29 January 2012

Oscar Zone, Vol. III, Part 2: Best Actor Chances

Norwegian Morning Wood takes careful time to analyse Oscar Nominees each year and often times we are way, wayy off. Usually the Acting Categories are fairly simple to predict, though and we run the show without incident. The past two years we have been 4/4, but the winners aren't nearly as clear-cut this time around. Nevertheless, it's time we take a look at everyone's chances, starting with the Supporting Categories:

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Nick Nolte for Warrior (2011)
This is kind of an undervalued nomination. Nick Nolte hasn't really been a hot actor in...ever. His mere nomination reminds me of NBK and how much of a crazy dude this cat is. Warrior is an underseen film without a great deal of award momentum behind it although it perhaps deserves some. UFC can't replace Boxing as the prestige American Fighting Sport as much as UFC Films will not replace Boxing Films as Oscar Gold.
Chances of Winning: 1/5

Jonah Hill for Moneyball (2011)
Finally, finally, the fat kid from Superbad (2007) has an Oscar Nomination. This is actually a great year for Comedians at the Oscars and Jonah's nomination here is pretty sweet in its concept, rewarding the kind of kid who is appearing in Channing Tatum comedies later on in the year. Still, there's a very remote chance he wins, although Jonah may turn towards pictures more prestigious than Accepted (2006) and Grandma's Boy (2006).
Chances of Winning: 2/5

Kenneth Branagh for My Week with Marilyn (2011)
This is actually Ken's fifth nomination although his first for Supporting Actor (previously nominated for Lead Actor, Director, Writer, and Live Action Short). My Week with Marilyn has a nice acting buzz around it, but Ken's on no one's radar this year and he'll go home empty-handed again.
Chances of Winning: 3/5

Max von Sydow for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2011)
This is the year of the geezer, for sure. Max von Sydow is about the only thing that's not sappy and emotionally manipulative to come out of this movie and he has enough career prestige to be in the running here. Nevertheless, he's in an awfully bad film and he's not going anywhere here.
Chances of Winning: 4/5

Christopher Plummer for Beginners (2010)
This fake poster sums up this film nicely. Chris Plummer has been chugging along as a go-to geezer for a while now and the moment is right for him to bump up to Oscar-Winning status. Supposedly Acceptance Speeches can help fuel the Academy's mind and he had a keen mixture of class and humour in his Golden Globes win. There's no reason to ignore him here in a relatively weak category this year.
Chances of Winning: 5/5

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Janet McTeer for Albert Nobbs (2011)
There's always that "Who?' in these kinds of categories. No one has ever heard of Janet McTeer or has a reason to vote for her. Albert Nobbs isn't the kind of great immortal movie that can bring up a more unknown performance like this. There's no good luck for Janet here.
Chances of Winning: 1/5

Melissa McCarthy for Bridesmaids (2011)
Novelty performance of the year? The love Bridesmaids received this year is fantastic, and it's important for the Academy to recognize some goofy supporting roles every now and then (see also: Robert Downey Jr. for Tropic Thunder [2008]). That said, although Melissa really broke through with this role for both herself and Women in Comedy, it would be a huge shocker if the Academy handed her a Statue for pooping in a sink. The Academy has more dignity than that, unfortunately, and this is gesture for Melissa more than anything else.
Chances of Winning: 2/5

Jessica Chastain for The Help (2011)
Jessica had a really big year in 2011 and it'll culminate here. She was out-acted in her own movie by Octavia Spencer, though, and I don't see her bringing it all home this year. I'm betting on an Amy Adams / Melissa Leo kind of thing where the young, white, prettier girl goes home empty-handed. That said, barring overexposure, this won't be Jessica Chastain's last stop here.
Chances of Winning: 3/5

Bérénice Bejo for The Artist (2011)
The producers of The Artist successfully lobbied for Bérénice to get into this category and that may pay off, as it's far less competitive than the Best Leading Actress Category this year. Although The Artist is the favourite this year, with plenty of nominations everywhere, winning Acting should elude it. That said, the silent nature of The Artist requires an entirely different, antiquated skill set in emotionally expression. If the acting branch of the Academy recognizes that it may bode better for Bérénice but I don't think that will happen.
Chances of Winning: 4/5

Octavia Spencer for The Help (2011)
I don't think The Help was a good film at all but there is certainly enough precedent to help Octavia win this. The popularity of The Help in the sense that it makes audiences feel progressive because it's a film about White People patronizing Black People, is similar to the explosion of success of The Blind Side, which helped Sandra Bullock to a Statue. It's also similar to the sympathy towards blacks that pushed Mo'nique to an Oscar the same year. Whereas this is certainly not a lock like it has been last year, it's the best prediction that can be made.
Chances of Winning: 5/5

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Demián Bichir for A Better Life (2011)
There seems like an epidemic of these kinds of nominations this year. No one on earth knows who Demián Bichir is and there is little to know chance he can transition that into a glory Oscar night. In a ceremony already full of self-congratulation the competition between A-Listers in this category this year is immense.
Chances of Winning: 1/5

Gary Oldman for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011)
I would really like to see Gary take home his first nomination on Oscar Night. His lifetime of spectacular acting has gone largely unacknowledged and there's certainly precedent for the Academy doing so, especially with the chance to vote for him since he was deemed a longshot to be nominated. For that reason, though, his chances seem slim. Despite his track record Gary doesn't have a ton of momentum this year, nor does Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy in comparison to some of the other actors nominated here. It's a longshot, for sure.
Chances of Winning: 2/5

