Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Has anyone ever seen Judi Dench's oscar-nominated roles?

If you take the box office returns on Judi Dench's oscar-nominated films in comparison to the number of oscar nominations she's recieved it must be pretty low.

How many people actually saw Notes on a Scandal, Mrs. Henderson Presents, Iris, or Mrs. Brown? Granted, Shakespeare in Love is well-known but how many people even saw her in that movie. She' s notorious for having very little screentime.

And the more important question, how many ordinary people off the street who aren't film buffs or oscar afficianados saw Mrs Henderson Presents, Notes on a Scandal, Iris, or Mrs. Brown. Notes on a Scandal is a movie i've never even heard of, and maybe you can call me uneducated if you want.

One thing i can conclude is that if nothing else, the publicity machine behind Judi Dench is terrible at promoting her movies, or box office take just doesn't matter to selecting performances.

Granted, it's not the best picture race, but it would be nice if someone, anyone had seen or heard of these movies. And seriously, ask 100 random people on a street if they've heard of those movies?

Judi Dench isn't really the target of my attack, but I notice that some movies with acting lead nominations like (Before Night Falls, Quills, or Transamerica) (I would give partial honors in that category to I Am Sam or Pollack) really have very nonexistent audiences. I'm not saying that it's the fault of the moviemakes, but maybe more people should see these movies or maybe they're just not massively appealling. The numerous movies about people with mental disabilities like My Left Foot or I Am Sam or sexual deviants like Quills, Boys don't Cry or Transamerica start to blend into one another.

I don't know much about some of these movies but honestly, I really can't say Transamerica sounded that appealling. A movie about a woman who becomes a man, was pretty much all that it was marketed as. Am I right? That would be unappealling because that plot has been done many times before in the name of pure oscar bait. Breakfast at Plut was another oscar bait role of the year 2005 which unfortunately didn't get a nomination for Cillian Murphy. It was about a transsexual too, but it advertised itself as more than that: it was about a kid abandoned by his parents, a person trying to make it in the Irish revolution, a person filled with joy and happiness, and it had director Niel Jordan to boot.

Transamerica didn't get its word out that it was more than just a picture about a transsexual, as if to say "Come see another one of these movies about a transsexual, this time hopefully with an acting performance you can admire." Or better yet, maybe it wasn't that heavily advertised and maybe the people didn't really care about the audience. Maybe it was just an effort to get an oscar under the studio's belt and to get one for Felicity Huffman, who treated the whole thing as an Olympic diving competition where playing a transsexual is the equivalent of a super-high degree of difficulty that grants you a virtual guarantee on the medal podium if you can pull the dive off.

But, somewhere along the way, I think the need to cater to the American Public gets lost in there.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Best Ensemble Award from the past few years

Here's what my picks would've been for the last 5 years if the oscars had a best ensemble category. I think they should have an ensemble award because
1. It's a great award to debate
2. Obviously the acting awards are popular
3. It promotes teamwork
4. The actors don't have to get the oscars, they can go to the casting director

Nonetheless, here's what i would've picked, actually not what i personally would have picked but a relatively objective take i'd have been happy with. For instance, i hated PS Hoffman's performance in Capote and that would disqualify it out of the top 5 for me, but i acknowledge that a lot of people did like Phillip Seymour's performance, and so therefore i have to credit him for moving a lot of people with his performance.

2005: Brokeback Mountain OR Crash (wasn't a fan of either movie but as a concession to the fact that everyone loved them and they vied for top awards in most categories, i'll let my naysayers take their pick of one, i'd pick Brokeback, i think)
Syrianna (and i do strongly feel it should have been included)
Good Night and Good Luck
Batman Begins (wouldn't be considered for an oscar in any other non-technical category, but as casts for summer blockbusters go, i'd give it to this)

