Sunday, March 23, 2008

How to make a top 100 Films of All-Time List

I think the film critic community is fairly consistent about what they can agree upon are the classics. It you want to make a top 100 films of all time list, and this is a widespread of hobby among people and an obligation by any media outlet remotely related to the coverage of the entertainment industry (a great deal of film lists can be found at, this is the recipe:
First, put Citizen Kane, Casablanca, Godfather at the top, next be sure to include the following: Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, All About Eve, Schindler's List, Pulp Fiction, Grapes of Wrath, Streetcar Named Desire, Apocolypse Now, One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, Amadeus, Chinatown then be sure to throw in:
-No less than 4 Hitchkock Films (the preferred entries include Rear Window, Psycho, Vertigo, and North by Northwest
-2 or 3 John Huston films
-2-5 Kubricks
-The 3 definitive Capra films (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, It Happened One Night, It's a Wonderful Life)
-Some mention of Robert Altman, Howard Hawks and John Ford
-2 or 3 David Lean films (Must include Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence)
-Kazan and Brando's 2 masterpieces (Streetcar Named Desire and On the Waterfront)
-3 or 4 films from the Arthur Freed MGM musical era and a couple other musicals (suggestions include Cabaret, Swing Time, Moulan Rouge, Chicago, Yankee Doodle Dandy, or Oliver!)
-3-5 Scorsese films
-4 or 5 Westerns
-A horror film or thriller of some sort
-A couple of the classic blockbusters (Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Rocky, Back to the Future, etc)
-About 6-8 war films
-Some of the counter cultural films of th 60s and 70s (good examples include Network, Bonnie and Clyde, Days of Heaven, Easy Rider, Badlands, Midnight Cowboy, and Cool Hand Luke)
-Film noir
-Some silents, including Chaplain and hopefully DW Griffith and Buster Keaton
-At least 4 Billy Wilder films
-Two or three Sidney Lumet films
-Some comedic films but must keep it appropriately high-brow: The Marx Brothers, Woody Allen, Tootsie, some of Mel Brooks' early work is permissible here, Ernst Lubitsch, Preston Sturges, Cameron Crowe, and as of late, Coen Brothers entries have become acceptable. Kevin Smith, the Farrelly Brothers, and most Saturday Night Light films will disqualify your film from any level of credibility. Don't even think about including Garden State or Napoleon Dynamite. Some Like it Hot, Dr. Strangelove, and The Apartment should be mentioned.
-A mix of Spielberg's heavier and lighter films (i.e. an acceptable combination might be Munich, Schindler's List, ET, Jaws, Raiders)
-Some sci-fi: Star Wars, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Metropolist (if it's including non-English films) are musts, but other entries could include Blade Runner, Brazil, Aliens, etc.

Other guidelines:
-Any film with an Oscar nomination except Around the World in 80 Days is acceptable to put on your list
-Ernst Lubitsch and Preston Struges are optional but help to fill out the comedy entry
-A cartoon, likely produced by Disney, won't hurt
-Other recommended films but not required: Amadeus, The Great Escape, Manchurian Candidate, Do the Right Thing, King Kong, The Jazz Singer, Platoon, Shawshank Redemption OR Forrest Gump (rarely should you include both since their fan bases are mortal enemies of each other), The Third Man, The Lost Weekend, Philadelphia Story, American Graffiti, Conversation, Giant, Network, French Connection, Ben Hur, Mutiny on the Bounty, Adventures of Robin Hood, and Tootsie.
-There should be room for some of your personal favorites as long as they're not too outlandish

Friday, March 21, 2008

The best of 2007 from a guest blogger

Guest blogger Brian, a University of Minnesota freshman and cinematic studies major, had these rankings on the best of 07. I am going to make comments in addition to Brian's picks, but that's only for the chance for some point-counterpoint and to encourage further discussion. Credit for the post is all Brian, though:

