Colossal

Nacho Vigalondo’s quirky indie has a neat premise but a BIG, monster-sized problem and a weak Anne Hathaway performance.

Colossal PosterThere’s a big problem with “Colossal.” Anne Hathaway plays a woman who discovers she’s in control of a giant, kaiju monster attacking Seoul, Korea. Of course, the monster is merely a metaphor, and it finds a way of ruining both Seoul and the movie.

Nacho Vigalondo’s film gets undermined at every turn specifically because of that monster-sized metaphor that makes its story unique. “Colossal” wants to be about taking control of your life and not allowing abusive relationships to get in the way, but like any monster movie, the monster is there to ruin everything.

Anne Hathaway plays Gloria, a woman who has been depressed and mooching off her boyfriend (Dan Stevens) for a full year without a job. When he kicks her out of their apartment, she returns home and finds little better to do than sleep on an air mattress in an empty room of her parents’ old, rundown house.

She’s moving through her life as if nothing matters and that she has no impact on the rest of the world. But the metaphor couldn’t be louder when Gloria finds out there’s a gigantic monster attacking Seoul, and her every movement causes the monster to mimic her and wreak havoc.

When Gloria returns home and bumps into her grade school friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) who never left, she doesn’t realize that her first world problems and moping are opening up old wounds. When she expresses her astonishment that a monster is attacking Korea, her boyfriend responds, “That happened nine hours ago. What have you been doing all day?” She’s so out of it that she doesn’t realize the world has quickly moved on around her. Continue reading “Colossal”

Interstellar

Starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway, Nolan’s space odyssey is his most sprawling yet.

“2001: A Space Odyssey” is a film about grasping the unknown, recognizing there is a realm of understanding and existence we can’t possibly fathom in our present state. We strive for that understanding constantly but must be in total amazement before we reach that peak and evolve. Stanley Kubrick’s film is a polarizing masterpiece, but he conveys this incomprehensible idea through the surreal, the spiritual, the terrifying and the awe inspiring. The film’s iconic images are impenetrable and inscrutable, and yet in that moment they transport us to something beyond ourselves.

Christopher Nolan may or may not be Stanley Kubrick’s disciple and modern equivalent, but though his latest film “Interstellar” is thematically familiar to Kubrick’s classic, Nolan’s execution is that much more procedural and clinical. For his entire career he’s toiled in rules and exposition, and it’s as though now with “Interstellar” he’s tried to make something literal out of Kubrick’s reverie.

“Interstellar” is an ambitious mess of a movie, and yet the scale at which it stages these themes may make it secretly brilliant, a movie in which Nolan has cracked the secret to understanding what’s beyond the horizon. That’s the sort of power Nolan has as a filmmaker and over the general public; he gives an impression that he’s full of sage wisdom that, with enough scrutiny, we can decipher the full meaning behind his movies. Continue reading “Interstellar”

2013 Oscars: Final Predictions

I just finished watching a Katie Couric special edition of “20/20” in which they talked about everything that makes the Oscars iconic, but none of the reasons why I actually care about the awards. Hearing about Bjork’s swan dress is cute, but I’m in this for the movies.

Every year I come up with elaborate reasons why this year’s winner will mean something. For “The Artist” it was that even a silent, foreign, black and white comedy could win Best Picture and make people interested in a great form of movie history for just a little while. For “The King’s Speech” it was that the love for Old Hollywood was alive and well, even if I was pulling for the generational landmark that would’ve been a victory for “The Social Network.” And for “The Hurt Locker,” it signified a turning point in our view of the campaign in the Middle East, as well as a long denied achievement for women everywhere, which really is something to cheer about.

And yet just as I study every nominee and understand every nuance of the race, all of that is forgotten as quickly as the next year, and the only things that are left are the great movies themselves.

I think this year’s Oscars matter because above all, they will honor a lot of great movies, more than in most years. I may not think “Argo” is the best movie of the year, nor is my pick even nominated, but I think that whatever wins, it will be a victory for quality (except for “Les Miz” obviously).

Here then are my final predictions for what will take home gold on Oscar night. This year has been so exciting, so tumultuous, so long and so controversial that if I have to make one correct prediction, it’s that I will be wrong… possibly a lot.

