Friday, December 28, 2007

How Does It Feel? Like 2007 Rocked

It's official. Todd Haynes's "I'm Not There" is at the top of my best films of 2007 list. Check it out.

I also reviewed the sometimes outstanding and sometimes obnoxious"Juno" and Mark Forster's increasingly ridiculous "The Kite Runner."
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Monday, December 24, 2007

Utah Film Critics Association announces year-end awards

You'll see my own best-of next week, but here's where my organization landed:

Best Picture: No Country for Old Men
Runner-up: Juno
Best Achievement in Directing: Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men
Runner-up: Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood
Best Lead Performance, Male: Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
Runner-up: Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Best Lead Performance, Female: Ellen Page, Juno
Runner-up: Amy Adams, Enchanted
Best Supporting Performance, Female: Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone
Runner-up: Cate Blanchett, I’m Not There
Best Supporting Performance, Male: Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men
Runner-up: Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild
Best Screenplay: Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men
Runner-up: Diablo Cody, Juno
Best Documentary Feature: The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
Runner-up: My Kid Could Paint That
Best Animated Feature: Ratatouille
Runner-up: The Simpsons Movie
Best Non-English Language Feature: The Host
Runner-up: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Utah Film Critics Association Top 10 Films of 2007 (alphabetical):
3:10 to Yuma
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
No Country for Old Men
I’m Not There
Into the Wild
Knocked Up
Michael Clayton
There Will Be Blood
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Need Gifts? Need estranged sisters? Need Cox?

I've met all my holiday deadlines and fulfilled all my voting obligations, and then slept for a very long time. If you haven't seen it yet, you don't have much time to read my holiday gift guide for film snobs, part of IN's last-minute gift issue.

You should also check out my reviews of Noah Baumbach's "Margot at the Wedding," which features Nicole Kidman in one of the best performances of the year, and "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story," a hilarious parody in which John C. Reilly reveals he can sing like nobody's business.

And, don't forget my column about how much motion capture sucks.
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Thursday, December 13, 2007

WTF? 12 Best Picture Nominees and No 'Knocked Up'

Judd Apatow's "Knocked Up" received exactly zero Golden Globe nominations. No nomination for its brilliant screenplay or direction. No nomination for Seth Rogen's breakout performance or Paul Rudd's endlessly surprising supporting role.

There must have been a three-way tie for fifth place in the Golden Globes' Best Picture - Drama category, as there are seven nominees: "American Gangster," "Atonement," "Eastern Promises," "The Great Debaters," "Michael Clayton," "No Country for Old Men" and "There Will Be Blood."

With all of those out of the way, you'd think there would be room for "Knocked Up." But the Best Picture - Musical or Comedy category only includes "Across the Universe," "Charlie Wilson's War," "Hairspray," "Juno" and "Sweeney Todd." Why not have six films in this category and nominate one of the funniest and most observant films of the year?

PS Casey Affleck is the lead in "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford."
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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

AMPTP for Fake

Can you tell which of these sites is the real home of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers and which is a fake (perhaps created by WGA strikers)?

Be sure to read the FAQ.
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Monday, December 10, 2007

Awards Announced

The first set of critics awards has been coming in this weekend. The New York Film Critics Circle heavily favors the Coen Brothers' "No Country for Old Men," while the Los Angeles Film Critics Association favors Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood," which the New York critics honored with Best Actor and Best Cinematographer. The Boston Society of FIlm Critics also favored "No Country," and gave Best Director to LA's most popular runner-up, Julian Schnabel's "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly."

Amy Ryan took the treble with the supporting actress awards from all three organizations for "Gone Baby Gone" (LA also included her work in "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead"). Other recurring names include Marion Cotillard in "La Vie En Rose (Best Actress in Boston and LA), Persepolis (Best Animated Film in Boston and LA (tied with "Ratatouille"), "Ratatouille" (Best Animated Film in LA (tie) and Best Screenplay in Boston. Janusz Kaminski's cinematography in "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" won top notice from Boston and LA, while Robert Elwit's work in "There Will Be Blood" was New York's top choice and LA's runner-up. Javier Bardem won Best Supporting Actor for "No Country for Old Men" in New York and Boston, but LA conspicuously snubbed the Coens' film in all categories.

New York and LA both went with Sarah Polley's "Away from Her" in their award for young filmmakers, while Boston favored Ben Affleck's impressive "Gone Baby Gone" for its new filmmaker award.

My favorites? I'm still rewatching some stuff (Utah Critics vote next week), but for the most part all these organizations picked respectable contenders.
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Saturday, December 8, 2007

Ever Launched a Format Before You Finished It?

Gizmondo has provided an excellent rundown of the current state of the HD DVD format, to compliment their state of Blu-ray Disc piece from last month.

As you may remember, I recently declared my love for HD DVD (as well as my timidity and frustration—thanks format war!) in a column. Gizmondo's enlightening rundowns only make me more confident in the future success of HD DVD. The HD DVD piece juxtaposes the slick and agreed-upon HD DVD standard with the still-in-the-air features of Blu-ray, whose various manufacturers can't agree on anything. A comparison of the user experience of the "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" discs is most enlightening.

"Never mind that you could watch the entire HD DVD with pop-up actor-commentary windows on screen—if Warner had implemented this in the Harry Potter Blu-ray, it would have been compatible with exactly one currently shipping Blu-ray player.

The surprising thing was, even when you compared the exact same experiences, the HD DVD behaved much better. Every so often an icon appears in the top left corner of the screen, indicating a behind-the-scenes featurette about that particular scene. On the HD DVD, you click it, watch what you want to, then click Enter again to return to the point you left off in the main movie. With the Blu-ray, the system had no way of returning you to the movie; it could only dump you in the featurette menu, where you were stuck watching more of those."

Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go in the format war, but it's clear that Blu-ray can no longer be painted as the runaway winner.

And at the current bargain prices available from retailers like, you can get an HD DVD player for similar prices to up-converting DVD players. I'm routinely impress by how well my HD-A3 plays standard-definition DVDs on my HDTV.

NOTE: The Amazon deal linked above now charges $50 more for the player and gives two fewer free discs than it did a short while ago. And it's still a good deal.
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Friday, December 7, 2007

This Compass Points in All Sorts of Directions

When viewed with the wrong attitude, all fantasy is nonsense. Elves, witches, wizards—these things don't exist in real life, and certain people refuse to accept them as fictional constructs as well. These certain people I speak of are rubes, churls, killjoys. So why did writer/director Chris Weitz feel the need to give them "The Golden Compass?" The film lets them sit back and smirk—the film makes their argument for them.

While I'm unfamiliar with Philip Pullman's popular and controversial source novel, there's no denying that the resulting film adaptation is pure nonsense—nonsense posing as repetitive exposition, nonsense disguised as bad computer animation, nonsense as the basis for a cursory plot. The movie takes place in a parallel universe, see, and the worlds are connected through dust. I'd be happy to leave it at that, but the characters are obsessed with it. They want to kill the dust or love the dust or moisten the dust, depending on their outlook and circumstances.

I didn't care about the dust, I just wanted to know what the people in the story felt and what they were trying to accomplish. It's apparent enough that young Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards) is simultaneously running from Miss Coulter (Nicole Kidman), and trying to rescue her friend Roger (Ben Walker), whom Miss Coulter kidnapped. But why exactly is Miss Coulter kidnapping children all the time? To stop the dust, of course.

Miss Coulter is part of the Magesterium, a government organizations who believes they can do whatever they want, but that everyone else shouldn't be afforded the same right. That's all well and good, but the film rushes through the story so quickly that we don't really feel any impact of the oppression. Even the kidnapping is glossed over.

In story's universe, souls are on the outside of bodies instead of the inside. They take the form of poorly computer-animated animals called daemons who have an uncanny knack for stating the obvious. For example, if I lived in this universe and some thugs jumped me in an alleyway, stabbed me, and stole my money, my little chipmunk daemon might declare, "Psst. Hey Jeremy—those people weren't very nice! They stabbed you and stole your money. Also, we're in an alleyway. They jumped you. They looked like thugs to me."

Lyra's shape-shifting daemon, Pan (voiced by Freddie Highmore), excels in this exercise. When Lyra tries to infiltrate an evil lair, he lets his human counterpart know that she shouldn't use her real name. When a character says something that Lyra and the audience know to be untrue, he pipes in, "Liar!"

To aid her in her voyage, Lyra meets a group of anti-Magisterium sea folks, an aeronaut named Lee (Sam Elliot) and a drunken polar bear named Lorek (voiced by Ian McKellen). The quality of Lorek's CG animation almost equals that of the Coca Cola bear. Polar bears don't have daemons, they have armor. When Lyra meets Lorek, he doesn't have his armor because the townsfolk stole it.

Luckily, Lyra has the only golden compass in the world, and is the only person who can read it. She asks it a question, the compass answers by pointing at a bunch of symbols. Turns out her ability to read it fulfills a prophesy or something—whatever, let's keep the plot moving. Where is the armor? Ih the town's most heavily guarded building—what a surprise. With a remarkable disregard for character explanation or storytelling, the film rushes through the motions of Lorek's transformation with the disinterest of a grade schooler writing a report on Andrew Jackson.

The film treats all its developments with the same slap-dash lack of wonder. Eva Green appears twice as a witch who, I'm told, wore very little clothes in the book. In the movie, we don't see enough of her, in both senses of the phrase. It's too bad, as Green's saucy persona might have brought a bit of liveliness to the sterile proceedings. And when a story like this is told without passion, it turns out looking like a bunch of nonsense.
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Sundance Selections, Snubbed Oscar Docs, Women in Film, etc.

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