Friday, February 22, 2008

Oscar Picks, Year Four!

Hey, kids! It's that time of year again. Time for the glorious Onebee.com Oscar pool, the 4th Annual Athletic Reporter Oscar Picks column, and, to a lesser extent, the 80th Annual Academy Awards.

"But Joe," you ask. "Why should we listen to you? What do you know about the Oscars? Hasn't the accuracy of your picks in recent years been less than spectacular?"

Those are all fair questions...

Anyway, conventional wisdom holds that many of this year's races are closer than usual, so it promises to be an exciting Oscar ceremony.

Like I always do, I'll cut and paste what I wrote in 2005 to explain how this works:

Please note: these are my [Athletic Reporter Oscar Preview] predictions, not to be confused with my all-important picks in Athletic Reporter co-creator and Photoshop guru Jameson Simmons' Onebee.com Oscar pool (aka "The Only Reason At All I Still Pay Any Attention to the Oscars"). I reserve the right to refine my choices for Jameson's until late Sunday afternoon.

Let's get to it!

BEST PICTURE

Winner:

No Country For Old Men

Other Nominees:

Atonement
Juno
Michael Clayton
There Will Be Blood

A recurring theme of this particular Oscar Picks column may well turn out to be the notion that the Coen brothers could, in spirit if technically not in practice, tie Walt Disney's record by winning four Oscars in one night. I think they will. These will be the Coen brothers Oscars.

Count me among those who thought that the bizarre final 20 minutes or so just about ruined No Country For Old Men. There I sat, enjoying an excellent crime drama, and then all this weird crap happens for no reason. At least that's what it felt like. Oh well. Even if it's not for a movie of which I particularly approve, it will be nice to see the Coen brothers finally get their due (or get their due again; they each won Oscars for writing Fargo, so you can't really say that the Academy has ignored them completely).

There Will Be Blood was pretty much a character study, a showcase for Daniel Day-Lewis's Daniel Plainview. I'm firmly ensconced on the Day-Lewis bandwagon this year, but I can see why people might think that, pound-for-pound, Blood is slightly less deserving of Best Picture than No Country.

My personal favorite (of the three I saw) was Juno, which scored the one Best Picture nomination reserved for movies that aren't actually "Best Picture-y." Still, I've heard a good deal about how "relevant" No Country For Old Men (set in 1980) and There Will Be Blood (spanning the first fourth of the 20th century, give or take a couple of years) were to today's times, but... Juno actually takes place in today's times. So, there's your relevant.

Another reason I responded to Juno more than No Country For Old Men or There Will Be Blood, I think, is that characters in the latter two movies can probably be said to exist to some extent as metaphors (Daniel Plainview is capitalism, Eli Sunday is unchecked religious zealotry, Anton Chigurh is the inevitable, powerful force of evil in the ream of human existence), whereas, in Juno, the yuppie couple wanting to adopt a baby is pretty much a young couple wanting to adopt a baby, the spazzy teen boyfriend is pretty much a spazzy teen boyfriend...

As I get older I tend to be a little less interested in movies about the Big Ideas and more interested in movies about regular people dealing with their lives. Probably because I used to have Big Ideas, and now I'm a regular person dealing with his life. Makes sense, I suppose.

(well, and I like movies with boobs and gunfights. That's been pretty constant since I was about 12)

Michael Clayton I didn't see. I heard it was good and I'm sure it was, but, I got the feeling that if you sent away for "Oscar Movie Set in Present Day," then 6-to-8 weeks later you'd open up your mailbox and there you'd see Michael Clayton.

Atonement I didn't see. I heard it was good and I'm sure it was, but, I got the feeling that if you sent away for "Oscar Movie Set in the Past," then 6-to-8 weeks later you'd open up your mailbox and there you'd see Atonement.

BEST DIRECTOR

Winner:

Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, No Country For Old Men

Other Nominees:

Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood
Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton
Jason Reitman, Juno
Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Apparently Julian Schnabel is somewhat of a trendy upset pick, for those who want to pick an upset in this category. I don't. Nominations in a few of the big boy categories (Cinematography, Editing, Screenplay) might indicate some passionate support for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, but, I'm just going to bank on this being the Coens' year. They've been making great movies for over 20 years and they did an exemplary job with No Country For Old Men (my feelings about the film's conclusion notwithstanding), and I think those two factors will overwhelm whatever support Schnabel has out there.

As far as Jason Reitman goes, he's about the same age and my wife and I, and my wife was lamenting the other day the fact that he's a Best Director nominee and the two of us are, unequivocally, not. True, I told her, but, Buddy Holly was 22 when he died, so, in my mind, the day I turned 23 that whole "by the time this person was my age, he was doing x or y" ship had sailed in a big way. I mean, who's better than Buddy Holly? At anything?

So good on you, Jason Reitman.

Paul Thomas Anderson will probably be back in this category before too long. He's young and he'll almost certainly win Best Director one day, so nobody really has to feel like they're slighting him this year (it's sort of the same reason why they keep not giving Johnny Depp an Oscar).

And I'm sure Tony Gilroy's a fine man, but, it's tough to find anyone who thinks he's got a shot this year.

BEST ACTOR

Winner:

Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood

Other Nominees:

George Clooney, Michael Clayton
Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Tommy Lee Jones, In the Valley of Elah
Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises

This would seem like a sure thing if it weren't for a small Daniel Day-Lewis backlash that seems to be building in some -- oh, who are we kidding? It's a sure thing.

