Friday, February 28, 2014

Oscar 2013: My predictions

Strange how after all the campaigning and all the hype, most of the winners in the top categories seem obvious... well, except for Best Picture, anyway.

Best picture
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

Best director
David O. Russell, “American Hustle”
Alfonso Cuarón, “Gravity”
Alexander Payne, “Nebraska”
Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave”
Martin Scorsese, “The Wolf of Wall Street”

Best actor
Christian Bale, “American Hustle”
Bruce Dern, “Nebraska”
Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Chiwetel Ejiofor, “12 Years a Slave”
Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”

Best actress
Amy Adams, “American Hustle”
Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”
Sandra Bullock, “Gravity”
Judi Dench, “Philomena”
Meryl Streep, “August: Osage County”

Best supporting actor

Barkhad Abdi, “Captain Phillips”"
Bradley Cooper, “American Hustle”
Michael Fassbender, “12 Years a Slave”
Jonah Hill, “Wolf of Wall Street”
Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”

Best supporting actress
Sally Hawkins, “Blue Jasmine”
Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle”
Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”
Julia Roberts, “August: Osage County”
June Squibb, “Nebraska”

Adapted Screenplay
“Before Midnight”
“Captain Phillips”
“12 Years a Slave”
“The Wolf of Wall Street”

Original Screenplay
“American Hustle”
“Blue Jasmine”
“Dallas Buyers Club”

Best film editing
“American Hustle”
“Captain Phillips”
“Dallas Buyers Club”
“12 Years a Slave”

Best cinematography
“The Grandmaster”
“Inside Llewyn Davis”

Best foreign language film
“The Broken Circle Breakdown” (Belgium)
“The Hunt” (Denmark)
“The Great Beauty” (Italy)
“The Missing Picture” (Cambodia)
“Omar” (Palestine)

Best animated feature film
“The Croods”
“Despicable Me 2″
“Ernest and Celestine”
“The Wind Rises”

Best documentary feature
“The Act of Killing”
“Cutie and the Boxer”
“Dirty Wars”
“The Square”
“20 Feet From Stardom”

Best costume design
“American Hustle”
“The Grandmaster”
“The Great Gatsby”
“The Invisible Woman”
“12 Years a Slave”

Best makeup and hairstyling
“Dallas Buyers Club”
“Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa”
“The Lone Ranger”

Best production design
“American Hustle”
“The Great Gatsby”
“12 Years a Slave”

Original score
“The Book Thief”
“Saving Mr. Banks”

Best Music (Original Song)
“Happy” from DM2
“Let it Go” from “Frozen”
“The Moon Song” from “Her”
“Ordinary Love” from “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”

Best sound editing
“All is Lost”
“Captain Phillips”
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”
“Lone Survivor”

Best sound mixing
“Captain Phillips”
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”
“Inside Llewyn Davis”
“Lone Survivor”

Best visual effects
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”
“Iron Man 3″
“The Lone Ranger”
“Star Trek: Into Darkness”

Best animated short
“Get a Horse!”
“Mr. Hublot”
“Room on the Broom”

Best live action short
“A quel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me)”
“Avant De Tout Perdre” (Just Before Losing Everything)”
“Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?)”
“The Voorman Problem”

Best documentary short
“Facing Fear”
“Karama Has No Walls”
“The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life”
“Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall”

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Field of Dreams

Field of Dreams
seen on TV @ TCM

All this snow is slowly driving me insane. And I don't think I'm the only one who feels this way. I mean, living in the northeast, we expect heavy winters, but when you see people tweeting about snow in places like Alabama, something is seriously wrong with the universe. I wanted to go out last Saturday, but it was snowing, and I was in a glum mood to begin with. I needed some kind of reminder of spring - y'know, that it still exists, and that it will actually come sometime this year, once all this snow stops piling up all over the streets and all the slush stops gathering in my boots and all the cold makes walking around dreary and uncomfortable. (Actually, February has been marginally warmer compared to the single-digit days of January.) And what better way to be reminded of spring than baseball?

