I guess technically it’s winter now. Because there are around 30 movies coming out this month, I’ve split this preview in half. The rest will post next week.
All Good Things
People have sometimes questioned how I can be a fan of this, that or the other and yet still snark on it, or say something that may be less than positive about it. That cuts both ways—I don’t understand how liking something equals blind loyalty to it. Which is why I can say, no matter how much I love Ryan Gosling—and I love him lots and lots lots—that this movie looks fishy to me. It was originally slated to be released in summer 2009 then it was pushed back to winter 2009, and then it was kicked to winter 2010. This is an idea I have developed over the years—you do not hold properties you are confident in. Further, the original distributor, The Weinstein Company, sold the US rights to Magnolia Pictures after TWC spent $20 million getting All Good Things made. TWC’s money situation has been dicey (like pretty much everyone’s) so there’s a real chance that they just had to sell for fiscal reasons. But there’s also a chance that—despite saying they think this film is “strong”—that TWC wasn’t willing to bear the fiscal burden of a US release after already sinking that $20 million into it. There’s a chance All Good Things is a good movie. But there’s also a chance it isn’t.
Oscar Hopefulness: 0 – Marooned with no water. There’s no real push for All Good Things and in a crowded year, campaigning is key. Also not helping is Ryan Gosling’s attention and goodwill with Blue Valentine. Gosling won’t scupper his chances with Blue Valentine by dividing attention with a second entry—James Franco made a similar move with Howl and 127 Hours.
Does this really need an introduction? After three months of steadily-escalating hype coming out of its premiere at TIFF back in September, Black Swan is poised to be an art house hit in December. I don’t see Swan having mass-market appeal—psychosexual thriller about lesbian ballerinas doesn’t really read “Ma and Pa Minivan”—but the quality of the names attached lends itself to a certain level of success and director Darren Aronofsky has a lot of good will working after 2008’s The Wrestler.
Oscar Hopefulness: 8 – Sunny days are here again. Black Swan seems like a lock for a lot of categories—all the art awards as well as director and best picture and it’s likely a best actress nod for Natalie Portman, too. Mila Kunis and Vincent Cassel are outside shots for the supporting categories. Winning most of these nominations doesn’t seem as likely—Portman has the best shot out of all of them.
I Love You Phillip Morris
This movie has floundered a bit with its US distribution, probably due to its explicitly gay content and the idea that Americans won’t see a romantic comedy about two dudes. It’s finally getting released on December 3, though, and I’m glad it’s getting a chance. This is easily one of Jim Carrey’s finest performances, though it’s too silly to top The Truman Show. Sometimes it feels like Carrey is doing an impression of a gay man, rather than being a gay man. Carrey stars as Steven Russell, a real-life figure who, after a traumatic accident, ditches his straight life in suburbia for a gay life in Miami. There are a lot of clichés (“Being gay is expensive!”) and I find it a little annoying that Russell’s consumerism is tied so overtly to his gayness—like he wants all this stuff just because he’s gay. Why can’t he be a guy who likes having expensive things who happens to be gay? That aside, I Love You Phillip Morris is a decent screwball romantic comedy. Why exactly Phillip (played by Ewan Macgregor) is quite worth Russell’s over-the-top devotion is never explored beyond Macgregor’s puppy dog blue eyes and his dimples, but Russell and Phillip’s relationship is sweet and soul mate-y, so it works 98% of the time.
Oscar Hopefulness: 2 – Sinking in the tar pits. It would be nice if Carrey got some recognition for his work, and Macgregor, too, for that matter. But there’s too much controversy and too much bickering has gone on with distribution. That this came out at all is a minor miracle—there’s not much left in the tank for an Oscar run, and the movie overall isn’t quite good enough.
Night Catches Us
Night Catches Us attracted a lot of attention at Sundance back in January for its portrayal of black culture in 1976 Philadelphia. The story centers on Patricia (Kerry Washington, Ray) and Marcus (Anthony Mackie, The Hurt Locker), ex-lovers who participated in the Black Panther movement. Director Tanya Hamilton (this is her first feature) has won a lot of praise for her even-handed portrayal of such a politically-loaded topic, reminiscent of Kathryn Bigelow’s handling of wartime politics in The Hurt Locker. She’s also getting a lot of (deserved) praise for creating a fine, quiet depiction of people attempting to move on from an historical moment that altered our country and find their places within a complicated present (or past-present, since it is set in 1976).
Oscar Hopefulness: 1 – Dying inside. It would be nice to see Hamilton & Co. recognized on the big stage, but there’s barely any traction for this film.
Rare Exports: A Christmas tale
My brother watches all these terrible horror movies and passes on the “best” of them to me. Years ago he showed me Jack Frost, which didn’t star Michael Keaton but it did have Shannon Elizabeth being fucked to death by Frosty the Snowman. Another Christmas “classic” he shared with me was Santa’s Slay, which is actually AWESOME. It’s about Santa actually being the spawn of Satan and he lost a bet to angel once and had to be nice and give kids toys. But the time limit on the bet has expired and murdering Santa is back! Seriously, this movie is hilarious and gory and perfect for when you’re sick of sappy Christmas movies. Anyway, Rare Exports reminds me a lot of Santa’s Slay. Rare Exports is a Finnish movie, set in a rural Finnish village, and is about the mysterious happenings that occur there as a team of American archaeologists excavate the “great burial mound” that is in the mountain outside the village. The protagonist, Pietari (Onni Tommila) believes that Santa is buried there, and his concept of Santa has a lot to do with an old Finnish tale about a vengeful Father Christmas. This movie has been getting a lot of positive buzz from genre fans—it sounds B-grade like Santa’s Slay but everyone swears this is a quality, truly effective horror film from Finnish director Jalmari Helander. Comparisons to Spielberg and Carpenter have been made.
Oscar Hopefulness: 0 – Haha yeah no. But wouldn’t it be cool if it landed in Best Foreign Film?
The Warrior’s Way
It could totally be called Cowboys and Ninjas. The Warrior’s Way is an English-language film, despite looking like a Hong Kong import. It is written and directed by Sngmoo Lee and stars popular South Korean film star, Dong-gun Jang. It also stars Geoffrey Rush and Danny Huston, big plus, and Kate Bosworth, major minus. The story centers around the assassin “Yang” who refuses to complete his mission, killing an innocent baby. Instead he flees to the American Old West with that baby, but his ninja buddies follow. I would be more excited about this movie except it’s been held for two years and once again, you don’t hold properties you’re confident in.
Oscar Hopefulness: 0 – Wipe out. The visual effects look cool but that won’t be enough for the Academy to notice.
IFC Films is re-releasing Claude Lanzmann’s documentary on its 25th anniversary. Shoah is a deeply moving and very thorough examination of the Holocaust. It’s nine hours long and very hard to watch—having no historical footage or reenactments, Lanzmann uses interviews with survivors, regular citizens who bore witness to the trains coming and going from the camps, even former SS officers. These testimonials and recollections create a terrifying picture of exactly how awful humanity can be, but they also show how strong the will to survive is, and there are some incredible moments of hope and faith and sheer determination that keep this from being the single most depressing movie ever made. If you can find it in a theater, do, otherwise, rent it. It’s great viewing and will disgust you and move you all at once.
Oscar Hopefulness: 0 – Durr. Not eligible, as it was previously released in 1985.
The Chronicles of Narnia: the Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Who is still watching this franchise? Aren’t we all kind of indifferent to this? Who demanded this gets made?
Oscar Hopefulness: 3 – Swimming with sharks. You know, don’t be surprised if this lands in something like Best Visual Effects.
By now we all know that Mark Wahlberg fought for ninety three years against all odds, walking uphill in the snow both ways for fifteen miles, to get The Fighter made. I don’t mean to belittle Wahlberg’s effort, and that of director David O. Russell (I Heart Huckabees, Three Kings), but let’s not act like this is a special circumstance. Everyone fights for a movie at some point. Unless you’re Jennifer Aniston, then you’re just making whatever crap people hand you. But generally, everyone gets on their knees and begs for a movie eventually. It irks me that Wahlberg is acting like his struggle was anything compared to “Irish” Micky Ward, the real-life boxer he portrays in the film. Bitch, please. If Wahlberg failed to get this movie made, he’d still be rich, famous and successful. If Ward failed in his attempt to revive his lackluster boxing career, he really would have lost everything and found himself broke. Not comparable, Marky Mark. Not comparable.
The film goes wide on December 17.
Oscar Hopefulness: 9 – Virtual lock. Wahlberg will likely get edged out of Best Actor competition but he’ll be in Best Picture as a producer. Christian Bale and Melissa Leo are also heavily favored for the Supporting Actor/Actress races, respectively, and Amy Adams is an outside shot for Supporting Actress as well. Russell has a shot at Best Director.
The Garden of Eden
Based on Ernest Hemingway’s novel, The Garden of Eden stars Huston family spawn Jack Huston (Twilight Saga: Eclipse) and Mena Suvari (American Beauty, obscurity) as David and Catherine Bourne, a young American couple on a European honeymoon after David has concluded his service in World War II. Shades of Hemingway himself. Catherine can’t leave well enough alone (as no Hemingway heroine ever could) and she begins testing David and tempting him, mostly with the help of her Italian friend Marita (Caterina Murino, Casino Royale).
Oscar Hopefulness: 0 – Hit the road, Jack. Have you ever even heard of this film? No. And it played at the Rome Film Festival in 2008 and is just now coming out in the US. Again, you don’t hold properties you’re confident in.
There was some hype for Julie Taymor’s (Titus) adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, which gender-bends the role of Prospero and makes him into a her, Prospera, for Helen Mirren. The results are lackluster. It premiered at the Venice Film Festival and critics were not overwhelmed.
Oscar Hopefulness: 2 – It’s a crying shame. You hate to count out Mirren, and Taymor, for that matter, but in such a competitive year, you have to have strong critical notice to lift you above the fray. The Tempest doesn’t have that.
Let’s just get this out of the way first. This is the worst I have ever seen Johnny Depp look. Every time I see the trailer, or a TV spot or an ad—anything—I have a moment of terror thinking, “What the hell happened to his face?!” Also, Angelina Jolie’s accent is suspect. She did a decent British inflection in Tomb Raider—where did that go? It’s like no one was trying… Also starring Paul Bettany and Timothy Dalton.
Oscar Hopefulness: 1 – Don’t look back. You can never count out stylish action-y type movies for stuff like Best Sound Mixing. But other than that, no. I don’t even know what this movie is. Is it an action comedy? A spy spoof? Were they trying to make a serious thriller? Impossible to tell from that horrible trailer. To have stars of this caliber and be this nervous about a movie—not a good sign.