Sunday, January 31, 2010

Oscar Predictions: Best Picture

Last year’s nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader, Slumdog Millionaire

This year’s PGA nominees: Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Up in the Air, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, Up, Invictus, An Education, District 9, Star Trek

Other contenders: A Serious Man, The Messenger, Julie & Julia, 500 Days of Summer, The Hangover, Where the Wild Things Are, It’s Complicated

The rundown: I've written extensively about this category before, so my analysis here won't be lengthy. Ten nominees means a whole lot of competition, and it could also mean many surprises. Sci-fi might reign with three films nominated, but it’s likely that only one out of the pair that is “District 9” and “Star Trek” will make it in. “A Serious Man” seems quite vulnerable, but it should be able to pull through. The Golden Globe nominees for Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical may all have a shot, though I don’t think any of them will make it in. I’m hoping for some good surprises, though honestly I really liked nine of the films I’ve predicted (minus “Precious”). Most people seem to have a good idea of which films will make it in here, but I imagine that this category is ripe for at least one or two good shocks.

One possible crazy scenario: Only the top five films I’ve predicted make it in, paving the way for mainstream comedies to fill the remaining slots.

Forecasted winner: The Hurt Locker

Oscar Predictions: Best Director

Last year’s nominees: David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Ron Howard (Frost/Nixon), Gus Van Sant (Milk), Stephen Daldry (The Reader), Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire)

This year’s DGA nominees: Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), James Cameron (Avatar), Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds), Jason Reitman (Up in the Air), Lee Daniels (Precious)

Other contenders: Clint Eastwood (Invictus), Neill Blomkamp (District 9), Tom Ford (A Single Man), Michael Haneke (The White Ribbon), Spike Jonze (Where the Wild Things Are)

The rundown: Only four times in the past fifty years (twice in the past five years, actually) have all five films nominated for Best Picture also been nominated for Best Director. That doesn’t necessarily apply this year due to the expanded Best Picture field. The lone director nominee only happened twice in the twelve years between 1931 and 1943 that the Best Picture race had more than five nominees. This year, as usual, four of the films are locked in this category, but the fifth nominee is a bit iffier. The Directors Guild of America is usually a good predictor of the Best Picture rather than the Best Director race, so therefore Lee Daniels’ mention doesn’t mean much. I’m going with Eastwood for the last slot, but it could easily be one of the other four possibilities I’ve listed, especially Blomkamp. I’m hoping for a pleasant surprise here, but the five nominees I’ve predicted make up a pretty fantastic bunch.

Forecasted winner: Kathryn Bigelow

Oscar Predictions: Best Animated Feature

Last year’s nominees: Bolt, Kung Fu Panda, Wall-E

This year’s Golden Globe nominees: Up, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Princess and the Frog, Coraline, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Other contenders: Ponyo, 9, A Christmas Carol, Monsters vs. Aliens

The rundown: There’s no reason the lineup from the Golden Globes won’t repeat at the Oscars, but there are two films that could displace the weaker contenders. The first is “Ponyo” from director Hayao Miyazaki, most recently nominated in 2005 for “Howl’s Moving Castle” after wining in 2002 for “Spirited Away.” The second is my favorite animated feature of 2009, “9,” which saw its chances jump up when it was recognized as one of the five films nominated by the PGA in this category. I’m not sure either will be able to upset, but it’s possible. This category has been ripe for a major surprise the past two years, so that may happen again.

Forecasted winner: Up

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Oscar Predictions: Best Foreign Film

Last year’s nominees: The Baader Meinhof Complex, The Class, Departures, Revanche, Waltz with Bashir

This year’s finalists: The White Ribbon (Germany), A Prophet (France), Ajami (Israel), The Secret of Her Eyes (Argentina), Samson & Delilah (Australia), Winter in Wartime (The Netherlands), Kelin (Kazakhstan), The World is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner (Bulgaria), The Milk of Sorrow (Peru)

Notable films not selected: I Killed My Mother (Canada), Police, Adjective (Romania), About Elly (Iran), Mother (Korea)

The rundown: I really wish they’d release all these movies earlier, because at this point I’ve only seen “The White Ribbon” and “A Prophet,” both of which were great. The rest of my predictions are merely educated guesses. Anyone have anything to add?

Forecasted winner: The White Ribbon

Oscar Predictions: Best Documentary

Last year’s nominees: The Betrayal, Encounters at the End of the World, The Garden, Man on Wire, Trouble the Water

This year’s eligible contenders: Food, Inc., The Cove, Soundtrack for a Revolution, The Beaches of Agnes, Under Our Skin, Valentino: The Last Emperor, Burma VJ, Every Little Step, Facing Ali, Which Way Home, The Most Dangerous Man in America, Sergio, Living in Emergency, Garbage Dreams, Mugabe and the White African

The rundown: I can’t offer any analysis here because I’ve only seen one of these films – “Food, Inc.” If anyone has seen any of these and has anything to add, please do so in the comments.

Forecasted winner: Food, Inc.

Oscar Predictions: Best Visual Effects

Last year’s nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, Iron Man

This year’s seven finalists: Avatar, Star Trek, District 9, 2012, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Terminator Salvation

The rundown: There shouldn’t be much competition in this category, since “Avatar” has it sewn up and should definitely be joined by “Star Trek” and “District 9.” The first “Transformers” film famously lost in 2007 to “The Golden Compass,” but that shouldn’t disqualify it since the second “Pirates of the Caribbean” film won after the first film lost. I don’t see much chance for an upset besides that or “2012,” and not a strong shot for either one.

Forecasted winner: Avatar

Friday, January 29, 2010

Oscar Predictions: Best Makeup

Last year’s nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, Hellboy II: The Golden Army

This year’s seven finalists: District 9, Star Trek, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, The Road, The Young Victoria, Il Divo, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

The rundown: Since its inception in 1981, this category has had two to three nominees each year. The winner is sometimes a science fiction or fantasy film and sometimes a period piece with extensive character makeup like “Frida” or “La Vie en Rose.” The three nominees here seem pretty likely, though either “The Road” or “The Young Victoria” could knock “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” out of the running.

Forecasted winner: District 9

Oscar Predictions: Best Sound Editing

Last year’s nominees: The Dark Knight, Iron Man, Slumdog Millionaire, Wanted, Wall-E

The contenders: Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Up, Star Trek, District 9, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Inglourious Bastereds, Nine, 2012, The Lovely Bones

The rundown: Since I really don’t know much about this category, I’m predicting the same five nominees as in the Best Sound field. I’m also going with my hunch that “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” will be snubbed altogether here. It’s worth noting that, in the three years that this category has had five rather than three nominees, the match-up between the two categories has been 4/5, and only in 2007 were the winners the same. Still, I think this year could break that trend, though I have no clue about what will actually happen. We’ll see – this will likely not be the most thrilling race of the whole awards.

Forecasted winner: Avatar

Oscar Predictions: Best Sound

Last year’s nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, Slumdog Millionaire, Wall-E, Wanted

The contenders: Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Up, Star Trek, District 9, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Inglourious Bastereds, Nine, 2012, The Lovely Bones

The rundown: I honestly don’t know much about this category, though it’s usually dominated by action and animation. Last year brought two big surprises – a snub for “Iron Man” and the inclusion of a film no one had expected to do well with awards, “Wanted.” My not predicting “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” probably isn’t smart since the first film was nominated for both Sound and Sound Editing, and even lackluster sequels like “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” make the cut. Still, I feel like it will be overshadowed by other fare which qualifies here.

Forecasted winner: Avatar

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Oscar Predictions: Best Original Song

Last year’s nominees: “Jai Ho” (Slumdog Millionaire), ”O Saya…” (Slumdog Millionaire), “Down to Earth” (Wall-E)

This year’s Golden Globe nominees: “I See You” (Avatar), “Winter” (Brothers), “The Weary Kind” (Crazy Heart), “I Want to Come Home” (Everybody’s Fine), “Cinema Italiano” (Nine)

Other contenders: “Take It All” (Nine), “Almost There” (The Princess and the Frog), “All is Love” (Where the Wild Things Are), “You Got Me Wrapped Around Your Little Finger” (An Education), “Trust Me” (The Informant!)

Listen to a number of the eligible songs with this YouTube playlist I put together.

The rundown: There’s an interesting curse which has led the winner of the Golden Globe in this category to be snubbed at the Oscars for the past five years in a row. I think that the tune from “Crazy Heart” will break that trend, though I can’t imagine all five Globe nominees repeating. For the past three years, at least two songs from the same film have been nominated, and I think that will occur again this year, with “Nine” earning the lion’s share of its nods here. It’s hard to believe that both Bono and Paul McCartney won’t make the cut, but it’s very possible. The snub of “The Princess and the Frog” at the Globes didn’t quite add up. Watch out for “Where the Wild Things Are” to upset here because its Globe-nominated score isn’t eligible.

Forecasted winner: “The Weary Kind”

Oscar Predictions: Best Original Score

Last year’s nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Defiance, Milk, Slumdog Millionaire, Wall-E

The contenders: Avatar, Up, The Informant, Star Trek, Sherlock Holmes, District 9, A Single Man, The Lovely Bones, Up in the Air, Coco Before Chanel, Fantastic Mr. Fox

The rundown: This category is always a bit tricky to predict, and usually boasts one big surprise inclusion, like “Defiance,” “Michael Clayton,” “The Good German,” or “The Village.” I’m not sure they’ll be one of those this year, but we’ll have to see. I imagine that three of the contenders from the Golden Globes will repeat (my top three predictions), and while I’d love to see “A Single Man” earn a nomination, I feel like it won’t, which is a real shame. “Where the Wild Things Are,” the fifth Globe nominee, is ineligible at the Oscars.

Forecasted winner: Up

Oscar Predictions: Best Film Editing

Last year’s nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, Frost/Nixon, Milk, Slumdog Millionaire

This year’s ACE Eddie nominees: (Drama) Avatar, District 9, The Hurt Locker, Star Trek, Up (Comedy) 500 Days of Summer, The Hangover, It’s Complicated, Julie & Julia, A Serious Man

Other contenders: Inglourious Basterds, Precious, Invictus, Nine

The rundown: The ACE snub for “Inglourious Basterds” is strange, but I can’t imagine it not making the cut. The other three Best Picture nominees should definitely be here, so that begs the question – which film gets the fifth slot? If it can’t be “500 Days of SummerandDistrict 9,” which one will it be? I’m going on my hunch that they’ll skew dramatic and nominate the latter film. This category has provided some surprises before, however, especially in 2005 when “Cinderella Man,” “The Constant Gardener,” and “Walk the Line” got nominated here over Best Picture nominees “Brokeback Mountain,” “Capote,” and “Good Night, and Good Luck.” With ten Best Picture nominees, that seems all the more unlikely, but who knows?

Forecasted winner: The Hurt Locker

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Oscar Predictions: Best Costume Design

Last year’s nominees: Australia, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Duchess, Milk, Revolutionary Road

This year’s CDG nominees: (Period) Coco Before Chanel, Julie & Julia, Nine, Sherlock Holmes, The Young Victoria (Contemporary) 500 Days of Summer, Bruno, Crazy Heart, Precious, Up in the Air (Fantasy) Avatar, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Star Trek

Other contenders: Inglourious Basterds, Bright Star, An Education

The rundown: The barrage of CDG nominees makes it hard to pick out the real contenders. Anything regal or musical usually does well, and forget about all the contemporary flicks since none of them are anywhere similar to the two modern-day films to place here in recent years (“The Devil Wears Prada” and “The Queen,” both in 2006). Whether “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” will make it in is a question, in addition to whether the otherwise snubbed “Bright Star” will be recognized at all. I don’t think “Avatar” will take a spot here, but you never know.

Forecasted winner: The Young Victoria

Oscar Predictions: Best Art Direction

Last year’s nominees: Changeling, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, The Duchess, Revolutionary Road

This year’s ADG nominees: (Period) A Serious Man, Inglourious Basterds, Julie & Julia, Public Enemies, Sherlock Holmes (Fantasy) Avatar, District 9, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Star Trek, Where the Wild Things Are (Contemporary) Angels & Demons, The Hangover, The Hurt Locker, The Lovely Bones, Up in the Air

Other contenders: Nine, A Single Man, Bright Star

The rundown: This category is hardly my area of expertise, but I do know that this category favors period and fantasy films rather than contemporary movies. It also often nominates films that might have been thought to be relegated to the Best Costumes category, like “The Duchess” last year, and welcomes in others than perform better than expected in the tech categories, like “Changeling.” I’m pretty sure that both “Nine” and “A Single Man” can make it in here despite their ADG snubs, joining the two most artistically aesthetic Best Picture nominees and “Where the Wild Things Are.”

Forecasted winner: Avatar

Oscar Predictions: Best Cinematography

Last year’s nominees: Changeling, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, The Reader, Slumdog Millionaire

This year’s ASC nominees: Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Nine, The White Ribbon

Other contenders: The Lovely Bones, District 9, A Single Man, Where the Wild Things Are, Bright Star, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

The rundown: All five of the ASC’s nominees seem likely to repeat at the Oscars, though foreign films don’t always make the cut and a certain poorly-reviewed musical may find itself less favored than originally expected. Still, “The Lovely Bones” probably won’t break in because of the despicable reviews and the fact that everyone seems to have pretty much forgotten about it, aside from Stanley Tucci’s performance. Watch out for “District 9,” though, which could dominate the technical awards. I’m also pulling for my personal favorite, “A Single Man.”

Forecasted winner: Avatar

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Oscar Predictions: Best Adapted Screenplay

Last year’s nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Doubt, Frost/Nixon, The Reader, Slumdog Millionaire

This year’s locks: Up in the Air, Precious

Very likely: An Education

Possible: Julie & Julia, District 9, Invictus, Fantastic Mr. Fox, In the Loop, A Single Man, Crazy Heart

Unlikely: Star Trek, Where the Wild Things Are, The Road

The rundown: This race is probably the most competitive of the major categories because there are only a few sure things and the rest of the field is wide open. Since a number of the contenders were ineligible for the WGA Awards, “Crazy Heart” and “Star Trek” made it in. I don’t think the Oscars will be quite as creative, but we’ll see. Many are predicting “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “In the Loop,” though I’m not so sure. I don’t feel right about leaving “Invictus” out, but that’s what the math suggests. This really is a tricky category.

Forecasted winner: Up in the Air

Oscar Predictions: Best Original Screenplay

Last year’s nominees: Frozen River, Happy-Go-Lucky, In Bruges, Milk, Wall-E

This year’s locks: Inglourious Basterds, Up, The Hurt Locker

Very likely: A Serious Man

Possible: Avatar, 500 Days of Summer, The Messenger, The Hangover, It’s Complicated, Bright Star

The rundown: The question here is whether two comedies – “500 Days of Summer” and “The Hangover” – can break through and get recognized when, in the past, lighter films like “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up,” and “Garden State” have all been snubbed. Both of the former films, however, did score nominations for Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical at the Golden Globes (one even won!), which the latter three did not do. Still, I think they’ll lose out to the juggernaut that should dominate the nominees, and that’s “Avatar,” which most people don’t think will get mentioned since “Titanic” wasn’t way back when. I’m a bit worried about “A Serious Man” here, though hopefully it should be safe and sound. Also – watch out for “The Messenger,” the little film that might.

Forecasted winner: Inglourious Basterds

Oscar Predictions: Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Last year’s nominees: Amy Adams, Penelope Cruz, Viola Davis, Taraji P. Henson, Marisa Tomei

This year’s locks: Mo’Nique (Precious), Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air), Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air)

Very likely: Julianne Moore (A Single Man), Penelope Cruz (Nine)

Possible: Samantha Morton (The Messenger), Melanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds), Diane Kruger (Inglourious Basterds)

Unlikely: Marion Cotillard (Nine), Mariah Carey (Precious)

The rundown: There’s no debating that the three locks will be nominated, but the other two are going to have a much tougher time doing so. Moore missed out on a SAG nom, and everyone seems to think that Cruz is out of the race because her film didn’t do so well. I’ll point out that last year, Cruz won the Oscar in this category for a film that received no other nominations and for a less beloved performance, in my opinion. Morton doesn’t have the momentum to get in, unlike in 2003 when she was nominated for “In America” and the Best Actress field was in desperate need of some padding to ensure Nicole Kidman wouldn’t be recognized for her unenthusiastic work in “Cold Mountain.” The two unlikely women I mention are simply the less front-and-center ladies in their films and shouldn’t be able to ride their buzz to a nomination. I think this is the one category where there could be a huge surprise, and I do hope it’s a good one.

One possible crazy scenario: Both Moore and Cruz are out and are replaced by Kruger and Laurent, giving “Inglourious Basterds” three acting nominations.

Forecasted winner: Mo’Nique

Monday, January 25, 2010

Oscar Predictions: Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Last year’s nominees: Josh Brolin, Robert Downey Jr., Philip Seymour Hoffman, Heath Ledger, Michael Shannon

This year’s locks: Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)

Very likely: Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones), Matt Damon (Invictus), Woody Harrelson (The Messenger), Christopher Plummer (The Last Station)

Possible: Christian McKay (Me and Orson Welles), Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker)

Unlikely: Alec Baldwin (It’s Complicated), Alfred Molina (An Education), Paul Schneider (Bright Star)

The rundown: While I list only Waltz as a lock, this category actually looks pretty safe and set, but there’s a possibility than any number of the four men listed as very likely could be swapped out for someone else. McKay could manage it, but Mackie and the three unlikely men below him have almost no nominations to suggest that anyone would recognize their performances. The reason that the four likely nominees might not be so likely: Tucci’s film tanked, some didn’t like Damon’s, and both Harrelson’s and Plummer’s films were tiny and seen by almost no one.

One possible crazy scenario: Stanley Tucci’s name is called – for “Julie & Julia” instead of “The Lovely Bones.”

Forecasted winner: Christoph Waltz

Oscar Predictions: Best Actress in a Leading Role

Last year’s nominees: Anne Hathaway, Angelina Jolie, Melissa Leo, Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet

This year’s locks: Meryl Streep (Julie & Julia), Carey Mulligan (An Education), Gabourey Sidibe (Precious), Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side)

Very likely: Helen Mirren (The Last Station)

Possible: Abbie Cornish (Bright Star), Emily Blunt (The Young Victoria)

Unlikely: Melanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds), Tilda Swinton (Julia), Marion Cotillard (Nine)

The rundown: This lineup has become much more set in stone than originally anticipated, as possible nominee Bullock catapulted to the head of the pack and should now be considered a lock. It’s still possible that Mirren could fall off the radar and be replaced, but I think she’ll be fine. It’s not as if any of the nominees are really weak or fallible, so there’s no reason to expect any big surprises here.

One possible crazy scenario: Mirren is out and replaced by Laurent, who has a better shot in the supporting category but could be promoted to this race.

Forecasted winner: Sandra Bullock

Oscar Predictions: Best Actor in a Leading Role

Last year’s nominees: Frank Langella, Sean Penn, Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, Mickey Rourke

This year’s locks: Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart), George Clooney (Up in the Air), Colin Firth (A Single Man), Morgan Freeman (Invictus)

Very likely: Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker)

Unlikely: Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man), Daniel Day-Lewis (Nine), Matt Damon (The Informant), Tobey Maguire (Brothers), Sam Rockwell (Moon), Viggo Mortensen (The Road), Ben Foster (The Messenger)

The rundown: This race looks pretty secure, with the SAG list ripe to repeat in its entirety. The main reason that it’s set is that none of the seven males who could potentially upset actually have a shot at doing so. Either their films tanked or weren’t widely seen, and the only one that doesn’t fit that description is “A Serious Man,” but I still don’t see Stuhlbarg upsetting, especially since he lost the Golden Globe to Robert Downey Jr. The lone Globe nominee for Best Motion Picture Actor – Drama who won’t make it is Maguire, but he was a filler nominee from the start and his inclusion was a real surprise. There shouldn’t be any such surprises in this category at the Oscars.

One possible crazy scenario: Freeman misses out and is replaced by Stuhlbarg, Damon, or Foster

Forecasted winner: Jeff Bridges

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Movie with Abe: Fish Tank

Fish Tank
Directed by Andrea Arnold
Released January 15, 2010

There is a certain type of film and style of filmmaking that deserves classification in the category of the definitive independent film. Such projects often use unknown actors and focus on extensive character development and deep, interpersonal conversation. Less is always more, and searing dramas seasoned with just a bit of humor are the most common genre. The film primarily boasts a tour de force breakout leading performance, but the entire ensemble is also stronger than it may initially seem. “Fish Tank” fits all those qualifications, and executes them spectacularly, cementing it as the first movie not to be missed in 2010.

The most astounding aspect of “Fish Tank” is the debut of its leading actress. Katie Jarvis was only seventeen years when the film was made (she’s now eighteen), and delivers an exceptionally mature performance that resonates well beyond her years. Her casting in the film, which came about as a result of a loud argument with her boyfriend in a train station, proves that Jarvis has an intimate relationship with this character, and she understands and sympathizes with the anger she has inside of her. Mia, the protagonist in “Fish Tank,” is like a cross between Jenny from “An Education” and Precious from “Precious,” but there’s something starkly different about her. Mia isn’t a kind soul just waiting for the right outlet to let out her compassion. She’s a disgruntled, irritable teenager who goes out of her way to cause trouble and tries not to make friends.

Mia is hardly one-dimensional, and Jarvis embodies her with such energy and disdain that it’s impossible not to be immensely captivated by her. Her true passion is also wonderfully fresh – urban dancing – and some of the film’s most moving moments come when the eternally frowning Mia finally finds a moment of peace and temporary satisfaction in the midst of the intensity of practicing her routine. Jarvis’ portrayal is an extraordinarily involved and powerful one that elevates the film to another level of quality.

Jarvis may be the star, but she isn’t the only noteworthy element of the film. The other members of her dysfunctional family unit, young Rebecca Griffiths as her foul-mouthed sister Tyler and Kierston Wareing as her abusive, promiscuous mother Joanne, are just as dynamic and real as Mia herself. Mia’s attitude becomes all the more understandable when the environment in which she has been brought up is revealed. Also excellent in the film is Michael Fassbender, last seen ordering drei glaser in “Inglourious Basterds,” as Joanne’s new boyfriend who develops a close relationship with Mia. He’s been around for longer than Jarvis, but keeping an eye on him in the future would be just as beneficial. Director Andrea Arnold has also proven herself an impressive director with her second feature film. “Fish Tank” is a gripping, depressing movie that doesn’t cut corners and try to fabricate a happy ending out of its devastating story. There are no illusions in “Fish Tank,” and that makes it an incredible and fascinating experience.


AFT Awards: Best Ending

Beware spoilers for “A Serious Man,” “Avatar,” “Fast & Furious,” “Julia,” and “Duplicity.”

This is the twenty-fourth category of the 3rd 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 pictured in the order I’ve ranked them. Click here to see previous years of this category.

The winner:
A Serious Man brought its peculiar end to a swift, mesmerizing end. Just as things are leveling off, there’s news of torrential weather on the radar. Danny’s class is evacuated, and he is finally ready to pay off his bully. As he tries to give him the money, he is struck by the sight of what is coming toward him: a fast-approaching tornado. It’s a shocking, speedy finale that really leaves its viewers with a puzzled expression on their faces in the most fantastic way.

Other nominees:
Avatar finally gave its hero what he wanted all along: a chance to become one with the Na’vi. As his human body is laid down next to his avatar and the Na’vi all try to make his body leap, the eyes of his avatar burst open and the title of the film appears on the screen. The ensuing visuals accompanied by the song “I See You” seal the deal.

Fast & Furious was about to send Dominic Toretto to jail, but somehow that wasn’t going to happen. Instead, police officer Brian O’Conner, Toretto’s sister, and some new buddies prepare to hijack the prison bus. It’s an ending so ridiculously awesome that even Toretto can’t believe it, and he shakes his head, laughing, as Brian pulls up and spins his wheels, preparing for the big take.

Julia turned its protagonist into someone she never thought she’d be. After going to such lengths and enduring so much to try to earn some extra cash, Julia gives it all up to protect the safety of the boy she kidnapped. Her last line and the expression on her face is priceless: “I’m taking you back to your mother.”

Duplicity pulled the rug out from under its triple agents as their ridiculously well-constructed plan was destroyed by the simplest fabrication on the part of Howard Tully. Their reactions are completely worth it, and it’s also a nice touch to see the utter dismay on the face of Richard Garsik, who realizes his career is over now that he’s announced a revolutionary product that doesn’t exist at all.

The AFT Awards will resume and conclude in February. Final Oscar predictions begin tomorrow.

SAG Awards Reactions

No real surprises here, though the humility of all the recipients and their great generosity in thanking everyone was nice to see. The supporting trophies went to expected winners Christoph Waltz and Mo’Nique, and Waltz gave another fantastic and moving speech. The leading categories cemented frontrunners Jeff Bridges and Sandra Bullock over George Clooney and Meryl Streep for the Oscar derby, even though I had predicted the latter two to win at this particular ceremony. And Best Ensemble goes to the spectacular cast of “Inglourious Basterds,” and Eli Roth delivers a fun speech in which he notes the origins of all the cast members and gives a great shout-out to Newton, Massachusetts, the hometown of “The Office” star B.J. Novak. While the acting winners are important for the upcoming Oscar race, the ensemble win for “Basterds” doesn’t mean that it’s suddenly jumped ahead of its competition since “The Hurt Locker” had a cast of relative unknowns and both “Avatar” and “Up in the Air” weren’t nominated here. The Oscar race is officially underway, and I’ll have final predictions up starting tomorrow morning, three categories per day. Stay tuned.

2009 Spillover: Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel
Directed by Betty Thomas
Released December 23, 2009

The title is pretty creative; there isn’t much debating that. Unfortunately, this film doesn’t have much more to offer than a fun name. Most of its cuteness was exerted in the first film, and this is very much more of the same. This film does adhere to one of the cardinal rules of sequels, however, which can be a good or bad thing depending upon the situation. If something works, get more of it. In this case, three singing chipmunks worked well for the $200 million grossing first film. What’s the next logical step? Singing female chipmunks, of course.

Adding a whole new slew of chipmunks to the party is probably the smartest thing this franchise could have done, because it enhances the adorability factor all around and gives the chipmunks something to do other than to cause trouble for their good buddy Dave. What’s even more entertaining and endearing is that the female chipmunks are huge admirers of Alvin, Simon, and Theodore. They do yearn to achieve the same celebrity status as them, but more importantly, they just want to meet the legends and get their autographs. That’s all fine, but there’s nothing in this story for adults – it’s still just for kids.

What’s interesting about this film, and the franchise as a whole, since the third squeak probably isn’t far off, is that it seems to be a haven for TV actors looking for a side job or a post-show gig, depending on their current status. The first film starred Jason Lee, who was then the star of “My Name is Earl,” a show which has since been cancelled, and David Cross, fresh off of the end of “Arrested Development.” In this second installment, not one but two stars of currently airing TV shows join the cast. Kathryn Joosten, also known as Mrs. McCluskey on “Desperate Housewives,” appears briefly as Dave’s wheelchair-bound aunt, though a clumsy mishap quickly dispels her from the plot. The story then turns over to an unexpected actor to portray the temporary guardian for the chipmunks: Zachary Levi. The star of NBC’s “Chuck” plays a loser, which is a shame because he’s proven he’s capable of getting his life together and being cool on the show. It’s as if he’s taken a step backwards in his career, and it’s a puzzle to determine what he’s doing here. The same is true for any adults who end up seeing this film.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

SAG Winner Predictions

The SAG Awards air tonight, marking the last major awards event before the announcement of Oscar nominations next Tuesday, February 2nd. There’s not much to say, other than that Best Actor and Actress could easily go to Jeff Bridges and Sandra Bullock, respectively. If anyone but Christoph Waltz and Mo’Nique wins in the supporting categories, the Oscar race may get an unexpected shakeup. Best Ensemble is a bit iffier, since it’s hard to know whether voters will choose stars (Nine) over unknowns (The Hurt Locker) or go with the most diverse and talented cast (Inlglourious Basterds). Here are my final predictions:

Outstanding Performance By A Male Actor In A Leading Role
George Clooney (Up in the Air)

Outstanding Performance By A Female Actor In A Leading Role
Meryl Streep (Julie & Julia)

Outstanding Performance By A Male Actor In A Supporting Role
Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)

Outstanding Performance By A Female Actor In A Supporting Role
Mo’Nique (Precious)

Outstanding Performance By A Cast In A Motion Picture
Inglourious Basterds

Movie with Abe: Creation

Directed by Jon Amiel
Released January 22, 2010

Biopics can be a slippery slope because it’s important to discern whether it’s the story of the man or his work that’s actually the more interesting. If the latter is true, sometimes the unknown background behind the man is worthy of being told. That’s rarely the case, however, and when too much time and effort is focused on revealing the untold story of an inventor and little to none is spent detailing the majesty of his work, the result is proportionally weaker and infinitely less satisfying.

When Charles Darwin wrote On The Origin of Species, he had an idea of how it might change the world. Yet he couldn’t possibly have perceived its impact, especially on those who would actively campaign against and deny his theories, even to the present day. The battle between conflicting notions of evolution and religion is front and center in “Creation,” and seeing how events out of his control rip the legendary man apart is powerful. Yet far too little time is spent actually probing Darwin’s theories and the manner in which he came upon them. For its first few moments, the film takes an alternative, creative approach to storytelling to mimic evolution, but abandons it quickly in favor of extended scenes of Darwin sitting in a cage with a chimpanzee. Such conventional storytelling hardly seems suitable for a man who thought so far outside the box.

With all biopics, strong performances are important. This film has an unusual trick up its sleeve, casting real-life spouses Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly as Mr. and Mrs. Darwin. Both have delivered exceptional performances before, most notably in the 2001 film in which they both co-starred, “A Beautiful Mind.” It’s not that they aren’t trying hard or performing well here, but their portrayals aren’t very lasting or lingering. Both husband and wife burrow themselves deeply within the sadness of their characters, but it’s not as moving as it should be. The story is also fairly dull and considerably less dynamic than it purports to be. It’s a melancholy exercise in debating theology versus reason, and that can only be truly captivating if the arguments are fully fleshed out and presented in their most well-reasoned form. Simply, “Creation” is hardly as important or grandstanding as it seems to think it is, and there’s a clear reason for that. The story of the man just is not anywhere near as compelling as his ideas.


AFT Awards: Best Opening

This is the twenty-third category of the 3rd 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 pictured in the order I’ve ranked them. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Note: This category is for opening sequences. Full scenes like those in “Up” and “Inglourious Basterds” are represented in the upcoming Top 10 Scenes of the Year.

The winner:
Watchmen gloriously rewrote history to the tune of “The Times They Are A Changing” with an stunning and affecting montage of the Watchmen from the 1940s to the 1980s.

Other nominees:
That Evening Sun introduced its protagonist with a lasting chronicling of his escape from a nursing home and immersion back into the real world. Gentlemen Broncos perused science fiction novel covers to the tune of “In The Year 2525,” lending its opening far more cleverness than the movie. Bruno was flashy and exciting, to “Nessaja” by Scooter, before there was too much…flashing. House of the Devil invoked the 1980s in a fun, creative way and conveyed the naivety of its protagonist.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Friday For Your Consideration: Saoirse Ronan

Welcome to the final nominations edition of Friday For Your Consideration. I may return with a winners edition if the nominees call for it. As every year nears to a close, there are a number of actors nominated for Golden Globes, Oscars, and countless other awards. There are so many spots and there are so many deserving contenders, yet some inevitably get left out. Each week, I’ll be spotlighting one performance from this year which deserves a second look but might not get it. This doesn’t mean I don’t want Carey Mulligan and Christoph Waltz to get their first nominations. They don’t need my help. As luck would have it, these actors do. I’ll be running this feature until Oscar nominations are announced at the beginning of February, so leave your choices in the comments and I might feature them over the next couple of weeks! I’ve written at greater length about these performances in the reviews of the films, so make sure to read those for a more detailed look at why these actors deserve an Oscar nomination.

Saoirse Ronan, “The Lovely Bones"

Where you’ve seen her before: The 15-year-old actress earned an Oscar nomination two years ago for her work as the youngest Briony Tallis in “Atonement.”

Why she deserves it: Her film was no good, equally due to the adaptation of the story itself and the inappropriately lavish directing by Peter Jackson. But the incredible mature and talented Ronan was marvelous, delivering an exceptional performance that grounded the film even though it couldn’t save it. Ronan’s Susie Salmon is believably older than her age, and the way she delivers dialogue is simply incredible. For most of the film, she serves as the film’s unseen narrator, and that’s a terrific role for her. She performs consistently at a level of quality and excellence the film never achieves.

Standout scene: (Spoilers) She’s fully terrific throughout the entire film, but her best moment probably comes during her murder scene. Despite the failure of that scene to actually represent or even suggest the violent way in which her life ends, Ronan is in top form. Her face displays an equal mix of real curiosity and fear, and it’s clear that she’s smart enough to know that she shouldn’t be accompanying a strange man into an unfamiliar place completely alone.

Why she won’t get it: Three reasons: the film tanked, she’s young, and she already made it in two years ago. Had the movie been a legitimate Best Picture contender as originally thought, Ronan might have had a better shot, but there’s no room for her without any buzz. It seems that only Stanley Tucci will get mentioned for this film, and perhaps a technical award or two. Ronan is also only fifteen years old, and nominees this young rarely get nominated, especially in this category. Keisha Castle-Hughes did it in 2003 for “Whale Rider,” but there were available spaces in the Best Actress field that year, whereas this year there just aren’t. The fact that she was nominated in 2007 hurts rather than helps her because she’s already been recognized, and that film was a Best Picture nominee. She’ll likely be back in future years, but not this time around.

Read the review of the film here. Oscar predictions begin Monday – don’t miss them.

AFT Awards: Best Ensemble Cast

This is the twenty-second category of the 3rd 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 pictured in the order I’ve ranked them. Click here to see previous years of this category.


The winner:
Inglourious Basterds tackled so many different threads, and all the actors were equally spectacular, from the serious – Christoph Waltz, Mélanie Laurent, Diane Kruger, Denis Menochet – to the absurd – Brad Pitt, Eli Roth, and the rest of the Basterds.

Other nominees:
A Single Man was an exercise in subdued expression of feelings, and all of the actors were remarkably up to the task. Away We Go allowed its protagonists to see a vast array of families, all wonderfully and kookily portrayed by an array of talented actors. Up in the Air took off as a result of its strong, realistic performances. An Education came to life with the help of its plucky heroine and those who enriched her experiences.

SAG Winner Predictions: Best Ensemble in a Motion Picture

The nominees:An Education,” “The Hurt Locker,” “Inglourious Basterds,” “Nine,” and “Precious
Who’s not here:Up in the Air
For your information:An Education,” “The Hurt Locker,” and “Nine” all have one performer nominated; “Inglourious Basterds” and “Precious” each have two. The past two years, the winner of this category has gone on to win Best Picture at the Oscars.
Who should win:Inglourious Basterds
Who will win: Very hard to say, but probably Inglourious Basterds over “Nine.”

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Home Video: Sunshine Cleaning

Sunshine Cleaning
Directed by Christine Jeffs
Released March 27, 2009

“Sunshine Cleaning” is a movie both about finding hope in the most desperate of situations and also having fun in the midst of morbidity. It’s certainly an entertaining concept, and the film’s premise is just as shiny and hopeful as its clever title. Yet that’s as far as the sunshine goes, since this actually turns out to be a bleak film without the necessary wittiness or powerful undercurrent to justify its negativity. Even its impressive cast can’t do much to lift this film out of the unquestionable rut in which it for some reason sits, and that doesn’t lead to a terribly fulfilling experience.

Many compare “Sunshine Cleaning” to the 2006 Best Picture nominee “Little Miss Sunshine.” Sure, both may boast an occasionally grumpy, occasionally wise-beyond-his years Alan Arkin and a similar title, but there are few similarities beyond that. The newer film possesses the requisite acting talent in their typical roles for its two lead females, an eternally chipper Amy Adams and an alternative, purposefully disgruntled Emily Blunt. Both ladies have been much better before, and the writing here is nothing great, so it can’t be completely their fault. Yet Adams looks visibly pained when things aren’t going her way, and it’s not much of a stretch for viewers to sympathize with her since the movie is a tiresome bore.

