Monday, February 28, 2011


Me. With 18 correct and 6 wrong. (Curse you cinematography voters - Roger Deakins lost again!) Of my followers who entered the contest, JB had the most correct with 17. The Fan With No Name had 15. Kingpin - 13. And Twin Features - 8. Thanks for playing! And I hope it helped the rest of you do well in your Oscar pool. (Let me know if you won!)

So JB, what would you like me to draw?


Is it really that hard for the Oscars to put on a great show?

This nation of ours does one thing better than any other country in the world and that is create entertainment. Yet with all of Hollywood at its disposal, the Academy folks cannot come up with a better show than the tepid affair that they pulled together for the 83rd Oscars? How sad.

I should have known that things were going to get bad when the obligatory “Let’s put the hosts in the film clips” filmed segment ended and yet had failed to include four of the best picture nominees: WINTER’S BONE, TOY STORY 3, THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT, and unbelievably 127 HOURS. What? They couldn’t come up with a funny line or two for Anne Hathaway to say to James Franco stuck between a rock and a hard place?

So, without further ado, here are my special awards given out to this, the most boring, dragging and uninspired Oscar telecast ever. It was just over three hours and yet felt like eleven. (And Rob Lowe and Snow White, you can now die in peace knowing that an Oscar telecast was worse than yours. Congratulations.)

James Franco. He clearly did some bong hits before this kegger, I mean Oscar gig.

Kirk Douglas. Clearly time and age and ego have taken their toll. He took an eternity to get to the supporting actress winner and it was not the time, even for a legend, to stall, joke and kvetch like that.

Melissa Leo. She was as classless as her character in THE FIGHTER. (Imagine what Hailee Steinfeld would have done with that moment. A shame.)

Randy Newman. Was he still chewing a half-eaten finger sandwich when he sang his song from TOY STORY 3?

How could the In Memoriam segment exclude Corey Haim, Maria Schneider, Peter Haskell, Betty Garrett and Peter Graves? If I can remember them, the Oscar producers should. Terrible. 
Corey Haim
The Anne Hathaway song “On My Own.” Did Hugh Jackman really stand her up? Or was it just a bad inside joke? What it was…was stupid. The number should have been cut. Oh, and by the way, the song is from a Broadway show for chrissakes.

Kathryn Bigelow. There’s a reason she’s behind the camera.

Cate Blanchett. It looked like someone played marbles on her dress. In the melting sun.

Scarlett Johansson. Bad dress. Bad color. Messy hair. What happened?
Why show clips of old Oscar winners like GONE WITH THE WIND and LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING? Can’t we just honor this year’s films? It’s not about the history of the Oscars. It’s supposed to be about 2010’s best stuff.

The Electronica music movie montage with automated singing that wasn’t cool or hip in any way whatsoever. It played like old fogies trying to be young and hip. (More like a broken hip.)

A tie between the intro music, which sounded old Lawrence Welk orchestrations, and the music that started to play off Aaron Sorkin. (And how dare the show’s director order the band to do so after letting Kirk and Melissa go on and on and on…)

However, there were some delights. A precious few, but still...

The Oscar wins for live action short GOD OF LOVE and animated short THE LOST THING. They were my two faves, so it's nice to know that the Academy saw it that way too.

David Seidler. The original screenplay scribe was crowned for his smart, witty and heartfelt screenplay. And he gave an acceptance speech that was just the same.
David Seidler
Colin Firth. He’s a great actor. Especially for acting so humble when his prize was as certain as death and taxes.

Anne Hathaway. She grinned her ears off as she heard crickets greet one joke after another. Her dimples deserve their own spa weekend after all that.

Everyone thanks their laundry list of names. At least Natalie sang praises of those unsung below the liners in the biz.

Reese Witherspoon. She looked like Catherine Deneuve in the sixties. Only she smiled more.
Jennifer Lawrence. Elegant. Vibrant. And damn sexy.

Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Hailee Steinfeld, Michelle Williams and Penelope Cruz (Lucky man, that Javier Bardem).

Javier Bardem & Penelope Cruz on the red carpet
That last one she wore. The sheer gown. Wow. (A Bob Mackie, perhaps?)

The tux. Why? So Franco could come out in drag? 

Tom Hooper’s joy at hearing his name called. I think he knew, at that moment, that his film would win best picture as well.

Luke Matheny. The director, writer and star of the live action short winner GOD OF LOVE was so goofy and charming during his acceptance speech that I wish that he had taken over the hosting chores at that very moment.
Luke Metheny
Russell Brand and Helen Mirren were a witty, Britty delight as they presented best foreign language film. 

Steven Spielberg’s crack about the best picture winner joining some esteemed titles; while the losers were about to join some titles that are even more revered.

All in all, the show was a bore. Limp, aimless, drift wood. Franco defined stoned apathy, like he was still working in PINEAPPLE EXPRESS. Then they bring out Billy Crystal, who got one of only three standing ovations by the way (Kirk Douglas, and the cluster of special Oscar recipients Eli Wallach, Kevin Brownlow, Jean-Luc Godard and Thalberg winner Francis Coppola being the other ones) and have him merely introduce some old Bob Hope clips. Really? That's the best they could come up with? And almost every Oscar went to the favorite in the running so there was precious little suspense, spontaneity or any sense of a pulse to the whole business. 

Perhaps I expect too much from the show. But the Oscars are at the top of the food chain, and as someone once said, the higher up the ladder you get, the more your ass is seen by those below. Well, the Academy showed a lot of ass Sunday night. As in asinine.

Friday, February 25, 2011


This year’s Academy Awards show is rehearsed and ready to go for Sunday. I am hoping that hosts Anne Hathaway & James Franco will be delightful though their tepid commercials give me pause. Granted, it’s hard to be really funny in a 30 second commercial, but c’mon, every spot is a stinker! Hopefully it is not a harbinger of what’s to come.

I will have a thorough review of the Oscar program on Monday, critiquing both the show and the way the awards went, but right now I’d like to offer 10 tips to make the Oscar show even better next year. (I don’t think I have any producers following me yet, but a guy can dream.)


Other than Johnny Carson, no comedian has ever really aced hosting the Oscars. Billy Crystal has, but he’s not a comedian really, he’s a comedic actor. That’s the difference. The host needs to straddle the line between being an outsider commenting on the proceeding with a certain detached humor while remaining an insider who laughs with the Oscars, not at them. David Letterman, Chris Rock and Jon Stewart all went too far as the smart-ass outsider glibly assessing the Oscars as a fool’s folly. And because of that, they failed for the most part. That’s why insiders like Fey and Carell, who make movies and are funny, are perfectly suited. Plus, they always kill whenever they present together at award shows, be it the Golden Globes or the SAG Awards. 

If the reports are true, once again this year’s Oscar show will be heavy on the film clips of Oscar’s greatest hits. Wrong! They do that every year and the Oscars are not about the history of movies. They are about the given calendar year’s movies. Those are the ones being honored, not GONE WITH THE WIND or CASABLANCA or others from eons past. So to make the show tight, relevant and fresh, the producers should concentrate on clip packages from the calendar year and not continually bring in clips of old favorites.


The presenters should also be from the calendar year’s films, not those with movies coming out in the new year. Keep the PR flacks out of it!


Right now, as it has been for some time, every winner is encouraged to keep his or her remarks to just 45 seconds. At that moment, the exit music starts. How disgraceful. This is their biggest moment and they’re on the clock?  I don’t want to watch another Javier Bardem race through his speech. It’s painful. And disrespectful. Give every winner a full minute. (They never clock the lead acting winners anyway.) And if they need to be so cognizant of time, cut the leaden production numbers. 

Listen up, winners. Stop reading the names of the people you want to thank off those god-awful, folded pieces of paper or shuffled index cards. Say something meaningful instead. And if you thank your lawyer, like Halle Berry did three times, we may have to take your Oscar away!


They’ve done these little filmed intros in the past and they’re always entertaining as well as educational. A few quick, deft remarks on what went into the thinking behind this melody or this costume, by the people who did them, gives an authenticity to the proceedings, as well as puts the spotlight on these rarely seen below-the-line talents being honored.


No guest performers from STOMP clomping about to clip packages to demonstrate editing. No Debbie Allen choreography to accompany the best song nominees. Sing the song nominees if you must, and preferably in a medley, but stop with the crap interpretive dances. Hollywood should be able to put on an amazing show. Not one that looks like some loony dance recital from a bad episode of FAME.


I loved it when two years back they had previous Oscar winners in the acting categories introduce that year’s nominees. It not only felt like they were welcoming a new member into the exclusive club, but it seemed tremendously regal. So keep doing it, only the presenters must be past Oscar winners. Last year they tried it again, only this time with friends of the nominees, and it seemed more like a best man’s cheesy toast than something important.

