Oscars 2012 Recap

27 02 2012

Copyright 2012 AMPAS

Well, there were some surprises last night and some wins you could have bet a life savings on.  Am I pleased with the way the way the awards were delegated?  Yes, very much so.  Hosted by Billy Crystal, the 84th Annual Academy Awards ceremony was Hollywood coming out in their Sunday best to honor the performances, films and technical achievements of the year based on the votes of nearly 6,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  Here’s the recap:

Best Picture – THE ARTIST – The night was down to one of two films: this one, and Scorsese’s Hugo.  Both are excellent pieces of filmmaking and both pay homage to early cinema itself.  In the end, it was the charm of The Artist that won over the Academy and took home the night’s grand prize.

Best Director – MICHEL HAZANAVICIUS for THE ARTIST – It’s almost common place for the Best Picture winner to also land Best Director.  Furthermore, Hazanavicius won the DGA award which all but six times has predicted who won the Best Director award at the Oscars.  No surprise here whatsoever, and I’m happy he won.  I would have been equally delighted to see Marty win a second directing Oscar, but as long as it stayed between the two, I’m good with it, and it did.

Best Actor – JEAN DUJARDIN for THE ARTIST – An amazing turn and win by a formerly nearly unknown French actor.  Always good to see the Academy honor someone outside of the “inner circle.”  With his heavy accent and this being his first international success, this could be Dujardin’s only shot at Oscar glory, and I think he deserved it for his awesome pantomimed performance.

Best Actress – MERYL STREEP for THE IRON LADY – I have to admit, this was a big surprise for me.  I was pretty pegged on Viola Davis walking away with this award, but Streep came in and got it.  Her 17th nomination and third win (first in 30 years), it further solidifies this amazing actresses’ spot in the parthenon of acting.  Likely the best living actress, and possibly the best the screen has ever seen, I’m happy in retrospect that she took home the award.

Best Supporting Actor – CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER for BEGINNERS – Not surprised at all here.  A satisfying turn from a veteran actor, the Oscars love this kind of stuff.  At 82, this win makes Plummer the oldest actor to ever win an Oscar in competition.  Humble and gracious, I think his speech was the best of the night and I’m happy to see him win.

Best Supporting Actress – OCTAVIA SPENCER for THE HELP – Another no brainer and a deserved win for a great supporting performance.  Her genuine reaction to the announcement was enough to put a smile on anyone’s face.

Best Original Screenplay – WOODY ALLEN for MIDNIGHT IN PARIS – I was ecstatic about this win!  I love Woody Allen and have probably said it before, and will probably say it again, but he is one of my favorite filmmakers ever.  Yes, EVER.  I adore his films and seeing him take home another Oscar for a brilliant movie like this one was icing on the cake.  His fourth Oscar and first in 23 years, as usual Woody was at home back in New York and not at the ceremony, but boy did it still feel good to hear his name called.

Best Adapted Screenplay – ALEXANDER PAYNE, NAT FAXON and JIM RASH for THE DESCENDANTS – Really the only honor for this film that showed as a strong contender early in awards season.  Good to see it get its due in this award.

Best Animated Feature – RANGO – Interesting that Gore Verbinski wins his first Oscar for his first animated film after years of directing live action.  Maybe its a good fit for him!

Best Foreign Language Film – A SEPARATION – Has been winning a lot of awards this awards seasons and hailed by critics.  Not a surprise here at all and one of my most anticipated films to see that I haven’t already seen.

Best Cinematography – ROBERT RICHARDSON for HUGO – What a surprise this was!  I was sure Lubezki had it pegged for Tree of Life with his wins elsewhere and, mostly, the ASC award he won a few weeks ago.  However, Richardson’s beautiful imagery on Hugo was definitely equally as deserving.  To me, this was one of the stiffest years in many for cinematography.  All great DPs, with amazing visions.  This was Richardson’s third win and Lubezki has yet to win, that was why I put my money on Lubezki.  However, I will be honest, Richardson’s style has always been a strong influence for me, so I am very happy with this surprise.

Best Editing – ANGUS WALL and KIRK BAXSTER for THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO – Well, this was as much of a surprise to the audience as it was to the winners.  You can tell they weren’t expecting this at all since they had just won last year for The Social Network.  Way to go team Fincher!

Best Art Direction – DANTE FERETTI and FRANCESCA LO SCHIAVO for HUGO – At the beginning of the night, Hugo was sweeping the awards and I thought it might upset The Artist for the win.  In the end, both films walked away with five awards each, but The Artist took home the big prizes.  The art direction in this film is definitely deserving of the win and I’m very happy with how much love it received last night.  It and The Artist were my favorite films of last year, so I was happy when each of these won anything.

