Tuesday, September 29, 2009

4th Quarter Preview ADDENDUM: Two more for your consideration

I should have known that this would happen: I forgot two movies on my list, and they happen to be two movies that I'm highly anticipating. So without any further delays, let's have a look at the next two entries on the list (I'm not sure where I would rank them in terms of personal anticipation, hence the lack of numbers).

PS: On the matter of release dates, I just wanted to mention that I've only included initial released dates, some/many of which may just be when the limited releases start. For example, I know for certain that "Broken Embraces" won't be arriving in Houston until January, despite a December release date for the US.

A) "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" by Terry Gilliam (Dec 25)
  • Interesting trailer, eclectic cast.
  • Heath Ledger's final performance, which has been earning praise.
  • Director Gilliam reportedly did a solid job incorporating Ledger's three replacements (Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, Jude Law) into the plot.
  • Reportedly horrible special effects.
  • Mixed reviews for the film overall.
  • Some have said that Depp, Farrell, and Law are terrible.
  • Gilliam is anything but consistent as a director, and has been on something of a losing streak recently (The Brothers Grimm, anyone?)

B) "Antichrist" by Lars Von Trier (Oct 23 extremely limited)
  • Moody, less concrete "antichrist" tale.
  • Apparently brilliant atmosphere and great use of music.
  • Some reviews have claimed that it will shake you to the core.
  • It's directed by Lars Von Trier.
  • Phenomenal buzz for the performances by Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg (who won the Best Actress award at Cannes)
  • Some scenes that are supposed to be scary might be laughable (the film received jeers at Cannes).
  • Graphic finale, which involves scissors, hammers, and the sensitive areas on both men and women, is said to be just too much to handle.
  • It's directed by Lars Von Trier.
  • It's being released primarily On Demand, and will only have a limited run in theaters (although this was going to be the case with In The Loop, which was excellent).

Sunday, September 27, 2009

4th Quarter Preview: The top 17 (or 18???)

Alas, the end of September is nearly upon us, and with it begins the final quarter of 2009, as well as the gradual acceleration of awards season. With most films having finally decided on release dates *cough*The Road*cough* or having found distributors, I've assembled my final preview list of the year. Let's hope that more of these turn out to be winners than my previous three quarter previews. I don't want to go through another an underwhelming awards season for the second year in a row. Click on the titles to view trailers, and enjoy...

18. "Tree of Life" by Terrence Malick: My anticipation for this project is much higher than its placement on the list indicates, but I've put it at the back for one reason: we have yet to get a definitive answer as to whether the carefully guarded film is coming out this year, or in 2010. Plot details are scarce, but there are all-but-confirmed reports that Malick's fifth film boasts a roughly 40 minute companion piece filled with dazzling special effects, including a fantastical creation mythology and dinosaurs. Other than that, all that's known is that the main film starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn is about two separate generations of (related) men and...that's kind of it.

17. "Pirate Radio" by Richard Curtis (Nov 13)
  • Fantastic cast led by Bill Nighy and Phillip Seymour Hoffman
  • Despite the outlandish premise, the film is grounded in facts
  • It's been pushed back several times, meaning that the distributors may want to give it a big awards push.
  • Maybe all of those delays just mean the studio wants to get rid of the damn thing in the midst of all the awards chaos and hope that no one notices.

16. "New York, I Love You" by...lots of people (Oct 16)
  • America's "response" to the wonderful "Paris Je T'aime" (2007)
  • New York should provide a different, but equally intriguing setting for the short films.
  • The ensemble is packed with names including: Natalie Portman, Julie Christie, Ethan Hawke, John Hurt, and James Caan.
  • Lightning may not strike twice, and the shorts may be more "miss" than "hit"

15. "Sherlock Holmes" by Guy Ritchie (Dec 25)
  • Great cast: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Eddie Marsan
  • Boasts a grittier look than previous adaptations
  • Solid trailer
  • Rumors that Brad Pitt may make a cameo as Holmes' arch-nemesis, Moriarty
  • Guy Ritchie isn't the greatest or most consistent director. Can he adapt to something that isn't a gangster flick?

14. "Invictus" by Clint Eastwood (Dec 11)
  • Clint Eastwood + Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon + Nelson Mandela = Oscar love fest(??)
  • Not simply going to be "the Nelson Mandela story"
  • No trailer. No early buzz. Nothing.
  • The title. "The Human Factor" was a much better name.
  • What if it turns into another "Gran Torino"?

13 . "The Men Who Stare At Goats" by Grant Heslov (Nov 6)
  • Hilarious trailer that promises something different.
  • Stellar cast: Ewan McGregor, George Clooney, Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bridges.
  • Jeff "The Dude" Bridges rocking a ponytail. Worth the price of admission alone.
  • Grant Heslov wrote and produced "Good Night and Good Luck".
  • Are all of the best bits in the trailer a la "The Informant"?

12. "The Young Victoria" by Jean Marc-Valee (Dec 18)
  • Emily Blunt is bound to get an Oscar nomination one day. This could be the performance that gets her said nomination.
  • Great supporting cast: Jim Broadbent, Miranda Richardson, Paul Bettany, and Rupert Friend.
  • It's written by Julian Fellowes, who wrote the excellent "Gosford Park"
  • Could be nothing more than an Oscar vehicle for Blunt.
  • Some reviews have said that it feels more like a TV movie.

11. "Broken Embraces" by Pedro Almodovar (Dec 11)
  • The previous Almodovar/Penelope Cruz collaboration "Volver" earned Cruz her first Oscar nomination.
  • Beautiful and intriguing trailer with an interesting noir vibe.
  • Apparently it's "just good" and "not Almodovar's best".

10. "Precious" by Lee Daniels (Nov 6)
  • Fantastic review after fantastic review.
  • Gabourey Sidibe is posed to be one of several breakout stars this year.
  • Apparently stunning supporting turns from Mo'Nique and Mariah Carey.
  • Best Original Song contender.
  • Could be just another "urban drama" that just happens to be getting a push from Oprah.
  • Trailer makes it seem like nothing new.

9. "The Lovely Bones" by Peter Jackson (Dec 11)
  • Great cast and promising trailer.
  • Stunning "heaven" scenes.
  • Buzz for Stanley Tucci is off-the-charts.
  • Saoirse Ronan is one of the most promising young actresses out there.
  • Jackson's first "non-epic" in years. Can he still do something on a small scale?

8. "A Single Man" by Tom Ford (2009)
  • Beautiful and mysterious trailer.
  • Colin Firth is said to be a major contender for Best Actor and Julianne Moore could find herself in the running for Best Supporting Actress.
  • The film was snatched up by the Weinsteins after raves came out of its test screenings at the Toronto Film Festival.
  • Have the festival screenings over-hyped it?

