Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Prediction Wrap-Up

To quote Jeff Bridges, "That didn't pan out."

Actually though, my predictions weren't that off. Black Swan under-performed, but so did Inception which I was counting on. And I'm glad John Hawkes beat the odds and got in because he's fucking fantastic in Winter's Bone. Jacki Weaver? Michelle Williams? The Illusionist? Yeah, they definitely got some things right.

I went 5/5 with Actor and Director. 9/10 in Best Picture. 3/5 in Supporting Actor, 4/5 in Actress (except my other nominee ended up in supporting, which I will rant about shortly) and 4/5 in Supporting Actress. I think I was 3/5 in both screenplay categories, regarding which I'm trilled for Mike Leigh, rolling my eyes at The Fighter, and a little sad over Black Swan.

But how about Hailee Steinfeld, huh? Clearly the Academy saw True Grit, because they showered it in nods, most of them deserved. But honestly, she's in every single scene of the damn movie. She supports no one. Jeff Bridges fucking supports here (splendidly, I might add). This may just be the worst case of category fraud in the Academy's history, far more egregious than Casey Affleck in supporting for Assassination of Jesse James... And by being placed in supporting, Steinfeld probably booted one of the Black Swan ladies from their spot while simultaneously saving either Kidman or Williams' hide.

1. Dogtooth: cool, weird
2. I Am Love in costumes: called it!
3. The Illusionist really deserved that nomination
4. Sol Star is an Oscar nominee
5. IMDB must be losing their shit since their golden god failed to get nominated
6. There's always one bad apple. This year it's totally The Fighter

I may crunch some numbers and figure out how I did over all, but right now I'm going back to bed.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Tristan Predicts The Oscars - Part 1, The Nominations

It's Oscar Eve around the Library of Babel because as you may be vaguely aware, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences gets to decree tomorrow what the undisputed best films of 2010 were, and then history shall be written and we all will rejoice. This is clearly a more important event than the awards ceremony itself, because it will not feature lame dance numbers, Twilight actors jealously handing off awards they will never possess, and long-winded faux-inspirational speeches (oh wait, never mind).

It's also the one day of the year I look forward to waking up early.

I'll save my critiquing of the year in general until my 2010 awards go live in another month, and I'll even try to restrain my contempt for a few of the possible contenders, although honestly, it's a perfectly acceptable bunch, far better than the motley crew we got saddled with last year. I will however attempt to explain myself where necessary, because as always, this is a juggling act of educated guesses, instinct and wishful thinking.

Also, not even going to attempt the shorts categories, but if I could, I would totally nominate David Lynch's Dior commercial with Marion Cotillard.

All nominees lists alphabetically, not in order of likelihood.

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

Just so we get this out in the open, I think having 10 nominees is stupid. It's one of those give-all-the-kids-a-gold-star moves that is simultaneously motivated by ratings greed and shameful kowtowing to a bunch of IMDBtards. The wisdom this season has been that the final 10 would come out of a preordained group of 11, two of which you may notice I have left off (that would be 127 Hours and The Town, films I liked more than a handful I included). The Boyle film I struck from the record for flagging support outside of James Franco, while Ben Affleck's opus I believe will suffer from being relegated to ballot-filler.

That doesn't mean I'm certain of the rest. Black Swan, The Social Network, The King's Speech, and The Fighter seem certain, and the Coens will get their film in on box office and pedigree, but the others all come with reservations, particularly The Ghost Writer which is my left-field pick in this category. The reasoning is that most will have seen it since it came out way back in March, and Roman Polanski's name may have negative connotations in middle America, but Hollywood still loves the guy, and this is his best film since at least Tess. I suspect it will play especially well with the older crowd, who otherwise have very little on their plate this year except for The King's Speech. Methinks it gets both a handful of high ballot placements and a lot of filler votes, which I think will be enough for it to beat 127 Hours and The Town to the cutoff.

And I'm clearly still predicting it to get in, but I think we've been grossly over-estimating Inception. Moving on...

