a definite shoe in. However, The King’s Speech, a screenplay by David Seidler, may have a few more formidable competitors in this category than The Social Network has in its own. Picking up some furious steam in multiple categories, and making a run at a whole slew of nominations, is Black Swan. The screenplay, written by Andres Heinz, Mark Heyman, and John J. McLaughlin, will surely find a place in this category, and deservedly so. The ballet thriller deserves to be here for so many reasons, but perhaps none more than the fact it can be described as a “ballet thriller.”

This past summer, I was ready to give Christopher Nolan’s screenplay for Inception the award for original screenplay. It has since faded a bit, but not enough to fall out of the running for a much deserved nomination. The script is an exercise in mental muscle and physical construction that cannot be overlooked. Another good bet for a nomination would be The Kids Are All Right, and the screenplay from director Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg. The film is an unconventional family drama that manages to deal with very conventional issues in a clever way, and will be recognized for that accomplishment.

This, again, leaves three films vying for one final spot. The first of these is Blue Valentine. We all know about the ratings issues the drama has had to deal with over the last month, and I wonder if perhaps the publicity has brought more attention to the picture, or enough attention to get it a nomination. That being said, I think the acting categories will be where Blue Valentine thrives. There is also a small film, Another Year, written by director Mike Leigh, that focuses on an aging couple. Little is known about this film, and that may be the problem as it tries to collect nominations. And finally, there is The Fighter, and the screenplay from Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson. Oscar loves the boxing story, and they love crowd pleasers that deliver dramatic punch as much as they like depressing pictures, so I think The Fighter has enough to edge out the other two possibilities for the final spot. It makes me wish there was room for a sixth nomination.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY PREDICTIONS (winner in bold)

The Social Network – (Aaron Sorkin, Ben Mezrich)
True Grit – (Joel and Ethan Coen, Charles Portis)
127 Hours – (Danny Boyle, Simon Beaufoy, Aron Ralston)
Winter’s Bone – (Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini, Daniel Woodrell)
Never Let Me Go – (Kazuo Ishiguro, Alex Garland)

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY (winner in bold)

The King’s Speech – (David Seidler)
Black Swan – (Andres Heinz, Mark Heyman, John J. McLaughlin)
Inception – (Christopher Nolan)
The Kids are All Right – (Lisa Cholodenko, Stuart Blumberg)
The Fighter – (Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson)


UP NEXT WEEK: Best Supporting Actress…

Monday, December 27, 2010

The King's Speech

THE KING'S SPEECH: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter (118 min.)

Despite its title and the subject matter, The King’s Speech is a surprisingly small, fairly intimate film about a man overcoming a crippling stammer. That man just so happened to be the Duke of York, who would become king after his older brother conceded the throne to live with a woman unfit for the title of queen. The moment in time is the late thirties, and Hitler is beginning his march on Europe. We end our action just as Great Britain has entered into war with Germany, and the new king must make a speech broadcast nationally over the radio to the entire country. The stammer has troubled the Prince, Albert, nearly his entire life, and in order to overcome the impediment and become the leader that the country needs, he must work reluctantly with an unorthodox speech therapist at the behest of his supportive wife.

These events all seem to stack up to tell an epic historical tale of perseverance in the face of war, but The King’s Speech exists primarily in narrow corridors and tight spaces, undoubtedly representing the tension of Albert – or Bertie’s – throat. Although he is to be the leader of Great Britain, the film does not deal with the masses at all. It keeps us with Bertie, played by Colin Firth, his loving wife Elizabeth, played by Helena Bonham Carter, and the speech therapist, Lionel, a common man with larger aspirations played by Geoffrey Rush.

Much has been made of Firth’s performance as King George VI (he changed his name from Albert once he became king). Firth does an excellent job as a man constricted by his affliction. His lips are constantly quivering, pulled tight, struggling to say things that he cannot get out. The relationship between the tightly-wound Albert and the eccentric Lionel is a bit rough at first. Lionel refuses to address him as “your highness,” insisting on using his nickname, Bertie. Everything is quite lax in the sessions, a deliberate attempt for Lionel to get Bertie to loosen his lips a little. Rush is a most reliable actor, and does not disappoint here. The chemistry between Firth and Rush is the most vital aspect of the story, and the two actors play off one another rather well. Carter is solid as Queen Elizabeth, transforming her usual disheveled look into one of a regal, sheltered British royal. But she is, surprisingly, given very little to do. She does not have a moment to shine, as she exists merely in the background for the most part.

As I said earlier, The King’s Speech is a film about large historical moments filmed as a small intimate picture. The close quarters and limited cast is effective for the characters to interact; we don’t lose track of anyone. But the film itself is quite boring. I hate to simplify a picture that way; to call a film boring suggests that you missed the point or just “didn’t get it.” I got it, believe me. The picture is about a man who stutters and goes to speech therapy. That is the reductive plot, and it isn’t about much more. There are no rousing moments of triumph, no memorable moments. There is some good humor and, like I mentioned, good performances, but the film comes and goes without much substance. Just because events are historical, or because they really happened, or because they are decidedly European, does not necessarily mean they come together and form the best film of the year. This picture is widely considered to be the closest competition for The Social Network for Best Picture. In absolutely no way is this picture even close to The Social Network in quality or resonance or scope.

