Archive for November, 2010

All “Winter’s Bone,” All Day Long

November 30, 2010 Leave a comment

And yet another massive victory for the independent wonder “Winter’s Bone.”

This morning, the film received 7 nominations from the Independent Spirit Awards, more than any other film. That includes nominations for Best Picture, Director, Actress (Jennifer Lawrence), Supporting Actor (John Hawkes) and Best Supporting Actress (Dale Dickey).

Complete list of nominees:

127 Hours
Black Swan
The Kids Are All Right
Winter’s Bone

Read the rest after the jump…

Read more…

“Winter’s Bone” wins Big at the Gothams

November 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Last night, the ceremony for the 2oth Annual Gotham Awards was held. Debra Granik’s “Winter’s Bone” took home the festival’s highest honors, winning both Best Feature and Best Ensemble Cast. The film beat out bigger Oscar hopefuls, “Black Swan” and “The Kids Are All Right,” as well as “Blue Valentine” and “Let Me In.”

I am a big fan of this news. “Winter’s Bone” is a fantastic little independent film that is currently one of my favorites on the year and needs all the help it can get to make it to Oscar’s shortlist (as I am currently predicting that it will). I love the fact that the film is maintaining its summer buzz, for both the film and it’s performers. Newcomer Jennifer Lawrence is absolutely astounding and John Hawkes gives the best performance of a much underrated career. Hopefully this will boost them both.

Winter’s bone joins a list of previous winners such as:

2009: “The Hurt Locker”

2008: “Frozen River”

2007: “Into the Wild”

2006: “Half Nelson”

2005: “Capote”

2004: “Sideways”

Not bad company. Good luck to the film. Stay tuned later today. The nominations for the Independent Spirit Awards, the most prestigious independent film awards in the country, will be announced soon.

Hathaway and Franco

November 29, 2010 1 comment

So, as many of you might already know, James Franco and Anne Hathaway are hosting the Oscars. Not too sure how I feel about that. They seem more like the type of presenters who screw up their 5 minutes when they read the teleprompter wrong.

Plus, whose idea was it to have the host be someone who could be in very high contention for winning one of the biggest awards of the night.

Poor decision, Academy.

“The Social Network” #1 on Sight and Sound’s Top Ten

November 28, 2010 1 comment

I won’t go into too much depth here, sufficed to say that I am THRILLED to announce that the “The Social Network” has brought home its first big title of the year: the top spot on the world-renowned magazine Sight and Sound’s list of the best films of the year. Here is the list:

1. “The Social Network” (David Fincher)
2. “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
3. “Another Year” (Mike Leigh)
4. “Carlos” (Olivier Assayas)
5. “The Arbor” (Clio Barnard)
6. “Winter’s Bone” (Debra Granik)
6. (tied) “I Am Love” (Luca Guadagnino)
8. “The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu” (Andrei Ujica)
8. (tied) “Film Socialisme” (Jean-Luc Godard)
8. (tied) “Nostalgia for the Light” (Patricio Guzman)
8. (tied) “Poetry” (Lee Chang-dong)
8. (tied) “A Prophet” (Jacques Audiard)

Sight and Sound, a British magazine released by the BFI, is one of the longest running film publications. It’s lists of films and directors are considered to be some of the most prestigious and genuine. This year, they have chosen David Fincher’s “The Social Network” to join the ranks of many other classic films that have earned that regard. Previous winners include:

2005: Brokeback Mountain

2006: Cache

2007: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

2008: Hunger

2009: A Prophet

It is the first American film to top this list in the last 6 years, even though “The Hurt Locker” and “There Will Be Blood” both recently came in at number two, respectively. This is a big win for David Fincher’s masterpiece and will hopefully be the beginning of a long string of victories. Cheers.

(Note: I don’t have a link to the list, for it is only available in publication, as of now. However, their website should have it within the next week)

Oscar Predictions 11/27!

November 27, 2010 8 comments

So it’s now only a little more than 2 months until the 2011 Academy Award nominations are officially announced. And now that Thanksgiving has passed, this blog will soon be buzzing with critics groups awards, top ten lists and guild nominations. Therefore, I figure it’s about time to update my predictions.

Some things are falling apart, and some stars are rising. Some things are, well, staying pretty much the same. I’m starting to lose faith that “The Way Back” will be able to gain enough momentum going into January, even if it does live up to being one of Peter Weir’s best. Same thing for the women’s rights film, “Made in Dagenham.”

However, it seems that the planets are finally aligning for Darren Arronofsky, really for the first time, as “Black Swan” is riding one of the best publicity waves of the year. It doesn’t help that the film might actually be the best of the young auteur’s career. I don’t see “127 Hours” disappearing from the list any time soon, either. Also, it appears that “Toy Story 3” is becoming a nearly unstoppable force (deservingly so) and could actually become the third member of a 3-way race for the win. Who would have thought?

As of now though, it’s still between the same two horses: “The King’s Speech” and “The Social Network.” It kind of seems as though it will remain that way, too. I imagine that “The Social Network” will garner a lot of the critics awards. A dream come true would be a sweep of the LAFCA, the NYFCC and the National Society of Film Critics, just as “The Hurt Locker” did. However, with “Toy Story 3″‘s reviews being nearly as good, it will have competition. I could further go into my guild hopes, as well, but we’ll try to keep the cart behind the horse and take this thing one step at a time.

Read more…

“Inside Job” Review

November 26, 2010 1 comment

Shortly before the 15 finalists for Best Documentary were announced, I screened one of the frontrunners, Charles Ferguson’s “Inside Job.” As of right now, if there was one film that deserves to break into the top 5 and eventually take home the gold, it would be this one.

The film is a no-holds-barred exposé on the Wall Street banking industry and how it literally brought America, and really the world as well, to its knees. Through loads of investigative journalism and on-point interviews, Ferguson uncovers how greed, irresponsibility and deregulation (or in other words “‘Reagan’-ization”) of corporate banks caused the worst recession of nearly any generation alive today.

There are a number of respectable, some even phenomenal, documentarians working in film today: Michael Moore, Davis Guggenheim, Heidi Ewing, Errol Morris, and, of course, Alex Gibney. However, in absolute truth, I don’t think any of them impress me as much as Charles Ferguson, and by God, this is only his second feature film. His debut movie, “No End in Sight,” was easily the single best documentary about the Iraq war, outlining the faults and atrocities committed by the individuals in power. Here, he brings that same demanding insight to the the most recent act of white collar crime to cripple our country.

Now, even though the film does its best to put its information into Layman’s terms, it still deals with some dense material. It outlines the events and actions that lead up to the bankruptcy of both Lehman Brothers and AIG. Wall Street CEOs were endorsing predatory lending, as well as financially betting against properties and stocks after pressuring others to invest into them. They blew millions of dollars on bonuses and salaries, not to mention cocaine and prostitutes, and didn’t create a net for themselves while they drove their businesses, backed with the money of millions of innocent people, straight into the ground.

One of the most laudable aspects of Ferguson’s films is that, unlike some real-life filmmakers, he never lets a good story interfere with the truth, so to speak. This film is not a work of entertainment. It is certainly entertaining at times, but it does overemphasize in its theatrics. Instead, it works the viewer with an onslaught of hard facts. Ferguson lets the information speak for itself, and it speaks quite loudly.

What’s more is that, unlike Michael Moore, another documentarian who goes for the throat, Ferguson never makes himself the main attraction in the film. He is always the faceless man behind the camera. And while Ferguson is never seen, his voice is always present, hammering into his interview subjects. He never gives them time to breathe, let alone attempt to obfuscate their way to a vague, insufficient response. With every word he utters, you feel the passion and resolve in his voice, and you know that every bit of this film is on his shoulders.

The look of the film is fantastic. Every interview is lit perfectly, and the surrounding environments are always used to the best that they can be in framing up each subject. Also, the film contains some of the most gorgeous aerial cinematography that you will see this year. The soaring plates of downtown Manhattan are so breathtaking, I felt that I should have been watching in IMAX. And while the final message of the film may be a bit cliched and vague, the ending shot of the Statue of Liberty speaks volumes more than words ever could.

In the end, there is one characteristic that “Inside Job” and all of Charles Ferguson’s films have that elevate them above the rest is the element of rage. This director has a greater ability to absolutely infuriate his audience than any of his peers. If a viewer goes into this movie without a true knowledge or interest in the subject at hand, they will for sure leave with one, and leave pissed off, as well. And if that is not the true goal of any documentarian with a passion, than I don’t know what is.

GRADES:           A-           * * * * 1/2 / * * * * *           8.8 / 10.0


Daniel Day Lewis is Abraham Lincoln…A Match Made in Heaven?

November 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Those who know me are aware that I am an unabashed Spielberg fanatic (a quality considered sinful among most film students). Therefore, I don’t think there is any project that I’ve followed with such veracity as his Lincoln biopic, which has been shelved in Hollywood limbo for nearly a decade.

For a long time all there was to this film was a script by “Munich” scribe Tony Kushner and a lead actor, Liam Neeson. However, shooting dates just kept getting pushed further and further back until Spielberg began to move on to other things. I began to worry that this extraordinary film concept would never come to be.

However, hours ago, Variety Magazine announced that new and quite promising news has surfaced about the epic biography. Two-time Academy Award-winning actor, and perhaps the greatest performer of his generation, Daniel Day Lewis will be taking on the role. Variety also listed that production is confirmed to begin in a year. The film is expected to cover the life of Lincoln throughout the Civil War, throughout his presidency, the freedom of the slaves and up to the man’s assassination.

While this might be a role that Daniel Day Lewis was made to play, as is anything, really, since there’s nothing that man cannot weave into gold, I really can’t help feeling regret that it won’t be Neeson playing the role. DDL probably better matches Lincoln in stature, especially when imagining his gangly form in “Gangs of New York.” However, Liam definitely has a more similar face. Also, it probably would have been an assured Oscar nomination for Neeson, his first in 20 years, possibly a win, not to mention another chance to work with Spielberg since creating their masterpiece together.

Yet, according to the article, Neeson “no longer expressed any interest in the part,” so I guess we roll with the punches and accept the wildly amazing performance that is to come from such a master craftsman like Day Lewis. Perhaps the funnest part about the waiting for this film will be learning of the other casting choices, including Lincoln’s cabinet, all the Civil War generals, and of course, John Wilkes Booth.

The film is slated to be released sometime in the fourth quarter of 2012, roughly 2 years from now. This means that there will be three Spielberg films released before this one even wraps shooting. There’s that ridiculous “Tin Tin” nonsense which I would have begged Steven not to take on….had I known him. That and the WWI drama “War Horse” will both be released in December of next year. Meanwhile, “Robopocalypse” (please God let them change that name) will be shot practically back to back with the Lincoln film. Hopefully, out of all that work, “Lincoln” will not be the one shelved again.

Read the whole Variety article HERE

15 Best Documentary Finalists

November 19, 2010 Leave a comment

For those who don’t know how the Oscars are chosen, there are certain awards that are narrowed down to a series of finalists which are eventually narrowed down to their respective nominations. Best Make-Up Effects takes seven finalists, while Best Visual Effects has fifteen. Another award that has fifteen submissions is Best Documentary Feature. Those finalists have been listed below, and though I haven’t seen them all, I can tell you that this is an extremely crowded and competitive field.

These are the finalists:

Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer,” Alex Gibney, director (ES Productions LLC)
Enemies of the People,” Rob Lemkin and Thet Sambath, directors (Old Street Films)
Exit through the Gift Shop,” Banksy, director (Paranoid Pictures)
Gasland,” Josh Fox, director (Gasland Productions, LLC)
Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould,” Michele Hozer and Peter Raymont, directors (White Pine Pictures)
Inside Job,” Charles Ferguson, director (Representational Pictures)
The Lottery,” Madeleine Sackler, director (Great Curve Films)
Precious Life,” Shlomi Eldar, director (Origami Productions)
Quest for Honor,” Mary Ann Smothers Bruni, director (Smothers Bruni Productions)
Restrepo,” Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger, directors (Outpost Films)
This Way of Life,” Thomas Burstyn, director (Cloud South Films)
The Tillman Story,” Amir Bar-Lev, director (Passion Pictures/Axis Films)
Waiting for ‘Superman’”, Davis Guggenheim, director (Electric Kinney Films)
Waste Land,” Lucy Walker, director (Almega Projects)
William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe,” Emily Kunstler and Sarah Kunstler, directors (Disturbing the Universe LLC)

For sure, the showdown for the big prize will end up being the inspirational education rally “Waiting for Superman” by Davis Guggenheim, who won previously for “An Inconvenient Truth,” and the hard-boiled assault on corrupt Wall Street bankers “Inside Job,” by Charles Ferguson, who was shamefully robbed of an Oscar for his enraging look at the Iraq War, “No End in Sight.”

“Waiting for Superman” has some heavyweights backing it up, such as Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates, however “Inside Job” has the added benefit of being extraordinarily good (as I will write in my upcoming review) which sometimes has an influence on the Academy.

My personal favorite in the category, however, would probably be “Restrepo,” the heart-wrenching story of a platoon of soldiers stationed at the most dangerous outpost in all of Afghanistan. It’s a bit too small and unknown to take home the gold, but I’m confident that it can ring in with a darkhorse nomination.

Probably the most surprising omissions from this list are “12th and Delaware” a searing look at the abortion argument by the makers of “Jesus Camp” and “A Film Unfinished,” a film piecing together never-before-seen footage of Holocaust propaganda films made by the Nazis. These are powerful subjects by great filmmakers, and they should have deserved a spot on this list.

Stay tuned for my updated Oscar Predictions which should be coming out within the next few days.

“Robin Hood” Review

November 18, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ve been a long time devoted fan of Ridley Scott, and after viewing one of his most recent films “American Gangster,” I thought that he was up among the likes of Martin Scorsese as being one of the best depicters of violence, its causes and consequences, in American cinema, maybe the best, as well as just being an all-around cinematic visionary. After viewing his latest, the adaptation of the old Robin Hood fantasy, it’s my humble opinion that he needs to reevaluate his craft.

Everyone knows the story of “Robin Hood,” even if the gist of many people’s knowledge comes from a fox in a green outfit or God forbid, Kevin Costner. A freedom fighter who resided in the woods with his merry men that steals from the richer classes of a brutal medieval king and redistributes among the poor. This telling of the famous character is actually more of a prequel, showing how the hero began his escapades. Sad to say, the backstory is just not as interesting as the tale, itself.

Russell Crowe plays the title character, obviously, and tries his absolute damnedest not make it appear that he’s playing General Maximus all over again, though has a tough time succeeding. I’ll tell you that if Crowe’s character in this had a fraction of the amount of depth or inner angst as that which he portrayed in “Gladiator” (and won an Oscar for), his performance might have blossomed more. The other roles, however, are filled quite well. Scott Grimes and William Hurt shine as Will Scarlet and Marshall Bell. Kevin Durand, who almost always finds himself in the part of a villain or proverbial asshole, plays the Little John sidekick role perfectly. I would have preferred someone more attractive to play Maid Marion, but Cate Blanchett still pulls her weight in the acting department. Eileen Atkins and Mark Strong are both fantastic. Yet, while Danny Huston is superb in the role of King Richard, someone with a bit more experience and clout could have been better cast as Prince John over Oscar Isaac.

The script isn’t a terrible thing. The story is a valiant effort with a decently concocted structure. The characters, however, are really quite shallow in their quality and value. They seem to exist merely for the sake of the role they play in the story, rather than thrive in their own right. Those backstories and motives that are actually touched on are done so briefly and vaguely. Little John, Friar Tuck and Eleanor of Aquitane are all stupendous character concepts, and yet in the film, their bones are bare of much substantial story meat. This is all very disappointing for a scribe like Brian Helgeland who has produced some of the most layered and complex characters in film history in previous efforts like “Mystic River” and the incomparable “L.A. Confidential.” The story also suffers from a climax that is utterly anticlimactic and unsatisfying.

Scott has most of his usual stylists on line for this production, including cinematographer John Mathieson and editor Pietro Scalia. Sadly, Oscar-winning costume designer Janty Yates, whose stunning work is evident in “Gladiator,” “Kingdom of Heaven” and “American Gangster,” is absent, and that absense is evident. Overall, much of the production value that I would expect of a Scott film is surprisingly not up to par. I miss the creative angles and gritty texture of the camerawork and the rapid fire cuts turned into rhythmically golden editing. I wanted a thunderstorm of a visual experience and got calm seas instead.

Not to be too much of a pragmatist, because this issue shouldn’t bare that much weight in the grand scheme, but the film is really lacking with a PG-13 rating. These are medieval times, when weapons were anatomically destructive enough to make a grown man cringe. When people would behead each other practically for sport. Ridley Scott simply does not perform as well when constrained, but rather superb when he is turned loose. The violent nature of Scott’s mind should be allowed to roam free and let the blood flow and thus would the story, the style and the viewer’s satisfaction.

Overall, Robin Hood is a disappointment. It’s not a bad movie by any means, but simply an average one. Scott, it appears, just didn’t take it seriously enough to really add his signature touch. It lacks the sense of grim tonality in both artistic texture and value of story. Instead, it feels like live action Disney adaptation, unwilling to delve into the more stark and foreboding aspects that could have been brought out of such a story. Hopefully Ridley will regain his touch for the upcoming “Alien” prequels or we may begin to miss his unique contributions to the world of cinema.

GRADES:           C+           * * 1/2 / * * * * *           5.4 / 10.0


“Cowboys and Aliens” Trailer

November 17, 2010 1 comment

I believe it was only a few days ago when I had said that I was loving the new resurgence of alien invasion-type movies. Now, we get the first trailer from Universal/Dreamworks’ insanely anticipated (by crazy sci fi and comic book fanatics anyway) film “Cowboys and Aliens” I think this flick might be a bit too silly for my taste, but it’s got a phenomenal cast and some great visuals. Good stuff.