Oscarthon: Best Picture- Precious

A ten part series on the Best Picture nominees, structured around four basic questions.

Part 7: Precious: Based On The Novel "Push" by Sapphire

Was It Any Good?

It was certainly quite the acting showcase, if nothing else. Gabourey Sidibe more than earns a lead actress nomination, and nearly every scene Mo'Nique is in leads to one of those patented Oscar Moments that pave the way to an unstoppable awards run.

Lee Daniels sets a sort of frenetic early pace that really makes it seem like the second half of the film is dragging, but I can see why Precious: Based on that film "Push" that had Chris Evans and Dakota Fanning earned an editing nomination over Up In The Air.

The story itself is almot pathologically relentless- it got to the point where (spoiler) after the late revelation that Precious also has AIDS I was kind of throwing up my hands. What is this, "RENT"? It might have been less of an extreme pile-up if Daniels hadn't made the travails of the beginning so thoroughly in our faces. Between the fluttering images, rapid Requiem For A Dream-style edits, and horror-film flashbacks, it's hard to have anything left for the home stretch.

Would I See It Again?

I'm going to abstain- even the dramas that leave me utterly speechless are things I'm unlikely to watch again. I'm glad I watched it, but I don't think I missed much the first time around.

The thing is, Precious: Based on the "Push" Sign Often Seen On Doors wants to have it several ways at once: powerful character drama, light-hearted coming of age story, and wry social commentary (Precious has several fantasy sequences of being a model or movie star that jar with the rest of the movie).

What Did It Acheive?

A best picture nomination is no small feat for an indie movie about uncomfortable subjects (and we all know that Precious: Based on the song "Push" by Matchbox Twenty is one of the five "real" nominees).

Time will tell if it launches careers, but it certainly has one Oscar in the bag as of yesterday.

Will I Remember It Years From Now?

I'll certainly carry the viewing experience longer than most other films, and I'm always happy with clunky titles.

I mean, Precious: Based on a Tie in the Game Of Blackjack is the best title since The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford!

One more note: Paula Patton plays a pretty standard heart-of-gold teacher very well, but the real supporting turn I was impressed with? Mariah Carey summons up a gravelly voice and an odd wig and puts in a few great scenes as a prickly social worker. She wasn't all that likeable, but she seemed like a real person that wanted to help. The movie ends with a key confrontation scene between the two leads, but Carey's mediating presence in that scene is important.

Oscarthon: Best Cinematography

One of my favorite categories, which I invariably get wrong because I pick with my heart. And the guild is no help, they're great at matching nominees, but awful at getting the same winner. Let's get to the nominees, along with my favorite shot from each one (except for The White Ribbon, which I refuse to see).

1. Avatar- Mauro Fiore (0 for 0)

Fiore seems to have kicked around making mostly undistinguished action movies like The Kingdom and The Island before scoring his first nomination for Avatar. Beyond the impressive 3D elements, the film has a pretty straightforward "Look at this! Isn't this AWESOME!" look to it. It goes down easy, but doesn't say Oscar to me.

Favorite Shot: Long view of the transport ship.

Even without 3D I like the framing of Worthington getting out of cryo as we see how massive the Pandora operation really is.

2. The White Ribbon -Christian Berger (0 for 0)

Berger is a long time Haneke DP, whose job mainly consists of leaving the camera stationary and going to get a hot dog (ba-zing!). But hey, it was black and white, so there were issues with contrast and lighting and all that to deal with, I'm sure.

Every Shot In This Film: Someone looking sad while not talking for five minutes.

3. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince- Bruno Delbonnel

Two time nominee for his work with Jean Pierre Jeunet (Amelie, A Very Long Engagement), Delbonnel added a welcome visual flair, giving the sixth installment a melting aesthetic all its own.

Favorite Shot: Fire in the Cave

I know, it's FX heavy, but the whole scene helped fill the Lord Of The Rings hole in my heart for a while.

4. The Hurt Locker- Barry Ackroyd (0 for 0)

Ackroyd had some practice going for a documentary feel with Battle in Seattle and United 93, and made The Hurt Locker seem like it was happening live even as it threw in plenty of beautfiul compositions. I had trouble choosing my favorite sequence- was it the split second shots of bullets hitting the sand or rust shattering off of old cars? A harrowing night scene as three soldiers flicker in and out of view in the blue light of a flare? Or:

Favorite Shot: Walking through the smoke

On Jeremy Renner's first mission as the new bomb squad leader, he puts on the heavy protective tech suit and walks down toward an IED. He throws out a smoke grenade, allegedly to "create a distraction," but clearly the only reason he did it was to create this awesome shot of him disspearing into and reappearing from the myst, like some sort of reverse deep-sea diver.

5. Inglourious Basterds- Robert Richardson (2 for 5)

With Oscars for JFK and The Aviator, Richardson is the heavyweight this year, but I can't remember too many images from Basterds for some reason. Mostly I recall a lot of back and forth panning as characters translated for one another.

Favorite Shot: Burning the Cinema

But who can forget Shoshanna's maniacally laughing face as the screen cathes fire, about to burn a theater-full of Nazis to death. Best prank ever.

I think this will be the point in the ceremony where The Hurt Locker starts its run-up to the big prize. Call it a hunch. It's also the one I want to win, so take the prediction with a grain of salt.

Oscarthon: Best Art Direction

Fun fact: this award was originally called "Best Interior Decoration," because movies used to just be shot in rooms in studios and nowhere else.

Also from 1940 to 1956 (and then randomly again in 1959) they gave separate awards to color and black & white films. I feel like a similar division should happen soon for CGI and non-CGI. Seriously, how can we consider Avatar to win an award that's supposed to be for production design and set decoration when it had barely any sets?

1. Avatar- Art Direction: Rick Carter (0 for 1) and Robert Stromberg (0 for 1); Set Decoration: Kim Sinclair (0 for 0)

This seems like the best place to recognize the extent to which James Cameron and his team nerded out making this a complete world. Apparently they put together a 380-page book called "Pandorapedia" with all sorts of information about fake aliens species, and even a Sigourney-Weaver-narrated short Discovery Channel style special about it, which will no doubt be on the DVD.

2. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus- Art Direction: Dave Warren and Anastasia Masaro; Set Decoration: Caroline Smith (all 0 for 0)

Like I said, the awards that Gilliam's films should always get never seem to materialize. That said, while Parnassus was better than his last few efforts by far, it was still haphazard and disjointed- the fantasia sequences had nothing to do with reality at all.

Compare this to say, Time Bandits, which frames the fantastic with the mundane in a wonderful way.

3. Nine- Art Direction: John Myhre (2 for 4); Set Decoration: Gordon Sim (1 for 1)

Oh, Nine. So many awards were yours to lose a while ago: Best Original Song, costumes, art direction... Maybe even supporting actress for one of the eight thousand big name actresses you seem to have.

Then you had to come out and pretty much blow. Go figure.

4. Sherlock Holmes- Art Direction: Sarah Greenwood (0 for 2); Set Decoration: Katie Spencer (0 for 2)

I'm super proud of myself for remembering that Greenwood and Spencer are the team from all of Joe Wright's films (including Pride & Prejudice and Atonement, with nominations for both), whose work I quite enjoy. If there's a potential spoiler for this award, I say it's Sherlock, which had just as much (relative) sucess late in the year, and is a more traditional period piece to boot.

