By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, January 14, 2011 - 0 Comments
Quebecer Denis Villeneuve may finally get the worldwide acclaim he deserves.
In a Denis Villeneuve movie, you can count on a savage act of fate changing someone’s life. In his first feature, August 32nd on Earth (1998), a woman vows to get pregnant after surviving a near-fatal car crash. The heroine of Maelstrom (2000) drives over a pedestrian after having an abortion. Polytechnique (2009) re-enacts the arbitrary murder of female engineering students in the Montreal Massacre. Villeneuve’s latest film, Incendies, tracks a mother and daughter through a maze of horrific coincidence in the Middle East. All these movies succeed against wild odds. Stories that could easily tip over into melodrama acquire uncanny power and grace. Dramatizing the Montreal Massacre sounds like an adventure in bad taste, but Polytechnique avoided the pitfalls of exploitation, wowed critics and swept the Genie Awards. Now with Incendies, Villeneuve is emerging as the most acclaimed Quebec director since Denys Arcand—and the most exciting Canadian filmmaker of his generation. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, October 14, 2010 at 3:00 PM - 0 Comments
Best Actors play psychos, but Best Actress winners have to be noble crusaders
Meryl Streep used to routinely complain about the dearth of strong female roles. Those days are long gone. In fact, Hollywood seems to have adopted a new double standard, by which women have a monopoly on outsized heroic virtue. Over the past decade, the Best Actor winners have included two psychopaths (Training Day, There Will Be Blood), a mass murderer (The Last King of Scotland), a prima donna journalist (Capote), a philandering junkie (Ray), and a shambling alcoholic (Crazy Heart). Only one actor was awarded for playing a righteous crusader: Sean Penn in Milk. With the women, it’s another story. Of the past 10 Best Actress winners, just one played a psycho: Monster’s Charlize Theron. Among the other roles are a beloved queen, a string of noble martyrs, and two stubborn crusaders—Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich and Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side.
Real-life heroines tend to dominate Oscar-pedigree roles. And though it’s early to start handicapping the awards, the trend seems stronger than ever—with the notable exception of Natalie Portman’s sensational tour de force as a ballerina in the melodrama Black Swan. Lately I’ve seen a glut of powerhouse performances by actresses cast in true stories of underdog crusaders triumphing over long odds—Diane Lane in Secretariat (opening Oct. 8), Hilary Swank in Conviction (Oct. 15), Naomi Watts in Fair Game (Nov. 5), and Rachel Weisz in The Whistleblower (release date pending). Each of these roles fits a particular mould: a working mother who tests her family’s patience by taking the world by storm.
By Barbara Amiel - Thursday, March 18, 2010 at 11:00 AM - 27 Comments
Barbara Amiel: “We are probably in the middle of an aesthetic change”
Who will make her Oscar dress, I asked myself, as I suspect countless plus-sized people must have been asking. (I’m not a plus-sized person myself but have wish-fantasies of being one—in the right places, that is.) All you saw for the first pre-Oscar hour were skinny white person after skinny white person, like me only decades younger, and all just so incredibly thrilled to be here on the red carpet mantra-ing, “I never dreamt of this when I was growing up…,” not before the age of four anyway. The men wore Tom Ford and Burberry, the women Chanel, Versace, and Valentino with their wrists like Masai tribeswomen all tunnelled up with bangles courtesy of Chopard—which is funny when you remember that the Kenya Masai live with their bangles in huts made of dried merde. But which designer was going to get the starring dress of the night, the super-plus of all pluses?
Meanwhile, you couldn’t but wonder how it is possible for stomachs to be so absolutely flat. God, I know how difficult it is even when you starve for 36 hours to get into the special dress (and then at dinner reach for a piece of bread, which, as one New York stick-person reprimanded me, “is not the staff of life, Barbara.” So no bread that evening). Sandra Bullock, looking as whippet-narrow as a human can be, told the interviewer that after the ceremonies she was going to go out “and have a cheeseburger, deep-fried fries and a milkshake.” Oh yes, and visit the emergency room with a volvulus if she did half of that—there can’t be room in her intestines for a sorbet.
I digress. Along came the much-anticipated dress: the outsized Marchesa dress wearing Gabourey Sidibe. Draped chiffon, sapphire blue like the name of the author of the novel Precious, with sparkly bits around the neckline and hips. A size beyond 26, the same designer that Sandra Bullock, size zero, was wearing. “You look good, girl,” said the interviewer, using the lingua franca of African-Americans.
By Brian D. Johnson - Monday, March 15, 2010 at 8:45 AM - 5 Comments
How one woman crashed the boys’ club and made Hollywood history
Barbra Streisand couldn’t contain herself. It was obvious she’d been tapped to present the Oscar for Best Director because it was expected to go to a woman for the first time in history. Even before opening the envelope, she couldn’t resist gloating at the prospect, adding as a tacky afterthought that the prize might also go to the first African-American ever to win it (Precious director Lee Daniels). Then, revealing that Kathryn Bigelow had won for The Hurt Locker, Streisand placed her hand over her heart, as if heralding the dawn of a new age, and declared: “The time has come!”
