Sunday, February 27, 2011

Live Tweeting the Oscars

For my Live Tweets of this year's Academy Awards, head on over to http://www.twitter.com/theoscarsblog!!!!!

TheOscarsBlog: Live tweeting the Oscars! 40 minutes till showtime! Who's excited for James Franco and Anne Hathaway? (2/27/11 7:52 PM)

TheOscarsBlog: 25% of text poll respondants on E! think James Franco will win Best Actor...really? He was good, but this is Colin Firth's year. (2/27/11 8:02 PM)

TheOscarsBlog: Best Dressed: Halle Berry, Jennifer Lawrence, Jennifer Hudson... (2/27/11 8:06 PM)

TheOscarsBlog: Worst Dressed so far: Cate Blanchett, Florence (and no machine), the lady in the background rigt now behind Sandra Bullock. (2/27/11 8:08 PM)

TheOscarsBlog: Oscars! Oscars! Oscars! (2/27/11 8:30 PM)

TheOscarsBlog: I'm 0 for 2 so far...but the night is young. (2/27/11 8:48 PM)

TheOscarsBlog: Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake: too much hottness for the stage all at one time? (2/27/11 9:02 PM)

TheOscarsBlog: The Lost Thing: Amazing short film, so surprised it beat out The Gruffalo and Day & Night though (2/27/11 9:05 PM)

TheOscarsBlog: Yay, 1 for 5! Go Toy Story 3! (2/27/11 9:08 PM)

TheOscarsBlog: I hope David Seidler now gets the respect of Aaron Sorkin's daughter's guinea pig! (2/27/11 9:19 PM)

TheOscarsBlog: Poor Melissa Leo, she'll just keep getting made fun of for dropping the F-bomb. (2/27/11 9:34 PM)

TheOscarsBlog: Until the Golden Globes, I didn't know Christian Bale was British... (2/27/11 9:34 PM)

TheOscarsBlog: I'm making a mid-show comeback...I'm 6 for 10 on predictions now. (2/27/11 9:45 PM)

TheOscarsBlog: I love when Randy Newman performs on the Oscars...it reminds me of ever year growing up! (2/27/11 10:03 PM)

TheOscarsBlog: So Zachary Levi can sing? Do I sense a musical episode of Chuck at some point in the future. (2/27/11 10:09 PM)

TheOscarsBlog: So many great movie musicals this year! (2/27/11 10:19 PM)

TheOscarsBlog: Anne Hathaway in the red dress = gorgeous. (2/27/11 10:42 PM)

TheOscarsBlog: Colin Firth is amazing. If you haven't seen The King's Speech, what are you waiting for? #oscars (2/27/11 11:29 PM)

TheOscarsBlog: Come on The King's Speech!!! #oscars (2/27/11 11:35 PM)

TheOscarsBlog: OH HELL YEAH! The King's Speech so deserrves it! Best Picture of 2010! #oscars (2/27/11 11:37 PM)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Predictions for the 83rd Academy Awards

Well today's the day you've all been waiting for: Oscar Prediction Day! If you've been reading all my reviews (and I'm sure you have, since literally SEVERAL people read this blog every single day!) then you probably have a pretty good idea of where I think all the chips will fall this Sunday night, but I have always reserved the right to change my mind, and I've always liked to make a crazy prediction or two just so everyone thinks I'm a genius if it comes true (this is a good way to win...or embarrass oneself in an Oscar pool). Now without further ado, my Oscar predictions for the best achievements in film for 2010:


BEST PICTURE
Let's face it, the race for Best Picture has been a two-film race from the beginning. While gaining a lot of publicity last year for expanding the Best Picture race to 10 films, the Academy can't change the fact that a couple of films are always going to gather all the awards-season buzz. So which will it be, The Social Network or The King's Speech? Pundits seem split on this; in Gold Derby's poll of 23 Oscar prognosticators, most say the The King's Speech will emerge victorious, but 6 are still holding out hope for The Social Network (and one chose Inception). To me, the answer is simple: The Academy loves films about royalty(The Queen, Shakespeare in Love, The Young Victoria) and films about people with disabilities (Forrest Gump, My Left Foot, Children of a Lesser God), and The King's Speech has both. This film won the BAFTA, the DGA, and the Producer's Guild Award, and Oscar is the next prize it will be taking home.
Verdict: The King's Speech should win easily, but The Social Network could still make a comeback.


BEST DIRECTOR
Everyone seems to be split on this one this year. Often, in a close Best Picture race, voters will split their votes for Best Picture and Best Director between different films; certainly this year’s contest is close enough that this is a real possibility.
Verdict: With voters wanting to seem less stuffy by rewarding The Social Network, David Fincher will take home this award


BEST ACTOR
Colin Firth is well liked in Hollywood, he is fantastic in The King's Speech, and he has never won an Academy Award. This one is a slam dunk. While Eisenberg and Franco both earned rave reviews, and Bardem was excellent as always, the best way to guarantee yourself an Oscar is to play a royal...just ask Helen Mirren, Cate Blanchett, and Judi Dench.
Verdict: Colin Firth is the closest thing to a sure bet we have this year.


BEST ACTRESS
Several pundits in recent weeks have been predicting a dark horse win for Annette Bening for The Kids are All Right, but I think this category still belongs to Natalie Portman this year. Portman's performance has won her the Screen Actor's Guild Award and the BAFTA, and has been widely regarded as her best yet. Academy voters also tend to (subconsciously?) vote for whoever will make the show most interesting (how else do you explain Marisa Tomei?), and Portman is my vote for most likely to cry and give a great speech.
Verdict: I don't care what Peter Travers of Rolling Stone says, Natalie Portman will win Best Actress for Black Swan.


BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Having won most of the pre-Oscar awards, Christian Bale looked like a sure thing a few weeks ago for his role in The Fighter. However, since Geoffrey Rush beat him at the BAFTAs a couple weeks ago, some of the shine has come off (pun intended). That said, Bale should still emerge victorious, but this was a more bruising Oscar contest than it was once shaping up to be.
Verdict: Christian Bale isn't as safe a bet as he was, but he will most likely edge out Geoffrey Rush for the prize.


BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
This is the biggest wild card of the major categories. For awhile it seemed like Melissa Leo had this award all locked up. Her performance was terrific, she won the Golden Globe and the SAG Award, but in early February, Leo caused a bit of controversy when she took out ads in the trade papers showing off her "glamorous" side. This may have soured some voters on her. Also to consider: Leo and The Fighter co-star Amy Adams are both nominated in the same category, making it likely that the film's fans could split support thus giving the award to another actress. The most likely candidate: 14-year old True Grit star Hailee Steinfeld. Her performance has earned great critical reviews and several critic's groups' awards, and her youth and innocence represent the antithesis of what people hate about the shameless campaigning.
Verdict: I think it will be Hailee Steinfeld, but Melissa Leo could still be in the running.


BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Aaron Sorkin is perhaps the greatest writer of our time. He has written some of the best plays (A Few Good Men), films (The American President) and TV shows (The West Wing, Sports Night) of the past 20 years, and The Social Network is his most acclaimed project in a decade and his highest-grossing film in nearly two decades. Moreover, the reason The Social Network is so compelling to watch is Sorkin's trademark rapidfire, witty dialogue. That his words are what we most remember about the film is both a positive for Sorkin, and a negative for some of the film's other nominees.
Verdict: Aaron Sorkin all the way. The Social Network will earn him a long-overdue Oscar.


BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
My sister said to me today, having not yet seen The King's Speech, "I still don't see the appeal. A guy with a stutter? Cool...but everyone loves it." The appeal is that David Seidler took what could very well have been a dull concept for a film and made it compelling, made the audience live and die with King George's successes and setbacks. For writing a fun, entertaining, and compelling film about what could have been a boring subject (and because he won the BAFTA just last week), it seems an Oscar is in the cards for David Seidler.
Verdict: David Seidler should win easily for The King's Speech.


BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Conventional wisdom says that if a film is nominated for Oscars in other categories as well, (especially major ones), it has a better shot at the Best Foreign Language Film prize. Javier Bardem got a well deserved Best Actor nomination for Biutiful. Also aiding Mexico's submission is that Biutiful is the only film to get any sort of wider release in the US. These things matter less than you think though, since voters have to see all five films before they can vote in this category. (That rule is applied to the short film, documentary, and foreign language categories only; a voter who only saw Sex and the City 2 and nothing else last year can still vote in the remaining 19 categories.) Because of this, and because it won the Golden Globe, Denmark's In a Better World has a slight edge.
Verdict: In a Better World will most likely win, but Biutiful could upset.


BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
Do I really even need to say again why no other film has a chance this year besides Toy Story 3? OK, here goes: It is the highest-grossing film of 2010 and the highest-grossing animated film of ALL TIME! It was almsot universally loved by critics and audiences alike. It had heart and a funnybone, and if all that doesn't do it for you try this on for size: it's nominated for Best Picture. That means the Academy has already said its better then the other two films in the category since they weren't nominated for the top prize.
Verdict: Toy Story 3, duh!.


BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
A few of these films this year got some wider releases than usual, but the one that everyone is talking about is Inside Job about the 2008 financial meltdown. It's topical, relevant, and (i hear) well made, and looks poised to take home the Academy Award.
Verdict: Inside Job


BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
I haven't seen any of these films, nor have I heard much about them so I'm going to defer to the wisdom of the crowd here, and the closest thing to a consensus among pundits on this one is "Strangers No More".
Verdict: "Strangers No More", with a chance that any other film could win...really...any of them.


BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM
This is a tough one. I really liked four of the five films, but the two best are "Day & Night" and "The Gruffalo." I have to say "Day & Night" has a slight advantage because it played before Toy Story 3 and therefore was seen by a very wide audience. On the other hand, voters need to see all 5 films before they can vote in this category, so this doesn't really affect them. "The Gruffalo" is funny and clever—not to mention rhyming— and features this year's Oscar darling Helena Bonham Carter. This really could go either way.
Verdict: Verrrrrrrry slight advantage to "The Gruffalo," but "Day & Night could pull out a not-that surprising win.


BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM
My theory with this category used to be just pick the film with the coolest name, and to be honest that theory got me wins in this category as much as not. Having seen the five nominated shorts this year, makes it so much more difficult because they were all so good. I'm going to have to go with "Wish 143," though, because it's funny and it has heart. It follows the story of a teenager with terminal cancer who is asked by the British equivalent of the Make-a-Wish Foundation what he wants, and he tell them his wish is to lose his virginity. What's not to love?
Verdict: "Wish 143" but i won't complain no matter what wins.


BEST ART DIRECTION
The King's Speech


BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
True Grit


BEST FILM EDITING
The Social Network


BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
As in most categories this year, this one is The Social Network vs. The King's Speech; It's new and hip vs. traditional. The Social Network won the Golden Globe while The King's Speech took the BAFTA. Overall, It looks like The Social Network should win, but if a sweep starts early for The King's Speech, expect Alexandre Desplat to get caught in the wave.
Verdict: The Social Network


BEST ORIGINAL SONG
All the songs are pretty good, but the one that stands out above the rest is "We Belong Together" from Toy Story 3. It's the kind of sappy, sweet song we've come to expect from Randy Newman every year (and especially in every Pixar film).If the Academy is trying to act all cool and modern (remember "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp"?), they could reward Dido's "If I Rise" from 127 Hours, but that seems unlikely.
Verdict: "We Belong Together" from Toy Story 3 will earn randy Newman his second Oscar.


BEST SOUND EDITING
Inception


BEST SOUND MIXING
Inception


BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Inception


BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Take a look at the last 10 years of Best Costume Design winners and you may notice a pattern: The Young Victoria, The Duchess, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Marie Antionette, Memoirs of a Geisha...hmm...these all seem like period films. More often than not they also involve royalty. Does that sound like any films this year?
Verdict: With 0% of precincts reporting, CNN is ready to call this race for The King's Speech.


BEST MAKEUP
Academy voters sometimes treat this category as "Most Makeup" rather than "Best Makeup," and they may just assume that the creature-feature The Wolfman had the best makeup out there this year. Personally, I'd love to give this award to Alice in Wonderland like the BAFTAs did, but for some reason beyond understanding, it didn't get nominated. The Way Back and Barney's Version are both great films, with the latter having somewhat more impressive makeup work. If the Academy voters do what they should, they'll pick Barney's Version, but that's not the safest bet out there.
Verdict: Barney's Version should win this one, but should doesn't always do it at the Oscars, and The Wolfman has a decent chance of stealing it.

MOVIE REVIEW: The Fighter

The Fighter
Number of Nominations: 7
Categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Christian Bale), Best Supporting Actress (Amy Adams), Best Supporting Actress (Melissa Leo), Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing
Availability in US: In Theatres (Click for Showtimes)
Trailer: Click for Trailer
The Fighter tells the true story of boxer "Irish" Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his drug-addict brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) in the early years of Ward's career. Eklund is a former pro boxer himself and has been training Ward in hopes of him going pro. As Dicky slips further into his crack addiction, he becomes more and more unreliable, but their mother Alice (Melissa Leo), who acts as Micky's manager, won't let him fire Dicky. When Micky falls for bartender Charlene Fleming (Amy Adams), she teaches him how to stand up to his family and look out for his own interests for a change.

With an excellent cast and a compelling storyline, The Fighter is both entertaining and engaging. By the final scene, audiences will find themselves cheering as if they were actually at Ward's fights in the early 1980s. The reason the film succeeds is due to its stellar cast. After years of excellent work, Christian Bale finally earns his first Oscar nomination, and he deserves it. From his perfect Boston accent, to his realistic portrayal of crack addiction, Bale nails this role, and Oscar will reward him for it. Melissa Leo and Amy Adams are fantastic and feisty in their supporting roles. Melissa Leo won many of the pre-Oscar awards, but in recent weeks has come under fire for her campaigning for the award. As can happen when two performers from the same film are nominated in the same category, Leo and Adams will likely split the film's support and the award will go to Hailee Steinfeld from True Grit.
Grade: A

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

MOVIE REVIEW: True Grit

True Grit
Number of Nominations: 10
Categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Jeff Bridges), Best Supporting Actress (Hailee Steinfeld), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costumes, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing
Availability in US: In Theatres (Click for Showtimes)
Trailer: Click for Trailer
Shootouts, murder, cowboys, and gangsters...why don't more Westerns get Oscar nominations? True Grit is a remake of the 1969 film that finally won John Wayne an Oscar, 20 years after his first nomination. Written, produced, and directed by perennial Oscar favorites Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men, Fargo), this film hopes to go where few have gone before: only three Westerns (Cimmaron, Dances with Wolves, and Unforgiven) have ever won Best Picture. True Grit follows a young woman, Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) who hires a U.S. Marshall named Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to track down her father's murderer and bring him to justice.

The entire cast is fantastic, and the film is so action-packed, it flies by. Jeff Bridges has mighty big shoes to fill, but as the gruff, alcoholic Cogburn, he would make John Wayne proud. He turns in a multi-level performance, seemingly looking out for his own interests at all times, but if you watch carefully, you'll see that behind the facade, he has Ross's best interests at heart. The real revelation here is Steinfeld, though. In her feature debut, she makes a big impact as the daughter bent on finding the man who killed her father. She is everything the role demands: brash, intelligent, intimidating, and calculating, yet she still shows signs of being a little girl at heart.

As I hinted in the intro, this film has everything you'd want from a Western, from exciting chase scenes to thrilling gunplay. The dialogue is witty, the action is engaging, and the plot is both easy enough to follow and complex enough to hold your interest.

Jeff Bridges is the incumbent Best Actor, having won last year for Crazy Heart, so he is extremely unlikely to repeat (the last time anyone pulled off back-to-back acting Oscars was Tom Hanks for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump in 1993/1994). Also against him: no one has ever won an Oscar for a remake of an Oscar-winning performance.

Hailee Steinfeld, on the other hand, may have a chance at eking out a win. For one thing, many believe she should have been nominated as Best Actress, and leading roles in supporting categories tend to do well. Secondly, she has received heaps of acclaim for the role. Additionally, younger actresses have won this category in the past; look at Anna Paquin, who was only 11 when she won for The Piano, and Tatum O'Neal was 10 when she won for A Paper Moon. Finally, though it seemed as though Melissa Leo had this category locked up just a couple weeks ago, she has received some flak in recent days for her shameless campaigning. What better remedy to her overzealous pursuit of the award than to give it to this unassuming young woman?

Besides Steinfeld, don't expect to see True Grit garner much Oscar gold; up against heavy hitters like The King's Speech and The Social Network in every category makes it highly unlikely to succeed.
Grade: A-

MINI REVIEWS: Barney's Version & Tron: Legacy

Barney's Version
BARNEY'S VERSION
Number of Nominations: 1
Categories: Best Makeup
Availability in US: DVD, Blu-ray
Trailer: Click for Trailer
Barney's Version tells the tale of a man's (Paul Giamatti as Barney) life over a period of 35 years, through 3 marriages, 2 divorces, a murder investigation, and a debilitating illness. The overall film is excellent, and worthy of more than the single nomination it received. The nominated makeup is everything this category should—but doesn't always—reward: It is realistic, subtle, and important to the film. The film features Giamatti from his early 30s into his 70s, so the makeup artists had to age him, but also make him younger for some scenes. Dustin Hoffman as Barney's father is also seen slowly but noticeably aging. One character, Barney's third wife Miriam, is aged so subtly, you may not notice it at all until a flashback reminds you what she once looked like.

As I said, this film SHOULD win Best Makeup, but depending on whether any of the voters even get a chance to see it (it has been in very limited release) it may lose out to something flashier like The Wolfman.
Grade: A
Tron: Legacy
TRON: LEGACY
Number of Nominations: 1
Categories: Best Sound Editing
Availability in US: In Theatres (Click for Showtimes)
Trailer: Click for Trailer
Tron: Legacy follows the son of legendary software designer/hacker Kevin Flynn as he searches for his father and gets stuck inside the program he created. This film will not be winning any Oscars and here's why: It sucked. The only redeeming thing about this film—read: the only thing that kept me awake—are the visual effects, but since they failed to score a nomination, this film will go home empty handed, just as the original Tron did 28 years ago.
Grade: D-

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

MOVIE REVIEW: Winter's Bone

Winter's Bone
Number of Nominations: 4
Categories: Best Picture, Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence), Best Supporting Actor (John Hawkes), Best Adapted Screenplay
Availability in US: DVD, Blu-ray
Trailer: Click for Trailer
Winter's Bone tells the story of a 17-year-old named Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) trying to track down her drug-dealer father so her family won't lose the house he put up for his bail. With help from her sketchy, but ultimately well-meaning, uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes), Ree takes great personal risks to determine what happened to her father and keep her family together.

Winter's Bone is everything an Oscar movie should be. It is unpredictable and thought-provoking and contains excellent performances. Unfortunately it also has that other curse of some of the great Oscar films: no one has seen or heard of it. This is the kind of thing that makes people say the Oscars are "out of touch" but honestly, that particular criticism has always seemed odd to me. These are the films the artists have said are the best ones, so if they're not the popular films, maybe we all need to go out and watch better movies. Winter's Bone is a prime example: Here is a film I had never heard of until it started popping up on critics' lists at the end of the year, but when I rented it and watched it, I was riveted. The acting was excellent, the plot was engaging, and the cinematography was wonderful.

All my love for this film aside though, Winter's Bone's awards were the nominations themselves. A film that barely registered at the box office will get plenty of DVD rentals and purchases just from the nods alone, but the Oscar buzz just isn't behind it in any category. If it weren't up against Aaron Sorkin, I'd say you could perhaps expect an upset in the screenplay category, but I think Sorkin is upset-proof.
Grade: A

MOVIE REVIEW: The Illusionist

The Illusionist
Number of Nominations: 1
Categories: Best Animated Feature
Availability in US: In Theatres (Click for Showtimes)
Trailer: Click for Trailer
From the director of one of the most unusual and entertaining animated features of all time, The Triplets of Belleville, comes this very unusual but interesting and emotional film, L'illusionniste. The film follows a French illusionist who travels to Scotland and befriends a young woman, changing both their lives in unexpected ways. Director Sylvain Chomet adapted an unproduced screenplay written in the 1950s by French actor/director Jacques Tati, and the film's title character is an animated version of Tati. The visual style of the film is classic hand-drawn animation, and 1950's Scotland is shown in beautiful detail. The film is funny and yet full of heart. Unfortunately one cannot help comparing it to Chomet's earlier film, and it suffers for this comparison. Fans of The Triplets of Belleville will find little similarity to this film, the exception being the very caricaturish style in which some of the film's inhabitants are portrayed. Where Belleville used visual caricature as its main tool, The Illusionist tends more towards behavioral caricature. Still, the technique is effective and entertaining. All of this is important, because fans of animated cinema will want to see this as soon as it's available in their region, but none of it matters for Oscar night, as Toy Story 3 still has a lock on the Animated Feature category.
Grade: A-

MOVIE REVIEW: Rabbit Hole

Rabbit Hole
Number of Nominations: 1
Categories: Best Actress (Nicole Kidman)
Availability in US: DVD, Blu-ray
Trailer: Click for Trailer
Rabbit Hole is the story of a married couple, Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart), coping with the loss of their four-year-old son. Becca starts following, and later talking to, the boy who accidentally hit their son with a car to try and bring some closure, while Howie finds his own ways to try and cope.

By now we're all pretty used to Nicole Kidman's talent. We've been watching her, for years, take on challenging roles and master them. This is not one of those roles; something here feels stale, like we've seen it before. Don't get me wrong: Kidman is as good as ever, but there's nothing new or innovative in either the film or her performance. The characters in the film don't seem to make much progress in their grief, and the film as a whole feels empty because of it. Still, competent performances from all involved, including Sandra Oh as a friend from the couple's group therapy, help make this film watchable.
Grade: B

MOVIE REVIEW: Black Swan

Black Swan
Number of Nominations: 5
Categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (Natalie Portman), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing
Availability in US: In Theatres (Click for Showtimes)
Trailer: Click for Trailer
As I was exiting the theatre last December after seeing Black Swan I overheard an excited 20-something saying to his girlfriend, "If you had told me we were seeing a scary movie about ballet, I wouldn't have believed you." I think this sums up the film pretty well actually. Black Swan follows professional ballerina Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) who, after getting the lead in her company's production of "Swan Lake," slowly begins to lose her mind as she immerses herself in the character of the evil black swan Odile. Meanwhile she becomes paranoid that her rival Lily (Mila Kunis) is trying to steal her role and her moment in the spotlight.

I've been a Natalie Portman fan for a long time, and I've forgiven her for the mediocre performances and bad film choices, and loved her in movies like Garden State, but this is, without doubt, the best performance she's ever given. Much like Angelina Jolie's character in Girl, Interrupted, we witness Nina experiencing a psychotic break. The audience won't know from one minute to the next which scenes are real and which are invented in Nina's delusional brain. Portman gets everything right, from the graceful ballet moments, to the steamy—and much talked about— lesbian sex scene with Lily, to the film's more violent moments. Her performance is so engaging that it keeps the audience on the edge of their seats.

The film itself is both beautifully imagined and flawlessly executed, much like the ballet it portrays. Darren Aronofsky displays the same obsession for perfection in his filmmaking as Nina shows in her ballet. Everything we see on the screen is intentional, from the camera angles to the timing of the scenes. Of course the vision is Aronofsky's, but it is realized through the Oscar-nominated film editing and cinematography. The film is as beautiful to watch as the ballet it portrays.

Natalie Portman is as close as you can get to a lock for Best Actress, and we could see Black Swan upset and win in cinematography, but the film is a little too weird for the older Academy voters and probably doesn't have a chance at Best Picture or Best Director.
Grade: A+

Monday, February 21, 2011

MOVIE REVIEW: Biutiful

Biutiful
Number of Nominations: 2
Categories: Best Actor (Javier Bardem), Best Foreign Language Film (Mexico)
Availability in US: In Theatres (Click for Showtimes)
Trailer: Click for Trailer
From acclaimed Mexican writer/director Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel, 21 Grams, Amores Perros) comes one of his best films yet. Biutiful follows Uxbal who runs an underground business of illegal Chinese workers making designer knockoffs. When he is diagnosed with cancer, he tries to forge a reconciliation with his estranged wife so his children will have someone to care for them when he is gone.

Despite the criminal elements he is involved with, and his occasional angry outbursts, Bardem makes Uxbal a likeable and relatable character. Through his pain and anguish as he's dealing with his diagnosis, Bardem portrays a man desperate to hold his life together, a man who cares deeply for his children and his "employees."

Biutiful contains some of the key elements of many of Iñárritu's past films—drug use, main characters with sketchy pasts, non-chronological timelines—but it is actually much simpler than 21 Grams or Babel. Lacking the multiple interwoven plots that made those films either extremely engaging or extremely confusing depending on your point of view, Biutiful is much easier to follow but sacrifices some of the intrigue and excitement that accompanies those twisting plots. Still, it is probably evidence of a maturing filmmaker, as this film has greater emotional depth than some of Iñárritu's previous works.

Biutiful seems poised to win the Best Foreign Film award since it is the only film nominated which received a wide release in the U.S., and the only film in the category which has any other nominations. Of course, this was the prevailing wisdom I used last year to predict a win for Germany's The White Ribbon, and I was mistaken then. Javier Bardem seems unlikely to win his second Oscar. For one thing it may seem too soon after his win two years ago for No Country for Old Men. For another, he's up against Colin Firth in the best film of the year as well as breakout roles for James Franco and Jesse Eisenberg, so Bardem was barely on anyone's radar until his nomination (he even failed to garner nominations from the SAG Awards and Golden Globes, two of the big Oscar predictors).
Grade: A

MOVIE REVIEW: Blue Valentine

Blue Valentine
Number of Nominations: 1
Categories: Best Actress (Michelle Williams)
Availability in US: In Theatres (Click for Showtimes)
Trailer: Click for Trailer
Blue Valentine tells the story of Cindy (Michelle Williams) and Dean (Ryan Gosling), a married couple whose relationship is on the rocks. The film alternates between timelines, featuring scenes from their meeting, courtship, and married life all interspersed with each other. The early days of their love are gleeful and heartwarming; the later days are gloomy and heartbreaking.

This is the best performance yet for Michelle Williams, who was robbed of an Oscar for Brokeback Mountain. She runs the whole gamut of emotions, from the exhilarating first love (and lust) to the despondent, trapped feelings late in her marriage. As a woman somewhat forced into marriage by her circumstances, you will empathize with Cindy even when she comes off as being too controlling or too uptight.

Williams is a bright young talent who, if she keeps up the way she's going, will almost certainly win an Oscar...someday. Unfortunately for her, this is not going to be her year, as she is up against the impossible-not-to-love Natalie Portman who won the Golden Globe, BAFTA and SAG Award, and looks poised to grab this little golden guy as well.
Grade: A-

MOVIE REVIEW: The King's Speech

The King's Speech
Number of Nominations: 12
Categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Colin Firth), Best Supporting Actor (Geoffrey Rush), Best Supporting Actress (Helena Bonham Carter), Best Original Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costumes, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Original Score
Availability in US: In Theatres (Click for Showtimes)
Trailer: Click for Trailer
The King’s Speech tells the true story of Britain’s King George VI (Colin Firth) and his terrible stutter. When his brother abdicates the throne and he is forced to become King, his wife (Helena Bonham Carter) convinces him to see an unorthodox speech therapist named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) who tries to help him overcome his troubles so he can give the speech his nation needs and demands of him. All of them are working toward an important goal: With war breaking out all over Europe, the King will soon need to address the nation over the radio and inspire them to stand together against Chancellor Hitler. An uncertain or wavering King cannot unite his nation behind him the way he must, so the King must overcome his disability for the good of the nation and the world.

Though a seemingly simple and odd concept for a film, The King’s Speech is, in my mind, the best film of 2010. At turns funny, poignant, uncomfortable, heart-wrenching, and inspirational, the film pushes all the right buttons. The Academy loves films about British royalty (The Queen, Shakespeare in Love, Elizabeth, etc.), and there's a lot to love here.

Colin Firth puts in an astoundingly authentic performance. His stuttering never feels like a caricature, and the pain and frustration he shows while trying to overcome his impediment is so real that the audience shares his frustration and ultimately his successes. Helena Bonham Carter stars as his patient and loving wife (who would eventually become the beloved woman Britons would refer to as the Queen Mum) who tries her best to help her husband get past his troubles. She never loses her cool, and is supportive throughout the whole ordeal while gently nudging him toward the treatment which helps him become the man she knows he can be. Geoffrey Rush may be the best of all; as Logue, he pushes and prods the King out of his (fairly small) comfort zone to try and aid him, knowing full well the dangers of angering a king. The film is well paced and keeps the audience engaged throughout. Thanks to an excellent screenplay and director Tom Hooper's vision, it is easy to both identify with and root for Firth's character as we watch his arduous yet inspiring struggles.

As I said, the Academy loves films about royalty, and this should help The King’s Speech to win at least 6 or 7 awards on Oscar night. Besides the likely win for Colin Firth (which would be his first Oscar, after losing last year to Jeff Bridges), I expect The King’s Speech to win Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Costumes (period films ALWAYS win this category), and possibly Best Art Direction and Best Sound Editing. Additionally, the Best Supporting Actress race looks like it could go just about any way at this point, and Helena Bonham Carter has a real shot. (She would certainly deserve it just on work ethic alone; she worked on four Oscar-nominated productions this year: The King’s Speech, Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and the animated short film "The Gruffalo"). Of course, the early Oscar buzz was behind The Social Network for Best Picture, but The King’s Speech seems to have pulled into the lead in recent weeks, especially since its Producer's Guild win, and should manage to pull this one out. It is still possible for The Social Network to eke out a win though, so in a close race, look for Best Director and Best Picture to go to different films.
Grade: A+

MINI REVIEWS: The Wolfman & Unstoppable

The Wolfman
THE WOLFMAN
Number of Nominations: 1
Categories: Best Makeup
Availability in US: DVD, Blu-ray
Trailer: Click for Trailer
The Wolfman is a remake of the classic 1941 film starring Claude Raines and Lon Chaney, Jr. It follows an American man (Benicio Del Toro) who returns to his homeland and is bitten by a werewolf, thus becoming one. The film itself is almost unwatchably bad, and the nominated makeup fails to impress me. The werewolf makeup looks no more realistic that it did in 1941, which is saying something considering how far effects have come in that time. Although creature features are Oscar-bait in the makeup category (and really ONLY in that category) this one doesn't quite measure up. To see an impressive werewolf, get Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban on DVD instead.
Grade: D
Unstoppable
UNSTOPPABLE
Number of Nominations: 1
Categories: Best Sound Editing
Availability in US: DVD, Blu-ray
Trailer: Click for Trailer
From the description, this film didn't seem that exciting, but I should not have judged a book by its cover. Unstoppable follows a veteran railroad employee (Denzel Washington) and a rookie on his first day (Chris Pine) trying to catch up to and stop a runaway train before it can reach a major city and cause possible catastrophe. The realistic sounds of both the train and the attempts to stop it add to the suspense and excitement of the film. Since most people can't tell the difference between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing (embarassingly, myself included) it is usually safe to pick the same film for both, and not only is Unstoppable not nominated for Best Sound Mixing, but it is up against the much more likely to win Inception.
Grade: A-

Sunday, February 20, 2011

MOVIE REVIEW: Another Year

Another Year
Number of Nominations: 1
Categories: Best Original Screenplay
Availability in US: In Theatres (Click for Showtimes)
Trailer: Click for Trailer
Another Year follows older British couple Tom and Mary (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen) over the course of an average year. Tom and Mary are so happy together still you almost can’t believe it, but the rest of the people in their life–family and friends–are much less so. If you are not accustomed to seeing British films, you may have trouble getting through this one. Unlike most American films, British movies tend to move very slowly and not always have an overarching plot. Another Year fits this description; it doesn’t follow any particular theme or necessarily have a plot, it is merely a look into the lives of this couple. The film is slow-paced, and its humor is rarely laugh-out-loud funny, but it is nevertheless enjoyable if one is in the right mood for it.

As it enjoyed only a limited release in the U.S., and is up against several films with multiple nominations, I’d say the chances of Another Year’s screenplay finally earning Mike Leigh an Oscar—this is his seventh nomination, but he is 0 for 6 so far— are fairly slim.
Grade: B

MOVIE REVIEW: 127 Hours

127 Hours
Number of Nominations: 6
Categories: Best Picture, Best Actor (James Franco), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Original Song ("If I Rise")
Availability in US: In Theatres (Click for Showtimes)
Trailer: Click for Trailer
Here’s my dilemma: Almost anything I can tell you about the film 127 Hours would have to be considered a spoiler. That said, I believe 99% of audiences who have seen the film knew what they were getting into when they bought their ticket, but in case you want to go in fresh, just skip reviews altogether and go see it now! 127 Hours is a film about survival, endurance, and courage. It is based on the true story of Aron Ralston (Franco), a mountain climber who got his arm trapped under a boulder after a landslide in the middle of a mountain range in Utah. After spending several days out alone in the desert, he is forced to cut off his own arm to escape.

This film is not for the faint of heart. It is short—a mere 94 minutes—and direct, but feels much longer because of the anguish Ralston is experiencing before your eyes. The movie is very well done, with everything, including the graphic arm-cutting scene, having a very realistic feel. When the real Aron Ralston saw the film, he cried, and called it "...so factually accurate it is as close to a documentary as you can get and still be a drama."

James Franco is the reason this film works as well as it does. He brings an authenticity to the role of Aron that few young actors could provide. Of the film’s 94 minutes, about 80 of them are just Franco on the screen by himself, so it was extremely important that he commit to the role, and his Oscar-nominated performance speaks for itself. From the carefree guy we see at the beginning to the desperate, hallucinating man we see by the film's end, Franco makes the whole character arc—and really, the whole film—work.

Though it is an excellent film, 127 Hours seems unlikely to garner any Oscar gold. The film is simply too difficult for many to sit through, and since the Academy voters tend to skew older, it doesn’t quite play to their demographic. Franco is up against some heavy hitters, including Colin Firth (The King’s Speech) and Jeff Bridges (True Grit) so this probably isn’t his year. It is worth noting that serving as co-host of the ceremony probably doesn’t help his chances; the last time an Oscar co-host was nominated was Paul Hogan for writing 1986’s Crocodile Dundee, which he did not win. If this were any other year, I’d say the screenplay could perhaps compete, but 127 Hours is up against the likes of Aaron Sorkin and those Pixar people, so there’s not much shot there either.
Grade: A

Thursday, February 17, 2011

MOVIE REVIEW: The Town

The Town
Number of Nominations: 1
Categories: Best Supporting Actor (Jeremy Renner)
Availability in US: DVD, Blu-ray
Trailer: Click for Trailer
Last year, Jeremy Renner broke out with an impressive Oscar-nominated performance in Best Picture-winner The Hurt Locker. At the time, I called hischaracter a "loose cannon who enjoys doing things his own way." The difference between last year's nominated performance and this year's isn't much. While last year, Renner portrayed SSG William James whose erratic behavior stood to harm only himself, this year's character isjust as wild, but directs his anger and craziness at others.

The Town follows James Coughlin (Renner) and Doug MacRay (director Ben Affleck), a pair of bank robbers in a Boston suburb, and the FBI Special Agent, Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm), who is trying to bring their gang down. When MacRay starts to fall for a bank manager from their last job, he tells Coughlin he is quitting and moving away. Coughlin doesn't take the news very well, and completely flips out on MacRay. This is just one of several excessively violent outbursts we witness from Renner's character. He is constantly lashing out at people, and his erratic behavior even causes the team to stray from their plans during jobs.

Overall, the film is compelling enough, but lags behind Affleck's directorial debut, 2007's Gone Baby Gone. While Renner's portrayal rings true and is very compelling, it doesn't feel different enough from last year's performance to merit actual awards consideration. In addition, actors rarely win Oscars as the only nominee for their film, and Renner is unlikely to be the exception.
Grade: B+

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

MOVIE REVIEW: Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3
Number of Nominations: 5
Categories: Best Picture, Best Animated Feature, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Song ("We Belong Together"), Best Sound Editing
Availability in US: DVD, Blu-ray
Trailer: Click for Trailer
Historically, the Academy hasn't always given animated films the recognition they deserve. True, Walt Disney was given an honorary award (one Oscar statuette and 7 miniature statuettes) for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but for about 60 years after that the Academy didn't show much love for animation. Then, in 2001, the Academy tried to make things right by introducing the Best Animated Feature Oscar. Unfortunately, though the move was well intentioned, some people believe giving animated features their own "mini-Best Picture" category has further decreased these films' chances of seriously competing in the major categories. In Academy Awards history, only three animated films have been nominated for Best Picture: Beauty and the Beast, Up, and Toy Story 3. No animated film has ever won Best Picture. Films that may have deserved consideration, like Up and Finding Nemo, haven't been taken seriously. Make no mistake: Toy Story 3 deserves real consideration.

Easily one of the three best films of the year, Toy Story 3 picks up several years after part 2 left off, with Andy headed off to college and trying to decide what to do with his old toys. When our heroes Buzz Lightyear and Woody accidentally get donated to the daycare, they have to navigate all sorts of perils to get back where they belong.

Toy Story 3 does everything right: It is funny, poignant, engaging, and just plain fun to watch. Praised by critics and almost universally loved by audiences, Toy Story 3 quickly became the highest grossing film of the year, the fifth-highest grossing film of all-time, and highest grossing animated film ever. The film succeeds in the same way many Pixar films have before it, by not going for the cheap laughs or just playing to the younger audiences, but by making a genuinely fun and entertaining film that parents, kids, and kids at heart can enjoy together.

Grade: A+

News & Links 2/16/2011

Many people (myself included) had some doubts about whether two non-comedians hosting the Oscars was a good idea. ABC has allayed those fears with a recent ad campaign featuring this year's co-hosts, James Franco and Anne Hathaway, "training" for their upcoming hosting gig.

The first ad, shows the two practicing this year's Oscar tagline, "You're Invited."



The second ad shows Franco and Hathaway preparing for a number of possible situations, including a wardrobe malfunction.



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Last year, the producers of the Oscar telecast made an unusual choice not to give the nominees in the Best Original Song category a chance to be performed on the telecast; it marked only the second time since 1946 that the nominees had not been performed during the ceremony. Thankfully, this year's producers have opted to once again allow performances.

Last week, the Academy announced that Gwenyth Paltrow will perform "Coming Home" from the film Country Strong; A.R. Rahman and Florence + the Machine, will perform "If I Rise" from the film 127 Hours; Alan Menken will accompany singers Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi on the piano for "I See the Light" from the animated film Tangled; and Randy Newman will perform his nominated song "We Belong Together" from the animated film Toy Story 3.

For those of you who want to make your predictions prior to Oscar Night, all four Best Song nominees are available for download at Amazon.com (see the sidebar on the right for links and song previews).

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In the weeks leading up to the Oscars, it is customary for the Academy to announce which A-listers have been invited to present at the upcoming ceremony. Previously, we had mentioned here that Annette Bening, Robert Downey Jr, and Hugh Jackman would be presenting. The Academy has now announced that they will be joined by Academy Award winners Tom Hanks (Philadelphia, Forrest Gump), Cate Blanchett (The Aviator), Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line), and Nicole Kidman (The Hours), and Academy Award nominee Jude Law (The Talented Mr. Ripley, Cold Mountain). Hanks and Downey Jr. both presented at last year's ceremony, while Witherspoon and Kidman last presented at the 81st Academy Awards in 2009, Blanchett last presented in 2008, and Law last presented in 2004.

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Looking for a comprehensive nominees list, trailers for the 10 Best Picture-nominated films, and an interactive ballot to predict winners in each of the 24 Academy Awards categories? There's an app for that! The Academy announced an update to their smartphone app which over half a million people downloaded last Oscar season! The Academy's director of marketing, Janet Weiss, says, "The Oscars App is designed to help movie fans connect with one another and share in the excitement of Hollywood’s biggest night."

The Oscars App is available for free from the iPhone and iPod Touch App Store, or online at www.itunes.com/appstore.

MINI REVIEW: Iron Man 2


Iron Man 2

IRON MAN 2
Number of Nominations: 1
Categories: Best Visual Effects
Availability in US: DVD, Blu-ray
Trailer: Click for Trailer
Tony Stark is back in all his superhuman glory. But now his identity as Iron Man has been revealed, and while the government tries to convince him to hand over the technology, a nemesis halfway around the world is perfecting his own. Such is the plot of Iron Man 2, which is full of explosions and crazy special effects like its predecessor. Effects can make or break an action film, and the ones in this film definitely do their job supporting the plot and engaging the audience. While Iron Man 2 has a shot at the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, Alice in Wonderland and Inception are more likely winners.
Grade: A-

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

MINI REVIEWS: Tangled & The Way Back

Tangled
TANGLED
Number of Nominations: 1
Categories: Best Original Song ("I See the Light")
Availability in US: DVD, Blu-ray
Trailer: Click for Trailer
Tangled is yet another great Disney musical, this time telling the story of a spunky Rapunzel who strikes a deal with an unwitting thief, who agrees to guide her on an adventure to the outside world. The nominated song from this movie is charming (and the animation that goes along with it is breathtaking), plus it was written by consummate Disney composer Alan Menken, who was the genius behind Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and more. However, my gut tells me that the song from Toy Story 3 ("We Belong Together") will take the category.
Grade: A
The Way Back
THE WAY BACK
Number of Nominations: 1
Categories: Best Makeup
Availability in US: DVD, Blu-ray
Trailer: Click for Trailer
The Way Back is based on the true story of a group of escapees from a Siberian work camp during WWII, who traveled several thousand miles on foot to reach freedom. The movie as a whole was great, and the makeup is really impressive. As the characters move from extreme cold to extreme heat and back again, their faces change dramatically, including chapped lips, sunburns, frostbite, and more. This film has a solid chance to win the Best Makeup Oscar, but this is also the category in which creature features like The Wolfman can take the top prize.
Grade: A-

Sunday, February 13, 2011

MOVIE REVIEW: Inception

Inception
Number of Nominations: 8
Categories: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Visual Effects
Availability in US: DVD, Blu-ray
Trailer: Click for Trailer
I've spent the last year anxiously looking over my shoulder at every turn, expecting sci-fi geeks to jump out of nowhere and throttle me. Last February, I posted not very favorable reviews of two very popular science fiction films: Avatar and District 9. The resulting comments on this blog were extremely unfriendly and called into question my entire taste in films. It was with some trepidation, therefore, that I sat down a couple weeks ago to watch Inception, one of the most popular, most talked about, and highest-grossing sci-fi films in years. "What if I don't like it," I worried, "will everyone get up in arms over it again?" As it turns out, I needn't have worried.

Inception tells the story of a band of outlaws, led by a man named Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), who break into people's dreams to steal their secrets. One of their victims, Saito (Ken Watanabe), catches up to them in real life and makes Cobb an offer he can't refuse—plant an idea, instead of stealing one, in the brain of a business rival of his, and he will see that Cobb can finally return home to his children. The process of inception has apparently never been tried before, and is very dangerous. As you can imagine, lots of cool effects and trippy plot points ensue (I hate giving spoilers beyond what's absolutely necessary).

Inception succeeds where Avatar and District 9 failed; it has likable characters, a complex and original plot, and realistic human emotion. Though the film failed to earn any acting nominations, Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard gives one of the better performances I've seen this year as Cobb's wife. At various turns conniving, loving, desperate, and despondent, Cotillard helps provide the emotional punch that makes this film work so well.

Artistically, the film gets everything right. From the cool visuals of streets folding in on themselves, to the multi-layered dream states which affect each other, the effects (both sound and visual) and photography feel authentic. The complex sets and visual style make Inception a serious contender in the art direction category as well.

The only complaint I've heard about this movie, and I believe it is wrong, is that the film is too hard to follow. While the various layers of the dream world may force some viewers to scratch their heads occasionally, most modern film viewers should be used to fractured storytelling by now (wasn't Memento like 10 years ago already?) and should have little trouble at least getting most of the plot on the first go-round. At any rate, now that the film is out on DVD, there's little excuse not to rewind a bit if one gets lost a little. That said, Academy voters tend to skew older and may not have the patience for a complex science fiction plot, so that could potentially hurt Inception in the screenplay category. Overall, Inception is an excellent film, and should expect to run away with at least a few, if not all, of the technical awards for which it is nominated. Look for it to have a bit more trouble in the score and screenplay categories. Conventional wisdom says that any film not nominated for Best Director is unlikely to take home Best Picture (it has only happened three times in Oscar history, and only once since 1932), but I imagine the 260 million dollars it has taken home at the box office is enough to keep Christopher Nolan happy.
Grade: A

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

MINI REVIEWS: I Am Love & HP7

I Am Love
I AM LOVE
Number of Nominations: 1
Categories: Best Costumes
Availability in US: DVD, Blu-ray
Trailer: Click for Trailer
Tilda Swinton shows off her bilingual skills in I Am Love, an Italian film about a modern day love story which is tearing apart a rich family. The movie itself drags. It is entertaining at moments, but for the most part the film failed to hold my attention. The nominated costumes are lovely, but not really Oscar fare. Best Costumes awards usually go to a) films about British royals or Elizabethan folks (Young Victoria, The Duchess, Elizabeth: The Golden Age) or b) period pieces (The Aviator, Titanic, The English Patient). I Am Love is nominated against two British period pieces, an extravagant fantasy, and a period western. Don't count on hearing the title called on Oscar night.
Grade: C-
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 1
Number of Nominations: 2
Categories: Best Art Direction, Best Visual Effects
Availability in US: DVD, Blu-ray (Pre-order)
Trailer: Click for Trailer
So this is normally the part of a review where I would give a brief summary of the film, but if you haven't been following the Harry Potter books and films for the last decade, then there's not much hope for you at this point anyways. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1—or HP7 as it's been mercifully abbreviated—racked up two nominations, the eight and ninth for the series which has yet to actually win a single Academy Award. Unfortunately I doubt this will be the boy wizard's year. The visual effects are stunning, as they have been with all the Potter films, but in both categories HP7 is up against two very visually driven films, Alice in Wonderland and Inception. This first half of the final installment in the series feels less visual and more emotional and plot-driven (much like the first half of the book). Wandering through the forest tracking horcruxes, while necessary and interesting, just isn't what Academy voters are looking for in their Best Visual Effects winner.
Grade: B+

Monday, February 07, 2011

MINI REVIEWS: Salt & Country Strong

Of the thirty-two films nominated for Oscars this year, 13 of them are nominated in minor categories only. (“Minor categories” is here meant to include Best Cinematography, Best Makeup, Achievement in Sound Mixing, Achievement in Sound Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Original Score, Best Original Song, Achievement in Art Direction, and Best Visual Effects.) Because the entirety of the production is not being judged I will, in some of these cases, be writing shorter “capsule reviews” dealing directly with the judged category or categories rather than the film as a whole. We will call these “Mini Reviews.”


Salt
SALT
Number of Nominations: 1
Categories: Best Sound Mixing
Availability in US: DVD, Blu-ray
Trailer: Click for Trailer
Salt follows CIA agent Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) as she attempts to clear her name after being accused of being a Russian spy sent to carry out assassinations. Through all the twists and turns one expects from this type of espionage/action film, we have the requisite gunfights, car chases, and explosions—all mainstays of the sound categories, which in recent years have been won by The Bourne Ultimatum, The Hurt Locker, and King Kong. Since Sound Mixing and Sound Editing are barely (and "barely" is being generous) distinguishable from one another to mere mortals, it is often a safe bet to pick the same film in both categories (this has worked about half the time anyways) and since Salt is only nominated in one category, I'm not betting on it winning (though I reserve the right to change my mind, obviously).
Grade: B-
Country Strong
COUNTRY STRONG
Number of Nominations: 1
Categories: Best Original Song ("Coming Home")
Availability in US: In Theatres (Check Showtimes)
Trailer: Click for Trailer
Before seeing Country Strong, I predicted, "This is going to be like Crazy Heart but with Gwyneth Paltrow playing the Jeff Bridges role." I wasn't too far off. Paltrow plays Kelly Canter, a country star just out of rehab trying to prove she's still got it. Canter tours with rising country stars Beau Hutton and Chiles Stanton (Garrett Hedlund and Leighton Meester), and between the three of them, the soundtrack is chock-full of memorable songs. The nominated song, "Coming Home," is stirring and inspiring, and is meant to symbolize the character's struggles. Personally, I felt that other songs from the film were more deserving, such as Paltrow and Tim McGraw's duet "Me and Tennessee" or Meester and Hedlund's almost hypnotic "Give in to Me." Without those stronger nominees though, it's likely one of the two Disney songs will prevail.
Grade: B+

Saturday, February 05, 2011

GUEST REVIEW: How to Train Your Dragon

How to Train Your Dragon
Number of Nominations: 2
Categories: Best Animated Feature, Best Original Score
Availability in US: DVD, Blu-ray
Trailer: Click for Trailer
How to Train Your Dragon is the latest film from DreamWorks, the studio that created hits like Shrek and Madagascar. The story follows a young Viking boy named Hiccup (yes, Hiccup) who apparently didn't get the right genes for dragon-killing; he is scrawny and doesn't fit in with the rest of the clan. But when he meets one of the most ferocious dragons in the land and begins to make friends, he learns that maybe the dragons aren't as bad as they seem.

I really enjoyed this movie. Like many DreamWorks/Disney/Pixar movies, it was visually appealing and fast-paced enough to keep children entertained throughout, but it was also clever enough for adults. Some familiar adult actors also lend their voices to the film, including Gerard Butler (300, The Ugly Truth), Craig Ferguson (The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson), Jay Baruchel (She's Out of My League), America Ferrera (Ugly Betty) and Jonah Hill (Superbad).

As much as I loved this movie, I don't think it has much of a shot in either of the categories in which it was nominated. Toy Story 3 is the hands-down winner for animated feature, since it was one of the most anticipated, most successful and most well loved films of 2010. In the original score category, similarly, there has been a lot more buzz about other movies *cough*The Social Network*cough*. How to Train Your Dragon is a fun and funny film, but unfortunately it probably will not see any Oscar wins.
Grade: A

Friday, February 04, 2011

News & Links 2/4/2011

Having trouble keeping track of which films and actors have been winning all the major pre-Oscar awards? Well you're not the only one. Luckily, this year New York Magazine has provided this handy chart to help everyone keep track of the nominees and winners of eight major film awards.So now, when you're making predictions, you can reference the site and sound much more knowledgeable to your friends!


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Final ballots for Academy Awards voting were mailed Wednesday, February 2, to the 5,755 voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The ballots contain the nominees in all 19 categories that don't require special screenings. Special screenings are required to vote in the short film, documentary, and foreign language categories, and ballots for those categories are distributed after verifying a member has attended the screenings.

Completed ballots must be returned to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) (who have tabulated the Oscars ballots for 77 years) by 5 PM Pacific on Tuesday, February 22. The votes will then be tabulated by hand (PwC spends 1,700 "person hours" each year counting and verifying the ballots) and the results placed in sealed envelopes which will be opened live on-air at the 83rd Academy Awards on Sunday, February 27.



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The annual process of announcing who will present at this year's ceremony has begun. Earlier this week, the Academy announced that Academy Award nominees Robert Downey Jr. (Chaplin, Tropic Thunder) and Annette Bening (The Grifters, American Beauty, Being Julia, The Kids are All Right) will be presenting at the Oscars. It was also announced that actor Hugh Jackman, who hosted the 81st Academy Awards in 2009, will appear as a presenter.

Traditionally the acting awards each year are presented by the previous year's winner of the opposite gender (last year's Best Actor presents this year's Best Actress statuette, etc.) but there has been no word yet from the Academy on whether last year's winners have been invited back or agreed to present. Last year's acting award winners (in case you need to jog your memory) were Jeff Bridges (Best Actor for Crazy Heart), Sandra Bullock (Best Actress for The Blind Side), Christoph Waltz (Best Supporting Actor for Inglourious Basterds), and Mo'Nique (Best Supporting Actress for Precious). Bridges is a nominee again this year for True Grit, and as such will likely be on hand regardless of presenting duties. Mo'Nique joined the Academy president Tom Sherak in announcing the nominees on January 25th; it is unclear whether that means she won't be presenting at the ceremony.