Thursday, August 4, 2011

Crop O' Movies: "Super 8," The Way Back," "The Roommate," "Rango," "Hanna," "The Adjustment Bureau," "Rio," "Sucker Punch" & "Battle: Los Angeles"

Hell, I should just stop trying to be a writer and continue not doing other things...
Anyway. More new movies. Hope you haven't heard enough about them to read on...

Super 8 ☆☆☆

"Super 8" is consistently entertaining, and doesn't lack filmmaking zing, excitement or pathos, but director/writer J.J. Abrams' Spielberg-ode and childhood nostalgia-trip is more weak in areas than expected and rarely surprised. But I'm in the minority here, because critics really responded to it, most being youngsters themselves when Spielberg classics like "E.T" and "Close Encounter Of The Third Kind" came out. And the majority of older auds too, giving it a good number (the BO has slowed at about 125mil, not bad at all). Hence that reception, I guess "Super 8" is another sci-fi insta-classic, right after the big response (auds gave it the shoulder) of this spring's "Source Code," a movie I didn't like as much as most did, and the same goes for "Super 8." I felt, though so easy to love, the movie isn't very smart or in any of it's science fiction levels that make Steven's masterworks "E.T," "Close Encounters," or "A.I.," or darker genre pieces like "2001" or "Blade Runner." For most of "Super 8," the movie felt rather dopey and gave the impression Abrams was trying too hard, even as it hits just the right amount of Speilbergian sentimentality and thrills at maximum level, a strong suit for Abrams. 

The Spielbergian set-up: 14-yr-old Joe Lamb is your average kid, modest and nice and growing up in 1979, in made-up Ohio mini-burg Lillian (after Abrams grandmother), which I think is an oil ring town. From the effective opening shot of factory safety days being fixed down to zero, then on to the effective opening scene, the winter funeral of Joe's mother, the victim of a terrible floor accident. Joe's father, Jack Lamp and deputy policeman, is horribly grieving and Joe is left to go on with life and grief all on his own, by which he carries around mom's necklace she wore. But that doesn't detour his friend Charlies, a pudgy mini-Carl Denham, who is determined to shoot a zombie 8mil short to submit into a festival. Knowing Joe by now, he won't have a problem with it, if only to get him away from thoughts of the tragedy and neglecting dad...

The kids - including un-impressionable Preston, anxious Martin, pseudo-pyromaniac Cary, and everyone's crush, cute, woman-like Alice Dainard (played by one of hugely talented young actresses working right now, Elle Fanning) - take their filming exploits to a railway station, just as a train screeches and whistles by. "Production Value!," Charles excitedly shouts. As they scramble to set the shot and then roll camera, Joe is the only one who sees - a truck is aimed for a head-on collision! What results is the most spectacular and thrilling (though dragged) train crash sequence in movie history, only topped by the one movie that inspired it, DeMille's "The Greatest Show On Earth."

In the post war zone-like train carnage, it couldn't be worse, but something smashes out of a displaced car. We, nor the kids, see what it is, and can't make a guess enough before Air Force guys swarm in on cue, lead by one-sided military villain Col. Nelec (Noah Emmerich). The kids escape in Alice's vintage car that I've already forgotten the name of, left only to ponder...

Soon after, mystery events happen in the preceding mayhem: Lillian's denizens are disappearing, with the sheriff also vanished leaving Jack to investigate what could be a nasty new killer on the loose. All the while, Nelec and his boys hem in, and Charles, Alice, Joe and gang still shoot Charles' horror epic, now with the mile-long expanse of the train wreck with copters flying by, the military trucks ominously processing through the squares, and bodies of soldiers standing/patrolling all over as backdrops. 

Can you guess: As people vanish and Joe learns weird things, he savvy's onto the mystery, having the clues (the super 8 footage being what only saw the monster full-on) and he, Charlie, Alice, Preston, Martin and Cary race to find a misunderstood creature as Nelec has the town evacuated looking for the thing. It all leads to one rousing last act, and emotional climax I'd expect you'd all see coming, Eh, it's satisfying enough.

Okay. First, before I get into the bad stuff, let's start with the good stuff...

The best of all of "Super 8" is non-arguably with the kids. They are top-notch, had chemistry and great play-off banter. And did you know, most had little to no experience, minus Fanning. Riley Griffiths as Charles is the best. Ryan Lee as Cary has got this kid's obsession down, Gabriel Basso is good as frightened Martin, and Zach Mills as Preston had little to do or say but was still funny anyway. But the two to watch, of course, are Joe and Alice. Joel Courtney as Joe has the right amount of modesty, and looks to have infinite innocence etched into his face for life. He is a good lead. Elle Fanning can do any character that comes her way. Here it's playing matured Alice, who may know more about life already than these boys do, and, like a good Spielberg kid heroine, can show fear and tears when scary sci-fi shit goes down, Heck, Alice herself is a good actor. Remember that scene just before the crash? I would have thought maybe she was upset about what she had just told Joe (about her dad and his mom's accident linking), but really, she can sniffle on cue, just as Elle can. Joe and Alice's scenes together were some of the best moments in the film. Some too with Joe and Charles, and one in particular with having them argue over Alice. Only one problem with all of the kids, each is stereotypical, but so well done by the actors (and they are!) that you didn't care...

J.J. Abrams (or Jeffrey Abrams). He has fantastic directing skill. His button on the action, and even on the emotional stuff, is like watching a pro at the top of his form. And he's only directed features three times now, with a handful of pilots. And his work with these actors...Really, is that all you need to make a good movie. Well, yes. That's all...

Um, okay, that's about it. Now, the bad stuff. SPOILER ALERT!...

Let's start with what I think is the weak foundation here. The script. But what? How? How can that be? Abrams started out as a writer, having written treatments and co-written screenplays since he was in college, how is the writing to "Super 8" any less? Well, it is. And it happens. And it could be a lot of reasons. His approach. His timing (Our current climate. Even where he is in his own life). Stress. Not enough time. Spielberg or someone over his shoulder too much. Most of these are unlikely. I just think Abrams had so much heart for this, and little conflict from outside, that rewriting probably what he had already in his mind was hard to do. I imagine it that way. Or he simply had the skill to write this, and we all know the feedback from lots of guys (including Steven) was all supportive and positive, but instead - well, missed. I think he did. Or I don't know. All I know is I didn't like the script, in the "It's a good draft now go do another one" way. Eh, you know what, most scripts are thin, or just bad,  anyway. That's half the problem with some of the movies I talk about below, and some the strongest point. It's something that Steven Spielberg himself said, in a talk with Abrams and James Cameron about his work, to some effect, "Great writing makes us look good..." 

Still, isn't it funny lot of what was written by Abrams in "Super 8" was just weak, loose, formulaic, and predictable. And most of it I found I just didn't get...

1. First scene. Joe's horribly grieving dad arrests Louis, supposedly the man responsible for Joe's mom's death, at his own wife's funeral. Why? Because he's angry? It makes little sense to me...

2. And as characters, Jack and Louis were weak, with not enough scenes with them. And why did the two race off during the climax only to show up right at the end and not get involved? They resolve their differences during the drive (it felt slapped on), but even as Jack is suffering, blames Louis, and Louis blames himself and wants to stay as far away from the Lambs as possible, I felt neither of their character convictions passed off. They were placeholders for emotional grounding. To add to that...

3. So was Joe's mom dying. He cradles her locket for strength, but it's not used or exploited enough. Anyway, having your protagonist keep-safe a family trinket of a dead relative - esp. a locket with a picture in it - is a cliche. It could have worked better, though did for the most part, with the ending when the alien needs that one last bit of metal to make his ship take off was the metal of the locket, and Joe realizing he has to "let go." It worked, but...Come On! It was cheesy! We get it. He's letting his mom go, even as their relationship, and his father's, was never really explored in the fist place...

4. You know, the whole climax was cheesy and predicable, even as it worked.  Did anyone see the alien was building a ship with the stolen goods? I did, before I sat down. And that the "thing" was indeed an alien? Yep, more points for me. And if you didn't what did you think it was? The smoke monster? And the chase through town as missiles and explosions go off was a bit silly, even as it was superbly thrilling. And that obligatory emotional climax. Again, I liked it, but it just barely worked for me. What almost did it in was Michael Giacchino's music. It was nostalgic, exactly what we want in a movie like this, even during that climax, but it was too much in there. But you know it was intentional. Those now classic John Williams/Steven Spielberg scores were kind of awe-inspiring and in your face, too. Though Williams can really make it work, and his music is that good. Giacchino's is too, but I felt it was just too conscious of being a Williams impression. Than again, so was the movie with being a big Spielberg impression. Not a big problem, it just needed to be written better...

5. The story, the plot, needed more involvement, and character involvement. Loved the 1970's small town setting. Loved the idea of kids making horror/8mil movie getting caught up in actual supernatural stuff, even as these kids shoot with all this in the background! But most of it was wasted. The kids' adventure in making that movie wasn't satisfying enough, wasn't even challenging. Come on, the military is everywhere, and it's easy to film your little movie? And you military cuts didn't seem to care? You guys are doing snooping that is top secret and yet you let Joe and his friends shoot in front of your operations? And why wasn't there more conflict with the kids, and Charles, in getting their movie done? For Charles, I liked that's what he might have cared about (he says it's just Alice, but that I didn't buy), but he could have been a pint-sized obsessed auteur, really like Carl Denham, still trying to shoot, to exploit, right up until the end...

6. The Alien. He (I think it was he) had a number of problems with me. Okay, he's enraged at humans for mistreating him, but why does he kidnap/kill the ones who are no threat to him unless it's justified why? He can kill the Air Force guys, that makes sense, but why civilians? What's his reason for hanging them upside down in his underground cave? So he can eat them? Because it's just a simple monster movie? Is he really just hungry? Okay, but I didn't buy it, even as I liked the alien wasn't much to think about. As explained, he was scared and just wanted to go home. Simple and eloquent, and it adds the whole horror aspect to the film ("Aliens"). The alien is an animal, a monster, and shouldn't be considered much when the kids are in the foreground anyway. But then why did he have some sort of human understanding (aka when Joe relates to him about his troubles.) And even as it is an alien monster, I still didn't understand why it would attack. The reason Abrams hints is when the alien does attack is to steal metal, like the sheriff's car engine, the power-lineman's engine in his bucket truck, and all other attacks were coincidental, and then ended up as snacks later. But then why did the alien attack the bus? Because it's made of mostly metal? Because he really does hate Nelec and the Air Force? But I didn't buy it! I understand it's better to show us stuff visually, and all explanations seemed to be there, but I never picked up on the answers until reading up on it. Abrams needed to do better by that. Another thing, the alien was stealing metal and building his ship below ground, right? Then why at the end did he just take all of it from around town in a flying sweep of CG atop the water tower to build his ship? Then what was he doing underground? Now, I heard it was a giant underground magnetic works, with the tower being the receiver, a means to successfully get all the cubes and metal. But I didn't catch it! Again, another important detail I didn't pick up on...

Should I be this upset about detail, and material that most likely has an explanation? I'll wait for the comments. And just so I could vent some more, some smaller detail...

7. Stoner Guy, Donny (David Gallaghar) was funny when he was around. Could we have had more of him? How about Charles' family, too?

8. Nelec and the Air Force never seem to track down the film found at the crash sight, linking it to the kids. They don't try very hard. Why couldn't Nelec, and the military, be a threat in this movie?

9. Why did Nelec take Joe's necklace. What importance is that to him?

10. Joe sees the alien making noise in a garage. Why doesn't he investigate?
11. Why weren't the kids scared shitless after the crash, even as they quipped stuff like "I don't want to die!" and the sequence itself was the most exciting in the movie. They all go home as if nothing had happened. Sure, they're supposed to act that way. But I would be scared, wouldn't you?

12. The actual super 8 footage wasn't really that important. If the story had hinged on the suspence of waiting for the film to develop and see what was on that footage...But it didn't.

Lastly, on a positive point for "Super 8" and on a negative one for most of you: The lens flares didn't bother me. Get over it.

The Way Back ☆☆☆ 1/2

Often excellent Australian director Peter Weir, whose new film "The Way Back" was steamed for not being too involving or character strong, and it's subject matter also has the misfortune of having been based on an inspirational trek biography that itself is getting critiques about it's authenticity, but the movie is a near-terrific - and still mostly exhilarating - journey adventure film, with a talented international cast and a Weir forte that isn't lacking - his grand use of landscapes, here the majestic and engrossing areas of Bulgaria and Morocco substituting for the hellish winter forests of Siberia and the scorching deserts of The Gobi Desert in Mongolia, images done by Weir and long-time DP collaborator Russell Boyd in sweeping wide shots. And just watching these few ragtag escapees up at odds with these dooming elements is a very old and compelling conflict; man against nature. That, at it's essence, is what the movie is. This is why it works, and why Weir and company should get more praise than just "the characters suck."

Actually, these guys weren't all that bad. I'd say the cast - from great to good, Ed Harris as wizened American Mr. Smith, Colin Farrell as aggressive Russian thug Valka, Saiorse Ronan as lost, slightly manipulative Polish girl Irena, and Jim Sturgess as Pole Janusz, determined to get back to his love, who was harassed into framing Janusz as a spy and he was sent to the Culag. It's his movie, it's his journey, and it's a good payoff as (SPOILER!) an old man finally making it back home, to the embrace of his wife.

