Thursday, December 30, 2010

Not Phoebe, But Fiona (Wallice, That Is)

Obviously, as of late this has become almost entirely a film/Oscar-devoted blog, but as it moves forward, I'm going to work to make it more well-rounded, with reviews of film, TV, theater, and other modalities. Speaking of modalities... have you heard? Fiona Wallice has her own modality of psychiatry. It's called Web Therapy.

"Hi, I'm Fiona Wallice, and this is Web Therapy!"
I've bever been a big fan of "webisodes" or web series, simply because I feel the experience of television is meant to be enjoyed on a, you know, television. I can hardly stand YouTube clips if they're any longer than two minutes and aren't GloZell or The Second City Network. (No, I would not like to see a clip of that Asian man singing Whitney Houston on the Asian version of America's Got Talent, thank you.) But if there's one thing that college teaches you with regard to television, it's that the internet (specifically Hulu) is your best friend.

At the recommendation of Nathaniel Rogers at The Film Experience (who, if after my multiple references you still have not checked out, you must take the time to read), I made an appointment with Lisa Kudrow's three-year old web series Web Therapy. I had heard tell of the project before but I was never interested enough to check it out. How wrong I was not to be watching all this time.

Kudrow, who has long been miscast as a minimal talent in my mind due to her work on what has never been known to be my favorite sitcom, Friends (sue me, I never enjoyed the antics of the rent-controlled twenty- and thirty-somethings who didn't know what the hell they wanted out of life but sure loved to whine about it), is a wonder and a dark comedy revelation as the innovative therapist Dr. Fiona Wallice who cares far more about herself than she does her patients. But far from being bad at her job, Fiona is actually a masterful therapist: in one case, she actually diagnoses her patients' intimacy problems in half a minute without even breaking a sweat.

Fiona: "This is an issue of intellectual property, which I own."
Jerome: "You, you own it?"
Instead of worrying too much about her patients' problems, Fiona prefers to work to further her own cause: the new modality of therapy she's invented, titled, appropriately enough, "Web Therapy." Instead of the traditional, in-person, 50-minute therapy session, Fiona has found that a 3-minute session over iChat is a far more effective modality, because so much of a typical 50-minute session is just aimless wandering. As she puts it, the 3-minute time limit is like a "gun to your head" that forces patients to divulge all the pertinent information quickly.

While Fiona is actually incredibly competent, her sessions often go awry when her own interests become more important than those of the patient. This is most often found in season one, when Fiona's main goal was to get more money from her investors and further the spread of her special modality. But the patients are all well-cast, with each face familiar to most who watch television with differing size of the celebrities (Courtney Cox is the best among the big names, while Julie Claire as a long-running character is the biggest of the smaller names) and Kudrow's improvised interactions with them always ringing true.

Season one isn't the strongest of the show, but it introduces the concept well and has some great series (the Jerome/Hayley series and the initial Richard series, featuring her great catchphrase, "I've muted you"). Season two is even better, with the story arc turning to Fiona's husband, Kip Wallice, and his alleged homosexuality. Each patient is a great addition to the show and the narrative arc really hits its stride. Season three, the most recent season, is more of a typical episodic tale than the other, more series-focused seasons, and it's disappointing to see the show become more about Fiona's life and the people surrounding her (most of the patients were repeats, except those who weren't patients at all and had another connection to Fiona), but the comedy remained sharp and the twists interesting. I hope the show can save itself from Extras-style derailment (the BBC sitcom, a work of art in its first season, eventually lost itself and was merely a shade at the point of its finale) and bring the storyline back in a new, funny way that hits those season two creative peaks.

Fiona: "No, I don't have any children."
Camilla: "Oh! Not even one?"
As a special treat to fans, though, Kudrow managed to get Therapy fan Meryl Streep on for a three-episode arc as Camilla Bowner, the...well, I shouldn't give away her role, as it's far too spoiler-prone. Suffice it to say that Streep, not exactly well-known for her improvisational skills, does great work here, if a little stilted at times. Still, she's Meryl Streep--how could she be anything but great?

Web Therapy can be watched online for free at any time at Lexus Studio, as well as selectively on Hulu and for purchase on iTunes. Episodes range from 3 to 15 minutes, and it's easy to get through series in one sitting. If you're a Lisa Kudrow fan or just a fan of great dark comedy, Web Therapy just might be the modality for you.

I've attached the video for the first episode below: check it out to see if it's to your liking.




Web Therapy 
Season 1: A-
Season 2: A
Season 3: B+
The Camilla Bowner miniseries: B+

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Oscar Predictions: Black Swan, The Fighter and True Grit Up

New Oscar predictions are up! Check the Current Oscar Predictions tab above this post to see them in full, but a few notes:

-- We seem to have stalled at these six locks for Best Picture, with two others (True Grit and Winter's Bone) supposedly strong bets but with major weaknesses (Grit was blanked at the Golden Globes, while other awards bodies are having a difficult time remembering Bone beyond star Jennifer Lawrence), and three films rotating out of two spots (The Kids Are All Right, which has unsteady buzz, 127 Hours, which really screwed up at the Globes but has the buzz, and The Town, which had manufactured buzz but missing the SAG Ensemble nod hurt--a lot). Hopefully, once the PGA and DGA sound off, we'll have a little more clarity here.

-- Unlike most, I have Darren Aronofsky locked in Best Director while Tom Hooper is only a Good Bet for The King's Speech. I think this year is strange for Best Director, with auteurs really taking the lead. I don't think Hooper will miss the nod, but I also don't think it impossible that he doesn't make the DGA shortlist, which would be tremendously bad for him.

-- Nicole Kidman is now locked in Best Actress. Michelle Williams is basically acting as a placeholder in Longer Shots because I can't come up with a feasible fifth nominee other than her...except for one. See below.

-- Hailee Steinfeld and Mila Kunis edge out Jacki Weaver in Best Supporting Actress, but I still think that's three women jockeying for two spots. However, what if the Oscars reject Steinfeld's obvious category fraud? If they bump her up to lead, making her the fifth nominee (edging out Williams), then Weaver takes her spot back and we have our five. That's the plan that makes the most sense, anyway. And considering exactly how fraudulent the category placement is, I don't think it impossible that this happens.

-- I'll start adding more and more categories as we get closer to the announcement in January. Next to go up will be Best Original Song, Best Original Score (recently thrown into question because of three controversially disqualified scores), Best Animated Feature and Best Documentary Feature. I'll probably hold off on those dreadful Short categories that blanked me 0/3 in predictions last year until after the nominations. The technical nominations will probably come after the nominations as well.

Sound off about the new nominations in the comments!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Entertainers of the Year 2010


2010 has been nothing if not entertaining. Unlike the circus that was 2009, featuring such ridiculousness as Britney Spears, the Black Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga, this was truly an artist's year, with high-quality projects hitting peak popularity. It also saw the return of former giants, the continued dominance of certain talents, and surprising breakouts from new stars. It was a rewarding 2010 for fans of quality, as even the most austere projects were just plain fun. When 2010 is examined by pop culture historians, it will be remembered as the year of highbrow fun.

Here, I present to you, in no particular order, Awkward is What We Aim For's top fifteen Entertainers of 2010.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Rapid Reviews: Winter's Gritty Kingdom Somewhere

Merry day after Christmas everyone! Hope you all had a wonderful Christmas filled with laughs, joy, eggnog, gingerbread, etc.

It's approximately 1:30 in the morning and I just watched a really shitty movie. As such, I'm not in the best of moods. But there's cinematic magic to do and I must press onwards! It's time for some quicker than usual Rapid Reviews before bed.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Rapid Reviews: Fighting the Return of Phillip Morris Through the Rabbit Hole




Let's be honest, these Rapid Reviews titles are getting a little ridiculous.



I was planning on holding off on this set until I stockpiled the rest of the films I need to watch this year (still remaining: Somewhere, True Grit, Animal Kingdom, Winter's Bone and The Ghost Writer, though I'm also gonna take a second look at Inception), but I saw The Fighter today and, well, let's just say the occasion called for a set of Rapid Reviews. And let me say that the lead review is gonna be a little less than rapid.



Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Rethinking 2010 Cinema

I recently screened Easy A, The Social Network, Please Give, The King's Speech, Black Swan and Catfish so I could be more sure about my Top Ten list (coming out very soon!). You can see all the new scores on the Recent Reviews page, but a few quick notes.

First, The Social Network and Black Swan both hold up impressively upon repeat viewings. I thought that Network would, but I was actually quite surprised that despite knowing what would happen, I found Swan just as captivating the second time around. Both films truly are instant classics.

Second viewings were kind to Catfish and Easy A, two films I had long considered among my favorites but I hadn't quite realized how good they were. A is far better than I gave it credit for--while its true that star Emma Stone is working overtime to elevate the material, the material itself, as well as the star-studded supporting cast, is pretty damn great. And Catfish was just as suspenseful and chill-inducing the second time around, while I noticed exactly how well-made the film really was.

Not so good on repeat viewings are The King's Speech (truly a crowd experience--when you're not with others laughing along, the movie is a lot less fun) and Please Give (was everyone this whiny the first time I watched this?)--though the performances, especially Geoffrey Rush's from the former and Amanda Peet's and Catherine Keener's from the latter, still hold up.

I also recently viewed Rabbit Hole for the first time, and you can expect a Rapid Review on that along with True Grit, The Fighter, Winter's Bone, The Ghost Writer, I Love You Phillip Morris and Animal Kingdom as soon as I get around to them (this week, probably). I'm also going to start a new series, Netflix Picks, of movies available on Netflix Instant Stream that are necessary to watch. (First in the series, the classic All About Eve.)

I wrote on this site in the summer how doomed I felt 2010 cinema was. At that point, that fate appeared irreversibly true. However, I have been pleasantly surprised at every turn with the movies that have emerged. There are instant classics and feats of direction, screenplays to be remembered forever, and quieter films among louder films that will all be remembered with great fondness. It looked like it was going to be a hard year for film, but in truth, it looks like everything turned out just fine.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Rapid Reviews: Carrey, Clooney and Hathaway

Delayed flights are a pain. They're less of a pain if you get stuck somewhere lovely, like the San José International Airport. They're even less of a pain if you have free Wi-Fi and movies to entertain you. And they're even less of a pain if the movies are The Truman Show, Rachel Getting Married and Up in the Air.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Everyone's an Awards Body

...is everyone done nominating yet?

The past three days or so have been an absolute whirlwind of nominations and awards from critics groups, chiefly the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the New York Film Critics Circle, and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. This morning, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association announced their nominations for the primary Oscar forerunner, the Golden Globes. While the dust settles around all these nominations, it's time to update the predictions.

(Adapting a color scheme idea from Nathaniel Rogers over at The Film Experience, green is a sure-thing nomination, blue is a strong possibility but not locked just yet, and red indicates that the potential nominee's position in the category is incredibly shaky.)


Saturday, December 11, 2010

It Just Wants to be Perfect

I wrote a Rapid Review about Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan immediately after seeing it, but the movie hasn't left me since I saw it the first time. That sensation did not cease upon second viewing. As more and more of you see it and we talk about it, the point I knew long ago is once again crystal clear: Black Swan is one of those films that truly draws you in and leaves you, quite literally, gasping for more as it concludes.

For those who haven't seen it, take a detour now, because this is gonna get really spoilery. But come back when you have seen it--if you're anything like me after seeing it, you won't be able to stop talking about it.

Swan is a movie that starts from the first time you hear about it. For me, that was its trailer, an exquisite work of art unto itself that teased you, enticed you, drew you close and then rejected you at the last possible second.

From the moment the trailer ends to the time you see it, you're filled with great expectation. What will this film really be like? Will it live up to its hype and incredible promise? Or will it fall short and be one of the greatest disappointments in film industry?

After the waiting (which, for me and a few others, was almost a year), the film begins. The first sequence is the dream, which already echoes the trailer.

"I had the craziest dream last night about a girl who turns into a swan.
But her prince falls for the wrong girl, and she kills herself."

The only other first scene this year that foreshadows and illuminates nearly as beautifully is that of The Social Network, a masterpiece of writing that sets the pace and tone while still enthralling us. Unlike that soon-to-be-classic scene, this one uses no dialogue, instead hinting at the corruption that will soon attempt to corrupt our beautiful White Swan. That swan, of course, is the incomparable Natalie Portman as Nina Sayers.

Portman is, as you no doubt have heard by now, a revelation as Nina, playing her in such great degrees and variations that all ring unmistakably true. She begins as a delicate flower just waiting to be stepped on, firmly ingrained in childhood by her overbearing mother.

Yet just below the lily-white surface, we see a hunger in Nina that can't be fed by simply remaining comfortable and complacent. She wants the role of Swan Queen in the new production of Swan Lake. Her mother, the bracingly good Barbara Hershey, is both encouraging of her process and reserved about Nina doing something so bold and out of her comfort zone. When she thinks she's lost the role, Nina's mother seems almost relieved that her "sweet girl" will be performing her usual part.

However, despite butchering her audition due to the arrival of a new dancer, Lily (the effervescent, mysterious Mila Kunis), Nina gets the role after her biting response (literally!) to her teacher, Thomas (Vincent Cassell, dominating but complex) after he makes a sexual advance. She still can't dance the part of the Black Swan properly despite her astounding technique when performing as the White Swan. Not helping matters are the ease of which Lily takes to dancing the Black Swan's role and a drunken accosting by the former lead ballerina, Beth, who has just been forced into retirement by Thomas. Beth, played with tenacity and venom by Winona Ryder, spits vicious accusations at Nina while Thomas attempts to calm her down.
Beth: "What'd you have to do to get this role, huh? Did you suck his cock?"
Nina: "Not all of us have to!"

The scene could play as camp bitchiness, and there are certainly elements of that, but Ryder and Portman have never been finer than in this scene. Portman gives us a glance of a different Nina, a darker Nina, while Ryder is going for the completely self-referential here. She's the "washed-up" talent who envies the younger, prettier one taking all her roles. It's a fantastic cameo and one if Aronofsky had allowed for more development would have been spoiled. Ryder's a spike of bitchiness that wakes the audience up. This is a movie that can't be ignored for even a second. It demands your attention. Every movement is precise, vital to the piece. What an incredible analogy.

Soon enough, Nina is letting the part get to her. A long-dormant scratching habit has resurfaced and she becomes paranoid about Lily's motives. She sees her reflection in mirrors--major credit to Aronofsky for making this suspenseful and interesting and not the cliché it could easily be. Her mother begins to control her more and more as a response to her new freedom, but nevertheless Nina finds ways to break out. And then we reach one of the most intriguing, strange, fascinating scenes in the entire film: Nina and Lily's night out.

Lily: "Someone's hot for teacher."
Nina: "I don't want to talk about that."
Lily: "You really need to relax."

Lily offers Nina some ecstasy to loosen her up, which results in several hookups in the club and an (imagined?) tryst between the two dancers. It's an incredibly explicit scene but one that rings undeniably true: for someone as virginal and pure as Nina, a White Swan to her core, such a raw, sexual experience, imagined or no, would be the ultimate corruption. It is only after this and after arriving late to practice the next morning (after an incredibly tense confrontation with her mother) that Nina realizes it was all just a dream. Thomas is unhappy with Nina and decides to make Lily her alternate, furthering Nina's paranoia. It is in these scenes, wherein we can see Nina's slow descent into insanity, that Portman really shines. She makes the character entirely believable while pulling off incredibly unbelievable things.

The finale is a scene that cannot possibly be described. It involves a character death, a transformation, a grand performance, and the height of Nina's delusions. The audience is completely on-edge, and not a moment goes by in which a surprise isn't lurking right around the corner. The final moments absolutely take your breath away, and you're left reeling as the credits roll. It is a masterpiece finale, that is for sure.

There are many, including the Los Angeles Times' own Kenneth Turan, who have trashed the film as being merely surface-level theatrics with nothing lying below. That criticism is not only factually incorrect, but it is irrelevant for a movie like Swan. It is a film that impacts and shocks, not one that is meant to have you talking as soon as you leave the theater. In fact, if it does what it sets out to do, you won't be able to speak for some time after it has finished. It is absolutely devastating, from the script to the direction to the superb acting.

What a film Black Swan is. It is, as it currently stands, my favorite film of the year. Is it the best? Possibly not. But its aim is not that of Nina, of the White Swan:

"I just want to be perfect."