Count me among those who loved Day-Lewis's performance unconditionally. Even the final scene, the "I Drink Your Milkshake" scene, rang true to me. And as far as There Will Be Blood is concerned, without Day-Lewis playing Daniel Plainview -- and, what's more, without Day-Lewis playing Daniel Plainview like he did -- I'm not sure you've got much of a movie.

The Cloon, I can't argue with. No one can. He's just a big honkin' movie star. You only get one or two George Clooneys (Cloonies?) every generation, and I enjoy ours (due in no small part to the lucky break that our generation's George Clooney actually happens to be George Clooney). But it's Daniel Day-Lewis's year, not his.

I've made no secret of my distaste for Sweeney Todd, but none of that was Johnny Depp's fault. He was just fine and he'll win an Oscar someday, but, as I parenthetically alluded to earlier, it won't be this year.

Viggo Mortensen's always good, and he fought some guys naked, which is pretty badass. But he won't win.

And, when I glanced at Entertainment Weekly's Best Actor prediction page and saw Tommy Lee Jones's picture, I thought, "Wait, he was nominated for No Country For Old Men? For Best Actor? He wasn't even in it that much... what page am I on? This is -- oh. Right." And I follow this stuff more closely than the average bear, so, my reaction probably doesn't say a lot for how memorable In the Valley of Elah was.

BEST ACTRESS

Winner:

Julie Christie, Away From Her

Other Nominees:

Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose
Laura Linney, The Savages
Ellen Page, Juno

Julie Christie's British and she played a person with a mental illness (Alzheimer's). It's hard to see the Academy not voting for that.

Unless they vote for Marion Cotillard; those who've seen La Vie en Rose rave about her performance, but have enough people seen it? And, of the people who have, will enough of them decide not to vote for Julie Christie?

It's a weird year for Best Actress, since the only nominee in a movie that anyone really saw is Juno's Ellen Page, and people her age don't win Best Actress, really. Although it should be noted that I heard someone praise Daniel Day-Lewis's performance for, among other things, his perfect American accent, and, well, Ellen Page is from Nova Scotia, so let's not pretend she wasn't doing an American accent as well.

Laura Linney and Cate Blanchett, we shouldn't have to worry about.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Winner:

Javier Bardem, No Country For Old Men

Other Nominees:

Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson's War
Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild
Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton

Any other year you might think about Hal Holbrook pulling an upset for Into the Wild as a sort of lifetime achievement thing, but if they didn't give Peter O'Toole an Oscar last year they can skip Hal Holbrook on Sunday. People seem to have been fascinated by Javier Bardem's Anton Chigurh. I'll admit that I don't quite get it, even though I have no trouble acknowledging that Bardem gave a worthy performance. It would probably be the biggest surprise of the evening if anybody else won Best Supporting Actor.

Too bad, though, because I kind of wish Philip Seymour Hoffman had a chance. I didn't see Charlie Wilson's War, but, based on the one three-second snippet of Hoffman's performance that I did see, extrapolated out to fill a two-hour movie, I'm sure he was excellent.

This is the one category this year where I feel there have been a number of egregious snubs, most notably Paul Dano in There Will Be Blood, but also Ben Foster in 3:10 to Yuma and John Travolta in Hairspray. Chins up, boys; there's always next year.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Winner:

Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There

Other Nominees:

Ruby Dee, American Gangster
Saoirse Ronan, Atonement
Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone
Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton

Wide open, it seems. Entertainment Weekly picks Tilda Swinton but gives her only a 28% chance, with Amy Ryan at 25, Cate Blanchett at 22 and Ruby Dee at 20. Over at AwardsDaily.com, their predictions roundup had Cate Blanchett ahead, plenty of others picking either Tilda Swinton or Ruby Dee, and Amy Ryan conspicuous in her almost total absence. Swinton's own Michael Clayton co-star, the Cloon himself, predicted Amy Ryan.

So, who knows? I say, go for the safest bet. Which, in this instance, is the out-there, gender-bending performance in a weird movie people didn't see. You've got an English speaking foreigner playing a man; sort of like with Julie Christie in the Best Actress category, what is there to Cate Blanchett's performance that Oscar voters wouldn't swallow hook, line and sinker?

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Winner:

Diablo Cody, Juno

Other Nominees:

Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton
Tamara Jenkins, The Savages
Nancy Oliver, Lars and the Real Girl
Jan Pinkava, Jim Capobianco and Brad Bird, Ratatouille

I suppose there's a slight chance that this could be the award that breaks Michael Clayton's way, but, Juno's the one to beat. They've marketed "Diablo Cody" (not her real name, if you can believe it) very well, sending her on press tours and Letterman and stuff, and I'd be even more sick of all that if she hadn't written such a good script. The director and cast of Juno deserve a ton of credit, too (it's not entirely fair that Cody is probably the only person associated with Juno who's going to come away with an Oscar for her efforts), but the script was right on. Maybe it had one or two extra-cutesy moments of self-consciously hip teenage dialogue... but maybe it didn't. I'm too young to have a teenager and too old to hang out with them (or so those bastards down at the county courthouse have declared), so maybe the ones who are determined to be hipper-than-thou actually make a point to try to talk like that. And even if, by and large, they don't, it's not out of the realm of possibility that one of them would.

There's one moment in particular in Juno that, for me, serves as a microcosm of why the movie was so successful (and we get into some plot stuff you'd probably rather not know if you've got a burning desire to see Juno but you haven't gotten around to it yet, so, tread lightly):

A pregnant Juno comes to visit Mark, the husband of the couple to which she has promised her baby once it is born. They've discovered previously that they share a love for being snobby about obscure bands. Juno is drawn to Mark because he amounts to the grown-up version of her spazzy-but-cool boyfriend, Bleeker. Mark is Bleeker plus a decade-and-a-half of money made, self-confidence found and comfort-in-own-skin achieved. Mark is drawn to Juno because she's a cute young thing who thinks it's cool that he plays the guitar and likes to be snobby about obscure bands. This in contrast to Mark's wife Vanessa; she has banished all of Mark's music stuff to one small room of the house, which, subconsciously, Mark chooses to focus on instead of the fact that Vanessa keeps a gorgeous house for him to live in.

Mark and Juno are alone together. Some music is played. Juno puts her hands on Mark's shoulders. She asks him, "did you dance like this at your prom?"

They sway together. Mark looks at her.

"Actually..." he says.

The entire movie -- the lives of the main characters -- turn here, between "actually" and what Mark says next. Will he say, "actually... this might make me seem lame and old, but, it's probably not appropriate for us to be slow dancing like this"?

No; he says, "actually... it was more like this," and he re-positions Juno's arms more intimately around his waist.

And, in the audience, you think, "Oh, Mark..."

This little scene, like most of Juno, was written, directed and acted with such depth of feeling and emotional truth that I'm excited to think someone involved could end up with an Academy Award, even if it's someone who decided that it would be a good idea for her name to be "Diablo Cody."

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Winner:

Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, No Country For Old Men

Other Nominees:

Christopher Hampton, Atonement
Sarah Polley, Away From Her
Ronald Harwood, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood

First of all: yes, the blonde chick from Dawn of the Dead is nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay.

That's pretty fantastic, but, as we've discussed, it's going to be the Coen brothers' night.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

Winner:

The Counterfeiters, Austria

Other Nominees:

Beaufort, Israel
Katyn, Poland
Mongol, Kazakhstan
12, Russia

The Counterfeiters is about the Holocaust (catnip to Oscar voters), and, on top of that, the trailer made it look really good.

I have nothing more to add about this category, except to say that with Borat last year and now with Mongol, Kazakhstan has essentially been represented at two consecutive Oscar ceremonies. I haven't taken the trouble to look it up, but, you can be pretty sure that hasn't happened before.

--------------------------------

Okay. It's getting late and this is getting long; let's plow through the pee-break categories, shall we? Here's what I always write about how that goes:

For the major categories, I'll give you my analysis; for the others, I'll just tell you who Entertainment Weekly says is going to win (that's what everybody does anyway. Like you've got any clue about Best Documentary Short).

The only danger here is if EW has an off year. Like, say, last year, when mostly listening to their picks ended me up with an 11-13 Oscar picking record. Honestly, if you'd have made me bet on whether I ever, in my life, would pick more Oscar categories incorrectly than correctly in a given year, I would have bet on "no" and felt really good about it.

[actually, that's not true. I would have bet on "yes," and then, the next year, I would have intentionally made picks that had almost no chance of winning, thus outsmarting you and winning our little wager. But, if you said I'd have to place my bet and then afterwards you'd erase all memory of the bet from my mind so I couldn't pull the little trick I described, I would have bet that there was absolutely no way I'd ever come away from an Oscar year with a losing record. I once, in college, got them all right except for two! For Pete's sake!]

Anyway. I'll just tell you what Entertainment Weekly said, unless I disagree, in which case I'll let you know that you're getting my pick instead of theirs. Usually, though, when I against them in a pee-break category, we're either both wrong or they're right. I don't think, in three years of doing this, I've ever disagreed with EW and been right. But someday I'm sure that'll happen. Has to, right?

Here we go...

BEST ART DIRECTION: Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. I read somewhere else that Sweeney Todd wouldn't win because Dante Ferretti wins "all the time," but I looked it up, and, he's like 1-for-7. Not a convincing reason to pick against EW, to say the least.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: They (i.e., Entertainment Weekly) say There Will Be Blood's Robert Elswit, mainly because they assume that since Roger Deakins is nominated twice in this category he'll split the vote with himself. But, in the year of No Country For Old Men, will anybody actually vote for Deakins for The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford?

Still, Robert Elswit is supposed to be the front-runner, and this award generally goes to the movie with the most sweeping shots of the outdoors, which There Will Be Blood has in spades.

[although, when you think about it, wouldn't sweeping shots of the outdoors almost be the easiest thing for a cinematographer? I mean, doing something indoors, or with special effects, I can see how tough that would be, making sure everything in an unnatural arena looks natural; but, aren't most of the outdoors pretty much just sitting there already? Isn't that kind of what the outdoors are famous for?)

BEST EDITING: Roderick Jaynes, No Country For Old Men. Here's why No Country is going to beat The Bourne Ultimatum, which plenty of people are picking in this category: first of all, it's Best Editing, not Most Editing. Second, Roderick Jaynes is, as you may well know, not a real person. Roderick Jaynes is -- for some reason -- the pseudonym under which Joel and Ethan Coen edit their own movies. It would be a "thing" to have Roderick Jaynes announced as the winner and have the Coens accept for "him," and since when has Best Editing ever been a "thing?" Academy voters aren't going to pass up a "thing."

In any case, this is why I say the Coen brothers could tie Walt Disney's Four Oscars in One Year record in spirit if not in practice; if they win all the awards they're up for, then they will have essentially won four Oscars each on Sunday. You and I and everybody else watching will know that. Technically, however, by the letter of Oscar law, Joel and Ethan Coen will have won three Oscars each, and Roderick Jaynes will have won one. Also, if "Roderick Jaynes" wins Best Editing, there will only be one Oscar statuette given away in that category (the Coens will each get one if they win any of the categories in which they're both nominated).

So, while they may find it cute to edit their films under a pseudonym, it could cost the Coen brothers a tie for the official record for Most Oscars Won in a Single Year. Though certainly, a share of the unofficial record would be theirs.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: Dario Marianelli, Atonement. Seems like everyone thinks it's between that and Ratatouille. I'll take Atonement, because the magazine says so.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG: "Falling Slowly" from Once, music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. Finally, you can just go on YouTube and watch all of these songs and decide for yourself. "Raise It Up" from August Rush isn't really very good, and the three from Enchanted probably will spit. Having seen all three, I would go straight to hell before I voted for anything other than "Happy Working Song," but others think "That's How You Know" is more likely to win. That's why they'll split the vote; they're all good enough to have a reasonable amount of support.

So, it'll probably be Once. That was nice little movie, and it would be cool to see Hansard and Irglova, who pretty much wrote the songs in the movie (and the songs pretty much were the movie), rewarded with Oscars.

Although my favorite song from a 2007 movie was this one, by far. Even though it's obviously a parody of what old white people think rap music is, it's actually a much better song than 3-6 Mafia's Oscar-winning "It's Hard Out Here For a Pimp." I beg you not to click on that link if you possess any sense of decency, but, I also defy you to tell me that that video is not hilariously awesome (I'll also accept awesomely hilarious).

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS: Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Russell Earl and John Frazier, Transformers. I can't argue with this pick; when I went and bought our new HDTV I was waiting at Circuit City from them to go and get it for me, and they were showing Transformers on an even better HDTV than I bought, with the Blu-Ray DVD and surround sound... I felt like one of those people on the audience of the first-ever motion picture, who ducked when the footage of the locomotive approached. It was something else.

BEST SOUND EDITING: Ethan Van der Ryan and Mike Hopkins, Transformers.

BEST SOUND MIXING: Kevin O'Connell, Greg P. Russell and Peter Devlin, Transformers. The biggest, explodiest movie usually wins the sound stuff anyway, and this nomination is Kevin O'Connell's 20th, with zero wins so far. He got some attention for his 19th nod last year and I'm sure would have been a sentimental favorite if the movie he worked on, Apocalypto, hadn't been directed by Hatespeech von Hitler. Transformers director Michael Bay, as far as I know, has no beef with the Jews, so this should finally be Kevin O'Connell's year.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN: Colleen Atwood, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Entertainment Weekly's guess is much, much better than mine.

BEST MAKEUP: Didier Lavergne and Jan Archibald, La Vie en Rose. La Vie en Rose seems to be considered something of a shoo-in here.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: Ratatouille. I'd look out for an upset by Persepolis if Ratatouille hadn't been so, so universally adored.

BEST ANIMATED SHORT: Madame Tutli-Putli. I actually did a little bit of research on this category, and that research led me to believe strongly that Madame Tutli-Putli -- and not EW's pick, I Met the Walrus -- will win.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: No End In Sight. Seems to be the favorite no matter whom you ask, although with Michael Moore (Sicko) around, I won't breathe easy until the envelope is actually opened.

Well, and then until the winner is read. The actual opening of the envelope in and of itself doesn't really reveal any -- you know what? Never mind.

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT: Freeheld. I'm sort of depending on you completely for this one, Entertainment Weekly.

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT: Tanghi Argentini. I've seen this one predicted as the winner a couple different places, so, knowing nothing of any of the nominees, I'd be silly not to pick it.

That's all, folks. Enjoy the Oscars, now that you've been given permission by the WGA to do so.

Friday, February 15, 2008

I Think I Might Have to Start Writing About Politics Soon

I fear that the end times may be nigh; Joel Stein of the L.A. Times has written a cogent, perceptive, on-target piece about the fervor with which Barack Obama is being supported. Yes, Joel Stein. Cogent, perceptive and on-target.

End times, I'm telling you.

Equally as insightful -- but far less surprising -- is Charles Krauthammer's column on the same subject.

Many have made the comparison of Barack Obama to Chauncey Gardner from Being There; an empty vessel into which people pour their own hopes and dreams. I see him more as Kevin Fogerty, the Boston city councilman unseated by Woody Boyd on "Cheers." If you haven't seen it, Frasier becomes annoyed because Councilman Fogerty does nothing but spout platitudes, and the rest of the "Cheers" gang (who, as has been noted, were not a real gang) eats them up:

Fogerty: Kevin Fogerty, city council. I hope I have your vote on election day.

Frasier: And why exactly should I vote for you, Mr. Fogerty?

Fogerty: Well, because I'm a hard worker, and I take a stand.

Frasier: On what, exactly?

Fogerty: The issues of the day.

Frasier: What are?

Fogerty: The things that concern you and your family... the most.

Then...

Fogerty: Maybe we need someone to blame. Maybe if we pick some faceless person at city hall to be responsible for all our problems then we won't have to accept any responsibility at all. Well, people, I say now is the time to start looking in the mirror. Because... if this thing is going to work, we are all going to have to make it work. The way a bunch of people made something work at Lexington and Concord. You may remember it. It's called... America!

(everyone applauds, and then Fogerty leaves)

Frasier: But he didn't say anything! Thank you, people, for proving my point. The voters of Boston are sheep.

Woody: Wow, I thought that was just a Hanover thing.

So far I find Barack Obama to be honest, decent, sincere, and devoid of ideas. Maybe he'll impress me yet, but, if I were a Democrat, I might worry that, at some point between now and election day, the passion of Obama supporters -- which at this point is tantamount to religious fervor -- will subside in a big way. That can happen, and it can happen fast. Ask Howard Dean.

(of course, as a Republican, I worry that it won't subside quite soon enough)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

2007 Movies

So, even with the kid, and the having less money to throw around because of the kid, and the having less time to see movies because of the kid, I've managed to see 27 movies that are eligible for the 2007 Academy Awards (as taken from this list). Here now, from the 27th to the best:

27. The First 45 Minutes of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

I can only evaluate the first 45 minutes of Sweeney Todd, because I only saw the first 45 minutes of Sweeney Todd. From the second I first realized I hated the movie, I gave it about 35 more minutes to change my mind. It didn't. I have never before walked out of the theater during a movie and stayed out for good, but, Tim Burton finally did it.

And it's not because it's a musical; I love musicals. I see all the musicals. I'm thrilled that, after several years, the movie musical is back. It's just that Sweeney Todd (or, the first 45 minutes of Sweeney Todd) happened to have been the worst 45 minutes of any movie I've ever seen. And I'm not the kind of person who says something like that lightly; I've made a similar claim only once before in my life.

I like musicals, but I wouldn't say I "know" musicals. Therefore, I can't speak with any authority about Stephen Sondheim, but I can say that I found the music in the first 45 minutes of Sweeney Todd to be nothing but atonal, droning noise, and that everything from the staging to the subject matter turned me off completely. I can't imagine ever seeing a movie I enjoy less. The bar has been set low, friends.

As I was walking out of the theater ("fleeing" is probably a better description), I realized something (and my wife -- who liked Sweeney Todd -- brought up the same thing the day after we saw the movie): I hate Tim Burton. Not personally; I just hate his movies. Or his more recent movies, anyway. I IMDb'ed him, in fact, just to check the "I Hate Tim Burton" theory out, and, yep... everything movie he's directed since Ed Wood I either haven't seen or really, really hated.

Mars Attacks!... hated it.

Sleepy Hollow... thought it was lame and boring.

Planet of the Apes... Tim Burton may as well have just slapped Charlton Heston around in front of Heston's kids. This movie was unforgivable. And I'm not even a big Planet of the Apes person.

Big Fish... everyone else loved it, and I thought it was a ridiculous, completely pointless waste of time.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory... I almost walked out, but I was there with someone else and we were on the campus of USC (it was some special screening featuring a Q/A with the screenwriter afterwards) so it wasn't like I could just go to a bar, like after I walked out of Sweeney Todd.

Corpse Bride... didn't see it; have no plans ever to see it.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street... worst movie I've ever seen.

So, I can't hardly blame the first 45 minutes of Sweeney Todd, I guess. And Tim Burton might be a good guy, but, he makes some shitty movies. And people have the nerve to give Michael Bay crap.

26. August Rush

My wife picked this one. She thought the trailer looked good. I thought the trailer featured Robin Williams sporting goofy facial hair and a cowboy hat (which is basically the movie trailer version of the biohazard symbol). The thing was, the opening scene -- which married a rock band performance with an orchestra playing classical music -- was really, really good. I thought, "okay, we'll push through that Robin Williams stuff on through to the other side."

But, nope. Almost any other year, this movie would be on the bottom of the list. Thank your lucky stars for Tim Burton, August Rush.

25. Spider-Man 3

I didn't actually hate this movie all that much, but, it's still the third worst 2007 movie I saw. I don't see as many movies as I used to, and, as such, I don't see a movie unless I decide I'm likely to enjoy it (or, as in the case of August Rush, if my wife -- who doesn't pick out that many specific movies that she wants me to go see with her -- picks out a specific movie that she wants me to go see with her).

Well, the faults of Spider-Man 3 have, I'm sure, been discussed elsewhere on the internet, so there's no need to go into that here. This was, though, it should be noted, one of several movies I saw with my daughter, who only learned to walk at the end of May and had a very reliable naptime throughout the spring and early summer. Combine that with the fact that my wife works Sundays and the proximity to our apartment of a theater that charges $5.00 for a Sunday matinee, and I saw more movies in 2007 than I'm likely to see in any of the next 20 years.

24. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

I thought this one had a couple of big laughs (and I thought that this was particularly awesome), but I suspected going in that a spoof of musical biopics couldn't really sustain itself for 90 minutes and I turned out to be right. Plus, a review I glanced at said that "you won't expect the penis," so I totally expected the penis. I still laughed at it, though.

The music was really good, particularly the title song, and I think Oscar should be ashamed of itself that nothing from Walk Hard got nominated for Best Song.

And I would most definitely see an entire movie about the Beatles if Paul Rudd played John, Jack Black played Paul, Justin Long played George and Jason Schwartzman played Ringo.

23. Evan Almighty

I thought my daughter might enjoy all the animals. She didn't really seem to. Evan Almighty wasn't quite as bad as they said, but, it wasn't that great.

22. Music and Lyrics

This movie was exactly as good as it possibly could have been; i.e., it was the 22nd best of the 27 movies I saw this year.

21. Reno 911!: Miami

A little disappointing; it turns out that "Reno 911!" is best in 22-minute doses. But any movie where Paul Rudd, Patton Oswalt and The Rock all show up can't possibly be completely irredeemable.

20. Live Free or Die Hard

Meh.

19. 3:10 to Yuma

I'm not entirely sure I thought any movie this year failed to live up to its potential as much as 3:10 to Yuma. It had a lot of good parts, but, there were some plot moments that were so, so silly (what did they think was going to happen to that guy in the stagecoach, for Christ's sake?) the movie gets bumped down to #19. I think Christian Bale was miscast as Russell Crowe's adversary (Bale's a fantastic actor, but I think it's asking a lot for a man of his age, handsomeness and birthplace to play "world-weary American"). There are certainly worse movies, though, and this one is worth seeing for the performance of Ben Foster (whom I've known was a great, great talent for a while now) alone. Not sure why he wasn't nominated for Best Supporting Actor.

18. The Simpsons Movie

"The Simpsons" isn't quite what it was (just one man's opinion), but they pulled off the movie admirably well, and it holds up impressively on repeat viewings (my brother and sister-in-law had Netflixed it over Christmas, and when we were staying with them my daughter insisted on watching it several times. I didn't get sick of it, which is a pretty high compliment for any movie, really).

17. Disburbia

Pretty standard stuff, done relatively well. Not much else need be said about Disturbia.

16. No Country For Old Men

Oh, dear. I'm going to get in trouble with all my film school friends. I generally love the Coen Brothers' stuff, but, every once in a while they'll put out something that I just don't get (like The Man Who Wasn't There). I was hanging in there with No Country for most of the movie, then the weird ending happened and, I'm afraid to say, pretty much ruined it. Plus, I didn't find Javier Bardem's Anton Chigurh to be as fascinating as everybody else seems to have. I didn't really find him to be fascinating at all, to be honest.

The movie is masterfully made, from a technical standpoint, and the performances are all spot-on. Those are parts of a good movie; it's like, a guy could be able to run fast and shoot with incredible accuracy, but that doesn't necessarily mean he'll make a successful NBA player.

Besides, even star Josh Brolin himself acknowledged the films shortcomings, saying in an acceptance speech at the SAG awards that "we did a freaky little movie, whether you liked the ending or not." So even he pretty much knows.

I realize everyone else loved this movie, or at least has decided not to talk about how weird and dumb the ending is. Sorry. I don't quite get it.

15. I Am Legend

It must be noted that I'm a complete wuss when it comes to scary movies, but, I Am Legend scared the crap out of me. It was well done, but, it was pretty standard post-apocalyptic, deserted-city fare (and it's funny that that's enough of a genre now that said genre can contain "standard fare").

One really cool thing, though, was when Will Smith is walking through a deserted Times Square, which in the world of the movie was essentially frozen in time at some point a few years from now, you see a giant movie poster that's just the Batman logo surrounding the Superman logo, and then, like, a date (probably July 4th, but I don't remember for sure). That was awesome.

14. Knocked Up

A little disappointing, maybe, but, after The 40-Year-Old Virgin and after how much I loved Knocked Up's trailer, it probably couldn't help but be a little disappointing.

13. Superbad

Pretty amusing; about one notch more amusing than Knocked Up.

12. Once

This was mostly just a long music video about an Irish singer-songwriter and his extremely chaste dalliance with a Czech immigrant. They make beautiful music together, and that's about it. But it was a lovely little movie. What stays with me the most, though, is the fact that, in America, the movie was rated "R," because, although there is not a hint of a whiff or violence or sex or any related themes, the characters say "fuck" a lot.

Now, I almost always advocate erring on the side of caution from a "Think of the children!" standpoint, but, really. Saying "fuck?" And not even in the context of having sex, but, like, saying "fuck you, batteries" to some dead batteries? According to the ratings board, that should really stop a 15-year-old from seeing this perfectly nice little movie? Really? I know there's a standard "You Can Only Say 'Fuck' Once in a PG-13 Movie" rule, but, come on. Parents want to glace at a rating to know whether, by and large, a movie is appropriate for a certain age; what could possibly be wrong with rating it "PG-13: tons and tons of harmless f-bombs"?

Wake up, people! It's things like this -- one of the tiny few ideological nuts that the blind squirrels in the blue states happen to be right about -- that make it possible for people to keep talking themselves into voting for Democrats. We just look stupid!

Geez.

11. I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry

I would assume (and maybe even hope, if I'm being honest) that mine is the only 2007 movie list on which I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry appears five spots ahead of No Country For Old Men. I don't care; it's my list, and I tend to like Adam Sandler movies more than most people do. And this was a good movie.

10. Hot Fuzz

Ah, the Top Ten.

Hot Fuzz was Simon Pegg's less-regarded follow-up to Shaun of the Dead, but don't overlook it. Overlooking less-regarded follow-ups can be disastrous, as can be testified to by those poor souls who initially overlooked the Coen brothers' less-regarded follow-up to Fargo or, God forbid, overlooked Stanley Tucci's less-regarded follow-up to Big Night.

