Friday, November 30, 2007

Academy pictures by genre

I was curious about the kinds of pictures that get selected by the academy, and started making this list. The top 5 of each year are picture noms, a * means a nom for the director, and a - means writing nom.

Departed-Crime Thriller
Little Miss Sunshine-Family Dramedy
Letters from Iwo Jima-War Film
The Queen-Docudrama/Political
Babel-Ensemble Piece
*United 93: Docudrama
-Children of Men-Sci-fi
-Little Children-Family melodrama
-Notes on a Scandal-Psychological Thriller
-Pan’s Labrynth-Foreign language/Experimental

Good Night and Good Luck-Period Docudrama
Crash-Ensemble Piece
Brokeback Mountain-Queer cinema
Munich-Political Thriller
-Match Point-Dark romance
-Squid and the Whale-Family Melodrama
-Syrianna-Political Ensemble Piece
-History of Violence-Crime Thriller
-Constant Gardener-Political Thriller

Finding Neverland-Biopic
Ray-Musical Biopic
Aviator-Period Piece/Biopic
Sideways-Neorealist comedy
Million Dollar Baby-Sports
*Vera Drake-Biopic
-Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind-Experimental comedy
-Hotel Rwanda-Docudrama/Biopic
-Motorcycle Diaries-Foreign
-Before Sunset-Romance

Master and Commander-Period epic
Seabiscuit-Sports/Period piece
Lost in Translation-Independent/Romance
Lord of the Rings: Return of the King-Fantasy epic
Mystic River-Tragedy
*City of God-Foreign crime thriller
-In America-Tearjerker/Family melodrama
-Dirty Pretty Things-Independent
-Barbarian Invasions-Dramedy
-Finding Nemo-Animated
-American Splendor-Comedy

The Hours-Period piece/Family melodrama
LOTR-Fantasy Epic
Gangs of New York-Period piece
*Talk to Her-Foreign language
-Far From Heaven-Family melodrama
-My Big Fat Greek Wedding-Comedy
-About a Boy-Comedy
-Y tu Mama Tambien-Foreign language/Coming-of-age

Moulan Rouge-Musical
Godsford Park-Ensemble piece
Beautiful Mind-Biopic
In the Bedroom-Family melodrama
LOTR-Fantasy Epic
*Mullholland Drive-Experimental
*Black Hawk Down-War film
-Amelie-Foreign language/romance
-Royal Tannenbaums-Family Dramedy
-Ghost World-Coming-of-age
-Monster’s Ball-Tragedy

Gladiator-Period epic
Traffic-Ensemble docudrama
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon-Foreign epic
Chocolat-Period piece
Erin Brockovitch-Biopic
*Billy Elliot-Biopic
-Almost Famous-Coming-of-age
-You Can Count on Me-Dramedy
-Oh Brother Where Art Thou-Epic
-Cast Away-Survival

Sixth Sense-Horror/Thriller
American Beauty-Family melodrama
Green Mile-Tearjerker
Cider House Rules-Coming-of-age
*Talented Mr Ripley-Psychological Thriller
-Being John Malkovitch-Experimental
-Magnolia-Ensemble Piece
-Topsy Turvy-Musical biopic

Elizabeth-Period piece
Shakespeare in Love-Comedy
A Thin Red Line-War film
Life is Beautiful-Foreign comedy
Saving Private Ryan-War film
*Truman Show-Experimental
-Out of Sight-Thriller
-Simple Plan-Dark Comedy
-Primary Colors-Satire
-Gods and Monsters-Biopic

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Letting artists speak

I was looking at an imdb message board for Lions for Lambs and as expected I've seen people responding with a mix of people saying "this movie's crap...Robert Redford should just shut up" and then I see some people who are posting things like "Clearing Up Misconceptions/Wars on Iraq" where they might say things that i don't agree with, but at least they're laying out clear points and people are arguing it.

I think people in the former category who are thinking that Redford has no right to speak his mind and is guilty of spreading propaganda are not being very American. Propaganda is the dissemination of material presented as fact, when in fact Redford is well-aware that what he's providing is his own opinion. That's what artists do and society is better for allowing artists to do it. Furthermore, I think Redford is a well-educated citizen who has shown he's far smarter than the average American and he's aloud to say whatever he wants. You can not listen to it. You can listen to it, disagree with it, and voice why you disagree with it, but don't say that he has no right saying it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Lions for Lambs review (2007)

Lions for Lambs is a cinematically sparse film, with so little effort toward presenting a polished cinematic package, that the viewer might find it a little jarring. Three parrallel stories occur over a period of one hour.

A journalist (Meryl Streep) conducts a one-on-one interview with Senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise) over his new initiative in Iraq. Irving, played with all the cockiness that some of us liken to the Tom Cruise persona (and mistakenly Tom Cruise himself) is forceful in trying to get Streep to see a certain point of view and borderline bullies her into accepting his line of thinking that this new strategy is going to work and is worth the human cost. If you replaced Matt Lauer with Meryl Streep, it would practically be a dramatic reenactment of Cruise's famous tirade on The Today Show arguing against prescription medicine. My point here is Cruise is perfectly cast, and I think Redford was very aware of Cruise's recently damaged likeability rating at this point in time.

The second piece of the puzzle is two bright students who volunteered for the army to prove that they were pro-active citizens, against the urging of their professor. These characters are more likeable in the flashback scenes because in the present day military conflict their foolishness (in the name of chivalry) stretches plot credibility a little thin.

The third story arc and the one which I found most compelling was between a college professor (the same college professor who discouraged his two former students in plotline #2 from enetring the war) and his most promising student during a one-hour advising session. The student (Andrew Garfield) was once a catalyst for some of the class's most most interesting discussions and showed great intelligence, but lately he is becoming more interested in fraternity life and girls and doesn't believe politics are worth it because "they're all crooked." The student is the apothyoses of disengaged undergraduates today and credit goes not just to the actor (it would be easy for a young person to portray a stereotypical member of today's college youth) but to the 40 year old Matthew Carnahan for capturing his language reasonably well. Redford has the most presence on screen out of anyone of the film as the professor.

This is a good and bad thing because I can understand people seeing Redfordt's a blatantly transparent method of getting his political message across that Redford casts himself as the professor and provides the most intelligent source of discourse. This is likely to draw hostility from audiences and be seen as arrogant. I remember they responded that way when M. Night Shamylan cast himself as the writer who would later be the savior to humanity in Lady in the Water. One criticism I might agree with is that rather than making this film, Redford could just as easily go around the country making personal appearances and speaking about these issues (although the answer would be: that would be far more time consuming), but for a filmmaker who has something to say, I can't think of many films (except a Michael Moore documentary) that are so that are so effective at saying it. Redford's film speaks so directly to our generation and the current situation.

Cinematically, Lions for Lambs is not the best film out there. It feels less like a serious and concerted effort on Redford's part to make a good narrative film than it should. But at the same
time, I think it says things that haven't been said before, and whether you agree or disagree with his finer points, it's surely an eye-opening experience. It' the larger theme about how this generation deals with the alienation from pointless wars and crooked politics that resonates.

Friday, November 09, 2007

My oscar rankings so far through October

I haven't seen many Oscar websites this year, I'm not even sure what the point of it is. Every week there's been a big picture opening starring a former Oscar winner that gets big acclaim.

My Entertainment Weekly magazine praises American Gangster, Atonement, and Charlie Wilson's War as the three front runners, and the next 5 as Into the Wild, Juno, Kite Runner, No Country for Old Men, Michael Clayton, and after that a group of 5 that includes Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Hairspray, Sweeny Todd, There Will be Blood, and 3:10 to Yuma. I heard Eastern Promises got great reviews, so this is the first year where I'm just starting to think the Oscar process is kind of overly random.

Films I've seen in loose order from best to worst:

3:10 to Yuma, Darjeerling Limited, Sicko, Michael Clayton, Hairspray, Eastern Promises, Transformers, Lars and the Real Girl, Bourne Ultimatum, Spiderman 3, Across the Universe, Knocked Up, Elizabeth and the Golden Age, Invasion, My Brother, Evan Almighty, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, Blades of Glory, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Music and Lyrics, Superbad, Licence to Wed, Music and Lyrics, Shrek 3, Pirates 3, Nancy Drew, 1408

So, these are the best of what I've seen:

Best Picture:

3:10 to Yuma

Darjeerling Limited


Michael Clayton


Best Director:

James Mangold, 3:10 to Yuma-So impressed with him. He's not an auteur in my eyes (no consistent style) but an impressive filmmaker, nonetheless

David Cronenberg, Eastern Promises-His story had such heart-pounding intensity to it (as in my heart was literally beating really hard and fast), even during non-violent sequences, and I just figure you gotta be an incredible director to do that

Michael Moore, Sicko-The master of non-fiction narratives

Wes Anderson, Darjeerling Limited-Even though Darjeerling Limited is ranked 2nd, and Anderson is like my favorite director, I think there were three directors who REALLY surprised me this year, while Anderson just plain delivered his high caliber work as usual.

Tony Gileroy, Michael Clayton-He cornered George Clooney and forced him into a meeting for his film, so I'm pretty impressed with his sheer ambition.

Best Actor:

Ryan Gosling, Lars and the Real Girl-Oscars usually nominate one picture in a light-hearted/character-based/comedic performance and therefore it naturally follows that performances from pictures like Sideways, Little Miss Sunshine, Lost in Translation, Junebug and Stranger than Fiction usually get Oscar buzz or actual Oscar nominations. This performance right up there with all of those other ones.

Virgo Mortgensen, Eastern Promises-When your character is stabbing people and fending off death, it usually ups the ante a little and therefore it can tend to get oscar baity, but this is a great and subtle performance. This is a guy who has a job that involves killing people in cold blood and you're wondering how he manages to be civil and clear of conscience while doing it, and it's not that he has kids to have to raise and be answerable to. There's a sense of decency evident in him when it comes to dealing with Naomi Watts and her uncle, and that provides the answer for who his character REALLY is.

Russell Crowe, 3:10 to Yuma-Crowe is always an artiste. As Chris Rock says, he always appears like he's studied the character thoroughly and is deeply immersed in whatever he's playing. I think Crowe is injecting "Crowe the artist" into his role of Western outlaw, and creating a character who's supposed to be the typical villain, yet he's very passive and thoughtful about everything he's done.

Christian Bale, 3:10 to Yuma-If you thought Bale as Batman was a test of his ability to hide his English accent, wait till you see Bale in western Drawl and how well he pulls that off.

John Trovolta, Hairspray-John Trovolta wasn't as mindblowingly convincing as I thought it would be. I might have been willing to move him up a couple slots if he pulled it off, but he didn't. At the same time, though,his character had a lot of tender moments with Nikki Blonsky that I think were done well.

(Runner-Up: Adrien Brody of Darjeeling Limited or rather, was he a supporting actor? It's hard to say)


Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age-Well, it's just hard to trump the supreme effort of this task. It's just one of those performances that's so intricate and nuanced that even if it wasn't 100% what you hoped for, you can appreciate the whole picture

Naiomi Watts, Eastern Promises-This woman can spin yarn into gold on practically anything. She was, in fact, one of the most protested snubs of the decade for her work in 2001's Mullholland Drive.

Evan Rachel Wood, Across the Universe-Wood's surprising second talent as a singer really stood out to me.

Nicole Kidman, Invasion-Well, it's Nicole Kidman for god's sake. Like Meryl Streep or Naiomi Watts, she's good in pretty much everything she does.

Emma Roberts, Nancy Drew-Nancy Drew is right down there with 1408 for the worst film I've seen this year, I took my younger cousins to see it, but a) the pool of female actors is getting low by the time I hit the #5 spot (even with Nikki Blonsky, Kiera Knightly and Katherine Heigel in the running) and b) even if the movie was terrible, I actually thought she was able to make lemons out of lemonade pretty well. Her character came off as spirited and plucky but also a very believable teenager who suffers from being super humanly smart. I think the tone of the film didn't fit her performance. Also, c) I already picked Kiera Knightly last year in my summer '06 awards

(Runner-Up: Kiera Knightly, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End: That film put her in the forefront of the story more than the other two. It's kind of close)

Supporting Actor:

Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton-This might very well be the performance of the year, no contest. Wilkinson's characters are usually uninteresting heavies so this is quite a change and a good one. I'm really rooting for him.

Clive Owen, Elizabeth-If the movie could be slow and boring at times, it never was when Owen was on-screen. It wasn't a performance with any really intense moments but there was gravitas and conviction to Owen's performance.

Ben Foster, 3:10 to Yuma-You looked at him and saw a lot of bitterness or something hard to quantify. It was a really interesting performance, for sure

Christopher Walken, Hairspray-There's Walken the crazy guy, Walken as a villain, Walken the parody of himself (that you see on SNL), Walken as the singer and dancer (who knew?), but rarely do you ever get to see a compassionate Walken: one with heart and one that can create touching scenes.

Michael Cera, Superbad-His performance was an interesting combination of Michael Bluth from Arrested Development and a kid with a lot more confidence. He might end up having a fairly long career.

Supporting actress:

Tilda Swenton, Michael Clayton-She personified corporate greed and female ambition to create such a great villainess. She was so evil, yet she seemed so familiar to anyone who's ever read testimonies by or stories about crooked CEOs in the business section of their paper.

Amara Karan, Darjeeling Limited-I think female characters who are sexually open (and could therefore be defined as slut-like) but later found to be richer underneath are particularly interesting. She also took away from a lot of Indian stereotypes.

Emily Mortimer, Lars and the Real Girl-A wonderfully awkward film in so many ways

Joan Allen, Bourne Ultimatum-It seemed like Allen took the material very seriously as if this weren't just an innocent action movie, and the movie's tone changed as a result

Tie: Michelle Pfieffer, Hairspray-A wonderfully devious performance that possibly came from channeling all that frustration of not having been cast in any movies this decade.


Vanessa Williams, My Brother-I saw this film at a film festival, that never got more than a week's circulation at most major movie chains after much pushing. It was made by Oscar-nominated shots director Tony Lovern, and it was a labor of love for him to get it through distribution. The movie similarly also loses a little in production values, but is a very emotionally compelling story. Vanessa Williams' role in this is something that you would not expect to see from a former Miss America contestant, singer, and model. The actress knew that the part was gold and either took a pay cut or did it for free, I can't remember which.

Runner-Up: Abby Cornish, Elizabeth and the Golden Age

Cinematography/Art Direction:

Darjeerling Limited-On the art direction end it ranks higher. Wes Anderson is always my favorite in that department

Elizabeth and the Golden Age-An observation: I don't think that the cinematographer was aiming to show this world in as glamorous of a light as he could have. It was very realistic and abstract at the same time. Certainly the most interesting thing about the film, of course, was the art direction.

3:10 to Yuma-Westerns always give one a healthy opportunity to play with cinematography. These top 3 are all very impressive on my list.

Pirates: At World's End-That shipwreck cove was probably the best visual accomplishment of the film, along with the super army of ships.

Michael Clayton-Rather ordinary places like office buildings, the basement of a restaurant where the title character plays poker, and a New York City street were filmed in such a way as to convey a feeling of claustrophobia. Clever.


1. Hairspray-There was no weak link in this ensemble and that's what made it great

2. Michael Clayton

3. Darjeerling Limited

4. Eastern Promises

5. 3:10 to Yuma

Special Effects:

1. Spiderman 3-Mainly because of Sandman

2. 3:10 to Yuma-A good-old fashioned Western shootout

3. Invasion-To give a loose idea on the bulk of special effects work: People's bodies decompose as alien parasites take them over.

(In this category, I was largely dissapointed with some of the big CGI-based films like transformers)

Sunday, November 04, 2007


I saw Kevin Costner's Waterworld this afternoon and I found it to be a pretty interesting and engaging film. The main reasons that the film kept me engaged were:

1. I'm a sucker for pirate films or films involving the ships and oceans, or whatever you call this genre

2. Fast enough pace to keep the action moving as well as good enough action in itself. The film even moved faster than Dances with Wolves and even if you felt Goodfellas was a better film, Dances with Wolves was considered somewhat of a masterpiece. Long epics (Waterworld is over 2 hours) generally have a hard time keeping audiences on their seats.

3. Fairly imaginative blending of genres: pirates picture and sci-fi to create an imaginative world.

4. The chemistry was pretty good between the leads

Really minor point: I don't like Kevin Costner's girly hair style in the picture, but other than that it seemed Terry Gilliam-esque.

This film, of course, is remembered as being a humongous flop and poorly reviewed. It's up there with Gigli on the pantheon of bad films, but you also have to figure that like Gigli, no one actually has seen this film in the last 10 years. Gigli isn't the most hated film in America, because you have to actually watch the film to hate it, and very, very few people watched the film Gigli. It was only out for a week in the theaters and died very quickly, so it didn't have much of a box office take.

The same is probably true for Waterworld, in terms of DVD sales (it did make quite a bit at the box office, just not enough to recoup their costs).

My point: Don't let the media universally decide on your behalf, what a bad film is and what you shouldn't see

Saturday, November 03, 2007

JAM gone sour on The Office

I think that the Jim-Pam relationship has changed considerably since the end of Season 2 and it's not because they're together, but i think that that's taken down the show a little.

At first, Jim and Pam were these two people who in the midst of everyone were just right for each other.

Now, it's like Jim and Pam are the two most popular and in-demand young people in the Office. Jim isn't this guy who's akward around women and is interested in that one girl because he makes her feel complete. Since his successes with Katie and Karen, Jim's like this guy who can get anyone he wants.

He's no longer the everyman I root for. If Jim got rejected a little more, or proved to have some social kryptonite. I just see Jim as the alpha-male, now. For one, he used to pick on Dwight because Dwight annoyed him but his treatment of Andy is uaully unprovoked. But Jim had an, "I gotta show Andy who's boss," about him when he started messing with Andy by stealing his cell phone. Jim does what he does with Dwight because he works in close proximity to him.

And Pam is like the alpha-female of the office. Now, it's been revealed Ryan seems to have had a crush. Creed has seemed to have a sexual fetish for her. Toby likes her. She's like the most desirable property in the office.

Also Jim is like a big guy in size and he has cool hair. Those guys are usually the ones I see getting girls in bars. Girls generally are physically attracted to bigger guys. Martin Freeman, on the other hand, was small in stature.

Jim used to be the hopeless romantic, but I think he's like the alpha male steaking out the biggest property in the Office. And when you see it that way, then Jim's misguided relationships with Karen and Katie to get to Pam seem a little less noble and kind of wrong.

Is any creative effort involved in "Back to You"?

This show "Back to You" is an example of what we call casting-to-type. It features Kelsey Grammar is an uptight snob caught up in his fame, Fred Willard as a wisecracking anchor who crosses the line of appropriateness so casually you'll either laugh your socks off or you won't even notice it, and Patricia Heaton plays a controlling woman who's usually more sensible than the man around her. Sound familiar, watchers of Frasier, Best in Show, and Everybody Loves Raymond?

There's also an attractive woman who's cast as a ditz and a fat guy who's cast as a nerd.

This sitcom actually works and I kind of am liking it enough to want it to stay around, but I'm just lamenting over the fact of how little creative energy it must take to write this show. All they're doing is taking three beloved characters from three different shows and putting them in the same room and changing their names.