Sunday, January 31, 2010

Final Oscar Nomination Predix

Best Picture

(500) Days of Summer
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
A Serious Man
Up in the Air

Alternates: District 9, Crazy Heart, Where the Wild Things Are

I think that District 9 is far from a lock, since it came out a while ago and is essentially an action blockbuster. It's a film with passionate followers but how many? Competition is sturdy. From there, A Serious Man doesn't look that strong but there's no denying the film's Jewishness will appeal to certain quarters of the Academy, and the Coen's are fast becoming Oscar staples. 500 Days has been hitting top tens all year but can it make the one that matters? I don't see why not given that its had a long time to gain fans and a status as an offbeat hit.

Best Director

Kathryn Bigelow - The Hurt Locker
James Cameron - Avatar
Clint Eastwood - Invictus
Jason Reitman - Up in the Air
Quentin Tarantino - Inglourious Basterds

Alternate: Michael Haneke - The White Ribbon

Lee Daniels still seems like an awfully outlandish pick for the Academy to make. Eastwood's inclusion would show a lack of imagination but at this point seems the more likely bet, but can Michael Haneke steal in with a film bound for two nominations anyway and with one of the few real "prestige" films left in the contest?

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Sandra Bullock - The Blind Side
Helen Mirren - The Last Station
Carey Mulligan - An Education
Gabourey Sidibe - Precious
Meryl Streep - Julie & Julia

Alternate: Emily Blunt - The Young Victoria

I couldn't bring myself to predict Emily Blunt, though everything suggests to me that Helen Mirren is on shaky ground.

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Jeff Bridges - Crazy Heart
George Clooney - Up in the Air
Colin Firth - A Single Man
Morgan Freeman - Invictus
Jeremy Renner - The Hurt Locker

Alternate: Matt Damon - The Informant!

This seems nailed on.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Vera Farmiga - Up in the Air
Anna Kendrick - Up in the Air
Melanie Laurent - Inglourious Basterds
Mo'Nique - Precious
Samantha Morton - The Messenger

Alternate: Penelope Cruz - Nine

Samantha Morton missed Globe and SAG but there's shades of In America. The girl is clearly a favourite with the Academy, and her role is exactly the kind that gets nominated in this category. Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga will coast in without any kind of category confusion, leaving Penelope Cruz, Diane Kruger, Julianne Moore, Marion Cotillard, and Melanie Laurent to fight it out for the fifth spot.

With the packed nature of the race it would seem wise to ditch the people with any category confusion and go for Cruz or Moore, whose precursor presence has been fairly consistent. But still, I can't help thinking that Diane Kruger's SAG nomination was because they couldn't vote for Laurent, and that the younger Actress will receive enough #1 ballots to place her above the competition.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Woody Harrelson - The Messenger
Christian McKay - Me and Orson Welles
Christopher Plummer - The Last Station
Stanley Tucci - The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz - Inglourious Basterds

Alternate: Matt Damon - Invictus

It seems wrong to tamper with Globe and SAG but Christian McKay's gimmicky turn is something Oscar have historically gone for. Time then to sub out the youngest guy, though I still don't think that Plummer is a done deal either.

Best Original Screenplay

(500) Days of Summer
The Hurt Locker
A Serious Man

Alternate: The Hangover

Best Adapted Screenplay

District 9
An Education
Julie & Julia
Up in the Air

Alternate: Crazy Heart

Men of the Thirties: Conclusion

After catching The Champ and Skippy I've updated the 1930-31 and 1931-32 pages to include write-ups of nominated and snubbed performances by Jackie Cooper and Wallace Beery. I managed to see 33 Nominees out of 39.

