February 25, 2007

2007: An Oscar Commentary

Well, just a few final thoughts, I guess. The Departed won 4, and that was the maximum number of awards tonight. 3 wins for Pan's Labyrinth (it really should have been tonight's big winner, honestly, and I submit that it would have been without the "foreign film" kiss of death). 2 apiece for Little Miss Sunshine, Dreamgirls, and An Inconvenient Truth (which was ridiculous). And 1 award apiece for everything else, including a very sad 1 out of 7 for Babel. Talk about a scattershot . . . but it was obvious from the nominations that there were no overwhelming favorites this year, and no movie could have won more than 6 awards tonight, what with redundant nominations.

Ellen DeGeneres made me laugh from time to time, yes. But she was largely unfunny, and when she fell flat, she fell very flat. I saw maybe 5-10 minutes of Jon Stewart's stuff last year, and he was funnier than her whole show tonight . . . but from what I hear the people at the show hated him, so there's just no way to win, I guess.

One final thing . . . I'm going back to my predictions of a month ago to see how I did. I guessed on 8 of the categories, and got 5 right. Not bad. I straight-up missed on director and supporting actress (although I knew my choice there was unlikely at the time, so I'm not quite sure why I made it). I struck out on the foreign film front, as well . . . but that's a hard one to pick. Maybe if I'd seen more of the nominees. It really didn't go the way I hoped, or thought it should have, in any case. And that wraps up the Oscars for this year. I'm not sure how well this worked. I'm gonna bump the last few paragraphs up to the top, drop the running banter beneath the fold, and then keep experimenting next year. Adios!

So, here we are on Oscar night. Let's see if I can find anything worth writing about as I watch, shall we? But I'm totally ignoring the carpet chat, because it makes me ill.

Opening montage: Lots of nominees talking about various things. Some funny, some not . . . and it went on for a really long time. Anyway, Ellen DeGeneres time . . . will she be funny? We shall see. After she's been talking a few minutes, I'm gonna go with . . . yes. She's funny. Her first joke fell flat on its face, but now I'm actually laughing. She's making fun of how the Brits always win Oscars. That's hilarious. Wait, wait, wait . . . Jamming with a gospel choir what? Oh, no. That's no good. That needs to stop.

And here come Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig to present the first Oscar of the night: Art direction. I'm crossing my fingers for Pan's Labyrinth. It really needs to win. Here it comes . . . Yes!!! Excellent. First win for the two nominated guys, and I am very happy with this one. We're off to an excellent start.

Maggie Gyllenhaal is out now. Not sure what she's doing. Okay, confession time: I've never watched the Oscars before ever. For the past few years I've pretty much followed them by hitting "refresh" over at imdb.com. So, maybe I won't know what's going on sometimes. That's just the way it goes.

Back from commercial break, and Will Ferrell is singing a song about how badly comedies do at the Oscars. And there's Jack Black. Sounds like they want to beat up the nominees because their own movies will never win anything. And now John Reilly joins in. He's walked that fine line . . . both Chicago and Talladega Nights, right? And everything in between. He will show them the way. And now that that's over, it's time for them to present the Best Make-up award. Pan's Labyrinth had better win this one, too, or I will be very disgusted. And they do. Pan's Labyrinth has now won both of its most deserving awards. Let's see how it does with the others.

But now, the two little kids of the awards, from Little Miss Sunshine and The Pursuit of Happyness, there to present Best Animated Short. How adorable is that? I've only seen one of these. So, I dunno. Heh, Will Smith's kid just started reading too far ahead on the cue card. That was funny. And the award goes to "The Danish Poet." Yes, I don't know, either. And nobody cares. Now, Best Live Action Short. Same presenters, still adorable, nobody cares about the award still, ditto ditto and moving on. "West Bank Story," a comedy musical about Israelis, Palestinians, and falafel stands, wins. Interesting. Well, whatever. The presenters stole that show, for sure.

There is a quick feature about Best Picture nominee The Sands of Iwo Jima which I really need to see. And I still have no idea when or how I'll be able to do that. If it wins tonight, I'll probably be able to see it a lot sooner, but there's just no way that it will. Thank God . . . a commercial break. This is harder than I thought it would be. Maybe I should stop playing World of WarCraft . . .

Now, this is really cool. They've got a choir doing sound effects to images on a screen. Cars peeling out, trains, rain, the chariot race from Ben-Hur, and airplane taking off, the crash scene from The Aviator . . . wow. Most impressive. And now Steve Carell and Greg Kinnear (both from Little Miss Sunshine) are coming out to present Best Sound Editing. What'll it be? I haven't seen any of these nominees except Dead Man's Chest. The winner is Letters from Iwo Jima . . . wasn't I just saying something about seeing that? I submit that I was. These guys were also nominated for that film's sister-flick, Flags of Our Fathers, which I may see. This guy needs to stop his speech, already, though. Because he's really suffering from monotone syndrome.

Now, James McAvoy and Jessica Biel will present Best Sound. I haven't seen any of these either, (except Dead Man's Chest, again). The Oscar goes to Dreamgirls, which I haven't been able to talk anyone into seeing for the past month. It is the most nominated movie this year, and it may be the biggest winner, even though it has none of the major nominations. It has already lost Art Direction.

Rachel Weiss will now present Best Supporting Actor. I'm really rooting for Alan Arkin on this one. Who will it be? Alan Arkin. Excellent. I would love to see Little Miss Sunshine win as many as possible. It has three more chances. Arkin was nominated twice in the late '60s, but this is his first actual win.

Now they're gonna sing one of the nominated songs . . . the one from Cars. Dreamgirls has 60% of the nominations here, so I'm guessing that's where the award will fall. Unless it split its own vote, that is. Cars is followed up by another nominee, the one from An Inconvenient Truth. This song sucks, and if it wins (which it may), we'll all know why.

Now, Leonardo DiCaprio and Al Gore are here to present . . . I don't know. They won't shut up about the environment. I liked the documentary, I really did, but seriously . . . Now, Gore is pretending to announce his candidacy in the presidential race when he is interrupted by the music. That was funny. And they didn't present anything, just talked about how the awards have "gone green." Stupid false alarm.

Cameron Diaz will now present Best Animated Feature. I don't remember if I've seen any of these . . . Oh, yeah. Cars. Pixar deserves to win on principle, despite this being their weakest effort to date on everything but the actual animation. Oh, geez. Happy Feet took it. I did not expect that at all. Ben Affleck introduces a great little screenwriting montage. Lots of fun here. Are they going to present one or both of those awards now . . .?

Here come Helen Mirren and Tom Hanks, but what are the presenting? Best Adapted Screenplay. The moment of truth: Will Borat lose? Please? This could be the biggest groaner moment of the year. I'm rooting for Children of Men . . . sort of. Really, though, I'm just rooting against Borat. The Departed gets it . . . maybe my third choice, but I haven't seen it yet. Not bad, I guess.

Best Costume Design presentation will now be made by Anne Hathaway and Emily Blunt (from The Devil Wears Prada, which is up for the award). It is the only one of the nominees that I have seen, but based on what I'm seeing here, I'm gonna go with Curse of the Golden Flower or Dreamgirls . . . Marie Antoinette. There's some really deserving stuff here. And it's Marie Antoinette, the 3rd Oscar win for this costume designer.

Uh-oh. Tom Cruise has taken the stage to talk about . . . Sherry somebody. A big name in Hollywood, apparently. But I've never heard of her. And she just won something, but I can't tell what. It doesn't seem to be important, though. Bring on the next movie already! Stop pretending like this is about anything else! Ah, good. Gwyneth Paltrow is coming out to present Best Cinematographer, one of my favorite awards. I've seen 4 of these, and they were all great. But I'm still rooting for Pan's Labyrinth with good money on Children of Men. Yes! Another win for Pan's Labyrinth. That's really good stuff. I'm excited now. This movie has won 3 out of it's 6 nominations, and I have high hopes for 2 of the others. Dreamgirls now has a shot at 2 Oscars, tops. It might win 1.

Now that the break is over, Naomi Watts and Robert Downey, Jr. are out to present Visual Effects. I've probably seen a lot of these, I don't remember. Let's see. Dead Man's Chest, check. Poseidon, nope. Superman Returns, sadly check. Oh, good. Dead Man's Chest won. I have to say, I really liked it, and the effects blew me away. Next up, Catherine Deneuve and Ken Watanabe are here for one that I'm very excited to hear this year: Best Foreign Film. What will it be? I've only seen two and I'm torn between them . . . and one of them may not even win! Oh, the suspense!

But first, a montage of Best Foreign Film winners of the past. Cool. I should be taking notes, but this is moving way too fast. I've seen a lot of these, but I need to see more. Rashomon, The Bicycle Thief, The Tin Drum, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Babette's Feast, Life is Beautiful . . . Wow, that was long. Oh, bugger. That wasn't the award at all. Clive Owen and Cate Blanchette will do the honors now. It needs to be Water or Pan's Labyrinth. I'm hoping the latter gets it to fill out the big night. Oh, what a disappointment . . . Germany wins for The Lives of Others. I guess I need to see that now, and I really didn't want to.

George Clooney will now present Best Supporting Actress. I'm seeing lots of dripping mascara . . . hmmm. Fingers are crossed for Abigail Breslin, aaand . . . Well, no luck tonight. It went to Jennifer Hudson for Dreamgirls. She was on American Idol, I think I object to her victory on principle. Honestly, I didn't expect Breslin to win, but I didn't think Dreamgirls would win either. A Breslin win would have just made my night. Oh, well. Time to move on to other things.

Eva Green and Gael Garcia . . . I didn't catch the last name and I have no idea who it is. They're presenting Best Short Documentary. No way I've seen any of these, sadly. "The Blood of Yingzhou District" wins. It is about Chinese AIDs orphans . . . now there's a powerful subject. But I'm falling behind. What's Seinfeld doing here? I missed it. He's a funny guy, Seinfeld is. Ah, Best Documentary. Al Gore had a slick presentation, but he does not deserve this award. I'm hoping for Jesus Camp or Deliver Us From Evil. But, of course, I don't get my wish. An Inconvenient Truth couldn't not win, and that's just really sad. There was nothing special about that documentary. No great camera work or editing, just a glorified Power Point presentation. Oh, well, whatever.

Clint Eastwood is up now to give Ennio Morricone the Honorary Oscar for his musical work during the past several decades. There's some heartbreakingly gorgeous stuff here, including the music from The Mission. This guy has scored over 500 films in his career, quite impressive. A lot of foreign work, and I've seen several of these, but it's time to move on. Celine Dion is out to sing some song or another, and she's laying it on thick. Hopefully it will be over soon.

There are eight awards left to present, so I guess we're moving into the final hour of the show, now. We've got Best Score and Original Song, Best Editing, Best Screenplay, and the four major awards still to go, and I'm ready for them to get here. Ah, good. Penelope Cruz and Hugh Jackman will bring us Best Original Score, and I'm pushing hard for Pan's Labyrinth (again). It had some really beautiful stuff . . . Aw, rats. Babel took it, and gave me false hope. I heard the hispanic name and thought my pick had won. That just makes it worse. I should be watching that film in the next two or three days, so I guess I'll assess the music then.

Here come the Spiderman stars, Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, to do Best Original Screenplay. Last chance for Pan's Labyrinth to take an award, but Babel will probably win again. Oh, and Little Miss Sunshine is up for this one, too. Oh, no. Two of my favorites are competing, and both might lose. That's just heartbreaking. The moment of truth: Little Miss Sunshine! Awesome. I was really thinking neither one would pull it out. The night is now over for Pan's Labyrinth, stopped dead at 3 wins. Little Miss Sunshine, on the other hand, is now in a good position for the upcoming Best Picture award, although I still doubt that it will take it. Still, I can hope, right?

Jennifer Lopez is out on stage now . . . how does she get to go on in the Oscars so much? I mean, really. Well, she's just introducing two of the leads from Dreamgirls, which means it's about time for that movie to walk out of here with the Best Original Song already. Time to get that over with, finally . . . once they stop singing. Geez. John Travolta and Queen Latifah will do the honors. I repeat: An Inconvenient Truth had better not win. It did. Unbelievable. Since Borat lost, that makes this the absolute biggest groaner of the night. The declaration has been made, nothing worse than this will happen this evening. Man, oh man.

Back from a long break, they trot out Will Smith to present Best Director. But first, another sweet montage! This one is decidedly mixed. Some great movies, and some total crap. I'm not sure what the logic is here . . . but this one's pretty long, too. Yeah, he wasn't presenting. I got faked out again. Kate Winslet will be presenting . . . Best Editing. Forgot about that one. Okay, so no director Oscars just yet. Children of Men needs to finally win something, and this is it's last chance, but it looks like The Departed may be front runner. And it is. No Oscars for Children of Men, and now two for The Departed. Chances are looking better and better for this film to be the big winner of the year. I really hope it's better than The Aviator, but it'll be another week or two before I can see it.

Jodie Foster introduces a montage of the movie people who have died in the last year. *moment of silence for Don Knotts and James Doohan and . . . lots of others* And that, sadly, leads into a commercial break, which is even sadder. It looks like they're gonna stretch out the last 4 awards something awful. Yeah, Ellen just made a joke about it. But Philip Seymour Hoffman is presenting one of the final four now, Best Actress. Buzz says Helen Mirren, I'm kind of hoping for Kate Winslet. Now, let's see who it will be: Oh, yeah, I thought so. Helen Mirren it is. Gotta love those Brits (but wait, Kate Winslet is British too, right?). Oh, well. Everyone who has seen The Queen can't shut up about how great her performance is.

But we're getting another commercial break, sadly. There will probably be one between every award now. Best Picture, as far as I'm concerned, is completely up in the air still. Best Director, likewise, but if you believe in the "redressing theory" it's gotta be Scorcese . . . likewise for O'Toole in the Best Actor category. The awards I cared most about for this year, though, are gone now. Anyway, I can stop babbling because Reese Witherspoon has shown up to present Best Actor. I still think Forest Whitaker is going to take this award, but it could be Peter O'Toole. I don't see any of the others having a chance. Will I be right? Oh, yes. I will. The Oscar does indeed go to Whitaker, and I truly must see The Last King of Scotland. It looks just great.

Oh, sweet. Francis Ford Coppola, Stephen Spielberg, and George Lucas come out to present the best director award, and make fun of Lucas for never having won an Oscar. That's high comedy. And it is indeed Martin Scorsese's year. The crowd is going nuts on this one. Everybody wanted him to win, it seems. A few weeks ago I'd have said it was about time, having seen the incredible Taxi Driver, but then I saw The Aviator and I wasn't so sure anymore. Now I guess I just need to see The Departed, which I am now virtually certain will win Best Picture (with a nod to Babel to hedge my bet).

And it's that time, with the presentation coming from Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson. My hope for Little Miss Sunshine is non-existent as this point. And the winner is, in fact, The Departed (which, it is announced, Scorsese calls his "first movie with a plot"). I'll bet he wishes he'd thought of that earlier.

Posted by Jared at 07:17 PM | TrackBack

February 21, 2007

A Triple Feature

This is rather an interesting piece (albeit a few years old now): Juxtaposed interviews on faith and film with Michael Medved, Jeffrey Overstreet, and Todd Rendleman (if you don't know who they are, their credentials preface the interview). I especially liked this question:

Q: What do you think is at the root of the historical tension between people of faith and Hollywood? Why are some people of faith threatened by film?

MEDVED: It goes right to the fundamental difference between cinematic and religious communication. Movies are a visual medium; psychologists who have analyzed the way they reach audiences estimate that films rely on visual images for 7075 percent of their impact. Judeo-Christian faith, on the other hand, relies on words. Whenever God has communicated to his people, he has used spoken or written words, not images. Neither Moses nor Jesus drew pictures or created visions for their followers. Movies that appeal to the eyes touch us on an emotional level, while faith messages that appeal to the ears reach for the mind and soul.

OVERSTREET: Christians are quite accustomed to preaching. Art seems threatening to us because it is more about exploration than exposition. We hastily look for "the message" of a movie, failing to understand that art is for reflection, contemplation, discussion and discovery. Further, in categorizing as "Christian" versus "secular," we prescribe where and when God can be revealed. A beautiful photograph of a mountain becomes "Christian art" when a verse is printed on the sky above the peak. Then we think we know what it means, and we do not have to think for ourselves. This cultivates an environment of lazy and reactionary intellects, and we fail to train ourselves to discern evidence of God in the excellence and beauty of art outside the walls of the church.

RENDLEMAN: Historically, this debate has always been a question of sex. Movies have the potential to move and excite us emotionally, intellectually and sexually. Since the birth of film, a key factor in its appeal has been the promise of sexual excitement. For Christians, this is often at odds with Christ's warning to not look lustfully at others. This has created a strange, conflicted relationship between many religious persons and the movies. Art needs to thoughtfully address all aspects of human life, and the issue of sexuality in film remains a sensitive one. I can't think of an issue that merits greater discernment and reflection from people of faith.

Medved's response is dumb dumb dumb. The more I think about it, the dumber it sounds. Of course, my opinion of Medved is not generally high, but there it is. He actually surprised me with a few of his responses, though. Seems he can actually be reasonable when he's not pushing a . . . oh, what do they call those? . . . Oh, yes. An agenda. Rendleman's response is both true and thought-provoking, but too limited, I think. There's more than just that at work here, and I would have liked for him to keep going. Overstreet's response, however, is what prompted me to post this interview. Awesome stuff.

Posted by Jared at 10:59 AM | TrackBack

February 13, 2007

Dissed and Dismissed (Updated)

Well, isn't this interesting: Christian filmmakers bite back at the critics who spurn them (great headline there). Peter Chattaway reviewed The Last Sin Eater a few days ago for Christianity Today, and on the same day he got a rather whiny e-mail from one Brian Bird, the writer/producer of the movie.