7. "An Education" by Lone Scherfig (Oct 16)
  • Rave after rave from festival showings.
  • Roger Ebert compared star Carey Mulligan to Audrey Hepburn.
  • Stellar adult cast, including Emma Thompson and Alfred Molina.
  • Scherfig could be one of three women in the running for Best Director nominations (the others being Kathryn Bigelow and Jane Campion)
  • "Too British"? If that even makes sense...

6. "A Serious Man" by Joel and Ethan Coen (Oct 2)
  • Early word is extremely positive. Could be a makeup for the underwhelming "Burn After Reading".
  • Great trailer
  • One critic called the film "as dark as No Country for Old Men, but also funny".
  • Based on the Coens' life (sort of), which should provide rich material.
  • Said to contain a lot of inside jokes about Judaism...could this be alienating?
  • The Coens simply aren't for everyone.

5. "The Road" by John Hillcoat (Nov 25)
  • Hillcoat knows how to capture atmosphere via landscapes.
  • Not just another postapocalyptic movie.
  • It's based on a Cormac McCarthy novel, and a damn good novel at that.
  • Trailer footage seems to have captured the "grayness" of McCarthy's world.
  • Clips that have been released are promising.
  • Mixed reviews.
  • Divided opinion on some of the most crucial aspects: the performances.

4. "Avatar" by James Cameron (Dec 18)
  • Having seen footage on the big screen, I can confirm that yes, the motion capture effects are stunning in their detail (puts Beowulf to shame, that's for sure).
  • Certainly screams EPIC.
  • Cameron has technically been working on this project for 14 years.
  • Cameron and crew went to great lengths to design every aspect of the planet Pandora, and even created a full language for the Na'Avi population.
  • "Titanic" showed us that Mr. Cameron knew how to pull off a movie on a massive scale. It also showed us that he's not a master a dialogue.
  • Could it simply end up being "Dances With Wolves" in space?

3. "Where the Wild Things Are" by Spike Jonze (Oct 16)
  • Seems to have done the impossible: turned a 10 sentence book into a compelling and moving feature film.
  • Spike Jonze knows how to make weirdly touching films (Being John Malkovich)
  • Script is by Dave Eggers, author of the hilarious and poignant "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius".
  • It's been stuck in development hell for what feels like years. Are we getting Jonze's full vision?

2. "Up in the Air" by Jason Reitman (Nov 25)
  • Compelling trailer.
  • Garnered raves at Toronto, especially for Reitman, Clooney, and supporting actresses Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga.
  • Reitman seems to be growing as a director, and this appears to be proof of that.
  • It was bumped to an earlier release date due to positive response from screenings.
  • ...

1. "Nine" by Rob Marshall (Nov 25)
  • Exhilarating trailer.
  • Ridiculously talented and awarded cast.
  • Strong buzz for Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, and Daniel Day Lewis.
  • Apparently it was good enough to get Sophia Loren out of retirement.
  • Marshall knows how to direct musical numbers, and even better, knows how to give them coherence. Remember the "show in Roxie's mind concept" from Chicago? There's something similar at work here.
  • Based on a Tony-winning musical based on Fellini's "8 1/2", considered one of the greatest movies about making movies ever.
  • If you're a fan of the show, you may not be pleased with some of the songs that have been cut/added.
  • Even after the smash success of Chicago, there will always be people who hate musicals. If you're one of those people, chances are this one won't change your mind.
  • It's a drama, which, depending on execution, could lag when there aren't people singing.

Video of the Week: The Return of Judy Grimes

Last night brought us the return of Saturday Night Live, which had quite a challenge: live up to the high standard set by the previous election-charged season. Adding to the apprehension was the fact that the show was hosted by Megan Fox, who is known more for her looks than for her acting talent (let alone comedic skill). So how did SNL fare in its season premiere? Actually pretty well, with the best sketches coming in the first half of the show. Fox never had to do much to truly stretch herself save for an airplane sketch with Kristen Wiig, but she carried herself just fine through the evening. Not surprising, however, was that Kristen Wiig was better than ever, and her shining moment is this week's Video of the Week. Just kidding...

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Censors? We don't need no stinkin' censors!

Actually, maybe we do...

Top 15 of the 2000s: #5

Yes, folks, we've finally made it here: the top 5 on my increasingly sluggish countdown. We've gone through everything from westerns to musicals, and at last we've reached the top of (or rather the bottom of the top of) my favorite films from the decade (so far...). My #6 entry was a rather dark film, and so is today's. If you've been following the countdown closely, you might want to start taking some "happy pills", because #5 is none other than...

#5: "Requiem for a Dream" (2000) by Darren Aronofsky: Drug addiction. Not exactly the sort of subject matter that makes one rush to the theater, is it? Understandable, but if you can gather up enough courage to take the plunge, you'll find yourself handsomely rewarded (and extremely depressed). Perhaps Aronofsky's most well-known film, "Requiem" is easily one of the most bleak films I've ever seen, but it is also one of the most compelling. From its strange opening frames bolstered by kinetic camera work and Clint Mansell's haunting score, it is a gripping downward spiral that never lets go, highlighted by a host of stellar performances from Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, and Marlon Wayans (yup, same guy who was in "White Chicks"). Leto and Wayans are both likeable and convincing as a pair of friends who go down the wrong path in order to earn some extra cash, and Connelly is excellent as Leto's emotionally ill-fated girlfriend. However, this film ultimately belongs to Ellen Burstyn as Leto's mother Sarah, who slowly succumbs to addiction in order to be on TV and look good. It's a truly staggering achievement that never fails to strike a rich emotional chord. Watching Burstyn's descent from simple old lady to gaunt drug addict is certainly disturbing, but also compelling and heartbreaking. But what's always the most surprising part of "Requiem" for me is the way Aronofsky injects his grimy story with some sense of style. It's not "pretty", but the edits (namely in the first half) give the story a sense of momentum, allowing the story to develop without getting bogged down in its own weighty subject matter. Particularly effective are the rapid shots used when Leto and company are getting high, which always end with an extreme close up of an eye relaxing. It's an effective visual device that gives us a glimpse at what it feels like to be high, without going into too much detail. The detail, of course, is wisely placed in the finale, where all four characters go into downward spirals so horrible that it can be hard to watch, not because of the images on screen, but simply because of the nature of what is happening. Suddenly Leto develops an infection on his arm, Connelly, is forced to sell herself for money, and most disturbingly, Sarah's fantasies turn into nightmares, one of which will leave you permanently terrified of refrigerators. All along the way, we're guided by Mansell's haunting music, which in one sequence is used in place of electronic shocks given to Sarah, and in another adds to the emotional horror felt by Connelly when she first performs a sex act for money. What's amazing is that through it all Aronofsky never goes overboard in his decision of what to show and what to hide. Sure, some of it is going to be uncomfortable, but he never shoves it in your face just for pure shock value; he shows you something horrible in order to make you feel, and get the slightest sense of desperation and pain these people are in at the film's close (which might be one of the most heartbreaking fantasy scenes of all time). With "Requiem for a Dream", Mr. Aronofsky and his monumentally talented cast and crew have taken a difficult subject and turned it into a film that is compelling on all levels, despite being hard to watch. If this one doesn't scare you away from drugs, I don't know what will...

