Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Years Eve Reading: A Long Way Down

There are certainly books and movies about New Year's Eve, but compared to it's holiday cousin a week away Christmas gets far more movie and book love.

This past year I read a book by praised British author Nick Hornby, A Long Way Down.

The premise of this book is simple, four totally different characters find themselves on top of a tall building in London called Topper's House on New Year's Eve all with the intentions of throwing themselves off the roof and committing suicide.

The book, written in first person narrative tells the story seamlessly transitioning from one character to the next as they describe the scenes that follow, which are suprisingly comical at times for a book about suicide.

The four characters are quite different: Martin Sharp, a "breakfast television" host whose life is ruined by a sex scandal with an underage prostitute; Maureen, a patheticly lonely single woman who has been raising her disabled son since birth with no human contact with the exception of a her Sunday church friends; Jess a crazy outrage girl who's teen angst and heartbreak seem quite pathetic as the story begin, but who's value to the story is pivotal at every step of the way; and JJ an American kid who's failure as a musician has him artistically contemplative about the meaning of life.

And so the story begins and unfolds in a unique way, with these unique characters take turns telling their story.

One of the things I like about this story is that despite it's collection of relatively unredemptive characters, who's personalities, foul-mouths, and self-centered behavior makes them unlikely heroes. The Maureen character is to be the shining star of the story, because she, in her naivete is the one who warrants the most sympathy. She's the one in the shadow's who sees her life as an unending hopeless string of days.

The other characters certainly don't warrant the same level of emotional connection, but their literary pontification on the meanings of their lives and creating a mental framework for their desire to kill themselves is certainly interesting.

While this book is not quite literary genius, or even the best thing I've read this year, it does some neat things, and is compelling and interesting. My respect for Nick Hornby continues to grow with each project of his, even the screenplay he wrote for this year's (fantastic) film, An Education, demonstrates Horby's best qualities. Whether it's Fever Pitch, About a Boy, A Long Way Down, or any of his other projects I continue to be impressed. Horby walks a careful line between comedy and drama as he captures people as they are with out over-dramatic crescendo's but instead with capturing the fragility of our decisions and responses to everyday life.

Happy New Year's Eve!

Monday, December 28, 2009

9 Sherlock Holmes Thoughts

1. I was excited when I first heard about this film, less excited when I saw the first preview and saw that the style and treatment was more of a super-hero nature than of a literary style...yep, that's what the film was like.

2. Robert Downey Jr is very talented. He plays the part, the way that it's written, excellently, and I can't imagine any actor doing nearly as well.

3. When ever you see a movie people seem to ask, "did you like it?" as if it was so simple. This film was entertaining, but wasn't the gem of this years film season. It was what it was. It'll be popular, I'm sure as some people "fall in love with the film" we will see more polarization of opinion.

4. I enjoyed the film more because of my interest in the television series House. I know that Hugh Laurie's Dr. House character is based in part on Holmes, but with limited knowledge of the complete Holmes-package, I could definitely see how Dr. Wilson plays a Dr. Watson role as well.

5. I don't know if Arthur Conan Doyle's original work focused on dark themes of occult, but the witchcraft elements in this film were a large part of what made me not be completely in love with this film's stories.

6. Speaking of dark elements, when I saw this in the theater there had to be no less than 10, maybe more, previews. Many, many, many of them were ubber-dark themes.

7. Jude Law is good, but not amazing - just does what he's supposed to do. I'd like to see a Jude Law performance that's been awhile. Actually Mark Strong (Lord Blackwood), Eddie Marsan (Inspector Lestrade), and even Rachel McAdams (Irene Adler) seem to provide strong under-the-radar performances.

8. Props to Guy Richie for putting together something that will surely be seen as a box-office success story and surely the pieces must be in play for a sequel based off opening weekend numbers.

9. I wish I was more connected to Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes writings and read some of the stories before seeing the film so that I could evaluate his stories better up against the film adaptation.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Denzel Washington's 4th Lead Actor Nomination in 2010?

Besides Johnny Depp and Russell Crowe, Denzel Washington is another actor with three best lead actor Academy Award nominations.

Denzel Washington has proven to be a popular Actor loved by the masses and respected by the critics. He has been nominated for 3 lead actor nominations following his 2 supporting nominations (nominations for Cry Freedom, Glory, Malcolm X, The Hurricane, Training Day).

Denzel Washington will take on his fifth project with director Tony Scott with the film Unstoppable. Previous joint ventures include Crimson Tide (1995), Man on Fire (2004), Deja Vu (2006), and The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009).

Unstoppable tells the story of a veteran train director (Washington) and a young train director (Chris Pine) who work together to stop a freight train carrying combustible liquids.

This is probably not an Oscar winning film, especially considering that Tony Scott and Denzel Washington have never received nominations for their previous work together.

Denzel Washington will also appear in a couple of other potentially popular films, although neither of these films will probably warrant Oscar's attention.

Those film include a reprise of his previous role of Detective Keith Fraiser in Inside Man 2, as well as the post-apocalyptic super charged story The Book of Eli, set to premier in January.

I don't think this is Denzel's year to score a 6th nomination, and his 4th lead Actor nomination, not for lack of skill, but as a result of the three projects he is involved in do not appear to be specifically Oscar-caliber performances.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Russell Crowe's 4th Oscar Nomination in 2010?

Johnny Depp is not the only actor I'm watching to see if he might score a 4th nomination in 2010.

