Tag Archives: Natalie Portman

Oscar? My, A Wiener!

When the best line of the night is delivered by a hologram, that’s not a good sign…

Old Hollywood crossed swords with New Hollywood last night, and it’s quite possible that they both took two steps backwards. Despite a blatant attempt to drag itself into the 21st century through young hosts and a plethora of social media references, most reports on the Oscar telecast agree that it was a major fail. Ironically, the two best presences on stage were Billy Crystal and Bob Hope – the former nailing two great jokes in a row before paying tribute to the legacy of the latter. And yes, the line of the night came from a hologram.

To paraphrase Neil Young, the show “started out real slow and then fizzled out altogether“. The opening montage placed co-hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco in an amusing maze of Best Picture references; digitally inserted into scenes so they could interact with the stars, and surprising us with cameos from Alec Baldwin and Morgan Freeman.

But from that point forward, it went down like a lawn dart.

Ratings were off ten percent as viewers started to bail during the telecast, knowing they could get updates without siting through some of the most painful banter ever written for a major awards show. Maybe they should have taken Ricky Gervais up on his offer to script a few jokes. Sure he’d offend a few people, but at least they’d be awake.

I like James Franco. But the dude seemed to disappear for large stretches of time, and judging by his performance I suspect they were for (wink wink) smoke breaks. Either that or he decided to channel his Freaks And Geeks stoner character because he realized that the “guy in a dress” thing had short shelf life.

I like Anne Hathaway. I think she’s talented and fearless and funny, and she’s as good of a singer as she is an actress. But she was a disaster as a host. Fawning over presenters like a tipsy schoolgirl at an adult party, she showed neither respect nor a sense of belonging. If people had concerns that a relative newcomer is not who people feel comfortable with to steer them through the night, she made their case.

I like Kirk Douglas. I’ve been a fan all my life and several of his films are on my all time list of greats, and I’m thrilled that he has battled through a debilitating stroke at an advanced age and continues to be involved in the industry. But what first started out as uncomfortable soon nose-dived into painful, whether he was milking the joke or truly addled. Watching him twist five nominees in the wind was as sad as watching Dick Clark trying to keep up with the New Year’s Eve countdown, and both were in front of a global audience. I know some thought that was the highlight of the show, but haters gotta hate.

Two presenters who tried hard

I like Randy Newman. And hey, no complaints. He was actually funny, and self-deprecating, and irreverent and grateful. Truly an oasis in last night’s desert. I think he has a future in the business.

I like Melissa Leo. I’ve been a fan of hers since Homicide, and I’ve been thrilled to watch her finally get recognition in recent years for strong roles in independent films. But as much as I love the F-bomb, it’s her OMG! persona that is starting to wear thin. Not quite Sally Field territory, but after accepting a slew of nominations for Frozen River and now The Fighter, I think the “pinch me” days are behind her. Still, kudos to a great actress.

I like short witty speeches. If you were still awake when Tom Hooper and Colin Firth accepted their awards, both were great examples of  how to leverage the opportunity with wit and humility. Firth put it best, saying “I have a feeling my career just peaked“. Aaron Sorkin also nailed his speech – wordy but fluid, naturally – with the right balance of deference and pride plus the bonus point for a closing personal remark that makes people like me remember to compliment him.

I like Lena Horne. But why did I get the feeling that singling her out was pandering to the race card issue rather than a genuine bow to her greatness? Yes, she was a trailblazer, and yes, it is Black History Month, but the fact that we still have Black History Month and still have to have actors like Halle Berry acknowledge that a trail was blazed for them shows just how far we are from being a society that has put prejudice in its rear view mirror.

As for the awards themselves, I was stunned that Tom Hooper won Best Director. It was reminiscent of Putney Swope, where voters didn’t want to tip the scales to a serious candidate so they cast a vote for someone they were sure wouldn’t win…and of course, he did. Hooper did a fine job, of course, but the exclusion of Christopher Nolan was just that much more obvious. I thought The King’s Speech was a fine film; I enjoyed it very much. But it was a character study, a play transported to screen, that was dwarfed by at least half its competitors.

At the risk of sounding like Old Hollywood, maybe I just miss times like these instead of an era when Chicago is the best we can do. And no, I’m not bitter just because I got my clock cleaned on my ballot after an early run of success. I missed on a few key gambles but hey – I beat the people in Mom’s basement.

And of course the In Memorium list missed some names…as always. Why is this so difficult every year? Who does this? They can’t keep track of famous dead people when there are gambling sites devoted to tracking that very list of names? (Attention witless Keepers of the Oscar Obituaries: Jane Russell is now on board for your next montage.)

But I’ll be back next year. Hope they hire a comic who can work the room.

Even if he’s dead.

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…and now, The Oscars

Finally, the big daddy of the back-patting events is upon us.

Tonight’s Oscar hosts are James Franco and Anne Hathaway, as the industry makes an obvious ploy to skew younger. That sentiment probably won’t carry over into the actual voting, where veteran actors who might have been bypassed earlier in their careers get rewarded at the expense of a newcomer who has his whole career ahead of him. Really…Al Pacino won for Scent Of A Woman? Paul Newman won for The Color Of Money?

And sometimes this screws over a more deserving veteran actor. Yes, I’m talking to you, Henry Fonda! No way Burt Lancaster shouldn’t have won in 1981 for his amazing performance in Atlantic City!)

But I digress. The Oscar host thing has always been a conundrum. Bob Hope owned the role for years, as did Johnny CarsonBilly Crystal did it well and got to keep the job for a while, seemingly alternating every couple of years with Steve Martin and Whoopi Goldberg. But lately it’s been as volatile and unpredictable as a Charlie Sheen alibi; the only repeat host in the last ten years was Jon Stewart in 2006 and 2008 (Steve Martin hosted in 2003 but co-hosted in 2010). Stewart was excellent, but has the grind of his Daily Show schedule. But Wolverine Hugh Jackman was incredibly game and entertaining and got raves for his stint, yet wasn’t asked to repeat?

Perhaps tonight will be fine; Franco is a likeable guy, and Hathaway proved she is as fearless as she is talented when she joined Jackman onstage a few years ago. But for the self-proclaimed “Hollywood’s Biggest Night“, one would expect a real game-changer at the helm. And as afraid of him as they obviously are, I think any awards show not hiring Ricky Gervais is settling.

Here is the list of nominees.

I’m pretty much sticking with the picks I made right after the nominations came out, although The King’s Speech has picked up incredible momentum since then, along with Geoffrey Rush. But I have a feeling that the Darren Aronofsky magic touch will again become the Darren Aronofsky curse; Mickey Rourke lost to more established Hollywood veteran Sean Penn, and Annette Bening has never won for Best Actress despite four nominations. (No truth to the rumor that Natalie Portman got pregnant to sway the sympathy vote.) I also wouldn’t bet my life on Supporting Actress, as this is a category where teenagers can and do win, especially when they are playing more of a lead role.

My predictions for tonight’s winners:

Best Picture: The Social Network
Best Director: David Fincher, The Social Network
Best Actor: Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
Best Actress: Annette Bening, The Kids Are Alright
Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, The Fighter
Best Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Best Adapted Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network
Best Original Screenplay: Christopher Nolan, Inception
Best Cinematography: Wally Pfister, Inception
Best Score: Trent Reznor, The Social Network

While you await tonight’s ceremony here are some treats to pass the time:

Conan O’Brien and Andy Richter act out the Best Picture nominees

Ricky Gervais wrote an opening script for Franco and Hathaway

You can bet on anything – even the In Memorium montage.

Racetrack odds on tonight’s favorites to Win…Place and Show mean nothing!

***

Tomorrow: The winners, the losers, the analysis.

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Brit Film Awards and Dead Namesakes

The 64th Annual British Academy Film Awards were announced today, and I guess it’s no surprise that The King’s Speech would take Best Picture over there. But that is some serious momentum in a category that was all but conceded to The Social Network  not so long ago. Only two weeks until the Academy Awards, and it looks like we might have a couple of horse races after all. The major awards went this way:

Best Picture: The King’s Speech

Best Actor: Colin Firth

Best Actress: Natalie Portman

Best Director: David Fincher

Best Supporting Actor: Geoffrey Rush

Best Supporting Actress: Helena Bonham Carter

That’s four of the big six going to The King’s Speech; only Carter would be considered an underdog for the Oscar, although Christian Bale still looks like the favorite over Rush. The Brits do love their own (Rush is an Aussie, close enough) but momentum-leading Melissa Leo wasn’t even nominated for a BAFTA.

I’m just thrilled that the brilliant dark humorist Chris Morris won an award as first-time director for Four Lions. Maybe there is hope for award ceremonies.

The full list of nominees and winners can be found here.

