Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tough Ain't Enough

Million Dollar Baby
Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Hilary Swank, Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman
Released: 12/15/04
Viewed in theaters: 2/11/05

Oscar nominations:
Best Picture (won)
Best Director - Clint Eastwood (won)
Best Actor - Clint Eastwood (lost to Jamie Foxx for Ray)
Best Actress - Hilary Swank (won)
Best Supporting Actor - Morgan Freeman (won)
Best Adapted Screenplay - Paul Haggis (lost to Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor for Sideways)
Best Editing (lost to The Aviator)

Spoilers in my review! You've been warned!

I have to be honest with you: 2004 was a year I was not very excited about the Oscars. It's not that I despised any of the movies and performances that were nominated and/or won, but I just couldn't muster up any excitement over any of them. Usually there's a Best Picture nominee I'm rooting for (or at least an alternative one I wouldn't mind winning), but in the case of the '04 Oscars, I was more along the lines of "Meh, I really don't care who wins." I had a hell of a time trying to put together my top ten list for that year too! Most of the movies I liked that year were that of the popcorn flick variety.

I almost kind of wish that M$B and Mystic River had swapped years because I loved River, but it obviously wasn't going to win that year because that was the year of Hobbits, Middle Earth, and Peter Jackson. I think a major reason M$B and Eastwood won a year later was because the Academy knew he didn't have a chance the year prior and were now giving it to him. (Otherwise if Lord of the Rings didn't exist, then River would have won in '03 and probably The Aviator and Scorsese would have won in '04 - hmm, I would who would have won in '06?)

Obviously, this film is about boxing, which is something that doesn't excite me. I was bored during Ali and I didn't get what the big deal about Rocky was (and I can't believe they made so many sequels!) I just don't understand why people would want to be beat to a pulp! Frank (Eastwood) is an aging boxing coach who is losing his best boxers due to them going to other trainers, so he agrees to train his first female boxer, Maggie (Swank) even though she's almost 32 and it can take up to five years to train a boxer. The most intense part of the film doesn't come until the very last fight and what happens after it. While I remember what happened to Maggie (who could forget something like that!), I thought it had happened to her during the fight. I had forgotten she had already won the match and was celebrating when her opponent hit her when she wasn't paying attention.

Despite it being an Oscar-baity performance and despite Swank being very good in these tomboy from a poor hick town roles, I was a little surprised the Academy gave her another Oscar so soon after her win for Boys Don't Cry. (I'm beginning to think Annette Bening is her good luck charm: Bening was also nominated both times Swank won). I don't think Eastwood should have been nominated; all he did was growl (though I did think he should've been nominated for Gran Torino) and as much as I love Morgan Freeman, his Oscar was more of a lifetime achievement award. His performance in The Shawshank Redemption was better and more memorable and had he been in the supporting category instead of lead like he should have been (after all he was supporting to Tim Robbins' lead) he would have won for that movie! Oh, well. I'm glad he has an Oscar, though.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Reader

The Reader
Director: Stephen Daldry
Cast: Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, David Kross
Released: 12/10/08

Oscar nominations:
Best Picture (lost to Slumdog Millionaire)
Best Director - Stephen Daldry (lost to Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionaire
Best Actress - Kate Winslet (won)
Best Adapted Screenplay - David Hare (lost to Simon Beaufoy for Slumdog Millionaire)
Best Cinematography (lost to Slumdog Millionaire)

I was expecting this film to be dry, boring, dull, etc., but actually liked it more than I thought I would. It starts off with a young German boy (Kross) who is walking home in the rain and becomes sick and a woman (Winslet) helps him home. It turns out the boy has scarlet fever and has to stay in bed for three months. When he recovers, he takes flowers to the woman who helped him. A strong attraction develops between Hanna, who is in her mid-30s and Michael, who is only sixteen and their relationship becomes strictly sexual; they don't even know each other's names until their third encounter.

During one of his visits, Michael brings a book he is reading for a class and Hanna asks him to read it to her and soon begins a reading montage and thus we have an explanation for the title.

The affair only lasts a summer because there is too much angst as one would expect with a 30-something woman and an underage boy. They don't cross paths until several years later when Michael is attending university as a law student. In one of his classes, the students' assignment is to sit in on a trial for Nazi war crimes and he is shocked when he discovers Hanna is a former Nazi guard being tried. She admits to something that will put her away for a long time, but Michael (and the audience) know that this isn't true, but Michael feels helpless and is too scared to talk to her.

