Thursday, January 27, 2011

Los Angelses Kings January Recap

Overall Record: 27-22-1
Month Record: 5-8-0
Division Rank: 5
Conference Rank: 11
Goals For: 138 (Rank13)
Goals Against: 124 (Rank 8)
Powerplay: 31 for 184 (16.8%, Rank 20)
Penalty Kill: 148 for 179 (82.7%, Rank 12)
Scoring Leaders: Anze Kopitar (16-33-49), Justin Williams (18-21-39), Dustin Brown (17-20-37), Ryan Smyth (19-14-33), Jack Johnson (4-29-33), Jarret Stoll (14-18-32), Drew Doughty (4-22-26).
Goaltender Stats: Jonathan Quick (22-14-1, 2.15 GAA, .920 SVG). Jonathan Bernier (5-8-0, 3.08 GAA, .893 SVG).

Overall: In January, the King continued their inconsistent play that has haunted them all season. It seems like at any given moment, the Kings are either one of the best teams in the league – like in their first 15 games where they went 12-3 – or one of the worst teams – like the stretch from late December to late January where they went 2-10 – before recovering and winning their last three games of the month. The Kings seem to have the talent and the work ethic to compete with anyone in the league – but it doesn’t show up every night. The offense is the main culprit, the anemic powerplay not helping anything – but the truth is the Kings need to find a way to win consistently. Even though they are currently last in their division, and 11th in the Conference, the season is far from over. They are actually tied in points with the 10th place team (Minnesota) just one point back of the teams from 7-9 (Chicago, San Jose and Colorado), four points back from 6th (Phoenix) and five points back of 4th and 5th (Nashville and Anaheim). Yes, it appears like the division leading Dallas Stars are out of reach for now (10 points up), and the Kings are just one point up on the surging Flames, and four points clear of Columbus and St. Louis, but the Kings destiny is really in their hands with 32 games to go. They play solid, consistent hockey for the entire rest of the season, and avoid another losing streak, and the Kings can not only make the playoffs, but perhaps even improve on the 6th place finish last year. If they don’t however, they could drop as low as 14th in the Conference. This is how close things are in the West.

Injuries: Currently, only Marco Sturm and Scott Parse are out of the lineup with injuries. Sturm has a minor knee problem, and should probably be back after the All Star break. Parse, who has been out most of the year, probably won’t be back until late February.

Offense: The Kings problem is January was mainly offense. They got shutout twice, and managed only 1 goal in several other games. Most of their losses were scores like 2-1 or 3-2, where the Kings struggled to find the back of the net. The Kings really need their best players to start producing – Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown only had one goal apiece in the month of January, which is simply not good enough. Justin Williams only managed three. Most of the heavy lifting was done by Jarret Stoll and Ryan Smuth, so if they can keep things going, and Kopitar, Brown and Williams step up to where they were in December, the Kings should be okay.

Defense: In terms of Defense, the Kings have been fairly good this past month. It certainly helped them when Willie Mitchell came back, and became a calming influence on the back end. Drew Doughty has become the Doughty we remember from last year – great in his own zone, but also a legitimate offensive threat. Jack Johnson continues to improve his game and has become solid in his own zone. Scuderi is still probably the most consistent Kings blue liner, and Matt Greene has been solid as well. Alec Martinez continues a strong rookie season – meaning I think Davis Drewiskie’s days with the Kings are numbered. In short, defense was not the problem in the month of January.

Goaltending: Jonathan Quick has always been capable of being one of the best goalies in the entire NHL – and his stats this year prove it, as he is in the top 5 for all major categories. He still, I think, has some confidence issues though, and can be shaken after a bad game or a bad goal. For the most part though, Quick was solid for the Kings – and sometimes downright brilliant in net for the Kings. When you lose 2-1 and both goals come on the powerplay, you really cannot blame the goalie can you? Jonathan Bernier, I think, has shown steady progression all year, even if it doesn’t always show up on the stats sheet. If the Kings need to provide more goal support to Quick, they really need to do the same for Bernier. Once again, it was not goaltending that was the problem when the Kings were losing.

Powerplay: The Kings powerplay was downright horrid in the month of January – going 5 for 40, which is about 12%. This included an awful game against Phoenix where the Kings lost 2-0 and went 0-6 with the man advantage. At times the Kings powerplay looks solid – like they just cannot catch a break as they are cycling the puck well, getting quality chances, but not having the bounces go their way. But more often than not, they aren’t even getting set up and cannot gain the zone. If the Kings want to start scoring, they need to get the powerplay rolling. They are now in the bottom third of the league in terms of Power Play efficiency, and they need to bring that up.

Penalty Kill: I mentioned last month that the Kings Penalty Kill has been very Jekyll and Hyde this year, and that remains the case. In some games, they let the opposition net two or more Powerplay markers, and then in the final game of the month they are able to effortlessly kill off a four minute double minor with 6 minutes to go in a tied hockey game against San Jose, who have any number of players who can burn you. Like with the team itself, the Penalty Kill needs to become more consistent.

Looking Ahead: The Kings season probably hinges on the 10 game road trip they have to start the month of February. Important games against Minnesota, Edmonton and Calgary are followed by a tour of the Eastern Conference with stops in Pittsburgh, Washington, Philadelphia and both New York teams (the final five games the Kings have against Eastern Conference opponents this season), with Columbus and Anaheim thrown into the mix as well. If the Kings have a great road trip – 7-3 or better – then they will most likely be in a playoff spot and looking up – if they have a bad road trip 3-7 or worse – they can probably write off this season, and if they play somewhere in between, then they’ll stay right where they are. The big question right now is whether or not GM Dean Lombardi decides to make a trade or stand pat. We’ve known for two seasons now that Anze Kopitar desperately needs a scoring left winger to play alongside, as the Kings have tried everyone you can think of in that slot and it hasn’t really worked yet. If an opportunity opens up, Lombardi will have to seriously consider it – even if that means giving up someone he doesn’t want to. But Lombardi is not the boldest of GMs – he believes in building through the draft and adding a piece of two here and there, and it has done the Kings well. So while I think Lombardi will be looking to improve the team, I’m not holding my breath.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Movie Review: The Company Men

The Company Men ***
Directed by:
John Wells.
Written by: John Wells.
Starring: Ben Affleck (Bobby Walker), Tommy Lee Jones (Gene McClary), Chris Cooper (Phil Woodward), Rosemarie DeWitt (Maggie Walker), Kevin Costner (Jack Dolan), Craig T. Nelson (James Salinger), Maria Bello (Sally Wilcox), Anthony O'Leary (Drew), Eamonn Walker (Danny).

Corporations today are built to make money for the stockholders. Employees are little more than an expense line on the income statement that can be cut adrift as when the company needs to bolster its bottom line. Executives would never think of cutting their own salaries and bonuses - even though study after study show that the CEOs of major corporations make several hundred times more than most of their employees. It doesn’t matter to them when they fire hundreds or thousands of their employees - they don’t even know them.

The Company Men brings this reality home by focusing on a major corporation run by CEO James Salinger (Craig T. Nelson), who needs to get the stock price up to try and prevent a corporate takeover. In order to do that, he fires many of his employees - including Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck), a salesman for the company making a hell of a lot of money. But he spends a lot of money as well. The company graciously offers to pay for 4 months at the employee placement facility. He thinks that with his MBA, and his experience, he’ll get a job quickly- but then he realizes that there are a lot of MBA’s out there - many of them younger, with no family tying them down, who are willing to work longer hours, travel more for less money. If there is little market for Bobby, then there is almost no market for his co-worker Phil (Chris Cooper) - who worked his way up from the factory floor, has no degree, and is pushing 60. Not even Salinger’s best friend Gene (Tommy Lee Jones) is immune to downsizing - although he has his millions of stock options to fall back on - whose biggest flaw seems to be that he thinks that the company owes some loyalty to the people who helped build it. It contrasts this world with the world of Jack Dolan (Kevin Costner), Bobby’s brother in law who runs his own contracting company, and is willing to lose a little money if it keeps his employees working.

The Company Men effectively dramatizes a situation that is all too common in today’s world. The economy is still in a recession, and one of the reasons why is because of situations like this. It is hard for the economy to recover when companies fire their employees, ensuring that they have no money to spend on the products they make.

The acting in the movie is effective. Ben Affleck seems to have found his groove as he has grown older - he doesn’t try as hard, and is more relaxed and is effective as an everyman. Chris Cooper channels his rage into his character, but remains sympathetic throughout. Tommy Lee Jones is excellent as the conflicted executive. Kevin Costner is effectively blue collar, even if he tries to hard to nail the Boston accent. And Rosemarie Dewitt, so good in Rachel Getting Married a few years ago, is quite good as Affleck’s wife. The rest of the cast is pretty much wasted- it saddens me to see an actress of Maria Bello’s caliber reduced to the sort of non-role she plays here.