As to the second part of today’s title, I was stunned ten days ago to read that Neil Young, Robert Young and Tony Levin all died on February 3rd.

I was briefly logging on to a news website and almost spat out my coffee wondering why the loss of a rock legend, a classic TV Dad and one of the best bass players ever to walk the Earth had not gotten even a crawl mention on CNN. Turns out that while celebrity deaths do happen in threes, the deceased were not the people I imagined but instead were an English footballer, a former Olympian and a jazz drummer.

Condolences to the families and friends of the actual deceased of course. And while I should have remembered that TV’s Robert Young left this mortal coil twelve years ago, I’m happy to report that Neil Young and Tony Levin are still alive and rocking. Like Meatloaf sang, two out of three ain’t bad.

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Academy Award Nominations (and Razzies, Too!)

The Oscar nominations were announced this morning with few surprises…

I don’t know why they do this at such an ungodly hour (5:30am PST!) unless it’s to capitalize on a full news cycle, including green rooms filled with likely nominees ready to haunt the set of AM YourCityNameHere or The View. Imagine being on set at a talk show and having your agent tweet you to quietly slip out the side door since your name didn’t get announced.

(Hey…that’s Christopher Nolan slipping into that cab…)

Is Nolan so good that he’s being taken for granted? Even if Following didn’t make its mark until after the similarly structured Memento broke big, all the guy has done is make successful motion pictures that combine escapism with intelligence. I could see overlooking Batman Begins but The Dark Knight was a critical and popular success. His filmscapes are daring; for him to go from Insomnia to the world of Batman and Inception shows huge range. And he wrote and directed most of these films.

Two Academy Award nominations for screenplay, including this year. But not one nomination as Best Director; his omission for this latest masterwork is inexcusable.

The King’s Speech led all films with a dozen nominations; True Grit followed with ten and both Inception and The Social Network have eight. Roman Polanski’s film The Ghost Writer was blanked, as was Shutter Island. Black Swan might have been overtaken by The King’s Speech as the likely main competition for The Social Network.

Colin Firth is probably as close to a lock as there has been in recent memory, but the other acting categories have at least a strong two-way competition. The wild card could be True Grit’s Steinfeld stealing a win if Adams and Leo split votes for The Fighter.

Here are the six major categoriesthe full list can be found here.

Best Picture: “Black Swan,” ”The Fighter,” ”Inception,” ”The Kids Are All Right,” ”The King’s Speech,” ”127 Hours,” ”The Social Network,” ”Toy Story 3,” ”True Grit,” ”Winter’s Bone.”

Best Actor: Javier Bardem, “Biutiful”; Jeff Bridges, “True Grit”; Jesse Eisenberg, “The Social Network”; Colin Firth, “The King’s Speech”; James Franco, “127 Hours.”

Best Actress: Annette Bening, “The Kids Are All Right”; Nicole Kidman, “Rabbit Hole”; Jennifer Lawrence, “Winter’s Bone”; Natalie Portman, “Black Swan”; Michelle Williams, “Blue Valentine.”

Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, “The Fighter”; John Hawkes, “Winter’s Bone”; Jeremy Renner, “The Town”; Mark Ruffalo, “The Kids Are All Right”; Geoffrey Rush, “The King’s Speech.”

Best Supporting Actress: Amy Adams, “The Fighter”; Helena Bonham Carter, “The King’s Speech”; Melissa Leo, “The Fighter”; Hailee Steinfeld, “True Grit”; Jacki Weaver, “Animal Kingdom.”

Best Director: Darren Aronofsky, “Black Swan”; David O. Russell, “The Fighter”; Tom Hooper, “The King’s Speech”; David Fincher, “The Social Network”; Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, “True Grit.”

My immediate hunch picks are in red, but I’ll revisit this in more detail as we get closer to February 25th.

On the other side of the coin, there’s always Ashton Kutcher, Megan Fox, Twilight and the Sex In The City movie franchise, all proud nominees for this year’s Razzie Awards. (I link you to the Wikipedia listing because the Razzie site is loaded with pop-ups.) Like their nominations, their ceremony also usually occurs one day prior to the Academy Awards.

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At The Movies: First Take

And so it begins, again

The latest incarnation of the classic film review show is called Roger Ebert Presents: At The Movies, and the first episode hit the airwaves tonight, back on PBS stations where it belongs. The format is largely the same – two critics discussing films – although they have added some additional resources focusing on issues like classic cinema and film as social impact. And yes, those seats are once again in the balcony.

The critics are Christy Lemire (from the Associated Press) and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky (Chicago Reader, blogger for Mubi.com). Skewing even younger than the roundly trounced Two Bens model, the rapport between the two seems comfortable, although time will always tell in that regard.

I immediately liked Lemire, who looks like a cross between Natalie Portman and Meredith Viera. She’s well-spoken, makes and defends her points well, and looks comfortable in the lead role. And I’ll play both sides of the gender coin by saying that it’s good to finally see a woman as a regular on this show, and she is as attractive as she is smart. I’m not yet sold on Iggy; he tends to tangent into a review of a different film in an effort to validate his points on the one he’s reviewing, and he sometimes doesn’t find his way back to close the loop.

They’re off to a funny start – he likes everything, she didn’t like anything.

The one side featurette was interesting, as Kim Morgan was shot in a hazy black-and-white motif discussing The Third Man. Her analysis touched on the famous score, the use of angles, lights and shadows, and (of course) Orson Welles and one of the most famous movie entrances in film history. Morgan’s review was probably the highlight of the show, and if the idea is having her discuss a classic film every episode, well…thumbs up from me.

Video: Kim Morgan on The Third Man

Lem made an odd comment afterwards (“she would not steer us wrong“) which made me wonder how an AP critic could have gone this long without having seen the film, but it was probably bad phrasing. And Welles made another appearance of sorts, as someone imitating his voice narrated a video that gave viewers a peek behind the scenes to meet “the new guys”, as it were.

Speaking of famous voices, much has been made about the part of the show where Roger will join in using a specific computer program that “speaks” hs voice as he types. In the course of his long career, Ebert has probably used every viable word in he English language, so inflection aside, this looked interesting. A few months ago a Youtube clip showed this process, but the heavily digitized voice sounded like Stephen Hawking; an electronic monotone just like you’ve heard from every talking computer in sci-fi history. I figured they were keeping the real thing under wraps for the show’s debut.

When the big moment arrived and Roger started to “speak”, I was horrified – “he sounds like Schwarzenegger!” I exclaimed. Thankfully the next words I heard were “this is Werner Herzog reading Roger’s words”. I don’t know if this idea is a placeholder while they continue to work on the Ebert voice application, or a creative decision to use guest narration, but I really hope it’s the latter. What better tribute for a great writer than to have a parade of actors, directors and other film giants bring them to life every week?

But idiosyncracies aside, I’m thrilled to have the program back on the air and look forward to watching it every Sunday. The closing credits included two nice touches – a clip of the original program’s intro featuring a very young Roger and Gene Siskel, and the production company’s title card with an animated Roger in an homage to Harry Lime’s famous entrance. And I will never tire of seeing this wonderful video that will open and/or close each episode.

Roger Ebert’s journal and website

At The Movies official website

Outguess Ebert – nail all 24 Oscar winners and win a share of $100.000!

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Ricky Gervais: Golden Balls

Thank God for Ricky Gervais, even if Ricky is an athiest.

Gervais, as he did last year, relentlessly skewered any pretense of dignity that some think the event has. Although it has been elevated to major award status, the fact remains that it’s just one more opportunity for Hollywood to pat itself on the back and ensure global domination of its main export, the American film. So widespread is its reputation for bribery, favoritism and hero-worship that even Robert DeNiro took several shots at the HFPA when receiving its highest honor.

I had to laugh when reading reports this morning chastising Gervais for being irreverent and mean-spirited, and I was astounded to see that some didn’t even find him funny. Are you kidding me? Aside from a couple of good podium moments (David Fincher, Jane Lynch) and two good introductory bits (Robert Downey Jr. and the always-gold Tina Fey/Alec Baldwin combination) the show was an insufferable snore-fest. When he was off-screen for close to an hour, the show dragged. There were no huge upsets in the film categories (Paul Giamatti and Melissa Leo being the closest thing to surprises) and as usual the attendees were more interested in socializing between announcements than paying attention to the proceedings. If they’re not focused, why should I be?

Ah, but when Gervais was at the podium, they had to focus, because he’s fearless; you never know what he’s going to say and when. Are people really upset that he inferred that Mel Gibson, Charlie Sheen and Robert Downey Jr. have had personal issues? Was poking fun at some of the turkeys in a film resume really that insulting to a famous actor? And the joke about the omission of Jim Carrey’s performance in I Love You Philip Morris was brilliant; a one-two punch that savaged the voting board for its inconsistent temerity regarding homosexuality and launched a dig at pushy Scientology salesmen Tom Cruise and John Travolta

Also not nominated: I Love You, Philip Morris. Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor. Two heterosexual actors pretending to be gay. Sort of the complete opposite of some famous Scientologists then…My lawyers helped me with the wording of that joke.”