“Sunshine Cleaning,” despite its title, is hardly optimistic, and it never seems to escape its particular funk. Bizarrely bad lighting really doesn’t help the film’s sour tone, and the film doesn’t utilize any other filmic devices to enhance its production. Its story is over-simplified, as events and major plot developments happen too quickly without reason, justification, or explanation. Despite the whirlwind of detours, it’s a highly predictable, familiar tale with nothing new or worthwhile to distinguish it from any of its predecessors. It’s almost as if the moral the film is trying to teach is lost on its characters, and that definitely detracts from its considerably lackluster effect. “Sunshine Cleaning” is hardly a glimmer of hope in the midst of tragedy but more accurately a disappointing and extremely missable film.


AFT Awards: Best Limited Performance – Female

This is the twenty-first category of the 3rd 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 pictured in the order I’ve ranked them. Click here to see previous years of this category. Due to a surplus of nominees this year, I’ve decided to split it into two categories, male and female.

The winner:
Maggie Gyllenhaal (Away We Go) was a whole ball of crazy as a mother with a particular dislike for separate beds and strollers, and by far the most entertaining stop on Burt and Verona’s trips.

Other nominees:
Margaret Colin (The Missing Person) was vibrant and energetic as a duplicitous flirt, and the only refreshing thing about this otherwise abysmal film. Allison Janney (Away We Go) let herself go completely as the ultimate portrait of a woman without any sort of boundaries or filters. Olivia Thirlby (New York, I Love You) was alluring and artful as a girl in a wheelchair who gets the chance to go to a high school prom. Cloris Leachman (New York, I Love You) shined as a woman still deeply in love with her husband after many decades in her film’s most moving segment.

SAG Winner Predictions: Best Actress in a Supporting Role

The nominees: Penelope Cruz’s mistress (Nine), Vera Farmiga’s frequent flyer girlfriend (Up in the Air), Anna Kendrick’s game-changing wunderkind (Up in the Air), Diane Kruger’s actress-turned-spy (Inglourious Basterds), and Mo’Nique’s abusive deadbeat mother (Precious).
Who’s not here: Julianne Moore (A Single Man)
For your information: Only Cruz has been nominated before, for “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” and “Volver.” Both Cruz and Kruger are also up for Best Ensemble this year.
Who should win: Kendrick
Who will win: This will likely be Mo’Nique.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Home Video: Food, Inc.

Food, Inc.
Directed by Robert Kenner
Released June 12, 2009

Making a solid documentary film requires more than just a colorful, flashy PowerPoint presentation. Al Gore clicked his mouse excitedly and awed the world with his global warming movie, “An Inconvenient Truth,” but wasn’t able to construct a movie able to stand on its own as a movie. The facts might, but their assemblage wasn’t nearly as impressive. The latest Big Documentary of the Year doesn’t point cameras in people’s faces and have them turned away violently or ignored like a certain boisterous Flint, Michigan native does, but it still has a sense of being a timely, gravely important exposé.

“Food, Inc” begins its examination of the food industry with an ultra-serious look at just how bad things have become. There are obviously both purposefully and unintentionally funny moments in the documentary, but the theme is one of full and extensive probing, determined to get to the heart of the matter and uncover the truth. It’s a strong and important film because it charges its audience to get up and doing something with their newfound knowledge. In a society where the economy continues to spiral downwards and people keep getting fatter, it’s an utterly relevant and crucial film that doesn’t fail in any of its efforts to educate and motivate its viewers to action.

As a documentary film, “Food, Inc.” is very well assembled and impressively put together. The selection of interview subjects and sound bites is stellar, and the investigation doesn’t falter when it comes up against a brick wall. If someone declines an interview, the film declares it unabashedly and creates an even more biting critique of those who denied the filmmakers access to their operations. By far the most spectacular feature of the film is that it doesn’t fabricate scenarios and utilize cheesy or forced personal stories to muster its strength. Only the most hard-hitting stories that can stand for themselves are chosen, and that makes the film terrific. The haunting and foreboding musical score is also a huge asset for the film. This may not be an appealing film, but it’s certainly an important and impressive film.


AFT Awards: Best Limited Performance – Male

This is the twentieth category of the 3rd 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 pictured in the order I’ve ranked them. Click here to see previous years of this category. Due to a surplus of nominees this year, I’ve decided to split it into two categories, male and female.

The winner:
Denis Menochet (Inglourious Basterds) was the less showy one in the terrifying first scene where his dairy farmer is interrogated about hiding Jews, but his stoic face said so much.

Other nominees:
Eric Bana (Funny People) kept his Australian accent for once in an American film and enhanced this otherwise troubled and unfunny comedy. Guy Pearce (The Hurt Locker) necessarily had to go in the first few minutes, but his bomb diffuser was just as intense and emotive as his replacement. J.K. Simmons (Up in the Air), a Jason Reitman regular, stood out as the most moving fired employee to talk back about the people who axed him. Christian Camargo (The Hurt Locker) was calm and kind in the face of danger, though perhaps a bit too trusting.