Saturday, January 26, 2008

Entertainment Weekly Cares About My Opinions...

It was much to my surprise, that Entertainment Weekly chose one of my posts about my dismay about Into the Wild's lack of nominations in their gallery about Oscar snubs. Out of hundreds of posts they choice my opinionated statement about my favorite movie of the year. Take that, Hollywood!

Check it out!:,,20007870_20164474_20173074_3,00.html

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The 3rd Annual Golden Gallo Awards

The Oscar noms are out. The Razzie noms are out. And you know what that means?! No, its not time to strike! "STRIKE! STRIKE! WE WRITE THE STORIA FOR EVA LONGORIA!" It’s time for the Golden Gallos! Yes, it is the 3rd Annual Golden Gallo Awards which honor (and dishonor) the best and worst in movies. This has been a great year for film. Films like No Country For Old Men and Juno have been critical hits. And it's been a bad year for film (Here's lookin' at you 'I Know Who Killed Me' and 'Norbit'). And then there are all those other films in-between. So now, without further ado, I present to you the winners of the Golden Gallo Awards. Enjoy!

Best Revamping of a Dying Franchise: LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD

Best Performance by a Scientologist: John Travolta, HAIRSPRAY

The “What the Heck Were They Thinking” Award: EPIC MOVIE

Best Opening Credit Sequence: VACANCY

Best Closing Credit Sequence: HAIRSPRAY

Best Misleading Marketing Campaign: THE MIST

Scene Stealer Award: Sigourney Weaver, THE TV SET

The Trailer is Better Than the Movie Award: I’M NOT THERE

Most Gratuitous Use of Loin Cloths: 300

Best Film Most Likely to be Forgotten by the Academy: KNOCKED UP

The “Or How I Learned to Love a Bomb” Guilty Pleasure Award: I KNOW WHO KILLED ME

The Ishtar Big-Budget Stinker Award: THE INVASION

The Grease 2 Unnecessary Sequel Award: HANNIBAL RISING

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It Award: HALLOWEEN

The Jaws 3D “I Only Wanted To See It Cause it Was in 3-D” Award: BEOWULF

Coolest Movie Poster Award: PARIS, JE T’AIME

Best Film with a Cast Member of TV’s Lost: GRINDHOUSE

Worst Film with a Cast Member of TV’s Lost: WILD HOGS

Best Prop: Javier Bardem’s cattle gun in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

Most Fashionable Movie Trend (Female) – Being pregnant

Most Fashionable Movie Trend (Male) – Being nerdy

Worst Hairdo (Male) Javier Bardem – NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

Worst Hairdo (Female) Cate Blanchett – I’M NOT THERE

The “Austin Powers” You Can’t Show Genitalia in Movies Award: BEOWULF

Best Performance by a Sex Doll – Bianca, LARS AND THE REAL GIRL


Worst Attempt to Cash in on the Over and Done With Penguin Craze – GOOD LUCK CHUCK

Best Use of the McGuffin in a Hollywood Blockbuster – The cube in TRANSFORMERS

Best Decapitation in a Comedy/Musical – BLADES OF GLORY

Best Comeback From a Previously Horrid Attempt at Filmmaking – Frank Darabont, THE MIST

The Julia Childs Best Film About Cooking Award: RATATOUILLE
The Chef Boyardee Worst Film About Cooking Award: NO RESERVATIONS
Best Female Performance by a Former ‘Golden Girls’ Guest Star: Ruby Dee, AMERICAN GANGSTER

Best Male Performance by a Former ‘Golden Girls’ Guest Star: George Clooney, MICHAEL CLAYTON

The "I Love You, But Please Enjoy You're Retirement ASAP" Lifetime Achievement Award: Morgan Freeman who appeared this year alone in THE CONTRACT, EVAN ALMIGHTY, FEAST OF LOVE, GONE BABY GONE, THE BUCKET LIST

Monday, January 21, 2008

UPDATED:Oscar Predictions

UPDATE: Alrighty, so a few of my hunches were totally wrong. Atonement DID get a Best Picture nomination, but you could tell that its buzz had weakened because poor Joe Wright didn't get a Best Directing nom. Hey, but good job Jason Reitman, who was a complete surprise in the Directing category for Juno. Juno's best picture chances have increased tremendously with this nomination.

Tommy Lee Jones was also a big surprise, he had been talked about a lot in the months past, but his buzz had also died down. I guess not. Good for Laura Linney getting in there for The Savages, a film I particularly didn't like, but I enjoy her so good job. Kudos to Ruby Dee who was one of two noms for former frontrunner American Gangster. If she were to win, she'd be the oldest acting winner and the one with the shortest screen time (under 5 mins for anyone who's counting).

