Saturday, February 27, 2010

Doug's Big Oscar Quiz - Part 4 Answers

16. Hanna Schmitz
     e. Kate Winslet in The Reader

17. Anne Napolitano
     c. Mercedes Rhuel in The Fisher King

18. Sophie Zawistowski
     a. Meryl Streep in Sophie's Choice

19. Elliot Garfield
     d. Richard Dreyfus in The Goodbye Girl

20. Ben Sanderson
     b. Nicholas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas

Friday, February 26, 2010

District 9 & Avatar

The best science fiction turns a funhouse mirror back on the viewer, distorting and augmenting reality and revealing truths.  Aliens, robots, and outer-space settings become metaphors for our life, society, and humanity and, by showing us what we're not, show us who we are.

The metaphors are all too bitter in District 9, when an alien spacecraft docks over Johannesburg, South Africa.  The lobster-like refugees are taken in, but little effort is made to understand their language, culture, and needs.  Instead, the government is more concerned with appropriating alien weapon technology.  Corralled into a filthy ghetto in squalid conditions, these aliens lash out with violence and the humans wonder why.  Enter Wikus Van Der Merwe, a government bureaucrat tasked with evicting the "prawns" to a new and even worse slum.  During the search of a tenement shack, he encounters an alien substance that starts to transform him into one of the creatures that he so despises and, forming an uneasy partnership with one of the aliens, he works to return back to normal.  As Wikus's transformation and his time with the aliens progresses, he gains an understanding and empathy for their plight.

Anyone who knows anything about South Africa knows what this film is really about. 

Avatar has pretty much the same plot.  On the distant planet of Pandora, paraplegic Marine Jake Sully finds new life when, through the miracle of technology, he is able to "become" the member of a local alien race known as the Na'Vi.  While Jake makes contact with the natives and learns their ways, his corporate and military bosses are more concerned with mining opportunities under the Na'Vi settlement.  Unlike Wikus, Jake prefers his lithe alien body and, after gaining a mystical understanding of the Na'Vi ways (and a romantic understanding of his tutor) he finds himself in a war against the humans.

So in Avatar, the U.S. Military brings an unprovoked attack on a nation (of aliens) in order to gain lucrative drilling rights.  Hmmm... what could they be saying here?  Conversely, roles are turned on their heads when the destruction of a large tower-like structure serves as a call-to-arms for the Na'Vi. On top of that, we discover (with Jake) that all life on Pandora is literally connected in a web of consciousness and that destroying any part of the planet is bad for all living things.  Director James Cameron has never been big on subtlety.  The screenplay may be as artful as a cudgel to the head, but at least Cameron recognizes that science fiction can provide an entertaining platform for his allegorical ideas.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Screenplay Awards

Best Score was a tough pick, but this one might be even more difficult.

The nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay are District 9, An Education, In The Loop, Precious, and Up In the Air.  Normally, we look for Best Picture nominees, because Picture, Director, and Screenplay often go to the same film, but four of these five (all but In The Loop) are Best Picture contenders.  Being a dark allegorical science fiction film, I don't think District 9 has a strong chance.  The best contender, in my opinion, is Up In The Air, for its emphasis on character, great dialogue, and sweet-and-sour tone.  An Education might upset, and there's a chance that Precious could rally support, but I think Up In the Air is just the sort of movie that wins here.

For Original Screenplay, we have The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, The Messenger, A Serious Man, and Up.  Here we have three Best Picture nominees in the mix.  The Hurt Locker is a great action film but is very episodic and The Messenger and A Serious Man are more subdued.  My first instinct tells me that Up is the standout in this category.  It has the most original screenplay in at least a decade with each bizarre and unlikely story element building up to a genuinely moving end.  Up is, however an animated film, which historically fare poorly in the writing categories.  That said, I'm going to pick  Inglourious Basterds for the win.  It has a brilliant screenplay boiling over with Tarantino's unique style of dialogue, but because most of it is in French, German, and Italian with English subtitles, audiences are compelled to pay more attention to the words and appreciate the language and subtlety of the script.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Best Actor

The nominees for Best Lead Actor are Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart), George Clooney (Up In the Air), Colin Firth (A Single Man), Morgan Freeman (Invictus), and Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker).