But what keeps The Company Men from being a great film is that none of these characters are all that complex - they are defined early in the film, and never really change all that much. They remain types - effective types in most circumstances, and certainly useful for Wells to make his point, but not all that interesting apart from their roles in the film.

The Company Men is still a good film. It is one of the few dramatic films I can think of that actually tries to dramatize the current financial crisis - to put a human face on it if you will. And for that, it deserves praise.

Movie Review: The Way Back

The Way Back ***
Directed by:
Peter Weir.
Written By: Keith R. Clarke & Peter Weir based on the book by Slavomir Rawicz.
Starring: Jim Sturgess (Janusz), Colin Farrell (Valka), Ed Harris (Mr. Smith), Saoirse Ronan (Irena), Dragos Bucur (Zoran), Alexandru Potocean (Tomasz), Gustaf Skarsgård (Voss), Mark Strong (Khabarov), Sebastian Urzendowsky (Kazik), Igor Gnezdilov (Bohdan).

Peter Weir’s The Way Back is the type of old school, Hollywood epic that Hollywood has all but forgotten how to make. You can easily imagine David Lean doing this movie 50 years ago, and it having the same sort of feel as his films The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago or A Passage to India. It is the inspiring true life story (all the true part of that has come into question) about a group of men who escape from a Siberian prison in 1939, and make their way to India, through brutal winter conditions, and freedom.

The movie opens with an intense scene where a Polish man named Janusz (Jim Sturgess) is being questioned by the Soviet police. They tell him that they have information that he is a spy, and an enemy to the state. He denies this – and then they bring in their witness against him – his own wife. He is found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in prison. It isn’t long before he gets the lay of the land in jail – and makes a few friends. He doesn’t want to rot in prison for two decades – he feels he will never survive it. And soon Janusz, along with an American named Mr. Smith (Ed Harris), a Russian gangster running from creditors named Valka (Colin Farrell) and a few of Janusz’s Polish friends. Zoran (Dragos Bucur), Tomasz (Alexandru Potocean) and Voss (Gustaf Skarsgard) make a break for it. They find themselves in the harsh Siberian wilderness during winter – and it quickly becomes clear that not all of them will survive.

This is a story full of triumph of the human spirit, and that works to a certain extent. I feel the movie could have made its characters a little more complex – they remain cookie cutter characters for most of the films running time. If they cast wasn’t so strong, it would have been hard to tell the characters apart. Jim Sturgess is fine in the lead role – a little bland perhaps, but sometimes you need a bland character at the heart of your movie to keep it grounded. Much better is Colin Farrell, doing a wonderfully comic Russian accent (without going over the top into Natasha and Boris territory) and Ed Harris, as the stoic and mainly silent Mr. Smith. A welcome addition to the cast is added along the way with Irena (Saorise Ronan), who kind of acts as a go between all these strong, mainly silent men. Without her, we probably wouldn’t get to know the characters at all. Like Farrell, the movie misses her when she is not on screen.

The filmmaking by Weir is impeccable – that much should pretty much go without saying given Weir’s track record. It has been 8 long years since he got behind the camera and made perhaps his best film – Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. This film doesn’t reach those heights, but it has the same sort of old school Hollywood film that I found kind of refreshing. It’s odd how things work – during the 1960s, these Goliath old school epics felt too old fashioned for the new Hollywood. Now, they feel like a refreshing throwback to an era that Hollywood has forgotten. The more things change, the more they stay the same I guess.

I admired The Way Back more than I actually loved it. It is true that the characters who are not played by movie stars start to blend together during the course of the journey – they really aren’t well defined, and I think had all the characters been played by unknown actors; the film may have become hopelessly muddled. Yet, watching the film on the big screen is perhaps the only way to get the enormity of the undertaking – not just of the film, but the journey itself. If you want to see the movie, I implore you not to wait for the DVD because the majesty of the vistas will be lost on the small screen. Overall, despite my problems with The Way Back, I feel it is an excellent example of the type of film Hollywood no longer makes – and in that regard it made me a little sad that the film wasn’t just a little bit better.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Oscar Nominations

The Oscar nominations were announced earlier today, and a few surprises excepted, they were pretty much what I expected. I went a total of 86/105 in my predictions, which is 82% which I am happy with, as when you get to the below the line categories, it can be tough to predict the nominees. In the major categories, I went 10/10 for Best Picture (my gut feeling about sticking with Winter's Bone turned out to be correct), 4/5 for Director (shocked that Nolan didn't get in, but not shocked by who did), 4/5 for actor (truly shocked that Bardem got in, which means I will have to wait unitl Biutiful is released to do my final year end report), 5/5 for Actress, 4/5 for Supporting Actor (disappointed that none of The Social Network gang got in there, but happy for John Hawkes just the same), 5/5 for Supporting Actress, 5/5 for Adapted Screenplay and 4/5 for Original Screenply (The Fighter's nomination and Black Swan's snub here surprised me).

Out of the feature nominees, I have seen all but 4 of the Foreign Language nominees. I should be able to see Incendies, from Canada, this weekend and will see Biutiful when it is released. When I get a chance to see Outside the Law or In a Better World remains to be seen. All of them will have a tough time beating out the one film I have seen though - Dogtooth - which surprised and delighted me by getting a nomination this morning. I will also try and see the Shorts nominated - Animated and Live Action usually not being a problem, but Documentary not easy to see at all.

Closer to the ceremony, I will do my winner predictions, which get quite involved.

Anyway, here are the nominees.

Best Picture
Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King's Speech
127 Hours
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone

Best Director
Darren Aronofky, Black Swan
Joel & Ethan Coen, True Grit
David Fincher, The Social Network
Tom Hooper, The King's Speech
David O. Russell, The Fighter

Best Actor
Javier Bardem in "Biutiful"
Jeff Bridges in "True Grit"
Jesse Eisenberg in "The Social Network"
Colin Firth in "The King's Speech"
James Franco in "127 Hours"

Best Actress
Annette Bening in "The Kids Are All Right"
Nicole Kidman in "Rabbit Hole"
Jennifer Lawrence in "Winter's Bone"
Natalie Portman in "Black Swan"
Michelle Williams in "Blue Valentine"

Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale in "The Fighter"
John Hawkes in "Winter's Bone"
Jeremy Renner in "The Town"
Mark Ruffalo in "The Kids Are All Right"
Geoffrey Rush in "The King's Speech"

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams in "The Fighter"
Helena Bonham Carter in "The King's Speech"
Melissa Leo in "The Fighter"
Hailee Steinfeld in "True Grit"
Jacki Weaver in "Animal Kingdom"

Adapted screenplay
127 Hours - Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy
The Social Network - Aaron Sorkin
Toy Story 3 - Michael Arndt
True Grit - Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
Winter's Bone - Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini

Original Screenplay
Another Year - Mike Leigh
The Fighter - Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson. S
Inception - Christopher Nolan
The Kids Are All Right - Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg
The King's Speech - David Seidler

Best Animated Film
How to Train Your Dragon
The Illusionist
Toy Story 3

Best Documentary
Exit through the Gift Shop
Inside Job
Waste Land

Best Foreign Language Film
Biutiful - Mexico
Dogtooth - Greece
In a Better World- Denmark
Incendies - Canada
Outside the Law - Algeria

Black Swan - Matthew Libatique
Inception - Wally Pfister
The King's Speech - Danny Cohen
The Social Network - Jeff Cronenweth
True Grit - Roger Deakins

Art Direction
Alice in Wonderland
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
The King's Speech
True Grit

Costume Design
Alice in Wonderland
I Am Love
The King's Speech
The Tempest
True Grit

Film Editing
Black Swan
The Fighter
The King's Speech
127 Hours
The Social Network

Barney’s Version
The Way Back
The Wolfman

Original Score
How to Train Your Dragon - John Powell
Inception - Hans Zimmer
The King's Speech - Alexandre Desplat
127 Hours - A.R. Rahman
The Social Network - Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

Original Song
Country Strong - Coming Home
127 Hours - If I Rise
Tangled - I See the Light
Toy Story 3 - We Belong Together

Sound Editing
Toy Story 3
Tron: Legacy
True Grit

Sound Mixing
The King's Speech
The Social Network
True Grit

Visual Effects
Alice in Wonderland
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
Iron Man 2

Best Documentary Short
Killing in the Name
Poster Girl
Strangers No More
Sun Come Up
The Warriors of Qiugang

Best Animated Short
Day & Night
The Gruffalo
Let's Pollute
The Lost Thing
Madagascar, a Journey Diary

Best Live Action Short
The Confession
The Crush
God of Love
Na Wewe
Wish 143

Monday, January 24, 2011

Movie Review: The Illusionist

The Illusionist *** ½
Directed by:
Sylvain Chomet
Written By: Sylvain Chomet & Jacques Tati.
Starring: Jean-Claude Donda (The Illusionist), Eilidh Rankin (Alice).

It was only during the past year that I discovered the joy of the films of French director Jacques Tati. He was a director born a little too late – he had the soul of a silent cinema clown, perhaps a little more Chaplin than Keaton, but in the same league as both. His films, starring himself as the delightfully clueless Mr. Hulot, were masterworks of physical comedy, but also had a rather sad soul – the feeling that Mr. Hulot was being left behind. Somehow director Sylvain Chomet, who made the wonderful The Triplets of Belleville a few years ago, got his hands on an unproduced screenplay by Jacques Tati, and decided to adapt it for an animated film. This choice was inspired, and the only real way to do the film without Tati – there is no actor out there now who could do Tati better than he could. The Illusionist is a remarkable film in that it combines the work of these two great filmmakers into one film that is pretty much seamless.

The film is about an Illusionist, a magician if you prefer, in the late 1950s. The days of vaudeville, when he was a star, are long gone, but he still dutifully travels the circuit, playing to smaller and smaller crowds, who would rather see rock groups then his classic tricks. His travels take him to Scotland, where the drunken crowd seems to love him. He ends up travelling with a young woman named Alice – nothing romantic mind you, but she wants out of her small town life, and he wants a companion that won’t bite him like his uncooperative rabbit does. They are two lost souls who connect, if only briefly.

The film is full of little moments of humor and humanity. That damn rabbit, who is always getting into trouble by jumping out of the hat at the wrong time. A wonderful sequence where the illusionist takes a job as a mechanic on the night shift to try and make ends meet – but proves himself woefully inept at it. The looks exchanged between him and Alice – and later between Alice and a young man her own age, as she grows away from the illusionist. And the sad sequence where the illusionist has to perform his act in a store window, as a means to sell perfume.

The animation by Chomet is wonderful at every turn. The Illusionist really does look like Tati, and moves like him as well. You cannot mistake Tati’s movements for anyone else’s – just like you cannot mistake Chaplin’s or Keaton’s. Tati was a fully formed comic persona, and this movie does him proud. But it is also perhaps a little more sad that Hulot’s films – the Illusionist is not Mr. Hulot, who was clueless to his surroundings most of the time. The Illusionist here is all too aware of what is going on – but seems powerless to stop it.

The ending of the film is really where it all comes together. There is a sequence after the characters leave the story, of just buildings – old theaters as they shut down, and this is a quietly brilliant moment, a stretch of film that regretfully shows the passing of an era never to be heard from again. It is a brilliant moment.

If at the end of the day I do not feel that the film is quite as good as Tati’s work – or The Triplets of Belleville for that matter, it is perhaps because as a strange amalgam of the two director’s style, it lacks a little bit of the originality of both. Watching the film, I wondered at times what Tati would have done with the material – what touches he would have brought both in his direction and his acting. As well, I kept wondering what the film would have been like if Chomet hadn’t decided to make it slightly more in Tati’s style – the strange shapes, the surreal characters of his first feature are lacking through much of the film (although I love the impossibly skinny singer at the beginning of the film).

But that is a minor complaint to what I think is an excellent film. Chomet and Tati have collaborated in a strange way here – without one of them even knowing it (Tati died in 1982). The result is a film that neither would have made the same way without the other. And it is certainly one of the best animated films of the year.

Razzie Nominations

Every year on the day before the Oscars, the Razzies come out with their list of the worst of the year - the anti-Oscars, I guess as a way of deflating the egos in Hollywood, and to remind the world that they make a lot of crap. Below is this years nominations, with selected commentary.

Worst Picture
The Bounty Hunter
The Last Airbender
Sex and the City 2
Twilight Saga: Eclipse
Vampires Suck

I thankfully missed Vampires Suck, but did catch the other 4 nominees - The Bounty Hunter, Sex and City 2 and The Last Airbender pretty much deserved their nominations here. But, and I cannot believe I'm going to type this but apparently I am, I didn't think The Twilight Saga: Eclipse deserves to be here. It was far and away the best of the films so far (faint praise I know), so while I think the series is still way overhyped, I can think of many worse movies this year than that one.

Worst Director
Sylvester Stallone, The Expendables
M. Night Shyamalan, The Last Airbender
Michael Patrick King, Sex and the City 2
David Slade, Twilight Saga: Eclipse
Jason Friedberg & Aaron Seltzer, Vampires Suck

Stallone's direction on The Expendables was as good as can be expected and doesn't deserve to be here - and neither does David Slade's work on The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, as he really did do a better job than the material deserved. I may also even pick at M. Night Shyamalan's inclusion, as I think it was the horrible 3-D that really made that film unwatchable. Michael Patrick King deserves this one though.

Worst Actor
Jack Black, Gulliver’s Travels
Gerard Butler, The Bounty Hunter
Ashton Kutcher, Killers and Valentine’s Day
Taylor Lautner, Twilight Saga: Eclipse and Valentine’s Day
Robert Pattinson, Remember Me and Twilight Saga: Eclipse

I really don't like Gerald Butler, so I would have included him as well, and Robert Pattinson deserves to be here for Remember Me, and Taylor Lautner still has zero talent in The Twlight movies, and was braindead in Valentine's Day. I didn't see Killers, but Ashton Kutcher wasn't awful in Valentine's Day - he just had awful material. And Jack Black tried really, really hard to make Gulliver's Travels work.

Worst Actress
Jennifer Aniston, The Bounty Hunter and The Switch
Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon and Sarah Jessica Parker, Sex and the City 2″
Miley Cyrus, The Last Song
Megan Fox, Jonah Hex
Kristen Stewart, Twilight Saga: Eclipse

Jennifer Aniston deserves to be here for The Bounty Hunter - although since I didn't see The Switch I can't say about that one. The four Sex and the City Girls deserve their spot as well. The other three though, I don't know. Miley Cyrus wasn't horrible in The Last Song - she did precisely what she should have in that movie. Megan Fox was completely undone by the godawful screenplay and direction in Jonah Hex. And I continue to believe that without Kristen Stewart, The Twilight movies my have been unwatchable.

Worst Supporting Actor
Billy Ray Cyrus, The Spy Next Door
George Lopez, Marmaduke, The Spy Next Door and Valentine’s Day
Dev Patel, The Last Airbender
Jackson Rathbone, The Last Airbender and Twilight Saga: Eclipse
Rob Schneider, Grown Ups

I cannot comment on Billy Ray in The Spy Next Door, not George Lopez in that film or Marmaduke - but I didn't think he was THAT horrible in Valentine's Day. Dev Patel certainly earned this award for The Last Airbender though, as did Jackson Rathborne (or staring guy to my wife because all he does in the Twlight films is stare at the camera with a blank look on his face) and Rob Schneider for Grown Ups.

Worst Supporting Actress
Jessica Alba, The Killer Inside Me, Little Fockers, Machete and Valentine’s Day
Cher, Burlesque
Liza Minnelli, Sex and the City 2
Nicola Peltz, The Last Airbender
Barbra Streisand, Little Fockers

Jessica Alba was not awful in The Killer Inside Me or Machete, and tried her damnedest in Little Fockers - but she really did suck in Valentine's Day. Nicola Peltz really added nothing to Thet Last Airbender. But now, and I cannot believe I am going to do this, I must defend Cher, Liza Minelli and Barbra Streisand - Minelli and Streisand because they aren't in their movies enough to be truly annoying, and Cher because no one could have made the dialogue she had to work with in Burlesque bearable.

Worst Screenplay
The Last Airbender
Little Fockers
Sex and the City 2
Twilight Saga: Eclipse
Vampires Suck

I really cannot defend most of the work in this category, as it really does all suck. But I will say I don't think I would have nominated Twilight because, to quote Reverand Lovejoy they "did the best they could with the material provided".

Worst Screen Couple/Ensemble
Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler, The Bounty Hunter
Josh Brolin and Megan Fox, Jonah Hex
The cast of The Last Airbender
The cast of Sex and the City 2
The cast of Twilight Saga: Eclipse

Aniston and Butler yes, Brolin and Fox yes, the cast of the Last Airbender, yes, the cast of Sex and the City 2 yes, and overall the cast of Twilight yes. They nailed this category.

Worst Prequel, Remake, Rip-off or Sequel
Clash of the Titans
The Last Airbender
Sex and the City 2
Twilight Saga: Eclipse
Vampires Suck

I'm amazed that Clash of the Titans didn't get more nominations this year, and it deserved them. The Last Airbender truly did ruin a great Saturday morning cartoon show, Sex and the City 2 killed a hugely popular franchise. As for Twilight, again it wouldn't here. It was the best of the series so far, so while it still wasn't a very good movie, I can't say I'd put it here.

Worst Eye-Gouging Misuse of 3D
Cats and Dogs 2: The Revenge of Kitty Galore
Clash of the Titans
The Last Airbender
Nutcracker 3D
Saw 3D

A great new category - and while I only saw two of the nominees - Clash of the Titans and The Last Airbender, they deserved to be here.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Final Oscar Nominations Predictions

The Academy will release its Oscar nominations next Tuesday, so it really comes down to this. Pretty soon, we’ll forget who won what awards earlier in the season, because the truth of the matter is this – the only one that really matters is the Oscars. Sure, it’s nice to win the other awards, but I think most people who trade a Golden Globe win for an Oscar nomination. It just means more. I put more thought and effort into the main categories – Picture, Director, Acting and Writing – then the others, because honestly, sometimes those ones can be impossible to predict until they come out.

Anyway, here is how I see things shaking out.

Best Picture
I feel quite confident that the top 9 year are going to make the cut this year. The real question is whether #10 or the 11th Man makes it in – I go back and forth nearly every day, so perhaps you’re best just to flip a coin.

1. The Social Network – Has been locked since it was released in October, and has kept the heat all season. Is desperately waiting for Phase 2 to begin to try and push for the win.
2. The King’s Speech - Perhaps the most widely liked film in the competition – the passion isn’t quite there, but it seems impossible that it misses.
3. Toy Story 3 – Has taken taken over what is now known as the Pixar slot in the era of 10 nominees. Huge hit, financially and critically, they’d look dumb not to nominate it.
4. The Fighter – Is settling in nicely for the studio, who will push hard for some acting wins, but I’m not sure they’ll try to win here – the nomination will be nice.
5. Black Swan – The people who love it, really really love it and that will make up for all the haters in the nominating round.
6. Inception – Christopher Nolan is partly responsible for getting the Academy to move to 10 nominees because they looked like idiots not nominating The Dark Knight. Two years later, they will not overlook him again.
7. True Grit – I am truly surprised how much this film has been embraced by audiences – a true hit film. The critics love it as well, so it gets in.
8. The Kids Are All Right – They need an indie film in here somewhere, and The Kids Are All Right feels like the safe choice here – liberal Hollywood can pat themselves on the back.
9. 127 Hours – Has turned many people off from even seeing it because they know what is coming. Those who have seen it like it through, so I think it sneaks into the top 10.
10. Winter’s Bone – I think the Academy is going to go with this film – they already have enough audience friendly genre pieces, but I think they’ll want to add another indie to the mix.
The 11th Man: The Town – Everyone likes The Town – I’m just not sure enough people really, truly love it enough to get it into the top 10.
Dark Horse: Blue Valentine – The Oscar campaign started slow, but has been building. If they’ve convinced enough people to watch it, perhaps it slides up.

Best Director
I really do think the top 4 are all but locked, but I have a feeling I could easily be wrong about number 5 – and that perhaps some real long shot – like Mike Leigh, Derek Cianfrance or Martin Scorsese somehow pulls off a nomination. It’s been that kind of year.

1. David Fincher, The Social Network – Fincher has been your frontrunner all season, and he remains firmly planted in the lead. Just waiting for Phase 2 to start so he can lock in the win.
2. Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan – The people who love Black Swan, really love, and it is a director’s showcase, from a filmmaker who has come close but never broken through with the Academy before.
3. Christopher Nolan, Inception – They must feel silly about not nominating The Dark Knight, and I do not believe they will make the same mistake twice.
4. Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech – Has surprised me as he has consistently showed up all season for a film I thought the directors may not embrace. Looking solid right now though.
5. Joel & Ethan Coen, True Grit – When choosing between well loved filmmakers who have won before and a blowhard trying to make amends, picked the well loved past winners.
The 6th Man: David O. Russell, The Fighter – His reputation hurts him a little, but could easily move up and supplant the Coens or even Hooper.
Dark Horse: Debra Granik, Winter’s Bone – They gave a woman the Oscar last year, so why not nominate another one?

Best Actor
You can count on the top 4, and I feel very strongly that my number 5 is correct – although I felt just as strongly about my number 5 a month ago, and it was someone different.

1. Colin Firth, The King’s Speech- Was dutiful and gracious last year, showing up everywhere even when he knew he was losing for A Single Man. He paid his dues, he gets the win this year most likely, so a nomination is assured.
2. Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network – Has been a constant presence all season, and could become a real threat to upset if they push for it.
3. James Franco, 127 Hours – The one aspect constantly praised about 127 Hours is him – hosting will kill his chances to win though.
4. Jeff Bridges, True Grit – Last year’s victor is back and delivers one of the most enjoyable, memorable performances of the year. An easy nomination.
5. Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine – Going with my gut on this one. It seems to be gaining steam at the right time, and may easily get him into the race. He is a past nominee and that helps.
The 6th Man: Robert Duvall, Get Low – Has had a scattershot awards season – hitting and missing just about as often. The film has not really been embraced though, and he’s running a long distance race. I don’t think he squeezes in.
Dark Horse: Javier Bardem, Biutiful – Is probably really pissed at the studio, who have completely tanked his campaign this year – or would if he truly cared, and I’m not sure he does.

Best Actress
Unless there is an upset on the horizon, I feel secure in calling these five. Who else are they really going to go with – unless of course they take it on themselves and move Hailee Steinfeld here where she belongs.

1. Natalie Portman, Black Swan – Has been the one constant all season long. She even gets credit from those who hate the film.
2. Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right – A veteran working on her fourth nomination now – great, subtle work here.
3. Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone – The breakthrough star of the season, Lawrence has moved into locked status at this point.
4. Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole – The film has stumbled along the way for some reason, but Kidman’s presence has been there in practically every major award. It has been a while for the Academy favorite.
5. Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine – The film is gaining steam, and she truly is the heart and soul of the movie – unless they do not see it, she gets in.
The 6th Man: Lesley Manville, Another Year – Was once considered a lock, but has fallen on tough times this awards season. Perhaps she can break through – either here or in supporting.
Dark Horse: Julianne Moore, The Kids Are All Right – If the voters don’t bother to watch smaller films like Rabbit Hole, Blue Valentine or Another Year, who else can they vote for?

Best Supporting Actor
To me, this category seems to be waiting for a shocking inclusion this year, as it is far and away the weakest of the categories, and outside the top 2, no one has shown up with enough consistency this season to be called a lock. May we see a double nom for The Social Network, or at least a different actor from that film move up?

1. Christian Bale, The Fighter – With Batman he has become one of the biggest stars in the world – and they are always impressed with drug addicts and physical transformations, so I think Bale is your frontrunner – an easy nomination no doubt.
2. Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech – They truly do love Rush – even when they don’t love his film as much, and they really love The King’s Speech, so this is easy.
3. Andrew Garfield, The Social Network – The one character in the movie that you can actually feel sympathy towards for the entire film. He is also having a breakout year, so he looks solid.
4. Jeremy Renner, The Town – They nominated for The Hurt Locker last year, and really like his film this year. Also, the only real villain in a category where the past three winners played one.
5. Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right – One of those actors who have been on the cusp of being nominated for years now finally breaks through. Unless of course, he makes this performance look too easy.
The 6th Man: John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone – He just seems to stick around all awards season. As long as voters see the film, and remember his name, he has a real shot at moving up.
Dark Horse: Justin Timberlake/Armie Hamer, The Social Network – Timberlake nailed his role, making his character the personification of cool – right up to the point where he becomes a geek again. As the Winklevii twins, Hamer is also great, and memorable. Neither have shown up all that often this year, which makes me think Garfield will be the actor pulling off this nomination – but stranger things have happened (remember Marky Mark getting in for The Departed over Nicholson?)

Best Supporting Actress
Category confusion for two candidates here could make for a very interesting nomination day. Count on the top 3 though.

1. Melissa Leo, The Fighter – She has a lot of residual love for her work in Frozen River, and for sticking around in general. They love white trash roles.
2. Amy Adams, The Fighter – Sweet, adorable Amy Adams swears like Joe Pesci in GoodFellas in this film – fit that’s not enough, I don’t know what is.
3. Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech – Benefits from being the only woman in an Oscar frontrunner – and being damned charming in the film as well.
4. Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit – Would place high on this list, if I didn’t have the sneaking suspicion that some voters will put her in the lead category – either meaning she gets nominated there, and get overlooked altogether.
5. Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom – Has had bloggers and critics beating the drum for her all season long – if they convinced voters to watch the film, I don’t see how they do not nominate her.
The 6th Man: Mila Kunis, Black Swan – On the cusp, waiting for Steinfeld to split her own vote, or hoping that no one saw Animal Kingdom. Would not surprise me to see her moved up.
Dark Horse: Lesley Manville, Another Year – The studio campaigned her as a lead, which looks to be a mistake. She shows up just as often in both categories, and really, there is no one else the Academy will be seriously looking at in this category.

Best Adapted Screenplay
1. The Social Network
2. Toy Story 3
3. Winter’s Bone
4. True Grit
5. 127 Hours
The 6th Man: The Town
Dark Horse: The Ghost Writer
Analysis: The Social Network will win this one without trying, so the other four are just going to settle for being nominated. I feel very good about Toy Story 3 and Winter’s Bone, but wonder if the Coen’s used too much dialogue from the book for them to get in for True Grit, and if 127 Hours is going to be seen as a triumph for Boyle and Franco and not the writer – making for The Town or even The Ghost Writer (which gets bonus points from me for having my favorite line of the year not in The Social Network - "He can't drown two ghost writers. You're not kittens") to sneak into play. I wouldn’t bet on it, but it could happen.

Best Original Screenplay
1. The King’s Speech
2. The Kids Are All Right
3. Inception
4. Black Swan
5. Another Year
The 6th Man: Blue Valentine
Dark Horse: The Fighter

Analysis: I see The King’s Speech winning this one pretty easily and The Kids Are All Right and Inception are fairly safe bets for nominations. I wonder is Black Swan is going to be seen as Portman/Aronofsky’s triumph, and therefore not get in. I’m betting that Another Year sneaks in here, because despite his writing style, Mike Leigh always gets in here. Blue Valentine could easily sneak in though, and if they like The Fighter enough, you never know.

Best Animated Film
1. Toy Story 3
2. How to Train Your Dragon
3. The Illusionist
The 4th Man: Despicable Me
Dark Horse: Tangled

Analysis: Only three films like year, and I guarantee you that Toy Story 3 and How to Train Your Dragon are two of them. The third spot is tricky, but I think that enough people are going to love The Illusionist to put it at number 1 – meaning it eeks out a nomination over Despicable Me and Tangled.

Best Documentary
1. Inside Job
2. Exit Through the Gift Shop
3. The Tillman Story
4. Waiting for Superman
5. Restrepo
The 6th Man: Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Elliot Spitzer
Dark Horse: Waste Land

Analysis: Seriously, this branch seems to be on crack at least half the time, so you never really know what they are going to do. I do feel safe in saying Inside Job and Exit Through the Gift Shop – easily the two most acclaimed docs of the year will be among the nominees. The Tillman Story seems to have enough support, but it’s not a lock. Waiting for Superman is a popular choice, so it should squeeze in. And that’s where it gets really interesting – I am going with Restrepo since it seems to show up more often than the others, but I think Client 9 could easily upset here. Waste Land is trying to be that feel good film that sneaks in – but it died a quick death at the box office, so I don’t know.

Best Foreign Film
1. Biutiful – Mexico
2. Incendies - Canada
3. In a Better World – Denmark
4. Life Above All – South Africa
5. Outside the Law - Algeria
The 6th Man: Dogtooth - Greece
Dark Horse: Confessions – Japan, Even the Rain – Spain, Simple Simon – Sweden

I decided to list all 9 of the finalists for this prize – which shocking left out Of Gods and Men from France, and not so shockingly left out Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall His Past Lives from Thailand. As it stands, I think Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu has the best shot at a win – they have liked all three of his previous films, but he remains Oscar-less, and as such he could win this year. Call me a biased if you want, but I think Canada’s entry is next on the list – I have heard great things about it, and hope to see it soon. Fresh off a Globe win, In a Better World looks strong for a nomination – and perhaps another win. I have heard good things about Life Above All, so it sneaks in as well, and since they have nominated him in the past, I’ll guess Outside the Law gets the fifth spot. I would love to see Dogtooth – the only of these 9 films I have seen – in the lineup, but it is so dark and strange, I am amazed it made it this far. I hear Confessions is really violent, not really a good thing for Academy types. And finally, I know nothing about Even the Rain or Simple Simon, which to me means they are the underdogs – and knowing my luck will end up nominees.

Best Cinematography
1. True Grit
2. Black Swan
3. Inception
4. The Social Network
5. 127 Hours
The 6th Man: The King’s Speech
Dark Horse: Shutter Island

Analysis: If Roger Deakins doesn’t finally win his Oscar this year for True Grit, I will be truly surprised. The work on Black Swan is exceptional however, and they have already shown a love for the work of Wally Pfister when working with Nolan, so Inception seems safe as well. Jeff Cronenweth was somewhat of a surprise nominee at the ASC, so I think The Social Network could squeeze in here. Something tells me that 127 Hours, snubbed at those same awards, get in though. The King’s Speech is lurking on the outside, and don’t be surprised if they go with one of their old favorites – Robert Richardson working with Martin Scorsese.

Best Editing
1. Black Swan
2. Inception
3. The Social Network
4. 127 Hours
5. The King’s Speech
The 6th Man: Shutter Island
Dark Horse: True Grit

Analysis: Normally, this lines up with Best Picture pretty well, so I have a feeling this year it will as well – with Black Swan, Inception and The Social Network seemingly pretty secure. 127 Hours has the rapid fire editing they like, and The King’s Speech is very well done. I wouldn’t be shocked though to see Thelma Schoonmaker’s great work on Shutter Island get in – or if they can look past the fact that it’s the Coens using a fake name, than True Grit has a shot as well.

Best Art Direction
1. The King’s Speech
2. True Grit
3. Alice in Wonderland
4. Inception
5. Black Swan
The 6th Man: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
Dark Horse: Robin Hood

Analysis: This branch has never been all that surprising – they like English period pieces (The King’s Speech), Westerns (True Grit) and Tim Burton fantasies (Alice in Wonderland) so those three are pretty much assured. I’m not quite so sure about Inception and Black Swan – both very worthy, but not quite the genres they embrace. If they play it safer, than Harry Potter and Robin Hood could sneak in.

Best Costume Design
1. The King’s Speech
2. Alice in Wonderland
3. Black Swan
4. True Grit
5. The Fighter
The 6th Man: Burlesque
Dark Horse: The Tempest

Analysis: This is one branch that doesn’t seem to care much about the rest of the Oscars – and they often go their own way. This year though, I think that could be hard – The King’s Speech, Black Swan and True Grit seem like surefire nominees. Alice in Wonderland is the type of fantasy they always love. The Fighter has very specific 1990s work, but I wonder if it’s flashy enough. If they really decide to go outside the box, watch for Burlesque or The Tempest to sneak in.

Best Score
1. The King’s Speech – Alexandre Desplat
2. Inception – Hans Zimmer
3. How to Train Your Dragon – John Powell
4. 127 Hours – A.R. Rahman
5. The Social Network – Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The 6th Man: Never Let Me Go – Rachel Portman
Dark Horse: Alice in Wonderland – Danny Elfman

Analysis: This branch has its head up its ass most of the time. This year, they disqualified True Grit for using hymns in its score, and Black Swan because of its ballet music but not The King’s Speech for using classical musical by Beethoven during its climax. They do such strange things, that I never have a clue what the hell is going to get in. I’d bet on these five – yes even Trent Reznor for The Social Network even though he is the type of musician this branch usually scoffs at, but seriously, I don’t have a clue.

Best Song
1. Tangled – I See the Light
2. Toy Story 3 – We Belong Together
3. Country Strong – Coming Home
4. Burlesque – You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me
5. Waiting for Superman – Shine
The 6th Man: 127 Hours – If I Rise
Dark Horse: Despicable Me – Despicable Me

Analysis: Another wacky branch. There could be 3 nominees, there could be five, they could go with songs by major stars, or from small, obscure French films we didn't even know existed. We never really know until they are announced. They seem to have no reason for their nominating choices, so every year I just guess based on what has come before, and I hope I get some right. Truly the most useless of all Oscar categories.

Best Sound Mixing
1. Inception
2. Black Swan
3. Toy Story 3
4. How to Train Your Dragon
5. True Grit
The 6th Man: TRON: Legacy
Dark Horse: The Social Network

Analysis: For those who do not know, Sound Mixing is EVERYTHING you hear in a movie. The Academy tends to like loud Action Movies and animated films, but I think they’ll have a hard time overlooking the horror work on Black Swan this year. And don’t be surprised if The Social Network, which has excellent work, sneaks in.

Best Sound Editing
1. Inception
2. Toy Story 3
3. How to Train Your Dragon
4. Tron: Legacy
5. Unstoppable
The 6th Man: Shutter Island
Dark Horse: Iron Man 2

Analysis: Sound Editing are the sounds effects that are added to a movie – not the complete mix, just the added components. Again, loud, action and animation make up your nominees here most of the time.

Best Make-Up
1. Alice in Wonderland
2. The Wolf Man
3. Barney’s Version
The 4th Man: The Fighter
Dark Horse: True Grit

Analysis: By necessity it seems every year, some of the nominees in this category are horrible films that show up nowhere else in the lineup – there just aren’t as many films using makeup and not CGI these days. Having said that, they usually nominate Burton films, and the love werewolf movies, so look for Alice and Wolf Man to be in. They also tend to slide a more dramatic entry into the lineup – so I’m guessing that the great old age makeup using throughout Barney’s Version gets in instead of the bloody work of The Fighter or the Western feel of True Grit – but seriously, they go anyway.

Best Visual Effects
1. Inception
2. TRON: Legacy
3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I
4. Alice in Wonderland
5. Iron Man 2
The 6th Man: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Dark Horse: Hereafter

Analysis: Doesn’t it seem kind of silly to narrow the list down to seven contenders a month before the nominations come out – and then nominate five of them? Anyway, I think Scott Pilgrim’s in your face style will turn them off, and unless they really, really like that tsunami in Hereafter, they are the one being left out.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

2010 Year in Review: The Most Disappointing Films

The following 10 films are not all necessary horrible movies – although none of them are very good, but they were my biggest cinematic letdowns this year – films I was anticipating strongly, and then didn’t deliver like they should have. I could have included a few films from my worst of list, but I think I picked on them enough. These 10 films were the ones that made me walk out of the theater depressed – because I couldn’t help but think how good they COULD have or SHOULD have been.

10. The Wolfman (Joe Johnston)
Perhaps the best thing about The Twilight Saga, is that it has made Hollywood realize that there is still an audience for monster movies. When I heard that Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins and Emily Blunt were remaking the classic 1941 film, I was looking forward to the result. After all, as good as Claude Rains is in the first film, overall, it hasn’t aged particularly well. But the problems in this movie start early, and continue all the way through. Del Toro treats his role with his same method acting intensity – which usually makes him one of the best actors in the world, but doesn’t fit in here at all. He mumbles his way through the role with zero passion. Anthony Hopkins, who can be a great actor or a horrible ham, decides on the later here. Director Joe Johnston is not even able to get the visual right – there are a few isolated moments that work, but not many. This was the first film of 2010 I was looking forward to – and the first one to let me down massively.

9. Valhalla Rising (Nicolas Winding Refn)
I doubt many have heard of this film – it came and went rather quickly this year. But the director of Valhalla Rising is the extremely talented Nicolas Winding Refn, who made the excellent Pusher Trilogy, which helped put Mads Mikkelson on the map, and Bronson, which is the reason Tom Hardy is getting great work. Here, reteaming with Mikkelson for a medieval tale of violence and religion, he has made thuddingly boring film. I thought his direction of Bronson was perhaps a little too over the top, but worked brilliantly in that film – which was exciting and fast paced. Here, Refn seems to want to make a film that is a cross between Terence Malick and Werner Herzog – and ends up making one of the dullest movies of the year. I expected more from him.

8. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (Woody Allen)
Woody Allen has been a hit and miss director for perhaps 15 years now. And yet, he is still one of the best filmmakers of all time, and can still make a great film – as evidenced by recent films like Match Point, Vicky Cristina Barcelona and the vastly underrated Cassandra’s Dream. Returning to London for this film, he has crafted another movie about the lives and loves of his clever, smug rich people that he loves so much. The problem with You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is simple – it isn’t funny. The characters are one note and shrill. He wastes a cast that includes Naomi Watts, Antonio Banderas, Gemma Jones, Josh Brolin, Anthony Hopkins (making his second appearance on this list) and Frieda Pinto (who is perhaps the worst of the bunch). Only Lucy Punch, as the shrill prostitute who becomes Hopkins’ trophy wife is funny. Overall, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger represents Woody at his laziest – just going through the motions, because if he didn’t a film every year, what the hell else would he do with his time?

7. The Last Airbender (M. Night Shyamalan)
After Unbreakable, I compared M. Night Shyamalan to Alfred Hitchcock – and meant it sincerely. When I look back at Unbreakable today, it remains his best film, and it still deserves that comparison, as do the two films that bookend it, The Sixth Sense and Signs. But since then, Shyamalan has gotten progressively worse – The Village, Lady in the Water, The Happening are all quite bad. After The Happening, I thought Shyamalan should try something completely different – stop writing his own movies, and get away from the thriller genre. With The Last Airbender, I thought he made a wise choice. The populated animated TV show on which it is based is the furthest thing for Shyamalan’s work I could think of, and is also quite intelligent. And yet, somehow, Shyamalan completely screwed it up – he miscasts all the major roles, his action direction is awful, and the 3-D in the film makes it almost unwatchable at times. A few weeks ago, there was a marathon of the TV show on, and I happily watched it for about 5 hours. I could barely take the two hours here. I do not know what happened to the M. Night Shyamalan that was a great filmmaker a decade ago – but he appears to be long gone.

6. Micmacs (Jean Pierre Jeunet)
Jean Pierre Jeunet is one of the most visually interesting directors in the world right now. From his films with Marc Caro, Delicatessen and City of Lost Children, to his own films, Amelie and A Very Long Engagement, his films are visual wonders from start to finish. His most recent films, Micmacs, is I suppose an inventive film visually, but unlike his previous two films, feels completely hallow and one dimensional. It spends all its time trying desperately to be clever and hip, and forgets to make any of its characters likable. Furthermore, I am getting tired of all of Jeunet’s visual trickery – which he simply repeats in every film. He needs to calm the hell down.

5. Chloe (Atom Egoyan)
Atom Egoyan can direct an erotic thriller with the best of them. I continue to insist that his film Where the Truth Lies is the director’s best film since The Sweet Hereafter (which now more than a decade behind him seems to be a standard Egoyan will never hit again). But Chloe lacks the passion of Where the Truth Lies – it feels like a mere genre exercise, and a rather cheaply done one at that. Perhaps the problem is that Liam Neeson is so dull in the film, but I don’t think so. The passion, the heat should be coming from Julianne Moore, as Neeson’s wife, and Amanda Seyfried, as the title character who becomes obsessed with her. But although Moore and Seyfried give it their all, it is Egoyan who seems to be holding back. Egoyan seems to want to make a sexy, slightly exploitive thriller, and still have it be a serious examination of sexuality, and the two conflicting goals means it works on neither level. I keep hoping Egoyan can regain the form he had in the 1990s – and if not that, that he makes a film as wonderfully sexy as Where the Truth Lies again.

4. Robin Hood (Ridley Scott)
Ridley Scott, Russell Crowe and Robin Hood should be a combination that results in one of the year’s most entertaining films. Instead, it becomes a self serious bore – yet another big, loud, dumb and interchangeable historical epic, the type of which we have been forced to sit through far too many times since Braveheart a decade and a half ago. When I think of Robin Hood, I think of the joy of Errol Flynn swashbuckling, or at the very least of Kevin Costner’s gloriously awful British accent, and Alan Rickman wanting to eat his heart with a spoon. But the Robin Hood we all know and love doesn’t interest Scott or Crowe – who want to remake Gladiator instead. Well, I hated Gladiator the first time, and I disliked it even more this time. The talented supporting cast – especially Cate Blanchatt – is wasted here. A long, dull, boring film – but hell, at least I saw it in theaters, so I was able to ignore the longer director’s cut.

3. The Killer Inside Me (Michael Winterbottom)
Stanley Kubrick called Jim Thompson’s novel The Killer Inside Me the most disturbing novel about a psychopathic mind he had ever read – and was one of the reasons why he wanted to work with him on his terrific 1957 film noir The Killing. Michael Winterbottom’s adaptation of Thompson’s novel gets the events in the book right – and doesn’t skimp on the necessary level of violence – but doesn’t capture the same level of disturbing intimacy of the novel. Surely Casey Affleck, with his shit eating grin, was perfectly cast in the lead role, and even Kate Hudson and Jessica Alba are fine as the two women in his life, but the movie is all surface, all style and no substance – Winterbottom fails to get under the surface of the novel, and by the time we reach the surrealistic climax, it has gone off the rails. There is a lot to admire about this film – but it should have been one of the best of the year, and it wasn’t even close.

2. The Tourist (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)
Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck directed the wonderful political thriller The Lives of Others – about life behind the Iron Curtain in Germany, and won an Oscar for best foreign language film as a result – beating out the more highly touted Pan’s Labyrinth back in 2006. For his North American debut, he picked this thriller-comedy, and cast two of the biggest stars in the world, Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, as his leads. And yet, while the screenplay seems to be full of great one liners, and Depp and Jolie try really, really hard in their roles, the whole movie feels flat and lifeless – and that is due to Donnersmarck. Whoever cut the trailer together understood comic timing and momentum better than the filmmaker does, as moments that work marvelously well in the trailer, fall completely flat in the movie itself. The whole thing seems lifeless. I know a lot of people pick on Steven Soderbergh for whoring out his talent to make the Ocean’s movie, but if The Tourist proves anything, it’s that these movies are hard to make – and even a great director like Donnersmarck can screw one up royally.

1. Hereafter (Clint Eastwood)
I think Clint Eastwood is in his most interesting phase as a director. After Unforgiven it seemed like perhaps Eastwood would coast on his talent, and make little more than cheesy, if entertaining, little thrillers. But starting with Mystic River in 2003, Eastwood has pushed himself in films like that, Million Dollar Baby and his twin WWII epics Flags of Our Fathers and Letters to Iwo Jima. And yet, since then, he seems to be trying too hard – Changeling was a meticulously crafted, yet rather dull period piece, Gran Torino was cheesy in the extreme, even though I admit I loved it, and Invictus was a little too by the numbers. But all of them were at least good movies. His latest, Hereafter, is not. It stars Matt Damon as a man with a pshyic abilities (the defenders of the film who claim that the film is ambigious about his abilities don’t seem to have seen the film – it is quite clear that his abilities are real), but who rejects his gifts. This story is intercut with one of a French woman who is a survivor of a tsunami while on vacation, and that of a young boy, who loses his twin brother to an accident. I know why a filmmaker like Eastwood, who is 80 after all, would make a film about death, but couldn’t have found a better one – one that actually has something to say about death? Hereafter is deadly dull at times – only coming alive briefly when Bryce Dallas Howard enters Damon’s life. It just sits there on the screen, and fails to involve us, to make us question, make us think, make us really do anything except wait for it to be over. I have faith that Eastwood will make a great film again – he says he isn’t retiring – but Hereafter was anything but.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

2010 Year in Review: The Worst Performances

There were many painful performances this year – some came in bad movies, some came in good movies. But these are to me anyway, the worst of the worst. I’m going over them quickly so I can forget about them forever.

Worst Actor: Robert Pattinson in Remember Me - Last year I gave Pattinson this “award” for the second Twilight movie, and although he isn’t very good in the third Twilight movie, it was his performance in this teenage aimed tearjerker that was truly the worst performance of the year. He tries very hard to play the bad boy but it doesn’t work. He is simply awful in the film. I cannot wait until his 15 minutes are up.
Runners-up: Bruce Willis in Cop Out doesn’t seem to care and sleepwalks through this role - you have to do something to be funny. Gerald Butler in The Bounty Hunter proves once again that he is actor without charm - he is all accent and muscles and no talent. Sam Worthington in Clash of the Titans is once again the blandest action hero in recent memory. Benicio Del Toro in The Wolf Man needed to know he was making a silly werewolf movie not a Shakespeare drama and lighten the hell up. Adam Sandler in Grown Ups is coasting on his natural charm but to me, when I know he has real talent, it bugs me when he makes crap like this. Liam Neeson in Chloe has zero charisma, which is deadly in an erotic thriller - I know he had bigger things on his mind when filming the movie, but he doesn’t do anything in the film to make him interesting.

Worst Actress: Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex and the City 2 - Sarah Jessica Parker is a seemingly intelligent woman, so I have no idea why every movie she makes is so god awful. Her Carrie Bradshaw has always been among the shallowest characters ever created, but she takes it to new levels here - where she is thoroughly unlikable from beginning to end. I’ve always thought that Mr. Big was an asshole - but even he deserves better than this woman.
Runners-Up: Jennifer Aniston in The Bounty Hunter - needs to stop trying to be Rachel in every movie, and find some different notes to play. Kristen Scott Thomas in Partir acts like a selfish, naïve teenage girl who deserves precisely what she gets - if it wasn’t for Parker she would be the least likable character of the year. Rachel Weisz in Agora seems to play her role like a BC version of Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory - zero humanity - but in that show Sheldon is hilariously clueless, Weisz is just clueless.

Worst Supporting Actor: Dev Patel in The Last Airbender. Patel may not have been brilliant in Slumdog Millionaire, but he was sure as hell likable. Here, his lack of any apparent acting skill shines through in each and every scene - it a performance that is supposed to straddle good and evil, but somehow he makes it completely boring.
Runners-Up: Harrison Ford in Extraordinary Measures doesn’t care and it shows in every frame of the film. Cam Gigadet in Burlesque tries very hard to be the lovable bad boy, but his lack of acting talent hurts in every scene. David Spade/Rob Schneider in Grown Ups have never had much talent, and here are comedic dead zones. Taylor Lautner in The Twilight Saga: Eclipse is still all muscles and zero talent. Ben Kingsley in Prince of Persia glowers in the background until the obvious - that he is the bad guy becomes obvious, then he goes over the top. Anthony Hopkins in The Wolf Man seemingly tries to compensate for the method underperforming of Del Toro by going way over the top as his father, and it is just embarrassing. Jack Nicholson in How Do You Know is clearly doing the movie because director James L. Brooks helped him win two Oscars - because he clearly doesn’t give a crap about the film and for the first time is completely boring in a movie.

Worst Supporting Actress: Kim Cattrall in The Ghost Writer/Sex and the City 2. In Sex and the City 2 Samantha becomes a parody of her former self and its painful to watch. The Ghost Writer, a great film, she is horribly miscast as the “sexy” assistant and she almost derails the movie at times. She had a horrible year.
Runners-Up: Gemma Artetron in Clash of the Titans/Prince of Persia proved she could act in The Disappearance of Alice Creed but also proved if she had bad writing she wasn’t going to do anything with it. Kristen Davis and Cynthia Nixon in Sex and the City 2 do not seem to care in the movie - why else would they be a part of this crap, which ruined their characters forever. Ellen Barkin in Brooklyn’s Finest in an otherwise fine film goes wildly over the top and is damn near unwatchable - but luckily she isn’t in the movie much. Jessica Alba in Valentine’s Day is in a cast of big stars, in an awful movie, but she is far and away the worst of the bunch - I still have no idea what she was trying to do in the film.

2010 Year in Review: The 10 Worst Films

I still have 5 films to see before I release my Best of lists - although I will see The Illusionist, The Company Men and The Way Back this weekend, leaving only The Tillman Story (out on DVD February 1 or 8 depending on which site you read) and Biutiful (out in theaters apparently on February 11. I may or may not wait for those final two films - but if any of them deserve placement on the Worst of list, I guess they get a pass this year. Anyway, on to the list.

I tried more than ever this year to avoid as many bad films as I could. But as always, there are some you simply cannot avoid – or at least I didn’t. People like to decry the death of cinema, and if you simply concentrated on these film, you’d have a point. Below is my bottom 10 films of the year, but before we get there, here are some other ones I wished I skipped: Agora (Alejandro Amenabar), The A-Team (Joe Carnahan), Burlesque (Steve Antin), Charlie St. Cloud (Burr Steers), The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Michal Apted), Dear John (Lasse Hallstrom), Eat Pray Love (Ryan Murphy), Extraordinary Measures (Tom Vaughn), Grown Ups (Dennis Dugan), Gullivers Travels (Rob Letterman), Hereafter (Clint Eastwood), Hot Tub Time Machine (Steve Pink), Jackass 3-D (Jeff Tremaine), Jonah Hex (Jimmy Hayward), Little Fockers (Paul Weitz), The Last Airbender (M. Night Shyamalan), MacGruber (Jorma Taccone), The Milk of Sorrow (Claudia Llosa), A Nightmare on Elm Street (Samuel Bayer), Partir (Catherine Corsini), Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (Mike Newell), Step Up 3-D (John M. Chu), The Tourist (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck), Valentine’s Day (Garry Marshall), Valhalla Rising (Nicolas Winding Refn), The Wolf Man (Joe Johnson), Year of the Carnivore (Sook-Yin Lee).

And now, onto the worst of the worst. I am happy to say that I skipped many films that will find their way onto these lists this year, yet there are still some horrid ones that I did see. These are them.

10. Tamara Drewe (Stephen Frears)
I can’t say I’m too surprised that some of the other directors on this list made it – but Stephen Frears? The man who directed Dangerous Liaisons, High Fidelity and The Queen among other great films? But Tamara Drewe is easily the worst film of Frears career – even worse than his complete bust from last year Cheri. Here is a film where practically every character is hateful and cruel – and it’s all played for laughs, and the film even tries to win over our sympathy. True, watching Gemma Arterton move was one of the chief reasons to go to the movies this year (she truly is one of the most beautiful women in the world, and made watching this, Prince of Persia and Clash of the Titans at least somewhat bearable, and she even proved she could act in The Disappearance of Alice Creed), but she is as bad as the rest of the people in this movie – perhaps even worse. I can’t really pick on the acting in the film – they play the roles the way they were meant to be played – but to me this is a movie that celebrates shallowness and tabloid culture – and was practically insufferable.

9. How Do You Know (James L. Brooks)
How does someone as talented as James L. Brooks make a film as bad as How Do You Know? This is, after all, the same filmmaker who made Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News and As Good As It Gets – smart, funny films all of them. But How Do You Know is one of the most inept romantic comedies of the year – and that really is saying something. Reese Witherspoon tries really, really hard to convince us that she is a female jock – and perhaps if she had better writing it would have worked. Paul Rudd, elevated to leading man status after years of being the second fiddle, looks lost. Owen Wilson delivers the same performance he always does – in films both good and bad. Worst of all is shocking Jack Nicholson who seems completely bored by the film and isn’t even trying. The film clocks in at just over two hours, but feels way longer. It is a laugh free void, and it all stems for the lazy screenplay by Brooks – a filmmaker I expected much better from.

8. Cop Out (Kevin Smith)
Kevin Smith lashed out at critics who slammed Cop Out – saying that attacking this movie was like attacking a retarded child, because this movie was perfectly harmless and never meant to be serious. The difference between Cop Out and a retarded child is simple – the child was born that way and has no control over who they are – Kevin Smith and company chose to make this movie. Yes, the movie is harmless. But worse for a comedy it was also laughless. Bruce Willis completely sleepwalks through this role, and Tracey Morgan is, well he’s Tracey Morgan, who can be great on 30 Rock when he is given brilliantly stupid lines to say, but is painful here when he is merely given stupid lines. This is supposed to be an action comedy, but Smith cannot direct action very well, and the movie isn’t the least bit funny. I have no problem with stupid comedies as long as they are funny (I praised the similarly themed The Other Guys this year for example), but when they’re not, retarded child or not, I’m going to complain.

7. Clash of the Titans (Louis Letterier)
If you ever want to make an argument AGAINST 3-D, all you need to do is watch this horrible film (or The Last Airbender, which was just as bad in terms of visuals). Done on the cheap, the 3-D in this movie probably made it seem worse than it actually was – the visuals were so bad at times I had no freaking idea what was going on. The movie is horribly written and acted – Sam Worthington is the blandest action hero ever, Liam Neeson is sleepwalking through his role as Zeus, and it almost appears like Ralph Fiennes got lost on his way to the Harry Potter set in his role as Hades, so this probably would have made this list no matter had I seen it in 3-D or not. But if Avatar showed us just how good 3-D can be, if you are James Cameron and spend years and hundreds of millions of dollars on it – than Clash of the Titans shows just how god awful it could be.

6. The Bounty Hunter (Andy Tennat)
I pick on romantic comedies a lot – mainly because I don’t think there has been a truly great one in years now, and nothing comes close to matching what the Hollywood of the 1930s and 1940s produced (the only recent one that comes close in 500 Days of Summer, and considering that is about a failed one, I don’t really consider it part of the genre anyway). I typically try and avoid as many as possible, but for whatever reason I saw this one – and the result was one of my most painful trips to the theater this year. Gerard Butler is an actor I have never warmed to – he can’t sing, as he proved in The Phantom of the Opera, and he’s rather generic as an action hero. Here in a romantic comedy, I found him completely without charm. Jennifer Aniston is shrill and annoying as hell here as well. The shaky plot involves this ex-couple being thrust together and rediscovering their love – something that Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn excelled at. But these two are not Grant and Hepburn. They are just annoying.

5. Trash Humpers (Harmony Korine)
I’m not going to deny that Harmony Korine is an artist – he is clearly a filmmaker with a worldview that he expresses through his films. And yet, he is a filmmaker that I have found nearly impossible to get into his films – I think he is purposefully trying to keep his audience at a distance. His new films stars himself, his wife and supposed some friends, all in horrible old age makeup who do exactly what the title of the film implies – hump trash (they also fellate tree branches but I guess Trash Humpers and Tree Branch Fellaters was too long). I’m sure if I wanted to, I could come up with a defense for the film – crudely shot on VHS video – like many have done, but I don’t want to. To me, the film was slow and boring, and when it veers off and shows us scenes with real old people, some of whom seem to have some mental problems, the film may cross a line into exploitation. Korine is an artist – he’s just not one that I particularly like.

4. Sex and the City 2 (Michael Patrick King)
The TV show Sex and the City was groundbreaking in its depiction of female sexuality in all its brutal glory. The first movie was more about fashion than anything else, and was way too long, but it was hardly the atrocity that this film was. The four women bitch and complain about their lives of luxury so needlessly at the beginning of the movie that you want to grab them and shake them and tell them to snap out of it. Really, Carrie’s biggest problem is that Big wants to curl up with her at home and watch old movies? Samantha’s is that she is bored with yet another of her young studs? Charlotte that her kids ruin her designer clothes that she for some idiotic reason wears to bake? Okay, Miranda has a real problem with her husband’s adultery, but her problem with her boss feels forced. The movie introduces some interesting ideas, and then jettisons them all to take the women to the Muslim world, so they can attack and mock them for their backwards ways. The movie is offensive, but perhaps even worse it’s boring, poorly written with none of the zippy dialogue that was the shows trademark, and all four leads appear to be completely and totally bored with this series. It’s time to put it to bed.

3. The Human Centipede (Tom Six)
The Human Centipede was the most talked about film of 2010 that no one actually saw. I know no one else who actually sat through this film, and yet, I don’t think I was asked if I saw a film more than this one this year. It became famous because of its concept – and it’s because of its concept that no one actually saw it. It is a about a mad German scientist (based on the evidence I have seen in movies, I believe all German scientists are mad) who for whatever reason (they are never explained) kidnaps three people – and then attaches them to each other – ass to mouth. That’s right, the first people eats, then shits into the mouth of the second person, who then shits into the mouth of the third person, who then shits onto the ground. Happy days. Yes, the concept is gross – and watching the film is a trying experience at times. And yet, I think the biggest sin that director Tom Six’s film commits is that it is mind numbingly boring. The first half of the film is a low grade, Texas Chainsaw Massacre knockout – with beautiful girls stumbling across the freak show that is the mad scientist, and then trying to escape. The second half is all about the so called human centipede – that it must be said, never actually does anything. The film is gross – but I can handle gross. It’s boring I cannot stand.

2. Film Socialism (Jean-Luc Godard)
Jean-Luc Godard’s place in film history was secured decades ago – hell if he never directed another film after his first, Breathless, he would still be one of the most important filmmakers of all time. But in a year where that film celebrated its 50th Anniversary, he made what he says will be his last film – and one only hopes that is true. Film Socialism is a bundle of images and non-sequitor dialogue – that if you don’t speak French you are stuck reading in “Navajo English” subtitles, which simply makes it more meaningless. I suppose you could argue that the film – told in three parts, one on a ocean liner with passengers who cannot connect, one with a family and their gas station and finally a collage of images recounting the horrors of the 20th Century – is about the death of language. But if it is (and I say if, because I doubt most viewers would get that if they didn’t read some reviews from Godard’s defenders), is he really saying anything new? Anything of value? Is there anything here he didn’t do better in the last decent film he made – Notre Musique? I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with Godard’s film – even some of his masterpieces from the 1960s are hopelessly dated and pretentious (I may have given up on Two or Three Things I Know About Her when the child talks about his dream of North and South Vietnam holding hands) – but I don’t think I’ve ever hated one of his films more than this one. So please, Godard, retire.

1. Remember Me (Allan Coulter)
There is no way to tell you why I hate Remember Me as much as I do without giving away the ending. This is yet another movie about whiny college students, falling in love, and bitching about their problems. Robert Pattison is pretty bad in the lead – he has zero charisma, and I’m sick of his pseudo bad boy routine, and I’m also sick of movies about rich kids who just want daddy’s love. Emile de Ravin is better as his poor girlfriend, but she is given such a horrible role that it hard to take her seriously. The movie was progressing at its regular, lackluster pace until we get to the big climax – Robert Pattinson’s character was in his father’s office in the World Trade Center on September 11th, and was killed. 9/11 deserves to be treated with more respect than to be the climax of a shitty teen drama. They threw it on at the end to try and get tears from the audience – tears that the movie doesn’t deserve and hasn’t earned. It was a cynical attempt to drawn emotions from a national tragedy – and that’s why Remember Me is far and away the worst movie of 2010.