Friday, February 24, 2012

Oscar Forecast: “The Artist” with a Chance of Sacha Baron Cohen

UPDATED: Wow the 84th annual Academy Awards are over. First the surprises: Meryl won best actress! WTF? She had been the frontrunner since "The Iron Lady" was greenlit and yet Viola Davis started gaining steam throughout the final weeks leading to the Oscars. I was surprised and happy to see Meryl finally break her losing streak. But poor Viola Davis... The Help did not make history by awarding two Black actresses from the same film. And how did The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo manage that editing upset? It makes sense when you see how editing was implemented in the film - that crosscutting did wonders to wow the Academy - and it now means that this film is the first film since 1967's "Bullitt" to win only one Oscar for Film Editing. That's fascinating to me, but probably not to you. The Artist, winning five Oscars, including Best Picture of course actually tied with Hugo, who snatched up five technical awards including both sound categories and even visual effects. Poor "Rise of Planet of the Apes" you just can't go wrong with Oscar stats: no non-best picture nominee has won best visual effects against another best picture nominee in, like, a really long time. I'm also glad Woody Allen won another Oscar (even if he isn't) - presented by Angelina Jolie's leg - though "Midnight in Paris" isn't really one of my favorites of his. Overall it was a really fun and exciting evening. Billy Crystal was excellent but the evening's best moment occurred before the ceremony even began when Sacha Baron Cohen, as "the Dictator" dumped "Kim Jong Il's ashes" all over red carpet interviewer Ryan Seacrest. Ashes ashes we all fall down! Hilarious! I only got 14 out of 24 predictions correct, my worst showing since The Departed won (where i only scored 13). I can't wait for next year when "Lincoln" sweeps and hands Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day Lewis yet another Oscar.

What a crazy year for Oscar movies. Most of them are just good and not particularly amazing. Most of my favorites were populist summer fare. At least “The Help,” the resident my-mom-loved-that-movie nominee, gets better with repeat viewings and features some great performances (and is poised to take home two acting statues on Sunday). Let’s face it, that charming black & white silent movie ode to old Hollywood “The Artist” is ready to sweep on Sunday night. But how many awards will it actually win? Could it be a “Slumdog” night and walk away with a majority of its nominations? Or will it be a more reserved “King’s Speech” night where it manages to win less than half of its nominations? Remember that was a movie with 12 nominations and was predicted to sweep most of those technical categories and it didn’t win a single one. “Inception” won just as many Oscars as “The King’s Speech” after all. Having said that, “The Artist” will win a lot, but what else will walk away a big winner? “Hugo” is the most nominated movie of the evening, but I’m doubtful it will walk away with more than a couple technical wins. In fact, I’m very doubtful about most of this year’s categories, which should at least make for an entertaining show. And without further ado here are my fearless predictions for the 2012 Academy Awards.

Best Picture

Who Will Win: “The Artist.” This has been the frontrunner for a long time. It’s a fun and sweet nod to the old days. I’m sure it’s a favorite among many an octogenarian in the Academy. “Hugo” has the most nominations, but I can’t imagine it having a chance at the big prize. It also has the distinction of being the only Sacha Baron Cohen film ever nominated for best picture. But “The Artist” wins this thing hands down.

Who Should Win: “Hugo.” I’m not even sure if any of the nine nominees should actually win best picture - although I do really like "The Artist." But Hugo was the only film to make my top ten of the year list. It’s a fun movie, made with Martin Scorsese’s expertise. It’s one of the most fun and thrilling “kids movies” in a while. I also liked "The Help" and "Moneyball" but frankly the best picture of the year is obviously "Bridesmaids," duh.

Should Have Been Nominated: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Best Director

Will Win: Michel Hazanavicius, “The Artist.” This French guy won the DGA just a couple of weeks ago. You can’t really argue with history. Only 6 times in the history of both awards has the winner of the DGA failed to win the Oscar.

Should Win: Martin Scorsese, “Hugo.” I love all of Scorsese’s recent films. Others say they’re not as good as his films from the early days. Screw them. I’d watch “Hugo” over “Raging Bull” any day of the week.

Should Have Been Nominated: David Fincher, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”

Best Actor

Will Win: Jean Dujardin, “The Artist.” This is actually a tough race. George Clooney, who was the frontrunner months ago, could easily take this. But I think Dujardin’s charm really sold this movie. Plus it’s got that “silent film” gimmick which would make it one of the very, very few silent performances ever rewarded. He also won at SAG over favorite Clooney. Think of him as the new Roberto Benigni, but more French.

Should Win: Brad Pitt, “Moneyball.” I think I’d just really like to see Brad Pitt win an Oscar. I’m not too particularly crazy about any of this year’s Actor nominees (although I haven’t seen “A Better Life” but who has?) and the guy who REALLY deserves to win wasn’t even nominated!!! For shame, Academy!

Should Have Been Nominated: Michael Fassbender, “Shame”

Best Actress

Will Win: Viola Davis, “The Help.” Another tight race. If Meryl Streep can’t even win an Oscar for playing Margaret Thatcher, then will she ever win again?? If “The Iron Lady” was more well received this would have been no contest. But “The Help” has a best picture nomination and is certainly more loved amongst the Academy’s acting branch as it received three acting nominations. Streep will have to settle for losing her 15h Oscar.

Should Win: Meryl Streep, “The Iron Lady.” Even though some people hate this movie, I think Streep is brilliant in it. It’s better than her performances in “Doubt” and “Julia & Julia.” Streep not only transforms herself into a British Prime Minister, but she transforms herself into an old lady. She is obviously a master of her craft, and she’s simply spellbinding onscreen. You’ll win again one day Ms. Streep, one day. Davis is awesome and deserves to win too, but this is the Streep performance we’ve all been waiting for.

Should Have Been Nominated: Charlize Theron, “Young Adult”

Best Supporting Actor

Will Win: Christopher Plummer, “Beginners.” I wasn’t the biggest fan of “Beginners” but Plummer was good. I’m ad odds about why exactly he’s such a strong frontrunner, but I think it’s because this is such a weak year for supporting male performances.

Should Win: Jonah Hill, “Moneyball.” I don’t really think any of these guys deserve to win any more than anyone else. I would vote for Jonah just because he’s the guy from “Superbad” that no one ever expected to become an Oscar nominee. I’m sure Academy members Michael Cera, Paul Rudd, James Franco, and Judd Apatow will all be marking Jonah’s name down as well.

Should Have Been Nominated: Albert Brooks, “Drive”

Best Supporting Actress

Will Win: Octavia Spencer, “The Help.” I think this one is in the bag. If she doesn’t win, the winner can expect a shit pie at their front door.

Should Win: Melissa McCarthy, “Bridesmaids.” I never thought in a million years that McCarthy would actually be nominated. I certainly didn’t think so when I first saw the film last summer. She’s hilarious and heartfelt all at once. She stole that movie. and it’s great to see the Academy loosen up a little bit. I’d love for her name to be called in a shocking Marisa Tomei sort of way.

Should Have Been Nominated: “Shailene Woodly, “The Descendants”

Best Adapted Screenplay
Will Win: “The Descendants.” I’m not too confident in this choice. I’m wondering if, like another recent George Clooney film that was supposed to win this award, (“Up in the Air”) the movie peaked too soon in the award season. Alexander Payne is a previous winner for his last film “Sideways,” so he’s an obvious favorite, but I’m curious if “Moneyball” has a shot at this. It could happen, but probably not.

Best Original Screenplay
Will Win: “Midnight in Paris.” Oy vey. I’m not feeling very confident in this choice. Woody Allen’s most whimsical and original script in years (supposedly) is poised to take this prize, but I’m wondering of the originality in “The Arist” could prevail. But I’m also wondering if Academy members would be less likely to vote for a silent movie in the screenplay category.

Best Animated Feature Film
Will Win: “Rango.” How is it that Pixar doesn’t have a nominee in here? Oh yeah, that’s because they made “Cars 2.” I thought maybe the Pixar brand would have been good enough, but it wasn’t. The very original, and very strange, Rango will easily walk away with this award, which would be the first non-Pixar win since “Happy Feet” stole the Oscar from “Cars” in 2007.

