Archive for February, 2010

28
Feb
10

Oscar Picks, Because My Opinion Matters

I can smell you

Best Picture

Nominees: Avatar, The Blind Side, District 9, An Education, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, A Serious Man, Up, Up in the Air
Likely Winner: Avatar
Most Deserving: In a perfect world Up and The Hurt Locker would split the award, but if I have to pick one I give the slight edge to Up. It’s a near perfect film: it’s funny, clever, and infinitely entertaining. It has an original story, strong characterization, memorable and occasionally squirrel-related dialogue, phenomenal artwork, and boasts action scenes that, while far less grandiose than Avatar‘s, are perhaps the year’s best. Yeah, suck it, Final Destination 4.

Best Actor

Nominees: Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart), George Clooney (Up in the Air), Colin Firth (A Single Man), Morgan Freeman (Invictus), Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker)
Editorial Note: It is beyond ridiculous that Sam Rockwell wasn’t nominated for his work in Moon. Boo-urns. The Academy is also going to have to start paying some attention to the voice acting work that’s being put into these Pixar films. Peter O’Toole was great in Ratatouille and Ed Asner is even better in Up.
Likely Winner: Jeff Bridges. There’s a lot of talk on reputable news sources like E! and also E-online about his “powerful” performance in Crazy Heart. I wouldn’t know, I didn’t see it because it looks absolutely god-awful, but it seems to me that if playing a drunken hillbilly has-been is all it takes to earn an Oscar then Nick Nolte should be racking those things up.
Most Deserving: George Clooney. If there were any justice in this world, Bridges would’ve won back in ‘99 (instead of Roberto Benigni, yarg) for The Big Lebowski and Clooney would take home the prize this year. He deserves it; partially for his understated performance as a self-contained businessman gradually reconnecting with those around him, and partially as a hold-over from his performance in Michael Clayton which unfortunately ran into the buzzsaw that was Daniel Day Lewis’ “I drink your milkshake!” awesomeness from There Will Be Blood. “I drink it up!!” I love that shit.

Best Actress

Nominees: Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side), Hellen Mirren (The Last Station), Carey Mulligan (An Education), Gabourey Sidibe (Precious), Meryl Streep (Julie & Julia)
Likely Winner: Sandra Bullock.
Most Deserving: Gabourey Sidibe. Sidibe portrays Precious as a girl who is at times charming, hardened, whimsical, depressed, and resilient; a girl beaten down by some of life’s grimmest hardships who presses on, determined to provide her children with the love and support she never received, and give them the happy life that was denied her. On a completely unrelated note, I find it hard to believe that even an obese pregnant girl could consume an entire bucket of chicken on her walk to school. Just saying.

Best Supporting Actor

Nominees: Matt Damon (Invictus), Woody Harrelson (The Messenger), Christopher Plummer (The Last Station), Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones), Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)
Editorial Note: They could probably even have nominated Sam Rockwell in this category for Moon (That’ll make sense if you’ve seen it, if not, you suck, go watch it). Tucci just played a creepy fat guy in a crap movie, there’s one of those every year. Remember this’un? Haha! Of course not. Give Rockwell his nomination, damn you!
Likely Winner and Most Deserving: Christoph Waltz. Without question.

Best Supporting Actress

Nominees: Penelope Cruz (Nine), Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air), Maggie Gyllenhaaaal (Crazy Heart), Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air), Mo’nique (Precious)
Editorial Note: It would’ve been nice to see either Melanie Laurent or Diane Kruger nominated for Inglorious Basterds. I also thought Mariah Carey was really great in her limited role in Precious.
Likely Winner and Most Deserving: Mo’nique. Disgusting and Horrifying, she brings a brief moment of humanity to the role at the close of the film which is really what will win her this award. That said, I feel strongly that Penelope Cruz has a claim to the award simply on account of being so hot. To wit:

Cruz FTW

Best Animated Film

Nominees: Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Princess and the Frog, The Secret of Kells, Up
Editorial Note: If The Secret of Kells isn’t the name of R.Kelly’s next album I’ll be very disappointed.
Likely Winner and Most Deserving: Up. 2009 was the best year for animated films I’ve ever seen (take that, whatever year Treasure Planet came out!). In fact, four of these films made my top ten list for last year (sorry Kells). And while I really love the weirdness/awesomeness that is Coraline, Up is clearly the best of this lot, as it is indeed the best of all the films of 2009. Funny how that works out.

