January 1, 2016
I tend to avoid the rubbish Hollywood produces to sell the popcorn and its over-priced 3D premium upgrades, so you won’t find well-known crap like Terminator Genisys and Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 on this list. I try to seek out films that at least appear to have potential to be good and/or are well-reviewed. Still, that doesn’t mean I don’t get suckered into some disappointments.
Among the Hollywood films I had higher hopes for in 2015 were Trainwreck, Amy Schumer’s big screen debut as not only a lead but a screenwriter. I found the movie to be forced and not as funny as it was hyped to be. The editing was particularly terrible, revealing sentimentality for improvised lines over an interest in consistent storytelling. Then it all ended in typical precious Hollywood sincerity. There was also too much made over The Danish Girl, which sealed my judgement with an idiotically romanticized scene of closure with a fucking flying scarf and the words “Let it fly!”
These are all the easy targets, however. My disappointments include well-respected directors, indie darlings and several screenings at Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival. To be fair with MIFF, a festival of about 200 films, it can only be as good as the films you can actually see during the festival’s week and a half run. I was also on a jury where I was assigned movies to watch. It’s also not really fair to single out some of the weaker movies that somehow made it into the program. Some are obscurities that will never get U.S. distribution yet offer distinct voices for the countries that produced them. So I won’t note some particularly disappointing experiences from Venezuela and Spain.
That said, I do feel obliged to single out a couple of titles. Oscar-winning Danish director Susanne Bier returned to the fest with the obnoxiously preposterous A Second Chance. It’s a ludicrous film featuring the talented actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who plays a police detective pulling “the old switcheroo” with a baby he finds in a drug addicted couple’s filthy home and the body of his and wife’s dead infant. Then there was the festival’s big award winner, Las oscuras primaveras (Obscure Spring). I had high hopes for this Mexican film, but it turned out to be utterly contrived and overly serious. I was surprised to see the jury fall for it. You can read my review in the Miami New Times here. And I was glad to find The Hollywood Reporter’s film critic prove that I did not stand alone in my complaints: read Jonathan Holland’s review here.
Still, these were not the worst films I saw in 2015. Here in ranked order, are the biggest disappointments for this writer in 2015:
5. Z for Zachariah
The pedigree was right for this one. Director Craig Zobel, whose previous movie I admired (Compliance reveals horrific dimensions of social behavior – a film review), had three fine actors at his disposal. Unfortunately, the original story by Robert C. O’Brien was changed so much that it not only lost its relevance but lost its sense.
4. The Hateful Eight
I’ve loved so many films by Quentin Tarantino. Though I was generally positive about Django Unchained (Film review: ‘Django Unchained’ celebrates myth and history with humor and horror), for the first time I had some serious issues with a Tarantino movie. My main problem was that it could have used some editing. But here is the monstrosity that results in terrible self-indulgence: The Hateful Eight.
Canadian director Denis Villeneuve always shows so much great potential in his movies. So far all of them have succumbed to fundamental flaws in story-telling. You have to look beyond his film’s often stellar cinematography, but once you do, you will understand that his scripts are plagued with terrible issues. Sicario tries to say something deep but can only help but scratch at a surface that only reveals ignorance and ends with a mere tasteless stretch of Hollywood closure with a climax that caves to its own evils.
Read my review with Ana Morgenstern: Sicario romanticizes revenge in gritty Hollywood take on US/Mexican drug war — a film review
2 and 1. Love and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
These two are so close to call because both made me want to walk out. Both are also stories of young people stumbling with an affection for the opposite sex who fall short for their own egos. Both directors take themselves so damn seriously that all they reveal is their own annoying self-importance. Both filmmakers have growing up to do before they can cast backward glances at growing up and avoiding so much overwrought, self-indulgent cinema.
Read my reviews:
The Hateful Eight is just a tiresome exercise in drawing out mean caricatures of annoying people — a film review
December 24, 2015
Note: This is a review of the longer, “Roadshow” version of The Hateful Eight.
Quentin Tarantino has finally done it. He’s made a movie that’s too long for its own good. You know there’s a problem when the dialogue of a Tarantino movie gets tiresome and the violence becomes nothing more than decadent and mean-spirited. Broken into two sections with a 12-minute intermission, The Hateful Eight, fails to engage in its meandering and overlong first half, which ends up impacting its second half in the worst way possible: it diminishes the film’s consequences and punishes the audience with nothing more than repellent, nihilistic cruelty.
