Friday, October 29, 2010

Fun at the Beach.....with PEZ

Believe it or not true believers, there is more to this rabid cinephile's life than just the cinema.  There is PEZ.  Yeah, you read that right - PEZ, those candy dispensers with the character heads.  You see, I collect them, and currently have over 2000 of them at home (along with about 400+ other non-dispenser PEZ items).  This week-end I will be in Myrtle Beach at an honest-to-goodness PEZ convention.  Yeah, it may seem weird that such a thing exists (there are over a dozen different ones throughout the world!) but to me and my lovely wife, it is business as usual.

Anyhoo (did I just type that!?  oh well) we are here at the beach (arrived yesterday late afternoon) and are soaking in all Myrtle Beach has to offer - including watching the sunrise over the Atlantic, PEZ buying and (in just a few hours) going to the KISS Coffeehouse!!!  My point being, I will not be blogging at all this week-end (though I obviously have my trusty laptop with me) so come back Monday or Tuesday to see new reviews of such films as Catfish, Nowhere Boy, Hereafter and others.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Pompous Loser on the Train: An Afterword to Black Swan

So there I was on the Philadelphia Regional Rail, heading back to my friend's house in Glenside PA (with whom I was staying the weekend) after the Philadelphia Film Festival screening of Darren Aronofsky's brilliant batshitcrazy Black Swan, and sitting two seats in front of me was a man and a woman in discussion of said Black Swan.  Now my personal thoughts on the film (which are obvious from the aforementioned use of the word brilliant) aside, it is not what they thought of the film that I take a certain offense to, but how they thought of it that bothered me - or at least how the titular pompous loser thought of it.  The woman, if anything, just seemed to want to get up and escape her possible date (first date perhaps?).  These two seemed not to know each other all that well (just gathering from the lack of intimacy in their conversational style) and this I think bodes well for the poor woman in all of this - a woman that has hopefully since escaped this pompous loser and his reign of condescending verbal fire.

After telling this woman that she did not know what she was talking about, because she liked the film, this pompous loser went on a tirade of how Aronofsky's film (not the he ever mentioned the director by name - most likely unaware of who he even is!) made no sense at all and "why does this girl care so much abut doing the things she does?" he went on and on, "It's ballet, who cares?".  Really?  Really buddy?  Seriously, this jerk just kept going on about how the film was unworthy of our time because HE did not care about ballet.  Meanwhile, the woman just shuffled about in her seat, waiting (I hope) for her escape.  He didn't understand why Portman's character kept hurting herself over all of this, and why it was so important to her.  At one point this jackass said "No one cares about ballet, why even make this movie?".  Really?

Now my love of The Red Shoes aside (why make that movie even?) this wasn't even the worst part of his soapbox diatribe.  His ending note, just before they got off the train (one stop before me), was thus, "Why do people try to achieve perfection?  Instead everyone should just try to be average."  Wow!  I really hope he isn't a parent or a teacher or someone else that can warp children's minds.  Amazing stuff indeed.  Let's just all strain to be average.  Perhaps I should have stepped in and called him out on all this, but I was mesmerized by watching them - as if I were watching a movie right then and there (one filmed by Godard or Bresson considering my constant shot of the backs of these people's heads).  Oh to be average.  Perhaps this guy should stick to less daring fare such as the oeuvre of Steven Spielberg or Ron Howard - they make average look so easy.

Oh yeah, and Black Swan is batshitcrazy brilliant.  Be sure to see it when it opens on Dec. 3rd.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Natalie Likes Me.....
OK, maybe not, but somebody does

Well, it seems as if my glowing (some could and would and should say gushing) review of Black Swan (right here, in my look at the Philadelphia Film Festival - a full review is coming closer to the 12/03 release date) has gotten me linked onto - and not in any weird stalkerish way.  I just hope they never Google my reviews of those new Star Wars travesties.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Film Poll #5: The Results

The best Fincher?  Ya know, I figured this was going to be a runaway victory for Fight Club, but no (he said pleasantly surprised).  I figured the cult status of the club no one is to talk about would give it the necessary boost in needed to claim victory over more obvious choices (much like The Big Lebowski beating out obviously superior films in the Coen Bros. poll from a few weeks ago).   Instead, it was a tight two-team race up to the very end, when Zodiac (my choice I am happy to say!) squeaked out a one-run, walk-off victory - while everyone else fell in a very distant 3rd and beyond (including not a single vote for three of the auteur's films - two expectantly, one not so much).   Anyway, here are the results.  And to stave off all those Fight Club lovers that are getting ready to toss off an angry comment or two towards yours truly - contrary to me aforementioned snide remark, I do in fact like Fight Club (it is my 4th favourite after Zodiac, Social Network and the oft-maligned Panic Room, and right above Se7en and Ben Button - let's not even talk Alien 3 - and I have never seen The Game).  So there.