Best Costume Design – MARK BRIDGES for THE ARTIST – Well deserved and not surprising in my opinion.

Best Makeup – MARK COULIER and ROY HELLEND for THE IRON LADY – Longtime Streep makeup artist and Harry Potter prosthetics artist take home their first Oscars.  It’s a nice thing to see.

Best Original Score – LUDOVIC BOURCE for THE ARTIST – Strong competition in this field this year with two Williams scores and fantastic scores from all involved.  Bource deserved this award though in my opinion as the music was a driving force in The Artist since there was a lack of voice, and what wonderful music it was.

Best Original Song – BRETT MCKENZIE for MAN OR MUPPET – I was totally unaware before the ceremony that this was Brett from Flight of the Conchords before seeing the program.  I guess I didn’t look at the name close enough, but boy was I excited when it hit me!  This is awesome!  The Ryhmenoceros has an Oscar – how cool is that!

Best Sound Editing – PHILLIP STOCKTON and EUGENE GEARTY for HUGO – Well done.

Best Sound Mixing – TOM FLEISCHMAN and JOHN MIDGLEY for HUGO – Another win for Hugo!

Best Visual Effects – HUGO – ditto!

Best Documentary Features – UNDEFEATED – Haven’t heard much about the docs up for the award this year, but after seeing the win, am definitely interested in seeing this film.  However, I strongly feel that Senna should have been among this lot because it was a brilliantly composed documentary.  I’ll still stick with it as my favorite doc of the year so far, but will give this one and others a chance.

Best Documentary Short Subject – SAVING FACE – Seems like a nice film to win and always a pleasure seeing the winners of the shorts.  These are people who have to struggle for their budgets and are not millionaires.  These awards wins always feel very genuine to me.

Best Short Film, Animated – THE FANTASTIC FLYING BOOKS OF MR. MORRIS LESSMORE – Again, very genuine win.

Best Short, Live Action – ditto.

Well, that wraps it up for the competitive awards.  Of course, there were the technical awards and honorary Oscars presented previously which included an honorary award for legendary makeup artist Dick Smith and actor James Earl Jones.  The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award went to a deserving Oprah Winfrey.  All in all, I really enjoyed the broadcast and couldn’t be happier with the results.  Until next year, that’s it for awards season in the movies!


Oscar Predictions 2012

26 02 2012

Well, I guess I wouldn’t be much of a film blogger if I didn’t post my predications directly before the ceremony.  So, with hours to spare, I will join the many other bloggers, critics, journalists and general movie lovers around the world (and the Web) in voicing my predictions for this year’s Oscars.  And, my votes go to:

Best Picture – THE ARTIST – Wonderful film, loved the sentimentality and this movie has won nearly every award imaginable in regards to Best Picture win predictors, including the PGA, BAFTA, Independent Spirit, loads of critic circles and Golden Globe for Musical/Comedy.

Best Actor – JEAN DUJARDIN for THE ARTIST – Awesome performance without the use of words.  Clooney could be the upset here, but I think Dujardin has this one in the bag.

Best Actress – VIOLA DAVIS for THE HELP – Meryl Streep might win this for her performance in The Iron Lady, but The Help was a more well recieved film overall and Streep already has two Oscars to her name and gets nominated literally almost every other year.  Davis’s performance was poignant and inspiring and this is only her second nomination.  Meryl will likely have chance time and again, so I’m going to put my money on Davis.

Best Supporting Actor – CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER for BEGINNERS – He’s already won his fair share this awards season and Plummer, at 82, has had a prolific career, but no Oscar wins.  In this role as an aging homosexual who finally comes out of the closet at 75, Plummer picked a perfect role for a veteran actor taking a chance, and the Academy loves those kinds of chances and they love giving out veteran Oscar awards.  Yet, one of my favorite actors, Peter O’Toole has been looked over time and again, eight times counting now.

Best Supporting Actress – OCTAVIA SPENCER for THE HELP – Spencer and Davis’s acting in this film were the highlight of this movie for me, and Spencer has proven tough to beat in this awards season.  In my opinion, she’s the best performance on the roster in this category and I hope it pays off for her, though Bejo could come in for the surprise win.

Best Director – MICHEL HAZANAVICIUS for THE ARTIST – All signs (namely the DGA win) point to Hazanavicius winning this award.  I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t get it, but the only real competition is Marty for Hugo.

Best Cinematography – EMMANUEL LUBEZKI for TREE OF LIFE – Beautifully shot, totally deserves the award and will be shocked if he doesn’t win.  Disliked the movie overall, but can’t argue with this man’s amazing visual aesthetic.