Closer-Small but effective ensemble
Million Dollar Baby (hmmm, actually didn't see it yet, but who am i to argue with a best picture oscar winner)
Aviator-Jude Law and Wilhem DeFoe were filling out bit parts in this? That's how deep the talent level was
Ray-Did anyone even notice that guys like Terrence Howard were in this?
Runner-Up: Troy-With Orlando Bloom, Eric Bana, Peter O'Toole, Sean Bean, Brandon Gleason, and Brian Cox in supporting roles, this had the potential to win

*Note, i don't believe in awarding sequels unless they're better than the original or change it in some way, so i'll just award LOTR for 2001
1. House of Sand and Fog
2. 21 Grams-3 Good Leads
3. Cold Mountain-Everyone was great, especially Law at the helm, and Brandon Gleason, Ethan Suplee and Jack White as the gang of musical vagabonds were actually pretty good. Don't forget Giovanni Ribisi and PS Hoffman in bit roles
4. Mystic River-Although I think when you think about it, Tim Robbins and Sean Penn were both a little overdramatic, but there was a definite professional caliber of actors in that film
5. Seabiscuit

1. Road to Perdition-Daniel Craig and Jude Law could have been awarded best supporting actors right there, if they had stronger oscar campaigns and I think it was one of Tom Hanks' better roles
2. Adaptation-Cage, Strep, Cooper plus a lot of other goodies: Judy Greer, Tilda Swenson, Ron Livingston
3. The Hours
4. Chicago
5. 25th Hour-Ed Norton, Brian Cox, Rosario Dawson, Barry Pepper, Anna Paquin, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman in case anyone forgot

1. A Beautiful Mind-Once again, i didn't even realize that Anthony Rapp from Rent, Adam Goldberg from the Street and Josh Lucas who would later become a star were in this film
2. Royal Tannenbaums-Best Wes Anderson cast ever assembles, quietly strong performances by Paltrow, Glover and Huston were there best in years, and good use of Kumar Pullada. A great use of Gene Hackman as well and show of his comedic side.
3. Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings: Interestingly enough Christopher Lee has by now been in Lord of the Rings, James Bond, and Star Wars
4. In the Bedroom: Interesting that Marissa Thomei could get nominated for an oscar after people felt she absolutely didn't deserve her first to the point that they called foul on it (for My Cousin Vinny)
5. Godsford Park: Without a doubt

1. Traffic
2. The Contender-What insightful uses for guys like Christain Slater and Gary Oldman
3. You Can Count on Me-The executive producer had to fight for Mark Ruffallo since he was an unknown quantity back then
4. Almost Famous
5. Wonderboys

Tribute to Rob Altman

This is edited from last post to focus more on Rob Altman than Prairie Home Companion:

As the recipient of a lifetime achievement award at the Oscars this past March, the late director Rob Altman (Nashville, MASH) received a temporary spotlight which made his next film A Prairie Home Companion that much more eagerly anticipated but due to the laws governing summer blockbusters, that anticipation didn’t lead to much of an audience at the box office. While critics hailed it as among the summer’s best films, the audiences of today responded to the film with confusion and disappointment.
Since the start of his career, however, Altman has often been a figure who’s been misunderstood by critics, contemporaries, investors, and the public alike. In the case of Prairie Home Companion, the biggest misconception was that it was that it was a film about Garrison Kiellor and his popular Midwestern radio show, but the beauty of the film is how the director isn't taking us behind the scenes of the Midwestern radio show as much as he's using radio show host to tell his own story.
The plot of the film centers around an axe man from a corporation that has just brought the radio show and travels to the theater to shut it down at the end of the night’s broadcast.
While the rest of the show’s cast is insistent that Kiellor use the opportunity of this last broadcast to say goodbye to the audience and thank them for listening, Kiellor shrugs it off saying that he wants his last show to go like any other show.
“Retirement, you’re talking about death, right?“ Altman once said and he clearly meant that. Altman had been diagnosed with cancer for 18 months prior to his death, but did not make the information public. Instead, he went to work directing Companion and joked during his acceptance speech at the Oscars that he had at least 40 good years left due to a recent heart transplant.
Altman’s “life goes on” attitude was so pervasive that he carried that trademark to his films, refusing to abide by the traditional Hollywood ending. Films like The Player or McCabe and Mrs. Miller are jarring in how they end their stories with so little resolution as bad guys and good guys get handed their fates alike
More than just a premature death notice, Altman uses Prairie Home Companion as a springboard for his own contemplations on life, art, and death during his twilight years. Those familiar with the director that helped usher American cinema into a new era in the 1970s and has had a few dry streaks in his career since, might be able to draw connections between Kiellor's character and Altman as two artists who might be considered acquired tastes and who are past their prime.
Most of the current generation of moviegoers are probably unaware of how Altman’s style of overlapping dialogue influenced fast paced dramas or how his ensemble pieces have influenced multi-storylined films like Traffic or Syrianna.
In the film, an angelic figure played by Virginia Madsen visits the set during its last broadcast to ask Garrison Kiellor a question she’s been preoccupied with: She once heard him tell about two penguins that she didn’t get, but laughed anyway. She asks him what exactly it was that made the joke funny.
Kiellor’s surprising response is that he doesn’t really know why the joke is funny either, but maybe it was funny because she laughed.
Like the joke about the two penguins, Rob Altman has not always been understood or successful, but he has methodically kept making films just the same and the many people who “laughed” with his work will be sorry to see him go.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