Zodiac - 12 (40%)
Fight Club - 11 (36%)
Se7en - 4 (13%)
The Social Network - 2 (6%)
Panic Room - 1 (3%)
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - 0 (0%)
Alien 3 - 0 (0%)
The Game - 0 (0%)

I will be away this week-end so there will be no new film poll until next week sometime.  But not to worry, when the new poll is announced, you will be the first to know.

The Cinematheque Reviews:
Enter The Void

It's been eight years since Gaspar Noe released his last film, Irreversible, and it has been about eight years for many to get it out of their head - if they have.  Perhaps the intensity that came with seeing Irreversible (whether you loved it or hated it - and I don't think that were many in the contingent between these two polars) was what caused the better part of a decade to erode before seeing a new film from M. Noe.  Okay, this is just my hyperbolic way of saying the French Provocateur has finally come out with a new film and (though I am not here to do such things) I highly recommend it - to both those who loved and those who hated Irreversible.  You will probably have the same reaction as before (for both similar and vastly different reasons) but those who hated Irreversible were wrong in the first place.  How's that for a pompous, demanding and quite opinionated exclamation?  Anyway, read the damned review.....

This film is such a visually striking movie, that I had to add a second shot, where normally I place just one.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Philadelphia Film Festival: Black Swan

When sitting down to write about Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan, this usually quite wordy (some would, and have, said too wordy) critic suddenly found himself at a loss for words.  Or at least at a loss for the appropriate words.  One could easily use such terms as beautiful or gorgeous or even succulent to describe this film, and all of these words would be perfectly accurate, but none of them seem to fit as they should.  While Black Swan may very well be one of the most gorgeous films this critic has seen in a long time, full of succulent, beautiful imagery, the film goes beyond such descriptives.  While simultaneously shining in such gorgeous imagery, Aronofsky has also made his film a monstrosity of sorts.  The auteur of Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain and The Wrestler, has finally done what all those films have been alluding too, leading up too - he has finally created his very own monster movie.
Black Swan is the story of a ballerina on the precipice of old age (at least by dance standards), who is cast to play the white and black swan (the light and dark, Ego and Id) in a new rendition of Swan Lake, and the inner demons that manifest themselves as a nightmarish reality.   Aronofsky has taken this ballet, and the making of this ballet, and has structured a monster movie like nothing else before it.  Sort of The Red Shoes on acid (an apt, but cursory description), Black Swan is a dangerous, threatening, wicked movie that takes the idea of perfection in art and transforms such a philosophical conundrum into a psychological horror movie reminiscent of Cronenberg or Haneke or even Argento. And it is Natalie Portman, at the center of this movie, who brings the light and dark together in the most ferocious of finales.  

The film also stars Mila Kunis as the supposed evil to Portman's supposed good (and her partner in the inevitable, and quite delectable, Sapphic delerium scene!), Vincent Cassel as the demanding ballet troupe leader (this film's Lermontov) and Barbara Hershey as Portman's psycho mother (can we say Piper Laurie in Carrie?), but it is Portman and her twisted ghoulish, yet striking mannerisms, that take the film deep into the void it dares to go into.  There is also a surprisingly intriguing turn by Winona Ryder, playing a ghostly version of herself.  But above all else, with its fractured cinematic psyche and bravura demonology, this is Darren Aronofsky's movie - and what a movie, what a work of Grand Guignol, it ends up being.
Denzel Washington once said (in his Oscar winning role in Training Day) that King Kong didn't have anything on him.  Well, that big ape's got nothing on Black Swan either.  Of course none of this is any help whatsoever in coming up with an appropriate term to describe such a film.  Magnificent, marvelous, enticing.  Astonishing, amazing, awe-inspiring.   Dazzling, delectable, provocative.  All of these describe what I felt while watching this rapturous (there's another word!) film, but still, they all seem like not quite enough for a film that is so batshitcrazy as Black Swan.  Hey wait, that's it - the perfect word.  Batshitcrazy.  As gorgeous a film as Black Swan is, more than anything else, it is batshitcrazy as can be.  Oh yeah, and it's one of the best films of the year - hands down.  Batshitcrazy indeed.
A full (and probably quite long-winded) review of Black Swan will appear here closer to the December 3rd release date of the film.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Cinematheque Reviews:
It's Kind Of A Funny Story

My third posted review of today is also my least favourite of the three.  It's Kind Of A Funny Story, save for Zach Galifianakis' surprisingly nuanced turn as a mental patient (whoulda thunk it?  Seriously.) the film is pure pop trash posing as a thought provoking film.  Insensitive and wholly irresponsible (doing for mental issues what the annoyingly coy Juno did for teen pregnancy!) it is an extra shame that Galifianakis takes this moment to show that he can indeed act.

The Cinematheque Reviews: Red

I didn't have much to say about Red, so that is probably why I didn't even try in my rather short 300-some word review of the film (well, short in comparison to most of my reviews).  This uncharacteristic loss for words doesn't mean I disliked the film in any way.  In fact I enjoyed it for what it was - which was pure popcorn all the way.  Perhaps a film such as Red doesn't need to be analyzed.  Perhaps a film like Red cannot be analyzed.  Perhaps I was just being lazy, who knows.  Anyway, before this intro becomes longer than my review.....