I won't continue to talk about "The Way Back" much, it's been months since I've seen it. But it's a solid bet, already one of the best, ahead of it's class, as a sure good movie of the year. You can forget a lot of movies already out in the market right now. Most below are good, just not anywhere near this. But one you can surely avoid, and is no where near even the rest on the list...

The Roommate half star

Possibly the worst movie I've ever decided to walk into, the horrible rehash of the "Single White Female" idea in this teeny-bop thriller "The Roommate," where babe Rebecca starts life at a Cali college and ends up with a crazed, evil-intended roommate, who, for any reason that couldn't make any sense to me, is bent on having Rebecca as her friend, even if it means scaring away her posse and hunky boyfriends and killing cats and framing naughty teachers. With knockout young leads Leighton Messter as tortured Rebecca, Cam Gigandet as her swooning lovey Stephen, and Minka Kelly as tortuous title-roommate Sara, who all seem like they are in "too cute to act" mode, and maybe Kelly might have won me over if she herself didn't try so hard. Billy Zane is in there as a pervy professor, but he can't do a thing here. Lame script. Lame acting. Lame undertaking. As Roger Ebert trademarked, and I'll use it with vigor here, "Your Movie Sucks!" So, you want M. Night Shyamalan to go back to film school, well how about director Christian E. Christensen?

Rango ☆☆☆

Gore Verbinski's new movie after undergoing the whole "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise (minus the latest) directs a pretty ingenious spaghetti-western-comedy/animated tale, the first from effects powerhouse ILM, about a lame, lanky chameleon (voiced by Johnny Depp in another high, whiny voice job) who has an identity crisis and gets lost in the western desert, wanders until he lands at ideal western-town Dirt, a place filled with all kinds of unscrupulous characters, ugly reptilians or otherwise. And Rango, out of some sheer brash courage that comes out of somewhere, blindly puts on a front and masquerades as a mean gun-tootin' baddie/sheriff and fools them all. Of course, he is tasked by these desperate folk to stop other baddies. A concept that sounds familiar, but you must if you're doing a riff on other, greater westerns, even spaghettis, like "Django" (Get it?) Or "The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly." Or "A Fitful Of Dollars." Or the "Kill Bill" movies.

And this one, "Rango" is clever, funny, well-written by Oscar-nom John Logan, and the voice cast - including Bill Nighy, Abigail Bresslin, Ray Winstone, Isla Fisher, Ned Beatty, Alfred Molina, Harry Dean Stanton, Stephen Root, and Timothy Olyphant - throw their weight around. Literally. They acted out the whole thing in character while a boom mike followed them around. Verbinski called it "Emotion Capture." The same was done for "The Fantastic Mr. Fox." Ha!

The worst I can say is I didn't love the movie, just liked it. I think the plot could have been better. One example: Someone's stealing the town's water. Only so many suspects, and it's the guy you suspect anyway, and his reasons are entirely homogeneous (I won't reveal it, but the trope is used over and over and over). Anyway, the knocks are both crude and culturally-noted, and Verbinski, Logan, and his cast make near-intelligent comedy that kids will like (if the ugly characters don't scare them) and adults will get more than they do. You know, I didn't care if these characters ugly to look at. They're reptiles, after all.  

Hanna ☆☆☆

"Hanna" is the indie "Bourne," directed by pedigree indie-guy Joe Wright (who did plush adaptations of "Pride and Prejudice" and "Atonement), and stars talented young Irish-actress Saorise Ronan (of "The Way Back," above, and "Atonement," pronounced sersh-sha) as the title girl-assassin on the run from nasty CIA operative Merissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett, doing a cool American accent) trying to lethally track her down. Former CIA-now-deserter Erik (Eric Bana, who I really liked here) is Hanna's father, the man who secluded her in the Finland winter woodlands all her life and trained her for a life of deadly run-ins and escape at every opportunity. Why Hanna is such an importance and the secret surrounding her (as it always seems) was not too surprising and I found, even as it made some logical sense, wasn't too smart for me. Though the movie is. And it's nifty in it's action, with another cool, complicated one take by Wright of a fight in a subway, just a one bit of a lot of good action material. It's intelligent in it's script, by first-timer, Canadian Seth Lochhead. And it's cast is great, even with a nice supporting job by a Brit family that Hanna runs into in her escape; Olivia Williams as longing, once-hippie mom Rachel, Jessica Barden as teenage-to-the-T, gossiping, wild kid Sophie, and Jason Flemying as reserved dad, Sebastian. There's also Tom Hollander as assassin-for-hire, the quietly mad, whistling Issacs.

Hey, as assassin, or fugitive-on-the-run, or foreign espionage movies go, this one's a kicker. And there's the added element of Grimm's fairy-tales. And Hanna is our Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Gretel or Riding Hood. And Merrisa is our Orgess,  Evil Queen, Wicked Stepmother, Witch of "H&G", or The Wolf. The movie is even complete with a hideout in a "H&G"-inspired themepark, easily homaging to that story and it's merits in the film. (SPOILER! Luckily, Gretel isn't stuffed in any oven, and outwits the Witch in the end to stuff her in instead).

The Adjustment Bureau ☆☆ 1/2

Matt Damon and Emily Blunt star in a adaptation of another Philip K. Dick alternate world sci-fi novella, "The Adjustment Team," now "The Adjustment Bureau," about rising-up young senator David Norris, who after a disappointing sector loss and permanent campaign slump, meets free-caring Elise in a spruced-up men's restroom. Love at first sight? You bet! They make out in that spiffy bathroom! But their love is not to be, as it is, because a supernatural agency of fedora-wearing, suit-doned gentleman who claim to monitor the earth to a specific plan and a destiny for each and every person on the planet, want to keep the lovers apart. Norris is supposed to be somebody someday, but his path altered to include the woman of his dreams, but that wasn't supposed to happen (a mishap by the Bureau). And so these immortal business-like men will stop at nothing to keep them separated without bumping them off or swiping their brains (known as a "reset"), as Norris constantly diverts from them, to keep him on a plan that is part of a bigger one by an all-powerful entity know as The Chairman (God?), who is the movie's biggest mystery (and - SPOILER! - still is).

First, "The Adjustment Bureau" has a greatly written script by "Bourne" series scribe George Nolfi, only with a faulty and non-climatic ending that may be what we should get in a smart movie like this - just more questions. But I didn't like it. The ending was waned. But the biggest setback? Nolfi also directed, and he didn't do too good a job as with his script treatment. As it is the movie is slow, tedious, and unexciting. Though I liked Nolfi's vision of a dystopian New York, with these Bureau agents secluded in a stone-clad building, hidden "Harry Potter" invisible charm-style from the unsuspecting normal world; and the secret portal of doors going from one place to another. Not a new idea, but it could have been something exhilarating in it's still pretty good ending set-piece as Norris and Elise run from door to door at break-neck pace, as the agents are hot on their tails, culminating in the Bureau Building itself, gaining steam atop the roof as the agents have them hemmed in...only to sputter on us. (SPOILER! Where was the confrontation? Where was The Chairman? Why did it have an "Okay, they made it this far, will let them go" attitude?)

Still, the script was good, best I've seen (or read) in a movie so far this year. I liked Norris' dilemma (of a simple life with Elise or a high-profile one as the - SPOILER - ruler of the free world), and the Bureau agents with cool, even friendly personas; man-just-doing-his-job Richardson (John Slattery), friend-to-David, Harry ("The Hurt Locker's" Anthony Mackie) and the great written villain part, calculated, malign Thompson (the steely Terrence Stamp). Emily Blunt wasn't too bad a part either. She has dreams, too, a life as a renowned ballerina dancer. Would David ruin their relationship to kill his and her dreams, as Thompson so stomach-plummeting truthfully puts it.

"The Adjustment Bureau" might have been a sci-fi movie to rival "Inception," or even "Source Code" or "Super 8," or a classic like "Blade Runner," but is lacking in a tackle by Nolfi to enthrall us and excite us and surprise us. Like all great science fiction, it has to, I think, marvel us in it's alternate state. It doesn't. Why couldn't this movie have an alternate ending on the DVD?

Rio ☆☆☆

The story of "Rio" is used so often it hurts to see it on screen again. But, the movie is fun.

A ♥ letter to Rio de Janerio, Brazil, the animated "Rio" is filled with pleasing sights of bright and popping color, and is super upbeat with lively, comical characters who dance and sing and populate a toe-tapping city and music scene that can't rival any other - Carnival! Oh yes, there is a scene in the famous samba parade. A not too good chase, but the visuals there, that spread and jut out like a story book, are still like watching the Carnival of your dreams. The movie had me won over once we got to Rio, as director Carlos Saldanha is a Rio native, and I'm sure couldn't resist telling his story without delighting in all that the city has to offer, including Carnival and it's sweeping vistas of downtown and the lush mountain views, and of it's famous Christ the Redeemer erection atop Corvacado Mountain, in wide looking out over the world and us sweeping around it. Still, with all this to behold, I wish we had a better story, and another thing I wanted more of: Music. "Rio" could have had more music numbers (maybe should have been a musical), and disappoints there. Though those amusing characters who belt that music!: George Lopez as friendly Rafael, Tracy Morgan as happy bulldog Luiz, and the crop of the cake, Will. I. Iam and Jamie Foxx as fast-talking, suave cooler birds Pedro and Nico, and Jemanie Clement (of "Flight of the Concords") doing a devilishly camp villain impression as Nigel.

And there's also our leads, with this familiar story about two blue macaws, Blu (Jesse Eisenberg as American bird raised in wintery Minnesota), and Jewel (Anne Hathaway as wild, free-spirited bird of her native Rio) who are brought together to meet-cute after Blu's owner, sheepish-looking book store runner, Linda (Leslie Mann) is convinced of the specie importance by sprightly, somewhat hapless Rio zoologist Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro, and how Tuilo found Linda and Blu is a story issue for me). The two, with Blu, head for Brazil, only to have the Blu and Jewel later snatched up by smugglers and out of his element, with the proceeding adventure nothing you haven't seen over a dozen times. Actually, another animated movie, similarly about two last-kind animals who must mate to keep the species going, "Newt," was a Pixar project scrapped, I would take it, as this movie was discovered to have had an earlier release schedule...Anyway, with all of "Rio's" summer-syrup visual treats, and the samba/pop rock that still jives an infectious rhythm, the movie has enough to enchant and entertain you.

And we'll always have Rio. Why don't you visit instead? It's probably better. I'd think so.

Sucker Punch ☆☆ 1/2

"Hotties In Tight Pants Hurtling Ass." That's my high-concept logline for this movie, Zack Snyder's follow-up to his success' "300" and "Watchmen" with this original idea and equally CGI/slow-motion action splendor of a highly-stylized bordello of costumed sexy-girl dance and alternate action-heavy lands scored by contemporary pop/rock music tunes, which all exists in the head of a cute-troubled young woman of a beddable name, Baby Doll (Emily Browning). She concocts this reality to fight and escape her surroundings after being forced into asylum by her scheming uncle and secludes into a dream-within-a-dream reality as she and her other Tight Pants cohorts and other beddables - resourceful Amber (Jamie Chung), non-blond Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), disapproving/sensible Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), and her suggestible sister, Rocket (Jena Malone) - fight in a WW2 trench battleground of zombie/machine Nazi's and blazing zeppelins, a magnificent shinto temple of giant mutated samurai warriors, a dark fantasy-land/castle fortress swarming with Ork-like goons and a terrifying dragon, added again with a pelting railway of "I, Robot"-looking humanoid guards.

All of these action set-pieces are absolutely eye-catching, dynamic, and full of that swiftly zinging slow-motion, sometimes even exciting if you'll let it. And it's animation and practical dress are first-rate. Rick Carter, a famous designer and noted Spielberg collaborator, is the production designer here. Larry Fong, Michael Wilkinson, and William Hoy, who have done movies like "Super 8" and "Terminator Salvation" and "Dances With Wolves," are part of the crew cast. And there's also all the visual effects artists in several VFX houses in the industry that money can buy. None of this should surprise you, it's all ideal to the vision and what you need to create it. But there's always the problem with these things...

"Sucker Punch" is yet another prime example of a greatly realized world (and alternate worlds) so detailed and caring, and action that's pretty cool all by itself, but with a story that's just garbage. Of which I didn't hate the idea, with a structure that I didn't entirely disagree with (as the movie nears an end it surprises you a little), it's just the script wasn't too thought upon and has a cast of striking characters that I didn't give a damn about (especially, SPOILER!, as some meet their end). The cast is great-looking, but needs more direction, with a few really any good here, including Cornish, Carla Cugino as their mistress-host, Dr. Gorski, and Oscar Isaac, doing a variation of King John from last year's "Robin Hood," as sinister bordello runner Blue. Other than that, the movie fails to engage us at all, and mostly bores. Remember: Goes to show a stunning-looking movie isn't enough to propel your story along.

"Sucker Punch" was a huge flop, and Snyder hasn't really harnessed an equally huge movie since his breakout "300" ("Watchmen" was a modest commercial/critical success). I guess we're all asking the same question. How will this effect his next, the undertaking of "Man of Steel," his surely highly-stylized adaptation of another Superman film?... I don't know, but if auds and critics give that movie the pass (as with the last one, "Superman Returns), and ruined yet another expensive Super-take, then a career in big studio moviemaking might be over for him. But let's not hope so. Snyder is a talented director, and really hons great sights of action, like his good peers Michael Bay, Roland Emmerich and Stephen Sommers, who are great at what they do even as each couldn't find (or write) a decent script to save their life. And one visual-signature filmmaker who started off fledgling was Tim Burton, who has gotten better over the years and is now, I believe, at his peek and making the best movies of his career, even as most are adaptations also. Snyder just needs time, and more movies to make. Maybe something smaller, costing less, hardly any CG but all the panache he could muster out of sheer creative talent. Well... I think he'll stick with the big toys he's given, so my solution now with the movies of Zack Snyder is just he should concentrate on a good script and less on his too-intent zeal in his vision. Do less on the noted approach and more with the actors, who don't have much room to breath in "Sucker Punch." Than, Zack Snyder movies will be something to see.

(NOTE: I recommend seeing the extended version, with about 20 minutes of added material. There are two really good scenes that were entirely cut from the theatrical version. Added, they make the movie much better. It includes a montage of multiple stage acts inter-cutting with life in the bordello, as Cugino and Isaas sing Roxy Music's "Love is the Drug." It's near the beginning and is a good start to the the show, and is noted considering none of the girl dancers actually dance in the film at all, not even when Baby Doll goes into her trance-dance, something so mesmerizing in the movie that not seeing it kills those scenes. Why couldn't we see that? Also, there's a scene featuring John Hamm, who in the original cut wasn't featured much at all, as a high-profile suit named High Roller, a gentleman who is meant to be Baby Doll's first time. But seemingly friendly/manipulative Roller swoons Baby into it. It's a scene near the end (SPOILER! after Sweet Pea makes her escape) and shows exactly what happens to Baby Doll. Because, in the original, we don't know. Know we do, her character want: She is sent free.)

Battle: Los Angeles ☆☆

Alien Invasion films - or just movies with aliens, like this year's comedy "Paul" and "Super 8" as examples -  are something of a commodity now. Not as so often adapted as comics and graphic novels, but where it seems too much already, because there is only so many places you can go with it. In these outings our earth is stupefied by alien intelligence once they arrive and make no time in assaulting us in a wave of destruction, murder and terror that leaves us breathing "My god..." They ain't friendly, and have enough advanced technological electro-power to wipe us all out in a blip if they didn't consistently take their time. But earth usually has the right amount of time in those first hours or days to find a quintessential solution and save the world in a blaze of glory. Whether it be Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman of "Independence Day" or last week's big-camp adaptation "Cowboys & Aliens" and the Brit hoodies of "Attack The Block." Or the yuppies of next falls "The Darkest Hour." Or the military gung-ho's of "Battle: Los Angeles" - with Aaron Eckhart as anguished Sgt. Nantz, Michelle Rodriguez as "tank girl"-ready Sgt. Santos, and Ramon Rodriguez as inexperienced Lt. Martinez - who all wake up on a morning of comet-like atmospheric blasts splashing into the Pacific. They sink tankers and bring great global news stories and only interest everyday without panic until gyrating turbo-machines stomp up the shore and start shooting away. Giro-crafts appear and shock wave through the skies and explode buildings into rubble and streets into craters, soon with all of LA covered in billowing black smoke of a charcoal black cover worse than any smog. With some evacuated, most dead, and LA left to smolder, our band of a few soldiers with Eckhart as their leader stand to face off and bring down these extra-terrestrial nightmares alone. All they need is a plan, and the ultimate solution. (SPOILER! Does it include bringing down a massive, and massively detailed mother hip that erupts out of the ground and must be blown up? Sounds familiar? You bet!)

"Battle: LA" is (cue again) another example, like "Sucker Punch" above,  of quality filmmaking and great effects and knocked-up action, but doesn't have a creative story cell in it's body. In director Jonathan Liebesman's approach (of horror-knocks like "Darkness Falls" and "Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning" and next year's "Clash of the Titans" sequel), is typical high-octane jittery action fare, as the images move too fast and cut so hard making any sense of where anyone is and what they are saying drove will drive you nuts. Jonathan, you are no Paul Greengrass. Can't these movies for once have nicely composed shots, with action that's paced and meaningful? I guess not.

But I'll say this in defense. Overall, "B:LA" isn't as horribly, horribly bad as most make it out to be. Because the movie isn't too loud, or too jittery, or silly, or difficult to understand. It isn't a whirling kaleidoscope of terror and lame moviemaking. Roger Ebert got heat for reviewing the movie in as just a worse light. I say you can follow along fine, it's only hard to keep your bearings. Though, there is better effects fare out there ("Super 8," for instance), but I'll give you the choice on whether you want to spend your own time seeing "B:LA." Hey, you might like it,  and most auds have defended it. You might, too.

But I'll recommend you don't see it's counterpart, a movie made by former "B:LA" VFX guys who left to make "Skyline" - a similarly Aliens Invade LA With Nifty Computer Effects story - produced and released it even before this one. From what I've read it isn't any better. I haven't seen it, but take it from me that you shouldn't.


I really think it will be another year before I write for you again. Oi! I need a trainer.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What's Your Favorite Scary Movie? "Scream 4" Doesn't Top First, But It's Sure Bloody Fun!

I never went to a horror movie. And if I did, it was never willingly. The only time in my current memory is my mom taking me to see "Jurassic Park" at 7 with my brothers and sister. I remember watching it, but the experience of it, mind: The shrilling roar for the T-Rex, the screaming kids, my eyes wide and my knees in front of my face. And they were in front of my face. I didn't have class enough to at least be scared to shut my eyes or turn away like my role model adults. My legs steeled the terror. For about 90% of the movie.

Before that I thought it might have been fun, for my so grown-up self to man-up and see something frightening. My grade school friends were all big into dinosaurs then (and so was everyone else, after the movie's success), and why be left out? So I did what any adult kid would do, I yelled and screamed and whined and moaned to my mom to see "Jurassic Park" because so was everyone else! If you were 7 and had mom like mine you would know motherly resilience. It took a few months, but we saw it.

And I missed a lot of it. I redeemed my courage through home video. That also took a while, but after sitting through the movie many times, through shutting my eyes, or fast-forwarding, or pausing, or muting the sound, or turning off the TV or walking out of the room, I could say with some squeaky bravado that I had seen all of the movie and can remember everything, every detail and specie of dinosaur, to tell my friends. But of course they knew all about it. They were braver than me. After mastering the first T-Rex attack scene with storm and torrential rain and mud and bloody, frightened children, my friends could anticipate every scream and every beat. They could remember what color Grant's shirt was and what timeframe he lost his hat...

Thinking back on my childhood and my relationship with scary movies, I for sure didn't see "Scream" in theaters (I did see "Final Destination," but that's a different animal, of horror movies that stink). I was older, 10, but not much braver. I had to sit through it, with some more friends, countless times, before I could say I had seen the scariest horror flick ever released at the time.

Because today, close to 15 years after, seeing it again I knew every turn and every twist I couldn't jump even if I hiccuped.

I was ready to think "What was I scared of?!" Then, I watched "Scream 2," released less than a year later, and found before I hit "play" I didn't remember much about it. This time, I can tell you I jumped more than once. Not much for "Scream" #3, though, which was more by-the-books. (READ MY THOUGHTS FOR THE FIRST THREE "SCREAMS" BELOW)

So I can tell you...

"Scream 4" (2011) ☆☆☆

...that I liked the new one, the supposed not a sequel but first in a new trilogy, "Scream 4," (or "Scre4m") from the same old gang: horror-king director, Wes Craven, snappy teen-horror writer Kevin Williamson (his break was the first film), former movie-teen, now matured adult actor Neve Campbell, TV "Cougar Town's" Courtney Cox, and David Arguette. There's also DP Peter Deming (of "Scream" 2 and 3), who can still maneuver from the baddie's in widescreen, and composer Marco Beltrami, another who got his break with "Scream," who's booming brass was the soundtrack and standard for horror movie convention. When Ghostface chases, cue the loud, dangerous music!

"Scream 4" made me jump, not often, but it's still a good time. Not really scary, but cool and clever enough. It doesn't top "Scream," or even "Scream 2," but it sure kicks the crud out of "Scream 3..."

We're back in the 'burbs, a Northern Californian made-up small town, Woodsboro, where now it's become what Myrtle Beach was to "Jaws," the city is en-mass a celebrity. And on the main stage, Sidney Presscot, the long-standing surviver, returns home on tour after writing a self-help book declaring herself never again a victim. Well, she's about to, as the brutal slayings soon happen once more, right on bloody cue.

Everything happens down to the plot, just like the first "Scream." That's the point, anyway, as now the killer, or killers, mimic their slayings on the first original horror flick, "Stab," which itself is based on the events of the first film. A movie within a movie with a successful horror movie franchise! With that plot, we have the same old crop of teens: Emma Roberts as Jill, taking the place of Sidney. Her pal Kirby (Hayden Panettiere of "Heros") fitting as the role of the party girl buddy. Rory Culkin ("Signs") and Erik Knudson as horror movie-geeks Charlie and Robbie, splitting Jamie Kennedy's comic character. Nico Tortorella is in as the quiet, solemn boyfriend to Jill (killing the inner menace from Skeet Ulrich as Billy), who, easily, is tagged as a suspect. They are new (new new) characters also. Adam Brody ("The OC"), Anthony Anderson (of "Scary Movie" films, ha!) and Marley Shelton as deputy cops, and Mary McDowell as Jill's hurt mommy. There are also cameos (makes since, in a scary movie) that include Anna Paquin and Kristin Bell. Because they are cameos, you can guess what happens to them...

Some die. Some don't. All are suspects. They aren't that many, as with all the films, so it's easy to narrow it done. You might guess who it is (I did), but you can guess anyone. Really, you have, like, everyone I mentioned above, and maybe a few others. How hard could it be to hone in the killer?

Maybe that's what I didn't like so much about "Scream 4," and even the two preceding the first. Could the whodunit's be more complex, and better immersed. Yeah, it's a horror movie, simpler is better. But I like a good mystery. I would have liked to have been surprised on that level, because really all we have is the usual fright formula by Craven, and the knowing wit by Williamson, and it all played pretty well by the old, and young, cast. It's funny, "Scream 4" is all about poking fun at the formula, mixed with real shocks, but the shocks were anticipated, because of that formula, and the jokes and knocks weren't all clever either when it enters the same rein as the first three films. Again, I don't care that I could have predicted everything (which I near did), but why not be smarter, to be surprised by the shocks, humured more by the pans. I was shocked a little, I did smile some. Overall, I had a good time, because really Craven knows this franchise, and so does Williamson, and they up the punch. More blood, more surprises, more one-liners. They know the right balance. Everyone had as much a time as I had in that regard. Still, it wasn't surprising enough.

Actually, that's about all I have to say, only I might have rated "Scream 4" lower, but I feel I'm partial to the series. Besides,  I gave "Scream" the same...

"Scream" (1996) ☆☆☆

I could remember and anticipate everything now, at 24, but it sure scared the crap out of me at 10. Even in the present, in 2011, the movie is still the definitive horror movie concept, the rehash of horror movie cliche into a straight horror movie scenario: of a serial killer, or serial killers, terrorizing teens in quiet, safe suburbia. Nothing new there, but instead now the killer taunts and plays. He calls them in a cool, cynical masked electronic voice (iconically voiced, for all four films, by Roger Jackson), friendly chatting these girls up before turning menacingly into the host of a deadly game. A horror shocker that's meant to scare as it is to make you laugh, because these characters talk and pan about horror plots and they too are in a scary movie! I couldn't help but smile when it's mentioned big-breasted girls who can't act run up the stairs, and in "Scream" they actually do that! There are such other conventions about-faced and mimicked in the same horror fashion. All the exposition! They won't shut-up!

A gory slasher picture with some pretty good shocks, a terrific suspense opening (with the taboo of killing off a star so early), a creepy new madman get-up (the costume for "Ghostface"), cemented into this nutter, or nutters, making sadistic calls about horror movie trivia before jumping out, chasing and stabbing their victims to death. I also like, with "Halloween," "Nightmare on Elm Street" and others, that this takes place in the 'burbs. I think that's why these types of teen-slasher movies work. The gentility of the suburbs turned into hell. That last half of "Scream," in that large suburban house, as soon as everyone is either left the party or is missing and dead, and where soon the big bloody stab-out begins, worked so well. 

Three stars is me saying "Scream" can still scare now, is still darn clever, and hasn't lost it's fright or punch. I might have rated it higher, had it still scared me. This is coming from a guy once upon a time kept the light on.

"Scream 2" (1997) ☆☆☆

I liked "Scream 2" as well, and since I couldn't remember much about it I jolted once or twice. The movie pushed the killer-in-the-closet/on-the-loose high jinks further, stretching the believability, but it never spoiled it for me. Just as good as #1, with another scene opener that equaled in suspense and originality, again killing off a well-known actress, even as, this time around, it was anticipated.

And what I liked more about this sequel, "Scream 2" was more personable: a sweet little scene with Derek (Jerry O'Connell) dancing atop dining hall tables to "I Think I Love You" for Sidney. And a couple of good scary moments involving a theater rehearsal dance and Randy on phone with Ghostface, out in the open in daylight, as Dewey and Gail search for the madman, were nifty fright set-pieces. And the latter had a good shocker. Even having a lesser known Liev Schrieber back in the game, really good here as quiet, but attention-hungry Cotton Weary, was something I didn't expect to see. Well, you need interesting suspects, right?

What I liked less? Why couldn't we go back to Woodsboro? 

"Scream 3" (2000) ☆☆ 1/2

The third film was over-written, and for some of the cast over-acted, and it really pushed the plausibly. I couldn't buy a lot of what the killer was doing, and even the mystery this time around, with Ghostface's identity, became too far-fetched for me in this installment. Maybe because series writer Kevin Williamson was replaced by Ehren Kruger (of this summers other third installment, "Transformers: Dark of the Moon."), who didn't have the same wit and dialogue.

"Scream 3" was weaker, maybe too thought-out and plot-heavy, and the scares were either smaller or sillier. What probably killed it for me: Why Hollywood? I still prefer Woodsboro. Woodsboro is simpler. 

It's still kind-of fun. See it with you friends. It's a good enough time. 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Sci-Fi Thriller Overrated, but "Source Code" Is Still A Speeding Metra Train Of Entertainment

Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan have a moment
before their reality explodes around them

"Source Code" ☆☆☆

"Source Code" has a lot of critics going bananas. It's the new science-fiction thriller from Duncan Jones, director of '09's also hugely praised "Moon," (Hey, fun fact, he's David Bowie's kid!). Jones is a first-time director, so starting off he made a pretty ambitious movie for a modest price, the space mystery "Moon" with Sam Rockwell playing a lone astronaut mining energy for earth. By himself, with only a computer voice as a friend, he eventually goes out on a dig and finds something out of the ordinary, another person. The kicker: It looks like him. It is him. He either has to figure out the puzzle or uncover what could be the initial workings of his own insanity. 

Those critics liked the sophisticated genius of "Moon," and now like the clever, fast-moving premise of "Source Code,' about a man who wakes in another man's body, on a commuter train heading to Chicago. It's him. But it isn't him. He tries to determine what his situation is, but all he gets out is what he is told, repeatedly, again and again, by people on a monitor he doesn't know, that he's on a mission he didn't enact, to relive the last 8 minutes of this guy's life so he can find a terrorist who blew up the train, before the madman strikes again and causes post-9/11 chaos on downtown Chicago. Go back, again and again, until he finds the bomb, tracks down it's maker. The kicker here: He has 8 minutes every time, before the clock runs out and the bomb detonates. "Groundhog's Day"-style, he forgoes the same events until he gets it right, or until he becomes wise enough to know what's really going on. 

Is this really a mission, or is he losing his head, too?

Pretty ingenious high-concept sci-fi idea to me. Except I didn't go nuts over the trailers.

Although I don't think the huge reception isn't far-fetched itself. All reviewers (about 90% on RottenTomatoes) praise the film for that intriguing premise, and that it's smartly written (by Ben Ripley), aptly directed by Jones, has a good cast that includes Jake Gyllenhall and Michelle Monaghan, and is, as everyone states totally, entertaining as hell. I agree. "Source Code" has a smart script, a director who after a near-success with one gets the sci-fi form right here, a personable cast, and the movie's strength of rapid pacing. You would have to, I think. There are 8 minutes every time (and I do think the sequences were that long). Wouldn't it seem logical to push each scene, one after the next, with the colder truth intervals in reality, to move as quick as to keep upping the suspense as it does very well Jones, and his editors, too, got that down by not making this movie a sleeper, a turn-your-head-away-sigh or glance-at-your-watch-routine even as our hero does it throughout the show. But you don't. The movie is never boring. It moves along like a commuter train and never lets up, never gets dull, even for a second. 


I think a lot of reviewers were too taken with it. They too loved that idea, too loved that pace, and were too excited about it and readily accepted the movie as another terrific modern sci-fi mind-boggler masterpiece after last summer's smash "Inception" who, like I, indulgently ate up. But for "Source Code," I just don't think so. Like "Moon," a movie I wanted to like but really didn't, I felt the critics were too smitten. "Source Code" is overrated. 

But ah, what am I saying, anyway? The movie is indeed good entertainment, and for only 90 minutes I don't think your hedging your bets on seeing longer, or far worse, fares (and there are). Thinking of "Inception," a sci-fi extravaganza that still managed to kill me after 2, and more, viewings, was really as smart, exciting, beguiling, and had better twists and characters, as all critics and audiences have deemed it as. But "Code" isn't as smart, or as stylishly clever, or even as ambitious, as Chris Nolan's "Inception," and even as most to all critics don't mind that the science and logic, and some with the ending, to "Source Code" doesn't make much sense (neither did "Inception"), they forgive it because it makes sense enough. It does for me to, also, but only because, just like everyone else, of really how very entertaining the movie was and continued to be... 

We start, after some Hitchcockian opening credits on the Chicago skyline and a swiveling birds-eye view over a specific moving commuter train, that we wake up with a man on that train. He wakes, but seems confused, even wondering as to how he got there. He sits across from a smiling woman, who talks to him like a friend, and addresses him as Sean. This Sean glances small happenings (spilled coffee, soda can snapping/fizzing open), discontent fellow passengers, and gets his ticket punched, found by this nice, smiling girl in his breast pocket. It all is, and should be, very normal occurrences for Sean.

But Sean is wigging out. He says his name is Cap. Colter Stevens of the US Air Force. We, with this smiling, now nervously smiling woman, begin to think he's got some motion sickness. Soon enough though he retreats to a john where he views himself in the mirror - to see that it's not him! It's someone else!

What the hell! Are we crazy too?

He comes out, the woman is there, worried, scared, still calls him Sean. But he isn't Sean. 

We now know something isn't right. It's far from just odd, weird or off. It's a nightmare. 

But only until the car combusts and licks with flame and derails on the street. The train has exploded!...

This same man wakes again, but now is in a dark cell like containment, strapped in, sweating, depleted and now is completely freaked out. Voices, and soon people on a monitor, ask him in cold tones if he found the bomb, and has succeeded his mission. 

What? What bomb? What mission? 

Things clear up now. His real name is indeed Stevens, really of the US Air Force, and the last thing he remembers is his copter being shot down in Afghanistan, then waking up on that train to Chicago, and now here. He, or we, don't get enough answers before we are sent, sent!, back to that train again, informed we have 8 minutes to find the bomb before it explodes again. Before it explodes again!

The same sudden wake up. The same silly instances. The same confiding woman. 

Do we still know what the hell is going on?

We don't. We are only sure of one thing. Find a bomb, the guy responsible for it, and everything will be right again.

But don't forget the kicker:

Because, you see, there are 8 minutes. Colter has just 8 minutes before he wakes again in his cold containment space and is sent back to wake again on a bright, sunny spring Chicago day across from the bright, sunny, pretty woman. He has eight minutes, and the train goes boom...

Sadly, these first fifteen minutes or so is the most interesting the movie gets, because of what little Colter knows, of what little we know, that once things begin to make sense (somewhat) and we figure out the culprits, it really doesn't surprise us all that much. I'll admit a number of the film's twists and revelations I saw coming (who the bomber was, what the payoff ending was going to be, the truth about Colter's mind and body), and by the time it ended, with this ending I predicted, I was hoping for more. And there was (that last got-ya! ending that I, nor anyone it seems, still don't get). Anyway, the last thirty minutes were a wasted opportunity. I would have liked "Source Code" more had Jones and Ripley really hammered the dilemma and took our hearts away when we knew of Colter's and Christina's fate. I liked it, but I wanted it to wow me. It just didn't.

A couple other things about how smart and compelling Ripley's script could have been. The mystery, of uncovering the bomb and finding the bomber, wasn't satisfying enough. The sort-of detective track-down with Colter was the bulk of the movie, and didn't get my interest when most of the colorful train passengers I expected weren't at all the bomber when Jones and Ripley make them seem more like victims then perpetrators when Colter, a smart and physical man of means, goes all Air Force crazy on them by beating them up (I like his character, in such a situation as this, has a bit of a temper), and dumping their luggage all over the place. I wanted more mystery, more twists, and more interesting suspects. 

Also, a technique some writers do and what I think should have been done here, is we should have never gone outside the train, or at least waited to, when Colter might have become to mad, to sick, that it would be a relief, and a sure surprise, when we did get off that train. And I was hoping, another wasted idea, is when Colter tries to get off, as he does several times, he gets stretched and twisted and torn and destroyed until he wakes again, because he left the boundary of the code.

Well, it is another reality, a parallel world as it is described. 

The characters: Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright, and Michelle Monaghan have pretty weak characters, and aren't too interesting themselves. They were really well-played - Monaghan's smiling, somewhat creepy happy love interest, Farmiga's steely, unsmiling, but warm woman on the monitor, and Wright's stonewall, cold-blooded commander - but could have had some more history, more past, more present conflicts. We get some (Colter and Farmiga'a Goodwin talk relationships, and we know Christina has a jerk of a former boyfriend), but really, not enough. 

Lastly, I've ridden the Chicago trains, in reality the Metra Rail, here the made-up CCR, Chicago Commuter Rail, and have ridden it for 2 years (while commuting to and from school downtown) and can tell you that "Source Code's" train cars are entirely science fiction, and isn't as polished as it seems in the movie. There are no automatic lavatory doors that you can push a button and it's opens for you, you still have to turn and pull like any other door. There are no LCP monitors displaying the current weather. And there are no Dunkin' Donuts! Man, I wish!

Well, it is a movie. And it is science-fiction. 

Exciting as probably any sci-fi film since "Inception," but "Source Code" is no "Inception."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Few Movies I Saw Recently. Why? Why Not?

I tell many other writers if they want to continue writing, or at least start to working up to something good, they need to be doing it all the time. Penning 10,000 words a day, every day, from 9 to 5. Or even only half a day, in the mornings, during lunch, or from the time they get off work (I'm assuming they would be a lot better than me on that status) and write, write, write, write, write, until their arms fall asleep resting on the desk and the first slight vestiges of daylight leak into their dark cave.

With that said, you may ask why the hell am I not posting as much as most writers usually would. That one word: Laziness. I'm lazy. I've said it before, and will say it again. I know, it shouldn't be so hard, and I'm a responsible adult. But still, I find I sit down at my laptop and simply don't want to write today (or tonight). My weakness in that is I let that go on for days, weeks, even months, until I finally force myself to sit and write about anything. Something, just to get the creative pulse going until I ultimately can't stop writing, where it comes out in full force, and there's no chance you'll get a good night's sleep, or want one. Because you're excited, those ideas coming so good and so fast it doesn't matter you don't fully know what they are, only that they are. Like now, like the words you are reading and will continue reading. Only you stand to see if this bullet train of circuitous words are any good (or if I don't edit several hundred times within the next hour).

So, going on with it, I decided - forced - that I would write about a couple of movies I saw in the last few days. No reason, other than that this is a movie review blog, after all, and that I simply wanted - needed -  to write at that - this - particular time, unedited with lots of words and ramblings on about movies and nothing and loose ideas I try to summarize before the steam runs out.

So, here we go, maybe I can chug along and continue until that energy dies and I so abruptly lose interest...

Marie (Cecile De France) runs from the roaring waves of a tsunami

"Hereafter" ☆☆☆

I was really stuck on this one, but I decided I liked it, though not by much, and it's not that it's Clint Eastwood. In a better light he's a terrific director, and happens to be directing better movies than he did in the 90's (or for that matter 3 decades ago), and choosing more fascinating stories, ones that are pure visceral drama and often hit harder than most indies try so hard to do. "Hereafter" doesn't show Eastwood slowing down, and neither does it's cast, with solid work from Matt Damon, Cecile De France, Byrce Dallas Howard, and others, and even the twin kid actors (who mostly did rather fine, though struggled with most of the emotional stuff); and Eastwood's crew, from editor Joel Cox, to DP Tom Stern, and Eastwood himself as the music writer, all brought the usual good stuff to this, and so did Eastwood. But in the end "Hereafter" isn't up there with Clint's other greater achievements this last decade, whose work was part of my favorites for those years, and "Hereafter" isn't on that list for 2010. Mostly, "Hereafter" struggled. The movie is a well-intentioned observation on life after death, and just like it's subject, is only speculative. Still, I wish the movie could have been more defined, more solid, and could have been better written, providing more juicy intermittent scenes with better dialogue.

And this has all to do with the film's very talented screenwriter, Peter Morgan, and his screenplay.

Now, Morgan can write. So you know, he's the top prestige screenwriter in Hollywood right now, famous for doing historic period works  ("The Queen," "Last King of Scotland," "Frost/Nixon," among others), and he's a very smart, well-read, very articulate writer, and can write very crisp, smart words in nicely set-up scenes. But in the case of "Hereafter," a script he wrote on spec, on a whim without really a clear idea about it but feeling and thread thought, isn't a very good one.

Though it could have been, but as Morgan dictated himself he wrote the screenplay on-and-off for years, not really thinking much on it, only feeling and personal experience (he lost a close friend in the time he wrote this). Not really an idea of it every being a sufficient, or even good, screenplay, he penned it thinking, "It might be good, it might not, we'll see where it goes..." So testing it's credibility, Morgan sent out the current draft (but not a final draft, mind), and it landed, somehow, to producer Kathleen Kennedy, who then sent it on to DreamWorks, on Steven Spielberg's desk (a former Kennedy collaborator) and who, miraculously, liked it and decided a movie should be made (we all know, if Spielberg wants a project, he has a project). The famous movie mogul then got the interest of Clint Eastwood, who, as it happened, became enamored with it. And so much that after looking through a huge pile of possible scripts of interest, "Hereafter," a movie that doesn't say a lot about why it should be made, became the next Clint Eastwood film.

It happened pretty fast, and "Hereafter" flew out of Morgan's hands, and the British screenwriter never got to touch it again. Not an unusual unjust Hollywood thing, but more surprisingly, Eastwood wouldn't change anything either. Not a scene, or a moment, or a line. Nothing. He did add detail, but Eastwood stuck to the very loosely constructed script that Morgan wrote. To his absolute horror, of course.

A script that was probably never to be read, or even produced, the way it was, and was given studio backing, an A-list director, an A-list actor, and a couple million to sink into the very impressive and well-staged tsunami sequence at the beginning of the film, a very convincing scene of horror  that has more bearing after the events in Japan last Friday. However, it's a scene so large and complex and so out of place for a tame script from then on, it wouldn't have been considered on a smaller budget, an alternative Morgan actually considered had he decided he wanted to make the film, axing most of the storyline and sticking with the twin boys set in London, only shooting there instead.

With that, the "Hereafter" movie, written by a very talented writer, directed by a very talented director, just wasn't ready to be made. The script was weak. Simple.

That's the main problem the movie fails on, and why critics are divided on it, of Eastwood bandwagon detractors and the filmmaker's loyal supporters. In most cases anyway, the consensus is still the movie wasn't a par Eastwood flick, and was, quite openly, a different piece for him, and Morgan. Clint Eastwood, the hard-nosed Dirty Harry and rather cold-position depict-mans on hard life, made a rather sentimental movie, on a subject that wouldn't have had much bearing on a gun-slinging legend who doesn't blink when sending a lot of western baddies to the grave. And Morgan, who takes a lot from real life and does wholly convincing creations, writes wholly narrative and on a wholly fictional idea, and a very universal controversial one. And as it is Morgan's screenplay just doesn't have enough punch, or that type of...let's say "rounded emotion," and really lacks a core to it, a purpose. Though the movie is very much all of one theme, as why the script was written, it just seemed...thin. Good characters, some good moments made better by Eastwood (I really liked the scenes between George and Melanie in the Italian cooking classes), but there should have been more to this movie, more to the screenplay. Morgan, a smart writer who writes smart, snappy dialogue, writes kind of strained here, too grounded to reality it seems the movie could have used a bit more fantasy, more fuller dialogue and scenes, in it's exploration on fantasy. However, Eastwood's grounding to actuality, as if these events can happen, or even has happened, makes the idea of a hereafter less out there and more open-minded, and is a big strong point to the movie, even as I'm sure neither Eastwood, or Morgan, are trying to sell us the idea of life after death. The movie is speculation, nothing more. It isn't preachy. Sadly, that could be why most audiences didn't respond to it, where for most people ideas on Heaven and Divinity should be solid truth and be represented in plain light, the reason why "The Blind Side," another Warner Bros. film, was a massive hit, a movie about family centered on Christian values. Though that's getting off track, and "Hereafter" has no intention of siding, I think had it been made as an unlocked Christian film, it might have been better appreciated.

Anyway, Eastwood would probably not make a movie like that, nor would Morgan. These guys, though I'm sure very respectful of Christianity, leave "Hereafter" to questions. It isn't Heaven does or does not exist, I think that's redundant here. It's more if people pass on where do they go, where they are, the idea if we could speak to them, or not, that we could move on ourselves and always know that we are never alone, and if there is truly something like a hereafter, physically, mentally, or spiritually.

Yeah, I get it. Same concept. Heaven/Hereafter. But, I don't think Eastwood or Morgan are giving out any answers, as much as Warner Bros. would like them to.

"Hereafter" is a tricky subject, and a tricky film, but it's well done. Not very satisfying (I don't think Eastwood films really are), and doesn't have a climax to rival it's opening, but it's smartly depicted in the idea of character's interested in where we go when we pass on. Morgan, who I think - and he maybe too - only skimmed the surface of what would have been a compelling narrative fiction as much as his narrative historic biopics, but just needed more time to make it so.

Aron Ralston (James Franco) screams for help after his arm is trapped by a boulder

"127 Hours" ☆☆☆ 1/2

Possibly the most unique depiction of a survival story every made. It may be heart-churning, intense at times, and ultimately inspirational, but it doesn't go all mushy, and isn't a straight forward telling of a narrative drama, but a wonderfully trippy, if also how hauntingly real, point-of-view experience through the eyes of a pretty excitable character, par a pretty excitable director himself. Danny Boyle, that Brit helmer whose career shot through the rafters with "Slumdog Millionaire," continues his supposed Oscar streak, directing the true life account of Aron Ralston, a young, capable, but silly and naive amateur outdoor-mans/adventurer who took a hike out in the barren mountain canyons in Utah and got his arm stuck, literally, between a rock and a hard place when a heavy boulder came loose and jammed his hand against a canyon wall, pinning him, right at the bottom of a 20-foot crevasse, out of sit of anyone, in the middle of nowhere. If anyone was hiking in Aron's remote world, it would be a long shot they would find him. And if planes or helicopters flew overhead looking for him, they would never spot him down the dark hole which is just another slit in an open barren desert landscape which Aron would be surely walking, lost, or collapsed, dehydrated and dying, but anyway out where he would be seen.

But never stuck and in the dark. Aron is a sure wilderness man and an experienced mountaineer. No one would be worried about him.

But he also is quite delusional in thinking nothing like being stuck by a rock down a deep canyon would happen. He's a loner, likes being out in the elements by himself, thinks he doesn't need anyone, knowing he would be accomplished to do anything on his own.

So the kicker: He didn't tell a soul where he was going, then decided on a walk-in-the-park excursion, alone, in a very remote part of the Utah desert without a cell phone, only a day's rations in food, and a few liters of water, which he must undoubtably save.

In those first minutes he tries to free himself, exerting all his energy and strength, from the boulder. It's heavy, and it's wedged pretty hard. Reassessing, he does an inventory of his things, anything that could help him get out of there. There's not much, but there is a small discount store pocket knife that he decides will be the best at chipping away at the rock.

Of which he then proceeds to do. Of course, it doesn't work. Out of ideas, Aron realizes he will spend a night in the crevasse, in only shorts and a t-shirt, where the temps sink to as low as 40 degrees out in the desert.

A full day passes. Thinking near pessimistically, already self-loathing, Aron takes his camcorder and films testimonials of himself, narrating his predicament and talking of his daily rituals.

A couple more days pass. His water is but a few drops. Dehydrated, he hallucinates, seeing family and friends, people he's turned his back on. In his video he reflects on his life, saying his apologies to those people he loved but never appreciated and keep at arms length. The visions pass, and they move on without him.

He knows, soon, he won't last another night alive. He says his goodbyes into the camera.

It's been 5 days. He knows there is one option. The only sure one if he wants to get out alive. He must use his dull pocket knife, and rudimentarily, and brutally, cut through his arm.

In Aron Ralston's book, "Between a Rock and a Hard Place," he depicts all of this. So we know he lives, and what he had to do to save himself.

That's what Boyle does, and what young, go-get-'em actor James Franco as Ralston does, in one of the performances of the year, depict in grueling detail the events of those five days as close as possible. Even the personal visions Aron has, done so wonderfully (and trippy) by Boyle. The best and one that hits the hardest of the son Aron sees himself with, the son he would have, knows he will have. Not really a prophesy, but a true vision that he will get out, and this is what will be waiting for him when he does.

Imagine, a 27-year-old young man with no ties and no thoughts of family and settling down, sees his future son. And it comes true! Aron's wife gives birth to a boy, Leo, not a few months before the release of the movie.

Even with that, that isn't why "127 Hours" succeeds so well.

Boyle, and Franco, and co-screenwriter Simon Beaufoy, concentrate on Ralston, of the man who figured he could live his life the way he wanted, without anyone, any ties, or any person. A person who soon finds he is alone, stuck and dying, and that maybe he had it coming, that the boulder that so paradoxically trapped him had been waiting years for him. Ralston, in the book, and in the film, even speculates it was a meteor, far from space, on a direct, unalterable collision course with a self-serving man named Aron Ralston. A part of a fate meant for him, knowing full-well he deserves what he got because he shut everyone out and so suddenly is left to die alone, knows this is right, must be why such an unlikely event had taken place to such an experienced, but self-centered guy.

Following Ralston, on his ways and the way he lives his life unbounded, and how Boyle depicts this, even going as far as to visually show us that boulder, those years ago, waiting for Aaron (and in the script, though sadly not in the film, the meteor in space), is what is the true success of "127 Hours." That idea, that theme, that a man so unattached finds he must will himself to survive through wanting to right his wrongs and live again, and go through the worst self-mutilation that none of us should ever have to endure, is the film's epicenter, and such a universal strong point in such a story like this, of a man who relished and lived in his outdoor adventurers but finds he wasn't living at all, to make the easy choice, but the hard decision: the will to live, and the pain of amputation.

Of course, Boyle does a few tricks to really get us in there with Ralston and make this all the more effective. He had his set, the actual size and width of the canyon, built as is, and his crew, and Franco, had to work in that small space that was only a couple feet across. That closeness, that intimacy, comes off so well, and Boyle doesn't waste time. He gets everything. The small, delicate maneuvers in reaching for a knife with a stick, tying cords, lightly sipping water, and painfully turning the bottle cap closed (one reason why the sound here is a true collaborative hero. It did get an Oscar nod, too!) And Franco depicting Ralston in all his glorious goofiness and self-pity and ultimate emotional drainage.

By not being so mushy or sentimental, it's a tour-de-force of emotion, of character portrayal, of intense, grueling depiction of survival and stunning vision of past life, "127 Hours" is a movie you would see twice, and be surprised you would get through a man cutting off his arm in agonizing detail, because you are with Aron Ralston all the way.


Okay..., that should just about do it...

Until next week...or next year.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The 83rd Academy Awards 2011. Predictions And Speculation

Everyone is doing them. Why not me? Besides, I have some money riding on this.

What I'll do is give you the usual: My choices on the winners (indicated by a ★) with who should win (♥) and those few maybe that will win after my first choice (R, for Runner-up).

And I'll also go into a little detail why I think my picks will win, why my favorites should, and give you insight into some Academy Awards history.

This should be fun. Here we go.

I'll start out with the Short Subjects.

Best Documentary Short Subject

"Killing in the Name" director, Jed Rothstein
"Poster Girl" directors, Sara Nesson & Mitchell W. Block
"Strangers No More" directors, Karen Goodman & Kirk Simon
"Sun Come Up" directors, Jennifer Redfeam & Tim Metzger
"The Warriors of Quigang" directors, Ruby Yang & Thomas Lennon

First, I haven't seen any of these entries. (I could now, having been available On Demand and iTunes since Tuesday.), but, as I usually complain, I'm short on finance.

I have no favorite, so you don't see a ♥. Though there is my pick, and it's based on critic consensus. They go with "Poster Girl."

I don't know the odds, but I like them.

Best Animated Short Subject

★ "Day and Night" director, Teddy Newton
R "The Gruffalo" directors, Jakob Schuh & Max Lang
"Let's Pollute" director, Geefwee Boedoe
"The Lost Thing" directors, Shaun Tan & Andrew Ruhemann
"Madagascar, A Journey Diary" director, Bastien Dubois

This time only one. That's easily Teddy Newton's "Day and Night," the short in front of Pixar's "Toy Story 3," a fun, jazzy look at two opposites seeing a little bit of the wonders each other has to hold.

I liked it, though feeling it was too preachy on difference and miscommunication (using Dr. Wayne Dyer's speech on fear of the unknown probably took it too far). The short mirrors it pretty well though, as Day and Night grow curious, then jealous, then joyous, perplexed, and finally renewed as one becomes the other, as day becomes night, and vice-versa.

This will win Best Animated Short Subject. Pixar Animation, like it's feature-length counterpart, has a track record in this category, having won 4 times. Disney Animation took home 1, with 4 nominations.

Some other critics go with "The Gruffalo." If "Day and Night" doesn't win, this will. Again, no favorite.

Best Live-Action Short Subject

"The Confession" director, Tanel Toom
"The Crush" director, Michael Creagh
"God of Love" director, Luke Matheny
"Na Wawe" director, Ivan Goldschmidt
★ "Wish 143" directors, Ian Barnes & Samantha Waite

Again (Oh, again), haven't seen these either. There was, like with the animations, a trailer showing clips of each. I did watch them (and, again!, the wholes are available via digital download and VOD), but I can't judge based on clips.

The consensus is with "Wish 143." I don't have a runner-up.


Let's get technical!

Best Sound Mixing

★ ♥ "Inception" Lora Hirschberg, Gary A. Rizzo & Ed Novick
R "The King's Speech," Paul Hamblin, Martin Jenson & John Midgley
"Salt," Jeffrey J. Haboush, Greg P. Russell, Scott Millan & William Sarokin
"The Social Network," Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick & Mark Weingarten
"True Grit," Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff & Peter F. Kurland

Mixing is hard to judge, where most moviegoers wouldn't pay much attention to what the sound is doing (as is the point), but if you want to make an assumption consider that mixing is based on sound level. Mixers take the tracks for the given film (sound effects, dialogue, music), and balance it to make it all sound harmonious.