5. The Young Victoria- Art Direction: Patrice Vermette (0 for 0); Set Decoration: Maggie Gray (0 for 1)

Still haven't seen it, but I'm sure the work was solid. Not solid enough to overcome less than $10 million at the box office though.

Art Direction is a goofy category, sometimes going with the obvious frontrunner (The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button last year), and sometimes going for a wildcard that actually merits it (like Sweeney Todd or Pan's Labyrinth).

And the Art Director's Guild is no help at all, since they take the coward's route and have seperate categories for fantasy (Avatar), period (Sherlock Holmes), and contemporary films (The Hurt Locker).

My call is Avatar once again, but with little certainty this time.

Oscarthon: Best Original Score

Although it had its usual share of hiccups yet again (like disqualifying Where The Wild Things Are), the Score category surprised me with two of my favorites that I thought would be overlooked, and another great inclusion that didn't even occur to me.

1. Avatar- James Horner (2 for 8)

For your consideration: "War"

Funny how the future as depicted in cinema looks better and fancier all the time, but the soundtrack is the same old bombastic thing. Witness the above selection, a pretty standard Greek-chorus type of thing- seems like it could be from a chariot race or gladiator fight, not a huge battle between twin-blade space helicopters, robot-exoskeletons and big alien dinosaurs. If you want to see the future done right, see Clint Mansell's great work on the indie Moon.

Horner is a frequent nominee, but has wins only for Titanic's score and song. If he takes the trophy, it will probably be good news for the film's Best Picture chances.

2. Fantastic Mr. Fox- Alexandre Desplat (0 for 2)

For your consideration: "Kristofferson's Theme"

Desplat had a busy year in 2009- so much that I was sure that he'd get nominated for his work in Coco Before Chanel, A Prophet, Julie and Julia, or even New Moon before his wonderfully vibrant Fox score.

He matches frequent Wes Anderson composer Mark Mothersbaugh's plucky string work with some richer, more emotional compositions which helped make Fantastic Mr. Fox arguably Anderson's most affecting film.

3. The Hurt Locker- Marco Beltrami (0 for 1) and Buck Sanders (0 for 0)

For your consideration: "The Way I Am"

Hey did you know there's super-loud death metal band called "Hurtlocker"? Just a tip if you're looking for score clips on YouTube and have headphones in. I learned the hard away.

Anyway, a wonderful inclusion of a score I forgot about. It seems a lot like the branch trying to make up for certain past omissions, since the score has a lot of similarities to Zimmer and Howard's dark, atonal Dark Knight score- plus one track (from the six IED scene) is even entitled "There Will Be Bombs," an homage to Johnny Greenwood's tragically disqualified score from '07.

4. Sherlock Holmes- Hans Zimmer (1 for 7)

For your consideration: "Not In Blood, But In Bond"

Loved Zimmer's work here, especially the plaintive tack above when it looks like Watson died in an explosion (spoiler- he was fine. I'm sure you're shocked). The whole score had a very broken-piano, ranshackle, steampunk feel to it that was superb.

5. Up- Michael Giacchino (0 for 1)

For your consideration: "Married Life"

Your likely winner, thanks to the unforgettable early montage in Up that made everyone all teary-eyed. Giacchino's score does most of the heavy lifting in that sequence, and the score weaves in and out of the rest of the film nicely.

Oscarthon: Best Picture- Inglourious Basterds

A ten part series on the Best Picture nominees, structured around four basic questions.

Part 6: Inglourious Basterds

Was It Any Good?

Plenty of fun, easy to forget is the best way to describe it. It's like somebody asked Quentin Tarantino "if you could time travel, what would you do first?" and instead of just saying "I'd kill Hitler" like a normal person he went and made this movie instead.

It's full of some labored pacing, in my opinion- at this point, hasn't QT done enough Mexican standoffs? Enough tension filled conversations in which double agents are desperate not to be discovered?

But that's just his style, I guess.

Would I See It Again?

Just watched it for the second time, and found it just as much fun, I'd say. It helps, in certain situations, to know that Jews are hiding under floorboards the whole time, or to know that the bar scene won't go on forever.

Though there's no way to replicate the first time you see it and (spoilers from here) Hitler and Goebbels are riddled with bullets. It sort of makes you realize that movies aren't beholden to reality, which I suppose should be obvious to begin with, but hey.

Take Valkyrie, based on a real-life failed plot to kill Hitler. Basterds I think relies on the same exact tension until the final fifteen minutes or so, when it just goes "Psych!" and everything explodes brilliantly.

Not sure if I need to own it, though- it's got some annoying Tarantino quirks that I've never really been down for. The title, which he's referred to as both "a Basquiat-esque touch" and the "Tarantino way of spelling it," is just ridiculous to me. If there is an explanation, no doubt it's more pointless than withholding the name of The Bride in the Kill Bill movies. Hans Landa, while I loved Christoph Waltz's portrayal, is a character that can only exist in Tarantino-world, making us listen to him chew things and take forever to get to the point at every opportunity.

What Did It Acheive?

Well, it's the most profitable and lauded Tarantino film to date, and it's definitely a dark horse for Best Picture. It's easy to think it would have a real chance at winning if the camera panned up whenever they were scalping people, or if Samuel L. Jackson didn't randomly narrate flashbacks from time to time.

Will I Remember It Years From Now?

Brad Pitt ends the film as a mouthpiece for Tarantino, claiming "this might just be my masterpiece," but I can't say I agree. It's fun, sure, and I liked it.

But it's just a little on the surface for me. Though it's told chronologically, it's still split into five parts, and each one is either a tense standoff or a melee- things like characterization happen in between all these moments. I could've standed to lose one subplot or another to actually build up the others.

And there's no morality here- it's basically Godwin's law made into a film. Only Waltz is frightening, and he jumps at the chance to betray the rest of the Nazis, who to a man are incompetent, buffoonish, and shrieking cowards. I expected them to start stepping on rakes and falling down stairs. It makes the potshots taken at the Third Reich's propoganda films seem a little hypocritical.

Goebbels in particular is portrayed as a simpering egomaniac that's convinced he's creating the future of cinema- maybe it's just me, but doesn't that stray a little bit into self-parody?

Oscarthon: Best Costume Design

Moving on, we come to a category wherein I've only seen one of the five nominees. Guesswork it is, although reputation seems to matter a lot to costumers.

1. Bright Star- Janet Patterson (0 for 3)

This is Patterson's third nomination for her work with director Jane Campion- I'm sure the work is admirable, but nobody saw this film.

2. Coco before Chanel- Catherine Leterrier (0 for 0)

I'd be surprised for a rookie to win here- especially since the consensus about the film seemed to be mostly "Who cares about Coco before Chanel?" I would assume the odd choice of focus led to some missed costuming opportunities.

3. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus- Monique Prudhomme (0 for 0)

Number of Oscars won by any Terry Gilliam film: 1, for Mercedes Ruehl in The Fisher King. They always deserve to win in costumes and art direction, but they never do. It's a fact.

4. Nine- Colleen Atwood (2 for 8)

My gut is telling me that Atwood takes this- this is based mostly on her win for Rob Marshall's Chicago, and the reputation of Nine as being pretty to look at, but little else. Plus, none of the other nominees have any buzz.

