Posted tagged ‘Cohen Brothers’

Academy Award Predictions

February 5, 2010

So this year’s Academy Award nominations are upon us.  Having seen the list I have come to the conclusion that the sole goal of the Academy is to piss me off.

The first thing to stoke my ire was the the decision to include ten nominees for best picture.  At first I thought maybe some of the excellent small budget films that can’t afford to campaign against the big-studio blockbusters will actually get some recognition for a change.  Unfortunately, that isn’t how it worked out.  Rather than rewarding unconventional or non-mainstream films, the Academy used their bloated nomination format to give still more hype to mediocre big studio drivel.  

The Blind Side, for instance – a movie whose sole purpose is to exchange expensive movie tickets for some cheap sentimental tears – clearly benefited from the overblown nomination list while an excellent and original film like Moon still can’t get any Oscar attention.  There is no way that The Blind Side is better than Moon.

Then, of course, there are the two atrocities that continue to make cinema in 2009 a colossal joke.  Somehow, the tripe that is Avatar tied for the most nominations , including best picture, while the year’s best film, Where the Wild Things Are got none.  I’ve ranted on both of these topics enough in the last few months, so I won’t go into it again.  I don’t want to bore my readers, and, frankly, I’m emotionally spent.

As much as this year’s nominations have let me down, though, I still feel that, as a movie blogger, I have to offer my predictions.  So, since I’m convinced that the Oscars are nothing more than a giant, star-studded hoax whose aim is to fill me with rage (no, I don’t think I’m exaggerating and yes, I really am that narcissistic), I’m going to assume that the winner of each category will be the winner that will most piss me off.  Here, then, are my choices:

Best Original Screenplay – From what I’ve heard about Inglorious Basterds the writing was simply fantastic, so there’s no way it’s going to win.  Up was great, too, so it doesn’t stand a chance.  A Serious Man was not only a terrible movie, but the Cohen Brothers are my filmic nemeses, so they should be a lock for this one.

Best Adapted Screenplay – The fact that Where the Wild Things Are didn’t get a nomination here is enough to get me riled up, but I’m sure the Academy will top off this indignity by giving the award to the inexplicably over-hyped Up in the Air.

Visual Effects – This should be the one and only award that Avatar wins, and it probably does deserve it.  That, and the fact that every time I hear the word Avatar now I cringe, makes this one a no-brainer.

Sound Mixing – In making the Transformers movies, Michael Bay has taken a Megatron sized dump on my childhood.  I’m sure the Academy will follow suit by giving Revenge of the Fallen a gold statue.

Sound Editing – Since I have no real investment in this category it seems like a great chance for the Academy to slip in yet another punch to the gut by rewarding Avatar for completely wasting three hours of my life.

Short Film (Both Live Action & Animated) – I don’t know anything about the nominees, nor do I care to.  My guess is that, knowing this, the Academy will waste my time by giving the awards to whoever will make the longest and most incomprehensible speeches, as seems to be the case every year.  I mean, come on, we’ve never even heard of you or your film, why on earth would we want to hear you thank the film crew and your parents?   Just grab your phallic statue and get off the stage.

Music (Original Song) – I don’t know about the winner, but I’m guessing that we’ll get an uninspired performance of each song during the ceremony so that the Academy can fill more time and sell more commercials.  In fact, this is probably the safest bet of the night.

Music (Original Score)Fantastic Mr. Fox‘s music was interesting and memorable and actually contributed to the tone of the story, but Karen O didn’t get a nomination for her work on Wild Things, so I can only assume that the Academy doesn’t reward that kind of thing.  I’m guessing throw away orchestral music is more the Academy’s speed, so Avatar should get this one.

Makeup – Like the short film categories, this one is best when the award goes to someone giving a short acceptance speech.  Therefore, I’m assuming that this year it’ll be a three way tie and we’ll get to hear three people we’ve never heard of talk about how much they appreciate what their third grade teacher taught them about eyeliner.

Foreign Language Film – I haven’t seen any of these, so I’m going to guess that it’ll go to A Prophet since it’s French.  I have a complicated relationship to all things French.

Film Editing – Given the inordinate and unnecessary length of Avatar I refuse to believe that they did any editing at all.  This three hour monstrosity should have been 90 minutes max, and yet they’ll get the award even though all four of the other films are clearly superior in this category.

Documentary (Short Subject) – See other short film categories.

Documentary (Feature) – It would take someone pretty naive not to know how screwed up the U.S. food industry is.  I’m all for doing what we can to make a difference, but Food, Inc. was poorly made and didn’t really tell me all that much that I didn’t already know.  This is an extremely important issue, but I just didn’t think that this was an extremely important documentary.  In other words, it’s just what the Academy is looking for.

Costume Design – This award is the whole reason that we have to endure at least one melodramatic period movie every year.  The Young Victoria should keep that trend going.

Cinematography Avatar‘s cinematography happened in three dimensions, which has never been done before!  James Cameron invented 3-D film technology, so he deserves this one for sure.  Oh wait, 3-D movies have been around since 1922?  Eh, he can have the award anyway.