Final Grade: A

Best Performance: Ellen Burstyn

Best Scene: The best scenes all occur near the end and deserve to be seen in full context, so once again I'll post the trailer. Apologies to those who wanted a clip...

On set footage from "Iron Man 2" courtesy of ET

"Bright Star" - REVIEW

One of the most striking things about Jane Campion's "Bright Star" is how it doesn't luxuriate in its period settings. White is a prominent color, and seems to wash out certain scenes, leaving us a film that, as best it can, rejects the temptation to become little more than a pageant for pretty period costumes, and instead becomes a focused, lovely, and mostly true romance. Those expecting a biopic of poet John Keats will be underwhelmed, but if people can open themselves to Campion's woman-oriented romance, they will find a small treasure.

Opening in a rather direct and cut-to-the-point manner (thereby deviating from more "conventional" period pieces), we follow Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), her mother, and two younger siblings as they pay a visit to Mr. Brown (Paul Schneider) and his friend, struggling poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw). Fanny is told to take a cup of tea to Mr. Keats, and from their first interaction, it's clear that there is some semblance of a connection. But where Campion and crew go right is in not jumping straight to the near 3 year love affair that occurred. Instead, the romance is built up gently, giving us time to come to learn about these people. In fact, some of the most interesting moments are in the first half, during which Fanny asks Keats to teach her about poetry, which causes her to clash with the pompous Mr. Brown, who continually tries to paint her as an empty flirt. Despite the the pale colors on the screen, Ms. Campion's script surprisingly crackles with life, namely when Brawne and Brown clash. As I said earlier, this is not "The John Keats Story", but is more about a woman's struggle with independence as well as falling in love with a man who, "has no real income". What evolves from a mere pleasant acquaintance feels genuine, and quietly absorbing.

Appropriately, color plays an important role. Beginning in winter, the use of white and brown feels more oppressive, making the later spring scenes (which are not extravagantly lit, however) give off a subtle sense of warmth and feeling. Perhaps the best scene in the film is one in which Keats (via voiceover) reads a letter to Fanny, while she lies down in a field of lavender. There are also a handful of beautiful scenes involving butterflies. But seeing as this is (sort of) about a poet, and poetry, there is the matter of words, and they don't disappoint. The sharp remarks are a small part; what's really important here are the exchanges between Fanny and John, and they're elegantly written, without feeling unreal.

But such words are useless if the cast can't deliver them. Luckily, Campion has given her words to a limited cast who are more than up to the task. Schneider makes an unlikeable antagonist without devolving into a caricature, while Whishaw captures the poet-in-need-of-inspiration aspect of his role. However, the film ultimately belongs to Cornish, who in addition to getting the most dynamic character, also has the meatiest scenes, and she doesn't disappoint. In her scenes with Whishaw, she's the more compelling actor, particularly in scenes in which the two recite lines of poetry together, which are more romantic than some of the steamiest sex scenes. Their chemistry is really what makes this film work so well; they create a relationship that we actually want to see succeed, without overtly sexualizing it.

Unfortunately, this focus on the relationship isn't always a good thing. My big complaint with the overall film is that Campion and crew get so wrapped up in the relationship scenes (and who can blame them) that plot details are often delivered rather lazily. Such lazy deliver can cause reactions to news to at first seem strange or over the top, before it is finally made clear exactly what is going on. It's unfortunate, because the scenes with Whishaw and Cornish are so beautifully rendered, but such scenes can't simply BE the entire movie; there needs to be some sense of forward motion, and it is this aspect alone where Campion's script stumbles.

Production wise, there's nothing spectacular, which I think was Campion's intention. There are a few nice costumes, but the film never becomes obsessed with them or the sets. The real stars of the artistic/tech departments are the cinematography and Mark Bradshaw's score. A handful of handheld camera shots, certainly not common in period pieces, are remarkably effective, especially when bolstered by Bradshaw's lovely score, which has its best moment in a song performed almost entirely by a "human orchestra" of male voices.

One of John Keats' more famous poems opens with the line "A thing of beauty is a joy forever". While Jane Campion's "Bright Star" may not endure forever, it is most certainly a thing of beauty.

Grade: B

Thursday, September 24, 2009

"Creation" secures US distribution for 2009

Source: Incontention.com

Newmarket Films announced today that it has acquired U.S. rights to director Jon Amiel’s CREATION, a film which focuses on Charles Darwin and his family as he struggles to finish his legendary book “On The Origin of Species,” which went on to become the foundation for evolutionary biology. The screenplay was written by John Collee, based on the biography “Annie’s Box” which was penned by Darwin ’s great-great grandson Randal Keynes using personal letters and diaries of the Darwin family. The film was produced by Jeremy Thomas at Recorded Picture Company (The Last Emperor, Sexy Beast), with BBC Films and Ocean Pictures.

CREATION stars real-life couple Paul Bettany (A Beautiful Mind, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World) and Academy Award winner Jennifer Connelly (Requiem for a Dream, A Beautiful Mind) as Darwin and wife. Newmarket ’s Chris Ball and Robert Fyvolent negotiated the deal for Newmarket , and HanWay Films CEO Tim Haslam negotiated on behalf of the producer. Newmarket plans to release the film in December.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The music of "The Road"

by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, the brilliant duo behind the score for "The Assassination of Jesse James". Now, I was all for having a score-less adaptation of "The Road" considering how well it worked for "No Country..." which has a similar sense of emptiness, but this is so hauntingly beautiful is almost hurts.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Results of Indiewire's TIFF polls released, and they're quite interesting

I love that "Up in the Air" got love here, but what's really shocking is that "A Serious Man" actually came in first, AND its star, the unknown Michael Stuhlberg, came in third in the Best Lead Performance category. Nice to see some more love for Colin Firth and Tilda Swinton as well.

