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Post-GG and Pre-AA Rambling Thoughts

Saturday February 23, 2008

Well, the 2008 Golden Globes are history. And so is the dreaded writer's strike. The GG's answered the question: What if they had an award show and no one showed other than a bunch of journalists. With the strike history, the only Academy Awards casualty looks like The Vanity Fair party. However, if THE annual awards show itself was cancelled, it truly would have been a disaster because, as it turns out, 2007 was a year chock full of absolutely amazing cinema. So, just in time, comes a highly anticipated awards show that will go on full blast tomorrow as scheduled.

The Globes are supposed to be a valid predictor of the upcoming Academy Awards. However, in a year with such an amazing array of top quality films (the closest to the '70's since, well, the '70's), it will be hard to look at the GG winners and place any amount of money on the AA's based on those awards. In one respect, the Hollywood Foreign Press (HFP) tries to gets it right in breaking out the categories according to genre. I mean, how in the world can you lump such great films together such as the romantic "Atonement" and the serious adult drama "Michael Clayton" (which I considered 2 of the 3 best films of 2007, the other being the unnominated "The Savages"). Then throw in the ultra violent "No Country For Old Men" and the epic "There Will Be Blood". The 5th nominated film is none other than the trifle indie "comedy" "Juno" (which, in my humble, but correct opinion, shouldn't even be close to being on the list if you read my review in this blog-but that's another story). "American Gangster" should CLEARLY be included on the best picture list and it is truly a head shaker that "Juno" is listed ahead of this great film.

So, what do I think of the major winners chosen by the HFP and do I think they will correspond to an AA statuette? Well, I have to say they got it right with "Atonement" as the top drama. I would have been just as happy with "Michael Clayton" but considering the overall emotional and visual impact delivered by "Atonement", this one was a virtual no-brainer by the HFP. However, the odds-on favorite for the AA's seems to be "No Country". Although a quality effort by the Coen Brothers, the film to me was a one-note (violent) bombardment. "Atonement", I feel, succeeded on so many other levels that it clearly deserves the top award. "There Will Be Blood" was all about Daniel Day-Lewis (who won the top actor award by the HFP). They should just mail the Oscar to him by the way. His was one of the greatest performances, not only this year, but for all of cinematic history!

Also the odds-on favorite for best actress is Julie Christie for "Away From Her". Her performance was excellent in a film that left me dry. However, as my sentimental choice, I would LOVE to see Laura Linney win for "The Savages". I feel she gave a wonderfully brilliant subtle performance in conveying a woman who grapples to find her self respect as well as gaining acknowledgement and approval from her abusive mentally deteriorating father, and from her distant sibling (played by the phenomenal, always dependable Philip Seymour Hoffman-up once again for an AA in the Best Supporting category for "Charlie Wilson's War". And how could The Academy not recognize Philip Bosco's amazing supporting performance as the abusive parent suffering from dementia?). There always seems to be at least one big surprise winner and this one could be it, but I doubt that the Academy voters are going to deny Christie considering her longevity. However, because she did win before (although it's been 42 years since she won as best actress for "Darling"), maybe this could be THE upset of this year's awards. Linney, who gives standout after standout performance in everything she's in, will definitely be at the podium someday if tomorrow is not that day. Or maybe Marion Cotillard ("La Vie En Rose") will be the upset in this category. She did win the GG in this category (they got it right!) without even nominating Christie. In my opinion, she is equally deserving as her performance in channeling the French self-destructive songstress Edith Piaf was, in a word, uncanny. Unfortunately, how many of the Academy members would have plopped down in front of a TV to take the time to view a foreign language film about a long deceased French singer-albeit the most famous one in their history? The Academy Awards is long noted for being somewhat of a popularity contest instead of Academy members casting its votes based solely on true merit.

The other slam dunk is the best supporting actor category. Mail it to Javier (who won a GG) for his monstrous portrayal in "No Country". His character will go down in cinema history along side Hannibal Lecter as the 2 most scariest most sinister dudes ever portrayed on the silver screen. No one else will come close to winning it (although Tom Wilkerson was wonderful in "Michael Clayton", wonderful doesn't compare to memorably historic).

I would love to see Tilda Swinton win the best supporting actress award for "Michael Clayton", which the HFP awarded to Cate Blanchett (in the almost unwatchable "I'm Not There"). This is probably the weakest represented category so I feel Tilda has a shot since "I'm Not There" may be another film The Academy might not have seen in droves.

