Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark...

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Guide to Oscar: Best Original Song

The Best Original Song category, introduced in 1934, has one of the stranger sets of rules amongst Oscar categories, which makes it difficult to predict not only what songs will be nominated, but also how many, as there can be anywhere between 2 and 5 nominees in any given year.

To be eligible to be nominated a song must be written specifically for its film and used in the body of the film or as the first music cue in the end credits. Eligible songs are considered and scored by AMPAS' music branch using a special points system. Only those songs which receive an average score of at least 8.25 are eligible, except in cases when only one song receives that score, in which case that one song and the song with the next highest score will be the 2 nominees (as happened this year).

This year's two lonely nominees:

Monday, January 30, 2012

Review: Tabloid (2011)

* * * 1/2

Director: Errol Morris

There are people who dismiss the documentary genre as whole, clinging to this idea that they're staid and, for lack of a better word, "boring." If those people sat through just one of Errol Morris' films, I think they would be won over to the genre forever. I have yet to see an Errol Morris film that isn't wholly entertaining and thought-provoking and his most recent film, Tabloid, is certainly no exception. Sensational, fascinating and not a little unsettling, Tabloid is a greatly intriguing and well-made film.

Guide to Oscar: Best Foreign Language Film

No category is ever a greater lightning rod for controversy than the Foreign Language category. Introduced in 1947, it has undergone numerous alterations to its eligibility rules to arrive at the current system.

As it is now, every country is invited to submit a film for consideration to be nominated. The submitted films are all screened by a committee of Academy members and whittled down to a nine film short-list - 6 films chosen by the committe and 3 films chosen by an Executive Committee, whose job is basically to make sure that the committee (which consists mostly of older and retired Academy members, as they have the time to sit through all those long-listed films) can't completely embarass AMPAS by passing over particularly challenging films, as consistently happened in the years prior to 2008, when the Executive Committee was formed.

The nine short-listed films are then screened for a select group of Academy members, who go on to choose the five nominees.

This year's nominees:

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Guide to Oscar: Documentary Feature

The Award for Documentary Feature has been given since 1942, when it was awarded to four different films, all of them war documentaries. Unlike many other categories, where members of the Academy are eligible to vote for the nominees regardless of whether they've seen all the eligible films, only those members who have seen all those short-listed films can vote to nominate them.

This year's nominees:

Friday, January 27, 2012

Friday's Top 5... Worst Snubs of 2012

#5: Tilda Swinton - Best Actress, We Need To Talk About Kevin

On the one hand, it's difficult to feel too bad about Swinton not getting nominated since she does already have an Oscar. On the other hand, it's kind of a shame that someone who makes so many interesting choices and has played so many challenging characters can credit her only nomination to date to a solid, but not particularly revelatory, performance in Michael Clayton.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Guide to Oscar: Best Animated Feature

The Animated Feature category was created in 2001 and the award is given only if there are 6 or more animated features which receive theatrical release in Los Angeles during the course of the year. If there are fewer than 16 films eligible to be nominated, 3 will compete for the award. If there are 16 or more eligible, 5 will compete.

This year's nominees are:

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Review: The Iron Lady (2011)

* 1/2

Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Starring: Meryl Streep

I'll get it out of the way right off the top: Meryl Streep is fantastic playing Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. Unfortunately, revelatory as the performance may be, it is the only reason the film exists. Written by Abi Morgan and directed by Phyllida Lloyd, The Iron Lady is a frustratingly shapeless film that tries to disguise the fact that it has nothing to say by telling its story in an elliptical way and leaving it to Streep to do all the heavy lifting - well, her and the makeup crew. At least they received Oscar nominations for their trouble.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Oscar Nominees

Note: When this post first went up I accidentally wrote that Kristin Wiig and Annie Mumolo had been nominated for writing The Artist which is of course very, very incorrect

And the nominees are:

Best Picture

The Artist
The Descendants
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
The Help
Midnight In Paris
The Tree of Life
War Horse

Monday, January 23, 2012

Oscar Predictions

The nominations will be announced tomorrow morning so it's time for predictions. I'm betting that The Artist and Hugo will lead the way, both being films that have been widely embraced amongst the various guilds, with The Help, The Descendants, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo not far behind (and, sadly, merely one nomination for Drive). Although I don't think War Horse has enough support to get into the Picture race, I think it'll make a decent showing in the technical categories.

I'm also going out on a limb and predicting nominations for Brad Pitt as both Best Actor and Supporting Actor, and that the Academy's British members will sweep Gary Oldman into the Best Actor race (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy hasn't received much love on this side of the Atlantic, but it's nominated for a ton of BAFTAs). Although I'm not predicting it, I wouldn't be terribly surprised to see Melissa McCarthy get a nod for Supporting Actress (most likely knocking out Janet McTeer) or Rooney Mara slipping into a Best Actress slot (knocking out either Glenn Close or Tilda Swinton).