Argo Ben Affleck

Best Picture

  • Argo
  • Lincoln
  • Silver Linings Playbook
  • Life of Pi
  • Django Unchained
  • Zero Dark Thirty
  • Amour
  • Les Miserables
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild

I don’t think I ever wanted to admit that there was going to be a sure fire winner for Best Picture, and I don’t think I ever could. The “Argo” freight train of success is still relatively fresh news. A lot has happened since it premiered at Telluride back in September, and there was a time just six weeks ago when nominations were announced that it looked to be a dead and gone afterthought. Now it has swept every major guild prize and award in sight, and it is poised to make history no matter what happens. All the comparisons that have been made to explain its victory in the context of past winners will be erased because its victory (or loss) will be completely unprecedented. Pundits will now point to it as the example.

If it wins, it will be because it is a great film, but also because it is an agreeable film that was able to weather the storm of controversy and barrier to entry better than any other.

“Lincoln” hardly seems formidable, and in fact “Life of Pi” or “Silver Linings Playbook” look even stronger with more recent wins in the bag, but it remains an even greater film in my view and is still, on paper, the predictable Oscar winner.

Brian’s Pick: Argo

Dark Horse: Lincoln, followed by Silver Linings Playbook, then Life of Pi

Should Win: Life of Pi Continue reading “2013 Oscars: Final Predictions”

Oscars 2013: It's Anyone's Race

Last year when the Oscar nominations were announced, I couldn’t stop myself from yelling at the TV when “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” got nominated for Best Picture.

This year, there were a lot of snubs and a lot of surprises, but I held my tongue.

That’s because last year, I was more or less certain going in that not only would “The Artist” be nominated, it would probably win. The news was what else would share its spotlight in history, not the actual awards.

2012 is different. I didn’t know for sure what would be nominated, and noting how many predictions I got wrong, I can safely say I still don’t know what might win. In ANY category. We still have a real race on our hands.

No, we didn’t see a real surprise nominee like “Skyfall,” “The Master” or something completely out of left field like “The Intouchables” or “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” to round out a top 10, but you tell me who’s going to win Best Picture.

“Lincoln” got 12 nominations, which is a lot. That’s as many as “Ben-Hur” got. But is the movie so universally loved that it can make a clean sweep? It’s hardly Spielberg’s best movie, even if it is his best in a decade, but some people have viewed it as homework.

I have more questions about “Life of Pi’s” chances. “Life of Pi” got 11 nominations, none of them from acting, but it did get a surprise Adapted Screenplay nod and Best Director nod. “Life of Pi” did well at the box office, but how big was this movie’s Oscar campaign? Not as big as “Silver Linings Playbook,” and certainly not as big as “Lincoln.” This movie is practically under the radar, a movie that was probably in the five or six slot for nomination is now looking like the front runner.

As early as yesterday, I would’ve said “Argo” or “Zero Dark Thirty” would be the front runners to win. “Argo” is the most well-liked movie of the year. Very few people have a bad word to say about it, and just about everyone has seen it, both of which are things that none of the other nominees can claim. “Zero Dark Thirty” has a lot of controversy behind it, but it is by far the critical darling of the year. Now however, neither Ben Affleck nor former winner Kathryn Bigelow have been nominated for Best Director. Movies have won Best Picture without winning Best Director before, but only three times in the 85 year history has a movie won Best Picture without even being nominated, those being in 1927, 1931 and 1989 when “Driving Miss Daisy” had a surprise victory.

“Silver Linings” isn’t that weak either. With Jacki Weaver getting in, it’s the first movie since “Reds” to be nominated in every acting category. That gives it eight nominations, which is nothing to scoff at.

Could “Amour” or “Beasts of the Southern Wild” pull off a surprise win? Michael Haneke was on a short list for possible director nominees, but almost no one had first-timer Benh Zeitlin on their lists. Both movies are riding the waves of having the youngest and oldest Best Actress nominees of all time in Quvenzhane Wallis and Emmanuelle Riva.

Even “Django Unchained” doesn’t look too weak. I predicted it would get seven nominations, but it’s got five, and Christoph Waltz taking Leo’s or even Javier Bardem’s spot says something.

That’s already a lot to mull over, but can you honestly make a prediction in any of the other races?

Daniel Day-Lewis seems perfectly plausible to win Best Actor. He’s playing Abraham Lincoln for God sakes. But he would be making history as the only actor to have won three Oscars. Are we prepared to call Daniel Day-Lewis the BEST actor of all time if he wins? Perhaps Joaquin Phoenix is stronger than we think, or maybe “Silver Linings” can ride an acting wave for an Oscar for Bradley Cooper.