Source: Indiewire


1. A Serious Man, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen (63 points)
2. City of Life and Death, directed by Chuan Lu (20)
3. Up In The Air, directed by Jason Reitman (18)
3. A Prophet, directed by Jacques Audiard (18)
5. Dogtooth, directed by Giorgos Lanthimos (17)
6. Precious, directed by Lee Daniels (16)
7. I Am Love, directed by Luca Guadagnino (11)
7. Hadewijch, directed by Bruno Dumont (11)
7. A Single Man, directed by Tom Ford (11)
7. Lebanon, directed by Samuel Maoz (11)

1. Videocracy, directed by Erik Gandini (24)
2. Collapse, directed by Chris Smith (17)
3. The Art of the Steal, directed by Don Argott (16)
4. The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls, directed by Leanne Pooley (10)
5. How To Hold a Flag, directed by Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker (9)

1. Colin Firth in “A Single Man” (13)
2. Tilda Swinton in “I Am Love (12)
2. Michael Stuhlbarg in “A Serious Man” (12)
4. Tahar Rahim in “A Prophet” (10)
5. Anne Dorval in “I Killed My Mother” (9)
5. Nicolas Cage in “The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” (9)
5. Matt Damon in “The Informant!” (9)
5. Katie Jarvis in “Fish Tank” (9)

1. Mo’Nique in “Precious” (17)
1. Anna Kendrick in “Up In The Air” (17)
3. The supporting cast of “A Serious Man”** (11)
4. Vera Farmiga in “Up In The Air” (10)
5. Julianne Moore in “A Single Man” (6)
5. Michael Fassbender in “Fish Tank” (6)

** Richard Kind, Fred Melamed, Sari Lennick, Aaron Wolff and Benjy Portnoe received a combined total of 11, though individually no one got more than 3.

1. Jennifer’s Body, directed by Karyn Kusama (8)
2. Dorian Gray, directed by Oliver Parker (7)
2. Trash Humpers, directed by Harmony Korine (7)
4. Creation, directed by Jon Amiel (6)
5. Survival of the Dead, directed by George A. Romero (5)

Stunning international trailer for Jane Campion's "Bright Star"

I love how almost the entire was simply images and music, before cutting to that beautiful John Keats quote. This is 10 times better than the dialogue/narration ridden American version. Why don't we ever get the great trailers, damnit!?

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Winners + Best and Worst moments from the 61st Emmy Awards

First, the Winners:

Outstanding Drama Series: Mad Men

Outstanding Comedy Series: 30 Rock

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series: Bryan Cranston - Breaking Bad

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series: Alec Baldwin - 30 Rock

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series: Glenn Close - Damages

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series: Toni Collette - United States of Tara

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series: Michael Emerson - Lost

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series: Jon Cryer - Two and a Half Men

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series: Cherry Jones - 24

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series: Kristin Chenoweth - Pushing Daisies

Outstanding Reality Competition Program: The Amazing Race

Outstanding Reality Program: Intervention

Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality Competition Program: Jeff Probst - Survivor

Outstanding Miniseries: Little Dorrit

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie: Brendan Gleeson - Into the Storm

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie: Jessica Lange - Grey Gardens

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie: Ken Howard - Grey Gardens

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie: Shohreh Aghdashloo - House of Saddam

Outstanding Made for Television Movie: Grey Gardens

Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series: The Daily Show With Jon Stewart

Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Special: The Kennedy Center Honors

Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series: Rod Holcomb, "And in the End" - ER

Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series: "Meditations in an Emergency" - Mad Men

Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series: Jeff Blitz, "Stress Relief" - The Office

Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series: "Reunion" - 30 Rock

Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or Dramatic Special: Dearbhla Walsh - Little Dorrit (Part 1)

Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries, Movie or Dramatic Special: Little Dorrit

Outstanding Directing for a Variety, Music or Comedy Series: Bruce Gowers, "Show 833" (The Final Three) - American Idol

Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music or Comedy Series: The Daily Show With Jon Stewart

Outstanding Directing for a Variety, Music or Comedy Special: Bucky Gunts - Beijing 2008 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony

Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music or Comedy Special: Chris Rock - Kill The Messenger

Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series: Michael J. Fox - Rescue Me

Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series: Justin Timberlake - Saturday Night Live

Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series: Ellen Burstyn - Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series: Tina Fey - Saturday Night Live

Outstanding Special Class Program: Beijing 2008 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony

And now for something completely different:

The Best:

- Neil Patrick Harris did a wonderful job hosting, from the opening song all the way through each little tease/remark. He looks particularly good after the disaster that was last year's Emmys.

- Sarah Silverman's fake moustache during the read-off of nominees for Best Actress in a Comedy Series. How she kept a straight face, I'll never know. Making it even funnier was the fact that before Justin Timberlake started listing the nominees, he mentioned how funny women were really sexy.

- Repeats in the top honors by Mad Men and 30 Rock.

- The show only ran overtime by 5 minutes, which is mind-blowing as far as award shows go.

- Ricky Gervais' rant about TV people being less attractive than big Hollywood movie stars. This man needs to host eventually.

- Jimmy Fallon floundering around stage with an Auto-Tuned microphone. That one moment is funnier than anything he's ever done on his talk show.

- Tina Fey and Justin Timberlake winning for Guest Actress/Actor in a Comedy Series. I'm thrilled for Timberlake, who was surprisingly hilarious when he hosted SNL.

- Shohreh Agdashloo and Brendan Gleeson winning Emmys in the Miniseries categories. No, I haven't seen either performance or the competition, but Shoreh Agdashloo and Brendan Gleeson are all sorts of awesome, so I don't really care.

- Christina Hendricks was there. End of story.

The In Between:

- Kristen Chenoweth beats out Kristen Wiig, Jane Krakowski, and Amy Poehler for Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. I don't have any problems with Chenoweth's work on Pushing Daisies, but I would have been happier to see one of the other three get it (especially Wiig).

- The Amazing Race takes home ANOTHER Emmy for Best Reality Competition Program. Project Runway, anybody?

- Toni Collette wins Best Actress in a Comedy Series. Collette's done some great work on United States of Tara, but my heart belongs to Tina Fey, who just keeps topping herself in every consecutive season of 30 Rock.

- Once again, The Colbert Report loses to The Daily Show. *sigh*

The Bad:

- John Cryer wins Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy for 2 and a Half Men. Any of the other nominees would have been leagues better, especially 30 Rock's Jack McBrayer, who is a constant scene stealer as NBC page Kenneth Parcell ("Science was always my favorite subject in high school...especially the Old Testament!").

