Sunday, February 27, 2011

83rd Annual Academy Awards

Of all the award shows out there, I only pay attention to the Academy Awards. The Oscars are most closely tied to the industry they represent and the voters are members of the industry, so they hold a little more sway with me. Yet, do the awards matter more than the work itself?I have a few gaps in my movie attendance this year, so I'm going to just concentrate on the big awards. And diving into the big awards brings us headlong into The Problem.

The Problem is this: What do you do when last year's winner outdoes himself? Jeff Bridges took home the trophy for Best Actor last year for Crazy Heart. This year, he gave us an even better performance in True Grit. Should he win automatically for doing a better job than a previous performance that won an Academy Award or should everyone be judged with a clean slate? Clean slate, obviously. The Problem occurs when voters (or observers who make a living hyping entertainment news) declare a winner due to a great body of work over a career. No one could argue that Jeff Bridges has a great resume and deserves career recognition, but, one year later, we can clearly see that Crazy Heart was Jeff's third best role, maybe. It's very important to cast our votes, non-binding or not, for the best performance of the year.

Having warned my readers about the dangers of acclamation, let's dive into the awards. Let's start with...

An asterisk * leading a nominee means I didn't see the movie.

Actress in a Leading Role
Annette Bening  The Kids Are All Right
*Nicole Kidman  Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence  Winter's Bone
Natalie Portman  Black Swan
*Michelle Williams  Blue Valentine

Acclamation has it going to Portman. Acclamation is correct this time, as her performance was head, shoulders and wings above the others I saw. She took some serious chances and it paid off big time. Some will say it's Bening's time and her performance was good, but, sorry, not this time. We could make a good argument for Jennifer Lawrence but Portman was feather better.

It would be a different story if Hailee Steinfeld had been nominated in this category for True Grit. She had more screen time than Jeff Bridges and completely inhabited her character. A competition between Natalie and Hailee would be be very interesting to contemplate.

Actor in a Leading Role
*Javier Bardem  Biutiful
Jeff Bridges  True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg  The Social Network
Colin Firth  The King's Speech
James Franco  127 Hours

Again, acclamation has this award already engraved with Colin Firth's name. I wouldn't have a problem with the Oscar going to any of the other three.

Actor in a Supporting Role
Christian Bale  The Fighter
John Hawkes  Winter's Bone
Jeremy Renner  The Town
Mark Ruffalo  The Kids Are All Right
Geoffrey Rush  The King's Speech

Acclamation has this award going to Bale. I'd be fine with Bale or Hawkes taking it although I generally don't care for Bale. Renner and Ruffalo, while doing fine jobs, weren't quite as good. Rush did a decent job but I felt like he hit the comic relief part just a little too hard.

Actress in a Supporting Role
Amy Adams  The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter  The King's Speech
Melissa Leo  The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld  True Grit
*Jacki Weaver  Animal Kingdom

As I mentioned before, Hailee did a fantastic job in what was really a lead role, so I'm going with her here. Oddly, The King's Speech was so good that I forgot my general dislike of Helena Bonham Carter (going back to The Wings of the Dove in 1997). I wouldn't object if she won which says volumes about how good she was. The ladies from The Fighter were both decent but not quite award winning. And really, why wasn't Mila Kunis nominated for Black Swan?

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
The Social Network Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin

There is no need for discussion or even mentioning the other nominees. Sorkin.

Black Swan  Darren Aronofsky
The Fighter  David O. Russell
The King's Speech  Tom Hooper
The Social Network  David Fincher
True Grit  Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

I'm going to give it Fincher for The Social Network. The most important thing about this category is that Darren Aronofsky can never win an Oscar. We can say wonderful things about Black Swan and some of his other movies but the guy who directed The Fountain can simply never be allowed to win an Oscar for directing.

Best Picture
Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King's Speech
127 Hours
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone

Ten Best Picture nominees is simply too many to consider. I wouldn't object to any of them winning, except for:
Black Swan Both because it was hard to watch and to punish Aronofsky.
Inception It was 20 minutes too long. Maybe that's why it didn't get a nom for Film Editing.
127 Hours Not enough Kate Mara.

Oh, you want me to actually choose a winner? OK. Umm... The King's Speech. It's a close call this year, with The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit and Winter's Bone as exceptionally good runners up.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go find my tux so I can be suitably dressed when the show starts.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


Contains minor spoiler

Unknown is what we will henceforth describe as the basic Liam Neeson thriller. A grainy, dark film set in an exotic foreign locale with car chases up the wazoo and a mano a mano resolution featuring lots of quick-cut martial arts. Convenient for us that Liam Neeson is also the star of Unknown. It's very similar to Neeson's Taken of two years ago, where a former spy tracks down his kidnapped daughter in Paris, causing untold physical and personal carnage. Here, an amnesiac summons his inner spy when his life and wife are stolen in Berlin, with untold physical and personal carnage.

Although I'm describing Unknown as a formula movie, it doesn't feel like one, and the presence of Liam Neeson means you automatically know who the good guy is. It runs about ten minutes too long but is a very serviceable thriller.

Here comes a minor rant

I watched the movie this morning and watched a little TV this afternoon. Wouldn't you know it, I saw a commercial for Unknown. Part of the plot revolves around stopping a bomb from detonating. The commercial, run during a prime-time TV show last Thursday, showed the bomb going off. I had not seen any commercials for the movie before seeing it and saw the in-theater preview maybe three times, most recently two weeks ago. The sequence with the explosion - very tense - worked. If the commercial or preview had been fresh in my mind, I wouldn't have cared - I would have known what was coming. Consider this yet another example of the movie's marketing department ruining the hard work of the creative department - you know, everybody who made the dang movie.  Stop it.


Monday, February 7, 2011

How I Met Your Mother - Climbing Out of the Hole

Last month, I wrote about how an episode of How I Met Your Mother was ruined by an overly funny gag during a death-in-the-family story. Because I am holding them to a high standard and blogged about it when they screwed up, I feel obligated to report when they get something right. Tonight's episode (season 6, ep 15) was out-of-the-ordinary funny.

First, it featured the relatively new character of Zoey, played by the adorable Jennifer Morrison, previously Dr Cameron on House, MD - always good to see her. In this episode, Zoey's cousin was played by Katie Perry and her breasts. I'm not sure what Katie's claim to fame is, but she's also cute and her cleavage is a good sport. There was ample screen time for Suzie Plakson as Marshall's mother. I've liked her since she played a Klingon on Star Trek The Next Generation a generation ago.

Aside from the good writing on tonight's episode, there were the Minnesotisms, which put it over the top. The politeness in answering the phone and Robin's fake accent were good, but Mrs Erickson's comment about going to Byerly's was genius.

So, How I Met Your Mother producers, you've climbed out of the bottom of your hole a little. This was a very good episode, but you still us a great one.

Beverage Recycling

At the last two movies I've been to, they played a Coca-Cola commercial before the previews. It showed several flashy, bouncy sequences where one person would toss a can or bottle into a recycling bin and immediately someone else would get a full pop from a vending machine. The tag line was "If you've had a Coke in the past 85 years, you've been part of the biggest beverage recycling program in the world."

I really hope they meant to say "beverage container recycling" rather than "beverage recycling." If they're turning old containers into new ones, hey, count me in. If Coke is putting urine - filtered, treated, evaporated, condensed, sliced, diced, or otherwise - in my pop, I'm switching to something else.