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

Continuing on that last thought, here's where I'm going to eat my words. Where's Chris Nolan? Buried under Aronofsky and Fincher, I say, because I think a lot of the same voting contingent will be going for those three films, in which case Inception is going to lose out. Now, these are voted on by the director's branch, which has a respectable track record of welcoming new nominees into the fold, but Aronofsky and Hooper are already making that leap for sure this year. The weak link though is Russell and his unfavorable reputation, which I could easily see give way to a Nolan nomination.

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

Bardem is the one with a big question mark hanging over his head, but the only other viable options would seem to be Robert Duvall in the forgotten Get Low and Ryan Gosling in wild-card Blue Valentine, a film which I have no idea whether the Academy is seeing or not.

Best Actress
Annette Benning - The Kids Are All Right
Jennifer Lawrence - Winter's Bone
Natalie Portman - Black Swan
Halie Steinfeld - True Grit
Michelle Williams - Blue Vale

n is lockety-locked. Benning is in business. Lawrence seems likely. Steinfeld, despite being placed elsewhere, is clearly the lead of her film and I think she works her way in here. Unfortunately for Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole died a cold, hard death and I don't think she's making the list. Who does that leave? Michelle Williams is my best guess.

ng Actor
n Bale - The Fighter
ncent Cassel - Black Swan
ndrew Garfield - The Social Network
Mark Ruffalo - The Kids Are All Right
Geoffrey Rush - The Ki
ng's Speech

This has forced me to disregard Jeremy Re
nner and John Hawkes (and it pains me to leave Hawkes out since it was such a great supporting role) because I think the former's interest has waned as enthusiasm for The Town has likewise, while the later remains largely unknown to movie folk. We know that Bale and Rush are in, and I picked Garfield and (more surprisingly) Cassel because I think the ardent fans of their respective films will throw support there wherever they can. So even though I should be most worried about the Cassel nomination, I think it's Ruffalo who's on shakier ground. Still, I say, he's in.

ng Actress
Amy Adams - The Fighter
na Bonham Carter - The King's Speech
Barbara Hershey - Black Swan
Melissa Leo - The Fighter
Jacki Weaver - A
nimal Kingdom

I love how much room for error there is in this category. You've got two ladies from The Fighter vying for spots and the one who just won the Globe got left out of the BAFTA noms! Then there's the Black Swanettes, Barbara Hershey and Mila Kunis, both deserving, but I don't think the Academy is ready to embrace one of the stars of That 70s Show, awesome as she was. Bonham Carter has turned up just about everywhere so I wouldn't bet against her, but the role also lacks the dynamism usually associated with awards, so who knows. There's Lesley Manville, who was certifiably amazing in Another Year, but if Sally Hawkins couldn't get in for the much more beloved Happy-Go-Lucky, then I just can't see this happening. Who else? Julianne Moore perhaps if she's dumped here (when she's definitely lead) for The Kids Are All Right or Olivia Williams if The Ghost Writer proves more successful than we think. My instinct though is Jacki Weaver, singled out for her imposing matriarch in Animal Kingdom, a film that was on top of sending screeners to the academy, which certainly will help.

Original Screenplay
nimal Kingdom
Another Year
Black Swan
The Kids Are All Right
The Ki
ng's Speech

Adapted Screenplay
The Ghost Writer
The Social
Toy Story 3
True Grit
nter's Bone

Animal Kingdom I think will be this year's In Bruges or In The Loop (both which I predicted to get in when most others didn't). Another Year will be another Leigh film recognized by the writers even when it gets ignored everywhere else. Inception is just not a writer's movie.

But Original has The Fighter and Blue Valentine as spoilers. In Adapted, I'm more confident in those 5, unless 127 Hours creeps in, but that one just feels like more of a director/actors' movie than a writer's one.

nimated Feature
How To Trai
n Your Dragon
The Illusio
Toy Story 3

n Language
In a Better World
Life, Above All
n la Lluvia

Inside Job
The Lottery
Waiting for Superman

Art Direction
Alice in Wonderland
Black Swan
I Am Love
The King's Speech

127 Hours
Black Swan

The Social Network
True Grit

Black Swa
The Fighter

The Ki
ng's Speech

The Social Network

Alice i
n Wonderland
Black Swan
I Am Love
The Ki
ng's Speech

The Tempest

Alice i
n Wonderland
The Way Back
The Wolfma

Original Song
"If I Rise" - 127 Hours
"I See The Light" - Ta
"Shine" - Waiting For Superman