Sunday, September 20, 2009

It's that time: predictions for the Emmy Awards

Well, it's late September, and we've come to it again: The Primetime Emmy Awards. I'm a little wary about watching this year after the 5-way-hosting disaster from last year, but chances are I won't let myself miss tonight's show, just in case there's anything as bizarre as the Kanye incident at last week's VMA's (although seeing as this is a real awards show, I doubt it). I've put my predictions below, but to save space I'm not listing the entire ballot of nominees. To see those, click HERE, and then go on a scroll down this post to see if you think I'm crazy or not.

From the Top:

Outstanding Comedy Series:

Will Win: 30 Rock
Should Win: 30 Rock
The Darkhorse(s): The Office, Family Guy

Expect 30 Rock's stellar third season to take home another top trophy. If it goes to anyone else, it will be The Office, a show that just started its sixth season, and is without a doubt close to setting a permanent end date. As for Family Guy? Realistically, I don't see it happening, but it made it this far, so anything's possible.

Outstanding Drama Series:

Will Win: Mad Men
Should Win: Mad Men
The Darkhorse(s): Breaking Bad

Expect a repeat in this top category as well, seeing as Mad Men's second season continued, if not improved upon the excellence from its inaugural run. Breaking Bad might stand a small chance, and hell, even Lost might, but chances are Matthew Weiner is going home happy tonight.

Outstanding Made for Television Movie:

Will Win: Grey Gardens
Should Win: N/A
The Darkhorse(s): Coco Chanel

The second most nominated program of the 08-09 season looks like a sure bet. Really, any of the other nominees will be considered a shocker if they win.

Outstanding Miniseries:

Will Win: Generation Kill
Should Win: Generation Kill
The Darkhorse(s): Little Dorrit

With only two nominees in the category, there isn't much room to choose, but I'll go with the war-themed Generation Kill, which was excellent (at least in those 2 episodes I saw...).

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series:

Will Win: Alec Baldwin - 30 Rock
Should Win: Alec Baldwin - 30 Rock
The Darkhorse(s): Steve Carrell - The Office

Another category likely to go the same route this year, and rightfully so. Baldwin continues to impress on 30 Rock, with this past season's Salma Hayek subplot creating plenty of shining moments for the star. However, though it's about to start its sixth season, The Office's Steve Carell has yet to take home an Emmy. Might they finally reward him for a season that saw Michael Scott show a slightly more emotional side? It's certainly plausible.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series:

Will Win: Bryan Cranston - Breaking Bad
Should Win: Cranston or John Hamm - Mad Men
The Darkhorse(s): Hugh Laurie - House, Simon Baker - The Mentalist, Gabriel Byrne - In Treatment

Unlike their comedic counterparts, the men in the drama category are in a much less predictable race. Cranston was a slight surprise for his critically hailed work last year, and he could easily repeat...or the voters could give it to the understated Hamm, who was expected to win last year. And then there's Hugh Laurie who always seems to get one major award a year for House, Simon Baker for the surprise ratings hit The Mentalist, and Gabriel Byrne, who has earned his fair share of love as a therapist in In Treatment. It's anyone's for the taking.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie:

Will Win: Brendan Gleeson - Into the Storm...?????
Should Win: N/A
The Darkhorse(s): Everyone else

I haven't seen any of the performances, nor read too much about them, so I'm lost in this category. I only picked Gleeson because he played a real-life figure: Winston Churchill. And if the Emmys are anything like the Oscars, they love rewarding portrayals of real people.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series:

Will Win: Tina Fey - 30 Rock
Should Win: Tina Fey
The Darkhorse(s): Toni Collette - United States of Tara

Once AGAIN, expect a repeat, although there is the chance that Collette could sneak in a take home the gold. The role might be seen as more unique than that of Fey's Liz Lemon, and the voters may very well go for it.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series:

Will Win: Glenn Close - Damages
Should Win: Elisabeth Moss - Mad Men
The Darkhorse(s): Elisabeth Moss, Holly Hunter - Saving Grace

Close seems like a surefire bet for her commanding turn as an icy lawyer in Damages, but my heart hopes that Moss, who has done so well as the beleaguered Peggy Olsen, finally gets some Emmy lovin'.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie:

Will Win: Jessica Lange or Drew Barrymore - Grey Gardens
Should Win: N/A
The Darkhorse(s): Shirley Maclaine - Coco Chanel

It will go to one of the women from Grey Gardens, although if voters are too split on who was better, look for someone like Maclaine to sneak in a take it.

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series:

Will Win: Neil Patrick Harris - How I Met Your Mother
Should Win: Jack McBrayer - 30 Rock
The Darkhorse(s): McBrayer, Tracy Morgan - 30 Rock, Rainn Wilson - The Office

As much as I would LOVE to see McBrayer take home an award for stealing scene after scene as Kenneth Parcell, chances are the award will go to Harris. If not, then it could go to Morgan, or Wilson, who has been nominated before as the demented Dwight Shrute.

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series:

Will Win: William Hurt - Damages
Should Win: John Slattery - Mad Men, Christian Clemenson -Boston Legal
The Darkhorse(s): Michael Emerson - Lost

Damages will likely take home a second acting award tonight, though I'd like to see it go to Slattery or Clemenson, who took his upgrade to full-cast-member as a chance to do really superb work in Boston Legal's short but redemptive (after the messy 4th season) final season. And then there's Michael Emerson, who is supposedly creep-tacular on Lost, which made a big Emmy comeback this year.

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie:

Will Win: N/A
Should Win: N/A
The Darkhorse(s): N/A

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series:

Will Win: Elizabeth Perkins - Weeds or Jane Krakowski - 30 Rock
Should Win: Kristen Wiig - Saturday Night Live
The Darkhorse(s): Wiig, Amy Poehler - SNL, and Kristen Chenweth - Pushing Daisies

Krakowski or Perkins seem likely, due to the general love of their shows by the voters, but I'd be ecstatic if it went to Wiig, who was the strongest of SNL's main cast this past season, and has been a standout for the past several. Poehler could get it, as could Chenoweth who may earn the sympathy vote, seeing as her critically beloved show was tragically cut short.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series:

Will Win: Dianne Wiest - In Treatment
Should Win: N/A
The Darkhorse(s): Hope Davis - In Treatment, Chandra Wilson - Grey's Anatomy

In Treatment has received praise not just for Byrne, but for its stellar supporting cast, with a great deal of attention going to Wiest. However, there's always a chance that the award will go to Wilson or even Sandra Oh, just because there are still some folks out there who still like Grey's Anatomy.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie:

Will Win: N/A
Should Win: N/A
The Darkhorse(s): N/A

Outstanding Variety, Music, or Comedy Series:

Will Win: The Daily Show
Should Win: The Colbert Report
The Darkhorse(s): Saturday Night Live

As it has been the past few years, the award will go to either John Stewart or Steven Colbert, but there is a slim chance that SNL could score an award for one of its more consistent seasons in years.

