Tuesday, February 27, 2007

I Came, I Saw, I Asked for a Refund and Left

As my girlfriend and I went to catch up on "Bridge to Terabithia"—which I didn't review—tonight, we went to the Gateway Megaplex to use a gift certificate. But once we were in the theater, we noticed how crappy, color-challenged and pixel-laden the trailers looked. Yes, we had mistakenly gone to see a digitally projected screening, and it looked horrible. I had assumed that the screening would be up to par with the digital projections at Cannes and Sundance, which aren't close to as good as film but at least have some definition. If this cheap-ass shit is what they're talking about when they say all the theaters will go digital in a decade, this is a sad day indeed.

What did my girlfriend and I do? We got out of our seats, went to the theater and demanded our money back. Then we went to the Century 16 and saw it on film. I suggest all other fans of quality cinema experiences do the same.
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Monday, February 26, 2007

Oscars (Part II): The Award Shuffle Conundrum

Many were confused last night when the Academy was so keen on Guillermo del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth" that they gave it the awards for Makeup, Cinematography and Production Design, but not Best Foreign Film. The reason is fairly simple. A different pool of voters—ones who attended Academy-sanctioned screenings of all the nominees—vote for the Foreign Film Award, and the general perception is that they're old and don't like them crazy Mexican horror directors. By all accounts (I haven't seen it), "The Lives of Others" is a very well-made film and probably appealed more to the voters' mentality.

The bigger question, however, is how Emmanuel Lubezki lost Best Cinematography when his work in "Children of Men" amounts to some of the best cinematography in decades. While I was pleased to see "Pan's Labyrinth" take home some awards (although I would have been pushing "Children of Men" for Art Direction if it were nominated) and Guillermo Navarro was my second choice to win, Lubezki's work stuck out so much that I couldn't imagine someone beating him. The cause is easy: Universal Pictures didn't make any effort to get people to see the film or release it, and the average Oscar-voter Joe doesn't know how to form an opinion of his own. Let's face it: The film was lucky to receive its three nominations. "Children of Men" and "United 93" both went home Oscar-less because there wasn't much campaigning on their behalf. At least that's the story I'm sticking to.

Also, in case everyone was wondering, we brought lighter fluid for Chris, but he didn't light himself on fire. Oh well, there's always next year.
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Oscar Bliss (Part I)

Wow. Jennifer Hudson won and I'm still a happy Oscar viewer. I emerged from my friends' Oscar party the champion of a for-fun-only pool that definitely didn't net me $225. Because gambling's illegal here. After being ridiculed for not picking "Dreamgirls" to win every award it could, I got to laugh in everyone's face when I got 18 of the awards correct—three more than my closest competitors. (I went on the same predictions from the blog, other than deciding on "The Departed" for Best Picture" shortly before the ceremony started.) And on top of all that, Martin Scorsese's "The Departed" won Best Director, Best Picture, Best Editing and Best Adapted Screenplay, ending the curse of America's greatest living director.

As I predicted, the "Dreamgirls" bubble burst. Alan Arkin for Best Supporting Actor? "Marie Antoinette" for Costume Design? "An Inconvenient Truth" for Best Song? Yes folks, you heard it all from me first. (Although I would have preferred Mark Wahlberg to beat Arkin.)

This year's ceremony was fun and well done at times, and baffling at others. Here are a few defining elements:

The Montages: Ever since Gary Ross's fabulous work on the 2001 "In Memorium" (in 2002—the best-produced ceremony I can remember), the tribute to lost talent has sucked. This year, we got faux-classy transparent gray boxes obscuring the departed's faces, no lines of dialogue and not a single shot from a Robert Altman film. I know they gave the man an honorary award last year, but come on.

The other montages, however, were enjoyable collections of scenes. One, by "Something's Gotta Give" director Nancy Meyers, covered the portrayal of writers in movies, and featured some great moments ("Barton Fink," anyone?) in its collection of everything from "Sunset Blvd." to Meyers's own film (because, hey, it's her montage!). Leading into the Best Foreign Film nominations, director Giuseppe Tornatore—who knows a thing or two about montages of old films—cut a tribute to the Best Foreign Film winners of the past 50 years, including his own "Cinema Paradiso" (hey, it's his montage and he won for it!). The piece was a great reminder that as fucked up as the award's nomination process is, the best Oscar winners are often in this category.

Then there was Michael Mann's (notice how Will Smith mentioned "Ali" over "Heat" when listing some of Mann's work) montage. I'm a tad curious about whether the Academy got to take a look at Mann's work before presenting it, or what they asked him to do for his clip collection, ostensibly about the many different aspects of America portrayed in film. The film includes some memorable moments with racial slurs, (including the scene with Joe Pesci from "The Good Shepherd" that seems just as thrown in during Mann's sequence as it does during Robert De Niro's movie), dinner-table comedy from "Talladega Nights" and war scenes from "Pearl Harbor" with Foo Fighters music. I need to watch Mann's collage of old and new movies, high art and trash a couple more times to determine what it's doing and if it succeeds, but I guess for now I'll commend the Academy for doing something interesting.

Awkward cuts: You'd think that the telecast director had never done live TV before. What was with the shots of Jack Nicholson peering out from the corner of the stage in two different speeches? It's alright to occasionally cut to someone other than Jack, especially if the go-to reaction-shot man is out of his seat, looking for the bathroom. Then there was the cut to Best Supporting Actor winner (yes, I predicted it) Alan Arkin's Oscar on the floor, I guess to help viewers determine who was stiffer—Arkin or his statuette. Which brings us to…

Speeches: Hudson gave an ultimate cliché speech about how happy she was, and even tried to sell the "I never thought I'd win after being the favorite since 2004" line. Yet she lacked the exuberance of the best actresses who get all giddy and fall apart. Helen Mirren, on the other hand, didn't pretend that she didn't know she had her award in the bag before shooting wrapped. She offered a nice tribute to "The Queen," complete with the closing line "I give you, The Queen," delivered while she held up her Oscar. I don't know what it was all about, but at least it was interesting. Which is more than I can say for a lot of the speeches, which were mostly lists of friends and colleagues.

Forest Whitaker, who also knew he was gonna win since the award season started and "The Last Kind of Scotland" started sweeping Sacha Baron Cohen's brilliant work from "Borat" to the side, didn't bother to memorize his speech, and clumsily pulled out a heartfelt collection of scribbles on paper that actually turned out to be quite sweet before it ended with a shout out to God for showing him the screenplay (I think).

Thelma Schoonmaker, whose surprise win in editing signaled "The Departed's" triumphs in Screenplay and Picture, gave a loving tribute the work she has done Martin Scorsese for the past three decades. This eventually led to the moment of the night, when the excited Scorsese received Best Director from his three friends, Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas (wouldn't it have been really fucking depressing if he didn't win after they all came just to give it to him?). After acknowledging his many collaborators, Scorsese talked about all the people who walk up to him on the street and tell him he should have an Oscar. Right those people were. Glad the Academy finally figured it out, too. It was a nice moment as I reflected—like sports fans must after their long-losing team triumphs, on how rewarding and sadly conclusive it is to finally see a dream realized.

Meanwhile, the orchestra started playing people off with piano noodlings this year. The producers came off looking like even bigger dicks than usual as the sweet, awkward technical artisans stood around one another, hoping to say something before their friends hogged all the time.

I shall continue this recap tomorrow. For now, I shall plot my future complaints about how Alfonso Cuarón has never won a damn Best Director Oscar. (And how did "Children of Men" not win Best Cinematography?)
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Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Longest Guide to Oscars: Predictions and Favorites

In Utah This Week's Web page seems to be missing the Oscar picks by me and Chris Bellamy and people keep asking me where the online version is, so here it is. It's four times as long as the print one, and at least four times as awesome.


Best Supporting Actor
Alan Arkin: “Little Miss Sunshine”
Jackie Earle Haley: “Little Children”
Djimon Hounsou: “Blood Diamond”
Eddie Murphy: “Dreamgirls”
Mark Wahlberg: “The Departed”

Jeremy: Murphy is the odds-on favorite for his portrayal of a charismatic Motown singer in “Dreamgirls”—and was indeed the least annoying part of the film. But since I resolved not to predict “Dreamgirls” to win anything, Arkin will surprise everyone as Grandpa Does-Heroin-and-Swears-a-lot. Get it? He’s a grandpa. He swears! And does heroin! If “Little Miss Sunshine” is going to make a surprise rally for Best Picture, it’s gotta be in contention for some acting awards as well. And “Dreamgirls” has been on the decline ever since my negative review ran at Christmas.

Of course, Mark Wahlberg should win for his hilarious and heartfelt fast-talk in “The Departed,” and Nick Nolte should have been nominated for “Clean,” but as “The Departed” taught us, life isn’t fair.

Chris: Look, I don’t want “Dreamgirls” to win any Oscars, either—the very thought repulses me. But I’ve gotta go with common sense here and say Murphy will win, and like Jeremy (who likes to pre-emptively copy me), I think the award should go to Red Sox fan Mark Wahlberg. Of the people in this category, he’s the one who does his job—Arkin must be the other guy. And I agree that Nolte was wrongfully snubbed. And Ray Winstone from “The Proposition.” And Robert Downey Jr. from “A Scanner Darkly.”

Best Supporting Actress
Adriana Barraza for “Babel”
Cate Blanchett for “Notes on a Scandal”
Abigail Breslin for “Little Miss Sunshine”
Jennifer Hudson for “Dreamgirls”
Rinko Kikuchi for “Babel”

Chris: Hey look, it’s Jennifer Hudson! She’s spunky and fat! Let’s give her an Oscar!

Person With Common Sense: Wait...why does she deserve an Oscar?

Academy Voter: Um...well, she sings really loud. She was even on that FOX show. Because she sings loud. And stuff.

PWCS: But wasn’t her acting kind of pedestrian? Wasn’t her character under-developed, just like the rest of the movie? Didn’t the movie totally suck?

AV: Well yeah, but...she’s spunky and fat!

Chris again: Moving on...while this is the category most open to surprises (historically speaking), I still think Hudson will win. (That was an actual transcript of a real conversation, by the way.)

But the best performance, by far, is that of Kikuchi in “Babel.” Hers is the most fully realized subplot in the film, and her performance is the most devastating. What she can say without even speaking trounces anything any of the other nominees pulled off, and made for one of the most emotionally taut character studies of the year. And she did all that in just a fourth of the film.

Jeremy: If I hadn’t made a no-“Dreamgirls” resolution, this would be an easy prediction for Hudson—Oscar voters love the rags-to-riches story and are apt to mistake volume for quality. Remember that song that goes on and on and on for hours while she makes a string of tasteless runs on the final note? But they also love watching little kids accept Oscars. Enter Breslin, whose work was nowhere near as good as young Shareeka Epps in “Half Nelson.” But she’s younger than Epps, and undeniably cute.

In a perfect world, Kikuchi would win. Her work knocked me on my ass, and if anything from “Babel” should win, it’s her performance.

Best Visual Effects
“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest”
“Superman Returns”

Chris: OK, so they give “Pan’s Labyrinth” six Oscar nominations, but not special freaking effects? This category is like documentary—the short lists always piss me off because they overlook smaller, often-better films in favor of big studio productions that spent hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s like it doesn’t matter what movies had the best special effects – just the most expensive. Let me put it this way: “Eragon” made the short list. Right.

Last year, it worked well enough because the Oscar deservedly went to “King Kong.” But this year, not only was “Pan’s” left off, but the unique, non-CGI effects in Darren Aronofsky’s “The Fountain” as well. (Forget what you thought about the movie – the special effects, which were created in a petri dish, were beautiful.) And let’s not forget the effects in “Children of Men,” either.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way, I’ll say the Academy goes with the best of these three, “Superman Returns.” Even if it’s just for that bitchin bullet-off-the-eye scene.

Jeremy: I’d toss all of these for “The Fountain,” “Children of Men” and “Pan’s Labyrinth.” I’ve never seen anything like the effects in “The Fountain.” Of the nominees, I think it’s a race between “Pirates” and “Superman,” not because “Poseidon” has bad special effects, but because the screenplay rendered it unwatchable. If the Academy had any shame, they might oddly conclude that “Poseidon” should win because the last boat film by its director, “The Perfect Storm,” should have easily beat the dreadfully low-res effects in “Gladiator.” I think I mention that every year.

Of the two contenders, I think “Pirates” might pull it off because the Academy has been meaning to give Johnny Depp and award, and he is a special effect, isn’t he?

Best Original Score
“Babel”: Gustavo Santaolalla
“The Good German”: Thomas Newman
“Notes on a Scandal”: Philip Glass
“Pan’s Labyrinth”: Javier Navarrete
“The Queen”: Alexandre Desplat

Chris: This is how the Oscars seem to work: One movie emerges as some sort of “favorite,” and so it wins a bunch of technical categories just because people prefer not to think. My hunch is that will happen this year with the Best Picture frontrunner, “Babel,” and that it will win for Best Original Score. And while I certainly don’t have a problem with the music itself, it doesn’t really compare to the haunting, mournful score put together for “Pan’s Labyrinth” by Javier Navarrete. The score perfectly sets the film’s mood in the very first scene, and when it reprises at the end once the plot has come full circle, it captures an entirely different mood punctuates the story’s emotional resonance. Even with all the storylines criss-crossing in “Babel,” Santaolalla couldn’t pull off such an effect.

I was disappointed and somewhat surprised to see Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens’ simple, poignant score from “Letters from Iwo Jima” get left off the list; and while I didn’t expect it, Nick Cave’s work for “The Proposition” deserved consideration as well. Of the rest of the noms, I liked Thomas Newman’s experiment in “The Good German,” as he created a familiar and old-fashioned sound for a film intended to replicate a late-40s studio picture.

But if the Academy’s intention is too piss off our good friend Scott Renshaw, by all means they should give this award to Philip Glass for “Notes on a Scandal.”

Jeremy: That’d be awesome. Renshaw might just snap, his next review looking like the novel from “The Shining,” with “I despise Philip Glass and all that he stands for.” written over and over and over.

I was surprised not to see Nathan Johnson and Larry Seymour’s work in “Brick,” which gave a new spin to classic noir-style theme-based material, in this category. Wait, what am I saying? Of course I wasn’t surprised.

You never know how Oscar is going to pick these things. They could give it to a surprise winner (“The Red Violin”) or the most obvious favorite. Santaolalla would presumably be at an advantage, but he won last year. The question: Does the Academy know that they gave the award to Santaolalla last year, or do they just know that they gave it to that pretty li’l guitar piece from “Brokeback Mountain”? They might pass Santaolalla’s well-written work in favor of Desplat’s regal work on “The Queen.”

Best Original Song
“An Inconvenient Truth”: Melissa Etheridge (“I Need To Wake Up”)
“Dreamgirls”: Henry Krieger, Scott Cutler, Anne Preven (“Listen”)
“Dreamgirls”: Henry Krieger, Siedah Garrett (“Love You I Do”)
“Cars”: Randy Newman (“Our Town”)
“Dreamgirls”: Henry Krieger, Willie Reale (“Patience”)

Jeremy: Horror of Horrors. What the fuck is going on here? I thought when you made a film of a crappy, two-decades-old Motown knockoff musical, you only shoe-horn in one “original” song for Oscar prestige. How on earth were four written, let alone put in the movie, nominated for 60 percent of the Best Song category? Seriously. I need to know. It’s keeping me awake at night.

In other news, the “Dreamgirls” filmmakers recently placed ads in the trade papers to apologize to Motown Records founder Berry Gordy and others that some people thought that the character clearly based on him was based on him. Things they didn’t apologize for: (1) Making a mockery of Motown music with a series of bland knockoffs. (2) That people had to sit through the movie.

My only consolation is that the awful “Family” is from the original musical and therefore ineligible. If a song from “Dreamgirls” wins, Chris tells me it will be “Listen,” which he thought was in one part of the movie, but it’s actually in another. Seriously, you can mix ‘em all up and it won’t change the film. Just so long as Billy Condon can keep turning his camera to reveal that the shot started on a mirror, the flow of the movie continues pretty much uninterrupted. Beyonce sings it in front of a black background, to show she’s broken free from the evil grasp of the character who isn’t remotely based on Gordy. Beyonce wrote some lyrics to “Listen,” but didn't get listed on the nomination because the only words she contributed were “and,” “believing,” “feeling” and “dream.” So that one’s out. No one can remember what the other ones are, so they’re out, too.

Since “Dreamgirls” is going to be completely shut out of awards thanks to my decree, that leaves Randy Newman’s usual crap (which he already won for once after several nods) and Melissa Etheridge’s song, which isn’t all that usual for the Oscars or all that crappy. And Al Gore is going to announce he’s running for president during her song, so she wins it.

Chris: Duh Jeremy, everyone knows that. Haven’t you paid attention to the actual lyrics of Etheridge’s song? They go: “I, Al Gore, hereby announce my intention to put my name on the Democratic ticket and run for President of the United States in the 2008 election / God Bless America / Sigh...”

I thought it was kind of weird when Etheridge sang it, but now that I know of Gore’s intentions, it makes perfect sense. Hopefully he’ll get up there and sing his announcement like a real man.

