Sunday, February 24, 2008

Predictions for The Big Night

In just five hours, the 80th Academy Awards ceremony will kick off at The Kodak Theater in Hollywood. As usual, the event is expected to live up to its glamorous reputation as the biggest awards show of the year. This year's celebration honoring the best in movies is looking to be an especially grand evening, seeing that the recent end to the months-long writers strike relieved all worries that the telecast might not see the light of day. Fortunately, the show will go on and a big party will follow.

As for who will be taking home the most coveted of all prizes, here are this blogger's predictions by category.


Michael Clayton
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood


Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Jason Reitman, Juno
Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton
Ethan and Joel Coen, No Country for Old Men
Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood


George Clooney, Michael Clayton
Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd
Tommy Lee Jones, In The Valley of Elah
Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises


Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Julie Christie, Away from Her
Marion Cotillard, La Vie En Rose
Laura Linney, The Savages
Ellen Page, Juno


Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson's War
Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild
Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton


Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There
Ruby Dee, American Gangster
Saoirse Ronan, Atonement
Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone
Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton


Diablo Cody, Juno
Nancy Oliver, Lars and the Real Girl
Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton
Jan Pinkava, Jim Capobianco, and Brad Bird, Ratatouille
Tamara Jenkins, The Savages


Christopher Hampton, Atonement
Sarah Polley, Away from Her
Ronald Harwood, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Ethan and Joel Coen, No Country for Old Men
Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood


Surf's Up


American Gangster
The Golden Compass
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
There Will Be Blood


The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood


Across the Universe
Elizabeth: The Golden Age
La Vie En Rose
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street


No End in Sight
Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience
Taxi to the Dark Side


La Corona (The Crown)
Salim Baba
Sari's Mother


The Bourne Ultimatum
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Into the Wild
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood


Beaufort - (ISRAEL)
The Counterfeiters - (AUSTRIA)
Katyn - (POLAND)
12 - (RUSSIA)


La Vie En Rose
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End


The Kite Runner
Michael Clayton
3:10 to Yuma


"Falling Slowly" - Once
"Happy Working Song" - Enchanted
"Raise It Up" - August Rush
"So Close" - Enchanted
"That's How You Know" - Enchanted


I Met the Walrus
Madame Tutli-Putli
Même Les Pigeons vont au Paradis (Even Pigeons Go to Heaven)
My Love (Moya Lyubov)
Peter & The Wolf


At Night
Il Suppliente (The Substitute)
Le Mozart des Pickpockets (The Mozart of Pickpockets)
Tanghi Argentini
The Tonto Woman


The Bourne Ultimatum
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood


The Bourne Ultimatum
No Country for Old Men
3:10 to Yuma


The Golden Compass
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

To get your own printable ballot of this year's Oscar nominations, click here. Tune in tonight at 5pm (PST) on ABC to see the show live. I'll be back tomorrow with a complete recap of the ceremony. Until then, I'll be saying three cheers for that little gold statuette that caused all this trouble in the first place.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

R.I.P., Roy Scheider


Last Sunday, the world lost the remarkably gifted actor Roy Scheider. He had been fighting multiple myeloma since 2004 and underwent a bone marrow transplant the following year. Though he lived an active 75 years, he left us far too soon.

Like most film fans of my generation, I first saw him in Jaws and thought he was perfectly cast as Martin Brody, the driven police chief hell-bent on hunting down the titular great white shark. Underneath the hardboiled stoicism he conveyed so naturally, there was something sensitive, congenial, and refined about his presence that made him genuinely likeable. Watch the magical dinner table scene between him and young Jay Mello where the son emulates his father's gestures and facial expressions. Fast forward to the heart-pounding climax where Scheider's courageous cop lands a last chance, dead-on rifle shot that blasts the monstrous creature to smithereens. The joyous scream Scheider emits while clinging to the shredded remnants of the sinking vessel captures the triumphant spirit of an impossible mission accomplished more beautifully than the most articulate declaration of the words "I did it". The tonnage of cinema provides filmgoers with an abundance of golden moments that leaves the viewer wondering whether credit belongs to the director or to the actor for their conception. In this case, Scheider's electric spontaneity was too real to be thought of ahead of time by Spielberg.

