Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Oscars Must Go On

Well the strike is over and it seems the Oscar telecast is proceeding full speed ahead and not a moment too soon. I was worried that Bruce Vilanch might starve to death.

So now that Hollywood will get to have it's annual self-fellatio fest, I thought it might be a good time for me to reach my hand in there and tickle Hollywood's balls by talking about my favorite films of 2007 and how I think some of them will fare at this year's gala. So here we go.

1. No Country for Old Men
I'm not sure what's left to say about this movie. A lot of critics have called it "perfect" and that about sums it up. I think Oscar night will be No Country's night. I'm predicting a total, well deserved sweep.

2. Ratatouille
There's been some grumbling that, while this film deserves its Best Animated Feature nomination, the category itself unfairly ghettoizes animated films and robs great movies like Ratatouille of their rightful shot at a Best Picture nomination. This may be true, but the cold hard fact of the matter is that the odds of any animated film being nominated for Best Picture are incredibly low. Especially in a year as rich and competitive as 2007 I think any animated film would get passed over as an nothing more than an amusing trifle. I'm glad that the Animated Feature is there to draw attention to the great work being done in the medium, rather than wait for the Academy to nominate one animated Best Picture every 80 years. As for the film itself, it's a delight from start to finish. Film students and filmmakers alike would do well to study all of Brad Bird's feature films. He has such a mastery of precise and economical visual story telling. Certainly this grows out of the constraints of animation where you have to meticulously plan every single shots and camera moves and how they will edit together months before a single frame is exposed, but Brad Bird has used those constraints to create a very precise visual style that still manages to thrill. His action sequences in particular are tightly constructed and yet completely exhilarating. Brad Bird is, without a doubt, one of the best filmmakers working today. It's a shame that he won't win a Best Director award any time soon, but in the meantime he more than deserves any statues the Academy is willing to throw at him.

3. There Will Be Blood
Again, much has already been said about this movie. I'm a huge fan of Paul Thomas Anderson and I'm amazed that he could make such an enormous change of pace . Daniel Day Lewis has the Best Actor award in a walk. His performance is just so massive that it's impossible to ignore. To me the most impressive thing about Lewis's turn as Daniel Plainview is that even though there are huge scenery chewing moments for the character, it never feels like overacting. Daniel Day Lewis always manages to take Plainview to those showy heights in a way that feels honest and then he's just impressive taking the character to the quiet, internal moments. The performance is tremendous in every sense of the word. PTA deserves his nomination, but the Coens have it. They've already won the DGA award and, if they weren't already, that makes them as good as a lock. As much as I love Paul Thomas Anderson I suspect that he will end up one of those directors who, in the twilight of his career, everyone scratches their heads and wonders how the hell never won an Oscar. Also, if the Academy gave out an award for Best Internet Meme (I give it five years until they add this category), "I drink your milkshake!" would be this year's front runner.

4. Juno
Backlash, schmacklash. This is a wonderful movie. Anyone who says otherwise is just trying to be too cool for school. "The characters are too smart. Nobody talks like that." Give me a break. Seriously, if that's your biggest complaint about a movie then you're just looking for things to complain about. Shut up. The dialogue in this movie is clever, but there's a honest emotional resonance here that backs up every ounce of that cleverness. Juno never coasts on empty attitude. There's a foundation of earnestness that makes these characters feel like real people, even if they don't always talk like them. Juno earns it's cleverness twice over and then some. Since No Country is up for Best Adapted Screenplay, my money is on Diablo Cody to take Best Original Screenplay. In a way I feel bad for her. Winning an Oscar for your first script out of the gate can be as much a curse as a blessing, but, on the other hand, she deserves to win and I'll knife any chump who says different. Honest to blog.

5. The Assassination of Jesse James by The Coward Robert Ford
The year's most under appreciated film. Warner Brothers totally bungled this movie's release so, despite good reviews and a solid turn by some guy named Brad Pitt, most movie goers weren't able to see the film even if they wanted to. It depresses me when great movies like this are all but tossed out with the trash while crap like Meet the Spartans opens on 2500 screens, but then I remember that McCabe and Mrs. Miller was also an enormous flop in its day. Certainly McCabe is the most obvious antecedent to a deconstructionist anti-western like Assassination of Jesse James. I just hope that like McCabe and Mrs Miller, AoJJbtCRF continues to grow in stature after its release, going from little seen gem to fully recognized classic. While Brad Pitt is the big name in this film - and he does turn in a solid performance that works perhaps even better as a meta commentary on the toll that being the most famous man in the world takes on a person's soul - the real star here is Casey Affleck. Affleck the Younger's performance is absolutley revelatory. He's been hanging around on the fringes of big movies for over a decade now, going all the way back to To Die For in 1995, but who knew he could act? This movie is like his coming out party. Affleck 2: Electric Boogaloo 100% deserves his Best Supporting Acting Oscar nom for this performance (also partly for Gone Baby Gone), but this is a case where the nomination is the award for a spectacular breakout year. The Coward Robert Ford stands no chance against Javier Bardem's Anton Chigurh.

