Thursday, January 27, 2011

Oscar Nominations Were As Expected

Well, I did pretty well with my choices for the Best Picture nominations.  I hit them all except "True Grit."  It is a well-done film with fine acting, however, I haven't given it much thought since seeing it two weeks ago.  My main complaint about the film is Jeff Bridges (who I adore and was so happy to see win last year for "Crazy Heart.")  I spent much of the film trying to understand his mumbling.  There were several scenes when I didn't catch one word he said.  I'm also taken aback by the heaps of praise on this film when it is a rehash of an old standard.  There is very little original in this film (except for Hailee Steinfeld who was nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category at the young age of 14) so I'm baffled as to why it is generating such wonderful reviews and press.  Maybe Westerns aren't my thing but I did love Clint Eastwood's "Unforgiven" as well as films like "Tombstone" "The Assassination of Jesse James by The Coward Robert Ford" "The Good, The Bad & The Ugly" "The Magnificent Seven" and "Pale Rider" to mention a few.  "True Grit" does do a wonderful job depicting the era of the late 1800's and the clothing worn seems genuine, as well as the language of the time.  But I'm still not seeing this as one of the great films, it's a good film but not destined to be a classic.  That will always belong to the original and to John Wayne.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Oscar Nominations Announced Tomorrow!

The Oscar nominations will be announced tomorrow morning, January 25th, at 8:30am!  Be ready for some surprises.  Here are the films that I would pick for Best Picture in order of my favorites:

~ 127 Hours
~ The King's Speech
~ The Fighter
~ Winter's Bone
~ Inception
~ The Town
~ The Kids are Alright
~ Toy Story 3
~ Blue Valentine
~ The Social Network

Let's see what happens tomorrow!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid

One of my all time favorites, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid holds up well even today.  If you've never seen it or it's been ages since you last saw it, put it on your list.  Made in 1969 and starring two of Hollywood's most famous faces, Robert Redford and Paul Newman, it was directed by George Roy Hill, was nominated for seven Oscars and won four for Cinematography, Best Song for "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head," Best Original Score and Best Original Screenplay.  There are so many scenes I will never forget but the most famous is Sundance and Butch escaping the posse chasing them by jumping off a cliff into a rushing river and Sundance's exclamation right before he jumps.  As well as Butch's remark every time they think they've lost the posse only to see them on their trail again:  "Who are those guys?"  You will also get to enjoy two of the most beautiful men ever to grace the screen and my personal favorite, Robert Redford.  Enjoy the movie and the view. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

This is for My Dear Friend Tere

Take another look at the 1985 Best Picture "Out of Africa" based on the true story of Karen ('Isak') Dinesen Blixen, directed by the late Sydney Pollack and starring Meryl Streep, Robert Redford and Klaus Maria.  In 20th century colonial Kenya, a Danish baroness/plantation owner has a passionate but ultimately doomed love affair with a free-spirited big-game hunter who established a plantation in Africa.  It also won the Oscar for Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score and Best Adapted Screenplay.  I'm looking forward to seeing it again!

Monday, January 17, 2011

"Breaking Away"

In honor of director Peter Yates, who died on January 9th, take a first look or revisit one of my all time favorite films, "Breaking Away" starring Dennis Christopher, Dennis Quaid, Barbara Barrie and Paul Dooley.  It's a wonderful, uplifting story about perseverance, family and following your dreams.  You won't believe how exciting a bicycle race can be and how the lives of these small town boys from a university town will touch you.  Buon giorno!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

"An American In Paris"

Ah, Gene Kelly.  They don't have movie stars like this anymore - handsome, great acting ability and such a beautiful, athletic dancer.  If you want to see what I'm talking about, please take a look at the films "An American In Paris," "On The Town" (which also stars a beautiful and young Frank Sinatra), "Inherit the Wind" (one of my all-time favorite films about the 1925 Scopes evolution trial also starring Frederic March and Spencer Tracy), and of course the most well-known of his films "Singin' In The Rain."  He was truly an original. 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Harry, Ron and Hermoine Have Grown up Right

This is the darkest and most adult of the Harry Potter series - go see it before it leaves the theatres.  I've seen it twice and am anxiously awaiting the final chapter, which just happens to come out the day before my birthday - July 16, 2011.  This series is certainly not just for kids, teens or adults.  It's for everyone.  Never before has there been a series of films that followed a cast of characters quite like Harry, Ron and Hermoine using the same actors.  We have had the pleasure of watching the actors and the characters grow on screen right before our eyes.  Each film builds upon the last one, despite the vision of different directors, with a continuity that is seamless.  Go back and watch each film in order, reread the books, and enjoy the phenomena that is Harry Potter. 

Friday, January 14, 2011

"Blue Valentine" - Not for the Faint of Heart

I saw "Blue Valentine" a couple of days ago with my daughter, Julia.  Honestly, I wasn't sure I even wanted to see this film after reading about it.  It didn't sound like a bundle of fun to watch a marriage collapse.  But, being the film nut that I am, I figured if I can watch a film about a man who cuts his own arm off and come out of the theatre feeling completely enriched and full of hope, then maybe this won't be so bad.  I was wrong.

