Monday, January 31, 2011

Best Supporting Actor

The Best Supporting Actor race this year features Christian Bale (The Fighter), John Hawkes (Winter's Bone), Jeremy Renner (The Town), Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right), and Geoffrey Rush (The King's Speech). 

Hawkes is the surprise nominee this year and he was really really good in Winter's Bone.  But I think that this race will be between the two hotheaded working-class Boston Irish characters – Renner and Bale.  I was all set to pick Renner, who was great in The Town, but now I'm leaning toward Bale.  Both really internalized their roles with a strong intensity.  Both were convincing as dangerous loose cannons in the protagonist's life. But Bale did it with a convincing accent, which puts him over the top.  Just don't expect him to get a lot of votes from the Academy's Cinematography wing.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Kids Are All Right & Toy Story 3

In The Kids Are All Right, a laid-back suburban California household is cast into disarray when the two teenage kids, Joni and Laser, decide to contact their sperm-donor father, Paul (Supporting Actor nominee Mark Ruffalo).  His appearance throws everyone's relationship into sharp relief, bringing up difficult issues in everyone's life and redefining their expectations of each other.  After the unexpected phone call, Paul wrestles with his feelings about family and commitment. After meeting Paul, Joni and Laser have to come to terms with how to define their relationships – and how far they want him in their lives. Once they find out what their kids have done the parents, Nic and Jules (Nominee Annette Benning and Julianne Moore) question their parenting and their marriage while trying to define a place for newcomer Paul and establish boundaries within their family.

Oh, didn't I mention that the parents are both women?  No?  Probably because the movie doesn't make a big deal about it either.

Those boundaries are pushed and frictions arise as Paul becomes more and more involved in the kids' lives, infiltrating the family, much to the dismay of the protective Nic.

In Toy Story 3, the familiar residents of Andy's toy chest find their lives in disarray when they're donated to a local daycare center. Things seem great at first, but the situation soon turns sinister when they uncover the machinations of the center's leader, Lotso. The move to this new environment forces the toys to question their roles and their purpose in life. Is their loyalty to Andy or to the dozens of kids at the center who lack the emotional connection that they're used to?  The toys struggle to find a place at the daycare while maintaining the boundaries and roles of their old life.

In their own ways, both films deal with change and how difficult and important it is for people to adjust their perceptions and their relationships. Nic in Kids and Jesse in Toy Story 3 find trouble by remaining rigid, refusing to give up their old status quo. Conversely, the kids in Kids and several of the toys in Toy Story 3 (including Barbie, Rex, and Ham) are more flexible, accepting with the change in their lives, but not without disappointment and heartache.  Each movie shows us that the answer is somewhere in between - it's important to accept change, but not at the expense of your self and your family.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Technical Awards

This year's nominees for Best Editing are Black Swan, The Fighter, The King's Speech, 127 Hours, and The Social Network.  (How is Inception not on that list?)  As always, voters in this category have a choice between awarding solid storytelling or flashy, stylized editing.  The one that stands out to me is 127 Hours, where the editor had to depict James Franco's character's mindset from multiple sources and build to a frenetic climax.  In fact, discussion of the movie focuses as much on the editing as Franco's performance and those shocking three minutes near the end.

Best Sound Editing is about sound effects and there are five great nominees: Inception, Toy Story 3, Tron: Legacy, True Grit, and UnstoppableUnstoppable probably has the most sound effects and Tron: Legacy probably has the most exotic, but I'm going to give my pick to Inception.  Voters always want to give awards to high-quality prestige pictures, but categories like this are dominated by action films.  Giving it to Inception solves both problems.

Best Sound Mixing takes all the sound aspects of a movie into consideration - how the dialogue, effects, music, and foley all work together.  The nominees are Inception, The King's Speech, Salt, The Social Network, and True Grit.  One of my chief complaints about The Social Network was its sound mix, so I'm inclined to count it out.  Again, Inception seems the likely choice. It was a highly technical production with a lot of sound aspects, but it was still a cerebral prestige film.  I think voters will feel good about giving them the win here.