I never had anything against Kevin Costner. He always struck me as being a decent actor, Gary Cooper-like looks and all. I don't think I've ever sat all the way through Dances With Wolves - I probably wrote it off as boring back when it came out - but you better believe I've seen his sports movies. I never saw For Love of the Game, though; that one was actually recommended to me by a guy I met during NaNoWriMo last November, since I was writing a baseball story. And now Costner's making another sports movie, Draft Day, but I can't talk about that yet.

I remember all the hubbub about Waterworld and how much it cost and all the behind-the-scenes drama, and honestly, I didn't think the end product was all that terrible. Hell, compared to most of the superhero movies today, I imagine it might even look better. (It definitely deserves a reappraisal of some sort.) The Postman, on the other hand... well, I can't defend that one. Maybe Costner did get a little big-headed after the success of Wolves, and maybe he did need to come back down to Earth for awhile, but it would've been wrong if he had stayed in Hollywood jail forever.

Field of Dreams was made during his glory years, and it was a bit of a shock to see him look young again, but that's time for you. It's a purely American movie, the kind that wears its heart on its sleeve, and while baseball is the vehicle for this story, at its heart, it's about fathers and sons. 

I had forgotten that; I had come into this thinking about just the baseball aspects, and as a result, I found myself thinking a whole lot about my father. This was the first time I had seen it since his death, and while he's never very far from my thoughts, watching this sorta made him come alive for me again, for a moment. 

I've written here before about how I learned about the game from him, how he took me to ballgames and all that stuff, and without going too deep into it again, the point is that I see this movie in a different context now. For all of the good things I remember about my father, there were things on which we strongly disagreed as well, and I understand, to a certain extent, why Costner's character would be afraid of becoming his father, and why he would want to do something as crazy as build a ballpark in the middle of his cornfield.

Maybe it's a baby boomer anxiety, but I don't think it is. At some point, every generation measures itself against the one that came before it. They may find it lacking at first, but things that seemed incomprehensible once can seem more understandable over time. I know that much, at least. And while I'm grateful for the positive things he contributed to my life, I'd still like to see my father as a younger man and try to figure out why he believed the things he did, made the choices he made. Who wouldn't, given the opportunity?

So yeah, I cried at the end of the movie... which I never did before, and I've seen this a bunch of times. It was cathartic, I suppose. I've learned to live without my father, but every now and then, something comes along that reminds me of him - the bad stuff as well as the good. It'll be a long time before I can watch this movie again, that's for sure.

On a different note: I watched Field with my mother, and wouldn't you know it, after it ended, she said she didn't get it! Apparently she was confused by who was alive and who was dead and why. I tried explaining it to her, but it didn't help. Sometimes, I fear for my mother's sense of imagination. 

We had had a conversation earlier that day about movies and television and she said she prefers watching History Channel/Learning Channel-type programs these days because most movies and shows clash with her sense of morality and taste. The word "wholesome" was used. And while I don't expect shows like Mad Men or Breaking Bad would ever appeal to her, a movie like Field is much more accessible than, say, your average Christopher Nolan movie. I'd think she'd be able to make the creative leap necessary to understand the Twilight Zone-type premise. 

Maybe I give her too much credit. I'm not sure. I'd like to be able to talk movies with her the way I used to talk about them with my father, but the level of interest isn't the same, to say the least. Even when I try and sit down with her for an older movie, a movie closer to her generation than mine, she'll still say things like, oh, the ending was too depressing. She said that once after we watched A Streetcar Named Desire, which kinda misses the point of that movie completely. But maybe I shouldn't judge.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Oscar Trading Cards: Actor assortment

The 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon is an event coinciding with Turner Classic Movies' "31 Days of Oscar" month-long celebration, in observance of the Academy Awards. In both events, the theme is the same: recognition of Oscar-nominated films throughout history. The blogathon is hosted by Once Upon a ScreenOutspoken & Freckled, and Paula's Cinema Club. See the links above for a list of participating blogs.

