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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Big Oscar News


Today the Academy announced that they would be expanding the list of Best Picture nominees to 10 each year instead of 5.

There were actually quite a few changes in the Academy's early years. In the Academy's first year (1928), there were only 3 nominees. Then 5 for a few years. Then 10 until 1943. Then 5 from 1943 until now.

So this is obviously a ploy to get more commercially successful films nominated and create more interest in the Academy (The Dark Knight snub from last year).

Here, for example, is the line-up from last year


Slumdog Millionaire
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader

My guess for the next 5:
The Dark Knight
Revolutionary Road
The Wrestler

Hmmm, it would have been a much more diverse list.

And my guesses for 2007

No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood
Michael Clayton

My guess for the next 5 (This year was a bit harder, with 2 clear runner-ups and some rather blind guesses).
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Into the Wild
Sweeny Todd-??
American Gangster-??

This year was a bit harder, with 2 clear runner-ups and then some guesses.

Anyway, big news and it will make Oscar predicting quite interesting for 2009.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Top 10 Retrospective: 2006

Runners-Up: Inside Man, Volver, United 93, Children of Men, Jesus Camp,

10. A Prairie Home Companion: Robert Altman's swansong, and a fitting one at that. Beautiful performances and a poignant view of love and loss. Garrison Keillor and Altman prove a winning combination. Bonus points for some great musical numbers.

9. Half Nelson: Ryan Gosling and young Shareeka Epps give remarkable performances as a drug-addicted teacher and the young student who befriends him. What I loved about this movie is how nuanced it's view of the characters are. Gosling may be a drug addict, but he is also a committed teacher.

8. The Queen: A movie about Queen Elizabeth may sound boring, but Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen (as Tony Blair) and director Stephen Frears make it funny, intelligent, and thoughtful. A fascinating look at an intersection of two types of power, and of modern politics with tradition.

7. Borat: If you can stomach the satire, it's absolutely hilarious. I can't remember another movie since this where I laughed (or squirmed) this much.

6. Babel: A multinational cast and crew brings a story of global connections. While not every story is equally great (I found the storyline in Japan interesting but somewhat tangential), the entire movie radiates passion and emotion in its storytelling. There may be times when it goes over the top, but it's affecting and powerful nonetheless.

5. Little Miss Sunshine: The key to a great comedy is great characters, and Little Miss Sunshine delivers. Pushes the quirkiness and zaniness to the max without verging into annoyance.

4. Pan's Labyrinth: Director Guillermo del Toro mixes childhood fantasy with violent political conflict and delivers something quite unique. Blurs the line between fantasy and reality until we're not really sure what to think.

3. Little Children: Probably the most overlooked movie of the year, Oscar nominations for Kate Winslet (Actress) and Jackie Earle Haley (Supporting Actor) aside. A much more humane, less condescending film of suburban alienation than American Beauty. Director Todd Field followed up his masterful In the Bedroom with another movie of quiet power.

2. The Departed: Scorsese's energetic, violent, funny, thoughtful, suspenseful double cat-and-mouse thriller. Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, and Vera Farmiga all turn in great performances. With all this great acting, a great script, and Scorsese back in top form, I can even forgive Jack Nicholson's hammy moments.

1. The Lives of Others: A deeply moving German drama about making moral choices in a totalitarian environment. Suspenseful and always engaging, a great film.

Sum-up:While it provided a wide variety of entertainments, 2006 was certainly not the best of recent years. I thoroughly recommend every movie on this list, but most of them lean more towards the "very good" rather than the "great."

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Pete Seeger: The Power of Song

Pete Seeger: The Power of Song

So, based on this documentary and everything else I know about him, I think Pete Seeger is one of the most wonderful people alive and a true American treasure. The movie lovingly follows Seeger's life from childhood to singing with Woody Guthrie, to his time with The Weavers, to his blacklisting, to his revival, to his environmental activism. There's nothing particularly groundbreaking about the style or content of the movie, but it gives a great sense of Pete, his life, and his passion and activism. It's an inspirational story of a man who never let commerce get in the way of his belief and passion.

Grade: B+

Here's a nice version of Pete doing "Guantanamera":

Monday, June 8, 2009

Top 10 Retrospective: 2007

While I have come somewhat recently to movie blogging, that doesn't mean I don't have an extensive collection of movie related lists and documents that I've kept over the years. So, I thought I would periodically look back at some recent years in cinema to give a taste of my favorite films......

Best of 2007

Runners-Up: Michael Clayton, Knocked Up, Eastern Promises
Most Overrated Movie: Juno. I really really don't like this movie, and I am still dumbfounded as to how much acclaim it got.

10. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: Beautifully shot and crafted movie of a man in a coma who writes a book using only his eye. Somehow manages to be inspiring rather than depressing.

9. I'm Not There: If not for the one step too avant-garde Richard Gere sequences, this would probably place higher. A meditation on the many facets of Bob Dylan. Cate Blanchett is terrific of course, but Heath Ledger also gives a great performance. Not for all tastes, but I found it fascinating.

8. Lars and the Real Girl: I was surprised at how much I liked this movie. The premise sounds a touch too indie, but the filmmakers make a poignant story about human goodness from the material. Between this performance and Half Nelson, I believe Ryan Gosling can do no wrong.

7. There Will Be Blood: Strange, terrifying, at times confusing, and always fascinating. P.T. Anderson is a great filmmaker and he creates a strange set of characters and landscapes that tie to our own culture. Daniel Day Lewis gives one of the best performances in modern film. The only reason it's not in the top 2 or 3 of my list is because of the misjudged final minutes.

6. Ratatouille: Absolutely charming Pixar film about a rat who can cook. Rat Remy and food critic Anton Ego are two great characters in this film. Probably even more enjoyed by grown-ups then kids.

5. Atonement: One of my favorite books, and the movie didn't disappoint me. Director Joe Wright makes the material fast-paced and creates an emotional pull that lasts through the movie.

4. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days: Absolutely riveting Romanian film about a young woman helping her friend secure an illegal abortion in the Communist-era Romania. At every moment, you feel like you are in the room with these characters. A thriller, a political movie, and a movie that raises important moral questions.

3. Once: A small gem of a film and the perfect modern musical. Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova play musicians who connect for a few days.

2. No Country for Old Men: A masterpiece of acting, pacing, cinematography, writing, and everything else under the sun. One of the most intense thrillers I've seen, and gives you a lot to ponder. Easily one of the Coen's best.

1. Into the Wild: Sean Penn directed this true story of the cross-country journey of Christopher McCandless (played by Emile Hirsch), a young college graduate who throws conventional life aside and connects with others on his way to Alaska. A road movie with heart, soul, and conviction.

Sum-Up: I think 2007 was a great year for film, one of the best in a long time. What I really loved is how so many of the year's films really worked to package compelling ideas in very specific directorial visions.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Up Review & Best of Pixar

Up (2009)

In today's cinematic marketplace, is there any better bet than having a good time at a Pixar movie? I don't really think so, and Up is no exception.

The first 15 minutes or so of Up are some of the greatest Pixar moments put to film, rivaled, I think, only by the opening vision of Wall-E. It starts with a delightful opening in the 1930s where Carl meets Ellie. They are two children with a love of adventure and we see them meet cute in an abandoned house full of adventure. It then moves on to a wordless montage that shows their subsequent life together in a beautiful and heartbreaking way. It is truly masterful filmmaking.

After the opening, we are left with Carl Frederickson as a proverbial grumpy old man (nicely voiced by Ed Asner). The rest of the movie, as you probably know, centers on his trip to Paradise Falls with a young boy scout. When they get to Paradise Falls, they are joined by an exotic bird and a talking dog....

I found the movie slowed a bit during their initial moments in Paradise Falls. After the masterpiece of the film's opening moments, it seemed inevitable that things would become a bit more mundane. Indeed, there are moments when Up reverts to standard (if enjoyable) action movie theatrics. By the end, though, we thoroughly care about the characters and are left with at least two more tear-jerking scenes.

Up has been getting some rave reviews, and it is definitely enjoyable with some truly great moments. To me, it doesn't reach the heights of Ratatouille or Wall-E, but few movies do. It's still better than 90% of movies out there, and I continue to commend Pixar for dreaming big and blessing filmgoers with such unique visions.

Grade: B+

Top 5 Pixar Films

The release of Up has led many bloggers to an appraisal of Pixar's canon, so I thought I'd join the group. The only one of the 10 I haven't seen is Cars, and I don't have a desire to. It's been a while since I've seen some of these, but here is my ranking as of now.


Good, but I didn't love them: A Bug's Life, The Incredibles
Very good but didn't quite crack the top 5: Finding Nemo, Up

5. Monsters, Inc.: Most underrated? It came out the same year as Shrek, but is so much better. Great premise and great characters.

4. Toy Story: Launched the Pixar empire with an inventive script, great characters, hilarious humor, and honest sentiment. A landmark.

3. Ratatouille: Arguably the most "conventional" Pixar film, but perfectly done. The scene where food critic Anton Ego tastes Remy's dish is one of the best Pixar moments ever.

2. Toy Story 2: Even better than 1. The addition of Jessie also added a much-needed female presence too often missing from Pixar. I can't wait for Toy Story 3 next year.

1. WALL-E: Destined to become an all-time classic. This funny, cerebral, dark film shows how far Pixar pulled animated film.

How about you? What did you think of Up? What's your favorite Pixar?