Friday, February 29, 2008

On "Vantage Point"

Everything, in the end, does not make sense. In fact, much of the movie doesn't make much sense. Its timeline does not add up, and it pushes the boundaries of believability beyond the breaking point and into the realm of utter ridiculousness. The film's climax has to rank as one of the silliest car chases ever captured on film. I know it's just a movie, but one can only suspend disbelief so far.

But perhaps the most surprising weakness of "Vantage Point" is the performances. Sigourney Weaver (in a thankless role as a story-driven TV director with the wrong priorities), recent Oscar winner Forest Whitaker, Dennis Quaid and William Hurt all seem to be phoning it in. When that many good actors aren't up to par, the problem is with the director, not with the actors. Their weakness betrays Travis' weakness as a director. He seems to be trying to make a statement against the American media, all the while falling into the same trap that he condemns them for falling into. He refuses to give any consideration to the goals and ideas of the terrorists. Why are they trying to kidnap the president, who is clearly trying to make peace? What is really going on here?

Travis doesn't know or care, as the lone intrepid reporter trying to answer those very questions is swept under the rug early on so the nonstop action can begin. I shouldn't have been surprised. There's nothing more uniquely American than that.
Click here to read the full review.

1st Annual Front Row Soundtrack Award Nominations

I've been putting together soundtrack award lists for years, but I have never actually published them on here. So here they are, my nominations for the best individual achievements in film scoring for the calendar year 2007:

SCORE OF THE YEAR

  • THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD composed by Nick Cave & Warren Ellis
  • ATONEMENT composed by Dario Marianelli
  • LUST, CAUTION composed by Alexandre Desplat
  • NOMAD: THE WARRIOR composed by Carlo Siliotto
  • THERE WILL BE BLOOD composed by Jonny Greenwood

COMPOSER OF THE YEAR

  • ALEXANDRE DESPLAT (The Golden Compass, Lust, Caution, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium)
  • PATRICK DOYLE (As You Like It, The Last Legion, Sleuth)
  • JAMES NEWTON HOWARD (Charlie Wilson’s War, The Great Debaters, I Am Legend, The Lookout, Michael Clayton, The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep)
  • MARK ISHAM (Freedom Writers, Gracie, Next, In the Valley of Elah, Lions for Lambs, The Mist, Reservation Road)
  • AARON ZIGMAN (Bridge to Terabithia, Good Luck Chuck, The Jane Austin Book Club, Martian Child, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, Pride, Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married?)

ALBUM OF THE YEAR (SCORE)
  • ALIEN
  • GODZILLA
  • THE KITE RUNNER
  • THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING - THE COMPLETE RECORDINGS
  • MONSIGNOR

ALBUM OF THE YEAR (SONG OR COMPILATION)

  • CONTROL
  • I’M NOT THERE
  • INTO THE WILD
  • ONCE
  • SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET

TRACK OF THE YEAR
  • “Elegy for Dunkirk” ATONEMENT
  • “August’s Rhapsody,” AUGUST RUSH
  • “Opening,” ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE
  • "Kazakh Victory,” NOMAD: THE WARRIOR
  • “Up is Down,” PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END

SONG OF THE YEAR
  • Impact Repertory Theatre of Harlem, “Raise it Up” AUGUST RUSH
  • Alan Menken, Stephen Schwartz, “That’s How You Know” ENCHANTED
  • Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman, “Come So Far (Got So Far to Go)” HAIRSPRAY
  • Jerry Hannan, “Society” INTO THE WILD
  • Glen Hansard, Marketa Irglova, “Falling Slowly” ONCE

EMOTIONAL TRACK
  • “The 3:10 to Yuma,” 3:10 TO YUMA
  • “Song for Bob,” THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD
  • “Elegy for Dunkirk” ATONEMENT
  • “Wong Chia Chi’s Theme,” LUST, CAUTION
  • “The Flight of Magorium,” MR. MAGORIUM’S WONDER EMPORIUM
  • "Ratatouille Main Theme," RATATOUILLE

ACTION TRACK
  • “Beowulf Slays the Beast,” BEOWULF
  • “Storm,” ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE
  • “Battle for Asylia,” LAIR
  • “Kazakh Victory” NOMAD: THE WARRIOR
  • “I Don’t Think Now is the Best Time,” PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END
  • “Swimming,” THE WATER HORSE: LEGEND OF THE DEEP

COMEDY TRACK
  • “Nathaniel and Pip,” ENCHANTED
  • “Professor Umbridge,” HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX
  • “Triscadecaphobia,” MR. MAGORIUM’S WONDER EMPORIUM
  • “Theme: Persepolis,” PERSEPOLIS
  • “Collette Shows Him Le Ropes,” RATATOUILLE

ART DIRECTION & DESIGN

  • 3:10 TO YUMA
  • I’M NOT THERE
  • THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING - THE COMPLETE RECORDINGS
  • SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET - DELUXE EDITION
  • THERE WILL BE BLOOD

Winners will be announced at a later date along with a list of the top ten scores of 2007.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Review: "Persepolis"

I saw Persepolis for the first time weeks ago, but am just now bringing myself to write a review. Chalk it up as laziness, or probably more accurately, as a need to let the film sink in and digest for a while.

Put simply, I didn't quite know what to say.

Those who know me will find that to be quite unusual I'm sure, but Persepolis is such an interesting, unusual film that it's hard to find the right words to do it justice.