Bet you didn't even know there were such things as Oscar trading cards, did ya? They make trading cards for just about anything these days, and I should know: I used to work in a comic book store that sold trading cards and gaming cards, and I've seen them at enough conventions to know that's there's all kinds for almost all tastes. Oscar cards tend to attract a somewhat, um... more mature type of collector - I guess the kids are too busy playing Pokemon to bother with them. But that's okay, because it just makes these cards rarer! And everybody knows the collectibles market is where it's at!

As we approach the Oscars, therefore, I thought I'd share some of my collection with you. Most of my cards I've gotten from comics shops around the New York area that, alas, are no longer around. Mine is a fairly old collection, and while many of them are kinda worn and faded now, I have a small handful that are worth something. I'll take any and all trade offers anyone is willing to make...

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Lovely Lily

Lovely Lily
seen @ Elmhurst Hospital, Elmhurst, Queens NY

Try to imagine it. Travelling to a foreign country in pursuit of your dreams, your arrival eagerly anticipated by millions. Being on the verge of instant stardom, the media following your every step and recording your every word as if you were royalty. Performing on live television back when it was still new, practically deafened by the roar of the teenage audience. Conquering the world... by the age of 22.

Try to imagine what it was like to be the Beatles.

Why do the Beatles still matter, fifty years after their American debut in this, the age of American Idol and auto-tune and mp3s? An age in which rock and roll has, if not been passed by, then marginalized at the very least? The answer is so simple, a child can grasp it: because we are all, all of us, living in the world they made. It goes way beyond the music, although the music was tremendous. In terms of fashion, world culture, politics, spirituality, and who knows what else, those four dudes from Liverpool reshaped the world. 

You already know this, though, because you've heard "Love Me Do" or "She Loves You"; you've seen them on TV or in the movies; you've read about them in magazines. To some degree, whether large or small, you've felt their impact.

My generation had Michael Jackson, and he came pretty close to matching the Beatles in popularity. Some would even say he surpassed them. I recall when he and his brothers, the Jacksons, toured to promote their album Victory, back in the early 80s, and seeing people all over the world lose their minds over seeing them (only a slight exaggeration, I assure you), I remember thinking, even then, that this must have been what Beatlemania was like.

There have been a number of movies that attempted to recreate either the Beatles' pre-fame days in Liverpool, the American zeitgeist during the Beatle years, or some combination thereof. Lovely Lily is an independent short film that takes its own stab at it. In this case, the 1964 arrival of the Fab Four is the backdrop for a dramedy set deep in the heart of Queens.

I met the writer/producer/director/star, Celeste Balducci, at the Queens World Film Festival (QWFF) two years ago. Actually, that's not entirely accurate; I first saw her at the fest, but I didn't really meet her until later that summer at a party held by QWFF founders Don & Katha Cato. I didn't know she was a filmmaker at first; as I recall, we talked about a bunch of other stuff besides movies. I've seen her at QWFF and QWFF-related events since then. She's a vivacious and very charming lady. 

I've thought about it, and I can't recall ever becoming friends with someone in real life and then seeing them in a movie that they made. It's a little odd; at first you know someone in a given context, and then, through the movies, that context changes - and it's not even like I know a great deal about Celeste to begin with. It's analogous to whenever I see my sister sing in her band. She almost becomes a different person on stage, someone a little bit bigger than life, but she's still my sister, if that makes sense.

Lily began as a feature film that came out in 2009 before Celeste chose to shorten it to a half hour instead. She has spent more than a decade working on it, filming in and around Jackson Heights, and like all indie filmmakers, coerced a wide variety of friends and acquaintances to take part in it. Sunday night's screening was the first in its newer, shortened form. Why did she choose a hospital to show it in? Because they had the space - an auditorium of a size comparable to that of a room in an art house theater, and I'd say it was at least half full, maybe two-thirds full.

The Elmhurst Hospital auditorium where Lily screened.