Russell Crowe really kicked off the decade with a bang showing up at the Oscar ceremony three times for back-to-back critcally acclaimed performances (1999's The Insider, 2000's Gladiator, and 2001's A Beautiful Mind).

Since A Beautiful Mind, the actor has continued to pursue interesting work, but stayed out of the year's top 5 performances.

Every year I wait and watch for Crowe to return to a previous glory, but previous efforts have fallen short.

2010 is not a year packed full of contenders for Crowe, but it would appear his chance comes in Ridley Scott's adaptation of Robin Hood, where Crowe's incarnation will surely be a little more brawny then say the sequins clad Errol Flynn of the 1938 classic.

At this point, I don't count Crowe in early-on, but I certainly never count him out.

Could he get his 4th nomination on 2010? We'll see...but staring alongside Cate Blanchett (Maid Mairan) can't hurt.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Valentino: The Last Emperor

My wife and I recently screened the potential Oscar documentary nominee Valentino: The Last Emperor. The film documents the story of Valentino Garavani, the Italian fashion designer, particularly paying attention to his 45th and final year in the industry as founder of his own historic fashion empire.

As a person who doesn't pay attention to the fashion world, the story was not just interesting to me because it introduced me to the escentric Valentino, but because the film also showed the unique hidden world of the fashion industry.

To see all these women hand sewing on command sequins on to dress accessories, and people prounce around on command was pretty unique. Not to mention, the extravagance of Valentino's celebration and the creation of runway props.

The film is interesting because it doesn't gush over Valentino success, instead it points out his image awareness, his obliviousness to the business and staff around him, and his love for his six pugs. The film also seems to make a case for Valentino's second in command, ex-boyfriend Giancarlo Giammetti might really be the one who has helped Valentino create his empire, playing by Valentino's rules but applying the finesse needed to balance Valentino and the real world around him.

As the creator of the iconic Valentino Red (with dresses Valentino does not prefer but calls "the silliest of them all") this film documents and interesting person at an interesting time in life. Director Matt Tyrnauer has certainly chosen a colorful subject for his debut film and did nice work in allowing time for the camera to really find some personal moments.

I can't say this is my favorite documentary of the year, but I'm glad I've watched it and will be interesting to see if the Academy Awards selects this film to honor it with a nomination.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

"Chains shall He break For the slave is our brother;
And in His name All oppression shall cease."

- O Holy Night (John Dwight Sullivan's Translation of Placide Cappeau's poem Cantique de Noël)

Knee Jerk Reactions: My Favorite Things About 'Up in The Air'

I finally had a chance to catch Up in The Air this week and thought I would share some of my knee jerk reactions...this post will contain some minor spoilers, read at your own risk.

1. The best scene single scene in the movie is when the three leads (George Clooney, Anna Kendrick, and Vera Farmiga) share a scene together at the hotel bar. Clooney's character, Ryan Bingham, is in the scene only functionally, but these two supporting women get a chance to share their incredible skills together on screen. As their characters discuss what they're looking for in men, the sharp dialogue and exceptional delivery makes this scene one of my favorite scenes of the season.

2. Longer than a scene, but an incredible slice of film is the entire wedding portion of the film. Amy Morton's role as Clooney's sister is great, and the transition to hand held camera creates an intimacy in the film that is executed with great technique, effective without causing distraction.

3. The use of music in this film is truly enjoyable. The soundtrack is filled with a number of "perfect songs." Director Jason Reitman is proving that part of his success comes from his soundtrack. The Up In The Air soundtrack doesn't even include all the songs in the film. One of the best songs in the film appears on The soundtrack is "Help Yourself" by Sad Bad Smith, which occurs during the wedding scene. Other songs on the album include pieces by Elliot Smith, Dan Auerbach and Charles Atlas. (note: Anna Kendrick's rendition of 'Time After Time' by Cyndi Lauper is not on the album.)

4. I believe part of the magic of this film is the way it sociologically captures so many important modern changes and emotions. Whether it's about following boyfriends to new towns, changes in technology and corporate structure, corporate impersonality, conflict between work life and personal life, family differences, corporate business programs, and emotions of being surrounded and alone.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Johnny Depp's 4th Oscar Nomination, 2010?

I feel like it is inevitable. Johnny Depp is one of the most followed actors in Hollywood, who's talent has brought him some of the zaniest parts Hollywood has to offer.

I can't imagine what type of request Depp agent has to screen through, and further still how they decide what crazy roles Depp is willing to take on.

Of course, not every role is absolutely over the top, there's no doubt Depp has range. Early on in the year there definitely seemed like Depp might get Academy Award recognition for Public Enemies playing John Dillinger, but precursor's, even the Golden Globes (8 nominations in lifetime) have passed up this performance.

Johnny Depp's previous three Oscar nominations have all been from this decade and include his performances in Finding Neverland, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, and Sweeney Todd.

Next year Depp has at least two prestige performances, one as the over the top Mad Hatter in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland. And while Depp is sure to enchant in this role, I would assume the over the top performance probably isn't his Oscar gem (but of course, one would have thought the same thing initially of his Jack Sparrow creation for Pirates of the Caribbean.)

Depp also has a role in the film the Rum Diary, a long discussed film adaptation of the Hunter S. Thompson's The Rum Diary, where Depp stars as a journalist in the late 1950s who tires of American life and moves to Puerto Rico to write for the San Juan Star newspaper. There he chases women and soaks himself in alcohol.

Could this be Depp's 4th Oscar role?

Maybe, but I get the sense that Depp really doesn't care. His choices and performances lead me to believe he does his own thing and isn't really that concerned with appealing to the critics, but instead creating great characters.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Mai Iskander on "Why Garbage Dreams?"

