Gimme 5: Mind-Blowing Sci-Fi Flicks!

I realize that I don’t give science-fiction films their due on this website. We all have our own favorite genres though, and science-fiction has never been one of my favorites, so my knowledge in this area is not as expansive as other types of films. But I always try to keep an open mind and don’t immediately reject them (case in point: I thought the best film of last year was a science-fiction film…). And though I certainly respect the artists behind these highly imaginative tales, I never really got into any of the Star Treks, Jurassic Parks, or even the Alien series (I know, I know). But I know many movie-lovers and film bloggers can’t get enough science-fiction, so I thought to get your input on your Top 5 Science-Fiction Films. I hope to get a lot of feedback on this one — if for no other reason than because of my limited familiarity with the genre. Based on your recommendations, I can put them in my rental queue and give them a shot.
So start the countdown, get ready for lift-off (how lame is that intro?!) and —

GIMME 5 MIND-BLOWING SCI-FI FLICKS!!!

I will start…

1. Blade Runner (R. Scott)
(despite the hokey narration, there is no denying how brilliant this film is. Gorgeous art direction and camera work here)
2. The Matrix (the Wachowski Brothers)
(A triumph of a screenplay and still seems ahead of its time)
3. 2001: A Space Odyssey (S. Kubrick)
(perhaps the gold-standard of all sci-fi films — a revolutionary work)
4. Metropolis (F. Lang)
(The design & effects of this futuristic society are still wondrous to look at, considering this is a relic from German Expressionism movement)
5. District 9 (N. Blomkamp)
(I was so surprised at how much I loved this movie. Brilliant storytelling & profound/subtle social commentary)

Now It’s YOUR Turn!!!

The Top 10 Films of 2009 Ranked by Peter Eramo


2009 was a relatively weak year for films. Unfortunately, I don’t get paid to be a film critic (not yet anyway) so I don’t see eveything that comes out. Though I did manage to view 125+ films for the year — I try and stay away from the “safe bets” guaranteed to be crap like “The Proposal” or “The Land of the Lost” or “The Ugly Truth” and focus on the ones that look as if they are worth my time and money. There was not a stand-out phenomenal film this past year…no modern-day classic to speak of. Hopefully, 2010 brings us a better crop in the months ahead.

In any case, here is my list of the Top 10 films from 2009, complete with a list of honorable mentions that are also all solid films. At the bottom of each post is a link to view the official trailers in case you’d like to give it a peek. Give it a read, and as always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject…what do you feel I omitted, what film am I nuts for including, where was I actually (dare I say) right on the money?

10. Fantastic Mr. Fox (dir. Wes Anderson)

Featuring the voices of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Michael Gambon, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, among others, this was certainly the best animated film of the year, without a doubt. And don’t give me “Up”…please. Based on the story by Roald Dahl, this film was pure enjoyment to watch — as well as being uproariously funny. For a full review on this film, click on this link.

9. Sunshine Cleaning (dir. Christine Jeffs)

A charming, poignant and offbeat indie film from the producers behind the Cinderella film, “Little Miss Sunshine.” This film revolves around the relationship between Rose (Amy Adams) and Norah (Emily Blunt), two sisters who are leading completely unfulfilling lives — but manage to set up shop and start their own business…crime-scene clean-up! Once upon a time, Amy had her whole future ahead of her when she was a popular cheerleader in high school dating the star football player. Now she is a single mom with a young son and though she still sees that same football player (Steve Zahn), it is nothing more than an illicit, thankless affair since he has married another.

The film focuses on Amy putting her foot down and getting her life in order, but it also does a terrific job at exploring the relationship between the two diverse sisters. Emily Blunt (who is just adorable to watch anywhere, anytime) is incredibly effective here — the hard-as-nails, pot-smoking aunt on the outside, but underneath, we see that she is simply vulnerable and frightened. Alan Arkin is great (no shocker) as their dad and his scenes with his precocious grandson are very humorous. Though it is not laugh-out-loud funny, there are some terribly funny moments here, especially as the gals start going out on jobs cleaning up shackled homes of people who have just committed suicide. When Rose is asked by one of her friends (who apparently has actually made something of her life) if she actually likes her grotesque job, she responds, quite philosophically, somewhat appropos: “Yeah. I do. We come into people’s lives when they have experienced something profound – and sad. And they’ve lost somebody. And the circumstances, they’re always different. But that’s the same. And we help. In some small way, we help.” A bittersweet film, with a genuine and effective script and authentic performances all-around, this one was too enjoyable for me not to include here.
*To watch the trailer for “Sunshine Cleaning,” click here

8. A Serious Man (dir. Joel and Ethan Coen)

I’m not sure I would recommend this film to someone unfamiliar with the ouevre of the brilliant work of the Coen brothers, but to me, it surely ranks as one of their stronger films and is most similar in style and tone to their masterpiece, “Barton Fink.” It is certainly their most universal — and most Jewish film to date. Not a full-out comedy like “The Big Lebowski” or “Raising Arizona,” but filled with much of the dark humor that has been a staple in nearly all of their films. This is a very mature, intelligent work with skilled art direction, use of music, and a helluva image to use as the film’s final shot. No big stars in this film at all, which I think was a bold, smart choice. Rarely do these guys make a wrong turn (well, there was “Intolerable Cruelty,” but so what…one bad turn).

The film is set in 1967 and revolves around the relatively simple life of college professor Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg). He lives in a world of formulas and certainty, but many times, the world around us doesn’t follow rules or certainty. Ironically, he teaches the Theory of Uncertainty, but really doesn’t grasp its concepts beyond the mathematics. His whole world is coming down around him and he merely seeks answers as to why and the film focuses on Gopnik trying to cope with all the chaos that is swarming around him.

Amazing performances by a relatively unknown cast. Michael Stuhlbarg was certainly snubbed of a Best Actor Oscar nomination here as the film is all on his shoulders and he does a wonderful job as our modern-day Job. Richard Kind is great as Larry’s bizarre brother, and Fred Melamud plays Sy, the man who is having an affair with Larry’s wife. Melamud is perfect casting here…a seemingly perfect gentleman on the surface, but what a slimeball this guy is! A top-notch screenplay and careful, astute direction (as always), I cannot wait to give this movie another viewing. Like all of the films made by the Coen Brothers, there is always something new to catch and one gains a greater appreciation for the movie as a whole. A clever, dark, and honest film.
*To watch the trailer for “A Serious Man,” click here

7. (500) Days of Summer (dir. Marc Webb)

Viewers of this film are warned even before the credits even roll that “This is Not A Love Story,” so those who may enjoy the typical formulated, predictable romantic-comedies (can anyone say Hugh Grant, Drew Barrymore, Sandra Bullock) may be disappointed here. It tells the story of Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as he reflects back on his relationship with Summer (Zooey Deschanel). The fresh and creative script jumps us back and forth in time through the (500) days of their bi-polar relationship and director Marc Webb uses some amusing techniques (split screens, animation, a hokey/cute musical dance number set to Hall & Oates) throughout to show the viewers how Tom is experiencing things. He is head over heels in love with the quirky and independent Summer – Tom fully believes that she is the one. The only problem is that Summer doesn’t believe in long relationships or in love – she feels that life will always get in the way. Tom seeks advice and guidance from his two best friends, but most of all from his little sister Rachel (Chloe Moretz).

