26 Feb 2012 @ 9:03 PM 

Sunday Minute
No. 239 | February 26, 2012

oscar               oscar               oscar               oscar               oscar

The Artist is the big winner of the night, with five Academy Awards including Best Picture.  Hugo also picked up five Oscars, all in technical categories.

The Oscars are tightly scripted and short on suspense.  If there was a surprise, it was Meryl Streep‘s Best Actress win for The Iron Lady, her first in nearly thirty years.  That answered my question, “Will she ever win again?”  As she noted in her speech, the answer to that question now is “No.”  One pair of upset winners were the editors for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall, who seemed genuinely surprised and at a loss for words.  The most emotional speech was Octavia Spencer‘s.  Jean Dujardin was was grateful in English, then overjoyed in French.

Billy Crystal is a class act and did a fine job, just about all you need for the Oscars.

I did pretty fine too in my predictions, with 18 picks out of 24 (one better than last year).  Respectable, perhaps a shade better.  (Any * below indicates a winner I predicted.)

Summary of Oscar wins by feature film:

The Artist — 5
— 5
The Iron Lady
— 2
The Help — 1
Beginners — 1
Midnight in Paris — 1
The Descendants
— 1
A Separation — 1
— 1
Undefeated — 1

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo — 1
The Muppets — 1

Winners by category:

Best Picture*

WINNER:  The Artist

Actor in a Leading Role*

WINNER:  Jean Dujardin, The Artist

Actress in Leading Role

WINNER:  Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady

Actor in a Supporting Role*

WINNER:  Christopher Plummer, Beginners

Actress in a Supporting Role*

WINNER:  Octavia Spencer, The Help


WINNER:  Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist

Writing (Original Screenplay)*

WINNER:  Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)*

WINNER: Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash, The Descendants

Animated Feature Film*

WINNER:  Rango

Documentary (Feature)*

WINNER:  Undefeated

Documentary (Short Subject)

WINNER:  Saving Face

Foreign Language Film*

WINNER:  A Separation

Short Film (Animated)*

WINNER:  The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

Short Film (Live Action)*

WINNER:  The Shore

Art Direction*




Costume Design*

WINNER:  The Artist

Film Editing

WINNER:  The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo


WINNER:  The Iron Lady

Music (Original Score)

WINNER:  Ludovic Bource, The Artist

Music (Original Song)*

WINNER:  “Man or Muppet,” The Muppets

Sound Editing*


Sound Mixing*


Visual Effects*


The Pause Button

So wraps up another year in movies.  Time for me to hit the pause button again.  For a while longer…till next time.

Quote of note
—Al Zimmer (John Goodman), The Artist (2011)


Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 14 May 2012 @ 11:12 AM

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Categories: Films, People
 26 Feb 2012 @ 3:40 PM 

Sunday Minute
No. 238 | February 26, 2012

2011 Oscars Preview & Predictions


You can find my thoughts about the films of 2011 in these two posts cleverly titled “Films of 2011”—Part 1, Part II.  In this post I pretend to know what the members of the Academy will be doing (or should be doing) when they hand out those little golden men on Sunday night.  A “pick” is my choice among the nominees, where I have an opinion; a “prediction” is my opinion about other people’s opinions.  I wouldn’t bet the farm.

Best Picture

  • The Artist
  • The Descendants
  • Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
  • The Help
  • Hugo
  • Midnight in Paris
  • Moneyball
  • The Tree of Life
  • War Horse

The Academy decided five nominees were not enough, then decided ten may be too many.  For the first time ever, this year there are nine.  I won’t argue about the number (other, better films were left off) but Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, and War Horse have no business being on the list.  Moneyball I’d have skipped too.  If any of the other five win, I wouldn’t be disappointed.  But I’d be shocked if The Artist is not the name in the envelope.

PICK:  The Artist

Actor in a Leading Role

  • Demián Bichir, A Better Life
  • George Clooney, The Descendants
  • Jean Dujardin, The Artist
  • Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  • Brad Pitt, Moneyball

The early awards have been split between George Clooney and Jean Dujardin.  I liked them both.  Clooney surprised me, and Dujardin did his share of mugging but had his moments of subtlety too.  I suspect the winds are blowing in The Artist‘s favor.

PICK:  George Clooney
PREDICTION:  Jean Dujardin

Actress in Leading Role

  • Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
  • Viola Davis, The Help
  • Rooney Mara, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
  • Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
  • Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn

A year ago I picked Michelle Williams in this spot, for her raw and brave performance in Blue Valentine.  A very different role this time, and I’ll pick her again.  Which is not to say she will win.  It’s a toss-up between Meryl Streep (will she ever win again?) and Viola Davis.

PICK:  Michelle Williams
PREDICTION:  Viola Davis

Actor in a Supporting Role

  • Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn
  • Jonah Hill, Moneyball
  • Nick Nolte, Warrior
  • Christopher Plummer, Beginners
  • Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

These actors have turned in some great performances over the years, though no one here has yet won an Oscar.  A high crime indeed.  Max von Sydow is perhaps the most overlooked, getting only his second nomination.  He deserves the statuette but it appears his contemporary Mr. Plummer (both were born in 1929) will be giving the speech.

PICK:  Max von Sydow
PREDICTION:  Christopher Plummer

Actress in a Supporting Role

  • Bérénice Bejo, The Artist
  • Jessica Chastain, The Help
  • Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
  • Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
  • Octavia Spencer, The Help

Not a lot of suspense with this one.  Well deserved.

PICK:  Octavia Spencer
PREDICTION:  Octavia Spencer


  • Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
  • Alexander Payne, The Descendants
  • Martin Scorsese, Hugo
  • Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
  • Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life

The picture and the director go together, right?  I look forward to the presenter trying to pronounce his name.

PICK:  Michel Hazanavicius
PREDICTION:  Michel Hazanavicius

Writing (Original Screenplay)

  • Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
  • Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig, Bridesmaids
  • J.C. Chandor, Margin Call
  • Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
  • Asghar Farhadi, A Separation

Woody has won his share of Oscars, and this should add to his collection.  His best work in years.

PICK:  Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
PREDICTION:  Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

  • Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash, The Descendants
  • John Logan, Hugo
  • George Clooney & Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon, The Ides of March
  • Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, story by Stan Chervin, Moneyball
  • Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

In another year The Descendants would win many categories.  Still, it will not go home empty-handed.

PICK:  Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash, The Descendants
PREDICTION:  Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash, The Descendants

Animated Feature Film

  • A Cat in Paris
  • Chico & Rita
  • Kung Fu Panda 2
  • Puss in Boots
  • Rango


Documentary (Feature)

  • Hell and Back Again
  • If a Tree Falls:  A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
  • Paradise Lost 3:  Purgatory
  • Pina
  • Undefeated

PREDICTION:  Undefeated

Documentary (Short Subject)

  • The Barber of Birmingham:  Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement
  • God Is the Bigger Elvis
  • Incident in New Baghdad
  • Saving Face
  • The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom

PREDICTION:  The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom

Foreign Language Film

  • Bullhead, Belgium
  • Footnote, Israel
  • In Darkness, Poland
  • Monsieur Lazhar, Canada
  • A Separation, Iran

PREDICTION:  A Separation

Short Film (Animated)

  • Dimanche/Sunday
  • The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
  • La Luna
  • A Morning Stroll
  • Wild Life

PREDICTION:  The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

Short Film (Live Action)

  • Pentecost
  • Raju
  • The Shore
  • Time Freak
  • Tuba Atlantic


Art Direction

  • The Artist
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
  • Hugo
  • Midnight in Paris
  • War Horse



  • The Artist
  • The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
  • Hugo
  • The Tree of Life
  • War Horse

PREDICTION:  The Tree of Life

Costume Design

  • Anonymous
  • The Artist
  • Hugo
  • Jane Eyre
  • W.E.