Based on the series of autobiographical graphic novels by Marjane Satrapi, and directed by Satrapi and French director Vincent Paronnaud, Persepolis chronicles the life of an independent minded girl growing up in Iran during the revolution in the 1970s, and later during the period of oppression by a government ruled by Islamic fundamentalists.

One would think that this would make a fantastic live-action coming of age drama, but in a wholly unique (and ultimately, correct) move, Satrapi chose to make the entire film animated in the style of her black and white drawings, using only sparse color when the film is in the present day (the rest is told as a flashback).

Marji is an outspoken spitfire, a trait that often gets her into trouble with her teachers, who are devoted to the more hard-line mullahs under the rule of the Shah. However, when the Shah is overthrown, the lives of Marji and her family are thrown into turmoil, as her family is on the frontline of the revolution, only to itself fall under the oppression of the new Islamic government.

For someone who lived through such hell, one would almost expect a trace of bitterness in Satrapi's storytelling, but instead she directs with a light hand and a keen sense of irony that never feels forced or angry. It is more of a lament, a poignant ode to Iran that could be, and in some ways once was. It is that sense of poignancy of wasted potential very present in Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner that Marc Forster's film adaptation failed to capture. While much of Persepolis is quirky and funny, there is an underlying sense of melancholy of seeing one's home turned into a harsh place that is no longer recognizable.

Satrapi also has an acute awareness of what it is like to be a child. Her young alter-ego is one of the most real cinematic children in recent memory, and to be a 2-D animated character, that is quite a feat indeed. But the film's simple style is so singular and so beautiful that it's almost easy to forget that what you are watching is animated. These are living, three dimensional characters that totally defy their two-dimensional medium.

It becomes almost free-associative after a while, switching back and forth between the present day, Marji's childhood exploits, and imagined conversations with the likes of God and Karl Marx. But Satrapi keeps it all grounded in reality, never straying far from the emotional truth of any given moment, whether it is achieved through comical absurdism or through impressionistic realism - the war scenes are especially haunting, and when added to Olivier Bernet's free-wheeling and mournful score, you have something that reaches near transcendence.

But for all of its artistic qualities, Persepolis is first and foremost a window into a world few Americans understand - and they understand even less the West's involvement in creating the current situation in Iran. That elevates the film from a mere tragic memoir and into something that should really be essential viewing for everyone who sees Iran as an unmitigated enemy of the United States. Persepolis humanizes a culture that is often vilified in America and presents a much more complex worldview than simple "us vs. them" mentality.

It is a masterful balancing of socially conscious drama, childhood memoir, and outright comedy, highlighting the absurdity of a culture ruled by petty fundamentalism. It is a film whose relevance resonates beyond Iran - and is at once a fascinating first-person historical account and a gorgeous work of art.

GRADE - ****

PERSEPOLIS; Directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud; Voices of Catherine Deneuve, Chiara Mastroianni, Danielle Darrieux, Gena Rowlands, Simon Abkarian, Tilly Mandelbrot; Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material including violent images, sexual references, language and brief drug content; In French w/English subtitles

Japanese Cinema

I'm doing a presentation on post-war Japanese cinema to my World Cinema class next week, and I have to choose a film for the class to watch. The teacher is already showing Yasujiro Ozu's Tokyo Story, and my group picks the other one.

I love Japanese cinema, but my group can't seem to decide or agree upon what the class should watch. My fellow group members are lobbying for something more modern in the anime or manga genre. I'm looking for something more classical, such as the works of Kurosawa or Mizoguchi.

I really want to show Kurosawa's masterpiece Seven Samurai, but students must check out the films from the library and watch them in a tiny library room, and I would feel bad making them sit there for 4 hours. And since they can only check out reserved movies for 2 hours at a time, it seems I should choose something else.

I would show Ozu's Late Spring (my personal favorite Ozu film), but since the professor is already showing Tokyo Story I feel like we should go for some variety. It seems logical, however, that we should show a Kurosawa film and demonstrate his influence on the West.

We will show clips from several films, but only one will be shown to the class in its entirety. Decisions, decisions.

So what do you think? Here is a list of films being considered by the group:
  • Ikiru (Kurosawa, 1952)
  • Ugetsu monogatari (Mizoguchi, 1953)
  • Gojira, (Honda, 1954)
  • Hidden Fortress (Kurosawa, 1958)
  • Yojimbo (Kurosawa, 1961)
  • Grave of the Fireflies (Takahata, 1988)
  • Princess Mononoke (Miyazaki, 1997)
  • Audition (Miike, 1999)
Any input or suggestions you have would be greatly appreciated!

From the Front Row is Growing

2008 has been a big year for From the Front Row. Studios have taken notice of my efforts, and already as of February 27, we already have had more than half the hit count of the entire calendar year of 2007, which was my first full year online (the blog went up on Halloween 2006). Last Sunday the 24th (Oscar day) set a single day Front Row record for number of visitors and pageloads.

I just want to take this time to thank everyone who has stopped by my blog, and for those faithful who keep coming back. Without you From the Front Row would not exist. It's an exciting time, the blog is growing and I look forward to what this year will bring. It looks to be a great year to be on the Front Row.

8 Points of View, 8 Reasons Not to Care

I saw Vantage Point over the weekend.

Do yourself a favor and don't make the same mistake I did.

Review coming Thursday.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Scariest Thing I Have Ever Seen

This has nothing to do with movies, but...just...wow...