Best Director

Nominees: Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), James Cameron (Avatar), Lee Daniels (Precious), Jason Reitman (Up in the Air), Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds)
Likely Winner and Most Deserving: Kathryn Bigelow. I’m guessing the Academy will bestow Avatar with Best Picture and toss Ms. Bigelow this award as a consolation prize (side note: I think Miz Bigelow would be a sweet female rapper name). But the jokes on them, she truly deserves to win this one after crafting the first great Iraq war film that is at times a taut and suspenseful thriller, a gripping action film, and a brilliant character study. Plus it takes the bold step of exploding Guy Pearce which, quite frankly, he had coming after this travesty.

Best Documentary

The Cove will win. It was one of the year’s best films, more engaging and suspenseful than most Hollywood thrillers. It will fascinate and shock and enrage you. An absolute must-see. And, if you just so happen to be a Japanese fisherman, stop it. You stop it right now, mister.

Best Foreign Language Film

Nominees: Ajami, The Milk of Sorrow, A Prophet, The Secret in their Eyes, The White Ribbon
Likely Winner and Most Deserving: A Prophet (or Un Propheeet, as my dear brother referred to it). I can see The White Ribbon winning, and I don’t think it would be undeserved as it is an excellent film, but A Prophet’s depiction of a young convict’s journey from (relative) innocence to experience is both jarring and captivating, and a perfect exemplar of why our penal system, as it is, doesn’t work. It deserved a Best Picture nomination.

I really don’t care enough about the other categories to do complete write-ups. The music to Up and Sherlock Holmes were both really excellent, so it would be nice to see one of those two won, and really Up should probably win if only for that brilliant montage of Carl and Ellie’s life together. And I’m pretty sure Harry Potter is up for best Art Direction, it would cool to see it get a win. Also District 9 is up for Best Adapted Screenplay, and that’s probably the category it has the best chance in so let’s hope they win that one. And there’s a hi-larious Wallace and Gromit short entitled A Matter of Loaf and Death that I would bet will win Best Animated Short. The other categories are of little interest me as they do not concern Penelope Cruz in any way, let’s all pretend they don’t exist in that case.

The Academy Awards are on ABC on March 7th at 8 ET. You should watch it. Or spend five hours on Chatroullete. Either way.

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28
Feb
10

A Brief, Profanity-laden Argument Against the Oscars

Damn you, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences!

The Oscars are coming up and, if the past twenty-five years or so are any indication of what we can expect this go around, the voters will get things completely and utterly wrong (The English Patient? Really? Fuck you). To add to the fun, or to avoid repeating the embarrassment of not nominating the two best films of 2008 (not to mention the two best of 2006 as well), the academy has expanded the Best Picture category to include ten films; a move which has staved off Grammy-level ridiculousness by allowing in a number of surprising and excellent films but which, I fear, may ultimately only add to the cinephile’s pain when either the big, or the safe, or the infuriatingly undeserving takes home the statue once again.

Granted last year’s Best Picture winner, Slumdog Millionaire, was an excellent film, but I don’t believe it was legitimately the year’s best film– in fact, I’d say that only twice since 1980 has the Best Picture winner proven to be the best film of the year (in 1993 and 2008– and I think a strong case could be made instead for Reservoir Dogs and There Will Be Blood, but that’s an argument for another time). What does this tell us then? That rarely do the films chosen as Best Picture stand the test of time? That academy voters lack an innate sense of what makes a truly great and lasting film? That the Oscars are all style and no substance- merely another opportunity for the beautiful and wealthy to gather and congratulate themselves (and maybe laugh at Bjork’s awesome dress even though she looked super hot in it and she’s fifty times more talented than any of the retarded fashion experts critiquing it)? Perhaps, but that’s also just the cynical ravings of a blogger whose heart turned black the second Firefly was canceled.

More to the point, it tells us that there is an inherent problem in labeling one film as better than another, especially when you assemble a grouping of films with vastly disparate content and themes.