The six that eluded me:

Fredric March - The Royal Family of Broadway (1930-31)
Alfred Lunt - The Guardsman (1931-32)
Frank Morgan - The Affairs of Cellini (1934)
Paul Muni - Black Fury (1935)
Robert Montgomery - Night Must Fall (1937)
Mickey Rooney - Babes in Arms (1939)

Oscar Winner: Lionel Barrymore – A Free Soul
Favourite Nominee: Jackie Cooper – Skippy

Oscar Winner: Fredric March – Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde/Wallace Beery – The Champ
Favourite Nominee: Wallace Beery – The Champ

Oscar Winner: Charles Laughton – The Private Life of Henry VIII
Favourite Nominee: Paul Muni – I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang

Oscar Winner: Clark Gable – It Happened One Night
Favourite Nominee: Clark Gable – It Happened One Night
Best of the Year: Leslie Howard – The Scarlet Pimpernel

Oscar Winner: Victor McLaglen – The Informer
Favourite Nominee: Franchot Tone – Mutiny on the Bounty
Best of the Year: Robert Donat – The 39 Steps

Oscar Winner: Paul Muni – The Story of Louis Pasteur
Favourite Nominee: Gary Cooper – Mr. Deeds Goes To Town
Best of the Year: Gary Cooper – Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

Oscar Winner: Spencer Tracy – Captains Courageous
Favourite Nominee: Charles Boyer – Conquest
Best of the Year: Cary Grant – The Awful Truth

Oscar Winner: Spencer Tracy – Boys Town
Favourite Nominee: James Cagney – Angels with Dirty Faces
Best of the Year: Cary Grant – Bringing Up Baby

Oscar Winner: Robert Donat – Goodbye Mr. Chips
Favourite Nominee: James Stewart – Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Best of the Year: James Stewart – Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Best Overall Year: 1936
Worst Overall Year: 1937

Best Nominated Performance of the Thirties: Paul Muni – I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang
Worst Nominated Performance of the Thirties: Leslie Howard – Berkeley Square

Best Oscar Win: Clark Gable – It Happened One Night
Worst Oscar Win: Spencer Tracy – Boys Town

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Men of the Thirties: 1939

And the Nominees Were:

Robert Donat - Goodbye, Mr. Chips
Clark Gable - Gone With the Wind
Laurence Olivier - Wuthering Heights
Mickey Rooney - Babes in Arms
James Stewart - Mr. Smith Goes To Washington

And the Winner Was:

Robert Donat - Goodbye, Mr. Chips

Gone With the Wind was the film of the year but I'd wager that Gable probably finished third and that the real tussle was between Donat and the nearly-as-saintly Stewart. Gable had won before and Donat was the only other guy previously nominated so probably a pretty standard victory.

My Ratings (in order of preference):-

**** James Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington

By the time Hitchcock's Rope and Ford's Liberty Valance rolled around James Stewart had the composed-logician-turns-dishevelled-activist act down to a tee, but it's none so effective than in Washington. Up against absurd establishmentarianism Stewart presents the ethics of Capra's film about corruption and coporate back-patting with a winningly gritty sense of underdog, palpably shaken by the rigid state of American politics and the apparent helplessness of its broken morality. It's similar to Cooper's turn as Longfellow Deeds, but while Deeds grappled with issues, Stewart's Jefferson Smith knows the issues and is distinctly unfamiliar with the protocol. A stranglehold of a performance, his eventual hair-tearing antics correlate with the assumed stance of the audience but don't undermine them. We're registering with Smith but he isn't such an assured vessel for the film's politics, and his over-eager desire to foist himself upon Washington and make an impression make his initial tentative steps into Senate life feel distinctly infantile.

**** Clark Gable in Gone With the Wind

Rhett Butler is both an elitist and a masogynist; even though his reputation is far from lofty and his success rate with women seems fairly enviable. Clark Gable proved that he was the perfect person to play the cocksure, non-committal Rhett, who believes he's above and beyond the hick mentality simply because he can get away with not doing an awful lot. Gable has to act opposite one of the best performances there's ever been, but don't be fooled. In a handful of scenes (particularly towards the end) the onus is upon him to turn the film's guilty indulgement of Scarlett O'Hara inside out, and give the film the kind of responsibility as an issue-driven melodrama that it very rarely feels the need to display. His drunken, rough seduction of Scarlett is a particular highlight; this man doesn't know how to be in a relationship or display vulnerability, and he sure as hell doesn't get any help from his other half.

** Robert Donat in Goodbye, Mr. Chips

I thought I was going to get away with ending this project without deeming a performance "hammy", and it's especially amusing that the term is not being used to describe one of the host of head-scatching performances by Paul Muni. Instead, the dishonour is bestowed upon Robert Donat, who plays the paternal schoolmaster Mr. Chips from his twenties to old-age and eventual death. Perhaps it's not so much Donat's fault as the off-putting facial hair he must navigate to get a word out? Nevertheless, the film gives him nothing to do but intersperse bits of tired wisdom to teenagers and occasionally well up with emotion at a moment of remeniscence. Points for effort but overall the turn came across as gimmicky and pedestrian.

* Laurence Olivier in Wuthering Heights

Even though I haven't read Bronte's "Wuthering Heights" it's plain to see that Wyler didn't do a great job with it. The film cuts from event to event with very little time for thought, and so one gets the impression that this version is stolidly faithful. Olivier's Heathcliff is by all accounts a brute, but you learn more about him through Merle Oberon's deft performance as Kathy than anything Sir Lawrence does. He lingers in the background of scenes like a neanderthal troll, and his Hunchback routine consists merely of staring at Kathy as if he'd just been deposited on this planet by an alien race. He fails to demonstrate either his feelings for the woman or the motivations of his character's questionable approach to marriage. Is Heathcliff underwritten here or just not done justice?

Unseen Nominees:-

Mickey Rooney in Babes in Arms

The Snubbed:-

**** Cary Grant in Only Angels Have Wings

As the boss of an air force outlet Grant's Geoff Carter reacts to the early death of a colleague quickly, there's no time for grief during war. It soon becomes apparent, however, that Carter has a similar approach to romance, and as Bonnie (Jean Arthur) does everything she can to make him say that he needs her he resists committing to anything but the job in hand. Only Angels Have Wings is of course a comedy (and a good one at that) but it's often sad, and Grant embodies the film's dynamism, screwball, and homage all at once, rousing people at their lowest and then skulking into resignation himself. A tour-de-force that doesn't come across as one, and a telling example of sociological impact of war.

John Wayne in Stagecoach

I have to admit to not much liking John Wayne -- his disarming brashness became a recycled part of his shtick well into the 1970's. At this very early point of his career he perhaps wasn't aware of what he needed to do to get by (the bare minimum for most of his films) and so he gives his character's plucky, reckless protector act a hint of desperation and backstory. If Wayne grew up in Western movies he wasn't quite a loner in 1939, and in Stagecoach his hostility is broader and deeper than a shrug and a trot.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Look Ahead To SAG Ensemble

A quick word on the BAFTA nominations, which were generally pretty predictable, but for the rejection of both the BRITISH Emily Blunt and the BRITISH Helen Mirren, in favour of the IRISH Saoirse Ronan and the FRENCH Audrey Tatou. Fear not, Emily Blunt... in a similarly delapidated 2005 field Keira Knightley managed an Oscar nod despite missing SAG and BAFTA. It could still happen.

This year's SAG ceremony happens tonight, a Saturday. I'm weighing up whether this is a positive move for me or not, given that I'm at work at 6am on Sundays but really didn't wanna drink all weekend. Regardless, you'd expect easy wins for Mo'Nique, Christoph Waltz, and Jeff Bridges, with a Bullock-Streep tussle on the side. I have to concede that I found Sandra Bullock's performance much more impressive than Streep's, but I wouldn't really be disappointed if Meryl won, and I think that neither of them are the best of the five.

Best Acting Ensemble

An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds

With the absence of Up in the Air (surprising) and Avatar (not so surprising) from the SAG Ensemble lineup, it's looking like an open contest. If anybody needs to win this it's probably The Hurt Locker, since it's threatening to become this year's critics darling and not the big contender for Oscars it looked a month ago. Though maybe Nine needs it more, since it looks dead in the water for a Best Picture Oscar nomination and may not even get an Acting nomination since the studio have gone all-out for Marion Cotillard in Lead.

I'd say Inglourious Basterds is the frontrunner due to its Awards Season prominence and big cast, but what of An Education? It has great all-around acting and won't win in any other category. Precious is the most "serious" film (especially in terms of acting).

Deserves To Win: Inglourious Basterds
My Prediction: Inglourious Basterds

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Supporting Actress Blogathon: Ginnifer Goodwin in He's Just Not That Into You

I've wanted to talk about He's Just Not That Into You ever since catching it on DVD (its cinema release was Valentines Day) and so Stinkylulu's annual Supporting Actress Blogathon emerges as the perfect platform to discuss my favourite part about it, the charming Ginnifer Goodwin. If you're hung up on category placement, and view the film as led by narrator and probable screen-time queen Ginnifer, then tough luck. I'm usually quick to accept prominent players as "leading" roles but, as with Inglourious Basterds, He's Just Not That Into You is an obvious ensemble piece, featuring a "Who's Who?" of Hollywood's gossip magazine elite, and thus I class every cast member as supporting the other.

The film's titular lament is a brazen statement, and the entire film seems geared towards warning women of not being too obvious about their need for attention and romance, even as its mere existence as a marketable romantic comedy appears to undermine what its saying, and as it inevitably confirms to women that a happy ending does exist.

Ginnifer Goodwin's Gigi is a hopeless romantic, painfully unsure of how to handle potential love interests, way too rapturous at the idea of having one in the first place, pre-occupied with the stages of development in a relationship and already desperate for the white picket fence and two-point-four children. In meeting Alex (Justin Long) she finds an inside source of information on men and how to tell whether they really like you or not, gladly absorbing his information on body language and flirting, eager to learn and become better at the dating game. Goodwin's early pedanticism is very endearing, and as a representation of the over-thought "What if the one gets away?" approach to romance she is successfully hapless, without coming across as an airhead bimbo, or anything less than remarkably intelligent.

Gigi is familiar with protocol, constantly flirting even in her and Alex's first platonic exchanges, maintaining eye contact and nodding her head slightly to show she's taking in his information, digesting it, and doesn't even think to let him go as a romantic option until her bungled attempt at a seduction ends in heavy admonishment. Goodwin navigates the negative connotations of her character's desire for testosterone, and is refreshingly aware of Gigi's emotional openness and the problems that it poses, promoting it as positive and worthwhile even though it leaves her exposed to hurt. She is responsible for the film's ultimate reverence of romance, indulgent of dating and how it's undeniably fun, even though 95% of it ends in the disappointment of not meeting the person you want to spend the rest of your life with.

In the final scene, she (as with the audience) can see why Alex is standing at her door long before he declares that he "can't stop thinking about her", and yet she almost can't believe it when he tells her. Gigi is so ingrained in the process of hunting down men that she can barely acknowledge obtaining one so easily, and with little-to-no effort, that her reaction registers as uncertain, even fearful. Goodwin's face bursts into life with triumph, but one reckons that again, like the audience, Gigi learns virtually nothing out of her experience, and that she will likely work just as hard and make the same sweet mistakes that she always did as she embarks on her first relationship with a guy just as much into her as she is to him.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Which 2009 Films Need A Repeat Viewing?

It often goes that after I watch a film I consider its merits for a couple of days. On some occasions I know minutes after I've seen it how I feel about it, and how "good" I think it is, but usually at least twenty-four hours rumination is called for. At the end of the year, after 81 films (just 19 left to see) I'm beginning to reflect on grades from earlier in the year and wondering whether they add up. Here are the assessments I'm particularly doubting...

Antichrist (Current Grade: B+): Yeah, does anyone really need to see this again? I don't intend to buy the film so it may be a while until a repeat viewing. Having said that, I'm very curious as to whether it plays out as powerfully visceral as it did first time around.

Broken Embraces (Current Grade: B+): I marvelled at how Almodovar completely took the piss out of his fondness for trashy melodrama and implemented it into what was a thrilling story of a disastrous love affair. Most people I speak to about this have the opinion that it's average Almodovar at best. I don't know whether to take that as a) an indictment of how much the man has built a reputation, b) a matter of the film's soap-opera style appealing to my tastes more than others, or c) a sign that I over-estimated Broken Embraces a little?

