Saturday, January 31, 2009

'Slumdog' Scoops Up Top SAG Award

The accolades for Slumdog Millionaire show no signs of stopping as the film took home the trophy for Best Motion Picture Ensemble at the 15th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards last Sunday. The L.A. Times has a decent recap here. View the complete list of winners here.

This year's little-film-that-could is expected to win the feature film honor at the 61st Annual Directors Guild of America Awards, to be held tonight at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

'Slumdog' Slams Competition at PGA Awards

Adding another win to its seemingly unstoppable streak, the uplifting drama Slumdog Millionaire picked up the best picture award at the 20th Annual Producers Guild of America Awards last night. Among other films in competition for the gong were Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Dark Knight, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. See the complete list of winners here.

Chances of Slumdog snagging Best Picture at next month's Academy Awards ceremony have now increased, as 12 of the past 19 winners of the Producers Guild's top prize have gone on to claim the Best Picture Oscar. (For the trivia junkies, those films are: No Country for Old Men, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Chicago, Gladiator, American Beauty, Titanic, The English Patient, Forrest Gump, Schindler's List, The Silence of the Lambs, Dances with Wolves, and Driving Miss Daisy.)

Next up on the awards show schedule is the 15th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, which airs tonight at 8pm PST on TNT.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Snubs and Other Surprises

This year's Oscar nominations have revealed a few surprises, to say the least. As announced by current Academy president Sid Ganis and past Oscar winner Forest Whitaker (Best Actor for The Last King of Scotland in 2006) this morning in Los Angeles, the selection of this year's contenders for the highest of all film awards leaves no shortage of dropped jaws and raised eyebrows among film pundits. Roger Ebert has an insightful write-up here. View the complete list of nominees here.

For me, the single biggest shock of the morning is the absence of The Dark Knight from the Best Picture category. This is the most noticeable Best Picture omission I've seen since Dreamgirls was shut out of the top five two years ago. Many had Knight pegged as a shoo-in for the top nod, myself included. Why has the Academy turned up its nose at the best superhero movie to date? It has just as much depth, intelligence, and emotional power as the five films nominated this year. To say that it struck a chord with its audience would be a gross understatement. (Need I mention its staggering performance at the box office?)

If the summer blockbuster factor is their objection, then why did the Academy nominate Raiders of the Lost Ark for Best Picture 27 years ago? Same goes for Jaws, Star Wars, E.T., and Forrest Gump. Do the voting members of the Academy sway closer to the Barnes & Noble crowd than to DC Comics fans? Whatever the reason, the Academy needs to realize that there is such a thing as a masterfully made comic book movie, and The Dark Knight certainly fits that description. If those divinely chosen final arbiters good taste continue their elitist trend of snubbing par excellence popular movies in favor of lukewarm literary adaptations, the Academy will place itself in grave danger of alienating the public -- even more than it already has.

The Best Actor category delivered not one, but two snubs. Leonardo DiCaprio, who gave an acclaimed performance as Kate Winslet's frustrated husband in Revolutionary Road, was overlooked. (Look for him in the running next year for Ashecliffe.) Also ignored was Clint Eastwood's gripping turn as a bigoted Korean War veteran in Gran Torino. Richard Jenkins turned up as a surprise top-of-the-list nominee for his well-received role as a lonely professor whose life is changed when he befriends a pair of illegal immigrants in The Visitor. Jenkins faces strong competition from Frank Langella as the latter half of Frost/Nixon, Sean Penn as a courageous gay city supervisor in Milk, Brad Pitt as a man who grows younger as time passes in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and Mickey Rourke as a middle-aged pro wrestler making a comeback in The Wrestler.

