Sunday, February 27, 2011

It's Oscar Night, People. Look Alive.

Have you heard the Oscars are tonight? There's a chance you may have. As you may have heard on my Twitter, I'll be live-blogging the show tonight over at NPR's Monkey See, along with my former TWoP cohorts Linda Holmes and Sarah Bunting. It's going to be fun -- come on over! Party starts at 7:30.

In the meantime, you know I can't miss the opportunity to be right, so here are my predictions for tonight's awards. Don't get excited, I'm not going out on too many limbs (seems like we're fixing for a fairly predictable night, trophy-wise):

Best Picture: The King's Speech
Best Director: Tom Hooper, The King's Speech
Best Actor: Colin Firth, The King's Speech
Best Actress: Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, The Fighter
Best Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Best Original Screenplay: The King's Speech
Best Adapted Screenplay: The Social Network
Best Editing: The Social Network
Best Cinematography: Wally Pfister, Inception
Best Art Direction: The King's Speech
Best Costume Design: I Am Love
Best Sound Mixing: The Social Network
Best Sound Editing: Inception
Best Visual Effects: Inception
Best Makeup: The Wolfman
Best Original Song: "We Belong Together," Toy Story 3
Best Original Score: Alexandre Desplat, The King's Speech
Best Documentary Feature: Waste Land
Best Foreign Language Film: In a Better World
Best Animated Feature: Toy Story 3

And just for laughs, even though I didn't see the shorts this year:

Best Animated Short: The Gruffalo
Best Live Action Short: God of Love
Best Documentary Short: Strangers No More

Friday, February 25, 2011

LowRes 2010 Movie Awards: The Top 10

Previously: 30 Amazing Moments / Best Trailers / Best Techs (Visual) / Best Techs (Audio) / Screenplays + Director / Breakthrough + Ensemble + Cameo / Supporting Actor + Actress / Lead Actor + Actress

Runners-Up: #20: Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work; #19: The Crazies; #18: Toy Story 3; #17: How to Train Your Dragon; #16: The Runaways; #15: Somewhere; #14: True Grit; #13: Blue Valentine; #12: The Kids Are All Right; #11: Exit Through the Gift Shop.


#10 -- Restrepo: A lot of times, documentaries get credit simply for being about what they're about. Restrepo certainly does. A lot of time, documentaries get credit simply for the vantage point from which they're allowed to observe certain events. Restrepo certainly does. Other times, documentaries get credit for framing an incredibly familiar "issue" in a way that is jarringly unfamiliar and dangerous and humanizing and emotional and thrilling and despairing; for showing war as war, in all its complexity, but more importantly in all its horrible simplicity.

#9 -- Dogtooth: Michael Haneke with a sense of humor in place of condescending finger-wagging. Lars Von Trier with a taste for feline. However you want to describe it, you won't soon be able to shake Giorgos Lanthimos's deepest-darkest fable about how those weird home-schooled kids you knew growing up could've had it SO much worse. It's been working around my brain since the spring, the way the movie unfolds in front of you, how terribly mundane the look of the universe is, the positively sinister sense of humor that manages to bring levity and make everything that much more horrible. It's audacious in the best ways.

#8 -- Animal Kingdom: Maybe one of the reasons I was so resentful of the great reception that The Town received -- beyond the fact that it's just not that great of a movie -- was the fact that everything that movie did as a crime thriller, Animal Kingdom did better, from the humming suspense to the complicated criminal characters to the sure-handed direction and fantastic performances. This movie builds like it's made of Legos, and due respect to Jeremy Renner, but there's no performance in The Town that holds a candle to Jacki Weaver's Smurf. She's Granny MacBeth and Medea's Family Reunion all rolled into one.

#7 -- Rabbit Hole: It's kind of amazing that I love Rabbit Hole as much as I do considering I find one sizable element of it such a weakness. Aaron Eckhart just seems so overmatched, by both the material and his co-stars. Actually, he keeps up with Sandra Oh just fine as they giggle in their weed haze, but Nicole Kidman repeatedly blows him off the screen. I can't imagine Rabbit Hole wouldn't be in my top 2 or 3 movies of the year with a better-equipped actor in the role, but let's not talk negatives. I want to talk about the palpable bonds and relatable anxieties between Kidman, Dianne Wiest, and Tammy Blanchard. Or what a discovery Miles Teller is as the guarded, haunted neighborhood teen. Or the release found in how deeply Kidman connects to that gorgeous image of the rabbit holes. Few films in my (unusually cold) Top 10 moved me as much.

#6 -- Inception: I can't entirely argue with most of the knocks against Christopher Nolan's film. The oddly limiting plot, the thinly-drawn female characters, the shallow profundities. I just tend to think those objections are more about what the movie isn't than what the movie is. And for me, the movie was the most satisfying, mesmerizing, capital-M "Movie" experience of not just the summer but the whole year. The irony is that it's been sold as the thinking man's blockbuster, when in reality this is pure sensory pleasure. The pseudo-science and structural logic is fun to puzzle through -- much more so than the detractors would have you believe -- but Nolan's triumph here is how he wraps you up in sight and sound.

#5 -- Never Let Me Go: Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy weren't born to fight back. (Were they even born at all?) When they become aware of the purpose for which they've been created, it isn't through some harrowing discovery. It's something they've always known, by degrees, until one day it's told to them in full. They don't run; they don't rebel. That's been a common knock against the film ... except it isn't quite true. The sad beauty of Kazuo Ishiguro's novel and Mark Romanek's film is that they do struggle, only what they struggle for is inches, not miles; it's days and weeks. The phantom-carrot pipe dream that Tommy and Kathy seek out in the film's final third, like Dorothy winding towards the Emerald City? Is one that will stay their fate for a year or two. This is what they're fighting for. This is why Keira Knightley's Ruth is so defiant in taking Tommy from Kathy. It's the only way she's got to refuse what's been set out for her. Clearly, the story is still with me, and Romanek's delicately told, impeccably performed film did it so much justice.

#4 -- Another Year: Mike Leigh's skill with characters has not exactly flown below the radar throughout his career. He's at it again in Another Year, allowing his cast plenty of room to breathe, not that they always take it. At its heart, Another Year is about friends and family, and where the limits of one meet the boundaries of the other. It's also about aging and about the not-at-all-quiet desperation of being alone and about the ways in which we drag on others and are lifted by them. It's a lot going on for a movie about an older couple (the brilliantly content and funny Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen) and their sad single friend (the mesmerisingly sloppy Lesley Manville).

#3 -- Winter's Bone: Debra Granik's Ozark meth adventure (no, not that kind) puts Jennifer Lawrence's Ree through her paces in a way that feels purposeful. The structure of that journey -- from this gatekeeper to that -- contrasted with Lawrence's hard, naturalistic performance is nothing short of thrilling. Helped out by a phenomenal cast -- Dale Dickey, John Hawkes, Garrett Dillahunt, any number of authentic-looking friends and foes -- it's utterly gripping in its fatalism. We know nothing good has come of Ree's father, and so does she, yet she's got to see it through.

#2 -- Black Swan: I flip-flopped a lot on my top two picks for the year. The case for Black Swan was apparent to me the second the credits rolled. That sense of completion, of wild-eyed satisfaction that a landing has been stuck, nearly drove me to my feet. Darren Aronofsky completely went there and didn't back off for fear of anything so inconsequential as bad taste. The whole movie is a grotesque, from Barbara Hershey's cake antics to the leering girlie hookups to Vincent Cassel's manipulative handsiness as he repeatedly espouses the simplistic duality of the white/black swan. While the psychological appears to preside above all, what Aronofsky's interested in (and so was I) is the physical. It's such a clear progression in his work, from Pi to Reqiuem to The Fountain to The Wrestler, those stories of bodies harmed and betrayed and evolved and damaged by fanaticism all get their lurid payoff in the form of Portman's fragile, bleeding gooseflesh.

#1 -- The Fighter: If it weren't so mundane in its details, the story of how I came to love The Fighter could be a movie of its own. It certainly follows the Hollywood beats. Dogged film fan will see practically anything but dismisses high-profile awards contender out of hand because of distaste for the genre, revulsion towards the behavior of its principals, and a truly abhorrent trailer. But then! A few raves from some trusted and unexpected sources! A reminder that I Heart Huckabees is one of his very favorite movies! A chance is taken!

Obviously, spoiler, I fell in love, but I think it's to the extreme credit of David O. Russell and his cast that what read on paper as just another inspirational pugilist-from-the-streets tale felt so singular on the screen. From Bale's realer-than-real crackhead to the frequent dips into local color, to the Ward girls in all their glory, this was not a film that had any desire to rest on its laurels. Even the central romance between Wahlberg and Adams feels fresh because the stakes for Charlene are just to the left of what we're used to (she's in this for Micky, sure, but she's also in it to make up for her own missed chances ... and she's also in it -- just a little bit -- to shove it back in the faces of Micky's family). Everything in this movie is operating on its own terms and for better reasons than simple genre convention. It's a fantastic reminder of the power of directorial vision.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

LowRes 2010 Movie Awards: The Actors, Part 3

The 2010 LowRes Movie Awards: 30 Amazing Moments / Best Trailers / Best Techs (Visual) / Best Techs (Audio) / Screenplays + Director / Breakthrough + Ensemble + Cameo / Supporting Actor + Actress / Lead Actor + Actress / Top 10 Films

Jesse Eisenberg - The Social Network
James Franco - 127 Hours
Ryan Gosling - Blue Valentine
Edgar Ramirez - Carlos
Ben Stiller - Greenberg

It wasn't the strongest Best Actor field this year, which is a stark contrast to last year. I'd throw almost any of the current Oscar nominees overboard for some of last year's runners-up (Sam Rockwell in Moon? John Krasinski in Away We Go? Ben Whishaw in Bright Star? Come ON!). But now is not the time to bag on my current Top 5 for 2010. Each of these guys did something special this year, be it raise their game beyond their own well-traveled neuroses like Eisenberg or lay down enough dangerous charisma to power a six-hour behemoth of a movie like Ramirez.

In a year that was less enamored with stuttering monarchs and grizzled lawmen, Ryan Gosling probably would have been recognized for playing the other half to Michelle Williams in their captivating dance to the death.

For someone like Ben Stiller, the achievement isn't just that he made a good movie -- or a quieter movie, or a halfway "serious" movie. What I loved most about his Greenberg is that way in which he toned down; most comedic actors go "serious" simply by stifling all their comedic impulses or powering down. But rather than leave that void, Stiller puts something new there, and I found his layered misanthropy pretty fascinating.

My favorite lead male performance of the year manages to combine all these factors together. James Franco stretches beyond his usual borders; he commands the screen with some unreal charisma; and he builds layers into a character who, for story purposes, only exists because of what happened to him. I would have loved 127 Hours a billion times more if they'd have just left the camera on Franco and let us watch him work.

Runners Up: Stephen Dorff (Somewhere); Jeff Bridges (True Grit); Tahar Rahim (Un Prophete); Michael Douglas (Solitary Man); Mark Wahlberg (The Fighter).

Annette Bening - The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman - Rabbit Hole
Lesley Manville - Another Year
Julianne Moore - The Kids Are All Right
Natalie Portman - Black Swan
Michelle Williams - Blue Valentine

Here's how (over-)seriously I take these silly "awards": I agonized over who I'd name in this list. Even expanding the nominees to six, it actively pains me to relegate Jennifer Lawrence and Carey Mulligan to runner-up status. I shuffled and re-shuffled, and the only two actresses who never left this top 6 were Lesley Manville (perfectly, boozily heartbreaking while never softening Mary's irritating edges) and Julianne Moore (who really got the shaft this awards season in terms of love for her movie). The other four all happen to be Oscar nominated, and along with Lawrence, they make up one of the more fearsomely talented Best Actress lineups ever.

Ultimately, I couldn't live without Portman's extreme physicality and the way she kept the darkness around the edges of her character, even when she was at her most fragile. Or Williams, who made sure we got to see the weight slowly accumulating on her character until her marriage buckled underneath. Or Kidman, who indulged the peculiarities of her character and showed us a woman whose mind was always slightly elsewhere. Or Bening and the way she showed us Nic's inherent sense of justice and how much it hurts when that sense is betrayed.

Runners Up: Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone); Carey Mulligan (Never Let Me Go); Naomi Watts (Mother and Child); Ruth Sheen (Another Year).

LowRes 2010 Movie Awards: The Actors, Part 2

The 2010 LowRes Movie Awards: 30 Amazing Moments / Best Trailers / Best Techs (Visual) / Best Techs (Audio) / Screenplays + Director / Breakthrough + Ensemble + Cameo / Supporting Actor + Actress / Lead Actor + Actress / Top 10 Films

Christian Bale - The Fighter
Andrew Garfield - Never Let Me Go
John Hawkes - Winter's Bone
Ben Mendelsohn - Animal Kingdom
Michael Shannon - The Runaways

This year's Oscar crop boasts probably the best Supporting Actor class in my awards-watching lifetime. That I can only replicate two of the five on my own ballot is a testament to the strength of the overall field this year. (As you'll see below in the runners-up, all of this year's Oscar-nominated supporting actresses impressed me to some degree.) Frankly, I'm kind of shocked John Hawkes managed to muscle out the Oscar nod considering how low-profile his movie, role, and celebrity status are. But kudos to awards voters for remembering Winter's Bone and specifically Hawkes's comfortingly menacing Teardrop.

I almost left Christian Bale off this list, because I've gotten so ambivalent about Bale's capital-A "Actorliness." But when it comes down to it, I can't imagine The Fighter -- a movie I loved a LOT -- existing at all without the energy Bale shoots into it. Similarly, Michael Shannon is an actor who generally gets praised for things that drive me crazy about him. That slobbering intensity has just become too predictable. What I love about what he does in The Runaways is that he bends that intensity in interesting, self-aggrandizing directions that suit the character more than Shannon's personal style.

Garfield gave two excellent performances this year, but while I found him to be tremendously sympathetic in The Social Network, the fact that the movie was so in the tank for him kept me from going all the way. But in Never Let Me Go, he is just so utterly heartbreaking and perfect. Finally, if you haven't yet seen Animal Kingdom, do so immediately and then shudder at the low-key but no less terrifying menace of what Ben Mendelsohn brings.

Runners Up: Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right); Jeremy Renner (The Town); Stanley Tucci (Easy A / Burlesque); Matt Damon (True Grit); Geoffrey Rush (The King's Speech).

