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Archive for the ‘Best Picture Project’ Category

Aside:  WOOOO KATHRYN BIGELOW!

The Hurt Locker opens with Specialist Eldridge, Sergeant Sanborn and Staff Sergeant Thompson out on a daily task.  As members of an EOD unit, they are assigned to defuse bombs in Iraq.    Thompson is the guy who puts on the suit and defuses the bomb.  Sanborn and Eldredge hang back and provide cover against any threat.   The assignment goes tragically wrong.  Thompson dies and Bravo Company is assigned a new leader, Sergeant James.

Sanborn is appalled by James’ behavior.   James seems reckless, refusing to stay in communication with the two guys covering his back, going against standard operating policy and putting the unit in what Sanborn feels is unnecessary danger.   Eldridge worries obsessively over his own fate and safety.   The constant thought of death occupies Eldridge’s mind, leading an Army psychiatrist to set up regular sessions with him.

The only other person has any emotional connection with is a young Iraqi boy who calls himself Beckham.   As Bravo Company’s time in Iraq dwindles to a close, what the three men want out of life and how they intend to live it is thrown into sharper focus.

The Hurt Locker moves fast and goes long.   Most of the shots are close and tight; Bigelow directs with a sense of urgency and tension that grows as the film progresses.   There are a few beautiful moments in the film that are atypical, to be sure.  When Thompson is killed by an IED, Bigelow shoots in slow-motion the ground rumbling and the dust moving off a rusty, bombed out car.

The message of the film is right in the title cards:  war is a drug.  Some like it, some don’t.   Eldridge desperately wants to go home alive and nothing more.  Sanborn comes to realize no one would care much if he died.   It eats at him.  He professes a deep hatred of Iraq.

It is James, the “reckless”, “unstable” guy who can’t get enough of war.   He enjoys his job, taking souvenirs of bombs not only as tokens of times he nearly got killed but out of genuine interest in how bombs are assembled.   He struggles to do what he believes is the right thing even if he forgets to weigh the cost in human lives at times.

The Hurt Locker is well executed and smartly crafted, but it also examines the stress of this war in particular.   Disarming bombs is dangerous enough, but the EOD unit must contend with snipers, remote bombers, and realizes everyone on the street may be against them.   And how do people react to war?   Some think it’s hell, some hate it and some really and truly appreciate their jobs no matter how dangerous.   It’s a frightening thought, but Jeremy Renner does a masterful job of portraying Sergeant James as a guy initially perhaps unable to cope with his need to do the job he does who manages to reconcile it in the end.  The tension and differences between Sanborn and James against the war-torn city they work in is part of The Hurt Locker‘s strength.   Bigelow’s sensitivity toward James is compelling, given that it’s easy to take that character and simplify him in such a crude fashion, but James is given depth.   Jeremy Renner creates a guy who can be unsympathetic and at times obnoxious, but you understand why he does what he does.

A fantastic film.   It earned its Best Picture nom.   I can’t say the award, since I haven’t seen all of the ’09 nominees, but damn, it’s a great film.

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Uh, not the Sean Penn version.

Jack Burden is a young newspaper reporter sent out to the small town of Kenosha to cover a story that’s interesting to his editor because it’s about “an honest man”.   Willie Stark is a Kenosha man tired of the corrupt politicians, so he runs for county tax collector.   Burden is intrigued; Stark does seem honest and righteous, the kind of guy who doesn’t drink and refuses to bow to the local good old boys who terrorize his family, throw bricks in his windows and prevent him from passing out handbills and talking to the townsfolk.   Stark warns of corruption in the contracts issued for building the new school.  He loses the election, but a group of slick politicians show up and convince Stark to run for governor.   It is their hope that he’ll split the vote between the two major candidates, thereby allowing a specific candidate to win.

Burden goes back to his newspaper job, but quits after a while, disillusioned with the fact that the paper owners want him to write stories that support a candidate other than Stark.

After Burden and campaign worker Sadie Burke inadvertently reveal to Stark the brutal truth of why he’s in the governor’s race, all bets are off.

Stark unleashes rage and fury at the men who set him up and at the establishment in general, appealing to his fellow men, the poor and the downtrodden — the “hicks”, as Stark calls them.   He goes ballistic.    He does not, however, win the election.

He spends his time preparing for the next election while Burden watches from a distance, Stark striking shady deals with corporations and spending money like its going out of style on circuses and barbeques for voters.    Stark gets elected the next time, with Burke at his side and now, in his bed.   He gives up the teetotaling in favor of drink and leaves his wife at home to spend time with Sadie and later, another woman.   His zeal for the common man turns ruthless and brutal, self-serving and greedy.   Jack Burden is hired as his hatchet man, and after that, everyone Burden knows that comes in contact with Willie Stark is painfully destroyed in some fashion.

Ideas are often noble and carry with them some sense of purity.    The problem is that once human beings must act on ideas, such concepts are left to the fallibility of human nature.   Ideas might be noble, but there is no such thing as a perfect human being.

Willie Stark starts out with a very noble goal:  to take back the government from the corrupt politicians in power.   He appeals to the very best of human nature while unleashing the absolute worst in himself.   Stark justifies some very brutal actions – bribery, blackmail, even murder – by telling himself that it is for the good of the people.   When Stark’s son kills a girl in a drunk driving accident, Stark attempts to bribe the girl’s father with a lucrative contract for the truth to remain hidden, something Stark himself railed against.   The father turns him down, disgusted, and later, the man disappears.  It is only when the man’s badly beaten body is discovered that Stark’s staff realizes the man was murdered for standing up for the right thing.   All those in Stark’s path lose their innocence or possibly even more.

Stark promised the people of his state certain things, things that he did deliver – a new hospital, museums, universities – but at what cost?    He destroys lives for the right vote or for a pair of eyes set to look the other way.   Indeed, Stark’s own reliance on the justification that he is doing all this for the little guy is just a smooth veneer on Stark’s need to feed his own ego, line his own pockets and solidify his power base.

It’s a cautionary tale, one based on Huey Long’s life, which Robert Penn Warren (the writer of the book All the King’s Men) witnessed first-hand.    The axiom absolute power corrupts absolutely might be a bit tired to trot out, but it’s nonetheless true.   Stark starts out as perhaps the best of men and ends up the wretched worst.   Broderick Crawford is perfect as Stark, a mix of righteous indignation and self-serving interest.    It’s a movie that doesn’t leave you easily, since Stark is so eerie and creepy, his staff and hangers-on so readily compliant and the crowds cheering him on.    All The King’s Men is the telling of a story of the worst of human nature, a warning, a lesson on what we choices we make to when it comes to the terrible side of life.

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On Saturday, Ajay and I attended the Best Picture Showcase at AMC Northpark, which showed all five Best Picture nominees in one day.    This was made possible by the kind people at AMC who let me take along someone with me.

All in all, it was a fairly enjoyable day; and outside of the fact that AMC let me go for free, I would’ve gladly paid to go see this.  (You can’t beat $30 for an all day pass for five movies plus free snacks.)

In the interest of time and saving your Google Readers and whatnot, below here are my thoughts on each of the Best Pic nominees:

The Reader: Easily the most disappointing film of the day.   Scott has a great post here on it and I can’t disagree with much he says.   For a movie about German guilt post-Holocaust, there’s really not much guilt.   Hannah Schmitz, the character accused of war crimes, is remorseful for very little.  “The dead are still dead,” she tells Ralph Fiennes’ character.   And Ralph Fiennes doesn’t do a lot of wallowing in guilt.   He mainly feels sorry for himself and sorry for Hannah.   Not much time is spent reflecting on the actual atrocities that happened which Hannah’s been convicted for.   Michael’s own sense of personal shame at boinking a Nazi prevents him from doing the right thing and admitting a key piece of evidence during a trial.

It’s two hours of a combination of self-pity and stubborn refusal to own up to any sense of personal responsibility.   When Michael’s finally taken to task at the end of the movie for being pretty much a self-centered jerk, it’s nothing the audience hasn’t been thinking for the previous two hours.   I can see what the filmmakers intended for the message to be, but they missed the mark.

Frost/Nixon: Good, but not great.   I do have to say that I’m personally really burned out on Nixon movies, myself, and this does little to offer up anything new to the Richard Nixon Cinematic Mythos.   I liked Frank Langella and the rest of the cast, it’s just that the subject matter is really, really tired.   And it was just kind of a decent film – not something I’d give an Oscar.

Slumdog Millionaire:   I was so relieved that Piper over at Lazy Eye Theatre didn’t seem to think that Slumdog was the film equivalent of sunshine, rainbows and puppy dogs.  Honestly, I thought I was the only one.   To be frank, I liked the way the story was outlined and I liked the performances from all involved.   What I felt was middling was the direction from Danny Boyle – fanboys, set your phasers to ‘stun’, I guess – which is just the same old bag of tricks from him.   I would see certain shots and realize, “Oh, yeah, I’m watching a DANNY BOYLE film, that’s for sure”.   He’s not a bad director, it’s just that this definitely isn’t the best Danny boy’s done, and I don’t think it was a Best Picture winner, for sure.   Also – I really didn’t get the whole ‘feel-good’ aspect of it that other people seemed to get from the movie.   A kiss at the end does not balance the two hours of brutality and poverty I witnessed before.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – More like “Give me an intermission for a bathroom break”.   In serious need of editing, that’s for sure.   Also, the film runs awkwardly; the beginning all the way up until about 1955 felt stilted at times and definitely slow as molasses.   Once you hit the ’50’s, it hits a good stride and you don’t notice it anymore.    Cate Blanchett and Taraji P. Henson were amazing.   Brad Pitt – I hate to say it – was kind of cardboard-y.

Milk – easily the best film we saw that day.   Everything ran smoothly and nothing felt slow.   Sean Penn was an absolute knockout and I say that as someone who loathes Sean Penn.   And talk about a talented group of supporting actors.   Franco and the lot were really, really good.   It was just a great movie all the way around and one that I personally felt was better than Slumdog, but that’s just me.

Did anyone else see any Best Picture nominees this year?

Also, I’ll have a couple of pictures up from the screening later on, if you’re interested.

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I had to check and re-check to make sure I was correct on this; I could’ve sworn that Chicago had not won Best Picture.   It did win back in 2002 but I kept thinking otherwise – surely this was wrong?

As I’m sure everyone and their dog knows, Chicago is based on the popular musical of the same name.   It’s not an awful film.   In fact, when I initially saw it, I really liked it.   A second viewing, however, doesn’t feel very fresh and got stale pretty quickly, but for the musical genre Chicago is pretty good.

The one problem I always had with the movie was that it felt oddly cast.   Catherine Zeta-Jones was a pretty good Velma, but I didn’t like Renee Zellweger much as Roxie, nor did I feel Richard Gere was particularly outstanding in his role.   Even John C. Reilly felt a little out of place and that feels odd to write down.

It certainly wasn’t better the second time around and I found myself marveling that, yes, this movie did win Best Picture.   It’s certainly well handled, especially since I think taking something from the stage to the screen can be more than a little tricky and even trickier when it’s a musical.   To be fair, the musical numbers are done well and the rest of the film is not poor by any standards.

The problem is that when I sat down to really think about what Chicago had achieved, I wasn’t feeling very impressed.   I keep coming back to the fact that the movie was pretty good.   Chicago is not great, not excellent, just a little bit above the rest of the flock.

Who else was nominated in 2002 for Best Picture?

  • Lord of the Rings:  The Two Towers
  • Gangs of New York
  • The Hours
  • The Pianist


I’m flummoxed.   I have to be honest – I have little to no idea what Academy members have in their heads when they vote, nor do I intend to start speculating.   If you compare this movie with The Pianist, for example, The Pianist comes out on top easily.   Adrien Brody really did a fantastic job in that movie and it was all-around great, as opposed to being just pretty good.

Why Chicago won, I don’t know.

I do know, however, that Renee Zellweger’s face must un-squint itself, since you can barely see her eyes anymore from all the face-scrunching.    Renee, you gotta stop doing that, because watching your movies nowadays makes my face hurt for you.

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Oh God, don’t watch this movie unless you’re prepared to cry — especially if you’re a guy.

Ted Kramer is a career-minded businessman who’s obsessed with promotions and “bringing home the bacon”, while Joanne Kramer is an unsatisfied housewife who feels like her life is going nowhere. The film starts on “one of the five biggest days of [Ted’s] life”, where he is informed he’s landed a large account at his firm and comes home to find Joanne leaving.

Ted’s ill-equipped to take care of their son Billy and Joanne refuses to take him along with her, saying that Billy is “better off without [her]”. So with a heavy workload, no understanding of how to take care of a kid and little patience, Ted is left on his own to figure out how to raise a child and why, exactly, his marriage failed. Along the way, he discovers he enjoys being a father more than he ever realized, loses his job as a result and decides to be the best dad he can be. And then Joanne rolls back into town, determined to have primary of custody of Billy because she’s his mother.

Kramer vs. Kramer is an interesting film because at a time when American culture was shifting wildly, the film explores the traditional viewpoints of parenthood evolving. The beginning depicts the typical American family of the ’50’s and ’60’s and pretty much asks the question, “What do you do when everything changes and falls apart?” There’s no script and no Cliff’s Notes for parenting, certainly not when a situation like the one in the film arises, and a family has to adapt as best it can.

Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep turn in fantastic performances and the film gives equal weight to both Ted and Joanne’s point of view, but in the end it’s difficult to sympathize with the flighty, unstable Joanne.

Hoffman in particular is stunning, making you feel for Ted even when he’s at his most unlikeable, something that’s extremely difficult to do. Streep gives a lot of depth, character and soul to a character that’s easily written off by any other actress.

It’s emotionally trying but well worth the effort to sit down and view.

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Goodness, that’s an awful lot of colons.

lotr-return.jpg

I kind of view this award as a gimme. The LOTR films are kind of one big film in and of themselves, and I feel like the Academy kind of said, “Okay, you made three really good films, but we’ll wait until you’re all wrapped up to give you the award, since we learned our lesson with the Godfather. Part III? Really?”

It’s amazing in a way to see how far Peter Jackson has come since making Bad Taste and Dead Alive, but he’s still got the same spirit and love for movies. And he made me like Tolkien. I should probably preface this by saying I loathe the LOTR trilogy and the Hobbit. I forced myself through The Hobbit, telling myself it would get better, and then I hit Fellowship of the Ring. I got to the part about Tom Bombadil and I just said, “Okay, I give up. This is stupid.” Probably not fair of me, but I learned my lesson with the Narnia books, which I hated but read every single one of them when I was a kid, so I could read the complete series and make up my mind. They never got any better.

Good special effects and good storytelling in this one all the way around. I personally prefer The Two Towers, but like I said, I view it as a gimme.

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For most people in my age range, from 20 to about 30, The Godfather is a quintessential element of American film. It’s really hard for me to picture movies without The Godfather somewhere in the background, and I’m not sure why.

Most people my age automatically associate Marlon Brando with this movie in particular, not necessarily with many other great films Brando made during his career. It’s a movie that’s still referenced and still watched today, and even though it’s now over 35 years old, it still seems pretty fresh.

I actually own the Godfather trilogy on DVD. I and II have received repeated viewings in my household. I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve never made it through a single, whole viewing of Part III, mainly because it’s an awful piece of dreck, as most know. The only reason I can think of why I own it is that as a film nut, it feels wrong not to own the entire trilogy, but rather only two-thirds.

Back to the original, however. It’s obviously a well-crafted movie. The sets, costume design and lighting seem pitch perfect. The music is amazing. I can think of several movies, however, that have had all of these elements but fail to stick in the American psyche as firmly as The Godfather.

One of the main elements here is casting. The struggles Francis Ford Coppola went through trying to get Al Pacino cast as Michael are well-documented, since the studios were dead set against him, but Pacino is perfect as Michael Corleone. Whenever Pacino is brought up as an outstanding actor, a few movies (like Heat, Dog Day Afternoon and Serpico) come to mind, but none as vividly as The Godfather. Pacino takes a likeable character who is devoted to his family, a war hero who is initially presented as the most noble and honorable of his family and finely crafts him into a man driven by circumstance, his family’s choices and his own conscious choices into a ruthlessly cold monster. Pacino’s real genius is that it could be remarkably easy to hate and despise Michael Corleone, but the viewer sympathizes with him and roots for him all the way through Part I (the viewer/Michael schism, in my opinion, doesn’t come until Part II.) Marlon Brando is stellar as Don Corleone and the supporting cast does a wonderful job. Brando’s obviously given credit where credit is due, but in my opinion Pacino’s the cog that makes the machine work.

The story is classically American. It’s the veritable American dream, just in crime instead of an “honest living”. Don Corleone rises from nothing to have everything and his sons are in line to inherit his little empire. But the family is also typically dysfunctional. Connie Corleone marries a worthless abuser and her brother Sonny is constantly helping her out. Sonny’s no better, as he’s a serial cheater who even finds ways to philander during Connie’s wedding. Fredo is bumbling and needs constant supervision, while Michael’s practically the Boy Scout of the family. Don Corleone is the glue that holds the family together and they begin to rip apart at the seams quite quickly when he’s gunned down.

The movie, in the end, is about a family at the mercies of and done in by its own choices, whether its to look the other way or live a life outside the law, or to make bold rash decisions. Each choice leads the family down a separate path; but one could argue that many of them all lead to the same path in the end: death, as the Don and his wife die of old age, Sonny at the hands of a murderous gang, and part of Michael effectively dies when he commits murder and takes over as head of the family.

It’s a powerful story that resonates with people on a fairly epic scale. Out of all of the Best Picture Winners, this is easily in the top three of all time.

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