Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Oscar Predix Sidebar Update

If you take a quick gander at my Oscar prediction sidebar (right over there ---->, down the page a bit), you'll notice that I've updated my current predictions, seeing as it's been a crazy month in terms of critic's awards, not to mention the Golden Globe & SAG fallout. I believe a new Chasing Gold column will be published next week over at IRO, so you'll be able to read my full thoughts then. Until then, ponder the endless possibilities that 2008 has thrown our way.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The 10 Best Films of 2008

I've been pretty vocal about my dissatisfaction with the year 2008 in regards to film. It should be pretty obvious looking at the thin crop of serious awards contenders this year that '08 will probably go down as the worst year for cinema in almost a decade. Personally, this year was defined more by it's disappointments than anything else. Slumdog Millionaire and Wall-E, two of the year's most hyped films, left me sadly underwhelmed to say the least. Meanwhile, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Reader, two of the year's most prestigious adaptations, washed over me in a wave of competence, but not much else. There were exceptions of course, such as Doubt and Revolutionary Road, a pair of flawed, slightly more high profile releases, both of which powered their way onto my list of honorable mentions by sheer force of their brilliant acting showcases.

If anything, 2008 represented a welcome shift back to pure independent cinema. In fact, the only remnant of Hollywood to be found on my final top 10 list was a genre transcending comic book flick. Everything else kind of just slowly crept it's way up on me over the year, resonating for unexpected reasons but firmly planting themselves in the soil of my memory. Even Man On Wire, The Visitor and Paranoid Park, three films that just missed out on top 10 placement, fit the bill perfectly. So I guess it shouldn't surprise me that as I look back at these 15 films, the year doesn't seem quite as negligible as I've made it seem, and in honor of the modest intentions of a majority of the following films, I've attempted to keep my thoughts succinct and to the point. Enjoy.

Honorable Mentions:
Doubt (John Patrick Shanley)
Man on Wire (James Marsh)
Paranoid Park (Gus Van Sant)
Revolutionary Road (Sam Mendes)
The Visitor (Thomas McCarthy)


10. Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt)
Another quietly poetic film from the director of the equally commendable Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy tells the seemingly simple tale of a young drifter named Wendy and her lost dog Lucy. We rarely see human relationships drawn with as much heart as these two characters, let alone a girl and her dog. Michelle Williams stars in a wonderful performance as Wendy.


9. Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson)
A stoic, bone-chillingly sparse Swedish vampire film that is as beautiful as it is thought provoking. Featuring two mesmerizing performances from a couple of very young child actors, Let the Right One In takes the best of horror conventions and transforms them into something approaching perfection. There are a number images in this film that I will never forget.


8. Frozen River (Courtney Hunt)
Perhaps 2008s most welcome debut, Courtney Hunt's Frozen River is a compelling portrait of a woman trying to financially provide for her children at any costs. The film is grounded by a subtle yet uncompromising performance by Melissa Leo, and Hunt's script and bare-bones directing style elevate this little film via a lived-in authenticity and a unique aesthetic look.


7. Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh)
A provokingly up-beat film from director Mike Leigh, Happy-Go-Lucky and it's breakout star Sally Hawkins can, for some viewers at least, move from giddy optimism to outright annoyance. I personally saw it as a film about a woman so intrinsically good natured that she can almost blind herself to life's ills. When the film unexpectedly climaxes, it reveals a deep seeded message about relationships and the roles of dueling personalities that should strike a chord in even the sourest demeanor.


6. Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme)
The French New Wave by way of Robert Altman stylings of Rachel Getting Married didn't just reestablish the talents of director Jonathan Demme, but also announced the arrival of Anne Hathaway into the club of accomplished film actresses. Here is one of the year's great performances, yet she never overshadows this strong ensemble of actors. Rachel Getting Married is a freely structured, emotionally charged film of immense quality.


5. Milk (Gus Van Sant)
The year's most purely American film, Gus Van Sant's second of two 2008 efforts stars Sean Penn in towering performance as gay-rights-activist-turned-politician Harvey Milk. The film is a richly detail snapshot of Milk's rise to prominence in late-70s San Francisco, and a telling sign that things really have stayed very much the same in the decades since. James Franco and Josh Brolin turn in polar opposite supporting work, the former as Milk's long-time lover and the latter as the assassin who would ultimately take matters into his own hands.


4. Snow Angels (David Gordon Green)
Snow Angels, an early season gem from indie-icon David Gordon Green, wraps a story of contrasting love interests in a blanket of snow and cold-blooded murder. Green depicts an ever-fraying marriage against fresh-faced puppy love, and the actors on either side of the equation - Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell; Olivia Thirlby and Michael Argarano - all turn in career best performances. No matter your expectations, Snow Angels will leave its mark.


3. Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman)
Charlie Kaufman's head-spinningly original, compulsively watchable ensemble art piece Synecdoche, New York, is, even for him, a bit out-there. Fans of the writer's previous credits will have a slight idea of what to expect, but there isn't much to prepare the viewer for this intensely personal trip down the rabbit hole. There wasn't a better stable of notable actresses recruited for any film this year, while the great Philip Seymour Hoffman turns in yet another performance of barely-contained angst and perverse pleasures.


2. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan)
It's easy to label The Dark Knight as the best comic book film ever (probably because it is), or even the year's most thrilling entertainment, but it's also an often-times disturbing mirror of modern society. It's not often that a film exceeds expectations to such a degree, but Nolan one-ups the already classic Batman Begins for a second entry of daring political parallels, eye-popping stunt work and one of modern cinema's most indelible performances. If nothing else, The Dark Knight proves that sub-genres, when handled with the proper care and respect, can be sculpted into the most triumphant of dramas.


1. The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky)
Director Darren Aronofsky's raw, riveting look at the life of ex-superstar wrestler Randy "The Ram" Robinson was by some margin the year's most heart-wrenching and affecting film. A picture of great emotional weight and countless indelible moments, The Wrestler's insight into the soul of a washed-up athlete stands near the top of the greatest character studies ever put on screen. Mickey Rourke's real life parallels to The Ram's character arc adds a degree of uneasiness to his stunning performance, almost as if the actor is commenting on his own time spent in exile. As a local stripper and the only real friend of Randy, the work of Marisa Tomei is equally enthralling, and together these two characters utilize there bodies by different means in hopes of arriving at the same end result.

Aronofsky paints a frighteningly accurate picture of backstage independent wrestling promotions, while any fan worth his salt (and I admit to be a life-long wrestling fan) knows that tales such as these are far too common in the business. As Randy sits at a sparsely attended fan signing and looks around the room at what has become of his contemporaries, it's nearly impossible not to feel for him. His career is all but over, he's lost almost everything that is important to him, including his daughter (played by Evan Rachel Wood), while his passion for the business and the roar of the crowd is literally all that is keeping him alive. Randy's realization of this fact is essential to the film's success, and while often times difficult to watch (both physically and emotionally), The Wrestler rewards with both scathing insight and lasting portrayals. As a universal love story, Aronofsky has crafted something close to a human tragedy.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Mick Foley Endorses "The Wrestler"

I know I said I was taking at break for a week, but I had to post this. I was always concerned about how Darren Aronofsky's new film The Wrestler would play with men (or women) in the wrestling profession. Well a ringing endorsement from the one and only Mick Foley has done wonders to quench my apprehension. This is a film you will be hearing a little about (okay, a lot) from me come next week. I liked his witty closing paragraph especially:

"There was one other minor note of disappointment for me: I never did detect any of myself in the movie. Believe me, I tried. Hey, if you are going to be an influence on a movie, it might as well be a great one like The Wrestler. Who knows, maybe I inspired Randy's ratty assortment of faded flannels. And a few people have suggested that I inspired that grisly wrestling scene. But I can claim with a clear conscience that I never used a staple gun on an opponent. Thumbtacks, yes; barbed wire, definitely; but never a staple gun. Maybe one day I will find out I did play some kind of role in the development of one of the great characters in modern movie history. I hope so. Because I kind of feel like I owe Mickey Rourke—you know, for that popcorn trick back in '82. " [Continue Reading]

[from Slate via Incontention]

Thursday, December 18, 2008

2008 Screen Actors Guild Nominations

The SAG nominations were handed out minutes ago, and as the first major guild of the season, they should do their part in bringing the web chatter back down to earth. First, the Dark Knight scored just a single preordained nod, perhaps confirming that most of it's love come Oscar morning could be from the technical branches. Slumdog Millionaire on the other hand proved it's staying power with 2 nominations, one for newcomer Dev Patel and one for Ensemble cast, and this from a film without one name star. Doubt similarly looks as strong as ever, with four nominations for each one of it's participants, although a Best Picture nomination still feels like a long shot to me.

From the individual side of things there was no Sally Hawkins to be found, reiterating my constant reminders that critics don't vote for Oscars. The actors branch instead went for the gut-wrenching turn from Melissa Leo (Frozen River) and the awards-floundering performance of Kate Winslet in Revolutionary Road. While I'm not by any means counting out Sally Hawkins (she is in a Mike Leigh film after all) this certainly clouds the race even further. And that's not even taking into account the suddenly resurgent Angelina Jolie, who gives her best performance ever in Changeling. One thing is for sure, there will be snubs come nomination morning.

Best Actor went more or less as planned. SAG has never been trigger happy with Clint Eastwood nominations, so his absence her was not surprising. Richard Jenkins on the other hand feels like a perfect SAG nominee - hard working character actor in a breakout role - and with this increased attention, his Oscar hopes have grown significantly. Leonardo DiCaprio (Revolutionary Road) and Brad Pitt are seemingly vying for the final slot in the race, with this round going to Pitt once again. Benjamin Button is the more Oscar palatable of their respective films, and right now I'd say he has pulled ahead in my predictions.

The all important Supporting categories have finally cleared the waters in some respects. I think were getting closer to the Oscar lineup for Supporting Actor right here, with Dev Patel scoring a nod that I have long predicted. Only Michael Shannon poses a threat - and it's a serious threat - probably on the verge of stealing the slot of Robert Downey Jr., who may have a harder time with scoring nod from the stone-faced Academy.

The Supporting Actress race has gone through another reevaluation this morning, as Taraji P. Henson finally scores her first major citation of the year, while Amy Adams joins her other three cast members from Doubt in the nomination circle. Adams have a tougher time avoiding vote splitting with the Academy however, especially with Marissa Tomei (The Wrestler) and the criminally snubbed Rosemarie DeWitt (Rachel Getting Married) nipping at her heals. Kate Winslet grabbed her second nomination of the morning, this time for The Reader, and Harvey Weinstein must be breathing a sigh of relief that the voters disregarded the category fraud and voted as the FYC materials prompted.

The two biggest losers of the morning have to be Rachel Getting Married and The Dark Knight. I feel both will ultimately play better with the Academy, although I am admittedly a bit confused by the lack of the love for the actor driven Rachel. The morning's winners include Frost/Nixon, who I wasn't sure would grab a ensemble nod, and of course Benjamin Button and it's three galvanizing nominations. Those two films, along with Milk and Slumdog Millionaire seem like sure bets for Oscar nominations for Best Picture. The PGA and DGA should help determine the fifth slot, and it is there that I fully expect The Dark Knight to solidify it's placement.

Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn, Milk
Brad Pitt, Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie, Changeling
Melissa Leo, Frozen River
Meryl Streep, Doubt
Kate Winslet, Rev Road

Supporting Actor
Josh Brolin, Milk
Robert Downey , Jr., Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
Heath Ledger, The Dark Night
Dev Patel, Slumdog Millionaire

Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, Doubt
Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina
Viola Davis, Doubt
Taraji P. Henson, Benjamin Button
Kate Winslet, The Reader

Benjamin Button
Slumdog Millionaire

Monday, December 15, 2008

Popmatters' 60 Best Albums of 2008

Popmatters' annual list of the 60 best records of the year went up today, and I'm quite pleased with the results. I voted for the list and wrote the capsule review of El Guincho's Alegranza!, which placed at a cool #25 (it made my personal Top 10). Read the entire countdown here, or go right to my thoughts on Alegranza! here.

Here's the Top 10:

10. Los Campesinos! - Hold On Now, Youngster...
9. Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid
8. Lil Wayne - The Carter III
7. Deerhunter - Microcastle
6. Cut Copy - In Ghost Colours
5. The Bug - London Zoo
4. Erykah Badu - New Amerykah, Part One
3. TV on the Radio - Dear Science
2. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
1. Portishead - Third

Thursday, December 11, 2008

2008 Golden Globe Nominations

Let's start with the obvious: Revolutionary Road and The Reader got the biggest leg up today (and to a lesser extent, Doubt), as they had been all but absent from the critic's awards of the last week. Both films received Best Picture and Best Director nominations, along with the appropriate acting marks for each. On the other side of the spectrum we have Milk and The Dark Knight, who got the shaft in a big way, with each film only picking up one nod a piece, both in the expected acting categories.

And those acting nominations were predictability star-driven again this year, or at least that's the only way I can explain a left-field supporting nod for Tom Cruise (and this coming from a big Tropic Thunder fan). But it's those supporting categories that are actually the most baffling, although by now we should have come to expect it I suppose. Ray Fiennes picked up a nod for The Duchess, his first and probably last. Meanwhile the men of Milk, Josh Brolin and James Franco, received no love (you could argue vote split, but I doubt it considering the full-on cold shoulder the film got all around). A surprise on the female side was Amy Adams, one of four nominees from Doubt, although I wouldn't get too excited, as she has a uphill climb ahead of her, especially seeing as how Viola Davis is all but locked for an Oscar nod and the fact that double category nominarions are tough to pull off.

And then there are the comedy categories, which are normally pretty useless, though this year there were some worthy nominees. Vicki Cristina Barcelona made a big showing, while more unexpectedly, In Bruges brought it's two leads some recognition. Sally Hawkins grabbed yet another mention for her great work in Happy-Go-Lucky, and with a very thin Best Actress in a Comedy category, I think she takes the Globe as well, all but assuring her an Oscar nomination.

Finally, it'll be interesting to see which film the guilds form around. If this really is just the first step for Revolutionary Road or The Reader, then the field may be drastically changing in the coming weeks, as both those films had been faltering recently with no admiration from the critic's circles. What we do know now is that Slumdog Millionaire, Benjamin Button and Frost/Nixon are as strong as ever. However, I wouldn't read too much into the Milk and Dark Knight snubs, as these aren't the types of films that usually play well with the HFPA (read: very American). The guilds are the final say, and they will ultimately weed out the weak.

And in tribute to their nomination of Tom Cruise, all I have to say to the HFPA is, "a nutless monkey could do your job."

Best Picture, Drama
Benjamin Button
The Reader
Revolutionary Road
Slumdog Millionaire

Best Picture Comedy/Musical
Burn After Reading
Happy Go Lucky
In Bruges
Mamma Mia
Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
Stephen Daldry, The Reader
David Fincher, Ben Button
Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon
Sam Mendes, Revolutionary Road

Actor, Drama
Leonardo DiCaprio, Revolutionary Road
Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn, Milk
Brad Pitt, Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

Actress, Drama
Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie, Changeling
Meryl Streep, Doubt
Kristin Scott Thomas, I’ve Loved you So Long
Kate Winslet, Revolutionary Road

Supporting Actor
Tom Cruise, Tropic Thunder
Robert Downey Jr. Tropic Tunder
Ralph Fiennes, The Duchess
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, Doubt
Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis, Doubt
Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
Kate Winslet, The Reader

Actor, Comedy
Javier Bardem, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Colin Farrel, In Bruges
James Franco, Pineapple Express
Brendan Gleason, In Bruges
Dustin Hoffman Last Chance Harvey

Actress, Comedy
Rebecca Hall, Vicky Cristina
Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky
Frances McDormand, Burn After Reading
Meryl Streep, Mamma Mia
Emma Thompson, Last Chance Harvey

Foreign Language Film
The Baader Meinhof Complex (Germany)
Everlasting Moments (Sweden)
Gomorrah (Italy)
I’ve Loved You So Long
Waltz with Bashir

Animated Feature
Kung Fu Panda

Slumdog Millionaire
The Reader
Benjamin Button

Benjamin Button
Slumdog Millionaire

Down to Earth, Wall-E
Gran Torino
I thought I Lost You, Bolt
Once in a Lifetime, Cadillac Record
The Wrestler, The Wrestler

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

New York Film Critics Circle Winners

I haven't time to dig too deep into these satisfying selections from the NYFCC, but I'd like to touch on the two lead acting winners if I may. After picking up the LAFCA Best Actress prize just yesterday, Sally Hawkins surprisingly scores again with the New York critics, solidifying her spot as a true contender (not that I haven't been aware of this fact for months now, but this should convince the doubters). And then there is Sean Penn, who is looking like he will be tough to beat come Oscar night. I felt that if Mickey Rourke stood a chance at the Oscar, he would have to dominate the critic's awards, but as of now he's only picked up the rather inconsequential D.C. critic's win. Just some food for thought.

Best Picture - Milk
Best Director - Mike Leigh (Happy-Go-Lucky)
Best Actor - Sean Penn (Milk)
Best Actress - Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky)
Best Supporting Actor - Josh Brolin (Milk)
Best Supporting Actress - Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona)
Best Screenplay - Jenny Lumet (Rachel Getting Married)
Best Cinematographer - Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionaire)
Best Foreign Film - 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
Best Animated Film - WALL-E
Best First Film - Courtney Hunt (Frozen River)
Best Documentary - Man on Wire

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Los Angeles Film Critics Association Winners

The L.A. film critics are notoriously self-conscious taste makers, and I definitely don't mean that in a condescending way. In fact, they are probably my favorite of the critic's groups. They just want their picks to matter, and this year proved to be no different, as they may have single handedly kept alive the Best Picture hopes of Wall-E, which took home their Best Picture prize (it should be noted that The Dark Knight was the runner-up). It has a huge uphill climb ahead of it of course, and I certainly won't be predicting it anytime soon, but it is important to see that the film is still on people's minds.

Happy-Go-Lucky was the other big winner at the LAFCA, and in this particular case, I couldn't be more satisfied. Sally Hawkins was fantastic in the film, and I'm hoping that the small contigent of Poppy haters out there will be drowned out by the mounting buzz. Mike Leigh also took home the Screenplay prize, although his films are almost always improvised. And you must remeber, the Academy LOVES Mike Leigh. The L.A. critics obviously had a strong reaction to the film, and I wouldn't be suprised if some of the love carried over.

All the other major category winners were taken by the fronrunners, thus changing nothing. Expect some more curveballs tomorrow though, as the New York critics weigh with their winners.

Picture: “Wall-E”
Runner-up: “The Dark Knight”

Director: Danny Boyle, “Slumdog Millionaire”
Runner-up: Christopher Nolan, “The Dark Knight”

Actor: Sean Penn, “Milk”
Runner-up: Mickey Rourke, “The Wrestler”

Actress: Sally Hawkins, “Happy-Go-Lucky”
Runner-up: Melissa Leo, “Frozen River”

Supporting actor: Heath Ledger, “The Dark Knight”
Runner-up: Eddie Marsan, “Happy-Go-Lucky”

Supporting actress: Penelope Cruz, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” and “Elegy”
Runner-up: Viola Davis, “Doubt”

Screenplay: Mike Leigh, “Happy-Go-Lucky”
Runner-up: Charlie Kaufman, “Synecdoche, New York”

Foreign-language film: “Still Life”
Runner-up: “The Class”

Documentary: “Man on Wire”
Runner-up: “Waltz With Bashir”

Animation: “Waltz With Bashir”

Cinematography: Yu Lik Wai, “Still Life”
Runner-up: Anthony Dod Mantle, “Slumdog Millionaire”

Production design: Mark Friedberg, “Synecdoche, New York”
Runner-up: Nathan Crowley, “The Dark Knight”

Music/score: A.R. Rahman, “Slumdog Millionaire”
Runner-up: Alexandre Desplat, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”

New Generation: Steve McQueen, “Hunger”

Douglas E. Edwards independent/experimental film/video: James Benning, “RR” and “Casting a Glance”

2008 Broadcast Film Critics Association Nominees

It's important to note that the two awards bodies who weighed in today, the BFCA and the LAFCA, are just that, critics groups. Critics don't vote for Oscars, and getting too worried about who or what didn't show up on these lists could prove to be a little hasty. The guilds are still the most reliable precursors by a wide margin. With that being said however, the critics awards can help to build momentum for previously overlooked or underrepresented films. So by the token, Nothing but the Truth got a little deserved exposure, as it's two female actors were both nominated. Sticking with the women, Melissa Leo continues to resonate, while Kate Winslet finally scored a nod for The Reader. However, it's Kate's other film that has the web all flusterred today, as Revolutionary Road was totally shut out at the BFCA, with 6 chances at each acting category to have a go at. Kris Tapley over at Incontention, who is a memeber of the group, posits the theory that the screeners may have arrived a bit too late for some voters to see. There's really no conclusive way to know, but after failing to dent the NBR's list last week, there is some growing hesitation surrounding the film. Thursday's Golden Globe announcements could be the breaking point for Sam Mendes' 1950s suburban drama.

Outside of that, there were only minimal surprises. James Franco scoring the 2nd Supporting nod for Milk was well deserved, as I feel he is the superior between him and Brolin. And then there is Rachel Getting Married, which got left out of almost every category I expected it to score in except Best Actress. Meanwhile, The Wrestler continues to show it has legs and Wall-E was just beginning it's big day.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire
The Wrestler

Clint Eastwood - Gran Torino
Richard Jenkins - The Visitor
Frank Langella - Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn - Milk
Brad Pitt - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke - The Wrestler

Kate Beckinsale - Nothing But the Truth
Cate Blanchett - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Anne Hathaway - Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie - Changeling
Melissa Leo - Frozen River
Meryl Streep - Doubt

Josh Brolin - Milk
Robert Downey, Jr. - Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman - Doubt
Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight
James Franco - Milk

Penelope Cruz - Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis - Doubt
Vera Farmiga - Nothing But the Truth
Taraji P. Henson - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Marisa Tomei - The Wrestler
Kate Winslet - The Reader

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Rachel Getting Married

Danny Boyle - Slumdog Millionaire
David Fincher - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard - Frost/Nixon
Christopher Nolan - The Dark Knight
Gus Van Sant - Milk

BEST WRITER (Original or Adapted Screenplay)
Simon Beaufoy - Slumdog Millionaire
Dustin Lance Black - Milk
Peter Morgan - Frost/Nixon
Eric Roth - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
John Patrick Shanley - Doubt

Kung Fu Panda
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
Waltz With Bashir

Dakota Fanning - The Secret Life of Bees
David Kross - The Reader
Dev Petal - Slumdog Millionaire
Brandon Walters - Australia

The Dark Knight
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Iron Man
Quantum of Solace

Burn After Reading
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Role Models
Tropic Thunder
Vicky Cristina Barcelona

John Adams
Coco Chanel

A Christmas Tale
I’ve Loved You So Long
Let the Right One In
Waltz With Bashir

Man On Wire
Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired
Standard Operating Procedure
Young At Heart

“Another Way to Die” (performed by Jack White and Alicia Keys, written by Jack White) - Quantum of Solace
“Down to Earth” (performed by Peter Gabriel, written by Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman) - Wall-E
“I Thought I Lost You” (performed Miley Cyrus and John Travolta, written by Miley Cyrus and Jeffrey Steele) - Bolt
“Jaiho” (performed by Sukhwinder Singh, written by A.R. Rahman and Gulzar) - Slumdog Millionaire
“The Wrestler” (performed by Bruce Springsteen, written by Bruce Springsteen) - The Wrestler

Alexandre Desplat - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Clint Eastwood - Changeling
Danny Elfman - Milk
Hans Zimmer/James Newton Howard - The Dark Knight
A.R. Rahman - Slumdog Millionaire

Monday, December 8, 2008

Popmatters' 50 Best Singles of 2008

I guess you could call this a conflict of interest, but nevertheless, today Popmatters published their annual list of the 50 Best Singles of 2008. I contributed my personal top ten a number of weeks ago, which was a slight variation on my Top Ten Songs of 2008, with a few songs switched out since they weren't actual singles (I don't discriminate here at Stereo Sanctity). Anyway, I contributed the capsule review to the #8 entry, Hercules and Love Affair's "Blind", my personal favorite track of the entire year. You can read the whole list here, or jump right to the top ten here. Their album list should surface later this wekk or next, to which I also lent an opinion. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

2008 National Board of Review Winners

Below you'll find my thoughts on this year's winners at the National Board of Review.

Top Ten Films:
(In alphabetical order)

The Eastwood love ran deep this year with the NBR. I should have expected it, and even though I had a feeling both Changeling and Gran Torino would make their Top 10, I didn't actually think it would happen. And there was more Clint where that came from in other categories (we'll get to those in a sec). I am particularly proud of my Defiance pick though, as not many had predicted it. I can at least understand the NBR's love of Eastwood, but they have an unhealthy obsession with Zwick that I can't fully comprehend. Burn After Reading seems to be their "weak" pick in most people eyes, and although I liked the film, I tend to agree that it does stand out from the other films. And based on it's win total, it is probably safe to assume that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button came in 2nd in the Best Picture voting. Beyond that, I am a little surprised to see The Wrestler here, as the NBR tend to be very traditional with their picks. Anyway, that was a nice surprise, along with The Dark Knight (they tend to have an aversion to fantasy films as well). The big omissions where most definitely Revolutionary Road and The Reader. And I think we can finally (and thankfully) stop talking about Australia as a viable contender now.


I wasn't expecting Slumdog to win this, but it makes perfect sense in hindsight. This really is the year's safest of the big Oscar movies, and the NBR loves to stay firmly in the middle of the road. I wouldn't make too much of it though. I fully expect Slumdog to take quite a few high profile critics awards, and garner a slew of Oscar nods in the process, but traditionally the NBR rarely ever accurately predicts Best Picture. This film is the definition of a critic's darling, and unless most every film fails to gather awards steam, then it is probably destined to stay that way. Milk and Benjamin Button still feel like the Oscar fronrunners to me.

Best Director: DAVID FINCHER, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

I expect a lot of voting bodies to split their top two prizes this year, seeing as how there isn't really a consensus pick this year in eaither category. This gives a nice boost to Benjamin Button though, and at this point David Fincher looks like a good bet for his first Oscar nod.

Best Actor: CLINT EASTWOOD, Gran Torino

This is where things start to get interesting. We know that the NBR has a blatant track record of rewarding Clint no matter what he puts out, but even I'm a little taken aback by this win. The NBR screening of Gran Torino was just this week though, so it was probably freshest in the voters' minds, and thus....a win. Eastwood certainly becomes a more formidable contender now, not that I haven't been predicting him for months, but this does finally solidify his love from the older voters, the most dangerous of contingency within the Academy.

Best Actress: ANNE HATHAWAY, Rachel Getting Married

Here was my personal favorite win of the day. I think Hathaway deserves every accolade thrown her way this season, and even if she doesn't pick up many more, an Oscar nod is feeling more and more right as the days go on. I thought Kate Winslet would grab this award, but it is particularly suspicious that Revolutionary Road was shut out completely today, not just here. It may have been just a smidgen too raw for the voters though. I fully expect Gold Globe nominations for the film all around come next Thursday.

Best Supporting Actor: JOSH BROLIN, Milk

I'm not as surprised as most with this win for Brolin, since I never expected Heath Ledger to win every critic's award. This is probably the first of many that will be spread amongst the contenders. Ledger's got the Oscar on lock though, so I don't see the harm in spreading the wealth.

Best Supporting Actress: PENELOPE CRUZ, Vicky Cristina Barcelona

This is a little disheartening, but a perfectly safe and predictable choice for the NBR. Cruz will earn an Oscar nod for her work in VCB without a doubt (not that she shouldn't, but there is better work to choose from this year), but a win will more than likely come from somewhere unexpected. Hopefully the upcoming critic's awards will thrust someone else into the frontrunner's slot.

Best Foreign Language Film: MONGOL

This could have gone multiple ways, and it is still anyone's game obviously.

Best Documentary: MAN ON WIRE

I don't see Man On Wire losing many of these precusor awards.

Best Animated Feature: WALL-E

No really?

Best Ensemble Cast: DOUBT

I predicted this, and a SAG ensemble nod looks just as likely, if not for the win as well.

Breakthrough Performance by an Actor: DEV PATEL, Slumdog Millionaire

I currently have him slotted for an Oscar nod, and this does little to derail my feelings.

Breakthrough Performance by an Actress: VIOLA DAVIS, Doubt

I can't believe Sally Hawkins didn't win this, but leave it to the NBR to hand their Breakthrough Actress award to a woman who is decades into her career.

Best Directorial Debut: COURTNEY HUNT, Frozen River

Love this pick. Great film. Great direction. So underrated.

Best Original Screenplay: NICK SCHENK, Gran Torino

I'm utterly baffled by this win. There's not much more I can say, except that I wouldn't expect it to continue.

Best Adapted Screenplay: SIMON BEAUFOY, Slumdog Millionaire and ERIC ROTH, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Ties never clear anything up, not that this category needed any clearing up though I guess. I see these two films battling it out for the Oscar when it is all said and done. I haven't yet seen Benjamin Button, but the weakest part of Slumdog was easily it's script in my opinion, so you can probably guess which way I'm leaning.

Spotlight Award: MELISSA LEO, Frozen River and

Two wonderful films. Two wonderful performances. Both pose sizable threats to upset in their respective categories. I'd watch them carefully.

The BVLGARI Award for NBR Freedom of Expression: TRUMBO

Top Five Foreign Language Films:
(In alphabetical order)

Top Five Documentary Films
(In alphabetical order)

William K. Everson Film History Award: MOLLY HASKELL and ANDREW SARRIS

Top Ten Independent Films

Tell me I'm not the only one who likes these winners more than the normal Top 10. Any love for the magnificent Snow Angels is good enough for me though.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

NBR Predictions

Tomorrow the Oscar season truly begins in earnest. In the grand scheme of the Oscar race, The National Board of Review means very little. They are however the first major awards body to hand out their awards, and that alone makes them important to watch.

Now then, they are a notoriously difficult group to predict, as they seemingly draw winners from a hat sometimes. Their Top 10 is always shocking in one way or another (everybody likes to point to their baffling inclusion of The Bucket List last year), but it's in the top categories where a film or actor can begin their road to the gold. True momentum can begin here.

Judging by their history, the NBR likes to single out safe or quote-unquote important films. I think this gives Milk, and to a lesser extent, Frost/Nixon, a slight edge in the Best Picture category. I also think Sean Penn picks up the Best Actor award. The female side of the equation will be the more interesting to watch, as no clear frontrunner has emerged in either category. I think this may be down to Kate Winslet and Cate Blanchett, and based on instict alone, I'll go with the former. Although Meryl Streep fits the criteria of a vet they would love to award.

Anyway, here are my predix, sure to be wrong but on display for you and yours nonetheless.

NBR Precitions (Main Categories)

Top Ten:
The Curious Case of Benajamin Button
Gran Torino
Slumdog Millionaire
The Reader
The Visitor
Rachel Getting Married
The Dark Knight

Best Picture: Milk
Best Director: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
Best Actor: Sean Penn, Milk
Best Actress: Kate Winslet, Revolutionary Road
Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Best Supporting Actress: Rosemarie DeWitt, Rachel Getting Married
Best Orginal Screenplay: Rachel Getting Married
Best Adapted Screenplay: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Best Animated Film: Wall-E
Best Ensemble Cast: Doubt
Best Documentary: Man On Wire
Best Foreign Film: Everlasting Moments

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Break Up Your Band - The Essentials #1: Sleater-Kinney - "Dig Me Out"

My first "Break Up Your Band" column is now up over at In Review Online (if you missed it, here is the Introduction to this new IRO feature). I kick off the series with Sleater-Kinney's first unequivocally great record, Dig Me Out:
"Sleater-Kinney, and by extension the band’s third record, Dig Me Out, were the greatest end result imaginable for the riot-grrrl genre. While their other third-wave feminist peers in Bikini Kill and Bratmobile shouted their anti-male screeds and female empowerment manifestos with no regard for subtly or grace (a different route to arrive at the same goal obviously, but arguably just as effective), the women of Sleater-Kinney exalted their convictions through the power of some of the most seductive and elusive, yet fist-pumpingly direct punk songs of the last ten years. [Continue Reading]

2008 Independent Spirit Award Nominees

I tend to like the nominees and winners of the Spirit Awards more so than the Oscars, which more often than not comes down to a popularity contest, or worse yet, determined based solely on marketing strategy. This year's Spirit Nominees are typically all over the place, and as a result are a nice breath of fresh air as the same names continue to pop up in the Oscar race. I am glad to see a lot of love for Frozen River and the great Rachel Getting Married in particular, a film that continues to grow on me with every passing day. This will probably be the only awards body to give substantial love to Charlie Kaufman's head-spinningly wonderful Synecdoche, New York as well, and for that I give them props. I gotta say I am a little surprised that Milk could garner two acting nods and somehow miss out on Best Feature and Best Director mentions. I guess they would rather single-out true independent productions, so I can't really argue with that when you get down to it. Besides, Milk is going to get plenty of high-profile Oscar love. Anyway, check the list below and try and seek out some of these small gems. (Thanks to Awards Daily)

Best Feature

Producers: Lance Hammer, Nina Parikh

“Frozen River”
Producers: Chip Hourihan, Heather Rae

“Rachel Getting Married”
Producers: Neda Armian, Jonathan Demme, Marc Platt

“Wendy and Lucy”
Producers: Larry Fessenden, Neil Kopp, Anish Savjani

“The Wrestler”
Producers: Darren Aronofsky, Scott Franklin

Best Director

Ramin Bahrani, “Chop Shop”

Jonathan Demme, “Rachel Getting Married”

Lance Hammer, “Ballast”

Courtney Hunt, “Frozen River”

Thomas McCarthy, “The Visitor”

Best First Feature

Director: Antonio Campos
Producers: Sean Durkin, Josh Mond

“Medicine for Melancholy”
Director: Barry Jenkins
Producer: Justin Barber

“Sangre de Mi Sangre”
Director: Christopher Zalla
Producers: Per Melita, Benjamin Odell

“Sleep Dealer”
Director: Alex Rivera
Producer: Anthony Bregman

“Synecdoche, New York”
Director: Charlie Kaufman
Producers: Anthony Bregman, Spike Jonze, Charlie Kaufman, Sidney Kimmel

John Cassavetes Award (Given to the best feature made for under $500,000)

“In Search of a Midnight Kiss”
Writer/Director: Alex Holdridge
Producers: Seth Caplan and Scoot McNairy

“Prince of Broadway”
Director: Sean Baker
Writers: Sean Baker, Darren Dean
Producer: Darren Dean

“The Signal”
Writer/Directors: David Bruckner, Dan Bush, Jacob Gentry
Producers: Jacob Gentry and Alexander Motiagh

“Take Out”
Writer/Directors/Producers: Sean Baker and Shih-Ching Tsou

“Turn the River”
Writer/Director: Chris Eigeman
Producer: Ami Armstrong

Best First Screenplay

Dustin Lance Black, “Milk”

Lance Hammer, “Ballast”

Courtney Hunt, “Frozen River”

Jonathan Levine, “The Wackness”

Jenny Lumet, “Rachel Getting Married”

Best Screenplay

Woody Allen, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”

Anna Fleck and Ryan Boden, “Sugar”

Charlie Kaufman, “Synecdoche, New York”

Howard A. Rodman, “Savage Grace”

Christopher Zalla, “Sangre de Mi Sangre”

Best Female Lead

Summer Bishil, “Towelhead”

Anne Hathaway, “Rachel Getting Married”

Melissa Leo, “Frozen River”

Tarra Riggs, “Ballast”

Michelle Williams, “Wendy and Lucy”

Best Male Lead

Javier Bardem, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”

Richard Jenkins, “The Visitor”

Sean Penn, “Milk”

Jeremy Renner, “The Hurt Locker”

Mickey Rourke, “The Wrestler”

Best Supporting Female

Penelope Cruz, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”

Rosemarie DeWitt, “Rachel Getting Married”

Rosie Perez, “The Take”

Misty Upham, “Frozen River”

Debra Winger, “Rachel Getting Married”

Best Supporting Male

James Franco, “Milk”

Anthony Mackie, “The Hurt Locker”

Charlie McDermott, “Frozen River”

JimMyron Ross, “Ballast”

Haaz Sleiman, “The Visitor”

Best Cinematography

Maryse Alberti, “The Wrestler”

Lol Crowley, “Ballast”

James Laxton, “Medicine for Melancholy”

Harris Savides, “Milk”

Michael Simmonds, “Chop Shop”

Best Documentary

“The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)”
Director: Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasavath

“Encounters at the End of the World”
Director: Werner Herzog

“Man on Wire”
Director: James Marsh

“The Order of Myths”
Director: Margaret Brown

“Up the Yangtze”
Director: Yang Chung

Best Foreign Film

“The Class” (France)
Director: Laurent Cantet

“Gomorrah” (Italy)
Director: Matteo Garrone

“Hunger” (UK/Ireland)
Director: Steve McQueen

“Secret of the Grain” (France)
Director: Abdellatif Kechiche

“Silent Light” (Mexico/France/Netherlands/Germany)
Director: Carlos Reygadas

Robert Altman Award (Given to one film’s director, casting director and ensemble cast)

“Synecdoche, New York”
Director: Charlie Kaufman
Casting Director: Jeanne McCarthy
Ensemble Cast: Hope Davis, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Catherine Keener, Samantha Morton, Tom Noonan, Dianne Wiest, Michelle Williams

Monday, December 1, 2008

Tokafi Interviews Fennesz

I ran across this short interview with experimental electronic mastermind Christian Fennesz while perusing the Touch website today. The interview was conducted in advance of Fennesz's awe-inspiring, damn-near perfect new record, Black Sea, which you'll be hearing much more about in the next week or so here at Stereo Sanctity. Here's an enticing tid bit:
"There's been a lot of focus in the media about your music in general (and "Black Sea" in particular) featuring "guitars which do not sound like guitars". Are you really using the guitar as just another tool for composing, as these sources suggest, or do you still feel close to its distinct timbres?

I am not always using the guitar as a tool for composing, but most of the time I do. I get satisfying results quicker when using the guitar. It's the instrument that I know the best. It's true that some of the guitar sounds on black sea sound more like synth strings than guitar, on the other hand, there are some acoustic and even nylon string guitar parts that are easy to identify. I´ve been experimenting a lot with rooms (real rooms and artificial rooms) this time - Microphones play a much bigger role than ever before." [Continue Reading]