James Franco is a good actor. A very good actor. Man, he can really act. Sometimes you forget how good he is at acting because he’s kind of just mediocre at everything else he does. But boy, James Franco really is an important talent in his generation. He’s so eminently watchable. Handsome but not pretty, charismatic yet aloof, intellectual but not boring. And in 127 Hours, it’s pretty much all Franco, all the time as he portrays mountain climber Aron Ralston, the man who survived over five days trapped, alone, in a canyon after falling during a free-climb and being pinned under a rock. If you haven’t heard, Ralston amputated his own arm with a small utility knife in order to save his life and climb to safety. It’s an amazing story of man’s animal will to survive and specifically, Ralston’s indomitable spirit. They say Franco is a revelation, that this performance will define him forever.
I have zero desire to see him cut his own arm off. Sorry.
Oscar Hopefulness: 8 – Like a Hawaiian weather forecast. Franco is pretty much a lock for a nomination for Best Actor and director Danny Boyle, who had a big year last year with Slumdog Millionaire, is likely to repeat in the Best Director and Best Picture categories. Simon Beaufoy has a shot at another Best Adapted Screenplay nod (he won for Slumdog Millionaire), and if the trailer is anything to go by, the cinematography, music and editing are probably award-worthy, too. I expect 127 Hours to rack up nominations but because most everyone won just last year, I doubt a repeat will happen. Franco stands the best chance for a win, but he has very stiff competition from Colin Firth.
Client 9: The rise and fall of Eliot Spitzer
Want to experience a trip? Watch The Inside Job, the documentary about the 2008 financial collapse, and see how articulate, charismatic and interesting Eliot Spitzer is. You find yourself thinking, “This guy should be in charge. Why isn’t he in charge?” Then go watch Client 9 and have your, “Oh yeah, right,” moment. Spitzer participates in this documentary detailing his downfall—hookers, what else—and as far as image-resuscitation goes, it’s pretty effective. Spitzer seems affable. Total doofus hooker-using cheater, yes, but still affable.
Oscar Hopefulness: 7 – Two-for-one pizza deal. A likely nomination in the Best Documentary (Feature) category, especially if The Inside Job and Waiting for Superman go in the top ten list that is the Best Picture category. A win is less likely, though, as competition is stiff and The Inside Job and Waiting for Superman are early favorites and there is also the harrowing and superb A Film Unfinished, which documents how Nazi propaganda film “Das Ghetto” manipulated everyday life in the Warsaw Ghetto for the cameras. Compared to that, Client 9 almost seems like a puff piece.
A comedy! The commercials are everywhere, so I assume you know this is the Robert Downey, Jr./Zach Galifianakis road trip comedy. Does it really need more of an introduction than that?
Oscar Hopefulness: 1 – Raining cats and dogs. RDJ totally should have won Best Supporting Actor for Tropic Thunder. He was robbed.
Can we please call this movie something else? Because every time I hear this title I think of the 1995 action movie starring Cindy Crawford and one of the Not Alec Baldwin brothers. This Fair Game is not about a sexy lawyer on the run, but is instead an adaptation of Fair Game: My life as a spy, my betrayal by the White House by outed CIA operative Valerie Plame. I get it, there’s a tie-in with the title—I still would change it. Anyway, this movie stars Naomi Watts as Plame and Sean Penn as her husband, Joe Wilson, a former ambassador whose 2003 New York Times op-ed “What I Didn’t Find in Africa” prompted someone at the White House to leak Plame’s name to the press as some sort of passive-aggressive revenge plot. The quality of this film depends not on its cinematic value (with Doug Liman directing and Watts/Penn starring it’s bound to be at least decent), but on its potential to be overly political and/or preachy.
Oscar Hopefulness: 4 – Meh. Watts stands the best shot at a nomination in the Best Actress category but I’m not sure her performance is flashy enough. I love Watts and admire her for her ability to communicate so much by doing so little, but in a year where the Best Actress race is competitive, subtlety can translate into getting lost in the shuffle.
For Colored Girls
Tyler Perry seems to annoy a lot of people and I’ll admit—the “Madea” thing is old. But For Colored Girls isn’t the Tyler Perry of “Madea” but a Tyler Perry who is stretching his wings as a filmmaker. He’s a decent enough director and pretty talented writer and For Colored Girls looks to showcase both those abilities in a way he hasn’t done before. Based on a play by Ntozake Shange, For Colored Girls tracks twenty different characters, each taken from the poems featured in the play. Perry has assembled an outstanding cast including Whoopi Goldberg, Thandie Newton, Janet Jackson, Kerry Washington, Macy Gray and Phylicia Rashad. It looks hella depressing but compelling, too.
Oscar Hopefulness: 4 – The future is cloudy. Perry stands the best chance for nominations in any of three categories—Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director. It’s an uphill battle all the way, though, as he fights the same stigma other directors of mega-franchises do, too (see also: Christopher Nolan, Gore Verbinski).
This is a funny movie about terrorism. Let that sink in for a minute. It also stars a guy named “Benedict Cumberbatch”. That’s not a character name, that’s the actor’s actual name. Four Lions is about four British jihadists whose competing plans for reaching glory go awry. There are elements of screwball comedy as well as more cerebral comedic moments, but what struck me about this film weren’t so much the social implications of the film but the idea that extremists are all kind of idiots. Four Lions is genuinely funny and sometimes thought-provoking. If you’re a fan of British humor, it’s more worth your time than Wild Target.
Oscar Hopefulness: 1 – It’s time to flush the fish. Comedies are generally not well received by the Academy so that’s one strike. Making light of something most Americans find to be deeply unfunny is strike two. Four Lions stands less of a chance than Due Date.
Guy and Madeleine on a Park Bench
This musical premiered at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival to resounding praise. A black and white film with a stellar, jazz-soaked score performed by the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra, Guy and Madeleine was written and directed by first-timer Damien Chazelle. This isn’t for everyone–I appreciated it technically more than I liked it actually–but for musical fans it’s well worth a viewing (I happen to loathe musicals).
Oscar Hopefulness: 0 — Absolute zero. I’m not even sure this is eligible this year.
I think it’s cute how Dreamworks Animation keeps trying to compete with Pixar. It’s like, “Awww, look at the little guy–he just keeps trying!” No, seriously, Dreamworks Animation has made some gains in the “not a Pixar cartoon” category, coming up with some cute, sometimes funny movies. Megamind is a huge step in the right direction for them, mostly because it looks like a genuinely funny movie. The key to making a great cartoon is to have a story that would be great if it were a live action film. Too many of the studio guys get hung up on the gimmicks available to cartoonists, but the thing that has always set Pixar apart is their understanding that story is story whether it’s animated or not. With Megamind, Dreamworks seems to be getting this. It’s the story of a villain (Will Ferrell) who has to figure out how to occupy himself when he succeeds in killing the hero who is his archnemesis (Brad Pitt). Tina Fey and Jonah Hill also lend their voices.
Oscar Hopefulness: 8 — Looking good, kid. Megamind is a strong contender for a Best Animated Feature nomination, and if Toy Story 3 lands in the Best Picture race, it could well win the cartoon Oscar.
William S. Burroughs: A man within
Have you ever read Naked Lunch? I have. It was given to me as a high school graduation gift. Which probably explains a lot about why I am the way I am. This is a documentary about Burroughs written and directed by Yony Leyser. There’s next to no hype for it.
Oscar Hopefulness: 2 – I’ve got some bad news, son. Between the lack of hype and the extremely competitive Feature Documentary field this year, I don’t see it happening for Leyser’s film.
There’s no shame in thinking this looks cute. It does look cute. Rachel McAdams, Diane Keaton, Harrison Ford and Patrick Wilson star in a fluffy comedy about a young television producer trying to keep a third-rate morning show from derailing entirely. Harrison Ford is a crotchety motherfucker and his film roles are lately reflecting this. It works. Ford was always most enjoyable when a little bit crusty. And McAdams seems to be getting back to why we loved her in the first place–that bright smile combined with a hint of vulnerability behind her eyes. McAdams has a delightful screen present that has been misdirected lately; it’s good to see her in a project giving her a reason to bring all that new-penny shininess back.
Oscar Hopefulness: 1 — Please try again. Patrick Wilson certainly deserves some Academy attention, but not for this. It’s a fluff piece, an alternative to all the depressing stuff coming out this month. It should turn in decent box office numbers, though, and put McAdams back on track after falling off a bit due to misfires (The Time Traveler’s Wife) and a widely disliked appearance in an otherwise good movie (Sherlock Holmes).
