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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Top Scenes of 2009

After my week of recovery after the Oscars, I'm back with probably my last post on 2009 movies. It was my first full year of film blogging, and I did my best to see most of the notable releases of the year. I thought I'd do a run down of some of my favorite scenes of the year. While some are from my top movies of the year, several are from movies that didn't quite live up to their best scenes. 2009 left me with so many indelible images, though. Here's hoping for more from 2010.

A "few" runners-up. So many memorable scenes, any of which could easily have made it to my top 10:

-Avatar: First becoming Na'avi/Riding the creatures
-Bright Star: Butterflies in the room/Fanny in the field
-Broken Embraces: Caressing the movie screen
-Coraline: Coraline's visit to the circus at her neighbor's house.
-Crazy Heart: Really all of the performance scenes
-District 9: Ending
-The Hurt Locker: Suicide bomber/Bomb in the Car/Standoff in the desert
-Inglorious Basterds: "Wait for the Creme"/Movie Theater with Shoshanna's face
-Moon: Watching the ship travel away
-Precious: Coming home with the baby
-A Serious Man: Meeting Cy Ableman/Talking with the young Rabbi/Ending
-Up in the Air: When Ryan Bingham makes a key discovery....
-The White Ribbon: Bringing the bird to his father

And my Top 10:

10. Where the Wild Things Are- "Snowball Fight" : The opening of this film had perhaps the purest evocation of childhood fear and sadness I've seen. This (and the opening real-life scenes) are so good, that it is almost a let-down when Max gets to the monsters.

9. An Education- "Talking with the Headmistress": A master acting class between Emma Thompson and Carey Mulligan. This is perhaps Mulligan's strongest scene in the movie, where she articulates why she makes her choices. The smart thing about the movie, though, is that neither Mulligan's nor Thompson's characters are completely right. They've just made different life choices.

8. Goodbye Solo- "Visit to the Rock": Director Ramin Bahrani leaves the viewer with so much to think about with a scene that gives a sense of closure without being too explicit.

7. A Serious Man- "The Boat Ride": "Look, we got another Jew!" Hilarious. I could have picked multiple other scenes from this movie, but this one probably got my biggest laugh in the theater.

6. Bright Star- "Knocking through the Wall": What I loved about Bright Star is how director Jane Campion takes the 19th-century lovers seriously. They are melodramatic, yes, but only because love has swept them away.

5. The Hurt Locker- "Sergeant James talking to Son": "And by the time you get to be my age, maybe it's only one or two things. With me, I think it's one." I couldn't pick between the action sequences, so I picked this heartbreaking short scene that pretty much sums up the character of William James.

4. Up in the Air- "Ryan, Natalie, and Alex Talk about Relationships": Three specific characters with very different perspectives on what to look for in a partner. I love how the two women take over and almost leave Ryan in the dust in the scene. This scene is even more fascinating when you look back at the end of the movie.

3. Precious- "Social Worker's Office": As Mary confesses so much, we come to begin to comprehend (although not excuse) what led to the cycles of abuse that happened to Precious. Mo'nique is quite simply astonishing in this sequence.

2. Inglorious Basterds- "Opening in the farmhouse": This long but absolutely riveting scene is the perfect opening for the film. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) brings a sense of slowly encroaching dread to the scene and Tarantino milks it for all its worth, until its brutal climax. The perfection of this scene makes the vastly inferior chapter 2 that much more disappointing.

1. Up- "Married Life Sequence": What other movie could bring an entire audience to tears in 4 minutes? A beautiful silent sequence that perfectly captures love and loss. Once again, I wish all of Up (which I enjoyed) lived up to this opening scene.

Readers- what were you most memorable images from 2009?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Oscar Live Blog 2010

Live Blogging the Big Night

So readers, I'll be writing some periodic thoughts on the Oscar ceremony. I'm second-guessing a lot of my predictions, but what can you do?

First a few thoughts on the Oscar year.

-I think I really like the 10 nominees for Best Picture. It's given us a lot to talk about this year. Sure, it means The Blind Side got in for Best Pic. But it also means District 9, A Serious Man, Up, and An Education got in. Looking at the top 10, I've got to say that the Academy did a pretty good job representing the year in film and the things that excited various groups of people.

-I'm assuming Avatar or The Hurt Locker will win tonight. Either way, it's going to be read as a major statement. Either they go with the biggest hit ever, or with the lowest-grossing Best Picture winner ever.

-Here's a theory. If "Julie & Julia" had been a better movie, Meryl Streep would be a slam dunk for the win tonight. Imagine if she was in the whole thing, and the movie didn't have the frankly inferior "Julie" scenes with Amy Adams.

-I can't remember the last time that I agreed with 3 of the top 4 likely winners (Jeff Bridges, Christoph Waltz, and Mo'Nique). It's nice to see quality in acting justly recognized this season.

Red Carpet

-Consensus in my apartment (me, wife Emily, sister Sarah, and mother-in-law Barb)
Looking good so far: Vera Farmiga, Penelope Cruz, Sandra Bullock, J. Lo
Not so good: Helen Mirren (lose the sleeves)

-Love them, but their dresses not so much: Tina Fey, Meryl Streep

-Don't like them, or their look: Miley Cyrus

-Love Kate Winslet. My favorite actress.

The Show

-The opening actors and actresses. Odd. Why??

-Neil Patrick Harris. Why?

-I'm pretty happy with the Baldwin/Martin repartee so far.

-Best Supporting Actor. Christoph as expected and he totally deserves it. I'm 1/1 so far. I also like how lengthy the clips are this year. It's fun to really get a feel for the performances.

-Ryan Reynolds..... introducing The Blind Side, "as American as football." I know it takes time, but I do enjoy seeing the clips of the films.

-Animated Film. Up! 2/2. Exciting fact. Director Pete Docter's wife (Amanda) is my wife Emily's former babysitter!

-Best song. Justly awarded to The Weary Kind. 3/3 on my predix. Is T-Bone Burnett involved in every great soundtrack?

-Original Screenplay. The Hurt Locker! Yes. I'm feeling more confident in The Hurt Locker winning Best Picture. I'm also glad this won over the more showy Inglorious Basterds, although my real pick would have been A Serious Man. 4/4

-I like the John Hughes tribute. So many people have such fond memories of his movies, so it's a big hit for the Oscar telecast.

-Animated Short: Logorama. Ahhh! I saw these, and this was my least favorite. WTF? 1 loss, so now 4/5.

-Documentary Short: Music by Prudence. I didn't see anyone picking this one! Now I'm 4/6.

-Live Action Short: The New Tenants. I saw these as well and this was also my least favorite! Now both animated/live action went to my least favorites! I'm not 4/7.

-Adapted Screenplay. Precious! Whoa. Almost everyone had called this for Up in the Air. If Precious is on a roll, could Gabby take Best Actress? A very heartfelt speech. I'm now 4/8, not doing so hot in my predix.

-Supporting Actress. Mo'Nique. To tell you the truth, I was expecting a little more emotional speech from her. 5/9 now. So glad for her triumph this year though.

-Colin Firth. Barb says Colin is her pick for Best Actor.

-Art Direction. Avatar. A no brainer. 6/10.

-Costume Design. The Young Victoria. 7/11. Classy speech recognizing the ones who don't get the kudos. She does look great and she seems to be nominated just about every year.

-The horror montage. So the producers cut other stuff (honorary Oscar, song performances) to shorten the show, and then add total filler like this....

-Sound Editing and Sound Mixing: The Hurt Locker! I'm now 7/13. Poor performance, but I'm really glad The Hurt Locker is doing so well. Is there any way it can lose Best Picture now?

-Cinematography: Avatar. I'm now 7/14. 50%! Terrible!

-Hmmm.... this choreography to The Hurt Locker score just seems kind of weird. Especially when a man in a cardigan is doing it. And doing the robot dance to the lovely Up score??

-Score: Up. 8/15. I really love this score.

-Visual Effects. Avatar. 9/16.

-Documentary. The Cove. Did these documentaries look grim or what? I picked this, so 10/17. Moving up from 50%!

-Film Editing. The Hurt Locker! 11/18. This award usually goes with Best Picture, so another good sign for THL.

-Foreign Film. El Secreto de Sus Ojos. 12/19. Ugh. It was good, but The White Ribbon was truly great. Once again the foreign branch shows how conventional they are.

-Best Actor. Jeff Bridges of course. 13/20. I loved the presentations for this award. One of the highlights of the show so far.

-Forest Whitaker directed Hope Floats??? That is so weird!!! Barb says- worst movie ever!

-OK. Sandra Bullock is now an Oscar winner. I was really hoping for an upset, but Sandra gave a really heartfelt speech. 14/21.

-Yes, Kathryn Bigelow is 60. Yes, I have a huge crush on her. And so incredibly deserving. 15/22.

-THE HURT LOCKER!!!! I am so excited and glad that this won!!!! Way to go Academy (good to say that once in a while). Overall, great choices this year aside from Sandra. I ended up 16/23. Not great, not bad.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Oscar Predictions

Oscar Predictions

So, here I go. It's always a tough choice on how to predict. After I pick these (I'm also in a very competitive Oscar pool), I always second-guess myself. There are some cakewalks this year, and also some tough calls. I'll list my pick, the next in line, and who I would pick. Please check back on my blog during the Oscar ceremony. I'll be live-blogging.

Without further ado. The winners will (or might) be......

Best Picture (starting this year, 10 nominees): Avatar, The Blind Side, District 9, An Education, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, A Serious Man, Up, Up in the Air.

Will win: The Hurt Locker

Alternate: Avatar

My pick: A Serious Man

This has been an up-and-down season. First Up in the Air was the frontrunner, then Avatar, then The Hurt Locker. Then The Hurt Locker started getting some backlash. I'm still predicting it, though. With the new preferential ballot (basically Instant Runoff Voting), I think The Hurt Locker will have more widespread support. I don't know anyone who saw it and didn't think it was great.

Actor: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart; George Clooney, Up in the Air; Colin Firth, A Single Man; Morgan Freeman, Invictus; Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker.

Will win: Jeff Bridges

Alternate: Jeremy Renner

My pick: Jeff Bridges

Actress: Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side; Helen Mirren, The Last Station; Carey Mulligan, An Education; Gabourey Sidibe, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire; Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia.

Will win: Sandra Bullock

Alternate: Meryl Streep (and I think she's pretty close...)

My pick: Carey Mulligan

While I didn't hate Bullock's performance, nothing would make me happier than to see either Streep, Mulligan, or Sidibe walk up to the podium on Oscar night. All three are so much more accomplished than Bullock's star turn.

Supporting Actor: Matt Damon, Invictus; Woody Harrelson, The Messenger; Christopher Plummer, The Last Station; Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones; Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds.

Will Win: Christoph Waltz

Alternate: Woody Harrelson (but.... nope)

My pick: Christoph Waltz

Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz, Nine; Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air; Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart; Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air; Mo'Nique, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire.

Will Win: Mo'Nique

Alternate: Anna Kendrick (but....once again.....nope)

My pick: Mo'Nique

These two supporting categories have been locked the whole season. There's almost nothing that Waltz and Mo'nique haven't won. And good for them. Both are truly great performances and hard to argue with.

Directing: James Cameron, Avatar; Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker; Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds; Lee Daniels, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire; Jason Reitman, Up in the Air.

Will win: Kathryn Bigelow, making history.

Alternate: James Cameron (her ex-husband)

My pick: Kathryn Bigelow

Foreign Language Film: Ajami, Israel; El Secreto de Sus Ojos, Argentina; The Milk of Sorrow, Peru; Un Prophete, France; The White Ribbon, Germany.

Will win: The White Ribbon

Alternate: El Secreto de Sus Oos

My pick: The White Ribbon (I've only seen this and El Secreto)

So Oscar has a track record of giving out this award to more "traditional" fare and ignoring the more critically acclaimed but edgy films (Waltz with Bashir, Pan's Labryinth). Based on this, I'm close to picking El Secreto de Sus Ojos. But I saw it and it wasn't that good, and The White Ribbon was great. The White Ribbon is also by a respected (if divisive) director and made with superior production values. Or it could go to Un Prophete. I'll predict The White Ribbon, but I might regret it.

Adapted Screenplay: Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell, District 9; Nick Hornby, An Education; Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche, "In the Loop"; Geoffrey Fletcher, "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire; Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air.

Will win: Up in the Air

Alternate: Precious

My pick: Up in the Air

Original Screenplay: Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker; Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds; Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman, The Messenger; Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, A Serious Man; Bob Peterson, Pete Docter, Tom McCarthy, Up.

Will win: The Hurt Locker

Alternate: Inglorious Basters

My pick: A Serious Man

This is maybe my toughest pick. I really think it's neck and neck. Even though I think Tarantino is a very strong contender, I'm picking The Hurt Locker because I think it will win Best Picture and, more often than not, one of the screenplay awards matches up.

Animated Feature Film: Coraline; Fantastic Mr. Fox; The Princess and the Frog; The Secret of Kells; Up.

Will win: Up

Alternate: Fantastic Mr. Fox

My pick: Coraline

Art Direction: Avatar, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus Nine, Sherlock Holmes, The Young Victoria.

Will win: Avatar

Alternate: Sherlock Holems

My pick: Avatar (the only one I've seen)

Cinematography: Avatar, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, The White Ribbon.

Will win: The Hurt Locker

Alternate: Avatar

My pick: The White RIbbon

This is another tough call, will they go for the edgy handheld cameras, or the digital/live action mash-up? I'm thinking the voters won't see Avatar as traditional enough cinematography to give it the win.

Sound Mixing: Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Inglorious Basterds, Star Trek, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

Will win: Avatar

Alternate: The Hurt Locker

My pick: The Hurt Locker

Sound Editing: Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Inglorious Basterds, Star Trek, Up.

Will win: Avatar

Alternate: The Hurt Locker

My pick: The Hurt Locker

Another tough call between the frontrunners. They could go for big-budget sci-fi or realistic war film.

Original Score: Avatar, James Horner; Fantastic Mr. Fox, Alexandre Desplat; The Hurt Locker, Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders; Sherlock Holmes, Hans Zimmer; Up, Michael Giacchino.

Will win: Up

Alternate: Avatar

My pick: Up

Original Song: Almost There from The Princess and the Frog, Randy Newman; Down in New Orleans from The Princess and the Frog, Randy Newman; Loin de Paname from Paris 36, Reinhardt Wagner and Frank Thomas; Take It All from Nine, Maury Yeston; The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart) from Crazy Heart, Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett.

Will win: The Weary Kind

Alternate: Almost There

My pick : The Weary Kind

Costume: Bright Star, Coco Before Chanel, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Nine, The Young Victoria.

Will win: The Young Victoria

Alternate: Bright Star

My pick: Bright Star (this would make be very happy)

Documentary Feature: Burma VJ, The Cove, Food, Inc. The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, Which Way Home.

Will win: The Cove

Alternate: Food, Inc.

My pick: Haven't seen any

Documentary (short subject): China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province, The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner, The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant, Music by Prudence, Rabbit a la Berlin.

Will win: The Tears of Sichuan Province

Alternate: The Last Truck

My pick: Haven't seen them

Film Editing: Avatar, District 9, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire.

Will Win: The Hurt Locker

Alternate: Avatar

My pick: The Hurt Locker

Makeup: Il Divo, Star Trek, The Young Victoria.

Will win: Star Trek

Alternate: The Young Victoria

My pick: Star Trek (only one I've seen)

Animated Short Film: French Roast, Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty, The Lady and the Reaper (La Dama y la Muerte), Logorama, A Matter of Loaf and Death.

Will win: A Matter of Loaf and Death

Alternate: The Lady and the Reaper

My pick: A Matter of Loaf and Death

Live Action Short Film: The Door, Instead of Abracadabra, Kavi, Miracle Fish, The New Tenants.

Will win: The Door

Alternate: Kavi

My pick: Miracle Fish

Visual Effects: Avatar, District 9, Star Trek.

Will win: Avatar

Alternate: Star Trek

My pick: Avatar

Definitely the easiest call of the night!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Reviewing the Shorts: A Conversation

The "shorts" categories (live action, animated, and documentary), are often the most mysterious for viewers of Oscar night. Few have seen them, and in order to vote Academy members must see all nominees. Luckily, my friend Rebecca and I were both able to catch the shorts and had a nice conversation about them. Check out Rebecca's blog (with lots on her awesome book reading project) as well!

Without further ado, here is our conversation. Maybe it will help you with filling out those last spots in your Oscar pool! I've also embedded several of the animated shorts which are available on YouTube.

Animated Shorts


I didn't notice right away how much this year's nominees are about death and violence, probably because the tone tended more towards dark humor and. 'The Lady and the Reaper' is about an old woman who wants to die, but is filmed as a slapstick battle between the grim reaper and a heroic doctor for her soul. 'Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty' is a fairytale turned into a rant about old age. 'Logorama' features a murderous Ronald McDonald taking Big Boy as a hostage, as well as an earthquake ripping part of California off of the coast. 'A Matter of Loaf and Death' is about a serial killer who murders bakers, and Wallace might be the next target. 'French Roast' is the only short that doesn't deal directly with death - it's about a guy who forgot his wallet sitting in a cafe.

First things first: I love the look of stop-motion so much more than computer animation, it's hard for me to be unbiased about 'A Matter of Loaf and Death.' There's so much character and nuance that comes out of stop-motion, whereas the computer animation in 'French Roast', 'The Lady and the Reaper', and 'Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty' starts to all look the same. 'Logorama' was an eyesore, but that's part of the point, as everything is constructed out of corporate logos.

I enjoyed 'Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty', 'French Roast', and 'The Lady and the Reaper' (in descending order). In addition to the similar CG visual styles, they all consist of a simple concept made into a humorous short film of 6-8 minutes. The reason 'Granny O'Grimm' was my favorite of those three was the great vocal performance at the center of it, and the visual contrast in styles between the grandmother/child framework and the Sleeping Beauty story itself. 'French Roast' and 'The Lady and the Reaper' were enjoyable enough, but didn't really stick with me.


I definitely noticed the death right away in the movies right away. It's interesting because I wouldn't say that this year's Best Picture nominees are any more interested in death than past nominees. What's with all the animators?

I completely feel your affection ‘A Matter of Loaf and Death.’ I loved the facial expressions of all the characters, especially the nervous love-interest poodle. For me, my favorite was a tie between this and "The Lady and the Reaper." I thought it was pretty involving and clever. How many other movies can make a suicide of an old woman into a funny and crowd-pleasing ending? ‘Granny O'Grim's’ was also a lot of fun. The vocal performance of the old woman was terrific, and I also liked the combination between the storybook animation and the computer animation. "French Roast" was also pleasant to watch, but I didn't think it was exceptionally special.

At first, I thought ‘Logorama’ was going to be cool, but then it just sort of annoyed me. It is fun to notice all the logs at first, but it gets old pretty quick. After that, I was less impressed. The movie didn't really seem to have much of a point. That we live in a corporate culture? That it's bad? I also wondered how they were allowed to use all their logos without getting sued.

Did you get to see the 3 commended films as well? I was frankly a little surprised that two of them weren't nominated. ‘Partly Cloudy’ (which I had seen before "Up"), detailing a stork with a tough job, is a really charming Pixar short. ‘The Kinematograph,’ a story of a man obsessed with creating color film and his sick wife, was beautifully animated. The characters' skin seemed to have a sort of wood grain to it. The story is fairly predictable, but it was touching and if it had been nominated I probably would have guessed it as the winner. "Runaway," on the other hand, I really disliked. It's a story of a train and the people on it gradually being destroyed just seemed kind of mean-spirited to me.

What do you think will win? ‘A Matter of Loaf and Death’ definitely has the most (and by far the longest running time) going for it.


I agree about 'Logorama.' It was a fun concept, but stretched out for too long. If you have a concept for your movie, keep it short - like 'The Lady and the Reaper.' I also agree that 'French Roast' wasn't particularly special, although I felt the same way about 'The Lady and the Reaper' - I think I liked it more up until the point where the symbolic battle for the lady's soul turned into a physical chase, complete with crazy music and zany hijinks, like an old-school Warner Brothers cartoon. It redeemed itself when she took things into her own hands.

I did see the 'highly commended' shorts (I had also already seen 'Partly Cloudy'). I'm surprised 'Partly Cloudy' didn't make it, especially since I think it avoided the pitfalls of CG animation - Pixar really goes to great lengths to give their productions, shorts and features, the kind of texture and detail that is lost with a lot of CG animation. 'The Kinematograph' was pretty good, I especially liked the first and last longer tracking shots through the streets. I liked the hand-drawn animation of 'The Runaway', but agree that it was mean-spirited.

As for 'A Matter of Loaf and Death', I don't like it quite as well as some of the other Wallace & Grommit shorts, but I don't see it losing on Oscar night. First of all, if you look at the winners from the past few years, they tend to be stop-motion or hand-drawn, not computer animation, often leading to surprises in the awards. Whoever is going to those screenings and voting appreciates the hand-made touch. Secondly, although some folks have predicted that voters will feel that Nick Park has been awarded enough, there's not a clear alternative that I think will pull enough votes away. Some people are predicting 'Logorama', but I think (and hope) that is not the case. I think it's not the case because it's computer animation, and not pleasant to look at, and also because, as I was leaving, I overheard some folks complaining that it was 'too violent'. I hope it's not winning because I think the concept of the film was played out well before it ended. However, it could end up winning if voters decide it's edgy to point out that we live in a corporate culture.

I'm going to go with: will win - 'A Matter of Loaf and Death', should win - 'A Matter of Loaf and Death', and possible spoiler - 'Logorama'.


You're right about ‘The Lady and the Reaper’. The chase scene was definitely not up to the beginning or end of the movie. I guess I just liked the concept well enough overall that the movie impressed me. I also agree that my favorite parts (at least animation-wise) of ‘The Kinematograph’ were the tracking shots, although I'm a sucker for a good tracking shot in live-action films as well (Magnolia, Atonement, Children of Men).

It's interesting to think about ‘Logorama’ being "too violent." I myself am not too squeamish about violence in live-action films. It did seem overly graphic to me in this movie, maybe because most animated films don't really aim for quasi-realistic, blood and guts violence. I think it can work in a movie like "Waltz with Bashir," where the movie has a clear point, but otherwise I myself am a bit put off by it.

For me, I'm going to agree with you on the will win/should win for "A Matter of Loaf and Death." I do think they'll reward Nick Park with his third award in this category. I'll break a little and say the possible spoiler is ‘The Lady and the Reaper.’

Live Action Shorts


OK, so I finally made it to the live action shorts as well. On the whole, I was fairly disappointed. I saw them last year and, as a group, they were much stronger last year than this year. That said, I did enjoy seeing some different interpretations with what can be done with 20 minutes of screen time.

So, they were pretty dark and bleak. Every single one has some sort of violence or death (at least imagined death, in the case of the true comedy of the bunch. My favorite was definitely Miracle Fish, about an 8-year-old schoolboy is a bit of an outcast at school. He gets upset, sneaks into the nurse's office to take a nap, and wakes up to find an empty building. This was definitely the only one of the films where I couldn't predict where it was going. While it probably had the lowest production values of any of the films (it seemed a bit blurry to me), it had the most compelling story.

After that, my favorite was ‘Instead of Abracadabra,’ a sort of Swedish Napoleon Dynamite about a 25-year-old amateur magician who still lives with his parents. This was shown last, and you could tell the audience ate up the chance for some laughter.

Kavi’ and ‘The Door’ were well-made, but not surprising or all that interesting. Kavi actually seemed a touch too reminiscent of Slumdog Millionaire. I think it even had a song by the composer from Slumdog. The Door, about the Chernobyl disaster and its affect on one family, was beautifully made but, again, a little familiar.

‘The New Tenants’ started out strong, with some funny repartee between the gay couple who just moved into an apartment. It gets a little too "wacky" for me, though, and I hated the ending.


I also hated the end of 'The New Tenants'! I had mixed feelings about all of them except for 'Instead of Abracadabra', which I liked all of, and 'The Door', which I liked none of.

'Kavi' and 'The Door' suffered from being just about miserable circumstances, with no interesting perspective on what was going on. They were issue movies that beat you over the head with a message, and nothing else. 'The Door' didn't give me any reason to care about the characters, and I felt like it was a real failure that it did not explain the significance of the door that the father went back to steal. I enjoyed the scenes with Kavi's family at home, and I liked Kavi's final act of resistance when he was walking on the clay bricks. I wanted the movie to have more of those elements in it - something to make the characters interesting people rather than tools for a lecture.

I liked the relationship between the two main characters in 'The New Tenants'. From that opening speech, with the set-up arriving after the punchline, their relationship was portrayed so clearly - these two people who love each other dearly but find each other insufferable sometimes. The other aspects of the film I could take or leave, and I suppose they had to have a plot in there, but I was not crazy about it. As I said, I hated the ending, but I appreciate it in a way because they obviously did not know how to end it and decided to go with something completely off the wall and fanciful.

'Instead of Abracadabra' was great. I was thinking of GOB from 'Arrested Development' throughout the whole thing, not only because a bad magician was the main character, but because the way they used the cuts to add humor reminded me of 'AD' and '30 Rock' a bit. I also liked the tail end with the flower bouquet - reminding us that he's a bad magician made it less formulaic than just having a heroic ending where the anti-hero ends up triumphant.

I didn't love 'Miracle Fish' as much as you did. I appreciate that it went in unexpected directions, and the ending (from when he hears the phone ringing and goes to answer it on) was fantastic. I did not find it very compelling up to that point, I didn't really feel like I had much reason to care about the kid. I like the unpredictability, though, and the end was definitely emotional.


OK, you summed up my thoughts on 'Kavi" and 'The Door' quite well, although I perhaps liked 'The Door" a touch more than you did. The final image of the bricks was certainly the most powerful part of 'Kavi.' But yes, they both screamed issue movie to me. At least the other 3 were trying something different. As for 'The Door,' I saw that it was well crafted and I was interested in the first few minutes before we really found out the topic of the movie. When it came to the sad scenes, though, I had almost no emotions and actually felt kind of guilty. I think this is a failure on the part of the filmmakers in not making the audience care about the characters.

I also thought of Gob while watching 'Instead of Abracadabra.' The movie had a really great tone, where you cared about the character but it was really unsentimental at the same time. I can see your point about the beginning of 'Miracle Fish' but I actually liked it the whole way. While the ending was definitely the best part, I was intrigued to see where the movie was headed the whole time.

What will win? I hate to say it, but I think it will be "The Door." It's well-made and about a serious subject. Isn't that the Academy's cup of tea? You could say the same about "Kavi," but I think they might not vote for it because it does seem so similar to "Slumdog." It would be awesome if they went for "Instead of Abracadabra," but I don't think comedy is their preferred genre. As for "The New Tenants," I don't really see it winning, but maybe I'm wrong. I do think "Miracle Fish" might have a shot. It wouldn't be absolutely shocked to see any of the movies win.

Will Win: The Door

Possible Spoiler: Kavi

Should Win: Miracle Fish


'Miracle Fish' is definitely the one that has grown most in my mind since seeing it, and I would like to see it again. I would like to see it, or 'Instead of Abacadabra' win. I know I'm being harsh on 'The Door', but it was just so self-serious it almost played like a parody of a Oscar's tastes.

I'm having a hard time getting a handle on predictions for this group. I could see any of them winning, really. 'Kavi' and 'The Door' have the serious issues, and we know that Oscar likes Big Issues better than interesting filmmaking or inventive stories (see last year's win in this category - 'Toyland', the least interesting of the bunch). I could see 'The New Tenants' getting in because it's supposedly edgy, and the fact that it features some recognizable faces doesn't hurt. I think 'Instead of Abacadabra' and 'Miracle Fish', our respective favorites, are not really in contention, though, unless some vote-splitting happens.

I do hold out some hope that this category could reward good filmmaking, since Martin McDonagh and Andrea Arnold have both won for shorts in the past, and you have to go to a screening to actually vote. This year's group is just fairly weak, and even though I liked 'Instead of Abacadabra' a lot, I don't think it can overcome 'The Door's Oscar baitiness.

Will win: 'The Door'
Possible spoiler: 'The New Tentants'
Should win: 'Instead of Abacadabra'

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Special Mother-in-Law Guest Blog: Ranking the 10

Since I've made it through all 10 movies, I thought I'd take the chance to imagine filling out my own preferential ballot. As an added bonus, I have a special guest who has also seen all 10 movies: Barb, my wonderful movie-loving mother-in-law. We actually first bonded over our shared dislike for Sandra Bullock, so this is an interesting year for us to take a look at the Oscars. Without further ado...

Barb's Picks:

1.) The Hurt Locker. Initially, I didn't even plan to see this movie (too depressing and too violent). That being said, it is my #1 pick. Jeremy Renner gave an amazing performance as Sgt. Will James. As we follow James and his comrads (great performances by Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty), we see the extent of James addiction to danger, and the subsequent adrenaline rush, truly defines who he is as a person. This is a man who will never be able to live in a world of grocery shopping at Target with his wife and son.

2.) Up in the Air. Outstanding cast with a stunning performance by George Clooney. You can feel the lonliness creep in as Ryan Bingham (Clooney) begins to question all that he has believed to be true about his life, life choices and values. An Oscar worthy performance.

3.) A Serious Man. Quintessential Coen Brothers. What's not to love? Wonderfully rich characters and a local touch. It doesn't get any better than this.

4.) Up Not at all what I expected, and by far the most pleasant surprise. I must admit to only seeing a couple of previous Pixar films. This was not just an exciting inter-generational adventure, but a poignant look at love, loss, friendship, hope and resiliency.

5.) Precious. Superbly acted and tough to watch. Oscar worthy performances by Mo'Nique and Gabourey Sidibe.

6.) Avatar. O.K., so the plot was weak. Not why I wanted to see it. I was absolutely blown away by the technology, non-stop action and the beauty of Pandora. The 3 D glasses also brought me back to my childhood.

7.) Inglorious Bastards. Very Quentin Tarantino. Over- the -top characters, over-the- story line and a lot of violence. Surprisingly, I had my eyes open for almost half of the movie. I did like it, though.

8.) An Education. Carey Mulligan plays a coming of age schoolgirl beautifully. Life is not always what it appears to be, but those are the valuable lessons we learn.

9.) District 9. This was an interesting and well-done film, and I understand the social statement it was making, but for whatever reason I was not as enthralled with it as everyone else seemed to be.

10.) The Blind Side. Even though this is my #10 pick, I actually liked the movie. I am, of course, a sucker for true inspirational sports stories (sorry Ben). Even Sandra Bullock surprised me ( I never thought I could recover from Hope Floats). That being said, I'm not so sure either she, or the movie, were Oscar worthy.

Ben's Picks:

1.) A Serious Man. I didn't have a more enjoyable time in the movie theater this year. Everything about this movie worked. The Coen Brothers were working at the top of their game, and the movie is absolutely hilarious.

2.) The Hurt Locker. I wish I could do a tie for number 1. I saw this movie a second time, and it was even better than the first time. A great suspense film, a great war film, and a great character study. I bow down to the genius of director Kathryn Bigelow and her team.

3.) Up in the Air. I loved this movie. It feels like the kind of movie that might have been made during the golden age of Hollywood, with real stars, real humor, and something to say about how we live.

4.) An Education. Carey Mulligan is a revelation, and the supporting cast is great. While perhaps not the most weighty in its themes, this is a well-crafted and well-written film where everything seems to come together beautifully.

5.) Precious. Fueled by great performances from Mo'Nique and Gabby Sidibe, this movie has really stuck with me. A really powerful depiction of degradation and personal redemption.

6.) District 9. I'm most amazed that the Academy chose to recognize this movie, something very far away from traditional Oscar fare. I found this movie original, exciting, thought-provoking, and surprisingly moving.

7.) Up. While I don't think this was quite as good as Wall-E or Ratatouille, Pixar triumphed again with this original and uplifting (no pun intended) film. I'll watch anything Pixar makes, ever.

8.) Inglorious Basterds. Many scenes in this movie are among the very best of the year, especially when Christoph Waltz or Melanie Laurent are on screen. Unfortunately, Tarantino threw a little too much into it and ultimately it is something of a mess. A fascinating and highly watchable mess, but I think it fell quite a bit short of a great film.

9.) Avatar. I was amazed by the visuals in Avatar, but the more I think back on it, the more annoyed I get at its cheesy story. I wish a better writer had been the first to use motion-capture technology.

10.) The Bind Side. Yes, Sandra Bullock is good in this film, and the film was watchable. But Best Picture nominee? Really? It felt more like a TV movie to me.

Summing Up

Barb and I shared pretty similar taste this year. The same top 3, although in a different order, and 4 of our top 5 were the same. In looking at my list, I noticed that the Top 5 moneymakers (Avatar, Up, The Blind Side, Inglorious Basterds, and District 9) are in the bottom half of my list, and 4 of them are in the bottom half of Barb's list. Are we hopelessly against the mainstream filmgoer? Anyone else seen all (or most) of the movies? What's your ranking?

Monday, March 1, 2010

And then there was one: The Blind Side

The Blind Side

As an avowed Sandra Bullock non-fan, and a moviegoer not drawn to inspirational sports movies, I found myself in the unlikely situation of buying a ticket to see The Blind Side in the theater. What brought me there? It's place in the Best Picture and Best Actress race. Now that I've seen The Blind Side, I've seen all 10 nominees before Sunday night's ceremony.

First, the good, and I'm a bit surprised to say it. Sandra Bullock as Leigh Ann Touhey. After seeing this movie, I'm actually not upset that Bullock got an Oscar nomination. As the tough-as-nails rich Southern mother who takes in a large African-American boy to her home, Bullock imbues the role with the right amount of sass and heart. Strutting around in her tight designer
clothes and telling everyone off, from the drug dealers in the projects to her high-society friends, Bullock makes the role funny and believable without going too over the top. That said, this performance would not make by Top 5 of the year, and I do think it's a shame that she seems to be on the road to the win over Meryl Streep, Carey Mulligan, and Gabourey Sidibe. The first half of the movie is actually a fairly good retelling of a true story as we get to know the characters. This is also a good tearjerker, and I'm not surprised it's been a big hit across the country.

Now for my qualms. First, aside from Sandra Bullock, the acting was pretty sub-par. Quinton Aaron, who plays Michael Oher, is all silence and small smiles, but there is little depth or subtext to his performance. For a movie about this boy, it almost seems we hardly get to know him. He is far better, however, than the young Jae Head, perhaps the most annoying child actor I have seen in a very long time. He plays Leigh Ann's son, and the movie tries to knock the audience over the head with his cuteness.

My biggest problem with the movie was its underlying theme. It's almost impossible to watch this film, about a large young African-American with educational difficulties, and not think of Precious. In Precious, Precious is assisted by her teacher and her education in finding her liberation, but in the end the audience has little doubt that it comes from her own soul. In The Blind Side, everything seems to be done for Michael Oher by Leigh Ann Touhey, as if he is incapable of making his own decisions. While I'll give the movie some slack since its a true story, its continuation of white savior cliches definitely rubbed me the wrong way. It doesn't help that the neighborhood Michael comes from, and the people in it, are portrayed in the most stereotypical "ghetto" images imaginable.

So what I was left with was a star vehicle for Sandra Bullock that indisputably tells a story with a lot of goodness and heart in it. The movie containing this performance and story, however, is fairly artless and plays on some dangerous stereotypes. A Best Picture nominee? Not on my ballot.

Grade: C+