The Cinematheque Reviews:
Jack Goes Boating

Over at The Cinematheque, one will find a new review posted (the first of three going up today).  It is for Philip Seymour Hoffman's directorial debut, Jack Goes Boating.  An interesting film, if seemingly cliche'd at times, with four fantastic performances that make up for any directorial slights that may have occurred in the making of this play-turned-indie film, but more on that in the review.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Philadelphia Film Festival: Blue Valentine

One hesitates in using such cliched terms as the greatest actor or actress of his or her generation, but I defy anyone, upon seeing Blue Valentine, to not willingly, and quite wholeheartedly, thrust these very same monikers upon both Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.  Not that these two actors are in need of such newfound recognition - they have both had such epithets (and Oscar nominations) thrust upon them in past roles - but the raw nerves hit, with an almost machine-gun array of brutal emotionality, in Blue Valentine, do more than just cement such titles as greatest actor and actress of their generation to this deserving duo.  It is almost a cinematic coronation of sorts - or at least damn well should be. 

These are a pair of performances that deserve more than just the roar of cheers it received by the 400+ crowd at the Prince Music Theater the night I saw it.  These are a pair of performances, playing off each other with a non-linear, ever-evolving bloody melange of sweet Cinéma vérité nothings and emotionally abusive savagery, that deserve something akin to a chorus of post-operatic bravos and bravas, or, keeping more apropos to the unmerciful disintegration, nee goring of a once promising relationship that is at the epicenter of the film, a deafening thunder of maniacal oles after the bull is killed and systematically and traditionally mutilated at a bullfight.   These are a pair of performances for the ages, as they say.

But at the same time, hyperbole aside (and I thrust a whole lot of it around in those first two paragraphs), there is actually more to Blue Valentine that just the two best damned performances of the year.  Much more actually.  From the opening moments of the film, with its languid leanings abruptly  bombarded by meta-close-ups and torn asunder anguish, to its back and forth gutty-works, showing the brilliant glare of blossoming love and the harsh lights of relational realities, to its strangely placed fireworks-laden finale, Blue Valentine is a work of daring, sometimes stunning, sometimes purposefully ugly cinematic bravura.This is a powerful film indeed, and some may say a bit too powerful at times.

On its recent MPAA attached NC-17 rating (talked about briefly in a recent post of mine) one can only shake one's head and hope for a turnaround on appeal - without director Derek Cianfrance having to make any cuts from this beautiful, yet raw, disquieting, quite emotionally brutal film.  Even if the rating is severed down to an R (without the cats dammit!!) the stigma of such a rating (and its poisonous touch in both box office prowess and award-bait accolades - deserving of both!) will surely stick with the film through it's December 31st release date and beyond.  

The ratings board is a funny place, and who really knows exactly what set them off (the sex scenes, admittedly raw, are nothing physically we haven't already seen in R rated movies before) and such a rating should not tamper with a film's power, but we all know it will definitely limit its audience (especially in an ever-conservativizing world such as ours) and that is a shame, since everyone should be able to see Blue Valentine for the brilliant work of cinema that it is.  I am only glad I was able to see the film in its raw power, before anything happens to its narrative integrity.

A full (and probably quite long-winded) review of Blue Valentine will appear here closer to the year-end release date of the film.

Film Poll #5: David Fincher

Since The Social Network is creating some buzz around town (as they say) I thought the new Film Poll should create some equal buzz.  How to do such a thing?  Ask all you fine folks out there to name your favourite David Fincher film (The Social Network or not).  So go ahead and vote over in the lefthand sidebar and come back for the results in one short week.  And please remember, if you want your vote counted, please click and vote in the poll.  Any votes being written in the comments section will not be counted.  Everyone can vote once per web browser.  Vote early and often.  And bring in your friends.  The more votes the better.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

First thoughts on Blue Valentine

After not expecting to be able to attend this year's Philadelphia Film Festival, I got a surprise offer to go to Philly this weekend.  So I checked the festival schedule and lo and behold, I could see both Blue Valentine and Black Swan.  After my dance of joy, I knew a great cinematic weekend was in store for this critic.  Of course I had no press pass this time so I had to actually buy tickets and go in with the "people" (incidentally this led to a great conversation with two very cinematically knowledgeable gentlemen attending the festival).  Whatever the case, my idea of a great cinematic weekend was not only had, but went far beyond even my great expectations.

 I am still percolating my thoughts for my eventual review on these films (which should come in the next few days sometime - if not full-length reviews, but at least a festival report kind of piece).  Before doing any of that though, I do want to mention a few things about Blue Valentine right away.  First and foremost is the recent attachment of an NC-17 rating from the MPAA.  After seeing the film, I must agree there are several very raw sex scenes in the film, but in no way do they "top" many of these same kind of scenes in many an R-rated film.  There is an abortion scene in the film which may very well be the real reason for this very unfair rating.  And unfair it certainly is.  

Sure, I will still see the film no matter the rating (obviously) but many will not have the opportunity due to many mainstream theaters refusing to carry a film with the stigma of an NC-17 attached to it.  There is also the loss of potential Oscar nominations for the film and its actors - which they so richly deserve.  The rating will hopefully be changed by its Dec. 31st release (and hopefully on appeal and not with forced cuts), but the stigma of the rating will still be there.

And speaking of the Oscar deserving actors, the other thing I needed to talk about right away, was just that.  One hesitates in using such cliched terms as the best actor and best actress of their generation, but I defy anyone, upon seeing Blue Valentine, to not say that exact same thing about Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.  Always a fan of both (Gosling in Half Nelson and Murder by Numbers; Williams in Brokeback Mountain and Wendy and Lucy) their raw, angry, bitter, heartbreaking performances in Blue Valentine more than cemented that idea.

But enough of that, I will have reviews coming soon.

Friday, October 15, 2010

I Married A Witch (Rene Clair, 1942)

This essay could easily be subtitled "How I Fell in Love with Veronica Lake".  How can one not be mesmerized - fall in love even - when watching Veronica Lake up on the screen?  One cannot help - nor can they be blamed - for falling head over heels for this beautifully entertaining actress-cum-pin-up girl.  Even Curtis Hanson made use of this image when casting Kim Basinger in the Veronica Lake-esque role in L.A. Confidential.  David Thompson, in his opus, The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, describes Miss Lake as "Petite, silky, and lurking behind the half curtain of her own blonde hair".  How could one not go simply gaga?

Actually my first encounter with the lovely Miss Lake (and her "curtain of blonde hair") was in the Preston Sturges film Sullivan's Travels, where the petite actress (she was just 4' 11½") joins Joel McCrea's dissatisfied movie director on his travels across the country posing as a pair of hobos.  Incidentally (and quite ironically considering the mythic quality of that aforementioned "curtain of blonde hair") I fell in love with Miss Lake when she was dressed in the film's tomboy incognito look.

It was a few years later that I first encountered the film I Married A Witch, directed by French expat Rene Clair.  The film (not available on DVD, which is a shame that needs to be rectified sometime soon) is the story of a 200+ year old witch who has come out of cursed entrapment to seek revenge on the future generation of the family responsible for her forced exile.  That future generation would be Frederic March, a popular politician.  There is no need to wonder about the conclusion of the film, it should be obvious from the title, but inevitable outcome or not, the movie plays out with a giddy fascination for Lake, that makes one wonder if Rene Clair did not fall head over heels as well.

I just watched the film again the other night (airing on the indispensable TCM) and none of that magic I saw in my first viewing had gone away.  A tantalizing film indeed.  Lake's performance as the titular bride-to-be is like watching a force of nature (no matter how tall) do its thing.  Sweeping around (on broom and as if on air) from one corner of the movie to the other, first seeking revenge then accidentally getting hit by her own love spell, Lake is like a manic beauty throughout.  First appearing in March's life naked and in need of rescue in a burning building (as least March believes she is in need of rescue - he soon finds out he and his political career are the ones in need of rescue) Lake will go from smokey mystery girl to love struck goddess before our very eyes.

The cinematic basis for the sit-com Bewitched (Bewitched star Elizabeth Montgomery held many of the same physical features as Lake did - she was my first celebrity crush when I was about eleven or twelve and watching her on syndicated childhood afternoons) Clair's film, at 77 minutes, is a quick and quite compact film (much like Lake herself) but packs a punch (again, just like Lake) that combines classic fairy tale with screwball comedy.  March and Lake play off each other very well, but perhaps that is just a cinematic fallacy.  Lake, as lovely and as demure (albeit wildly so) as she seemed on screen, the actress had a reputation off screen for being time co-star Eddie Bracken said of her "She was known as 'The Bitch' and she deserved the title."

Sullivan's Travels leading man actually turned the male lead down in I Married A Witch, saying "Life's too short for two films with Veronica Lake."  Perhaps it was this difficult-to-work-with image that cut Lake's career quite short.  Perhaps though, it was her hair.  That "curtain of blonde hair" that made her a star of screen and pin-up posters.  Perhaps, akin to Samson, the power to mesmerize was all in Veronica Lake's hair.  Okay, it was probably her supposed bitchiness, but let us contemplate that hair just for a bit.

Much like the WWII GI's fascination over Lake's other attributes (though I am sure her hair was amongst those attributes) that made her one of the most popular pin-up girls of the war, her hair fascinated all those girls left home alone.  Like a sweeping one-eyed beauty, Lake's hair had become the number one fashion for those girls working in the factories during the war.  So much so that the War Department had actually asked the studio (Paramount) to make Lake wear her hair back for her next role (a nurse in the war).  They did and she did and it was about this time Lake's quickly risen star had begun its just as quick decline from the heavens.

I am sure this was all coincidence, but the decline was real.  Marriage troubles and domestic tragedies, scathing reviews for many of her post-war films and a discontentment at the studio and a drinking problem led to her eventual departure from Paramount and later departure from acting.  After a marriage to eye-patch wearing director Andre de Toth (and two children), Lake made her final film in 1951 (Stronghold) and fell into obscurity.  Dying in 1973, relatively forgotten.

No matter the cause (the hair, the drinking, the dissatisfaction) Lake's career was cut way way way too short.  I have still only ever seen two of her films (I know, how dare I call my self a cinephile!?) but her star still shines bright in my heart (no matter how cheesy that may sound!).  I Married A Witch holding a special place due to the lovely Miss Lake's performance of wild abandon - showcasing her talent for silly melodrama and screwball antics.  And doing all of this while staying so damned sexy - "curtain of blonde hair" or not. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Early Bird Oscar Predictions

Some may say it is a frivolous game played only by fools and faux film critics (sorry David Poland) but even I (one who takes the idea of film history and mise-en-scene and cinephilia quite seriously - well, except for when I don't) must fall prey to those naked little gold men each and every year.  Usually I do not bother making predictions until closer to the end of the year, but I suppose it's never too early to play game guesser when it comes to the Oscars, so here goes.

Since it is now a ten film race (something that has both its good points and its bad points - the latter outweighing the former) smaller films (deserving and undeserving both) can sneak in, but we still have the big dogs on top.  Many pundits claim this is a two-way race between The Social Network and The King's Speech, but one can surely see those insistent Inception people trying to break in and make it a three-way (but not the good kind).  

After those three, both True Grit and Toy Story 3 are pretty much locks.  The latter's eventual nomination is one of those downsides to the ten team race, but an upside is the lock that The Kids Are All Right seems to have been given.  I think the seventh and eighth nominees are most likely going to be 127 Hours (from Danny Boyle) and Black Swan (from Darren Aronofsky).

That leaves two more spots and about seven more films vying for them.  I am going with Mike Leigh's Another Year making the ninth spot and Winter's Bone sneaking into that final slot with a strong precursor/critical push.  Eastwood's Hereafter could very well take one of these last two's place (he is Clint Eastwood after all) but the film just doesn't look like it will play strong enough.

Other possibilities are Secretariat (the Oscars love boring, mediocre, feel-good fare on occasion), The Fighter (though more likely in the acting categories), Get Low (again, acting instead probably), Never Let Me Go (if it gets a strong push in the precursors) and/or Blue Valentine (again, precursors a must).  Then again, I would personally love to see Scorsese's Shutter Island appear on this list, but there is no way that is happening.

Of course this is all just pure speculation made months before anything concrete is even going to happen, so take it as you will.  I will dispense with commentary now (well maybe a little more commentary) and just give my predictions for the major categories (in order of probability), and then I will probably not even mention any of this again until December when the race will begin to heat up for reals yo.

1. The Social Network
2. The King's Speech
3. Inception
4. True Grit
5. Toy Story 3
6. The Kids Are All Right
7. 127 Hours
8. Black Swan
9. Another Year
10. Winter's Bone

The other possibilities were already stated above but for those who skim and do not want to scroll back, these possibilities are (in order of probability) Hereafter, Secretariat, The Fighter, Never Let Me Go, Get Low & Blue Valentine.

1. David Fincher for The Social Network
2. Tom Hooper for The King's Speech
3. Christopher Nolan for Inception
4. Danny Boyle for 127 Hours
5. The Coen Bros. for True Grit

Although there will probably never be another lone wolf director nomination (since there are 10 BP nominees now) there could still be a surprise or two, so don't count out Mike Leigh for Another Year or Aronofsky for Black Swan (or even Cholodenko for Kids if the all boys club dares to nominate another woman so soon after Bigelow's victory last year).

1. Colin Firth in The King's Speech
2. James Franco in 127 Hours
3. Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network
4. Jeff Bridges in True Grit
5. Robert Duvall in Get Low

This is probably Firth's to win (he should have won last year but Bridges' outdid him with the whole "never won before" motif) and Franco and Eisenberg just along for the ride (they will have lots of chances later).  Don't count out Javier Bardem (Biutiful), Ryan Gosling (Blue Valentine) or even Michael Douglas (Wall Street or Solitary Man) just in case The King's Speech, 127 Hours or True Grit tank.  Let's not count out Leoardo DiCaprio either, just in case the Inception people get their way.

1. Annette Bening in The Kids Are All Right
2. Jennifer Lawrence in Winter's Bone
3. Lesley Manville in Another Year
4. Natalie Portman in Black Swan
5. Nicole Kidman in The Rabbit Hole

This is Bening's Oscar to lose (and I don't think she will this time).  Kidman's nod (of course) rests on The Rabbit Hole doing well upon release.  If it doesn't then we could see Anne Hathaway (Love and Other Drugs), Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine), Carey Mulligan (Never Let Me Go) or Sally Hawkins (Made in Dangenham) sneak in.  We could also see Julianne Moore get a nod for Kids, but they may go supporting for her instead (much like the Brokeback Mountain split of Ledger in lead and Gyllenhaal in support).

