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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Podcast: Melancholia

I'm back with my third podcast (joined once again by my wife Emily) to discuss Lars Von Trier's Melancholia.

Listen here:

Or, follow this link to subscribe on itunes:

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Descendants and The Muppets

The Descendants

There are few modern directors who I admire and enjoy as much as Alexander Payne. Before The Descendants, he only made 4 movies, but they add to quite a considerable achievement. After warming up with the very funny satire Citizen Ruth (1996), Payne perfected his comic timing in Election (1999), one of the best movies of one of the best years in modern cinema. He then added more humanity and heartbreak in About Schmidt (2002), and created another winner with the almost-great comedy-drama Sideways (2004).

After a 7 year hiatus, he's back with The Descendants, which is picking up great reviews and a lot of Oscar buzz. I'm sorry to say that it is, while definitely worth seeing, my least favorite of his films.

I came away from The Descendants thinking it was very enjoyable but also feeling let down that it was not more terrific. It's a comedy-drama (definitely leaning more towards the drama) about Matt King (George Clooney), a wealthy lawyer in Hawaii whose wife is in a coma. He then finds out she had been having an affair and, accompanied by his two daughters, vows to find this man.
There are so many great things about The Descendants that I'm still trying to figure out why I didn't like it more. As he did with Omaha in his first 3 movies, and with Santa Barbara in Sideways, Payne does a great job of providing an authentic setting with the Hawaii of this movie. It's beautiful, yes, but also a little odd and rough around the edges. It feels like a place where people really live. The cast is also uniformly excellent. Clooney is as good as ever, and the supporting performances are strong. Shailene Woodley is believeable and prickly as Clooney's troubled teenage daughter. My personal favorite was Judy Greer, who shows a lot of depth and emotion in just a couple key scenes.

So why didn't I like it more? To me, it seemed to be milking the sentiment a little too heavily, and I didn't feel like we quite got inside the characters enough to become fully invested. It's not giving too much away to say that Matt's wife is in a coma throughout the movie. What was she like? How did she act? We get clues, but don't really know. And yet she is a key part of most of the emotional scenes. I also felt like the subplot, about selling a piece of land in Hawaii, didn't quite connect enough to the main story or have enough emotional heft on its own.

All of this is not to say skip the movie. By all means see it. Alexander Payne is a talented director and there are many things to like about this movie. It just didn't meet by admittedly sky-high expectations.

Grade: B-

The Muppets

If there's a movie from the past few years where I smiled more, I don't know what it is. My wife, friend, and I saw this movie at 7:30 on a Friday night. The theater was probably about about 80% folks in their 20s and 30s. Are we a tad nostalgic?

The Muppets completely plays on the nostalgia of its older audience members. The concept of the movie is that the Muppets are now washed up (except for Ms. Piggy, now a Vogue editor), and have to come back together to save their old theater. Yes, the old "let's put on a show" plot, which the movie acknowledges with a gigantic wink.

The human friends of this movie are Jason Segal and Amy Adams. They are so wide-eyed, wholesome, fun, and game, that they fit right in with the Muppets. There is also an endearing new Muppet, Walter, who is the brother to Jason Segal's character.

It's hard to remember all the parts that made me smile and laugh, but they were plentiful. The movie struck just the right tone between sentiment, corny humor, and modern in-jokes. If you love the classic Muppet movies, you will definitely need to see this. It perhaps has a few too many plot points that don't get tied up as well as they should, but that's a small quibble for such an enjoyable movie.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Podcast: Martha Marcy May Marlene

After a successful first podcast, we're back with another! This time I'm joined by my wife Emily to discuss the fascinating Martha Marcy May Marlene. Have a listen!

If you'd like to subscribe on itunes, follow this link.

AND, if you'd like to hear the song we reference in the podcast, here it is:

Friday, October 21, 2011

2011 Catch-Up: Beginners, Harry Potter, The Help, Drive, Jane Eyre, Moneyball

My movie reviews have been woefully lacking as of late, but I have seen several 2011 movies and wanted to give my opinions.  Here are 6 movies I've recently seen,  all extremely different, and I think worth seeing in their own way.


Beginners is a low-key, whimsical movie about loss and love among a depressed man (Ewan McGregor), his new love interest (Melanie Laurent), and his recently out-of-the-closet father (Christopher Plummer).  I saw this back in July, enjoyed it, and yet it's a bit hard for me to write about now.  Perhaps that's not the best sign.  The movie switches back and forth between  present, recent past, and distant past. The flashbacks are definitely the more interesting part of the movie.  As much as I like Melanie Laurent (she was the second best part of Inglorious Basterds), the love story is significantly less interesting than the family story.  Worth seeing though, and it's looking like Christopher Plummer may be a very strong contender for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination.

Grade: B-

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II

I'm a HP fan, but not a superfan.  I've read all of the books exactly once and seen all of the movies exactly once.  I don't freak out if the movies are not exactly like the books-I actually don't think that is a filmmaker's job at at all.  So now that the series is over, how did the do wrapping it up?

While the movies tend to blend together a bit, the final movie went out with a pretty good bang.  It was certainly an improvement over the belabored whining of the characters in the Deathly Hallows Part I.  It ties up the loose ends, and even gives us a peek into the future.  There is definitely something missing, though.  Harry Potter is fun because of the humor and childlike wonder at the magic.  The Deathly Hallows is extremely dark, and I couldn't help but miss some of the whimsical fun from the earlier movies.  And yet, who can resist the great British cast doing their best in the final installment?  Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Maggie Smith, and Alan Rickman?  Yes please.  It was a great series of books, and on the whole pretty fun movies as well.

Grade: B

The Help

An old-fashioned tearjerker made from a hugely successful novel, there are many ways this movie could have failed, and yet it remains highly watchable and engaging, for two main reasons:  Author Kathryn Stockett, who wrote a really entertaining story, and the amazing cast of actresses who bring the characters to life.  Where to start?  Viola Davis gives her all, which is a hell of a lot, in the key role of Aibileen, the role which should be the focus of the movie.  Emma Stone is also really charming in the role of Skeeter which (unfortunately) is the focus of the movie.  My other favorite performance is probably by the best breakout actress of the year, Jessica Chastain, as Celia Foote.  Did I mention Octavia Spencer, Sissy Spacek, or Bryce Dallas Howard?  All could be viewed as over the top, yes, but mostly in the right ways for a shoot for the rafters tearjerker.   Allison Janney, who I usually love, is the only actress who didn't quite convince me.  Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a strong directorial vision behind these women.  The movie was given to a novice director, and he seems a little overly tied to the book, bringing in every subplot as he translates his frend's book.

So the movie is entertaining and I definitely shed a tear, but what of its much-discussed racial subtext?  It's had a lot of criticism (and defense) for its take on the civil rights movement.  I don't have a problem with a white woman deciding to tell a story set in this time.  I think she felt called to do so, and there is obvious heart and passion in her work.  My main issue with the movie is its portrayal of Southern racism.  The movie purports to show the terrible treatment of Southern maids, yet its criticism falls almost entirely on Hilly, who is shown as a racist bully with a small cadre of followers.  The rest of the characters are either kind to the maids (Skeeter, Celia, Hilly's mother), or eventually change their hearts (Skeeter's mother).  At a time of intense hatred, division, and violence in the South, this seems to be a little naive.  Instead of showing segregation as a symptom and relic of slavery and a racist past, it almost seems more like a way for a few meanies to show their hatred.  As much as I love Emma Stone, Skeeter also seems a little too good to be true.  Isn't she a little obviously a stand-in for the author herself?  Is she a believable Southern girl of 1963?  Not quite to me.

All in all, The Help is a very entertaining movie, gives some juicy roles to some great actresses, and does have points to make about the past.  Unfortunately, it's afraid to look that past squarely in its face.

Grade: B


Perhaps the most opposite movie to The Help.  Drive is a movie about a loner (Ryan Gosling) who makes his living as a Hollywood stunt driver.  He also makes an illegal living as a driver for those carrying out nocturnal heists.  Then, he gets involved with his neighbor (an excellent Carey Mulligan), her young son, and eventually, her ex-con husband.  That's when things start to go very wrong for him.

For the first half of Drive, I was transfixed.  Gosling is awesome in the taciturn role, further cementing his perch as the best young actor currently working.  European Nicolas Winding Refn shoots and imbibes the movie with such a sense of obvious cool, it's spellbinding.  It's also not a movie afraid to take its time setting up its story.  Then comes the second half, where I was still transfixed, but also a little repulsed.  That's because the movie gets brutally violent and doesn't really let up.  After a while, I wondered at the point.  The violence reminded me a bit of David Cronenberg's A History of Violence, yet that movie seemed to have more of a philosophical outlook that Drive lacks.  Drive seems to be using the violence more for artistic affect.  Cinephiles should definitely see this movie for its masterful acting, directing, and mood, but I would have preferred if this hugely talented director had a little more intellectual depth.

Grade: B+

Jane Eyre

Did we need another version of Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte's classic gothic romance that has been filmed umpteen times?  Perhaps not, but when you have a talented director and a great central pair, it still proves a highly engaging tale including such irresistible elements as a lost orphan, a crazy woman in the attic, a proto-feminist heroine, and repressed love.

The young Mia Wasikowska (so good in The Kids Are Alright) again proves her talent in the central role.  She is the right age and the right temperament for Jane, and she's not afraid to play the repressed emotions close to the chest.  Michael Fassbender is every bit her equal as Rochester.  A couple of minor quibbles with the movie.  It skips quickly over Jane's younger days, which are important for story development.  It also doesn't really re-imagine the story in any especially new way.  Nevertheless, worth seeing for a good story well told and well acted.

Grade: B


Does a movie about statistics sounds exciting?  Moneyball is a baseball movie that doesn't fixate on talented players, but rather on the statistical amalgamations of the team as a whole.  And it does a riveting job at tying you up in this world, where Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) throws out conventional wisdom and ties his team to the statistical theories of young economist Peter Brand (a surprisingly subdued Jonah Hill).

The movie kind of tells two stories.  One is the actual baseball season, the use of statistics, and how the characters react to this.  The other is the personal story of Billy, who was himself drafted into Major Leagues and turning out as a major disappointment.  Brad Pitt is terrific in the role, and I expect he'll be getting an Oscar nomination for this.  Jonah Hill is also great in his quietly funny role.  The movie also has quite a bit of heart, even if it seems a little strange to root for the guys who look at players in terms of numbers rather than as human beings.

It's a movie about change, risks, choices, and payoffs, and it's very very good.

Grade: A-

Monday, September 12, 2011

Cate Blanchett in the Flesh

A few weeks ago, I had the joy of seeing a true movie star, and one of my favorite actresses, live an on stage: Cate Blanchett. Besides being a fairly prolific actress, she also is the co-director (with her husband) of the Sydney Theater Company, which brought their production of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya here to DC's Kennedy Center. It was, quite simply, astonishing. I love Chekhov, and this is my favorite of his plays. The whole cast was also incredible. Besides Cate, the cast included Hugo Weaving (from The Matrix and various other creepy roles) and, in a small role, Jacki Weaver, who was nominated for a Supporting Actress Oscar in last year's Animal Kingdom.

But I'll focus on Cate. From the moment she walks out, it's clear she is a true star. She plays Yelena, a ravishing beauty who charms several of the men in the play, and she certainly fits the part. Watching her on stage, she had a certain charisma that I've only seen in a few actors. She has such a deep sense of her character's motivation that every gesture and inflection she made felt exactly right. And, I'll admit it, I'm still a bit starstruck. I've seen a few recognizable stars in person, and to me it's like a little magic from the screen coming to real life.

So, in honor of Cate, here are my 5 favorite film performances by her.

1.) Elizabeth (1998). While she made a couple movies before this, this was certainly her breakout role. And how. As Queen Elizabeth, the then 29-year-old Blanchett commanded the screen in a turn where she was truly transformed to young woman in love to powerful queen. I thought Gwyneth Paltrow was wonderful in Shakespeare in Love, but I'll still say Blanchett was robbed in losing out on the Oscar. I've avoided the sequel (Elizabeth: The Golden Age), which I heard was overwrought, perhaps so that I can cherish this performance.

2.) The Aviator (2004). One of my favorite actresses playing one of my other favorite actresses (Katharine Hepburn). Yes, please. The Aviator was an engaging and beautifully made movie, but Blanchett's performance was so good that you missed it when she was out of the movie for long streches.

3.) I'm Not There (2007). In Todd Haynes' artsy, fascinating fantasia on the life and persona of Bob Dylan, Blanchett plays "Jude" (but really, Bob Dylan). Dylan as female is perhaps the most eye-catching of the 6 portrayals of Dylan, but also the most riveting.

4.) The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999). Blanchett had a small role in this movie, but is was memorable. As a socialite who falls in love with the murderous Ripley (Matt Damon), Blanchett brings a  mix of sophistication and vulnerability to her scenes.

5.) The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008). I liked, but didn't love, this movie. That said, for a movie that was showered with Oscar nominations, I was surprised that Blanchett was passed over for a nomination. She brought a lot of humanity to a film that sometimes didn't know how to find a consistent tone between whimsy and realism.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Tree of Life + The Complete Terrence Malick

The Tree of Life has easily been the most polarizing movie of 2011. The movie received the Palme D'Or (the top prize) at Cannes,comes from a legendary director, and stars Bard Pitt and Sean Pitt. Even so, theaters across the nation have reported a 5% walkout rate, something I definitely saw at my screening. So what gives?

Well, The core of The Tree of Life is a stream of consciousness narrative of a young boy growing up in mid-20th Century Texas, living his childhood through two very different parents, a domineering father (Brad Pitt), and a beatific mother (newcomer Jessica Chastain). This is the main narrative and takes up at least 2/3 of the movie. The other part includes Biblical quotations, the origin of the universe, evolution, dinosaurs, and (perhaps) the afterlife. Suffice to say that this is not a traditional summer movie. So, is it a masterpiece or an overly ambitious, philosophical bore?

You can put me firmly in the masterpiece corner. I'm a big fan of Terrence Malick (see below), and I've definitely anticipated this movie for a while. It's a bit hard to even talk about this movie, so I'll start with the core of the movie and work my way out. I don't think I've ever seen a portrait of childhood (especially of boyhood) portrayed so accurately, beautifully, and painfully on screen. As we see Jack enter the world, discover nature and his family, and, eventually, struggle with his own demons, the story is told through moments both momentous and mundane. Isn't that how life is remembered? Brad Pitt is absolutely wonderful as the stern father, a character that is easy to both understand and vilify. The visuals, too, are absolutely stunning. Malick creates such a mood of reflection that I was almost oblivious to how much time had passed. I was content to spend time in Jack's life and watch glimpses as he grew up.

And onto the other parts of the movie (and a slight spoiler alert, I suppose). After a brief introduction the family, we follow the creation of the universe, evolution, and a conflicted dinosaur making a moral choice. Malick is ambitious, and this section of the movie (where many walkouts occur) resembles more a narrator-less nature show rather than a conventional movie. I was transfixed and mesmerized by the visuals and by thinking about its connection to the main story. The ending, where some characters are reunited, including the adult Jack (played by Sean Penn), is also visually beautiful, but I'm a little more conflicted as to its potency. I didn't dislike it, but I would definitely say it's on a slightly lower level than the rest of the movie.

To put it simply, I was blown away by The Tree of Life, although I understand it's not for all tastes. Lacking a driving narrative (beyond remembered moments), it's more of a movie to watch and let yourself be carried away in the visuals and philosophical questions it raises. I think it's one of the most important American movies in a long time.

Grade: A

The Complete Terrence Malick

Terrence Malick is a legendarily elusive and painstaking director. He came onto the scene in 1973 with Badlands and has only made 5 features.

If there's an image I associate with Malick, it's of insects on a blade of grass. It's very possible that every single one of his movies contain this image. Malick is interested in human stories, but also how they fit into the larger fold. He's also a filmmaker intimately concerned with the spiritual realm. Days of Heaven contains Biblical elements of judgment, The Thin Red Line seems to be almost a Buddhist war movie, and The Tree of Life has a hefty dose of Christian theology on sin, goodness, and evil. Malick views his characters, as small (migrant farmworkers in Days of Heaven) or large (Pocahantas and John Smith in The New World) as they are, as elements in a grander scheme.

Malick also has voiceover narration in each one of his movies, an element that allows us to think philosophically while admiring the stunning visuals of each of his movies. Here's my rankings of his output.

1. The New World (2005). I didn't see this movie until last year, and I was absolutely blown away. Malick tells the story of the Jamestown settlement and the meeting of John Smith and Pochahontas. What I love about this movie is its sense of discovery and newness, even while acknowledging the pain and death involved in this exploration and meeting. The spirit of nature suffuses the film, and I think this may have one of my favorite endings of all time.

Grade: A

2. The Tree of Life (2011). See above!

Grade: A

3. Badlands (1973). Perhaps the least typical of Malick's films. I see this movie as the anti-Bonnie and Clyde. It's about a young sociopath, played by Martin Sheen, who seduces a young girl (Sissy Spacek), kills her father, and embarks on a killing spree. These lovers on the lam aren't at all noble, they're just sad and confused and possibly mentally ill. Sissy Spacek gives a spectacularly weird performance, and Malick makes great use of discordant narration to create an unsettling and fascinating movie.

Grade: A-

4. Days of Heaven (1978). I recently watched this movie a second time, and it really grew on me. It's the story of migrant workers (one played by a young Richard Gere) who travel to Texas and try to con a wealthy farmer. It also includes interesting narration by a young girl which comments and deepens the action. A relatively simple story, told in short takes and minimal dialogue, that allows for thoughtful reflection on fate and life's choices.

Grade: A-

5. The Thin Red Line (1998). While the only one of Malick's films to earn a Best Picture nomination (although I'm keeping my fingers crossed for The Tree of Life), for me this is Malick's least successful film. It's the antithesis to a traditional war film, filled with almost no great sacrifice or reward. Soldiers fight and reflect. Some die, some live. The visuals in this movie are amazing and I love the idea of turning the war movie on its head. Unfortunately, the meditations and philosophy got a little repetitive and overlong and there are also so many famous actors in small roles in this movie that it almost becomes distracting from the story. Nonetheless, this is definitely a worthwhile and ambitious film.

Grade: B

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Midnight in Paris and An Appraisal of Woody Allen

Midnight in Paris

I'm a pretty huge Woody Allen fan. Few moments in movies give me such a sense of pleasure as that basic white on black title sequence, usually paired with a lovely bit of classic American music. Yes, Woody repeats himself quite a bit, but when he's good, he's such a perceptive chronicler of relationships and human failings and when he's not THAT good, I still enjoy the signature rhythms and humor.

Which brings me to Midnight in Paris, his new film which opened this year's Cannes film festival. The main star of Midnight in Paris is certainly the city of Paris, or at least an idealized dream version of it shared by any appreciator of artists. This movie is a love letter to that city. Owen Wilson plays Gil (or really, you know, Woody), a neurotic writer who is engaged to marry a spoiled woman (Rachel McAdams) with horrible conservative parents. Through a magical occurrence, Gil is transported back to the Paris of the 20s, where he interacts with the Fitzgeralds, Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Dali, and many others.

Midnight in Paris is a very charming film, if not quite in the top tier of Allen films. The sections set in the past are wonderful. The actors did a great job of portraying historical characters- I especially liked Corey Stoll as Hemingway, Alison Pil as Zelda Fitzgerald, and Adrien Brody as Dali. The modern day scenes were fun, but also a little too familiar. McAdams' character is so obviously wrong for Gil, the movie loses some tension it could have had. This movie does have an incredibly charming ending. It's predictable, yes, but in that way that makes it the best way the movie could have ended. I also think Owen Wilson might be the best surrogate Allen character we've seen in a long time. With the London of Match Point, Vicky Christina Barcelona, and now Midnight in Paris, I think Woody has found a lot of magic in Europe.

Grade: B+


Ranking Woody's Films

By my count, I've seen 26 Woody Allen films, some several times and some only once and long ago. Here's my personal rankings (with thoughts on the top 10), with the caveat that it's been awhile since I've seen some of them.

1. Annie Hall (1977). Simply one of my favorite movies ever. I don't think there's a better or funnier movie about love found and lost. Just about every scene is classic.

2. The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985). A heartfelt love letter to the movies. I love the elements of fantasy and sadness that Allen brings.

3. Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989). The best of "serious" Woody, although there are funny parts too. Bleak and powerful.

4. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986). Another film that is just about perfect. So many engaging characters and so much to say about relationships.

5. Husbands and Wives (1992). The movie released after the Woody scandal. It's definitely interesting viewing (especially Woody's character's almost affair with a college student), and also bitterly funny and biting. Judy Davis gives an amazing performance.

6. Sleeper (1973). My favorite of the early pure comedies. A futuristic satire that's fall on the floor funny.

7. Vicky Christina Barcelona (2008). While Penelope Cruz (justly) got a lot of attention for her fiery role, I also feel this movie was a tad underrated. Breezy, sexy, and funny.

8. Another Woman (1988). Quite serious and very good. It's about a woman eavesdropping on a psychiatrist's sessions, and it's riveting.

9. Match Point (2005). This murder story, almost free of comedy, is reminiscent of Hitchcock and a total departure for Woody.

10. Manhattan (1979). Many people's favorite Allen movie, but I've never loved it quite as much. Still, a love letter to Allen's city with gorgeous cinematography and great performances,even if Mariel Hemingway's 17-year-old love interest induces a little queasiness with Allen's later history.

And the rest.....

11. Bullets Over Broadway (1994)
12. Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)
13. Midnight in Paris (2010)
14. Love and Death (1975)
15. Small Time Crooks (2000)
16. Everyone Says I Love You (1996)
17. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (1972)
18. Bananas (1971)
19. Sweet and Lowdown (1999)
20. Interiors (1978)
21. Radio Days (1987)
22. Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
23. Mighty Aphrodite (1995)
24. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2009)
25. Deconstructing Harry (1997)
26. September (1987)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Complete Tom McCarthy

Movies: The Station Agent (2003), The Visitor (2008), Win Win (2011)

Oscar Nominations: None for directing, 1 for co-writing Up (2010)

Continuing my look at the complete works of some directors, I'm now looking at a relatively new writer-director who's made a nice mark from just 3 movies-Tom McCarthy. My first instinct was to write that McCarthy directs naturalistic and realistic movies. Then I realized that his plots concern a dwarf who lives in an abandoned railroad depot, a wealthy man who ends up rooming with two illegal immigrants squatting in his luxury apartment, and a lawyer who ends up as a caretaker for the grandson of a man he swindled. On second thought, McCarthy makes movies with sitcom-like situations. He rarely shoots them like sitcoms, though, instead finding a quiet rhythm that carries the situations to their logical conclusions and takes the audience along all the way.

All three of his movies have charming performances by all the lead performers. I actually can't think of a weak acting link in any of his movies. It's important that the actors are good, because his movies are so much about relationships among the characters. I also like how he strives to look at the goodness in humanity, in many ways a polar opposite to Darren Aronofsky, who I last wrote about. In all of his movies, a person (or people) are gradually opened up by the interactions of those around them. He's especially interested in friendships that cross artificial boundaries of nation, race, age, and (in The Station Agent) size. If you're looking for a movie that will make you believe a little more in humanity without feeling manipulated, I'd recommend any of McCarthy's 3 movies.

Bonus Points: McCarthy is also an actor, must prominently playing the shady reporter Templeton on the fifth season of The Wire, the greatest TV series ever (no arguments please).

Here's how I would rank his movies:

1.) TheVisitor: The most serious of McCarthy's movies, and also the most moving. It's about an emotionally closed-off economist whose life becomes intertwined with two illegal immigrants who squat in his apartment. Richard Jenkins, an excellent longtime character actor, earned an Oscar nomination in his lead role. As wonderful as Jenkins is, he is matched moment for moment by the great Palesitian actress Hiam Abbass, who enters the movie as the mother of the young immigrant. (Slight spoiler alert) The movie doesn't end happily. There's a fair amount of anger in it, yet you are still left appreciating the connections that have been made.

Grade: A-

2.) The Station Agent: I just watched this movie again, and it really is a charming film. It takes a little while to warm up and hook the audience, but once it does it's wonderful to watch the characters interact. Peter Dinklage is an antisocial midget, Patricia Clarkson a grieving mother, and Bobby Canavale a food vendor displaced from New York. They all converge in a small New Jersey town and form a motley sort of family. Quiet, simple, funny, and very sweet.

Grade: B+

3.) Win Win: Win Win is currently out in theaters, and I think it might be McCarthy's most crowd-pleasing movie. That said, I think it's the only one of his movies where, at times, the contrivances get a little thick. As usual, though, the actors shine. Paul Giamatti and Amy Ryan are wonderful as the central couple. My favorites, though, are young actor Alex Shaffer who manages to be hilarious without ever overplaying his high school athlete character, and Bobby Canavale (also great in The Station Agent), who is absolutely hilarious as a divorced man reliving his youth through coaching high school wrestling. It's also topped off with his signature amounts of heart and humor.

Grade: B

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Complete Darren Aronofsky

It's been two very quiet (OK, silent) months on the blog. To any faithful readers, I apologize for my absence. I always slow down quite a bit after Oscar season, and this has been a particularly busy time in other areas of my life.

Never fear though, I'm back with a new feature called "The Complete Directors" where I'll look at the films of directors who I've seen all (or nearly all) of their work. While I certainly have my favorite film actors and actresses, I tend to be more loyal and interested in a director's output. While even the best actors often make poor choices, many great directors hold at least some interest no matter the movie.

I'm starting with Darren Aronofsky, one of the most fascinating and singular directors working today. In each feature, I hope to give an overview of the director's work. After this, I'll do a ranking of their movies with some brief thoughts and clips of each one.

The Complete Darren Aronofsky

Movies: 5. Pi (1998), Requiem for a Dream (2000), The Fountain (2006), The Wrestler (2008), Black Swan (2010).
Oscar Nominations: 1 (Black Swan)

Darren Aronofksy is not interested in making you feel good. Exhilarated, yes. Riveted, yes. Disgusted, at times. While his limited output includes hyper-realism, psychological horror, and romantic fantasy, all his films share a view of the world which looks head-on at pain and suffering.

One common element in Aronofsky's films is that of manipulation of the body. It starts as early as Pi, where the lead becomes obsessed with a math sequence and begins digging into the flesh of his head. In Requiem, the seductiveness of drugs is portrayed in his fast-cut sequences, and then later the ravages are just as clearly seen. In The Wrestler and Black Swan, two very different athletes/artists are willing to manipulate their body for obsession, addiction, and personal acclaim. The juxtaposition of these two films is fascinating. While told in completely different styles, their stories (and even their haunting closing scenes) mirror one another in a sort of mirror-image meditation on warped masculinity and femininity.

Aronofsky is also a master at directing actors and forcing them to dig into pain in their performances. Think of Ellen Burstyn in Requiem for a Dream, Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, and Natalie Portman in Black Swan. Each of these are among the most painful of modern performances and personal bests for each actor, and I get the sense Aronofsky works his actors hard. While his actors are astounding, there is always room for Aronofksy's flourishes behind the camera. He works relatively rarely (every few years) and seems passionate about what he makes. I can't wait to see what he comes up with next.

Here's how I rank his movies:

1.) Requiem for a Dream: Most anyone who has seen this movie will tell you it's one of the most sad and painful movies they've ever seen. Why then, have I seen it 3 times? And why could I watch it again right now? As a film lover, I'm so thrilled by directors who can connect us so deeply to the emotions of their characters that the pain can sometimes become transcendent. Requiem for a Dream, about 4 drug addicts, is just about perfect. It sucks you in, connects you to the characters, and breaks your heart. You'll remember the haunting score forever.

Grade: A

2.) Black Swan. I just rewatched this movie, and even if the surprises are lost the second time, it still holds up as a whacked-0ut, thrilling piece of moviemaking. There is literally not a moment wasted in this film. The mishmash between reality and fantasy (and who's to say which part is which?) is simultaneously fun, scary, and disturbing. In my opinion, the best movie of 2010.

Grade: A

3.) The Wrestler. This movie has so much pain in it, both physically and emotionally. Mickey Rourke's character of Randy "The Ram" is a washed-up wrestler trying to make it, and the movie, unusually realistic for Aronofksy, follows his life with documentary-like precision.

Grade: A-

4.) The Fountain. A movie I've only seen once and definitely need to see again. It's actually 3 stories at once, one set in the 16th Century, one in the present day, and one in the distant future. All 3 stories star the wonderful Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz (Aronofksy's ex-wife) and have a lush but painful romanticism. I'm not quite sure I can tell you what it all means, but it's really fascinating filmmaking.

Grade: A-

5.) Pi. I just saw this movie, and I'm glad I did as it gives a lot of insight into Aronofsky's early ideas. This one really seems like a film-school movie, in both good ways and bad. It's done with a lot of style and it tells an original story, completely focusing on the thoughts and actions of a mathematical genius who may be going crazy. There's some less-than-stellar acting, and I'm not sure all the ideas are fully formed, but it's really interesting to watch as Aronofksy's first film. I was especially interested in the echoes of other films, particularly the creepy subway ride which reappears in Black Swan and the drug-taking sequences which are echoed in Requiem for a Dream.

Grade: B-

That's all for my first installment of "The Complete...." Coming soon-Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson. I'll also take suggestions!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Top 10 of 2010

After a week's respite from the flury of Oscary blogging, I'm back with my year-end roundup of movies released (or considered for Oscars) in 2010. I saw a whole lot of 2010 movies this year, 49 , and I'm ready to make the tough decisions to come up with a top 10 list.

The Best Movies of 2010


The Fighter: What could have been a rather traditional uplifting sports film becomes something much quirkier and more interesting thanks to the great cast and the direction by David O. Russell.

Greenberg: Director Noah Baumbach makes dark and uncomfortably funny movies about prickly characters, and I think Greenberg is his best yet. Ben Affleck is a good fit for the title role, but the real revelation is Greta Gerwig, providing a nice entry point for the audience and a truly original character.

The King's Speech: Despite its Best Picture win, it didn't quite make my top 10. It is a charming and entertaining film about friendship with great performances.

127 Hours: Probably my number 11. A desperate and grotesque situation filmed as a full-throated affirmation of living.

The Town: Proof that, every once in a while, Hollywood can still make an entertaining genre film. A great cast and great energy provide a really entertaining time at the movies.

And now to my 10......

10. In a Better World: This Danish film just won the Best Foreign Film Oscar. It's a subtle and involving movie about children, adults, revenge, and forgiveness. Seek it out when it comes to theaters in April.

9. Exit Through the Gift Shop: There were several documentaries I enjoyed this year, but none as much as this movie which takes you deep, deep into the world of underground street artists. You might not know what you're watching for a while, but just go with it and enjoy the ride. (It's on Netflix Watch Now!)

8. Please Give: Director Nicole Holofcener is kind of like a feminine version of Woody Allen with a stronger moral code. Please Give is a very funny movie about two interacting families tussling over how to be good and prime real estate. The cast is terrific.

7. Another Year: Another treasure from British realist director Mike Leigh. A beautiful, funny, and heartbreaking film about what makes a good life and the mysteries of fate. Ruth Sheen and Jim Broadbent shine as a happily married couple, and Lesley Manville is astonishing as their friend Mary.

6. The Social Network: This pulsing, tense, involving, extremely well-made film might be seen, thematically, as this generation's Citizen Kane. Why isn't it higher on my list, then, especially since it's widely considered the masterpiece of the year? I think it dropped off just a tad in its last third. I also reserve the right to bump it up on my much-anticipated second viewing.

5. The Kids Are All Right: A pitch-perfect family comedy with just the right amount of humor and heart. Was there a better cast this year? I think not. Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, and Mia Wasikowska all shine.

4. Blue Valentine: A movie cataloging both the beginning and end of a romantic relationship might sound simple, but in the naturalistic hands of director Derek Cianfrance it becomes simply astonishing. Ryan Gosling (give him an Oscar!) and Michelle Williams touch your soul in their portrayal of a couple on the rocks.

3. Winter's Bone: So original and so brilliant. This movie is so many things: an indie character study; a classic detective story; a mythical journey. Whatever the viewer sees it as, they won't forget Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), one of the most unique and brave heroines to come along in a long while.

2. Toy Story 3: This was so so close to my top spot. A perfect end to a classic trilogy. Fast-paced, funny, poignant, and reminiscent of so many classic Hollywood films. I can't think of another film who's ending has touched me as deeply.

1. Black Swan: I saw this movie opening night to a packed house, and it was an electrifying experience. Director Darren Aronofsky has thrown all he has into this movie, and it totally worked for me. The film references, the performances, the campiness, the horror, and the metaphor. I was riveted every second.

As an end, here's a quick list of what I've seen by its letter grade. A few of the grades have changed (both up and down) on second viewings or rethinkings. I would highly recommend any movie ranked B+ or higher on this list, and especially the 11 in the A/A- range. While I've seen a lot, I'm still looking forward to watching Carlos (a French film that won a bunch of awards), Fish Tank (a British indie), and several documentaries. This is where I see things now:

Black Swan, Blue Valentine, The Kids Are All Right, Toy Story 3, Winter's Bone

Another Year, Exit Through the Gift Shop, In a Better World, 127 Hours, Please Give, The Social Network

Cairo Time, Catfish, Dogtooth, The Fighter, Greenberg, Incendies, Inception, The King's Speech, Prodigal Sons, Restrepo, The Town, True Grit

Animal Kingdom, City Island, Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer, Easy A, Fair Game, I Am Love, Rabbit Hole

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Mother, Mother and Child, Soul Kitchen, The Tillman Story, Waiting for Superman

Biutiful, Cyrus, Everyone Else, The Ghost Writer, The Girl Who Played with Fire, How to Train Your Dragon, Outside the Law, Shutter Island, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

Babies, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, Vincere

Date Night (Hey, I watched it on a judging)

Here's to a (hopefully) great 2011!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Oscar Live Blog 2011!

It's Oscar night. I'm home watching with my wife Emily and mother-in-law Barb. I'll be live blogging all night tonight, keeping track of the arrivals, the embarrassing moments, and, of course, the winners. I'll be going bottom up, with the most recent post here at the top.....

Picture: The King's Speech, of course we all knew by now. I was hoping for some kind of weird upset. This will go down as an OK pick for the Academy-not the best and not the worst. But as we heard from Spielberg, sometimes the nominees are even better than the winners. 19/24 for the evening. Not so bad overall, right?
-I loved the montage of the Best Picture nominees at the end.
-PS22-quite charming, and I liked the winners coming out at the end.
-That's all folks! Thanks for following throughout Oscar season. Keep reading my blog for updates throughout the year!

-Actress: Natalie Portman, Black Swan. She looks absolutely lovely. This is the sweetest and most touching speech I've seen her give-she's seemed a little cold the rest of awards season. 17/22
-Actor: Colin Firth, of course. "I have a feeling my career's just peaked." Great comment, and it could be true. He gives a nice charming speech. 18/23
-Thoughts on the ceremony. I've enjoyed James and Anne. The producers have also kept the ceremony quite tight with little filler. Still, it's lacked a certain drama. Maybe because the main categories have worked out as everyone thought...... I am excited for PS22 to sing!

-Celine Dion..... singing for the dead folks. This is always where I realize that I forgot certain people died.
-Director: Tom Hooper, The King's Speech. OK, I picked him but didn't want him to win. 16/21. I would have loved for Fincher to have won this (or, even better, Aronofsky). He did do a nice job though.

-Who ever thought Gwyneth would be called a "country music star"?
-Are these best song nominees particularly weak this year? Nothing even approaches "The Weary Kind" from last year.
-Best Song: We Belong Together. Got that one. 15/20.

-Billy Crystal-standing ovation? Why?
-Bob Hope quote: "Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Academy Awards. Or, as it's known at my house, Passover." Classic joke. But ghost Bob Hope is really creepy.....
-Visual Effects: Inception. 13/18. So Inception is the winner of the night so far. This is where it ends for them though.
-Film Editing: The Social Network. Got it. 14/19. Can it possibly win Best Picture? I hope so.

-Documentary Short: Strangers No More. Picked it. 11/15. It's an inspiring movies about refugee
-Live Action: God of Love. I saw all these in the theater. Didn't pick it but it was my favorite! 11/16. Luke Matheny is awesome!!
-Musical montage. Let's show some Harry Potter and Twilight even though they weren't really big Oscar players.....
-Oprah. Your outfit is not one of my favorite things.....
-Documentary: Inside Job. Picked it. 12/17. OK, here's the political comment of the night. It usually does come from the documentarians.

-James Franco: "Congratulations, nerds." to the scientific and technical award winners. Love it!
-Makeup: The Wolfman. Got it, 9/13. Now The Wolfman can call itself an Oscar-winning movie.
-Costumes: Alice in Wonderland. God it, 10/14. Most boring speech ever though.
-Interviewing folks about their favorite movie songs. Barack loves "As Time Goes By." Me too, prez, me too.

-Original Score: THE SOCIAL NETWORK!! Even though I didn't predict it, this is my favorite win of the night. Is TSN going to win Best Picture? Perhaps. 6/10.
-Sound Mixing. Inception. 7/11. Easy call.
-Sound Ending. Inception. 8/12. Another easy one.

-OK, 55 minutes until the first Charlie Sheen joke.
-Foreign Film: In a Better World. Not only did I predict it, I saw them all and it was the best!! For once, the foreign film branch did well. 5/8. Everyone should see this when it gets released in regular theaters-I think sometime soon.
-Supporting Actor: Christian Bale. 6/9. Well deserved. Shout out to Dick Eklund's website-way to go. Good speech.

-Adapted Screenplay: The Social Network. 3/6. I think everyone got this one.
-Original Screenplay: The King's Speech 4/7. Another easy one.
-Thoughts so far: Does The King's Speech losing Art Direction mean its a bit weak? At this point it will probably just win Picture, Actor, Screenplay, and perhaps director and score. Could The Social Network still upset? I'd be happy.

-Kirk Douglas-how charming..... good for him.
-Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo. 0/3 on my predix. If anyone doesn't know, she put some really weird ads out for herself. I guess they didn't stop her from winning. Drops the f-bomb. Guess there's a slight time delay. She's definitely a little weird, but obviously sincere and moved. Weird ending though......"selling motion pictures" a reference to her campaign??
-Animated Short: The Lost Thing! 1/4. Academy Member Marjorie Simpkin comes through! She gave me the inside info at the foreign film screening I saw.
-Animated Feature: Toy Story 3. 2/5.

-The opening is awesome!! Best moments: Morgan Freeman- "Alec likes me to narrate his dreams." Anne Hathaway doing her Boston accent in "The Fighter."
-Hmmm, connecting classic Hollywood to the current awards. Interesting, we'll see.
-Art Direction: Alice in Wonderland. 0/1 so far. Oops. I've heard this was just terrible. Anyone see it?
-Cinematography: Inception. 0/2 so far. Wow, when will Roger Deakins get his due? All those great Coen Brothers movies and not a win in sight.

-Nicole Kidman always classy and beautiful. I'm so glad she escaped from the grips of Scientology and Tom Cruise....
-Gwyneth Paltrow-looking like an Oscar!
-Christian Bale-not good facial hair.

-Natalie Portman. Barb quote: "Nice dress for a pregnant woman. She doesnt' have to show off her baby bump."
-James Franco....poised to become the most charming Oscar host ever? Discuss.
-Sandra Bullock looks good and seems really nice. She used to annoy me so much, but I have to say she has grown on me, although I'm still annoyed she won for The Blind Side last year.

-Annette and Warren, Hollywood royalty. Annette's dress is really nice and Warren is looking really old.
-Anne Hathaway looking beautiful in her Valentino. Barb's favorite dress so far.
-Reese Witherspoon looks great. Why hasn't she done anything interesting since Walk the Line? Perhaps Water for Elephants will be good.
-OK, the red carpet is fun and all, but I'm ready for some awards!!

-Cate Blanchett. One of my favorites. When is she giving her next great performance? Brave choice in dress.
-"The Mominees" speaking about their children. So great.
-Mark Ruffalo and wife Sunrise are a great couple. And they are friends with Julianne Moore in real life. Can I be friends with them too?
-Marisa Tomei is great as well and looking beautiful. What's she doing next? She was so great in The Wrestler.

-Amy Adams. Love her, but her dress is a little "matronly" (Emily's quote). Too many sequins.
-Jennifer Lawrence. Simple dress but she looks beautiful. Very far from the Ozarks....
-Kevin Spacey. I used to like him, but now I think he just seems sleazy. Anyone else?
-Russell Brand. "Subliminal erotic tension with Helen Mirren." I can't believe he didn't bring Katy Perry.
-Melissa Leo looking......terrible.
-I LOVE the PS22 chorus. What are they performing tonight? Over the Rainbow. Can't wait!

-Tim Gunn! This should make the 90 minutes red carpet coverage great.
-Mila Kunis is looking great, although it's definitely not hard for her.
-Hailee Steinfeld looking charming. Barb comment: "Nice appropriate dress." She seems very mature and
-Jesse Eisenberg doesn't have a TV and he's not on Facebook. Wow, that's pretty awesome.

Winner Predictions and Preferences

The time has come to make my final predictions. Despite a few categories which have been locked for a while, there are some tough picks in the lower categories, many of them having to do with how big The King's Speech will sweep. Here's who I predict will win, who is the alternate, and who should win.

Best Motion Picture of the Year
127 Hours
Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King's Speech
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone

Will Win: The King's Speech
Alternate: The Social Network
Should Win: Black Swan

Almost until nomination morning, The Social Network was sweeping every critics award, many critics' top 10 lists, and the Golden Globes. Then The King's Speech went on a role and there's been no stopping it. At this point, The Social Network winning would be a shocker, and anything else winning would be unthinkable.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Biutiful: Javier Bardem
True Grit: Jeff Bridges
The Social Network: Jesse Eisenberg
The King's Speech: Colin Firth
127 Hours: James Franco

Will Win: Colin Firth
Alternate: James Franco
Should Win: Jame Franco

After his tremendous nominated performance in A Single Man last year and his prominent role in the Best Picture frontrunner, there is no way Colin loses this. While I guess Franco would probably be next up, we'll have to content ourselves with his hosting duties. I'm excited to see what Franco and Hathaway have for us, you?

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
The Kids Are All Right: Annette Bening
Rabbit Hole: Nicole Kidman
Winter's Bone: Jennifer Lawrence
Black Swan: Natalie Portman
Blue Valentine: Michelle Williams

Will Win: Natalie Portman
Alternate: Annette Bening
Should Win: Annette Bening

I'm fairly confident that Portman has this in the bag, with a small chance for a surprising upset by Bening. Oscar tends to like younger women for their actress awards. Let me just say that this field is enormously accomplished this year. I think I actually prefer all the nominated performances this year to any of the nominated performances from last year.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
The Fighter: Christian Bale
Winter's Bone: John Hawkes
The Town: Jeremy Renner
The Kids Are All Right: Mark Ruffalo
The King's Speech: Geoffrey Rush

Will Win: Christian Bale
Alternate: Geoffrey Rush
Should Win: Christian Bale

While there's a chance Geoffrey Rush rides The King's Speech train to victory, I think Bale's performance is too truly great to ignore. On my blog yesterday, every single one of the 8 participants picked him as their favorite. Just as in the actress category, this category is amazing this year, exactly the five I would have picked as well.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
The Fighter: Amy Adams
The King's Speech: Helena Bonham Carter
The Fighter: Melissa Leo
True Grit: Hailee Steinfeld
Animal Kingdom: Jacki Weaver

Will Win: Hailee Steinfeld
Alternate: Melissa Leo
Should Win: Amy Adams

This is the most exciting race of the night. It could easily go to Leo, Steinfeld, or even Bonham Carter. It seemed like Leo had it in the bag, but she's gotten some backlash for her over-the-top campaign ads. I'm making a somewhat risky bet that Steinfeld will charm enough votes her way to get the win. She'll be damn cute at the podium if she wins.

Best Achievement in Directing
Black Swan: Darren Aronofsky
True Grit: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
The Social Network: David Fincher
The King's Speech: Tom Hooper
The Fighter: David O. Russell

Will Win: Tom Hooper
Alternate: David Fincher
Should Win: Darren Aronofsky

Another tough call. Some are calling a split, with The King's Speech taking Best Picture and Fincher taking Best Director. I'm betting The King's Speech takes Hooper along for the ride. That said, I'll be thrilled if Fincher pulls through.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
Another Year: Mike Leigh
The Fighter: Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, Keith Dorrington
Inception: Christopher Nolan
The Kids Are All Right: Lisa Cholodenko, Stuart Blumberg
The King's Speech: David Seidler

Will Win: The King's Speech
Alternate: The Kids Are All Right
Should Win: Another Year

The King's Speech will win this. Bet your money. My pick was tough. I eventually went for Another Year, perhaps because its screenplay was just a tad more naturalistic and intricate than The Kids Are All Right. I'd be happy if TKAAR somehow upset, though.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
127 Hours: Danny Boyle, Simon Beaufoy
The Social Network: Aaron Sorkin
Toy Story 3: Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich
True Grit: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Winter's Bone: Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini

Will Win: The Social Network
Alternate: Toy Story 3
Should Win: The Social Network

Another one to easily mark off your ballot. I think most would agree that so much of The Social Network's success hinged on its screenplay.

Best Achievement in Cinematography
Black Swan: Matthew Libatique
Inception: Wally Pfister
The King's Speech: Danny Cohen
The Social Network: Jeff Cronenweth
True Grit: Roger Deakins

Will Win: True Grit
Alternate: Black Swan
Should Win: Black Swan

The great Roger Deakins, who has collaborated on countless Coen Brothers movies, will probably finally get rewarded for his lovely and atmospheric cinematography. I think there's actually a small chance for any of these movies to win, and they're all worthy nominees.

Best Achievement in Art Direction
Alice in Wonderland: Robert Stromberg, Karen O'Hara
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1: Stuart Craig, Stephenie McMillan
Inception: Guy Hendrix Dyas, Larry Dias, Douglas A. Mowat
The King's Speech: Eve Stewart, Judy Farr
True Grit: Jess Gonchor, Nancy Haigh

Will Win: The King's Speech
Alternate: Inception
Should Win: Inception

I think this is a true 3-way race between TKS, Inception, and Alice in Wonderland. I'm hedging my bets on people wanting to reward The King's Speech.

Best Achievement in Costume Design
Alice in Wonderland: Colleen Atwood
I Am Love: Antonella Cannarozzi
The King's Speech: Jenny Beavan
The Tempest: Sandy Powell
True Grit: Mary Zophres

Will Win: Alice in Wonderland
Alternate: The King's Speech
Should Win: True Grit

A battle between TKS and Alice in Wonderland. This category tends not to correlate too strongly to Best Picture, and it also tends to go with showy work. Sounds like Alice in Wonderland to me.

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
Inception: Lora Hirschberg, Gary Rizzo, Ed Novick
The King's Speech: Paul Hamblin, Martin Jensen, John Midgley
Salt: Jeffrey J. Haboush, William Sarokin, Scott Millan, Greg P. Russell
The Social Network: Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick, Mark Weingarten
True Grit: Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff, Peter F. Kurland

Will Win: Inception
Alternate: True Grit
Should Win: Inception

Yup, Inception.

Best Achievement in Editing
127 Hours: Jon Harris
Black Swan: Andrew Weisblum
The Fighter: Pamela Martin
The King's Speech: Tariq Anwar
The Social Network: Kirk Baxter, Angus Wall

Will Win: The Social Network
Alternate: Black Swan
Should Win: Black Swan

I can see any of these except 127 Hours winning. I think the voters will notice, however, how much The Social Network's editing kept the audience thrilled at a story without much real action.

Best Achievement in Sound Editing
Inception: Richard King
Toy Story 3: Tom Myers, Michael Silvers
TRON: Legacy: Gwendolyn Yates Whittle, Addison Teague
True Grit: Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey
Unstoppable: Mark P. Stoeckinger

Will Win: Inception
Alternate: True Grit
Should Win: Inception

Another one for Inception.

Best Achievement in Visual Effects
Alice in Wonderland: Ken Ralston, David Schaub, Carey Villegas, Sean Phillips
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1: Tim Burke, John Richardson, Christian Manz, Nicolas Aithadi
Hereafter: Michael Owens, Bryan Grill, Stephan Trojansky, Joe Farrell
Inception: Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley, Pete Bebb, Paul J. Franklin
Iron Man 2: Janek Sirrs, Ben Snow, Ged Wright, Daniel Sudick

Will Win: Inception
Alternate: Alice in Wonderland
Should Win: Inception

Best Achievement in Makeup
Barney's Version: Adrien Morot
The Way Back: Edouard F. Henriques, Greg Funk, Yolanda Toussieng
The Wolfman: Rick Baker, Dave Elsey

Will Win: The Wolfman
Alternate: The Way Back
Should Win: I haven't seen any of these...

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song
127 Hours: A.R. Rahman, Roland 'Rollo' Armstrong, Dido
- "If I Rise"
Country Strong: Tom Douglas, Hillary Lindsey, Troy Verges
- "Coming Home"
Tangled: Alan Menken, Glenn Slater
- "I See the Light"
Toy Story 3: Randy Newman
- "We Belong Together"

Will Win: Toy Story 3
Alternate: 127 Hours
Should Win: 127 Hours

Not a great category for songs, but hopefully the performances will be pleasant.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score
127 Hours: A.R. Rahman
How to Train Your Dragon: John Powell
Inception: Hans Zimmer
The King's Speech: Alexandre Desplat
The Social Network: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross

Will Win: The King's Speech
Alternate: The Social Network
Should Win: The Social Network

I would be soooo thrilled if The Social Network score one this. It was awesome.

Best Short Film, Animated
Day & Night: Teddy Newton
The Gruffalo: Jakob Schuh, Max Lang
Let's Pollute: Geefwee Boedoe
The Lost Thing: Shaun Tan, Andrew Ruhemann
Madagascar, a Journey Diary: Bastien Dubois

Will Win: The Lost Thing
Alternate: Day & Night
Should Win: I've only seen Day & Night

While at the foreign film screenings, I spoke with Academy member Marjorie Simpkin (casting director for such films as Avatar and Footloose....) who told me The Lost Thing was charming the audiences at Academy screenings. I'm not seeing many other pundits it predicting it. I hope Marjorie guided me right!

Best Short Film, Live Action
The Confession: Tanel Toom
The Crush: Michael Creagh
God of Love: Luke Matheny
Na Wewe: Ivan Goldschmidt
Wish 143: Ian Barnes, Samantha Waite

Will Win: Wish 143
Alternate: Na Wewe
Should Win: God of Love

I saw these and never had the chance to blog. Here's a twitter style rundown.
The Confession-Turgid and overly grim, no thank you.
The Crush- Charming and slight. Won't win.
God of Love- Clever, goofy, and luxuriously filmed. This generation's Woody Allen?
Na Wewe- Global importance, great production values, a little weird at the end.
Wish 143- Topic sounds sleazy (cancer patient trying to lose his virginity), but the movie is really charming, funny, and moving.

This is a tough category. I would not be shocked if Na Wewe, Wish 143, or even God of Love won. I'm taking some more advice from Academy member Marjorie, who said voters were loving Wish 143.

Best Documentary, Short Subjects
Poster Girl: Mitchell Block (producer), Sara Nesson (director)
Killing in the Name: Nominees TBD
Strangers No More: Karen Goodman, Kirk Simon
Sun Come Up: Jennifer Redfearn, Tim Metzger
The Warriors of Qiugang: Ruby Yang, Thomas Lennon

Will Win: Strangers No More
Alternate: The Warrios of Qiugang
Should Win: ?

Haven't seen these, just going on what I've read.

Best Documentary, Features
Exit Through the Gift Shop: Banksy, Jaimie D'Cruz
GasLand: Josh Fox, Trish Adlesic
Inside Job: Charles Ferguson, Audrey Marrs
Restrepo: Tim Hetherington, Sebastian Junger
Waste Land: Lucy Walker, Angus Aynsley

Will Win: Inside Job
Alternate: Exit Through the Gift Shop
Should Win: Exit Through the Gift Shop (I've only seen Gift Shop and Restrepo)

I expect Inside Job will win, but it would be so cool if street artist Banksy claims the prize! I've also heard Waste Land might have a shot.

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
Biutiful: Alejandro González Iñárritu
- Mexico
Dogtooth: Giorgos Lanthimos
- Greece
In a Better World: Susanne Bier
- Denmark
Incendies: Denis Villeneuve
- Canada
Outside the Law: Rachid Bouchareb
- Algeria

Will Win: In a Better World
Alternate: Incendies
Should Win: In a Better World

I also saw all of these-over 3 days-so fun! Here's my run-down.

Biutiful- Bardem is extraordinary, the movie not so much. Overlong and "too many issues in the scene."
Dogtooth- Completely bizarre and, depending on who you are, repellent or fascinating. I thought fascinating and hilarious, but no way in hell it wins.
In a Better World- Gracefully written, acted, and performed by both the children and adults by great Danish director Susanne Bier
Incendies- Made with great skill and a near-masterpiece for the first hour and a half. It's ending let me down.
Outside the Law- Well-made but overly familiar and a little tedious.

This is widely thought of as a race between In a Better World, Biutiful, and Incendies. To vote, voters have to have seen all five movies. I honestly don't think Biutiful will win. Incendies is kind of up their alley, but also a little graphic in its violence. That's why I'm going with In a Better World, a movie it's hard not to like and also really well made. They've disappointed me before, though.

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
How to Train Your Dragon: Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders
The Illusionist: Sylvain Chomet
Toy Story 3: Lee Unkrich

Will Win: Toy Story 3
Alternate: How to Train Your Dragon
Should Win: Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3, you think??

Based on my predictions, I am guessing we will get:
-6 awards for The King's Speech (Picture, Actor, Director, O. Screenplay, Art Direction, Score)
-3 for Inception (Sound, Sound Editing, Visual Effects)
-2 for The Social Network (Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing)
-2 for Toy Story 3 (Animated, Song)
-2 for True Grit (Supporting Actress, Cinematography)
-1 for Black Swan (Actress)
-1 for The Fighter (Supporting Actor)
-1 for The Wolfman (Makeup)
-1 for Alice in Wonderland (Costumes)
-1 for In a Better World (Foreign)
-1 each for the documentary and shorts categories.

Tune in to the liveblog tonight at 7:30 pm for full coverage and to see how I do!