Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly of 2008

@#$%! I'm getting ready to sit down and watch The Big Show and I realized I never posted my Best & Worst of 2008 list. Actually, I was waiting to get one more big nominee in that I finally watched last night. It's a good thing I did because it actually made my Top 10.

Here's the list. Enjoy the show, folks!

Top Ten Films of 2008

1. The Wrestler
2. The Dark Knight
3. WALL*E
4. Let The Right One In
5. Slumdog Millionaire
6. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
7. Changeling
8. Frozen River
9. Milk
10. Tropic Thunder

THE GOOD: 21, Appaloosa, Australia, The Bank Job, Be Kind Rewind, Bolt, Burn After Reading, Choke, Cloverfield, Doubt, Encounters at the End of the World, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Frost/Nixon, Get Smart, Ghost Town, Gran Torino, Happy-Go-Lucky, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Horton Hears a Who, In Bruges, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Kung Fu Panda, Man on Wire, The Pineapple Express, The Promotion, Quantum of Solace, Rachel Getting Married, The Reader, Religulous, Revolutionary Road, Role Models, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, Sex and the City, Shine a Light (IMAX), Smart People, The Strangers, Transsiberian, U2-3D (IMAX), Valkyrie, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, The Visitor, W., Wanted, What Just Happened

THE BAD: The Day The Earth Stood Still, Eagle Eye, The Happening, The Other Boleyn Girl, Passengers, Righteous Kill, Seven Pounds, The Spiderwick Chronicles, Step Brothers, You Don't Mess With The Zohan

THE UGLY: Baby Mama, The Love Guru, My Sassy Girl

Guilty Pleasures: Hamlet 2, Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay, The House Bunny, Mamma Mia!, My Name Is Bruce, Repo! The Genetic Opera, Speed Racer

Thursday, February 19, 2009

How To Win Your Oscar Pool

Hey Oscar fans! Just because the economy is in the dumper and the world of legalized gambling is taking it in the pants doesn't mean us movie buffs can't put a little action down on the Academy Awards ceremony being televised on ABC this Sunday night (check your local listings - I never get sick of saying that.)

If you've perused the list of nominees and have found yourself stumped or feeling out of your league because you haven't seen most of the nominated films, then feel free to just copy my list of sure-fire winners below, which, in the interest of full disclosure, I copied from Entertainment Weekly. (They really do have the inside track most of the time.)

Just a little FYI, not having any idea what those Live Action and Animated Short nominees are really doesn't put you at too much of a disadvantage. I just saw them this week at the Academy and I still have no idea who's going to win. Here's a little hint though: one of them is made by Pixar, the animation world's equivalent to the Midas Touch, and the other one deals with the Holocaust, a subject that is almost always favored by the Academy. "Hooooogannnn!"

So here you go with my picks for the award winning pix. Keep in mind these are predictions and not preferences. If that were the case, we'd be talking about Dustin Hoffman's stellar supporting performance in KUNG FU PANDA.

Also, I apologize in advance for any monies lost or humilation that might ensue around the water cooler come Monday morning.

Best Picture - SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE

Best Actor - Sean Penn, MILK (praying for Mickey though)

Best Actress - Kate Winslet, THE READER

Best Sup. Actor - Heath Ledger, THE DARK KNIGHT (double down on this one if possible)

Best Sup. Actress - Penelope Cruz, VICKY CRISTINA AGUILERA BARCELONA

Best Director - Danny Boyle, SLAMDANCE MAGICMAN

Best Original Screenplay - MILK

Best Adapted Screenplay - SLICKROAD MUSTYHUMP

Best Documentary Feature - MAN ON WIRE (rent it from Netflix - it's great)

Best Documentary Short Subject - THE WITNESS - FROM THE BALCONY OF ROOM 306

Best Animated Feature - WALL*E (go all in on this one)

Best Animated Short - PRESTO

Best Live Action Short - SPIELZEUGLAND (gezundheit!) aka TOYLAND

Best Farn Language Film - THE CLASS (France, ooh la la)

Best Cinematography - SLIPNSLIDE MUTTONCHOP

Best Art Direction - THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON

Best Visual Effects - THE CURIOUS CASE OF OLD BRAD/YOUNG BRAD

Best Costume Design - THE DUCHESS (Zzzzz. Huh? What?)

Best Film Editing - SLIMJIM MELLENCAMP

Best Sound Mixing - THE DARK KNIGHT (Pow! Bang!)

Best Sound Editing - THE DARK KNIGHT (I don't know what the difference between these categories is either.)

Best Original Score - SLIPSLAP MARZIPAN

Best Original Song - "Jai Ho" from SLAGHEAP MAPLELEAF

Best Makeup - THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON GETTING THE SHAFT AND ONLY WINNING THREE LOUSY AWARDS

Enjoy the show!

TWOTS

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Homicidal Maniac's New Mask

So Valentine's weekend has past and the dude who got the luckiest is not the one who married Salma Hayek, but the unkillable, hockey-masked, maniac who goes by the name of Jason. The latest FRIDAY THE 13TH installment opened this weekend and - surprise, surprise - it made a killing (Daily Variety, you know how to contact me.) Not only did it open well, but it apparently was the best holiday weekend ever for an R-rated film (can you name the second highest R-rated movie to open on a holiday weekend? Neither can I. Who cares???) Anyway, the idea of reinventing the F13 series obviously appealed to a whole ton of moviegoers. And they didn't even need a gimmick like 3-D to lure folks in like the MY BLOODY VALENTINE reboot did, though the movie did in fact open on Friday the 13th. The flick made just south of $50 million this weekend alone, including President's Day, natch. That's about $30 million less than the last Jason installment, FREDDY vs. JASON (or is that a Freddy installment?) made in it's entire U.S. engagement. So what is it exactly about a man in a hockey mask that's so irresistible?

Folks, I wish I knew. I've never been a big fan of the F13 series, though there have been a few bright spots, like the casting of Dudley from "Diff'rent Strokes" in Part 4: The Final Chapter (yeah, right.) Or was it Part 5: The New Beginning? Honestly, it's hard to tell them apart, except for the ones where he went to Manhattan and the one where he ended up in outer space. Yes...outer space. Scoff all you like about JASON X (no relation to Malcolm or Marci) but that otherwise forgettable installment did have one stroke of genius: the climax in which a virtual reality version of Camp Crystal Lake is created, giving Jason even more indestructible powers. You haven't lived until you've seen two female campers slammed together like orchestra cymbals while still in their sleeping bags.

I rewatched the original FRIDAY THE 13TH just yeaterday and it really isn't that great of a movie. However, it was the first movie to capitalize on the new wave of Reagan-era horror movies created by John Carpenter's 1978 masterpiece HALLOWEEN. F13 took the unstoppable killer theme a bit further by amping up the gore factor, which really was the best part of any given Jason movie, at least when makeup savant Tom Savini was involved. Sadly, the HALLOWEEN franchise jumped on that bandwagon and created what Roger Ebert likes to call "geek shows" and not psychological suspense films, which is what the first Michael Myers movie was.

I have a theory: if the producers of the new F13 movie (who include Michael Bay, the man who already gave the TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE series an unnecessary makeover) called the movie FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 12, which is what it really is, then I doubt the weekend gross would have passed the $25 million mark. However, since this was billed as a "re-imagining" in which the only noticeable difference is that Jason moves a lot quicker than he has in the past, people came out in droves eager to see...well, I still don't know what. New gruesome deaths? A storyline far more intriguing than the previous eleven? Or is it the undying hope of the male moviegoing contingency that horror movies will finally start showing boobs again (from what I've heard, this movie more than delivers on that score. Sweet!)

So, look, I don't care that an insanely violent movie has once again topped the box office charts. American moviegoers loving violence should be as expected as much as the inflated prices at the concession stand (talk about scary!) I just want to know: what were people expecting that they didn't already get before? I spoke with a horror-loving movie critic friend of mine who lamented that the new F13, while totally delivering in the gore department, was a complete disappointment in pretty much every other category. Full disclosure: I received a pass for the new F13 and was curious to see what they did with it until I had what Samuel L. Jackson's character in PULP FICTION described as " a moment of clarity," in which I realized that the long line I was about to stand in was probably not worth the entertainment content I was likely to recieve. That God for those Spidey senses.

Well, folks, if you at all sympathize (empathize? I can never keep those straight) with my incredulousness, then get ready for another heaping helping: HALLOWEEN 2, which is actually Part 10, opens August 28th. What goes around, comes around, I guess.

Monday, February 2, 2009

A Rough "Road" For "Revolutionary"

So with the Oscar nominations having been announced about a fortnight ago (see last posting - yeah, I know, I'm a slacker of a blogger. A slogger, if you will) we are full-on into Oscar season now. While the early favorites have clearly established themselves (I'm talking to you Benjamin Button and that slumdog millionaire nipping at your reverse-aging heels) other contenders are starting to lose traction (table for one Mr. Rourke or shall I seat you with the cast of DOUBT?) And then there are the films that never even got invited to the party in the first place. While I could go on all day about THE WRESTLER not being nominated for Best Picture, I'm also puzzled by the cold shoulder-treatment that was afforded to a film that in any other year would seem to be a shoo-in. I'm talking about REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, a searing drama directed by AMERICAN BEAUTY's one-time Oscar golden boy and otherwise-lucky-as-hell Sam "I'm Married To Kate Winslet" Mendes.

On paper, this movie should be up for as many noms as BENJAMIN BOTOX, er, BUTTON: besides the Mendes pedigree, it stars the two leads from a little indie called TITANIC, it's adapted from a well-received, though not necessarily Oprah-approved, book, and it's a period film with an unhappy ending. Basically, it's AMERICAN BEAUTY set in the 1950s and minus the flying plastic bags. So what's the diff, Academy voters? The flick was at least good enough for the Hollywood Foreign Press to bestow nominations for Best Drama, Lead Actor, and Director, as well as a Winslet win for Lead Actress at last month's Golden Globes. Winslet also won a Supporting Actress Globe for her role THE READER which, in the Academy's defense, was correctly placed in the Best Actress category for the Oscars, seeing how she is the female lead in the film. Sadly, though, Winslet's nomination for her sensuous but surprisingly dark turn in that film film cost her a nod for her work in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, a move that I think is shame, not because she has more screen time in RR, which she probably does, but that the Academy favoring a performance that requires her to age, have a foreign dialect, and, yes, have associations with the Holocaust, seems so typical. Winslet's work in RR is anything but.

For those of you who haven't seen the movie (and there apparently are a lot of you because, like Mendes' last effort, ROAD TO PERDITION, the film is currently falling on its ass at the ol' box office) Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio play an unhappily married couple living in 1950's suburbia. He has a job that gives him zero pleasure while she is discovering that raising kids and taking care of the house isn't as fulfilling as her life as an aspiring actress once was. The unhappy couple decide to move to Paris and live a relatively carefree, bohemian, lifestyle, a decision that goes over like a lead balloon with their gossiping neighbors. That's the plot essentially, but this isn't really a movie about plot. Sure, bad things happen later on, but the film is basically a pas de deux between two of our finest young actors playing a symphony of emotional notes. While it's no surprise that Winslet nails her role - though being a Brit gives her somewhat more of a challenge - DiCaprio truly amazes with a part that is the more unlikable of the two. He plays a man steeped in angst who is caught between his desires and his abilities. Honestly, he hasn't been this good in a movie since GILBERT GRAPE.

At the most recent Emmy Awards, the Best Drama prize went to AMC's "Mad Men," a terrific show that also takes place in the 50s, and like "The Sopranos," revolves around an unhappy man trapped under the weight of both his job and his family life. REVOLUTIONARY ROAD mines similar territory, but being a movie and not a TV show, adds a little more realism by featuring nudity and profanity, things that are certainly anathema of 1950s-set stories. My point is this: if "Mad Men" can collect that kind of hardware, where's the love for REVOLUTIONARY ROAD? Are the MM fans fully satiated by their desire for 50s angst, especially now that the show is set in the 60s?

I have heard grumblings from people who think the book is one of the best ever written but that the film just doesn't capture the immediacy of the characters' plights. I've also heard people say that don't want to see it because they've heard the movie is depressing. I've heard the same things directed towards THE READER, which, incidentally, isn't faring so great at the box office either. And keep in mind, the last two Best Picture winners, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN and THE DEPARTED also had downbeat endings - that is, unless you tend to root for the bad guys. As I've always said, I'd rather see a depressing movie done well than a "happy" movie done miserably. PAUL BLART: MALL COP making over $70 million at the box office? Now, that's depressing.

Think I have it in for THE READER? Not at all. I thought it was a very good film. Kate Winslet deserves her accolades for her work in it. It's just not a great film, especially compared to REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, which, for the record, scored a 71% "fresh" rating on RottenTomatoes.com, while THE READER scored a 60%. The tomatoes never lie, people!

The Globes win notwithstanding, however, I'm just stunned by the nearly-universal indifference that RR has received by not just audiences but the Academy as well, especially when it seemed as if the movie was being served up mainly as Oscar bait (the supporting nod for Michael Shannon is dead-on, though.) The movie is better than that, and yes, it's even better than AMERICAN BEAUTY. It doesn't need flying paper bags or a shower of rose petals to illuminate it's powerful themes of heartbreak and disillusion. It only needs what it already has: two amazing performances by two amazing actors, neither of whom need any special effects or actor-y tricks to enhance their formidable talents. REVOLUTIONARY ROAD might not be up for Best Picture this year, but it's certainly one of the best ones I saw last year.