Amy Adams - The Fighter
Dale Dickey - Winter's Bone
Greta Gerwig - Greenberg
Jacki Weaver - Animal Kingdom
Dianne Wiest - Rabbit Hole

If you look at this field for a minute, themes certainly begin to declare themselves. Like the many shades of older women in Hollywood, be they wise yet naggy mother types like Dianne Wiest's Nat, or Medusa-like hags at the gates of the underworld like Dale Dickey's Merab , or seemingly sweet old grannies whose jaw will one day unhinge and devour whole people (what's up Jacki Weaver?). I swear, the category just shook out that way, though with Melissa Leo juuuust missing the cut with her own overbearing (if desperately loyal) older woman, I can see how the trend would feel engineered. But let's be honest: there's every other scene in a movie this year, and then there's Dianne Wiest talking about that brick in your pocket.

Of course, on the other end of that spectrum are the indomitable youth of Amy Adams and Greta Gerwig. If I had a vote in the Oscar race, I think it'd go to Adams, whose vision for Charlene was so solid and who transcended what even the story required of her. She made Mark Wahlberg's character so much more interesting, by osmosis. As for Greta Gerwig, she's going to be a huge star, I think, and I'm glad I got in on the ground floor. After Baghead and House of the Devil, it was nice to watch Greta in a movie and not have to worry about her running around in the dark, afraid for her life. Her interplay with Ben Stiller managed to be low-key without losing any of what's at stake.

Runners Up: Melissa Leo (The Fighter); Elle Fanning (Somewhere); Karina Fernandez (Another Year); Mila Kunis (Black Swan); Patricia Clarkson (Easy A).

We Briefly Interrupt These Fake Movie Awards To Bring You the Best Song of 2011

Check back with me in December, it'll still be true.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

LowRes 2010 Movie Awards: The Actors, Part 1

The 2010 LowRes Movie Awards: 30 Amazing Moments / Best Trailers / Best Techs (Visual) / Best Techs (Audio) / Screenplays + Director / Breakthrough + Ensemble + Cameo / Supporting Actor + Actress / Lead Actor + Actress / Top 10 Films

Armie Hammer - The Social Network
Tom Hardy - Inception
Josh Hutcherson - The Kids Are All Right
Jennifer Lawrence - Winter's Bone
Emma Stone - Easy A
Miles Teller - Rabbit Hole

Had to expand this field to six so I could accommodate just how many actors gave performances that promise huge things to come. As it stands, I still had to leave out people like Hailee Steinfeld or Katie Jarvis or Tahir Raheem. I'm probably stretching the most with Emma Stone, since she's been fairly mainstream, what with Superbad and Zombieland and such. But the reaction to her in Easy A was like few reactions I've seen; it's a starmaking performance. I expect Miles Teller and Josh Hutcherson to be fighting over soulful-beyond-his-years roles for the next few years, while Tom Hardy and Armie Hammer will probably jostle for their share of roles as well. None of that is as important as the fact that those parts they'll all be scrambling for will benefit from performers who brought it so hard this year.

Domhall Gleeson - Never Let Me Go
Christopher Lloyd - Piranha 3D
Anna Lise Phillips - Animal Kingdom
Winona Ryder - Black Swan
Imelda Staunton - Another Year

I fully acknowledge that I lifted the idea for this category entirely from Nathaniel Rogers, who's been looking at micro-mini performances for years now. These are the performances that are too brief to compete with proper supporting actors but who nevertheless lit the screen on fire in their fleeting time on screen. I almost can't talk about what made Winona Ryder so fantastic in Black Swan, except to say that she kept appearing like the Candyman, always looking exactly like she does above. I spent about an hour after seeing Animal Kingdom trying to find out the name of the actress who played the lawyer near the end of the film. Again, spoilers keep me from spelling her whole role out, but in a movie full of slippery manipulators, hers might've been the most impressive. Christopher Lloyd may not have done more than channel his Doc Brown enthusiasm, but CHANNEL IT HE DID. Domhall Gleeson -- son of Brendan -- was heartbreaking enough in his one scene (with Andrea Riseborough, who you'll recall I love) that I managed to single it out over almost every other heartbreaking moment in that heartbreaking movie.


Another Year: Jim Broadbent, Ruth Sheen, Lesley Manville, Oliver Maltman, Peter Wight, David Bradley, Karina Fernandez, Phil Davis, Imelda Staunton, Michele Austin, and Martin Savage.

The Fighter: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Melissa Leo, Amy Adams, Jack McGee, Mickey O'Keefe, Melissa McMeekin, Bianca Hunter, Erica McDermott, Jill Quigg, Dendrie Taylor, Kate O'Brien, and Jenna Lamia.

Never Let Me Go: Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Keria Knightley, Charlotte Rampling, Sally Hawkins, Domhall Gleeson, Andrea Riseborough, Nathalie Richard, Ella Purnell, Izzy Meikle-Small, and Charlie Rowe.

Please Give: Catherine Keener, Rebecca Hall, Amanda Peet, Oliver Platt, Sarah Steele, Ann Guilbert, Lois Smith, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Josh Pais, and Rebecca Budig.

True Grit: Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper, Dakin Matthews, Paul Rae, Domhall Gleeson, Elizabeth Marvel, Jarlath Conroy, and Candyce Hinkle.

LowRes 2010 Movie Awards: The Vision

The 2010 LowRes Movie Awards: 30 Amazing Moments / Best Trailers / Best Techs (Visual) / Best Techs (Audio) / Screenplays + Director / Breakthrough + Ensemble + Cameo / Supporting Actor + Actress / Lead Actor + Actress / Top 10 Films

David Michod - Animal Kingdom
Mike Leigh - Another Year
Lisa Cholodenko, Stuart Blumberg - The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Holofcener - Please Give
Michael Arndt - Toy Story 3

Watch me boldly defy Academy policy by placing Toy Story 3 as the original screenplay it actually is. I'm not sure I can keep myself from seeing this category as anything but Another Year and Runners-Up. But that's not to take anything away from the way Michod dug into the dynamics of a frighteningly unmoored crime family; or the way Cholodenko and Blumberg refused to allow their characters to be roped in my any concerns about "messages"; or the way Holofcener continues to write exceptional dialogue for women.

Scott Kosar, Ray Wright - The Crazies
William Davies, Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders - How to Train Your Dragon
Alex Garland - Never Let Me Go
David Lindsay-Abaire - Rabbit Hole
Debra Granik, Anne Rosselini - Winter's Bone

I admit to slight trepidation over my placement of a straight-up remake of The Crazies, but I really like the way this update oriented the entire story around the town, then kept complicating the standard zombie-ish plot by reminding us of those connections. The other highlight of this category has to be David Lindsay-Abaire adapting his own play -- though you wouldn't know its origins were at all stagebound to watch the result.

Darren Aronofsky - Black Swan
Debra Granik - Winter's Bone
Mike Leigh - Another Year
John Cameron Mitchell - Rabbit Hole
David O. Russell - The Fighter

Mitchell and Russell both occupy a similar pod here, as they're both notoriously independent, cutting-edge directors who settled down to familiar genres this year. But in the ultimate triumph of vision over subject matter, they both filled every crack and crevasse in their respective films with the humor, humanity, and audacity of their most extreme projects. Anybody who dismisses The Fighter as just another boxing movie, or Rabbit Hole as just another grieving-parent weepie, isn't looking at the dozens of signature moments found within.

The Oscars Hindsight Project: 2005

Previously: 1990, 1995, 2000

This post is a continuation of a post Roommate Mark started over at The Critical Condition. If you haven't already been there, click on over to read about the Best Actor and Best Actress categories. I'll continue with the supporting categories below...

Best Supporting Actor
1. Jake Gyllenhaal – Brokeback Mountain
2. Matt Dillon – Crash
3. William Hurt – A History of Violence
4. George Clooney – Syriana (WON OSCAR)
5. Paul Giamatti – Cinderella Man

Joe: When these nominations were first announced, I remember thinking this category was especially uninspired. Here's an awards-watching secret from me to you: Supporting Actor very often is uninspired -- I'm sure there's something to be said that traditionally the strongest roles come in Lead Actor and Supporting Actress. But even given that general expectation, these nominees haven't aged especially well. Syriana is a good movie, one that boasts more than just one award-worthy supporting performance. Unfortunately, those are given by Matt Damon and Alexander Siddig. It's not that Clooney was bad, it's just that he was so obviously ushered up to that podium because of a dearth of better options and Hollywood's impatience to honor their new Cary Grant. The sad part is that if Academy members had simply held off for a few years, they could've rewarded him for work that truly was his best (Michael Clayton) or at least most representative of the movie star he is (Up in the Air).

I pretty much have to put Gyllenhaal up at #1, even if it feels like cheating considering he's not AT ALL a "supporting" actor in that movie. But his is the only character in this lineup who we'll remember in fifty years -- hell, he might be the only character we remember NOW. Matt Dillon's character is basically "Concentrated Racist, Just Add Water," but I'll give it to him that he managed to rise above the 35 other actors in that movie to get noticed. Crash may be known more in infamy (in some circles -- I realize it's got its supporters, misguided though they are), but it's still something of a cultural touchstone.

Even five years later I steadfastly DO NOT GET the fuss over William Hurt's glorified cameo in A History of Violence. This thin, thin slice of overly-accented ham swept the New York and Los Angeles critics awards? For taking what had been a tense, menacing movie and grinding the gears nearly to a halt? I feel like my own antipathy for the performance will keep it more prominent in my memory than some of the other performances in this category, but it distresses me that this gets to be the "critics' choice" of the group.

As for Giamatti, what can you say? This was so obviously a make-up nomination, it's barely worth mentioning. Snubbed for Sideways the year before -- for a performance that was actually challenging and interesting and impressive -- he instead got thrown a bone for this role that any number of actors could've pulled off to similar effect. What a shocker that nobody talks about this movie -- much less this performance -- today. Overall Grade in Retrospect: C-

Mark's response: We're agreed here, especially about Hurt. I remember that performance really vividly, but only because it felt so out of place. It was a grotesque clown show in an otherwise taut thriller.

Best Supporting Actress
1. Amy Adams --- Junebug
2. Michelle Williams --- Brokeback Mountain
3. Rachel Weisz --- The Constant Gardener (WON OSCAR)
4. Frances McDormand --- North Country
5. Catherine Keener --- Capote

If Amy Adams had gone the way of Kathleen Quinlan, then her nomination might be in last place. Instead, it retrospectively seems like one of the shrewdest decisions the Academy ever made, plucking an unknown out of a super-small indie and honoring her just months before she became a major star. You could argue, even, that this nomination made Enchanted possible, because it put Adams on everyone's radar. From there, of course, you get a star who's nabbed three nominations in six ceremonies, shown a rare combination of range and likability, and managed to slough off Leap Year like it was an ill-fitting beach wrap.

Just paces behind in second place, Michelle Williams' performance in Brokeback is still memorable both for its devastating honesty and for transforming the actress from Dawson's friend into a bona fide indie darling. I can remember walking out of the theatre and, after I stopped crying and loving every second of the movie, thinking that I really had to reevaluate my opinion of this Michelle Williams lady. Any nomination that predicts Blue Valentine and Wendy and Lucy is alright by me.

As for Weisz... I'd say this is the most forgettable of the last ten years. The movie itself is solid but uninspiring, and five years later, it hasn't done much to boost Weisz's career. It's only because she won the Oscar, in fact, that I can generally remember her performance, but when I'm staving off boredom by naming all the acting winners of the last twenty years, this is one I always have to struggle with.

Meanwhile, if I'm being honest, I can see putting McDormand's capable performance in a crappy movie in last place, but I must, must put Keener in the gutter because in all my years of Oscar-watching, this is one of the nominations I least understand. What the hell did Keener do as Harper Lee that was so damned interesting? She just stood around looking prim while Philip Seymour Hoffman and Clifton Collins, Jr. tore shit up. I'd nominate her for 2005's The 40 Year Old Virgin before I tapped her for this, because at least in that movie, her character had a strong point of view. When it comes to performances that deserve to be remembered, I can't even remember if I forgot Keener's take on Harper Lee. Overall Grade in Retrospect: B

Joe's Response: One of my favorite Supporting Actress fields ever, even with the Keener nod; I agree with everything you say about her performance, but I like her so much that I'm willing to let it slide. (Still, it's a shame that the likes of Maria Bello in A History of Violence, Shirley MacLaine in In Her Shoes or Laura Linney in The Squid and the Whale couldn't have gotten in here instead.) And while I agree that Adams and Williams are 1 and 2 in this field, I seriously love Rachel Weisz, both in The Constant Gardener and elsewhere (The Brothers Bloom, people!). No shade on my girl, y'hear?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

LowRes 2010 Movie Awards: The Sounds

The 2010 LowRes Movie Awards: 30 Amazing Moments / Best Trailers / Best Techs (Visual) / Best Techs (Audio) / Screenplays + Director / Breakthrough + Ensemble + Cameo / Supporting Actor + Actress / Lead Actor + Actress / Top 10 Films

127 Hours
Black Swan
The Town

Once again, my usual disclaimer: I don't know shit about sound design in movies. I just know what calls attention to my ears. For my money, the most impressive uses of sound this year were, say, when it was all that was keeping James Franco company in 127 Hours. Also those bone-breaky sounds! Speaking of which, how about getting to hear every stress-fracture and broken nail as Nina's body constantly threatened to turn on her in Black Swan? Or the alien gurgles in Splice. Or the many, many shootouts in both Inception and The Town.

Carter Burwell - True Grit
Burkhard Dallwitz - The Way Back
Alexandre Desplat - The Ghost Writer
Clint Mansell - Black Swan
Hans Zimmer - Inception

If sound design is hard to pick out while watching a movie, finding a good score might actually be harder, if only because more than half the time, if you notice the music at all, it's not a good thing. Desplat comes the closest to doing just that in The Ghost Writer, but ultimately the loudness of the music is in line with Polanski's retro-'70s vibe. Two of the best efforts worked a kind of fusion, with Carter Burwell's old-timey interweavings on True Grit and Mansell's pas de deux with Tchaikovsky in Black Swan. Still, the best score for my money was also the most traditionally Hollywood, with Hans Zimmer bringing bombast back and making big basso fart noises the latest rage. Slow down that Edith Piaf record and have a time, Hans!

Fish Tank
The Runaways

This category, I explain every year, is for all that non-original music that goes into making a movie work. Or original songs, I guess, but who the hell makes any of those worth a damn anymore? Okay, okay, Burlesque! The more I listen to that content-free Diane Warren ballad, the more it fills my arteries with the Velveeta of love. As for Fish Tank, I loved all the dance interludes that punctuated the oppressive poverty; I loved the LCD Soundsystem in Greenberg and the faithful renderings of The Runaways. And I mentioned that Edith Piaf number in Inception, right? It almost makes Marion Cotillard's awful Oscar win for La Vie en Rose worth it if it brought that song to Christopher Nolan's attention?