The Best Visual Effects nominees are Alice In Wonderland, Harry Potter 7a, Hereafter, Inception, and Iron Man 2.   Once again, a prestige picture has the edge and Inception will likely be the victor. Its main competition is Hereafter (also a prestige film, but lacking Academy support) and Alice In Wonderland (which was created mostly in computers).  In the end, though, I think that Alice will clean up in the Artistic categories and that Inception will rock the Technical awards.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Best Supporting Actress

Welcome to Oscar Season 2011!  With cool young hosts, popular movies getting lots of nominations, and some difficult races, it looks to be a great show this year.  To be honest, I don't expect to do as well with my picks as last year, but I'll certainly have fun trying and I hope you'll have fun reading my posts.  Let's  jump right in with Best Supporting Actress:

This years Supporting Actress race features Amy Adams and Melissa Leo (The Fighter), Helena Bonham Carter (The King's Speech), Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit), and Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom).  All are strong performances, but as the least-high profile nominee, I suspect that Jacki Weaver will have a tough time in this race.  Bonham Carter was good, but her competition all had bolder performances and more aggressive characters.  Leo and Adams are in the same movie and their votes will likely get split, but there's a chance that voters will get behind Melissa Leo. 

More likely is a win for young Hailee Steinfeld. She is, technically, the female lead in True Grit and gives a bold, focused performance, holding her own against some heavyweight Hollywood veterans.  Her movie has been popular and well-reviewed, but her age is a serious factor - the Academy doesn't give awards to kids lightly.  The best thing she can do, now that she's been nominated, is to campaign like crazy. She needs to go on talk shows and show everyone that she isn't at all like her character and prove that she's an actress in whom the Academy can invest its votes. If she doesn't do that, Melissa Leo, an actress who already has Academy respect, will have the edge.

I'm picking Steinfeld, but we'll see how the campaigning pans out.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Recording of Gauntlet

If that headline doesn't rack up the hits, I don't know what will.

If you're looking for a professional recording of Gauntlet, go here.

One of the great things about having a blog with Blogger is that they provide their users with statistics of how many views their blogs receive, where the hits are coming from, what sites are referring the viewers, and what phrases people typed into search engines to get there.  And it can all be sorted by day, week, month, and all-time, to track trends.

The reason I started this post with the link to a recording of Gauntlet is because that's the number-one search engine query that leads them to my blog.  I get searches like this all the time:

Gauntlet recording
Gauntlet download free
Gauntlet Spata MP3

Sorry, but you won't find a free MP3 of Gauntlet online. Not that I make a ton of money from downloads – I really don't – but the best recording is the one from Alfred Publishing and, while you can listen for free, it costs $.99 USD to download.  That's just the way it is. 

There's also inordinate number of searches for "Gauntlet violin parts free."  Guess what?  You're not going to get free sheet music. You'll have to buy it like a responsible, law-abiding citizen.

I also get hits for information about myself and my music. Searches like this:

Doug Spata composer
Avatar Doug Spata music
Star of Valor orchestra

... and they're either led to this blog or to my website, which has all sorts of information.

Here's a weird one. After my trip to Los Angeles last summer, I wrote about my visit pilgrimage to Igor Stravinsky's house and to his star on the Walk of Fame. I titled the post "1260 North Weatherly Drive" and, consequently, I get tons of hits from people looking up that address.  One of the search results for my name in Google looks like this:

I think people click on it thinking that that's my address. Let me be clear – that's not my address.  I sincerely hope that the current residents of Igor's house aren't getting mail addressed  to me.

Another oddity: After I posted X-ray images of my broken shoulder last spring, I've had a lot of hits from people searching for "actual TSA scanner images."  Weird.

Blogger also tells me where, geographically, the hits are coming from. Most of them are from the United States and Canada, as expected, but I've been surprised by hits from Jordan, Australia, China, Argentina, Brazil, and the UK, among many other places. I can only assume that people from those countries either: a.) stumbled onto my blog by complete accident or b.) have heard of my music and sought me out on purpose.  I know it's the former but it's good for my ego to believe the latter.

So no matter how you got here, thanks for reading and I hope you come back.  As per my tradition, I'll be blogging about the Academy Awards all next month, so stay tuned for some good oscar speculation and movie-related posts!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Commission! (Update)

I had a great couple of holidays and used my time to work on that commission for the Charlotte MENC orchestra contest that I mentioned a few weeks ago.

I've now finished first drafts on all four pieces and have sent them in to my contact in Charlotte. I do have a few concerns that some aspects may be too difficult (or perhaps too easy) for each grade level, so I'm looking forward to the feedback.

It's sight reading music, so I can't divulge any specifics about what keys, meters, and styles I used, but they're each around 30 measures and clock in at about one minute (at tempo).  I'm really happy with how they turned out and I think that they'll be even better when I spin them into full-length pieces later.