Brad Pitt for Moneyball (2011)
Moneyball was Brad's passion project for a while and it's great that he has some acknowledgment to that here. His character here is very typical for the more recent kind of Brad Pitt role, the fast-talking dude who persists in the wake of constant failure. Brad certainly deserves a Statue at some point, but I don't think this is going to be it, while it was a high-profile role, the next two are higher.
Chances of Winning: 3/5

Jean Dujardin for The Artist (2011)
I'll treat Jean the same as Bérénice. It takes a lot of talent to act as well as these two did without sound. If the Academy can recognize that then Jean will grab Oscar. The Frenchman has the kind of classical good looks to nab the votes, if only he wasn't going against the most classical good looking actor ever.
Chances of Winning: 4/5

George Clooney for The Descendants (2011)
The Descendants has been George's best role in years, and that's with years of great roles. As the winner of the Best Dramatic Actor Golden Globe he's going against the winner of the Best Comedic Actor, Jean Dujardin. I've got to believe that Clooney has more of a history with the Academy and they'll lovingly vote up one of their own who is so entrenched as a poster boy for the Hollywood System. Although he's the classic kind of winner it's tough to cheer against him. Especially when he smiles.
Chances of Winning: 5/5

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Glenn Close for Albert Nobbs (2011)
Glenn Close really creeps me out here. She makes for a very bad looking man. I really am pretty freaked out just looking at that thing. For that and probably plenty of other reasons, Glenn won't bring home an Oscar this year, although the fact that she stands the least chance of winning says something about how tough this category is this year.
Chances of Winning: 1/5

Rooney Mara for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Personally I believe this to be one of the greatest pieces of acting I've seen in years. It hasn't captured attention like it should have though, whether that be for the tough to digest subject material, the low profile of Rooney Mara, or a lack of general award buzz around The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Rooney was a longshot to make it into the final five here and the remaining three nominees are primed to duke it out pretty well.
Chances of Winning: 2/5

Michelle Williams for My Week with Marilyn (2011)
This is the kind of performance tailor-made for Oscar. Generally the Academy loves biographic tales like this and biographies of someone like Marilyn Monroe, pulled off as well as Michelle pulled it off and in this specific style should attract plenty of attention. She's the kind of young actress that the Academy has also loved awarding before and she has some good history with nominations. She somehow won a Golden Globe for this, as Seth Rogen put it, hilarious comedy and could very well make the push here.
Chances of Winning: 3/5

Viola Davis for The Help (2011)
Right now Viola and Meryl are in a virtual tie for winning this category, with Viola slightly ahead. I don't think that this performance was as iconic or captivating as Meryl's though, and if Octavia wins for Supporting Actress I've got think Viola also winning would be black chick winning overload. Hollywood isn't that progressive, after all. Then again, if voters are inclined towards Octavia, the support may be out there, although the Supporting Category is far less competitive.
Chances of Winning: 4/5

Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady (2011)
Meryl by far has the history with the Academy all set, and she turns into Margaret Thatcher with such ease that it's tough not to recognize her. What hurts her is how shitty The Iron Lady is and how there hasn't been a tremendous buzz or exceptionality to her performance. Again, it will come down to her or Viola most likely, and it's almost a virtual toss-up right now. I'll give Meryl the advantage due to her history with the Academy and for her already edging out Viola for the Golden Globe.
Chances of Winning: 5/5

The Long Halloween Vol. III: National Puzzle Day

Hello once again and welcome back to the third year of The Long Halloween, a year-long look at the greatest ways to celebrate the Holidays of the year. January is full of special days such as New Year's Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and Black Monday. Today though, we're celebrating a much more stupid, obscure January Holiday. Today of course, its National Puzzle Day. That's right. It's time to do some puzzles. Now, there are plenty of puzzling movies you may want to watch today like Da Da Vinci Code (2006) or National Treasure (2004) or something, but there is one big movie that is all about mazes and puzzles that makes for the perfect outlet for the puzzling mind this day:


That's right. Today it's time to watch Chris Nolan's Inception (2010) and let the puzzles flow. This can be considered one of the better big-budget, high-profile releases in years and it's also got plenty of intellectual thinking points to twist a brain around. The basis for the flick is mazes and puzzles, which are continuously elaborated upon, even thematically in a sense of story, plot, and characters.

There really aren't enough memes for this movie, though. Really, not enough. This is the truest puzzle of them all - to figure out how to twist ridiculous pictures like the squinty Leo or the strutting Leo into ironic juxtapositions that provide a commentary on either story or contemporary morays.

So you have a choice today. You can either pick up a jigsaw puzzle and attempt to put that together or just put Inception in the VCR. Jigsaw puzzles are pretty terrible. Who wants to waste an afternoon doing that? Not I said the Bry. A puzzle within a dream within a movie within an afternoon - that's the kind of life I'd want to lead. Just let that fucking top fall.