National Education Crisis

If you've just been newly appointed to President Bush's cabinet and you're not very smart, my advice to you would be to try to avoid doing something that would expose your lack of intelligence. For example, Margaret Spelling, Bush's Seceretary of Education, appeared on Celebrity Jeapordy tonight. First of all, you know those SNL skits where they parody Celebrity Jeapordy and who easy the celebrity jeapordy questions are. Well, it turns out, they're not too far off from reality. Celebrity Jeapordy is noticeably easier than adult jeopardy and might be even easier than teen jeopardy. So with that in mind, I was really hoping that Spelling could get through this TV show, just so i could have some faith in our public education system.

Well, she wasn't awful, but she didn't win either. That honor went to the guy who played "Lenny" from Laverne and Shirley, Michael McKean. Going into Final Jeapordy, McKean had three times as many points as Margaret Spelling and he even stole her thunder on the Category "Education" which was specifically tailored to her.

Anyway, I feel that even though Spelling got outbuzzed by McKean, this was a national disaster and Spelling really shouldn't have gone on the show unless she was sure she could win. We're already not very trusting that our president has all of his marbles together, we don't want to think the same of our Seceretary of Education. She didn't get every question right when she got control of the board anyway. She missed a few obvious questions that a middle schooler could have gotten and, although I don't remember any specifics, I think that whatever she missed should hereby be removed from class curriculums nationwide. No middle schooler should be required to know more than the US Seceretary of Educaiton.

Also, she was very cautious and hesitant. She didn't risk that much in final jeapordy and i don't know if that's what we want for our leader. I mean, she's not even playing for real money in Celebrity Jeapordy because celebrities play for charity. Can you imagine how afraid of taking monetary risks she'll be with our educaitonal system?

Rob Altman: Prairie Home Companion

As the recipient of a lifetime achievement award at the Oscars this past March, director Rob Altman (Nashville, MASH) received a temporary spotlight which made his next film A Prairie Home Companion that much more eagerly anticipated. Due to the laws governing summer blockbusters, that anticipation didn’t lead to much of an audience. Released in early June, Prairie Home Companion opened to only 760 theaters nationwide (by comparison, the Pixar hit Cars opened the same weekend in 3,985) and only made $20 million but it was arguably one of the best films to come out this past summer.

The biggest misconception about Robert Altman's Prairie Home Companion was that it was a film about Garrison Kiellor. It's also the source of its brilliance.

