Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Random Musings # 1

This will be a series of blogs where I will react, bitch, whine, etc. about many number of things.

R.I.P. Heath Ledger

After the death of Brad Renfro, yet another young actor died before his time. Heath Ledger whose career at this point was JUST beginning to flourish has tragically died at the age of 28. He had an Oscar nomination (for Brokeback Mountain) under his belt and a huge blockbuster movie (The Dark Knight) coming up this summer. He is just reaching his peak when he was tragically taken away. He is, in fact, one of the best actors of his generation. His death was completely shocking since unlike Brad Renfro, I had no idea he had drug or alcohol problems of any kind. Like Brad, he is a true talent and he will be missed.

Oscar Nominations

On the brighter side, the Oscar nominations have been announced. I haven't seen ANY of the Best Picture nominees, believe it or not. They haven't been released in my country yet. Odd, I think this is the first year this ever happened. I usually have seen at least one or two by now. Anyway, I'm just glad Johnny Depp managed to get in for Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. It's one of my favorite movies of the year and it didn't do well wth the precursor awards so I was worried it would get shutout of the major categories. I'm glad it did well. Kudos too for Amy Ryan who was simply incredible as the white trash mom in Gone Baby Gone. I wish that film would've gotten more nominations. I am, however, disappointed Amy Adams did not get in for her fantastic star-making work in Enchanted.

Monday, January 14, 2008

My Final Oscar Predictions

They're silly but I love watching them. Here are my final Oscar predictions:

The Diving Bell and The Butterfly (Miramax/Canal+) Kathleen Kennedy and Jon Kilik, producers.
Into the Wild (Paramount Vantage) Art Linson, Sean Penn and William Pohlad, producers.
Michael Clayton (Castle Rock Entertainment) Jennifer Fox, Sydney Pollack, Kerry Orent and Steve Samuels, producers.
No Country for Old Men (Paramount Vantage) Joel Coen, Ethan Coen and Scott Rudin, producers.
There Will Be Blood (Miramax/Paramount) Paul Thomas Anderson, JoAnne Sellar and Daniel Lupi, producers.

Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and The Butterfly
Sean Penn, Into the Wild
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men
Tim Burton, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood

George Clooney, Michael Clayton
Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Ryan Gosling, Lars and the Real Girl
Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises

Nikki Blonsky, Hairspray
Julie Christie, Away from Her
Marion Cotillard, La Vie En Rose
Angelina Jolie, A Mighty Heart
Ellen Page, Juno

Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men
Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild
Tommy Lee Jones, No Country for Old Men
Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton

Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There
Kelly MacDonald, No Country for Old Men
Saoirse Ronan, Atonement
Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone
Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton

American Gangster by Steven Zaillian
Juno by Diablo Cody
Lars and the Real Girl by Nancy Oliver
Michael Clayton by Tony Gilroy
Ratatouille by Brad Bird, Jim Capobianco and Jan Pinkava

Atonement by Christopher Hampton
Based on the novel by Ian McEwan
The Diving Bell and The Butterfly by Ronald Harwood
Based on the book by Jean-Dominique Bauby
Into the Wild by Sean Penn
Based on the book by Jon Krakauer
No Country for Old Men by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy
There Will Be Blood by Paul Thomas Anderson
Based on the novel Oil by Upton Sinclair

Persepolis (Sony Pictures Classics) Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Parronaud.
Ratatouille (Disney/PIXAR) Brad Bird
The Simpsons Movie (20th Century Fox) Matt Groening and David Silverman.

The Counterfeiters (Austria) Stefan Ruzowitzky, director.
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Romania) Cristian Mingiu, director.
I Served the King of England (Czech Republic) Jiri Menzel, director.
The Orphanage (Spain) Juan Antonio Bayona, director.
Persepolis (France) Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Parronaud, directors.

Roger Deakins, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Janusz Kaminski, The Diving Bell and The Butterfly
Rodrigo Prieto, Lust, Caution
Roger Deakins, No Country for Old Men
Robert Elswitt, There Will Be Blood

Sarah Greenwood (art direction) & Katie Spencer (set decoration), Atonement
Guy Dyas (art direction) & Richard Roberts (set decoration), Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Dennis Gassner (art direction) & Anna Pinnock (set decoration), The Golden Compass
Stuart Craig (art direction) & Stephenie McMillan (set decoration), Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Dante Ferreti (art direction) & Francesca LoSchiavo (set decoration), Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Pietro Scalia, American Gangster
Christopher Rouse, The Bourne Ultimatum
John Gilroy, Michael Clayton
Roderick Jaynes, No Country for Old Men
Dylan Tichenor, There Will Be Blood

Jacqueline Durran, Atonement
Alexandra Byrne, Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Rita Ryack, Hairspray
Marit Allen, Love in the Time of Cholera
Colleen Atwood, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Michael Minkler, Bob Beemer and Greg Steele, American Gangster
Randy Thom, Tom Johnson and William B. Kaplan, Beowulf
Gary Summers, Scott Millan, Bob Beemer and David Parker, The Bourne Ultimatum
Paul Massey, David Giammarco and Jim Stuebe, 3:10 to Yuma
Kevin O'Connell, Greg P. Russell and Peter J. Devlin, Transformers

Randy Thom and Dennis Leonard, Beowulf
Perr Hallberg and Karen M. Baker, The Bourne Ultimatum
Randy Thom and Michael Silvers, Ratatouille
Paul N.J. Ottoson, Spider-Man 3
Ethan Van Der Ryn and Mike Hopkins, Transformers

Dario Marianelli, Atonement
Alan Silvestri, Beowulf
Alberto Iglesias, The Kite Runner
Alexandre Desplat, Lust, Caution
Michael Giacchino, Ratatouille

"Come So Far (Got So Far To Go)" from Hairspray
Marc Shaiman (music) & Scott Whitman (lyrics)
"Do You Feel Me?" from American Gangster
Diane Warren (music & lyrics)
"Falling Slowly" from Once
Glenn Hansard and Marketa Irglova (music & lyrics)
"Guaranteed" from Into the Wild
Eddie Vedder (music & lyrics)
"That's How You Know" from Enchanted
Alan Menken (music) & Stephen Schwartz (lyrics)

Bryan Grill, Frank Petzold, Robert Stromberg and Trevor Wood, The Golden Compass
John Knoll, Charles Gibson, Hal Hickel and Allen Hall, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
Richard Kidd, Scott Farrar, David Prescott and John Frazier, Transformers

Benoit Lestang and Myriam Hottois, The Diving Bell and The Butterfly
Ivana Primorac and Duncan Jarman, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Shaun Smith, 300

Autism: The Musical (In Effect Films) Tricia Regan
Lake of Fire (Anonymous Content) Tony Kaye
No End in Sight (Red Envelope Entertainment) Charles Ferguson
Sicko (Dog Eat Dog Films) Michael Moore and Meghan O'Hara
War/Dance (Rogue Harbor Studios) Sean Fine and Andrea Nix.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Looney Tunes: An Appreciation

The Looney Tunes shorts have been a major part of my childhood. Of most people's childhoods really. Every time I see one, I'm always reminded of those pleasant Saturday mornings where I would get up and watch those cartoons with my brother laughing hard even though we have seen it several times before. Now, as an adult and with the release of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection DVD box-set, I can relive those innocent days and at the same time see them with more grown-up eyes. It amazes how well many of these cartoons hold up. They're still as funny as I remember them but at the same time I can appreciate more, as a cineaste, the artistry that was put into them.

I love Disney animation. I think many of their animated feature films are superb but I think when it comes to shorts, I think Warner Bros. have them beat. Sure, the Goofy instructional shorts are terrific but the comedic geniuses of Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Bob Clampett, Robert McKimson, Tex Avery, Frank Tashlin, etc. all have them beat. That plus the impeccable voice acting of Mel Blanc and the groundbreaking musical work of Carl Stalling, really makes the Looney Tunes one of the zenith of animated cinema.

Thanks to the wonderful invention that is youtube, here are a few of the shorts I consider to be masterpieces and my thoughts about them:

Duck Amuck (1953)

I can remember laughing so hard, my tears were running down my eyes when I first saw this cartoon. Directed by Chuck Jones (and arguably one of his masterpieces), it's still freaking hilarious even with multiple viewings and I'm amazed at the artistry of the entire thing. Daffy Duck breaking the fourth wall, self-aware that he is a cartoon, interacting with an unseen sadistic animator hellbent on making Daffy lose his top with every animated conventions broken, playful and inventive use of sound, the list goes on and on. Just watch it and you'll agree. It's a riot.

Feed the Kitty (1951)

This is another Chuck Jones classic. This short is often cited as one of the most influential, groundbreaking and even subversive cartoons ever made. The film is also deceptively simple: A surly bulldog named Marc Antony adopts and befriends an ultra-cute kitten subsequently named Pussyfoot. It is funny but also features some of the best examples of character animation ever. A scene from the PIXAR film Monsters Inc. paid tribute to this film (the scene where Sully thought Boo was in the conveyor belt is similar to the one mixer scene in this one) and Gremlins director Joe Dante also spoofed the toy car scene in a scene in that film.

Rabbit of Seville (1950)

There's no denying that a lot of children get their classical music education from shorts with their inventive and masterful use of music courtesy of Carl Stalling. This cartoon is an excellent example of that. It's also quite simple: Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny walk into a performance of Barber of Seville, resulting in hilarity. Another great example of this is What's Opera, Doc?

Three Little Bops (1957)

This one's from Friz Freleng. It is the familiar story of Three Little Pigs but retold as a jazz musical. And it's fantastic. The animation, the music, the re-imagined story where the Big Bad Wolf just wants to be in the band. I remember loving this as a kid and loving it even more when I revisited it recently. This cartoon is guaranteed to put a smile in your face.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Excuses, Excuses

"It isn't supposed to be Citizen Kane."

"It's for kids!"

"It's just for entertainment."

"You have to turn your brain off to fully enjoy it."

"You're just a snob."

Everytime I criticize a popular movie (oftentimes directed by someone whose name rhymes Gichael May), I often hear these directed at me again and again. I'm getting tired of it, quite frankly. I've done this in other message boards but I'll expound on it here.

I have nothing against mainstream, escapist Hollywood fare and other blockbuster movies designed solely for the purpose of entertaining it's audience. But wishing to entertain should not be an excuse to lower one's standards, be it as a filmmaker or as an audience member. The reason I refuse to accept "it's just for entertainment" as an defense against a crappy is that a lot of great films have been made that were crafted solely for the purpose of entertaining an audience. Escapist, Hollywood money-makers have been made without sacrificing a good story and good filmmaking. It can be done. It should be done. Praising a subpar effort just because it "entertained" you is to lower one's standards. It gives an excuse and a justification for hack filmmakers to undermine an audience to make a buck. For me, a standard for a good film is good filmmaking and a good, interesting story. I don't look for an Oscar winner or a masterpiece in every movie that I see. I always judge a movie by it's own parameters and standards.

More on this in future entries.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Top 10 Films Seen in 2007 (5 of 5 parts)

Viridiana (1961)
Directed by Luis Buñuel
When a pious young woman (played by the beautiful Silvia Pinal) is about to take her vows as a nun, she is called to visit her widowed uncle. After he attempts to rape her (due to her uncanny resemblance to his late wife), this sets off a series of events which would test the limits of her piety and faith in both God and in humankind. Though I'm no atheist, this is simply one of the most brilliant cinematic critiques on organized religion and Catholicism (at least pre-Vatican II Catholicism) in particular. That scene where the beggars and transients ramsack the house and parody Da Vinci's "Last Supper" is a classic. (11/18)

Insiang (1976)
Directed by Lino Brocka

2007 has been a very good year for Filipino films (The Metro Manila Film Festival notwithstanding) Foster Child and Tribu proves that Filipino cinema in the tradition of the greats, Brocka, Bernal, Avellana, DeLeon, O'Hara etc. is alive and well. Speaking of Brocka, I'm glad that a lot of the classics of Filipino cinema are slowly making their way to DVD's like this great film. Insiang is the first Filipino film to be exhibited at the Cannes Film Festival and now I know why. It's one of his greatest works. The title character is a typical (albeit very beautiful thanks to the actress playing her, Hilda Koronel) lower-income Filipina whose traditionally passive (mahinhin) attitude reaches the breaking point and unleashes revenge on her mother's lover who raped her and her boyfriend who betrayed her. This is one of the finest films in Filipino cinema. (12/24)

Top 10 Films Seen in 2007 (4 of 5 parts)

The Battle of Algiers (1966)
Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo

It is said that George W. Bush and his administration watched this movie to prepare for the so-called War on Terror. It's really too bad that they probably did not read this film correctly. This is stirring, stunningly well-crafted docudrama about the revolution that freed Algeria from their French occupants. Unlike most films of this nature, this film does not take sides. Both good and bad elements exist in the two sides of the battle and you come to understand the point of view of each one. The film captures all these shades of grey (both literally and figuratively) in all their glory. A truly landmark film if there ever was one. (9/9)

Giant (1956)
Directed by George Stevens

I admit. I was hesistant to see this film at first. It's a 3-hour epic Hollywood love story that spans generations and I've already seen Gone With the Wind. But as it turns out, this film is no Gone With The Wind. It's something superior. Everything that a great Hollywood epic is here: A compelling story, well-drawn characters, great direction, cinematography, etc. The three leads, Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean, are all outstanding (and totally makes up for the less-than-satisfactory age makeup they had on in the latter part of the film) and the great supporting cast compliments them well. (10/20)

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Top 10 Films SEEN in 2007 (3 of 5 parts)

The Cloud-Capped Star (1960)
Directed by Ritwik Ghatak

Indian director Ritwik Ghatak may not be as famous or as well-known as his contemporary, Satyajit Ray, but he is no less talented. At least that's what I can surmise based on the first film of his I've seen which is The Cloud-Capped Star. It's fairly obscure but, damn it, it deserves to be seen by more people. This is a superb ensemble cast led by the luminous Supriya Choudry who plays Nita, the self-sacrificing tragic heroine of the film whose selfless actions for the sake of her family goes unnoticed and are taken for granted until it's too late. Yes, it's pretty sad. But it's a genuinely emotional, thought-provoking piece of work and provides a fascinating look into a culture. (8/1)

The Man With The Movie Camera (1929)
Directed by Dziga Vertov

This silent non-fiction film comes to us from Russia. It's not about anything. It has no plot. It really tells no story. It is but a series of images of a day in a typical city in the Soviet Union. But the way it's put together is another story. The cinematography and editing techniques and the eye-popping visuals is simply a wonder to behold. Even today, with the advent of flashy MTV-style editing, the film still holds the power to captivate the viewer. Essentially, it's film in it's purest form, free from the constraints of formal narratives. (8/27)

Top 10 Films SEEN in 2007 (2 of 5 parts)

Pickpocket (1959)
Directed by Robert Bresson

French director Robert Bresson, one of the masters of the medium, is quickly becoming one of my favorite directors. This is probably my favorite of his works. Like Pickup on South Street, this one deals with a pickpocket (Indeed, Bresson was said to have been inspired by Pickup on South Street and those two films would make a really interesting double-feature) who seems to steal for the thrill of it but is redeemed at the end in one of the most moving scenes ever captured on film. Often cited by Paul Schrader as an influence in a lot of his works including Taxi Driver, it is an outstanding film. It's austere atmosphere and minimalistic acting (Bresson trademarks) make this film an acquired taste for most people but those open-minded enough will find much to love. (7/15)

Ratatouille (2007)
Directed by Brad Bird

The beauty of cinema is that great films come in all shapes and sizes. Therefore we go from the moving yet rather grim cinema of Bresson to a more colorful (and a hell of a lot funnier) vision of Paris from director Brad Bird which further cements PIXAR's reputation as the best source for feature length CGI animated features. The film about a rat who wishes to become a chef is such a joy to watch from start to finish, I couldn't wait to repeat the experience again and again and again. Truly, it's one of the best films of the year. (7/25)