Monday, December 28, 2009

Christopher Nolan Back In Form

The newly released second trailer for Christopher Nolan's "Inception," starring Leonardo DiCaprio, doesn't give any more insight as to what the movie is actually about. It does, however, make me all the more anxious for summer 2010 when this mind-bending action-thriller is slated for release. It's nice to see Nolan returning to his style of "Memento" for a nice departure from Gotham City.

Apple has the trailer, and you can watch it here.

Lingerie, Italians, And Singing


I've seen but all of five minutes of Fellini's "8 ½" from 1968, so please allow my review of "Nine" to have no judgment calls based on this source material from which this musical is so strongly influenced. It is also based off the 1982 Broadway musical that won the Tony Award for best musical. Both are mashed into director Rob Marshall's ("Chicago," "Memoirs of a Geisha") own adaptation which takes the same story of the Italian director Guido (Daniel Day-Lewis) who is stuck in a creative block and is overwhelmed and surrounding by the pack of women in his life. It's in 1960s Rome, and although he's made great movies before as his co-workers call him Maestro, he's stuck in a rut selling publicity about some epic called "Italia" that doesn't really exist yet even on paper. This is all meant to be interesting as we follow the moping, chain-smoking Guito in his self-discovery, but it isn't. Guido's no hero. He's a scumbag.

Casting Daniel Day-Lewis as Guido was the first misstep. Isn't he too old? Breaching into your fifties, any sort of mid-life crisis isn't endearing or fascinating, it's just pathetic. Sure, Day-Lewis does what he can with what he's got, but when singing his accent entirely changes from sounding a whole lot less Italian, and why, may I ask, why do all these women adore him? Some dimension of his character is sorely missing. First there's his wife, Louisa (Marion Cotillard), and then his mistress, Carla (Penélope Cruz). Claudia (Nicole Kidman) is the woman Guido always casts as the leading woman in his films, and even they have a history. Meanwhile, a Vogue reporter (Kate Hudson) is throwing herself all over him. An Italian prostitute (Fergie) from Guido's past as a boy also sneaks into the mix. Keeping Guido in check is his costume designer (Judi Dench) and the memory of his mother (Sophia Loren). The actresses who play these women are all Oscar nominees or winners of some sort, and it's surprising to see them all together in this mess. It was all obviously meant to be something better.

Marion Cotillard being as talented as she is actually presents one of the biggest problems to "Nine" as a whole. Her character's hatred for Guido is so intense and fierce that we as an audience end up hating him more perhaps than we already did. She's that good and a stand-out amongst an otherwise shrug-worthy movie. Penélope Cruz is also effective, and that includes scenes aside from her rolling around in skimpy lingerie. Nicole Kidman is barely there, and her musical number is instantly forgettable. Kate Hudson's meant-to-be show-stopper, "Cinema Italiano," is catchy, sure, but embarrassing if you actually listen to the clueless lyrics. Numbers such as hers had a majority of the movie feeling like the runway of a Victoria's Secret show.

I personally enjoyed some of the musical numbers, though, especially Fergie's "Be Italian" and Cotillard's moment of revelation, "Take It All." The problem, though, is that Rob Marshall uses the same technique for his songs here as he did in "Chicago," except it actually worked then. Every musical number exists in a fantasy set alone on a stage, except in the case of "Chicago," those moments always worked to either explain a character's mindset or progress the narrative even if just a little bit. Not the case here. The songs feel claustrophobically stage-bound, and even though they may be nice to look at, it becomes tiring knowing that we're just going to have to return to the plot without anything advanced. It essentially becomes a list of mostly ho-hum songs strung along by a thin and boring plotline about a man with whom we don't even sympathize.

You can't knock this movie for not having ample amounts of passion. But to what cause? It's an ultimate misfire, a musical full of razzle-dazzle that doesn't add up to anything more than just a two-hour preview for the movie it wishes it were. In the credits, they show all the actresses performing their musical numbers with flashes to shots of them rehearsing these musical numbers not all jazzed-up. It's a clever move considering "Nine" is a film about making a film, which is essentially meant to be the film we just watched, but it's an issue when watching those credits was my favorite part.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Clooney Among The Clouds And Uncertainty

Up in the Air

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) has what some would consider the worst job in the world: he's the man who has to tell other people they no longer have their job. He does the job that bosses and employers don't want to deal with, and so people like Ryan get hired to do just that. The thing is that Ryan loves his job, and he takes it as performing a service to others, something that demands procedure and protocol, both of which Ryan makes sure to have in order. He has no home and no family. While flying on a plane and asked where he lives, Ryan responds with "here."

If Ryan were played by any other actor aside from George Clooney, this man probably would have been despicable; however, with the snarky smarts of Clooney, he's relatable and likeable. His performance holds the same depth he brought to "Michael Clayton" where he also played a man whose soul was in jeopardy. Except here you'd swear that he's just playing himself, which allows it to seem so effortless. Director Jason Reitman ("Thank You for Smoking," "Juno") has pulled off something of beauty with his third feature, "Up in the Air," and Clooney is at the center of it. It is an intimate and scalding character study while at the same time a brilliant and aware cultural study. This is our culture, the state of the nation we live in. It's hard to pull off timeliness, but this movie does it with ease putting a face on the recession and the crisis of unemployment. It is cynically funny but also deeply sad while romantic but also unapologetic and real, and it's a clear example of what we need to see more often from major studios. It is a movie of our time and our moment, and it's the best of 2009.

Ryan spends his detached life flying around the country with endless supplies of passkeys to hotel rooms and airport lounges and with the best deals with those companies. He's a valued customer carrying around special VIP cards, and he especially has his eye on reaching a certain mystical number of frequent-flyer miles. This goal he holds in the highest esteem. He knows the ways of the airport and has perfected the systematic lifestyle, one which America is more and more leaning toward. It's a world of Blackberry, text messaging, and fitting each other into a tight schedule programmed into a laptop. Most importantly, it's a lifestyle of downsizing and not only in the workplace. On the side, Ryan gives self-help lectures where the topic is keeping the load of your rhetorical backpack as light as you can. The people he talks to are exactly the kind of people he fires. Ironically, however, Ryan is forced to literally carry around a piece of his family; it's a cardboard cut-out of his sister (Melanie Lynskey) and brother-in-law (Danny McBride) with which they want Ryan to take pictures of the places he goes.

Threatening Ryan's own job is the talented young Natalie (Anna Kendrick of "Twilight") who offers a promising solution of grounding the firings and completing them over the Internet. It would make what Ryan has lived for all his life entirely obsolete. In an attempt to scare Natalie, Ryan agrees to take her along to show her the ropes and what firing people can really do to one's sense of humanity. They even make a stop in, yes, Detroit, and they don't hesitate in making it seem to be in the worst economic condition. Ryan and Natalie's sparring is a delight because Natalie has fast-talking comebacks that catch even Ryan off-guard. Their relationship isn't at all meant to be romantic as that is saved for a fellow frequent-flyer, Alex (Vera Farmiga), who Ryan meets in an airport lounge. She's a corporate shark just like him, and she has a biting sensuality that is irresistible. To Ryan she describes herself as him just with a vagina. Both Kendrick and Farmiga are already up for award nominations, and rightfully so. They are pitch-perfect in their parts each relating to Clooney's character in different and complex ways and each peeling back more layers as things progress.

The movie is adapted from Walter Kirn's 2001 novel, and it feels so shockingly in-tune with the state of today's society all thanks to a screenplay from Reitman and Sheldon Turner and polished, sharp-eyed direction from Reitman. In the sequences where people are given the news, those aren't actors. Reitman auditioned real people who had really lost their job and told them to articulate their feelings for the camera. That stuff hits home. Actors are interspersed into this footage, as well, including Zach Galifianakis and J.K. Simmons.

"Up in the Air" has a title that not only refers to the act of frequenting air travel but also the feeling of being unemployed, the uncertainty and the unpredictability. To those people everything is up in the air. In the closing moments, Ryan looks straight into the audience with a look that is hard to define, one that could be of either hope or pain. The film is optimistic and pessimistic all at once, and it is finely nuanced in both directions. Is Ryan's future bleak or not? And what does that mean for everyone else? We've captured an era on-screen while it's still happening, and the only thing that can be said for sure is that everyone needs some company, a co-pilot.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Plague Of Late-Comers

The season of award candidates is dragging its feet this year, as well, except not nearly as bad as last year. Two award contenders, which have already been nominated for Golden Globes, are being released in January.

"The Last Station" is being hailed for its strong cast including Helen Mirren, Paul Giamatti, James McAvoy, and Christopher Plummer. It looks to have a similar appeal that "Doubt" had with dialogue- and emotion-driven action.

From Germany's Michael Haneke comes this black-and-white period piece that is being labeled as the front-runner for the Best Foreign Language Film race at the Oscars.

For now, there are a lot of choices for people to see this Christmas season: "Up in the Air," "It's Complicated," "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel," "Sherlock Holmes," and "Nine."

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

This Fox Really Is Fantastic

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Freely based off Roald Dahl's 1970 children's book, director Wes Anderson's ("The Royal Tenenbaums," "The Darjeeling Limited,") "Fantasic Mr. Fox" is pure joy, an animated fable that is a rough-and-tumble and tactile visual wonderment to behold. Anderson used stop-motion animation and the reported pain-staking labor it took to make this movie certainly paid off in the casual, nonchalant piece of art it really is. The thing with this director is that maybe he was meant to direct animated films all along because this way his world feels more believable and therefore becomes more endearing and also allows his wits and sharp humor to shine through the material. When he was once creating real-life twisted into the unreal, he has now transformed the talking animal world into something surprisingly real.

Rarely before has such texture exploded in a film with fur that shifts, moves, and sways, and smoke and foam made from cotton balls. This is also a world that breathes in shades of orange, brown, and colors of autumn whether it's from the earthy underground where the foxes live or from the color of the foxes' fur itself. The film is shot rather two-dimensionally with the camera rarely tracking in or out, and this helps to emphasize the storybook quality. The plot is ruled primarily by a riddle that is repeated through the movie even, in some cases, through the voice of singing children: Boggis and Bunce and Bean, one fat, one short, one lean. These horrible crooks, so different in looks, were nonetheless equally mean. Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) was once a mischievous crook who stole chickens with his wife, Mrs. Fox (voiced by Meryl Streep). After a close call, Mr. Fox promised his wife never again. He retreats into a job of journalism writing a column but quickly gets the urge to return to thievery against the trio of evil farmers all the while doing so behind his wife's back.

There is also Mr. Fox's clumsy son, Ash (voiced by Jason Schwartzman), who wants to be considered naturally talented and athletic like his father. Unfortunately for Ash, his cousin Kristofferson (voiced by Eric Anderson) swoops in to do everything better, and he steals any thunder Ash might've had. He becomes the family's golden child, or fox, rather, and the story of this quarrel becomes of immense importance to the greater picture of all the animals. Badger (voiced by Bill Murray) gets Mr. and Mrs. Fox a nicer place to live above ground in a massive tree. Mr. Fox's undercover side work gets blown, however, and all of a sudden an all-out war is declared, and the animals are all digging underground to save their tails, sometimes even literally.

In the same spirit of Spike Jonze's "Where the Wild Things Are," this is a PG-rated movie that isn't so much for children. Like the book upon which that film is based, there are some dark undertones lurking here along with some violence and a large usage of tongue-in-cheek language using the word "cuss." But sometimes children's movies that push the boundaries are all the better for kids to endure, especially this one with a hero that has his own set of flaws. Mr. Fox certainly isn't perfect with his boastful and sometimes selfish personality. He is, however, grounded and realistic, and George Clooney's snarky attitude fits the part. They're all wild animals at heart, and the intelligent script by Anderson and Noah Baumbach ("The Squid and the Whale") don't ignore this fact. And in a moment where Mr. Fox meets his phobia, a wolf, the film strikes a high point of poignancy and profundity that comes as a welcome surprise.

Wes Anderson may be self-consciously aware of his hipness, especially with a quirky original song and fascinating score by Alexandre Desplat, but it is well-deserved and becomes even admirable with the resounding and seemingly effortless success this animated feature is. In the end, "Fantastic Mr. Fox" is, astonishingly enough, even better than Pixar's "Up," which is saying a lot. It definitely gets my vote for Best Animated Feature of the year.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Big Win For James Cameron


James Cameron has been all the rage with the ever-approaching release of his first movie since 12 years ago when he made "Titanic." With anticipation at its boiling point, judgment day for the self-proclaimed King of the World has finally arrived. The verdict? Well, let's just say he's keeping his crown for this one and perhaps expanding it to King of the Universe. Like many others, I was skeptical toward the director's venture that reportedly cost him $300 million. The building buzz for his new feature was holding up some lofty expectations that I was just worried wouldn't be met. It turns out, however, that every bold claim Cameron made about his latest film came true, and it was money well spent. So, here I am standing before you attempting to transform my skepticism into an undying love. I'm here to set the record straight: "Avatar" is the real deal. In astonishing and stunning IMAX 3D, this is a movie that transports in a way like nothing you've ever experienced before, and the unbelievable technical prowess involved is like nothing ever done before in cinema. Simply put, this is the most visually gorgeous film I have ever seen and a landmark in moviemaking.

