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My Reaction: The Good, the Meh and the Ugly, Part 1

January 24, 2012 Leave a comment

All right. Here we go. I’ve been awake for the last six hours, and as if that didn’t put me in a cranky enough mood, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences always manages to take care of that for me. There were some good things. I won’t lie. The voters always find a way of sneaking in a few items that even I can respect and say thank you for. However, if you look at this reaction on the whole, “Thank you” is not going to be the word you’d use to sum it up.

Note, I’m not going to go through and talk about every one of the 104 nominations. I’m sorry, but that would be madness. Instead I will simply focus on the true standouts of the morning, mostly the surprises and the hard-fought battles. If you’re curious about a nomination that I don’t mention, ask me, or simply wait for the 2nd Annual Edgy Awards. The nominations should be ready within the next two weeks.

Let’s do this in chapters, shall we? Starting with the facets I enjoyed:

THE GOOD

 

The ultimate highlight of the morning, and the thing that will probably be most remembered from this year’s Oscars as a whole, is Gary Oldman’s nomination for Best Actor. I think you would be hard-pressed to find an actor who has taken his licks, paid his dues, delivered some absolutely fantastic and groundbreaking work, and gone so long without being being honored with so much as a single Oscar nomination. Maybe Donald Sutherland, but I would easily say that Oldman’s talent surpasses his in so many ways. For all of its faults, this morning was made great because of this irrefutable fact: we now live in a world where Gary Oldman is an Oscar nominee. The world just got a whole lot better.

While this year’s Best Picture lineup may set a record for lowest coinciding with my own choices (I think only 3 films will end up overlapping), there is one movie that I am infinitely proud of the Academy’s rally of support around it. Earning a total of six nominations, tied for third highest amount, that film is Bennett Miller’s sophomore effort and absolute stunner of a film, “Moneyball.” When it came to searching for a film that raised my heart rate and got my blood flowing as much as last year’s masterpiece, “The Social Network,” this was the only film that came close (ironically co-penned by the Shakespeare of our time, Aaron Sorkin). Not only is it arguably the greatest sports movie ever made (barring “Raging Bull,” if you consider that a movie about sports), it is a touching character study of what we’re worth as human beings and what we come to expect of ourselves. This movie will forever hold a place of high honor in my mind and heart and I could not be happier that the Academy agrees with me.

As far as the female categories are concerned, there’s two nominations that really made me smile. The first is Melissa McCarthy’s well-deserved mention for “Bridesmaids.” The film, itself, was funny and decent enough, but without McCarthy’s absolutely hilarious and fearless performance, it would have been a fraction of what it turned out to be. This woman is fantastic and I am so happy for her and the year she’s having. Secondly, I am not only shocked, but overjoyed at the Best Actress nomination for Rooney Mara. This is a talented young actress who came out of nowhere, took on a highly anticipated role that has already been portrayed by another actress not less than three years ago, and against all expectations from many skeptics, knocked it completely out of the park. Her embodiment of Lisbeth Salander will forever live in infamy and now she has an Oscar nomination to show for it. Congrats.

There’s a few other nominations that tickled my fancy, here and there. An outstanding surprise in the writing categories was J.C. Chandor’s Best Original Screenplay nomination for his debut film, “Margin Call.” And I could kick myself square in the face for not predicting it. This film was a current of pure energy and intelligence that is more relevant than perhaps any of the nominated films. I cannot wait to see what this gentleman does in the future. Speaking of relevance, I also had a brief moment of joy over the nominated documentary “If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front.” It has flown largely under the radar throughout the year, but is a valuable lesson on the damage we’ve done to our world, as well as how far we are willing to go to reverse that. Finally, even though it might be to many others’ chagrin, I’m pleased to see Janusz Kaminski score his fifth nomination for Best Cinematography through “War Horse.” It may not be his best work, but there are some shots in that film that are indisputably among the best of the year. Bravo my favorite working DP.

Well, that about wraps it up for my moments of elation, obviously few and far between. Perhaps after a while, I might be able to look back on this day and acknowledge a little more as being positive. For now, I brood.

I’ll be back later today with parts two and three, so stay tuned to The Edge of the Frame.

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ASC Announces, Snubs Janusz Kaminski

January 11, 2012 Leave a comment

The American Society of Cinematographers had actually scheduled to unveil yesterday, but announced that they needed an extra day. I had hoped that that additional time would have provided a bit of clarity to help them make some intelligent choices. My logic was both rewarded and ignored.

The nominees are:

Guillaume Schiffman – “The Artist”
Jeff Cronenweth – “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”
Robert Richardson – “Hugo”
Hoyte van Hoytema – “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”
Emmanuel Lubezki – “The Tree of Life”

The big story in the awards community, as of late, has been the repeated snubbage of Steven Spielberg’s WWI epic, “War Horse.” A diehard Steven Spielberg fan, like myself, hasn’t really seen this as a problem for a few reasons. For one thing, the film was never really intended for grandiose awards intentions, but to me more of a family-friendly experience. Secondly, it’s quite simply not an example of Spielberg’s best work. I’m ready to sit back and wait for next year’s release of “Lincoln,” which I’ve been waiting six years for.

However, if there was one guild that “War Horse” did not deserve to be left out in the cold from, it was the ASC. This is a true slap in the face to some brilliant labor done by maybe the world’s greatest working cinematographer. I’d argue that Janusz Kaminski deserves to be on this list more than any of these other names. I know that there were some complaints about some of the daylight exteriors looking artificial and obviously lit, but that was kind of the point. Spielberg wanted this film to stand as an ode to 1940’s and 50s epics and westerns. He wanted it to reflect the work of guys like John Ford and Victor Garber. He didn’t want it to look like a documentary, but rather an oil painting, and he succeeded. Not to mention that the moving shots of the horse running displays some of the finest camerawork I’ve ever seen.

Another disappointing, yet a little more expected, snub was Wally Pfister’s low key, yet brilliant, work on Bennett Miller’s “Moneyball.” In this feature, Pfister goes back to his earlier work on film’s like “Memento” to shoot some beautifully drab and dismal environments. He also uses a technique that he has mastered (though first perfected by the above-mentioned Kaminski) of finding a wonderful medium between smooth and handheld camera movements. The baseball-playing scenes, in particular, are gorgeous.

As far as the actual nominees go, one would be crazy not to applaud and, eventually, put their money behind “The Tree of Life.” I certainly have some reservations about this film, but one has to give credit where credit is due. Emmanuel Lubezki’s poetic control over the camera, operating with such minimal available light, is absolutely awe-inspiring. The man is one hell of a cinematographer, having performed awards-worthy work in “Children of Men” and “Sleepy Hollow,” and will finally received his first, long-deserved Oscar in February. Put that in the books.

I certainly can’t complain too much about the nomination of “The Artist.” The blending of 1930s constraints with the imagination of the 21st Century is truly phenomenal at times. And unlike other films, they’re able to utilize the black and white rather than let it be a detriment to them. I was hooked by one of the first shots of Dujardin and his dog looking up at themselves on the big screen. The shot is magnificent and reflects the best kind of Orson Welles-fare.

I don’t really have many comments for “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” due to my still having put off seeing it. Meanwhile, I cannot bring myself to hide my disdain for Robert Richardson’s work in “Hugo.” The cinematography is epic, grandiose, and absolutely uninspiring. Obviously, my lackluster response to the film, itself, influences my opinion here, but I felt the camerawork to be boring and impersonal. It really makes me miss the gritty and poetic collaborations between Scorsese and his former DPs, Michael Chapman and Michael Ballhaus. Return to your roots, Marty.

Wow, I nearly forgot to shine my praise down on Jeff Cronenweth’s masterful crafting of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” He and David Fincher are constantly proving why digital cinematography is the way of the future and taking it to new artistic depths. The cold and fierce look that the two collaborators put to use, here, is masterfully befitting the source material. I think it’s worth mentioning that the POV shot during the climax, seen from behind a sheet of plastic, is maybe one of the most terrifying I’ve seen in cinema.

The ASC announces its winners on Sunday, February 12th. Expect nothing short of an unstoppable “Artist” sweep to keep this award out of Lubezki’s hands.

New “War Horse” Trailer and Poster

October 5, 2011 Leave a comment

Over the summer, everyone questioned what I said when I declared that what we had seen of Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse” was only a teaser and there would surely be more to come. Well, here I stand on my own high horse with a new trailer for the upcoming film. Unfortunately, the new trailer doesn’t really seem to do much more than rearrange and expand on a lot of the footage shown in the last preview.

Many pundits, at the moment, are calling this film the frontrunner for Best Picture. While it definitely has a boatload of nominations in line, I would not put it at the front of the gate. The Oscars seem to enjoy Spielberg most at his grittiest, and this appears to be perhaps one of the most sentimental ventures he has ever made. One thing’s for sure about the film, however. It looks absolutely gorgeous. If all plays out, one award we can definitely say that “War Horse” is leading the field in is Best Cinematography. Should it win, my favorite active DP, Janusz Kaminski, would have three Oscars on his mantel, putting him among a group you could count on one hand, including Robert Surtees and the great Conrad L. Hall.

Recently, Dreamworks bumped up the release date to Christmas day. This now puts it within four days of “The Adventures of Tin Tin”‘s official opening. Mr. Spielberg does love to face off against himself. Not that he has anything to lose, really. Both films are sure to gross well over the 100 million mark. Combined with the success of “Super 8,” “Transformers 3,” “Terra Nova,” and all coupled with his reception of the David O’Selznick award from the Producers Guild, this will be a pretty good year for one of Hollywood’s greatest sons. And “Lincoln” hasn’t even started shooting yet.

Check out the new trailer, below:

NEW – Teaser Trailer for Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse”

It’s no mystery that, through the course of my entire life, I have been an absolute Steven Spielberg fanatic. It seems that stating that truth is practically a mortal sin for any person who’s gone to school for filmmaking, yet, I have no shame in admitting it. No matter what genre, mood or style, Spielberg usually finds a way to nail it.

Despite all of this, both projects that the man is releasing in 2011 have never rung any bells for me. The whole concept of Spielberg directing a 3D animated feature, such as “The Adventures of Tin Tin: The Secret of the Unicorn,” is a little irritating. Being released within a few days of that film is his epic story of animal/human comradery and history, “War Horse,” which now has a teaser trailer.

Spielberg has always had a penchant for sentimentality, in different-sized doses per film. However, from what we see here, this theme has been taken to ridiculous heights. We can fully expect at least two hours of heart-warming sap, complete with a tear-jerker ending. On the bright side, the film looks absolutely gorgeous. Janusz Kaminski, the director’s longtime collaborator and my personal favorite cinematographer working today, has produced some fantastic images. I’m also quite excited to see the work of French actor Niels Arestrup, who absolutely devoured his role in Jacques Audiard’s “The Prophet,” last year.

Can’t say for sure yet whether this film will have the right qualities to return Spielberg to the Kodak theater in February. However, the original source material just won the 2011 Tony Award for Best Play, along with four other awards. Hopefully, the same magic that made the theater version so popular will shine through on the big screen.

Check out the full HD version of the teaser below.