Fiennes plays the grown-up Michael who can't free Hanna from his mind and records himself reading books and sends stacks of tapes to her while she is in prison for twenty years. He is the only person in her life and hearing those stories is the only bright spot of her days.

While I do think this being Winslet's sixth (SIXTH people; the woman is only 34) and her playing an ex-Nazi (the Oscar eats up anything Holocaust related) helped her win the Oscar, I do think she gave a strong performance. She felt like a real person who did terrible things in her life, but I also felt sympathetic towards her too.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Confessions of a film viewer

When it comes to watching movies in the theater, I am very particular about what I watch. I don't shell out nine fifty for just any movie; I want to make sure it's one I'll like. So I thought I would share with you my secrets of determining what makes a film worthwhile to watch in the cinema (and, really, it's not that difficult).

There's really only two criteria I look out for:

1. The trailer/previews and commercials: The two and a half minute trailer for a film can be a deal maker - or breaker! - for me. Does it draw me in and make me intrigued to see it? If it's for a comedy and it makes me laugh, then that's a good sign. If it's not for a comedy and I laugh, then that's probably not a good sign! Some movies you can tell they're going to be garbage from their previews. (The Bounty Hunter is a great example; it looks like pure sh*t). Oh, and here's a little tip if you already didn't know: whenever they have "real people" talking about how great a movie was and how "you should take your whole family to see it!" or "I would see it again!" then that's an indicator that a movie is a stinker and they could only get praise from the general public because the film got slammed by the critics...

2. Rotten Tomatoes - RT is a great way to determine what the majority of critics think about a certain film. Sometimes reading just a couple of reviews doesn't really help because I've loved some movies that a couple critics hated and vice versa. With RT you get a cornucopia of film critics' reviews which they compile together and come up with a percent on how "fresh" or "rotten" it is. If a film is on the fresh side, I will consider seeing it (if it's something I find interesting); if it's REALLY low on the rotten side, there's no way in hell I'll see it and if it's in the middle, I'll make my best judgement.

So there you go! That's my secret!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Simply Irresistible

I decided to let my cat, Milo, decide on which movie I should watch and review next and he chose this one! Funny, I would have thought he would have preferred Finding Nemo! (I don't own The Adventures of Milo and Otis, so that wasn't an option).Chocolat
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Cast: Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Lena Olin, Carrie-Anne Moss, Alfred Molina
Released: 12/22/00
Viewed in theaters: 3/18/01

Oscar nominations:
Best Picture (lost to Gladiator)
Best Actress - Juliette Binoche (lost to Julia Roberts for Erin Brockavich)
Best Supporting Actress - Judi Dench (lost to Marcia Gay Harden for Pollack)
Best Adapted Screenplay - Robert Nelson Jacobs (lost to Stephen Gaghan for Traffic)
Best Score - Rachel Portman (lost to Tan Dun for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon)
The array of sweets and chocolates in this film are as various as the actors and actresses from France, England, Sweden, and (North) America who make up the characters living in a quaint town in France in the late 1950s. Vianne (Binoche) is a single mother who wanders from town to town with her young daughter, Anouk. When they settle in this particularly strict Catholic village, they aren't exactly welcomed by the Mayor (Molina), especially when Vianne opens a chocolate shop during Lent and doesn't attend church.

Despite the whispering behind her back, she manages to win over (most) of the villagers with her homemade chocolate concoctions that have a tendency to bring out the passionate side in those who have otherwise lost their spark. Aside from being a chocolatier, Vianne also becomes somewhat of the town's psychologist, assisting people with their problems whether it's trying to reignite a fizzled-out marriage, help an old lady (Dench) see her grandson because his mother (Moss) won't allow it, or use her home above her shop as a refuge for the woman (Olin) who's being abused by her husband.

You can't beat a free therapy session...with chocolate!

The Mayor becomes even more agitated when a group of river drifters, led by the laid-back, earthy Roux (Depp) make camp on the river in his town and tells the villagers that even though they can't kick them out, they can show them they're not welcome. To spite him, Vianne becomes friends with Roux and convinces her friends to accept him and the others he came with as well. Anouk is convinced they are pirates, Roux being the captain. Hmm...foreshadowing? Wait a minute...a pirate visiting a place where chocolate is made...sounds like two future Johnny Depp movies!

Don't even try watching this movie on an empty stomach because it will make you crave chocolate; I really wanted to try that hot chocolate with chili pepper. While the film isn't exactly the most believable (only two women making all those elaborate and intricate chocolates and everyone speaking English in a French town), it is a charming film that is more fairy tale than it is reality.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Friday, March 12, 2010

Best Picture Upset Poll

A few months ago, at a webzine, a poll was conducted asking people to vote for what they think was the biggest Best Picture upset in history. Here were the choices they offered along with my commentary:

1. How Green Was My Valley wins the Oscar over Citizen Kane, 1942.

2. Rocky wins over Taxi Driver, 1976

3. Annie Hall wins over Star Wars, 1977

4. Dances with Wolves wins over Goodfellas, 1990

5. Shakespeare in Love wins over Saving Private Ryan, 1998.

6. A Beautiful Mind wins over The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, 2001

7. Crash wins over Brokeback Mountain, 2005

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Fan of Big Fan

Big Fan
Director: Robert D. Siegel
Cast: Patton Oswalt, Kevin Corrigan, Michael Rapaport
Released: 08/29/09

This dark comedy got a very small release so chances are, unless you live in a major city (like New York or Seattle), you may have never heard of it. Now this isn't a movie for everyone, but I really liked it.

Oswalt (best known for The King of Queens and voicing Ratatouille) plays Paul, an almost 40 year old chump who still lives with his nagging mother and works as a parking garage attendant. His only passion in life is being a New York Giants fanatic. Every night he calls in as a regular to a sports radio talk show where he reads from a script about the previous game he wrote down while at work.

One evening he and his friend spot Quantrell Bishop, the best and most popular Giants player out with his friends and they follow him into Manhattan to a club where they get up the nerve to buy him a drink and approach him. They let it slip they've been following him and Paul gets the crap beaten out of him and lands in a hospital with some pretty nasty bruises and fractures.

His brother, who sues big companies for a living, tells him he should sue Bishop and Paul's mother and sister agrees, but whenever somebody tries to get information about what happened, Paul tells them he doesn't remember. Since the best player on the team has been suspended "until further notice", the Giants are losing games and Paul doesn't want to implicate Bishop where he could serve a few years in jail for what he did.

I don't want to give away anything else, but if you like dark comedies, this is definitely worth checking out.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Post-Oscar Thoughts

Here's a few Oscar fun facts about last year's and this year's acting winners for you to mull over:
Last year all the winners had been previously nominated at least once before and this year three out of the four winners won on their first nomination.
Last year three non-Americans and an American won and this year three Americans and a non-American won.
I've seen three out of the four winning performances from last year ("The Reader...I haven't seen The Reader". LOL, that song and dance Hugh Jackman did last year still makes me chortle) and I've seen three out of the four winning performances from this year.
The median age of last year's winner was 36 and the median age of this year's winners is 50.
Yep, that's all I got.
Now go amaze your friends with these fun facts!

I predicted ALL of the six main categories (plus Animated Picture) right, a feat I have never done before. Does this mean I'm just that good or has the show become ridiculously predictable? I'm going with the latter.

The show had a few highlights and laughs, but mostly I thought it was pretty awful. I mean, when a promo for Modern Family (when they're playing Oscar charades) is funnier than the actual Oscars, then, well, that's saying something. I'll start off with some positives:

-While I liked Hugh Jackman as host lat year (well, duh), Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin did have a few funny lines and bits. I liked their Inglorious Basterd joke ("There's the Inglorious Basterds; and over there are the people who made Inglorious Basterds) and the Paranormal Activity spoof was funny.

-I know it was stupid, but I did laugh when Ben Stiller came out dressed a Na'vi native and started "speaking" in Na'vinese (or whatever they call it).

-While I'm ambivalent about her win, I did love Sandra Bullock's speech. Easily the best of the night. It was nice of her to acknowledge the other nominees in her category and hilarious when she called Meryl "such a gooood kisser" and told Carey Mulligan that her "grace, poise, and beauty make [her] sick".

-Yay for Kathryn Bigelow for being the first female to win Best Director. I didn't notice, but someone pointed out the band was playing "I am Woman; Hear Me Roar". :::rolls eyes:::

-Jeff Bridge's speech made me laugh every time he said "man". Made me think of "The Dude" from The Big Lebowski.

-Loved the "interviews" they did with the characters of the films nominated for Best Animation. Up was the best with Dug sniffing at the cameras. I also loved it whenever they showed Ed Asner in the audience applauding for the film; he reminded me of his cartoon alter ego. I love Up!

-I did like the introductions of the five leading actors and actresses being presented by one of their co-stars or close friend, but I wish they had done that with the supporting category too. Because you KNOW Ben Affleck would have done Matt Damon's introduction. I was scratching my head when Forrest Whitaker did Sandra Bullock's introduction; I had no idea he directed Hope Floats. I think they should have gotten Keanu Reeves for the Speed connection. I loved that Tim Robbins spoke for Morgan Freeman because of Shawshank Redemption .

Okay, now for the things I didn't like:

-I love Neil Patrick Harris as much as the next person, but the opening sing and dance number with him was dumb and not needed.

-I hated that they had all the lead acting nominees on was just weird and we already know who's nominated!

-That horror montage was completely stupid and unnecessary. First of all, unless you are a teen girl, nobody cares about Kristen "I can't stand up straight" Stewart and Taylor "I can't act" Launter being at the Oscars. And I'm guessing Twilight was in the montage because of who presented it, but that's not a horror movie (well, on second thought...). It's a crappy teen romance.

-I'm not liking the Academy inviting somebody to sing over the death montage because it's distracting and the moment should be about the people who died and not focused on the artist. I prefer it when they played the schmaltzy instrumental music. Surprised they left out Farrah Fawcett and Bea Arthur but I'm guessing that's because they were TV stars.

-And speaking of tributes, I'm surprised John Hughes got his own special tribute for a couple reasons: 1) NOBODY (unless they're Stanley Kubrick or Katharine Hepburn apparently) has ever gotten their own special Oscar tribute after they died...they're put into the death montage (unless the Academy "forgets" them :::rolls eyes:::) and also his movies, while entertaining, were never really on Oscar radar. I mean, I could understand if it had been somebody like Clint Eastwood or Martin Scorses because they're Academy vets, but John Hughes? Eh.... now every director is going to expect a tribute like this when they die, you know they are! I wouldn't have mind a Hughes' movie montage so much, it just got to be a bit overkill when they brought all those actors who had been in his films and showed his family and so on.

-Once the interpretive dancing of the best score nominations came on, I knew that was a good time to take a bathroom break and get a snack. I probably also had time to do the laundry, wash my hair, and bake some cookies and the thing still would have been on. I mean, seriously? Note to Academy: NOBODY CARES!

Best dressed of the night: Penelope Cruz
Worst dressed of the night: Zoe Saldana

Friday, March 5, 2010

2010 Oscar Predictions

The Oscars are this Sunday and I think we all pretty much know who the main winners will be and thus will result in a boring and non-exciting show, but I will go ahead with my Oscar predictions anyway.

Best Supporting Actor:
Matt Damon, Invictus
Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz, Inglorious Basterds

If you gave me this list of nominees a year ago and asked me to predict who would win, I would guess Plummer as this is the category where they usually give it to the veteran actor and usually when someone is over sixty in this category, then they usually win (see Arkin, Alan; Caine, Micahel; Freeman, Morgan; Broadbent, Jim; Ameche, Don; Coburn, James; okay, well you get the idea). Of course we all know Waltz will win. His is the only performance I've seen in this category, so I can't compare it to the others. This will be the third consecutive win for an actor playing a villain in this category and compared to Anton Chigurh and the Joker, Waltz's role as a Nazi didn't really scare or mesmerize me like Bardem and Ledger did with their roles. I did like Inglorious Basterds (for the most part), so I'm happy it's getting an acting award and it's pretty unprecedented when the one actor in a category that has the least name recognition wins an Oscar.

Best Supporting Actress:
Penelope Cruz, Nine
Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Mo'Nique, Precious

I'll admit that I have not seen Precious. There were a few times when I thought about going to see it, but I have to be in the right frame of mind to see a movie like that. It's like trying to schedule the best two hours of your life to feel depressed and exhausted and, eh, that's probably why I keep putting it off. I hear Mo'Nique, the obvious winner of the Oscar (the Academy eats up roles like that), is pretty phenomenal in it, so I will watch it one of these days on DVD... eventually. Gotta love that a comedienne is winning an Oscar for a dramatic role, but will a dramatic actor ever win an Oscar for a comedic role? Probably not.

Best Actor:
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
George Clooney, Up in the Air
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

Bridges has this already locked up and it will be a deserved win and the Academy will want to reward him, this being his fifth nomination. However, if I'm being honest, I actually preferred Clooney over Bridges. Of course, it could be because I liked Up in the Air better than Crazy Heart or, on a shallow note, Clooney is nicer to look at than Bridge's aging, overweigh, ungroomed country crooner who spends the majority of the movie drunk and/or passed out. Not a good look on anyone. Perhaps Clooney would have had a fighting chance if he hadn't already (undeservedly) won for Syriana four years ago, but we all know that was more for his work on Good Night and Good Luck.

Best Actress:
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Helen Mirren, The Last Station
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
Meryl Streep, Julie and Julia

This is a race between Bullock and Streep and those are the only two performances from this category that I've seen. This will be the most exciting moment of the night for me because I could see the vote going either way, so at least there might be some notion of suspense. For Bullock, winning the Golden Globe and SAG is definitely in her favor, she's been promoting the hell out of her Oscar nod (she may tell the press she thinks Meryl will win, but c'mon Sandy, you're just being modest), and she appears to be very well liked. Not that being nice should make you automatically win an Oscar (look at Sean Penn and Russell Crowe, haha!), but it probably helps. Also, The Blind Side was nominated for Best Picture and Julie and Julia wasn't. For Streep, she also won a Golden Globe and you KNOW the Academy are itching to give her that third Oscar and I really wish they would just give it to her already so they can stop nominating for every freaking movie. I mean, I love Meryl, but enough is enough, you know? I also think that if she had won last year forDoubt, she wouldn't even be nominated this year. JUST GIVE HER THAT DAMN OSCAR ALREADY!!! :::takes a deep breath::: If there's anything not in favor of Streep, it's that Bullock seems to be unstoppable this year and while everyone says it's going to be a tight race, they're giving her the edge. The one thing going against Bullock is that while that performance may be HER best, compare it to other Best Actress Oscar winners (Charlize Theron or Hilary Swank) and it will probably be one of the weakest Best Actress performance if she wins. Actually, it reminded me a lot of Julia Roberts' role in Erin Brockavich, except that EB was a better movie. I mean, honestly, I didn't think either performance was SUPER OSCARS WORTHY or anything. Golden Globe worthy? Yeah, sure, that's fine. Some people are predicting Mulligan or Sidibe will upset, but there is no way in hell that will happen. That would be the biggest upset in Oscar history. I think Bullock will win, but I'm kinda hoping for Streep just so she can stop getting nominated all the time. (Watch her win and still get nominated next year!)

Best Director:
James Cameron, Avatar
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Quentin Tarantino, Inglorious Basterds
Lee Daniels, Precious
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air

This category is very diverse, featuring the fourth woman ever to be nominated and the second black director ever to be nominated. Bigelow will make history on March 7th by becoming the first woman to win an Oscar for Best Director. She already won the DGA and whoever wins that is pretty much guaranteed the Oscar. Case closed.

Best Picture:
The Hurt Locker
Inglorious Basterds
Up in the Air
I've seen Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Inglorious Basterds, and Up in the Air and you already know why I haven't seenPrecious yet. It appears The Hurt Locker is most poised to take the award and while I liked it, it doesn't exactly scream Academy-Award winning movie to me. Perhaps it's because it's such a small movie. I read that if it wins, it will be the lowest-budget movie ever to win the Best Picture Oscar. But on the other spectrum, and close on its heels, is Avatar the most expensive movie ever made and the highest grossing movie ever (though Titanic will always hold that honor in my heart!) I liked Avatar, but I hope it doesn't win the Oscar because there will come a time when this movie looks extremely outdated. Trust me, that day will come. Maybe not for awhile, but it will. To me, a movie that wins the Oscar should be timeless, and more importantly should focus on the MOVIE and not the special effects. I wouldn't mind seeing Inglorious Basterds win, but it won't because Hollywood takes their Holocaust movies seriously. I really liked Up in the Air and would probably vote for it if I were an Academy member, but it has appeared to lose momentum, however there's always the chance -

Oh, wait, what did you say? I didn't hear you. Oh...there's TEN Best Picture nominations this year? Oh, damn, I was hoping you would forget. You know, I really wish I knew who the "one time Best Supporting Actress nomination" was who shared her ballot with Entertainment Weekly because I totally agree with her about it being "one of the most idiotic things the Academy's ever come up with." Hee! I don't know who she is, but I love her for that! And I totally agree! I bet you that if The Dark Knight had been nominated last year we wouldn't be in this predicament. So the other movies are The Blind Side, District 9, A Serious Man, An Education, and my favorite of these five and will win the Oscar for Best Animated Movie, Up.