Celeste plays Lily, a nightclub singer at a local joint that has since closed down after filming, and the time is February, 1964, right when the Beatles were about to arrive in America and play The Ed Sullivan Show. The film follows Lily and her circle of friends, relatives and acquaintances who are either abuzz with excitement or completely indifferent over the English "rock and roll" band. There's also some drama involving a love-struck fan of Lily's, a older former admirer, and his latest young paramour.

Celeste said afterwards that she was going to continue to work on things in the film like sound, so it's reasonable to believe that this newer, shorter version of Lily is still not complete. It does feel kind of raw. She also said she shot it in different formats deliberately, as a means to evoke different time periods, and indeed, there are flashback scenes involving some of the characters. I got the impression she was going for a somewhat artistic vibe, since she uses things like jump cuts, but I think a more straightforward approach might have been better. There were many quick cuts that confused me as to who certain minor characters were. There are few sustained moments where we get to sit back and simply be with the characters.

An impressive turnout, despite the snow.

The characters are lively and fun to watch, but in some ways, except for Lily, they feel like sketches. I would've liked to have seen them more clearly defined. Celeste has a good ear for dialogue; it should be applied more. That said, however, the acting is good, as is the original score. One gets the impression from watching Celeste portray her that Lily is very close to her heart and, perhaps, her own experiences. Lily has a history and a worldview that helps define her, and Celeste isn't afraid to have her do things like have an affair with a younger man, which is treated as no big deal. And as difficult as it must have been to recreate 1964 through things like wardrobe and cars and other props, she does just enough to pull it off.

Her plan is to eventually take it on the festival circuit. I hope, once she perfects Lily, she does well with it. Lily isn't available online, but the link at the top will take you to the film's website.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Howl's Moving Castle

Howl's Moving Castle
seen @ Ample Hills, Brooklyn NY

One could hardly blame me for thinking, as a child, that all Japanese animation was about giant robots, wicked-cool looking tech stuff, and prepubescent-looking girls. As I've written about before, TV shows like Battle of the Planets and films like Akira cemented those impressions in my mind for a long time. 

I remember this one kid from high school who would draw nothing but giant robots and Pacific Rim-style mecha armor. Later, I had a close friend named Becky who got me into other anime shows. She drew some anime-style art as well. One time I was at her place and we pigged out on this one anime show she had on VHS for hours, and for the life of me, I can't remember what it was now. I wish I could.

I would imagine that I first heard about the films of Hayao Miyazaki sometime in the late 90s, when Princess Mononoke came stateside. I recall what a big deal that was at the time, and rightly so. Here was a filmmaker who made animated films that were ostensibly for a younger audience, yet did not use the same old tired tropes as mainstream American animated films in general, and Disney in specific. 

It's undoubtedly the result of coming from an alternate culture and a different, often times more sophisticated, storytelling sensibility: Miyazaki's films stretch the imagination to different planes and often have that childlike sense of wonder that is prized by many modern storytellers, yet doesn't condescend to the viewer, either. It's the same kind of balance that Pixar has mastered.

And now they tell us that Miyazaki has had enough. He's getting out of the game. (Maybe.) If this is so, well, all I can say is that he's earned the right. The whole world loves and appreciates his films, to a degree surpassed, perhaps, by only Walt Disney himself, and if he feels like he's no longer physically capable of maintaining his career pace, then so be it. He's left behind a remarkable body of work that will be appreciated for generations.

I myself have only seen bits of that body of work, however. I've seen Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Kiki's Delivery Service (might have seen Castle in the Sky; don't recall), so when I saw that Howl's Moving Castle was playing in Brooklyn yesterday, I went to see it.

This was one of the more unusual screenings I've been to lately. Ample Hills is a popular ice cream parlor in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Prospect Heights, near Grand Army Plaza. The name comes from a line written by author and Brooklyn native Walt Whitman describing his home borough. I discovered the place a few years ago, completely by accident. 

