Saturday, December 30, 2006

End of Year Lists [Albums]

**Excludes compilations, soundtracks, and greatest hits albums**

1. Arctic Monkeys - "Whatever People Say I am, That's What I'm Not"
An honest assessment of British society. A riotous and infectious explosion.
"Dancing to electro-pop like a robot from '1984'"

2. Morrissey - "Ringleader of the Tormentors"
A well-rounded and beautifully assured album from the great man.
"There are explosive kegs between my legs"

3. Lily Allen - "Alright, Still"
Filled with oodles of colour and character, and an indelible fun factor.
"A man lookin' dapper and he's sittin' with a slapper, then I see it's a pimp and his crack whore"

4. Amy Winehouse - "Back to Black"
Jazz at its most mellow freshest.
"Sweet reunion, Jamaica and Spain, we're like how we were again"

5. Shakira - "Oral Fixation Vol. 2"
Like name, like nature. Sung with an aching eagerness to stimulate.
"So don't bother, I won't die, of deception"

6. Scissor Sisters - "Ta-Dah"
A wacky, expressive paradise of inspired concoctions.
"You'd think that I could muster up a little soft shoe, gentle sway"

7. Thom Yorke - "The Eraser"
Gorgeous. A precise and patient oddity of feeling.
"I am only being nice because I want someone, something"

8. Pink - "I'm Not Dead"
A passionate and edgy assault on a difficult past.
"If someone said three years from now, you'd be long gone, I'd stand up and punch them up, cause they're all wrong"

9. Rihanna - "A Girl Like Me"
Finest R n' B album of the year. Overflowing with vibe.
"I can't take it, see it don't feel right"

10. Beyonce - "B'Day"
A gutsy, gung-ho performance that's almost always occupying.
"She gon' be rockin' chinchilla coats if I let you go"

Friday, December 29, 2006

End of Year Lists [Songs]

As 2006 closes, and since I can't make my End of year lists regarding films (I won't see everything released until the end of February in the UK), I've decided to make lists for other things. First up, music, and a one-word review to accompany:

1. Pink - "Who Knew?" Remeniscent.
2. Thom Yorke - "The Eraser" Faithful.
3. Paris Hilton - "Stars are Blind" Perverse.
4. Madeleine Peyroux - "I'm Alright" Sentimental.
5. Camille - "Au Port" Bizarre.
6. Amy Winehouse - "You Know I'm No Good" Lingering.
7. Just Jack - "Stars in their Eyes" Voyeuristic.
8. Bugz in the Attic - "Don't Stop the Music" Funky.
9. Cassie - "Long Way To Go" Seductive.
10. Goldfrapp - "You Never Know" Irrational.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

HFPA Golden Globe Nominations 2006

Picture, Drama:

"The Departed"
"Little Children"
"The Queen"

Score: 4/5
(United 93 for Bobby)

I did say it was a good week for Babel, and now it's getting even better. It leads the Globe nominations with seven, and its other main competitors for the 5th BP spot, United 93 and Little Miss Sunshine did much worse than expected. Also a boost for Little Children, keeping hopes alive. Bobby's nomination is partly due to a weak year, and partly because it has so many high-profile stars in it. I expect it'll stick around for SAG.

Actress, Drama:

Penelope Cruz, "Volver"
Judi Dench, "Notes on a Scandal"
Maggie Gyllenhaal, "Sherrybaby"
Helen Mirren, "The Queen"
Kate Winslet, "Little Children"

Score: 5/5

I am fantastic. High quality category.

Actor, Drama:

Leonardo DiCaprio, "Blood Diamond"
Leonardo DiCaprio, "The Departed"
Peter O'Toole, "Venus"
Will Smith, "The Pursuit of Happyness"
Forest Whitaker, "The Last King of Scotland"

Score: 4/5
(Gosling for Di Capro (Departed))

I thought they'd decided to push Di Capro supporting for The Departed. Obviously not. Gosling's snub is a blow, but I expect the weak state of the actor race this year will allow him to slip back in at SAG - especially if he keeps getting critics notices.

