Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sales activity heats up at Sundance

Hollywood Reporter has the rundown on who's buying what from Park City after yesterday's Jury Prizes.

Full list of deals here.

THE HURT LOCKER WINS DGA

The Directors Guild has like...six awards, and I was up until after 2:30 waiting to hear Best Director.

And yet, so happy. Kathryn Bigelow has secured her place in history, becoming the first woman director to win this award.

The Oscars have only nominated four (five? I can't remember) female directors in its 82 year history. None have won.

Oscar nominations are on Tuesday. Avatar will lead the pack. The tech guilds will start to barrel roll at about one-two per week until the big night. Hurt Locker has the brass; Avatar has the green.

But let's not forget this is a monumental moment for the awards industry. The Hurt Locker is, in MANY ways, the most deserving film to be honored from 2009. I don't think it's the best, I don't even think Bigelow did the best direction, but that's for another post. This is a moment where we're not awarding a filmmaker because she's a female, but because she a film that is both genre-specific, thematically timely, stunning in craft and universal in scope.

2010 Sundance Film Festival winners

From IndieWire

Grand Jury Prize, Dramatic Film: Winter's Bone (director Debra Granik)

Grand Jury Prize, Documentary: Restrepo (director Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington)

World Cinema Jury Prize, Dramatic: Animal Kingdom (director David Michod)

World Cinema Jury Prize, Documentary: The Red Chapel (Det Rode Kapel) (director Mads Brugger)

Dramatic Audience Award: happythankyoumoreplease (writer/director Josh Radnor)

Documentary Audience Award: Waiting for Superman (director Davis Guggenheim)

World Cinema Dramatic Audience Award: Contracorriente (Undertow) (writer/director Javier Fuentes-Leon)

World Cinema Documentary Audience Award: Wasteland (director Lucy Walker)

Follow the link above for the rest of the winners.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Disney pulls the plug on Miramax

Okay, so Harvey and Bob Weinstein may have jumped the ship several years ago to reboot Miramax as The Weinstein Co., and Disney may have been cutting the company to death ever since, but they officially shut the company down today.

As someone who grew up in "The Miramax Era," this is very much a chapter-ending part of film history. Except not. The Weinsteins will go on to bully their way through the semi-independent film world (hey, they got The Reader a Best Pic nom), but this is definitely a major event for the industry.

Full article at Empire Online.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Fantasy world's highs and lows

From Variety:

Tim Burton picked as the head judge for the 2010 Cannes Film Festival panel. GOOD choice.

And from E! Online:

Production for The Hobbit has been indefinitely set back. Producer Peter Jackson now expects the first of two movies to be released at the end of 2012. Guillermo del Toro is still attached to direct.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Box office, PGA, and what this means for YOUR week

"The Hurt Locker" winning the Producers Guild is a big deal. Really. As I laid out last weekend in my post about Segmenting the Race, momentum surges and squanders. Different awards have different value. It's about what weight gets thrown around and where.

When Avatar won the Globe, people acted like the Oscar was a done deal. Sorry kids, not when there's still well over a month before the ceremony. Campaigning doesn't work like that. Avatar may have just passed The Dark Knight to become the 2nd highest grossing movie in US box office, it may have popular phenomenon like nothing else this year, but think of who the Academy is: traditional old guys.

Sci-fi is not their tradition. Not in the big picture. Lord of the Rings is the only fantasy film to win the Best Picture Oscar. It still lost twice. I can't/won't see Avatar in the same position, because Lord of the Rings never touted itself as the "future of film." It reimagined the epic through fantasy. That, and James Cameron's had his turn.

Here's why Avatar lost: Star Trek and District 9. You nominate three sci-fi movies for Best Picture at the PGA, the votes split. Were it five nominees instead of 10, I bet Avatar would have won. If the same thing happens at the Oscars, you can bet the votes will split.

But for The Hurt Locker to win this award from THE PRODUCERS shows me that Avatar's reach does exceed its grasp. It will win a plethora of tech guilds and Oscars, but it needs the directors guild. It needs something more important than the Globe or else it ends up being like Babel, statistically speaking.

Likewise, Hurt Locker needs something else. Editing guild, maybe. There's a ferocious competition brewing under the surface, and it's dividing down this line:

Do we award the populist, technological accomplishment? Or do we award the small, "important," critically championed achievement?

Or is it someone completely different?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

THE HURT LOCKER WINS PGA!!!!!!

Producers Guild of America winners:

Film: THE HURT LOCKER (wow!)
Comedy Television: 30 Rock
Drama Television: Mad Men
Long Form Television: Grey Gardens
Documentary: The Cove
Animated: Up
Live Entertainment: Colbert Report
Non-Fiction Television: 60 Minutes
Stanley Kramer: Precious
Vanguard Award: Joss Whedon

"Glee" wins SAG Ensemble

While I still haven't exactly figured out what it is about "Glee" that makes me love it so, and I probably never will, I really do love this cast. A truly great ensemble.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

SAG Award Winners

Ensemble: Inglourious Basterds (boosh!)
Actor: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Actress: Sandra Bullock, Blind Side (I guess I gots to see this movie now)
Supp Actor: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Supp Actress: Mo'Nique, Precious

Thursday, January 21, 2010

British Academy Nominations

From Awards Daily:


BEST FILM
AVATAR James Cameron, Jon Landau
AN EDUCATION Amanda Posey, Finola Dwyer
THE HURT LOCKER Nominees TBC
PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL PUSH BY SAPPHIRE Lee Daniels, Sarah Siegel-Magness, Gary Magness
UP IN THE AIR Ivan Reitman, Jason Reitman, Daniel Dubiecki

OUTSTANDING BRITISH FILM
AN EDUCATION Amanda Posey, Finola Dwyer, Lone Scherfig, Nick Hornby
FISH TANK Kees Kasander, Nick Laws, Andrea Arnold
IN THE LOOP Kevin Loader, Adam Tandy, Armando Iannucci, Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Tony Roche
MOON Stuart Fenegan, Trudie Styler, Duncan Jones, Nathan Parker
NOWHERE BOY Kevin Loader, Douglas Rae, Robert Bernstein, Sam Taylor-Wood, Matt Greenhalgh

DIRECTOR
AVATAR James Cameron
DISTRICT 9 Neill Blomkamp
AN EDUCATION Lone Scherfig
THE HURT LOCKER Kathryn Bigelow
INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS Quentin Tarantino


ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
THE HANGOVER Jon Lucas, Scott Moore
THE HURT LOCKER Mark Boal
INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS Quentin Tarantino
A SERIOUS MAN Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
UP Bob Peterson, Pete Docter

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
DISTRICT 9 Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell
AN EDUCATION Nick Hornby
IN THE LOOP Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche
PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL PUSH BY SAPPHIRE Geoffrey Fletcher
UP IN THE AIR Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner

FILM NOT IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE
BROKEN EMBRACES Agustín Almodóvar, Pedro Almodóvar
COCO BEFORE CHANEL Carole Scotta, Caroline Benjo, Philippe Carcassonne, Anne Fontaine
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN Carl Molinder, John Nordling, Tomas Alfredson
A PROPHET Pascale Caucheteux, Marco Chergui, Alix Raynaud, Jacques Audiard
THE WHITE RIBBON Stefan Arndt, Veit Heiduschka, Margaret Menegoz, Michael Haneke

ANIMATED FILM
CORALINE Henry Selick
FANTASTIC MR FOX Wes Anderson
UP Pete Docter

LEADING ACTOR
JEFF BRIDGES Crazy Heart
GEORGE CLOONEY Up in the Air
COLIN FIRTH A Single Man
JEREMY RENNER The Hurt Locker
ANDY SERKIS Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

LEADING ACTRESS
CAREY MULLIGAN An Education
SAOIRSE RONAN The Lovely Bones
GABOUREY SIDIBE Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
MERYL STREEP Julie & Julia
AUDREY TAUTOU Coco Before Chanel

SUPPORTING ACTOR
ALEC BALDWIN It’s Complicated
CHRISTIAN McKAY Me and Orson Welles
ALFRED MOLINA An Education
STANLEY TUCCI The Lovely Bones
CHRISTOPH WALTZ Inglourious Basterds

SUPPORTING ACTRESS
ANNE-MARIE DUFF Nowhere Boy
VERA FARMIGA Up in the Air
ANNA KENDRICK Up in the Air
MO’NIQUE Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
KRISTIN SCOTT THOMAS Nowhere Boy

MUSIC
AVATAR James Horner
CRAZY HEART T-Bone Burnett, Stephen Bruton
FANTASTIC MR FOX Alexandre Desplat
SEX & DRUGS & ROCK & ROLL Chaz Jankel
UP Michael Giacchino

CINEMATOGRAPHY
AVATAR Mauro Fiore
DISTRICT 9 Trent Opaloch
THE HURT LOCKER Barry Ackroyd
INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS Robert Richardson
THE ROAD Javier Aguirresarobe

EDITING
AVATAR Stephen Rivkin, John Refoua, James Cameron
DISTRICT 9 Julian Clarke
THE HURT LOCKER Bob Murawski, Chris Innis
INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS Sally Menke
UP IN THE AIR Dana E. Glauberman

PRODUCTION DESIGN
AVATAR Rick Carter, Robert Stromberg, Kim Sinclair
DISTRICT 9 Philip Ivey, Guy Poltgieter
HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE Stuart Craig, Stephenie McMillan
THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS Nominees TBC
INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS David Wasco, Sandy Reynolds Wasco

COSTUME DESIGN
BRIGHT STAR Janet Patterson
COCO BEFORE CHANEL Catherine Leterrier
AN EDUCATION Odile Dicks-Mireaux
A SINGLE MAN Arianne Phillips
THE YOUNG VICTORIA Sandy Powell

SOUND
AVATAR Christopher Boyes, Gary Summers, Andy Nelson, Tony Johnson, Addison Teague
DISTRICT 9 Nominees TBC
THE HURT LOCKER Ray Beckett, Paul N. J. Ottosson, Craig Stauffer
STAR TREK Peter J. Devlin, Andy Nelson, Anna Behlmer, Mark Stoeckinger, Ben Burtt
UP Tom Myers, Michael Silvers, Michael Semanick

SPECIAL VISUAL EFFECTS
AVATAR Joe Letteri, Stephen Rosenbaum, Richard Baneham, Andrew R. Jones
DISTRICT 9 Dan Kaufman, Peter Muyzers, Robert Habros, Matt Aitken
HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE John Richardson, Tim Burke, Tim Alexander, Nicolas Aithadi
THE HURT LOCKER Richard Stutsman
STAR TREK Roger Guyett, Russell Earl, Paul Kavanagh, Burt Dalton

MAKE UP & HAIR
COCO BEFORE CHANEL Thi Thanh Tu Nguyen, Jane Milon
AN EDUCATION Lizzie Yianni Georgiou
THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS Sarah Monzani
NINE Peter ‘Swords’ King
THE YOUNG VICTORIA Jenny Shircore

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Seventh Annual Jagged Edge Awards Nominees

It's hard to believe I've been doing this for seven years. It's also hard to believe that I saw over 50 films from 2009 and enjoyed over half of them. Loved a good handful. Part of why I love 2009 is because of how diverse it was - great drama, great comedy, great sci-fi, great animation. There may be years of films with an overall better slate, but you'd be hard-pressed to find so much diversity and creativity. That said, these nominations only single out a handful. There are 30 films represented. Only one scored more than ten nominations (which actually surprised me once I tallied it all up). Please enjoy.

The Seventh Annual Jagged Edge Awards
Awarding Filmmaking Excellence Above the Cut

Best Picture

(500) Days of Summer

The Hurt Locker

Inglourious Basterds

A Serious Man

The White Ribbon


Best Director

Wes Anderson for Fantastic Mr. Fox

Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker

Joel and Ethan Coen for A Serious Man

Michael Haneke for The White Ribbon

Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds

This is the second directing nomination for the Coen brothers; they won the award in 2007 for No Country for Old Men. They have additionally been nominated three times for screenplay (won adapted in 2007 for No Country for Old Men and two original nominees – Burn After Reading in 2008 and A Serious Man this year), and won for Best Editing in 2007 for No Country for Old Men (six total nominations)

This is Quentin Tarantino’s fourth nomination. He was nominated for Directing and Writing in 2004 for Kill Bill Vol. 2 and is also nominated this year for writing Inglourious Basterds

This is the first nomination for all other nominees.



Best Actor

Nicolas Cage for Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Jeremy Renner for The Hurt Locker

Sam Rockwell for Moon

Michael Sheen for The Damned United

Michael Stuhlbarg for A Serious Man

This is Michael Sheen’s second nomination. He was nominated for supporting actor in 2006 for The Queen.

This is the first nomination for all other nominees


Best Actress

Penelope Cruz for Broken Embraces

Charlotte Gainsbourg for Antichrist

Melanie Laurent for Inglourious Basterds

Carey Mulligan for An Education

Meryl Streep for Julie & Julia

This is Penelope Cruz’s second nomination. She was nominated in supporting last year for Vicky Christina Barcelona.

This is Mery Streep’s third nomination. She was nominated last year for Doubt and won in 2006 for The Devil Wears Prada.