I feel like, sometimes, American critics and audiences fall in love with British films because they are British. Our compatriots across the pond are decidedly more regal and sophisticated than us, or so we think, so a film about a king overcoming personal struggles to lead a country with certainty is never questioned or considered to be anything less than spectacular. I think I may call this phenomena “The English Patient Effect.” In 1996, The English Patient dominated the Oscars, winning Best Picture to go along with a handful of other awards. But the film itself is now recognized to be rather dull and slow and long winded. Remember the Seinfeld episode where everyone was seeing The English Patient and telling Elaine how marvelous it was? Elaine wasn’t buying it. She thought it was boring, drawing the ire of all the movie aficionados who fell in love with the movie. She wanted to see Sack Lunch instead. I feel like there is a little of that going on with The King’s Speech. The performances are all well crafted and carefully executed with precision, but the claustrophobia of the film and the lack of any forward momentum stifle any energy the picture may have gotten from the back and forth between Firth and Rush.

Colin Firth deserves a nomination, as do the other two stars of the film. And I imagine Firth will win, although I don’t really see anything groundbreaking or memorable in his performance. The King’s Speech ends on a positive note, but it is nothing more than a note. During the final speech – and I don’t know if this is a positive or a negative, just an observation – I was so preoccupied with the actual delivery of the words I missed anything King George said to the country. I am pretty sure if Elaine were to see this movie she would have the same reaction that she did towards The English Patient. I would have to agree with her, and would buy us two tickets to Sack Lunch instead.

C+

Thursday, December 23, 2010

THURSDAY THROWBACK: The New Tradition that is National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation


Critics weren’t particularly kind to National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation when it was released in 1989. Roger Ebert, who had one of the kinder negative reviews of the film, said “Sequence after sequence seems to contain all the necessary material, to be well on the way toward a payoff, and then it somehow doesn't work.” Some were not as kind, like James Berardinelli who took a direct shot at Chevy Chase (who may or may not have deserved it.) There were supporters out there, and the box office of the film was fairly solid, but consensus was, as Luke Thompson of the New Times put it, “There never, ever should have been more than one of these movies.”

I could not agree less.

There are traditions that come and go with the holiday season. Sure, we still have people who go caroling – although I wish they wouldn’t – and we have advent calendars, but things still come and go with generations. Chestnuts roasting on the fire… who really does that anymore? But for twenty years now, I know more families and friends who count this little movie as one of their holiday staples, a film they cannot miss this time every year. And I feel like this tradition will stay around for another twenty. At least.

The humor is universal in Christmas Vacation, and everything is amped up to levels of absurd parody. It starts with the dedication and blind idiocy of Clark Griswold, and his dogged determination to have a good old fashioned family Christmas. It starts with traveling to the frozen country side to find a Christmas tree. Then it becomes a determination to light up the entire house with lights. I don’t know one man out there who doesn’t see the final result of Clark’s home, lit up entirely, and not wish that they could do that once, just once. And then there is family. Family is part of the holiday, and Clark’s family that comes to visit is a roided-up version of everyone’s family in this country. Every idiosyncrasy of every shape and size of family member is amped up; the near deaf old aunt, the derelict brother-in-law, the grumpy father-in-law, the dad and mom blinded by love for their son. All the elements of a family are here, and the flaws are parodied in such a way that as you are shaking your head at their antics, you are identifying with a part of it in the back of your mind.

Of course, there is an underlying stress in the form of a Christmas bonus Clark has yet to receive. The stress of this phantom bonus runs like a current under the very formidable stresses of the vaporized tree, the bone-dry turkey, the dog – Snot – tearing through the trash, and the escaped squirrel in the house. When the bonus comes in the form of a Jelly-of-the-month club subscription, Clark erupts in one of the greatest, most hysterical tirades in film history.

So there it is, everything that makes this 85-minute Christmas movie the new tradition for so many families across the country. Chevy Chase may be something of an afterthought these days, but there was nobody who could play the hopeless fool better than him. Blinded by the ideas of tradition, Clark Griswold created a new tradition of his own for everyone else.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

DVD Review: Salt

SALT: Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber (100 min.)

A man shows up at CIA headquarters in Washington D.C. claiming to have time-sensitive information. A Russian spy working in America is planning on killing the Russian president. The man is being interviewed by Evelyn Salt, a lean CIA agent played by Angelina Jolie, and she doesn’t really believe his whole story about children groomed to infiltrate America as adults in order to take down this country. But the man has one last vital bit of information just as she is leaving the room: the name of the Russian spy is Evelyn Salt. Evelyn swears she isn’t this spy. Her partner, Ted (Liev Schreiber) believes her. The other agent, Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofer) isn’t so sure, so he locks her in a room and starts investigating. Fearing for her husband’s life, Salt decides not to stick around.