Outstanding Reality Competition Program:

Will Win: The Amazing Race
Should Win: Project Runway
The Darkhorse(s): Dancing With the Stars

Once again, The Amazing Race will take home the trophy, leaving many of us groaning, and thinking, why hasn't Project Runway won this award before? Although to be fair, I have to ask, which season of PR is nominated this year? It seems like there's been too much time (due to the lawsuit) and that all of the previous seasons have been nominated. Maybe I've just forgotten how to count (math was never my strong suit).

Outstanding Host for a Reality Competition Program:

Will Win: Heidi Klum?
Should Win: No One
The Darkhorse(s): No One.

Easily the most pointless award here, I'm hoping that after two years it will be done away with. We watch these shows for the contestants and the challenges, not the people who judge them.

So there you have it, folks. How close/far off am I? We'll know over the approaching hours when the show unfolds live. Or, if the show is as bad as last year, we'll know as we constantly update the homepage of IMDb, which will update us on the winners as they are announced.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

(German) trailer for "The Last Station"

So apparently Tina Fey has already received her Emmy for this year...

No, no, there hasn't been a leak of the winners, but she did win for Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for Saturday Night Live for all of those Sarah Palin sketches. It's hard to deny how insanely funny she was...

Source: Yahoo News

LOS ANGELES – Is Tina Fey an Emmy winner? You betcha.

Fey received an Emmy Award on Saturday for her impersonation on "Saturday Night Live" of former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

Accepting her trophy for best guest actress in a comedy series, Fey thanked "SNL" producer Lorne Michaels and her parents, "who are lifelong Republicans, for their patience."

She was honored at the Creative Arts Primetime Emmys, which recognize technical and other achievements for the 2008-09 season and preceded next weekend's main ceremony. Fey has the chance for more honors: She could repeat last year's win as best actress in a comedy series for "30 Rock," and the show again could claim top comedy honors.

"Precious" wins top award at TIFF

Considering that the past two winners of this award were "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Juno", and that the film has only been gaining buzz since it conquered Sundance in January, this is another huge boost for this film's Best Picture chances. And with 10 slots this year, it's close to becoming a sure bet for the nomination.

Source: Yahoo News/Reuters

TORONTO (Reuters) - "Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire" won the top award at the Toronto International Film Festival Saturday, giving the Oprah Winfrey-produced film some early momentum heading into Oscar awards season.

The film, a gritty tale of the abuse and redemption of a teenage girl in Harlem, captured the festival's People's Choice award, which is voted on by filmgoers. Last year it went to best picture Oscar winner "Slumdog Millionaire."

Critics have roundly praised "Precious" since its debut at the Sundance Film Festival in January, and audiences in Toronto warmly received the film, which is directed by Lee Daniels and will hit theaters in November.

"I made this film for every person out there who ever looked in the mirror and felt unsure about the person looking back," Daniels, who is traveling in Spain, said in a statement read out at an awards reception in Toronto.

In addition to "Slumdog Millionaire," past winners of the award that have gone on to win the best picture Oscar include "American Beauty" and "Chariots of Fire."

The festival, which wraps up later Saturday with a red-carpet screening of "The Young Victoria," a look at the British queen's early years, was notable this year for a lack of distribution deals signed as the independent film industry remains mired in a near two-year funk.

More than one-third of the more than 330 films screened entered the festival without distribution deals, and barely a handful were announced during the event's 10-day run.

Festival co-director Piers Handling said he expects more deals involving Toronto-screened films to soon be announced, but said the days of festival bidding wars were likely over.

"It's a combination of just an increasingly conservative marketplace in North America, the recession, as well as a glut of product," he told Reuters after the awards presentation.

"I think there will be fewer films being made."

Other winners included critics' awards for "The Man Beyond the Bridge," an Indian production featuring the little-used language of Konkani, and "Hadewijch," a French film that looks at the possibilities and consequences of a devoutly religious life.

The audience award for top documentary went to "The Topp Twins," which tells the story of a New Zealand lesbian country and western singing duo.

(Reporting by Cameron French; Editing by Xavier Briand)

"Nine" update: Release date change is FALSE (YES!)

Well, this is good and sort of bad. On one hand, the release rollout still starts during Thanksgiving, but the bad news, is that it might not be in Houston, which is where I'll be during Thanksgiving, meaning I still might have to wait, depending how long it takes for the film to reach Boston (by which time I'll be over loaded with end-of-semester projects...ugh).

Source: Not sure, but the following quote was posted on IMDb:

The rumors are untrue. ‘Nine‘ is opening limited on November 25 and will continue to expand through Christmas.

Top 15 of the 2000s: #6

Well, we've come quite a ways, and now we're just outside of the Top 5. However, there's still one more before we get there, and it's a doozy. Not only is it on the obscure side (it barely made $2 million at the box office despite some big names), but it's a bit slow and runs quite long, AND it's extremely experimental. It's also a bit confusing to determine what year it was released, because it came out in different places over a stretch of time. For my own purposes, I've labeled it as the year in which it received a US release, thereby qualifying it for the Oscars it richly deserved, but never got close to obtaining. If you haven't guessed already, the #6 film on the countdown is none other than...