Best Actress? Who knows. Jennifer Lawrence is the real movie star of the bunch, but Wallis can light up a room, Jessica Chastain is being called a female powerhouse in “Zero Dark Thirty,” Riva has the support of an older branch who remembers her in French New Wave classics, and Naomi Watts has the British voting block in her largely tearjerker of a movie.

Maybe Robert De Niro will end up being the three time Oscar winner, not Day-Lewis. But consider that everyone else in the Best Supporting category has already won. That’s just unprecedented.

The only conceivable prediction thus far is Anne Hathaway in “Les Miserables.” She steals the show in her three minute song, and there’s no telling that she’s one of the biggest movie stars right now who arguably deserves one. But just how good are Sally Field, Helen Hunt and Amy Adams in their movies? This is not a weak category, as I previously assumed.

No, I’m not quite ready to make any prediction. And that’s a good thing. For years the Academy has been trying desperately to get more people to actually watch the Oscars, be it through trendy hosts, more Best Picture nominees, an earlier schedule and a different presentation format. But now the Oscars have added one element that the show hasn’t had in years: surprise.

Correction: In a previous version, it was incorrectly stated that “Lincoln” received the most nominations of all time, tied with “Ben-Hur,” “Titanic” and “LOTR: The Return of the King.” In actuality, 14 nominations is the record held by “All About Eve” and “Titanic.” The record for most wins is 11.

Les Miserables

There’s a big difference in seeing an actor’s face 50 feet high on the silver screen than seeing an actor just five inches high on a stage that’s a mile away. There’s definitely something to seeing and hearing that little person live, but there’s a lot of emotion and expression that we only get from the movies.

So part of the thrill of this new adaptation of the classic musical “Les Miserables” is in making the emotions of Jean Valjean and Fantine be as big as possible. Director Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”) has put them in an appropriately sized film that feels epic but not overstuffed, but did he really have to make their faces so big too?

Simply put, “Les Miz” is frustratingly un-cinematic. It achieves images that the stage never could but stifles the possibilities of what a camera can do and what an epically proportioned musical can and should look like. At every moment it emblazons these characters in intense close-ups and very little breathing room. Try as Hugh Jackman might to parade around the room of a monastery, the camera follows him mercilessly, refusing to break from a centered close-up of Valjean’s ill-fated face as though the camera were attached to a harness around his chest.

Hooper covers his tracks by chopping the movie to bits in the editing room. The average shot length is infuriatingly short, but not in the excessive Baz Luhrmann way either; Hooper simply doesn’t know when to stay put.

He does however realize that there’s true wonder in seeing the whole cast belt out a medley of themes during magnificent pop opera numbers like “One Day More,” and this is especially true when we get the opportunity to see them on stage together. Why then should Hooper separate each individual singer into claustrophobic boxes? Why does he refuse to let multiple characters share the frame at once? Why must it look like we’re watching this whole movie on a stadium Jumbotron?

It gets nauseating and delirious watching something so jarring. The makeup and hairstyles are garish, the lighting is dark and muddy, and the camera captures Parisian alleys and sewers with Dutch angles and a quivering hand. It can be as punishing as watching Fantine (Anne Hathaway) drunkenly stumble around in agony during the “Lovely Lady” number.

You long for the firm hand and intricate medium shots Hooper used to excess in “The King’s Speech” and “The Damned United.” How did this director change so thoroughly between films? Now Hooper’s close-ups are so intensified, they’d be boring to look at if Anne Hathaway weren’t pouring her heart and soul into “I Dreamed a Dream.”

She, amongst the rest of the cast, really are the saving grace of “Les Miz.” Hathaway’s Fantine is really just a minor character in this epic revolution drama, but amongst all the moments each character gets to themselves, hers is by far the most memorable, her face convulsing in agony and her eyes too sad to even care the camera is so close.

Much of these gripes won’t matter much to most audiences. They’ll be swept up in the way I was upon first seeing a touring production of “Les Miserables” in London, invigorated and inspired by the story’s themes of commitment, honor and spirituality. But to those who pay attention to cinematography and editing, least of all in a treasured musical where these things matter most of all, “Les Miz” will feel mighty clumsy.

3 stars

Off the Red Carpet: Week of 11/7 – 11/14

We’re at the point where there’s going to be a big movie opening every week until the end of the year now, so get excited.

