I was disappointed to see Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass’ new movie, “Green Zone” make a relatively low amount of money this weekend. Not because I have any ownership in the film, but because it is sort of disappointing that Americans don’t want to engage the Wars in the Middle East on any level, even fictional.
It is sort of a Catch 22 that films like Green Zone, which is somewhat political (if you consider the truth, albeit fictionalized, “liberal”) and 2009’s Best Picture, The Hurt Locker, completely apolitical, are unsuccessful because of American society’s war fatigue. If we had such aversion and fatigue over war, where was it in 2003 when troops marched off to war in Iraq? In other words, if people were as tired of war and wanted to hide their eyes from it as much in 2003 and they do in 2010 then films like Green Zone and The Hurt Locker would never have been made.
Sometimes I have friends who say, I just want to go the movies for a diversion, something mindless, not for some high minded message movie. But how much mindlessness can we actually tolerate – Facebook, Twitter, reality television, Internet, video games, porn – and that is just my day before noon! At some point don’t people want something thought-provoking that isn’t a 90 second clip on The Daily Show?
But I was actually very surprised to see a Matt Damon movie with such a good director fail, no matter what the topic. It raises a question in my mind: is there anyone who could actually sell a Middle East War movie successfully to our half apathetic/half-indignant society? Here are some ideas I am pitching:
1) Scorsese directs DiCaprio in “The Enlisted”. DiCaprio plays Tommy Coughlin, a Boston tough who joins the Army and is sent to Iraq as an alternative to going to prison. There is a ton of Rolling Stones music, a lot of quick shots and of course, DiCaprio gets to speak with a Boston accent all while shooting a lot of brown people.
2) Will Smith & Tom Hanksin “I Am Soldier” directed by Steven Spielberg – probably the best bet for a successful Middle East War Movie. Tom Hanks plays General Michael White who is asking Captain John Black (Smith) to go on a dangerous one man mission. When it seems like Capt Black will fail, Sandra Bullock shows up as a sassy southern enlisted woman who is lost and helps him complete his mission. (Captain Black and General White could be role reversed, at which point instead of Sandra Bullock, Tom Hanks companion in the desert would be a volleyball).
3) “I Can Do War Torture By Myself “or “Why Did I Enlist” by Tyler Perry – the wild card here – this film will be about a man whose marriage to Janet Jackson is on the rocks because he is not living a Christian lifestyle. After receiving advice from his 6’6″ transgendered grandmother the man decides to enlist in the war to prove that he, like Jesus Christ, is willing to sacrifice his life for a greater cause.
4) “Sandstorm” – starring Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner. Pattinson plays an English enlisted man fighting in Iraq, but he can only fight at night because of his deep brooding nature and a secret he has (he’s a vampire). Lautner plays an American fighting alongside, but harboring an even deeper secret (he’s a gay werewolf and if either of those things is found out he will be kicked out of the armed forces).
5) “Memorial Day” – starring the cast of Valentine’s Day. The concept of this movie is simple – every cast member of this film actually volunteers for active duty in Iraq as part of a documentary with an option for a reality television spin off.
If you read this blog regularly you should know that the first thing I hope (and certainly expect) from the 2010 Oscars is a prominent role for the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling ” in the pre-show hype fueled montage.
My biggest hope is that during the Oscars someone comes out and says, “By the way, The Blind Side is actually not nominated for Best Picture. That was a big joke. And also, An Education was extremely boring and we apologize for nominating that so congratulations 500 Days of Summer and The Messenger – you are actually nominated for Best Picture.” Not going to happen, but here are my predictions for the major awards and what should occur (within the realm of possibility):
I would be OK withany of the following winning in descending order of preference: District 9, Up In The Air, Inglourious Basterds, Up, Precious, Avatar, The Hurt Locker.
I think Inglorious Basterds is going to win in what I will call the “Norah Jones Strategy.” In 2002, the Best Album Grammy went to Norah Jones despite The Rising by Bruce Springsteen and The Eminem Show being nominated. I think voters split on Eminem and Sprinsgteen leaving a plurality to Norah Jones.
The Hurt Locker has a lot of momentum and Avatar is the most financially successful film of all time. But I think people who put The Hurt locker first would not have Avatar second and I do not think people that vote Avatar first would have The Hurt Locker second. But those voters who put either of those first could very well put Basterds as their second choice. And since Quentin Tarantino is a Hollywood favorite and an original I think he could pick up some small percentage that think it is time he won a big prize so I am putting my money on Inglorious Basterds to edge out Avatar and The Hurt Locker.