I was out biking in Brooklyn one Saturday, just following the bike lanes wherever they went, and at one point I went up an incline, and by the time it leveled off, I was pretty tired, so I stopped for a bit and looked around. Didn't recognize the neighborhood, but I still had a vague sense of where I was in relation to some of the cross-streets, so I kept going. I went past Atlantic Avenue and over the Long Island Railroad tracks and into a nice-looking part of town I'd never seen before, and among the shops I saw there was Ample Hills. 

They've got a sweet combination of unusual flavors, such as their ever-popular "salted crack caramel," made from salted butter caramel ice cream with "crack" cookies (not what you think); or "the munchies," made with pretzels, potato chips, Ritz crackers and mini M&Ms! There's even a film connection: the owner used to write screenplays. I don't make it into Prospect Heights all that often, but when I do, I often stop in for a cone, especially in the warm months when the joint is really jumping.

In the winter time, AH shows all-ages movies, and Howl was the latest. Unfortunately, I got there after the movie started, but not by much. They put up a makeshift canvas in front of their window and projected the movie onto it. Most of the seating faced the screen. The movie didn't attract many viewers; besides me, there was a dude with his two children, perched on stools in front of the main counter, and throughout the night, there were maybe three or four other people (counting their kids) who showed any interest in the movie. I couldn't tell you if that was par for the course.

AH usually gets their online fans to make up a flavor to go with the movie showing. in this case, the new flavor was called Calcifer's Hot Cocoa Coals, named after a character in Howl who's a fire demon - literally, a sentient ball of flame. The flavor was made of toasted marshmallow ice cream with chocolate cinnamon swirl and pocky, a Japanese snack. I forgot they had this flavor, else I would've sampled it; instead, I bought something called "bananamon," which is organic bananas, Saigon cinnamon and vanilla wafers. It was good.

While the audio in AH was fine, I couldn't tell you much about the movie itself because I soon discovered the drawback to holding a movie screening in a place like AH: not everyone who comes in there comes for the movie. When I arrived, there were few people in the shop, but about a third of the way into the movie, a bunch of young women arrived, and two of them sat in the booth behind me (after ordering cones for themselves) and chatted up a storm, oblivious to the movie. There wasn't exactly anything I could do about it; I mean, this isn't the same as people chatting during a movie in an actual theater, so I tilted my head a little closer to the speakers and did my best to shut them out. They left after awhile, but others took their place. It wasn't the most ideal way to watch a movie.

The titular Howl lives in a world of magic and rides around in a mechanical "castle" with legs, that has dimensional doorways to other parts of the world. An old lady named Sophie seeks him out for help because a witch put a spell on her that made her prematurely old (I think), but she has to help Howl find his heart, and there's a war going on, and that's about as much as I can tell you of the plot without looking at IMDB. It's certainly recognizable as a Miyazaki film, with lots of bizarre looking characters, fantastical gadgets and creatures, and beautiful landscapes. I think I'm gonna have to see this one again, though, if I wanna get a better sense of the story.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A blogathon of Diamonds and Gold!

As many blogathons as I've participated in, I haven't hosted a whole bunch of them myself. You'll recall that last year, Page and I tried to start one, but were blind-sided by world events. It's a new year, though, and so I figure that means it's worth another try. This time out, I'm teaming up with another of my favorite film bloggers, Paddy Lee, AKA Caftan Woman, to bring you what we call the Diamonds and Gold Blogathon!

The premise is E-Z: we're looking for great performances by actors 50 and over. It can be a well-known star in a role in their twilight years - for example, John Wayne in True Grit (62), Helen Mirren in The Queen (61), Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator (51), or Marlene Dietrich in Witness For the Prosecution (56) - or it can be a lesser known star who shined later in life - for example, Maria Ouspenskaya in Love Story (63), Brenda Blethyn in Secrets & Lies (50), Ben Johnson in The Last Picture Show (53) or Hal Holbrook in Into the Wild (82!). It can be a classy role or a campy one - if you can justify its "greatness," of course!

The blogathon will be held the weekend of April 12-13. I'll handle the posts about the fellas, while Paddy will handle the ones featuring the ladies, so send your links to us accordingly. Here are the rest of your banners, which includes the one of Kate in The Lion in Winter above...

Monday, February 3, 2014

Links and a remembrance

Wow, what a weekend, huh?

The first time I recall really noticing Philip Seymour Hoffman was in Happiness, a mind-blowing movie that shows ordinary, everyday people at their most depraved. This was during the period when I was beginning to get a taste for independent cinema, so you can imagine how disturbing it was to see a character like Hoffman's on screen for the first time. I had studied acting in college for a semester, and I had taken classes outside school as well. I thought I was on my way to fully understanding what great acting required, but after seeing Hoffman in that role, it was clear I knew absolutely nothing.

It wasn't long before I starting seeing this guy in other movies, like Boogie Nights and Magnolia, and I was amazed at how he could make so many different kinds of... shall we say... left-of-center-type characters so human. Even his character in Happiness, as sleazy and depraved as he was, provoked feelings of disgust mixed with sympathy. Hoffman was a throwback to the kind of actors that sprung out of the New Hollywood era of the late 60s-mid 70s. We had every reason to believe that he would go on making great movies, especially after he won the Oscar for Capote.

But now that's gone. We'll never know what kinds of demons he must have been grappling with that led to his life being taken as a result of drugs. I myself had no idea this was a problem for him, but then, he wasn't the kind of actor who's a paparazzi darling. I'm sad at his loss, yet I'm also frustrated that it was drugs that did it, like it has done in so many talented artists before their time.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Moving on... I'm in the beginning stages of my Spoiler Experiment, which you can follow on my Twitter feed under the hashtag [#spoilerxpmt], and I've made a few early observations which may come across as obvious to some, but they're worth taking note of, I think. For instance, in following the story about Quentin Tarantino's leaked screenplay, I've wondered about the position the person (usually a fan of some sort, but not always) with inside knowledge of a movie is put in, especially when it's exclusive knowledge. 

Does that person ever stop to weigh the actual responsibility to the creator versus the perceived responsibility to others? Just because one can share inside knowledge, does it necessarily follow that they should? Especially when the creator has personally entrusted one with this knowledge? It's common these days for certain scripts, especially scripts for popular genre movies, to be heavily guarded and protected from leaks because some people simply can't keep this information to themselves. A by-product of living in the information age? Or has this problem always been with us?

This Wired article from 2011 argues that spoilers don't severely impact one's viewing experience. While there are some good points brought up in this piece, I still think there's something more to the problem... maybe it's something that has to do with human nature. Not sure.

Anyway, regarding my specific experiment, I've learned that Million Dollar Arm is based on a true story, however, I fully anticipate liberties to be taken in the telling of this story, especially since it's a Disney movie. That said, it does have a decent pedigree; the director and writer have both made quality indie films in the recent past (Lars and the Real Girl for the former, The Visitor and The Station Agent for the latter), so this might not suck. Meanwhile, Draft Day comes out in April and I still know next to nothing about it, as planned.

Your links:

Page went to Atlanta recently and visited a historic hotel that has its share of film history.

Alex had an art show featuring her movie-related illustrations.

Dorian compares [all] [three] [versions] of The Maltese Falcon.

There's been a new rash of annoying character quizzes popping up all over my Facebook feed lately. Leave it to John to provide one that requires a minimum of brainpower.

One of the most disturbing old movies I've seen since starting WSW is the Ruth Roman semi-suspense movie The Baby. Monstergirl goes into her usual level of depth in talking about it.

Courtney ponders modern movie masculinity.

At long last: an in-depth study of the evolution of Joan Crawford's eyebrows!

In my Hollywood Canteen story from last month, one of my characters was actress Marsha Hunt. She's had a remarkable life and career, and now someone's making a documentary about her.

Chaz Ebert discusses her late husband Roger's legacy.

Here's a cleverly-written piece about one fan's love-hate relationship with the Oscars.