28 January 2012

Profiles: Liam Neeson, A Clinic in Badass

Who is the biggest action star in the world? Bruce Willis? Dwayne The Pebble Johnson? Jason Statham? I think not. All of these suckas would fall down to one man - Liam Neeson. Somehow, someway, Oskar Schindler himself has become the most reliably badass screen actor working today. Liam Neeson is turning 60 years old this year and is still teaching the young whippersnappers how to fall in line and not cry when facing down Wolves. In honour of this weekend's release of The Grey (2012), let's take a moment to look at the formation of Liam "Motherfucker" Neeson. It's also notable that each of these six roles comes with a classic catchphrase! Keep reading-

It Begins with Batman Begins (2005)

Chris Nolan need someone badass enough to train Batman. Yes, this dude needs to be able to brutally kick the ass of BATMAN when training in the Himalayas. Who better than Liam Neeson to bring gravitas to the role of Henri Ducard along with coldness, capability, and sincerity. Liam had been in more mainstream roles that required him to kick some ass before this, such as Kingdom of Heaven the same year and a brief yet vital moment in Gangs of New York (2002). His first foray in this vein of course goes back to Darkman (1990), but that was never the career path he chose. Until Batman Begins. In a spoiler-y way, Liam Neeson turns out to really be Ra's al Ghul, one of Batman's most interesting villains and Neeson with a quiet stern confidence makes the role come together.
Classic Line: "You never did learn to mind your surroundings!"

The Clutch Moment: Taken (2008)

This was it. Taken was the moment where everyone realised just what Liam could do. Taken is such a brutal movie and Neeson exudes this relentless aura of badass that makes the whole movie. It's just him out there against the entire world and he doesn't let anything stop him in his quest for his daughter (not even her friend's drug overdose. Seriously, he just leaves her there!). Liam brings to the screen that genuineness - he's not smirking through the role or winking at the camera. Taken works only because Liam takes being taken seriously. He also plays a dude named Bryan. That's my name. Add in some Throat Chopping, can't get better than that.
Classic Line: "Now the next part is very important...they're going to take you."

Liam is God: Clash of the Titans (2010)

Liam Neeson didn't really do a ton of fighting in Clash of the Titans but he still plays Zeus with enough emphasis and gravitas as anything else and it's the kind of movie that Neeson is acceptable in that would be pretty wacky ten years ago. His role is fairly minor although his presence exists throughout the film popping up here and there and he is again the driving force for every other character present. It's cool to see him counter Ralph Fiennes who is still obviously stuck in Voldemort mode. This is also by far the worst movie on this list, which is impressive because Clash of the Titans isn't all that bad. It's just that much of the plot and character choices do not make any sense at all. It's saying a lot though, about the quality of the Liam Badass Oeuvre that this is the crappiest of the lot. He also got the main catchphrase of the film - oh that silly Kraken.
Classic Line: "Release the Kraken!"

Cigars and Tanks: The A-Team (2010)

So you need a Hannibal? Someone who can rally the craziness of the A-Team? People who take impossible missions and specialize in the ridiculous? No better man than Liam Neeson to handle this role. He is a bit lighter here than other where but brings an authority that levels one of the funner films of the 2010 Summer. I really have trouble getting sick of that Flying Tank Scene. Liam brings the organized precision to a wacky, wacky movie.
Classic Line: "I love it when a plan comes together!"

Building a Routine: Unknown (2011)

By this point it's almost as if we could start taking Liam Badass for granted. I think Liam works because he often plays straight characters in very fantastic situations. All of his characters are very capable, however, and are not fooled by the people around him trying to manipulate things. They walk their own path with an indomitable will and righteous destiny. Unknown is exemplary at this, as Dr. Martin Harris Liam could lie down and accept his fate - instead, completely undeterred he kicks ass until he can find the truth. He does it all with a very defined sense of class and integrity. There is a strong appeal to that today in an age where it's difficult to trust anyone to do the right thing. Liam is there for us. Oh thank you, Liam.
Classic Line: "I'M Martin Harris!"

Fighting Wolves: The Grey (2012)

So at this point Liam Neeson has fought Batman, underground kidnappers, Greek gods, the U.S. Army, and an entire conspiracy network of seedy Europeans. What's left to get its ass kicked? It's almost an impossible question. How about Wolves? Yes - fucking Wolves. Liam Neeson needs to fight some fucking Wolves. Such is The Grey, opening yesterday. Liam is walking through this kind of role by now, but it's not really getting old. His voice alone steadies the men against the fearsome Wolf Onslaught, and again, his integrity, reliability, and capability carry both the narrative and the film itself. There's no other action star today worth the intensity and focus that Liam effortlessly exudes on screen. I don't understand why Liam has gone this route late in his career. I also don't understand why he's picking movies like this over Spielberg's Lincoln (2012). It's also notable how intense these films are. Besides the three major franchise flicks here (Batman Begins, Clash of the Titans, The A-Team), the films that center around only Neeson tend to be very hardcore, adult-oriented action flicks, which is also a refreshing market to exploit. At any rate, it seems like this noble badass is here to stay.
Classic Line: "Don't move...stare right back at them."

24 January 2012

Oscar Zone Vol. III; Part 1: Nominations and Predictions

Well folks, here we are again, an exciting time of the year to break away from the drull January Season, the Oscar Nominations were officially released today and here are our first thoughts. Now, in the next month we'll give these first thoughts some careful analysis as the races ebb and flow. Some of our early guesses last year were wayyy off but we could have seen some winners yet from a week out or so. That said, it's a skill to guess it all from the beginning, so here we are.