Clooney and Freeman are previous winners (both for Supporting Actor), Firth and Renner are first-timers, and Bridges has had four previous nominations.  Renner does a good slow burn and Clooney and Firth give very subtle performances.  Besides resembling Mandella, Morgan Freeman proves his worth by expertly taking on the voice and mannerisms of the South African president, but If the SAG and Golden Globes are any indication, it looks like Jeff Bridges is the front-runner for the Oscar.  His work has been long-admired by his fellow actors, but with such a quirky and varied resume, he really hasn't had any serious Oscar consideration before.  Now, in Crazy Heart, he has a serious role to show off his acting (and singing) skills and just like Sandra Bullock in this years Best Actress race, I think voters will jump at the opportunity to finally give him the prize.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Doug's Big Oscar Quiz - Part 4

Match the actors with their Oscar-winning roles

16. Hanna Schmitz
17. Anne Napolitano
18. Sophie Zawistowski
19. Elliot Garfield
20. Ben Sanderson

a. Meryl Streep
b. Nicholas Cage
c. Mercedes Rhuel
d. Richard Dreyfus
e. Kate Winslet

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Doug's Big Oscar Quiz - Part 3 Answers

11. "I accept this very gratefully for keeping my mouth shut for once. I think I'll do it again."
d. Jane Wyman

12. "Suddenly, going to work tomorrow doesn't seem like such a good idea."
b. Steven Soderbergh
13. "Can I have my champagne now?"
a. Cate Blanchett
14. "Losing would suck and winning would be really scary. And it's really, really scary."
c. Ben Affleck

15. "As a little kid, I lived in the projects and you're the people I watched. You're the people who made me want to be an actor. I'm so proud to be here. "
c. Whoopi Goldberg

Friday, February 19, 2010

An Education, Precious, & The Blind Side

Which is more important - a formal education or life experience?  Which shapes us more and has longer-lasting effects?

Jenny, our protagonist in An Education, is working hard to get into Oxford and sees it as a dead end into a life of boring conformity.  Growing up outside London in the early 1960's, she stands on the outskirts of a cultural explosion, shielded by her old fashioned, single-minded parents.  That is, until she meets a charming, charismatic, rich older man who whisks her into a world she's only dreamed of.  Soon, Jenny decides to ditch her plans for higher education and run away to a life of music, freedom, ideas, and excitement - but is everything as it appears to be?  Is the "school of life" an adequate substitute for a formal education?  Is she making the right choice?

The title character in Precious has a different take on things.  Life experience is all she has, and it's left her with nothing.  Precious is a 16-year-old morbidly obese, illiterate, mother of a child with Downs Syndrome and is once again pregnant with her father's baby.  She lives with her resentful, abusive mother in a Harlem tenement in 1987 and is only kept around for the welfare check.  If you think that's a depressing set-up, don't worry: things only get worse for her.  The public school system has failed Precious and she finds herself at an alternative school in a class led by Ms. Rain, the first person who refuses to give up on her.  Ms. Rain sees value in Precious and works hard to show her that she has worth and for the first time, Precious realizes that there is another way, that a formal education is the path away from the abusive experience of her childhood.  She may never achieve her fantasies of fame and glamor and will likely die young, but an education is a start for Precious and any step up from where she started is welcome.

Somewhere in between Jenny and Precious on this scale is Michael Oher (or at least the Michael Oher depicted in The Blind Side).   Like Precious, Michael finds a nurturing, understanding supporter after a life of people giving up on him.  Michael has problems with written tests, trusting others, and applying complex concepts.  Hiding a decent mind behind a dull facade, he slowly starts to gain confidence from teachers and his adoptive parents, who must learn to reach him on his own level.  Jenny and Precious gradually change their world view, but it's the people around Michael who change most of all in The Blind Side.  Instead of Michael changing his view of the world, the world changes how it sees him.  He's been fine all along.