“Skyfall” has biggest Bond opening ever

“Skyfall” earned $86.7 million at the Box Office this weekend, sending it on its way to trounce even the inflation added record of the fourth Bond, “Thunderball.” It’s popular appeal as well as its just plain awesome quality has lead some to speculate the possibility of nominating Judi Dench, Javier Bardem and Roger Deakins for their respected Oscars, as well as a push for the movie itself for Best Picture. It’s a long shot, but I would be on board.

Best Animated Short shortlist revealed

Could we soon be saying, Oscar Winner Maggie Simpson? The shortlist for the Best Animated Short category was revealed last week, and it includes “The Simpsons” short “The Longest Daycare” and the lovey Disney short “Paperman.” The Pixar short film this year that screened before “Brave,” “La Luna,” was nominated and lost last year. But I can guarantee you now that the little underdog movie no one’s heard of and no one will see will almost definitely win this category. Here’s the full list: (via In Contention)

“Adam and Dog”

“Combustible”

“Dripped”

“The Eagleman Stag”

“The Fall of the House of Usher”

“Fresh Guacamole”

“Head over Heels”

“Maggie Simpson in ‘The Longest Daycare'”

“Paperman”

“Tram”

Christoph Waltz in Best Actor race

I said last week that for some reason people already want to count “Django Unchained” out of the race before anyone’s even seen it. Why no one would consider Christoph Waltz owning “Django” just like he did “Inglourious Basterds” is beyond me, but the difference this year is that he’s being pushed for the Lead Actor race now rather than supporting. Yes, it’s a crowded field, but he was just that good before, and I don’t see why he can’t be again. This also means that Leonardo DiCaprio and even Samuel L. Jackson are people to keep an eye on in the Supporting race. (via In Contention)

Image Credit: The Hollywood Reporter

The Hollywood Reporter Airs Annual Actor Roundtable

Each year The Hollywood Reporter puts together an extended interview roundtable with a collection of actors, usually Oscar hopefuls for that year. Last year they interviewed George Clooney, Viola Davis, Christopher Plummer, Charlize Theron and Michael Fassbender, and this year they’ve interviewed Jamie Foxx, Matt Damon, Denzel Washington, Richard Gere, Alan Arkin and John Hawkes. All six are potential Oscar candidates for acting, three more likely than the others, but their discussion veered much more intellectual. They talked acting on stage, what they would do if they couldn’t act, family and whom they admired. It’s a stirring hour-long discussion between smart actors being very candid in a setting you won’t see anywhere else. (via The Hollywood Reporter)

Gurus ‘O Gold released

The Gurus ‘O Gold have been my go to barometer for Oscar predictions for the last few years. Collectively, they are probably better at anticipating the awards and forecasting changes than any one of them individually. This is their first time forecasting the major categories this year since Toronto. Things are bound to change as a few other movies set in and are seen by the public, but the universal consensus right now is unsurprisingly “Argo,” followed closely by TIFF winner “Silver Linings Playbook.” The surprise I see in the list is the inclusion of “Flight” in 10 spot and “Moonrise Kingdom” on the outs. 10 is probably a generous number for nominees anyway. Take a look at the full list if you’re like me and love charts and spreadsheets and stuff, and avoid it if you think it has the potential to suck all the fun out of the Oscars. (via Movie City News)

Will Best Picture match Screenplay?

A blogger at “Variety” observed that last year was a surprising anomaly in the trend for nominees for Best Picture and Best Original or Adapted Screenplay. The movie with the BP nod always gets the screenplay nod, with historically very few exceptions. Last year alone matched the last 10 years in terms of gaps between the two categories, and it’s worth noting that this year may go the same. “Moonrise Kingdom,” “The Master,” “Amour,” “Django Unchained,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and “The Sessions” are all questionable nominees for Best Picture, and that’s just listing the front runners in the screenplay races. (via Variety)

Ben Affleck to receive “Modern Master Award”

For a guy gunning for an Oscar for Best Director with a film set in the ‘70s, it’s got to feel good to win an award called the “Modern Master Award” at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Ben Affleck will receive the award on January 26, conveniently not long before the Oscar ceremony itself. (via The Race)

Week 5 Predictions Continue reading “Off the Red Carpet: Week of 11/7 – 11/14”

Off the Red Carpet – Week of 10/10 – 10/17

With “Argo” now in tow (my 3.5 star review), the Oscar race is starting to flesh out. Only a handful of films that will be major contenders for any awards have not yet been screened at festivals or to the press, those being “Les Miserables,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Django Unchained,” “The Hobbit,” “Hitchcock” and “Promised Land.” The question will be if “Argo” has the legs to go all the way given its somewhat middling performance at the box office (it earned about $19 million and was #2 behind “Taken 2”). It’ll surely get a Best Picture nomination and likely more, but only time will tell.

