Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Green Zone (2010)

Directed by Paul Greengrass
Starring: Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Khalid Abdalla, Brendan Gleeson
Grade: C+

Paul Greengrass' history with the docu-drama style of filmmaking (Bloody Sunday, United 93) is evident in Green Zone, and he's clearly taking steps to distance the project from political-thriller predecessors, placing trusty Bourne action man Matt Damon (Miller) in the centre of the "Green Zone" in question, and maintaining a studious video game shoot-em-up style. While keen to highlight middle-Eastern warfare as sporadic and messy (already demonstrated recently in The Kingdom and The Hurt Locker, to varying degrees of success), he exercises a disquisition of the U.S. government's structural and moral flaws through on-the-ground grit (stakeouts, manhunts etc.) as well as the inevitable bout of boardroom conflict. A more organic, action-oriented way at presenting the politics perhaps, and a signal that he intends Green Zone to back up its legislative critique with credible reconstruction.

The film ultimately suffers because it can't really back itself up, or at least it continually loses relevance as an insight into the logistics of war itself. It isn't really a question of whether Green Zone fulfills its obligation as either a "war movie" or a "political thriller" (or indeed as both), but whether what it endeavours to say is heightened or richened by the perceived inexclusivity of its point-of-view. Journalists, politicians, soldiers, and Generals are all aiming to work towards their form of peace in one way or another, and are clearly all attempting to achieve this in different ways. As an international carousel, the assumption that everyone is working within their own limitations is astute (and surely accurate) but the use of Damon as so traditional a hero is problematic.

Miller is plagued with a lot of responsibility in the narrative; the rational leading man becoming an unwilling rebel, and so the everyman is inevitably going to identify with the soldier regardless, especially since the film's critique of the Iraq War is so sure and scathing. Green Zone is too dependent upon phatic exchanges between forgettable, stilted officials to deliver its message effectively, and Miller's presence as such a standard archetype of masculinity only serves to re-enforce that impression. It's rather like having Tom Hanks save Private Ryan with asides of diplomats lamenting that there aren't enough missionaries, and complaining about the dessimation of large, male-dominated families. A sparely used Iraqi civilian forms a loose fuse between cultures, but he's mainly there to appease, and we learn very little from his character as a whole.

Miller's rebellion isn't quite on the District 9 level of absurdity, but it's difficult to believe that he would be able to exercise as much authority without someone questioning it. Bureaucracy is in the firing line but Green Zone ends up sanctioning the need for it on more than one occasion; not least when the press provides a platform for Miller's final act of resistance. Still, since one knows that the American press would never be able to print such a harsh "truth" anyway, the impact is severely diminished, and the film ends with an anti-climactic sense of underdevelopment.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

What Nora Ephron Left Out

Of all the parallels Julie and Julia presents about cooking, marriage, careers, and heritage, it seems that the marriage element may have been the most interesting after all. In the film the bits of marital conflict feel like a way of creating "necessary drama" amidst all the light and fluffy, but in The Guardian today, Julie Powell herself admits that that was just the tip of the iceberg.

Powell tells of her infidelity while married to husband Eric, and more daringly reveals that she doesn't regret cheating on him. I'm not going to go into the politics of all this (I'm not married, so, yeah) but it does make you wonder about how different a movie Julie and Julia could have been. Could it have been more like Humpday, with Powell cooking a bit of Julia Child's breakfast in bed for her squeeze; or like Closer, with Powell's husband asking what the guy's cum tastes like while they nosh on Duck L'Orange?

It does confirm what I thought was a pretty depressingly narrow depiction of the woman as constantly staving over a hot stove. While it seems as if she's forever cramming to get the project finished it now appears she had time for a little extra-curricular Coq Au Vin. Who'd have thought?

The UK's Official Eurovision Entry

Very "Kids in America" -- at least at the beginning. I don't hate it but I have literally no idea how this will go down in the actual competition.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Addicts 2009: Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Leonie Benesch in Das Weisse Band (The White Ribbon)

The wave of impersonality in The White Ribbon (a feature that plagues the film as much as it benefits it) makes Leonie Benesch's task as an anxious teenager wooed by an older teacher all the more cavalier. Like many of the younger characters Eva navigates Haneke's constrictive, uniform world in a way she thinks is expected of her, wary of the unwritten protocol that limits perspective. The self-empowering aspect of Benesch's Eva is working with the script, but her hunger for change, passion, evolution feels much more evident and desperate (even in its tentativeness) and offers a relatable, humanist approach to independence that's painfully missing elsewhere. Eva does not want to take anything for granted, allaying her suitor's premature attempts at intimacy with sincere regret, and Benesch conveys the shrewdness of her character's small-scale ambition of happiness beautifully.

Ginnifer Goodwin in He's Just Not That Into You

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.

Taken from my Supporting Actress Blogathon post.

Samantha Morton in The Messenger

The reaction of Olivia Pitterson to the loss of her soldier husband is completely different from the response of the grief-stricken "NIK"'s before her, but feels by far the most genuine. That's not to say that Samantha Morton's Olivia doesn't bear anger or bitterness (a later scene puts that theory to bed) but her own feelings about the war are a lot more shadier than most of The Messenger's erratic set of characters. One feels that Olivia had already consigned herself to a widow's life, even as she deters others from following in her late husband's footsteps. Was she against his decision in the first place or did her political stance change like so many others? Morton is rounded and recognisable enough to depict Olivia's ready acceptance of Foster's Will as both natural and unhealthy and becomes one of the most valuable parts of the film.

Rosamund Pike in An Education

Rosamund Pike is saddled with one of the roles pigeon-holed by the hand of Nick Hornby, but rises (not unlike a Phoenix with that fierce blonde mane of hers) from the ashes of mediocrity to create a memorable and solid woman. Helen, attached to Jenny's boyfriend's friend, shows Jenny how to be a socialite without really doing a lot. She seems rather like a bimbo at first, content to sit during an orchestra recital thoroughly bored, even as her face eagerly tries to maintain the dignified grace of high-brow culture. Her lack of interest in this area as a whole opposes Jenny's stance, but it's interesting to see Pike flaunt Helen's ease, wisdom, and knowledge of the social scene, especially as Jenny excels in every other comparative area. You can't teach that.

Blanca Portillo in Los Abrazos Rotos (Broken Embraces)

Portillo has what might be traditionally deemed the "Elsa Lanchester role" as Judit, the business partner and former lover of famous film director Mateo Blanco. But such with Almodovar things aren't always that simple, and it emerges that Judit has enough to be sore at Blanco about, even as she continues to bail him out in the way that women always seem to be able to. Judit's contempt for Mateo (and perhaps men in general) is evident when she pretends to ignore his paranoid auteurial indecision, but there's never any doubt that she reveres Blanco's talent, fuels that talent, and will continue to do so. Portillo creates a rather devastating portrayal of a woman that will settle for emotional connection through the reliability of celluloid (what can be more constant, right?), indicative of Almodovar's reminder that relationships can be superficial and exclusive. The camera lies, and so do we.

Winner: Blanca Portillo
Runner Up: Leonie Benesch

Best of the Rest: Juno Temple seducing her stepbrother in Mr. Nobody, Leslie Mann layering Sandler's sympathetic ex in Funny People, Marion Cotillard in Nine produces the only character work worthy of holding a candle to 8 1/2, Melanie Laurent's ass-kicking Jewish revenge in Inglourious Basterds, and Mo'Nique's excellently-played final scene in Precious.

Other Delights
: Olivia Williams in An Education, Anyone in Whip It!, Alison Janney in Away We Go, Vera Farmiga in Up in the Air, Diane Kruger in Inglourious Basterds, Julianne Moore in A Single Man, Alycia Delmore in Humpday, and Paula Patton in Precious.

Addicts 2009 Commences + Top Ten Films

My 2009 "Addict" awards should hopefully filter through in the next couple of weeks. I didn't finish them last year so this time around I'm going to concentrate on the big categories first. Without further ado, here is my Top Ten of 2009, which is also available on my website.

Top Ten List

1. A Prophet (Jacques Audiard)
2. Bright Star (Jane Campion)
3. Mr. Nobody (Jaco Van Dormael)
4. Anvil! The Story of Anvil! (Sacha Gervasi)
5. In the Loop (Armando Iannucci)
6. 35 Shots of Rum (Claire Denis)
7. Whip It! (Drew Barrymore)
8. Thirst (Chan-wook Park)
9. Drag Me To Hell (Sam Raimi)
10. Broken Embraces (Pedro Almodovar)

If you're wondering where The Hurt Locker or Julia is, they're in my 2008 list, since they were both released somewhere nationwide that year, otherwise they'd both make it. The same goes for Adrift, which hasn't yet been released anywhere.

Next Up: Actress in a Supporting Role

Monday, March 08, 2010

Team Jacob Edward Oscar

Is it me or was the ceremony shorter this year? They seemed to pack so much stuff into last year's production that this all felt very slight, neither terrible nor wonderful. Just, plain. Even the opening musical number didn't work (I managed to make out about three lines of lyric) and the hosts, beyond the amusing introduction, became pretty much redundant as it went on. And speaking of redundant, I like John Hughes as much as the next guy but a lot of people died in 2009, some of which I hold in much higher regard than him. Did he even manage an Oscar nomination? I also reckon I'm more of a horror fan than most but the genre-dedicated montage was the most random, throwaway element of the entire show. It also didn't help that there were ten Best Picture nominees to present, which I suspect is where some of the extra time went, the remainder being given to more advertisers?

The positive changes were the extended clips for the Supporting nominees (even if this didn't transfer to the Leading nominees), and the more patient approach to speeches and timing, even if that seemingly gave Tom Hanks the thankless task of rattling off the Best Picture winner in about five seconds. The friends/colleagues launching into praise about each Leading Actor and Actress nominee initially felt cute with the presence of Michelle Pfeiffer, but I just don't buy this approach to presenting the category. Tradition is sometimes best, and trust me I don't say that very often.

What I really didn't like about this year's Oscar race overall was that the bigger Best Picture field made voters more obligated to include "popular" films, as if there is suddenly a lot of doubt about the Academy's ability to represent contemporary cinema. If you ask me, it's taken a hell of a long time for them to realise this, but the state of contemporary studio productions generally leave a lot to be desired, so I guess the snob in me kind of doesn't want them to lower the traditional bar. You may recall I was hugely upset at the exclusion of The Dark Knight and Wall-E from last year's Best Picture lineup, but there are rarely action and animation films as good as these two. Shouldn't we be encouraging the Academy to nominate quality in whatever form, rather than passable films they assume the public liked? If they hadn't been so hasty in altering the category and voting system then wouldn't the lowering age demographic of the Academy have taken care of old-guard ideas of prestige anyway?

So in the end this year's Academy Awards resulted in the most predictable set of acting winners since 2003's quartet, anointing Jeff Bridges, Sandra Bullock, Christoph Waltz and Mo'Nique. Despite the continued attempts to appeal to a younger audience, anchored by the presence of Zac Efron, Taylor Lautner and co. Best Picture and Director was given to The Hurt Locker, a film that didn't even make $10m at the U.S. Box Office, and who I doubt most teenagers hadn't heard of until this moment. The Hurt Locker is my favourite Best Picture winner since James Cameron made Titanic, one of the greatest films I've ever seen and worthier than Avatar by a country mile.

Here is the full list of winners:

Best Picture: The Hurt Locker
Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Best Actress: Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Best Actor: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Best Foreign Language Film: The Secret in Their Eyes, Argentina
Best Visual Effects: Avatar
Best Original Score: Up
Best Cinematography: Avatar
Best Sound Editing: The Hurt Locker
Best Costume Design: The Young Victoria
Best Art Direction: Avatar
Best Supporting Actress: Mo'Nique, Precious
Best Live Action Short: The New Tenants
Best Makeup: Star Trek
Adapted Screenplay: Geoffrey Fletcher, Up in the Air
Best Animated Short Film: Logorama
Best Documentary Short Subject: Music by Prudence
Best Original Song: "The Weary Kind," Crazy Heart
Best Original Screenplay: The Hurt Locker, Mark Boal
Best Animated Feature: Up
Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, Inglorious Basterds

My Prediction Score: 17/24 (Not bad, huh?)
Plus, I made over £25 betting on The Cove and The Secret of Their Eyes

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Final Oscar Predictions: Part II

Actress in a Supporting Role

Penélope Cruz in Nine
Vera Farmiga in Up in the Air
Maggie Gyllenhaal in Crazy Heart
Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air
Mo'Nique in Precious

My Preference: Mo'Nique
My Prediction: Mo'Nique

This has been done for a long time now. I'm kind of disappointed how this category turned out because Samantha Morton, Melanie Laurent, Julianne Moore, and Marion Cotillard are all better than at least 60% of these women.

Actor in a Supporting Role

Matt Damon in Invictus
Woody Harrelson in The Messenger
Christopher Plummer in The Last Station
Stanley Tucci in The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds

My Preference: Christoph Waltz
My Prediction: Christoph Waltz

Completely deserves to win and I think he's in the right category. I expected more of a rally for Plummer's career honour, but that never really materialised. I suppose a nomination is honour enough.

Actress in a Leading Role

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

My Preference: Carey Mulligan
My Prediction: Sandra Bullock

It seems as if Bullock will win, since The Blind Side gained enough momentum to claim a Best Picture spot, and mostly on the back of her performance. Everyone who voted for it will vote for her, and all the Precious fans will vote Sidibe, which doesn't really leave room for Meryl Streep's third Oscar. Possible fireworks here, though.

Actor in a Leading Role

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

My Preference: Colin Firth
My Prediction: Jeff Bridges

One of those 'Paul Newman in Colour of Money' type wins that nobody really minds, even though you know it's not for the performance. There's usually at least one a year.

Animated Feature Film

Fantastic Mr Fox
The Princess and the Frog
The Secret of Kells

My Preference: Coraline
My Prediction: Up

Pixar won't win the big one, but a nomination there and a win here is hefty reward for a film that was nowhere close to being their best.

Foreign Language Film

Ajami (Israel)
The Milk of Sorrow (Peru)
A Prophet (France)
The Secret of Her Eyes (Argentina)
The White Ribbon (Germany)

My Preference: A Prophet
My Prediction: The Secret of Her Eyes

This category is notoriously unpredictable due to the alternative voting methods. A Prophet and The White Ribbon are films by very reputable filmmakers, but they're both heavy, heavy films, that I'm surprised managed to turn enough people on to get included here anyway. Argentina's The Secret of Her Eyes has been talked about for a while now, and people seemingly like it, so why not?


Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker)
James Cameron (Avatar)
Lee Daniels (Precious)
Jason Reitman (Up in the Air)
Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds)

My Preference: Kathryn Bigelow
My Prediction: Kathryn Bigelow

This has to happen, doesn't it?

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

District 9
An Education
In the Loop
Up in the Air

My Preference: In the Loop
My Prediction: Up in the Air

It's gonna be close between Air and Precious but I reckon they'll hand it to Reitman's film, given that it won't win anything else.

Writing (Original Screenplay)

The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
The Messenger
A Serious Man

My Preference: The Hurt Locker
My Prediction: The Hurt Locker

It could go to Inglourious but I'm not so sure.

Best Picture

The Blind Side
District 9
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
A Serious Man
Up in the Air

My Preference: The Hurt Locker
My Prediction: The Hurt Locker

I have to believe that Locker wins this, because if it loses to Avatar I'm gonna be inconsolable. Outside shot for Inglourious since it's a much easier watch than these two and has become a viable option.

Hottest Track: Wild Beasts - We Still Got the Taste Dancin' On Our Tongues

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Final Oscar Predictions: Part I

Art Direction

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Sherlock Holmes
The Young Victoria

My Prediction: Avatar

At one point it was looking as if Avatar had every Tech award in the bag, but it seems that The Hurt Locker still poses a challenge in that regard. However, the competition for James Cameron's film in this category seems pretty limp. Nothing stands out as a huge feat, and so this should be an easy get.


Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
The White Ribbon

My Prediction: Avatar

This could go to either Ackroyd or Berger, but I suspect that Fiore will take it for Avatar, since it's the "prettiest" and feels the most visual.

Costume Design

Bright Star
Coco Before Chanel
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
The Young Victoria

My Prediction: The Young Victoria

Although I think every other designer in this line-up did a better job than Sandy Powell in 2009 The Young Victoria has come at just the right time to emerge as the British period winner that frequently pops up here.

Documentary Feature

Burma VJ
The Cove
Food, Inc
The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers
Which Way Home

My Prediction: The Cove

It's March of the Penguins all over again. How can you compete with the cute dolphins? Regardless of that, The Cove is pretty devastatingly effective when it wants to be and will complete its sweep on Sunday.

Documentary (Short Subject)

China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province
The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner
The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant
Music by Prudence
Rabbit à la Berlin

My Prediction: China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province

I've found it's best to go for the most sympathetic, humanist option in this category. The tears have me sold.

Film Editing

District 9
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds

My Prediction: The Hurt Locker

Again this seems like a battle between the "big two", but The Hurt Locker's editing is much more frantic and obvious so I reckon it's got the upper hand.


Il Divo
Star Trek
The Young Victoria

My Prediction: Il Divo

There isn't really an obvious winner in this category so I'm going to go for Il Divo. Its cosmetics clearly has admirers so why not?

Music (Original Score)

Fantastic Mr Fox
The Hurt Locker
Sherlock Holmes

My Prediction: Up

Tough call since The Hurt Locker's surprise inclusion here. Giacchino's seems much cuter, and there's no other obvious winner so he could coast through to a win based on the love for Wall-E last year.

Music (Original Song)

Almost There, The Princess and the Frog
Down in New Orleans, The Princess and the Frog
Loin de Paname, Paris 36
Take It All, Nine
The Weary Kind, Crazy Heart

My Prediction: The Weary Kind, Crazy Heart

It could be the Paris 36 song, but I'm still thinking this.

Short Film (Animated)

French Roast
Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty
The Lady and the Reaper
A Matter of Loaf and Death

My Prediction: A Matter of Loaf and Death

They love Wallace and Gromit.

Short Film (Live Action)

The Door
Instead of Abracadabra
Miracle Fish
The New Tenants

My Prediction: The Door

About a woman grieving for her dead daughter.

Sound Editing

The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Star Trek

My Prediction: Avatar


Sound Mixing

The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Star Trek
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

My Prediction: Avatar


Visual Effects

District 9
Star Trek

My Prediction: Avatar