Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Oscar predictions

collective hollywood sigh of relief: the writers' strike is finally over, which means the academy awards will go on as planned this sunday, february 24.
here's my insider breakdown of who will win and who should win (plus an occasional mention of nominations that should have been).

best picture--
these are all fantastic films, but in the end, it's a two-horse race. atonement is too meticulous for its own good--as in, i found myself often more engaged by the stylistic elements than the story itself. juno doesn't have the true cinematic achievement heft of the others. michael clayton is gripping, focused, and powerful--might even be a winner in a weaker year--but it's tony gilroy's first film, and that does count against him. there will be blood is a sprawling, innovate, artistic epic, a landmark movie that will be dissected and appreciated for decades. a little too dark, a little too slow for some. but most importantly, it's up against the coen brothers' masterwork. just as it carried each of the guild awards, no country for old men will also walk with the most coveted of the academy's honors. deservedly so.
shoulda been: into the wild
will (and should) win: no country for old men

this one's no contest, so let's talk nominations. i was most disappointed by johnny depp's nod, as i felt there were at least three other performances in category more worthy of distinction. i loved george clooney, tommy lee jones, and viggo mortensen, but even they're raving about the clear-cut winner.
shoulda been: christian bale (rescue dawn)
will (and should) win: daniel day-lewis

folks have thrown in the towel for cate blanchett in this category because, of her two deserved nods, elizabeth was less pronounced a challenge. laura linney does beautiful, rangey work, as always, but even her nomination here was a bit of a surprise. i've been hearing a lot of support for ellen page's indelible characterization, and she could sneak in if votes split between the two front-runners. marion cotillard's edith piaf is beyond amazing. i shudder at speculation that she may not tally enough support because hers is a foreign film, and that not enough voters saw this stunning performance to begin with. julie christie has won more critics' prizes and will certainly garner a substantial number of sentimental (for various reasons) votes. this one's too close to call; i'm going with my heart.
shoulda been: angelina jolie (a mighty heart)
will (and should) win: marion cotillard

supporting actor--
casey affleck had three(!) memorable roles this year, and this one deservedly earned top notice. a nom is to be expected for always stellar philip seymour hoffman. tom wilkinson managed--via a character i feel certain was much more difficult to realize than it appeared--to translate the (very real) fine line between enlightenment and madness. hal holbrook's heartbreakingly endearing role, coupled with his 60 years(!) in the biz, may be enough to pull off an upset. it's javier bardem's iconic villain, however, in the year's best film that's most likely to win the vote.
shoulda ben foster (3:10 to yuma)
will (and should) win: javier bardem

supporting actress--
cate blanchett's bob dylan is scary good. as previously mentioned, this nom is her better shot, yet some voters may feel a second win for her in this category is too much too soon, especially in this year of solid competition. saoirse ronan is precocious and lovely, but does not belong with this company on this night. tilda swinton picks up some long overdue award-season recognition as she delivers yet again. could even win if two faves do the ol' vote split. amy ryan's received the most critical kudos, and ruby dee gets the sentimental edge. this category boasts a history of big-time surprises.
will win: amy ryan
should win: cate blanchett

we've seen over the past decade or so that best picture and top director don't always go hand in hand. julian schnabel, recognized here for his innovative stylings, saw his french entry miss the cut for the evening's final prize. both tony gilroy and jason reitman are similarly rewarded with first-time nominations for helming extraordinary product. paul thomas anderson's body of work astounds, and i'll call the man a lock to win within the next five years. although it could happen for him sunday, it's almost assuredly the coen brothers' turn. theirs is the only CV here more impressive than PTA's, and they stay a deuce ahead of him with the oscar 1-2 punch.
shoulda been: sean penn (into the wild); joe wright (atonement)
will (and should) win: ethan coen and joel coen

documentary feature--
there's some mighty powerful political material in this category. four of five--including taxi to the dark side, war/dance, and operation homecoming: writing the wartime experience--address war and its consequences. although michael moore's health care missile sicko has collected more hardware, no end in sight is at least as powerful and it's simply a better film.
will (and should) win: no end in sight

documentary short--
once again, this is the category where i draw a blank. why? i've seen none of the entries--no access. (will someone please help remedy this situation in 2008?) my pick is based solely on industry blah blah; in other words, your guess is as good as mine.
winner: freeheld

animated feature--
2007 was a good year for animated films. i'm disappointed there couldn't be more nominees. these three were top-notch. critical darling persepolis and documentary-style surf's up both belong on the short list, yet ratatouille continues a run of pixar triumphs.
will (and should) win: ratatouille

foreign language film--
this category is an outright bummer. what are these picks? (i couldn't even get through mongol.) and where are they? nowhere near a theater near you, that's for sure. between nomination announcement morning and today's press time, not one of these films was available to public audience in los angeles. after four of the best foreign releases of 2007 failed to qualify due to technicalities (the new nomination system may be even worse than the old), what remains is precisely one standout film. would have merely been a contender, now it scores a decisive tko.
shoulda been: the diving bell and the butterfly; persepolis; the band's visit; 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days
will (and should) win: the counterfeiters

