Archive for February, 2007

Oscar® Reactions

February 27, 2007

While it’s disappointing to have incorrectly predicted the Best Picture winner for the third year in a row, I’m glad that this time at least the winning film was one that I liked better than the one I predicted would win.

Main Categories (6/8)

  • Best Picture: Predicted Babel, but The Departed won (at least a better film won, as I said above, although I would have been even happier if Letters from Iwo Jima had won)
  • Best Director: Martin Scorsese for The Departed (it was good to see him finally win, and for what I thought was the best film of his most recent three nominations)
  • Best Actress: Helen Mirren for The Queen (the only win out of 6 nominations for this film)
  • Best Actor: Forest Whitaker for The Last King of Scotland
  • Best Supporting Actor: Predicted Eddie Murphy for Dreamgirls, but Alan Arkin won for Little Miss Sunshine (this was likely more of a career award and possibly a vote for the film, rather than a vote for this particular performance; in an ideal world I would have liked to see either Mark Wahlberg or Jackie Earle Haley win)
  • Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Hudson for Dreamgirls (I predicted this one correctly, but I would have preferred to see Cate Blanchett win for Notes on a Scandal)
  • Best Original Screenplay: Little Miss Sunshine (I predicted this, but I would have personally voted for Pan’s Labyrinth)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay: The Departed (I also predicted this, but I would have been even happier to see Little Children win)

Other Categories (8/16)

  • Animated feature: Predicted Cars, but Happy Feet won (this was a minor upset; I haven’t seen Happy Feet or Monster House yet so I can’t really express an opinion)
  • Animated short: Predicted The Little Matchgirl, but The Danish Poet won (I actually found a pundit who got all three shorts categories right last year, and if I had listened to him this year, I would have gotten this one right)
  • Art direction: Pan’s Labyrinth
  • Cinematography: Predicted Children of Men, but Pan’s Labyrinth won (this was perhaps the biggest suprise to me of the night since Children of Men seemed like a lock, although I wasn’t too upset since overall I liked Pan’s better)
  • Costume design: Predicted Dreamgirls, but Marie Antoinette won (I guess some voters wanted to give one award to Marie Antoinette)
  • Documentary feature: An Inconvenient Truth (from an environmental standpoint, I was glad to see this win, but it was expected)
  • Documentary short: The Blood of Yingzhou District (at least I got one of the shorts right)
  • Editing: Predicted Babel, but The Departed won (I guess after The Departed tied Babel for the ACE Award, this shouldn’t have been too big a surprise, though The Departed seemed to me like it was too long and needed more editing)
  • Foreign language film: Predicted Pan’s Labyrinth, but The Lives of Others won (I liked Pan’s better, and I also thought that its good box office numbers would help it, but I think Others probably played better to the older Academy audience; it’s weird that Pan’s won three awards, second only to The Departed with four, and yet it lost this)
  • Live action short: Predicted Binta and the Great Idea, but West Bank Story won (the same source who I ignored in the animated short category convinced me to go for Binta here, changing my prediction from West Bank Story—doh!)
  • Makeup: Pan’s Labyrinth
  • Original score: Predicted The Queen, but Babel won (this was Babel‘s only win out of 7 nominations)
  • Original song: “I Need To Wake Up” from An Inconvenient Truth (my hunch was that the Dreamgirls songs would steal votes from each other, and apparently it turned out to be right since Dreamgirls was expected to win this category but failed to do so)
  • Sound editing: Letters from Iwo Jima
  • Sound mixing: Dreamgirls (which ended up with only 2 wins out of 8 nominations)
  • Visual effects: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

Closing thoughts

Overall I went 14 for 24, which is equal to the “most likely” predictions made by Oscarwatch, but they got Best Picture right and I did not. Oh, well, there’s always next year.

