Sunday, February 28, 2010

Why "The Hurt Locker" deserves to win; an argument

A continuing series of brief reflections about this year's Best Picture nominees.

At this point in the game, The Hurt Locker has won a significant number of precursor awards. It's the frontrunner, the film to beat (and with the preferential ballot system, the prospect of it getting beat is definitely out there). But more than its consummate technical skill, the array and discipline of which should net director Bigelow a historical Academy Award (not to mention a few tech awards), but for me to discuss the merits of its editing, sound and design would be detrimental at this stage.

Why The Hurt Locker deserves to win this award extends far beyond its merits as a "good" or "bad" movie. In recent weeks, some publications - LA Times and Newsweek - have been pushing for backlash, getting the military's take on why Hurt Locker is not an accurate reflection of the Iraq War and therefore not a good movie. Bollocks. No one ever said The Hurt Locker was reality. In the words of the great theorist Christian Metz, "Every film is a fiction film." Film isn't reality, it's a representation derived from reality.

Watching Hurt Locker, it's very clear it's not a realistic film, but it plays with the idea of realism. The sniper scene, the opening bomb defusion, the scene with the bombs in the trunk - all of these are, on the surface, VERY real moments. They are choreographed in what feels like blistering real time, but Bigelow and her team gradually push this into a HYPER-realism, a distension of time and space that makes not only realize the stakes but confront the confused and impossible nature of the war as a whole.

The Hurt Locker is the film America needs about the Iraq War. It will be, barring a film on the level of Apocalypse Now, the defining statement on the US involvement - precisely because it is so apolitical. It offers us a trio of soldiers with competing ideologies about war, combat and etiquette. They are Hawksian heroes, forced to confront the merits of themselves through personal anguish and interaction. As the New York Times pointed out in its review of the film, it's a rethink of group combat films, or rather an extension of them into Iraq.

The Hurt Locker is not an action film - it's a meditation. It may have gritty, unbearable moments, but the saga of Will James is about our dependency on war. Not its negative effects, not its positive effects, but its cyclical, addictive nature. Will's concerns are not his, not the nation's, but humanity's in general. We are violent creatures, propelled by our unconscious stirs towards commanding and conquering; "war is a drug," and The Hurt Locker is about drug addicts. It wants us to think about what guerrilla combat means. It's above any argument about realism/accuracy. It's not a reconstruction; it's a construction of the moments between life and death, of the dangerous simultaneity of combat and the elusiveness of fighting something without a face. The Hurt Locker is, above all else, compelling cinema. It's a war film, but in the tradition of the best war films, it's about the souls of men trying to understand why they act the way they do.

For Your Consideration - The Hurt Locker.

One week til Oscar...

As I gear up for the sure-to-be unprecedented 82nd, distracting myself from mid-terms to fill the blog and work on The Daily Gamecock's upcoming monster Oscar coverage (plus a trip to L.A. that will involve the red carpet...just saying), I'm addicted once again to The Cinescape - an annual montage by young montage maestro Matt Shapiro. Kid's got some skill.

White Ribbon wins ASC; Hurt Locker wins CAS

In a kind of surprise upset, "The White Ribbon" won the American Society of Cinematographers guild. It's my favorite of the films nominated for cinematography, but the odds of a repeat are slim-to-none, because the whole Academy has to vote on this award, and the film only has one other nod - Foreign Language (which it doesn't have wrapped up). Still, great moment in an otherwise banal last three weeks of guilds.

And The Hurt Locker stepped past Avatar to win the Cinema Audio Society award for Sound Mixing. Again, I'd be hesitant about predicting a repeat at the Oscars; Avatar will probably win at least one of the sound awards.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Costume Design Guild Winners

Period Film: The Young Victoria
Contemporary Film: Crazy Heart
Fantasy Film: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Parnassus and Victoria are Oscar-nominated.

Nikki Finke weighs in on "Hurt Locker" e-mail controversy

Over on Deadline Hollywood, Nikki Finke has a lot of interesting things to say about Hurt Locker producer Nicholas Chartier's fumble with the rulebook.

Major among that? Finke claims this e-mail is only one in a series she's gotten from MANY producers throughout the campaign season, and she's threatening to go public with all of them. I sure hope she does.

That, and AMPAS's Ryan Dekorte "accidentally" sent an e-mail to everyone in his address book essentially bashing Hurt Locker for bashing Avatar. (you can read the details in Finke's write-up)

AMPAS has called an "emergency meeting" to figure out how to deal with the situation, but most likely all that will happen is Hurt Locker will lose seats in the auditorium. The WORST scenario would probably be Chartier's name being removed from the producing credits, and thus making him ineligible to win the Oscar, but that's pretty drastic.

The UNOFFICIAL side of this is how it may/may not effect voting. The e-mail was supposedly sent about 5 days prior to its going public, meaning if it IS a unique kind of e-mail, it could have pissed off enough people. But with ballots due on Tuesday, it's hard to believe enough people have procrastinated this much for it to make a difference.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Holy Academy rule-breaking, Batman!

Looks like the Oscars could get even MORE unpredictable, as "The Hurt Locker" just came under SERIOUS fire for its producer making a nasty campaign mistake. Since I'm not as eloquent as the Los Angeles Times, I'll let them do the explaining:

Copied from the full story here.

Looks like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has clamped down hard on "The Hurt Locker" co-producer Nicolas Chartier for sending out an e-mail blast that urged colleagues to campaign aggressively for his movie to win the Oscar for best picture while it also trashed a rival film.

Chartier just issued a follow-up e-mail apologizing for his "extremely inappropriate" e-mail, which violated the Academy Awards' rules, adding, "My naivete, ignorance of the rules and plain stupidity as a first-time nominee is not an excuse for this behavior and I strongly regret it." See details of the academy rules here.

Oscars Academy Awards Hurt Locker news

On Tuesday, Pete Hammond reported on Chartier's first e-mail that blitzed Hollywood begging academy members to tell other voters to back "The Hurt Locker" and — in an obvious slam at "Avatar" — "not a $500M film."

The academy has not yet issued a statement about how it intends to deal with this severe violation of Oscar campaign rules. Penalties could be equally harsh, including the withdrawal of some tickets to the Oscar ceremony. Gold Derby asked AMPAS for its response, but so far we've not yet heard back from the press office.

Below is Chartier's original e-mail, followed by his apology e-mail.

I hope all is well with you. I just wanted to write you and say I hope you liked Hurt Locker and if you did and want us to win, please tell (name deleted) and your friends who vote for the Oscars, tell actors, directors, crew members, art directors, special effects people, if everyone tells one or two of their friends, we will win and not a $500M film, we need independent movies to win like the movies you and I do, so if you believe The Hurt Locker is the best movie of 2010, help us!

I'm sure you know plenty of people you've worked with who are academy members whether a publicist, a writer, a sound engineer, please take 5 minutes and contact them. Please call one or two persons, everything will help!

best regards,

Nicolas Chartier Voltage Pictures

The apology e-mail:

Last week I emailed you regarding the Oscars next week, generally, and
"The Hurt Locker," in particular.

My email to you was out of line and not in the spirit of the celebration of
cinema that this acknowledgement is. I was even more wrong, both personally
and professionally, to ask for your help in encouraging others to vote for
the film and to comment on another movie. As passionate as I am about the
film we made, this was an extremely inappropriate email to send, and
something that the Academy strongly disapproves of in the rules.

My naivete, ignorance of the rules and plain stupidity as a first time
nominee is not an excuse for this behavior and I strongly regret it. Being
nominated for an Academy Award is the ultimate honor and I should have taken
the time to read the rules.

I am emailing each person this very same statement asking to retract my
previous email and requesting that you please disregard it.

I truly apologize to anyone I have offended.

Sincerely yours,

best regards,

Nicolas Chartier
Voltage Pictures, LLC

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Why "An Education" deserves to win; an argument

A continuing series of brief reflections about the Best Picture nominees

It's time to pay more attention to the early 1960s. The 50s have always been a stable of myth, a time of radical changes solidified through conformist media. The 60s, starting with JFK's election, broke that idea open. In no other film has this idea been so acutely explored recently than in "An Education." It's a small, quiet film that surges with wit and structure. It gets by on class.

But it has a lot to say. As protagonist Jenny pleas during the end, "it's not about just educating us anymore; you have to tell us WHY you're doing it." She is the progressive child, a woman in bloom who must reconcile the changing tides around her. And in young Carey Mulligan, the film finds its vehicle, an actress so subtle and so commanding she seems to make all aspects of the frame gravitate towards her.

Danish director Lone Scherfig makes the film about juxtaposition and emergence. It's about change and growth, but also realization and self-discovery. Littered through the film are sublime supporting turns, magnificent framings and beautiful lighting, and an overall tempo and mood that manages to strategically balance comedy and drama with fresh zeal.

Films are always looking back in time, but "An Education" gives us a thoroughly realized look at emerging British social structures, of altered moralities and a culture trying to reconcile with itself. It has anxiety on the mind, but also hope. Perhaps this fascination with the period that more filmmakers are giving over to is a sign that we want to look at the shifting 60s from the perspective of our world that seems to be struggling with its own new tensions and possibilities. If that be the case, "An Education" serves as a remarkable study in how to learn how to thrive in the world. Whether it's Jenny's story, or one that represents a broader cultural education, it's classy filmmaking at its finest.

For Your Consideration - An Education

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

It's time to rebel against the theaters

Property The Daily Gamecock

The movie industry claims it wants to stop Internet piracy. Several years ago, studio and theater analysts decided the reason ticket sales began to slump in several crucial money-making weeks was, simply, Internet piracy. Nothing to do with the quality, nothing to do with inflation or poor marketing — the fault was the laziness of the 18-30 age demographic who essentially “stole” from hardworking filmmakers by watching a video online.

In 2009, Hollywood rode an upswing, posting record numbers of ticket sales and grosses.All told, last year was the industry’s most successful year ever. Those same analysts who questioned if audiences would keep going to theaters just a few years ago suddenly rejoiced, claiming it’s a sure sign that people are headed back to stadium seating in droves.

It’s a shame then that Regal Entertainment Group is leading the charge in threatening to undo this newfound success. With a handful of tent-pole blockbusters, movies that studios firmly believe will make boatloads of money by being marketed as “must-see events,” in the works for the first half of 2010, Regal and other big-name corporate theaters are instigating several practices that may send the 18-30 demographic back to the Web for their film fix.

Several months ago, Regal Cinemas made the decision to eliminate student discounts on Friday and Saturday. This means that students, who just a year ago enjoyed their two dollar discount at new releases, are paying $9.50 (or more) at their most likely time to go to the movies: the two weekend evenings.

Sure, on a corporate level this decision has a level of logic. College students will go see “Avatar” anyway; they’ll pay the extra fees no questions asked and have a great night at the movies.

But practically, it looks like a scheme to capitalize on increased ticket sales. It’s one thing for a theater to not have student discounts at all, it’s another thing to remove discounts on only Friday and Saturday, the two most profitable nights for any theater.

So then why not just go earlier in the day? Get a reduced price at a 4:30 matinee and get dinner afterwards instead of before? That would work, except these theater chains are also trying to get rid of matinees.

Regal Cinemas and AMC are just two chains who are gradually eroding the idea of an afternoon matinee. At the former, matinees end at three in the afternoon. Most theaters traditionally end matinees at five or six, clearly dividing reduced price “afternoon” and larger-draw “evening” shows.

Taken together, these new practices are a remarkable one-two punch to drive up revenue and exploit one of Hollywood’s most successful moments. Get rid of discounts, push evening prices into afternoon shows and watch the money roll in.

Most unsuspecting spectators won’t even know what hit them, but if they really want to see “Shutter Island,” they’ll just have to fork out those ten dollars. Or they could scour the Internet for a low quality video someone shot in a theater.

The troubling paradox here is that Hollywood makes it their mission to get the 18-30 year old demographic into the theater as often as possible, but these theater chains are creating practices that isolate the very same demographic.

The very concept of a student discount is creating an incentive to get more people to come see a movie. If more chains follow Regal’s sly practices, studios will once again wonder why turnouts are in decline.

If the theaters are so deluded as to believe they are the only ones who provide access to films, and therefore can charge whatever they want and use any practices they want, they should reconsider how they’re competing not only against each other, but the DVD market and the Internet.

The digital age has redefined how we watch movies, and not only because of special effects. Theaters are no longer the sole place to experience a film, and these theaters certainly aren’t making a case for their continued survival. That’s Entertainment.

Monday, February 22, 2010

"A Single Man" review

Property The Daily Gamecock

If the 1950s usually get conjured up as a period of social rigidity and conformism, the early 1960s are a period of changes and the anxieties that came with them. Whether on television’s much-heralded “Mad Men” or Oscar Best Picture nominee “An Education,” the years between Kennedy’s election and the assassination that cut his term short are riddled with lingering concerns about both society’s new directions and the fear of nuclear annihilation.

Director Tom Ford’s “A Single Man” is a beautiful and sublimely artistic meditation of a soul close to personal collapse in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Colin Firth stars as closeted homosexual professor George Falconer, who is struggling to get over the accidental death of longtime partner Jim (Matthew Goode).

Ford’s film, co-adapted with David Scearce from a novel by Christopher Isherwood, is an immensely crafted and observed film that delicately works stylish cinematic tricks against subtle emotional moments that emerge from the tremendous work of each actor in the ensemble.

“A Single Man” rests largely on British character actor Colin Firth’s capable shoulders. Firth, Oscar-nominated for his performance, gives George a pervasive sense of mourning and insurmountable grief not from a series of exteriorized breakdowns or heavy ruminations about alienation, but in small shifts of gesture, posture and delivery.

Looking aged and worn, Firth expertly builds a character desperate to appear strong, a gay man trying to hide the tracks of his lifestyle and his broken spirit simultaneously.

Julianne Moore, in only a few scenes, provides expert counterpoint to George as Charley, his broken-down, alcoholic best friend and occasional lover. Sharing a dinner party that feels more like a futile exercise than genuine connection, the two are companions in misery.

And while it’s resonant acting that anchors the film, first-time director Tom Ford brings a stable of tricks and palpable enthusiasm for visual design to the film. He and cinematographer Eduard Grau enjoy playing with degrees of color saturation in the film. When George is forlorn, colors drain into depressing grays heavy in grain and harsh lighting.

Conversely, when he experiences something beautiful and begins to feel compassion for the world around him — even for a fleeting moment — the shots explode with depths of rich color and hue.