Take the 2002 Oscars for instance; what might be the criteria for deciding which film was best out of, say, these films: Memento, The Royal Tenenbaums, Artificial Intelligence: AI, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Monster’s Inc., Y Tu Mama Tambien, Donnie Darko, Mulholland Dr., Amelie, Gosford Park, Training Day, Waking Life, and Black Hawk Down. That’s a serious cinematic hodgepodge right there. It would be very difficult to pick just one film as best out of such a diverse grouping of excellent films (and keep in mind that Spirited Away was also released in 2001, just not in the U.S.). It should also be noted that only two of these films were nominated for Best Picture, and neither of those two won (though I would argue that all of these films are considerably better than the eventual winner, A Beautiful Mind).

Better than "Memento?!" Yeah fucking right.

So how do we fix this problem? Well, we don’t quite frankly, there’s no fixing it, even if we tried. The basic flaw is in the award system itself: determining what makes one film better than another is a very tricky, subjective business, and people that aren’t me are inherently wrong, it would seem. It’s a damn shame.

There’s also a very political aspect to the process, a fact which often leaves a small film with an intelligent plot and great acting (*ahem* Moon, for example) without a nomination, whereas a huge box office hit that may be big on spectacle and special effects but lacking any original story-telling or even halfway-decent acting and dialogue (let’s say Avatar), can wind up the Best Picture front-runner because of a big studio push. But hey, it is show business after all, and a film that had a lot of viewers at the box office is likely to have a lot of viewers tuning in to see if it wins Best Picture (Unless of course, like last year, you decide not to nominate two of the best and highest-grossing films of the year in favor of dreck like The Reader and Milk, which were buoyed only by good performances, but that’s neither here nor there).

And perhaps a vote isn’t the best method for determining Best Picture. I’m all for democracy, but it has been known to let us down on occasion (For instance, Allen Iverson was voted onto the All-Star team this year despite the fact that he clearly sucks now, and the less said about the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections the better). Maybe we could establish a complicated BCS-like system determined by an aggregate score of critical reviews, box office intake, and its number of Google hits and Youtube parody videos. Or maybe each year an impartial panel could be assembled to determine the winners (like the grand jury of your favorite pretentious film festival), that way those responsible can be tracked down and punished accordingly (I’m still upset about that Shakespeare in Love business).

That’s it. Those are my best ideas. I’m not much of a “solutions” person. It ultimately doesn’t matter though because people (i.e. me) will always find something to bitch about when it comes to the Oscars, or for that matter cinema in general. Although it might be nice to see a smaller scale award show for the serious film fan put on by a respected cinematic authority (Criterion maybe? Or the folks over at They Shoot Pictures). But that doesn’t seem even remotely likely. In any case, the Oscars aren’t perfect (Quick example: Mel Gibson has won more Best Director awards than Hitchcock, Welles, Kubrick, Kurosawa, Bergman, Chaplin, Lang, Altman, Murnau, and Hawks combined), but it’s the best we’ve got, and there’s a strange masochistic pleasure in lambasting the Academy for say, awarding Kramer vs. Kramer Best Picture over fucking Apocalypse Now. There’s just no living that shit down.

I’ll post my sure-to-be-wrong picks for the Oscar winners tomorrow.

20
Feb
10

New Vampire Weekend video is funny, baffling

Apparently when Ezra Koenig and co. aren’t busying themselves crafting effortless-sounding and expertly-crafted pop songs, they’re running with a famous– if mind-bogglingly disparate– crew.

The Brooklyn band’s new video features quite a few unlikely celebrity cameos, and some of the least realistic tennis scenes since the 2004 Kirsten Dunst vehicle, Wimbledon (ok, didn’t see it, I’m just assuming, but I mean they cast Paul Bettany as the lead in a rom-com, how accurate could things possibly be?).

The vid chronicles a tournament of sorts, held in a small white-washed room (tennis court aboard the Nostromo perhaps?), with VW “rockin’ out” to mid-tempo single “Giving Up the Gun” (Not one of Contra‘s highlights in this blogger’s opinion, but a quality song nonetheless).

The protagonist is a spunky young redheaded lass striving to outlast the competition- including a Jonas bro (Can’t tell which, probably the gay one), Jake Gyllenhaal, and even a cocky no-nonsense version of herself (Whhaaa?!!! Howdeydodat??? Thanks technology!) The vid also features the RZA (That’s right, the fucking RZA. In a Vampire Weekend video.) as the coolest/weirdest line judge in history. I should also mention that he’s decked out in full-on Morpheus gear, though I don’t think that’s part of the video, he probably just showed up to the shoot dressed that way. What else would you expect from a dude who’s directly quoted as saying:”Say you’re Bobby Digital, you’re RZA, and your girl fornicates on you—you feel like shit. ‘Who the fuck? How the fuck?’”

The final cameo is less of a head-scratcher (as he was name-dropped in a VW song), and arrives in the form of Lil Jon (dressed not unlike a nautically-inclined T-Pain with smaller hat) as redhead girl’s coach/mentor/inspiration (I mean he certainly inspired these young ladies to display their athletic prowess…salt-shaking FTW!).

Neither the video nor the cameos make a goddamn bit of sense, but it’s certainly never boring, so there’s that. I did have a hard time getting past the fact that the redhead check had clearly never swung a racket in her life, and the even more vexing fact that nearly every effing (i.e. fucking) shot is in slow motion (We get it, you like Wes Anderson, enough already, geez). But Jake Gyllenhaal is legitimately funny, displaying that comic timing that is sure to make Prince of Persia the smash comedy hit of the summer (A white Persian guy with a bad English accent, a mysterious hourglass and a low supply of shirts? Genius!) And props on the RZA cameo, those are usually reserved for Jim Jarmusch films and moderately disappointing Judd Apatow films. Honestly, never in my life did I expect to see the RZA lip-synching lyrics to a Vampire Weekend song. Fucking surreal. Now all that’s left is to wait and see if Lil Jon returns the favor and puts the lads of VW in his next video– they could throw money at exotic dancers in a manner which resembles precipitation! Huzzah!

For comparative purposes, check out VW at their very best with the video for “A-Punk.” It’s simple, infinitely entertaining, and fits the song perfectly: everything a great music video should be. Makes a body downright nostalgic for those good ‘ol days of 2008.

Contra is out now via XL Recordings. You should buy it. You can do that here.

04
Feb
10

beach house, “teen dream,” album of the fucking year

I’d like you to take a moment, set aside everything you’re doing and have a listen to “Walk in the Park” off Beach House’s third album, Teen Dream. Buy the album, play it on Lala or iTunes or whatever the hell you want, but just be goddamn sure to sit back, close your eyes and listen.

It starts off simple enough: a slow bass drum beat, a mid-tempo organ melody, some rambling guitar– altogether pretty catchy. And then, that voice– that mesmerizing, throaty, sensual, Shirley Bassey-like voice. It saunters and glides languidly through the first verse, leisurely and yet melancholic: “The face that you see in the door, isn’t standing there anymore.” The voice, of course, belongs to Beach House’s lead singer, Victoria Legrand, who sings on all the songs on Teen Dream, and to similarly astounding effect, but on no song is she more haunting, more sublimely enthralling than here.

And here’s the kicker, that may not even be the best song on what is a nearly flawless album, both musically and lyrically it is an astounding work– breathtakingly gorgeous and downright sumptuous (and I hate that fucking word so you know I mean business). Make no mistake, kids, this is the album of the year thus far (as of my most recent update circa 3/28), and quite possibly the best since 2001 (although there are a few others that could make a legitimate claim to that title), and barring any other masterpieces dropped later in the year (a possibility with a new LCD Soundsystem release looming) Teen Dream will be perched squarely atop my end of the year list. But my opinion is worthless, get ye to a record store (forget iTunes this time, this is an album that must be experienced as a whole) and buy Teen Dream immediately. You’re still reading. Knock it off, asshole, I’m serious, go buy it.

Highlights: “Norway,” “Walk in the Park,” “Lover of Mine” and, every other song on the album

Teen Dream is out now via Sub Pop. Buy it here. Or whistle your own jaunty tune. Your choice I suppose.




Pop Zeitgeist: A blog about Music, Movies, and other Geekery

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