Right from the start, Hot Fuzz brings the awesome. Simon Pegg's character is a London cop, but he's too good. He sort of embarrasses all the other officers, so they ship him off to a town in the country that's sleepy, quiet and crime-free (or is it????). The scene where Pegg learns his of his fate is just delightful; he's told about it by his supervisor... Martin Freeman! Then, in comes Martin Freeman's supervisor... Steve Coogan! Then, in comes Steve Coogan's supervisor... Bill Nighy! It's a parade of increasingly older awesome British guys!

Anyway, it's good. Check it out.

9. The Bourne Ultimatum

This was my least favorite "Bourne" movie, but, to use a phrase I coined a while ago, that amounts to praising with faint damnation. I'm not sure The Bourne Supremacy can be topped (at least in "Bourne" terms), but The Bourne Ultimatum was certainly an impressive addition to the "Bourne" library.

"Bourne."

8. There Will Be Blood

This movie was beautifully made and Daniel Day-Lewis's performance was one of the best in recent history (I can only come up with Hilary Swank in Boys Don't Cry when I try to think of performances from the last ten or fifteen years that are in Day-Lewis's league), but There Will Be Blood was all literary and stuff, and I don't get as much out of those kinds of movies as I used to be able to convince myself I did. There are probably plenty of places to get a substantive discussion about this film, so I won't bother. I will say that I thought it was bizarre that Paul Dano's performance as Eli Sunday (and, in once scene, Eli's twin brother Paul) was ignored during awards season. He pretty much blew me away.

I'll also say -- with a minor (very minor, so don't even worry) spoiler -- that someone, somewhere, should really get a hold of the "Simpsons" episode where Mr. Burns's slant-drilling company taps the Elementary School's oil well, and then marry some footage of Burns with Day-Lewis's dialogue from There Will Be Blood's final scene. The "I drink your milkshake" scene. This needs to happen.

7. Eastern Promises

So, it turns out, I'm really, really attracted to movies where ordinary people with ordinary lives are thrust into situations of crime and danger. The last two David Cronenberg/Viggo Mortensen collaborations -- Eastern Promises and A History of Violence -- have dealt with this subject matter. I think it started with A Simple Plan, which remains one of my all-time favorite movies.

Actually, now that I think of it, it started with If Looks Could Kill, in which a 26-year-old Richard Grieco plays a high-school student with the same name as an international super-spy. Intrigue and hilarity ensue. If you haven't seen this movie, you must. Preferably with a group of friends, and preferably drunk or high. But you must. Here's an example of what you can expect:

Grieco is in a tuxedo in some European casino, because he's somehow posing as the (recently murdered) international superspy with whom he coincidentally shares a name. Some super-hot chick sits down across the gaming table from him.

SUPER-HOT CHICK: Bon soir ["bone-SWAR," as in "good evening"], monsieur Corbin.

GRIECO: Boner! Uh... soir.

You've got to see it.

6. Shooter

This movie rules. It's just Mark Wahlberg shooting the crap out of people.

5. Hairspray

See? I like good musicals. Also, allow me to announce that yet a third performance from the movies on this list was robbed of a Best Supporting Actor nomination: John Travolta! He's excellent as the mom. Everyone in this movie is excellent; it's a fantastic cast in a fantastic movie with fantastic songs.

4.Ratatoullie

It's probably downright scandalous that Ratatoullie is this as low as #4 on my list, but, I just couldn't put it any higher, as much as I loved it.

Remember how I said that I like movies about ordinary people with ordinary lives who are thrust into situations of crime and danger? I also like movies about people who are passionate about something. Which is a vague category, I know; the best example I can think of is Sideways, if that gives you some idea what I'm talking about. Ratatoullie is certainly one of these movies; you can really appreciate the main character's passion for food, as well as the obstacles in the way of him reaching his dream (mainly, the fact that he's a rat).

3. Bridge to Terabithia

I knew this book, and I was sad to see the commercials for this movie when they were on early last year, because they made it look like a less-than-faithful adaptation. Then I saw "Ebert & Roeper" guest critic Kevin Smith talk about how the commercials weren't accurate, and it was a good movie. Then, I ended up seeing Bridge to Terabithia on a plane.

Without giving too much away, it's a sad story, and, for whatever reason, maybe because I'm getting more emotional as I get older or maybe because I have a daughter now, this movie absolutely destroyed me. I technically didn't even see the whole thing, because I had to keep taking my headphones off because I didn't want to sit there sobbing, disturbing the other passengers. This adaptation of Bridge to Terabithia is an absolute treasure, and I'm a little surprised you haven't heard more about it. I think you might, as the years go on.

2. Juno

I always talk about how every year, a small British (although not necessarily always British) comedy (although not necessarily always a comedy) sneaks into the Best Picture category and really doesn't deserve to be there. These movies are usually a product of some fleeting buzz that evaporates about two weeks after the Oscars, and these movies usually disappear without a trace from the public consciousness shortly thereafter. Movies like Little Miss Sunshine, Finding Neverland, Gosford Park (seriously, does anybody, anywhere, remember Gosford Park?), Chocolat...

Well, this year things are different, in that I happen to love the small comedy that sneaked into the Best Picture category. I haven't seen Michael Clayton or Atonement, and I have no plans to see them, but I've seen the other three nominees, and, if I had a Best Picture vote, I'd be voting enthusiastically for Juno. Absolutely delightful in every way, perfectly cast, perfectly written (even though I'm sure I'm as tired of hearing about "Diablo Cody" as you are), perfectly directed... it's not easy to make this sort of movie successfully, and it's almost impossible to do it as well as these people did. Virtually every little touch, every little moment, rings true. Well done, Juno.

1. Dan in Real Life

And, as good as Juno was, Dan in Real Life was juuuuuust an eensy bit better. I don't know why it came and went so quickly, but, as far as romantic comedies go, it's difficult to imagine a better one. This movie should have launched Steve Carrel past Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell, it should have been nominated for Oscars, it should have made $100 million. I don't know why it didn't.

I'll tell you something: my wife and I went to see Dan in Real Life at a theater that featured assigned seating -- you buy your ticket and pick out your seats before you even go into the theater. We get in there, and we notice that we're sitting next to three floppy-haired, mid-teenage skater douchebags. I was obviously crestfallen; we don't get to go to movies together that often anymore, and these kids were clearly going to ruin it. Why on earth were they even here? Why would these three come to see Dan in Real Life?

Well, they loved it. They didn't made a peep during the emotional stuff, they laughed their butts off during the funny parts... they behaved like model citizens. That's how good Dan in Real Life is.

This piece is really long and I'm sick of writing it, so just go here and read this person's review; that's pretty much what I think about Dan in Real Life. It's a rare treat of a movie.


Wednesday, February 06, 2008

NFL 2007 Wrap-up

Super Bowl: 0-1

Playoffs Overall: 5-6

Turns out the Patriots were kind of soft, and more lucky than good (though they were obviously very good; you don't go 16-0 in the regular season unless you're very good).

Oh, well; thanks for taking the "Most Disappointing Loss in NFL History" title away from the 1998 Vikings.

The Smartest Thing I Said Last Week:
[n/a]
The Dumbest Thing I Said Last Week:
Personally, I don't think it would matter of the Patriots' opponent on Sunday was the '85 Bears; they're going to win huge, and it's not going to be close.
Anyway, hopefully I'll be able to keep posting at least a couple of times a week even though football season is over; I've got a couple of ideas kicking around, and, of course, there will certainly be an Oscar picks column in a few weeks. So keep checking back.

Friday, February 01, 2008

NFL 2007 - Super Bowl XLII (for reals)

Giants @ PATRIOTS -12

It seems as though an appreciable number of people are picking the Giants to win the Super Bowl. Not a majority, certainly, and thank God for that; if we ever get to the point where more than 50% of our populace is backing a 10-6 #5 seed from a demonstrably inferior Conference over an undefeated juggernaut, I say that when we just roll over and let al-Qaeda have its way with us, because -- and I'm not even sure how, but I'm sure nonetheless -- they will have been proven right.

The Patriots are going to win, and they're going to win big. We've been here before, if you're remember. And, by "here," I'm referring to a place where, based on a couple of playoff games, people talk themselves into thinking the Giants can hang with a far superior team in the Super Bowl (now, some people will feebly point as evidence to the Week 17 game in which the Giants hung with the far superior Patriots. "Pish tosh, I say to those people"). What happened back then? Let's reminisce:

It was January, 2001. A recently inaugurated George W. Bush prepared to usher in a second consecutive decade of togetherness, bipartisanship, economic prosperity and international peace. Super Bowl halftime performer Britney Spears was maturing into an entertainer poised to take the world by storm with grace, maturity and her upcoming film Crossroads (which -- I just checked -- was written by "Grey's Anatomy" creator Shonda Rimes. So... checkmate, people who like "Grey's Anatomy"). And the New York Giants, fresh off of a 41-0 drubbing of the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC title game, came into Super Bowl XXXV against the Baltimore Ravens as an underdog but a relatively popular upset pick.

What happened? The Giants went out and lost 34-7, with their only points coming on a third-quarter kickoff return (the ensuing kickoff of which was returned by the Ravens for a touchdown of their own).

Now, I know that these Giants aren't those Giants. In fact, the outcome of Super Bowl XXXV has little or nothing to do with the outcome of Super Bowl XLII. Still, it reminds us that talking ourselves into backing a Super Bowl underdog against a far superior team (which your fair columnist did back in his college days with the Atlanta Falcons) is something of which we must beware.

And speaking parenthetically of the Atlanta Falcons' lone trip to the Super Bowl, it should be noted that teams on which a player gets himself arrested or goes completely nuts during Super Bowl week are 0-3, and, well... that's not good news for the Giants.

Apparently, Adrian Awasom was on injured reserve and wasn't going to suit up for the game even if he hadn't gotten popped for DUI on Friday morning, so this might not affect the Giants like the Bengals, Falcons and Raiders (all of whose incidents involved key players) were affected by their Super Bowl week shenanigans (hey, my spell checker knows "shenanigans." Cool). But then, neither the Bengals, Falcons or Raiders were facing the 2007 New England Patriots.

Personally, I don't think it would matter of the Patriots' opponent on Sunday was the '85 Bears; they're going to win huge, and it's not going to be close.

NFL 2007 - Super Bowl XLII

In case I prove too lazy to write a full Super Bowl column tonight or tomorrow:

Giants @ PATRIOTS -12

It's not going to be close.

Hopefully I'll be back in a few hours with something more substantial. If not, not.

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