Critical darling Sally Hawkins was MIA on the Best Actress list after winning the Golden Globe for her delightful performance as a vivaciously optimistic schoolteacher in Happy-Go-Lucky. Also missing therein was Kristin Scott Thomas, lauded for her work in I've Loved You So Long. Those who made the cut are Anne Hathaway, clinching her first nod for portraying a recovering drug user preparing to witness Rachel Getting Married; Angelina Jolie, as a distraught single mother who determines to recover her missing son in Changeling; Melissa Leo, as a woman who turns to human smuggling in order to make ends meet in Frozen River; screen veteran Meryl Streep, earning a record-stretching fifteenth acting nomination as a take-no-prisoners mother superior of a Catholic school in Doubt; and Kate Winslet, earning her sixth nomination as a German tram conductor hiding a frightening secret in The Reader. Winslet won the Supporting Actress Golden Globe for this performance and finds herself in the Best Actress category here. Her performance as a disillusioned housewife in 1950s Connecticut in Revolutionary Road was overlooked.

Nowhere to be found among the Best Supporting Actor nominees are Dev Patel, who portrayed the older Jamal in Slumdog Millionaire, and Jason Butler Harner, who received many glowing notices for playing a monstrous child murderer in Changeling. Josh Brolin, nominated for playing disgruntled city employee Dan White in Milk, was the first name announced in this category. He'll be competing with Robert Downey, Jr., who earned his first nomination in 16 years in a hilarious turn as "the dude playin' the dude disguised as another dude" in Tropic Thunder; Philip Seymour Hoffman earned his third nomination in four years as a priest accused of abuse in Doubt; the late Heath Ledger, as criminal mastermind The Joker in The Dark Knight, was nominated exactly one year after being found dead in his Manhattan apartment of an accidental drug overdose; and Michael Shannon, as an institutionalized man who bears witness to a crumbling marriage in Revolutionary Road.

There were no snubs to speak of in the Best Supporting Actress camp. Taraji P. Henson's performance as a kindhearted nursemaid to Benjamin Button came as a surprise, but the remainder of the selections panned out as expected. From the Doubt cast, Amy Adams and Viola Davis were nominated for portraying a naive teacher and a suspicious parish parent, respectively. Penelope Cruz earned her second nomination as a fiery Spanish ex-wife in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. To round out the category, Marisa Tomei was included for her role as an aging stripper in The Wrestler.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button claimed the most nominations with 13, just one nod behind the all-time record held by All About Eve and Titanic. Slumdog Millionaire came in second with ten nominations, followed by The Dark Knight and Milk with eight apiece. Frost/Nixon and The Reader bring up the rear with five nominations each. Though Button leads the pack with the most nominations, Golden Globe winner Slumdog Millionaire is already the odds-on favorite to win Best Picture.

As for other categories, it's too soon to tell who will win. Danny Boyle appears to be the likely winner for Best Director, given his Golden Globe victory last week. He's in like flint if he snags the DGA Award come the 31st. Each of the five directors is nominated for a film in the running for Best Picture. This is the first time this perfect lineup has occurred since 2005. The last time it happened before that was in 1981. (Coincidentally, both years saw a disparity in the awards of Best Director and Best Picture. Warren Beatty won the Best Director Oscar for Reds in 1981, while Chariots of Fire crossed the Best Picture finish line. In 2005, Ang Lee won Best Director for Brokeback Mountain, while Crash claimed an upset Best Picture victory.) Every year since has seen at least one director without a picture among the top five (the kiss of death in that category) and one Best Picture nominee whose director isn't nominated. Last year, for example, Atonement was nominated for Best Picture while its director, Joe Wright, was shut out. Conversely, Julian Schnabel was nominated for directing The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, while the film failed to make a purchase in Best Picture territory.