Now, we have a very particular system for this thing around here. Politics and lobbying in Hollywood is a complex game and the most worthy nominees seldom actually bring home some gold. For that reason we highlight in RED the nominees we think deserve to win, in BLUE those that will win and naturally, when these choices actually do align, it's in a lovely shade of PURPLE. Let's get at it:

Best Motion Picture of the Year

The Artist (2011): Thomas Langmann
The Descendants (2011): Jim Burke, Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011): Scott Rudin
The Help (2011): Brunson Green, Chris Columbus, Michael Barnathan
Hugo (2011): Graham King, Martin Scorsese
Midnight in Paris (2011): Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum
Moneyball (2011): Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz, Brad Pitt
The Tree of Life (2011): Nominees to be determined
War Horse (2011): Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy

I thought both Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011) and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) were better than anything on this list. That said, The Artist is charming its way through Southern California right now and seems hellbent on grabbing Oscar, if only for pulling off what it does for the sheer novelty of it. The Descendants would be a quirkier win and its kind don't usually get the big prize. If both of these films get enough votes to cancel each other out though (and the gimmicks of The Artist proves too great), something like Hugo could step in and snatch it.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Demián Bichir for A Better Life (2011)
George Clooney for The Descendants (2011)
Jean Dujardin for The Artist (2011)
Gary Oldman for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
Brad Pitt for Moneyball (2011)

After a surprise snub of Michael Fassbender in Shame (2011), the Best Actor race isn't nearly as clear-cut as it has been recently. This is unbelievably Gary Oldman's lifetime first Oscar Nomination and I'm half-tempted to say that the Academy uses this opportunity to honour his work, similar to Jeff Bridges, John Wayne, Al Pacino and so on, who won awards for far less than their best work. This was not the case with Mickey Rourke a few years ago, however when the Academy turned instead to familiarity, honouring Sean Penn instead. I'm thinking something similar happens here, and this IS one of George's lifetime best roles, so I'm thinking he snatches it.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Glenn Close for Albert Nobbs (2011)
Viola Davis for The Help (2011)
Rooney Mara for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady (2011)
Michelle Williams for My Week with Marilyn (2011)

This is an extremely competitive category this year. Truly, the women outshined the men in 2011. That said, no one committed more to a role than Rooney Mara did, although Meryl Streep shines more by being outstanding in an otherwise all-around terrible film. It is a big snub to Tilda Swinton, though, who carries a much better film as well or better than Meryl did.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Kenneth Branagh for My Week with Marilyn (2011)
Jonah Hill for Moneyball (2011)
Nick Nolte for Warrior (2011)
Christopher Plummer for Beginners (2010)
Max von Sydow for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)

It's cool to see some Old Farts in this category (and...Jonah Hill), as well as nominations for people who didn't play intense villains. That said, there is also no clear-cut runaway winner here right now. Christopher Plummer has had an excellent late career as of late, and if people can distinguish between him and Max von Sydow he should get the win. People are whining that Albert Brooks didn't get nominated for Drive, and I would say that's more a novelty move anyway, at least until I saw Melissa McCarthy nominated for Bridesmaids.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Bérénice Bejo for The Artist (2011)
Jessica Chastain for The Help (2011)
Melissa McCarthy for Bridesmaids (2011)
Janet McTeer for Albert Nobbs (2011)
Octavia Spencer for The Help (2011)

The Academy has loved giving this award to Black Chicks recently, so I'm almost cautious to think that this will be that easy to predict. The forces behind The Artist lobbied hard to get Bérénice Bejo in this category and away from the heavy competition in the Leading Actress category, and I think that may pay off. That said, Octavia is cresting hard right now as the likely winner. Can we also mention Melissa McCarthy? Great to see one of the best characters of the year recognized like that. And no love for that chick from The Secret Life of the American Teenager who was in The Descendants? Ouch.

Best Achievement in Directing

Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris (2011)
Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist (2011)
Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life (2011)
Alexander Payne for The Descendants (2011)
Martin Scorsese for Hugo (2011)

Scorsese is recognized again here. Hugo is such a competently and wonderfully directed film in a genre that Marty has never really attempted before. He pulls off the 3-D Children's action / nostalgia flick so well that I don't think there's any way around his winning.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

The Artist (2011): Michel Hazanavicius
Bridesmaids (2011): Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo
Margin Call (2011): J.C. Chandor
Midnight in Paris (2011): Woody Allen
A Separation (2011): Asghar Farhadi

I don't see Bridesmaids being a real contender anywhere, although it's sweet that Kristen Wiig can add "Oscar-Nominated" to her resume the same way Matt Damon and Ben Affleck can write "Oscar-Winner" somehow. I don't think any other movie has the momentum behind it besides The Artist, which pulls off an emotional, entertaining story with very few actual words - quite the achievement (although, really isn't that what we started with in film?). Then again, many believe that this is Woody's category to lose. I think he loses.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

The Descendants (2011): Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Hugo (2011): John Logan
The Ides of March (2011): George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon
Moneyball (2011): Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin, Stan Chervin
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011): Bridget O'Connor, Peter Straughan

Dean Pelton, Oscar-Winning Screenwriter? The Descendants does have enough good momentum to nab this. I don't see Moneyball seriously contending anywhere, although the dialogue is crisp enough and works well to turn a very difficult subject into entertainment. Good Will Hunting (1997), arguably Juno (2007), and The Social Network (2010) won for doing the same thing. Now I'm wondering how I made my second Matt Damon reference of this post and also if I should change my vote...

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

A Cat in Paris (2010): Alain Gagnol, Jean-Loup Felicioli
Chico & Rita (2010): Fernando Trueba, Javier Mariscal
Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011): Jennifer Yuh
Puss in Boots (2011): Chris Miller
Rango (2011): Gore Verbinski

Luckiest nomination of the year certainly goes to Rango. I thought this was one of the best films of the year and somehow it landed in a category with Kung Fu Panda 2 and Puss in Boots instead of Cars 2 (2011) and The Adventures of Tintin (2011). Both of those pics are prestigious enough to grab a ton of votes and in their absence I have to believe Rango ends up pooling it all.