Garrison Keillor is currently the host of a popular Minnesota-based radio show of the same name that appeals to Midwestern sensibilities. The show-within-a-show is infused with backstage drama as an axe man from a corporation in Texas (Tommy Lee Jones) is on his way to the studio to shut it down at the end of the night’s broadcast. That will make this the show's last broadcast. While Altman transplants Kiellor and his show to the big screen in pretty much the same format, the beauty of the film is how the director isn't taking us behind the scenes of the Garrison Kiellor show as much as he's using the radio host to tell his own story. Altman uses Kiellor and his radio show as a springboard for his own contemplations on life, art, and death during his twilight years. Those familiar with the director that helped usher American cinema into a new era in the 1970s and has had a few dry streaks in his career since, might be able to draw connections between Kiellor's character and Altman as two Midwesterners who might be considered acquired tastes and who are past their prime. It's a credit to Altman's sense of vision as a director and storyteller that those who are unfamiliar with Garrison Kiellor might not believe he actually exists because that's how naturally he fits into the story.

Most films by Altman have a great ensemble and this is no exception. From the dirty jokes of John C. Riley and Woody Harrelson's singing cowboys to Saturday Night Live's Maya Rudolph as a stagehand being driven to insanity by Garrison Kiellor's aloofness to Kevin Kline's bumbling private eye, humor and color come from multiple directions. Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep add their talents to the mix as the singing Johnson sisters and Lindsay Lohan holds her own as Streep's slightly off-kilter daughter. The film also boasts a great selection of country and folk music sung by many of the film's stars in addition to the radio show's house band. A Prairie Home Companion is a multilayered piece of work that plays like a lightweight breezy afternoon.

