Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Brawlers, Bawlers and BASTERDS: The Golden Globe noms are in

Since Jeremy was too much of a pussy to stay up til 6:30 in the morning to see the juicy announcement of the always-curious Golden Globe nominations, I get to take it upon myself to issue a full report. And by "full," I mean "half," since about half of these movies haven't even been released yet. (You know what HAS been released, Hollywood Foreign Press? "You, the Living." Shit yeah it has. And it's foreign, just like you.)

The most deserving honors went to Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds," which DID, in fact, get nominated for Best Picture and Best Director despite falling a bit out of the awards-season consciousness in recent weeks. In the process, it settled a gentlemanly wager between myself and Jeremy, which he won. Bravo, Mr. Mathews - your faith in the HFPA served you well. Tarantino's dizzyingly inventive bit of cinematic ecstasy will be going up against expected nominees like James Cameron's "Avatar" (which we'll see Thursday night and review shortly thereafter), the Oscars' newest cuddly favorite, "Up in the Air," Lee Daniels' overwrought but well-acted awards-bait "Precious" (I'm not typing that full fucking title, even if what I'm writing in these parentheses is significantly longer) and Kathryn Bigelow's excellent "The Hurt Locker," which has been cleaning up this awards season. Critics and award-givers just can't get enough of it. It's like a drug or something. (You know what else is like a drug? WAR. WAR IS A DRUG. That's what "The Hurt Locker" told me, anyway. It was very subtle.)

The big wild card coming into December was whether or not Cameron's well-documented risks (financial, technological, etc.) on "Avatar" would pay off, either in box-office receipts or end-of-the-year prestige. We'll see the numbers a few weeks from now, but early acclaim has been rolling in, and the Golden Globes lend added credibility. What will be really interesting to see is whether or not it can break the Academy's unofficial embargo on nominating science-fiction films for Best Picture. You wanna know what the last sci-fi movie to get an Oscar BP nod was?

I'll give you a second to guess.


It was "E.T."

That was 27 years ago. No sci-fi in the top category since then. No "Children of Men." No "Minority Report." No "Brazil." No "Dark City" or "The Matrix." No "Terminator 2." No "Being John Malkovich" or "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind." No "The Iron Giant" or "WALL-E" or "Akira." No "Gattaca" or "12 Monkeys" or "Solaris" or "Aliens" or, yeah I'll say it, "Primer." Not even something barely sci-fi like "The Truman Show." (And yes, I'm differentiating between sci-fi - which is science-based - and fantasy/horror like "Lord of the Rings," "Field of Dreams," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," "The Sixth Sense," "Benjamin Button," "The Green Mile," "Babe," etc.) With ten nomination slots open this year, you'd have to think "Avatar" could finally end that streak.

Or they could just nominate "Precious" ten times.

Personally, I've been awaiting "Avatar" with equal levels intrigue and apprehension - because, as great and consistent as Cameron was in his sci-fi, pre-"Titanic" days, I wasn't sure if this was going to be an honest-to-God comeback for him, or just two-and-a-half hours of wanking off to his pet technologies. I've been burned by George Lucas and Robert Zemeckis one too many times over the last decade to be blindly optimistic. But let's hope for the best, shall we?

Anyway, back to the task at hand. This year's Globes did not disappoint when it came to a pair of charming traditions. The first - and my favorite Globe tradition - is to always nominate at least one movie for Best Picture that no one particularly likes, or at least that no one loves, but which may come with some imaginary prestige. (Or not.) Often, these are very, very bad movies. It's almost like the HFPA dares itself to fuck with those silly Americans by seeing what random movie they can get away with nominating. Case in point: "Bobby," the recent remake of "The Producers," "The Phantom of the Opera," "Man on the Moon," "Across the Universe" (even though I personally liked it), "Legends of the Fall," and, yes, "Patch fucking Adams."

This year, the HFPA actually outdid itself in this regard, nominating both "Nine" (whose existence I find philosophically absurd considering the source material) - directed by Rob Marshall (ugh) - and Nancy Meyers' "It's Complicated" in the BP Comedy/Musical category. The two movies, unseen by Jeremy and I as of yet, have scored a robust 26 percent and 33 percent, respectively, on the Tomatometer. Other nominees for Best Comedy/Musical are "The Hangover" (though, unfortunately, no supporting actor nod for Zach Galifianakis), "(500) Days of Summer" and "Julie & Julia."

The HFPA, of course, overlooked the most hilarious movie of the year, "Death in Love."

(What? That was a serious drama? Rats!)

The second Globe tradition continuing this year is that, due to an amendment in the HFPA's bylaws, it must give Meryl Streep an acting nomination for every movie in which she appears. (Think I'm kidding? She was nominated for "Mamma fucking Mia.") This year, that means she's going head-to-head against herself in Best Actress - Comedy/Musical for "Julie & Julia" and "It's Complicated" - which also, I must add, beat out the Coen Brothers' "A Serious Man" (among others) for a Best Screenplay nod. Hey, I'm not making a value judgment for a movie I haven't seen - I promise. I'm just presenting the facts here, folks.

Other nominations of note include the great Jeff Bridges for Best Actor in the upcoming "Crazy Heart," Carey Mulligan for lead actress in "An Education," relative unknown Michael Stuhlbarg for Best Actor (Comedy) in the Coens' stunning "A Serious Man" and Matt Damon in one of his most fascinating performances in "The Informant!" - which also features my favorite score of the year, for which Marvin Hamlisch was given a Globe nod as well.

And, as expected, Christoph Waltz is up for supporting actor - and an almost certain win - for his diabolically brilliant performance in "Inglourious Basterds."

And, as if it even needed to be stated, the Golden Globes once again overlooked one of the four greatest dramas in the history of television, LOST, in the Best TV Drama category. But hey, at least a daringly original and rapidly evolving show like "House" got honored. (Man, that crazy doctor keeps me on my toes. I never know what he's going to do next!)

Only 49 more days til LOST!!

Click here for the full slate of Golden Globe nominations.
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SDP 20: Mooning Over New Moon (Maybe—Listen to Find Out!)

Recorded 11/29/09, episode 20 of The Same Dame Podcast sadly focuses too much on a film by the name of "New Moon." But don't fear! There are also reviews of "Fantastic Mr. Fox," "An Education," "Precious" and "2012." And in lieu of any news worth reporting, Jeremy and Chris tell increasingly offensive jokes sure to drive away the few listeners they have.

And if you're wondering why THIS one took so long, Jeremy's belief that he found a workaround to Soundtrack Pro's shittiness proved false.

Be sure to subscribe to the podcast (via iTunes if you like) so you won't miss our next thrilling episode.
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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Sundance 2010: What are all These Categories About?

"If you must put me in a box, make sure it's a big box with lots of windows and a door to walk through and a nice high chimney." — Dan Bern

The 2010 Sundance Film Festival is on its way, and to celebrate, new festival director John Cooper* (we'll miss your gloriously over-the-top introductions, Geoff Gilmore!) and his new Cooperesque sidekick, Trevor Groth, have done what Sundance does best—rename and change-around its lesser-known categories. Chris and I will be looking at the other selections in coming weeks, but first let's start with the unfamiliar.

Spotlight: Once there was American Spectrum. Then its components were split into American Spectrum (small indie films that didn't make the competition) and American Spotlight (name directors or actors with non-premieres). Then there was just Spectrum (turns out there are countries besides America—which itself isn't a country but two continents!). Then there was the short-lived Global American Spotlighty Spectrum Extravaganza. Now we have Spotlight and NEXT, which we'll get to, uh, in a minute. This year's selection includes global programs like Rachel Perkins's "Bran Nue Dae" from Australia and therefore starring Geoffrey Rush, controversial Frenchie Gaspar Noé's "Enter the Void," which, sources tell me, is very long, "I Am Love", Luca Guadagnino's Italian film starring Tilda Swinton, and—perhaps most enticing—Jacques Audiard's "Un Prophète,"—which won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes. They've also thrown in a shorts program highlighting—sorry, spotlighting—the shorts of the New African Cinema. American efforts include "Nine Lives" director Rodrigo Garcia's "Mother and Child", starring Annette Benning and (don't tell Brent Sallay) Naomi Watts, and "Louis C.K.: Hilarious", a concert film of the comedian's brilliant stand-up routine. Seriously, it's fucking funny.

Spotlight: Documentary: Sometimes they just put documentaries in Specturm/American Spectrum/Whateverthefuck, sometimes the documentaries get their own category. Under this new Spotlight, they have their own little sub-category again. The talk of Utah will, of course, be "8: The Mormon Proposition, directed by Reed Cowan, who used to be a reporter at KTVX. (What channel number is KTVX?) I don't know what obscure proposition this film details. Probably something about offering someone a million dollars to sleep with his or her wives.

NEXT: The festival folks hope the new NEXT (or maybe it's "NEXT <=>" but you don't seriously expect me to type that, do you?) selection will shut up all those whiners who go on and on to anyone who'll listen about how the festival isn't really indie anymore. This sidebar features only films that were made on a budget of $5,000 or less. So it could include a masterpiece like "Primer" and/or a two-hour tape of some guy masturbating in front of his shitty digital camera. But you can't say that the programmers didn't try to showcase low-profile films this year. Now the only question is, will all those whiners attend the NEXT screenings, or will they be too busy getting their pictures taken with Ryan Gosling? If you need a celebrity, you can at least see Janel Moloney from "The West Wing" (but more importantly guest spots on "Sports Night" and "30 Rock") in Habib Azar's "Armless." (FYI: Moloney has arms.)

*I hope Mr. Cooper's promotion won't stop him from being so awesome that he pulls over to pick up a lowly film critic as he tries to run through the slushy Park City streets, late to a screening. You rock, John!
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Sunday, December 6, 2009

Mathews' call to action finally nets 'African Queen'

Call it "The Mathews Effect." Way back in the carefree days of 2007, my dear colleague wrote a now-legendary column (with background assistance from yours truly) about movies that had remained, until that time, conspicuously and unfortunately absent on DVD. The column has been stealthily removed from the In Utah This Week web site - shocking, since the site is usually so reliable and convenient - but rest assured, it was very real. The column has been shrouded in myth in the months since then, mainly because right after its publication, Hollywood immediately took notice and began firing out the titles that had been missing in action.

Among Mathews' calls that were finally heard in the months following were "Hearts of Darkness," "She's Gotta Have It," "The Earrings of Madame De..." (and all those other Max Ophuls films that hadn't been released), "Zabriskie Point," the Patrice Lectone trifecta of "Girl on the Bridge," "The Hairdresser's Husband" (though the transfer is subpar) and "Monsieur Hire," and the two greatest of the bunch, Luis Bunuel's "The Exterminating Angel" and Alain Resnais' "Last Year at Marienbad." Even

There was even an announcement about a pending release of "Johnny Guitar," but so far it hasn't happened. What HAS happened - and this appears to be official - is at long last a DVD (and Blu-ray!) version of John Huston's 1950 classic, "The African Queen." Which means you no longer have to go back and forth about whether or not to snag that weird Chinese import version from the Amazon marketplace. My heart began a-fluttering a month or so ago, when I got a long-awaited e-mail from Amazon telling me that the film had been finally announced for release. Then it disappeared again. And now it finally has a street date, and will be arriving in stores, in my mailbox and hopefully in yours on February 23, according to Blu-ray.com. And since it took so long to finally get this fucking movie out, it'll be on Blu-ray, too! (The same thing happened with "Kiss of the Spider Woman" last year.)

This comes on the heels of the disastrous DVD of another Huston classic, his final film, "The Dead." It was finally released a few months back, 22 years after its release, but with 10 minutes - or about 11 percent of the film - just gone. According to this DVD review, Lionsgate issued an apology and re-released a corrected version on November 23. So all appears to be in order.

The only thing more exciting would be a wandering archaeologist-cum-good samaritan traversing some exotic locale and unearthing both the original cut of "The Magnificent Ambersons" and the full 8-hour version of "Greed."

(Hey, a guy can dream, right?)

I'll also still be holding out hope for "Celine and Julie Go Boating," John Sayles' "City of Hope" and Soderbergh's two post-"sex, lies and videotape" films that have all but disappeared, "Kafka" and "King of the Hill" (NOT an animated television program about rednecks, fyi) - because DVD releases of those four will finally give me a chance to see them.

Only then will The Mathews Effect be (nearly) complete.

Then again, I've only mentioned movies in this post - don't even get me started on one of the greatest television shows of all-time, "The Wonder Years," still not being fucking available on fucking DVD because of fucking music rights. I promise, Fox Home Video, if I had a couple million to help you cover all the costs, I'd give it to you. Do you take a check?
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Friday, December 4, 2009

And the fox says...

So we go all year long without a single movie featuring a talking fox, and then in one single month, we get not one, but two talking-fox movies. In keeping with our "let's combine two movies with particular similarities for hilarious results" tradition - which we will examine more deeply in our upcoming podcast - let's consider combining Wes Anderson's wonderful "Fantastic Mr. Fox" with Lars von Trier's Lars von Triers-y "Antichrist." One of the foxes is a mischievous little rascal, the other a harbinger of doom - will they get along? Will they fight to the death? Will they get into zany hijinks with one another? Will chaos, as one fox posits, truly reign?

Oh, and it gets spookier - Willem Dafoe gets to face off against both versions of talking fox. What a lucky fella!

One thing should be said about these foxes, though - unlike in von Trier's "Manderlay" (during which John C. Reilly walked off the movie when he found out a live donkey would be killed on-screen - hmmm, I wonder how much he enjoys Godard's "Week End") - there is no visible cruelty to animals in "Antichrist." (Being in a Lars von Trier movie doesn't legally count.) There is, however, extraordinary cruelty to genitals. Where's the humane association for genitals, and why aren't THEY on the set of every movie? But I digress.

Aside from "Fantastic Mr. Fox" - which really is - and "Antichrist," none of my other new reviews feature talking animals of any kind. But we do have our second postapocalypse of the month, though John Hillcoat's disappointing "The Road" isn't quite the massive upgrade over "2012" you might expect. (OK, fine, it's a major upgrade, but only because "2012" is a piece of shit.)

And in keeping with our "devil" theme, there's Ti West's "House of the Devil," a classically executed throwback horror flick ... well, for about an hour, until it goes off the rails. Finally, there's a surprisingly bland effort from James McTeigue and the Wachowski bro--, er siblings, "Ninja Assassin."
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