6. King of Kong: A Fistfull of Quarters
Here's my philosophy about documentaries: I'm not terribly impressed if you can make me care about big issues I already care about. For example, there are a lot of very good documentaries about the Holocaust, but in a way those docs have it easy because the audience already knows how they feel about the issue. These docs have to work half as hard to draw in the audience because we already have some degree of investment in the subject. What really impresses me is when a documentary can draw me in and get me emotionally invested in stuff I would otherwise never care about. Stuff like spelling bees or a sad sack who builds electric chairs, or, in this case, the world of competitive Donkey Kong tournaments. Using the framework of an underdog sports drama, Kong tells the story of perpetual runner-up Steve Wiebe and his quest to secure the world's highest Donkey Kong score. His competition is 20-year reigning champ Billy Mitchell, a human being so ludicrous you can't believe he actually exists. As much as I am child of video arcades, it seems like classic video game playing would be a pretty dull, dramaless topic for a documentary, but Kong's most impressive feat is the way it establishes just how fucking hard the game of Donkey Kong is. By the time the film reaches its final showdown, we understand that this is an accomplishment that requires a degree of skill, coordination, and determination that few people possess. Couple that with the hopes of a nice guy who's always finished last, and the machinations of the smuggest man on the planet, and you have the most deeply affecting film you've ever seen about a subject you probably don't care about. The academy's omission of King of Kong from this years Best Documentary nominations is the one inexcusable slight in a year of otherwise great nominees.

7. Superbad
This is a teen sex comedy, end of story. The plot of the movie is that two high school losers are trying to score booze so they can bring it to a party and then score with chicks. It doesn't get much more straight forward sex comedy than that, but what makes Superbad different than its 1980s Porky's forefathers or its contemporary American Pie peers, is that as the film moves along we realize that the movie isn't about two losers trying to score chicks, it's really about the relationship between the two losers. The friendship between Seth (Johan Hill) and Evan (Micheal Cera,) and they way they are struggling against their impending separation after graduation, grounds the film emotionally in a way that allows for occasional flights of fancy like the McLovin' B-story. As wacky as Superbad is that core relationship gives it just enough reality to make its hijinks feel more ratable than, say, a kid fucking a pie for no apparent reason. I don't think we need a sequel to Superbad, but if Seth Rogan and Judd Apatow are as smart as I think they are they are, they'll crank out more movies starring Micheal Cera and Jonah Hill. Those guys could easily be their generation's super smutty Hope and Crosby. Sadly, Superbad received no Oscar nominations, but I'll go on record and say that David Goldberg (brother of co-writer Evan) deserved an art direction nod for producing over one thousand drawings of dicks for use throughout the film.

8. The Bourne Ultimatum
A smart, exciting action movie. What more do you want? Peter Greengrass is probably the best film director working in the world today. Sound hyperbolic? Name me one other third entry in a trilogy that's not only satisfying, but actually manages to top its predecessors. Wait, I'll save you the trouble: Super Mario Brothers 3. That's the only one.

9. Grindhouse
Seeing this movie opening night at Mann's Chinese was, hands down, my best theater going experience in 2007. The full Grindhouse experience (double feature, fake trailers, and all) is a total blast that's far more than the sum of its parts. It's a real shame that most people will never got to see it. A lot of hay was made over this film's failure at the box office, but here's the bottom line: Don't release a 3+ hour, R-rated, genre experiment on Easter weekend. This movie would have cleaned house in August or October. It might have even made it's significantly expanded budget back. This was never going to be an early summer Matrix style blockbuster, but it could have been a perfect late-summer/early-fall sleeper hit. Either way, it was great fun and it's a real shame that the Weinstein company decided to split it into its two separate films. I doubt either one would be half as entertaining. Sadly, no Oscar noms for Grindhouse. I would think that Rose McGownan's Machine Gun leg and Quentin Tarantino's horrifically melting testicles would be more worthy of a make-up nomination than yet another goddamn Eddie Murphy fat suit.

10. Gone Baby Gone
So Ben Affleck can direct and Casey Affleck can act? I feel like my world has been turned upside down. Who ever would have guessed that Ben Affleck would direct a better Dennis Lehane adaptation than Clint Eastwood? I haven't spent any time in South Boston, but after seeing both Gone Baby Gone and Mystic River, GBG seems to capture the vibe of a real, specific place in a way that Mystic River only plays at. Some people say that Gone is helped by the fact that most of its actors aren't huge movie stars and they can blend easier into the surroundings, but I know Amy Ryan well from the second season of HBO's The Wire and she is unrecognizable in Gone Baby Gone. Compare Amy Ryan's performance here to Laura Linney's nonsense or Tim Robbins' outright cartoonish performance in Mystic River. There's no contest. As usual the Best Supporting Actress race is wide open, but I think Amy Ryan has a good shot and, man, does she deserve it.

That's it for now. As we get closer to the show I'll post my actual predictions. If you're smart you'll take those predictions and use them to win your office pool becasue MY OSCAR PREDICTIONS ARE ALWAYS RIGHT!


Jeff said...

"Seeing this movie opening night at Mann's Chinese was, hands down, my best theater going experience in 2003."

What's it doing on your 2007 list, then? AH HA HAHAHAHAAAAAAA!

I'm a dick.

Paul said...

I have no idea what you're talking about.