Despite the forewarning we are given, “(500) Days of Summer” is love story. There is no way around it. It may not be the typical love story — or follow the conventional “love story” plot devices, but this is a wonderful departure from all of that and that is what makes this film a breath of fresh air. Gordon-Levitt (excellent in “The Lookout“) is very natural here, very soft-spoken as Tom, the greeting card writer who aspires to become an architecht — and who is desperately trying to win over the woman he loves so passionately. Deschanel is a joy to watch. She is not your typical leading lady at all, but there is something about her that keeps your eyes glued to her every move. She’s got that hypnotic sing-song voice and of course, is lovely to look at – we can see and understand why Tom is bitten so hard here. Their chemistry here seemed very natural throughout. I could not believe the film was snubbed of all Oscar categories, especially for Original Screenplay. But it remains one of the stronger, more creative romantic-comedies (too bad guys…it is one) in recent years and surely one of 2009’s very best.
*To watch the trailer for “(500) Days of Summer,” click here

6. Watchmen (dir. Zack Snyder)

I could not believe how much I enjoyed and how overly impressed I was with this unique superhero film. I am not a reader of graphic novels and knew nothing about this particular one written by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, so I went in completely blind. Unlike most films of its genre, “The Watchmen” is highly stylized, dark, and cynical, containing much more material for adults than teens (in themes, graphic violence and sex/nudity). What I also enjoyed (and was surprised by, quite frankly) was the moral questions that the film raises and tries to answer. I enjoyed this film more than “The Dark Knight” and almost any other superhero film I have seen.

The film is set in an alternative 1985, with Richard Nixon in his fourth term as U.S. president, the Cold War raging on and superheroes are banned from using their powers despite the constant threat of a nuclear war. After one of the masked members of the Watchmen group is murdered, an investigation (initiated by the memorable Rorschach character) follows and with it, a far deeper plot that the heroes must combat.

The film is so beautifully stylized, with tremendous visual effects and art direction. How this film wasn’t nominated in a handful of the technical Oscar categories still escapes me. And though it is high in budget, there still has a feel of art-house in it. The soundtrack is phenomenal, as it cleverly incorporates some classic rock tunes by Leonard Cohen, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, Janis Joplin, among others. Jackie Earle Haley steals the show as Rorschach, but Billy Crudup (Dr. Manhattan), Patrick Wilson (Nite Owl) and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Comedian) are all great here. I remember before its release, a film-blogging friend was a bit worried about the movie because he absolutely loved the graphic novel and was a loyal follower of it. He was so overly impressed with it, I think he went at least 8 times in the theatre to screen it. He told me how faithful it was to the novel and that it far exceeded any expectations he had going in…and this is from a guy who is an avid follower of the literature. Again, I went in “blind” and loved it as well.
*To watch the trailer for “Watchmen,” click here

5. Das Weisse Band or The White Ribbon (dir. Michael Haneke)

A magnificent cinematic achievement, “The White Ribbon” takes place in a small, rural town in Germany during 1913-1914. reminiscient of Bergman’s masterpiece “Fanny and Alexander” in some ways,Haneke’s film explores the darkness of man and foreshadows the darkness of what is to come in Germany in the years that follow. A number of peculiar, horrific crimes/acts occur in this small village and the mystery abounds as to who is responsible for them. But Haneke is not concerned with solving this mystery as much as he is trying to illustrate the brutality that exists in both adults and children. Filmed in gorgeous black-and-white, the white ribbon of the title suggests an innocence which has been lost and possibly the looming apparition of facsism; the small community, an analogy for a world on the brink of war.

The performances here are extraordinary. Though the pacing may be slow to some, it is a riveting drama exploring character and the hypocrisy of domestic and religious values. Yes, there are moments that are rather difficult to watch (in the best way possible), but they surely serve a greater purpose. Haunting, profound, potent and altogether human, “The White Ribbon” is a triumph of a film.
*To watch a trailer for “The White Ribbon,” click here

4. The Invention of Lying (dir. Ricky Gervais & Matthew Robinson)

You’re probably laughing at me right now, wondering why in the world is this film included here, let alone ranked so high on the list itself. Is it a higher cinematic achievement than “The White Ribbon” or “A Serious Man“? Probably not, I would agree. But my reasoning here is quite simple — pure enjoyment! Comedies are always overshadowed by their big brothers – the more serious dramas and “arthouse” films on these kinds of Top 10 lists. I did not want to fall victim to that. But that is not the only reason I include this film. It was just too damn funny, too damn smart and too damn fine a film.

The film is set in a world where no one has ever told a lie. That is, until Mark Bellison, a writer who is about to be fired (Ricky Gervais), creates one on the spur of the moment for personal gain. Mark is overweight, under-successful, short and comes from a poor gene pool. He is in love with Anna (Jennifer Garner) who is way out of his league as she is looking for the perfect mate with ideal genes to create perfect, good-looking children. Of course Mark begins to take advantage of his discovery little by little until one day, the hospital staff overhear him speaking to his mother on her deathbed as he desribes what Heaven is truly like. Everyone believes him of course and Mark not only becomes famous, but a prophet of the people as well.

What Gervais and Robinson have created here is one of the better comedies I have seen in years (although “Tropic Thunder” is right up there as well). I was constantly reminded of the better films of Albert Brooks and Woody Allen throughout. Gervais gives an endearing, hilarious performance here and manages to also include his own personal opinions on God, religion, love and the backwards priorities of our society. An entirely original film, I was blown away at how funny and clever it was. The film also features some great cameo appearances (which I won’t spoil here) and execllent supporting work from Rob Lowe, Tina Fey, and Jonah Hill. Gervais is certainly making a name for himself here in the States — I only hope that people begin to recognize that this is a major force in comedy right now — not only is this one downright hilarious, but on top of that, has a heart to match.
*To watch the trailer for “Invention of Lying” click here

3. Inglourious Basterds (dir. Quentin Tarantino)

Well, one thing is for certain…this film is unlike any other war film you have ever seen. That’s for damn sure. The film reeks of Tarantino dialogue, plot twists, homages to the spaghetti westerns and French New Wave cinema — as well as the dark humor that has been a trademark of his since his debut with “Reservoir Dogs.” I went in really not wanting to like it (as I’m not the biggest fan of his), but I could not deny what an excellent film he helmed here.

We are in Nazi-occupied France during World War II and a platoon of Jewish American soldiers are enlisted to spread fear throughout Hitler’s Third Reich…they have one mission — to kill and skin the heads of us many Nazis as they possibly can. The Basterds are headed by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), a Southern American with a thick accent and passion for killing Nazis. The other part of the film focuses on Jewish refugee Shosanna Dreyfus (a very impressive Melanie Laurent), who is plotting her revenge several years later after witnessing the slaughtering of her family. The first scene of the film itself (a long, fascinating scene) keeps you glued to the edge of your seat…Tarantino does a brilliant job of building the suspense here with effective use of editing, exceptional dialogue and the masterful performance of Christoph Waltz (Col. Hans Landa) who steals the film and has created one of film’s very best villains, wholly deserving of his Best Supporting Actor Oscar win. Waltz is unbelievable and is at his most evil when there is a smile across his face.

There is hardly a dull moment here and when you are thinking one thing is going to happen, you find that you are wrong and something else does. Pitt is fine here with his deadpan delivery and is actually quite funny. Great use of color, set design and photography, this is a film that builds from the very first scene and never lets up. Yes, it is not at all historically accurate, but Tarantino knows that and he also knows his business is to entertain….he does that here in spades.
*To watch the trailer for “Inglourious Basterds” click here

2. Up in the Air (dir. Jason Reitman)

An American film that does such an interesting, on-the-mark job of conveying modern American values and the historical unemployment recession that has fallen on us these recent years. Jason Reitman wrote/directed the utterly brilliant “Thank You for Smoking” and the tad over-rated “Juno,” but rebounds nicely with this superb script which makes for a highly pleasing film and one of the year’s very best.

Ryan Bingham’s (George Clooney) job is to fire people from theirs. He spends nearly his entire life living out of a suitcase, going from airport to airport and hotel to hotel – and he loves every minute of it. He has almost no connections in his life – not even his family. The firm takes on young Natalie (Anna Kendrink) who has come up with a method of firing these poor schleps via video conferencing, thereby threatening Ryan’s way of living — his way of being. He takes her under his tutelage on one of his cross-country firing sprees and as the brash Natalie begins to see the actual pain and suffering she is causing real people with real families, Ryan is beinning to discover a lot more about himself. Along the way, we follow the relationship between Ryan and Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), a fellow corporate traveler. The two try and meet up as often as their schedules will allow and Ryan begins to feel that perhaps he may want more from Alex than just sex in a different hotel room each time.

The script in itself is a great achievement. I’m still angered that it did not capture the Best Original Screenplay Oscar as it most certainly deserved it. The performances, all solid. Clooney is perfect as Ryan Bingham – he is confident, charming, quick-witted and at times, vulnerable…in other words, he does his “Clooney thing” – he can do this in his sleep. Vera Farmiga is wonderful here and in one scene in particular (she’s in her car alone), you just want to smack her. Jason Bateman also has a strong supporting role as Bingham’s boss – a clever bit of casting here. “Up in the Air” is a timely film, a well-made film and most of all, a very, very enjoyable film. Reitman is really building up quite a nice resume here and I am anxious to see what he gives us next.
*to watch the trailer for “Up in the Air” click here

1. District 9 (dir. Neill Blomkamp)

I am in no way a science-fiction film. But it is so much more than that. I was not expecting to enjoy this movie as much as I did and though it came out relatively early in 2009, it never lost its ranking as what I perceived as the best motion picture of the year. The onset of the film has an authentic docu-drama look and feel to it, but as the film builds, it morphs into sci-fi character drama and finally, a police thriller. And all the while, it never loses its sense of realism, nor do we ever not believe in any of the characters or their choices.

An extraterrestrial race is forced to live in slum-like conditions in Johannesburg — a refugee-camp where humans refer to them as “prawns” as they exploit and abuse these creatures since they arrived on Earth in 1982. Now it is 2010 and Multi-National United, a munitions corporation is forcing the eviction of these aliens from District 9 to a new camp. The man in charge of the operation is Wilus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley). At first quite clumsy and a somewhat silly authoritative figure, van der Merwe is suddenly exposed to a strange alien chemical and must now rely on his new prawn friends to save his own life as his human family and friends begin to turn on him.

The analogies in the film (apartheid, Guantanamo Bay) are evident, but it doesn’t hit you over the head or insult the viewer. The relatively unknown Copley gives an outstanding performance here and the visual effects are top-notch even though it’s not technically a high-budget film. What makes “District 9” such a remarkable film is its excellent work of character, its sense of authenticity, crisp editing, great action sequences (especially the last 20 minutes or so) and the way it makes you sympathize and feel for the aliens. The very last shot in itself is a memorable, chilling one. A powerful, intelligent, and moving film on a whole. This is Blomkamp’s first major film (produced by Peter Jackson) and he has delivered a near-masterpiece of a film that I think will be remembered for years to come…the best to come out in 2009!
*to watch the trailer for “District 9” click here.

HIGHLY HONORABLE MENTIONS
Though they did not crack the Top 10 list, here is a brief listing of some other excellent films that came out last year that I would surely recommend. They are, in no particular order:

Sin Nombre (dir. Cary Fukunaga)
Funny People (dir. Judd Apatow)
The Cove (dir. Louie Psihoyos)
Julia (dir. Erick Zonca)
Management (dir. Stephen Belber)
The Road (dir. John Hillcoat)
The Last Station (dir. Michael Hoffman)
Crazy Heart (dir. Scott Cooper)
The Great Buck Howard (dir. Sean McGinly)

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Peter Eramo’s Postmortem on the Oscars – The Highs & Very Lows of the Ceremony

OK, so I went 14 out of 21 in my picks (I wasn’t even going to bother venturing a guess in the ‘Live Action Short,’ ‘Documentary Short,’ and ‘Animated Short’ categories). Not so very bad. I went out on a limb on a couple and was thinking that some of the awards would go to those who, you know, actually deserved it, rather than those who ran stellar Oscar media campaigns. In the end, if you bet on the chalk in most of the categories and just stuck with the favorites, you probably fared better than me. I am surprised because Oscar usually likes to distinguish itself from the other, “lesser” awards ceremonies.

In any case, it is a few days later and I thought that since I wrote two posts on this blog leading up to the Academy Awards ceremony, that I would tie a nice little bow on it and write a postmortem on the actual telecast: the highs, the lows, the funny, the embarrassing, the deserving, the unworthy, and the simply moronic. And I’m not getting into who wore what – whose dress was “to die for” and who picked a catastrophic ensemble….I don’t care about that. Not important. Unlike the previous few years though, I thought the ceremony for the 82 Annual Academy Awards was not nearly as boring. True, the list of winners was all pretty hum-drum and predictable, but the show itself…not half bad this time around. Here is a list of all the highlights and lowlights in no particular order:

OUR HOSTS

All things considered, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin played off each other quite nicely. Really, the host of the Oscars has only the first 10-15 minutes to worry about. It’s pretty much gravy from there, making a brief showing here, a quick cameo there. And they were relieved of most of their opening by Neil Patrick Harris’ song and dance number, “No One Wants to do it Alone.” Martin and Baldwin did have some very funny jokes written for them including one where Mr. Martin referred to his role in “The Jerk” when he said to Best Actress nominee “Gabourey Sidibe and I have something in common: In our first movies we were both born a poor black child.” Some good one-liners throughout and the two did an admirable job as hosts.

MORON OF THE NIGHT

Easily Elinor Burkett. What a train wreck this one was. “Who is Elinor Burkett?” you ask. She is the producer of the Oscar-winning documentary short, “Music by Prudence.” When writer/director Roger Ross Williams came up to the podium to accept his award, he just started his speech when Barracuda Lady came up and pulled her best Kanye impersonation. Yes, the two have had tremendous artistic differences with the film and even had a lawsuit between the two (which was settled out of court). I have no idea who is right and who is wrong – but Ms. Burkett made herself look like a fool, ambushing Mr. Williams in such fashion. Look at the YouTube video – he just stands there dumbfounded, almost wanting to laugh, while she is ranting and raving in a semi-incoherent manner.

IT’S ABOUT TIME

No, not Meryl Streep winning (more on that in a bit) – but Oscar’s tribute to the horror genre in their well-edited Horror Montage. I’m no horror buff by any stretch, but horror films play an integral role in the motion picture industry and this brief mosaic was a nice reminder of that. Just because horror films are rarely recognized come Awards season, that doesn’t mean there is no merit to them. In fact, so many great horror films (domestic and international) have gone straight to DVD without much of a theatrical release at all. Here, we got to see a nice mixture of some of the most memorable horror films in cinematic history, from “The Blob” to “The Shining” – and did I see a quick glimpse of “Leprechaun” in there for good measure???

NOT VERY ‘PRECIOUS’ AT ALL

Boy, did Mo’Nique come across like Queen Diva or what??? They can spin this any way they want – as if she wasn’t backslapping her fellow nominees, but when she started off her pompous speech with, “I would like to thank the Academy for showing that it can be about the performance and not the politics,” a backslap was exactly what she delivered. I’m not saying she deserved the award or didn’t deserve it – she just came across here as arrogant and bitter – no class or grace whatsoever. And to bring up Hattie McDaniel? Give me a break. I was shocked to read all of the kudos pointed at her in the blogs and articles after-the-fact. Were they watching what I was??? Show a little humility…Come on! Even Samuel L. Jackson was rolling his eyes after this disaster of a speech!

The second Oscar that the film took (in a bit of an upset) was the Adapted Screenplay award which went to Geoffrey Fletcher. In doing so, Mr. Fletcher became the first African-American to win the screenwriting Academy Award. A terrific honor. But was it me, or did it sound like this guy ran 26 miles before coming up to the podium? Have a clue as to what you wanna say, guy. His speech was so incoherent and so bad that Steve Martin had to immediately joke about it by saying, “I wrote his speech,” which was met with laughter throughout the theatre.

BLUE MAN BEN

Why is everyone all over Ben Stiller? I give this guy credit. He is absolutely willing to commit 100% to the joke and make an ass out of himself to get a few laughs. Good for him. Last year, if you recall, he came out looking like Joaquin Phoenix, mimicking his much publicized stupidity on David Letterman’s show. That was funny. This year, he came out in complete Na’vi make-up and wardrobe from James Cameron’s Avatar.” Mr. Stiller was there to present the award for Best Make-Up, which, ironically, “Avatar” wasn’t even nominated for (a glaring oversight to begin with). Stiller was absolutely committed to the role (especially when he spoke in the ancient tongue of the Na’vi) and had some outrageously funny lines. Great delivery – and whoever did the work on those piercing yellow eyes – great job! I thought this was a great, humorous highlight of the evening. I don’t think he disrespected “Avatar” in any way (though a few of Mr. Stiller’s peers did just this throughout the evening) – and I thank him for being such a willing sport.

INTERPRETIVE DANCE OVER SONG

Did we really need to see all of those dance numbers choreographed to all five nominees for Best Score? Was this necessary? How many people watching on their flatscreens at home used this allotted time as their bathroom break for the evening? Come on – you know you did! I have nothing against dance at all – in its time and place. What bothers me greatly about this was that the producers decided to go with this bit (which took a bit of time) over actually having us hearing the songs that were nominated in the Best Original Song category. I am still upset that I did not get to hear “Take it All” (from “Nine”) and of course, the beautifully written “The Weary Kind,” which rightfully took home the gold. I was thrilled to see that it won the Oscar and I would have loved to see Ryan Bingham perform it. That moment was taken from us – all in the name of interpretive dance – show me your Fosse hands, people!

A FITTING TRIBUTE

The “In Memoriam” tribute dedicated to those in the motion picture industry who died during the year is conducted without fail during each Oscar ceremony. I look forward to this part of the telecast as I find it to be a pleasant reminder of those who have passed on – those who we have admired from afar whether it be an iconic celebrity or a cinematographer who most don’t know, but we love their work.

This year was especially exciting for me because the legendary troubadour James Taylor sang live on stage while the video montage was being shown. I have loved J.T. for years and years and he is without a doubt my all-time favorite musical artist. His appearance was a total surprise to me and I instantly received a text message from my brother saying: “J.T. and the Oscars? Is your head about to explode?” True, I could barely contain myself as I watched the names and faces pass on screen and listened to the voice that, like a very fine bottle of wine, only gets better with age. He performed the classic Beatles song, “In My Life” and did a wonderful, stirring job with it. And dressed in his black tux and bowtie – he looked handsome, elegant and skilled. I equated the event to that of the delectable Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup: two totally separate entities coming together to make a most delicious noise. A wonderful Oscar moment – and done with class, taste and heart.

While I am on the subject, those of you screaming about the omission of Farrah Fawcett –SHUT UP! All I’ve been hearing for the past few days was how “shameful” it was that she was left out of the tribute. Please! Yes, it is true that she did do some film (she was actually damn good in Robert Duvall’s powerful “The Apostle”), but (1) she is recognized mainly as a television star and (2) the tribute is never able to squeeze in every single person connected with the film industry. In fact, I give those who make these decisions some credit for keeping some in that most may have never heard of (composers, editors, et al) and not the iconic Charlie’s Angel. On top of this, I have to hear Ryan O’Neal vent about this like it’s a slap in the face?! Perhaps Mr. O’Neal should pay attention to more important matters like how to properly parent his son so he doesn’t wind up dead or in jail again.

THE DOLPHIN IS CENSORED

The Cove” took home the Oscar for Best Documentary. A truly remarkable, horrific, eye-opening film for sure. The award is well-deserved and I was elated to see it win. During his acceptance speech, producer Fisher Stevens referred to the main subject of the film, the courageous, dedicated and heroic Ric O’Barry. Mr. O’Barry then (remarkably in character) lifted a poster-board reading “Text Dolphin to 44144.” The orchestra immediately started to play (their cue to walk off the stage) and director Louie Psihoyos was never able to give his brief speech. I thought this was uncalled for. Let the man hold up his harmless sign – if you saw the film, you know how worthy this cause is! It makes me more upset because of all the previous political statements made by presenters and winners of past telecasts. Were they cut off as promptly as the artistic team of “The Cove” was? I don’t think so. I simply thought it was a poor decision.

In case you were interested, this is what Psihoyos emailed the media regarding what he would have said had he been allowed to: “We made this film to give the oceans a voice. We told the story of The Cove because we witnessed a crime. Not just a crime against nature, but a crime against humanity. We made this movie because through plundering, pollution and acidification from burning fossil fuels, ALL ocean life is in peril, from the great whales to plankton which, incidentally, is responsible for half the oxygen in this theater. Thank you, Black OPS Team for risking your lives in Japan — and thank
you Academy for shining the brightest lights in the world on THE COVE……Japan, please see this movie! Domo Aragato!” Wish I heard it straight from the horse’s mouth!

THE VICTORIOUS BAD BLAKE

At last, Jeff Bridges gets his Oscar. Great performance, great speech – long overdue. Though of no surprise to anyone, it was a pleasure to watch. I no longer get to call him our country’s most under-rated actor (as I have been for well over a decade), but it is absolutely worth it now. Great to see the Kodak Theatre stand for the Duderino. Touching to hear him speak of his parents. And Michelle Pfieffer’s introduction was poignant and sincere as well. Here’s to you Bad Blake!

BABS OVERDOES IT

When Martin Scorsese took home the Best Director award a few years ago for his much over-hyped, and somewhat over-rated “The Departed” we knew he was going to win before the winner was even announced. Why? Well, the choice of presenters for this category that year was clue enough – with Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas handing the statue to their longtime colleague. This year, when we saw Barbra Streisand make her way across the stage, the odds-on-favorite to win became a shoe-in. We knew right then and there that Kathryn Bigelow would make history by becoming the first woman to ever win the award. True, she was the favorite here; I picked her to win though I surely did not feel she was deserving – and still don’t. Plus, I also considered this to be an anti-Cameron vote as well, with James Cameron rustling many Hollywood feathers over the years.

So there was Babs. And she looked so giddy right off the bat with the prospect of a woman finally winning. I thought her commentary here was not necessary either. Upon opening the sealed envelope, she commented, “Well…the time has come.” A bit over-the-top, don’t you think? Perhaps I am just upset because I still don’t believe “The Hurt Locker” was all that it is cracked up to be and that the media helped enormously in its many wins on Oscar night. I will give it a second viewing and perhaps I will feel differently. Perhaps not.

STILL RECUPERATING

I am still trying to get over what I perceive to be those undeserving who actually went home with an Academy Award. I knew Sandra Bullock was the media darling and the favorite to win. I couldn’t pick her. I think Ms. Bullock said it best with the very first thing she said in her speech: “Did I really earn this or did I just wear y’all down?” She knows it herself and she’s saying so right there. Way to get out there and campaign, campaign, campaign! And see what ya get? A nice, shiny Oscar. Again, very weak category this year and very few great leading roles for women in 2009, but Carey Mulligan clearly gave the strongest, most multi-layered performance of the five. Ms. Bullock is fine and I hope she continues to choose better roles in better films, but I will say it again: This is not an Oscar-worthy performance by any stretch of the imagination. I am still having trouble saying it: “Sandra Bullock…[gulp]…Oscar-winner.”

And even though the Best Picture category seemed like it was down to two films (“Avatar” and “The Hurt Locker“) and there was no surprise to it, I am still trying to cope with the idea of Bigelow’s war film winning the evening’s most prestigious award. I feel very strongly that “Up in the Air,” “District 9” and “Inglourious Basterds” were all superior.

“VOICE OF THE 80’S” HONORED

Being in my late 30’s, I sadly had no choice but to grow up during the horrid decade that was the eighties. I graduated high school in 1989 and the films touched by John Hughes permeated the decade. “The Breakfast Club,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Pretty in Pink” and “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” are pretty much a staple of 80’s films, right? It is safe to say that John Hughes was “the voice” of film in the eighties on a certain level. I see that, I understand that, I accept that.

Having said that, I had very mixed feelings about the tribute to Mr. Hughes on Oscar night, which was led by 80’s prom queen Molly Ringwald and the very talented (and still working) Matthew Broderick. On one hand, this was a very sweet, touching, tasteful homage to the late filmmaker who passed away much too soon in August 2009. The video medley of films that he worked on was edited quite nicely and when 80’s stars such as Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall, & Ally Sheedy came out to speak about their mentor and friend, it was a nice touch. I get all of that.

But was this honorary tribute truly necessary? I mean, in all, John Hughes directed only eight films…eight. He mainly worked as a writer and a producer. Not a big deal at all, as he was still surely a very creative aspect to the films that he did not helm. What bothered me was I don’t remember any Oscar tribute resembling this one for much more accomplished directors who have died – I’m talking about the great Sidney Lumet, Alan J. Pakula, the exceptional Sydney Pollack, John Sturges, the ingenius Ingmar Bergman, the auteur that was Stanley Kubrick, Richard Attenborough, Akira Kurosawa, and the list goes on and on. Why does John Hughes merit this? Because his movies were more “popular”? He was never at all nominated for an Academy Award and his films were mainly targeted towards adolescents. We like them now in part because it is nostalgic – it brings us back to our own days of graduation. So though touching and well-done, I felt that this tribute to Mr. Hughes was gratuitous. Will Woody Allen get this sort of treatment when he passes? (And let us hope that is a far, far way off.) What about Mr. Coppola? Scorsese? David Lynch? After this, I sincerely hope so….but I’m not holding my breath.

MISCELLANEOUS TIDBITS

Cameron Diaz: Rehearsal would have been nice. Come prepared.

Sean Penn: I love ya! I really do. But I’m still trying to figure out what you were saying.

Tina Fey and Robert Downey, Jr.: Loved the writer vs. pampered actor schtick. Great stuff.

– Zac Efron, Tyler Perry, Taylor Lautner, Miley Cyrus, Kristen Stewart, Amanda Seyfried: WHY???!!!

Tom Hanks: Was he just running late for a dinner reservation or something? Never saw an envelope ripped open faster than that.

– What was with the bizarre Lamps-R-Us backdrop?

James Cameron knew that eyes were on him and played a good sport throughout the night, taking all the ribbing in stride. At least on the outside. And he stood and clapped for Ms. Bigelow before just about anybody. Well played, Mr. Cameron.

– I want to see more clips from the actual performances being nominated! Each year they never show enough. Showcase the films being honored so people at home will think, “Huh…that looks good. I gotta go out and see that.”

– “Up in the Air” goes home empty. Cold, man. I thought it was a dead-ringer for Best Adapted Screenplay. You could make the argument that the film deserved Best Picture honors – as it was a much stronger film than “Avatar” and “The Hurt Locker” in addition to be more topical and making a great, subtle statement on our country today. Years from now when we look back at the films of 2009, this is the one that leaves its mark.

So it’s now mid-March 2010…a new year of films to catch up on. I hope it is a stronger year than last. A lot of new blockbusters that will start to rear their heads in a month or so. I will keep posting on this blog with various “Best and Worst” lists as well as film reviews throughout the course of the year…until the Awards season is upon us once again in December 2010.

As always, I cannot wait.

Predictions for the 82nd Annual Academy Awards (2010)


The nominees have been announced, the studios all campaigning wildly, and the film critics and pundits all making their annual predictions as to who will take home the revered statues come the evening of March 7, 2010. As I do every year, I try to come to grips with those who have been snubbed of well-deserved recognition (see my previous posting on this blog) and those who are nominated for reasons I cannot yet fathom. In addition, this year brings the new anxiety of trying to brace myself of having to sit and watch Alec Baldwin co-host the ceremonies….I feel it does not bode well for the millions of viewers across the globe. As I stated earlier, it hasn’t been the strongest year for film. Even the nominees were somewhat of a bore…a bit anti-climatic. Not many great races to speak of as well, with a few categories already being viewed as semi-locks. I am hoping that this is not an omen of a 4-hour snoozefest on Oscar night, but the realist in me says that this is most likely what we will get.

So here are my predictions for the 82nd Annual Academy Awards in all of the major categories — complete with a listing of “Who Will Win,” “Who Should Win” and finally, “Who Should Have Been in the Running.” Enjoy — and please feel free to post your comments in agreement or heated disagreement!!! I welcome it all….

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Matt Damon (Invictus)
Woody Harrelson (The Messenger)
Christopher Plummer (The Last Station)
Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones)
Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)

This one is a slam dunk. As soon as I left the theatre, I vividly remember thinking, “This guy has the Oscar wrapped up.” Many months later, that same sentiment holds true. This “guy”? Christoph Waltz as Colonel Hans Landa in Quentin Tarantino’s very strong “Inglourious Basterds.” He’s already won numerous accolades for his performance and I don’t see what is to stop him from receiving the grandest accolade of all – especially when I don’t think the film has a legit shot at Picture or Director here. The only competition comes from the wonderful Christopher Plummer, portraying the celebrated author and idealist Tolstoy. He was (as always) truly a marvel to watch – and has never received an Oscar in his prolific career. But in the end, I don’t believe enough people saw the film. Same goes for the other nominees – not many at all saw “Invictus” or “The Messenger” and both Woody Harrelson and Matt Damon are deserving of their nominations here. As for Stanley Tucci, I confess, I did not see the film, but have heard he was one of the very few bright spots in Peter Jackson’s critically (and publically) roasted failure. He nearly ruined King Kong…might as well hurt Alice Sebold’s prose while he’s at it, right?

Who Will Win: Christoph Waltz
Who Should Win: Christoph Waltz
Who Should Have Been Nominated: Burghart Klaubner (The White Ribbon)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Penelope Cruz (Nine)
Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air)
Maggie Gyllenhaal (Crazy Heart)
Anna Kendrik (Up in the Air)
Mo’Nique (Precious)

I’m in an odd position here and I’ll readily admit this – that based on all that I have read and heard, the winner may very well be the only performance I have missed (“Precious” being the only film of the nominated 10 that I unfortunately missed). But I cannot believe that Maggie Gyllenhaal would win (Lord help us) as I don’t feel a nomination was warranted. And what’s with Penelope Cruz? Why do voters have a fixation with everything she does? Her best work is in Almodovar films – yet she wins for a Woody Allen film when clearly, Amy Adams or Marisa Tomei should have won last year. Go figure. Anyway, she plays the same unbalanced lover here in the subpar “Nine” so I don’t see her winning in back-to-back years. The race comes down to Vera Farmiga and the heavily favored Mo’Nique. Mo’Nique has won just about every “Supporting Actress” award this year and there was some bad press over the fact of whether she would do press for the film or wouldn’t she. That’s all been cleared by now. I liked what Ms. Farmiga did in the Jason Reitman’s wonderful “Up in the Air.” Sadly, I think the film will, for the most part, be going home empty on Oscar night – and the two actresses nominated here may also split the votes. I can’t speak to Mo’Nique’s performance, but because none of the other four “wowed” me and the glowing press so far received, I have to believe that she will take home the Golden statue.

Who Will Win: Mo’Nique
Who Should Win: since I didn’t see ‘Precious’ I can’t say with authority
Who Should Have Been Nominated: Kate del Castillo (Julia) or
Diane Kruger (Inglourious Basterds)

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Avatar
Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
The White Ribbon

An interesting list of nominees this year in an all-important category. As impressive as “Avatar” and “Inglourious Basterds” is from a photography standpoint, I would think that the beautifully shot black-and-white film, “The White Ribbon” will steal this one. It’s got a couple of strikes against it in that (a) it’s a foreign film so hence (b) not many have seen the film. I’m certainly not picking it simply because it’s a B&W film. I was just overly impressed with the film as a whole, cinematography included. In addition, the film did just win the A.S.C. award, so it has a little steam going in.

Who Will Win: The White Ribbon
Who Should Win: The White Ribbon
Who Should Have Been Nominated: The Road

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

Coraline
Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Princess and the Frog
The Secret of Kells
Up

One of the few locks of the evening for sure. The fact that “Up” happens to be nominated for the actual “Best Picture” award tells you all you need to know. I thought “Up” was sweet…a strong 3-star film and not much more. The highlight of the film was the very moving montage between Carl and the love of his life Ellie – without dialogue. Quite beautiful. A sweet film, no doubt, but not one of Pixar’s best. I didn’t get into “Coraline” at all and if you can sit there and tell me that you saw “The Secret of Kells” playing at a theatre near you, I’ll call you a liar right now. “Up” is the sure winner here, but “Fantastic Mr. Fox” was the stronger work and greater achievement in film. I was hoping “Cloudy with A Chance of Meatballs” would get a nomination as I did find that film to be great fun.

Who Will Win: Up
Who Should Win: Fantastic Mr. Fox
Who Should Have Been Nominated: Cloudy with A Chance of Meatballs

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

“Almost There” (Princess & the Frog)
“Down in New Orleans” (Princess & the Frog)
“Loin de Paname” (Paris 36)
“Take it All” (Nine)
“The Weary Kind” (Crazy Heart)

This is a two-horse race, but I really don’t see “The Weary Kind” (by T-Bone Burnett and Ryan Bingham) losing. The two selections by Randy Newman are, let’s face it, Randy Newman songs. No knock on Mr. Newman, but there’s not much new here. A “Best Song” should capture the essence of a character or a specific scene or the film as a whole – or all three. No song has done that better in recent years than the marvelous “Falling Slowly” featured in the little indie-that-could “Once.” Eminem’sLose Yourself” (from “8 Mile”) back in 2002 also is a great example. There have been some wonderful songs featured in this category over the years. Sadly, the producers of this year’s telecast have chosen NOT to showcase each song individually and have the artists sing it. This was a great disappointment as some of the most memorable moments in Oscar’s history have come from the musical artist performing the piece live for us. The only competition that “The Weary Kind” may have is “Taken it All” from the musical “Nine.” This is a wonderful song written specially for the film – and is performed with raw passion by Marion Cotillard. It encapsulates her character and everything she has gone through in her failure-of-a-marriage to her ingenious husband. “The Weary Kind” however, is near perfect and will take home the gold. Bingham’s raspy, old vet voice fits splendidly. The lyrics and music perfectly complement the feel of the film (“Crazy Heart”) and depicts the man that is Bad Blake – (“Your body aches/Playing your guitar and sweating out the hate”….” this ain’t no place to fall behind/Pick up your crazy heart and give it one more try.”) I only wish we were given the opportunity to watch it sung for us live on Oscar night.

Who Will Win: “The Weary Kind”
Who Should Win: “The Weary Kind”

Listen to the song here:

BEST ACTOR

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

Lock. L-O-C-K! And well deserved, I might add. Mr. Bridges is 0 for 4 as an Oscar nominee, but America’s most under-rated actor (can we now say that anymore?) will be winning come Sunday night. It’s a vulnerable, gritty, honest and seemingly effortless performance and his Bad Blake is truly a character to remember. We sympathize with Bad, we root for him, we want him to succeed and get well. That’s what Mr. Bridges brings to the table here. Also, he’s got a nice set of pipes on him! He looked the part and looked quite the natural in all of his vocal scenes. Perfect casting and it is always such a pleasure to watch him work in indie films such as this one – and the bigger blockbusters that he sometimes does. I’m still trying to get over the fact that nominating Jeremy Renner is an utter waste of a perfectly fine 5th slot here. Colin Firth was terrific and the one shining star in what I found to be an unremarkable film. George Clooney is the tricky one here. He was wonderful in a great movie. However, if I am truly honest about it – it was George doing what George does best…the kind of role he can do in his sleep. He is charming, witty, charismatic and at times, susceptible. I enjoyed his performance, but could never think of him beating out the work that Jeff Bridges turned out this past year – it will be a pleasure to watch his acceptance speech. The Dude prevails….

Who Will Win: Jeff Bridges
Who Should Win: Jeff Bridges
Who Should Have Been Nominated: Michael Stuhlbarg (“A Serious Man”)

BEST ACTRESS

Sandra Bullock (“The Blind Side”)
Helen Mirren (“The Last Station”)
Carey Mulligan (“An Education”)
Gabourey Sidibe (“Precious”)
Meryl Streep (“Julie & Julia”)

What a weak category this year. W-E-A-K! It also illustrates a year where there were not very good roles for leading women in cinema. As written in my previous blog, I have no idea why Tilda Swinton was completely forgotten and not nominated for giving the year’s best performance in the very powerful, but little known film “Julia.” Having said that, if Sandra Bullock wins, I will weep. I like Sandra Bullock. I have nothing against Sandra Bullock. She was fine here…gave a good performance. But Oscar worthy?! Please! Years from now we’re going to look back at this film and see an actress truly shine? Hardly. She is here because voters approve of the fact that we’re not seeing her in another piece of crap – plain and simple. That, plus the poor roles for leading women in 2009. But sadly, she does have a legit shot. The movie raked in millions and America loves her. Despite my animosity towards the nomination, her chances are very good…scary, right? The winner, I’m afraid will be Ms. Streep in the very mediocre “Julia & Julia.” I adore Meryl Streep – love her in just about everything she does. With more nominations than anyone in Oscar history now, she surely is one of the greatest actors to ever grace the silver screen – period! Having said that, this is NOT the film she deserves to win for. Not after Oscar has shot her down in much better films in which she has given outstanding performances in like “Doubt,” “Adaptation,” “One True Thing,” and “Out of Africa” to name a few. So why will she win this year? Hollywood adores her (as they should) and she hasn’t won since 1982 – it’s been a while! She’s always there; each year, smiling gracefully each time she is defeated. I feel she will be rewarded for that this year at the expense of Ms. Mulligan who turns in a multi-layered, well-crafted performance in a film that few went out to see. I love Helen Mirren and she is great in “The Last Station,” but she won just a few years back and nobody saw this under-rated film about Tolstoy and his wife in their latter years. It’s a battle for the two undeserving this year. Bullock vs. Streep. It will be nice to see Ms. Streep walk up to accept, and I guess I can swallow that after years of hoping that she would win…however, this year, I know better. You just watch – she’ll give a breathtaking performance in another film this year or next – and will lose out once again.

Quick Change of Heart as of Sunday, March 7th: I can’t stand this anymore. I can’t sleep well knowing I picked Streep or Bullock to win for performances they surely don’t deserve the gold for. I’m going with the evening’s upset special: Carey Mulligan. Why? Simply because she deserves it. I did this a couple of years back and went out on a limb picking Marion Cotillard for her brilliant performance in “La Vie en Rose” and that turned out well. So I’m going with my gut and hope the Academy sees that Carey Mulligan gave the most winning performance.