Four years earlier, he found worldwide fame -- and his first Academy Award nomination -- for The French Connection. Although it was a top-grossing dynamite action movie, his role of Buddy Russo featured no memorable lines of dialogue, shocking confessions, or climactic confrontations. Yet, his effort was enough to make a splash and get noticed.

Then in 1979, All That Jazz arrived and brought the role from Heaven with it. Roy was brought on board to replace Richard Dreyfuss, who left the production during rehearsals. After seeing the former's performance, one wonders what led Bob Fosse to consider (much less cast!) Dreyfuss in the first place. Skilled as he is, Dreyfuss possesses none of the raw sexuality and slick, manipulative guile that Scheider amplified so easily through his Joe Gideon. Only Scheider could have made that role so simultaneously charming and churlish. He seduces the audience as easily as he does his latest leading lady. How did Scheider acquire such an innate understanding of the Fosse sensibility? Even though the two men had never before worked together (and never would again), did Fosse trust this tough-guy veteran of The Seven-Ups, Marathon Man, and Sorceror enough with his deepest, darkest secrets? He was making his own autobiography, after all. For this blogger's part, Jazz is one of the most incredible examples of an actor playing against type ever captured on celluloid. The Academy had to have struggled with its decision to award the 1979 Best Actor Oscar to Dustin Hoffman for Kramer vs. Kramer. Between he, Pacino for ...And Justice for All, Lemmon for The China Syndrome, Sellers for Being There, and Scheider, the decision had to be next to impossible. Had I been old enough to follow movies then, I would have certainly hoped that Scheider's nomination would be a call for better roles.

Sadly, those roles never came and his second nomination would be his last. Scheider did make several memorable appearances thereafter, albeit in movies than which he was better. His chopper cop in Blue Thunder seemed like a routine police flick assignment, but he gave his best effort all the same. His impassioned liberal law school professor was the only saving grace of Listen to Me, a forgettable late-80s drama that futily tried to make Kirk Cameron a movie star. Francis Ford Coppola got maximum mileage out of his presence when he cast Scheider as a slimy corporate executive in 1997's The Rainmaker. In addition, he also busied himself with several television projects, among them an enjoyable three-season run on NBC in "Seaquest DSV" and most recently, a featured role on "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" last year.

All career misfires considered, one cannot fault the man for his less than memorable movies. After all, it was the late William Holden who said, "Take any picture you can. One out of four will be good, one out of ten will be very good, and one out of 15 will get you an Academy Award." While some may dispute the veracity of Mr. Holden's claim (personally, I believe his estimates are conservative), one cannot help but agree with the incentive for making an effort. With respect to Scheider, Henry Fonda's wisdom may be more appropriate: "It's not how good you are. It's how long you last." For my own part, Roy Scheider was always good and his work will always last.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

WGA Annoints 'No Country' and 'Juno'

The Coen Brothers' gripping Texas thriller No Country for Old Men picked up yet another award last night when it won the Writers Guild of America's Best Adapted Screenplay award. Diablo Cody received the Original Screenplay award for the quirky teen pregnancy comedy Juno. These wins now move each film into the odds-on favorite positions of both writing categories in this year's Oscar race. Last year, Michael Arndt and William Monahan won the WGA's Best Original and Adapted Screenplay awards for Little Miss Sunshine and The Departed respectively, and each writer went on to win Oscars.

The announcements were made at a special recognition reception at the Broadway Millenium Hotel in New York. Like the shortened press conference presentation held at last month's Golden Globe Awards, the formal ceremony that usually accompanies the WGA Awards was cancelled due to the strike.

According to Variety's coverage of the event, the winners were announced just hours after the WGA East concluded a "mostly upbeat" membership meeting held to review the terms of the tentative writers' contract. If studios and union leaders agree, the strike could be over as early as tomorrow...and no one would be happier to see that happen than this humble blogger.

For a full list of this year's WGA award winners, visit the guild's official site here.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

ASC Awards Top Cinematography Honors to 'There Will Be Blood'

On Saturday, January 26th, The American Society of Cinematographers awarded their 22nd feature film honor to Robert Elswit for his superb photography of There Will Be Blood. This is the first win for Elswit from this guild and even though the ASC doesn't have as consistent a track record as the Directors Guild of America for predicting Oscar winners (only seven of the guild's past 21 winners have gone on to win the Best Cinematography Oscar), I'm inking the slot next to Elswit's name on my Oscar ballot in advance.

For the record, the Academy Award nominees for Best Achievement in Cinematography for the Year 2007 are:

Roger Deakins, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Roger Deakins, No Country for Old Men
Robert Elswit, There Will Be Blood
Janusz Kaminski, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Seamus McGarvey, Atonement

You may notice that Roger Deakins' name appears twice. This is within the bounds of Oscar voting rules (just as actors may be nominated for more than one performance in a single year; witness Cate Blanchett for Elizabeth: The Golden Age and I'm Not There) and with regard to the cinematography category, this is the first time this has happened in 36 years, when the late, great Robert Surtees was nominated for The Last Picture Show and Summer of '42. Surtees lost that Oscar to Oswald Morris for Fiddler on the Roof. This year, I believe Elswit will win the Best Cinematography Oscar for a number of reasons: 1) he already has one nomination -- for Good Night, and Good Luck two years ago -- under his belt and that gives him a competitive edge; 2) by virtue of the fact that Deakins is nominated twice, that's going to split the vote on him; 3) Janusz Kaminski already has two Oscars -- for Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan -- and at this point, the decision to award a third Oscar to a cinematographer in 15 years may strike the Academy as too much, too soon; 4) this is Seamus McGarvey's first nomination and even though he is a gifted cinematographer -- I still say he should have been nominated for The Hours five years ago -- he'll have to bust his hump with at least one more nomination before he takes home the gold. That leaves the field wide open for Elswit.

Besides, let's not forget about the name of the category. Even though I have not yet seen James/Ford, Atonement, or Bell/Butterfly, I can say for certain that Blood is responsible for some of the most stunning camerawork I have ever seen in a theater. The compositions, the angles, the movement, the lighting, and the colors were all brilliant. I would even go so far to say that the cinematography of 'Blood' is so great that, like Freddie Young's Oscar-winning efforts on Lawrence of Arabia, there is not shot in the entire movie that cannot be frozen and crafted into a painting. Now that I think of it, that rule also applies to Saving Private Ryan.

Lest you wonder, here is the breakdown between the ASC winners and Oscar winners for best cinematography from 1987 to 2007.

1987 ASC winner: Jordan Cronenweth, Peggy Sue Got Married
1987 Oscar winner: Chris Menges, The Mission

1988 ASC winner: Allen Daviau, Empire of the Sun
1988 Oscar winner: Vittorio Storaro, The Last Emperor

1989 ASC winner: Conrad L. Hall, Tequila Sunrise
1989 Oscar winner: Peter Biziou, Mississippi Burning

1990 ASC winner: Haskell Wexler, Blaze
1990 Oscar winner: Freddie Francis, Glory

1991 ASC winner: Dean Semler, Dances with Wolves
1991 Oscar winner: Dean Semler, Dances with Wolves

1992 ASC winner: Allen Daviau, Bugsy
1992 Oscar winner: Robert Richardson, JFK

1993 ASC winner: Stephen H. Burum, Hoffa
1993 Oscar winner: Philippe Rousselot, A River Runs Through It

1994 ASC winner: Conrad L. Hall, Searching for Bobby Fischer
1994 Oscar winner: Janusz Kaminski, Schindler's List

1995 ASC winner: Roger Deakins, The Shawshank Redemption
1995 Oscar winner: John Toll, Legends of the Fall

1996 ASC winner: John Toll, Braveheart
1996 Oscar winner: John Toll, Braveheart

1997 ASC winner: John Seale, The English Patient
1997 Oscar winner: John Seale, The English Patient

1998 ASC winner: Russell Carpenter, Titanic
1998 Oscar winner: Russell Carpenter, Titanic

1999 ASC winner: John Toll, The Thin Red Line
1999 Oscar winner: Janusz Kaminski, Saving Private Ryan

2000 ASC winner: Conrad L. Hall, American Beauty
2000 Oscar winner: Conrad L. Hall, American Beauty

2001 ASC winner: Caleb Deschanel, The Patriot
2001 Oscar winner: Peter Pau, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

2002 ASC winner: Roger Deakins, The Man Who Wasn't There
2002 Oscar winner: Andrew Lesnie, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

2003 ASC winner: Conrad L. Hall, Road to Perdition (posthumous)
2003 Oscar winner: Conrad L. Hall, Road to Perdition (posthumous)

2004 ASC winner: John Schwartzman, Seabiscuit
2004 Oscar winner: Russell Boyd, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

2005 ASC winner: Bruno Delbonnel, A Very Long Engagement
2005 Oscar winner: Robert Richardson, The Aviator

2006 ASC winner: Dion Beebe, Memoirs of a Geisha
2006 Oscar winner: Dion Beebe, Memoirs of a Geisha

2007 ASC winner: Emmanuel Lubezki, Children of Men
2007 Oscar winner: Guillermo Navarro, Pan's Labyrinth

Look sharp for the winners of the 9th annual Writers Guild of America awards, to be announced on this blog no later than tomorrow.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

'No Country' Wins Top Honors at PGA Awards

On the heels of last week's Directors Guild of America and Screen Actors Guild Awards, the Coen Brothers' Texas crime thriller No Country for Old Men claimed the top award at last night's Producers Guild of America Awards. Read MSN's story here.

Those who track movie award wins will know that last year's recipient of the PGA award, Little Miss Sunshine, lost the Oscar to The Departed. This year, I am confident that No Country will take home the little gold bald guy. For one, the Coen Brothers and producer Scott Rudin have earned it. Secondly, though I have not seen all of the five films nominated for Best Picture of 2007 (at present, only Atonement and Michael Clayton remain MIA on this moviegoer's viewing list), I can say without any reservation that No Country for Old Men is my favorite film of 2007. None of the other films stand a chance at upsetting No Country for Best Picture. It has all of the ingredients of a Best Picture winner: it's a serious drama, it's set in the past and above all, it represents the collective best of all the disciplines of moviemaking rolled into one terrific picture.

Next up on the awards show docket is the Writers Guild of America ceremony -- er, make that announcement. According to the WGA's official website, the Guild will announce the winners of the 2008 awards this Saturday, February 9th. There will be no awards show until the strike is over. There's a lot I could say about that decision, but all I'm going to say is this: if they want to cancel their own ceremony, that's perfectly all right with me. If they think they're going to derail the Oscars, however, I am going to be one upset customer. All grumbling aside, I predict that Diablo Cody will win the original screenplay award for Juno, and the Coen Brothers will win the adapted screenplay award for No Country for Old Men, at both the WGA's and the Oscars.

One final comment before I close. Scrolling through the list of nominees on the WGA's website, I see a category for Best Documentary Screenplay. Uhh...color me obtuse, but since when do documentaries have screenplays? It seems to me that the whole idea behind a documentary is to capture a given area of life as it unfolds, without the preconceived sequence of scenes forming a cohesive blueprint of a story that most folks would consider a screenplay. What does a documentary screenplay look like? "INT. CHARLTON HESTON'S HOUSE - DAY A fat, narcissistic liar approaches Ben-Hur himself and berates him"? Are documentary directors actually giving their subjects dialogue and direction? If so, then they're not making documentaries. They're making features with non-professional actors. From my perspective, the only material that belongs in a documentary screenplay is location details and camera directions.

Stay tuned for the WGA winners this Saturday.