Traditionally, the Best Actor race comes down to two horses and this year, those horses are Sean Penn and Mickey Rourke. Penn has an advantage over Rourke in that he has four prior nominations (one of which, for 2003's Mystic River, resulted in a win) under his belt, in that Milk is nominated for Best Picture, and in that the passing of Proposition 8 in California gives his performance a timely relevance. Rourke, however, has no prior nominations to his credit and The Wrestler did not make the top five. On the other hand, Rourke recently beat Penn to the Golden Globe for Best Actor and Las Vegas oddsmakers current project Rourke as the winner. Personally, I would love to see Sean Penn collect statuette number two. Rourke's performance is heartbreaking, but to award him an Oscar would put an end to his triumphant comeback just as quickly as it began, thereby reducing his career rejuvenation to a mere flash in the pan. (To interject a non sequitur, nine of the 20 performers nominated this morning -- exactly 45% of the total -- are first-time nominees. Of the 20 actors, three -- Frank Langella, Sean Penn, and Josh Brolin -- are nominated for playing real people.)

The Best Actress category is another tough nut to crack. Kate Winslet seems like the most sensible choice, as this is her sixth nomination and she has yet to win her first Academy Award. Her toughest competition comes from Meryl Streep, who has an almost certain third Oscar in her future.

Best Supporting Actor is by far the easiest race to call, as Heath Ledger is a hands-down lock for the Oscar. Not only does he have unanimous critical praise to his credit, but no other contender in his category can hold a candle to Ledger's insane portrayal of a comic book character that leaves Jack Nicholson's campy mugfest in the dust. Trivia junkies will be quick to point out that Ledger's will be the first acting Oscar awarded posthumously since Peter Finch won Best Actor for Network in 1976.

Best Supporting Actress, at this stage, appears to be a toss-up between Penelope Cruz and Viola Davis. Cruz won the New York Film Critics Circle, Los Angeles Film Critics Circle, and National Board of Review Awards in this category. Plus, she has one previous nomination under her belt. (as Best Actress for 2006's Volver, lest you wonder) Davis, on the other hand, won the runner-up slot in this category from the LAFCC and the Best Breakthrough Performance by an Actress Award from the NBR. What's more, this is only her first nomination and her total screen time is limited to one scene. However, word of mouth suggests that Davis is absolutely riveting and gets maximum mileage out of her role. Besides, limited screen time has not stopped actors from winning Oscars in the past. (e.g., Dame Judi Dench for Shakespeare in Love, Beatrice Straight for Network, Anthony Quinn for Lust for Life) To add, it would be a (pardon the pun) mortal sin to let all four nominated performances from Doubt go unrewarded. If the Academy honors one role from the film, Davis' will be it.

Do you have any sins of omission to share? Who will you be rooting for this year? Care to give me a hard time for my shoddy prognostications? All comments, within reason, are fair game today, especially if you'd like to join me in thanking the Academy for keeping Che off its radar.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Oscar Prognostications 2009

In seven hours, the 81st Academy Award nominations will be announced at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Los Angeles. Movie blogs are buzzing with anticipation as to who will make the shortlist in each of the ten categories announced tomorrow morning, and this one is no exception. Here are my predictions for which films, actors, directors, and writers will snag nominations.


The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Slumdog Millionaire


Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon
Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight
Gus Van Sant, Milk


Leonardo DiCaprio, Revolutionary Road
Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino
Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn, Milk
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler


Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky
Angelina Jolie, Changeling
Meryl Streep, Doubt
Kate Winslet, Revolutionary Road


Josh Brolin, Milk
Robert Downey, Jr., Tropic Thunder
James Franco, Milk
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight


Amy Adams, Doubt
Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis, Doubt
Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
Kate Winslet, The Reader


Woody Allen, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Peter Docter and Andrew Stanton, Wall-E
Ben Stiller, Etan Cohen, and Justin Theroux, Tropic Thunder
Dustin Lance Black, Milk
Robert D. Siegel, The Wrestler


Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire
Justin Haythe, Revolutionary Road
Peter Morgan, Frost/Nixon
Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan, and David S. Goyer, The Dark Knight
John Patrick Shanley, Doubt


Kung Fu Panda


Revanche - (Austria)
The Class - (France)
The Baader Meinhof Complex - (Germany)
Waltz with Bashir - (Israel)
Everlasting Moments - (Sweden)

Look sharp for an Oscar nomination announcement post in the morning, complete with a link to the official web site of the Academy Awards. Sleep fast!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

When a Studio Makes the Wrong Call

Last Thursday night, I was enjoying a round of Wii bowling when my BlackBerry buzzed on my hip. The 617 area code that appeared in my phone's display window gave me pause. "Who's calling me from Boston?," I thought to myself. Out of curiosity, I answered. The man's voice on the other end returned my greeting, identified himself as "John", and then uttered the five words that blast my blood pressure into the red zone whenever I answer my phone: "I'm calling on behalf of".

Dammit! Another stupid telemarketer! Do these people not know how to verify registrations on the Do Not Call List? All this bozo had to do was visit this site, punch in my number, and discover that my cell phone is off limits. Apparently, that was too much work for this imbecile, as he foolishly decided to place the call anyway.

Not even bothering to pause my game, I resisted the urge to lambast him and patiently listened while he pathetically pitched his scripted message. He was quick to point out that "this is not a sales call" (a disingenuous tactic, in my opinion) and went on to explain that Feature Films for Families is releasing an animated version of The Velveteen Rabbit in theaters this spring. Since the studio has a limited marketing budget, the task has fallen on poor John's shoulders to cajole strangers into seeing the film over the phone.

With the nervous tone of voice that only a rookie salesman who knows he is about to be hung up on can convey, John said that he had three quick questions for me. First, he asked me if I enjoyed animated features. I told him yes, I do. Second, he asked if I had seen Wall-E, Bolt, Kung Fu Panda, and Madagascar 2. I replied that I had seen and enjoyed the first and last titles, but have not seen the middle two.

Next, John began a pompous plot description of the film. With my patience vanishing faster than a banana cream pie at Liza Minelli's house, I cut him off mid-sentence.

Me: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I read the story when I was a kid. You say the film's coming out this spring?

John: Uh-huh. That's right.

Me: Who's the director?

A pregnant pause followed.

John: I'm not...I don't...I'm sorry, could you repeat that?

Me: I asked you, who's the director? You know what a director is, don't you? It's the person who makes the majority of creative decisions on a film, says "lights, camera, action", sometimes wears a beret...ring any bells?

John: Gee, you know, I don't have that information in front of me. You see, I'm in training right now --

Me: And boy, does it show.

John: But Feature Films for Families is the producing company and they're dedicated providing quality, moral entertainment that strengthens the values of --

I'd had enough. I told John to take my number off his list and to never call me again. I could have cited the fact that no fewer than 25% of American moviegoers attend their local cinemas because of certain directors, but I didn't want to make him feel any worse than he already did. Instead, I simply hung up and proceeded to bowl a strike in the ninth frame.

Later that night, my curiosity got the best of me and I decided to read up on the company. FFFF was founded in 1988 by Forrest S. Baker III, a BYU graduate who created the Interstate Commerce Trucking Advisory Corporation, Inc. four years prior. You can see the connection, I'm sure. Just as serving as the Judges and Stewards Commissioner for the International Arabian Horse Association no doubt provided the ideal training ground for Michael Brown to lead FEMA, working in the trucking industry no doubt gave Mr. Baker an intimate understanding of the movie business.

Now, why am I getting on Baker's case? Because he is the CEO of the company. I'm not saying that he came up with the idea to telemarket The Velveteen Rabbit, but the fact that FFFF employs at least one person to indiscriminately call people and entice them to attend a movie proves that he authorized this decision. Every leader, be they a police chief, a school principal, or the President of the United States, must be prepared to account for 100% of what happens on his or her watch. If he expects his studio to gain sturdy footing, Baker needs to not only admit that telemarketing an upcoming movie is a bad idea, but also agree to cease doing so immediately.

Besides their financial limitations, one can only guess as to why FFFF avoided more traditional -- and more effective -- marketing methods. Perhaps the executives objected to the notion of creating trailers, printing posters, and broadcasting radio ads when gathered for a meeting. "That costs too much. Besides, that's what the immoral studios do. We need to take a different approach. I know! How about telemarketing? Perfect!"

Just so there's no doubt, confusion, or misunderstanding about what I want to say, my goal here is not to smear Forrest Baker or anyone employed with Feature Films for Families. Mr. Baker strikes me as a decent, friendly, and intelligent man with firm convictions. Fundamentally, I agree with him that the vast majority of American cinematic output is garbage. As I've said many times in the past, if the total amount of movies released in the United States every year were boiled down to ten features, one would be an Oscar-winning classic, another would be a midrange popcorn blockbuster, and the remaining eight would be unwatchable crap.

Where I disagree with Baker is on the point that movie studios have a moral obligation to create entertainment that provides good values for one's family. Don't get me wrong. Family movie outings taken to see classics like E.T., Bambi, and Pinocchio (among others) create warm, endearing memories and are essential to the moviegoing experience. Conversely, movies like Death Race, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and the Saw series are not exactly conducive to special moments shared between parents and children. Now that I've said that, I must state my case. Color me out of touch with reality, but if you're relying on pop music, movies, and television shows to provide values for you and your loved ones, you don't deserve to be a parent. Promoting good values is not Hollywood's job. It's yours. If you share an address with at least one child and you're not making a diligent effort to instill the virtues of critical thinking, respect, hard work, personal responsibility and the other values that build great civilizations, there is no amount of family friendly entertainment in the world that make up for your negligence. I could make a reference to an excerpt from Michael Medved's bestselling book Hollywood vs. America where he compares the "if you don't like offensive movies, don't watch them" argument to someone saying "if you don't like the smog, don't breathe", but I'll save that for another time.

Feature Films for Families may mean well, but they had better get hip to the times and realize that no one is interested in being bothered to do anything, be it refinancing their mortgage, consolidating their debts, or going to see a movie, by some headset-wearing troll in a cubicle. In all honesty, this techqniue had the direct opposite of the desired effect on me. It dissuaded me from seeing the movie.

Have you been solicited by Feature Films for Families? Do you know of anyone who has? If so, leave a comment below and tell me all about it. In the meantime, I shall return to my Wii in hopes of enjoying a competitive round of bowling; only this time, I'm leaving my BlackBerry on my desk.

'Slumdog' Sweeps the Globes

Slumdog Millionaire was the movie of the night at last Sunday's Golden Globe Awards. The picture pulled a clean sweep, claiming wins in each of the four categories for which it was nominated, including Best Picture of the Year. This showing places Slumdog in front runner position for the top prize at this year's Academy Awards.

There were few surprises at last week's awards. Mickey Rourke claimed an upset victory over Sean Penn (nominated for Milk) as Best Actor in a Drama for The Wrestler. The most jaw-dropping moment came when Kate Winslet made Golden Globe history by winning both acting prizes for which she was nominated. Collecting her Best Supporting Actress accolade for The Reader, the British actress quipped, "I have a habit of not winning things." She later claimed the Best Actress in a Drama Award for Revolutionary Road.

Demi Moore delivered the emotional high point of the ceremony when she announced Heath Ledger as Best Supporting Actor for his acclaimed role as The Joker in The Dark Knight. Director Christopher Nolan took to the stage to accept the award as the audience rose to its feet for a standing ovation. After thanking the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Nolan said that he felt "an awful mixture of sadness and incredible pride." A clip of Ledger's performance played on a projection screen in rememberance of the late actor.

In an honor carried over from last year's cancelled ceremony, Steven Spielberg was presented with the Cecil B. DeMille Award for "outstanding contributions to the entertainment field". After a heartfelt introduction given by old friend and fellow director Martin Scorsese, Spielberg paid tribute to the name for whom the award is named. Recounting the time his father took him to see The Greatest Show on Earth in 1952, Spielberg compared the path of his career to recreating the film's astounding train crash scene in his living room as a boy.