80th Annual Academy Awards: The Aftermath

Nothing makes me want to yell "STFU!" at the top of my lungs than the annual post-Oscar show bashing. It seems like a time honored tradition for TV critics and conservative pundits to get together and whine about how boring the telecast was and how no one has heard of any of the nominees or winners.

Take, for instance, this jewel of a quote from Robert Bianco of the USA Today:
Maybe settling the strike in time for the Oscars wasn't such a good idea after all. True, Oscar has been less than scintillating before, but has it ever felt like more of a padded bore than it did Sunday night? If so, blame the writers' strike, which left the producers with only a few weeks to prepare for the ABC broadcast and persuaded them to lean less on the host and more on old clips. The goal, no doubt, was twofold: to distract us from a crop of nominees who, to put it nicely, failed to stir much popular interest; and to make up for the writers' inability to create more elaborate, host-driven bits.
People like this make me want to scream. If you think the telecast is so boring and so painful to sit through, then quit your bitching and turn off the TV. Reviewing the Oscar telecast does little good because no one is ever going to see it again - there is nothing to warn anyone about. If you don't like the Oscars then why watch them?

And why is it such a problem that the nominated films "failed to stir much popular interest?" That's the public's fault, not the nominees'. This year's crop of nominees was one of the best ever. The fact that few people saw them is their own damn fault. Conservative pundits like Bill O'Reilly and Brent Bozell love to crow about how liberal Hollywood is so out of touch with middle America and doesn't make or honor movies that real Americans actually like.

To that I say - tough. Its not Oscar's fault that most Americans have no taste. Does the fact that There Will Be Blood is the lowest grossing of the Best Picture nominees make it any less of a masterpiece? Does the fact that Marion Cotillard is French make her performance any less of a cinematic miracle (Bozell seemed to find the lack of American acting nominees this year offensive). Hell no! It's that kind of ignorance that is partially responsible for the dearth of intelligent filmmaking in the multiplexes (the studios' constant pandering to the lowest common denominator is also to blame there).

Bozell points to a time when the Oscars went to popular hits like Casablanca, The Bridge On the River Kwai, and The Sound of Music. But he fails to point out that today's popular hits are nowhere near as good as those three films. Could you imagine handing the Best Picture Oscar to Transformers or Spider-Man 3? It would be a joke. For someone who constantly touts the virtues of Amazing Grace ($21,250,683) and The Ultimate Gift ($3,438,735), he never mentions the fact that the lowest grossing Oscar nominee, There Will Be Blood ($35,112,557) far out-grossed them both.

The simple fact is that people just don't go see the best films anymore, they want re-heated left overs. Which is a real shame, because 4 of the 5 Best Picture nominees this year were absolutely fantastic (the worst one, surprise, surprise, was the highest grossing of the nominees).

Some even have the gall to complain about the nominees being too dark. "Style Columnist" Tom Shales of the Washington Post whines that "The Coens generally make cynical, gloomy movies."

Well boo-hoo for you. The world is not a happy-go-lucky place . Not every movie has to be a feel-good romp that puts pat band-aids on the world's problems, or ignores them completely. Some of us like our movies to be emotional journeys that explore the depths of humanity and make is think. That's not to say that all films should be dark and depressing, and that there isn't room in the world for lighthearted films, but for me the most satisfying films are the ones with great depth of feeling that make you look at cinema and the world itself a little differently. I think Jeffrey Wells over at Hollywood-Elsewhere put it best:
These are some of the best movies that the filmmaking culture is turning out now. Every year there are at least 20 or 25 films that are somewhere between excellent, very good or good enough to watch and think about later. If regular people in Boston and Saskatchewan are living such insulated and cut-off lives that they can't be bothered to go to some of these films unless it has an advertised 'happy pill' vibe then the hell with them. They're children. I have no time for childishness, and neither does anyone else of any worth. Life is short.
Tom O'Neill has a rundown of the critical whining about the telecast over at his GoldDerby blog. I for one thought this year's Oscar telecast was one of the breeziest, most relaxed, most entertaining shows in years. Everyone seemed to be having a good time, and most of the presenters didn't even try to keep a straight face while reading off the lame overcooked intros.

Sure there were some rough spots (the CGI opening was pretty rough, Jerry Seinfeld's Bee Movie bit even more so), but there always are. Seriously, you try mounting a show like this in 11 days.

It's the Oscars, it's part of their charm. This is why I love them. This is why I look forward to them every year, no matter what.

Here's to you Oscar. 80 years old and still going strong.

Jimmy Kimmel is Fucking Ben Affleck

This is hilarious! Love all the cameos.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Diablo Cody is OK with Me After All

I know I've been really hard on Juno the past few weeks. I didn't like the film upon first seeing it, but I didn't loathe it the way I came to after it garnered such ecstatic praise, popularity, and then an actual shot at winning the Oscar for best picture of the year.

But believe it or not, Diablo Cody's heartfelt speech actually softened me on the little movie that could. Suddenly there was a human veneer beneath what I once saw as merely snarky self-promotion.

I still don't like it, and I probably never will. But my hate for it has abated. The film did not win Best Picture, and suddenly all is right with the universe...its threat is no longer present. It won Best Original Screenplay, and I'm actually OK with that.

I hereby grant Juno a pass. You'll hear no more on the subject from me.

Wrapping Up the Season


The ceremony is over, all the questioning, bickering, and speculating is done, and the season has come to a close. The Oscar blogs will go into hibernation until next year, and my post count will most likely take a hit as well during the summer months when there is less to talk about.

So now, with the excitement winding down, I've settled down with one last glass of champagne to reflect on the night and the year that was.

By far my favorite moment was Jon Stewart bringing Marketa Irglova, Oscar winner for her gorgeous theme song from Once, back on the stage after the orchestra had begun playing after her songwriting partner Glen Hansard had said his thank yous, leaving her to stand at a microphone that had already been cut off. It was an incredibly classy move, and was one of the highlights of the evening.

My other favorite moment was Marion Cotillard's winning Best Actress for her phenomenal performance in La Vie En Rose. I didn't predict it, but I'm sure glad I was wrong. It's the kind of performance that awards are made for, and I was very proud of AMPAS for awarding a performance in a foreign language (it's only the 3rd time in their history). It was a magic moment and I toast the Academy for their choice and Marion for her grace.

Speaking of grace, it's hard to match Daniel Day-Lewis, whose unassuming and humble demeanor is the very antithesis of his hateful and avaricious character in There Will Be Blood.

And how can you not love Amy Adams? Her effervescent face was everywhere tonight. One day I hope to see her up at that podium accepting an Oscar. Even though her rendition of "Happy Working Song" from Enchanted was the only featured number that was totally lacking in production values, she was as infectious as always.

I was pleased with the show overall. Jon Stewart seemed more relaxed and naturally funny than he did last time he hosted, and the crowd seemed much more at ease as well. This was a swifter, breezier, more enjoyable Oscar telecast than we have seen in a long time, and honestly, I don't think I could have been more pleased even if There Will Be Blood had made a clean sweep (which would have been awesome, I'm not going to lie). Here's a toast to you, the winners of the 80th Academy Awards.

See you next year, Oscar.
"It is true, there is some angels in this city."
- Marion Cotillard

Sunday, February 24, 2008

80th Annual Academy Award Winners

Best Picture: No Country For Old Men

Best Director: Joel and Ethan Coen - No Country For Old Men

Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis - There Will Be Blood

Best Actress: Marion Cotillard - La Vie En Rose

Best Supporting Actor: Javier Bardem - No Country For Old Men

Best Supporting Actress: Tilda Swinton - Michael Clayton

Best Original Screenplay: Juno

Best Adapted Screenplay: No Country For Old Men - Joel & Ethan Coen

Best Animated Film: Ratatouille

Best Foreign Language Film: The Counterfeiters - Austria

Best Documentary Feature: Taxi to the Dark Side

Best Short Documentary: Freeheld

Best Short Film (Live Action): Le Mozart des Pickpockets

Best Short Film (Animated): Peter and The Wolf

Best Cinematography: There Will Be Blood

Best Art Direction: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Best Costume Design: Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Best Film Editing: The Bourne Ultimatum

Best Makeup: La Vie En Rose

Best Original Score: Atonement

Best Original Song: Falling Slowly - Once

Best Sound Editing: The Bourne Ultimatum

Best Sound Mixing: The Bourne Ultimatum

Best Visual Effects: The Golden Compass

Live Blogging the Oscars

11:48: My final score - 15 out of 24. One less than last year. Oh well...the Academy made some good choices.

11:47:
Wow. It's over before midnight. Is this some kind of modern record?

11:45:
No Country wins the big one. The Juno rumors proved kaput. Thank God.

11:44:
Henry Kissinger: Man on the Go - LMAO!!

11:42:
The Coens win Best Director - and it's over. You can't stop what's coming.

11:35:
No Country for Old Men - 2, There Will Be Blood - 2...no...stop it, don't get your hopes up.

11:34:
DANIEL DAY-LEWIS!!!!!

11:26:
I'm 12 for 21. Yikes.

11:24:
Diablo Cody just won an Oscar for Juno's original screenplay. Her dress is almost as hideous as her dialogue.

11:19:
The failure of No Country for Old Men to win for its editing, sound, or cinematography is starting to worry me. It has two awards...but two shoo-in awards it was never going to lose. Is an upset in the making? Nahhh...can't be.

11:17:
Taxi to the Dark Side wins Best Documentary...a pretty big surprise.

11:13:
Freeheld wins Best Documentary Short. I'm now 11 for 19. I got all the shorts right this year...awesome.

11:09:
Atonement wins Best Score. Richly deserved.

11:05:
In Memoriam applause-o-meter goes to either Ingmar Bergman or Heath Ledger...I love Heath but you can't deny that Bergman is one of cinema's supreme masters.

10:59:
There Will Be Blood wins Cinematography! Wish Jesse James would have, but any award for Blood is a great thing indeed.

10:56:
AWWW! Jon Stewart let Marketa Irglova come back out to give her speech. Love it! Kudos to you Jon. That's amazing.

10:54: I'm currently 9 for 16.

10:49:
"ONCE" WINS BEST SONG!!!!!!!!!!!!!

10:46:
So Close...I can't believe they nominated this song over Society, and Guaranteed, and Come So Far (Got So Far to Go), and...

10:43:
The Counterfeiters wins Best Foreign Language...and I'm back on my feet. Still can't believe they didn't nominate 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days...

10:3
1: Honorary Oscar to Robert Boyle....

10:28:
Bourne again....WTF???

10:27:
Crash beat Brokeback Mountain...did they have to remind us?

10:22:
*sigh* I love that song. Let me go get a tissue now.

10:19:
FALLING SLOWLY!!!!!

10:18:
OMG Jon Stewart is playing Jamia Simone Nash in Wii. That's awesome!

10:16:
AMPAS is throwing me for loops tonight...I'm 7 for 12. Maybe my ratio improve as the night goes on.

10:12:
MARION COTILLARD!!!!! OMG!!!!!!!!

10:09:
PLEASE MARION COTILLARD!!!!!

10:06:
"Is it alright to kiss Halle Berry now?" LMAO!

10:06:
Wow...Bourne wins again. Poor Kevin O'Connell...

10:03:
Bourne wins Sound Editing...a minor surprise. Looks like Transformers might face a shut out.

10:01:
LMAO!!! Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill for Judi Dench and Halle Berry!

9:56:
Not bad production number of That's How You Know. My prediction score so far is 7/10.

9:53:
LOVE Kristen Chenowith...but her voice does not fit this song at all. OK she's gotten better...that operatic start was painful.

9:52:
Miley Cyrus...again. Ugh.

9:50:
I must have drank too much wine...I can't pay attention to Sid Ganis...oh wait, nevermind...

9:47:
The Coens win Best Adapted Screenplay...no surprise there.

9:38:
UPSET! TILDA WINS! I CALLED IT!! I'm feeling better now.

9:32:
I'm 2 for 2 on the short films. Awesome.

9:31:
This Bee Movie thing is horrible.

9:29:
I got Best Live Action Short right. Score.

9:26:
JAMIA SIMONE NASH!!! LOVE this girl's voice! Raise it Up has been so underrated...even though August Rush was a horrible movie.

9:20:
Commercial break...I'm going to go get one of my cream puffs.

9:18:
Javier Bardem...no brainer.

9:17:
Please Hal Holbrook! *crosses fingers*

9:10: Sweeney Todd wins Art Direction! I'm 1 for 4 in my predictions so far...but they're making all the right choices so far. Except for Golden Compass...come on guys...seriously?

9:08:
The Golden Compass wins Best Visual Effects...WTF???? Transformers sound crew watch out.

8:59:
AMY ADAMS!!!!

8:57:
La Vie En Rose wins the first of 2 Oscars? (Please movie gods!)

8:54:
RATATOUILLE!!!!

8:49:
Why is this montage making me cry? I'm a dork.

8:42:
Elizabeth: The Golden Age just won the first (well-deserved) Oscar of the night. I really should have predicted that...it was nagging in the back of my head all week, since Marie Antoinette won last year. Oscar loves the elaborate stuff.

8:39: Oscar is 80 and the Republican frontrunner....LMAO!

8:36:
Did they just applaud for Norbit?

8:35:
Hillary Clinton calls Away from Her the feel good movie of the year, HAHAHAHA!!

8:32:
JON STEWART!!!!!

8:30:
So...it's pretty obvious they didn't have much time to prepare. This is kinda bad.

8:30:
And so it begins...

8:29:
It's snowing outside! Oscars and snow, how awesome is that?

8:27:
Did Regis just call Javier Bardem Xavier?

8:24:
Is Regis trying to make the dancers nervous? ONE FALSE MOVE AND YOU'RE DEAD!!! What is he now, Anton Chigurh?

8:18:
Those two lottery winners were embarrassing...I think that guy was the inspiration for Michael Cera's character in Superbad. Or Juno. Pick one.

8:17:
Aww...that lady's really old. This is cute.

8:16
: I heart Amy Adams...she should have been nominated for Enchanted.

8:14:
DANIEL DAY-LEWIS!!!!!

8:14:
LMAO!!! I love Helen Mirren...so classy.

8:13
: Jennifer Garner...the only good thing about Juno and has nothing to show for it.

8:12:
Oh Mickey Rooney...he's what, like, 112 now?

8:08
: Miley Cirus, really? WHY?? This is not the Kids' Choice Awards!

8:03:
GO MARION!!!!!!

8:01:
Good thing of the night #1 - no Billy Bush! I guess they learned from the Golden Globe fiasco.

8:00 PM:
Here we go!

I will be live blogging the Oscars starting around 8:00 PM EST. Stay tuned.

OscarCentral's Tracking the Predictions

OscarCentral's annual prediction chart is up and running. Check it out and see how my predictions stack up with some of the most respected bloggers and pundits in the business.

The Changing Face of the Academy

This is it. In just over 12 hours, the Oscar ceremony will begin and all our questions will be answered. Will No Country for Old Men stay the reigning champ, or will Oscar voters go for the one that made them laugh and vote for Juno? Or will they confound all the pundits and vote for Michael Clayton, or revert to their old selves and crown the sweeping period romance, Atonement? Or will they do the right thing and anoint Paul Thomas Anderson's masterpiece There Will Be Blood?

One things is for sure, this is not the Academy of the 90s. This is a new Academy, one that is not afraid to award darker, edgier fare. 10 years ago, No Country for Old Men would have been relegated to a Best Supporting Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay, while There Will Be Blood would have been noticed by AMPAS only for Daniel Day-Lewis' performance. The Best Picture nominees would have included The Great Debaters and Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and Atonement would have swept the awards.

But this is not 10 years ago. While the Academy is still skittish about awarding some things (*cough*Brokeback Mountain*cough*), they have shown remarkable growth in their willingness to break out of their usual comfort zone and show some love to more daring artistic visions, a la There Will Be Blood. Yes, it's still a shame that The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and Into the Wild were not nominated for Best Picture, but one can't be greedy. The very fact that two of their 5 nominees are such bold, dark, gritty works, and that two of the remaining three are so strong (Juno should not be here...sorry), is a major step in the right direction for the Academy.

You can say what you want about the growing disconnect between the Academy and the general public if you must. But let's look at this trend: starting with Traffic in 2000, the Academy subsequently nominated In the Bedroom, The Pianist, Lost in Translation, Mystic River, Sideways, Capote, Brokeback Mountain, Crash (yes, Crash), Munich, Babel, and Letters from Iwo Jima - all of which are far darker, grittier, and more independent minded that your typical "Academy friendly" film. Yes the feel-good Forrest Gump-y pics were still winning (a la A Beautiful Mind), that is until The Departed, which was a mainstream film yes, but as hard-edged as they come. Martin Scorsese made it safe for them (let's face it, if this same film had been directed by anyone else, the Academy would have ignored it completely).

This year, we have two downright nihilistic pictures with a real shot an taking home the gold. This could never have happened 10 years ago. Crash may have been a safer pick for them than Brokeback Mountain two years ago, but in terms of the grand scheme of things the Academy is heading in the right direction, no matter what conservative nutjobs might say, who seem to think the fact that the Academy doesn't award popular films means they are out of touch, saying that they days are gone when they awarded popular hits like Casablanca and The Sound of Music.

This is not the case. The Academy has not left the people, the people have left the Academy. The Academy is still honoring worthy films, it's just that people are no longer going to see them. Back in the 1970s, No Country, Michael Clayton, and There Will Be Blood would have been huge, because people went to see those kinds of films then. They were always hungry for something new. Not so much anymore. They want re-heated leftovers - a never-ending barrage of sequels and remakes. These do not a Best Picture make.

By midnight tonight, we will know whether this new Academy has stayed true to its progress, or whether it has somehow copped out at the last minute by awarding some nice, safe comedy like Juno, instead of challenging, thought-provoking fare like No Country or There Will Be Blood.

A victory for either one of those films is a victory for bold, risk-taking filmmaking, a validation of films that go against the norm. I hope this new Academy is not afraid to take chances, and doesn't at the last minute get cold feet and vote for the populist pick that will make them popular. Go with your gut Academy and honor a film whose artistic merits truly distinguish it as one of the year's very best.

History will judge you for the choice you make tonight...make sure it remembers you kindly.

Spongebob Redubs the Classics

Hilarious!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

2nd Annual Front Row Award Winners Part 2

Best Picture: There Will Be Blood
Best Director: Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
Best Actress: Marion Cotillard, La Vie En Rose
Best Supporting Actor: Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild
Best Supporting Actress: Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There
Best Young Performer: Saorise Ronan, Atonement
Best Vocal Performance: Peter O'Toole, Ratatouille
Best Ensemble Cast: Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
Best Original Screenplay: Tamara Jenkins, The Savages
Best Adapted Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood
Best Animated Feature: Ratatouille
Best Foreign Language Film: The Lives of Others (Germany)
Best Documentary Feature: The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
Best Debut Feature: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, The Lives of Others
Luis Buñuel Award (previously announced): I'm Not There


AWARDS TALLY
There Will Be Blood - 5
I'm Not There - 3
La Vie En Rose - 2
The Lives of Others - 2
No Country for Old Men - 2
Ratatouille - 2
Transformers - 2
The Assassination of Jesse James - 1
Atonement - 1
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead - 1
Elizabeth: The Golden Age - 1
Into the Wild - 1
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters - 1
Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium - 1
Once - 1
Sweeney Todd - 1
The Savages - 1

View the rest of the winners here. Click here for the full list of nominations.

"Juno" Tops Independent Spirit Awards

Thanks to AwardsDaily for posting.

Best Supporting Male

  • Chiwetel Ejiofor, Talk To Me

Bests First Screenplay

  • Diablo Cody, Juno

Best First Feature

  • The Lookout

Best Supporting Female

  • Cate Blanchett

John Cassavetes Award

  • August Evening

Best Foreign Film

  • Once

Best Male Lead

  • Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Savages

Best Screenplay

  • Tamara Jenkins, The Savages

Best Documentary

  • Crazy Love

Best Cinematography

  • Janusz Kaminski, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Robert Altman Award

  • Todd Haynes, Laura Rosenthal and the cast of I’m Not There

Best Director

  • Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Best Female Lead

  • Ellen Page

Best Feature

  • Juno

Bloggers' Debate

I asked fellow bloggers Craig Kennedy of Living in Cinema and Nicholas Plowman of Fataculture to engage in a friendly debate about this year's Best Picture nominees. Here is the dialogue that ensued, and please visit their respective sites to show your support.

Nicholas Plowman: Fataculture

Every once in a while a film that you know nothing about comes along, you go see it because the trailer is just so damn heart-warming and you are in love with it's star but you still don't expect much and 90 something minutes later you walk out with a smile on your face and a hole where your heart could normally be found. Juno stole my heart. In a good way. It has kept it too, not sure if I am ever getting it back, or at least not for a while.

This year, pregnancy, abortion, adoption etc have all been dealt with. We saw it in Knocked Up and laughed, some saw it in 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and "Lake of Fire" but it was only when little miss Juno McGruff strolls onto the screen with her bottle of Sunny D. that I truly felt that cinematic gold had been struck.

Here is what I felt:

Ellen Page would finally be recognized as a great actress and one of the best in her generation, even though she was just as good in Hard Candy but not many people saw that one. She embodied Juno and gave her something more than a quick tongue and a pregnant belly. She was a " big, puffy version of Junebug" and I bow in the presence of greatness.

Jason Reitman was more in control and more personally involved in this film than he was in the sterile "Thank You for Smoking" and it shows. Did he deserve a Best Director nomination? Maybe, maybe not, he got one nonetheless.

In the end, the film belongs to Ms. Cody. Her quirky and atypical dialogue is a marvel. Some found it annoying, I thought the exact opposite. Without the dialogue, it would not be the same film, and then I would have cared less for it and we would not be having this wholesome debate and then I would have no other choice but to say: "Oh my god! Oh, shit! Phuket Thailand" and go on with my life.

I think Juno has an advantage over the other Best Picture nominees in the fact that it is the lighter film amongst the bunch. I know what you are thinking. Little Miss Sunshine had people saying the same thing. However, Juno has more to it than Little Miss Sunshine. It is the most easily accessible to all, in my opinion.

Sure No Country and There Will Be Blood are regarded as the best films of the year. Which is all great, but Juno has a heart and is the least male-centric of the nominees. Everyone has a family and has to deal with growing up, so people can identify with the characters in Juno and have a good time doing so. No Country is a serious film goers dream, as is There Will Be Blood, but Juno is a hit with mainstream audiences as well as a few serious film buffs. The Academy is not all just old men with dead-on eye for what film is the best film of the year. In case no one noticed, they hardly ever give the award to the most deserving, so I could be wrong, and that means something other than Juno would win.

In addition, as I say all this, I realize something. I have only seen two of the Best Picture nominees so far anyway; Juno and Atonement so do not knock my obsession with Juno just yet. I know that you guys, Craig and Matt, did not feel much for Juno. So let the punches roll... Metaphorically speaking. This should be fun!



Craig Kennedy: Living in Cinema

I had a hard time choosing my favorite movie of the year in 2007. It was a rare instance where two movies were so clearly ahead of all the others, but so close together themselves. I ended up picking "No Country for Old Men" over "There Will Be Blood," but the decision, appropriately was almost a coin toss.


What finally elevated "No Country" for me was the very elusive quality that frustrated some viewers. It asked many questions without providing any easy answers. Instead of carefully explaining what it was all about, the Coen Brothers took a more beguiling, philosophical approach. They managed to touch on my fears and my feelings, but they left me wanting more. I ended up seeing the movie four times and each experience was better than the one before.


So often, one falls in love with a movie only to find later that it grows stale upon repeat viewings. The true masterpieces hold up over time. While it's too early to tell whether "No Country" will become a classic, so far it shows all the signs of one. Because of that, it's my pick for the best picture of 2007.


Matthew Lucas: From the Front Row

I've made my opinions on all the films pretty well known by now. For me, There Will Be Blood is far and away the year's best film in a year filled with great films – No Country for Old Men included. Sorry Nick, I know you love Juno but it just didn't do it for me. I didn't go into it looking to hate it, but the harder I tried the less I liked it, and by the end I had a scowl so firmly etched into my face that my friend turned to me and asked what was wrong. Dialogue like "When I see them all running like that, with their things bouncing around in their shorts, I always picture them naked, even if I don't want to. All i see is pork swords" or "Oh, and she inexplicably mails me a cactus every Valentine's Day. And I'm like, "Thanks a heap coyote ugly. This cactus-gram stings even worse than your abandonment." is not clever – it's ingratiating. It sounds like Diablo Cody sat down and wrote down a list of smart-ass comments and made a screenplay out of them. It's more of a collection of quirks than an actual movie.


There Will Be Blood, on the other hand, is bold, visionary cinema – the kind of auteur powerhouse filmmaking that defined American cinema in the 1970s, playing out like some kind of holy alliance between Stanley Kubrick and Orson Welles being channeled through the great Paul Thomas Anderson. They don't make 'em like this anymore.


The same could be said of the Sergio Leone meets Sam Peckinpah aesthetic (dashed with the wry humor of the Coen brothers) of No Country for Old Men. But even after seeing No Country for the second time last week on screener DVD, I always felt like Blood operates on a higher plane. Anderson's vision is the most daring artistic risk of the year, and boy does it ever pay off.



CK:

A common reaction even among people who loved Juno is that they couldn't stand the first 20 minutes or so. The movie kicks off all snark and quirk, but eventually it kicks in and wins audiences over. The thing is, Juno never clicked for me. It remained an amalgam of quirks and smartass remarks that never rang true. At the end, it reached for an emotional depth it hadn't earned and it covered its shallow tracks with a Moldy Peaches song. Juno may have box office on its side, but I'm not so sure about history. I can't imagine it resonating over time as I'd hope a worthy best picture winner would.

As for There Will Be Blood, it's difficult for me to argue against it because it's my 2nd favorite movie of 2007, but there is a reason it fell just short of being my number one. There is a bluntness and a directness to Blood that is powerful and appealing. Daniel Day-Lewis especially is a force of nature and the movie has a visceral impact that can't be denied. However, where No Country For Old Men continued to grow more fascinating on the 3rd and 4th screenings, There Will Be Blood started to feel a little tired. It lacked the depth and essential mystery that drives the Coen Brothers film. For that reason, I believe No Country has a greater chance to stand the test of time and prove itself the real best picture of 2007.



NP:
Mmmmm. You two have several points that are hard to side step!
I am very sure Juno doesn’t match with No Country or Blood artistically or even story wise, but Juno is all I have. It has a heart, not everyone can see that, but it does. Something I am beginning to realize though is that this heart I speak of is probably why it got nominated, and not why it would win. Perhaps it does not deserve to win, but it still has a better chance than Atonement and Michael Clayton, in my opinion, and maybe even Blood. You see, I am told, that Blood is very much like Citizen Cane - in it's boldness, unique vision and uncompromised way of story telling - and look how well that one went with the Academy. I do not see Blood winning, purely because I think it is too daring and artistic for the Academy. It will win a few artistic and tech awards (Art Direction and Cinematography, I think) but not with the top prize. Now, No Country is probably the easiest film to acknowledge in terms of it's greatness - I am sure it is better when looking deeper into the film and exploring it more and more with each viewing - but it is easy to see how good it is just by looking at the surface. Maybe I am horribly wrong, but I have only seen the first 20 minutes of Blood and Country, so that is all I have to go on. I am predicting No Country for the win, based on it’s success in the precursor season and not much else.


ML:

Thanks for the debate guys. You both have very good points (although I will have to take issue with your dismissing of Thank You For Smoking Nick, it just barely missed my top ten list last year). I definitely think the Oscar will go to either No Country or Juno. I freely admit that Blood stands pretty much no chance, it's just too artistically challenging for the Academy. But hey, I can dream right?

2nd Annual Front Row Award Winners Part 1

Best Original Score (Dramatic): Jonny Greenwood, There Will Be Blood
Best Original Score (Comedy/Musical): Alexandre Desplat, Aaron Zigman, Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium
Best Original Song: Glen Hansard, Marketa Irglova, "Falling Slowly" Once
Best Music Direction: I'm Not There
Best Cinematography: Roger Deakins, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Best Art Direction: Dante Ferretti, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Best Costume Design: Alexandra Byrne, Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Best Film Editing: Roderick Jaynes, No Country for Old Men
Best Makeup: La Vie En Rose
Best Visual Effects: Transformers
Best Sound Mixing: No Country for Old Men
Best Sound Editing: Transformers

The major winners will be announced later this evening. You can view all of the nominations here.

Liz Smith Can Kiss My Ass

From the New York Post:
This, of course, doesn't deal with Daniel Day-Lewis, who will probably win Best Actor for his usual mode of overacting hysteria. Not only do I reject "There Will Be Blood" as anything but a curiosity, I want to tell this guy that it is not "fashionable" when men wear earrings for him to wear two. It's one earring that separates the boys from the men!

In this historical moment when politics is much more riveting than any film, I say send them all home quickly with their Oscars and let's get back to the business of electing a president and transforming this country one way or another.

How stuck up and self-righteous can you be? Who gives a fuck whether it's "fashionable" to wear two earrings or not? But what else do you expect from the Post? Anyone who thinks Daniel Day-Lewis' performance is just "overacting hysteria" knows nothing whatsoever about acting.

Friday, February 22, 2008

OMG People Are Idiots!

This has got to be one of the most depressing movie-related videos I have ever seen.



Juno should win because it connects with the teen audience "that goes and sees movies?" Is she serious? If that is the criteria for Best Picture why not just go ahead and hand Best Picture to Transformers?

And Kat Williams nominated for the dreadful First Sunday (which wasn't even released in 2007)? Unbelievable.

"Brokeback Mountain - Almost Lover"

This is a little music video I made in honor of the should-have-been Oscar champ from 2005. The music is Almost Lover by A Fine Frenzy.



Let me know what you think!

There Will Be Fog

I LOVE this behind the scenes still from There Will Be Blood of Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Thomas Anderson.

Thanks to Jeffrey Wells at Hollywood-Elsewhere for posting.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

2007 Oscar Predictions

All right folks, last year I was 9th in the nation among Oscar prognosticators according to OscarCentral...let's see if I can top that this year.

BEST PICTUREPrediction: No Country for Old Men
Preference: There Will Be Blood

BEST DIRECTORPrediction: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men
Preference: Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood

BEST ACTOR
Prediction/Preference: Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood

BEST ACTRESS
Prediction: Julie Christie, Away from Her
Preference: Marion Cotillard, La Vie En Rose


BEST SUPPORTING ACTORPrediction: Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men
Preference: Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Prediction: Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton
Preference: Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Prediction: Diablo Cody, Juno
Preference: Tamara Jenkins, The Savages

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Prediction: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men
Preference: Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Prediction/Preference: Dario Marianelli, Atonement

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
Prediction/Preference: "Falling Slowly," Once

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Prediction: Janusz Kaminski, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Preference: Roger Deakins, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

BEST ART DIRECTION
Prediction: Sarah Greenwood, Atonement
Preference: Dante Ferretti, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Prediction: Jacqueline Durran, Atonement
Preference: Alexandra Byrne, Elizabeth: The Golden Age

BEST FILM EDITING
Prediction/Preference: No Country for Old Men

BEST MAKEUP

Prediction/Preference: La Vie En Rose

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Prediction/Preference: Transformers

BEST SOUND MIXING
Prediction/Preference: No Country for Old Men

BEST SOUND EDITING
Prediction/Preference: Transformers

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Prediction: The Counterfeiters (Austria)
Preference: N/A

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Prediction/Preference: Ratatouille

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Prediction/Preference: Sicko

BEST ANIMATED SHORT
Prediction: Peter and the Wolf
Preference: Madame Tutli-Putli

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT
Prediction: The Mozart of Pickpockets
Preference: N/A

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT
Prediction:
Freehold
Preference: N/A

Check out my full write-up in The Dispatch here and here.