OK, so you should know what you are in for with a title like The Hateful Eight. It refers to the film’s eight shady anti-heroes of the “Wild West,” who find themselves trapped in an outpost during a blizzard. All of them harbor essential secrets whose gradual reveal leads to an eventual bloodbath. Like the issues with Martin Scorsese’s infamous Wolf of Wall Street (Wolf of Wall Street’ is one nasty, vulgar film about nasty, vulgar people– for 3 hours!), characters lacking sympathy in such an over-long movie makes for problematic storytelling. The chief problem lies in the editing department, making Sally Menke once again sorely missed. As it was in Tarantino’s previous movie, Django Unchained (Film review: ‘Django Unchained’ celebrates myth and history with humor and horror), his first without Menke, there are problems in tone and pacing and an excess that feels so redundant it becomes dull and condescending.
The first part of The Hateful Eight is filled with the twisted threat of violence by a group of characters trying to suss each other out while stuck in a snowstorm at Minnie’s Haberdashery, the isolated mountain roadhouse where much of the drama unfolds. John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), two bounty hunters, bring in Ruth’s captive, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to hunker through the storm, finding a group of strangers they don’t trust and no sign of Minnie, who Marquis knows personally. Thus the suspicions begin.
It sounds like a good concept worth its slow burn. However, Tarantino, who also wrote the script, has drawn it out so long, that the dialogue creaks out with what has become a familiar formula of his plays on racism and bigotry that ends up overshadowing the fleshing out of identity. Then there are the tiresome jokes that out wear their novelty, like characters having to constantly nail boards to shut the haberdashery’s door against the snow. Plot twists aside, there’s little more story than this and little sense that anything crucial is at stake. It’s as if the film were an exercise in bringing eight shifty characters together to see how they would do each other in if they were stuck in close quarters, like a gladiator match with words and guns. It’s almost a cold exercise in story development instead of an actual story. It feels as if Tarantino has taken the extended scene of the basement bar of Inglourious Basterds and stretched it into a feature-length movie with twists that fail to reach the heights of his 2009 film without on of its context.
Before the intermission, almost two hours into the film, the first shot is fired and stakes are finally increased, and by then, you can’t wait for these people to start killing each other in cruel, spectacular ways disguised as humor. Unfortunately, that means you have more than an hour to go, and there’s no more pay off other than the film’s nasty tone, which also features a flashback to some “nice” people drawn out as if they were made of sentimental straw. The second half is all brutality and blood with some good lines here and there, but it all feels so meaningless and malicious, and it is a fundamentally problematic issue with the film.
Because of all the hype about The Hateful Eight being shot on 70mm, it is also worth noting how disappointing the cinemascope widescreen is. It’s nowhere near as grand as expected. The West is castrated by the snow, and sure, Robert Richardson gets nice wide shots of giant horse-drawn carriages and the expressive faces of some of the actors, but, more often than not, the mise-en-scene is so overwhelming that never honestly engages the audience. Russel, Demian Bichir and James Parks are among those lost in the excess of facial hair symbolic of the obstruction that has blinded Tarantino’s ego to dial it back. The only cinematic quality worth its while is Ennio Morricone’s score, but you’re better of buying the vinyl soundtrack.
In the end, The Hateful Eight’s weakness is its script. Fine, it’s in the title, but not a single one of these characters have redeeming qualities that make up for their bad sides. Pick your scale of bad guy and root for him (or her). Some are racist, throwing around the N-word with aplomb, while others carry a twisted righteousness that permits them to beat a woman at any chance. All are liars to some degree, some more interesting than others. But despite a seeming complexity, there’s something inhuman and mechanical about it all. They boil down to primal caricatures unworthy of audience sympathy. It’s as if Tarantino expects the audience to be interested in hokey representations of people standing in as jokes. What happens when you sacrifice fleshing out a person for the sake of a joke? Well, this film is our prime example, unengaging, mind-numbing and plain tiresome.
The Hateful Eight is available to watch in two different formats, in two different running times. There’s a 168 minute version in digital at most theaters and 187 minute roadshow version on 70mm. It is rated R. It opens everywhere on Dec. 25. All images are courtesy of The Weinstein Company, who also invited me to a preview screening of the Road Show Version with the overture, intermission and added footage. This review is based on that cut, but it was shown in digital projection.