"I think what was on my mind when I was risking losing my Lionel train set was me thinking, 'Am I going to get away with this?' That anxiety has been haunting me throughout my entire movie career. Whenever I've tried to tell a risky story, whether it's about sharks or dinosaurs or about aliens or about history, I'll always be thinking, 'Am I going to get away with this?'"

The HFPA's official website has a complete list of winners here.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Gearing Up for the Globes

Tonight, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association honors the best achievements in film and television at the 66th annual Golden Globe Awards. Broadcast live from the Beverly Hilton Hotel, the upcoming ceremony will be a return to traditional festivities after last year's writers strike led to the 65th Awards being relegated to a half-hour press conference. The atmosphere is pure excitement, as nominees have already begun to appear on the red carpet.

A simple glance at this year's list of nominees proves that 2008 was a stellar year for cinema. Though Hollywood will never duplicate, much less surpass, 1939 in terms of sheer greatness, last year brought some of the most compelling, humorous, and inspiring films of the decade.

Among those nominated in the Best Dramatic Film category are: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, adapted from an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story about a man who ages in reverse; Frost/Nixon, Ron Howard's gripping recreation of David Frost's televised 1977 interviews with the titular former president; The Reader, an adaptation of Bernard Schlink's novel; Revolutionary Road, which chronicles the troubled marriage of Frank and April Wheeler (played Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, in their first on-screen pairing since Titanic) in 1950s Connecticut; and Slumdog Millionaire, the acclaimed story of a Mumbai man who wins the Hindi edition of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, only to be accused of cheating thereafter. Button, Frost/Nixon, and Doubt share a three-way tie for the most nominations at five apiece.

Though Slumdog Millionaire is only nominated in four categories, it could very well pull a clean sweep tonight. Since I blogged about the film winning the top prize at the Toronto International Film Festival back in September, Slumdog Millionaire has steadily gathered awards season momentum, with its most recent set of accolades coming last Thursday at the 14th Annual Critics Choice Awards. Last year's terrorist attacks in Mumbai also brought the film recognition, albeit unforeseen. If Slumdog Millionaire is selected for the top award tonight, the win will thrust the film into the front runner position for Best Picture at the 81st Academy Awards. (East Indian culture may very well see a surge in popularity in America.)

As for my predictions in each category, here they are:

Best Picture - Drama: Slumdog Millionaire
Best Actress - Drama: Meryl Streep, Doubt
Best Actor - Drama: Sean Penn, Milk
Best Picture - Comedy/Musical: In Bruges
Best Actress - Comedy/Musical: Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky
Best Actor - Comedy/Musical: Colin Farrell, In Bruges
Best Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Best Animated Feature Film: Wall-E
Best Foreign Language Film: Waltz With Bashir
Best Director: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
Best Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire
Best Original Score: A.R. Rahman, Slumdog Millionaire
Best Original Song: "Down to Earth" by Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman, Wall-E
Best Television Series - Drama: Mad Men
Best Actress, TV Series - Drama: January Jones, Mad Men
Best Actor, TV Series - Drama: Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Best Television Series - Comedy/Musical: 30 Rock
Best Actress, TV Series - Comedy/Musical: Tina Fey, 30 Rock
Best Actor, TV Series - Comedy/Musical: Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
Best Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television: John Adams
Best Actress in a Mini-Series or TVM: Laura Linney, John Adams
Best Actor in a Mini-Series or TVM: Paul Giamatti, John Adams
Best Supporting Actress in a Mini-Series or TVM: Laura Dern, Recount
Best Supporting Actor in a Mini-Series or TVM: Tom Wilkinson, John Adams

Who do you think take home a Golden Globe tonight? Leave your predictions in a comment below. Look sharp for a recap post tomorrow.