Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Mess of a Thriller: Vantage Point

Vantage Point
Directed by Pete Travis
Released February 22, 2008

The trailers made it look cool. In theory presidental assassinations are the best plots for films. What viewers might not know what to expect is that a very lacking setup is the starting point for continuous replays of the same scenario from a different point of view. Seeing pretty much the same thing over and over does not make it good, and that replay style accounts for well over an hour of the film's hour and a half runtime. That is not the film's main problem, but it certainly does it no help. The plot is jumbled and the twists make little to no sense. None of the motivations behind the beliefs and betrayals of each of the characters is ever explained - some of them just allude to the fact that "Americans are stupid and ignorant" and will "pay the price". None of the cast members stand out, and Dennis Quaid, Forest Whitaker, Sigourney Weaver, and Matthew Fox all need to find better venues for their considerable talents. This film just gets more and more annoying until it reaches its unsatisfying and rather bland conclusion.

F

If you want to see something good about presidential assassination attempts, check out the following:

JFK
This Oliver Stone conspiracy thriller examines the assassination of JFK and all the mystery surrounding it to the most exact detail. It may be fiction, but it sure is fascinating. Kevin Costner turns in one of his best performances (considerably better than the majority of his work) and this four-hour film (at least the director's cut) actually passes fairly quickly.

In the Line of Fire
Wolfgang Petersen guides this tense and thrilling movie about a clever assassin who plays mind games with a secret service agent played with grim determination by Clint Eastwood. John Malkovich is amazing as the brilliant but definitely evil John Booth, as the assassin calls himself. This is purely and simply what a thriller should be - and you won't be let down.

24: Season One
During the first eight or so hours of the show's groundbreaking first season, there is nothing more exciting or suspenseful than the threat against presidential candidate Senator David Palmer. Add in all the Jack Bauer/Counter Terrorist Unit stuff and that's great too, but around 6 a.m. this is one assassination attempt you will not be able to look away from.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A Winning Comedy: Charlie Bartlett

Charlie Bartlett
Directed by Jon Poll
Released February 22, 2008

This long-delayed film, which had trailers debuting in theatres last summer, manages to improve on its already-terrific trailer. Anton Yelchin stars as misfit high school student Charlie Bartlett who longs for universal acclaim from his peers, and finds it after he starts dealing prescription drugs with the resident mohawk-sprouting bully. A refreshing trait about Charlie is that he is not needy, and does not act if as he cares what happens to him. He gets his head dunked in a toilet, gets suspended from school, and more - without ever looking sad or defeated. It is his immutable positive attitude that carries the film. Yelchin is a great actor, which I knew already from the pilot episode of "Huff", and I look forward to seeing what he does next. Kat Dennings, who plays his love interest in the film, may need to work on not being typecast as the slightly goth, abnormal-but-still-normal best girl friend character. Robert Downey Jr. and Hope Davis are perfectly cast in their limited but entertaining roles. The biggest and best surprise is "One Tree Hill" alum/singer Tyler Hilton, who is both hilarious and sympathetic as the aforementioned punk bully. The film might be forgettable, but it is a great ride throughout its runtime.

B+

Monday, February 25, 2008

A Wonderful Night

All in all, this was really a great time. My first real Oscar soiree was complemented by an enjoyable ceremony and my first-ever entry into a real pool. Sad to say, I lost by one category in both the overall and the top six. I correctly predicted 12/24 (50%) and four out of the top six (or, a better statistic - six out of the top eight, down one from last year's seven). My statistics are pretty much on par with last year, since I did not predict the short films then (though my picks for the animated and live action short categories, from which I have seen all the films, were shafted in favor of the less impressive though not-quite-bad choices "The Mozart of Pickpockets" and the lengthy "Peter and the Wolf"). My proudest moment is calling Marion Cotillard, but I am saddened that my prediction for "Juno" upsetting did not occur. The biggest suprises of the night:

Tilda Swinton winning. I thought it might happen, but did not have the guts. It really does feel like just something to give "Michael Clayton" a trophy. Regardless, at least it was not Ruby Dee. Blanchett and Ryan both got honored at different guilds this year, and Blanchett is sure to be back, while Ryan and Ronan may have some trouble returning to the field.

"The Golden Compass" triumphs over "Transformers" in the Best Visual Effects category. I guess people really loved those blimps. I mean, I enjoyed the effects most about "Transformers" but was underwhelmed by "The Golden Compass", but I suppose the effects were the best. Also surprising that the final "Bourne" installment swept up all three trophies it was nominated for, Best Film Editing, Sound, and Sound Editing. That feels like a "The Return of the King"-like sweep, which I hate with a passion. Neither of the previous, far more deserving Bourne films were even nominated for anything, and this disappointing rip-off of the second one did not merit the acclaim it got, nor the trophies.

"Taxi to the Dark Side" beating out "Sicko". The former was quite good, but I presumed that viewers would find it so immensely disturbing that they would be sickened and choose to go with something more slightly uplighting but still as poignant. I do think "Sicko" was a slightly better movie, but I suppose it is good that people will now go out and see it. A fair warning - this is the most disturbing movie I have ever seen. Do not go into this expecting anything positive - it is extremely difficult to watch and sticks with you quite a bit. It is a great film, however.

Overall:
The show was a lot of fun, with some good montages and some great fake-montages. Jon Stewart did an excellent job without hogging the spotlight. Jonah Hill and Seth Rogen were a lot of fun as presenters, and the show did not feel too long despite running until about 11:45. The wins were actually quite spread out, with "No Country" taking home four awards (I originally wrote five, but I'm not sure how I counted), "The Bourne Ultimatum" taking home three, "There Will Be Blood" and "La Vie en Rose" with two apiece, and the rest relegated to one trophy each. No movie with more than two nominations (save for "Transformers" and "Enchanted") was snubbed, so this year was good with spreading the wealth. I myself am quite excited for next year, and agree wholeheartedly with Dave Karger's picks on the likely candidates for next year's Best Picture list. Then again, no one would have thought that "Juno" would be nominated a year ago, and I remember telling myself that there was no way that a movie called "There Will Be Blood" could possibly be nominated for Best Picture.

I will now of course be shifting my attention fully to the Emmy Awards, which are not as far away as you might think (nominees are announced in mid-July). Check out TV with Abe, my corresponding TV blog, for all the latest on that in the coming months. In the meantime, I will be posting my top 25 films of the year in the next week or so. I am quite behind on my reviews - I have thoughts to offer on "Charlie Bartlett", "Vantage Point", and "Chicago 10", so stick around for that.

Good night.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Final Oscar Winner Predictions

These are my final Oscar Winner Predictions. This is my fifth year making official predictions before the telecast, and in that time, I have only missed the Best Picture winner once, when in 2004 I predicted an upset for "Sideways" over the only slightly surprising "Million Dollar Baby" ("The Aviator" had been favored by many to win). I am most pulling for some really exciting surprises. The 2003 telecast was incredibly boring, and I got all but 4 categories right only because I dared to assume that "The Return of the King" would not win all 11 of its nominations, and that "The Triplets of Belleville" would shock by upsetting "Finding Nemo". It is not that I want to do poorly with my predictions, but rather I would like there to be an exciting telecast.

In terms of last-minute jitters, the Independent Spirit Awards yesterday do little to inform tonight's potential winners. I accidentally missed the telecast, assuming it was at night rather than at 5pm ET, but tuned in just in time to see Ellen Page and "Juno" take home the final awards of the evening, and host Rainn Wilson declare "Philip Seymour Hoffman, prepare to die!" before charging into the audience to tackle one Philip Seymour Hoffman. Regardless, only one Oscar-nominated person/film was present in each category (save for Best Director, where "Juno" helmer Jason Reitman was also nominated) - and they all won. "Juno" for Best Picture, First Screenplay, and Actress; Cate Blanchett for Best Supporting Actress for "I'm Not There", Julian Schnabel for Best Director, and "The Savages" triumphed in Best Screenplay over the adapted (therefore nominated in a different Oscar category) "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly". I did some quick research, and in the twenty-plus-year history of the Independent Spirit Awards, no film that has won Best Picture has gone on to win the corresponding Oscar except for in the second year with "Platoon". In fact, every year, only one eventual Oscar Best Picture nominee has been nominated in any given year and they have all won the award (in 2005, "Brokeback Mountain" beat "Capote" and "Good Night, and Good Luck" but all three lost to the non-ISA-recognized "Crash" at the Oscars). So is this, as some say, the kiss of death? Does this mean that "Juno", Schnabel, Page, and Blanchett have already taken home their trophies and will not win tonight? I am still predicting "Juno" for Best Picture and Blanchett for Best Supporting Actress.

I would be honestly surprised if Schnabel won Best Director mostly because no director has won that award without a corresponding Best Picture nomination since I don't even know when (definitely well before the '70s, if it ever happened). I would sort of love for "Atonement" to win Best Picture because the reverse, where the Best Picture winner is not even nominated for Best Director, is just as rare (though it did happen in 1989 with "Driving Miss Daisy"). All I know is that I am excited for tonight's telecast and have a slight inkling that Tilda Swinton might win Best Supporting Actress, but I will stick with my original prediction. That category can go any way. I am thrilled to see "Falling Slowly" from "Once" performed, as well as all the clips they show every year. I am in the mood for some exciting winners tonight, and I think it should be a great show.

My final predictions:

BEST PICTURE: Juno

BEST DIRECTOR: Ethan and Joel Coen, No Country for Old Men

BEST ACTOR: Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood

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 ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Diablo Cody, Juno

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Ethan and Joel Coen, No Country for Old Men

CINEMATOGRAPHY: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

FILM EDITING: No Country for Old Men

ART DIRECTION: Atonement

COSTUME DESIGN: Atonement

ORIGINAL SCORE: Atonement

ORIGINAL SONG: “Falling Slowly” from Once

SOUND: No Country for Old Men

SOUND EDITING: There Will Be Blood

MAKEUP: La Vie en Rose

VISUAL EFFECTS: Transformers

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: The Counterfeiters

ANIMATED FEATURE: Ratatouille

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: Sicko

DOCUMENTARY SHORT: Freeheld

ANIMATED SHORT: I Met the Walrus

LIVE-ACTION SHORT: Tanghi Argentini

Oscar Predictions: Best Picture


The nominees:
ATONEMENT
JUNO
MICHAEL CLAYTON
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
THERE WILL BE BLOOD


My ballot: 0/5
Who should win: “Juno”, “Atonement”, or “No Country for Old Men”
Who will win: Some quick statistics: no film has won Best Picture in recent years without a Best Director nomination except for “Driving Miss Daisy” in 1989. No film has won Best Picture in recent years without a Best Film Editing nomination since “Ordinary People” in 1980. Those could be two huge handicappers for Atonement and Juno, respectively. Jason Reitman’s directing nomination helps the chances of the latter quite a bit. The expected winner is No Country for Old Men, while There Will Be Blood could mine some last-minute support which rarely works but sort of did for “Million Dollar Baby” (though it failed for “Letters from Iwo Jima”). I am betting that all signs indicate to “No Country” by this point in the telecast but then Juno takes a surprise win.

Oscar Predictions: Best Director


The nominees:
JULIAN SCHNABEL, THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY
JASON REITMAN, JUNO
TONY GILROY, MICHAEL CLAYTON
THE COEN BROTHERS, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON, THERE WILL BE BLOOD


My ballot
: 1/5, Schnabel
Who should win: Schnabel or the Coen Brothers
Who will win: The pure and simple fact is that the Coen Brothers have never won an Oscar. If they had, this would be completely up for grabs. I do think it will be them taking home this award. The other statistic is that the other four are all first-time nominees, and Schnabel and Anderson may have a good shot at upsetting.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Oscar Nominees: Best Documentary


The nominees:
NO END IN SIGHT
OPERATION HOMECOMING
SICKO
TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE
WAR/DANCE


My ballot: I have only seen the nominated documentaries and “Darfur Now”, but I really like these five and feel that they are all deserving of their nominations, and would likely add them to my own list if I made one.
Who should win: Again, they are all great, but “Sicko” stands out as the most well-made and captivating film.
Who will win: Michael Moore should take home his second Oscar for the appealing Sicko, though I suspect that all the politically-driven nominees may appear on stage just as the nominees in this category did the last time Moore won in 2002.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Oscar Nominees: Best Live Action Short


The nominees:
AT NIGHT (A-)
An ultra-serious but supremely affecting story about three young women in a cancer ward.
THE MOZART OF PICKPOCKETS (B+)
Two thieves find a young boy who seems interested in joining them in their criminal exploits in this funny comedy.
THE SUBSTITUTE (B+)
A hyperactive and bizarre substitute challenges the way things are run in an Italian high school.
TANGHI ARGENTINI (A-)
An amusing comedy that has its touching moments and some great dancing, and culminates in a truly sweet ending.
THE TONTO WOMAN (D)
Francesco Quinn does his best Zoolander impression as a thief looking to make trouble in this Western. It seems like a prerequisite for this genre for its films to be lengthy, and this film certainly supports that opinion.

Who should win: “At Night” was probably the best of the bunch, but I was so happy with “Tanghi Argentini” that I would love to see that take home a win.
Who will win: By process of elimination, it may actually be Tanghi Argentini. At Night is too serious, The Mozart of Pickpockets too immoral, The Substitute too out there, and The Tonto Woman just sucks.

Images are from Oscar.com

Oscar Nominees: Best Animated Short


The nominees:
EVEN PIGEONS GO TO HEAVEN (B+)
The most universally likeable of the bunch. The story of a priest trying to sell a machine that takes the user directly to heaven.
I MET THE WALRUS (A-)
A humorous and thought-provoking montage of images set to a tape-recorded conversation with John Lennon.
MADAME TUTLI-PUTLI (C+)
What starts out as a funny and offbeat comedy turns into a dark and dreary incomprehensible mess of a train ride
MY LOVE (C)
This swirling adventure looks like an impressionist painting and is certainly impressive on an artistic level but tells a dull, convoluted love story.
PETER & THE WOLF (B)
A young boy tries to outsmart a wolf in this entertaining but somewhat distracted and overlong tale.

Who should win: I loved “I Met the Walrus” but would be just as happy with “Even Pigeons Go To Heaven”
Who will win: My bet is I Met the Walrus.

Images are from Oscar.com

Oscar Nominees: Best Documentary Short


The nominees:
FREEHELD
LA CORONA
SALIM BABA
SARI’S MOTHER


Who should win: I have not seen any of these, nor any documentary shorts at all, for that matter.
Who will win: Reading the summaries from Oscar.com, my best guess would be Freeheld.

Images are from Oscar.com

Oscar Nominees: Best Animated Film


The nominees:
RATATOUILLE
PERSEPOLIS
SURF’S UP


My ballot: I did not give an animated film award, but “Persepolis” might be on the list and “Ratatouille” definitely would.
Who should win: “Ratatouille”
Who will win: There is no contest here: Ratatouille.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Foreign Film


The nominees:
BEAUFORT
THE COUNTERFEITERS
KATYN
MONGOL
12


My ballot: I am not giving this award out because I have not seen enough of the films.
Who should win: I really liked “Beaufort”, but “The Counterfeiters” is very good too. The other three have not been released in the U.S. so I have no comment.
Who will win: Since I have only seen 2/5, I can only speculate, but my guess is The Counterfeiters.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Visual Effects


The nominees:
THE GOLDEN COMPASS
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 3
TRANSFORMERS


My ballot: 1/3, “Transformers”
Who should win: “Transformers”
Who will win: This is a lock for the effects-heavy Transformers.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Makeup


The nominees:
NORBIT
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 3
LA VIE EN ROSE


My ballot: 0/3
Who should win: “La Vie en Rose” (though I have not seen “Norbit”)
Who will win: I would honestly be horrified if anything but the deserving La Vie en Rose won out here.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Sound Editing


The nominees:
THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
RATATOUILLE
THERE WILL BE BLOOD
TRANSFORMERS


My ballot: 0/5, though again I know little about sound
Who should win: “There Will Be Blood” or “Transformers”
Who will win: This may go to Transformers, but I think this is where There Will Be Blood will manage a surprise win, like “Letters from Iwo Jima” last year beating out “Apocalypto”, “Blood Diamond”, and “Pirates of the Caribbean 2”.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Sound


The nominees:
THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
RATATOUILLE
3:10 TO YUMA
TRANSFORMERS


My ballot: 0/5, though I do not know too much about sound
Who should win: “Transformers”
Who will win: While the loud, action-packed Transformers may be considered a frontrunner, the subtle silence of No Country for Old Men may prevail here.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Original Song


The nominees:
“Raise It Up” from AUGUST RUSH
“Happy Working Song” from ENCHANTED
“So Close” from ENCHANTED
“That’s How You Know” from ENCHANTED
“Falling Slowly” from ONCE

My ballot: 1/5, “Once”
Who should win: “Once”
Who will win: After its Golden Globe snub, it seems even more likely that Once will get rewarded here. This list only matches up 1/5 with the Globe lineup, but I do not think any of these other songs are beloved enough to get a win.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Original Score


The nominees:
ATONEMENT
THE KITE RUNNER
MICHAEL CLAYTON
RATATOUILLE
3:10 TO YUMA


My ballot: 2/5, “Atonement” and “Ratatouille”
Who should win: “Atonement”
Who will win: It could go any way, but this seems to be the most solid of the potential wins for the crew members of Atonement.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Costume Design


The nominees:
ACROSS THE UNIVERSE
ATONEMENT
ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE
SWEENEY TODD
LA VIE EN ROSE


My ballot
: 2/5, “Atonement” and “Elizabeth: The Golden Age”
Who should win: “Atonement”
Who will win: This could be the place that Elizabeth: The Golden Age shines, though a tribute to the late Marit Allen, who worked on La Vie en Rose, could prove to be an upset her. I think that Atonement wins another one here.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Art Direction


The nominees:
AMERICAN GANGSTER
ATONEMENT
THE GOLDEN COMPASS
SWEENEY TODD
THERE WILL BE BLOOD


My ballot: 2/5, “Atonement” and “Sweeney Todd”
Who should win: “Sweeney Todd”
Who will win: The lack of overwhelming nominations for Sweeney Todd leads me to suspect that this one goes to Atonement but I am wary of a last-minute outpouring of love for There Will Be Blood.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Film Editing


The nominees:
THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM
THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY
INTO THE WILD
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
THERE WILL BE BLOOD


My ballot: 1/5, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”
Who should win: “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” or “Into the Wild”
Who will win: The American Cinema Editors chose The Bourne Ultimatum, but the only film to recently win this award without a Best Picture nomination was “The Matrix”, which was probably a lock for the honor back in 1999 when it picked up four technical awards. A toss-up, but I think No Country for Old Men takes this, further confusing everyone before the shocking choice I think will be made for Best Picture (more on that later).

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Cinematography


The nominees:
THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES
ATONEMENT
THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
THERE WILL BE BLOOD


My ballot: 3/5, “The Assassination of Jesse James”, “Atonement” and “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”
Who should win: “Atonement”
Who will win: The ASC gave their award to There Will Be Blood, but this is such a fabulous selection of nominees that I feel like anything could happen. No Country for Old Men may sweep, but I think that this is the place where The Diving Bell and the Butterfly will be rewarded for its unique vision.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Adapted Screenplay


The nominees:
ATONEMENT
AWAY FROM HER
THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
THERE WILL BE BLOOD


My ballot: 2/5, “Atonement” and “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”
Who should win: “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”
Who will win: This category is much more volatile than the corresponding original one, because any one of these films (save for Away from Her) can surge and gobble up all the awards. Ronald Harwood surprised with a win in 2002 for “The Pianist”, and he is nominated again this year for The Diving Bell but the film’s snub for Best Picture indicates to me that it will not be taking home this award. I prefer to stay safe and stick with No Country for Old Men.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Original Screenplay


The nominees:
JUNO
LARS AND THE REAL GIRL
MICHAEL CLAYTON
RATATOUILLE
THE SAVAGES


My ballot: 2/5, “Juno” and “Ratatouille”
Who should win: “Juno”
Who will win: The WGA choose Juno as their winner, and the past few years, the presumed favorite has always taken it: “Lost in Translation”, “Eternal Sunshine”, “Crash”, and “Little Miss Sunshine”. I have read theories that Michael Clayton may upset, but I see no reason why Juno will not take home the Oscar.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Actress in a Supporting Role


The nominees:
RUBY DEE, AMERICAN GANGSTER
SAOIRSE RONAN, ATONEMENT
AMY RYAN, GONE BABY GONE
CATE BLANCHETT, I’M NOT THERE
TILDA SWINTON, MICHAEL CLAYTON


My ballot: 1/5, Ronan
Who should win: Ronan or Blanchett
Who will win: The only person I do not see winning is Ronan. The race was originally between Blanchett and Ryan, but then Dee won the SAG and suddenly her five-minute performance is up for a career tribute Oscar. I refuse to believe that she can win, but I do see the possibility of an upset by Swinton, who has lost out on most major trophies (save the BAFTA recently) and could finally be rewarded. I still go with my gut and say Blanchett.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Actor in a Supporting Role


The nominees:
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


My ballot: 2/5, Affleck and Bardem
Who should win: Affleck or Bardem
Who will win: This would appear to be Bardem, though both Affleck and Holbrook have a shot, for different reasons. Affleck has lost out on pretty much every major trophy to Bardem so this could be his chance to shine, but I see no sign of “No Country for Old Men” lagging so I find that unlikely. As far as Holbrook goes, he is 82 and may well get a career tribute Oscar, but I feel like that is much for likely for Ruby Dee in the Supporting Actress category.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Actress in a Leading Role


The nominees:
JULIE CHRISTIE, AWAY FROM HER
CATE BLANCHETT, ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE
ELLEN PAGE, JUNO
LAURA LINNEY, THE SAVAGES
MARION COTILLARD, LA VIE EN ROSE


My ballot: 2/5, Page and Cotillard
Who should win: Page or Cotillard
Who will win: This is an interesting race because Christie is currently the frontrunner but Cotillard may surge and Page may upset. This race has not really been a contest since 2001, which sort of falls before my time Oscar-wise. In 2002, Renee Zellweger did beat out fellow Globe winner Nicole Kidman for the SAG, only to lose the Oscar to Kidman. I think that will be the case here, with Cotillard taking it home.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Actor in a Leading Role


The nominees:
VIGGO MORTENSEN, EASTERN PROMISES
TOMMY LEE JONES, IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH
GEORGE CLOONEY, MICHAEL CLAYTON
JOHNNY DEPP, SWEENEY TODD
DANIEL DAY-LEWIS, THERE WILL BE BLOOD


My ballot: 2/5, Jones and Day-Lewis
Who should win: Day-Lewis
Who will win: Day-Lewis has this one locked up.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

AFT Awards: Best Ensemble Performance


This is the twenty-sixth category of the 1st Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are listed in alphabetical order by film title. Winners will be announced in late February.

Runners-up:
THE DARJEELING LIMITED
EAGLE VS. SHARK
DAYS OF GLORY
THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES
SUPERBAD


The nominees:
AFTER THE WEDDING
AVENUE MONTAIGNE
THE BUBBLE
JUNO
THE LIVES OF OTHERS

AFT Awards: Best Director


This is the twenty-fifth category of the 1st Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are listed in alphabetical order by film title. Winners will be announced in late February.

Runners-up:
WAITRESS
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
A MIGHTY HEART
AVENUE MONTAIGNE
GONE BABY GONE


The nominees:
AFTER THE WEDDING (Susanne Bier)
THE BUBBLE (Eytan Fox)
THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY (Julian Schnabel)
EASTERN PROMISES (David Cronenberg)
THE LIVES OF OTHERS (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)

AFT Awards: Best Adapted Screenplay


This is the twenty-fourth category of the 1st Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are listed in alphabetical order by film title. Winners will be announced in late February.

Runners-up:
STARTER FOR 10
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
A MIGHTY HEART
PARIS, JE T’AIME
HAIRSPRAY


The nominees:
THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES (Andrew Dominik)
ATONEMENT (Christopher Hampton)
THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY (Ronald Harwood)
GONE BABY GONE (Ben Affleck & Aaron Stockard)
INTO THE WILD (Sean Penn)

AFT Awards: Best Original Screenplay


This is the twenty-third category of the 1st Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are listed in alphabetical order by film title. Winners will be announced in late February.

Runners-up:
BEE MOVIE
KNOCKED UP
AVENUE MONTAIGNE
AFTER THE WEDDING
THE BUBBLE


The nominees:
EAGLE VS. SHARK (Taika Cohen)
JUNO (Diablo Cody)
THE LIVES OF OTHERS (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)
RATATOUILLE (Brad Bird)
WAITRESS (Adrienne Shelly)

Monday, February 18, 2008

AFT Awards: Best Trailer


This is the twenty-second category of the 1st Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are listed in alphabetical order by film title. Winners will be announced in late February.

The films themselves may have been a letdown, but this category recognizes the quality of the trailers. The trailers referred to are usually specific, especially in the case of “Atonement” and “I Am Legend”, which had brilliant later versions of the trailers which were simply stunning. Watch out for minor spoilers, especially in the write-up for “Atonement”.

Runners-up:
THE GOLDEN COMPASS
FIRST SNOW
SUPERBAD
JUNO
THE KINGDOM


The nominees:
AMERICAN GANGSTER Watch Trailer
From its first appearance around the same time as the trailer for “We Own the Night”, it seemed clear that this film would be this year’s “The Departed”. A loud, thrashing score fueled the energy of both Denzel Washington’s mobster and Russell Crowe’s dogged investigator. The two appeared to be a perfect match, perfectly paralleling each other in a story where it might not be clear who was the hero and who was the villain. Terrific editing wrapped this film up like a pre-holiday present.

ATONEMENT Watch Trailer
It opens with the sound of typewriter keys and dazzling shots of Keira Knightley and James McAvoy sauntering and sweating in the heat. This version of the trailer in particular gives away little of the plot, summing up the film’s early half in a mere thirty seconds or so. After that, there is very little dialogue, save for Briony’s apology, and the film’s beautiful score is utilized so effectively and paired with both beautiful and chilling shots, culminating in that haunting scene of Knightley looking up as water floods in. A trailer that captures the best elements of the film and is even better to watch after seeing the movie.

I AM LEGEND Watch Trailer
This is an evenly split trailer which spends its first half explaining what happened (“I’m not infected! I’m not infected!) without giving away too much, and showing Will Smith walking around the desolate, deserted New York City. Pure imagery and a word or two here and there does the trick. It is the trailer’s second half that really gets the blood flowing. A frightening declaration of “Night” sends the film into a montage of action scenes accompanied by remixed music from “The Fountain”. A ten-second sequence of Smith running from the infected zombies starts it off, and right before the title shows up, a whole lot of those things swarm out of the fountain in Washington Square Park. This is going to be one hell of a ride.

THE SAVAGES Watch Trailer
The interplay of colors and alert levels is charming, and the seemingly aloof attitudes of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney contrast perfectly. Music originally used effectively in the “Stranger than Fiction” trailer works just as well here, previewing what looks like a dramedy with a sharply comedic edge. A great trailer which picks out the only funny moments in a deeply dramatic film.

WAITRESS Watch Trailer
It is hard to go wrong with pie and the half-smile Keri Russell carries around on her face. What is especially great about this trailer is that it creates its own individualistic style, which exists also in the film but becomes readily apparent in only two minutes here. Russell’s amusing “Flambé, of course” in response to her smartly-named delicacies complete the comedy of this amusing and heartwarming preview.

AFT Awards: Best Movie No One Saw


This is the twenty-first category of the 1st Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are listed in alphabetical order by film title. Winners will be announced in late February.

If you have seen any of these films, that is terrific. Otherwise, find these films that had a tough time finding theatres to play in on DVD and give them a shot. I am not including foreign films in this category, but I am allowing six nominees.

The nominees:
DELIRIOUS
The two friends who came with me to see it (arguably the only two people besides me who did see it) hated it, but I enjoyed this mellow story of a paparazzo who takes in a homeless guy as his assistant. I will not say more for fear of giving away the plot, but a terrific performance by Alison Lohman is not the only worthwhile thing about this enjoyable though somewhat forgettable film.

EAGLE VS. SHARK
Quite possibly the funniest movie of the year. “Flight of the Conchords” singer Jemaine Clement is perfectly paired with the subdued yet wonderful Loren Horsley is an enjoyable and endearing film that I so wish I had gone to see way back when the stars and filmmakers were at NYU promoting it.

FIRST SNOW
They gave me a survey to fill out after I saw it since it was only playing at three theatres in the country. Despite the fact that the DVD cover nearly kills it, this is a great film that truly utilizes its wintry setting to enhance the spooky, mysterious nature of its denouement.

PUCCINI FOR BEGINNERS
I raved about this film back when I first saw it and reviewed it. On second viewing, it is not quite as awe-inspiring, but it is still a fun, light, inventive romantic comedy that pretty much uses New York City as one of its performers and to great effect. Fantastic performances all-around by this crew.

SNOW CAKE
I never even thought I was going to see this after it was supposed to be a late 2006 release. Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman give tremendously affecting performances as an autistic woman and the man who feels responsible for the death of her daughter, respectively. Another wintry film that uses its setting wonderfully.

STARTER FOR 10
Forget “Atonement”: the James McAvoy movie of the year is “Starter for 10”, a charming comedy about a student who becomes an active member of a trivia challenge team while falling simultaneously for two different women. McAvoy is great and so is the cast working with him.

AFT Awards: Worst Movie of the Year


This is the twentieth category of the 1st Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are listed in alphabetical order by film title. Winners will be announced in late February.

I have said most of what I feel about these films in the full reviews I posted a while back. Check those out for further thoughts on why these movies are among the worst of the year.

Runners-up:
BEOWULF
TRANSFORMERS
SLEUTH
THE SIMPSONS MOVIE
300


The nominees:
GOYA’S GHOSTS
Javier Bardem had better hope that no one sees this dismal failure of a film if he wants to win the Oscar for “No Country for Old Men”. Both he and Natalie Portman are trapped in the worst roles of their careers in a film that is horrifically bad and not even meagerly enjoyable if watched with a mocking eye. The story of an Inquisition official given a taste of his own medicine by a devoted father has nothing to offer – and even casts Portman as her own daughter.

NEXT
There is not one ounce of sense in this film. Cage walks around as if he is the coolest thing since sliced bread, anticipating the next two minutes of his future. Instead of taking off from this intriguing premise, the film stays grounded in a twist – he can see further into the future of one girl! – and some embarrassing acting by Cage, Julianne Moore, and Jessica Biel.

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END
The first one was excellent, the second was bad, and this one is just ugly. Johnny Depp being alive in the first place makes no sense, and this final installment is relegated to senseless physical comedy and an even more inane plot (Keira Knightley as the pirate king – say what?). Tack on a miserable ending and this is one pitiful end to a trilogy that should just have been one terrific film.

SOUTHLAND TALES
It is incredibly difficult to describe this movie. The director of the wildly popular cult classic “Donnie Darko” takes another stab at end-of-the-world fatalistic drama with infinitely less success. The first half (of two and a half hours!) is bizarre and puzzling, while the second half further enhances the confusion and makes literally no sense. It is still fascinating to watch to try and understand who thought any of this was a good idea, but it gets awfully boring when there is no coherent payoff of any kind.

WALK HARD
Judd Apatow was on such a hot streak with “Knocked Up” and “Superbad” and then he had to go and co-write this abysmal parody of “Ray” and “Walk the Line” (not two films that to me seem moral targets for parody, but that is besides the point), capitalizing on the pain and suffering of each of the performers and making it into a running, gratingly unfunny joke. John C. Reilly and Jenna Fischer disgrace their good names with their participation in this film.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

AFT Awards: Best Scene in a Bad Movie


This is the nineteenth category of the 1st Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are listed in alphabetical order by film title. Winners will be announced in late February.

This category is designed to recognize moments of brightness in dim, poorly played-out films that came out this year. They may not be the greatest scenes (the ones from “Walk Hard”, especially) but they do glimmer for a moment and produce laughter, fright, or a surprising thrill. Minor spoilers of course, but avoid reading the summary of the scene from “Sunshine” if you have not yet seen the film.

BEOWULF
I mentioned in my review that I was bored as anything and started counting how many times star Ray Winstone shouted “I AM BEOWULF!” By far the most exciting part of this disaster is when Winstone, as Beowulf, starts a minute-long battle cry which culminates in…you guessed it. The scene is wonderfully cheesy and ridiculously exciting.

SOUTHLAND TALES
Before this film takes a nosedive from bizarre into unrescuable territory, there is a strange scene in which The Rock’s actor and Seann William Scott’s fake cop run into Jon Lovitz’s police officer. The three walk through a hazy backyard while an intriguing score thumps in the background, heading straight for Cheri Oteri bickering with her fake husband-to-be. The real question is what the hell could possibly be going on, but for just a minute, it is fascinating and wondrous.

SUNSHINE
The biggest disappointment of the year (I think that is fair) had one gripping scene which was almost enough to reinvigorate the film, almost towards the end. When Cillian Murphy asks the ship’s computer to calculate the amount of oxygen left, it informs him that there is an additional person on board the ship. For a film that sets itself in the far reaches of space close by the sun where there should be no human life, this is a bone-chilling moment. Unfortunately, it all goes south afterwards and the character’s presence becomes a senseless impossibility.

WALK HARD
Jack Black, Paul Rudd, Jason Schwartzman, and Justin Long as the Beatles. That is enough to get a laugh. Paul Rudd in particular is laugh-out-loud hilarious as John Lennon, and his rendition of the word “imagine” is priceless. If only the hilarity could go on longer – instead, they just keep saying “we…the Beatles” and getting too caught up in the showiness of their impressions (see “I’m Not There” for appropriate impersonation lessons).

WALK HARD

It makes no sense, but John C. Reilly’s Dewey Cox dreams up an image of the brother whose life he cut short by chopping him in half with a machete. For some wonderful reason, his brother is now Jonah Hill (“Superbad”). Hill milks the moment for all it is worth, and he really does a terrific job lighting up an extremely stupid film. His presence does grow tiresome after he keeps popping up for no reason. (I cannot find a screenshot of him in this movie. Did I make it up?)

AFT Awards: Best Ending


This is the eighteenth category of the 1st Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are listed in alphabetical order by film title. Winners will be announced in late February.

Warning: obvious spoilers ahead. Do not read if you have not seen the films mentioned below.

The nominees:
ATONEMENT
“This is all an invented fantasy.” The elderly Briony recounts how both Robbie and Celia died before they ever got a chance to see each other. Celia’s death is the most powerful moment in this finale, as she looks up hauntingly as the water floods in to the tunnel. Yet the movie ends on an interesting note that antagonized some – home video-like footage of Robbie and Celia frolicking on the beach, which I take to be the ultimate image of happiness that Briony had for the two lovebirds she kept apart.

FIRST SNOW
There is nothing loud or violent about it. A radio newscaster recounts a fatality from the snowy night where one driver skidded off the road. It is the calm, gloomy aura of the blanketed visuals that drives home the point that Jimmy’s fate was truly inevitable. It gets you thinking and remains memorable without so much as a bang or a gunshot.

THE KINGDOM
Along with “In the Valley of Elah”, this film ends on a strong political note. Ronald reveals what he said to Janet to comfort her – “Don’t worry, we’re going to kill them all.” Cut to the family of the terrorist, comforting each other after his death, and what do they say? The same thing. An interesting message for a movie which was mostly an action extravaganza.

THE LIVES OF OTHERS
A good portion of the final act of this film is quite terrific – but what constitutes an ending? Wiesler running out into the middle of the street to tell her that he moved the typewriter and Dreyman finding out that there were infinite files on him are great scenes, but it is that totally serious, almost joyous line by Wiesler – “It’s for me” that ends the film on a grand note.

SMOKIN' ACES
This was an uneven but exciting film, but the ending completely blows away the rest of the movie in a terrific way. Messner learns that Primo Sparazza is actually the undercover FBI agent, and Buddy Israel is his son. Messner sees the two of them lying next to each other, goes in, thinks to himself for a second, and closes the door before pulling the plug on both of them. Clint Mansell’s terrific “Dead Reckoning” plays over it for one of the best movie endings I have seen in a while.

AFT Awards: Best Opening


This is the seventeenth category of the 1st Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are listed in alphabetical order by film title. Winners will be announced in late February.

Who cares if the movie was good? At least the first few minutes were great!

The nominees:
ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS
That grating song “Bad Day” was on the radio every single day for like a year and it got old instantly. Now, enough time has passed that the song can be played every once in a while without inciting hearing loss for everyone who listens to it. And what is more charming that the chipmunks singing the song while passing acorns amongst each other? That is the only time I can agree with my friends who kept nudging me during the movie and saying, “isn’t it cute?”

THE DARJEELING LIMITED
What is Bill Murray doing in this film, you may ask? Sure, he appeared in three out of four of Wes Anderson’s previous movies, but is he in this one? No, he is going to miss the train by just a few seconds, allowing for the priceless introduction of a sloppy Adrien Brody, who just beats him and grabs hold of the train shortly before it pulls away for good. This opening is great stylistically in relation to the rest of the film and prepares you well for it.

JUNO
A combination of both that couch on the grass and Juno chugging the jug mixed with those graphic novel-esque titles and drawings of Juno. This movie has its own independent spirit and this opening does a great job introducing the eccentric nature of the film. Bonus points for the comic book titles since that later becomes a part of the plot.

SUPERBAD

This movie is roaringly hilarious, but it is the opening titles that really got me into it. The silhouettes of Jonah Hill and Michael Cera dancing make for a surprisingly clean yet still completely awesome start to this raunchy comedy. It sends you back to earlier times before you realize that this is definitely hip, modern-day language once Hill opens his mouth for the first time.

SWEENEY TODD
I cannot describe the excitement that rushed through me when the gloomy neighborhood of Fleet Street appeared on screen to some decidedly wicked music. It is hard to get so into a movie without introducing any of the characters or showing any stars, but this is a perfect example of appropriate music set to some impressive titles. There is no way the movie can be quite as good after that pump-up right at the beginning.

AFT Awards: Best Limited Performance


This is the sixteenth category of the 1st Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are listed in alphabetical order by film title. Winners will be announced in late February.

Some actors make an impact with just a scene or two and precious little screen time. This category is for those performances like that of Mark Wahlberg in “The Departed” last year, which in my opinion does not amount to a large enough role to merit an Oscar nomination in the Best Supporting Actor category. If I had thought Ruby Dee was remotely good or memorable in “American Gangster”, this is where I would recognize her. Marisa Tomei straddles the line for “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”, but I think she belongs in the Best Supporting Actress category.

Runners-up:
PAUL SCHNEIDER, THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES
ANDY GRIFFITH, WAITRESS
PAUL RUDD, WALK HARD
JONAH HILL, WALK HARD


The nominees:
EMILY BLUNT, DAN IN REAL LIFE
The harried, frantic assistant gets a shot here at playing the surprisingly beautiful and charming girl with whom Dan is unwittingly set up. She has but one major scene but she makes the most of it. In her few minutes on screen, she lights it up as the most fascinating and impressive member of the (large) ensemble cast.

J.K. SIMMONS, FIRST SNOW
The character actor is given a wonderful role here as the fortune teller who predicts Guy Pearce’s inevitable death. He seems like a hack, yet there is something undeniable about the look of horror and fear he gets when he first sees Pearce’s future. Simmons injects this minor yet important character with all he has got.

TINA BENKO, PUCCINI FOR BEGINNERS
People often dread bringing their significant other to meet their friends – and in this case, Allegra is right to be afraid. Benko, as the immutable Nell, never gives Philip a chance and immediately begins ripping him to shreds. It is a nice treat to see the vulnerable, devoted girlfriend from “Brotherhood” really show some stones and refuse to back down.

JULIANNE NICHOLSON, PUCCINI FOR BEGINNERS
She appears at the very beginning as the strong, overbearing girlfriend of the neurotic Allegra. Nicholson, whose talent has recently been wasted on the likes of “Law & Order: Criminal Intent”, shines through in just a few brief scenes here and makes her frustrating character sympathetic. Coming off of last year’s “Flannel Pajamas”, she does not share a scene with Justin Kirk, but her performance is just as strong.

JOHN CARROLL LYNCH, ZODIAC
Lynch is hardly in “Zodiac” but he easily gives it its single best moment as a suspect believed to be the Zodiac killer. Lynch is best known for his comic work on “The Drew Carey Show” and as the stamp-making, doting husband in “Fargo”, but it is chilling delivery of one line that makes it here: “I’m not the Zodiac, and if I was, I certainly wouldn’t tell you.” For a film that is not sure of where it wants to go, Lynch certainly keeps the mystery alive spectacularly in this scene.

AFT Awards: Best Breakthrough Performance


This is the fifteenth category of the 1st Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are listed in alphabetical order by film title. Winners will be announced in late February.

This category contains nominees with their first major film roles. I have excluded Saoirse Ronan because she has some previous work and Michael Cera, who has done a whole lot of stuff before this year.

The nominees:
NIKKI BLONSKY, HAIRSPRAY
I hesitate to nominate Blonsky here because I am worried that her excitement might kill her after seeing her reaction to receiving a Golden Globe nomination and winning this trophy at the Critics’ Choice Association Awards. But I must admit that I enjoyed her buoyant performance as the immutable, energetic Tracy Turnblad. She was the main reason that this film worked so well.

MARCUS CARL FRANKLIN, I’M NOT THERE
I wrote about Franklin’s performance in my Best Supporting Actor post. It's really all there. No pun intended.

TANG WEI, LUST, CAUTION
You would never believe this was a debut performance. Wei carries this film and holds her own against veteran actor Tony Leung. Additionally, she fits into the time period so smoothly and really makes you root for her in her espionage efforts. I look forward to seeing her future work.

CHRISTOPHER MINTZ-PLASSE, SUPERBAD
“I am…McLovin!” Within moments of his entrance on screen (that fantastic walking-down-the-hall scene), his performance becomes eternally classic. His fake ID and name adds to the hilarity, and his ease at shamelessly embarrassing himself is astounding. The fact that Mintz-Plasse is probably just like Fogell does not take away from his performance; it makes it even funnier.

ED SANDERS, SWEENEY TODD
Moments before Sacha Baron Cohen upstages Johnny Depp, Sanders pops up as the energetic, sympathetic young indentured servant of sorts whose charm stems from his ability to stretch out the word “please” over a few syllables. He is a terrific singer and his role is far too small for his talent. He works marvelously with Cohen, Depp, and Helena Bonham Carter.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Movie Premiere: Jumper

Jumper
Directed by Doug Liman
Released February 14, 2008

What would you do if you had the ability to teleport? Fast-forward past character development, leaving any sensible ideas behind, and jump straight to the action scenes? That is the means of attack for the new Hayden Christensen action vehicle “Jumper.”

Christensen’s main character David Rice has the power to go anywhere he wants, but what’s the rush? Towards the opening of the film, he brags about his exploits in a number of different countries – all completed in a morning before sitting down for a picnic lunch atop the Egyptian pyramids. It seems likely that David would get tired or burnt out from all this fast-paced jumping and ceaseless adventuring. With all this teleportation, when does he have time to lead a normal life? Family, friends, maybe even a job?

David possesses none of those things. After a near-fatal schoolyard accident that led to his first accidental jump, David abandons his life and proceeds to glean his talents so that he can rob a bank without ever opening a door. David is not a bad guy, because he leaves “I.O.U.” notes at the scenes of his so-called crimes, with every intention of paying back the money he is “borrowing.” But David has no job, no ambition – so how can he possibly hope to right the wrongs he has committed in order to fashion for himself a carefree life of luxury?

That is by far the least of the problems plaguing the movie. At least fifteen years after his presumed death, David suddenly reappears in the life of his boyhood crush Millie. Without even registering shock that he is alive, she promptly agrees to accompany him on a trip to Rome, the travel destination of her dreams. Less than half an hour in, the two have become a romantic couple despite nothing transpiring to explain their bond. Sure, two good-looking people like Hayden Christensen and Rachel Bilson could be attracted to each other, but they have zero chemistry on screen. Coupled with that is the lack of any explanation of why they became so close on a flight to Italy.

If this movie had a script to begin with, there is certainly no semblance of one at any point in the film. The dialogue is sparse and substituted with popping noises and a loud soundtrack set to the semi-cool teleportation special effects. Like “Transformers” last year, they might have been more effective had they not been used every second. Sometimes less is more, and an ounce of sense would have been nice, even if a jump or two (or ten) had to be cut out.

Putting the script aside, the acting is a convoluted mess. Christensen never really could act, and Bilson seems stuck trying to portray a slightly more mature version of her character on “The O.C.” to no avail. Jamie Bell, best known as the title character in “Billy Elliot,” appears midway into the film as a fellow jumper who has some serious companionship issues which make him into the most inexplicably irritable character and a lousy sidekick. And then there’s Samuel L. Jackson, who at age 59 seems to have nothing better to do than play angry men obsessed with punishing hot young stars (see also “Black Snake Moan”). He is parodying himself, and the sad thing is that he gives the most effective performance in the whole movie.

Devoid of any reason or plot development, “Jumper” attempts to thrive on its moderately impressive special effects and the good looks of its central characters. Unfortunately, this poor excuse for a film has nowhere to jump.

F

Foreign Cinema: 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days

4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days
Directed by Cristian Mungiu
Released January 25, 2008

This film is best summarized by comparing it to a description of what was originally intended for the seventh season of the real-time television series “24”: to atone for all his sins, Jack Bauer heads to Africa to do charity work. Much of this film plays out over uninterrupted spans of thirty of forty minutes, and the result is about as thrilling as watching Jack Bauer build houses in real time. Many extended conversations without breaks cannot sell themselves – but it feels like they are supposed to. That said, it is still a very tough and disturbing film to get through. The film as a whole, while it tries to capture a snapshot of a few hours of one day, drags on far too long and could have been trimmed and reworked to beget a far more effective film deserving of the praise it has received.

C

Saturday, February 9, 2008

AFT Awards: Best Visual Effects


This is the fourteenth category of the 1st Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are listed in alphabetical order by film title. Winners will be announced in late February.

**I have omitted descriptions for each of the nominees for a few categories because they have become repetitive. For some of my own invented categories, they will return.**

This category at the Oscars typically contains three nominees, and I have limited it to the same here.

Runners-up:
300
THE GOLDEN COMPASS
SWEENEY TODD


The nominees:
I AM LEGEND
LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD
TRANSFORMERS

AFT Awards: Best Make-Up


This is the thirteenth category of the 1st Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are listed in alphabetical order by film title. Winners will be announced in late February.

**I have omitted descriptions for each of the nominees for a few categories because they have become repetitive. For some of my own invented categories, they will return.**

This category at the Oscars typically contains three nominees, and I have limited it to the same here. I count “Grindhouse” as a single entity because that is the form in which it was presented to me when I saw it in theatres in April.

Runners-up:
LA VIE EN ROSE
HAIRSPRAY
THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY


The nominees:
GRINDHOUSE
SMOKIN’ ACES
SWEENEY TODD

AFT Awards: Best Sound/Sound Editing

This is the eleventh and twelfth category of the 1st Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are listed in alphabetical order by film title. Winners will be announced in late February.

**I have omitted descriptions for each of the nominees for a few categories because they have become repetitive. For some of my own invented categories, they will return.**

I have done my best to break down the nominees here into Best Sound and Best Sound Editing though this is not my strong point. I am leaving off runner-ups for these categories.

Best Sound
I AM LEGEND
SERAPHIM FALLS
SMOKIN’ ACES
SWEENEY TODD
THERE WILL BE BLOOD



Best Sound Editing
I AM LEGEND
THE KINGDOM
LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD
SERAPHIM FALLS
SMOKIN’ ACES

Thursday, February 7, 2008

AFT Awards: Best Original Song


This is the tenth category of the 1st Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are listed in alphabetical order by film title. Winners will be announced in late February.

I would have nominated “Despedida” from “Love in the Time of Cholera” but I did not see the film therefore it does not occupy a spot on my list.

Runners-up:
ONCE, “If You Want Me”
MEET THE ROBINSONS, “Little Wonders”
THE GOLDEN COMPASS, “Lyra” (I initially hated this one but now I sort of don’t)
MUSIC & LYRICS, “Way Back Into Love”
ONCE, “When Your Mind’s Made Up”

The nominees:
BEOWULF, “A Hero Comes Home”
The delightfully campy yet surprisingly fitting song that was the only thing besides the animation that was remotely decent about the film. Gotta love it.

GRACE IS GONE, “Grace is Gone”
A movie somewhat uncertain of itself finds its brilliance in this extremely sad yet effective song which underscores the protagonist’s sadness and frustration.

INTO THE WILD, “Guaranteed”
There are songs that fit their movies, and then there are songs that fit their movies. This is one song that translates perfectly to a young man who abandons all civilization to go off and live by himself in the wilderness.

MUSIC & LYRICS, “Pop Goes My Heart!”
Entertainment Weekly saluted this song as an Oscar snubee. The only thing better than this song is the accompanying music video with those ridiculous costumes and Hugh Grant having a grand old time.

ONCE, “Falling Slowly”
As is evident by the two other songs making the top ten (and of course the rest making up my top 15), this is a film that is completely about the songs. This song in particular defined and drove the film beautifully.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Foreign Cinema: The Band's Visit

The Band's Visit (Advance Screening)
Directed by Eran Kolirin
To be released February 8, 2008

I loved this movie from start to finish. The tagline for this film sums it up perfectly: "Once-not long ago-a small Egyptian police band arrived in Israel. Not many remember this...It wasn't that important." The band, especially band leader Tawfiq, treats their situation like the most serious and important of missions. This is one of the most wonderful, quietly affecting stories I have seen on film in quite some time. The entire band does deadpan so well, and the film is thoroughly amusing. It proceeds slowly but never for a second becomes boring. Words cannot describe how terrific this cast is - especially Sasson Gabai (Tawfiq), Ronit Elkabetz (Dina), and Saleh Bakri (Khaled). The music is also fantastic.

A-

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Foreign Cinema: The Counterfeiters

The Counterfeiters (Advance Screening)
Directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky
To be released February 22, 2008

A whole lot of Holocaust movies have been made in the sixty-plus years since its occurence and each one's quality often depends on the individualistic personalities of the protagonist. "The Counterfeiters" tells the story of a top-notch counterfeiter hand-picked to supervise the creation of forged money to pay for the Nazis' war efforts. The moral questions that arise here are huge, and nothing is downplayed. The ensemble works well together but it is star Karl Markovics who really carries the film, making an unlikeable character sympathetic yet still keeping him unlikeable. This is an understandly tough film to get through, but certainly a worthwhile one. It is especially interesting to learn more after the film about the director's intentions (Ruzowitzky and Markovics were on hand to answer questions after the screening I attended) and to find out that this movie was entirely successful in every country except for Germany.

B+

Oscar chances: Because three of the films selected in the Best Foreign Film category are not slated for U.S. release anytime soon, I have only seen "Beaufort" from Israel, which I personally liked better, but I assume that this one, with its buzz and subject matter, will walk away with the trophy.

Do Not Go See This: Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay

Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (Advance Screening)
Directed by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg
To be released April 25, 2008

As this movie begun and I questioned why I was in fact sitting in the theatre, I pointed out to the person sitting next to me that it took two people to direct this movie. I was not prepared for how much I was going to hate this film. The first one was mildly entertaining and classic in its own way, but the thing here is that they have no endgame. In the first film, you really want them to get to White Castle and they are headed somewhere. Why a sequel needed to be made is inexplicable. Kumar just keeps messing up and getting the duo into trouble, and Harold (who everyone keeps calling "Roldie" all of a sudden) acts like a complete tool who cannot for a second relax. The humor is immature, which is to be expected, but it is so sad when it is apparent that the jokes could be infinitely funnier if a slightly more intelligent approach had been taken. Rob Corddry as the villain is probably where things started going wrong. Even Neil Patrick Harris, a bad Bush impersonation, and a whole lot of pot cannot help this film in the slightest way. My friend did rejoice when he heard me laugh for the first time about an hour an a half in. This movie is way too long. About an hour an forty-five minutes too long. It will not be out until April, which means you have plently of time to find other movies to see instead of this one.

F

Oscar-Nominated Documentaries: War/Dance

War/Dance
Directed by Sean Fine and Andrea Nix
Released November 9, 2007

I was thrilled to find out that this documentary was playing for a week at the Cinema Village after a run back at the Angelika in November which I neglected to attend and instead saw the wrong Darfur movie. This one is definitely a lot better, actually tackling an issue rather than simply showing Don Cheadle dote on his kids. "War/Dance" presents the story of a school in war-torn northern Uganda who vie to compete for the national dancing championship. It focuses on a few kids whose backstories are told with powerful, moving imagery but transfers their troubles to their passion and spirit for the competition. "War/Dance" focuses perhaps as much as it should on the tragic situation of the kids but ultimately offers a hopeful message that shows that even in times of extreme adversity (understating the conflict, of course), there is still room for impressive success.

B+

Oscar chances: I still have to watch "Operation Homecoming", but so far this is the weakest of the documentaries nominated in this category. It is a good situation where it is more like "worst of the best", but this in theory has the lightest subject matter/is not directed by Michael Moore.

Strong and Lasting: Beaufort

Beaufort
Directed by Joseph Cedar
Released January 18, 2008

The Oscar-nominated Best Foreign Film entry from Israel starts out real slow, but picks up so well by its middle that it makes up for its lackluster start. While this could easily be mistaken for any old war film, this does stand out due to the feeling of community the soldiers have despite their combined uncertainty about the validity of their assignment. It is probably best compared to last year's Algerian drama "Days of Glory", also nominated in the Best Foreign Film category that year. "Beaufort" deserves praise for its fine ensemble and a great, however brief, appearance by Ohad Knoller (from "The Bubble"). Great set pieces in this film as well.

B+

Witty and Sharp: In Bruges

In Bruges (Advance Screening)
Directed by Martin McDonagh
To be released February 8, 2008

This offbeat film is a fine, definitive example of a black comedy at its best. Brendan Gleeson (finally in a lead role!) and Colin Farrell star as hitmen sent to an obscure Belgian town to lay low. Gleeson's appreciative history buff loves the experience, while Farrell's loud, arrogant drinker seeks only the nearest bar. The brilliance of "In Bruges" is in its subtlety and its avoidance of overplaying any of its humor. The film, and the stars, fluctutate from wry comedy to dark drama without even a moment's hesitation, and the transition is so smooth it is hardly felt. It is only made better by the presence of a feisty dwarf and Ralph Fiennes in a surprisingly hilarious performance. And the ending - so much to say, but you have to see the film first.

