CineMathematics or CinemaThematics. Your choice

Monday, February 26, 2007

Sundae Monday + Post Oscar Thoughts

Imagine if, in 1951, instead of George Stevens winning Best Director and An American in Paris winning Best Picture at the Academy Awards, history saw Alfred Hitchcock and Strangers on a Train win. That happened last night, as another cinema legend made a great movie, marking a "return to form" with a "B movie" steeped in dualities. I couldn't be happier, especially after watching The Departed again tonight.

Yeah, I didn't pull a few triggers I should have (namely Michael Arndt for Best Original Screenplay), but it was a good show overall. The very diverse show, everyone got a little piece of something. Letters From Iwo Jima, The Queen, Little Miss Sunshine, Marie Antoinette, Dreamgirls, Babel, Pan's Labyrinth, The Lives of Others, it seems that there wasn't an empty hand in the Kodak theater.

Except for Eddie Murphy and Peter O'Toole. While I admire Murphy sticking to his guns and not disowning his past and present (doesn't mean I'll be seeing Norbit anytime soon), I will admit I was happy to see Alan Arkin get the award for being the best part of an otherwise mediocre movie. As for O'Toole, he gave the saddest instant of the show when Forest Whitaker's name was announced. That instant on his heartbroken face did more for me than the strongest Hollywood weepy. That said, Whitaker gave a great speech, turning "I was just a girl in a trailer park with a dream" into an impassioned speech about following your dreams. Maybe it's that he gave a better performance than Hilary Swank. I don't know.

Random thought: The last person to win a leading acting Oscar for portraying a fictional character was Hilary Swank. Not taking anything away from the winners since (except Reese Witherspoon), but what happened to, you know, creating your own character?

As an Oscar warm up yesterday, I watched For Your Consideration. Though not all that funny (except John Michael Higgins, essentially reprising his role as Wayne Jarvis from "Arrested Development"), it was a scathing look at the nightmares produced in the Dream Factory. It was like cold water to the face before the Oscars.

Random thought: Penelope Cruz is not from Mexico. Infernal Affairs is not Japanese. This year's self-congratulatory tone was about this being the "International Year," like last year's was the "Independent Year." So much for either of those.

How did they get the Departed silhouette to shoot a bullet?

What happened to Iraq? I know this was brought up somewhere else, possibly The House Next Door, but that was a political theme distinctly missing from this year's Oscars. And with Happy Feet and An Inconvenient Truth combining for more than any single film besides our dear Departed, it was all global warming all the time. I guess they're leaving Iraq to Congress. Good luck with that one, guys.

I'm sick of writing about the Oscars, so, for Sundae Monday, I present the Monarch on the Red Carpet:

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Oscar Weekend!

I must admit, I'm very confused as to why the Academy failed to nominate Dreamgirls this year. After all, Oscar loves to sing...

But seriously, tomorrow is the day that Hollywood finally stops patting itself on the back. I like the Oscars and all, but my favorites never seem to end up with the right awards. Then again, when my favorite nominated film from last year was Capote, it's easy to be a bit disappointed. I also have a difficult time separating my subjective favorites from those I objectively think are best. In this sense, I very much love the Oscars. They give me a chance to thoroughly examine my thoughts on nominees, winners, et al.

I'll be looking at whatever categories I feel I want to or can give an opinion on. For instance, I'd love to give my thoughts on Best Actor, but I've only seen one of the nominees (Ryan Gosling). And I'm saving Best Picture for last, so if you want to see my thoughts on that, just skip on down. So without further ado . . .

And for the record, when I say Should Win, I mean of the nominees I have seen.

Best Actor

As stated above, I have no comments here, except I think that Forest Whitaker will continue to dominate the field. I just wish Sascha Baron Cohen were there for hilarity's sake.

Will Win: Forest Whitaker

Best Actress

Is it strange that I've seen more Best Actress nominees than Best Picture nominees?I'm not sure, but you can at least credit Babel for that one. Helen Mirren's winning in the surest lock I think the Oscars will ever see. As for my personal thoughts, I'm split. Judi Dench gives a wonderful camp performance in Notes on a Scandal, but she manages to add enough gravity to elevate the performance to the point where people say it's her best performance ever. I'm not inclined to disagree. But then again, I don't think anyone should be allowed to forget Penelope Cruz. She is the rock that holds Volver, and it's just as amazing that she stands out among such a wonderful ensemble. I certainly would have rather seen Blanca Portillo in the Best Supporting Actress category instead of Abigail Breslin, but that's another story.

