Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sucker Punch


(Warning: spoilers included)

Marketed as ‘Alice In Wonderland with machine guns’, it is easy to see the instant appeal of Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch. Hot girls defying gravity and nature’s ugly gene, slicing and dicing their way through proverbial Nazi steam punk thugs should be an instant recipe for success.

The story itself is simple: a platinum blonde girl named Babydoll deals with the sudden and suspicious loss of her mother when her evil stepfather devolves into taking advantage of her. Baby doll refuses, but her younger sister is murdered by the evil stepdad and Babydoll is taken to an insane asylum to await a lobotomy to hide her stepfather’s sin.

Let me get my bias out of the way before I continue: I am a big Zack Snyder fan, having loved both 300 and Dawn of the Dead, and I respect his take on Watchmen to the point of considering it to be an improvement on lackluster source material.

As with all things visually-based, criticism abounds about story, acting and the meaning of anything beyond shiny images. Personally, I thoroughly enjoy a great visual feast (Inception) as well as a shallow action flick (The Expendables) so I’m not necessarily coming into Sucker Punch expecting a decent story. ??Dealing with dragons, Nazis, planes, and mechanical samurai, Sucker Punch uses the fantasy realm to explore real-world pain and suffering, with the intent to escape and fight back. The motif of fighting back against evil is not an uncommon theme in Snyder’s work (see 300). All of the elements are here for an awesome cinematic experience. With that out of the way, Sucker Punch is a good—even great—film up until the ending.

Yes. I will be spoiling it. Stop reading it now if you value not having the story lobotomized against your will.

Oops. Oh well. Onto the spoilers.

The traditional elements of a Disney fairy tale are taken to the next level, dealing with sexual abuse, insanity, lobotomy and the world’s oldest profession. Thematically, Sucker Punch is darker than Shutter Island and far more bleak and disturbing. Dealing with emotional trauma and one’s desire to escape from evil in the world, Snyder has crafted an emotionally compelling, visually triumphant action fantasy that embraces it’s fantastical roots only to forcibly uproot them by the final ten minutes.

It is impossible to review this film without mentioning the ending because of the narrative and philosophical implications. Frankly, a vast majority of the film takes place within the split second before and AFTER Babydoll is lobotomized. In her mind, she concocted this magnificent scheme within multiple worlds to escape, only for it to be entirely inside her own head. She is lobotomized right on schedule, thus presenting a fatalistic flow that significantly undermines the entire film. However, within the real world, there is evidence that someone did escape, which appears to be a balance to the fatalism. To be fair, the lobotomy has been foreshadowed significantly throughout the story, but the manner in which it is presented doesn’t connect with the film. In the world, there are multiple endings, and it appears that the filmmakers chose the worst of all worlds.

All of that said, Sucker Punch is not as bad as the critics smeared it to be, but I believe the ending fundamentally destroys any fun or emotional or spiritual impact that the film had going for it. Effectively, the ending reduces the film to a nice, emotionally detached screensaver, which is sadly what I wished would not happen.


Monday, March 21, 2011

The Lincoln Lawyer

I really want to begin this review with the oft cliché joke about Matthew McConaughey’s seemingly inability to appreciate the art of wearing a t-shirt. But, frankly, if I had those abs, I would parade them like it was New Years. So I can’t complain.

Thank God those abs don’t make an official appearance in The Lincoln Lawyer. Based on the novel by Michael Connelly, The Lincoln Lawyer revolves around a lawyer named Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey) who works from his car, a Lincoln town car. One day, a rape and assault charge on an alter boy playboy named Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe) brings an unwelcome amount of complexity to a seemingly open and shut case.

The biggest potential threat to the film was Matthew McConaughey. I say this with respect towards his past several starring roles, which have been predominantly romantic in nature and I suspected that this trend would continue. Thankfully, I was wrong. Mr. McConaughey carries the film with charisma and ease, giving us a complex look at a seemingly simple shady lawyer. From the very first frame, we think we have Mick Haller all figured out—that is, until we see him outside the courtroom. In private, he drinks to excess and shows glimmers of a lost conscience. The heart and soul of the film resides in him, and he carries it professionally and finds revival.