Here then is an updated look at some of the news of the week and a slightly tweaked list of predictions.

 “Flight” premieres at NYFF closing night

Robert Zemeckis’s first live action film since “Cast Away” is already being celebrated as great, complex studio filmmaking. Its strong outing practically cements Denzel Washington as a serious contender for Lead Actor and also has put John Goodman in the supporting conversation thanks to his other appearance this week in “Argo.”

Documentary Shorts Category has shortlist revealed

Eight short films have been selected as the potential five Oscar nominees from a list of 31 eligible titles. The list is as follows: (via Indiewire)

“The Education of Mohammad Hussein,” Loki Films
“Inocente,” Shine Global, Inc.
“Kings Point,” Kings Point Documentary, Inc.
“Mondays at Racine,” Cynthia Wade Productions
“Open Heart,” Urban Landscapes Inc.
“ParaÍso,” The Strangebird Company
“The Perfect Fit,” SDI Productions Ltd.
“Redemption,” Downtown Docs

“The Dark Knight Rises” in the hunt

Warner Bros. announced their For Your Consideration campaign this week, with the big surprise being the campaign for Anne Hathaway and “The Dark Knight Rises.” Hathaway’s role as Catwoman is being sold as a lead performance, which means she could find a spot in a slim field and be poised to not compete with herself in the supporting ranks for “Les Miserables.” See the whole Warner Bros. campaign.

James Gandolfini has secret part in “Zero Dark Thirty”

I’ll just leave this here. (via Entertainment Weekly)

Michael Moore comments further on controversial documentary branch

Michael Moore, never one to usually be opinionated and vocal (cough, cough), made further criticisms/explanations about his expectations regarding the new rules for nominating films in the Best Documentary category of the Oscars. He was a proponent for the new rules that make the nominating process more inclusive, but he feels certain films have taken advantage of these possibilities, leaving for a crop of films, 160 roughly, that is just too big a mountain to conquer. At the same time, he hopes to expand the number of voting members in the documentary branch for next year’s awards season. (via Indiewire)

Week 2 Oscar Predictions

Continue reading “Off the Red Carpet – Week of 10/10 – 10/17”

The Dark Knight Rises

The bat signal is lit. Since 2008’s “The Dark Knight,” the world needed another proper superhero movie, one that tested our minds and rattled our core.

Christopher Nolan’s follow-up, “The Dark Knight Rises,” is more of an enduring challenge than some will expect. For others, it will even feel little like a superhero movie. But its heavy themes of untapped emotion and social anarchy dwarf the flimsy blandness of “The Avengers” and “The Amazing Spiderman.” It does the Batman franchise proud. Continue reading “The Dark Knight Rises”

Alice in Wonderland (2011)

Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” remake isn’t as clever as “Avatar” with its use of 3-D and suffers from a sad third act.

Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” may be a very faithful adaptation of the Lewis Carroll novels. But the book is “Through the Looking Glass,” not Through the Victorian Oil Painting. Wonderment has never been this tedious.

When Alice (Mia Wasikowska) falls down the rabbit hole, this time at the age of 19, she arrives in Underland, convinced this is a new place to her despite the numerous dreams she had of what she called Wonderland when she was a child. The stock of Carroll heroes including a smoking caterpillar, talking flowers, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the Cheshire Cat, a feisty mouse, the white rabbit and of course the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) all debate whether she is the right Alice. If so, she is destined to slay a dragon-like monster called the Jabberwocky, remove the evil Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) from power and return Underland to its once glorious state under the rule of the White Queen (Anne Hathaway).

The trick with adapting this story, as it has been done so many times before, is clarifying that it is not a kid’s story. Doing so opens it up to a whole new level development flaws. Aside from not being a cartoonish experience full of joy and wonder, Alice is an uninteresting straight-man put through a series of increasingly quirky and odd encounters with one-dimensional characters. Continue reading “Alice in Wonderland (2011)”