Will Win: Helen Mirren
Should Win: Judi Dench
Want to Win: Penelope Cruz

Best Supporting Actor

I've only seen two of the nominees, but I wish either of them would win. I know I'm supposed to be unbiased and judge Eddie Murphy on just this performance, but he unleashed Pluto Nash on the world. Then again, I should wait until I see his performance to judge him on it. The two I've seen are Alan Arkin and Mark Wahlberg. Alan Arkin manages to take a sorely underwritten character and make him the heart of Little Miss Sunshine. Once he was gone, the picture fell apart. As for Marky Mark, he gets the Richie Cusack award for most purely entertaining character of the year, and he should feel lucky to be nominated. And yes, I think Norbit has destroyed Eddie's chances of winning.

Will Win: Alan Arkin
Should Win: Alan Arkin
Want to Win: Mark Wahlberg

Best Supporting Actress

Like Supporting Actor, I've only seen two, but my feelings aren't quite as nice for the ladies. My thoughts here are very simple. I really wish someone else from Volver could have snuck in here.

Will Win: Jennifer Hudson
Should Win: Cate Blanchett
Want to Win: Cate Blanchett

Best Animated Movie

I haven't seen Happy Feet, but I want to since I've heard about the dark side of the film not shown in previews. Because, really, I don't want to see tap dancing penguins for the sake of tap dancing penguins. I thought Cars was the worst Pixar movie I've seen since Toy Story 2, and I know I'm gonna get a lot of argument for either of those comments, but neither of them worked for me. And Pixar usually does work for me. But this marks the second first for Pixar in a row. With The Incredibles, Pixar made its first movie centered on human characters. This made a believeable world and more relatable characters. It was the best Pixar movie I've seen yet, so I was hoping for another great one with another first. Cars was the first Pixar film to exist entirely as its own world. What I mean by this is that in the Toy Story movies, there were still humans and a real world that the characters needed to interact with. In Finding Nemo, there were fishermen who could catch the fish. In Cars there weren't drivers to go along with the cars. There wasn't anyone to hide from. There wasn't a hidden world just beyond our sight, and I missed that quality. It didn't play with my imagination the way other Pixar movies or Monster House did. I thought Monster House was a great piece of work, and it's too bad it doesn't stand a chance of winning. A meditation on imagination, puberty, and 80's adventure movies, Monster House brims with energy.

Will Win: Cars
Should Win: Monster House
Want to Win: Monster House

Best Cinematography

I haven't seen the eventual winner, but I would like to see The Prestige get something. It's very technically well done, and I think that of the three I have seen (The Prestige, The Illusionist, and Pan's Labyrinth), it is The Prestige that should win. I still would gladly trade the cinematography nomination for one in Best Editing, where it should be nominated. After all, magic movies are all about the editing.

Will Win: Children of Men
Should Win: The Prestige
Want to Win: The Prestige

Best Directing

I've only seen two nominees, but it's all about Marty, right?

All Three: Martin Scorsese

Best Editing

Look for this award tomorrow, as it will be, I think, the most important indicator of the night. If The Departed wins, it has Best Picture in the bag. If Babel wins, we hava a whole new ballgame, though this could easily be the only award they give it. If neither win, then Best Picture goes to Little Miss Sunshine. This is my prediction, and I will fess up if I'm wrong.

Will Win: Babel
Should Win: The Departed (I haven't seen United 93)
Want to Win: The Departed

Best Foreign Language Film

I'm hoping it's not Pan's Labyrinth, but I know I'm in the minority on this one. Though The Lives of Others wraps itself up a bit too nicely, most of the journey is very well done.

Will Win: Pan's Labyrinth
Should Win: The Lives of Others
Want to Win: The Lives of Others

Best Visual Effects

As much as I am loathe to say it, the special effects in Dead Man's Chest are exquisite, easily the best part of the film. Too bad it didn't have anything else up to that level. Though I prefer Superman Returns on the whole, Davy Jones was just too impressive to deny.