I asked director/producer Mai Iskander after I posted about her film Garbage Dreams why she made this film and what she hoped to accomplish.

Iskander graciously fielded the question with this answer...

"I hope Garbage Dreams will encourage people to re-examine the true value of what they throw away each day and the real cost of throwing out the expertise of Zaballeen. The Zaballeen would work long into the night to clean up after us, the modern, industrialized world. Beyond that, by creating the world’s most effective resource recovery system they are actually saving our earth. From out of the trash, they lifted themselves out of poverty and have a solution to the world’s most pressing crisis.

"I also hope that everyone who sees Garbage Dreams can see a little bit of themselves in the three teenagers of the film. I hope that everyone who sees the film sees beyond the hardship and poverty of the Zaballeen and discovers the riches they possess - the depth of their love and the strength of their community."

*Pictured above is director/producer, Mai Iskander accepting the One Earth award from Al Gore earlier this year in conjunction with her directing/producing Garbage Dreams.

One, Two, Three, Twenty Years Since The Brandenburg Gate Reopens

Thirty years ago, December 22, 1989 Berlin's Brandenburg gate reopened allowing free travel back and forth through the Brandenburg Gate.

Recently I watched the 1961 Billy Wilder film One, Two, Three about a Coca-Cola man who is in West Berlin spreading the global reach of the beverage. James Cagney stars as a fast-talking business man, and he has a unique challenge when the boss' daughter falls in love with a communist.

This film, a goofy comedy, full of gags and one liners is also an interesting portrayal of American attitudes about communism at the start of the cold war.

In this film that Brandenburg Gate is opened and plays a significant role in the film, but at this point in history the Berlin Wall had not been built.

It's tricky to write a film about foreign crisis. It's hard to watch a film and wonder how different generations, watching at different times might think about this film. Is the subject to sensitive for some? At different points in the cold war would this film had been different? Are the jokes about communism East Berlin less comical over the time?

Anyways, what a great moment in history twenty years ago today, Helmut Kohl, the West German chancellor, walked through the gate, greeted by Hans Modrow.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The biggest box office for a sports movie ever...

This past weekend a record was made at the box-office, and that was that John Lee Hancock's movie The Blind Side now has the title of the highest box-office gross for any sports movie...ever. And that's of any, baseball, boxing, wrestling, and so forth.

The new top 5 looks something like this...

1. The Blindside (2009) $164 million & Counting (*The Blind Side came in #3 in it's 5th week)
2. The Waterboy (1998) $161 million
3. The Longest Yard (2005) $158 million
4. Jerry Maguire (1996) $153 million
5. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006) $148 million

I think this is one of the surprises of the season. When I initially saw the preview for this real-story inspired movie I thought this movie is what America is looking for at the cinema, so am not surprised.

But I certainly know that studios have to be having conversations about this film, based on Michael Lewis' book The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game has become such a success.

Clearly the success is not just that it's a sports movie, because there have been other less successful sports movies.

I think Hollywood wants to credit the success to Sandra Bullock claiming her entertainer of the year and giving her critical buzz, maybe even an Oscar nomination. But it can't just be Bullock, because as of this weekend, this film has grossed more than the popular romantic comedy earlier this year The Proposal ($163.9 million).

I think it's a story that connects with a lot of people, not because they have adopted an over-weight person without a family, but because this act of Christian love and giving is something that is attracted and a desire of people's hearts.

Hollywood doesn't really produce to many contemporary dramas that aren't rated R, and for something to tell a real story, but be not drenched with violence, foul language and sex, is meaningful to people.

This film could have some ripples, if not in the way some respond to the film, but also in some movies that pop-up on the Hollywood calenders in the next couple years.

Side note: Not everyone loves this film -- there is a series of dramatic responses to this film in my first post on this film: Check out those strong comments here.

Side note #2: If you enjoyed this film, may I recommend you check out The Rookie, another sport-themed movie about Baseball directed by John Lee Hancock. This is a moving film about the real-life story of Jim Morris, a baseball player with a short-lived career with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The film stars Dennis Quaid.

What to do with Garbage Dreams?

The other night I watched one of the potential Oscar nominated documentaries, Garbage Dreams.

This film is fascinating, particularly in the intimate story telling about the life of the 60,000 Zabbaleen, a group of Coptic Christians who live on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt. These people make their living by collecting garbage from Cairo and then from there sorting through it to recycle the raw materials and sell in Egypt and further.

The film is fascinating, because the whole concept of garbage is so different. These people on the lowest end of the social hierarchy want the Egyptian trash, and when Cairo starts outsourcing it's trash services to more modern foreign contractors, the Zabbaleen who's whole society resolves around trash collecting, sorting, recycling is deeply strained.

In Garbage Dreams, I watch as a Westerner initially with some disgust...these people gather trash and bring it to their home. What type of logic is that?, I think. But as their story unfolds, the disgust turns to awe -- these people are recycling 80% of the trash that they collect.

Where my wife and I live, we have the choice the pay more for recycling services, or a lower rate that excludes recycling services. So, it costs to recycle, and in this film these people are using their manual labor and willingness to get their hands dirty to turn a profit. They are manually sorting the garbage and preparing it for recycling - it's fascinating.

And when a few get a chance to travel overseas to see the mechanisation of recycling in Wales, they are in awe of sorting bins and machinery that sorts automatically, but with a recycling rate of less than 30% rate I think their awe is mixed with missed opportunity seeing some recyclable materials missed and sent to landfills - a lost treasure in their mind.