Tops in the last Oscar Year:
Tommy Lee Jones (in No Country For Old Men): Jones’ performance in the Best Picture Winner Film, has been totally overlooked, and should have at least gotten more attention with in the Cinematic Community. Jones’ performance is simple, yet chillingly haunting, providing the foundation for the film’s now famous ending.
Daniel Day-Lewis (in There Will Be Blood): Lewis definitely deserved the Best Actor award: I can’t think of another actor that deserved the award as much as he did. His performance in There Will Be Blood may very well have been the most amazing performance I have seen in years. From beginning to end, Lewis’ acting filled the screen and sent shivers down my spine. His performance during the famous baptism scene will forever be remembered as masterfully powerful.
Johnny Depp (in Sweeny Todd): Depp provided an extremely intense performance of the infamous musical star. And who knew that Depp could sing?? His singing provided an even deeper depth to his already intense performance.
Glen Hansard (in Once): From this “little film that could”, which even won Best Original Song at the Oscars, came his amazing performance. Hansard’s simple, yet powerful performance is extremely natural and life-like, and, like Depp in Sweeny Todd, provides intensely beautiful singing to his character. From his trademark “t’anks” to his trademark costume of jacket, scarf, and short beard, Glen Hansard will always be remembered as “The Guy” (The name as it is stated in the credits). Unfortunately, Glen Hansard has publicly stated that he is going to concentrate on his music career rather than his acting career.
Jonah Hill (in Superbad): Despite the fact that Superbad is anything but a cinematic masterpiece, Jonah Hill’s performance was what made the film so enjoyable to watch. Hill’s acting, albeit mostly improvised, is hilarious. It was the improvisational style to his acting that really brought out the humor in the script of the film. For a film like Superbad, you need someone who can really act out a funny script and ad-lib at the same time; and Jonah Hill was that man.
My opinion: Tommy Lee Jones is my #2 for best supporting actor behind Tom Wilkinson, so aside from a different category placement, I am pretty much in agreement on that. "Chilling" is indeed a good word to describe Jones' stoic style and blank stares into space as he seemed so consumed by the threat of Anton Chirgurh. I agree as well on Day-Lewis: Samuel L. Jackson once said that Oscars (for acting at least) are won not by movies but by moments, and the baptism scene is the clincher for Day-Lewis.

I'm pretty much on the other side of the fence on Hill, mainly because I didn't find Superbad particularly enjoyable because he's right, it takes a great actor to rescue a mediocre comedic script and bring those jokes to life (think Tom Hanks with Ladykillers or Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels with Dumb and Dumber), and at the end of the day, it still felt like a mediocre script to me. I basically have Superbad as hovering around 2 1/2 stars which in other words, is a mixed bag. I thought the dialogue wasn't particularly anything of note despite setting the record for most 4-letter words per minute (according to the claims of writer Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg) and it's saving grace was the turn of events in the storyline and its larger themes.

Ellen Page (in Juno): Ellen Page is Juno. She was perfectly cast as the part. Page’s performance was way beyond her years, and was definitely worthy of the Oscar nod, and most likely should have won the award, despite the fact that she is so young and that this was her first widely successful film. Her performance was so lifelike that I thought I was watching one of my friends in real life. Page’s acting style is such that she seems to take the script and make it her own and in doing so, she lights up the screen. I was smiling throughout the whole movie (with the exception of the crying scene of course) because it was so enjoyable to see her act.
Evan Rachel Wood (in Across the Universe): Similar to Johnny Depp and Glen Hansard, I am huge fan of the singing-performance. I believe that if you can sing on screen or stage, then you can most likely act as well. This is certainly true of Evan Rachel Wood in Across the Universe. Wood’s singing provides a beautiful backing for her beautiful performance. Her acting reminds me of a stage performance, which, in some cases can be construed as more authentic acting, since stage acting is non-stop on stage (whereas films stop for each take).
My take: I have another Oscar nominee, Cate Blanchett from Elizabeth and the Golden Age as my #1, followed by Evan Rachel Wood (so we're on the same page there), Naiomi Watts from Eastern Promises, and then Page, so we differ a little there. I agree that Paige was perfectly cast in the part, but than in that case, doesn't that significantly lower the degree of difficulty? Although Oscars aren't supposed to be a body of work, it will be interesting to see Paige on screen with words not written by Diablo Cody coming out of her mouth. I do agree, Wood stole the show and gave a performance I will remember for years to come.

Supporting Actor:
Javier Bardem (in No Country For Old Men): Obviously, Bardem’s performance will be forever remember as the new perfect villain. His performance was hauntingly perfect in every sense of the word, even down to his now trademark coin flip.
Paul Dano (in There Will Be Blood): Dano’s performance in There Will Be Blood was unforgettable. The acting of this charismatic clergyman was hauntingly masterful for being so young and in relatively few films.
My comments: Whether Bardem was the perfect villain is a whole other discussion but I agree that Bardem nailed the part and had a certain rhythm and consistency in style to his character that made it come to life. It was such a competitive year for this category that I had to put Tom Wilkinson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tommy Lee Jones and Forrest Whitaker from the Great Debaters before Bardem, and I was almost considering Ben Foster who I feel was able to paint a portrait of an equally intriguing villain with few words. From the 85 minutes of There Will Be Blood that I saw, Paul Dano showed quite a bit of versatility in this role as opposed to his role in Little Miss Sunshine last year. It's almost as if he grew up.
Supporting Actress:
Helena Bonham Carter (in Sweeny Todd): Carter’s performance in Sweeny Todd was perfect. It was so enjoyable to watch. There is just something about her acting that makes movie watching so much fun. It must be the juxtaposition of her facial expressions and her hilarious comments in that British accent.
My comments: Unfortunately, being only a part-time film critic I don't see every movie to come out, and Sweeny Todd wasn't something I had the fortune of catching.

Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood): There Will Be Blood was without a doubt a cinematic masterpiece and would not have been so amazing with a different director or cinematographer for that matter. Any viewer can see the amount of work that Anderson put into making the film.
Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country For Old Men): No Country is this Oscar year’s other cinematic masterpiece. From the start to its anti-conventional ending, the film screams amazing directing, which is nothing but understandable from two of our generation’s best filmmakers.
My comments: Interesting fact about Brian: He went to the same high schol as the Coen Brothers in Minnesota. I agree from what I saw of There Will Be Blood and what I know of the storyline that Anderson deserved a best director title over Coen. It was a more ambitious project that acheived its potential

Once: The music alone from this film is amazing, but this anti-conventional love story is a beautiful reconnection to the French New Wave style of filmmaking.
There Will Be Blood: A hauntingly beautiful, epic, difficult cinematic work of art.
No Country For Old Men: A genius film with exciting action and a brilliant ending, but a surprising film coming from two amazing (usually comedic) directors.
Sweeny Todd: A sinister masterpiece from the dark mind of Tim Burton, which encompasses all that is great about the Musical/Film hybrid world.
Across The Universe: The best and worst film ever made. A genius idea to create a new narrative with Beatles’ music, however, it seemed too forced at times. On the other hand, the other large majority of the film has some of the most beautifully photographed scenes I have ever seen, where the visuals matched the music perfectly and sent shivers down my spine.

My comments: Whole-heartedly agree with the Across the Universe comment. The idea was genius while the execution was sloppy

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Final Four participants playing in the NBA

In the spirit of March Madness here's a compilation of final four participants in the NBA for the 2007-2008 season (as well as those who retired in 2007) by team:

Atlanta: Shelden Williams (04 Duke), Royal Ivey (03 Texas), Al Horford (06 07 Fla), Marvin Williams (05 UNC), Mike Bibby (Arizona 97)
Boston: Glen Davis (06 LSU), Tony Allen (04 Oklahoma State)
Charlotte Bobcats: Derek Anderson (96, 97 Kentucky), Jake Voshkul (99 UConn), Nazr Mohammed (97, 98 Kentucky), Jason Richardson (00-01 Michigan State), Sean May (05 UNC), Raymond Felton (05 UNC), Jeff McInnis (93, 95 UNC), Emeka Okafor (04 UConn), Alan Anderson (05 Michigan St), Summer League Team: Jawan Terry (05 UNC)
Chicago: Ben Gordon (UConn 04), Loul Deng (Duke 04), Chris Duhon (Duke 04), Kirk Hinrich (Kansas 02, 03), Joachim Noah (Florida 06 07), Tyrus Thomas (LSU 06), Drew Gooden (Kansas 02)
New Jersey: Josh Boone (UConn 04), Maurice Ager (Michigan State 05), Richard Jefferson (Arizona 00), Vince Carter (95, 97, 98), Jason Collins (98 Stanford)
NYK: Jared Jeffries (Indiana 02), Zach Randolph (Michigan State 01)
Milwaulkee: Charlie Bell (Michigan St 99-00), Michael Redd (Ohio State 99), Charlie Villanueva (UConn 04)
Minnesota: Wayne Simien (02 03 Kansa), Antoine Walker (96 Kentucky), Michael Doleac (98 Utah), Rashad McCantis (05 UNC), Mark Madsen (98 Stanford), Corey Brewer (06 07 Florida), Chris Richard (07 Florida), Summer League Team: Luke Schnesser (Ga Tech 04)
Miami: Dwayne Wade (03 Marquette), Udonis Haslem (00 Miami), Jason Williams (94 Florida),
Utah Jazz: Carlos Boozer (01 Duke), Deron Williams (05 Illinois), Jarron Collins (98 Stanford)
Denver Nuggets: Taurean Green (06-07 Florida), Carmelo Anthony (03 Syracuse), Marcus Camby (96 UMass)
Orlando: James Augustine (05 Illinois), JJ Reddick (04 Duke), Summer League Team: Tony Skinn (GMU 06)
New Orleans Hornets: Hilton Armstrong (04 UConn), Morris Peterson (99, 00 Michigan State)
Houston: Shane Battier (99, 01 Duke), Bobby Jackson (97 Minnesota), Luther Head (05 Illinois), Steve Novak (03 Marquette), Summer League Team: John Lucas (04 Oklahoma St), Ivan McFarlin (04 Oklahoma St)
Pheonix: Jalen Rose (92, 93 Michigan), Grant Hill (91, 92, 94 Duke)
Dallas: Jason Terry (97 Arizona), Juwan Howard (92, 93 Michigan), Erik Dampier (96 Mississippi State), Jamal Magloire (98 Kentucky), Jerry Stackhouse (95 UNC), Summer League Team: Reyshawn Terry (05 UNC)
LAC: Paul Davis (05 Michigan State), Corey Maggette (99 Duke), Elton Brand (99 Duke)
LAL: Jordan Farmar (06 UCLA), Luke Walton (01 Arizona)
Sacramento: Shelden Williams (04 Duke), Fransisco Garcia (05 Louisville)
Portland: Greg Oden (07 Ohio State), Jarret Jack (05 Ga Tech), Steve Blake (02, 03 Maryland)
Cleveland: --
Memphis: Mike Miller (00 Florida), Hakim Warrick (03 Syracuse), Rudy Gay (04 UConn), Mike Conley Jr (07 Ohio State)
Seattle: Jeff Green (07 Georgetown), Nick Collison (02, 03 Kansas), Chris Wilcox (02 Maryland)
GSW: Chris Webber (92, 93 Michigan)
SAS: Damon Stoudamire (94 Arizona), Matt Bonner (00 Florida)
Toronto: Joey Graham (04 Oklahoma St), TJ Ford (03 Texas)
Indiana: Stephen Graham (04 Oklahoma St), Mike Dunleavy Jr (01 Duke), Travis Diener (03 Marquette)
Detroit: Rasheed Wallace (95 UNC), Richard Hamilton (99 UConn), Juan Dixon (01, 02 UMD), Arron Affalo (06-07 UCLA)
Philly: Shavlik Randolph (04 Duke), Andre Miller (98 Utah),
Washington: Gilbert Arenas (01 Arizona), Brendan Haywood (98, 00 UNC), Antwain Jamison (95, 97, 98 UNC), Summer League: Lee Humphrey (06, 07 Fla)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Are stars obsolete?

I saw this article on about how the movie star era is ending because reliable stars like Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, and Tom Cruise didn't gross a lot of money for Lions for Lambs and neither did Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks.,28804,1720049_1720050_1721687,00.html

The article claims that since Charlie Wilson's War and Lions for Lambs did not do well that we are no longer in an age of stars and people gravitate towards story lines now. I disagree with Corliss' notion that anything has changed much at all. Take his examples: Lions for Lambs starred Meryl Streep, Robert Redford, and Tom Cruise which I don't consider a good combination of star power to begin with for the time the picture was released.
-Cruise, although I don't say this with any sense of joy, was already going downhill in terms of reputation.
-Streep is in 3-4 films a year which dilutes her star power significantly. It's hard for the public to tell which of the many, many films she's in are worth going to whether it's Evening, Redacted, or Lions for Lambs. In 2004, Manchurian Candidate didn't do particularly well but Lemony Snicket did because Lemony Snicket was a better use of her star power.
-Redford hasn't really been a big star since the 1970's and early '80's. Today's teens and 20-year-olds are going to have to practically be film historians to remember the heyday of Robert Redford and get all worked up about it.

As for Charlie Wilson's War, that film didn't do particularly poorly. It grossed a respectable $66 million dollars and is enjoying a surprisingly long run at the theater. My local 8-theater complex is still playing Charlie Wilson's War all the way into March, and that's what's really important: For your film to still be accessible to the public months after release. Charlie Wilson's War debuted in an incredibly crowded weekend where Tom Hanks' star power competed head-to-head with Johnny Depp in "Sweeny Todd" and Nicholas Cage in "National Treasure 2 "anyway, so it's not like it was a battle of the best stories. As for the failure of Julia Roberts to secure box office clout, she's semi-retired and like Redford hasn't appeared in many films in the last few years to keep her name hot.

There's no doubt that star power still is the controlling factor in Hollywood. It's what makes Will Smith, the trio of Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightly and Johnny Depp; and Nicholas Cage dominate the box office with mediocre material. More importantly, stars still capture the public attention. That's why in most Oscar pools, people are 10 times much more excited about the acting races than they are best screenwriting or best directing races. Whenever, I suggest a movie to my parents, the first question they ask is, "Who's in it?"

The only difference between today and yesteryear? The public just has short-term memory. The Oscar races and the special edition end-of-the-year reviews that appear in most newspapers and magazines covering pop culture are eager to crown the stars of today and leave the stars of yesterday behind. How hot are the names Joaquin Pheonix, David Strathain, Reese Whitherspoon, Felicity Huffman, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman right now? How excited do you get about a film when you hear that one of those names is in it? Those were the leading contenders in the best actor and actress races at the 2006 Oscars, just two years ago. Two years ago, the public might have been far more excited about them which just goes to show how fast the trends move.

Not to worry, success can be achieved by catering to this trend. Case in point: Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen, and Jonah Hill not only had the good fortune of being involved in the summer's surprise hit "Knocked Up," but since their next film came out before the summer even ended, they benefited even more from being fresh in the minds of moviegoers. The result: Not only was Superbad a surprise hit as well, but Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill have become stars big enough to attract invites to host Saturday Night Live, and Judd Apatow was named the smartest man in Hollywood by Entertainment Weekly. Shia LeBouf, arguably the year's breakout star has benefited from a double-dose of audience exposure as well, slowly building his familiarity with the movie going public with Disturbia before officially breaking out in Transformers and this strategy has been going on for years. Would "Ray" have enjoyed the same level of hype if Jamie Foxx didn't start getting attention for "Collateral" earlier that summer? Of course being too prolific like Jude Law (the butt of an infamous Chris Rock joke during the Oscars), Will Ferrell, and Ben Stiller can tend to backfire.

So the trends have changed but the same formulas are still there. As long as people ask "Who's in it?" before they ask "What's the storyline?," stars will be the tools that drive the star system.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Name the Cast (Edition II)

One key cast member is missing, name the ensembles (movies are from the 90's and 00's)

1. Cate Blanchett, Jeff Goldblum, Anjelica Huston, Noah Taylor, Bud Cort, Bill Murray, Willem Defoe
2. Bill Irwin, Paul Giamatti, Bryce Dallas Howard, Bob Balaban, Jeffrey Wright, Freddy Rodriguez, Sarita Choudhury
3. Michelle Williams, Bruce McCollough, Dave Foley, Ana Gasteyer, Kirsten Dunst, Saul Rubineck, Will Ferrell, Ryan Reynolds, Harry Shearer
4. Paul Rudd, Kathy Baker, Jane Alexander, Charlize Theron, Michael Caine, JK Simmons
5. Meryl Streep, Richard Dreyffus, Gene Hackman, Olvier Platt, Dennis Quaid, Mary Wickes
6. Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ray Liotta, Jason Lee, Sigourney Weaver, Gene Hackman, Nora Dunn
7. Billy Bob Thornton, Scarlett Johannson, James Gandolfini, Tony Shaloub, Christopher MacDonald
8. Helen Hunt, Richard Gere, Tara Reid, Laura Dern, Kate Hudson, Liv Tyler
9. Jason Lee, Jimmy Fallon, Zoey Deschannel, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Anna Paquin, Billy Cudrup, Noah Taylor, Patrick Fugit
10. Penelope Cruz, Jason Lee, Noah Taylor, Kurt Russell, Cameron Diaz
11. Emma Rossum, Jake Gyllenhall, Adrian Lester, Ian Holm
12. Adrien Brody, Natalie Portman, Anjelica Huston, Jason Schwartzman, Amara Rakam, Barbet Schroeder
13. Jude Law, Daniel Craig, Paul Newman, Jennifer Jason Leigh
14. Greg Kinnear, Meg Ryan, Parker Posey, Steve Zahn, Jean Stapleton
15. Kevin Kline, Elizabeth Shue, Robert Downey Jr, Whoopi Goldberg, Cathy Moriaty, Gary Marshall
16. Hank Azaria, Rosario Dawson, Peter Saargsard, Hayden Christensen, Steve Zahn
17. Ben Stiller, Jack Black, John Lithgow, Kevin Kline, Catherine O'Hara, Lizzy Caplain
18. Jonny Depp, Selma Hayek, Willhem Defoe, Eva Mendes, Cheech Martin, Enrique Iglesias, Danny Trejo
19. Charlize Theron, Dan Akroyd, Helen Hunt, Elizabeth Berkley, David Ogden Stiers
20. Lou Diamond Phillips, Bruce Greenwood, Josh Hartnett, Martin Landau, Lena Olin, Isiah Washington, Andre Benjam

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Review of The Island

Island, dir. by Michael Bay (2005), Starring Scarlett Johannson, Ewan MaGregor, Sean Bean, Djimon Hotsou, Ethan Phillips, Michael Clarke Duncan, Steve Buscemi

Michael Bay usually achieves high grosses on films that are rejected by critics and most moviegoers of good taste. Richard Roeper called Bad Boys II the worst picture of the decade. Therefore, it was kind of odd that this 2005 film turned out to be a little bit the opposite: It completely bombed at the box office, making for Bay's lowest film to date, yet it might have been his most interesting film.

"The Island" is a sci-fi film along the lines of GATTACA or I, Robot, set in some dystopian future, where the protagonist comes to the rescue of everything by transcending the limits of what the more rigidly stratified society places on him. It's also incredibly close to the plot of the truly awful Arnold Schwarzenegger film Sixth Day, but that film was so hauntingly abysmal that I don't even want to devote an entire sentence to plot synopsis for fear of the awful memories it will bring up. Nevertheless, the story revolves around a futuristic factory that promises to prolong the lives of its clients through cloning the clinets and using the clones' organs for transplants. The clones live in this isolated world with implanted memories and the idea that there is no life outside of this world. They're made to perform tasks that lead to the operation of the factory, so that saves labor costs. The only salvation for the clones is the belief that they will be taken to a paradise called the island if they're selected in a lottery, but in reality when a clone wins the lottery, that means the client needs an organ and the clone is killed. Ewan MaGregor and Scarlett Johannson play two clones who somehow find out about this outside world and are on the lam from the people who run the factory who view this as a doomsday scenario. So, being a Michael Bay film, this is also an action film, and a great one at that.

As I said earlier, it's by far Michael Bay's most interesting film but the plot leaves a lot to be desired. While I'm a sucker for a good sci-fi film, there seems to a complete ignorance of the fact that we've made a lot of progress in terms of harvesting replacement organs already that doesn't require building entire clones. I also feel like the premise attempts too hard to position the story of two runaway clones as the defining tale of this futuristic society to be a little bit of a stretch. Sean Bean is not playing God and can't make people immortal, because there's a point with many diseases beyond where a single organ replacement can save a life anyway, despite what he claims.

Also, considering the quality of the cast, the acting is a little subpar. Ewan MaGregor has the challenge of playing two people and I applaud him for that, but with the exception of Sean Bean, I don't really feel like anyone gave a remotely memorable performance. Visually, there were a lot of interesting things to look at, but it didn't look like anyone bothered to dress up the exterior shots to look equally as futuristic as the clone factory.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Classses I enjoyed taking

Here are classes I enjoyed taking:

1. Anthropology-The Washington Post quotes a student from 1935 who said that anthropology was a complete waste of time better situated to the 1890s than the 1930's. Well, it's the 2000's and I think it's back. I got a C in this course because the questions on the tests were so arbitrary and vague but on the flipside, I had an enormously entertaining and funny professor, who did things like do Austin Powers impressions (it was the summer after Austin Powers: Goldmembers) and stick a finger into an electric socket to note the difference between science and religion. There are a lot of disciplines like sociology, psychology, media culture, philosophy, etc. that challenges our way of looking at things, but personally, I feel that the other ones involve a little bit of common sense

2. Urban Geography-I learned the history of the D.C. area and all kinds of fascinating things about how suburbs first came to be formed. Since this course was taught an hour away Mary Washington, where I first attended college; a good amount of our focus was the Washington D.C. area, so we learned about how Tyson's Corner was once upon a time (not too long ago, 30 years ago) just a soda shop, and now it's the 13th biggest economic center in the country. We learned all kinds of things like how traffic in 2000 in Manhattan goes almost twice as slow when horse drawn carraiges were going through the streets in 1900; how parking lots are set up because people are unwilling to walk more than 600 feet at a time which is also why malls are set up so that people can't see from one end to the other with plants in place and all; how glass elevators were designed to protect against rape; how the names of many suburban housing complexes like Pheasant Run, East Meadows, The Woods at Fairfax, etc. reflect the English and later-American traditional dream of owning a little piece of the countryside, even though ironically, the housing complexes are tearing those very same countrysides down. I also did a project with two other guys, both of whom I made good friends with and continue to keep in touch with, where we went into a Salvadorean pocket of immigrants in Bailey's Crossroads and learned about the community.

3. Cultural Geography-I was a geography major and didn't regret it at all because that was full of mostly very interesting classes. In cultural geography, we learned about the spread of culture and the class was full of interesting material, such as how music spreads along geographic lines (i.e. rap is found in cities, jazz started in New Orleans and spread along the Mississippi River), how gang culture is exported to Guatemala, how you can mathematically tell about the culture of a place just by looking in a phone book, how different languages can be created by barriers like mountain ranges and oceans.

4. Energy and Transportation-I transferred to James Madison after two years and in order to graduate in two years, I didn't have room for a single elective, but my senior year, I decided to take this course and postponed graduation for another month anyways. It was the year of Hurricane Katrina and when gas prices started to spike up for the first time, and I thought it would be interesting to understand how it all worked, plus it complimented my urban geography class. The course gave me a C+ (most of these cool classes, unfortunately, resulted in low grades for some reason, often because the "cool" teachers might not have had standardized tests and things which I do better on) and the teachers relied too heavily on google and wikipedia, but we did a lot of interesting experiments, like make our own biodiesel, melt wax, and grow our own ethanol-producing plants. The class taught me where oil came from, how it was running out, and generally scared us to death about how bad the state of our energy resources are

5. Kinesiology-Kind of like an advanced version of P.E./Health at the college level. Two days a week we played sports, so who can complain about that. Being forced to exercise twice a week was definitely a good way to make sure I kept in shape. One day a week, we'd have health but it wasn't the kind of lame health classes we had in grade school which serve the purpose of warning us of the dangers of drugs and sex. These classes taught us about exercising in ways that won't result in us getting hurt, dealing with stress and eating nutritiously.

6. Film Courses-Offered at most colleges, these courses helped make up for the difficulty that I had transferring. I met a number of people with like interests, and spent time watching films. These weren't electives because I ammassed enough film courses to make a minor. Aside from being exposed to some of the best and most influential films in history and getting college credit for it, films can also teaches you a lot about society and history.

7. Band-In between Mary Washington and James Madison, I took a course from George Mason University and thought I might try to do something social while I was there, so I joined the concert band for half of a semester and it was a lot of fun. I was in the band in middle school and a year of high school and I enjoyed it but there was also a lot of pressure to be good and subsequent feelings of rejection for not being that good. When I joined the band at George Mason, I felt liberated from the pressure and didn't care that I was last chair in my section. That was probably the most fun I had with music.

Name the cast

A trivia game, the name of one key cast member is omitted in each case:
Name the film:
1. Laura Linney, Paul Giamatti, Ed Harris, Harry Shearer, Holland Taylor
2. Judd Hirsch, Anthony Rapp, Russell Crowe, Ed Harris, Paul Bettany, Adam Goldberg, Josh Lukas
3. Shia LeBouf, Bridget Moynahan, Chi McBride, Bruce Greenwood, Will Smith, James Cromwell
4. Donald Sutherland, Ethan Suplee, Nicole Kidman, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Jude Law, Ray Winstone, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Giovanni Ribisi, Natalie Portman, Jack White, Brendon Gleason
5. Amanda Peete, Jeffrey Wright, George Clooney, Tim Blake Nelson, Chris Cooper
6. Marcia Gay Harden, Claire Forlani, Jeffery Tambour, Brad Pitt
7. Gene Hackman, John Voight, Jack Black, Regina King, Barry Pepper, Jason Lee, Lisa Bonnet
8. Greg Kinnear, Janeane Girafolo, Ben Stiller, William H. Macy, Geoffrey Rush, Claire Forlano
9. Tilda Swenson, Chris Cooper, Maggie Gyllenhall, Ron Livingston, Meryl Streep, Judy Greer
10. Michael Clarke Duncan, Amy Adams, John C. Rilley, Jane Lynch, Gary Coleman
11. Martin Sheen, Tom Hanks, Amy Adams, Jennifer Garner, Christopher Walken
12. Meryl Streep, John Voight, Kimberly Elise, Liev Schreiber, Jeffrey Wright
13. Danny DeVitto, Michael Keaton, Jan Hooks, Chris Walken
14. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, James Rebhorn, Gwenyth Paltrow, Jude Law, Cate Blanchett
15. Robert De Niro, Ethan Hawke, Gwenyth Paltrow, Chris Cooper
16. Steve Zahn, Dave Chapelle, Tom Hanks, Parker Posey, Greg Kinnear
17. Chris O'Donnell, Oliver Platt, Peter Sargasaard, Laura Linney, John Lithgow, Liam Niesson, Tim Curry
18. Tommy Lee Jones, Drew Barrymore, Jim Carrey, Chris O'Donnell, Nicole Kidman
19. Kurt Russell, Richard Dreyffus, Jacinda Barrett, Emma Rossum, Josh Lukas, Andre Braughter
20. Rene Russo, Zoey Deschannel, Stanley Tucci, Jason Lee, Stanley Tucci, Ben Foster, Dennis Farina, Janeane Girafolo

Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Oscars becoming too predictable

Ratings declined for this year's Oscar ceremony but I don't see that as too big of a deal. It was a year in which a humongous number of like-minded pictures on the Iraq war entered into the theater and it was a little too hard for audiences to differentiate between them. The volume of Oscar contenders was incredibly high: Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton, There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men, Assassination of Jesse James, 3:10 to Yuma, In the Valley of Elah, Gone Baby Gone, Persopolis, Eastern Promises, Hairspray, I'm Not There, Into the Wild, Sweeny Todd, Great Debaters, American Gangster, Charlie Wilson's War and Zodiac all got such great reviews and entered the theaters with such great ambitions behind them, I imagine the average moviegoer thought, "oh screw it, I'm just gonna go watch National Treasure II, Transformers or I Am Legend instead."

That was what I think happened with the Oscars this year and that can be remedied next year if the slate of films becomes more favorable.

But nevertheless, I think another problem with the Oscars these days that I'm sure won't be prevented next year is the growing prevalence of websites dedicated to predicting the outcome of the Oscars.

Few people probably know that once upon a time, the Academy would issue press releases to the newspapers announcing the winners before the Oscars were presented but in 1939 when some of the greatest films ever created up to that date (Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Gone with the Wind, and Wizard of Oz) were locked in a tight race and the results got leaked to the press which ruined a considerable amount of the suspense and excitement of the night. In 1940, the Academy decided to go with a policy of complete secrecy which is tightly kept to this very day.

Today, however, the Oscars have reverted to the 1930s where the winners are basically known in advance and that's a good reason why they're considerably less exciting. This past year, according to oscarcentral, 59 out of 63 film critics correctly predicted the best picture winner, 61 of 63 predicted best actor, 61 of 63 picked best supporting actor, 60 of 63 film critics picked best director, 57 of 59 picked best original screenplay, and 47 out of 59 picked best adapted screenplay. Last year, best picture was up in the air and the best supporting actor category was an upset, but Mirren, Whitaker, Scorsesee, William Moynahan (for Departed) and Michael Ardnt (for Little Miss Sunshine) were pretty much locks.

It's true that this is better than in the 1930's because the studios aren't announcing the winners beforehand, but is that really much of an improvement? Today an army of Oscar bloggers and prediction-oriented websites analyze historical trends and trace the momentum of awards season so they can virtually guarantee who will win in some race. Even the Los Angeles Times (theenvelope), Toronto Star (Peter Howell's blog), and the New York Times (carpetbagger) have joined in the phenomenon with highly popular websites dedicated to the Oscars and other awards races that utilize Hollywood connections to enhance what will be voted on. Are these online Oscar trackers perfectly accurate? No, but they are all usually very similar which makes the case that the sheer number of them is excessive. When the Oscar bloggers are wrong, they're usually all wrong together as well, so it's little improvement. For best actress, all but 10 of the Oscar pundits predicted Julie Christie.

The only one of the major races that was truly exciting to follow this year was best supporting actress, because Ruby Dee of American Gangster, Amy Ryan of Gone Baby Gone, Tilda Swenton of Michael Clayton, and Cate Blanchett of I'm Not There all had legitimate chances at winning and when my preferred choice Tilda Swenton won it, that was the highlight of the night for me because there was genuine suspense and subsequent joy. I, Imagine thirty or forty years ago, that existed in every race. I remember loving last year's race much more than this year's because I didn't bother to read the suspiciously accurate Entertainment Weekly Oscar Prediction issue.

I think this excitement-diminishing epidemic is spreading to the casual viewer as well. Your average casual viewer will probably involuntarily come across three or four of these sources telling them who will probably win by the time Oscar time comes around. A special Oscar section will be printed at least two or three times before the ceremony in USA Today and their daily newspaper, they'll probably see the Golden Globe Results on the CNN ticker and their Morning news program will feature the entertainment correspondent telling them who will win. When it all adds up, you're average viewer will already know who won just as much as I am.

Solutions I am proposing?
-Guild awards should not take place or if they do, that should happen after the Oscars. It's a fairly dead giveaway who will win when a great number of the same people are voting in both contests. Revolutionary thought: Just because you have a guild doesn't mean you have to have an awards ceremony. I'm sure other professional organizations like the American Institute of Engineers or the Meatpackers' Union doesn't give annual awards with nominees and a red carpet celebration. Your writing, cinematography, acting, directing and producing professions are already honored through the Golden Globes and Oscars, this is clearly redundant. Especially, the producers guild. You guys own movie studios, you make millions of dollars, you have the town of Hollywood at your hands, do you really need statues and awards to make you feel pretty?

-Critics awards groups, the Golden Globes should make efforts to present different awards: Best family comedy, best breakout performance, best low budget film, best ensemble. The Golden Globe adds suspense to the ceremony because it nominates 10-12 actors, movies, and actresses, and sometimes an additional supporting actors, supporting actress, or director so that they will give you a broad field but narrow enough that you know who is likely to win

-I think we need less Oscar writing out there of the same sort where people have websites that rank the candidates in order of likelihood. It's become too much of a good thing and there are so many different angles you can take on the Oscars that aren't being covered as much. For god's sake, there are so many different things to write and explore about the current state of films that doesn't even have to do with the Oscars.