A Serious Man is the latest film from Joel and Ethan Coen, and it’s an oddball comedy in the vein of Burn After Reading (read my review here) and The Big Lebowski, rather than a dark thriller like No Country for Old Men. Set in 1967 Minneapolis, it follows Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), a Jewish physics professor on the verge of getting tenure, as his life begins to fall apart. His wife is leaving him for one of his friends, his children don’t respect him, his down-on-his-luck older brother is overstaying his welcome on his couch, one of his students is trying to bribe him for a better grade, and the university is receiving anonymous letters besmirching his character. The comedy in A Serious Man comes from watching the Coens pile more and more indignities on Larry and seeing just how far he can bend before he finally breaks. The title is a reference to Larry’s ultimate goal: to be taken seriously.
A Serious Man is steeped in Jewishness in a way that sort of works to its detriment, at least in my opinion. There’s lots of funny stuff in here, but I could never escape the feeling that I was an outsider looking in; some of the cultural references seem so inside-y, and the Coens are so uninterested in explaining them (which actually makes it funnier), that as much as I can appreciate the absurd humor in, say, the scenes where Larry speaks to rabbis (there’s a running gag about them being hard get in to see; I guess rabbis are difficult to get appointments with?), I couldn’t shake the feeling that there were jokes flying around that were sailing over my head. It’s not necessarily a bad thing – I still laughed a lot during A Serious Man, and the Coens’ flair for capturing life’s little absurdities remains as strong as ever – but it felt like there was an invisible barrier around the film preventing me from fully embracing it. It made me feel like a tourist.
That’s not to say that A Serious Man isn’t funny, because it is. It’s very funny. There’s lots of great stuff in here, from the pot-smoking, foul-mouthed kids at Larry’s son’s school to Larry’s bizarre encounter with his female neighbor to the aforementioned rabbi scenes, and, as usual, the Coens never go for the obvious joke, letting the comedy come from the tone and the performances rather than traditional “gags.”
Michael Stuhlbarg in the lead is really excellent, especially for an actor I’d never previously heard of. He’s funny and relatable, and manages to make Larry a pushover without rendering him unlikeable. As much as Larry lets people in the movie walk all over him, I never stopped rooting for him, and much of that is due to Stuhlbarg’s performance.
As much as A Serious Man is a comedy, the Coens bring their flair for tension to the film in strange ways. They pile things onto Larry as the film builds, creating a weird sort of suspense as the viewer waits to see if Larry will finally (and deservedly) blow his top. There’s at least a half-dozen scenes in the movie where I, in Larry’s place, would have started flipping over tables and punching people in the face. By setting the film in 1960s Minnesota, and making just about all the characters practicing Jews, the Coens play with ideas of repression and tradition and social codes (something they always seem to have fun with) even more than usual.
There’s a streak of misanthropy in the Coens’ movies, especially their later ones (it’s one of the reasons I enjoy their films so much), and it’s one of the things I liked the most about A Serious Man. As much as some of the content of the film felt like it was flying over my head or was weird for just the sake of being weird, there’s also a sense that they think this stuff is funny, and don’t really care if the viewer agrees, and I love that. There’s no better example of this than the film’s ending, which I won’t spoil other than to say it’s basically the point at which most “normal” movies would start, and it’s also one of the most arresting final images I’ve seen in a film since Park Chan-wook’s similarly consciously weird vampire movie, Thirst (read my review here). A Serious Man is a weird little comedy that, as much as it made me feel like an outsider at times, is still an enjoyable entry in the filmography of some of the most ridiculously talented and prolific filmmakers of their era.
As usual with the Coens, there isn’t exactly a wealth of extras on the DVD for A Serious Man. There’s a pair of featurettes on the making of the movie, both of which are pretty standard affairs (one, called ‘Becoming Serious,’ is a standard making-of EPK piece, and the other, ‘Creating 1967,’ focuses on recreating period details in the film), and both are constructed around the same interview with the Coens, and also feature interviews with the cast and other crew. Neither featurette is mind-blowing or particularly insightful, but the Coens are interesting guys, so any glimpse into their process, for a movie geek like me, is sort of cool.
