Friday, June 29, 2007

Oscar Predictions: Summer Edition

It's that time again. Time for me to geek out about the still-more-than-six-months-away Oscar nominations. I think we can safely say that none of the films that will end up on the Academy's short list have premiered yet. So we're still flying relatively blind. But as the trailers have started rolling in, along with the advance word from festivals, the adjustment of release dates, and the ever-ephemeral buzz, the picture has gotten marginally clearer.

BEST PICTURE

  1. Atonement (Focus)
  2. Reservation Road (Focus)
  3. Michael Clayton (Warner Bros.)
  4. No Country For Old Men (Miramax)
  5. Charlie Wilson's War (Universal)

Also: Lions For Lambs (United Artists); In The Valley Of Elah (Warner Independent); There Will Be Blood (Paramount Vantage); The Kite Runner (Paramount Vantage); Sweeney Todd (Paramount); The Golden Age (Universal); Rendition (New Line); Lust, Caution (Focus); American Gangster (Universal); Love In The Time Of Cholera (New Line).

Atonement's no slam dunk, and maybe I'm overrating its chances because of the appeal it holds for me personally, but trailer gave an English Patient vibe that I could see Oscar voters going for. If it's good. It's probably unlikely that Focus Features will net two Best Picture nods, but I'm not yet ready to pick just one of their two entries. Michael Clayton could have genre problems as a legal thriller, but there just appears to be more meat on its bones than most legal thrillers. No Country For Old Men could put the Coen brothers back in the Best Picture race for the first time since Fargo, if the Cannes buzz bears out stateside. I'm hoping either this or PT Anderson's There Will Be Blood serves as the token auteur nominee.

Finally, my feeling is that the trio of politically-conscious Iraq/Afghanistan-themed will battle it out for one "slot." Not that the Academy will consciously restrict themselves, but they'll be so constantly compared to each other that it's inevitable one will emerge as the darling to the detriment of the other two. Right now, I'm going with Charlie Wilson's War, mostly because Lions For Lambs looks too talky and In The Valley Of Elah...is directed by Paul Haggis. And I just can't.


BEST ACTOR

  1. Joaquin Phoenix -- Reservation Road
  2. Daniel Day-Lewis -- There Will Be Blood
  3. John Cusack -- Grace Is Gone
  4. Denzel Washington -- American Gangster
  5. James McAvoy -- Atonement

Also: Johnny Depp (Sweeney Todd); Benicio Del Toro (Things We Lost in the Fire); Tom Hanks (Charlie Wilson's War); Khalid Abdalla (The Kite Runner); Phillip Seymour Hoffman (The Savages); George Clooney (Michael Clayton); Tommy Lee Jones (In the Valley of Elah).

Phoenix continues to look great, on paper at least. Cusack doesn't seem to be getting predicted anywhere else, which makes me wonder whether I've missed a pocket of poisonous buzz for his film. I ultimately think his role as a grieving widower on a road trip is just the kind of hokum he needs to nab his first Oscar nomination. Denzel enters the predictions on the back of the American Gangster trailer, which appears to give him a great anti-hero showcase. McAvoy, again, I worry that I'm prediction with my heart rather than my head, but his career certainly does seem to be reaching the point where he'd get a nomination, does it not?


BEST ACTRESS

  1. Marion Cotillard -- La Vie En Rose
  2. Julie Christie -- Away From Her
  3. Kiera Knightley -- Atonement
  4. Cate Blanchett -- The Golden Age
  5. Angelina Jolie -- A Mighty Heart

Also: Jennifer Connelly (Reservation Road); Halle Berry (Things We Lost In The Fire); Laura Linney (The Savages); Jodie Foster (The Brave One); Nicole Kidman (Margot At The Wedding); Reese Witherspoon (Rendition); Keri Russell (Waitress).

This is the only category where we know at least somewhat what's going on. Cotillard and Christie have received rapturous reviews, and with Best Actress historically being an easier category to crack for performances from the first half of the year (mostly because the field for quality leading roles for women is relatively thin), they seem to be positioned well. Jolie's reviews haven't been as strong, but if she makes it, it won't be based on the critics anyway. If this ends up being a weak year, I can definitely see her sticking around. I really didn't want to pick Blanchett because she's such a trendy choice, but the Golden Age trailer has me sold.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

  1. Javier Bardem -- No Country For Old Men
  2. Tom Wilkinson -- Michael Clayton
  3. Clive Owen -- The Golden Age
  4. Mark Ruffalo -- Reservation Road
  5. Philip Bosco -- The Savages

Also: Steve Zahn (Rescue Dawn); Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Charlie Wilson's War); Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood); Samuel L. Jackson (Resurrecting The Champ); Alan Rickman (Sweeney Todd).

The raves for Bardem's Old Men performance have been orgasmic, but given the fact that most of those raves came from Cannes (whose tastes often differ greatly from the Oscars) I'm not 100% confident. Still, he's the only one we've got solid word on. The other four just seem like good fits.


BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

  1. Jennifer Jason Leigh -- Margot At The Wedding
  2. Romola Garai -- Atonement
  3. Meryl Streep -- Lions For Lambs
  4. Helena Bonham Carter -- Sweeney Todd
  5. Susan Sarandon -- In The Valley Of Elah

Also: Cate Blanchett (I'm Not There); Samantha Morton (The Golden Age); Saoirse Ronan (Atonement); Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton); Abbie Cornish (The Golden Age); Sigourney Weaver (The TV Set); Mira Sorvino (Reservation Road).

The Margot at the Wedding trailer could have doubled as an announcement that Jennifer Jason Leigh has entered the race. She looks fantastic, and more importantly, she looks like she's going to be the standout performer of her film. I still remain very high on Garai's chances, though the presence of Saorise Ronan as not only intra-film competition but intra-role competition makes me nervous. Streep's an educated guess based on the fact that Oscar can't get enough of her. That used to be true of Sarandon, too, and you figure she's got to get nominated again sometime.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Trailer Trash: Now We're Talking

Hey, so have you heard this year's crop of summer movies has been underwhelming, to the point of disastrous? Because I'm not sure if that notion has been repeated in every nook and cranny of the media. The contrarian in me would like to object, but I can't. It's been a really, really dull summer. And while the fall season might not exactly be just around the corner, it is close enough that we're starting to get a peek at the trailers for movies that actually look like they'll be worth a damn. And you know how much I enjoy talking about trailers.



The best of this batch is the clip for the legal thriller Michael Clayton. This is screenwriter Tony Gilroy's directorial debut, and all I had heard about it was that it was a legal drama starring George Clooney. It sounded pretty mundane on the surface, but I'd heard good things. After seeing the trailer, I can see why. From the very first image of George Clooney, in a suit, running frantically up a wooded hill, it's got my attention. At the very least it works remarkably well as a trailer, filled with folks like Clooney and Tilda Swinton barking out exposition that doubles as dialogue. It manages to create the illusion of urgency ("Holy shit, I gotta see how this ends up!") without giving the whole movie away. I am now of the mind that every movie trailer needs Sydney Pollack telling the protagonist something that turns their world upside down. And Tom Wilkinson looks like he's got a doozy of a supporting role, so maybe that Oscar prediction I made in May wasn't quite so crazy.





The clip for Margot at the Wedding -- Noah Baumbach's follow-up to The Squid and the Whale -- looks murky, and I'm not just talking about the gloomy visual design. I can't seem to get a handle on Nicole Kidman as the lead in a talky, quirky Baumbach movie. It's not that I don't think she has the chops, she totally does, but this seems so outside her comfort zone. And who knows, that could end up invigorating her, busting her out of that "breathless wilting rose" phase she's been going through. It's tough to tell from this clip. Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jack Black steal the show to be honest. Again, maybe JJL will prove my predictions clairvoyant and make her big (and overdue) Oscar breakthrough here. I'm holding on "optimistic" for this one, but I'm still up in the air on Kidman. Wait and see, wait and see...



Resurrecting the Champ most certainly did not sound like a movie I would want to see. Josh Hartnett discovers that crazy-talking homeless Samuel L. Jackson is a legendary boxing champion? Thus learning lessons from the Champ that he can apply to his own life and family? Yeah, pass. And yet, maybe I'm a sucker, but the trailer makes it look like something...else. Something possibly not doomed to sucking. Something not swimming in treacle. They've hauled out the "Academy Award nominee" tag for Jackson's credit, so this could make an awards push if it's good enough. If it's not, the August release date won't be of much help.



Into the Wild is the first time Sean Penn's directed a film since 2002's The Pledge. Penn's films have been good, if aggressively tragic and grim (imagine that), but this looks different. Emile Hirsch plays a kid who decided to set off into nature on a series of solo Outward Bound-ish adventures. My tolerance for the kind of "leave the workaday world and find yourself" subject matter is going to be very thin, but this is based on a John Krakauer book, and he's a fantastic writer. All the more disappointing if Penn's adaptation falls short, I suppose.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Beyond Actor-dome: Round 1. Some More.

64 men enter. One man leaves.

A few words on the criteria: I'm only taking into account performances from the past ten years (1997 and onward). Film and television performances count. Match-ups will be judged on the following merits: (1) number of performances I've enjoyed (sheer quantity); (2) whose singular best performance is the greatest (quality); (3) if I had an Oscar ballot, how many nominations would the actor have received since '97 (fake Oscars); (4) if both actors have co-starred in a film, who gave the better performance (spotlights stolen); and (5) since watching boys fight is something you can see at the closest downtown bar, this time around we're judging by who would prevail in the most time-tested of competitive activities: The Walkoff (Motherf*cking Walkoff).


Round 1

Billy Crudup vs. Ryan Gosling
Quantity: The last few years has seen Gosling steadily compile roles in which he can either act creepy (Stay; Murder By Numbers) or play against that creepiness (Half Nelson). Crudup...well, I just like him in everything he does. Even when it's pretty crappy otherwise. Yes, World Traveler. Yes, Trust The Man. Advantage: Crudup
Quality: In a pair of performances that likely call for a more in-depth comparison some day, Gosling's work in Half Nelson edges past Crudup in Jesus' Son.
Fake Oscar Nods: Crudup: 3 (Jesus' Son; Almost Famous; Stage Beauty); Gosling: 1 (Half Nelson)
Spotlights Stolen: They've never shared the screen.
Motherf*cking Walkoff: Close call. Ryan's a cutie, and the type that spends so much time convincing you that he's not the tailored suit type that when he does in fact suit up, you're even more impressed. On the other hand...it's Billy Crudup. I'm hardly unbiased in this area. Advantage: Crudup
Winner: Billy Crudup 3-1


Johnny Depp vs. Al Pacino
Quantity: Pacino's a world-class actor and has given bunches of great performances over the years, but not enough of them were in the past ten years for him to beat Depp, whose performances have become one can't-miss extravaganza after another. Advantage: Depp
Quality: Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow bests Pacino's tone-perfect work in Insomnia.
Fake Oscar Nods: Depp: 1 (Pirates of the Caribbean); Pacino: 0.
Spotlights Stolen: They were mob buddies on opposite sides of the law in Donnie Brasco, where Depp's paranoid unspooling was great, but I was more affected by Pacino's sad old dog routine.
Motherf*cking Walkoff: This is not a close call. Depp.
Winner: Johnny Depp 4-1


Paul Bettany vs. Ian McKellen
Quantity: It's hard enough for Paul Bettany to catch up to McKellen's superior body of work without junk like Wimbledon and Firewall clogging up his résumé. Ian's got a bit of padding on his CV with three Lord of the Rings films and three X-Men (X3 was junk, but McKellen wasn't the problem), but it's not like he's ever been given to coasting. Advantage: McKellen
Quality: Bettany's given several fine performances, but his work in the difficult Dogville is likely his most accomplished. Not enough to best McKellen's James Whale in Gods and Monsters, which will be tough for anyone to beat. Advantage: McKellen
Fake Oscar Nods: McKellen: 2 (Gods and Monsters; Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings); Bettany: 1 (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World).
Spotlights Stolen: They both appeared in the big-budget fizzle The DaVinci Code. And while McKellen didn't give so much a great performance as serve as the world's most lilting exposition machine, he still was able to show more than Bettany, who spend the better part of two hours flogging himself and skulking around under a hood. Advantage: McKellen
Motherf*cking Walkoff: Both men are handsome, lean, and English. But McKellen's the only one we can see being fierce, in the Tyra sense of the word.
Winner: Ian Mckellen 5-0


Matt Damon vs. William H. Macy
Quantity: One of the ways Matt Damon has snuck back up on us to become one of his generations most dependable leading men has been my being very good in a LOT of movies. Like, a lot a lot. Including his cameo in Eurotrip and guest starring on Will & Grace. William H. Macy's no recluse, but he's only about halfway to Damon's credits.
Quality: While Damon's remarkable consistency still hasn't produced that one iconic performance that has stood tall above all others, I still think his turn in The Departed slightly outpaces Macy in Pleasantville. Advantage: Damon
Fake Oscar Nods: Damon: 1 (The Departed); Macy: 0.
Spotlights Stolen: They've never shared the screen.
Motherf*cking Walkoff: If you've seen the Ocean's Eleven films, you know how well Damon can pull off the cool casual look.
Winner: Matt Damon 4-0


Steve Carell vs. Clive Owen
Quantity: A closer race than you'd think, considering Carell's movie career didn't really take off until The 40-Year-Old Virgin two years ago. But he was also one of the funniest parts of Anchorman, and of course his award-worthy work in Little Miss Sunshine, and his TV work certainly counts in his favor. But Clive Owen manages to juuust edge him out by virtue of his latest exercise in shaming the rest of the acting community, Children of Men. Advantage: Owen
Quality: Carell's best work can still be seen every Thursday on NBC, and while we don't think there are many things we'd rather watch than The Office, Owen's Oscar-nominated turn in Closer still kind of shocks us whenever we see it. Advantage: Owen
Fake Oscar Nods: Carell: 1 (Little Miss Sunshine); Owen: 1 (Closer). Push
Spotlights Stolen: They've never shared the screen.
Motherf*cking Walkoff: Sorry, Steve Carell. Clive Owen could have been James Bond for a reason. Advantage: Owen
Winner: Clive Owen 3-0


Joseph Gordon-Levitt vs. Edward Norton
Quantity: These days, Norton and JGL (we're starting a naming trend -- join us, won't you?) are two of out favorite actors. JGL has rocketed into our good graces after a pair of blistering performances in Mysterious Skin and Brick. Norton was our very favorite actor in the late '90s, but aside from 25th Hour (which remains an underrated gem of a movie and a lead performance), the '00s had been fallow for him, until the last year or so, when he rebounded with The Illusionist and The Painted Veil. Norton takes this in a walk.
Quality: It's hard to overstate the splash JGL makes in Mysterious Skin. It's exhilarating watching a former kid actor make that leap to the next stage of his career all at once. I'd place it higher than a great many of the performances by the actors on this list. Not higher than Edward Norton in Fight Club, though. Not on this blog. Advantage: Norton
Fake Oscar Nods: Norton: 2 (American History X; Fight Club); Gordon-Levitt: 1 (Brick)
Spotlights Stolen: They've never shared the screen.
Motherf*cking Walkoff: We're not saying Edward Norton seems like the type to walk like he's got a stick up his ass, we're just saying that JGL would walk circles around him without even trying. Advantage: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Winner: Edward Norton 3-1


Adrien Brody vs. Jude Law
Quantity: Brody's yet to really capitalize on the Best Actor Oscar win, but you can't expect him to compete against Law's especially prolific output. 2006 may not have been so kind to him (though I haven't yet seen Breaking and Entering, where I hear he's quite good), but he still is as strong in this category as anyone in the bracket. Advantage: Law
Quality: I'll stand by the statement that Law has never been better than he was in I Heart Huckabees, though I'll understand if you feel I'm biased. As good as Brody's work in The Pianist is, Law bests it. Advantage: Law
Fake Oscar Nods: Law: 3 (I Heart Huckabees; A.I.: Artificial Intelligence; The Talented Mr. Ripley); Brody: 1 (The Pianist)
Spotlights Stolen: They've never shared the screen.
Motherf*cking Walkoff: Clash of the titans, yo. Both fill out one heck of a tuxedo. Law's more conventionally handsome while Brody's a bit gawky, but it's not like gawky is entirely unheard of on a runway. A year ago, Law would have taken this, but he's showed up on too many red carpets looking unwashed this year. Advantage: Brody
Winner: Jude Law 3-1


Alec Baldwin vs. Gene Hackman
Quantity: We've said this before, but we were under the mistaken impression that we disliked Alec Baldwin. For a very long time. Even when he was pretty hilarious in State and Main, we figured it was an anomaly. It wasn't until he showed up on Nip/Tuck and managed to chew scenery and soft-play some key emotional scenes (that's what can happen when you play a botanist whose one-time gay admirer -- whose sex-change operation you then performed before you married "her" -- ran off with your only son and then started having sex with him as a teenager; God, Nip/Tuck could be awesome) that we realized he was effing awesome. His array of supporting performances (The Cooler; The Aviator; 30 Rock) easily outpace the suddenly-not-such-a-workaholic Hackman, and in fact, outpaces him so much that we're giving him credit and a half. Because it's our list, that's why. Advantage: Baldwin +1.5
Quality: Baldwin's Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock is pitted against Hackman's titular role in The Royal Tenenbaums, and much as we love Alec, Royal rules. Advantage: Hackman
Fake Oscar Nods: Hackman: 1 (The Royal Tenenbaums); Baldwin: 0
Spotlights Stolen: If you recall, Baldwin took part in The Royal Tenenbaums as well, though we never saw his face. But his voiceover work was good enough to merit inclusion here. Again, not enough to top Royal, and since a real live performance beating a voice-over performance isn't much of a win, we're only giving Hackman half credit here. Because it's our list, that's why. Advantage: Hackman +.5
Motherf*cking Walkoff: There's more than a bit of the preener in Baldwin, and we think that gives him an edge. Advantage: Baldwin
Winner: So Alec gets +1.5 for quantity, and +1 for walkoff = 2.5; Hackman gets +1 for quality, +.5 for shared, and +1 for fake Oscars = 2.5; HOLY CRAP IT'S A TIE. Please don't hold it against Alec Baldwin that we egregiously re-jiggered the point system in his favor this time. Vote wisely and once.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Tales From Digital Cable

The beauty of the summer TV season, of course, is that with all your usual shows on hiatus, you're free to seek out newer, weirder fare. And, no, that doesn't just mean weekend marathons of Flavor of Love: Charm School and...uh...Hidden Palms. Hey, I have to watch that one.

Anyway, here are two shows that have really captured my interest this week. They're from deep into the cable lineup, so I feel like I'm bringing news down from the mountaintop. First of all, find Confessions of a Matchmaker on A&E. I don't usually watch dating shows, and I only tuned in for this one because it's set right here in Buffalo. To my complete surprise, not only was it enjoyable for the local references (and ridiculous accents!), but it was actually a seriously enjoyable matchmaking show. The matchmaker lady -- Patti Novak, and if you don't think that name alone is enough to set the Buffalo accent into the stratosphere, you need to hear it -- is smart and tough-talking without being shticky or mean about it. Watch the first episode, stay until you hear the phrase "you are way gay!" and then tell me what you think.

Meanwhile, I was introduced to the divine pleasures of Ninja Warrior over the weekend. I feel like I'm probably catching on to this show really late, but I'd honestly never heard of this show before. Probably because it's on a video gaming channel ("G4"? That's a name of a TV channel now?) somewhere on the lineup between Telemundo 2 and the Miniature Golf Channel. It's been on for, like, ten years on Japanese TV, no idea how long it's been on obscure American cable, but in case you're like me and have never seen it: it's essentially a harder, more badass version of American Gladiators. 100 people -- athletes, businessmen, an oddly high number of stand-up comedians -- compete through four stages of impossibly difficult tasks involving balance, strength, and agility. It's superfuckinghard, and hardly anyone makes it past even stage one. And because it's Japanese, you don't necessarily get a winner, which is awesome. But the best -- BEST -- thing is the announcers, subtitled in English. Not sure if it's the translation or what, but the weirdest things come out of their mouths. The Japanese apparently have a whole thing about lactic acid in your muscles. It's awesome.


Anyway, Confessions of a Matchmaker is on A&E Saturdays at 10 PM. Ninja Warrior is on, like, all the time on G4, because they don't have any other programming besides Star Trek reruns. Watch them both.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Beyond Actor-dome: Round 1 continues...

64 men enter. One man leaves.
(I had to revert to the Mad Max-themed title so that tagline would work.)

A few words on the criteria: I'm only taking into account performances from the past ten years (1997 and onward). Film and television performances count. Match-ups will be judged on the following merits: (1) number of performances I've enjoyed (sheer quantity); (2) whose singular best performance is the greatest (quality); (3) if I had an Oscar ballot, how many nominations would the actor have received since '97 (fake Oscars); (4) if both actors have co-starred in a film, who gave the better performance (spotlights stolen); and (5) since watching boys fight is something you can see at the closest downtown bar, this time around we're judging by who would prevail in the most time-tested of competitive activities: The Walkoff (Motherf*cking Walkoff).

Round 1 - part 1

Round 1 (cont'd)

Don Cheadle vs. Phillip Seymour Hoffman
Quantity: Much as we appreciate his prodigious talents, Hoffman leaves us irritated (Boogie Nights; Red Dragon) almost as much as he impresses us (State and Main; Magnolia). Still, he's starred in roughly six thousand films in the past ten years, which helps edge him past the Soderbergh-laden credits (Out of Sight, Traffic, Ocean's Eleven) on Cheadle's side of the ledger. Advantage: Hoffman
Quality: Hoffman's Oscar-winning Capote performance really is a crowning achievement, and one that probably outpaces Cheadle's career-topping work in Hotel Rwanda. Advantage: Hoffman
Fake Oscar Nods: Hoffman: 1 (Capote); Cheadle: 0
Spotlights Stolen: They both starred in P.T. Anderson's Boogie Nights. Cheadle was the kind-of inconsequential urban cowboy Buck, while Hoffman was the disgusting gay sad-sack Scotty. God, do we ever hate Scotty. Advantage: Cheadle
Motherf*cking Walkoff: On the surface, the disheveled red carpet appearances Hoffman gave two award seasons ago would seem to disqualify him. But his filmography displays some "work it, girl" tendencies that help us believe Phil could rock a strut. Cheadle, however, is no slouch, even though he never has much chance to display it onscreen. Still, we have faith in him. Advantage: Cheadle
Winner: Phillip Seymour Hoffman 3-2


Joaquin Phoenix vs. Peter Sarsgaard
Quantity: Phoenix is a good actor, and in his best work (Walk the Line; Signs), he's quite endearing, but he's just as often stuck in junky films where he's just sort of stuck looking stoic (thanks much, The Village). Sarsgaard, meanwhile, has shown a staggering ability to deliver a shining beacon of a supporting performance in films from Boys Don't Cry to Garden State to Jarhead.
Quality: Phoenix is part of a gorgeous and well-acted duet in Walk the Line and probably deserved more credit for that movie than he got. Sarsgaard kicked all sorts of righteous ass in Shattered Glass, and that's the movie I'll watch multiple times. Advantage: Sarsgaard
Fake Oscar Nods: Sarsgaard: 2 (Jarhead; Shattered Glass); Phoenix: 0
Spotlights Stolen: They've never shared the screen.
Motherf*cking Walkoff: Peter's quite the handsome man, but Joaquin, in my opinion, would make a striking male model. Hairlip or no.
Winner: Peter Sarsgaard 3-1


Patrick Wilson vs. Owen Wilson
Quantity: Just to ease your curiosity, no, Luke Wilson did not make this list, and wouldn't have if it was expanded to 128 actors. Patrick Wilson's career is very young yet, but he's already given some seriously great performances in things like Angels in America and Little Children. Owen Wilson, however, has been in about twenty-five some-odd movies in the past ten years, and even though nobody's getting credit for I Spy, he's still got the edge here. Advantage: Owen Wilson
Quality: We are big fans of Owen's work with Wes Anderson, but his work in The Royal Tenenbaums can't compete with what Patrick does in Angels in America. Advantage: Patrick Wilson
Fake Oscar Nods: Patrick Wilson: 0 (Angels was on HBO, or else Patrick would totally have one); Owen Wilson: 0. Push
Spotlights Stolen: They've never shared the screen.
Motherf*cking Walkoff: Damn, this is tough. For one thing, Patrick Wilson is one of the most aesthetically gifted human beings on the face of the Earth. On the other hand: Owen Wilson played Hansel in Zoolander. And we all know that Hansel is so hot right now. Advantage: Owen Wilson
Winner: Owen Wilson 2-1