The first of the “aliens invade LA” movies (Battle: Los Angeles is the other one), Skyline is about some hungover dudes who realize the bright lights everyone is in love with are actually evil tractor beams from aliens bent on destroying the human race. As stupid as Skyline sounds, it actually got some positive buzz going last summer at Comic Con.
Oscar Hopefulness: 0 – City-wide sinkhole. The “Brothers Strause”, as they insist on being called, directed Skyline and maybe could have had a shot at some technical nominations except their visual FX company, Hydraulx, did the FX for Battle: Los Angeles and since the brothers were also interviewed as potential directors for that film, they had access to concepts and storyboards. Sony, the studio behind Battle: Los Angeles, is crying “foul” and also “plagiarism”. The brothers are, at the very least, guilty of committing a gross conflict of interest and the scandal will keep them out the voting.
A runaway freight train containing hazardous materials and no engineer is threatening to wipe out a town if it derails. But don’t worry, because Denzel Washington is on shift and even though he has a smartass newbie assistant engineer person (Chris Pine, Star Trek), he will coldly stare that runaway train into oblivion. He will say, “I am Denzel Washington! I am making my serious face! When I make my serious face, you DO AS I SAY!” Seriously, I love Denzel Washington, but lately he’s been making some pretty shit movies (see also: The Taking of Pelham 123, Man on Fire).
Oscar Hopefulness: 1 – Passed out drunk. Well maybe for something like Best Sound Editing and/or Mixing. But probably not.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallow: Part 1
29 more days.
Oscar Hopefulness: 2 — You’re killing me, Smalls. Harry Potter has gotten technical nominations here and there, culminating in Bruno Delbonnel’s nomination this year for Best Cinematography for Half-Blood Prince. I don’t expect 7.1 to pull a lot of hardware, but for HP to follow the Lord of the Rings model of “save it all for the end”.
Made in Dagenham
Another British import, Made in Dagenham is that under-the-radar Brit entry that usually pops up to spoil the party of the bigger, flashier Brit import for the year—watch out The King’s Speech. Starring Sally Hawkins (Never Let Me Go, Happy-Go-Lucky) and Bob Hoskins, Made in Dagenham is about the 1968 strike at a Ford plant in England where the female workers walked out to protest sexual harassment. Norma Rae + The North Country + English charm = Made in Dagenham. That’s oversimplifying it, actually. Made in Dagenham has received glowing notice from critics and is by all accounts is a lovely film.
Oscar Hopefulness: 6 – Reach for the stars! Hawkins already has a Best Actress Golden Globe behind her (for Happy-Go-Lucky) so she isn’t entirely unknown to the voters. She could pull off a surprise nomination this year. I’m just not sure if Made in Dagenham can get far enough away from The King’s Speech’s shadow to really gain traction with the Academy.
Anne (Dutch actress Lotte Verbeek) puts all her worldly possessions on the sidewalk and watches as strangers walk off with the detritus of her life. Anne goes to Ireland where she wanders around beautiful Irish vistas of varying degrees of windswept-ness. She meets a man, Martin (Stephen Rea, Ondine, V for Vendetta) and they begin a slow courtship. This is a beautifully photographed film and the acting is fine and reserved, but good God is this the slowest story ever. Between the lack of explicit narrative devices and the molasses-like pace, it gets a little hard to follow. I’d recommend Made in Dagenham first, unless you really like slow, mostly silent films about lonely, miserable people.
Oscar Hopefulness: 2 – Down to your last dollar. Again, I’m not sure this is even eligible, but if it is, it will get buried. There are already several European imports duking it out for nominations and something this quiet isn’t going to attract enough attention.
The Next Three Days
Russell Crowe stars as a guy who has to break his [wrongly accused] wife, Elizabeth Banks, out of prison. Who buys that Elizabeth Banks could ever be the type of person to be mistaken for a murderer?
Oscar Hopefulness: 2 – Nothing to see here. It is directed by Paul Haggis (who also co-wrote the script), who has three consecutive Best Screenplay nominations, winning for Crash, which also netted him a Best Director nomination and a Best Picture win. But The Next Three Days is not Crash.
This is not going to be good. I don’t think it’s going to be Glitter bad, but it won’t be good. It will, however, be fun. Fun in that campy, playing dress up, everyone has a dancer fantasy way. In other words, Center Stage but with singing. Christina Aguilera stars, with Stanley Tucci and Cher’s Scary Face, as a small-town girl with stars in her eyes who dreams of making it big in show business. She even takes a bus to LA! In a two minute trailer I count approximately 627 cliches. Still, the dance numbers look slick. Eric Dane (Grey’s Anatomy) and Cam Gigandet (Twilight, Easy A) also star as Xtina’s inevitable good guy/bad boy love interests ($10 that the “good guy” ends up being a douche and the “bad boy” has a heart of gold). Gigandet is really working it for a spot on the Freebie Five. Guyliner, a bowler hat and a vest with no shirt should be totally lame but he looks really really hot. I’ve marked Burlesque for my “switch the brain off and enjoy” movie of Thanksgiving weekend.
Oscar Hopefulness: 2 – Chances of surviving a bear attack. You know, I wouldn’t be surprised if Burlesque ends up with some artistic nominations like costume design, makeup, and art direction.
The tagline for Faster is, “Slow justice is no justice”. It stars The Rock. That pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?
Oscar Hopefulness: 0 – Ain’t no sunshine. Now watch, it will get nominated for something like Best Sound Mixing.
The King’s Speech
And stand-out British import of the year goes to… The King’s Speech is about King George VI (Queen Elizabeth’s father) who unexpectedly took the throne in 1936 when his brother, Edward VIII, abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson. The King’s Speech focuses on, specifically, a speech impediment “Bertie”, as he was known to his family, battled throughout his childhood and well into adulthood. A disastrous speech in 1925 prompted Bertie and his wife, Elizabeth (the future Queen Mother), to seek the help of Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue. Bertie overcomes his stammer and his shyness and was an effective leader during World War II.
Oscar Hopefulness: 9 – Oh happy day. Colin Firth is a heavy early favorite for Best Actor for his portrayal of George VI and Helena Bonham Carter as Queen Elizabeth, and Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue can’t be counted out of the supporting categories. I also expect The King’s Speech to be nominated for stuff like costume design and production design. Director Tom Hooper and writer David Seidler are likely nominees, and like The Social Network, this is an early but serious contender for Best Picture.
Love and Other Drugs
I’m almost to the point where I will see anything with Anne Hathaway in it (except Bride Wars, nothing could induce me to watch that crap). Love and Other Drugs is based on a memoir by Jamie Reidy, a pharmaceutical salesman in the 1990’s and one of the reps responsible for marketing Viagra to doctors and–
–hospitals. The story follows Reidy as he begins a relationship with the mysterious Maggie (Hathaway) as his career skyrockets courtesy–
I MEAN HAVE YOU SEEN HIM?!
–the Viagra he is hawking. I’m a little worried that Fox is selling this as a comedy when there is a dramatic and potentially depressing plot point the audience is not–
HE WILL KILL ME WITH HIS CHARM.
–going to be prepared for. If you tell people something is funny and then it turns out sad you risk an angry, betrayed audience. Your move, Fox.
Oscar Hopefulness: 3 — The sun will come out tomorrow. Hathaway has some buzz going but I’m not sure Love and Other Drugs will have the legs to make it to spring. I don’t think it’s going to be quite as good as it looks (take away Jake G’s completely distracting charm and the story is pretty pedestrian). As for Jake G, there’s a bit of early buzz but as per usual, he will be overlooked. That’s the downside of making everything look easy by being SO FUCKING CHARMING.
If you have little kids to babysit this Thanksgiving, Tangled is a decent cinematic babysitter. It’s adorable that Disney is making a computer-animated cartoon without Pixar overseeing the project (yes, Disney, you still need them), but the results are surprisingly fresh. No one does fairytales like Disney and Tangled has those Disney fairytale roots combined with decent modern humor. Much of Tangled’s charm is down to solid voice work from Zachary Levi (Chuck) as thief-on-the-lam Flynn. Mandy Moore is credible as Rapunzel but really it’s Levi’s vocal cues that sell the jokes. The animation isn’t as good as others have turned out (Megamind looks sharper) but it is appropriately cartoony, especially the horse and Rapunzel’s hair, which is almost a separate character.
Oscar Hopefulness: 7 — Here’s looking at you, kid. Like Megamind, Tangled is sure to benefit from Toy Story 3 going up in the Best Picture category.