Saturday, December 31, 2011

And Now the End Is Near: Best of 2011

Yes, friends, it's the annual year-end Top 25 Films Countdown. These lists are always fluid, always changing. When I look back at last year's Fifteen Honorable Mentions and the Ten Best, I find myself second-guessing the placements of The Runaways and The American (should be higher), Piranha 3D and The Kids Are All Right (should be lower), but I still feel confident that the titles themselves are right. Maybe I would now switch out For Colored Girls and Never Let Me Go for The Runaways and Get Low. But then I remember certain moments of each film and think, "Hm. Maybe not."

I've still got so much to see, so much that could still qualify for the Hollmann Awards (dare I limit it to movies I actually saw in 2011?). Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Win Win, Rango, Melancholia, Meek's Cutoff, Warrior, Pariah, Jane Eyre, Captain America, The Housemaid, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, Margin Call, Coriolanus, A Better Life...these are the films I still need to see. It just didn't happen for me.

In all, I saw 82 films this year, a pretty good number I think, though nowhere near the hundred-plus that more energetic writers manage to pull off. If I waited until I saw the fourteen listed, of course, I would have 95, which is still close, but....

Ach. What of it? There are still only 25 slots, meaning that I had to cruelly, painfully cast off 57 other flicks. Ok, maybe only 51, since there are seven films that I found to be just terrible (Another Earth, Bride Flight, Cat Run, The Descendants, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, Jack & Jill, In Time, The Robber). Suffice to say, I did have to whittle down, justify positioning, try to remember which ones I enjoyed, which ones fell short. I tried to keep movies I wouldn't watch again, movies I only liked but didn't love, movies that I barely remember, off the list entirely. I tried my best. I'm sure that by next year, I'll have decided that The Big Year really did deserve a mention in my Top Ten. Doubtful, even though I know I'll buy it, but perceptions and opinions change with time.

Enough of that bullshit. You want to see the list. Ladies and gentlemen, the ranked list of the fifteen semi-finalists; or, 25-11 of the Top 25.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

This Christmas...Will be the Best Christmas

It would be remiss of me to let this day pass without any mention from me. Christmas is, after all, my favorite holiday. I admit, however, that despite my constant playing of songs both traditional and not so (truly, Chicory Tip's "Merry Xmas Everybody" is a forgotten gem), I am not at my most Christmasy this year.

Christmas, more than most other holidays, is all about tradition. The songs, the decorations, even the movies, are all important aspects of the day not just because of their thematic relavence, but also because of the history and memories we associate with them. There's watching A Christmas Story for 24 hours with the family...hanging up each ornament on the tree with my sisters, from my Godfather Drosselmeyer purchased at a makeshift Christmas shop at the performing arts center to my older sister's "Baby's First Christmas" ornament from the late '70s....baking and decorating cookies with mom, using the same cookie cutters we've had for about twenty years....

And this year, I've broken with tradition. I'm in Los Angeles with my best friend, and in thirty minutes, I'll be on my way to work...til midnight. And one is apt to think, "Oh, poor me, Christmas is ruined, it's not Christmas at all, boo hoo...." And indeed, I've been like this for most of this week. Dreading Christmas because it would remind me of what I'm missing and what I have to do instead.

But then I started talking to my co-workers. To the married father of three who has to work the late shift on Christmas Eve. To the woman who has had to work the past three Christmases, wishing she could be with her family. To the guy who moved here to pursue his dream, leaving behind his friends, family and girlfriend, and now has to catch a few minutes on the phone in order to spend Christmas with them.

And you know something? I'm pretty lucky. Not only do I live with my best friend, who's also here for Christmas, but I made friends at work. I have a little community to call home in my apartment complex. The class I graduated with, some of the best friends I'll ever have...they're out here, too. I'm getting double my pay, too, which is certainly a plus. And I get to do for others what I've been having them do for me for years. I'm giving them a chance to spend Christmas with the real miracle workers.

In Hugo, Georges Melies says to a little boy who visits his film set, "If you ever wonder where your dreams come from, look around: this is where they're made." People need the movies, and I am proud to help provide that service. You've cooked, bought presents, put up with the fam...let me handle the popcorn, the hot dogs, the entertainment. Christmas, after all, is a time to spend with those you love. And I don't know about you, but I love Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Hoyte von Hoytema, Janusz Kaminski, Diablo get it.