1. John Hawkes in Winter's Bone
2. Geoffrey Rush in The King's Speech
3. Christian Bale in The Fighter
4. Andrew Garfield in The Social Network
5. Mark Ruffalo in The Kids Are All Right

I have yet to see any of my fellow Oscar pundits name Hawkes as a choice here, but I think if he gets enough precursor victories (the critical love is already there) then he could easily get in - and even win.  Garfield could split the vote with cast mate JT and neither one get in, but Garfield is the stronger candidate because he is the figurative heart of the film (though Oscar does love a good villain and JT does manage to bring evil back).  It is also great to see Bale looking like a lock (unless the film falls flat on arrival) especially considering his never being nominated before (can you believe that!?).  We could also see Sam Rockwell sneak in if his film, Conviction, opens well - probably in place of one of the Social Network boys.  And no one count out Bill Murray for Get Low or either Damon or Brolin for True Grit.  A tough category indeed.

1. Helena Bonham Carter in The King's Speech
2. Melissa Leo in The Fighter
3. Hailee Steinfield in True Grit
4. Barbara Hershey in Black Swan
5. Dianne Wiest in The Rabbit Hole

Easily the most open-ended category in the race.  Pretty much anything could happen here.  Withe most likely exceptions of Carter and possibly Leo, we could easily see a bunch of ladies popping into the top five.  The most likely (and the one I kicked off at the last minute for Wiest) is Sissy Spacek for Get Low and/or Miranda Richardson in Made in Dangenham.  We could also see Jacki Weaver for Animal Kingdom (if it opens well), Julianne Moore for The Kids Are All Right (if they go supporting in her campaign) or Marion Cotillard for Inception (if that ball starts rolling).  Then again, I think a surprise nod for Kristin Scott Thomas in Nowhere Boy could be in the cards.

That's it for now.  I will update these lists come early to mid-December.

Film Poll #4: The Results

Just the fact that there have been enough eye-patch wearing directors to make an entire poll about is kind of amazing in its own right.  The fact that Nick Ray won that very poll is a giddily expectant outcome.  Actually I figured it would be a race between Ray and Fritz - and it was.  John Ford expectantly came in third with Andre de Toth finishing in fourth (w/ two votes).  I am actually surprised he got any (since he is ostensibly the least well known of the five choices - though he did create what is probably the best 3D movie ever made (House of Wax for those unsure) which is quite an accomplishment considering.  I do kind of feel feel sorry for poor Raoul Walsh though, without even a single pity vote (c'mon, he did make High Sierra the acerbic Bogie, the lovely Lupino and that annoying dog that just would not shut the hell up!).  Anyway, here are the results, based on 28 total votes.

Nicholas Ray - 11 (39%)
Fritz Lang - 9 (32%)
John Ford - 6 (21%)
Andre de Toth - 2 (7%)
Raoul Walsh - 0 (0%)

The next poll will be coming tomorrow or the next day (as soon as I figure out what it will be).  And remember, if you have any ideas for future film polls, feel free to pass those ideas on via the comments section here.  And remember to tell all your friends, because the more poll participants, the better.  See you soon.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Cinematheque Reviews:
The Social Network

As promised yesterday (in one of my "couldn't wait" phases) I have finally posted my review of The Social Network.  It's 2500+ word total makes it the longest piece I have ever written on one single movie - prompting my lovely wife to proclaim I should begin referring to my film reviews as film essays instead (it makes you sound more pretentious she giddily exclaimed - yeah, like I need that).  This is also a film I have made my own pronouncement about recently - somewhere between my first viewing on October 3rd and my second on October 10th.  The pronouncement that it is the best film of 2010.  Whether I still agree with that assessment come January 1st when I publish my Best of 2010 list...well, we will see then, won't we.  Anyway, without using too many more words (ya damned blowhard), here it is.

Read my review (essay) of The Social Network at The Cinematheque.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Few Introductory Babblings On
The Social Network

From its opening wordplay sword thrusts to its horror movie-like lighting and Wellesian audacity to its wittily acerbic Aaron Sorkin written screenplay to its seamless CGI-diluted Winklevii to its Gatsbyesque delusions of grandeur to its overall damn fine storytelling and Oscar-wouldbe performances of Eisenberg and Timberlake (tossing sexy aside and bringing evil back) to Fincher's bravura camera that should elicit its own Fincherian moniker, The Social Network is deserving of being called (dare I say it?) the best film of 2010 - so far.  Hyperbolic genuflection aside, my review (or should I say essay, since it runs over 2000 words) of this movie, a movie that is quickly becoming the cinephiliac phenomenon that its titular subject has become in the "real" world, will be coming sometime tomorrow.  

I saw the movie for the second time earlier today (the last time I paid a repeat visit so soon after the original was when I went running back to QT's Inglourious Basterds last year - just three days later!) and was forced(?) to add a few more ideas to my review/essay before finally posting it.  My ranting here is merely my not being able to wait to say at least a little something about this movie (other than my periodic, and rather ironic considering, Facebook status updates over the past week) before tomorrow.  Now before I start comparing girls to farm animals (inside movie joke for those still not acquainted) or some such nonsense, I am logging off in order to finish that aforementioned 2000+ word film essay.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Cinematheque Reviews:
Making Plans For Lena

Christophe Honore's latest film, Making Plans For Lena, has finally made it across the pond, but as usual, he has barely survived the trip.  This heir apparent to the Nouvelle Vague, after international successes with such films as Dans Paris, Love Songs and even the divisive Ma Mere, has had his last two films (this and La Belle Personne before it) all but ignored stateside.  Luckily IFC (a godsend to cinephiles) has released the film on demand (as they did with La Belle Personne) to coincide with its all-too brief stint on NYC screens - or make that screen. Theatrical distribution vagaries aside, I had the opportunity to see Honore's latest and have reviewed it accordingly.

Read my review of Making Plans For Lena at The Cinematheque.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Pre-Code Hollywood

Just to interrupt the day for a second or two, I am posting my choices for the 10 best Pre-Code Hollywood films.  The good folks over at the LAMB (Large Association of Movie Blogs for those who are not already acquainted) have handed out the assignment of naming your favourite/the best Pre-Code films.  As a long-admitted and well-established listoholic, I had no choice but to vote in this latest poll.  The full results will be posted sometime soon over at the LAMB, but for now I am putting my list out there for all to see (and scrutinize).  I made the list rather quickly, so I probably missed some films that deserved to be on here, but hey, c'est la vie.

1. Public Enemy 
2. Three on a Match
3. Blonde Venus
4. Baby Face
5. Gold Diggers of 1933
6. Wild Boys of the Road
7. Union Depot
8. The Strange Love of Molly Louvain
9. Blonde Crazy
10. Heroes For Sale

Runners-Up (in no particular order): Other Men's Women; Sinner's Holiday; Frisco Jenny; I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang; Big City Blues; Mexicali Rose; The Purchase Price; Broadway Babies.

While writing this, I realized I did make one pretty big omission - Howard Hawks' Scarface.  C'est la vie.  It belongs in a much larger stratosphere anyway.

I also realized that I must really like Joan Blondell (not that such a thing is much of a secret!) since she is in half of my top ten and another three runners-up - easily topping other favourites like Cagney, Stanwyck and Dvorak.  Of course Cagney is in three of those films with Blondell.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Cinematheque Reviews:
Let Me In

I suppose saying I disliked this film a bit less than I expected, is rather faint praise, but hey, what else can one hope for when they remake such an incredibly sublime film as Let the Right One In?  Whatever they may expect (and I am sure "they" are paying close attention to my review of "their" film) my review is up and running over at The Cinematheque.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Movin' On Up.....

A little horn-tooting if you don't mind (after all, who else is going to do it?).

Last month around this time I (giddily) announced that I debuted on the LAMB (Large Association of Movie Blogs) Leaderboard at #5 (the highest debut of the month btw).  The Leaderboard (in case you have been caught unawares) shows the twenty most visited sites/blogs in the LAMB repertoire. So anyway, after my startling Top 5 (with a bullet) debut last month (well, I was startled at least - I honestly did not think that many people were even paying attention) I find myself moving even further up the charts.  September rankings place me in the #4 spot.

I know this may seem quite frivolous and downright self-congratulatory (but then online film writing has always been a rather masturbatory Sisyphean labour indeed) but it is also a great and powerful (ego boost) way of letting a brother know he is actually writing, not just for his own self-flagellation, but for others as well.  Others who actually take notice.  Hmmmmmm.....   

I would also like to congratulate Mark over at Where Danger Lives for taking the top spot this month.  I suppose I should (he said with tongue firmly in cheek) throw the proverbial gauntlet down, but perhaps that is getting a bit too big for my britches (as they say).  We should all just get along after all.

I'll leave you with an appropriately October-specific LAMB banner in hopes of movin' on up even further come the end of this horror-filled month.

Film Poll #4:
Favourite Eye-Patched Director

It's Monday morning and that means time for the new Film Poll here at The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World.  This week it is a somewhat unique selection.  You are asked to name your favourite eye-patch-wearing Director.  The funny thing is there are actually five to choose from.  In fact there was even a retrospective last year at Anthology Film Archives featuring these very same directors - V.A. Musetto, in the New York Post, called it "the invasion of the one-eyed auteurs".  My personal fave is Fritz Lang because he wears an eye-patch AND a monocle.  How freakin' cool is that!?

Anyway (as they say), go on over to the the left-hand sidebar and make your choice before it's too late - deadline is next Sunday night at the witching hour.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Cinematheque Reviews: Easy A

I must admit to going into Easy A with loads of trepidation saddled upon my aching back.  I had heard from colleagues that the film was unexpectedly smart, but still, I had my doubts.  I have enjoyed Emma Stone in the past, but still, I had my doubts.  Simply put, I had my doubts.  Upon seeing Easy A, I can honestly say (in the snarkiest manner I can think of) "doubts", meet "put aside".  Seriously though, my review (glowing throughout mind you) is up and running over at The Cinematheque.  Go ahead and read it for yourself.  Warning though, I did run on a bit longer than usual (which is saying a lot for me), but don't let that scare you off.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Kansas City Confidential (Phil Karlson, 1952)

When one sits down and watches Phil Karlson's Kansas City Confidential for the first time (as this critic did just the other night) one wonders why they had never crossed paths with such a film years ago.  Tough and gritty, as any good film noir should be, but not as slick as many in the genre, Karlson's 1952 film (which was the film that catapulted the director to...well, to mid-level respectability at least) nonetheless is a taut thriller full of everything the genre held so dear.  Granted, Karlson's film doesn't have the usually ubiquitous femme fatale (the only female role here is simply a nice girl who falls for the protag) but it does have the tension, the fear, the danger that goes with what a good noir should be.
Coming at the near tail-end of the world of film noir, Kansas City Confidential (which ironically or not, takes place mostly in the sweaty heat of Mexico - K.C. becoming but a memory about twenty minutes in) does what Karlson does best as a director - efficient, tough guy drama with a left hook that comes out of a literal nowhere.  Playing as some sort of Tarantino precursor (Q.T., with his self-mocking mantra of "I steal from every movie ever made" had to have seen this film at some point in his early cinephiliac days) Kansas City Confidential is the story of an elaborately-staged armed robbery where its three thugs-for-hire wear masks so not to reveal their identities to one another (Reservoir Dogs had fake names such as Mr. Orange, Mr. Blonde and Mr. Pink in place of the masks, but the reasoning, if not the motif, is the same). 

Known only to the big boss (he too wears a mask so his underlings cannot finger him) the three hoodlums are told to take it on the lam until the heat dies down.  Meanwhile Joe, a hapless ex-con, played by rough and tumble John Payne (in the essential anti-hero role), is framed for the crime and after his release (on lack of evidence, which still doesn't stop the police brutality that comes his way) he too takes it on the lam, but with the goal of finding who framed him, and theoretically making them pay in that rather blunt and brutal noirish manner.  Eventually the criminals are all called together (along with Joe tagging along in what he mistakenly believes to be incognito) for the final payoff, but of course no one is shooting a straight deal here.

Tersely written (as was the usual M.O. for most noir since they were usually B-pictures with very low budgets - even at MGM, where this one was made) and succinctly acted by all (Lee Van Cleef, a leering snake-eyed rogue more than a decade before being dubbed 'Angel Eyes' and jittery, shaky, pop-eyed Jack Elam are fascinatingly nuanced in two of their earliest roles), Kansas City Confidential may not belong in that realm of great (and predictably listed) noirs such as The Big Sleep, Double Indemnity and The Maltese Falcon, but with its bravura tagline of "Exploding! Like a gun in your face!", Karlson's underrated film noir, doing exactly as it says (Karlson's action would never have any sort of lead-in, just suddenly it would explode, and just as suddenly it would cease) is still one of the better noirs ever made. 

Weekly Film Poll #3: The Results

This was our biggest (in terms of choices and in overall votes) poll yet.  You, the adoring public, were asked to name your favourite movie from the brothers Coen.  The following, based on a record 44 votes, are the results of that poll.

The Big Lebowski - 10 (22%)
Barton Fink - 8 (18%)
No Country For Old Men - 6 (13%)
O Brother, Where Art Thou? - 6 (13%)
Miller's Crossing - 4 (9%)
Raising Arizona - 3 (6%)
Fargo - 2 (4%)
The Hudsucker Proxy - 2 (4%)
The Man Who Wasn't There - 2 (4%)
A Serious Man - 1 (2%)
Blood Simple - 0 (0%)
Burn After Reading - 0 (0%)
Intolerable Cruelty - 0 (0%)
The Ladykillers - 0 (0%)

I thought it would probably be a tight race between Lebowski and Fargo.  Well, I was half right.  It is really no surprise considering the cult following Lebowski has.  It ranks a mere seventh in my mind (No Country just beating out Barton Fink and Miller's Crossing for my top spot), but hey, what are ya gonna do?   I should probably take another look at Lebowski anyway (only having seen it once, when it first opened lo those many years ago).  Also not much of a surprise with the last two on the list, though I did think Burn and Blood would get at least a little love.

Anyway, I want to thank everyone who participated in this week's poll.  The stated goal was 50 votes though, so tell all your friends to vote next time (or if you have no friends than tell all your enemies instead).  Whatever the case, vote early and vote often (okay, you can only vote once per browser but hey...).
The poll is going on a break this week-end (since it ended up getting a late start last week due to NYFF obligations) and will return this coming Monday with a brand new topic.  See you then.  Excelsior!