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Oscar® Predictions

February 24, 2007

Without further ado, here are my predictions for who will win tomorrow. These are not necessarily the films I would pick if I had a vote, and even if I wanted to tell you that, I haven’t seen all of the nominated films in most of the categories. Heck, I haven’t seen any of the shorts.

But I will tell you that I would pick Letters from Iwo Jima for Best Picture if I was voting, with The Departed close behind. Babel would be 4th at best.

Main Categories

  • Best Picture: Babel
  • Best Director: Martin Scorsese for The Departed
  • Best Actress: Helen Mirren for The Queen
  • Best Actor: Forest Whitaker for The Last King of Scotland
  • Best Supporting Actor: Eddie Murphy for Dreamgirls
  • Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Hudson for Dreamgirls
  • Best Original Screenplay: Little Miss Sunshine
  • Best Adapted Screenplay: The Departed

Other Categories

  • Animated feature: Cars
  • Animated short: The Little Matchgirl
  • Art direction: Pan’s Labyrinth
  • Cinematography: Children of Men
  • Costume design: Dreamgirls
  • Documentary feature: An Inconvenient Truth
  • Documentary short: The Blood of Yingzhou District
  • Editing: Babel
  • Foreign language film: Pan’s Labyrinth
  • Live action short: Binta and the Great Idea
  • Makeup: Pan’s Labyrinth
  • Original score: The Queen
  • Original song: “I Need To Wake Up” from An Inconvenient Truth
  • Sound editing: Letters from Iwo Jima
  • Sound mixing: Dreamgirls
  • Visual effects: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

The Lives of Others

February 23, 2007

This film revolves around the East German secret police (the Stasi) during the period in the 1980’s shortly before the Berlin Wall fell. One key character is Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe), a dedicated and effective member of the Stasi, who uses the example of a 40 hour interrogation to teach a class some of the finer points of the craft. Another is Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch, who kept reminding me of Ron Livingston), a playwright who is thought to be loyal, but is put under surveillance by Wiesler. Dreyman’s actress girlfriend Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck from Mostly Martha) is also key.

I don’t want to get into the details of the plot, though I will say that some of the details were fun, especially towards the end. Though fun may not be the best word to use, because on the whole this film is definitely a drama with an emotional impact.

The film is very well done, and it deserves its foreign film Oscar® nomination. That said, I found myself second guessing a few details and motivations on my drive home, which is why I can’t give it my highest rating. But I’m extremely glad I saw it, and would clearly recommend it.

I’d write more, but I need to finish my Oscar® predictions…

I give it 3.5 stars out of 4 stars.

Seen 2/22/2007.

Pan’s Labyrinth

February 20, 2007

Wow. This is one of those films that leaves you feeling shaken, and the world seems slightly off as you walk back to your car. I wanted to see it because it is considered to be the front-runner for the Best Foreign Film Oscar®, because it has an impossibly-high 98 rating on metacritic.com, and because IMDb users currently have it as the 63rd best movie of all time.

The setting is Spain in 1944. Ofelia and her pregnant mother Carmen are traveling to live with Captain Vidal (Sergi López from With a Friend Like Harry). Vidal is Carmen’s new husband after her first husband (and Ofelia’s father) died. He is focused on his unborn son and on beating back the rebels who live in the nearby forests. Ofelia is absorbed in her fairy tale books. Carmen just wants Ofelia to accept her new father and to survive. The other key character is housekeeper Mercedes (Maribel Verdú from Y Tu Mamá También).

The film takes place in two parallel worlds: The “real” world of Captain Vidal, the rebels, Carmen and her pregnancy, and so on, and the “fairy tale” world of Ofelia, a faun named Pan, and other creatures great and strange. Of course Ofelia also exists in the real world, whose occupants find her behavior hard to understand or tolerate.

I don’t want to go into too much detail because the details are really quite remarkable, but I do want to issue a warning: This is a very challenging film. There is serious violence that I found much more difficult to watch than say, Letters from Iwo Jima. And when there isn’t violence, there is still a palpable tension.