Think about if all that sound went on at once, at full level.

That wouldn't be too fun.

I know it's still hard to discern, but give it a try. You might find you're an expert on sound mixing boards.

Anyway, my pick isn't based on that, but my pick on best sound editor (or sound designer). I chose "Inception," designed by usual nominee, winner and expert at the craft Richard King, winning for "The Dark Knight" and "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World," also being nominated for "War of the Worlds" and has done films like "Waterworld," "Twister," and Christopher Nolan's other efforts.

I feel, even as mixing and editing are two different jobs, usual done by two different teams of people, that they go hand in hand.

Because I can't discern like you experts, I go with "Inception" for Best Sound Mixing.

My runner-up is "The King's Speech." It's seems to be the upset pick, and as many predict it will be a royal night, then it will sweep a lot of it's nominations and snag this one.

Best Sound Editing

★ ♥ "Inception," Richard King 
R "Toy Story," Tom Myers & Michael Silvers
"Tron: Legacy," Gwendolyn Yates Whittle & Addison Teaque
"True Grit," Skip Lievsay and Craig Berkey
"Unstoppable," Mark P. Stoeckinger

Now, live-action, especially high genre works that literally have a lot of BANG! - like action or fantasy or war or science-fiction - usually dominate this category. "Inception" has been highly praised on it's crafty undertaking as well as story, and you could say, and should say, that it was because of all it's technical marvels.

I agree, and it will win. Imagine how challenging it must have been to jump from all four of Chris Nolan's dreamscape levels, from one to the other, from anther to the next, there and back again, and having to make it all seamless, yet still unique, separate, different, but all together whole and as one.

When it works, again you don't notice, and it's because you don't notice you should honor the unnoticed. 

My vote goes to King. Be king Sunday night, sir.

Runner-up should be "Toy Story 3," a movie where ALL sound is created. CG Animated film has gotten recognized in this category recently, but hasn't won. And should have when legend designer Ben Burt (for movies like "Star Wars") was nominated for "Wall-E." "Toy Story 3" could be the first, and it would be overdue. But still unlikely.

Best Visual Effects

R "Alice In Wonderland," Ken Ralston, David Schaub, Carey Villegas & Sean Phillips
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1," Tim Burke, John Richardson, Christian Manz & Nicolas Aithadi
"Hereafter," Michael Owens, Bryan Grill, Stephan Trojansky & Joe Farrell
"Inception," Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley & Peter Bebb
"Iron Man 2," Janek Sirrs, Ben Snow, Ged Wright & Daniel Sudick

Once more, big genre stuff - Blockbusters! - and typically CG effects that dominated the picture (and is one big reason tentpoles cost so much!).

"Inception" was given gold stars for it's effects as well, both CGI and practical skill alike. It didn't encompass, like my runner-up "Alice in Wonderland," but it has that seamless quality. The Academy likes that. 

They also like when it's on full display, as with Tim's Burton's very standard retro-goth spin on the Disney animated film. And animation did do wonders for Underland, and maybe it was more advanced than "Inception."

Like with last year's Jim Carmeron-sci-fi-effects-blast, "Avatar," Ken Ralston (another oft nominee and winner) and team used new techniques: How to work with actors against green-screen, doing a form of tracking and motion capture, while animating and compositing the rest of them. Helena Bonham Carter, as The Red Queen, acted in full costume and make-up, then had her head enlarged, her costume digital polished, and the two were put back together. Crispin Glover, as Stayne, dressed in a sort-of green jump suit, and even on stilts to appear taller, had most of his body CG coated while his head remained unaltered, his physical performance still being utilized in recored Motion Capture. 

Both Stayne and Red Queen are a form of seamlessness. I couldn't tell the animation away at all! (Besides the obscenely large head. "Down with the bloody big head!")

That goes for the full animated characters. The March Hare, White Rabbit, Caterpillar, Cheshire Cat, The Dormouse, Bayard the bloodhound, are all real animals (among the fantastical Jabborwocky and the Bandersnatch), and were challenged to look as photorealistic as possible as well as adhere to the physically loony comical nature that their characters required. 

With Mia Wasikowska as Alice and Johnny Depp as Mad Hatter, with Carter, Glover and another actor, Matt Lucas, MoCap-ed in as Tweedledum and Tweedledee, they needed to feel a part of that world, and them a part of Alice, too (remember, it could all still be a dream).

Seamlessness. And it was all so visual wondrous, too!

"Alice in Wonderland" is my love and runner-up, but "Inception" will get it. Besides, head supervisor Paul Franklin has never been nominated. Another trick in guessing Oscar: The Academy usually awards the recipient who shall finally have their turn, but only if it's predominate isn't the favorite to win. 

Best Make-Up

R "Barney's Version," Adrien Morot
"The Way Back," Edouard F. Henriques, Gregory Funk & Yolanda Toussieng
★ ♥ "The Wolfman," Rick Baker & Dave Elsey

The youngest technical category (since 1981), The Academy since has had a hard time finding honorees for this one. This year's nominations are only three, and Peter Weir's award's neglected "The Way Back" has it's only nomination. It won't win, it's the dark horse. 

Only one maestro has kinged here. That's Rick Baker. Like Alan Menken (I'll get to him), he has won the most out of anyone in a single category, being nominated 12 times and winner of 6, even winning the first year of the award for another wolfman movie, "An American Werewolf in London." 

He has the prose! He has the track record! And he has the nostalgic touch! The classic-style appliance of monster (or what-have-you) make-up was improved by Baker and implemented by others, and though that's being slowly taken away by CGI, Rick did his usual and bang-up work on Benicio Del Toro for the flop and critical pan, fun of last winter's "The Wolfman." The movie was chock-full of cheap visual horror fun, and so was Baker's monster make-up. Most critics like that old, respectful technical approach. I think they'll honor it. 

However, considering Rick Baker has been so already remedied, the Academy will also likely give it to "Barney's Version." I haven't seen it, but I hear the make-up to age Paul Giamatti and others was poignant and subtle and was part of what was liked about the film. Also, Adrien Morot, a first-time nominee, was lobbied hard for the slot. He might just get it. 

Best Art Direction

R "Alice In Wonderland," Robert Stromberg & Karen O'Hara
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1," Stuart Craig & Stephanie McMillian
♥ "Inception," Guy Hendrix Dyas, Larry Dias & Doug Mowat
★ "The King's Speech," Eve Stewart & Judy Farr
"True Grit," Jess Gonchor & Nancy Haigh

Like with visual effects, this is a category that hands it to the most complex and visually delightful. Period pieces and fantasy are the winners here. My thinking will be "The King's Speech" will get it, being one of a few technical awards it will receive. If not, then "Alice in Wonderland," even though most of it was animated. In fact, the head designer Richard Stromberg is an effects supervisor (recently off "Avatar"). 

But my rule: He's won before, and Eve Stewart never has.

Guy Dyas' set design I like the most. Again it has similar to do with why I liked the sound. Dyas had to create four separate dream levels, and all of plush or steely decor, for each one, and work in different locations, from Paris, to London, to Tokyo.

How challenging, and fun, that most have been.

And, Ah!, working years he's never been nominated. He could be runner-runner-up.

You know, for "Inception," that's why I liked the cinematography, the editing, the music, and the direction as well, with the sound and set dress. To rousingly and convincingly jump from one moment, set-piece, and one particular slow-motion van dive (the editor I should thank for keeping those few seconds the most interesting throughout it all).

Could "Inception," the big movie of astounding visual and practical effects, rack up all the technical awards?

Best Costume Design

"Alice In Wonderland," Colleen Atwood
R "I Am Love," Antonella Cannarozzi
★ ♥ "The King's Speech," Jenny Beavan 
"The Tempest," Sandy Powell
"True Grit," Mary Zophres

I would say, like sound mixing and editing, that costume and set design seem one, but of course they aren't. But they do complement each other. 

And The Academy thinks so. If the film of it's nomination wins Best Picture, Oscar history shows that that film wins both best costume and set design as well, and it's often a period drama like "The King's Speech." I even think so. I do love period costume. And this was done royally well. 

The "King" will win again. "Wonderland" will take it home if I'm wrong, and for art direction, too. But I feel that impressive fantasy flick, the second highest-grossing film this year, will not win either of it's three nominations. 

Sandy Powell, Mary Zophres, Colleen Atwood, and Jenny Beavan, my winner, are all previous nominees and winners, are are, inarguably, the best in their field. Antonella Cannarozzi, in opposite a foreign contestant, has never been nominated, and that rule of mine states she will win. But rarely a film wins for just the single category of costume.

However, it does sometimes, and it has, surprisingly, recently: "The Young Victoria," "The Duchess" "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" and "Marie Antoinette" are all single winners within the last ceremonies.

Cannarozzi may get the gold.

Or will "The King's Speech"win Best Picture?

Best Film Editing

"Black Swan," Andrew Weisblum
"The Fighter," Pamela Martin
"The King's Speech," Tariq Anwar
R "127 Hours," Jon Harris
★ ♥ "The Social Network," Angus Wall & Kirk Baker

Another tough category, again being a craft that's really meant to be as indiscernible as possible. And only if the movie guys want you to notice it, and in turn take you on a kinetic, fast-cutting ride. 

Which is why action and war films win. But not often. The winner is with the Best Picture take home all.

Though other times, like with cinematography and music score, it goes to the best in the bunch, BP winner or not.

That's easily "The Social Network." It's my favorite, too. When I think of the editing, I think of the crew-rowing scene set to "In The Hall of the Mountain King." The cut's work with the music. It' such a fun scene to watch. This gets my vote, and it has gotten critics. 

Runner-up is "127 Hours." Another critic winner for best editing. 

Best Cinematography

"Black Swan," Matthew Libatique
R "Inception," Wally Pfister
"The King's Speech," Danny Cohen
★ ♥ "True Grit," Roger Deakins
"The Social Network," Jeff Cronenworth

The best gets the golden man here, and it's about time he did. Like Randy Newman before him (another nominee this year), shooter Roger Deakins has never won, being nominated 9 times. His work as director of photography is the most revered in the industry currently, and right now more than ever, being given a majority of critic's award and praise. He isn't a lock, but he will win. 

Roger is my personal favorite DP. I enjoy his images atmospherics of hushed yellow-glow lighting, gloomy shadow interior, and his glorious expanse of exterior landscapes, out in sheer display for "True Grit." That musky oil-lit courtroom, those expanse of no-man's-land, that urgent, hauntingly poignant steel-blue run through the starry night...

I like him because I find tranquility in his pictures, and that I can easily spot him in any movie I see. That candle-glow. Oh, man!

Roger, my heart goes to you. You have true grit, and will persevere. 


There's a solid chance Deakins would be passed up yet again (Persevere, Roger). In that case, Wally Pfister, nominated in recent years, will get it as camera-op for "Inception." His work was just as praised, and he has yet to win. It would be one of four Chris Nolan's movie will win. 

Best Original Song

"Coming Home (from "Country Strong)," music and lyrics by Tom Douglas, Troy Verges & Hillary Lindsey
"I See The Light" (from "Tangled"), music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Glenn Slater
R "If I Rise" (from "127 Hours), music by A.R. Rahman, lyrics by Dido & Rollo Armstrong
★ ♥ "We Belong Together" (from "Toy Story 3"), music and lyrics by Randy Rewman

This category really never has a strong list, and it often gets nominated along with it's musical score equivalent. 

"Coming Home" is a fine country tune, and the only nomination for an otherwise panned holiday release. But a country song won last year, for "Crazy Heart." 

"I See The Light," from the Disney animated musical movie "Tangled," is another good song from an Alan Menken helmed Disney animated movie. 

Let me start it like this: His heyday for award wins is over, even as his career in animated musicals is being resurrected. 

He has won 8 times, being nominated 20, and has won the most in this category, and has the record for the most competitive Oscars presently. Walt Disney himself holds the all-timer for most wins and nominations, with a whopping 22 Oscars!, and 59 nominations! After After Menken in the music scene -  or in any scene - John Williams has 45 nominations.

So, Alan Menken will not win this year. And neither will John Williams. Or Walt Disney. 

That leaves "If I Rise," from "127 Hours," and "We Belong Together," from "Toy Story 3." 

I like Randy Newman. Where's my heart?

His music, as well as music for motion pictures, is the lightest, most cheerful, upbeat and sentimental stuff from one of the best pop-jazz musicians still hitting the piano (with contemporaries Elton John or Phil Collins, maybe). Even at his age, his work is still hip, and it always breaks your heart. 

Newman, after being nominated 10 times before winning best song for another Pixar movie, "Monster's Inc.," finds this year marks his 14 nomination. 

He may have won, and been nominated a bunch, but his work was the best here, and was part of one of the best reviewed movies, and box-office smashes, this year. Oscar honors moneymakers as much as aesthetic. 

A.R. Rahman, the indian musician who did the music for Danny Boyle's indie crowd-pleaser, and huge Oscar winner, "Slumdog Millionaire," was nominated and won, for both score and song, for that film. It is unlikely he will win again, near consecutively, but if Oscar pushes Randy aside, Rahman will get it for his sombering song. 

Best Original Score

♥ "How To Train Your Dragon" composer, John Powell
R "The King's Speech" composer, Alexandre Desplat
"127 Hours" composer, A.R. Rahman
"Inception" composer, Hans Zimmer
"The Social Network" composers, Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross

This category almost always gets the winner constituted the best on the roster, and is always the favorite (again, Best Picture winner not a factory). First-time film composer Trent Reznor (lead singer and musician of Nine Inch Nails) and also relative newcomer Atticus Ross's slick-somber-techno score to "The Social Network" was highly championed by moviegoers and film music aficionados since the film's release last October. The score has also gotten most of the critic's awards. 

It will win for Best Original Score. 

But my favorite - and has no shot at winning - is first-time nominee John Powell for "How to Train Your Dragon," who has composed for animated film before, with pretty nifty results. This time, in the music to "How to Train Your Dragon," he has written the type of thematic, adventurous and big orchestra score I like, a-la John Williams. The ending fanfare, when Hiccup and his tribemates ride the dragons through the village, sweeping and looping through the sky, as Powell and Co. hit the orchestra hard, brought me back to seeing movies like I did in childhood. Escapist fare, here with the "Dragon's" main theme, signals adventure at every turn, and hints at new ones yet to come, like this film did (and there will be one). It gets you all excited, doesn't it?

People have championed it, I have championed it, but it sadly won't win. 

Alexandre Desplat, the french composer who in the last few years has shot to Hollywood composer stardom, has been nominated several times, never won, and should have won most times. I don't think he particularly deserves it for "The King's Speech," but The Academy will give him his maybe heldback statue if they decide to honor the film with a lot of wins. I don't think it will. I believe "The Social Network" is a lock. 

Hans Zimmer has won once, been nominated several times as well, and his work for "Inception" was just as applauded by film geek fanboys everywhere. He may upset and take it home. 

A.R. Rahman, again, has already won. 


Other Best Pictures.

Best Documentary Feature

★ ♥ "Exit Through The Gift Shop" director/producer, Banksy & Jaimie D'Cruz
"Gasland" director/producer, Josh Fox & Trish Adlesic
R "Inside Job" director/producer, Charles Gerguson and Audrey Marrs
"Restrepo" director/producer, Tim Hetherington & Sebastian Junger
"Waste Land" director/producer, Lucy Walker & Angus Aynsley

Bansky will win. The Academy thinks his monkey-head shenanigans will cause eccentric chaos, but his push is very strong for the win. In that case his producer, Jaimie D'Cruz, would accept at the podium.

But they want hip, younger viewers, don't they?...

I also want "Exit Through The Gift Shop" to win. His (with "Restrepo") is the only one I viewed, but it had such an impact.

What an impact!

The reason: his movie is the reason documentaries are made, and why they are so mesmerizing as real-life stories that could be so unbelievable, yet thrown into absent mindlessness of character it boggles the noggin to thing this is real life, and these are real people.

The subject is a Los Angeles Frenchman, shopkeeper Thierry Guettad. He's an eccentric, but rather smart business runner, buying thrift clothes, than selling them for a ridiculous price, passing it off as designer clothing! 

And as an eccentric, he has an obsession (indicated by a blind side when his mother died) to film every moment of his life with a small DV camera, intending to not miss a second of his life, recorded and cemented forever on tape. 

But not every birthday or every first word. Every waking moment. 

Through interest and curiosity this gets him into the world of street art. He meets, and subsequently interviews, these artists, gaining access to their nightly art escapades by convincing them he is filming a documentary. 

Do we know that for sure he is serious? We expect at first he is, but we learn, farther down the line - as he meets and befriends the never-seen, famous Brit artist Banksy, helping him with his art (still filming), gaining admittance into his studio, his life - that his idea of a documentary is absolute (quoting those brits) bollocks. And it's cemented when Banksy is shown the first cut, a kinetic whirlwind of images set to screaming rock and flashing effects and cuts, having no discernible idea about it and could be the extended trailer for what could be "Banksy's Art On Crack." 

As Banksy mildly put it, he took the movie into his own hands. 

And he got an Oscar nomination (they should do a sequel showing this whole awards business!).

And Thierry goes off and does a big street art show, on Bansky's request allowing him to fix the disaster of the documentary. 

And the surprise: Thierry is a big success, and is now one of the biggest, and hottest, exhibition artists in Los Angles. 

This is what makes "Exit Through The Gift Shop" so memorable, so uproarious, pitiful and morally-questioning. And why most newsmen, or doc filmmakers, would kill to tell a story like this. 

Of course, they could never have dreamed for the turn the whole show would take.

That's what makes it what it is. Thierry, that smartly idiot business man, had enough stamina and stubbornness and sheer stupidity to make his street show a rousing triumph. 

But, like his clothes business, it's all a fluke. His art is bogus! It's photocopied nonsense that may mean something to Thierry, something far off to hip young artistically-minded yuppie/hipsters, and superfluous passings-off to great art by Banksy and others, even the ones that Thierry had filmed and interviewed and of whom had hours on tape. 

And that mysterious Banksy went in and found the story, knew it's potential, saw how morally-wronged, how quite funny, this whole Thierry business really was. 

Again, you could only dream of a subject like Thierry Guetta. Banksy found him. 

In short: "Exit Through The Gift" should, and will, win Best Documentary Feature. 

Although, if The Academy decides Bansky will pull something off, something odd, obscene, political or otherwise, they will give it to the more honorable, and more morally challenging, "Inside Job."

But I think we'll be seeing a monkey-head on Oscar night. Or D'Cruz in a Sean Penn mask. 

Best Foreign Language Feature

"Biutiful" (Mexico)
R "Dogtooth" (Greece)
"In A Better World" (Denmark)
"Incendies" (Canada)
"Outside The Law" (Algeria)

Another category where I haven't seen any of the nominees. Three even have yet to be released in the United States. 

The critic consensus picks "Incendies" to win, and some go with "In A Better World." My guess if those don't, the unusual, but critically praised "Dogtooth,"about parents who seclude their grown-up children to house with strangely grotesque and frightening results, will get it. But it has been controversial. An example of this includes a dog killing scene.

Or it could be Javier Bardem's Oscar nominated vehicle "Biutiful," by famous Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. 

 Best Animated Feature

"How To Train Your Dragon" directors, Chris Sanders & Dean Beblois
R "The Illusionist" director, Syvain Chomet
★ ♥ "Toy Story 3" director, Lee Unkrich

The youngest Oscar category, instituted in 2002, and being a huge admirer for the craft about time, too. Animated film had been overlooked up until then, and this gave animators the chance for their films, mostly getting better in recent years, to be considered more when Best Picture mostly overlooked them. Now, while those better, excellent Pixar films where still not honored in that category, did the Academy expand the Best Picture race from 5 to 10, haven't being done since 1943, including more comedies and indies as well.

Anyway, this should be an easy peasy to guess. Pixar has won every time it's been nominated in this category, only missing twice: that first year, "Monster's Inc." to an equally popular "Shrek," and "Cars" to "Happy Feat" in 2007. And it deserved it every time. 

And "Toy Story 3" certainly does deserve it again now. It's the one critical and audience and moneymaking crowd-pleaser of the year. Again, The Academy honors the most popular movie, especially in this category. 

However, frenchman Syvain Chomet has his second nomination for "The Illusionist," after the fun little offbeat animated flick "The Triplets of Belleville." The disappointment could be that Chomet would win. 

Though it wouldn't be a bad upset. "The Illusionist" is a prestigious honoree. And Hayao Miyazaki's "Spirited Away" won over the more commercially well-liked "Lilo and Stitch" in 2003. 

"How to Train Your Dragon," another critical and audience success, could also win, but this would constitute an upset. 


And now the big ones!

Best Adapted Screenplay

R "127 Hours," Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy 
★ ♥ "The Social Network," Aaron Sorkin
"Toy Story 3," Michael Arndt
"True Grit," Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
"Winter's Bone," Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini

Possibly the only sure lock for the ceremony. Aaron Sorkin,  praised once before (though not nominated) for that famous courtroom suspense/drama "A Few Good Men" ("You Can't Handle The Truth!"), will win for Best Adapted Screenplay for his work on "The Social Network."

He should, too. His script was part of the acclaim for the movie (with the score and David Fincher's direction), and why he does deserve it is his quick-cuing dialogue. It was hard-to-follow, but rollicking fun to keep up with the actors churning out all of Sorkin's words, and I sure love a good talkie, and one that moves at 90 miles an hour! 

Also, as an adaptation and structured script, it was indeed very good. Being able to jump from court deposition to the various moments of Facebook's uprising, from the friendship of Zuckerberg and Saverin, their slow, venemous falling out, and to Sean Parker's devious intrusion in it all, staying thematically as a classic story of class, power, success, betrayal, and all of it coming between friendship.

And Mark, in the middle, unsure of his loyalty or precisely what he wants. 

Sorkin really did this all very well. It was well balanced.

Again, that seamlessness. 

If by some major surprise (very unlikely), Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy will win for "127 Hours." Keep in mind, of course, that this duo won for "Slumdog Millionaire."

Michael Arndt, for "Toy Story 3," took home the award for Original Screenplay for "Little Miss Sunshine," in 2007.

The Brothers have won before, in this category and others.

"Winter's Bone" is the upset pick, but is surely a dark horse. Don't expect it.

Best Original Screenplay

"Another Year," Mike Leigh
"The Fighter," Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson & Keith Dorrington
R "Inception," Christopher Nolan
"The Kid's Are All Right," Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg
★ ♥ "The King's Speech," David Seidler

David Seidler, 73-year-old penner for "The King's Speech," with no previous Academy Award nomination, will get Best Original Screenplay. And reasoning shows he gets the vote from older Academy members. Not to mention the sympathy vote.

He wrote about a stammerer. And he too is a stammerer. He knows it better than he, eh?

But he deserves it, too. His script is very sympathetic and cautious to this very real story. He spent years (possibly longer than Chris Nolan) writing and researching his subject, even waiting for Queen Mother to pass on before going ahead to complete it.

Seidler's concentration on George and Lionel, who they are, and their progressive friendship, was taken on wonderfully. Character triumph gest my vote, and it gets everyone else's, too.

Chris Nolan's "Inception," having been snubbed for Best Director, is runner-up and likely to win if voters want his very popular blockbuster to get some of the cheese.

His "Inception" script was indeed "original," but he lacks character roundedness, and his film didn't have the cherished commodity of emotional impact as did the "King," even with all the praise on that originality and writing ability to pen those glorious and action-filled dreamscape set-pieces.

Mike Leigh, the Brit-master of the improvised comedy/drama, has now been nominated 7 times, and has yet to win.

But his work is still a long-shot. Consider his screenplays are surely unscripted, even as his ideas are entirely his, but the scenes are found in the actor's impromptu.

If Leigh wins, he is the upset pick. But even with 7 noms, does he deserve a win?

The scripts for "The Figther" and "The Kids Are All Right," being very typical, though hugely effective, scripted material, won't win.

Best Supporting Actress

Amy Adams, "The Fighter"
Helena Bonham Carter, "The King's Speech"
R Melissa Leo, "The Fighter"
Hailee Steinfeld, "True Grit"
Jacki Weaver, "Animal Kingdom"

The category ripe with disappointment.  

Honestly, it could go to either one. And it would seem the right fit all along, or like it was a "Hey!, it's the upset category!"

My pick is young Hailee Steinfeld for "True Grit." I don't think she deserves it (at least not this time), though she did a wonderful job in embodiment of a hardbodied western kiddie Mattie Ross, the religious guider and stubborn avenger who finds love and courage through a grilled old marshal, and hard truth through the very real old west.

And Haliee sure hit the dialect spot on.

Still, here's my thing on Steinfeld. I have a feeling, seeing as this is her first feature, that she might not be the big success we would expect of her, and that she's getting the praise too early, and she, and we, are eating it up. Winner or not, she will start getting offers (probably already is), but would it be work like "Grit?," or teeny-bopper silliness that will put her easily into obscurity.

She won't become Lindsey Lohan. Oh, no. But I think we expect she takes the challenging roles like her familair, Saoirse Ronan, Oscar nominated for "Atonment" in the 2008 ceremony.

But will she?

Regardless, I think Hailee will win. The Academy didn't give it to Ronan, and hasn't since Paquin won in 1994 for "The Piano." It may be time again.

My favorite is Melissa Leo for "The Fighter." Like Christian Bale, her performance was immersive and transforming. She was killer as menacing mother/manger with a ragtag daughter posse, but with a soft heart and good intentions. Leo was nominated once before, for leading actress in "Frozen River," and is the runner-up in this category if Steinfeld does not win.

But who really knows?

It could be Amy Adams, another terrific and mutative work in "The Fighter," and has been nominated before without a win.

Or Helena Bonham Carter for "The King's Speech." Her performance as The Queen Mother wasn't a show-stopper (I did indeed like her better as the screaming Red Queen), but The Academy could give it to this once before nominated actress in this very honorable performance.

It really could be a "King's Speech" year, though rarely does it pan down to this category.

Jacki Weaver could be the upset pick for her role as another mother baddie in "Animal Kingdom." She isn't a long shot, that doesn't doesn't exist in the category for Best Supporting Actress.

Best Supporting Actor

★ ♥ Christian Bale, "The Fighter"
John Hawkes, "Winter's Bone"
Jeremy Renner, "The Town"
Mark Ruffalo, "The Kids Are All Right"
R Geoffrey Rush, "The King's Speech"

Christian Bale seems a lock as the once promising welterweight, crazy druggy Dicky Eklund in "The Fighter," and he's my favorite. You can easily see why. His very immersive portrayal is the type of work we love to see in the movies, and really ones based on true life and real-life persons, with the same type of affect "Exit Through The Gift Shop" had, at least on me. Dicky nails our hearts hard, makes us marvel on him, yearn somehow for him, devote pity and sham unto him, and never more so than Dicky's (Bale's) last few moments in the movie in pseudo-interview as he chokes up, for Dicky, for Boxing, for his life thrown in the gutter and now lost forever.

That moment had me. 

Bale will win. Although...

I want to let you in on whey Melissa Leo will not win in the other category...

Never. Ever. Has The Academy given Best Supporting Actor or Best Supporting Actress for the same film if it didn't win Best Bicture. Never. It hasn't happened. And even rarely with Best Picture wins.

It seems odd, but go with the history. And who knows why. It could be to spread the wealth, or some mis-idealized sense that some films just shouldn't get all the major awards by nixing the button supporting category.

So I highly predict that it will be very unlikely Melissa Leo wins for a surprise-prone category while the favorite almost always wins for Best Supporting Actor, and Bale's work was so strong. 

There really is no favorite, of course, for Best Supporting Actress. Which is why Leo, or Adams, won't get the award. Steinfeld, after them, is the most likely. 

I don't know for sure, but my fingers are crossed. So are my bets.

In the upset pick, Geoffrey Rush would win for "King." But like Carter, his performance wasn't showy.

Best Actress

R Annette Bening, "The Kid's Are All Right"
Nicole Kidman, "Rabbit Hole"
Jennifer Lawrence, "Winter's Bone"
Natalie Portman, "Black Swan"
Michelle Williams, "Blue Valentine"

Natalie Portman is the favorite, and has won most of the critic awards. Favorites win here, too. But it's a lower percentage then you might guess. There are upsets.

Annette Bening, being nominated now 4 times, will be the upset pick if Portman isn't given the award for her turn as anxiety-prone, peer-pressured into madness ballet dancer Nina Sayers. 

Portman did good. She got this character pretty well, and because of her youthfulness nailed her dependent girly aspects spot on. It was a near pathetic performance, and why it was so convincing. 

But Bening, as hard-working lesbian mommy to two sperm-donor kids in the comedy/drama "The Kids Are All Right," was a stronger performance. She should win.

And with those 4 noms it could be her turn anyway (many believe she should have won for "American Beauty"), and it wouldn't be a huge enough surprise.

Best Actor

Javier Bardem, "Buitiful"
Jeff Bridges, "True Grit"
Jessie Eisenberg, "The Social Network"
★ ♥ Colin Firth, "The King's Speech"
R James Franco, "127 Hours"

The last few years, unquestionably, it's been so painlessly easy to find and pick the one actor who will be nominated and ultimately win the Oscar for Best Actor, to be hailed to the stars, and be completely unchallenged for it in the race. 

These were guys like Philip Seymor Hoffman, Forest Whitaker, Daniel Day-Lewis, Jamie Fox and Jeff Bridges, who have all won, and were sole tributes and admired for their turns, so absolutely convincing in their roles, it was a win predicted by the gods. And if not, there was easily a collective sigh or gasp in the Oscar audience.

And most of those winners portrayed real-life persons, chiefly famous, or infamous.

Though not quite there with those others, Colin Firth is still that man this year, surely playing a statured real-life figure. And the most prominent of them all: King George IV, mid-century King of Britain.

Talk about esteemed.

Firth isn't a sure lock, and hasn't very much been acclaimed the performance of the decade, but he was for a very light-accomplished year in excellent film and actor performance. He will win for Best Actor as King George the pitiful, temper-prone stammer. And Firth got this performance wonderfully, and after his equally great work as reserved, but lost middle-aged gay George, in "A Single Man," it's a near sure push to give it to him for "The King's Speech."

But, there are upsets here sometimes (with Best Actress). Sean Penn took it away from favorites Bill Murrey ("Lost in Translation") and Mickey Rourke ("The Wrestler") before.

Though there is no Sean Penn in the category now, it could go to Jesse Eisenberg for "The Social Network" as Mark Zuckerburg or James Franco in "127 Hours" as Aaron Ralston, and most likely Franco. Both are young actors, and first-time nominees. But that rule: The Academy may think they will have other shots in the future.

So Firth would be about 90 percent. Or Eisenberg could be the youngest winner in the category, or Franco could have to quip about running to accept the award and run back to host the show.

Best Director

"Black Swan," Darren Aronofsky
"The Fighter," David O. Russell
R "The King's Speech," Tom Hooper
"The Social Network," David Fincher 
♥ "True Grit," Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Oscar history shows most times the movie to win Best Picture snags Best Director. Easily predictable scenario, but it makes sense. Who is really responsible for the movie being so good?

They should just nix this category and give directors their real due in the main race. The producers instead should have their own ballot.

Not likely. And I don't feel a vibe the rest of you would want to start a petition with me.

Director's Joel Coen and Ethan Coen get my vote for Best Directors. I'll go more into "True Grit," but again they've had their limelight, so they won't win.

So this year it would seem so that Tom Hooper, director of "The King's Speech," will win, being his film is inevitably rising to the top of the "yes"-vote pile. But I don't think so.

David Fincher, director of "The Social Network," complementing writer Sorkin's super-quick dialogue by making it quicker, having his actors blast through it all a mile a millisecond and harnessing their best performances to date (and his, too), has the vote from most critics, and his work was more admired than Hooper's, whose is equally adherent to visuals, pace and work with actors, but may be brushed-off for The Academy vote.

It rarely happens, directors winning for a movie not garnering The Big One. Hooper should have more chances in the future. So will Fincher. With a little gold backing.

But the vote is still torn between these two films. Which film, "The King's Speech" or "The Social Network," will take it home? 

And NOW!

Best Picture

"Black Swan" producers, Mike Medovoy, Brian Oliver & Scott Franklin
"The Fighter" producers, David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman and Mark Wahlberg
"Inception" producers, Emma Thomas & Christopher Nolan
"The Kids Are All Right" producers, Gary Gilbert, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte & Celine Rattray
"The King's Speech" producers, Iain Canning, Emile Sherman & Gareth Unwin 
"127 Hours" producers, Christian Colson, Danny Bolye & John Smithson
R "The Social Network" producers, Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca & Cean Chaffin
"Toy Story 3" producer, Darla K. Anderson
♥ "True Grit" producers, Scott Rudin, Ethan Coen & Joel Coen
"Winter's Bone" producers, Anne Rosellini & Alix Madigan-Yorkin

The race has doubled from 5 nominations to 10, a petition finally won when those few certain films (those Pixars and comedies) weren't getting recognized. 

So, here they are, all 10, glory film lo-and-behold, the best selected for the most prestigious movie award ceremony 82 years running: Derelict Lower-Class Winter Hell. Survival in the Crevasse. Family Woos and Sperm Donors. Real-Life Boxing Dramatics. Toys That Make You Blobber.

Crazy ballet. Sci-fi Action Dreamscapes. Western Revenge Glory. Pretentious Computer Hackers. And Royal Triumphs.

For some of them, the nomination is the real true honor...

Because they don't stand a lick at winning at all.

The real five are: "Inception," Christopher's Nolan's hugely popular science-fiction blockbuster about thiefs who infiltrate your mind. "Black Swan," indie director Darren Aronofsky's signature decent into madness finds a ballet dancer pressured into perfection as she's being tormented by her own inner demons. "True Grit," my favorite, The Coen Brothers second adaptation of a Charles Portis comic western novel about a spirited, hard-headed teenager who hires a wizened drunkard of a marshall to pursue the man who shot her father in cold blood. This one has a zero shot, and I would agree anyway that The Coen's have had their glory already, having won with "No Country For Old Men," a western within itself, taking home screenplay, direction and picture.

But it's my favorite, and my pick as the year's best film, because, like everyone's heart "The King's Speech,"the movie hit's you pretty hard emotionally.

But The Coen's do it much more uniquely.

Mattie Ross, the plucky young hero with a right-mind but a misguided since that she must avenge her father and that the whole affair will be an adventure waiting to take her into her seemingly delayed chapter into adulthood.

Rooster Cogburn, the slurring, old drunk marshall, defined as the meanest, with "true grit," is coaxed by sure-talking Mattie to hunt down the killer, Tom Chaney. A slightly clueless egocentric Texas Ranger, named LaBoeuf, tags along.

As they travel along the trio develop their own respects for each other, even through LaBoeuf hindering off, Cogburn shotting and killing and getting drunk and remising about wives and failed restaurant endeavors. Even through this Mattie continues to stay determined about it all, though losing slowly her romantic grasp on the vengeance she so craves. She does succeed, and killer Chaney gets his due, but she loses her spirit and resolve. Mattie is bitten on the hand by a rattlesnake...

And Rooster rides her off into the starry night, on her pony Little Blackie, as Carter Burwell soft plays a recurring piano hymn, until the poor animal is spent. Rooster continues on, carrying Mattie as he runs, huffing along, until...

They're in front of the healer's cabin. He's spent. But not just yet. He fires his pistol. The Healer finds them. He succeeded, but Mattie is unconscious. You only hope.

"I have grown old"....

We hear first, her older self, and we know it's years now down the road: "I wasn't awake when I lost the arm..."

Mattie fails to see Rooster again before he passes. She stands before his grave, thinking of him, a respect, a love, gone without a thank you or a goodbye. She walks away, as like the old Mattie she used to be, though a fragile shell, as dignified as she can, thinking of their old adventure and of Laboeuf and how she'd like to see him. The the credits roll, the the music achingly plays, in what we maybe imagine is her own sorrowed voice...

"Safe and secure from all alarms, leaning on the everlasting arms..."

The Coen Brothers are not known to be sentimental. But they get this, this "True Grit," just right. Staying near neutral throughout it all, still determined and unvaried as is through Mattie's eyes, until that starry night ride to save her life. That scene, and it's somber ending, where tender just enough, that hit the right spot and tore our hearts open and and made us ache.

It isn't Spielberg. But it's perfect.

That's why "True Grit" is my favorite movie. It just won't win Best Picture...

So the two real contenders are: "The Social Network," David Fincher's fast-moving contemporary Shakespearian-ode to power and betrayal about the twenty-somethings who founded Facebook, and the suits that followed to the sites creator, Mark Zuckerberg, the youngest billionaire in the world. And "The King's Speech," about King George IV, who became reluctant successor to the British Throne when his brother, the real heir, renounced to marry, leaving George to run a nation. Except he had a terrible stammer. The story follows his friendship with unlikely chap of a doctor, Lionel Logue, a failed Aussie actor who runs a vocal clinic, and the two's success for one speech, the first address by George to the world during the early hours of World War II.

It's a real success story. A literal honorable crowd-pleaser and feel-gooder (word-of-mouth just put it past 100m domestically). This is why The Academy Awards will give this film the big prize for Best Motion Picture of the Year.

The Academy loves to honor these types of films for Best Picture. "The King's Speech" is certainly that. And the movie just has that "prestigious" marking to get it. Real royal class and a production that lavishes it's period setting.

And let's not forget most Academy voters are older (some younger, too) and would certainly select the most reputable and respectfully inclined out of all the nominees, as is the prerogative with voters over 50 (you can give your own opinion). And that's with younger voters too, who will mostly vote for "The Social Network," the more morally-testing piece. Some of The Academy would honor such a film as well.

But would the collective consensus really be for those 20-year-old ostentatious techno nerds? Would it seem more - "principled" and "righteous" and really indeed "honorable" - to give the award to a virtuous royal family, whose palpable agenda as rulers would be to ultimately triumph in the face of the impossible? They are the King's, they are the Queens, and they are underdog aussies.

And they all are very much indeed older.

"The King's Speech" will win Best Picture.

Though something to think as I leave you to ponder on this...

If you do look at the last decade of Best Picture winners, notice that two certain films, in a consecutive order, have gotten the award every other year.

Here's what I mean: "The Hurt Locker" - Challenging film. "Slumdog Millionaire" - Crowd-pleaser.

"No Country For Old Men" - challenging film. "The Departed" - crowd-pleaser

You getting this?

"Crash" - challenging film. "Million Dollar Baby" - crowd-pleaser.

You got it? Okay...

"The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" - crowd-pleaser... okay, streak broken. But wait!...

"Chicago" - crowd-pleaser. "A Beautiful Mind" - crowd-pleaser. "Gladiator" - crowd-pleaser.

"American Beauty" - challenging film....

Do you see the pattern?...

Yeah, not really. But look at the majority.

Most crowd-pleasers. That word. The Academy. The Public. The World. Love Crowd-Pleasers.

Unless I'm mistaken, very very mistaken, unless there is a pattern, the stretch will continue with another challenger. For those who stand by it, circle in "The Social Network."

But I don't say so. No, sir!

"And the Oscar goes to..."

"...The King's Speech!" Applause around - various acceptance speeches - more applause until...

"This is The 83rd Academy Awards. Goodnight, everybody! Thanks for watching!"


And thanks for reading. Good luck with your polls, you amateur experts. And good luck to the nominees.

And remember: it's not a night for the prestige, the glamour, the gowns, the dance and song intervals, the host gags, the walk and smile and camera SNAP on the red carpet, the sheer glamourous display of awards and stars and fabulous decor enveloped in movie-allure and the expectant call of the envelope -

 - but a night for the movies.