5. The Young Victoria- Sandy Powell (2 for 7)

The biggest potential spoiler- some might even say it's foolish of me not to back the period piece, since The Duchess , Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and Marie Antoionette took the last three awards despite similar lackluster receptions. Hmmm....

Box Office breaks the tie: Nine ekes by at $38 million to $24 million worldwide.

ETA: The Young Victoria takes the guild award, so I'm officially reversing this pick as of 2/25/10. I'm allowed to do these things.

This Week In Actual Movie Taglines

A look at the taglines for this week's major releases. How do studios try to hook us when they only have a sentence?

Cop Out

Actual tagline: Rock out with your Glock out.

Can I just say that after Kevin Smith lost his second consecutive title battle with the studio over "A Couple Of Dicks" that it's a travesty that this film wasn't retitled "Black Cop/White Cop"?

That's of course the fake title to one of "Tracy Jordan" from 30 Rock's many film roles- it even has an awesome tagline already: "One does the duty- the other gets the booty!"

Although to be fair, Black Cop/White Cop is in fact about a black cop that disguises himself as a white cop. Also, re: "Glock out"... meh.

The Crazies

Actual tagline: Fear Thy Neighbor

OR: Welcome to Ogden Marsh, the friendliest place on earth.

Oh horror movies. I will never go see you in theaters, no matter whether you lazily repurpose lines from the Bible or try and use aggresive irony. Just not my thing, sorry.

From The Trailer: The good people of Ogden Marsh.... Are going crazy.

Funny how the fact that this is a remake of an early George Romero is mentioned nowhere in either poster or trailer.

Oscarthon: Best Sound Mixing

As previously stated, this award is for the film that best interweaves effects, dialogue, and music into the overall sound design. Let's hop to it:

1. Avatar- Christopher Boyes (4 for 11), Gary Summers (5 for 7), Andy Nelson (1 for 12), and Tony Johnson (0 for 1)

I can't say there was anything interesting or unique about the sound mix in Avatar, but the scope remains impressive. It's hard to think anything will beat it- remember that while the specific branch members choose the nominees, the entire Academy votes on winners, so the bigger picture often takes the prize.

Even with Slumdog Millionaire pulling a hardly deserved win in this category last year, I think Avatar won't get overlooked in the categories where it merits winning. It's just too big.

2. The Hurt Locker- Paul N.J. Ottosson (0 for 1) and Ray Beckett (0 for 0)

But if anything's going to split the Sounds up, it's the wonderful mixing in The Hurt Locker- so many moments pack a sonic punch in this film: the split-second breakdown of the opening explosion:

...the lurch of the score when the car trunk opens to reveal enough bombs to level a city, or when Jeremy Renner follows the wire to find he is surrounded by bombs and it builds to a howl.

3. Inglourious Basterds- Michael Minkler (3 for 10), Tony Lamberti (0 for 0), and Mark Ulano (1 for 1)

I'm much more game for Basterds' inclusion in this category, as Tarantino films are always multiple sounds at once: part rambling talk-radio, part noise-maker, and part jukebox.

4. Star Trek- Anna Behlmer (0 for 9), Andy Nelson (1 for 12), and Peter J. Devlin (0 for 2)

That would be the same Andy Nelson from Avatar- something about the number of people with double-digit nominations makes me suspect this isn't a very big field. Star Trek might stand a better chance if it had a Best Pciture nomination, but the opening transition from Giancchino's score to the blips and beeps of the U.S.S. Kelvin is one of the most memorable moments of the year for me.

5. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen- Greg P. Russell (0 for 12), Gary Summers (5 for 7), and Geoffrey Patterson (0 for 1)

Didn't see it. But I'm sure it was fine work with all the aircrafts, imaginary robots, and awesome dialogue like the following:

Anyway, another call for the tall blue people.

Oscarthon: Best Sound Effects Editing

They really need to rename the two sound awards, to avoid the yearly confusion about which is which. Don't get me wrong, I don't think people at large care all that much about the tech awards, but at least all the rest are self-explanatory (we all know what costumes, makeup, visual effects, and cinematography are, right?).

To wit: sound effects editing should really be called Sound Effects Creation- it's for the making, from scratch, of footsteps and explosion sounds and gunshots to match pre-existing footage (or CGI-work). To a lesser extent Editing is also about cleaning up dialogue shot on-set and removing background noises and imperfections to make it better for the finished film.

Got that? Sound Mixing is exactly what it sounds like: mixing all of the finished audio together- the effects that the sound designers created, the on-set dialogue they've cleaned up, Additional Dialogue Recording in post-production, and the score.

An analogy: Sound Effects Editing is to Sound Mixing what Cinematography is to Film Editing- the first one designs the raw materials, the second one fits it all together.

Now, let's see what kind of effects our five nominees had to create.

1. Avatar- Christopher Boyes (4 for 11) and Gwendolyn Yates Whittle (0 for 0)

If this seems like another Avatar vs. The Hurt Locker category, remember this: Critics Don't Matter. Past winners of this trophy include Pearl Harbor, U-571 and Peter Jackson's King Kong. They like big things, expansive projects- Avatar fits that bill to a T and should win this award- Boyes is also the only heavyweight in the field with four sound wins.

It's got everything: explosions, multiple alien creature noises- they even made Sam Worthington sound like he had a pulse two or three times.

2. The Hurt Locker- Paul N.J. Ottosson (0 for 1)

Another war film, with plenty of explosions, lots of gunfire, and what must've clearly been difficult dialogue to record onset in blistering conditions. If people are really in love with this film, it has the potential to sweep (except for Best Actor), but considering the indie darling (Slumdog Millionaire) lost to the popular action movie (The Dark Knight) in this category last year, I wouldn't bet on it.

3. Inglourious Basterds- Wylie Stateman (0 for 4)

Not really one that occurred to me would be here, but hey- it had as much going on as any other. I wouldn't necessarily vote for multiple sounds of Christoph Waltz chewing things over a giant spaceship shattering every window in Johannesburg, but I don't get a ballot, do I?

4. Star Trek- Mark Stoeckinger (0 for 1) and Alan Rankin (0 for 0)

Another worthy entry, perhaps a winner in a weaker year. Between the background noises on the enterprise, the destruction of planets, and your various beeps and boops, there were more sounds to create than there were lens flares to perfect.

5. Up- Michael Silvers (1 for 4) and Tom Myers(0 for 1)

Pixar is a frequent combatant in Effects Editing, but has only won for The Incredibles, which Silvers shared. Up, however, is the least sonically diverse thing they've made in a while, and another thing that I think shouldn't have beaten out District 9.

So for the record that's my pick going to Avatar. But will it win any more than this and Visual Effects? Stay tuned to find out.

Oscarthon: Best Picture- The Hurt Locker

A ten part series on the Best Picture nominees, structured around four basic questions.

Part 5: The Hurt Locker

Was It Any Good?

Oh man was it good. Seriously, you should go rent it. After countless Iraq war films, we finally found the right combination of narrative hook (following an Explosive Ordinance Disposal unit from bomb to bomb) and perfect director (Kathryn Bigelow, who knows her way around the right amount of fear, thrills, and action).

The result? A tense, quick, terrifying trip to Iraq- one without any sort of "message" beyond taking us to the forefront of the new kind of war. It helps that the leads are virtually unknown- Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, and Brian Geraghty all do such great work it's easy to miss cameos by Ralph Fiennes, Guy Pearce, and Evangeline Lilly.


Would I See It Again?

In fact I just watched it on DVD for the second time, after seeing it in theaters in August- I was mildly concerned that it wouldn't pack the same punch, since I knew what would explode and what wouldn't, but that just made it more gripping, somehow.

The episodic plot leads to so many memorable moments, and the fact that it's so true-to-life makes them stick with you. You know what I felt when Home Tree fell in Avatar? Not a thing. But when Renner pulls a wire and six IEDs shake out of the dirt all around him, my stomach dropped into my shoes.

Watching it again with all of the Oscar nominations in mind gave me an appreciation of the craftsmanship as well (the first time I was too busy being all like "No WAY!" and stuff). The surprise nomination of the score seems right on to me- it was half dissonant tones blended with engine noises, sirens, and car horns, and it even had a recurring vaguely western theme if you listen for it.

Shots are framed with smoke and fire- The Hurt Locker moves from garbage strewn city streets to arid desert to a harrowing night seamlessly- only when Renner's character returns to the states does the world seem alien.

What Did It Acheive?

Financially, not that much- though robust DVD sales are encouraging, The Hurt Locker would be the lowest-grossing Best Picture winner ever (which would make Avatar the highest-grossing loser, natch).

But it's a masterpiece of filmmaking, and should lead to huge career boosts for Renner, Mackie, and especially Bigelow regardless of what it wins or loses. I mean, her last movie was K-19: The Widowmaker!

And I'm trying not to take it personally, but a victory over Avatar would be a triumph of the critical success over the popular consensus, and I'm all for it. If I want the biggest ticket to win every time, I'll just watch the Grammys.

Will I Remember It Years From Now?

And how. I was astonished when I wrote the Sound Mixing category preview, how many specific scenes I remembered before I had even re-watched it. The individual subplots might not be terribly complex- Geraghty's in particular has the most predictable outcome in one late scene- but they're really just incidental to the experience of the film, if that makes sense.

Oscarthon: Best Original Song

Without a doubt the most frustrating and impossible category in the entire field. For the fourth straight year voters lazily nominated more than one song from one film, and with one French exception went to very obvious places.

The selection process is the problem, really. Members of the music branch either attend a special screening of the song clips, or watch a DVD of them at home. Then they have to give every eligible song a score between 6 and 10. Nominees are then determined from those scores:

"Only those songs receiving an average score of 8.25 or more shall normally be eligible for nomination. There may not be more than five nominations. If no song receives an average score of 8.25 or more, there will be no nominees. If only one song achieves that score, it and the song receiving the next highest score shall be the two nominees. If two or more songs (up to five) achieve that score, they shall be the nominees."

From the Official Oscar Rules

My question: what's wrong with a normal ballot? Just send in your favorites, count the votes up. Keep the no more than two per film rule, and we'll be fine. I know, in theory, that every voter in each category should see every film eligible, but forcing the Song vote to rate each one leads to inevitable homogenization- of course the two Disney songs get rated pretty high, they're Disney songs. But would they have been in everyone's top five?

Anyway, let's look at the nominees. You can even stream the audio, hooray.

1. Almost There

2. Down in New Orleans

from The Princess and the Frog
Music and Lyrics: Randy Newman (1 for 17)

Yawn. Pretty run of the mill Disney songs- "Almost There" is the song the girl sings about what she wants to do/be someday, and "Down In New Orleans" is the introduction to the colorful setting du jour.

3. Loin de Paname

from Paris 36
Music: Reinhardt Wagner, Lyrics: Frank Thomas (both 0 for 0)

Look, I'm sure this is fine, but it sounds like every French song ever to me. Sure, I'm only familiar with some selected Edith Piaf from the biopic last year, and that one song on the Rushmore soundtrack, but still.

4. Take It All

from Nine
Music and Lyrics: Maury Yeston (0 for 0)

Star of said Edith Piaf biopic, Marion Cotillard, sings instead of lip-syncs this year on this number from Nine. Still haven't seen the much-maligned film, but it sounds like a decent show-stopper. Call it my second favorite of the nominees.

5. The Weary Kind

from Crazy Heart
Music and Lyrics: Ryan Bingham (0 for 0) and T-Bone Burnett (0 for 1)

If there were Oscars for Music supervising, Burnett would have several (he oversaw things like O Brother, Where Art Thou and Walk The Line). He shares his second nomination in this category with Ryan Bingham for the best of many original songs in Crazy Heart- the only song I'll be sad not to see performed this year, now that they decided to pull the traditional performances.

So give the statue to "The Weary Kind" in a laugher, and be at least glad we're spared the awful three-song mashup monstrosity that happened last year.

Oscarthon: Best Live Action Short

If I didn't have to work last Friday night, I was semi-considering driving out to Madison to catch the short films program that's playing in random spots throughout the country.

Seeing four of the animated shorts on the internet made it less appealing, though, as did the weather in these parts. So instead lets play depressing subject/catchy title roulette and see if we get lucky!

1. The Door

A mysterious tale that ends up focusing on the Chernobyl disaster. You can watch two brief clips on the official website of the film, and they both feature adorable little sick children. Uh-oh.

2. Instead of Abracadabra

A floundering young magician aims to impress his pretty nieghbor at his father's birthday party. It is by all accounts hilarious and well-crafted, but we all know the Academy just likes to kick comedy in the shins, year after year. Unless you're a comedy that also tackles An Issue, like the musical West Bank Story that won in 2006, set in Palestine. Watch a short trailer here.

3. Kavi

The titular young Indian boy works with his parents in a kiln, for a man who his father can't repay. The trailer looks okay, and the website is clearly full of activism about exposing modern-day slavery, but Indian poverty is soooo last year. I doubt it will get enough steam for a win here.

4. Miracle Fish

You can watch the whole 17 min film on some random website at the moment, but I honestly wouldn't reccommend it. Australian boy gets picked on at school, falls asleep hiding out in the nurses office, and awakes to find the school deserted. The reason turns out to be not profound or interesting at all.

5. The New Tenants

The trailer for this last one is full of recognizable faces and cryptic snippets of dialogue- so much that I'm guessing the 22 minute run-time isn't enough to elevate it above annoying film-school postulating and pretension. It certainly didn't make me want to look anywhere else to discern precisely what the plot it, anyway.

So in the end, The Door in a walk. Did you see that little girl with the big eyes and the radiation burn on her arm? That kinda thing gets to people.

Oscarthon: Best Picture- An Education

A ten part series on the Best Picture nominees, structured around four basic questions.

Part 4: An Education

Was It Any Good?

I'd give it a solid three stars. A remarkable ensemble cast gets lots of mileage from Nick Hornby's script- a script that's decidely unhornbian, really.

Alfred Molina, Olivia Williams, Peter Saarsgard, Dominic Cooper and Rosamund Pike all put in memorable turns around Carey Mulligan's powerful lead performance. Emma Thompson even pops up for three scenes as the school headmistress.

Lone Sherfig's direction is solid, if not visually memorable. I did enjoy the score by the appropriately-named Paul Englishby.

Would I See It Again?

Probably not, though I certainly wouldn't go out of my way to avoid it. That's not necessarily a knock against the film- well realized coming of age stories just don't make up a large part of my dvd library, except for the Harry Potter series.