There’s also ‘Hebrew and Yiddish for Goys,’ a funny little item that translates the Yiddish and Hebrew terms thrown around in the film by the characters. It’s quite cleverly edited, and despite its lack of substance, it’s more in keeping with the vibe of the film than the somewhat bland other extras.
Captain America casting talkI’ve covered the development of the new Spider-Man movie here recently, and touched on the Thor movie due next summer from Marvel. But there’s another huge superhero movie coming from Marvel in summer 2011, and that’s The First Avenger: Captain America. The movie starts preproduction March 1 in London, and director Joe Johnston has said he wanted to have his lead in place by then. Given that it’s late February, there’s been a surge in casting news, with a leaked list of the final candidates Marvel’s looking at to play the Star-Spangled Avenger. It’s . . . weird.
The most well-known name on the list (Marvel and Johnston apparently are looking for a lesser-known lead to surround with more recognizable faces in supporting roles, similar to Thor) is probably John Krasinski of The Office. Also on the list is Chace Crawford from Gossip Girl, Garrett Hedlund from the upcoming Tron Legacy, Scott Porter from Friday Night Lights, Mike Vogel from Cloverfield, Patrick Flueger from Brothers and Michael Cassidy from TV’s Privileged.
For whatever my opinion is worth, most of these choices seem bland (a big chunk of these actors are on shows I don't watch, like Gossip Girl and Friday Night Lights, so I can’t judge them on much beyond their looks, and I didn’t even know there was a show called Privileged), and one is downright bizarre (Jim from The Office as Cap? WTF?). Now, I really like Krasinski; I’m a fan of The Office and I loved his work in the wonderful Away We Go, but he simply doesn’t have the dramatic heft and seriousness needed to play Captain America, the quintessential leader of men. There are other roles in Marvel’s movie universe I think Krasinski would work quite well in (he would make a great Dr. Henry Pym in The Avengers, a brilliant but troubled scientist who creates a serum that allows him to grow into the Godzilla-sized Giant Man), but I just can’t see him as Captain America. Who knows, the comic community lost its collective mind when Tim Burton cast Michael Keaton as Batman in the late ‘80s, and he’s still, for my money, the best Batman we’ve had in the movies, so if Krasinski does indeed get the nod to wear Cap’s red, white and blue tights, maybe he’ll prove everyone wrong like Keaton did in 1989.
The Captain America movie will apparently be mostly a period piece set during the Second World War (which I’m personally not a fan of, but I get the importance of that era to establish the character). I recently saw Johnston’s update of The Wolfman, and it’s a fun, violent monster movie, the kind they don’t make anymore. Johnston’s a very talented filmmaker, and I look forward to seeing what he does with a character like Captain America, and what that film will mean to Marvel’s movie universe.
Mongol sequel, The Secret of Kells trailerSome good news coming out of the European Film Market in Berlin is that Russian director Sergei Bodrov is planning to shoot the second film in his planned biopic trilogy about ancient conqueror Genghis Khan next year. The film, appropriately titled Genghis Khan, is the sequel to 2007’s Mongol, which I enjoyed so much I picked it as one of my favorite movies of 2008 (which is when I finally got to see it; I liked it so much I bent my own rules to include it), which tells the story of the legendary figure’s early days, ending with him assuming the name Genghis Khan. It’s an excellent historical epic, and I’m really happy that Bodrov is moving ahead with his trilogy. It’s not yet clear if star Tadanobu Asano will return to play Khan (I certainly hope he will; he’s the best part of Mongol), but the Japanese actor is in pretty high demand, so scheduling could be an issue. I hope the movie gods smile on Bodrov and he gets his leading man back for the sequel, as well as the planned third film.
A trailer popped up this week for a film that’s intrigued me since the Oscar nominations were announced recently, and that’s The Secret of Kells. The film, which it seems hardly anyone had previously heard of, was a surprise nominee for best animated feature, so naturally, as a fan of animation, I was curious to learn more about the movie. Now that I’ve seen the trailer, I must say I’m even more interested in checking it out. I love the old-school 2D animation, the stylized look (it reminds me a lot of the excellent Samurai Jack), and the Viking-related story. The Secret of Kells is now on my list of Movies I Need to See.