The world of Pandora is such a rich, breathing, and fully-realized place it is comparable to other fantasy worlds represented in film such as "Star Wars," "Lord of the Rings," and "Harry Potter." This world's environment is similar to Earth with luscious forests, sprawling landscapes, except all the more fantastical with places such as floating mountains with waterfalls dropping off into nothingness. The world is inhabited by creatures both colorful and dangerous and also the natives, the Na'vi. They are a blue-skinned, yellow-eyed, slender, 8-foot-tall race. This world and these people are all rendered largely by CGI except it's like the next generation of CGI. The Na'vi are created through motion capture techniques that are entirely convincing, and they look like particular actors when they're supposed to without any creepy effect. Their blue skin glistens, the trees rustle and sway, the waters pound, and every aspect of Pandora--the eye-popping colors, textures, and meticulous attention to detail--is breathtakingly beautiful and an explosion of sensory delight.

But enough about the visual. How does the story hold up? It's simple, yes, but never too thin. And at the center is an emotional romance, one of elegance, grace, and real flesh and blood. Blue flesh, that is. The Na'vi thrive off their planet by being deeply connected with nature, but the nature of their planet is threatened by a mission lead by U.S. Armed Forces that want to harvest a rich mineral only found on Pandora and one that is worth millions. Armored, gun-wielding hover ships probe through the planet as they carry out their goal of displacing the native Na'vi. Diplomatic solutions are of first priority, but open-fire is a welcomed close second. To venture closely into Pandora outside the safety of machinery, they use avatars. These are linked to the minds of humans who remained wired on the ship, but they still have all the sensory connections to their avatar. They are them.

The hero is Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic who has been sent on this mission to replace his brother who died. An avatar was built for his brother, and Jake is the only genetic match. As his avatar, Jake journeys into the wonders of Pandora and comes across a Na'vi named Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). She saves his life from some vicious banshees, and from there she reluctantly takes Jake under her wing and convinces her community to teach Jake the ways of Na'vi. The team back aboard the ships is thrilled because Jake can get them closer to a negotiation with the natives. Jake, however, with a fellow member who has a tender history with the Na'vi, Grace (Sigourney Weaver), begins to see things differently. The leader onboard the ship is the rough and aggressive Col. Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) who briefed Jake to be a good soldier, and now he feels betrayed.

The movie is 160 minutes long without ever a dull moment. Just consider the complexity of the battle taking place, the final warfare that ignites a revolution, the human drama, the Na'vi drama, the complexity with humans and Na'vi combined, the internal secrets that Pandora harbors such as those white, glowing, floating creatures that are the soul of the planet, and, hell, it just all makes for grand, epic, sweeping entertainment at the highest caliber that needs to be seen more than once to fully admire and absorb. The first time you're simply taken aback by the shock of it all. There are an endless number of captivating scenes. One that especially comes to mind is when Jake has to capture and tame a flying dragon-looking creature. The Na'vi literally become one with the great beasts they have at their disposal for transportation.

Expectations tend to be a double-edged sword. Fail them, and you're doomed. Meet them, however, and you soar. Thankfully for James Cameron, he is soaring above and beyond all expectations and doubts that preceded this release. And the box office results will be there to match it. "Avatar" is anti-war and pro-Green. It is not only a film but a cultural phenomenon, an event that cannot be missed. If you do, you're out of the loop. I don't care if it's Hollywood and profitable and a shoo-in for being the big-budget crowd-pleaser for which the Academy may have been searching. It doesn't matter. "Avatar" will blow your mind. Go see it.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Why "Precious" Is Just Too Much

OK, Jim Emerson posted this video in his blog, and it appears he had the same reluctance of going into seeing "Precious" as I did. I turned out to not like it (I have my reasons; just refer to my review), and so I thought this was spot-on and hilarious. It may be a bit harsh, but honestly, you have to just take "Precious" a little not-so-seriously. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone already slammed it into his number one spot on his Top 10 list. Don't let the trend continue.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Great Movies For Spring 2010

The "Iron Man 2" trailer got leaked, and who is that I see? Mickey Rourke as the villain? And was that Scarlett Johansson I saw? And Don Cheadle (replacing Terrence Howard) in his own suit of armor? I'm excited.

And continuing the trend of 3-D IMAX features, Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" will be presented as such, and it looks to be a fantastical blend of live-action and CGI starring Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, and Helena Bonham Carter.

Rugby As Reuniting A Nation


In the opening of Clint Eastwood's "Invictus," there is what appears to be real-life footage of Nelson Mandela, but then, upon further observation, one can notice that it is actually Morgan Freeman in reenacted footage. And from that moment on, Freeman embodies the voice, mannerisms, and even ideologies of Mandela and gives a performance that evokes the spirit of a man who became an icon in South Africa. In this opening moment, Freeman shares a wide, genial smile and gives a portrayal that is calmed, subdued, and charming. He infuses Mandela's speeches with the same grace he gives when he, well, when he plays God. Here's a movie that, in its serious, classical, handsome, and well-produced style and direction, for which Eastwood has become a trademark, is an Academy Award contender automatically because it deals with a worthy subject in the hands of an intelligent director with superb actors dealing with real-life people. And in that respect, it succeeds as a great movie.