Heath Ledger vs. Billy Bob Thornton
Quantity: This is a bit of a conundrum. We like Heath Ledger and have way back when he was doing teen comedies (10 Things I Hate About You) and Mel Gibson movies (The Patriot). We can say we're not all that fond of Billy Bob Thornton, either, but he's beaten us into submission with one fine performance after another (Primary Colors, The Man Who Wasn't There, Intolerable Cruelty). And in the end, he's just got more of them than Heath does. Advantage: Thornton
Quality: While Thornton's work in A Simple Plan is no slouch of a performance by any stretch, we prefer Ledger in Brokeback Mountain.
Fake Oscar Nods: Thornton: 1 (A Simple Plan); Ledger: 1 (Brokeback Mountain). Push
Spotlights Stolen: Both starred in Monsters Ball, and it's not just because the sight of a naked Billy Bob kind of made us go blind for a minute -- it's also because pound-for-pound Heath's damaged son packed more of a wallop -- that we preferred Ledger.
Motherf*cking Walkoff: It's not like Billy Bob's a stranger to dressing up nice, but even when Ledger's not trying (or trying very hard to look like he's not trying), he looks like a million bucks. Advantage: Ledger
Winner: Heath Ledger 3-1


John Cusack vs. Paul Giamatti
Quantity: Pity that we're looking into the window on Cusack's career where he began to fall out of favor. Sure, he was wonderful in Grosse Point Blank and Being John Malkovich, but in the same time frame, Giamatti began his rise from Pig Vomit (Private Parts) to invaluable character actor (The Negotiator) to prize-winning lead actor (American Splendor; Sideways). Advantage: Giamatti
Quality: Cusack's pretty much an archetype to himself in High Fidelity, but Giamatti's Sideways performance bests it.
Fake Oscar Nods: Giamatti: 2 (Sideways; American Splendor); Cusack: 0
Spotlights Stolen: They were both in the unremarkable ode to communism in the arts, Cradle Will Rock. Cusack's okay, but I barely remember Giamatti in it, so okay is good enough in this case. Advantage: Cusack
Motherf*cking Walkoff: Yeah...sorry, Paul. You may not need posture to win critics' awards, but this is something else entirely. Advantage: Cusack
Winner: Paul Giamatti 3-2


Jeff Bridges vs. John Goodman
Quantity: Goodman's occasionally brilliant on screen, but he seems to take up so much time making crappy sitcoms. On the other hand, Bridges works pretty sparingly as well, and his great work is tempered by pap like Arlington Road. In the end, it's a Push
Quality: We'll get to the unimaginable delight that is John Goodman in The Big Lebowski in a second. For now, I'll stake my claim that Jeff Bridges delivers a killer performance in The Door in the Floor and takes the category. Advantage: Bridges
Fake Oscar Nods: Bridges: 2 (The Door in the Floor; The Big Lebowski); Goodman: 1 (The Big Lebowski).
Spotlights Stolen: Ah, Lebowski. You already know our fondness for it. And asking us whether Bridges or Goodman gives the better performance is like asking us to choose between our children. Bridges is brilliant as the ur-slacker, and The Dude becomes such an indelible character but we ask you, when it's the Dude and Walter Sobchak on screen together, which one are you paying attention to? Goodman is unhinged as Walter in all the best ways, and about 75% of the quotable lines come from him, and it's all because of how much John Goodman rules the world in that role.
Motherf*cking Walkoff: We're telling you right now: someone needs to make this happen. John Goodman on the catwalk? Awesome. Still, remember that "What Condition My Condition Was In" sequence in Lebowski? The Dude descending the staircase? That, my friends, is a signature walk. Advantage: Bridges
Winner: Jeff Bridges 3-1


Brian Cox vs. Cillian Murphy
Quantity: For a newbie, Cillian Murphy has made quite the impression, with high-profile roles in low-key thrillers like Red Eye and 28 Days Later. Cox, however, has married a Hackman-esque ability to play a wide variety of roles to a John C. Reilly tendency to pop up everywhere. From The Bourne Identity to Deadwood to Zodiac, you can't escape him. Not that you'd want to. Advantage: Cox
Quality: Cox's sad pederast in L.I.E. versus Murphy's compact yet delightfully hammy Scarecrow in Batman Begins. You can tell Cillian's got something brilliant lurking in the near future, but for now, Cox takes it.
Fake Oscar Nods: Cox: 2 (L.I.E.; 25th Hour/Adaptation); Murphy: 0
Spotlights Stolen: Murphy headlined and Cox co-starred in Wes Craven's Red Eye. It's something of a thankless role for Cox, but Murphy doesn't exactly win this one by default. He delivers a legitimately scary performance in a movie that relies on the performances greatly. Advantage: Murphy
Motherf*cking Walkoff: Patrick "Kitten" Brady, Murphy's character in Breakfast on Pluto, isn't one of our favorite screen drag queens, but he gets the job done enough right here. Advantage: Murphy
Winner: Brian Cox 3-2


Brad Pitt vs. Denzel Washington
Quantity: Just so it's clear, we really do like Denzel Washington. When he's on his game and in a movie that challenges him (Training Day, The Hurricane), he's electric. Hell, he's even been known to enliven an otherwise blah movie (Inside Man), but too often he's asked to star in these middle-of-the-road nothing movies, plus the occasional Tony Scott mess. It doesn't add up to a ton of love here. Pitt's not immune to this either (Seven Years in Tibet; Troy), but he's amassed enough wild performances in interesting films (Snatch; Fight Club) and skillfully-chosen crowd-pleasers (Ocean's Eleven; Mr. and Mrs. Smith) to take the category. Advantage: Pitt
Quality: We love Pitt in Fight Club. He's a riot. But he doesn't prop up an entire film on his shoulders and carry it to much more than the "Our Checkered Racial Past" it could have been, like Denzel did in The Hurricane.
Fake Oscar Nods: Washington: 2 (Training Day; The Hurricane); Pitt: 1 (Fight Club)
Spotlights Stolen: They've never shared the screen.
Motherf*cking Walkoff: Tough call. They can both cast a James Bondian silhouette, and they can both put in that attitude, you can tell. But in modeling, youth is king, and Brad's got nine years on Grandpa Denzel. Advantage: Pitt
Winner: 2-2 HOLY CRAP IT'S S TIE! You knew one was coming. This one's a doozy, I think. Stake your claim, sports fans: are you on Team Brad or Team Denzel? Vote wisely and once, thank you.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Battle Royale: The Actors Tournament

So last summer I embarked upon the bloated indulgence that was the 64-may-enter-one-may-leave Actress Tournament (Frances McDormand has been touring the country at mall openings and local ethnic festivals all year). If you recall, this was my alternative to ripping off the "Top 100 List" idea from other, more accomplished bloggers. 64 actresses faced off in one-on-one matchups based on criteria entirely of my own choosing. Ever since that feature concluded, I wanted to embak upon an actor's equivalent, and now that it's summer, it seems like the perfect time.

So, how does this work? 64 actors in a tournament-style single elimination. I'm only taking into account performances from the past ten years (1997 and onward). Film and television performances count. Match-ups will be judged on the following merits: (1) number of performances I've enjoyed (sheer quantity); (2) whose singular best performance is the greatest (quality); (3) if I had an Oscar ballot, how many nominations would the actor have received since '97 (fake Oscars); (4) if both actors have co-starred in a film, who gave the better performance (spotlights stolen).

The fifth criterion in the Actress Tournament was "Girlfight Factor," which served us well. Of course, where's the fun in watching two dudes fight? We can see that crap on ESPN. No, for these guys, we want to see them working it. So our final criterion is, all apologies to Daniel Vosovic, the Motherf*cking Walkoff. Who'd come out the best walking a runway.

If you were around last summer for the Actresses, I have to tell you the Actors Tournamnet is shaping up to be much more unpredictable -- when I began with the atcresses, I had a pretty good idea who had a shot at winning and who didn't, here I am much more in the dark. Also, the sad fact that there are far more roles in Hollywood for men than for women made the "Spotlights Shared" category pretty dull for the actresses. No so with the actors, so that should shake things up a bit. Anyway, enough stalling:

Round 1 begins:

Christian Bale vs. Ewan McGregor
Quantity: For someone who hovers just under the Hollywood Leading Man stratosphere -- or did up until Batman -- Bale has certainly found his share of meaty leading roles: American Psycho, The Machinist, The Prestige. McGregor, meanwhile, has been one of Hollywood's U.K. men of choice ever since Trainspotting, scoring with Big Fish, Down With Love, and Moulin Rouge! No, we're not counting the Star Wars prequels. Duh. After it's all added up, the scales balance: Push.
Quality: Bale's best work remains 2000's American Psycho, where his portrait of faceless corporate savagery (literally) is still unnerving. McGregor's best work was in Trainspotting, but since that's just outside the eligibility period, we go to his work in Velvet Goldmine, which...see below. Bale takes this.
Fake Oscar Nods: Bale: 1 (American Psycho); MacGregor: 0
Spotlights Stolen: In 1998, they were both fortunate to hop onto Todd Haynes's sublime Velvet Goldmine. Bale plays the awestruck journalist seeking a truth that will only end up busting up his illusions, while McGregor is an Iggy Pop-ish corrupting influence on sweet, pouty Jonathan Rhys-Myers. If not for Toni Collette, Ewan might have walked away with the entire movie, so this one's pretty clearly McGregor's category.
Motherf*cking Walkoff: Good one! Two very good-looking gentlemen here. The difference is this: when dressed up all formal-like, Ewan tends to look like a kid dressing up in big-boy clothes (Down With Love; Moulin Rouge!), while Bale, on the other hand, can sure cut a suave silhouette (American Psycho; Batman Begins). Advantage: Bale
Winner: Christian Bale 3-1


Gael Garcia Bernal vs. Tobey Maguire
Quantity: It's not entirely a fair fight, with Bernal not crossing over into American multiplexes until 2002. In the meantime, Maguire went from supporting teen in adult dramas (The Ice Storm; Wonder Boys) to overshadowed-but-solid lead in classy and warm-hearted pictures (The Cider House Rules; Pleasantville; Seabiscuit) to action hero extraordinaire (Spider-Man 1 and 2).
Quality: Tobey's signature film role is also likely his best, as the gawky and pensive Peter Parker he brought to the Spider-Man movies helped set them apart from other superhero fare. But I prefer the best of Bernal's career: a tricky and stylized performance in Pedro Almodovar's Bad Education.
Fake Oscar Nods: Bernal: 1 (Bad Education); Maguire: 0
Spotlights Stolen: They've never shared the screen.
Motherf*cking Walkoff: Bernal is starting from a disadvantage because at five-foot-six and a half he is a wee little man, and you know how much advantage height can be on a runway. Still, his opponent IS Tobey Maguire. I just can't picture him getting any kind of strut on, Pussy Posse or not. Bernal, on the other hand, can put a little wiggle in that walk, if his drag queening in Bad Education is anything to go by. Advantage: Bernal
Winner: Gael Garcia Bernal 3-1


Tom Wilkinson vs. Elijah Wood
Quantity: Love Tom Wilkinson. Love him. So why doesn't he have very many more credits on his side of the ledger than In The Bedroom and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (and, okay, The Exorcism of Emily Rose). It's partly our fault. We never saw The Full Monty or Separate Lies. Of course, it's also partly on Tom, who doesn't tend to discriminate against choosing throwaway roles in bad movies (The Last Kiss) or powdered-wig type roles where he fades into a background of British (or Dutch) bureaucracy (Stage Beauty; Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Gathering Storm). Wood, on the other hand, has the 3-for-1 advantage of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, it's true. But we liked him in his shy teen roles before that (The Ice Storm; The Faculty). And after the Hobbit feet came off, Wood has really impressed us with fun performances in against-type movies like Sin City and Green Street Hooligans. Advantage: Wood
Quality: This one's easy. Tom Wilkinson in In the Bedroom blows away anything on Wood's (or most actors') C.V.
Fake Oscar Nods: Wilkinson: 1 (In The Bedroom); Wood: 0
Spotlights Stolen: They were both part of the stellar ensemble in the best film of 2004, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Both performed quite well, Wilkinson hilariously matter-of-fact as the memory-erasure doctor, and Wood as an opportunistic little scumbag. Much as we loved Wilkinson, it was Wood's panty-sniffing Patrick that truly won us over.
Motherf*cking Walkoff: So it all comes down to the walkoff -- just as God intended -- and it's a tough call. Wilkinson can work some formal wear, that much is true. But the powdered wigs tend to be pretty retro. On the other hand, the murderous cretin Wood plays in Sin City has the impassive stare and perfect posture any model would kill for. We're as surprised at this result as anyone, but Advantage: Wood
Winner: Elijah Wood 3-2


Russell Crowe vs. Tom Hanks
Quantity: We're gonna be honest: this is not a very appealing matchup. We were pretty much guilted into having them in the top 64, because, in Crowe's case, he keeps giving good performances in increasingly mawkish movies (Cinderella Man; A Beautiful Mind). He's also done great work in some movies we rather enjoyed (The Insider; L.A. Confidential). And also...okay fine, Gladiator. Whatever. We like Hanks a lot better, but since 1996, we've really only liked him in Saving Private Ryan and Catch Me If You Can and a couple others. Crowe gets the edge here.
Quality: Crowe gives a bunch of fun layers to the burly rageaholic cop (hmm, that's interesting in retrospect) in L.A. Confidential. We're sure Hanks's quiet dignity in Saving Private Ryan was the right call, but it's just not as impressive. Advantage: Crowe
Fake Oscar Nods: Crowe: 2 (The Insider; L.A. Confidential); Hanks: 0
Spotlights Stolen: They've never shared the screen.
Motherf*cking Walkoff: Hanks's age works against him here, as does his bland (i.e., not edgy) demeanor, but you're living in a fool's paradise if you think Crowe makes it to the end of a runway with flashbulbs and call phones everyone without a category 5 meltdown. Advantage: Hanks
Winner: Russell Crowe 3-1


John C. Reilly vs. Mark Wahlberg
Quantity: It should come as no surprise to anyone that Reilly -- oft-ubiquitous character actor that he is -- outpaces Wahlberg by quite a bit in this category. Chalk it up to Reilly's close relationship with P.T. Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia) and to the 2002 Best Picture lineup (Chicago, The Hours, Gangs of New York). Wahlberg attached himself to David O. Russell's star (Three Kings; I Heart Huckabees), and I don’t even know whether I liked his turn in The Departed or not, though it luckily wouldn't matter anyway. Advantage: Reilly
Quality: Reilly's unheralded yet hysterical performance in Boogie Nights versus Wahlberg's unheralded yet hysterical performance in I Heart Huckabees. They both tend to steal the show whenever onscreen, but Wahlberg generally does it all by himself, while Reilly works in tandem with...Mark Wahlberg. Diabolical, Marky. Advantage: Wahlberg
Fake Oscar Nods: Wahlberg: 1 (I Heart Huckabees); Reilly: 0
Spotlights Stolen: They've shared the screen twice: in Boogie Nights and The Perfect Storm. The latter film is the easier call, as Wahlberg and Diane Lane are pretty much the class of that cast. As for the former, they make such a good pair, it's tough to say one's better. But in addition to their scenes together, Wahlberg holds up the rest of the movie with a performance that gets funnier every time I see it.
Motherf*cking Walkoff: Okay, everybody who used to model underwear for Calvin Klein take one big step forward. Sorry, Johnny. Advantage: Wahlberg
Winner: Mark Wahlberg 4-1


Jim Broadbent vs. Liam Neeson
Quantity: It would seem there are two types of roles for Jim Broadbent: roles where he nestles comfortably into the ensemble (Vanity Fair; Vera Drake) and roles where be busts out and steals some damn scenes (Moulin Rouge!; Gangs of New York). Neeson, for his part, has moved into a career where he can succeed equally well in lead roles (Kinsey) and supporting (Love, Actually; Batman Begins). In the end, Broadbent's recent HBO work on Longford nudges him ahead..
Quality: Broadbent's over-the-top enthusiasm in Moulin Rouge! is unsubtle in all the ways it needs to be, and places higher than Neeson's work in Kinsey.
Fake Oscar Nods: Broadbent: 2 (Moulin Rouge!; Gangs of New York); Neeson: 0
Spotlights Stolen: They've shared the screen twice, in Gangs of New York and The Chronicles of Narnia. The latter's something of a non-event, with Neeson providing voice-over work and Broadbent the warm, if sparsely-used, adult presence. They're both quite strong in Gangs -- second only to Daniel Day Lewis in the cast -- but Broadbent actually manages to steal just the tiniest bit of Bill the Butcher's thunder, and that takes some doing. Advantage: Broadbent
Motherf*cking Walkoff: Neeson may be getting older, but he's still eight frigging feet tall and built like a Secret Service agent. Advantage: Neeson
Winner: Jim Broadbent 4-1


Chris Cooper vs. Jeffrey Wright
Quantity: They're both among the most reliable and exciting supporting performers in film today. Cooper's star rose quickly with high acclaim for American Beauty, then an Oscar for Adaptation. Recently, he's been a steady presence in films like Capote and Seabiscuit. Wright's flashy debut lead performance in Basquiat gave way to all-star work on HBO (Boycott; Angels in America). Cooper tops out by a slim margin.
Quality: This is a marquee matchup right here: Cooper's John LaRoche in Adaptation versus Wright's Belize (with a side of Mr. Lies) in Angels in America. Both were justly acclaimed. Both were those rare performances that won awards because you couldn't in good conscience give them to anyone else. It comes as no surprise that we prefer the Angels in America performance, but it was a close call. Advantage: Wright
Fake Oscar Nods: Cooper: 1 (Adaptation); Wright: 0
Spotlights Stolen: Both shared the screen in 2005's Syriana. Cooper was solid as a white collar energy bigwig, but Wright was more affecting as a lawyer with his conscience stuck in the middle.
Motherf*cking Walkoff: It's almost not a fair fight. Cooper's a handsome gentleman, but Belize? Girl can work it. Advantage: Wright
Winner: Jeffrey Wright 3-2


Jack Nicholson vs. Sean Penn
Quantity: Fun fact: Nicholson has made six films since 1997. Five of them count in his favor here, including his joyfully vulgar turn in The Departed. Penn, meanwhile, has found some serious success in Mystic River and 21 Grams, but also: I Am Sam, The Interpreter, Hurlyburly. Yeesh. Advantage: Nicholson
Quality: I thought Penn did fantastic work in Mystic River, but I don't think it holds up to Nicholson's role in About Schmidt, which got credit for taking Jack against type, but the performance transcended expectation. How does a Jack Nicholson performance sneak up on you? This one did.
Fake Oscar Nods: Nicholson: 2 (About Schmidt; As Good As It Gets); Penn: 1 (Mystic River)
Spotlights Stolen: They've never shared the screen.
Motherf*cking Walkoff: Sean's certainly got the smile-less face look happening. But Jack's been living a walkoff for the past fifty years. Advantage: Nicholson
Winner: Jack Nicholson 4-0

Coming soon: Stoners! Shlubs! Not one but two Wilsons! Round 1 continues...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Action Heroine Blog-a-thon: Giving It Up For Charly Baltimore

CHECK OUT NATHANIEL'S ACTION HEROINE BLOG-A-THON HERE

So the last time I pitched in for one of Nat's blog-a-thons, I enthused about one of my favorite good-bad movies. This time is no different. Like it is every weekend, somewhere, The Long Kiss Goodnight was on cable this weekend, which gave me the opportunity to revel in its divine schlock once again. The pic below is of recently un-amnesia'd assassin and spy Charly Baltimore right after she eluded her pursuers by strapping on a found pair of figure skates, gliding across a frozen pond with the grace of Katarina Witt, and launching a few dozen rounds into their pursuing automobile.


This was also probably the last time I really enjoyed Geena Davis onscreen -- aside from that wickedly funny Golden Globe acceptance speech a couple years ago -- and I'm not even sure if she's displaying good acting so much as a willingness to just go with the flow. Her husband was directing after all.

And even though this is supposed to focus on the action heroines, I need to give props to one of my very favorite Brian Cox screen appearances. If only for this impeccably-delivered line of dialogue:

"You failed to complete your mission, electing instead to die, of all things, despite clear orders to the contrary. And dead you remained until, without preamble, you re-emerge eight years later and a good deal frumpier."

It's the intonation on "frumpier" that sells it, which means you'll have to watch the movie yourselves to get the full benefit. Or wait until it's on TBS again.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

This Week In The Internet

If you're looking for something fun to read -- or write -- this week, please do head on over to The Film Experience on Tuesday and either take in or take part in the Action Heroine Blog-A-Thon. I'm going to try like hell to write something for it myself, and if I do you'll see it here. But check back at Nathaniel's site first -- you can't go wrong.

And speaking of big blog projects, remember last summer when I did that little (monstrously large) Actress Tournement? Well, considering I'm super OCD about symmetry with this kind of thing, I figure it's about time to get to taking on the other gender in another take-no-prisoners tournament. So that should be starting again very (very) soon -- keep an eye out.

Friday, June 08, 2007

If I Were A Man Given To Gloating...

...I'd probably be rushing in here to talk about the following:

1) Isaiah Washington got shitcanned from Grey's Anatomy

and

2) Paris Hilton was reportedly dragged back to jail kicking and screaming


If I find out Spencer from The Hills got beat up outside one of those douchey clubs he'd always frequent, this might turn into the red-letter karma day of the century.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Gay Superhero Photo Of The Week

This one might just get me to watch Canada's Next Top Model:


Which lead to this exchange:

Miss Alli: Wow.
Me: Yeah. He's like one of the X-Men.
Miss Alli: He's the X-Man "Negligee."

Monday, June 04, 2007

What You Need To Be Watching


Dudes. Pirate Master. Start watching it. It is blissfully terrible.

Your reasons to watch:

1 -- I'm still not sure what it's about, beyond being vauguely Survivor-ish but with the conceit that everyone is supposed to emulate pirates. Which serves as the culmination of Mark Burnett's utter hard-on for pirates that has been well established on Survivor over the years.

2 -- The host is Cameron Daddo. Who you may or may not remember from the short-lived and utterly terrible Melrose Place spinoff Models, Ince.

3 -- There is a contestant who works in Sales, who tries to tell us that his day job is just like piracy. Sure, he provides a service, he says, but also tries to "part you and your money." Yeah...in exchange for services, like you said. Which makes you not so much a pirate as a participant in a money-based capitalist society. But other than that! Love this guy.

4 -- One contestant, Rico Suave lookalike John, is captioned as a "Scientist/Exotic Dancer." Awesome. But he did manage to help his team win one challenge with what looked slightly like science, so I suppose there's something to that caption.

5 -- Christian Okoye, former running back for the Kansas City Chiefs and current brick wall, is one of the contestants. And nobody told me!

6 -- Burnett, of course, cast a Rupert lookalike, as you figured he would. Only this one isn't going to be able to sell "sweet and lovable" even for a second. He's mostly loud and kinda drunk.

7 -- I refuse to ruin it for you, but you'll thank me when you get to the part about the compasses.

As of right now, I think I'm rooting for Ben, the stoned surfer rocker dude, and Alexis, the bitch-on-wheels who works for a fashion publication. It's like rooting for Ryan Cabrera and Emily Blunt!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

While I Was Out

Sorry for the impromptu vacation from blogging, y'all. I'm on a college reunion weekend , so I don't have a ton of time, but just a few quick updates.

This summer on TWoP, I've got my hands full with "weecaps" for the Real World/Road Rules Challenge and the new CW show Hidden Palms. The former is trashy fun as usual, while the latter is trashy, and hopefully will be moving into "fun" any time now. Also, I wrote a couple articles for our MTV Movie Awards feature, including this one that explains why they should totally give an award to Chunk from The Goonies. ALSO, also, I'm recapping the last dying gasps of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and gallantly attempting to avoid doing the written equivalent of giving the show a giant raspberry.

Also, I'm trying to figure out a way I can incorporate some sort of weekly post about what music I'm listening to on the blog, be it on the sidebar or a weekly feature or whatever. In the meantime, please enjoy my current music obsession: Kelly Clarkson's "Never Again." Watch the video and marvel at how Kelly has upped the jilted-lover ante by actually dying and haunting her ex from beyond the grave!