Tuesday, December 28, 2010

For Your Consideration

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences sent out their ballots to members yesterday. They will nominate their fellow actors, directors, writers, and craftspeople for the Oscars.

Who knows if they can be swayed in their decision making? All I know is that I am not the one to sway them. But, I can damn well put my thoughts out into the universe.

I tried to avoid naming films here that I will be talking about for the next several weeks because that would get monotonous for you and for me. However, every one of these films deserves a second look or a first look.

For your consideration:

Best Picture -- I’m Still Here

Much derided upon its release as a deceitful, deplorable gimmick, the film stands as a record of unparalleled dedication to the craft of acting and filmmaking. The reality is not the point. The point is that director Casey Affleck and star Joaquin Phoenix dedicated two years of their real lives to pulling off a magnificent magic trick of a film. This is a truly special achievement that has not been fully appreciated and may not be for a long time.

Best Director -- Tim Heatherington and Sebastian Junger for Restrepo

With a platoon of American troops, they walked into the most dangerous place in the world, filmed it, and brought it back for the world to see. Some have criticized the film for not taking a point of view, but that is precisely the film’s strength. The viewer must decide for himself whether the war that Heatherington and Junger are reporting is good or right or fair. The filmmakers show courage both by embedding themselves with the troops and by trusting their images over any message.

Best Supporting Actress -- Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

As Ramona Flowers, Winstead is called upon to be the dream girl of every geek, nerd, and gamer in the world. She’s smart, sarcastic, cool, and perfect for the hero (us). Except that she is a real person, with real problems and a sad, unfortunate past. What makes Winstead’s performance so great is that she perfectly evokes the been-there-done-that-and-left sadness that makes Flowers such a fully realized foil for Pilgrim. The movie does not work without her.

Cinematography -- Newton Thomas Sigel for Leap Year

This is a slight romantic comedy about which the lead actor stated he only showed up for the pay day. No one could blame the crew for phoning it in as well. It is a credit to Sigel that he did not. So, despite the fluffy plot and “clever misunderstandings,” the countrysides, vistas, and castles look gorgeous on screen. Lit beautifully and shot beautifully, Sigel deserved a better story on which to hang his considerable gifts.

Art Direction/Set Design -- Aline Bonetto for Micmacs

Most will remember Jeanne-Pierre Jeunet for his work on Amelie (also designed by Bonetto). Like most of his films, Micmacs takes place in a world that exists only in imagination; however, that world is so well rendered that it takes on an air of absolute realism because the feelings and the sensations are real. Bonetto’s sense of color and texture brings Jeunet’s world to life.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Coming Up in 2011

I hope everyone had a nice Christmas if you celebrate it, a nice weekend if you don’t. The new year will be upon us soon, and I wanted to let you know some of the things you can expect at Last Cinema Standing in 2011.

As always, Oscar coverage will dominate the first two months of the year. The Academy Awards take place on Feb. 27, and until then, I’ll do my best to provide insights and commentary on the ramp up to the ceremony.

In the first couple weeks of the year, I’ll be doing the year-end wrap up, including my lists of the top ten films of the year, top performances, as well as some other reflections. Nathaniel Ochoa and I will announce our respective top ten lists on our podcast, No Middle Seat. I will follow that with written analyses of the films in question.

Looking forward, I hope to introduce a new weekly or biweekly column to the site. I’ve had a few ideas that I’d like to share here. If you have any other ideas, feel free to mention them in the comments section.

The Great Scenes -- originally, I intended to do a list of the 100 greatest movie scenes, but it seemed like an exercise in futility to narrow down a century of cinema to 100 choice scenes. So, I will highlight one deserving scene a week from films as disparate as possible, the idea being to expose all of us to as great a range of film as possible.

Those Unsung -- as an avid awards watcher every year, I see countless great films, great performances, and great technical achievements go unheralded and unnoticed. I will seek as often as possible to remedy this situation, while also trying to look outside the box when I can.

Modern Classics -- using the last 25 years as a working definition of “modern,” I want to examine the films that have defined and shaped the cinematic landscape in the time that I have been alive, the films that today’s films aspire to be.

Those are just a few ideas for the coming year. When Jan. 1 rolls around, things in the film world will start to move fast and furious, and I will do my best to keep up, while still providing thoughtful, well reasoned arguments and discussion about modern cinema.

Thanks for being here and spending a few minutes of your day with me. I’ll see you in 2011.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

New Movie Review: Fair Game

I’m apolitical. A lot of things led me to that life choice, but most significantly, I found that I just couldn’t force myself to care anymore. Politics has a funny way of letting you down. One man can’t make a difference, and any difference a group makes is just a drop at the bottom of the bucket on the floor of the Pacific.

But, let’s just say I’m apolitical, and it takes a lot to make me angry anymore. It takes a lot to get me riled up about anything in the realm of politics. It takes something extraordinary to make me mad.

Fair Game made me mad.

Naomi Watts plays Valerie Plame, a CIA operative outed by an official at the White House in retaliation for her husband’s claim that President Bush lied about the possibility of a nuclear Iraq. Sean Penn plays her husband, Joe Wilson.

Wilson is a man who knows what is right and does it. It takes Plame a little longer. The movie follows the couple as they withstand death threats, cries of liar and un-American, and professional and personal blackballing.

I will not, however, go into the plot any more than that. If you were alive at the time and cared at all, then you know more about the whole affair than I could tell you in a movie synopsis.

So, let me tell you what made me mad.

1) Personally, I do not believe that Iraq ever had weapons nor was the country ever a threat to the United States, least of all an imminent threat that required pre-emptive action. That belief does not matter. We’re in Iraq, and we’re there to stay for the foreseeable future.

2) This movie does not care whether or not President Bush lied or the administration lied or the whole government lied. It is about two government employees who saw the facts and saw what they perceived to be lies. Plame and Wilson are not anti-Americans.

3) If this movie is not about WMDs and is not about the President, then what is it about? It is about a culture in which intelligent public discourse is dead and the talking points that replaced it are pathetic.

I came of age during the time this film is set: 2001-2003. I watched the President address the nation and congress. I watched the bombs fall on Iraq. I watched those who questioned the official stance get dragged through the mud. And, I watched it all on a 19-inch color screen.

You can’t blame the government for wanting to stay the government any more than you can blame a puppy for messing on the rug. It’s what it does. If the government’s best way to stay in power is to promote a war, it will do what it must.

The rest of us should have known better, and some of us are paid to know better. I mean the journalists. I mean those whose jobs rely on truth and information.

A journalist is a watchdog. That’s why the best don’t get invited to parties. People shouldn’t like journalists, and for the most part, they don’t. But, they should damn well trust them. The job of the journalist is not to tow the line but to see where the line leads and report it.

I try to avoid using my personal life when reviewing movies. I love the craft of film and try to review movies that are well made with good stories. If you want to know if this movie is well made, then I can tell you that it is. Watts and Penn are magnificent. Doug Liman’s direction serves the story by staying out of the way. The editing is clear, concise, and breakneck.

Does it tell a good story? You bet. Is it a story that I am happy to see? No. Is it important? Without a doubt. I do my best to leave my heart at home and watch movies with my head, but if a film can penetrate my chest like this one did, it will still find a heart. This movie is personal to me.

On Thursday this week, I will graduate from college with a degree in journalism. What does that degree mean? If we allow the discussion in this country to move away from what matters and toward what is popular, toward what people agree on, then my degree is not worth the paper on which it is printed.

Yeah, that makes me angry.

See it: absolutely.