There wasn't much love for Into the Wild unfortunately. Although Halbrook got in there as expected. and it turns out that at last minute the scores for Into the Wild, There Will Be Blood and Enchanted were deemed ineligible. Although Enchanted pulled a 'Dreamgirls' and got 3 of its songs nominated for Best Original Song.

For everything the Academy got right (Javier Bardem! Ellen Page! Viggo Mortensen!) they also got something wrong (no Emile Hirsch? The guy lost so much weight, he turned himself into one of the Olsen twins! No, Ryan Gosling? He made you believe a sex doll was a real person! And Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth The Golden Age? Seriously? I mean seriously??) Oh well, life's little mysteries.

click here to read all the nominees:

[from Monday]

Ok ok ok. So the Oscar nominations will finally be revealed Tuesday morning, and if you're at all a dork like me, you can't f-ing wait. With so many uncertainties, I'm not sure how I am going to be able to sleep Monday night. It's more exciting than Christmas! I'm not saying I'm the greatest Oscar prognosticator, but here are my fearless predictions of the nominees. Let's see how many of these actually match up.

Here are a few highlights of what i think might occur come Tuseday morning:

Atonement gets the shaft. I think Atonement will pick up some technical award noms, but will be mostly shut out of the main awards. It's most likely big nominee will be Best Supporting Actress for Soarise Ronan, but otherwise the DP and costume designers will be extremely happy on Tuesday. Atonement seemed like a BEst Pic lock months ago, but if I think I'm right, it won't get as many as previously thought.

I'm going out on a wild limb here and saying the same thing aboutSweeney Todd. I don't even think Johnny Depp will be nominated because he was shafted by SAG. Then again SAG hadn't even seen the movie when there noms came out, so that very well could have changed, but I'm just going with my gut.

I think Diving Bell & the Butterfly has a good shot at getting more noms than a hit like Juno. If Juno does get nominated for best picture, what else could it possible get? Actress for Ellen Page sure and Original Screenplay. But what else? Editing? No, cause it's a comedy. Cinematography? No, cause it's a comedy. Art Direction? No cause it's a comedy. See a pattern. Juno may be a fantastic movie, but it's not a technical achievement to behold. Diving Bell is pretty much guaranteed a slot for Best Director, and it could squeeze into the top race. We'll see.

I think the big question, is how many awards Into the Wild will receive. It's had an up and down award season; it was the top nominated film at the SAGs and the Broadcast Film Critics Assn. It was almost completely snubbed by the Globes (although it did win best song for "Guaranteed") Director Sean Penn got a DGA nod, but it didn't get a PGA nod. It's also received nods from the WGA the ACE. So there's lots of support for this film, but the question remains, exactly how much?

The biggest question is what film will actually receive the most nods. Most of these films will naba few acting nods and technical awards, but there's no Titanic or Lord of the Rings. The year of the sweeping epic is over. (That is unless Atonement gets nominated, but we'll see!)

so without further ado, here are my predictions!

Best Picture
No Country For Old Men
There Will Be Blood
Michael Clayton
Diving Bell & the Butterfly

Alternates: Atonement, Into the Wild

Best Actor
Daniel-Day Lewis, There Will Be Blood
George Clooney, Michael Clayton
Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises
Ryan Gosling, Lars and the Real Girl
Emile Hirsch, Into the Wild

Alternate: Johnny Depp

Best Actress
Julie Christie, Away From Her
Marion Cotillard, La Vie En Rose
Ellen Page, Juno
Angelina Jolie, A Mighty Heart
Laura Linney, The Savages

Alternates: Amy Adams, Cate Blanchett

Best Supporting Actor
Javier Bardem, No Country For Old Men
Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild
Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton
Casey Affleck, Assassination of Jesse James
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson’s War

Best Supporting Actress:
Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton
Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone
Cate Blanchett, I’m Not There
Catherine Keener, Into the Wild
Ruby Dee, American Gangster

Alternate, Soarise Ronan, Atonement

Best Director:
Coen Brothers, No Country For Old Men
P.T. Anderson, There Will Be Blood
Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell & the Butterfly
Sean Penn, Into the Wild
Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton

Original Screenplay

The Savages
Lars and the Real Girl
Michael Clayton

Adapted Screenplay
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood
Into the Wild
The Diving Bell & the Butterfly