Best Art Direction
Will Win: “Hugo.” One of the few guarantee wins for the most-nominated “Hugo.”

Best Cinematography
Will Win: “The Tree of Life.” This seems like the obvious choice, but it so obviously features the best cinematography of the year. But not so fast. A lot of people hate this movie. But it was nominated for best picture and best director, so how could it be hated? Watch it, try to stay awake, and then get back to me. I could actually picture any of these movies (except “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) winning.

Best Costume Design
Will Win: “Anonymous.” This is going to be a difficult category to predict. And I’m going to go out on a limb and predict a movie that no one else believes will win. But why not? It’s a movie set in Shakespearean times. Have you actually seen these costumes? Oscar history would tend to agree with me. Odds are the Academy hasn’t even seen this movie, so the Academy will probably end up going with their love of “The Artist” or “Hugo.” Who knows really?

Best Documentary - Feature

Will Win: "Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory" This is another shrug the shoulders category. I lot has been said about this Paradise Lost series about the “West Memphis Three” and the film has even helped get off the men accused of murder. But I’m sure either "If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front" or “To Hell and Back Again” could win as well.

Best Documentary - Short Subject

Will Win: “The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom”

Best Film Editing
Will Win: "The Artist." It may not have the most flashy or obvious editing, but because editing and best picture usually go together, I’m betting “The Artist” will take this one.

Best Foreign Language Film
Will Win: “A Separation.” This Iranian film is also nominated for Best Original Screenplay. It’s won all the precursor awards… however there is a Holocaust drama in the mix (“In Darkness”) so don’t be surprised if there’s a surprise here which tends to happen in this cagetory. Remember in order to vote for this award Academy members must see all the nominees, which means the obvious “popular” choice doesn’t always win (ie “Pan’s Labyrinth”). But I think “A Separation” will take it.

Best Makeup
Will Win:
“The Iron Lady.” This is a race between fantasy makeup in “Harry Potter” and old age makeup in “The Iron Lady.” Say what you will about the film, but the makeup design is simply flawless. I’m sure it will prevail.

Best Original Score
Will Win: "The Artist." Composer Ludovic Bource is practically guaranteed a win here. The movie relied so heavily on its music score since it’s a silent film that it’s one of several “Artist” sure things of the evening.

Best Original Song
Will Win: ‘Man or Muppet’ from "The Muppets." Flight of the Concords guy Bret McKenzie has a 50/50 shot at this, and I say he takes it. But what a lousy category this year, huh? What were they thinking? There were so many great songs left off, and they didn’t even nominate the best song from the Muppets! (that would be ‘Pictures in My Head’)

Best Short Film – Animated
Will Win:
“The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.” I’ve seen all the nominees and it’s certainly an eclectic group. But I say it comes down to the emotionally charged “Books” and Pixar’s "La Luna" which could easily win, but Pixar has an odd losing streak in this category. Perhaps, with no nominee in the feature category, they might just vote for Pixar anyways. Who knows?

Best Short Film – Live Action
Will Win:
“Tuba Atlantic.” As with most of these shorts categories, your guess is as good as mine.

Best Sound Editing
Will Win: “War Horse.” I’ve never been so unsure of myself in the sound categories. Conventional wisdom says the “loudest” movie tends to win. And that would be “Transformers” but if they didn’t give it to the first film, why start now? Besides, "Avatar" didn't win either of these awards and that was way more liked than the "Transformers" films. War films tend to win here, which I feel gives it an edge over the other popular choice “Hugo.”

Best Sound Mixing
Will Win: “War Horse.” I’m still not convinced the Academy will see “Hugo” as a very aural experience. If it wins, it’s because it’s the film that is most liked in the category, which could very well turn out to be true. The sound categories could easily split, so I’m playing it safe and picking “War Horse” for both.

Best Visual Effects
Will Win: “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” I feel like “Apes” should be the obvious choice. But not so fast. No film has won this award against another film that was also up for best picture. Which leads me to believe that “Hugo” might walk away with this. How odd would it be if a Martin Scorsese movie won an Oscar for Best Visual Effects? That would be like a Woody Allen movie winning for Best Sound Editing. Or a Michael Bay movie winning for Best Original Screenplay. I’m not too confident in my pick here, but maybe I’m just over thinking things.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Spies Like Us: “This Means War” is an Entertaining, if Utterly Preposterous Action Comedy

Wikipedia defines “suspension of disbelief” as “a formula for justifying the use of fantastic or non-realistic elements in literary works of fiction.” Some films require a suspension of disbelief. Other films rely on it. One of those movies is “This Means War,” one of those action-packed romantic comedies that never really has one realistic situation throughout its entire runtime. But you know what? Movies themselves are fantasy. If I wanted something realistic I’d be watching a documentary, not a Reese Witherspoon action comedy. It is with that in mind that I found myself strangely enough enjoying what “This Means War” had to offer – which is a lot of noisy action and some lame but chuckle worthy laughs. And even if the entire thing is implausible it never stops it from at least being enjoyable. Actors Chris Pine and Tom Hardy, two of Hollywood’s hottest up and comers, star as CIA agents. And they’re best friends. They like do everything together. FDR, (Chris Pine), which is apparently short for Franklin, even invites Tuck (Hardy) to his grandparents’ anniversary party. They’re too single guys who only need each other to be happy – they don’t need a girl. That is until they both unknowingly start dating the same girl – Lauren (Reese Witherspoon). She’s a charming girl sure, and she has an awesome job as a the head of a product testing company. FDR and Tuck make a pact to not tell Lauren they know about each other, and let her eventually choose between them. That is until they start falling in love with her and use their spy skills to creepily spy on Lauren so they can get some intel on who she digs more. Cut to one ridiculous scene after another as each guy tries to outdo the other.

There’s a certain charm at work here and the film had a sleek look and feel about it – we can thank director McG for that – but there’s also a certain sense of WTF – which we can blame McG for as well. He seems to care more about action and silly situations than actually telling a story that is even remotely plausible. But what movie about spies is ever actually 100% realistic? You never buy “True Lies” for one second but somehow James Cameron – a master of action direction – makes it work. Even “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” worked because of the radiating chemistry between the two leads. Here is all glossy thrills and silly laughs – but despite it all, I found myself surprisingly entertained. The chemistry, to my surprise, is actually strongest between Hardy and Pine who work tremendously well off each other. I feel mostly bad for Witherspoon who’s forced to act completely obviously a majority of the time as the other actors do silly stuff around her – we can blame writers Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg for that.

But somehow in the end, despite its flaws, I was able to watch the movie and just enjoy myself. “This Means War” is utterly ludicrous but the actors keep everything afloat. Even if things played out in a predictable way (do you think the Russian bad guy these spies are after will eventually kidnap Reese?) it never caused me to roll my eyes or wish I had snuck into the theater instead of paying. Remember this movie may be loud and silly but it’s not dumb. Remember it’s a Reese Witherspoon movie, not a Katherine Heigl movie. If you hate any or all of the three leads, I can’t really recommend this thing, but otherwise just sit back and enjoy the ride. GRADE: B

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Abnormal Activity: “Chronicle” is an Innovative Flick in a Well-worn Genre

Is there any genre more worn out these days than the “found footage” film? They’re usually scary movies either on a low budget (like “The Blair Witch Project”) or big studio films made to looks like they were filmed on a low budget (like “Cloverfield”). Now we have a superhero film shot with shaky handheld cameras made to look like something you’d watch on YouTube. And somehow with all the Paranormal Activities and Apollo 18s out there, “Chronicle” manages to make something worn out feel fresh and new again. Did “Chronicle,” which tells the story of three teenage boys who gain superpowers after coming in contact with a glowing boulder, really need to be told in this way? Not a chance. But somehow the sometimes cheesy effects seem more realistic when seen through he lens of a cheap, handheld camera. I was surprised by how much I was drawn to the characters in “Chronicle.” Andrew (Dane DeHaan) is the main character who we follow around. He’s a typical geeky teenage boy. He’s purchased a video camera to document… what really? His pathetic life? Who cares really. He gets bullied in school. His mom is bed ridden and dying. His father is super abusive. His only real friend is his cousin Matt (Alex Russell) who gives him rides to school. One night at a party, Matt and the popular guy Steve (Michael B. Jordon) find a hole in the ground in the woods. Of course they go inside; Andrew hesitantly goes in there too. Something is glowing and humming. And for whatever reason, the next footage we see is weeks later, when the three boys now apparently have the power to move objects with their minds. I’m sure most kids would freak out, but these kids take the opportunity to pelt each other with baseballs.

It’s obviously only a matter of time before these kids realize the potential of their new found powers. And it’s interesting to see how each one deals with it. I’ll be honest in saying I wasn’t exactly sure which character would go down the obvious path of “darkness.” Think Obi-Wan and Anakin, you geeks, you. Yes, this is essentially a superhero original story told through shaky first person camera trickery. The camera work is pretty good actually. There are moments when it feels genuine, and then there are some shots so well composed, you’d think Andrew were an Oscar-winning cinematographer. If you can get past the gimmickry of the way this story is being told, you will find a rather fascinating character study. Writer Max Landis doesn’t necessarily give us anything very groundbreaking about teenage life, but I found one character’s descent towards madness pretty compelling. Director Josh Tank makes an impressive debut and stages things certain sequences that will make your jaw drop.

There’s not much else that can be said about “Chronicle” without giving too much away. If you’ve seen the trailer you probably already know more than you should. Superhero films are more popular than ever (we got four of them just this past summer, and three more on the way this summer) so it’s cool to see one done with a dose of reality. Take away those silly costumes, megawatt superstars, and 200 million dollar budgets, and you can still find a gripping story of good vs. evil. GRADE: B+

Monday, February 06, 2012

Dead & Breakfast: “The Innkeepers” Kind of Makes You Want to Check Out Early

I really love Ti West’s retro cult horror flick “The House of the Devil.” Haven’t heard of it? You should rent it right now if you’re a big horror fan or a fan of 70s & 80s schlock cinema. So I looked forward to the director’s next effort, (let’s do him a favor and forget he directed the Direct-to-DVD sequel “Cabin Fever 2”) the haunted hotel thriller “The Innkeepers.” And it’s with great disappointment I must report that this follow up isn’t nearly the tremendous success as its predecessor. Maybe it’s that I rarely find ghost stories to be all that spooky – although Paranormal Activity and Insidious turned me into a scared little baby – but “The Innkeepers” doesn’t have the scary payoff that was so firmly present in “The House of the Devil.” But I should probably stop the comparisons right now.

“The Innkeepers,” set in a small Connecticut town, (and filmed in Torrington) where two part-time employees are working their final weekend shift. The Yankee Pedlar Inn will be closing and turned into a parking lot. Of course, like most old buildings, it has a haunted past. The twenty-something Claire (Sara Paxton) kind of wants to coax the spirit of Madeline O’Malley as does the thirty something Luke (Pat Healy). The film feels more focused on developing these two characters and showing how kind of dull it is to run an inn the weekend before it’s set to close shop than in creating genuine scares. But character development is something rarely seen in the genre I’ll admit and is definitely a welcomed change. Having full fledged characters makes it all the more terrifying when bad things happen to them; unfortunately not much scary stuff happens.

Claire and Luke are also staying in the hotel for the weekend and have some low rent video and audio equipment to help them make contact with the ghosts that supposedly haunt the place. None of these spirits are any scarier than the current slate of guests staying for the weekend. Leanne (Kelly McGillis) is a grumpy former actress who now is something of a psychic. Claire is a big fan apparently, though Leanne hardly wants anything to do with her. And then an creepy old guy checks in, and insists on staying in a specific room up on the third floor, which the staff informs him has been closed off since the place is closing.

“The Innkeepers” is the definition of a slow moving thriller. One that will probably bore its likely audience who will most likely turn the thing off even if they paid money to rent it on demand. “House of the Devil” fans will know better, anticipating all that growing suspense will be unleashed in a final sequence which will be worth the wait. Alas that revelation never really comes and instead we’re left with a feeling of wanted more from the film. I’m sure those who scare easily will be creeped out, but those of us hardened by the likes of having sat through seven “Saw” films, two “Hotel” films, and two movies about human centipedes, will be wondering when that red corn syrup will, if ever, finally show up. GRADE: B-

Friday, February 03, 2012

The 7th Annual Golden Gallo Awards

Who doesn’t love awards? Well at least one person doesn’t: Woody Allen. To quote him from “Annie Hall:” “What's with all these awards? They're always giving out awards. Best Fascist Dictator: Adolf Hitler.” I on the other hand love awards. So it was only a matter of time I came up with my own useless movie awards. Now in it’s 7th year I present the recipients of the 7th Annual Golden Gallo Awards. Congratulations to all the “winners.”

Best Performance by
a Scientologist in a Supporting Role: Jenna Elfman, FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS

Most Pretentious Domestic Quarrel: THE TREE OF LIFE

The “What the Heck Were They Thinking” Award: JACK & JILL

Best Gun Shot to the Head in a Superhero Film: SUPER

Best Film with a Cast Member of TV’s ‘Lost:’ REAL STEEL

Worst Film with a Cast Member of TV’s ‘Lost:’ BATTLE: LOS ANGELES

Best Revamping of a Dying Franchise: SCREAM 4

Best Ending to a Seemingly Endless Franchise: FINAL DESTINATION 5

Best Opening Title Sequence: THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO

Best Closing Credit Sequence: BRIDESMAIDS

The “Wear a Rubber” Best Makeup Award: THE IRON LADY

The “Wear a Rubber” Worst Makeup Award: J. EDGAR

Best Supporting Dog: Uggie, THE ARTIST

Best Supporting Dong: Michael Fassbender Jr., SHAME

Film Least Deserving of an Award, Even a Golden Gallo: TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON

Scene Stealer Award: Lucy Punch, BAD TEACHER

The Jaws 3D “I Only Wanted to See It Cause it Was in 3-D” Award: A VERY HAROLD & KUMAR 3D CHRISTMAS

The “I Was in Every Single Movie Made This Year” Overachiever Award: Jessica Chastain

Best Chemistry: Justin Timberlake & Mila Kunis, FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS

Worst Chemistry: Leonardo DiCaprio & Armie Hammer, J. EDGAR

The Trailer is Better than the Movie Award: BATTLE LOS ANGELES

Movie Most Likely to Cause Nightmares (in a good way): INSIDIOUS

The Slumdog Millionaire Why-Don’t-I-Like-This-Movie? Award: MIDNIGHT IN PARIS

Best Complete Mental Breakdown in a Comedy or Musical: Kristen Wiig, BRIDESMAIDS

Coolest Threads: Ryan Gosling, DRIVE

The Ishtar Big-Budget Stinker Award: GREEN LANTERN

Least Obnoxious Child Performance: Asa Butterfield, HUGO

Most Obnoxious Child Performance: Thomas Horn, EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE

Most Gratuitous Use of Bathing Suits: SHARK NIGHT 3D

Best Film Most Likely to be Forgotten by the Academy: 50/50

The “Or How I Learned to Love a Bomb” Guilty Pleasure Award: COWBOYS & ALIENS

The Grease 2 Unnecessary Sequel Award: CARS 2

Best Performance By a Human Centipede: Ashlynn Yennie and eleven others, THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2: FULL SEQUENCE

The Come on People It’s Not That Bad Award: FOOTLOOSE

Best Use of a Fork as a Weapon: DRIVE

The Don’t You Forget About Me “This Came Out This Year??” Award: SOURCE CODE

Coolest Movie Poster Award: THE IDES OF MARCH

Best Prop: Minny’s shit pie, THE HELP

Worst Prop: Oskar’s tambourine in EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE

Best Projectile Vomiting: Kate Winslet, CARNAGE

Film Most Likely to Cause Projectile Vomiting: THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2: FULL SEQUENCE

Worst Hairdo: Peter Sarsgaard, GREEN LANTERN

Best Reason Not to Go to Asia: CONTAGION

Best Comeback from a Previously Horrid Attempt at Filmmaking: Wes Craven, SCREAM 4

The “I Did Everything for this Movie” Award: George Clooney, THE IDES OF MARCH