Wednesday, 24 February 2010

The BAH!scars #7: Getting Some Direction

Time for me to finish off my predictions and ranting. Well, sort of. I have a few more crazy things in store for the BAH!scars before the big night...but before I get to those, time to do my good duty as a blogger and weigh in on the rest of the big categories.

Best Direction
“Avatar” — James Cameron
“The Hurt Locker” — Kathryn Bigelow
“Inglourious Basterds” — Quentin Tarantino
“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” — Lee Daniels
“Up in the Air” — Jason Reitman

I'm a tad ambivalent about Lee Daniels's job as director of Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire. I found some of the techniques interesting and effective at conveying what I imagine to be the feel of Sapphire’s prose. I appreciated how the camera really changed its style to fit each scene. However, the whole time, I was being irritatingly reminded that this was all just a trope on a much better director and a much better movie: Darren Aronofsky and his masterpiece, Requiem for a Dream. Lee Daniels does well because he has chosen the right guy to copy. Furthermore, I cannot help but be vexed by the fact that Aronofsky has directed three better films than this (I have to reevaluate Pi), but has not gotten a single nomination. Daniels of course gets it by making a movie that is almost textbook Academic.

About Jason Reitman, I barely have anything to say since I found Up in the Air’s direction unimpressive. As for feel, I’ve reiterated on numerous occasions how he went the completely wrong direction (see: Devin likes screwball comedies). As for camera, with the exception of two scenes, it conveyed the idea that Reitman would be more comfortable just directing a play with an innumerable amount of sets. The two scenes are the opening credits, which were horrendously obnoxious, and first scene of George Clooney making his way to his plane, which might have been a bit too flashy, but was just good enough to work.

James Cameron clearly accomplished what he set out to do in Avatar, but I’m not sure where to draw the line between director and visual effects and I’m pretty sure it veers towards the latter.

The Hurt Locker is a director’s movie. It’s a good, but not great script, that is buoyed by a phenomenal camera and well-done performances. Bigelow perfectly captures the right feel, where you are nervous even after you would be in a typical narrative (like when the bomb is already diffused). She does shaky cam right which nowadays almost seems worthy of some laurels in and of itself.

Finally, there’s Inglourious Basterds. Like I’ve said earlier, I think this might be one of the best films of the decade. As you may have guessed, Tarantino’s direction is definitely responsible for a good chunk of that. But, like Best Picture, this is ultimately a race between Bigelow and Cameron – the gritty vs. the pretty. While Best Picture seems tougher to call, I can say that Bigelow has a more noticeable lead here. Not so much that Cameron taking it from her is unthinkable, but as I see it, either the Academy will split the vote or give director and picture to the same film (okay, that’s a bit of a tautology). If they give it to the same film, it’ll be more on quality and therefore The Hurt Locker will get both. If they split it, they’ll do so to appease more people. They’ll give Avatar the big prize to really appease the masses and give Bigelow the slightly less important Best Director to appease the film geeks.

Who will will: Kathryn Bigelow
Who should win: Quentin Tarantino, though I’m quite fine with Bigelow

Writing (Original Screenplay)
“The Hurt Locker” — Written by Mark Boal
“Inglourious Basterds” — Written by Quentin Tarantino
“The Messenger” — Written by Alessandro Camon & Oren Moverman
“A Serious Man” — Written by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
“Up” — Screenplay by Bob Peterson, Pete Docter, Story by Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, Tom McCarthy

Aside from A Serious Man, I would not be too upset over any of these choices. The Hurt Locker in my opinion is a bit weaker in the script department than acting or direction, but not so much that I would find its winning a grave injustice. The Messenger is probably in a similar category but I would simply be amused by the oddness of such a small, not-known independent film winning over 4 Best Picture nominations. Up would be a perfectly suitable winner, though the Academy’s anti-animation prejudice is far reaching. Finally, there’s Inglourious Basterds. This movie will probably not take home too many awards in March (aside from Waltz’s), but it has a strong likelihood of winning this award. Despite bouts of extreme violence, this movie is all about dialogues between characters in the way that only Tarantino can deliver it (along with some great mini-monologues). The Academy may tend to lean towards a sweep (as is their habit) and go with Hurt Locker, but they might also try to throw Tarantino his bone. Ultimately, this is probably one of the closest races of the year, and I myself go back and forth on who will win day after day.

Who will win: The Hurt Locker or Inglourious Basterds – too close to call. If forced at gunpoint, I’d choose Basterds, if only because that’s what I want.
Who should win: Inglourious Basterds

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
“District 9” — Written by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell
“An Education” — Screenplay by Nick Hornby
“In the Loop” — Screenplay by Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche
“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” — Screenplay by Geoffrey Fletcher
“Up in the Air” — Screenplay by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner

The great irony here is that the surprise nomination (and the one that has not the slightest hope of winning) is clearly the best of the five screenplays. In fact, it may be one of the best of the ten. But sadly, In the Loop is too clever, too rude, and far too problematic to dream of ever taking home a little gold man. After seeing the film, I was even surprised that the Academy deemed to nominate it.

Also, little aside: I keep going back and forth on whether or not this script deserves to be in the Adapted category. While the scenario is based on a television show and one of the characters comes from that show, the story, dialogue, and majority of the characters are original. So yes, while this is not 100% from nothing…how could this be Adapted when Milk last year was under original screenplay?

An Education is the only other film I would be reasonably fine with seeing win this award. The dialogue is great, dramatic (and at times melodramatic) without losing itself (it constantly remains aware that the characters are prone to overreacting) and at other times just hilarious. Nowhere near as good as In the Loop’s, but very few screenplays this year are.

I’ve already gone into depth about my hated of District 9’s script and my warm to lukewarm about Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire. As for Up in the Air, I still do not get the love for this film’s “cleverness” or “wit” or “originality” or what-have-you. I mean, all of that love makes this the clear frontrunner and has guaranteed this film at least one prize…I just don’t see from where the love grows.

Who will win: Up in the Air.
Who should win: In the Loop.

Animated Feature Film
“Fantastic Mr. Fox”
“The Princess and the Frog”
“The Secret of Kells”

Neither The Secret of Kells or Coraline stand a chance. This is a symbolic race, between computer, stop-motion, and cell-animation. The Secret of Kells winning will mean nothing since nobody has seen it (including yours truly) and Coraline is not as emblematic (or good) an entry as Fantastic Mr. Fox when it comes to stop-motion animation. Yeah, I did not really like Coraline all that much. It was…good, but that was about it. I imagine how I felt about its style is akin to how many felt upon watching (and disliking) Juno with all its hipster affections. I love Nightmare Before Christmas, but all the Hot-Topic-Girl’s-Jerk-off Fantasy, semi-Tim-Burton-esque, mainstream-alternative style of Coraline bothered me. It wasn’t quirky or disturbing or whatever the designers were going for, but instead felt like a computer’s reaction if you fed it the past two decades of designs that met that description and asked it to make one itself. It felt artificial and forced and a bit bland and ultimately quite irritating. All of this is also an apt description for the character of Coraline. I’m sorry to all of you who felt that a girl who moves into a new town where she just doesn’t fit in and her parents don’t understand was such a breath of fresh air in the canon of cinema. The second half did a decent job with the final execution…but all that did was make me give it three stars on Netflix instead of a damnable two.

Now for the big three. If The Princess and the Frog wins, it will win purely because the Academy wants to see more 2-D animation. While the story was good and cute, the problem is that the mere evocation of the Disney movies of the late 80s and early 90s (as the trailer did try to summon up) only serve to highlight that while the story was good and cute (and Shadow Man was a fun villain), this movie is nowhere near the caliber of Beauty and the Beast or Aladdin. It’s a standard-good entry into the world of cell animation. In 1991, it would be pretty forgettable. Now, it’s Oscar-nominated.