As an aside, I'd like to share a little anecdote:

Woman In The Movie: [to Sandra Bullock] You've really changed that boy's life.
Woman Sitting Next To Me: He's changed mine.
Sandra Bullock: No... He's changed mine.
Me: [to Woman Sitting Next To Me] This movie writes itself, doesn't it?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Music Awards

This is probably the riskiest pick of the year.  The nominees for Best Score are Avatar (James Horner), Fantastic Mr. Fox (Alexandre Desplat), The Hurt Locker (Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders), Sherlock Holmes (Hans Zimmer), and Up (Michael Giacchino).  Honestly, The Hurt Locker was so suspenseful that I didn't even notice any music.  It didn't stand out in Sherlock Holmes either, but it was absolutely integral to creating the atmosphere of both of the animated nominees (I don't mean Avatar).  Avatar could take Best Score as part of a sweep, but I suspect that it's down to Up or Fantastic Mr. Fox. Between those two, Up has the more famous name attached and its charming little waltz keeps recurring throughout the film in more inventive and surprising ways.  Mr. Fox's score really adds to its tone and panache, but I think Up will take the prize.

The nominees for Best Song are "Almost There" and "Down In New Orleans" from The Princess and The Frog, "Loin de Paname" from Paris 36, "Take It All" from Nine, and "The Weary Kind" from Crazy Heart.  I've learned that the Best Song award doesn't go to the best song, per se, but to the song that is most integral to its film.  Songs that reveal things about the characters and stories and move the plot have distinct advantage here.  This year, the song that was best used for the purpose of character development and story is "The Weary Kind."  Bonus points for a heretofore un-Oscared songwriting team (Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett) and an actor who sings it live in the film (as opposed to over the end credits).

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Best Actress

This year's nominees for Best Actress are Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side), Helen Mirren (The Last Station), Carey Muligan (An Education), Gabourney Sidibe (Precious), and Meryl Streep (Julie & Julia).

Muligan and Sidibe are some notable newcomers and both are surprise nominees, but they're up against some pretty heavy competition.  Helen Mirren won here just two years ago and, though her performance obviously merits a nomination, I don't think it has enough heat to warrant another win so soon after The Queen.  Meryl Streep is beloved in Hollywood and is famous for having the most nominations for acting ever, but her last win was in 1983.  Voters may feel that after 27 years, she's due for another win.  On the other hand, there's Sandra Bullock.  She's a first-time nominee, but she's been a hard worker for nearly twenty years without any substantial recognition.  Bullock had a great year with three movies (two of them were her most successful ever) and I think that the Academy will jump at the opportunity to give her the award.  Meryl Streep will always have next year, but this is a case where the timing is just right for Bullock.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Doug's Big Oscar Quiz - Part 3

Match the acceptance speech quote with the correct Oscar winner:

11. "I accept this very gratefully for keeping my mouth shut for once. I think I'll do it again."
     a. Marlee Matlin
     b. Patricia Neal
     c. Holly Hunter
     d. Jane Wyman

12. "Suddenly, going to work tomorrow doesn't seem like such a good idea."
     a. Steven Speilberg
     b. Steven Soderbergh
     c. Sydney Pollack
     d. Roman Polanski

13. "Can I have my champagne now?"
     a. Cate Blanchett
     b. Geena Davis
     c. Goldie Hawn
     d. Cloris Leachman

14. "Losing would suck and winning would be really scary. And it's really, really scary."
     a. Quentin Tarantino
     b. Kevin Spacey
     c. Ben Affleck
     d. Cuba Gooding Jr.

15. "As a little kid, I lived in the projects and you're the people I watched. You're the people who made me want to be an actor. I'm so proud to be here. "
     a. Hillary Swank
     b. Marissa Tomei
     c. Whoopi Goldberg
     d. Mercedes Ruehl

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Doug's Big Oscar Quiz - Part 2 Answers

6. Who are Gary, Trevor, Muzza, Neville, Brent, and Lysander?
c. The six Oscars that Peter Jackson and Fran Walsn won for The Return of the King

7. Which of these tunes did not win Best Song?
b. As Time Goes By

8. Which team scored a record three nominations in the same year in the Best Song category?
a. Elton John and Tim Rice

9. Who were the first brother and sister to win Oscars on the same night?
d. Norma and Douglas Shearer

10. Who was the first married couple to win Oscars (not on the same night)?
c. Laurence Olivier and Vivian Leigh

Friday, February 12, 2010

Inglourious Basterds & The Hurt locker

Movies have shown us many different facets of war over the years: war as heroic act, war as gruesome ordeal, war as political maneuver.  Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds (sic) shows us something quite different - war as a game.  Eschewing gritty realism for his trademark verbal flourishes, Tarantino's characters criss-cross Nazi-occupied France in what feels like an epic game of cops and robbers.  Good guys and bad guys alike swagger with a bravado and purpose, giving each other nicknames, infiltrating enemy lines, eluding escape, and plotting heists.  The battlefield becomes a gigantic backyard in Tarantino's world, and, just like in Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, it's a world where everyone is living out the movies that depict their lives; fantasy rolls back into reality.  In fact, Inglourious Basterds is really more about movies than it is about war.  It may not be realistic, but it sure is a lot of fun, and fun is something that has been missing from war movies ever since The Great Escape.

In The Hurt Locker, we see a different kind of game play out.  In Iraq in 2004, SFC William James (Jeremy Renner) is the head of a bomb squad and uses each call as a game of Russian roulette.  Playing fast and loose with safety procedures and protocol, James puts himself and his team at risk on a regular basis.  In a world where everyone is a potential threat and every pile of rubble could be hiding a tripwire, Sgt. James not only gambles with his life, but has become an addict.  It's not that he has nothing to live for - quite the contrary - but that he doesn't feel alive without the adrenaline rush that his job provides.  James is indifferent to the stress he causes his by-the-books team, but he sees the world differently: defusing bombs is his stress release.  Everything else makes him anxious.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Artistic Awards

The nominees for Best Art Direction are Avatar, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, Nine, Sherlock Holmes, and The Young Victoria.  All are dazzling, but I haven't seen any news reports about film-goers coming out of Nine or Sherlock Holmes, depressed that they can't live in the beautiful worlds portrayed on screen.  No, this one is going to the eye-popping, nonsensical, almost Seussian design in Avatar.

In the Best Costumes category, we look for the widest variety of costumes and the degree of difficulty involved.  This year's nominees are the period films Bright Star and The Young Victoria, fantasy films The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus and Nine, and a movie about fashion, Coco Before Chanel.  my first instinct is to give it to Nine - costuming superstar Colleen Atwood is the nominee and the film features a wide array of glitzy clothes.  On the other hand, Coco Before Chanel is a movie that centers around its costumes, but features very specific designs without room for elaboration.  I'm going to give my pick to The Young Victoria.  It showcases a variety of opulent clothes and works hard to delineate each character through costuming.

The three nominees for Makeup are Il Divo, Star Trek, and The Young Victoria.  Fantastical prosthetics usually take the prize, so I'll pick Star Trek here.

The nominees for Cinematography are Avatar, Harry Potter 6, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, and White RibbonAvatar may get awarded for its tasteful use of 3D, but it and Harry Potter are both storyboarded to the nanosecond and involve massive computer effects, which can overshadow innovative camerawork.  Has anyone seen White Ribbon?  It's also up for Foreign Language Film, so it must be good, but without a wide release, most voters are likely to ignore it.  Tarantino is famous for his quirky camera work, so Inglourious Basterds has a shot, but I think that the Academy will side with The Hurt Locker here.  Between shaky war footage, long suspenseful shots, and sun-drenched filters, this is the film where the camera puts you into the film (without the headache of 3D glasses).

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Best Supporting Actor

Here's a tough category to pick.  The nominees are Mad Damon (Invictus), Woody Harrelson (The Messenger), Christopher Plummer (The Last Station), Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones), and Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds).