That the Academy has taken such a long time—82 years—to honour a female director makes this landmark as much an embarrassment as a triumph. And there’s no small irony in the fact that the first woman to crack Oscar’s glass ceiling prefers not to brand herself a feminist filmmaker, even if she is one. Unlike the only other women ever nominated for Best Director—Lina Wertmüller, Jane Campion and Sofia Coppola—Bigelow makes movies that don’t promote a feminist, or even a feminine, sensibility. She specializes in action movies populated by cowboy heroes—a gang of iconic bikers (The Loveless), a clan of vampire road warriors (Near Dark), a surfing FBI agent (Point Break), a nuclear submarine captain (K-19: The Widowmaker), and a bomb squad daredevil (The Hurt Locker). Her sole action heroine, played by Jamie Lee Curtis in Blue Steel, is a rookie cop with a gun fetish who seems to have erased her gender.
Pundits had a field day with the David-and-Goliath showdown between the soft-spoken Bigelow and her often bombastic ex-husband, Avatar director James Cameron. To drive home this Hollywood fable, the six-foot, 58-year-old athletic beauty was seated conspicuously in front of the 55-year-old Cameron at the Oscars, looking many years younger—like the trophy wife who got away, and was now about to take the trophies. But this convenient fiction is as far-fetched as the notion of her as a feminist torchbearer. Bigelow, who is now dating The Hurt Locker’s Oscar-winning screenwriter Mark Boal, 36, seems to be on excellent terms with her ex. They never expressed a discourteous word about each other during the awards campaign. And on the red carpet, Cameron cheerfully predicted she would carry the day.
By Anne Kingston - Friday, March 12, 2010 at 4:19 PM - 42 Comments
Gabourey Sidibe isn’t exactly on the road to becoming an “American Cinderella”
Howard Stern can be a nasty bastard—but he’s also often the only one willing to voice unpleasant truths others won’t. So it was this week when the Sirius shock jock unleashed a tirade against the future prospects for Gabourey Sidibe, the Best Actress nominee for her role in Precious. “There’s the most enormous, fat black chick I’ve ever seen,” Stern proclaimed the day after the Academy Awards. He went on to slam Oprah Winfrey’s tribute to Sidibe during the telecast in which she called the actress “a true American Cinderella on the threshold of a brilliant new career.” Stern was having none of it: “Everyone’s pretending she’s a part of show business and she’s never going to be in another movie. She should have gotten the Best Actress award because she’s never going to have another shot. What movie is she gonna be in?”
Stern was pilloried for being racist. He was also attacked for getting his facts wrong: Sidibe has been cast in the new Showtime comedy The C Word and the upcoming movie Yelling To The Sky, though neither are leading roles. The C Word stars Laura Linney; in Yelling to the Sky Sidibe plays a bully, which is safe to say not a role Halle Barry turned down.
On Wednesday, Stern defended his comments, taking on the role of compassionate health crusader. He compared Sidibe to his co-star Artie Lange, who recently attempted to commit suicide: “Like, I kind of don’t see a difference between what our Artie did—Artie tried to kill himself. And I feel this girl, in a slower way…she’s gonna kill herself.”
Stern being Stern, he couldn’t leave it there. He went on to deride the newcomer’s acting ability, calling her a “prop” in Precious, which suggests he didn’t see the movie or slept through it. His sidekick Robin Quivers chimed in with another inaccuracy: “You don’t have to be unhealthy to do that part,” she said. But any actress playing Precious, a 16-year-old girl monstrously abused by her parents, did have to be seriously overweight. The character’s only comfort comes from scarfing down tubs of fried chicken. Her excess flesh is not only a salient class indicator but also protective armour.
Off the screen, the 26-year-old is also creating buzz for showing no indication of signing up for a celebrity weight-loss reality show. On Oprah, she revealed she has battled her weight all of her life; it wasn’t until she was in her early 20s that she finally became comfortable in her own skin, she said. That was evident on the Oscar red carpet where she was joy to watch—exuberant, confident, loving every second, very much in the character of Precious who sustained herself with fantasies of being a celebrity. The actress ordered a camera to pan back to get her entire cobalt blue Marchesa gown in the frame and told Ryan Seacrest: “If fashion was porn, this dress would be the money shot.”
Watching, one couldn’t help wish for Sidibe to luxuriate in every second because deep-down we know Stern is right: Precious was a unique role; the odds of her transitioning into an American Cinderella—at least the Cinderella created by Disney who is slender and white—are nil in today’s Hollywood where women are valued for their youth, beauty and willingness to aspire to invisibility size-wise. “Plus-sized” or “full-figured” actresses (read: anyone over size six) have a tough enough time of it. Consider Nikki Blonsky who received high praise for her performance in Hairspray but hasn’t been heard from since. The verdict remains out on Jennifer Hudson, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Dreamgirls; she just dropped 60 pounds to play Winnie Mandela in a bio-pic.