So I watch this and wonder...what is the response.

Obviously, not all documentaries need a response, and while this documentary has been praised by environmentalist and names like Al Gore, the film to me is far more about the modern struggles of this unique group of people, the Zabbaleen, and their unique society and mind-set as they are forced to deal with modernization in a way that adversely effects them...and actually is less ecological.

So is the response that we should care about Egypt's trash collecting future, and discourage these less-ecological foreign companies, is the response to try to be more Zabbaleen ourselves and fight to not bury valuable resources in the dirt, or is it to try to send these kids to America and Western wasteful nations to give them the opportunity to recycle in these places?

The film doesn't really direct a response. So as this film picks up awards and recognition for creating ecological awareness it will be interesting to see what value and meaning is pumped into this film.

I can't quite say what response the film is interested in creating, but I can say that the story of these people a world apart from our own experiences is an incredible story, and I'm thankful for the exposure of these stories. Director Mai Iskander has done a beautiful job telling this story in a clear, thoughtful, and engaging way.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Top 10 Favorite TV shows of the Decade

Everyone's getting in on the best of the why not?

My selection of 24 as number 1 is for many is the creativity and concept of the show, followed by the creativity that keeps it going, although some seasons are certainly weaker than others.

Additionally, and I could certain expound on this as well, but the way that 24's storyline has in many ways told the story of America and the War on Terror this decade is fascinating, the show has adapted as our thoughts, fears, and political rules of engagement have changed. Keep in mind the first season was written prior to the September 11 attacks in 2001, pre-War on terror.

Beyond that the list expresses my preferences and level of personal enjoyment, inclusions like Alton Brown's food network show isn't necessarily saying it's technical the most influential or inventive show, but my own enjoyment of a show that combines basic cooking with science is absolutely fascinating and enjoyable.

My Top 10 TV Shows Of the Decade

1. 24 (Fox, 7 seasons, 2001 - present)
2. Arrested Development (Fox, 3 seasons, 2003-2006)
3. Lost (ABC, 5 seasons, 2004-present)
4. House (Fox, 5 seasons, 2004-present)
5. Gilmore Girls (WB/CW, 7 seasons, 2000-2007)
6. Mad Men (AMC, 3 seasons, 2007-present)
7. Alias (ABC, 5 seasons, 2001-2006)
8. Scrubs (NBC then ABC, 9 seasons, 2001-present)
9. Good Eats (Food Network, over 200 episodes, 1999-present)
10. Heroes [**season 1 only] (NBC, 4 seasons, 2006-present)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Cove - An Intriguing Must See

I remember back in elementary school when every kid was doing their "research papers" on whales and dolphins.

For some reason there was a fascination, and this resulted in kids photocopying lots of pictures of bottle nose dolphins and humpback whales to glue to a poster board.

Everyone wanted to be a marine biologist.

I think in my mind it was the elementary-aged love affair with the dolphin that kept my interest love in the acclaimed documentary of the year, The Cove.

This is not the oceanic-dolphin-environmental-hold-your hands-sing-kumbaya type of film I expected.

In fact, it's far more like a spy thriller of unlikely activist. A film where DNA experts, deep sea divers, live concert roadie, military ops professionals, and Industrial Light and Magic play a hand in something bigger than Danny Ocean and his gang could ever pull off.

As this assembled team of specialist get together the film creates a true sense of suspense that many film fail to create, and in The Cove the suspense is magnified, because it is real, and has real consequences.

And while I was most surprised and entertained by the spy-intrigue this film melds together other unique, moving, informative and entertaining qualities.

You have a handful of conspiracy's revealed, within the multi-country governance of International Whaling Commission (IWC), as well as the Japanese food and health industry.

Beyond that you have the sentimental story of Flipper trainer Ric O'Barry, who's story is surprisingly touching and captivating.

And finally, you do have the majestic images of these beautiful sea mammals.

With all the other stories, interviews, high-skilled sneakery going on in this film, all with exceptionally documented footage, it's hard to not recommend this film. It's mixture of elements all formed around impactful story telling make it clearly one of this year's best films.

The Cove is surely on the path to an Academy Award nomination, if not a win in the feature length documentary category.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Avatar: pre-thoughts

I haven't really given much attention to the film Avatar on my blog.

I'm not sure exactly why I haven't had much to say, but here are some top guesses:

1. Some people are so excited for this movie that I felt like I couldn't say anything about this film. The comic-con crowd was covering it to death.

2. Some people have been tracking this project since 1994 when James Cameron first started talking about it.

3. The details of this story seemed to be coming out more and more as the year went on and I didn't want to wrap myself into the storyline ahead of time.

4. With a budget well over $200 million, I'd hate to get excited about a bust.

5. Blue people?

...anyways, this film is coming out this weekend and I'm starting to get excited and very interested to see how this film is received. It'll need some big fan-boys and strong word of mouth to get above it's budget and transition into "profit" zone.

I've been excited to see this film get award recognition, particularly the drama and director nominations from the Golden Globes and Broadcast Film Critics Association.

This tells me this is more than just a sci-fi IMAX explosion, but that this film could be something special, and that Cameron's 15 year labor of love, might be a cinematic gift.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Nomination Morning: 67th Golden Globes Nominations

I lived in three different time zones this decade and so the time I need to wake up for Globe and Oscar nomination mornings has differed.

But I have to wake up and seee what type of surprises will show up and what confirmations we also see. Of course when the nominations come out in most categories we think "of course, I expected that" but today's the first day to get some strong confirmation of what buzz is going to start translating into awards.

Best Motion Picture - Drama
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Up In The Air

Surprised Inglorious finds it's spot here, I think the nomination of Avatar & Inglourious here both bodes well for it's best picture chances. Notable exclusions include The Lovely Bones, AN Education and Invictus.

Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy
(500) Days of Summer
The Hangover
It's Complicated
Julie & Julia

Not quite a precursor, but fun for it being a different category. Nine will keep on showing up, as will Meryl from Julie, but otherwise this show is these other films glory moment.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
George Clooney, Up in the Air
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
Tobey Maguire, Brothers

I suppise Maguire is the surprise here -- I would assume he will have to give up his spot to Daniel Day-Lewis (Nine) for the Oscars, Day-Lewis shows up in the musical/comedy category for the globes. Notable exclusion include Viggo Mortesen (The Road) and Jeremy Renner (Hurt Locker).

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy
Matt Damon, The Informant!
Daniel Day-Lewis, Nine
Robert Downey Jr, Sherlock Holmes
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, (500) Days of Summer
Michael Stuhlbarg, A Serious Man

I was a little surprised that they went for Stuhlbarg just for his lack of fame, but each of these 5 were in my list, with Stuhbarg in the 8th spot.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama
Emily Blunt, The Young Victoria
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Helen Mirren, The Last Station
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Gabourney Sidibe, Precious

No big surprise here, although with one or two uncertain spots in the expected Academy Awards list this type of exposure is key for actresses like Blunt, Mirren, and Bullock. With Mulligan not picking up the precursor like I've expected, I hope she win's hear, although almost any of these women could walk across the stage on January 17 at the Globe award show.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy
Sandra Bullock, The Proposal
Marion Cotillard, Nine
Julia Roberts, Duplicity
Meryl Streep, It's Complicated
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia

Sandra picks up her 2nd nod in the category and Streep has two in this single category. These two women are dominating Hollywood this year. Globes didn't have very many choices here, and I'm sure there will be some complaints about Roberts inclusion, especially in place of Zoey Deschanel. All these 5 made my possibilities list, but Roberts was at the bottom of the 10.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role - Motion Picture
Matt Damon, Invictus
Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
Christopher Waltz, Inglorious Basterds

This looks like a popular list these days, the Oscars list could be identical.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role - Motion Picture
Penelope Cruz, Nine
Vera Farmiga, Up in The Air
Anna Kendrick, Up in The Air
Mo'Nique, Precious
Julianne Moore, A Single Man

I thought the globes might surprise her with some with star power like Mariah Carey in Precious, but clearly they liked Up In The Air and the double Up in The Air nod could carry through award season with Kendrick and Farmiga alongside eachother.

Best Director - Motion Picture
Kathry Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
James Cameron, Avatar
Clint Eastwood, Invictus
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
Quentin Tarantino, Inglorious Basterds

Former spouses compete (Bigelow vs. Cameron) and Clint Eastwood competes here without a best picture nomination. Lee Daniels director of Precious is excluded.

Best Screenplay - Motion Picture
District 9, Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell
The Hurt Locker, Mark Boal
Inglourious Basterds, Quintin Tarantino
It's Complicated, Nancy Meyers
Up in the Air, Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner

Surprise for District 9, showing up only here and Quinnntin Tarantino has to be feeling good this morning.

Best Original Song - Motion Picture
Crazy Heart: "The Weary Kind" (T-Bone Burnett, Ryan Bingham)
Everybody's Fine: "(I want to) Come Home" (Paul McCartney)
Nine: "Cinema Italiano" (Maury Yeston)
Brothers: "Winter"
Avatar: "I See You"

No Princess & The Frog - and this is the first mention I've heard of the song from Brothers. Avatar is picking up awards everywhere. The hype might be real?

Best Original Score - Motion Picture
The Informant! (Marvin Hamlisch)
Up (Michael Giacchino)
Where the Wild Things Are (Carter Burwell, Karen Orzolek)
Avatar (James Horner)
A Signle Man (Abel Korzeniowski)

Globes usually do a better job here in this category than Oscar does. Congrats to the nominees.

Best Animated Film
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Princess and the Frog

No surprises, easily the Oscar nods.

Foreign Language Film, TV-Drama, TV-Comedy, TV Mini-series, TV Actor & TV Actress (Drama, Comedy, Miniseries/TV Movie) can all be seen here.

Today's big winners seem like Up in the Air, Bullock, Avatar, Meryl Streep, Quinton Tarantino.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

10 Initial Thoughts on The Messenger

1. The Messenger tells a profound and simple story of two different US Army men who have the responsibility of notifying the next of kin of the death of Army soldiers within a short period of time after their death. The moment of telling families of death is something that has appeared in other films, but I've never seen a film with this central plot concept.

2. This film, while warranting some discussion about politics and the current war in Iraq and Afghanistan is not an overly politicized message film that speaks for-or-against our current war in any strong ways that I would expect people to find offensive. The story is too personal in it's scope to let those bigger polarizing ideas taint this film.

3. Ben Foster's performance is subtle, and while at first I wasn't sure if it was worth the hype as you get into the film his performance as Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery only improves.

4. The praise for Woody Harrelson in the role of Captain Tony Stone is absolutely warranted. He was incredible, convincing, and moving in a realistic way.

5. I am a fan of Samantha Morton, and think she's one of the best actresses working today. Her performance in this film is good, it warrants what is asked. I don't think she will be showered with awards for this performance, more because of the scope of the role, not the way the role is handled.