And so the plot of Salt, the thriller from Phillip Noyce now out on DVD, is underway. The remainder of the picture is your standard action/chase picture where the government chases the protagonist while she tries to clear her name. The story is very standard, but that is not to say it isn’t exciting. Cars are crashed, extras are overwhelmed by karate, things are blown up. But, as I have always said, these things have their place in a genre film like Salt; it’s just what you do with the genre conventions that make it interesting or help it to stand above the heap of mediocrity. Noyce, a capable director of solid films like Dead Calm, Patriot Games, and Clear and Present Danger, has a good eye for what makes action scenes thrilling. There are no green screens employed; everything is shot here, in the real world, with real people and real cars, and the result is a visceral series of action set pieces.

One thing Salt doesn’t worry about, almost to a fault, is logic. Salt does things that are, according to my own eyes, impossible. She leaps from a bridge to the top of a semi, then jumps from that semi to another, then from the top of that semi to the top of a box truck on another underpass some thirty feet below. In another scene she hops from side to side in an elevator shaft, landing on tiny ledges as she works her way down. Of course this is preposterous in a physics sense, but who has time to think about physics? The film knows its protagonist is performing feats that border on superhuman, that’s why it doesn’t slow down long enough for you to shake your head and allow yourself out of the immediacy of the action in front of you. The film is 100 minutes long, but the furious pace makes it feel barely over an hour.

I do like to wonder about things while watching a movie like Salt. Things like: when someone is punched in the face really hard, and they pass out, would they really stay unconscious as long as they do? It seems like forever. Now, I have never been punched in the face like that, but I would imagine that I would come to in a few seconds anyway. I also wonder if there is a pool of generic male actors that directors scan in order to find a president. The “president pool.” American presidents in these pictures are always nondescript, but very specific. These are the things I wonder, and that is part of the fun, looking at things in a movie like Salt that are like so many other action films and wondering if there is a handbook directors must use for certain aspects. The film has no delusions that it is anything bigger, or more important, or profound, than a chase film. The self awareness is its biggest strength.

All in all, Salt is a marvelous action-adventure, and was a perfect summer film. I can’t imagine Tom Cruise in the role of Salt as was originally planned. Cruise opted to film Knight and Day instead (a clear indication that it’s time for Cruise to get a new agent). Sure, the story may be generic, but seeing Angelina Jolie in the title role I feel is key. Jolie seems carved from a piece of wood sometimes, and despite the fact that she doesn’t really look like an everyday woman, she is perfectly believable as a female agent that could kick anyone’s ass. You can question the logic all you want in Salt, you can be distracted by the conventions of the plot, you can wonder about the extras, just don’t let it take away from the fun you are having.

B

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Fighter

THE FIGHTER: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Melissa Leo, Amy Adams (114 min.)

The Fighter may be about “Irish” Mickey Ward and his attempt to win the title in the boxing ring, but the title of the new film from David O. Russell is referring more to the fight Ward had to endure to free himself from his impossible mother and sisters and his drug-addicted half brother in order to succeed. The boxing in the film comes secondary to the relationship of a wacky family dynamic that is intent on bringing Mickey down. This is a rousing sports film second, a character drama first, and there are advantages and disadvantages to this. The Fighter thrives on performances and acting, and suffers a bit when the sports action takes center stage.

Mark Wahlberg plays Ward, an honest, genuine guy in Lowell, a poor suburb of Boston. Mickey is an amateur boxer who has been a “stepping stone” for more prominent boxers, and is always looking to make that next step and make a name for himself. The problem is his management team. His manager is his mother, Alice, played by Melissa Leo. Alice is a boisterous character who thinks she knows what is best for Mickey but it is clear that she is in over her head and won’t admit it. She spends her time making phone calls from her kitchen, surrounded by her seven daughters who must be solely responsible for the hole in the o-zone with all the Aqua-Net they plow through. But Alice isn’t the biggest problem holding back; that belongs to Dicky Eklund, Mickey’s half brother and trainer.

Dicky (Christian Bale, more on him later) was once a prize fighter himself, hanging his hat on the myth that he knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard once upon a time (or did Leonard just trip?). But that was in 1978, and in this world, in 1993, Dicky is eaten up by crack addiction. There is an HBO film crew following Dicky around, he thinks to document his own comeback into the ring. It is actually a documentary about the destructive power of crack in America. Dicky’s ability to self destruct leaks over into Mickey’s life, as he refuses to cut Dicky loose since Dicky taught him everything he knows. Mickey’s girlfriend, Charlene, a no-nonsense bartender played by Amy Adams, implores Mickey to cut the ties with his family if he really does want to get a title shot. It is only after Dicky’s botched attempt to raise money sends him to prison does Mickey free himself of his mother and brother and begins to succeed as a boxer.

The Fighter is a film that succeeds primarily on performances, four central performances in this case. Mark Wahlberg does what he can playing Mickey, but his performance is mostly reactionary to the rest of the cast. He spends the picture being acted upon more than acting himself. Amy Adams sheds her lovable aura to play a hardened neighborhood girl, and she is marvelous. Her adversaries, Melissa Leo and the seven sisters, are sometimes ridiculous, especially the sisters who teeter on caricatures with their accents and their hair and their smoking. Leo, as an actress, is a true chameleon, and she plays Alice as the impossible person she was in Mickey’s life. She thinks she knows what is best for Mickey, and that involves keeping Dicky in the mix.

Christian Bale has always immersed himself into roles, gaining muscle and losing weight at alarming clips in the past. To play Dicky, Bale had to shed dozens of pounds once again and shave a bald spot in his head to play a hopeless character, romantically involved with his own legend. Bale is captivating from the start, a motor-mouthed addict who spends his days in a crack house, disillusioned to believe that he is in the midst of his own comeback. The performance takes center stage, just like Dicky would have wanted, and Bale disappears into the baggy pants and dirty teeth of Dicky. He can be funny at times, but that is part of the problem; Dicky means well, is always the life of the party, so it’s too easy for everyone to give him a second and a third and a fourth chance.

Mickey’s family swirls around him in a dizzying onslaught of demands and promises and failures. You can see why Mickey seems so withdrawn and tired throughout the picture. These relationships are excellent in The Fighter, the strongest aspect of the film. Where the picture falters is in the actual boxing scenes. Filmed primarily to represent the audience, watching either on HBO or in the crowd, the matches are secondary to the characters. The final match doesn’t feel like a final match in a boxing picture. I kept waiting for another fight as the actual climax was oddly underplayed. The manic roller-coaster energy of the film stalls whenever we step into the ring, and the fights are not as visceral or personal as the ones in a film like Raging Bull or even Rocky.

I don’t feel like Russell was the right director for the action scenes, but he excels in keeping the camera focused on the players in the moments between matches. All performances are top notch, some the best of the year in their respective categories, and they are what keep the energy at a high level. If only the fighting scenes could match the intensity of the character drama, The Fighter may have been a true Best Picture contender.

B+

Friday, December 17, 2010

FRIDAY SCATTER-SHOOTING: Jeff Bridges love, Golden Globes hate, and Superheroes galore...

* Everyone loves Jeff Bridges. Find me a person who doesn’t and I will find you a fool.

* The idea of a sequel to The Big Lebowski has casually been mentioned here and there. Jimmy Kimmel brought it up again last night to Bridges. I think this is a magnificent idea.

* That being said, I see Tron: Legacy as a massive failure. Don’t think it is going to do well at all, and that isn’t necessarily because of Bridges. Well, it isn’t because of him at all really.

* This has been a busy week for Hollywood: The Golden Globe nominations, the SAG Award nominations, The Tree of Life has finally seen the light of day in trailer form, Jon Favreau leaving Iron Man, casting notes aplenty... I think perhaps the biggest news for me is the teaming up of Martin Scorsese, Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, and Joe Pesci in Scorsese’s next project, The Irishman.

* In the “WTF” news of the day, Al Pacino has never worked with Martin Scorsese. Doesn’t it just kind of feel like they have done a dozen pictures together?

* It sucks that Favreau is leaving Iron Man. I think Shane Black would be a great replacement. The writer of Lethal Weapon and The Last Boyscout, Black also seems to be able to write characters for Robert Downey Jr. pretty well. He wrote and directed Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, and was a screenplay consultant on the first Iron Man.

* I still can’t believe we are re-booting Spider Man. Really?

* Also, can we please get going on this Superman re-boot? Even though I think it will suck with Zack Snyder at the helm. What has this guy done that makes anyone think he is some great visionary director?

* 17 minutes of lost footage from 2001: A Space Odyssey has been found. As much as I love and appreciate 2001, I don’t think I can handle 17 more minutes.

* So The Tourist has a tomatometer of 20%, and has three Golden Globe nominations. Meanwhile, a movie like The Other Guys, a real comedy, stayed consistently around 80% and gets no love. It’s a comedy in the traditional sense, and isn’t a piece of garbage like The Tourist. This is just an example.

* RIP Blake Edwards.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

THURSDAY THROWBACK: Die Hard (1988)

Stupid cops, grandstanding, European terrorists, one man – often times a hard-luck cop – against them all… these are elements of the action genre that have been played out until they are so thin they feel transparent. But the first time these pieces fell into place was in 1988, when Bruce Willis became an action star despite the reluctance of the studio to cast a relative unknown who, up until that point, had been in a few comedies and was the star of Moonlighting. These pieces, ones that would forever be imitated but never duplicated, came together to create Die Hard, one of the finest action films ever, and perhaps the first “man’s Christmas movie.” For such a grand spectacle as Die Hard is, it is the little things in the film that make it so endearing, so much smarter than any predecessors, even the direct sequels. Sure, it is big and loud and sometimes dumb, but it is also quite smart at the same time, and the most vital aspect is that we care about these characters.

Willis is John McClane, a New York cop out of his element in Los Angeles for Christmas. He is there to see his estranged wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), who took a new job with the Nakatomi corporation and moved out there with their two children. “It was a good job that turned into a great career,” he tells Argyle, the limo driver who takes him to the Christmas party at the Nakatomi Plaza, a 40-story skyscraper. Before long, as you all know, terrorists have seized control of the building and taken everyone at the party hostage. The terrorists are led by Hans Gruber, a slick, murderous European played to perfection by Alan Rickman. People tend to overlook the events right before the siege, where John and Holly have a tense conversation regarding their marriage and the fact that she has decided to use her maiden name. This fight between the two serves as a small added layer to the events, as this estrangement is fresh on John’s mind as he escapes into the stairwell before the terrorists can grab him and throw him in with the hostages.

So John is on his own, unaware of who has taken the hostages, how many there are, whether or not they know who he is and who Holly is to him. He tries to get the fire department involved, but the terrorists are in charge of everything; they call of the alarm and send a thug to find out who pulled the alarm. John uses his brawn to overtake the thug, then employs his natural detective instincts to figure out more about the terrorists. He begins to creep into the picture for Gruber like a virus, slowly revealing himself.

It isn’t long before the police on the ground are involved. The first responder is Lt. Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) who becomes John’s companion on the ground amidst a slew of idiotic policemen, the leader of them being Deputy Chief Dwayne Robinson, a bumbling asshole played by the king of bumbling assholes, Paul Gleason of Breakfast Club fame. The police use the universal playbook to try and infiltrate the building before the FBI arrives and does the same. But the terrorists are three steps ahead at all times. Unfortunately for Gruber and his men, McClane is working tirelessly to get back to his wife. We are familiar with what McClane has to do, including crawling through air ducts, utilizing plastic explosives to send a message, and in the film’s most iconic shot, using a fire hose to escape a rooftop explosion.

What sets this big, loud, action epic apart from the rest of its kind, aside from being the template for all of the others, are the small things. Things like the argument right before the takeover weighing heavy on John’s mind, the fact that he is barefoot (an element that was set up in the film’s opening scene), and the fact that these terrorists have motives unlike any other terrorists seen in film before, all play a part in keeping the story fresh and vibrant and exciting. And let us not forget the fact that this is Christmas, and the Christmas elements of the story run like an undercurrent of the events. The desktop trees, lights, jingle-bell music, all add yet another interesting layer to the proceedings.

One element of the story that I found intriguing was the meeting between McClane and Gruber near the end of the second act. Gruber is checking the explosives wired to the roof when he runs into McClane and, wisely, disguises his voice to pretend that he is one of the hostages who has escaped. Of course, this does not fool McClane. Nevertheless, the meeting itself is an eerie confrontation, a moment of calm surrounded on all sides by chaos. McClane and Gruber share a few small tidbits of a conversation before things explode into gunfire again. This is a great scene that sticks out to me more now because of the serenity of their meeting, the unnatural camera angles that are nowhere else in the picture. The score even takes on a supernatural feel for a moment. This is one of those elements of Die Hard that set it above any imitators.

Sure, the cops are complete morons, okay there is some dialogue that is pretty corny, but this is the 80s. Dialogue in a film like this is meant to have a bit of bravado and grandstanding by the characters. But it doesn’t take away from the fact that John McTiernan created both an iconic character, and one of the most thrilling action pictures of all time.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

TRAILER BULLETIN: The Tree of Life

After much waiting, much anticipation, the trailer for Terrence Malick's new film, The Tree of Life, has found its way online. I saw the trailer this weekend in the thetaer, before Black Swan, and I have to say this is a beautiful-looking film, and everything I would expect from a Malick film. Imagery that will shake the earth, quiet moments that will affect and haunt, and the assurance that there will be no clear-cut path from start to finish. I must say I am glad Malick is back and making films more frequently these days, and I can already count The Tree of Life as my most anticipated of 2011...

The 68th Annual Golden Globes - Nominations, Predicitons, Snubs

The Golden Globes works like the cocktail party before the big dance, in this case the Academy Awards. There are a few things that the Globes do right, including separating drama from musical and comedy (and I know there are some fellow bloggers and fanboys out there who would like to see a horror section too, but that ain’t gonna happen), but sometimes these categories are filled out with garbage roles. More on that later. Another thing I enjoy about the Globes is their presentation, the laid back atmosphere that lends itself to a more entertaining show (think Ricky Gervais drinking a beer a few years ago). There are other shows out there – the SAG Awards, the People’s Choice Awards – that tend to hint at Oscar nominations more accurately. While I am glad to see my favorite shows like Mad Men, The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad (AMC is on one hell of a roll), and Boardwalk Empire get their fill of noms, I want to look at the movie nominations, throw in my two cents, and make some predictions.

BEST SCREENPLAY: Simon Beaufoy and Danny Boyle (127 Hours) – Christopher Nolan (Inception) – Stuart Blumberg and Lisa Cholodenko (The Kids are All Right) – David Seidler (The King’s Speech) – Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network)

The Globes split up the acting categories, but not the writing. Go figure. I want to say this is a two-horse race between Nolan’s Inception screenplay, which deserves the award on its nuts and bolts construction alone, and Sorkin’s Social Network for its rapid-fire energy. But you can’t count out anything that is attached to The King’s Speech now. Momentum is picking up for this picture furiously. But still, I think this is Sorkin’s category, and a good indicator of how the night might go for The Social Network.

SHOULD WIN – Sorkin WILL WIN – Sorkin

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Amy Adams (The Fighter) – Helena Bonham Carter (The King’s Speech) – Mila Kunis (Black Swan) – Melissa Leo (The Fighter) – Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom)

This is the most wide open of all the acting categories, and will probably be that way at the Oscars too. Typically, two performances from the same film will split the votes, which will probably be the case with Adams and Leo, although everything I hear is that Leo is a firecracker in The Fighter. I know nothing about Jacki Weaver’s performance or about Animal Kingdom, and I suspect that maybe a lot of voters are the same way. Kunis is a solid choice, but I think voters will aim their admiration for Black Swan at Natalie Portman, leaving Carter as the default choice.

SHOULD WIN – Leo WILL WIN – Carter

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Christian Bale (The Fighter) – Michael Douglas (Wall Street 2) – Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) – Jeremy Renner (The Town) – Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech)

This entire category, with the exception of Douglas, deserves to win this award. However, this is shaping up to be Christian Bale’s year on the awards circuit, and I think he gets going here with a landslide win.

SHOULD WIN – Bale WILL WIN – Bale

BEST ACTRESS – COMEDY OR MUSICAL: Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right) – Anne Hathaway (Love and Other Drugs) – Angelina Jolie (The Tourist) – Julianne Moore (The Kids Are All Right) – Emma Stone (Easy A)

This is where the categories begin to split, and where some strange nominations begin to show up. Aside from the two nominations for the performances in The Kids Are All Right, I don’t think any of these nominees deserve their nomination. Did the voters even see The Tourist? I haven’t, but I have scanned a few reviews. Either way, I have a feeling that –splits or no – Bening will walk away with this award. I have a feeling this might be her year too, even though I think Moore’s performance was the better of the two.

SHOULD WIN – Moore WILL WIN – Bening

BEST ACTRESS – DRAMA: Halle Berry (Frankie and Alice) – Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole) – Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone) – Natalie Portman (Black Swan) – Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine)

This is a solid category for the first time in several years. The actress category has been, in recent years, a little thin because of the scarceness of meaty female lead roles. Outside of Berry, whose movie looks absurd, I would be satisfied with anyone winning. But I think this award is already Portman’s for a few reasons: her film is going to be the most popular and widely recognized film of the group, and more importantly she deserves the award for her stunning performance.

SHOULD WIN – Portman WILL WIN – Portman

BEST ACTOR – COMEDY OR MUSICAL: Johnny Depp (Alice in Wonderland) – Johnny Depp (The Tourist) – Paul Giamatti (Barney’s Version) – Jake Gyllenhaal (Love and Other Drugs) – Kevin Spacey (Casino Jack)

Thankfully, Depp will cancel himself out for his two mediocre performances. I don’t see Gyllenhaal winning this award because of the movie’s lukewarm reception, and I think maybe a dozen people have seen Giamatti in Barney’s Version, if that. That leaves Kevin Spacey playing Jack Abramoff. Although this is a small film, Hollywood loves political performances, and Spacey has generated a small deal of buzz for his turn as the infamous lobbyist. I think he wins by default here.

SHOULD WIN – Spacey WILL WIN – Spacey

BEST ACTOR – DRAMA: Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) – Colin Firth (The King’s Speech) – James Franco (127 Hours) – Ryan Gosling (Blue Valentine) – Mark Wahlberg (The Fighter)
This is another category that boils down to window dressing. While everyone here is excellent in their performances, Firth is the lead candidate to win, and he will win.

SHOULD WIN – Firth WILL WIN – Firth

BEST DIRECTOR: Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) – David Fincher (The Social Network) – Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) – Christopher Nolan (Inception) – David O. Russell (The Fighter)

I could see anyone in this category except Russell winning. Nolan may be the next farthest away logically, mostly because of the three frontrunners ahead of him. I think The King’s Speech will get the acting awards and perhaps best picture, but I don’t see relative newcomer Hooper winning. That leaves Fincher and Aronofsky, and a real toss up. I think Aronofsky might deserve the award in a slight edge over Fincher, but Fincher may benefit from a more widely popular film that has a better shot at best picture.