The movie takes place in the 1990s when Nelson Mandela was elected the country's first black president after being in prison for 27 years. The challenge facing Mandela upon his election was finding a way to make peace with the apartheid forces that had originally put him in jail. His weapon? Forgiveness. The Afrikaner nationlists living in South Africa are viewed as the enemy, and so Mandela's vote into office had them waiting for his payback. It never came. Instead, Mandela embraced his position and took it as an opportunity to unite his country that had been so harshly divided by racism. The politics of the film have deeper implications that go beyond the time and the place and breach quite blatantly into today. Obama's name of course never gets mentioned (how could it?), but we know in the back of our minds the historical analogies being made.

Mandela turns to the all white (save for one player, Chester Williams) rugby team, the Springboks captained by Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon). The core of the movie rests in Mandela's counterintuitive decision of promoting support for the Springboks even though they were mostly hated by the nation's blacks. The fascinating aspect of the sports drama portion of the film is the way in which it fits into the political drama already unfolding. And even more fascinating is that it was simply because Mandela was a loyal fan of rugby. Both stories are substantial on their own merit, but together they make for a more potent and moving experience. While the climactic moment of the World Cup match is predictable, and although Eastwood spends a rather unnecessarily lengthy 20 minutes on it, it is still a moment that is earned. In any case, the weight of the moment resonates throughout the film's final scenes, and when the fade to black over Mandela's face arrives with the words to the Invictus poem being read aloud, it'll hit you.

Based on John Carlin's book, "Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation," Eastwood and his screenwriter Anthony Peckham tell the story with straightforward assertiveness that doesn't pour on the glorification as Hollywood could've done with this underdog tale. Matt Damon plays the leader of these underdogs, sporting a beefed-up physique and platinum blonde hair, and he is admirable in the role. Francois visits the very cell where Mandela was held prisoner, and, as the film was shot on location, we're shown the actual cell. There is a chair and a blanket on the floor, and upon seeing that image, you can't help but wonder how this man waited so patiently in faith, and even, after all that, still had the courage for forgiveness and not revenge. For Francois, ever since a first visit with Mandela for tea in his office, he had become the greatest man he had ever met.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Setting The Stage With The Golden Globes

The nominations for the 67th Annual Golden Globe Awards were announced early this morning, and leading the pack was "Up in the Air" with a total 6 nominations, followed by "Nine" with 5 and "Avatar" and "Inglourious Basterds" tied with 4.

Along with "Up in the Air" in the category for Best Picture were "Avatar," "Precious," "The Hurt Locker," and "Inglourious Basterds." At this point and at the rate "The Hurt Locker" has already been collecting the most wins for Best Picture and Director over "Up in the Air," I'm going to have to put my prediction there. And wow, how deserving that movie really is. I couldn't be any happier that it got remembered from over the summer.

Although "Invictus" got snubbed for the Best Picture slot, Clint Eastwood is still up for Best Director alongside Kathryn Bigelow for "The Hurt Locker," James Cameron for "Avatar," Jason Reitman for "Up in the Air," and Quentin Tarantino for "Inglourious Basterds." Lee Daniels was left out of this one, and rightfully so since it was his direction that was the biggest fault in "Precious." Bigelow has got this one in the bag.

With the Golden Globes-specific category of Best Musical or Comedy, the nominees were "(500) Days of Summer," "Nine," "The Hangover," "It's Complicated," and "Julie & Julia." The frontrunner here is definitely "(500) Days of Summer" and the probable winner.

For Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy the nominees were Matt Damon for "The Informant!," Daniel Day-Lewis for "Nine," Robert Downey, Jr. for "Sherlock Holmes," Joseph Gordon-Lewitt for "(500) Days of Summer," and Michael Stuhlbarg for "A Serious Man." Since "A Serious Man" got snubbed in every other category (even Best Comedy or Musical), I would hope that Stuhlbarg would win this, but it's hard to say. I'm hoping that the Academy rectifies this crucial snub.

The Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy nominees were Sandra Bullock for "The Proposal," Marion Cotillard for "Nine," Julia Roberts for "Duplicity," Meryl Streep not once, but, yes, twice, for "It's Complicated" and "Julie & Julia." That woman is seriously a powerhouse and her performance in the latter movie will probably win.