But all of this silliness, of course, is just me trying to put off picking a winner, which will probably come from damn “Dreamgirls.” And so...no! I can’t do it. I won’t do it. My prediction is that none of these songs will win. It would warm the cockles of my heart if, just as the winner was about to be announced, the Kazakhstan national anthem started booming on the loudspeakers and that was selected as the surprise winner.

The most unfortunate development of the night will occur during Beyonce’s “Listen” musical number, in which Jamie Foxx—seated comfortably in the balcony—will peer down at the front row and see a young boy. A light will completely inexplicably go off in his head, and somehow he will know—though it makes no fucking goddamn sense—that the boy is indeed, his son. Foxx will slowly walk down the isle, eyes moist with the sudden onslaught of emotion, and his and his son’s eyes will meet, and they will share a delicate moment together.

And then the entire audience will projectile vomit like Mr. Creosote in “Monty Python’s Meaning of Life.” I think I need a bucket already.

Fuck “Dreamgirls.”

Best Makeup
“Apocalypto”: Aldo Signoretti, Vittorio Sodano
“Click”: Kazuhiro Tsuji, Bill Corso
“Pan’s Labyrinth”: David Marti, Montse Ribe

Chris: Holy shit... “Click” is nominated for an Oscar? “Click” can call itself an Oscar nominee? What...because Adam Sandler wore a fat suit in that completely unfunny scene, and then wore that unconvincing old-guy makeup at the end? This gives “Click” the right to put “Academy Award Nominee” on its [short] list of accomplishments? Seriously?

OK, how about this as a compromise: If the movie wins, can they just send Kate Beckinsale up the podium to accept the award and, I don’t know, stand there for 30 seconds? Wouldn’t that make everyone a little bit happier? I think it would. That would be the only justification for giving it the award over “Pan’s Labyrinth.”

Jeremy: “Apocalypto” for makeup? Come on, all they did was throw paint on people! “OK, people let’s line up! You, yeah, over there! What the hell are you doing in the green line? You’re supposed to be blue, dumbass!”

Chris: [inaudible—yes, this entire article is transcribed by interns.]

Jeremy: Oh. Well, maybe some artistry did go into the film. But while the Academy members may not be as eager to prove that they hate Jesus as they were when “The Passion of the Christ” was up for awards, they are eager to prove that they love Jews. So Gibson’s out. “Click” is “Click,” for Christ’s sake. That leaves the best of the bunch, “Pan’s Labyrinth,” to take it. Look at the careful design of the faun, the horrifying Pale Man, and tell me it doesn’t bring new life to the traditional form. Go ahead, tell me. TELL ME!

Best Sound
“Blood Diamond”
“Flags of Our Fathers”
“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest”

Jeremy: The Academy had to open up this category to include five films, because they couldn’t decide which Clint Eastwood film had the greater audio equivalent of Paul Haggis. “Dreamgirls” may seem the obvious winner since it has music in it, and, hey, music is sound, after all, but everyone loves Clint, and he mixed the audio himself, in between writing the score and processing the film in his bathtub. It goes to “Letters from Iwo Jima,” with “Pirates of the Caribbean: Two and a Half Hours of No Plot Followed by a Cliff Hanger” potentially coming from behind because it’s loud. “Apocalypto’s” sound was better than its underwater birth scene, but it won’t be recognized.

Chris: The live-birth scene was important because...uh...the Mayans were actually fish, so the baby was just being born into its natural habitat. Lots of people don’t know that.

I can’t imagine the sound in “Dreamgirls” winning, because most of the “sound” was that shrill, godawful faux-Motown music. You know, now that I look at these nominees, I wouldn’t mind seeing all five of these movies crammed into one: All the cast members of “Dreamgirls,” in possession of a precious stone, would be on the run from giant octopuses, Japanese soldiers and African warlords. Beyonce, Jennifer Hudson, Jamie Foxx and everyone else run through the Mayan jungle until their pursuers finally corner them at Omaha Beach and bludgeon them all to death. Bill Condon’s face gets eaten by a Jaguar. Eddie Murphy gets rescued by pirates. I’d buy that soundtrack.

Best Sound Editing
“Blood Diamond”
“Flags of Our Fathers”
“Letters from Iwo Jima”
“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest”

Chris: So Clint Eastwood does two war movies in one year and both of them get nominated in the illustrious sound editing category? Now that’s a major coup for Warner Bros. It was a fascinating experiment from Eastwood, with one decent, but disappointing effort (“Flags”) and one genuinely powerful epic (“Letters”). It was a busy year for him, to be sure – both were massive projects, with big casts, big budgets and big expectations. And while he didn’t ever touch the boys in uniform, it was always a struggle. Maybe that’s why he’s such a good director.

I assume “Letters” will take this one, if only because the movie deserves to take home at least one little statuette but will probably be on the losing end in all the other categories. There was some really creative stuff done with the sound in “Apocalypto,” but um...well, there are way too many Jews in the Academy for that movie to win anything.

Jeremy: This could go to “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” because, as I mentioned earlier, it’s loud. It could go to “Letters.” I could repeat my whole Sound Mixing schtick, because the two categories often double up. If “Dreamgirls” wins Best Sound, however, this one will probably go to “Iwo Jima.”

Best Costume Design
“Curse of the Golden Flower”: Chung Man Yee
“The Devil Wears Prada”: Patricia Field
“Dreamgirls”: Sharen Davis
“Marie Antoinette”: Milena Canonero
“The Queen”: Consolata Boyle

Jeremy: “Dreamgirls” sucks. “The Queen” is elegant, but not about a queen from 100 or more years ago. “The Devil Wears Prada” could come up on top since it’s all about clothes, but is modern. If “The Curse of the Golden Flower” is listed as that gibberish on the ballot, it doesn’t stand a chance. “Marie Antoinette” is unconventional as a period piece, but very detailed, and with a lot more thought put into its costumes than many heavily researched but not heavily thought-out winners of the past. But that might work against it(?). I’ll say “Marie Antoinette” because if I will it, it is no dream.

Chris: Eight-year-olds, dude.

So…do you folks remember a few years ago when the perfectly acceptable but perfectly standard-issue costumes from “Chicago” won this award, even though the better but less-glamorous costumes from “Gangs and New York” and “Frida” were nominated? That happens all the time. “Chicago” was glitzy and sparkly, so it must get the award. Well, “Dreamgirls” is even glitzier and sparklier—and unlike “Chicago,” it’s not even a good movie. But its costumes will win, unless I underestimate the popularity of “The Queen.”

I guess there’s the off-chance that voters—many of whom probably didn’t even see it—will see “Marie Antoinette” on the list, assume it was a traditional period piece and vote for it because they think it’s just like “Elizabeth” or something. Then again, they might think the same thing about “The Queen.” Because that’s about royalty, too. Remember when “King Ralph” won this category? Yeah, that was weird.

Best Art Direction
“Dreamgirls”: John Myhre, Nancy Haigh
“The Good Shepherd”: Jeannine Claudia Oppewall, Gretchen Rau, Leslie E. Rollins
“Pan’s Labyrinth”: Eugenio Caballero, Pilar Revuelta
“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest”: Rick Heinrichs, Cheryl Carasik
“The Prestige”: Nathan Crowley, Julie Ochipinti

Chris: This is getting redundant: “Pan’s Labyrinth” trumps all of these. It’s not close. I admired the look and feel of “The Good Shepherd,” and it’s nice to see a movie like that get recognized in this category, which usually goes for more elaborate and extravagant period pieces than the simple, toned-down era in that movie. But once again, for the most part big budgets and bright colors seem to have won out in many ways. Namely, in ways called “Dreamgirls” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.” Some people seem to be confused: The category is not most art direction, but best art direction. There’s a difference.

This, too, is getting redundant: “Children of Men” got fucked in the ass. Nothing for art direction? Seriously? Four years after Alex McDowell’s visionary work on “Minority Report” gets snubbed, the Academy makes the same exact mistake again? My colleague will back me up on this – take it away, Jeremy.

Jeremy: Dude, Jim Clay and Geoffrey Kirkland put more care into single locations from “Children of Men” than went into most films, including a couple of this year’s nominees.

[Cut to airplane scene for no reason, in honor of “The Good Shepherd.”]

The Academy’s priorities are seriously messed up. “Dreamgirls”’ production design is the kind of thing that anyone told to design sets for a bland, tedious musical with no parallels to Motown Records would make.

[Cut to my time at Yale, when my plagiarist professor opens my eyes to film criticism.]

Go watch “Children of Men” in the theater. You could spend the whole movie examining the details that are so effortlessly presented in the film’s complete environment. It isn’t showy, look-at-me production design—but it’s smart, telling and elaborate. Of the picks, I agree that “Pan’s Labyrinth” is the easy winner. “Pirates” had its charm in design, but isn’t in the same league.