The Diving Bell & the Butterfly
No Country For Old Men
Assassination of Jesse James
There Will Be Blood

No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood
Into the Wild
The Bourne Ultimatum
Michael Clayton

Original Score
Lust, Caution
There Will Be Blood
Into the Wild

Original Song
Come So Far (Got So Far to Go), Hairspray
That’s How You Know, Enchanted
Guaranteed, Into the Wild
Falling Slowly, Once
Le Festin, Rataouille

Art Direction
There Will Be Blood
Sweeney Todd
The Golden Compass

Costume Design
Sweeney Todd
Assassination of Jesse James

Best Sound Mixing
Sweeney Todd
Into the Wild
No Country for Old Men
The Bourne Ultimatum

Best Sound Effects Editing
The Bourne Ultimatum
Pirates of the Caribbean

Visual Effects
Pirates of the Caribbean
I Am Legend

Pirates of the Caribbean

Animated Film
The Simpsons Movie

Foreign Film
The Trap
Days of Darkness
The Counterfeiters

Documentary Feature
No End in Sight
Body of War
Lake of Fire

Monster Mash: A Shaky Camera Captures a Creature Attacking NYC in “Cloverfield”

Wow. We’re nearly three weeks into January and I am 2 for 2. The last January release I saw was “Cassandra’s Dream,” Woody Allen’s new crime drama and now “Cloverfield” an intriguing film with an even more intriguing viral marketing campaign that has certainly paid off. Of course, I’ve stayed away from the obvious dreck such as ‘Mad Money,’ ‘In the Name of the King,’ etc. Cloverfield, which was previously only known by it’s release date of 1.18.08 captured movie going audiences way back when Transformers first hit the big screen last summer. We got to see a partygoer’s view of a menacing force wrecking havoc in Manhattan. The Statue of Liberty’s head was thrown down one avenue, while the entire city panicked. What exactly was this unseen force?

If you’re expecting a traditional monster movie please look elsewhere. “Cloverfield,” while not altogether the most original film to come out, is clever because of the way it is executed. There are no steadicam shots or sweeping camera movements. In fact, this is filmed much like “The Blair Witch Project” in which the camera is mostly operated by the characters in the actual film (Although how much the actual actors filmed, is probably close to nil). We get to see 86 minutes during one evening with a small group of characters. Rob (Michael Stahl-David) is an up and coming young guy living in Manhattan who has accepted a job in Japan. His brother Jason (Mike Vogel) and his girlfriend Lily (Jessica Lucas) and other assorted friends have thrown him a surprise going-away party. Hud (T.J. Miller) is in charge of the videotaping the evening and making sure all the guests proclaim their well wishes to Rob to the camera.

The film, written by Drew Goddard (a writer on TV’s Lost), and directed by Matt Reeves is slightly ingenuous in that it gives a perfect excuse for why the film is shot the way it is. The film opens with a title explaining that the following footage is property of the US Government having something to do with a case known as “Cloverfield” and that the footage was found in the location of where Central Park used to be. The opening shots are of Rob and his girlfriend Beth (Odette Yustman) fooling around in bed but soon the footage is replaced by Jason who tries to figure out how to work the camera. (He has accidentally begun filming over Rob’s footage). The rest of the film is character set-up at the party, which soon rages on, and we’re introduced to a few other characters including Lizzy (Marlena Diamond).

Soon rumbles are felt and the building begins rattling and rolling. The party moves out onto the roof when an explosion is seen from far away. Soon the State of Liberty’s head is rolling down the street and buildings start coming down as people begin running for their lives. Our little band of characters stay together as Hud continues to film. It is soon revealed that a grotuetes creature of unknown origins has descended (or ascended perhaps) on the city. It is unflinching and uncompromising and it’s really, really big. From here on the film is a roller coaster of thrills and chills. The film builds up some terrific suspense and there are some fun and genuine scares to be had here. I definitely was squirming in my seat.

