Sunday, February 27, 2011

Oscar Picks 2011

Now's the time. Here are my picks for the major categories at the 83rd annual Academy Awards.

Best Picture:
My pick: Black Swan
Probable winner: The King's Speech

Best Director:
Winner: David Fincher - The Social Network

Best Actor:
Winner: Colin Firth - The King's Speech

Best Actress:
Winner: Natalie Portman - Black Swan

Best Supporting Actor:
Winner: Christian Bale - The Fighter

Best Supporting Actress:
My Pick: Hailee Steinfeld - True Grit
Probable winner: Melissa Leo - The Fighter

Best Original Screenplay:
Winner: Inception

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Winner: The Social Network

Best Animated Feature:
Winner: Toy Story 3

Best Documentary:
My pick: Exit Through the Gift Shop
Probable winner: Inside Job

Best Original Score (This was really hard to choose):
My pick: Inception
Probable winner: The Social Network

Best Original Song:
My pick: Toy Story 3
Probable winner: 127 Hours

There you go, without getting into many of the technical prizes. However, I think Inception will take a lot of those. Most of my picks are straightforward and if they don't win, it'll be a surprise. My picks, take them as you will. I hope I'm right.

The 2011 Best Picture Nominees

Now that I've seen all 10 Best Picture nominees for the 83rd annual Academy Awards, I feel I can rank them based on how I liked the list. Here we go:

Top 5

Bottom 5

Now, these are not my Top 10 of 2010, that is yet to come. Also, I will put up the rest of my Oscar picks shortly before the ceremony airs. Enjoy my list and enjoy the show.

The King's Speech (2010)

Rounding out my viewing of the top Best Picture nominees, this movie was pretty good. I know it's the frontrunner, but I wouldn't put it at the top of my list. Had some flaws, but still quite enjoyable.

Prince Albert, the Duke of York, the future King George VI (Colin Firth), has just an awful time speaking. He's had a terrible stammer since he was a small child and can't command a room like a public figure should. After every doctor fails, his wife (Helena Bonham Carter) goes to take Albert to see a speech therapist named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). Following some initially hesitation, Albert sees Lionel's methods start to work. There's a method to his madness. After his father dies, and his brother abdicates the throne, King George VI takes control of the monarch. Not long after, Britain enters into war with Nazi Germany. This is the time the country needs its leader more than ever. The citizens under the power of the king need to hear from his majesty to make sure that their country won't fall of Hitler. George VI may not be that ruler.

The performances were terrific, and I can see why Colin Firth is the favorite to win Best Actor. Also, if Christian Bale didn't kill it The Fighter, then Geoffrey Rush would easily win Best Supporting Actor. Now, there are two main criticisms of this movie that I'll address. 1) That it's historically inaccurate. Honestly, I don't care. They're making a movie not a documentary. 2) That it looks like an HBO or BBC movie and not a film. This one I do agree with to an extent. While getting Oscar-worthy performances out of the actors, the directing was so uninspired that it did really feel like I was watching it on HBO. Tom Hooper does not deserve Best Director. However, the acting really put this over the top for me. Grade: A-

Monday, February 21, 2011

Remember When...Photo Series

I have decided to participate in my wife's photo series, so here is my entry for:

The theme of my Remember When... is booze! All of the pictures have liquor infused in them somehow. Here we go:

This is a picture taken in 2006 at a winery I visited while in Italy. As some of you may know, I won the trip on Wheel of Fortune the year before and this was one of the stops along the way. The others are mostly Aussies, seeing as the tour company originated in Australia. The best part may have been the drunk dog at the place.

Just look at all the booze in this picture. This was taken at when me and Lindsey spent NYE together in 2008. We decided to keep it low-key at her house, but went all out on the drinks. Notice the killer mustache. It was all about the Peach Andre, if I say so myself.

This is one of the best pictures we have ever taken together, and it just happened to be at a White Sox game. It's actually in a frame on our bookcase. This was part of an outing with some former co-workers of mine back in 2009. A lot of the beer was included in the ticket price, so let's just say we had a good time.

This is one of my best memories and pictures about our wedding festivities. We went to her dad's house after the ceremony for a small lunch. He had prepared bottles Dom Perignon and Lindsey tried to open one. Needless to say, I feared for my life. It eventually was opened with no harm done.

There you go. Go to to sign your blog up and participate. She did a great job on the idea and the blog as a whole. Enjoy.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Black Swan (2010)

Hands down, the best movie of 2010. Darren Aronofsky has made another masterful movie and continues to just overwhelm the audience with his rich character development and outstanding storytelling.

Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is a career ballerina at a nameless, yet famed ballet. She has been working very hard and a very long time, but has always been just a backup dancer. When the director announces that "Swan Lake" will be the next program, Nina wants that lead role. The director decides to go against tradition and make one dance play both the black and white swan. When Nina gets the lead, she starts obsessing about every little move she makes. It doesn't help that the company has just hired dancer named Lily (Mila Kunis), who looks a lot like Nina. It's driving her mad. The director is trying to get her open up and get looser in performance. Lily is also trying to get her to unwind a bit. Her mother switches between overbearing to nurturing to psycho very quickly and sporadically. With all that going on in her life, something has to give in Nina's world. Or, will it all go by the wayside and her life will turn into a disaster.

Just terrific. Natalie Portman will win the Oscar. If she doesn't, it's a crime. Her descent into madness and obsession is amazing. The audience has no idea what is going on in her head and neither does her character. Mila Kunis and Barbara Hershey were also great in the movie and could have easily been thrown into the Oscar race. This was just my type of movie all-around. A bit of a thriller that messes with your mind. Awesome. Grade: A+

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Fighter (2010)

I have had a screener for this sitting on my shelf for nearly three months and I finally got around to watching it. Well worth that wait. Christian Bale absolutely deserves an Oscar this year.

This is the true story of two boxers, Mickey Ward and Dicky Eklund (Mark Wahlberg and Bale). Mickey is a fighter that's up-and-coming, but also on a bit of a cold streak. His record is about even and can't seem to get the career he wants back. His half-brother Dicky once fought Sugar Ray Leonard, but now lives the life of a crackhead in a rough part of Massachusetts. Dicky is also his brother's trainer, but completely unreliable. When Mickey meets Charlene (Amy Adams), she forces him to make a decision about his brother. Mickey's family/business team is not pleased, but they can't argue that it's leading to wins. However, Mickey may not be able to leave his family behind, especially when Dicky realizes he has a problem. Where is Mickey going to take his advice from if he can't make his own decisions.

Mark Wahlberg was serviceable in this role. As with most of his work, the best acting surrounds him. Christian Bale received his first ever (shocking as it is) Oscar nomination for this role and he absolutely nailed it. There isn't enough positive praise I can give him for this. And, while Amy Adams did great, Melissa Leo just killed as the mother. Right now, she's a front-runner to win. My only real gripe with the film, and it was annoying, was the ending. Without going into detail, it's been done before and I was hoping for better. Grade: A-

Thursday, February 10, 2011

How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

What a fun movie that I feel may be more enjoyable if you're an adult. The details in the plot were something I loved about the flick, but kids may have been lost in them. Still, they probably were just enthralled with the action.

Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) can't do anything right in his town of vikings. He's so small and rail-thin that he isn't able to help the rest of his village out whenever they are attacked by dragons, which happens pretty often. The fact that he isn't a big, bad viking disappoints his father, Stoick (Gerard Butler). By pure chance, he happens to capture a Night Fury dragon. Problem is, he can't bring himself to kill the beast. While tending to the Fury he's injured, he's trying to convince his friends and boss (Craig Ferguson) that he really is becoming a killing-machine. How long can a charade like that actually go on? Or better yet, will the animal tear everyone to shreds once Hiccup fixes its wing?

It's a very simple plot but it takes a few liberties with it. What I was very happy about with this movie was the pacing of it. Normally, kids animated movies rush through the plot when moving from point to point. This film took its time to get where it was going and I appreciated it. The main downfall, Baruchel. I think he's a funny actor, but voice-acting is not his strong suit. In the end, a pretty good movie deserving of an Oscar nod. Grade: B+

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Winter's Bone (2010)

Seeing how I used to live in Missouri, I consider myself a bit of an expert on meth. Not really, but it was nice to see a movie filmed in the state. This was a very gritty movie that felt real.

Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) is 17-years-old and she is in charge of her family. Her two younger siblings are too young to fend for themselves, her father is a drug-maker who may or may not be dead and her mother was driven crazy by the things her husband had done. One day, police notify her that her father is wanted for a court date and needs to show up. If he doesn't, the family will lose their house because he put it up as collateral for bail. When he doesn't show, a bail collector says they have one week to find him, dead or alive. Ree starts wondering through the seedy meth underbelly of Missouri to try and find her father. Along the way, she is helped by her uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes). They try to talk their way to the top of the heap in meth dealing to see looking for answers. Between the threats and the beatings and the guns, Ree will not be deterred in her quest to save the family house.

