Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Oscar surprises - the good, the bad and the ugly

Actually, before I get into any of that, and it really was a pretty great year for interesting movies getting deserved Oscar nominations, there are three tidbits of perhaps fresher news out there that caught my eye this morning.

First up, with "Red" hitting DVD shelves this week (and my home player this weekend), Summit has announced that a sequel to the octogenarian comic book hit is on, and to that I can only say bully. If you happened to stop by yesterday, you know I pretty much love the original, which captured the comic book feel nearly perfectly and was just a whole lot of fun.

So far for the sequel, Summit has hired brothers Erich and Jon Hoeber, who wrote the script for the first movie, but as yet no actors. I have to assume, though, that if they come up with anything even pretty good, Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich and hopefully even the great Brian Cox will all be back for more. Stay tuned.

In other news, fresh off his Oscar love for "The Social Network," it seems that Aaron Sorkin is headed back to TV with something that could be fascinating - at least if its a lot more "Sports Night" than "Studio 60." He has told the BBC he's working with HBO on a series that would be set back stage at a cable news show.

Now, I can only take those shows in very small doses, and the only one I watch with any regularity is "Morning Joe," but they're still certainly an interesting petri dish of ideas and bombast for Sorkin to play around in, assuming this is happening as he says. Unfortunately, it seems that Keith Olberman, who I was hoping was now gone from TV pretty much for good, may be back on this as a character of some kind.

And finally, before I get into the Oscars, buzz has been building about an Alfred Hitchcock biopic, which I'd be hesitant about if it weren't coming together so well so far. Though it's hard to call it high art, there are very few documentaries that I've seen in the past 10 years or so that are more entertaining than Sasha Gervasi's "Anvil: The Story of Anvil," which chronicles the misadventures of Canada's hardest-working heavy metal band (yes, really).

For his next project, Gervasi is now in talks to direct an adaptation of the Stephen Rebello book "Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho," which would be about exactly what the title says. Even better, Sir Anthony Hopkins, who's hamming it up this week in his own "horror" movie which I won't be going to see, "The Rite," is now in talks to play Hitchcock himself. Nothing but potential perfection there, methinks.

OK, on to the Oscars, which contained some surprises this year, most of them good for once. Being a glass half full kind of dude on my best days, I'll start with the good, and try my best to make that portion longer. Here goes.

The good

All the love for "Winter's Bone": I've made it no secret around here that Debra Granik's coming-of-age film noir of sorts set in the Ozarks is, by a pretty wide margin, my single favorite movie of 2010, so I wasn't terribly surprised that it managed to sneak into the Best Picture top 10 (to brag just a bit, I managed to predict the 10 nominees here a week ago, correctly tapping this and "127 Hours" for the final two spots.)

What I didn't expect, but certainly support, is acting nods for both Jennifer Lawrence (Best Actress) and John Hawkes (Best Supporting Actor). Though she'd get my vote for carrying this movie with a fragile but still unwavering will, I don't think Lawrence has any chance in a category that will probably belong to Annette Bening or Natalie Portman (of the two, I'll take the latter in "Black Swan"). Hawkes, likewise, will probably get knocked out by Christian Bale's electric turn as Dickie Eklund in "The Fighter," but any recognition of his key role as uncle "Teardrop" is welcome in this little corner of the world.

And for an award that "Winter's Bone" might actually win, it's great to see writer/director Debra Granik nominated for best adapted screenplay, though if I were a betting man, I'd say that award will ultimately go to Sorkin for "The Social Network."

Michelle Williams: Granted, I only manged to see "Blue Valentine" last week, and so it's very fresh on my brain, but Williams' nomination for Best Actress brought the biggest smile to my face Tuesday morning. Along with Ryan Gosling (more on that in a bit), she dragged viewers smack into the middle of a romance that burns extremely bright thanks to her passionate performance before of course crashing equally hard, and it would have been a much more uncomfortable viewing experience if she weren't so magnetic at the center of it all.

Jacki Weaver: That may not be a name familiar to very many people, but it should be, especially with "Animal Kingdom" now out on DVD. In that truly gritty Aussie gangster flick, which made my top 10 for the year, she plays the menacing but fiercely loyal matriarch of the doomed Cody small-time crime clan, and steals every minute ehe's allotted. This category will probably go to either Helena Bonham Carter for "The King's Speech" or Melissa Leo for "The Fighter," either of which would be fine, but I'd much rather see youth be served with Hailee Steinfeld in "True Grit" (though she really is a leading actress, of course!), or even better, the long shot Weaver somehow come out on top.

"The Illusionist": My co-workers were grumbling yesterday about how in the world "Despicable Me" could have been left off the list for Best Animated Picture, and I'm with them there. Disney's "Tangled" also got shafted, and while that doesn't really bother me at all, it does raise a bigger question: Why only three nominees in this key category? I mean, we all know "Toy Story 3" is going to win, but three is still a ridiculously small number. At least they did manage to squeeze in Sylvain Chomet's "The Illusionist," an odd little movie that, like Chomet's "The Triplets of Belleville" before it, has practically no discernible dialogue at all. What it does, have, however, in telling the story of a magician who adopts a young traveling partner who thinks his tricks are real, is a lot of humor and heart, exactly what I look for in a great animated movie.

The bad:

The best director category: Say what you want to about "Inception," but no director took more chances this year than Christopher Nolan, so with that flick nominated for Best Picture, why not Nolan for Best Director? This doesn't really miff me as much as some, but it is a real head-scratcher. More important, I think, is how in the world did the Academy manage to recognize no women in this category? Lisa Cholodenko was certainly a possibility for "The Kids Are All Right," but I really think that's the weak link in the Best Picture field. Much better would have been Granik, who delivered nothing short of a masterpiece (a term I try not to throw around a lot, but it's deserved here - watch it already!) with "Winter's Bone." Apparently handing one Oscar to Kathyrn Bigelow was enough for a while. Sheesh. I predict a split decision here, with "The King's Speech" winning Best Picture by sheer momentum, but David Fincher taking Best Director for "The Social Network."

Ryan Gosling: Also among the office Oscar chatter I heard yesterday was that Julia Roberts threw a party just last week to throw her weight behind Javier Bardem being nominated for Best Actor for "Biutiful" (which I haven't seen). Who knows if that had any effect, but if so, it's a real crime, because how in the world do you nominate Michelle Williams for "Blue Valentine" but not her worse (relationship-wise) but at least equal (acting-wise) half? Simply maddening, but if you haven't seen this movie yet, just do while you can, because in spite of its difficult subject matter, it really is a joy to behold.

Cinematography: It was a pretty banner day for "127 Hours," which certainly made me cheer. Oscar co-host James Franco got a much-deserved Best Actor nomination, Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy are rightly up for Best Adapated Screenplay, and it of course snuck into the Best Picture field (and into movie theaters in my little corner of the world this weekend - bully). But how in the world were Enrique Chediak and Anthony Dod Mantle not recognized for the beautiful camera work that made both the euphoric highs and depressing lows (there are more of the former, thankfully) just shine so bright on screen? I just assumed this was a lock, because along with being an all-around great film, it just looks like nothing else that hit theaters in 2010, and how many movies can you really say that about?

OK, there you have it. I'm off now somewhat late to the job that still actually pays, but please feel free to add any Oscar surprises of your own that just made you smile or grown, and have a perfectly passable Wednesday. Peace out.


Sage said...

When I watched Tangled with my kid, I was expecting a standard story I could snooze to, but I loved it. I'd say it's better than Despicable Me even. I also loved Winter's Bone. I don't get all the excitement about The Kids are All Right though. And what about Never Let Me Go, Rabbit Hole (for best pic), Howl, and Scott Pilgram?

Reel Fanatic said...

I thought "Despicable Me" was better than "Tangled," Sage, but that's just a matter of my tastes .. And you're certainly right about "The Kids Are All Right" .. While it's far from an awful movie, it's almost as far from a Best Picture nominee to me, being pretty much just a standard story elevated a little bit by good acting ... And of the other four you mentioned, I'm sad to say I've only seen "Scott Pilgrim" ... That was indeed a whole lot of fun, if a little too light to crack the Oscar top 10 ... I really do need to catch up with the others!