DVD Pick: Black DynamiteThis week, one of my favorite movies of last year, and the funniest comedy I’ve seen since Anchorman came out on DVD and Blu-ray. That movie is Black Dynamite, a brilliant spoof of ‘70s blaxploitation films, starring Michael Jai White as the title character, a kung fu-fighting former CIA agent out to avenge his little brother’s death at the hands of mob drug dealers, eventually cracking a huge conspiracy involving tainted malt liquor and climaxing in a final confrontation so awesome and hilarious that I can’t even tell you who he fights at the end, lest I spoil one of the funniest jokes in the entire movie.
Now, I should tell you that an appreciation for blaxploitation movies is not a prerequisite for enjoying Black Dynamite. I’m pretty unfamiliar with the genre myself, my experience limited to seeing Shaft when I was a teenager, and catching bits of Dolemite when I was in university; the bulk of my knowledge about blaxploitation comes from Keenan Ivory Wayans’ 1988 spoof of the genre, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (which this movie trumps in every way imaginable). Black Dynamite is just a hilarious movie that anyone who’s spent any time laughing at poorly-made genre movies (horror, action, sci-fi, etc.) can appreciate. Whether it’s boom microphones in the shot or a bad supporting “actor” who reads his stage directions in addition to his lines or poorly edited car chases, Black Dynamite is a wonderful satire of bad movies made by enthusiastic people.
Michael Jai White, who’s been toiling away in small roles in big movies (The Dark Knight, that awesome deleted scene in Kill Bill Vol. 2) or big roles in small movies (replacing Ving Rhames in the low-budget sequel Undisputed 2, which is actually a fun little martial arts flick), usually plays intense, scary dudes, and it was a revelation to see how funny he is. (He came up with the idea for the character when James Brown’s ‘Superbad’ came on his iPod while he was filming Undisputed 2.) He wrote a screenplay with director Scott Sanders and co-star Byron Minns based on a fake trailer they threw together, and the indie comedy was eventually bought by Sony. It saw a limited theatrical release, but home video is where great little comedies like this find their audiences, and I suspect Black Dynamite will find a cult following pretty fast. It’s a hilarious satire of low-budget genre movies filled with wonderfully authentic and hysterical music (my favorite sequence in the entire movie is probably the ‘Cleaning Up The Streets’ montage; Black Dynamite has the funniest montages since Team America) that any movie buff will be able to appreciate. I’ve watched Black Dynamite probably a dozen times now, and it still hasn’t gotten old. If you only watch one movie this year based on my recommendation, make that movie Black Dynamite.
I’ll get two things out of the way right off the bat: (1) Bronson has nothing to do with the late screen icon Charles Bronson; (2) Bronson is a flat-out incredible movie. It’s certainly not to everyone’s taste, but for its entire running time I was totally buying what director/co-writer Nicolas Winding Refn and star Tom Hardy were selling. Bronson is a biopic about Michael Peterson, a man who proudly claims to be Britain’s most violent prisoner. He was arrested in 1974 for robbery, and has spent most of the time since then in prison, and most of that time’s been spent in solitary. (According to the film, he adopted the “fighting name” Charles Bronson during a brief period on the outside when he took up underground bare-knuckle fighting to get his violence fix.)
The centerpiece of Bronson is Tom Hardy. His performance makes me want to drag out clichés like “electrifying” and “riveting,” because he is all of those things. This is one of the most jaw-dropping performances I’ve seen in a long time; the entire film rests on Hardy’s broad shoulders – he’s in every scene – and he carries it with the aplomb of a genuine star. (He’s apparently been tapped to take over for Mel Gibson in George Miller’s long-planned fourth Mad Max movie, and after watching Bronson I can tell you that the iconic character is in excellent hands.) Bronson is, without a doubt, a sociopath, and Hardy makes him simultaneously charming, hilarious and terrifying. He spends a chunks of the movie addressing the camera directly in his prison garb, or delivering monologues while clad in a tuxedo to what appears to be a high-class theater audience (Refn’s primary theme for his biopic has to do with Bronson as an artist/performer – more on that later), and it’s in these scenes that Hardy really draws the audience in with his – and Bronson’s – charisma. I know nothing of the real Charles Bronson, but Hardy’s work in the monologue sequences really helped me understand how this strange, violent man whose “calling” is that he fights cops and prison guards by the handful and has spent more than three decades in prison has become an underground cult hero in Britain.
The other star of the movie is Refn. The Danish director made a splash with cult audiences on these shores with his acclaimed trio of crime films known as the Pusher Trilogy (1996, 2004, 2005). I haven’t seen them myself – they’ve been on my mental list of Movies I Really Need to Get Around to Seeing Someday since I heard about them – and after watching Bronson, I’ve definitely got to check them out now. Refn is an amazingly talented filmmaker, and as stylized as Bronson is, it never felt showy for the sake of being showy.
The music in Bronson was one of my favorite things about the movie, and it’s split about 50/50 between classical music and synth-heavy 1980s pop (which is when much of the film takes place, or at least I think so – Refn makes a point of leaving the chronology vague), and the use of The Pet Shop Boys’ ‘It’s A Sin’ is particularly wonderful. Refn uses the music primarily during the fight scenes, and both the grand, sweeping classical music and the ‘80s synth-pop provide wonderful juxtapositions to the brutal violence onscreen.
In Refn’s film, Bronson’s central motivation is to be famous (the film opens with Hardy telling the camera “My name’s Charles Bronson. And all my life I’ve wanted to be famous.”), and it’s a really fascinating premise. The idea is that Michael Peterson created this persona of Charlie Bronson, and his primary concern through much of the film is his legacy and fame (or, more appropriately, infamy). When he’s first sent to jail as a young man, he relishes the opportunity to, as he puts it, “sharpen my tools, hone my skills.” Bronson is an exploration of celebrity and our cultural obsession with fame, seen through the eyes of a violent man who decided to become “famous” by fighting cops and prison guards. Bronson’s entire life is a performance, and his masterpiece (in the film at least) is a “rooftop protest” (seemed more like a full-on riot to me) at Broadmoor Hospital in 1983 that lasted 47 hours.
Bronson, however, probably isn’t for everyone. Refn doesn’t flinch from violent or disturbing imagery, and I don’t remember the last time I saw a movie with this much male nudity. But Bronson is raw, violent and hilarious, easily the best movie I’ve seen about a sociopath since Taxi Driver. There’s a quote on the cover that co0mpares Bronson to A Clockwork Orange, and as much as it tears me up inside to piggyback on another critic’s observation, that’s as apt a comparison as I can think of. Bronson is a brilliant piece of filmmaking, and comes with my highest recommendation.
The Bronson DVD has a great selection of bonus materials. There’s a nice making-of mini-documentary with interviews with the cast and crew, as well as individual interview featurettes with co-writer/director Nicolas Winding Refn and Tom Hardy. (Interestingly, Refn had never heard of Charles Bronson before he got the script, while Hardy’s been “obsessed” with him for years, a detail I found fascinating). There’s also a short featurette on the training regimen Hardy used to physically transform himself into Bronson, which, when you see how Hardy normally looks, makes his performance even more impressive.
The oddest – and also the most interesting – extra is something called the Charles Bronson Monologues, actual audio recordings from the man himself done in 2009. Hardy really got to know Bronson to prepare for the role, and felt he had a duty to the man. In the message, Bronson actually thanks the cast and crew of the film for telling his story, praising Hardy in particular (“No one else on this planet could have played me better than Tom Hardy.”). Just listening to him talking, it’s easy to see how this guy has crafted such a cult of personality around himself. Overall, this is a really great assortment of extras for an excellent film, perfectly balancing behind-the-scenes details with real-life information. If only DVDs for all biopics were this good.
Hughes Bros. to helm live-action AkiraI saw The Book of Eli a few weeks ago, and I liked it quite a bit. It doesn’t really reinvent the wheel when it comes to post-apocalyptic action films, but it’s a solid entry in the genre, buoyed by a great performance from the reliably excellent Denzel Washington. The style and craftsmanship on display, in particular, really clicked with me, and it reminded me how talented the Hughes Brothers are as filmmakers. Now it’s being reported that they’ve signed on to helm another post-apocalyptic story, this time adapting the legendary 1982 Japanese comic Akira, (which was in turn adapted into a legendary animated film in 1988 by writer/artist Katsuhiro Otomo) for Leonardo DiCaprio’s Appian Way production company and Warner Bros.
As far as I can recall, Hollywood’s been threatening to remake Akira for more than a decade (at one point it was to star Ben Affleck!), and I don’t think it’s any better an idea now than it was before. The story, originally told in a mammoth 2,100-page graphic novel (divided into six huge tomes), follows youth biker gangs in futuristic Neo-Tokyo years after a mysterious explosion destroyed the city and triggered a world war. Tetsuo, the youngest member of one of the gangs has an encounter with a strange, blue-skinned child on the street who, we later learn, has been broken out of a secret government facility researching mind powers. Tetsuo ends up in the program himself after he’s found to have incredible potential, and soon Kaneda, one of his older friends in the gang, tries to break him out of the program, only to learn that Tetsuo has gone mad with power. Screaming, exploding heads and another apocalypse ensues.
The graphic novel is much deeper than the animated film, delving into the society that springs up after Tetsuo triggers another mysterious apocalyptic blast that levels Neo-Tokyo once again, while the film (written and directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, who wrote and illustrated the comic) has Tetsuo’s city-destroying meltdown as its climax. Word is this new version of Akira will actually follow the route of the comic, and in order to accommodate the much longer story, word is the movie will be released in two parts. Ambitious, to say the least.
I’ve read the Akira comic (it’s pretty incredible in its scope and ambition, and Otomo is an ridiulously talented cartoonist), and I really love the animated film (the opening sequence where the gang is racing through the streets of Neo-Tokyo while the taiko drums swell on the soundtrack is absolutely amazing, especially with a high-end DTS sound system), and as much as I pride myself as not being a guy who hates remakes just for the sake of hating remakes, I can’t envision a live-action adaptation of Akira with, presumably, an all-Western cast that isn’t terrible. That said, assuming this version of Akira moves forward – and that’s a very big “if” indeed – I can’t pretend I won’t be following this project closely going forward.
Valentine's Day picksWho doesn’t love Valentine’s Day? Most right-thinking people, as far as I can tell. It’s a weird, made-up quasi-holiday (I still have to go to work? What kind of ‘holiday’ is that?) that makes single people feel like crap and puts insanely unrealistic expectations on those of us who are in relationships. Unless you’re celebrating V-Day at that nebulous early point in a relationship where everything is still new and exciting and fresh and awesome, the only really winners on Valentine’s Day are greeting card companies, florists and candy manufacturers.
So Valentine’s Day sort of sucks. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make it more enjoyable with a great movie. And contrary to popular opinion, I do, in fact, have a heart, and below I’ve picked six movies to help you make it through Valentine’s Day. Whether you’re kicking back with your beloved for a romantic evening in front of the DVD player (hey, not judging), or you’re looking for a movie to curl up with as you stew in your own bitterness and isolation, I’ve got something for everyone.
True Romance One of my favorite movies ever made, and, like screenwriter Quentin Tarantino, I don’t really get it when people think of this movie’s title as ironic. Sure, it’s packed with extreme violence and language so foul it would make a sailor blush, but the core of the movie is still the love between the geeky Clarence (Christian Slater) and his former call girl wife Alabama (Patricia Arquette), and as offbeat as it seem on the surface, what with the gangsters and pimps sleazy Hollywood producers who surround them, it’s their relationship that drives the movie and keeps me coming back. I’ve seen this movie so many times I can’t even begin to calculate it, but I still get goosebumps every damn time I watch the scene where Alabama confesses her feelings to Clarence. And ever since I first saw this movie I’ve been holding out the dim hope of one day meeting the woman of my dreams at a triple-bill screening of classic kung fu movies. (Still no luck.)
Away We Go This is a rare film in that it’s a movie about two people in love (Mya Rudolph and The Office’s John Krasinski, playing a couple expecting their first child) that isn’t about (a) them falling in love or (b) fighting against the forces of fate to get/stay together and (c) features actual grown-ups as the main characters. So already you know you’re dealing with a pretty weird little movie. Away We Go is a perfect movie for couples specifically because it’s never clichéd (romantic movies being No. 2 perhaps only to martial arts movies as a genre that relies so heavily on paint-by-numbers plots), and because it shows a fairly healthy relationship between two intelligent adults who love each other. While neither character is perfect, they also don’t seem like two-dimensional sitcom creations (the movie isn’t about them making goo-goo eyes at each other, it’s about them trying to build a life together), and the entire film just feels organic and real in a way that other romantic movies almost never do.
House of Flying Daggers When I agreed to compile this list, a fellow editor half-jokingly dared me to include a kung fu movie. Never one to back down to a kung fu movie-related challenge, I have dutifully included Zhang Yimou’s gorgeous 2004 film about tragic star-crossed lovers: she’s a beautiful young revolutionary, he’s a dashing government agent sent undercover to gain her trust and stop her rebellion. House of Flying Daggers may feature some really impressive action sequences, but Yimou’s film really a romantic tragedy of almost Shakespearean proportions with a few fight scenes thrown in. Throw in an achingly beautiful cast (Zhang Ziyi, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Andy Lau) and you’ve got a date-night movie that will appeal to both guy’s-guys and girly-girls alike.
The Fountain I’ll get this out of the way right off the bat: this movie made me cry a little bit. I feel like I’m one of the only people in the world who really enjoyed Darren Aronofsky’s ambitious science-fiction romance about a brilliant scientist (Hugh Jackman) whose pursuit of a cancer cure to save his dying wife (Rachel Weisz) stretches across centuries, flashing from a Spanish conquistador on a quest to save his beloved queen to the present-day scientist couple to a distant future where a bald Jackman floats through space with a giant tree. It’s pretty heady stuff, obviously, and it’s definitely not to everyone’s taste, but The Fountain is the rare movie love story that actually broke my heart.
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy At the risk of showing myself to be an even bigger geek than I usually do in this space, I’ve actually watched all three extended versions of The Lord of the Rings as a giant marathon (which runs about 12 hours in total) on more than one occasion (it requires a level of planning and determination one doesn’t typically associate with an activity that basically amounts to spending 12 hours sitting on the couch) and I can tell you that spending 12 hours in Peter Jackson’s vision of Middle Earth is about as good a way as any I can think of to avoid Valentine’s Day. Throw on Disc 1 of The Fellowship of the Ring any time between 10am and 11am on Valentine’s Day (it’s on a Sunday this year), and I guarantee that by the time Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin leave the Shire, you won’t care what day it is.
Punisher: War Zone Maybe 12 hours in Middle Earth isn’t a feasible solution to Valentine’s Day for you. In that case, may I recommend this criminally under-appreciated 2007 adaptation of Marvel’s cult vigilante. The Punisher, in case you don’t know, is basically a post-Death Wish take on Batman; after his family is murdered by the mob, Frank Castle takes to wearing a skull on his chest and killing criminals with guns, knives and just about anything else he can get his hands on. Punisher: War Zone is one of the most wonderfully, graphically violent and fun movies I’ve seen in recent memory (and it’s directed by a woman!), and I can’t think of a better way to rebel against Valentine’s Day than with a movie that features a guy with a skull on his chest punching through dudes’ heads, shotgunning people at close range and blowing up parkour practitioners with rockets. Hate Valentine’s Day? Celebrate it with the Punisher.
A winning trailer for The LosersWhen I went to see Mel Gibson’s new movie, Edge of Darkness last weekend (it sucked, don’t bother), the best part of the entire experience was seeing the first trailer for The Losers, an adaptation of the cult comic series from 2003-06 by writer Andy Diggle and illustrator Jock (yep, just one name). It’s one of my favorite comics of the 2000s, and is basically a cooler version of The A-Team crossed with Ocean’s Eleven. It follows a team of special-ops badasses (played by a solid cast including Jeffrey Dean Morgan of Watchmen, Zoe Saldana from Avatar and Star Trek and Idris Elba from The Wire) who are betrayed and left for dead by their handler, Max (Jason Patric), and enact an elaborate revenge plot that involves shooting things, blowing stuff up stealing trucks with helicopters.
The Losers is a pretty great comic, and the movie looks like it’s a lot of fun. My only gripe with the trailer is that it gives away one of the coolest moments in the short-lived series (despite critical acclaim, the book never sold particularly well, and was cancelled after 32 issues, though the entire series is collected in five graphic novels that tell a complete story), the gag where Chris Evans, playing the team’s tech geek/smartass, “shoots” some guards with the help of the squad’s sniper.
I’ve been quietly anticipating the movie version of The Losers since I heard it was being adapted, and it looks like it was worth the wait. April 9 can’t come fast enough.
One quick little thing before I go: Canadian screenwriter Terri Tatchell, who was just nominated for an Oscar for co-writing District 9, has revealed that her next gig is once again adapting a cool-looking short film into a feature (District 9 expanded director Neill Blomkamp’s Alive in Joburg short), this time a short called Terminus, about a guy being followed around by a big stone creature whose presence begins to drive him insane. The short, which is below, is pretty damned crazy (and also pretty cool), though I have no idea how this will be expanded into a feature-length movie. But given how much I loved District 9, I’m fairly confident the full-length version of Terminus will, if nothing else, be unlike anything I’ve seen before.
Oscar nomineesSo the Oscar nominations were released this week (full list of the big categories below), and I find myself with not much to say one way or another. To me, there were no huge surprises, even with the expanded field of 10 best picture nominees to include some more crowd-pleasers like The Blind Side and District 9 (I appreciate the nod for District 9, the best movie I saw in 2009, but I think only the certifiably insane believe it’s got a prayer of winning).
The only significant snub I can think of – and to my mind it’s a serious one – is Mélanie Laurent not getting a nomination for Inglourious Basterds. She’s an integral part of one of the best movies of the year, but for some reason two actresses from the pretty good-but-overrated Up in the Air got nominations, and as far as I’m concerned one of them (probably Vera Farmiga, who’s great, but doesn’t come close to the work that Laurent does in Basterds) is in her spot.
A couple of less infuriating/more understandable oversights are Jackie Earle Haley in Watchmen (the movie tanked, and some people seemed to not really get it, so I can’t say I’m shocked) and Sam Rockwell in the underseen Moon; any time one actor’s performance constitutes pretty much the entire movie, especially one as good as Moon, I think that actor deserves some awards attention. But it’s a little thinker of a sci-fi movie, so again, I can’t feign surprise that he was overlooked.
Though I don’t really expect it to win anything beyond the technical awards, I’m never a fan of when movies like Avatar get tons of nominations as a reward for raking in money. I liked Avatar quite a bit, but by no stretch would I consider it even in the same conversation as Inglourious Basterds, District 9 or The Hurt Locker.
Speaking of The Hurt Locker, I never would have believed when it first blew me away last summer that it would have a chance in hell of winning Oscars, but here we are with Kathryn Bigelow considered the front-runner for best director. I’ve been praising her work in this space for about as long as I’ve written this blog, so I won’t bother doing it again now, but suffice it to say I’m very excited at the prospect of one of my favorite – and until now, one of the most under-appreciated – directors making movies today. If she doesn’t win, I’m sure something will be thrown across my apartment come March 7.
Best Picture Avatar The Blind Side District 9 An Education The Hurt Locker Inglourious Basterds Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire A Serious Man Up Up in the Air
Best Director James Cameron, Avatar Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds Lee Daniels, Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
Best Actor Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart George Clooney, Up in the Air Colin Firth, A Single Man Morgan Freeman, Invictus Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker
Best Actress Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side Helen Mirren, The Last Station Carey Mulligan, An Education Gabourey Sidibe, Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
Best Supporting Actor Matt Damon, Invictus Woody Harrelson, The Messenger Christopher Plummer, The Last Station Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Best Supporting Actress Penelope Cruz, Nine Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air Mo'Nique, Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire