Screen Junkies » road to the oscars Movie Reviews & TV Show Reviews Wed, 03 Sep 2014 19:43:13 +0000 en hourly 1 2011 Oscars Live Blog Mon, 28 Feb 2011 00:15:14 +0000 Col. Longshanks As is tradition (so what if it's only the second year?), we'll be live blogging the crap out of the 2011 Academy Awards.

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As is tradition (so what if it’s only the second year?), we’ll be live blogging the crap out of the 2011 Academy Awards. Land your eyeballs right on this page February 27 starting at 4:30PM PST. I’m still trying to book James Franco as a guest, but the guy’s working on a lot of stuff, including hosting the damn show with Catwoman.

Download your official SJ ballot HERE.

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Road To The Oscars: Rest Of The Nominees Wed, 23 Feb 2011 19:40:52 +0000 Ronnie Pudding Let us wind down our Oscar coverage and pick our favorites for the lesser-cared-about categories so we can turn our attention to more important matters, such as which Oscar gowns to dress our cats in on The Big Night.

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The 83rd Academy Awards are less than a week away and the energy in the air is electric. Possibly due to the shoddy wiring job I did when stealing my neighbor’s cable, or possibly due to that airborne infectious disease known as Oscar Fever. Although superficially similar to Bieber Fever, the ailment afflicts not just 12-year-old girls and “To Catch a Predator” alum but pretty much everyone with a pulse including you, dear reader. So now now let us wind down our Oscar coverage and pick our favorites for the lesser-cared-about categories so we can turn our attention to more important matters, such as which Oscar gowns to dress our cats in. If you need me on February 27th, I and Muffin and Skittle Paws and Mister Sniffles will be front and center outside the Kodak Theater, restraining orders be damned!

Actor in a Supporting Role

Christian Bale in “The Fighter”

John Hawkes in “Winter’s Bone”

Jeremy Renner in “The Town”

Mark Ruffalo in “The Kids Are All Right”

Geoffrey Rush in “The King’s Speech”

This one’s a no-brainer: Batman Bateman owns the Oscar hype for his portrayal of junkie/ex-con/former boxer Dicky Ward and he’s a sure thing to take the Shiny Gold Dude. Granted all Christian Bale had to do to prepare for the role was spend fifteen minutes in the Fenway Park cheap seats – and he’s gained some unwanted notoriety for his recent scream-a-thons with hapless lighting directors and the woman who birthed him – but Hollywood seems willing to forgive Bale his eccentricities so long as he keeps the Jews out of it and keeps on delivering outstanding performances like he did in The Fighter. Give that man an Oscar!

Actress in a Supporting Role

Amy Adams in “The Fighter”

Helena Bonham Carter in “The King’s Speech”

Melissa Leo in “The Fighter”

Hailee Steinfeld in “True Grit”

Jacki Weaver in “Animal Kingdom”

While Batman Bateman’s co-star, Melissa Leo, has taken several lesser awards for her turn in The Fighter, I predict the Academy will follow the precedence of Oscarses past by giving the Gilded Nude Man to this year’s breakout ingénue, Hailee Steinfeld. I don’t know if anyone was paying attention but Steinfeld’s performance was arguably the best of the year and in this nude man’s opinion, a more nuanced and mature display of thespianism than Best Actress shoo-in Natalie Portman’s. My only gripe is that she’s been mis-categorized. Best Supporting Actress? Who was she supporting, exactly? I love Jeff Bridges, but his Rooster Cogburn was essentially The Dude in an eye patch. And more significantly, Rooster was not the central character of True Grit. Much like our love, it would be a crime for Steinfeld’s performance to go ignored. Give that not-yet-legal lass an Oscar!

Animated Feature Film

“How to Train Your Dragon” Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois

“The Illusionist” Sylvain Chomet

“Toy Story 3” Lee Unkrich

While death and taxes can be avoided thanks to a good accountant and/or a benevolent wizard (Haargoth the Bearded has been filing my 1040 for ages eternal), the one sure thing in life is that if Pixar releases a film, it will win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. But even if this weren’t a fact of life as sure as gravity, Toy Story 3 is not only one of Pixar’s best but — it could be argued — 2010’s best film regardless of whether it contains cartoony men. Give those anthropomorphized playthings an Oscar!

Art Direction

“Alice in Wonderland”
Production Design: Robert Stromberg; Set Decoration: Karen O’Hara

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1”
Production Design: Stuart Craig; Set Decoration: Stephenie McMillan

Production Design: Guy Hendrix Dyas; Set Decoration: Larry Dias and Doug Mowat

“The King’s Speech”
Production Design: Eve Stewart; Set Decoration: Judy Farr

“True Grit”
Production Design: Jess Gonchor; Set Decoration: Nancy Haigh

There’s been a lot of talk about The Social Network being the defining film of our epoch, seeing as it’s about the internet and shit. And while I’d agree that The Social Network was a very good film, I think folks should hold off on etching its historical significance on stone tablets. Movies this of-the-now rarely have much of a shelf life. For example, can you watch Singles or Reality Bites without cringing? Well those films were considered defining films of their epoch, too, believe it or not. When the dust settles, I believe Inception will be the film folks are still talking about, once Facebook is a relic as dated as a single of the Spin Doctors’ “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong.” I know as much about art direction as I do about the location of my girlfriend’s supposed “G-Spot”, but Inception has to win something, right? Give that dream-within-a-dreamy film an Oscar!


“Black Swan” Matthew Libatique

“Inception” Wally Pfister

“The King’s Speech” Danny Cohen

“The Social Network” Jeff Cronenweth

“True Grit” Roger Deakins

There was a lot of eye candy at the multiplex this year, and I’m not just referring to Ramona, the busty ticket girl at the Reseda AMC 12. Black Swan, The Social Network and especially Inception were prettier to look at than Conan the Barbarian black light poster, but I believe the Cohen Bros’ go-to DP Roger Deakins will take the Glimmering Bald Fellow for his gorgeous rendering of the old-timey west. Give that man an Oscar!

Costume Design

“Alice in Wonderland” Colleen Atwood

“I Am Love” Antonella Cannarozzi

“The King’s Speech” Jenny Beavan

“The Tempest” Sandy Powell

“True Grit” Mary Zophres

I didn’t see Alice in Wonderland; if I have to suffer through that “effete eccentric” character Johnny Depp phones in for gobs of cash yet again he might as well be wearing something piratey. However I also don’t give a shit about costume design, so I figure Alice in Wonderland is as good a choice as any.  Looked good on the posters anyway, and unlike the historical dramas, Colleen Atwood had to more or less draw from the well of her imagination. So what the hell, give her an Oscar.

Documentary (Feature)

“Exit Through the Gift Shop” Banksy and Jaimie D’Cruz

“Gasland” Josh Fox and Trish Adlesic

“Inside Job” Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs

“Restrepo” Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger

“Waste Land” Lucy Walker and Angus Aynsley

Pretty sure I’m not alone in hoping Banksy wins just to see how he culture-jams the Oscars. Maybe he’ll hire a paraplegic midget with Tourette’s to accept the award in his stead. Or maybe this will be the moment he finally sells out and starts doing Sprite ads. I’d be happy to witness either. Give that mystery man an Oscar!

Documentary (Short Subject)

“Killing in the Name” Jed Rothstein

“Poster Girl” Sara Nesson and Mitchell W. Block

“Strangers No More” Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon

“Sun Come Up” Jennifer Redfearn and Tim Metzger

“The Warriors of Qiugang” Ruby Yang and Thomas Lennon

I haven’t seen the film (or any of the other shorts for that matter), but I do have the samely-titled Rage Against the Machine song to thank for my short-lived dreadlocks-and-Che-shirt period. Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me! Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me! Give Jed Rothstein a fucking Oscar…. mothafucka!

Film Editing

“Black Swan” Andrew Weisblum

“The Fighter” Pamela Martin

“The King’s Speech” Tariq Anwar

“127 Hours” Jon Harris

“The Social Network” Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter

Though well directed and chock full of (almost too) clever dialog, The Social Network could’ve easily turned into a tedious courtroom drama had it not been for the brilliant editing. In fact I’ll go so far as saying that the editing might’ve been the most important component of the film. Also, one of the credited editors is named Angus, and you just don’t fuck with dudes named Angus (never mind one whose surname is an immovable barrier). Give Angus Wall an Oscar before he goes all soccer hooligan on us!

Foreign Language Film

Biutiful” Mexico

“Dogtooth” Greece

“In a Better World” Denmark

“Incendies” Canada

“Outside the Law (Hors-la-loi)” Algeria

You can imagine my surprise when I found out that all of the above-mentioned films are not in English but some incomprehensible gobbledygook. Yeah, I know the category’s called “foreign language film” but I assumed that meant stuff with an accent, like The King’s Speech. So I’m going to have to give it to Biutiful because Javier Bardem’s in it and I at least know who he is, even if I couldn’t understand a friggin’ word he was saying.


“Barney’s Version” Adrien Morot

“The Way Back” Edouard F. Henriques, Gregory Funk and Yolanda Toussieng

“The Wolfman” Rick Baker and Dave Elsey

I like that this category only has three nominees, because it makes it a lot easier for me to guess. I don’t know much about movie makeup, other than that makeup girls tend to be a little, well, trampy, and that’s always a good thing, right? So yeah, The Wolfman.

Music (Original Score)

“How to Train Your Dragon” John Powell

“Inception” Hans Zimmer

“The King’s Speech” Alexandre Desplat

“127 Hours” A.R. Rahman

“The Social Network” Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

I’m probably dating myself (or at least sleeping with myself) by saying this, but back in my day Trent Reznor was the black-bedecked, Prince-Valiant-quaffed poster boy for suburban goth angst. He used to be the guy with the suicide hotline on speed-dial; now he looks he jumped out of a PX-90 infomercial to tell us how to maximize our gains but visualizing our goals… and also that he wants to fuck us like an animal. Personally, I preferred Alexandre Desplat’s score – I’m a sucker for them fiddles! — but the novelty of Reznor and Atticus Ross’ bleeps-n-bloops will more likely be favored by Academy voters. Give ‘em an Oscar!

Music (Original Song)

“Coming Home” from “Country Strong” Music and Lyric by Tom Douglas, Troy Verges and Hillary Lindsey

“I See the Light” from “Tangled” Music by Alan Menken Lyric by Glenn Slater

“If I Rise” from “127 Hours” Music by A.R. Rahman Lyric by Dido and Rollo Armstrong

“We Belong Together” from “Toy Story 3″ Music and Lyric by Randy Newman


Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Visual Effects

I’m going to give it to Inception for the above-mentioned categories. It’s the Academy’s way of mitigating the Christopher Nolan Best Director snub by acknowledging that even if it wasn’t the “best directed” film of the year, it was at least the most impressive technical spectacle.

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

“127 Hours” Screenplay by Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy

“The Social Network” Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin

“Toy Story 3” Screenplay by Michael Arndt; Story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich

“True Grit” Written for the screen by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

“Winter’s Bone” Adapted for the screen by Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini

Aaron Sorkin is heavily favored, not only because The Social Network’s blitzkrieg of postmodern dialog is one of the film’s most noticeable traits, but because it’s the one category where Academy voters can safely favor it over The King’s Speech. Give him an Oscar! And some cocaine! Sorkin looooves the yayo!

