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Archive for the ‘Films’ Category

I’m very happy to announce that my short film, Lola and Lexi Ditch Biology, and Never Return to the Eleanor Roosevelt School for Wayward Girls, has been selected for exhibition in Surreal Salon Six at the Baton Rouge Center for Contemporary Art!

Surreal Salon six will feature 75 works of surrealism madness to challenge the mind and test the senses from artists all across the country. The exhibition opens January 2 and runs through January 31, including a costumed soiree on Saturday, January 25th for an evening of live music and what will surely be a bizarre program of surreal party games. Fun galore! And stick around the following day for a presentation on pop surrealism and lowbrow art from exhibition juror Greg Escalante — co-founder of Juxtapoz, owner of Copro Gallery, and art collector extraordinaire.

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I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t post new blog entries anywhere near as frequently as I would like. Ideally, I’d be blogging on a daily basis, sharing news about new photos and videos, art exhibits, great books, cool records, and posting articles that dive deep into my creative process. Trouble is… I have a difficult time churning out prose without laboring over every word, sentence and paragraph. Plus, just to make matters a little worse, I can’t… stop… writing. Simple topics—hey! I like this record!—turn into exhaustive (but still, of course, interesting) accounts worthy of a short chapter in a book.

Yes, it’s a problem, but now… a solution!

RIP Jonathan Frid—the “real” Barnabas Collins!

I now have a super cool Tumblr account where, throughout the day, you can find quick and interesting posts from me and the merry minions at Wind-up Dreams Central. Everything we post is, of course, Super Cool. Take, for instance this scary photo of the recently departed Jonathan Frid. Oh, sure… I could have dedicated a 4,000 or 5,000 word blog post on Dark Shadows (and, come to think of it, I may do that), but I could spend a week or more in Creative Writing Hell in an effort to produce a Pulitzer caliber post on campy daytime horror. Instead, as quickly as a vampire could sink his teeth into an alabaster neck… there it is on:

Vintage Vinyl

My official Tumblr site!

While the Tumblr focuses on cool vinyl records, in recent days we’ve also made posts on awesome art, vintage advertising, weird toys, pulp novels, and outer space.

I hope you enjoy this foray into more frequent sharing of interesting things, and if YOU have a Tumblr, don’t be shy… feel free to reblog any of the images you find on Vintage Vinyl. We’re scouring the universe for cool finds to share with our followers, so let us know about your interesting finds!

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Good news in the Land of Wind-up Dreams! Over the past couple of weeks my studio has been undergoing some renovations in an effort to add a little extra space and added efficiency to my workspace. Wallpaper has been stripped, carpeting has been pulled up, and hardwood floors have been refinished and repaired.

The original 85 year old floor beneath the dingy, water stained carpet was in especially dire need of care. Gouges, discoloration and damage galore! In places, the wood had rotted clear through, and several floorboards needed to be pried up and replaced with fresh strips of oak. Nowhere was this more true than at the far wall where the floor butts up to a cold stucco wall that doubles as a retaining wall for the small orchard at the southernmost tip of my property. There, right beneath the cabinet that holds all my most cherished figures and characters, the condition of the floor was at its worst, and it’s really a surprise that the floor hadn’t buckled under the weight of of the heavy shelves. Termites had long feasted on this wood, rendering the once majestic hardwood to resemble stale biscotti.

No sooner had the cabinet been moved, two boards suddenly crumbled to dust, leaving a frightening hole as the base of the wall.

And there, I made a thrilling discovery!

Hidden in the dark and shrouded by a grey veil of webs was a small cardboard box. I snatched the box from its tomb and swiped away eight decades of dust and grime. Peeking back from the cardboard lid was the impish smile of a kewpie doll beneath a logo identifying the box as the “Property of DREAMSCOPE FILMS.” Inside was the unexpected: a round metal canister, containing a single reel of 16mm film.

Whoa! Weird!!! How long had it been there?!?!

The reel of film discovered beneath my studio

Mystifying though the “why’s” may have been, I was far more interested to see what was on the film than to unravel the circumstances of it being misered away beneath the floorboards of the guest house.

The film had unfortunately not fared well in the decades it had been locked away in its hidey-hole. It had deteriorated badly with most of the tightly wound reel stuck together from one layer of film to the next beneath a bubbling brown ooze. The cells were almost impossibly fragile: cracked, warped, and cloaked by a hazy curtain of faded time. Still, with a pair of white gloves and the patient coaxing of a pair of medical grade tweezers, I was able to free the first few precious frames and spy ghostly images through the light passing through these prehistoric frames of celluloid.

There was definitely something there!

The canister was immediately sealed tight and placed in a climate controlled locking metal briefcase we keep on hand for these very situations. From there, the briefcase was whisked away to the Wind-up Dreams labs (didn’t know we had labs, did you? We do! We do!) where a team of preservationists—led by yours truly—were put to work restoring this precious reel of film to its original state. The effort was eye straining and shoulder burning, as the film was carefully unwound inch by inch, and snipped into individual frames which were placed one after the other in a sequence of labeled acid free envelopes. Some frames were entirely beyond repair, and the best offered no more than a hint about the image contained within. A sample of one of the better frames appears below. Note the deterioration at the edges, spots of decay, and the complete loss of color and detail.