Original Score
The Ghost Writer
The King's Speech
The Social Network
Toy Story 3

Sound Editing
127 Hours
Black Swa
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
Toy Story 3

Sound Mixing
127 Hours
Black Swa
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
Alice in Wonderland

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

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Misery Mile

Three 2010 releases I caught up with over the past week were a marathon of miserable, although in only one case did that apply to my state of mind rather than the characters themselves. The other two films, in fact, were the kind of soul-draining cinema that I gravitate toward like a child to downed power lines. After all, what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger, or in the case of film number three, makes you contemplate killing something else. With that in mind, let's run through my week in movies, chronologically as luck would have it.

Blue Valentine
The pairing of Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, two of the best actors of their up-and-coming generation, felt significant even before the first trailer came around. Through love and through loathing, their chemistry is palpable, and the only excuse you need to check out this film. The movie itself is amazingly bi-polar, cutting between the glorious romantic highs of first love to the ruins of a marriage run into the ground. There's such true passion and joy emanating from the flashback sequences, especially the heartfelt scene that frames the trailer, but this is ultimately a film for the cynics. It's excruciating to watch romantic bliss die a cruel death without any causation of the middle years, and the cards here are stacked against the former lovers. A few moments, including an embarrassingly melodramatic hospital confrontation, stretch the drama too far, but I mostly found the film's pessimistic duality enormously effective, if hardly pleasurable. The flashes between past and present weren't handled idly, and so the gradual reveal of the plot served, as it should, to deepen the characters with each passing cut. That's just good film-making.

Another Year There's a fascinating compare and contrast piece waiting to be written on Blue Valentine vs. Another Year. The former finds misery within a marriage still a far cry from maturity by any standards while the later uses a long-standing unshakable marital bond as the locus around which a handful of personal lives crumble. Both films cut between emotional trainwrecks and the sunny side of life at will before ultimately allowing the futility of such struggled to take over. But Another Year marginally less cynical, because worn down as they Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen's happy couple appear by the end, their love for each other never appear shaken.

So what's the cause of such anguish? That would be Lesley Manville's Mary, a single woman of maybe 50 years, and a basket case of emotions stemming from her failures past, present and future. She's clings to Tom and Gerri (the affectionately lighthearted duo of Broadbent and Sheen) while there's no doubt that they only keep her around out of pity. Mary's smitten with their unmarried son who regards her more as a crazy aunt than an option in love, and yet remains staunchly repulsed by bloated bachelor friend Ken and his many advances. Yet her options run increasingly thin, and her time spent in the shadow of Tom and Gerri's model couple only drives her further into depression. She strikes out with desperate justifications and ploys, and in the film's bleak final act, shatters her carefully constructed mask of happiness and turns a noteworthy performance into a truly great one.

As usual though for a Mike Leigh film, the entire ensemble comes through. Broadbent and Sheen are as much leads as Manville, even if she runs away with all of the many scenes she's in, and the dependable supporting players include David Bradley (Argus Filch!), Peter Wight (who is perhaps still suffering the aftermath of David Thewlis tearing down the walls of his world in Naked), and a limited engagement by Imelda Staunton. It's a typically terrific film from Leigh and if you're not adverse to emotionally draining experiences, one of the better films of the year.

So what happened here? My hopes, I will not lie, were up quite a bit. Blame Tarantino leading the Venice jury to the coveted Golden Lion, or blame Sofia Coppola's pedigree, which is bound to set expectations unrealistically as it is. Somewhere hops around between hotel rooms and lobbies, but the script features only the vaguest sketch of character development. Steven Dorff and Elle Fanning are a reunited father and daughter, daddy's a movie star and she's a little spoiled, but they get along and spend some time together and that's, well, about all. Because the problem with Somewhere is that no one progresses, they just stay in idle and they're not even interesting to watch while they're stagnating. There's the sense at the beginning that Cleo doesn't spend much time with her father, but you'd never know it based on Dorff and Fanning, who's relationship has all the warmth in the beginning that it does when he finally sends her off to camp. The film hangs in a pleasant but dull sort of stasis for the entire duration, and slowly I began to find this infuriating, more so than I would have had Coppola attempted even the slightest bit of character arc. Or it honestly could be the fault of the actors, neither who I have much confidence in to find nuance in thinly written roles.

I will say that I appreciated some of the brief moments of insight behind the scenes of the movie business, from the press junket to the elevator ride with Benicio del Toro, but they hardly made up for a mostly trying movie experience. Disappointingly inert, but I remain on team Coppola. Even here her insights prove valuable, if not put to the best use.

Tomorrow, barring unforeseen disasters, I should have an exciting review posted. And I've got an ongoing project planned to launch later in the week, which should be a welcome variation from the typical reviews/listing.

Film Review: Enter The Void

I've left films feeling delirious before. Spinning. Staggering. Dizzy. It happens - Black Swan or Antichrist or Funny Games - not often, but it happens. But then how is it that the film in perpetual orbit, Gaspar Noe's newly penned neon bible Enter the Void, achieves not dizziness, but a kind of clarity?

I do
n't know. Let's get to the bottom of this.

To state the obvious, Enter the Void is something completely different. It's living, glowing proof that cinema isn't quite dead yet. As long as there are visionaries like Noe not only charting new territory, but showing us the familiar in ways we've never imagined, then the battle between film as an art and film as a product will not be lost. And that new territory is something to behold; a world observed from impossible perspectives in which everything feels intimately connected, not organically, but electrically, and if that doesn't make immediate sense it's because there really is no precedent for what's going on here. To experience it is to take on the perspective of a ghost, incapable of interaction and at the whim of sensory triggers that will catapult you into the deepest recesses of your memory. The revelations of Enter the Void are not unlike discovering the world is round.

need-to-know plot points are simple and readily apparent. Oscar, an American drug dealer living with his sister Linda in Tokyo, is shot down by police in a drug raid. Taking cues from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the film assumes the perspective of its fallen protagonist and hovers with (as) him through past, present and future. This takes no small amount of time, over two and a half hours in fact, over the course of which you are lulled not into sleep, but to atrophy, as your limbs fall silent and your heartbeat slows until there's nothing but a mind and a pair of eyes fused entirely with the screen itself. The effect is hallucinatory, and it allows no small detail to go unnoticed. The objects and images that bear significance in the Oscar's memory come to hold similar power over us. This all leads time and again to the traumatic incident at the core of Oscar and Linda's relationship, a fool-me-once kind of scene that no less than three times would have had me dive from my seat had the spell of the film not kept me utterly still.

Two thi
ngs in particular place Enter the Void in a category of its own, starting with the amazing connection between camera, character and surroundings. It's a film that fully inhabits its own world, as you follow characters in and out of buildings, both from behind and above, and the enter Tokyo neighborhood becomes one space, from Oscar's dingy apartment to the streets teaming with miscreants to the end-of-the-line titular bar that practically wears a sign saying "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here." And then there's the moment where the hovering camera first takes flight and the world is no longer confined to that neighborhood, but the skies and the entire city. In passing through locations there are from time to time edits, but they're executed with such fluidity that the seams are just another part of the aesthetic - shadows between the glowing lights.

The second triumph of the film is its investigation of memory, explored on its own terms, and with greater success than any film since Last Year at Marienbad. Editing again makes this possible, and the film's use of jump cuts is among the best I've ever seen. They become both the perfect illusion of blackouts amidst delirium and an economical means of confining life's details to just the most important points. And we can't help but notice details within those details, (no need to spell them out, thank you Inception) like the stuffed toy that Linda carries upon her arrival in Toyko, identical to the one in here childhood bedroom, and suddenly we're awakened to the possibility that this might instead be an imagined past, an alternate reality concocted solely in the mind of Oscar, perhaps in the instant before death or perhaps, as the film would have it, through the blurry afterlife his spirit/our perspective is confined to. The selective, even faulty nature of memory has never been more apparent than when the body is left behind and the point of view becomes omniscient, although there's no trace of the divine in this city of concrete and neon. Like the endless buildings of Tokyo, Oscar's memories are man-made constructs.

That's all the e
ncouragement you need to go see this, right? If not, Boardwalk Empire fans can surely be lured in by Paz de la Huerta spending the usual 50 percent of her screen time stark naked (she's also by far the best actor in the cast, but nothing about Enter the Void is driven by performance). It's such a consuming experience that it may prove easier to appreciate than to love, but it needs to be seen, if for no other reason to encourage such out-of-the-box approaches to film-making.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Tristan's Annual Unsuccessful New Year's Res...

Now broadcasting to you from Chicago.

With that comes the promise of more freque
nt updates, as I suddenly find the doors of a more vibrant film scene wide open. But before any of that nonsense, it's list time, and lest we forget, lists are commonly found in one of two shades. Sure, everyone likes the masturbatory Type A list, in which you decree to the world exactly what they ought to be appreciating - opinions, after all, are what keeps this old internet of our spinning on its axis - but one man's Type A list is another man's B, the ever-dreaded, perpetually looming To-Do list. To-Watch-These-Movies in my case.

It's my a
nnual tradition, the drafting of the list as sacred and sure as my inability to get to the bottom of it (not that I proceed in any sort of order). It's also not technically one man's Type A list, but many (with great thanks this year to Culturish's dws1982, who's brilliant top 200 can be found here). I once pulled from the canon, but I've expanded lately, and this year the lineup mostly plumbs the depths of the auteurs even further. As always, I suspect availability will stop me in my tracks more than once, but it's a bunch I'm personally quite excited about (especially for the chance to look further a Ozu, several years since we last met) and I'll report back during the year as I make a bit of a dent.

Here it is, 52 Films of 2011

1. Straight Story (David Lynch)
2. Awaara (Raj Kapoor)
3. Zazie dans le Metro (Louis Malle)
4. My Dinner With Andre (Louis Malle)
5. Brand Upon the Brain (Guy Maddin)
6. Archangel (Guy Maddin)
7. Barsaat (Raj Kapoor)
8. No Fear, No Die (Claire Denis)
9. I Am Curious Blue & Yellow (Vilgot Sjolman)
10. Moonfleet (Fritz Lang)
11. Doctor Mabuse series (Fritz Lang)
12. Mr. Arkadin (Orson Welles)
13. The Trial (Orson Welles)
14. Dog Star Man (Stan Brakage)
15. A City of Sadness (Hou Hsiao Hsien)
16. Goodbye South, Goodbye (Hou Hsiao Hsien)
17. The Wind (Victor Sjostrom)
18. J’Taime, J’Taime (Alain Resnais)
19. Memories of Murder (Bong Joon Ho)
20. I Was Born, But… (Yasujiro Ozu)
21. An Autumn Afternoon (Yasujiro Ozu)
22. Play Misty For Me (Clint Eastwood)
23. White Hunter, Black Heart (Clint Eastwood)
24. Where Is My Friends Home? (Abbas Kiarostami)
25. Ten (Abbas Kiarostami)
26. The Death of Mr. Laszarescu (Cristi Puilu)
27. Pyassa (Guru Dutt)
28. Three Lives & Only One Death (Raul Ruiz)
29. The Killing (Stanley Kubrick)
30. Hidden Fortress (Akira Kurosawa)
31. Red Beard (Akira Kurosawa)
32. The Spider’s Stratagem (Bernardo Bertolucci)
33. Before the Revolution (Bernardo Bertolucci)
34. The Dreamers (Bernardo Bertolucci)
35. Tenenbre (Dario Argento)
36. Cronos (Guillermo del Toro)
37. Blood For Dracula (Paul Morrissey)
38. Hard Eight (Paul Thomas Anderson)
39. The Seventh Continent (Michael Haneke)
40. The Kingdom (Lars von Trier)
41. The Virgin Suicides (Sofia Coppola)
42. Hedwig & the Angry Itch (John Cameron Mitchell)
43. Wonderland (Michael Winterbottom)
44. Crash (David Cronenberg)
45. Adoration (Atom Egoyan)
46. The Fall of the Roman Empire (Anthony Mann)
47. The Lusty Men (Nicholas Ray)
48. Violent Summer (Valerio Zurlini)
49. Mountains of the Moon (Bob Rafelson)
50. Europa ’51 (Roberto Rossellini)
51. Stars in My Crown (Jacques Tournier)
52. Le Doulos (Jean-Pierre Melville)