I don’t really want to give too much away, but I thoroughly enjoyed “Cloverfield.” It’s a movie that actually lives up to its hype and provides a good thrill. There’s really not exposition or explanation for why this monster is attacking and that’s the film’s point. We never cut away from Hud’s camera. This is all seen through the eyes of a small batch of survivors. Parts reminded me of Steven Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds.” That was a film that also didn’t cut away from its main characters to the inside of a government meeting with the military. It was seen through the eyes of a working class family and allusions to 9/11 were apparent and warranted. In “Cloverfield” the camera work is much closer to “Blair Witch” (and the film also has no music score) but with much, much better production values. If you don’t believe me sit and watch all the credits after the film ends, and you’ll be sitting there for a while, left to ponder how so many people were involved in making something that looks so cheap and simple, yet is executed masterfully with style, flair and impressive effects. And plenty of scares to spare. GRADE: B+

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Crimes & Misdemeanors: Woody Allen Serves Up Another Thrilling London-Set Drama With “Cassandra’s Dream”

I was wondering why it was released in January. Woody Allen’s latest film, another serious drama, a far cry from his gag-fests of the 1970s, so closely resembles Sidney Lumet’s hypnotic thrill ride “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” that I imagine the studio just got scared. Alas, filmmaking legend Allen has had his new film dumped in the cinematic dumping ground known as January. All the high profile Oscar-baiting films have been released and now we’re stuck with movies like “One Missed Call” “Mad Money” and “In the Name of the King” as so-called entertainment. Don’t let the crappy release date fool you, “Cassandra’s Dream” is a fun, suspenseful little thriller that, while not up to par with “Match Point,” is still a terrific film.

“Dream” written by Allen, (as always) focuses on two British brothers. We have Ian (Ewan McGregor) and Terry (Colin Farrell, in his best performance). Ian is all together, while not really extremely wealthy he has lots of business ventures waiting to hit gold. Terry is the more unstable, auto mechanic, who gets by paycheck to paycheck. Terry also has a slight gambling problem. We he wins, he wins big. But when he loses, he really loses. They each have the love of their lives and are completely content. That is until Terry really, really loses. He loses 90, 000 British pounds and he had borrowed money from lone sharks that I’m sure weren’t voted Best Personality in high school.

Luckily, these brothers have a very rich uncle (Tom Wilkinson). They figure, hey he’s rich, maybe he could help with Terry’s debt. Uncle Howard complies. He will get Terry out of debt: for a really big favor. I really, really big favor. We’re talking murder here folks. To discuss the plot further would ruin the fun, so I’ll stop here.

What I can tell you is that Allen is simply on a artistic high. Having set his most recent films in London, a place I dream not to go one day, (have you seen the kind of food they eat? Yuck!) Allen has re-tapped his creativeness. He still makes his moves the same way. There’s lots of dialogue, simple, although beautiful, shots, and a twisted plot with characters who are all in a way psychologically ill. The film really isn’t so much about the act that these brothers must commit but what happens afterwards. A million different scenarios will come to mind, but I think you won’t be able to guess the final outcome.

While “Cassandra’s Dream” isn’t one of his best movies ever made, it certain ranks as one of most recent memorable ones. I’m gratefully looking forward to see how Spain treats him, which is the location of his next film. I urge you to seek out his film, and although it has similar to elements to the Sidney Lumet film, they are strikingly different. It is actually fun to compare and contrast them.

While the beginning of the film may not seem, on the surface, to have anything to due with the rest of the film, I implore you to focus on one specific shot. When Farrell and McGregor are discussing purchasing the boat, look at how Allen has framed his characters. Farrell is to the left, plainly visible. McGregor, while visible, is standing behind an iron-rod fence. Those black bars certainly say a lot. GRADE: B+

Monday, January 14, 2008

Zombies, Barbers and Preggers, Oh My! The Best Films of 2007

Ah, yes it is that time again. Time to figure what movies were the “best of the year.” But what really is the best? Who am I to determine what are the best films of the year? Lists are really inconsequential but oh are they fun! 2007 was a fantastic year for movies. This is the first time that all ten films on my Top 10 List were all given grades of A. Sometimes I had to sneak an A- or a B+ film in there, but this year, every one of these movies is a four star film. It was really tough to narrow down my list this year as this was the best year for movies so far. Any one of these movies could have found it to the top, but I had to put them in order somehow. So hunker down and check out my list of the best films of 2007:

1. Into the Wild (dir. Sean Penn) No other film this year (except for maybe my number 2 pick) has affected me the way Sean Penn’s standout film has. This true story of a young man determined to leave society behind and live in the wild was an extraordinary piece of filmmaking. The film is so moving, poignant, and best of all entertaining, that I simply didn’t want it to end. The songs composed and performed by Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder are simply amazing; never have songs attempted to reflect the main character’s (real life Christopher McCandless) psyche the way these do. Actors Emile Hirsch, Catherine Keener and especially Hal Holbrook give career-defining performances in a tale about following your heart and taking that journey inside oneself. Fun Fact: It took Sean Penn nearly ten years to convince Chris McCandless’ parents to let him make the film.

2. The Diving Bell & the Butterfly (dir. Julian Schnabel) No other film this year (except for maybe my number 1 pick) has affected me the way Julian Schnabel’s standout film has. The film tells the true story of French Elle Magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby’s tragic stroke that leaves him with “locked-in syndrome.” He is complete paralyzed from head to toe, except for his left eye, which he blinks into order to communicate with those around him. The film explorer’s Jean-Do’s mind and imagination in a way I’ve never experienced. This is a film, although French, that transcends the language barrier and is so stirring that I haven’t been the same person since viewing it. This is a great example of an artist at work. Fun Fact: Director Julian Schnabel is a painter and he insisted the film be made in French.

3. Juno (dir. Jason Reitman) One of many films about pregnancy (see my number 9 pick ‘Knocked Up’ and Sundance favorite ‘Waitress’) is simply a knock out. First time screenwriter (and former stripper) Diablo Cody pens a delightful script about a witty and hip teenage girl’s completely unplanned pregnancy. Actress Ellen Page simply shines in the title role. Her dialogue is funny and smart and cool as are all the other colorful characters. This is a film that just makes you feel good. Want to hug this movie. This film also features a great soundtrack featuring some songs from indie singer & songwriter Kimya Dawson. This is a delightful and surprisingly poignant romp from start to finish. Fun Fact: The hamburger phone Juno uses belongs to writer Diablo Cody.

4. No Country For Old Men (dir. Joel & Ethan Coen) Wow. This movie scared the piss out of me when I saw it. The story, based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy, revolves around a drug deal that goes completely sour. And by sour, I mean everyone is dead. Even the dog! Josh Brolin stumbles upon a case full of cash, which he takes, but unbeknownst to him a vicious killer is on the loose after him. Spanish actor Javier Bardem embodies terror, evil and sports a nasty hairdo as Anton Chigurh, a character certain to go down in movie history as one of the most frighteningly sadistic villains in movie history. The Coen Brothers direct an amazing story that is chock full of suspense and tight editing. No other film this year was as nail bitting. You’ll need a manicure after watching this movie. Fun Fact: Javier Bardem’s strange haircut was derived from a 1979 photo of a brothel patron.

5. Atonement (dir. Joe Wright) I am as shocked as you are to find this film on my list of the best films of the year. What appears to be an overly dramatic British period piece is actually a fantastically entertain story of secrets, lies and the search for redemption. Brilliantly told by director Joe Write and screenwriter Christopher Hampton, this tells the story of young Briony who mistakenly accuses her older sister’s boyfriend of a heinous crime that sends him away to prison and eventually to fight in World War II. As 13-year-old Briony, actress Saoirse Ronan commands the screen much in the same way Helen Mirren did in last year’s ‘The Queen.’ Composer Dario Marianelli’s magnificent score and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey’s 5 ½ minute tracking shot are simply standouts. Fun Fact: The Steadicam operator passed out during one of the long Dunkirk beach tracking shot takes.

6. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (dir Tim Burton) What is a top ten list without a musical to lighten things up? Except, that this Tim Burton directed adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim stage favorite is not exactly an uplifting tale. It is a dark, malevolent, wonderfully conceived and fantastically executed (slight pun intended) take on a barber hell-bent on seeking revenge and the pie shop owner who falls for him. Burton regulars Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter are great together as the man who slits throats and the woman who grounds the bodies into the tastiest meat pies in London. The music is wonderful, as are the sets, costumes and make-up. This is a great technical achievement and one of auteur Tim Burton’s best films to date. Fun Fact: The bloody film’s final on screen body count is 12.

7. Knocked Up (dir. Judd Apatow) Another heartwarming tale of pregnancy, like ‘Juno,’ except with a dirty streak filled with sexual gags and jokes about bodily fluids. This isn’t your average “She’s Having a Baby” romantic comedy, but it is one of the best. Judd Apatow as writer and director simply creates one of the funniest and most touching films of the year. Career oriented Katherine Heigl meets slacker/stoner Seth Rogen at a bar. They get drunk. They do it. And before they can say, “I farted on your pillow and just gave you pink eye,” Heigl is with child. This is a romantic comedy for the grungy college crowd, but it’s surprising sensitivity towards growing up and family values was a breath of fresh air in summer of remakes and sequels. This delightful ensemble comedy (with Apatow regulars Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd) is a lot of fun. Fun Fact: After the film was released, Steven Spielberg phoned director Judd Apatow to compliment the movie because Seth Rogen’s character make a reference to his film ‘Munich.’

