Oscar Predictions: Part 1 – The Ones You Always Guess On

The 85th Academy Awards will be airing on ABC February 24th, 2013. The People’s Critic has decided to unveil predictions on all 24 major categories over the next four weeks. This week’s predictions will focus on the six categories that are usually the toughest to call since they require some technical knowledge about film making, or they are short films not easily viewed by most people. Nonetheless, we leave no category behind. Additionally, all readers are encouraged to weigh in with your own opinions by submitting to the public polls following each category’s predictions.

1. Best Short Film (Live Action):

Nominated films are Asad, Buzkashi Boys, Curfew, Death of a Shadow (Dood van een Schaduw), and Henry.

Asad and Buzkashi Boys are both glimpses at hard luck youth who struggle in their homelands of Somalia and Afghanistan respectively. Buzkashi seems to be the stronger film of these two, while Death of a Shadow is certainly the strongest technical achievement of the five. Curfew and Henry pose little threat, but the off kilter relationship between the uncle-niece relationship in Curfew is interesting. The Peoples Critic Selection: Death of a Shadow

2. Best Short Film (Animated)

Nominated Films are Adam and Dog, Fresh Guacamole, Head over Heels, Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare,” and Paperman.

Adam and Dog and Head Over Heels are both extremely simple but cute. Head Over Heels has no chance, however. Yes, The Simpsons have a film entered here, which played theatrically with Ice Age 4, but this one comes down to powerhouse animation studio Pixar’s Paperman and the ingenious stop-motion film, Fresh Guacamole…but come on – The People’s Critic Selection: Paperman

3. Best Documentary (Short):

Nominated films are Inocente, Kings Point, Mondays at Racine, Open Heart, and Redemption.

For short films, these are all pretty heavy in terms of their subject matter. I think it comes down to Inocente, Kings Point or Mondays at Racine. I like Kings Point, which chronicles the lives, loves, and losses of several older Americans in a retirement home in Florida. I don’t know if it has the stuff to win, and I also don’t know if it’s that great, but I like it. Inocente probably has a much wider appeal given its subject is an artistic and interesting young homeless girl. Mondays at Racine certainly puts a touching spin on Cancer by examining the stories of different patients who come to a salon that opens free of charge to Cancer patients on a Monday, once a month. The Peoples Critic Selection: Kings Point

4. Best Visual Effects:

Nominated Films are The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Life of Pi, Marvel’s The Avengers, Prometheus, and Snow White and the Huntsman

Ok, now we get down to films that the average filmgoer can evaluate. The Visual Effects Oscar goes to a film that demonstrates greatness in the world of special effects. If one were to see all of these films, there is certainly something to admire in each. However, a large part for why one of these ended up being The People’s Critic’s #2 film of the year, was its visual effects. The People’s Critic Selection: Life of Pi

5. Best Sound Mixing:

Nominated films are Argo, Les Misérables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, and Skyfall

6. Best Sound Editing

Nominated films are Argo, Django Unchained, Life of Pi, Skyfall, and Zero Dark Thirty

I’ve decided to deal with these two together since most people are unaware of their differences. Sound editing is the art of recording sound effects, background music, as well as sound creation. Sound mixing is taking all of the sounds recorded and needed for a film, along with the dialogue, and putting it all together, adjusting the levels, etc. Traditionally, I go along with the theory that more times than not, the film that wins one will win both. Thus, Argo, Skyfall, and Life of Pi are the only contenders. The People’s Critic’s Selection: Life of Pi for both


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Mama

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Mama (an excuse to critically discuss horror)

The horror genre has an unusual history in the cinematic world. Unlike traditional genres like comedy and drama, horror films seem aimed at a slightly more specialized market. And yet, with this specialized market, one would expect more diversity in the content, but history has revealed that this is not the case. Studios that release horror films seem to pray on popular cultural fads and then, most likely due to inexpensive production costs, let loose clone after clone after clone until these films eventually become less lucrative. Take a look at how many films follow this storyline: a mother notices some strange behavior in her child or around the house. She tells her husband, but her pleas fall on deaf ears; she must simply be imagining the pots and pans all stacking themselves all over the kitchen. Eventually, the husband witnesses something he can’t explain and (hesitantly) agrees to contact an expert or specialist in strange behavior who is found on the Internet. Chaos ensues. The expert dies trying to help, one or more friends of the protagonist become victims, and it ends right where it started with a tiny difference that ties everything together. This form of formulaic market saturation as a business model may keep the genre alive, but it has also lessened its reputation. There’s no doubt that horror films have the potential to affect an audience more than any other type of film since audience reaction is basically the watermark for success (consider those film trailers that do not show clips of the film, but rather show a packed, darkened theater of people wildly reacting to some outrageously scary moment).