Where You'll Find Me: Oscar Week Edition

On this week's Extra Hot Great podcast, we talk artificial intelligence in the quiz-show field, whether Sam Worthington is worse than jazz, and if Saturday Night Live can ever hold up for an entire episode. Also? "Will Dave Hate This?" which is my absolute favorite thing in the universe right now. GO LISTEN NOW!

I also joined my Film Experience podcast cohorts Nathaniel, Katey, and Nick for one last gab-fest before the Academy Awards. We played a fun game where we cast 2010 Oscar nominees in each other's roles. GO LISTEN NOW!

I've started recapping this season of The Amazing Race over on Yahoo!'s television blog, The Set. Here's Episode 1, wherein Kent and Vyxsin are, as ever, "dating Goths." Tee hee.

Finally, I'm going to be liveblogging the Oscars on Sunday night over at NPR's Monkey See blog. I'll be joining host Linda Holmes and the wonderful Sarah Bunting to talk about our very strong opinions on live-action short films and anything else that might come up during the show.

LowRes 2010 Movie Awards: The Sights

The 2010 LowRes Movie Awards: 30 Amazing Moments / Best Trailers / Best Techs (Visual) / Best Techs (Audio) / Screenplays + Director / Breakthrough + Ensemble + Cameo / Supporting Actor + Actress / Lead Actor + Actress / Top 10 Films

THE TECH AWARDS! Everyone's favorite part of movie awards! ...Look, it's not sexy, but the more I have watched movies over the years, the more I've become an actual grown-up and realized that these things don't spring fully formed from the actors, or even the director. My vocabulary and knowhow isn't quite there to explain WHY the sound design of Inception was so impressive, but for the time being, I knows it when I sees it.

Anyway, here's how my Oscar ballot would look, were I to be given one like I should. The visual-based techs are in this post, the audio-based techs will be in my next post. Read and discuss!

Animal Kingdom
Another Year
Rabbit Hole

I look to the editors to keep me from being bored by the familiar rhythms of a movie about, say, grieving parents. I look to the editors to keep me in a tight, cramped ball of tension while I wait for criminals to get the drop on an innocent. I look to the editors to make sense out of the kind of wartime chaos that men can barely hope to survive, much less understand. I look to the editors to give the movies a sense of time -- both its passing, from season to season across a year; and also its slowing down, grinding to an artificial halt. I look to the editors to remind me that that van is still falling off the bridge exactly when I need reminding.

Black Swan
Never Let Me Go
Please Give
Winter's Bone

So when did I get so enamored with the blacks and greys in art direction? Didn't I used to love the bright, colorful Wes Anderson diorama-scapes? I guess in a year where even Alice in Wonderland went dank and murky, I was bound to choose from a field of run-down set design. Of course, the difference is that Alice looked awful, while I will never think "ugly" when I imagine the schizophrenic clash of Nina's mother's apartment in Black Swan, or the detritus-strewn lawns in Winter's Bone. Or how Please Give puts so much thought into how what we give away speaks about us. Meanwhile, Never Let Me Go and Inception evoke the all-too-real within genres that suggest the implausible.

Black Swan
The Kids Are All Right
The Runaways

Sometimes a film's costume design is summed up by one look -- Nina Sayers's final costume as the black swan. Other times it's a more modest, but no less perfect, encapsulation of an entire cast of characters, like Whole Foods ensembles in The Kids Are All Right. I'm still kind of buzzing over how amazing the entire cast of Inception looked in those grey suits during the middle dream (the one in the hotel). Or how solidly the glam costumes in The Runaways were rooted in the time period and not some fantasy land. Of course, sometimes fantasy land is what we want, and for that we look to the gaudy-upon-gaudy of Burlesque.

127 Hours
Black Swan
The Crazies
The Way Back

There's a lot of makeup being used to evoke distress among these five films. Whether it be James Franco's increasingly desperate pallor in 127 Hours, or the way that the protagonists start to resemble the Crazies they're running from, even if it's only our paranoia that's telling us so. Or just the grimy grossness of pretty much everything in The Way Back, a movie that made me want to crawl up into the way back of a tube of Crest. Of course, sometimes makeup is just what we use to make scary (or misunderstood) monsters, like the exquisitely rendered Dren in Splice. Or every single thing that sprouts out of Natalie Portman in Black Swan. What puts the Swan over the top, though, is the way the makeup serves to increasingly, gradually, make Portman and Mila Kunis look so scarily alike.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
The Social Network

Ah, visual effects. The place where we get to tip our hats to movies we hate, which is why a Transformers will almost always end up on the Oscar ballot and ruin the lives of well-meaning people who try to see all the Oscar-nominated movies before the ceremony. My own version of this is evident in tipping the hat to Scott Pilgrim, a movie that utilized its special effects as a bludgen to the senses, but I can't deny that the effects themselves were impressive. Similarly, I may not have loved The Social Network, but like everybody else, I thought the Armie Hammer face-dancing was great. I spoke above about how great I thought the abomination against God looked in Splice. And obviously Inception, which stressed the "reality" part of "dream reality" to powerful effect.

Adam Kimmel - Never Let Me Go
Matthew Libatique - Black Swan
Michael McDonough - Winter's Bone
Wally Pfister - Inception
Harris Savides - Somewhere

Look, I realize that no one in Hollywood thought their idea of a good time this year would be to lounge around with Sofia Coppola and watch life pass by your fixed gaze, but could nobody appreciate how achingly fucking GORGEOUS Harris Savides's camerawork was? Not even for a token nomination? Then again, that would have to begin with the Academy knowing who Harris Savides even is. They also might want to do a quick Wikipedia search on Adam Kimmel, because after Jesus' Son and Capote, he probably deserved a little consideration for the chilly reticence that I thought served Never Let Me Go so well. At least they finally recognized how talented Matthew Libatique is now that Aronofsky has nailed down a Best Picture nominee.

Monday, February 21, 2011

LowRes 2010 Movie Awards: The Trailers

The 2010 LowRes Movie Awards: 30 Amazing Moments / Best Trailers / Best Techs (Visual) / Best Techs (Audio) / Screenplays + Director / Breakthrough + Ensemble + Cameo / Supporting Actor + Actress / Lead Actor + Actress / Top 10 Films

I pretty much said it best last year: I'm kind of into movie trailers? Yes, well, I am. I'm not saying the Academy should have this category at the Oscars, I'm just putting the question to you all: would you rather see the five best trailers played on Oscar night or performances of the increasingly bullshit Best Song nominees? Right.

My favorite trailers this year -- as in most years -- were masterful at conveying the exact right mood. They're selling me a product, absolutely, but they're selling me on a feeling most of all.

Black Swan
Oh, the menace. Oh, the exquisitely dark menace. There's a build in this trailer, with Portman spinning faster and faster, inside and out, that left me pretty well crazed to see this movie RIGHT DAMN NOW. Early December never felt so far away.

Blue Valentine
Taking the most sweetly romantic scene and playing it out in full, then interspersing within it the jagged moments that swirl around it in the movie gave off the exact right note of past-and-present-at-once. This is a movie that, among other things, asks us to be wistful for the good times while they're happening, and the trailer captures that so well.