Here are my predictions:

Best Picture

The Artist
The Descendants
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Help
Midnight In Paris

Friday, January 20, 2012

Top 10 Week... Films of 2011

#10: Midnight In Paris

For me, there's no harder film to pick than the one that ends up #10 - it's the last one, after all, and no matter which one you choose, it means that one or two other films are being left out. I did a lot of debating about which film would take the final slot, deciding finally on Midnight In Paris, Woody Allen's charming literary fantasy. With a wonderful cast led by Owen Wilson, this funny time travel fable ensconces itself in the Paris ex-pat scene of the 1920s, celebrating nostalgia and the desire to return to times of the past, but also arguing that no time and place is so perfect that another doesn't seem better in comparison. Though not as deep as Allen's best work, it is a minor gem and a return to form after a couple of recent disappointments.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Top 10 Week... Performances By Women in 2011

#10: Berenice Bejo, The Artist

The term "It Girl" was created for silent star Clara Bow but had The Artist been released in 1927, rather than simply being set in that year, the term could have just as easily been created for Berenice Bejo. As rising starlet Peppy Miller, she lights up the screen, showing an aptitude for physical comedy but also for quiet (no pun intended) drama. The scene in which playacts using George Valentin's jacket is one of the film's most charming moments and her chemistry with the equally fantastic Jean Dujardin is off the charts.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Top 10 Week... Performances By Men in 2011

#10: John Hawkes, Martha Marcy May Marlene

In Martha Marcy May Marlene John Hawkes delivers a performance that shifts back and forth between darkly charismatic and downright scary. He's effective in both modes, making the character someone you can believe others would follow and someone you know they need to get away from. It's a performance of tightly coiled intensity unleashed at exactly the right moments.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Top 10 Week... Scenes of 2011

#10: Hotel Room Ambush, Drive

The hotel room scene represents a turning point in the film, sending it into a violent hyper drive. But even laying the sudden shift in intensity aside, the scene is a marvel of beautifully choreographed action. Brutal (but not quite as brutal as a few other scenes in the film) and breathtaking, it's the best scene is a film that certainly has no shortage of fantastic scenes.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Top 10 Week... Posters of 2011

#10: The Artist

Classic, classy, and simple. A beautiful poster for a beautiful film.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Friday's Top 5... Tilda Swinton Performances

#5: Young Adam

David Mackenzie's crime drama Young Adam is primarily Ewan McGregor's show, but Swinton is great as his lover (well, one of his lovers), who doesn't quite suspect his darker impulses.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Canadian Film Review: The Bay Boy (1984)

* * 1/2

Director: Daniel Petrie
Starring: Keifer Sutherland, Liv Ullmann

An unremarkable film save for the fact that it won the Genie for Best Picture in 1984 and features a young Kiefer Sutherland in his first big screen role, The Bay Boy is the sort of gentle coming-of-age period drama that seems to be a feature of just about every era of filmmaking. There's nothing truly bad about it but, at the same time, there's nothing all that compelling about either, at least not so far removed from the cultural context of its release. It's a decent enough picture, it just hasn't aged as well as it might have.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Awards Roundup

* Golden Globe nomination
+ Guild nomination
* Critics Choice nomination

The winners so far:

Best Picture

(11) The Artist**+:
Oklahoma Film Critics Circle
Phoenix Film Critics
St. Louis Film Critics
Detroit Film Critics
San Diego Film Critics
Las Vegas Film Critics
Indiana Film Critics
New York Film Critics Circle
Washington D.C. Film Critics
New York Film Critics Online
Boston Film Critics

(5) The Descendants**+:
Southeastern Film Critics
Florida Film Critics
Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics
Houston Film Critics
Los Angeles Film Critics

(5) The Tree of Life*:
Online Film Critics
Chicago Film Critics
Toronto Film Critics
African-American Film Critics Association
San Fransisco Film Critics

(2) Drive:
Central Ohio Film Critics
Utah Film Critics

(2) Hugo**+:
Austin Film Critics
National Board of Review

(1) The Help+:
Black Film Critics Circle

(1) Melancholia:
National Society of Film Critics

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Review: Adventureland (2009)

* * *

Director: Greg Mottola
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds

Greg Mottola's Adventureland is, in many ways, your typical teen comedy/drama, except that its characters aren't teenagers but are instead in that strange, extended adolescence period of your early 20s where you're technically an adult but you haven't yet become financially independent and your responsibilities are still extremely limited. It isn't necessarily an instant classic of its genre, but I suspect that it's the kind of film you can pick up over and again as the years pass and still enjoy.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Review: War Horse (2011)

* * * *

Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Peter Mullan

Steven Spielberg gets criticized a lot for being overly sentimental, for taking films that are great and then adding that extra brush stroke that makes it one too many, marring what might otherwise be an unqualified masterpiece. Much of the time I agree with that criticism - he has several movies that would be perfect if only he trusted the audience enough and didn't feel the need to so overtly manipulate emotions - however, sentiment, when done properly, does have a place in cinema and War Horse, while not necessarily perfect, stays on the right side of the line between feeling and treacle.

Sunday, January 1, 2012