Oscar 2011 Post Mortem: One Giant SnoozeFest

You can look back and say that a handful of the Oscar telecasts in the past 20-30 years have been, at times, predictable, overly long, ostentatious, and even a bit egomaniacal. But never, ever should the glorious Academy Awards be viewed as BORING! Now I hate to say “I told you so,” but remember…what I told you a couple of weeks ago? I said the evening had “sleepy disaster” written all over it – and on top of this being (by leaps and bounds) the worst Oscar show I have seen in 25+ years, this was without a doubt, the most mind-numbingly tiresome telecast I have ever had the displeasure of sitting through. I haven’t seen any of what was being said this morning about the show (I am assuming they are all echoing my sentiments), but I wanted to make sure and put a bow on this baby and write some overall commentary about the evening – and let us promise to never speak of this ill-fated travesty again.

First, our hosts. This was an idiotic decision from Day #1. Did the producers really expect thousands of younger viewers to flock to their sets to sit and watch James Franco and Anne Hathaway? Both are terrific actors, but that is not the issue here. The issue is that although Hathaway was ready and game all night, her co-host looked completely disinterested and gave off the appearance of wanting to be anywhere but there. Hathaway tried her hardest, by golly! She was energetic, funny, prepared and looked thrilled to be there. It made for a very uneven and awkward chemistry every time the duo took the stage. Their skits were unimaginative and the few jokes (where were all the jokes???) they told were safe and trite. On top of boring, this was the unfunniest (I just made that a word) Oscar show ever. I expected a lot more from Franco and he disappointed in huge fashion. Huge.

And where the hell was all the glitz? The glamour? The romance of Hollywood? I saw none of it. Part of what makes Oscar night great is that it is a celebration of Tinseltown – old and new. Where were all the beautifully edited montages of films from yesteryear? They started with telling us that the Oscars started in 1929 and showed us a nice picture…and that was it. Did nothing with it. They started by showing us the famous illustration from Gone With the Wind…and that was it. Did nothing with it. There were no tributes paid to award-winning films from the past – and even the Honorary Award for the evening was rushed as our honorees were not even allowed to speak. The Tony Awards don’t do much right, but one thing they do is showcase their respective ‘Best Musical‘ nominees so that viewers can get a taste of what the show is about. After watching this Oscar telecast, I had no idea what any of the 10 nominated films were about. They could/should have at least displayed them to us so that those who missed a few could perhaps be enticed to see them. What did they do instead? When rattling off the names for all the ‘Best Picture’ nominees, we were treated to a poorly edited pastiche of them – without any of the actual sound! No, we got a monologue from (the now officially overrated) The King’s Speech to be the voiceover to it all. Painful.

Also, I always look forward to the moment when Hollywood pays respect to those artists we have lost during the past calendar year. It is a nice reminder and a gentle tribute. Forget that I had to sit and look at/listen to Celine Dion….there was no applause, no emotion…nothing. Even this staple of the evening was passed over and easily forgotten. Overall, the evening was really just presenters – most of whom have future films to pitch and sell us on – just coming up and giving out awards in very anti-climatic fashion. And with the exception of Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg (and of course Coppola who wasn’t allowed to talk), there were no Hollywood heavyweights to really speak of…no Jack, no Al, no Clint. No George, no Brad, no Johnny. No Meryl, no Julia, no Angelina. On a good note though, I did get to see Marisa, Scarlett, and Penelope so I am not complaining THAT much.

I won’t repeat myself with everything that was wrong with the 83rd Academy Awards. You can go to my Live Oscar Blogcast to see all of that. Suffice it to say that when the most exciting part of the evening is Melissa Leo dropping the F-bomb, something is terribly wrong.

Something needs to be done – and fast. This cannot be allowed to happen again. At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, this was nothing short of a disgrace. Someone knock on Billy Crystal’s front door and pay him. Drop a boat-wad of money at his doorstep and just pay the guy what he wants. Because the evening deserves much more than what we were witness to last night. And if Mr. Crystal is not willing, then fine. But you better pick a polished comedian – the perfect choice for an emcee at the Oscars. I know everyone is terrified of Ricky Gervais right now (who I think is simply brilliant and downright hysterical), but there’s one thing you can’t say about him – he sure ain’t boring!

83rd Annual Oscars – LIVE BLOGCAST!!!

The 83rd Oscars are just under two hours away and I am prepping for Magic Lantern’s 1st live blogcast of this celebrated event. Really, it’s just me typing away my own personal (and at times, ridiculous) comments during the course of the night — what went well, what seemed embarrassing, the nice touches, those deserving, and those (like last year’s Monique) that simply made fools of themselves. I really can’t sit and watch the Red Carpet affair…that in itself seems like an inane activity. I don’t care what these people are wearing and I never hear any intelligent questions asked of the stars anyway. So I tune in at 8:30 and enjoy the actual ceremony.

Hope you have a great Oscar Night! I will see you then — and please feel free to comment yourselves…. 

So I had the E! Channel on mute then changed the channel. Having to watch Ryan Seacrest before such a big, exciting night just ruins it for me. I liken it to having a rain delay before a big post-season baseball game.

Oh goodie — another Jake Gyllenhaal flop to look forward to in April. Poor guy keeps trying so hard…

Opening Montage: Meh. Nicely edited….not as funny as it could’ve been. Hathaway was actually pretty funny, especially in The Fighter bit.  Why are we giving Baldwin so much attention and credit anyway? Stop encouraging this guy.

Hathaway was so energetic and lively. So adorable. She was terrific — too bad Franco forgot to bring it. I didn’t need to see their relatives though. Poorly written opening….and stiff (nice, James).

Art Direction & Cinematography: Holy shit! Huge upset already in the Art Direction category. Would have never guessed Alice in Wonderland! I thought Inception was a shoe-in. “Alice” was a beautiful movie to watch, I must say.

Oh, Mr. Deakins (aka Susan Lucci)….looks like you’ll have to wait a bit longer for the Award that should have been yours long ago. So sorry to see…though the cinematography for Inception was glorious.  

Oooo!!! Caught sight of Mr. Francis Ford Coppola in the back. He looks great. Still one of our very best filmmakers. And sending Kirk Douglas out there like that??? I thought this was kinda tacky and a little sad. Will he be doing New Year’s Eve with Dick Clark in December? This was terrible and not necessary.

Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo!!!! It goes to the most deserving this year!!! So awesome and she looks terrific. Knew you’d win an Oscar when I saw you on “Homicide” years back. Everyone needs to see Ms. Leo in this…she was superb. (written AFTER the telecast – And your big F-bomb? In hindsight, the evening’s only spontaneous moment. Nice play, Melissa.( Someone take Douglas off the stage please…

Animated Films: Cute Bansky reference. Was waiting for that. Justin looked nervous and was tight….killed the whole bit. Made it up a bit when he said, “you know” when they opened the envelope….and Toy Story 3 wins Animated Film….no surprise at all there. That was the LOCK of the evening. No chance in hell it takes Best Picture though. And excuse me, I just have to say, Mila KunisGORGEOUS!!!

OK, so really James Franco and Anne Hathaway are done for the night, right? I mean, they did their work…and I am assuming will be doing very little else for the rest of the evening. Ugh….

Screenplays: I always like when the Oscars flash back and pay homage to the Hollywood from years ago, but that was lame. What was the point of showing that 1929 footage when you do nothing with it? Josh Brolin always comes off more smug than me. No surprise with The Social Network winning adapted screenplay….It was very good (though I can’t stand Sorkin). Was pulling for the Coen Brothers and their great adaptation. OK, so what was with the silly showings of the script/dialogue that showed absolutely nothing about the process and art of screenwriting? The King’s Speech wins as predicted. Great “late bloomer” line by our winner….a wonderful acceptance speech. Very witty, intelligent and well spoken.

Sets up a great two-way showdown for ‘Best Picture.’ And now I must prepare to hold my breath and not turn the TV off when Russell Brand comes on. Lord help us all….when are his 15 minutes up?

Anne Hathaway – you’re a real sport. Nice job…totally committed. Bravo. Hugh Jackman, you tool. Haha! James Franco makes an awful looking woman…great text line though. Please — everyone — I beg of you…don’t pay good money to see the Arthur remake…rent the brilliant classic that can never be duplicated. RIP Dudley…

I’m not doing so hot on my predictions. Surprised at the Foreign Language film. Dogtooth was brilliant, but oh-so deeply disturbing. I really thought it would go to Incendies.

Supporting Actor: I knew Bale would win when I saw it in November. I really didn’t go out on a ledge with that one. Don’t care for the guy, but as I stated before, he truly deserves this award. One truly heartbreaking and courageous performance. Bale looked somewhat humble — nice to see.

Is it me — or is this Academy Awards a bit anti-climatic? Seems a bit boring. The presentations for all the awards are so dull….Zzzzzz.

Some nice excerpts from the Best Score nominees. A bit surprised that Reznor took this one, though hearing a small protion of it again, reminded me of how good it was. Interesting that the Academy didn’t go the “safe” route with Desplat’s work on The King’s Speech.

OK, so here is where Inception wins two more awards (for sound categories). And…SCARLETT!!!! Giddy up! Not sure what she was wearing, but still…SCARLETT!!! No surprise at all with these two sound statues….get my batting average up a bit.

Oooo – Marisa Tomei….always up for a Marisa sighting. She should make anyone’s Fantasy 5. And she doesn’t need a sidekick. She looked stunning. Simply stunning.

Make-Up: Lousy nominees. Wolfman is very deserving, but there were many films this year with great make-up work. Should be a much more exciting category than it is every year. This was a lay-up, people.

Costume Design: Great nominees. Tough category. Look, I got another one right! Getting better as we go along. Gorgeous work by Ms. Atwood. She did look stiffer than James Franco though. There go two more awards — and the boring telecast continues! This is the worst in years, no?

Best Song: Randy Newman…same song, different title (even though I picked you to win). Uh…what was that watching everyone’s favorite song bit? That’s what they came up with to introduce this category? Someone needs to be fired. Nice to see the clip from Once – one of the best songs to win the award in recent memory. Weak category this year…very weak.

Hollywood is going to keep ramming this guy down our throats until we just accept him — for all his pathetic inadequacies. Way to even fuck that short bit up, Jake. You don’t get 30 takes to come off as semi-authentic on live TV. I won’t even pretend that I saw the shorts this year. I usually rent them when they come out on DVD. So no – I did not predict or project in these two categories. Though crazy hair guy gave a sweet acceptance speech, capped off nicely with a nice nod to his gal.

