Pre-AA Rambling Thoughts/Predictions

Saturday February 25, 2012

Mediocre.  That about sums up my overall impression of the 2011 movie year.  Maybe this is best reflective of results of the preferential voting system The Academy uses to come up with its Best Picture list when they couldn't even reach the 10 picture limit.  And only 2 songs nominated??!  Enough said.

Not that it was a terrible year.  There were plenty of 3 1/2 star films that were definitely worth seeing.  It's just that there were only a couple that absolutely WOWed me.  And most of those were in the documentary category (more on that later).

The most interesting reason to watch is the selection of host.  Billy Crystal returns for his 9th visit (he last appeared in 2004) agreeing  after Eddie Murphy resigned last November.  And after last year's fiasco with co-hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway, it's time to put some semblance of nostalgia, and, hopefully, laughs, back into the usually ponderous proceedings.  

That being said, here are a few thoughts on the nominations announced last month:
-Biggest surprise:  Michael Fassbender ("Shame") not being nominated for Best Actor.  His performance portraying a sex addict was one of the most riveting and brave performances in this or any year.  Despite being a multiple 2011 nominee and winner, he curiously was left off the AA ballot.  Was the role too dark for the Academy?
-2nd biggest surprise:  "Bridesmaids" not being nominated for Best Picture.  To me, this was the 3rd best film I screened (behind "The Artist" and "Moneyball"), not to mention that it was one of the brightest and smartest comedies in years.  The breakout film for the brilliant Kristin Wiig (co-writer and star) clearly deserved a nomination nod.  Recognition did come in the Best Original Screenplay category for star Kristen Wiig and co-writer Annie Mumolo, as well as a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Melissa McCarthy.  As for Best Picture, though, it has long been established that comedies fare poorly in this category-much less win it.  Not since 1977's "Annie Hall" has there been a comedy honored with the top prize.  However, the film richly deserved to be the 10th film nominated-or even the 9th.  "Loud and Incredibly Close"??  Huh???  This brings me to . . .
-Biggest Disappointment:  "Bridesmaids" not being nominated (see above).
-2nd Biggest Disappointment:  The films excluded from the Best Documentary category. There were far more outstanding (four star) docs that I screened in this category than mainstream movies in 2011.  In fact last year's 9th SILVERDOCS Documentary Film Festival was the best ever featuring films that I felt could easily fill  two nomination lists.  Two of the nominees ("Hell and Back Again" and "If a Tree Falls:  A Story of the Earth Liberation Front") were screened at the festival.  However, I would at least have included "Being Elmo:  A Puppeteer's Journey", which won the Audience Award at the festival.  Year after year, this has always been the category that is the most baffling.  At least The Academy continues their horrid consistency when it comes to the list of documentary film nominees.

The envelope, please. . .

What will win: "The Artist"
What should win: "The Artist"
As close as to a slam dunk as any winner tomorrow night, except for Best Foreign Film (see below).  The only competitor is "The Descendants" which most critics loved, and most people I know didn't.  For me, total disappointment  after a seven year wait after Alexander Payne's brilliant "Sideways"-which I feel should have won in 2004.  However, there is a good reason that "The Artist" has scoffed up award after award this year.  Despite the voting academy's disdain for Harvey Weinstein, I don't see them putting the most crowd pleasing film of the year behind any other film in this category.

Who will win: Michel Hazanavicius
Who should win: Michel Hazanavicius
Although there is buzz that Martin Scorcese ("Hugo") has a shot, and he did do a masterful directing job, there is no question in my mind that the French director will be on the podium tomorrow night.  Nice that Terrence Mallick was nominated for the extremely dense "Tree of Life" which virtually no one saw, but the reclusive director has no chance of winning.

Who will win:  Jean Dujardin
Who should win: Jean Dujardin
The closest race of the night in the major categories.  For me, there is no question that Dujardin deserves the award.  His was the most complete performance by a male actor in the leading role in 2011.  However, the Academy is in love with Clooney.  Not able to bestow the Best Picture/Director award to "The Descendants" might enable him to squeak in.  Personally, I wasn't at all bowled over with his performance.  However, you can't ignore the role popularity plays in the voting.  So, I'm predicting more with my heart that the winsome Frenchman (if you've seen him on the talk show circuit the last few months you'll know what I mean) will be thoroughly entertaining us near the end of the four hours.  (And maybe we'll see an appearance by Uggie, the Jack Russell co-star, climbing the podium.)

Who will win: Viola Davis
Who should win: Viola Davis
The early front runner was Michelle Williams impersonating Marilyn Monroe in the slight independent film "My Week With Marilyn".  I thought her performance was close to spot-on but didn't move me as much as I expected.  However, Viola Davis will more than likely be accepting for her role in the popular "The Help".  Davis has been busy this year appearing in three films,  And many felt she should have won in this category for 2008's "Doubt" (she won a Tony for the role in the stage play) surprisingly losing out to Penelope Cruz ("Vicky Christina Barcelona").  So it appears to be payback time as well.  Perennial bridesmaid, Meryl Streep is another possibility (what's new).  However, "The Iron Lady" was not well received and, therefore, would tend to eliminate her from serious consideration-yet again.
Who will win: Christopher Plummer
Who should win: Christopher Plummer
Another easy prediction. One of the best actors never to win an Oscar, Plummer's acting turn as a long married man who comes out of the closet after his wife dies at age 75, is the type of performance that the academy loves to honor.  Subtle but not over the top, the joy he puts into his new found freedom is real and poignant.  His closest competitor is Nick Nolte in the little seen "Warrior".  However, his chance of winning is a far distant second.

Who will win: Octavia Spencer
Who should win: Melissa McCarthy
Another memorable supporting role from "The Help" ensemble should put the little known actress in the spotlight.  However, for my money, McCarthy practically stole "Bridesmaids".  Her over the top performance as the raunchy, foul-mouth, over-sexed, rotund bridesmaid was my favorite supporting role of the year.

What will win: "Rango"
What should win: "Rango"
The delightful story of a chameleon facing an identity crisis should easily win the award.  Not having a PIXAR film in the competition, and having Johnny Deep doing a wonderful voice over as Rango, doesn't hurt its chances in the least.

Who will win: "A Separation"
Who should win: "A Separation"
The mortal lock of the night.  The extremely well received Iranian domestic drama of a disintegrating marriage could actually give "The Artist" a run for its money had it had a US connection ("The Artist" is a French production but its U.S. producer gives it a chance in the Best Picture category.)

What will win: "Midnight in Paris"
What should win: "Midnight in Paris"
Woody Allen's most satisfying screenplay in years has some stiff competition.  The incredibly original screenplay about a frustrated writer who finds himself back in Paris in the 1920's while walking the streets of Paris at midnight, in an era he romanticizes about, is charming and thought-provoking as it depicts what it would be like to live out one's fantasies.  Bestowing this honor on one of The Academy's favorites will not be unexpected, as well.  That being said, look out for a virtual clean sweep for "The Artist".

What will win: "The Descendants"
What should win: "Moneyball"
The Academy is itching to award Payne's film and this appears the most likely category.  However, for my money (not to use a pun) talented co-writers Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin (Sorkin won last year for "The Social Network") scripted a smart intelligent translation of Michael Lewis' 2003 book about the unlikely success of The Oakland A's GM, Billy Beane.  John Logan's adaptation for "Hugo" has an outside chance, but, as I said, Payne should win it.

What will win:  (Flip a coin)
What should win:  About 10 other documentaries not on the list
My responses above reflect my utter disdain for the nominees.  Not that they were horrible docs.  When such titles as "Being Elmo",
"Project Nim", "Donor Unknown", "Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of  the Tornbee Tiles". "The Rescuers", "Scenes of a Crime", "Give Up Tomorrow", "Semper Fi:  Always Faithful", "the Bully Project", and "Hot Coffee" don't make the list of nominees . . .  I'll just go ahead and grab that coin.

Stop back for my post-AA report next week.

"Act of Valor" ** (101 minutes)

Thursday February 3, 2012

If you are thinking about enlisting in the Navy Seals (which, by the way, is the acronym for Sea, Air, and Land), boy, is this the film for you.  However, if you are interested in being entertained by a movie which incorporates actual Seals standing in for professional actors, speaking a script that is as baffling as a foreign movie without subtitles, well, you might want to take in another flick at your local megaplex.

Co-directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh took 2 years to create what must have seemed like a good idea at the time:  Use actual Seals and real bullets to put the viewing audience, as authentically as possible, into their boots.

However, there is a reason studios pay professional actors to put realism on the screen when millions of dollars are on the line.  Unfortunately for them, acting is not a part of Navy Seal training.  And, no matter how grandiose the action sequences are staged (and that is the only redeeming element in this mess), it is not enough to validate spending your time or money on what ultimately can be labeled a Military recruiting film.

The fictional story basically revolves around a plot involving terrorists aiming to bomb major U.S. cities.  Various locales around the world are visited trying to tie all the confusing story lines together that, in the end, had me scratching my head while checking the time on my watch.

The action sequences are well staged (half of the budget must have been for bullets).  However, the stilted "acting" using an inane script by screenwriter Kurt Johnstad (2007's "300") with the incessant use of indecipherable military technical jargon, is so overwrought that it eventually destroyed my focus and interest.

A rah-rah film for the good 'ol USA (the right-wingers will love this one), "Act of Valor" opens nationwide on February 24.

The Seals start their mission by air