Archive for January, 2011

Ruminations on Oscar Nominations

Posted in Film Industry on January 30, 2011 by judsonw

Last Tuesday the 82nd Academy Awards nominations were announced. While the Academy usually snubs a deserving picture or performance, this year’s nominations are an all around solid bunch. The Oscars aren’t telecast until February 27th, but that doesn’t mean some predictions can’t be made for the outcome of Hollywood’s most prestigious awards show.

Best Picture

Black Swan

True Grit

The Social Network

Toy Story 3

Winter’s Bone

The King’s Speech

The Kids Are All Right

The Fighter

127 Hours

Inception

Last year’s decision to add 5 more slots to the Best Picture category allows crowd-pleasing hits like “Toy Story 3” and “Inception” to join the mix, but the high number of nominated films seems to taint the honor of the winning the award. However, every one of these movies is deserving of their nomination, and it’s nice to see some recognition for indie darlings “The Kids Are All Right” and “Winter’s Bone.” But it’s “The Social Network” that has been gaining the most serious buzz since its release back in October. The film is close to perfect in every aspect. It’s hard to imagine the Academy not recognizing the timely, socially relevant modern masterpiece.

Who should win: The Social Network

Who will win: The Social Network

Best Director

Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan)

David O. Russell (The Fighter)

David Fincher (The Social Network)

Tom Cooper (The King’s Speech)

Joel and Ethan Coen (True Grit)

One of the biggest surprises in this category is the inclusion of Aronofsky for his role in directing a fearless and extremely fanatical tale of a ballet dancer gone mad. He is mainly known for directing cult indie favorites, so the fact that the Academy is recognizing his excellent work is hopeful. The other biggest surprise is the snub of Christopher Nolan for the mind-bending thriller “Inception.” As well as being one of the most ambitious films of the past decade, his direction both exhilarated and challenged the audience. The Coen Brothers stay in familiar territory with a third career nomination for their retelling of a classic Western. Cooper and Russell both put in exquisite work in their respective films, but it is David Fincher who truly went above and beyond. Every little detail, from a note next to Zuckerberg’s PC to the sound of the Winklevoss twins rowing crew, is obsessively crafted into perfection. Fincher, who has always been a greatly revered director from his work on such films as “Fight Club” and “Seven,” is at the peak of his career with “The Social Network.” If his direction of this film doesn’t deserve an award, nothing does.

Who should win: David Fincher

Who will win: David Fincher

Best Actor

James Franco (127 Hours)

Colin Firth (The King’s Speech)

Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network)

Jeff Bridges (True Grit)

Javier Bardem (Biutiful)

This is a race between two very different actors and performances. Firth goes for a second shot at the award after being nominated last year for his heartbreaking performance in “A Single Man.” He has been getting the best reviews of his career as the stuttering King George VI in “The King’s Speech.” Oscar co-host James Franco managed to do the impossible as he carried an entire film on his back. Franco is the only actor on screen in “127 Hours” for almost the entire runtime, and his likeability and charm make that 90-minute runtime feel like a breeze. Bardem’s nomination is surprising, if only for the fact that “Biutiful” has gathered lukewarm reviews from its very limited release. Bridges is great in “True Grit” but his award for last year’s “Crazy Heart” seemed to be the career achievement honor his work was leading up to. While Eisenberg’s chances of winning are slim, it’s his performance as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg that catapulted “The Social Network” onto numerous “Best of 2010” lists. He plays Zuckerberg as a young man apathetic to the world around him, all the while trying to change it. By the end of the film, I couldn’t decide whether I respected the guy or wanted to punch him in the face. While Eisenberg will surely get more recognitions for his future roles, it will most likely be this performance that he and the real Zuckerberg will be remembered for.

Who should win: Jesse Eisenberg

Who will win: Colin Firth

Best Actress

Natalie Portman (Black Swan)

Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right)

Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine)

Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone)

Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole)

The female performances that people can’t seem to stop talking about come from Bening and Portman. While the two entirely transform themselves to take on their respective characters of a lesbian mother and ballet dancer on the brink of a mental breakdown, it’s Jennifer Lawrence who truly gave the best performance of 2010. Her turn as a strong-willed and independent 17-year-old girl from the dirt poor Ozarks looking for her drug dealer father is striking in its naturalness and subtlety. Her rough nature is even more impressive when you witness the actress’s real life sunny demeanor. Her role in “Winter’s Bone” is a true breakout performance, and it won’t be the last we hear of her.

Who should win: Jennifer Lawrence

Who will win: Natalie Portman

Best Supporting Actor

John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone)

Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech)

Christian Bale (The Fighter)

Jeremy Renner (The Town)

Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right)

Every once in a while, an actor gives a performance that not only goes above and beyond the material, but also transcends the art of acting. Christian Bale does just that with his transformation into drug addict Dicky Eklund in “The Fighter.” While the advertising may want you to think Mark Wahlberg is the star of the movie, Bale shines as the most brilliant ingredient to an excellent sports film. His performance is simultaneously humorous and heartbreaking and, in my mind, is completely unrivaled this year. However, Rush’s supporting performance as King George VI’s speech therapist in “The King’s Speech” has been generating raves from movie critics and fans alike. Rush will be Bale’s only competition, but the Academy will most likely reward Bale’s incredible body of work with his first Oscar.

Who should win: Christian Bale

Who will win: Christian Bale

Best Supporting Actress

Amy Adams (The Fighter)

Melissa Leo (The Fighter)

Helena Bonham Carter (The King’s Speech)

Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom)

Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit)

At first glance at this category, it’s natural to wonder why Steinfeld is even included. Her powerhouse role as Mattie Ross in “True Grit” is a leading role, through and through. She is in nearly every scene in the film and is clearly the protagonist. No matter which category she’s nominated in, however, Steinfeld’s performance is by far one of the best of the year. Sharing the screen with such big names as Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon, she more than holds her own, she steals the film from right underneath them. In “True Grit,” the young newcomer comes across as strong, witty and independent, all without coming across as an annoying child actor. Her role as a girl determined to find her daddy’s killer would be a challenge for a 40-year-old veteran actress, let alone a 13-year-old girl.  Speaking of veteran actresses, the Academy likes to recognize longtime actors’ careers with an Oscar. Melissa Leo hit the peak of a long, lustrous career with her performance as a tough and controlling mother of a boxer in “The Fighter.” I expect the veteran to beat out the newcomer, despite how much the newcomer deserves the Oscar.

Who should win: Hailee Steinfeld

Who will win: Melissa Leo

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11 Movies To Look Out For In 2011

Posted in Lists, Upcoming Releases on January 17, 2011 by judsonw

The Beaver (March 23)

This movie just sounds too good to be true. The controversial and almost universally hated Mel Gibson takes on the role of a trouble husband and executive who uses a beaver puppet for his only form of communication. The much praised, Black Listed script was directed by Jodie Foster, who also co-stars. This sounds like such a quirky story that I just have to see it to believe it.

Sucker Punch (March 25)

If the image above doesn’t get you excited for this movie, then I don’t know what will. Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) continues with his digital world building to beautiful perfection. Believe it or not, Sucker Punch marks Snyder’s first foray into an original story (co-written by himself). And the story sounds badass. A young girl named Baby Doll is institutionalized by her evil stepfather. While in the institution, she imagines an alternate dreamworld to cope and constructs a plan to escape her nightmare, along with her girlfriends. Beautiful visuals, chicks with machine guns, and an enormous bunny mecca robot. I’m totally there.

Hanna (April 8 )

One of my favorite directors, Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride and Prejudice), takes the reigns for an entirely different kind of project. Hanna stars Saoirse Ronan (The Lovely Bones) as a 16 year old trained assassin dispatched on a mission across Europe. The film has a knockout cast including Eric Bana as Hanna’s father and Cate Blanchett as a ruthless intelligence operative. So it’s like Hit Girl: The Movie? Yes, please.

Source Code (April 15)

I only need one name to become excited about a new movie: Duncan Jones. The director behind 2009’s amazing science fiction film Moon, he  now follows up his work of beauty with Source Code. The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a soldier who is transported back in time into the body of another man in order to find a bomber on a train. Moon was made on a tiny budget and looked gorgeous. I’m excited to see what Jones can do with an equally intriguing story on a much bigger budget.

Scream 4 (April 15)

Scream is one of my favorite horror movies. It’s legitimately scary and brutal, but also is very smart and funny. It parodied the intricacies and trends of the horror genre, all the while becoming a solid entry into the genre. Sure, Scream 2 and Scream 3 weren’t nearly as well done, but I’m still excited to see these characters again in the fourth installment. Wes Craven returns to the director’s seat and the script was written by original scribe Kevin Williamson, so hopefully it will be just as enjoyable as the original.

Tree of Life (May 27)

Director Terrence Malick only makes a film once every blue moon. Though all his movies may not be narratively perfect, they all cause eye orgasms with their beauty. His first film since 2005’s The New World, Tree of Life stars Brad Pitt and Sean Pitt as brothers (I think) and the story may be about the meaning of life (I think). To be honest, I know next to nothing about what this movie is about. But it’s a new Malick film so there is no way I won’t be there on opening day.

Super 8

JJ Abrams. Steven Spielberg. Cloverfield-like secrecy. A kick-ass teaser trailer. Sign me up.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (July 15)

Arguably the most epic and successful series of films of all time finally comes to an end this summer. What other film franchise has had as many as 8 movies with almost the entire cast in tact for each progressive film? It’s truly remarkable, especially when you consider the quality of each film either remains consistent or grows. While Part 1 was a fun ride, it wasn’t perfect. I’m hoping for an epic conclusion to J.K. Rowling’s fantastic story. This movie will mark the end of Harry Potter mania, so it better go out with a bang.

Captain America: The First Avenger (July 22)

In a summer full of superhero movies, Captain America is the most interesting. Can it manage to be a good film, minus the cheese factor? The story takes place during WWII so that’s one step in the right direction. Chris Evans takes on another superhero (he was the Human Torch in Fantastic 4) as Steve Rodgers. The guy has charisma and the body for the part so hopefully he’ll hit a home run with it. The movie is directed by Joe Johnston (The Wolfman), however, so I have some reservations. Hoping for the best, especially if the success of this film determines what happens with the upcoming Avengers movie.

Cowboys and Aliens (July 29)

We finally get to see what Jon Favreau (Iron Man) can do with another action franchise. Everything about this movie, from the poster, teaser trailer, source material, and cast, shows promise. Want to know what it’s about? Read the title. Not intrigued? Then this movie probably isn’t for you.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (December 21)

I’m usually against remaking foreign films for American audiences when the foreign film in question hasn’t even been out for a year! The insanely popular novel has already been adopted in Sweden and it was a pretty excellent thriller. However, if anyone will make me warm up to an American remake, it’s David Fincher. Hot off his near perfect movie The Social Network, Fincher will be directing Rooney Mara as the titular character (Lisbeth Salandar) and Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomkvist. I’m honestly just excited to see this story put to screen again, and even more anxious to see what Fincher can do to make it his own.

Friday Faceoff: The Green Hornet vs. The Dilemma

Posted in Friday Faceoff on January 15, 2011 by judsonw

January marks the dumping month for movie studios, as they release all the shitty movies they have no faith in surviving the summer and autumn months. The Green Hornet (44% RT rating) was originally set for release last fall but was pushed back to January for a post conversion to 3D. Many people haven’t bought that reasoning, however, and there’s a worry that the film may have been pushed back because it simply isn’t up to snuff. The lesser superhero/comic book movie has had many problems making it to the screen, with changes in directors, actors, and scripts. Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) ended up taking the reigns as director and he couldn’t be a more interesting choice for this source material. Gondry is a visually inventive director so I’m pretty excited to see what he can bring to a comic book movie. Seth Rogen literally transformed himself for the role and it’ll be interesting to see whether he can also shed his persona as a funny man to become an action leading man.

The Dilemma (22% RT rating) is pretty much best known for the controversy it sparked by a tasteless gay joke featured in its trailer. Controversy aside, the film simply doesn’t look funny. Vince Vaughn and Kevin James seem to be two comedians you either love or hate. I lean toward the latter on that one. Did Ron Howard really direct this?

WINNER:

THE GREEN

HORNET


“Exit Through the Gift Shop”: Is Banksy’s directorial debut for real?

Posted in Documentary, Interesting... with tags , , , , , on January 14, 2011 by judsonw

Banksy. It’s a name many of us have heard. To some, it describes a talented street artist. To others, it describes a way of thinking. Of creating and interpreting art in entirely new ways. Well, Banksy is in fact a man. He’s risen over the past decade to become the face and soul of the street art movement, even though his identity is still completely anonymous. For all we know, “Banksy” could be a woman or a group of people who create the works of art instead of one singular person. However, all evidence points to Banksy being one man, especially because he was just credited with directing his first documentary film called Exit Through the Gift Shop. It’s a fantastic and unusual documentary, following a somewhat off kilter Frenchman named Thierry Guetta who is determined to craft a documentary about the mysterious Banksy. However, once Thierry meets Banksy, he ultimately turns the tables on him and Banksy begins to create a documentary about Thierry, who Banksy thinks is a much more interesting subject than himself.

Exit Through the Gift Shop is one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen. Not only does it completely inform the viewer on a subject that may have been previously unfamiliar (street art), it’s also incredibly entertaining with its numerous plot twists. The film gets you thinking once the credits roll and Richard Hawley’s fantastically appropriate song “Tonight the Streets Are Ours” plays. Even the title itself sparks discussion. What does it mean? Think about it. Whenever you go to an art museum you almost always pass through the gift shop on the way out. Art has become commercialized. It’s all about the money. And Banksy takes on that problem head on with his documentary. However, ever since the film premiered at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, it has garnered criticism over whether it is in fact a true documentary or a hoax created by Banksy himself.

The photo above is of the mysterious and elusive Banksy. Well, at least that’s what we’re supposed to assume. The only times he’s not presented in the shadows with a machine altered voice are some over the back recordings by Thierry of him creating his art. Watching these recordings almost feels like a privilege; watching a master at work. This is a feeling that Thierry doesn’t seem to have as it all apparently goes over his head as he continues to record everything. This just makes Thierry’s future career path even more peculiar.

***SPOILER ALERT***

A few months after Thierry’s escapades with Banksy, he takes the street artist’s advice and dabbles in the art form himself with the name “Mr. Brainwash.” Though he possesses no discernible talent, he takes the street art world by storm and becomes a millionaire in the process. Banksy’s final point seems to be that the public has been duped by a talentless bumbling buffoon. Much of Mr. Brainwash’s work comes from other artists (including the picture above). There’s no meaning behind his work, yet people still pay thousands of dollars for each piece because the public says it’s deep and cool. Mr. Brainwash earned his reputation essentially through an LA Weekly cover story with quotes from Banksy and fellow street artist Shephard Fairey.

So is Mr. Brainwash real? Or is he just another creation by Banksy, who is actually creating his art? Well, Thierry and his persona Mr. Brainwash are both definitely real as there have been art shows where people have bought countless pieces of his work. However, Thierry’s rise to fame as Mr. Brainwash almost happens to smoothly in the film to be real. Tons of details are left out of Thierry’s life prior to becoming an icon and Banksy’s descriptions of events in the film sometimes sound scripted. It’s hard to imagine someone so daft (but likable) as Thierry becoming so successful in the street art scene, but sometimes things in life are hard to imagine. Whether Mr. Brainwash is a Banksy creation or not, the film still furthers the discussion of what is art. Is something art right after it’s created or does it become art once the public makes its views known? Exit Through the Gift Shop seems to side with the latter, as Mr. Brainwash’s work would be nothing without the public’s fawning. It’s a fascinating look into a world many of us will never see and/or understand.

Hollywood’s “female problem” as shown by the Bechdel Test

Posted in Interesting... with tags , , , on January 1, 2011 by judsonw

Think of the last movie you saw. Were there 2 or more female characters (with names/personalities)? Did those 2 female characters speak to each other? Did they speak to each other about something other than a man? If the answer to those 3 questions is yes, then that film passed the “Bechdel Test.” The test became popular in 1985 after it was brought up in Alison Bechdel’s comic strip called The Rule. Think about all your favorite movies. All the big blockbusters that come out every summer. Many movies that Hollywood releases into theaters today do not pass the Bechdel Test. What does this say about the people behind the movies, if it says anything at all?

I recently watched Inception for the bajillionith time the other night and couldn’t help but notice how that movie, which is an amazing feat of filmmaking, doesn’t pass the test. The two female characters, Marion Cotillard’s Mal and Ellen Page’s Ariadne, are both fairly strong characters with their own personalities and talents. However, Ariadne can almost be seen as a character who is only there to explain to the audience just exactly what is going on. Mal is a straight up femme fatale and could be considered the true villain of the picture. Christopher Nolan has been criticizied in the past for having a “women problem” in his films, so I shouldn’t be surprised here but it’s still a cause for concern.

So what does the Bechdel Test actually mean? Well, it’s simply a sign that Hollywood is overrun with male directors, producer, and writers. The lack of a female point of view results in a diminished female presence in the majority of Hollywood movies being released. One exception to this explanation is the fantastically witty and enjoyable Easy A. That movie has a very strong female main character who interacts with the other women in her life over something other than men. After I saw it I was shocked to see it was written by a man, albeit a gay man. Whether a film passes the test or not doesn’t necessarily determine quality, as a great movie like Inception fails it while a piece of shit like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen passes it with flying colors. Still, it’s something to keep in mind with every movie you see.

To see a full list of movies that passed and failed the test dating back to 1900 (!), check out http://bechdeltest.com/.