Finally, it’s Up vs. Fantastic Mr. Fox. Now, we all know my adoration of Up. I think it was the second or third best film of the year. It’s a better movie than Mr. Fox. But, I would be completely fine if Fantastic Mr. Fox won. The fact that of the five nominees, only one is computer animated is refreshing enough. To see such a wonderful showcase of stop-motion animation and all its quirks and differences from real life win would be a lovely boost of energy for animation as a medium. It might even help stop the onslaught of Despicable Me and similarly subpar, mass-produced 3-D animated films. Granted, the chance of that happening is as small as the chance of Mr. Fox winning. Up has the award in the bag like it’s Lock, Shock, and Barrel and the gold statue is Sandy Claws. And if there is any upset, symbolic win, it’ll be The Princess and the Frog.

Who will win: Up
Who should win: Up

Friday, 19 February 2010

The BAH!scars #6: Actors Speak Louder Than Words

I don't exactly understand the title myself, but like many a line in a Bruce Springsteen song, it sounds cool despite not be completely decipherable. Now, without further ado, I present my take on the four acting categories.

Actor in a Leading Role
Jeff Bridges in “Crazy Heart”
George Clooney in “Up in the Air”
Colin Firth in “A Single Man”
Morgan Freeman in “Invictus”
Jeremy Renner in “The Hurt Locker”

As I said before, I haven’t seen Invictus, nor do I have any inclinition to do so and I’m pretty sure I would find Morgan Freeman’s performance as unimpressive as his last two decades of work. Jeremy Renner does not have a shot at winning since his very nomination was doubtful, which is a shame since his performance is the second best on this list. I do not understand the George Clooney buzz. He does a decent job with what he had to do in Up in the Air, but what he had to do was not all that much. Just because one does not screw up pan frying chicken breasts does not make one a gourmet chef. This role more or less cements his desire to be a modern day Cary Grant, but Clooney’s problem is that he is not willing to humiliate himself (well, except for maybe Batman and Robin) and go off-the-wall-bonkers like Grant often does. He always has to be the coolest guy in the room, but that is only half the game. Could you see Clooney leaping about in a frilly negligee screaming, “I just went gay all of a sudden!”? Neither could I.

That leaves us with the two big figures in my eyes: who should win and who will win. If the Academy could actually identify good acting, this award would be Firth’s. His quiet, restrained, tortured performance as a man in an intense state of grief and mourning was the heart of A Single Man. Every word of his, every action he did was informed by what he had suffered, yet he did not labor his points like other actors would. My only concern with Firth winning would be that, between him, Hoffman, and Penn all winning in recent years, that would turn "playing a gay man" into the new "playing a mentally challenged person" for "how to win Best Actor."

Jeff Bridges however has made a pretty clean getaway with most of the awards. This trophy is his. Now allow me to rant for a bit:

I despise Crazy Heart. Originally, I walked out of it just feeling bored and underwhelmed and wanting to kill Maggie Gyllenhaal for what she did to my sensibilities. The movie is The Wrestler, just with a less interesting screenplay, a completely bland director, and an inferior actor. In fact, this movie is a great rebuttal to anyone who said that The Wrestler was soley carried by Roarke's performance. Crazy Heart has been scrubbed and polished and Hollywoodized to the extreme, replacing pro-wrestling in New Jersey with the overly romantic country singing in the southwest and shoving in a trite happy ending. It feels contrived and created just to win awards and I honestly don’t sense the semblance of a soul or piece of artistic merit in it. Naturally, the Academy would smile even the slightest bit more favorably on this film than The Wrestler.

Now, when I see a movie, even if I hate it, I can usually find one thing good about it. Even Dark Knight, my sworn celluloid nemesis, has about 15 seconds that I thought were excellent (Joker fiddling with the explosive remote outside the hospital). (500) Days of Summer, District 9, A Christmas Carol – all of these had one aspect or another that I could praise, something that would make me hesitate or even stop before throwing all proof of these films into utter nihility. Crazy Heart has nothing I can praise. Nothing is noteworthy. Nothing ascends beyond its bile of insipidness and absolute forgetability. If Bridges’ performance can be praised as “good,” it is only good in the most average of ways that the world would not have suffered had it been deracinated at its inception as there are hundreds of more of those in the sweep of cinema.

Colin Firth delivers a powerful character study of a broken man. Jeff Bridges just goes through the motions.

Who will win: Jeff Bridges
Who should win: Colin Firth

Actress in a Leading Role
Sandra Bullock in “The Blind Side”
Helen Mirren in “The Last Station”
Carey Mulligan in “An Education”
Gabourey Sidibe in “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”
Meryl Streep in “Julie & Julia”

I’ve already spoken about my disgust at the mere concept of The Blind Side (see prior entry if you suffer from amnesia). Of course, Bullock already should start dusting off a place on her shelf from her little gold man. The Blind Side got nominated for Best Picture and she’s the only other nomination it has. The Academy clearly finds her so great (or, to be honest, is so surprised that she is not a completely shit actor and can act in a serious role) that it nominated a movie for the top accolade because of her. She’s already won.

I haven’t seen The Last Station, so I’ll instead talk about the other three actresses who will be done a great disservice next month. First off, Meryl Streep, who was probably hoping for some time that she’d finally win her first Oscar in decades despite a bajillion and eight nominations. Every moment that she was Julia Child on screen was an absolute joy (I really think I had a smile on my face the entire time). As for Gabourey Sidibe, she really impressed me. Her performance may seem on the surface to be very simple – she just plays a victim. But she plays the role of a stoic, where she can’t overact or overreact, but instead must play the part of a character who keeps the same expression despite her turmoil of emotions (akin to Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain). Yet her body language (in large print font – hey-o!) changes so subtly yet effectively that you don’t even realize how much she’s growing as a character until the end.

Finally, there’s Carey Mulligan. She deserves this Oscar for her absolutely breath-taking break-out role as Jenny. She plays the role perfectly and, as one critic nicely put it, conveys that she is a girl making stupid decision, but herself is not stupid. Just as I mentioned how Sarsgaard seduces us, Mulligan is as necessary to that seduction. She must convince us how attractive David is and simultaneously place herself as a figure of identification and almost authority (so we can embrace her choices) and a figure who we know is headed towards a tragic conclusion.

Who will win: Sandra Bullock
Who should win: Carey Mulligan

Actor in a Supporting Role
Matt Damon in “Invictus”
Woody Harrelson in “The Messenger”
Christopher Plummer in “The Last Station”
Stanley Tucci in “The Lovely Bones”
Christoph Waltz in “Inglourious Basterds”

Yeah, this one still ain’t a contest. And I still have only seen two of the performances. And I still wonder why Stanley Tucci was not nominated for Julie and Julia since everyone seems to like that movie more and really only have nominated him for The Lovely Bones since for some reason that seems better than nominating him for Julie and Julia. Anyway, I love me some Waltz, though am sorry for Harrelson that he had to put forth such an outstanding performance this particular year.

Who should and win will: Christoph Waltz.

Actress in a Supporting Role
Penélope Cruz in “Nine”
Vera Farmiga in “Up in the Air”
Maggie Gyllenhaal in “Crazy Heart”
Anna Kendrick in “Up in the Air”
Mo’Nique in “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”

God, this category just vitiates the entire Oscars. I’ve already gone on in the BAH!scars #3 about the absolute, hyperbole-defying atrocity that is Maggie Gyllenhaal in Crazy Heart. Vera Farmiga was in that “Meryl Streep in Doubt, good but not astoundingly, uniquely good, just generically good” category. Penelope Cruz excels with her one musical number in Nine (and also probably successfully titillated all 12 straight men who saw it), but aside from that is stuck doing a decent job covering scenes from 8 ½ that could never surpass the original.

Of course, the buzz in this category is circling around Mo’Nique, who plays Precious’s truculent mother, particularly for her final monologue. Naturally, I differ from the masses. I liked Mo’Nique’s character for most of the film, as she simply sat in her chair, watching TV, smoking, and waiting to strike. She was like a scorpion in the room; you knew she was going to bring destruction eventually, but you knew that running away from her would only entice her sadistic tendencies. Furthermore, I liked that she was an unexplained evil and the same level of obstacle for Precious as poverty. She could not be reasoned away or reasoned with – she was just there. Very rarely is inexplicable evil done well - this could have been one of those times.

Then came that atrocious monologue. Firstly, I do not think Mo’Nique did all that impressive of a job with it. She was *ACTING!* instead of acting and that only works if you’re Gloria Swanson and the name of your movie is "Sunset Boulevard". As for the speech Just no. It did not work. It did not provide a satisfying explanation, and whether it was trying to make me hate her more or elicit sympathy, I could not tell. At the end, I was just confused and ready for her to exit stage right.

I suppose I would give this award to Anna Kendrick. While she does play her part in an over-the-top fashion, she manages to make her choice become of the funniest, liveliest parts in a film that only wishes it were that funny and lively. She perfectly straddles the line of too-ridiculous-to-be-true and just-believable-enough-to-work-in-a-movie.

Who will win:
Who should win: Anna Kendrick (at least of those nominated)

Because I'm a considerate sonuvagun, I'll do the rest of my Oscar predictions next entry to spare you from reading another 5+ page entry. Coming up next time: director, screenplays, maybe cinematography, possibly animated, and anything else you're really curious for me to weigh in on! Seriously, if you want me to do a category, just let me know!

Monday, 15 February 2010

The BAH!scars #5: Best Picture?

Welcome back to another installment of the BAH!scars! This entry really requires no I'll stop now.

Level 1 – the Other 3

These were the three films that were kind of the toss-up when it came to the Best Picture nomination discussion. Obviously, they all stand an Aronofsky’s chance of winning (despite Aronofsky’s films being able to wipe the floor with these pieces of poo).

The Blind Side

The one nominee I have not yet seen and, to be perfectly frank, have no interest in seeing. Anyone who I respect and who has seen it has nothing but condemnatory words to say about it. “Glorified TV movie.” “Bullock’s just okay.” “Boring then boring then racist then boring.” What can I say? I hate schmaltz, I hate sport movies, I hate mindless Oscar feel-good-inspiration bait. And I hate Sandra Bullock. I’d be miserable every step of the way and I’m not giving into the Academy by seeing this movie just because they threw two nominations at it.

Where I rank it amongst the ten: 10

Odds of winning: 1 to 1,000. This film was the surprise nominee of the year, bolstered only by the awards/reviews for Bullock, very similar to The Reader last year. In a five-picture year, the odds might be 1 to 100, but now there are nine other films to beat, all of which have more clout/support than this one does. Of course, bad Bullock movies that take a heavy-handed look at race have won before against all odds. But if it happens this time, film-nerds nationwide may have their own “Rodney King Verdict”-style riots.

District 9

Like I said in a prior entry, this movie snatched up Star Trek’s “Token Summer Movie Nomination/Let’s Keep the Plebs Happy” prize. Ironically, despite thinking Star Trek is a better movie, I am annoyed less by this selection. Possibly because at least this choice seems more in line with typical Academy thinking (Little Indie That Could, Important Issue, etc.). That being said, the fact that District 9 is a nomination for Best Picture is a complete and utter joke. The plot was incredibly cookie cutter (I dare say it may rival Avatar’s), the commentary was heavy-handed, and I really do not think I should feel so bored when watching people explode.

Where I rank it amongst the ten: 9

Odds of winning:
1 to 500. Note the “Token” in its prize. This nomination was an act of diplomacy by the Academy. Diplomacy is taking a few small hits to appease the other party. It’s not committing seppuku to show you were wrong.

A Serious Man

The more I thought about A Serious Man, the more it crumbled for me. Probably initially I was temporarily blinded by what so many people were blinded by: if a movie is that depressing, boring, dense, and contains no answers, it must be great stuff. It had a strong lead performance and a few good moments with the camera (and I did love the opening scene), but aside from that…it was a shaggy dog of a movie: a lot of hair that couldn’t attach itself to anything. While there have been great movies that have broken free of traditional norms of plot and character (e.g. Bunuel’s The Phantom of Liberty), this picture did not even have a single idea upon which to hinge itself, aside from the very tired Job one.

This nomination was probably a combination the aforementioned blinding with A) “Hey! We’ve nominated and awarded the Coen’s before!” and B) a desire for more cred among the film geeks who hate the Academy as much as the cretins.

Where I rank it amongst the ten: 8

Odds of winning:
1 to 150. In many’s eyes, this was a doubtful nomination. I thought it had a good chance of making it to the race of 10, but that’s about it. This movie is bland, but not Academy-Approved-Bland and will therefore not grab voters’ eyes come check-off time.

Level 2

“We’re so happy the Academy amped it up to 10!” These two were the ones that were pretty much guaranteed 2 of the 5 extra slots. They never would have gotten a real nomination, but they were also not a question when filling out the list. They have the slightest chance of winning, though a picture of that moment would have to go in the dictionary under “upset.”


Oh, how I love this movie. Oh, how it’s refreshing to see the Academy’s need to nominate token films used for good instead of evil. Oh, how this movie does not have a chance of winning.

Amazing - Up is a film that delivers well-developed characters, clever humor, tears, an uplifting message about the human condition, and adventure…and because it’s computer animated, it has a pretty infinitesimal chance of taking home the gold. However, this nomination does cement what everyone already knew: that Up will win Best Animated Feature.

Where I rank it amongst the ten: 2

Odds of winning:
1 to 85. This nomination is almost as much of a token as District 9. However, this injustice has the benefit of having a more vocal, consistent, and intelligent group of complainers rallying behind it. There is a miniscule possibility that the Academy will try to appease the animated lobbyists in one foul swoop before returning to their usual antics. But it’s miniscule.

An Education

This film is a solid choice. The acting is phenomenal and the dialogue is top notch. Carey Mulligan deserves the Oscar, though she won’t get it, and a few of the other actors were quite snubbed. It by no means is a “Best Picture” film either in the Academy’s eyes (Ew! Girl sleeping with older man! Ew! Quiet British film!) or mine, but this film is a welcome addition to filling out the list, be it 5 or 10 films.

Where I rank it amongst the ten: 4

Odds of winning:
1 to 60. Like I said, it’s a good pick for filling out the list, but it is not flashy enough for the Academy. Only if there were an incredible vote split would it have a shot.

Level 3

We’re now on the movies that would have been the five nominees had the Academy not decided to make a desperate attempt to get more viewers and pander to the masses.

Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire

I will admit I went into this movie with some biases against it. I thought (and still think) that the title is as obnoxious as a neon yellow sweatsuit (and misuses quotations). All the trailers made it looks exploitative, predictable, and mindless Oscar-bait (let’s all think about race for two hours! Hurray for triumphing over adversity!). I did not like how certain critics/marketers were trying to guilt the American public into seeing the film by saying they were racist if they did not (when really, the American public will only see “indy”-ish film if they’re quirky and cute). And, I really did not want to see Fatty walk down the red carpet in a dress, trying to look attractive or at least not completely repulsive.