8. Gone Baby Gone (dir. Ben Affleck) Yes contrary to popular belief actor Ben Affleck can direct a good movie. In fact, his directorial debut is fantastic. Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane (who also wrote the novel ‘Mystic River’) this film tells the story of a drug addict mother (standout Amy Ryan) whose young daughter is kidnapped. Her sister and brother in law hire P.I. Casey Affleck and Michele Monahan to help find the girl and slowly a story of betrayal is slowly revealed. The film is set in the Affleck brothers’ native Boston and the film has a realistic tone that is simply sensational. Amy Ryan gives an amazing performance as a woman who isn’t exactly mother of the year. The most the film goes on the more we sucked into its intriguing plot. This is only one of Morgan Freeman’s many films this year and it’s by far his best. Forget ‘The Bucket List’ this is a film you’ll be talking about for days after you see it. Fun Fact: Actress Amy Ryan looked and sounded so convincing as a low class Dorchester mom that a security guard mistook her for a fan on the first day of location filming, and wouldn't let her on the set.

9. Lars and the Real Girl (dir.Craig Gillespie) This quirky film (penned by ‘Six Feet Under’ writer Nancy Oliver) is the definition of a love it or hate it premise: Ryan Gosling is a socially awkward man who orders a sex doll (who he names Bianca) over the Internet and convinces himself and those around him that the doll is his real girlfriend. As Lars, Gosling gives another remarkable performance. The whole film hinges on the idea that we as a viewer believe that he believes that Bianca is a real person. He creates an entire backstory for her (she once was a missionary and she loves kids) much to the dismay of his older brother and sister in-law. A psychiatrist insists that everyone go along with Lars’s delusion and the whole town pitches in to make Bianca feel at home. This is a fun, heartwarming movie that has divided most critics. This critic found it simply charming. Fun Fact: To help Gosling stay in character, the real doll was treated like an actual person on set. She was dressed privately in her own trailer and was only present for scenes that she was in.

10. Grindhouse (dir. Robert Rodriguez & Quentin Tarantino) ‘Grindhouse’ a double feature featuring the zombie-fest ‘Planet Terror’ and the car chase thriller ‘Death Proof’ makes the cut simply because it was the most audacious and fun movie theater going experiences of the year. This is a movie that is fun because it has everything one loves about seeing a movie in the theater. And one of the reasons why I think it bombed when released last April is because the target audience is the typical audience who would rather pirate the computer illegally from the Internet. ‘Grindhouse’ features two silly but well-made films as an ode to the schlock horror flicks that appeared in small, smelly theaters in the 1970s (complete with missing reels and purposely placed scratch marks). The film features astounding work by filmmaking buddies Tarantino and Rodriguez and best of all are the phony trailers that play in-between the two features (directed by Eli Roth, Edgar Wright, Rob Zombie and Rodriguez). This is a great film because it is meant to be seen in the theater, which is one of my favorite things to do. As if you didn’t know. And let's not forget Rose McGowen's machine gun leg. Only, at the Grindehouse. Fun Fact: A mere seventeen seconds were removed in order to achieve an ‘R’ rating from the MPAA.

Honorable Mentions – The 11-20th best films of the year in alphabetical order:

Across the Universe – Solid, visually arresting musical featuring great Beatles covers.
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead – Sidney Lumet’s electric tale of a jewelry store robbery gone horribly wrong.
Enchanted – Amy Adams simply shines in this homage to Disney fairy tales.
Hairspray – The most addictive movie of the year. You really can’t stop the beat.
Ratatouille – Stunning animation is featured in this tale about a rat with eclectic taste buds who loves to cook; from the ingenious Pixar folks.
Sicko – Michael Moore’s scathing healthcare documentary. In fact, when is Moore not scathing?
The Simpsons Movie – A bright and colorful big screen version of one of TV’s most loved animated sitcoms.
Superbad – A hilarious coming of age film from producer Judd Apatow. Introduced America to McLovin.
Waitress – The late Adrienne Shelly’s sweet story of a pie-loving waitress who falls for her OB/GYN.
Year of the Dog – Molly Shannon is great in this fable about a woman whose pet’s death changes her life forever.

Stay tuned for the Worst Films of 2007!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Me, Myself and Eye: “The Diving Bell & the Butterfly”is One of the Most Emotionally Charged and Beautiful Films of the Year

‘The Diving Bell & the Butterfly,’ based on Jean-Dominique Bauby’s real life memoir, is one of the most emotionally charged films of the year (the other being “Into the Wild” which is similarly about a young man’s personal journey inside himself). The immediate, gut reaction my body had while watching this film was nearly unprecedented. It was the first time that I nearly broke down during the end credits. You watch this film for nearly two hours and you’re put into the position of a man who is trapped in his own body and you have get a stirring reaction of desperation that is simultaneously uplifting yet almost unbearably depressing because it almost makes you feel like your life isn’t worth a penny. To imagine what this man has accomplished, literally with the blink of an eye, is such an astonishing feat it is nearly impossible to imagine. But it isn’t impossible because this brilliant film is living proof of person who could overcome his own imprisonment.

The film is astonishingly directed by Julian Schnabel because he gets inside us from the opening frame. We are put into the position of a person we cannot see. We see what he sees. And for nearly a quarter of the film we’re “stuck” in this position. We’re just as worried, concerned, frightened and claustrophobic as he is. Gradually the film opens up and we’re actually shown the person we have identified with. We learn that he’s had a stroke, which sent him into a coma, and when he emerged he was paralyzed from head to toe. This man was Jean-Dominique Bauby who was the editor for French Elle Magazine. He was divorced from his wife but they had three children. He had an elderly father he took care of. And now he needs all the care he can get because he’s trapped in his own body. He can think rational thoughts, which we hear out loud as a voiceover. He has to learn to communicate through blinking his eye. He begins by being asked simple yes or no questions. One blink means yes and two blinks means no. And by the end of the film he would have written an entire book about his experience. He titles his book ‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.’ The diving bell is a metaphor for his entrapment. He feels as if he’s in the water in a diving suit and he can’t come up to the surface, but eventually he sees himself as a butterfly, emerging from his captivity. It’s such a rewarding and poignant experience that only a motion picture can provide.

Of course while Jean-Do’s body is stagnant, his imagination isn’t. He has a lifetime of memories in his fully functional memory bank that he can escape to with the help of standout director of photography Janusz Kaminski. Kaminski creates a fantastic world in which we see through the eye of our hero. The visions he is able to achieve in translating this story is nearly indescribable. He is sure to be a leading contender for the Best Cinematography Academy Award. Through some stunning shots we get to learn about Jean-Do’s past. His scenes with his ex-wife and children are simply touching. And Mathieu Amalric’s performance is magnificent and moving. We instantly feel attached to this man, we feel like he’s our family member and we only want to see him overcome this unbearable condition.

This is a film that no review can do justice to. You just have to see this film to believe it. It is an extraordinary work of vibrant imagination. It’s nearly one of the most perfect foreign films I’ve ever seen and it’s one of the best films of this year. I can’t even explain the emotional reaction this film caused me. “The Diving Bell & the Butterfly” is simply a beautiful piece of filmmaking. It could have easily become a simple Lifetime movie about a man with a disability, but it transcends cinema. It goes beyond what an average filmmaker could accomplish. It is stunning from beginning to end. If you thought "Pan's Labyrinth" was an amazing visual journey, wait until you see "Diving Bell." It's one of the best foreign film's I've ever seen. In other words: a must see. GRADE: A

PS - And it's a winner of two Golden Globe awards: for Best Director and Best Foreign Language Film!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Moral Hygiene: George Clooney is Mr. Fix It in the Complex Legal Drama “Michael Clayton”

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find most of “Michael Clayton” a bit baffling. I was following along without a problem, but then half way through it sort of just lost me. I felt I need subtitles to explain what was going on. I thought, this what Paris Hilton must feel like when she attends the cinema. But although I found “Clayton” to be a complex drama, I never found it boring or uninteresting. Like Mission: Impossible it was difficult to understand but not difficult to enjoy. However, I’m not so sure it deserves Best Picture accolades, it is a worthy law drama that has a lot to say about ethical choices people have to make in their everyday lives.

George Clooney is the ever-likable movie hero. Women want him and men want to be him. He’s got an everyman charm about him that makes him perfect in the role of Michael Clayton. Michael isn’t a trial attorney, but rather a “fixer.” He gets people out of legal messes. As we see in the beginning of the film, he’s getting a client out of a little hit and run pickle. Michael is the go to guy to get out of a legal jam. And Michael Clayton is about to hit the mother of legal jams.

