Saturday, February 04, 2006

Writing About Film

Yesterday, I talked about how the simultaneous release pattern pioneered with Bubble could effect the way that the industry does business, and how people view films. So, the basic concept there was the idea that the simultaneous release could create an increased cultural dialogue around art films, because it would mean that anyone who wanted to see it would be able to see it when it came out.

The current film climate is currently entirely based around the opening weekend, a film opens and then fades, both in terms of box office and in terms of cultural prevalence. The vast majority of writing on a film occurs before it comes out, and this means that the writers of the article have to walk the line of talking about the film without spoiling the plot points. There are two primary types of articles on films right now, one is the behind the scenes piece, talking with the actors or director about the upcoming film and the process of making it. Then there's the review.

If you look on the internet, there's tons of film reviews, but I usually find it tough to find really meaningful, interesting writing on films. The reason for this is that most reviews are still targetted at whether or not you should see the film. This means that half of the review is spent going over plot stuff. As a reader, if I'm actually interested in seeing the film, I'm not going to read this part of the review, because I want to preserve the surprise of seeing the film for the first time. I don't need a summary of the plot, just a brief teaser of what happens is enough.

Before I see a film, I'll usually skim the reviews, to get the basic idea of whether it's positive or negative. Other than who the director is, the critical consesus is the primary thing that determines whether or not I see a film. I know a lot of people actively disdain the idea that you should follow the critics, but I think it's a good guideline. There's some films where I disagree with the critics, but most of the time, it's a good guideline for whether or not to check a film out. Of course, a personal reccomendation from someone whose taste I respect trumps the critics, but with new films, most of the time no one I know has seen the film.

So, as a person who hasn't seen the film, I'm really only interested in the person's opinion of the film, not in specific observations on scenes or directorial decisions. The reason for this is that I like to go in with as much of a blank slate as possible with a film. Usually all I want to know is that some people think this is a great movie.

But once I have seen the film, then I love to read discussion and analysis of it. The problem is that because almost all the writing on a film is in the "thumbs up, thumbs down" catergory, you wind up with people skirting around deep discussion of what occurs to avoid spoiling it for someone. And at this point, any summary of the plot is pretty much pointless. It's great to refer to specific scenes and plot details, but I don't need to know the basics.

I guess what I want is reviews that are more about analyzing the film than just giving an opinion. You can definitely intertwine the two, but I'm much more interested in watching people uncover layers and themes within the film, provide their interpretation, than just say it was good or bad. Now, obviously this is easier with some films than others. There are a ton of articles about Mulholland Drive, because it's a film that demands to be analyzed. The narrative content is so ambiguous, connecting the pieces is almost like a Rorshach test for the viewer.

However, it's not only "puzzle" films that can benefit from analysis of the kind given to Mulholland. I'm much more interested in articles targetted at people who've already seen the films and even if it is a review, it's much more effective to discuss the film assuming that your audience has already seen it.

When I write stuff for this site, I usually write the reviews assuming you've seen the film, hence there's always a lot of "spoilers." It differs from film to film, but usually, the more I like a film, the more I'm going to analyze it rather than just state an opinion. And a lot of times, the very act of writing about a film can reveal a lot of depth that I didn't realize was there. This happened with Star 80, a film that turned out to have a lot more layers than I would originally have thought, once I started digging through it.

So, writing an in depth analysis of the film is actually an important step in the critical evaluation process. If a film gets better the more you think about it, that's a sign that it really is a great film, whereas a film that dazzles, but has little to talk about might not be as strong.

Obviously there's certain films that don't really lend themselves to analysis, but are still great. However, on the whole, it's always going to more interesting to hear an in depth discussion of what worked and what didn't in a film than to just hear, "It's pretty good." Plus, as a writer, I'm much more interested in really engaging with the film than just letting you know if it's worth seeing.

Anyway, what the simultaneous release pattern could do is make it easier to have really in depth discussion of art films because it would let everyone see them. You can write an article that engages with a film like Revenge of the Sith a week after it comes out because it's so widely available that anyone who wants to see it can. And now, anyone who wanted to see Bubble can, so you can write a very deep article examining the film.

Ultimately, I think it's a lot more interesting to read about a film after you've seen it than to try to avoid the spoilers and discern an opinion before you've watched it. There's certainly validity to writing a traditional review, but I'd like to see some more people doing analysis rather than just giving an opinion.

Friday, February 03, 2006

The Bubble "Revolution"

The big news in film this week was the release of Steven Soderbergh's new film, Bubble, in the theater, on TV and on DVD at the same time. For some, this is a harbinger to the apocalypse, signalling the potential end of film viewing as we know it. If Revenge of the Sith, or even something like Fantastic Four, was released in this pattern, it's quite possible that we would be looking at a potnetial major seismic shift. However, Bubble isn't the sort of film that would be seen by a lot of people anyway, so it's not going to change the way the major studios do business.

For the major studio releases, there's really no incentive to get this direct DVD format going. They are still making a good chunk of money off of the theatrical release, and I would agree with people that with a small number of exceptional films, releasing the movie on DVD simultaneously would effectively kill the theatrical market. It's already hurting it with the reduced DVD window. I know in my case there's movies that in the VHS era I would have gone to see in a theater, however, now I wait a couple of months and I can buy a movie for what it would have cost to see it in the theater. This is particularly the case with arty movies that only get released in New York City, it's cheaper for me to buy the DVD when it comes out than pay the train and ticket.

I feel bad about not supporting smaller movies in the theater, because that does mean that a lot of really good movies end up not getting released here, however it's tough. First of all, a lot of the stuff I really want to see, I import. I saw 2046 in January 2005, it wasn't actually released here until August, and I've had Clean and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance for a while now, and neither of those have been released here. So, the really devoted foreign film audience, the people who would see these movies in the theater, are ahead of the studios. This means they need to adjust their release patterns and get these films out faster.

But, it's also pretty clear that with a few exceptions, most foreign films do very badly. I consider this a chicken and the egg thing. Martial arts movies have made money in the past, so the studios give them a bigger push and they end up making more money. I think Oldboy could have gone over as well as Hero, yet it was only released in a couple of theaters in the whole country. It's a film that's got a lot of cult acclaim, and with a proper release, I think it could have gotten at least a $20-$30 million gross.

But, what this reflects is the changing marketplace for art films. Because it's so difficult to see art films in the theater, the entire market has shifted towards the DVD. So, the grosses for even really acclaimed films, like 3-Iron, are laughable, and I'd imagine many more people have seen the film on DVD than did in the theater.

This change in film viewing is something that's been moving forward my entire life. I was born right as the VCR was becoming commonplace, and it's actually hard for me to imagine a world before the VCR. You can't expect the theatrical marketplace to be as vibrant as it was pre-VCR because back then, it was either see the film in the theater or never see it. Once it's gone, it's likely you'll never get a chance to see the movie again. So, if you were sick the week that Casablanca played at your local theater back in 1942, you would have missed it, and barring a revival, that's it. You've missed arguably the greatest film in existence at that point in time.

TV changes things in the 50s, but commercials change the experience, and even with the VCR, there's the pan and scan, only with DVD does the home experience become arguably superior to the theatrical. So, that leaves theaters with the advantage that they show the movie first.

This journey through history leads us to Friday and the simultaneous release of Bubble. This is something I'm very supportive of, and think is worthwhile, even it may hurt theatrical film viewing. The reason for that is the fact that the simultaneous release plan makes it possible for an art film to return to the status of cultural event. When a major studio films comes out, there's the buildup, articles on the making of it, ads and reviews, all centered around the film's opening weekend. So, by the time we get there, I'm really psyched to see the film. It's a part of the cultural dialogue for that weekend, and once you've seen it, you can be part of that cultural dialogue.

With artier movies that only get a limited release, you read the articles and revie, and then have to wait a month or so for the film to come out, such that by the time the film actually makes it to the theaters nearby, it feels like its moment has passed and the cultural dialogue has moved on. There's some exceptions, the big Oscar contenders continue to be culturally relevant, but with films that don't have that buzz, they just disappear from the cultural radar.

On the whole, we've been moving away from shared cultural events. People are tivoing TV shows, or just waiting for the DVD, rather than watching them as broadcast. In music, albums are leaking and being heard before they're "released." In movies, more people are seeing a film on DVD than in the theater, which means that there's no moment when a film is in the cultural spotlight, it's a gradual roll out.

I would argue that the Bubble release pattern, rather than expediting these trends, actually returns a film to a cultural event. As I mentioned before, the typical art film rollout means that you have to go through a lot of trouble to actually see these acclaimed films, and if you live outside of New York or LA, you're basically out of luck. So, what releasing things in the Bubble pattern does is make it possible for everyone to participate in the cultural dialogue surrounding the film. Rather than going to the theater with a bunch of friends, chip in $5 each and buy the DVD, or rent it. Then, it's possible for everyone who wants to to see the film at the same time, and participate in the cultural dialogue surrounding said film.

I'm not sure if this true or not, but I get the sense that back in the 70s, foreign and art films were much more culturally significant, and it's possible that this release pattern would bring back some of this love of artier films and perhaps even start a new Hollywood Renaissance.

Is something lost from this? Yes. As a filmmaker, I loved getting my stuff shown in a big cinema with a large audience, but at the same time, I'd rather have something on DVD for everyone to see than showing in one theater in Manhattan.

In the short term, I don't think Bubble is going to cause a major change. It's likely that the same audience that would seek out the film in the theater got the DVD. But if Soderbergh were to get some of his more famous friends involved in one of these simultaneous release films and make something as good as The Limey or Traffic, we could be looking at a major change. In the not too distant future, a studio is going to try this release plan with a major blockbuster, and I think it'll end up being successful.

Now, in the long term, will this be good for the art? I'im not sure, I don't want to see theatrical venues disappear, nor see them reduced to merely mainstream stuff. But if it's a choice between paying $25 to travel to New York City and see the film, or to get the DVD for that same price, I'd get the DVD.

In the followup to this article, I'm going to discuss the ways in which simultaneous release could improve the way we write about film, as well as have some pretentious discussion of my own goals with this site. So, prepare for that tomorrow.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Star 80

A few weeks ago, I saw Bob Fosse's autobiographical opus All That Jazz, and loved it. I watched the film again earlier this week and it prompted me to bump Star 80 and Lenny, his preceding and subsequent films up on the Netflix queue. And that led to me watching Star 80 earlier today, a film that goes to an even darker place than All That Jazz.

First, something that really annoyed me is the fact that this movie is only available in a pan and scan format. It appeared to be one of the first DVDs ever produced, the menu was just the Warner Bros. logo, and there were no special features whatsoever. I'm glad that the film got out early, but at least have the respect to put it on in the proper aspect ratio. So, hopefully we'll get a reissue of the film sometime soon.

So, the film chronicles the rise and fall of Dorothy Stratten, who goes from working in a Dairy Queen to posing for Playboy, and on to a career in film. Even though she's at the heart of all the events of the film, she remains an enigma. The most fully realized character is Paul Snider, the man who "discovers" her and goes on to manage her on her rise to the top. Paul is a motivated guy with a lot of drive, but little actual talent.

This film, regardless of its own merits, was clearly majorly influential. It uses a lot of documentary style interviews within the narrative, a device I hadn't seen in a film made before this, this was one year before Spinal Tap popularized the format. The film it struck me as most similar to is Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, a film that could function either as a parody of Star 80, with its swapping of flesh and blood protagonists for Barbie dolls, or a strong companion piece to the film. I would say companion piece because both films have a similar message about the pressures that a rapid ascent to fame place on a woman. Both films end tragically, and even though I found Superstar a more affecting film, I think Fosse lays the groundwork for the genre that Haynes builds on in the laterwork. If I had to guess, I would say that Haynes is a big Fosse fan, since his film Velvet Goldmine has a lot of stylistic similarities to All That Jazz, as well as similar themes as are present in all of Fosse's work.

Here, the documentary stuff isn't the primary driving force behind the narrative, it's more an exposition device. The opening credits give us snapshots of Stratten, along with soundbites, which are rendered forboding by the ominous music and intercutting of the black titles. The knowledge that the film is adapted from an article titled "Death of a Playmate" certainly doesn't make things seem any better. The effective thing about the opening is the way it sets up the public image of Stratten, someone who's bubbly, joking about what it means for her to pose, and seemingly control of her own image despite the way she's allowing herself to be molded into what Playboy thinks she should be.

The film is built on the assumption that the viewer is already familiar with Dorothy's story, and that gives even the good times at the opening of the film a menacing air. Snider is someone who seems utterly determined to make it to the top, but we don't see this as a good thing, he's someone who uses people as stepping stones, and when he meets Dorothy, she sees in her his best chance yet to make it big. Paul is the kind of person who needs to be in control of things, he needs to be the big man and leader, that's why it would have worked out better for him had he stayed in Vancouver. There, working a car show or running a wet t-shirt contest, he'd be the entrepreneurial genius, whereas once he gets to L.A., he finds himself humbled, no longer to give off the impression of being the big man, the leader in town.

The film is more concerned with portraying Paul's story than Dorothy's, thus there's little emphasis put on Dorothy's initial decision to pose. We never even see her making this decision, presumably Paul pushes her into it, and it's Paul, not Dorothy, who argues to her mother that it's a good thing to do. Dorothy is his in, and Paul plans to use her to get contacts and find a place in the business.

The basic irony of the film is the fact that Paul wanted to use Dorothy as the gateway into a life of power and luxury, it wasn't personal affection that drew him to her, it was her potential to be a star, however, in the end it's Dorothy who uses what Paul has, his connections and drive, to put her on the path to stardom. Rather than him using and discarding her, it's she who uses everything he has to offer and then moves on. Paul is all about being in control, and once Dorothy doesn't need him anymore, he finds himself completely without purpose in life. In the past, he was able to work hard because he believed that if he just kept pushing ahead, eventually he'd find success. However, as he tells Dorothy at the end of the film, he's not going to become a big director, any dream that he had is over.

So, the film is about the fallacy of the American dream, and both main characters tie into this. A central tenet of American philosophy is based around the protestant work ethic, the idea that if you keep working, you'll be rewarded. However, Paul's experience shows us someone who works as hard as he can and winds up nowhere. The most depressing scene for him is the "well hung" men show, where he goes to all this effort, seems to be very successful and winds up with little money. So, even the means he used to use to support himself aren't enough, he's become completely dependent on Dorothy.

The basic myth that both America and Hollywood propagate is the idea that if you work hard enough you can end up rich and famous. That's why in the 50s, the studios presented these stories of people being discovered at drug stores and soda shops. It's to humanize the stars and build up the myth of the movies, if you believe that you too could be up there one day, you'll continue to believe in the illusion they're selling.

So, Dorothy does achieve the dream of becoming a famous movie star. This is what she comments on in the movie's final line, saying the excitement she receives from being asked to give her autograph. In all these sound clips, she's saying what she's supposed to, the line that is designed to forward the agenda of Playboy or the studios. So, here she's bringing herself down to Earth, saying that being recognized by fans isn't just a thrill for them, it's a thrill for her. A number of times in the film she talks about how Playboy is looking for wholesome, "naive" girl next door types. The use of the world naive is likely not something the publicists would have wanted, because while it has no innate negative characteristics, it implies that the girls posing in the magazine are being used by people who are more aware of the world than they are. For the viewer, use of the word naive has a menacing connotation because it reinforces the idea that Dorothy has no control, that she gets used by various people and it's her naivete that will eventually lead to her death.

Despite the fact that in theory she's the film's main character, Dorothy remains something of a blank slate throughout. As I mentioned before, we never see her making the crucial decisions that determine her character's fate, it's always just something that's been made for her. As the film progresses she's molded by a series of men to match whatever job they have for her. So, Paul turns her from Dairy Queen waitress into sexy girl next door model. He pushes her on the next step of her journey, to the Playboy mansion, and once she gets there, she doesn't need him anymore. If she had just cut him off at that point it would have been cruel, but in the long run, it would have been better for her.

Under the guidance of Hugh Hefner, she becomes a Playmate, modifying her behavior to fit the image of what he wants her to be. This is evidenced in the scene where she's a waitress and picks up the glass the wrong way, so she redoes it, using the bunny drop. The conflict for her comes from the feelings that she has for Paul. Now, I'm not sure whether this is genuine love for him, or if it's a sense of obligation because he gave her a start. I would suspect it's more obligation, a view that would be reinforced by the final scene. More on that later.

Paul creates conflict for her with Hef because he views her as an in to this world. Hef is so fond of Dorothy that he'll put with him when she's around, however when he goes there without Dorothy, it quickly becomes apparent that he's not welcome and is only useful as an appendage to Dorothy. That breaks his self confidence because it's one of the first times he realizes that he's no longer in control, Dorothy has the access and the contacts, and even though he feels he has the talent, there's nothing he can do about it. This is evident in the scene where Paul and Dorothy talk after their first visit to the mansion. Paul is angry at her for not talking to the b-list actor, and even contemplates pimping her out to him as a way of getting an in.

This conflict comes to a fore in the scene where Dorothy tells Hef that she's going to go ahead and marry Paul, even though he doesn't want her to. This is one of the few moments in the film where Dorothy definitively asserts herself, it's a bluff that pays off because she still gets her spot in the magazine and gets to marry Paul. However, later, when she's doing interviews, she doesn't have the confidence she displayed there, and looks to the publicist to guide her on how to answer the press's questions.

Her association with Playboy leads to a film career and a relationship with Aram Nichols. Again we see someone who views Stratten as a blank slate on which to create his own fantasy woman. In their first meeting Aram just stares at her, apparently so wowed by her beauty that he casts her without a reading. He plans to turn her into a "real" actress, and she goes along with this, doing everything she can to help him facilitate this transformation, in the same way she did for the two previously influential men in her life.

Here, the problems in her relationship with Paul come to the fore. Now that she has a new male guardian and lover, she doesn't need him anymore, yet she is still tied to him and feels indebted to him. It's Aram who forces her to confront Paul about this, she's still unable to muster the courage to initiate divorce precedings on her own. So, even as she's trying to dismiss one authoratitive man in her life, she's doing it to please another.

This all culminates in the final sequence, where Dorothy goes to Paul seeking a divorce. I love the way the scene was staged in front of a giant picture of her, reinforcing the idea that to Paul, and all the men in her life, she's just an image, a fantasy, rather than a real person. We see those images of her so much that we gradually lose sight of whether there's a real person under there, and that's what the blank slate characterization of Dorothy reinforces, the idea that she was only a beautiful vessel that people would use to their own ends.

This scene shows us Paul behaving in the same way he was in the bathtub scene earlier, when she was first planning to go to New York, but this time Dorothy is aware that she has no need for him. Thus, he can't merely apologize to her and expect her to stay, he has to threaten her with a greater level of physical violence to keep her. By this point, his faith in the American Dream is broken, he knows that he'll never make it big, and Dorothy is his only chance to do anything with his life.

Dorothy offers him a very small amount of money, which he knowingly rejects. The basic question of the scene is whether Paul really does love her and want her to stay or whether an offer of more money would satisfy him. I would say that the money here was just an excuse to be angry at her, as we see in the detective scene, he's not really concerned with getting any evidence or suing her, he only wants her. He's aware that she has more value to him than any money because she has the connections and fame that can get him ahead.

I don't think either of them love each other. Paul is in love with her image, but has little concern for the real person beneath. Dorothy merely feels indebeted to him for what he did to her. She knows that without him she'd have never made it to L.A. He not only took the initial pictures, he instilled the confidence in her beauty that allowed her to proceed. When the downstairs scene breaks up, Dorothy is given the chance to leave, and instead chooses to go to Paul and stop him from killing himself.

Regardless of whether or not she would actually have pulled the trigger when she left, she's aware that leaving him would kill Paul, leave him with nothing. However, she still feels indebted to him, even after all this time. That's why after he attempts to rape her, she allows him to have sex with her. This is her attempt to finally pay the debt, give him what he wants one last time and then move on. That's why she goes along with it, not out of love for him, but because she feels like this last act will clear the slate and make it even between them, thus ending the relationship.

I get the sense Paul feels this way too, and that's why he kills her. He knows that if she walks out she'd never come back, and he'd be done. So, rather than letting someone else possess her, he kills her. The crucial thing here is the fact that we don't see her actual damaged face, we just see the blood on the poster of her. So, it's the destruction of the image that's more important than the destruction of the real person.

From here, Paul kills himself and we're left with the haunting image of their two dead bodies in the apartment. From an emotional point of view, I'm not sure about the decision to end on the clip of Dorothy talking about the autograph. It's clearly thematically appropriate, but I felt like some of the other clips would be a better capper on the action. However, the move from the real dead body to the immortally frozen, happy image is appropriate. Dorothy was a construction rather than a person, and when she wanted to reconstruct herself, she found that Paul was not willing to let her do this. He'd rather see her dead than serving someone else's dream.

I know Fosse is primarily known as a choreographer, but the man was a phenomenal film director. Both this and All That Jazz are emotionally apocalyptic portraits of both showbiz and America in turmoil. He's very inventive in terms of how he constructs and shoots his films, and his films are full of challenging, disturbing material. He definitely belongs in the pantheon of great American directors.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

My Oscar Nominations - 2005

So, if I was the one choosing the Academy Awards, here's what they would be. Before I begin however, I want to say that Oldboy and 2046 were in last year's awards. If they were around this year, they'd be omnipresent, however, I'm not bringing them back. The time has passed. Also, some of these films weren't even released this year here, so they couldn't be in the real awards. It's just the stuff I saw that was either made in 2005 or released in the States in 2005.

And another side note, I didn't think this was the best year for film. In terms of visual media, by far the best accomplishment was Six Feet Under's last season. If that was eligible, it'd be dominating the acting catergories, and the final run of episodes was more satisfying than any feature I've seen this year.

Anyway, on to my nominations...

Best Actor
Joseph Gordon-Levitt – Mysterious Skin
Terence Howard – Hustle and Flow
Heath Ledger – Brokeback Mountain
Bill Murray – Broken Flowers
Michael Pitt – Last Days

These were all amazing performances because the actors completely inhabited the character. There was no sense of acting, it was like this is who they are. However, I would give the award to Heath Ledger because his character had the biggest emotional arc, and watching him was emotionally devestating.

Best Supporting Actor
Jake Gylenhal – Brokeback Mountain
Ludacris – Crash
Ian McDiarmid – Revenge of the Sith
Nick Nolte – Clean
Keanu Reeves - Thumbsucker

This catergory has a wide variety of actors. Ludacris was the best thing in Crash, really funny, shining above the film's clumsy preaching. McDiarmid went way over the top, leaving teeth marks in the scenery but always remaining true to the character. Reeves finally returned to the stoner character everyone wants to see him as. However, my choice here is Nick Nolte, who's so sympathetic as a grandfather who knows he has no real right to the boy he's raised as a son. He's a calm presence navigating a complex emotional landscape. This performance redeems him for the mug shot.

Best Actress
Maggie Cheung – Clean
Q’Orianka Kilcher – The New World
Ji-Min Kwak – Samaritan Girl
Yeong-ae Lee – Sympathy for Lady Vengeance
Naomi Watts – King Kong

Comparing this bunch of actresses to the actors, it's pretty clear that American film isn't offering many good parts to women, and even though they're accused of misogyny, Korea's extreme directors are offering more challenging parts to women than just being "the girlfriend." However, the choice here is easy, Q'Orianka Kilcher creates the emotional anchor for The New World. Watching her over the course of this film is watching the course of America during its first few years of colonization. She goes through much and through it all we see a truth to the character. It's astonishing that she pulled off this performance, carried the entire film, at 14.

Best Supporting Actress
Maria Bello – A History of Violence
Maggie Gyllenhal – Happy Endings
Yeo-Reum Han – Samaritan Girl
Tilda Swinton - Thumbsucker
Michelle Williams – Brokeback Mountain

This was the toughest of the acting catergories to fill. There's a bunch of good performances here, but the one that stands out is Tilda Swinton. She gave three great, wildly varied performances this year, but Thumbsucker was her best. She wasn't the main character, but she was fully realized and the character could have easily carried an entire film.

Art Direction
Revenge of the Sith
Sin City
Sympathy for Lady Vengenace
The New World

These were all great looking movies, but I'm going to give the edge to Revenge of the Sith. There's such a variety of environments in the film, I admire the way they simultaneously contributed a lot of new stuff to the Star Wars world, while at the same time tying stuff together with the previous trilogy. Well done.

Mysterious Skin
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance
The New World

This one's easy, The New World was so well shot, both in terms of what was shown and how it was shown. It was a uniquely cinematic story, like nothing that's come before. Not to get nasty, but if you weren't able to appreciate the cinematography in that film, why are you even watching a movie, maybe you should stick to books.

Costume Design
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Revenge of the Sith
Sin City
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance

Mixing it up a bit here, I'm going to give the award to Lady Vengeance. It's not the most dramatically inventive work, but in terms of defining character, it's absoultely critical. Her outfit is the character, and that's what good costume design does, sell the world to the audience.

Revenge of the Sith
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance
The New World

There were two movies this year that showed me a new way of storytelling through editing, one was The New World, which used its editing to give a hypnotic rhythm to its visuals, however the best editing was in Domino, which was the only film I've seen where the most exciting part of the movie is watching the editing and seeing how far they can push the medium. It pushes the film beyond narrative to the point that it's a near avant garde visual experience.

Foreign Language
Samaritan Girl
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance
The Bow

It's pretty clear here that this was the year for Kim Ki-Duk, dropping three of the five films here. Of these three, the best is 3-Iron, an achingly beautiful story of two people. Kim takes words out of the vocabulary and instead creates a film which uses visuals to maximize the emotional impact of events. It's great work and the final moments of this film are some of the most haunting I've seen.

Revenge of the Sith
The New World

Sith grabs the award, if only for the stunning work on Anakin's scarred body after getting drenched in the volcano. It's disturbing stuff.

“Hard Out Here for a Pimp” – Hustle and Flow
“Whoop that Trick” – Hustle and Flow
“Move Away and Shine” – Thumbsucker
“Down in the Light” – Clean
“Veruca Salt” – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

A catchy bunch of tracks here, it is hard out here for a pimp, but I'm giving the award to Thumbsucker. The Polyphonic Spree are one of my favorite bands, and "Move Away" is one of their best songs. It's also really crucial to the film, providing the emotional conclusion.