10 Current Directors worth following

10 Directors to acquaint yourself with: We all know Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas when it comes to blockbusters, Oliver Stone when it comes to controvoursey, Woody Allen for comedy but there are a lot of directors that the average filmgoer might not know of who are doing great work in the 21st century. Being familiar with these names of mostly up-and-coming directors will help you make a safer bet next time you’re in the movie theater line or videostore.
1. Fernando Meirelles: “Stick to your village and you’ll appeal to the whole world,” is the philosophy Meirelles preaches to global filmmakers trying to make it in the global era and one he perfected in the landmark 2002 film City of God, a gripping tale of a young photographer trying to make the most of a short-lived existence in the slums of Brazil. His follow-up which transported the Brazillian filmmaker to the shantytowns of Kenya in an adaptation of The Constant Gardener was received just as well this past year. In an ever-increasing global network of film, Meirelles is paving the way for third world filmmakers hoping to import a brand of filmmaking that retains their local flavor.
2. Wes Anderson: Anderson’s films are a delicately textured feast for the eyes and ears. Unique touches like David Bowie songs translated into Portuguese are infused into eclectic film scores and he pays equal attention to visual tones. His films often feature a central character surrounded by a colorful group of characters and by sorting out the kinks in the relationships in his life, he comes to the conclusion that love them or hate them, be greatful for all the people in your life because they come in handy someday.
3. Sam Mendes: His first film, American Beauty, struck a chord with the American public in capturing the depression of suburban conformity and won an Oscar. His second film Road to Perdition, didn’t get quite as acclaim as the first but still had its admirers (including myself, it’s a personal favorite of mine), while three times did not prove a charm for Jarhead, a film injected with just a bit too much testosterone to be effective. Still, traces of his distinct style are noticeable in all three films: Mendes tends to work from the outside in. In three entirely different settings, the Persian Gulf, The Mob Scene in Depression-Era Chicago, Mendes does a wonderful job, first and foremost, of portraying a world and the characters who inhabit it and the story takes off from there.
4. Stephen Sodebergh: First off, I have to admit that it’s kind of irritating how for such a self-proclaimed champion of independent filmmaking, it seems like the sole purpose of some of his movies is to give his friends Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, and George Clooney something to do. Faults aside, Sodebergh is a very innovative filmmaker whose never-ending desire to experiment makes it so that even if he comes up with a dud like Ocean’s 12 or Full Frontal, you have to give him credit for at least trying something new. When he gets it right, like in Traffic, the results can be classic
5. Rob Zemeckis-Stephen Spielberg’s lesser-known protégé has made some of the most memorable classics of the last 20 years showing great range and innovation. He has explored both the fun and serious sides of the sci-fi genre with the Back to the Future trilogy and Contact respectively. His wacky ideas include infusing the gangster film with animated cartoons in Who Framed Roger Robert and (along with co-writer Tom Hanks) basing an entire film on a marooned castaway befriending a volleyball in Cast Away and surprisingly both worked.
6. Kevin Smith-His humor is admittingly low-brow, but as crude humor goes, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more intelligent filmmaker than Smith. To treat his landmark film, Clerks (and now Clerks II) as representative of his work would not be giving him enough credit for his range. Chasing Amy is considered by some to be an insightful take on relationships (personally, I didn’t like it but others do), Dogma is probably one of the best religious satires ever made. While bashed by some, I found Mallrats is a great send-up to adolescent aimlessness. It’s moral is priceless: that the best things in life are the little joys (a new type of pretzel, a signing at the comic store, etc) that are found at your neighborhood mall. And that’s what it comes down to for Smith. Is there anything in life more serious than that?
7. Bryan Singer-Working with small budgets as shown with The Usual Suspects, Bryan Singer demonstrated his ability as a great storyteller. With bigger budgets and biggest casts, Singer has still retained the human element but great special effects were added. He has done much to resurrect the superhero summer blockbuster with X-Men and Superman Returns (my review of Superman Returns was bad, but I think that Singer did a good job with what was given to him), by bringing realism to the genre. I’m not certain of this but it’s a good bet that pretty much everything from The Hulk to The Fantastic Four to Batman Begins took cues from him.
8. Peter Weir-For the 1985 hit film Witness, one of the very few films to use Pennsylvania’s Amish country as its setting, Australian Peter Weir was brought over to Hollywood for the project because they wanted someone with an outsider’s sensitivity and that has been one of his trademarks. Weir shows extroadinary attention to detail in his films, which helped make 2003 sea epic Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, set during the Napoleanic Wars, one of the best period pieces to date. He also has a great track record of single-handedly transforming the careers of leading actors he has worked with: Harrison Ford in Witness, Robin Williams in Dead Poets’ Society, and Jim Carrey in Truman Show
9. Alexander Payne-Payne is a UCLA Film School grad who studied abroad in Europe during his undergrad days. It was there where he picked up a fondness for Italian neorealism and he is now basically this generation’s answer to The Bycicle Thief. His last two films, About Schmidt and Sideways have both won multiple accolades, and his first two Citizen Ruth and Election, a high school comedy made with MTV films have developed cult followings. Schmidt and Sideways are marked by brilliant casting choices and a humor that comes from the subtleties and joys of life and they are emotionally affecting in a way few movies are.
10. Edward Zwick-With Glory, Legends of the Fall, The Last Samurai and the upcoming Blood Diamond, Zwick is most at home making the epic. He is great at period pieces, capturing time and place, and the quality of the art direction in his films (The recreation of 19th century San Fransisco for the opening of Last Samurai, for example) gets taken for granted all too often. He infuses films with wonderfully intense action scenes, and for making his films borderline action/period piece hybrids rather than period pieces, he is often overlooked by the academy, although he did win an Oscar as producer of Shakespeare in Love.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Review of The Brothers Grimm

The Brother's Grimm might not succeed as the definitive postmodern compendium of fairy tales that Director Terry Gilliam made it out to be. The plot's finer points and its references to fairy tales get easily lost on the viewer. At the same time, the movie works as a playful ride fueled by the odd couple chemistry between its two stars. Heath Ledger and Matt Damon play brothers Will and two witch doctors who travel the 18th Century German countryside offering their services as witch doctors. In reality, they're con artists who elaborately plot hoaxes. The main plot is that the two brothers are forced to play witch doctors for real when they are hired to clean out a forest that they discover is truly haunted. Terry Gilliam, who is somewhat of an acquired taste for being more of an art director than a storyteller, achieves more impressive and less distracting visuals than usual and imbues the film with touches of humor. Overall, the film works.