All Three: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

Best Adapted Screenplay

If you honestly consider Borat to be a screenplay, then yeah it deserves to win. I would have liked a nomination for Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story in its place, since it's actually a screenplay, and I think it's actually funnier. If it were here, I'd want it to win, which is not to say that The Departed doesn't belong as much to William Monahan as to Scorsese. I'm just looking forward to seeing both take the stage.

All Three: The Departed

Best Original Screenplay

Here's to Peter Morgan. I hope he takes off for the stratosphere with Oscar in hand.

Will Win: Little Miss Sunshine
Should Win: The Queen
Want to Win: The Queen

Best Picture:

I haven't seen Letters From Iwo Jima (I haven't had a lot of time) or Babel (I really don't want to). Of the three I have seen, I liked all of them just fine. I didn't love Little Miss Sunshine, and I think Michael Sheen should get more credit for his role as Tony Blair. But, other than some slight directorial flourishes, The Queen sank into the pit of a nice little British film. Now, there's nothing wrong with that, and I thought the directorial flourishes were unnecessary and distracting, but I don't want the film to win on the basis of one performance. It falls smack in the middle of the three I've seen, and likely when I've seen all five, it will still be in the middle. As for The Departed, I think that it was the perfect combination of wonderful elements. The acting, except Jack being Jack, was top-notch, the writing excellent, the editing amazing, and of course, Scrosese on the streets is never a bad thing. I hope it will go down in history as one of Oscars greatest calls.

All Three: The Departed

It took me a long time to get to The Departed as my choice. I'll readily admit I believed Dreamgirls would win before the nominations were announced, and then switched to Little Miss Sunshine even before the PGA and SAG. But with The Departed taking the WGA, DGA, and tying for the Eddie, I think it's quietly been behind whatever latest trend in "momentum" there is (this week it's Babel). And I think it's only grown stronger as time has gone on.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow night. It should be exciting.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Sundae Monday - All Departed All the Time

The two most recognizable songs used in The Departed are "Gimme Shelter" by the Rolling Stones and "I'm Shipping Up To Boston" by the Dropkick Murphys. I just wanted to point out how perfect this is. The two hardest tickets to get in Boston, besides Monster seats for Red Sox/Yankees games, are the Rolling Stones and St. Patrick's Day tickets for the Dropkick Murphys. The use of those two songs is just another element to perfectly situate this as a Boston movie. And in anticipation of the Oscars, I present to you:

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

More Like The Big Snoozefest

This is my contribution to Jim Emerson's Contrarianism Blog-A-Thon at Scanners. I already sort of did one when I talked about Pan's Labyrinth and Tideland. You can find that one here. But why write another one? Because, as Jim says, "nobody doesn't like Howard Hawks... RIGHT?!?!" (any emphasis is entirely Jim's).

I must have seen The Big Sleep at least three times, trying to find out what is so good about it. After all, it's ranked #242 on They Shoot Pictures' List of the Top 1000 Films ever made, ranking above Shadow of a Doubt, Night of the Living Dead, Fantasia, Network, and many others I hold in very high esteem. And so far I've come up empty handed. It doesn't work as a noir or as a romance. And I've tried to make it work. I've looked at praises for it to see what I'm missing. Or maybe it's what they're missing.

Looking at praise for it, I've noticed that most of it surrounds Bogie and Bacall. Watching them, I felt absolutely nothing. The "chemistry" between them is completely absent, which I lay both at the feet of the actors and the writers (William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, and Jules Furthman). While the racehorse dialogue is a highlight of the film, it pales next to Bacall's quip in To Have and Have Not about whistling (no, I have not seen the film, but everyone and their mother has seen the clip in AFI specials and the like). In fact, the romance is the first thing most people remember about the film, because the actual plot is so complicated. In this way, it is the direct predecessor for Michael Mann's Miami Vice, but where Mann takes time from his story to show us the beauty of the landscape and contemplate the nature of the relationships in the film, Hawks can't be too distracted from the plot long enough for us to digest what we've seen. Even the time we get with Bogie and Bacall alone is a mere fraction of the time spent trying to unravel the monstrous plot.

And what a plot it is. A mystery so complicated that Raymond Chandler himself never knew who killed the butler, and he wrote the damn novel. I can appreciate the attempts to buck noir conventions by centering on a legitimate romance and eliminating any femme fatale, but it eliminates the glee from the film. Most of the fun to be had in a noir film comes from seeing a twist coming and joyfully awaiting the results. Hawks plays it straight, though, making us wait patiently for Phillip Marlowe to eventually beat the bad guys and get the girl. Mary Astor may seem dated now as Brigid O'Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon, but at least she puts enough into her role to make it worth watching.