The double-standard is so ingrained, it’s tedious: when Renée Zellweger gained 20 pounds to play Bridget Jones it was a major news story (and one suspects part of the reason she won an Oscar). Yet when Jeff Bridges packed on 25 pounds for his Oscar-winning role as washed-up country singer Bad Blake, no one asked for his weight-loss secrets. Male actors can get soft and paunchy and age and still get work—and the girl. Jack Black is allowed to play romantic lead against Kate Winslet. And nobody’s complaining that Philip Seymour Hoffman isn’t buff.
But Sidibe isn’t just “full-figured,” she’s obese—which, as Stern points out, is a hot-button topic in the U.S. and also a serious health risk. In Hollywood, morbid obesity is cheap-laugh fodder—slap a fat suit on Gwyneth Paltrow (Shallow Hal) or Eddie Murphy (The Nutty Professor/Norbit) and let the pathetic yucks begin. The 500-pound Darlene Cates who starred in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape in 1993 is an exception: she went on a few other roles, all of which hinged on her weight.
People went overboard rooting for Sidibe, Stern argues, “because she’s a big fat lady.” Maybe he’s right again. Consider it the Susan Boyle effect—the righteous pleasure of being so broad-minded to see that talent can come in different-sized packages. But the craving for change, evidenced in the first U.S. Black president, is deeper than that. Hollywood is taking tiny steps: Kathryn Bigelow broke through the male Best Director Oscar barrier. Meryl Streep is hotter at age 60 than she’s ever been. Helen Mirren is an inspiration. And non-stick figure Queen Latifah is playing a romantic lead in the upcoming movie Just Wright.
Fat, however, is more impenetrable, reflected in Stern mocking Sidibe’s for saying “I’m going to hit a Chick-fil-A,” a L.A. fast-food chain, after the awards. “That’s so sad,” he said. Of course, when the slender Best Actress winner Sandra Bullock expressed similar sentiment, it was heralded as a sign of how down to earth she is: “I just want to eat!” Bullock told the press room. “I just want to sit down and take my shoes off, and take my dress off, and eat a burger—and not worry that my dress is going to bust open.” Nobody, even Howard Stern, sees anything wrong with that picture.
By macleans.ca - Tuesday, March 9, 2010 at 11:21 AM - 0 Comments
Including the one movie he thought should have been nominated
According to co-host Alec Baldwin, the Oscars are more popular than the Grammys or the Tonys because “movies, at their best, make audiences feel things about themselves and life that other media don’t bring into focus as completely or effectively. Only books, I would argue, do a better job.” He gave this shout-out to the written word in an article he penned for the Huffington Post website. Baldwin singled out Carey Mulligan, Lee Daniels, Sandra Bullock, Christoph Waltz, Quentin Tarantino and Kathryn Bigelow as the most memorable people of the night for him. He also admits that it was hard not to openly root for those he thought should win, and laments the fact that the Academy overlooked indie flick 500 Days of Summer.
By Brian D. Johnson - Sunday, March 7, 2010 at 7:09 PM - 23 Comments
7:08 p.m. Let the Games begin. As in Vancouver, we’re rooting for the Canadians. Which means King of the World (aka James Cameron), Jason Reitman and Ivan Reitman (director and producer of Up in the Air). And the two men behind District 9, writer-director Neill Blomkamp and co-writer Terri Tatchell.
Watching Ben Mulroney on the red carpet. Mo’Nique has just called him “brother.” Ben, you can take that to the bank. Jason Reitman has his soundbite down to a weary koan. On Up In the Air: “It’s a movie about family and it was made by a family.”
James Cameron talking to Ben about his rival, and ex-wife: “Kathryn has done a number of small films. She doesn’t play the Hollywood game.” And on the results tonight: “The tea leaves tell me that it’s going her way.”
7:13 pm: Barbara Walters’ Special. Her last special. OMG. Mo’Nique has just finished talking about the frictional specifics of being abused by her brother, and now she’s leaving Barbara Walters slack jawed by talking about how sex outside of her marriage is not a deal breaker. Next the camera moves in for a close-up of her hairy legs, as she delivers defence thereof.
7: 32 pm: We’re flicking between Barbara Wawa and Ben collaring Hollywood royalty. Ben asks George Clooney whether he gets more mileage out of an Oscar or being People’s Sexiest Man Alive. George says being sexy goes further. Ben, morphing into crazed fan, lunges at Meryl Streep as she sashays by, and she pats his microphone maternally. Media version of an air kiss. Or a polite way of saying, “Get lost.”
7:57 pm: This live blog, by the way, is coming to you from Helga Stephenson’s annual Oscar party. Helga is a former director of TIFF, chair of the recent Toronto Human Rights Watch Film Festival, and a global among cinephiles. Her annual Oscar soiree is always a blast. But I feel like a freak: typing at a party while watching television is perverse. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Sunday, March 7, 2010 at 12:12 PM - 4 Comments
For BDJ’s live blog of the Oscars, go to LIVE BLOG….