Now, I am actually a horror fan and will concede that some of the greatest films are horror films (The Sixth Sense, The Exorcist, Frailty – look it up-, Jaws). However, the worst film of nearly every year is also a horror film (intentionally or unintentionally). Consequently, I am always wary of cinema that resists progress to idly make money off of spent franchises that are too cheap, production-wise, to give up. They make you want to cry for your…

Mama is the latest demented fable loosely attached to Guillermo del Toro, regardless of the relentless name dropping that advertisements display. Del Toro did produce, but his influence ends there, and thus, Mama is not Pan’s Labyrinth. Mama begins with a catastrophic series of events that result in two young girls being abandoned in a strange cottage in the woods where they will live for five years before being discovered. Exposition sweeps us through a bizarrely simplified adoption process where the girls’ uncle, Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is permitted to raise the girls in a state funded research house in order for the girls to be continuously observed by a psychologist. At this point, most of the stereotypical formula laid out previously proceeds.

Mama is written and directed by Andres Muschietti who bases it off of his own short film, also called Mama. Fundamentally, the story is not incredibly strong, and leaves the viewer with some noteworthy qualms, but Muschietti clearly understands where the few strengths of his story exist and manages to create a couple good scares. Additionally, he adds some fresh complexity to the film by writing Lucas’s girlfriend, Annabel (Jessica Chastain), as a bass guitarist in a punk band who is apprehensive about having children and settling into a housewife role, but suddenly finds herself doing both. Muschietti also makes another honorable choice in that he tells a ghost story where the revelation of the ghost itself is not the object of the film. He, instead, introduces the ghost early and uses it as his chief form of tension building; that and the kids. The kids are creepy.

Mama is what it is. It raises no bars, but it holds a reasonably heavy one somewhat steadily in place. Expect the upcoming months to offer at least four more “clones” of this film as this fad works its way out. Then it should be smooth sailing… until it all starts over again in September. C

The Weekly DISCussion

The Weekly DISCussion is back and more non-weekly than ever, but it still delivers two great movies to watch at home!

Must See DVD of the Week:Three

Three Kings is the third film from director David O. Russell.  Russell has since become very well known with his more recent films like The Fighter and this year’s Silver Linings Playbook.  However, in 1999, Russell released Three Kings, which is quite possibly his best film.  The story revolves around three American military men of varying ranks during the Iraq War (George Clooney, Mark Whalberg, and Ice Cube) who happen to stumble upon a possible location of hidden gold Saddam Hussein’s forces have stolen from Kuwait.  Their journey to find this gold takes them through the consequences of war in a surprising and stylized way that few films have ever successfully managed to do.  Like Platoon or more recently, The Hurt Locker, Three Kings focuses on the conscience of the soldier as well as the morality of the people who live in a war-torn country.  It is not to be missed.

Netflix Must Stream of the Week:Image

The Queen of Versailles is one of the greatest accidents ever to be captured on film.  What director Lauren Greenfield had set out to make was a documentary profiling billionaire real estate tycoon David Siegel’s efforts to create the largest single occupancy home on American soil.  What she got was a character study of that same family once the rug is pulled out from underneath them when the real estate bubble unexpectedly pops.  Suddenly Siegel’s kingdom is reduced to rubble as the film explores the financial challenges that his family must now face.  The film does not take the cheap approach of poking sticks at people who thought they were better than others.  That would be cruel and distasteful.  What the film does do, is expose some of the nastiness that sometimes goes along with those who have achieved the “so-called” American Dream.  We don’t enjoy watching people get ruined by things that are out of their control, but we are fascinated by people who are so affected by desire for wealth and power that they are incapable of helping themselves.

Gangster Squad

ImageDirector: Ruben Fleisher

Screenwriter: Will Beall

Cast: Josh Brolin, Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Nick Nolte, Anthony Mackie, Robert Patrick, and Michael Pena

(A genre review, to be read ‘gangster style’)

This is a picture that says, “Listen, you! You’ll sit there and watch if you know what’s good for ya!” Next thing you know, there’s a guy getting ripped in half, just so you get the message. Mickey Cohen is the guy who sends that telegram, and he’s played by Sean Penn who met ‘the top’ one day and decided to go over it, way over it. Just so we’re clear though, that’s just what’s needed to make Gangster Squad tick.

Cohen owns LA, but goody-two-shoes Sgt. O’Mara (Josh Brolin) has other plans for the City of Angels. He’s had enough of this sucker’s drug running, cop buying, and lady trafficking and looks to put an end to it. Problem is, his bird needs a husband not a hero, and what’s more – she’s got company on the way (baby O’Mara). Off the books, Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) says O’Mara’s got to round up a squad Ocean’s Eleven style complete with tough guy Rocky Washington (Anthony Mackie), tech-man Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), sharp shooter Max Kennard (Robert Patrick), and sidekick Navidad Ramirez (Michael Pena). Not to mention Wildman Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling) who’s “poaching the king’s deer” in that he’s got an eye on Mickey’s girl Grace (Emma Stone).

What follows is a ride through the gritty, pulpy landscape of post-war LA, where knuckleheads get what’s coming to them if they step out of line. Jerry’s moves on Mickey’s dame put O’Mara’s operation in some hot water, and a cat and mouse chase commences. When it comes to Gangster Squad, you know the drill: operations go south on account that a runt up and turned rat on a guy, tensions swell when a thug drops the dime on his boss, and emotions flare every time a broad bends her arm for another gent. It ain’t Chinatown, but it’s got a scene that takes place there. Point is, this is entertaining and while critically it may be a bust, here’s a fun ride with an expert cast that delivers the goods…with a few bumps and bruises. B+

The People’s Critic’s Top Ten Films of the Year

Top Ten2012 has been a juggernaut of a year for the cinema. With a record-breaking box office year thanks to big blockbusters like The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, Breaking Dawn Part 2, and The Hunger Games, ticket sales have been the highest they’ve ever been. However, the quality of films released this calendar year has been excellent, rivaling 2007, my favorite release year in recent memory with There Will be Blood and No Country for Old Men. While Oscar nominations will be announced this Thursday, January 10th, a more important announcement is being made right now. Without further ado, I present The People’s Critic’s Top 10 films of 2012.

10. Moonrise Kingdom – Wes Anderson presents one of the year’s most original films with his coming of age pageant of a film, Moonrise Kingdom. Chocked full of Anderson’s trademark set designs, deadpan dialogue, and Norman Rockwell-on-acid plot, Moonrise is a nearly perfect cinematic experience. Edward Norton’s portrayal of Scoutmaster Ward is hands-down the best part of this movie, but the film is enjoyable from start to finish and welcomes multiple viewings.

9. The Hobbit: An Unexpected JourneyWhile it lacks the epic quality and complex narrative of The Lord of the Rings films, Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a beautiful and energetic film. The groundwork is truly set for an excellent companion trilogy that is fun, technically impressive, and brilliantly respectful to fans and film lovers.

8. The ImpossibleThe Impossible is the true story of a family’s disastrous experience during the Thailand tsunami disaster of 2004. Ewen McGregor and Naiomi Watts are the key reasons for this film making the top ten. There are a couple of scenes in this movie where the audience is forced to experience the emotions attached to the most unforeseen natural disaster one can imagine, and it is absolutely raw, heartbreaking, and powerful. Rarely does a film manage to showcase such relatable energy.

7. Flight Like number 8, Flight is also a ‘disaster’ movie, but a very different type of ‘disaster’ movie. It is an excellent narrative that explores the dangers of addiction in an impressively unique way. This is a strong film that expertly demonstrates the talent of its cast and its director, Robert Zemeckis.

6. The Dark Knight RisesThe Dark Knight Rises is a fitting end to one of the strongest trilogies in cinema history. I think, taken as a whole, what director, Christopher Nolan can be most proud of is that he has captured the attention of a massive audience and taught them that escapist entertainment can be thoughtful and precise. This is miles beyond what any other so-called “comic book” movie has achieved or has even been capable of so far, and thus it deserves special accolades.

5. Lincoln Lincoln offers plenty for history buffs to sink their teeth into, and yet the story is accessible to all audiences. Director, Steven Spielberg takes some narrative chances to use unknown history to make well-known history compelling and interesting, especially in the film’s final act. Writer, Tony Kushner deserves special attention for some brilliant writing while Daniel Day-Lewis turns out the performance to beat. This is Spielberg’s finest effort in some time.

4. Argo Argo was the first great movie of the fall season and delivered as both a historical snapshot and an edge-of-your-seat thriller. Ben Affleck certainly has solidified his reputation as a director. Regardless of predictability, Argo is a deeply involving film, and it is a perfect team effort. At its heart, there is a tremendously powerful and amazing story told in an uncomplicated way, which is just what every good movie needs at its core.

3. Silver Linings Playbook – David O. Russell’s movies are traditionally about passion, and none have better successfully illustrated that theme than Silver Linings Playbook. Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper play Pat and Tiffany, two people full of passion who have lost their way. Both turn out Oscar worthy performances, and it should not surprise anyone if they both win. Furthermore, Russell’s screenplay is excellent as he also manages to give Robert DeNiro something he’s finally worthy of acting in.

