Sunday, February 24, 2013

2012 Oscar Predictions

My Oscar Predictions

Best Picture


Best Director

David O. Russell for "Silver Linings Playbook"

Best Actor

Daniel Day-Lewis in "Lincoln"

Best Actress

Jennifer Lawrence in "Silver Linings Playbook"

Best Supporting Actor

Christoph Waltz in "Django Unchained"

Best Supporting Actress

Anne Hathaway in "Les Miserables"

Best Adapted Screenplay

Chris Terrio for "Argo"

Best Original Screenplay

Quintin Tarantino for "Django Unchained"

Friday, January 25, 2013

Top Ten Movies of 2012

It's common in these year end retrospectives to try to find some sort of narrative through-line  a nice little bow to succinctly wrap around the year, in order to sum up just what this year was all about. In terms of cinema, 2012, for me, was a year of surprises.

Coming off what I felt was a relatively lackluster 2011, 2012 was one of highly anticipated releases. With new films from some of my favorite directors like Wes Anderson, Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, and Paul Thomas Anderson on the horizon, you could say I had my hopes up for a strong year on the silver screen. Interestingly though, out of the four directors I have just cited, only one of their films made my list for the ten best movies of the year.

It's not to say that I disliked any one of the movies made by these fine directors, they all turned in solid work (if somewhat subpar compared only to their ridiculously high standards they have set on their previous cinematic excursions), but personally, I felt most of them were surpassed by people I have always considered "second-tier" directors. These are auteurs whose films I usually like and respect, but directors whose films I've never loved with the passion I have felt for the films from the quartet of directors mentioned above. This is why I say then 2012 was a year of "surprises".

Overall, I felt it was a pretty solid year at the movies. If I was to give it a grade, I would mostly likely give it a B+. While no film blew me away to the extent that The Tree of Life did last year, or even The Social Network the year before that, there were a plethora of really smart, concise films in 2012. I had no problem filling out a list of ten movies this year, and there were even a handful or so of films I had to leave off the list that I could easily see making my "top ten" in a weaker cinematic year.

It was also a special year for me in the fact that I attended the Toronto International Film Festival for the first time. In fact, four of the films that made my list I first laid eyes on in one of the beautiful theaters of Ontario's capital city. The festival was a wonderful experience and one that I highly recommend to any film fans considering making the trip north of the border.

Finally, before I get to the list, I must issue a disclaimer of sorts. Not living in either New York or Los Angeles, I do not have the benefit of seeing as many films as I would like to in a timely manner (although this year has been much better than usual). This means that some films, especially foreign films, I was not able to see before the writing of this article. In particular, Michael Haneke's Oscar-nominated Best Picture hopeful, Amour (which doesn't reach my part of the world until February 8), is one I would have liked to have seen before compiling this list (it ranked all the way up to #2 on RU's own Marc Eastman's top ten list). I would have also liked to have seen the much ballyhooed Cannes film festival entry, Holy Motors, but I suspect it will be some time before I will be able to see that surrealist treat.

I was also put in the peculiar position, because of my Toronto attendance, of having seen a few films that won't be released to wider audiences until 2013. In order to make my list as relatable to the general movie-going public as possible, I decided to disqualify these films from my list. I will say though, that one film in particular, Noah Baumbach's Francis Ha, would have made it very high on my list (maybe even at the top spot), so when it does make it to a theater near you, take the time to check it out. Undoubtedly, unless 2013 is the greatest year in the history of film, it will feature on my top ten list next year.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

2012 Oscar Predictions

From about the age of ten, I have been inexplicably fascinated with the Academy Awards. If pressed to explain the foundation of this obsession with an awards show from what is ultimately just an arbitrary body of members with vastly varying tastes across the many different disciplines it requires to put a competent movie up on the silver screen, I'm not sure I could muster up a satisfactory response.

I suspect at the time my Oscar obsession grew from what seemed like the perfect marriage between the art of cinema and the competition of sports, but even now, these many years later after hours of voluntary studying of countless Oscar books (to the point where I can name every Best Picture winner chronologically from memory), I still can't explain it in any way that doesn't make me sound like some freakish Oscar junkie. Nevertheless, between the Oscar season and the NFL playoffs, you can guess this is one of my favorite times of the year, and one of my favorite past times of the awards season is predicting the Academy Award nominees.

While I may not be at the level of some of the top Oscar prognosticators out there in the blogosphere, I usually bat a fairly good percentage. After so many years of anticipating the early morning announcements, and all the disappointments and jubilation that come with it, you get an almost sixth sense to the Academy's quirks and hang-ups. Of course, looking at precursor award announcements such as the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the Golden Globes gives you a rough idea of what the nominees will look like, but the fun is predicting the deviations, such as last year's Max Von Sydow Best Supporting Actor nomination for his turn as a deaf-mute man in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. It's in predicting these surprises that you really earn your bones as an Oscar prognosticator and gain gloating rights for your "insight" into the Academy.

With that in mind, below is my best guess on how 2012's Oscar nominations will play out. For the bigger categories (Picture, Director, Acting categories, and Writing categories) I have provided in depth analysis of the races as I currently see them. For the below the line categories, I have simply listed my predictions. If you want to skip the analysis altogether and just glance over my predictions, at the bottom of this article is the list of all my predictions in total, so feel free to check it out.