Oscar Sunday! I know it’s not as big as Super Bowl Sunday. And after the Winter Olympics, it’s pretty hard to get into the mood for another Epic TV Event, especially one with no sports—only opening and closing ceremonies. But with Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin at the helm (will the opening monologue become an opening dialogue?), tonight’s show should be good for a few laughs. Anticipating the Oscars, of course, is always more exciting than enduring them. But given the David-and-Goliath duel between Avatar and Hurt Locker, and their ex-spouse directors, there’s a nifty element of drama. And if we’re lucky, there may even be the odd wardrobe malfunction. I’ll be live-blogging the Oscars tonight, starting at 7 p.m. So for those of you who get a charge of multitasking—surfing the web while watching TV, tweeting, and shoveling nachos—consider this an opportunity. I thought of live-blogging the show from home, but that that seemed too depressing and studious. So to raise the bar, so to speak, I’ll be typing from a crowded Oscar party, trying not to spill my drink on my laptop, while abstaining from that ongoing war between those who want to talk at the screen and those who want to watch in reverent silence, afraid they’ll miss something.
For the record, I’m about to trot out my predictions. But don’t consider this a cheat sheet for your Oscar party pool, because I’m not going to weigh in on the marginal categories (none of us have a clue, really). And I have never won an Oscar pool in my life. However, I will predict that, at some point in the evening, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin will wear 3-glasses and speak Na’vi. Jeff Bridges will not wear a conventional tuxedo. Mo’Nique will give an inspirational acceptance speech that will make make us wonder what drug she’s on and where can we get some? Jim Cameron will still have the same bad non-haircut. There will be a photo opportunity in which he kisses his ex-wife, Kathryn Bigelow. On the red carpet, Brangelina will deserve an honorary Oscar for Performance by a Pretend Couple. And the person who receives the Oscar for best documentary short will give the longest and most tedious speech.
As for the awards, here are my votes on who will win, and should win, the major categories:
Because there are 10 nominees this year, and there’s a wacky new preferential voting system that allows second and third choices to vault into the running on ballots whose first choices have been eliminated (you still with me?), anything could happen. I think Avatar will win—and should win, not because it’s a perfect film, but because it’s a humongous accomplishment, and it has brought magic back to the tired world of Hollywood spectacle. But I wouldn’t want to put money on this one. Hurt Locker ‘s slingshot has momentum and may well carry the day.
Kathryn Bigelow will win for Hurt Locker for the same reason that Avatar should win Best Picture: she’s making history, and Oscar loves history. Bigelow won who the Directors Guild prize, a reliable bellwether, and if she wins tonight she’ll become the first female director to win an Oscar. Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, March 4, 2010 at 4:49 PM - 8 Comments
Scott Macaulay tries to explain the new Oscar voting system and how it works, with quotes from economist Justin Wolfers. Wolfers also provides some follow-explanation here. The use of ranked voting, familiar to those who follow sports MVP voting, means that a movie has the potential to win even if it doesn’t get the most first-place votes.
But that doesn’t really answer the big question: should Avatar or The Hurt Locker be considered the favourite to win? No one really seems to know. Unlike the other big categories, where the winner is almost pre-ordained, Avatar and Locker have sort of been co-favourites for a while; sometimes Avatar seems to have the momentum, and sometimes it’s Locker. (If Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy were alive, they would right now be playing Kathryn Bigelow and James Cameron in romantic comedy about a divorced couple whose films are competing for the Oscar.) They’re different types of filmmaking, and both of them are types of movies that would, at certain times in Oscar history, be considered the likely winner. The question is not whether history will repeat itself this year, but which moment in history will repeat itself.
I reflexively think of Avatar as the favourite, because it’s a type of production that usually wins Best Picture: the long, huge-budget mega-blockbuster that “saves” the movie industry and gets the award because it’s doo too big to ignore. Winners that fall into this category include Gone With The Wind, The Sound of Music, The Godfather, and Cameron’s own Titanic. These were movies of epic length and scale that became tremendous hits (often after people thought the studio was going to lose its collective shirt on them). They combined massive popular appeal with technical finesse and a tendency to impress movie insiders: Continue…
By Colby Cosh - Monday, March 1, 2010 at 10:45 AM - 1 Comment
Last man standing takes the prize
Every Oscar-watcher knows that the process of choosing the Best Picture this year has changed. Last June, the board of governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) announced that the field of nominees for the ultimate Oscar would be expanded to 10. The idea was to open up the Best Picture field, making it less of a “Best Arty Tear-Jerker Released Late in the Year” prize. What most people haven’t noticed is that this change was followed by another, potentially more profound one.
In August, the AMPAS board announced that the Best Picture winner will be selected from the wider field, not by a simple first-past-the-post system, but by means of a preferential ballot. Most Oscars will be awarded, this year as ever, according to the simplest possible voting system: every eligible Academy member votes for one nominee, and the nominee with the most votes gets the statuette. Best Picture voters, however, will be asked to rank all 10 nominees by preference from one to 10. Oscar accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers will sort the votes into 10 piles according to their “No. 1” votes. If any nominee has a majority, it wins. If not, the nominee with the fewest No. 1 votes will be taken out of the running, and its votes reassigned to the nominees next in order on each slip. The process is repeated until a nominee gains 50 per cent support and achieves victory.
Canadians ought to be familiar with preferential voting. It’s more or less how our political parties routinely choose leaders, and Ontario and British Columbia held recent referendums on electoral reform in which the transferable vote played a major part. The idea behind the new process is pretty much the same one that motivated those reform efforts: to get a Best Picture supported by a consensus, rather than by a plurality of first-choice supporters.
By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, February 2, 2010 at 11:50 AM - 28 Comments
The new and improved, fluffed-up Oscar nominations were announced this morning, and surprise! . . . there were virtually no surprises. The Academy Awards are now so heavily upstaged by the glut of awards leading up to them that the Oscar campaign is like an election that just ratifies the results of the advance polls. The race comes down to a David and Goliath duel between Avatar and Hurt Locker, which have nine nominations apiece—and between their once married directors, James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow. Aside from the Battle of the Exes, a showdown tailor-made for Entertainment Tonight, we have a battle between two very different war movies, and two opposite worlds of high-risk movie-making—a duel between indie nerve and blockbuster brawn. Cameron has made a ideologically tinted, eco-minded anti-war epic that champions Mother Nature’s feminine spirit. Bigelow has made a gritty, no-nonsense, ultra-masculine Iraq thriller that’s remarkably free of any anti-war sentiment. The traditional polarity of male-female sensibilities is reversed. So that’s shaping up to be quite a battle.
Oscar’s big makeover this year, of course, is the expansion of the Best Picture category from 5 to 10 nominees. So let’s see how that played out. We can separate the 10 nominees into two halves. Had there been just 5 nominees, they would likely be, in roughly descending priority: Avatar, Hurt Locker, Up in the Air, Precious and Inglourious Basterds. So the five “extra” nominees are An Education, District 9, A Serious Man, The Blind Side, and Up. The Academy expanded the category to make room for more boffo popcorn movies, in the hope of bumping up TV ratings for the show. That seems to have worked, up to a point. District 9, Up and The Blind Side all grossed over $200 million worldwide. But the other three films that squeaked in are all relatively small. And Star Wars Star Trek, the year’s best popcorn movie aside from Avatar, didn’t make the cut. It’s nice to see A Serious Man and An Education nominated. The Blind Side, one of the phoniest “true” stories ever filmed, has no business being there. And Up‘s nomination all but guarantees it will win in its native category, Best Animated Feature.
No matter how many movies are nominated for Best Picture, however, the number is beside the point. This is Hurt Locker vs. Avatar. Bigelow’s low-budget masterpiece has been winning the industry’s major awards. Yet Avatar is such a historic feat that Hollywood, a company town, may rally behind it. After winning the Directors Guild prize, however, count on Bigelow to take home the Oscar for Best Director, which would be a historic feat in its own right—she’d be the first woman to win that honour. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, January 8, 2010 at 11:30 AM - 4 Comments
Very Serious Dramatic Actress Meryl Streep has reinvented herself as a giddy comedienne
“It turns out I’m a bit of a slut.” When Meryl Streep makes that giggly confession in It’s Complicated—admitting, in a menopausal Sex and the City moment, that she’s having a raging affair with her ex-husband—you get the impression it’s a line she’s been dying to deliver all her life. For over three decades, Streep has reigned as Hollywood’s queen, earning a record number of Oscar nominations (15), and enjoying a career that’s the envy of every actress in search of a meaningful role. But lately, Streep has blithely thrown her gravitas to the wind. Taking flight in a string of confections, from The Devil Wears Prada to Mamma Mia!, she has starred in three comedies this past year—Julie & Julia, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and It’s Complicated. Our Most Serious Dramatic Actress has reinvented herself as a giddy comedienne. In the process, she has defied Hollywood’s laws of physics to prove that a 60-year-old woman can be both a romantic lead and a box office star. Well beyond the expiry date by which most leading ladies have retreated into character roles, Streep is basking in the greatest commercial success of her career.
But at what price? Well, though I’ve been enjoying Meryl’s triumphant populism as much as the next person, I’d argue that by turning herself into a more lavish performer, she has become a less credible actor.
By Colby Cosh - Monday, December 14, 2009 at 3:16 PM - 54 Comments
Tasteless, Ignorant Dismissals of the National Board of Review’s Top Ten Movies of 2009, None of Which I Have Seen
500 Days of Summer: This is the one with that anime-eyed chick who has the indie-pop duo, right? And the whole movie is pretty much just her being super mean to some guy for a year and a half? And the title comes from the character being named “Summer”, which should have been a dead giveaway to her boyfriend that she was a narcissist raised by obnoxious people?
An Education: I’m guessing the working title was A Pedo-cation. The “-cation” is short for “hour-and-a-half vacation in a movie theatre that’s probably not gonna be crowded at all”.
The Hurt Locker: Whoa, wait, I actually saw this one! Protip: it’s the same old buddy-cop movie, only in Iraq. [NOTE: REVIEW IS NOT IRONIC]
Inglourious Basterds: I was going to make the standard cheap joke about how Quentin found a way to make Hogan’s Heroes look relatively tasteful, but then I remembered that nobody under 80 really has any business questioning the tastefulness of Hogan’s Heroes (several of those cast members ran from the Nazis or risked death fighting them or both; the guy who played LeBeau was in Buchenwald). I find myself wondering if maybe QT did us a favour by bringing WW2 back within range of a purely artistic treatment. I’m actually going to watch this later today, so pretty soon I’ll be entitled to an opinion!
Invictus: Am I the only one who literally couldn’t believe this is the first time Morgan Freeman has played Mandela in a movie?
The Messenger: Outstanding year for Woody Harrelson, with Zombieland, Defendor, and now this. It’s not even a comeback—he’s always popping up in cool stuff, even though he’s got that Skoal-stuffed Kallikak face and gives every indication away from the set that he started life with an IQ of 80 and gave away about a sawbuck of that smoking the chronic. This is a guy who spoke the following words about making this very movie: “It made me care about the soldiers. Prior to that it wasn’t that I didn’t care about them, I just thought of them and the war as all the same thing.” And yet here we are, legitimately wondering: great American actor, or greatEST American actor?
A Serious Man: Do you figure the Coen Brothers realize we’ve all figured out which ones to skip and which ones to go see? Given the pattern of their career, you can actually catch yourself thinking “God, it’s almost like they’re two different people.” Just fire the Hudsucker Proxy one and keep the Fargo one already!
Star Trek: My hypothesis about the Disney-Marvel deal was that comic books don’t need to be profitable because they’ve become storytelling R&D labs for the movies. This is confirmed here by the use of the time-honoured “retcon” strategy as a means of breathing life into an effed-out bunch of characters we could otherwise hardly stand the sight of.
Up: Let you in on a secret: I’ve never really liked, as in really really really liked, a Pixar movie. I find even the good ones a little bit sterile and contrived. Which, obviously, they are, but that doesn’t stop other people from flipping out about how deep the philosophy of The Incredibles was or how Ratatouille was pretty well the equal of anything Kubrick ever did. The emperor has no clothes, guys! Most celebrities are terrible at voice acting, most of these movies have Kricfalusi’s Cal Arts disease in the worst way, and we should be way past having “Ooh, cool” reactions to nerdy little touches in CGI animation! Plus, shame on anybody who fell for the 3-D thing. You’re, what, the fifth or sixth generation of audiences to fall for this crap?
Where the Wild Things Are: I didn’t think it was possible for any literary work to attain a higher exegesis-to-original-text ratio than either the New Testament or Shakespeare, but Sendak proved us all wrong.
By Jaime Weinman - Wednesday, June 24, 2009 at 1:39 PM - 7 Comments
It was just announced that starting next year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will expand the Best Picture Oscar nominees from 5 to 10.
There will be 10 best picture nominees starting with the 82nd Oscar ceremony, skedded for March 7, at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood.
The announcement was made Wednesday morning at AMPAS headquarters in BevHills by Acad prez Sid Ganis.
Oscar noms will be unveiled Feb. 2.
Now, a bit of history: The Oscars used to have 10 Best Picture nominees. From about 1932 through 1943, there were 10 nominees in that category, sometimes even as many as 12. But even with the excellent crop of films in some of those years (most famously 1939), there were lots of mediocre nominees and lots of superior films that didn’t make the cut; it wasn’t a good system, because it reduced the value of a Best Picture nomination and made it all the more egregious when a particularly good film was left out (because it’s one thing not to make a cut of 5 films, quite another not to make the cut when there are 10).
Now, consider that this wasn’t a good system even when the nominees list read like this:
- Dark Victory – Warner Bros. – David Lewis
- Goodbye, Mr. Chips – Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer – Victor Saville
- Love Affair – RKO – Leo McCarey
- Mr. Smith Goes to Washington – Columbia – Frank Capra
- Ninotchka – Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer – Sidney Franklin
- Of Mice and Men – Roach, United Artists – Lewis Milestone
- Stagecoach – United Artists – Walter Wanger
- The Wizard of Oz – Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer – Mervyn LeRoy
- Wuthering Heights – Goldwyn, United Artists – Samuel Goldwyn
And consider further that, even if you think the crop of 1939 films is a little overrated (I do), the 10 nominees for 2008 probably won’t look quite that impressive. And you have to wonder what — except for making the current movie era look even worse than it is — the Academy is thinking.
If they’re going to do this, they should at least eliminate the best Animated Feature category and give one of those 10 slots to Up.
By Scott Feschuk - Thursday, March 5, 2009 at 4:40 PM - 1 Comment
How will Wolverine fight Magneto now that his main mutant power is toe-tappingness?
A running diary of the 81st Annual Academy Awards:
6:03 p.m. ET We begin on the red carpet, where Ryan Seacrest is bragging about his location: “We are the very first live position where the stars will stop!” This ensures arriving stars will appear on Ryan’s show before their necks are disfigured by Joan Rivers’ fangs.
6:46 The official theme is revealed for tonight’s awards broadcast: the 81st Oscars— Maybe Next Year We’ll Nominate Someone You’ve Heard Of.
By Kenneth Whyte - Monday, March 2, 2009 at 9:30 PM - 0 Comments
Comedian Russell Peters talks to Kenneth Whyte about ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and some of the more curious Oscar performances
Q: We’re going to talk about Oscar and the movies, so let’s start with Slumdog Millionaire. Did you see it? Did you like it?
A: I sure did. All of the above. I liked the fact that that movie could have been set anywhere and still been a fantastic film.
Q: Do you think the movie will do anything for perceptions of the subcontinent and for Indian people?
A: I mean, after such a huge sweep like that I think it will only give it some good attention that we’ve been lacking for many, many years. So I think it’s a good thing. It’s probably a double-edged sword, though. Now every product that comes out with any kind of Indian twang to it will always be compared to that.
By Brian D. Johnson - Monday, February 23, 2009 at 1:14 PM - 3 Comments
After live-blogging the Oscars last night, in a marathon of typing and tippling, this morning I hauled my ass off to the CBC bunker to do a radio post mortem with “Q” host Jian Ghomeshi and the Globe and Mail’s Johanna Schneller. And frankly, I was knocked out by the poetic punditry of Jian’s thoughtful introduction. You gotta love a morning broadcaster who can sit down after midnight and rap an Oscar wrap that rolls through the mood swings of a marathon night—and still finds time to rhyme “pristine” and “Joaquin.” Check out the podcast of the show, by clicking Q Oscar item. Meanwhile, here’s the text of Jian’s demi-rhymed oral deposition:
Hi there. Happy Monday.
It came. It happened. It was cut back and “redesigned.” It still lasted
about 4 hours.
Yes, kids, the Academy Awards happened last night and I’m not sure if
it was the fast food happily congealing in my belly…
but I quite enjoyed what transpired on the telly.
not . . . so bad.
Oh there were the inevitable ups and downs,
the intense fascination with gowns.
But Oscar lived up to some of the hype in strange ways.
Here are some quick observations:
Hugh Jackman—talented, self-deprecating, and lovingly pristine.
Ben Stiller—outrageously funny sending up Joaquin.
Penélope Cruze satisfying victory, and the same with Sean Penn.
And do we have to see a shot of John Mayer and Jennifer Anniston again?
John Legend was a bit out of tune.
Queen Latifah sounded noticably auto-tuned.
A R Rahman looked strangely hobitt-like when he crooned.
And Beyonce lip-synching her parts on the “live” Oscar broadcast—
Really Beyonce? Really? What a sad spectacle that was.
All the more satisfying to watch Hugh Jackman huff and puff through his
Beyonce doing karaoke.
We’ll take a radiant Anne Hathaway
singing live anyday. Eh? Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Monday, February 23, 2009 at 10:24 AM - 2 Comments
After all the advance talk about how this might be the lowest-rated Oscar telecast of all time, it looks like this year’s ratings were 10% higher than last year’s.
If these numbers hold up, there’ll be plenty of speculation on what went right; the improvement is unexpected because this is probably the least-popular batch of Best Picture nominees ever. (You’ve got one genuinely popular movie, Slumdog Millionaire, but you’ve also got a movie that most people seem to hate, Benjamin Button, and one movie, The Reader, that was so unpopular that the best line in Jackman’s medley was “The Reader, I haven’t seen The Reader.”) But it might be that the re-formatting helped draw viewers in and keep them. One thing I got from the more intimate look of the show was that it made the evening feel a bit more like a Hollywood party, except without the booze. The choice of Jackman just re-enforced the idea that this was a gathering for movie-industry insiders. I think a lot of us like seeing movie stars looking comfortable.
By Brian D. Johnson - Sunday, February 22, 2009 at 6:58 PM - 8 Comments
Liveblogging is print journalism’s extreme sport. A few cautionary notes….I will be liveblogging the Oscars from Helga Stephenson’s annual Oscar party (this year called Slumdog Futures). Alcohol will be involved. I’ll try to spend more typing than tippling, but I apologize in advance for typos, wildly unfounded assertions, slanders, and any outright fiction that may creep into my posts. For those who want to check up on my predictions, or crib suggestions for their own late-breaking Oscar ballot, go to BDJ’s Oscar Picks. But be warned: I have never won an Oscar pool. This year, apparently, the Oscars will salute all movies, not just the nominees. And in that spirit, you should check out the Toronto Film Critic’s Association’s Oscar-like montage of its own nominees and winners at TFCA Awards Video.
The red carpet nonsense has already started on E-Talk. Ben Mulroney’s tan (or is it makeup?) looks alarming in HD. Is he trying to become Canada’s first Obamatone prime minister? Whatever it is, the consensus in Helga’s Living Room is that it’s kinda creepy.
* * *
8:05 p.m. I’m in a room full of people commenting on fashion. Much talk about all the bridal-like white and silver gowns. Jeers at Sarah Jessica Parker’s boob-popping dress, which one of our crowd described, more metaphorically than accurately, as “a Whole Foods bag.” Kate Winslet looks like a female Oscar, a human sculpture sheathed in a steely grey gown by St. Laurent with her hair carved into a living helmet. The interviewer on the red carpet shows a picture of her on the cover of Time with the headline “Best Actress.” She looks flustered when asked her reaction, then talks about how her kids advised her to handle her acceptance speech. One told her to go crazy. Don’t think she’s repeat that Golden Globes faux pas. And she won’t be declaring her undying love to Leonardo Di Caprio this time. Her other kid offered more level-headed advice:”Why don’t you say thank you to all the people for helping you.” Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, February 19, 2009 at 7:20 PM - 1 Comment
Film critic Brian D. Johnson makes his picks
For a list of predictions go to: BDJ’s Oscar picks
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, February 19, 2009 at 7:18 PM - 0 Comments
By Jaime Weinman - Wednesday, February 11, 2009 at 9:50 AM - 8 Comments
It’s the sleeper hit of the year with a good chance of winning the best picture Oscar. JAIME J. WEINMAN is not a fan.
Have you ever tried to make a list of the most overused clichés in movie history? If you did, some of the following would probably be on that list: two brothers follow opposite paths, one to honest poverty, the other to crime; a man discovers that his childhood sweetheart has become a prostitute; three characters try to jump onto a moving train to escape the bad guys, but only two of them make it; a love scene ends with a freeze-frame kiss. You can find all these clichés and many, many more in Slumdog Millionaire, the $15-million Anglo-American-Indian movie that became the official sleeper hit of the year, and has a good chance of winning the Academy Award for best picture (it’s nominated for that and nine other Oscars). Danny Boyle, the film’s director, told Jared Miller of the Philadelphia Film Society that the film is about “the human spirit, about how meaningless life is and how wonderful life is at the same time.” But any time you see the words “human spirit” attached to a movie, run for the hills. You’re about to see a manipulative film in which the scrappy underdog wins against impossible odds. In other words, a low-budget version of The Mighty Ducks.
Slumdog Millionaire is the story of Jamal Malik (played as an adult by Dev Patel and as a child by Ayush Mahesh Khedekar and Tanay Chheda), who goes from being an orphan in the slums of Mumbai to unexpectedly winning big on the Indian version of the TV show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? The plot is built around a series of absurd coincidences: every question Jamal is asked on the game show has some connection to something he’s gone through in his life, and triggers a memory that helps him answer the question correctly. The novel it’s based on, Q&A by Vikas Swarup, used this as a linking device to flash back to key moments in the hero’s life; the implausibility wasn’t important because the book presented itself as a dark comedy. But in adapting it into a film, Boyle and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy felt that they needed a more earnest, straight-faced approach to the story. What’s more, they decided that, as Beaufoy wrote in the Guardian, “only love can overwhelm the seductive narrative of money that threatens to swamp the story”; having Jamal win a lot of money wouldn’t be enough of a fantasy. So he and Boyle created the character of Latika, Jamal’s true love, and the story of how he keeps losing and finding her over and over again. (She progresses from an angelic little girl to a hooker with a heart of gold to a gangster’s cynical mistress, an impressive number of clichés for one character to embody.) The movie they finally made was about how love can triumph over everything, even the poverty, violence and organized crime of India’s Oliver Twist-style slums.
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, January 22, 2009 at 5:51 PM - 6 Comments
The Oscar nominations are in, and they are even more boring and predictable than might be expected, which I guess makes them slightly less predictable than expected. For a list of nominees, click on: Oscar’s list. The main event comes down to a David and Goliath clash between two fables: Danny Boyle’s the Little Movie that Could, and David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a big tedious Hollywood epic about the magic of make-up in which Brad Pitt is reborn as a wizened old man. Benjamin Button, which plods through the decades with the folksy fakery of Forrest Gump, strikes me as the worst movie to make waves this awards season. I found it interminable. But it topped the list of films recognized by the Academy with a total of 13 nominations. Why? Well, the Academy has always adored sweeping epics that use history as a backdrop for fables about the triumph of the human spirit. Or something. And it also likes movies that keep all the motion picture crafts well employed. BB is not just a period epic with lots of elaborate sets, costumes and make-up. It’s about sets, costumes and make-up. Especially make-up. As for Slumdog Millionaire, it came in second with 10 nominations. And its crowd-pleasing appeal is easier to fathom.
Slumdog, a Dickensian melodrama about adorable urchins in the slums of Mumbai, framed by the whimsical conceit of a grown-up street kid eking out redemption on India’s version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. The movie submerges its fairy-tale plot in the vivid, kinetic realism of its location shooting. And Boyle, who does his most vital work since Trainspotting, captures all the colour and beauty and corruption with roaring style.