Monday, January 18, 2010

2010 Oscar Nominations Predictions

2010 Oscar Nominations Predictions

Ladies and gentlemen, it is now officially Oscar season. Love 'em or hate 'em, the Oscars will be the height of conversation for the next month or so, and is historically one of the highest-rated shows on television every year. It's one of my favorite times of the year because it allows me to feed my obsession endlessly.
And in that spirit, I give you my predictions for the nominations in all the major categories this year. These are based on other professional critics' predictions, various awards given out, and several top 10 lists. But, these are not copycat lists- these are my own informed predictions of what I think will- and will not- be nominated based on what I've observed. (No, I have not seen all of these movies I'm putting down. Some of them haven't even been wide-released yet.) There is also an emphasis on Best Picture (remember there's ten nominees this year) because, let's face it, that's the only award that really matters.
Last year, I didn't get any category completely correct, so this year, I have added an alternate nominee for every category in case something I pick is wrong.
After the nominations are announced, I'll do a follow-up post with the complete nominations and grading how close my predictions were. The nominations will be announced at 6:30 am Tuesday, February 2nd. The press conference should air on any channel showing the news at that time, but ABC is your best bet.

Best Picture

An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
A Single Man
Star Trek
Up in the Air

Alternate: It's Complicated

All right, where to start? I think the shoo-ins here are Hurt Locker, Precious, and Up in the Air. The latter also seems currently poised to win. They all have been universally applauded for their bold storylines and audience-pleasing techniques. It's hard to explain why Inglourious Basterds is so well-loved: it's a slow, talky, crude, and very violent movie from Quentin Tarantino, a guy who hasn't been nominated for any award for over a decade. But, everyone loves it (I do too), and Oscar won't ignore it. Avatar's massive box office performance and mostly-good reviews will also land it a spot, and while some think it's a front-runner, I think an epic sci-fi film will have trouble winning. Some say Invictus is also a shoo-in, but that movie seemed to me more like just another inspirational sports drama. But the presence of Clint Eastwood behind the camera and Morgan Freeman in front of it will propel it into this supersize race. The little indie films that no one has seen will be represented this year by An Education and A Single Man, as both have been universally acclaimed and have made it on many top-ten lists. With so many other good movies, these will both have trouble finding traction to be taken seriously.
Now to my two unusual nominees. Only one animated movie in history has ever been nominated for Best Picture (Beauty and the Beast, in case you were wondering), and it seems it would stay that way if it wasn't for the new policy of ten Best Picture nominees. I think another Disney film, Up, will get a shot this year, although I find it very unlikely it could win. My other dark-horse nominee is Star Trek, which you probably won't find on many critics' prediction lists. Maybe this is just wishful thinking, but take a look at the facts- critics loved the film for its revival of the dead franchise, its hip style and fast-paced action, and pitch-perfect cast. It made a helluva lot of money this summer, has showed up on many top-10 lists, and was even nominated for Best Picture by the Producers Guild of America. I think that the expansion to ten nominees was made for movies like Trek, which wouldn't have a chance in hell otherwise. Plus, with this system, it's possible for this to get a Best Picture nomination without getting very many other nominations. (You may note I'm not putting it down for any other major categories, directing, writing, or acting; not to say that it's not worthy, just that it's not the type of movie the Academy nominates for those things.)
I put It's Complicated down as an alternate because it's the kind of old-fashioned, star-studded romantic comedy that Oscar likes, but it opened to mixed reviews, which will probably ultimately hold it back from this race.
Whatever the nominees are, I'm sure it'll be an exciting race, as it's already proved to be historic.

Best Director

Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
James Cameron, Avatar
Lee Daniels, Precious
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air

Alternate: Clint Eastwood, Invictus

This category consists of what I consider to be the front-runners for the Best Picture race: Bigelow, Cameron, or Reitman could win at this point. Precious wouldn't be what it is without Daniels' vision, and the Academy should be prepared to give Tarantino (a winner for writing, but not for directing) another shot at this award.
I still don't think Invictus is a relevant enough movie to garner a nomination here, but the Academy may find that nominating Eastwood again to be simply irresistable.

Best Actor

Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
George Clooney, Up in the Air
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

Alternate: Viggo Mortensen, The Road

Clooney's a shoo-in here, and currently on track to win it. Freeman plays a real person (South African president Nelson Mandela), so he'll also be included. Firth, normally a good actor you just overlook, is getting the best reviews of his career. The entire film Crazy Heart seems like just one big campaign to get four-time nominee Bridges his first win, which immediately makes me skeptical, but he has the support of the all-powerful critics, and thus will be included. Renner's performance in The Hurt Locker is amazing and one of the highlights of this already-great movie, but the fact that he's an almost complete unknown- and that the movie opened in the summer- will slow him down. But the film's recent release on DVD will earn him the nomination last-minute.
The long-awaited film The Road opened to only lukewarm reviews, but critics everywhere seemed to agree that Mortensen was the best part of the whole thing. He might get a dark-horse nomination last-minute.

Best Actress

Emily Blunt, The Young Victoria
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia

Alternate: Meryl Streep, It's Complicated

Mulligan and Sidibe are the shoo-ins here; I'm picturing a win for the latter. Bullock has the biggest hit and the best reviews of her career for The Blind Side, and the Academy will finally notice this talented actress- playing a real person is what will really do it, though. The Young Victoria is really structured around Blunt's performance, so it'd be a waste if she wasn't nominated. And Streep just can't stop racking up nominations. She was nominated last year, and currently holds the record for the most nominations for an actress. This year, she will break her own record with her delightful performance as Julia Child in the Julia half of the film.
Of course, Julie & Julia opened in August, and Streep's other shiny performance in It's Complicated came out just last month. The Academy is known to have a short memory, so Streep might upset herself in the nominations this year. (The rules say you can't be nominated twice in the same category.)

Best Supporting Actor

Alec Baldwin, It's Complicated
Matt Damon, Invictus
Alfred Molina, An Education
Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

Alternate: Woody Harrelson, The Messenger

This race is difficult to predict. Waltz's scene-chewing performance in Basterds is the only sure thing, and the little-known foreign actor seems poised to get a well-deserved win. Damon plays a real person and proves his worth as an actor, and will recieve another nomination for Invictus, rounding out that film's major awards chances. Molina has lost some steam lately, but his tender performance in the little-seen indie should go along nicely with costar Carey Mulligan's sure-thing nomination. Tucci should also get nominated for his intensely creepy turn as a serial killer in The Lovely Bones, desite the film itself not getting much love. (That is, of course, unless the Academy gets confused and nominates him for his other good performance in Julie & Julia.) Baldwin's funny and brave performance in It's Complicated should provide this category with its only comedic role, which it usually does award.
The Messenger is unmistakeable Oscar bait, as is Harrelson's unsympathetic performance, but the film has lost a lot of steam lately and will probably be forgotten.

Best Supporting Actress

Penelope Cruz, Nine
Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Mo'Nique, Precious
Julianne Moore, A Single Man

Alternate: Samantha Morton, The Messenger

Mo'Nique and Kendrick are the best bets here; both performances elevated the movies to a new level and provided them with their most memorable scenes. I can imagine either winning at this point. (And for those of you who think Mo'Nique's arrogance in having just one name will shut her out, may I remind you that Cher has an Oscar.) Farmiga's nomination will go along nicely with Kendrick's, and she deserves it for giving a performance even sexier than George Clooney's. Moore will also get nominated for her small but memorable part in A Single Man. Poor reviews have ruined Nine's chances in most categories, but Cruz- last year's winner- should still get recognized for her steamy role as a mistress.
Again, The Messenger will probably end up getting forgotten this year, but if it isn't, Samantha Morton should also get nominated.