Because: duh. This trailer probably made more of an impression on the culture than 90% of the actual movies released. Is that a good thing, necessarily? Of course not. But the trailer itself most definitely is. 800 million bonus points for including the Tom Hardy/Joseph Gordon-Levitt tag at the end. Even the trailer can't deny their attraction.

Never Let Me Go
It probably gets a bit of a boost from its use of Marcelo Zarvos's score from The Door in the Floor, one of my favorite pieces of movie music from the last ten years. But I also love the way the trailer doles out information -- there's a lot of it, and not all of it gets disseminated here, but the focus never feels like it shifts away from the characters to some big question of plot. The pitch is all there on Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, and Keira Knightley's faces.

The Social Network
Does the fact that I count a trailer among my favorites of the year when I didn't particularly enjoy the actual film mean I was successfully duped? On the one hand...I guess yes. The choral arrangement of Radiohead's "Creep" and the increasing urgency of the clips seemed to suggest a movie that has a sense of its own overblown self-importance and would comment on that in an interesting way. Instead, we got a movie that actually was overblown self-importance. Then again, this trailer seems to care more about the implications of Facebook and actual social networks way more than The Social Network does, so maybe I'm just getting the movie's best self for two minutes.

LowRes 2010 Movie Awards: The Moments

The 2010 LowRes Movie Awards: 30 Amazing Moments / Best Trailers / Best Techs (Visual) / Best Techs (Audio) / Screenplays + Director / Breakthrough + Ensemble + Cameo / Supporting Actor + Actress / Lead Actor + Actress / Top 10 Films

Last year, I kicked off my annual "Hey, wouldn't it be cool if people gave a shit about my favorites in movies?" awards with a tip of the hat to 25 of my favorite scenes or moments of the year. It set the perfect tone for what I want these "awards" to be -- using the excuse of the Oscars to highlight the moments, accomplishments, and people who really made me love movies in 2010. This year, I decided to bump it up to 30 (it was a good year).

30* Amazing Movie Moments from 2010

The flash flood escape sequence in 127 Hours and its soul-crushing conclusion.

The terrifying sight of Pope looming over Nicky's bed in Animal Kingdom.

Karina Fernandez mock-hanging herself with her scarf in Another Year.

Cher smashing Kristen Bell's car window with a tire iron in Burlesque.

Nev giggling while reading text messages he's sent -- a scene that takes on very different shades depending on how you believe the movie came about -- in Catfish.

The car wash scene in The Crazies.

The "Flashdance" scene in Dogtooth.

Everything involving Emma Stone, Patricia Clarkson, Stanley Tucci, and Dan Byrd in Easy A.

The DisneyLand job in Exit Through the Gift Shop.

Michael Fassbender's ass-cracky introduction in Fish Tank.

The re-creation of Kathryn Hahn's proposal in How Do You Know.

The first flying scene with Hiccup and Toothless in How to Train Your Dragon.

Sam Rockwell in Iron Man 2.

The Ben Stiller crack, the Michelle Obama line, and the card catalog full of jokes in Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.

Obviously the Joni Mitchell dinner scene in The Kids Are All Right.

Timothy Spall's insane burlesque of Winston Churchill in The King's Speech.

The extreme and generous Jake Gyllenhaal nudity on display in Love and Other Drugs.

The extraterrestrial mating scene in Monsters.

Either the underwater nymph ballet or the propeller scalping in Piranha 3D.

The exquisitely sad and beautiful image of the comic book in Rabbit Hole.

Closed-door dance party in Restrepo.

Dakota Fanning's Cherie Currie applying the Ziggy Stardust war paint in The Runaways.

Angelina and the choke chain in Salt.

Brie Larson and Brandon Routh's intimidating cool in the otherwise insufferably breathless Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

Patricia Clarkson in the cave in Shutter Island.

Everything about the Winklevoss twins (except for the dorkily twee "Winklevii" moniker -- yes, even if it was based in fact) in The Social Network.

Either the opening car-around-the-track scene or the at-home twin strip-tease in Somewhere.

The disturbingly sexy wrongness of Dren doing it with Adrien Brody in Splice.

WATER DANCE! in Step Up 3D.

Everything Blake Lively does at any moment in The Town.

The universally beloved scene where Andy teaches Bonnie how to play with his old toys in Toy Story 3.

*I cheated and added one. My blog.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Oscars Hindsight Project: 2000

Previously: 1990, 1995

This post is a part of a joint effort with Roommate Mark over at The Critical Condition. If you haven't already been there, click on over to read about the Best Supporting Actor and Actress categories at the 2000 Oscars. How well have those nominations aged in the past 10 years? I'll kick things off with the lead categories below...

Best Actor
1. Russell Crowe -- Gladiator (WON OSCAR)
2. Tom Hanks -- Cast Away
3. Ed Harris -- Pollock
4. Javier Bardem -- Before Night Falls
5. Geoffrey Rush -- Quills

Mark: Wow. It's hard to get excited about this category. Granted, if Russell Crowe hadn't spent the ten years after Gladiator becoming a bloated sack of ego, then I might feel differently... but I can't change history.

No matter how much I dislike Crowe's image or feel bored by his recent work, however, there's no denying his turn as Maximus made him a superstar and made a mediocre action movie seem dangerous, sexy, and worthwhile. It was clear in 2000 that the role would define him, and it's clear today that it does.

Meanwhile, Cast Away is the last movie to feature a truly memorable role for Tom Hanks (his hairdo in The Da Vinci Code doesn't count as a character). Titular island dweller Chuck Noland is not as iconic as Forrest Gump or Big's Josh Baskin, but he still captures Hanks' Everyguy appeal. The film wouldn't work if he weren't so convincingly emotional with a volleyball, so deliriously happy when he learns to make fire, so very relatable in his Westerner-gone-native attempts to survive. Because Hanks carries the entire movie by himself, remembering it at all means remembering his work, and that gives him a historical leg up.

The next three performances are all in the same boat. I mean, they're all good -- maybe even great? -- but is anyone thinking about them now? Maybe, maybe Harris' turn as Pollock still springs to mind, and in that year, it played like a fresh look at his range, so I'm putting it third. Before Night Falls gains traction by being the film that introduced the English-speaking world to Javier Bardem, but let's not kid ourselves: This is not the performance that defines him. In retrospect, No Country for Old Men even raises Night's profile, because now it's easier to remember it as the first movie that got Javier Bardem an Oscar nomination. (Join me in ten years when we're struggling to remember Biutiful.) And lastly, I give you Quills, a creepy-good movie based on a creepy-good play that features a creepy-good lead performance. In my heart of hearts, I wish Kate Winslet had gotten tapped for this, too, but I accept that almost no one cares about Quills as much as I do. Overall Grade In Retrospect: B-

Joe's Rebuttal: The one change I'd make to these rankings would be to bump Bardem up one slot. Before Night Falls was such a breakthrough for him, and now that he's on his third nomination this year with Biutiful, I would think Academy voters would look back on this nomination with some pride that they recognized him when it was still "brave" to do so (he's gay! he's Cuban! No one knows his name!). Nothing against Ed Harris, either, as he and Bardem give the two best performances in the category in a year when so many amazing lead turns (Michael Douglas in Wonder Boys, Mark Ruffalo in You Can Count on Me, Christian Bale in American Psycho, Billy Crudup in Jesus' Son) got the shaft.