If they’re going to honor songs that mostly play over the end credits of movies, they should give out an annual award to a category that would always field five worthy nominees and honor the most popular genre out there - the action picture. This year the Academy could have picked from worthy possibilities like UNSTOPPABLE (shown below), THE FIGHTER, INCEPTION, TRUE GRIT, KICK-ASS, ROBIN HOOD, KNIGHT & DAY, SALT and RED. What a list!

Ban him from the Emmys too. And any other awards show. What an ungracious, arrogant trainwreck.

Monday, February 21, 2011


If you are a movie lover, Oscar aficionado or have A.D.D. you should make a point to go see this year’s nominees for best short films and best animated shorts. You’ll get a lot of entertainment dollar in a very short time. And most of this year’s nominees stand tall as truly wondrous works of art. In fact, the five short films up for the Academy Award are all so good, I could see any of them taking home the gold.

The frontrunner might just be NA WEWE and it’s easy to see why. This taut and tense 20-minute story set in 1994 Burundi starts when a vanload of passengers is pulled over by an African militia. These itchy trigger-fingered rebels set out to sort the Tutsis from the Hutus, but as that task becomes more and more daunting, the film becomes a darkly comic commentary on the absurdities of racial profiling and ethnic cleansing. 
Three of this year’s honored shorts concern lost youth in the United Kingdom. THE CONFESSION is a harrowing tale examining two rural England schoolboys wrestling with their first confessions in the Catholic Church. They start off as naïf’s but when they unwittingly cause a fatal car crash, their innocence dies along with the passengers. THE CRUSH tells of an Irish youth fixated on his comely grade school teacher. But his innocence is crushed by jealousy and it isn’t long before the boy is threatening the woman’s fiancé with a duel to the death via pistols. And then there is WISH 143, about a dying teen’s obsession with losing his virginity before his time is up. Its message about love, values and intimacy will make you guffaw as well as reach for your hankie. It is the sleeper in the bunch and the favorite of most of the audience I saw it with.
 Finally, there is GOD OF LOVE, a retro lark filmed in glorious black and white. The god of love here turns out to be a jazz singer who becomes a dart wielding Cupid, steering others along the path of love, while pursuing his oblivious band mate in kind. It’s not only my favorite of the shorts but it is the best romantic comedy I’ve seen all year. 
The animated shorts unfortunately aren’t all sterling. MADAGASCAR, CARNET DE VOYAGE for example, is a decent enough travelogue blending mixed media for 10 minutes, but its narrative stalls. LET’S POLLUTE is a tongue-in-cheek parody of all those 50’s scholastic films about modern inventions improving our lives. It’s funny as hell but feels like something REN & STIMPY did decades ago.

Some love THE GRUFFALO and think it’s a sure thing to win the Oscar, but I found it to drag quite a bit during its half hour length. And it covers a lot of the same material that the ICE AGE movies exhausted. Still, it’s got lovable woodland critters and lush computer animation that is almost the equal of Pixar. 
Pixar does have its own entry this year, DAY & NIGHT, and it’s an inventive piece blending 2-D and 3-D animation. It explores the friendship between, that’s right, day and night, in the anthropomorphic form of two big-nosed shmoes. I think it’s probably the one to beat due to its technical virtuosity, humor and heart. And it’s by Pixar, truly the best in the business of animation these days. 
However, if I had a vote, my choice would be THE LOST THING, a melancholic tale about the friendship between a depressed teen and a monster/machine hybrid. It’s take on the future is one fraught with depression, alienation, but ultimately, hope and humanity. Don't be surprised if this one sneaks the Oscar away from Pixar. THE LOST THING doesn’t have as many laughs, but it does have the hugest heart of any of this year’s animated entries.
For those of my intrepid followers who reside in Chicago, you’re in luck. The shorts and cartoons are being shown up at the Landmark Theaters in the Century shopping mall. I was encouraged to see packed houses for the showings I saw this weekend.  And with the Oscars being given out this Sunday, you owe it to yourself to see these before their short time is up.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


Today, I’m feeling a little snarky. So here, for your amusement, dear followers, are my thoughts on movies for the day. Some, a bit on the pissy side. Let me know what you’re thinking. And do B.Y.O.B. (Bring your own bile.)

Is it just me…
Or was the most underrated movie last year THE GHOST WRITER? (How come the  European Awards picked it as best picture and the Academy didn't even nominate it? For anything!) 