Art Direction – Jungles with giant trees in them apparently pass for imagination in today’s Hollywood.  Chalk another one up for Avatar.

Animated Feature Film – Wow, the Academy actually can’t go wrong here.  This was a great year for animated film and, for the first time in years, Pixar isn’t a lock to win it (even though Up is one of their very best movies). I predict that the Academy will lose the envelope and there will be no winner.

Actress in a Supporting Role – Anna Kendrick’s performance was awful, and having to share the screen with George Clooney and Vera Farmiga, both of whom were excellent, just highlighted that she wasn’t up to the task, so I would say that Kendrick’s going to get it.  However, watching Farmiga try to act happy for her inferior co-star would be pretty amusing, and the Academy doesn’t want me to enjoy anything about these awards.  So, I’m going to say this one will go to Penelope Cruz, whose existence perpetually annoys me.

Actor in a Supporting Role – This is another one that the Academy inexplicably got right.  Every time Woody Harrelson has success, though, it makes it harder for me to picture him as Woody Boyd from Cheers, thus slightly diminishing my enjoyment of the greatest sit-com of all time.  For that reason, I think Harrelson will take it.

Actor in a Leading Role – Much like Harrelson’s success tarnishes my enjoyment of Cheers, Clooney’s makes it hard to think of him as George Burnett, and thus The Facts of Life falls a bit in my esteem.  He’ll win the award to spite both me and Tootie.

Actress in a Leading Role – Meryl Streep gave a wonderful performance in Julia & Julia (has she ever not given a wonderful performance?), but the film was just so bad.  As long as “yeah, the movie was terrible, but [insert great actress/actor here]’s peformance made it worth watching” is a common phrase in movie culture I just can’t support giving Streep the award.  Which means she’ll get it.

Director – As James Cameron walks towards the stage to accept his award, I’ll be posing the knife above my heart…

Best Picture – …and when Avatar wins Best Picture I’ll plunge it in.

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Fantastic Mr. Fox – Review

December 12, 2009

Remember, I generally hate movies.

That being said, I actually quite enjoyed Fantastic Mr. Fox.  I’m not sure that it’s as “groundbreaking” as some are claiming, but in the end I came away happy to have seen it.  After watching Disney butcher such Dr. Seuss classics as How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Cat in the Hat, and Horton Hears a Who, it’s great to see two successful film adaptations of “children’s” literature in one year (the other, of course, being Spike Jonze’s brilliant adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are).

That I liked Fantastic Mr. Fox was surprising because my track record with Wes Anderson is almost as bad as my track record with the Coen Brothers.  I liked (didn’t love, but liked) Rushmore, didn’t like The Royal Tenenbaums, and absolutely detested A Life Aquatic – seriously, it was one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.

One of the problems I have with Wes Anderson films is his insistence on and obsession with style.  It’s not that I mind stylized film making, but style alone isn’t enough to make me enjoy a film.  For Anderson, though, it seems that style is the top priority – that the characters and the narrative are there only as an excuse to execute a specific visual style.  I find this tedious and uninteresting because, as a Simpsons character whose name I don’t know once said: “the whole thing smacks of effort.”

But that effort worked in Fantastic Mr. Fox, in large part because it uses stop-motion animation – a technique that already wears its effort on its sleeve.  As a viewer, the slight jerkiness of the motion on screen acts as a constant reminder of the artificiality of what we’re seeing – something that a stylish director like Anderson takes full advantage of.  In fact, one of the strengths of the film is the way that Anderson manages to match form to content.

After all, one of the liberties that the film takes with Dahl’s book is to use Mr. Fox’s plight to comment on the increasing artificiality of our world.  At one point, Mr. Fox tears into his dinner with all of the recklessness and fervor of a wild animal (which, of course, he is).  His motions are so fast that the stop-motion animation can’t keep up – the artificiality of the film-making is unable to contain the wildness of Mr. Fox.  But as the story progresses (warning – a few mild spoilers follow), Mr. Fox starts to realize the negative consequences of his wildness and his eventual ability to outwit his nemeses, Boggis, Bunce, and Bean stems from his gradual assimilation into their comfortable, civilized (but less exciting) world.  While this brings with it a palpable sense of loss, Fox’s dance with his family at the end – a dance that seems in perfect step with the 12 frames-per-second of the animation – reflects his acceptance of his new lifestyle and, at the same time, justifies the explicit stylization that bogs down most of Anderson’s other films.

All of this being said, the film is far from perfect.  As I already mentioned, Anderson does take some substantial liberties with his source material on both a narrative and thematic level.  While that isn’t an inherently bad thing, sometimes the deviations felt less original than the parts that followed the book more closely.

The second half of the film begins to rely less on Dahl’s brilliant storytelling and more on some of the conventions of contemporary animation, especially in its raucous final action sequence. By entering into these conventions, Anderson is placing himself in competition with other, more experienced animation teams, especially Pixar – a company that has found a formula for fast paced final action sequences that eludes Anderson.  Instead of a tight blending of action and story, a lot of the last half of Mr. Fox made me feel as though I was watching a kid who had lost track of the story he was trying to tell and was instead just having fun with his toys.  There’s a certain joy to be had in this, but it still weakened the overall impact of what starts off as a very original and compelling re-interpretation of a very original and compelling book.

The result is a film that is never boring (and I’m easily bored), and, at times, is deeply interesting.  Some Roald Dahl fans will hate it for the liberties it takes (after all, the film’s grudging endorsement of modern civilization is almost directly contrary to Dahl’s celebration of Mr. Fox’s refusal to be tamed), but others (like myself) will admire the way Anderson’s version of the story engages the spirit of Dahl’s overall literary daring even if he doesn’t stick to the spirit of this particular book.  In its best moments, Fantastic Mr. Fox shows us that stop-motion animation can do things that computer animation simply cannot, but at others it made me painfully aware of stop-motion’s limitations in the digital age.

Most strikingly, though, the film demonstrates that Anderson’s investment in style doesn’t have to overwhelm the other aspects of his film-making.  Maybe if it had been in stop-motion animation, The Royal Tenenbaums would have been more interesting.  I’m not sure anything could save A Life Aquatic.

Why The Big Lebowski is an Over-rated Pile of Dung

December 11, 2009

Remember, I generally hate movies.

Also, I am aware that The Big Lebowski has a large and passionate following, and that this post might put me in danger of physical mob violence (or would if mobs of people actually read my blog – needless to say, I’ll sleep easy tonight).  As such, I decided to re-watch the movie just to make sure that I wasn’t missing something the first time I saw it.

I wasn’t.

In fact, rather than finding anything new I actually found something entirely and disappointingly familiar.  Lebowski is, when all is said and done, a stoner movie.  Nothing more, nothing less.  I don’t think I realized this the first time I watched it because it’s a stoner movie hidden underneath a pretty thick veneer of faux-wittiness and clever (not the same as funny) film-making.  But in the end, this is simply a stoner movie.

As such, it suffers from the same flawed premise that hinders most stoner movies: while it is often inherently funny to be high, it isn’t inherently funny to be around someone who’s high – in fact, it’s often incredibly dull and/or frustrating.

Now, I realize that there is actually not a lot of pot smoking going on in Lebowski (the White Russians get a lot more camera time), but Lebowski (or “The Dude”) himself is clearly a typical burn-out: he likes to drink/get high, he’s a dead-beat, he’s harmless, he finds everything a little bewildering, and he’d get along with everyone else a lot better if they’d just be as chill as he is.  So, yes, he’s a burn-out.  And, no, that isn’t funny.

I also realize that the rest of the characters don’t fit the burn-out mold.  In fact, they are really anti-burn-outs; characters who are so un-“chill” that their manic intensity (whether it be about bowling, artistic pretensions, or Vietnam) stands in stark contrast to The Dude’s complete lack of ambition.  Their humor lies in their being foils to The Dude and what he represents.  As a result, the film simply wastes their potential for humor since they are meant to highlight the inherent funniness of The Dude – a funniness that isn’t there.

Take, for instance, one of the film’s most beloved characters.  I’ll be the first to admit that the notion of a brightly dressed pedophile who calls himself “The Jesus” and takes his bowling way too seriously is ripe with comedic potential.  In fact, just writing that last sentence made me chuckle.  But, ultimately, the film doesn’t do much more with this notion than my sentence did.  Instead, it uses The Jesus and the absurd passion he has for crushing his bowling opponents to further highlight Lebowki’s nonchalance.  In other words, The Jesus only exists to make us more aware of The Dude as a burn-out.

Which isn’t funny.

And this was, repeatedly, the problem I had with the movie – the humor of each character was dependent on that character’s interaction with The Dude and the The Dude just wasn’t interesting or original enough to bear that burden.

This was even true of the movie’s visual style.  As I’ve said before, the Coen brothers have a special talent for capturing unusual aesthetics and finding beauty in what we would normally consider the mundane.  In Lebowski that aesthetic centers around the bowling alley and I will be the first to admit that this is probably the most beautiful (and yet still genuine) depiction of a bowling alley I’ve ever seen.

But the question remains: why should I care about a representation of a bowling alley?  Again, the answer is the The Dude.  The film’s striking (no pun intended) representation of the bowling alley highlights Lebowski’s desire to be left alone to waste his life rolling a ball at some pins.  Once again, I don’t find that inherently funny and so, once again, the film wastes its own potential on a flawed central character.

I do want to be clear about one thing, though.  I don’t think the failure of The Dude is in any way a comment on Jeff Bridges’ performance, which was outstanding.  In fact, all of the performance were outstanding.  As were so many other aspects of the film.  Everything was well done and cleverly (again, clever and funny aren’t the same thing) put together.  But, in the end, all that this effort accomplished was to very effectively convey what it’s like to be around a burn-out.  Unfortunately, that means that the film left me a little bored, a little frustrated, and intensely aware of wasted potential.