27 February 2011

Oscars 2010

Best Picture
Will win: The King's Speech -- Weinsteins are back to their old tricks, making sure mediocre stuff gets the big prize.
Should win: The Social Network

Best Director
Will win: Tom Hopper
Should win: David Fincher

Best Actress
Will win: Natalie Portman
Should win: Jennifer Lawrence

Best Actor
Will win: Colin Firth
Should win: James Franco or Jesse Eisenberg

Best Supporting Actress
Will win: Melissa Leo
Should win: Hailee Steinfeld

Best Supporting Actor
Will win: Christian Bale
Should win: Christian Bale

Best Animated Feature Film
Will win: Toy Story 3
Should win: Toy Story 3

Best Foreign Language Film
Will win: Incendies
Should win: ?

Best Original Screenplay
Will win: David Seidler
Should win: Christopher Nolan

Best Adapted Screenplay
Will win: Aaron Sorkin
Should win: Aaron Sorkin

Best Documentary Feature
Will win: Waste Land
Should win: Exit Through the Gift Shop

Best Original Song
Will win: We Belong Together, Newman
Should win: We Belong Together, Newman

Best Original Score
Will win: Reznor/Ross
Should win: Reznor/Ross

Best Film Editing
Will win: Angus Wall
Should win: Whoever edited Inception

Best Visual Effects
Will win: Inception
Should win: Inception

Best Cinematography
Will win: Deakins
Should win: Jeff Cronenweth

26 February 2011

Top Ten of 2010

Usually these fall into one of three categories: movies that I felt were unjustly overlooked, movies that I feel will stand the test of time and be remembered instead of fading into obscurity, and movies that are just plain great.

Warning: lots of spoilers below!

My top ten of 2010:

"127 Hours" – Aron cuts his arm off, and there’s a beat where he almost can’t believe that he’s actually free, and says thank you.

"Buried" – The shock of the final twist as the voice on the phone apologizes and we are left with black immediately before the credits.

"Exit Through the Gift Shop" – Banksy showing us/Thierry his counterfeit currency.

"Four Lions" - The rap and "bombing" at the lecture.

"The Kids Are All Right" – Annette Bening realizes she’s being cheated on, comes back to the table, looks around with all the sound muffled.

"Lemmy" – Lemmy in a tank.

"The Social Network" - The regatta sequence.

"Somewhere" - Johnny Marco drives his Ferrari around a track in the desert, over and over and over again.

"Toy Story 3" – The toys realize they are goners, and accordingly band together right before they are to be incinerated.

"Winter’s Bone" – Ree Dolly cuts off one hand, and it is explained to her that she must cut off the other. The sound of the chainsaw.

Ten more great moments:

"Black Swan" - The final dance, where Natalie Portman sprouts wings.

"The Fighter" - Dickie watching "Lost Lives in Lowell" while in prison.

"Harry Potter 7" - Harry and Hermione's dance in the tent.

"I Am Love" - Tilda Swinton eating a prawn, literally lighting up as she chews.

"Incredibly Small" - Amir gives Anne his key to the apartment and they hug for too long, almost kissing, almost reconciling, before he finally leaves.

"Lovers of Hate" - Chris Doubek taking a bath at a car wash.

"Marwencol" - Mark Hogancamp lamenting not wearing heels, before finally putting them on and returning to the gallery.

"Pirahna 3D" - The fish eat Jerry O'Connell's dick and then burp it up.

"Putty Hill" - The shock of hearing the offscreen interviewer's voice for the first time, right after a rousing paintball match.

"The Town" - Jeremy Renner, knowing he's about to die, takes one last drink of a soda he finds on the street.

Edit: Movies I wanted to see but haven't yet

"The American"
"Animal Kingdom"
"The Illusionist"
"Never Let Me Go"
"Scott Pilgrim vs. the World"
"The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia"

21 February 2011

2. The Godfather

First lines: "I believe in America." That's because, in so many ways, this story encompasses so many aspects of America: the story of immigrants who came from nothing to positions of power; the story of haves and have-nots, the haves taking what they have through the use of force; the story of family, both biological and adopted; and the story of capitalism being a higher power than a professed belief and fear of God.

In the end, this is a study of power, and the transference of power from a father to his reluctant son. The idea of power, and its fluidity, attend every single scene in the film. Coppola was so popular and acclaimed in the 1970's primarily, I would argue, because he was brilliant at distilling a film's essence and infusing it into every scene. APOCALYPSE NOW: "War is not hell, war is insanity." THE CONVERSATION: "There is no such thing as privacy in the modern world."

Vito Corleone has power, Bonasera does not. So Vito flexes his muscles, invokes social code to get Bonasera to see things his way. And he refuses him. What's more powerful than telling someone no?

These backroom scenes, darkly lit, claustrophobic, contrast remarkably with the bright, musical, colorful, open, loud party outside. Here we see the rest of the family: Sonny, the hothead. Tom, the diplomat. Fredo, the idiot. Michael, the prodigal. Michael is set apart from the rest through dialogue ("Where's Michael? We're not taking a picture without Michael."), through dress (he's in a war hero's uniform, fresh from the battlefield), and he has a pretty blonde WASP with him, in contrast to the rest of the dark-haired Italian women.

Kay Adams functions as a way for the audience to make sense of this confusing world. Michael gets to describe how things work to her, and, more importantly, insist that he is different, that he is a "civilian": "It's my family, Kay, it's not me". This is the key to the film, because, above all, the movie tracks Michael's transition from being a witness to the brutality of the mob, to a participant, to the leader.

Johnny Fontaine, seemingly successful, in truth has little power. He uses his charms to gain some from Vito for a later favor. This sets up the next sequence, which is Tom in LA. Again, a power struggle: the producer showing off his enormous house, his wealth, his way with women, his prize horses. He shows off the horse as an example of that power, a great setup, which is paid off with the horse's head in his bed. His power is gone because the mob has threatened him, killing the thing he loves and entering his personal space. He has no choice but to relent -- he can't refuse, as the saying goes.

The main plot of the movie begins, and it is this: The Turk wants to partner with Vito on bringing heroin into their portfolio of criminal enterprises. Vito is stuck in the old ways, doesn't want to get involved. Again, the power of saying no, of refusing. And so, The Turk begins a war: he kills Vito's man, Brasi, and attempts an assassination on Vito himself.

Michael, still unsure of his part in all this, visits his father, who is alone (powerless). Michael arranges to move his father, understands the threat, and enlists a baker to pose as a gunman/bodyguard when assassins roll by. They exercise power through potential violence.

A cop comes by and beats Michael. This whole sequence is the turning point for the movie. Michael sees his dad in a vulnerable state and, because of his love, must act. The only way to act is to become more involved in the family. In addition, his beating at the hands of the police lead him to seek revenge, that is, to murder both the cop and their main rival. He offers to do so, which sets up the second act climax: the murder.

Michael offers to kill the cop and The Turk. He is given a gun. He is given a location. The tension builds because of dramatic irony, of our concern for the character, of the setup which leaves us wanting a payoff, of the reversals deliberate suspense (Michael reaching behind the toilet, etc.). Finally, he kills the two men and walks out, never the same again.

Midpont: the mob war continues. As always with midpoints, there's a montage or a change of scenery, a breather. In this case, we get George Lucas' B&W photos of gunned-down mobsters, and Michael in hiding in Sicily. And Vito returns home from the hospital.

Michael meets and marries Appolonia, does so by acting like a mobster -- his power over the girl's father is diminished, so he reestablishes it by giving the man his confidence about his identity.

Meanwhile, Sonny is still in charge, discovers his brother-in-law is beating his sister, and he humiliates him in another display of power. Because of this, and because of his being shut out of the family business, Carlo turns sides and sets up Sonny, who is gunned down in a serious switcheroo.

Like Michael was in protecting him, Vito is called into action by his family being threatened, a primal concern. Unlike Michael, who was spurned to kill by a threat, Vito is spurned to call a truce: "This war stops now."

Michael's identity is no longer safe, and Appolonia is killed. The feud is finally in Italy, and Michael must leave.

Michael sees Kay, he's fully Mobbed up now (he's wearing a gangster's suit and he's wearing a hat). He now justifies his father's behavior to her instead of begging off, and insists that they are going to go legit.

Changing of the guard: Michael is now the head, Tom is out, Vito is not the counseliere, they are expanding to Nevada, and the other two captains can splinter off in due time if they desire.

Vegas. Fredo throws his weight around -- he's always been the loser brother, and in an attempt to show his power in this new locale, he gets girls and a party for Michael. This won't do. Michael, now the head, was never interested in such things, but as the Godfather, he has to present the right public face. He has Fredo get the girls out (delegating the job like a boss does), calls in his favor with Johnny Fontaine, and offers to buy out Mo Greene, the casino and hotel's owner. He is all business.

Vito reveals what we knew all along -- he never intended Michael to be in the mob, expected more of him, a senator, a governor. And with that revelation, Vito can now die, and does so, with his grandson at his side.

The amazing set piece of the baptism and the murder montage is legendary for a reason: it brings back the duality we saw before, it solidifies Michael's grasp of power, gives him an alibi for the murders, is a perfect joining of the two families (mob family and biological family), is the payoff for the previous setup about the power-grab (thus also touching on the main theme).

Carlo is killed due to his betrayal. Shock: we didn't expect this.

The movie ends on a note of transition -- the family is packing up to leave New York for Nevada, and Michael lies to his wife about his role in it. What Vito tried to present comes true: Michael is now The Godfather, with no looking back.

06 February 2011

33. The Third Man

Like so much classical Hollywood cinema, it starts with a simple, economical premise: Holly Martins comes to Vienna with promises of a job from his friend, Harry Lime, but upon arriving, he discovers his friend is dead. Martins suspects something is awry, and goes in search of answers.

This is an update of a classic setup or premise: "A stranger comes to town." You see this throughout literature and movies, wherein someone arrives in a hostile territory and manages to change everything. In this case, the setting does a lot of work: we are just past WWII, and Vienna lays in literal ruins. Beyond that, the city is divided into four areas, each controlled by a different country: US, UK, USSR, France. We learn all this through a VO over a montage of scenes of the city and an explanation of the black market, which gives us rich information that also sets up concerns for later in the story (the influence of the black market on the narrative).

Martins is an author, we discover, a writer of pulp fiction paperbacks. In ways, his fiction echoes the film's plot, the murder mystery, the layman doing detective work. Martins begins an investigation, questioning witnesses, much to the chagrin of the British MP, who warns him off, tells him that Lime was a criminal.

At min 20, Martins meets Lime's lady backstage at her job in the theatre. They discuss Lime as she removes her makeup and wig, a visual representation of her inner nature.

"I wonder if it wasn't an accident." The debate is over. Act two begins with Martins having Lime's lady on his side and a full desire to discover Lime's killer, and having successfully avoided being deported. He discovers that three men gave evidence about the death, and he has met two. Who is the titular third man? This question drives along the remaining two acts.

He meets the Romanian at a nightclub, who denies there is a third man. He sets up a meeting with the porter, but as he arrives, he discovers the porter has been killed. He is framed for the murder, escapes with Lime's lady to a movie (another part in the motif of fiction and reality intersecting).

Martins is picked up from the hotel, driven recklessly through the streets. The irony here is that we and he both feel he is to be killed. A twist: he's delivered to a lecture he's set to give, a switcheroo payoff to a setup in the first act (yet another fiction/reality intersection).

Midpoint. He's chased after the lecture, manages to get away (shades of Lime's eventual demise at the film's end). He meets up with the British MP, who reveals that Lime was diluting rationed penicillin, thereby directly causing deaths. Martins is at a low point, agrees to leave the city.

At 105 mins, he walks back to his room and realizes he is being followed. He stops in a plaza, yells out. In one of cinema's best reveals, we see Harry in a doorway, a Mona Lisa-like grin on his face. He runs off in the shadows, Martins following him to no avail.

The coffin is dug up at once, and indeed, one of Harry's underlings is in it. Harry is alive!

Martins realizes Lime was the third man all along, goes to the other two men and tells them to have Harry meet him at the Ferris wheel. As a good writer of fiction, he knows there must be a confrontation.

Harry arrives, his stomach pains, his focus on survival, his veiled threats, his famous cuckoo clock speech.

The final confrontation involves Harry scrambling through the sewers like a rat in a maze, sounds coming from every possible escape. He kills an MP, is shot. Gripping a sewer grate in desperation, Cotten confronts and kills him. A parallel can be made from Lime's desperation to that of the Allied countries after the war: they are focused on survival, clinging to any escape or reprieve; if they turn towards illicit or amoral activity, they should and will end up dead.

The end is a shade of the beginning: Martins goes to Lime's funeral. It is really him in the coffin this time. And in a glorious final twist, subverting the happy endings of the time, Martins waits for Lime's lady after the funeral, and she walks right by him, does even look at him.

Beyond the writing, the thing to remember about this film is the use of a location, which uses Vienna to such rich effect, and the amazing B&W cinematography, particularly the use of canted framing and focus on shadows.