SHOULD WIN – Aronofsky WILL WIN – Fincher

BEST PICTURE – COMEDY OR MUSICAL: Alice in Wonderland, Burlesque, The Kids Are All Right, Red, The Tourist

Red has to be the strangest nomination of all the Golden Globes. This entire category is strange. The Tourist, currently tracking at 20% on the Tomatometer, is a ridiculous nomination. Burlesque is at 36%, another unworthy nomination for a forgettable film. This is where the Globes have things wrong. These films deserve no nominations. The Kids Are All Right will have no competition taking home this award.

SHOULD WIN – Kids WILL WIN – Kids

BEST PICTURE – DRAMA: Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The King’s Speech, The Social Network

What a stacked category. The drama nominations are as strong as the musical/comedy nominations are weak. I have seen three of five, and anticipate seeing the other two in due time, and I imagine they all deserve to win on their own accord. But that isn’t how these work. The Fighter is the longest shot here. Inception is perhaps next in line; I think the picture was released too long ago, and has fallen in line behind some stronger contenders. Black Swan may be too strange for some voters, leaving America’s heavy hitter versus Britain’s heavy hitter. I am going with my gut, and pointing out Firth’s win as a win for The King’s Speech. Things are trending towards The Social Network early, and I think the timeliness of the subject matter and the seamlessness of the picture itself makes it the strongest in a list of strong candidates.

SHOULD WIN – Social WILL WIN – Social

SNUBS: Oddly enough, I see no representation of both the Coen Brothers' True Grit and Sofia Copolla's Somewhere, two big-time Oscar contenders. And I cannot believe that The Tourist and Burlesque were the best options for some of the musical/comedy categories. What about Scott Pilgrim? Or Cyrus, the dark comedy from earlier this year? Surely these films are more deserving of recognition...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

TUESDAY TOP 10: Worst Best Pictures

Being one of the worst films to win Best Picture is a two-sided issue. On the one side, you have the film in question, whatever it may be. It may not be the worst film, it may not be a bad film, but as far as Best Picture goes, it is clearly not a worthy choice. Meanwhile, in each of these cases below there is another film (sometimes several) nominated against it that was better. In some cases, the other films are now considered important classics. Sometimes a good film beats a great film, like Dances with Wolves beating Goodfellas; those aren’t on this list. These films are not worthy of their status in really any way. We all know the Academy gets it wrong a lot, but these seem to be the most glaring oversights…


10) Million Dollar Baby – I was one of the fans of Clint Eastwood’s boxing drama back in 2004. I was swept up in its narrative power, but that power now feels like manipulation and a story that follows an obvious arc that has been used to better advantage before and after this one. The performance from Hilary Swank is a good one, but everyone else is a stock character from the Paul Haggis universe. They are characters that nobody really knows, but who appear in countless tired films throughout the years. Million Dollar Baby isn’t the worst by any means, hence the number 10 position, but it really isn’t that great of a picture.

SHOULD HAVE WON – Out of fellow nominees Ray, The Aviator, Finding Neverland, and Sideways, I would argue that Sideways is the most complete, most endearing film of that list. Sure, it doesn’t have the melodrama of Million Dollar Baby, but isn’t that really the point?

9) American Beauty – Again, I was swept up in the momentum behind Sam Mendes’ directorial debut, a film that speaks loudly about suburban angst, but really ages more like a mid-life crisis story about a bored, selfish father. At the time, the technical aspects of American Beauty and the popularity of Kevin Spacey carried this film all the way from October to the podium in February of 2000, but some things don’t age as well as others. This film, I am afraid, does not age as well as most films of its type, and things seem too obvious in the narrative.

SHOULD HAVE WON – Personally, I feel like Michael Mann’s real-world thriller, The Insider, was the finest picture of 1999. I don’t think that The Cider House Rules, The Sixth Sense, or The Green Mile were necessarily better, but I don’t see any argument against Mann’s film, a thrilling, tense, near perfect suspense ripped from the headlines and full of stellar performances being better.

8) Shakespeare in Love – This is the first film here that I really didn’t care for to begin with. This soft, flippant romantic comedy disguised with fancy set design and costume design is nothing more than another entry into a subgenre that is typically not recognized in Awards season unless it transcends convention. Shakespeare in Love simply transcended time and place. Sure, it is entertaining, often funny, and full of some wonderful performances, but it really doesn’t bring anything new to the table and is mostly forgettable.

SHOULD HAVE WON – This category belonged to Saving Private Ryan, and still does. The clear-cut favorite even got Steven Spielberg his second directing Oscar, but was shockingly passed over for Best Picture. Even The Thin Red Line or Elizabeth was more deserving. Life is Beautiful on the other hand… not so much.

7) Driving Miss Daisy – This film didn’t even get a Best Director nomination for Bruce Beresford. Then again, has anyone ever heard of Bruce Beresford before or after this film? I have tried to watch Driving Miss Daisy in its entirety a number of times, but the corny music, the dull storyline, and the obvious acting choices by everyone involved turns me off every time. This is a film for everyone to look at from a distance and shake their head at how racist old white people can be. And the soft light of the camera is another drawback to this stale story.

SHOULD HAVE WON – There wasn’t a clear favorite in 1989, but any of the other four films seem more deserving from this distance. Born on the 4th of July, My Left Foot, Field of Dreams, all have their own merits. But my personal favorite of the list has to be Dead Poets Society, a truly affecting school drama with some excellent writing and emotional performances.

6) Around the World in 80 Days – This adventure film in 1956 was a broad, grand spectacle that was celebrated more for its excessive indulgence than its ability to be any sort of compelling or memorable drama. There were over 40 cameos from the biggest stars in Hollywood at the time, so I would assume that the abundance of star power helped to politically influence the Academy. With that many names, there are that many influences to sway voting, which must be the reason for this ridiculous film winning the biggest award of the evening.

SHOULD HAVE WON – Ok, so Friendly Persuasion is a film that has been rightfully forgotten, but what about The King and I or The Ten Commandments? Both of these films are more deserving. But for my money, Giant is the most endearing picture of 1956, and the most deserving Best Picture winner. The James Dean epic is quite the spectacle, but also has some solid acting performances to go along with it.

5) Gigi – Musicals were big winners for many many years in the early days of Oscar. Many of them were deserving, classic pictures. Gigi is not one of them. This story about rich Parisians and friendships and love is stale from the get go. And it doesn’t help that, as a musical, there is very little singing and dancing in the story. Gigi is forgettable in every sense of the word, and I cannot imagine it being recognized for anything these days, other than being a failed attempt at a musical.

SHOULD HAVE WON – The Defiant Ones would have been a good choice here, but not my first. I don’t know anything about Separate Tables or Auntie Mame, but I do know about the power of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The Paul Newman, Liz Taylor drama is a classic, and is in every way superior than a tired musical that nobody really remembers anything about.

4) Cavalcade – This “drama” tells the story of a romantic couple who endure many of the issues of the early twentieth century, including World War I and the sinking of the Titanic. Only the film itself is not dramatically interesting, or very compelling. As a matter of fact, the film is one of the most tiring, boring pictures ever made, and one that is so forgettable regardless of whether or not it was released almost 80 years ago. This film plays like one of the dullest History Channel explanations of the early twentieth century.

SHOULD HAVE WON – I don’t know much about the other nominees, and this was one of the years where there were ten nominees. I do know about A Farewell to Arms though, and I understand the scope and dramatic impact this Hemingway adaptation had and still has on classic Hollywood cinema. I would have to go with it, or perhaps any of the other 8 films, over Cavalcade.

3) The English Patient – Look no further than one of the more popular Seinfeld episodes, where Elaine simply did not like The English Patient. “It was boring” she tells everyone around her who is raving about it. And she couldn’t be more accurate. People loved The English Patient because they thought they were supposed to love it. They couldn’t tell you why they loved it other than their desire to sound intelligent or be pretentious and side with an “important film.” This is a dull, dull picture, with no redeeming qualities and no forward momentum.

SHOULD HAVE WON – Jerry Maguire may have been too mainstream and kitschy, Secrets and Lies too small, and Shine too much of a one many show… But Fargo? What about Fargo for god’s sake? What a marvelous picture, and an entertaining one at the same time. There is no question that The Coen Brothers’ picture was the best of 1996.

2) Crash – This is simply baffling. The only explanation I have for this manipulative piece of garbage masquerading as an important film about race relations in this country winning Best Picture is the momentum Paul Haggis had after winning Best Original Screenplay the year before for Million Dollar Baby, another manipulating film. Haggis’ Magnolia wannabe is about as subtle as a kick to the crotch, full of characters saying things I have never heard anyone in the real world say, and rife with coincidences that are so forced it is almost laughable.

SHOULD HAVE WON – Other than anything else in the list, I would have to say Ang Lee’s daring dramatic film, Brokeback Mountain, the film that had all the deserving momentum going in, should have taken the top prize. This just shows once again that, no matter what people tell you, Hollywood still fears the gay, and is not as progressive as everyone thinks.

1) Ordinary People – I resisted watching this picture for some time for a number of reasons. I always said it did not deserve to win Best Picture before I ever even watched it or gave it a fair chance. When I decided to give it a shot, with an open mind, my feelings towards this film were confirmed. This dreary, mean-spirited family drama is not only melodramatic to a fault, but it is boring and flat and not very interesting. Eveyone in this film is hateful and bitter, and the attitude seeps through to the storytelling. I hated this film, and cannot believe it will forever be canonized.

SHOULD HAVE WON – Raging Bull. Is there really any need to say more?