Friday, January 25, 2008

My Oscar predictions

The fact that there may not be a ceremony doesn't mean I can't predict the winners. Good list of nominees this year. Hard to separate my predictions from my hoped-for winners, so I'll make a note when they're not in alignment. (If I bolded nothing, it means I don't know enough to make a decent prediction.)

Performance by an actor in a leading role
George Clooney in "Michael Clayton" (Warner Bros.)
Daniel Day-Lewis in "There Will Be Blood" (Paramount Vantage and Miramax)
Johnny Depp in "Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" (DreamWorks and Warner Bros., Distributed by DreamWorks/Paramount)
Tommy Lee Jones in "In the Valley of Elah" (Warner Independent)
Viggo Mortensen in "Eastern Promises" (Focus Features)

Performance by an actor in a supporting role
Casey Affleck in "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" (Warner Bros.)
Javier Bardem in "No Country for Old Men" (Miramax and Paramount Vantage)
Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Charlie Wilson's War" (Universal)
Hal Holbrook in "Into the Wild" (Paramount Vantage and River Road Entertainment)
Tom Wilkinson in "Michael Clayton" (Warner Bros.)

Performance by an actress in a leading role
Cate Blanchett in "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" (Universal)
Julie Christie in "Away from Her" (Lionsgate)
Marion Cotillard in "La Vie en Rose" (Picturehouse)
Laura Linney in "The Savages" (Fox Searchlight)
Ellen Page in "Juno" (Fox Searchlight)

Marion Cotillard could get it, but I haven't seen the film, and it's possible that with Bardem winning Best Supporting Actor, the voters will want to reward an American -- or at least not a Frenchwoman. This may well be Christie's last great role, so I'm hoping for the best.

Performance by an actress in a supporting role
Cate Blanchett in "I'm Not There" (The Weinstein Company)
Ruby Dee in "American Gangster" (Universal)
Saoirse Ronan in "Atonement" (Focus Features)
Amy Ryan in "Gone Baby Gone" (Miramax)
Tilda Swinton in "Michael Clayton" (Warner Bros.)

Amy Ryan could get it. "Gone Baby Gone" won't get anything else, so maybe she'll win. I loved Tilda Swinton but I don't think she has a chance. Blanchett was fantastic. I think she has a decent shot.

Best animated feature film of the year
"Persepolis (Sony Pictures Classics): Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud
"Ratatouille" (Walt Disney): Brad Bird
"Surf's Up" (Sony Pictures Releasing): Ash Brannon and Chris Buck

Having seen "Persepolis," I retract my original prediction that it will win. I think "Ratatouille" gets the Oscar.

Achievement in art direction
"American Gangster" (Universal): Art Direction: Arthur Max; Set Decoration: Beth A. Rubino
"Atonement" (Focus Features): Art Direction: Sarah Greenwood; Set Decoration: Katie Spencer
"The Golden Compass" (New Line in association with Ingenious Film Partners): Art Direction: Dennis Gassner; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
"Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" (DreamWorks and Warner Bros., Distributed by DreamWorks/Paramount): Art Direction: Dante Ferretti; Set Decoration: Francesca Lo Schiavo
"There Will Be Blood" (Paramount Vantage and Miramax): Art Direction: Jack Fisk; Set Decoration: Jim Erickson

Achievement in cinematography
"The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" (Warner Bros.): Roger Deakins
"Atonement" (Focus Features): Seamus McGarvey
"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" (Miramax/Pathé Renn): Janusz Kaminski
"No Country for Old Men" (Miramax and Paramount Vantage): Roger Deakins
"There Will Be Blood" (Paramount Vantage and Miramax): Robert Elswit

Achievement in costume design
"Across the Universe" (Sony Pictures Releasing) Albert Wolsky
"Atonement" (Focus Features) Jacqueline Durran
"Elizabeth: The Golden Age" (Universal) Alexandra Byrne
"La Vie en Rose" (Picturehouse) Marit Allen
"Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" (DreamWorks and Warner Bros., Distributed by DreamWorks/Paramount) Colleen Atwood

Achievement in directing
"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" (Miramax/Pathé Renn), Julian Schnabel
"Juno" (Fox Searchlight), Jason Reitman
"Michael Clayton" (Warner Bros.), Tony Gilroy
"No Country for Old Men" (Miramax and Paramount Vantage), Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
"There Will Be Blood" (Paramount Vantage and Miramax), Paul Thomas Anderson

Best documentary feature
"No End in Sight" (Magnolia Pictures) A Representational Pictures Production: Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs
"Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience" (The Documentary Group) A Documentary Group Production: Richard E. Robbins
"Sicko" (Lionsgate and The Weinstein Company) A Dog Eat Dog Films Production: Michael Moore and Meghan O'Hara
"Taxi to the Dark Side" (THINKFilm) An X-Ray Production: Alex Gibney and Eva Orner
"War/Dance" (THINKFilm) A Shine Global and Fine Films Production: Andrea Nix Fine and Sean Fine

I haven't seen "No End in Sight," but I feel like anything is a long shot against Moore.

Best documentary short subject
"Freeheld" A Lieutenant Films Production: Cynthia Wade and Vanessa Roth
"La Corona (The Crown)" A Runaway Films and Vega Films Production: Amanda Micheli and Isabel Vega
"Salim Baba" A Ropa Vieja Films and Paradox Smoke Production: Tim Sternberg and Francisco Bello
"Sari's Mother" (Cinema Guild) A Daylight Factory Production: James Longley

Achievement in film editing
"The Bourne Ultimatum" (Universal): Christopher Rouse
"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" (Miramax/Pathé Renn): Juliette Welfling
"Into the Wild" (Paramount Vantage and River Road Entertainment): Jay Cassidy
"No Country for Old Men" (Miramax and Paramount Vantage) Roderick Jaynes
"There Will Be Blood" (Paramount Vantage and Miramax): Dylan Tichenor

"Old Men" could get it, though it's the sound editing that's really impressive in that one. I'm not holding my breath for "Diving Bell," but here's hoping.

Best foreign language film of the year
"Beaufort" Israel
"The Counterfeiters" Austria
"Katyn" Poland
"Mongol" Kazakhstan
"12" Russia

Achievement in makeup
"La Vie en Rose" (Picturehouse) Didier Lavergne and Jan Archibald
"Norbit" (DreamWorks, Distributed by Paramount): Rick Baker and Kazuhiro Tsuji
"Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" (Walt Disney): Ve Neill and Martin Samuel

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score)
"Atonement" (Focus Features) Dario Marianelli
"The Kite Runner" (DreamWorks, Sidney Kimmel Entertainment and Participant Productions, Distributed by Paramount Classics): Alberto Iglesias
"Michael Clayton" (Warner Bros.) James Newton Howard
"Ratatouille" (Walt Disney) Michael Giacchino
"3:10 to Yuma" (Lionsgate) Marco Beltrami

"Atonement" has to win SOMETHING.

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song)
"Falling Slowly" from "Once" (Fox Searchlight) Music and Lyric by Glen Hansard and: Marketa Irglova
"Happy Working Song" from "Enchanted" (Walt Disney): Music by Alan Menken; Lyric by Stephen Schwartz
"Raise It Up" from "August Rush" (Warner Bros.): Nominees to be determined
"So Close" from "Enchanted" (Walt Disney): Music by Alan Menken; Lyric by Stephen Schwartz
"That's How You Know" from "Enchanted" (Walt Disney): Music by Alan Menken; Lyric by Stephen Schwartz

Man. I think "Enchanted" will win for one of its, um, THREE songs. But I'd really, really like it if "Falling Slowly" pulled it out. Thing is, the Academy is even more short-sighted in this category than in most of the other ones. Remember when Celine Dion beat Elliott Smith? Yeah, me too. Then again, Bruce Springsteen won for "Streets of Philadelphia," so who knows?

Best motion picture of the year
"Atonement" (Focus Features) A Working Title Production: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Paul Webster, Producers
"Juno" (Fox Searchlight) A Dancing Elk Pictures, LLC Production: Lianne Halfon, Mason Novick and Russell Smith, Producers
"Michael Clayton" (Warner Bros.) A Clayton Productions, LLC Production: Sydney Pollack, Jennifer Fox and Kerry Orent, Producers
"No Country for Old Men" (Miramax and Paramount Vantage) A Scott Rudin/Mike Zoss Production: Scott Rudin, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, Producers
"There Will Be Blood" (Paramount Vantage and Miramax) A JoAnne Sellar/Ghoulardi Film Company Production: JoAnne Sellar, Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Lupi, Producers

At first, I thought "Atonement" stood a decent chance. But I'm thinking "Old Men" could win Picture in addition to Director. Some people are putting their money on "Blood," though. All I know is, "Juno" had better not beat all the sad movies out.

Best animated short film
"I Met the Walrus" A Kids & Explosions Production: Josh Raskin
"Madame Tutli-Putli" (National Film Board of Canada) A National Film Board of Canada Production Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski
"Même Les Pigeons Vont au Paradis (Even Pigeons Go to Heaven)" (Premium Films) A BUF Compagnie Production Samuel Tourneux and Simon Vanesse
"My Love (Moya Lyubov)" (Channel One Russia) A Dago-Film Studio, Channel One Russia and Dentsu Tec Production Alexander Petrov
"Peter & the Wolf" (BreakThru Films) A BreakThru Films/Se-ma-for Studios Production Suzie Templeton and Hugh Welchman

Best live action short film
"At Night" A Zentropa Entertainments 10 Production: Christian E. Christiansen and Louise Vesth
"Il Supplente (The Substitute)" (Sky Cinema Italia) A Frame by Frame Italia Production: Andrea Jublin
"Le Mozart des Pickpockets (The Mozart of Pickpockets)" (Premium Films) A Karé Production: Philippe Pollet-Villard
"Tanghi Argentini" (Premium Films) An Another Dimension of an Idea Production: Guido Thys and Anja Daelemans
"The Tonto Woman" A Knucklehead, Little Mo and Rose Hackney Barber Production: Daniel Barber and Matthew Brown

I liked "At Night," but it was quite a downer. "The Substitute" was a bit too tonally challenged, "Pickpockets" was cute but a bit too long, and "The Tonto Woman" never quite found its snap. "Tanghi Argentini" was the tightest film, and it was both very well constructed and expertly edited.

Achievement in sound editing
"The Bourne Ultimatum" (Universal): Karen Baker Landers and Per Hallberg
"No Country for Old Men" (Miramax and Paramount Vantage): Skip Lievsay
"Ratatouille" (Walt Disney): Randy Thom and Michael Silvers
"There Will Be Blood" (Paramount Vantage and Miramax): Matthew Wood
"Transformers" (DreamWorks and Paramount in association with Hasbro): Ethan Van der Ryn and Mike Hopkins

Achievement in sound mixing
"The Bourne Ultimatum" (Universal) Scott Millan, David Parker and Kirk Francis
"No Country for Old Men" (Miramax and Paramount Vantage): Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff and Peter Kurland
"Ratatouille" (Walt Disney): Randy Thom, Michael Semanick and Doc Kane
"3:10 to Yuma" (Lionsgate): Paul Massey, David Giammarco and Jim Stuebe
"Transformers" (DreamWorks and Paramount in association with Hasbro): Kevin O'Connell, Greg P. Russell and Peter J. Devlin

Achievement in visual effects
"The Golden Compass" (New Line in association with Ingenious Film Partners): Michael Fink, Bill Westenhofer, Ben Morris and Trevor Wood
"Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" (Walt Disney): John Knoll, Hal Hickel, Charles Gibson and John Frazier
"Transformers" (DreamWorks and Paramount in association with Hasbro): Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Russell Earl and John Frazier

Adapted screenplay
"Atonement" (Focus Features), Screenplay by Christopher Hampton
"Away from Her" (Lionsgate), Written by Sarah Polley
"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" (Miramax/Pathé Renn), Screenplay by Ronald Harwood
"No Country for Old Men" (Miramax and Paramount Vantage), Written for the screen by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
"There Will Be Blood" (Paramount Vantage and Miramax), Written for the screen by Paul Thomas Anderson

You know what? Except for "Atonement," which I haven't seen, I know these are all Oscar-worthy -- maybe "Blood" least so, since the power of it was more in the lead performance and the direction (until, you know, the last scene). "Old Men" was so "cinematic," as one critic put it, that it stands a good chance of winning. Glad "Away from Her" was nominated, at least. Good year for adaptations.

Original screenplay
"Juno" (Fox Searchlight), Written by Diablo Cody
"Lars and the Real Girl" (MGM), Written by Nancy Oliver
"Michael Clayton" (Warner Bros.), Written by Tony Gilroy
"Ratatouille" (Walt Disney), Screenplay by Brad Bird; Story by Jan Pinkava, Jim Capobianco, Brad Bird
"The Savages" (Fox Searchlight), Written by Tamara Jenkins

It's been a "Juno" kind of year. But I wish one of the other films would win. Especially "Lars" or "Ratatouille." Great to see a Pixar film nominated for its screenplay. Welcome to the 21st century, Academy.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

My top 10 films of 2007

1. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

A very tough choice this year. The next two films on my list are excellent but bleak in tone. Normally, that doesn't bother me, but for some reason I had a hard time crowning either of them king. Diving Bell turned a terrible situation -- a man's near-total paralysis -- into an inspiring story without an ounce of sap. Julian Schnabel's directorial conceit -- to show the vast majority of the movie's action from the monocular viewpoint of paralyzed Jean-Dominique Bauby -- is daring, and the payoff is tremendous. Filled with honesty and beauty and poignant moments that feel true to life, not manipulative, this is -- just barely -- my #1 film of 2007.

2. No Country for Old Men

I didn't find it bloodless or soulless, the way some critics did. Tommy Lee Jones and Kelly Macdonald give the film more emotional life than dozens of other 2007 films put together, and Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem both deserve the many accolades they've gotten. The cinematography is some of the best I saw in 2007, and the use of sound is ingenious and Oscar-worthy. And the pacing and humor are both just right.

3. There Will Be Blood

Say what you will about the Milkshake Moment, the vast majority of Paul Thomas Anderson's oil saga is, as my friend Angela put it, remarkable. From the exquisite cinematography to Daniel Day-Lewis' Oscar shoo-in performance, to the writing (which I feel is a step above Anderson's previous work -- clipped, commanding, and period-authentic without feeling slavishly so), Blood is riveting until it goes apeshit, at which point it's just riveting in a different way. And you know what? After a couple hours of well-paced, subtle narrative, a little on-the-nose symbolism never killed anyone. (Okay, bad choice of words.)

4. Ratatouille

The most purely delightful film of the year. Maybe not up to the lofty level of The Incredibles, Brad Bird's previous Pixar film, but damn close, and that's a hell of a place to be. Extra kudos to Janeane Garofalo's French accent and the rightly beloved ratatouille scene -- and subsequent Peter O'Toole monologue about being a critic. Delicious.

5. Away From Her

I loved Sarah Polley already as an actress, and this movie made me love her as a director, too. Julie Christie is heartbreaking and just generally superb, Gordon Pinsent deserves about as much praise for his work in the role of Christie's quietly suffering husband, and the film's painful, delicate themes unfold honestly and unflinchingly, but also sensitively and humorously. Easily the best Canadian film of the year, I'd wager, and an example of the kind of film that both enriches a national cinema and transcends it.

6. Zodiac

Rarely have killings been depicted both as startlingly and as sympathetically (toward the victims) as David Fincher portrays them in Zodiac. The director goes against the serial-killer grain -- he's out to trouble us, not titillate us, with the maniac's violence, and somehow he manages to generate a shocked, upset response based on the murders of characters we barely know. As Angela observed, this thoughtful film casts a mood that's more than gloomy -- it's haunting, and it takes days to shake off. One thing's for sure: Donovan's "Hurdy Gurdy Man" will never sound the same to me again.

7. Lake of Fire

Tony Kaye's abortion documentary may not have changed my mind about the issue, but it made me think. A sequence that follows a Twin Cities woman and her partner as she prepares for the procedure is a miniature documentary masterpiece on its own. The black-and-white cinematography, which makes the more graphic scenes just barely bearable, is outstanding. The inclusion of talking heads who refuse to issue absolutist statements -- they state their opinions but acknowledge that intelligent people may disagree -- is utterly refreshing, and it makes this an aptly thorny film about a subject that's grown no less thorny since Roe v. Wade.

8. Margot at the Wedding

The Squid and the Whale was my #1 film of 2005, and Noah Baumbach's follow-up isn't quite as good. But it's still really good. Nicole Kidman has never, ever been better, and Jennifer Jason Leigh hits the right notes, quiet and subtle, to support Kidman's Oscar-caliber performance. Jack Black is shrewdly cast (slightly) against type, and Zane Pais is terrific as Claude, Margot's unfortunate son. Some of the best dialogue of the year.

9.The King of Kong

Preening, egotistical video-game champion Billy Mitchell, Kong's anti-hero, is a slow-moving target. Yet director Seth Gordon has the wisdom and grace to let Mitchell hoist himself by his own petard, and he proves more than up to the task. Steve Wiebe, his main challenger for the Donkey Kong world record, is also his perfect foil: Wiebe is awkward, humble, self-effacing, and sweet as pie. No wonder a fictionalized adaptation of Kong is in the works, though I doubt it could equal the jaw-dropping original. Toss in Walter Day, the hilariously, endearingly earnest video-game referee, and you have a documentary that's the stuff of legend -- and whose human drama is capable of captivating people who have no love at all for video games.

10. Into the Wild

Were the Eddie Vedder songs annoying? Yes. Did Sean Penn choose to move the camera around the mountaintops like a car-commercial director, as David Denby alleged? Maybe. I didn't notice. Making a young man's picaresque journey from stifling mainstream society to the outer reaches of the wilderness seem fresh is nearly impossible, but Penn's film brings something vital to a very old story. Emile Hirsch is splendid as Christopher, and Catherine Keener, as the pragmatic half of a hippie couple he meets along the way, infuses her role with something it desperately needs: unsentimental world-weariness. All told, it's the rare adventure film that actually feels like an adventure. The whole thing should have been mawkish and irritating, but it isn't. Vince Vaughn and Hal Holbrook do great work in smallish roles, and Christopher's decision to chuck a conventional life, donate tens of thousands of dollars to charity, and hit the road in search of something, anything, to believe in is almost painfully relatable. Denby complains that Hirsch's character rejects society without accumulating enough life experience to know what he's doing, but I think he knows plenty. It's the Obama argument: He may not have a lot of experience under his belt, but he has enough to know that things need to change.