Jeff Bridges is going to win the Oscar that Mickey Rourke should have won last year. Jeff Bridges is a really good actor and it will be nice for him to win.
I would vote for Clooney for Up In The Air. It was his best acting job yet and finally fulfilled all the love that Hollywood had bestowed prematurely on his high brow films (which were generally sort of boring -Michael Clayton, Good Night and Good Luck and Syriana were all overrated, relatively boring movies, but Hollywood loves the high school quarterback who also hangs out with the geeks and that has been Clooney for the past decade). And the look that Clooney gives his lady friend when he meets her at her house was one of my favorite acting moments of the year.
This is a two horse race. Meryl Streep was great in Julie and Julia and this is her 134th nomination. She has won twice, but I think it is time she get another win. She is like the Michael Jordan of actresses – she should win the MVP every year, but doesn’t because some obscure actress did something obscure and artsy or some pretty actress got fat, or naked, or sassy. And with that let’s discuss the other best actress front runner – Sandra Bullock.
Sandra Bullock was a B+ in The Blind Side, which was good because the movie was a C/C-. But other than a benign racism that is sweeping the country (“Hey, we voted for a black guy, we like movies where white people save black people – damn we are awesome white folk!”) I do not understand why Meryl Streep is not guaranteed a third Oscar. If you need ant other reasons not to root for Sandra Bullock and/or The Blind Side please watch this:
So I am going to go with what is right and say Meryl Streep over Bullock.
Best Supporting Actor
Christopher Waltz from Inglourious Basterds might be an even bigger favorite than Heath Ledger last year. What a great performance – he is the front runner and deserves to be. He was so good that the Academy is considering granting him a Polanski (“a pass for a rape of a minor based on high quality work”). I enjoyed Woody Harrelson in The Messenger and must admit I did not see The Last Station yet, but am glad to see Christopher Plummer nominated (in my mind his lack of a nomination for The Insider is still the biggest snub I can remember).
Best Supporting Actress
Mo’Nique in Precious. Also a no-brainer. The most raw performance I think I have ever seen. Her motivation may have come from the fact that Mo’Nique’s husband has a hairy leg fetish, which probably means he is on the down low. That would make most women pretty angry, but Mo’Nique took it to another level. The only thing that may detract from this for Academy voters is that the film is very black in both mood and casting. It is sort of the Anti-Blind Side.
Without ten nominees to thin the voting, this will be between James Cameron (Avatar) and Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker). I enjoy the fact that they were married and that I think James Cameron bounced. That will make it even more painful if she has to lose to him, which I think she will. The breadth and technological advancements and sheer volume of time spent on Avatar should give it to Cameron.
I might go for Tarantino or Reitman (Up In The Air) with my vote. Which I don’t have. But Avatar is pretty hard to deny.
Best Animated Feature
The only thing that would make me madder than a Blind Side victory in any category would be Fantastic Mr. Fox winning here. I think Wes Anderson films are incredibly irritating, though Mr. Fox was relatively enjoyable. But Up’s first 15 minutes alone crush the competition.
A moment of silence for Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, which was ignored and not even nominated.
Best Adapted Screenplay
I think Precious should and will win here because form what I have heard the original text is written in the first person and might pose a challenge to make into a quality film, which they did. However, the hilarious and extremely clever In The Loop, as well as the most original film of the year, District 9 would make me happy as well. Fu-k An Education.
Best Original Screenplay
Inglourious Basters should win and almost definitely will win. Part of me is rooting for Up though. It is about time Pixar got recognized for being the most consistently original and great film studio.
I genuinely can’t remember any of the scores, so here is my list of my favorite scores of all time (shut up Star Wars fans):
1) The Last of The Mohicans
2) Brokeback Mountain (the score literally could have been called “sad and lonely cowboy”)
3) Chariots of Fire
Alright – there it is a comprehensive list of the categories you care about. If you want incessant humorous commentary by me during the Oscars – check out www.twitter.com/JLCauvin
When I looked at the Oscar nominations only a couple of things startled me. One was Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs not being nominated for Best Animated Feature. Another was seeing Christopher Plummer getting nominated for Best Supporting Actor for The Last Station. I have not seen the movie (one of the very few among nominees that I can say that about), but it just brings up angry thoughts of 10 years ago when he was snubbed for a nomination for his portrayal of Mike Wallace in The Insider. And there was good news – District 9 was nominated for Best Picture. However, besides the excruciatingly mundane An Education getting nominated, there is an egregious error among the best picture nominees. The Blind Side.
