Monday, February 28, 2011

18 Films that Weren't: 2010 Films That Didn't Live Up To Expectations

As one film season fades away and leads way to another, this seems like an important time to remember that the "exciting films" of the new year sometimes end up being films that disappear off the map all of the sudden...often when their releases occur with a whisper of a whimper.

Here's a list of the Top 10 films from 2010 that seemed like they would be some of the big films of 2010 that had a far more limited impact than expected...

This list does not necessarily reflect the failings of the film, just that it didn't live up to early award hype.

18. Tree of Life - It's always a little disappointing when the film that has potential moves to the following year. It seems like Tree of Life has been doing that every year for the last half a decade, but this year, it actually seemed like it was going to come out.

17. Waiting for "Superman" - This documentary was one of most successful documentary at the box office (beyond nature film Oceans, and the documentary Babies), but despite Davis Guggenheim's previous Oscar win for An Inconvenient Truth, it failed to get an Oscar nomination. I guess that's what you get for putting punctuation in your film title.

16. Another Year - Some people love Mike Leigh, and this was on some people's list all year long as a serious contender. It showed up to play in award season to some degree, but certainly not in the way some people predicted. Year long favorite Lesley Manville failed to make the Oscar nomination cut, where the screenplay by Leigh was it's sole nomination.

15. Made in Dagenham - this British indy film all of the sudden started to be talked up in the fall, particularly it's performances by Miranda Richardson and Sally Hawkins. But as quick as the excitement came it vanished off the radar as well.

14. Get Low - This little film seemed like the type of film that was going to have some acting awards and some devoted fans. It never grabbed traction, even though I imagine in a 6 field actor race, Robert Duvall may have been on the Oscar ballot.

13. Miral - Did this movie even come out? It's US release has been moved to March 2011, but the Wiensteins' with all their award loving, must not be too excited about this film to move it to March in the United States. Julian Schnabel did something fantastic with The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and the anticipation of his return with the biographical film created some anticipation that vanished in the movement of release schedules.

12. Never Let Me Go - Perhaps I put myself in a position to be disappointed here. But this film had a young star cast (Keira Knighley, Andrew Garfield, Carey Mulligan) and a great story to work with, but I just found it to be so flat and didn't capture the intrigue of the source material one bit.

11. Fair Game - Sean Penn & Naomi Watts seem like ideal performers to get lauded for playing this real-life-contemporary-news-worthy couple. But this Bourne-series producter (Doug Liman) couldn't seem to help this film get the traction or reception it needed to do much of anything.

10. The Tempest - Julie Taymor, genius, or the breeder of disaster? This Shakespeare recreation never sprouted wings and it certainly didn't bring Helen Mirren any extra sparkle to her mantle.

9. Love Ranch - Helen Mirren 2010 fail part II. This time it wasn't Julie Taymor's fault, but her husband Taylor Hackford.

8. Eat, Pray, Love - This is another film that should have had some key components that would at least get Julia Roberts and some of her supporting cast invited to the Golden Globes. Not so. It did suck up some money at the box office due to a heavy marketing push, but that star faded quickly.

7. Love and Other Drugs - The golden globes sort of went for this film, but I think it was just to have Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal come to the award show. When other non-comedic films land a spot in the best comedy category at the globes, you knew this film was toast. Edward Zwick's not making a strong case for his best director nomination.

6. Hereafter - Clint Eastwood working with screenwriter Peter Morgan? They can't seem to keep these two guys away from award shows! Oh wait, this film did.

5. Conviction - Somehow I feel like this film convicted itself to "unimportant film land" when it changed it's name from Betty Anne Waters. The film sounded like an Erin Brokovich-type-of-film but ended up being a one word title type of film that no one's talking about anymore. This wasn't the Sam Rockwell award film that people imagined.

4. The Way Back - This film couldn't find a home in the release schedule and was certainly not a Peter Weir masterpiece come-back film that was hoped for.

3. How Do You Know - This film probably didn't show up to high on many precursor list, but how did James L. Brooks fail so badly. How can the Oscar winning (multiple nominated) director not even get his comedy a golden globe nomination in the comedy category when you have Oscar winners Reese Witherspoone and Jack Nicholson in your cast? We're talking goose-egg nothing here, awful reviews, and weak box office (despite excellent release placement).

2. Shutter Island - This film made last years list for it's schedule adjustment from 2009 to 2010. This film is placed so high on the list, not because of any failings of the film or it's marketing strategy (which moved the film to early 2010 for box office purposes straying away from awards pressure in releasing it late 2009). But even still no one knew whether this film would be an award season contender or not. It ended up having very little play with award season, including zero Oscar nominations.

1. Robin Hood - sure the stories been told before, but it's a grand scale epic film that was directed by Ridley Scott with who knows how many Oscar nominees and winners in the cast and crew. And it's only nominations for the entire year was a costume nod from the Satellite Awards and some teen choice awards? This film would have been expected to do a little more than that award season. Something. Anything. This film didn't even get a technical award bone thrown it's way, despite early enthusiasm.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

83rd Oscar Wrap-Up: Most, Best, Worst!

So what was the take away tonight folks?

The 83rd annual Academy Award ceremony is over.

The King's Speech
& Inception win 4 Oscars.

The Social Network
wins 3.

The Fighter
, Toy Story 3, and Alice in Wonderland win two.

The heavily nominated film, True Grit, wins none.

I scored 17 out of 24 of my predictions correct (the same as last year)...

No real upsets in the award ceremony (that's not saying there weren't a few categories people could see going a couple directions). The win by Colin Firth only adds fuel to continue the Reel (Real) People Series (this year 3 of 5 best actor nominees where "reel people;" 0 of the 5 actress nominees were "reel people")

Some Superlatives...

Most likely backlash...
The King's Speech might be in the position for some post award ceremony backlash, since it entered the award season as the underdog to The Social Network. Tom Hooper has a lot to live up to now.

Most to be gained by an Oscar win...
Melissa Leo might be the true winner from tonight's ceremony. After an active small career, she's on the map...even more than she was after her Frozen River nod, and her win in the supporting actress race (and a chance to be on everyone's TV...bleep out included) puts in her in place she wasn't 24 hours ago.

What We'll Remember about the 83rd Academy Awards...the awful job James Franco & Anne Hathaway did at hosting. Which is too bad, because it's not entirely their fault...they shouldn't have ever been selected in the first place. Billy Crystal please, don't just present the visual effects again.

Funniest presenter joke...
Jake Gyllenhaal joked about how the short film categories mess up people's Oscar ballots.

Best Speech By A "No-Name"...
with the very appropriate and engaging speech by Luke Matheny who won for his live action short "God of Love."

Best presenter
...Billy Crystal (runners up: Jude Law & Robert Downey, Jr; Jeff Bridges; Sandra Bullock)

Worst presenter
...Russell Brand with Helen Mirren (makes me concerned about the Arthur remake they're staring in).


Picture of James Franco and Anne Hathaway from
The Film Experience.
Picture of the Oscar stage with The King's Speech illuminated from In Contention.

Oscar Predictions: 83rd Academy Awards)

Here's the predictions for today's Oscar ceremony (Academy Awards LXXXIII):

  • Best Picture: “The King’s Speech” Iain Canning, Emile Sherman and Gareth Unwin, Producers
  • Directing: “The Social Network” David Fincher
  • Actor in a Leading Role: Colin Firth in “The King’s Speech”
  • Actress in a Leading Role:Natalie Portman in “Black Swan”
  • Actor in a Supporting Role: Christian Bale in “The Fighter”
  • Actress in a Supporting Role: Melissa Leo in “The Fighter”
  • Writing (Adapted Screenplay): “The Social Network” Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin
  • Writing (Original Screenplay): “The King’s Speech” Screenplay by David Seidler
  • Animated Feature Film: “Toy Story 3” Lee Unkrich
  • Art Direction: “The King’s Speech”Production Design: Eve Stewart; Set Decoration: Judy Farr
  • Cinematography: “True Grit” Roger Deakins
  • Costume Design: “Alice in Wonderland” Colleen Atwood
  • Documentary (Feature): “Inside Job” Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs
  • Documentary (Short Subject): “The Warriors of Qiugang” Ruby Yang and Thomas Lennon
  • Film Editing: “The Social Network” Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter
  • Foreign Language Film: “Biutiful” Mexico
  • Makeup: “The Wolfman” Rick Baker and Dave Elsey
  • Music (Original Score): “The King’s Speech” Alexandre Desplat
  • Music (Original Song): “We Belong Together” from “Toy Story 3″ Music and Lyric by Randy Newman
  • Short Film (Animated): “Madagascar, carnet de voyage (Madagascar, a Journey Diary)” Bastien Dubois
  • Short Film (Live Action): “God of Love” Luke Matheny
  • Sound Editing: “Inception” Richard King
  • Sound Mixing: “Inception” Lora Hirschberg, Gary A. Rizzo and Ed Novick
  • Visual Effects: “Inception” Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley and Peter Bebb

Will I beat my record last year of 17 out of 24?

The Oscars as Super Bowl

Happy Oscar Day.

Some people have before compared the Academy Award ceremony as the film version of the Super Bowl.

And if you ask me how excited I am for the ceremony (as a few people have already today) I won't know how to respond, because in many ways other events of the award season are more exciting to me...most specifically Oscar nomination morning.

I've started to think about the Super Bowl comparison to Oscars and realized that many sports fanatics seem more interested in the process of what gets a team to the Super Bowl then the game itself. Once the Super Bowl comes along there's some casual interest if it's not their favorite team, and in a sense there ready for the new season to start.

That's the way I usually feel on Oscar day to. I don't really care who wins, mostly because I feel like the final conclusion is generally determined, with the possibility of a few surprises. And whether David Fincher or Tom Hooper wins best director won't make or break my year...or even my day. I'm watching with curiosity, but not wild excitement.

If today is like the Super Bowl, it's like all of the sudden many people "tune in" to the film season at that last minute, tune into the telecast and lock in to the films that have made up the year.

Here's some other side by side thoughts.

The NFL & The Oscars
  • The Draft = The Announcement of film schedules and casting news
  • Exhibition pre-season games in the NFL = Early festivals, like Sundance Film Festival
  • Regular Season Games = Film Release Schedule, reviews and box office wins
  • Final season games for wild card spots = Early precursors, like the National Board of Review
    Playoff Games = Oscar nominations announced and additional precursor ceremonies, like the Screen Actors Guild awards
  • The Pro-Bowl = Golden Globe Awards & People's Choice Awards
  • Superbowl Half-time Show = The Oscar Host(s)
Happy Oscar Sunday, enjoy 83rd Oscar ceremony (Or "Academy Awards LXXXIII").

My official Oscar predictions will be coming out before the ceremony.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Documentary Films Up For Oscar

One of the great things about this years Best Documentary Race is that while there is a clear favorite in the race (Charles Ferguson's documentary Inside Job), there is room for any of the other contenders to sweep in with the win.
And when Charles Ferguson was nominated for the 2007 film No End in Sight, a favorite, he lost out to a lesser known film Taxi to the Dark Side. This certainly could happen again.

Here's the low down on the 5 documentary features, their premise, why they could win, and what could keep them from winning the Academy Award. The films are ranked by my opinion of their win-ability.

1. Inside Job

Premise: Previous Oscar nominee Ferguson who took on the Bush administrations handling of the Iraqi War. This film's theme is the global financial crisis of 2008. The film has many interviews, and is assisted by the narration of film star Matt Damon.

Why it could win? Early favorite with important precursor award wins (Writers Guild of America and Directors Guild of America), the film deals with a relevant and contemporary topic, the director has been nominated before, and one of the Academy's own is the narrator. It also boast the highest box office gross of any of the nominees (a mere $3.9 million).

Why it might not win? It's not very fun, gimmicky, or feel good story.

Premise: A street artists, Banksy, who's known for his mysterious graffiti/art allows himself to be filmed by a french shop owner for a documentary, but when the documentary is awful and the shop owner develops his own passion for street art Bansky takes the reign on the films and presents and interesting snap-shot into a secret world.

Why it could win? Clearly the most fun film of the bunch, and most likely the most talked about. Not to mention, I think there would be some people eager to see what a Banksy acceptance speech might look like since he doesn't show his face or allow people to hear his voice. If the win doesn't happen, no one will know how that would have turned out.

Why it might not win? There's definitely a reason to question whether this film in itself a one big joke of a trick on audiences, and if that hunch was ever confirmed then it might make this documentary be the type that has an asterisk next to it's name in record books.

Premise: The film follows a platoon for a year in Afghanistan in one of the most dangerous places in the military struggle. The film shows this team in the Korangal Valley as they establish a new outpost (Outpost Restrepo) and the film is told using the words of the soldiers in a powerful and dramatic way. The film is directed by the journalist Sebastian Junger when he was on assignment for Vanity Fair.

Why it could win? Sebastian Junger is a great journalist. This film has a powerful captures scenes of the modern war that are so incredible and unseen that you feel like what is created is not only important but almost uncomprehendable. It carries the feeling of importance with it, as well as a "how did they do it" mystery. It's also a very contemporary topic.

Why it might not win? Heavy material, heavy clips, an honesty that people might not be interested in being exposed to without a message presented with the story.

Premise: An artist with Brazilian roots, Vic Muniz, travels to Brazil to work on an large scale art project with a social agenda to help the poor of his homeland. The project involves hiring "pickers" (people who work collecting recyclable materials at the large dump), to help him collect items to use in massive recreations of photos he takes of the pickers themselves. Lucy Walker directs capturing the behind the scenes magic and heart of the project.

Why it could win? Clearly, this film is the most feel good project of them all.

Why it might not win? Besides being a unique film, the uniqueness is really in Muniz's art and the how'd he do that creation of the artwork. The film itself lacks some of the sparks and buzz associated with typical winning films.

Premise: This is a film that deals with the impact and story behind hydraulic fracturing (fracking). This film is the first feature work of Josh Fox, and Josh Fox's narration and personal discovery associated with the natural gas trade in the United States is really what makes this film engaging. The film presents a strong social/environmental message as well as creates some urgency in the spread of the message of the film.

Why it could win? It's an engaging film, it captures the part of documentary films that many people enjoy with it's editorial style of investigative story telling. Josh Fox as a director has an endearing characteristic, that if people see this film that they might embrace. It also won the special jury prize at Sundance film festival.

Why it might not win? The film is the lowest grossing of all the documentaries (thirty thousand dollars), it was one of the surprise Oscar nominations, and has less buzz then other nominees.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Oscar Thought of the Day: The King's Competition

So....King's Speech has 12 nominations and will probably win Best this going to be a King's Speech award-fest...or will the love be shared as the night goes on?
I've voiced previously that I think David Fincher wins best director for The Social Network...but what about these other categories?

Best Picture: The King vs. The Social Network & True Grit

Best Actor: The King (Colin Firth) vs. No One

Best Supporting Actor: The King's Therapist (Geoffery Rush) vs. The Fighter (Christian Bale)

Best Supporting Actress: The King's Wife (Helena Bonham Carter) vs. Everyone (Jackie Weaver, Melissa Leo, Amy Adams, Hailee Steinfeld)

Best Directing: The King (Tom Hooper) vs. The Social Network (David Fincher)

Best Original Screenplay: The King's Scribe (David Seidler) vs.... Christopher Nolan's Dreams (Inception)

Best Cinemotography: The King vs. True Grit (Roger Deakins)

Best Art Direction: The King (and that crazy wall) vs. maybe....Inception?

