Sunday, February 28, 2010

2010 Oscar Predictions

With the Academy Awards only a week away, I thought I'd formulate my predictions for this year's winners. Most of the main categories seem fairly easy to predict this year, but you never can tell for sure. As usual, the further down this list goes, the more I'm just throwing out guesses. So, for better or worse, here are my picks. (* = prediction of winner)

Best Motion Picture

James Cameron and Jon Landau, Producers

"The Blind Side"
Gil Netter, Andrew A. Kosove, Broderick Johnson, Producers

"District 9"
Peter Jackson and Carolynne Cunningham, Producers

"An Education"
Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey, Producers

*"The Hurt Locker"
Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal, Nicolas Chartier, Greg Shapiro, Producers

"Inglourious Basterds"
Lawrence Bender, Producer

"Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire"
Lee Daniels, Sarah Siegel-Magness and Gary Magness, Producers

"A Serious Man"
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, Producers

Jonas Rivera, Producer

"Up in the Air"
Daniel Dubiecki, Ivan Reitman and Jason Reitman, Producers

Achievement in Directing

"Avatar" James Cameron

*"The Hurt Locker" Kathryn Bigelow

"Inglourious Basterds" Quentin Tarantino

"Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" Lee Daniels

"Up in the Air" Jason Reitman

Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

*Jeff Bridges in "Crazy Heart"

George Clooney in "Up in the Air"

Colin Firth in "A Single Man"

Morgan Freeman in "Invictus"

Jeremy Renner in "The Hurt Locker"

Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Matt Damon in "Invictus"

Woody Harrelson in "The Messenger"

Christopher Plummer in "The Last Station"

Stanley Tucci in "The Lovely Bones"

*Christoph Waltz in "Inglourious Basterds"

Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

*Sandra Bullock in "The Blind Side"

Helen Mirren in "The Last Station"

Carey Mulligan in "An Education"

Gabourey Sidibe in "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire"

Meryl Streep in "Julie & Julia"

Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Penélope Cruz in "Nine"

Vera Farmiga in "Up in the Air"

Maggie Gyllenhaal in "Crazy Heart"

Anna Kendrick in "Up in the Air"

*Mo'Nique in "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire"

Adapted screenplay

"District 9" Written by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell

"An Education" Screenplay by Nick Hornby

"In the Loop" Screenplay by Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche

"Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" Screenplay by Geoffrey Fletcher

*"Up in the Air" Screenplay by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner

Original screenplay

"The Hurt Locker" Written by Mark Boal

*"Inglourious Basterds" Written by Quentin Tarantino

"The Messenger" Written by Alessandro Camon & Oren Moverman

"A Serious Man" Written by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

"Up" Screenplay by Bob Peterson, Pete Docter
Story by Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, Tom McCarthy

Best Animated Feature Film

"Coraline" Henry Selick

"Fantastic Mr. Fox" Wes Anderson

"The Princess and the Frog" John Musker and Ron Clements

"The Secret of Kells" Tomm Moore

*"Up" Pete Docter

Achievement in Art Direction

*"Avatar" Art Direction: Rick Carter and Robert Stromberg
Set Decoration: Kim Sinclair

"The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" Art Direction: Dave Warren and Anastasia Masaro
Set Decoration: Caroline Smith

"Nine" Art Direction: John Myhre
Set Decoration: Gordon Sim

"Sherlock Holmes" Art Direction: Sarah Greenwood
Set Decoration: Katie Spencer

"The Young Victoria" Art Direction: Patrice Vermette
Set Decoration: Maggie Gray

Achievement in Cinematography

*"Avatar" Mauro Fiore

"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" Bruno Delbonnel

"The Hurt Locker" Barry Ackroyd

"Inglourious Basterds" Robert Richardson

"The White Ribbon" Christian Berger

Achievement in Costume Design

"Bright Star" (Apparition) Janet Patterson

"Coco before Chanel" Catherine Leterrier

"The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" Monique Prudhomme

"Nine" Colleen Atwood

*"The Young Victoria" Sandy Powell

Achievement in Film Editing

"Avatar" Stephen Rivkin, John Refoua and James Cameron

"District 9" Julian Clarke

*"The Hurt Locker" Bob Murawski and Chris Innis

"Inglourious Basterds" Sally Menke

"Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" Joe Klotz

Best Foreign Language Film

An Inosan Production Israel

"El Secreto de Sus Ojos"
A Haddock Films Production Argentina

"The Milk of Sorrow"
A Wanda Visión/Oberon Cinematogràfica/Vela Production Peru

"Un Prophète"
A Why Not/Page 114/Chic Films Production France

*"The White Ribbon"
An X Filme Creative Pool/Wega Film/Les Films du Losange/Lucky Red Production Germany