Chattaway then discovered that a radio interview with the director, Michael Landon Jr., was also conducted last week by Paul Edwards of The Center for the Study of God & Culture. In that interview, Chattaway's review was quoted at Landon, who also responded to it, though much more dismissively.

Chattaway responds politely, but without apology:

"I [...] hope that 'contemporary Christian filmmakers' can avoid falling into the trap of insinuating that just because they make films with a Christian agenda, it necessarily follows that we are all now obliged to say nice things about their movies."

Well said. I find that I have many thoughts on the subject, but that it would probably be just as worthwhile to send readers along to the link above to read for themselves. Go take a look.

*Update*
Feb. 15

It's not over yet over there. The aforementioned Paul Edwards has floated into Chattaway's comment section for a little back-and-forth action. Great reading, no matter whose side you're on.

Posted by Jared at 10:08 AM | TrackBack

February 09, 2007

Demagogue in Denim

Today I saw A Face in the Crowd, a 1957 film I had never heard of five days ago, and it blew me away. It was directed by Elia Kazan of A Streetcar Named Desire and Baby Doll (which I loved), and On the Waterfront (which I rather keenly disliked), as well as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and East of Eden (which I should probably see someday). It features the big-screen debuts of Andy Griffith and Lee Remick, as well as Walter Matthau only a few years into his movie career (I believe this was his first non-Western film role).

A Face in the Crowd is about a wandering Arkansas alcoholic with a guitar and a boatload of charisma who rockets to fame as a TV personality, and eventually becomes a potent political force before his mean arrogance brings him crashing back down. The structure is very similar to 1949's All the King's Men (and probably many others), but much better here. The cinematography, sets, writing, and most especially the acting are top-notch. This film bombed with audiences when it was first release, and was completely ignored at the Oscars (notables that year include The Bridge on the River Kwai and 12 Angry Men). This is rather too bad, as the film is a masterpiece and a true classic. It doesn't deserve this obscurity.

You've never seen Andy Griffith like this, and after this movie, you never would again. Griffith stuck to much safer roles following A Face in the Crowd. His character, Lonesome Rhodes, is volatile, mean, and sexually charged, but also fascinating and magnetic. I would never have guessed that the man who went on to play the beloved sheriff of Mayberry for many successful television seasons had this sort of persona lurking inside.

I was also amazed by the movie's continued relevance after 50 years. With television still a growing phenomenon in the late '50s, this movie was way ahead of its time (a recipe for box-office disaster, I suppose). It put me in mind of such phenomena as (for instance) the influence of Fox News over red state America. Regardless of whether a liberal bias exists in the media, there is no doubt that conservative America gets its opinions from the boob tube, and this movie shows that they have for as long as that medium has existed (remember McCarthy?).

It is a riveting and worthwhile experience for any film buff or student of cultural history, and I'm so pleased it caught my eye when I was checking in the VHS copy at the library earlier this week.

Posted by Jared at 12:27 PM | TrackBack

February 06, 2007

Charming

Someone requested a book from the branch library, and when it came I just had to leaf through it. It's a children's book about the CIA. Special. There are plenty of quotables, but I was particularly amused (enraged?) by two excerpts:

The CIA has carried out many covert actions throughout the world. It has tried to change governments in Laos, Vietnam, Guatemala, and Tibet. It has also made changes in Iran, a United States friend and enemy at different times over the past 50 years. The CIA helped return the shah of Iran to power in 1953. The shah is like Iran's king. The CIA also trained Iran's secret police. In 1979, these CIA-trained police helped Ayatollah Khomeini take over the shah's government.

It's fascinating, isn't it, how that paragraph is true without being the Truth? This portion is after a brief segment explaining the CIA's commitment to fostering democracy, so I suppose it would be a little confusing for the kiddies to explain that two of those countries were just getting used to their first-ever democratically-elected governments when the CIA came in and screwed everything up. And it would make them look a little silly to explain how much Ayatollah Khomeini hated the US and how bad it was that those CIA-trained guys helped him take over the country. Still, I can't help but think that there's a way to teach the kiddies a little history without distorting their perspective so very, very much.

All covert actions are ordered by the president of the United States. But some covert actions break the law in foreign countries. If the U.S. government gets caught, it has to be able to say it did not know about the actions. This is called plausible denial.

Wait, wait, wait . . . so if even children know that all covert actions are ordered by the president, how plausible is the denial reeeeally? I think "plausible" may need to be one of the vocabulary words of the week, class. Oh, and when the American government does it, it may be "plausible denial," but when you kids do it, it's still . . . what's the word? Oh, yeah. Lying. So don't get any ideas.

We make me sick.

Posted by Jared at 04:00 PM | TrackBack