#6. "Dogville" (2004) by Lars Von Trier: Ask someone why he/she hates Lars Von Trier and one of the standard responses is that he's a misogynist when it comes to storytelling. His female characters often go through slow, tortuous, drawn-out Hell, before reaching an ending that's even more unpleasant. There isn't too much that's different in "Dogville", save for one aspect...but let's save that for later. Von Trier's films always straddle the thin line between art and madness, and this one is no exception, its length (3 hours) not helping matters. However, it's on my list, so obviously I have quite a few good things to say about it. First, on the issue of length, I will concede that the first 45 minutes are slow without being terribly interesting. This is the film's greatest hurdle, BUT if you can make it past that, the film does begin to become increasingly fascinating even while keeping more or less the same pace. Adding to the interest is the production as a whole. Von Trier is basically credited with starting the Dogme 95 movement, which seeks to strip down films to their bare essentials, and the ideas of Dogme 95 are without a doubt best showcased in "Dogville". Shot entirely on a soundstage, the film has no full sets, with white chalk outlines taking the place of buildings or rooms, often with labels like "Ma Ginger's Store" or "The church" or "the sage garden". There aren't even doors, requiring actors to mime the movements of knocking on or opening them while sounds play at the same time. This technique which so easily could have become annoying soon becomes seamless, because Von Trier never makes a big deal about it; it's just another part of the background. This also applies to John Hurt's brilliant, sickly-sweet, irony-soaked, narration, which despite often giving us internal glimpses into glimpses that could have been illuminated via dialogue, never feels like a cheat. In fact, Hurt, only present in voice, gives one of the best performances of the whole film. But of course there's still the issue of Von Trier's "misogyny", and for most of the movie, it might seem a bit hard to deny. Grace (Nicole Kidman), an outsider who does nothing wrong and only wants to help the townspeople to repay them for sheltering her, soon contracts "Scarlett Letter"-syndrome, and becomes subject to the wrath of people hiding under the guise of morality. She is abused mentally and physically, even becoming the town whore. At one point she is even forced to wear a chain with a hubcap at the end, so that she must drag it along everywhere she goes. And happens when people see her wearing the device? Local children sit on the hubcap and pelt her with snowballs, while their parents look on and do nothing. Throughout all of this, the entire cast is superb, with the best being Kidman, Paul Bettany, and Patricia Clarkson (who shares the film's most powerful scene with Kidman). In what I refer to as Von Trier's "Suffering Women Trilogy", Kidman perhaps gives the second best lead performance, which is high praise considering that she's in the company of outstanding work from Emily Watson and Bjork (yes, that Bjork). And for a film set on such a bare stage, I remember being impressed by the set design, cinematography, and the limited score. But of course, at the end of the day, there's still the question of misogyny, and honestly, I think the way Von Trier ends the film might be the most wickedly clever way of fighting back at those claims (at least temporarily). Once I finally realized what the film was about to do in its final minutes, I had trouble repressing a slight smile, a smile which might not have happened without such an extensive run-time around which to slowly build tension. It's too good to spoil, but I'll just end by saying that while "Dogville" may only be #6 on my list, it's certainly #1 as far as endings go.

Final Grade: A

Best Performance: Nicole Kidman AND Patricia Clarkson

Best Scene: Unfortunately, the clips I was able to find weren't available for embedding, so I've posted the trailer instead...

New, all too brief, behind-the-scenes look at "Nine"

Let's hope this is a sign that we're about to get a new trailer. I think we've waited long enough, and if the Weinsteins are determined to push this back from Thanksgiving, they ought to give us something to hold us over...

Friday, September 18, 2009

First look at "Leaves of Grass" with Edward Norton

"The Informant!" - REVIEW

It's hard to not compare "The Informant!" to 2008's "Burn After Reading". Both come from respected directors, featured stories about corruption and/or betrayal, had wonderful casts, and had very, VERY funny trailers. The difference? "The Informant!", while marketed as a comedy, seems to be aiming for strange new territory. While not a zany corporate crime comedy, Soderbergh's film also doesn't go for the gritty, insightful, hard-hitting image that made Michael Mann's "The Insider" so dramatically compelling. You've heard of movies where all of the best lines are in the trailer? This is one of them. Instead, Soderbergh and crew land somewhere in between with a soft 'thud'. No, it's not an abject failure, not at all, but it's a few leaps from being an unqualified success. Given the strange in-between tone, Matt Damon does give a good performance, but it's difficult to rave about it considering the material; do Soderbergh and crew want us fully invested in this man, or is he supposed to be a joke? Though the film becomes more serious as it progresses, it's never decisive about this question...and if it is, it's simply not emphatic enough. Soderbergh's execution seems almost limp as opposed to A) sharp and witty or B) compelling. Because of this, the film, though not poorly paced, still feels 'off' in its timing. Though set in the early and mid-nineties, the muted oranges that pervade the frames oddly suggest something out of the seventies. By shooting this film in the same vein as the "Ocean's 11" trilogy, but by trying to be somewhat more serious (yet still with a wink...?), it seems that it isn't just the marketing team that's confused about this film. There's also the matter of the music, which is light and bouncy, suggesting that, AHA! we got you!, the film is back in comedy again. Soderbergh himself can't seem to make up his mind, and as a result, the attempts at comedy almost never stick, while the drama feels shortchanged, leaving the talented cast of Damon, Scott Bakula, Joel McHale, and Melanie Lynskey, in the dust.

Grade: B-/C+

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Video of the Week: Kathy Griffin as Kate Gosselin


It was bad enough moving "The Road" back, but at least it was kept in the same YEAR. Since I'll be home for Christmas break, I'll have to wait until January 2010 to finally see this, instead of Thanksgiving week...and that's not cool.

Source: The Hot Blog

Here's the deal: Nine is not being moved to 2010 at this point. But we should expect a Chicago-style rollout, with exclusive releases in NY/LA around Christmas, followed by an expansion to 200-300 screens in January, then a wider release after Oscar nominations in early February. Chicago did over $100m of its gross after nominations.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Updated Oscar predictions

Many like to think that Oscar race begins with the Toronto Film Festival, and since I live for all things related to movie award shows, I somewhat agree. So while the TIFF may not have reached its conclusion yet, I thought I would make an updated set of predictions, this time taking into account the 10 Best Picture nominees rule, and reviews and buzz coming out of test screenings and film festivals (these are only for the "BIG SIX" categories).

Best Picture:
What I'm Predicting (in no order): The Lovely Bones, Invictus, Nine, Up in the Air, Avatar, An Education, Precious, Bright Star, The Hurt Locker, Up
Other Strong Contenders: A Serious Man, Where the Wild Things Are, Inglourious Basterds
Don't Count Out: The Road, Capitalism: A Love Story, (500) Days of Summer, The White Ribbon, Broken Embraces, Amelia, TREE OF LIFE
Left-Field Dark Horses: District 9, A Single Man

Best Director:
What I'm Predicting (in no order): Peter Jackson - The Lovely Bones, Clint Eastwood - Invictus, Rob Marshall - Nine, Jason Reitman - Up in the Air, Kathryn Bigelow - The Hurt Locker (PLEASE)
Other Strong Contenders: James Cameron - Avatar, Lee Daniels - Precious, Jane Campion - Bright Star, Lone Scherfig - An Education, Terrence Malick - Tree of Life, Spike Jonze - Where the Wild Things Are, Joel and Ethan Coen - A Serious Man, John Hillcoat - The Road
Don't Count Out: Mira Nair - Amelia, Marc Webb - (500) Days of Summer, Michael Haneke - The White Ribbon
Left-Field Dark Horses: Quentin Tarantino - Inglourious Basterds, Neill Blomkamp - District 9, Tom Ford - A Single Man