2. Life of Pi Life of Pi is a low-key masterpiece. It sneaks up on you and while not complicated, welcomes multiple viewings. Ang Lee presents a very enjoyable and thought-provoking version of Martel’s widely admired source material. It was said that Life of Pi was one of those unfilmable stories- that it can exist in the mind of the reader and nowhere else. Lee has proven those skeptics incorrect. Furthermore, no film, including Avatar, has achieved this level of visual grandeur with 3D technology. Lee’s careful precision as a director, takes full advantage of every opportunity to amaze the audience with wonder.

1. Django Unchained Django Unchained is the year’s best film as well as a front-runner for one of Quentin Tarantino’s best films. The cast is impeccable, the script is original, and the style is enjoyable. Few films ever combine such intriguing dialogue with such ambitious storytelling, and the film deserves sincere consideration from the academy in all major categories. It is a difficult film to watch at times, but not a scene is wasted or unnecessary.

Honorable Mentions (and an angry side-note) – Films deserving honorable mentions are Looper, To Rome with Love, Friends With Kids, The Avengers, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Wreck It Ralph. Also, this was a year that saw a Christopher Walken trifecta as the distinctive and unparalleled actor appeared in three films this year: Seven Psychopaths, A Late Quartet, and Stand Up Guys.

On an ANGRY side-note – Year after year, films vying to qualify for Oscar eligibility will open their films in the minimal markets (LA and New York) and then choose some obsequious and noncompetitive weekend in January to open wide to audiences. This year the film most guilty of this is the controversially acclaimed Zero Dark Thirty (An additional film guilty to a lesser degree would be The Sessions with John Hawkes and Helen Hunt). The buzz is that Zero Dark Thirty will be the one to beat, but major film critics and academy members are the only ones who will have seen it before the nominations are revealed later this week. Films should have to be widely released in the year that they wish to be nominated. Audiences should have access to all academy qualified films and an opportunity to share their points of view before the “so-called” powers that be cast their votes. The films listed above all played fair and deserve to be seen and commended. Shame on you Zero Dark Thirty, shame on you!

This is 40

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Judd Apatow has found his cinematic niche in watching outsiders become insiders.  The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Funny People all examine likable, but slightly introverted, man-children.  Each of these films attempts to show that the geeky child in all of us doesn’t have to go away, but it has to grow up a little bit.  Apatow’s latest film, This is 40 is a departure from this philosophy and unfortunately, it suffers for it.  This is 40 feels like an anti-Apatow film in that now we are watching dull, angry insiders desperately pining away for the days when they were outsiders.

This is 40 is marketed as the “sort of” sequel to Knocked Up.  This is because it focuses on married couple Debbie and Pete, peripheral characters from that film.  It is fair to call this a personal film for Apatow since Debbie is once again played by Apatow’s real wife Leslie Mann, and her two kids, Charlotte and Sadie, are played by his actual daughters.  Pete is reprised by Paul Rudd, which has to create some excellent awkward moments on the set as Rudd is directed by Apatow to essentially ‘be’ Apatow alongside his entire family.  Other than these characters, and a couple other very minor ones, this film certainly deserves the “sort of” moniker that it gets since it takes a completely different tone than Knocked Up and leaves behind virtually everything that made that movie work.    

We drop in on Debbie and Pete five years after Knocked Up, and things are not good.  The characters are facing their 40th birthdays and you’d think it’s the end of the world.  Apatow has stripped his characters of their geek-child, and what is left is sad adults, angry kids, and a lot of yelling.  It does not matter what your experience is with 40 or teenagers, this film uncomfortable viewing to say the least.    

There is not much fun to be found in This is 40.  Judd Apatow has always found some stronghold of critical praise in that he is given credit for being ‘honest.’  Basically, many critics say his comedies get away with being raunchy and crass because they are ‘honest.’  Actually, his comedies get away with being raunchy and crass because they are funny and filled with fun, and yes honestly realistic, characters, but that is not the case in This is 40.  Whether or not one can relate to the problems of the characters, this is not an enjoyable movie.  Problems are unrealistically piled on, Debbie’s father (John Lithgow) is nothing more than a caricature whose lines are unintentionally laughable, and the movie is plotless but not in an artistic way.  Outside of a joke or two that work, especially the ones coming from Pete’s dad (played by Albert Brooks), This is 40 is packed with uninteresting side-line characters who come and go like Saturday Night Live characters, and it is entirely too long.  Even the great Melissa McCarthy’s scene is a dud, except for showing the audience that the main characters can bond over attacking a nine-year-old boy and then making his mother look stupid for being outraged.

This is 40 is certainly a disappointing direction to see Apatow heading in.  Hopefully, he’ll reexamine the lives of his characters and find better forms of ‘honesty’ than misery.  D