Picture, Musical or Comedy:

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan"
"The Devil Wears Prada"
"Little Miss Sunshine"
"Thank You for Smoking"

Score: 4/6
(Happy Feet and Prairie for Smoking)

Well I was adventurous with my choices in this category, but obviously Happy Feet does not have the following of either Nemo, or The Incredibles. Prairie, despite the snub, could still get a SAG ensemble or Director nomination. Dreamgirls will have no trouble winning whatsoever.

Actress, Musical or Comedy:

Annette Bening, "Running With Scissors"
Toni Collette, "Little Miss Sunshine"
Beyonce Knowles, "Dreamgirls"
Meryl Streep, "The Devil Wears Prada"
Renee Zellweger, "Miss Potter"

Score: 3/5
(Dunst and Breslin for Bening and Collette)

I was right about Zellwegger unfortunately. I'm really quite shocked that Toni Collette's performance was chosen ahead of Abigail Breslin's which was much more endearing and had a lot more soul. I thought that the Running With Scissors reviews might hurt Annette but apparentely not. Dunst's absence from this list is utterly shameful.

Actor, Musical or Comedy:

Sacha Baron Cohen, "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan"
Johnny Depp, "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest"
Aaron Eckhart, "Thank You for Smoking"
Chiwetel Ejiofor, "Kinky Boots"
Will Ferrell, "Stranger than Fiction"

Score: 4/5
(Foxx for Ejiofor)

Ejiofor's nomination is very strange, and again testament to how sub-standard the quality is overall this year. Jamie Foxx's inability to receive something here puts him out of the hunt. Cohen is a lock for the win.

Supporting Actress:

Adriana Barraza, "Babel"
Cate Blanchett, "Notes on a Scandal"
Emily Blunt, "The Devil Wears Prada"
Jennifer Hudson, "Dreamgirls"
Rinko Kikuchi, "Babel"

Score: 4/5
(O'Hara for Barazza)

Emily Blunt!! I don't care about anything else in this category because my favourite performance this year (at least I think it is) has been nominated for a Golden Globe. Kikuchi and Barazza get in on Babel love but I'm not sure they can both fit in the Oscar line-up.

Supporting Actor:

Ben Affleck, "Hollywoodland"
Eddie Murphy, "Dreamgirls"
Jack Nicholson, "The Departed"
Brad Pitt, "Babel"
Mark Wahlberg, "The Departed"

Score: 3/5
(Arkin and Carrell for Affleck and Wahlberg)

Obviously they did not love Sunshine as much as I thought they would. I'm happy for Wahlberg, who definitely now has a good chance of a nomination. Affleck really shouldn't be here considering this is one of the most competitive categories this year.


Clint Eastwood, "Flags of Our Fathers"
Clint Eastwood, "Letters from Iwo Jima"
Steven Frears, "The Queen"
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, "Babel"
Martin Scorsese, "The Departed"

Score: 2/5
(Altman, Condon & Greengrass for Eastwood (Flags), Frears & Inarritu)

I don't want to talk about this.


Guillermo Arriaga, "Babel"
Todd Field and Tom Perrotta, "Little Children"
Patrick Marber, "Notes on a Scandal"
William Monahan, "The Departed"
Peter Morgan, "The Queen"

Score: 3/5
(Dreamgirls & Sunshine for Babel & Notes)

Again, Sunshine snubbed. Very surprising. I maybe should have seen Notes coming. And yet more Babel love extends to this category as well. Note: no comedy here.

Foreign Language:

"Apocalypto," USA
"Letters from Iwo Jima," USA/Japan
"The Lives of Others," Germany
"Pan's Labyrinth," Mexico
"Volver" Spain

Animated Film:

"Happy Feet"
"Monster House"

Original Score:

Alexandre Desplat, "The Painted Veil"
Clint Mansell, "The Fountain"
Gustavo Santaolalla, "Babel"
Carlo Siliotto, "Nomad"
Hans Zimmer, "The Da Vinci Code"

Original Song:

"A Father's Way" from "The Pursuit of Happyness"
"Listen" from "Dreamgirls"
"Never Gonna Break My Faith" from "Bobby"
"The Song of the Heart" from "Happy Feet"
"Try Not to Remember" from "Home of the Brave"

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Golden Globe Predictions

OK. Here's my predictions for the Golden Globe nominations, which are announced tomorrow. First of all, how amazing is the Comedy/Musical category. Secondly, the amazing Emily Blunt is a long shot, but I'm in the mood for wishful thinking. Here goes:

Picture (Drama)

The Departed
Little Children
The Queen
United 93

Picture (Comedy/Musical)

The Devil Wears Prada
Happy Feet
Little Miss Sunshine
A Prairie Home Companion


Robert Altman (A Prairie Home Companion)
Bill Condon (Dreamgirls)
Clint Eastwood (Letters From Iwo Jima)
Paul Greengrass (United 93)
Martin Scorsese (The Departed)

Actor in a Leading Role (Drama)

Leonardo Di Caprio (Blood Diamond)
Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson)
Peter O'Toole (Venus)
Will Smith (The Pursuit of Happyness)
Forest Whitaker (Last King of Scotland)

Actor in a Leading Role (Comedy/Musical)

Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat)
Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean 2)
Aaron Eckhart (Thank You For Smoking)
Will Ferrell (Stranger Than Fiction)
Jamie Foxx (Dreamgirls)

Actress in a Leading Role (Drama)

Penelope Cruz (Volver)
Judi Dench (Notes on a Scandal)
Maggie Gyllenhaal (Sherrybaby)
Helen Mirren (The Queen)
Kate Winslet (Little Children)

Actress in a Leading Role (Comedy/Musical)

Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine)
Kirsten Dunst (Marie Antoinette)
Beyonce Knowles (Dreamgirls)
Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada)
Renee Zelwegger (Miss Potter)

Actor in a Supporting Role

Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine)
Steve Carrell (Little Miss Sunshine)
Eddie Murphy (Dreamgirls)
Jack Nicholson (The Departed)
Brad Pitt (Babel)

Actress in a Supporting Role

Cate Blanchett (Notes on a Scandal)
Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada)
Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls)
Rinko Kikuchi (Babel)
Catherine O'Hara (For Your Consideration)


The Departed
Little Children
Little Miss Sunshine
The Queen

The Greatest Sedative Ever Told

The Nativity Story
Directed by Catherine Hardwicke
Starring: Keisha Castle-Hughes, Oscar Isaac, Shohreh Aghdashloo
Grade: F

Firstly, I am not a Christian. You may wonder why I chose to see this movie. I actually spent a good ten minutes yesterday contemplating this decision. The answer is simple: boredom. And yet infuriatingly, The Nativity Story, a conventional re-telling of the "greatest story ever told" instigates very little beyond boredom.

Catherine Hardwicke, whose competent debut feature, Thirteen, was sharp and authentic, both aesthetically and emotionally, stumbles with this film, never really seeming to make a decision as to whether she wants to take a traditional, emotive approach, or opt for a more life-like, historically factual version. The result, as it happens, is neither.
Hardwicke's direction carries with it all the markings of false assurance, making the film seem full of self-importance. You can see the strain to make the film meaningful; the grand, epic ambitions of a flailing, underwhelming production. As much as she dresses up the display with rich costumes, archaic props, picturesque shots of beautiful middle-Eastern landscape, the story is essentially too familiar to put any kind of original stamp on, and subsequently there's an evident absence of drive.

The problem is that aside from the acting (which is good on the whole) and the trumped up production design, there really isn't anything to differentiate it from your local village hall production. I mean, how much can you alter the line, "Is there any room at the inn?"? The Nativity Story offers as much clarity as any other version of this tale you will see, and pales comparatively with regard to emotional output. There's definitely something up when the supposed "greatest story ever told" isn't grand, isn't inspirational, isn't heart-warming, and doesn't stir you from scoffing maltesers (as delicious as they are). Of all the stories ever told, this is the one that ultimately relies solely on the significance of its message, and for this to be expressed in the last five minutes so morosely through an awestruck clan and prolonged deafening score typifies the emotional ineptness of the film throughout.

The thing that has always struck me about The Nativity Story is how simple it reads. Its deployment of characters in an archetypal sense that sets up so cleanly its moral values of good versus evil, loyalty, sacrifice, bravery etc. These are clearly what we're supposed to feel, the characters passive vehicles for demonstrative teachings. Keisha Castle-Hughes, whose earth-shattering performance in Whale Rider got her nominated for an Oscar (and should have got her the win) is wasted, constantly staring into space. This is undoubtedly in keeping with a traditional version of Mary as a heroine by chance and not by action. One wonders that had Mary been played as a more of a 'leading lady' than a dutiful matriarch that the story would have been more interesting. Sensationalist yes, but what is more sensationalist than the nativity story? Joseph (Oscar Isaac) has considerably more to do, and generally succeeds, creating one of the two (yes, TWO) genuinely emotional moments throughout the film.

I'm sure christians will find this perfectly watchable, but for the rest of us The Nativity Story leaves you sighing as to how little there is to it. I don't know if this says more about me than it does about the film but somebody asked me what were the positive things about The Nativity Story. The only thing I could think of was: "I wouldn't kick Joseph out of bed".

Oscars: Where They Stand - Best Picture

So after the first handful of precursors the haze over which films will be there and which won't begins to clear. The NBR, AFI, LAFCA, NYFCC, BFCS, BFCA and SFFCC have all had their say this week, and subsequently we're left with a much clearer picture -- especially with regard to certain categories.

Best Picture

Everybody has been talking about Letters From Iwo Jima this week, which has come from virtually nowhere to cement a foothold in this year's race. Its NBR victory (history suggests this signals a probable nomination, and problable loss), LAFCA win, and apparent consensus that it beats Flags, mean that in a very weak year, it has a great chance. Awards bodies also managed to dredge up United 93, which won the picture prize at DC and NYFCC, and placed in the AFI and BFCA. An ensemble award at NBR, and several mentions for Greengrass suggests that this is a potential nominee, if the academy chooses to honour this kind of realist docu-drama that really isn't what they normally go for.

Two films that didn't make as big an impact as they wanted also got some renewed hope. Babel
, which had quickly faded from favourite to outsider in recent weeks, nabbed a place in the top 10 of the NBR, AFI, AND the BFCA, who have held very strong oscar prognostications in recent years. And Little Children, a film that had promised and (apparentely) delivered a lot, yet had seemed to fall short of Field's previous hit, In The Bedroom. Its SF win and BFCA inclusion means it is definitely in the hunt, though NBR's dismissal of this (a type of film they love to reward) seems odd at the present time. Little Miss Sunshine, on every Top 10 list and there or thereabouts for every screenplay award, has kept its buzz for a long long time now and lack of stiff competition -- especially in the comedy sector -- means that it now has a realistic chance of grabbing a coveted nomination in this category.

But in terms of this year's race, it is the tightest since 2002's big 3-way battle. Currently four films really have a substantial claim at victory. The Departed could finally ensure Martin Scorsese has a big year at the Oscars; Jima could make history by being the first foreign language film to win the big one; The Queen could defy the trend of 'movies' winning, and Dreamgirls could bring the musical back on the right track.

Nobody expected to see Dreamgirls walk away with many critic awards I'm sure, and despite not getting any so far, it lacks a weakness unlike its competitors (Too much action, Foreign, Small). A media-driven piece like this one doesn't need awards to get by. It has a strong campaign and is a big movie musical blockbuster, and that's why it's still in pole position.

My Current Ranking:

1. Dreamgirls
2. The Departed
3. The Queen
4. Letters From Iwo Jima
5. Babel
6. United 93
7. Little Miss Sunshine

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Movie Summaries - Batch 2

Breaking and Entering
Directed by Anthony Minghella
Starring: Jude Law, Juliette Binoche, Robin Wright-Penn
Grade: B+

If you didn't know, I'm a big fan of Anthony Minghella, whose work in creating the sweeping brilliance of The English Patient, and more recently, Cold Mountain I much admire. It's with a knowing patience that Minghella crafts his films, and this latest offering from him -- a non-epic project on this occasion -- is no different. Will (Jude Law) enters into a fling with Amira (Juliette Binoche) after her son takes part in a robbery of his company headquarters. Breaking and Entering is not without contrivances, but its subtle, concise approach to raw and dark human dilemnas is effective, its emotional impact almost catching you unawares. Exquisitely acted from beginning to end, this is a deep and honest drama that while bleak, and occasionally repetitive, represents thorough and intelligent filmmaking.

Little Children
Directed by Todd Field
Starring: Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson, Jackie Earle Haley
Grade: C-

As with Field's previous major project, In the Bedroom, Little Children explores the ways in which people react to what's thrust upon them, be it grief, pain, neglect, or passion. The difference between them is that Children's characters are often hackneyed cliches of suburbia; bored housewives, uptight mothers, neighbourhood scaremongers. Indeed the film never seems to establish its tone, ranging from light satire (including an annoying voice-over) to deep, meaningful clashes of seemingly 'lost souls', most notably in a pretentious literary analysis by Winslet. It's a troubled and altogether uncertain film that feels overcooked, rescued somewhat by a stunning performance from Jackie Earle Haley that adds some badly needed emotive punch to the tale.

The Prestige
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson
Grade: C

Boasting an excellent director and strong cast, The Prestige tells the story of an incredibly intense rivalry between two magicians -- played by Bale and Jackman -- in turn-of-the-century London. While this rivalry is perfectly convincing, generating more than enough to think about, their oneupmanship, which pulls us every which way, eventually becomes a stolid and worn affair. Nolan, as always, has interesting ideas, but these are way too overdeveloped,
and become drab and uninspiring -- ironic for a tale of magic. A cheap, thoughtless ending means it also ends with a rather sad and muffled ta-dah. A massive disappointment.

Directed by Richard E. Grant
Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Gabriel Byrne, Emily Watson
Grade: C-

Richard E. Grant's directorial debut is largely autobiographical, and chronicles part of his youth in Swaziland at the end of the 1960's. Much of the film concerns his relationship with his father (Gabriel Byrne), a colonial administrator, who goes off the rails after his wife (Miranda Richardson) leaves him. Grant's passion for the project is understandable, but is sadly too evident in his execution, the narrative often feeling forced upon us, the issues self-important and on show. The problem is that much of this family-type drama has been seen before, and truthfully done better. The characters are boring, never commanding your attention for anywhere near long enough. Presumably Grant wants to convey the ephemerality of his youth -- lingering shots of wilderness reflect his lost existence -- but it all reads as a wallowing and desperate venture that's frankly as dull as dishwater.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

NBR Reaction

I'm always excited for the National Board of Review. Not really in anticipation of their choices, which are random to say the least (Quills, Finding Neverland), but because they represent the start of the Awards season.

This year's awards seem like no exception, and I'm sure will have very little lasting impact. Nevertheless, here are my thoughts:

Best Film: Letters From Iwo Jima

Reaction: Hmm.. Very interesting *strokes chin*. Even with the most dumbfounded choices NBR usually manages to get its winner into the BP Oscar shortlist (at least in recent memory), so Jima's odds will be undoubtedly cut. As will Clint Eastwood's, but we'll get onto that soon.

The rest of the top 10 from the National Board of Review:

Blood Diamond
The Departed
The Devil Wears Prada
Flags Of Our Fathers
The History Boys
Little Miss Sunshine
Notes on a Scandal
The Painted Veil

Films that needed this: Babel, Flags Of Our Fathers
Films that will probably be exclusively NBR: The History Boys, Notes On a Scandal
Films that are BP Longshots: Blood Diamond, Little Miss Sunshine, The Painted Veil
Films that shine: The Departed, The Devil Wears Prada (yay!)
Films hurt by the snub: The Queen
Films that will march on regardless of the snub: Dreamgirls

Best Director: MARTIN SCORSESE, The Departed

The thing that I always find utterly confusing about the NBR is their distribution of Picture and Director, which rarely ever matches. Now I am delighted that Martin Scorsese has justly received this award, but it strikes me as odd, despite his massive overdue status with Oscar, that NBR should choose not to give this prize to Clint Eastwood, who (despite my hatred of) is seen by many as a legendary figure, and has directed TWO of the NBR top ten. By no means am I complaining about this, but it just seems bizarre. A Departed-Eastwood result would have made much more sense. Oh well, I guess that's NBR for ya.

Best Actor: FOREST WHITAKER, The Last King of Scotland
Best Actress: HELEN MIRREN, The Queen

Reaction ZzZzZ.. but fair

Best Supporting Actor: DJIMON HOUNSOU, Blood Diamond
Best Supporting Actress: CATHERINE O'HARA, For Your Consideration

Reaction: Completely random. Hounsou, who already has 1 oscar nomination, and hasn't done an awful lot since, may have got this based on his seemingly emotive foreigner role (plus lack of competition). I would have thought this award may have gone to Michael Sheen -- a further blow for The Queen. Catherine O'Hara, whose lead Globe status makes this even more difficult to comprehend, may find the road ends there, when or if she's nominated there.

Best Foreign Film: VOLVER
Best Animated Feature: CARS

Reaction: Pretty routine picks. Cars is quite a boring pick. HAPPY FEET!

Best Ensemble Cast: THE DEPARTED
Breakthrough Performance by an Actor: RYAN GOSLING, Half Nelson
Breakthrough Performance by an Actress: (2)
Best Directorial Debut: JASON REITMAN, Thank You for Smoking

Reaction: The Departed's win pretty much leaves its acting status quo. Anyone could still be nominated there. Gosling continues to be the dark horse of the Actor race. Hudson and Kikuchi's mentions help to drive their supporting bids -- especially Kikuchi's.

Best Original Screenplay: ZACH HELM, Stranger Than Fiction
Best Adapted Screenplay: RON NYSWANER, The Painted Veil

Reaction: Meh

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Movie Summaries - Batch 1


Just giving a quick summary of a few films I've seen this year because I can't be bothered to write full reviews for what are largely very uninspiring films. Here goes...

A Cock and Bull Story
Directed by Michael Winterbottom
Starring: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Naomie Harris
Grade: B+

Winterbottom's delightful 'film within a film' premise generates frequent laughs, owed in part to a dry and subtly brilliant script, typical of the new wave of British comedy. Backed up by a fine and hefty ensemble, Steve Coogan leads the line with an insecure audacity that's omni-present and (forgive me) omni-hilarious, while at 90 minutes the film remains a short, thorough, and enjoyably sweet experience.

Cry Wolf
Directed by Jeff Wadlow
Starring: Julian Morris, Lindy Booth, Jon Bon Jovi
Grade: C-

Constantly playing up to teen slasher stereotypes, Cry Wolf would appear to satirise popular trends, occasionally veering into parody with its wacky and somewhat blatant exploration of genre convention. But whether this is intentional is another matter, the film ending with an almost obligatory atypical ending supposedly designed to defy and intrigue. The results are more subdued and underwhelming than anything else.

Directed by Allan Coulter
Starring: Adrien Brody, Ben Affleck, Diane Lane
Grade: C+

This noir homage (of which there seems to be an ever increasing amount) manages to create a perfectly engaging narrative puzzle by switching between a powerhouse masculine demonstration by Oscar-winner Adrien Brody, and an above-par (allbeit overrated) Ben Affleck. Yet however mysterious the death of Superman's George Reeves may be, Hollywoodland's climax itself may instigate as many questions as its subject matter. Curiously thoughtful, but ultimately an odd, vague, and distant piece that says very little.

Directed by Pedro Almodovar
Starring: Penelope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Duenas
Grade: A-

This dark comedy is nothing other than a complete and utter joy, never growing tired or repetitive as it easily could have. Volver is a refreshing dose of melodrama that you can thankfully never take seriously, and is led by an unstoppable, revelatory Penelope Cruz in a fiery, vivacious tour-de-force that's become indicative of Almodovar's wacky thematic brutality.

More to come...