Sunday, December 30, 2007

Nothing Great About It: The Great Debaters

The Great Debaters
Directed by Denzel Washington
Released December 25, 2007

This last-minute release that seemingly came out of nowhere feels incomplete and rather sloppily put together. The story is launched into without a hint of background or any reason why Wiley College in Texas has a need for a debate team. It is simply made to seem that trying out for the debate team would be the first thought on everyone's mind. The four students picked for the team are chosen for no obvious reason other than that they are the central characters of the film. The film has its share of haughty, drawn-out speeches and each moment feels cornier than the next. The characters laugh at their own jokes and applaud for themselves, as if that makes what they are saying valid or impressive. The actors cast as the debate team members are moderately talented but hardly believable as college students: one looks like he is ten years old and the others look closer to thirty. The film is completely unbalanced, throwing in deeply serious scenes about persecution and racism smack dab in the middle of all the fun and debating. It is hard to decide who is more obnoxious and disappointing, a vastly overacting Denzel Washington or a sadly underacting Forest Whitaker. Either way, this film is a drag from start to finish.

D+

Oscar chances: Its shocking nomination for Best Motion Picture - Drama at the Golden Globes and nothing else anywhere should indicate that it was a fluke. I cannot imagine that voters would choose this over Denzel's less disappointing work this year in "American Gangster" and I think the field is generally too crowded for this to get in anywhere. No one stands out among the cast and no technical aspect carries the film, so I think this one is dead in the water.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Home Video: The Simpsons Movie

I realize that I should tread carefully when derailing a well-reviewed film based on a highly successful television series in its 19th season. I never liked "The Simpsons". I am not sure if I have ever watched an entire episode, but this hour-and-a-half experience is enough to turn me off forever. It has its clever moments, but I feel as if I am getting dumber every moment. It completely abandons any notion of reality to overdo every joke, and that is something I find utterly annoying because it does not pay off. It tries way too hard to poke fun at itself, with speeches about dumb people paying for something in a theatre they could just have seen for free on TV. Had I not rented this via Blockbuster Online (therefore paying nothing for it), I might have heartily agreed with that statement. The plot is evidently and purposefully ludicrous, but I was never able to take it seriously. That is the point, I understand, but to me it is all just mind-numbing garbage. I did laugh a few times, maybe eight or ten times out of a whole hour and a half.

D-

Oscar chances: This effort certainly cannot trump "Ratatouille" for a win at the Oscars, but it is likely one of three major contenders for the other two slots. I think it will lose out to the far superior "Bee Movie" and the as-yet-unseen (by me, at least) foreign film "Persepolis".

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Not Too Much Going On....

Everything was abuzz recently with excitement but it all seems to have petered out for the moment. I have seen pretty much everything I need to see this season, with the exception of "The Great Debaters" and all the foreign and documentary films (plus a few animated ones that I will catch up on soon). I will be back soon with Golden Globe and SAG winner predictions as well as reviews of any of the above films I do see (not being in New York City means waiting a while longer). The Oscar season should help wash away the bad memories January films (with the exception of "Cloverfield") are sure to make. AFT Awards coming in early January.

During this time, check out TV with Abe for an ongoing list of five TV shows on DVD which will get you hooked. Below are my latest Oscar predictions. I have tried to be more realistic, inserting "Michael Clayton" underperformers Tom Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton, but I refuse to give up on Tommy Lee Jones for Best Actor. Additionally, my new surprise nominee is "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" for Best Picture. The list I have for Best Picture would make me quite happy. Revised predictions along the way.

Oscar Predictions
December 27, 2007

Best Picture
Atonement
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Into the Wild
Juno
No Country for Old Men

Best Director
Joe Wright, Atonement
Sidney Lumet, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Sean Penn, Into the Wild
The Coen Brothers, No Country for Old Men

Best Actor
Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises
Tommy Lee Jones, In the Valley of Elah
Emile Hirsch, Into the Wild
Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd
Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood

Best Actress
Keira Knightley, Atonement
Julie Christie, Away from Her
Ellen Page, Juno
Angelina Jolie, A Mighty Heart
Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose

Best Supporting Actor
Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson’s War
Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild
Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton
Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men

Best Supporting Actress
Saoirse Ronan, Atonement
Marisa Tomei, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone
Cate Blanchett, I’m Not There
Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton

Best Original Screenplay
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
Juno
Knocked Up
Lars and the Real Girl
Ratatouille

Best Adapted Screenplay
The Assassination of Jesse James
Atonement
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Into the Wild
No Country for Old Men

Best Cinematography
The Assassination of Jesse James
Atonement
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Into the Wild
Lust, Caution

Best Film Editing
Into the Wild
Michael Clayton
No Country for Old Men
Sweeney Todd
There Will Be Blood

Best Art Direction
Atonement
Hairspray
Lust, Caution
Sweeney Todd
There Will Be Blood

Best Costumes
Atonement
Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Hairspray
Lust, Caution
Sweeney Todd

Best Original Score
Atonement
The Kite Runner
Lust, Caution
Ratatouille
There Will Be Blood

Best Original Song
Enchanted, “That’s How You Know”
Grace is Gone, “Grace is Gone”
Love in the Time of Cholera, “Despedida”
Into the Wild, “Guaranteed”
Once, “Falling Slowly”

Best Sound
Beowulf
Hairspray
Sweeney Todd
There Will Be Blood
Transformers

Best Sound Editing
Beowulf
Hairspray
I Am Legend
Sweeney Todd
Transformers

Best Make-Up
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Hairspray
Sweeney Todd

Best Visual Effects
I Am Legend
Spider-Man 3
Transformers

Best Animated Film
Bee Movie
Persepolis
Ratatouille

Best Documentary
For the Bible Tells Me So
Lake of Fire
No End in Sight
Sicko
Taxi to the Dark Side

Best Foreign Film
The Counterfeiters
4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days
The Orphanage
Persepolis
The Year My Parents Went on Vacation

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Intriguing but Flawed: There Will Be Blood

There Will Be Blood (Advance Screening)
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
To be released December 26, 2007

This tale based on Upton Sinclair's 1927 book "Oil!" follows the story of a greedy but effective prospector looking to soak up as much oil as he can. Directed by the always inventive Paul Thomas Anderson, the film immediately captures the time but I personally had trouble really getting into it. It does not seem as blatantly offbeat as "Magnolia" or "Punch-Drunk Love", and maybe that is the problem. The breadth of the film is quite extensive, and too many notions introduced leave too many unanswered questions and confusions by film's end. There are certainly a few impressive scenes, but as a whole the film cannot quite come together. Daniel Day-Lewis could be placed in any time period and fit the part, and he is just as you might expect here, throwing himself wholeheartedly into the part. Paul Dano, on the other hand, a revelation in last year's "Little Miss Sunshine", feels miscast and speaks every word of his preacher's dialogue forcibly as if he is not certain he can effectively fit into the time period. The music is worth mentioning, as it is a bizarre concoction of instrumentals which is often reminiscent of "The Shining" and often just plain weird. This film has a lot to offer, but some pointless subplots and a poor third act drag it down. There is something to be said here, but everyone is thrown in and seeps out not quite as richly as seemingly intended.

C+

Oscar chances: Day-Lewis has this one in the bag, at least for a nomination. I liked him better in "Gangs of New York", but this will certainly do. Paul Dano is completely out of the running, not that he ever should have been in. The cinematography, music, and director P.T. Anderson will all have to fight an uphill battle to be included, and I think the music has the best shot, though I still cannot say whether it will be included. As for Best Picture, I think the film will not make the cut (unless it wins the Golden Globe).

SAG Nominees: Overall Reactions

What a morning! The first-announced TV side of things was lame and uninventive, and I was hardly prepared for the excitement! Ryan Gosling! Viggo Mortensen! And complete snubs for three Golden Globe leaders! This deals a serious blow to "Atonement", "Charlie Wilson's War", and "Sweeney Todd". I think "Atonement" can still come through fine at the Oscars, but "Charlie Wilson's War" is pretty much dead in the water, with the exception of Hoffman. "Sweeney Todd" may not translate for audiences and Oscar voters, but I think its technical abilities should do it well. I am so angry about "3:10 to Yuma" and I hope this is not a sign of impending Oscar love. "American Gangster" also continues to get rewarded. Despite garnering three nominations, the omission of "Michael Clayton" from the ensemble list is to me a good sign of the fim's weakness. "Into the Wild" did the best here nomination-wise and this also helps the film tremendously, after a near-absent presence at the Golden Globes, it is now fully back in the running. If Sean Penn gets a Directors Guild of America nomination, consider the film in for Best Picture at the Oscars. In any case, I got 18/25, or 72%, better than I usually do. There is certainly more to come, and if it is as exciting as this, count me in!

SAG Nominees: Best Ensemble in a Motion Picture

The nominees:
3:10 TO YUMA
AMERICAN GANGSTER
HAIRSPRAY
INTO THE WILD
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

My predictions: 1/5, picking only "No Country for Old Men".

This is an interesting list, not necessarily a good one, but it certainly shakes things up. I actually shouted "no!" at the TV for one of these ones, I will let you guess which one. "American Gangster" hardly deserves this, and "Into the Wild" was so seldomly sprinkled with human life that an ensemble award seems bizarre. "Hairspray" is fine, but I am pissed that I took it out of my predictions a week ago. "No Country" does have some good cast members, but how could this get in and "Fargo" not make the cut eleven years ago? The omission of "Atonement" is just part of the backlash, but I wish "Gone Baby Gone" or "Jesse James" had made a surprise appearance.

Who will win? I actually think Hairspray because it has the best working ensemble.
Oscar lineup? With Best Picture, this does not always line up, and I think only "Into the Wild" and "No Country for Old Men" will translate over, althought this is a great boost for "American Gangster." For the moment, I think "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly", "Atonement", and "Juno" will fill the other three slots.

SAG Nominees: Best Actor in a Leading Role in a Motion Picture

The nominees:
VIGGO MORTENSEN, EASTERN PROMISES
EMILE HIRSCH, INTO THE WILD
RYAN GOSLING, LARS AND THE REAL GIRL
GEORGE CLOONEY, MICHAEL CLAYTON
DANIEL DAY-LEWIS, THERE WILL BE BLOOD

My predictions: 2/5, picking Hirsch and Day-Lewis with Clooney as my alternate, but otherwise incorrectly choosing Johnny Depp, James McAvoy, and Tommy Lee Jones.

You gotta love this. This is a truly surprising category full of interesting and mostly deserving actors (I am sure Day-Lewis is great, but without Clooney this list would be a lot better). Gosling's inclusion in particular is a lot of fun and quite unexpected. I am not sure how much Oscar traction he will have, but man do they love him. I am happy for Hirsch, who deserves his buzz, and Viggo Mortensen, who I like for the first time in this role. I wish the film was getting more attention. The real shocker is the omission of Johnny Depp. Could this be the first sign of backlash for "Sweeney Todd"? It is especially weird because he won in this category for "Pirates of the Carribean". Who knows? I am just excited for these surprises. No Denzel Washington, too. That is a breath of fresh air. Bad, bad news for Tommy Lee Jones in "In the Valley of Elah".

Who will win? Who the hell knows? And I love it! Probably Day-Lewis but I have an inkling it might even be Mortensen.
Oscar lineup? Don't ask me. Could it be as simple as replacing Gosling with Depp?

SAG Nominees: Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Motion Picture

The nominees:
JULIE CHRISTIE, AWAY FROM HER
CATE BLANCHETT, ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE
ELLEN PAGE, JUNO
ANGELINA JOLIE, A MIGHTY HEART
MARION COTILLARD, LA VIE EN ROSE

My predictions: 4/5, picking Keira Knightley over Blanchett.

Really? I had completely forgotten about "Elizabeth: The Golden Age". Oh, well. This is dismal news for Laura Linney, who now pretty much has no shot at an Oscar nomination for "The Savages". Knightley's omission is not a big surprise, and she managed to get in for "Pride & Prejudice" at the Oscars without a SAG nomination. Her missing out is more of an "Atonement" backlash, I think.

Who will win? Each of these nominees is here on their own, with no other support for any of the films. I think Cotillard takes this one.
Oscar lineup? Swap out Blanchett for Knightley.

SAG Nominees: Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

The nominees:
CASEY AFFLECK, THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES
HAL HOLBROOK, INTO THE WILD
TOM WILKINSON, MICHAEL CLAYTON
JAVIER BARDEM, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
TOMMY LEE JONES, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

My predictions: Proud to say 5/5.

I am happy that I correctly predicted the inclusion of Tommy Lee Jones, guessing that SAG would think like they have in the past with Chris Cooper ("Seabiscuit") and Don Cheadle ("Crash"). Hal Holbrook is now officially in the running, which is great. Besides Wilkinson, who I usually like but not in this role, this is a pretty great list.

Who will win? I think Affleck takes this one because two actors from "No Country" are up and that gives ihm an exciting boost to win the Oscar.
Oscar lineup? I think this only solidifies my earlier predictions, where Jones gets replaced by Philip Seymour Hoffman for "Charlie Wilson's War". Though I really would love to see Ed Harris for "Gone Baby Gone" instead of Wilkinson.

SAG Nominees: Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

The nominees:
RUBY DEE, AMERICAN GANGSTER
AMY RYAN, GONE BABY GONE
CATE BLANCHETT, I'M NOT THERE
CATHERINE KEENER, INTO THE WILD
TILDA SWINTON, MICHAEL CLAYTON

My predictions: 3/5, with Keener as my alternate, but choosing Saoirse Ronan and Marisa Tomei over her and Dee.

Ruby Dee does not belong here. She has a very limited role and does little that is impressive. It could have been a juicy role, but she does not infuse it with anything worthwhile. I think her inclusion feels very much like that of Cloris Leachman a few years ago for "Spanglish", and is hardly likely to garner her an Oscar nod. Unfortunately, it does give "American Gangster" a boost. Good for Catherine Keener, though her role was severely limited as well. I actually had to rewind my tape of the nominations announcement to realize which one of my guaranteed 4/5 was left off. Poor Saoirse Ronan, I hope this is not the end of the road for her. This category was the start of the rise for "Into the Wild" and the downfall of "Atonement". At least Vanessa Redgrave was not included, on the bright side.

Who will win? I think this will be Blanchett's, but it could just as easily go to critical favorite Ryan.
Oscar lineup? I think Ronan will return to the lineup, but that fifth slot is still up for grabs, and I do not think either Dee or Keener will fill it. I think it is between Marisa Tomei and Kelly Macdonald, with my money on Tomei right now. "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" has yet to be recognized, and I think that is where the Oscars come in.

Odd Yet Enthralling: Sweeney Todd

Sweeney Todd (Advance Screening)
Directed by Tim Burton
To be released December 21, 2007

The opening credits to this film got me more excited than I have been at the movies for quite some time. An amazing thundering score set to blood racing every which way in a gothic city set the tone for an entirely bizarre experience. "Sweeney Todd" and all its players revel in the fact that this is pure fantasy, and that the boundaries of reality are completely redefined. It excels in that sense, but it also inhibits the storytelling ability of the film. Like many musicals, it sacrificies plot for the sake of a convenient song. Yet "Sweeney Todd" pulls it off remarkably well. The history of the title barber is not as delved into as it could have been, and the movie gets stuck in the mud when it dwells upon a subplot involving a sailor which is really of no consequence and could easily have been left out. That said, I was fully captivated the entire time, often shaking my head in disbelief at the wonder of how everything was so well pulled off. There are perhaps no two actors better suited to this kind of film than Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, who can actually sing (!) and really make their characters. The rest of the cast is fairly lacking, to a disappointing Alan Rickman and a far-too-girly Jamie Campbell Bower as the aforementioned sailor. Timothy Spall solidifies his reputation of being cast as the most vile, despicable human beings ever to scour the earth (after this year's "Enchanted", no less). A supporting performance by Sacha Baron Cohen ("Borat") is rather distracting, and I never thought I would see anyone upstage Johnny Depp onscreen. The real find here is Ed Sanders, in his film debut as the young Toby. The singing is better than you might expect, and the musical score is wonderful. Director Tim Burton has crafted a marvelous gothic universe with dazzling set pieces which is both fascinating and puzzling. You definitely will not want to look away, though you may have to during some of the film's much more violent scenes involving a certain barber's razor.

B+

Oscar chances: I guess Johnny Depp will go the distance, but his role is somewhat limited and I do not think he should make the cut over a number of the other actors in this crowded category. Carter is great, but pales in comparison to the lead female performances this year. Costumes, Art Direction, and Makeup seem sure bets, while Film Editing and Sound/Sound Editing may be a bit more elusive. Tim Burton may be able to make it to the Oscar race, as well as the film, but I think the mainstream may reject this slightly as just a bit too off-kilter. Depp and technicals seems what it may be destined for, just like another popular Depp film - "Pirates of the Caribbean". A boost from the SAG will certainly help.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Final SAG Predictions

The Screen Actors Guild announces their nominations tomorrow morning. Tommy Lee Jones could really use a nomination right about now for "In the Valley of Elah", and I think that he will end up with two tomorrow. Emile Hirsch and Hal Holbrook could also use some love. This may the time where the fifth Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee becomes clear (Blanchett, Ronan, Ryan, and Swinton seem likely choices), but I have a feeling that whoever gets in here will not make it in at the Oscars and be replaced by someone altogether new. I think that like 2004's "Closer", "Charlie Wilson's War" will be completely snubbed here and then only Philip Seymour Hoffman will bounce back come Oscar time. Best Actress is very important for Laura Linney if she really is going to be a contender, and she may easily replace Keira Knightley. James McAvoy is also vulnerable, and this could be the place that solidifies Viggo Mortensen. I obviously hope that George Clooney and Denzel Washington do not show up here and that this marks an end to their Oscar bids. If "The Great Debaters" makes it in for Best Ensemble, I will be furious (though, again, I have not yet seen the film). I am really pulling for the cast of "Gone Baby Gone" to make it in. Be here tomorrow for reactions.

Best Actor in a Leading Role in a Motion Picture
JAMES MCAVOY, ATONEMENT
TOMMY LEE JONES, IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH
EMILE HIRSCH, INTO THE WILD
JOHNNY DEPP, SWEENEY TODD
DANIEL DAY-LEWIS, THERE WILL BE BLOOD


Alt: GEORGE CLOONEY, MICHAEL CLAYTON

Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Motion Picture
KEIRA KNIGHTLEY, ATONEMENT
JULIE CHRISTIE, AWAY FROM HER
ELLEN PAGE, JUNO
ANGELINA JOLIE, A MIGHTY HEART
MARION COTILLARD, LA VIE EN ROSE


Alt: LAURA LINNEY, THE SAVAGES

Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
CASEY AFFLECK, THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES
HAL HOLBROOK, INTO THE WILD
TOM WILKINSON, MICHAEL CLAYTON
JAVIER BARDEM, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
TOMMY LEE JONES, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN


Alt: PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN, CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR

Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
SAOIRSE RONAN, ATONEMENT
MARISA TOMEI, BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD
AMY RYAN, GONE BABY GONE
CATE BLANCHETT, I’M NOT THERE
TILDA SWINTON, MICHAEL CLAYTON


Alt: CATHERINE KEENER, INTO THE WILD

Best Ensemble Cast in a Motion Picture
ATONEMENT
GONE BABY GONE
JUNO
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
SWEENEY TODD


Alt: BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD

Carried by a Performance: Starting Out in the Evening

Starting Out in the Evening
Directed by Andrew Wagner
Released November 23, 2007

The one thing you will hear people raving about is Frank Langella's performance in this film. He masterfully carries every single scene he is in and acts as if he is a part of a much better film than the one here. Viewers who liked the performance should get excited for next year's "Frost/Nixon", which I have already seen and can safely say that Langella does an equally tremendous job. The rest of this film, on the other hand, could use some work. It is laden with rich literary subtext for those who care, but it covers a much wider breadth of events than it should, and hardly anything worth focusing on is focused on enough. The 1 hr 50 min runtime goes by far too slowly, and this could easily have been a typical hour-and-a-half film. It falls into a lot of the same traps as last year's similarly-themed "Venus" and is no better at getting out of them. The movie never quite picks up and remains a bit too tame for its own good at most times while reaching disturbing and highly uncomfortable moments at others. Langella is excellent, as is his character's story, but it is the subplots involving two women in his life which take away from the splendor of his narrative. "Six Feet Under" alums Lili Taylor and Lauren Ambrose are at once too perky and chattery for their own good. Neither delivers a memorable performance, and the development of their characters suffers as a result. My literature-loving friend adored this film, so maybe it is one explicitly for the literary crowd. Other than Langella, however, this is one story which probably worked just a bit better in the form of, you guessed it, literature.

C+

Oscar chances: Langella will need a lot of buzz to make it all the way to the Oscars. If he gets a SAG nomination, that will be a huge boost for him, but he could still fall through the cracks like "The Station Agent" did in 2003 despite surprise SAG love. The field in Best Actor this year is quite crowded with a number of performers already being left out along the way (Emile Hirsch, Tommy Lee Jones, John Cusack). Otherwise, this is a very similar situation to "Venus" last year where no one completely loves the film, but they all praise the performance. The problem is that Langella does not have seven Oscar nominations, and while people might feel he is overdue, this may not be the performance that does it for them. Luckily, he will have another shot next year with a film that is much more likely to receive a wide release, "Frost/Nixon".

Monday, December 17, 2007

Clever and Awesome: I Am Legend

I Am Legend
Directed by Francis Lawrence
Released December 14, 2007

I am rarely one for horror films, but I had to make an exception in this case. A good portion of this movie was filmed a few hundred feet away from my dorm last year, and Will Smith's character, Robert Neville, actually resides right in my neighborhood in the film. Sure, all the other humans are dead, but it is pretty much the same. I am obviously not too familiar with zombie films, but this one exceeded my expectations. People have been complaining that the ghouls (humans infected by a virus) looked too fake. I, however, found them perfectly fine and just a bit freaky. The film as a whole is remarkably crafted, and the cinematography and effects are dazzling. The idea of New York City as a wasteland completely abandoned, covered by vegetation, and frequented by animals of the wild is brilliant in itself, and this technological update of the novel (which I have not read) is terrific. Will Smith is surprisingly the perfect person to carry this film, serving as comic relief and dramatic anchor at the same time. It hardly becomes tiresome that there are no other humans alive. I would have loved to see more flashbacks to what caused the outbreak of the virus, and the film's 1 hr 40 min runtime makes for an extremely rushed ending. The main reason to see this film, besides its imagery, is a number of thrilling action-packed scenes, which will be especially exciting if you have not seen the trailer too many times, like I had.

B+

Oscar chances: This one better get in for Best Visual Effects, but my hopes are not too high. Otherwise, Sound and Sound Editing, maybe, but that is pretty much it.

Flighty and Unengaging: The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner
Directed by Marc Forster
Released December 14, 2007

I will begin my noting that I have not yet read the book. I am not sure that it would have increased my enjoying of the film, as I had a problem with the story, finding it generally over-the-top and far too reliant on coincidence. The grander conflict was reduced to a far too incidental and personalized struggle which for me had a greatly dampened resonance. The lead performer, Khalid Abdalla, is completely unenthusiastic, and I would have hoped that a completely unknown actor would have been more carefully chosen for his dramatic and compelling acting ability. The child versions of the two protagonists are much better actors than Amir's older counterpart. The excellent performances from Shaun Toub as Rahim Kahn and especially Homayoun Ershadi as Baba are worth mentioning, however. The film is difficult to watch at times, but the buoyant and overly adventurous score that runs through the credits sets the film up as a much less serious movie. There are numerous shots of kites flying in the sky to look at, but that does not make up a good movie. Director Marc Forster has never been the strongest director, his films more often featuring overrated performances ("Monster's Ball", "Finding Neverland"), or clever scripts ("Stranger than Fiction"). Perhaps someone with a more demonstrated directorial ability should have been selected to adapt this book. Then again, I have not read it, so maybe there was little to work with from the start.

C+

Oscar chances: I would disqualify this from many of the major races, though a screenplay nod is not out of the question. The biggest chance this film has is in the Best Original Score category, though I have already mentioned that I did not like it. Unfortunately, it may even eclipse the beautiful score from "Atonement", which would be a real tragedy.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Golden Globe Nominees: Overall Reactions

There were no huge, awesome surprises, but rather some inexplicable ("Across the Universe") and inexcusable ("Walk Hard", the exclusion of "Once") mishaps. This list is great news for "American Gangster" and "Michael Clayton", both of which I thought (and hoped) were starting to fade from people's minds and might elude Oscar attention. "Sweeney Todd" and "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" should both benefit enormously from directorial nominations, and a screenplay nod in the latter case. "The Great Debaters" just shoved in there makes no sense, and I will remind everyone that it looks so bad! "Eastern Promises" should hopefully capitalize on Viggo and the film's nominations and maybe even make it to Oscar! "Atonement" and "No Country for Old Men" remain the only locks for the Oscar Best Picture, but "Sweeney Todd" and "Juno" are nipping at their tails. These nominations are dismal news for "The Assassination of Jesse James", "In the Valley of Elah", and "Once". No Brad Pitt or Tommy Lee Jones is a bad thing because they will both simply fall off the radar. "Once" missing out on Best Picture is not terrible, but its snub in Best Original Song is harsh. I am hoping that its omission will lead Oscar voters to give it even more love. If only it worked that way. My overall prediction percentage was 44/70, or 63%.

About the announcement of the nominations: Wow, it sucked. I mentioned the fallibity of the supposed TV experts on my TV blog. As far as the announcent went, I guess E! cannot afford to get prompters and they have to have their presenters read off printed sheets of paper for a far less exciting announcement. Plus, the most bizarre threesome was chosen to announce. Hayden Panettiere, the first of the presenters, was completely unenthusiastic in her reading. For someone who puts so much unneeded emphasis on her dramatic "Heroes" speeches, you would think she would try being a bit into this. Second up was Ryan Reynolds, looking completely unfettered and literally unbuttoned (his shirt). Helpful of him to remark how early it was. He clearly wanted to do this badly. Third up was my favorite, Quentin Tarantino, who creepily and overenthusiastically welcomed every one and actually cheered for two of his favorite nominees (Diablo Cody and Daniel Day-Lewis). What a ridiculous ride. Let's hope for a greater deal of professionalism at upcoming nomination announcements. SAG nominees are released one week from today. In the meantime, I will be here provided updates and predictions.

For the record: out of all the nominated films today, I still need to see:
4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, AND 2 DAYS
THE GREAT DEBATERS
THE KITE RUNNER
LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA (song only)
PERSEPOLIS
THE SIMPSONS MOVIE
SWEENEY TODD
THERE WILL BE BLOOD

"4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days" does not come out until the end of January, but I hope to see the rest before the Golden Globe Awards air on January 13th.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Motion Picture - Drama

The nominees:
AMERICAN GANGSTER
ATONEMENT
EASTERN PROMISES
THE GREAT DEBATERS
MICHAEL CLAYTON
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
THERE WILL BE BLOOD

My predictions: 3/7, picking only "Atonement", "Eastern Promises", and "No Country for Old Men".

Why seven nominees? "American Gangster" and "Michael Clayton" easily could have been tossed aside and the list trimmed to five. "The Great Debaters" is such an obnoxious choice. It has zero buzz, the trailer looks terrible, and it appeared nowhere else. Even "Bobby" last year got a nomination for Best Original Song. I am thrilled for "Eastern Promises" though and this is good news for "There Will Be Blood".

Who will win? Most likely Atonement. All the buzz right now is for No Country for Old Men, but the Globes rewarded "Babel" last year and I think hype for "Atonement" will pick up in the next month.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Motion Picture - Comedy/Musical

The nominees:
ACROSS THE UNIVERSE
CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR
HAIRSPRAY
JUNO
SWEENEY TODD

My predictions: 4/5, missing "Across the Universe" for "Once".

Consider me shocked. I really did not expect that the Globes would nominate the poorly put-together "Across the Universe" over "Once", "The Savages", and "Knocked Up". Oh, well. Otherwise, no big surprises here, especially after looking at the rest of the categories. The four other films all got at least one acting nomination (one for "Juno", 2 for "Hairspray" and "Sweeney Todd", and 3 for "Charlie Wilson's War").

Who will win? Good question. Sweeney Todd did fairly well with a Director nomination, but Juno is very popular. I think the love of musicals will help Sweeney Todd to the win.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Animated Film

The nominees:
BEE MOVIE
RATATOUILLE
THE SIMPSONS MOVIE

My predictions: My only 100% category!

Hooray for "Bee Movie"! I am so glad that it beat out "Beowulf" and made it to the final three. I do not like "The Simpsons" but have yet to see the movie. This could well be the Oscar list, but watch out for "Persepolis" to straddle this and the foreign film category.

Who will win? This is a lock. Ratatouille.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Foreign Film

The nominees:
THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY
4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, AND 2 DAYS
THE KITE RUNNER
LUST, CAUTION
PERSEPOLIS

My predictions: 4/5, missing "Persepolis" for the other French film, "La Vie en Rose".

No real surprises here, other than the fact that "Persepolis" succeeded in the foreign rather than animated category. It is eligible for both at the Oscars, so this is a good start. The Globes like to recognize more well-known films, choosing "Diving Bell", "Lust, Caution", and "The Kite Runner", which have all been out for a while or are right on their way and are not necessarily "foreign". "Persepolis" opens in New York on December 25th, and "4 Weeks" opens at the end of January.

Who will win? My bet is The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, considering its Director and Screenplay nominations. "Letters from Iwo Jima" won last year with a Director nod.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Original Song

The nominees:
ENCHANTED, "That's How You Know"
GRACE IS GONE, "Grace is Gone"
INTO THE WILD, "Guaranteed"
LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA, "Despedida"

WALK HARD, "Walk Hard"

My predictions: 2/5, missing "Grace is Gone", "Love in the Time of Cholera", and "Walk Hard" for "Hairspray", "Music & Lyrics", and "Once".

This is absolutely unforgivable. I was willing to overlook "Once" omitted from the Best Motion Picture - Comedy/Musical category, but from Best Song? And to stomp on all its pride, "Walk Hard" makes it in? Inexcusable. "Once" needs to rebound in a major way before the Oscars. To really get into this category, I have been listening to all the nominated songs over and over while posting my reactions to the other categories. I remembered three from their films - "Enchanted", "Grace is Gone", and "Walk Hard" - but refreshed my memory any way. "That's How You Know" (Enchanted) is bouncy and perky but not a terribly good or original song. It is one of those that is more impressive visually with the choreography. "Grace is Gone" is a fine, sad song but pales in comparison to the amazing songs from "Into the Wild" and "Love in the Time of Cholera". Eddie Vedder and Shakira have really crafted beautiful songs for each of their respective films. And "Walk Hard" is an embarassment to the music world.

Who will win? Shakira seems just hip (no pun intended) enough to win this thing for Love in the Time of Cholera.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Original Score

The nominees:
ATONEMENT
EASTERN PROMISES
GRACE IS GONE
INTO THE WILD
THE KITE RUNNER

My predictions: 2/5, choosing "Jesse James", "Ratatouille" and "There Will Be Blood" over "Eastern Promises", "Grace is Gone", and "The Kite Runner".

I totally did not see "Eastern Promises" coming even though it got nominated for best score from other groups. "Grace is Gone" is nothing special, but voters wanted to recognize Clint Eastwood somehow. "Into the Wild" was a huge success in the music categories despite not getting any other nominations.

Who will win? This should be Atonement for sure, but this category is so unpredictable. I think The Kite Runner has the best shot at an upset.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Screenplay - Motion Picture

The nominees:
ATONEMENT
CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR
THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY
JUNO
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

My predictions: 4/5, choosing "There Will Be Blood" over "The Diving Bell".

This is really a terrific list. While I might cross off "Charlie Wilson's War" and replace it with a more deserving contender, I am pretty happy, especially about Ronald Harwood's inclusion for "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly". This is not a good thing for "There Will Be Blood", which despite getting in for Best Motion Picture - Drama, should have scored a nod here (not that I have seen it yet, but I assume).

Who will win? A three-way race between Atonement, Juno, and No Country for Old Men. My money is on Juno.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Director - Motion Picture

The nominees:
RIDLEY SCOTT, AMERICAN GANGSTER
JOE WRIGHT, ATONEMENT
JULIAN SCHNABEL, THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY
THE COEN BROTHERS, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
TIM BURTON, SWEENEY TODD

My predictions: A mere 2/5, all the more lamentable because I predicted 6 nominees, choosing Sidney Lumet, Mike Nichols, David Cronenberg, and P.T. Anderson over Scott, Schnabel, and Burton.

I am thrilled for "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly". It so deserves its praise. "American Gangster", on the other hand, not so much. But at least "Michael Clayton" is not here. "Sweeney Todd" gets a huge boost and shoots ahead of "Hairspray" and "Once" in the musical most-likely-to-succeed race. "Eastern Promises" is not helped by another Cronenberg snub. Lumet could still bounce back for the Oscars. And for the record - "Charlie Wilson's War" did almost go all for nothing, missing only this category.

Who will win? I would not bet against The Coen Brothers.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

The nominees:
SAOIRSE RONAN, ATONEMENT
JULIA ROBERTS, CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR
AMY RYAN, GONE BABY GONE
CATE BLANCHETT, I'M NOT THERE
TILDA SWINTON, MICHAEL CLAYTON

My predictions: 4/5, choosing Michelle Pfeiffer over Swinton.

The hurricane that is "Michael Clayton" continues to extend its reach to this category. I wish these performers would get nominated for better roles. In any case, a category that seemed to have no contenders only weeks ago is suddenly filled with the expected five. Roberts may fall out along the way, but I am still not sure who will replace her. I am surprised that "Hairspray" did so well but Pfeiffer missed out.

Who will win? The most likely choice is Blanchett, but Ryan has won every critics' awards, and Ronan is really good in "Atonement".

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

The nominees:
CASEY AFFLECK, THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES
PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN, CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR
JOHN TRAVOLTA, HAIRSPRAY
TOM WILKINSON, MICHAEL CLAYTON
JAVIER BARDEM, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

My predictions: 4/5, picking Hal Holbrook over Tom Wilkinson.

No big suprises here, but I am continually dismayed by the inclusion of sub-par performances by great actors, especially those from "Michael Clayton". Otherwise, the list is pretty great. I assume Travolta falls out on the way to the Oscars and gets replaced by Hal Holbrook, and that is the final list.

Who will win? All bow to Javier Bardem. Though I would love to see Affleck take it, which would really help the film.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Actress in a Motion Picture - Comedy/Musical

The nominees:
AMY ADAMS, ENCHANTED
NIKKI BLONSKY, HAIRSPRAY
ELLEN PAGE, JUNO
HELENA BONHAM CARTER, SWEENEY TODD
MARION COTILLARD, LA VIE EN ROSE

My predictions: 3/5, putting Cotillard in drama and guessing Laura Linney and Katherine Heigl over Carter.

This is a fine list (still have to see "Sweeney Todd"), but the omissions of Linney and Heigl are puzzling. Linney should have had an easy shot, especially considering co-star Philip Seymour Hoffman got in it the corresponding comedy category. This deals a serious blow to her Oscar chances. And Heigl, who should have easily made it in for the likeable comedy (especially when John C. Reilly got nominated for "Walk Hard") gets nodded for "Grey's Anatomy" which she sucks on when this is clearly where she deserves recognition.

Who will win? Fight to the death between Cotillard and Page. When push comes to shove, I figure Cotillard has the upper hand.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Actor in a Motion Picture - Comedy/Musical

The nominees:
TOM HANKS, CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR
RYAN GOSLING, LARS AND THE REAL GIRL
PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN, THE SAVAGES
JOHNNY DEPP, SWEENEY TODD
JOHN C. REILLY, WALK HARD

My predictions: 3/5, missing Hoffman and Reilly for Seth Rogen and Don Cheadle.

Is this some sort of joke? John C. Reilly is a fine actor but this performance is horrendous! How anyone could vote for him over an actual impressive semi-serious comic performance (Seth Rogen, Michael Cera) is beyond me. And Philip Seymour Hoffman as the lone nominee for "The Savages" feel very weird. It was the weakest of his three performances of the year (he did get another nomination for "Charlie Wilson's War") and Laura Linney was the strongest one in the film. I guess they really like him.

Who will win? If Reilly wins, it will have to be one of those turn-off-the-TV scenarios. I think Depp has one in the bag, though people really loved Gosling in "Lars and the Real Girl".

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama

The nominees:
KEIRA KNIGHTLEY, ATONEMENT
JULIE CHRISTIE, AWAY FROM HER
JODIE FOSTER, THE BRAVE ONE
CATE BLANCHETT, ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE
ANGELINA JOLIE, A MIGHTY HEART

My predictions: 4/5, swapping Foster for the Comedy-nominated Marion Cotillard.

It pains me to see Foster included for her dismal performance in "The Brave One" when the slot could have gone to Tang Wei for "Lust, Caution" or Naomi Watts for "Eastern Promises". I really hope that this is the end of the road for Foster awards-wise. I assume that she and Blanchett will fall off the radar after the Globes, and that Ellen Page and Marion Cotillard will fill the remaining two slots.

Who will win? It is actually Jolie who deserves it, but I think Christie will easily walk away with the trophy, unless Knightley can get enough votes.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama

The nominees:
DENZEL WASHINGTON, AMERICAN GANGSTER
JAMES MCAVOY, ATONEMENT
VIGGO MORTENSEN, EASTERN PROMISES
GEORGE CLOONEY, MICHAEL CLAYTON
DANIEL DAY-LEWIS, THERE WILL BE BLOOD

My predictions: 2/5, disbelieving that Washington and Clooney would make it in and choosing Emile Hirsch over Viggo Mortensen

Where are Tommy Lee Jones and Brad Pitt? This is really bad news for each of their films. Denzel and Clooney hardly deserve recognition for their lackluster performances, but I am happy for Viggo Mortensen, who earns his first nomination for the first performance of his I truly enjoyed. This is not an entirely shocking list, and I am at least glad that Russell Crowe did not make it in for "3:10 to Yuma" or "American Gangster." You have to love the performance, not just the actor (see: Washington).

Who will win? The obvious frontrunner is Daniel Day-Lewis, whose performance I really need to see one of these days. The underdog I would watch out for is James McAvoy, who is really on the rise as an actor and whose film managed an impressive seven nominations, pretty much in every category in which it was eligible.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Final Golden Globe Predictions

I have not made as made changes as I might have expected, but some recent developments may be highly influential. Amy Ryan has won every critics’ award for her supporting performance in “Gone Baby Gone”, and I now consider her to be almost a lock. “There Will Be Blood” has also done exceptionally well with critics’ prizes, and I think it will be rewarded with four nods but ultimately miss out on the Best Picture prize, like “Munich” two years ago. Drama/comedy category confusion is a dangerous thing, and it is truly shaking up my predictions. I have kept Laura Linney in the comedy category for “The Savages” (though I doubt the film will get any other nominations), but transplanted Marion Cotillard to the far less crowded drama category for “La Vie en Rose”. Mike Nichols’ “Charlie Wilson’s War” has been switched to comedy, as far as I know, and I still believe that it will be all-or-nothing (the film, director, screenplay, Hanks, Hoffman, and Roberts all nominated or none of them) and then receive few nominations from other awards groups. I feel very confident about my foreign film predictions, though “The Orphanage” may overtake “The Kite Runner”. Watch out for “The Kite Runner” as well as the other three Oscar-ineligible foreign films, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”, “Lust, Caution”, and “La Vie en Rose” to show up elsewhere, possibly in the directing category. The film I am most rooting for to do well (runner-up: “Once”) is “The Assassination of Jesse James”. Casey Affleck is secure, but Pitt and the film? I am not sure, but this could be an added boost. Nominees announced early Thursday morning, check back that day for major reactions.

No Guts, No Glory
MICHAEL CERA for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical for SUPERBAD

Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama
BRAD PITT, THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES
JAMES MCAVOY, ATONEMENT
TOMMY LEE JONES, IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH
EMILE HIRSCH, INTO THE WILD
DANIEL DAY-LEWIS, THERE WILL BE BLOOD


Alt: VIGGO MORTENSEN, EASTERN PROMISES

Best Actress is a Motion Picture – Drama
KEIRA KNIGHTLEY, ATONEMENT
JULIE CHRISTIE, AWAY FROM HER
CATE BLANCHETT, ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE
ANGELINA JOLIE, A MIGHTY HEART
MARION COTILLARD, LA VIE EN ROSE


Alt: TANG WEI, LUST, CAUTION

Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical
TOM HANKS, CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR
SETH ROGEN, KNOCKED UP
RYAN GOSLING, LARS AND THE REAL GIRL
JOHNNY DEPP, SWEENEY TODD
DON CHEADLE, TALK TO ME


Alt: PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN, THE SAVAGES

Best Actress is a Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical
AMY ADAMS, ENCHANTED
NIKKI BLONSKY, HAIRSPRAY
ELLEN PAGE, JUNO
KATHERINE HEIGL, KNOCKED UP
LAURA LINNEY, THE SAVAGES


Alt: NICOLE KIDMAN, MARGOT AT THE WEDDING

Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
CASEY AFFLECK, THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES
PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN, CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR
JOHN TRAVOLTA, HAIRSPRAY
HAL HOLBROOK, INTO THE WILD
JAVIER BARDEM, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN


Alt: ED HARRIS, GONE BABY GONE

Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
SAOIRSE RONAN, ATONEMENT
JULIA ROBERTS, CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR
AMY RYAN, GONE BABY GONE
MICHELLE PFEIFFER, HAIRSPRAY
CATE BLANCHETT, I’M NOT THERE


Alt: LESLIE MANN, KNOCKED UP

Best Director – Motion Picture
JOE WRIGHT, ATONEMENT
SIDNEY LUMET, BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD
MIKE NICHOLS, CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR
DAVID CRONENBERG, EASTERN PROMISES
(6th nominee)
THE COEN BROTHERS, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON, THERE WILL BE BLOOD


Alt: ANG LEE, LUST, CAUTION

Best Screenplay – Motion Picture
ATONEMENT
CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR
JUNO
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
THERE WILL BE BLOOD


Alt: BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD

Best Original Score – Motion Picture
THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES
ATONEMENT
THE KITE RUNNER
RATATOUILLE
THERE WILL BE BLOOD


Alt: LUST, CAUTION

Best Original Song – Motion Picture
ENCHANTED, “That’s How You Know”
HAIRSPRAY, “Come So Far”
INTO THE WILD, “Guaranteed”
MUSIC & LYRICS, “Pop Goes My Heart”
ONCE, “Falling Slowly”


Alt: ONCE, “Leave”

Best Foreign Film
THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY
4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, AND 2 DAYS
THE KITE RUNNER
LUST, CAUTION
LA VIE EN ROSE


Alt: THE ORPHANAGE

Best Animated Film
BEE MOVIE
RATATOUILLE
THE SIMPSONS MOVIE


Alt: BEOWULF

Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical
CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR
HAIRSPRAY
JUNO
ONCE
SWEENEY TODD


Alt: KNOCKED UP

Best Motion Picture – Drama
ATONEMENT
BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD
EASTERN PROMISES
INTO THE WILD
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN


Alt: THERE WILL BE BLOOD

Monday, December 10, 2007

Not My Type of Movie: Enchanted

Enchanted
Directed by Kevin Lima
Released November 21, 2007

From the time I first heard about this film to the moment I decided I would go see it, the hype and good reviews had made me forget that it was, after everything, a Disney chick-flick musical. The hybrid with the animation and I had no problem with that, but once they moved from the animated world to the real world, a.k.a. New York City, I found myself constantly cringing and rolling my eyes. The film is not bad; it is just not for me. I do love Amy Adams, but her over-stressing of every single word and elevation of her voice to a high pitch is not the type of thing I enjoy very much. Timothy Spall and James Mardsen give their best efforts to be as ridiculously "animated" as they can be, and the results are certainly better than Patrick Dempsey, whose performance is almost as impressive as that of a door. The songs are nothing special, and far fewer in fact than I had anticipated. The film stands way over the line of believability, which is fine, bringing in Central Park bystanders to its musical numbers and placing the animated world's portal under a pothole in the center of Times Square, but it is wearying taking it all in. The obvious references to past Disney classics are clever but nothing more. Maybe if I was a slightly younger girl, I would have had a better time.

C

Oscar chances: Amy Adams is bouncy and flowery the whole time, but I think the Best Actress race is pretty much locked up. The songs are hardly memorable, but "That's How You Know" probably has the best shot out of the bunch. "True Love's Kiss" making it in would give me a headache.

A Grieving Father: Grace is Gone

Grace is Gone
Directed by James C. Strouce
Released December 7, 2007

This tiny film received rave reviews at Sundance, as well as major positive notes on John Cusack's lead performance. This sober story of a man who cannot tell his daughter that their mother was killed in the Iraq War is a decent enough tale, but at the risk of sounding heartless or cruel, not a terribly moving one. Fortunately, the film does not capitalize on Cusack's character's grief to make a spectacle out of it, but it does let the event speak for itself, which is a risk which does not pay off fully in the end. Obviously, the film is sad, but the director does little to enhance the story, and it seems to drag on for a while, the only thing keeping it going being the suspense: when will the girls find out that their mother is dead? The two young actresses who play the girls are making their feature film debuts, and neither is too impressive, and their obnoxious nature makes them less sympathetic characters, though obviously you still feel for them. John Cusack shows some moments of brilliance in his performance, but the director seems obsessed with zooming in on shots of Cusack's face, sporting those annoyingly oversized glasses, and the awkwardness proves constantly distracting. Cusack's character is never entirely likeable, and he seems to have been tightly wound even before his wife's death. The idea here is great and a moving one, but the execution is lacking, which makes for a sad story that has to stand on its own legs without any enhancement from the cast or crew.

B-

Oscar chances: Cusack will need to get some major buzz for this film by Oscar time, as in a critics' award or a SAG nomination, but I think he will slip under the radar. The performance is not solidly strong throughout the entire film, but it is easy to find a clip, especially from the first ten minutes, which can get Cusack nominated. The song "Grace is Gone" is a good one, and recently garnered a Satellite award nomination, but I think the buoyancy of the songs from "Hairspray" and "Enchanted" and the impressive coolness of those from "Into the Wild" and "Once" may leave it off the list.

Oh, What a Mess: Beowulf

Beowulf
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Released November 16, 2007

I will begin by mentioning that I saw the 3-D "IMAX Experience" version of this film. I cannot imagine how it would be appealing on any level to anyone watching it on DVD. I was cheering at points throughout the film, mostly in mockery because body parts and blood droppings were coming flying at my face, and I started counting how many times Beowulf shouted "I am Beowulf!" (a mere six, unfortunately). There is little to seriously admire about this movie, save for the impressive motion-capture animation and well-designed visual effects. The battle scenes are wholly preposterous, and actually quite bloody and gruesome (a friend of mine actually left), and I am shocked that this got away with a PG-13 rating. Not to mention the nudity, which includes an almost full-frontal nude Angelina Jolie and Beowulf feeling the need to strip down completely every time he starts a battle, with the rest of the cast engaging in awkward blocking to shield his unmentionables from view. Jolie had better hope that Oscar voters see "A Mighty Heart" without thinking about this film if she wants to have any shot at a nomination this year. Anthony Hopkins has seen much better days, and Ray Winstone delivers a poor performance (see "Sexy Beast" though - he is superb in that!). The film is campy, and the dialogue is painful. My friend was shocked that it took two people to write this script, especially when one of them won an Oscar for the screenplay of "Pulp Fiction". This disaster does no justice to the epic poem, and certainly does nothing if viewed without the 3-D glasses which the film can hide its emptiness behind.

F

Oscar chances: It is eligible for Best Animated Feature, but will have to fend off "Persepolis", "The Simpsons Movie", and "Bee Movie" to join "Ratatouille" among the list of nominees. The visual effects may be the best shot "Beowulf" has at recognition, though it could also surface in the sound and sound editing categories. Do not expect an overly enthusiastic reception for this crap though.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

A Mess: The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass
Directed by Chris Weitz
Released December 7, 2007

I will admit that I may have been a bit too excited for this one. Even so, what an enormous letdown as both a movie and an experience. I read the books a long time ago, and remember liking them immensely but not much about the specifics of the plot. The first film (it is a three-part series, the second book is already set to be adapted for a 2009 releasee) does not do justice to the books in any way. Even grading them on completely different scales does not improve its quality. The mythology is explained in about two minutes, which hardly gives those who are not familiar with the world of the books gives you hardly anything to go on and makes the main quest of the film seem irrelevant and purposeless. Characters jump in and out of the story at an alarming rate, and their introductions are rushed and often incomplete. Nothing is delved into enough, and the film's relatively short runtime (under two hours) allows for little explanation or background. The polar bears are voiced by British baratones Ian McKellen and Ian McShane, which should provide booming characterizations for the bears but instead makes them seem all the more unreal. The polar bear fight is a massive disappointment, and its relevance is questionable. The lone action scene (minus the polar bear fight, of course) is immensely unexciting and poorly choreographed. The entire thing is a huge mess, and the film ends on a such a "Come see the sequel!' note that is is unbearable. Nicole Kidman, to her credit, delivers an impressive performance and far outshines the rest of the cast (which is a shame, given that "Casino Royale" alums Daniel Craig and Eva Green are saddled with dismal parts which do no justice at all to terrific characters from the books). "The Golden Compass" in its film version takes its fantasy setting too much for granted and certainly does not make up for it with action scenes.

C-

Oscar chances: Probably Best Visual Effects and maybe Art Direction or Costumes. I doubt anyone will be too enthusiastic about it. And I really hope the song that runs over the end credits, "Lyra", which earned a Satellite nomination, is not eligible for the Oscar. It sounds for a moment sort of like "You Will Be My Ain True Love" from "Cold Mountain", but after a few seconds, it is more like a throwback to Enya, which is not, I repeat not, a good thing.

Artistic and Compelling: Atonement

Atonement
Directed by Joe Wright
Released September 7, 2007

If there is one thing I can say with absolute conviction about this film, is that it is stunning to look at and listen to. The scenery is beautiful, and the score is fantastic. The actors and the plot are not bad either. James McAvoy and Keira Knightley have limited roles which are no better or wose than any other role either of them have had, but they put in a decent effort. Saoirse Ronan is the actress who really deserves commendation here, in one of her first film roles. She more than holds her own alongside a more experienced cast and delivers a performance far beyond her age. The script really gets into the time period, and I cannot say how faithful it is to the book, having opted for the film over the book in this case. The story does not tread for too long, but it does feel like there might be a piece missing from the middle. It is certainly a pleasurable experience and a well-invested drama that deserves a good deal of praise, which I am sure it will get.

B+

Oscar chances: This might sound impulsive, but I now consider "Atonement" a lock for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress (Ronan), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Costumes, and Best Original Scroe. That sounds like a lot, but it excels in each of the latter seven areas, and is sure to get enough positive buzz to earn a rank in the Best Picture lineup. McAvoy and Knightley face the problem of limited screentime despite main roles, and I think they might easily get left off in favor of more showy performers (Daniel Day-Lewis, for instance) and those with many roles this year (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Romola Garai could have a shot as the older version of Ronan's character, but the younger actress will eclipse most of the buzz. Vanessa Redgrave should absolutely not get in - the words "nothing special" are especially applicable here. Not to mention the fact that she appears in the film for a grand total of like TWO MINUTES. Please, Oscar voters, do not reward previously respected actresses who take five minutes to film a glorified bit part and do not excel at it. All in all, though, watch out for this one as the one that could beat "No Country for Old Men".

Overrated and Depressing: The Savages

The Savages
Directed by Tamara Jenkins
Released November 30, 2007

For starters, "The Savages" is not a comedy. Even moreso than "Margot at the Wedding", this film has a few one-liners but ultimately expands upon truly serious themes with deeply unhappy characters. The self-depricating nature of the three central characters works for a while, but it loses its value before the film can make any point or envision some hopeful future for any of the characters. The opening scene is a lot of fun and very clever, but it is not indicative of the rest of the film. Laura Linney stands out in this cast, but this is definitely not the best role for either her or co-star Philip Seymour Hoffman. Philip Bosco's performance is fleeting and feels unkempt, though his character's dimentia might account for some of that uncertainty. For a while I was enjoying the film, but then I realized that it was really going nowhere and actually quite predictable, and it lacks any element that would take it further and make all the depressing stuff balanced out. There are glimmers of greatness in some of the shots throughout the film, but as a whole, the effort does not show through.

B-

Oscar chances: Linney should be pretty safe, but Hoffman will gather buzz for his other performances. I think Bosco is completely out, and the screenplay will have to fight hard against the other comedies, which are actually comedies: "Juno", "Knocked Up", "Lars and the Real Girl", and "Ratatouille". I think just Linney will make it all the way.

Imagined Futures in Sci-fi: Koyaanisqatsi

I am taking a course called "Utopia/Dystopia: Imagined Futures in Sci-fi" which focuses on science fiction films from the fifties to the present. I will be writing a few words about each of the films I watch in class.

Koyaanisqatsi
Directed by Godfrey Reggio
Released September 14, 1983

I suppose it is only fitting that the last film for this course would be an 80 minute collection of images and music by Philip Glass purposefully devoid of any characters, dialogue, or plot. It is absolutely interesting, and I managed not to look away for the entire runtime, though sleep was a frequent consideration. The film, which gets its title from the Hopi language and means "life out of balance", honestly requires too much thinking for me. I love a good movie that gets under the skin and makes you reconsider a lot of things, but this is quite lengthy for what it is and can hardly be compared to anything else. I once made a short film that was similar in the sense that it had strong music, no characters, dialogue, or plot, but it was five and a half minutes long. This certainly gets you thinking, but ultimately I left feeling confused. I think that may have been the intention. Worth a look though if you can make it through it without looking away or falling asleep. IMDB categorizes it as a documentary, which I do not agree with, but it is certainly experimental. The music is quite cool.

B- (not that it is really possible to grade this one)

Friday, December 7, 2007

Preliminary SAG Predictions: Best Ensemble in a Motion Picture

The following represents some preliminary thoughts on Screen Actors’ Guild Awards contenders for the given category. Predictions will be revisited following the announcement of the Golden Globe Awards nominations, which often solidifies the contenders. This category is specific to SAG, and it is one of the most fun because it recognizes all of the actors working together rather than merely the performance of one. Nominated films rarely match up 100% with Oscar nominees for Best Picture (2001 and 2004 are exceptions, though SAG had six nominated films in 2004). Nominated films range from those that truly embody the idea of the ensemble (“Bobby”) to those with only a few core cast members (2004 again, when “Sideways”, “Hotel Rwanda”, and “Million Dollar Baby” were all nominated).

Previous winners:
LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE
CRASH
SIDEWAYS
THE RETURN OF THE KING
CHICAGO
GOSFORD PARK
TRAFFIC
AMERICAN BEAUTY
SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE
THE FULL MONTY
THE BIRDCAGE
APOLLO 13


Opening note: It is always possible that American Gangster will get nominated though it hardly deserves it or that the bizarre collection of actors and actresses from I’m Not There will make a surprise appearance. As to the rest of the contenders, I have yet to find a film whose presence would be as pleasantly shocking as that of either “The Station Agent” (2003) or “Hustle & Flow” (2005).

The top contenders:
THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES
While Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck are front-and-center for a good portion of the film, this really is an ensemble effort that pays off very well with some terrific supporting performances. I think the western genre and the fact that only two of the actors really have big roles while some of the ensemble is hardly in the film (Mary-Louise Parker) may reduce the film’s chances here.

ATONEMENT
Starring popular young actors James McAvoy and Keira Knightley and featuring a cameo by the likes of Vanessa Redgrave. Sounds tailor-made for a nomination to me. Different actresses playing the role is also a good thing for creating a cohesive ensemble working together.

CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR
They are sure to all be having fun, but will audiences? It is still too early to tell whether the powerhouse cast including Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, and Philip Seymour Hoffman will sit well with voters. I imagine it may do just fine with this crowd and very possibly make the top five.

EASTERN PROMISES
Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Vincent Cassel, and a handful of other actors make up the cast of this dark thriller. The film was a while ago, but SAG is exactly the type of branch which might recognize this film’s cast since neither Mortensen or Watts is likely to make it onto their lists.

GONE BABY GONE
This is the surprise underdog nominee I am putting my full backing behind. Casey Affleck leads a terrific cast including Ed Harris, Morgan Freeman, Amy Ryan, and Michelle Monaghan. This is just the film that might fly under the radar and make an appearance here.

HAIRSPRAY
In recent years, hit musicals “Dreamgirls” and “Chicago” have showed up in this category. I do not think “Hairspray” will go as far towards the Oscars, sweeping up dozens of awards along the way, but I think it could make a final stand here for lack of any major competition.

JUNO
It can easily be called this year’s “Little Miss Sunshine”; the only hiccup is that only two performers are receiving a lot of buzz (Ellen Page and Jennifer Garner). The rest of the cast is uniformly great, but no one stands out. That can be an issue with a comedy, but I think “Juno” should by default take the comedy slot this year, beating out “Knocked Up”, “Superbad” (wouldn’t that be fun, though?), and “Waitress”.

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
The Coen Brothers direct a cast that includes Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, and Woody Harrelson. This is the kind of film that delights in giving bit performers extended scenes that are memorable and amusing. While I was not blown away by the ensemble effort here, I am fairly certain that SAG voters will be. Back in 1996, the Coen Brothers’ “Fargo” somehow missed out on a nomination in this category with a far better (and pretty much unbeatable) ensemble.

THE SAVAGES
The problem here is that the cast is limited to three actors. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Laura Linney, and Philip Bosco can surely carry a movie all by themselves, but I think they would need at least one other cast member to make the cut. Only one film has ever been nominated with a cast of three, and that film went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture – “Million Dollar Baby”.

SWEENEY TODD
This is the movie musical that could take on “Hairspray” this year. None of Tim Burton’s previous efforts, most notably “Big Fish”, has managed to break into this category, so my gut tells me “Sweeney Todd” will miss out on this award, though that should not affect its chances elsewhere too much.

Current predictions:
ATONEMENT
GONE BABY GONE
HAIRSPRAY
JUNO
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Preliminary SAG Predictions: Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

The following represents some preliminary thoughts on Screen Actors’ Guild Awards contenders for the given category. Predictions will be revisited following the announcement of the Golden Globe Awards nominations, which often solidifies the contenders. SAG categories often match up 60-100% with corresponding Oscar categories, though SAG tends to recognize some more independent fare every once in a while. This category often favors well-liked actresses who had roles in movies that should have been successes but pretty much tanked, such as Cloris Leachman for “Spanglish”. This category also likes younger actresses.

Last year’s winner:
JENNIFER HUDSON, DREAMGIRLS

The top contenders:
SAIORSE RONAN, ATONEMENT
The buzz is still strong for Ronan in this well-reviewed film. If she earns a Golden Globe nomination, she should have no trouble popping up on this list, but otherwise, she may have to wait for Oscar time. SAG rarely nominates previously unknown stars without a precursor nod from the Globes.

MARISA TOMEI, BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD
As I think about it more and more, I really do wish her role had been far more substantial since she did a great job in her limited scenes. “My Cousin Vinny” was before SAG’s time and Tomei did miss out on a nod for 2001’s “In the Bedroom”, but it is her bizarre nomination without mentions from any other groups for “Unhook the Stars” in 1996 that makes me think she might have a fighting chance.

JULIA ROBERTS, CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR
Roberts has only one career nomination (and win) in the history of the SAG Awards, for 2000’s “Erin Brockovich”. She has not had any major leading roles which resulted in nominations elsewhere, with the exception of a few 90s romantic comedies the Golden Globes liked. Recent dramatic efforts “Mona Lisa Smile” and “Closer” resulted in zero nominations for Roberts, so this film could be the comeback that brings her back into the awards circuit. Do keep in mind the SAG reception of “Closer”.

AMY RYAN, GONE BABY GONE
While SAG does not always introduce unknowns, it often is the first place an actress who got the best reviews from her film pops up, such as Amy Adams for “Junebug” or Keisha Castle-Hughes for “Whale Rider”. Unless “Gone Baby Gone” gets a major awards push, Ryan could be the only element of the film to make it through awards season. People will have to remember the film, whose October release date is a bit on the early side.

MICHELLE PFEIFFER, HAIRSPRAY
I am feeling right now that SAG will wholeheartedly embrace “Hairspray” if only because there is little else to nominate and everyone I know generally enjoyed the buoyant musical. Pfeiffer has a fun villain role that is not too far-fetched and she plays it well enough. Pfeiffer was last here in 2002 for “White Oleander”.

CATE BLANCHETT, I’M NOT THERE
Blanchett should be one of the most popular actresses this year with this role and her role reprisal in “Elizabeth: The Golden Age”. This performance is easily the most talked-about female supporting performance and Blanchett is really good in the film. She has three previous nominations, including one for 2001’s “Bandits” of all movies, so I feel like she is pretty safe.

JENNIFER GARNER, JUNO
I am not convinced that Garner will do exceptionally well with any awards voters, but her character is fairly sympathetic and she is a SAG winner (for “Alias”). This part is a completely different one from her former ABC TV show and I think voters might be impressed with her dramatic acting minus all the action and fighting of “Alias”.

JENNIFER JASON LEIGH, MARGOT AT THE WEDDING
I think there is very little chance Leigh will pop up anywhere along the awards timeline, but previous nominees like Marisa Tomei and Cloris Leachman for roles that did not end up being awards contenders at all make me suspect that Leigh could surprise here. Do not expect a win by any means, but there is at least a slight chance she could make an appearance.

TILDA SWINTON, MICHAEL CLAYTON
Provided that people still remember and like the film by SAG nominations time, Swinton could easily manage a nomination. This could very well be the fall-off point for “Michael Clayton” if the film does meagerly well at the Globes and then gets shut-out by all the guilds. Swinton has the best chance out of the whole cast because she has the most to do in the film.

KELLY MACDONALD, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
Sure, it is a small role, but Macdonald gives it her very best and she is an actress who has yet to have a major role, at least film-wise. The HBO TV movie “The Girl in the CafĂ©” earned her an Emmy award, but no mention from SAG. I think the film should do well with nominations in the Supporting Actor category for both Javier Bardem and Tommy Lee Jones, but those may well be the only spots where the film appears.

Current predictions:
SAIORSE RONAN, ATONEMENT
MARISA TOMEI, BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD
AMY RYAN, GONE BABY GONE
MICHELLE PFEIFFER, HAIRSPRAY
CATE BLANCHETT, I’M NOT THERE

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Worse Than You Could Imagine: Walk Hard

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (Advance Screening)
Directed by Jake Kasdan
To be released December 21, 2007

First of all, I promise it was a free screening. It should have been a sign that I was seeing this kind of film amongst all these awards contenders. Yet I still went in blindly hoping that maybe it would make me laugh like "Talladega Nights" did, even though I was not a big fan of that film. From this movie's first line - "I need Cox" - which illicited laughter from some audience members, I knew there was no hope. There are glimmers of things that could potentially be funny, and I will admit I sort of smiled maybe three times throughout the film. The worst thing is that the cast is sprinkled with so many talented actors who are all saddled with the most unfunny roles they could get. I do not know why John C. Reilly and Jenna Fischer thought headlining this film would be a good idea for their careers. Two terrific cameos are ruined by the script, but worth watching: four well-known comedians as the Beatles (I will not tell you who they are so there is something to look forward to if you for some reason see it) and Jonah Hill as Dewey's brother. The film is also not effective as a parody. Its repeated destruction of the dramatic parts of "Ray" and "Walk the Line" is horrid, and the comedy could be clever if it was not dumbed down so much. I had to immediately cleanse myself of the music that got stuck in my head by listening to "A Mighty Wind" as soon as I got back from the movie. Entertainment Weekly just named Judd Apatow the smartest person in Hollywood, but after this film, I am no longer so sure. This is easily the worst film of the year to this point, worse even than "Goya's Ghosts", a feat I hardly thought possible.

F-

National Board of Review Winners

I correctly picked the best film of the year ("No Country for Old Men"), and I got half of the top ten, while three of my predictions were classified as being "top independent films". It turns out that the number one film is separate from the top ten, which I did not know. More commentary below. Awards are as follows:

Best Film: NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
Best Director: TIM BURTON, Sweeney Todd
Best Actor: GEORGE CLOONEY, Michael Clayton
Best Actress: JULIE CHRISTIE, Away From Her
Best Supporting Actor: CASEY AFFLECK, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Best Supporting Actress: AMY RYAN, Gone Baby Gone
Best Foreign Film: THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY
Best Documentary: BODY OF WAR
Best Animated Feature: RATATOUILLE
Best Ensemble Cast: NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
Breakthrough Performance by an Actor: EMILE HIRSCH, Into The Wild
Breakthrough Performance by an Actress: ELLEN PAGE, Juno
Best Directorial Debut: BEN AFFLECK, Gone Baby Gone
Best Original Screenplay (tie):
DIABLO CODY, Juno and NANCY OLIVER, Lars and the Real Girl
Best Adapted Screenplay: JOEL COEN and ETHAN COEN, No Country For Old Men

Top Ten Films:
THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD
ATONEMENT
THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM
THE BUCKET LIST
INTO THE WILD
JUNO
THE KITE RUNNER
LARS AND THE REAL GIRL
MICHAEL CLAYTON
SWEENEY TODD

Top Five Foreign Films:
4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, 2 DAYS
THE BAND’S VISIT
THE COUNTERFEITERS
LA VIE EN ROSE
LUST, CAUTION

Top Five Documentary Films
DARFUR NOW
IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON
NANKING
TAXI TO THE DARKSIDE
TOOTS

Top Independent Films
AWAY FROM HER
GREAT WORLD OF SOUND
HONEYDRIPPER
IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH
A MIGHTY HEART
THE NAMESAKE
ONCE
THE SAVAGES
STARTING OUT IN THE EVENING
WAITRESS

George Clooney is to me the most unexpected and undeserving choice. I am not surprised that "Michael Clayton" made it into the top ten list but Clooney's inclusion gives me pause and indicates that the film may do better than I had initially thought. I am ecstatic about "The Assassination of Jesse James" and it is also great that "Once", "Waitress", and "A Mighty Heart" are getting some recognition. "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" for Best Foreign Film is simply put an excellent choice. The surprise inclusions in the top ten list are "The Bourne Ultimatum" and "The Bucket List". I think the former is like the American Film Institute's inclusion of "Inside Man", and that "The Bucket List" may prove to be throwaway fare, but watch out for Jack Nicholson at the Golden Globes. The other big shocker, which also did well with the Satellite Awards, is "Lars and the Real Girl", which cracked the top ten as well as tying with the number one buzzed-about screenplay of the year, "Juno". I do think that Ryan Gosling is now a lock for the Golden Globes Best Actor category, and the film may well make the list for Best Motion Picture - Comedy/Musical. I found the screenplay to be slightly less exciting than I had hoped but it sure was inventive and well-written. Other notes: "La Vie en Rose" still made it into the list of top foreign films despite Cotillard's exclusion, and "Sicko" was not mentioned in the foreign film list. At least "Darfur Now" is picking up buzz, because after the Oscars deemed it ineligible, I started to think my having seen it was pointless.

Major conclusions from this: "Lars and the Real Girl" may do better than expected, "No Country for Old Men" should not be underestimated, "Gone Baby Gone" and "The Assassination of Jesse James" have good buzz, and three foreign films not eligible for the corresponding Oscar should make a good showing at awards announcements: "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly", "Lust, Caution", and "La Vie en Rose" (not to mention "The Kite Runner"). More soon on all the awards craziness as critics groups begin unveiling their awards.

Preliminary SAG Predictions: Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

The following represents some preliminary thoughts on Screen Actors’ Guild Awards contenders for the given category. Predictions will be revisited following the announcement of the Golden Globe Awards nominations, which often solidifies the contenders. SAG categories often match up 60-100% with corresponding Oscar categories, though SAG tends to recognize some more independent fare every once in a while. Last year’s nominees in this category presented one of the biggest surprises of the awards season, introducing Jackie Earle Haley and Djimon Hounsou as serious contenders and placing Leonardo DiCaprio in the supporting category for “The Departed”. There will obviously be major overlap with and similarities to the Golden Globe predictions.

Last year’s winner:
EDDIE MURPHY, DREAMGIRLS

The top conteders:
RUSSELL CROWE, AMERICAN GANGSTER
Crowe has been rewarded with four SAG nominations, winning one in 2001 for “A Beautiful Mind”. He made it in for “Cinderella Man”, a performance far less recognized by other awards guilds. Having seen “American Gangster”, I cannot believe that Crowe would realistically get in, but his awards track record despite his public behavior is astounding.

CASEY AFFLECK, THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES
Affleck is excellent as Robert Ford and more than holds his own against Brad Pitt. I think the film by the time of the SAG nominations announcement should have picked up enough buzz to help Affleck manage a nomination, but fresher films with unexpected candidates could pose a problem.

ETHAN HAWKE, BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD
Hawke has not had many major roles in the past few years, but picked up a SAG nomination in this category in 2001 for “Training Day”. Hawke does have a great role in “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”, and at this point this seems like the definitive indie that could crack its way onto nomination lists with a stronger force than expected.

PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN, CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR
Hoffman has the same problem as his co-stars Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts. Mike Nichols’ last film, “Closer”, was shut out by SAG and nearly all other groups after a warm reception by the Golden Globes. Hoffman also has two other roles, one of which could be seen as supporting (“Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”), and such category confusion can mean an outright snub (Meryl Streep missed out on nods for both “Adaptation” and “The Hours” in 2002 because she cancelled herself out).

ED HARRIS, GONE BABY GONE
The performance is terrific but the role is regrettably small. Harris missed out on nominations for both “The Truman Show” and “Pollock”, which both went on to garner him Oscar nominations. He was here five years ago for “The Hours” for another small but fantastic role, so if the film reaches a large enough audience, Harris may receive a nomination.

JOHN TRAVOLTA, HAIRSPRAY
I know it seems ridiculous, and it is. Travolta is funny in his cross-dressing performance in the hit musical, but hardly worthy of an actors’ prize. Some also find his performance offensive and unfaithful to the original character. Travolta received a SAG nomination during the awards’ first year for his lead performance in “Pulp Fiction”. The SAG Awards do allow for the more humorous performances, recognizing in 1996 both Hank Azaria and Nathan Lane for “The Birdcage”. Until more serious contenders emerge, Travolta appears to be at the front of the pack.

HAL HOLBROOK, INTO THE WILD
His brief performance in “Into the Wild” is extremely sympathetic and it is hard not to like him. His chances really depend on how widely “Into the Wild” is recognized. Without strong support for the film, Holbrook’s performance will not be talked about as much and easily fall through the cracks.

JAVIER BARDEM, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
Bardem delivers an unbelievable performance in “No Country for Old Men” which outdoes every single one of his castmates and has critics everywhere talking. Bardem’s snub in 2000 for “Before Night Falls” should easily be overlooked given the reputation of the Coen Brothers and the reaction to Bardem’s performance.

TOMMY LEE JONES, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
He is hardly in the movie, and is far better in “In the Valley of Elah”, but something tells me Jones will find himself with two SAG nominations come nominations announcement day. Very often SAG chooses a performer who has done great work recently and nominates him for a performance that does not seem to make much sense. Recent examples include Chris Cooper for “Seabiscuit” in 2003 and Don Cheadle for “Crash” in 2005. This tendency could work against Jones, who has two performances this year, as it did for Terrence Howard in 2005, when he found himself with zero nominations after two great performances in “Hustle & Flow” and “Crash”.

PAUL DANO, THERE WILL BE BLOOD
This one will be too hard to gauge until the first awards nominations come out, since the film is not being released until December 26. Dano was excellent in last year’s “Little Miss Sunshine”, but it is unclear if his role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film is substantial enough as well as whether he carries it effectively. The supporting actor in a film with a powerhouse performance by an established actor is often rewarded, like Ethan Hawke opposite Denzel Washington in “Training Day”.

Current predictions:
CASEY AFFLECK, THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES
ED HARRIS, GONE BABY GONE
JOHN TRAVOLTA, HAIRSPRAY
JAVIER BARDEM, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
TOMMY LEE JONES, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

National Board of Review Predictions

All these awards keep sneaking up on me! If not for AwardsDaily, I might have completely forgotten the unveiling of the National Board of Review's top ten films of the year, as well as a smattering of other commendations. This is the real beginning of the awards season, since obviously no one looks at the Satellite Award nominations too closely. This is where a film can get a jump-start, but an omission does not necessarily mean a film will not do well with ensuing awards. The reserve may also be true: "The History Boys" and "The Painted Veil" went nowhere after this and "Notes on a Scandal" continually missed out on the top prize at different awards groups.

Last year's top ten:
LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA
BABEL
BLOOD DIAMOND
THE DEPARTED
THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA
FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS
THE HISTORY BOYS
LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE
NOTES ON A SCANDAL
THE PAINTED VEIL

Predictions for this year:
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (#1)
THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES
ATONEMENT
IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH
INTO THE WILD
MICHAEL CLAYTON
JUNO
ONCE
THE SAVAGES
THERE WILL BE BLOOD

Spoilers may be "3:10 to Yuma" (ick) or "Sweeney Todd".

More predictions:
Best Actor: JAMES MCAVOY, ATONEMENT
Best Actress: MARION COTILLARD, LA VIE EN ROSE
Best Supporting Actor: JAVIER BARDEM, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
Best Supporting Actress: CATE BLANCHETT, I'M NOT THERE
Best Director: THE COEN BROTHERS, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
Best Directorial Debut: BEN AFFLECK, GONE BABY GONE
Best Screenplay, Original: JUNO
Best Screenplay, Adapted: ATONEMENT
Best Documentary: SICKO
Best Foreign Language Film: PERSEPOLIS
Best Breakthrough Performance - Male: CASEY AFFLECK, THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES
Best Breakthrough Performance - Female: ELLEN PAGE, JUNO
Best Animated Feature: RATATOUILLE
Best Ensemble: JUNO

Let's hope for some good surprises. Reactions tomorrow.

Poster-to-DVD Frustration

I am always a fan of a clever poster. And I sometime do not even mind floating heads. My walls are currently adorned with posters cut out from the New York Times Sunday Arts & Leisure section for the following films: The Assassination of Jesse James, In the Valley of Elah, No Country for Old Men, Gone Baby Gone, Charlie Wilson's War, Sweeney Todd, American Gangster, I Am Legend, and The Golden Compass. Additionally, I have real posters for Bee Movie, Into the Wild, Across the Universe, Knocked Up, Kill Bill, The Darjeeling Limited, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and TV series "Dexter" and "24". Some of those will soon be replaced by NY Times ads for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, I'm Not There, Atonement, and The Savages. As you can tell, I am not that selective with the posters I choose to put up.

But what really gets me is when a terrific poster is completely ruined when the transition to DVD is made. In cases like "Find Me Guilty", the poster is awful and somehow the DVD ends up being even worse by taking out the background elements. I would never have seen that movie anyway, but I am saddened about a film I did like which was butchered during the transition to DVD. First Snow, starring Guy Pearce, is a mysterious thriller which had the poster with Pearce walking through the snow below. Not terribly clever, but not bad at all. It made me want to see it. But the DVD cover destroys all that by having all the characters look dumb and brightening the whole thing so that there is no longer an air of mystery. I lament this unfortunate event but hope that people will still see this terrific but little-seen film (it grossed only $300,000 worldwide). Don't judge a book by its cover, especially not in the case of this DVD.


Preliminary SAG Predictions: Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Motion Picture

The following represents some preliminary thoughts on Screen Actors’ Guild Awards contenders for the given category. Predictions will be revisited following the announcement of the Golden Globe Awards nominations, which often solidifies the contenders. SAG categories often match up 60-100% with corresponding Oscar categories, though SAG tends to recognize some more independent fare every once in a while.

Last year’s winner:
HELEN MIRREN, THE QUEEN

The top contenders:
KEIRA KNIGHTLEY, ATONEMENT
She is rumored not to have a substantial role in the highly anticipated and raved-about film. The fact that she missed out on a nomination two years ago for “Pride & Prejudice” does not help matters. The force of the film, and the fact that Knightley seems to be choosing more mature roles these days, may overcome those obstacles.

JULIE CHRISTIE, AWAY FROM HER
Christie is a revered actress who chose a challenging role and delivered a performance which earned amazing reviews. Christie missed out on a nomination for 1997’s “Afterglow” before earning an Oscar nod, but I think that “Away from Her”, or at least her performance, should be more widely embraced and easily earn her a SAG nomination.

CATE BLANCHETT, ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE
Blanchett’s performance is not nearly as good as it was back in 1998, when Blanchett lost this award to Gwyneth Paltrow for “Shakespeare in Love” (the travesty!). Still, competition is weak and the recent awards love for Blanchett, as well as her supporting role this year in “I’m Not There”, may catapult her to the top of the nominations list.

ELLEN PAGE, JUNO
Page is the breakout star of a comedy that is sure to be a hit. Comedies are not really a handicap at the SAG Awards, but Page’s age is a factor she will have to overcome. Since the inception of the awards in 1994, only one actress as young as Page has been nominated, and that was for a serious role: Evan Rachel Wood for “Thirteen” in 2003.

TANG WEI, LUST, CAUTION
The few people who saw it loved Wei’s performance, but there is literally no buzz for this film. The reason I place Wei on this list is that foreign performers have had great success in this category in the past few years (Catalina Sandino Moreno for “Maria Full of Grace”, Ziyi Zhang for “Memoirs of a Geisha”, and Penelope Cruz for “Volver”). With the current trend, Wei should easily find her way to a nomination, but I think that is highly unlikely.

ANGELINA JOLIE, A MIGHTY HEART
I am not sure if everyone is underestimating this performance or if I am simply overestimating it. It was very small and early, and voters will likely be remembering Jolie as Grendel’s mother in “Beowulf”. Still, I think Jolie can go the distance much like the similarly serious “United 93” managed to do last year despite an early release and controversial subject matter.

LAURA LINNEY, THE SAVAGES
Linney is a respected actress with two recent nominations from the people at SAG. She was snubbed for a similarly dry performance in “The Squid and the Whale” two years ago, but she should have a much easier time making it in this year, provided voters like the film, which they definitely should.

HELENA BONHAM CARTER, SWEENEY TODD
I am not sure if she is definitely a lead, but SAG is usually generous with category promotions (Jennifer Connelly was considered a lead for “A Beautiful Mind”). Carter has not had too many big roles lately and has not figured into an awards race since 1997’s “The Wings of the Dove”, for which she received a nomination. As I commented with Depp, I think “Sweeney Todd” will be passed over by SAG.

MARION COTILLARD, LA VIE EN ROSE
Did I mention that foreign performers have a great shot in this category? And that Cotillard has received unqualified raves for her performance, which I can say is absolutely mesmerizing. I see no possible scenario in which she is left off the list.

KERI RUSSELL, WAITRESS
I am really just making stuff up here. The best actress race is usually down to about seven or so candidates (Wei, Irglova, and Russell would be the fillers for this race), but I want to include ten to capture the fringe-possibilities. Russell was terrific in the film and has been getting a lot of work lately (“August Rush”, a guest spot on “Scrubs”), but I think her film was too small and too long ago. Plus, it is really only a seven-person race.

Current predictions:
JULIE CHRISTIE, AWAY FROM HER
ELLEN PAGE, JUNO
ANGELINA JOLIE, A MIGHTY HEART
LAURA LINNEY, THE SAVAGES
MARION COTILLARD, LA VIE EN ROSE