Speaking of the black bird, Humphrey Bogart's performance as Sam Spade puts his Phillip Marlowe to shame. Where Marlowe constantly plays it cool, not even letting the audience know there's a chink in his armor, Spade has a plan, but he's never more than one step ahead of anyone else in the film. This is best exemplified by Spade's first meeting with Kaspar Gutman. He eventually erupts in a torrent of anger, smashing his glass as he lays out his ultimatum to Gutman. After he storms out, we see his anger melt away as Spade laughs up a storm. But then Spade looks down at his hand trembling. In this one shot, we see that he was not only performing in front of Gutman, but also for himself, pretending that he isn't nearly as frightened of Gutman as he is. Marlowe never shows his weakness, and as so never rises above the few character traits given to him by Chandler and Hawks.

No, I guess I missed the boat. It took me three times to fully appreciate The Maltese Falcon, but three times have only hardened my resolve against The Big Sleep. If you can tell me what I'm missing, please let me know. Because I'd hate to be the one person who doesn't like Howard Hawks.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Not Everybody Gets Corrupted

This is my entry for The Lovesick Blog-A-Thon at 100 Films. Check the hub for more links. And have a happy Valentine's Day.

Woody Allen has made a career out of using his films as relationship therapy. Hell, Annie Hall's flashback structure is supposed to invite us into Alvy's head like a therapist. And yet Manhattan stands out from his work, mainly for the visuals it provides. It is the work of an artist telling two love stories: a tragic romance of egomaniacs, and the story of a man and the city that will never leave him. And it is with the camera that he tells the hidden tale under each story.

Isaac Davis (Allen) loves New York, as is clearly stated in his opening monologue. Every attempt at an opening both talks about himself and the city he loves. The first attempt even begins "He adored New York City." Those are the first words of Manhattan, besides "Chapter One." And if that doesn't convince you that this is a love letter to the Big Apple, then Woody is willing to take you all over town. From the Queensborough Bridge to the Guggenheim, cinematographer Gordon Willis gives us a new view of the city, avoiding tourist traps and leaving us speechless at the city we can find instead. In its near fetishism of the backgrounds, Manhattan shows just how much it prefers the scenery to the characters who make its story.

As much as Manhattan is about Woody Allen's love for his hometown, it also tells a magnificent story about our self-destructive nature and loss. Isaac is in a relationship with Tracy (Mariel Hemingway), but he has feelings for Mary (Diane Keaton). Mary is in a relationship with Yale (Michael Murphy), but Yale is already married. Of these four characters, the only innocent one is Tracy, cruelly dumped by Isaac for Mary. Each of the others equivocates on their relationships, leading only to heartbreak for those cast off. Where Mary and Yale are unsure whether or not to end their romance and Isaac fears that Tracy is too young for him, Tracy has only love for Isaac. In fact, by the end of the film, we are unsure if anyone other than Tracy is capable of love.

Allen captures the lack of communication by isolating his characters within his camera. Most of the movie is shot in extended medium/long shots, giving his characters room to breathe and time to carefully craft their words. There are some scenes, though, which break from this tradition by creating a shot/reverse shot pattern. The quick cuts and close ups are jarring to the viewer and indicative of the abrupt shifts that take place in the story. Notable examples are Yale and Mary's mutual break up and the final scene, which shows just how much Tracy has grown since we last saw her.

Manhattan is supposedly based on Woody Allen's real dating life in the 70's when he dated Diane Keaton and a 17 year old girl. Whether he's saying that he doesn't deserve what he got or that he regrets letting the best thing in his life slip away, this is an enduring work, showcasing an artist at his peak. Each image lends itself to one of the two love stories, and each line rings true. Happy Valentine's Day.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Sundae Monday

I must apologize for my lack of posts in the past week. Between work and preparing for this week's blog-a-thon's (Lovesick Blog-A-Thon this Wednesday at 100 Films and Contrarianism Blog-A-Thon this weekend at Scanners (I'm taking The Bride down a notch or two)), I've had no time to keep up to date.

This week's offering comes courtesy of two people whose film could very well win Best Picture at the Oscars next week. I still think it's better than Little Miss Sunshine.

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