The biggest compliment I can give the film is that, despite a meager ending, the screenplay briskly carries itself with wit and purpose. Each scene reveals something new, the beats are concise and personal, traces of information streaming in with each passing moment. Couple this with solid acting all around (William F. Macy in a superb yet underused role) and you have two of my usual cinematic gripes already taken care of.

The very theme of defending potentially murderous people is a cliché as old as calling a film contrivance a cliché, but what The Lincoln Lawyer does is something else entirely different—instead of relying on said cliché, it brings forth a fascinating question. “How does a man with something to lose represent a potential criminal, and do so convincingly and without betrayal?” My complaint in regards to the question is that the film is content merely to provide a question without any sort of exploration.

This may seem like another pet peeve, but I relish these sorts of moments in art when you have real characters visibly grappling with something that is monumental and potentially deadly to all involved. To see such an interesting idea exposed and not dealt with did put a damper on my enthusiasm.

Beyond the brisk pacing, stellar acting and solid screenplay, the biggest disappointment for me was the ending. Bringing in several unnecessary twists as to “resolve” everything in fact made everything so neat and tidy that I lost interest ten minutes before the film ended. Thus, the final ten minutes were boring and uninformative. Ending on a higher note earlier would greatly reduce this problem and be more consistent with the established pace of the film. With all said and done, what was I saying about Matthew abs? Oh, right. Happy New Year’s


Monday, March 14, 2011

Battle: Los Angeles review

By N.R. Ahern


As with all alien invasion films, it begins with a bang. Through the patchy smog and suffocating traffic, Los Angeles is as popular with the intergalactic community as a college student in Cancun during Spring Break. When mysterious (to the characters, not the audience) meteors strike the ocean outside Santa Monica, Los Angeles suddenly becomes the favored vacation spot for a whole host of extraterrestrial tourists whose favorite pastime is a little carpet-bombing on the side.

In the fray we have SSrt. Michael Nantz (Harvey Dent—err, Aaron Eckhart), a traumatized marine looking to get out and begin a new life. Pulled back in by the short hairs, Ssgt. Nantz must find a way into warn-torn Santa Monica to save trapped civilians before the Air Force bombs Santa Monica back into the Golden Age of Hollywood. Thus, time—and humanities expiration date—are on the line.

Battle: Los Angeles wants to be different. The problem is, we’ve seen the beginning before: shaky-cam archival stock footage designed to express exposition in the same way one would have Morgan Freeman give a voice over monologue. The cinematography echoes District 9 and anything directed by Paul Greengrass, except the shot composition is amateurish and distracting, often zooming in and out for no apparent reason other than to add “tension.” Couple this with kinetic editing that doesn’t last on a shot long enough to give you any memorable detail and you have an exhausting and aggravating technical grievance.

One of the most intriguing parts of Battle: Los Angeles was the aspect of psychological warfare on the part of the aliens. When the marines enter Santa Monica and encounter resistance, it is unusually quiet. The tactics of the aliens—hiding and distracting marines with otherworldly noise—worked extremely well. Especially with the aliens maintaining the high ground. From a tactical perspective, the film worked incredibly well. Crawling through the ravaged suburbs, the intensity is palpable and often intensely engaging struggle to stay alive against an unknown enemy.

Though saddled with inane dialogue and a less-than original character, Eckhart makes Ssgt. Nantz empathetic enough for us to give a gnat’s fanny whether he lives or dies. Channeling fierce loyalty and intelligence, his performance stands out beyond his faceless fellow soldiers (Ne-Yo, Michelle Rodriguez) who are simply there to scream, shoot and run away.

Battle: Los Angeles tries to put a unique spin on the alien genre by combining the “end of the world hysteria” of ID4, the war tension of Black Hawk Down and the shaky-cam of District 9. However, while the film matched my expectations in the thrilling department, it failed in fully executing the technical capabilities and resorted to cheap clichés of the screenplay variety. In many ways, this film is a disappointment. However, for a film to give aliens tactical advantage and intelligent reasons for an invasion, this deserves praise. So. I welcome all extraterrestrial life to come to Los Angeles to join us in an epic Spring Break. Just stay out of the water and try not to breathe too much.

The review can be read at:


Sunday, February 27, 2011

Always go with the Guild

So since my original post of Oscar picks I have changed several times. Nothing too drastic, but you can't really make truly educated estimates as to who will win at the Academy until the week of the Awards and until the different film guilds have given their awards out. The people who vote in the Academy are all guild members, so their awards are always the most indicative of what will win at the Academy. This year was no exception.

My final picks to win in the major categories were:

Colin Firth for Best Actor

Christian Bale for Best Supporting Actor

Natalie Portman for Best Actress

Melissa Leo for Best Supporting Actress

Toy Story 3 for Best Animated Film

Roger Deakins for Best Cinematography (Wally Pfister received the Award)

David Fincher for Best Director (Tom Hooper received the Award)

The King's Speech for Best Picture

The Social Network for Best Adapted Screenplay

The King's Speech for Best Original Screenplay

In total I was right in 15 of the 19 nominees that I finally predicted. Go with the Guild. It's almost always right. So there weren't any major upsets this year. It's always more exciting when something crazy happens. Oh well, The King's Speech rules. The long run will show that it wasn't a very important film, just like Ghandi and Chariot's of Fire. But tonight its The King of the World.

Here is the original post for comparison:

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Three Qualities of Filmmaking: M. Night Shyamalan

Three qualities that make a film outstanding for me are, visual design, the ability to surprise the viewer and the development of a situation that suggests what it is to be human. Visual design is ever present in a movie and it should make the movie you are watching unique. You need to be able to look at a character in a movie as a real person and not just as part of the movie. It is also important to surprise the viewer because if you don't the movie is more likely to feel stale.

[SPOILER WARNING for The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, The Village, and Lady in the Water]

I believe that M. Night Shyamalan as a director does all these things. With M. Night Shyamalan he takes well used ideas as the back drop for the story of his movies and focuses on the people and how they deal with the conflict. In his ghost story the The Sixth Sense he focuses on a boy and his mother and the struggles they have because of his ability to see the dead. In Unbreakable he skillfully highlights the good intentions of a super hero who can save others but struggles to save his marriage from falling apart. In his movie entitled "Signs" he uses an alien invasion as the backdrop of a family’s struggle to accept to the seemingly senseless death of the wife and mother. Each movie is set in natural settings familiar to the average person: An apartment complex, the countryside, a farm. He takes the mundane and adds a unique dimension to it and he makes it feel perfectly natural. He takes chances with his movies that most directors would never even consider. Like Hitchcock, he shows you only what he wants you to see. For example, The Village is not about creatures living in the forest. Instead its about the fear that they represent. Therefore you never see the creatures clearly. He uses colors in his movies to signify different things, The color red was used in The Sixth Sense to signify death. A similar concept is used again in The Villiage where the color red is the color worn by the creatures. In "Lady in the Water" he uses the changing hair color of the mysterious woman Story to draw you into her emotions. For example, at one point in the middle of the film her hair color is dark red which signifies her growing fear and frailty. In Unbreakable after David Dunn realizes his purpose he goes to a subway station in order to find evil people. He has the ability to touch other people and see their past. The different people he touches have brightly colored clothing and the person that David Dunn confronts is wearing orange. Orange is a warning color. The character of Elijah wears purple through out most of the film. Purple signifies royalty and the main character has the name of a major prophet in the Bible. This is meant as a red herring in a sense because it makes you think that Elijah's character is good and was "chosen" to help David Dunn. This helps to create the surprised twist at the end when we discover that Elijah was responsible for the deaths of thousands. In "The Village" the people wear yellow. Yellow signifies cowardice. M. Night Shyamalan uses colors in his films as a method of subconscious story telling. He uses the associations that the different colors bring to mind as a form of unspoken exposition. He also uses them to get your attention in order for you to see what he wants you to see or not see.

M. Night Shyamalan tends to have in his movies mulitple subplots that don't seem to have any bearing on the main plot. Like in "Signs" he has a subplot for each family member, each one seemingly random. But in the end each one combines together to solve the conflict. He also does this in Lady in the Water with an even larger group of people. He tends to challenge traditional plot conventions or he re-invents them. "The Sixth Sense" starts out feeling like a horror film and with the ghosts as the villains. But in the end the only villain is fear. In Lady in the Water there is a certain point where the main character, Cleveland Heap, finds direction from a fairy tale. At the end of the movie the viewer realizes that the movie is the fairy tale.