Best Actor:
What I'm Predicting (in no order): Viggo Mortensen - The Road, George Clooney - Up in the Air, Daniel Day-Lewis - Nine, Morgan Freeman - Invictus, Robert Duvall - Get Low
Other Strong Contenders: Jeremy Renner - The Hurt Locker, Hugh Dancy - Adam, Matt Damon - The Informant!, Colin Firth - A Single Man
Don't Count Out: Johnny Depp - Public Enemies, Michael Stuhlberg - A Serious Man
Left-Field Dark Horses: Sam Rockwell - Moon, Sean Penn - Tree of Life, Ben Whishaw - Bright Star

Best Actress:
What I'm Predicting (in no order): Carey Mulligan - An Education, Gabourey Sidibe - Precious, Meryl Streep - Julie and Julia, Penelope Cruz - Broken Embraces, Abbie Cornish - Bright Star
Other Strong Contenders: Hilary Swank - Amelia, Saoirse Ronan - The Lovely Bones, Julianne Moore - A Single Man
Don't Count Out: Tilda Swinton - Julia, Audrey Tatou - Coco Before Chanel
Left-Field Dark Horses: Michelle Pfeiffer - Cheri

Best Supporting Actor:
What I'm Predicting (in no order): Christoph Waltz - Inglourious Basterds, Stanley Tucci - The Lovely Bones, Alfred Molina - An Education, Peter Sarsgaard - An Education, Matt Damon - Invictus
Other Strong Contenders: Robert Duvall - The Road, Richard Kind - A Serious Man, Anthony Mackie - The Hurt Locker, Jeff Bridges - The Men Who Stare at Goats, Kodi Smit-McPhee - The Road
Don't Count Out: Peter Capaldi - In the Loop (PLEASE!!!), Paul Schneider - Bright Star
Left-Field Dark Horses: Stanley Tucci - Julie and Julia, Brad Pitt - Tree of Life

Best Supporting Actress:
What I'm Predicting (in no order): Mo'Nique - Precious, Marion Cotillard - Nine, Penelope Cruz - Nine, Anna Kendrick - Up in the Air, Susan Sarandon - The Lovely Bones
Other Strong Contenders: Vera Farmiga - Up in the Air, Rachel Weisz - The Lovely Bones, Judi Dench - Nine, Melanie Laurent - Inglourious Basterds
Don't Count Out: Marion Cotillard - Public Enemies, Fergie - Nine
Left-Field Dark Horses: Sophia Loren - Nine

Top 15 of the 2000s: #7

I just realized that I was intent on having this list totally done by the beginning of this week. Hmmm. Looks like I've fallen out of sync with my plans. Well, for those of you who've been waiting, here's the next entry on my countdown...

#7 "Chicago" (2002) by Rob Marshall: The second part of the one-two-punch musical revival at the start of the new century, "Chicago" introduced us to a very special type of musical. Whereas "Moulin Rouge!" was a successful ORIGINAL musical (sort of...), "Chicago" had concrete source material. And not just any source material, but material that was often deemed "unfilmable". And this is where I get to segue into my rant about the brilliance of Rob Marshall. Ah, how I've waited for this moment. There's plenty to praise, but if there's one refreshing trait that Mr. Marshall brought to the stage-to-screen musical film, it's his understanding of what makes a coherent, consistent musical. Instead of simply shooting the musical sequences exactly as they would have appeared in the context of the story, Mr. Marshall wisely came up with the idea to tell "Chicago"'s story via a smart framing device: the show in Roxie's (Renee Zellweger) mind; every song in some way involves Roxie, whether she's getting involved, or simply listening. It also allows for Marshall to stage many of his numbers on more sparesly decorated, "stagey" minimalist sets without looking awkward or cheap. This was why the song "Class" (which was actually filmed), sung by Catherine Zeta-Jones and Queen Latifah, appears nowhere in the film. "But wait a minute," you say, "Mr. Cellophane doesn't involve Roxie at all!" That's right, it doesn't. So why does Mr. Marshall still include this, and not "Class"? Because he understands the material so damn well. Jones and Latifah's characters appear in at least one other number in the film, whereas John C. Reilly's character Amos gets nothing other than "Mr. Cellophane" (also, "Mr. Cellophane" is ten times better than "Class"). The song is also more compelling than "Class", and in a film filled with cynicism and satire, gives us a surprisingly powerful moment and makes us feel for a character who is just a dope. But that's not to discredit the power of the other songs. While songs such as "Cell Block Tango" may be as satirical as you can get, there's an undeniable impact from watching such a song so expertly staged and ferociously well performed (especially Zeta-Jones, who puts in 120% even when everyone else is already putting in 100%). Then there's the brilliance of the song "Roxie", which may actually deserve an award for minimalist opulence. Using nothing but a dark sound stage, cleverly arranged mirors, and Zellweger in a shimmery silver dress, the scene is a true artistic triumph on all fronts. And let's not forget the cast by any means. First of all, there's Zellweger, who no one would have ever picked for a singer, and yet under Marshall's guidance she blossoms and gives the best performance in her whole career. Richard Gere is another surprise and the slick lawyer and his chemistry with Zellweger is off the charts (the "They Both Reached for the Gun" number is genius). Latifah is yet another surprise. Not because of her singing, but because of the presence and attitude she brings to the role; it's a joy to watch her. John C. Reilly, like Latifah, is another cast member who takes only having one song and making it count: His rendition of "Mr. Cellophane" is gorgeous and charged with passion. But nothing comes close to Zeta-Jones, who won a well deserved Supporting Actress Oscar for the role of Velma Kelly, the singer turned murderess who becomes Roxie's competition for fame. She sings with so much energy that I'd question if you have a pulse if you didn't get chills during "Cell Block Tango", and she moves across the sets with immense verve and power, her legs pounding up and down like pistons on a six cylinder engine. Add in the fact that she was pregnant while filming, and the accomplishment becomes even more impressive. So that's "Chicago", the movie that completed what "Moulin Rouge!" started a year earlier. It works surprisingly well as a companion piece to Luhrmann's work, as it takes a minimalist route while "Rouge" goes all-out, and together the two created a dazzling revival of a genre many had assumed was dead and buried. At this February's Oscar ceremony, host Hugh Jackman at one point declared that the musical was back due to the success of "Mamma Mia!". While I think Mr. Jackman did a great job as host, I did take issue with the comment, because, really, the musical has been back since 2001/2002, and we shouldn't forget it. Besides, if we're going to credit just ONE film with bringing back the musical, do we really want it to be "Mamma Mia!"? I don't think so...

Final Grade: A

Best Performance: Catherine Zeta-Jones

Best Scene: Honestly, almost every one is a masterpiece of staging and singing, so I'll cheat and pick THREE. Enjoy.