Honorable mentions (in no particular order):

Sunshine -- Visually thrilling and well paced. A great example of high-concept sci-fi done right.
Superbad -- Never a dull moment. A breezy, enjoyable balancing act of vulgarity and sweetness.
Once -- One of the year's most touching and realistic love stories, with great music in the bargain.
Sicko -- Michael Moore's most accessible film, politically speaking, is also one of his most compelling.
In the Valley of Elah -- Before Old Men opened, Tommy Lee Jones brought great humanity to the role of a soldier's father.
Michael Clayton -- George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, and Tom Wilkinson are all at the top of their game.
Lars and the Real Girl -- Ryan Gosling can do no wrong, but neither can Nancy Oliver's warm, funny script.
Juno -- Ellen Page is finally breaking out, and it's about time. Her scenes with Jason Bateman and Michael Cera made the movie.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


It was AWESOME. Everyone around me was either trembling or had extremely tensed-up muscles by the end. The most fun I've had at the movies in a while.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Saturday, January 12, 2008

And now, a sobering message about aging

Or you could see it as inspirational. You choose.

And here's a slumbering pug:

And a place to collect more information concerning the best dog breed ever.

"I drink your milkshake! I drink it up!"

Let it be known that within just a few days of seeing There Will Be Blood, I suggested to all who would listen that the Notorious Line be mashed up with Kelis' "Milkshake." I wish I could offer a prize of some kind to the first person who does it. If you find out that somebody has, please let me know.

In other news, I'm seeing The Host tomorrow with Reed, both because many critics named it one of their top 10 films of 2007 and because I have four tickets reserved for Friday's 9:30 p.m. Cinerama showing of Cloverfield, which I'll be blogging about this week for my employer. (Here's the segue: They're both monster movies, and early -- and ridiculous -- speculation around Cloverfield suggested that it might be a remake of The Host.) If you're interested in getting the (spoiler-free) 411, visit Cloverfield Clues.

Now that spoilers are all over the Internet -- apparently you can even get the scoop on the monster's birth -- I'll be avoiding Cloverfield Google searches, for the most part, until after Friday. As I recently told someone, I haven't bought tickets to a movie this far ahead of time since The Blair Witch Project, which I admit was overhyped, but c'mon. The fun of getting caught up in movie hype, at least for me, is as much about the hype as about the movie. It's the pop-culture phenomenon that excites me as much as what the movie is about (though I do have a weakness for disaster movies). No doubt Cloverfield will be terrifying on the huge Cinerama screen, but whatever kind of movie it turns out to be, it'll be a trip seeing it in a gigantic theater packed with crazy fans like me.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Updated Top 10 list

No particular order yet.

No Country for Old Men
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Away From Her
There Will Be Blood
The King of Kong
Into the Wild
Lake of Fire
Margot at the Wedding

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Acocella vs. Gibran

In the current New Yorker: Joan Acocella's funny, extremely satisfying piece on The Prophet author Kahlil Gibran. It's a refreshing reminder that some of our most "inspirational" books and movements come from deeply imperfect people.

Pretzel font

Bored at work? This should kill 10 minutes.

Hollywood shuffle

Though I'm not yet ready to unveil my Top 10 Films of 2007 -- I'm seeing There Will Be Blood tonight and hopefully watching The Host on DVD soon -- the Village Voice/LA Weekly Film Poll has no such reservations.

Here's what's on my list thus far, in no particular order:

No Country for Old Men
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Away From Her
The King of Kong
Into the Wild
Lake of Fire
Margot at the Wedding

This is one of the first years in a while that I haven't known what my #1 movie was by year's end. Perhaps not coincidentally, this was one of my least active movie-going years in some time. SIFF was practically a nonevent for me, mostly because every year I stress out about how much ground I'm going to be able to cover, and it's never enough. So this year I threw in the towel before the whole thing even started and saw only a few films.

In other movie/nonevent news, looks like the Globes will be pretty much starless this year. I must say, much as I admire her convictions, the sight of Tina Fey picketing entirely seriously is kind of jarring:

I've never seen her do anything entirely seriously.

Yet more movie news: SIFF Cinema's upcoming schedule is fabulous enough to make me scold myself for not getting there more often in the past. I especially want to catch Billy the Kid and Imaginary Witness, and if anyone wants to join me, drop me a line. I always welcome company.

One more thing: