2010 Oscar Predictions

7 03 2010

Well dear readers, the fateful day is finally upon us.

Tonight the 2010 Academy Awards will go down in the annals of Hollywood history.

Who will be best dressed? Worst? Will Avatar and James Cameron have as big of a night as he did in 1997 when Titanic won 11 awards? Will Avatar and The Hurt Locker split the vote on the huge field of Best Picture nominees leading to a dark horse winner?

All of our questions will be answered during the live telecast at 8 pm EST.

In the meantime, let’s take a look at some of the categories and examine who most likely will win as opposed to who should win.

I’m going to fit in one more Best Picture nominee this afternoon – Up in the Air. Can’t wait to see what’s going to happen tonight.

Best Animated Film

Nominated: Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Princess and the Frog, The Secret of Kells, UP

Will Win: UP or Coraline.

Should Win: UP

This may seem like a pretty clear cut category. Of course the Academy would recognize one of the most brilliant animated films to be released in a long time, and Pixar seems to have a lock on the category which has only been around since 2001 (Ratatouille, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo and WALL-E have all won). However, with UP being nominated for Best Picture as well, it may split the votes. Some academy voters may want to see the second animated film ever nominated for the big award to win and might pick the second best animated film of the year for this category. In that case, Coraline would take the cake. It’s inventive plot and astounding visuals would sway voters to her side. Let’s hope the voters realize UP has no chance in the big dance and recognize it as it deserves – as an animated film.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Nominated: Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Crazy Heart), Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air), Penelope Cruz (Nine), Mo’Nique (Precious)

Will and Should Win: Mo’Nique (Precious)

Absolutely no question about this one, Mo’Nique will take this award tonight. Even without seeing the entire movie it’s apparent from the clips on the late night shows and at past award shows this season that Mo’Nique delivers an amazing performance as Mary, who physically, mentally and sexually abuses her daughter Precious throughout her life. The subject matter is Oscar gold as the academy loves films that delve into the gritty world of real life without glossing over the truly uncomfortable aspects of the world, and Mo’Nique is said to have delivered the performance of a lifetime. I can’t wait to hear her speech. If the Golden Globes was a warm up of her acceptance tonight, I expect a lot of tears from both her and myself.

Best Supporting Actor

Nominated: Matt Damon (Invictus), Woody Harrelson (The Messenger), Christopher Plummer (The Last Station), Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones), Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)

Will Win: Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)

Should Win: Christopher Plummer (The Last Station)

The buzz around this category is leaning strongly towards Christoph Waltz, whose portrayal of a Nazi soldier in Inglourious Basterds is sadistic and cunning. There’s no doubt that he delivers a great performance, especially in the opening scene of the movie as he interrogates a German farmer about his former neighbors, a family of Jewish people. However, the movie drops the ball shortly after that scene and not even Waltz can rescue it. He does a decent job with what he is given, but thinking about what could have been overpowers his performance.

Christopher Plummer on the other hand is being nominated for the first time after a long and storied career. He delivers a masterful performance as Leo Tolstoy in The Last Station, all but disappearing into the character. Unlike Waltz’s character, Plummer’s allows him to explore different emotions and Plummer manages to exude them all with a grace that can only come with age and experience. If Heath Ledger could win this category last year just because he was dead (let’s be honest with ourselves, his performance in The Dark Knight was amazing, but it was made so because he was no longer with us…) then Plummer should take it home based on the breadth of his performance in this particular role, and as a testament to his entire career.

Best Actor

Nominated: Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart), George Clooney (Up in the Air), Colin Firth (A Single Man), Morgan Freeman (Invictus), Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker)

Will Win: Jeff Bridges

Should Win: Can’t answer – have only seen one of these films

It’s Jeff Bridges year for this category. Bridges has won the Golden Globe, SAG Award, L.A. Film Critics and Broadcast Film Critics awards for his portrayal of the singer Bad Blake. He has the award season momentum to take this performance all the way to the Oscar podium. If anyone can take it from him it will most likely be Morgan Freeman, who will win because the Academy seems to enjoy when actors step into the huge shoes of historical figures like Nelson Mandela.

Best Actress

Nominated: Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side), Helen Mirren (The Last Station), Carey Mulligan (An Education), Gabourey Sidibe (Precious), Meryl Streep (Julie & Julia)

Will Win: Sandra Bullock or Meryl Streep…with a heavy emphasis on Sandra Bullock

Should Win: Helen Mirren (The Last Station)

You’d think that only two women were nominated for this category if you listen to any sort of pop culture. Meryl Streep and Sandra Bullock are supposedly duking it out for the top spot with Bullock stating she doesn’t expect to win at all. Her modesty may net her the award for her portrayal of Leigh Ann Touhy in The Blind Side. Admittedly, Bullock delivered an outstanding performance in the drama, given that she’s mostly known for her romantic comedies, but it’s not that hard when you’re given a strong woman who really exists to portray. What did Bullock truly do in the movie? She wore a blonde wig and spoke with an accent. The great character came through the true story aspect of the film. Meryl Streep’s performance is very much in the same vein. She played Julia Child and she played her well. She had her mannerisms down pat, she captured her voice¬† (though, I have to say, she seemed to match Dan Aykroyd’s Julia Child more often that the actual woman) and she had fun with the role. But she didn’t deliver the performance of a lifetime.

Helen Mirren on the other hand did the same thing as Streep and Bullock. She played a woman who existed in real life and she played her well. What makes her performance different is the passion conveyed every moment she’s on the screen. It sucks you in and makes you root for her as every emotion possible plays across her face. She became Sofya Tolstoy in all every sense of the word. It will be a sin for her not to win, and that sin will be committed tonight.

Best Picture

Nominated: Up, Avatar, The Blind Side, An Education, The Hurt Locker, A Serious Man, District 9, Up in the Air, Precious, Inglourious Basterds

Will Win: Avatar

Should Win: The Hurt Locker

This is the first year that there are 10 nominees for Best Picture, and the extended field is showing it’s weaknesses. Sure, 5 might be too few a number, but 10 is way too many when films that fall short of excellence, like Inglourious Basterds are making the cut. That being said, Avatar will take this one home. Just like Titanic, Cameron is being glorified as a genius this awards season and the fact that he created an entire world with new creatures, flora, a language and characters will sway the votes towards him. There’s no doubt that the visual aspect of Avatar was amazing. It was pure eye candy. But the story falls flat as it’s been seen everywhere from animated films like Fern Gully and Pocahontas to Dances With Wolves. Conversely, The Hurt Locker proved to be a movie heaped in tension. This film has both a plot and depth as it explores a bomb squad in Iraq, both key aspects to a best picture that Avatar lacks. It wouldn’t exactly be an upset if The Hurt Locker wins, though. It’s running a close second as we get closer to show time.

Best Director

Nominees: James Cameron (Avatar), Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), Quentin Tarentino (Inglourious Basterds), Lee Daniels (Precious), Jason Reitman (Up in the Air)

Will Win: James Cameron or Kathryn Bigelow

Should Win: Kathryn Bigelow

It’s the battle of the exes in this category as well. Both directed critically acclaimed films and both stand a decent chance of winning tonight. However, Bigelow should take this one, especially if The Hurt Locker loses out on Best Picture. Sure, Cameron directed an epic film, but most of his directing took place on a green screen and everything external to the actors was added digitally after filming. Bigelow, on the other hand, dealt with filming in the desert in Amman, Jordan. No comfy Hollywood sound stages here, Bigelow dealt with all the external forces of directing her actors in the real world.

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Mirren and Plummer Deliver in ‘The Last Station’

2 03 2010

It’s Oscar season, which means that I’m going to try to get to as many nominated films as physically and mentally possible before the March 7 event.

Aside from The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, our look at nominees continues with The Last Station starring Helen Mirren (nominated for Best Actress) and Christopher Plummer (nominated for Best Supporting Actor).

Director: Michael Hoffman

Starring: Helen Mirren, Christopher Plummer, James McAvoy and Paul Giamatti,

Release Date: Jan. 15, 2010

Leo Tolstoy (Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy) is arguably one of the greatest writers of all time. War & Peace and Anna Karenina have stood the test of time and proven to be a a vivid representation of Russian life in the 19th century, and his non-fiction works on pacifism are said to have influenced countless historical figures.

He was also the figurehead of a pacifist movement espousing communal property and celibacy, headed by Vladimir Cherktov, and an avid diarist who encouraged everyone around him to write down their life and what they encounter.

This diary movement is one of the most prevalent recurring theme throughout Michael Hoffman’s The Last Station – and one that makes it impossible not to ask why it took 100¬† years for someone to make a movie of Tolstoy’s last days given the astounding amount of information that must have been written about the time.

But maybe the stars had never aligned in quite so amazing a way in the past 100 years to give us the beauty that Hoffman produced.

Christopher Plummer, he of Captain Von Trapp and (most recently) Dr. Parnassus fame, disappears completely into the role of Tolstoy. Not only does he look spot on like the literary master, but he plays him just as video and writings of Tolstoy say he acted. He hits all the right notes of glee, concern, anger, confusion and love. It’s hard to imagine that this year’s Academy Awards will see him as a nominee for the very first time.

Mirren, on the other hand, has been nominated four times (including her nomination for The Last Station) and won Best Actress in 2002 for her role in The Queen. Still, she deserves every award she’s been up for this season as she’s glorious in her role as Tolstoy’s wife, Sofya. Her performance as a wife living in constant fear that her husband will be corrupted by one of his close friends (Giamatti’s Vladmir Chertkov) into signing the rights to his works over to the Russian people, that her family will reject her due to her rejection of many of the Tolstoyan values, and that her husband would die before she had a chance to see him a final time is both heartbreaking and mesmerizing.

Sofya truly loved Tolstoy, even as she disagreed with his ideals and failed to understand his desire to dispose of all of his private property. And it is apparently that he loved her as well, though towards the end of his life her negativity regarding his need to sign away the family’s rights to his books to keep in line with his thoughts on how to better the world forced him to leave the once-loving home the two shared.

One of the most truly beautiful scenes in the entire film is a love scene between Sofya and Leo. After fighting for some time Sofya just wants the man she married back in her life and the way she coaxes him to the forefront of Leo’s mind – putting aside differences and worries – is pure and tender. The two seem to be at peace, and yet once the moment ends we are all thrown into the jarring reality that things and people change over time and no one is the same person they were years ago.

Along with the love story of Leo and Sofya, the audience is treated to a brief romance between two of Tolstoy’s followers, Valentin Bulgakov (McAvoy) and Masha (Kerry Condon). Masha has been at the Tolstoyan compound for some time when Valentin arrives and she immediately catches his eye even as he tries his best to remain the celibate virgin he thinks Tolstoy would appreciate.

Valentin is given the honorable task of being Tolstoy’s personal secretary, where he learns the true story of his famed hero. Sure, Tolstoy the public figure espouses celibacy and chastity, but Tolstoy the real person had no problems with intimacy in his youth. This central dichotomy not only confuses Valentin, it leads him to strike up a friendship with Sofya as she tells him about Tolstoy the man while asking him to keep an eye on the family’s assets.

She also helps him to realize the love that she and Leo once held for each other and that he must strive for that type of love in his own interactions. Here, Masha enters as the temptress who stripped him of his virginity before he realized just what was happening and ultimately the great love Valentin hopes will mirror that of Sofya and Leo at their best.

McAvoy holds his own amongst two great and classic actors. While not a new-comer in the strictest sense, he has the least acting experience of the four main characters and yet his inexperience is unnoticeable. He plays Valentin with a distinct innocence that slowly shatters as he delves deeper into the lives of the Tolstoy’s and surfaces a new, better man for the experience by the end of the film. One can only hope that just as his character mirrors the growth and development of Plummer and Mirren’s characters so to will his career. He has the capabilities to thrive in the profession for many years to come.

Final verdict: The Last Station is comprised of some Oscar-worthy appearances by veteran actors and new-comers alike. Not only is the story compelling, but the emotion with which the actors lay their parts is palpable. And the heart of any good film is truly the emotions present. It would be a sin for Mirren not to win this year’s Best Actress award, just as it is a sin that The Last Station was not nominated for Best Picture even after they expanded the pool to 10 films. The film may not seem to be everyone’s cup of tea as they may not care for literary figures on their death beds, but this movie is so much more than the death of Leo Tolstoy. It is an altruistic approach to the most basic of every human emotions – love.

Rating: Really Good





‘Imaginarium’ takes viewers on giddy, enjoyable ride

22 02 2010

Photo courtesy of Thescorecardreview.com

Directed by: Terry Gilliam

Starring: Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Lily Cole, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Colin Farrell, Tom Waits, Andrew Garfield & Verne Troyer

Release Date: Jan. 9, 2010 (wide release)

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus never was going to have a chance to be a film released in its own right and judged on its own merits. From the moment the news broke that one of its main characters died from an accidental drug overdose on Jan. 22, 2008 this movie was always going to be known by its one defining factor – it’s the last movie Heath Ledger ever filmed.

And then the main question arose – What happens to a film when your star passes away with only a third of filming completed?

Filming was temporarily suspended as Gilliam quickly worked to reconfigure the script to keep Ledger’s role intact but also complete the movie.

In the end, Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell stepped into the role at different points in time during filming and the three, in an act of chivalry, donated their salaries to Ledger’s daughter, Matilda.

Once the cast details were worked out, a second question arose – Just how does four actors portraying the same character work?

And the answer to that question is – quite well.

The movie, quite obviously, surrounds Dr. Parnassus (Plummer), a man said to have seen 1,000 years, and his troupe of actors who travel London trying to entice people to enter a mirror into the world of their imagination. The troupe consists of Percy (Troyer), who has been with Parnassus since the beginning and knows his darkest secret, Anton (Garfield), a sleight of hand expert, and Valentina (Cole), Parnassus’ almost 16-year-old daughter.

And there’s the rub. Parnassus made a deal with the devil, Mr. Nick (Tom Waits) for everlasting life once upon a time, but when he was old and fragile he met the love of his life and returned to Mr. Nick for another shot at youth, which he spent with Valentina’s mother, who died in childbirth at the miraculous age of 60. But that youth came at a price and Mr. Nick was to take possession of any child Parnassus fathered upon their 16th birthday.

As his daughter is very close to this deadline, Parnassus is understandably concerned and jumps at Mr. Nick’s new wager (for they are both ever-betting men) that whoever claims 5 souls first will gain possession of Valentina.

The troupe, however, has fallen on hard times and can hardly induce people to travel into the world of their imagination – in which they are offered a choice between a challenging task which will reap a reward at a later point in time which Parnassus sets up to claim their soul or the instant gratification of offering their soul to Mr. Nick. That is, until they meet Tony (Ledger).

Tony, who eerily enough was found hanging underneath a bridge, but is not dead because he lodged a golden pipe in his trachea to keep the rope from crushing it, completely overhauls Parnassus’ show and leads the troupe to an upscale mall where he woos a wealthy lady through the mirror and follows after her to see what all the fuss is about.

And here the audience is introduced to Gilliam’s solution to Ledger’s death. As the imaginarium transforms the imagination of its first entrant into reality, Ledger’s Tony is no longer necessary. Instead, the woman has transformed Tony into Johnny Depp – who plays the role much like he plays any other slightly comedic role with a mixture of Captain Jack Sparrow, Willy Wonka and Edward Scissorhands.

Each time Tony steps into the imaginarium he becomes a different person. His second trip leaves him looking like Jude Law – who effortlessly steps in to fill Ledger’s shoes with the most organic of the “other Tony” performances – while the third presents Colin Farrell in the role – who falls into the role only a little less seamlessly than Law.

With Tony’s help, Parnassus manages to capture 4 souls, but Mr. Nick has kept up with 4 souls of his own.

Parnassus finally decides it is time to tell Valentina about her fate, which causes her to lose faith in her father and reject his side of the imaginarium. After a scuffle, she, Tony and Anton end up in the mirror together living out Tony’s fantasy and dealing with the consequences of his decisions.

The movie is beautifully staged and shot as Gilliam has an eye for design, and the sets and costumes – both of which are up for Academy Awards – add dynamic value to the message of the film.

In addition, Plummer, who’s Parnassus is overshadowed by the Ledger legacy, is wonderful as a man seeking redemption, as are Cole and Garfield in their roles which call for an innocence tinged with disbelief.

The only dull spot in the entire film is Percy, who proves that Verne Troyer might actually do his best work when he’s silent a la Mini Me in the Austin Powers series. It’s unclear whether the glaring interruptions in action each time Troyer speaks is due to his underdeveloped character or a miscast of his role, but either way his lines grate against what is otherwise a good, if not a little trippy, movie.

As a whole, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus is an astounding tribute to Heath Ledger and his acting ability. As he came off of an Oscar-winning role as The Joker in The Dark Knight it would have been easy for him to stay on the course of dark and twisted souls as Tony fits the bill as well, but he instead backs off to play Tony with an air of irony and light-heartedness as he is given what he thinks is a second chance with the troupe in the face of dismal circumstances. It is clear that he had not yet realized his full potential as an actor when he left us.

Still, Dr. Parnassus is an appropriate send-off to the man who brought us the Joker, Ennis del Mar (Brokeback Mountain), Gabriel Martin (The Patriot) and Patrick Verona (10 Things I Hate About You). Bits and pieces of each of his performances are seen through Tony and while one could pinpoint the exact moment Patrick Verona burst through in Tony’s skin it does not overpower Ledger’s final bow across the big screen.

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus is a fantastic representation of how to incorporate multiple actors in one role, as well as a giddy jaunt into the off-kilter mind of Gilliam – who began his career as a member of Monty Python. Aside from the lackluster performance by Troyer, the film benefits from strong performances by veteran actors and new comers alike, and the brilliant colors of the imaginarium world offset the bleak and dismal London side of the performance, reminding viewers that an escape is as close as closing your eyes and passing through your own mirror.

Final verdict: Good