Writing (Original Screenplay)

“Another Year” Written by Mike Leigh

“The Fighter” Screenplay by Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson;
Story by Keith Dorrington & Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson

“Inception” Written by Christopher Nolan

“The Kids Are All Right” Written by Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg

“The King’s Speech” Screenplay by David Seidler

The King’s Speech is shaping up to be this year’s Oscar darling, so I don’t see it going any other way when it comes to awarding the Glittering “O” for best original screenplay. Hey David Seidler — come on up here, pal! Guess what I’ve got for you? A Nutty Buddy? Nooo. Although I could actually go for a delicious Nutty Buddy right now, this gold-hewed, slightly phallic statuette I have in my hand is not a Nutty Buddy. Please do not try to eat it, David Seidler, because while it is indeed your “buddy” there is nothing nutty or even edible about it. It’s an Oscar, David!  A fucking O… Jesus. He ate it… the whole fucking thing.  Is there a paramedic in the house? Or does anyone have a stomach pump handy? Natalie Portman? Oh, that’s right, you’re pregnant, which means you’re binging and purging for two. I can’t believe he ate his fucking Oscar. That’s how it plays out in my mind, anyway. Until next year, Screen Junkies! Pudding out.

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Partner Plug: Oscar Cheat Sheet Ups Your Odds Tue, 22 Feb 2011 17:49:26 +0000 Col. Longshanks The dapper gents over at Made Man put together a slick infographic that'll help you win your 2011 Oscar pool.

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The dapper gents over at Made Man put together a slick infographic that’ll help you win your 2011 Oscar pool. Entertainment Weekly and Hollywood Reporter have their picks in there, but you should really be more concerned with whom Screen Junkies favors. Check it out HERE.

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Road To The Oscars: Best Director Showdown Wed, 16 Feb 2011 19:25:58 +0000 Ronnie Pudding This week we shackle our Best Director contenders together by the ankles, slather them in honey, toss them in the bear cage with an 800 pound grizzly and a pair of bolt cutters to see who among them has the will to survive.

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This week we shackle our Best Director contenders together by the ankles, slather them in honey, toss them in the bear cage with an 800 pound grizzly and a pair of bolt cutters to see who among them has the will to survive. Wait… did I say directors or hobos? I meant hobos. But this article’s not about the bear game. No, this article’s about the Academy’s Best Director nominees, an impressive list containing some of American cinema’s most lauded directors. We have David “Fight Club” Fincher, Darren “ass-to-ass” Aronofsky, Joel and Ethan “that movie where Peter Stormare puts Steve Buscemi in a wood chipper” Cohen, David “O” Russell… and some British dude. I’d be honored to have any one of these talented white males helm my breakdancing videos (PopNLockNRonnie @ Youtube). But which of these white males deserves the Shiny Gold Dude?



PRO: David Fincher is one America’s most acclaimed directors, possessing a unique visual style that sets his work apart from his peers. He boasts an impressive track record — Alien 3 notwithstanding — and despite working primarily within the studio system has managed to make a career of exploring the darker realms of the human psyche. While The Social Network bears Fincher’s stamp it is also his most accessible and critically acclaimed film to date, a one-two punch that makes him an easy choice for Academy voters.

CON: Fincher’s renowned for tackling bile-black subject matter; he’s made films about serial killers, psychopaths, serial killers, serial killers and serial killers. And while The Social Network’s backstabbing billionaire protagonist does have his dark side, it’s not like he’s cutting off anyone’s head and mailing it to their sweetheart (that we know of, anyway). In comparison to Fincher’s back catalog, The Social Network might seem to some Academy voters like a bit of a trifle.


PRO: Tom Hooper is the least known of our nominees, but he does have buzz on his side. The King’s Speech received the lion’s share of nominations in the major categories and thanks to the slick campaigning of the baby-devourin brothers Weinstein, seems to be gaining momentum as Oscar night draws near. Hooper is also this year’s safest choice; his resume boasts period pieces and costume dramas but none of the dark, violent, controversial work that his fellow nominees are known for. He’s never cut off Gwyneth Paltrow’s head (unfortunately), shoved a double-dong up Jennifer Connelly’s pudding pipe (unfortunately), thrown anyone into a wood chipper (unfortunately) or tried to strangle George Clooney (ibid). He’s the Postum of best director nominees; a rich and tasty beverage that is inoffensively flavorful and harmlessly healthful.

CON: Tom who? Hooper is what my WoW clan members would call a “noob.” Also he’s British, and we should never forget how the British betrayed us during World War 2 by aligning themselves with the Nazis.  Or perhaps that was the Italians. Eh, British, Italian, same thing.



PRO: I know he wasn’t nominated, but if any director could find a way to win despite not being on the ballot, it’s Nolan. Perhaps I’m only dreaming he wasn’t nominated and when I wake up he’ll be on the Best Director short list. But then what if when I wake up I find out that’s just a dream, too? And what if that dream’s a dream within a dream within a dream, and it isn’t even MY dream but someone else’s dream? These are the kinds of things I think about when I’ve been huffing air freshener.

CON: After examining the list of past Best Director winners it seems that exactly 0% were people who weren’t officially nominated. Why I don’t know. I guess for the same reason that ZZ Top didn’t win the 1984 Presidential election as write-ins, in spite of spending months on the campaign trail in a roadster called Eliminator, telling every voting-age citizen in every one horse town about the virtues of sharp dressed men and knowing how to use legs when you have them. Or perhaps ZZ Top DID win the 1984 presidential election and I’m only dreaming they didn’t? Whoa. Just blew my own mind.



If it was the award for MOST directing, Aronofsky would be a shoo-in. Black Swan was a masterstroke of technique, but like a Yngwie Malmsteen guitar solo it rings a little short on soul in spite of its technical impressiveness. Also, Aronofsky has been left in the shadow of his film’s leading yummy-mummy-to-be Natalie Portman, who is widely favored (and was my pick) to win Best Actress.  Darren Aronofsky’s a highly talented filmmaker and I have no doubt that he’ll eventually get his due, but I don’t foresee him taking the Shiny Gold Dude in 2011.


If this article was about the bear game, David O. Russell would be a shoo-in. If anyone on this list has it in him to tear out a bear’s throat with his teeth while his fellow directors bleed to death it’s Russell. Unfortunately this award’s being given for directing not bear-fighting. And while Russell has made some wonderful films – The Fighter included — I still don’t think the Academy voters will be willing to overlook his volatile disposition, especially given the fact that he essentially tried to murder Oscar darling George Clooney on the set of Three Kings. George Clooney’s farts have been nominated for Oscars. For the love of God, don’t fuck with George Clooney.


The Cohen Brothers are kind of like Pixar for grown-ups; all they have to do is make a film to get Oscar nominations. Which in a way works against them. When you’re prolific and talented enough to be on the ballot every year Academy voters are forced to be a bit more discerning. True Grit was an amazing film, but was it an amazing Cohen Brothers film? Back to the Pixar analogy, it wasn’t a Cars but it probably wasn’t a Toy Story either. I’d consider it a solid Monsters, Inc.

ADVANTAGE: David Fincher. Any of the nominees would be deserving and it’s still going to be a shoot-out. But while buzz is on Tom Hooper’s side I believe the Academy voters will honor the more experienced Fincher. Give that man a Shiny Gold Dude!

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Road To The Oscars: Best Actor Showdown Fri, 11 Feb 2011 20:04:38 +0000 Ronnie Pudding It's time for the men to grease up and battle it out for the shiny bald gold dude.

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Last week we pitted our Best Actress contenders against one another in a sexy battle to the death — but what of the menfolk? This year’s Academy Awards offers an impressive list of Y-chromosome-enhanced thespians duking it out for a Shiny Gold Dude to place on their mantle, including two veterans of last year’s award ceremony. Will Jeff Bridges get the two-peat? Will Colin Firth be v-v-v-vindicated for last year’s loss? Or will one of our young Turks pull off an upset? Let’s brush the green leafy substance off our scales (it’s oregano, I swear!) and weigh the pros and cons.



Pro: Sure, Colin Firth’s a great actor. But if Oscars were handed out for talent alone he’d have taken last year’s trophy for his performance in A Single Man.  However this year Firth has the ace up his sleeve with The King’s Speech: Namely, a disability.  If there’s one thing the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences loves more than hookers, cocaine and Scientology, it’s gimps.  Just look at the handi-capable characters stepping off the Best Actor short bus: We have an autistic Dustin Hoffman (Rainman), a palsied Daniel Day Lewis (My Left Foot), a sight-tarded Al Pacino (Scent of a Woman), simple-minded Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump), and nuttier-than-a-bagful-of-squirrels Geoffrey Rush (Shine). Seriously, is thi the Academy Awards or the Special Olympics?

Con: Other than that he’s almost too obvious a choice, I don’t really see a chink in the King’s armor.


Pro: In the last few years James Franco has done a lot to step out of Spider-man’s shadow and establish a reputation as an actor to be taken seriously. He’s shown range (flexing his dramatic chops in Milk and comedic muscle in Pineapple Express), brains (Franco’s currently a PhD candidate at Yale) and quirk (i.e his PoMo ironic stint on “General Hospital”). But 127 Hours was Franco’s acting tour de force. His performance as a hapless hiker trapped in a gorge was so engaging that one forgets that this film was essentially one character and one location. If there’s anyone who can deny Firth’s King his Oscar c-c-crown it’s Franco.

Con: Franco’s performance was impressive but Franc-ly, I don’t think he went far enough.  If he really wanted that Oscar he would’ve gone full-on method and chopped off his own arm. What’s a limb compared to the ultimate show of respect from your peers? De Niro in his prime would’ve done it. And Brando would’ve chopped off not just an arm but a leg too, regardless of whether or not the character was missing any limbs.



Pro: While the Oscar buzz favors Firth and Franco, there are still more than two dogs in this fight. We should not overlook Jesse Eisenberg who, with The Social Network, finally proved to the world that he’s not just Michael Cera in a Jewish mask.

Con: The biggest strike against Jesse Eisenberg has nothing to do with performance, but rather with the character he portrayed. Mark Zuckerberg – in real life and in The Social Network – is a backstabbing borderline sociopath who’s made billions shilling our personal information to the highest bidder. It’s the Academy Award for Best Actor, not biggest douchebag.



How was Bardem’s performance in Biutiful? How am I supposed to know? It wasn’t in English! He could’ve been saying anything for all I know. He could’ve been reading his grocery list, reciting dirty limericks, or just making up nonsense words. Are we really supposed to give the Oscar to a guy who’s essentially babbling? And hey, dude… where’s the bowl cut?


Don’t get me wrong, I love The Dude, but Jeff Bridges already took home the Shiny Gold Dude for Best Actor just last year and there’s no way in hell anyone’s giving him an Oscar for playing the same character as the one for which John Wayne won his Shiny Naked Fella. Do you want to be haunted by the Duke’s ghost, commie? Didn’t think so.

ADVANTAGE: Colin Firth.  G-g-g-give that m-m-man a-n-n-n Oscar!

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Road To The Oscars: Best Actress Showdown Fri, 04 Feb 2011 00:33:23 +0000 Ronnie Pudding This week we throw our Best Actress contenders into the Thunderdome, arm then with cudgels and see who among them has the fortitude to grab blood-smeared victory.

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This week we throw our Best Actress contenders into the Thunderdome, arm then with cudgels and see who among them has the fortitude to grab blood-smeared victory.  Of course I meant metaphorically, but am I the only one sporting chub right now? And speaking of boners, were this category decided by the turgidity of my cervix-hammer alone it would be a “hard” choice to make.  Because unlike some of last year’s nominees (*cough* Gabourey Sibide), our 2011 contenders, oiled-up and bikini clad, would make for a fine Maxim spread.  You’ve got Grade-A Kosher Natalie Portman, Michelle Williams and her bodacious bod, barely legal babe Jennifer Lawrence, MILFerific Nicole Kidman, and rounding things out in the cougar category, Annette Bening. Though my loins love them equally, on Oscar night there can be only one winner.



Pro: Hype is certainly on her side, and not undeservedly. As I stated in last week’s column, Black Swan was the performance of Natalie Portman’s career… although frankly, that ain’t saying a lot. Yeah, she’s nice to look at, but her previous actressing turns have run the gamut from “decent for a movie-of-the-week” to outright embarrassing. I have no idea how she managed to become leading lady du jour for many of today’s “serious” directors (at least when Scarlett Johansson wasn’t available); she acts about as well as ScarJo sings. However with Black Swan, Portman finally earned some credibility and proved that she’s ready to be taken seriously.

Con: She’s pregnant, and no one is more loathed than a pregnant woman. Men hate them because they’ve been tainted by another man’s seed. Women hate them because of jealousy and because they wish they could have babies too. Also: If she wins, there’s the risk that she’ll laugh again like at the Golden Globes. I’d rather hear the death rattle of my own child than that hideous cackle.


Pro: The other half of our Sapphic showdown. In The Kids Are All Right, Bening took a decidedly more realistic approach in her portrayal of a lesbian character, looking like someone you’d actually see at an Indigo Girls concert (whereas Portman’s bi-curious ballerina was the sort of lesbian that exists only in my Jergen’s fueled three-way fantasies). Bening is a seasoned veteran and an excellent lesbian thespian. In the scene where her character discovers her partner’s infidelity, Bening showed more range with subtle facial expressions than Portman has shown with an entire career of overacting.

Con: The Kids Are All Right’s strength was its ensemble cast, and to give an award to Bening and not Julianne Moore (who didn’t even get nominated) or Mark Ruffalo (who’s a long shot going up against Batman Bateman) would be a slight to her co-stars. Also: I know it was what you were going for, Annette, but couldn’t you have prettied it up just a little? At first I thought I was watching a Chuck Klosterman biopic.



Pro: Underrated, underutilized, underappreciated… these words apply not just to Michelle Williams’ breasts but to Williams herself.  She’s an incredibly talented young woman who’s capable of showing her prodigious skills without getting all up in your face with it (like Portman).

Con: People often confuse her with Brian Williams. And for all the controversy, the sex scene that earned Blue Valentine its NC-17 rating was about as hot as scrambled Skinemax softcore. My penis was not pleased.


Pro: This Oscar veteran already has a shiny gold dude on her mantle. The Academy knows she can handle Oscar glory.

Con: Unfortunately, Kidman’s actressing has been seriously hampered by the large amounts of Botox that have virtually eliminated her facial expressions. In The Rabbit Hole she looks like she’s wearing a Nicole Kidman Halloween mask. Also: No one saw Rabbit Hole.


Pro: The Academy does love their ingénues. Think Anna Paquin, Tatum O’Neil, Jean Benet Ramsey… they’re like dancing monkeys. Dance little monkey!

Con: Hailee Steinfeld is already a lock for the Junior Achievers category.  And Steinfeld is only 14; which means that at age 20 Jennifer is practically over-the-hill. But the good is she’s bang-legal. In your face, Chris Hansen!

ADVANTAGE: Natalie Portman

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Road To The Oscars: ‘Black Swan’ Fri, 28 Jan 2011 19:29:31 +0000 Ronnie Pudding It was visually stunning and contained ballet sequences impressive enough that I can say so without having to punch something lest my masculinity be called into question.

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Tuesday morning at the crack of dawn, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced their list of Oscar nominees, forcing West Coast film biz journos such as myself to hole up in seedy Palm Desert motels smoking crystal meth all night with toothless call girls named Charlene so we wouldn’t miss a second of the festivities.  Sure, I could’ve set my alarm to wake up early — or just Tivoed the ceremony to watch it at a less ungodly hour — but I’m a professional who is dedicated to his craft. As I sat there trying to scratch away the imaginary bugs crawling under my skin I dutifully took mental notes. There were a few high profile snubs — Chris Nolan, Julianne Moore and a Funky Bunch-less Marky Mark were left high n’ dry — but no big surprises in the Best Picture category. If there was anything noteworthy about the Best Picture nominees it was that out of the ten, not a single film seemed undeserving.  This was a far cry from last year, when the dearth of good pictures forced the academy to nominate Jim Cameron’s 3D Smurf adventure Avatar and the posthumous straight-to-video release Ernest Goes to Gitmo.  Charlene agreed with my observation, or at least humored me so I ‘d stop screaming, adding that she was going to have a hard time filling out her own Oscar ballot this year. She grabbed the keys to my Honda and headed out the door, leaving me on that dirty mattress to soak in a puddle of my own tweaker sweat and ruminate the Oscar odds for the subject of this week’s column, ballerina thriller Black Swan.

At the very least Darren Aronofsky deserves a lifetime achievement award from the Institute of Cinematic Spankolgists for convincing two of Hollywood’s most boner-inducing young actresses to scissor fight on film. Yet as hot as the idea of Mila Kunis playing Kumbaya on Natalie Portman’s vertical harmonica looks on paper (hell, I’m at half mast just from typing it) — and as eager as my penis and I were to see the scene in question — I must painfully admit that it didn’t quite live up to our expectations. Perhaps my penis and I had built it up a bit too much in our heads, because while the Sapphic pairing was titillating, it still spank-ranks below the lesbian love scenes in Henry and June, Wild Things and Bound. So unfortunately for Darren Aronofsky (and my penis), we must judge Black Swan solely by its artistic virtues.

This is not to say that Black Swan is an unremarkable film.  It was visually stunning and contained ballet sequences impressive enough that I can say so without having to punch something lest my masculinity be called into question.  But it didn’t blow me away. Until recently, Darren Aronofsky made two types of films: Those that I loved (Pi, The Wrestler) and those that I hated (Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain). With Black Swan he bridged the gap for me. Was it art? Certainly. Was it enjoyable? Without question. But something about it rang a little hollow; it lacked a bit of that intangible quality that we in the biz call “soul.” Basically it was the cinematic equivalent of Arcade Fire’s last record, and the fact that I’m able to compare it to an Arcade Fire record should tell you everything you need to know.

Still, this is just one man’s opinion, and Oscar winners are not left up to me (or my penis) alone. So let us now scrutinize Black Swan’s Best Picture chances using our scientifically-vetted ranking categories.

RETARD STRENGTH (4/5): It’s hard not to love Natalie Portman; she’s beautiful, brainy, Jewish (it’s a fetish, sue me) and has that adorable nails-on-a-chalkboard laugh.  She’s also a genuine good person: I mean she’s nice enough to have that gay man’s baby, right? However with the exception of her work in Leon (I’m sure I’m not the only “To Catch a Predator” alum to list that film in his Top 5), she’d never really impressed me with her actressing, that is until Black Swan.  Her turn as the schizophrenia-tarded ballerina whose quest for perfection drives her past the edge of sanity was definitely the performance of her career, making her a favorite to take the Shiny Gold Dude for Best Actress. The retard is strong with this one.

SOCIAL RELEVANCE (2/5): Does Black Swan have a message? Perhaps that if we smother our children and make them surrogate vessels for our own unrealized dreams, they’ll end up as self-mutilating, bulimic, obsessive loonies who fantasize about having gay sex with “That 70s Show” cast members. And while I think that’s a lesson certain parents could stand to learn (looking at you, Dad!), I wouldn’t go so far as to call it “socially relevant.” (Call me, Ashton!)

EPICOSITY (3/5): Visually speaking, it was my favorite Aronofsky film yet, combining the verité style he employed in The Wrester with the more bombastic, bells-and-whistles approach of Requiem and The Fountain. And the ballet scenes were outstanding… er, I mean… Hot chicksSuperbowl! UFC! Pick-up truck! I wouldn’t go so far as to call Black Swan “epic,” but like Natalie Portman’s ubiquitous nipple hard-ons, it sure was nice to look at.

UPLIFT (0/5): As heartwarming as an overdose on sleeping pills. Euthanizing a leukemia kid’s puppy would be more uplifting.

TOTAL POWER RANKING (2.25/5): Black Swan is a film Darren Aronofsky can be proud of, and it certainly earned him a high five from anyone who’s ever wondered what it’d be like to see Mila Kunis go down on Natalie Portman (meaning, everyone). But if it’s a Shiny Gold Dude he’s hoping to take home, he should ease up on the bleak and throw in a bit more heart.

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Road To The Oscars: ‘The King’s Speech’ Thu, 20 Jan 2011 18:27:05 +0000 Ronnie Pudding In this week’s column we’ll take a look at the Oscar prospects of T-t-he K-k-k-ing’s S-p-p-peech. And now that I’ve gotten that easy gag out of the way let us get down to brass tacks.

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In this week’s column we’ll take a look at the Oscar prospects of T-t-he K-k-k-ing’s S-p-p-peech. And now that I’ve gotten that easy gag out of the way let us get down to brass tacks. On the surface, The King’s Speech seems to have it all: It’s a Weinstein-produced critical favorite, a period drama starring British Commonwealth actors, a smash hit on the art house circuit (carrying the highest per screen average of 2010) concerning one man’s struggle to overcome a disability in order to achieve greatness — and it even has anti-Nazi subtext.  All of this makes The King’s Speech a shoe-in to sweep the Oscars… in the year 1993. But unfortunately we’re on the other side of the Y2K Virus. “Twin Peaks” is off the air and The Spin Doctors are no longer touching the hearts and minds of a generation with anthems like “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong.” Will Academy members give in to nostalgia and cast their votes for a film tailor-made for the Clinton years? Or will they favor decidedly more 21st century fare such as The Social Network?

Like previous Oscar winners Schindler’s List, A Beautiful Mind, and Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, The King’s Speech is based on true events. Specifically the struggle of King George VI to overcome his speech impediment in order to become a more effective figurehead of Britain’s archaic and mostly powerless monarchy.  The King is forced to enlist the help of an Australian speech therapist, here played by an actual Australian, Geoffrey Rush.  Rush of course is no stranger to the Academy’s night of razzle-dazzle, having taken the Best Actor shiny gold dude for his performance in Shine, in which he played a man struggling to overcome a disability in order to achieve greatness… sound familiar? If it were swathed in flannel, sporting a soul patch and carrying a dog-eared copy of On The Road under its arm, The King’s Speech couldn’t be more of the 1990s. And while this might work against it come Oscar time, it does serve to remind us of that there was once a time when films were made for adults, and when “independent film” meant more than just casting Michael Cera and slapping a hand-drawn font on the poster. Colin Firth’s performance as the titular tongue-tied sovereign is nuanced, human and undoubtedly Oscar-worthy. But then that’s why Hollywood leaves its dramatic heavy lifting to Brits; British actors tend to be classically trained professionals, whereas American actors tend to be narcissistic pretty kids with IQs low enough to eliminate other professional options and trust funds large enough to afford apartments in Hollywood. Especially after getting snubbed last year for his Oscar-deserving performance in A Single Man, I have little doubt that Firth will take this year’s gilded doorstop for Best Actor. But will The King… get the Best Picture crown? Let us consult the runes.

RETARD STRENGTH (5/5): Of all this year’s likely Oscar contenders, only The King’s Speech boasts a bonafide gimp.  Sure, Jessie Eisenberg’s character in The Social Network seemed to have a touch of the Asperger’s and 127 Hours’ protagonist, by cutting off his own arm, gained some self-inflicted retard strength.  But only George VI would’ve taken the short bus to school. More importantly, he overcomes his handicap in order to better himself. As far as the Academy’s concerned, its not enough to simply be a tard; otherwise Keanu Reeves would win Best Actor every year. The tard’s tardedness must serve as an obstacle (or “tardstacle”) which the tard conquers by film’s end, as is the case with Colin Firth’s mouth-tarded monarch.

SOCIAL RELEVANCE (4/5): While a film set 75 years ago concerning turn-of-the-LAST-century class divides and a royal family that’s since been relegated to tabloid fodder might not seem particularly relevant to movie goers circa 2011, there is a contemporary subtext to The King’s Speech that should not be ignored. King George VI was not working to overcome his speech impediment in order to pursue a voice over career, or to be a contestant on “Jeopardy,” or to give his mistress better phone sex; he was doing it be a more effective leader. We Americans would do well to remember, in these potentially-apocalyptic times, that a leader’s greatest strength is often his or her ability to speak clearly, succinctly and intelligently.  What we don’t need are more leaders who babble incoherent yokel-approved catch phrases using broken English and faux redneck accents. In other words, while you may not grasp all of our President’s fancy talk — what with them big words and stuff – there’s a reason he’s the goshdurn leader of the free world and not working the Stuckey’s night shift like you.

EPICOSITY (3/5):  Okay, The King’s Speech is not exactly epic.  It is well shot and directed, but does carry some of the same cinematic flatness as the Merchant Ivory powdered wig dramas of ye olde. However Alexandre Desplat fancies things up a notch with an excellent orchestral score reminiscent of the work he did for 2006′s similarly royal The Queen. In fact it won’t surprise me if Desplat winds up beating out Trent Reznor‘s bleeps and bloops for Best Original Score.

UPLIFT (5/5):  Not only does King George VI conquer his stutter and give a speech that rallies his subjects against an evil tyrant with a Michael Jordan mustache (and if cinema has taught us anything, it’s that Nazis = bad), he’s able to befriend a lowly Australian whom he views as, if not an equal, then at least a human.  Which is more than could be said of me with regard to Australians.

BONUS POINTS (1): BRITISHNESS : Hallo Gubna! Like a middle-aged bachelorette who owns too many cats and reads too many Jane Austen novels, there are few things Academy voters find more irresistible than English accents. I have to give The King’s Speech an extra point just for its sheer Britishness. It’s like a bag of crips with bad teeth, it’s so British.

TOTAL POWER RANKING (4.5/5):  Based on my power rankings alone, The King’s Speech is a good bet for Best Picture. However zeitgeist does not always defer to objective reason. I’m not sure the strengths of The King’s Speech will be able to trump The Social Network’s hype, and we do live in an age where hype is everything. As good a film as it was, The King’s Speech seems more like a relic from another time.

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Road To The Oscars: ‘Inception’ Thu, 13 Jan 2011 18:18:27 +0000 Ronnie Pudding Inception was easily one of the most talked about movies of 2010, thanks to its mind-bending visual effects and an ending that left many viewers scratching their heads like a scabies-afflicted hobo with a flea nest in his dreadlocks.

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Inception was easily one of the most talked about movies of 2010, thanks to its mind-bending visual effects and an ending that left many viewers scratching their heads like a scabies-afflicted hobo with a flea nest in his dreadlocks.  However if Oscar winners were decided by water cooler chatter alone, Two Girls, One Cup would’v taken home Best Picture of 2007 (and frankly it’s a crime that it didn’t).  So this week we’ll be rolling up our sleeves – hoping no one takes notice of our track marks – and sorting out Inception’s Oscar chances using good ol’ fashioned objective analysis (meaning my half-assed, ill-formed opinions).

If Christopher Nolan’s goal was merely to get Oscar nominations, there are certainly worse casting choices than Leonardo DiCaprio.  Ever since the baby-faced actor drove James Cameron’s billion dollar behemoth Titanic into the Oscar iceberg there have been a plethora of noms for nearly every film he’s done, including Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed and Blood Diamond. Personally I don’t get the appeal.  While I enjoyed his performance in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (a film possessing off-the-charts retard strength) and can admit he was certainly lovely in his younger years, these days Leo’s looking like an alcohol-bloated manfant (half man, half infant) and his performances are stiffer than my bathing suit area when the new issue of Tiger Beat arrives.  Be that as it may, audiences seem to love him and even though his acting in Inception was — as usual — less than riveting, he does lend the film an air of credibility that would’ve been sorely lacking had Nolan cast, say… Shia LaBarf.

However even as a fan of the film, I must admit that time has not been kind to Inception.  A recent Blu-ray viewing was like finding an old videotape of myself having sex: Everything that seemed sexy and innovative at the time now borders on embarrassing (and illegal).  Now that the hype cloud has cleared and the DVD screeners have arrived, I believe Academy voters will likewise see Inception for what it is: A slick, well-directed but ultimately flawed genre film.

Part of the problem is the ambitious nature of Inception. Here Nolan has created his own world, with an encyclopedia’s worth of rules to go along with it. But so much of the film is bogged down by trying to establish these oft confusing and occasionally nonsensical rules that it plays like an overly expositional videogame cut-scene with the audience left to pine in vain for an X button to mash so they can skip ahead to the zero-gravity fight scene. This is especially apparent on repeat viewings. Once you know the rules, a good chunk of the film is pointless.  Further, while the world Nolan created initially seems brilliant, once you start paying attention it unravel faster than a shirt bought from Urban Outfitters. It’s as if Nolan is a power mad Dungeon Master in a game of Advanced Dungeon & Dragons, making up the quest as he goes along regardless of whether or not it makes any sense (and yes, as that Dungeons & Dragons metaphor indicates, I was a virgin until my late twenties). Sure these rules serve the film, but the logic behind them is tenuous at best.

“Five minutes of real time equals an hour of dream time.” Really?  Why? Because that way we can do a bunch of cool over-cranked slo-mo shots, that’s why. “The mind automatically fills a vault with information it wants to protect.” How interesting, Sigmund Freud… why is that? Because that way we can break into a bunch of cool ice fortresses and shit. “True inspiration’s impossible to fake.” It is? How odd… is there some sort of reason for that? Yeah, because otherwise we WOULDN’T HAVE A FUCKIN’ MOVIE, WOULD WE?

Truth be told, Inception is just a metaphysical heist flick, like Ocean’s 11 as written by Carl Jung and directed by The Wachowski brother sister siblings. It’s visually amazing, but doesn’t have much to offer in the way of substance — and Academy voters do love their substance (almost as much as they love their substances). In fact Inception scores so low in our Best Picture tracking categories that it’s pointless to even rank them. It isn’t uplifting or socially relevant and there aren’t any retardeds to be found.  However Inception’s greatest strength lies in an as-of-yet unranked category, namely…

DICAPRIOSITY (5/5): It would behoove us to not consider Inception’s Oscar chances based on the presence of Leo alone.  True, his back catalog includes only two actual Best Picture winners (namely Titanic and The Departed) but the fact that DiCaprio films have scored so many award season nods should not be ignored. There’s a reason Oscar-hungry Martin Scorsese made DiCaprio his latest go-to leading man and it’s not because he’s as good an actor as Robert DeNiro.

EPICOSITY (5/5): Say what you will about the plot, Inception’s sure got a pretty mouth. It makes sweet love to your eyeballs and explodes creamy Technicolor all over your brain.  It’s a visual orgasm of digital effects, vast seaside landscapes, crumbling dream cities and more slow motion than a Rocco Siffredi money shot highlight reel. Even the color correction is brilliant; did you notice all the dream levels had their own color palate? I bet Michael Bay slapped a hooker to death in a jealous rage after watching Inception, then tore off in his Murcielago blasting Use Your Illusion 2 all the way home where he cried into his dream pillow until drifting off to sleep.

TOTAL POWER RANKING (2): With ten slots to fill, it won’t be a surprise if Inception gets a sympathy nomination, but it’s a long shot to take Best Picture. Inception seems more suited to win Best Director.  After Dark Knight’s Oscar snub, I’m sure Christopher Nolan will take what he can get.

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Road To The Oscars: ‘The Social Network’ Thu, 06 Jan 2011 21:51:22 +0000 Ronnie Pudding Hello, Junkies! Ronnie Pudding here, once again participating in the state parole board’s work release program by taking a look at the front runners for the 83rd Academy Awards and writing about it on the internet.

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Hello, Junkies!  Ronnie Pudding here, once again participating in the state parole board’s work release program by taking a look at the front runners for the 83rd Academy Awards and writing about it on the internet.  Hard to believe 2010’s already been tossed in the dumpster like a dirty syringe but there it is, festering with HIV and broken dreams.  Or maybe that’s an actual dirty syringe; after all, Ronnie’s writing this from the dumpster behind Starbucks of Toluca Lake (not the worst dumpster I’ve spent the night in and hey, free WiFi). Seems like just yesterday I was comparing the Oscar prospects of films like Avatar, Up in the Air and The Hurt Locker. Of course that could be due to the fact that I spent the last eleven months in a paint-huffing-induced coma. Or perhaps because the resulting brain damage gave me the short term memory recall of Guy Pearce’s character in Memento. Or maybe it’s because… what was I writing about again? And what’s that tattoo on my scrotum? Oh yeah… the Oscars.

Unlike last year, there’s no one film gobbling up media attention like a paternal-love-deprived stripper at a daddy convention. And that’s probably a good thing. Because while it went on to become the highest grossing movie of all time, 2009’s Avatar has aged about as well as Maria Conchita Alonzo in a pair of Z Cavaricci pants. Luckily, there are a number of actual good films in contention for this year’s Best Picture shiny gold dude. Films such as The King’s Speech, Inception, 127 Hours Black Swan True Grit, Amputee Sluts 5 (a solid improvement over the franchise’s 4th installment) and the subject of this week’s article, The Social Network.

I was admittedly skeptical when I heard the news that a Facebook movie was in the works.  After all, the Friendster movie had spiraled into obscurity as quickly as it rose to prominence and the MySpace movie turned out to be nothing more than a garish display of tasteless narcissism, shameless self-promotion and sparkly unicorn GIFs. However my initial misgivings were put to rest when I actually saw the film. While David Fincher’s probably most known for his visual flourishes – and for a film taking place mostly in dorm rooms and board rooms here and there are plenty – his best work can be found in his loving handling of mentally deranged misanthropes such as Fight Club’s schizophrenic protagonist, the serial killers from Se7en and Zodiac and now perhaps the most misanthropic of them all, Facebook creator and Mark Zuckerberg. The slick editing capture the spirit of the internet age, zipping from scene to scene like someone scrolling through a lady friend’s Facebook gallery hoping for a drunken panty flash or nipple shot. But what really stood out was Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue, which comprised a litany of instantly quotable lines rattled off at a machine gun clip not unlike a smarter version of Tarantino’s coked-up motor-mouthisms. For a film populated almost entirely by privileged Ivy League douchebags, The Social Network was utterly engaging.

But was it an Oscar winner? Let’s see where it stands in the in the major categories that drive the Academy’s voting.

RETARD STRENGTH (2.5/5): While Jesse Eisenberg had previously made a career of being the discount Michael Cera, with his portrayal of Facebook head honcho Mark Zuckerberg, he finally stepped out of George-Michael’s shadow and into his own spotlight. His Zuckerberg was deliciously complex; too villainous to be an anti-hero, too pathetic to be an actual villain.  He was misanthropic, misogynistic, sociopathic, and perhaps a bit Aspberger’s afflicted. But unfortunately, a flawed character does not a retard make.  As I explained last year: If you qualify for the Special Olympics, you’re retarded enough for an Oscar — so long as you adhere to the “full retard” rule posited in Tropic Thunder. But while Zuckerberg’s personality flaws made him a more interesting character, they did not provide obstacles for him to overcome on his journey (which culminated in him becoming a multi-billionaire). If anything, they helped. A lot.

SOCIAL RELEVANCE (4/5): While the Prius-driving, Mac-using, plastic-rimmed-glasses set will remind you that they abandoned Facebook for Twitter (or was it Tumblr) like a thousand-million years ago, no amount of hipster elitism can hide the fact that Facebook is a genuine social phenomenon. It has transcended the ephemeral nature of most “killer apps” and for the moment at least, seems to be a permanent addition to our cultural zeitgeist. Want proof? Ask your mom. Not only does she know what Facebook is, she’s actually on it — tagging you in embarrassing family photos and posting irony-oblivious comments under your snarky status updates. Eff yeah, Facebook’s relevant.

EPICOSITY (2/5): While The Social Network’s cinematography would make for an amazing episode of “Saved by the Bell,” it hardly contains the sort of epic grandiosity that leads to an easy Oscar win. This is not a knock on David Fincher or his cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth; The Social Network necessarily takes place in visually banal locales such as Ivy League dorms, generic office buildings and Palo Alto computer geek hovels. But while this certainly serves the film, if they were hoping to serve the tastes of Academy voters they should have the thrown in the occasional helicopter shot of the Grand Tetons, or a camel caravan crossing Saharan Tunisia.

UPLIFT (1/5): Are you a wealthy, silver-spoon-chewing douche-nozzle whose massive ego is only dwarfed by your gargantuan sense of entitlement? Do you have zero regard for personal relationships, viewing your friends as ultimately disposable stepping stones toward attaining the success that is your birthright? Well according to The Social Network, if you play your cards right, you might wind up being one of the wealthiest men in America before your 30th birthday.  This is probably pretty uplifting to the handful of you reading this from your Phillips-Exeter dorm rooms as you arbitrarily select which nannies you’ll frame for stealing the family silver over sprin break. But for the rest of us – we actual humans with actual souls — it only serves as a grim reminder that success is all too often built on the knife-adorned backs of those foolish enough to trust their fellow man.

TOTAL POWER RANKING (2.375/5): Is The Social Network a great film? Certainly. Given the degree to which social networking has inexplicably affected (and infected) our daily lives it is the most relevant film of the year – perhaps even the decade — and a best adapted screenplay trophy for Sorkin is virtually guaranteed.  But I don’t see it taking home a Best Picture Oscar on February 27th. Perhaps The Twitter Movie will be the internet film to finally pull that off.

Oh, and hey, don’t forget to “like” this article on Facebook! LOL! Fart.

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Road to Oscar: Rest of the Nominees Wed, 30 Nov -0001 00:00:00 +0000  

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So the 82nd Academy Awards are a mere week and a half away and I still have a TON of work to do for my Oscar party.  I’ve got to sew together the little tuxedos for all my kitties, pick up the ingredients for my famous homemade pizza egg rolls from the meat rendering plant, sculpt a life-sized effigy of Academy President Tom Sherak out of hummus and of course I still have to go see G-Dawg Killa, my dope man, about an order of “party favors” that will guarantee my female guests will be incapable of resisting my charms come March 7th.  

And of course I have to give you the rest of my Oscar picks.  Over the past few weeks I’ve shared my thoughts about the major categories and dissected some of the frontrunners for Best Picture.  But what of the lesser categories?  You know, the ones that no one cares about?  

Performance by an actor in a supporting role

Matt Damon in "Invictus" (Warner Bros.)
Woody Harrelson in "The Messenger" (Oscilloscope Laboratories)
Christopher Plummer in "The Last Station" (Sony Pictures Classics)
Stanley Tucci in "The Lovely Bones" (DreamWorks in association with Film4, Distributed by Paramount)
Christoph Waltz in "Inglourious Basterds" (The Weinstein Company)
One of Quentin Tarantino’s greatest strengths is finding the right talent to fill his roles, even if these casting choices are “outside the box” (I just threw up in my mouth a little writing that tired cliché (and threw up in YOUR mouth a little writing that second tired cliché)).  In doing so he’s revived the floundering careers of some veteran actors – um, can we put Travolta back in the carbonite chamber now?  But Tarantino seemingly plucked Christoph Waltz out of the Teutonic actor ether to play Colonel Hans Landa.  Thanks to Waltz’s inspired performance, Landa turned out to be the most engaging onscreen Nazi since Colonel Klink.  Give that man an Oscar!

Performance by an actress in a supporting role

Penélope Cruz in "Nine" (The Weinstein Company)
Vera Farmiga in "Up in the Air" (Paramount in association with Cold Spring Pictures and DW Studios)
Maggie Gyllenhaal in "Crazy Heart" (Fox Searchlight)
Anna Kendrick in "Up in the Air" (Paramount in association with Cold Spring Pictures and DW Studios)
Mo’Nique in "Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire" (Lionsgate)
Mo’Nique received a good deal of buzz for her turn as the titular character’s cracked-out mom in Precious, but I think giving the sympathy Oscar for Best Actress to Gabourey Sidibe will free up the Academy to give a Best Supporting Actress Sympathy Oscar to Best Picture also-ran Up in the Air.  I mean they have to give it a trophy for something, right?  Besides, Vera Farmiga has that MILFy horny soccer mom thing going on, like if you buy her a few Mudslides at the TGI Friday’s happy hour she’ll drag you into the men’s room handicap stall and perform acts on you that are technically illegal in Kentucky.  She’s definitely getting the Best Supporting Actress Award from my boner.

Best animated feature film of the year

•    "Coraline" (Focus Features)    Henry Selick
•    "Fantastic Mr. Fox" (20th Century Fox)    Wes Anderson
•    "The Princess and the Frog" (Walt Disney)    John Musker and Ron Clements
•    "The Secret of Kells" (GKIDS)    Tomm Moore
•    "Up" (Walt Disney)    Pete Docter

It’s pretty much a given that Pixar will take this category every year they put a movie out.  Let’s face facts:  Even though what they do is animated, kid-friendly fare, Pixar is the only studio churning out consistently great films.  While the Big Six have been using up all their development money buying up the movie rights to board games and bubble gum and random inanimate objects found in dumpsters, Pixar have devoted theirs to developing original ideas into meaningful, appealing films that reach across age barriers and speak to all four quadrants. I only wish I could’ve seen Up in a theater, in 3D, as it was intended to be viewed.  But alas, per order of the Supreme Court of California I am no longer allowed to be in a dark room alone with children. 

Achievement in art direction

Achievement in cinematography

Achievement in film editing
Achievement in sound editing

Achievement in sound mixing

Achievement in visual effects
"Avatar" (20th Century Fox) A Lightstorm Entertainment Production
Anything remotely technical, visual, or effectsy will go to Avatar this year.  Not that it will deserve every Award – according to some audio engineer friends of mine, Avatar’s sound design was like something lifted from an old NES cartridge – but because for these categories most Academy members are simply checking whatever boxes it takes to get their ballots in the mail.   These are the “Star Wars” Awards – the ones given to the most bombastic, effects-driven picture of the year – and Avatar was undoubtedly this year’s Star Wars.
Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song)
•   "Almost There" from "The Princess and the Frog" (Walt Disney)    Music and Lyrics by Randy Newman

•  "Down in New Orleans" from "The Princess and the Frog" (Walt Disney)    Music and Lyrics by Randy Newman

•  "Loin de Paname" from "Paris 36" (Sony Pictures Classics)    Music by Reinhardt Wagner Lyrics by Frank Thomas

•  "Take It All" from "Nine" (The Weinstein Company)    Music and Lyrics by Maury Yeston

•  "The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)" from "Crazy Heart" (Fox Searchlight)    Music and Lyrics by Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett
Can we please stop giving awards to Randy Newman?  The dude’s not Vivaldi.  He’s not Bach.  He’s not even Andrew W.K.  He made his name writing novelty songs like “Short People” and “I Love L.A.”  Look, I hate midgets and love my smog-enshrouded city as much as the next guy, but come on… It’s like giving an Oscar to Weird Al Yankovic.  Man, I want to punch this guy. T-Bone Burnett on the other hand is one of the best producers and songwriters working in what’s left of the music industry, and the music he wrote for Crazy Heart was better than any of the sorry excuses for country songs blasting over tractor pull PA systems these days.  Give the man an Oscar!
Best documentary feature
•    "Burma VJ" (Oscilloscope Laboratories) A Magic Hour Films Production  Anders Østergaard and Lise Lense-Møller

•    "The Cove" (Roadside Attractions) An Oceanic Preservation Society Production    Nominees to be determined

•    "Food, Inc." (Magnolia Pictures) A Robert Kenner Films Production    Robert Kenner and Elise Pearlstein
•  "The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers" A Kovno Communications Production    Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith

•    "Which Way Home" A Mr. Mudd Production  Rebecca Cammisa
Full disclosure: I don’t watch documentaries.  If I want to see real life I’ll just look out my window and watch the fat girl in the building across the way dancing naked to Fergie with her shades open.  But there were a lot of Facebook status updates from my pseudo-intellectual liberal friends about Food, Inc. and how great it is and how everyone should see it and how it’ll make you never want to eat food again, so I’m guessing it’ll be this year’s An Inconvenient Truth.  Sounds more like the cinematic equivalent of a gluten allergy but whatever, well-to-do hippies will use any excuse to eat weird, overpriced, expensive crap from Whole Foods.    
Adapted screenplay
•   "District 9" (Sony Pictures Releasing)  Written by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell

•   "An Education" (Sony Pictures Classics) Screenplay by Nick Hornby

•   "In the Loop" (IFC Films) Screenplay by Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche

•   "Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire" (Lionsgate) Screenplay by Geoffrey Fletcher

•    "Up in the Air" (Paramount in association with Cold Spring Pictures and DW Studios)  Screenplay by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner
Crom knows I wish I could give this category to District 9, which was probably my favorite film of the last few years not involving two girls, a drinking vessel, and a whole lot of love.  But I think this is one of those categories where the Academy votes politically rather than artistically. Sure, Up in the Air was a critically lauded film, and starred one of Hollywood’s leadingest leading men; but it had about as much substance as those little bag of pretzels the flight attendants begrudgingly hand out on Southwest Airlines flights (just not to Kevin Smith).  However this Shiny Gold Dude is not so much about Up in the Air as it is about Juno.  When the bulk of the latter’s awards season heat went to pole-dancing screenwriter Diablo Cody, director Jason Reitman got lost in the curvaceous scribe’s pasty-enhanced shadow.  Then Jennifer’s Body came out and made everyone realize that Cody writes about as well as every other stripper with daddy issues.  Again, Up in the Air was too popular and well-regarded to not win for something, and this category gives the Academy a chance to vindicate Reitman just a bit.

Original screenplay

•   "The Hurt Locker" (Summit Entertainment)    Written by Mark Boal

•   "Inglourious Basterds" (The Weinstein Company)    Written by Quentin Tarantino

•   "The Messenger" (Oscilloscope Laboratories)    Written by Alessandro Camon & Oren Moverman

•   "A Serious Man" (Focus Features)    Written by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

•   "Up" (Walt Disney)    Screenplay by Bob Peterson, Pete Docter  Story by Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, Tom McCarthy
I will not argue that The Hurt Locker was not a great film.  But was it a great script?  The story was bare-bones, giving the film a stripped-down, documentary-like, naturalistic feel.  Highly effective for the overall result, but I do get the feeling that Mark Boal could’ve written it over a weekend after watching the Generation Kill DVD set.  Still, given the numerous awards the film has alread taken, and the great deal of critical praise heaped upon the film, The Hurt Locker does seem to be the safest bet of the bunch.  Give the man an Oscar!

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Road to Oscar: Best Actor Showdown Wed, 30 Nov -0001 00:00:00 +0000 Last week we threw our Best Actress contenders into the Thunderdome where they battled with claw hammers and whaling harpoons for the honor of taking home a Shiny Gold Dude. ...

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Last week we threw our Best Actress contenders into the Thunderdome where they battled with claw hammers and whaling harpoons for the honor of taking home a Shiny Gold Dude.  But what of the menfolk?  While the dearth of notable mentally and physically disabled characters means we lack a clear frontrunner for this year’s Best Actor Oscar, there were several testosterone-enhanced performances that caught the critics’ attention.  However it seems the bulk of Oscar buzz has been directed at Jeff Bridges for his portrayal of country singer Bad Blake in Crazy Heart, and at George Clooney for his turn as corporate head-chopper Ryan Bingham in Up in the Air.  But do either of these Hollywood veterans have what it takes to win?  Let’s find out.


Ever since he got out of the TV business and started making feature films, George Clooney has been a fixture of awards season.  He’s like Meryl Streep with a penis.  Well, a bigger penis.  Over the course of his career the hunky multi-hyphenate has received Oscar nominations for pretty much every category, including Best Actor, Best Screenplay, Best Director, Best Choreography, Special Achievements in Catering and Best Supporting Actress.  Yet for all the accolades, Clooney’s only gone home with one Oscar, a Best Supporting Actor trophy for Syriana.  Is this the year Clooney finally gets his due in a major category?

PRO:  Few humans on earth possess George Clooney’s charisma.  The actor has a preternatural charm previously seen only in a shirtless Patrick Swayze.  If you are a man and you are in the presence of George Clooney you are, for that moment at least, gay.  And if you are a woman, you are having sex with him.

So significant is Clooney’s dazzle that he not only made the otherwise forgettable Up in the Air watchable, he made it an Oscar contender.  Not taking anything away from Jason Reitman, who is a talented director, but without Clooney, Up in the Air would’ve been as interesting as a two-hour delay on the tarmac of Denver International. But then two hours of George Clooney reading his junk mail using a bad Jerry Lewis impersonation would’ve been just as engaging, and probably would’ve netted just as many award nominations.  

CON:   Though Clooney slathered on multiple coats of extra-glossy charm for Up in the Air, the fact remains that the character he was charged with portraying was not just despicable, but irredeemable.  In the midst of the worst recession since Hoover was banging interns in the oval office, Clooney’s Ryan Bingham is the guy who shows up to tell you that your family will be spending Thanksgiving at the soup kitchen.  And yet, for reasons that are never clearly expressed by the film’s makers, we’re supposed to feel sorry for the guy.  Not because he’s going to the level of hell where sodomy is administered hourly, but because this wealthy, good-looking, smug prick whose success comes at the expense of others can’t find love. Awwww… poor widdle frequent flyer.  Nine months after you laid him off, my Uncle Terry shot his wife and kids before offing himself because he’d tapped his life savings and couldn’t make the mortgage payments.  But now that I’ve seen the pangs of loneliness you feel after a life of banging random flight attendants in the American Airlines VIP lounge men’s room I just feel so much empathy for you, dude.  You want some help setting up a account or something?


PRO:   Jeff Bridges has alread taken the Golden Globe for his performance, and deservedly so.  With Crazy Heart, Bridges does for country music what Mickey Rourke did for wrestling.  Ironic, since both country music and wrestling are generally enjoyed by the sort of pick-up-driving, gun-toting, toothless sister-humpers who only go to the cinema when there’s a new Larry the Cable Guy movie out.  But the similarities between Crazy Heart and The Wrestler don’t end there.  Like Rourke, who performed his own wrestling stunts, Bridges here performs all the songs himself and in so doing proves that he’s a better country singer than pretty much every chart-topping artist coming out of Nashville today. 

But perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of Bridges’ performance has escaped discussion.  Much has been made of method actors such as Robert DeNiro changing their physical appearance for a role.  But this is the first instance I’ve ever seen of an actor changing the appearance of ANOTHER actor.  Jeff Bridges’ acting in Crazy Heart was SO good that I actually believed Maggie Gyllenhaal was an attractive woman — and not a luckdragon from the world of Fantasia.  And while George Clooney’s power to turn otherwise straight men gay is significant, it pales in comparison to Jeff Bridges’ ability to make otherwise straight men attracted to Maggie Gyllenhaal, as I was for the duration of Crazy Heart.

CON:  The biggest problem with Crazy Heart is its lack of believability. Specifically, because the songs are too good.  Have you heard country music lately?  It’s everything that’s wrong with Nickelback and NASCAR put in a blender and served in an oversized Stuckey’s mug.  Are we, the audience, supposed to believe that a multiplatinum nu-country star like Tommy Sweet would perform the stirring traditional country ditties composed by Bad Blake (which were IRL composed by uber-talent T-Bone Burnett)?  Where are the bad puns and double entendres?  Where are the sophomoric lyrics about pick-up trucks, eagles and killing illegal immigrants?  Where’s the auto-tune and circa-1986 Def Leppard production? 

Still, these are but nits for the picking.  This is a movie; we can suspend disbelief for the sake of the story and pretend that there’s still chart-topping country music being made that’s worth listening to.  Besides, Jeff Bridges performance more than made up for any such holes in logic.

ADVANTAGE: The Dude does not abide by George Clooney stealing his Oscar.  This year’s Best Actor trophy goes to Jeff Bridges.

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Road to Oscar: Best Actress Showdown Wed, 30 Nov -0001 00:00:00 +0000 Today we pit our top contenders for the Best Actress Oscar in the metaphorical pudding pool for a bikini-clad, chocolate-treat-slathered Battle Royale from which only one shall emerge the victor. ...

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Today we pit our top contenders for the Best Actress Oscar in the metaphorical pudding pool for a bikini-clad, chocolate-treat-slathered Battle Royale from which only one shall emerge the victor.  As if that imagery wasn’t disgusting (and sexy) enough, consider that this year’s top dogs form an unholy three-way culled from the deepest depths of lesbian porno hell: Front runners Meryl Streep (Julie & Julia) and Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side) along with our dark horse (did I just write that?) Gabourey Sibide (Precious: Based on the Novel bla bla bla bla bla). 


Let’s face it: All Meryl Streep needs to do to get nominated for an Oscar is show up on set. Hollywood’s grand dame has been nominated 16 times and already has two Shiny Gold Dudes for her prodigious award mantle. She could do a regional K-Mart commercial and still be the talk of awards season. She could do a one-line walk-on in a Larry the Cable Guy movie and sweep the Golden Globes. But that doesn’t necessarily guarantee her the Academy Award, does it?

PRO: Thanks to the Food Network, cooking shows are sizzlin’ hot (zing!).  So Streep’s turn as Julia Child was well-timed.  And while Julie & Julia probably won’t even rank in the legendary actress’ Top 10 performances, Streep has been getting deserved nods for revealing the depth and complexity hiding beneath the iconic chef’s apron (thank the gods that’s the only thing hidden beneath Julia Child’s apron that was revealed).

CON: Unfortunately Streep only accounts for half of Julie & Julia’s two-tittied titular characters.  And while her performance was impressive, it did not make up for the dreadful “Julie” segments.  Dear Hollywood: Bloggers do not make interesting fodder for movies.  See: Tucker Max’s I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell.  Okay, there is one exception to this rule — me — but that’s because I moonlight as a kung f ninja assassin for the Dutch government, not because I write snarky quips for the internetzes.  Believe me, there is nothing at all entertaining about me in my Ben and Jerry’s stained tighty-whities, typing rape jokes between sips of Steel Reserve; it’s just sad and pathetic.  And while the adorable Amy Adams did give the role of food blogger Julie Powell her all, she’s still the proverbial albatross around Meryl’s neck.


When we look back on 2009, we will likely remember it as the Year of the Bullock.   After phoning in 2007’s dreadful Premonition, the actress seemingly disappeared, presumably banished to the same island where Ashley Judd forages for berries.  But last year Miss Congeniality came back with a vengeance and somehow managed to garner both a Razzie Nomination (for the abominable All About Steve) and an Oscar nomination in the same year.   Which raises an interesting question: Is it possible that Bullock might actually be both the best and worst actress of the year?

PRO:  Bullock seemed to take a shotgun approach to winning the Oscar.  If she stars in EVERY movie that comes out in a given year, she’s bound to win for something, right?  In all fairness, she did receive some good reviews for her work in The Blind Side, being called “unusually watchable” by one critic, “surprisingly pleasant” by another and “not at all making me want to jam a fork in my eye” by yet another (me).

CON:  This is Sandra Bullock we’re talking about.  She specializes in box office fluff aimed at eternally-single cat ladies — usually opposite some equally generic hunkbot actor e.g. Matthew McConaughey.  It seems silly handing her a Shiny Gold Dude for the achievement of merely being less bland than normal.   It’s like awarding vanilla the Creamy Award for Best Ice Cream.  Sure, it’s fine when it’s scooped onto a slice of pie, but it’s still no Chunky Monkey (the flavor du jour staining my tighty-whities).


Not only does Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (pant… pant…) own the distinction of having the most annoying title, it was — along with The Blind Side and Paranormal Activity — one of the year’s notable sleeper hits.  But what most people don’t know is that it also provided one of 2009’s most popular Halloween costumes.  As a matter of fact I was at the DMV last week and even though Halloween has been over for months several of the employees were STILL wearing their Precious costumes.   Pretty impressive.  But was Gabourey Sibide’s performance equally impressive?

PRO: Sibide’s performance as the illiterate incest victim with a heart of gold was solid, if not mind-blowing.  But she does have a unique edge over her competition: Let’s face it, it’s not like Sibide’s going to be top-lining summer blockbusters next year.  She’s a morbidly obese African-American woman.  No one’s casting her opposite Brad Pitt in the next Doug Liman actioner.  Outside of the occasional Oprah Winfrey Network movie-of-the-week and Tyler Perry cameo, Precious may be her lone moment in the spotlight.  And I believe the Academy will reward her accordingly.  When she’s selling Mary Kay ten years from now at the very least she’ll have a Shiny Gold Dude by which to remember her Walhol-prescribed 15 minutes.

CON: She’s up against Meryl Streep.  Still, for the reason stated above I think Sibide will pull off the upset and take home the Oscar. Streep already has more Academy Awards that she knows what to do with and likely has not won her last.  But unless Martin Scorsese decides to adapt The Jeffersons for the big screen and hand-picks Sibide to be his Weezy, this will likely be her only grab for the gold.  She deserves it just as much as her competition, but the distinction will mean a lot more to her.  And I believe the Academy will recognize this fact and reward her accordingly. 


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Road to Oscar: Cameron vs. Bigelow Wed, 30 Nov -0001 00:00:00 +0000 BEST DIRECTOR SHOWDOWN This year’s Oscar nominations have been announced, which means it’s time to take the frontrunners from each category and throw them into the Thunderdome where they’ll wage...

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This year’s Oscar nominations have been announced, which means it’s time to take the frontrunners from each category and throw them into the Thunderdome where they’ll wage a bloody battle to the death for the honor of taking home a Shiny Gold Dude.  Alas I’m speaking metaphorically, though I suspect this scenario wouldn’t be beyond the realm of possibility for our Best Director frontrunners, Kathryn Bigelow and her ex-husband James Cameron.  Yes, the directors were once married.  It’s almost like something out of a movie, though not one either Cameron or Bigelow would direct. We’ll leave that to some hack like Mark Steven Johnson.  If this were a Mark Steven Johnson movie the pair would spend the first ac fighting and the second act rekindling their love, followed by a big misunderstanding to kick off the third act that would culminate in them either co-winning the award or both refusing to accept it.  Thankfully this isn’t a Mark Steven Johnson movie (too bad the same couldn’t be said for When in Rome, Ghost Rider or Daredevil).  This is real life, which means on March 7th one director shall emerge victorious, while the other must suffer the indignity of losing to someone they used to bang.


When I was told that Kathryn Bigelow was working on The Hurt Locker I was certain I’d heard wrong.   “Did you say she’s working at The Foot Locker?”  An easy mistake:  While Bigelow was responsible for one of the greatest action movies of all time — Point break — she’d all but disappeared from showbiz after the Clinton years.  Still, Hollywood does love a comeback and I’d be hard pressed to name a more impressive comeback than Bigelow’s.  But is it enough for her to win Best Director?

PRO:  The Hurt Locker is an actual good film.  Not that Avatar is bad, but Cameron’s Dances with Smurfs should not be confused with high art.  By way of comparison, Star Wars was nominated for a bunch of Oscars in 1978 but only managed to win in the technical categories — because it was up against Annie Hall.  Of course in 1978 most Americans still had functioning cerebral cortexes so this comparison may not be apropos.

PRO: Looks matter, and Kathryn Bigelow is quite possibly the most attractive 58-year-old woman on earth.  Cut her age in half and she’d still be over-the-hill per my usual standards.  I’ve never been all that into post-menopausal women… hell, I’ve never been all that into post-pubescent women.  But there’s something about Ms. Bigelow that makes me want to don the old ski mask, fire up the windowless van and treat her to an unsolicited romancing she’ll never forget.  Believe me, when I was through with her “The Hurt Locker” wouldn’t just be the name of her movie, it would also be our pet name for her neener. 

James Cameron meanwhile, despite possessing enough money to have every internal organ in his body replaced three times over, has not aged nearly so gracefully.  While his ex-wife looks like the centerfold from GILF Magazine, Cameron looks like a half-melted stick of butter wearing a hobo wig.  It’s like he’s not even trying to look ALIVE anymore.  He has so much money and power that he can look like something that washed up on shore — say, a rotting seal carcass — and A-list actresses will still line up to give him oral.  But that doesn’t mean anyone wants to see him on TV.  His “I’m the king of the world!” speech was almost endearing in 1998, but twelve years later it’ll look like grandpa forgot to take his meds again. 
PRO: Kathryn Bigelow just won the DGA Award, the first women to do so since… since… well, forever.  That her peers chose to recognize her is indeed impressive, but it also must be taken with a grain of salt.  Consider that most directors are male, unkempt and somewhat dorky.  And that Kathryn Bigelow is a stone-cold fox.  She’s like the cute girl in the IT department surrounded by the gaggle of mouth-breathing Poindexters.  Those dweebs will do ANYTHING to get in her pants.

CON: She’s a woman.  The male members of The Academy are huddling together on the glass ceiling, making sure Kathryn doesn’ break through in to their club. 


Believe me; no one wanted to see James Cameron fall on his face more than me.  Not that he hasn’t made movies I genuinely love.  Terminator is my favorite film plagiarized from the works of Harlan Ellison, and Aliens is a bonerfide masterpiece.  But post-Titanic, it seemed that the director’s ego had inflated like a hot air balloon and carried him off to the same land of oblivious delusion where George Lucas currently resides.  That he was due for a face plant was only further reinforced when I saw the Avatar trailer, which reminded me of a videogame cut-scene, only without a red X button to mash so I could skip ahead to the end-of-level boss.  However the moment I strapped on the 3D glasses to actually watch Avatar I knew that bastard had gone and done it again.  It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced, and I’ve been in a Tijuana prison on mushrooms.

PRO: Avatar is a game-changer, probably the first of its kind since The Jazz Singer proved that Neil Diamond could actually act.  Or perhaps I’m thinking of that OTHER The Jazz Singer, the one that introduced sound to moving pictures for the first time.  Regardless, what Cameron accomplished with Avatar belongs in the history books.  Not that anyone will know how to read in the future, but at least the information will be there for our alien overlords to peruse when they’re not busy turning us into zombie slaves for their salt mines.

PRO:Avatar is the highest-grossing film of all time.  In a utopian society with universal healthcare and copious leisure time, where art, love and life are put on a higher pedestal than commerce – you know, France – the amount of money Avatar made at the box office wouldn’t matter.  But this is AMERICA, damn it.  Our Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science is a professional society dedicated to advancing the motion picture INDUSTRY.  In other words: this is business, kids, and keeping James Cameron happy is good business.    

PRO: James Cameron is a man.  And making movies — like getting married to five different women and cheating on every one of them — is man business.


Kathryn Bigelow deserves every bit of the praise she’s received for The Hurt Locker.  She deserves the resulting resurgence of interest in her directing talents, and she deserves the dedicated lovemaking skills of a younger man who only cares about her pleasure, and who happens to be wearing a ski mask and who owns a blacked-out van.  But alas I don’t think she’s going to win a Best Director Oscar. 

The Academy Awards – like the Grammys and every other televised awards show – is ultimately a populist affair.  And at the end of the day your average shlub would rather watch a fantasy movie about a war in a far-off land driven by evil corporations seeking to pillage the natural resources of its indigenous people…. than one about an ACTUAL war in a far-off land driven by evil corporations seeking to pillage the natural resources of its indigenous people.  Iraqis aren’t blue, feline-esque and oddly arousing to look at.  But beyond all that, what Cameron accomplished with Avatar was more than simply making a great film.  He brought back the spectacle, the magic, and in so doing reinvented the medium.  Also, he is a man. 

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Road to Oscar: ‘Inglourious Basterds’ Wed, 30 Nov -0001 00:00:00 +0000         

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This week I will examine the Oscar outlook for Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino’s viscera-splattered WWIIsploitation epic.  Basterds marked a return to form for Quentin after the execrable Death Proof left a great big poo-smear on his résumé.  Truth told I only watched Basterds to mock it; Death Proof put such a foul taste in my mouth that I was convinced the motor-mouthed pastiche artist had finally lost it, oblivious to how far from grace he’d fallen.  Thankfully, Basterds was a pleasant surprise.  And though it was not a flawless film by any stretch (here again QT’s characters babble with a smug machine-gun bravado normally reserved for Hollywood Hills coke parties) it was at the very least -– unreservedly, unapologetically — a Quentin Tarantino film.

The most noteworthy aspect of Inglourious Basterds however did not lie in the direction (though brilliant) or story (a beautiful mess) but in the virtuoso performance of Christoph Waltz.  Quentin seemingly plucked the Austrian actor from the ether to play “The Jew Hunter” Colonel Hans Landa, a character destined to go down in history as one of cinema’s greatest villains.  But herein lies the curious problem: Quentin’s Nazis are far more interesting – and dare I say “human” — than his heroes.  There’s the brave resolve of the German officer who’d rather face the bat of Donny Donowitz than give up the location of this compatriots; the naïve innocence of smitten German war hero Frederik Zoller; the passion of Hitler (coincidentally, the title of Mel Gibson’s next directorial effort), the charm of the aforementioned Colonel Landa.  The Basterds meanwhile are a pack of violent thugs.  If you were a cat-eating alien from Planet Melmac and Inglourious Basterds was your only exposure to Earth’s Second World War, you might assume that the Nazis were the good guys.  FYI, Quentin: They weren’t. 

*Spoiler Alert*
I can almost forgive Quentin’s folly.  Bad guys are often the most interesting characters to write.  But these are NAZIS.  And while I would not want to put shackles on any artist, their place in history dictates that Nazis cannot be painted with too much sympathy.  Granted, Quentin’s World War II is not the one of our history books.  However I’m not sure if Tarantino actually intended to create an alternate reality or if he mistakenly believed Hitler was killed in a theater.  He might, in a haze of stimulants, have confused Hitler with Abraham Lincoln

But for all its faults, Inglourious Basterds does hark back to an era when directors sought to develop a “voice” that made their work instantly recognizable.  These days a breakout filmmaker quickly cashes in his whatever auteur cred he has to make generic superhero blockbusters on assignment.  Tarantino will never do that because he CAN’T do that.  Every frame of every Tarantino film is slathered with the director’s Clorox-scented make.  Love him or hate him, Quentin ONLY makes Tarantino films.   Ironically, the king of pastiche may well be the most original American filmmaker working today.  But will this translate into Oscar wins?  Let us once again consult our benchmarks.

RETARD STRENGTH (2/5):  While Inglourious Basterds lacks full-blown Down Syndrome, it is chock full of Nazis, who were history’s retards.  If I could award points for inane rambling on director’s commentaries I would, but unfortunately I must judge Inglourious Basterds as a stand-alone film, not by the strengths of its DVD extras.  

SOCIAL RELEVANCE (2/5):  Nazis = Bad is kind of old news.  Spielberg used up the last of that theme’s Oscar cache in 1993 with Schindler’s List, and America has since replaced Nazi Germany as the politically correct global boogeyman after we flew those airplanes into those buildings.  Okay, that was Al-Qaeda, but there was that dubious invasion of Iraq, which lead to the death of Saddam Hussein who was kind of like Iraq’s Gandhi (except that he’d killed thousands of innocent people).  If it were the early 1990s, or if Quentin had merely used World War II as a metaphor for America’s imperialistic oil wars, I would’ve scored him higher; but circa now Nazis are about as hip as a shooting heroin into your soul patch at a Pearl Jam concert.

EPICOSITY (5/5):  Inglourious Basterds is Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in the West, and I couldn’t mean that more literally.  Sporting Leone-style cinematography, a Morricone-heavy score and clocking in at 149 minutes (just north of Leone’s spaghetti western which had a run time of 145 minutes), Tarantino as usual walks a preciously thin line between homage and rip-off.  Still, as far as epicosity is concerned, Inglourious Basterds hits a home run. 

UPLIFT (3/5):  Okay, pretty much every one dies.  But it would be hard to top the visceral thrill of seeing Hitler mercilessly gunned down.  I know it’s not exactly an uplifting triumph of the human spirit, but it sure gave me a murder boner and put a big smile on my face.

TOTAL POWER RANKING (3/5):  Respectable, but probably not enough to garner a Best Picture shiny guy. That still makes Tarantino a contender for Best Director, though his success greatly depends on how much of a knob-job the Academy plans to give James Cameron this year.   At the very least Inglourious Basterds gives hope that Death Proof was an anomaly and not the beginning of a trend.  And it justifies us looking forward to Quentin’s next film, which will undoubtedly be a homage to some forgotten B-movie classic, underappreciated foreign director, and/or little known exploitation sub-genre, and should come out sometime in the next five or six years, or whenever the coke money dries up.  Whichever comes first. 

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Road to the Oscars: ‘Up in the Air’ Wed, 30 Nov -0001 00:00:00 +0000        

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Last week we looked at my frontrunner for this year’s Best Picture, James Cameron’s 3D furry-fest Avatar.  But we must not ignore this year’s other contenders, not the least of which being Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air

Reitman’s third feature came into this year’s award season with a good deal of positive buzz.  However I’m inclined to believe this is an industry-wide apology for lap-dancer Diablo Cody winning an Oscar for the text message transcript she called the Juno screenplay while Reitman’s impressive directing was all but ignored.  As the shiny gold dude on Cody’s mantle gathered dust, Reitman bided his time, content with the knowledge that he would someday be vindicated.  After all, while Diablo’s dad was doing whatever it is fathers do to turn their daughters into strippers, HIS dad was directing Ghostbusters.  Yet while the lesser Reitman is certainly due some recognition, it should not be for Up in the Air, which was the cinematic equivalent of a Southwest Airlines flight over America’s heartland: Flat, dull and seemingly endless.  

Which it had no reason to be.  It was well-directed, well-acted and well-photographed.  But on every other level it suffered from cinematic Asperger’s.  While devoid of laughs — or any other genuine expression of emotion – the cast did include a number of talented comedic day players, including Zach Galifianakis, Danny McBride, Jason Bateman, J.K. Simmons and Sam Elliott.  I spent most of the film hoping Clooney would round them up into a makeshift crew, morphing Up In the Air into Ocean’s 15. Alas, such was not the case.  Tepid and lifeless, the film droned on and on like a Sunn0))) record, dancing back and forth between failed attempts at humor and failed attempts at delivering its muddled, faux-earnest message about the importance of settling down and starting a family like every other minivan-driving sheepanoid in gated suburbia.  Why did this message ring so untrue?  Gee, I don’t know, maybe because it was being shilled by HOLLYWOOD?  You know, where a glory hole encounter in the Coco DeVille bathroom is considered a long-term relationship?

In a year when the most talked about film was rendered in better-than-life 3D, it’s ironic that Up in the Air, with its muted colors, seemed somehow less than 2D.  I will give its makers credit for the soundtrack, however.  The use of Elliot Smith was particularly apropos, as it came just as I was ready to plunge a knife into my heart ala the now-deceased songsmith.  George Clooney, for his part, was George Clooney.  As always, the man could charm his way onto Air Force One carrying a blood machete and briefcase full of C-4.   His character, a hired-gun contractor specializing in cutting corporate heads, was a spiritual brother to Aaron Eckhart’s tobacco spin doctor from Thank You for Smoking: A loveable scumbag true, but scum through-and-through.  Yet ironically the filmmakers didn’t seem to realize how reprehensible this character was; he was constantly framed as the good guy.  It would be like if Spielberg had decided to make Amon Goeth the hero of Schindler’s List.  Oh, that wacky Amon!  If only he’d found himself a good woman to settle down with, maybe he wouldn’t have exterminated all those innocents.

Still, these are all just opinions, and particularly jaded opinions at that.  Given its 90% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes I am certainly in the minority here.  So I must once again turn to the objectivity of the scientific method by consulting our benchmarks in order to gauge Up in the Air’s Best Picture chances.

RETARD STRENGTH (0/5): For a movie that seemed tailor-made for awards season, Up in the Air was sadly lacking in retardeds; there was nary a simp or gimp in the entire film.   Had Joaquin Phoenix been available for a walk-on I could have at least awarded it a harelip sympathy point.  I was even tempted to give it a point due to the presence of Danny McBride, who here plays the exact same character he plays in every other movie and TV show.  But while that one character McBride plays is a bit naive and delusional, he is by no means a water-head.  As we established last week, if you’re retarded enough for the Special Olympics, you’re retarded enough for an Oscar.  But ignorance and a mullet alone do not qualify you to swim the 100 meter freestyle with the Down Syndrome kids. 

SOCIAL RELEVANCE (3/5):  Our country’s double-digit unemployment rate is certainly a topic of concern.  Up in the Air’s makers went all-out in their attempt to tackle this hot button issue, using actual laid-off employees to play the victims of Clooney’s corporate downsizer.  I guess the point being that if you’re laid off in real life, your reward is to be laid off by George Clooney in the movies?  The problem is, while the world of corporate downsizing served as Up in the Air’s backdrop, it really had nothing to do with the film in terms of theme or message. Clooney’s character did not learn anything from the people whose lives he’d ruined.  He did not have a change of heart, epiphany or turn over a new leaf.  At the end of the film he’s still going about the business of killing careers.  All he really learned was that perhaps his life would be more complete if he had a girlfriend.  I’m sure his ennui lasted right up until he nailed his next flight attendant in the men’s room on the American Airlines executive lounge.

EPICOSITY (1/5): While Up in the Air’s cinematography was excellent, the airports, hotels and office spaces that comprised its locales did not lend much in terms of Middle Earth style epicocity.  And at 109 minutes it certainly wasn’t Bondarchuk’s War and Peace.  But I will give Up in the Air this: It at least FELT like a three-hour movie. 

UPLIFT (3/5): I suppose if you’re one of the many folks out there who’ve recently lost a job, Up in the Air might offer some solace that at least you’re not alone.  It might help you realize that so long as you have family and loved ones to lean on, you’ll make it through the trials and tribulations of being unemployed in one of the worst economies since the Great Depression.  If you don’t have a family however, you’re pretty much screwed.  At least that seemed to be the message.  We’re supposed to feel sorry for Clooney’s jet-setting downsizer, because while he might be wealthy, handsome, and able to bang random chicks in airport bathrooms, he isn’t happy, right?  RIGHT?  Okay, think about it too hard and the logic falls apart quicker than a Haitian shanty, but I suppose in these dire times people will latch onto anything that makes them feel a little bit better about themselves and their miserable lives. 

TOTAL POWER RANKING: 1.75.  The numbers don’t lie.  Up in the Air has no chance of winning the Academy Award for Best Picture, though I won’t be surprised if it nets a sympathy Oscar or two in the lesser categories (perhaps a Best Adapted Screenplay to complete the circle of irony).  For those of you who feel I’ve been too hard on this film, be assured that I am a fan of its director and firmly believe he will have a long and fruitful career.  However, he’ll have to wait for another awards season to take home a Best Picture trophy.  Perhaps with his next film, Jason Reitman will remember to throw in a few retardeds.

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Road to the Oscars: ‘Avatar’ Wed, 30 Nov -0001 00:00:00 +0000       

The post Road to the Oscars: ‘Avatar’ appeared first on Screen Junkies.



Oscar season is upon us, the time of year when Hollywood doles out statues depicting a gilded nude man holding a stick to entertainment professionals lucky enough to be involved in films that didn’t totally suck. 

Of course when the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announced last June that they’d be widening the field of competition for Best Picture to ten nominees instead of the traditional five, it came as welcome news to makers of films that DO totally suck.   However while the nominating will be doubly less selective this year, there are still a great many non-sucktastic films in contention for Mr. Oscar which we’ll be talking about in the coming weeks.

But let us not beat around the bush.  At the head of the Best Picture pack is Avatar, James Cameron’s 3D masterpiece of kitchen-sink filmmaking.  Claimed to be the most expensive motion picture ever made, Cameron’s Avatar raises the bar for what should be expected of the cinematic experience.  It’s an orgy of sensory stimulation rivaled only by the time I accidentally ate an entire sheet of Blue Unicorn acid then wandered into Caesars Palace during a circus freak convention.  Only an invisible arm reaching between my legs and giving me a wank at the second ac break could’ve made Avatar more stimulating.

Was Avatar a GOOD film?  Heavens no.  The production design was not unlike dining at Rainforest Café while wearing a pair of blue-tinted sunglasses.  I’ve heard better sound effects in Sha Brothers chop socky films.  And it possesses one of the least original stories ever conceived: In crafting the Avatar screenplay Cameron took a shotgun approach to plagiarism, stealing pretty much every plot point from FernGully and Dances with Wolves while borrowing liberally from Poul Anderson’s 1957 sci-fi story “Call Me Joe.”  The dialog?  Like it was lifted directly from George Lucas’ script for the next Star Wars movie, Jar Jar Does Dagobah.  And Cameron’s computer-generated Native American surrogates, the Navi, look like what would happen if the casts of Cats and Blue Man Group had their molecules melded in the telepod from Cronenberg’s The Fly.  No, Avatar was not a good film.  But it was, in fact, a GREAT film.   

Because despite all its flaws, Avatar treats movie goers to something they have never experienced before.  Watching Avatar for the first time is kind of like realizing, to your horror, that you’re a furry.  Everything that seemed so wrong walking into the theater is now right, your shame and disgust transformed into an ecstatic peaceful joy the moment your deepest subconscious desires are finally sated.  And let’s be honest, this metaphor isn’t too far off, considering Cameron’s digital anthropomorphs look like something lifted from the fanime spank-bank of a full-on fursuit wearer.  I’m sure by now several metric tons of Thundercats bed sheets have been ruined thanks to sticky fanboy cream dreams of scantily-clad sex smurf Neytiri. Avatar may well be the century’s crowning achievement, not just of filmmaking, but of furry porn as well. 

And obviously the experience of giving in to one’s inner furfag is something that resonates with a great many people.  Avatar, after just 20 days, became the second highest grossing picture OF ALL TIME – second only to Cameron’s last film, the one about the boating accident.  Which puts James Cameron in a unique position: He can get away with anything now.  Strangles a hooker?  He gets off.  Shows up for a “date” to find Chris Hansen waiting with a camera crew?  Cameron is the predator who didn’t get caught.  Convinces a bunch of box-cutter-wielding Arabs to fly a 747 into the Sears Tower?  President Obama bakes him a cake.  He is now non-hyperbolically the king of the world — providing your world is a 498-square-mile chunk of Southern California where the chief exports are smog, saline milk-squirters and box office blockbusters.  James Cameron’s next film could be a Bolivian snuff porn video and he’d get a wide theatrical release and prodigious Oscar buzz.  And the crazy part?  James Cameron’s next film is a Bolivian snuff porn video.  Look for Two Girls, One Severed Head on IMAX 3D in the fall of 2011.

For these reasons I believe Avatar will win the Best Picture shiny guy on March 7th.   And to further test this hypothesis, I have ranked Avatar using the four benchmarks that generally decide the winner of an Academy Award. 

RETARD STRENGTH (4/5):  True, Sam Worthington’s character Jake Sully is not a retard of the drool cup and poopy pants variety.  However he is a paraplegic, which makes him walk-tarded.  As far at the Academy Awards are concerned, the golden rule is this:  If you qualify for the Special Olympics, you’re retarded enough for an Oscar.   And yet, adhering to the “full retard” rule posited in Tropic Thunder, Worthington didn’t go all Stephen Hawking on us.  Jake Sully is a crip, true; but a strapping and handsome one whose disability is cast aside in favor of more interesting (and less depressing) plot devices once he’s plugged into his avatar.

With Avatar, Cameron tackles, pins down, then bloodies with a series of elbows the social issues that routinely make the average Prius-driving Whole Foods shopper’s brow furrow with concern:  Racism, environmentalism, the evils of capitalism and American-style militaristic imperialism.  Only a subplot about gay marriage or a ten-foot-tall aqua blue Al Gore could’ve made Avatar more politically correct.

EPICOSITY (5/5):  At 162 minutes, Avatar certainly boasts epic length (that’s what she said!  BAM!).  But while past Oscar winners have been content to be epic on a flat silver screen, James Cameron took epic literally to a new dimension:  the third dimension.  What has been in lesser hands a corny gimmick with which to market bad horror films Cameron uses to expand the scope and scale by which his film can epic.  I won’t be surprised if his next film pokes a hole in the space-time continuum.

UPLIFT (5/5):   With the glaring exception of the 2008 Academy Awards — when both No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood took home multiple Oscars — a feel-good, uplifting ending has traditionally been requisite for taking home a Best Picture trophy.  In this category Avatar delivers in spades:  Good conquers evil, the underdogs defeat a much more powerful foe, love conquers all, a cripple is able to walk again, everyone learns an important lesson about hygiene, and there’s a bombastic ballad with no less than fourteen key changes over the end credits.  Especially in these dire times, which I like to call “The Prelude to the Apocalypse,” people want to walk out of a movie feeling good, not overwhelmed by existential ennui.  Avatar serves to remind us that there is good in the universe, so long as you worship an ancient goddess who lives in a glow-in-the-dark tree.

TOTAL POWER RANKING: 4.75.  If only Jake Sully had suffered a head injury or stroke to boost the retard strength it would be a perfect lock, but with no other film in contention coming remotely close it’s still more than enough to send Avatar’s makers home with a Best Picture trophy.  I’m sure James Cameron is already working on his acceptance speech, which will plagiarize several past acceptance speeches, but will be unlike any acceptance speech we’ve ever heard before.  I look forward to experiencing it on March 7th. 

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