6. There's a wedding party scene that rivals the anxiety that is felt by the similar scene in Rachel Getting Married.

7. There's a couple sex scenes in the film that while could arguably have a purpose in describing the character and emotional connection to certain people, but I personally would have enjoyed the movie more if these scenes were tamed down.

8. I didn't know about the Steve Buscemi's role in the film, it's small, but well played. The role was perfect for Buscemi.

9. You can imagine that every experience that these men have telling people about the death of their next of kin is unique, and waiting to see what emotion will be exhibited by the families and next of kin is powerful in it's own ways. In this regard the film tells a very human story.

10. If this film has any sort of popular or critical success I think this might be the start of director/screenwriter Oren Moverman's name representing someone who needs to be on the radar for his future projects...if he keeps telling simple and powerful stories like this people will pay attention.

Related post
: The Messenger & Contemporary War Films (Nov 26, 2009)

Funny Actors: What Choices Do the Globes Have?

The Golden Globe nominee's come out in less than 48 hours and they will nominate 5 actors as best actors in a comedy or a musical.

While not bursting at the seems, this field has far more possibilities than the comedy/musical actress category.

1. Daniel Day Lewis, Nine
2. George Clooney, Up in The Air
4. Ryan Reynolds, The Proposal
5. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, (500) Days of Summer
6. Sacha Baron Cohen, Brüno
7. Robert Downey Jr, Sherlock Holmes
8. Michael Stuhlbarg, A Serious Man
9. Adam Sandler, Funny People
10. Woody Harrelson, Zombie Land
11. Bradley Cooper, The Hangover
12. Ricky Gervais, The Invention of Lying

I could see the Hollywood Foreign Press considering an inclusion of Steve Martin or Alec Baldwin here if they want to get really excited about It's Complicated, but chances are they will determine those to be supporting performances.

And there could be some An Education play in this category as well if it is determined that this drama is light enough to wedge into this category.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Sullivan's Travels & The Lack of Comedy in 2009

The other I discussing the weak selection of comedy actress performances in 2009. I mentioned my shock at Hollywood not producing more comedic fare in a time of a less-than-jubilant-society.

In the film Sullivan's Travels (1941), John Sullivan (Joel McCrea) is a financially successful film director who wants to move away from comedic film successes (like "Ants in the Plants") and instead do sometime more significant.

He wants to direct a great depression film called O, Brother Where Art Thou? that will be a"commentary on modern conditions, stark realism, the problems that confront the average man."

As Sullivan goes about his journey in the film he discovers value in comedy, especially in the midst of hardship.

Preston Sturges' film captures a truth that I think everyone understands which is that there is a immense value in comedy.

I don't think film studios are afraid of comedy, they here comedy and they think of films that are cheap to produce with respectable profit margins. Hence we see films like Old Dogs (starring John Travolta & Robin Williams) hit theaters and despite dismal reviews the film gets wide distribution and makes it's production budget of $35 million dollars within the first 14 days of release.

Slapping the word "comedy" on a film doesn't make it funny and valuable. There doesn't seem to be a high value on comedy and I can't think of many director's who are considered "quality directors" who are in the comedic film industry.

I think the audience is interested in some quality comedy. Sure critics might be apprehensive. Award bodies may deem the product to light-weight. Talented actors might shy away for the chance to play award baity parts of prostitutes, drunks, and literary figures.

I believe audiences are open to embarrassing a comedy that can stand up the classic comedies of the past, they're just waiting for someone to remember that they're the ones who are sitting in the seats.

Hepburn, Loralia & Baby

I've mentioned before on this blog how I was skeptical towards the WB's television series Gilmore Girls, but after giving it a fair shake determined that it was really a great television show.

One of the unique qualities of the show, and particularly the writing and Lorelai Gilmore's character (and Lauren Grahams acting) is that this modern television show used the screw-ball comedy devices of the 1930s. Where Katherine Hepburn nailed these roles in the 1930s in her Howard Harks/Carey Grant films, Lauren Graham also succeeded.

I think it's easy on first view to here the fast-talk of the Gilmore's or the silly talk we see in characters like Susan Vance (Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby) or Linda Senton (Hepburn in Holiday), but once you "give in" to the insanity, there's something magical about that type of dialogue. Perhaps it is that same cynicism to witty-fast-talk that also made some love (and some not-so-love) the Diablo Cody's writing in Juno ("That ain't no Etch-A-Sketch. This is one doodle that can't be un-did, Homeskillet").

I remember watching Bringing Up Baby, and at every turn, when I give myself into Katherine Hepburn's antics, whether it's being so relentless forgiving to her dog while being so oblivious to David's (Carey Grant) uptightness and inconvenience, or walking around with a broken high heel in the county jail, I think to myself...this is comedy genius and Hepburn at center stage is lovely and entertaining.

So with that I present you a favorite clip from Bringing Up Baby that will get me singing out of tune for days...

This post is part of the Katherine Hepburn blog-a-thon at Encore Entertainment.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Funny Actresses: What Choices Do the Globes Have?

I think it's too bad in a year when people are sort of "down" about things, the economy is slumping, job decline is rampant, and good news is hard to come by, I would think comedy would be thriving, but some how Hollywood isn't entertaining people with enthusiastic comedy.
So when the Golden Globe nominees are announced next week, I have to wonder, "What Choices Do the Globes Have in the category Best Actress in a Comedy or a Musical"

I've stretched hard to find 10...the first five are my predictions.

Nine is included her because the film's a musical, and the category combines musical and comedy.

And yes, I think Meryl will have two of the five nominations in this category. And yes, I think they will consider Julie & Julia a comedy, even though it's really not.

2. Meryl Streep, It's Complicated
3. Marion Cotillard, Nine
4. Sandra Bullock, The Proposal
5. Zoey Deschanel, (500) Days of Summer
6. Katherine Heigl, The Ugly Truth
8. Sarah Jessica Parker, Did You Hear About the Morgans?
9. Renée Zellweger, My One and Only
10. Julia Roberts, Duplicity

I have left Carey Mulligan off the list for the film An Education, because the film is not a comedy or a musical, but the film could be "light enough" relative the rest of the scene that she is thrown in this category. We'll see soon.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Living In Emergency

Recently I discussed the documentary Under our Skin. This documentary about Lyme Disease and American medicine, while featuring interviews and stories of patients and doctors, has the central character of a controversial disease.

Where Under our Skin is about a disease, the documentary Living in Emergency is about doctors.

Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders, has such a perfect title. The documentary shows a selection of doctors who go on mission with the non-profit organization Médecins Sans Frontières. Founded in 1971, this Nobel Peace Prize winning organization provides medical care in war torn countries all around the world.

The doctors in this film come from a variety of countries, some are well seasoned and used to working with MSF, while others are experiencing this for the first time.

While the organization has doctors in various places in the world, this film focuses on doctors in the African counties of Liberia and Congo as both these countries are in the midst of their own horrific wars.

Where the telegraph compared Living In Emergency as a cross between Gregory House and Hawkeye Piere of M*A*S*H...I personally found this story to be more similar to that our say...Scrubs.

No, Zach Braff doesn't make an appearance, but rather in the early seasons of the television show these newbies are experiencing medicine in a whole new way, they are loosing sleep, getting stressed, and having to deal with harsh realities of death and disease without the glamour they may have dreamed of.

Living in Emergency, is just that...only more real, more on the edge, and well...not quite as funny.

The style of this documentary is very voyeuristic. Mark N. Hopkin's style as a director of this film is raw and unrefined. As a viewer, you watch this film as though you are spying on something going on, you are literally seeing these doctors squeezed into new circumstances moment after moment.

Many documentaries are crafted in away to generate an emotion or calculated response. That was not this film. It would seem this film's primary purpose is to show what it is truly like to be a doctor with this organization.

These doctors are not all portrayed as model heroes, the way these doctors exhibit and release there stress sometimes captures them in their own vulnerabilities. These doctors often voice frustration with the organization, other NGOs, and each other.

There in lies the charm of this film. Watching it opens up discussion. Watching it helps you think about things outside of the realm of our own isolation. Watching it challenges our thoughts on aid, service, and most importantly humanity.

Opportunity to See This Film with Live Panel Discussion: December 14, 2009

This film, one of the 15 films that has been short listed for an Academy Award for best picture and many people will have the unique opportunity to watch this film in theaters this upcoming Monday December 14.

On the evening of December 14, over 400 movie theaters will show this film followed by a live panel discussion lead by Elizabeth Vargas of ABC's 20/20. The panel discussion will feature doctors who appear in the film along with the director.

To see theaters where the film is being shown and to buy tickets to this unique one night event you can go to the Fathom website.

Monday, December 07, 2009

In Honor of the DVD Release: A Visit to Julia Child's Kitchen

In honor of the DVD Release of Julie & Julia, a movie based on two memoirs (one based on a blog) and a cookbook, I thought I would share the joys of visiting Julia Child's Kitchen as presented by the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington DC.

I wanted to pretend I flew out to DC over the weekend just to get these, shots. But, these are from a couple months ago when earlier in the fall my wife and I visited DC. While there, we had the chance to see Julia Child's kitchen.

Julia's kitchen has it's own life and history. If you read My Life in France by Julia Child, you find that Julia's obsession and dedication to fool proof French cooking led her down an interesting path of kitchen gadgetry. This led to some bizarre tools, giant pestles and expensive copper cookware.

Paul Child, who to me is just as interesting to me as Julia herself, helped design and organize the various kitchen's that the couple lived in, particularly in helping Julia have access and organization to her many tools.

By the time they retired in Santa Barbara, California, Paul was able to design Julia's dream kitchen with high counters and spot for every knife, cookbook, and skillet.

One of pop culture events that define this past decade is the stories of Julie Powell and Julia Child, individually and intertwined in this film.

Nora Ephron's film adaptation has reintroduced people to the first television chef, a crazy tall American woman who's love of French food convinced her that she wanted to figure out how to make and teach the craft, with American ingredients and measurements. Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci's portrayal of this crazy couple was comedic and pleasurable.

And perhaps Julie Powell's story (and Amy Adams) portrayl was less positive, perhaps because Powell is her own modern foul-mouthed woman with a less sophisticated life, as some continue to find out in her affair detailing follow-up to Julie & Julia, titled Cleaving, which in addition to telling the story of her attempts to learn about buthcery also details the failings of her own marriage with Eric.

But whether it's video's of Julia Child cooking, the cookbook, the movie, or the biography, some how Julia Child has left her mark and found her way back into American homes and kitchens.

With all this rediscover, having a chance to see her actual kitchen on display was a real treasure.

And no, I didn't leave any butter as a memorial to her.

NBR Awards & Best Supporting Actor Predictions

The National Board of Review kicked off award season with a shout out to their favorite stars, namely Clint Eastwood who's Invictus earned him Best Director, along with George Clooney who tied with Morgan Freeman for best Actor. (Note: Up In The Air, won best film)

The NBR award's didn't really tell us too much about this award season that we didn't already assume, but they're choice for Best Supporting Actor was a name that hasn't really been tossed around, which is is Woody Harrelson for The Messenger.

The last time the supporting actor was nominated was Phillip Seymour Hoffman who won in 1999 for his work in Magnolia and the Talented Mr. Ripley...but of course, the Academy has since "made good." So with that I present some updated supporting actor predictions.

Tier 1, Predicted 5

1. Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
2. Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
3. Alfred Molina, An Education
4. Woody Harrelson, The Messenger *New*
5. Christopher Plummer, The Last Station

Tier 2, On the Edge

6. Matt Damon, Invictus
7. Anthony Mackie, The Hurt Locker
8. Alec Baldwin, It's Complicated
9. Stanley Tucci, Julie & Julia
10. Peter Sargaard, An Education

Tier 3, Perhaps Possible

11. Kodi Smit-McPee, The Road
12. Paul Giamatti, The Last Station *New*
13. Christian McKay, Me and Orson Wells *New*
14. Jude Law, Sherlock Holmes *New*
15. Robert Duvall, The Road

Off the list: Richard Kind, A Serious Man; Jeff Bridges, The Men Who Stare at Goats; Tobey Maguire, Brothers; Paul Schneider, Bright Star

Most Recent Predictions: Best Actor ( 11/27/09); Best Actress (11/28/09); Best Supporting Actress (10/25/09)

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Under Our Skin - A Surprisingly Interesting Film About Lyme Disease

I recently had the chance to watch the documentary Under Our Skin. This compelling film was recently shortlisted as one of 15 potential Academy Award nomination for best feature length documentary.

The film is about Lyme disease. Prior to watching the film my thoughts on Lyme disease was the knowledge that it was a disease the people always say you can get from ticks and that I think this disease has been listed for a diagnosis on the medical diagnosis show House.

My wife and love House, and one of the things we surprisingly enjoy is the complexity of test, symptoms, and and challenges associates with mysterious diseases. The disease itself is practicly a character.

The picutre above is a syphilis spirochete, similar in appearance to the Lyme disease bacteria. In this film the bacteria is it's own character in this unique story.

I must admit, I was a little skeptical prior to screening this film. I think there is a tendency for documentary film makers to be Michael-Moore-like and try to expose something in an emotionally explosive way, and I was fearful this would be another "Sicko." Yet, while this film has a clear message about exposing misunderstanding and manipulation for monetary gain, this film isn't about pointing fingers. It's a film introducing viewers to the less-than-clear picture of this unique disease.

Watching this film is 104 minutes well spent, but it's not just informative, it's interesting. The film making is of the highest quality, not using gimmicks, but in telling tight stories in a clear and interesting way.

The film tells the stories of individuals and families fighting through the battles of chronic Lyme disease, one of the primary stories is that of Mandy Hughes, a sea world trainer in Orlando who records her deteriation and antibiotic treatment with a specialist from North Carolina.

But more than the stories of the patients, I found myself more intrigued by the perspectives and the stories of the doctors. These doctors treating an unknown disease and taking risk in their practices, especially with changing tides in the insurance and medical community bring some unique controversies and challenges to light.

One of the most unique mysteries this film discusses is the connection between Lyme disease and other more "spotlighted mysterious diseases" like Parkinson's, Muscular Sclerosis, Lou Gehrig's Disease (ALS), and Alzheimer's.

And I can't help but wonder, what would Dr. House and his staff think? (Or rather, other experts, if Foreman, Cameron, & Chase are unavailable to comment).

I certainly would have no qualms seeing this film directed by Andy Abrahams Wilson receive an Academy Award nomination, I think that the more people who meet these patients, doctors and the bacteria through this film, the better. An Oscar nomination could help. There is plenty of room for discussion and this film creates the opportunity.

My Friend's Favorite Christmas CDs

It's crazy to me what a wide genre we have in "Holiday Music." So many artists have released Christmas albums.

It's as though once you have enough "fan base" to release four or five albums, you are positioned to release a Christmas album. And you no what - we buy them. And for one month of the year many people listen to hardly anything but songs of the season.

I recently asked on Facebook my personal friends there favorite Christmas albums, and here's the albums they mentioned.

Here's what my friends mentioned:

Diana Krall Christmas Songs by Diana Krall and Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra
Christmas by Rebecca St. James
The Holiday Collection by Kenny G
Merry Christmas by Johnny Mathis
Home for Christmas by 'N Sync
Let It Snow Baby... Let It Reindeer by Relient K
Christmas Eve and Other Stories by Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Barenaked for the Holidays by Barenaked Ladies
Peace on Earth by Casting Crowns
Glory in the Highest: Christmas Songs by Chris Tomlin
Christmas Favorites by Bing Crosby
White Christmas by Rosemary Clooney
Complete Columbia Christmas Recordings by Gene Autry
Best of All: KVIL Christmas 1998 by Various Artist
White Christmas by Bing Crosby
Christmas Collection by the Carpenters
Merry Christmas by Mariah Carey
Santa's Playlist by Sister Hazel
The Season for Romance by Lee Ann Womack
Harry for the Holidays by Harry Connick Jr.
Christmas by Alabama
Noel by Josh Groban
Elf: Music From The Major Motion Picture by Various Arists

What are your favorites? What essential Christmas albums are missing?