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year

Bullhead (2011): Michael R. Roskam (Belgium)
Footnote (2011): Joseph Cedar (Israel)
In Darkness (2011): Agnieszka Holland (Poland)
Monsieur Lazhar (2011): Philippe Falardeau (Canada)
A Separation (2011): Asghar Farhadi (Iran)

Believe it or not this is one of the easier categories to pick. A Separation has been making plenty of waves over here and is probably the one surefire lock I'll give. This thing should be nominated for Best Picture and will walk all over this category.

Best Achievement in Cinematography

The Artist (2011): Guillaume Schiffman
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011): Jeff Cronenweth
Hugo (2011): Robert Richardson
The Tree of Life (2011): Emmanuel Lubezki
War Horse (2011): Janusz Kaminski

This is a tough category. It would be easy for The Artist to run away with this if it starts sweeping, but the Cinematography itself isn't that innovative. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo's cinematography really stood out as an element that made that a better film, but I'm not thinking it gets a lot of love here. That leaves the breathtaking, 3-D work of Hugo, an Academy-Friendly Recognition, but this is really a toss-up.

Best Achievement in Editing

The Artist (2011): Anne-Sophie Bion, Michel Hazanavicius
The Descendants (2011): Kevin Tent
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011): Angus Wall, Kirk Baxter
Hugo (2011): Thelma Schoonmaker
Moneyball (2011): Christopher Tellefsen

I'm treating this the same way as Cinematography. The editing in particular stands out with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo but I'm not convinced it will win. The Artist is the safe bet right now but this could go a few ways.

Best Achievement in Art Direction

The Artist (2011): Laurence Bennett, Robert Gould
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011): Stuart Craig, Stephenie McMillan
Hugo (2011): Dante Ferretti, Francesca Lo Schiavo
Midnight in Paris (2011): Anne Seibel, Hélène Dubreuil
War Horse (2011): Rick Carter, Lee Sandales

I fail to see the Art Direction needed in The Artist. I can see this going either Hugo or Midnight in Paris' way, but as you can tell, I'm leaning more towards this being Marty's night rather than Woody's.

Best Achievement in Costume Design

Anonymous (2011): Lisy Christl
The Artist (2011): Mark Bridges
Hugo (2011): Sandy Powell
Jane Eyre (2011): Michael O'Connor
W.E. (2011): Arianne Phillips

Costume Design tends to go to weird films that don't have much else going for them, and as such I rarely predict the right winners here. Why can't Madonna's film be an Academy-Award winner? There are plenty of reasons. Let's go Jane Eyre with a snub of Anonymous.

Best Achievement in Makeup

Albert Nobbs (2011): Martial Corneville, Lynn Johnson, Matthew W. Mungle
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011): Nick Dudman, Amanda Knight, Lisa Tomblin
The Iron Lady (2011): Mark Coulier, J. Roy Helland

This is certainly Mark and Roy's category to lose. They did a fantastic job recreating some of the historical people in The Iron Lady, and by historical I mean like only thirty years ago. It's flawless. Leading heavy in the race right now.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score

The Adventures of Tintin (2011): John Williams
The Artist (2011): Ludovic Bource
Hugo (2011): Howard Shore
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011): Alberto Iglesias
War Horse (2011): John Williams

There isn't a runaway outstanding track like Trent Reznor's The Social Network last year (although his The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo deserves it). The Artist carries a lot of its back on its Score, SOUNDS good here hyuck hyuck.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song

The Muppets (2011): Bret McKenzie ("Man or Muppet")
Rio (2011): Sergio Mendes, Carlinhos Brown, Siedah Garrett ("Real in Rio")

Is this a serious category? The Muppets only needs to beat Rio? This just turned into my lock of the night. For the record, this is why this happened.

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011): David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce, Bo Persson
Hugo (2011): Tom Fleischman, John Midgley
Moneyball (2011): Deb Adair, Ron Bochar, David Giammarco, Ed Novick
Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011): Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush, Peter J. Devlin
War Horse (2011): Gary Rydstrom, Andy Nelson, Tom Johnson, Stuart Wilson

I never really know where this is going, but I have always thought that the sound of all the Transformers films is underrated. Sound is so essential to those fast flicks, it provides a cue for the action far superior to visual stimuli. I honestly think that Dark of the Moon deserves it here. I mean, those foley artists had to come up with all kinds of weird Alien Technology sounds. That's tough, man.

Best Achievement in Sound Editing

Drive (2011): Lon Bender, Victor Ray Ennis
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011): Ren Klyce
Hugo (2011): Philip Stockton, Eugene Gearty
Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011): Ethan Van der Ryn, Erik Aadahl
War Horse (2011): Richard Hymns, Gary Rydstrom

This has Drive's name all over it. Without any other nominations and plenty of support I imagine this locks it up. It also does excel in careful editing and sound plays a huge effect on mood here.

Best Achievement in Visual Effects

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011): Tim Burke, David Vickery, Greg Butler, John Richardson
Hugo (2011): Robert Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossmann, Alex Henning
Real Steel (2011): Erik Nash, John Rosengrant, Danny Gordon Taylor, Swen Gillberg
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011): Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White, Daniel Barrett
Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011): Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Matthew E. Butler, John Frazier

This seems like a no-brainer. The Academy finally has a chance to give a good movie this award instead of a mindless blockbuster, although that means that the Transformers Trilogy will have no Visual Effects award to show for their three films, which is unfortunate. The robots in Transformers look incredible and the integration of them into reality has been seamless throughout each installment, peaking with Dark of the Moon. It won't happen though.

Best Documentary, Features

Hell and Back Again (2011): Danfung Dennis, Mike Lerner
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front (2011): Marshall Curry, Sam Cullman
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (2011): Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky
Pina (2011): Wim Wenders, Gian-Piero Ringel
Undefeated (2011): Daniel Lindsay, T.J. Martin, Rich Middlemas

Apparently the big doc this year was Project Nim (2011), and that was a big snub. It's tough to say with these nominees, none really stand out as exceptional (read: I've heard of them). Based on titles...Pina?

Best Documentary, Short Subjects

The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement (2011): Robin Fryday, Gail Dolgin
God Is the Bigger Elvis (2011): Rebecca Cammisa, Julie Anderson
Incident in New Baghdad (2011): James Spione
Saving Face (2011): Daniel Junge, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom (2011): Lucy Walker, Kira Carstensen

The most brutal category. Let's move on.

Best Short Film, Animated

Dimanche (2011): Patrick Doyon
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (2011): William Joyce, Brandon Oldenburg
La Luna (2011): Enrico Casarosa
A Morning Stroll (2011): Grant Orchard, Sue Goffe
Wild Life (2011): Amanda Forbis, Wendy Tilby

It's fairly safe to go with Pixar here, even though it hasn't yet been attached to a theatrical film (we'll see it next year before Brave [2012]). Considering this is their only category this year I want to lock it up.

Best Short Film, Live Action

Pentecost (2011): Peter McDonald
Raju (2011): Max Zähle, Stefan Gieren
The Shore (2011): Terry George, Oorlagh George
Time Freak (2011): Andrew Bowler, Gigi Causey
Tuba Atlantic (2010): Hallvar Witzø

We're down to just going by titles at this point, folks.

Well that's it. We'll see how terrible I do this year, and it's very possible my predictions shift as some films gain speed, others lose speed, although there isn't a race as heated as The Social Network / The King's Speech (2010) was last year. There are quite a handful of interesting acting races however, and I expect to be wrong about Viola Davis. We'll find out February 26!

18 January 2012

First Impressions: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I saw this a month ago now. Time to finally put up what I thought of it. David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) is by and large one of the best films of the year. It's emotionally gripping, adept storytelling, and compelling throughout its lengthy run time. That said, it's the kind of film that may not get much love come Award Season. It is not the kind of film, though, to care about what other people think of it. Some spoilers follow.

The first thing that really stands out for this flick is the colouration, cinematography, and direction. It's all spectacular. The mood set by lighting and camera angles continually matches the tone of the story and endures to snag the audience in to feel as much pain, sorrow, and even a bit of lovely loneliness that the characters feel. The manner in which this film was shot is in itself another factor in telling its story, which really is the best a Director can possibly shoot for. It is bleak when it needs to be bleak, cheerful when it needs to be cheerful (rarely), and remains interesting and engaging to look at.

From the opening credit sequence the emotionally intense and disturbing tone is set. This is integral to the film - the important story is told largely through emotion, although there is a fair share of technical analysis within the actual plot structure on the parts of the characters themselves, who act as crack detectives. The plot itself deals with some very heavy themes - incest, rape, abuse, manipulation, honour, and integrity are all major themes, mostly between family members.

The film is based on the novel of the same name, published posthumously by Stieg Larsson, who unbelievably apparently just had this shit lying around his house and was found after his death in 2004. The plot structure is very interesting. It is arguably deuteragonistic, focusing primarily on Mikael Blomkvist's (Danny Craig) story while Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) has her own story, connected to Blomkvist at first and then wholly merged. Salander's path is essential to establishing her desire to aid Blomkvist when he tells her he is investigating crimes against women.

There are a lot of women in trouble here. Lisbeth's rape by her welfare officer is difficult to watch, but that's certainly not the worst that happens to the ladies here (see for instance, the original Swedish Title, Men Who Hate Women). There is certainly a parallel between Lisbeth and Harriet Vanger. The actresses playing each role appear strikingly similar physically and are similarly routinely abused. Both also eventually gain the upper hand and outwit their male oppressors (Alright - Huge Spoiler - Harriet by running away, Lisbeth by...well, you ought to see it yourself). It's about women breaking this oppression and securing their own lives and independence.

The film continues this idea of female empowerment. When Blomkvist is captured and helpless, a man in distress he is saved by the more than capable damsel, Salander. She also initiates, then directs the relationship she forms with him because he is one of the only sexual male figures in the story to respect her. When she spies him with another girl at the end though, she reverts to her emotionally confined shell. She is fundamentally anti-social and does not care to abide by societal rules, both pragmatically and in interaction with any other humans. When she finally allows herself to bond and connect with another person, Blomkvist, she misinterprets his attachment to her as exclusive, and hurts all the more when this is not true.

Salander is the really interesting character here and Rooney spectacularly devotes herself to the role. Near anorexic because of lack of food, fiercely dressed (which is ridiculous as a fashion movement), and completely apathetic to the world's judgment, Salander has become an immortal cinematic character. Rooney is also really hot and gets naked constantly, so that's a plus.

As for the rest of the cast, Chris Plummer has become the go-to old dude in many films lately (see also his Golden Globe win for Beginners [2011]) and he doesn't disappoint in that role here. And naturally, since this is a Nordic film, Stellan Skarsgård needs to make an appearance. If Antonio Banderas is the only bankable Mexican Hollywood has, Skarsgård is certainly the dude for anything connected to the North Sea. He's also a perfect slimy evil dude here. I'll never really hear "Orinoco Flow" the same way again, that's for sure.

Daniel Craig is very competent. He tends to be anti-Bond in many circumstances, running, crying, getting captured and basically being a normal human unlike some of his other recent franchise-oriented roles. He carries the story well, especially when we are able to see that Blomkvist is really just a disgraced, lonely man who connects with Lisbeth because he also can't deal properly with the rest of society. His only difference with Salander in this regard is that he still attempts to.

This was a wonderful Christmas movie. Really, the perfect feel-bad film of the season. That being said, I haven't read any of the books, nor seen any of the Swedish flicks. I don't care. This was an excellent film in every conceivable way and if the other interpretations of the novel (and the novel itself) are any good then good for them. This was still an incredibly gripping, intense, and rewarding experience. Like I said, I think it's a bit too out there and intense for casual Oscar Voters to recognize anything, and tho Rooney was nominated for a Golden Globe and may get an Oscar Nomination, it's an incredibly competitive year for the Women's Categories. So go see it, even though I am far too late in recommending it!

13 January 2012

2012: Other Crap to Look Forward To

Two days ago we discussed a handful of things we are looking forward to in 2012. That list was somewhat limited by its "12 Things in 2012" gimmick as well as the fact that not everything in the following year is going to be great. In fact, much of it will probably suck. In fact, much of that list will probably suck. Nevertheless, Here are a handful of other crap that may be cool in the next year:

More Movies:

Too bad your subject died this year
There are a handful of other movies coming out that have some potential for awesome. Within this very month we're anticipating Haywire and The Grey as further proof that January is getting less terrible and turning into alternate action star vehicles (read: MMA chick beats up A-Listers and Liam Neeson fights wolves). As we go further down the line there are some other franchise flicks that may take off but we're skeptical about. Yes, more skeptical than G.I. Joe: Retaliation. This includes The Hunger Games, which seem overrated and a veiled attempt at sucking more cash out of the Twilight Generation and The Hobbit, which by all means looks fine, although to be honest I don't think 2012 has the same fresh Tolkien Spirit that grabbed the nation a decade ago. I'm also concerned about the struggling production after the Ring Trilogy went so smoothly.

There are also three comedies we're looking at this year that have some potential of being awesome, although none are exactly knocking us out of the park. The first, mainstream big summer comedy is Sacha Baron Cohen's The Dictator, which they wisely say is from the makers of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006), not Brüno (2009). It's tough that Sacha's style hasn't really hit movies in starring roles besides Borat in the way his TV career did with Da Ali G Show. Can Sacha do for Gaddafi what Charlie Chaplin did for Hitler? Who knows.

We've also got our eyes on The Five-Year Engagment, as Jason Segel's likeability grows along with Emily Blunt's hotness. Then there's this bizarre 21 Jump Street trailer that somehow looks pretty funny, which works better when seeing it in the movie theater without the judgment that it's a TV show remake. At any rate, this will be the Year of Channing. Do with that what you will.

TV Times:

Fat Guy from LOST, you will always be known as Fat Guy from LOST.
There are exactly two-shows right now that look interesting at all to come out of 2012, but there's certainly some room yet to develop a rich Fall Schedule, although obviously nothing will be as good as New Girl. Actually, it's surprising how much New Girl fails the Bechdel Test. Anyway, the mid-season replacement with the most potential towards being the kind of long-term puzzling LOST-rip-off is clearly Alcatraz, about a bunch of its inmates disappearing in the 60s and reappearing...in modern times! Ohhh, fuckin shit!

We're more excited to see Don Cheadle go nuts, Captain Planet-Style in House of Lies, which is topical as well as massively entertaining. We need another slimeball on TV. And that slimeball needs to be played by Don Cheadle cutting lose and not worrying about his prestige career for a second. Also it's got Jean-Ralphio in a starring role. Thank goodness.

Musical Modes:

As we're moving along here it's more difficult to say what exactly we're pumped up for. There are plenty of artists with some new albums coming out but it's tough to say if they will have any quality or not. Some high profile releases include new work by DMX, Outkast, Madonna, and Mumford & Sons. It may be strange that I appreciate all of those artists equally, but that's that. The most tantalizing (and named) album of the year may be Tyler the Creator's Wolf as a direct follow-up to 2011's Goblin. It's tough to say who is going to fall through the cracks though, last year gave us Adele, Foster the People and LMFAO out of no where.

That's it. Everything you need to know about 2012. Start praying against the Mayans.

11 January 2012

12 Things We're Looking Forward to the Most in 2012

As we start to get into the thralls of 2012 it's about time we take a look at what there is to expect from this great year ahead of us. There are going to be some great cultural events in store, not the least of which is our imminent demise based on the fact that Mayans ran out of room on their stone calendar. It happens, if they had known it would be such a big deal to us, I'm sure they would have hauled another rock out of the quarry and given us another couple millennia. Too bad. Anyway, in counting down our most anticipated moments for 2012 we found two things: 1) They're all movies and 2) A lot of this could be pretty suck. I mean, look at 2011. So without further rambling, let's dive in:

12. GI Joe: Retaliation (06/29/2012)

I didn't see the first one. I don't care. This looks for the most part like they've scrapped a lot of dead weight and added in its place a ton of bad ass. There are a few action movie ensembles coming down the pipe this year and this one has an invigorating track record of awesome behind it. Will it be pretty stupid? Likely, but if it can walk that fine line between stupid and awful there's nothing wrong with that. It'll come out on top if this cautious balance can be more like Iron Man 2 (2010) and less like X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009).

11. The Expendables 2 (08/17/2012)

The Expendables (2010) wasn't really that great. For a movie that supposedly had all the best action stars of the past three decades it somehow came up a bit short, and not on story, we don't care about that. It came up a bit short on the bland action level. How then, could we possibly be energized for a sequel? Simply by adding Norris, Van Dame, Thor's brother, Willis and Schwarzenneger (in expanded roles) to the list of Stallone, Statham, Li, Lundgren, Crews, and Couture. Those last two never really sound right. Who the hell cares about Randy Couture? Unfortunately that list will not be complete until the last name uttered is Seagal. Expendables 3 (2014) anyone?

10. World War Z (12/21/2012)

I'm not so sure what to think about this one. Supposedly it deviates from the book, which is acceptable in that when taken straight the book's format wasn't really movie-friendly. Is the world ready for a mainstream, high-budget zombie flick? Even things like Zombieland (2009) tend to be underground cultural affairs. If zombies can be taken to long dramas with failed second seasons, than perhaps that answer is yes. Brad Pitt's inclusion is curious but will we have passed the Zombie Zeitgeist by then?

9. MIB3 (05/25/2012)

It's tough to think of a more classic example of a franchise that provided such an original, quirky, culturally significant first film and such a dud of a second film (Ghostbusters, perhaps, in the similar niche vein of science fiction comedy-horrors). Men in Black 3 seems primed to take that mantle back, though. Will Smith has been relatively quiet in recent years, instead letting his kids do all the money-making in the household. Josh Brolin is inspired in playing the same character as his No Country for Old Men (2007) co-star, Tommy Jones and the general consensus is "might not be awful!" That's the standard for MIB3, we'll see if it can meet its goal.

8. The Avengers (05/04/2012)

The Avengers will kick off this year's Summer Movie Season and the stakes couldn't be higher for Marvel and Disney who have been pumping and teasing this thing since Sam Jackson showed up in the post-credits of Iron Man (2008). Will it truly be nerdvana or will it fall on its face? Everything leading up to this thing indicates that it's going to be a great experience but we're skeptical of anyone's ability, even Joss Whedon's, to juggle all those balls at once. It should certainly be high on anyone's must-see list but will it even be considered a success if it pulls less than a $Billion worldwide?

7. Skyfall (11/09/2012)

Although Quantum of Solace (2008) was fairly disappointing and there hasn't been dick revealed about this movie besides an enormously impressive cast list, we're still kind of itching for this one. Bond is Bond, which is like pizza. Even when it's cold you'll still eat it. It's also interesting to think of what might befall Daniel Craig now that his career is taking off almost enough that people don't necessarily associate him with the Bond character. Even Tim Dalton is going to be Bond forever. It's not a stretch to think of Mikael Blomkvist playing Bond rather than the other way around.

6. The Cabin in the Woods (04/13/2012)

How often can we re-write the typical Horror genre staples in meta-commentary? At least once more, hopefully. After a long, besieged release schedule, we'll finally get this flick (probably) that supposedly plays with the boundaries of a tired horror movie staple. Will it be exactly like Scream (1996) kind of? We're intrigued enough by Thor's changing attitude when exposed to weird gas to find out.

5. London Olympics (07/27/2012)

The only non-movie on this list, we're pumped as hell to see the greatest athletes in the world compete in London. It's the first city to hold the games for a third time and it appears as though we'll get a really European experience unlike the Chinese one we got four years ago. That is, one full of debt and depression instead of impressive energy. Still, the Olympics are always an impressive news source.

4. Prometheus (06/08/2012)

Ridley Scott has had plenty of misses lately, but in returning to his roots in super-creepy science fiction we've got high hopes. Will there be a cameo by Prometheus and Bob? Will it just turn out to actually be a Prometheus and Bob live action movie?! That's just the kind of maturity we've been looking for around here.

3. Django Unchained (12/25/2012)

With undoubtedly the best (or at least the most tantalizing) cast of 2012, what better way to spend Christmas Day than with our old pal, Quentin? Q has been spot-on bringing to life his long-gestating pet projects. Well, ok, he was just spot-on with Inglourious Basterds (2009), but he's got to be gunning for a Best Director Oscar sometime, right? Django is a spaghetti western set in the old deep South. If anything, Tarantino picks his villains well.

2. Year of Lincoln

With both Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (06/22/2012) and Spielberg's Lincoln (TBA 12/2012) coming down the pipe this year, there's no better time to honour our 16th President. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was one of the first books I've read cover to cover in years that didn't turn out to actually be Entertainment Weekly. As for the straight interpretation, well, if you don't believe that John Wilkes Booth is a vampire, you've got problems, pal.

1. The Dark Knight Rises (07/20/2012)

There's no question that this is the most hotly anticipated event of 2012. The expectations and trust of Chris Nolan are at all-time highs and we're just waiting to see how this damn thing ends. The most intriguing part of everything this juggernaut has put out so far is that by all indications Batman is going to absolutely get his ass kicked this time around by someone who is more focused, organized, and deadlier than the Joker, Bane. The only thing that would indicate that this is going to end happily is the title of the damn movie. Then again, you can't really take anything Nolan does at face value. It will probably end up being a dream.
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