An amazingly ambitious film, the Attack, reaches for a larger statement beyond the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with an intriguing, multi-layered story concerned with identity on a personal level. It seems a challenge to transcend a historic conflict by focusing on a private relationship, but by sticking with close human relations and using an intimate style of shooting, somehow director Ziad Doueiri succeeds. Though set against a backdrop of more than 2,000 years of conflict and the baggage that comes with that an important statement lies at the heart of the story: whether anyone can know another person wholly, even if they are their most intimate partner.
Based on Yasmina Khadra’s award-winning best-selling novel, the film deals with a Palestinian doctor, Amin (Ali Suliman), who has comfortably integrated in Tel-Aviv with a Christian Arab wife, Siham (Reymond Amsalem). However, his world is up-ended when his wife is implicated in a suicide bombing that kills 19 people, including 11 children. Beyond the horrors of this scenario, the film follows this man’s quest for the truth while illustrating how ultimately difficult it is to know anyone.
Doueiri was Quentin Tarantino’s first assistant cameraman from Reservoir Dogs into Jackie Brown, and he proves that he learned some lessons from this master filmmaker from a standpoint of subtle, moody suspense. But, ultimately, it’s his deeper understanding of the conflict he grew up with that informs his film. It’s unfortunate that in May, the League of Arab States asked all of its 22 member nations to boycott the film, including the director’s home country of Lebanon. In shooting part of the movie in Israel, he had violated a decades-old Lebanese rule prohibiting citizens from working there. But, the director has noted, that is not the real reason why the Attack was banned, but because his film fails to demonize Israel, which goes against the propaganda he grew up with as a child in Lebanon.
What’s so powerful about this film is that there is no room for demons on either side when such a complex relationship lies at the heart of the movie. The film efficiently establishes this relationship within its first few minutes. Siham tells Amin that every day he leaves her a small piece of her dies. It’s a heavy statement that is meant to inform this relationship where this career-driven man seems to have put work ahead of her. He is off to accept an award from the Israeli medical community. During an introductory speech Siham calls him, and he must abruptly cut the call short. As he rises to visit the stage, a female colleague, Kim (Evgenia Dodena), brushes his face rather intimately to congratulate him. The next day he is having lunch with Kim and other doctors when a distant explosion rattles the building.
Via brief scenes, the suspicion that descends on Amin grows more and more suffocating. On top of dealing with the trauma of identifying Siham’s body, he becomes the target of harsh police interrogation tactics and vengeful vandals. Halfway through the film, he decides to visit Siham’s family in the city of Nablus in the West Bank. Doueiri does a great job presenting the culture shock, from the taxi driver who insists they listen to a sheikh’s hateful speech to an even more shocking revelation on how news of Siham’s implication in the bombing is regarded by those living in the city.
The director uses tight shots on the actor’s face and a very modern electronic ambient music coupled with shivering strings by Éric Neveux to enhance the contemplative, quiet suffering of Amin. Forgiving a couple of heavy-handed melodramatic moments, for the most part, Doueiri sticks to a moody work, using lots of shadow and quiet moments that reveal a temperance the film fares better to stick with. Amin wanders in the middle of two worlds, more alone than ever. The more he learns, the more lonely he seems. The deeply entrenched divides between these people is powerfully revealed through a most intimate search for truth that ends on a rather wry personal note the speaks to some rather heart-breaking possibilities. It’s quite a journey to take whether you are Arab, Jew or other.
The Attack is rated R, runs 102 min., and is in Arabic and Hebrew with English subtitles. It opens in South Florida Friday, June 28, at the following theaters:
Miami: The Tower Theater, Intracoastal Mall
Fort Lauderdale: Sunrise 11
Boca Raton/West Palm Beach: Regal Delray 18, Movies at Delray, Movies of Lake Worth, Frank Theaters Delray, Living Room Cinemas, Boca, Regal Shadowood
Fort Myers: Regal Bell Tower
The studio provided me with a preview screener on-line for the purposes of introducing and discussing the film at O Cinema as part of its Gathr Preview screenings, back in early June. More information on Gathr in Miami can be found here.