It turns out that a large corporation has been poisoning people for some time (think ‘Erin Brockovich’ or ‘A Civil Action’). Tom Wilkinson, who is a member of Clayton’s firm, is defending the corporation. But the more he gets into the lawsuit the more he realizes he can’t just defend these people. He goes off his meds and he goes wildly manic-depressive. He strips off his clothes during a meeting and he goes completely and utterly nuts, to put it lightly. Tilda Swinton is also a lawyer on the side of the corporation. We see the results of her actions. She has to practice her speeches in front of mirrors because I think deep down she’s really putting on an act. Her job is to defend this corporation and she’ll go to any lengths to do it.

And that brings us to the first plot point of the film’s twisty, intricate screenplay (written by Tony Gilroy who also directed). Nearly twenty minutes into the film Michael Clayton is driving down a road the morning after talking to the hit and run guy, he sees some horses up on a hill and he gets out of his car and low and behold, his car explodes. Someone obviously wants this man dead and we then flash back four days earlier and we learn what Michael Clayton has been going through.

I don’t know if I’d really call the film a thriller, although it has moderate suspense. Most scenes feel like something scary is going to happen, but then it never really does. Which kind of leaves you hanging. But that’s ok; I don’t need car explosions to have a good time at the movies. What is really most difficult about the film is putting its complicated plot together. It was hard to figure out what exactly was going on, as the film requires you to pay very close attention to every detail. This is Gilroy’s directorial debut and he recently received Best Director nomination from the DGA. Perhaps an Oscar nomination is in his future?

While I wouldn’t call Michael Clayton one of the best films of the year, it has enough good acting and twists and turns to keep the viewer interested. Although I could see the general audience finding it “slow” or “boring.” It’s certainly not a slow as ‘There Will Be Blood’ and it’s definitely not as confusing as ‘I’m Not There’ but it’s simply a good legal drama that has more positive aspects then negative. GRADE: B

Friday, January 04, 2008

Crude Oil: “There Will Be Blood” is More Like There Will Be Boredom

“There Will Be Blood” is a film I can’t wrap my head around. I just don’t get it. Paul Thomas Anderson is a great director and I love “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia.” And if theres one thing those two films aren’t it would be boring. Magnolia is over three hours and I don’t find it boring. That’s probably because there are so many fascinating characters to be found. But in Anderson’s latest film, many of which are touting as the “new American masterpiece” we only get about two interesting performances. Daniel Day-Lewis, who is always good, and the relatively little known Paul Dano, who shined last year as the silenced brother in “Little Miss Sunshine.” “Blood” is two hours and forty minutes of uninteresting storytelling that is about as much fun as escaping an oil spill.

Day-Lewis is Daniel Plainview. He’s beings living the American dream out West in the early 1900s when he strikes oil. Soon this black liquid gold begins to take ahold of him (surprise surprise) and it turns him into an evil tyrant. He even sends off his deaf son (due to an accident during an oil disaster) on a train that’s headed to who-knows-where. Then we have Paul Dano playing Paul Sunday, who is a young minister. He’s one of those religious hotheads who casts demons out of the less holy. He’s more of a revelation than Day-Lewis simply because he’s a fresher face.

Then you can fill in you own assumptions of what happened, because to be honest with you I can’t remember a whole lot from this movie, because at times it’s almost simply forgettable. The cinematography from Robert Elswit is beautiful but not as amazing as I’ve seen in films this year like “The Assassination of Jesse James” or “Atonement.” The score by Radiohead member Jonny Greenwood is weird and different, which I liked, but it doesn’t exactly cause this to be a recommendation.

To be frank I felt as though I was watching a boring adaptation of a unexciting book I would have had to read in high school English. Anderson based the screenplay on the Upton Scinclair novel “Oil!” which is probably why the film is so draggy and dull. It feels as if it were made in the 1930s, so if you’re a fan of that period or if you’re a film elitist than please sir, be my guest. And I wouldn’t even say that the shear length is the sole reason why I disliked this film; if it had been only an hour, it sill would have been every bit as tedious. I mean nothing exciting happens in this movie; “Atonement” is a British period piece and it had ten times the amount of suspense, intrigue and excitement.

Daniel Day-Lewis the favorite to win at the Oscars and after seeing his real life personality at the Critics Choice Awards, I have to admit that he does completely transform himself into this character, but it is honestly such a dreary ride that you’ll get just as much a sense of his acting chops from the film’s theatrical trailer. Watch that and you can save yourself some money and a numb butt. GRADE: C
NOTE: Roger Ebert says of 'There Will Be Blood': "Plainview's only goal in life is to become enormously wealthy, and he does so, reminding me of "Citizen Kane." An even easier example of why this movie is so boring...