Best Costume Design: The King Clothes vs. the other clothes (Alice in Wonderland, probably...maybe the Tempest or True Grit

Best Sound Mixing: The King vs. Inception

Best Editing: The King vs. The Social Network

Best Original Score: The King's Music vs. everyone (but probably not, but could be...Inception, How to Train your Dragon, Social Network)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Jacket Off, Jacket On: "Father Figure" in The Karate Kid

In my 2010 assessment of "best father in Film" for 2010, I looked at the year in a dismal way with some slight acceptance of the role of King George VI (Colin Firth in The King's Speech) as the best Dad in 2010. I later also acknowledge the unique positive role that fatherhood plays in Aron Rolston in the film 127 Hours.

When I shared my thoughts on father in 2010, a commenter (Deborah) mentioned another potential contender for a Dad in film. She mentioned Jackie Chan's father-like role in the film The Karate Kid, the remake/sequel staring Jaden Smith.

And, I agree that Chan's character does play a father-like role. In fact, I figured someone else had already discussed this topic previously, and found a post about this topic from the blogger 'The Upbeat Dad!' about the importance of Father's and family stability in the bloggers life as well as demonstrated in the firm through Mr. Han's character (Jackie Chan).

Now, this film is certainly not cinematic art, but I agree with the sentiment that this is a valuable perspective (although is a little bit trite and unimpressive). Yet the power of male influences in the life of children still rings true in this film, even if concepts like 'Wax on, wax off" don't quite translate as well in this remake (except this time it's "Jacket On, Jacket Off").

As a new dad, one of the things I feel like I'm learning and is also an essential part of my fatherly role is loving discipline. My wife is certainly capable of disciplining our toddler, but I don't know what it is, but there seems to be something unique that the male can bring to the equation. I'm not sure what that is, but if it's a 'jacket on, jacket off' training lesson that is needed, there Dad can get make that happen in a way, I hope I'm able to do.

I'm still learning. And it's too bad that kids have to experience there world's void of Dad's, and I hope that when Dad's are absent, that other men find a way into the lives of kids...not just to have fun, but to challenge them and teach them...wax on, wax off.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

50 Ways to Show People You Value Them

Recently in a small group Bible study, the conversation dealt with the importance of showing other people that we value them, and a small portion of the conversation then dealt with discussing ways we can show people this.

The questions been on my mind the past couple weeks so I thought I would put together a list.

50 Ways to Show People You Value Them

1. Look them in the eye when they're speaking
2. Use Ms. Manor's favorite words: Please & Thank you
3. Smile
4. Get to know strangers, so they're not strangers anymore
5. Provide positive and genuine feedback of other's work
6. Acknowledge the work of those who don't normally get acknowledged
7. Send someone a letter in the know...on paper, with a stamp on the envelope
8. Make sure people know what you appreciate about them
9. Do for someone what you're already doing for yourself (raking leaves, shoveling snow)
10. Remember the things that people have told you before
11. Follow up on topics that have previously been shared
12. Open up with others about yourself in a sincere way
13. Use body language that demonstrate openness and interest
14. Acknowledge the big moments in people's lives
15. Notice things that change about them (new hair cut, positive attitude, etc.)
16. Give them something you know they'll love
17. Do the chores or tasks for someone else that you know they don't like
18. Send an e-mail, Facebook message, or text
19. Pat them on the back (for real)
20. Put your arm around them
21. Give someone a hug
22. Listen to the details of what people are saying and ask more questions
23. Share a meal together
24. Remind them of why you appreciate them
25. Send flowers
26. Let others go ahead of you (through a door, in line, etc.)
27. Remember people's names and use them often
28. Learn to do someone else's hobby so you can do it together
29. Allow other people an opportunity to help you out allowing the friendship to be reciprocated
30. Acknowledge times when people need their space and give it to them
31. Open up your schedule for others
32. Bring them coffee
33. Tweet about them, Facebook about them, blog about them
34. Notice how people respond to things and ask about it
35. Ask about their family
36. Everyone loves cookies
37. Tell people how you feel about them
38. Invite someone to join you with your close group of friends
39. Pay for dinner
40. Talk about favorite memories
41. Laugh with, never at
42. Show people you value others by how you talk about other people when they are not around
43. Teach someone how to do something you already know how to do
44. Read someone else's favorite books so you can talk about them
45. Tag-a-long with them when they're doing the chores
46. Watch their kids, pet, house, garden
47. Learn what they're life looked like before you met them
48. Cheer for their sports team
49. Tell their boss they do a good job
50. Act without expecting something in return

What would you add to the list? Feel free to add some more.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Bio Pics: Life Stories & Snapshots

I recently wrote about my appreciation for the non-Epic status of the film The King's Speech in the way that it captures this small concept in the King George VI's stuttering problem, and captures his overcoming of this problem as the focus of the film. This is not an exhaustive film over the life, times, work, and death of King George VI.

As someone who is interested in the concept of biopics (as well as the role these films play on the award season), I've started to realize that there are certainly two types of biographical films. There are those that tell the story of someone's life, and those who tell a story of someone's life.

The King's Speech would really be an example of a film that tells a story.

I can think of some successful examples of films that have told more complete biographical snapshots that tell the story of some one's life, an example that quickly comes to mind in recent years is the film The Aviator. The story of this film, while not exhaustive tells many stories about Hughes spanning probably at least 20 years.

Another pairing of films that came out around the same time as The Aviator were the films Ray (about Ray Charles) and Walk the Line (about Johnny Cash).

These films about musical celebrities spanned decades, and told much of the same stories as one would expect to hear on an A&E Biography episode about the real lives of these people.

Now, don't hear me wrong. I enjoy all three of these films, but one of the challenges of these episodic life stories is that very few tie up into perfect little happy endings. That doesn't mean that they don't have redemption, but you see these celebrity biopics and it's not uncommon for them to be the stories of childhood pain or obscurity that finds life-changing stardom, followed by surprise life changing self-caused tragedy, that ends in a mess of an ending.

On the otherhand, I find there to be something quite magical that can happen in the film that decides it's just going to tell a story.

Since I've focused on 2004 with The Aviator and Ray it seems appropriate to mention Johnny Depp's performance in Finding Neverland as J. M. Barrie during the time he was creating the story Peter Pan. J. M. Barrie's life was more than just this story, but the magic of this film was it's focus in telling a story of this moment and experience, not the biography of Barrie.

Similarly, this was accomplished in the film The Queen, in which Peter Morgan did not write a script about the life of Queen Elizabeth II, but instead he told the story about a period of just a few days and how the Queen dealt with death of Princess Diana.

Different lives call for different treatments, but more than anything, I commend the screenwriter who is able to write the screenplay that tells a story in a way that is compelling, engaging, and true. And certainly, there is value to the full biography, and there are certainly times when telling a more complete story adds value, I don't think anyone can critique the full package life story films.

Yet at least for myself, I enter the film season with a basis towards the biopic that takes someone who's story is less known and whom we will gain a glimpse of someone's story, even if just a small snapshot.

(Pictured Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles; Joaquin Phonix as Johnny Cash; Johnny Depp as Sir James Matthew Barrie; Helen Mirren as HRH Queen Elizabeth II)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The King's Speech: Not Epic In A Good Way

There's a part of me that enjoys a good epic film, but there's another part of me that finds these grand epics somewhat "stressful."

There's something about watching a movie that's so big, so grand, and so long that all the ice in your soda melts, you need an intermission so you can stretch your legs, grab a snack, and use the restroom.

When I think epic film, I think of a film like Ben-Hur with all it's 212 minutes of grandness is quite a great film, but sitting down to watch is well for a select few maybe pure joy, but for the casual firm enthusiast, a bit of a chore. I can enjoy the huge musical scores, the star monologues, the larger than life sets, huge casts, and of course the emotional peaks and valleys.

Now, I know the term epic is debatable, but it seems pretty clear that The King's Speech at 118 minutes while definitely a period film, is not an epic film of the likes of Ben-Hur, Titanic, The Lord of the Rings, Gone With the Wind, or Braveheart.

And to me, that's a good thing. I plan on revisiting the concept, but I think there's something about a historic biopic that instead of trying to capture their entire life, captures something smaller in a more "feature-like" type of way.

As we approach the Oscar ceremony, I think that The King's Speech is gaining more and more love, and casual movie goers are asking each other "have you seen, The King's Speech" and generally speaking positive about the film experience (unless they have tendencies to pride themselves on being contrarian to the masses).

As a result this period film about a british royalty is stacking up some nice figures at the box office, and some general support. I doubt in the long run The King's Speech will have any sort of cult like fandome by anyone except high school speech theaters.

But when all is said and done, so many people will see this film, because frankly, by the time it comes out on DVD no one will feel like they need to block off an entire Saturday to fit the film into their viewing schedule.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Best Director Race, The Club & Tom Hooper

In 2008 I did a mini-blog-series about four directors who's were creating an impressive body of worker and had 2008 films worthy of Oscar consideration. Those directors were David Fincher, Christopher Nolan, Darren Aronfsky and Edward Zwick.

When I wrote about these directors, I talked about them "joining the club" and that if there respective films (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, The Wrestler and Defiance) were embarrassed, that they might land a spot in the best director race, affirmed as one of the best by the establishment.

In 2008, Fincher was the only one nominated of the bunch.

Interestingly, all four of those directors all had films with some buzz behind them this year with The Social Network, Inception, Black Swan and Love & Other Drugs.

This year, Fincher returns to the Oscars with his second nod and Aronofsky receives his first. Christopher Nolan is considered a surprise non-nominee, and Edward Zwick fell off the radar pretty quick after weak support for his effort this year.

All this back story to say that early on at the beginning of award season, Fincher's The Social Network seemed to be the favorite film, and Fincher would be riding it's coat tails for an Oscar win.

But after the momentum behind The King's Speech has picked up (not to mention it's 12 nominations), it seems to be consensus that the King George VI biopic will win over the Mark Zuckerberg biopic.

Yet, it's hard to say if Tom Hopper, director of The King's Speech, is going to be taking home the Oscar.

I wouldn't say a Tom Hooper win is unlikely, but there's a place in my gut that questions whether he has enough clout, or overwhelming love for the film, that will guarantee him the Academy Award win.

And it's here in this dilemna that I imagine David Fincher winning the directing Oscar, while The King's Speech under Hooper's direction wins best picture.

And needless to say...Fincher & Hooper's co-nominees this year (Aronofsky, David O. Russell, and the Coen Brothers) need not spend much time preparing their speeches. This either Fincher or Hooper's race to lose.

And the question still lingers...when will Christopher Nolan join the club?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Star Power in 2010

With a budget over 100 million, the film Knight and Day staring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, grossed just over $76 million domestically. Those might be good numbers for a small budget independent flick, but this was one of Fox's big Summer films.

And yet, it would seem that stars fade fast in Hollywood, as some of the biggest name of the past like Tom Cruise fizzles in the United States. Or I think about Julia Roberts, and despite all the advertisements for Eat, Pray, Love and "America's Sweetheart" the film did just a little better than Knight & Day, with a domestic gross of $80.5 million.

And where last year at this time, I was very skeptical if our big name stars had any star-power left with 2009 films like Avatar, The Hangover, and Star Trek with their generally "un-starry" cast.

2010's highest grossing live action films did have more star power than 2009, here's a list of who made the grade this past year (of course, there is plenty of room to argue these stars are riding the coat tails of their franchises and that people did not attend these films because of the performers and supporting cast).

Top Grossing Live Action Films and Their Stars:

1. Alice in Wonderland (Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowski, Helena Bonhem Carter, Anne Hathaway)

2. Iron Man 2 (Robert Downey Jr., Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Mickey Rourke)

3. Twillight Saga: Eclipse (Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner)

4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I (Daniel Ratcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Helena Bonhem Carter, Ralph Fiennes)

5. Inception (Leonardo DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cottilard, Ellen Page)

6. The Karate Kid (Jaden Smith, Jackie Chan)

7. Tron Legacy (Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde)

8. Clash of the Titans (Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes)

9. True Grit (Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon)

10. Grown-Ups (Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, Rob Schneider, David Spade, Selma Hayek)

SURPRISED? These people's name show up more than once in the top 10 of 2010

○ Jeff Bridges (Tron Legacy, True Grit)
○ Helena Bonhem Carter (Alice In Wonderland, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part I)
○ Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part I, Clash of the Titans)

Are these three secretly the real stars of 2010?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Fiction to Film: Oscar Nominations in 2011

Recently I previewed the recent trending with Oscar nominations and novels. The connection is not dominant, but 30% of Oscar winners over the past 10 years have come from long-form fiction.
So with that in mind, and a general interest in faction-to-film adapatations, I've created the list of 2011 films based on novels. Feel free to use this as your 2011 reading list.

Martin Scorsese will direct Hugo Cabret based on The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. Asa Butterfield plays the part of Hugo, amongst the co-stars of Emily Mortimer, Jude Law, Ben Kingsley, Christopher Lee, and Chloe Moretz.

David Cronenberg is to be directing an adaptation of Don DeLillo's Cosmopolis.

Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Mark Strong & CiarĂ¡n Hinds star in the adaptation of the thriller Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John le Carre.

Steven Spielberg produces and directs a WWI story with the film based on Michael Moprurgo's book War Horse.
Famous Brazilian director Walter Salles bring Jack Kerouac's On The Road to life with Sam Riley in the lead, and a unique set of supporting actors including Amy Adams, Viggo Mortenson, Kristen Dunst, Kristen Stewart, Elisabeth Moss and Steve Buscemi.

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver is being directed and adapted by Lynee Ramsay. The story tells about a mother of a 15 year old son who killed multiple people at his school in Columbine-style massacre, writing letters to her estranged husband. The film will star Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly.

Johnny Depp stars in the adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's The Rum Diary.

Alexander Payne directs and adapts from the novel The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings with a cast of characters that includes George Clooney, Matthew Lillard, Judy Greer and Beau Bridges.

A talented cast of women (Viola Davis, Sissy Spacek, Emma Stone, Bryce Dallas Howard) star in the adaptation of the best-selling novel Kathryn Stockett's The Help. Although if there is a star people talk about once this film comes out, I expect it might be Octavia Spencer.

Australian Nobel Prize laurete Patrick White will have one of his works The Eye of the Stormadapted with Australian actor Geoffery Rush as the lead.

David Fincher will direct the American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larson.

Michael C. Hall stars in a film about a man who's begins an affair with a former high school classmate in the adaptation of Douglas Light's East Fifth Bliss.

Cary Fukunga directs the reimagining of the classic Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

Matthew McConaughey, Marisa Tomei, and William H. Macy star in the adaptation of The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly.

Robert Duvall, Lucas Black and Melissa Leo will all perform in the inspirational golf film Seven Days in Utopia based off the inspiration book Golf's Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia by Dr. David L Cook.

Helen Mirren, William Hurt, Carey Mulligan, and Sam Reilly will star in Brighton Rock based on the classic Graham Greene. This novel was previously adapted as film in 1947.

There is still talk this will be the year we see Peace Like a River by Leif Enger, but no cast has been announced.

Anna Farris and Chris Evans star in What's Your Number? based on 20 Times a Lady: A Novel by Karyn Bosnak.

Wayne Wang directs with Fox Searchlight Distributing an adaptation of Lisa See's Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.

Rod Lurie directs and adapts the screenplay for the film Straw Dogs based on the book The siege of Trencher's Farm by Gordon M. Williams.

The Roman Britian trilogy has an adaptation in the film The Eagle based on Rosemary Sutcliff's The Eagle of the Ninth.

From the director of Resident Evil and Mortal Kombat, Paul W.S. Anderson directs his own direction of Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers.

Robert De Niro, Jason Stratham and Clive Owen star in a film about a Navy Seal forced out of retirement to save his friend in The Killer Elite based on The Feather Men by Ranulph Fiennes.

William Hurt, Dallas Roberts and Zach Gilford star in The River Why based on the novel by David James Duncan.

John Madden directs The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel based on the book These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach.

David Yates directs the final installment the Harry Potter franchise with part two of J.K. Rowlings' Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Similarly, part I of the Twillight Saga's fourth book is released in cinemas as we will see part one of Stephanie Meyer's Breaking Dawn.

Brendan Gleeson directs and stars in an adaptation Flann O'Brein's At Swim-Two-Birds.

On the kid scene, Angelica Huston stars in an adaptation of Fransesca Simon's Horrid Henry, and Jim Carrey stars in an adaptation of Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Jumping into Psych

With many of our favorite regular shows having final seasons over this past year (24 and Lost), I was more than willing to introduce a new television show to my wife & I's TV repertoire.

After a recommendation of something just enjoyable (non-faddish, awardish, sensationally popular) we've begun by jumping in to the USA series Psych. This show began in 2006, and is expected to begin it's sixth season shortly (multiple seasons always encourages me that the show is worth jumping in's always sad when you begin a show when it initially airs, love it, and watch it fizzle or get canceled).

So after watching the 2006 Pilot episode of season 1, we're interested and ready to jump in.

James Roday's portrayal of the main character (photographic memory, pretending to my psychic) is purely enjoyable, reminding me of a character like Hugh Laurie's House with all the wit and intelligence, with an equal dose of arrogance, yet lacking the bitterness and baggage.

Speaking of House, the pilot also had a role played by important season 4 House character and Mad Man minor character, Anne actress who I'd like to see have more opportunities. Although it looks like her role is limited to the pilot...too bad.

So...this is what we're watching, so you might hear more about this series, and if you haven't seen it and want to join us in watching it, we're just getting started.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Novels Adapted to Screen & Oscar's Biggest Prize (2001-2010)

The ebb and flow of the present of adapted novels becoming best picture contenders is something I've enjoyed tracking. There was a time in 2007 when I wrote off the idea of best pictures coming from adapted feature length work, and as soon as did, the awards of that following year proved I should consider otherwise.

So in the spirit of previous discussions, here's a list of the role the fiction novel has played in the best picture race.

Past 10 Years Stats:

2010 films - best picture nominees: 2 of 10 adapted from a novel (Charles Portis' True Grit; Daniel Woodrell's Winter's Bone)

2009 films best picture nominees: 2 of 10 adapted from a novel (Saphire's Push [source material for Precious]; Walter Kirn's Up in the Air)

• 2008 films best picture nominees: 2 of 5 adapted from a novel (Vikas Swarup's Q & A [source material for Slumdog Millionaire]*; Bernard Schlink's The Reader)

• 2007 film best picture nominees: 3 of 5 adapated from a novel (Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men*; Ian McEwan's Atonement; Upton Sinclaire's Oil! [source material for There Will Be Blood])

• 2006 films best picture nominees: 0 of 5 adapted from a novel

• 2005 films best picture nominees: 0 of 5 adapted from a novel

• 2004 films best picture nominees: 1 of 5 adapted from a novel
(Rex Pickett's Sideways)

• 2003 films best picture nominees: 3 of 5 adapted from novels (J.R.R. Tolkein's The Return of the King*, Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander, Dennis Lehane's Mystic River)

• 2002 films best picture nominees: 2 of 5 adapted from novels (J.R.R. Tolkein's The Two Towers, Michael Cunningham's The Hours)

• 2001 films best picture nominees: 2 of 5 adapted from novels (Andre Dubus' In the Bedroom, J.R.R. Tolkein's The Fellowship of the Ring)

In the past ten years, 17 of 60 best picture nominations adapted from novels - 28.3%

In the past ten years 3 of 10 best picture winners adapted from novels - 30%

That in mind, I don't hold my breathe when a highly praised novel gets the green light for adaptation - but I eagerly watch those adapted works curiously to see if the directors and screenwriters can convert magic from the page and make those stories into big screen magic.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Super Bowl Movie Commercials 2010 & 2011

Super Bowl commercials are high pressure time slots with lots of viewers and cost lots of bucks. When it comes to movie commercials, these high-priced times slots can perhaps be the first taste for general movie goers of what's to come in the year ahead.

Last year I did a similar post and showed that we saw that a Super Bowl commercials didn't guarentee box office success, in fact there were some films with under performance at the box office, indicating a Super Bowl commercial can only do so much.

Let's look at how 2010 films faired, arranged from highest grossing to lowest grossing. You will see a wide range of results. And while it might not guarentee success, a Super Bowl commercial could be one piece of a successful ad campaign in some of the most successful box office success stories.

I have included their domestic gross and ranking for the year.
  • Toy Story 3 ($415 million, #1)
  • Alice in Wonderland ($334 million, #2)
  • Iron Man 2 ($312 million, #3)
  • Despicable Me ($251 million, #7)
  • The Last Airbender ($131 million, #18)
  • Shutter Islands ($128 million, #19)
  • Robin Hood ($105 million, #24)
  • Prince of Persia ($90 million, #35)
  • The Wolfman ($61 million, #53)
For Super Bowl XLV (2011) here are the movie advertisements we are expected to see. There are quite a few many of the 2011 top 10 box office films will come from this list? And which ones will fail to get their return on investment from their superbowl advertisement?
  • Battle: Los Angeles
  • The Eagle
  • Just Go with It
  • Kung Fu Panda 2
  • Priest
  • Captain America: The First Avenger
  • Cowboys and Aliens
  • Limitless
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
  • Super 8
  • Thor
  • Transformers: Dark of the Moon
  • Justin Bieber: Never Say Never
  • Take Me Home Tonight

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Cutting the Umbilical Cord

Hey look, that's me in the picture cutting the umbilical cord after my son Shepherd was born a couple days ago. Welcome Shepherd!

As soon as my wife had her Cesarean section and they were mid-surgery (having taken our son out and preparing to stitch her back up again) they offered me a chance to jump into the action and cut the umbilical cord.

This practice of offering the father the chance to cut the cord seems incredibly strange to me. There was definitely a part of me that had two competing thoughts at the time...the first was, "you guys are the experts, and I don't anticipate any personal satisfaction from this practice, you can go ahead." The second thought I had was..."why not? I clearly can't mess up if they offering me the chance to do this, and I'd hate to regret turning down what could be a magical experience later." I cut the cord, and was it magical? was like using scissors to cut through a gooey rubber tube, and the whole birthing situation is a huge miracle with guts and goo, and I felt like I was dealing more with the goo part then the miracle at that point.

I'm not sure where this practice originated of letting the dad jump in on this portion of the birthing experience, but it's mighty strange. Obviously, there's not much you can mess up with in this practice, and the cord is already clamped when you cut.

At the same time the symbolism behind the auction of "cutting the cord" and severing the intimate care system between the mother and the child is definitely goofy, because it's not like after that moment the mother is abandoned and the child free, because the mother's role is vitally important that day, that week, and the rest of eternity. The kid just has there own way to process blood and oxygen that they'll be using for the first time and symbolizing that with a pair of scissors is an interesting modern tradition to the birthing experience.

But mom and baby are healthy and at home, and the umbilical cord...well, it's doing it's thing too.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

127 Hours & Aron Ralston's Motivation

I recently wrote a post critical of the image of father's in 2010 films, claiming that generally the presentation of father's is limited, functionally not present, or very negative.

I realized that there was a unique father presentation in the film 127 Hours, that while minimal in screen time is hugely significant in the storyline.

In the film James Franco portrays the real life story of Aron Ralston, a young fearless outdoorsman who finds himself trapped and all alone in a Utah canyon.

In Ralston's own book describing the incident, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, he explains a transition in which he goes from being willing to die having carved his epitaph into a wall and recording his last will and testimony to suddenly having a new surge to live at any cost.

His desire to live came from a vision/hallucination of a young boy which he interpreted to be his son.

Where Ralston had come to peace with his own life, the vision of becoming a father not only gave him hope, but also gave him motivation to do the unthinkable, a graphic self-amputation of his arm in order to free himself.

In the film 127 Hours, Danny Boyle does not exclude this from his story, and artful finds a way to tell this part of a story with a couch in the canyon where people sit and we see Ralston's visions.

As the film ends, we see the present day Ralston on this couch with his wife Jessica and son Leo...the son who Ralston claims was the boy he saw in the canyon who inspired him to save himself for the sake of fatherhood. And perhaps to me, this is the most interesting and meaningful image of father experience presented in the films of 2010.

(Image via article, A film you'd cut your arm off to see... climber Aron Ralston reveals never-before-seen pictures of his 127 Hours ordeal)

John Barry Remembered: My First Associations

John Barry, famous film composer died on January 30 of this year at the age of 77.

I've heard and seen some nice pieces on his death and most are framed in the way that introduces the name John Barry to general audiences by mentioning that he's won 5 Oscars and is best known for his scoring of 11 James Bond films.

Before I had ever watched a John Barry scored film (with the exception of Dances With Wolves, perhaps) I was learning to play the saxophone.

I'm sure many people who've played an instrument can relate to the scenario where you are beginning to play an instrument but early on become weary of playing "Hot Crossed Buns", "Mary Had A Little Lamb", and "When The Saints Go Marching In."

So, it wasn't long before I got a music book or two with hit movie songs. Of course, I didn't know the majority of the songs or their films, and even if I did they were still too advanced for my technical ability. But I'd give them a try.

One song I remember embracing was the theme from Midnight Cowboy, written by John Barry. I didn't know the story of this film about an unsuccessful hustler in New York, but I knew that there was something enjoyable in the sad lonely descending scales that made up this piece, and I could execute that sound when I played it on my sax.

I would pretend that the song had soulful lyrics that was simply the repetition of the words "Mid-ni---ght Cow-boy, Mid-night Cow-boy" over and over down those scales that in the original version were done with a harmonica not a saxophone.

I'm pretty sure that same same song book had the winning theme to "Born Free" as well. Which I distinctly also remember playing later, and I've never seen the movie Born Free before. But I know the music.

And perhaps that's the magic of Barry's music is that it's intrigue was capable of superseding the films in which it was written for, but at the same time dramatically shaped the feel and tone of the films. Honestly, the music written for a James Bond film is intriguing and interesting on it's own, but in the films it becomes a character itself dramatically increasing the adventure, the excitement, and the intrigue.

Similarly, I think the role of music was a significant influence in the role of many of the films John Barry wrote...Midnight Cowboy, not an exception.

(The image above is from the album John Barry: The Best of the EMI years)