Film Editing

  • The Artist
  • The Descendants
  • The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
  • Hugo
  • Moneyball



  • Albert Nobbs
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows:  Part 2
  • The Iron Lady

PREDICTION:  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Music (Original Score)

  • The Adventures of Tintin, John Williams
  • The Artist, Ludovic Bource
  • Hugo, Howard Shore
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Alberto Iglesias
  • War Horse, John Williams

PREDICTION:  Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Music (Original Song)

  • “Man or Muppet,” music & lyric by Bret McKenzie, The Muppets
  • “Real in Rio,” music by Sergio Mendes and Carlinhos Brown, lyric by Siedah Garrett, Rio

PREDICTION:  “Man or Muppet”

Sound Editing

  • Drive
  • The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
  • Hugo
  • Transformers:  Dark of the Moon
  • War Horse


Sound Mixing

  • The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
  • Hugo
  • Moneyball
  • Transformers:  Dark of the Moon
  • War Horse


Visual Effects

  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows:  Part 2
  • Hugo
  • Real Steel
  • Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  • Transformers:  Dark of the Moon


Quote of note
“You think losing is fun?”
—Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), Moneyball (2011)


Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 26 Feb 2012 @ 04:37 PM

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 26 Feb 2012 @ 2:00 PM 

Sunday Minute
No. 237 | February 26, 2012

The Year That Was, One More Time

The end of the year came before the end of my moviegoing for 2011, and my recap from the holiday season was admitedly an incomplete look back at last year’s films.  I blame Hollywood.  Most weekends are a drought for quality, then at the end of the year the heavens open.  I suspect we could more easily change the weather than the movie studios’ release schedule, which does create a challenge for anyone who wants to see all the movies that are worth seeing.

By now I’ve seen most, though not all, of what I’ve wanted to see.  (Melancholia, Carnage, some foreign films, e.g., remain on my “must see, but not yet seen” list.)  So, with the red carpet already laid out for the Oscars, it seems like a good time for a 2011 recap redux.

In the post below I’ll offer my quick take on some notable films that I hadn’t mentioned last time, including a few notable for the wrong reasons.  Then I’ll wrap up with my choices for top films for the year.  (As I type this I still haven’t made my list, so I’m as eager as anyone to find out what they are.)

Films of 2011 (Part II)

Films of the Year Recap

2011 Films, Notable and Otherwise

The Artist
A love story in love with movies, and with the way movies were once in love with love.  I found the film fascinating (and the reaction fascinating to read as well).  The Artist aims to recapture something that’s been lost, something more than just the stripped-down conventions of an early movie era.  It wants a way of looking at our world and ourselves free of the ironic and cynical view that’s become commonplace in recent times.  Not all was well in the old days, and The Artist has its scenes of tragedy as well.  Those moments may seem easier for us to grasp; the scenes of wide-eyed innocence feel less familiar.  They feel nostalgic, in fact, and if there is any use to nostalgia, it’s to say there’s something not quite right with the way things are today.  The once-fresh world of movies has grown old and stale, and we need a new way forward.  That’s a critique I find persuasive:  you’ll have to look hard to find anything new on this list of top grossers for the past year.  The Artist has something in common with the films on that list; it too borrows from the past.  But it is not an old film.  It’s wildly entertaining and the freshest film of the year.

A film about sadness, but hardly sad at all, Beginners is sweet and warm, yet far too sweet and warm for its own good.  The performances are fine, and give credit to Ewan MacGregor and Christopher Plummer, especially.  The cast makes the film worth watching, but the story seems oddly muted.  Conflict is avoided at all turns, characters are explored only so far, and this tale of how life can be messy and full of surprise seems a bit too neat in the end.

A Better Life
An immigrant gardener and his son, and the struggles of working-class life in Los Angeles.  The Oscar nomination for Demián Bichir is well-deserved, and all the better if it draws a bigger audience for the film, now on DVD.  The bond between father and son is heartfelt and moving.

The Descendants
Frailty, thy filmmaker is Alexandar Payne, the director who has given us Ruth Stoops (Citizen Ruth), Tracy Flick (Election), Warren Schmidlt (About Schmidt), and Miles Raymond (Sideways).  No one is as flawed and as compromised in The Descendants, except perhaps the mother, who is left in a coma after a fleeting few moments waterskiing off the Hawaii coast in the movie’s opening scene.  This film belongs to George Clooney, playing the husband she can cheat on no longer.  He is a true hero by Paynean standards, an accomplished lawyer, a respected patriarch, though a hapless father to his two daughters.  Payne does excellent work blending tragedy with humor, and Clooney and the cast are terrific.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
The film has its flaws.  There’s the problematical appropriation of 9/11 for its ready-made tale of anguish, reducing a still-fresh national tragedy to a simple plot device, to the occasionally annoying, frequently not credible, central character, Oskar, the boy who loses his father in the World Trade Center crash.  The father left behind a key and Oskar searches the city of New York for the lock it belongs to.  So far, not so good.  But Oskar’s encounters provide a number of memorable scenes.  Viola Davis, Jeffrey Wright, and Sandra Bullock  all do good work, and Max von Sydow as the mysterious “renter” shines in a role without a word of dialogue.  A bit gimmicky, but that is par for the movie overall.

The performances are wonderful.  Michael Fassbender offers a brave and powerful portrayal of a man addicted to sex.  Carey Mulligan shows why she is one of the leading lights of her generation.  The bitter truth that the movie pretends to deliver, however, is all bitter and no truth.  I found the story not just unappealing but hard to believe.  Director Steve McQueen may be more interested in the buttons he’s pushing in his audience than the lives of his characters onscreen.

A Separation
This film from Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi ranks high on the list of critics’ favorites.  I’d have liked it more if it were a little less the Bickering Bickersons of Tehran.  It’s a drama about a family being torn apart:  a married couple on the brink of divorce, a grandfather with Alzheimer’s, a daughter caught in the crossfire.  The father hires a housekeeper, but when her pregnancy ends in miscarriage, he ends up in court accused of murder.  Fair to say, Persian justice does not operate the same as our own.  A Separation is a good film, well worth seeing, though I have to say, not as great as advertised.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Did I enjoy it?  Thoroughly.  Will I see it again?  Absolutely.  Did I follow it?  Well, yes and no.  There’s a complicated plot that I wouldn’t dare to describe.  It almost comes as an afterthought, anyway.  Atmosphere, character, and games of trust and deceit are at the center of this Cold War spy story, adapted from the novel of John le Carré, with a cast of mostly Brits headed by Gary Oldman.  First rate all around.

War Horse
A misfire of epic proportions.  A war is fought, millions die, but all is well:  the horse survives.  Steven Spielberg, please phone home.  (We won’t even bring up what you did to Tintin.)

Another Oscar nomination (Nick Nolte as the alcoholic father) already on DVD.  Warrior is a father-son drama set in the world of martial arts fighting.  Above average for its kind, though nothing especially groundbreaking.

Top 10 Films of 2011

The List

1.  The Artist

2.  The Tree of Life

3.  Midnight in Paris

4.  Hugo

5.  J. Edgar

6.  Drive

7.  A Dangerous Method

8.  The Descendants

9.  Margin Call

10.  Bridesmaids

A few notes: (1) On any other day, you’d get a different list.  I could see any of the top four or five being #1, for example.  (2) I’ve left off foreign-language films, documentaries, and some others.  It’s silly enough to rank films of different genres telling different stories, but I did want to draw the line somewhere.  These are feature-length, live-action, fiction films in English.  That’s it.  (3) The conventional wisdom is that 2011 was a below-average year for movies.  I think it’s too early to tell.  What we are fond of now and fond of later are often different movies, and ultimately what makes a good year is a few good films that linger in our memory, not the ones we forget.  I’d guess most of the films on the list will stand up, and others will emerge.  But I don’t really know.  Only time will tell.  (Now, I’m wondering how I could have left off Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.  The second guessing has already begun.)

The Artist (2011)
Michel Hazanavicius, writer-director
Guillaume Schiffman, cinematographer
Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, Uggie

Quote of note
“With pleasure.”
—George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), The Artist (2011)


Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 26 Feb 2012 @ 09:20 PM

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