Achievement in Makeup
"Il Divo" Aldo Signoretti and Vittorio Sodano

*"Star Trek" Barney Burman, Mindy Hall and Joel Harlow

"The Young Victoria" Jon Henry Gordon and Jenny Shircore

Achievement for Best Original Score

"Avatar" James Horner

"Fantastic Mr. Fox" Alexandre Desplat

"The Hurt Locker" Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders

"Sherlock Holmes" Hans Zimmer

*"Up" Michael Giacchino

Best Original Song

"Almost There" from "The Princess and the Frog" Music and Lyric by Randy Newman

"Down in New Orleans" from "The Princess and the Frog" Music and Lyric by Randy Newman

"Loin de Paname" from "Paris 36" Music by Reinhardt Wagner
Lyric by Frank Thomas

"Take It All" from "Nine" Music and Lyric by Maury Yeston

*"The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)" from "Crazy Heart" Music and Lyric by Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett

Achievement in Sound Editing

*"Avatar" Christopher Boyes and Gwendolyn Yates Whittle

"The Hurt Locker" Paul N.J. Ottosson

"Inglourious Basterds" Wylie Stateman

"Star Trek" Mark Stoeckinger and Alan Rankin

"Up" Michael Silvers and Tom Myers

Achievement in Sound Mixing

*"Avatar" Christopher Boyes, Gary Summers, Andy Nelson and Tony Johnson

"The Hurt Locker" Paul N.J. Ottosson and Ray Beckett

"Inglourious Basterds" Michael Minkler, Tony Lamberti and Mark Ulano

"Star Trek" Anna Behlmer, Andy Nelson and Peter J. Devlin

"Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers and Geoffrey Patterson

Achievement in Visual Effects

*"Avatar" Joe Letteri, Stephen Rosenbaum, Richard Baneham and Andrew R. Jones

"District 9" Dan Kaufman, Peter Muyzers, Robert Habros and Matt Aitken

"Star Trek" Roger Guyett, Russell Earl, Paul Kavanagh and Burt Dalton

Best Documentary Feature

"Burma VJ"
A Magic Hour Films Production Anders Østergaard and Lise Lense-Møller

*"The Cove"
An Oceanic Preservation Society Production Nominees to be determined

"Food, Inc."
A Robert Kenner Films Production Robert Kenner and Elise Pearlstein

"The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers"
A Kovno Communications Production Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith

"Which Way Home"
A Mr. Mudd Production Rebecca Cammisa

Best Documentary Short Subject

"China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province"
A Downtown Community Television Center Production Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill

"The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner"
A Just Media Production Daniel Junge and Henry Ansbacher

*"The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant"
A Community Media Production Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert

"Music by Prudence"
An iThemba Production Roger Ross Williams and Elinor Burkett

"Rabbit à la Berlin"
An MS Films Production Bartek Konopka and Anna Wydra

Best Animated Short Film

"French Roast"
A Pumpkin Factory/Bibo Films Production Fabrice O. Joubert

"Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty"
A Brown Bag Films Production Nicky Phelan and Darragh O'Connell

"The Lady and the Reaper (La Dama y la Muerte)"
A Kandor Graphics and Green Moon Production Javier Recio Gracia

"Logorama" (Autour de Minuit)
An Autour de Minuit Production Nicolas Schmerkin

*"A Matter of Loaf and Death"
An Aardman Animations Production Nick Park

Best Live Action Short Film

"The Door"
An Octagon Films Production Juanita Wilson and James Flynn

"Instead of Abracadabra"
A Directörn & Fabrikörn Production Patrik Eklund and Mathias Fjellström

A Gregg Helvey Production Gregg Helvey

"Miracle Fish"
A Druid Films Production Luke Doolan and Drew Bailey

*"The New Tenants"
A Park Pictures and M & M Production Joachim Back and Tivi Magnusson

Friday, February 26, 2010

Tackling IMDb's 250

Today I was searching through IMDb as per usual when I decided to check out the site's Top 250 films as voted by the users. I can remember a time when I hadn't seen half of the films on the list (which constantly changes due to user voting), but as of today I've seen 241 of the titles listed. Not too shabby, if I do say so myself. Perhaps at some point I can claim to have seen all 250 on a given day. But I bring this topic up not to gloat so much as inform. Anyone with an increasing interest in cinema really should check out IMDb's list as a good starting point since it includes a diverse enough number of films that you are bound to make many discoveries. I know I have over the years. Check out the site and see how many films you've watched from the list.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Against the Grain: Inspired Casting

When people describe Grace Kelly, words such as glamorous or elegant usually come to mind. And why shouldn’t they? After all, she was Hollywood royalty and later on a real-life princess. Her most iconic roles in films like Rear Window and To Catch A Thief showcase her beauty, charm, and refinement. But the role for which she earned her Academy Award lacks the qualities Kelly typically attributed to her work. Instead, her character could be described as a buttoned-down, hostile, decidedly unglamorous woman. The film is The Country Girl; the role is Georgie Elgin.

It’s a brave performance by Kelly, playing the wife of a struggling actor. I say brave because her character isn’t necessarily the most likable or appealing person when we first meet her. She comes off as harsh towards her husband, not to mention the director who tries to give him a break in a new play. As the film moves along, we begin to see the complexity between Georgie and her husband and come to understand her position. Kelly proves she can handle a character who doesn’t automatically exude charisma and instead dig deep into a role that may not appeal to everyone.

If you get the chance, give The Country Girl a watch. The film also stars William Holden and Bing Crosby, both of whom also deliver great performances.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Coens Find Their Lead For True Grit

After an extensive search, the Coen brothers have found the lead for their latest film, a western called True Grit. The central character of Mattie, a fourteen year-old girl who seeks vengeance after the death of her father, will be played by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld. She joins a cast of heavyweights such as Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin. Steinfeld should have quite a challenge ahead of her as her character drives the story and provides the audience a point of entry. If she pulls it off, this could easily become a star-making role. The Coens have traditionally been spot-on with their casting, so I'm very hopeful about their choice. True Grit begins shooting soon for a planned Christmas day release. As usual, I'll be highly anticipating whatever the Coens deliver.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Sampling of Morricone

It's no secret that Ennio Morricone is one of my favorite composers of all-time. With iconic scores such as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West, how could he not be one of the greats? His body of work has spanned many decades now and the man still works steadily. As a result, there's a wealth of material to discover. On occasion, I'll do just that - discover some previously unknown piece from Morricone's past. Of course YouTube helps quite a bit with these endeavors as there are hundreds of videos dedicated to Morricone's music. For those not as familiar with his work, I've put together a sampling of tracks below. Feel free to explore other titles that you find since the ones I've listed only cover the tip of the iceberg!

Mystic and Severe –
The Big Gundown –
Rabbia E Tarantella –
Un Amico –
The Surrender (La Resa) –
L'incontro con la figlia –
The Verdict –
Battle of Algiers –
Il Mercenario Represa –
Giu’ la Testa –
My Name Is Nobody –
The Trio –
A Fistful of Dollars –
Valmont’s GoGo Pad –
Navajo Joe –
Once Upon a Time in the West -
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly -

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Rate This: Kevin Smith Films

With Kevin Smith's new film Cop Out opening next week, I thought I'd start a new feature where I rank a certain group of films in order from best to worst. This feature will probably surface every now and then to tie in with new releases or whenever I think of something special to highlight.

I'll label myself a fan of Kevin Smith, although I'd say my enjoyment of his films has waned over the past few years. Maybe Cop Out will bring a welcome return to form, although I have my doubts. As of now, here's my take on the man's filmography:

1. Clerks
2. Chasing Amy
3. Dogma
4. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
5. Clerks 2
6. Mallrats
7. Zack and Miri Make a Porno
8. Jersey Girl

Feel free to make your own ranking or discuss Smith's work in the comments.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tarantino Goes West?

Recently Quentin Tarantino has mused that he'd like to tackle a western for his next film. Not only would the film be a western, but one focused on the issue of slavery. Tarantino said he wants to start writing the script as soon as possible, but that could mean anything really. Inglourious Basterds was talked about for a decade before finally being made. Tarantino has talked about many projects over the years, but only a few have seen the light of day. Hopefully he's serious about this one.

When I first heard this news, I thought it only made sense for Tarantino. He's included elements of westerns in his past films, so it's fitting that he would finally go for a full-blown effort in the genre. Setting the film during a time of slavery definately departs from most westerns, as they are usually set post-Civil War. Whatever the final product (if there is, indeed, a final product), I'm sure Tarantino will put his own special style to the genre and I will be in line to see it.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

2010 Preview: February - April

Well, I’ve held off on writing any type of movie preview for the year, mostly because it’s slim pickings at the cinema during January. So, now that we're well into February, here’s a list of some notable films coming out between the remainder of this month through April.

Shutter Island
I’ve been ready for this one a long time now. Martin Scorsese’s latest reteams him with Leonardo DiCaprio for a full-on horror/thriller, territory the filmmaker hasn't really covered since Cape Fear. The story follows two detectives investigate the disappearance of a woman at an insane asylum. The excellent supporting cast includes Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Emily Mortimer, Michelle Williams, and Jackie Earle Haley among others. The trailers have promised a scary-good time and I for one cannot wait.

Cop Out
This latest film from Kevin Smith has me apprehensive to say the least. The promotional material I’ve seen for this buddy cop film has been somewhat underwhelming, although I’ll still give it a chance. Plus, Smith is testing some new ground with this project (for him), so I give him credit for that.

Alice in Wonderland
Tim Burton seems like a perfect fit for this material. I’m somewhat surprised that he’s embraced CG as much as he has with this film since he typically prefers to keep things at least partially practical. The film has an interesting look though and I certainly can’t argue with the casting.

Brooklyn’s Finest
This new cop thriller from the director of Training Day (Antoine Fuqua) garnered some buzz at last year’s Sundance Film Festival and now finally receives its theatrical release. Don Cheadle, Richard Gere, Ethan Hawke, and Wesley Snipes star in a story of three policemen who lead very different careers, but somehow end up “at the same deadly location.” It seems like a solid time.

Green Zone
When I first heard about this project, all I knew was that Matt Damon starred and Paul Greengrass was directing. That combination was enough for me based on their collaborations on The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum. Here’s plot description via IMDb: “Discovering covert and faulty intelligence causes a U.S. Army officer to go rogue as he hunts for Weapons of Mass Destruction in an unstable region.” That sounds good to me.

The Runaways
This one gathered a sizable amount of buzz from this year’s Sundance Film Festival, so I’m curious to see what the fuss is all about. The film stars Dakota Fanning and Kristin Stewart and chronicles the band The Runaways and the relationship between two of its members, Joan Jett and Cherie Curry.

This latest from Noah Baumbach stars Ben Stiller as an unemployed man who moves to Los Angeles to house-sit for a relative while he attempts to figure out his life. From the trailer you get the typical Baumbach humor which mostly plays well, I thought. If nothing else, it’s nice to see Stiller doing something other than generic family comedies for a change. As far as the director’s previous work, I’m hoping that this film hits more like The Squid and the Whale than Margot at the Wedding, but only time will tell.

Hot Tub Time Machine
This just looks stupidly funny to me.

I Love You Phillip Morris
Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor star in this comedy that made a pretty big splash last year at film festivals, but is only now getting distribution. A plot description from IMDb say, “On his second go-round behind bars, scam artist Steven Russell (Carrey) commits the ultimate con in order to break out and win back the heart of Phillip Morris (McGregor), with whom he fell in love during his first prison sentence.” It’s too bad that this film has struggled to find commercial opportunities (no doubt because of its gay themes). Hopefully it won’t fall through the cracks when released in late March.

A subversive super-hero film that has received a lot of buzz from people who have seen footage from it; Kick-Ass intrigues me. Once again, a plot description from IMDb: “Despite the fact that he has zero superpowers, teenage fanboy Dave Lizewski looks to reincarnate himself as a crime-fighting superhero named Kick-Ass, a decision that will inspire a subculture of copy cats, put his life in danger, and unite him with a similarly minded father-daughter duo.” The budget for this film was raised independently by its director Matthew Vaughn because no major studio was interested in the hyper-violent story. After footage was screened at Comic-Con last year, an immediate sensation was born as people responded ecstatically. Lionsgate then picked up the film for distribution. Now we’ll see what’s in store for us in April.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
Oliver Stone has returned to old territory here, continuing the story of Gordon Gecko as he leaves prison and navigates through America’s corporate world in the 21st century. At first, I thought this seemed like a bad idea, but now I’m starting to see some potential in it. Stone may make some heavy-handed points through his films, but when he on, he’s very effective. It will be interesting to see what commentary Stone places on America and the current state of the economy. (Oh, I still hate the subtitle though.)

That's about it for now. Next up will be a summer movie guide. I'm sure it'll be here before we know it.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Lists Continue: Most Films by Actor

Continuing my trend of lists, I've decided to share my list of actors who I've seen in the most amount of films. As I stated in my directors list, I'm not sure how much you can read into this, but it gives some indication of my preferences and viewing habits.

Top 10:
Robert De Niro – 32
Samuel L. Jackson – 29
James Stewart – 28
John Wayne – 28
Tom Hanks – 27
Bruce Willis – 26
Steve Buscemi – 25
Bill Murray – 25
Sean Connery – 24
Dustin Hoffman – 24

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Nolan to "Mentor" Superman

According to Deadline Hollywood, Warner Bros. has hired Christopher Nolan to oversee a new Superman film. By "oversee" it's not meant that he will write or direct, but rather develop the project, mentoring the process along. The new film will have nothing to do with Bryan Singer's 2006 film Superman Returns, but instead will be a reboot of the franchise. As you might guess, the project is only in the early stages of development and will probably stay that way for awhile since Nolan's still finishing up work on his latest film, Inception.

I'm not quite sure what to make of this news. Does the character of Superman really fit with Nolan's style? I doesn't seem like it. He tends to go for dark and brooding instead of fantastical, but that might not factor into the final product much, anyway. Whatever the outcome, this seems like an interesting idea to place Nolan in this position. The more important question to ask would be: do we really need another reboot of Superman? Smells like a cash-grab to me, especially since the rights to the character will return to the creator's families in the near future. Oh well, the studios have to make money somehow, I guess. I just wish they would take a few more chances on some new properties.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Top Ten Films of the Decade

Well, here it is at last. After spending hours sorting through the hundreds of films I’ve watched over the past ten years, I’ve come to my decisions. It’s no easy task to assemble a Best of Decade list since so many films seem worthy of recognition. Plus, there’s always the question of how to approach such a list. Do you choose based on your personal favorite films or attempt a more “objective” method and consider what the most important or influential films have been? Well, in this case I’ve attempted to walk a line between the two approaches, although I leaned more towards making this a personal list. Each of these films means something to me and have influenced the way I look at the medium to some degree. Ultimately, though, I feel like this list could change depending on my mood. So I like to think of these films as just ten of my favorites, knowing that many others could potentially take a place here. Still, for now, this is my list and I’ll stick by it.

10. City of God (2002)
A true example of bravura filmmaking, City of God packs a punch of frenetic energy that you won’t soon forget. Taking place in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, the story centers on a group of impoverished kids as they grow up facing a seemingly endless cycle of drugs, violence, and destruction. They have little choice in whether they should engage in these activities; it simply comes down to a matter of survival. Within this backdrop, the film plays out as not only a great crime drama, but a story about overcoming the odds as one boy, Rocket, attempts to break out of the slum life. We follow him, along with many others, as they navigate their way through this rough-and-tumble world, knowing that danger comes in all shapes and sizes. The distinctive visual style of the film assaults its viewers with rapid cuts and intricate camera moves. What’s most impressive about the style is that it doesn’t come off as flashy, but expertly applied to illustrate the story of an out-of-control world.

9. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
After establishing himself with Bottle Rocket and Rushmore, Wes Anderson was allowed to broaden his unique world once again; this time focusing on a dysfunctional family of geniuses who live in a storybook version of New York. At the core, it’s a film about a group of outsiders attempting to cope with each other and themselves as they search for a place to belong. With an all-star cast headed by Gene Hackman, Anderson weaved a story filled with equal amounts of melancholy, heartache, romance, whimsy, and triumph together into a true work of art. Every aspect of the film is meticulously crafted to create a fully realized world, from the Dalmatian mice to the hand-drawn wallpaper. No one makes films quite like Anderson does, although many imitators have cropped up in recent years. There’s something about his sensibilities that resonate with me more than most any filmmaker working today. One last note: I can’t think about this film without thinking of the music. The score by Mark Mothersbaugh ranks as one of my favorites, and, as usual, Anderson’s impeccable song choices become an integral part of the experience.

8. Inglourious Basterds (2009)
I was a bit wary of including a film released only last year since it hasn’t had the time to settle in my mind the way earlier films have. But in the case of Inglourious Basterds, a film I’ve seen several times now, any trepidation on my part has been put at ease. Quentin Tarantino represents one of the finest directors of our time, so a list like this certainly deserves his work represented. I considered the Kill Bill films instead, but something kept drawing me back to Basterds. It’s a more mature, nuanced work than I had expected. With each viewing, new, subtle details emerge. The film concentrates on themes of reputation, mythmaking, and the power of cinema. In addition to its thematic weight, the film boasts some powerhouse performances, especially from Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landa, one of the most memorable characters I’ve seen in quite some time. The tone of the film is expertly handled, transitioning from moments of humor to horror effortlessly. Any other film would be rushing to get to the next plot point or action sequence, but here scenes are allowed to play out naturally, building up the tension bit by bit until the audience almost bursts from anticipation. Above all, Tarantino’s love of cinema constantly shines through. There’s such care taken for every aspect of the film (and such reverence placed on film itself) that I simply can’t help but admire it.

7. Memento (2000)
Christopher Nolan has proven himself over and over again as one of the most talented directors at blending complex ideas into mainstream entertainment, so I thought it appropriate to include the film that launched his name and left a distinctive mark on the cinema landscape. Like most of Nolan’s films, Memento centers on the workings of the mind. The backwards narrative of a man with short-term memory attempting to avenge the murder of his wife revolutionized the way people looked at story structure and conventions. What may have been a gimmick in a lesser film, Memento uses as an integral component in telling its story as well as fitting in thematically. The film functions like a puzzle we aren’t supposed to solve so much as experience. While that may sound frustrating to some, I welcome any film that explores its topics as deeply and as compellingly as Memento.

6. The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003)
This spot represents my only choice for some full-blown blockbuster films. It’s difficult to ignore the monumental task that Peter Jackson and crew undertook when bringing these films to the screen. The locales created by these films are so well realized and given an authenticity that it becomes easy to accept the fantasy world as its own reality. I mean, who wouldn’t want to live in the coziness of the Shire after watching these films? There’s really something for everyone to enjoy in this epic tale. On one hand, the battle scenes are edge-of-your-seat sequences. However, if that’s not your style, the love story between Aragorn and Arwen may compel you. Either way, the main characters are so memorable and immensely likable that you gladly follow them on their long journey. On a technical level, I appreciated the combination of older special effects and camera tricks, such as the use of miniatures or forced perspective, mixed with the latest CGI technology. Too many films rely completely on CGI as a crutch and it comes off as lazy. Luckily, Jackson proved to be the right creative force to take care of such decisions. His endless passion for the material translates onto the screen and I couldn’t help but become caught up in it. These films are crowd-pleasers in the best possible sense.

5. 25th Hour (2002)
Few films capture the spirit or mood of a specific time the way that Spike Lee’s 25th Hour encapsulates life in the months of post-9/11 haze. What’s even more impressive about the film is that the story isn’t even overtly about that. The time and location only act as a backdrop for the story of convicted drug-dealer Monty (Edward Norton) as he spends his last day of freedom with friends and family before departing to prison for seven years. During this time Monty examines his life and what went wrong. Along with Norton, the film also stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Pepper, Rosario Dawson, Anna Paquin, and Brian Cox, who all give outstanding performances. There’s one monologue in particular that ranks among the best in film. Lee filters some of his usual themes into the proceedings, but in a fresh way. Primarily, the film functions as an examination of the decisions we make and how they affect our lives. It’s one that more people should watch or reexamine.

4. Adaptation (2002)
Although some imitators might try, no one writes a screenplay quite like Charlie Kaufman. For this film he and director Spike Jonze essentially break down the screenwriting process until it’s turned on its head. Nicolas Cage delivers his greatest performance(s) as twin brothers Charlie and Donald, both writers with varying degrees of success. As the high-minded Charlie struggles to adapt a book into the screenplay of his dreams, Donald, a complete novice, breezes through an absurd script of his own. This film closely examines the creative process in a way I haven’t seen from any other film. Even though the basic storyline might seem too “inside Hollywood” for some, Adaptation contains very relatable topics. The film essentially boils down to how we handle our ambitions vs. our reality, something I think everyone struggles with at some point. And, interestingly enough, it’s also about failure and how we manage it. The themes are treated with such depth and in such an entertaining way that I had to include it on this list. Oh, and did I mention it’s funny? It’s very funny.

3. Lost in Translation (2003)
With Lost in Translation, Sofia Coppola wrote and directed a personal, delicate story of two people who cross paths during similar times in their lives. This insightful film contains some of the purest scenes of emotion between two characters that I have ever seen. The story focuses on middle-aged actor Bob Harris who has arrived in Japan to make some quick cash by shooting a whiskey commercial. Meanwhile Charlotte spends time in the country while her photographer husband busies himself with work. Bob and Charlotte meet at a hotel bar and strike up a friendship. Though separated by many years, both Bob and Charlotte share the same existential questions about their lives. Roger Ebert observes that their conversations represent the kind that only strangers can have with each other: “We all need to talk about metaphysics, but those who know us well want details and specifics; strangers allow us to operate more vaguely on a cosmic scale.” Through their time together, Bob and Charlotte help each other in some profound way. Even though their problems may not be solved, they know now that there’s someone out there who understands them. The performances by the two leads captured something special on screen. Bill Murray deserved every bit of praise for his performance and Scarlet Johansson established herself as a prominent screen presence. It’s such a specific film and so well realized.

2. There Will Be Blood (2007)
Arguably the best film of 2007, a year that, in my opinion, was crowded with greats. P. T. Anderson showed his growth as a filmmaker by tossing aside many of his usual stylistic choices in favor of a more subdued aesthetic. Every element of this film is worth praising. Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance has been deservedly discussed and praised to death. He has created one of the most memorable characters in recent years and one that will be remembered for many years to come. And if Paul Dano can continue work of this caliber, he could easily become one of his generation’s leading actors. I’ve heard some people complain that the film features no redemption or consequences for its lead character; that it’s simply too dark. While I would agree the film maintains a high level of cynicism, I object to the idea that its morally bankrupt. To me, There Will Be Blood represents a cautionary tale. Yes, Daniel Plainview gets exactly what he wants by the film’s end, but at what cost? We see what he’s become and, in a way, pity him for the life he’s chosen. The message seems pretty clear: this is the result of greed when taken to its extreme. Between the weight of its themes and the precision with which it was made, There Will Be Blood deserves to be labeled a classic.

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
On a pure emotional level, this film affected me more than just about anything I’ve seen. The snapshots into the character’s lives are so rich and full of detail that you feel as if you are interrupting a private conversation by watching them. The story follows the beleaguered Joel Barish, who, after realizing his ex-girlfriend Clementine has undergone a procedure to remove all her memories of him, decides to undergo the same procedure. However, half way through, Joel decides his memories are worth saving and attempts to keep them. Through this premise, the film illustrates a simple, yet profound truth: we are the sum total of our experiences. To ignore portions of our lives would be to deny who we are and possibly doom ourselves into repeating past mistakes. I would be hard-pressed to find a film that exemplifies this lesson more effectively. With a background in music videos, director Michel Gondry brings a visual flare to the film that heightens its themes to the next level. The scenes within Joel’s mind represent the best techniques I’ve seen at illustrating the subjective nature of memories. From blurring elements out, to removing them, to blending memories together, Gondry uses his extensive creativity to portray this surreal experience. These in-camera effects are both impressive and charming. In addition, the score by Jon Brion creates just the right mood to accompany each scene. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind has so much to say about relationships, memory, identity, and simply being human that I couldn’t ignore it.

Honorable Mentions:
The Departed, No Country for Old Men, United 93, The Squid and the Whale, Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, Synecdoche, New York, Punch-Drunk Love, Zodiac, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Dark Knight, Capturing the Friedmans, Little Children, American Splendor, and many others…

Lastly, I should mention some films that I've yet to see. Even though I probably watch more than most people, a few films will always fall through the cracks.
Not Seen: Milk, Che, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, The Class, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, The Visitor, Lust, Caution, Away from Her, The Sea Inside, No Man's Land, In the Mood for Love, and many from last year

So, what do you think? Offer your thoughts and opinions in the comments.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Williams and Rogen to Star in Polley's Latest

Actress Sarah Polley has led an interesting career which now balances directing and writing with her acting jobs. I haven't seen her in the most amount of films, but whenever I do in things like The Sweet Hereafter, Go, or Dawn of the Dead, I've been impressed. She rarely appears in mainstream films, preferring independent projects. I've always meant to check out her directorial debut Away From Her, which garnered a lot of praise. It's currently residing on my DVR until further notice. Now Polley's ready for her sophomore effort with Take This Waltz, a film from from her own original screenplay. The film will be a romantic comedy centering on a love triangle in which a woman struggles with infidelity. Recently Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen have signed on to star. The other lead has yet to be cast, but based soley on these people involved, I'm intrigued. Williams has always chosen interesting projects to be involved in and Seth Rogen seems to be branching out more and more these days. The project is still in the early stages of development, so it will be awhile before we see any other big news on it. Until then, let's hope this proves to be a worthwhile effort.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Most Films Seen by a Director

I've had movie lists on my mind lately while I compile my Best of the Decade list, so I thought I would share a different list while that one remains in development. I have an on-going tally of directors whose films I've seen the highest number of (which shows you how obsessive I am) and the current results look something like this:

Top 10
Alfred Hitchcock - 24
Steven Spielberg – 20
Woody Allen – 20
Martin Scorsese – 15
Tim Burton – 13
Howard Hawks – 13
Sidney Lumet – 13
Clint Eastwood – 13
Coen Brothers – 12
Sam Peckinpah – 12

I think this shows a pretty good variety of filmmakers covering different eras and styles. I'm not sure how much you can tell about a person's taste in films from a list like this, since most people will probably come up with the most popular directors who are firmly established. Still, it's an interesting way to look at your viewing habits and preferences. Try it out yourself and see who comes out on top!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Oscar Nominations at Last

Early this morning the nominations for the 82nd Academy Awards were announced and, for the most part, it was business as usual. Essentially, the nominees were predictable, but a few surprises always creep into the fray. I'll just give a few random, initial thoughts on the Academy's picks.

Of the 10 Best Picture nominees, I was most surprised to see The Blind Side on the list. I know many people are raving about it, but I just can't see what the hype is all about.

It's interesting that Sandra Bullock could become the first actor to win both an Oscar and a Razzie award in the same year. With her Worst Actress nomination for All About Steve, she's got a pretty decent shot at it.

I was pleasantly surprised to see District 9 among the Best Picture nominees. Although I knew it stood a chance, I wasn't sure about it receiving much attention. It just didn't seem like Academy's usual cup of tea.

Pixar has finally achieved their coveted Best Picture nomination with Up. Of course, this is almost certainly due to there being 10 nominees instead of the usual five.

It looks like Kathryn Bigelow will (probably) become the first female to win Best Director. The odds are certainly in her favor after winning the DGA award.

I was sad to see zero nominations for films like Where the Wild Things Are, The Road, (500) Days of Summer, and Moon.

Yay for Inglourious Basterds receiving 8 nominations.

Yay for Fantastic Mr. Fox receiving nominations for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Score.

As usual, I still need to catch up with so many films!