boasting the most level playing field of the night--i remain, after repeat viewings, utterly blown away by all the nominees--this category will be a weathervane for award distribution. if the coens win here, chances are we'll see a sweep for their film. atonement and diving bell are gorgeous, rich photographic tapestries likely to go home empty-handed. roger deakins' dreamy patchwork jesse james could very well steal votes from his own work on the coens' piece. most worthy beneficiary of the parity is there will be blood's robert elswit, who also beautifully lensed michael clayton (not nominated here).
will (and should) win: there will be blood

original screenplay
first time ever we've seen three women among the five nominees in this category. nancy oliver and tamara jenkins receive the moral parting gift of History, while diablo cody's first script is considered by many to be the favorite. brad bird's trophy for animated feature will be his only one of the night. similarly, a win here would acknowledge tony gilroy's gifted work on michael clayton and nab the pic its sole statuette.
will win: diablo cody (juno)
should win: tony gilroy (michael clayton)

adapted screenplay--
although i've not read it myself, friends tell me atonement is an astonishing and beautiful novel. playwright christopher hampton wrote a damn impressive version of the story for the screen, as well. ronald harwood does wonders with diving bell's source material, immersing us in an achingly intimate world of isolation. both sarah polley and PTA deliver personal cinematic yarns rich in character and ultimately lonely. the coens, who've struck oscar gold previously for their original work, take the honor this night for their transformation of a cormac mccarthey short story.
shoulda been: sean penn (into the wild)
will (and should) win: ethan coen and joel coen (no country for old men)

visual effects--
i'm not nearly so well-versed at dissecting the artistry that these technical wizards bring to the screen. i do, however, know what looks real neat. golden compass and pirates both looked cool, but transformers was an experience.
will (and should) win: transformers

animated short film--
no point in really breaking these shorties down for you, cuz you're not likely to have seen them. they're typically made available at one theater each in l.a. and nyc during the week preceding the ceremony. i found this bunch an odd, experimental lot. wouldn't be floored or disappointed if peter & the wolf or my love were to win, but my vote goes to the cleverly illustrated john lennon tribute, using real audio footage from a 1969 interview.
will (and should) win: i met the walrus

live action short film
caught these as part of a double bill with the group above. and similarly, there are three here i feel could take the prize. tanghi argentini is a concise, charming belgian office comedy. the sole entry in english, the tonto woman, is a western based on an elmore leonard short story. i'm going with the strongest ensemble acting of the bunch, the one i also expect the voters to respond to.
will (and should) win: at night

art direction
i was not at all mindful of the art direction while watching either the golden compass or american gangster. the other three nominated films were both spectacular and memorable in that regard. again, the vision behind there will be blood impresses, and atonement virtually radiates throughout. i've often heard it said, however, that this category champions the showy. sweeney todd is nothing without that distinctively surreal, dark tim burton flair--the best thing about the movie.
shoulda been: elizabeth: the golden age
will win: sweeney todd: the demon barber of fleet street
should win: there will be blood

costume design--
for as much as i was disappointed by across the universe, i must say that i did appreciate the costumes. sweeney todd likewise comes off as overtly theatrical, which may pay dividends. la vie en rose has little chance here against such mega-budget extravagance. elizabeth and atonement each go the extra mile on costuming, it's hard not to notice. choosing between the two may be the most difficult coin toss of the night. i'll take one of each. kinda.
will win: atonement
should win: elizabeth: the golden age

film editing--
best way to get a sense of just how precise an art we're talking about here is to closely watch example cuts like those the academy has presented during their telecast the last several years. fingers crossed they keep that tradition alive. movie editing is a tremendously complex discipline, and any of these nominees--the bourne ultimatum, the diving bell and the butterfly, into the wild, no country for old men, there will be blood--would be worthy of oscar distinction. that being said, it's come to be something of a given that the film honored in this category will also take best picture. my money's on us seeing that twofer yet again.
will (and should) win: no country for old men

sound mixing
the sound awards don't as often go to fx-heavy films as one may suspect. a stylistic balance is reflected in this season's short list, pitting the bourne ultimatum, no country for old men, ratatouille, 3:10 to yuma, and transformers against one another. despite my caveat above, and the quality work of a couple of these more subtle entries, i'm picking the one that most impressed me at the cinema.
will (and should) win: transformers

sound editing
magazine entertainment weekly revealed what i'd call a pretty telling stat: for the last 40 years, they say, every time the mixing winner has also received a nod in sound editing, it's won both awards. nominees here are the bourne ultimatum, no country for old men, ratatouille, there will be blood, and transformers, so four of the five have a shot at the double-double. EW predicted, as i did above, a transformers triumph for the former category, so i thank them for the stat and go back to the well as well.
will (and should) win: transformers