So Merry Christmas everybody! Or as Burl Ives would say:

Have a holly jolly Christmas
It's the best time of the year
I don't know if there'll be snow
But have a cup o' cheer

Have a holly jolly Christmas
And as you walk down the street
Say "hello" to friends you know
And everyone you meet

Oh, ho, the mistletoe, hung where you can see
Somebody waits for you
Kiss her once for me

Have a holly jolly Christmas
And in case you didn't hear
Oh, by golly!
Have a holly jolly Christmas this year!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

On Her Majesty's Foreign Press Association

And once again, I stayed up to watch the announcement of the Golden Globes nominees. Maggie Smith is continuing to rake up the nominations for her performance in Gosford Park Downton Abbey, while Woody Harrelson cracks wise in the most charming of ways and we learn that Irma Bunt is the President of the HFPA.

But, most importantly, the Awards race got a little more exciting. Let's say it with music, shall we?

The Artist - Ludovico Bource
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Trent Reznor
Hugo - Howard Shore
War Horse - John Williams
W.E. - Abel Korzeniowski

Albert Nobbs - Lay Your Head Down
Gnomeo & Juliet - Hello, Hello
The Help - The Living Proof
Machine Gun Preacher - The Keeper
W.E. - Masterpiece

Madonna's earworm song from her hilariously camp W.E. would be my choice, if just for some love to go that film's way, were it not for the presence of the Elton John/Lady Gaga duet from Gnomeo & Juliet. In the unlikeliest of places, I have found one of the best songs of the year. It's always the weird ones, though, isn't it?: Jennifer's Body, Walk Hard, The Odessa File...

Remarkably, none of the songs from The Muppets got in. Actually, as we shall soon discover, The Muppets was ignored completely. I can kind of understand it, I guess - as much as I love the film, it works best as a nostalgia factory. Once one starts thinking about that ending...and the human characters...and since it's the humans that do most of the singing....Still, one would have thought that the spirited nature of the film would get it recognized in Musical/Comedy. Alas, there was no room among these nominees:

The Artist
Midnight in Paris
My Week with Marilyn

You know, I guess I would have trouble labeling My Week with Marilyn a drama. It's such a lighthearted romp, a fun film that only now and then addresses the tragedy of Marilyn Monroe. Not the most profound of films, but I did enjoy it. Hell, I enjoyed all of these films! Come to think of it, this is one of the strongest slates I've seen in this category. Nicely done!

Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Brendan Gleeson, The Guard
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, 50/50
Ryan Gosling, Crazy Stupid Love
Owen Wilson, Midnight in Paris

The nods for Dujardin and Wilson were, I felt, inevitable, but I am pleasantly surprised by the presence of Gleeson! An unfairly overlooked performance, surely. Then again, he was also nominated for In Bruges, so I don't know why this caught me off guard (HA!) as much as it did. Cheers for Gordon-Levitt, while Gosling was nominated for doing great work in a film that ultimately failed to match its stars in quality. Actually, excitingly, Gosling is a double-nominee this year:

George Clooney, The Descendants
Leonardo DiCaprio, J. Edgar
Michael Fassbender, Shame
Ryan Gosling, The Ides of March 
Brad Pitt, Moneyball

Oh, wait, first: Fassbender getting recognition for Shame is always a good thing, and I once again must confess that I am both mildly pleased and agog to see DiCaprio continuing to get recognition for his performance. I like his performance, but it is a little uneven. And in a not-very-good movie.

But this was supposed to be about Gosling's double-header. True, I would have preferred to see him honored for Drive, but I'm totally down with a nominations for The Ides of March. Yeah, I've learned to be satisfied with just one...wait, what?

The Artist - Michel Hazanavicius
The Descendants - Alexander Payne, Jim Rasche, Nat Faxon
The Ides of March - George Clooney, Grant Heslov
Midnight in Paris - Woody Allen
Moneyball - Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin

Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
George Clooney, The Ides of March
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Alexander Payne, The Descendants
Martin Scorsese, Hugo

AHHHH! My beloved Ides of March is finally getting some traction this season! A subtle, sophisticated, brilliant reflection of the our political landscape (hope? change? they're all politicians, honey), it looked for a while that it might be slipping by the wayside. Certainly its shut-out at the SAG Nominations was cause for distress. Will the Globes' attention encourage more Academy members to check it out? I do hope so. Also, it should be noted: The Artist is doing rather well so far, and Spielberg was left out of director, a surprise considering the Globes' reputation for courting the famous. Even stranger considering the Drama slate:

The Descendants
The Help
The Ides of March
War Horse

But I guess the Globes are stricter on the five-wide for the Director category than in the Drama category. Somebody had to be left off. Still, the eyebrows raise slightly at Clooney getting in over The Beard. They also raise slightly at Hugo as a drama. I guess I see that. The kid's not exactly the happy-go-luckiest of children, is he? But there are a large number of lighter moments, plus, you know, family fare. I mean, if Alice in Wonderland was a comedy....

Okay, enough of the dilly-dallying. What else was there?

Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn
Albert Brooks, Drive
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Viggo Mortensen, A Dangerous Method
Christopher Plummer, Beginners

Plummer and Branagh: all present and correct. Brooks here and not at the SAG. Advantage: Globes. Hill, surprisingly (to me at least) makes it into Globes AND SAGs! Delightfully, a nomination for the overlooked A Dangerous Method finally happens, and for its strongest aspect, too. Mortensen's Freud nearly steals the show, a hell of a feat considering the competition within the film. Globes, you are baller this year!

Berenice Bejo, The Artist
Jessica Chastain, The Help
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer, The Help
Shailene Woodley, The Descendants

...And then you throw curveballs like this. Of all the groups that I expected to nominate Melissa McCarthy for Bridesmaids, I thought I could depend on the same group who nominated Tom Cruise for Tropic Thunder to deliver. It's always the ones you trust who surprise you.

Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis, The Help
Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin

Just a few days ago, my roommate and I were discussing the Oscar race. He was predicting Tilda for a SAG nom, then an Oscar nom. "No, no," says I, "I don't see that happening. I think Tilda's doomed to be that one-time-only fling." "But they love her!" he insisted. "Only the once," I countered.

Now, perhaps this doesn't mean anything. The Globes did nominate Swinton before it was the cool thing to do (The Deep End). But when I see an actress nominated for a Golden Globe...and a SAG Award...and winning the NBR...well, I just gotta look at all the evidence and say, "Hot damn. There's a contender if ever I saw one."

Jodie Foster, Carnage
Charlize Theron, Young Adult 
Kristen Wiig, Bridesmaids
Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn
Kate Winslet, Carnage

Williams will easily win this, won't she?

Final thought: This spells ever more disaster for the Tinker Tailor camp. We are not amused.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

All Baggy and SAGgy

I can't believe so many of us get up before sunrise for ten minutes' worth of talking, only caring about the last three, fully aware that we can see a nice, typed press release within the next fifteen minutes on the computer. Yet there we were, watching the SAG Award Nominations live on TNT.TV, tweeting about it, reading Julian Stark's live-blogging, (I, too, have been sucked into Charmed while awaiting the announcement...though that was last year), chatting with the other awards-obsessed. It's the first mass of many this season, what with the Golden Globes announcing tomorrow and the Oscar noms in January, and the Hollmann noms before that....hopefully, even the 1957 ones (gulp!).

How did it all go down, you may ask? Well, let's take a look-see. First off, I did some predictions in the brief time I had beforehand. They were:

The Artist
The Descendants
The Help
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

George Clooney, The Descendants
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Brad Pitt, Moneyball
Michael Shannon, Take Shelter

Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Olivia Colman, Tyrannosaur
Viola Davis, The Help
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn

Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn
Albert Brooks, Drive
Nick Nolte, Warrior
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Berenice Bejo, The Artist
Jessica Chastain, The Help
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Octavia Spencer, The Help
Shailene Woodley, The Descendants

And how did I fare in my predictions? Read on, for you are about to witness the pleasant surprises and faint discouragement of the SAG Awards....

Monday, December 5, 2011

Casting Coup Tuesdays: The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey

Let's start out small, intimate, with but two characters to cast.

It had to have been many years ago -- before middle school, certainly --  my mother read us a picture book called The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey. It's very short, probably only a couple dozen pages, including illustrations, but it never fails to knock me out. Susan Wojciechowski and illustrator PJ Lynch pack so much subtlety, beauty, hurt and hope on every page, he who comes out dry-eyed is missing a piece of their heart. Truly.

So, the story! It's about a carpenter who does not deal with people, shuts himself away from the world, unhappy and alone, hating Christmas. One day, a widow and her son arrive with a proposition: to recreate a beloved Nativity set. Toomey reluctantly acquiesces, little realizing that the widow's son is keeping a watchful eye, with vocal opinions on how to make the perfect Nativity display. Of course, there's more to Toomey than meets the eye; secrets are uncovered, connections are made, and the reader is left weeping with joy and the spirit of Christmas.

I actually once wrote and appeared in an adaptation for my church's Christmas service, playing the role of the son. We used the Nativity set from home as a prop, since the resin figurines were modeled and painted to look like woodcuts. Even better, Lynch's illustrations in the book are an exact match for our family set. We've had that set forever, long before the book came out in 1995, a great coincidence that tied me closer to the story. 

Some of you may have heard of the film version, a straight-to-DVD release that came out in 2007. Tom Berenger starred with Joely Richardson, and it features an appearance by one Miss Saoirse Ronan. I have yet to see the film, partly because I haven't been able to find out, and partly because I have my own idea of what Jonathan Toomey and the Widow MacDowell look like. Let me share it:

Who is She: The widow who hires Toomey to recreate her Nativity set. A sweet woman, a good mother and Christian, her kindness helps to warm Toomey's heart.

My Choice: BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (No Country for Old Men), Indie Spirit Nominee for Best Actress (Two Family House), SAG Award Winner for Best Ensemble (Gosford Park, No Country for Old Men)
Kelly Macdonald (Finding Neverland, "Boardwalk Empire")
The widow is a young woman, I think, with warmth and kindness overflowing. Macdonald, who I've been a fan of since 2001's Gosford Park exudes that quiet, gentle beauty needed for the role.

Who is He: A gruff carpenter who tries to ignore the Christmas season. At first put off by the widow and her son, he grows closer to them as the set nears completion. Of course, he also keeps a mysterious photograph in his desk...

My Choice: Academy Award/Golden Globe/SAG Award Winner/BAFTA Award/Hollmann Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (The Fighter)
Christian Bale (Pocahontas, Flowers of War)
Besides his ability to sport a masterful beard, Bale is a strong performer able to tell everything about a character with his eyes and physicality alone, a great skill for a role like Jonathan Toomey. I would compare it to his quiet, noble turn in 3:10 to Yuma, really.

Any of you read the book? Anyone convinced to? It's quite lovely, and available for purchase on Amazon.

As for music, how about a John Denver tune? I really think it could apply to Toomey's backstory, carving of the figurines, growing closeness with the boy. It's also a helluva beautiful song:

The season is upon us now
A time for gifts and giving
And as the year draws to its close
I think about my living

The Christmastime when I was young
The magic and the wonder
But colors dull and candles dim
And dark my standing under

Oh little angel, shining light
You've set my soul to dreaming
You've given back my joy in life
You' ve filled me with new meaning

A savior king was born that day
A baby just like you
And as the Magi came with gifts
I've come with my gift too

That peace on earth fills up your time
That brotherhood surrounds you
That you may know the warmth of love
And wrap it all around you

It's just a wish, a dream I'm told
From days when I was young
Merry Christmas little Zachary
Merry Christmas ev'ryone

Hollmann Holiday Extravaganza: IT BEGINS

You're still here, are you?

Yes, it's been an unusually long absence -- my last post was a full month and ten days ago -- but oh! The things I have been doing! Working long hours (even Thanksgiving) at my current place of employment, catching up with all the films out in theaters (or on DVD), keeping abreast of the awards season, watching the films of 1957 for my next Oscar Series (even that was delayed as Tammy and the Bachelor sat unwatched for a week and a half). It's been a month of blood, sweat and tears, but December is here and I am ready to embrace the Holiday Season.

Yes, I'm a few days late, but I've always tried to keep the tradition of Hollmann Holiday Extravaganza alive! This year, join me celebrating my favorite time of year with some stories, music and (oh, of course) MOVIES.

Consider this an overture:

Christmastime is here
Happiness and cheer
Fun for all, what children call their favorite time of year

Snowflakes in the air
Carols everywhere
Olden times and ancient rhymes of love and dreams to share

Sleighbells in the air
Beauty everywhere
Yuletide by the fireside and joyful memories there

Christmastime is here
Families drawing near
Oh that we could always see such spirit through the year

Oh that we could always see such spirit through the year.....