Now, little sidetrack. Sometimes, I see a movie that I expect I’m going to hate and it surpasses my expectations as to how repugnant it can be. I will then say, “Yes, it was indeed as horrible as I surmised...and then some!” and people will say that I went in prejudiced against it and did not give it a fair chance. I always argue with them that even if I go in with expectations, I still do not let those cloud my judgment. In fact, if the movie is even the slightest bit decent, it benefits from my bias. I often will think “Wow! This isn’t horrible!” and that will quickly transition to “This is quite good!” If anything, most movies find that my preconceived negative opinions ameliorate my final judgment, just as my excitement for a film has a tendency to lead to ultimate disappointment.

Upon reflection, Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire is still predictable (it's only a step or two up from Avatar), a bit exploitative, and nothing all that special. But the acting is mostly strong (Fatty in fact so exceeds with what her role requires that I lament the reality that she probably will not have a career after this movie), the script is just interesting enough, and the directio – er, I’ll describe my ambivalence towards the direction in my next Oscar post – that it won my over. I approve of Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire, as a movie. It may not deserve to be in the top 5, but it’s better than a lot of other nominees.

Of course, I may not have actually seen Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire since both my ticket and the marquis for the theater only said "Precious."

Where I rank it amongst the ten:

Odds of winning: 1 to 25. It’s the recipient of the “Little Miss Juno” Award. Part of the deal with that award is that the recipient has not all that great of a chance of getting any award past the “Little Miss Juno” Award.

Up in the Air

Back when this movie had a very good shot at winning, Entertainment Weekly ran this piece. It simultaneously interested and bothered me. Why did it vex me so? Because Up in the Air is not a triumph of witty dialogue and plot and great characters. It only thinks it is. It half-wants to be a modern day screwball comedy (as this article belies) but cannot bring itself to abandon its seeming-sophistication and unabashedly invite in the immaturity that allows such a pleasant juxtaposition. As a result, it drags. Furthermore, I simply did not find Clooney’s character as funny, sharp, distinct, roguish, or fascinating as the film expected me to. He seemed like a partially-formed idea that never fully took route into a person, and without that, the script continued its collapse. There are moments of greatness in this film, sure, but this is not a great film or anything close. There are just briefs flashes of what could have been one.

Where I rank it amongst the ten: 7

Odds of winning: 1 to 10. This movie was probably the favorite back at the turn of the year, but it has lost steam like a kettle taken off the stove. I think the problem was that people started actually seeing it and realized it really wasn’t all that special. It’s only true shot comes from the fact that it carries with it a very timely and Academic message: having loved ones >>> having money and a job.

Level 4

These are the ones that are really duking it out for Best Picture. Any other one will be some level of an upset. None of these three have a definite chance of winning and therefore there will be surprise no matter which one wins, but not too much surprise.

Inglourious Basterds

Forget about the year; I’d rank this film as one of the best of the decade. It’s a remarkably clever, incisive film masquerading as a mindless, frat-boy gorefest. Yet, it’s façade of Eli Roth controlling Quentin Tarantino like Brainiac puppeteering Lex Luthor only manages to enhance the film’s overall message and make it more brilliant (I may have to gush about this more in depth in a full-length entry). I walked away from this movie back in August not knowing what to think. I did not even know if I liked it. Repeated viewers and what probably amounts to hours of thinking and discussion have affirmed its place in film history in my mind (and probably also guaranteed that I’ll be writing a real academic essay on this at some point in the future)

Where I rank it amongst the ten:

Odds of winning:
1 to 4. On one hand, we have a director that has already been nominated, the SAG win, nominations in director, screenplay, editing, and cinematography, and general good buzz. On the other hand (SPOILER), we have a movie that ends with Hitler getting a machine gun to the face. The Academy may not look too favorably upon a film that exposes all other “good” WWII films for being as bloodthirsty as any slasher flick. However, this film may be able to rise above the rubble that will ensue in the Avatar/Hurt Locker brawl.


I’ve already defended Avatar in this blog (read “Avatar’s Gross!” if you need a refresher). That being said, this movie is not Best Picture material. Too many necessary elements are lacking from the film to allow it to make the leap from “enjoyable” to “great” (by the way, I know I use the word “great” a lot when discussing films…I owe that quite a bit to Roger Ebert’s Great Movies. It’s more of a status than an adjective for me, hence why I don’t vary my vocabulary when it comes to that).

Where I rank it amongst the ten:

Odds of winning: 3 to 7. It will definitely eat up Technical Awards like they were white dots and it was Pac Man. And the Academy is really trying to appease the masses this year (see: ten nominations), so how better to do that than awarding the top grossing movie of all time the top prize? Hey, it worked over a decade ago! And then of course, there’s that whole Golden Globe thing and the fact that the last thing the director did was that movie where the boat sinks.

The Hurt Locker

The great paradox of the Oscars is that they make no one happy: not the masses, nor film nerds. The plebeians complain that the Oscars only choose prestigious, boring films that only a few people see. People who actually know about film bewail that the Academy only chooses films that tend to gross over $100 million and only give the illusion of being “small, independent films.” Yet, ironically, the plebs’ conception might finally be the case for a change. Up against the movie that everyone saw is the truly great film that only grossed about $10 million in its initial release in theaters.

Barely anyone saw The Hurt Locker this summer. Only a select few film nerds and friends of film nerds were lucky enough to enter the theater in July to see one of the tensest films in years and the best film about the Iraq war to come out so far. It was a film lover’s/thinking man’s action movie, one that delivered a few explosions but knew that the mere promise of an explosion is so much scarier and so much more thrilling.

While I prefer Inglourious Basterds to this movie, I will be more than happy if The Hurt Locker wins. This movie is the one that has the best chance of beating Avatar and it will be the first time in a while that I can really rally behind a Best Picture winner. Hurray for that.

Where I rank it amongst the ten: 3

Odds of winning: 1 to 2. This movie not only took home a lot of critic’s year-end awards, but has been catching up pre-Oscar awards like they’re Pokemon (what is with me and videogame similes?). By all means, it should be a hands-down favorite to win. But it’s a small movie. And therefore, it’s going to be a struggle. It has a slight advantage over Avatar, but that’s about it.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Caught in a Bad Romance

Sunday’s Valentine’s Day. You know what that means: every restaurant is booked. Dammit! In honor of the event and to spite everyone who is being wined and dined, I present 10 movies that fuck with love and show how love fucks with you.

Note 1: SPOILERS. If you haven’t seen a movie and don’t want it spoiled, skip to the next one.
Note 2: These are not the top ten movies that do so. Only 10 from across time and genre. Though, I admit that two are only a year apart.
Note 3: Any of these movies are DEFINITELY worth a look. Many of them are among my favorites.

The Little Mermaid (1989)

“So much for true love!” – Ursula

Things you will have to give up for love may include any or all of the following: your voice, your family/life-long friends/acquaintances
with whom you’re able to have decent conversations at the supermarket, your kingdom, and your life.

Yes, love makes Ariel go stupid to an exponential degree. She forsakes her family, imperils her people and her kingdom, and abandons her friends all to go after a pair of legs and a dick that she has only seen for the grand total of probably a minute. Well, she also has a statue of him, but that just summons up Pygmalion allusions, all of which do her no favors.

Imagine for a second that you’re a merperson living under Trident’s sovereignty or even someone residing in the coastal town of the movie. You’re sitting there, eating your seaweed salad, and suddenly it's the climactic battle of the film and an enormous fat drag queen with a trident starts causing storms and spreading desolation. All thanks to Ariel's sex drive. Your wife may be fried to a cinder by a stray trident bolt, your home may be annihilated by some eighty foot tall waves, and you may have permanent psychological scars that will never fully heal…but at least it all ended with the spoiled little princess getting her man.

And yes, it’s totally healthy to leave everyone you’ve known and who has loved you your entire life (except a fatuous seagull) all for the sake of getting married.

Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Betty Schafer: Come on, Joe.
Joe Gillis: Come on where? Back to a one-room apartment that I can’t pay for? Back to a story that may sell and very possibly will not?
Betty: If you love me, Joe.
Joe: Look, sweetie -- be practical. I’ve got a good thing here. A long-term contract with no options. I like it that way. Maybe it’s not very admirable. Well, you and Artie can be admirable.
Betty: Joe, I can’t look at you anymore.
Joe: Nobody asked you to.

Which relationship am I even talking about here? Norma and Joe? Norma and Max? Joe and Betty? Betty and Artie? Us and Hollywood? Whatever the case may be, none of these are healthy, fulfilling relationships. Joe is with Norma for money; Norma with Joe in a delusional attempt to feel young and attractive still. Betty is with Artie because it’s the “right” thing to do. Max is with Norma because of some misguided, blind devotion…or because no one wants to hire him as a director. Norma is with Max because right until the movie started, she needed someone to clean up all that chimpanzee poop.

Love is selfish. Love is a ploy created to get what you really want: be it money or fuel for your vanity or even just purpose. And even then, it still sucks. You get stuck in an old house with a crazy lady or worry that your lover is sleeping around or, worst of all, you can be Betty and Artie. They are the only couple who stay together at the end. Yet we know that Betty “loves” (or at least feels passion for and can get a good screenplay/job out of) Joe. Instead, she has to run off to Artie at the end – Artie who wants to get married for cheap and skip a honeymoon and probably whisk Betty away from the world of movies that she grew up in and loves and trap her in her own Hollywood mansion (albeit a tinier one). That’s the happy couple at the end.

L’Atalante (1934)

[I can’t find quotes online]

Roger Ebert calls this movie “poetic.” I guess it is…if you are alluding to a dreary, humdrum "way of life" poetry style that you can find in modern or post-modern works. Quite frankly, this movie is one of the most depressing movies ever made. We begin with a marriage (the traditional end to a narrative). But the movie only shows us that this coupling, this happy ending, is really neither happy nor the end. After the blissful union that is the typical “Hollywood ending,” what are we left with? Fights about feline hygiene and laundry. A husband jealous to the point of abusive and a wife who may be giving him reason to be. Marriage is like the ship L’Atalante, a small, claustrophobic world that we can’t wait to escape, if only for a few hours.

Sure this movie ends with the lovers reconciled and happy…but that’s just where we started. And there are many, many more trips on L’Atalante still in store for these two.

An Education (2009)

“You have no idea how boring everything was before I met you.” – Jenny

In this movie, Jenny, a nice British schoolgirl, meets David, a “bad Jew” who tries to indoctrinate her into a world of thievery, deception, and promiscuity. She is tempted, but in the end, good perseveres over not-so-good and Jenny leaves David. By the epilogue, we are informed that she’s met a nice British boy who has never been to Paris and who probably is a virgin and who will be Jenny’s rather darling husband.

YAWN. Yes, David may have been a shyster and an attempted bigamist, but I’ll be damned if he also was not one of the most attractive, seductive, and fun characters on screen in a long time. An Education manages to show us an actually “good romance,” but it also tells us that what is good for romance is bad for everything else. To have a happy life, you must choose the boring guy, the one you would never bother making a movie about. The only romance worth having is the one that can’t last and the one that will eat away everything else around you like corrosive acid.

David did not save Jenny from her boring life, he only showed her how boring the rest of her life would be. And the worst part is – that was the better of the two options she had.

Vertigo (1958)*

“Too late. It’s too late. There’s no bringing her back.” – Scottie Ferguson

Imagine the perfect mate; he/she’s stunningly attractive, magnificently cultured, and only has eyes for you. Are you imagining him? Good – because that’s the only way you’re ever going to see her (oh look at me being all gender-inclusive). In Vertigo, Scottie will for a few brief days get to know Madeleine, a woman so sublime and ethereal that he cannot help but fall madly and hopelessly in love with her. We ourselves can’t help but fall in love with her and want to see Stewart and Novak make mad passionate love on screen (since that would be the closest we’ll ever come to getting in on the action).

But of course, Scottie loses her. And then, thanks to an enormous (apparent) coincidence, he finds a girl who looks remarkably like her and tries to recreate his love. He doesn’t really care that he’s mentally tormenting a seemingly innocent woman and, really, neither do we. For love, sacrifices must be made.

Except there’s one problem: Judy, the girl off the street, was Madeleine. Which means that there was no “real” Madeleine, at least in so much that we ever knew her. Scottie’s dream girl was a lie. For all we know, the “real” Madeleine Elster farted constantly and got chili stains all over her grey suits. Of course, there’s no “real” Madeleine Elster since this is just a movie, but don’t think too hard. The more you think about Vertigo, the more you feel like you’re precariously holding onto the increasingly slipping ledge of your sanity.

In short: perfect mate = nonexistent. The best you can do is try to dress someone else up as him or her, but in the end, you’re being abusive or s/he’s deceiving you or you’re deceiving yourself. Love is a lie. A lie that hurts like a cold, blonde bitchslap.

*With eternal gratitude and apologies to my Hitchcock professor Lee Edelman. I’ve taken about 3 hours of brilliant lecturing and mutilated it into a few paragraphs in a blog and most likely did his whole argument a great disservice in the process.

The Sheik (1921)

“When an Arab sees a woman he wants, he takes her.” – Ahmed

Hurray for Stockholm Syndrome! This movie teaches us all that the best way to get the woman of your dreams (especially if she’s an independent free-thinking woman in the early part of the twentieth century) is to kidnap her and force her to live with you until she tries to escape and realizes that you aren’t the worst guy out there. Oh, and if she’s repulsed by the prospect of marrying a Middle Eastern man when she herself is white, simply inform her that you’re adopted and are as white a Klansman’s hood. True love truly is triumphant!

(Also, I just realized that this plot is a bit like that of Beauty and the Beast. Just changing “Middle Eastern” to “furry” and “white” to “not furry”)

Brokeback Mountain (2005)

“I wish I knew how to quit you!” – Jack Twist

The typical reaction after seeing Brokeback Mountain is to bemoan homophobia and think, “Alas, alack, and Alaska! If only those two could have loved each other openly and gotten married in California without fear of their heads being bashed in!”* But can’t we also just say, “Man, wouldn’t these two have been so much happier if that incident never happened on Brokeback?”

Yes, it’s technically not the nice thing to think…but it’s true. Ennis seemed suppressed enough that he never would have succumb to his urges without some Twisting of his arm (and pulling of his fifth leg and…okay, I’ll stop now). He would have gotten married, probably not gotten divorced since his wife would have no infidelity to suspect and everyone would be happier and Daddy would just occasionally buy Men’s Fitness magazines and disappear into the bathroom with them every once in a while.

As for Jack, he might have just had a lot more hookups over the years before still being turned into a human piñata. Even if this were the case, he’d be better off. More sex and less angst makes Jack a content homo. And hey, without the emotional ties of Ennis, he might’ve even just decided to move out of Montana/Wyoming/whatever useless state they were in and head out to San Francisco instead. Then not only might he have lived, but he would have had the opportunity to guest star in another Oscar nominated film, Milk!

As the poster said, “Love is a force of a nature.” It’s a big fucking hurricane that blows you off course and makes you stupid and miserable and eventually kills you and leaves the other guy with only a shirt to cry over.

*Granted, homophobia is worth much bemoaning and gays should be able to get married without fear of cranial restructuring, but that’s not for this entry.

Love & Death (1975)

Sonja Grushenko
: You were my one great love!
Boris Grushenko: Oh, thank you very much. I appreciate that. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm dead.

I know most people would say Annie Hall might be a better candidate, but as Alvie says at the end, “We need the eggs.” It might be one of the better defenses of love and the inevitable heartbreak. Love and Death’s title shows that while we put the love first in our mind, ultimately death is what matters. Sonja’s overly romantic remark, which would be the emotional triumph of most other films, is sarcastically and rightfully retorted with Boris’s reality-check. Love isn’t a great powerful force that can overcome all in this movie; it’s a distraction from the real force: human mortality. And, as you watch the movie, you see that people will get their distraction through any means necessary: power, deception, money, and guilt trips. One great love is like a very shiny penny – it’s charming but ultimately worthless. The only real, eternal coupling is between Boris and the Grim Reaper.

City Lights (1931)

The Tramp: Can you see now?
A Blind Girl: Yes, I can see now.

There really is no more touching way to finish a love story than with the uncovering a ruse and the realization that the man of your dreams is just a dirt-poor ex-con. I guess this is sweet; she finally sees him for who he is and realizes how much he sacrificed for her. But he also deceived her into thinking that he was well-off enough to support her and her mother and who knows what she turned down waiting for Prince Charming? Let’s not even get into the fact that these two probably aren’t going to have all that happy of a marriage as they struggle to get by and she brings up his chicanery whenever they get into a fight.

Imitation of Life (1959)

Steve Archer: I've been trying to do something with my pictures. It's meant everything to me. Every minute, for a long time now.
Lora Meredith: No, it hasn't. Or you wouldn't give it up to sell beer.
Steve: I gave it up for something much better, something right now: You.
Lora: But you're asking me to give up something I've wanted all my life, ever since I was a child, and I can't do it!
Steve: If you grew up, you could.

You know what I like? Having to choose between the man I love and my career plus all my dreams I’ve had since my earliest recollection! Once I find that relationship with a guy, I’ll be set for life! What? No? Not every girl dreams of being carried off by Prince Charming who will then tell her that her own ambitions are infantile compared to her responsibility to him and his need to sire an heir?

The particularly horrifying thing about this movie is not simply the fact that Steve does not stray from his position that a woman cannot have it all; no, the most disturbing facet of this movie is that it endorses Steve’s ultimatum and wants the viewer to both validate it and condemn Lora as self-obsessed for simply not surrendering to the throes of her libido. The rest of the movie after this confrontation will obsessively create a world where Lora must be wrong and must be taught a lesson.

Also, this movie shows another danger of love: falling in love increases your risk of having children. And children, as illustrated by the duo of the insipid Suzie and the prickly Sarah Jane, are ungrateful little brats who will not realize all that you did for them until you’re in a coffin being pulled by four white horses. Fuck children.

(Okay, don’t literally fuck them, but you get the idea)

So for those of you not going out to dinner on Valentine's Day, I highly recommend any of these 10 movies. They will make you feel better about your current lack of a significant other.

Monday, 8 February 2010

3-D Redux

As some of you may know, Sony is currently considering rereleasing classics in 3-D. Granted, I do not know what exactly they mean by “classics.” This article mentions Spider-Man and Casino Royale alongside
Taxi Driver, but as someone who tutors high schoolers, I do know that there are people who consider anything pre-Juno “old.” How far back would this go? Would we see the depth to which Hans Gruber plummets as never before? Would Norma Desmond seem to pop out of the screen as she gets ready for her extreme close-up? Will we finally get to behold D.W. Griffith’s racist vision truly realized as the KKK dramatically races to save the day in three dimensions of Reconstructionist Southern Glory?

I’m going to place my money on not going any further back than Star Wars, which I always have drawn as the unofficial line between “old movies” and “new movies.” Of course, I would not be surprised if they do not even tackle anything from before this century. Well, Lucas might…anything for a few bucks after all.

The instinctive reaction is to decry “O times! O morales!” in classical Latin accent and wait for the next few harbingers of the apocalypse to arrive. But then, I have to ask, is this really all that bad?

Let’s assume that you absolutely hate 3-D. Your mother was mutilated in a freak mayhap involving a 3-D camera and your invalid cousin went blind after taking the glasses outside post-“Honey, I Shrunk the Audience” and looking directly at the sun (further proving how evil EPCOT indeed is). Thankfully, no matter what the studio bosses do to adulterate your favorite film…it still remains unadulterated in other forms! There are still DVDs, Blu-Rays, revival theaters, etc. While film executives have a grotesque dearth of scruples, they aren’t going to annihilate any pre-3-D forms of classics. Hell, even Lucas released the original trilogy on DVD, with Han shooting first and everything!

Granted, I too am someone who gets annoyed at things that really do not affect me (*cough* the Oscars *cough*). So I’ll do you one better: I’m going to extol the benefits of this new money-making scheme!

Benefit #1: Who wants to watch John McTiernan go all bad-ass on a tiny screen?

“Yippee-Kay-Yay Motherfucker” roughly translates to “I am one hardcore badass and you should really only indulge in my asskickery on a big yippee-kay-yay-motherfucking screen!” I admit, I did originally see Die Hard via Netflix Instant, but I would love to see it on a theater with surround sound and an enthusiastic audience. This past fall, I had the enjoyment of watching the first two Toy Storys again on the big screen. Why? Because they were rereleased in 3-D! Did the 3-D really matter all that much or enhance the experience? No. But was it still much more preferable to renting it on DVD and staying in my living room? Does Bo Peep want to get into Woody’s pants? This proliferation of rereleased classics really signifies of resurgence of the revival theater…right in the comfort of your own over-priced, local cinema!

Benefit #2: Hey kids! Movies from the last century!

Like I said earlier, I make a semi-living tutoring high schoolers. Most are brilliant little young adults whose cultural awareness is on the verge of blossoming into a beautiful flower of refinement. Others, however, have provided such gems as, “I’m planning to get around to watching some old movies. One of my friends lent me Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” When reminded that that film is indeed from 2004 and upon asking him if he watches actually old films, he rejoined with The Usual Suspects.

But this 3-D phenomenon provides a bit of hope to banish such ignorance. They may never go out of their way to rent an “old” flick like Aliens or a complete archaic vestige of a by-gone era such as Spartacus, but what if they were playing at a local theater in 3-D? They may go out of sheer boredom, curiosity, or just because Legion or what-have-you has sold out. Once you overcome your abhorrence at the concept of 3-Difying Kubrick, you might see that this money-making scheme is not completely devoid of merit.

Yeah, I know it’s a silly idea; Legion would never sell out.

Benefit #3: Quentin Tarantino will make you love 3-D.

If there is one director who can take any ridiculous gimmick or trick and make it into an aspect of a cinematic masterpiece, it’s Tarantino. I was thinking of movies that studios might rerelease in 3-D and when Kill Bill came up in the great rolodex of my mind, I could not help but giggle with the rush of fanboyish pleasure over such a possibility. Like one of those optical illusions that simultaneously proffer a comely maiden and a hideous crone, good ol’ Quentin delivers cinema that is both pure and utter trash, but that becomes great cinema because of that very fact. I now want nothing more than to watch the shot of adrenaline scene from Pulp Fiction while wearing a honkingly large pair of 3-D glasses.

On a similar note, we may finally get a wide-release of Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder in 3-D. For those of you who do not know, Hitch actually intended for this movie to be in 3-D and filmed it with that in mind (there are often objects between the camera and the action, to give you an extra sense of dimension...and voyeurism!). Of course, by the time he finished it and was ready to release it, the 3-D movie had begun its half-century-long dormancy. For 50 years we have been forced to watch the film in 2-D, which may be as great of a shame as watching it in black and white. Yes, I love black and white, but when something is filmed in stunning Technicolor, DAMMIT I want Technicolor!

So fear not, dear reader. The end is not nigh. The gods must more thoroughly drive us mad before they destroy us.

In fact, to those of you still bemoaning the approaching ubiquitous nature of 3-D movies, I offer you this little puzzle to calm your addled minds

The current point of 3-D is to try to boost ticket sales due to the evils of downloading cars and the like. They want to make going to the movies an experience that cannot be duplicated at home. Of course, what are theaters going to do once sales for Avatar-esque DVDs start to flounder as people realize that the experience can’t be duplicated at home and all they bought was a movie with an audaciously predictable plot (yes, the plot is predictable to the point of audacity). Granted, the people buying Avatar on DVD might take some time to catch on to this fact, but even my dog has figured out through trial and error that when he poops outside, he gets more treats than when he poops inside. This trend of 3-D, if movies become more and more geared around the 3-D technology, might ultimately defeat itself.

Friday, 5 February 2010

The BAH!scars #4: Nominational Debt Pt. 2

And, we’re back! Ladies and gentleman, what you are about to witness is the gradual descent of a blogger from rage and indignity to exhaustion and apathy. Thankfully, by the time he gets there, we’re talking about “Best Make-Up” and really, no other emotion is proper for such discussion.

Writing (Original Screenplay)
“The Hurt Locker” — Written by Mark Boal
“Inglourious Basterds” — Written by Quentin Tarantino
“The Messenger” — Written by Alessandro Camon & Oren Moverman
“A Serious Man” — Written by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
“Up” — Screenplay by Bob Peterson, Pete Docter, Story by Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, Tom McCarthy

Well, let’s all breath a collective sigh of relief that Avatar at least did not get a nod for Best Original Screenplay. That nomination seriously would been the epitome of the Academy’s tendency just to fill out most categories with aspects from the best picture front-runners, regardless of actual quality.

A Serious Man I’m less than thrilled with, since I don’t think it’s too hard to write a script and just fill it up with a lot of bad things happening to one guy, some Jewish stereotypes, and a couple of shaggy dog stories. But at least (500) Days of Summer didn’t get nominated. Especially since, were it to get a screenplay nom, it should be under “Adapted” since the movie is essentially Hipster Annie Hall.

The Messenger however was a nice surprise and hopefully will get more people to see one of the stronger pictures of last year. Pity the academy though didn’t go all out in impressing me and add it into the Best Picture nominations as well…

BIG SNUB: Is it beating a dead horse (that may have tripped on a hidden wire) to say The White Ribbon for its haunting, enigmatic script that seems to scream for repeated viewings and hint at gems hidden under the surface of the initial viewing?

Fine then, The Brothers Bloom for being as quirky and original as people claimed (500) Days of Summer to be. In this witty script, lines between reality and fiction, acted emotions and genuine ones, personae and personalities, theater and crime, and play and lies are completely, joyously, and ominously disassembled. Add in a few healthy dashes of literary references and you have one of the cleverest, most rewarding screenplays of the year.

Animated Feature Film

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

Let me begin with the question that was on everyone’s mind Tuesday morning, “What the hell is The Secret of Kells?” Apparently, it’s foreign and has been circulating the globe for the past year or so but only will get released in the states now, since it has a nomination. That being said, the film will probably only play in a few theaters in the country, because, well, it’s a foreign, animated film that takes place in the 9th century and is called “The Secret of Kells.”

Aside from that, no real surprises. One of the healthiest showings this category has had yet. Too bad we all know that there isn’t even the semblance of a genuine contest since only one of these is Up for Best Picture.

BIG SNUB: Er…is there one? I have yet to see Ponyo, but I’ve heard it’s not Miyazaki’s best. I’ll see it whenever it comes out on DVD…but right now, I think I can say that it seems that this category is the one that the Academy got right. Despite being a fake category.

Art Direction
“Avatar” — Art Direction: Rick Carter and Robert Stromberg; Set Decoration: Kim Sinclair
“The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” — Art Direction: Dave Warren and Anastasia Masaro; Set Decoration: Caroline Smith
“Nine” — Art Direction: John Myhre; Set Decoration: Gordon Sim
“Sherlock Holmes” — Art Direction: Sarah Greenwood; Set Decoration: Katie Spencer
“The Young Victoria” — Art Direction: Patrice Vermette; Set Decoration: Maggie Gray

This assortment is an odd one. A bunch of movies that seem from the Island of Misfit Films and then there’s Avatar, just because it has to get a bajillion nominations. I tend to complain that these other categories are very often not “Best X” but “Best X that was in a movie we already liked.” This year the case seems to be a bit different. Well done Academy, I guess?

BIG SNUB: Are animated movies eligible for this award? They have art directors. If they are, Up for its absolutely breathtaking, fanciful, and thrilling environments, from the lush Paradise Falls to the elegant yet ominous dirigible of Muntz. Also, The Fantastic Mr. Fox would have been a worthy contender (but then again, most Anderson films are). If they are eligible, these are the snubs. If not…these are still the snubs and the Academy needs to do something about their rules.

Film Editing
“Avatar” — Stephen Rivkin, John Refoua and James Cameron
“District 9” — Julian Clarke
“The Hurt Locker” — Bob Murawski and Chris Innis
“Inglourious Basterds” — Sally Menke
“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” — Joe Klotz

The presence of the incredibly average District 9 upsets me (I remember the camera/cuts being interesting for the first 20 minutes before completely not caring). But aside from that, this seems like we’re getting into the Oscar-nominee rut of the same few contenders over and over again.

BIG SNUB: The White Ribbon. Sigh. Blah blah blah this film was visually stunning in every way blah blah blah Oscars don’t like foreign movies blah blah blah. I know, I know, I’ll shut up now.

“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

First off, hurray for the slightest bit of The White Ribbon recognition outside the Foreign Film category! Secondly, Harry Potter?! Okay, this isn’t as egregious of a choice as my knee-jerk reaction led me to think. The movies do have a nice, distinct lighting tone to them and tend to be awfully pretty to look at. The problem is when Daniel Radcliffe opens his mouth (or Emma Watson opens her tear-ducts). A strange fifth candidate, but not horrendous. Overall, this seems a pretty decent showing, but I’m probably still just basking in The White Ribbon glow.

BIG SNUB: The White Ri – waitaminute! I can’t this time! Hm, this is tough. Do I go with Nine, which just has some beautifully, almost masterfully done shot interspersed with lots of average ones, or A Single Man, which had some very interesting techniques only to undercut them by overuse? Okay, neither of these are extraordinarily deplorable, though I would have liked to have seen A Single Man up there. It’s a snub, not a BIG SNUB.

Costume Design
“Bright Star” — Janet Patterson
“Coco before Chanel” — Catherine Leterrier
“The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” — Monique Prudhomme
“Nine” — Colleen Atwood
“The Young Victoria” — Sandy Powell

Another case of Island of Misfit Movies. This time even odder as there’s no Avatar and instead we have some of those odd late summer/fall movies that are sort of Oscar contenders but a bit too small and forgettable to count. None of these five have a Best Picture nomination or a best screenplay. In fact, were it not for Cruz, they would have been completely shut out of every major category.

I was actually surprised when people were not mentioning Bright Star as a possibility for this category. Face it: it’s a movie that centers around a woman who designs elegant and extravagant clothes in the Victorian era. It was made to be nominated for this award. As was The Young Victoria. And Coco before Chanel. Okay, a lot of movies were made just for this award, but that often does seem the case, doesn’t it?

BIG SNUB: An Education. The movie does a great job of encapsulating the outfits from a time period without rubbing your face in “HEY! THIS TAKES PLACE 50 YEARS AGO!” Also, there is a perfect contrast of the slightly flashier (and much more elegant clothes) of the David-world vs. Jenny’s school world, all which help enhance the overall seduction in the film.

Foreign Language Film
“Ajami” — Israel
“El Secreto de Sus Ojos” — Argentina
“The Milk of Sorrow” — Peru
“Un Prophète” — France
“The White Ribbon” — Germany

Sadly, I’ve only seen The White Ribbon. But I’m very happy I’ve seen that. I don’t even remember any of the other movies playing anywhere near me (I know for a fact that A Prophet has not even been released in the states yet). I am a bit surprised that there was no Broken Embraces, as Pedro Almodovar just seems like one of those safe-bets. Though, I’ve heard the movie is just okay.

BIG SNUB: No comment.

Sound Editing
“Avatar” — Christopher Boyes and Gwendolyn Yates Whittle
“The Hurt Locker” — Paul N. J. Ottosson
“Inglourious Basterds” — Wylie Stateman
“Star Trek” — Mark Stoeckinger and Alan Rankin
“Up” — Michael Silvers and Tom Myers

Sound Mixing
“Avatar” — Christopher Boyes, Gary Summers, Andy Nelson and Tony Johnson
“The Hurt Locker” — Paul N. J. Ottosson and Ray Beckett
“Inglourious Basterds” — Michael Minkler, Tony Lamberti and Mark Ulano
“Star Trek” — Anna Behlmer, Andy Nelson and Peter J. Devlin
“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” — Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers and Geoffrey Patterson

I really don’t get the difference between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing. People have explained it to me and I understand it to an extent, but I don’t really know how you can judge it all that separately. Granted, I don’t think 95% of the viewership (at least) is any more informed than I am. Thankfully, neither does the Academy, as year after year, they nominate almost the exact same films for both categories. They probably do all five initially, then realize that people will catch onto the fact that the Academy is as unable to distinguish between the two categories as the average viewer is, they change one or two. And only give the award to the same movie about 50% of the time. It’s a conspiracy I tell you!

BIG SNUB: While I had many problems with District 9, it did have very nice sound. I think. I often don’t walk out of a movie and immediately comment on the sound, but what I remember seems to hold up pretty well. I know…this isn’t this blog’s proudest moment.

Music (Original Score)
“Avatar” — James Horner
“Fantastic Mr. Fox” — Alexandre Desplat
“The Hurt Locker” — Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders
“Sherlock Holmes” — Hans Zimmer
“Up” — Michael Giacchino

Can I make this one “Choose Your Own Adventure?” I have absolutely nothing to say or add that doesn’t venture into “predictions and what I want to win” land.

Music (Original Song)
“Almost There” from “The Princess and the Frog” Music and Lyric by Randy Newman
“Down in New Orleans” from “The Princess and the Frog” Music and Lyric by Randy Newman
“Loin de Paname” from “Paris 36” Music by Reinhardt Wagner Lyric by Frank Thomas
“Take It All” from “Nine” Music and Lyric by Maury Yeston
“The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)” from “Crazy Heart” Music and Lyric by Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett

I found none of the music from Crazy Heart all that memorable. To me, it sounded very much like “written for a movie” music, where we just have to assume that for this reality, that is amazing music. There is always a problem when a screenplay calls for good music. Only Simon Cowell can manufacture a hit. Though, at least Jennifer’s Body explains it away with some good old Satanism.

I think the Academy chose two of the more boring songs from The Princess and the Frog. “Friends on the Other Side” was by far the best song. But there are two facts about Disney villain songs: they’re always the strongest or pretty darn close, and never ever ever will get an Oscar nomination. Of course, it was also undone by the long talking parts. So I guess it’s not too grave of an injustice. Maybe it’s just a better scene than song. However, “Dig a Little Deeper” is all nice and Oscar-y and is still better than the two nominees.

But let me at least commend the Academy on choosing the surprising and right choice for Nine. “Cinema Italiano” got all the attention when Nine was coming out, but ultimately “Take It All” (when listened to on its own and not after two excruciating hours of boredom) perseveres as a great song. It’s powerful, angry, heartfelt, and violent. And there’s a line about “pasties.” I do so hope that when it’s performed at the Oscars, it’s done as a striptease. Not going to happen, but one can dream.

BIG SNUB: I would have loved to see “Petey’s Song” from The Fantastic Mr. Fox among the nominees, for its sheer oddness and how much it would have implanted some real life and genuine confusion into the ceremony.

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

I tried and tried but I can’t think of anything to say about this category. I think I may have blogger’s exhaustion. I could labor the Single Man point and talk about Julianne Moore’s eyes in that movie, but even I’m getting fed up with myself.

Visual Effects
“Avatar” — Joe Letteri, Stephen Rosenbaum, Richard Baneham and Andrew R. Jones
“District 9” — Dan Kaufman, Peter Muyzers, Robert Habros and Matt Aitken
“Star Trek” — Roger Guyett, Russell Earl, Paul Kavanagh and Burt Dalton

I think this is the one category movie buffs (or buffs-in-training like me) are not allowed to complain about. It’s essentially the “who threw the most money at their movie” award and the “let’s give the dumb movie an award” award. Except, right now, we have a 30 million dollar flick and two best picture nominees, along with another one that was very close.

BIG SNUB: I'm not allowed to complain, but I feel like I should throw something in. Fine. Julie and Julia, for making Meryl Streep look the size of a giraffe.

Now for the rest:

Documentary (Feature)
“Burma VJ”
“The Cove”
“Food, Inc.”
“The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers”
“Which Way Home”

Documentary (Short Subject)
“China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province”
“The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner”
“The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant”
“Music by Prudence”
“Rabbit à la Berlin”

Short Film (Animated)
“French Roast” Fabrice O. Joubert
“Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty” Nicky Phelan and Darragh O’Connell
“The Lady and the Reaper (La Dama y la Muerte)” Javier Recio Gracia
“Logorama” Nicolas Schmerkin
“A Matter of Loaf and Death” Nick Park

Short Film (Live Action)
“The Door” — Juanita Wilson and James Flynn
“Instead of Abracadabra” — Patrik Eklund and Mathias Fjellström
“Kavi” — Gregg Helvey
“Miracle Fish” — Luke Doolan and Drew Bailey
“The New Tenants” — Joachim Back and Tivi Magnusson

As I haven’t seen any of these, I’m not going to weigh in.

BIG SNUB: Granted, I can’t juxtapose this against the nominees, but I’m sad there is no shout-out for Anvil!: The Story of Anvil for Best Documentary. I heard it wasn’t even on the short list, pre-nominees. Yes, on one hand, it seems a very unAcademic movie: all about metal bands and there’s a part about playing guitar with a vibrator. On the other hand, it is a film about the power of friendship and how one should never give up on one’s dreams, no matter the adversity. That message seems to have “Oscar nominee” written all over it.

Coming soon, I take a nap. Coming a little bit after that, I post a lighter, fluffier, and not 7-page entry on something unOscar related. After that, predictions!