The performances are all first-rate. López’s Captain Vidal is the best screen villain I have seen in years, and the girl who plays Ofelia is amazing. The special effects are mostly not computer generated, giving them an organic feel that really works. And the cinematography is also worthy of the Oscar® nomination it got.

The bottom line is that if my warning didn’t scare you away, you definitely need to see this film.

I give it 4 stars out of 4 stars.

Seen 2/19/2007.

Letters from Iwo Jima

February 16, 2007

This completes my viewing of the Best Picture Oscar® nominees. This is the 12th year I have watched all of the Picture nominees before the ceremony, for whatever that’s worth.

This film is pretty extraordinary in the sense that it is directed by a quintessentially American director (Clint Eastwood), and yet it presents a battle between Japanese and American troops from the Japanese viewpoint, and it does so almost entirely in Japanese (with subtitles, of course). Furthermore, when the battle begins, it’s really hard not to be hoping for a Japanese victory, since we know the men on that side and do not know the Americans. And both sides are shown to have both honorable and less honorable men.

The film includes a couple of Japanese soldiers, including the general in charge (played by Ken Watanabe), who have spent time in the United States. I don’t know if that is true or not, but it adds an interesting angle to the film.

Letters is substantially better than its companion film, Flags of Our Fathers. The Filmspotting guys said that this film suffered from some of the same problems as Flags, and I can see now where they are coming from, but while watching it those things didn’t bother me. Well, maybe a little—the flashbacks to the men’s past lives in Japan did seem a little superfluous even at the time. But it’s still an excellent film, and would probably be my first or second favorite of the five nominated films (The Departed would be the other one).

I give it 3.5 stars out of 4 stars.

Seen 2/15/2007.

Dreamgirls

February 13, 2007

I actually do like musicals, even though I’m a guy, but maybe I had heard too much about this one.

Here’s an example: I had heard that there was a show stopper somewhere in the middle of the film, and that the rest of the film was kind of a let-down after that. Well, it’s a real let-down to get to the end and to have not seen anything that seemed to match that description.

I liked the way Chicago (by the same director) managed to make all the songs be either actual musical numbers, or dreams, so there was none of the spontaneous bursting into song that was supposed to really be happening. While musical masterpieces like Singin’ in the Rain can manage to have both on-stage musical numbers and characters bursting into song and make it work, this film really couldn’t. At least in my opinion.

I saw the film because it has many Oscar® nominations, including the presumed front-runners for both Supporting acting categories. Jennifer Hudson is actually quite good, although of the nominated performances I would probably pick Cate Blanchett (both of whom were arguably leads). Eddie Murphy, well, is this really a quatum leap up from his James Brown skits on “Saturday Night Live?” There’s a little more drama, but it didn’t seem like anything special to me except that it was more than we have seen from him before. If it was an actor who normally did drama, there would likely be no nomination.

I actually did enjoy myself, but the above reasons make me happy that this film was shut out of the Best Picture category. And I won’t be sorry if Eddie loses on the 25th.

I give it 3 stars out of 4 stars stars.

Seen 2/12/2007.

Notes on a Scandal

February 9, 2007

The Oscar® viewing continues. This one is nominated for four awards: best Actress (Judi Dench), Best Supporting Actress (Cate Blanchett), Best Adapted Screenplay (Patrick Marber, who also wrote Closer a couple of years earlier), and Best Score (Philip Glass).

Sheba (Blanchett) is the new art teacher, and gets lots of attention from teachers and students alike, because she is beautiful and friendly. Barbara (Dench) has been teaching at the same school forever, and is respected and/or feared, but not liked.

Sheba is married to a much older man (Richard, played by Bill Nighy), and they have two children, the younger of whom has Down’s Syndrome. As a new teacher, she is in somewhat over her head, so when Barbara offers friendship and help, she agrees.

There’s a lot more to the story than that, but I don’t want to give away too much. I enjoyed it quite a bit, although it did feel more like a stage play than most films, which some might not like. There is also a fair amount of voice over narration by Barbara, which seemed fine but which may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

Dench is excellent. I especially liked a small scene where she arrived for the first time at Sheba and Richard’s house, and she silently conveyed her flustered state of mind. Not showy, but real. The rest of the cast is also first rate, and not just the nominated ones. I have to say that it’s a little harder to warm to Blanchett’s character because she is playing a character who makes some pretty stupid decisions, although you do believe that Sheba isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, so it makes sense.

So if you like well-written, semi-stagy, well acted films, check this one out.

I give it 3.5 stars out of 4 stars stars.

Seen 2/8/2007.

Babel

February 6, 2007

I had to see this because I always see the Best Picture nominees before the Oscar® ceremony. Plus I really liked the director’s (Alejandro González Iñárritu) other two films, Amores Perros and 21 Grams. But this one got mixed reviews, so I put off seeing it until now.

The story, like in the other two films, is of several interconnected stories told out of sequence. Of the three, 21 Grams was the most scrambled, and this one was comparatively easy to follow. In this case the central event is the shooting of an American tourist (played by Cate Blanchett) in Morocco. The other stories are set in North America and Japan.

It’s definitely a difficult film to watch, and I found myself wondering what it all meant and if the difficulty was worth it. I’m still not entirely sure. Another review I read points out that one theme in common for the director’s three films is that chance plays a big part in how our lives turn out. The film’s name also points at the role of language barriers—English, Spanish, Arabic, Japanese and other languages are heard, and sign language also plays a part in one of the stories.

I’m still deciding what I think, but for now I’ll give it 3 stars out of 4.

Seen 2/5/2007.

Little Children

February 2, 2007

I love this time of year. All the Oscar® bait comes out at the end of the year, and in January and February I’m catching up with them. Little Children is director Todd Field’s second film (In the Bedroom, his first, was my top pick of 2001 and was nominated for best picture). This new one got three Oscar® nominations: best actress, best supporting actor, and best adapted screenplay. Since I’m usually behind, I’m always seeing things just before they disappear from theaters. In this case my only real choice was to go to the new Century Redwood City 20, which I hadn’t been to before.

I’m really glad I made the effort. This film is even better than I expected.

The story is mainly about Sarah (Kate Winslet) and Brad (Patrick Wilson from Hard Candy), who are married. But not to each other. Brad, a stay at home father who is studying to take the bar exam for the third time, has been nicknamed Prom King by the neighborhood mothers, who have never actually talked to him. Sarah does, and unexpected sparks fly. The other key character is Ronnie (Jackie Earle Haley, who played Moocher in Breaking Away), who has recently been released after serving time for indecent exposure in front of children. Needless to say, his release has caused a huge uproar from the community.

The film makes extensive use of narration by the uncredited but excellent Will Lyman. At first it bothered me a bit, partly because narration is usually a cheat on the part of the screenwriters and/or the director. But it grew on me, to the point where I actually looked forward to it, and it had a significant part in bringing humor to the film. Given the serious nature of the subject matter, the humor was certainly welcome, but if it had been done poorly it would have ruined the movie. But it wasn’t and didn’t—I found the film to blend comedy and drama exceptionally well.

The film seemed to inter-cut different scenes more extensively than most films, and I thought it worked very well. On the other hand, if you notice the editing in any film, maybe it’s a little too extreme. I liked it though.

The film deserves its screenplay nomination. I seem to get a feeling partway through a well-written film that everything just fits right, and I got that feeling here.

Finally, there’s the acting, which generated two of the film’s three nominations. I would have to say that even though I loved the film, the acting didn’t seem quite as good as the nominations would indicate. Does Kate Winslet deserve her nomination? I’m not sure, although she does manage to convince you that she feels unattractive, which is quite a feat for her (some have complained that the part should have been played by a less attractive actress).

I give it 4 stars out of 4.

Seen 1/31/2007.