1. Julia Roberts -- Erin Brockovich (WON OSCAR)
2. Laura Linney -- You Can Count on Me
3. Ellen Burstyn -- Requiem for a Dream
4. Joan Allen -- The Contender
5. Juliette Binoche -- Chocolat

Joe: Back when 2000's nomination class was announced, my mind was tortured with thoughts of the women who might've taken Binoche's space in this category. Renee Zellweger in Nurse Betty was so good! Or even Bjork in Dancer in the Dark! Of course, Bjork would have the last laugh with the swan dress, and Zellweger would go on to dozens of nominations before finally winning and making everybody sick of her, and Binoche would go on to give many better performances than this one, so I guess it all shakes out in the end.

I have to admit, at the time I thought Joan Allen's nomination here would hold up better in ten years. The speculative fiction of a woman president amid a sex scandal played better in the immediate aftermath of the Clinton presidency, I guess. And, as I mentioned in the 1995 article, Joan Allen's Oscar hot streak has cooled now (though, to be fair, her Oscar-caliber roles are what have dried up).

Burstyn and Linney, however, both gave performances that have continued to burn brightly throughout the decade, particularly among Julia Roberts agnostics who like to talk about who should have won the Oscar that year. I personally was fine with Julia winning, but I can't deny that the Burstyn and Linney partisans have a point. But even if one of them did violate the rules of the universe and unseat Julia, I don't think either Sarah Goldfarb nor Sammy Prescott would stand as tall in the culture as Erin Brockovich still does. I've said it before and I'll say it again: there is value -- real cultural value -- in a movie star giving a movie-star performance that seeps its way into the bones of the country at large. Maybe not everybody will be able to quote full lines of dialogue from that movie ("two wrong feet in fucking ugly shoes," to give but one example of many), but somewhere between the push-up bra and the neck brace and Silkwood-style advocacy, that character landed right in the heart of America: pushy, loud, and poorly dressed. God bless her for it. Overall Grade in Retrospect: B+

Mark's Rebuttal: I can't conceive of ranking these performances in any other order. I agree, Joe, that Great Movie Star Performances are valuable, and they're also incredibly rare. There just aren't that many people who can sizzle on screen like Julia does in this movie, and dammit, she does deserve an Oscar for what she brings to the role. (I'll make the same argument in defense of Sandra Bullock's win, which seems much more appropriate to me a year later, even if The Blind is half the movie that Erin Brockovich is.)

Again, for 2000's Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress, click your way on over to The Critical Condition.

Next week: 2005, which will give me an opportunity to link back to my seminal hissyfit on behalf of
Brokeback Mountain

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Week in TV

30 Rock (2/10)
I believe everybody will do the right thing and agree with me that this was the best 30 Rock of the season. RIGHT? I don't know how it took five seasons to get Liz Lemon stuck on a tarmac or Jack Donaghy into Canada, but I'm glad it finally happened. If I have one complaint, it's that I wish they'd have just junked the loser Tracy/Jenna plot and just gave the remaining time to Jack and Liz. I'm not even going to bother counting down the dozens of great laughs, but I do want to shout out some outstanding guest performances from John Cho ("Where are my manners? Do you wanna try meth?") and the hilarious Jeff Hiller (who I was just recently raving about in Broadway's "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson") as the flight attendant who studied dance at Carnegie Mellon.

Parks and Recreation (2/10)
Not to be nitpicky, but I had the slightest sense of diminishing returns with our second trip into the breach with Ron and Tammy. I think because so much of the punch of the first episode was the shock in seeing Ron Swanson go so far head-over-heels, plus the shock of seeing Tammy turn out to be such a nightmare. Then again, Ron in cornrows and missing a portion of his stache due to friction was worth quite a lot. And I like everything that got set up with April temping for Chris -- I'm a sucker for people seeing the hidden worth in April.

Community (2/10)
I swear to god, I WANT to like Community more than I have been. But then they give me an episode like this one, which strands Jeff on an island with Ken Jeong and John Oliver, then adds Andy Dick to an already unlikeable Pierce (with a tonally bizarre closing moment that suggests Pierce has an addiction problem because THAT is totally what this show needs), and I suddenly am not given much choice. I did think the Troy/Abed plot was funny and sweet, and I was totally into the setup with lezzier-than-thou Britta and her homophobic friend Annie. But all that promise got paid off with some by-the-numbers follow-through. It's one thing to feel left behind after not getting all the hype around something like the Christmas episode. It's another thing altogether to watch the show fail to clear a significantly lower bar.

Top Chef: All-Stars (2/9)
I know most people don't share my deep hatred of Richard Blais, but I would hope that anyone watching this week's episode could at least see where I'm coming from. The poutiness. The arrogance. The insistence on his own brilliance. The smug notion that he could make a chocolate-and-bananas fondue that would be so awesome as to make Padma eat her words. The giant side-cocked Muppet mouth and stupid hair. If I ever decided to count all the instances of me yelling "Fuck off" at Blais during a given episode, I'd be counting for a long time. Anyway! Really enjoyed the Jimmy Fallon challenge, LOVED Carla's weirdo enthusiasm as usual, was not sad to see Fabio go, and wish Mike Isabella could have gone with him. The narrative throughlines are getting pretty clear, though, right? Richard, Antonia, and Dale seem to be getting the Top 4 edit for sure, to be joined by (hopefully) Carla or (God forbid) Mike.

Glee (2/8)
Beyond that great "Thriller"/Yeah Yeah Yeahs mash-up, the Super Bowl episode wasn't worth a whole hell of a lot. And while "Silly Love Songs" wasn't any great shakes in terms of memorable performances (I actually couldn't bring myself to look at Darren Criss singing Robin Thicke at The Gap), it was a complete triumph of the show having a laugh at itself and at its increasingly ridiculous characters. And not in a way that felt cheap either. No, I don't like Finn and Quinn inching back together any more than you do, but how great was Santana this whole episode? From her tearful "I'm just trying to be honest about how people suck" breakdown to "That's how they do it in Lima Heights Adjacent," she absolutely killed.

Big Love (2/6)
It's been a rough start to its final season for this show that I used to love so passionately, but this episode finally brought me back onboard. We've finally gotten back to the version of the show that I love best: the three sister-wives trying to navigate the interpersonal ins and outs of their strange family. Yes, it does seem like we've had these conflicts before -- even prior to Margene's revelation that she was 16 upon getting together with Bill, the tension between Margene and the other wives was that she was Bill's jailbait midlife crisis. But the wives' relationship is what matters to me. I still hate Bill, as everyone does, and I think the show became irrevocably weaker once it stopped being about the Henricksons trying to make their own small family work in a world that didn't understand it to now being about capital-P Polygamy. But between the re-introduction of Rhonda and Kevin Rankin as her husband (whose lingering glances with Alby suggest a delicious backstory I can't wait to get explored) and the tragic story of Lois's VD-caused dementia, I'm invested in the landscape of the show again. I can't say as I loved the tonally discordant dream sequence (too Sopranos-y), but a) it felt right to see Grace Zabriskie get her David Lynch on again, and b) I think the song was the same one from Girl, Interrupted when Brittany Murphy hanged herself.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Grammy Observation in Progress

Don't expect many of these. The only thing I really flipped for was Mumford & Sons (who TOTALLY killed and were dressed like sexy Benjamin Walkers from Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson), though I also really liked Lady Gaga's performance.

But really, what can top this screencap of Jennifer Lopez's standing ovation for Bob Dylan?


(Thanks to Rich at FourFour for getting the screencap out on Twitter before I even knew I wanted to ask for it.)

ETA: Sorry, I'm a liar, because Nicole Kidman was just singing along to Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream," which was just the greatest thing ever. Watch the video.

ETA: Okay, #1: Nicole Kidman singing "Teenage Dream." #2: Stone-faced J-Lo. #3: Mumford & Sons. #4: Rihanna stalking up to the stage like a Disturbia zombie in an INSANE dress and sounding pretty good live which is not always a guarantee with her.

ETA: Okay, FOR REAL: 1) Kidman singing along to Katy Perry AND dancing to Mick Jagger. 2) Jennifer Lopez acting like the Bob Dylan was the court minstrel who just favored her with a song. 3) Mumford & Sons winning a billion fans and being sexy like yeah. 4) Rihanna standing there and watching Eminem burn AND later sexing up Drake with a bedazzled crotch space. 5) AND FINALLY, Arcade Fire winning Album of the Year! And performing twice! And delivering one of the best, most genuine, most exuberantly thankful acceptance speeches ever. I'm so glad I decided at the last minute to actually watch the show!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Oscars Hindsight Project: 1995

Previously: 1990

This post is a continuation of a post Roommate Mark started over at The Critical Condition. If you haven't already been there, click on over to read about the Best Actor and Best Actress categories. I'll continue with the supporting categories below...

1. Kevin Spacey -- The Usual Suspects (WON OSCAR)
2. James Cromwell -- Babe
3. Tim Roth -- Rob Roy
4. Brad Pitt -- 12 Monkeys
5. Ed Harris-- Apollo 13

Mark: You know who was awesome in 1995 and is still awesome now? Verbal Kint. That's the role that broke Spacey into the big leagues, and since it also was the linchpin in the biggest cinematic twist ending since The Crying Game, the nomination still feels like a nod to the zeitgeist of its time. Looking back, it can still be fondly recalled as one of those moments when Kevin Spacey seemed awesome and not like the kind of actor whose self-regard would need its own dressing room.

And you know what? I realize that putting Cromwell second might be a controversial choice, but dammit, the man deserved to be honored for underplaying, for gently playing the lead role in a film about a talking pig. Imagine how someone like Will or Colin Fa(e)rrell would've handled Farmer Hoggett, refusing to let animals shine and turning everything into a muggy-muggerson shitshow. Cromwell has the chops and the confidence to be quiet, which makes him a powerful force in the film. And really, the Academy could've ignored that -- Babe, like Braveheart, could've been a nominee with no acting nods -- but it didn't. In retrospect, too, the performance is more impressive, because Cromwell is so typically good at playing crazy assholes. He deserves even more acclaim for going outside his comfort zone.

Roth deserves the same type of credit, though honestly, his poncey rapist is in the middle because I don't have strong feelings about the performance either way. I do have strong feelings about Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys, however. That's a good (possibly great?) movie, but Pitt's performance is all tics and whistles, and the nomination smacks of the Academy awarding a superstar for giving it the old college try. Plus, you could argue this role made his work in Fight Club possible, and I hate that movie so much that it can reach back and make me hate this performance even more.

But Pitt's not in last place because Harris' nomination is the kind that has always puzzled me. I look at Apollo 13 and see him doing serviceable work in a nothing role... looking intense and/or sad as he calls out commands from his NASA control panel. What's so vital about a performance like that? How does it really impact the film? (I've got the same questions about Catherine Keener in Capote.) And as I cast my mind across the years, I think of Harris in movies like The Truman Show, Pollock, and A Beautiful Mind. If he hadn't gotten nominated for Apollo 13, I'd have to struggle to remember he was in it at all. (See: Bill Paxton.) Overall Grade in Retrospect: C-

Joe's Rebuttal: Well, I'm going to take issue with your placement of Brad Pitt, because 12 Monkeys DID make his performance in Fight Club possible, and that movie is EXCELLENT, so there. More seriously, though, coming on the heels of Interview with the Vampire and Legends of the Fall, it felt like Pitt would forever be in the swooning-romantic box. That Pitt got Oscar-nominated for a 12 Monkeys and not a Legends of the Fall helped build that kind of weirdo streak into his celebrity persona. It's a spiritual ancestor to his performances in, yes, Fight Club but also Snatch, and Inglorious Basterds. That's the Brad I like.

1 - Kate Winslet -- Sense and Sensibility
2 - Mare Winningham -- Georgia
3 - Joan Allen -- Nixon
4 - Mira Sorvino -- Mighty Aphrodite (WON OSCAR)
5 - Kathleen Quinlan -- Apollo 13

Joe: This one's a really easy call for #1, as it was Kate Winslet's first Oscar nomination, and for anyone who hadn't seen Heavenly Creatures the previous year (hey, I was 14, I didn't know better!), it was her introduction to the American moviegoing public. ...The ones who enjoyed Jane Austen, Ang Lee, or the Oscars, at least. It's kind of fascinating to wonder what might've turned out different if she'd won the Oscar on her first try, since her narrative eventually got so bogged down with "OMG 4/5/6 nominations and she's never won!"

But sometimes winning is more curse than blessing, case in point Mira Sorvino. Doesn't that seem like the strangest Oscar win, in retrospect? Mighty Aphrodite wasn't even that well-reviewed; and while sure, there was the Woody Allen factor, this was post-Soon Yi, when Woody was far from everyone's favorite guy. And then of course there was the whole issue with her dad -- but again, what was all the fuss about being Paul Sorvino's daughter? If George Dzundza's daughter goes out and plays a hooker with a heart of gold in 2011, I highly doubt there will be much of a push to honor the Dzundza family dynasty, you know? Nothing against Mira, per se. You know I love a girl who would soon bring Romy and Michelle to Post-It-inventing life. But this very well could be the least memorable winning performance of my Oscar-watching lifetime. (You're off the hook, James Coburn in Affliction!) The only reason Sorvino doesn't rank dead last here is that Kathleen Quinlan's nomination was forgettable even back in 1995. In Oscar's long history of tossing stray nominations to The Wife in whatever movie they liked at the time, Quinlan's nod was the most blatant.

As for Winningham and Allen, I admit that I flip-flopped on their ranking spots more than a few times. I'm tempted to rank Allen higher because she's had the better career (though she's getting seriously overdue for another great role -- get on that, somebody!), this was her first nomination, and Nixon is a MUCH better movie than most people give it credit for. But as much as it seems like a one-off, Mare Winningham is at least a memorable one-off. And memorable for more than just yet another instance of the Academy honoring safe performances over their riskier co-stars (I don't care how fierce the Best Actress competition was, Jennifer Jason Leigh deserved to get in for Georgia). It's a quiet performance but also a skillful and resonant one. And who'd have figured that Mare would be the St. Elmo's Fire cast member to score an Oscar nomination? Sorry, Demi. Overall Oscar Grade in Retrospect: B-minus

Mark's Rebuttal: We're on roughly the same page here, though I might put Sorvino above Allen for the very reasons you cite. Because the win is so random and so arguably underserved, I'd say it sticks out more than, say, Jim Broadbent's, which people were forgetting the second after it happened. Sorvino at least retains traction by being so egregious.

Next week: The great and terrible gladiatorial-inclined year of 2000.