Musical nominee remix bit — the night just keeps getting sadder, doesn’t it…No wonder Jack doesn’t bother showing up. And Oprah, why are you here??? Go away…go away now! Haha, Joel Coen looked more bored than idiots like me who insist on keeping this sleepy show on.

Good docs this year (though thought Restrepo was a bit underwhelming). I kinda figured Inside Job would take this one. I’m like Mark Texeira…I started out really slow, but picking up steam now. Good mini-political statement and yes, you should watch the film…it’s alarming to say the least. Great, Downey and Law coming up….could Sherlock Holmes get any shittier the second time around?

Billy Crystal!!! Never thought I’d say this but GOD I MISS YOU TONIGHT!!! Robert Downey – no wonder the brilliant Gervais made fun of you. He had every right. Feel happy in your safe confines here? This show needs some Gervais — am I right???!!!!

4 technical Oscars for Inception. Very impressive. OK, we’re almost done with this people…thank God. When is the montage of those we lost in Hollywood this year? I always like that…Tony Curtis is my odds-on-favorite for most applause.

So I got 12 out of 16 right so far….not too shabby. Not shabby at all. Just sayin’….

Inappropriate movie title bit…it just keeps getting worse, doesn’t it? This is close to an abomination. Who did the writing of the jokes this year? Hey — who is the Enya wanna-be? And Gwyneth looks like she is going for heroin-chic. This award is between Toy Story 3 and 127 Hours, I think…Randy Newman not only won this Oscar (not deserving at all, but I did pick him), but he placed third in the Roger Ebert look-alike contest held in Knoxville, Tennessee. Kudos, Randy.

Even the stars in the audience are bored to tears! This was the first year there was no applause during the montage of those who passed away this year. Maybe they were all asleep too and didn’t realize it. Once again– R.I.P. Dennis Hopper!

Ah, I love when Oscar plays the race card. Doesn’t come off as patronizing at all. Another ineffective segment for your viewing pleasure.

Best Director: Ms. Bigelow won for that very reason…because she is a woman. Sorry folks. Someone had to say it. You’re all thinking it!!! Holy shit, Tom Hooper wins — that’s a sign for your Best Picture winner right there. I screwed that call up big time. I would call this a minor upset even though The King’s Speech was the odds-on-favorite. I did not find him to be deserving of this — but that is just me. Nice speech though, Mr. Hooper. Was cute. (BTW, James Franco — you brought NOTHING tonight. You’re better than that, dude.)

Brownlow/Coppola/Wallach – the night’s best moment. And they let it slip through their fingers. Couldn’t let them speak? They even fucked that baby up.

Speaking about her co-host for the night: “A fabulous job hosting tonight” — wow, Anne…you CAN act. Nice big fat lie.

JEFF BRIDGES!!!! THANK YOU, GOOD LORD!!! Look how fucking awesome he is. Just listen to this guy. So sincere, so prepared. And yes…still the best hair in Hollywood. Jeff — you remain THE MAN!!!

Best Actress: Oh where are you Ms. Noomi Rapace? Jennifer Lawrence looked beautiful – and you rocked, girl. This was such a weak category this year. A number of others that were so well deserving not here. Ms. Portman was very deserving, given the competition. It was a raw, multi-layered and brave performance in a very good (but not great) film. I’m glad they didn’t go politico and vote for Bening. A nice speech…seemed very genuine. She looked good too — way to go, LONG ISLAND GAL!!!!

Best Actor: Sandra Bullock — what the fuck you do with yo hair, girl??? JEFF BRIDGES…I have no shame in saying I have great man love for you. Jesse – just get on your knees and thank God that you are even part of this evening. Your nomination robbed so many others who were so well deserving. I have no gripe here…Colin Firth was excellent. It was a wonderful performance (though I do wish Bridges took it home). Sandra was very entertaining and playful here, but that “none better than you” statement to Franco was a bit too much. Mr. Firth – nice speech. Boring….but nice.

Best Picture: When Hooper won for Director it kind of let the steam out of the suspense. I think The King’s Speech was a very good film…a solid 3-star film, but am so surprised it took home the Award this year. Then again, nothing really stood out as an unbelievable or remarkable film, especially of the twn chosen here. BTW, hated the “King Speech” voiceover to all ten nominees — give each film its due and show a nice clip from all ten. This was another blundering decision. Weinstein campaigns himself to another Best Picture win…no one does it quite like him. Franco couldn’t look more disinterested at the end (as well as all evening through) – did he have reservations somewhere?

Eh…I predicted 15 out of 21. Not terrible. Not great, but not so terrible. How did you do at home? That is…if you are still up watching this travesty of an awards show. Maybe I should start watching the Spirit Awards again, just to see a bit of energy.

Tomorrow – I’ll make sure to write a brief write-up of my overall thoughts of this Oscar ceremony. Not much to say…just how terribly, terribly boring it all was. I’m sure most media outlets will be spewing the very same thing – BUT YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST!

Thank you so much to the handful of readers of this site who followed along with me tonight — and of course, for adding your own personal commentary. Always great to read what others are thinking and I thank you for taking the time to share with me. Greatly appreciated. 

THE WINNERS:

Best Film Editing – The Social Network
Best Costume Design – Alice in Wonderland
Best Art Direction – Alice in Wonderland
Best Cinematography – Inception
Best Make-Up – The Wolfman
Best Visual Effects – Inception
Best Sound Editing – Inception
Best Sound Mixing – Inception
Best Documentary Feature – Inside Job
Best Documentary Short Subject – Strangers No More
Best Live Action Short Film – God of Love
Best Animated Short Film – The Lost Thing
Best Animated Feature – Toy Story 3
Best Score – The Social Network
Best Original Song – “We Belong Together” (Toy Story 3)
Best Foreign Film – In A Better World
Best Original Screenplay – The King’s Speech
Best Adapted Screenplay – The Social Network
Best Supporting Actor – Christian Bale (The Fighter)
Best Supporting Actress – Melissa Leo (The Fighter)
Best Actor – Colin Firth (The King’s Speech)
Best Actress – Natalie Portman (Black Swan)
Best Director – Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech)
Best Picture of 2010 – The King’s Speech

Oscar Picks for 2011!!!

The 83rd Annual Academy Awards are just around the corner, so I wanted to throw in my two cents about who you can expect to walk away with Mr. Oscar, arguably the world’s most recognized prize, on February 27th. Though I think that the co-hosting duo of James Franco and Anne Hathaway has “sleepy disaster” written all over it, I will surely be glued to the television that evening to watch – as I have each year since I was quite young. In truth, it’s the only awards show on TV that I allow myself to watch. There will be no sweep of awards by a single picture this year. Rather, I think Oscar voters will spread the wealth around. For each of the “major” categories I’ve cited here, I made sure to include “who will win,” “who should win” and perhaps my personal favorite, “who should have been nominated.” In any case, here they are…my scholarly predictions for this year’s Oscars:

Best Supporting Actress

Usually, if there are any big upsets it comes in the supporting categories. So don’t be surprised if the young Hailee Steinfeld pulls off a Tatum O’Neal/Anna Paquin stunner, even though Steinfeld is in fact a leading actor in the Coen Brothers’ wonderful remake of True Grit. I don’t see Jacki Weaver (though wonderful) nabbing it and frankly, I didn’t think Bonham-Carter was very deserving of a nomination, so out she goes. The odds-on-favorite here is Melissa Leo and rightfully so. She was sensational as the controlling mother of her large Boston clan in David O. Russell’s excellent film, The Fighter. Perhaps the ads she took out for herself may turn off some Oscar voters, but I’ll go with my heart and gut here and say that Leo gets the award she most certainly deserves.

Will Win:           Melissa Leo
Should Win:     Melissa Leo
Should Have Been Nominated:   Naomi Watts (Mother and Child)

Best Supporting Actor

I really can’t stand the guy, but I cannot deny his tremendous talent and versatility. Nor can I refute his masterful performance as the former boxer-turned-heroin addict in The Fighter. If voters can spot a stand-out performance, then this award will surely go to Christian Bale. I thought he had this award locked up when I saw it in November. The only competition here seems to be Geoffrey Rush who has an outside shot at best. Rush was very good and is well liked, but his prior win hurts him – and frankly, Bale was just frighteningly authentic. For the record, I must say that, for the second year in a row, I’m not sure why Jeremy Renner is nominated. Do people like, owe this guy a lot of favors or something?

Will Win:           Christian Bale
Should Win:     Christian Bale
Should Have Been Nominated:   Ben Mendelsohn (Animal Kingdom)

Best Animated Feature

Here’s your no-brainer lock for the evening. The fact that Toy Story 3 spoiled a perfectly good 10th slot in the ‘Best Picture’ category tells you all you need to know. Not that it isn’t deserving of a ‘Best Picture’ nom, but an animated film should not be considered here – being that, you know…the Academy created its own category especially for them. And this is it! Toy Story 3 walks away with this with no fight whatsoever. It is nice to see the smaller independent The Illusionist get some recognition here – but why the hell wasn’t the wonderfully delightful My Dog Tulip on this list? The beautiful animation, heartfelt story and terrific narration by Christopher Plummer made it one of the warmest films of the year.

Best Song

Is it me or does every Randy Newman song sound eerily similar to the last? Perhaps that explains why this is his 20th nomination, but only has one win to show for it. “We Belong Together” from Toy Story 3 will be his 2nd win. His only other competition here seems to be “If I Rise” from 127 Hours – a film that doesn’t really have a shot to win in any other category it’s nominated for. This is a 2-horse race and it is kind of a toss up. Though “If I Rise” is the better song, in the end, voters will side with Pixar and Disney. One last thought — every year it seems there were far better songs out there then the ones that end up vying for Oscar. This should be an exciting category, but more often than not – it ends up being pretty weak.

Best Original Screenplay

For all of its one-dimensional supporting characters and many plot holes, I’m still scratching my head as to why Inception is nominated here. This one is between The King’s Speech and The Kids Are All Right. I’m thinking The King’s Speech walks away with this one, and is a lock if The Social Network does indeed walk away with the night’s grand prize. Cholodenko’s screenplay was fine, but can she write about anything other than lesbians?

Will Win:           The King’s Speech
Should Win:     The Fighter
Should Have Been Nominated:   Mother and Child

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Coen Brothers did a wonderful job adapting True Grit, remaining very faithful to the novel, more so than the classic 1969 film. Winter’s Bone is also a solid screenplay – but that will have to bask in the Independent Spirit Awards glory. Here, The Social Network wins hands down. I’m not a big Sorkin fan and I feel much of his dialogue is overly melodramatic and does not ring genuine – it’s “TV talk.” But he does a solid job here and though I may not think it’s the best adapted screenplay of the year, Oscar voters will surely think so.

Will Win:           The Social Network
Should Win:     True Grit
Should Have Been Nominated:   The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Best Cinematography

A strong category this year with some great work across the board. Even though I didn’t go nuts for Inception, I cannot deny the beautiful camera work done. Black Swan was also quite visually stunning at times. But Roger Deakins’ work is hailed by everyone in Hollywood and anyone who loves film. The man has been nominated nine times in the past and has yet to walk away with Oscar. Since True Grit really doesn’t have much of a shot at the “bigger” awards, this one ends Deakins’ Susan Lucci streak and he gets his much deserved award (that he should have had long ago).

Will Win:           True Grit
Should Win:     True Grit
Should Have Been Nominated:   The Ghost Writer

Best Actress

I find this to be an especially weak category this year – with no suspense as to who will even win, which takes much of the steam away from it. Natalie Portman has this baby in the bag – she was very good in a very demanding role, but I don’t think she gave the year’s finest performance. Of these five, I would say she deserves it – but Noomi Rapace gave one of the most courageous performances in years and Hye-ja Kim was devastating in Mother. These are the two ghastliest oversights of the year. Annette Bening is certainly deserving of a nomination this year – they just chose the wrong film to nominate her for. Portman – in a landslide.

Will Win:           Natalie Portman
Should Win:     Natalie Portman
Should Have Been Nominated:   Noomi Rapace (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)

Best Actor

Another category with no drama to it this year. Jeff Bridges won last year (deservedly so), so he won’t win. Jesse Eisenberg did what he does in every film – with the same delivery and same mannerisms – so what the hell is he doing here? Many thought Colin Firth should have won the ‘Best Actor’ prize for his terrific work in the sub-par A Single Man…add to that his excellent performance in The King’s Speech – and we have ourselves a winner! Oscar voters love a good physical handicap that is overcome…and stuttering suits that bill just fine.

Will Win:           Colin Firth
Should Win:     Colin Firth
Should Have Been Nominated:   Robert Duvall (Get Low)

Best Director

David Fincher’s films are hit-or-big miss with me. Seldom does the ‘Best Director’ and ‘Best Picture’ awards get split up, but it does happen on occasion. I don’t think this is one of those years. In a mild upset, I think Fincher bests Tom Hooper’s period piece in one of the few categories that actually has some suspense to it.

Will Win:           David Fincher (The Social Network)
Should Win:     David O. Russell (The Fighter)
Should Have Been Nominated:   Niels Arden Oplev (Dragon Tattoo)

Best Picture

We have two films with a serious chance this year – if any other film other than The Social Network or The King’s Speech wins, it would certainly be considered a tremendous upset. The 10 nominations is silly – look at the ‘Best Director’ nominees and you can immediately eliminate five films. The Social Network is a critics’ darling. The King’s Speech has gained much momentum with some recent Guild award wins. Oscar voters are smitten with British accents, but I’m going to go with my gut on this one. I enjoyed The King’s Speech, but didn’t feel it had nearly as much weight as Fincher’s film. I know The King’s Speech is the favorite right now, but I’m thinking voters will “Like” (get it?) the societal relevance of The Social Network in the end.

Will Win:           The Social Network
Should Win:     The Fighter
Should Have Been Nominated:   The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Picks From Other Categories

Best Make-Up:
The Wolfman (as always, terribly lame choices in a category that should be filled with excellent work)

Best Costume Design:
The King’s Speech
(though Alice in Wonderland, the more deserving film here, may pull a minor upset)

Best Film Editing
The Social Network

Best Art Direction
Inception

Best Documentary Feature
The very timely Inside Job ekes out a victory over the fascinating Exit Through the Gift Shop

Oscar Nominations 2011: My Thoughts

The nominations for the 83rd Annual Academy Awards were announced early this morning and, like most years, it seemed to be quite the ho-hum affair – very few surprises, many who were snubbed, and even more who won a nomination thanks in part to fervent studio campaigning and “bandwagon word-of-mouth” via the blitzkrieg that is the media. Though it doesn’t lead the pack in nominations garnered, David Fincher’s The Social Network looks to be the early odds-on favorite – and though I thought it was a very good film, I can’t help but think how lucky it is to be released in what was yet another weak year in motion pictures. I look at the titles of the 120+ films I have screened so far this year (and still a few I must soon see) and see many good films that made their way to movie screens in 2010. What I fail to see are many great films released. One, two….three? Does anyone see three? Can I get a three? Anyone? [insert cricket noise here] It seems to me, to be indicative of last year and the recent years that preceded it – a bunch of solid, quality films and very few truly remarkable ones.

In any case, I thought I would share with you my immediate reactions to the list of nominations for this year’s Oscar. Please feel free to comment and leave your own thoughts on the Oscar race.

And let’s be real. All of these Awards ceremonies, the gluttony of presentations we see with each new year are just fodder…they really don’t mean very much at all…To be honest, it is all just meaningless filler – that is, until my own prestigious Magic Lantern Award nominations are announced! The most distinguished always makes the final entrance – and, if I may say, that holds true here as well. I will make sure to post the 1st Annual Magic Lantern Awards noms within 7-10 days. Sorry for the delay – I just need to make sure and see a few more select films.

OK, enough. My quick reactions to the Oscar noms:

What is the point of having a category for the ‘Best Animated Feature’ if you are just going to consider these films for the ‘Best Picture’ category? It seems to me that nominating Toy Story 3 for ‘Best Picture’ is an absolute waste – and completely unfair to a number of films that were very deserving of the 10th slot. We all know how this plays out anyway – no chance in hell of winning ‘Best Picture,’ but a shoo-in to win the Animated category.

I was afraid that Jesse Eisenberg would win a ‘Best Actor’ nom and sure enough, he did. Eisenberg did what he always does in the very same manner. He just happened to do it in a critically acclaimed film. What’s next? Michael Cera gets a nod for the one role he doesn’t wear a hoodie for?

Kudos to the voters for remembering and honoring much smaller/lesser seen films that deserve recognition such as: Jacki Warner’s chilling performance in Animal Kingdom, John Hawkes’ terrific work in Winter’s Bone, the intriguing documentary Waste Land, the very nice costume designs in the otherwise lackluster I Am Love, the impressive art direction and costumes in Alice in Wonderland.

Did Robert Duvall do or say something to piss Hollywood off at some point? His performance in Get Low was one of the year’s best and I thought, a shoo-in for a ‘Best Actor’ nom. Seems a shame that James Franco and Eisenberg get these slots. Don’t worry, Bob…there’s always the Magic Lantern nomination soon coming.

Speaking of James Franco – it has crossed my mind that if he were not co-hosting the Oscars this year, he would not have been voted in for ‘Best Actor.’ So he cut off an arm. Big deal. Not many stand-out performers by lead actors this year, but I can think of 5 better right off the bat. And while on the topic of hosts – this odd experiment of Franco and Anne Hathaway has boring flop written all over it.

Thank you voters for not encouraging the pretentiousness of Christopher Nolan with a ‘Best Director’ nomination. It’s bad enough the film is nominated for Picture (though certainly deserving of its Cinematography and Art Direction nominations). Thank God it was left out of the Editing category too – because that could have used some chopping up.

I saw Rabbit Hole (good) and Blue Valentine (not so good). Nicole Kidman and Michelle Williams give good performances. That’s it. Good. So many others are far more deserving this year – we nominate male leads in foreign films…why not Hye-ja Kim (Mother) or Noomi Rapace for giving the year’s gutsiest performance in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The omission of Rapace is this year’s biggest snub. And, Annette Bening surely deserves a nomination here – they just picked the wrong film to nominate her from.

I am thrilled to see little-seen The Illusionist nominated in the ‘Best Animated Film’ category. But where the hell is the absolutely charming and intelligent My Dog Tulip? The film has received nothing but praise and they only nominate three films anyway. Seems to be a glaring omission from here. Gorgeous animation, wonderful narration by Christopher Plummer and one of the year’s smarter films.

Jeff Bridges. That is all.

Looks like comedies get left out in the cold again. It’s tough to squeeze them in, I understand – but in looking at all of the nominations – there aren’t a lot of laughs going around. City Island, Kick-Ass, Wonderful World, Please Give are all fine films…just couldn’t break through here. I know I piss all over the Golden Globes, but maybe the Oscars should start thinking of having a ‘Best Comedic Film’ category. Something to mull over, at least.

I still strongly believe there needs to be an award for “Best Performance by a Child.” There always seems to be a few solid performances given by actors under the age of 16. It is my belief that the work of a young child of say, 12 should not be compared to the work of an actor with years of experience and training. This would also avoid the whole Tatum O’Neal and Anna Paquin disasters. The Academy made the smart step in creating a category for animated films – this needs to be the next step. Chloe Moretz was too good this year to be excluded and Ms. Hailee Steinfeld (who was wonderful in True Grit) should not be going up against the multi-layered talents of Helena Bonham-Carter and Melissa Leo.

We’ll see how the race takes shape over the next few weeks. The King’s Speech made a mighty statement by winning the most nominations, perhaps putting a small dent in the momentum of The Social Network. Right now, it seems like a 2-horse race, but again…we’ll see how the media’s influence starts to shape the outcome.

As always, I am looking forward to watching the telecast, despite the inane choice in hosts and predictable ‘Best Picture’ nominations.

Next Up – The Magic Lantern Award Nominations!!!

You know…the real shit!

The Top 5 Coen Brothers Films…So Far

I am not one for hyperbole, especially when it comes to my assessment of films. I won’t write it if I don’t fully believe in what it is I am pontificating. That said, as I was walking out of the move theater this weekend to see the remake of True Grit, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Are there any better American filmmakers working today than Joel and Ethan Coen?” I am of course aware of heavyweights such as Coppola, Scorsese, Lynch, Eastwood, and Spielberg (to name a few), but since their impressive debut in 1984 with Blood Simple, all they have done is repeatedly churn out stylized, profound and highly entertaining works on a consistent basis that is quite uncanny. I am sure the most ardent of Coen Brothers fans can even excuse the much more commercially targeted Intolerable Cruelty, as I do. The only other director who I see as coming close to this ridiculously high batting average is the brilliant P.T. Anderson, but I will reserve judgment until he builds more of a resume. True Grit marks the 15th feature film for Joel and Ethan Coen and it surely did not disappoint. More on that terrific film in a later post. First, since coming to the realization of where the Coen Brothers stand at present, I thought I’d celebrate this earth-shattering epiphany with what I view their Top 5 films to be. With so many good ones, this was pretty tough to put in order. Also, if you can think of another director who releases one brilliant work after another for as long as they have, I would love to hear it!

5. A Serious Man (2009)

This slot could have easily been reserved for Blood Simple, No Country for Old Men or even their latest, True Grit. But I was so taken aback with this oeuvre (rightly deserving of its Oscar nom for ‘Best Picture’) for its tremendous profundity, dark wit, and waters yet unchartered by the master filmmakers. To me, this is their most personal, most mature work to date. Michael Stuhlbarg plays Larry Gopnik, a Midwestern professor of mathematics who is used to solving formulas and equations with ease. But he is left helpless when, bit by bit, coincidental events take hold of his life which is slipping through his fingers. Stuhlbarg was robbed of a ‘Best Actor’ Oscar nomination and his work here is extraordinary. Richard Kind plays his brother, Uncle Arthur and brings a great deal of empathy to the role. Fred Melamed is a joy to watch as Sy – the man who steals Larry’s wife away from him. The screenplay is taut and insightful, the mood, ominous throughout. Again, the Coen Brothers don’t serve up all the answers for you on a silver platter – they challenge their audience, letting you solve the puzzle on your own. I was glad to see the filmmakers tackle on such issues as God, faith, the Jewish religion, fate and karma in such a forward manner. This film is unlike any other they have ever done –a bold project to be sure, though the Coen Brothers never seem to shy away from new challenges and new frontiers. A small gem of a film that stays with you long after the end credits roll.

4. The Big Lebowski (1998)

I’m not sure what to say here except when I first saw the film, I never would have guessed the enormous cult following and staying power that this ridiculous comedy would endure. Like most Coen Brothers films, this one gets better with additional viewings. Many of their dramas have a lot of comedic elements and humorous nuances, but this one (like the very funny Raising Arizona), is straight up funny, bordering on the farcical. With “The Dude,” Jeff Bridges creates a character that will surely go down as one of the most comical in film history. Bridges makes it all look so effortless, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s not a brilliant performance. Like his Almighty rug, this Dude ties the movie together. John Goodman is loud, maniacal, and uproarious. Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, Philip Seymour Hoffman add more laughs – and John Turturro, with about 5 minutes of screen time, steals the show as The Jesus, the master bowler who will fuck you any day of the week. I also love Sam Elliott as The Stranger, the film’s narrator…perfect voice for it. The pacing of the film in non-stop and it’s one absurd incident after another, one insane line after the next. You sit back, and go along for the ride. It is pure Coen Brothers comedy – and there was no way I could omit it from this prestigious Top 5.

3. Fargo (1996)

I vividly recall the late Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert proclaiming this to be their #1 film of 1996, stating that this was the reason they went to the movies – that this was one of the finest American films to be released in that decade. Though the Coen Brothers were already critical darlings for a few years, this one seemed to put them over the top, garnering a number of Oscar noms, while taking home two. One of the many things that the Coen Brothers are brilliant at is giving the viewer a sense of time and place. Fargo is the perfect example of this. As a wanna-be writer, I would love to be a fly on the wall to study and see how the two writers go through the process of writing their scripts because their framework and dialogue is so masterful. The script here is what every writer should strive for, capturing the characters and their regional vernacular so exquisitely. The film is bloody, dark, funny, and at times, quite touching. The score also plays a pivotal role (which is true of just about any of their films) and depicts the mood perfectly. The unbelievably talented Frances McDormand shines here as Marge Gunderson, the pregnant police officer. But it is William H. Macy’s incompetent car salesman that sets the wheels in motion. Everything falls apart for poor Jerry Lundegaard and so many others pay the heavy consequences. In many ways, the film remind’s me of David Lynch’s 1986 masterpiece, Blue Velvet – exploring the dark and violent side of suburban America. An outstanding piece of filmmaking — considered by most critics to be their signature work and has already gone down as one of the finest films ever made.

2. Miller’s Crossing (1990)

When I think of finest screenplays written, I always think of this masterful mobster flick. The dialogue cracks, sizzles and keeps coming at you at a fever pitch – so authentic to the prohibition era that it is set in – and oh so very smart (“take your flunky and dangle”). As is the case with all of their films, the Coen Brothers get wonderful performances from their impressive ensemble that includes Albert Finney, Marcia Gay Harden, Jon Polito (again), and J.E. Freeman. Gabriel Byrne is perfectly cast and the wise-cracking poetry just oozes from his lips like honey. As the film’s nucleus, Byrne holds it all together – he is strong, witty and merciful. And it should be to no one’s surprise that John Turturro as Bernie Bernbaum rocks the house. It constantly amazes me how much Turturro adds to the supporting roles he plays (see Film #4). The climatic scene where Byrne’s Tom Reagan takes Turturro out to the middle of the woods (Miller’s Crossing) to shoot him dead is riveting and always has me on the edge of my seat. It is wonderful work and Turturro doesn’t hold back one tiny bit. One of their more violent films, Miller’s Crossing is beautifully shot and the costume design and art direction are without flaws. It also keeps you on your toes – who is double-crossing who? Who is working for who? Who is going to get rubbed out next? I know we all think of The Godfather trilogy and Goodfellas when we think of cinema’s greatest mobster flicks, but this deserves to be strongly placed in the Top 5. And that, my friends, is the rumpus!

1. Barton Fink (1991)

This one is a no-brainer for me. This haunting (oftentimes funny) film has always fascinated and entertained me, while never losing tread on the wheels with many repeat viewings. In fact, I seem to catch something new each time. John Turturro, one of our most underrated actors, takes the lead here as a New York playwright who suddenly becomes the toast of Broadway. The lure of Hollywood success and money reels him in and Barton now finds himself in a hellish west coast hotel writing a motion picture about a wrestler. John Goodman is brilliant as his ominous neighbor, Charlie Meadows. Turturro is mesmerizing as the often-troubled intellectual writer and his chemistry with Goodman is ever-engaging. Michael Lerner, John Mahoney, Judy Davis and Jon Polito turn in outstanding performances as well. The film is filled with quirky characters and dialogue that have become standard fare in most of the Coen Brothers’ works. No strangers to period pieces, the Coens beautifully capture the look and feel of 1941. Exquisite art direction, a haunting score and superb cinematography – the film never caves in and gives you all the answers. It challenges its audience and forces you to figure it out, which I admire and appreciate. Not a movie for those who don’t embrace and appreciate the voice of the Coens’, to be sure. But a brilliant film — perhaps their closest to a masterpiece yet. Then again, perhaps it is.

In my estimation, these are some of the finest films made in the past 25 years — and they don’t show any signs of slowing down or fading out. The Coen Brothers are master storytellers who seem to do just about everything right — and to this one film buff, have no equal in the industry at present.

The Top 10 Films of Woody Allen

He’s been directing films since 1969 (debuting with the hysterically funny “Take the Money & Run“) — about 40 in all. Some are modern-day classics, some very good, others not so great, and then there are those handful of films that were, well, just hard to stomach. I have remained a loyal, ardent fan of his short stories, plays and films for years. When there is a new Woody Allen film, I will most surely go out and pay my $10 to see it. Here is (for better or worse) my Top 10 Woody Allen Films of All-Time; a very difficult list to put together, I assure you. I desperately tried to squeak “Deconstructing Harry” or “Take the Money…” in there, but alas, ten spots goes pretty quickly. All ten films are outstanding in their own ways. Give it a read — and please make sure to let me know what you think…where you agree, where I was led astray and anything else you might like to add. Your comments are always welcome. Enjoy!

10. SWEET AND LOWDOWN (1999)

In my opinion, the last film of Woody’s that I can actually classify as “great.” A great mix of comedy and drama in this one with Sean Penn in the lead role as Emmet Ray, the world’s second greatest guitar player behind Django Reinhardt. Unlike most actors who take on the male lead when Woody takes a backseat, Penn does his own thing; not becoming the typical Woody-archetype (the perfect example being Kenneth Branagh basically mimicking Woody throughout the dreadful “Celebrity“) – and he is nothing less than sensational, giving one of his best performances in a career filled with so much strong work. In Emmet Ray, Penn creates a despicable, immature, conceited, narcissistic, rude human being who cares about nothing but his music – and Django Reinhardt. When he meets Hattie, a mute, simple gal, his life is turned upside down. As Hattie, Samantha Morton breaks your heart. She is simply adorable here and without saying one word through the entire film, earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination. She matches Penn in each scene they share merely with her body language and facial reactions. Two great actors here and it is so enjoyable (though at times painful because of how Ray treats her) to watch.

The music used throughout the film is sensational – one of Woody’s best compilations. I never get tired of the soundtrack. Another period piece, the look and feel (from art direction to costumes) is wholly authentic. A smart, insightful script by Allen. In the end, this comedic “biography” plays out like a tragedy. One of the definitions of the tragic hero is that he/she brings about his/her own downfall. Here, we watch as Emmet Ray does just that. And as miserable as he is, we still have compassion for him throughout – a testament to the work of Sean Penn here under Woody’s subtle direction. It is tough to make a top ten list of Woody’s films without trying to make a spot for this winning film.

9. INTERIORS (1978)

Following the phenomenal success that was “Annie Hall” came this film, Woody’s first entirely dramatic film, sans any humor really at all. In fact, during a dinner scene when the characters are all laughing at a joke, we never even get to hear the actual joke. Another note: this is the first film Allen directed in which he did not act in at all.

Of all his films, this is the one that most resembles that of Ingmar Bergman – in theme, story and how it is shot (by his longtime collaborator, Gordon Willis). The entire film takes on a very somber, pragmatic aura. Arthur (E.G. Marshall) decides to leave his overbearing wife (Geraldine Page). The three daughters must now come to terms with this as they also come to terms with their own lives and their own relationships with one another. The family is an artistic one: one daughter is an actress, the other a successful writer and the third, is trying desperately to find her artistic niche. Diane Keaton, Mary Beth Hurt and Kristin Griffith play the trio of sisters. Geraldine Page as Eve sparkles in this very demanding role of the matriarch of this dysfunctional family. She is the nucleus of this film. Maureen Stapleton is great comic relief (if you can call it that) and she brings great life and color to this otherwise bland, upper-class, eastern Long Island existence.

Though nominated for 5 Oscars, the film is not for everybody. In fact, I would only recommend this one to devout fans of Woody Allen. I surely wouldn’t cite this film for someone to watch if he/she was just starting to view his films. I look at this particular work and appreciate, admire and enjoy it. After churning out those “early, funny” movies, this was quite a daring move. And the performances here are bold and strong. I admit, I need to be in a certain mood to watch this one, but it does truly stand out as one of his finest, most mature efforts.

8. LOVE AND DEATH (1975)

Classic early Woody Allen comedy and one-liners here. Filmed mostly in Hungary, the film revolves around the ultimate coward, Boris Grushenko (Woody Allen) being forced to enlist to save his country from an invasion by Napoleon himself. Most improbably, Boris becomes a war hero and he may now finally make for an ideal partner for Sonja, the woman of his dreams (Diane Keaton), who always preferred his brother Ivan to him. The film is filled with timeless banter between Keaton and Allen here – such a pleasure to watch. When Sonja finally relents to Boris’s proposals, she convinces him to help her assassinate the French dictator.

In addition to some very clear references to Ingmar Bergman’s Persona” (the camera angles of various close-ups during the infamous “Wheat” scene) and Dostoyevsky’s works, Woody is his hilarious, incompetent, psycho-babble self. When the Countess tells him he is the greatest lover she has ever had, Boris deadpans, “Well, I practice a lot when I am alone.” Nothing cracks you up like a primo masturbation joke. The blithe music of Prokofiev works well here and the script harkens back to Allen’s earlier prose tackling such subjects as love, loyalty, fear of death, honor, and morality (“If it turns out that there IS a God, I don’t think that he’s evil. I think that the worst you can say about him is that basically he’s an underachiever”). Like his prose, Allen manages to face such profound themes by way of slapstick and comedy. A wonderful comedy and a pleasure to watch anytime.

7. THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO (1985)

Woody has said on a number of occasions that this was his personal favorite of all his movies. If nothing else, it may certainly be the most original and compelling, simply for the premise alone: Set in New Jersey during the Great Depression, Cecilia (Mia Farrow) needs an escape. An escape from her tedious job as a waitress and from her abusive husband, Monk (a nasty Danny Aiello). She goes to the movies. Here she sees the handsome and enchanting Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) in the film “The Purple Rose of Cairo.” She goes again and again until one day…Tom just walks off the screen – and into Cecilia’s life. There is a problem though: Tom is not…you know, real! While Cecilia and Tom begin their own fascinating relationship, Hollywood execs are furious as they discover that Tom Baxters across the country are leaving their own movie screens. This is amazing stuff — what more can you ask for?!

Woody’s period pieces always feel quite authentic and this one is no exception. He has always written wonderful, 3-dimensional dialogue for women – again, this film does not disappoint. Jeff Daniels plays the 1930’s movie star with pizzazz, dignity and good humor. Things really get interesting when he begins to realize that this very real world is different than the imaginary one he just escaped from. There is also some very funny banter between the characters on screen waiting to see if Tom will return to them so they can get on with their own (movie within a) movie. An ingenious screenplay with a tremendous heart, this one goes right at #7, though I can fully understand why Woody himself places it at the apex of all his work.

6. BROADWAY DANNY ROSE (1984)

There are the films known as Woody’s old, ridiculous comedies (“Sleeper,” “Bananas,” “Everything You Always wanted to Know About Sex…” etc.). Then he began getting a bit more dramatic. And then he went back to full-out comedy with this delightful and uproarious black-and-white film. Now for many, you either love Woody’s humor or you don’t. Not much room in between. He certainly is an “acquired taste” and has his own style/brand of humor. But if you like his comedy and haven’t seen this one yet – do yourself a favor and go rent it…now!

Woody plays Danny Rose, a very unsuccessful talent agent with a heart of gold. He goes above and beyond for his bizarre list of clientele. His one big client is Lou Canova (Nick Apollo Forte), who stays with Danny more out of loyalty than anything else. Canova hasn’t been big for quite some time, but now has a chance of making a tremendous comeback that would pay off for both. He asks Danny Rose to do him a huge favor…make sure his mistress Tina (Mia Farrow) is there to see him perform at a very important concert. Canova is married, so Danny and Tina must play off like they lovers. What happens from there is great comedy from Woody – original and warm…downright hilarious stuff. This makes the final scenes between Tina and Danny so effective…it really does hit you in the gut.

Woody’s comedic acting chops shine here. And Farrow, as the Italian broad is equal to the task. Woody has made a career out of playing the “loser” type who is down on his luck. Danny Rose is the epitome of this model, but we sympathize with this character 100%. The Thanksgiving Day dinner scene is a sad, tender one. His advice to his pathetic clients is classic Woody and him trying to get them work is even more hilarious. When trying to get a booking for an unimpressive client, Danny says, “My hand to God, she’s gonna be at Carnegie Hall. But you – I’ll let you have her now at the old price, OK? Which is anything you wanna give me. Anything at all.” Great stuff.

The film though belongs to the adventure that Tina and Danny go through. The helium balloon scene by itself is classic. In a new age of comedy films (either Judd Apatow, teen comedy flicks, Tyler Perry, et al), none of them measure up to this comedic classic…not to me at least. This stands as one of Woody’s best.

5. HUSBANDS AND WIVES (1992)

In the wake of Woody’s well-publicized scandal of a break-up with longtime companion Mia Farrow came this harsh, raw and wonderful film in 1992. Woody has admitted that he wanted to break the traditional rules of filmmaking here and he does so, using hand-held cameras, breaking up scenes in the middle of dialogue and not caring one way or another if the camera was on the front, side or back of the head of a particular character on screen. It does have the style and feel of a pseudo-documentary, complete with narration given by the film’s costume designer, Jeffrey Kurland.

The film opens with Sally and Jack (Judy Davis and Sydney Pollack) announcing to their best friends Gabe and Judy (Woody and Mia Farrow) that they are separating. Jack has taken a much younger lover who may be too much too handle for Jack – and yes, perhaps a little too dumb as well. Judy is way too highbrow for this sort of thing, but she does try to get back out in the dating world once again, even if her prime years are long behind her. Gabe and Judy have the seemingly perfect marriage at the film’s onset. But Allen here delves into and analyzes the long-term effects of being with the same person for years on end. And if you are aware of his works, you know that it won’t end well. Gabe is a college professor and he is soon tempted by a young, fawning, overly-sexed student (Juliette Lewis) that threatens to break up Gabe’s stable world.

I loved this film. I loved how Allen shot it, though many have told me that the constant camera movement made them somewhat nauseous. All of the actors are at the top of their games here. I am not a Mia Farrow fan at all and never thought she made much of an ingénue for Allen (unlike the ever-stronger Diane Keaton) throughout the course of their longtime collaboration, but here she does an admirable job. The wonderful filmmaker Sydney Pollack is very strong here and is quite natural in front of the camera, at odds with his wife and opening up to his close friend, Gabe. Juliette Lewis plays Rain with a very Lolita-like air and is a natural for the role (though she was not Allen’s initial choice). Liam Neeson has a great supporting role here too – he is low-key, polite, charming and stuck in the middle of the chaos that surrounds both Sally and Judy.

This film is unlike most in Allen’s canon of films and that is part of the reason I find it such a great watch. He doesn’t stray from familiar ground very often, so when he does, I am excited for the freshness of it all. Sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes, as in this instance, it certainly does.

4. HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1986)

Woody has said that he was re-reading Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” and was inspired to write this marvelous, enjoyable film. The film spans one full year, opening on Thanksgiving Day and closes at a dinner party on the very same day. I know Woody always manages to recruit an all-star cast, but of all his films, this one feels most like an ensemble film, with no one really taking the lead, but everyone playing an integral role in the story – and doing a damn fine job of it as well (including Michael Caine and Dianne Weist who each won a Supporting Actor Oscar for their respective roles here). Caine is amusing as the conflicted & unscrupulous Elliot, who cheats on his wife – with her sister Lee (Barabara Hershey) who he is absolutely crazy for and woos with the same gusto as a high school sophomore. Weist is out of control and steals every scene she is in – she is dangerous on the outside, but vulnerable and insecure beneath. Mia Farrow does a fine job as Hannah — the glue that holds the cast together. Max Von Sydow plays the reclusive Frederick and it is great to see him here working with Woody, who is an unabashed Ingmar Bergman fan, so that comes full circle. Von Sydow’s scene with his lover Lee is one of the films highlights. If any character is the outsider here, it is Woody himself. He plays Hannah’s (Mia Farrow) ex-husband, Mickey. They are on friendly terms. Mickey impulsively quits his job to find out what the meaning of life is after he realizes that he is not dying of a brain tumor – a theme that occurs repeatedly in the Allen oeuvre. Unlike most of Allen’s films, this one has a rather upbeat, optimistic ending that goes along with the Thanksgiving Day spirit that the film ends with. Allen explores the topics of religion/faith, love, family, and adultery (as always), but it doesn’t get very heavy as in some of his other films…this one seems more light, more airy – with great music and great one-liners (“And Nietzsche, with his theory of eternal recurrence. He said that the life we lived we’re gonna live over again the exact same way for eternity. Great. That means I’ll have to sit through the Ice Capades again.”) For someone who is not familiar with the work of Woody Allen or told me they weren’t crazy about him, this is the first film I would show him/her – it’s that much of a crowd pleaser.

3. MANHATTAN (1979)

Gorgeous to watch from the very beginning in its glorious black-and-white photography set to the music of George Gershwin. Woody is the consummate New York film director…always has been. The sights, sounds and beauty of New York City resonate in his films. This one may be the hallmark of all that. This was Woody’s first film shot using the widescreen anamorphic Panavision process and he disliked the work here so much that he offered to direct another picture for United Artists for free if they just shelved this one permanently. Thank God they didn’t listen to him, as this one ranks right up there with Woody’s best films. Made just two years after “Annie Hall,” we are again treated to the wonderful on-screen chemistry of Allen and Keaton. Isaac (Allen) is experiencing a mid-life crisis and has been dating Tracy (Mariel Hemingway), who is still in high school. He knows that the relationship can’t progress much further and he is embarrassed to take her out in the professional public. Perhaps she is the safe choice to roll around with after taking a beating from his ex-wife turned lesbian Jill (Meryl Streep) who is in the midst of writing a tell-all book about her marriage to the narcissistic Isaac (“I came here to strangle you!” Isaac barks at her). He meets Mary (Keaton) and is immediately smitten. Mary is dating Isaac’s best friend Yale (Michael Murphy). But Yale is married and is never going to leave his wife. Yale gives his Isaac permission to take his mistress out. Isaac does so and immediately falls head over heels in love with her, ditching the sweet-natured, lovable, and loyal Tracy. But – is this the right decision? Streep is terrific as the ex-wife – strong, quick-witted and bitter. Hemingway makes a perfect Tracey and we absolutely want to comfort her when Isaac gives her the bad news or when he patronizes her with her age throughout. Murphy is a great counterpart to Woody here and we can’t stand him for being such a bad friend. Diane Keaton sheds the Annie Hall aura and plays the cerebral, self-confident and urbane Mary. She does a marvelous job and as always, is a delight to watch. A classic Woody scene comes when he is sprawled out on the couch alone, speaking into his tape recorder and answering the question “Why is life worth living?” Uproariously funny, and at times, quite touching, this is a wonderful love letter to the city the filmmaker loves and a picture to relish in with each and every viewing.