As for best director, you have to figure The Coen Brothers will be the front runners. However, The Academy loves to split the best picture and director awards (don't ask me why-I mean, no one has ever satisfactorily explained to me how one could win without the other!). So look for either Tony Gilroy ("Michael Clayton"), Paul Thomas Anderson ("There Will Be Blood") or, my pick, the GG winner, Julian Schnapel for the amazing "The Diving Bell And The Butterfly". And how the hell do they leave out Ridley Scott for "American Gangster" (correctly nominated for a GG)?! .

I am hoping best song goes to the melodic "Falling" from the wonderful indie film "Once". You have to figure the 3 songs from "Enchanted" will cancel each other out leaving the song from "August Rush (did anyone see this stinker?).

Now for the category that has traditionally been the most problematic for The Academy. The Foreign Language Film category has 5 nominees none of which were mentioned by the HFP, who got it right again. I have not seen any of the films nominated by The Academy, however, I have seen "The Diving Bell And The Butterfly" and "La Vie En Rose" and could easily have agreed if they were in the Best Picture category much less in the best FLF! And, I have read great reviews of both "4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days" (New York Times reviewer A. O. Scott listed it as his #1 film of 2007!) and "Persepolis" and cannot for the life of me believe that any of these 5 nominated "unknown" films landed ahead of these 4! What gives?!!

However, The Academy appears to have finally realized that the best documentary should now include works by established documentary filmmakers. This is one tough group notable for 2 of the most scathing documents on the Bush Administration: 'No End In Sight" (the Iraq war), and "Taxi To The Dark Side" (post 9/11 war on terror policy). Bother are disturbingly excellent (especially the former) but will probably cancel each other out. Michael Moore has lately become the darling of the liberal minded Academy, but the controversy surrounding "Sicko" might eliminate him. My pick is the incredibly moving "War/Dance" which has been a huge hit on the festival circuit across the country last year.

So there you have it, my thoughts and picks for the AA. Now let's see if the over 3 month long writer's strike have given the writers enough time to create a masterpiece for Jon Stewart to match the overall quality of films up for recognition tomorrow night.

"Taxi To The Dark Side" ****

February 19, 2008

This totally amazing and absorbing documentary made by famed director Alex Gibney (director of the 2006 Oscar nominated "Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room" and executive producer of last year's "No End In Sight" which is currently nominated for an AA) will fully explain the USA's involvement in the torture atrocities carried out at Afghanistan's Bagram Prison, Iraq's Abu Gharib Prison, and the current prison at Guantanamo. This unflinching document will put the final nail in the coffin of the Bush administration and, along with "No End In Sight", will no doubt have you pondering the depths to which this administration has fallen in their war on terror initiated after 9/11. You will be totally outraged and disgusted when you hear from those who were directly involved in the tortures (prison guards), higher-ups in the Bush administration, as well as State Department and FBI employees who pound away at procedures that were followed that not only go directly against the directives of the Geneva Convention, but also total human decency. When you hear that the U.S. torturers were "only following orders" you will have flash backs to incidents the world witnessed over 50 years ago in WWII. What is even more incredulous is that none of those who directed these atrocities were ever fully investigated-until now. What is even more amazing is that the facts that emerge in this work is not based on any left wing slant by the filmmaker. This is a topnotch investigative effort that expands on that which was initially reported in 2002 by New York Times reporter Carlotta Gall who uncovered a death certificate and autopsy report that stated that a U.S. detained Afghani taxi cab driver, named Dilawar, was murdered after being tortured to death while in U.S. captivity. Although it was never determined that he had any involvement in terrorist activities, the point is that the U.S. is shown to be culpable of performing deeds that we perceived as happening only in 3rd world countries. The coverups are too numerous to cite here and the blame has never escalated to the higher eschelons of the U.S. government where, after seeing this film, it is clear who should be burdening that blame! This should be seen by every American on the planet-especially before the November election!!

"In Bruges" ** 1/2

February 10, 2008

The latest offering at the Cinema Sunday Club featured the 2008 Sundance Film Festival opener directed and written by playwright Martin McDonagh (who received an 2006 Oscar for his live action short, "Six Shooter") and starring Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell. I've read comparisons to "Pulp Fiction" in this tale of 2 hitmen sent to chill out in Bruges (Belgium) by their mob boss (an interesting turn by Ralph Fiennes) after a hit gone bad in Dublin by one of the principals. The comparison I supposed is due to its equal mix of laughs and blood and its effort to make these killers likeable despite their lurid occupation. Where PF succeeds, however, this one fails, as I felt constantly manuplated by the plot structure and the coincidences were so numerous that I found myself rolling my eyes more often than not. The nice cinematography will have you thinking Bruges as your next European vacation spot . That, as well as an interesting soundtrack make this one a near miss.