Most of the celebrities seemed to get it; Downey countered with a great quote (“Aside from the fact that it’s been hugely mean-spirited, with mildly sinister undertones, I’d say the vibe of the show is pretty good so far, wouldn’t you?“) and even long-suffering Office doppelgänger Steve Carell dutifully played the fall guy for what must be the hundredth time. Only the HFPA President seemed truly miffed – or maybe his comic delivery just sucks – but I think he has bigger problems than a temporary insult most people will forget faster than they forgot his name. Perhaps those who didn’t laugh prove the old adage that “the truth hurts“, because the Sex In The City actresses are long in the tooth, Cher is not a hot commodity in 2011, and Tim Allen, nice guy that he is, doesn’t have a resume like that of Tom Hanks.

But there were some painful moments, too. I love Robert DeNiro, and few actors have had the kind of career he has assembled (even discounting most of the past decade). But anyone who has seen him on Saturday Night Live knows that he is abysmal when reading cue cards, especially when it is comic lines obviously written by someone else. It started awkwardly enough, dove into some racist territory and ended with a fairly creepy reference to Megan Fox. Within the speech there were some pretty great barbs deflating the HFPA, but it was as painful to watch as…well…Little Fockers, for one.

The biggest surprises of the evening were on the TV side of the fence; 30 Rock going home empty-handed, Modern Family losing to Glee (when their sophomore seasons have been such polar opposites, quality wise) and the lovely but absent Laura Linney grabbing the honor for The Big C. I was thrilled that Chris Colfer won for Glee; they handed him the ball this year and he really ran with it. Ditto Katey Sagal – not only finally getting noticed for her amazing work on Sons of Anarchy, but getting to take home the award.

The Observer from Fringe alongside Edgar Winter

So how did I do? Seven out of ten, but missing on three biggies. I guess the best movie can’t direct itself, but I think Nolan’s film was a superior effort. Loved seeing humble Colin Firth win, although if he stuttered during his speech that would have been much funnier. And I’m thankful that Natalie Portman won but was surprised by Paul Giamatti’s win, although he’s always good for a great speech, even when they censor the first ten seconds of it. The censors were uneven with their cut-offs and their music cues, but what the hell, I’ll be back next year to watch.

If the HFPA has even one-tenth the balls that Gervais does, so will Ricky.

The list of nominees and winners is here.

Here’s a link to a great page that lists the major category winners for the Critic Associations and provides a schedule for (and links to) all of the award ceremonies. Next up are the BAFTA nominations on Tuesday, with the Academy Award nominations the week after.

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Film Awards Keep Rolling In

Yesterday it was the Online Film Critics Society who handed out the hardware, and as these awards pile up, the Oscar favorites are starting to float to the top. In most of the major categories there are two strong contenders and a close field, although anything can happen, as we know.

So far I’ve not seen The Social Network. But despite my distaste for Facebook, it’s merely a coincidence; David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin are heavyweight names in my book. Much like my fever to see both The Town and The Fighter has far more to do with my love of crime thrillers and boxing films than my love of Boston. Although you’ve got to admit it – any Beantown film usually has a lot going for it. And I do love Boston.

The last two films I have seen – both within a week – are Inception and The Black Swan. Let’s just say that my mind feels like it was kicked around by a group of soccer hooligans, then trapped in a small room with Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch and Brian DePalma vying for control.

The winners of the 2010 Online Film Critics Society Awards:

Best Picture: The Social Network
Best Director: David Fincher, The Social Network
Best Lead Actor: Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
Best Lead Actress: Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, The Fighter
Best Supporting Actress: Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
Best Original Screenplay: Christopher Nolan, Inception
Best Adapted Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network
Best Cinematography: Roger Deakins, True Grit
Best Editing: Lee Smith, Inception
Best Animated Feature: Toy Story 3
Best Foreign Language Film: Mother
Best Documentary: Exit Through The Gift Shop

And speaking of The Town and Inception, R.I.P. Pete Postlethwaite, who passed away yesterday. He had many great roles over the years, but I’ll always think of him as the mysterious Kobayashi in The Usual Suspects.

"One cannot be betrayed if one has no people."

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