“A Single Man” is very much about perception and identification. On top of using the camera’s placement and lighting to encourage the spectator to share George’s view of the world, editor Joan Sobel consistently uses jump cuts to create a jagged, blurred sense of space and time.

While disorienting at times, this editing has a deeper purpose. “A Single Man” bleeds both between memory and reality and also between fleeting moments of observation and lingering examinations, and this widely variant editing allows us to fully grasp how George sees certain things.

On top of that, pulsing strings courtesy of Abel Korzeniowski’s rapturous score and period design that drips with detail make the film feel overwhelming with its encompassing perspective.

If “A Single Man” feels slightly artificial in its reliance on a full spectrum of cinematographic technique, it is nevertheless an adventurous and consistently stunning headlong plunge into how characterization and emotion can find visual embodiment.

And importantly, it is a veiled political work, where the Cuban Missile Crisis is always in the background, its threat of total destruction a complement to George’s threat of personal, self-inflicted destruction.

Tom Ford has crafted an ambitious and beautifully realized artistic film. It seizes on both our fascination with deconstructing our culture in order to better understand it, and also deconstructing ourselves in order to momentarily grapple with our complex human condition.

Why "District 9" deserves to win; an argument

A continuing series about this year's Best Picture race (probably not nearly as excessive as that one I did on Avatar)

Science fiction has always had a social conscience, and been socially conscious. By the very definition of its words, it emerges out of our world. It takes the "science" and gives it "fiction." Reality and illusion. Truth and dream. Isn't this just the cinema itself? A place, a refuge, from the world, a representative illusion wherein we're asked to confront or elude the questions we can't dare ask ourselves in the light, but rather seek to the shadows to let larger than life images engulf us?

Neill Blomkamp's "District 9" is a miracle movie in every sense of the word. Peter Jackson pumped cash and mentorship into the South African visionary, giving him the space and the guidance to take his veiled look at that country's struggle with apartheid into the violent. He emerged with a full-cylindered tank of a film, one that lumbers with immense forward momentum through an array of pieces that feel of a remarkable whole. "District 9" may be one of the best sci-fi movies of the past several years, and that's partly because it's one of the smartest.

The racial divide of South African apartheid is recast as white bureaucrats struggling to suppress aliens who have been relegated to the slums, a race of species just trying to repair their spaceship with no help from a government too concerned with their potential threat to engage them on a humane level. In the center of this story is Sharlto Copley, an emerging actor willing to submerge himself in a complex role - partly through stunningly complex makeup and visual effects - that help display thoroughly the duality of man. In a way, District 9 has a plot pretty similar to Avatar: its politics of racial divide, of cultural unity, of war over peace, are vaguely similar, but District 9 has the guts to roll in the mud.

Whereas James Cameron gets 500 million to make the biggest space epic of all time, Blomkamp used 30 million (a paltry amount by any effects-driven standard), went into slums, strove for a verite pseudo-documentary approach, and created a world and a situation that required a solution. That "District 9" becomes less of a political meditation and more of an action film in its final act shouldn't be viewed as detriment - it's one of the sharpest, most well-oiled actioners in the past two years, with plenty of suspense and skill to burn. Its editing is precise and the camera knows exactly how to spin into the action. Its soundscape is diverse and creative, and the makeup and creature effects are purely spectacular.

"District 9" strives to create a reality, but it's not a comfortable reality. It's a movie that makes you squirm, puts you in the middle of a confrontation, and though its morality is fairly simple, it takes a chapter in South African history and tries to get inside the issue in a creative way. This is what science fiction - GOOD science fiction - has always been about: dealing with the world in creative ways, taking reality to a logical extreme in order to illuminate a deeper truth.

For Your Consideration - District 9.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

"Shutter Island" an exhilarating game

* * * 1/2 / * * * *

Martin Scorsese has dipped through his pool of cinematic knowledge, carefully stirring up gentle waves in the tide pool. The result is another grand postmodern exercise in the vein of his overwhelmingly underrated "Cape Fear," a psychological jolt that stirs through its stylistic excess. It may as well be Scorsese's "The Shining," a trip to through the spookhouse that ends up projecting ghosts inward instead of outward.

Obligatory plot summary: Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Teddy Daniels, a Federal Marshall investigating the disappearance of a female patient on Shutter Island, which houses an institution for the criminally insane. Teddy's also harboring some guilt and hallucinations directly tied to violent events in his past that start to overwhelm him during his brief stay as he tries to unravel the mystery.

"Shutter Island" may be an elaborate tribute to Val Lewton and the spookhouse movies of the 1950s, but it has much deeper concerns about surviving and writing history on its mind. Part of what makes it such a compelling, interesting film is that it winds through the whole spool of 1950s paranoia - in the course of his investigation, Teddy firmly believes he's on the verge of uncovering a conspiracy involving Communists, Nazis, control of the hydrogen bomb, and maybe a little bit of lobotomy. Crazy stuff, but in the vein of Lewton, Aldrich, Siegel, et al, Scorsese uses these high-wired concepts as room to delve into greater problems with the national mindset.

Teddy also happens to be persistently crippled by two visions: one is of executing Nazi officials at Dachau prison at the end of World War II, the other is of his wife's tragic death in an apartment fire. The best and most thrilling parts of "Shutter Island" are a series of extended, astonishing dream sequences wherein Teddy confronts these spirits that haunt him. True to form, these are some of the most purely cinematic moments Scorsese has shot in his last several films, smoothly arcing up a level of abstraction until Teddy's separate guilt become fused into disturbing violent images.

Working again with longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker and accompanied by cinematographer Robert Richardson, "Shutter Island" is all about getting us off edge and getting us to identify with Teddy. The editing has his typical verve, with a couple of great moments that seem to swerve in and out of the film's coherent reality, but in each sequence the master seems firmly in control of the game he's trying to play. And yes, "Shutter Island" is a game. It's filled with daring geometry and lighting, gothic setting, loads of classy exposition, and a mystery that makes less sense before it makes more. But as with all Scorsese movies, the plot really isn't what it's about, it's just a way of getting to what it's all about, so maybe I should address what I've already heard some professionals use as a criticism, but which I see as a strength.

The ending. Yes, it's a twist. A pretty big one. I won't give it away, but I've heard a few people lament that it doesn't satisfy, it's too obvious, not original enough, etc. I don't think it matters, because what Scorsese has managed to do is go back into the 1950s and ferret around in one of his favorite places with his new favorite leading man. Like "The Shining," "Shutter Island" is concerned with how history gets written, how the past intrudes in the present, and how we all get overrun by our duality and our trauma.

And Scorsese's movies have always been about how violent men deal with their surroundings. Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, GoodFellas, The King of Comedy - all of them are about people who can't function in terms of how their respective societies deem they should, who must reconcile a rupture or suffer in their violence. So too is Teddy Daniels, a man who must solve the case of the missing woman if he is to find any solidarity with the violence that plagues his past.

Yes, DiCaprio continues to emerge as one of the most gifted actors of this generation, a veritable machine of range that can go from a caricature of a 50s detective one minute to a man of searing angst the next. His work with Scorsese is so married, so controlled and so coiled, it lends the project a whole extra level of intensity that keeps it very much grounded when it threatens to spiral into Scorsese's tricks.