Who Will Win: Carey Mulligan
Who Should Win: Carey Mulligan
Who Should Have Been Nominated: Tilda Swinton (“Julia”)

BEST DIRECTOR

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

This seems to be a very competitive two (wo)man race – between James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow. Those two seem to be the darlings of past awards presentations over the past couple of months. In my opinion, both simply do not deserve it. Of the five nominees, I would say that Tarantino’s work is the most deserving – and I don’t even care for the man. I hate listening to him speak in that self-important, supercilious way that he does. In truth, I can’t stand watching him, but I can be objective here and say that the man can make a fine film from time to time (“Jackie Brown” and “Kill Bill: Volume I” as examples). I thoroughly enjoyed “Inglourious Basterds” and put it in my Top 10 of the Year. Though he is deserving, he won’t win. It’s between the couple that once was. Not many people like James Cameron – especially after he made a bit of a spectacle of himself when he won for the over-glorified “Titanic” and just a few weeks ago when he dissed Meryl Streep. NOBODY disses Meryl Streep and gets away with it! Not in Hollywood, at least. My feeling is that this year, the “Best Picture” and “Best Director” awards will be split – and history will be made with the first female director ever taking home the Oscar. This does not mean she actually deserves this distinction though – but voters like to congratulate themselves for this kind of thing. You can make a strong argument that Lina Wertmuller deserved to be the first back in 1976 (“Seven Beauties”), but it will instead be for the very over-rated, much ballyhooed “The Hurt Locker.”

Who Will Win: Kathryn Bigelow
Who Should Win: Quintin Tarantino
Who Should Have Been Nominated: Neill Blomkamp (“District 9”)

BEST MOTION PICTURE OF 2009

So “Avatar” took home a zillion dollars, or something like that and was, for all intents and purposes, cutting-edge as far as film achievement goes. It was a wonder to watch in the theatre. I cannot deny the remarkable triumph in that regard. It will continue its phenomenal success by taking home the “Best Picture” Oscar and raking up more zillions in the theatre, in merchandise and in Blue-Ray sales. Having said that, it is not the best film of the year. Think about why it didn’t even garner a screenwriting nomination. The story was not very good at all – highly predictable and took from so many other films in years past. You couldn’t sit through “Avatar” and not be reminded of a film here and another film there (“Dances with Wolves” in particular). Glorious to watch, for sure…but I wouldn’t put it in my Top 10 or Top 15 of the year. It will win though – there are years when Oscar likes to go to the big blockbuster (“Titanic,” “LOTR: Return of the King,” and “Gladiator” to name a few). This will reward the millions watching at home who actually saw one of the nominees and rooting hard for it.

I already made my feelings known about “The Hurt Locker.” Though a critical darling and on many Top 10 lists around the country, I simply do not see it. I feel it is overvalued. Maybe I missed something. Maybe I was in a cranky mood when I saw it. I have no idea. I simply know that when it was over, I thought, “Hmph, that was it?”

District 9” deserves the win, but has no chance at all, especially when the director is not nominated here – and I don’t see another “Driving Miss Daisy” year coming. Of the ten, it was the strongest and most powerful piece of original filmmaking. I’m not a sci-fi guy by any stretch, but the film works as a marvelous parable to our world today. It is riveting, haunting and at times, quite touching. I’ll be rooting hard for it, but to no avail, I’m afraid.

Up” has its own category all to itself – way to waste a place Oscar voters! That’s why the “Best Animated Feature” was created to begin with – to prevent this!

I loved Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air.” What a fine filmmaker with this work following the wonderful dark comedy, “Thank You for Smoking” (I felt “Juno” was the weakest of the three by far). “Up in the Air” is probably the most topical film of 2009 and makes a profound statement on our economy and the job market during a historical recession. Great performances across the board and a sharp, clever, thoughtful screenplay. This would be my personal #2 choice. An outside shot at best – if “Avatar” and “The Hurt Locker” split the votes, this could creep in and surprise everyone. Let’s hope it does!

A Serious Man” (besides “Intolerable Cruelty” the Coen Brothers have not made a bad film!) is along for the ride here – but I was thrilled to see it not forgotten and in the running for the evening’s grand prize – kudos to the voters for including this insightful, funny and splendid film.

Who Will Win: Avatar
Who Should Win: District 9
Who Should Have Been Nominated: Watchmen or (500) Days of Summer

OTHER PICKS:

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Who Will Win: Inglourious Basterds
Who Should Win: A Serious Man
Who Should Have Been Nominated: (500) Days of Summer

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Who Will Win: Up in the Air
Who Should Win: Up in the Air
Who Should Have Been Nominated: Julia (or Where the Wild Things Are)

BEST FILM EDITING

Who Will Win: The Hurt Locker
Who Should Win: District 9

BEST ART DIRECTION

Who Will Win: Avatar
Who Should Win: Avatar

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Who Will Win: Avatar
Who Should Win: Avatar

BEST MAKE-UP

Who Will Win: Star Trek
Who Should Win: Star Trek

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Who Will Win: The Young Victoria
Who Should Win: (did not see 2 of the films nominated)

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

Who Will Win: The Cove (if you haven’t seen it – rent it!)
I felt “Food Inc.”, as informative as it was could have been more “viewer-friendly” if that makes any sense. Michael Moore – pay attention…this is what documentaries are supposed to be….they are not editorials.

So those are my picks – for better or for worse. I hope I am wrong about a number of them. I’ve been watching the Academy Awards each year without fail since I was about eight or nine years old. Too young to even care, I suppose. My friends and family have always joked with me, calling Oscar night my Christmas. In many ways, it is. I love film just about more than anything. It is what I do…I watch movies. I watch too many movies – but there are very few things that give me greater pleasure than going to a theatre, sitting in the darkened room and watching a work of art on the screen. And film is art – there is no question about that. And that art is celebrated each year in grand fashion at the Kodak Theatre. I could care less about the Red Carpet – I never even watch that. I could care less about the dresses. I watch no other Awards show prior to the Oscars (could never be bothered with the SAG awards or the over-hyped Golden Globes). It’s all about the little golden guy they have called Oscar since 1928. No matter what films are nominated, which films or actors win or lose, I am glued to the television – and they become a part of motion picture history. The past few ceremonies have been somewhat boring, true. Here’s hoping that this year will be a pleasant surprise – and that the best artists in each category win!

Again, I welcome any and all comments here. Feel free to share your own picks on this page. That would be great. I’m hoping some are even reading this blog and that I’m not writing for my own sake. That would just be sad.

Most of all – to each of you – enjoy your Oscar Night!!!

(Next Posting Coming Soon — Best & Worst Films of 2009)

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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