A single frame of film after it had been removed from the decomposing reel

I really didn’t have much hope that we’d be able to repair damage of this extent. Remember… this is one of the good frames! Still, the team persevered, as each frame was washed in preservatives, dried, then—under view of a microscope—lovingly restored. Missing frames were reconstructed from their nearest neighbors. Rips and tears were sealed and blended, and colors—yes, colors!—were brought back to life by delicately hand tinting each and every frame. The results were absolutely astounding! Take a look at the above frame after the team at Wind-up Dreams Labs had completed the restoration:

The prior frame following restoration

The final step was to scan and digitize each frame so that the entire 4 minute film could be resequenced on a computer and set to an appropriate score. Oh! And did I mention that the cardboard box had contained detailed notes from the original filmmaker? It did! The notes were penned longhand on stationary bearing the same DREAMSCOPE FILM logo that had been found on the box. While not at all helpful in identifying who had made the film or how it had come to be, the notes were explicit in laying out how the film was to be scored for viewing in a live setting, with a full orchestra and vocal accompaniment. These notes were absolutely crucial in providing audio accompaniment to the restoration!

And now, without further adieu and for the first time in 85 years… Wind-up Dreams & Vinyl Nightmares is proud to bring you this lost footage!! Enjoy, and feel free to share with your friends!

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With the 2012 Academy Awards now just hours away, there’s still time to squeeze in a few more of my Oscar picks. There won’t be time to analyze the nominees ad infinitum as I did in previous posts for Best Picture, Actor, Actress, and the always important awards Supporting Actor and Actress, so this installment will be a whirlwind of choice after choice after choice. Let’s get to cracking!

Best Director

And, the nominees are…

Michel Hazanavicius — The Artist
Alexander Payne — The Descendants  (didn’t see it)
Martin Scorsese — Hugo
Woody Allen — Midnight In Paris
Terrence Malick — The Tree Of Life  (didn’t see it)

Okay, as we’ve established throughout this series of posts, the mere fact that I did not actually see a film is no reason at all for me to hold back on offering an Oscar opinion. So, no, I did not see The Descendants. But consider this: Alexander Payne. Yes, a really great writer and a pretty fair director. I mean, he brought the world the deliciously black comedy Election, and for that he must always be revered. But since then: About SchmidtSideways, and a slice of Paris, je t’aime — and none of those were as good as Election. And I doubt that The Descendants is as good as Election. Therefore, he won’t win Best DIrector.

Using the same logic, Martin Scorsese should not win either. Remember, Hugo is a nice film, but it doesn’t rate with Scorsese’s best. Of course, Scorsese has previously lost to an absolutely ridiculous array of fine-but-not-nearly-as-skilled directors (Kevin Costner, Robert Redford, Clint Eastwood, etc… notice a trend?), so the Academy owes him big time. Giving him Oscars for The Departed and Hugo when Taxi DriverRaging Bull, and Goodfellas were all shunned would be like giving The Rolling Stones a Grammy for any album released after Tattoo You. As much as I admire all of Scorsese’s work, I hope he doesn’t win.

My pick… Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist!

Best Original Screenplay

And the nominees are…

Michel Hazanavicius — The Artist
Kristen Wiig & Annie Murnolo — Bridesmaids
J. C. Chandler — Margin Call
Woody Allen — Midnight In Paris
Asghar Farhadi — A Separation  (didn’t see it)

My pick… Woody Allen for Midnight In Paris!

Best Adapted Screenplay

And the nominees are…

Alexander Payne, et al — The Descendants  (didn’t see it)
John Logan — Hugo
George Clooney, et al — The Ides Of March  (didn’t see it)
Steven Zaillian & Aaron Sorkin — Moneyball  (didn’t see it)
Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan — Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

My pick… Even though I didn’t see it, but respecting his ability to write… Alexander Payne for The Descendants!

Best Foreign Language Film:  Incendies

And the nominees are…

Bullhead — Belgium  (didn’t see it)
Footnote — Israel  (didn’t see it)
In Darkness — Poland  (didn’t see it)
Monsieur Lazhar — Canada  (didn’t see it)
A Separation — Iran  (didn’t see it)

The odds on favorite for Best Foreign film is A Separation, which I unfortunately have not yet seen. In fact… For the first time in recent memory, I didn’t see any of the films nominated in this category! I usually see at least half, if not all of the nominated films, but this year many of these were just really slow making their way to San Diego (A Separation is playing now). So, since I have nothing to judge, I’m going to supply my own short list of nominees:

Incendies — Belgium
The Skin I Live In — Spain
Of Gods And Men —  France

I’d highly recommend any of these three films!

My pick… Incendies!

Hey! What are you trying to pull?
Incendies was nominated for an Academy Award last year!
It’s not even eligible this year. You can’t do that! It’s not playing fair!
You have to stick with the films that are actually e-l-i-g-b-l-e! Moron.

Oh, sure, call me names, and yes I know that Incendies was made in 2010 and nominated in 2011. It lost Best Foreign Language Film to In A Better World, though at the time how many people in the US (outside of film critics and smart-minded festival goers) had had the opportunity to see either film? The Best Foreign Film competition runs about a year behind all the other categories, with great films eventually trickling onto our shores weeeeell after their initial domestic, native run. So I saw it in 2011, and feel totally vindicated in taking some liberties with this award, and hope I can persuade readers to add some very worthy films to their Netflix queue!

Incendies was truly one of the best films of the year, regardless of language. It was well-written, filled with suspense, and benefited from extraordinary acting. While in a prior post I fictionally “awarded” Best Actress honors to Elena Anaya for The Skin I Live In. In all honesty, though, the most deserving non-nominee was Belgian actress Lubna Azabal, who delivered a scary-good performance as a Middle Eastern woman trapped by the circumstances of her surroundings, and forced to deal with the psychological torment of unspeakable demons. Directed with squirming-on-the-edge-of-your seat tension by Denis Villeneuve, it was one of my favorite films of the year.

And now (since I’m now completely out of pre-Oscar time), a quick summary of the best of the rest of the categories:

Best Editing:  The Artist

Best Art Direction:  Hugo

Best Makeup:  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2

Best Visual Effects:  Hugo

Best Cinematography:  The Artist (though the un-nominated Melancholia is the better choice)

Best Original Score:  The Artist (since the score was a huge part of this otherwise silent film)

Best Original Song:  No one cares about this award any more…

Best Animated Feature:  Alas, I have no children

That’s it for my picks! Don’t forget to follow @johnpurlia tonight on Twitter for my reaction to the winner and losers!

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Welcome to the fifth in my series of Academy Award picks! In this installment we’ll wrap up the acting awards with my selection for Best Actress, or—as officially proclaimed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences—the award for “Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role.” Let’s hope this year’s casting call of nominees is as outstanding as the fancy title!

Best Actress

And, the nominees are…

Glenn Close — Albert Nobbs  (didn’t see it)
Viola Davis — The Help
Rooney Mara — The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo  (didn’t see it)
Meryl Streep — The Iron Lady  (didn’t see it)
Michelle Williams — My Week With Marilyn

Hmmm… Once again, we find a category where the nominating committee and I do not find much common ground, as I saw only two of these “Oscar worthy” performances. Of course, I had good reason for skipping the three performances I missed. Let’s assess:

Yikes! Scary!

Albert Nobbs
I could not bring myself to see Albert Nobbs, which stars Glenn Close as a woman pretending to be a distinguished butler in Merry Olde Ireland. Nothing wrong with the premise, which has been done to great effect throughout the history of cinema. But in the trailers, Glenn Close just looked… creepy! Plus (and this is admittedly juvenile of me), I could not get beyond the pun in the film title and kept imagining Beavis and Butthead watching the film.

He said, knob…
Heh-heh, heh-heh-heh…

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Rightly or wrongly (and I’m sure many of you can come up with examples to the contrary), I’m of the general belief that Hollywood remakes of excellent foreign films seldom live up to the original. Having seen the 2009 Swedish version of Stieg Larsson’s novel, I already had an image in my mind of who should play Lisbeth Salander, that being Swedish actress Noomi Rapace, who was thoroughly well cast in the original. I hear Rooney Mara was fine in the remake, but apart from sharing a double-O in both their first names, Mara didn’t quite compare to Noomi Rapace. So did I really need to see the remake? No. And… I did not.

The Iron Lady
Yes, Meryl Streep is one of our truly great actresses, but did I really want to sit through a film about Margaret Thatcher?!?!?! No! What kind of story can you cook up about the Prime Minister of England? Unless the movie revealed that Margaret Thatcher was secretly a vampire and ruled a Parliament of the Undead, I’m not interested. For that I would be rewarding Streep with an Oscar.

With those three unseen performances out of the way we’re left with two shrug-worthy choices for Best Actress: Viola Davis and Michelle Williams. I know Viola Davis is the crowd favorite front runner, with legions of Oprah Book Club devotees raving about her performance as Aibileen Clark, but I thought she was seriously upstaged by Octavia Spencer in the very same film. Davis gave a very nice performance, but… Apart from significantly more screen time, was her performance was any more noteworthy than her previous nomination as Best Supporting Actress in Doubt? I give it a tilt of the head, a raised eyebrow, and a noncommittal smirk. Nice job Viola, but I didn’t think it was the best acting job of the year—even in a mainstream film.

As for Michelle Williams, whose work I typically love, her portrayal of Marilyn Monroe was upstaged by… Marilyn Monroe! She was fine, period. Just… fine. But she wasn’t Marilyn Monroe in much the same way that Julia Ormond was not Audrey Hepburn in the remake of Sabrina. Some people and roles are just untouchable, and to convincingly play Marilyn Monroe is pretty much impossible. So my pick won’t be going to Michelle.