Over the years, there have been several different scenarios that lead to a win in this category, and we have all of them represented here.  Sometimes Supporting Actor is used as a defacto "lifetime achievement" award for well-regarded seniors and Christopher Plummer fits the bill.  Sometimes it goes to a leading man, like Mat Damon, who takes a lower-profile role (not unlike a racehorse dropping in class and running away with the race).  Many times, the Academy rallies support for an actors like Stanley Tucci, who has been doing solid work for years but haven't had the opportunity for a nomination.  Comebacks are always popular and Woody Harrelson had an outstanding year after a fallow period.  Finally, voters like to jump at the chance to recognize a relative newcomer, like Christoph Waltz.

With all that in mind, I'm going to pick Christoph Waltz.  Virtually unknown on our shores until he was "discovered" by Quentin Tarantino, Waltz has had a successful career in his native Austria for years.  It's a classic case of the actor fitting the role perfectly. Waltz has already taken the SAG, the Golden Globe, and several other top prizes, and it's a role where he has to speak four different languages fluently.  Also, he plays an over-the-top bad guy and, while that would be a detriment in the Lead Actor category, it's a plus in the Supporting Actor race.  His next biggest competitor is Stanley Tucci, but I'm going to pick Waltz for the win.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Doug's Big Oscar Quiz - Part 2

Select the best answer:

6. Who are Gary, Trevor, Muzza, Neville, Brent, and Lysander?
     a. Early prototypes for the Oscar
     b. Winners in the now-defunct Best Animal Actor category
     c. The six Oscars that Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh won for The Return of the King
     d. The accountants who tally the final Oscar votes

7. Which of these tunes did not win Best Song?
     a. High Hopes
     b. As Time Goes By
     c. Over the Rainbow
     d. My Heart Will Go On
     e. (I've Had) The Time of My Life

8. Which team scored a record three nominations in the same year in the Best Song category?
     a. Elton John and Tim Rice
     b. James Horner and Will Jennings
     c. Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn
     d. Alan Menken and Howard Ashman

9. Who were the first brother and sister to win Oscars on the same night?
     a. Warren Beatty and Shirley MacLaine
     b. Lionel and Ethyl Barrymore
     c. Sophia and Roman Coppola
     d. Norma and Douglas Shearer

10. Who was the first married couple to win Oscars (not on the same night)?
     a. Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward
     b. Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones
     c. Laurence Olivier and Vivian Leigh
     d. Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Doug's Big oscar Quiz - Part 1 Answers

1 - C What does it take to find a lost love? Slumdog Millionaire

2 - D  Two great lovers of the screen in the grandest of romantic comedies! It Happened One Night

3 - A  They will sacrifice anything to achieve their goals...Except their honor. Chariots of Fire

4 - E  The eye of the enemy is moving. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

5 - B  Beyond his silence, there is a past. Beyond her dreams, there is a feeling... Million Dollar Baby

Friday, February 5, 2010

Up & Up In The Air

In Pixar's Up, Carl, a quiet, old square, inters himself indoors, transforming his cottage home into a shrine for his beloved and departed wife.  Shunning human contact, Carl instead lives in the dust of his past and the regrets of unrealized ambition.  When he is finally forced out of his home, he chooses a unique solution - Carl attaches thousands of balloons to his chimney and floats the whole building to Peru.  His plan is to simply set the house down next to a waterfall and live quietly, but along the way, he gets saddled with an overeager Adventure Scout, a troublesome bird, a talking dog, and an adventure he never asked for.

Carl comes to realize that the things - the house, the objects - that he has accumulated don't make up his life.  He learns that his house (wherever it's located) is not his home and that while he yearned all his life for an adventure, his life was an adventure in itself.

We find Ryan Bingham (played by George Clooney in Up In the Air) in a similar airborne epiphany.  A professional traveler, Ryan's philosophy is to that the more baggage one has (physically and emotionally), the more weighed-down one's life becomes.  He lives only in the present, never letting the dust settle, never wanting more than what he needs. Unlike Carl, who is only comfortable at home, Ryan is comfortable anywhere else. He leaves everything and everyone behind and insulates himself through detachment.  As a corporate downsizer, his job is to deliver hard news and then disappear from peoples' lives, but when he undertakes one last trip, this time saddled with an overeager post-grad, he begins to question his philosophy. A trip to visit a family that barely knows him really drives things home.

Like Carl, Ryan comes to realize that a life well-lived is the real adventure and that there is real value in relationships, family, and people.  They just had to uproot everything to get there.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Technical Awards

Go on, take a guess where most of this hardware is going to go.

Sound Editing and Sound Mixing go hand in hand (except for last year, for some reason) and both categories are nearly identical this year.  Both include Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, and Star TrekUp is up for Sound Editing and Transformers 2 is up for Sound Mixing.  These awards usually go to noisy action films or animated movies where all the effects have to be produced or edited in-studio. While there's a chance that The Hurt Locker will take one or both of the sound Oscars, I think that they'll both go to Avatar.  All of Avatar's achievements are technical achievements, and I expect the Academy to recognize that.

Visual effects?  Seriously?  Do I even need to mention that Avatar is up against District 9 and Star Trek?  This one is going straight to the blue monkey-cats.

Editing is a different story.  The nominees are Avatar, The Hurt Locker, District 9, Inglourious Basterds, and PreciousThe Hurt Locker was one of the most suspenseful films of the year, due in no small part to some intense editing.  Best Editing may get caught in an Avatar technical sweep and District 9 may upset, but I think The Hurt Locker is the strongest contender here.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Best Supporting Actress

Let's jump right in to the big awards.

This one's pretty simple, really.  The nominees are Penelope Cruz in Nine, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick in Up In the Air, Maggie Gyllenhaal in Crazy Heart, and Mo'Nique in Precious.

Here's how it will go down: Cruz got the sole acting nomination in a film that banked on its on-screen talent and lost - critics hated it and audiences didn't show.  Farmiga and Kendrick will likely cancel each other out.  Gyllenhaal is the surprise nominee here for a movie that's really all about Jeff Bridges.  Then there's Mo'Nique - a comedian known for loud, broad slapstick (Soul Plane, TV's Moesha) who nailed a powerful dramatic role.  She shocked audiences enough to win every major award this year so far and is a clear favorite for the Oscar.

Jim Carey is probably crying himself to sleep these days.

Traditionally, we look for a lead actress who has supporting screen time to win here.  Someone like Meryl Streep in Kramer Vs. Kramer or Marissa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny, or Marcia Gay Harden in Pollock (I could go on).  If that were the case, it would probably be Anna Kendrick's year, but Mo'Nique's story, the surprising depth of her performance, and her ability to give a good acceptance speech will likely get her to the podium on Oscar night.

Doug's Big Oscar Quiz - Part 1

Guess what, everyone!  Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Tom Sherak made an appearance in Los Angeles early yesterday morning and saw his shadow.  You know what that means - five weeks of Oscar season!

It's going to be a great year for Oscar!  We have the second-ever Best Picture nomination for an animated film (Up), the fourth woman ever nominated for Best Director (Kathryn Bigelow), plus, she's up against her ex-husband, James Cameron (a first at the awards).  Ten Best Picture nominees and a good showing for sci-fi and action movies should make things especially exciting.

I have some catching up to do, but I thought I'd start things off with an Oscar Quiz.  Answers will be posted later in the week.

Match the Best-Picture winning film with its poster tagline:

1. What does it take to find a lost love? A. Money B. Luck C. Smarts D. Destiny

2. Two great lovers of the screen in the grandest of romantic comedies!

3. They will sacrifice anything to achieve their goals...Except their honor.

4. The eye of the enemy is moving.

5. Beyond his silence, there is a past. Beyond her dreams, there is a feeling. Beyond hope, there is a memory. Beyond their journey, there is a love.

a. Chariots of Fire
b. Million Dollar Baby
c. Slumdog Millionaire
d. It Happened One Night
e. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King