29 February 2012

The Long Halloween Special: LEAP DAY

I never really knew of much to do with the extra day we get every four years. Leap Day is a fun time. Not really, there's nothing really special except celebrating Black History for an extra day of the year. That is, until I saw last week's episode of 30 Rock, "Leap Day" (S6;E9). Watch it now:



There are so many things to do on Leap Day! Nothing counts on Leap Day - it's time to go for your dreams. The episode brilliantly sums up so many holiday tropes it's tough to know where to start. From donning blue and yellow like St. Patty's Day, to the honouring of the fictitious Leap Day William like Santa Claus to the commercialization through candy like Halloween and Valentine's Day, Leap Day is every Holiday mashed into one singular brilliant event. Even exchanging tears for candy is like the Tooth Fairy also giving treats for items children do not need. There's even a little Leap Day Carol with Jack Donaghy.

This episode was directed by Steve Buscemi somehow, which is actually his second 30 Rock ep after "Retreat to Move Forward" (S3;E9). He has also directed a few episodes of The Sopranos and Nurse Jackie, but he did a noticeably competent job with "Leap Day," mastering both the craziness going on in the lives of the ensemble cast but also masterfully administering the Holiday Film spoof Leap Dave Williams (2009).

Leap Dave Williams stars Jim Carrey and Angie MacDowell. While it is an obvious parody of the ordinary man turning into a Holiday Figure and learning a holiday lesson similar to The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (2006), there's some more here. Angie MacDowell has already starred in the definitive movie for its holiday, Groundhog Day (1993), which is played on its eponymous day. The fact that Leap Dave Williams plays all day on USA is similar to TBS' 24-hour running of A Christmas Story (1983) or the fact that USA does play Elf (2003) at a furious pace from Thanksgiving to Christmas.

Jim Carrey's comic cameo appearances in just about anything these days tends to be legendary. He hasn't been in all that much lately that wasn't crap, and when he shows up like this it's as if we've forgotten how sick of his schtick we got during all of his films in the past decade that weren't Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind (2004) and Bruce Almighty (2003). He's done this pretty well in the past year showing up in The Office or SNL, handing the latter its best moments in years. It's been long enough that our nostalgia kicks in. The shock is also not dissimilar from suddenly seeing Will Ferrell: Bitch Hunter on 30 Rock.

So according to 30 Rock rules, here are 10 ways to celebrate Leap Day:

1) Wear Blue and Yellow
2) Attend the Leap Day Parade
3) Someone dress up as Leap Day William, who lives in the Marianas Trench and gives candy to children in exchange for their tears
4) Eat rhubarb, but careful of the leaves!
5) Celebrate the miracle of having an extra day of the year to either do business or extend gift card offers
6) Don't cross icy rivers while holding your brick collection
7) Eat Japanese Food
8) Watch the Leap Dave Williams marathon on USA
9) Take the time to enjoy friends, family, and the less fortunate
10) Take a leap! Do something you would never do! Nothing counts on Leap Day!

26 February 2012

OSCARS 2012: LIVE RESULTS!

Well, you found us, folks. About 10 minutes to go now and we'll put this out in unedited, LIVE glory. Contained here are my best predictions as well as how far off I was.


Best Achievement in Cinematography

Predicted Winner: Hugo (2011): Robert Richardson
Confidence: 70%

Actual Winner: Hugo. Nailed it. I wasn't all that confident to be honest, but it seems as though the competent 3-D blend paid off here.

Best Achievement in Art Direction

Predicted Winner: Hugo (2011): Dante Ferretti, Francesca Lo Schiavo
Confidence: 90%

Actual Winner: Hugo. Again, this was fairly easy to predict, 2/2 so far.

Best Achievement in Costume Design

Predicted Winner: Hugo (2011): Sandy Powell
Confidence: 50%

Actual Winner: The Artist. I wasn't really sure about this one, I was hoping that Costume, Art Direction, and Cinematography would go together. Good to know that The Artist is building some momentum. And was that J. Lo's nipple? Spank bank filled!

Best Achievement in Make-up

Predicted Winner: The Iron Lady (2011): Mark Coulier, J. Roy Helland
Confidence: 100%

Actual Winner: The Iron Lady was seen from a mile away, it's the kind of movie where the make-up outshines the performances and certainly the film itself. A year with some terrible make-up features like J. Edgar (2011) really shows how difficult realistic age make-up actually is.And Cameron Diaz, try to be relevant

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year

Predicted Winner: A Separation (2011): Asghar Farhadi (Iran)
Confidence: 100%

Actual Winner: A Separation. One of the easiest categories to pick of the night. It's a testament to how liberal the Iranian people are despite how oppressively conservative the government is. This is a great film. This dude is right on in this speech, by the way.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Predicted Winner: Octavia Spencer for The Help (2011)
Confidence: 100%

Actual Winner: Octavia Spencer. Could Xtian Bale be more intense? Could Bérénice Bejo be more hot? This is a great award for her in a pretty competitive category this year. Look at that Standing O. I do still think she looks like a froggie though. Nice jazz to play her out.

Best Achievement in Editing

Predicted Winner: The Artist (2011): Anne-Sophie Bion, Michel Hazanavicius
Confidence: 100%

Actual Winner: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011). This is an excellent upset, one that I didn't see coming at all, but had really wanted to happen. Its editing was outstanding and staple of what made it so good. This is fantastic, it obviously caught both of the editors off guard as much as anyone else!

Best Achievement in Sound Editing

Predicted Winner: Hugo (2011): Philip Stockton, Eugene Gearty
Confidence: 85%

Actual Winner: Hugo. So far almost none of the Hugo-favoured awards have disappointed. It's the kind of technically brilliant film that doesn't exactly have a completely spectacular story. Witty thank yous, sound editor. Also Tina Fey has mom arms but Bradley Cooper is really pulling off that 'stash.

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing

Predicted Winner: Hugo (2011): Tom Fleischman, John Midgley
Confidence: 90%

Actual Winner: Hugo. I think they need more jokes about how stupid these awards are. But again, no surprise here, Hugo is cleaning up the technicals as expected. And how much does Cirque du Soleil suck? I couldn't care less about these surrender-monkeys. To be honest, as expected it's as if the Academy is trying to remind us all about how special the movies are. Listen folks, no one needs to be reminded how special movies are. That's why we want to download them for free. There's only so much of a tribute to themselves we can possibly take. I think the camera should just stay on Stacy Keibler.

Best Documentary, Features

Predicted Winner: Pina (2011): Wim Wenders, Gian-Piero Ringel
Confidence: 80%

Actual Winner: Undefeated (2011). Nice to see at least a half-way funny presentation from Downey, Jr. and Paltrow. Anyway, this award seemed to be up between Pina and Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (2011), but it seems as though the large teamster contingent of the Academy honoured Undefeated instead. Makes sense. Are they cutting mikes to cut speeches now?

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

Predicted Winner: Rango (2011): Gore Verbinski
Confidence: 100%

Actual Winner: Rango. One of the easiest choices of the year. I think this was one of the best films of any kind this year and it certainly deserves this award. It will be interesting to see a longform list of Animated winners that will eventually be just all Pixar, along with this brilliant work. And Chris Rock needs to get out there more - that shit was hilarious.

Best Achievement in Visual Effects

Predicted Winner: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011): Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White, Daniel Barrett
Confidence: 100%

Actual Winner: Hugo. Wow. Rise of the Planet of the Apes by all accounts seemed like a lock. The Academy, it appears, is really in love with Hugo. It is a shame that no Transformers movie won a Visual Effects award, if anything, that was one thing that franchise really established. Maybe the fourth film will do it. It's also nice Harry Potter got the guy who played Lucius Malfoy to talk about their make-up and visual effects. I mean, c'mon, anyone else from that huge series? 8/12 at the halfway mark.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Predicted Winner: Christopher Plummer for Beginners (2010)
Confidence: 100%

Actual Winner: Christopher Plummer. This was a no-brainer and a much-deserved award for the oldest dude to receive this award ever. Chris Plummer has the kind of dignity and class that really belongs at this ceremony, the confidence and established demeanor that makes him captivating to watch. He's the grandpa we all want to have getting drunk at Christmas. He still looks like he could die at any moment.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score

Predicted Winner: The Artist (2011): Ludovic Bource
Confidence: 100%

Actual Winner: The Artist. This film needed a great score desperately to fit in the gaps from a lack of dialogue. Ludovic knocked it out of the park and his honour here is no surprise.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song

Predicted Winner: The Muppets (2011): Bret McKenzie ("Man or Muppet")
Confidence: 100%

Actual Winner: The Muppets. Astounding win, this was great, very well-deserved, one of the best songs of the year created by either a man or a muppet. The most ridiculous category of the night presented by the most ridiculous presenters.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

Predicted Winner: The Descendants (2011): Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Confidence: 100%

Actual Winner: The Descendants. Why are Angelina's arms so disgustingly skinny? Anyway, no surprise here. Dean Pelton has an Oscar. So does the German guy from Beerfest (2006). What do we do now?

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

Predicted Winner: Midnight in Paris (2011): Woody Allen
Confidence: 80%

Actual Winner: Midnight in Paris. I wasn't all that certain of this one but it's certainly a good win for the guy. Jeez, we still got all the crappy short subject categories to get through.

Best Short Film, Live Action

Predicted Winner: Raju (2011): Max Zähle, Stefan Gieren
Confidence: 75%

Actual Winner: The Shore (2011). Well, toss-up of the year, who cares.

Best Documentary, Short Subjects

Predicted Winner: The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom (2011): Lucy Walker, Kira Carstensen
Confidence: 70%

Actual Winner: Saving Face (2011). Dammit. It's so vindicating to nail the short subject winners. I don't think there was really any buzz behind Saving Face, good for them I guess. And the Scorcese drinking game needs to catch on. This may be one of the first callbacks to a presentation at a previous award show, which rules.

Best Short Film, Animated

Predicted Winner: La Luna (2011): Enrico Casarosa
Confidence: 100%

Actual Winner: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (2011). Well, double-dammit. La Luna seemed to be the one apparent Short Lock. How the hell are these films even chosen? They all look freaking crazy. 13/20 going into the Big Four.

Best Achievement in Directing

Predicted Winner: Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist (2011)
Confidence: 90%

Actual Winner: Hazanavicius. I don't think Michael Douglas had any idea how to pronounce that name. This was a big win for him over Marty and Woody, but after the DGA win this was pretty solidly expected.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Predicted Winner: Jean Dujardin for The Artist (2011)
Confidence: 80%

Actual Winner: Jean Dujardin. Billy Crystal is that perfect mix of honourable asshole, isn't he? Dujardin is one weird dude, but I'm glad I got on the side that picked him and not George. Although he can't speak a lick of English. It's incredible that in a year that saw A-List Megastars Pitt and Clooney, as well as severely underawarded Gary Oldman in the same category, this crazy Frenchman pulled away with the statue. And that's just how sexy Dujardin really is.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Viola Davis for The Help (2011)
Confidence: 85%

Actual Winner: Meryl Streep. To be honest, with all of her nominations she hasn't won jack in thirty years and this is deserved. I had picked her originally when the nominations came out last month but I really thought that Violin Davis had the buzz going.

Best Motion Picture of the Year

Predicted Winner: The Artist (2011): Thomas Langmann
Confidence: 100%

Actual Winner: The Artist. Man there were some terrible nominees this year. This really may seem like a crazy winner, but in this moment in this false self-questioning of Hollywood's own relevance, the tribute this film pays to Hollywood itself makes it a darling.

I ended the year 16/24, which is my best year doing this, so that's saying something. Those Short Categories killed me and there were some mild upsets here and there. I did lose three categories I was 100% confident about - Editing, Visual Effects, and Animated Short. Oh well. Good night.

25 February 2012

Oscar Zone Vol. III; Part 6: 24-Hrs To Go Predictions

Well folks, we're 24 hours from the Oscar Ceremony and I've got to say, much of my picks a month ago have changed. In order to save my ass and still look like I know what I'm talking about, it's time for a change-up. This will therefore be a quick run-down of who all the winners will definitely be. I'll also give you how confident I am for each. Let's get to it now, starting with the crappy categories that no one can predict anyway:

 Best Documentary, Short Subjects

The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom (2011): Lucy Walker, Kira Carstensen
Confidence: 70%

Best Short Film, Live Action

Raju (2011): Max Zähle, Stefan Gieren
Confidence: 75%

Best Short Film, Animated

La Luna (2011): Enrico Casarosa
Confidence: 100%
Best Documentary, Features

Pina (2011): Wim Wenders, Gian-Piero Ringel
Confidence: 80%

Best Achievement in Visual Effects
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011): Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White, Daniel Barrett
Confidence: 100%
Best Achievement in Sound Editing

Hugo (2011): Philip Stockton, Eugene Gearty
Confidence: 85%
Best Achievement in Sound Mixing

Hugo (2011): Tom Fleischman, John Midgley
Confidence: 90%

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song

The Muppets (2011): Bret McKenzie ("Man or Muppet")
Confidence: 100%
Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score
The Artist (2011): Ludovic Bource
Confidence: 100%
Best Achievement in Makeup

The Iron Lady (2011): Mark Coulier, J. Roy Helland
Confidence: 100%
Best Achievement in Costume Design

Hugo (2011): Sandy Powell
Confidence: 50%

Best Achievement in Art Direction

Hugo (2011): Dante Ferretti, Francesca Lo Schiavo
Confidence: 90%
Best Achievement in Editing

The Artist (2011): Anne-Sophie Bion, Michel Hazanavicius
Confidence: 100%
Best Achievement in Cinematography
Hugo (2011): Robert Richardson
Confidence: 70%
Best Foreign Language Film of the Year

A Separation (2011): Asghar Farhadi (Iran)
Confidence: 100%
 Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
Rango (2011): Gore Verbinski
Confidence: 100%
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

The Descendants (2011): Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Confidence: 100%
Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

Midnight in Paris (2011): Woody Allen
Confidence: 80%
Best Achievement in Directing

Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist (2011)
Confidence: 90%

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Octavia Spencer for The Help (2011)
Confidence: 100%

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Christopher Plummer for Beginners (2010)
Confidence: 100%
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Viola Davis for The Help (2011)
Confidence: 85%

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Jean Dujardin for The Artist (2011)
Confidence: 80%
Best Motion Picture of the Year

The Artist (2011): Thomas Langmann
Confidence: 100%

Spoilers:
Live Action Short: Time Freak
Documentary: Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
Sound Mixing: Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Costume Design: Anyone
Cinematography: The Tree of Life
Original Screenplay: The Artist
Director: Marty
Best Actress: Meryl
Best Actor: George

24 Hours, mateys!

20 February 2012

The Long Halloween Vol. III: President's Day

Here we are again to the third installment of The Long Halloween, NMW's yearlong look at different movies to watch on different holidays each month. After years of going through the major ones though, we found that was just too easy. This year we're going for the more Obscure Holidays and so today we celebrate President's Day. Let's take a look at Abe and George's Greatest Hits:


George Washington:
There has been a surprising lack of cultural appearances by George over the years. He showed up in Mel Gibson's The Patriot (2000) as well in the TV Movie The Crossing (2000), played by Jeff Daniels for some reason. He was also the central figure in an episode of Masters of Horror, "The Washingtonians," where it is revealed that he was actually a cannibal at Valley Forge. He also battled the evil Hans Sprungfeld in The Simpsons episode "Lisa the Iconoclast" (S7;E16). Of course, everyone knows the best incarnation of our First President:



The important thing about George is how honorific we are of him. He was the founder of our nation, for goodness sake. The cat never told a lie, chopped down as many trees as he wanted, and had a ridiculous killing spree of British Children. The Cox & Combes' thing really exaggerates the mythical status Washington has in our minds. It's hard to argue against the video. How can you say he didn't make love like an eagle falling out of the sky? Washington is one badass mother, and you better do what he says.

Abraham Lincoln:
Soon with both Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012) and Lincoln (2012), we'll have plenty of good President's Day flicks to enjoy. Of course, we do still have the novel version. Still, unlike George, Abe appears just about everywhere. It's part of their physical appeal. Lincoln is still our tallest president (6'4"), and his gangly, weird limbs, ugly mug and chinstrap beard and stovepipe hat, which apparently no one else in history ever wore, makes him simultaneously distinctive and pretty goofy. There are tons of cultural depictions but some of his best include Rap Battles with Chuck Norris, Lightsaber Battles with George W. Bush, and Drunk History with Frederick Douglass.


He's also had some memorable appearances as a Ghost on The Venture Bros. and a convenient way to hide a Dan Aykroyd's giant coned head in Coneheads (1993). His statue even terrorized the Super Best Friends on South Park. These are terrible. His definitive appearance has to be in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989), which contains some true words of wisdom - "Be excellent to each other." That ought to satisfy your Presidential craving for now.

19 February 2012

Oscar Zone Vol. III, Part 5: Best Picture Chances

Well folks, we're a week out of the big Ceremony and today we're talking about the biggest category of all - Best Picture. It's time to go through the odds of all these great and sometimes crappy flicks vying against each other. There has been plenty of politicking the past few weeks, and unlike the tough touch-out finish last year, I don't think the winner will really be contested. Nevertheless, let's chat:

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2011): Scott Rudin
This emotionally manipulative film barely squeaked into the nine candidates this year and there is very little chance that it will bring home a statue. Beyond the buzz for Max Von Sydow's supporting performance there is very little else here despite the presence of Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock. This film overly caters to its Oscar desire and comes off as a very obvious and obnoxious piece of work despite its sensitive subject material.
Chances of Winning: 1/9

War Horse (2011): Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy
This, like Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is the kind of expected Oscar bait that just doesn't really work anymore. More recently the Academy has awarded innovation such as Slumdog Millionaire (2008) and the Hurt Locker (2009). More than that, actually, it has awarded the films who can campaign the best. Spielberg, for all his greatness, has a relatively spotty history with the Academy, and if this year's complete snub of The Adventures of Tintin (2011) is any indication (overrated anyway), they're not in a mood to give Steve anything.
Chances of Winning: 2/9

The Tree of Life (2011): Dede Gardner, Sarah Green, Grant Hill, Brad Pitt, Bill Pohlad
I may look foolish for placing this so low on the list here. The strongest indicator of its success is the fact that little people predicted it would be considered for anything - it was too out there or too existential. Despite that notion, it received plenty of nominations and was leading in buzz way back last year after it won the Palme d'Or. That said, it is way too out there and existential to bring it all home. It's the least accessible and digestible nominee and in a year where film nostalgia has dominated the mind of the Academy it would be a shock to award such experimental innovation as Malick has done here.
Chances of Winning: 3/9

The Help (2011): Brunson Green, Chris Columbus, Michael Barnathan
This is riding a nice wave reminiscent of The Blind Side (2009) or The Kids Are All Right (2010). It's a patronizing film that the Academy can throw in to look progressive. It's that kind of feel-good about a tough subject that has stifled true Black Creativity since Remember the Titans (2000). It is looking more and more like it will sweep the Actress Awards, and its big SAG award for Best Ensemble gives it a boost, but it seems unlikely that it will be Best Picture.
Chances of Winning: 4/9

Midnight in Paris (2011): Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum
Woody pulled off a great upset in 1977 when Annie Hall beat out Star Wars, and that always seems to be a possibility. He has been irrelevant for years but Midnight in Paris seems to give his career some fresh life. I think it is tough for a director like him to get any real buzz behind his work, though, and like Quentin Tarantino his supporters are fanatical yet miniscule in number. We've all had our chance to jump on board the Woody train - we know what we're getting into. That hasn't happened in mainstream yet and it won't suddenly happen Oscar Night.
Chances of Winning: 5/9

Moneyball (2011): Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz, Brad Pitt
It's nice that this got nominated. It's the rare mainstream biographical film that was good enough to get some critics behind it along with audiences. It's well cast and well produced, but it doesn't really have anything to push it over the edge into winning territory. It's got far more of a chance in the Adapted Screenplay category
Chances of Winning: 6/9

Hugo (2011): Graham King, Martin Scorsese
Hugo acquired some nice buzz since its release but afterwards it never really landed on its feat like it should have. It got a surprising 11 nominations but it's more likely it leaves with only a couple of sound awards. It's similar to Inception (2010) last year, a huge technical achievement by a major director, but not really enough support to earn the best prize. Still, the number of nominations indicates that the Academy was a fan, and along with The Artist (2011), it's got that nostalgia factor working pretty high. Of all the upsets, this may be the most plausible.
Chances of Winning: 7/9

The Descendants (2011): Jim Burke, Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
It's always a treat when the Golden Globes split Best Drama and Best Comedy, along with the Screenplay Awards splitting the two-major films between Original and Adapted. The Descendants and The Artist haven't really faced off yet, so it's difficult to say who is going to get what. These two films are counter to each other though. The Descendants is fundamentally depressing, about George Clooney's life falling apart. The Artist is a much more joyful romp and I think that this difference will bog down The Descendants. It's not like nihilism is ruling the day like No Country for Old Men (2007). The buzz isn't there.
Chances of Winning: 8/9

The Artist (2011): Thomas Langmann
Here we go. This is a fairly obvious choice. Despite existing as a black and white silent film in 2012 there hasn't been any film buzzing about like this one, in part especially due to its gimmicky nature. It's looking more likely that Jean Dujardin beats George Clooney at Top Actor and this flick cleans up about everything else. This was an early pic months ago and it's impressive that word has only increased from there instead of fading. It's also a perfect self-honouring move for Hollywood to award a story and dedication to itself, especially in a time when they are threatened by so much more outside media innovation. Why download illegally - watch this film and remember a time when the movie theater was the focal point for all entertainment. It's a great example of the MPAA's shortsightedness and just about a guaranteed win.
Chances of Winning: 9/9

18 February 2012

Undisputed: Movies I Can't Turn Off

I was lounging around today when I noticed that The Blues Brothers (1980) was on Vh1. Obviously, I needed to stop everything I was doing and watch the whole thing. There are a handful of other movies that do this to me. The films that you see on TV that causes the channel to freeze until it's over. These are unspeakably good films, a level of repeated entertainment that is unparalleled. Everyone has their own list, here's 10 of mine:


#10: Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Most likely found on: Comedy Central
Why?  This is an endlessly likeable Horror/Comedy that put Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright on the map. It's a film with enough callbacks, foreshadowing, and repeated human characters who show up later as zombies to be rewardingly re-watchable. In addition to plenty of gore and laughs, it also has a ton of heart. Comedy Central plays this bugger a lot on Sunday or Saturday afternoons, usually around Halloween or Flag Day, you know, the high holidays.

#9: Blue Streak (1999)
Most Likely found on:TBS
Why?  I'm not sure why but somehow I always find myself watching this flick late at night on TBS. It's undoubtedly Martin Lawrence's best film, and it contains a perfectly cast set of cops and robbers. Most of these films are notable for having much stronger endings than beginnings, because you'll catch them when they're halfway done and then watch to the end. Every good, memorable part of Blue Streak happens in the last twenty minutes, and the ending itself is the most quotable. It's an essential, come home from a bar - not ready for bed - turn something on and forget about it - style movie.

#8: Zombieland (2009)
Most Likely found on: F/X
Why? Another zombie comedy on this list, Zombieland just started playing on F/X and already it's tough to turn off. Another feature of these films is an addictive pace and run time. Zombieland flies through its two hours on TV with such excellent pacing that it's tough to find a moment to turn it off or change the channel. Right now it's riding the novelty of being a film that has been seen less often because it just made the TV Circuit, but its potential for being something I will see fifty more times is very strong. Just seeing that cameo come up over and over is excellent. It's a great Friday night flick to pump you up for the weekend.

#7: There Will Be Blood (2007)
Most Likely found on: AMC
Why? This is probably pretty personal to me. I can't get sick of this intricate character study. It's another film where the definitive scene is the very end, and jumping in wherever and waiting until that final bowling alley confrontation is incredibly rewarding. This is still an underseen film and because of that it hasn't really gained a classic status, but that's not if AMC has anything to say about it. This is often on sometimes in the middle of the week, with nice long meditative cinematic pauses to allow you to do just about anything else in the meantime.

#6: Ocean's Eleven (2001)
Most Likely found on: TNT
Why? All of the recent Ocean's movies are pretty ridiculous and re-watching this to try to figure out the plot and notice everything you're supposed to notice is essential. It is simultaneously a very digestible movie and a complex one, full of a dream team of actors, a classy veneer and mostly free of the snide that some of its successors were victims of. This flick's airtime ranges from the Saturday night family chill to the Sunday afternoon hangover time. Either way it works, and that's the real beauty of this movie.

#5: The Fifth Element (1997)
Most Likely found on: TNT
Why? This is one of the better sci-fi epics to not really spawn much of a franchise. Bruce Willis was perfect in his transition from Die Hard-style credible action hero to Live Free or Die Hard-style old and angry action hero. It's the kind of film that everyone can stop what they're doing and enjoy. It has a unique structure (the lead hero and lead villain never meet, nor know who the other is), and has a pacing to rival Zombieland, that is, things keep happening and flow consistently enough to trap a hapless viewer for the evening. This is usually in that late-afternoon/early evening dead zone that makes it a good Dinner movie to get any young person pumped for the evening's eccentricities. It also has a better ending than beginning, giving it the classic Movie on TV edge.

#4: The Blues Brothers (1980)
Most Likely found on:
Vh1
Why?
Here we get to this post's inspiration.  This film works because every scene is a classic. It is a long film but almost every moment is legendary. The Penguin, Trips to the Mall, Ray Charles, Illinois Nazis, Sell me your children, Rawhide, Orange Whips, and the biggest car chase in movie history, plus more cameos than any movie ever, including people you did not know. There is more going on in this movie than is seemingly possible, and it all flows to a consistent, driving action - a mission from God. It harkens to a classic time of music as well as filmmaking, and remains the feel-good farewell to John Belushi. Who knows how this started as an SNL sketch. You'll find it just as it is today, those early afternoon slots that make it a lovely lunchtime thrill.

#3: JAWS (1975)
Most Likely found on:
AMC
Why?
Speaking of Spielberg, he could probably dominate this list himself. He has an ability to make blockbusters like this that are infuriously good, walking that line between art and spectacle. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Jurassic Park (1993), and Saving Private Ryan (1998) all come very close. JAWS is always a must-see, mostly because of how rare it's actually on TV. AMC will do the occasional "Crazy About JAWS" or whatever and run it around the summertime, but outside of that it's tough to catch. For that reason more than any other it's a must see. It also perfectly fits the bill for a film with a better second half than first, although it's a fine line here. The second half of JAWS is like an entirely different film, one that focuses on three men and a shark and carries a perfect pace with a continuous flow of classic moments. It's as if you want to wait until you see that one memorable scene, but there's no bad scenes in between the key moments. It's perfect for keeping viewers hooked on those weekday nights.

#2: Goodfellas (1990)
Most Likely found on:
AMC
Why?
This is another AMC staple, but I've watched it on channels as diverse as Vh1, Bravo, or CMT. Goodfellas is a hard movie to categorize. It's essentially just a bunch of stuff that happens over the course of thirty years in Henry Hill's life, but the acting and directing is so unrelentingly compelling that it forces viewers to stay hooked. It's another film filled with such a continuous string of classic moments that it's tough to say no to. It has the added bonus of featuring such outstanding acting from every single participant that it's a dream to watch. This film also comes on all the time, but it's more often a weeknight flick.



#1: Forrest Gump (1994)
Most Likely found on:
AMC
Why?
This is one of the few movies that I will watch five nights in a row when it's on (that happens). I believe some people think this may be an overrated film, but this isn't necessarily about the highest quality. It's about repeated watchability. Nothing beats Forrest Gump in that regard. There isn't a bad or slow part of this film and it's difficult to pick a scene to stop watching. It's a long film with many parts that don't necessarily correlate with each other. This may seem contrary to some other films that flow so nicely like Zombieland and The Fifth Element, but the key here is that you can jump in at any point and watch a scene essentially by itself and not be lost. It's the perfect flick to jump in on at any moment and ride out till its end.

Honourable Mention:
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
Most Likely found on:
ABC Family
Why?
Since this flick just came on at this instant, in its perfect weekend afternoon-"Harry Potter Event" marathon that ABC Family loves to do for some reason, I needed to add it here. It really fits the criteria I've laid out here. It has a boring beginning, but after a successful mid-point climax, the final hour whizzes by with a time travel aspect that revives plenty of callbacks that reward a handful of mysteries that plague the first half. It also has some of the most charismatic actors of any Harry Potter film and despite plenty of conflict there's actually no central villain. At least, no character who remains a villain for the entire film. The conflict is more based on perceptions the characters have of each other, and the occasional werewolf. It's the deepest, most interesting Harry Potter film as well as the most beautiful to look at. Blame Alfonso Cuarón, but this is tough flick to turn off once you find it.

15 February 2012

The Shifting Relevancy of Awards Shows

Well folks, it's that time of year again - as if entertainers didn't have enough prestige, wealth, fame, and adoration, it's time for them to grant themselves awards as well. Cripes. The two major entertainment industries that aren't Television, Music and Film, have their biggest nights in February. The Oscars drop in a few weeks and the Grammys came and went this past Sunday. Both shows revel in the decadence of their respective industries, but somehow the Grammys may be becoming the more relevant Awards Showcase.

For decades the Grammy seemed as though definitive proof against the existence of God. I've talked about this before. The nominees are a joke, the categories don't really make sense, even with endless explanation each year (I still don't understand the difference between Record and Album of the Year. Their biggest award is the confusing equivalent to the Oscars' Best Sound Mixing/Editing). The entire show is a popularity contest - and it actually has little other choice. Ironically while it is far easier to go listen to an unknown who is nominated for a song than it is to see a buzzworthy Independent Film, the endless arrays of no-names that fill up the multitude of overly specific categories will remain anonymous. It's a suffocating experience that has forced the Grammy producers to limit its big awards to the most popular artists, virtually regardless of artistic merit. Watching all of this becomes a huge joke.

The Grammy Producers, however, appear to be keen to this notion. In the last few years they have actually used their airtime ceremony to move away from a trivial self-congratulatory session of award recipients and instead virtually hold an epic concert. They've become an anti-Awards Show. The Grammys freed themselves of the need to actually show who received what because they recognize that beyond a handful of major awards, no one really waits with bated breath who will get the coveted Spoken Latin Word Album of the Year.

They have instead used their platform as a spotlight on the entire industry to feature a dizzying number of contrasting artists performing one of the best concerts around. From the soulful Jennifer Hudson Tribute to Whitney Houstin, to the bizarre Nicki Minaj whatever-that-was, and finally, a tour-de-force of Living Gods of Rock, the Grammys transformed themselves into one hell of an evening.


Amid all these great performances though, I do have a problem with Chris Brown appearing, along with reactions like this. He's a public spouse abuser - why the hell is he getting any support at all? Anyway, the Grammys have realised both the level of spectacle that people desire to see and the level of tedious self-congratulation that they do not. They even created a buzzing, afterwards hyped event - Monday morning it was perfect watercooler talk, which really should be their highest aspiration in terms of a cultural wave. The Grammys have therefore lifted themselves to a level of relevancy far beyond the Academy Awards, who will most likely award very little in the way of progressive film making this year, anyway.

The Academy Awards are a notoriously stuffy affair. The MPAA is one of the most reactionary organisations to exist in the history of time. They are crippled by their fear of change for reasons that absolutely escape me, because they've come out on top after every significant new wave has threatened to kill the industry. The Academy this year is likely to award a silent, black and white film most of its prizes, which true, is a significant risk - but The Artist (2011) idolizes an older, dominating Hollywood system, and this kind of inward appeal is what makes it the Academy's darling. Even getting Billy Crystal to host once again signals that the Academy is staggeringly out of ideas on how to improve or innovate their big night, going back to the well instead of moving forward.

The Grammys are on the pulse of what the nation is expecting from a big awards ceremony. It uses its clout to create an exciting, invigorating atmosphere that forgoes Award Show Standards. The Academy couldn't be more entrenched in their own nostalgic paranoia. Does this have to do with their respective media? Musicians by definition are more individualistic, rebellious, and spontaneous than filmmakers. Does this mean that the Academy Awards couldn't also innovate in some way befitting their standards? Of course not. Remember - the best Grammy performance was lead by a dude turning 70 this year, my 4th Favourite Beatle. They're still innovating, though.

We'll see the older, lamer Award Show brother of the Grammys on February 26.

12 February 2012

Oscar Zone Vol. III, Part 4: Best Director Chances

Welcome folks again to our closer look at some of the different Academy Award categories. Today we're talking about the Best Director Award, which has some good competition this year. It is quite the year for old farts, and the directors here are split between many old established voices, but the winner may be the one nominee that no one's heard of.


Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris (2011)
Although Woody seems in good shape to win for his screenwriting, it's likely that he'll come up short here. He doesn't actually have a tremendous amount of history with the Academy and there isn't a ton of buzz going into the big night. That said, his direction, while distinctive, is nothing outstanding here.
Chances of Winning: 1/5

Alexander Payne for The Descendants (2011)
Payne is an accomplished director and The Descendants is likely the only film capable of giving The Artist (2011) a run for its money for Best Picture and so it would seem appropriate for him to win this as well. Still, as we're nearing the big day The Artist is picking up steam and The Descendants is falling behind. This wouldn't be a tremendous upset, but as Director Buzz goes, Payne is low on the list.
Chances of Winning: 2/5

Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life (2011)
The Tree of Life got a surprising number of nominations, although last summer it held a strong possibility of winning Best Picture. If not for its esoteric nature it may have stood a shot but it's just too impenetrable for mainstream audiences and the wider Academy. Malick's direction is capable though and has risen above A-Listers Brad Pitt and Sean Penn as the film's signature mark. Still, its erudite limitations will prevent Terry from bringing home a statue.
Chances of Winning: 3/5

Martin Scorsese for Hugo (2011)
I thought that Marty would get another win here, but now I think the tide has turned. Scorsese does a fantastic job in a genre he is unfamiliar with and as an old man uses and embraces a 3-D technology better than many who have come before. There is a chance he will upset Hazanavicius, and the Academy's love for him and Hugo are all the more apparent as film dies all round us. The Academy loves desperately clinging to the olden days and it might try to continue to do so by honouring someone who honours that.
Chances of Winning: 4/5

Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist (2011)
Coming off both a DGA and a BAFTA, it seems like this is Hazanavicius' category to lose. The Artist is peaking at the perfect time and with a BAFTA sweep there's a good chance that an American sweep will come about as well. In terms of direction, The Artist is a novelty - a product of a bygone era, although it was a brief era where the Director played a role more important than the Star. Will the goofiness of The Artist pay off? By all rights it seems likely.
Chances of Winning: 5/5

05 February 2012

Oscar Zone Vol III, Part 3: Best Screenwriting Chances

Hello once again folks to our weekly countdown to the upcoming 2012 Oscar Ceremony, Hollywood's annual self-congratulatory look at how awesome and important they are. Today we are taking a closer look at the best screenplay nominations, both original and adapted. This can be a tough category but I think this year is relatively clear cut...maybe.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen


Margin Call (2011): J.C. Chandor
This is a nice nomination  here but without a whole lot of buzz or anything else going for it, a win seems very unlikely, despite the competent writing. I'm not sure much else is known about this movie at all to give it more than an Mormon's chance in Baghdad to win.
Chances of Winning: 1/5

A Separation (2011): Asghar Farhadi
Oh the foreign film. Why won't this win Best Screenplay? Because it's written in fucking Persian, that's why. This flick is gobbling up plenty of critical awards though, and is currently sitting on a 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating. Still, regardless of how brilliant the writing is, I don't think it will translate here, and foreign films winning this category are exceedingly rare.
Chances of Winning: 2/5

Bridesmaids (2011): Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo
It's awesome and interesting that this flick got a nomination here and the waves that Bridesmaids has made critically, commercially, and socially are astounding. That said, even though the screenwriting category can be flexible in giving its awards out to cutting-edge comedies, The Artist is a more classic Academy-pleasing comedy in this category and Bridesmaids' nomination here is more of a novelty.
Chances of Winning: 3/5
 
The Artist (2011): Michel Hazanavicius
I said earlier that I thought this would win, but now it is looking for more like Woody will take home the Statue. Still, The Artist is shaping up to be the golden boy of the Awards and it could easily pull a mild upset and remain in control, taking this writing award as well. We'll see.
Chances of Winning: 4/5

Midnight in Paris (2011): Woody Allen
Woody hasn't really been a huge factor at the Academy Awards for a while despite turning out plenty of forgettable films. Midnight in Paris has been one of his best both critically and commercially in years and although it's not getting a strong buzz elsewhere, it has been applauded for its sharp writing. It has the perfect kind of notoriety to slide in here and grab a screenwriting award and not all that much else. It seems likely although The Artist is still poised to swoop in and do some damage.
Chances of Winning: 5/5



Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published


The Ides of March (2011): George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon
This film was largely ignored by the Academy, as if they have some grudge against annointing Ryan Gosling America's Dreamboat like the rest of us have. Odd, considering how in touch with Middle America the Academy is. Anyway, the Academy has ignored this kind of Clooney-based political thriller for years and it will continue to do so on February 26th.
Chances of Winning: 1/5

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011): Bridget O'Connor, Peter Straughan
May I simply copy and paste my opinion on the Academy's opinion on political thrillers? This film hasn't really caught the eye of the Academy although it received plenty of nominations it's not really heading in a winning direction in any of them. It has been a popular crowd favourite (by those into it) but can't get over the Academy hump. Chances are remote.
Chances of Winning: 2/5

Hugo (2011): John Logan
This is quite the reactionary year for the Academy. They poured oodles of love onto Hugo and The Artist, two throwback movies that seem to attempt to order a return to the earliest days of filmmaking, catering to a prestige and history that isn't really there anymore beyond a hollow facsimile. Still, these are exactly the reasons why Hugo has a shot in many of its categories, although its screenplay may be the weakest of its ridiculous 11 nominations.
Chances of Winning: 3/5

Moneyball (2011): Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin, Stan Chervin
Aaron Sorkin deserves to win this for the exact reason that he deserved his win for The Social Network (2010). He has the ability to render a complex technical topic both identifiable and engaging with sharp, crisp dialogue, which Brad Pitt makes love to almost as well as Jesse Eisenberg. The only major obstacle in his way is the fact that yes, Mr. Sorkin, we already gave you a statue for this last year. You've done the same thing, less brilliantly. Move on, bud.
Chances of Winning: 4/5

The Descendants (2011): Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
The idea of Community's Jim Rash as an Oscar Winner is very close to reality. The Descendants is the only film that's offering a serious challenge to The Artist right now and as The King's Speech (2010) and The Social Network split their respective Writing Categories last year, these parallel flicks may very well do the same, or if The Artist loses to Midnight in Paris, The Descendants should at least come up with this in a fairly weaker category.
Chances of Winning: 5/5

02 February 2012

First Impressions: The Grey

Liam Neeson is a confounding actor to watch. Whereas he seems to have the instant appeal of gravitas, humility, and a classical actor aura to him, at age 59 he's also one of the few reliably bankable action stars working today. He's also an absolute badass. With that, we have The Grey (2012), the first great film of the year, another salute to just how good January can be, especially as it's turning into Liam Neeson month, somehow. Some spoilers abound.

This film succeeds because it has an incredibly clear-cut and understood premise (Liam Neeson fights wolves) and sticks by that premise for the entire run time. There aren't any bells and whistles or time traveling robots or ghosts or double-crossing whatever. The group of guys stranded in the Alaskan Wilderness don't have a murderer among them or Satan's Child or something else retarded like that to distract from the simple plot. It's about men and survival. Against Wolves.

So to this backdrop we have Ottway (Neeson) who is thrown into this leadership position of this gang of plane-crashed oil drillers by default thanks to his practical survival knowledge, authoritarian personality, and confidence. The plane crash is harrowing and the continual cuts between him and his (probably) lost lover bring a connection to this guy that we realise everyone has, even the most hardened tough dudes. Everyone has that loved one that provides their anchor to civilisation. It's why the men don't break down (Besides Diaz a few times, but he comes back relatively quickly). They are real characters in an outstanding situation.

It's this ordinary anchor that creates most of the tension in the film. Jumping off a cliff into a tree isn't a huge spectacle in the movies. Tom Mapother did it last month in much more spectacular fashion under tenser circumstances and from a much crazier height. The framing of The Grey and the real pain, exhaustion, and genuine ability of the characters in the cliff leaping scene establish a much greater tension. Leaving the guy most nervous last was an epic decision by Writer/Director Joe Carnahan. Also thanks to this movie I feel like I can never complain about being cold again.

So let's get to the Wolves. Again, the attacks are so sudden on these hapless, normal people that it really brings a level of fear and grim to the flick. Carnahan does a nice job blurring the attacks with some nasty close-ups that illustrate the confusion and inability to make critical decisions when, well, when you're attacked by wolves.

It's also important to note how the two groups mirror each other, if not that subtly. Liam is clearly the Alpha in the Pack of People, and when Diaz tries to challenge that role he's put down, exactly like the wolves seem to do in the darkness. The men band together like a pack, helping and relying on each other, and do end up killing one of the pups. There is this back and forth antagonism between the Wolves and Humans as each takes down bits of the other and they taunt back and forth through fire, howls, and screaming. The home turf advantage is just too great though, and ultimately the day belongs to the canines.

This film has a few big themes, one of which is masculinity in the wilderness, which was covered pretty well in The Edge (1997), also about a few men surviving after an Alaskan Plane Crash. THAT movie did have a bizarre, stupid twist though, and it suffered for it. The Grey is cut and dry. Its plot echoes the kind of characters who fill it - blue collar, simple men who are only trying to achieve one thing - get home. Likewise the plot is also only trying to achieve one thing - survive (yes, by fighting wolves). In The Edge it was a big ass Kodiak who was tormenting Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin, which they eventually kill. In The Grey though, it's a pack of wolves and nature proves the victor, claiming the lives of men who try to puff out their chest as well as their brains to beat the elements. The film isn't anything like a total indictment of masculinity, however, and there are bigger themes here.

The biggest thing that every character has to struggle with is his own mortality. Diaz's death scene in particular stands out because he accepts his fate, unlike any other character. This is because he's one of the only ones we know of who doesn't have anything great back home. He's not making the journey for anyone but himself and when he realises that there isn't a reason for him to continue. Everyone else needs to make it to reunite with loved ones, Diaz only left fat whores behind. He is absorbed back into nature once he finds and makes peace with his life and mortality.

The big exception to what I just said is Ottway. There is a strong implication that he also has no one to go back for and that his lover who he dreams about is passed on. Ottway is suicidal at the beginning of the film because he doesn't think he has anything to live for. He refuses to kill himself however, when he hears a wolf howl in the distance. This may be because he realises that he has a duty to protect the men, or maybe it's just this age-old vengeance against wolves.

The ending to this film is nearly perfect. For all of Ottway's attempts at saving the men and getting them back home, he has led them (although by this point they have all since died) straight into The Den, the Wolf's Lair. Seemingly, their entire quest has been futile and there is no way out. Ottway cries out for God's help, and receiving none, he takes it upon himself to get out of the mess. Facing down the wolves, Ottway prepares for what he knows will be his last few minutes, by arming himself and bracing for the onslaught.

Why does he do this? Ottway was suicidal at the beginning of the film and the likely reason he didn't pull the trigger was because he felt a debt still existed to protect the men. When he has essentially failed at doing so, having lost so many to the Pack, why can't he roll over and die in the snow, give himself up and accept mortality like Diaz did? Is it vengeance that drives him? Some honour that he thinks he will achieve? The answer lies with his Father's poem that echoes over the final shot, which is one of the best in recent memory.
Once more into the fray.
Into the last good fight I'll ever know.
Live or die on this day.
Live or die on this day.
It is not in Ottway to give up. It's not in him to depend on anyone else. He has a fight that cannot be silenced or stowed away. Finally here his father's words ring true to him and when he knows that this will be his last fight, it's a validation and culmination to something he's been chasing. He criticises himself as someone who deserved to be among the thieves and other societal outcasts in the Wilderness. He is more at home fighting wolves than socialising in a bar. He has a wolf in him and knows only to fight. The last fray is between two Alphas. When you're an Alpha you cannot back down from such a challenge. Ottway will die but he will die defending himself in honour, honouring his father, his lover, his sins and his men, not cowering in a snowbank.


That is, until we see the sequel where he killed the Alpha, took his place and is now THE GREY II: KING OF WOLVES (2014). Can't wait.
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