Friday, January 23, 2009

Oscar Nominations 2009

The list is out! ...and most of the world hates it. The Academy had a chance to redeem themselves with WALL-E and The Dark Knight, but did they take that chance? Absolutely not. Instead we get Brad Pitt's new Forrest Gump, a Holocaust movie, Danny Boyle's surprisingly good (but isn't it a tad overrated?) Indian slums, a POLITICAL movie, and an assassinated homosexual political something-or-other. Wonderful.
MY favorite film of the year, which also happens to be the best rated film of the year, is WALL-E. The Dark Knight was amazing visually, and I DO think Nolan should have gotten something for Best Director. Best Picture? Eh... I haven't seen 3 of the 5 nominated films, so it's not fair to say. I'm not one of the crazy fans who's only ever seen The Dark Knight and nothing else, and STILL says it deserves to win because it didn't epically fail like stereotypical summer movies. But it was good, and was much more entertaining and creative than Benjamin Button. Button most certainly did not deserve 13 nominations. Brad Pitt with awesome make-up, Cate Blanchet, and too much hype are all it should have to its long name. Slumdog deserves its nominations, but... picture? Really? THAT's the best the film industry came out with this year? That's not very encouraging. Of course, the fact that the Academy is apparently run by ancient actors and close-minded executives isn't encouraging either.
There were some nods to lesser known actors, which was nice, but to be honest, all I care about this year is WALL-E. It's very difficult to see all the films before the awards because so many are only released in limited theaters until January or February, and even then, some are never wide released. Why televise an awards show for movies no one can possibly care about?
But to the only thing I can possibly talk about, WALL-E. It earned six nominations, putting it in 4th place for total noms, and tying it for the most ever nominations for an animated film. Four were expected, Best Animated, Best Original Song, Sound Mixing, and Sound Editing. I mean, the entire movie was sound; it's hard to NOT get those ones. The four others we were all hoping for but you never know when the Academy's going to screw you over were Picture and Director, which fell short, but also Original Screenplay and Score. I personally thought the score was amazing (Define Dancing, anyone?) but that's an iffy category because opinions can be so varied on it. Also very surprising with the song was that only 3 were nominated, and both of the other nominations are from Slumdog Millionaire. Clint Eastwood wrote a great song for Gran Torino, and Bruce Springsteen won both the Critic's Choice and the Golden Globe for "The Wrestler". I'm secretly very happy about this, because it means "Down to Earth" might actually WIN, but Springsteen got shafted.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

My problem with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was that, while it was good, it reminded me too much of things I'd already seen. (Mostly Forrest Gump and a bit of Titanic). Slumdog Millionaire, also very good, did NOT remind me of any movies I'd ever seen before, and thus, is a better movie. (Absolutely no sex whatsoever and an awesome dance sequence helped, too).
Jamal Malik is a slumdog, one who comes from the slums, of Mumbai, India. He's been arrested for cheating on the Hindi version of Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?. He protests that he didn't cheat. He knew the answers because he is destined to win. "It is written", he says late in the film. We get some vignettes for each answer he knew, which add up to his life story. He and his brother Salim make their way in India through a number of dishonest yet amusing money-earning activities. (pretending to be a tour guide for the Taj Mahal was my favorite)
When they're young children, they meet a girl named Latika. Salim and Jamal are the musketeers Athos and Porthos; Jamal considers her the third musketeer whose name they don't know. They're separated from Latika, and Jamal dedicates himself to finding her. His reasons for going on the show aren't revealed until later in the film, so I'll leave them be.
The R rating is for some more creative adult things that you'd expect. There is just about no sex, though I just remembered, there is a scene where they walk through a... for lack of a better term, whorehouse, though nothing graphic is shown. (In fact, the only bit I can remember involved both people still being clothed) There's a bit of torture at the beginning when Jamal's being interrogated, but no blood. Also, no blood though a number of people get shot. So the rating is a very mild R.
The film extensively uses child actors, as even modern-day Jamal can't be more than 19. There are three actors for each Jamal, Salim, and Latika, and all of them are very good. I applaud Danny Boyle for getting such performances from all of them. Also, and I have never been able to compliment this in a film before, the subtitles were very well done. The characters learned English as they got older, and so the youngest versions of Jamal and Salim spoke no English at all. Instead of the standard subtitles at the bottom, the subtitles were centered on the character that was speaking, and there was a slight transparent bar of color behind the subtitle, to ensure the audience COULD SEE IT. I watch subbed anime. I have no problem with watching things subbed. I do have problems with subs that either block the picture or are blocked BY the picture. I've never even seen different subtitles before, so kudos Danny Boyle!
One other very different thing was the credit sequence. Even with the bit of epilogue in WALL-E, even with the bonus clips at the end of all three Pirates movies, I have never seen an entire audience stay for a credit sequence before. Do you want to know why? No credit sequence has had an AWESOME dance number before. For those innovations, and for being such a high-quality film with a creative plot, (not about politics, the military, the CIA, FBI, NSA, etc--thank my father for spoiling those films for me. WE'LL SEE WHOSE FILMS ARE BETTER WHEN WALL-E KICKS FROST/NIXON OUT FOR BEST PICTURE!) and presenting it in such a way that I've never seen before, I think it certainly deserves to beat the majority of films out there: Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, definitely. Though I dislike Frost/Nixon because it was a good play, and should stay a good play. The last thing I want at the Oscars is another political directed-by-some-famous-guy-in-this-case-Ron-Howard to get nominated. Milk, The Wrestler, Revolutionary Road, The Reader, The Dark Knight, and Doubt... well, it was good, but I haven't seen most of those, so it's hard for me to pass judgement. Perhaps it won't win the Academy Award? But I find that unlikely, because...
Slumdog has now won both the Critic's Choice and Golden Globe Awards for Best Picture, as well as every other award it was nominated for at both of those ceremonies--save Best Song at the CCAs, which went to Bruce Springsteen's "The Wrestler". While it impresses me that they made such a good film for $10 million, as opposed to however much they threw at Benjamin Button, it's still not my favorite film of the year. I wanted it to be my favorite, so I wouldn't be as disappointed when it wins the Oscar. But, tragically, my favorite film is still WALL-E. Andrew Stanton, I take my hat off to you, sir. You have won my heart over critically acclaimed Best Picture frontrunner. (though, according to Rottten Tomatoes, WALL-E's even MORE critically acclaimed, with the coveted "Golden Tomato" award and a whopping 96%.)
It's a great film. Beats ANYTHING in theaters right now. Loved every minute of it. I have nothing bad to say about it.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Dark Knight

Finally, after 5 long months, I watched The Dark Knight. Is it TEH BEST MOVIE EVAAHHH!! ? No. Is it the most surprisingly good movie of the year? HECK YES. The last thing you think would be breathing down the Academy's neck is this movie. While Heath Ledger's unfortunate death DID bring some good publicity, there was a viral campaign in place long before that, banking on his amazing performance. And it is amazing. Not even an amazing supporting cast of Aaron Eckhart (who was also very good, let me tell you) Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Gary Channeling-the-spirit-of-comic-book-Gordon Oldman, and Maggie Gyllenhaal (so much better than Katie Holmes) could eclipse him. Christian Bale was looking more and more like the secondary character whenever he shared the screen with The Joker.
As a superhero sequel, it shares many plot points with, say, Spider Man 2. Batman runs into a new, crazier (to say the least), more powerful villain. But on his side is Harvey Deny, District Attorney extraordinare. Between Bruce Wayne/Batman and Dent, half the city's criminals are behind bars. Also between them is made-up love interest Rachel Dawes, Bruce's childhood friend, and the only person besides Alfred and Fox that knows his identity. He struggles over wanting to be with her but her refusal of him so long as he is the Batman. Then people are killed because he won't reveal his identity, and he considers giving it up and letting Dent clean the streets.
You're missing on a cultural phenomenon if you don't see The Dark Knight. "I can make a pencil disappear" and "Let's put a smile on that face" are going to be the new "I'm king of the world!" since TDK has the highest gross since Titanic.
It didn't the nom for the Golden Globes, but can it pull it off with the Academy? It's got no chance of winning, not next to Slumdog, but to be one of the top 5, it could put up a good fight. I would see it again over Benjamin Button, but not over WALL-E, (my pick for best movie of the year) and I'd see Slumdog Millionaire a first time before rewatching TDK.
Great movie, amazing cast on the whole, the best supporting acting since Anton Chigur--oh wait, that was just last year, wasn't it? Go see it. Right now.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

After all the hype, I thought it would be the best thing since... well, since The Dark Knight. To be perfectly honest, my favorite movie of the year is still WALL-E. Benjamin Button was certainly a good movie, but not the best.
Running even longer than Australia, the story of Brad Pitt's backwards aging takes a whopping 2 hours and 48 minutes. We start not with Benjamin Button, but with some old dying lady in a hospital hours before (what I assume to be) Hurricane Katrina is set to strike. Then she tells the story of a clock in a train station that takes a good five minutes and I have no idea how it relates to her. Eventually, her daughter reads a journal that is not hers, and we get Benjamin's story. I'm very curious to read the SHORT story the film is based on now, and see just how much of the clock and Daisy's story was there.
While it certainly is interesting to see the daughter's reaction to the odd tale, and we couldn't have gotten the end of the story without Daisy, I question the necessity of the other storyline. I personally didn't like Daisy, so seeing more of her didn't do much for me.
Brad Pitt, on the other hand, did an amazing job. I know technical awards always feel like a gyp, but they should get something for the makeup. He spent barely ten minutes of the movie looking like himself, the rest of the time either being drastically older or younger. He played Benjamin all the way down to around 18 years old. (Ladies, you like 45-year-old Brad Pitt? Look at EIGHTEEN-year-old Brad Pitt)
It's a good movie. It really is. But it feels a lot like Forrest Gump (with a touch of Titanic from old Daisy), in narration, the love story, and the fact that the protagonist is a man-child. (at least for half of Benjamin Button) I would wait to rent this, and go see something like Gran Torino or Slumdog Millionaire. At the very least, see a matinee and don't pay for snacks. It's good, better than 90% of what's in theaters now, but I don't think it's going to be the one that people remember 10 years from now. That honor still belongs to The Dark Knight.