This is the first nomination for all other nominees


Best Supporting Actor

Peter Capaldi for In the Loop

Heath Ledger for The Imaginarium for Doctor Parnassus

Anthony Mackie for The Hurt Locker

Alfred Molina for An Education

Christoph Waltz for Inglourious Basterds

This is the third nomination for Heath Ledger. He was nominated for lead actor in 2005 for Brokeback Mountain and won last year for The Dark Knight

This is the first nomination for all other nominees.


Best Supporting Actress

Alicia Delmore for Humpday

Vera Farmiga for Up in the Air

Anna Kendrick for Up in the Air

Diane Kruger for Inglourious Basterds

Rosamund Pike, An Education

This is the first nomination for all nominees.


Best Adapted Screenplay

An Education

Screenplay by Nick Hornby

Based on the Memoir by Lynn Barber

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Screenplay by Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach

Based on the Novel by Roald Dahl

In the Loop

Screenplay by Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Ianucci and Tony Roche

Based on their television series

Up in the Air

Screenplay by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner

Based on the Novel by Walter Kirn

Where the Wild Things Are

Screenplay by Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers

Based on the Story by Maurice Sendak

This is Wes Anderon’s second nomination. He is also nominated this year for directing. This is Noah Baumbach’s third nomination – he was nominated for directing and writing The Squid and the Whale in 2005.

This is Jason Reitman’s second nomination. He was nominated for adapting Thank You for Smoking in 2006.

This is the first nomination for all other nominees.


Best Original Screenplay

Scott Neudstater and Michael H. Weber for (500) Days of Summer

Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds

Nathan Parker and Duncan Jones for Moon

Joel Coen and Ethan Coen for A Serious Man

Michael Haneke for The White Ribbon

This is Quentin Tarantino’s second writing nomination. He is also nominated this year for directing Inglourious Basterds and was nominated in 2004 for writing and directing Kill Bill Vol. 2

This is the Coen brothers’ third writing nomination – they won adapted in 2007 for No Country for Old Men and were nominated for original in 2008 for Burn After Reading. They are also nominated this year for directing.


Best Cast Ensemble

An Education

The Hurt Locker

Inglourious Basterds

In the Loop

The White Ribbon


Best Voice Acting

George Clooney for Fantastic Mr. Fox

James Gandolfini for Where the Wild Things Are

Ian McShane for Coraline

Christopher Plummer for Up

Kevin Spacey for Moon

This is George Clooney’s third acting nomination; lead in 2007 for Michael Clayton, and supporting in 2005 for Syriana. He was additionally nominated for writing and directing Good Night, and Good Luck in 2005.


Best Art Direction/Production Design

Fantastic Mr. Fox, Nelson Lowry

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Anastasia Masaro, Dan Hermansen and Denis Schnegg

Public Enemies, Nathan Crowley, Patrick Lumb, William Ladd Skinner

Star Trek, Scott Chambliss, Curt Beech, Dennis Bradford, Keith Cunningham, Luke Freeborn, Beat Frutiger, Gary Kosko

The White Ribbon, Anja Muller and Heike Wolf


Best Cinematography

Antichrist, Anthony Dod Mantle

Drag Me to Hell, Peter Deming

Fantastic Mr. Fox, Tristan Oliver

Inglourious Basterds, Robert Richardson

The White Ribbon, Christian Berger


Best Costume Design

A Serious Man, Mary Zophres

An Education, Odile Dicks-Mireauz

Julie & Julia, Ann Roth

Public Enemies, Colleen Atwood

Where the Wild Things Are, Casey Storm


Best Film Editing

District 9, Julian Clarke

The Damned United, Melanie Oliver

The Hurt Locker, Chris Innis and Bob Murawski

Inglourious Basterds, Sally Menke

Up in the Air, Dana E. Glauberman


Best Original Score

Drag Me to Hell, Christopher Young

Moon, Clint Mansell

Public Enemies, Elliot Goldenthal

Star Trek, Michael Giacchino

Where the Wild Things Are, Carter Burwell and Karen O.


Best Adapted Score

(500) Days of Summer

Adventureland

Inglourious Basterds

Observe and Report

Up in the Air


Best Sound Mixing

A Serious Man

The Hurt Locker

Inglourious Basterds

Moon

Where the Wild Things Are


Best Sound Editing

Avatar

District 9

Drag Me to Hell

Public Enemies

Star Trek


Best Visual Effects

Avatar

District 9

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Moon

Star Trek


Best Makeup

Broken Embraces

District 9

Drag Me to Hell

Thirst

Where the Wild Things Are


Best Trailer

(500) Days of Summer

A Serious Man

Drag Me to Hell

Up in the Air

Where the Wild Things Are


Body of Work Award

George Clooney for Up in the Air, Fantastic Mr. Fox, & The Men Who Stare at Goats

John Krasinski for It’s Complicated & Away We Go

Meryl Streep for Julie & Julia, It’s Complicated, & Fantastic Mr. Fox

Stanley Tucci for Julie & Julia & The Lovely Bones


Scene of the Year

(500) Days of Summer: Split between fantasy and reality

An Education: Trip to Paris

Antichrist: The mutilation

A Serious Man: Dual car crashes

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans: “His soul is still dancing!”

Drag Me to Hell: The séance

The Hurt Locker: Bomb in the trunk

Inglourious Basterds: “I want to send a message to Germany.”

Observe and Report: The takedown

Un Prophete: Jail cell murder

Public Enemies: Manhattan Melodrama

Up: Marriage montage

Up in the Air: Webcam firing


Nominations Total

Inglourious Basterds – 12

A Serious Man – 8

The Hurt Locker - 8

Where the Wild Things Are – 7

Up in the Air – 7

The White Ribbon – 7

An Education – 7

Moon – 6

(500) Days of Summer – 5

Fantastic Mr. Fox – 5

District 9 – 4

Drag Me to Hell – 4

Public Enemies – 4

Star Trek – 4

Antichrist – 3

In the Loop – 3

The Imaginarium of the Doctor Parnassus – 3

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans – 2

Observe and Report – 2

Broken Embraces – 2

Avatar – 2

Up – 2

The Damned United – 2

Julie & Julia – 2

Un Prophete – 1

Adventureland – 1

Thirst – 1

Humpday – 1

Coraline – 1

Coens to bow "True Grit" in 2010; Webb to direct "Spider-man" reboot

Two other major things from today:

From Variety: Paramount has slated the Coens' remake of Henry Hathaway's "True Grit" for Christmas Day 2010.

From E! Online: Sony reports director Marc Webb (of "(500) Days of Summer") has signed on to direct their reboot of Spider-man. Hmmm.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Larry David to receive Paddy Chayefsky laurel award

from Variety:

The Writers Guild of America has tapped Larry David to receive its Paddy Chayefsky Laurel award for television.

David will be presented the kudo at the WGA West's awards ceremonies at the Century Plaza. Past recipients include David Chase, Stephen J. Cannell, Susan Harris, William Blinn and current WGA West president John Wells.

"For a writer who's made a career out of creating hit television shows about 'nothing,' Larry David is really something among writers," Wells said.

David has won two WGA awards for "Seinfeld" and another for "Curb Your Enthusiasm," which recently completed its seventh season.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Globes' tribute to Scorsese

The HFPA did a great job putting together this montage for Scorsese's films, and he gave a remarkable speech accepting his lifetime achievement award. It's people like him that make me love my field.

HFPA, I fart in your general direction

The Internet is abuzz with how Avatar is going to win the Oscar. Sorry, kids. The Globes aren't the Oscars. How soon we forget when they gave Atonement, Babel, Brokeback Mountain, The Aviator, The Hours Best Picture. This lingering knowledge didn't stop me from having to hold my vomit all night.

But maybe it wasn't who won, but how they won. The Globes always get down their on their knees for the stars; worse than any other "legitimate" organization I know of. The image that best sums up the evening is when Michael Haneke won the Best Foreign Language Film award for The White Ribbon (a film that people are going through the roof about overseas, but American critics just kind of shrugged it off). It's a major moment - Haneke is highly regarded in our inner little film circles, and for him to finally get an award this mainstream in America is a big deal.

Apparently though, HFPA doesn't really have much respect for him. Though the Austrian director readily admitted to struggling with his English, he got cut off in about 45 seconds. Then of course, James Cameron wins Best Director and the man gets to go on for what felt like forever about how his film is a "global" phenomenon and he has achieved the most universal kind of art. I'm sure the show's producer ate this up - after all, who wants to listen to some Austrian guy talk about his art (and who else caught that they cut away to Arnold Schwarzenegger while he gave his speech - the only other Austrian in the room, they MUST have a common brotherhood!).

So no, I don't think Avatar's win will automatically give it the Oscar. It helps it, but there's nothing locked in about the race. As much as I like to complain about how the Academy panders, how antiquated they can be, and how they too often just don't "get it," they're not the HFPA.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The 67th Annual Golden Globe Awards

Best Picture, Drama: Avatar
Best Director: James Cameron, Avatar
Best Actor, Drama: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Best Actress, Drama: Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Best Picture, Comedy: The Hangover
Best Actor, Comedy: Robert Downey Jr., Sherlock Holmes
Best Actress, Comedy: Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Best Supporting Actress: Mo'Nique, Precious
Best Screenplay: Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air
Best Animated Film: Up
Best Foreign Language Film: The White Ribbon
Best Score: Michael Giacchino, Up
Best Song: "The Weary Kind" from Crazy Heart

The Critics are NOT the Academy: Segmenting the Race

One thing I think I may have failed to do in regards to the race this year, especially since I keep referring to it as "wide open," is explain exactly WHY it's so wide open and why the critics don't *really* matter. The past two years have been about one film towering through every "stage" of the race to the Oscars (Slumdog won everything; No Country traded punches with There Will Be Blood early on and then pulled way out in front). In order to really explain the topsy-turvy nature of everything, let me frame this in perspective of 2004, one of the best "awards seasons" I've followed in terms of momentum shifts.

The "Critics" are the first step of every race. This starts with the National Board of Review and pulsates through the New York Critics, LA Critics, and virtually every major city/region of the country. This "phase" finishes off with the Critics Choice (which actually holds less weight than New York and LA as individual awards). Often, they unanimously pick one movie to get behind. In 2004, it was "Sideways." That film won honors from almost every major group and the Critics Choice. This year, Hurt Locker has been the "critics' darling," with Up in the Air winning its fair share.

The Globes are their own phase of the race. They get the most media attention of any other award, and they can help bring a film up or shut one out. They matter less than the Guilds (which I'll get to in a minute), as I think they only match with Oscar about 65-70% of the time, but they're important for momentum. They also have two Best Pictures. To go back to 2004: Sideways won Best Picture, Comedy. The Aviator won Best Picture, Drama, giving it a momentum surge into the Guild nominees.

Now, nominations are very important unto themselves. Thinking again about 2004, everyone viewed this as a three-way race between Sideways, The Aviator, and Million Dollar Baby, which had - at the time of the Globes - won the National Society of Film Critics award for Best Film, the Golden Globe for Best Director, and been *nominated* in virtually every major race. The "Guilds" - Producers, Directors, Actors, Cinematographers, Editors, etc - are THE MOST IMPORTANT part of the race for two major reasons: they are the closest to the Oscars schedule-wise, which means their momentum is crucial. They are also voted on by people who are IN the Academy (not all the people in the Guilds are in the Academy, but a vast percentage of those in the Academy are Guild members).

What made 2004 so cool, as a case study, was that AGAIN the three major films split awards: The Aviator won the Producers Guild, Sideways won the Screen Actors Guild, and Million Dollar Baby won the Directors Guild. At this point in the race, the early momentum Sideways had gained dwindled significantly - most thought it would get Best Adapted Screenplay and maybe an acting Oscar - while Aviator and Million Dollar Baby were going head-to-head not only for Picture but for Director - Clint's second vs. Scorsese's first.

When Oscar night happened, The Aviator won five Oscars - all tech awards. Sideways won only Best Adapted Screenplay. Million Dollar Baby won Picture, Director, Actress, and Supporting Actor. If one looks at the race just in terms of who won what, this doesn't make much sense and looks a lot like an upset. What's MORE important is WHEN the awards happen - Million Dollar Baby opened at the very end of December. It scored nominations in all the right places, built a VERY slow word of mouth, and won the Directors Guild and the Globe for Director. These two awards gave it the momentum necessary to usurp Aviator for Best Picture.

Meanwhile, Sideways - the early favorite - went from winner to nominee, its Screenplay being its one consistent winner all the way to Oscar night.

I think it's important to build this up because if you just read the 2009 race in terms of who's winning NOW, it looks like The Hurt Locker will surge to the Oscars easily. But ESPECIALLY this year, with the Oscars being pushed to March to accommodate the Winter Olympics, it's all about who's on top closest to the broadcast. THIS is why I see Avatar winning - if it gets Guild support it can easily rocket past Hurt Locker. This is also why I still see Inglourious Basterds winning - hell will break loose if Tarantino yanks the Directors Guild award.

The Globes are unimportant, but at the same time they're VERY important - when Babel won in 2006 everyone said it would upset The Departed at the Oscars, and indeed it looked that way when Little Miss Sunshine won the PGA and the SAG and Departed won the DGA, but when Scorsese's film nabbed the Editors Guild ten days before the broadcast I knew it was safe - it's about playing numbers, stats and momentum. Babel peaked at the Globes.

Hurt Locker can peak tonight. So can Up in the Air. I dare say whichever film wins tonight WON'T win the Oscar. That sounds illogical, but I also see the major Guilds splitting between the "four films" considered the frontrunners. Either way, there's still a month and a half left. It's nowhere near over, and nobody knows anything.

Golden Globes Predictions

While I'll NEVER say that the winner of the Globes equals the winner of the Oscar, this is the best race we've had probably since 2006 in terms of multiple films going head to head. In that sense, the Globes are helpful, but they're also a strange and sometimes very stupid organization. Nominees and predictions below

Best Picture, Drama

Avatar
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Precious
Up in the Air

Will Win: Up in the Air
Should Win: Inglourious Basterds

I actually don't feel comfortable predicting this category. In a lot of ways, I think Avatar will win this. In other ways, it's The Hurt Locker's to lose. But in terms of the small, well-rounded picture that they clearly loved, Up in the Air just feels like the correct choice. That said, were Avatar to win this award, it would be honing its sights on taking down the Oscar. Were Inglourious Basterds to win, there'd be a gigantic reshuffling of the proverbial deck. Frankly, this is the most exciting race of the night - which is as it should be.

Best Picture, Comedy/Musical

(500) Days of Summer
The Hangover
It's Complicated
Julie & Julia
Nine

Will Win: (500) Days of Summer
Should Win: (500) Days of Summer

Most years this would be a no-brainer vote for Nine - they love musicals, regardless of the quality. But Nine hasn't been anywhere since these nominations. It's dead in the water. (500) Days and The Hangover have hit shown up here and there, and the former seems the more admired.

Best Director

Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
James Cameron, Avatar
Clint Eastwood, Invictus
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

Will Win: Kathryn Bigelow
Should Win: Kathryn Bigelow

In the deepest spots of my heart, I'm yearning for Tarantino to win this one. It'd be kind of amazing. And the man deserves it, but there seems to be no denying Bigelow's stunning direction. Jim Cameron is the spoiler. Someone's bound to give him an award sooner or later, and I'd rather it be the HFPA than the Academy.

Best Actor, Drama

Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
George Clooney, Up in the Air
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
Tobey Maguire, Brothers

Will Win: George Clooney
Should Win: George Clooney

Sorry Jeff Bridges, you got the Critics Choice award, but this one's for Clooney. One of them will win the SAG, and it'll be another all-out brawl for the Oscar.

Best Actress, Drama

Emily Blunt, The Young Victoria
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Helen Mirren, The Last Station
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious

Will Win: Carey Mulligan
Should Win: Carey Mulligan

Look out for Sandra Bullock, who is apparently all of a sudden a good actress?? An Education didn't have much showing here, but that shouldn't take away from Mulligan's much-deserved win.

Best Actor, Musical/Comedy

Matt Damon, The Informant
Daniel Day-Lewis, Nine
Robert Downey Jr, Sherlock Holmes
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, (500) Days of Summer
Michael Stuhlbarg, A Serious Man

Will Win: Matt Damon
Should Win: Michael Stuhlbarg

Again, I'd normally give this to Nine in a heartbeat, but Matt Damon is double-nominated and they've never given him an award. About time, am I right?

Best Actress, Musical/Comedy

Sandra Bullock, The Proposal
Marion Cotillard, Nine
Julia Roberts, Duplicity
Meryl Streep, It's Complicated
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia

Will Win: Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
Should Win: Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia

Obvious.

Best Supporting Actpr

Matt Damon, Invictus
Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

Will Win: Christoph Waltz
Should Win: Christoph Waltz

Just keep the awards coming.

Best Supporting Actress

Penelope Cruz, Nine
Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Mo'Nique, Precious
Julianne Moore, A Serious Man

Will Win: Mo'Nique
Should Win: Anna Kendrick

Mo'Nique's an awards steamroller. It's deserved, but I'd like to see some love at the Up in the Air ladies.

Best Screenplay

Neill Blomkamp, Teri Tatcell, District 9
Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
Nancy Meyers, It's Complicated
Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air

Will Win: Inglourious Basterds
Should Win: Inglourious Basterds

But don't be surprised if Up in the Air wins.

Best Animated Film

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs
Coraline
Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Princess and the Frog
Up

Will Win: Up
Should Win: Fantastic Mr. Fox

Never deny Pixar. Then again, please award Wes Anderson!

Best Foreign Language Film

Baaria
Broken Embraces
The Maid
A Prophet
The White Ribbon

Will Win: The White Ribbon
Should Win: The White Ribbon

It could just as easily not, and they could give it to the more accessible Broken Embraces, but I like to think they have enough sense to at least award one major work of art per awards show.

Best Original Score

Up
The Informant
Avatar
A Single Man
Where the Wild Things Are

Will Win: Up
Should Win: Where the Wild Things Are

Up seems like an easy choice - Giacchino is very respected. But if Avatar wins this, I might lose it. James Horner gets no points for reusing samples of Troy and Titanic. It doesn't work that way.

Best Song

Cinema Italiano, Nine
I See You, Avatar
I Want to Come Home, Everybody's Fine
The Weary Kind, Crazy Heart
Winter, Brothers

Will Win: The Weary Kind
Should Win: The Weary Kind

Part of me thinks that awful Avatar song will win, but how could anyone with an ear think it's a good thing.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Critics and the Wide Open Race

The Critics Choice Awards went almost exactly as you could have predicted. The interesting stuff:

Basterds nabs the Ensemble award, which seems very major to me in the face of the other films nominated.
Avatar wins six Critics Choice Awards, five of them tech categories, but does not win Director or Picture. This reinforces my other major point on Avatar - respected, not loved.
Major love for Kathryn Bigelow and The Hurt Locker. If it wins the Globe, it will be moving into Brokeback Mountain territory (in terms of momentum and build).
The Actress tie for Streep and Bullock. The BFCA seems to want to get behind Bullock, but it still seems like Streep's year.
Jeff Bridges gets Actor from Clooney. But I also have to question - is this a replay of last year? Bridges as Rourke and Clooney as Penn? Although I'm still betting Jeremy Renner surprises us all and steals the Oscar.

Even though there were some very predictable wins (Waltz and Mo'Nique have the stretch wide open for the Oscar), what I'm struck with is how wide open the year still feels. With Avatar yanking tech awards left and right, Bigelow being the consistent choice for director, Basterds taking its fair share of the spotlight, and Up in the Air getting palpable love - who will really pull ahead? And where does this leave us with the nominees?

More to come with Globes preview on Sunday.

Critics Choice Winners

Picture: The Hurt Locker
Director: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Actor: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Actress: Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia AND Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Supporting Actress: Mo'Nique, Precious
Young Actress: Saoirse Ronan, The Lovely Bones
Acting Ensemble: Inglourious Basterds
Original Screenplay: Inglourious Basterds
Adapted Screenplay: Up in the Air
Documentary: The Cove
Foreign Language: Broken Embraces
Animated: Up
Comedy: The Hangover
Action: Avatar
Score: Up
Song: The Weary Kind, Crazy Heart
Costume Design: The Young Victoria
Make-Up: District 9
Cinematography: Avatar
Visual Effects: Avatar
Art Direction: Avatar
Editing: Avatar
Sound: Avatar

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Guild Commentary

The week Avatar came out, I off-handedly said - "this is the kind of movie that each branch is going to want to applaud, if only for its massive technical achievement."

Turns out I was right. By my math, Avatar has been nommed in every Guild thus far, and probably will get a nomination in each one (except maybe Costume Design). The straw - for me - was drawn at a Writers Guild nod. Sure, the Writers Guild did everything they could to sabotage their guild award, disqualifying "Basterds," "Up," "White Ribbon," etc etc because of various discrepancies in their rules (that won't apply to Oscar), but to nominate Avatar for a writing award? Ludicrous.

Of course, as suspected, this race is still very much an all-out brawl between the four frontrunners. What's NOT expected is the massive showing of District 9 and Star Trek, two movies that may slide in the BP slots at the Oscars, or maybe even screenplay. But since "sci-fi" seems to be the buzzword right now, is that enough to keep Avatar's hype machine building? Not necessarily. I think IF Star Trek or District 9 get Picture nods alongside Avatar, the latter film won't win, as the sci-fi films will effectively split-vote.

This Friday are the Critics Choice awards. This Sunday are the Golden Globes.

By Monday morning, the picture of this race will start making a lot more sense. If one film - be it Avatar, Hurt Locker, Up in the Air - or one performer - be it Meryl Streep, George Clooney - can take both awards this weekend, it will help isolate the frontrunners. Additionally, any upsets could rocket someone into the lingering 5th slots on the Oscar nods.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

That's Entertainment! Sci fi, fantasy struck back in 2009

Property The Daily Gamecock

Many have said that one of the best features of movies is their ability to visually realize one’s imagination. While they can capture reality, they also have the unique ability to present an alternate and fantastical reality in fluid motion. Ever since innovative and prankish directors such as Georges Melies got their hands on cameras at the turn of the 20th century, fantasy films have seemed to intermittently push cinema into new bounds, be it in “The Wizard of Oz” or “Star Wars.” It is odd then that notable science fiction and fantasy films seem so few and far between.

When we look back at 2009 however, many of the most memorable films will belong to these genres that are so often regarded as inferior.

According to industry analysts, 2009 has been the most profitable box office year in the history of movies, and it’s not hard to see why —— James Cameron’s sci-fi effects extravaganza “Avatar” has already grossed $1.34 billion worldwide in just four weekends to become the second highest-grossing movie ever made.

The reboot of “Star Trek” amassed $257.7 million and alien film “District 9” took in $115.5 million on their respective U.S. box office grosses.

Aside from the financial success of these and other entries to the genre, these films have also gotten considerable awards attention and critical recognition from organizations that usually prefer drama to action. The Producers Guild of America, for instance, nominated all three of the aforementioned films for its prestigious award.

It’s not hard to imagine any of them could land on Oscar’s best picture lineup — the first time a sci-fi or fantasy film would be included in that list since “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

For a country struggling through a massive economic recession, it may seem strange that this has been such a financially successful year for Hollywood, but movies have often made the most money at times of economic strife, such as the Great Depression.

Their success is only a reaffirmation of the public’s desire for an escape, for an immersive experience filled with jaw-dropping sights.

Unlike most throwaway science fiction films though, the past year’s offerings have also been thought provoking and socially relevant. “District 9” director Neill Blomkamp used South Africa’s struggle against apartheid as the basis for the racial undertones of his humans vs. aliens conflict.

“Avatar,” recognized most for its stunning motion-capture technology, also incorporates a storyline about colonialism and settlement. Other films like the small feature “Moon” are more contained and cerebral, posing moral and existential questions about humanity.

Looking at our world through a heightened sense of imagination was importantly not limited to science fiction in 2009. It even extended to war films, where Quentin Tarantino provided a delirious alternative history for World War II in “Inglourious Basterds.”

For the first time in years, sci-fi and fantasy have been elevated back to prime status thanks largely to a diverse group of visionary filmmakers who delivered unique visions both thrilling and reflective.

If one of the cinema’s best pleasures is in experiencing the world as it could be or as it may be, 2009 was an incredible year to get lost in someone else’s vision of the world. That’s Entertainment.

ACE - Editors Guild Nominees

Drama

Avatar, Stephen Rivkin, John Refua, James Cameron
The Hurt Locker, Bob Murawski and Chris Innis
Up in the Air, Dana Glauberman
District 9, Julian Clarke
Star Trek, Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markley

Comedy

The Hangover, Debra Neil Fisher
Julie & Julia, Richard Marks
It's Complicated, Joe Hutshing and David Moritz
A Serious Man, Joel and Ethan Coen
(500) Days of Summer, Alan Edward Bell

Animated

Coraline, Christopher Murrie and Ronald Sanders
Fantastic Mr. Fox, Andrew Weisblum
Up, Kevin Nolting

Documentary

The Cove, Geoffrey Richman
Food, Inc., Kim Roberts
This is It, Don Brochu

A little commentary later to put these recent guild announcements in perspective.

Monday, January 11, 2010

American Society of Cinematographers Nominees

Barry Ackroyd for The Hurt Locker
Dion Beebe for Nine
Christian Berger for The White Ribbon
Mauro Fiore for Avatar
Robert Richardson for Inglourious Basterds

Writers Guild of America Nominees

Original Screenplay

(500) Days of Summer, Written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber
Avatar, Written by James Cameron
The Hangover, Written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore
The Hurt Locker, Written by Mark Boal
A Serious Man, Written by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Adapted Screenplay

Crazy Heart, Screenplay by Scott Cooper, Based on the novel by Thomas Cobb
Julie & Julia, Screenplay by Nora Ephron, Based on the books Julie & Julia by Julie Power and My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme
Precious, Screenplay by Geoffrey Fletcher, Based on the novel Push by Sapphire
Star Trek, Written by Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman, Based upon Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry
Up in the Air, Screenplay by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, Based on the novel by Walter Kirn

Top 10 Movies of 2009

And you thought I was done with lists! Ha! This list was extremely hard for me to put together, because I loved many 2009 films, and they were stunningly diverse.

Property The Daily Gamecock

1. Inglourious Basterds

World War II may be the subject of more films than any other historical event, but no historical film in recent memory seem quite as audacious as director Quentin Tarantino’s violent opus. In rewriting the history of the War, “Basterds” provides a unique kind of wish fulfillment. It turns sadistic violence into a campy send-up of historical reverence and pushes to the limit film’s ability to imagine and craft its own version of history.

2. The White Ribbon

Austrian director Michael Haneke’s films are sometimes impenetrable, their ambiguity bordering on confounding. Even at their most difficult, they’re also very profound and carefully designed. This careful examination of recurring violence in a repressed German town in 1914 borders on formal perfection; all the visual elements work in sublime unison.

3. The Hurt Locker

The best and most mature film about the Iraq War to date, Kathryn Bigelow’s airtight thriller ratchets up a devastating level of suspense and somehow manages to sustain it for the entire running time. Following an elite bomb squad through urban streets and deserts where death lies inches below the sand, it details the spontaneity of violence and the relentlessness of life as a foot soldier.

4. A Serious Man

The Coen brothers turn their sharply realized and borderline misanthropic explorations of culture squarely on a seemingly cursed Jewish professor in the 1960s. The result is an ambiguous, nuanced, and outrageous black comedy about the constraints of religion on society and individual choice.

5. (500) Days of Summer

The formula of boy-meets-girl romantic comedies is nothing new, but this quirky independent feature bursts at the seams with visual invention. From an impromptu dance number to a split-screen fantasy, it seems to reinvent the genre from the ground up.

6. Antichrist

It polarizes audiences like almost no other with its frank and excessive violence, but this meditation on the evil natures of man and woman is a commanding and stunningly executed examination of psychological breakdown and trauma.

7. Up in the Air

Jason Reitman’s third feature is effortless in its charm and grace, a perfectly pitched look at our national anxieties related through the tragicomic lens of George Clooney’s “transition counselor,” a man who makes a killing off firing others. It’s a small, witty portrait of professional crisis and personal discovery.

8. Fantastic Mr. Fox

Wes Anderson’s penchant for dioramic storytelling and quirky families perfectly marries this stop-motion animation adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic. Superb voice acting underscores the highly stylized sets and character motion. It feels like walking into a wildly entertaining dream.

9. Moon

2009 was a great year for science fiction and fantasy, and “Moon” is a brooding, overlooked cerebral treat in the vein of “Blade Runner” or “Solaris.” Sam Rockwell, one of Hollywood’s most underrated character actors, gives a tour de force performance in this thought-provoking study of isolation and identity crisis.

10. In the Loop

Profanity flies a mile a minute in this delirious and occasionally distressing satire of colloquial politics, where delegates from Britain and the US jockey to either jumpstart or avert a vague war in an unnamed Middle-eastern country. The dialogue and performances are razor-sharp in their comedic potency.

Honorable Mentions:

11. Drag Me to Hell

12. Where the Wild Things Are

13. An Education

14. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

15. District 9

Friday, January 8, 2010

"Avatar" crushes "Rings" at box office - what does it mean for Oscar?

Avatar just beat The Return of the King at the global box office, crossing the $1.2 billion threshold to become the 2nd highest grossing movie ever (behind Titanic). Let's keep in mind Avatar's been out for 3 weeks. It took Jackson's fantasy film MONTHS to get $1.2 billion, and it took Titanic almost a year.

So if Avatar is really a global phenomenon, as it appears to have become, what does this mean for our friends in the Academy, many of whom are on record for saying they want this year's show to draw in ratings by trying to nominate independent and mainstream films? Knowing how much of suckers they are, I'm actually starting to think Avatar could win Best Picture. "Follow the money" isn't always the most reliable method for predicting them (Dark Knight did get snubbed, after all), but Avatar's the return of an Oscar-winning director, has been touted as a "game changer," has major nominations from the Critics Choice, Golden Globes, Producers Guild, and Directors Guild.

Of course, it's also been fighting from behind against early frontrunners The Hurt Locker and Up in the Air. Avatar and Inglourious Basterds seem - to me - to be on the same level right now. Lots of people love them, but they have a giant question mark about how many people will actually vote for them. And with the expansion to 10 Picture nominees, the Academy hasn't been shy about wanting to get MORE populist than it can already be (that wonderful year that was 2007 feels so far away).

Could Avatar win Best Picture, Hurt Locker win Best Director, Up in the Air win Best Actor, and Inglourious Basterds win Best Original Screenplay? You bet, and I'm starting to think it might happen.

Next weekend are the Critics Choice and the Golden Globes. Those might help push one of these four films into the front of the pack.

Art Directors Guild Nominees

Period Film

A Serious Man
Inglourious Basterds
Julie & Julia
Public Enemies
Sherlock Holmes

Fantasy Film

Avatar
District 9
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Princes
Star Trek
Where the Wild Things Are

Contemporary Film

Angels and Demons
The Hangover
The Hurt Locker
The Lovely Bones
Up in the Air

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Best of the Decade: 10-1

Here it is: the Top 10, the best of the best, my absolute favorites from the past 10 years.

10. Synecdoche, New York (d. Charlie Kaufman; 2008)

When I first saw “Synecdoche,” I took a thirty minute shower and sat in a chair for two hours, puzzling over its meaning. It’s a fierce tapestry of maddening artistry that pushes to the extreme all of Kaufman’s best tendencies as a writer. When he just acts as screenwriter, Kaufman can have a director anchor his vision more directly, but behind the camera he pushes the bounds of surrealism. Its play-within-a-play-within-a-play structure, where the protagonist tries and fails to fix his anxieties through his art, is one of the most outright depressing portraits of human existence any filmmaker offered this decade. But at the same time, it’s an absolutely bold and daring piece that shoves its vision to heightened extremes without pause. It has the feel and effect of watching one’s subconscious go off the rails.

9. Adaptation. (d. Spike Jonze; 2002)

One of the ultimate meta-movies, deliriously self-reflexive while also finding lots of room to make profound statements about art, individuality, life, and consciousness, Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze’s second pairing is less “out there” than “Being John Malkovich,” but it’s the more complex and intellectually stimulating film. With Nicolas Cage playing two people (or two sides of one person) and Meryl Streep playing a real writer (or the writer as Kaufman imagines her), rarely has a film been so self-depricating and so revelatory about writers’ block. Its last act, which firmly divides viewers, is captivating: a complete reversal of its originality stance, transforming the film into a trippy and bizarre indictment of Hollywoodization. It bounces back and forth between reality and invention in a stirring encapsulation of a crafted reality.

8. The Departed (d. Martin Scorsese; 2006)

Scorsese rocketed back to the fore of American cinema (and finally won an Oscar) with his dynamic, kinetic, propulsive crime drama. A sticky web of double-crosses, deception, and gratuitous violence, the cops and robbers fairy tale adapted Hong Kong’s “Infernal Affairs” with an ear for profanity and a slant on Boston’s geographical and cultural layout. Scorsese is one of the last standing remnants of the 70s vanguard, and despite a series of flawed personal projects (“Gangs of New York” chief among them), his “Departed” is so fluidly conceived, with jagged and fragmented editing, hyperbolic camera movements, and a pace so breakneck it seems the story may erupt from all the aesthetic gamesmanship. This is a wild cat-and-mouse chase of false identity, the best and sharpest crime drama in many years.

7. A History of Violence (d. David Cronenberg; 2005)

Cronenberg’s films have always been about externalizing masculine anxieties, mostly violent or sexual. In that way, “Violence” is a radical departure, grounded in seemingly simple terms, but it’s a complex film, so brilliant in the ways it deploys violence to comment on character, so stunning in the way it rams up small-town society’s gut. It’s not a thriller so much as a commentary on our drive for violence, and by casting its protagonist as a two-sided thug trying to hide from his past acts of violence, it discusses our own reliance on violence – in sex, in family, in society. The problems and virtues of violence are weighed and considered individually under the umbrella of a character dissection. But that’s what Cronenberg does best – take one man and throw him through a bizarre loop. “Violence” is arguably his best film, for it synthesizes his themes into a more streamlined package.

6. Lost in Translation (d. Sofia Coppola; 2003)

In many ways, Coppola’s drama of two disconnected souls forging a fleeting but profound moment amidst personal crises is an absolutely perfect film. From Lance Acord’s beautiful shots of Tokyo and Scarlett Johansson awash in its landscape, from the soft soundtrack that piques the mood of every moment, and from the comic sadness Johansson and Bill Murray exude in every of their interchanges, it’s kind of a magical film. Like her father before her, Sofia has taken romance and made it feel new and incredibly personal. Not to mention it’s Murray’s most remarkable performance – he seems to be deconstructing himself effortlessly. We are all lost, and it’s only through each other we can find ourselves.

5. There Will Be Blood (d. Paul Thomas Anderson; 2007)

A towering, colossal achievement that seems to erupt from the projection booth instead of merely being screened, Anderson’s films have all been odes to various styles of filmmaking – Scorsese in “Boogie Nights,” Altman in “Magnolia” – where he performs homage and critique simultaneously. Indeed, he’s an auteur with concerns about how American filmmakers have imagined America – and how he can further their arguments with his own ideas about mankind. “There Will Be Blood” is his Kubrick film, and in its searing exploration of a man undone by his greed, Anderson has made his “2001” – a film so daring, so visionary, so caustic and so difficult, so aesthetically engaging and so poetically filmed it can only be placed on a pedestal of high art. As Daniel Plainview, Daniel Day-Lewis crafts one of most vicious and captivating characters the American cinema has ever known – I’d dare say his complexity and strength is on par with Charles Foster Kane. In this myth of westward expansion, all the foundations of society are on trial, and they all get covered in proverbial blood.

4. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (d. Michel Gondry; 2004)

Charlie Kaufman gets characterized by a lot of people as an impenetrable intellectual – someone we can effortlessly admire, but whose work lacks emotional investment or heart. Maybe it would take the childlike playfulness of director Michel Gondry to expose the breaking heart beneath Kaufman’s retreats into our minds, but “Eternal Sunshine” is brilliant as science-fiction, as romance, as psychological study, and as filmmaking exercise. It dives headlong into the problems of memory – its distortions, its repetitions, its anachronisms – with strange special effects and virtuoso tracking shots that meander and whirl through Jim Carrey’s mental space. Perhaps the strength of Gondry’s assured direction of Kaufman’s beautiful script isn’t in how he finds a suitable visual design for all the surrealism, but how he makes such a complex story feel so completely real, and something so singularly individual feel so remarkably universal. Those are the best love stories.

3. The Lord of the Rings (d. Peter Jackson; 2001-03)

I wanted to choose one of the three films as a representation of the trilogy, but to separate them into their volumes would ultimately defeat Jackson and Tolkien’s wonderful, epic vision – Tolkien wrote it as one volume and Jackson filmed it as one movie; that it was divided into three parts each time hardly seems the issue. What stands is one of the most staggering feats of adaptation in the history of cinema, a near perfect transformation of one of the world’s most loved novels. That Jackson constructed Middle-Earth in his homeland of New Zealand gives it that feeling of a lived-in space, while he balances the spectacle of the sets and effects against the real stakes of people and place. Yes, all the culture and history and myth is retained, so watching the films truly feels like stepping into a lost world. It was one of the largest financial gambles any single studio made on a filmmaker, and Jackson delivered a magnum opus – truly one of the best fantasy visions ever crafted.

2. Mulholland Dr. (d. David Lynch; 2001)

David Lynch is a dreamer. His films – from “Blue Velvet” to “Lost Highway” – and his “Twin Peaks” television series, are all somehow about the power of dreams and visions. He questions the power and potential of the unconscious and the subconscious with visionary films that, often enough, are nearly impossible to follow, defying traditional narrative logic for a more complex emotional experience. It makes sense that Hollywood – the “dream factory” – would figure into a project sooner or later, and this failed-TV pilot-resurrected-as-film is his most explicit ode to the power of dreams as homes of alternate realities – where our desires and fears are thrown at us in a dizzying vortex. That “Mulholland Dr” has puzzled so many people seems clear enough after wading through its labyrinthine story about amnesia, murder, movie-making, and lover’s jealousy, but that it has equally fascinated those same people seems to me a testament of its virtuosity. It is Lynch’s masterpiece – maybe second only to “Blue Velvet” – for it’s here that he finds a platform for all his best ideas, and somehow boils them into a refutation of the medium that simultaneously embraces its capacity to hold our dreams captive.

1. No Country for Old Men (d. Joel and Ethan Coen; 2007)

What I love so much about the Coens’ masterpiece – their best film out of a career of masterpieces – is from how many angles it can viewed and examined. It would be a great film just on its level of filmmaking alone. It is orchestrated with masterful precision and suspense, with some of Roger Deakins’s best and most complicated lighting accompanying consistently interesting compositions, perfect editing that helps propel the film’s already quick page, and an amazing sound design that virtually wipes out everything but the most necessary elements. No, it’s not just the filmmaking that makes “No Country for Old Men” the best film of the last ten years – it’s the amazing accumulation of ideas about good and evil, law and justice, principle and code, man and landscape, fortune and fate, the myths and realities of violence that all collide tangentially or crucially throughout. And in its final act, it breaks down our preconceived notions of the genres – thriller, western, chase – that it seems to inhabit, making it more an argument about how we watch movies, and how that spectatorship matters to understanding a film. “No Country” feels perched on the edge of an apocalypse for the duration of its two hours, and no second feels spared from the crushing weight of its blood-soaked themes. Joel and Ethan Coen have successfully translated one of American literature’s most demanding and unique writers into a film that is equally demanding and unique – both inhabiting Cormac McCarthy’s vision of America and the Coens’ simultaneously, that rarest of feats in adaptation.