Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Oscars 2011 - Personal Picks

Now that the 2011 Academy Awards show is almost upon us, it's about time I chimed in with my own favorites. Of course, any list is completely subjective, and we all know that the odds-on favorite to sweep the awards is the Oscar-bait feature The King's Speech. Not a bad film, by any means, just not a true standout for 2010. So here are my choices:

Best Motion Picture of the Year
The Social Network: Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca, Ceán Chaffin

Superb, smart, exhilarating, enthralling work. Inception would be a close second.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
James Franco for 127 Hours

Firth may win for a technically challenging role, but Franco did the most convincing performance.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Natalie Portman for Black Swan

Is there even an argument?

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Christian Bale for The Fighter

A very calculated, over-the-top performance from Bale, but clearly the best one amongst the nominees.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Melissa Leo for The Fighter

Frightening, sobering and multifaceted - a bravura example of acting.

Best Achievement in Directing
David Fincher for The Social Network

For technical savvy, polished production, cinematic visuals and solid directing of his cast, Fincher is the man.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
Inception: Christopher Nolan

A complete mindfuck, no other film came close.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
The Social Network: Aaron Sorkin

Ever since The West Wing, Sorkin has no peer in clever script-writing and crackling dialogue.

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
How to Train Your Dragon: Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders

Heck, it was just plain fun and still is after multiple viewings.

So there you have it. Now go out and watch those movies!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Dirth of good, smart comedies in theaters

When was the last time you almost bust a gut laughing? When I was a kid, the reruns of A Night of the Opera always forced me to run to the bathroom I laughed so hard. The only film in recent memory that made an impression was A Fish Called Wanda, and repeat viewings are still funny, but nowhere near as hilarious as that golden first time. The last time I can think of laughing uncontrollably was the "training" scene in Ratatouille, back in 2007. Now it seems most laughs have been relegated to 1/ stupid, obnoxious, immature teen fare, 2/ high-concept, FX-driven Hollywood drivel, 3/ romantic comedies or CGI-animated fare where pop references have replaced actually wit. To be fair, there's still humour to be had out there in many of the Pixar films (the high bar at the moment in terms of genuine guiltless laughs and general family enjoyment) but there isn't enough of it. And no, despite providing the occasional chuckle, Will Ferrell, Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler just don't cut it.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Summer Block-Buster Season: Dirth of Originality

Ah, spring is in the air and the summer blockbuster season has already started: Wolverine, Star Trek, Angels & Demons, Terminator Salvation, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, all big-budget projects vying for audience dollars. And none of them are truly "original" fare - they're all either based on comics, best-sellers or existing franchises. Granted, in these days of risk-aversed Hollywood, any kind of major spending for these kind of slick, effects-laden fares needs to have a built-in audience to recoup the investment. Just through it all, one would wish a high-risk, low-budget, high energy film could compete with these big guns and show them a thing or two. The original Terminator was just such a revelation when it was released in the 1980's, and so was a small film by the name of Star Warrs in 1977. And there are some significant genre films coming out as independents, or from places outside of North America. We just need to keep our eyes peeled: blink and you'll miss them in the onslaught of the more market-driven vehicles.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Death of the Local Movie House?

With the advent of the Home Theater in the 1990's, the new technologies of the early 21-st century such as the Blu-Ray player, the mega flat screens going all the way to 72" (and beyond), 7.1 surround sound and more, and the easy accessibility (and surprising popularity) of home video sales and illegal downloads, some people have started ringing the death knoll of the local movie house. Why would anyone bother to drive down, wait in line, be squished into uncomfortable seats, have to sit through abusive amounts of small-talk from other movie-goers during the movie - and that's without talking about the rudeness of those people who open their super-bright cell screens right in front of you - when you can get the "movie experience" right in your own home? To be fair, it's mighty tempting to stay in the comfort of your own den, sit in your comfy couch and watch something at your own pace.

The doomsayers have been singing this tune before, too. In the 1950's, they decried the advent of the television. In the 1980's it was the invention of the VCR, and then that of the higher-quality DVD. And in the future, there's bound to be something else that will intice us to stop going to theaters.

But there's also something to be said about going to the movies that goes beyond seeing a film early; is it the basic human need for interaction, of belonging to a larger crowd of complete strangers and sharing in the enjoyment of a new movie? is it the socializing with family or acquaintances? is it the pleasure of seeing something on a really big screen? is it because there's no daily distractions (no kids / parents / pets / phones to pull you away)? Maybe it's all of these things, or maybe none of them. Whatever the reason, 2007, 2008 and predictably 2009 box-office receipts show no sign of abating. Of course, the money comes from a handful of successful mainstream flicks, but there's no doubting the numbers - over $500M for The Dark Knight, $300M for the belated fourth installment of Indiana Jones, as well as a slew of other spring, summer, fall and Holiday flicks that all made $100M or more, even when competing with each other.

In the end, if there's a good movie playing - or at least one that's been marketed well enough to whet viewers' appetites - people will make the effort and pay for their tickets to sit in a dark room full of strangers. And, after more than a century of film-going, audiences haven't stopped making the trip.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Are the Academy Awards Still Relevant?

Another Oscar show has come and gone. Did anyone notice? There's seems to have been less buzz this year than previous ones, and it's clear that our attention was focused elsewhere - indeed, this year's edition had the third-lowest ratings ever. Yet it was perhaps one of the most successful shows, in my opinion; forget the fact that Slumdog Millionaire felt like a shoo-in based on buzz alone - Hugh Jackman was a stellar host (and how many past hosts can say they could really sing and dance?), the presentations stylish, the mood jovial, the musical numbers Broadway-fun and it almost ran on time. Sign of the times, perhaps?

Or perhaps most people were just not interested in seeing otherwise barely-mainstream fare battling out - had most viewers even seen the nominated pictures? If The Dark Knight had been in nomination, for example, would more people have tuned in to root for the critically acclaimed box-office champ?

And for that matter, why wasn't The Dark Knight nominated for best picture? Some will say it wasn't Best Picture material (wrong!), others that it wasn't the type of movies that gets nominated (Lord of the Rings did, however), or that the nomination system is so bizarre and Byzantine-ly complex that the right movies get lost in the shuffle (indeed, there's been a lot of controversy of late on how movies do get nominated). A real shame. At least Hugh Ledger got his statue, posthumously, though one wonders if there would have been more competition if he had been still alive... Still, well deserved for an unnerving, unrecognizable performance.

Of course, the Oscar for Best Picture has always had a bumpy track record ever since How Green Was My Valley trumped Citizen Kane, the movie that has since been on every Best Of list since 1942. Not that the winning films were bad, but better ones sometimes didn't get their due. And of course, there is no way that the Academy ever watched every single film that came out that year and found just the perfect one.

Are the Oscars irrelevant? Maybe they always were. But we can't resist an awards show as extravagant and glitzy as this one, or the idea that there is one, unique best picture of the year. Until then, we'll still be watching.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

There's never been a better time to be a cinephile

Indeed, there has never been a better time than now, in 2009, to be a movie buff. Doesn't matter if you're into silent-era films, the latest Bollywood blockbuster, mainstream romances, sci-fi, splatter, you name it, the movie business is booming all over the world - and if the big production houses are seeing hard times at the theater, they're making up for it on home video. And the advent of the DVD has not only allowed almost all movies that have ever been made to be readily available, it's also boosted the stuff of independents (and by this I mean the guys who do movies in their garage, or on the streets of their own neighborhoods - from New York to Mumbai) to the forefront.

This slew of choice also makes it more difficult to decide what to watch. Do you go for the "certified", critical darling or the obscure effort - both of which may not be your cup of tea or may the most startling, riveting thing you've ever seen. Thousands of critics churn out daily columns on newspapers, on TV and on the web to influence your choice (you can even see my own - very personal and subjective - opinion at www., but in the end nobody can really know what YOU are going to like.

My advice: explore. Take a chance. Catch a movie that has good buzz that may be outside your comfort zone. Sit through the first half hour. If it doesn't work for you, that's OK, just go grab another. In this world of Netflix / Zip, iTunes downloads and Blockbuster stores you're only a few minutes away from another, better choice.

Who knows? That movie that's been gatehring dust on the shelves may be the best thing you've ever seen.