Saturday, January 29, 2011

My Oscar Picks for 2011

With Academy Awards Night less than 4 weeks away, it's time for those annual predictions. I had a very good year with my predictions last year, so here we go:

Best Picture: The Social Network
Best Actor: Colin Firth (The King's Speech)
Best Actress: Natalie Portman (Black Swan)
Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale (The Fighter)
Best Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo (The Fighter)
Best Director: Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan)
Cinematography: True Grit (I've heard it's spectacular)
Original Screenplay: The King's Speech
Adapted Screenplay: The Social Network
Visual Effects: Inception
Best Animated Movie: Toy Story 3
Best Foreign Film: Biutiful (Mexico)
Original Score: Inception
Original Song: We Belong Together (Toy Story 3)

I reserve the right to change these predictions until I see True Grit. I am planning on seeing it soon!

My thoughts on Blue Valentine, Another Year, and Winter's Bone

Now that the Oscar race is in full swing, Ray and I have been pushing ourselves to see every Best Picture nominee and as many of the acting performances as we can.

To that end, we saw Blue Valentine last weekend, Winter's Bone last night, and Another Year today. I'm sorry to report that neither one of us can give stellar recommendations to two out of the three movies and we really wanted to, given the caliber of actors in both movies.

We did enjoy Winter's Bone, which tells the story of a teenage girl in the Ozarks searching for her drug-cooking father, who has put their house up for bail bond money and subsequently disappears. Winter's Bone takes a hard look at life in the Ozarks and brings the desperate qualities of poverty to light. At first, the townspeople seem to be divided into good and bad, but as the movie progresses, the two extremes become blurred. Jennifer Lawrence is outstanding as Ree, the teenage girl living with her mentally and emotionally absent mother and her two younger siblings. Ree serves as teacher, nurse, and moral compass in her family. Her uncle (wonderfully portrayed by John Hawkes) is reluctant to get involved in the search for his brother (he is also a meth drug cooker), but ultimately decides to do the right thing and help his family. You can't help but root for Ree to find out what really happened to her dad while keeping her family intact.

Of the remaining two movies, I liked Blue Valentine better. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams made the best of a mundane, cliched script and rudimentary direction from Derek Cianfrance. Their gritty performances in a movie that explores the history and decline of a marriage were quite good. However, I don't understand how Ms. Williams scored a best actress nomination and Mr. Gosling was omitted from the best actor category considering that both of them have equal screen time. I could have done without the gratuitous, racy scenes which I don't feel added to the storyline.

Another Year has one of my all-time favorite actors, Jim Broadbent, on board in this movie which explores a year in the life of a family. Unfortunately, the movie strays from this premise rather quickly and fixes itself on exploring the life of a desperately lonely friend and colleague of the wife, played to exquisite perfection by Lesley Manville. I believe the Academy made a mistake in not nominating Ms. Manville for Best Supporting Actress. Her performance was the only bright light in this movie. Mr. Broadbent is under-utilized in the movie, but I blame that on the change of focus in the screenplay. Another Year had the capability to be a memorable movie, but it fell far short of its goal.

The only Best Picture nominee I haven't seen is True Grit, but I hope to remedy that soon.

Keep grabbing that popcorn and go to the movies!

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Kids Are All Right- no, not the Who Album

Lisa Cholodenko directed and co-wrote this movie.  I am unfamiliar with her work, which includes directing some TV (The L Word, Six Feet Under) and some movies (Cave Dweller, Laurel Canyon).  You can get the rest from IMDB.  While I liked the movie, to a certain extent, it is not one of my top five.  But then, the Academy has decided to nominate ten films again this year.  What I find more interesting is whether the Academy is going to keep this up or not.  Not so interested in writing this review.  Like I said, not my favorite.  So, why?

The acting was great.  This means, in some part, the directing had to be good.  Annette Bening won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in this type of movie (meaning I can't remember and I'm too lazy to look it up).  Her competition included her co-star, Julianne Moore.  The ladies were believable.  Very.  They play a committed couple that has been together for a long, long time, in fact they have two children together, ages 18 (Joni) and 15 (Laser).  The young actors, Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson, were good.  Mark Ruffalo played sperm donor Paul.  Yes, in the movie is referred to as exactly that.  And, Mark is good.

So, the story.  Without spoiling too much, the kids contact and meet the sperm donor.  What gets to me is how close, in terms of location, he is to them.  Does that really happen?  After all, based on the license plates, this takes place in California.  I'm just thinking about how mobile the USA can be.  I've lived in four different states and in 13 different homes over my life.  The character Paul was 19 when he donated sperm.  What are the odds, 18 or 19 years later, he lives so close that the kids can see him at lunch time, visiting back and forth is not a time and mileage issue?  It just seems improbable to me.  There, that's off my chest.  This may have had a great influence on what I think about the film, as it distracted me the first time I watched it. 

Without spoiling this for those of you who actually read this blog and haven't seen the movie, issues arise and are resolved.  It was nicely done for most part.  I feel there are some unnecessary scenes as well as parts of the story where I wanted more details.  And one scene, pivotal to the movie, that felt so manufactured it really, really bothered me.  This movie has left me unsatisfied.  But I really enjoyed the acting.

Last but not least, how do I rank this film, in comparison to its competition?  This year has seen some interesting movies.  Of the ten nominated films, I have yet to see Toy Story 3.  My bad.
Winter's Bone (not all my friends agree with me).  I think The Kids Are All Right comes in after The King's Speech and before Social Network.
Winter's Bone
The Black Swan
The Fighter
The King's Speech
Social Network
True Grit
127 Hours

And those films not nominated:
Never Let Me Go (really, it should have been, instead of True Grit and/or 127 Hours)
RED (Retired, extremely dangerous:  Helen Mirren, Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman and John Malkovich.
Ghost Writer
Iron Man II

And also this year, not my favorites, but some I enjoyed quite a bit:
The Expendables (has one wonderful scene that you can't miss!)
Jonah Hex
Knight and Day (hilarious)
9 (or was that last year's film?)

So, one movie left to see.  I can't wait for Oscar night, can you?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Oscar Nominations! 2011

Here's the list!  Ten movies are nominated for Best Picture.  Is the Academy making this a permanent change?

Oscar Nominations:  January 2011
Best Picture
'Black Swan'
'The Fighter'
'The Kids Are All Right'
'The King’s Speech'
'127 Hours'
'The Social Network'
'Toy Story 3'
'True Grit'
'Winter’s Bone'

Best Director
Darren Aronofsky, 'Black Swan'
David O'Russell, 'The Fighter'
Tom Hooper, 'The King's Speech'
David Fincher, 'The Social Network'
Joel and Ethan Coen, 'True Grit'

Best Actor
Javier Bardem, 'Biutiful'
Jeff Bridges, 'True Grit'
Jesse Eisenberg, 'The Social Network'
Colin Firth, 'The King's Speech'
James Franco, '127 Hours'

Best Actress
Annette Bening, 'The Kids Are All Right'
Nicole Kidman, 'Rabbit Hole'
Jennifer Lawrence, 'Winter's Bone'
Natalie Portman, 'Black Swan'
Michelle Williams, 'Blue Valentine'

Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale, 'The Fighter'
John Hawkes, 'Winter's Bone'
Jeremy Renner, 'The Town'
Mark Ruffalo, 'The Kids Are All Right'
Geoffrey Rush, 'The King's Speech'

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, 'The Fighter'
Helena Bonham Carter, 'The King's Speech'
Melissa Leo, 'The Fighter'
Hailee Steinfeld, 'True Grit'
Jacki Weaver, 'Animal Kingdom'

Best Animated Feature Film
'How to Train Your Dragon'
'Toy Story 3'

Best Foreign Film
Mexico - 'Biutiful'
Greece - 'Dogtooth'
Denmark - 'In a Better World'
Canada - 'Incendies'
Algeria - 'Outside the law'

Best Original Screenplay
'Another Year'
'The Fighter'
'The Kids Are All Right'
'The King's Speech'

Best Adapted Screenplay
'127 Hours'
'The Social Network'
'Toy Story 3'
'True Grit'
'Winter's Bone'

Best Art Direction
'Alice in Wonderland'
'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I'
'The King's Speech'
'True Grit'

Best Costume Design
'Alice in Wonderland'
'I Am Love'
'The King's Speech'
'The Tempest'
'True Grit'

Best Original Song
'Coming Home' - 'Country Strong'
'I See the Light' - 'Tangled'
'If I Rise' - '127 Hours'
'We Belong Together' - 'Toy Story 3'

Best Original Score
'How to Train Your Dragon' John Powell
'Inception' Hans Zimmer
'The King's Speech' Alexandre Desplat
'127 Hours' A.R. Rahman
'The Social Network' Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
Best Film Editing
'Black Swan'
'The Fighter'
'The Kings Speech'
'127 Hours'
'The Social Network'

Best Makeup
'Barney's Version'
'The Way Back'
'The Wolfman'

Best Sound Editing
'Toy Story 3'
'TRON: Legacy'
'True Grit'

Best Sound Mixing
'The King's Speech'
'The Social Network'
'True Grit'

Best Visual Effects
'Alice in Wonderland'
'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1'
'Iron Man 2'

Monday, January 17, 2011

The K-K-K-K King’s Speech

King George VI succeeded his brother, King Edward VIII upon Ed’s abdication of the throne in 1936 so that he could marry the love of his life, a twice divorced woman.  George (hereafter G VI) was born Albert Frederick Arthur George; on December 14, 1895 and reigned until his death at the young age of 56 (1952).  He was married to Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, a descendent of Robert the Bruce.  They had two daughters, Elizabeth (later Elizabeth II) and Margaret.  So, we have G VI, his wife, later known to us as the Queen Mum, as well as the princesses Elizabeth and Margaret.  G VI (or Bertie as he was called by family) had never expected to be king.  But, due to his brother’s abdication, there he was. 

Unfortunately, G VI had a small problem:  he stammered.  That is what this movie is about.  After many different doctors and consultations, he still stammered.  Then, someone found Lionel Logue, an Australian speech therapist who had relocated to England.  They forged a relationship that was unusual for a monarch and a commoner, became friends and remained so for the remainder of their lives.  This we all know and thus, we know that G VI will be able to give a speech by the end of the movie.

The movie sounds boring.  A real snooze.  But it’s not.  Thanks to Colin Firth (G VI), Helena Bonham-Carter (Queen Mum) and Geoffrey Rush (Lionel Logue), there is a human story here.  Colin does a wonderful job with a character that must be difficult to play- having to stammer, stutter and trip over words he wants and needs to say.  He is very, very believable.  Geoffrey Rush is great as the speech therapist, Logue.  He is a helpful but stubborn character.  G VI must follow his rules:  first names only (no HRH here, just Bertie), do his exercises and relax enough to follow instructions.  G VI is combative at first….. as one would expect.  Mr. Rush’s comportment as Logue also is a wonderful performance.  I want to say the character is reserved, but it’s not.  Low-key, respectful but assured.   Very different that his role of Barbossa (Pirates of the Caribbean), Trotsky (Frida), Philip Henslowe (Shakespeare In Love) and David Helfgott (Shine).  I haven’t seen any of his other roles, but he does a marvelous job of making me believe the character.  Helena Bonham-Carter is good, not overly noticeable but a caring helpmeet to G VI.  And it is always nice to Derek Jacobi (Archbishop). 

It is a good film.  My attention didn’t wander, I didn’t get “antsy” and the performances and writing were good.  As it is now awards season, I do think this may be Oscar worthy.  As far as my ranking of favorite films:  it’s still Winter’s Bone; Inception; Never Let Me Go, The Fighter and Black Swan ( three-way tie); The King’s Speech.  I don’t think True Grit is Oscar worthy.  I liked The Social Network, but I don’t think it’s as good as my favorite five.  (The Hollywood Foreign Press disagrees with me.)  The Town and 127 Hours are just not that good, in my opinion.  But, many people don’t agree with me.  Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

True Grit: Didn't have to grit my teeth!

So, I saw True Grit tonight with my friend Carol.  Carol was familiar with the 1969 movie version with John Wayne.  I had seen that plus I read the novel by Charles Portis.  While neither film was word-for-word from the novel, I believe the 2010 version is slightly more realistic and, dare I say, grittier.  Some have described it as darker. 
There are a couple of questions that come to mind about a movie such as this. 
  1.  Is it Oscar worthy?  No.  Good work, good performances, some nice cinematography, but not Oscar worthy.
  2. How does it compare to the novel and the 1969 remake?

The remake is a good.  One can say the same thing about The Taking of Pelham 123.  The novel was good, a movie was made based on it a year after.  Apparently there was a remake that most, if not all, of us missed.  Then the Travolta-Washington remake.  The difference between Pelham and True Grit original movies is that the first Pelham movie was great.  The first True Grit movie is more of a send-up.  Larger than life John Wayne, acting more like John Wayne than Reuben Cogburn.  Glen Campbell as LeBoeuf did not work and wasn’t believable.  (Glen Campbell as any one, for that matter.)  This new version, courtesy of the Coens, is a more serious movie with humorous elements.  As is the book.  But the Coens stray from the book as much as, if not more so, than the 1969 version.  I am disappointed with the Coens for not having Mattie Ross hear about Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn as a man with true grit.  She does say that to him later, but I feel if one was to cut anything from the novel, don’t cut that!  It’s the premise of Mattie’s choice to hire Cogburn.  It’s how she singled him out. 

The movie goes on, there are differences from the novel, but overall, the 2010 movie is good.  Jeff Bridges is a capable Rooster Cogburn.  Matt Damon is a much more credible LaBoeuf.  Matt Damon at anything is great, but in this instance, being better than Campbell is not a stretch.  Josh Brolin as Tom Chaney was excellent, considering that Mr. Brolin tends to play very masculine roles.  In this instance, he does a great job as a coward.  Manner and voice make it believable.  He makes a great wimp.  Who knew?  Hailee Steinfeld is delightful as Mattie Ross.  Her youth makes all the difference.  I can’t decide if she looks more like my niece Kelsey or my niece Amanda.

Cinematography was nice.  It was filmed in various places in Texas:  Austin, Blanco and Granger.  Also, filming took place in New Mexico. 

Bottom line:  Good movie, not Oscar worthy.  But not all movies can be nominated (despite the efforts of the Academy last year). 

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Fighter: Link to the HBO documentary

I am happy to provide you with the link to the hour long documentary:  High On Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell, Massachusetts.  It is an hour long.  Very illuminating as it follows the lives of three people, including Dicky Eklund.  I found it well worth watching.  I hope you do too.