Best Editing
“Babel”: Douglas Crise, Stephen Mirrione
“Blood Diamond”: Steven Rosenblum
“Children of Men”: Alfonso Cuarón, Alex Rodriguez
“The Departed”: Thelma Schoonmaker
“United 93”: Clare Douglas, Richard Pearson, Christopher Rouse

Jeremy: Well, last year the Academy proved they knew nothing about editing by giving this award to “Crash.” “Hey, it’s got a lot of characters in it! It must be edited!” That could give the award to “Babel,” but it could also serve as the chance to award the stunning real-time work of “United 93.” Of course, if the movie’s in real time, it didn’t need to be edited at all. Cuarón and Rodriguez won’t win because, after all, there isn’t a cut every three seconds in “Children of Men.” “Blood Diamond” won’t win because it’s only real chance was the rap song in the closing credits, and “Dreamgirls” stole its Best Song nomination. Three times. “Everybody wants the diamonds without the bloodshed.” So true.

Schoonmaker could just snatch it from all of them, because that’s what she does: Win Oscars. I wouldn’t complain, but the taut work of the trio behind “United 93" can’t be ignored.

Chris: I have mixed feelings here. As for the best in this bunch, it’s a toss-up between “Children of Men” and “United 93.” Both are deserving, and since Cuarón was unforgivably shafted for Best Director, this would be some sort of consolation prize. Then again, the man he’s nominated with is New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez. And I just couldn’t live with myself if I rooted for a Yankee. So I’ll go with “United 93.”

Well...that was nice and short.

Jeremy: Get Brent Sallay, now!

Best Cinematography
“The Black Dahlia”: Vilmos Zsigmond
“Children of Men”: Emmanuel Lubezki
“The Illusionist”: Dick Pope
“Pan’s Labyrinth”: Guillermo Navarro
“The Prestige”: Wally Pfister

Chris: The Academy rarely recognizes sci-fi/fantasy films anymore, unless of course they begin with “Lord” and end with “Rings.” Other than that, all the great sci-fi films since “E.T.” have been mostly ignored. Even with Peter Jackson’s clout behind it last year, the extraordinary “King Kong” was shut out in all but the obvious special effect and sound categories. Coincidence or not, that trend continues this year, as the two best films of the year – Alfonso Cuarón’s “Children of Men” and Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth – weren’t honored in the picture or director categories. But here, they get recognized, and rightly so. In fact, oddly enough, four of the five nominees fit in the sci-fi/fantasy categories. There’s those four...and that shitty Brian DePalma movie.

Two similar movies, “The Prestige” and “The Illusionist,” were anchored by their visuals but left a lot to be desired elsewhere (namely, in both cases, the disappointing and predictable Big Reveal). But while Dick Pope and Wally Pfister (nominated for “Batman Begins” last year) did fine work, the best of the bunch are the aforementioned two. And, to be honest, one is the clear champion. Emmanuel Lubezki’s dazzling invention of a hopeless war-torn future in Cuarón’s masterpiece, “Children of Men,” is a work of technical genius in and of itself, even outside the film’s other strengths. Lubezki and Cuarón place us in the middle of a number of stunningly created setpieces, creating a deep sense of urgency with uncommonly complex camerawork that enhances the action so much, it’s enough to physically drain you. Lubezki, who was nominated for “The New World” last year, recently won the American Society of Cinematographers Award, and while the Academy doesn’t always follow the ASC’s lead, this time they should – and I’ll just go ahead and say they will. They have to honor the best movie of the year somehow, don’t they?

Uh...don’t they?

Jeremy: Uh. Are we talking about the same Oscars?

With no Best Picture nominees—or that piece of shit “Dreamgirls” that everyone still thinks will sweep its so-called technical awards—in the mix, this category is wide open. But it slams shut as soon as you watch Lubezki and Cuarón’s jaw-dropping single-take shots, as the camera maneuvers around an under-seige car or through a chaotic war zone. While the Academy may vote on those shots alone, Lubezki deserves credit for his stark color palate, deep-focus photography and urgent atmosphere throughout the film.

While I might not have picked three of these talented nominees, Lubezki’s impending win is enough to stop me from complaining about omissions. And, hey, everyone’s good, even if the films besides “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Children of Men” weren’t. Even the shitty Brian DePalma movie looked nice (shitty DePalma movies usually do).

Oh, and “The Illusionist” isn’t sci-fi or fantasy (or that good). Why do I have to correct all your errors, man?

Chris (out of turn): I consider it a fantasy. It’s about magic. And illusions and stuff...that counts. Sure, it’s not dragons and elves, but I still think it fits. And I don’t think it’s that good, either.

Jeremy: It's not about magic, it's about illusions. "Vertigo" isn't a supernatural thriller, either, just so you know.

Best Documentary
“Deliver Us from Evil”: Amy Berg, Frank Donner
“An Inconvenient Truth”: Davis Guggenheim
“Iraq in Fragments”: James Longley, Yahya Sinno
“Jesus Camp”: Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady
“My Country My Country”: Laura Poitras, Jocelyn Glatzer

Jeremy: “Iraq in Fragments” is poetic and beautifully shot, but will doubtless prove too artsy-fartsy for the older-skewing, narrative-loving Oscar voters. “Jesus Camp” will make you gasp with fascination, but it's not as well constructed as Guggenheim’s elegant “An Inconvenient Truth.” The Al Gore documentary will win, despite the rather idiotic rumors that Al Gore is going to announce his candidacy for president while accepting the award. (What if the film doesn’t win? What if the orchestra starts playing him off? What if Guggenheim doesn’t bring him on stage with him?) Gore is funny, personable and passionate, and the film virtuosically captures his alarming slideshow presentation on the scientific evidence for global warming while finding analogies to the situation from his subject's personal history. It’s important and it’s well made. I also predict that Gore will become the next president of the United States.

Chris: Oh, how convenient that you pick “An Inconvenient Truth” to win the Oscar. Figures. You extreme fundamental left-wing environmental nuts just LOVE guys like Al Gore. Who do you think you are, going to Park City every year and trashing the place? Filling the world with your oral diarrhea. I reject your precious little propaganda film, on the basis that global warming, duh, doesn’t exist. Obviously it’s a myth, perpetrated by a vast left-wing conspiracy probably started by the Ford Motor Company, which wants us to all buy their precious hybrid cars.

But back to the point: “An Inconvenient Truth” cannot possibly win Best Documentary because, as I just said, global warming is not real. And so if it’s not real, how can there be a movie about it? Yeah that’s right—there isn’t. I don’t even think Al Gore exists.

As for the actual nominees...well, I also don’t believe any of the Lord’s shepherds would have ever actually molested any children, so that movie’s bullshit. And then there are those people who want to criticize our “unjust” Iraq war, but as you all know, it is God’s will that we have a strong presence in the Middle East, and we are doing His bidding in Iraq right now.

But that other doc sounds like the ticket...I love Jesus so much, I’m stigmata-ing all over the carpet right now.

Best Foreign Film
“Efter brylluppet” (“After the Wedding”) (Denmark): Susanne Bier
“Indig nes” (“Days of Glory”) (Algeria): Rachid Bouchareb
“El Laberinto del Fauno” (“Pan’s Labyrinth”) (Mexico): Guillermo del Toro
“Das Leben der Anderen (“The Lives of Others”) (Germany) Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
“Water” (Canada) Deepa Mehta

Chris: I’ve only seen three of these films, as “The Lives of Others” and “After the Wedding” haven’t, to my knowledge, been released here just yet. But any filmmaker with a name like “Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck” is OK in my book. Bouchareb’s “Days of Glory” was my second-favorite of the nominees, an effective but flawed look at North African soldiers fighting for France during World War II. But there’s really no contest here. Guillermo del Toro’s beautiful and masterfully told political fable “Pan’s Labyrinth” should and will take the foreign film Oscar – and maybe a few other little gold men as well.

Jeremy: Heh heh heh. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. Word is that old Academy squares might take to Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s film since “Pan’s Labyrinth" is too hip for them, whatever the fuck that means. I haven’t seen “The Lives of Others,” so I don’t know. My sister says it’s quite good. So, uh, I guess I’ll predict “Pan’s Labyrinth” anyway, because it’s just plain astounding.

Best Animated Feature
“Cars”: John Lasseter
“Happy Feet”: George Miller
“Monster House”: Gil Kenan

Jeremy: I don’t see things going Pixar’s way this year. I know it’s blasphemy, but Lasseter is a better producer than director. While “Cars” has its nostalgic charm and memorable moments, its pacing is awkward and uneven, leaving adults to fidget in their chairs along with their children.

With “Monster House,” Kenan proved that human characters created with motion-capture technology don’t have to be freakish, expressionless train conductors singing about hot chocolate. He also recalled the days of the darker junior high adventures.“Happy Feet” used motion capture as well, to prove that it can be used to make penguins dance, and, as I said last year, penguins are soooooooo cute! So “Happy Feet” takes it, “Monster House” should, and Richard Linklater is snubbed for the second time for “A Scanner Darkly,” an atmospheric and visionary work that uses the same digital rotoscoping process—to very different effect—of Linklater’s “Waking Life” (2000).

Chris: Oh great Jeremy, now look what you’ve done. Are you happy? Now I’m back in the VA hospital, my therapist’s out of town and I just had to call my mommy. You just had to mention that hot chocolate song and The Robert Zemeckis Movie We Shall Not Name, didn’t you? And just like that, all the progress I’ve made is gone. Kaput. You want to know what I’m doing right now? I’m sitting naked in a corner, shivering, covered in piss and shit, recovering from a series of horrifying flashbacks. Thanks a lot. The next thing you know, a terrifying animatronic version of Steven Tyler is going to leap out of my computer and give me a heart attack. The horror...the horror...

Anyway, other than that terrible memory, I agree with everything you just said. “Cars” is mediocre and trite, and features one of the all-time most annoying voice performances by Larry the Cable Guy. And it’s also...uh...racist against Southern people...yeah. And I’m Southern. So I’m personally offended and stuff.

“Monster House” was one of the best animated movies of the last few years. In a lot of ways, it’s not even like an animated movie. Its cinematography is like that of a live-action film – Kenan creates a visual feast with shots far more ambitious than most animated fare, and far more visually interesting. The movie is a fully sophisticated work – equal parts bizarre and sentimental – and perfectly captures a very specific feeling of pre-teen nostalgia. And since “Jimmy Neutron 2" hasn’t come out yet, “Monster House” is my pick. Although I wouldn’t be against the Academy trying something different and being proactive by going ahead and giving the award to Brad Bird’s “Ratatouille” a year in advance. ‘Cause we all know that movie’s going to kick ass, right?

Jeremy: If Bird’s movie isn’t good, I’ll cry. Oh, and Chris: “We got it!”

Best Adapted Screenplay
“Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan”: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Peter Baynham, Dan Mazer, Todd Phillips
“Children of Men”: Alfonso Cuarón, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby
“The Departed”: William Monahan
“Little Children”: Todd Field, Tom Perrotta
“Notes on a Scandal”: Patrick Marber

Chris: It might make more sense if they changed the name of this category to something like the Let’s Throw These Guys a Bone Because We Ignored Them In All the Bigger Categories Award. Then it would make sense to give the statuette to “Borat” – despite the fact that the “writing” had little to do with the film’s effectiveness – or “Children of Men,” which was the best movie of the year but was shut out for Best Picture and Director. But I doubt the Academy will recognize the latter, simply because Universal seems to actively hate its own movie and is probably spreading dirty rumors about it behind its back. So I assume Awards Season, as an entity (I’m about to use the literary device of personification), will continue to ignore “Children of Men” and hope it goes away.
Anyway: You know how they sometimes give “Oops, we fucked up” Oscars to people who should have won decades before? Like Al Pacino for “Scent of a Woman”? And Paul Newman for “The Color of Money”? Well they might do kind of the same thing this year...except instead of giving Sacha Baron Cohen an Oscar 20 years from now, they’ll give him one in the correct year, in the entirely wrong category.
But my hunch is that, instead, the voters will get it right and give it to William Monahan for “The Departed,” a profanely funny and exhilarating script that elevates the effective but gimmicky plot of “Infernal Affairs” to the level of epic tragedy. Come on – the cranberry juice scene? “She fell funny”? The Patriot Act reference? Every single line that came out of Mark Wahlberg’s mouth? Genius.
On the other hand, if they wanted to give an award for Most Awkward and Clumsy Literary Analogy, the honor should go to “Little Children” for its embarrassingly obvious references to Madame Bovary.

Instead of the overrated “Little Children” or “Notes on a Scandal” – which was excellent until it completely spun out of control in its third act – I would have rather seen “Factotum” or “A Scanner Darkly” honored, though I admit that’s just wishful thinking. And if they gave an award for most difficult adaptation, the winner would have to be “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story,” hands down. I dare you to read the book.
Jeremy: Chris, you don’t get it! “Little Children” is about how hard life is in upper-class suburbia! Those poor souls can’t run away and have sex because, uh...

Other than that, I think you read my notes. The nod for “Borat” amounts to the only recognition Baron Cohen will receive for what is easily the best performance of the year. And “Children of Men” certainly received a nomination in spite of Universal’s failed attempt to not release one of the year’s best films. Unless the academy voters want to honor either of those achievements—and I doubt they’re smart enough to anyway—Monahan’s psychologically taut “The Departed” looks like the top candidate.

Best Original Screenplay
“Babel”: Guillermo Arriaga
“Letters from Iwo Jima”: Iris Yamashita, Paul Haggis
“Little Miss Sunshine”: Michael Arndt
“Pan’s Labyrinth”: Guillermo del Toro
“The Queen”: Peter Morgan

Jeremy: “Babel” and “Little Miss Sunshine” seem to be neck and neck in the screenplay category. One’s an uneven, over-ambitious, self-important drama by a screenwriter whose better films were ignored, the other is a self-satisfied road-movie comedy in which each character has a specially selected quirk to propel them to a clumsy, far-reaching and obvious ending. Don’t get me wrong—“Little Miss Sunshine” isn’t awful, but it certainly isn’t among the best anything of the year.

While Oscar history generally favors the self-important drama, this year it looks like the slight comedy might win it. Arndt (not to be confused with the guy who blew up in “Lost”) won the Screenwriters Guild of America award and voters may (or may not) think that this will be a better place to honor the film than Best Picture.
I would argue for the incredibly layered allegory of “Pan’s Labyrinth.” I would also argue for Rian Johnson’s brilliantly conceived high school noir “Brick” or Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s intimate and observant “Half Nelson,” but oh wait—they weren’t nominated.

Chris: There’s something you seem to be forgetting, Jeremy: Paul Haggis is nominated. Perhaps you haven’t heard the rumors. Like Annette Bening’s face being used for the updated Columbia Pictures logo, and Larry Bird’s likeness in the NBA’s logo, Oscar has adopted Haggis as its Golden God. According to my sources, starting next year the Oscar statuette will no longer feature an anonymous emotionless face, but Haggis’ visage, looking absolutely shocked that people keep giving him awards.

But on a more serious note, I agree that “Pan’s Labyrinth” is the best of the bunch, except for the fact that it didn’t have enough references to that shitty David Bowie movie. But I would be surprised if anything but Arndt’s funny but completely over-written “Little Miss Sunshine” takes the prize. Because it’s completely believable that a 16-year-old kid – one who simultaneously worships Nietzsche AND wants to join the military – would be so dense that in 16 years on this earth he wouldn’t have realized that he can’t tell colors apart.

How can this screenplay get this much love, when Zach Helm’s “Stranger than Fiction” – which effortlessly combines its satire with romantic comedy and fantasy elements – and Rian Johnson’s brilliant “Brick” get overlooked?
Jeremy: Paul Haggis will win, and a jealous Monahan will try to shoot him. But it will turn out his gun was loaded with blanks, sparing Clint Eastwood, who jumped in the line of fire.

Best Actor in a Leading Role
Leonardo DiCaprio: “Blood Diamond”
Ryan Gosling: “Half Nelson”
Peter O’Toole: “Venus”
Will Smith: “The Pursuit of Happyness”
Forest Whitaker: “The Last King of Scotland”

Chris: I don’t care if it takes a million write-in votes, or a last-second change to the rules allowing six nominees, or a shocking revelation that one of these five is actually a woman (and therefore ineligible), but if Sacha Baron Cohen doesn’t somehow win this award, I’m gonna make like a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and light myself on fire in a spectacular protest. A protestacular! Hey, editors: Can we run that famous photo of the monk at Saigon? You see that, people? That’s me if nothing is done about the “Borat” situation.
Whitaker is the odds-on favorite and completely deserving of all his accolades, even if his brilliant performance is actually a supporting role, not a lead. And Leonardo DiCaprio – one of the best actors of his generation, yet unheralded because...well, just look at him, he’s cute as a button! – was great in “Blood Diamond,” but even better in “The Departed” as a tragic character weighed down by anxiety and paranoia and struggling to reconcile conflicting loyalties.
As for the great Peter O’Toole...well, if they wanted to nominate a dead guy, they could have given the late, great Robert Altman a nod in the director category. O’Toole was—what, he isn’t dead? Seriously? Oh, I thought that was just really good animatronics. In that case, I think O’Toole should win...for “Lawrence of Arabia.” Otherwise, it’s Ryan Gosling, who was thankfully nominated in one of the most subtle and gripping performances in years.

Those overlooked include Matt Dillon as Bukowski’s altar ego in “Factotum,” Heath Ledger in the underrated “Candy” and Jude Law in one of his best performances in “Breaking and Entering.”

Jeremy: Normally, when I complain about snubbed performances in the Oscars, I can still see a crowded category with several worthy nominations. This year, I have no trouble finding people to dump. I’d be willing to throw out everyone but Gosling and give Cohen the four remaining slots.

Apparently, DiCaprio’s brilliant depiction of anxiety and identity conflict in “The Departed” didn’t impress the Academy as much as his depiction of a dude with a foreign accent in “Blood Diamond.” Whitaker’s performance only works with the understanding that it’s a supporting role that plays to the perspective of the main character. That said, Whitaker will win, with O’Toole threatening to spoil for “Venus.”

But the man with the least attention is the most deserving. In a very unconventional portrait of a drug addict, Gosling plays a teacher who wants to bring hopes and ideas to his students, but suffers from great depression, believing his ideals have all been forsaken. He’s also very funny in it, and guides his young co-star Shareeka Epps through an equally sharp performance.

Best Actress in a Leading Role
Penelope Cruz: “Volver”
Judi Dench: “Notes on a Scandal”
Helen Mirren: “The Queen”
Meryl Streep: “The Devil Wears Prada”
Kate Winslet: “Little Children”

Jeremy:I could predict this one in my sleep—or while trying to sleep on a bed of hot coals and being forced to listen to that god awful “Family” song from “Dreamgirls” and eardrum-splitting volume. If anyone other than Helen Mirren wins, award predictors across the country will engage in the biggest jaw-drop since Kate Hudson lost to Marcia Gay Harden.

And win she should. Of the nominees, hers is the most complete, psychologically and emotionally. She embodies the propriety and elegance of her subject while perfectly creating her emotional state after years of isolation and stress.

I would have liked to seeShareeka Epps nominated for her subtle portrayal of an intercity high school student in “Half Nelson,” or Maggie Cheung’s honest portrayal of a recovering drug addict in “Clean.” But they would have just gotten dressed up to smile knowingly and clap for Mirren anyway.

Chris: We are a family / Like a giant tree branching out towards the sky / We are a family / We are so much more than just you and I / We are a family, like a giant tree, growing stronger, growing wiser / We are growing free / We need you / We are a family.

But moving on...I agree that Cheung and Epps should have been nominated, and that this is the easiest category to predict in the history of Oscar categories. The suspense was all but ruined when they actually mailed Helen Mirren her Oscar three weeks ago. True story.

As for the rest: Meryl Streep was great, but hers was a supporting performance. Judi Dench is disqualified because she was on screen for more than four minutes. And Kate Winslet deserves at least some consideration for delivering that Madame Bovary scene without bursting into laughter.

Best Director
Clint Eastwood for “Letters from Iwo Jima”
Stephen Frears for “The Queen”
Paul Greengrass for “United 93"
Alejandro González Iñaritu for “Babel”
Martin Scorsese for “The Departed”

Chris: OK, all five of these guys are great directors. But only three of them are at, or near, the top of their game. I love Stephen Frears, but his work on “The Queen” lacked the ambition or creativity that we’ve seen in “The Grifters,” “High Fidelity” and “Dirty Pretty Things.” Then there’s González Iñaritu, whose best film remains the great “Amores Perros,” not “Babel,” which is gripping but contrived. As for the other three...Martin Scorsese is, like, the greatest director of all time. And he seems to have all the momentum this year...although people said the same thing four years ago when “Gangs of New York” came out. As he is my favorite filmmaker, I’m obviously desperate to see him win, but maybe it would be more poetic if he never did, and went down in history as an underappreciated genius like Alfred Hitchcock. And I would not be at all surprised to see either Eastwood or González Iñaritu pull off an upset.

Anyway, the best work done by any of the nominated directors is Paul Greengrass for his almost unbearably intense “United 93,” which dwarfed the cheesy melodrama of the year’s other 9/11 flick, Oliver Stone’s “World Trade Center.”
But then, the man who should win, without question, is “Children of Men” director Alfonso Cuarón, who took his technical virtuosity to a whole new stratosphere while creating a complex, emotionally draining masterpiece that is, at once, a fiercely human drama and a brilliantly realized dystopian thriller. He and his buddy, Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”), were both wrongfully snubbed. Because, um...the Academy hates children. Especially babies.

Jeremy: And Mexicans. (Shh! They think González Iñrritu is from Iowa.)

I’m a bit melancholy with the idea that this could be my last year to complain that Scorsese has never won an Oscar. Then again, there have been a couple other years when I felt the same melancholy to no avail. Still, this seems to be Scorsese’s year.

And while no one can begrudge Scorsese’s victory, especially in the face of such fine work, Greengrass’ “United 93" should have been nominated for Best Picture, and most likely wasn’t simply because Universal Pictures didn’t campaign for it and Oscar voters like to be campaigned to. Greengrass recreates the events of Sept. 11, 2001 in real-time with no sense of dramatic exposition or manipulation. I didn’t think a film could capture the sense of disbelief, shock and sadness everyone felt on that day, but Greengrass created the best film about Sept. 11 possible.

Best Picture
“The Departed”
“Letters from Iwo Jima”
“Little Miss Sunshine”
“The Queen”

Jeremy: Well, this is downright puzzling. You can make a logical argument as to why any of these will not win. “Little Miss Sunshine” is a comedy, “Letters from Iwo Jima” and “Babel” are largely in foreign languages, “The Queen” only has one nomination in the acting categories, Martin Scorsese directed “The Departed.”

If the academy wants to finally toss Scorsese a directing Oscar, they might go all the way and give “The Departed” Best Picture—which it deserves—as well. But it seems that “Babel” and “Little Miss Sunshine” have become the favorites. The buzz around “The Queen” has petered out since it was the big favorite in December, and “Letters from Iwo Jima” has Clint Eastwood fatigue and subtitles working against it.

“Babel” and “Little Miss Sunshine” are the weakest of the nominees, so it makes sense that one of them will win. González Iñaritu made much more compelling cinema out of a similarly ambitious structure with “Amores Perros,” but his latest film’s strongest moments hold emotional resonance. Academy voters will still remember them when they fill out their ballots.

As a long-time complainer that comedies don’t receive enough Oscar attention, I wish I could get behind “Little Miss Sunshine,” but I can’t. If the Academy is going to seriously consider a comedy, it should be the bolder, sharper and more hilarious “Borat.” All “Little Miss Sunshine” has is some good actors and a few funny gags. But hey, that doesn’t mean it won’t win. Forget it, Chris, it’s Oscar time.

Chris: Well, by the time we get around to this category, we’ve already said pretty much all there is to say about each of the five movies. Except “Letters from Iwo Jima,” which Jeremy and I seem to have largely ignored because...um...we’re still sore about Pearl Harbor and stuff. And Clint Eastwood already has nine Oscars.

So yeah...I, too, have mixed feelings on this whole “Little Miss Sunshine” situation. It’s great to see a comedy finally get recognized, and it’s nice to see a Sundance movie make it this far. But...“Little Miss Sunshine” for best picture? Really? I mean, it’s not like I hated the movie or anything, but...well, I guess this is my main point of contention: If it wins, is the entire cast and crew going to jump up on stage and re-enact that stupid fucking dance scene as Rick James’ “Superfreak” blasts over the speakers? Because if they do, I’m holding to my self-immolation promise. I’m very serious about this.

Of the five, “The Departed” is the best, with “Letters from Iwo Jima” second. “Babel” has curiously emerged as the frontrunner, despite the fact that most everyone agrees that it’s not Iñaritu’s best. Weird. My prediction – just because the best-picture winner perennially pisses Jeremy off – is that, despite late momentum from “The Lord of the Rings,” “Little Miss Sunshine” will take it. Not because it’s a great movie, but because at the last second, Paul Haggis was named a producer of the film, so the Academy feels obligated. And the celebration will proceed sans stupid dance. For the love of God.

Jeremy: You and Paul Haggis can burn in hell!
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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Is There a Punchline Hidden Here?

Variety reports that Ron Howard may be remaking Michael Haneke's "Caché," my favorite film of 2005.

"Universal version, to be set in the U.S., is expected to amp up the suspense and consequences."

Bravo. Because death, broken lives and lifelong psychological torment just isn't enough in the good ol' USA. Now we can finally have the film Haneke had the balls not to make!

(Thanks to Chris Bellamy for the tip.)
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Contradicting the Contrarian

In happy concordance with the Contrarian Blog-a-thon on Jim Emmerson's Scanners, my new column for In Utah This Week is a response to the contrarian review of Guillermo del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth" by Sam Vicchrilli that ran in my publication two weeks ago.

Since I included the film on my top 10 list a month earlier, I felt obliged to defend it.

After writing about the clear disconnect between Sam's reading of the film and my own, I came across a fascinating interview with del Toro in Twitch in which the director discusses the two mindsets with which the film can be viewed:

"The movie is like a Rorschach test where, if you view it and you don't believe, you'll view the movie as, "Oh, it was all in her head." If you view it as a believer, you'll see clearly where I stand, which is it is real. My last image in the movie is an objective little white flower blooming in a dead tree with the bug watching it. So…

As an admitted believer, however, del Toro left a mountain of textual support to prove that the supernatural elements do exist, and merely a POV shot from the film's villain to suggest otherwise. Much of my column focuses on my qualm with Sam's belief that not only does no magic exists in the story, but that the film removes any such doubt.

There are more aspects of the review I didn't have room to address, starting with Sam's candid admission that he was hoping del Toro made a completely different film.

(Please note that both my column and the rest of this blog entry contain spoilers.)

"Part of my dissatisfaction with the film probably lies with an unfulfilled expectation. I wanted an R-rated “Labyrinth” — the 1986 Jim Henson/David Bowie movie. Instead, I got what felt like a retread. A particularly nasty retread."

Basically, Sam wanted a retread of a lousy '80s film and instead saw what he thinks is a retread of del Toro's "The Devil's Backbone," the first installment of a trilogy that mixes supernatural elements with the history of the Spanish Civil War. But while the ghost story in "The Devil's Backbone" is about the feeling of encroaching death as defeat nears, "Pan's Labyrinth" explores personal responsibility in the government that exists in the aftermath.

But what makes the retread particularly nasty? Sam describes a scene in which the film's fascist villain, the captain (Sergi López), kills a peasant father and son to highlight del Toro's "sadism." He argues that the scene—which shows the captain brutally murder a peasant father and son suspected of being rebels before discovering that their alibi holds up—only serves to showcase special effects. He cites Gaspar Noe's "Irreversible" as a film with a comparable moment that has more point to it. As I discuss in my column, the scene is less about the captain's malignancy than his lack of accountability, and it shares the exact same type of after-the-incident reveal for which "Irreversible" receives praise.

A flippant treatment of character motivation belies a disrespect for the entire plot setup:
"The story has Ofelia (a loaded name) and her pregnant mother moving to live with the Captain, presumably because they have nowhere else to go."

The reason that they're there is quite clear, both as a plot point and artistically. The captain insisted that his son be born in his presence, even though the trip would not be healthy for his wife. According to Ofelia's mother, the captain has been good to them. The mother's obedience mirrors the people's obedience of the fascist government. Later, she throws the root baby that is her life blood into the fireplace because the captain orders it. She believes she is doing the best thing for her family, but obeys with sadness in her heart, not because she knows she's killing herself, but because she sees her daughter's unhappiness. The mother embodies the masses who obey the fascist rule because they have convinced themselves that it is the best way to live their lives in comfort and safety.

But this is the sentence that really threw me off:
Ofelia does not enjoy her new surroundings, and retreats into a fantasy world as a way to cope."

As I say in my column, this isn't "The Chronicles of Narnia," where the characters run off to a dull Jesus parallel. The supernatural world is dark, full of disturbing moments and tough decisions. If Ofelia's world was all in her head, as Sam believes, she might have created something more pleasant.

Other matters criticized are based on aesthetic opinion, and I can merely disagree. In the scene in which Ofelia must kill a frog, set in very cramped quarters, Sam says that Ofelia's eyes are clearly not focused on the frog. I simply don't know where else her eyes could be focused, or how, based on the shot structure, Sam is so positive he knows where her eyes should be focused. But Ivana Baquero's performance effectively communicates the nervous contemplation of the scene.

He also complains about the film's day-for-night shots. While there are day-for-night shots in the film, most of them are in scenes set at dusk. There is a very clear sense of time, and when it's called for, the film is considerably darker than most night scenes. Different color schemes, of course, are used for different atmosphere, but I saw the "unnatural blue" Sam speaks of while driving home two days ago, just after the sun went down.

Critical disagreements are more common than my snide remarks about "Dreamgirls." This review is an extreme example because Sam's dislike for "Pan's Labyrinth" stems largely from his own preconceptions and interpretations of it. Sam told me that before my column, he didn't think that anyone had done a very good job of explaining what was so great about the film, and he couldn't find an explanation when watching for himself. If nothing else, the contrarian serves to push those in the majority to really express themselves, instead of standing around agreeing with one another.
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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Sundance Round Up, Part Two: Documentary Competition

This is the second of six (assuming I can finish) installments about my Sundance Film Festival 2007 experience, complete with links to the reviews I wrote and what not.

The U.S. Documentary Competition is generally the strongest category the festival has to offer. The U.S. Dramatic selection rarely even comes close to it in overall quality. This year, however, was so good that four to six films could have been my favorite doc in less exciting years. If I had a cinema time machine, I wouldn't unwatch any of these.

My disclaimer stands that I may fine-tune my opinion of these films in subsequent viewings, out of the five-films-a-day haze.

[NOTE: Film Threat reviews are out of five. My preferred system is out of four. Also, these reviews were written in such a whirlwind that I don't really remember writing them.]

Manda Bala (Send a Bullet) (Jason Kohn) (Winner: Documentary Grand Jury Prize, Best Cinematography) - Kohn's absolutely stunning exploration of the kidnappings in San Paolo Brazil links its subject matter to everything from the crooked politicians who steal development funds to the plastic surgeons who recreate dismembered ears. Kohn's visual schemes and metaphors rank with those of his mentor, Errol Morris.

Protagonist (Jessica Yu) - A mesmerizing study of four very different men's fascinating lives that somehow attests to the power of both real-life and fiction.

My Kid Could Paint That (Amir Bar-Lev) - A piece about a five-year-old abstract art prodigy transforms into an examination of the relationship between Documentarian and subject when scandal erupts. Bar-Lev is fair but honest.

Hear and Now (Taylor Brodsky) (Winner: Documentary Audience Award) - An intimate documentation of the director's deaf parents, who decide to get cochlear implants and learn to hear while in their 60s. Emotional and surprising.

No End in Sight (Charles Ferguson) (Winner: Special Jury Prize) - An enlightening, inside and in-depth look at the politics and mindset that made the U.S. occupation of Iraq such a disaster.

Zoo (Robinson Devor) - It started off as the must-see documentary because everyone wanted to see a horse fuck a man. But "Zoo" turned out to be a sophisticated, beautifully shot and quiet film that gives voice to a section of society that the media only uses for sensational stories.

Chasing Ghosts (Lincoln Ruchti) - With charming energy, Ruchti revisits the video-game heroes of yesteryear.

War Dance (Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine) (Winner: Directing Award) - Focusing on three children musicians in a displacement camp in northern Uganda, the Fines use sharp, cinematic details to capture the hardship and joys of their subjects.

Everything's Cool (Daniel B. Gold and Judith Helfand) - The "Blue Vinyl" team returns with an meditation of why it's so hard to get the message of global warning across in a way that enacts change. Funny and honest.

White Light/Black Rain (Steven Okazaki) - A well-made documentary about an important historical World War II tragedy (the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki).

Nanking (Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman) (Documentary Editing Award) - A well-made documentary about an important historical World War II tragedy (the Japanese occupation of China).

Crazy Love (Dan Klores) - A competently made PBS-style documentary about an incredible story. If this were a drama, you wouldn't believe it for a second.

Banished (Marco Williams) - Is this take on reparations for blacks whom white people banished from their counties interesting, self-indulgent or mildly dishonest of its intentions? Yes on all accounts.

I missed these: "For the Bible Tells Me So," "The Ghosts of Abu Graib," and "Girl 27"

Previous Installments:
Part One: Dramatic Competition

Additional commentary on the category can be found in my In Utah This Week columns:
Sundance column 1 (1/24/07)
Sundance column 2 (2/1/07)
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Just Like 'The Osbournes'

He hasn't finished post-production on "Youth Without Youth" yet, but Yahoo News reports that Francis Ford Coppola is already plotting a new film based on what he calls his "very unusual family."

"Coppola, who is currently putting the final touches on "Youth Without Youth," his first film in a decade, plans to next produce and direct "Tetro." The film will follow the rivalries born out of creative differences passed down through generations of an artistic Italian immigrant family not unlike Coppola's."

According to Yahoo, the film will be set in Argentina rather than New York City. But other than that, watching it should feel just like the time I pressed my face to Coppola dining room window, stethoscope in hand, during family dinner. The film might even include the moment when Francis notices his daughter Sofia is making better films than he is.

It's nice to see Coppola already plotting a new endeavor before the completion of his first film in 10 years (unless you count his attempts to doctor "Supernova" in 2001, which, out of kindness, I won't). After years of producing other people's work, cutting inferior versions of his past triumphs and occasionally turning in a John Grisham adaptation, "Bram Stoker's Dracula" or (oh, I'm going there) "Jack," Coppola may well have found a bit of the old spark. But it's probably best not to get too excited until we see "Youth Without Youth"—Sofia may still be the queen of the castle.
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Monday, February 12, 2007

Spurlock's Super-Size Iraq Secret*

Indiewire reports that Morgan Spurlock, of "Super-Size Me" fame, signed a distribution deal for his new (and presumably hilarious) Iraq documentary after a top-secret preview:

"Overall, attendees were quiet about the new project because they were met with a non-disclosure agreement prior to entering the private screening. A sizable contingent from The Weinstein Company attended the showing of clips, along with buyers "from all over the world," according to an anonymous indieWIRE source, specifically an exec from a rival company who declined to further discuss the content of the film out of respect for both Spurlock and the ultimate distributors of the project."

Why the secrets? Maybe Spurlock doesn't want interference while finishing production. Maybe he wanted to create some self-promotional hype—he's good at that—before unveiling his concept: "What happens if a director spends 30 days almost getting blown up by IEDs?" Maybe he located the weapons of mass destruction and wants to build up the suspense. Only time will tell.

*Don't you wish Iraq started with an S?
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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Sundance Roundup, Part One: Dramatic Competition

Here is the first of six (I'd guess) installments about my Sundance Film Festival 2007 experience, complete with links to the reviews I wrote and what not.

Let's start with the category from which I saw every film despite it being among the weakest categories: the U.S. Dramatic Competition. Once you get past the halfway point of this list, you'll see a lot of lousy films. These aren't meant to be in-depth reviews, and I reserve the right to refine my opinion after rewatching these titles while not in a five-film-a-day haze.

Rocket Science (Jeffrey Blitz) (Winner: Best Director) - One of the best high school movies ever to hit Sundance, this delightfully droll tale of a stutterer who joins the debate team cuts to the pain and hilarious obsurdity of youth.

Snow Angels (David Gordon Green) - Green delivers another poetic and insightful tale of discovering love and disappointing love, loaded with great performances.

Padre Nuestro (Christopher Zalla) (Winner: Dramatic Grand Jury Prize) - A gripping and well made—if occasionally contrived—account of immigrant life in New York City.

The Pool (Chris Smith) (Winner: Special Jury Prize for singularity of vision) - Smith returns to dramatic filmmaking with a stately, well-constructed tale shot on location in India.

Never Forever (Gina Kim) - Vera Farmiga gave strong performances in two films in Dramatic Competition, one about post-partum depression and one about infertility. The latter, "Never Forever," is the better of the two, mainly thanks to assured direction from Kim. (Some problems in the screenplay kept the film from greatness.)

Grace is Gone (James C. Strouse) (Winner: Audience Award, Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award) - A great performance from John Cusack anchors this story of a father dealing with the news that his soldier wife died in Iraq.

Four Sheets to the Wind (Sterlin Harjo) (Winner: Special Jury Prize for acress Tamara Podemski) - Not everyone can make like Shane Carruth and direct a no-budget movie that still works visually on its own terms. Harjo has some great (and some not so great) actors and a solid screenplay, but awkward HD cinematography and editing hinder the work. A lot of the other Sundance directors might not be better than Harjo, but they could afford a better crew.

Starting Out in the Evening (Andrew Wagner) - Decent performances and characters, but a film meant to be this stately shouldn't be shot on HD with weird skin tones.

Broken English (Zoe Cassavetes) - Parker Posey stars in this romantic comedy that basically achieves its simple task.

Adrift in Manhattan (Alfredo De Villa) - About what you'd expect from the title.

The Good Life (Steve Berra) - Good performances by Mark Webber, Zooey Deschanel and Patrick Fugit can't save the film from a horribly manipulative opening scene and bad narration.

Hounddog (Deborah Kempmeier) - Controversy over Dakota Fanning's rape turned this into a must-see movie. But a misshapen structure and overwrought metaphors turned it into the biggest disappointment of the festival.

Joshua (George Ratliff) (Winner: Best Cinematography) - Vera Farmiga turns in a good performance of a mother suffering postpartum depression. But there's no sense of character or perspective in the general story arch. Maddening.

Teeth (Mitchell Lichtenstein) (Winner: Special Jury Prize for actress Jess Weixler) - Proof that a clever concept alone—in this case "vagina dentata is real"—does not make a movie. Some actual ideas would have helped.

Weapons (Adam Bhala Lough) - Trying to turn an intriguing opening shot into an 85 minute film isn't easy. "Weapons" wants the kick of "Irreversible," but also wants every possible dramatic moment related to violence, even it it sacrifices the characters.

On the Road with Judas (JJ Lask) - Lask directs his book with the pretentious art-film equivalent of bad narration.

Additional commentary on the category can be found in my In Utah This Week columns:
Sundance column 1 (1/24/07)
Sundance column 2 (2/1/07)
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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Ebert on the Oscars

Roger Ebert posted his Oscar Predictions today.

Since Ebert's regular writing, including a top 10 list, has been sorely missed for several months, this is our first glimpse into his year-end opinions. It appears that "Babel" is his favorite film of the nominees—possibly of the year. Oddly, this comes a couple days after I wrote that "Babel" was the only film of the big three Mexican directors' work from 2006 that didn't reveal its filmmaker in top form. Oh well—at least it's better than "Crash."

As I haven't posted my predictions yet, I won't directly comment on Ebert's. But I will say that his record isn't always solid. In 2001, I excitedly changed my Best Picture prediction from "A Beautiful Mind" to "Moulin Rouge"—the film I wanted to win—after seeing Ebert's prediction. I figured that if Ebert didn't even put Baz Luhrmann's kinetic musical on his top 10 list and he thinks it'll win, he must know something I don't.

Ebert thinks that Oscar will award his personal preference in all the major categories except Best Actor, Best Animated Feature and Best Director. "For reasons of tact," Ebert declines to state his choice for Best Director, presumably because he prefers Alejandro Gonzalez Inaritu's work in "Babel" to Martin Scorsese's in "The Departed." I guess he doesn't want to hurt the long-snubbed Scorsese's feelings, but it's still an odd decision. Ebert has been a supporter of Scorsese for a long time, but there's nothing wrong with believing that someone else is more deserving of the gold statuette this year.

Ebert picks and predicts both Supporting Actor and Actress for the "Dreamgirls" nominees. While Eddie Murphy's performance was the only part of the film that didn't make me want to run from the theater screaming, I don't think it compares to the work of Mark Wahlberg in "The Departed" or overlooked performances like Nick Nolte in "Clean." As for Hudson, I say don't mistake volume for quality. Oddly, Ebert's preference of Hudson snubs "Babel" in the one category it easily deserves to win: Rinko Kikuchi's subtle and heartbreaking portrayal of an alienated deaf teenager helps "Babel" overcome some of its flaws.

Hopefully Ebert will be back to writing full-time soon, so I can stop nit-picking his Oscar favorites and enjoy his reviews
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Welcome to The Same Dame

Well, despite my general dislike of the word "blog," I've decided to respond to the public demand—nay, outcry—for a cyber locale where people can keep track of all my writing on film, etc. and I can blather on about how awesome Buster Keaton is or any other subject that catches my fancy. Since I'm a busy, busy man, sometimes you might just get a link to something I've published elsewhere, but I'll try to keep the exclusive material flowing.

I have some more exciting features in the pipeline, but it's best that I keep them secret for now.

To kick things off, here are a few recent installments of my column for In Utah This Week, The Cinema File:

The best films of 2006 (1/3/07)

My take on the general favorites for 2006 (1/10/07)

Catching up with Mexico's cinema powerhouse (2/8/06)

Sundance column 1 (1/24/07)
Sundance column 2 (2/1/07)
Sundance prep (1/17/07)

And some reviews:
(Please note that scores are out of four, not five. I have no idea what's up with the graphics here, I only write.)

The Last King of Scotland


Letters from Iwo Jima

Children of Men

Little Children

Freedom Writers

My myriad of Sundance reviews will require its own post.
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