Best Adapted Screenplay

District 9
Fantastic Mr. Fox
A Single Man
Up in the Air

Alternate: An Education

Mixed bag of stuff here, including three Best Picture nominees-to-be. I imagine a win for the hilarious Up in the Air, but an upset from the highly dramatic Precious is possible. A writing nomination for A Single Man will go well with its other nominations, while the sci-fi actioner District 9 was widely applauded for its originality. Fantastic Mr. Fox doesn't have nearly enough lift to get it in the Best Picture race, but Oscar does occasionally recognize animated films here.
The campaigns for An Education seem to be focusing mostly on its acting, not writing, and besides, the film may be too mellow even for Oscar. But, if not, it will go nicely with its other nominations.

Best Original Screenplay

(500) Days of Summer
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
It's Complicated

Alternate: A Serious Man

The amazingly tense script for The Hurt Locker should make it a front-runner, as will Quentin Tarantino's irresistable script for Basterds. Pixar films do tend to be nominated here, although they are always long-shots for the win. Up was one of the most original films of the year. It's Complicated was also praised for its very funny romantic comedy directed at adults, and Summer's surprisingly funny script was also something unique.
The film is losing a lot of steam, but the Coen brothers' film A Serious Man may get a last-minute nomination for writing.

Best Animated Feature

Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Princess and the Frog

Alternates: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Coraline

The fact that it's even being considered for Best Picture should make it an easy win for Pixar's wonderful Up. The other nominees should be Fantastic Mr. Fox, loved by critics and hated by audiences for its inventive use of stop-motion, and Disney's Princess and the Frog for its revival of traditional hand-drawn animation.
There are usually three nominees here, but if there are five, they will probably be the moneymaker Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and the critic's darling Coraline. The latter opened in January, so it's going to be very difficult to get nominated since the Academy always has such a short memory.

If you've made it this far, you're probably going to be up at the wee hours of the morning watching the nominations with me, so more power to ya! Once again, the nominations will be announced live during a press conference at 6:30 am (Colorado time) Tuesday, February 2nd. The Academy Awards themselves will be on Sunday, March 7th.
And, as usual, I want to see comments on this post! Chime in with your opinions and let me know what I missed. Movies are things to be celebrated, and the Oscars are a perfect opportunity to get people talking about the movies of the past year, so start talking.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Lovely Bones ***

The Lovely Bones
*** out of ****

Peter Jackson's highly-anticipated film The Lovely Bones, based on the bestselling book (which, yes, I have read) is finally out. Once again, he shows his wonderful skills as a director: his compassion, his attention to detail, and his ability to craft an incredible story.
The plot of the book and film may alienate some people immediately, but for those who can handle heavy subjects, here it is: Susie Salmon is a young, happy teenager in 1973 who aspires to be a photographer and is on the cusp of her first kiss. Her next-door neighbor, Mr. Harvey, is a grade-A creepo who obsesses over Susie, and after lots of plotting and building an underground hangout, lures her down there alone and kills her. (We witness the events leading up to the murder, but not the event itself.) From this point, the movie splits its story: on one side, we see Susie rising to a beautiful, magical perfect world described as the "in-between." She makes friends with a fellow dead girl, who tells her she must let go of Earth to ascend to heaven. Susie decides to be loyal to her family and stay to watch over them. And as she does, so do we: the film dramatizes her family- father, mother, little sister and brother, and alcoholic grandma- coping over her disappearance and later acceptance that she was killed. Her father tries to aide the police in catching her murderer, while her mother wants to move on, eventually prompting her to move out. The sister and brother slowly grow up and learn to live with the pain, but the sister has a nagging feeling about her creepy next-door neighbor. Meanwhile, Mr. Harvey destroys all the evidence, is questioned once by the police but is never suspected of anything. He lives in solitude revelling in his genius.
For those of you who aren't scared away yet, let me assure you that the film is really a work of art. All of the acting is superb, especially Saoirse Ronan (Atonement) as Susie, narrating the film with an innocent gentleness, and Stanley Tucci as Harvey, who makes the viewer want to laugh at his geeky, chirpy loner- if they weren't so terrified by him. Mark Wahlberg also turns in a solid emotional performance as the father determined to keep his daughter's memory alive and catch her killer. The film is also unusually beautiful: Susie's heaven is a gorgeous mix of the landscapes of New Zealand- where director Jackson hails from- and glittery CGI. On the Earth side, the film perfectly evokes the look and feel of the 70's. Although the tale is timeless, it's difficult to picture the story taking place at any other time period. The music is also hauntingly beautiful and appropriate. And in a film that's so rich with dramatic emotion, it's surprising to find a couple of truly suspenseful scenes, most notably when Susie's sister breaks into Mr. Harvey's house looking for evidence.
This film is getting a lot of negative reviews, which I attribute to the dark storyline which may make a lot of people uncomfortable. But luckily, by taking out all of the graphic details and avoiding discussing religion, the story is able to focus on the characters. I also believe it's an improvement from the book: while the book lost itself in sex and went on forever, the film narrows the focus to Susie and her father and expands on what exactly is in Susie's perfect world. If there is a big flaw, it's that the focus is divided between heaven and earth, and the viewer has to decide which one they like better.
Also, keep your eyes open for a cameo from Peter Jackson in the photo store and a large bookcase showcasing The Lord of the Rings novels.
I've been waiting for this movie for at least a couple of years, and I can honestly say I am satisfied with this adaptation from one of the biggest names in film. It's more than beautiful, it's lovely.
I would recommend this film to fans of dramas, fantasies, and of the book.