original score--
i'm surprised that i remember musical themes from moments in several of the nominated films, and disappointed that there will be blood and into the wild were declared ineligible for similar qualification technicalities. 3:10 to yuma vibes patently western with a cool contemporary bent, and ratatouille balances appropriately playful with wistful. the kite runner seems odd man out among this grouping; its score did nothing for me. michael clayton, on the other hand, struck me as compelling and mysterious, even daring and unpredictable. i recall tapping into its moodiness. hands down, the most remarkable of the bunch is atonement, where music moved story so effortlessly, so completely, it felt like a character all its own.
will (and should) win: atonement

original song
oh No: another one of those years when three of five nominees are from one movie. (so long as beyonce doesn't sing them all, i'll survive.) and it's a disney movie, no less. happy working song is genuinely funny stuff, so close is piffle, and that's how you know is what i'd call the theme tune, most recognizable, most likely to succeed. raise it up from august rush has no chance against the mouse powerhouse, much less versus the cream of the crop, the breakout hit from irish indy sensation once, entitled falling slowly. the odds appear to favor some flavor of disney here, but any trace of backlash or vote splitting will knock the enchanted trio from the podium.
will (and should) win: falling slowly (once)

eddie murphy does his thing in norbit, looking fat, looking old, appearing a woman, etc. well done, again. pirates returns for a second installment of its own sequel, bringing out the dead, melding creatures with humans, and more such creativity at sea than any man should have to bear. again, well done, again. the only aspect of la vie en rose more astonishing than marion cotillard's performance is her physical transformation. she ages--and not well, mind you--from spry pixie 18 to deathbed decrepit 47, looking natural and spot-on edith piaf every step of the way.
will (and should) win: la vie en rose

whew! that'll do it.
if my selections stick, tally five for no country for old men, three for transformers (second biggest winner of the night?!), and two apiece for there will be blood, atonement, and la vie en rose. sound reasonable?

with the exception of a handful of stone-cold locks, this feels a more difficult year to call than last, when, if memory serves, i went 18/23, whiffing as expected on the technicals. i've taken few risks this campaign; also admittedly led quite a bit with my heart. now looking much forward to sunday to see how it all shakes down. i'll be back soon with some post-awards analysis and water cooler chat (maybe another review between now & then, too). in the meantime, of course, would dig hearing how you see things. so get on it!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

president's day weekend

4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days--
stark, dark, and real. winner of major film festival awards worldwide, yet sadly disqualified for oscar recognition. (look into how academy's own new foreign nomination standards got in the way of this year's best candidates.) director mungiu crafts an eerily bleak portrait of 80's-era romania, then makes you squirm and sweat with his characters through every urgent moment. exceptional, theatrically long takes and daring stillness add to the sense of immediacy. the cast is stellar; lead anamaria marinca impresses.
exceptional: 3 stars

reminiscent of the three keys to smart real estate: location, location, location. PYT's hayden christensen and rachel bilson bop around the world from one impressive world landmark to the next, engaging in a sci-fi wargame of teleportation. it's a promising fx premise executed with flair by director doug liman, yet it rarely feels like more than a high style geography romp. i doubt the target audience cares for much more. it's fun in that teen date movie kinda way, but i certainly won't be holding my breath for those rumored sequels.
fun: 2 stars

step up 2 the streets--
proof for my assertion that dance movies are like porn. endure the paper-thin plot and stilted dialogue until the next big display of the talent's primary skill. tight opening number for setup (including a smooth cameo by channing tatum), talk, Perform, talk talk, Perform, etc. further feeding the porn analogy is delicious star briana evigan. she can flat-out move it on the dancefloor, no doubt; but, really, i'd watch her do anything. good enough chemistry with hunky, deft counterpart robert hoffman, but we just keep waiting for them to (ahem) perform. their hottest shared moment comes in the climactic dance sequence in the rain, a save the best for last number typical of the genre. choreo is nice, but, sadly, never wows.
typical: 2 stars
evigan: delicious

Saturday, February 9, 2008

blah movie season underway

no no, don't feel like you have to rush out and see them all straightaway. mediocre movies will be available to you all year long. and of course their dvd counterparts do boast seemingly inexhaustible shelf life. yet this is the time of year when the floodgates open, releasing some real doozies into multiplex and art house alike.
ah, i remember the curdled cream of 2007's rotten crop (of those i was "bold" enough to endure)--spider-man 3 and walk hard: the dewey cox story. in a word, awful. now i've seen the first big stinker of this campaign:

in bruges--
starring colin farrell, brendan gleeson, and ralph fiennes, it certainly has enough star power to draw an audience. but writer/director martin mcdonagh (who wrote staggeringly brilliant stage play The Pillowman) simply gets it all wrong. the scenes feel incongruous, the humor consistently misses the mark, the shot selection appears amateurish, even the allegedly picturesque city gets lost in the directorial mess (might as well have filmed on a soundstage). honestly, why beat this dead horse? (i don't like writing reviews so scathing, esp. when such talent is involved; we're all artists. sorry.) i can't give it zero stars, cuz lord knows i've seen (and been in) much worse.
all wrong: 1 star