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Post-AA Ramblings

Wednesday March 10, 2010

THE SHOW (**)
Overall, Weak with a capital "W"! I'll never get those 3 1/2+ hours back!! From the opening number (in the past this was THE highlight of the AA's) with a lame Neil Patrick Harris, to the botched "In Memoriam" segment (unconscionably leaving out 3 standout deceased stars: Henry Gibson, Bea Arthur, & Farrah Fawcet, who was previously ignored when she unfortunately died on the same day as Michael Jackson), to lack of inclusion of the nominated songs (even though none were even remotely memorable), to the inclusion of a head-scratching interpretive dance number to the Best Score nominees, to the utter lack of a surprise winner, to the lame acceptance speeches, to the . . . well-you get the picture.

THE PLUSES
-Generally I liked the 2 host comedy team of Martin & Baldwin. Maybe they stood out more because of the utter lack of interest the rest of the show provided (see above). Most of the humor brought smiles, if not outright guffaws (although the running gag with Clooney got a little tiresome). I just wanted more of this than was provided as it was too sparsely interspersed throughout. The funniest gag was when Martin took out an aerosol can & sprayed dead the floating "souls" from "Avatar". And the best play on words was when Martin pointed out Helen Mirren saying "there is that damn Helen Mirren" instead of Dame HM. And, Ben Stiller's "Na'vi" takeoff was humorous as well but the original nixed idea (see my Pre-AA Ramblings below) involving a pregnant Baron Sacha-Cohen Na'vi would have been funnier. The best laugh out loud bit was a prerecorded take on "Paranormal Activity" showing the 2 hosts sleeping in bed the night before the show with time lapse video recording the hilarious goings-on.
-I liked how The Academy honored the Best Actors with a chorus of previous winners honoring the nominees for the 2nd year running. However, it comes too late near the end and, I'm afraid too many people missed it by that time.
-For the most part, I loved the results. A great night for the Independents with "The Hurt Locker" & "Precious" leading the way leaving "Avatar" practically in the dust to scrape up 3 minor awards. I would have liked to have seen Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner win the Best Adapted Screenplay for "Up in the Air" (however it was nice honoring an African-American, Geoffrey Fletcher, for the first time), & anyone besides Bullock (the first actor in history to win a Razzie and an AA the same year!), but, for the most part, agreed with the predicted winners. It seemed odd that no great surprise winner came out of the major awards, though, as is usually the case.

AN IDEA WHOSE TIME HAS COME- -MAYBE
A suggestion to shorten the thing by eliminating the categories no one cares about such as the technical awards and awards to smaller film categories such as short films & documentaries seems, on the surface, a logical way to go. Except the awardees seem to bring out the most unexpected and entertaining parts of the show. For example, what happened when Roger Ross Williams had just started his acceptance speech for the Documentary Short "Music by Prudence" when he was sabotaged by, we later found out, the disgruntled Producer. (I loved "The Daily Show's" Jon Stewart's line that she looked like the lady who runs the snack bar at his synagogue's Purim festival.) Without this "what the hell was that" moment the whole thing would have justly earned a 1-1 1/2 star rating! So, until the producers put on a halfway entertaining show, I'd be hesitant to entirely eliminate these awards.

MOST DISAPPOINTING ACCEPTANCE SPEECH
Most of the speeches were, for the most part, weak & unemotional. However, what really disappointed me was the lack of a passionate, moving speech from "The Cove" recipients. Maybe it was due to the lack of time (the producers were really holding to that 45 second max time limit). The only meaningful moment was the unfurled sign Ric O'Barry tried to get on the air which asked viewers to text "dolphin" with a text number (44144) underneath. The second it appeared the cameras cut away. Oh well-nice try. (But I did read online that O'Barry has received over 50,000 texts and that the important doc will be a series on Animal Planet.)

2ND MOST DISAPPOINTING ACCEPTANCE SPEECH
Mo'Nigue. She showed much more raw emotions at The Golden Globes. She actually seemed angry at the AA podium. Maybe she listened to all the predictions and was more prepared to deliver the speech. However, she did make Baltimore proud.

THE DUDE WOULD BE PROUD
Is it me, or is Jeff Bridges slowly dissolving into The Dude, the character he portrayed in the Coens' "The Big Lebowski"??

THE TRIBUTES
The tribute to horror films was interesting but no great shakes. The other one honoring John Hughes, who died last year, was notable by having the members of The Brat pack there which added to the poignancy. However, neither tribute stood out as particularly memorable as others from past shows had been.

AN AWARD SHOW THAT GETS BETTER EACH YEAR
The Independent Spirit Awards on IFC the Friday before the AA's. Although this year's host, Eddie Izzard, was horrid, the 25th version lasted just a tad over 2 hours. And it's worth watching if only for the acceptance speeches-especially when you realize the audience/recipients sit at tables holding numerous liquor bottles. You catch my drift on this! The atmosphere is more laid back and full of surprises (the F-word was heard on numerous occasions sans bleep).

MY FERVENT HOPES FOR NEXT YEAR'S SHOW
Bring back the music &, for heaven's sake, find a way to shorten the dame, er, damn thing!!!

Pre-AA Rambling Thoughts

Saturday March 6, 2007

It's that time of the year again where who wears what on the Red Carpet is as meaningful as who wins an award. The show is like a train wreck where you just can't take your eyes off of it, even though you know the show is interminably long and drawn out and even though most of the awards cover categories you could care less about. That won't stop it from being one of the most watched events on the planet. That being said, here are several tidbits to impart, which may or may not be known, followed by my predictions of who will win and who should win, in my humble opinion.

-For the first time since 1943, the Best Picture list grows back to 10. Why? Well the prevailing theory is the uproar created last year from the Best Picture omission of a film that not only was clearly one of the 5 best in 2009, it, arguably, should have won: "The Dark Knight". So now we have a watered down list that includes such "standouts" as (ugh!) "The Blind Side". Somehow, the expansion diminishes the overall significance of the award. But at least it doesn't eliminate a great film because of numbers. It just increases the likelihood of including a mediocre film.

-The Academy members were asked to rank the 10 BP nominees. Therefore, the voting for this category is no longer a one-to-one vote affair. That also means that, with 10 nominees, a movie, theoretically, could win with 11% of the overall vote. If a movie gets 51% or more of the vote (unlikely), of course, the contest is over. If not, here is how things get interesting:

The auditors at PricewaterhouseCoopers will divide the movies into 10 piles. The movie with the fewest No. 1 votes is eliminated, and that pile's No. 2 votes go to the remaining corresponding films. If a majority isn't reached with those No. 2 votes, the process repeats, eliminating the next-lowest pile, whose votes are then redistributed. The process continues until one film has a majority vote. Until that time, if a ballot's No. 2 choice has been eliminated, the auditors go to No. 3 and then as far down the ballot as necessary. Got that?! Now, although the new system ensures some consensus, it raises the possibility that a movie with more No. 2 and No. 3 votes could beat the film with the most first-place ballots. I say go back to the old system.

-There was talk of a bit involving controversial comedian Sacha Baron & Ben Stiller spoofing Cameron's "Avatar" in which Sacha appeared as a pregnant (with James' love child) blue-skinned Na'vi. Stiller would be present to translate. However, the bit was nixed after the producer didn't think thin-skinned Cameron would happily go along with the satire.

-Onstage will be a Swarovski crystal curtain that is worth about $5 million.

-The roster of presenters have been expanded from the usual 40-50 to, ready?, 70! I wouldn't plan on seeing the whole show and arriving to work on time on Monday.

-So pull up your chair, plop up your tootsies, & grab some popcorn. The envelope, please. . .

BEST PICTURE
What will win: "Avatar"
What should win: TIE: "Avatar" & "The Hurt Locker".
What should never have been included in this or any other list with "BEST" attached to the title: "The Blind Side"
I've struggled for weeks with this category. As much as I admired THL, I just can't believe that "Avatar", 4 years in the making, using technology that will change the look of films forever, earning over a billion dollars worldwide (and still counting), will not take home the biggie. That being said, THL is the complete film: great script, great story, great acting, great, great, great! A truly unforgettable film that still gives me chills when I think about it. A perfect film that has everything. A small independent film that, to this date has earned less than 13 million dollars, and yet is the odds-on favorite to claim the big one. So many folks didn't see this gem because it takes place during the Iraq war. What a pity. Maybe if it wins, the public will finally wake up because, for the most part, they have ignored a masterpiece in film making. I was lucky enough to see it months before its release when Jed Dietz scored a major coup selecting it as the closing night film at last year's Maryland Film Festival-complete with a Q&A with Kathyrn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal! I'm rooting for both films but my heart lies with the independent little film that could, and should. As for the remaining 7 films (please exclude "The Blind Side"), each is worthy of inclusion on the list and should be seen at some point by each of you who missed it in the theater. But "The Hurt Locker" & "Avatar" stand head and shoulders above the rest.

BEST DIRECTOR
Who will win: Kathyrn Bigelow
Who should win: Kathyrn Bigelow
This one was easier to predict. There is no question that "Avatar" is an amazing achievement for James Cameron. His vision and effort has produced a ground-breaking product that will change the look of cinema from here on out. However, Kathryn, as mention above, has directed a film that is perfect in every way imaginable. Besides the fact that she deserves it, I also feel that the Academy is very keen on history and would love to honor a female in this category for the first time in 4 previous tries. (For the record, a female, Loveleen Tandan, was co-director in last year's winning "Slumdog Millionaire", but was curiously left off the BEST DIRECTOR ballot. The Academy says it can only honor one name but, yes, there was the exception when the Coen brothers were listed and won for "No Country for Old Men".) So, I'm thinking, especially if they honor "Avatar" with BP, this would be perfect symmetry by recognizing THL by having Kathyrn winning for BD. Also, do you think that the voting academy is ignoring this?: What a hoot having the 2 ex's win the 2 top awards! Should be interesting.

BEST LEADING ACTOR
Who will win: Jeff Bridges
Who should win: George Clooney
This is mortal lock #1a (for mortal lock #1 see below). Just mail it to him. Although Bridges fit this role like a pair of old shoes and was completely convincing, I loved the nuances Clooney brought to his role. I did predict he would win when I wrote my review for "Up in the Air" but am willing to concede that Bridges will win. Being a talented actor who has never won, the Academy is ripe for giving him an award for his fine acting as a down-and-out boozing country singer.

BEST LEADING ACTRESS
Who will win: Sandra Bullock
Who should win: Anyone but Sandra Bullock
Get the salt & pepper ready! OK. I'm prepared to eat my words. The ground swell is too big. The Tsunami is approaching. The academy is ready to bestow this award on one of their favorites. Bullock is this year's Julia Roberts. UGH!!! The word is that her biggest competition is Meryl, whose performance in "Julie & Julia" makes whatever charm that film has. Streep is clearly Bullock's biggest threat to overtake her. But Meryl has been nominated & won so many times before that you just know that the Academy members are just itching to give this one to Bullock (even though you can always count on a colorful acceptance speech from Streep!). My personal choice would be newcomer Carey Mulligan who is crucial for making "An Education" so wonderful. But, alas, Carey is this year's version of Sally Hawkins, who made last year's "Happy Go Lucky" so special. There is plenty of time for her to win awards so what better time to honor (UGH! again). . . oh, I just can't say it!!

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Who will win: Christoph Waltz
Who should win: Christoph Waltz
Waltz's rookie performance as a ruthless Nazi officer in Tarentino's "Inglorious Basterds" is a true gem and might have been worthy of a Best Actor nod in the ensemble film. He gives a truly memorable performance as a Nazi who is as cold and calculating as any Nazi you've ever seen on screen. I can't see anyone else touching this statuette. However, the Academy is known for at least one surprise a year and this category might be it-but I doubt it.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Who will win: Mo'Nique
Who should win: Mo'Nique
This year's Heath Ledger (meaning MORTAL LOCK #1) goes to another performance for the ages. In one of the greatest films of the year, is one of THE greatest performances ever and, for me, is right up there with my all time favorite female performance: Emily Watson in Lars von Trier's masterpiece "Breaking the Waves". The Baltimore born comedian (!) delivers a tour-DE-force and her role as the abusive mother of overweight "Precious" is so real & mind-boggling powerful you'll wonder if she actually lived the role. Mail her The Oscar.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
Who will win: "Up"
Who should win: "Up"
Another no contest. A film that is so good it is included in the Best Picture category (and probably would have even if the list was 5 films), in a year when there were great animated films, this one should bring home the bacon for the marvelously talented Pixar group. I wouldn't mind "Fantastic Mr. Fox" winning, but concede that "Up" is the best of the best.

BEST FOREIGN FILM
Who will win: "The White Ribbon"
Who should win: "Sin Nombre"
I know. I know. "Sin Nombre" isn't even nominated. For whatever reason, this great film didn't make the list. This category as well as Best Documentary drives me up a wall considering the omissions the Academy makes year after year. All I can say is if you have never seen it, by all means "run" to your nearest NETFLIX and rent it.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Who will win: "The Hurt Locker"
Who should win: "The Hurt Locker"
Mark Boal has written a script that is as realistic as the film and fits the action as perfectly as any other on the list. Although the other nominees are worthy, they just can't hold a light to this screenplay in a film that will win multiple awards.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Who will win: "Up in the Air"
Who should win: "Up in the Air"
This is a tough one. I was torn between this one, "An Education", & "Precious". However, being as I correctly predicted the 6 noms for UITA in my review last November, I believe The Academy will bestow one award their way and this one could be it. A terrific film with a screenplay that perfectly reflects today's trying economic times, I'm hoping it gets at least one major award and its best chance is this category.


BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Who will win: The Cove
Who should win: The Cove
Practically a slam dunk is this riveting expose on the Japanese who have been slaughtering thousands of dolphins each year and selling the prized ones to water parks for mucho bucks. Ric O'Barry, who trained the "Flipper" dolphins in the early 60's, realized the inhumanity of enslaving these mammals when Cathy, the #1 Flipper, committed suicide in his arms. His crusade to end the prisoning of these creatures for our benefit and to simultaneously expose the Japanese is what this amazing doc is all about. What makes this one even more a mortal lock to win is last week's Sea World disaster when the 40 year old trainer was killed by an Orca killer whale. The Academy members love to honor films that involve inhumane issues, as well as those that affect the planet (can you say "An Inconvenient Truth"?). The question is whether they voted before or after the incident last week. No matter. This film should be seen by anyone who cares about the fragility of life on the planet. I heard Ric say last week on ABC's "Nightline" that he's hoping the film wins because the #1 viewed show in Japan is, you guessed it, The Academy Awards. Keep that in mind when the award is accepted. Should be one of the more interesting speeches tomorrow night!

Feel free to share your comments and let me know how your predictions turned out.

"An Education" **** (100 minutes)

Sunday January 31, 2010

Dutch director Lone Scherfig's two films (2002's "Italian for Beginners" & 2004's "Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself") have both been critically acclaimed. Her third entry even more so. She was the screenwriter for the 2 earlier efforts but now enlists the talents of equally acclaimed Nick Horby who scribed 2000's "High Fidelity" & 2002's "About a Boy". Together, they have produced one of my favorite films of the past year.

The story, based on a memoir by British journalist Lynn Barber, concerns 16 year old Jenny (in a phenomenal debut by Carey Mulligan), a musically talented and academically bright schoolgirl who is on a steady course for "an education" at Oxford. Although this course of action seems more to please her middle class parents (ably played by Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour), she is dutifully following their wishes by excelling in school-all the while dreaming about the exciting possibilities the world can offer besides her current mundane scholastic voyage.

Then, she meets charming, well-to-do, 35ish David (played by the always competent Peter Sarsgaard who hits all the right notes) who one day offers her a ride home while standing on a corner holding her cello in a driving rain. After convincing her that he has no alternative motives (this is taking place in the more trusting times of the early 60's), the die is cast as he slowly and methodically alters her predetermined course from one of unexceptional everyday existence to one of excitement and intrigue-an education of worldly existence.

There are 2 adults in her life, namely her parents, who, like Jenny, also fall for the charms of her suitor and quickly reverse course for their daughter-not recognizing the pitfalls their relationship pose. They see her comfortably taken care of for the rest of her life and begin to dismiss what an education at Oxford might have afforded.

Luckily, there are 2 other adults in Jenny's sphere who see her relationship for what it is and who recognize the talents Jenny is ready to hastily throw away: her English teacher (Olivia Williams) and her headmistress (the great Emma Thompson is a small but effective role) who try to impart to Jenny a different kind of education.

Through most of the film, Alfred Molina comes across as a naive bloke and gives basically a one-note performance. That is, until the end when he confronts his daughter with a brilliantly moving speech that had me moved to tears. And look for last year's Best Actress nominee Sally Hawkins ("Happy Go Lucky") who appears for a very brief pivotal scene near the end.

As pointed out above, the title of the film has multiple connotations. And, even though that, on the surface, this is a story of an older man possibly praying on a teenage girl, don't let that deter you in visiting a film that is brilliant in its writing, acting & execution. I absolutely loved this film!

Jenny (Carry Mulligan) & David (Peter Sarsgaard)
share an intimate moment

Jenny's parents Jack (Alfred Molina) & Majorie (Cara
Seymour) (l) about to go out to dinner with Jenny & David (r)