You can watch the trailer here:

Saturday, January 9, 2010

It's Complicated ***

It's Complicated
*** out of ****

Meryl Streep returns to the screen and once again proves she's the queen of the movie world in this new romantic comedy that actually delivers on both the romance, the comedy, and the heart.
Streep plays Jane, a middle-aged woman divorced from Jake, played by the excellent Alec Baldwin (TV's 30 Rock). They have three grown children, and while Jake is married to the much younger woman he cheated on Jane with, Jane is hopelessly single. The two keep bumping into each other and so inevitably end up sleeping together the night before their son's graduation, after many drinks and dancing. Jake is ecstatic at this turn of events, but Jane is horrified at herself. Things get- you guessed it- complicated when another man enters the picture and is extremely interested in Jane. Adam, played by the legend himself, Steve Martin, is Jane's architect, and while she at first all but ignores him, she slowly warms up to him and they start a gentle courtship. Jake finds out they're dating and gets jealous.
The plot revolves around this love triangle and the effects it has on everyone involved. The film offers many funny moments involving plastic surgery, infertility, marijuana, indiscretion, and a hilarious video-conference gag. John Krasinski channels Jim Halpert, except much livelier, as Harley, the man engaged to Jane's oldest daughter. Harley is the first to find out about the affair between the older couple, and seeing him struggle with the truth is one of the high points of the movie.
The three leads are all terrific and all totally believable. By the end of the movie, the audience has formed different opinions on all of these characters because they feel like very real people. Writer/director Nancy Meyers has succeeded in creating a very good romantic comedy for adults, which are rare these days; so many silly juvenile movies are released that the adults often get forgotten. While It's Complicated isn't entirely an original or inventive film, it's great entertainment that features at least a couple Oscar-worthy performances. And no, the plot is not as complicated as the title suggests.
I would recommend this film to mature viewers who enjoy romantic comedies, and fans of the stars.

You can watch the trailer here:

Friday, January 1, 2010

Best and Worst Films of 2009

Best and Worst Films of 2009

As you all know, I am a pretty avid moviegoer, heading to the theatre as often as I can afford to. I saw lots of movies this year, and I couldn't help but notice a theme: there seemed to be a lack of quality films this year. I would often find there would be a month or even more before a film came out that I actually wanted to see. The thing was, the few good films that came out, were very good. As in, shape the decade, change the course of film history good.
So, I bring to you my second annual best and worst films list. I've compiled the top 10 best films and the top 5 worst films, because I tend to stay away from films that I think will be bad. As an added bonus, I have added an honorable mention to each category, because it's hard to narrow it down to so few! I must explain that this is not a true top 10 list because I did not see the majority of films that were released, I simply saw the movies I wanted to see. This is the best and worst films of the ones I saw in theatres. This also disqualifies any films I would have seen later on DVD- if it wasn't good enough to see originally in theatres, it isn't good enough to make this list.
Please note that some of these movies technically were released in December 2008, but were wide-released in January 2009- when I saw them- thus making them eligible for this list.
As usual, I would love to see comments on this post. Do you agree or disagree? Any glaring omissions? I want to know what my readers think.

"Top 10"

10. Inglourious Basterds
An unusual film even for Quentin Tarantino, this crazy WWII flick is extremely long and talky, but manages to suck you in anyway and there is never a dull moment. At some parts, the suspense is almost unbearable. Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, and Melanie Laurent are all extremely good, and the film builds to an unbelievable climax where all hell breaks loose. Actually more accessible than Tarantino's earlier films, although still doesn't appeal to every taste. A rare dark comedy from the master of current grindhouse cinema. My favorite scene? The opening with Colonel Landa questioning a farmer. Watch with a glass of milk.
9. Bruno
Just as funny as its predecessor Borat, Sacha Baron Cohen proves he's one of a kind with the most hilarious movie of the year. Sure to infuriate and disgust anyone who doesn't know what they're getting into, this movie tried to be relevant but instead was just incredibly side-splitting with its frantic five-jokes-a-second pace. The world needs more entertainers like Baron Cohen, who are willing to give themselves entirely to a role, even for comedy. My personal favorite gag- when Bruno rushes into the focus group who have just condemned his show and dances for them.
8. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
This could have easily just been part 6 of a long-running franchise, but instead was a chilling, funny, and emotionally driven film that focuses on the characters, not the special effects. Secrets come out, romances start up, and one of the most famous betrayals in modern literature make this one of the best installments in the series. Leaves the viewer thirsty for the Deathly Hallows.
7. Up
Pixar's latest gem appeals more to the younger crowd than usual, but there is still plenty to love for the adults. The animation is the best in the world, but that's only where the praise starts. It has humor, heart, thrills, and is oh-so-cute. The dimwitted talking dog Dug is my favorite character. Keep up the good work, fellas.
6. Avatar
James Cameron roars back to the screen with this amazing sci-fi epic. The story itself may be old news (Dances With Wolves, anyone?) but it's still unusually strong for a movie that has such amazing special effects- simply the biggest and best ever put on celluloid. The neon colors of the alien planet and the creatures look just as real as the humans they interact with. The movie event of the year is luckily, one of the best of the year, and made 3-D a must-see format.
5. Gran Torino
Clint Eastwood merges his old badass persona with his new sentimental side in this extraordinary film about a racist old man surrounded by Hmong people. After the teenager next door unsuccessfully tries to steal his car, he works for the old man and he eventually comes to respect these people. Like the best formula films, you forget you're watching a formula film and go with it, because it's all plausible. Also, the humor is surprisingly sharp and biting, elevating the film above simply your typical feel-good movie.
4. Paranormal Activity
A tiny movie with only a handful of actors and no crew- just the director- filmed entirely in the guy's house for just $11,000 became a national phenomenon, and one of the scariest movies ever made. What else is there to say? Only that it leaves you physically shaken. Don't see this one alone!
3. Up in the Air
A fairly new release, but this is the time when some of the best movies of the year come out. George Clooney leads an outstanding cast in a film about our sad economic times. It's depressing, relevant, and incredibly funny. Anna Kendrick shines as a young co-worker who goes on the road with Clooney. Jason Reitman's best film yet, this is a front-runner to win the Best Picture Oscar, and deservedly so.
2. The Hurt Locker
It pains me that more people haven't seen this movie. Despite being one of the best-reviewed movies of the year, this failed to get a wide release this summer, despite it being a big crowd pleaser. The story of an adrenaline junkie defusing bombs in Iraq is seriously one of the best war movies ever made, because it actually imitates war. The film is mostly waiting around for something to happen, with the battle scenes coming at you quickly and without warning. Injected with a very welcome sense of humor, the relatively unknown cast should become stars soon. This is the kind of film that benefits from positive word of mouth, so tell people about it!
1. Star Trek
An unusual choice for the best film of the year, I know, but have you seen this thing? The reboot completely redefines what Star Trek can be, with a fast-paced, non-stop thrill ride with eye-popping special effects, breathless action sequences, and real emotion in a complex storyline. The legendary characters are all redefined for a new generation of fans, and the entire cast is perfect. J.J. Abrams was the best possible choice for this reboot, and it's not just his future that looks bright after this movie. Kudos also goes to getting Leonard Nimoy to play Spock again, which united the old and young fans of the world. This got people who had never given the franchise a second thought to go back and look at the old TV episodes and movies, and look forward to the future of this epic franchise. Abrams has finally succeeded in making Trek cool.

Honorable Mention- Zombieland
The year's only zombie comedy- can you believe it?- succeeds at making you look at this genre from a new angle, and making you realize how silly it all is. The cast is hilarious, but Woody Harrelson shines as the gung-ho hick on the hunt not just for the undead, but for the world's last Twinkie. Succeeds at not only making you laugh, but also has some legitimate scares embedded within.

"Worst 5"

5. Year One
Jack Black continues to hog the screen in this inept film about stoner guys placed in caveman times. Black is so loud and proud that Michael Cera seems more like an afterthought than the other lead. Offers a few laughs here and there, but the trailer gives most of them away. The typical raunchiness doesn't help.
4. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
The most expensive movie made by children this year. Michael Bay simply rearranges the first film to make this sequel, which is all over the place. Far too often resorts to silliness and bad jokes, in an attempt to ignore the way-too-damn-complicated plot. Luckily the action sequences are good, because little else is. Why is Megan Fox back? Other than her porn-star looks, she offers nothing to the film.
3. X-Men Origins: Wolverine
A completely pointless prequel that's dull, even during its exciting parts. Full of colorful characters from the comic books, but the film makes it abundantly clear that the only characters that matter are Wolverine and his brother Victor, the two most boring characters in the whole thing. This film started the summer off with a whimper instead of a bang, and if you ask me, never should have been made.
2. Observe and Report
Seth Rogen as a mall security guard trying to catch a flasher. Sounds like a good enough premise for a comedy. This film disappointed in every regard, making the jokes repetitive and just unfunny. Rogen, usually such a likeable guy, is just a brute here, and insane at that. He's the film's hero that no one is rooting for. Who read the script and thought this was funny?
1. Adventureland*
The only movie this year that I paid for and walked out of. This film promised a nostalgic- and slightly crude- comedy about first jobs and first loves from the director of Superbad. Instead we got a huge downer of a movie that is just unpleasant to watch. Jesse Eisenberg plays the typical insecure, geeky virgin, so naturally, all the girls are all over him. Kristen Stewart is a bore, and Ryan Reynolds has no apparent reason for being in this movie. Eventually breaks down and lets the characters' lives all fall apart, and makes them all miserable. The jokes, of which there are not many, are all unfunny. Oh, and it's set in the 80's for no other reason than to be able to say it's set in the 80's. Absolutely the worst movie of the year, without question.

(Dis)Honorable Mention- Defiance
Last winter brought an unusual amount of Holocaust movies, some good, some not so good. This one looked good, but was ultimately disappointing. What it had in it were good- a real-seeming performance from Daniel Craig, some good action sequences- but it lacked a lot of stuff, including background information on the main characters, and anything new about the time period. Mildly entertaining, but the whole movie seemed to lack a point.

Well, those are my thoughts on the films of 2009. Thanks for reading all this year. Don't forget to comment!

*Full disclosure: Because I walked out of the movie before it ended, I never wrote an actual review of it. I felt it would be unfair to review a film I had not seen in its entirety. But, I believe that since I spent money on it- money which I did not get back, it's more than eligible for this list.