I realize it's hard for me to really talk about "Shutter Island" without giving away what it's all really about, but I admire it in a way I don't think most people are giving it credit for. It's not about tricking us, creeping us out, or paying homage to Val Lewton. It's about giving a different treatise to what Val Lewton and his ilk were going after. Many of Scorsese's films have ventured back into different eras of culture and of filmmaking (sometimes in an overlapping way) not to necessarily reach any greater truth, but to apply what he wants to discuss to what he admires. Ditto "Shutter Island."

It has all the penchants of a great Scorsese film - the aforementioned editing, the elaborate screenplay that is about so much and yet nothing at all, tremendous acting, a musical score ripped from a dozen sources and yet all sounding of a piece, a larger commentary on culture. Yet this time he's daring to go into psychology, a move he hasn't really made since Cape Fear or King of Comedy. It's a movie about trauma, and more specifically the trauma America faced at the end of World War II.

All the historical/cultural references aren't just a passing thing; Shutter Island is implicitly about the break we faced when we learned about the Holocaust, the depths we took to create unity as a nation even as we suffered from Communist paranoia. Yes, Teddy's hallucinatory condition is one of America, a nation trying to overcome its broader implications in violent acts even as it wants to believe it can do good. By doing that good, finding that woman, we can "restore ourselves."

"Shutter Island" is a great film, and one worthy of discussion not only for its technical marvel, and especially not because it has a neat trick ending. That ending says something deeper about America in the 1950s, and to what end Scorsese wants to create that conversation is something to be talked about over coffee. I can't say I've figured it out myself, but I'll concede he caught me under a conspiratory spell.

British Academy Winners

Picture: The Hurt Locker
Director: Kathryn Bigelow, Hurt Locker
Actor: Colin Firth, A Single Man
Actress: Carey Mulligan, An education
Supp Actor: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Supp Actress: Mo'Nique, Precious
Original Screenplay: Hurt Locker
Adapted Screenplay: Up in the Air
Animated: Up
Foreign Language: A Prophet
British Film: Fish Tank
British Debut: Duncan Jones, Moon
Rising Star: Kristen Stewart
Production Design: Avatar
Cinematography: Hurt Locker
Costume Design: The Young Victoria
Makeup: The Young Victoria
Visual Effects: Avatar
Film Editing: The Hurt Locker
Sound: The Hurt Locker
Musical Score: Up

Motion Picture Sound Editors Awards

Sound Effects and Foley Editing: Avatar
Dialogue and ADR Editing: Inglourious Basterds
Music Editing: Avatar
Sound Effects, Foley, Dialogue (Foreign Film): District 9
Sound Effects, Foley, Dialogue (Animated Film): Up

Nothing for Hurt Locker, two for Avatar. Oscar only has one "Sound Editing" award, so take that how you will.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Writers Guild Winners

Original Screenplay: Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker
Adapted Screenplay: Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air

Doesn't change a thing. Basterds was ineligible since Tarantino's not a guild member. This went pretty much as anyone could have expected.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Why "Avatar" deserves to win; an argument

The first of a multi-part examination into the different facets of this year's hotly contested Academy Awards.

The below article does not necessarily reflect my opinion. Rather, it is an argument expressing a particular viewpoint. If I do this correctly, it will - over the next few weeks - illustrate why the concept of "Best Picture" is so heated this year.

Will Avatar revolutionize cinema? This is arguably the greatest question mark in the whole race, an exacting and precise statement that James Cameron and Fox are pretending exists in the past instead of future tense. Though he may toss around "game changer" and "revolutionary" dialogue at every step of the game, it is impossible not to at the VERY least admire what James Cameron did.

12 years is a long time to make a movie. It takes a lot of development, a lot of conception. It takes the persistence and the vision to create a world that people can believe would really exist, to embed in it the kind of anxieties and concerns that reverberate off the most populist epics of cinematic history. Indeed, Cameron has made Lawrence of Arabia for a new generation, the most wildly constructed and headlong epic since Lord of the Rings.

But aside from all new CGI technology, film editing practices, cinematographic devices, stages of conception design that allowed Cameron to deliver the movie he WANTED to deliver, it also worth considering, fleetingly, the theory of the film, which explains why it's a global phenomenon.

Avatar is, deep down, about watching movies. It is a deeply reflexive, deeply mechanical film that creates the illusion of representation. In order to become an avatar, Jake Sully must plug himself into a machine, focus his thoughts on seeing and experiencing this world in order to become immersed in it. He never IS a Na'vi, he just convinces himself he is one. In much the same way, the spectator - lodged in place as he/she is with their 3-D glasses - is encouraged to feel the immersive effects of James Cameron's bluntly artificial technology.

Further, the avatar body Jake inhabits lets him break free of his crippling paralysis. The audience, immobilely planted in their seats (albeit voluntarily), explores Pandora through James Cameron's camera, through Sully's eyes as much as their own. It is a PURELY ESCAPIST FILM in the best sense of the word, for it literally lets us transcend onto a different world. If we can readily accept that film is not reality but a representation of some imagined reality, then Avatar approaches the limit from the other way; it acknowledges immediately it is imagined, but strives to make us believe it is real.

Cameron has been criticized as a writer of limited dimensions, grand in concept but shallow in depth. Here, his characters exist in blankest slate to encourage us to identify with them on their most basic terms. His goal, and his success if we are to measure the film's staggering global box office, is in creating a global entertainment - the kind of movie that unites us all not in debate but in enamoration. Pandora, for all its bent on utopia, is a place to unite the world. Whether or not Cameron's deployment of pro-environment, anti-military rhetoric is ethically responsible for a filmmaker with otherworldly preoccupations is another question entirely.

Avatar is, like The Hurt Locker and Inglourious Basterds, a conceptualization of war's effects on individual persons and society as a whole. It transplants the narrative of western history to space western, carrying with it a sense of weight and apology.

But if the Oscars are made to acknowledge innovation, to see film not only at its most pure but its most daring. If they exist to honor success in the industry, then there one film that stands head-and-shoulders above the competition. One film that defines 2009 as not only an event, but an experience - the experience of watching a movie and, for a few fleeting moments, feeling the thrill of cathartic release and sense of limitless possibility they afford us.

For Your Consideration - Avatar.

Oscar producers yank Best Song perfs. I rejoice

This year's Oscar producers have decided to yank the Best Song performances.

It's about time. Last year's bizarre and completely awful "medley" was bad enough, and seeing 5 individual performances just makes the show drag on and on. Let's hope there's some great features or more focus on other tech categories.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Hurt Locker nabs ACE Editors Guild

Best Editing, Drama: Hurt Locker
Best Editing, Comedy: The Hangover
Best Editing, Documentary: The Cove
Best Editing, Animated: Up
Best Editing, Miniseries: Grey Gardens
Best Editing, Drama TV: Dexter
Best Editing Comedy TV: 30 Rock

Precious Images (d. Chuck Workman)

Stumbled on this earlier, fell in love. Who says there's not an art to montage?

Chuck Workman - Precious images
Uploaded by taodan. - Full seasons and entire episodes online.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Is it really about the Editors?

Every year I always point to the Editing branch as a make-it-break-it deal - the race invariably narrows down to who is nominated for Best Editing. This year, all five editing nominees have a Pic nod. Up in the Air is not nominated (but it's already fallen behind, with a WGA win it will lock up Adapted Screenplay and get its recognition).

The Editors Guild announces tonight. The comedy award will (hopefully) go to A Serious Man or (500) Days of Summer, the animated will hopefully go Fantastic Mr. Fox (but will most likely go to Up), but the Drama award has me abuzz.