B+

AFT Awards: Best Original Score


This is the ninth category of the 1st Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are listed in alphabetical order by film title. Winners will be announced in late February.

**I have omitted descriptions for each of the nominees for a few categories because they have become repetitive. For some of my own invented categories, they will return.**

I have read that the score for “The Darjeeling Limited” may not be entirely original, but I am leaving it in.

Runners-up:
THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY
THERE WILL BE BLOOD
BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD
MICHAEL CLAYTON
SOUTHLAND TALES


The nominees:
THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES
ATONEMENT
THE DARJEELING LIMITED
THE LIVES OF OTHERS
RATATOUILLE

AFT Awards: Best Costume Design


This is the eighth category of the 1st Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are listed in alphabetical order by film title. Winners will be announced in late February.

**I have omitted descriptions for each of the nominees for a few categories because they have become repetitive. For some of my own invented categories, they will return.**

Runners-up:
DAYS OF GLORY
LA VIE EN ROSE
ENCHANTED
SWEENEY TODD
NOMAD


The nominees:
THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES (Patricia Norris)
ATONEMENT (Jacqueline Durran)
ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE (Alexandra Byrne)
HAIRSPRAY (Rita Ryack)
LUST, CAUTION (Lai Pan)

AFT Awards: Best Art Direction


This is the seventh category of the 1st Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are listed in alphabetical order by film title. Winners will be announced in late February.

**I have omitted descriptions for each of the nominees for a few categories because they have become repetitive. For some of my own invented categories, they will return.**

Runners-up:
LUST, CAUTION
THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES
DAYS OF GLORY
SMOKIN’ ACES
THE KINGDOM


The nominees:
AFTER THE WEDDING
ATONEMENT
THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY
HAIRSPRAY
SWEENEY TODD

AFT Awards: Best Film Editing


This is the sixth category of the 1st Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are listed in alphabetical order by film title. Winners will be announced in late February.

Runners-up:
GONE BABY GONE
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
SMOKIN’ ACES
INTO THE WILD
AVENUE MONTAIGNE


The nominees:
AFTER THE WEDDING (Pernille Bech Christensen & Morten Højbjerg)
While nearly every aspect of this film is brilliant, the editing truly holds it together. Every plot revelation is so devastatingly achieved (I have used this word before in describing this film; it is hard not to) and the story could have flowed so much less efficiently without brilliant cuts at just the right moments which all but make the movie.

THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY (Juliette Welfling)
It is hard to miss the reasons why this film has great editing. The film begins as Jean-Do enters into his new state of consciousness, and telling his back story is a complicated thing to do. Yet the film accomplishes it perfectly with dream-like flashbacks that hardly make anything seem out of context at all.

EASTERN PROMISES (Ronald Sanders)
David Cronenberg is a bizarre director whose films often stray too far outside the mainstream to be cohesive and comprehensible works. Yet this one is grounded by sleek, stylish editing which makes the story believable but also makes London seem so small, as if there is no place to take refuge from the horrific characters in the film.

THE LIVES OF OTHERS (Patricia Rommel)
This film makes use of lengthy surveillance without making it ever seem uninteresting. The transformation of the protagonist is something that could have easily been undermined by less skillful editing.

A MIGHTY HEART (Peter Christelis)
This quiet film creates a sort of frantic intensity throughout its duration which turns even the safest moments into frightening possibilities. Best of all, it does not depend on that uncertainty to carry its weight; it rather flows as a result of it.

AFT Awards: Best Cinematography


This is the fifth category of the 1st Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are listed in alphabetical order by film title. Winners will be announced in late February.

Runners-up:
INTO THE WILD
FIRST SNOW
THERE WILL BE BLOOD
THE DARJEELING LIMITED
A MIGHTY HEART


The nominees:
AFTER THE WEDDING (Morten Soborg)
Look no further than that significant scene towards the beginning of the film at the wedding. Not since Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill Volume 2” have I seen such intricate and deliberate camerawork which is essentially so simple but so devastatingly effective.

THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES
(Roger Deakins)
Vast, lengthy shots of empty fields prowled only by the vilest kinds of people are made all the more dazzling by their frequent contrasts to the antique-looking capsule snapshots into Jesse’s past. The most impressive scene: the train robbery.

ATONEMENT (Seamus McGarvey)
The brilliant filming of this movie is not limited to that five-minute tracking shot on the beach that you have either heard about or seen. The camera takes an important step back from the action to allow the viewer to form his own opinions first before zooming in to take a closer look at what is actually going on, much like some of the characters in the film.

THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY (Janusz Kaminski)
The camera literally inhabits the eye of the protagonist and puts the viewer directly in his place. For a while they cannot even grasp the full world around them, just as main character Jean-Do cannot. By the time the camera finally pans out and looks at things from a different perspective, the audience is relieved and feels triumphant in having achieved this new line of sight.

THE LIVES OF OTHERS
(Hagen Bogdanski)
The filming here is simple and deliberate but so fantastic. Whether it is a close-up on the face of a man slowly finding emotion or a tracking shot following an efficient “fixer” the stairs, this film is made immensely watchable by its brilliant camerawork.

Busy Seeing Movies as Usual....

I have been absent from "Movies with Abe" for a while, choosing to refresh my thoughts on "TV with Abe" first. Very soon I will post my thoughts on "In Bruges", "Beaufort", "War/Dance" and others, as well as some new categories of the AFT Awards. Stay tuned.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

AFT Awards: Best Actress in a Supporting Role


This is the fourth category of the 1st Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are listed in alphabetical order by film title. Winners will be announced in late February.

Runners-up:
CATE BLANCHETT, I’M NOT THERE
ADRIENNE SHELLEY, WAITRESS
ALICE EVE, STARTER FOR 10
STINE FISCHER CHRISTENSEN, AFTER THE WEDDING
MARISA TOMEI, BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD


Note: see these movies!

The nominees:
SAOIRSE RONAN, ATONEMENT
Thirteen-year-old Ronan is one of three actresses who portrays the character Briony in “Atonement”. Her character is not likeable in any sense other than the fact that she is obviously a talented writer of fiction and plays, and Ronan perfectly captures that unlikeability and uses it to her advantage. The best surprise of all is that newcomer Ronan is better than both her most established co-stars who portray her in future years. Ronan is the actor with the most screentime in “Atonement” and she utilizes it so well.

DANIELLA WIRCER, THE BUBBLE
Amidst a terrific cast of young actors, Wircer stands out as the intrepid Lulu, a fearless protestor and devoted friend. This is a woman you can really respect and you definitely do not want to get caught cheating on her. Out of the four friends in the film, Lulu has the least amount of screentime and character development but Wircer makes up for it, making Lulu and her art project that graces the poster for the film all the more poignant.

ALISON LOHMAN, DELIRIOUS
In a film about ruthless paparazzi and the air-headed stars they lust after, who would have thought that the star actress would end up being the most likeable character of all? She is selfish and self-obsessed, but at the same time, Lohman’s K’Harma is actually a semi-talented actress with real feelings and genuine affection for those who pamper her and even court her. The most gratifying part of it all is that she is much smarter than she looks.

GRETCHEN MOL, PUCCINI FOR BEGINNERS

All the other characters in this film, though the actors and performances are excellent, seem jaded and undaunted by the complicated love triangles and situations in which they find themselves entangled. It is only Mol’s Grace who clearly expresses such vibrant joy and excitement in all that she is doing. Her fascination with and skill in glassblowing only adds to her charm.

REBECCA HALL, STARTER FOR 10
Just like her character, Rebecca, Hall has to compete for time and attention with all of her co-stars. Her effortless chemistry with James McAvoy’s dorky college student is made more effective by her carefree attitude towards the attraction. Hall seems to be a terrific actress who has a lot of potential, though I wish she would get bigger roles in more noticed movies. I have already seen her turn in the upcoming “Frost/Nixon”, where she is, predictably, excellent but has such sadly minimal screen time.