Are you beginning to see my dilemma with this category? I have a list of nominees and no desire to rip open the envelope and tell you who has won! It’s like Best Supporting Actor all over again! This is why I’ll probably never be a presenter on an Oscar telecast. I’d stand there on stage in the Kodak Theater (by the way, what do we call the place now that Kodak has declared bankruptcy?) looking out at all those gowns and black tuxedos. I’d reach into my jacket pocket and pull out a wooden match. I’d strike that match against the windscreen of the microphone, and light the gilded winner’s envelope aflame, while the accountants from Pricewaterhouse Coopers looked on in horror.

From my back pocket I’d slip a second envelope, this one not quite as fancy and sealed with my own spit. I would announce that the category of Best Supporting Actress has been hijacked, hold the envelope aloft, and read a new list of nominees, printed on the back in my own steady hand. And the more deserving nominees are…

Lubna Azabal — Incendies
Kirsten Dunst — Melancholia
Helen Miren — The Debt
Kate Winslet — Carnage

Melancholia

It is without shame that I include Kirsten Dunst in my list of nominees—mostly to buy time while the security guards begin squawking into walkie-talkies and scrambling from the wings. Dunst had received considerable Oscar buzz for her sedative-laden detached performance in Melancholia, so—after first announcing the wholly unexpected (and very well-deserving!) Azabal, the mainstream members of the Academy might just buy my alternate list as a last second change in the program. I don’t know; maybe the women on the original list had not paid their SAG dues or something. In truth, I thought Dunst’s performance was a bit wan and one dimensional. Love Kirsten Dunst, but I blame director Lars von Trier the Danish Duke of Cinematic Despair.

In any case, I suspect the rumble of confusion might die down once I announce Miren and Winslet. The trained monkeys in the crowd know these names, and no doubt they will reward each announcement with respectful applause and a swell of building enthusiasm.

The ceremony is now mine!!

It matters not that few in the crowd saw any of these four films, nor witnessed the excellent performance from each one of my new nominees. Miren is an Oscar winner! Winslet is an Oscar winner! Dunst is the token up-and-comer! And Aza… Azaba… Azabalalal is the token foreigner to appease the people who see independent “art films” and make those of us in the crowd feel as if making movies isn’t really about making money! Yay!

I would then pause, allowing one last round of applause for all the nominees. The words would then slip from my lips with a note of mischievous drama, “And the Oscar goes to….”

Here, as is my right was presenter, I would faux-fumble with the envelope. Breaths would hold tight. Face would lean forward. A billion TV eyes and ears would anxiously wait.

The envelope rips, and out slides a crisp beige square of parchment.

I would give that familiar Oscar-presenter-chuckle, and read,

“Elena Anaya, The Skin I Live In!”

The theater would erupt in applause!

The applause would lasts exactly 1.8 seconds.

The audience would then realize that Helen Miren didn’t win. Kate Winslet didn’t win. Nor did Kirsten Dunst or that Lubna woman whose name they have already forgotten. And wasn’t Meryl Streep up for this award? Four people continue to stand and clap, one of whom is Pedro Almodóvar. He would be flanked by Antonio Banderas, Penélope Cruz, and Javier Bardem.

Security would swarm the stage and drag me off into the gloom of back stage. Cameras would flash, microphones would stab,  and into a police van I would be tossed.

Later, under interrogation, I would sit handcuffed to the metal leg of a precinct desk, still clutching the crumpled winner’s parchment. I would try to explain how disappointing 2011 was for film, and express my frustration over the lack of a clear winner in the category of “Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role.” Sympathy would doubtlessly not be on my side, as it would be readily apparent that the detective and assembled staff are big fans of Adam Sandler, comedies based around marginal “holidays,” and anything with a sequel. It would be highly unlikely that my interrogators have heard of Elena Anaya.

“She was the star of the latest Almodóvar film,” I would explain. “She was great!” Blank stares. “The Skin I Live In? Did you see it?” I would offer with some hope. “It was really good! Super intense, unsettling, and filmed like a piece of visual art. It really freaked me out!” Steely-eyed distrust and suspicion would rim the room. This would not go well.

“Look,” I would try to explain, “It’s a Spanish film about a doctor who lost his wife in a car crash, and he keeps a young woman—Elena Anaya—under some kind of medical house arrest, and—”

Just then a sergeant would burst into the room. “Stop!” she would yell. “Don’t give it away! Have you no decency for anyone who hasn’t seen the film?!?!?”

I would be completely flummoxed by this turn of events, as there would be no way to justify my actions without revealing key plot points that bolster my praise for Anaya’s performance as Best Actress!

Frustrated by my predicament, my eyes would dot and dart about the desk, searching for anything that might get me out of this mess. Eureka!

With a quick rattle handcuffs and a snatch of my free right hand, I would grab a nearby Sharpie, and scribble across the manilla envelope that holds my ever-thickening case file:

S P O I L E R   A L E R T ! !

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Okay, bear with me…  If Glenn Close can be nominated for playing a not-so-lovely woman pretending to be a not-so-handsome man, why can’t Elena Anaya be nominated for playing a not-so-happy woman who was once actually a not-so-respectful man who has been forcibly transformed to be a totally gorgeous woman—and do so in a manner that we as the audience never see it coming?? There! I gave it all away, but it’s only in the reveal that you discover the disturbing psychological depth of Anaya’s performance in this richly twisted masterpiece of a film.

Congratulations Elena Anaya for earning my un-nominated (and conveniently tongue-in-cheek) pick for Best Actress of 2011!!

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Our countdown to the 2012 Oscars continues! Don’t forget, the real winners (not half as deserving as my picks) will be announced Sunday, February 26th, via a world-wide television broadcast beginning at 4PM on the west coast. You can follow my snarky admiring comments by following me on Twitter @johnpurlia. Until then, read on as I continue to dissect the categories and offer ever so humble opinions on who should win, who should lose, and who has no business at all to forever benefit from the phrase “Academy Award Nominee” before their name in future trailers and marketing hype.

Over the past couple of days I’ve made my picks for Best Picture, as well as the awards given to stellar second bill players: Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress. Today we move on to the the big individual awards, with our first trip down the red carpet being my picks for…

Best Actor

And, the nominees are…

Demián Bichir — A Better Life  (didn’t see it)
George Clooney — The Descendants  (didn’t see it)
Jean Dujardin — The Artist
Gary Oldman — Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Brad Pitt — Moneyball  (didn’t see it)

Uh oh… looks like another category where my exposure to the nominees is limited to just a handful of films. However, as before, such a minor oversight won’t stop me from selecting a winner. After all, there are plenty of justifiable reasons to harshly judge an actor’s performance apart from actually seeing them on film. Recall from my insightful assessment of the Best Picture category that I was completely put off from seeing The Descendants because I didn’t like the way George Clooney ran in sandals in the trailer. Granted, it very well may be the case that the otherwise graceful Clooney was exhibiting tremendous acting chops to so convincingly flip-flop around the bend like a one-finned seal. But it made me not want to see the film, and therefore ranks his performance below that of his fellow nominees. I will give him credit, though, for his entertaining interview in a recent issue of Rolling Stone.

I know Hollywood tailors their trailers (say that three times) for particular audiences and, evidentially, I wasn’t the target audience for The Descendants. A far, far better trailer—and one that zeroed in on my demographic like a sniper peering through a rifle sight—was the coming attraction reel for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Now that was a movie I wanted to see!

Gary Oldman took on the role of seasoned British agent George Smiley with understated grace, precision, and intelligence. The entire cast was tremendous (confirming my belief that Colin Firth is much more effective as a supporting player than he is as a lead), but Oldman—as he usually does—dominates every scene. Oldman is my favorite kind of actor. He’s a chameleon that blends into his characters without remaining to be “Gary Oldman.” Unlike, say, Tom Cruise or Leonardo DiCaprio…

Hey, look! It’s Leo playing J. Edgar Hoover!
Hey, look! It’s Leo playing Howard Hughes!
Hey, look! It’s Tom Cruise playing… some guy that looks like Tom Cruise!

No matter who Oldman plays—and he’s played some pretty big personalities (Sid Vicious, Lee Harvey Oswald, Beethoven)—he’s that character, and the audience disassociates the Movie Star from the role. Isn’t that’s what a Best Actor calibre performance is all about? Awesome performance; strong consideration for me to hand him a statue!

Hey, look! It’s Brad Pitt playing a baseball GM!

See my point? Sorry Brad, no Oscar for you. I’m sure you did a really great job playing Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane, but no matter how great your acting might be, it’s “Brad Pitt playing some guy.”

Though I didn’t see A Better Life I am going to surmise that Demián Bichir was nominated to better bolster the Best Supporting Actor case for costar Christopher Plummer. Not that I’m suggesting a conspiracy, but… Okay, yeah, I’m suggesting a conspiracy. In any case, Bichir is relatively unknown to American audiences, and the weak Best Supporting Actor category seems almost rigged so that Plummer can take home a token award for outlasting many of his contemporaries (which is why I went outside the nominees for my choice). As such, there’s no way both actors take home the Oscar, so the Academy is basically setting up a two man race between Clooney (who the Academy loves), and…

No, not Gary Oldman, because the Academy doesn’t yet “get” Gary Oldman.

…Jean Dujardin, the star of The Artist.

And the winner is… Jean Dujardin!

Yes, despite Oldman’s riveting performance in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, my pick for Best Actor is Dujardin for his amazingly engaging portrayal of a cast aside silent film star in the year’s best film, The Artist.

Warning! Fluffy, overused, tired film critic jargon on its way!

Dujardin truly “lights up the screen,” showing all kinds of range “bringing his character to life.” Acting with only his face and body, though not at all handicapped by the lack of dialog, Dujardin succeeds in communicating the depth of his character to the audience, and plays off his fellow actors in a manner that makes each of them more successful in his or her role. It really is a marvelous piece of acting and should be recognized by the Academy as the A Number One Acting Achievement for 2011!

(I hope they bring the dog on stage when the film wins best picture!!)

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Having put the award for Best Supporting Actor to rest in my previous post, we now move our attention to the other side of the aisle, Best Supporting Actress. There’s no time to waste, so let’s get right to the list of nominees!

Best Supporting Actress

And, the nominees are…

Bérénice Bejo — The Artist
Jessica Chastain — The Help
Melissa McCarthy — Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer — Albert Nobbs  (didn’t see it)
Octavia Spencer — The Help

The fetching Bérénice Bejo in The Artist

As much as I adored her wonderful performance as the aptly named Peppy Miller in The Artist, I must sadly dismiss Bérénice Bejo from consideration, as it is quite clear to me that she and I are either married in a parallel universe or once carried on a torrid love affair in a past life. How can I possibly judge her winsome performance against the other candidates? With due respect, and deep regret, therefore…

Bérénice Bejo — The Artist  (disqualified… sigh)

Melissa McCarthy was hilarious in the ever-so-raunchy Bridesmaids, but the Academy is none too kind to raunchy comedies (otherwise, Slapshot would have won a much deserved Oscar in 1978), so it is extremely unlikely that she will win.  Should she win? Nah. Though outstanding in her role struggling through the perils of bad Brazilian food, I don’t believe the effort of convincingly relieving oneself atop a bejeweled sink in a dress designer’s lavatory requires quite the nuance of, say, a cast down housemaid during the Civil Rights Movement. But that’s just me. So, while convincingly funny, I can’t honestly say that her over-the-top performance is deserving of a little golden statue.

So let’s talk about the nominated pair from The Help: Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer. Both were outstanding, but I give the nod to Spencer, who I felt brought more depth to her character than Chastain.

And the winner is… Octavia Spencer!

Spencer’s take on sassy take-no-gruff-from-no-one Minny Jackson was richly portrayed and injected her own sly little slice of raunch into the Oscar mix. Go Minny!!

Stay tuned for the next installment of my 2012 Oscar picks as we move on to the awards for  Best Actor and Actress!

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With the broadcast of the 2012 Academy Awards set for Sunday evening, we still have a couple of days remaining to make bold predictions and debate winners and losers in each of the major categories. In my previous post I took a look at the various nominees for Best Picture, with The Artist coming out on top as the very best film of 2011. Surely, the wise readers of this blog will agree with my foregone conclusion.

With the grand prize out of the way, the plan is to make my way through as many of the other categories as possible between now and Sunday. So let’s get to cracking with those individual acting awards!

Best Supporting Actor

And, the nominees are…

Kenneth Branagh — My Week With Marilyn
Jonah Hill — Moneyball  (didn’t see it)
Nick Nolte — Warrior  (didn’t see it)
Christopher Plummer — Beginners  (didn’t see it)
Max von Sydow — Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close  (didn’t see it)

Well now… Apparently, I was not a big fan of films that featured “award calibre” supporting actor performances. One might think that I would have no choice but to give the nod to Kenneth Branagh for his turn on Laurence Olivier in My Week With Marilyn, but I really can’t do that as Branagh was really terrible in this role! No doubt, if the real Sir Laurence was buried with a Blu-Ray player (which seems unlikely, seeing as how he passed many years before the technology was invented) he is now spinning in his grave after watching Branagh’s ham-fisted, spittle-laden performance. So…

Kenneth Branagh — My Week With Marilyn  (not worthy of consideration)

We should also put a double line through Jonah Hill. At first, when I learned of the nominees for Best Supporting Actor and saw Jonah Hill’s name on the list I was quite puzzled. I then realized that the Academy was using the list of nominees as a teaching aid for future generations, and plans to donate the list to the fine folks at Sesame Street for a movie themed installment of “One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other.”

That leaves us with only three choices.

Nick Nolte mug shot

Until I typed up the nominees for this category I’d never even heard of Warrior, so I have no opinion there, and isn’t this whole post about opinions? Sorry Nick. Love your mug shot and countless excellent films, but you are disqualified from consideration.

Christopher Plummer? I heard he was very good in this role, but can he possibly compete with Max von Sydow? I mean, von Sydow once played chess against Death and—though he ultimately lost—basically outwitted the Grim Reaper at his own game. Let’s see that sissy Captain Von Trapp do that!

Still, I don’t see a clear winner, and since we double-lined Jonah Hill, I feel completely justified in replacing him with a much more worthy performance that was inexplicably left off the Academy’s list of nominees:

Albert Brooks — Drive  (saw it!)

Drive has made all kinds of critics lists for one of the top 5 or 10 best films of the year. I really wasn’t all that high on the film. It seemed to want to be a Michael Mann film, but wasn’t. As I sat in the theater, I kept putting Michael Mann in the director’s chair, and anticipated Michael Mann-ish tension surely building in the next scene. No, I was constantly disappointed. You don’t build tension by slapping a pretty boy onto the screen (the character of Driver, played by Ryan Golling) and asking him to do little more than stare off into space and act glum for three quarters of the movie. It was as if his constantly brooding demeanor would magically convey to the viewer a complex unimagined backstory. Eh. Didn’t do it for me. That said, Christine Hendricks from Mad Men was good in her all too brief role.

But the real showcase star of Drive was Albert Brooks, stepping out of his usual lighthearted comfort zone and delivering a detestably nasty performance as crooked businessman Bernie Rose. Brooks comes across as a guy who is forcefully “nice” in a way that says, “I’m being nice because it’s what polite people do. But you and I both know I’ll mess you up very badly if you don’t do exactly as I want.” It’s a controlled and effective performance, and Brooks dominates every scene in which he appears. It really is a shame that the Academy did not grace his excellent work with a nomination. But what do they know?

And the winner is… Albert Brooks!

There. Take that Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences!

Next, we’ll take on the nominees for Best Supporting Actress. Coming soon…

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With the Academy Awards just a couple of days away, this seems like a good time for me to chime in with my picks for the annual schlocky celebration of the year in film. Though, actually, these aren’t predictions insofar a it would give me great pain to spend any of my precious time pondering how the witless members of the Academy might choose to direct their precious votes. So, instead, these are my personal selections for the truly deserving victors in each of the prime time categories.

Note!
Oh yeah, and by the way… I haven’t actually seen all of the nominated films. So, for the most part, these films are disqualified for Oscar consideration. I look at it this way: if I wasn’t intrigued by the trailer, if the advance hype did not pull me out to the theater, and if I had better things to do (typically, a fairly low bar)… surely, the film or performance does not deserve an Oscar.

Another Note!
Have any of you visited the official web site of the Academy Awards? Yikes! I went there to get my list of nominees and was greeted by so much dynamically growing advertising content and video that the “real site” scrolled well off the bottom of my screen.

Let’s get started!

Best Picture

Rather than bore you with three hours of heavy handed production numbers, endless speeches, and ugly gowns, we’ll go straight to the top with the most coveted award of year: Best Picture. In what was generally a terrible year for films, I’m amazed that the Academy could come up with nine films for Best Picture consideration. In any case, the nominees are:

The Artist
The Descendants
 (didn’t see it)
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close  (didn’t see it)
The Help
Hugo
Midnight In Paris
Moneyball  
(didn’t see it)
The Tree Of Life  
(didn’t see it)
War Horse  
(didn’t see it)

As you can see, I didn’t actually see more than half of the nominated films! Why not, you ask? After all, these are the BEST FILMS OF THE YEAR, and I do go to see a lot of films (and, no, I don’t go see all the mainstream crap Hollywood churns out to separate you from your hard earned money). I know The Descendants has received a lot of “Oscar buzz” and I generally like most George Clooney movies, but I just found the trailer obnoxious. Maybe it was that scene of George Clooney running flatfooted in leather sandals around a tropical bend, or maybe it was “Dad, Mom was cheating on you.” (Gag!) For the most part, I don’t enjoy films that make adults out to be less insightful than their kids, and that’s the impression I got from the trailer. Sorry George, no Oscar for you!

Though I’d been really looking forward to seeing The Tree Of Life, I saved myself the trouble after trusted friends described their experience seeing the film as “excruciating,” “frustrating,” and “a complete waste of time.” And seeing as how the film was directed by Terrence Malick who had previously directed The Thin Blue Line—the only film I ever walked out on—I decided to pass. So, instead of considering The Tree Of Life for Best Picture, I’m going to use my powers of Blog Master to substitute in another film that did not get nominated by the Academy

Melancholia  (saw it!)

There! I now have five of the nine nominees to consider. Even better, I think swapping in Melancholia for The Tree Of Life is totally fair, since this was another film I was GREATLY looking forward to seeing, it was also created by a director whose previous work has left me cold and disappointed, and where my friends found The Tree Of Life to be “excruciating and frustrating,” I found Melancholia to be “excruciating and frustrating.” Perfect match!!! In all fairness, I thought Melancholia was the most beautifully shot bad movie I’ve ever seen. So it had that going for it.

I didn’t know what to think of the trailers for War Horse. It seemed like a very odd choice for Steven Spielberg and looked like a cross between Paths Of Glory and National Velvet. Both excellent films, but together I anticipated a bit of a Disney-fied mess. Skipped it. Likewise, Moneyball (though I’m a huge baseball fan) struck me as The Social Network if Mark Zuckerberg had chosen to major in Statistics at Harvard instead of Computer Sience. And I can’t buy any film where Jonah Hill is not a stoned high school student, so I skipped this one as well.

Clearly, none of the above are deserving of my selection of Best Picture for 2012! How about the films that I did see?

The most nominated film of the year is Hugo based on Brian Selznick’s Caldecott winning illustrated book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret. I thought it was a very nice film, though way, wayway overrated, likely because it’s a Martin Scorsese film and it has received accolades for its use of 3D. Like I said, it’s a “nice” film. But it’s not Goodfellas, and it’s not Raging Bull or Taxi Driver. It’s not even The King Of ComedyAfterhours, or The Aviator. It’s a nice film, but not nearly as good as Scorsese’s best work (amazingly ignored by the Academy; The Departed? Please… spare me the let’s-make-it-up-to-you token Oscar). I intentionally saw Hugo without the 3D effects, because I prefer judging a film based on my engagement to the story and its characters, so perhaps my experience would have been different had I been immersed in the effects. Once more, I found it very “nice” and I enjoyed the film. To be honest, though, I thought Hugo was overshadowed by the glorious footage of Georges Méliès’s previously films that appear at the very end of the film. I really love Scorsese’s affection for film restoration, and he was clearly the right person to tackle this subject matter. Worth seeing? Absolutely! It was nice, remember? Best Picture? No.

I saw The Help on DVD and it was another film that I enjoyed and would recommend to others. I can’t find a lot to not like about The Help, but it didn’t quite measure up to other nominated (and, sadly, not nominated) films I saw during the past year.

Midnight In Paris had the misfortunate of being released well before most of the other films, and at the time I saw it I thought it was the best film of the year. It was really clever, well written (Woody Allen should pick up a win for Best Original Screen Play), and perfectly cast from the leads all the way down to the ensemble supporting actors. Wonderful film! In many other years this would be my selection for Best Picture, but… not in 2012.

And the winner is… The Artist

Hands down, The Artist was the best movie of the year. It is an exceptional film that actually overcomes the obstacles of those things that make it so different from its competition. Come on… Black and white? Silent? French? It’s a recipe for self-parodizing nostalgia and gimmicky camp! Many are suspicious of a silent film made in 2011 (or a black and white film, for that matter) as a bit of left-wing moviemaking sleight-of-hand. Surely, a movie such as The Artist is just a pretentious stunt for high-brow liberals who think they are better than everyone else! It’s going to be a bunch of arty hogwash that people say they like, just to seem like they have a little culture, but at the end of the day is it really as good as color, CGI, and 3D?!?!?

Wrong!! (And I’ll pass you by as you wait in line for Transformers IV.)

The Artist is a great film in spite of the fact that it is silent, shot in black and white (gloriously so, I might add), and takes place 80 years in the past. While these elements are essential to the film, and perfectly executed, they quickly become secondary to the story told by director Michel Hazanavicius and his wonderful cast of players. The film pulls together every element of great moviemaking: wonderful storytelling, well-developed characters, excellent pacing, an intelligent point of view, conflict, and sheer visual delight. It’s the kind of film the Academy should aspire to recognize year after year as an achievement in storytelling that will resonate with audiences and critics alike for many years to come. It’s a film I definitely look forward to seeing again and again, and is most definitely the most charming film I’ve seen in 10 or 15 years.

Congrats to The Artist!

Up next… I’ll be tackling some of the individual awards. Tune in later!

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Their Sympathetic Majesties Request — Mark Ryden

I had intended to spend this San Diego perfect afternoon locked away in my tiny studio finishing off my latest stop motion animation. Alas, technical problems (imagine exploding flood lights and malfunctioning power strips) have released me from the shackles of the studio. Instead, I’ve packed up my laptop and made the mile trek down the hill to my favorite coffee shop where I now type out a small bit of news to my friends in the blogosphere…

I have movie reviews in print!

Well, not exactly reviews. More accurately, recommendations.

A couple of weeks back I was asked by the San Diego Reader to contribute a pair of recommendations to their monthly “Seen On DVD” feature, and describe—in 75 words (I went over… shame!)—two movies available on DVD for which I am especially grateful. And today, my selections appear in print on the Reader web site!

Tough task! Just think… only two movies! And just what makes me grateful that these film are available on DVD?!?! Oh, the agony I suffered coming up with my selections! Oh, sure, I could have just dashed off a couple of obvious choices like Citizen Kane or Godfather II, but this was going to be IN PRINT and ON THE WEB for all to see and judge! How do you weigh the might of a cinema classic versus the soft spot one feels for a fond favorite?

I certainly didn’t want my choices to come across as academic or too “high and mighty.” Nor did I want them to be entirely obscure in an arrogant kind of I-know-more-about-film-than-you way!

Titles were scribbled onto a piece of paper (okay, actually they were typed onto my computer, but play along with my low tech musings), rankings were jotted, lines were crossed out, and new selections were noted. At one point I tried to come up with a complex formula for calculating my “gratefulness” using a bunch of completely contrived factors (writing! direction! coolness!) as variables. It was a mess of celluloid confusion in my mind!

I spent an entire weekend screening potential selections from my modest DVD library. Almost making the cut were all-time favorites like Bridge on the River Kwai, Sunset Boulevard and Re-Animator. In the end I decided to simply go with a couple of really good favorite films that:

  1. Didn’t get a lot of time in the theaters
  2. I’d strongly recommend to any of my movie friends
  3. Have really cool bonus features on the DVD

And that made my task much easier!

More difficult was constraining my writing to only 75 words per film. I frequently compose sentences that are longer than 75 words!

So… what did I select? Tempted though I may be to divulge the results of this challenging exercise to my loyal readers… I will not! Instead, head on over to the San Diego Reader web site to read about my selections, as well as those of other creative types living and working in our local community.

My movies Seen On DVD!

How about you? Which two movies would you select as films “for which you are grateful?”

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