Is it just me…
Or was Minka Kelly sexier in two minutes at the end of 500 DAYS OF SUMMER than in all of THE ROOMMATE? (Esquire magazine should retract their award.) 
And is it just me…
But was 127 HOURS the most overrated? (It was good, but cripes, it felt like that long just to get to the inevitable arm-cutting scene.)

Is it just me…
But does it seem like Christopher Nolan is channeling Joel Schumacher stacking too many stars in his next Batman movie? (Hope Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard aren’t all playing villains.)

Speaking of villains, is it just me…
Or was the greatest Bond villain of all-time Alan Rickman in DIE HARD? Even though it’s not a Bond film. (Let’s hope Bond 22 can come up with a 007 adversary just as worthy as Hans Gruber.)

Is it just me...
But wasn’t the rowing scene in THE SOCIAL NETWORK a better action scene than anything Michael Bay has ever directed? (And now he’s going to destroy my town Chicago in the next TRANSFORMERS movie. Thanks, Mike.)

Is it just me…
But don’t you find that the charm of young Hollywooders Jesse Eisenberg, Jennifer Lawrence, Andrew Garfield, Hailee Steinfeld, Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis and Armie Hammer almost makes up for the charmless Lindsay Lohan? (No? Still a train wreck? So it is.)

And is it just me…
Or are you waiting for Lindsay to turn into Sean Young and go the full crazy and storm Chris Nolan’s trailer insisting she be cast as Catwoman instead of Hathaway? (Meow, kitten, where'd you get that necklace?)

Is it just me…
Or are you miffed that 1 out of every 4 movies due out this year is going to be a sequel? (How many more chipmunks and Cap’n Jack do we need?)

Is it just me…
Or did Melissa Leo seriously damage her Academy Awards chances with her vainglorious “I’m 50 and can be glamorous” Oscar campaign? (And wouldn’t it be terribly ironic if she lost votes because of it and thus lost to her youngest competitor Hailee Steinfeld?)

Is it just me…
But isn’t everyone in the TWILIGHT movies just way too friggin’ serious? (I know I’m not the target audience, but c'mon, I laughed a helluva lot when I was a teenager.)

And is it just me…
Or must Bella smell like a Cinnabon? Otherwise, why does every vampire in Forks, Washington want to eat her? (Geez, not one girl in town smells like Chile’s hot wings? Not even the girls who work there?)

Is it just me…
Or do you think Adam Sandler is f**cking with us? (He’s gotta know some of those movies suck, right?)

Is it just me…
But isn’t TAKEN the best awful movie you’ve seen in the last decade? (Every time I pass it on cable, I have to watch, I can’t help myself!)

And is it just me…
Or will you also be going to see UNKNOWN opening weekend. (What is it with Liam Neeson having so many problems traveling in Europe? I don't know, but I love it.)

Is it just me…
But shouldn’t Eric Roberts be getting better roles? (He looks amazing. And is very, very talented. So what gives?)

Is it just me…
But don’t you know all those birthers out there hate Sidney Poitier movies too? (Bet they lost their shit when he informed Rod Steiger, “They call me Mister Tibbs!”)

Is it just me…
But isn’t it cool that Trent Reznor is doing film scores? (And getting Oscar nominations too?)

Is it just me…
Or don’t Robert Redford, Michael Caine, Robert Duvall, Gene Hackman, John Williams, Sidney Lumet, Shirley MacLaine and Woody Allen all deserve the American Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award before Morgan Freeman? (Don’t get me wrong, he’s worthy. But in 10 more years.)
  Is it just me…
But isn’t George Clooney the coolest man on the planet these days? (Wonder if he still has the pet pig…even that was kinda cool.)

And finally, is it just me…
But isn’t MODERN FAMILY better comedy than any movie comedy in the last 10 years? (Cue gasp.)

It isn't just me, is it?

Monday, February 14, 2011


The Oscars are less than two weeks away and there are Oscar pools at work to contend with, so let me help you prevail at yours. Predicting the way the Oscars go is always a tricky business. They are nothing if not unpredictable. Nothing is ever entirely a sure thing. (Again, if you don’t believe me, ask Lauren Bacall about her assured best supporting actress victory in THE MIRROR HAS TWO FACES.)

Predicting the Oscar winners accurately requires three key evaluative tools:

Pay attention to what did well during awards season.
     Think with your head, not your heart, putting personal preferences aside.
     Remember that the average Academy voter is no expert.

Let me explain…

True, Academy members who are expert in their field vote the nominations in their category. Costume designers nominate costume designers; sound designers nominate those in the sound categories. But the final ballot is voted on by all Academy members.  That means actors are voting for the best sound design and editors are voting for best original song, etc. Hardly the most informed and expert judging there, right? (NOTE: The categories of foreign language movie, the two documentaries, and the two short subjects are not voted on by the Academy at large. Instead, various select panels vote in these categories, to ensure all the nominees are seen.)

So, as you can see, most of the Academy voters are judging work that is simply out of their realm of expertise. Their qualifications are not as informed so they tend to vote for the choices that seem most obvious. Therefore a showier performance like Christian Bale’s turn as a crack addict in THE FIGHTER will probably get more votes than the subtler, quieter work done by Mark Ruffalo in THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT. The more visible or obvious nominees usually prevail. So approach your picks like that and you’ll likely triumph in your pool.

Now to make this really interesting, and to encourage participation, I’m going to offer an incentive for you to submit your predictions and try to beat mine. The person who bests me will get an original, black & white caricature done by me! It can be a caricature of you, or of either your favorite actor or actress. The only rules are that you must register as a follower and submit your picks here in a posted message before the Oscars start on Sunday, February 27. In case of a tie, the person who posted their predictions first will be declared the winner. If you don’t beat me, well the person who did best, will still get a drawing. Pretty good deal, eh?

Without any further ado, here are my predictions, and the reasoning behind each:

Best Picture
  • “Black Swan” Mike Medavoy, Brian Oliver and Scott Franklin, Producers
  • “The Fighter” David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman and Mark Wahlberg, Producers
  • “Inception” Emma Thomas and Christopher Nolan, Producers
  • “The Kids Are All Right” Gary Gilbert, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte and Celine Rattray, Producers
  • “The King's Speech” Iain Canning, Emile Sherman and Gareth Unwin, Producers
  • “127 Hours” Christian Colson, Danny Boyle and John Smithson, Producers
  • “The Social Network” Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca and Ceán Chaffin, Producers
  • “Toy Story 3” Darla K. Anderson, Producer
  • “True Grit” Scott Rudin, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, Producers
  • “Winter's Bone" Anne Rosellini and Alix Madigan-Yorkin, Producers

Winner: THE KING’S SPEECH. It’s got all the momentum. And it may very well sweep the boards because it has a moving story; terrific acting; and important themes about conquering self-doubt, overcoming the class divide, and fighting the Nazi’s. It’s a film the Academy can vote for with its heart and its head.
Actor in a Leading Role
  • Javier Bardem in “Biutiful”
  • Jeff Bridges in “True Grit”
  • Jesse Eisenberg in “The Social Network”
  • Colin Firth in “The King's Speech”
  • James Franco in “127 Hours”

Winner: Colin Firth. He may be the closest thing to a lock this year. His is the standout male performance of 2010 and the Academy cannot declare his film the year’s best without honoring the king as well.

Actress in a Leading Role
  • Annette Bening in “The Kids Are All Right”
  • Nicole Kidman in “Rabbit Hole”
  • Jennifer Lawrence in “Winter's Bone”
  • Natalie Portman in “Black Swan”
  • Michelle Williams in “Blue Valentine”

Winner: Natalie Portman. It’s the female performance of the year in a movie that everyone is still talking about. (As Nina Sayers screamed at herself, “It’s my turn!”)

Actor in a Supporting Role
  • Christian Bale in “The Fighter”
  • John Hawkes in “Winter's Bone”
  • Jeremy Renner in “The Town”
  • Mark Ruffalo in “The Kids Are All Right”
  • Geoffrey Rush in “The King's Speech”

Winner: Christian Bale. His role is large, so is his acting, and he’s a big star. However, if there’s a KING’S SPEECH sweep, Rush could snatch it from him.

Actress in a Supporting Role
  • Amy Adams in “The Fighter”
  • Helena Bonham Carter in “The King's Speech”
  • Melissa Leo in “The Fighter”
  • Hailee Steinfeld in “True Grit”
  • Jacki Weaver in “Animal Kingdom”

Winner: My one big upset prediction this year is Hailee Steinfeld. Hers is the biggest role in this category, it’s the lead, and she aced a tricky part in her very first movie. The Academy loves that kind of thing and often favors the ingénue here. And I don’t think heavy favorite Melissa Leo did herself any favors with her bizarre and self-indulgent Oscar campaign in the trades. It might be just enough for Steinfeld to topple the category’s frontrunner.

  • “Black Swan” Darren Aronofsky
  • “The Fighter” David O. Russell
  • “The King's Speech” Tom Hooper
  • “The Social Network” David Fincher
  • “True Grit” Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Winner: THE KING’S SPEECH. I believe that the Oscar voters will do what they usually do, go hand-in-hand with the best picture and director winner, and give it to Tom Hooper.

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
  • “127 Hours” Screenplay by Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy
  • “The Social Network” Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin
  • “Toy Story 3” Screenplay by Michael Arndt; Story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich
  • “True Grit” Written for the screen by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
  • “Winter's Bone” Adapted for the screen by Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini

Winner: THE SOCIAL NETWORK. Aaron Sorkin is all but a lock for the most talked about screenplay of the year.

Writing (Original Screenplay)
  • “Another Year” Written by Mike Leigh
  • “The Fighter” Screenplay by Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson;
    Story by Keith Dorrington & Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson
  • “Inception” Written by Christopher Nolan
  • “The Kids Are All Right” Written by Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg
  • “The King's Speech” Screenplay by David Seidler

Winner: THE KING’S SPEECH. It’s hard not to give the best picture frontrunner the screenplay Oscar as well, especially when it’s one as clever and deft as what Seidler wrote.

Animated Feature Film
  • “How to Train Your Dragon” Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois
  • “The Illusionist” Sylvain Chomet
  • “Toy Story 3” Lee Unkrich

Winner: TOY STORY 3.  Pixar can do no wrong and everyone loves them.

Foreign Language Film
  • “Biutiful” Mexico
  • “Dogtooth” Greece
  • “In a Better World” Denmark
  • “Incendies” Canada
  • “Outside the Law (Hors-la-loi)” Algeria

Winner: INCENDIES. I haven’t seen all of them as most haven’t played here yet, but the Canadian one seems to have the most buzz.

  • “Black Swan” Matthew Libatique
  • “Inception” Wally Pfister
  • “The King's Speech” Danny Cohen
  • “The Social Network” Jeff Cronenweth
  • “True Grit” Roger Deakins

Winner: TRUE GRIT. Deakins is overdue as he’s never, ever won. Plus, Academy voters know how difficult location shoots are, thus they often prevail in this category.

Art Direction
  • “Alice in Wonderland”
    Production Design: Robert Stromberg; Set Decoration: Karen O'Hara
  • “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1”
    Production Design: Stuart Craig; Set Decoration: Stephenie McMillan
  • “Inception”
    Production Design: Guy Hendrix Dyas; Set Decoration: Larry Dias and Doug Mowat
  • “The King's Speech”
    Production Design: Eve Stewart; Set Decoration: Judy Farr
  • “True Grit”
    Production Design: Jess Gonchor; Set Decoration: Nancy Haigh

Winner: ALICE IN WONDERLAND. An entire made-up world was created, therefore the Academy will vote accordingly.

Costume Design
  • “Alice in Wonderland” Colleen Atwood
  • “I Am Love” Antonella Cannarozzi
  • “The King's Speech” Jenny Beavan
  • “The Tempest” Sandy Powell
  • “True Grit” Mary Zophres

Winner: ALICE IN WONDERLAND. The most eye candy always wins in this category.

Film Editing
  • “Black Swan” Andrew Weisblum
  • “The Fighter” Pamela Martin
  • “The King's Speech” Tariq Anwar
  • “127 Hours” Jon Harris
  • “The Social Network” Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter

Winner: THE SOCIAL NETWORK. The one with the most action or the trickiest story to edit usually wins, thus it should go to the Facebook movie and it’s brilliant interweaving of flashbacks, multiple character stories, and dual litigation hearings.

Sound Editing
  • “Inception” Richard King
  • “Toy Story 3” Tom Myers and Michael Silvers
  • “Tron: Legacy” Gwendolyn Yates Whittle and Addison Teague
  • “True Grit” Skip Lievsay and Craig Berkey
  • “Unstoppable” Mark P. Stoeckinger

Winner: INCEPTION. It will clean up in both sound categories because of its multiple locations and all the different sound effects throughout the dream states.

Sound Mixing
  • “Inception” Lora Hirschberg, Gary A. Rizzo and Ed Novick
  • “The King's Speech” Paul Hamblin, Martin Jensen and John Midgley
  • “Salt” Jeffrey J. Haboush, Greg P. Russell, Scott Millan and William Sarokin
  • “The Social Network” Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick and Mark Weingarten
  • “True Grit” Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff and Peter F. Kurland

Winner: INCEPTION. Because of what I said earlier.

Visual Effects
  • “Alice in Wonderland” Ken Ralston, David Schaub, Carey Villegas and Sean Phillips
  • “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1” Tim Burke, John Richardson, Christian Manz and Nicolas Aithadi
  • “Hereafter” Michael Owens, Bryan Grill, Stephan Trojansky and Joe Farrell
  • “Inception” Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley and Peter Bebb
  • “Iron Man 2” Janek Sirrs, Ben Snow, Ged Wright and Daniel Sudick

 Winner: INCEPTION. The effects guys rolled up city streets for chrissakes.The hands down winner.

  • “Barney's Version” Adrien Morot
  • “The Way Back” Edouard F. Henriques, Gregory Funk and Yolanda Toussieng
  • “The Wolfman” Rick Baker and Dave Elsey

Winner: THE WOLFMAN. Rick Baker is a very well known make-up artist to almost everyone in Hollywood. And his horror show work here seems the most obvious, doesn’t it?

Music (Original Score)
  • “How to Train Your Dragon” John Powell
  • “Inception” Hans Zimmer
  • “The King's Speech” Alexandre Desplat
  • “127 Hours” A.R. Rahman
  • “The Social Network” Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

Winner: THE KING’S SPEECH. Desplat’s stirring score trumps the disturbing one from THE SOCIAL NETWORK.

Music (Original Song)
  • “Coming Home” from “Country Strong” Music and Lyric by Tom Douglas, Troy Verges and Hillary Lindsey
  • “I See the Light” from “Tangled” Music by Alan Menken Lyric by Glenn Slater
  • “If I Rise” from “127 Hours” Music by A.R. Rahman Lyric by Dido and Rollo Armstrong
  • “We Belong Together” from “Toy Story 3" Music and Lyric by Randy Newman

Winner: TOY STORY 3. Oscar nominee perennial Randy Newman will likely best the others here, helped no doubt by the popularity of Pixar.

Documentary (Feature)
  • “Exit through the Gift Shop” Banksy and Jaimie D'Cruz
  • “Gasland” Josh Fox and Trish Adlesic
  • “Inside Job” Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs
  • “Restrepo” Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger
  • “Waste Land” Lucy Walker and Angus Aynsley

Winner: INSIDE JOB. The doc voters usually go for the serious or political, and with the recession, it’s hard not to see this Wall Street take down prevailing.

Documentary (Short Subject)
  • “Killing in the Name” Jed Rothstein
  • “Poster Girl” Sara Nesson and Mitchell W. Block
  • “Strangers No More” Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon
  • “Sun Come Up” Jennifer Redfearn and Tim Metzger
  • “The Warriors of Qiugang” Ruby Yang and Thomas Lennon

Winner: STRANGERS NO MORE. I haven’t seen any of these, as they have yet to play in Chicago. I hear great things about all of them, but most about the one I’m guessing will win.

Short Film (Animated)
  • “Day & Night” Teddy Newton
  • “The Gruffalo” Jakob Schuh and Max Lang
  • “Let's Pollute” Geefwee Boedoe
  • “The Lost Thing” Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann
  • “Madagascar, carnet de voyage (Madagascar, a Journey Diary)” Bastien Dubois

Winner: DAY & NIGHT. I have not seen them all, but this Pixar mini-film is quite novel and could easily triumph.

Short Film (Live Action)
  • “The Confession” Tanel Toom
  • “The Crush” Michael Creagh
  • “God of Love” Luke Matheny
  • “Na Wewe” Ivan Goldschmidt
  • “Wish 143” Ian Barnes and Samantha Waite

Winner: NA WEWE. Again, I’ve seen none of them so it’s all guesswork in this category. Sorry!

One final prediction… Anne Hathaway and James Franco will shine as Oscar hosts and their success will open the door for other non-comedian duos to take the reins in the future. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of Hollywood.

Friday, February 11, 2011


I went to see the remake of THE MECHANIC the other day. It’s not particularly good but it got me to thinking about its leading man Jason Statham. In this adequate but uninspired thriller he’s playing the role that Charles Bronson created in the adequate but uninspired original back in 1972. But rather than essay Bronson, it occurred to me that Statham really is kind of doing a modern take on Clint Eastwood. And the more I thought about Statham and Eastwood, I realized they have a lot in common. In fact, I think Jason is the heir apparent to ol’ Clint. And if he pushes himself a little more he can get to that next level of ‘Eastwood-ness’ that will make him a better actor and a bigger star. 

Original caricature of Jason Statham by Jeff York (copyright 2011)

Right off the bat, Jason has a lot in common with the leading man image that Eastwood carved out in the 1970’s. He’s handsome, rugged, a real tough guy, a man’s man, yet also a ladies man, wildly alluring to any comely female that needs a good shagging or transportation across some dangerous border or protection from a vengeful syndicate. In addition, Jason can do a great squint, just like Clint. Both scowl beautifully, seething with anger, wincing at the injustice of the world around them, like someone just dropped ass in their cars. And both guys deliver all their lines with a raspy, whispering, withering contempt. As if having to speak is an inconvenience. After all, these two are men of action. They speak softly and carry big sticks. They really shouldn’t have to speak when they have such perfectly good guns or fists to do the talking for them.

And both Statham and Eastwood continually play the lone wolf in their movies. They’re solitary men. Outsiders. These two are men from a bygone era where dignity and discipline were worn like badges of honor. The Statham and Eastwood character always has the strictest of codes. (Vince Lombardi could have raised ‘em!) And in almost every movie, these men of honor run up against ‘the man’, a sniveling, slithering, reptile who wears corporate unctuousness as slickly as his pricey suit. They’re usually working for some monolithic corporation or corrupt government and blithely toss around talk of “being just like them.” But they are nothing like Clint or Jason. Their code is greed. And that’s why Jason and Clint must kill them. But it’s not murder really, it’s just taking out the trash. And we can’t wait for them to do so. 

 Another parallel between Statham and Eastwood is their foray into comedy. Early in his career, Eastwood showed a surprising knack for getting laughs. Perhaps it was his stalwart wooden style that just made punch lines even droller and therefore funnier. Whatever it was, it worked, and in movies like THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY (1966) and EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE (1978) Clint got a lot of laughs just standing there being Clint. Stewing. Staring. Raising the corners of his eyebrows just a little higher to turn them into arch sidekicks.

Original caricature of Clint Eastwood by Jeff York (copyright 2011)

Statham has a knack for the farcical too. He’s even gone farther in his comedy with the CRANK series. In those romps, he played a man who has to keep his adrenaline up or his heart will explode. (Don’t ask.) With this wild opportunity to embrace farce, Statham literally grabbed it and ran with it. His hyper-kinetic physical performance got lots of guffaws. And yet he didn’t overact. Instead, he did the exact same thing that Clint did. He used his normal stoicism to make the absurd all the more believable. His range of A to D made these B thrillers quite a hoot.

The one area where Statham hasn’t shadowed Clint yet is in more serious work.  By 1971, less than a decade into his film career, Clint had already made PLAY MISTY FOR ME, a terrific thriller where he played a regular guy, a San Francisco deejay with an obsessed female fan. Clint used his gentle voice and easygoing manner to become an everyman, someone the audience could relate to right away and root for. He wasn’t 10 feet tall, an indestructible cowboy no one could hang, or a maverick cop who singlehandedly catches serial killers. No, here he was a regular Joe, frightened, on the run, capable of bleeding. Clint Eastwood showed Hollywood that he could play vulnerable and it paid off in spades. It made audiences love him even more, and he started working that vulnerability into more and more of his screen roles, even the action heroes.  It made Eastwood an even bigger star, and more importantly, a better screen actor.

The closest that Statham has come to playing a truly vulnerable character in the first ten years of his film career was in THE BANK JOB (2008). Not surprisingly, it’s his best movie. Based on the true story of a London bank robbery that veered horribly off the rails in 1971, it gave Statham a chance to play a character not in total control. His character of Terry is a down-on-his-luck and indebted car dealer, lured into pulling a heist to make some quick cash. But the job ends up summoning all sorts of nefarious parties into the plot, including corrupt police, ruthless political militants, and scandal-ridden royals. Statham doesn’t drive fast or chop and kick with black belt perfection once here. Instead, he frets, sweats and loses his cool completely as he scrambles to save his money, his friends, and his life. He’s utterly believable playing an average bloke. And it behooves him to do more of that in his career.

As Nicholas Cage makes one bizarre dud after another that nobody goes to see, and Bruce Willis embraces his AARP membership, there really is only one action picture lead left and that’s Jason Statham. Like Clint, he can play these roles well into his sixties if he stays handsome, fit and sturdy. But I’m hoping that he forays into more and more serious fare. When Statham plays a real guy, he’s even better. Just like Clint. So go ahead, Jason, make my day.