Maybe if I were more of an Anglophile I'd want a copy of it for the period setting, the vintage cars and old teacups and school uniforms. There's a certain Londonness to it that you have to admire- constant rain, a grey palette, a longing for Paris that everyone seems to share (or at least everyone we're supposed to like).


What Did It Acheive?

Primarily it launched Carey Mulligan to stardom, and perhaps elevated Nick Hornby to legit screenwriter status, but the latter was seemingly inevitable. And fans of "Bleak House" tell me so was the former.

It also snuck into the Best Picture race, of course, thanks to the new Rule of Ten, giving it three nominations and the ability to slap it on the DVD case in deceiving font sizes (e. g. "3 Academy Award nominations including BEST PICTURE").

Will I Remember It Years From Now?

A vague sense, I'm sure- though exact quotes are already slipping from my mind. I'm probably being unfair to how straight it was played: Nick Hornby is an idol of mine, and his work led to certain witty expectations.

One of the things I liked best about it sort of hurts it in this regard- it seemed real. The girl and her parents, the mature way people dealt with each other- even late film revelations are handled with a minimum of dramatic "Oscar scene" moments. Which is great, but not earth shattering. As much as I resent plot twists and "For Your Consideration" freakouts for the sake of themselves, they do stick in the mind a little better than things that could actually happen to people. Does that make any sense?

Oscarthon: Best Foreign Film

Another category in which I'm reduced to educated-ly guessing. Someday I'm gonna be a real film-critic type with access to foreign films and shorts in a timely manner.

Let's see what we're dealing with.

1. Ajami

An ensemble crime drama set in the Ajami neighborhood of Tel Aviv. I can't really get the thrust of the plot from the trailer, but it's drawn comparisons to City Of God, which are never a bad thing.

2. The Milk of Sorrow (La Teta Asustada)

A portrait of the fallout in Peru from the violence related to the Shining Path uprising, in particular the mass-rapes used by the army as a military strategy. The title refers to the folk belief that women so abused would pass the trauma and fear to their children through breast milk.

3. A Prophet (Un Prophète)

A French Arab moves up into the mafia after being sentenced to six years in mafia-run prison. This is my favorite trailer of the five, if that counts for anything.

4. The Secret in Their Eyes (El Secreto de Sus Ojos)

An Argentine Justice Agent looks back to try and solve a 25 year old murder case, in a film that looks very sweeping and traditionally Oscarish.

5. The White Ribbon (Das Weisse Band)

A village in pre-WWI Germany is beset by a rash of unexplained crimes. And even though this is the favorite for the Oscar (based on its Golden Globe win and nomination for cinematography), I will never see it, because Michael Haneke's films rub me the wrong way.

Spoiler Alert: you will never get answers to any mystery raised in The White Ribbon. None. You'll just get long, suffocating shots that make you claustrophobic, people awkwardly staring at each other, and heavy-handed metaphors about purity. I can say all this without needing to watch more than the trailer.

ETA: I'm abruptly switching my pick to Un Prophete on the basis of the Cesar awards and this category never going as planned. You think it'll be Waltz With Bashir? Nope: Departures. Pan's Labyrinth looks like a sure thing? Nope: The Lives Of Others. And so on.

Oscarthon: Best Picture- District 9

A ten part series on the Best Picture nominees, structured around four basic questions.

Part 3: District 9

Was It Any Good?

For a largely unheralded August action-flick, it was pretty awesome. It starts out in the very trendy as-of-late documentary format- like a big-budget episode of The Office, only about the inner workings of the Alien Affairs department of MNU.

Copley was a welcome surprise, bringing gravitas to what sounds like it could be a very campy role- that is, (spoiler) slowly transforming into an alien. The aliens are well-realized CGI, with what sounds like a language all their own. Sure, the reasons they were there, leaderless, and unable to leave for the entire time were sketchy and unexplained, but it was worth it to get compelling extra-terrestrials who don't actually look that human for once (unlike James "she's gotta have tits" Cameron's attitude in Avatar).

The second half devolves into a splatterfest, sure, but if you can stomach it it's pretty emotionally satisfying. And the ending is the first Obvious Sequel Set-Up that's excited me in quite a while.


Would I See It Again?

Check, and check. There's not a whole lot to be gleaned on repeat viewings, but it's still compelling and fun. The calibre of the nominations it recieved speak clearly to its quality: Picture, Editing, and Screenplay.

I'm on board for the DVD, and a potential District 10.

What Did It Acheive?

First, the budget: District 9 proved you can match things like G. I. Joe by spending just $30 Million, if you spend it wisely, and tell a smart story.

But here's the thing: I like this film a lot on its merits, but I wasn't taken by the political allegory. Yes, it parallels the events of apartheid, in particular the mass eviction from "District Six." But it doesn't really have much to add.

It has some clear bad feelings about xenophobia and government reliance on corporate militias, but not much beyond that those things suck.

And the racial undertones are a huge mixed bag- why are the aliens, the stand-in for the black population of the apartheid era, explicitly described as aimless, unintelligent, and worker-drone types? Why are the Nigerian gangs violent, voodoo-practicing cannibals?

But still, when the big ship started to move, I was like "Awe. Some." And I was at rapt attention.

Will I Remember It Years From Now?

And then some. If nothing else, it corrected my tragic lack of knowledge about South Africa under apartheid (yeah, I bet I'm not the only one to Wikipedia it right after getting out of the theater. Just saying.).

It's a shame that it's clearly not a player in Picture, Visual Effects, or Adapted Screenplay next month, and it would be a huge upset for it to win Editing. But this is the kind of thing people were excited about the expansion to 10 nominees for in the first place: the oddball films about aliens and things that normally get forgotten.

Oscarthon: Best Documentary Feature

Some years I see a million documentaries, this year I saw none at all. But that doesn't mean I can't watch the trailers of the five nominees and spitball it- let's do this thing!

1. Burma VJ

Buddhist monks lead a Burmese uprising in 2007, and with all media banned, a group of amatuer Video Journalists sets out to televise the revolution at great personal risk.

2. The Cove

Not the dolphins! An animal cruelty expose by way of Paul Greengrass is the likely favorite this year. It's already had a significant impact on the dolphin trade in Japan, although unmentioned in the trailer is the fact that Japan has a yearly dolphin hunting season and features dolphin meat on school lunch menus.

I'd also like to point out that notable "Hey It's That Guy!" Fisher Stevens (he was the friend on "Early Edition" and the bad guy in Hackers! Remember Hackers? What were we all thinking?) produced this film, and will be an Oscar winner if it takes the prize.

3. Food, Inc.

Remember when they adapted the bestselling non-fiction book Fast Food Nation into a poorly recieved ensemble drama by Richard Linklater and we all wondered "why not just make it into a documentary?" Food, Inc. is that documentary, a by-all-accounts harrowing depiction of the terrible, terrible things we eat and the people that it's making rich.

4. The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers

A study of the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers, a study of the Vietnam War, to the public to try and help end it. He faced up to 115 years in prison, but his defense was helped immeasurably by the Nixon administration doing several illegal things themselves to try and discredit him.

5. Which Way Home

Mexican children try to get to the United States on top of freight trains, travelling alone. This often ends badly.

Based on it's recent win from the editor's guild, this is The Cove's trophy to lose- not only is it innovatively paced and shot, it's affected actual change in a very short time. Food, Inc. looks like the clear runner up.

Oscarthon: Best Makeup

Let's knock off the other three nominee category. If only I knew anything at all about makeup...