Matt Damon received his second nomination in the category of Best Supporting Actor for "Invictus," along with Woody Harrelson for "The Messenger," Christopher Plummer for "The Last Station," Stanley Tucci for "The Lovely Bones," and Christoph Waltz for "Inglourious Basterds." Waltz is the shoo-in for this category as every other actor seems to be the odd-man-out. His performance deserves it.

Best Supporting Actress nods went to Penelope Cruz for "Nine," Mo'Nique for "Precious," Julianne Moore for "A Single Man," and both Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick for "Up in the Air." Like Waltz for Supporting Actor, Mo'Nique is the for sure winner for this category. There are always the painfully predictable ones, aren't there?

Nominations for Best Actor went to Jeff Bridges for "Crazy Heart," George Clooney for "Up in the Air," Colin Firth for "A Single Man," Morgan Freeman for "Invictus," and Tobey Maguire for "Brothers." They almost had it right here. These nominations match what we'll see with the Academy minus Maguire. Replace him with Renner for "The Hurt Locker," and that'll be it. Jeff Bridges is the rumored frontrunner for this race.

Best Actress nominees were Emily Blunt for "The Young Victoria," Sandra Bullock for "The Blind Side," Helen Mirren for "The Last Station," Carey Mulligan for "An Education," and Gabourey Sidibe for "Precious." When the competition is slated out like this with comedy or musical set aside (that meaning Meryl Streep set aside), either Mulligan or Sidibe will probably win this one, but hopefully Mulligan.

Best Screenplay included some interesting choices such as Neil Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell for "District 9" and Nancy Meyers for "It's Complicated." Aside from that it was the standard affair with Mark Boal for "The Hurt Locker," Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner for "Up in the Air," and Quentin Tarantino for "Inglourious Basterds." "Up in the Air" will take this one, hands-down.

Nods for Best Foreign Language Film went to "Baaria" from Italy, "Broken Embraces" from Spain, "The Maid" from Chile, "A Prophet" from France," and "The White Ribbon" from Germany, the last of which is rumored to win.

Best Animted Film nominees were "The Princess and the Frog," "Coraline," "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs," "Up," and "Fantastic Mr. Fox." It's really a toss-up between the last two, but now it seems that Wes Andersen's efforts are being more appreciated over Pixar's now-regular excellence. I'll accept that.

Best Original Score nominations were Michael Giaccino for "Up," Marvin Hamlisch for "The Informant!," James Horner for "Avatar," Abel Korzeniowski for "A Single Man," and my personal favorite and the one I hope to win, Karen O and Carter Burwell for "Where the Wild Things Are." It would appear that the HFPA has a certain thing for "Avatar," so its score will probably nab this award.

So, how right does the HFPA have it this year? In terms of Director and Best Picture, I'd say about pretty close, if not exact. That is, if the Academy is willing to accept "Avatar" even with its blockbuster appeal. As for the other categories...some things went awry for the most part aside from the known shoo-ins. "(500) Days of Summer" should get more recognition, along with "An Education" and "A Serious Man" at the Academy Awards.

For the complete list of the 2010 Golden Globe nominations, check out E!'s comprehensive list. There are some noteworthy television nominations, as well, such as "Glee" garnering a total of 4 nominations.

And be sure to watch the award ceremony on January 17th on NBC at 8 p.m. to find out who the winners are!

One More Before Tomorrow

And just one more group to keep an eye on before the Golden Globe Nominations go out tomorrow. Here we have the nominations for the 15th Annual Broadcast Film Critics Awards, otherwise known as the Critics' Choice Awards. "Inglourious Basterds" and "Nine" nabbed the top spots with ten nominations each.

The ten films selected for the Best Picture nominations were "An Education," "The Hurt Locker," "Inglourious Basterds," "Invictus," "Nine," "Precious," "A Serious Man," "Up," "Up in the Air," and yes, "Avatar." Seems like a pretty solid bunch and reasonable for what award buzz has already been churning out for predictions.

The nominees for Best Actor were Jeff Bridges for "Crazy Heart," George Clooney for "Up in the Air," Colin Firth for "A Single Man," Morgan Freeman for "Invictus," Viggo Mortensen for "The Road," and as a nice addition, Jeremy Renner for "The Hurt Locker."

For Best Actress was Emily Blunt for "The Young Victoria," Sandra Bullock for "The Blind Side," Carey Mulligan for "An Education," Saoirse Ronan for "The Lovely Bones," Gabourey Sidibe for "Precious," and Meryl Streep for "Julie & Julia."

Best Supporting Actor nominations went to Matt Damon for "Invictus," Woody Harrelson for "The Messenger," Christian McKay for "Me and Orson Welles," Alfred Molina for "An Education," Stanley Tucci for "The Lovely Bones," and Christoph Waltz for "Inglourious Basterds."

The nominees for Best Supporting Actress were Marion Cotillard for "Nine," Vera Farmiga and also Anna Kendrick for "Up in the Air," Julianne Moore for "A Single Man," Samantha Morton for "The Messenger," and, of course, Mo'Nique for "Precious."

Best Animated Picture nominees were "The Princess and the Frog," "Fantastic Mr. Fox," "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs," "Up," and "Coraline."

This award show also has the categories of Best Comedy and Best Action Movie.

The nominees for the former were "District 9," "The Hurt Locker," "Inglourious Basterds," "Star Trek," and "Avatar," all of which are arguably in heated competition. Looks like we just had a whole lot of great action movies this year.

The nominees for the latter category were "The Proposal," "It's Complicated," "Zombieland," "The Hangover," and "(500) Days of Summer." This year turned out to be a lesser year for poignant comedies.

The most interesting category to look at here is Best Directing. I believe these nominations give us a clear indicator of what we'll be seeing for the Academy Awards. The list included Kathryn Bigelow for "The Hurt Locker," Quentin Tarantino for "Inglourious Basterds," James Cameron for "Avatar," Clint Eastwood for "Invictus," Jason Reitman for "Up in the Air," and Lee Daniels for "Precious."

It's going to be an interesting award season, and hopefully one that turns out to be less predictable than years' past. It looks like there are some solid contenders, and many more present than the five that are allowed to fit into the Best Picture slots at the Oscars.

For the complete list of nominees, go here.

And tune in late tomorrow for the Golden Globe Award nominations when things really start to heat up.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

"The Hurt Locker" Gets Recognized

The Los Angeles Film Critics Association announced their award winners tonight giving the award for Best Picture to "The Hurt Locker," the film I was worried would end up being the one critics forget. "Up in the Air" was the runner-up, the film that the National Board of Review gave Best Picture while mostly ignoring "The Hurt Locker."

"The Hurt Locker" director Kathryn Bigelow won for Best Director with Michael Haneke as runner-up with his Germany submission for Best Foreign Language Film to the Oscars, "The White Ribbon."

Jeff Bridges received the award for Best Actor for his performance in "Crazy Heart," which as yet to be released basically anywhere, with runner-up Colin Firth for "A Single Man," leaving George Clooney with nothing.

"Fantasic Mr. Fox" surprisingly beat "Up" for Animation while "The Cove" and "The Beaches of Agnes" tied for Best Documentary.

Yolande Moreau won Best Actress for "Seraphine" with Carey Mulligan as runner-up for "An Education." A potential award for "Precious" here was left out.

But making up for that was a win for Mo'Nique in Best Supporting Actress with runner-up Anna Kendrick of "Up in the Air."

Best Supporting Actor went to Christoph Waltz for his bizarre portrayal in "Inglourious Basterds."

So, it would appear that "The Hurt Locker" certainly hasn't been forgotten since its release way back in August, and thankfully so.

The complete list of winners from LAFCA can be seen here.

Next up after this is the nominations for The Golden Globe Awards which will be announced this Tuesday, December 15th. Stay tuned.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Colossal Disappointment

Peter Jackson's "The Lovely Bones" has been getting lackluster reviews so far after having people think it could've been the big awards candidate for the year. Not anymore, as it turns out.

"Jackson undermines solid work from a good cast with show-offy celestial evocations that severely disrupt the emotional connections with the characters."
-Todd McCarthy, Variety

"Some books are not meant to be adapted to the big screen. Alice Sebold's best-selling The Lovely Bones falls into that category."
-Claudia Puig, USA Today

"The filmmakers’ evident affection for the book expresses itself as a desperate scramble to include as much of it as possible, which leaves the movie feeling both overcrowded and thin."
-A.O. Scott, The New York Times

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Best Of A Decade

Because my Top 10 list for 2009 is not coming until January and because I'm getting too anxious with all this "Best of" nonsense already and all these lists already floating around, I figured I needed to make a list of some sort. So, here's my Top 10 list for what I feel to be the best movies of the past decade. Except we're heading back an extra year because 2009, which has already proven to be a year filled with spectacular movies, isn't quite over yet. And because I feel every year needs a representative, there will be no double-dipping in terms of year in this list. Each year will get its best film.

Being John Malkovich

An insanely inventive screenplay from Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze's exquisite directing proved to be a perfect combination as the two would team up again to make "Adaptation." While darkly comic and wonderfully fanciful, the film was also a strangely profound meditation on gender, sexuality, identity, and consciousness.