"The Sixth Sense" gives a few examples of what it is to be human. For example, the character of Cole Searer is afraid of the unknown (the ability to see dead people). But when he comes to accept the unknown (that the dead people want to use him as a conduit to communicate to their family members) he's not as afraid as he was before. As humans we tend to fear the unknown but when we come to understand it we learn to accept it, though some fear remains. Another example is the character of Malcom Crowe. He's dead but he's not aware of it. He ignores all the signs that lead to that conclusion because he doesn’t want to accept it. As humans we tend to ignore warning signs and negative things to make ourselves feel like things are ok. In "Unbreakable" David Dunn is the sole survivor of a horrible accident. He can not understand why this happened to him, so he turns to the Church. He feels like he has a purpose, but he doesn't know what it is. As humans when we go through a life and death situation we tend to head towards God. We also generally feel a longing for something but we can't always figure out what it is. Then we feel that there must be a reason we are alive. This also carries over to "Lady and the Water".

M. Night Shamalan tells the stories of his films through his use of color, surprising plot development and through messages that the average person can relate to. Most of his movies have twist endings but they never feel false or added on. Many critics have tended to put him in a box , they claim he started out good with "the Sixth Sense" and got better with "Signs" . Then most critics hated the "Village" and a few even began to suggest that his earlier movies were not really as good as they had thought before. I personally think his movies take place on a very human level. They are about normal people who deal with unusual challenges. These people are flawed or damaged yet they make it through the hardship better off then they were before. He makes movies that challenge the viewer to reconsider their assumptions and he challenges story telling conventions.

[Note: This is actually a paper I wrote for an Art of Film class I took a few years ago.]

Sunday, February 6, 2011

What it takes to be number 1

"Winning is not a sometime thing; it's an all the time thing. You don't win once in a while; you don't do things right once in a while; you do them right all the time. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

"There is no room for second place. There is only one place in my game, and that's first place. I have finished second twice in my time at Green Bay, and I don't ever want to finish second again. There is a second place bowl game, but it is a game for losers played by losers. It is and always has been an American zeal to be first in anything we do, and to win, and to win, and to win.

"Every time a football player goes to play his trade he's got to play from the ground up — from the soles of his feet right up to his head. Every inch of him has to play. Some guys play with their heads. That's O.K. You've got to be smart to be number one in any business. But more importantly, you've got to play with your heart, with every fiber of your body. If you're lucky enough to find a guy with a lot of head and a lot of heart, he's never going to come off the field second.

"Running a football team is no different than running any other kind of organization — an army, a political party or a business. The principles are the same. The object is to win — to beat the other guy. Maybe that sounds hard or cruel. I don't think it is.

"It is a reality of life that men are competitive and the most competitive games draw the most competitive men. That's why they are there — to compete. To know the rules and objectives when they get in the game. The object is to win fairly, squarely, by the rules — but to win.

"And in truth, I've never known a man worth his salt who in the long run, deep down in his heart, didn't appreciate the grind, the discipline. There is something in good men that really yearns for discipline and the harsh reality of head to head combat.

"I don't say these things because I believe in the "brute" nature of man or that men must be brutalized to be combative. I believe in God, and I believe in human decency. But I firmly believe that any man's finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle — victorious."

-Vince Lombardi

Once upon a time, many decades ago the Pittsburgh Steelers quite literally meant nothing to football fans. They were awful. For four decades they stunk up the NFL. And during that time the Green Bay Packers dominated. During the 60s they won 5 NFL Championships, the last three consecutively which happened to include the first two Super Bowls. Also those last two NFL Championships were contested between the Packers and the Cowboys. They were extremely close games between very good teams. But both times Lombardi beat Tom Landry, then went on to win the first two super bowls and the Lombardi trophy came into existence. If the outcomes had been slightly different that trophy would've been called the Landry trophy.

The next decade two teams would dominate that competition. One of them was the same: the Cowboys. The other was a new comer to the NFL Spotlight: the Steelers. The Cowboys would go on to play in half of the super bowls of the 1970s, losing 3 of them. Two of those loses came to the Steelers. And the Steelers would become who we know they are today: the most dominant team of the Super Bowl Era.

This year's super bowl is really special because history will be made. Either the Steelers will be the first to win 7 Super Bowls or the Packers will be the 4th franchise to win 4 and have a grand total of 13 NFL Championships, won over the course of the three major eras of NFL history. Either way the outcome is epic. And its all happening on the Cowboys home turf, following one of the worst seasons in Cowboys history. And the Packers had to go through their arch rival Chicago Bears to get here. The only way it could've been more dramatic as if the Steelers had to play either the Ravens or Browns in the AFC Championship game.

These three teams are not truly rivals in the regular sense of the word. They don't play each other that often. But when they do alot is at stake. Three superbowls have been contested between the Cowboys and Steelers. Each time a significant milestone was at stake. The first time in 76 it would determine which franchise would be the third to win two superbowls. The Steelers won. Then again in 79 it would determine which franchise would be the first to win 3 superbowls. The Steelers won again. Then in 1996 it would determine which franchise would be the second to win 5 superbowls, and finally the Cowboys were victorious. But since then the Steelers have won two more superbowls and the Packers have also won another superbowl, and the cowboys have clearly been struggling. What these three teams are competing for each year is not really what other teams are competeing for. Each one is held to a high standard, each one has national attention fixed on them. Each one is severly hated and deeply loved. Each one is in one way or another the greatest Franchise in NFL history. And each one isn't really competing for a Superbowl each year, they are really competing for Greatness in general. And in one way or another each of these three teams has their reputation on the line today. But make no mistake this is one of the most important Super Bowls ever. I hope it's a great one.

I am a true blue cowboys fan, and no matter who wins today it will sting. But they don't call us the cryboys for nothing. The wins are exhuberant and the losses are heartwrenching, they don't do anything small in Texas, as can be shown by how this first Dallas hosted Super Bowl looks to be. This was supposed to be our year. We were supposed to be the first team to play at home for the Super Bowl. But our season went into the toilet pretty quickly. The stakes couldnt' have been higher and we totally choked. And now our only real rivals for the claim of America's Team are playing in the Super Bowl we were supposed to be playing in, on our homefield. But this is such a great end to a crazy season that its hard to be upset.

Before Super Bowl XIX Ronald Reagan performed the coin flip via Satelite from the oval office. And he gave the nation the perfect football prayer:

May everyone do their best,
May there be no injuries,
May the best team win,
And no one have regrets.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Top Ten Most Sublime Rock Songs

I think these are the most sublime rock songs ever produced. They aren't all terribly significant but they all perfectly embody good rock music. Plus they're all awesome!

10. Fade to Black (1998) by Apocalyptica

9. Disarm (1993) by The Smashing Pumpkins

8. Sweet Child o' Mine (1987) by Guns N' Roses

7. Comfortably Numb (1979) by Pink Floyd

6. (Don't Fear) The Reaper (1976) by Blue Oyster Cult

5. Hotel California (1976) by The Eagles

4. Bohemian Rhapsody (1975) by Queen

3. Stairway to Heaven (1971) by Led Zeppelin

2. Layla (1970) by Derek and the Dominoes

1. All Along the Watchtower (1968) by The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Friday, January 28, 2011

Why Cinema Superheroes are Here to Stay

The two greatest directors working in Hollywood right now are Christopher Nolan and Darren Aronofsky. They are the main reason that I have great hope for Cinema's future. They are the Hitchcock and Kubrick (respectively) of my generation. The one deals with intelligent and highly entertaining psychological thrillers, which also happen to turn a profit. The other existential dark dramas that often border on the surreal. Hitchcock and Kubrick, exactly.

Nolan and Aronofsky's films represent the very highest ideals of true auteur cinema: visual story telling that seeks to enthrall and entertain while asking the central questions of human existence. This is art at its best. To quote Steel Magnolias: "Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion." To be entertained and yet heart broken by the same piece of storytelling is incredibly difficult and yet these artists have done it time and again.

In an age where the word Auteur has lost all serious meaning in popular film criticism these two men have almost singlehandedly taken hold of the idea Sarris and the French film theorists were proposing and fully embodied the Director as Filmmaker and artist. Not only are they making great films but they are involved in every aspect of the film creation process and have formed lasting relationships with wonderful composers and cinematographers. So they're humble and honest Auteurs as well. They are aware that their success has been related to their trust and relationship with other artists.

The similarities between these two filmmakers start in 1998. They both released black and white low budget independent films. Both films were met with critical success. Both films were odd and unique. Since then their films have differed dramatically. But next year their filmographies will intersect again in a big way. Nolan will be releasing the climax to his Batman Trilogy and Aronofsky will be rounding out his second thematic film trilogy with his first foray into mainstream commercial fair (though it will most likely look like neither). Both films just happen to be about comic book superheroes.

Not much is known at this time about Aronofsky's The Wolverine. But I predict that it will be the capstone to his second trilogy of films. His first trilogy is about obsession and the forms it can take. The first two end with pretty bleak solutions to the problem of human existence and obsession. The last film has the key to the solution. And this second trilogy is the same, though more complex emotionally.

The Wrestler and Black Swan are character studies of a person whose whole existence is based around a performing art and their subsequent isolation (to be before others is to be truly alone). The Wrestler's focus is on a low brow performing art, masculinity, and absolute realism. Black Swan is about a very high brow performing art, femininity, and surrealism. Both films end with the Character's becoming the very embodiment of their particular art and then possibly (spoiler alert)

that thing consuming and ultimately killing them. The Wolverine will do all these things as well, except probably not emphasize Logan's performance of his profession before others. But it will involve Logan being consumed by The Wolverine, just as The Wrestler and Black Swan dealt with their respective characters being consumed by those things. But Aronofsky will have a less bleak ending for Logan, maybe even positive. The Fountain in many ways displays the synthesis between addiction and scientific obsession that are the major themes of Pi and Requiem, while also giving the solution to these respective problems: death to self and union with the divine. The Wolverine will show something similar. And its also interesting to note that Hugh Jackman is playing the main character in both films. Also a comic book film can be considered a sort of half way house between Realism and Surrealism. A serious study of how masculinity and femininity relate to each other will also be involved.

Logan must embrace his destiny while maintaining human relationships, this is where both main characters from The Wrestler and Black Swan failed. He is a killer, and must struggle with this as his telos. John Rambo does the same thing in his film series. But its not killing in itself which is their (John and Logan) life's work, its the ability to protect others and accomplish heroic feats that no one else can do as they can.

For example, in First Blood John is acting out of rage and frustration. He is not fulfilling his true telos just reveling in violence. But over the course of the next 3 films he embraces that death dealing is his primary talent and uses it to help and protect others. The Wolverine will be part of a similar cycle of futility leading to self discovery. What the characters in the previous two films have done is viewed their telos as the end of their lives, not as a means to the true end of their lives: human relationship aka love. And this is what causes their self destruction. Logan will be forced to deal with genuine human love and how it heals his personal pain, and how his vulnerability, self denial, and love for another will heal another persons pain as well. This will most likely happen in relation to a woman who is close to being his equal in combat. They will form a synthesis completing each other and enabling each other to better fight the narrative's villain.

And Nolan's film will be similar in some regards. I predicated that his third Batman film would be ultimately about resurrection as soon as the credits for The Dark Knight began to roll. So you can imagine my excitement when the title for the film was finally released. Batman Begins is about Birth, The Dark Knight is about Death, and The Dark Knight Rises will be about Resurrection. That is a severe gloss on each film, they are more profound than that. But it's basically the Christological cycle. Batman takes on the guilt and image of Gotham and working from inside that image becomes Gotham's permanent savior. The Dark Knight Rises will not end with Batman putting down his cape and cowl but taking them on even more fully: he will take them on forever. They will become his permanent identity and Gotham will finally understand that he is their only hope for salvation.

Both of these films will be the best films that are made in 2012, and both will probably be snubbed by many major Awards committees. But what they will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt is that Nolan and Aronofsky are the best they are at what they do and what they do best is pretty nice. They will also finally and fully establish the super hero/comic book film as a serious film genre that opens up new possibilities for mise en scene and other aspects of filmmaking. There are worlds and worlds of characters and storylines just waiting for talented artists to adapt into great films. 2012 may well be the most important year for 21st century cinema.

Needless to say I'm pretty excited.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Cynical Manifesto: The Nominees of 2011 and why I couldn't care less.

Greetings, fellow bloggers. Posted below are my thoughts on the nominees and why I think the Academy may have swallowed one too many poison pills involving the Coens.


Who I want to win: The Social Network.
Why: Because Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher have created a contemporary snapshot of my generations fascinations and foibles, and they did so with class and dexterity. Also, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross gave me a happy.

Who will win: The King's Speech
Why: well-acted, seasonal characters, historical and contemporary significance, Colin Firth. It is really up between The King's Speech and Social Network.

Who shouldn't win: True Grit
Why: because it sucked. Specifically, it is a timid genre piece that does nothing new with an already exhausted genre. I don't dislike The Coens but they really don't need a follow up award for such a generic picture when No Country for Old Men was a masterpiece.


Who I want to win: Jesse Eisenberg
Why: He makes a convincing but complex jerk/genius. He has also been consistently choosing decent scripts and improving. His performance in The Squid and the Whale was fantastic.

Who will win: Colin Firth
Why: without him, The King's Speech would not have worked in my humble opinion. The great Geoffrey Rush not included.

Who shouldn't win: Jeff Bridges
Why: just because the Dude puts on an eye patch doesn't mean we can't see him channeling that slacker the entire film. I love Bridges, but it was not near the performance of Crazy Heart. Or The Big Lebowski.


Who will win: Natalie Portman
Why: because she has come a long way from Episode I. And, frankly, she deserves it.

Who should win: Natalie Portman
Why: see above.

Who shouldn't win: Annette Benning
Why: Out of the nominees, her performance felt significantly hollow in spite of her being a seasoned actress (loved her in American Beauty).


Who I want to win: Christian Bale
Why: because very few actors can shift from one devastating performance to the next with such grace. The Machinist and American Psycho and now The Fighter. He is a transformational actor, and it is time he got his recognition.

Who will win: Christian Bale
Why: see above

Who shouldn't win: Jeremy Renner
Why: I'm a huge fan ever since I saw him in SWAT and The Hurt Locker, and his performance in The Town was smoldering. However, in light of the other nominees, I think he is the least likely.


Who I want to win: Amy Adams
Why: a consistent actress who continually surprises me. In every film I see her in, she continues to grow in her craft.

Who will win: Hailee Steinfeld
Why: because she was the best part of True Grit, and it wouldn't surprise me to see the Academy buckle on this one.

Who shouldn't win: Helena Bonham Carter/ Hailee Steinfeld
Why: I'm biased against both of them. Helena because she is the reason Tim Burton hasn't made a good movie since...Sweeney Todd. Crap. That was recent wasn't it? I guess I can't choose one. I choose neither.


Who I want to win: Christopher Nolan
Why: Oh, wait...

Who will win: David Fincher
Why: because--as I've mentioned before--the people who continually hone their craft and rise to near cinematic perfection deserve to be rewarded.

Who shouldn't win: The Coens
Why: Love them. Hate True Grit.


Who I want to win: Inception
Why: Though not without it's emotional flaws, Inception was a bold and ultimately fascinating technical journey. Well-told and thematically fascinating.

Who will win: The King's Speech
Why: the journey through history to the bumpy narrative process, The King's Speech was exceptionally well-written and historical. Did I mention Colin Firth spoke many of the lines?

Who shouldn't win: The Kid's Are All Right
Why: Regardless of one's thoughts on gay marriage/civil unions (and I'm more liberal on that issue), the script never rang emotionally true and often resorted to unconvincing emotional twists that never really settled into a concrete character setting.


Who I want to win: The Social Network
Why: I think Aaron Sorkin is a pretentious fool when it comes to politics, but he is also my favorite writer. Our relationship is based on how he can make me feel in the dark theater and, golly darn it, he makes me feel swell. A sweltering, dizzying screenplay that had me rereading it four different times. In the dark.

Who will win: The Social Network
Why: this is easy. Just read above.

Who shouldn't win: The Coens
Why: this is also easy. Just read above as well.

I have to run and do homework, but I will finish this list up in section.

Thank you for reading.


Who will win this year's Academy Awards

These are my picks for who will win at the Academy this year, not who I think should win. With some short commentary.

1. Best Actor: Colin Firth

This is a pretty easy pick.

2. Best Supporting Actor: Geoffrey Rush

A good case could be made for several other actors nominated this year, and the biggest problem with Rush winning is that he already has a best Actor Oscar and no one else nominated this year has an Oscar of any kind. But Rush was truly fantastic, and he's much older than the other nominees. Also The King's Speech works so well primarily because of Rush and Firth together.

3. Best Actress: Natalie Portman

This isn't quite as easy as picking Firth, but it's close. Portman was like a force of nature in this film.

4. Supporting Actress: Either Amy Adams or Melissa Leo

When multiple actors are competing for the same category it seems as though the Academy usually snubs both. But I don't think that will be the case this year.

5. Animated Feature Film: The Illusionist

This is easier than picking Firth. Toy Story 3 and Dragon were excellent and entertaining but that's about all. Nothing about them was artistic in anyway. Artistic is The Illusionist's middle name (if it had one). The Academy is a total sucker for animated films like this. I haven't even seen it, but I know the Academy is going with this. It's french for crying out loud!

6. Art Direction: Inception

Everybody knows that this was easily one of the best films of the year, and a landmark in a young important Director's career. But its too action oriented to get any of the serious awards. So it will receive almost every technical award it has been nominated for, starting with this one.

7. Cinematography: This is impossible to determine absolutely, all five are deserving in different ways, but my gut tells me it will ultimately be between Libatique and Pfister...and I'm calling Pfister. Mostly because of the reasons given for Art Direction. Since Portman is pretty much a shoo-in for Best Actress the Academy won't feel the need to give Black Swan other awards the way it will for Inception.

8. Costume Design: I really don't care, but Wonderland's costumes were great. I'm picking that just to pick something.

9. Directing: David Fincher

This battle really should be between Aronofsky and Nolan. They are better directors (probably the two best Director's working right now) but Fincher has been making good films longer and Nolan's filmography has been too action/comic book oriented, as well as financially successful. Also Nolan still isn't even nominated in this category! And since this is Aronofsky's first nomination there's no way he's getting it. The Coen brothers are disqualified because they finally won their first director Oscar recently and honestly True Grit was really good but not quite Coen good, so they wouldn't be winning for their stunning remake anyway. Fincher's got it. I don't think he was the best director this year, but he made a great film and he's been doing that for a while.

10. Documentary: I really don't care, the documentary category is notoriously stupid at the Oscars

11. Documentary Short Subject: I care even less...

12. Film Editing: Inception deserves this but its not even nominated, so I'm going with Black Swan

13. Foreign Language Film: I care, but I haven't seen any of the nominees this year

14. Makeup: this year, I don't care, but I'll go with Wolfman just cause I like the original Lon Chaney Jr. film and they went with a similar retro design

15. Original Score: The Social Network (even though Inception probably deserves to win) Trent Reznor is always sexy

16. Original Song: Toy Story 3, if anything else wins blech!

17. Best Picture: The Social Network

The Social Network is not the best film that was made this year. Black Swan and Inception were. But Fincher's opus was probably the most balanced. It was a truly great film about a very interesting and enduring topic. It is thematically the Citizen Kane of my generation. It had several fantastic performances. Basically this film is flawless, but it has something else that Nolan's and Aronofsky's incredible films didn't have: a meaningful historic narrative. If a film is making a "social" point (no pun intended) while being generally awesome the Academy is going to pick it, nine times out of ten. That's how Ghandi beat E.T., Chariots of Fire beat Raider's of the Lost Ark, Hurt Locker beat Avatar etc. (even though unlike those other films Avatar actually sucked)

18. Animated Short Film: Who cares?

19. Live Action Short Film: Really who cares? I'm actually asking

20. Sound Editing: This is a toss up, but based on previous argumentation I'm going with Inception

21. Sound Mixing: This is also a toss up, but based on previous argumentation I'm going with Inception

22. Visual Effects: Inception, based on the previous argumentation

23. Adapted Screenplay: The Social Network

I'm just going with the old gut on this one. The Social Network was sexy while being meaningful. I think this is the safest bet.

24. Original Screenplay: The King's Speech

The Fighter and Inception might be more deserving overall, in terms of structure and originality, but The King's Speech was clever, meaningful, and inspiring. It's also true.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Thomas on Suffering

"It is plain that the general of an army does not spare his more active soldiers dangers or exertions, but as the plan of battle requires, he sometimes lays them open to greater dangers and greater exertions. But after the attainment of victory, he bestows greater honor on the more active soldiers. So also the head of a household assigns greater exertions to his better servants, but when it is time to reward them, he lavishes greater gifts on them. And so neither is it characteristic of divine providence that it should exempt good people more from the adversities and exertions of the present life, but rather that it reward them more at the end."