Brokeback Mountain
Revenge of the Sith
The New World

These are all fantatsic scores, but I'm giving the award to The New World, a film where the score was absoultely crucial to defining the film. It's not a strictly narrative movie, so the score has to do more than just support, it has to define the rhythm of the film, and it does so admirably. James Horner has done some decent work in the past, but this goes way beyond.

Visual Effects
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
King Kong
Revenge of the Sith
Sin City

Yoda in Sith was real. I know he's CG, but he feels like a real dude, and that's the best compliment to visual effects, that you could pull of so challenging a character and make it feel seamless and real. So, that earns the award.

Adapted Screenplay
A History of Violence
Brokeback Mountain
Mysterious Skin
Revenge of the Sith

Yes, nominating George Lucas for best screenplay is a bit weird, but I'm looking at the overall story construction, not the dialogue there. However, the award here goes to Greg Araki for Mysterious Skin. This was a really well written film, balancing two fully realized characters and a strong process of gradual revelation as it proceeded. Great stuff.

Original Screenplay
Broken Flowers
Samaritan Girl
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance
The New World

I'm giving this one to Chanwook Park for Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. Park builds a complex, sympathetic, yet disturbing central character, and there's a bunch of great twists throughout. This is a better written film than Oldboy, even though the movie on a whole doesn't quite match.

Olivier Assays – Clean
George Lucas – Revenge of the Sith
Kim Ki-Duk – 3-Iron
Chanwook Park – Sympathy for Lady Vengeance
Terence Malick – The New World

These were all films that worked because of very strong direction, unique films that used the medium in incredible ways, however, the best direction was Terence Malick's for The New World. In the film, Malick builds a world that's completely believable as the past, yet has an essential humanity that makes it feel contemporary. It's the rare period piece where you get the sense of real people living these events, and that's largely due to the wonderful performances from everyone in the cast. And beyond that, just visually, the film is astonishing. It's like nothing else I've ever seen.

Revenge of the Sith
The New World
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance

There was one film this year that took me on an incredible emotional journey and at the end left me feeling completely satisfied, even after waiting for the film for virtually my entire life, and that's Revenge of the Sith. It's not perfect, but it achieves so much, and is full of rich thematic development on a scale rarely seen in movies. It's incredible visuals used to create an emotional effect in a way that only film can do, and that's why it's my best picture of the year.

And just to tally everything up, here's the winners:

The New World - 4
Revenge of the Sith - 4
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance - 2
Thumbsucker - 2
3-Iron - 1
Clean - 1
Domino - 1
Brokeback Mountain - 1
Mysterious Skin - 1

The Oscar Nominations

So, the Oscar nominations were announced today. I've seen the vast majority of films nominated, and it's not quite what I would have nominated. First off, it was probably wasn't going to happen, but 2046 should have got some nominations, at least for cinematography and production design, it's one of the best looking movies ever made. But, the thing about the awards is that it's more about the buzz than the actual quality of the film. That's why a film can be "hot" going into the awards, while some are cooling. So, you're not going to see out of nowhere nominations. But here's my thoughts.

Best Picture

The biggest surprise here is Munich getting the nod. I've seen everything except Capote and while they're all, to varying degrees, good movies, but other than Brokeback, they're not the best movies of the year. How Crash has stuck around boggles the mind, and I felt like Good Night and Good Luck was an utterly sterile, emoitonless experience, more a history lesson than an engaging emotional story. But, that's all moot because Brokeback will be picking up the award.

Actor in a Leading Role
Philip Seymour Hoffman, CAPOTE
Terrence Howard, HUSTLE AND FLOW
David Strathairn, GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK.
Joaquin Phoenix, WALK THE LINE

I'm glad to see Terence Howard get the nod here. That's the biggest surprise here, I'm hoping Heath picks up the award, but I haven't seen Capote, so I can't really evaluate. But Hoffman's certainly worthy of an Academy Award based on his previous work. I'd guess that Hoffman will end up getting the award.

Actress in a Leading Role
Felicity Huffman, TRANSAMERICA
Charlize Theron, NORTH COUNTRY
Reese Witherspoon, WALK THE LINE

I haven't actually seen any of these films. Both Mrs. Henderson and North Country seemed like pretty weak movies, but it's a good bunch of actresses. I think Reese will pick up the award.

Best Director
Steven Spielberg, MUNICH
Paul Haggis, CRASH
Bennet Miller, CAPOTE

Of all the directors here, I'd actually like to see Spielberg pick this up, because that was the most adventurous movie in terms of the filmmaking. Brokeback was more a triumph of script and acting, it felt like Ang was just trying to stay out of the way, not that there's anything wrong with that, it's just Spielberg made some bolder choices. Clooney's another one where his direction was all about staying out of the way. However, I think Ang Lee can make some room for the Oscar on his shelf.

Actor in a Supporting Role
George Clooney, SYRIANA
Matt Dillon, CRASH

To be honest, I barely remember William Hurt doing anything interesting. I haven't seen Syriana or Cinderella Man, so I'd say Jake definitely deserves the award. However, I'm thinking that Clooney will end up winning.

Actress in a Supporting Role
Frances McDormand, NORTH COUNTRY
Amy Adams, JUNEBUG
Catherine Keener, CAPOTE

I've only seen Gardener and Mountain and I thought Weisz was ok, but she's clearly someone who's caught momentum and is likely to win just because she's been pre-approved. Michelle Williams was great, but I'm not sure if her role was big enough for the award. Weisz will end up winning.

Best Original Screenplay
Woody Allen, MATCH POINT
George Clooney & Grant Heslov, GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK
Paul Haggis & Bobby Moresco, CRASH
Stephen Gaghan, SYRIANA

I haven't seen Squid or Syriana, so I'd probably give the award to Crash. I wasn't the film's biggest fan, but it was more ambitious and emotional than Match Point, which was a strong film, but wouldn't be in contention if it wasn't by Woody Allen. I think Crash will get this award as a consolation prize. This is usually the catergory where the exciting hipster indie film gets an award, but other than Squid, all these are pretty standard.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Dan Futterman, CAPOTE
Tony Kushner & Eric Roth, MUNICH
Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN

I was really unimpressed by Gardener. Coming off the incredibly pop, riveting City of God, this felt utterly conventional. Brokeback should, and will, get the award.

Best Original Score
Gustavo Santaolalla, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN
John Williams, MUNICH

Brokeback is the only score out of these that really stood out to me, and it'll probably win.

Best Animated Film

Despite being a huge Burton fan, I thought Corpse Bride was utterly uninspired. Wallace and Gromit will probably win.

Best Art Direction

I haven't seen Geisha or Pride. Of the ones I saw, Good Night was the best. Kong had some really strong visuals, but it was let down by some awful greenscreen. This is where 2046 really needed to get nominated. I think Geisha will end up taking the award.

Best Cinematography
Emmanuel Lubezki, THE NEW WORLD
Wally Pfister, BATMAN BEGINS

Batman Begins? Shouldn't David Fincher circa 1995 share the nomination? At least the Academy gave one nomination to The New World. That film is so well shot it towers over the other films here. Good Night and Brokeback are pretty, but the camera doesn't do anything that interesting. Begins on the other hand seems to think just shaking the camera on random stuff constitutes a well shot fight scene. New World deserves the award, but Good Night will probably get it.

Best Costume Design

I've only seen one film here, Charlie. I'm guess Geisha will get the award though.

Best Film Editing

I always find it weird that the same movies nominated for best picture usually wind up in the technical catergory. Now, obviously good editing is a part of a great movie, but a bad movie can certainly have really strong editing. For example, the editing in Domino was pushing the medium in a new direction, so even though it wasn't well received, shouldn't that achievement be recognized. It's certainly more interesting editing than the conventional stuff in Gardener or Crash. I'm predicting Crash will win here.

Best Makeup

At least there's one nomination for Sith. I'm thinking Narnia will pick up the award.

Best Sound Editing

This is a catergory I can't really evaluate, but War of the Worlds sounded pretty cool, though I think Kong will get the award.

Best Sound Mixing

Again, what constitutes sound mixing? I don't know, but I'd guess Kong will get the award.

Best Visual Effects

Now, this catergory is a joke. Sith has some of the best visual effects ever in a movie, you believed in the digital characters, in fact you don't even consider them digital characters, as opposed to Narnia which was a bunch of kids interacting with cartoon beavers. I think Kong'll grab the award.

Best Original Song
"In the Deep" - CRASH, Music by Kathleen "Bird" York and Michael Becker; Lyric by Kathleen "Bird" York
"It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" - HUSTLE & FLOW Music and Lyric by Jordan Houston, Cedric Coleman and Paul Beauregard
“Travelin’ Thru” — TRANSAMERICA, Music & Lyrics by: Dolly Parton

I'm really happy to see the nomination for "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp." Will it be performed on the show? I hope so, if only for the awkwardness. Though I'd imagine the Transamerica song will win.

So, if you think that's a bunch of complaining, coming up next is what my nominations would be if I was the one choosing everything.