Monday, February 28, 2011

About Last Night

Surely by now everyone has viewed a online slide show, read an article, Tweet, Facebook post or caught an Entertainment Tonight-type segment of last night's show. So I will concur, Anne Hathaway and James Franco, while charming and cute, seemed in way over their heads. Makes one realize just how hard a gig that hosting job is. I was already thinking about how they kind of seemed like they were hosting a high school variety show (albeit at a really good arts-focused private school), and then Franco came out in drag, which is exactly one of the types skits Dave Bevins and I wrote for ourselves when we co-hosted our high school variety show (but at the inner city west side not-arts-focused high school...)

I will say that the highlights of the evening for me were not re-capped on Access Hollywood and those were the non-celebrity winners. These people never fail to amuse me. They are in that enviable position of attending anonymously, enjoying all of the perks (one year, a nominee thanked the academy for seating her next to George Clooney at the nominees luncheon) without the barrage of annoying C and D level media outlets. The guy who won for Best Live Action Short came on stage with the shaggiest hair I've seen on a white guy and said, "I guess I should have gotten a haircut" and proceeded to thank his mother, who served as Craft Service (catering) on the film. Loved it.

As for the dresses, I loved Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis, Mandy Moore and Reese Witherspoon. I thought Cate Blanchett's dress was awful but I got an email from a friend today claiming her Best Dressed. And the special fashion correspondents on ET agreed. I guess I'm not all that fashion forward. I like the classic elegant look.

My favorite presenters were Russell Brand and Helen Miren. I think they should co-host next year. I think Aaron Sorkin gave the best speech.

But, alas, no surprises this year. Which I went in knowing, but still. It's always nice to hope. But, as I already said in an earlier post, it was a terrific year for film.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

One Day to Oscar!

So my plan to blog regularly leading up the Oscars was, obviously, not realized.

However, I did manage to see all ten nominees for Best Picture (as well as a fair amount of others). 2010 was indeed a good year for film. The biggest change in "gearing up to Oscar" is that there is so much media these days that there are rarely any surprises, and if there are, they are "predictable" surprises like one of the dark horse nominees in one of the Supporting categories. It renders the who-will-win speculations almost irrelevant. What is too bad is that the perpetual "Oscar news" almost never gets beyond the same sound bites. Which is a shame given all the potential to profile some stellar work.

So I'm not going to talk about who I think will win.

I can say that there was only one Best Pic nominee that I didn't like this year - Winter's Bone. Perhaps it was because I had high expectations. It's the lone quiet, low-budget indie pic of the group, an instant underdog. But God was it boring. Excruciating. Now there are some who will accuse me of not being patient, of not being able to appreciate the "subtleties" of such a film. To them I say, that is bull. I blame the editor. All of the scenes are full ones, meaning we are privy to every piece of the action - someone leaves their house, walks to the car, gets out of the car, walks to their destination, knocks on the door, waits, the door opens and they state their business, they enter the house, get settled, have a conversation, leave, walk to the car, drive, etc. Over and over and over. Properly edited, the whole thing could have taken forty minutes and not lost a single plot point.

On the other hand, 127 (which I wrote about last entry) is surprisingly exhilarating and uplifting story for being about a guy who is stuck in a canyon for five days and has to cut off his arm. Filmmaking at its best.

I was also pleasantly impressed by Blue Valentine, the small indie pic that wasn't nominated for Best Picture (but surely could have taken Winter's Bone's spot...) but got a nod for Michelle Williams for Best Actress. I'll admit, I was a bit afraid to see it which, for a film buff, can be an intoxicating notion. I was afraid because I'd heard it was intense, hard to watch. I was intrigued because I couldn't quite get a feel for why. Sometimes, if there is gratuitous violence or a one-dimensional display of victimization, I don't want those images stuck in my head. But I didn't find Blue Valentine hard to watch at all. Yes, I left the theater preoccupied by the dynamics and the subject matter, but I'll choose that any day over a movie that is just something to do to spend an evening.

What I liked about Blue Valentine most was the way the story was told. When we meet the two main characters - a blue-collar married couple with a young child - they are clearly at a crossroads in their marriage. It's hard to tell exactly what is wrong, but both are weary. The filmmakers jump back and forth in time, revealing various pieces of their history that build to an appropriate climax. What I love most is that, at the end, neither is clearly to blame. There a dozen major complexities that ultimately seal this couple's fate. I liked that it was not a story where you spent the movie rooting for someone you know will ultimately get away. At the end of this one, I found myself honestly hoping they could work it out.

In terms of the Oscar broadcast itself, I am really looking forward to seeing hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway. I give the producers a lot of credit for going young. At the same time, Franco and Hathaway bring a sense of old-school charm to the table where it doesn't just seem like some old white guys are desperately baiting a younger demographic by bringing in some "young people".

Last year, right after the last Oscars, I was out in L.A. for the first time in my life. I got to take a tour of the Kodak Theater (the highlight of my trip) and love that I can watch and recognize certain places.

Sure would be nice to make it into that audience one day.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

127 Hours

James Franco is everywhere.

If you take away the movies (of which, according to imdb, there are six more to come just this year), there is the collection of short stories, a regular part on General Hospital (yes, the soap), the guest spot of 30 Rock, and an upcoming run on Broadway.

And he's co-hosting the Oscars this year...

I had not been a big Franco fan. I just chalked him up to a restless young star willing to be overexposed while his flame was hot. I think it was when the short stories came out and I accused him of doing the bait-and-switch (the "while I'm famous I might as well go ahead and cut my album" syndrome).

127 changed that for me. I now love James Franco. Or maybe I love Aron Ralston, the real-life climber Franco plays in the movie. Or Danny Boyle who directed it. Needless to say, I found it to be a great experience all-round. I doubt it will win anything on Oscar night, but it's worthy.

I didn't go in with any sort of expectations or knowing much at all (which is good for me and very, very rare). I knew the premise - basically, a hyper-active hiker gets trapped and cuts off his arm to save his life - and I knew the filming was fast-paced. A face-paced tale where the main character can't move most of the show? I was in, if only to see how Boyle pulled it off.

As you might imagine, this involves some flashback, but mostly fantasy, but here it works.

I'd heard the opening described as "jittery" which worried me a little. Jittery usually translates to bad hand-held camera which makes me nausous. But it's not like that. Boyle uses split screen and fast cuts in a surprising fluid fashion which manages to emphasize the action without the typcial "get it? this guy lives fast" rib poke.

I don't want to give away much more, but be prepared to come out of the show wanting to climb some mountains.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Oscar Season Begins!

Sunday afternoon I was sitting at the bar at Max & Erma's having a late lunch, and the bartender asked me who I favored for one of the NFL playoff games. I smiled, knowing I had no good answer for this man who was surely just making friendly conversation. "Well, if you'll tell me whose playing," I said, "I can take a good guess."

I do, however, know that the nominations for the Academy Awards are announced on the last Tuesday of January...

Most of the nominees this year are a surprise to no one. But I think that has become a sign of the times. There is so much more media now-days that it is impossible for something to be "dug up" that hasn't already gotten a lot of attention.

One thing is for sure, 2010 was a good year for movies.

As far as the Best Pic nominees, I was hoping that the decision to have ten nominees (started last year) would have reverted back to five. But no. I'm not at all a fan of this decision, but I will refrain from this rant because no real good or insight can come from it.

As to the films nominated, there is no obvious "dud" or commercial favorite that has no business on the list, which is nice. For me, the clear forerunners are - The Social Network, The King's Speech, and True Grit. My personal favorite for the win is The Social Network. It has an engaging script (by Aaron Sorkin of West Wing fame) and great performances. But more than that, it is one of those rare "contemporary" films that manages to capture the essence of a not-so-distant past/present that feels very timely. What makes it intriguing is that we are able to view its success alongside a sea of less notable films, television shows, music, and books that are attempting to do the same thing and failing.

The King's Speech was very solid all-round, but I couldn't help feeling like it was very dated. The story is very linear and predictable (flawed noble underdog gets help from unlikely source and ultimately triumphs...) but Colin Firth deserves everything he's got coming to him, and there were a few scenes that were simply breathtaking in its cinematography. True Grit was also solid and touching. I'd love to see Hailee Steinfield (the fourteen year old making her debut) take home the Oscar for Supporting, but that category is exceptionally strong this year.

I won't go through the whole list, that gets tedious and boring. I can say that I only have four out of the ten shows to see (127 Hours, The Fighter, Inception, and Winter's Bone).

Last year, my gearing-up-for-the-Oscars project was to see as many Meryl Streep movies as I could to tip the proverbial scales in hope of a win for Streep for Julie and Julia. Alas, my efforts were in vain, but I have not given up the pursuit of a new project.

Tune in for further developments...