The Blind Side is an average movie. It has some good moments for sure, but it abounds in awful old and new Hollywood cliches. It has the sassy southern white woman, which is now the female Oscar equivalent of a man playing a mentally handicapped person – automatic Oscar nomination. She has a reticent daughter, but a spunky and fun son who says such cute and witty things for a little kid! And most importantly it has a poor black person in dire need of white people’s help. Now I know this is based on a true story, but even the subject of the film, Baltimore Ravens lineman Michael Oher said in a NYT article, “I wish they hadn’t made me look so dumb.” His coaches also remarked on how bright he is and h did make the Dean’s List at Ole Miss. But perhaps if Michael had been portrayed smarter at first it might have looked more like… gulp.. affirmative action – and that is not as feel good for America.
I have seen almost every best picture nominee in the last 30 years and unequivocally The Blind Side is the worst by a lot. I am not saying it’s terrible. Most movie critics already did that. I am saying it is like seeing a C+ student make the Honor Roll. I have received some comments about how opening up the Best Picture category to 10 nominees led to this. I disagree. Although I think they should have stayed at 5, there were better movies than The Blind Side. That is like saying if there had been ten nominations a few years ago then Coach Carter would have been nominated (that was a trick- of course it would not have been. not only was it a mediocre film, but that was a black man – Samuel L Jackson helping minority kids – not a white woman!).
Perhaps this was the Academy’s concession for nominating Precious, a gritty, depressing book at the plight of inner city African Americans. They watched Precious and were like, “Wow that was good, but sort of sad – quick nominate a feel-good, whites-helping-Negros-movie before we feel compelled to actually do something constructive. Quick do we have anything? The Blind Side? FINE!”
Mo’Nique and Christopher Waltz in the supporting actor categories. No one else should even show up.
Best Actor – Jeff Bridges. I would vote for Clooney if I had a vote (I thought his performance was finally the one that Hollywood has pretended for the last ten years that he has delivered. In Up In The Air he actually delivered it – funny, subtle and awesome). But Jeff Bridges has all the momentum and has had a quality and varied career.
Best Actress – I’d take Meryl Streep, Precious (she was really good) or even Helen Mirren because she’s very good looking for an old lady, but Sandra Bullock seems to be a lock. Yikes. I think I’d pick Precious.
Adapted Screenplay – District 9 was the most original film of the year (barring technical originality of Avatar), but I will accept all (included In The Loop which is hysterical) except for An Education – what a fu-king bore, except when it seemed to inject bizarre out of place humor.
Original Screenplay – I think I’d go with The Hurt Locker or Inglorious Basterds, but I will guess that Basterds takes it.
Best Director – James Cameron or Quentin Tarantino – I think Cameron just for the scope and technical achievement of Avatar.
Best Picture – I’d pick District 9, but would be ok with Inglorious Basterds or Up In The Air. However I feel that it will be between The Hurt Locker or Avatar. Avatar in a close one.
I thought this year was a really good year for movies, despite the garbage that was listed on this site yesterday. Before getting to the top 10 movies of 2009 (and the decade) here are some special (mostly positive) awards for movies in 2009.
Most Surprisingly Good Movies (in no particular order)
1)This Is it– Thoroughly enjoyed the concert (rehearsal) documentary about Michael Jackson. Great music and a worthy tribute to the fallen icon and aficionado of play dates with tweens.
2) Taken– The Liam Neeson film is a perfect example of how a movie that has no ambition, only one star and a simple plot can still deliver if it just tries to do the simple things well. And the scene where he shoots his friend’s wife to show that he means business was one of the best this year.
3) Crank 2– Either the most ingenious quasi-spoof of action movies ever or just a ridiculously entertaining goof. Either way I had no idea that I would enjoy this movie as much as I did. It now validates Jason Statham’s work visa to me, though his films have only grossed slightly more than my YouTube videos.
4) Drag Me To Hell – This Movie almost made the top 10. Funny, creepy, gross, and all on purpose. A good, but not great movie. However, there were very few movies I enjoyed more than this one.
The Any Given Sunday Award For Most Disappointing Movie Based On Awesome Trailer
Watchmen. Blue genitals and a waste of time is all I remember from this movie. The trailer, however, was perfection.
The Two Towers Award For Great Trailer That Delivered Great Movie
Nothing. But The Men Who Stare At Goats was my favorite trailer of the year and the movie was solid, but still did not meet expectations.
2009 Honorable Mention (A/K/A The Unpaid Guestspot of Movie Awards)
Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Two Lovers, Food Inc., State of Play
2009 Top Ten Movies
10) (tie) Sugar, The Messenger
Sugar is the story of a Dominican immigrant seeking to become a baseball star. Came out early this year to rave reviews, but has long been forgotten. Anyone who is a baseball fan or interested in the immigrant experience should see this. Or just hang out by Yankee Stadium.
The Messenger is the best war movie this year. It is about two soldiers who report to next of kin of the loss of loved ones. The things people do for work in this economy. Really strong and simple movie.
9)Capitalism: A Love Story.
This movie is a reminder that America used to be a place where a middle class person could thrive (middle class meaning one blue collar job with could salary and benefits, not $5 million dollars or less like John McCain seemed to think). Now thanks to a selfish, never too rich mindset the wealth is more concentrated at the top than ever before. Sadly for working Americans and Michael Moore, America is one big casino and the house always wins.
8) 500 Days of Summer
The fact that Music and Lyrics was my favorite romantic comedy before this movie came out (yes I have seen Love Actually, but have not seen When Harry Met Sally yet – gasp!) may diminish my credibility in this genre, but I am probably not the only person telling you how great this movie is. Funny, heartfelt and thoroughly enjoyable. And the lesson of the film couldn’t be more optimistic: if you find yourself in a relationship with a cu-t, don’t worry because eventually you may go out with Derek Jeter’s girlfriend.
The selection most likely to anger people. First, yes I thought it was funnier than Borat. Second, the best opening of any film since The Dark Knight. As the techno music began blaring and the words “black guys” and “taint” flashed on screen I could not stop laughing. For many the film was too crude. Other complaints I heard was that Borat had a point in showing some ignorance in funny ways, whereas this just went for cheap laughs. Probably true. Perhaps it was easier to embrace a character who was exposing racism and sexism and, most flagrantly, anti-Semitism in Borat and feel good about laughing than in Bruno, where you are just laughing at the absurdity of a gay character’s libido on steroids. My advice to the self-righteous – take the champagne bottle out of your ass and watch Bruno pour some champagne out of his boyfriend’s.
6) Precious Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire
Fat, pregnant by her father (again – fool me once shame on him, fool you twice… shame on him again in this rare exception to that saying), illiterate and Mariah Carey as your social worker. And I thought being a comedian was tough. This movie is a powerhouse and Mo’nique’s performance is one of my three favorite this year (Christopher Waltz in Inglorious Basterds and Paul Rudd in I Love You Man being the other two). And I would like this movie to win Best Adapted Screenplay so that Sapphire, who probably negotiated the self-indulgent title has to hear the dumbest phrase ever uttered at an awards show: The winner is Precious Based on The Novel Push By Sapphire Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire.
The opening to this movie may be the most touching sequence in movies this year. It is just another great movie from Pixar. Normally stories of old men hanging out with young fat kids is awkward (think Herbert the Pervert and Chris Griffin from Family Guy as one such pairing), but this movie is nothing of the sort. Plus it has a talking golden retriever, which will always get support from me.
4) Inglorious Basterds
Christopher Waltz was amazing, but surprising to me was how good Brad Pitt was. A funny, intense, enjoyable movie about Nazis and the Jews that hunted them. It was also a welcome relief from the usual parade of mediocre, maudlin films about the Holocaust that are raised to critical praise because of the subject matter. After Schindler’s List I think Hollywood could have just waited for this one . After all slavery has had what, Roots and Amistad? I think 6 Holocaust movies come out last year alone. But I digress. Basterds is awesome (and my favorite Tarantino film – that is what I think, but I am also writing it because I want to anger those who worship at the altar of Pulp Fiction).
3) Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs
Even more than Bruno, this choice is likely to bring on some WTFs. I did not even want to see this movie, but then reviews kept talking about how much fun it was. The biggest shock of the year for me was this movie. It was hysterical from start to finish. It was like the humor of Family Guy, but not as crude or easy. I flirted with putting this #1, but the last two choices, upon reflection, were the two best movies of the year.
2) Up In The Air
I am tired of the “this is the movie that defines our times” type quotes, but besides that this is a great movie. George Clooney’s best (unlike his win for Syriana, no complaints if he gets Best Actor) and a movie that is so good that I cannot exactly explain why it is so good. Perhaps it is because it is a movie that defines our times… oops.
1) District 9
The most original movie I have seen in a long time. The biggest crime of the Oscars could be if Avatar gets a best picture nomination and this does not (if they only feel like honoring once sci-fi-ish film). Since it is #1 I don’t think it needs any explaining, other than the fact that it comes out on DVD today so you should rent it if you have not seen it.
TOP TEN MOVIES OF THE DECADE
10) School Of Rock – Along with The Wrestler, no movie has matched an actor better this decade than Jack Black and SOR.
9) The Departed – I hate the Boston accent, but that was the only thing I hated about this movie.
8) Eastern Promises– Russian mob in London and the best fight scene in any movie ever. Sorry Bourne Ultimatum. You were second.
7) Million Dollar Baby – The only movie that made me cry this decade (joining E.T., Glory and Dead Poets’ Society on the career list). Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman and Hilary Swank all at their best.
6) Traffic – A decade later the violence in Mexico is worse and the liberal pot smokers who abhor the violence of war or the treatment of chickens that are not free-range, but still help fund the cartels that propagate massive bloodshed in and around the border. This movie would go under the category of wake up calls unheeded. Great movie.
5) Finding Nemo– My favorite movie from the most consistently great movie studio.
4)4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days – I am not a big foreign film guy, but this was so intense and so good I regretted not speaking (Romanian if my recollection is correct) the language because even checking the subtitles was too much attention away from the acting.
3) The Dark Knight – I have never seen a movie in the theaters more than this one. And it’s not even close. Die Hard, The Matrix and The Dark Knight are the three films that changed and elevated action movies higher than any others in the last 20 years. To me, it was even more impressive to take action, the way Christopher Nolan and Heath Ledger did, and turn it into art.
2) The Lord Of The Rings – Because of The Godfather III’s mediocrity this is the greatest trilogy of all time. Shut up Star Wars people. (and if I had to pick just one – The Two Towers).
1) United 93 – I have only seen two perfect movies in my lifetime. One was Amadeus, my favorite movie of all time. The other was United 93. I am not saying it is my favorite movie of all time; it would be hard to make that claim about a film focused on 9/11. But the realism, the intensity, the respectful rendering of an incredibly sensitive subject and the overall product was second to none this decade for me. In a sad way I guess it is fitting that the decade’s defining event yielded the decade’s best movie. Besides, a movie about our collective self-indulgence and self absorption called Twitter v. 3.05 would not be nearly as riveting.
The Summer film season kick off was Wolverine, which was the worst thing not named Swine Flu, Paul Blart or Blue Dog Democrats to emerge this year. Fortunately, the rest of the Summer with a few exceptions, turned out to be pretty damn good. Although I was pleased with last Summer’s movies, especially The Dark Knight, I think this year’s were overall stronger. Here’s my top 10 if you want any recommendations before heading back to school, work or prison:
1. Up – Amazing and touching Pixar film about an old man who is too busy having an adventure to complain about Obama’s death panels.
2. District 9 – The most creative movie of the year and probably going to get a Best Picture nomination now that the Academy can nominate ten movies. In short it is about an alien who lands in Africa who is harassed by locals when they begin claiming he was born in Hawaii.
3. Bruno – People were mixed on this – whether they liked it or hated it. I thought it was brilliant and more daring that Borat. So what if the only redeeming message was that the only thing more gross/funny to watch than gay male sex is angry, homophobic rednecks and disgustingly ambitious L.A. parents; it was all absurdly hilarious.
4. Drag Me To Hell – This film was gross, creepy and hilarious. And like Joan Rivers – it was all intentional (have soem Comedy Central Roast people). I probably enjoyed this movie more than any others this Summer.
5. The Hurt Locker – Interesting and tense movie about a guy who diffuses IEDs in Iraq and seems to like it. They are talking Oscar potential for this one, but my guess is because it is not political enough and because Sean Penn is not blowing anybody, its chances are not that high that it will be remembered in February 2010.
6. The Hangover – This will be remembered as the comedy of the year and the film that finally made Las Vegas a destination for young men to go party.
7. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince – I thought this was the best adaptation from the books and Alan Rickman does more with little dialogue than anyone I’ve ever seen. But I wish one of Potter’s classmate’s name’s was Joseph Takagi.
8. Public Enemies – I was disappointed by this film, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t good. Oddly enough I thought Johnny Depp was the weakest part of the film – stick to playing weirdos and heartthrobs.
9. Star Trek – This movie surprised me in that it did not suck. In fact it was pretty good. Of course I found it strange that the Beastie Boys’ Sabotage was still relevant centuries later (I do not equate Mike D as the Mozart of the 2300s), but it was well done by JJ Abrams and company.
10. Terminator Salvation – Fu-k you, I enjoyed it. The second half of the film made the first half make a lot more sense and seem relevant and I actually hope they make a fifth and final one.
The only thing left for me to see this Summer will be Inglourious Basterds. If it is amazing I will make note of it, but more than likely it will just annoy me.