Black Swan is not a film for which the technique must be perfect. It is about emotion, impact--what will leave the audience gasping for more? It is the cinematic embodiment of the Black Swan: sometimes messy, sometimes imperfect, but a devastating work of art.

It is a metaphor, it is histrionic, it is dramatic, and it is, at times, incredibly difficult to watch. But it is a beautiful film, and one that needs to be seen. It is quite possibly Aronofsky's best work. It is definitely Portman's best work. It is, without reservation, one of my favorite films of all time. It may not be perfect, but it doesn't need to be.

If you wish, please add your own comments and ideas about the film in the comments section. Also, read what some have already posted--between the ideas about mirrors, the reflection on what this film means to someone as an artist, and Nina's childishness, there are many more points to explore. It is the kind of film that can carry a conversation for days.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Rapid Reviews: Eight Movies, Ten Days, 127 Hours

As of 7 PM this rainy Sunday in Westchester, California, I have the honor (curse?) of having seen six movies in ten days. Starting with Fair Game in Austin, then Unstoppable and The King's Speech last weekend, and finally wrapping with Black Swan, Burlesque and Love and Other Drugs this weekend, I've seen some great performances, some interesting films, and some absolute schlock. I also need to write up 127 Hours and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I from last month. And this is what I like to call Rapid Reviews.


Saturday, December 4, 2010

Post-Black Swan Oscar Predictions

Since last updating my predictions, the first rounds of awards have come in and I've seen a few of the major frontrunners. (Of course, you can always check out the latest predictions by clicking on the Current Oscar Predictions tab.)

I hate mixing my opinion with Oscarology, but suffice it to say that The King's Speech and especially Black Swan are absolutely phenomenal films that deserve major awards consideration. (I liked 127 Hours, too, but it wasn't my favorite beyond James Franco's incredible star turn.) Regardless, here are my updated Oscar predictions.



Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Curious Case of Gwyneth Paltrow

We're only a few days into what will be known by future generations as the Gwyneth Paltrow Reputation Rehabilitation Tour and the internet is already flooded with stories of "we hated her, now we love her!" So forgive me if this is something you've already seen--I'll try not to waste your time by making this piece about the Oscar-winning actress everyone seemed to hate before this week a little more detailed than you've been reading.

What to make of this recent surge in Gwyneth Paltrow we've been experiencing recently? From her new movie Country Strong that arrives this awards season and is trying so hard to get Paltrow another Oscar nomination (which she will not get) to the titular song she sang at last weekend's Country Music Awards to critical acclaim to last night's episode of Glee, the Shakespeare in Love actress is everywhere. And not only is she all over the media these days, that same media that turned up its metaphorical nose at her celebrity persona for almost a decade has now fallen in love with her once again.

Most careers don't start by winning an Oscar, and Paltrow's didn't, either, but it's where the problems with her career begin. After her acclaimed work in Emma and Se7en, Paltrow was cast in John Madden's 1998 film Shakespeare in Love as the titular bard's love interest. Her performance was universally lauded and rightfully nominated for an Academy Award.

Then she won. And that's where her career goes off the rails.

Paltrow won her Oscar over Cate Blanchett, a nominee that year for her interpretation of Queen Elizabeth I in Elizabeth. Blanchett would win her Oscar a few years later for The Aviator (of which she was arguably not only the best part, but one of the only good parts), but most today agree that the 1998 Best Actress Oscar belonged to Blanchett, not Paltrow. Looking back, there's merits to both performances, but the Oscar forever changed Paltrow's career, and it wasn't for the better.

After her Oscar win, Paltrow's celebrity persona took a sharp turn for the far more serious and "holier-than-thou". Her film choices remained varied, and some choices were even brilliant (The Royal Tenenbaums), but on the whole, they were taking a turn for the melodramatic (Proof is probably the best example for this). Not only that, but she started up her site GOOP.com, which was designed, more or less, to tell us all how to run our lives. She created a show with chef Mario Batali called Spain...On the Road Again, which is not intrinsically a bad show but continues to fulfill that "tell everyone what to do" stereotype. She also married somewhat standoffish Coldplay frontman Chris Martin, named her children Apple and Moses. Oh, and she said that she preferred British culture over American culture in a Spanish magazine, which, in combination with all her fake British sayings, was a bad public relations move. (Seriously, all that was saving this woman was her friendship with Beyoncé.)

This reputation continued for just about a decade, but it seems to finally be evaporating with her recent rush of work. Certainly no one of great import is criticizing her work last night on Glee, which has inspired multiple critics to declare the race for next year's Best Guest Actress in a Comedy Series Emmy over, since she will most certainly win. And it's a rightful win, too: as difficult as it might be for some to believe, Paltrow was not only great in the episode, she was brilliant. The episode itself is one of my favorites in the show's 30-episode life, and her guest performance is my favorite in the show's history as well. Her singing, of course, wasn't great, though she did amp up the energy in both her performances (all three, if you count her brief rendition of "Conjunction Junction" which was a full ten seconds of elementary school flashback bliss). Her "Forget You" was an instant classic thanks to her ability to be as goofily white (or whitely goofy?) as one song will allow, while her participation in a mashup of "Singing in the Rain" and "Umbrella" added to that experience as well.

I'd imagine that with Country Strong being released near the end of this year, as well as a sure-to-be-guaranteed second guest spot on Glee sometime in the future, this swell of Paltrow love isn't likely to end soon. And while I've never had any particular love or hate for her (though I do agree with the commonly held belief that she was the wrong winner in her Oscar year), I found her to be one of the best parts of one of the best episodes of Glee in a long time, so I don't mind a little more Paltrow in my life.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Oscars Aren't Pro-Tyler Perry

Another Oscar predictions post only two weeks after the first? What's the rush?

Admittedly, this is a little too soon for me to update again, but I'm realizing I made a few key errors in my first predictions that need to get fixed. Also, I want to analyze some fringe candidates that could break through and all the different strange occurrences that could come about under the right circumstances.

The screenplay categories haven't shifted, so if you want to see my thoughts on those, you can find them here. (And check out the new countdown widget to the right! Brought to you by Nathaniel Rogers at The Film Experience.)

Best Animated Feature
(1) Toy Story 3
(2) How to Train Your Dragon
(3) Tangled

Not enough qualifiers this year to allow for five nominees, unfortunately, so despite a strong year for animation overall (though not better than last year, which was truly a fantastic year where even five nominees wasn't enough), we've got to find only three films to get nominated. I don't have a whole lot of faith in Tangled, but I'm also unsure the very unseen The Illusionist can pull a Persepolis and get nominated--after all, Waltz with Bashir couldn't pull off a nomination in this category, and that film was incredibly well-received. A friend of mine posited the theory today that How to Train Your Dragon wins Best Animated Feature, and honestly, I don't think that's impossible. Toy Story 3 is a brilliant part of a set, but it is not a brilliant movie independent of the other movies in the trilogy. How to Train Your Dragon has the originality factor. It also, quite unfortunately, has an awful moniker that no one likes to say. (Even advertisements referred to it as Dragons, which, though a nondescript title itself is much better than the wordy How to Train Your Dragon.) A title isn't everything, and certainly films have won with bad titles before (The Hurt Locker), but Toy Story 3 has a title that represents 15 years of amazing filmmaking. That certainly won't be overlooked.

Best Supporting Actor
(1) Christian Bale, The Fighter
(2) Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech
(3) Ed Harris, The Way Back
(4) Andrew Garfield, The Social Network
(5) Josh Brolin, True Grit

I'm reordering things here, but the big stories are the bottom two: Garfield and Brolin. They both come from movies with multiple Best Supporting Actor contenders, and could theoretically split the vote. I'm especially worried about Garfield--I warned that if the buzz didn't sustain for The Social Network it would have an impact, and I'm not hearing much about it right now. I could see Garfield not getting nominated. I feel like the real pushes right now are for his costars, Justin Timberlake and Armie Hammer. Similarly, I feel like Brolin is getting pushed aside a bit for Matt Damon in the media right now. I might be calling this one wrong on both counts, but I feel like this is a fairly steady pool.

Best Supporting Actress
(1) Helena Bonham-Carter, The King's Speech
(2) Melissa Leo, The Fighter
(3) Dianne Wiest, Rabbit Hole
(4) Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom
(5) Amy Adams, The Fighter

I have nothing to say about this category right now, really, besides that if Weaver can snag a nomination, I'm pretty confident she'll win. But getting the nomination is the bigger battle.

Best Actress
(1) Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
(2) Natalie Portman, Black Swan
(3) Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone
(4) Lesley Manville, Another Year
(5) Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole

I almost put Halle Berry for Frankie and Alice in here instead of Kidman, but Rabbit Hole has been surprisingly good at sustaining its buzz so far. And Berry's film may not be that good. However, I do think in this very lily-white year for the acting categories, an African-American actress has a real shot. I just don't think this is the category, considering how packed it is. However, if Manville winds up in the supporting race (a race she'll surely win), Berry will likely take her spot.

Best Actor
(1) Colin Firth, The King's Speech
(2) James Franco, 127 Hours
(3) Jeff Bridges, True Grit
(4) Mark Wahlberg, The Fighter
(5) Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network

I keep hearing that others are dropping Wahlberg for Robert Duvall in Get Low. I had to look up that movie to remember what it was. That film is such a non-factor it's not even funny. Duvall can't get nominated for a movie no one is talking about. Unless Eisenberg and Wahlberg prove to be incredibly weak, Duvall can't sneak in here.

Best Director
(1) Christopher Nolan, Inception
(2) David Fincher, The Social Network
(3) Danny Boyle, 127 Hours
(4) Tom Hooper, The King's Speech
(5) Mike Leigh, Another Year

Everything's the same here, except I removed David O'Russell for The Fighter in favor of Leigh. Just a hunch.

Best Picture
(1) The King's Speech
(2) The Social Network
(3) 127 Hours
(4) True Grit
(5) Inception
(6) The Fighter
(7) Black Swan
(8) Toy Story 3
(9) Another Year
(10) The Kids Are All Right

For Colored Girls got creamed in the early reviews, so it's out. Another Year is in, but I don't have half the confidence in it everyone else seems to have. About that top five... it would fit that, like last year, the "real five" have all their directors nominated for Best Director, no? So why don't I have the Coens, known favorites of the Academy, getting nominated? Well, they won four years ago, for one. Director teams are pretty kitschy and aren't going to be rewarded that often. For another, I'm wondering exactly how beloved True Grit is going to be in most areas outside of Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor and Adapted Screenplay considering it's a remake. I think it'll do well--I just don't think it'll win anything big or get nominated for something like Director.

What are your thoughts? Not a whole lot has changed, I know, but do you agree with my small alterations? I'll be getting into more in-depth analysis later on of below-the-line categories, but what do you think of Best Animated Feature? Do you agree True Grit might be getting overhyped? Let me know what you think in the comments!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Siding with Jessica Simpson Scares Me

Project Runway has ended once again, and unlike the feelings of joy we often experience at the dénouement of a season, this year we have embittered fans and outrage from the critics. Our winner is Gretchen Jones, a hippie chick from Portland, Oregon with an ego problem (think season five’s Leanne Marshall with high self-regard). She beat out fan- (and, it appeared until last Thursday, judge-) favorite Mondo Guerra and unfortunate footnote of the proceedings Andy South for the title.

I have no love for Gretchen's collection, but I do feel awful for her simply because I know how much shit she's going to have to deal with because she won over Mondo. The fashion world is not going to be happy to receive this winner.

Let me get one thing out of the way: I wasn’t in love with Mondo's collection either. I don't think it was anything we hadn't seen from him before. But at least it was creative and innovative. Gretchen's was repetitive and sad. However, for full disclosure, I can’t say Mondo didn’t make a few massive mistakes in styling, presentation, etc. For example, if I were Mondo, I would have switched his model, Tina Marie (who really was the best model remaining at the end of the season and I’m almost more disappointed for Mondo because Tina Marie lost as a direct result) out of his “signature” polka-dot dress. He presented it to the judges in the previous challenge and was met with fairly mixed reactions from judges Michael Kors and Nina Garcia, with only host Heidi Klum to defend him. (Oh, the foreshadowing.) The decision to keep the polka-dot dress on his muse model for presentation on the judging platform was only going to piss off Michael and Nina, which is exactly what it did.

Speaking of our judges... That judging session was ridiculous. Amazing, but ridiculous. I have never seen Michael or Nina be so dismissive and nasty before, and unfortunately Jessica Simpson (who was a good judge, I'll defend her forever) got caught in the crossfire a bit. "HELLO! Read a magazine!" Michael spat as an angry response to Jessica’s criticism of Gretchen’s collection. It was the first time fans of the show have faced a situation where they had to side with Heidi over the usual arbiters of good taste Michael and Nina.

But good for Heidi. That feels strange to say, but it’s true. Good. For. Heidi. She made a great case for Mondo to be declared the winner and was really going up against Michael and Nina alone (because while Jessica threw interjections here and there, she wasn't fighting mano-a-mano like Heidi), and she was making a far better argument than Michael and Nina were combined. "Trendiness" shouldn't be a criterion, but they decided to make it one. I just fundamentally don’t understand how they could say Mondo’s collection was more creative and interesting but give it to Gretchen because she’s more “on-trend”. I don’t understand it at all.

I think I get what Michael's deal was, though. It was that weird slap at Galliano that really made it clear to me: Gretchen is Michael Kors whereas Mondo is the couturiers of Europe like Galliano, Balenciaga, even a brand more American like Rodarte. He sees them as his "enemies" in the fashion world, rivals to be defeated. This was a way for him to make the point that what he does is best. “What I design I make! And women wear!” Again, Michael was practically spitting while he said this. I’ve never seen a reality show judge get so worked up before. This wasn’t about the competition in front of him. This was about him.

Nina was fighting for the Marie Claire woman, which has many different ramifications to it. Not only was she looking for someone to feature in her magazine, she wanted to keep the "ELLE" designer away. Mondo fits in ELLE, but Nina's history with that magazine is so bitter I'm sure she avoids taking any clients who fit that mold for spreads in Marie Claire.

It’s even more tragic that the judges dismissed Andy’s collection out of hand. Sure, it wasn’t a showstopper, but it was a solid collection deserving more than a quick elimination. It was certainly better than Gretchen’s collection, which, the more I look at it, the more I dislike it.

I will stand by this season, despite this incredibly out-of-character decision, as one of the best in PR history, probably third behind seasons one and three. (My full breakdown would be 1/3/8/5/2/4/7/6, in case you're wondering.) It was riveting television even if the fashion wasn't always tops. But you gotta admit, your jaw is still on the floor the morning after. It wasn’t the right result, but as far as good television is concerned, it was the best season in a long, long time. Here’s to hoping the talent can match the drama next season.

Oh, and this should be obvious at this point, but...

Shoulda Won: Mondo Guerra

Shoulda Been Out: Andy South, Gretchen Jones

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Preliminary Oscar Predictions I Will Pretend Never Happened In Three Months' Time

Welcome back to the show, folks. The name of the game is Oscar Predictions, and almost no one is good at playing it. Yet everyone tries to play and chances are you're watching intently. It's a little charade we love to play every year from October to February. Very few are good at it (Sasha Stone and Nathaniel Rogers are my personal favorites because they're in-depth and scary accurate, respectively), but really, anyone can play... Just get ready to get beat.

My first year on this blog, I didn't fare too badly at this game, getting a strong score for nomination predictions and only missing six winners. I actually did very well with nominations but utterly failing at predicting the winners. This year, I'm hoping to do better on the whole, taking fewer crazy risks and really listening to the buzz and the history.

This first round is based off of how I believe the trajectory will play out for the next few months. I preface these nomination predictions with a few disclaimers:

- If The Social Network cannot hold onto its buzz, it will hurt the film's overall performance, though not significantly.
- If Black Swan underwhelms, it will seriously hurt the film's performance in all categories other than Best Actress.
- Absolutely no one has seen Love and Other Drugs, The Fighter, or True Grit yet. I would say that the former could do a lot better than any of us are assuming, while the latter could do a lot worse than any of us are assuming. The Fighter, I think, we have pegged fairly well.

With those out of the way, let's get started with the screenplay categories. All picks are ranked by likelihood to be nominated, not to win.

Best Adapted Screenplay
(1) The Social Network
(2) Toy Story 3
(3) Rabbit Hole
(4) True Grit
(5) Winter's Bone

This is an interesting category, simply because with one exception (Rabbit Hole) the writers and genres of these are more known for their original work than their adapted work. Pixar is never known to adapt, but all sequels are automatically adapted works. I seriously thought Winter's Bone was original (and I gave it better odds of getting nominated there) because the oh-so-similar Frozen River was original. Joel and Ethan Coen are more well-known for their original works, but True Grit is actually an old Western they're remaking. Aaron Sorkin, who penned The Social Network, is almost purely an original screenwriter, and there are some circles that think this work is original as well. Sorkin, I pray, ignore them and submit into Adapted. You'll get nominated and win easily. I don't see a lot of room for movement here. I think this is one of the most secure sets--but then again, Adapted is usually my strongest category.

Best Original Screenplay
(1) The King's Speech
(2) The Kids Are All Right
(3) Inception
(4) The Fighter
(5) Black Swan

This is not the last time I'll mention Black Swan, a movie that has sent so many into hysteria and waves of praise but for some reason absolutely no one has any confidence in come Oscar time. Search me. I rank it low only because no one else has it ranked at all. Most have Mike Leigh's newest movie Another Year in that spot. Personally, I feel like the Academy has turned off of Leigh ever since Happy-Go-Lucky did so poorly, and I feel it's the type of movie that needed to be released in the summer to get good traction. But I might be greatly underestimating it. Otherwise, this category is pretty solid, with plenty of potential of being thrown into chaos.

Best Supporting Actor
(1) Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech
(2) Christian Bale, The Fighter
(3) Andrew Garfield, The Social Network
(4) Ed Harris, The Way Back
(5) Josh Brolin, True Grit

I'd say only the top two are considered locks here. I've heard rumblings that Bale won't be nominated because of his reputation, but it's a super-baity role in what looks like a slam-dunk of a movie and can be used to reward his phenomenal work over the past decade from American Psycho to The Dark Knight. Garfield has a shot of winning this category if he can beat out the internal competition of überfamous Justin Timberlake and supposed scene stealer (though I don't see it) Armie Hammer, but they might get bogged down in each other if voters can't recognize that Garfield's performance is the superior one. Harris' film might not even make an impact on awards season simply because of the weak-ass release date, but who knows? Regardless, Harris has huge momentum from never winning (think Jeff Bridges and Kate Winslet "It's their time" buzz), so he's probably the film's best shot. And Brolin has to contend with Damon for the True Grit nomination, but I would bet a good amount of money that the former nominee for Milk will win out. If you're wondering why Mark Ruffalo isn't on my list for The Kids Are All Right, let me just say that he is not being discussed nearly as much as his female costars (not even as much as on-screen son Josh Hutcherson!), and the Academy has already proven that they don't really like him that much. He's gotta start campaigning to get the nod.

Best Supporting Actress
(1) Helena Bonham-Carter, The King's Speech
(2) Melissa Leo, The Fighter
(3) Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom
(4) Amy Adams, The Fighter
(5) Dianne Wiest, Rabbit Hole

Bonham-Carter is a lock for a nomination, but I'd say her shot at winning is far, far lower. It all depends on who else gets in. Let me say first off that this is a weird, weird, WEIRD year for this category. Leo is obviously well-liked, getting a nomination for little-seen Frozen River two years ago (and, I'd suspect, almost winning that year), so she should get in. Adams is really well-loved by the Academy (what else could explain that nod for Doubt?), so she should get in no matter how good or bad the performance as long as the movie on the whole is favorably received. Weaver's performance is one of the best of the year in any category--the trick is getting nominated. Sony Classics is doing the right thing, sending out screeners first and trying to pull off another Leo-esque nomination (and hey, it worked last time), so I think this should work. Wiest is a pick I am completely lacking confidence in, but that might be because I'm lacking confidence in Rabbit Hole on the whole (almost a pun). She's easy to nominate, given her position in the industry, and I favor her over the other options (Miranda Richardson for Made in Dagenham, Rosamund Pike for either of her two films, Dagenham or Barney's Version, Sissy Spacek for Get Low), which all strike me as too obscure/British. Let me clarify that: I love British cinema. My number one and two for Best Picture last year were both British films. But they are unapproachable and a little cold at times, which is what I feel some of those performances divulge into. I will say this: if either Barbara Hershey or Mila Kunis can really get buzz going for Black Swan or any of the women can get singled out in For Colored Girls, Wiest's spot is theirs. But right now, there's a lot of internal competition going on in those two films.

Best Actress
(1) Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
(2) Natalie Portman, Black Swan
(3) Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone
(4) Lesley Manville, Another Year
(5) Sally Hawkins, Made in Dagenham

The top two are in. Done. Nothing can derail Bening and Portman at this point. They're set. Lawrence may not have Carey Mulligan-sized buzz around her, but she is very good in the role and already getting major recognition, so I bet she makes it in as well. Manville and Hawkins...I know, I know. I already contradicted myself by not putting Mike Leigh in the Screenplay category but putting them both in here. The fact is, Manville has super-sized buzz around her, though I fear her name may be a little too unknown this year (her competition includes Michelle Williams, Gwyneth Paltrow, Anne Hathaway, Nicole Kidman...) to make it in. And the Academy may just dislike Sally Hawkins. It's not unheard of. They hate the incredibly talented Peter Sarsgaard, after all. Honestly, I'm stopping myself from swapping Manville and Hawkins for Hathaway and Kidman as I write this, and I probably will soon enough, but hell, go with your gut, right? One thing: Julianne Moore cannot get nominated alongside Bening. It's just not gonna happen. There's only enough buzz to sustain one of them, and it's gonna be Bening. Plain and simple.

Best Actor
(1) Colin Firth, The King's Speech
(2) James Franco, 127 Hours
(3) Jeff Bridges, True Grit
(4) Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
(5) Mark Wahlberg, The Fighter

I find it fascinating that this year is destined to be almost exactly like last year. Franco has a lot of buzz around him, but I don't think he can win, simply because he's so young. Still, he should get nominated easily. Wahlberg is an obvious favorite of the Academy, getting nominated for The Departed five years ago over Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, and Alec Baldwin all for the same film. That's a big group of superstars to beat as handily as he did. But the real story is around the three real competitors: last year's winner (Bridges), last year's wronged second-placer (Firth), and a young star who anchors a likely Best Picture winner (Eisenberg, recalling Jeremy Renner for The Hurt Locker). Unlike last year, I think Firth will win because of his momentum, but to those who don't think Bridges can win two years in a row, two words: Tom Hanks. It's happened before, and it could happen again. But nominations for the pair are likely.

Best Director
(1) Christopher Nolan, Inception
(2) David Fincher, The Social Network
(3) Danny Boyle, 127 Hours
(4) Tom Hooper, The King's Speech
(5) David O'Russell, The Fighter

Speaking of former match-ups, we actually have a repeat of the Best Director showdown from two years ago: Fincher vs. Boyle, formerly up for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Slumdog Millionaire. Last time, Boyle had the edge, but I'd be surprised if either one wins this time. It's been posited several times by Sasha Stone at Awards Daily that there will be more Picture/Director splits now that Best Picture features ten nominees. I completely agree. I think that even if The Hurt Locker hadn't won Best Picture last year, Kathryn Bigelow would have won Best Director. And I'm not sure Fincher can do any better than second place this year. Nolan is so visionary and so uncompromising in his vision in Inception that it's hard to see another frontrunner. Sure, the direction of The Social Network is able, but it's mostly Aaron Sorkin's vision. Fincher doesn't seem to have that much impact. Hooper and O'Russell are here because I think there'll be great success for their films and they'll get coattail nominations.

Best Picture
(1) The King's Speech
(2) The Social Network
(3) 127 Hours
(4) The Fighter
(5) True Grit
(6) Inception
(7) Black Swan
(8) Toy Story 3
(9) The Kids Are All Right
(10) For Colored Girls

Starting from the bottom...

For Colored Girls isn't an Oscar film, really, but assume that there is now a Blind Side "spot" in the pool: a space for a heartwarming film that people can rally around as a pillar of good values. Wouldn't a racially diverse, adapted-from-an-award-winning-play film like this fill that spot quite well? Unless the reviews are vicious, I see this happening.

The Kids Are All Right is not a pick I'm super-confident about. But I think the buzz from the summer is good enough to grant a nomination.

Toy Story 3 will ride massive box office and golden reviews to a nomination.

Black Swan seems to be an absolutely phenomenal film, so forgive me if I can't understand others' resignation about granting this movie better positioning in their pools. I see it easily getting nominated in a field of ten.

Inception, like Toy Story 3, has the box office, reviews, and buzz to get nominated.

True Grit might be horrible, but I doubt it. I think it might be too similar to No Country for Old Men to win, though.

The Fighter may not be screened yet, but I think it looks golden for at least a nomination simply because it's so up the Academy's alley.

127 Hours is a triumphing story of the human spirit ZZZZZZZZ... Oh, sorry. It'll get nominated. Just forgive my absolute distaste for it sight unseen.

The Social Network would have to cause 10,000 seizures in China to not get nominated at this point.

The King's Speech isn't my prediction to win, but like The Social Network, it's ridiculous to think it won't get nominated.

Whew! That took a while! What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Little bit of both? Think I'm craycray? Take it to the comments!

It Gets Better

Today's a cool day for me, because it's the day I restart the Oscar Predictions portion of this site. I've been silently monitoring the race for a while (silent on the blog--my friends can tell you I haven't been silent at all) and now feel confident enough to start predicting what the nominees will look like come late January.

But first: I don't know how many of you have heard of the It Gets Better project, designed by columnist Dan Savage in the wake of the disturbing wave of suicides committed by gay teens these past few weeks. Plenty of both celebrities and real people straight, gay, and otherwise have filmed videos imparting messages of love and support to LGBT teens across the country struggling with their sexuality and constant bullying. (Tim Gunn's video, in particular, is incredibly affecting.)

The project is admirable and already being proven to be a source of great support for teens across the country. Though I do find it interesting that the country seems to have just realized now that gay teens have a hard time in their youth (trust me, that's been going on for a while now), the overall message is so profound that everyone should take note.

Check out the video project when you get a chance. It's a moving set of videos, definitely worth watching and even participating. And to anyone out there who might be struggling, just remember: it does get better.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Four is the New Three

Well, we have our final...four. Except the final part. Project Runway is playing like they can't count to three again, selecting four finalists to move onto preparing collections for Fashion Week. (Because hey, they might as well. They had to have all final ten prepare collections anyway as decoys.) The final elimination was, to be brutally frank, bullshit, and completely out of context with previous judging decisions. The final four is rather uninspiring, more focused on drama than design. It's been a season for the record books, but this finale is not shaping up to be a great one.

Episode Eleven: A Look in the Line
The challenge, to design three (originally one, then two more) looks for Heidi Klum's activewear line, wasn't the greatest challenge ever. But hey, at least three designers churned out interesting, innovative looks (winner Andy South, Mondo Guerra, and this week's eliminated designer), while the other three (Christopher, Gretchen, Michael C.) showed exactly how bland they really are.

Shoulda Won: Andy
Shoulda Gone Home: Michael C.

Episode Twelve: We're in a New York State of Mind
Blah. I did not like this episode. At all. It was full of crackpot judging decisions, was a complete and utter copout of choosing an actual final three (just like Season 5, as my theory about the correlation between seasons 5 and 8 grows even stronger). Michael Costello "won" (though there was no actual win awarded) for this tacky black gown that was over-inspired by the Statue of Liberty and had a slit that was borderline vulgar. But if the goal was to just eliminate one, I wouldn't have eliminated him. That honor goes to Miss Gretchen Jones, who is on par with Mychael Knight of Season 3, Kenley Collins of Season 5 (who is just as dramatic as Gretchen), and Christopher Straub of Season 6 for greatest designer burnouts: started off fantastic, grew increasingly awful over the course of the season. April Johnston was eliminated for having a point-of-view and a defined aesthetic, basically, which is utter crap. Mondo churned out yet another Mondo look, but probably deserved to win it. Oh, and Andy was there.

Shoulda Been the Final Three: Mondo, April, Andy
Shoulda Been Out: Gretchen (Michael C. if there were a second Out)

Next week's elimination will be really interesting. I doubt Gretchen gets eliminated, nor do I think we'll see Mondo go home. So it's down to Andy and Michael C. One is quiet and has a strong point-of-view. The other, weirdly enough, has been the judges' pet all season. It's sickening, but just as I predicted we wouldn't see April advance to the finals, I'm imagining Michael C. beating Andy into the finals as well.

It doesn't matter anyway. Mondo'll kick all their asses.

Mad Decisions

The following post will have spoilers of the final episode of this season of Mad Men. You have been warned. Though, really, if you're reading this, you should have watched it yet. It was so good.

Three years ago, the Mad Men finale involved a heartfelt monologue from Don Draper about family and how the Carousel projector from Kodak incorporated the idea of family. Most of the major action ("Mr. Campbell, who cares?") had taken place the previous episode, but it was a great episode emphasizing the family structure and set up the total tonal shift of the show to a focus on the women in season two.

The next year, the finale, set against the Cuban Missile Crisis, had an understandable air of chaos, but still made time for Don begging to get Betty back, Betty finding out she's pregnant and hooking up with a stranger in a bathroom, and Peggy delivering her legendary monologue to Pete about having his child. Lots of drama, not so much sentimentality.

Last year, Mad Men ended with its one and only purely fun hour, which felt like a reward to each and every one of it's fans. Great music, great character interactions, a great idea, great lines... One of the best episodes ever produced by this show. It left you wanting to see the next episode as soon as possible.

Last night, Mad Men took one of its characters to a place he should never have been, yet it made the ultimate sense that he was there. Don Draper became Roger Sterling last night. He officially became passé, ridiculous, an object of mockery from the women in the office. He made an impulsive and stupid decision with one woman, completely screwed over another, and made peace with the one who's been in his life all along.

I don't want to break down every element of the episode, but just for highlights:

-- Betty firing Carla was heartbreaking. Even though I've been a defender of Betty's despite her behavior this season, that was too much to handle. It was heinous. Don's anger was wholly and completely justified.

-- However, we then see Betty in a completely different light by episode's end. You see exactly how in love she is with Don and how not in love she is with Henry. You see how childish she still is. You see her rocking that incredibly fierce purple jacket. (Only I would notice that.) And you truly pity her because at the end of the day, she's not really at fault for how her life turned out. She's been screwed over by men (her father, Don, Henry) at every turn.

-- Don's been spiraling out of control all season, headed towards...something, but we could never figure out what. And then he impulsively proposed to his secretary (!) and screwed over a woman he's in an incredibly stable relationship with. In other words, he became Roger Sterling. And no one likes Roger Sterling anymore, so what's to be said for that?

-- GO PEGGY! What an amazing season for our girl. She got all her problems aired out in The Suitcase, got the recognition she needed, and proceeded to kick ass the rest of the season. Landing that account was a work of genius that proves that if Don is now the Roger Sterling, Peggy is the Don Draper. It felt so good to cheer for her, too.

-- The scene in the office with Joan and Peggy was honestly one of the best scenes in the show's history. From the first line ("What could possibly be on your mind?") to the shared laughter at the end was just beautifully acted, written, and one of the most empathetic scenes we've ever seen. But something to note: even when they're sympathizing with each other, Peggy still does not congratulate Joan on her new position. They may be closer than ever, but Peggy still sees herself as above Joan.

-- Dr. Faye Miller may be one of the best people to ever walk through the Mad Men world...so, naturally, she'd get treated like utter crap. That phone call was heartwrenching to watch, because honestly, she did absolutely nothing wrong. She was exactly the right woman...and Don would never be with her. How incredibly sad.

-- Roger's reaction to the news of Don's engagement is fascinating. He went from "Who the hell is that?" to "Congratulations!" so quickly, and I wondered why. Then I realized: he saw Don's engagement as a validation of what he did with Jane three years ago. He wanted to be proven right after all this time.

-- I wouldn't be surprised if we have a bigger time leap next year. The one thing Mad Men has never done with a major character is show their wedding. I don't see how this would be any different. We'll see them again either when Don and Megan are married or when their engagement is over. No other option.

That's a lot more analysis than I planned on writing, but I hadn't quite realized how much there was to ponder. Now I'm wondering about you guys' feelings. What did you think of the episode? Where do you think we're headed next year? Is next year the show's last? (My opinion: yes, sadly.) Take it all to the comments!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Mean Girls

One of the best Oscar bloggers on the web, Nathaniel Rogers of The Film Experience (who really deserves more credit than he gets... come on, recently published Gurus of Gold, do the right thing and include Nathaniel!), has a great series ongoing called "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" wherein he invites everyone to pick one shot of a given film (or miniseries, as was the case with Angels in America) and explain why it's the one best shot of that movie.

This next Wednesday's movie of choice is a personal favorite of mine, Mean Girls. It's interesting, though, because as much as the dialogue from Tina Fey's expert script is quoted, the movie isn't one you remember for its visuals. No doubt, it's a phenomenal movie with expert acting (that script wasn't easy to pull off and that cast made it iconic), but it's just not one of it anyone immediately says, "Hey, remember that one shot in Mean Girls...?"

That being said, I skimmed over the screenshots and tried to find an appropriate shot that not only captured the insanely fun spirit of the film but also encapsulated the plot really well.

"See, Gretch? I told you she's not mad at you!"

This shot, which is taken from the first three-way call attack scene, is just after Regina George's duplicity has been revealed to our heroine, Cady Heron. After referring to Gretchen Weiners' need for attention, Cady finds out Gretchen has heard she and Regina's entire conversation, and in this moment, we see the three principal characters more clearly defined than anywhere else.

Let's start with Regina, so perfectly played by Rachel McAdams. She looks completely self-satisfied in this shot, thrilled that her plan has worked to such perfection. Of course, she's done this before: after all, she's Regina George. But Cady is just such a plaything to Regina, so easily corruptible that she can't possibly resist messing with her. When it works so well, she's like a cat that's just trapped a mouse, and she can't keep the grin off her face.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, we have the consummate follower, Gretchen, portrayed by Lacey Chabert. She's seriously hurt by Cady's suggestion that she's desperate for attention, not even happy she went through with Regina's plan to catch her saying something nasty. That's what's so interesting about Gretchen: she's not actually a mean girl, she just desperately wants to be. But ultimately, stuff like this really hurts her.

And finally, we have Lindsay Lohan, the Better Years, playing Cady, who is still "Africa Cady" as opposed to "Plastic Cady". Her bracelet that Regina makes a crack about is still in full view here, emphasizing her roots and exactly how out of place she is in a situation like this. Cady's face is also extremely telling: she's not exactly hurt or betrayed, she's more like a scientist thrown off by a new observation. What's so fascinating about how Cady is written and portrayed is that she starts like another redheaded heroine, Easy A's Olive Penderghast (played by Emma Stone, cue requisite picture of Emma Stone).

Adorable.

She is at first observing the social phenomena, attempting to remove herself from it slightly. But unlike Olive, who (for the most part) always stays above the fray, Cady gets involved, being approached from all sides by an exciting new lifestyle (notice how she's in the middle of this shot, not on one of the sides--she's surrounded by the Plastic way of things) and she becomes unable to resist. They may be bitchy, yes, but for a high school girl looking to make a name for herself for the first time, they're the ultimate.

And there's my analysis! It was really interesting to see how little I was impacted by the film visually, with all my favorite moments being entirely based on the script. But I did my best--what do you guys think? Any comments? Disagree with my analysis? Hit the comments, but make sure to visit The Film Experience and take a look at the other Hit Me With Your Best Shot submissions next Wednesday (the 20th)!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Truly Fantastic Season

It's shocking how good Project Runway has been all season. Truly, it's a marvel. Two seasons of bad should have immediately led into a third strike, death knell kind of season. Instead, what we got was amazing drama, incredibly compelling characters, and at least two designers who are really, really good. Like, they have something to say in the industry type good.

This week is a big episode, as it looks to be loaded with drama, but in particular, is the last regular elimination episode before the finale. (The final episode before the finale is a double elimination.) Who will comprise the top five of this season? Let's recap the past two weeks.

Episode Nine: Race to the Finish
And when we talk about how good the episodes were this season, we'll conveniently forget this one. The most "Lifetime"-y of any of the episodes this season, it was 'make a pretty dress' plus 'make another pretty dress'. Kind of a jerkass move, and no one was going to perform under these circumstances. I couldn't really choose one winner, as Mondo's ready-to-wear look was the clear winner, but Andy's avant garde look was a clear knockout. So I would split the win. As for the loser, it was clearly Ivy's time to go home. But I will say, I never hated her less than her final few episodes. She went out with dignity. (Which appears to have disappeared again when she comes back for this week's episode.)

Shoulda Won: Mondo/Andy
Shoulda Gone Home: Ivy

Episode Ten: There's a Pattern Here
Also to be known in the future as the "Mondo" episode. Seriously, this was one of the most heartwrenching episodes of television on air this year. Not just reality television, not just cable television, but television on the whole. Mondo's completely organic confession of being HIV+ was beautiful. I can't tell you one moment I found calculated or manipulated. Not only that, but the judging, which has been spotty this season, was almost dead on. All four judges, including the strikingly beautiful (and brutal) Rachel Roy as the guest judge, had their best episodes in a long time. If anyone wants to know why Runway has a Peabody Award for Excellence in Television, look no further than "There's a Pattern Here". Classic.

Shoulda Won: Mondo
Shoulda Been Out: Valerie

So, who should be out this week? You could make a serious argument for Christopher, and I'm pretty sure that will happen, but I don't think he's the worst left in the bunch. Mondo, April, and Andy are clearly the three stars here, but there is absolutely no drama in that final three. Michael Costello will have to go home, because he's actually just as boring with no Gretchen. And let's be real: Gretchen, the Emilio Sosa/Althea Harper/Rami Kashou/Mychael Knight/Daniel Vosovic of this season, is getting to New York Fashion Week no matter what. I propose that Michael Costello will go home this or next week, and whichever week he doesn't go home, Christopher will. As far as who from the Dream Three I would cut in favor of Gretchen? Probably April, unfortunately. I love her aesthetic and most of her looks (she's actually just slightly above Mondo in my estimation), but I feel like the chances of either Mondo or Andy missing the final three is a long shot.

But hell, whatever happens, it'll still have been one amazing season.

Monday, October 4, 2010

State of the Cinema 2010, Part II: All About The Social Network

The last time I posted my State of the Cinema report, things looked grim. There were barely any awards-worthy movies released in the first seven months of the year as we headed into August. And now? Well, things are absolutely no different.

That's harsh, actually. There have been a couple of great movies that will never be nominated for Oscars: Easy A and Catfish, and there's been exactly one stellar, Oscar-worthy movie released in the past two months: The Social Network, Aaron Sorkin's masterpiece about Facebook. It's an early frontrunner for Best Picture, and one that conforms nicely to the mold set forward by other best pictures in recent years (Slumdog Millionaire and The Hurt Locker in particular shattered the expectation of a Best Picture).

I fully expect The Social Network to win Best Picture. I really do. I know there are other movies coming out this year that have a chance, The King's Speech, 127 Hours and The Fighter in particular. But this movie is such a home run that it seems difficult to consider any other possible outcome.

Sorkin's script is superb. Jesse Eisenberg's interpretation of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is extremely unlikable yet completely lovable, a wonderful contradiction. Andrew Garfield steals the show as wounded friend and co-founder Eduardo Saverin. He's emotionally complex and makes the entire audience ache for his struggle. The entire cast is brilliant (though I'm not quite as in love with Justin Timberlake's performance as Napster founder Sean Parker as others seem to be), and the direction is better than capable, too. David Fincher edited himself for this film, and it's a marked improvement after his last effort, the sluggish The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. It is truly the best film I've seen all year.

I see Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Adapted (Original? it's unclear) Screenplay wins for the film, with Fincher losing out to Inception's Christopher Nolan for Best Director. Eisenberg will likely be nominated for Best Actor, as well, but Colin Firth is probably a dead lock for The King's Speech at this point. His goodwill from last year's A Single Man will continue to steamroll to the Oscar podium this year.

If Best Original Screenplay doesn't include Network, then Inception is probably locked for that Oscar as well. In the female acting categories, Best Actress probably belongs to Black Swan's Natalie Portman, and Best Supporting Actress...is a gigantic question mark. No idea where that one is going. But hey, I've got solid ideas for seven out of the eight big categories! That's not bad! Then again, maybe the paucity of good films to make this more difficult is what is really bad.

At any rate, for The Social Network, I give it a straight-up A.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Runaway Runway

After a really promising start, with episodes 3 and 5 looking like classics, this season of Project Runway has started to veer off the rails again. Hopefully, tonight's episode turns things around, but let's take a look at exactly why these past few weeks just haven't made it work.

Episode 6: You Can Totally Wear That Again

The Michael Costello drama in this challenge just came off very produced and unappealing. I also think the win was bullshit. His repurposed bridesmaid's dress was poorly constructed, if somewhat editorial. Beats me why Mondo, who won the most votes from the public, didn't win. His styling was off, sure, but whose isn't every once in a while? Yes, some of these designers are expert stylists. Gretchen, in particular, is amazing at it. But this is a design competition, and looking at the design alone, Mondo was the clear winner. Oh, and Michael Drummond sent out a horrendous look that should've gotten him sent home. Peach's was just a hair worse in the judges' minds.

Shoulda Won: Mondo
Shoulda Been Out: Michael Drummond

Episode 7: What's Mine is Yours
A resortwear challenge where the designers had to work on each other's looks sounds like it'd be a lot of fun, but other than a little "Ivy throws Michael Drummond under the bus" drama, it all came off very stale and overdone. Not the greatest episode of this show ever. April won for a very sexy, almost lingerie-esque look, though Andy's was really the standout. Similarly, Casanova went home for something that wasn't even resortwear, whereas Ivy went home for something that was a heaping helping of dull. It was "sister-wives go to a resort" fashion, which isn't really fashion at all.

Shoulda Won: Andy
Shoulda Been Out: Ivy

Episode 8: A Rough Day on the Runway
Damn, what a messy episode. The designs that the contestants put out ranged from the boring to the contemptible, as though they didn't understand the challenge. Then again, according to Tim Gunn, maybe they didn't understand it: this clip is a pretty severe damnation of the Project Runway production team. It's difficult to even judge this episode considering how scatterbrained it all seemed, but two things: first, Ivy's look without the outerwear was the clear winner. However, the outerwear, as ill-conceived a twist as it is, did indeed apply, so Mondo's amazing purple houndstooth look was head-and-shoulders above the others. All the other looks were...meh. Second, those judges were bitchy. I guess all the tension around this challenge just led everyone to get a little pissy, but that runway criticism was just ugly. (One thing: Lifetime producers? Stop trying to play that the designers are going to kill each other. Although I must thank you for giving me my new favorite sound bite: "The workroom is a WAR ROOM!")

Shoulda Won: Mondo (with the twist, without it the winner would be Ivy)
Shoulda Been Out: Andy

What will happen in tonight's episode? I'd say we're looking at an elimination for either Valerie or Christopher, both of whom have been playing it entirely far too safe this season. Ivy and Michael Costello could both easily go home, though the former really brought her A-game last week and the latter is turning into the judges' pet this season. One thing's for sure: you can bet Gretchen won't be going home any time soon. She's not a perfect designer, but despite her personality defects, she's a pretty great one.

Rapid Reviews: Easy Catfish Town

Rapid Reviews time! Let's check in to see what movies deserved my quick judgment this week!


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Tim Gunn is Ashamed of Your Runway Performance

If you missed last week's episode of Project Runway, you missed what was easily the most-entertaining episode of a a series many have written off as yesterday's news in a long, long time.

Haven't been watching this season? For shame! Get yourself over to MyLifetime.com and catch yourself up. The challenges this season have been great, from the initial "make a garment out of another contestant's garment" challenge to the unconventional materials "party dress" challenge to last week's 6 vs. 6 mega-team challenge that inspired some of the best drama I've seen on television in years.

Luckily, all this seems to be paying off, as Lifetime is recording major ratings for the show, inspiring many to call it a return to the show's watercooler days of the first few seasons. Have you not been watching? Well then, let's catch you up.

Episode 1: And Sew It Begins
Corny pun episode titles! How I missed you. The season premiere's challenge was to pick one garment out of your suitcase, trade that with another designer, then use their garment to create a brand new garment. This isn't completely original, as they've had "use the clothes off your back" challenges before, but forcing them to trade was a nice twist. However, the designs were trash. None of them were too impressive, and yet the judges chose to only eliminate one designer, despite their power that week to eliminate multiple. Gretchen (who also answers to "That Bitch") won the challenge with a dress that wasn't anything special but then again, it was probably the best on the runway. McKell was sent home (completely undeservingly, honestly), and train wrecks like Casanova and Jason stayed for, you guessed it, their personalities. Love reality TV.

Shoulda Won: Gretchen
Shoulda Been Out: Casanova and Jason (an argument could be made for Ivy, too)

Episode 2: Larger Than Life
Also known as the moment everyone on this planet turned against Gretchen. In a Project Runway first, the designer who won the first challenge also won the second challenge, as Gretchen took this win for her jumpsuit (gag). The challenge was to create a look for the Marie Claire woman (Marie Claire, of course, referring to the sponsor publication of Project Runway) that would be featured on a billboard in Times Square in New York City. Personally, my win would have gone to either Mondo, who channelled Mary Tyler Moore in his look, or Valerie, though her exquisite look probably wouldn't have translated to a billboard. However, Gretchen won it again, somewhat undeservingly, and Jason, very deservingly went home. Nicholas also went home, which I would discuss more if I could remember who he was. I can't. Whoops.

Shoulda Won: Mondo
Shoulda Been Out: Jason

Episode 3: It's a Party
THANK YOU FOR SHOPPING AT PARTY GLITTERS! Tim Gunn prefers wooly balls! What a fun challenge, to make garments out of party favors, a challenge that seemed like a repeat but really wasn't. The challenge had a great spirit, which is unusual these days on Lifetime, and the drama was, of course, amped up. Gretchen appeared to be headed for yet another win, which, of course, would have been boring, only to have Andy earn the win for his absolutely fantastic black dress made out of ribbon that did not at all look made out of ribbon. As judge Michael Kors pointed out, it looked like a dress Rihanna or host Heidi Klum would wear. He rightfully won, though Michael Costello, soon to become a loathed contestant by the other cast members, produced a great red dress that went unnoticed. Casanova, however, produced an absolute train wreck that not even a drag queen would have loved. And that's saying a lot. However, he's a character, so he was saved again in favor of Sarah, a good designer having an off week.

Shoulda Won: Andy
Shoulda Been Out: Casanova

Episode 4: Hats Off to You
Fun hats + not fun garments + the wrong winner - much drama = a snoozer of an episode. Michael Drummond should have taken the win, but Michael Costello won it for a horribly weak entry. And Kristin went home for not being able to translate an orchid hat into a good dress. Not my favorite episode of the season.

Shoulda Won: Michael Drummond
Shoulda Been Out: Kristin

Episode 5: There IS An "I" in Team
This episode will be remembered as a masterpiece of reality television that hearkened back to this show's glory days. Stuck in a mega-team challenge, six versus six, Gretchen had a meltdown on the runway, one team all dogpiled on Michael Costello as being talentless (though he had immunity and couldn't be eliminated), and the underdogs won, with the underdoggiest of all, Casanova, taking home a completely deserving win. (And I would've eliminated him twice already! So surprising, and in a great way.) The key moment, however, was after A.J.'s undeserving elimination (sure, his garment was bad, but not worse than Ivy's), Tim Gunn scolded the losing team for their behavior on the runway and all but called Gretchen a bitch. To her face. It was a brilliant moment, and reminded the audience exactly why Tim Gunn is so beloved. He is the star of this show, and we should all be honored to get the chance to see him week after week. You think I'm kidding? Go watch that wooly balls segment again. Or the smackdown. Seriously, they're both on YouTube, and they're masterpiece moments.

Shoulda Won: Casanova
Shoulda Been Out: Ivy (but Gretchen made a good case for herself with that meltdown on the runway)

I haven't watched episode six yet, but it sounds like it was another deliciously dramatic episode featuring the bitch twins Ivy and Gretchen. If you haven't been watching, guys, seriously, catch up. Project Runway has transformed itself yet again into the best show on television. And that includes a great season of Top Chef and a brilliant one of Mad Men. It's just that good.