In 2006, when Departed beat Babel for this award, I knew the race was over. This year, Basterds is NOT nominated (and it lost the ADG to Holmes last night), and it seems to me we have another Hurt Locker/Avatar showdown. Although don't forget - District 9 is in the mix too, and is a wonderfully edited film. It takes the best part of both frontrunners - heightened pace in the latter and beautiful verite action in the former and excels terrifically. Were IT to win I could read that as either a blow to Avatar or a notch on Basterds' belt (lack of support for either THL or Avatar).

Of course, that's reading a lot into a pretty minor guild award, especially when we have yet to see the Writers. If THEY pick Hurt Locker in Original (keep in mind Basterds was disqualified), it could be close to over. If they pick A Serious Man, we're gearing into a brawl.

But let's say Avatar wins tonight, wins the Visual Effects Society, wins the Cinematographers Guild, wins Motion Picture Sound Editors - if it builds all that momentum from the techs, will that be enough to rocket it past the obvious acting/writing support for Hurt Locker/Basterds?

Three weeks.


In case you forgot what I nominated for my annual "best of the year" awards, review the list of nominees. I actually prefer doing nominations to winners, because I hate singling out one thing among a pool of things I loved, especially when they're so different as Basterds (5 wins) and A Serious Man (0 wins, but 8 nods).

Best Picture of the Year: Inglourious Basterds
Best Director: Michael Haneke for The White Ribbon
Best Actor in a Leading Role: Sam Rockwell for Moon
Best Actress in a Leading Role: Charlotte Gainsbourg for Antichrist
Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Christoph Waltz for Inglourious Basterds
Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Anna Kendrick for Up in the Air
Best Adapted Screenplay: Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner for Up in the Air
Best Original Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds
Best Cast Ensemble: An Education
Best Voice Acting: Kevin Spacey for Moon
Best Art Direction/Production Design: Fantastic Mr. Fox, Nelson Lowry
Best Cinematography: The White Ribbon, Christian Berger
Best Costume Design: Where the Wild Things Are, Casey Storm
Best Film Editing: The Hurt Locker, Chris Innis and Bob Murawski
Best Original Score: Drag Me to Hell, Christopher Young
Best Adapted Score: (500) Days of Summer
Best Sound Mixing: Inglourious Basterds
Best Sound Editing: Drag Me to Hell
Best Visual Effects: Avatar
Best Makeup: Drag Me to Hell
Best Trailer: Up in the Air (Trailer 1)
Body of Work: George Clooney for Fantastic Mr. Fox, Up in the Air, and The Men Who Stare at Goats
Scene of the Year: Inglourious Basterds, "I want to send a message to Germany"

Win Totals (22 categories)

Inglourious Basterds - 5
Up in the Air - 3
Drag Me to Hell - 3
The White Ribbon - 2
Moon - 2
The Hurt Locker - 1
Where the Wild Things Are - 1
An Education - 1
Antichrist - 1
Avatar - 1

Art Directors Guild Winners

Period Film: Sherlock Holmes
Fantasy Film: Avatar
Contemporary Film: The Hurt Locker

Kind of surprise win for Hurt Locker (its only real competitor in its category being Up in the Air, I think). Shocked that Holmes wins over Inglourious Basterds. Holmes and Avatar are nominated for the Oscar against Doctor Parnassus, The Young Victoria, and Nine.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Remembering Casablanca

So I had space to write a Valentine's Day-themed article in The Daily Gamecock today, and decided I'd never really done a long-form retrospective of a movie. Not that I'm planning on making this a regular feature of my section, but I think it's an enjoyable read:

Property The Daily Gamecock

Among their seeming endless capabilities as markers of our culture, films — more specifically film genres — seem to inspire plenty of marathons at certain times of the year. Halloween is prone to screening blocks of terrifying classics, while Christmas lends itself to a stable of heartwarming and nostalgic looks at family spirit.

Valentine’s Day has its own group of annual prerequisites, and Hollywood is quick to offer new entries each year. This weekend, for example, the studio powers that be are pushing the aptly named “Valentine’s Day” as a star-jammed ensemble piece that tries to appeal to literally every demographic.

While all couples clamor for a date movie, that perfect two hours of escapist, heartwarming entertainment replete with the right balance of laughs and love, those looking for something different should dust off the DVD of one of Hollywood’s perennial classics.
Admirers often discuss 1942’s “Casablanca” with a glazed over sense of nostalgia. Its complex and honest look at souls trying to find logic through love while awash in the political web of North Africa during World War II is indeed one of the most beautiful movies to ever come out of classic Hollywood.

It still sits atop many “best movies of all time” lists nearly 70 years after its release, but at a time of year when we’re anxious to discuss the virtues and detriments of love and its often material and superficial gestures, it’s worth taking a peek inside how “Casablanca” works, and why it’s worth remaining on the list of annually screened love stories.

Foremost, “Casablanca” was never supposed to be a success. It was a film like a dozen other films, an assignment handed to director Michael Curtiz, a great craftsman who built his reputation as a filmmaker who could excel in any genre — a man of all trades.

It was shot fleetingly on the Warner Bros. backstage sets, and while it employs two major stars, Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, who at the time were just emerging as players, no producer thought “Casablanca” would do more than serviceable business.

It’s perhaps this humble quality, this sense of selflessness that gives the film its grace. It is in many ways a work devoid of artistic flourish, one that conforms almost totally to the normative aesthetic styles of any Hollywood production of its time.

But what’s most striking about “Casablanca” is how it balances its love story around the lingering threat of World War II. Set in Morocco, a stopping port for potential evacuees trying to make their way out of war-torn Europe, the major concerns of the competing powers of the war are allegorically embodied in the film’s various characters.

Taking that into consideration, the isolationist, bitter capitalist Rick (Bogart) is the representation of America in the months and years leading up to Pearl Harbor. The story of Rick learning to overcome his animosity towards ex-lover Ilsa to help her and her revolutionist husband is the story of America coming to terms with its inherent obligation to help its allies in the war.

But again, “Casablanca” premiered in Nov. 1942, meaning its production occurred mere months after America’s entrance into the war. It just so happens that this microcosmic allegory is also a love story and a redemptive one at that.

And, spoiler warning, the two Hollywood stars don’t end up together in the end. Rick famously lets Ilsa get on the plane, a conclusion that goes directly against the grain of any similar-minded picture of the time — a majority of all Hollywood films ended with a couple embracing, regardless of genre.

“Casablanca” survives as one of Hollywood’s most loved movies not necessarily because of its artistry, which it has plenty of in very subtle ways, or because of any kind of innovation, but because of the way it deals with America’s international position at a pivotal moment of its contemporary history.

It’s a love story about redemption and humanity, to be sure, but it’s also about nationalist pride. Unlike so many love stories that have the eternal power of love on their minds more than its incessant complications, “Casablanca” extrapolates the story of two individuals to the grand scheme of historical ramification.

So if it’s true that movies can provide us with emotional experiences and help define how we perceive these emotions, “Casablanca” created a space to imagine the manifestations of selfless love.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Race: A Basterd's job is never done

Final ballots have been mailed to Academy members. The show is three weeks from Sunday. In the coming weeks, we still have the ACE, the ASC, and the BAFTAs (among other tech guilds that I don't consider as "important" in THIS particular race) to contend with.

What makes this race particularly thrilling and impossible to pin down are the overwhelming number of variables still in play, not the least of which is the preferential voting system. For Best Picture, each voter has to rank all 10 nominees, and the counting goes through multiple rounds of re-distribution until a winner is finally chosen (I can't really explain it even though I kinda understand it). Many Oscar-centric websites have proven that the film with the most #1 votes in the first round of voting may not be the film that ends up winning. It really comes down to which film appears strongest on each voter's 1, 2 and 3. That means, basically - will someone who picks A Serious Man as #1 also pick Avatar at 2? If you pick Avatar at 1, what's your number 2? Frankly, it's making BP a chore because we in the Oscar prediction universe don't know if this will even HAVE an effect.

Using past statistics, I can say that this year is awesome in its diversity. Just take a look:
Golden Globe - Avatar
PGA - Hurt Locker
DGA - Hurt Locker
SAG - Inglourious Basterds
Scripter (& probably WGA) - Up in the Air

While most people say DGA is *it* as far as Oscar goes, the race is MUCH more variable this year. I think Bigelow will be the first woman director winner. I do. But if she IS, I also think Picture will probably go somewhere else.

Also consider: the five films with Best Editing nods are District 9, Precious, Avatar, Basterds and Hurt Locker. You can't win Best Picture without an Editing nod. So even if Up in the Air wins the WGA, it can't surge for the jugular. It just can't.

On top of that: You know the last time a movie won Best Picture without a Best Screenplay nomination? 1965. The Sound of Music. The last time a movie won with neither Best Screenplay NOR a single acting nomination? 1933. Cavalcade. Avatar has neither. Does this kill it? Yes and no. For it to win would be a statistical anomaly, but its box office is itself kind of anomalous. Plus, it's not exactly winning anything outside of the Globe.

What's the other alternative? Inglourious Basterds. It already took the SAG. It was disqualified from the WGA, so we won't know how that could effect its chances. The O. Screenplay category is pretty steep, what with the Coens, Hurt Locker, Up, and The Messenger providing possible threats at every turn. Were Hurt Locker to beat Tarantino early in the evening, the rest of the night would be over.

But what if Tarantino wins Screenplay? With Christoph Waltz poised to win Supporting Actor, we already know the Actors are behind Basterds (and it won SAG Ensemble...). Now, Basterds is not nominated for the ACE, but IS nominated for the Editing Oscar. Let's say Hurt Locker loses the ACE to District 9. That can help Basterds win; even if D9 wins the OSCAR, it could help Basterds. If Hurt Locker wins the ACE and the ASC, the game is probably over.

For the sake of fantasy though, I say Basterds can win. Mostly because I think the 10 nominations make this year prime for a Pic-Dir split. It's all about how the weight gets thrown. And with Harvey Weinstein as a producer, that weight really matters. He got Winslet the Oscar last year. He's coming back to form despite economic woes at his company. This is his moment to give Tarantino the Oscar, and he knows it. He helped Tarantino get Pulp Fiction made, they've made all his subsequent movies together - is this the "coronation night"?

This is, of course, all speculation. Plenty of stuff still to come.

"Metropolis" finally realized

Fritz Lang's seminal 1927 classic - widely regarded as one of the greatest science-fiction films of all time (and in the Top 100 of my Personal Canon), has never been fully restored to its original 153 minute length due to constant butchering for its international release.

Premiering at the Berlin Film Festival, the Museo del Cine has used a newly discovered print to add elements to the 2001 digital restoration of the film that brings its runtime up to 146 minutes - the closest we're ever likely to get to Lang's original vision.

DVD to be released later this year.

Full story at Variety.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Nominees by critics' rankings

The "Top Critics" averages of the ten nominees, as pulled from Metacritic (number is out of 100)

The Hurt Locker - 94
Up - 88
An Education - 85
Avatar - 84
Up in the Air - 83
District 9 - 81
A Serious Man - 79
Precious - 79
Inglourious Basterds - 69
The Blind Side - 55

Am I the only one who thinks it's really weird that Basterds is the 2nd lowest rated movie out of the 10?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Nolan drafting Batman 3; set to guide Superman re-boot

Nikki Finke has the rundown on Chris Nolan's upcoming work for a few superheroes. He's headed into the writing phase of Batman 3 with collaborators Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer, and apparently he's been tapped to "mentor" the development of the new Superman franchise (NOT direct. I'm thinking he'll either produce, co-write the story, or have some kind of development credit).

Full story at Deadline Hollywood.

That's Entertainment! Tim Tebow & the Super Bowl

Property The Daily Gamecock

As millions watched the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints battle their way to football’s biggest prize, the lingering question in the back of America’s mind was, would Tim Tebow and his mom ruin the Super Bowl forever?
Controversy rippled through the media, or maybe just the fervent corner of Internet speculation, last week when it was announced Tebow and his mother, Pamela Tebow, would be featured in a pro-life spot.

Fans eager to protect the assumed sanctity of Super Bowl advertising were quick to protest the politicization of the ad without even seeing it. How could CBS air such a divisive ad during a game that many steadfastly believe represents a moment of national unity?
By these accounts, Tebow’s ad would be the most devastating and talked-about Super Bowl moment since Justin Timberlake showed the world a little too much of Janet Jackson. Early in the first quarter, the devastating tornado of soapbox preaching and moralizing came sandwiched in the midst of a commercial break.

Imagine the horror of seeing Pam Tebow reflecting on how her healthy, beautiful baby almost didn’t make it into the world, photographed against a white background as she holds a picture of her child. Imagine the disturbing moment where “Timmy” tackles his mom, only to throw an arm around her and flash an over-the-top grin a second later.
Cheesy, yes, but if you blinked you missed it. From there, other commercials rolled on, the game went on for four quarters and The Who played at halftime.

The “ad that would destroy the Super Bowl” was more like a tide pool ripple than a tsunami, but it begs two important questions — first, why did people get themselves so up in arms in the first place; second, does the Tebow ad have any lasting impact for Super Bowl advertising as a whole?

The first question seems a bit obvious. Our society likes to segment its distractions. Save God for church, never bring up politics at the dinner table and make sure the Super Bowl ups the silly factor to the extreme.

Why we assume the most important issues in our lives shouldn’t be integrated into media is the greater mystery here. Why relegate the discussion of abortion (or health care, or the recession) exclusively to news channels or coffee houses?

In many ways, the Tim Tebow ad forced us to consider the very nature of the Super Bowl as a state of national discourse. Of course it would be a respectful, modest and insignificant ad, despite the claims some launched of images of dead fetuses circulating for 30 seconds. The question was, should it even have been there in the first place?

While it’s doubtful Tebow’s set a precedent for other socially conscious public service announcements of this type, the Super Bowl still reigns as one of the greatest opportunities to win an audience in 30 seconds. It’s perhaps more an issue of society that we have to force ourselves to believe television and sporting events should brush larger issues under the table for a few measly hours.

There’s a difference between pushing an agenda and promoting a message, and the distinction must be realized to further understand how media, from a 30-second commercial to a two-hour film, can be positively used to engage us with society’s broader preoccupations, even at — and especially at – our moments of diversion and distraction.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The "Up"s win Scripter, Annies

In some expected news:

Up in the Air wins the So Cal Scripter Award for screenplay adaptation

Up cleans up at the Animation Academy awards

Thursday, February 4, 2010

J.D. Salinger doc headed to Cannes?

From Entertainment Weekly. Sounds like a great idea to me, I'd love to see what this looks like.

Soon after J.D. Salinger’s death on Jan. 27, revealed that screenwriter Shane Salerno (Shaft) had spent the past five years completing a documentary about the reclusive author. Even more remarkable, Salerno was able to keep the film, which features over 150 interviews with people like Philip Seymour Hoffman, Edward Norton, and Gore Vidal, a secret. According to an insider involved with the project, crew members had to sign “CIA-worthy” non-disclosure agreements, and the filmmakers made sure never to give any post-production facility more than 20% of the film to prevent any leaks.

The movie contains interviews with people close to Salinger who have never spoken on camera and it looks at his writing process since 1965, when he stopped publishing. It also features footage of Salinger, materials belonging to him as well as more than 100 photographs of the rarely seen author. There is no word if Salerno got an interview with the mysterious Salinger himself. “There is no PBS-type narrator, no black background or talking heads,” says the source. “The look, sound, and editorial pacing is consistent with a feature film.” As for a premiere date, filmmakers are hoping to take the film to the Cannes Film Festival in May.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A note on "Precious"

In all the hubbub yesterday I forgot to signal out something very cool:

Lee Daniels is only the second African American director to be nominated for BD at the Oscars (first was John Singleton - yes, Spike Lee has not been nominated). On top of that, the film gets adapted screenplay, a nod for a young actress in her first role and a nod for a talk show personality turned serious supporting character actor. Even if its only tech nod is Editing, it still got editing over Star Trek and Up in the Air.

Does it say something that "the old white guys" gave such special recognition to the tiny film? Especially its director.

Avatar beats Titanic

In just seven weeks, Avatar becomes the highest grossing movie in the US and worldwide.

Obviously, inflation, 3-D prices and IMAX prices factor heavily into this. While I *hate* the "follow the money" logic some people use in the Oscar race, I really do have to consider it this year: why SHOULDN'T they give it to Avatar? A movie that, as an "event" as opposed to any possible artistic merit, became a global phenomenon that people are willingly subjecting themselves to over and over. (maybe the same reason Star Wars didn't win Best Picture? Sometimes it really IS about quality instead of popularity)

Especially if Avatar keeps doing upwards of $20 million week-to-week, it's not hard to see it getting too big to ignore.

(Also interesting how it's the polar opposite of Hurt Locker - made just $12 million in theaters, but has been racking it up on DVD sales and rentals. People are "discovering" it for themselves, which says something in and of itself. That's how Crash beat Brokeback [sort of].)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

"Don't you want somebody to love?" When the Oscars (almost) get it right

Pushing from 5 to 10 pictures in the Best Picture race is one of the best things the Academy could have done. Really. I was as skeptical as the next person leading up to the Oscars, as they kept saying they wanted to do this to "invite more populist films" or something like that.

If they HADN'T pushed to ten, I can safely say the nominees probably would have been Avatar, Hurt Locker, Basterds, Up in the Air, and Precious. Pushing to ten may have added The Blind Side (a 200 million cross-country hit about progressive morals. How could they NOT salivate?), but if that's the only gripe out of 10 films, they're doing their job. They nominated District 9, An Education, A Serious Man and Up. A sci-fi genre movie, a small Brit drama, a cerebral and incredibly dark comedy and the 2nd animated film to show up on this list.

So as far as the populist stuff goes, they nominated Avatar, Blind Side, and Up. District 9 is independent but was a big BO success. Basterds was a big global hit and played well in the US, but it's also a very alternative kind of movie. For the more "high brow" crowd, they nominated An Education, The Hurt Locker, A Serious Man, and Up in the Air. Small movies, incredibly well made and dealing with diverse issues.

My own Top 10 is different, yes, but as far as summarizing the past year - this is pretty damn good as far as the Academy goes. It beats the pants off of last year's grossly mediocre selection. The Oscars should be about the movies that make the most impact, that mean the most either artistically or culturally (and if we're lucky, both).

There weren't too many surprises though. In a good way. The Oscar reactions always turn into a bunch of people griping about what didn't get in. I prefer to look at who DID get in. Of course they weren't going to nominate Moon, or Michael Haneke, or Melanie Laurent. But here's what I'm celebrating:

Avatar gets under 10 nods. Wow. No screenplay, no song, no art direction, no acting nods. In other words - no sign they went crazy for it. Yeah, 9 Oscar nominations is nothing to scoff at, but in terms of pushing it back to the frontrunner, they didn't gain any traction.
Meanwhile, The Hurt Locker ties them at 9 nods. And Inglourious Basterds closes in with 8. Is it just me, or does Tarantino's film look pretty sexy right now? Nods in both the sound categories, cinematography, editing...not too bad. If they had scored costume design and/or art direction, I'd dare say Tarantino would be in a near-lethal position to surge.

A Serious Man getting pic and screenplay nods is great to me. I'm glad they embraced such a challenging movie. Ditto the script nom for In the Loop. Sad Fantastic Mr Fox didn't make the adapted cut, but its beautiful score got recognized. Wouldn't it be great to see Fox steal the Best Animated Feature award?

On top of that, only four nods for Nine, a great two for Imaginarium, a cinematography nom for The White Ribbon, four for District 9 (including screenplay!) AND they actually remembered to nominate the best song this year.

Oh, and if you kept track, the race is technically down to five movies: Avatar, District 9, Hurt Locker, Basterds and Precious. They got the editing noms, and you need that to win.

So every year I kinda like to try and find the "theme" of the race. Thinking about the nominations, I couldn't help but have Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love" in my head - mostly because I was so happy about A Serious Man, and that song forms the thematic basis of the film. But I think that's a great theme for all the films - Somebody to Love.
Avatar - love of a culture and a planet.
Blind Side - love of a woman for a lost boy
District 9 - love of a species for their lost world, and a man who gradually understands it
An Education - a young girl thinks she's found somebody to love
The Hurt Locker - a man undone by his love of war
Inglourious Basterds - well...okay. This one's a little hard. Tarantino's love of the movies?
Precious - a movie about a girl looking for someone to love her.
A Serious Man - well, the song's from the movie, and encapsulates its existential quandaries.
Up - an old man just wants the spirit of his love to be with him forever, a little boy needs a father figure
Up in the Air - a lone traveler needs somebody to love to finally land on the ground.

See, it works. It's not "love" so much as "connection" - these movies are about how people or events connect in unexpected ways, for either positive or negative. They're about groups or individuals struggling in their own ways to make sense of a confused world - no matter the period or planet.

Thanks AMPAS, for proving you CAN do what you said you would - bridging from art to broad entertainment in a series of 10 films. Now just don't mess it up with the winners.

And the 82nd Annual Academy Award Nominees Are...

Best Motion Picture of the Year

The Blind Side
District 9
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
A Serious Man
Up in the Air

How'd I do? 8/10 (9/10 with alternate)

Best Direction

James Cameron for Avatar
Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker
Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds
Lee Daniels for Precious
Jason Reitman for Up in the Air

How'd I do? 4/5 (5/5 with alternate)

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Jeff Bridges for Crazy Heart
George Clooney for Up in the Air
Colin Firth for A Single Man
Morgan Freeman for Invictus
Jeremy Renner for The Hurt Locker

How'd I do? 5/5

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side
Helen Mirren for The Last Station
Carey Mulligan for An Education
Gabourey Sidibe for Precious
Meryl Streep for Julie & Julia

How'd I do? 4/5 (5/5 with alternate)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

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

How'd I do? 4/5 (5/5 with alternate)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Penelope Cruz for Nine
Vera Farmiga for Up in the Air
Maggie Gyllenhaal for Crazy Heart
Anna Kendrick for Up in the Air
Mo'Nique for Precious

How'd I do? 3/5 (4/5 with alternate)

Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

Mark Boal for The Hurt Locker
Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds
Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman for The Messenger
Joel and Ethan Coen for A Serious Man
Pete Docter, Bob Peterson and Thomas McCarthy for Up

How'd I do? 4/5

Best Screenplay Based on Another Source

Terri Tatchell and Neill Blomkamp for District 9
Nick Hornby for An Education
Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Ianucci and Tony Roche for In the Loop
Geoffrey Fletcher for Precious
Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner for Up in the Air

How'd I do? 4/5 (5/5 with alternate)

Best Animated Film

Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Princess and the Frog
The Secret of Kells

How'd I do? 4/5

Best Foreign Language Film

El Secreto de Sus Ojos
The Milk of Sorrow
Un Prophete
The White Ribbon

How'd I do? 3/5 (4/5 with alternate)

Best Documentary Film

Burma VJ
The Cove
Food, Inc.
The Most Dangerous Man in America
Which Way Home

How'd I do? 2/5 (3/5 with alternate)

Best Art Direction/Set Decoration

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Sherlock Holmes
The Young Victoria

How'd I do? 3/5

Best Cinematography

Avatar, Mauro Fiore
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Bruno Delbonnel
The Hurt Locker, Barry Ackroyd
Inglourious Basterds, Robert Richardson
The White Ribbon, Christian Berger

How'd I do? 4/5

Best Costume Design

Bright Star, Janet Patterson
Coco Avant Chanel, Catherine Leterrier
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Monique Prudhomme
Nine, Colleen Atwood
The Young Victoria, Sandy Powell

How'd I do? 3/5 (4/5 with alternate)

Best Film Editing

Avatar, Stephen Rivkin, John Refous and James Cameron
District 9, Julian Clarke
The Hurt Locker, Bob Murawski and Chris Innis
Inglourious Basterds, Sally Menke
Precious, Joe Klotz

How'd I do? 4/5

Best Original Score

Avatar, James Horner
Fantastic Mr. Fox, Alexandre Desplat
The Hurt Locker, Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders
Sherlock Holmes, Hans Zimmer
Up, Michael Giaccino

How'd I do? 2/5 (3/5 with alternate)

Best Sound Mixing

The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Star Trek
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

How'd I do? 2/5 (3/5 with alternate)

Best Sound Editing

The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Star Trek

How'd I do? 3/5 (4/5 with alternate)

Best Visual Effects

District 9
Star Trek

How'd I do? 3/3

Best Makeup

Il Divo, Aldo Signoretti and Vittorio Sodano
Star Trek, Barney Burman, Mindy Hall and Joel Harlow
The Young Victoria, Jon Henry Gordon and Jenny Shircone

How'd I do? 1/3

Best Original Song

"Almost There" from The Princess and the Frog
"Down in New Orleans" from The Princess and the Frog
"Loin de Panama" from Paris 36
"Take it All" from Nine
"The Weary Kind" from Crazy Heart

How'd I do? 3/5

Nominations Leaders

Avatar - 9
The Hurt Locker - 9
Inglourious Basterds - 8
Up in the Air - 6
Precious - 6
Up - 5
District 9 - 4
Star Trek - 4
Nine - 4
A Serious Man - 3
The Young Victoria - 3
Crazy Heart - 3
An Education - 3

How'd I do?

"Top 8" categories: 80% correct (93% with alternates)
Overall: 69% correct (80% with alternates)

Compare to last year: overall predictions 73% correct, 81% with alternates

More commentary and number counting later in the day

Monday, February 1, 2010

Final Oscar Nominations Predictions

Nominations announced at 8:30 AM tomorrow on E!. Here are my final thoughts:

Best Picture

(500) Days of Summer
An Education
District 9
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
A Serious Man
Star Trek
Up in the Air

Alternates: Up, Invictus, The Hangover
Reasoning: After NOT nominating Wall-E last year, I still see them ghettoizing Up to the Animated category. Remember - this year, movies have to have more number 1 votes based on the "preferential balloting" system. That's why I don't see Invictus on the last and DO see Star Trek on it. Either way, I'm prepared to go 8/10 and looking for some surprises

Best Director

Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
James Cameron, Avatar
Michael Haneke, The White Ribbon
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

Alternate: Lee Daniels, Precious
Reasoning: Okay, Michael Haneke is a complete wish. I just really have an insecure feeling about Lee Daniels, and they haven't nominated a foreign director in a while. White Ribbon will probably win Foreign Language, and Haneke has been at the top of world cinema for years.

Best Actor

Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
George Clooney, Up in the Air
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

Alternate: Viggo Mortensen, The Road

Best Actress

Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Marion Cotillard, Nine
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia

Alternate: Helen Mirren, The Last Station
Reasoning: I really don't know about Cotillard. Nine seems dead, but I can't find a fifth person I like better in the slot.

Best Supporting Actor

Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Matt Damon, Invictus
Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
Anthony Mackie, The Hurt Locker
Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones

Alternate: Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
Reasoning: AMPAS gets solidly behind The Hurt Locker and actually recognizes Mackie.

Best Supporting Actress

Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Mo'Nique, Precious
Julianne Moore, A Single Man
Samantha Morton, The Messenger

Alternate: Penelope Cruz, Nine

Best Original Screenplay

(500) Days of Summer
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
A Serious Man

Alternate: The Hangover

Best Adapted Screenplay

District 9
An Education
Fantastic Mr. Fox
In the Loop
Up in the Air

Alternate: Precious

Best Animated Feature

Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Princess and the Frog

Alternate: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Best Foreign Language Film

A Prophet
Samson & Delilah
The White Ribbon
Winter in Wartime

Alternate: El Secreto de Sus Ojos

Best Documentary

The Beaches of Agnes
The Cove
Food, Inc.
Soundtrack for a Revolution

Alternate: The Most Dangerous Man in America

Best Cinematography

The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
The White Ribbon

Alternate: Where the Wild Things Are

Best Costume Design

Bright Star
Inglourious Basterds
Julie & Julia
The Young Victoria

Alternate: Coco Avant Chanel

Best Art Direction

Inglourious Basterds
Julie & Julia
Sherlock Holmes

Alternate: The Lovely Bones

Best Film Editing

District 9
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Up in the Air

Alternate: Star Trek

Best Visual Effects:

District 9
Star Trek

Alternate: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Best Makeup

District 9
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Inglourious Basterds
The Road
The Young Victoria

Alternate: Julie & Julia

Best Original Score

The Informant!
A Single Man
Star Trek

Alternate: Sherlock Holmes

Best Song

Crazy Heart
The Princess and the Frog
Where the Wild Things Are

Alternate: Everybody's Fine

Best Sound Mixing

District 9
The Hurt Locker

Alternate: Star Trek

Best Sound Editing

District 9
The Hurt Locker
Star Trek
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Alternate: Up

Alright AMPAS, ruin my morning!