1. Il Divo- Aldo Signoretti (0 for 2) and Vittorio Sodano (0 for 2)

Unheralded Italian film scores its lone nomination for the makeup team from Apocalypto. Since this is a biopic of Giulio Andreotti, I will assume this is an old-age makeup nomination. The trailer doesn't really make it clear.

2. Star Trek- Barney Burman, Mindy Hall and Joel Harlow (all 0 for 0)

All new to the ceremony, the Trek team created some memorably seamless looking alien prosthetics- Vulcan ears, Romulan noses, and so on. Other than a campy throwback green-skinned girl, I found their work delightful.

3. The Young Victoria- Jon Henry Gordon (0 for 0) and Jenny Shircore (1 for 1)

Can we all agree to move past period pieces for Best Makeup? Come on, people. We get it, queens wore a lot of powder on their faces (Shircore's win being for Elizabeth). Did her hand suddenly turn into an alien tentacle? No?

That said, hairstyling is supposed to count for this award as well, and I sure they deserve it on that front.

Star Trek seems like a sure winner to me- biggest fan base, most unique work, and it's got the "looked over for Best Picture" vibe going on.

Oscarthon: Best Documentary Short

Time to play a guessing game with Doc short, which I haven't seen and aren't playing near me anytime soon (or ever). Let's go with titles and quick summaries, and then pick the most depressing one!

1. China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province
Watch it on YouTube

Examines the fallout from the 2008 Sichaun earthquake that killed nearly 70,000 people. An estimated 7,000 poorly-structured schoolrooms collapsed, and the Chinese government has downplayed and distorted the facts about the exact number of families that lost their only child (due to the one-child policy) because of these so-called "tofu-dregs schoolhouses."

2. The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner

Former Governor of Washington Booth Gardner leads the fight for assisted suicide laws while suffering from Parkinson's. This film doesn't even have a trailer on the web yet...

3. The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant
Trailer on YouTube

Pretty self-explanatory from the title. It looks like it includes plenty of shots of former workers looking at the camera Errol-Morris-style and trying not to cry.

4. Music by Prudence

Prudence Mabhena, an unlikely singer from Zimbabwe born with arthrogryposis- an affliction of the joints and limbs that left her little more than a torso and head.

5. Rabbit à la Berlin
Trailer on YouTube

The story of the rabbits that lived happily in the Death Zone of the Berlin Wall until it fell. It looks like a black and white, live action Watership Down with Soviets.

So to sum up, earthquake victims, euthanasia, job loss, disabled Zimbabwean singer, and Berliner bunnies. If we're talking relevance, it's clearly either Disaster or Last Truck, and I'm willing to bet that the recent disaster in Haiti gives the win to the former.

Oscarthon: Best Picture- The Blind Side

A ten part series on the Best Picture nominees, structured around four basic questions.

Part 2: The Blind Side

Was It Any Good?

You know what? It was a lot better than I thought.

While there are some big issues with selective white blindness going on with this film, and indeed it carries a condescending tone overall, the performances actually shine through about 75% of the time. It led to an affecting story, and I'd say an effective movie overall.

That doesn't erase the clumsy way it handles an entire half of the city of Memphis (apparently you cross some line in the middle and go straight from mansionland to a crime-infested hood) and the backstory of its central character (I mean its central non-Sandra-Bullock character of course).


Would I See It Again?

Nope. Not much below the surface of this one, despite all of the things it had going for it- especially Carter Burwell's restrained score.

It's a shame that while The Blind Side crosses $240 million at the box office, the VERY tonally similar and far superior tv show Friday Night Lights had to be saved from cancellation by DirecTV, and will get terrible ratings when it finally airs on NBC this summer.

The fourth season of that show features a shift in focus to the less affluent part of a smaller town, but it manages to tone down the contrast between the holy American-dreaminess of the football field and the seeming hellishness of urban living.

The Blind Side, despite touching characters, glides through this disparity only quick enough to make it seem nearly incontrivertably huge. The rest of the film is just a fish-out-of-water story, with some maudlin southern sentimentalism bleeding in here and there.

So no, not going on the shelf.

What Did It Acheive?

Other than to push Sandra Bullock toward a little gold statuette, not much.

And look, I don't care how much of the story is true. I'm sure Michael Lewis' book is great, but we're talking about Best Picture here. Being true doesn't get you anywhere with me. There's a book and a screenplay in probably half of the NFL Draft picks each year, if only because suceeding in sports is such a quintessentially American fable. But beyond a bookending voice-over by Bullock that feebly attempts to relate the importance of the starting left tackle (who protects a right-handed quarterback's blind side) to the themes of the film, The Blind Side doesn't really aspire to be more than about a family.

I suppose its prolonged box-office success is also an acheivement, one much heralded as a triumph for a humble little film that focuses on "family values" and so forth. And while it appeals to Christian values (when the Touhy's take Michael Oher in), name drops the NRA, and has a sly wink to George W. Bush, it doesn't get anywhere near polemic. The most charged moment in the film, on a left/right scale, is when Kathy Bates' character (a private tutor) admits that she's a democrat as if she's confessing to killing a man.

Will I Remember It Years From Now?

If it wins Best Picture, I sure will, but otherwise it will likely fade into a quiet oblivion. Sandra Bullock might not be the best of the five nominees (it's the only performance I've seen so far, but I'd put money on Helen Mirren anyday), but it wouldn't bother me if she won.

If I re-watched The Blind Side, I suspect I might grow much more impatient with its racial politics and "aw-shucks" narrow vision, but for now it's hard to dislike all that much.

Still, we couldn't have nominated Star Trek instead?

This Week In Actual Movie Taglines

A look at the taglines for this week's major releases. How do studios try to hook us when they only have a sentence?

Shutter Island

Actual tagline: Someone is missing.

OR: Whatever happened to patient 67?

Some serious mystery for Leo and his patented face of seriousness. I hope that this film turns out to be more complex than DiCaprio turning out to be an inmate of the asylum he shows up to investigate, as the trailer seems to imply. I'm sure Marty knows we'd all expect that, anyway.

Only one wide release this week. Ah, February...

Oscarthon: Best Visual Effects

A short entry in the Oscarthon, with only three nominees and a clear winner already. Each individual nominee's name is followed by their record at the ceremony. Let's get to it:

1. Star Trek- Roger Guyett (0 for 1), Russell Earl (0 for 1), Paul Kavanagh (0 for 0) and Burt Dalton (1 for 1)

With Dalton's win for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button behind them, the Star Trek team seems nominated more for workmanlike efficiency than anything innovative.

For all the press about the casting choices that came with updating an old universe, the effects crew did just as well putting their own stamp on classic touched like warp speed and transporter beams. They also came up with some impressive effects involving planet destroying singularities.

2. District 9- Dan Kaufman, Peter Muyzers, Robert Habros and Matt Aitken (all 0 for 0)

Not that I'm in the know among FX Academy members, but it's easy to think that this nomination was largely for stretching out a dollar.

With a $30 Million budget to $150 for Trek and $237 for Avatar, it certainly doesn't appear to have one-fifth of the effects-shots at all.

3. Avatar- Joe Letteri (3 for 4), Stephen Rosenbaum (1 for 1), Richard Baneham (0 for 0) and Andrew R. Jones (0 for 1)

The heavyweights from WETA digital, winners past for Lord Of The Rings and King Kong, are joined with the unstoppable James Cameron machine for aneasy trip to the podium.

Full 3D environments, special motion-capture face-cameras, these guys are the real stars of the highest grossing film ever, and I sincerely hope they each get time to speak up there.

Oscarthon: Best Picture- Avatar

A ten part series on the Best Picture nominees, structured around four basic questions.

PART 1: Avatar

Was It Any Good?

Well...I guess it was. If that seems reluctant, it's because I'm not sure if I saw it because I wanted to, or because I knew the rest of the world was going to see it, AMPAS included.

It's entertaining, sure, if overlong, stilted, cliche-ridden and stuffed with weird racial undertones. For all the cynicism with which I watched it the first time, I was noticably rooting for the good guys in the climactic showdown- mostly because the under-mentioned Stephen Lang played such a greatly cartoonish villain.

But "good"? Meh. Since comparisons to Titanic are clearly impossible to avoid: the second half breakdowns of both films are impressive, but Avatar manages to make Titanic's first half look like a master case of nuanced storytelling.


Would I See It Again?

Full disclosure: I saw it twice. Once, I snuck into a 2D showing after I saw Sherlock Holmes around Christmas. Then, after weeks after record paying grosses and everyone saying how the 3D effects were the BEST THING EVER OMG, I went out to AMC and caught the IMAX 3D "Experience."

Do I plan on buying it? Not at all. Would I watch it again on cable? If there were nothing else on. For all the wow-factor of the effects (even if 3D someday becomes commonplace in a home theater setting), the story is only as compelling as any run-of-the-mill actioner.

What Did It Acheive?

I'm not going to argue with the momentousness of the work that went into Avatar. They created an entire virtual world, revolutionized motion capture, Jim Cameron invented a new type of camera or something and grew six extra arms over the course of shooting.

I guess my real question is: how impressive is all that measured against the current field of CGI ubiquitousness? It's everywhere, and pretty soon 3D is going to be everywhere too.

To use a sports anaolgy, is Avatar Babe Ruth, head and shoulders above the field, or is it Barry Bonds, hitting home runs only slightly more often in a juiced-up field? Clearly it's paving the way for hugely successful 3D block-busters to be commonplace, but in 2D it didn't impress me in any unusual way.

I wish the Special Effects artists well at the Oscars, and I hope they're working on speeches already. But all the bells and whistles in the world don't make up for weak storytelling, not when it's Oscar-time.

Will I Remember It Years From Now?

I will, but for mixed reasons. It's visually striking and technologically memorable, but it has some easy pop-culture punchlines that will follow it, from the "Pocahontas with blue people" plot to (sigh) "unobtainium."

I'll remember the Avatar/Hurt Locker, Cameron/Bigelow Oscar narrative more than Avatar itself, especially watching Cameron give speeches and self-implode any goodwill he might've had brewing.

But Avatar isn't going to be treated well in my memory, and sadly, it's making Titanic look better and better all the time.

Oscarathon: Best Animated Short

What's coming up these next few weeks on Kinematoscope? Non-stop Oscar coverage, and maybe some overdue "best of the decade" lists that have been so trendy elsewhere. Right now, however, is the first entry in a 33 part series on the Oscars (one per category and ten for Best Picture).


I wonder if people used to get excited about the animated shorts because they actually ran in theaters- only Pixar is keeping this trend alive, and they've won it more often than not for the last two decades. Walt Disney used multiple wins for shorts to up his career Oscar total to a record 22 statuettes.

The short in front of Up, "Partly Cloudy", somehow lost out this year, which one hopes would mean that the quality of the nominees is off the charts. But let's see for ourselves:

1. French Roast
-Watch it on YouTube

A silent short with a simple premise- uptight Frenchman goes to cafe, forgets his wallet. Minutes of embarrassed hi jinks to cover it up follow.

The animation here is alright, chiefly the way the view blends the reflection of the cafe in the window with the street outside, but the exaggerated features of the characters don't really jibe with the quiet pace of the one-gag plot for me.

2. Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty
-Watch it on YouTube

Next, a memorable half-CGI, half-traditional alternate take on a classic fairy tale. The titular granny terrifies her small grand-daughter with a re-telling of Sleeping Beauty sympathetic to the evil witch.

If this were all in the vibrantly colored hand-drawn style that depicts the story within the story, I would've liked it a lot more- the framing device is just boring CGI with barely-human, bug-eyed characters. And the voice actress playing Granny O'Grimm chews a lot of scenery in under six minutes.

3. The Lady And The Reaper
-Watch it on YouTube

A funny third CGI entry, wherein an old widow welcomes the sight of a hapless grim reaper, only to be foiled time and again by a big-chinned Lothario of a doctor.

It's another trifle, but memorable for it oddly pro-euthanasia stance and for being produced by Antonio Banderas (who we all know is an animation fan).

4. Logorama
Watch it on movieweb

An entire world built from corporate logos is the setting for a sixteen minute film in which Michelin Man cops chase an evil Ronald McDonald on a crime spree. The wonderful visual idea gets bogged down by an uninteresting and unnecessarily crude plot- oh, the logos curse and harass one another? What a striking commentary. How 'edgy.'

It all ends in a heavy-handed natural disaster metaphor, as the proceedings are interrupted by a flood of oil seeping from cracks in the earth. Get it?

5. A Matter Of Loaf And Death
-Watch the trailer on YouTube

Three words: Wallace. And. Gromit. Considering that the series is three for four on Oscar night, and that creator Nick Park lost that one to himself for "Creature Comforts," this is one of the safest bets of the night.

I haven't seen it, not living in the UK and all, but I'd also bet it's just as awesome as Wallace and Gromit always are.

This Week In Actual Movie Taglines

A look at the taglines for this week's major releases. How do studios try to hook us when they only have a sentence?

The Wolfman

Actual tagline: When The Moon Is Full, The Legend Comes To Life.

OR: The Legend Is Alive.

Not sure if the makers have been following recent trends, but lycanthropy is very much alive and well- you're sort of on the tail end, really. And aren't legends by definition always alive? Hence being legends?

Valentine's Day

Actual tagline: From The Director Of Pretty Woman Comes A Day In The Life Of Love.

I feel compelled to point out that this poster is vaguely swastika-shaped. Look at it. Right?

Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Actual tagline: Worlds Collide

From the director of the first two Harry Potters? Chris Columbus? That's your lead?! What is the world coming to?

From The Trailer: Some Heroes Are Made. And Some Are Born...Of The Gods.

I think they should have gone with: So You Never Have To Get Around To Reading The Books.

2010 Preferred Oscar Nominations- Duncan

I know you must’ve seen the Oscar nominations and thought to yourself: But what do two random people in the Midwest think of all this?

If for no reason other than having opinions about it, these are the Oscar nominations I would’ve voted for, if I had a ballot. Will I nominate Drag Me To Hell for five Oscars like Dave did? (Spoiler Alert: No. Not that into horror.)

I did give myself the handicap of limiting the choices to only films that I’ve seen (except for original song, because that’s impossible; and animated feature, because I only saw three or so).

Visual Effects

District 9
Star Trek

Can’t disagree with the Academy here. Can I just say that while the visual flare of J. J. Abrams’ Star Trek was something I immensely enjoyed, I can’t help but feel that it’s the apple version of the ST universe? An “iStarTrek,” if you will. Am I crazy?

Sound Editing

District 9
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Star Trek

The art of loud noises. It’s not a part of the IMAX/Ultrascreen experience that people mention as much as the visual components, but it’s integral all the same.


Sound Mixing

District 9
Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Star Trek

While I respect Avatar in the previous category, for creating sound effects for things that don’t exist in real life, the overall mix of sound, score, and dialogue didn’t strike me as artful in any way. Witness the masterful use of tense silence suddenly ratcheted into chaos in both Locker and Basterds, or the raucous opening horns of Star Trek blasting us off into space. And Fox was the best at turning the soundtrack up and down at the right moments, something Wes Anderson films are always wont to do.

Best Make Up

District 9
The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus
The Road

Arguably the most surprising scene in District 9 is when a surprise alien prosthetic arm pops out of nowhere, as it were. How AMPAS ignored that for standard paleface period-piece business in The Young Victoria is beyond me.

Best Costume Design

The Brothers Bloom
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Inglourious Basterds
Public Enemies
Sherlock Holmes

What’s that? You didn’t see The Brothers Bloom and it’s archly complete visual flair? Don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll mention it again at some point.

Best Art Direction

The Brothers Bloom
District 9
Inglourious Basterds
Sherlock Holmes
Where the Wild Things Are

This may be as good as place as any other to mention that as much as I wanted to like Where The Wild Things Are, it left me a little hollow, and my memory hasn’t treated it very well. Maybe I’ll watch it again, but I really don’t need to be reminded again that it’s confusing and sometimes depressing to be nine.

Best Song

Coraline- “Other Father Song”
Crazy Heart“The Weary Kind”
Simon & Malou- “No Time For Love”
That Evening Sun- “Depression Era”
Where the Wild Things Are“Hideaway”

Every time I see that “The Weary Kind” was co-written by someone named “Ryan Bingham,” I go “where do I know that name from?” before I remember it’s George Clooney’s character in Up In The Air. Anyway, good tune.

Also I scoured the list for some more obscure contenders: if we’re not worried about length, one of They Might Be Giants’ Johns had a fun thirty second ditty in Coraline, some foreign rom-com called Simon & Malou had a rocking (Enlgish) song by Maria Apetri, and forgotten Hal-Holbrook vehicle That Evening Sun had a song by the guy from Drive-By Truckers.

Finally, I much prefer Kareno O’s more somber “Hideaway” from Wild Things to “All Is Love,” but it might be because kids singing in high voices make me want to kick things for some reason.

Best Score

Nathan Johnson, The Brothers Bloom
Alexandre Desplat, Fantastic Mr. Fox
Clint Mansell, Moon
Hans Zimmer, Sherlock Holmes
Carter Burwell and Karen O, Where the Wild Things Are

Best Animated Feature

Fantastic Mr. Fox
Mary And Max

Ahem. From the official Oscar bylaws:

“An animated feature film is defined as a motion picture with a running time of at least 70 minutes, in which movement and characters’ performances are created using a frame-by-frame technique. In addition, a significant number of the major characters must be animated, and animation must figure in no less than 75 percent of the picture’s running time.”

Just saying.

Best Cinematography

The Brothers Bloom
District 9
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds

In order, for symmetry, shakiness, meltiness, immediacy, and conversational staidness.

Best Film Editing

The Brothers Bloom
District 9
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
In The Loop

Pacing is very, very important to comedies, and the dark tour de force In The Loop knew just what it was doing. Why no Avatar? Because it was about forty minutes too long, that’s why.

Best Adapted Screenplay

District 9
Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Informant!
In the Loop
Up In The Air

Three real nominees, one near miss (Fox), and Scott Burns’ well-crafted farce from a non-fiction book.

Best Original Screenplay

Broken Embraces
The Brothers Bloom
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds

Some great original scripts this year, including the inventive sci-fi indie Moon and maybe my favorite from Almodovar so far.

Best Supporting Actress

Vera Farmiga- Up In The Air
Anna Kendrick- Up In The Air
Diane Krueger – Inglourious Basterds
Gina McKee- In The Loop
Blanco Portillo- Broken Embraces

Last Woman Out: Meryl Streep - Fantastic Mr. Fox

I felt it important to highlight the work of McKee and an Almodovar player not named “Penelope” here. But when will voice-acting (or motion capture) get its day, anyway?

Best Supporting Actor

Peter Capaldi – In the Loop
Anthony Mackie – The Hurt Locker
Mark Ruffalo- The Brothers Bloom
Karl Urban- Star Trek
Christoph Waltz – Inglourious Basterds

Last Man Out: Jackie Earle Haley – Watchmen

A fun one to fill out this year- Ruffalo’s great in Bloom, no matter how stiff he seems to be in the trailer, I promise. Waltz is a force of nature, Urban stole every scene he was in in Star Trek, and Capaldi took In The Loop to a whole new level. And I keep thinking Mackie was nominated, then remembering he got overlooked for Matt Damon’s role in Invictus as a piece of wheat toast.

Best Actress

Penelope Cruz- Broken Embraces
Melanie Laurent- Inglourious Basterds
Alison Lohman – Drag Me to Hell
Leslie Mann- Funny People
Rachel Weisz- The Brothers Bloom

Last Woman Out: Julia Roberts- Duplicity

Laurent was submitted for leading, according to my sources (as in, “the internet”), so I’m putting her here. I suppose I’ll help “legitimize” horror by giving Lohman a nod for being game for anything. Funny People is something I think a lot more people would have like if they knew nothing about Judd Apatow, and Mann really holds the middle of it together.

Best Actor

George Clooney – Up in the Air
Sharlto Copley- District 9
Matt Damon – The Informant!
Jeremy Renner- The Hurt Locker
Sam Rockwell- Moon

Last Man Out: Robert Downey, Jr. – Sherlock Holmes

Lost amid the late-act splatters and explosions in District 9 is Copley’s affecting performance of a desperate man. Damon found his Oscar role, but it was unfortunately in a comedy. Renner and Clooney are justly deserving, and you didn’t think I could possibly not nominate Sam Rockwell, did you? He’s Sam Rockwell!

Best Director

Wes Anderson- Fantastic Mr. Fox
Kathryn Bigelow – The Hurt Locker
Neil Blomkamp – District 9
Rian Johnson – The Brothers Bloom
Quentin Tarantino – Inglourious Basterds

Last Man/Woman Out: Jason Reitman– Up In The Air

Yeah, that’s right. I think Rian Johnson did a better job directing The Brothers Bloom than Cameron did Avatar. I weighed the technical merits of both against other things like writing, acting, preponderance of thinly-veiled racism, and found myself with a clear victor.

Best Picture

Broken Embraces
The Brothers Bloom
District 9
Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Hurt Locker
In The Loop
Inglourious Basterds
Sherlock Holmes
Star Trek
Up in the Air

Last Two Films Out: Up and Moon

Hey , AMPAS and I agree on four films, which is more than I expected.


Inglourious Basterds – 12
District 9 – 11
The Brothers Bloom – 10
The Hurt Locker – 9
Fantastic Mr. Fox – 6
Up in the Air – 5
Star Trek – 5
In The Loop – 5
Broken Embraces – 4
Sherlock Holmes – 4
Moon – 3
Avatar – 3
Where the Wild Things Are – 3
The Informant! – 2
Coraline – 2
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus – 2

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