"Blue Valentine" directed by Derek Cianfrance and co-written by Derek Cianfrance and Cami Delavigne, is the story of Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) and their little girl, Frankie (played by the amazing Faith Wladyka.)  The story of their courtship and subsequent marriage is told in alternating time periods, ranging from before they meet until their marriage disintegrates.  Dean is a simple man.  He is a high school dropout from a broken family who is just looking to work, drink and love.  Cindy is a slightly more complex person in that when we meet her she is attending college hoping to become a doctor.  However, she also comes from a broken family.  Her parents are still together but her father is emotionally abusive and her mother is completely passive.  From the conversations at the dinner table, it's clear the parents have little idea who their daughter really is.  Cindy has just ended a disastrous relationship with a fellow college student when she meets Dean at a retirement home where her grandmother lives.  Dean is working as a mover and has just helped an old man move into the home.  Dean shows his sensitivity by taking the extra time to set up the old man's room with his personal belongings so he will feel at home and comfortable.  As he's setting up the room, he sees Cindy through the door of her grandmother's room which is across the hall.  From there, he is convinced this is love at first sight and eventually convinces her to see him.  We are then thrown forward in their life to the present where we see Cindy working as a nurse, having had to give up her dream of being a doctor, and Dean is a house painter who is a wonderful father to their daughter but has no ambition to do anything but work, smoke, drink and play with Frankie.  The story of what unfolds between when they meet and the heart-wrenching scene of their final break up, is one of love on the rebound, loneliness, need, passion, family crises, and marrying for all the wrong reasons.  Cindy and Dean are a couple who are thrown together through circumstances and try to make a life together but they never quite know each other as well as they should.  Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams play their roles with wonderful authenticity, and that is why this film is so disturbing and upsetting.  You feel as if you are watching an actual marriage.  However, I do feel that the dialogue was not as true to life as it could have been.  It felt forced at times and did not accurately portray how real people speak to each other.  And yet, the raw emotions, and even the way Ryan and Michelle dress, bring a truth to their portrayals that will move you.  But, in the end, I left the theatre feeling defeated and just very, very sad.  

This film has already been nominated for many awards and I'm sure we'll see it listed when the Oscar nominations come out, however, I don't feel it was one of the best films of the year.  It has some of the best acting of the year but, overall, I feel there are other films more deserving of a Best Picture nod. 

*A side note:  this film was originally meant to be shot and finished in 2008 but was delayed because of Heath Ledger's death out of respect for Michelle Williams and their daughter, Mathilda.

Happy 2011! Let's Start the Year with a Documentary

In pursuit of further film knowledge, I enrolled in a continuing education class at Stanford University this semester.  It's entitled "10 Films that Shook the World."  It is conjointly taught by Jasmina Bojic and Mick LaSalle.  Jasmina Bojic is a Stanford professor who is also a journalist with a long history covering film festivals and award ceremonies.  She also created and runs the international documentary film festival UNAFF.  Mick LaSalle is a film critic for the San Francisco Chronicle as well as an author of several books about film: "Complicated Women: Sex and the Power in Pre-Code Hollywood" and "Dangerous Men: Pre-Code Hollywood and the Birth of the Modern Man." He also happens to be one of my favorite film critics so I felt compelled to take advantage of this opportunity.  My first class was last night and was taught by Jasmina who showed us the film "Black Wave: The Legacy of the Exxon Valdez." Here is an excerpt from the website devoted to the film:

Twenty years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, marine biologist Riki Ott and the fishers in the town of Cordova, Alaska remind us that the biggest environmental catastrophe in North American history is still with us. Over time, its consequences have become all the more apparent and painful. The spill has profoundly altered the lives of tens of thousands of people, reducing them to poverty and despair.

Before beginning the film, Jasmina asked us how much we remember about the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 and there was silence.  Most of us remember it happening but we had little information about what occurred afterward and what's happening at the present time.  "See," she said "this is why documentaries can be so important."  The film centered around the lives of several families in the city of Cordova which was the hardest hit by the Exxon disaster.  The fishing industry there was destroyed and has never recovered.  If you dig down about a foot, the oil is still present in the sand.  The clean up crews that Exxon sent to the area three years (yes, three years) after the spill are still suffering the lasting effects of the "safe" chemicals they used to try to clean up the cove.  The townspeople, as well as the clean up crews, sued Exxon for damages, were awarded billions of dollars but, as only large corporations can do, they fought and appealed the decision for 20 years until it was finally reduced by the US Supreme Court to $507 million.  That $507 million distributed between all of the townspeople didn't even begin to cover their legal costs, let alone their loss of livelihood.  This film is touching, aggravating, and heart-breaking, but most of all it tells the true story of how the world is horrified by such a disaster only to forget about it once the media has moved on.  One resident of Cordova, Dr. Riki Ott, a fisher woman and marine biologist who is the film's heart and mind, lectures all over the world about the dangers of oil spills and has also written two books documenting their struggle with Exxon, Sound Truths and Corporate Myth$ and Not One Drop. Her clear voice detailing what happened and what continues to happen to the ecosystem in Prince William Sound is mind-blowing.  This is also a film about corporate America at its worst.  Exxon was contacted repeatedly to present their side of this continuing story but the filmmakers received no response.

If you get a chance to view this film, I cannot stress enough how important it is especially in light of the BP disaster that has now become old news also.  What is happening in the Gulf now?  What kind of lasting effects are there?  Is BP doing all that it can to adequately clean up and help the environment recover from such a devastating spill?  Corporations need to be held accountable for their actions just like everyone else.

For more information on the Black Wave go to: