Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My predictions for the 2012 Academy Award Nominations


BEST PICTURE
THE ARTIST
THE DESCENDANTS
THE HELP
HUGO
MIDNIGHT IN PARIS
MONEYBALL
THE TREE OF LIFE
WAR HORSE

BEST ACTOR
George Clooney, THE DESCENDANTS
Jean Dujardin, THE ARTIST
Michael Fassbender, SHAME
Gary Oldman, TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY
Brad Pitt, MONEYBALL

BEST ACTRESS
Viola Davis, THE HELP
Kirsten Dunst, MELANCHOLIA
Meryl Streep, THE IRON LADY
Tilda Swinton, WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN
Michelle Williams, MY WEEK WITH MARILYN

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Albert Brooks, DRIVE
Nick Nolte, WARRIOR
Brad Pitt, THE TREE OF LIFE
Christopher Plummer, BEGINNERS
Max Von Sydow, EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Jessica Chastain, THE HELP
Melissa McCarthy, BRIDESMAIDS
Carey Mulligan, SHAME
Octavia Spencer, THE HELP
Shailene Woodley, THE DESCENDANTS

BEST DIRECTOR
Woody Allen, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS
Michel Hazanavicius, THE ARTIST
Terrence Malick, THE TREE OF LIFE
Alexander Payne, THE DESCENDANTS
Martin Scorsese, HUGO

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Michel Hazanavicius, THE ARTIST
Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, BRIDESMAIDS
Woody Allen, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS
Terrence Malick, THE TREE OF LIFE
Tom McCarthy and Joe Tiboni, WIN WIN

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, THE DESCENDANTS
Tate Taylor, THE HELP
Aaron Sorkin, Steven Zaillian and Stan Chervin, MONEYBALL
Lee Hall and Richard Curtis, WAR HORSE
Lynne Ramsay and Rory Kinnear, WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
THE ARTIST, Guillaume Schiffman
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, Jeff Cronenweth
HUGO, Robert Richardson
THE TREE OF LIFE, Emmanuel Lubezki
WAR HORSE, Janusz Kaminski

BEST ART DIRECTION
ANONYMOUS, Sebastian T. Krawinkel
THE ARTIST, Lawrence Bennett
HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART 2, Stuart Craig
HUGO, Dante Ferretti
TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY, Maria Djurkovic

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
ANONYMOUS, Lisy Christl
THE ARTIST, Mark Bridges
IMMORTALS, Eiko Ishioka
JANE EYRE, Michael O'Connor
MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, Sonia Grande

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
THE ARTIST, Ludovic Bource
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART 2, Alexandre Desplat
HUGO, Howard Shore
WAR HORSE, John Williams

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
"The Living Proof" from THE HELP
"Coeur Volant" from HUGO
"Pictures in My Head" from THE MUPPETS

BEST EDITING
THE ARTIST, Anne-Sophie Bion and Michel Hazanavicius
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall
HUGO, Thelma Schoonmaker
MONEYBALL, Christopher Tellefsen
WAR HORSE, Michael Kahn

BEST SOUND MIXING
HUGO
SUPER 8
TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON
THE TREE OF LIFE
WAR HORSE

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART 2
HUGO
RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON
THE TREE OF LIFE

BEST SOUND EDITING (EFFECTS)
HUGO
RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
SUPER 8
TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON
WAR HORSE

BEST MAKEUP
HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART 2
J. EDGAR
PIRATES OF THE CARRIBBEAN: ON STRANGER GROUNDS

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK
BUCK
PARADISE LOST 3: PURGATORY
PROJECT NIM
WE WERE HERE

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT
GOD IS THE BIGGER ELVIS
IN TAHIR SQUARE: 18 DAYS OF EGYPT'S UNFINISHED REVOLUTION
INCIDENT IN NEW BAGHDAD
PIPE DREAMS
THE TSUNAMI AND THE CHERRY BLOSSOM

BEST ANIMATED SHORT
THE FANTASTIC FLYING BOOKS OF MR. MORRIS LESSMORE
I TAWT I TAW A PUDDY TAT
LA LUNA
SPECKY FOUR EYES
WILD LIFE

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
FOOTNOTE (Israel)
IN DARKNESS (Poland)
ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA (Turkey)
PINA (Germany)
A SEPARATION (Iran)

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN
KUNG FU PANDA 2
RANGO
RIO
WINNIE THE POOH

Monday, December 5, 2011

Review: HUGO


I was disappointed with Martin Scorsese's HUGO. I was ready to love it, too. I don't know why so many are saying this is the director's most personal film, just because half of it deals with the title character's last-minute love of movies. Scorsese's A PERSONAL JOURNEY THROUGH CINEMA already did that (meanwhile, MEAN STREETS and THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST are also infinitely more personal, for more complex reasons). I'm baffled, too, because HUGO bears few hallmarks of a Scorsese movie; Thelma Schoonmaker's editing seems flabby and the mere presence of kind, well-balanced children makes it a strange entry into Scorsese's ouvre (the only kids I can remember in previous Scorsese movies are the mouthy Alfred Lutter and Jodie Foster in ALICE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE, Foster's teen whore in TAXI DRIVER, the minature gangster wannabe Henry Hill in GOODFELLAS, and the very young, nude Howard Hughes in THE AVIATOR's first scene). Plus, Scorsese's postcardy 1925-era Paris feels more like Dickensian England. (Scorsese's connection to Paris is tenuous. Everyone in the film has a British accent. Are French accents too much at ask for? Oh, yeah, this is the company that changed the film's name three times, from the book's title THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET, to HUGO CABRET, to the Franco-scrubbed HUGO; the studio would prefer, obviously, to downplay the French thing). Some are saying that this is Scorsese's try at a Spielbergian statement, but it feels more like lazy late-80s Chris Columbus. (If Scorsese's name weren't connected to this film, would it seriously be given as much leeway as it has with critics and movie fans? At press time, the audience has spoken and this $170 million film is a resounding box-office dud.)


The first hour of HUGO is pure set-up and 3D tricks, with the orphaned title character winding his way through the innards of the Gare Montparnasse, the Paris train station he calls home (he lives inside of, and runs, the station's huge, many-cogged clock). Hugo, as a character, never really gets under our skin because he's written so thinly by screenwriter John Logan (who doesn't skimp with the plotholes, either); Hugo has two unpleasant settings: harried and hurt. Asa Butterfield, the actor playing Hugo, doesn't help matters: his palpable lack of facial expressions eventually became somewhat disturbing to me (he does have big, blue, blank-staring eyes, though I never had any idea what they were saying). The one scene between he and Jude Law as his father wasn't enough for me to sense any sort of demonstrated connection between the two characters, and certainly not enough for motivation to drive this story (Law is dispatched early, with only five or six lines, mostly about the admittedly nifty wind-up robot that plays a central role in the tale; by the way, Hugo's mother is never mentioned). Sasha Baron Cohen, as a constantly frustrated train station gendarme who's after the thieving Hugo, plays the sort of now-cliched Frenchman that Peter Sellers had a much better time with in the 60s and 70s. He's totally wasted here, and doesn't even get to do a reDACulous Far-ench accent.


In HUGO's busy-work first half, there're a lot of essentially boring scenes strung together with dizzying camera/computer tricks, gorgeous art direction (by Dante Ferretti, who can polish up his Oscar speech now), and never-exciting chases. After all of the set up with the father dying and Hugo's adoption by a drunken uncle (Ray Winstone), we're then never given any hint of Hugo's real relationship with his clockwork-training uncle because, like Law, he disappears from the film so quickly. Hugo's love interest, played by a usually-reliable but here struggling Chloe Moretz, injects a little life into the movie, but their flirtations eventually fizzle out mightily (I was left at the film's end wondering how Hugo felt about his instantly-changed relationship with Moretz, which I imagined was met with resounding crash). About an hour into the film, Scorsese's main point--that silent films are awesome--comes into play as a sidebar when the cantankerous toy shop owner that torments Hugo (Ben Kingsley) turns out to be film pioneer George Melies.


HUGO perks up for a while with this diversion from Hugo's own story, mainly because Melies had a fascinating rise and decline, to which Scorsese's film is faithful. But, you know, though it would have been a harder sell to the studios, I would have preferred Scorsese tackling a whole movie about Melies' life; as it stands, this film history lesson/plea for film restoration seems shoehorned into this rather somber kid's film, and effectively works as a sort of bait-and-switch for the audience. Kingsley's performance is not particularly memorable, but I do love the remarkably colorful Meiles' shooting set recreations--in fact, everything in HUGO that deals with film history is fun (it was a welcome relief, actually, to see all the silent movie clips here--everything from the Lumiere's WORKERS LEAVING A FACTORY to Harold Lloyd's SAFETY LAST, but no NOSFERATU or SUNRISE; also, it's interesting to eventually see the flat Melies images transformed into 3D). However, this section of the movie shoves Hugo way into the background of his own story. By the time we come back to his world, we hardly care what happens to him, and you can sense Hugo's an afterthought for the filmmakers as well. In the end, the most interesting character here is the taciturn automaton (another Ferretti creation) that drives the film's plot. The device's enigmatic face is the film's single lasting image, which is pretty sad to say, considering HUGO obviously wants to move us to tears.


Look, I adore Melies as a filmmaker, and I'm glad that HUGO tries to educate kids about the charms of silent cinema by his inclusion here. But, honestly, that's no reason for me to love this movie (by the way, the kids sitting in front of me at the theater spent the first hour distractedly trying to grab at the 3D snow and steam and once the Melies story commenced, they began seriously squirming in their seats). I will handily admit HUGO's steampunky rust is beautiful to look at (forget the 3D, though; it's impressive, but unnecessary). But all the way through, I kept wishing Scorsese's film had the overpowering emotion of, say, Carroll Ballard's THE BLACK STALLION, another visually striking film about an isolated boy who, instead, happens to be funny, clever, talented and easy to care for. THE BLACK STALLION does everything HUGO wants to do; it conjures up REAL magic while restoring the lovable main character's self-confidence and connection to a charismatic father. But, instead, HUGO is nearly in toto a humorless, charmless affair. Though it's constantly searching, it fails to find its heart. It's a broken machine.

FINAL NOTE: In case you loved HUGO and want to call me an unfeeling curmudgeon, you should know that I went to see THE MUPPETS right afterwards. I forgave that movie for its faults, because the Muppets themselves--as always--captivated me. Lotsa laughs in THE MUPPETS (but maybe too much focus on the human characters and only one good song; Paul Williams was apparently unavailable) . But, for sure, it was much more fun than HUGO.

Friday, December 2, 2011

NYFF Review #12: ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA


As ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA begins, we witness three police cars burning up a lonely, storm-swept road which curves through the Turkish contryside. The worn-out lawmen in these vehicles entertain themselves with Tarantino-esque talk about the merits of varied yogurts, while one chastened, paralyzed suspect sits in the backseat (there's another suspect too, but he remains largely unseen). Military, police and felons--all are in the midst of a seemingly impossible search for the burial spot marking an unnamed victim. But the suspects each contend they were each drunk at the time of their supposed crime, and thus cannot remember where they buried the body, or if they even committed the misdeed.


Who is this victim? And what is the nature of this crime? Director and co-writer Nuri Bilge Ceylan slyly keeps this information from us for quite a time (the film is nearly 3 hours long, but it speeds by). And so begins this haunting, mysterious examination of the evil that lies in wait in the heart of all men, good or not. Riding along with the police is a troubled doctor assigned to the autopsy (an intense Muhammet Uzuner), as well as a grandstanding police inspector, played by a charismatic Taner Birsel. The movie's first two-thirds are enervated by a supremely frustrated, book-following commissar (Yilmaz Erdogan). Some of these characters struggle mightily with the small crimes in their pasts as they each attempt to wind their way through this maddening case.


In telling this riveting story, Ceylan treats us to a unique blend of film noir, gallows humor (this is a surprisingly funny film), and existential dread (the title comes poetically from a scene where a policeman tries to comfort the increasingly anxious doctor). This was the first film that I saw at the New York Film festival this fall; I saw this beautifully Cinemascoped movie at 10 a.m. one October morning, and I though "My God, if all these movies are this great, I'm in for quite a time here."


As it eventually stood, ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA remained my favorite of all the many movies I saw at this year's New York Film Festival. I learned later that it's Turkey's official entry into the Oscar race, and I think it deserves to win. It's a wonder, pure and simple. Photographed in a stunning digital widescreen by Gökhan Tiryaki, this recipient of the Grand Jury Prize at 2011's Cannes Film Festival (where Ceylan has previously garnered top awards for his past films THREE MONKEYS, CLIMATES, and DISTANT) sports a plethora of unforgettable images: the burnished yellow glare of headlights trying to shed light on the truth; a head-on examination of the scarred, downtrodden main suspect (Firat Tanis); the careful, lantern-lit steps of a brown-eyed nymph, looking like some sort of ethereal ghost as she carries a tea-tray through a leisurely stop in a small country berg; an accused killer lost deep in the thought of what he might've done; a vigilant dog growling at the police while standing its ground; the prosecutor, smiling triumphantly at his movie-star-like status while being compared to Clark Gable (to me, he looks more like Gregory Peck); and, most memorably, an incredible sequence involving an errant apple shaken loose from a tree by a policeman, and then coming to rest down a stream, where it joins a batch of rotting fellows.


By the film's unspeakably sobering final third (the movie doesn't end where we think it should), Ceylan turns his camera upon the accusers, who all begin to realize they've committed their own maybe minor, but nonetheless punishable offences. The doctor gets a spit right in the face and he takes it in stride, as if it were his due. This moment literally put me in shock and few movies do this. This film is my introduction to Ceylan, but for me he is instantly an intelligent observer of things both big and small. ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA saddened and stunned me, and caught me off-guard perhaps more than any movie has this year. It deserves to be seen by all and, likewise, Ceylan deserves to be regarded as a world-class filmmaker.