Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Best of 2009, For Sure

And finally, after much delay and suspense, my Top Ten Films of 2009. These are the movies what made me happy that I spend as much time at the movies as I do. It's no coincidence that I experienced all of these in a movie theater -- it is, after all, the way films were meant to be experienced. I've struggled with my Top Three, having changed and rearranged it multiple times. Hell, my ranking of those three could change between now and now-oh-one. But I'm going to commit myself.

My Top Ten Films of 2009:

10. JENNIFER'S BODY

For nailing the insecurity of adolescence. For using horror to explore eating disorders, perceptions of beauty, and teen sexuality. For the subtle looks between Needy (Amanda Seyfried) and Jennifer (Megan Fox). For proving Diablo Cody earned that Oscar. For "Through the Trees", one of the best songs written for a movie ever.

9. EASY VIRTUE

For bringing classic wit to a modern screen. For its gorgeous production values. For making every character real human beings instead of comic caricatures. For revealing Jessica Biel's gifts as an actress. For making "Car Wash" and "Sex Bomb" into 1920s foxtrots.

8. UP IN THE AIR

For knocking the wind out of me with its finale. For making George Clooney vulnerable. For fine supporting turns from Vera Farmiga and Amy Morton. For delighting and upsetting me simultaneously. For a surprisingly great score.

7. THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG

For bringing Disney magic back into my life. For the incredible voice cast. For fantastic songs like "Dig a Little Deeper". For the sheer beauty of 2D animation. For an ending that got me misty-eyed.

6. JULIE & JULIA
(Number Nine on 25 Most Anticipated)

For making something delightful and fun out of an atrocious book (the titular one, not Julia Child's memoir). For the costumes. For Alexandre Desplat's score. For the chemistry between Stanley Tucci and Meryl Streep. For being worth three viewings.

5. BRIGHT STAR

For engaging performances by its ensemble. For the sexless yet sexy passion between Fanny (Abbie Cornish) and John Keats (Ben Whishaw). For Greig Fraser's breathtaking cinematography. For Jane Campion's light yet ever-present touch. For haunting me with its beauty.

4. A SERIOUS MAN

For finding the absurd in the awful. For its use of Jefferson Airplane. For the Rabbi scenes. For an ensemble firing on all cylinders.For "accept the mystery".

3. (500) DAYS OF SUMMER
(Number Ten on 25 Most Anticipated)

For giving me just what I need at the time I saw it. For a realistic portrayal of a modern relationship. For that dance number. For using wardrobe and set dressing to accentuate Zooey Deschanel's eyes. For being a romantic-comedy that didn't condescend to the audience.

2. FANTASTIC MR. FOX

For dancing foxes. For Wes Anderson finding the perfect medium for his style. For that wonderfully offbeat sense of style. For making a kid's movie into a caper comedy for adults. For being a cussing great movie.

1. PUBLIC ENEMIES

For Colleen Atwood's costumes. For Johnny Depp's haunted performance. For turning a mainstream genre into cinematic art. For Elliot Goldenthal's period-perfect score. For that devastating final scene. For playing with the facts to give us a gripping story. For just being the best at what it did.

The Worst of 2009

Before I name my Top Ten, I want to get this out of the way. I love the cinema more than anything. This is something my family and friends have learned to put up with. Every so often, there's one or two or six movies that I can't help but shake my head at. I'm glad to say it was fairly difficult to compile this list. Indeed, some of these things I thought were OK at first, but the more I think about them, the more they irritate me.

Dishonorable mention goes to Julia, which is getting lauds from many of my fellow bloggers for Tilda Swinton's lead performance. Yeah, she's great, but I can't get past the unfocused, dull narrative. Maybe I just hate border thrillers: The Border, Babel, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, and now Julia, are all in my Cone of Ugh. That said, at least Julia tries and sometimes succeeds, whereas the rest of these...ho boy.

10. THE PROPOSAL

Every time I think about this movie, I have to talk myself into liking it. A good 75% of this movie isn't funny. The credits sequence feels like an accident. Malin Akerman, Mary Steenburgen and Craig T. Nelson don't have characters, just labels: Ex, Mom, Dad, done, we're good! Aaron Zigman should be banned from composing for five years as penance for the atrocious work here. And not only is it sexist...but it makes Betty White the worst part of a production! Unforgivable!

9. THE INFORMERS

I like Mel Raido and Amber Heard in this. Otherwise, a hilariously over-the-top movie directed by a man that can't tell the difference between satire and serious drama. No one is in the same movie. Surprisingly unsexy despite Amber Heard being naked for the majority of the film. "We're both sleeping with Simon" is gold, though, pure gold. It's like a bad 80s movie...so maybe it's actually a genius film that fooled me? Definitely good for a laugh, especially Winona Ryder.

8. FRIDAY THE 13TH

The ending makes no sense. At all. Logic is sacrificed for a GOTCHA ending and a setup for a sequel. It's no coincidence that the only people in the movie who never have sex, the only people seen smoking pot in every scene, the yuk-yuk comic relief...also happen to be the only minorities in the cast; add racism to the list of offenses. But it is so shockingly awful, it's genius. Yeah, I bought it to watch over and over again. I mean, come on: "You're tits are stupendous. So juicy. Perfect nipple placement." That's platinum, pure platinum.

7. AWAY WE GO

Smug. Moments of greatness are rendered obsolete by its mean streak. I didn't think Maggie Gyllenhaal's character was horrid; perhaps that's why they added some unnecessarily offensive lines, just in case I wasn't totally with the authors. Like The Proposal, it takes one of my favorite actresses, in this case Allison Janney, and manages to make her the most cringe-inducing aspect of the film. Sam Mendes needs to take a break, do some theatre, stop looking at the world with such a smirk.

6. BRUNO

Also smug. You can actually see Sacha Baron Cohen trying to come up with new ways to offend people each time he fails to irritate someone. You can't push people for a reaction then call them homophobic. It's like poking a tiger with a stick and being surprised when he bites. Schmuckery.

5. STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN-LI

It's not even a Street Fighter movie. Terrible acting, non-existent sound design, and they actually miss their punches. By a foot. Badly written, poorly acted, and the director should be drawn and quartered. It's hilariously bad. It's impossibly bad.

4. X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE

See, I always thought Wolverine was a mysterious bad-ass. Turns out, he's just a pussy with amnesia. Who drinks to remember. Shame on you, Hugh Jackman. Shame.

3. TERMINATOR: SALVATION

A lifeless action piece. It had potential, and perhaps in the hands of another director, it would have been great. Alas, we get too much Christian Bale, a result of the inability to say "no" to the most famous person in a room. And it left us wondering, "What about Sam Worthington?"

2. EVERYBODY'S FINE

A dark movie that tries to be light and schmaltzy. If ever there was a misreading of a screenplay, it was here...yet the director wrote it! De Niro sleepwalks, Beckinsale is boring. The dialogue is stilted. The "heartfelt" moments are laughable. I can only say "What the fuck" so many times in a two-hour period.