Requiem for a Dream

Darren Aronofsky's most well-known and controversial film and also one that is unforgettable. Here's a film that shakes you to the core with its disturbing and chilling vision. Just watch what drugs do to the people in this movie, and you'll never look at self-destructive addictions the same again. It's a knockout.

Mulholland Drive

David Lynch works his crazy magic with his most approachable movie. This sleek, sexy, absolutely incomprehensible adventure into the dark depths of Hollywood is the absolute definition of mind-fuckery, and it is cinematic perfection. Here's a movie you can watch an endless number of times and come up with endless theories to unravel the puzzle that Lynch creates.

Spirited Away

From the Japanese master of animation, Hayao Miyazaki, this is a surreal journey into a world that is a cross between "Alice in Wonderland" and "The Wizard of Oz." In this world, a scared little girl has to find her way through a colorful cast of characters, and it becomes a breathtaking journey of self-discovery. It is a wonder to behold and simply labeling it a masterpiece does not do the film justice. All you can do is go see it.

Lost in Translation

Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson deliver excellent performances as two strangers in Tokyo, Japan who find each other and, consequently, find themselves. It's a fantastic story about two dislocated people just trying to make it by, and these characters feel entirely truthful. The genius of this film comes from director Sofia Coppola whose keen style found a balance between the hilariously comic and the deeply sad.


Based on the novel by Rex Pickett, this film from director Alexander Payne is a bittersweet and sublime variation on the buddy road comedy. The casting is all around superb with Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, and Sandra Oh all turning in absolutely ideal performances. They don't misstep once. Here's a movie whose greatness doesn't come to the forefront until the end as it gradually builds along the way.

King Kong

Peter Jackson takes on a classic and does a marvelous job. This is sweeping, epic, romantic, pure moviegoing bliss, the best we've seen since "Titanic." It's the reason we go to the movies in the first place with big, eye-popping, breathtaking action and set pieces. Jackson has taken the hidden potential and opportunities of the original classic and has brought them to exploding life.

Pan's Labyrinth

Mexican director Guillermo del Toro presents audiences with fantastical and real-life monsters with a stirring and masterful blend of history, fantasy, and horror. This violent and shocking fairy tale for adults will keep you riveted, and by encoding its message on morality in magic, the film pulls off a dazzling feat. It is utterly unmissable.

No Country for Old Men

With an ending that hits you like a sledgehammer, this Best Picture-winner from the Coen brothers is their darkest and most profound movie they've made. As commentary on America's dark underbelly, this sparse and probing masterpiece is adapted from Cormac McCarthy's novel of the same name.


The finest piece of animation to come out of the Pixar canon, this is a riveting cautionary tale disguised as a family film and one that works on both fronts. The romantic tale of two robots is the forefront with a earth beyond repair as the backdrop. And from an opening sequence that is entirely void of dialogue and onward, the film is pure poetry. This one was worthy of not only the Best Animated Film Oscar but also the Oscar for Best Picture.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

"Up in the Air" Makes Headlines

The National Board of Review (NBR) has named "Up in the Air" as the best picture of 2009. Jason Reitman's film also won for its screenplay, along with actor, George Clooney, and supporting actress, Anna Kendrick. From the look of things, it would appear that this timely crowd-pleaser, which has already been gaining substantial steam, will continue its way right on to the Golden Globes and Academy Awards. And it hasn't even reached wide release yet.

"Invictus" garnered two awards from NBR including one for Clint Eastwood's direction and another for Morgan Freeman's leading performance.

Other major awards went to Carey Mulligan for her lead role in "An Education," Woody Harrelson as supporting actor in "The Messenger," and Joel and Ethan Coen's "A Serious Man" for original screenplay.

"Up" was awarded for best animated film and "The Cove" for best documentary.

NBR also compiled a Top 10 list of the year:

1) An Education
2) (500) Days of Summer
3) The Hurt Locker
4) Inglourious Basterds
5) Invictus
6) The Messenger
7) A Serious Man
8) Star Trek
9) Up
10) Where the Wild Things Are

"Precious," an Oscar favorite as of right now, remained conspicuously absent from the list, and thankfully so in my opinion.

James Cameron's Risky Endeavor

The big question of December: Will Oscar-winning director James Cameron's highly-anticipated "Avatar" sell or flop? This massively CGI-rendered sci-fi 3-D adventure epic reportedly cost $300 million to make. Are the box office returns going to go above and beyond that? With "Titanic" under his belt, I guess it is really anybody's guess as to what could happen. It has been sneaking its way into the consideration of some experts' Best Picture predictions, but we'll have to wait until the 18th to find out.