I have also included an alternative choice for each category (as a cheap way to get in one extra prediction) and also a possible pleasant surprise, as well as a possible unpleasant surprise. The nominations for the 85th Academy Awards will be announced this Thursday morning, so if you want to come back and rag on how wrong I was, or praise my brilliant forecasting (I hope the latter) in the comment section below, feel free to do so. Here goes nothing!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Review: Killing Them Softly


"A great empire, like a great cake, is most easily diminished at the edges."

This quote, from founding father Benjamin Franklin, doesn't appear anywhere in Killing Them Softly, but I think it sums up the movie fairly succinctly.

From all outward appearances and marketing, Killing Them Softly is yet another entry in the never out of style gangster genre, a genre which is one of the most well-established perennials of American cinema. Don't fool yourself though, this film ain't Heat. It's not Donnie Brasco either, or The Untouchables, or even Goodfellas. In terms of accessibility, Killing Them Softly is a much pricklier pear than these relatively straightforward films.

By way of plot, there is very little. Not much actually happens in the movie when you break it down step by step (which may partly be due to its brisk run time of 97 minutes). There's a lot of dialogue, all superbly written and acted, but it doesn't necessarily lead to any plot revelations or narrative expansion. Instead, what we get from all this conversational back and forth is mostly tangential chatter, tangential chatter which is used in service of the film's true goal: an allegory on the current state of the good ol' US of A.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Review: Life of Pi

Even though many are proclaiming the demise of the written word, and in some cases such as print media this consternation appears to be warranted, there is still a sizable market of people who are only too eager to read the latest smash novel from the latest flavor of the month author. Particularly in the young-adult fantasy genre, with series like Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games, there are more than enough adolescent eyes scavenging the literary landscape to fulfill publishers' monetary wants and desires.

Somewhat surprisingly though, this trend has not been limited strictly to the youths of the world, with their abundance of free time just looking to be filled with a book, but has also extended to their busy parents, who manage to squeeze in some reading in between their numerous daily obligations that make up their lives. Adult fiction, using every connotation of the word when it comes to the Fifty Shades of Grey series, is a growing market, and one of the first books to cash in on this trend at the turn of the new millennium was Life of Pi.

Winner of multiple literary awards and a New York Times Bestseller, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood would adapt author Yann Martel's allegorical survival tale into 2-hour length cinematic adventure. As can be seen by the trio of aforementioned fantasy series in the opening paragraph of this review, Hollywood studio execs, being the unimaginative, risk-adverse buggers that they are, are always very ready and willing to adopt established intellectual property into silver screen gold. In fact, given the box office returns on best-selling literary adaptations, the biggest mystery is why this film stayed in development purgatory for such a long time, but the day has come and its time has finally arrived.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Review: Lincoln


For years now I've heard about Spielberg's "Lincoln project," and for years now I have been glad every time he has past it up to move on to some other movie. Why is this you ask?

It is not because of the all too chic pasttime among cinephiles to disparage the super-director of his just due. In my book, Spielberg is unarguably one of the all time greatest directors in the history of the medium, and this is one of the few arguments in film that I believe can be made on an objective level. My lack of enthusiasm then was caused by what I percieve to be the man's strenghs and weaknesses, for as great as an auteur may be, they all have things they excel at and they all have aspects they struggle with.

In skimming his filmography, delineating between his hits, misses, and in-betweens, it is clear (at least to me) that what Spielberg does best is a kind of sentimental humanism (most akin to the work of Japanese auteur Akira Kurosawa). Often ensconced in fantasy settings such as in films like E.T., Jurassic Park, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and the Indiana Jones trilogy (I'm still in denial over Crystal Skull), what most often comes through in Spielberg's work is a joy of people and life, as well as film. Try as he might at times, Spielberg is just not a cynical person. There is too much genuine excitement and energy in the man's essence to pick up on the subtler nuances of life which are only acquired through the jaded eyes of weary travelers.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Review: Flight

If you are a rabid consumer of news in the cine-osphere, following all the latest tidbits and op-eds on all things film, then you'll likely know of the increasingly precarious state of the mid-budget drama. 

What use to be the bulk of any given year's film slate has recently become a more endangered species than the Siberian Tiger. In absence of a wide array of choices for adult cineastes, the movie going public has been left with two radically contrasting options: either see a vapid, glorified pinball machine with a bunch of guys running around in capes saving the world from its ever-present impending doom, or see a post-grad's treatise on the injustice of the current socio-economic system where the emotions are SO REAL, and the issues are SO IMPORTANT. If you feel like anything in between, such as a movie in which its characters have a semblance of real human emotions but isn't too pretentious to realize that works of cinema should engage the audience in an entertaining way, then Hollywood has basically given you the metaphorical middle-finger.

This frustration with the studio system's obstinance towards funding anything outside its narrowly imagined view of what moviegoers are willing to see is felt just as passionately (if not more so) on the creative side of things. Directors with fairly big names (people such as Paul Thomas Anderson, Charlie Kaufman, and David Croenberg just to name a few) have found it exceedingly difficult to find funding for their original projects, even in instances when big name actors have been attached to their work and forgo their typical star salaries. In Hollywood's mind, the demand is just not there and the risks are just not worth it, which has made cable television the last bastion of adult-oriented drama.