I liked this movie. I was surprised by how real it felt, despite it dragging a bit at parts. Jennifer Lawrence was great in her role, but the real star of the movie was John Hawkes. He was absolutely fantastic, making Teardrop one person you would never want to cross in your life. The use of real Missouri-folk as actors helped give the film a sense of realism. It won't win Best Picture, and maybe it was a stretch for it to be nominated, but it says a lot about the state of indie films that this can get a nod. I enjoyed this, but if you're not interested in movies that don't have much action, this may not be for you. Grade: B

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Kids Are All Right (2010)

This is the perfect embodiment of a movie that was good, but way overrated for its own good. I don't see how this is so loved or how Mark Ruffalo got an Oscar nod for it.

Jules and Nic (Julianne Moore and Annette Bening) are two normal, everyday lesbians who have two high school aged kids via a sperm donor. Nic is the breadwinner of the two, working as a doctor. Jules is the free spirit trying to figure out the perfect start-up business. She feels unappreciated by her wife and just wants her approval. While they're dealing with their own problems, the two kids decide to get in contact with their donor, Paul (Mark Ruffalo). Paul agrees and the two parties really start to hit it off. A little too much with Jules as the two start an affair together. She just appreciates someone who appreciates her, and he just seems to think he turned a lesbian straight. They may not be able to reel it in and stop the sex before Nic and the kids find out.

It wasn't a bad movie, it was good. But it was not nearly as good as I thought it was going to be. Bening was great, and definitely deserves her nomination. Moore was fine, but I thought she was out-acted by Mia Wasikowska, who played her daughter. Ruffalo, oh boy. I like Mark Ruffalo as an actor, but the fact he beat out Andrew Garfield's performance in The Social Network with this just upsets me. Watch it, but don't believe the hype. Grade: B

Thursday, February 3, 2011

127 Hours (2010)

The more I think about this movie, the more I like it. It was a great story of grit and determination. James Franco is one of the best younger actors in film today. And THAT scene isn't as terrible as had been reported.

Based on a true story: Aron Ralston (Franco) is an avid climber and adventurer who just loves to go out and create new nature challenges for himself everyday. Often times, he sacrifices his relationships, especially with his family, to do so. One day, he takes to a canyon he'd climbed through before to see if he could do it again. This time, a rock he takes footing on dislodges and the two start falling down the crevasse and Ralston's arm becomes wedged between the canyon wall and the boulder. He's stuck. He relentlessly tries to free himself by trying to shove, lift and chisel away at the thing. All come to no avail. Thus begins the longest five days of his life. He tries to rationalize the situation, but as time progresses, he starts to hallucinate. Also, his food and water supply are beginning to run out. He's got one option and it's not to die.

Franco was great and since it's been talked about to death, and it's a true story, I think I can say everyone knows Aron cuts off his arm to live. The scene was graphic, but so beautifully shot that it implies just as much as it shows. I cringed, but I was nowhere near passing out like some people did in theaters. There is so much will-power that's clearly visible in the performance that I just keep watching the last 20 minutes over and over again. A must watch film that's worthy of a Best Picture nomination. Grade: A-

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Dinner For Schmucks (2010)

It's funny how one actor as funny as Steve Carell can have so many okay-to-good movies come out in one year. Date Night, Despicable Me and now Dinner For Schmucks. I will say that this was right in the middle of the pack.

Tim (Paul Rudd) works as a mid-level employee who thinks he's finally got an idea to put him one floor up and with the hot shots. He manages to impress his boss, but not enough to immediately promote him. First, he invites Tim to a monthly dinner all the executives have where the goal is to bring the stupidest person they can find. Tim reluctantly agrees, but isn't sure where to find an "idiot." Then, he hits Barry (Carell) with his car. He finds Barry to be the perfect person to bring to the party. Soon enough, he realizes that Barry, while dimwitted and a bit slow, is a well-intentioned person with a lot of heart. Will Tim be able to go through with the dinner now?

I enjoyed this more than I thought I would. It wasn't great by any means, but it was a solid comedy with great supporting hilarity from Zach Galfianakis and Jemaine Clement. Carell was basically playing a dumber version of Michael Scott from "The Office," but it still managed to feel original enough to not get lost in that. I recommend it, but don't expect genius level comedy. Grade: B-