It’s difficult to compare the retro-inspired Quentin Tarantino to any standard but the one he sets for himself with his own filmography. His latest film, Django Unchained, stands up well as a modern mash up of the Spaghetti Western and Blaxploitation cinema. It mines the past of cinema history while bringing something new to the mix through Tarantino’s indulgence in meandering but purposeful and always entertaining dialogue. That said, already the inclination arises to consider this film against the many iconic movies the director has produced in his 20-year career. This latest entry probably falls most into the quality of Kill Bill for its sheer indulgence of length and its theme of vengeance. There lies both its faults and merits.
It’s a well-constructed, if extra-long, film building up toward an over-indulgent climax with a push-pull tension between humor and violence. Tarantino’s retro winks begin immediately with a vintage Columbia Pictures logo leader, and then the title track from the original Django film (Sergio Corbucci, 1966) that influenced the film only in name and style. As usual, Tarantino’s soundtrack throughout is well-inspired when it sticks to the era influences of the spaghetti western (Ennio Morricone appears more than once) and the 70s era that film genre flourished in (a sly choice in Jim Croce’s tune “I Got a Name”). When it diverts to modern hip-hop it feels like a stretch, however, and disturbs the film’s vintage quality, even if a track samples James Brown.
During the romantic, dreamy swing of guitars and strings and the soaring cool vocals of the Roberto Fia-sung title track, a chain gang of slaves cross hostile lands of blazing sun and drizzling snow in meager clothing. The group shuffles behind a pair of slave traders on horses. It’s almost a sick sort of dance sequence, and brilliantly establishes Tarantino’s notion to exploit the horrific elements of the end of the slave-era in the United States. The irony of this delightful song, which oozes 1960s-kitsch, comes across in the juxtaposition of the suffering of these men.
The film follows a freed slave, the titular Django (Jamie Foxx), and Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) the bounty hunter who emancipates him and takes him under his wing. The action unfolds in 1858 (“two years before the Civil War,” as an intertitle in the film points out) as the pair travels from Texas to Mississippi. Their relationship begins as something practical and blossoms into something far more idealistic. Django wants to find his wife Broomhilde (Kerry Washington) and Schultz cannot help but fall enraptured by the parallels to the ancient German myth from the Nibelung Saga in Django’s quest (Broomhilde was the name of a princess in the tale in need of rescue from a dragon).
As demonstrated by the film’s own comparison to a myth dating back to Norse lore, the hero venturing to rescue the damsel is nothing new. But for the slavery-hating German character of Schultz, the opportunity to watch the definitive fairy tale of his beloved nation acted out by black slaves, one of which actually learned German during her servitude, seems irresistible. His drive to help Django just to experience the myth by proxy comes from a far more romantic place than even Django’s drive. Django wants his wife back, Schultz helps him for the sake of myth! Schultz is the film’s poetry and soul and when he falls out of the story, the film seems to sag as far as stakes go. Tarantino appearing in a cameo with a bad Australian accent adds an exclamation point to just how weak and uninvestable the rest of the film is, as it charges toward a literally explosive finale.
Of course, as the title reveals, this is not a film about the good Dr. King. However, Waltz steals the show, delighting in every inflection of the Tarantino script. His erudite delivery of Tarantino’s mannered language in his crisp German accent makes him appear as not only the smartest of the bunch but the most noble. It’s a wonderful turn away from Waltz’s Oscar-winning performance as the equally mannered though greedy, “Jew-hunting” Nazi in Tarantino’s amazing prior film Inglourious Basterds. The fundamental difference between Schultz and everyone else in Django Unchained is how far he goes to act on principle, always staying true to his romantic reasoning while acting like a psychopath— a lethal bounty hunter with a heart of gold. It’s a brilliant character and Waltz embraces his role, dialogue and all, with effortless panache.
The irony in watching this character chew up the scenery is that he upstages the title character who Foxx can only seem to play as cool and distant … and sometimes befuddled. Often, Django seems in over his head during his adventures with his mentor. Whether it’s making the most of his freedom to pick his own wardrobe or fighting for respect from other men as a freed man. It would have been nice to have a more fleshed out character in Django, but this was an oppressed man in oppressive times. That he must lay waste to everything in sight to be a hero becomes a bit of a cop-out, for the battle for true freedom looms as a long road that to this day has not reached its endpoint.
Problems with the story aside, Django Unchained feels like a comprehensive, albeit cartoonish, experience of the end of the slave-years in American history. Tarantino stays true to an era when a black man was never even allowed to ride horseback. Helpless violence is dealt unto black slaves with cruelty, from their position in shackles to whippings to even the abuse of the N-word, which has become verboten in today’s post-PC-age, but has long made liberal appearances in Tarantino movies. Never mind that people of Tarantino’s age grew up in the pre-PC age where elementary school teachers threw about the word during history lessons on the Underground Railroad. It was a part of history, and history’s lessons become useless if we forget them. Today, watching a film of violence populated by characters who hate the Other with such entitlement magnifies the potency of the word, and its violence is made apparent throughout this film.
Some of the most unapologetic abusers of the word in Django Unchained include the plantation owner Big Daddy (a suave, scene-stealing Don Johnson), Mandingo fighting connoisseur Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio, playing high-strung and short-fused) and his bitter but sly (and there’s not soft-shoeing around this one) “house nigger” Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson). But the crux of the film seems to be that those who do not know how to respect their fellow man, no matter the color of their skin, will ultimately get their comeuppance.
With Django Unchained Tarantino knows how to stay true to the era as well as the weight of its social inequalities on a character like Django, despite the film’s often over-the-top tone. The Spaghetti western and, even more so, Blaxploitation, were powerful bursts of sex and violence in an era when cinema rebelled against the oppressive rules of self-censoring imposed by the Hays Code. Tarantino is well known to delight in violence inspired by early 1970s cinema, but also has a strong ear for characters and even their subtleties, or— better put— details. It’s interesting to watch Tarantino work with both humor and horror to address things like the class system among not only slaves and their owners, but the levels of class within slavery, which brilliantly comes to light when Django and Schultz get to know Mr. Candie and his plantation. Despite the inevitable blood bath by the vengeful Django, the film has more than violence at its heart.
Django Unchained runs 165 min. and is Rated R for many good reasons. It opens Tuesday, Dec. 25, in most theaters. The Weinstein Company invited me to a preview screening for the purpose of this review. A few indie cinemas in the Miami area are also getting in on the action. It will make a first-run appearance at the Tower Theater in Miami with Spanish subtitles. Later that week, the Miami Beach Cinematheque will host screenings of the digitally-restored original Django, starting Friday, Dec. 28. Here’s the trailer for that film:
(Copyright 2012 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)
March 3, 2010
The acting nominations probably have less drama surrounding them than the filmmaker races and seem like an easier race to call. Here are my predictions and picks…
Actress in a supporting role
Mo’Nique in Precious
Vera Farmiga in Up in the Air
Penélope Cruz in Nine
Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air
Maggie Gyllenhaal in Crazy Heart
Who will win: There’s so much love for Mo’Nique and her humble approach to the nomination (not even campaigning for it) that she’s bound to win it. She did at the Golden Globes, she will do the same here.
Who I think should win: I never got around to seeing Precious. It looks like such a downer of a movie, but Mo’Nique’s turn from perky comedienne to abusive mother with no make-up has the most flash of all the roles nominated here. It’s an extreme shift, like Charlize Theron in Monster. It’s just such a no-brainer of a pick. As for Up in the Air, the only movie of these that I have seen, the performances are just too subtle. As for Cruz’s nomination, as much as I love her, and enjoyed her win for Vicky Christina Barcelona last year, the only reason I think she is in contention here is thanks to studio head Harvey Weinstein, who always finds a way into the Academy, even if the movie is poorly received (Nine bombed with critics and audiences). It just goes to show Weinstein’s clout in the business, which hints at why I am so half-heartedly posting this entry on the Oscars®. I think it’s a sham popularity contest, which is why you will see a big contrast in actual winners than those I would have voted for the win.
Actor in a supporting role
Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds
Christopher Plummer in The Last Station
Matt Damon in Invictus
Stanley Tucci in The Lovely Bones
Woody Harrelson in The Messenger
Who will win: I would not be surprised if Harrelson wins over the favored Waltz. He is more Hollywood than the foreigner Waltz, who really broke out for his portrayal as the stately by cruel “Jew hunter” in one of Quentin Tarantino’s greatest films of his career. The upset possibility is certainly there, but Waltz has already earned 27 of 29 award nominations for his work in Basterds, including the Golden Globe (see his imdb page).
Who I think should win: Of course Waltz. He played such a dynamic, fierce bad guy who you just loved to watch. Supporting role is an understatement, as he practically carried the film, driving the suspense in many scenes of the movie. I must admit to missing The Last Station (it has yet to play in Miami!) and Invictus, but the roles sound too low key to stand out above Waltz’s work in Inglourious Basterds. Tucci was strong in Lovely Bones, but that film never had the same critical support as Basterds. His performance also might just be too creepy, compared to the comic elements of Waltz’s Hans Landa.
Actress in a leading role
Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia
Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side
Helen Mirren in The Last Station
Gabourey Sidibe in Precious
Carey Mulligan in An Education
Who will win: None of these other actresses stand a chance against the buzz surrounding the competition between Bullock and Streep. Seeing as this is Hollywood voting for themselves here, this will go to a deeply entrenched Hollywood personality, and Bullock could be the favorite, seeing as Streep’s nomination for her work is beginning to get cliché; she already has two wins, and this would be her 14th nomination.
Who I think should win: The only role here I have seen on the screen was Streep’s. I can’t really say who deserves to win here. I really wanted to catch An Education in theaters, but I missed it, though I heard amazing things about Mulligan’s performance. Based on all the attention she has received for her work in the movie, it probably would not have received the attention it has so far garnered. Still, Streep really does disappear in the role of Julia Child, and I would be happy to see her win over Bullock’s work in what has always sounded like a formulaic flick, which I cannot find any interest in watching.
Actor in a leading role
Morgan Freeman in Invictus
Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart
George Clooney in Up in the Air
Colin Firth in A Single Man
Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker
Who will win: George Clooney just might, though Bridges is favored, but since the Oscars is a popularity contest among the industry’s peers, I’m going with the more popular of the two. Bridges has always been difficult and anti-establishment. His Golden Globe win could help him, though. But you also can’t count out Firth, who has been given a lot of love for his work in a Single Man.
Who I think should win: Though, I’m behind in my movie-going in this category as well, my vote is for Bridges. Clooney was low key but solid in Up in the Air, but even he has said he was playing himself in that movie. I prefer to appreciate a guy who cane disappear into a character, as Bridges does in Crazy Heart, and that may just seal the deal for him.
March 2, 2010
Since I have been asked, I shall use this blog entry offer my Oscar® picks and predictions. Though I have hardly ever given them any credit for furthering my appreciation of cinema, it’s been a fun game to predict, which goes way beyond the quality of filmmaking and into the art of politicking.
Last week, we had the BAFTAs (the British equivalent to the Academy awards). It was nice to see Duncan Jones, David Bowie’s son, win an award for Outstanding Debut By A British Writer, Director Or Producer. I happened to have recommended his short film “Whistle” for programming at the Miami Film Festival a few years ago. I am very happy to see him get that award. Moon was an amazing addition to the thinking man’s science fiction cannon, plus he is a real down-to-Earth guy for a guy with his head snuggly in the sci-fi world.
But more revealing was how the Hurt Locker swept up so many major awards at the BAFTAs, beating out Avatar in several categories, including Best Film and Best Director, and casting a shadow over the awards it lost to Avatar at the Golden Globes. That said, I think it portends good things for Hurt Locker at the Oscars this weekend, but, for my tastes, Inglorious Basterds is the stronger film.
Well, here is the first half at my look of the picks, mainly the competition trying to beat the favored Hurt Locker. The second half of this post will appear tomorrow and focus on the acting categories.
Avatar (James Cameron)
The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow)
Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino)
Up in the Air (Jason Reitman)
Precious (Lee Daniels)
Who will win: It’s about time a woman director won an Oscar ®, and Bigelow has ironically produced a strong testosterone-fueled movie that also offers some deep insight into the kind of person war creates. This film could win it for her. Plus, our society has increasingly grown concerned about equating injustices against those in groups whose rights have been historically tread upon for centuries, which adds to her chances.
Who I think should win: Tarantino. If this category were not so overshadowed by the battle of the exes (Cameron and Bigelow were once married) and was truly about the craftiness of the director, Tarantino should get it.
Writing (adapted screenplay)
District 9 (Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell)
An Education (Nick Hornby)
Precious (Geoffrey Fletcher)
Up in the Air (Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner)
In the Loop (Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci and Tony Roche)
Who will win: These are some real nice, varied nominees, though, again, I’m too behind in my movie viewing to fairly guess. If I had to go on the politics that drives this awards show, I’d say the only contenders here are Up in the Air and Precious. Both are the serious movies here. Up in the Air has something to say about the state of today’s day and age thanks to the messed up economy. But Precious is also a powerful comment on the constant of society, those people typically ignored as damaged goods in today’s day and age.
Who I think should win: I think because of the latter’s perspective I just offered, I think not only will Precious win this category but also deserves it.
Writing (original screenplay)
The Hurt Locker (Mark Boal)
Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino)
A Serious Man (Joel and Ethan Coen)
Up (Pete Docter and Bob Petersen)
The Messenger (Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman)
Who will win: Hurt Locker has not only won awards for Bigelow’s work but also for Boal, a journalist once imbedded with troops in Iraq. The momentum behind this movie will certainly see it through to the Oscars®.
Who I think should win: Yes, Tarantino, who has done some amazing ballet with words throughout his career. Basterds is no exception. The opening scene of the movie itself was an amazing exercise of suspense through dialogue.
Animated feature film
Up (Pete Docter and Bob Peterson)
The Princess and the Frog (Ron Clements and John Musker)
Coraline (Henry Selick)
Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson)
The Secret of Kells (Tomm Moore)
Who will win: Seriously, how many Academy members even heard of the Secret of Kells much less saw in its brief run designed to have it qualify for this category. Coraline is too far in voters’ memory (I thought it was released in 2008, when I tried to think back on my favorite movies of 2009). Fantastic Mr. Fox is probably to odd a film for most to swallow, often the predicament of Anderson’s movies. The Princess and the Frog is old Disney, and comes from a different era (hence its failure at the box office, proving audiences have moved on to 3-D computer-animated films). That means Up will undoubtedly win this category.
Who I think should win: Up deserves it. It is a strong, simple and emotional story, which happens to unfold in an animated 3D world. However, I do happen to think Fantastic Mr. Fox is a stronger film, due to its complex story and whimsical delivery, which does not lean on sentimentality for its emotional tug, unlike Up. Still, if either one wins, I’d be happy, but I’m secretly rooting for Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Foreign language film
Ajami (Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani, Israel)
A Prophet (Jacques Audiard, France)
The Secret of Her Eyes (Juan Jose Campanella, Argentina)
The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke, Germany)
The Milk of Sorrow (Claudia Llosa, Peru)
Who will win: Being stuck in Miami, foreign movies have to work hard to play at movie theaters here. None of these have even played our few art houses here. I can only guess Haneke will win for being overlooked so long by the Academy.
Who I think should win: I cannot fairly even guess. I have heard some great things about several of these films and look forward to checking them out, beyond the Oscars ® hype.
Avatar (James Cameron and Jon Landau, producers)
District 9 (Peter Jackson and Carolynne Cunningham, producers)
An Education (Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey, producers)
The Hurt Locker (nominees to be determined)
Inglourious Basterds (Lawrence Bender, producer)
Precious (Lee Daniels, Sarah Siegel-Magness and Gary Magness, producers)
A Serious Man (Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, producers)
Up in the Air (Daniel Dubiecki, Ivan Reitman and Jason Reitman, producers)
The Blind Side (nominees to be determined)
Up (Jonas Rivera, producer)
Who will win: OK, first off, let’s pretend this renewed idea of 10 nominees in this category never happened. If that were the case, the only films up here would look like this:
The Hurt Locker
The Blind Side
Up in the Air
Yeah, no Avatar. It’s just too much of a technical showpiece. It’s all about the technology used to make the movie, the 3-D aspect and the box office, superficial elements that do no make a classic film. That would also null the contest between the ex’s James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow, and her movie would win, making her also the first female director to get the statuette for Best Picture, as she was during the BAFTAs, a tidbit helping to hype her movie, which has enjoyed buzz all year long.
Who I think should win: No doubt about it, in my opinion, Inglourious Basterds. Tarantino is a master filmmaker, and he has shown it again and again since his debut feature Reservoir Dogs, Bigelow’s catalog is much more suspect, filled with too many superficial action flicks like Point Break and Strange Days, which have not aged as well as Tarantino’s work. His latest work was relentless in its pace thanks to its camera work, writing, editing and the performance he elicited from his actors, an all around master work deserving attention on its own merits, not the hype that surrounds Hurt Locker, which was a strong movie, but not the masterwork of film craftsmanship that was Inglourious Basterds.
So what do you think? Am I wrong for loving Inglorious Basterds so much? Beyond the hype, does Bigelow deserve the awards, which I have no doubt she will win?