2. ANNIE HALL (1977)

A staple in the annals of film history, “Annie Hall” is one of the great films in motion picture history. Period. Ironically, it is viewed as one of the greatest comedies ever made, but the film was indeed a major turning point for Allen as a filmmaker, as it instilled so much drama and serious themes that he had not yet delved into. Diane Keaton (as Annie Hall) created one of the silver screen’s most memorable and beloved characters ever here…she was without a doubt, the perfect yin to Woody’s yang. To this day, she remains one of my most favorite actresses simply because of her portrayal of Annie. What can I say? I love her! Here, she is flaky, quirky, lovable, sweet, innocent, strong and funny. The hat, the tie, that vest? Lah-di-Dah, Lah-di-Dah…She’s a dream. And I cannot get enough of Woody’s Alvy Singer. I love his reactions to things around him, his disgust at others, his paranoia, his egotism…and of course, his revulsion to any and all things on the West Coast. The chemistry between the two (dating back to “Sleeper” and “Love and Death”) is one of film’s greatest duos – not to be overlooked by other classic onscreen couples. And here, everything that happens (big and small) between the two is just so real – things every couple goes through (click on the poignant and comical “Spider in the Bathroom” scene below and you’ll understand exactly what I mean here). Again, some wonderful one-liners (“That’s ok…we can walk to the curb from here”), great characters, terrific performances (Colleen Dewhurst, a doting Carol Kane, a suicidal Christopher Walken, a pretentious Shelley Duvall)…winner of the Oscar for Best Picture of 1977, it deserves every bit of acclaim it has ever received. I can watch it anytime and have seen it more times than I care to admit. At its core, it is a typical New York love story: boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl realize that they are “a dead shark” and break up. It doesn’t sound like much – but with the phenomenally woven script, the delicate direction and our two lead actors – it is one of cinema’s greatest films ever.

1. CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS (1989)

To date, this is Woody Allen’s masterpiece. A perfect fusion of old-style Woody comedy (Woody’s plot line) and Bergman-esque calamity (Martin Landau’s story). Obviously inspired by the seminal themes of Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment,” Woody would later re-visit these same themes in his latter films with much less of an impact. Here, it is done perfectly. Martin Landau is sensational as the married man (a highly respected opthalmologist) who gives in to temptation (Angelica Huston, who plays her character with such desperation, we can’t help but empathize with her) and then wants the easy out. Alan Alda is deliciously snooty and patronizing as Woody’s brother-in-law and Sam Waterston as the blind rabbi brings a “moral structure” to the narrative. There are some classic Woody one-liners here, some profound symbolism sprinkled throughout and it all is woven together so beautifully when Woody and Landau meet one another near the very end of the film.

Woody here plays his classic loser character making documentary films that no one wants to see – and his scenes with Joanna Gleason and Alda are filled with timeless dialogue. He agrees to make a documentary of Alda’s character in order to pay for the much smaller documentary on spirituality he is trying to make. In the process, he falls in love with the TV producer (Mia Farrow), but he’s already in a marriage with a wife who can’t stand him anymore — plus, Alda’s character wants her for himself! Woody has always grappled with the heavy themes of faith in God, truth, deception, love and betrayal, redemption and forgiveness — but he has never done so in such an intense and insightful manner than he does right here. Hysterical and haunting at the same time, “Crimes and Misdemeanors” is a modern-day classic film of the highest order. Woody truly outdid himself here.

THE BOTTOM FIVE (or “Ones To Stay Away From”)

1. Anything Else (2003)
2. Celebrity (1998)
3. The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001)
4. Scoop (2006)
5. Shadows and Fog (1991)

Peter Eramo’s Thoughts on the Oscar Noms – 2010

Nominations for the 82nd Academy Awards were released a couple of weeks ago — with the telecast right around the corner on March 7, 2010. I’ve been doing my very best to catch up on all of the year’s films (especially those nominated), which is why it has taken me a bit to post this blog in reaction to the list of nominees announced. Overall, I must say that this year’s nominees were quite predictable, with very few pleasant surprises, if any at all. If anything, there were a handful nominated that I find to be undeserving, and simply riding the Oscar-media wave, campaigning quite well. But unlike most years where there is a surprise here and there, this year’s list of nominees is, in a nutshell, somewhat bland.

I think much of that has to do with the year in film that was 2009. It was a relatively weak year, with very few great (let alone extraordinary) films released. The decade has been a good one, no doubt. Recent years have been good ones, with some wonderful films battling each other out for Oscar supremecy. Not this year. Not when your two leading front runners (so it seems) are “Avatar” and “The Hurt Locker.” You know there is a problem. But more on that later. I have managed to see 9 of the 10 nominated films for “Best Picture” (I have yet to see “Precious” so I will say to you up front, that of course I am not able to write about the movie with any first-hand knowledge whatsoever). Anyway, here are just a few random thoughts on the Oscar race this year…I hope you enjoy!

THE 5 BIGGEST SNUBS

A list of this year’s 5 biggest Oscar snubs, plus a handful of others for good measure:

Tilda Swinton (Best Actress for “Julia”)
In a “Best Actress” category that I find to be very weak this year, Ms. Swinton gave the year’s most raw, electrifying performance as the title character. Not only was she snubbed of a mere nomination, but I would have given her the Oscar outright. It’s the type of leading female performance seldom seen and was the most courageous and gutsy accomplishment I have witnessed since possibly Mimi Rogers in the wonderful (and overlooked) 1991 film “The Rapture.” I know few filmgoers actually saw “Julia,” but I wish the studio gave it a bigger push. If it had, then I am sure Tilda Swinton would not have been so egregiously overlooked.

(500) Days of Summer (directed by Marc Webb)
How this originally delightful film was overlooked, I do not know. In a year where the “Best Picture” race ballooned up to ten nominees, I was shocked to see that this film was not in the Chosen Ten. And if you are going to ignore it in the “Best Picture” category, then at least honor it with a well-deserved Screenplay nomination. It was fresh, witty, melancholic, and yes, hopeful. In addition to be snubbed for Picture and Screenplay, one could make the argument for Joseph Gordon-Levitt and/or Zooey Deschanel being honored in their respective roles. This slight is still hard to swallow, especially when films like “The Blind Side” and “Up” are nominated for Oscar’s grandest prize. Alas, the film goes away empty-handed. Hopefully it will fare well at the Independent Spirit Awards where it was not forgotten. Regardless, if you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and rent it!

Watchmen (directed by Zack Snyder)
I found this to be one of the year’s best films, much better than your typical blockbuster/superhero type of films that have been released. I can understand it being snubbed for the heavyweight categories like “Best Picture” and “Best Director” (though I feel it would have been most well deserved considering the list of films), but to completely ignore it for Visual Effects, Make-Up, Art Direction and Screenplay was quite remarkable. There are 3 nominees in the Visual Effects category (which “Avatar” will most assuredly win) and 3 nominees in Make-Up… ”Watchmen” deserved a nod in each here. The Art Direction was stellar (clearly better than 3 of the 5 nominees up for the distinction), and even though the Cinematography was glorious as well, that is a tough category this year and I did not expect such notice. “Watchmen” ranks in my Top 10 films for 2009 – I was hoping Oscar voters would agree.

The Road & Viggo Mortensen (directed by John Hillcoat)
A crowd-pleasing film this is not. A non-stop action ride? Again, not the film. This is a haunting, powerful film that moves at its own pace – but stays with you long after the final credits roll. I was taken aback at how the film did just that. Again, I did not expect it to find a place in the ten nominated films (though so much more deserving than a number of them – and “Up” has its own “Best Animated Film” category and because of that, should never have been eligible here). However, the Cinematography was unbelievably effective and should have been noticed in that category. Also, you could have nominated so many more worthy leading male performances than Jeremy Renner (“The Hurt Locker”) – Viggo Mortensen would have been an admirable choice as the desperate father doing his utmost to protect his son from death. His performance here is understated, but commanding in every sense. A much more commendable work than a handful of other films that will be mentioned come March 7th.

Michael Stuhlbarg & the Coen Brothers
Yes, it was a very pleasant surprise to see “A Serious Man” justly nominated in the “Best Picture” category. The same holds true for its only other nomination for the evening – “Best Original Screenplay” (which it absolutely deserved). I’m glad enough people saw — and remembered this wonderful film to not completely snub it. That said, the fact that the Coen Brothers were not nominated in the “Best Director” category leaves me thinking that it has no chance whatsoever at the top prize. Also, having won in the screenplay category before, it’s a long shot to capture that prize as well. A subtle, dark, funny piece of cinema, “A Serious Man” is one of the stronger works in the canon of the remarkably talented Coen Brothers. I thought it was actually better than “No Country for Old Men” and was the closest they’ve come in mood and style to their masterpiece “Barton Fink.” The real snub here is Michael Stuhlbarg – not a film star at this point by any stretch. He’s mostly known as a “theatre guy” at this point. He gives a terrific performance here in a very complex role. I cannot imagine why Jeremy Renner made the Top 5 (I’m not picking on the guy – but see the film and you tell me what’s so special) and even George Clooney, but not Stuhlbarg. Clooney was fine but come one, he could’ve played that role in his sleep. And Richard Kind as Uncle Arthur should have also been given serious consideration. So in the end, though it was not snubbed for “Best Picture” (thankfully), I do strongly feel that the film should have been remembered in a few other categories.

OTHER SNUBS — IN SHORT

Sam Rockwell (Best Actor for “Moon“)

The Invention of Lying (Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay)

Sin Nombre (directed by Cary Fukunaga)

Sunshine Cleaning (directed by Christine Jeffs)

Two Lovers (Screenplay; performances by Gwyneth Paltrow & Vinessa Shaw)

THE FEW NICE SURPRISE NOMINEES

The White Ribbon (Best Cinematography nominee)
A gorgeous film. Tough to sit through at times, but profound and potent without hitting its viewer over the head. Very Bergman-esque in scope, character and themes covered which is perhaps why I loved it so much. I was glad to see it recognized in a category other than “Best Foreign Film.” A Screenplay nod would have been merited here as well – in addition to a supporting performance or two. A haunting, riveting piece of work – all in spectacular black-and-white….

Vera Farmiga (Best Supporting Actress nominee for “Up in the Air”)
This was a nice surprise and well deserved. After her nice work in Scorsese’s “The Departed,” Ms. Farmiga gives a multi-layered, complex performance opposite George Clooney. Unpredictable, alluring, clever and quick – her character in this wonderfully written film is a memorable one thanks to her.

Christopher Plummer & Helen Mirren (Best Supporting Actor and Best Actress nominees for “The Last Station”)
I was glad to see these two master thespians were not forgotten in a film that very few saw (and I thoroughly enjoyed). Plummer’s Tolstoy is a great piece of character work. He is funny, seductive, authoritarian and forever wise. And Mirren’s ever-loving (and obsessive/paranoid) Sofya is a pleasure to watch. We see why Tolstoy is so smitten with her despite the forces trying to tear them apart. Both are marvels here, but that should be of no surprise to anyone.

“Take it All” (Best Original Song nominee from the film “Nine”)
Though the film was a bit underwhelming (I was expecting so much more from such a marvelous Broadway musical) in the incapable hands of Rob Marshall, there were some fine performances from this all-star cast and one of them was from Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard who sings this nominated song. Of course the musical numbers from the original musical cannot be nominated, but this song written (by Maury Yeston) especially for the motion picture is a memorable moment in the film. If you haven’t heard it, YouTube it, iTunes it, whatever…just listen to it. The vocal work here is gutsy, naked and raw. The lyrics fit so well with the character of Cotillard’s underappreciated and vulnerable wife whose genius of a husband has been with countless other vixens who throw themselves in his direction. This piece captures the essence of character of Luisa Contini perfectly which is what the song should do.

District 9 (multiple nominee, including one for “Best Picture”)
I was so glad to see that this film was recognized come Oscar time. It is still my favorite film of 2009, and I am in no way a fan of science fiction films, though it is so much more than that. I wish that, in addition to its 4 nominations, that it would have been chosen in the fields of “Best Director,” Cinematography, and possibly a “Best Actor” nod for Sharlto Copley).

In the Loop (Best Screenplay nominee)

TWO OF THE UNDESERVING FEW

Every year that the nominees for the Academy Awards are announced, there are those few satisfying surprises that manage to squeak in, many favorites that have long been considered shoe-ins, and then there are those that…well, to put it quite bluntly, are just not worthy of the esteemed nomination. These are known as “The Undeserving Few.” Perhaps the timing was just right or the Oscar campaign backed by the studio was highly effective, or the popularity game went into effect. Whatever the reason, they get in each and every year and we learn to deal with it. Sometimes, sadly, they even win (anyone remember Jack Palance?). These are the Undeserving Few (in my humble, yet outspoken opinion) that eked in to this year’s race:

The Hurt Locker (Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay)
Fine, you want to nominate this film for “Best Picture” and “Best Director?” I get that. I must state though that, as well done and as powerful as it was at times, I felt overall that this film is highly overrated…highly! This film is the perfect example of the critics all hopping on the proverbial bandwagon and very few having the guts to stand out from the crowd. Again, I can understand why it’s in the two aforementioned categories (though it’s not in my Top 10 of the year) – but there is no way that this Screenplay deserves Oscar recognition with so many other Original Screenplays out there that are more fresh and creative (“The Invention of Lying,” “Management,” and “Funny People” to name a couple). On top of this, Jeremy Renner should kneel down and thank the Lord that he is nominated here. He has no business being here when Sam Rockwell (“Moon”), Michael Stuhlberg (“A Serious Man”), Michael Caine (“Is Anybody There?”), and Viggo Mortensen (“The Road”) are home watching on their flat screens.

The Blind Side (Best Picture, Best Actress)
A very nice feel-good film. I saw it. I enjoyed it. It was sweet. And yes, it was nice to see Sandra Bullock select a project that wasn’t complete crap. She’s a beautiful woman with a strong screen presence, charisma, and so much potential still untapped. Here she is fine and gives a good performance – just not Oscar nominee worthy! I guess those who vote thought that they would reward Ms. Bullock for turning in a good performance after years of poor, mainly silly films (for the most part). Those women who suffer this year because of the mistake: Emily Blunt (“The Young Victoria”), Jessica Biel (“Easy Virtue”), and Maria Heiskanen who turned in a wonderfully crafted performance in “Everlasting Moments.” The film has made a ton of money, so maybe by opening up the “Best Picture” field to ten, the telecast will get some more viewers who are rooting for this film, though it has absolutely no shot. Just consider yourself lucky to be there.

I will make sure to post a new blog before March 7th with my thoughts and predictions on who will win in each category for the 82nd Annual Academy Awards.

*Note: As of February 25, 2010, I have yet to view the following notable films of 2009:
Summer Hours, Antichrist, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, Precious, The Lovely Bones, Tickling Leo, and Where the Wild Things Are.

Best Films of the Decade (2000-2009)

The end of the decade is soon approaching and a number of my film-geek friends have been posting & sharing their lists of the decade’s best films, so as a self-proclaimed film-geek myself, I had to voice my own voluble opinion. This was much more difficult than I had anticipated (one of the reasons for including the long list of ‘Honorable Mentions’ that could have easily been twice as long). I started with about 25-30 and tried to chisel and reason bit by bit. I tried to stay away from what film critics would include just for the sake of showing off their (at times) pretentious “artiness.” I based my decisions on artistic merit, creativity/originality, and most of all, personal enjoyment. In any case, here they are….

10.    The Lookout (dir. Scott Frank)

This movie never really got its due when it was released in 2007. Part bank-heist film and part “Memento” (over-rated…sorry), this movie grabs you from the beginning and never lets up. Joseph Gordon-Levitt establishes himself nicely as a strong lead (as he did again in this year’s “(500) Days of Summer”) and Jeff Daniels is wonderful in a supporting role. If you haven’t seen it, it is great entertainment – smart and slick with great characters and a very tight script. We feel for Levitt’s character from his tragic beginning and empathize with his plight throughout. This is what Hollywood action films should be and probably why it never made much money – it’s actually pretty damn clever, expertly shot and high on entertainment.

9.  Little Children (dir. Todd Field)

When I think of the great filmmakers working in cinema today, the name ‘Todd Field’ doesn’t spring into my mind. However, with TWO films on this very difficult list, perhaps it is about time his name does start popping into the conversation of wonderful, artistic directors. This film is extraordinary. Very tough to watch at times, but for all the right reasons. Jackie Earle Haley got most of the press when the film debuted in 2006 and was rightfully nominated for an Oscar, however, all the actors are at the top of their game here. Phyllis Somerville (as Ronnie’s mother) was simply spectacular and was snubbed of her own nomination. The narration at first was awkward for me, but I quickly got used to it and in viewing the film again, fit nicely. This is a very daring film and Field makes some very strong choices throughout. Great details to each and every shot. Patrick Wilson and Kate Winslet are perfectly cast and have strong chemistry on the screen. It is Jackie Earle Haley though and his performance that haunts us long after the final credits roll. The scene in the car after his date is one of the most disturbing scenes in recent memory. Overall, a dark, yet sadly believable look at suburbia and the ‘little children’ who inhabit it.

8.  The Illusionist (dir. Neil Burger)

I know this film is probably on no one’s list, but I don’t care. I loved it! I distinctly remember walking out of the theatre exclaiming, “That’s the best film I’ve seen in a long time!” Edward Norton is surely one of the finest actors of his generation (“The Incredible Hulk” a rare poor choice) and he does not disappoint here. I am aware that the film is high in melodrama and a bit “schmaltzy” in the romance department, but I bought it from start to finish. At its heart, the film is a wonderful romantic picture. It contains classic good and evil characters, no matter how orthodox they may be. Is Rufus Sewell over the top? Yes! But we HATE him!!! And Paul Giamatti is terrific here, giving us more dimension to his antagonistic character. He is not a “Bad guy” – there is much more to him. And Jessica Biel??? She is absolutely gorgeous here and does a fine job opposite Norton. Beautifully shot period piece, set in turn-of-the-century Vienna. The cinematography here is wonderful and the score, ever effective. The story sucks you in and the magic here is much more entertaining than that of “The Prestige” which came out the same year. This is the better film for you romantics out there. A great final act too that I was not expecting and don’t think many viewers did expect.

7.  Crash (dir. Paul Haggis)

Again, high melodrama. Fine. I’m comfortable with that. Despite what many have said, this deserved its ‘Best Picture’ Oscar and I remember being so relieved that it beat out the even more melodramatic “Brokeback Mountain.” All I know is this – I was not bored for a minute, I was sucked into all of the ever-weaving subplots, I cried in a couple of scenes, and I was sorry to see it end. Haggis’ screenplay is spectacular. It could have easily been very manipulative, especially when it came to the theme of racial relations – and it never fell into that dangerous trap. Matt Dillon creates a wonderful character with many sides – we can understand where this man is coming from after his scene explaining his father’s predicament. The highlight of this powerful film is Michael Pena and the scenes he has with his daughter. The invisible cape stuff? Couldn’t stop crying! And Ryan Phillipe is fine here….for being one of the only ‘innocent’ characters in this collage of events, it makes the ending all the more ironic. I felt all the stories blended nicely and Haggis does a splendid job at knowing when to keep us at the edge of our seats and when to let us breathe. He also manages to make some very profound statements on racy subjects such as race, sex, politics, crime, parenthood, and bigotry without preaching to us. The film is set in Los Angeles, but it could take place in any city, any town in our society. A riveting and at times, magical film.

6.  Sideways (dir. Alexander Payne)

Being in my mid-thirties when this came out in 2004, I think I was able to relate to Miles more than if I was just a student in film school. A very sad statement in itself to be able to relate to Miles at all here, but I think most men in their 30’d and 40’s can certainly do just that and that makes the film even stronger. What can be said about the cast that hasn’t already been said? Paul Giamatti is perfect for this role – he was born to play Miles. His camaraderie with Thomas Haden Church is a pleasure to watch. Church of course is the dissolute and immoral character, but he is talented enough to make his character more than that – and to have us sympathize with him at times. In fact, we sympathize with all four main characters in different ways – a tough feat and a credit to Payne and his cast. Madsen is warm and endearing here – a perfect match for Giamatti’s role. Payne writes a near perfect script here (even stronger than his previous “Election” which was in itself a wonderful picture). Yes, the wine is used as metaphor throughout, but there is much more to it with each viewing. Giamatti’s scene in the fast-food restaurant with his vintage bottle of wine is like a knife to the heart and though the film analyzes two middle-aged men who believe they will never amount to anything – Payne gives us a believable and optimistic ending that is filled with hope. A lovely, intelligent, witty and heart-breaking film that, like a fine wine, will most likely go down better with age.

5.  Matchstick Men (dir. Ridley Scott)

Though I feel that David Mamet’s “House of Games” is the classic con film, “Matchstick Men” holds its own and is superb in its own right. It is, I would think, a very tough challenge to create a “con film” but the script here is so good and the actors so convincing, that we buy the con hook-line-and-sinker. I have problems with Nicolas Cage and his many silly choices, but when he picks the right role, he can do some great work (see “The Weather Man,” “Adaptation” and “Wild at Heart”). He is equally terrific here as the obsessive-compulsive Roy Waller. Cage usually does his best work playing quirky characters. Sam Rockwell is intense and strong as always and Alison Lohman, Bruce McGill, and Bruce Altman complete a very impressive supporting cast. The father-daughter relationship here works, the friendship relationship works – the con works. The film is funny, unpredictable, sweet and when it wants to hit you in the gut – it does so…and hard. Scott does a nice change of pace here from his epic films (“Gladiator” would be on a Top 30 list of the decade I am sure). This film is much more intimate, more delicate, more real. I was not sure why this film did not get the awards recognition I thought it deserved when it came out in 2003 and still can’t figure that one out. It’s hard not to love this picture. Though Waller is put through the wringer, we know that he is finally happy by the end of the ride – and so are we for taking it with him.

4.  There Will be Blood (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)

You can perhaps count the list of masterpieces made from 2000-2009 on one hand, if that. This is undoubtedly one of them. A masterpiece in every sense of the word (amazingly, Anderson’s second, following the ever-daring “Magnolia”). And on this little list of mine, this may be the only one I can confidently use such a word (perhaps my #2 film can fall in that category, I’m not sure). So why is this not my number one film then? In creating this list I went with artistic merit, surely – but also other factors as well. This is not a film I can watch at any time. One needs to be ready for it…to brace themselves for the epic that follows. I do believe it to be the best piece of filmmaking of the decade. That said, this is the kind of film that will be studied by film students decades from now – extraordinary on every level. Based on Upton Sinclair’s novel, Anderson’s adaptation of the story that revolves around family, greed, religion and oil is an achievement of the highest quality. Anderson has always been a courageous filmmaker and continues here. He trusts his audience – always has. He lets us sit in a darkened theatre for 20 minutes, following Daniel Plainview in the mines without a word of dialogue. And we watch. The score (by Jonny Greenwood) is unforgettable and brilliant. Robert Elswit’s cinematography may be the best I have seen in years. This is the film that should have taken home the Oscar for ‘Best Picture,’ but I presume that voters thought the Coen Brothers were overdue and went in their direction (and I am not knocking the Coen Brothers at all – they’ve been making some of America’s finest films since their debut in 1985 and in my opinion, have only made one bad film). The nucleus of this wonder is of course the character of Daniel Plainview – it all revolves around him. And what better actor to be up for this mighty challenge and play him than Daniel Day-Lewis? With Brando’s passing – and Newman’s that followed, he may very well be our finest screen actor working today. 95% of actors are cast in roles and never immerse themselves into their characters – or “become” the character. Remember when DeNiro and Nicholson used to do that? Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the handful of actors that are chameleon-esque and become someone new – the definition of acting. In Daniel Plainview, he creates a character for the ages. As long as there is cinema, we will always remember Daniel Plainview – one of the greatest screen characters in the history of film. I know this mini-review seems to be littered in hyperbole, but it’s not at all. Every aspect of this motion picture deserves the highest of praise. Day-Lewis is terrifying – one of the most charismatic screen villains of all time. The performance goes up there with Brando’s Terry Malloy and Vito Corleone. I do think Anderson could have done better than casting Paul Dano opposite Day-Lewis…he is fine here and does an admirable job – but Daniel Day-Lewis is perhaps too much for him in their scenes together. There are many classic lines and scenes peppered throughout. Anderson has truly made a towering achievement that deserves its place alongside other American epic classics such as ‘Ben-Hur,’ ‘Gone With the Wind,’ ‘The Birth of A Nation,’ ‘Doctor Zhivago’ and ‘Reds.’

3.  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (dir. Michel Gondry)

One of the most original and creative films to come out during the decade, for sure. Charlie Kaufman’s screenplay is as unique as they come and Gondry handles the story with deftness and care. Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey are wonderful here and both characters break your heart throughout their relationship. The premise is one that anyone who has had their heart broken can relate to – but it’s only through their process of loss do both characters realize what they had in the beginning. As bizarre and inimitable as the story seems, we can relate to much of this film and live vicariously through them. Is there someone in my past I’d like to wipe out of memory? Absolutely. This film though is a gentle reminder that even our most painful memories are ones that we should still hold close to heart – better to have a slice of the pie than never to have had none at all. Carrey gives a terrific, sincere performance and matches Winslet (no easy feat) throughout. The film has a bit of everything – but at its core is romantic a relationship that we root for. A strong supporting cast is led by Tom Wilkinson, David Cross, and Kirstin Dunst. This film is nothing short of a delightful gem – it tugs at your heart and, unlike the process the two characters go through – stays in your memory for a long, long time.

2.  In The Bedroom (dir. Todd Field)

A perfect, perfect motion picture. There is not a line spoken nor a shot taken that should be removed from this film. With “Little Children” and this tremendous achievement, Todd Field proves not only that he is a filmmaker to be reckoned with, but that he is a master at adapting written works. Here, it is a short story by Andre Dubus. It is one of the finest, strongest adaptations in recent film history. In fact, the first 70 or 80+ minutes of the film is all his creation based on what is given in the short piece by Dubus. He creates his own world founded on what is given to him in the short story “Killings” and it blends perfectly. Field gets the very most out of each actor while establishing the New England setting so vividly, so beautifully – you can almost smell the clam chowder coming off the screen. The cast is brilliant. Tom Wilkinson is extraordinary. One of the finest performances of the decade, for certain. Sometimes you don’t need to see someone play a psychotic, a mentally disturbed or challenged person, or someone larger than life to witness magnificence in the craft of performance. Wilkinson reminds us of this. He is our center here and keeps everything grounded around him. His scenes with his son are touching and genuine; the ones with Sissy Spacek are explosive. One in particular (when they are interrupted by a Girl Scout selling candy) is a remarkable watch that deserves additional viewings. Marisa Tomei is the ideal actor to take on the role of Natalie and she is a marvel to watch here, opposite Nick Stahl. Stahl may not be so very well known, but he is a fine actor (see the very powerful “Bully”) and gives his character exactly what it needs in order for the plot to follow through. Because it is, after all, a revenge film at heart. Though unlike any revenge film you have ever seen. This film is a constant reminder to me that the entire art of filmmaking begins with a story and a script. You get a great story and tight, creative and solid script, you are already ahead in the game. Big Hollywood blockbusters with CGI and special effects are all well and good – but it is films like “In the Bedroom” that remind me why I love film. I have seen this film numerous times and it never gets stale to me. There is humor sprinkled throughout, touching moments, moments when you just want to shake sense into the characters and moments when I can never stop the tears from coming. It is an experience to sit through Field’s wonderful work here and to witness the phenomenal cast at work – this includes great work by William Wise (as Wilkinson’s good friend who will do anything to help him in his time of need) and William Mapother who has his own challenging role. His Richard Strout is a great accomplishment. He is surely our villain here and is the reason for the Fowler family’s anguish – but in Strout, he gives reason (for lack of a better word), substance and a bit of empathy to his violent and reckless actions. I can watch this film anytime – to watch Wilkinson at work – he does not make a wrong move at any time here…every line spoken, every nuance, every expression is affecting and real. This film remains a testament to the idea that good works are based on great writing, skilled performances, and beautiful imagery – from the opening shots to its dark, startling last scene you are in this New England town and observing great art.

  •   Almost Famous (dir. Cameron Crowe)

I went with sheer pleasure in deciding this as my top pick of the decade…that, and the fact that it’s some pretty damn good filmmaking. I absolutely love this movie and am reminded of it each time I catch it. It is the ultimate coming-of-age story put on film and set to a glorious soundtrack. In just over two hours time, we watch William Miller, the young boy, become a man who has seen it all – and lived to tell about it. Patrick Fugit does a great job in the role as our naïve and besotted protagonist. Cameron Crowe’s dialogue reminds me of James L. Brooks in that he has so many ingenious and memorable lines in his films – and this one is no exception. His ear for screen dialogue is truly a gift – and he knows how to make his audience laugh or cry at his will. His ear for music is equally as impressive. Crowe has always incorporated music quite brilliantly in his films (with the exception of the highly disappointing “Elizabethtown”) and in this film it is used impeccably. The scene in the tour bus set to Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” is one of the greatest uses of a song to film I have seen in recent memory (tied with how “Falling Slowly” is utilized in the brilliant little indie,“Once”). As for the performances, everyone shines. Philip Seymour Hoffman makes the most out of his small role, stealing every scene he is in. Frances McDormand is hysterically funny (“Rock stars have kidnapped my son!”) and though we may not agree with her ideas about rock-n-roll music or how she raises her two children, we can certainly empathize with and have compassion for her. As the two frontrunners of the  Stillwater band, Jason Lee and Billy Crudup are very well cast and dazzle us with their performances. Kate Hudson’s Penny Lane is a great creation – she is impetuous, romantic, reckless, loyal and heart-breaking. This semi-autobiographical film is an absolute joy and I believe Crowe’s strongest work. Every note is hit with precision and care. We experience all the highs and lows as William Miller experiences them – we go on tour with him and certainly root for him to achieve his ambitious goal. Crowe obviously loves his music and we are reminded of some true classics here. It is a rock-n-roll film – but so much more than that. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and watch it in one sitting. It’s contagious and a great example of why I go to the movies. Debuting in 2000, it still stands as my absolute favorite of the decade as we approach 2010…Thanks, Cameron!

16 Honorable Mentions – in no particular order, though all 4-Star Films:

The Dreamers (dir. Bernardo Bertolucci)
21 Grams (dir. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu)
Swimming Pool (dir. Francois Ozon)
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (dir. Sidney Lumet)
Into the Wild (dir. Sean Penn)
Away From Her (dir. Sarah Polley)
Munich (dir. Steven Spielberg)
Die Falscher (The Counterfeiters, dir. Stefan Ruzowitsky)
Dancer in the Dark (dir. Lars von Trier)
Les Invasions Barbares (The Barbarian Invasions, dir. Denys Arcand)
A History of Violence (dir. David Cronenberg)
Wonder Boys (dir. Curtis Hanson)
Requiem for A Dream (dir. Darren Aronofsky)
The Reader (dir. Stephen Daldry)
In Bruges (dir. Martin McDonagh)
District 9 (dir. Neill Blomkamp)

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