1. ADAM

But apparently, the number of times I can say "Fuck you" in that same amount of time is limitless. A cloying piece of cockamamie that does nothing but miss the mark. It's like a competition to see who can most insult my intelligence. Rose Byrne wins, but the person in charge of continuity comes in second. How do you call a character "Bethany" throughout an entire film, then call her "Elizabeth" at the end? Who...wha...what the fuck? Fuck you, Adam!

Happier things to come. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Best of 2009, Part One

At midnight, 2009 is officially over. Six documentaries, several sets, a film festival, 72 new films, three Supporting Actress Sundays, 189 posts. And, of course, we must make do with these traditional year-end lists.

Of the seventy-two 2009 releases I had the pleasure (and sometimes displeasure) of seeing, I have managed to actually find 26 titles that, if I used a grading scale, would deserve a B- or more. Some of my peers believe this has to do with me being, for lack of a better term, "an easy lay". I say, if you can't find that many films in a given year to be excited about, don't rain on my parade. Fuckhead.

But why discuss something so sad? Presenting, mes amis, items 25 - 11 of my Top Ten. Some of these may be at variance with the Top Ten on the sidebar, but I always said it was subject to change. You never know how you'll feel when the time comes.

25. HANNAH MONTANA: THE MOVIE and WHIP IT!

This was, interestingly enough, a tough call. Both are female-driven films with a teenage protagonist. Both are surprisingly affecting. While Hannah Montana is the fourth feature from Peter Chelsom, Whip It! is the directorial debut of the lovely Drew Barrymore. Both manage to get career-best work from their leads. Great soundtracks, too.

24. IT'S COMPLICATED

Utterly charming. I'm so sorry I haven't reviewed it yet, but consider this to be it: despite a rocky start and repetitive dialogue, the movie is a delight to be with. Meryl Streep and Steve Martin are adorable; John Krasinski and Alec Baldwin are funny, too. The costumes by Sonia Grande are beautiful. Fun and laugh-out-loud hilarious.

23. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS
(Number Fourteen on 25 Most Anticipated)

An epic-sized rewriting of history. The ensemble here is a game one, diving fearlessly into Tarantino's pulp dialogue. Christoph Waltz will probably win an Oscar for his surprisingly charming portrayal of The Jew Hunter. Diane Kruger, thank God, managed to get a deserved SAG Nomination. And that finale is a knock-out.

22. PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL 'PUSH' BY SAPPHIRE

Despite Lee Daniels' best efforts to make it all about him, I can't get Gabourey Sidibe's lead performance out of my head. The movie, bittersweet ending and all, is hopeful. And despite the depressing surroundings, it manages to be a funny one, too. I'm glad the rest of the world caught up with me in their adoration of Mo'Nique. I knew she had it in her.

21. ZOMBIELAND

It's a zombie flick, a road movie, and a family film all in one. I haven't seen The Messenger, but I do wish Woody Harrelson was getting Oscar buzz for this movie. His Tallahassee is a memorable one. Despite how meta it is, the cameo is hilarious. Just when you thought nothing could match Shaun of the Dead...

20. STAR TREK

A talented (and very attractive) cast. A ludicrously awesome story. A rousing score. And flares, flares, flares. It's pure popcorn, and it revels in it. Have I ever waited for a non-Batman sequel this eagerly?

19. THE HANGOVER

I don't think I have ever laughed as heartily in a movie theater. Ever.

18. WATCHMEN
(Number Four on 25 Most Anticipated)

Zack Snyder was courageous in his vision, almost slavishly faithful to the source, yet willing to "mend" some elements here and there. Even if it's mostly a collection of montages, at least they are beautiful ones: the opening credits, the origin of Dr. Manhattan, the sex scene. Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Jackie Earle Haley are so cool.

17. THE INFORMANT!
(Number Seventeen on 25 Most Anticipated)

Matt Damon is excellent. Steven Soderbergh's choices are odd and genius. A true-life thriller becomes a wacky comedy, a 90s setting is given a 70s vibe. Add Marvin Hamlisch's score and you've got a funny yet thoughtful look at one of the strangest cases of corporate greed to make it to press. Also, Scott Effing Bakula.

16. BREAKING UPWARDS

Though only released in New York City, I got to see this at the Tallahassee Film Festival. A couple, played by co-writer Zoe Lister-Jones and co-writer/director Daryl Wein, strategize their own break-up, based on the real-life relationship between the filmmakers. Andrea Martin and Julie White play their mothers; some of the best supporting actressing this year.

15. AN EDUCATION

A career-making performance from Carey Mulligan centers a solid, relatable film. Great performances from the whole cast, though Rosamund Pike and Cara Seymour are true stand-outs. Lovely costumes, too. Mulligan could be the new Hepburn.

14. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE
(Number Four on 25 Most Anticipated)

The more I think on this, the more I love it. I love watching a movie and seeing myself in it. Anyone who remembers their childhood is sure to relate to this movie. It's magical in its ability to bring to life those feelings of freedom and insecurity. Great voicework by James Gandolfini, Chris Cooper and Catherine O'Hara.

13. NINE
(Number Two on 25 Most Anticipated)

Such a flawed movie. Yet I am in love with it. So. Much. Oh, Sophia Loren, please say you're back for good.

12. MOON

Sam Rockwell carried an entire film by himself. Not only did he play multiple roles...he played multiple aspects of one man. And brilliantly at that. Clint Mansell's simple score is haunting. It's unbelievable what Duncan Jones does with his budget. Dig it.

11. IN THE LOOP

I don't think I have ever as heartily in the comfort of my own home. Ever. Fuckity-bye-bye, then.


Check out the Top Ten later on. And remember, I've still a long way to go before I see all the 2009 releases: New York, I Love You, Sherlock Holmes, Notorious, Duplicity, Monsters vs. Aliens, My Bloody Valentine, A Single Man, etc.

In a Very Unusual Way, I'm So in Love With Nine

It's very difficult to concentrate on writing about Nine when I have the music from it playing incessantly in my head...and on my iTunes. So, first thing out of the gate, at least be reassured that the music is a pleasure to listen to. Thank goodness, too. The first thing one would want in a musical, of course, are numbers that attract the audience, and Nine does deliver on this front. With one or two exceptions, each number is a pleasure to experience, from the Overture to the Finale -- both of which gave me goosebumps and had me a wee wet-eyed.

True, "Folies Bergeres" is surprisingly lacking in life, a pity since it is my favorite from the show AND it's Judi Dench's big number. God knows she tries to deliver, but cutting out the dance break was a bizarre choice, and even the mid-song banter is noncommittal.

True also, the original song "Take It All", though sexy and ending with a punch to the gut, is a little too Chicago for me. The music, the costumes, the production design: I saw it all back in 2002.

But as for the rest, good job. Yes, even "Cinema Italiano" works, as I hoped it would, in context. A shallow song from a shallow character, so it's fine. Indeed, it reminds me of those cheesy pop tunes from the 60s, and I have a great number of those on my iTunes as well. If there is room for Herb Alpert's "Casino Royale Theme", there is room for "Cinema Italiano". And as for the rest of Kate Hudson's performance: Almost Famous was a fluke.

Nicole Kidman does fine with "Unusual Way", though it's always been one my least favorite songs from the show. It matters little, the lady's in and out within minutes. Marion Cotillard takes my second favorite number, "My Husband Makes Movies", and does not fail to impress. Her Luisa is just as wise, broken, and loving as Anouk Aimee's. That lead campaign is a joke, though -- as vital as Luisa is to the storyline, especially in this version, she is still a supporting part. Penelope Cruz is, naturally, sexy and funny, and also surprisingly vulnerable as the mistress. "Call from the Vatican" is a hot number as it is, but Cruz just sizzles. Bring the vapors. Daniel Day-Lewis does well with both his numbers, but his Guido is not as fun-loving as Marcello Mastroianni's. That's not bad, just a different, more emotional take on the character. His voice is just fine, his accent flawless.

I complained to some friends that recent movie musicals lack the huge dance numbers of old. The greatest musical, Funny Face, has one full dance number, plus several songs that stop to allow Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire to do their thing. Nine finally gives me what I want, in Fergie's tambourine dance for "Be Italian". A wonderful performance. Fergie rocks her scenes as Saraghina anyway, though. She does not speak, she just looks trashily sultry, sings, dances. It's not a challenging role at all, but just try looking away from her! The woman commands every scene she's in!

Sophia Loren's "Guarda la Luna" is magical, the song that I've been listening to all day, the song that I hummed to my niece to keep her from crying (it worked a little). It's probably the smoothest transition into a number, too, working as the lullaby it is, and as another layer to Guido's female problems. I didn't even miss the number it replaced, the titular tune "Nine", though audiences not already familiar with the story may.

This, then, is one of the main problems of the film. I know what's going on because I've seen 8 1/2 and I have the Broadway Revival CD of Nine. But will an uninitiated audience get what's going on? They introduce all these women in the Overture without telling you who they are. They just sort of stand there, Guido interacts with them a little, la-di-dah. Hell, after seeing a Nicole Kidman kiss, a Marion Cotillard tenderness, and a Penelope Cruz embrace, it's hard not to think "Oh, God, did he fuck her too?!" when Judi Dench shows up. The bedroom eyes don't help. It's not until much, much later that these women are introduced, and even then, much of who and why they are is unclear.

The film smacks of a strange restraint. It never fully embraces either of its source productions, though it tries to include elements of both. The screenwriters, Anthony Minghella and Michael Tolkin, have never written a musical before, and the awkward transitions between scene and song reveal this unfamiliarity. Director Rob Marshall tries to capture some Fellini-esque moments in flashbacks, but there is reluctance in his execution of it. Those quick cuts, courtesy Claire Simpson and Wyatt Smith, certainly don't help.

Neither does that odd choice of framing the musical numbers as fantasy sequences. Marshall's separation of fantasy and reality in this regard don't mesh with the non-musical mix of fantasy and reality, such as Guido's dead Mamma appearing in his car, or the absent Claudia in his room as he forges her autograph for a fan. If only he would just embrace the genre, the movie would work so much better than it already does -- for rest assured, kiddies, despite all of its problems, the movie works. The transitions are rocky and the direction misguided, but it somehow gets to me. The reality and fantasy sequences are flawed in their mingling, yet separately they are almost beautiful.

Much of this can be attributed to the actors and the technical experts. Dion Beebe's cinematography is gorgeous, the clear front-runner for the Oscar, getting with the material far better than the director, writers or editors or. Colleen Atwood's costumes are still dazzling, and she seems especially inspired by Ms. Cruz and Ms. Loren. The art team does a great job of dressing up a sound stage and a hotel. And the original score by Andrea Guerra deserves a release of its own, paying tribute to Ennio Morricone and Maury Yeston simultaneously, effortlessly.

Dammit, I liked the movie. I would buy it. And as I said, I love listening to the album. Just don't expect Rob Marshall to get any credit, because he is probably the weakest link in this.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Short Takes

TAKEN
Love the Neeson, forgot the movie. Like, distinct memories of him rocking it, but otherwise the film is hazy, like a dream. Glad to see an action movie where I can see what's going on.

THE PROPOSAL
Good chemistry between Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds. Un(der)developed subplots include father-son tension and daffy Betty White, who should never be the worst part of a movie. Cute at times, other times face-slappingly awful. That Bullock and director Anne Fletcher allowed the line "Show her who's boss" at the end is cringe-inducing. Can we let filmmakers know that seeing old ladies shaking it to a "recent" hip-hop song is no longer funny?

ANTICHRIST
Intriguing look at the nature of evil (and by nature, I mean gender, which is female). Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg give fine performances in a beautifully shot horror film. But what I have seen can never be unseen, and that upsets me. I'm glad I saw it, but I can't exactly say I liked it.

STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN-LI
A different breed of awful. Hilarious, but not midnight-worthy. I'm glad they went with this to inspire everyone: "Sometimes you have to stand, even when it isn't easy to stand." Chris Klein wishes he was as cool as Christian Slater was in Alone in the Dark. More a series of scenes than a movie, but goddamn the scene where Chun-Li uses her mad dance skillz to seduce the villain's female assistant is rockin' the LOLZ.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Blind Side

The Blind Side is a bizarre experience. On the one hand, I came away from the movie thinking well of it, reflecting on Bullock's performance with favor. On the other hand, I never found myself completely enthralled during the film itself. Is it that I have grown tired of the sports genre? Is it that, because the subject of the film is playing football currently, there was little suspense to be had? What was in the film that left me wanting?

And then I realized. I mean, I realized it during the film, but I confessed it to myself after the fact: these actors are terribly limited. Not Sandra Bullock, mind. No, she was quite wonderful in the movie, and I can easily understand her Globe and SAG nominations. Here is a no-nonsense Southern gal actually following her Christian values. She reminds me of my aunt, my other aunt and my mother. Certainly, Bullock's performance is no problem.

The supporting cast is quite good, too. Indeed, even Tim McGraw does well, and he's not even an actor. Ray McKinnon and Kathy Bates do what they need to, and are downright charming as they do so. Adriane Lenox's cameo as Michael Oher's biological mother breaks the heart. It is the one scene in the film that I got completely involved in emotionally. She is concerned for the son she hasn't seen, but knows that his life is better without her. Damn fine acting.

Methinks it is the lead. It must certainly have been difficult for writer-director John Lee Hancock and casting director Ronna Kress to find an actor that not only fits the physical requirements, but can also do a passable job of playing the role. Quinton Aaron is not the worst actor I've ever seen, but he's not very good, either. He has all the spirited recitation of a child reading aloud. When one compares his performance to that of another who played a quiet ghetto teen working their way up: Gabourey Sidibe in Precious. And while many have complained that she does not have much to do in the role (which is bull, she is amazing), just one look at Aaron's performance makes her look like Meryl Streep. Not terrible, just terribly dull.

And it's a shame, because so much of the movie works. Hancock has an assured touch and his screenplay is a simple thing that works despite the many instances of Family Banter. You know: the dialogue that's supposed to convince us these actors are a real family. It works some of the time; other times it feels written. Overall, though, the writing is fine. Besides the performances of Aaron and Jae Head, there is little to complain of. Everything is executed just right.

Maybe that's it. It's all too damn pat, like a carefully put-together homemaker catalog. It's a perfectly harmless little film, and that's fine. Not every movie has to be a testament of everything that is art and cinema, like Public Enemies. Not every family film has to have an edge to it like Fantastic Mr. Fox or Where the Wild Things Are. But a movie does have to transport you, to take you into its world and make you live alongside its players. The Blind Side just misses this.

But why not see it? I can't imagine anyone regretting it. I mean, you could do better -- may I recommend Up in the Air? -- but you could do much, much worse.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Up in the Air

Jason Reitman really surprised me with this one. I've read the book, see, and I kind of figured it wouldn't be a straight adaptation, but God! He and co-writer Sheldon Turner certainly do a number on Walter Kirn's source novel, making up characters (Anna Kendrick's Natalie) while building up others (Vera Farmiga's Alex). It was a lot like Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood, adapted from Upton Sinclair's Oil!. The main themes and protagonist were all on hand, but expounded on and developed...differently. But effectively.

I like a lot of things about the movie. George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a man whose life is the hotels and planes he spends time in on his way to firing people for "pussies". And it took me a while to see it, but it really is one of his more nuanced performances. It surpassed his Michael Clayton, and is at least on par with Bob Barnes and Fred Friendly (2005's Syriana and Good Night and Good Luck, respectively). Seeing him as vulnerable as he is here was a real change, and he did it so subtly. I love the look on his face when he sees his sister's husband-to-be (Danny McBride) ask her to be his co-pilot. Love it. Probably my favorite moment in the movie.

Vera Farmiga is smart, sexy and confident as Alex, who describes herself to Ryan Bingham as "you, but with a vagina." You love her. You must. I certainly fell for her, and so of course I'm rooting for the coupling all throughout. There are sweet moments between her and Clooney that are charmingly understated. Farmiga gives one of the most relatable, believable performances of the year.

The movie threw me for a loop. Its ending...that's a great ending. It left me speechless, sitting in the theater with my friend, until we finally walked back to the car -- silently. I love it when a movie can knock me flat on my ass without my expecting it. And truly, Up in the Air did just that. It got me emotionally involved without me realizing it. I would definitely see it again: for the acting, the writing, the directing, for Rolfe Kent's score, for the cinematography by Eric Steelberg, etc. It's stunning.

And now the negative. From Videohound's picks of best supporting performances, 2009:

"In the hands of 99 out of 100 actresses, Natalie Keener is a shrill, whiny, clich̩ of a character Рa cocky young lady who learns a serious life lesson from the more experienced older man who mentors her. Yawn. We've seen that before. The tough assignment...was to take that character model and make it feel genuine."

This is what Videohound's Turk182 wrote about his pick for Best Supporting Actress, Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air. What's funny is that I completely disagree. Kendrick has certain moments where she shines, reminding me why I like her in Rocket Science and tolerate her in the Twilight movies. But her Natalie Keener is shrill, whiny, and cliched. Some of her dialogue, God help me, sounds like lines written for the middle daughter in Dan in Real Life. As for that breakdown scene midway through the film? Yikes. Talk about overplaying the comedy. She is the least consistent out of all the actors, and there seems to be no throughline for her character. It's all moments. While I didn't hate her, and while I definitely (DEFINITELY) still love the movie, Kendrick's Natalie gets a shake of the head from me.

I will throw my hat into the ring for Amy Morton as Cara, Ryan's sister. Like I always say: if I can find a real-life counterpart to your role, your doing your job perfectly. Morton, who was nominated for a Tony for her work in August: Osage County, plays my aunt beautifully. She's taken over the mother role, yet she is just as vulnerable as anyone else. Exasperated at her brother's aloofness, she nevertheless strives to keep the family together. A small but wonderful bit of actressing.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Stave Twenty-One: In Which Someone a First Christmas is Celebrated

DAY TWENTY-ONE OF HOLLMANN HOLIDAY EXTRAVAGANZA

This Christmas Eve will be a very special one in my household. My sister had a baby in March, the first of us to do so. Now, my parents and I are visiting family on Christmas Day, but my sister and her daughter will be staying in town, so we're spending Christmas Eve with them. Which means I'll be there for my niece's First Christmas.

Obviously, I don't remember my First Christmas, so I can't really provide an anecdote about that. I do remember some early Christmases, though, so I am happy to be able to share this experience with my niece. We even brought out some of our stuffed animals of old to let her play with. I could not help but recognize the Rudolph my aunt gave me during our Atlanta Christmas: Plaid shirt, green pants, brown suspenders, and a torn red nose without cotton. There is also the train set I got a year later. It's a whole set with engine, coal, pine trees and caboose; as I got older, I would play Agatha Christie with my Micro Machines on that train. It doesn't really run, but it's neat to look at. And what better gift to give a child on Christmas than a worn hand-me-down?

In all seriousness, though, it really means a lot to me, my old traditions becoming her new traditions. She's not even a year old, so she doesn't know the significance of these items to my life. Besides, they have someone new to entertain. I hope she enjoys them as much as I did. Hell, I hope she dresses as snazzily as I did (green sweatsuit with a T. Rex on the shirt).

At least I get to say that I was there for my niece's First Christmas. That we sat together by the tree as the angel's wings changed color, that she stared at the Santa Claus figurine perplexedly, a little frightened by this strange giant with the odd suit -- because, let's face it, the first time we see Santa we freak the hell out -- that she fell asleep in her Mama's arms after we all exchanged gifts. Christmas is all about the family, and I am more than happy to spend it with its newest member.



It's baby's first Christmas,
It's somethin' to see,
Mommy and Daddy,
Trimmin' baby's Christmas tree.
Baby's big brother,
Is busy with his toys,
He's shinin' up the chimney,
For Santa Claus!

It's baby's first Christmas,
And oh, what a joy,
Shopping all around,
For every pretty toy.
It's a very special Christmas,
A blessing from above,
It's baby's first Christmas,
A Christmas full of love!

It's baby's first Christmas,
And oh, what a joy,
Shopping all around,
For every pretty toy.
It's a very special Christmas,
A blessing from above,
It's baby's first Christmas,
A Christmas full of love!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Song Short List

Yesterday the Academy announced the 63 songs that will contend for one of the three or five spots that Best Original Song has open this year. The list:

"All Is Love" from “Where the Wild Things Are”
This is a pretty cute song. I think I preferred the reprise, but I believe this is the one they actually campaigned.
“Almost Over You” from “My One and Only”
“Almost There” from “The Princess and the Frog”
Fine by me. Tiana's only solo number in the film deserves the love. As I've said before, you could make all the Song noms The Princess and the Frog and I'd be fine. Well, no, but I wouldn't be pissed.
“AyAyAyAy” from “The Maid”
“Back to Tennessee” from “Hannah Montana The Movie”
Second best song this year. I can't stop listening to it.
“Being Bad” from “Duplicity”
“Blanco” from “Fast & Furious”
“Brothers in Arms” from “Brothers at War”
“Butterfly Fly Away” from “Hannah Montana The Movie”
Cute if forgettable.
“Cinema Italiano” from “Nine”
Heard the song, though I haven't seen the movie. I hope it's better in context, because egghhh....
“Colorblind” from “Invictus”
Crap. Utter crap.
“Depression Era” from “That Evening Sun”
“Don’t Walk Away” from “Hannah Montana The Movie”
I don't even remember this one. When I hear those three words, I think Xanadu. Anyone else?
“Dove of Peace” from “Bruno”
Ha.
“Down in New Orleans” from “The Princess and the Frog”
Of course! But now we're past the "D's" and my favorite song from the movie, "Dig a Little Deeper", is nowhere to be seen. The fuck?
“Fly Farm Blues” from “It Might Get Loud”
“Forget Me” from “I Love You, Beth Cooper”
“God Bless Us Everyone” from “Disney’s A Christmas Carol”
Transplendent, as Shelley Duvall would say. In Annie Hall only, though. Ooh, or maybe not?
“Here” from “Shrink”
“Hideaway” from “Where the Wild Things Are”
That's fine. I don't remember it exactly. Time to open up the iTunes.
“Hoedown Throwdown” from “Hannah Montana The Movie”
Catchy little ditty. I kind of hope it manages to find a way in.
“I Bring What I Love” from “Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love”
“I See You” from “Avatar”
Haven't seen the movie (it opens tomorrow!), but I like this song. A lot. But then, I was a huge fan of "My Heart Will Go On" too.
“(I Want to) Come Home” from “Everybody’s Fine”
Anything connected to this movie should be shamed out of memory.
“If You’re Wondering” from “The Lightkeepers”
“Impossible Fantasy” from “Adventures of Power”
“Innocent Child” from “Skin”
“Invictus 9,000 Days” from “Invictus”
Derail the Invictus train at whatever cost.
“Legendary” from “Tyson”
“Let Freedom Reign” from “Skin”
“Loin de Paname” from “Paris 36”
“Ma Belle Evangeline” from “The Princess and the Frog”
Hm. Yeah.
“My One and Only” from “My One and Only”
“Na Na” from “Couples Retreat”
“Never Knew I Needed” from “The Princess and the Frog”
Oh, this is the Ne-Yo song! Yeah, I totally dig it! Give it a nom!
“New Divide” from “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”
“New Jersey Nights” from “Adventures of Power”
“New York Is Where I Live” from “Did You Hear about the Morgans?”
“No Time for Love” from “Simon & Malou”
“One Day” from “Post Grad”
“Only You” from “The Young Victoria”
“Other Father Song” from “Coraline”
Is this song even half-a-minute long? Glad to see it here, really, but wish "Dig a Little Deeper" was in.
“Petey’s Song” from “Fantastic Mr. Fox”
Oh thank Heaven. Integrated ingeniously within the story. Awesome, awesome, awesome.
“Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea” from “Ponyo”
"Possibility” from “The Twilight Saga: New Moon”
New Moon had a bitching soundtrack. I like this song a lot, and I remember expressing this affection in the theater.
“Raining Sunshine” from “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”
“Running Out of Empty (Make Ourselves at Home)” from “Lymelife”
“Smoke without Fire” from “An Education”
Hail Duffy.
“Somebody Else” from “Crazy Heart”
“Stu’s Song” from “The Hangover”
Yes, yes, yes! "What do tigers dream of/When they take a little tiger snooze?"
Take It All from “Nine”
Great song. Much better than "Cinema Italiano." Marion helps, of course.
“Through the Trees” from “Jennifer’s Body”
Best song of the year, in my opinion. Glad it got shortlisted. Probably won't make it in, but it should.
“Trust Me” from “The Informant!”
Old-schooly, which is fun. Kind of forgettable, though.
“Un Bouquet des Violettes” from “New York, I Love You”
“We Are the Children of the World” from “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus”
“We Love Violence” from “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus”
“When You Find Me” from “Adam”
There was a song in this movie? Was it the very literal one that came at the end? I fucking hate Adam.
“Winter” from “Brothers”
“The Word Is Love” from “Oy Vey! My Son Is Gay!”
“You Got Me Wrapped around Your Little Finger” from “An Education”
Beautiful song. Always surprised to be reminded that it's written for the movie. Deserves to be in.
“You’ll Always Find Your Way Back Home” from “Hannah Montana The Movie”
OK, this is fine.
“You’ve Been a Friend to Me” from “Old Dogs”
“The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)” from “Crazy Heart”

Screen Actors Guild Nominees

The Screen Actors Guild has given us their noms from on high. Let us peruse. Amen.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Matt Damon, Invictus
Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
This list looks familiar, doesn't it? Alfred Molina (An Education) should be on here, I want to say. But I haven't seen those center three, either. A win for Waltz.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Penelope Cruz, Nine
Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Diane Kruger, Inglourious Basterds
Mo'Nique, Precious
Oh Em Gee, Diane Kruger is there! That makes me so happy! Easily my favorite of the Basterds ensemble! Penelope Cruz is here for Nine, so that's interesting; maybe she will make it to the top. No Samantha Morton for The Messenger, which I thought they'd go for in a big way. A win for Mo'Nique.

BEST ACTOR
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
George Clooney, Up in the Air
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker
Respectable list. Glad to see Renner is here. Tough call here. Bridges, I think.

BEST ACTRESS
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Helen Mirren, The Last Station
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
That's it: Abbie Cornish's performance in Bright Star is dead, kaput, no more. The Bullock nom is actually going to happen. Mulligan, Sidibe and Streep all deserve to be here, Mulligan especially. Streep wins here.

BEST ENSEMBLE
An Education: Dominic Cooper, Alfred Molina, Carey Mulligan, Rosamund Pike, Peter Sarsgaard, Emma Thompson, Olivia Williams
The Hurt Locker: Christian Camargo, Brian Geraghty, Evangeline Lilly, Anthony Mackie, Jeremy Renner
Inglourious Basterds: Daniel Bruhl, August Diehl, Julie Dreyfuss, Michael Fassbender, Sylvester Groth, Jacky Ido, Diane Kruger, Melanie Laurent, Denis Menochet, Mike Myers, Brad Pitt, Eli Roth, Til Schweiger, Rod Taylor, Christoph Waltz, Martin Wuttke
Nine: Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Daniel Day-Lewis, Judi Dench, Fergie, Kate Hudson, Nicole Kidman, Sophia Loren
Precious: Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz, Mo'Nique, Paula Patton, Sherri Shepherd, Gabourey Sidibe
Holy crap, is this a strong list or what? Only Basterds and Precious have multiple acting nominations, though An Education is deserving of more. Oh, and hey, did Cara Seymour disappear from An Education since I've seen it? Because she's the only cast member not in the ensemble list. I love the inclusion of veteran actor Rod Taylor in the official Basterds ensemble. And the Each One Teach One girls should've gotten a mention in the Precious ensemble, but I'm also happy Sherri's there. Precious wins here.

No huge surprises, ugly or otherwise. Very safe, tow-the-line list. Glad Kruger showed up.

Hannah Montana Gets In the Loop

IN THE LOOP

Why so hilarious? At first, I felt like I was too dumb to understand the proceedings, but I settled into the groove of things and holy shit was I rewarded. I'm glad I finally caught up with it. Peter Capaldi, Tom Hollander and Mimi Kennedy are hilariousest, but the rest of the cast is equally incredible. It is only fitting that I see this before the SAG announces its nominations in the morning, because it is so richly deserving of Best Ensemble. The writing is quick, witty and sharp as a tack. "Fuckety-bye-bye" is probably one of the best sign-offs I've heard.

The film is all about language, and how one slip of the tongue can change the course of, say, foreign policy. Or a war. Hollander is the Minister of International Development who slips up, and it's nice to see him playing a good guy for once. Capaldi is the foul-mouthed communications director, in one of the best roles to grace the screen this year. Across the Atlantic, Kennedy is an Assistant Secretary for Diplomacy trying to use Hollander's words for the anti-war side, while David Rasche plays a politico who uses a live grenade as a paperweight. The whole thing is smart, ludicrous...and absurdly realistic.

Final verdict: Smart, hilarious, awesome.


HANNAH MONTANA: THE MOVIE

I like Miley Cyrus, so I guess I'm already biased by stating here, in print, that she's a good actress. Taking her television alter ego to the big screen, Cyrus (and the creative team) dial it down. No longer do we get the vaudevillian mannerisms of Miley and Jackson, nor are we forced to sit through the grating presence of Moises Arias. Instead, Robbie Ray Stewart (Billy Ray Cyrus) forces his daughter to stop being Hannah Montana for a time and return to her hometown of Crowley Corners, Tennessee. There, she runs afoul of a British tabloid reporter, falls in love, and saves the meadows from becoming a Strip Mall.

The movie is pretty well-done. Peter Chelsom helms; the man previously directed one of my favorite rom-coms, Serendipity. Suffice to say, despite the limited abilities of Lucas Till (he looks great, but...meh), the love story really works. Cyrus certainly works it, and when the inevitable Big Fight happens, it seems to awaken this untapped talent within. Her voice cracks ever so slightly, her eyes lose their sparkle: this girl can act. And it's all preceded by a well-executed yet cliched bit of "zaniness".

It's interesting, actually, that the weakest aspect of the film is the comedy. I mean, it's based on a sitcom. Yet it's the quiet moments that triumph, especially in scenes with Grandma Ruby, ably played by Margo Martindale, and Lorelai (Melora Hardin, finally playing a warm person instead of Ms. Business Suit). It gets weaker by the end, when they replace my charming yet familiar film with cheese. Utter cheese. "Life's a climb, but the view is great." Eh, I guess.

And, of course, the songs. "The Climb" is fine, a nice power ballad. "Butterfly Fly Away" is a diabetes-ridden father-daughter tune, but it's hard to not get a little choked up at it. For better or worse, the "Hoedown Throwdown" is a catchy little fucker. But the real stand-out is "Back to Tennessee", written and performed by Billy Ray Cyrus. It's a beautiful, heartfelt song about getting back to your roots, and the music is perfect.

Final verdict: Cliched yet charming. Check your cynicism at the door.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Stave Sixteen: In Which a Star is Born

DAY SIXTEEN OF HOLLMANN HOLIDAY EXTRAVAGANZA

Today....we put up the tree! Dad, Sarah and I did the lights. Becky, Sarah and I put up ornaments. I put up the angel with help from Mom and Dad. And my niece, who is celebrating her first Christmas this year, put the cloth ornaments in her mouth. If only Virginia were there; then it would have been a real family affair.

There was a moment of pause in the proceedings as we decided whether to go with the Angel or the Star. Sarah demanded the Angel, for our star is...well, it's a little tacky. Gold glitter, with Christmas lights shining like a laser show from inside. It matches nothing. At least the fiber optic angel looks ready to sing "Gloria", with outstretched arms reaching to the heavens. It's a bad-ass angel.

But that star. It doesn't even have a proper stand. It's cardboard with masking tape attaching it to the star. The whole thing is tacky and haphazardly constructed.

And yet, there is a kind of charm to it.

Truth is, I miss the star. We used to have a silver Star of David on a spring stand. I don't remember when we switched, but I remember why. The Star of David was coming apart. There were two halves that fit together, and they finally stopped working as a team. It was just when I had learned the significance of that particular Star, too. After all, if you're going to have a Star lead to the King of Jews, might as well be the right kind, you know what I mean?

That star hurt, though. It had sharp points. It was a very stabbity star, if you know what I mean. Like, ninjas could use it. Perhaps that was part of the mystique for little me. This great big Holy Star that would hurt you if you touched it. After all, were not Aaron's sons smote when they entered the Holy of Holies in the Temple? Does Alan Rickman not speak for God so that our heads won't explode? The idea of a stabbity Star of David just made sense to me.

It also made me feel very cultured and ooh-la-la. "We may celebrate Christmas, but we have an in with the Jews, with their wine and their ashen heads and their lamb's blood!" Mom explained to me that we used a Star of David because it was the Star the Wise Men followed, and it was the symbol of Jesus' family. He was, after all, descended from either Solomon or Nathan, sons of King David, who slew Goliath and fell in love with Bathsheba as she bathed on the rooftop, thereby leading him to send her husband to lead a charge that would kill him in battle. I love the Old Testament.

Ah, the point. The point is, an angel is nice and all, what with messages to Mary and shepherds and all the hymns about their awesomeness. But when I get a Christmas tree, I'm going with a Star. It's what the Wise Men followed, it symbolizes Jesus's lineage, and they make more effective weapons.



Twinkle twinkle little me
I have a lonely life
I’m the star upon your tree
That makes your christmas bright

Twinkle twinkle little me
I left the milky way
Just so I could be with you on Christmas day
Christmas brought me where you are
And heaven gave me life
I’m that friendly little star
You wish upon each night

Twinkle twinkle
Oh, twinkle twinkle little me
I have a present too
If you give unshelfishly
And make a wish come true
I’ll always shine on you

Twinkle little me
Twinkle twinkle little me
Ooh, Christmas brought me where you are
And heaven gave me life
I’m that friendly star
You wish upon each night

Twinkle twinkle little me
I have a present too
If you give unshelfishly
And make a wish come true
I’ll always shine for you

Twinkle little me
I’ll always shine for you
Twinkle little me
I’ll always shine for you

The Golden Globes Nominations

Finally caught up with reviews, and now I will have caught up with the precursors. SAG announces tomorrow, but yesterday morning the Golden Globes brought out their noms:

BEST SCREENPLAY
Neill Blomkamp/Terri Tatchell, District 9
Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker
Nancy Meyers, It's Complicated
Jason Reitman/Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
I did not expect District 9 to do so well in this category. Of course, we've still not heard from the WGA or Academy, but it is becoming difficult to ignore. I hope Meyers and Reitman/Turner did a damn good job, though, because the Neustatder/Weber team behind (500) Days of Summer is stellar. Boal wins, I bet. It's The Hurt Locker's year.

BEST DIRECTOR
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
James Cameron, Avatar
Clint Eastwood, Invictus
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
Once again, the Globes find Clint irresistible. Guilds, Academy: Resist. Resist! This could be Bigelow's year at the Oscars, but why do I feel Reitman is getting the Globe?

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Matt Damon, Invictus
Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Two of these are not in release. The Messenger has yet to arrive in either my college town or my hometown. Despite my reservations concerning Invictus, I will once again call the Damon nom well-deserved. And Waltz, of course, is unstoppable. Count on him to win it.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Penelope Cruz, Nine
Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Mo'Nique, Precious
Julianne Moore, A Single Man
Look for Cruz to be sidelined in favor of Samantha Morton in The Messenger come Oscar Nom Morn. Mo'Nique, like Waltz, is unstoppable, and that is truly awesome. Award-winning actress Mo'Nique. What a sentence.

BEST ACTOR IN A MUSICAL/COMEDY
Matt Damon, The Informant!
Daniel Day-Lewis, Nine
Robert Downey, Jr., Sherlock Holmes
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, (500) Days of Summer
Michael Stuhlbarg, A Serious Man
Damon, Gordon-Levitt and Stuhlbarg are all deserving of noms. Hell, they'd be deserving of Oscar noms, with the other slots filled by Sam Rockwell (Moon) and...hm....either Johnny Depp (Public Enemies) or George Clooney (Fantastic Mr. Fox). Anyway. No telling who would win this, really. Day-Lewis? But probably Stuhlbarg. I'll go with Stuhlbarg.

BEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
George Clooney, Up in the Air
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
Tobey Maguire, Brothers
The more I hear about how good Brothers (and Maguire) is....the more confused I get. The trailers look AWFUL. Freeman is still deserving, he just wouldn't be on my list. Where's Rockwell? Where's Depp? What is this? Bridges gets it.

BEST ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL/COMEDY
Sandra Bullock, The Proposal
Marion Cotillard, Nine
Julia Roberts, Duplicity
Meryl Streep, It's Complicated
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
Holy crap, someone remembered Duplicity! That's the big news here, really. Well, that and the Streep times two. I suppose her performance as Julia Child will get her the Globe. I really can't wait to see It's Complicated, though. I am ashamed to say I have not seen The Proposal or Duplicity yet. Perhaps during my Christmas break...? Amy Adams, by the way, gave a truly great performance in Sunshine Cleaning. Just saying.

BEST ACTRESS IN A DRAMA
Emily Blunt, The Young Victoria
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Helen Mirren, The Last Station
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
So...is this Bullock nom happening? Strange, sexy thought, that. I love that Blunt is coming out of the woodwork. I don't love Abbie Cornish (Bright Star) being left out in the cold. Mulligan wins, and everyone is happy.

BEST PICTURE - MUSICAL/COMEDY
(500) Days of Summer
The Hangover
It's Complicated
Julie & Julia
Nine
Nine wins, of course. What a delightful group this is. I know: I haven't seen It's Complicated or Nine. But the other three rock. So there.

BEST PICTURE - DRAMA
Avatar
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Precious
Up in the Air
The bookends are unseen by me. The three in the middle are fine. I did expect them to like An Education more than Precious. This lack of attention to the former has me fearing a Sally Hawkins-esque snub. Knock on wood.

The Broadcast Film Critics Association Nominees

I'm late to the party, as usual. But it is better to be late than to not show up at all, right?

The complete list of nominees can be found here.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Wes Anderson/Noah Baumbach, Fantastic Mr. Fox
Neill Blomkamp/Terri Tatchell, District 9
Tom Ford/David Scearce, A Single Man
Nick Hornby, An Education
Geoffrey Fletcher, Precious
Genre fare finally getting its due at awards season. I'd like to take a look-see at the Mr. Fox and District 9 screenplays. I have the others, I just haven't perused them yet. I've yet to see A Single Man, but the others are admirable films in their own right, so kudos.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker
Ethan Coen/Joel Coen, A Serious Man
Pete Docter/Bob Peterson, Up
Scott Neustadter/Michael H. Weber, (500) Days of Summer
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
Ladies and gentlemen, your Oscar slate.

BEST ENSEMBLE
Inglourious Basterds
Nine
Precious
Star Trek
Up in the Air
Glad to see Star Trek getting in, too. JJ Abrams and the actors were really what made it work. Zachary Quinto is excellent.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Matt Damon, Invictus
Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
Christian McKay, Me and Orson Welles
Alfred Molina, An Education
Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
I can support the noms for Damon, Molin and Waltz. Damon is truly magnetic in Invictus.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Marion Cotillard, Nine
Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Mo'Nique, Precious
Julianne Moore, A Single Man
Samantha Morton, The Messenger
Minus Cotillard, this is your Oscar slate. I don't think the Nine girls are in -- far too many. But that's sight unseen, then again. Nor have I seen Up in the Air or The Messenger. It's just a feeling I have, but that's been known to lead me astray before. Besides, isn't Cotillard being campaigned for lead?

BEST ACTOR
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
George Clooney, Up in the Air
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
Viggo Mortensen, The Road
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker
Don't you love that Crazy Heart got a new release date a month before it came out and now it's got the must-see performance of the year? Oscar season. No Sam Rockwell for Moon? Someone throw the guy a bone!

BEST ACTRESS
Emily Blunt, The Young Victoria
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Saoirse Ronan, The Lovely Bones
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
Blunt? Really? People have seen that movie? It's actually coming out? Thank the maker, but still...it's been practically invisible. Oh, also: Abbie Cornish in Bright Star. WTF?

BEST DIRECTOR
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
James Cameron, Avatar
Lee Daniels, Precious
Clint Eastwood, Invictus
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
With the exception of noms for Freeman and Damon, both of whom are deserving, the Invictus party train must be derailed at all costs. Eastwood is NOT one of the Best Directors of the Year. Invictus is a mess, anchored only by two actors with amazing instincts. Eastwood doesn't direct actors, he just puts a camera in front of them. Thus the uneven performances in his movie. (That said, it means all that much more when a real actor shows up to give a great performance: Laura Linney and Kevin Bacon in Mystic River, for example).

BEST PICTURE
Avatar
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Invictus
Nine
Precious
A Serious Man
Up
Up in the Air
I still doubt Up's chances past these critics' awards. Five extra slots does not mean the Academy will suddenly change. I've already had my Invictus rant. Fun category. Can't wait for the show.

Four to Score

THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG

The most kid-friendly movie of the year is also one of the best all-around films of the year! In Disney's re-telling of The Frog Princess, New Orleans waitress Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) becomes a frog after kissing another frog, who is really a prince (Bruno Campos) enchanted by a voodoo villain (Keith David) -- and honey, it's a shame vocal performances are ineligible for Oscar, because DAMN. An especial standout is Jennifer Cody as debutante Charlotte, squealing her way through the proceedings in an endearingly grating fashion. Yes, they can go together.

Randy Newman's score complements his fantastic new songs (eight), and the requisite pop ballad at the end, this time written and performed by NE-YO, is actually pretty damn good. While the three song nominations for Enchanted and Dreamgirls were a bit much, but The Princess and the Frog easily deserves at least four of those spots (with fifth going to Jennifer's Body, of course). Standout in this category: "Dig a Little Deeper", as performed by the impeccable Jenifer Lewis (William H. Macy's wife in Mystery Men, and yes that is how I choose to remember her) and the Pinnacle Gospel Choir. Glorious.

The movie actually is shockingly dark at times -- the climactic cemetery sequence is a gruesome, chilling thing to watch. Indeed, most of the scenes involving David's Dr. Facilier are both trippy and frightening. I shan't spoil just how they work, since surprise plays a huge part in their effectiveness, but trust me when I say: it gave me CHILLS.

Final verdict: The second-best animated film of the year (Fantastic Mr. Fox is at Number One), and the best (non-Pixar) Disney movies since Mulan.


HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE

This must be the most mature one of the series so far. I'm not talking story, but filmmaking. Bruno Delbonnel's cinematography, David Yates' direction, Nicholas Hooper's score, Steve Kloves' screenplay, the costumes and production design, everything has finally come together to make a consistently great film. It does not have the pacing issues of the first and last two, nor does it have the freeze-frame of the third one. The acting is better, too. Even Emma Watson appears to have improved!

My problem with this one is the same as the last one, though. I'm beginning to find the Harry Potter movies easily forgettable. While I thought Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire were among the best of the year, Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince I mainly remember for their technical achievements. I find myself becoming ever more unmoved by the proceedings, and just admiring them. But then, I saw this on DVD, so the magic was greatly reduced. Anyway, I look forward to the next two.

Final verdict: Great filmmaking, must be seen in theaters.


INVICTUS

Poorly-paced, lazily-written, but well-acted by the two leads. Eastwood continues his Gran Torino technique of having a professional, amazing lead (or leads, in this case), then surrounding them with broad, two-dimensional performances that trivialize the proceedings. Yes, Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon are amazing, but the rest is dull, dull, dull. Worst editing of the year goes to the team of Joel Cox and Gary Roach, who assist Eastwood in turning the potentially exciting Rugby World Cup finale into snoresville. Yeah, I know the game itself was not particularly "Hollywood" (I read the book by John Carlin), but for God's sake, people, at least don't cut the excitement of the fans off at the knees. The original songs are on-the-nose, horrid, awkward.

Gary Roach, by the way, has been co-editing Eastwood's films since Letters from Iwo Jima. No coincidence, I think, that the films have been getting weaker (much as I love Gran Torino...it's not really a "good" movie, is it?). Fire this schmuck.

Final verdict: Freeman and Damon are worth it, but otherwise, meh.


EVERYBODY'S FINE

The ensemble tries, but the movie is a mess. There is a dark, deeply felt story waiting to break out. Instead, we get schmaltz. Forced schmaltz. Despicable. Sam Rockwell and Drew Barrymore have great chemistry with Robert De Niro, though. I hope they all work together again. Kate Beckinsale does not fare as well. She's admitted to being terrified at the prospect of working with one of her acting gods -- it shows.

I will say this: the epiphany dream near the end is one of the funniest things I've seen in a theater this year. It's not supposed to be, but it's hilarious.

Final verdict: Crap.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Stave Thirteen: In Which Parties Are Ruminated Upon

DAY THIRTEEN OF HOLLMANN HOLIDAY EXTRAVAGANZA:

A couple of days ago, some friends of mine held a Classy Christmas party! It was wonderful, of course. The men wore neckties, sports jackets and sweater vests; the women wore cocktail dresses and heels. We danced, we sang, we played a cool party game where you rip paper into a Christmas tree behind your back (no peeking!)

I won.

I think of all the traditions, Christmas Parties may be my favorite. There seems to be an extra air of camaraderie among the group, what with it being that time of year where we remember the importance of Love and Friendship. Everyone makes an extra effort to look their best -- and indeed, who does not look their best in wintry clothing? And, of course, there is the food. Nothing says Christmas like a batch of freshly-baked cookies (my contribution to the evening's festivities, by the way).

Of course, I am always reminded of the spread at the Shipmans' house. We went every Christmas, for their annual to-do was the highlight of the year. Bob and Dolores lived in the same house forever. They had their kids in that house, they welcomed their grandchildren in that house, and I believe they also got to see some great-grandchildren in that house. Peggy lived with them, and a bear would be added to her collection every year (teddy, not grizzly). And do correct me if I am wrong, but did they not serve folded ham with a dish of mustard? It was delicious!

They eventually moved out of their Ft. Lauderdale home, an event that shook the world. No, truly. My father called it the death of Old Florida, the Florida you read about in the novels of John D. MacDonald, the Florida that inspired the Golden Girls to sing, "Miami, Miami/You've got style". They moved to central Florida, and Bob died when I was high school. The Saturday before Thanksgiving, Dolores joined him. And so ended an era. Oh sure, it had been years since we had done a to-do at their place, but this was the official end.

The latest tradition, for me anyway, is Roxanna's. It's a very intime affair, held every Christmas Eve. Just a few friends getting together and celebrating the most important holiday on the calendar. Funnily enough, I'm pretty sure I'm the only one without a drop of Jewish blood that attends the party. Because, as I've said before, Christmas ain't just for Christians, baby. Oh, and there's Lea's party, which I do not attend as often as I should, but which is always a worthy celebration.

Basically, Christmas parties rock. The holiday's all about Love. What better way to celebrate that than by ringing it in with your best mates and family? Hey, as long as the food's good, right? Well, that and mistletoe. OK, all that, plus if you get a really good dance going:



Frosted window panes
Candles gleaming inside
Painted cany canes on the the tree
Santa's on his way,
He's filled his slay
With things, things for you and for me

It's the time of year
When the world falls in love
Every song you hear
Seems to say
Merry Christmas
May your new year dreams come true
And this song of mine
In three quarter time
Wishes you and yours
The same thing too

Merry Christmas
May your new year dreams come true
And this song of mine
In three quarter time
Wishes you and yours
The same thing too
Merry Christmas to you