Inglourious Basterds (Current Grade: B): Are those three amazing, unendingly tense scenes still enough to deter the obvious incoherence and crazy final act?

Mr. Nobody (Current Grade: A-): I walked out of the Venice screening of Jaco Van Dormael's Mr. Nobody feeling as if I'd witnessed something titanic; a film that said more about the ever-changing nature of space and time than anything I learned in my degree, and simultaneously managed to make its lecture so fluid, visually enticing and luscious. I confess that I eve
n missed the last moments of the film, and my memory of it as a whole becomes much more hazy. It doesn't look as if the film will get a cinema release here, and it so it seems that I will have to wait a few months until the inevitable straight-to-DVD move occurs. A real shame, actually.

Precious (Current Grade: C+): I felt like Precious was adapted and made as if it took everything for granted. It tries to hark back to an era of gritty urbania with the clumsiness of early black teen comedy, but has none of the soul, and with its production heavies behind it the casting of Mo'Nique and Mariah Carey as if they were plucked from an inner city stage school feels particularly disingenuous. As if Daniels' manic, thoughtless direction wasn't bad enough the character of Mary is handled with such narrow-mindedness that ends in a scene that reeked of sell-out. Convince me I'm wrong.

Thoughts on any of these would be appreciated. Also: are there any grades on the sidebar you find suspect? I like to be urged into rewatching things.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Caught in the Post-War Uproar

Crossfire (1947)
Directed by Edward Dmytryk
Starring: Robert Ryan, Gloria Grahame, Tom Keene, George Cooper, Robert Mitchum, William Phipps
Grade: B -

The actual prejudice depicted in Edward Dmytryk's Crossfire is buried underneath production code pandering and post-war guilt, the homophobic motivation of the killer in Richard Brooks' original novel consigned to the back-burner for a more contextually 'relevant' topic. As the aftermath of World War II highlighted the extent to which Jewish people had been persecuted by Hitler's Germany it comes as little surprise that RKO opted for a more socially-unifiable cause for Crossfire, and that the biggest film of 1947 was Elia Kazan's Gentleman's Agreement, an even more relentless study of anti-semitism in American society.

Crossfire's story of religious prejudice is situated within a similarly domestic arrangement, the murder of an American soldier sparking an investigation and the eventual discovery of bigotry and infidelity among the nation's supposed elite. It's interesting that both films target the upper hierarchy, and both feel completely "responsible" for helping its nation handle issues at the top, where it matters. Gentleman's Agreement in particular reveals its burdened sense of responsibility through stuffy, trepidated exchanges; Crossfire's problems arise from not having a complete handle on the subject, understandable given that the book was never about anti-semitism in the first place.

As Gaspar Noe circled around the events of Irreversible with the swooping intent of a hungry vulture, Dmytryk navigates the darkness in his suspect set of characters with a less dizzying but damningly effective fervour, the opening shot of the film a haunting silhouette of a clunking, clumsy murder, succeeded by vignettes of interviews and flashbacks of the kind where you're expecting a wavy transition. Dmytryk doesn't beat around the bush, delivering the noir setup and raising questions, and for the first half it works well. Gloria Grahame in particular delivers a delicious performance as a 'woman of the night'.

At times it feels like a lesser prologue to Welles' Touch of Evil, with its wannabe denseness and evening chaos, but as a mystery/thriller Crossfire has an engaging but hardly rousing plot, and so when it comes to introducing the anti-semitism we're into a distinct anti-climax. The promise of earlier dissipates into a "How will we hoodwink the killer into revealing himself?", (aided considerably by a brilliant turn from Tom Keene as the adamant detective) but the final act flounders with the absence of violence, mystery, and the captivating Grahame. Howard Hawks' Scarface had similar stumbling blocks; Crossfire becomes less impacting and more matter-of-fact when too conscious of delivering its issue, and sadly that plagues the latter half of this otherwise intriguing venture.