Best Writing, Original Screenplay – WOODY ALLEN for MIDNIGHT IN PARIS – Woody’s best film in years and a deserved win for an amazing filmmaker.

Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay – ALEXANDER PAYNE, NAT FAXON and JIM RASH for THE DESCENDANTS – Big player in the awards season line up who will likely get its due in this award.

Best Animated Feature – RANGO – Gut Feeling here.

Best Foreign Language Film – A SEPARATION – ditto.

Best Editing – THELMA SCHOONMAKER for HUGO – Because this brilliant film deserves something and Schoonmaker is a brilliant editor, one of the best in the industry.

Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction and Best Original Score – THE ARTIST

Best Original Song – “Man or Muppet” from THE MUPPETS

Best Visual Effects and Best Makeup – HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART II – Because I love Harry Potter and think it should win.

Any of the other categories I’m afraid I don’t have enough of a basis to predict properly.  We’ll see how right (or wrong) I am quite soon – hope you all enjoy the ceremony and aren’t too tired tomorrow morning!!

New Bond Film “Skyfall” Moving Forward Nicely

23 02 2012

Copyright 2011 EON Productions

Daniel Craig’s third outing as British super spy James Bond is due out on November 9th.  On the official James Bond 007 Web site, a video blog was recently released detailing director Sam Mendes’s thoughts on the production and reasons for getting involved in the project.  That video can be viewed here:

Few details have been released on the film, outside of the fact that the story will test Bond’s loyalty to his supervisor at MI5, M (Judi Dench).  The production crew compiled for the film is an impressive, though somewhat non-traditional group.  Director Sam Mendes, whose previous credits include the Academy Award-Winning American Beauty, Road to Perdition, Revolutionary Road and indie comedy-drama Away We Go, is an interesting pick for the multi-billion dollar Bond franchise.  However, I’m very curious as to how this film will be handled by a director not accustomed per se to large budget action oriented filmmaking.  The previous film in the canon, Quantum of Solace, seemed to suffer under the helm of Marc Forster, who like Mendes, is not a traditional big budget director.  However, personally, I have much preferred Mendes’s output to Forsters’, outside of the dreadful Away We Go.

Another newcomer to the Bond franchise is long time Coen Brother cinematographer, Roger Deakins.  Deakins, whose resume reads almost as a top movie list of the past twenty some odd years, is one of the most well-respected DPs in the business and has garnered an impressive nine Oscar nominations, though no wins.  Always the bridesmaid, but no less an amazingly talented artist and one of my favorite working cinematographers in the industry today, his soft light, naturalistic approach to imaging will be an interesting contrast to the usually over the top stylization of a Bond film.

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson have definitely taken a chance on hiring extremely talented, though somewhat out of the norm picks for two positions that are highly influential in the production of a Bond movie.  However, like all iconic franchises, there is always a time for recreating the image to stay up with the times, and now is no better a time after the disappointing reception of the last Bond film.  Hopefully, the glorious rebirth of the Bond image we experienced in Casino Royale will once again come to fruition on November 9th when we get to see the curtain come up and experience our twenty third adventure with James Bond in Skyfall.

The Singing Detective (2003)

21 02 2012

Copyright 2003 Icon Productions

★ ★

I really wanted to enjoy this film.  I’m not even sure exactly where I heard about it, but the quasi-surreal premise mixed with Robert Downey Jr. in the lead, who is one of my favorite modern actors, seemed like it could be a brilliantly funny mix.  Though there are some laughs to be had at the bizarre nature of some of the scenes, on the whole, this was a terribly boring flick.

The original premise of the story was adapted for BBC TV as a television serial in 1986 to wide acclaim.  Following the British television reception, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood started eyeing the project, though it would be almost 20 years before the film was produced because of falling into what we in the business like to call “development hell.”  Anyway, the story follows three separate but interconnected timelines: First, there is the story line of author Dan Dark (Downey Jr.), a novelist, who is in the hospital for a severe case of psoriasis; second, a reimaging of his first novel, “The Singing Detective”, in his mind while in the hospital with himself now playing the lead role; and finally, flashbacks of his childhood which present a clear picture of some of his original inspiration for the pulp novel itself.  Tinged with surreality throughout, the film becomes a hodge podge of these three story lines mixed with the occasional visit to psychiatrist Dr. Gibbons office, who is played by producer Mel Gibson (almost unrecognizably).

There are scenes in this film that work, but as a whole, this is a very disjointed picture.  The cinematography, to me, looked cheap, more in line with a television movie and even the impressive cast can’t save the mutilation of the story itself.  I really wanted to enjoy this film, but just couldn’t; I kept giving it 10 more minutes throughout, but when I got to the hour and ten minute marker of this hour and forty minute film, I called it and started watching The Ribos Operation, a Tom Baker Doctor Who serial.  I just could’t take it any longer, was not interested and definitely not entertained.  It could have been a great mix with a little cleaning up around the edges, but in the end, it was just a sorry excuse at Hollywoodizing author Dennis Potter’s original material.

A Short Recommendation…

18 02 2012

Many apologies for the lack of posts lately, it has been a busy time!  Currently, I own two properties: a new house and the condo we moved out of.  So, I’ve spent the past couple weeks using all of my spare time painting, cleaning, washing and vacuuming trying to get this condo on the market, which I am happy to report will land on the market early next week.  For any of you looking to move to North Carolina, I’ve got a deal for you if you’re looking for a condominium.  Anyway, in regards to my movie/television watching behaviors, I’ve been working diligently through season 2 of Downton Abbey, so I’ll definitely be posting my thoughts on that soon.  Also, I hope to get back into the regular movie watching agenda quite soon as well to get more reviews up here at a regular interval.  In the meantime, however, I’ve decided to leave you guys with a short film to watch.

The majority of my production work, at least in a narrative regard, has been on short films.  Yet, I rarely ever mention much about short films outside of when I complete one of my personal projects.  So, being a lover of the medium, I’ve decided to start occasionally giving recommendations for short films that have left a lasting impression on me.  The short is a very different beast from a feature, there is less time to develop character, less time to incite plot and usually a much smaller budget than is available for feature productions, as shorts are usually independently funded.  Many young filmmakers cut their teeth on shorts, but there are still a plethora of seasoned feature film directors who will still produce shorts in between their larger productions.  For instance, a favorite director of mine, Terry Gilliam’s, most recently released production was a short film shot in Italy called The Wholly Family.

For our first short recommendation I want to present one of my favorite shorts that I think I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching.  For you fans of Groundhog Day, you will find much to like in this one, and remember, that this short came out before that film, so if you draw any conclusions keep that in mind.  The film is titled 12:01 p.m. and stars a familiar face to fans of That 70s Show, Kurtwood Smith.  It was produced in 1990 by Chanticleer Films, which used to be a wonderful production company that funded short films specifically.  I’m not sure whether Chanticleer is even still running, but if they are, their output has definitely slowed down.  Directed by Jonathan Heap, who I’m surprised has not really had a great career following this amazing debut, the film focuses on elements of time, space and human consciousness.  The film runs about 25 minutes, but I think you’ll be glad you watched it, and feel free to post your thoughts below!  Also, it’s worth noting that, though this film didn’t win, it was nominated for an Oscar for Best Live Action Short in 1991.  I don’t want to spoil any of the fun, so without further adieu, enjoy:

Gear Review: Sony PMW-EX1R

3 02 2012

Sony stock photo

Make: Sony

Model: PMW-EX1R

My use: We got one of these packages, along with an extra battery, 64GB SxS card and SD SxS adapter at my current full-time gig.  I use it for the various promotional purposes and in-house training videos.

Average Price: $6,299

My thoughts: I’ve enjoyed using this camera more than I thought I would.  I’ve shot the EX line in the past, but never at any real length, and this camera is essentially the second generation of the popular EX1.  The “R” denotation has taken into account several issues with the first version and provides such things as a DVCAM SD mode, an inversion tool for use with 35mm adapters (wouldn’t this have been nice 5 years ago?), XDCAM HD compatibility to work with the big boys and an HDMI output, among other little surprises.  The EX1 already was a nice little prosumer camcorder, but Sony has definitely improved its appeal and even slightly boosted the sensitivity of the sensor on this model.  I’ve heard a few variances in what different people are getting shooting 1080/24p, but with the scene file profile I’m using (which is a custom profile), my rating is 500 ISO, which is really nice after being used to the abysmal sensitivity  of such models as the HVX200.  Currently, if I was in the market, well let me rephrase, if I had the cash on hand for a new camcorder, then I would definitely put this camera near the top of the pack.  Sure, the DSLR proponents of the world will state that the arena has largely moved past this time of camera, but let’s face it, most of the work I do is simpler and smoother with a field production camcorder.  Furthermore, if I’m shooting narrative pieces, I’ll go with something better than a DSLR if I have the choice.  My only big complaint with this camera is the electronic viewfinder and LCD monitor; they are pieces of crap.  Then again, almost every Sony camera I’ve ever used has had a lackluster viewfinder and LCD monitor, so there’s no surprise there.  Use your meter if you’re not already doing so, even on run and gun and docu-style shoots!

Technical Specs from the Manufacturer (for 35mm Prime as representational of other 6 prime lenses included): 

Signal System XDCAM EX, NTSC/PALNTSC area:
HD HQ mode: 1920 x 1080/59.94i, 29.97p, 23.98p, 1440 x 1080/59.94i, 29.97p, 23.98p, 1280 x 720/59.94p, 29.97p, 23.98p (native)
HD SP mode: 1440 x 1080/59.94i
SD mode: 720 x 480/59.94i, 29.97p

PAL area:
HD HQ mode: 1920 x 1080/50i, 25p, 1440 x 1080/50i, 25p, 1280 x 720/50p, 25p
HD SP mode: 1440 x 1080/50i

Image Device 3-chip 1/2″-type Exmor CMOS
Lens Fujinon 14x Optical Zoom with Image Stabilization
5.8-81.2mm, f/1.9
Signal-to-Noise Ratio 54dB
Horizontal Resolution 1000 Lines or more
Sensitivity 2000 lux, 89.9% Reflectance, f/10 (Typical, 1920 x 1080 59.94i)
Minimum Illumination 0.14 lux (Typical)
1920 x 1080/59.94i mode, f/1.9, +18 dB gain, with 64-Frame Accumulation
Vertical Smear N/A
Built-in Filters OFF: Clear, 1: 1/8 ND, 2: 1/64 ND
LCD Monitor 3.5″, 16:9 Aspect Ratio, 921,000 Effective Pixels
Viewfinder 0.54″ Color/B&W, 16:9 Aspect Ratio, 1,226,000 Effective Pixels
Scan Matching Yes
Memory Card Slot ExpressCard/34
Shutter Speed Range 1/60-1/2000 sec + ECS
Slow Shutter (SLS): 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 16, 32 and 64-frame accumulation
Gain Selection -3, 0, 3, 6, 9, 12, 18dB, AGC
Maximum Recording Time 32GB
HQ: 100 min
SP/SD: 140 min
HQ: 50 min
SP/SD: 70 min8GB
HQ: 25 min
SP/SD: 35 min
Audio Dynamic Range 90dB
Audio Signal Format Linear PCM (2ch, 16-bit, 48-kHz)
Audio Frequency Response 20Hz to 20kHz, +3dB/-3dB
Signal to Noise Ratio Not Specified by Manufacturer
Input and Output Connectors Component: MiniD (x1 Output)
Composite: Phono via A/V Multi-Connector (x1 Output)
HD/SD-SDI: BNC (x1 Output)
HDMI: A-type (x1 Output)
Audio: XLR 3-Pin Female (x2 Input)
Audio: Phono via A/V Multi-Connector (x2 Output)
Speaker: Monaural (x1 Output) i.LINK: FireWire 4-Pin (x1 Input/Output)
USB: Mini-B
Headphone: Stereo Mini Jack (x1 Output)
Power Requirements 12VDC
Power Consumption 12.5W
Operating Temperature 32-104°F (0-40°C)
Dimensions (WxHxD) 7.13 x 7.9 x 12.25″ (17.9 x 19.9 x 30.8cm)
Weight 5.25 lbs (2.4kg)

Bottom Line
: Solid prosumer grade field production camcorder.  From what I’ve used so far, best pick in its class and price range.

Drive (2011) Review

1 02 2012

Copyright 2011 Bold FIlms

★ ★ ★ 1/2

Drive is an extremely stylized film that borrows heavily from two different, yet quite separate, eras of American cinema: the 1940s and the 1980s.  From the 1940s, the film borrowed heavy traits in its presentation from the popular film noir genre that was at its peak during this era; the soundtrack, filming style and titling attributes were all borrowed from 40 years later in the 1980s, giving off a very reminiscent feel to such films as De Palma’s Scarface.  However, as much as I appreciate high stylization for certain films, it does take more than that to be a truly great movie.

Ryan Gosling plays our unnamed hero, a part-time mechanic, part-time movie stunt driver and part-time driver for criminal activities.  When performing the latter, he has a very standard set of rules which he abides, that are not to be broken.  At the body shop, he works for a man named Shannon (Bryan Cranston), who assists him at times and has a history of being involved with criminals like Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Perlman).  Shannon enlists Rose’s help in the amount of $300,000 to fund a stock racing car idea, with Gosling’s character being the driver.  Around this same time, Gosling’s character meets his next door neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son Benicio (Kaden Leos).  He finds that she lives alone with her son because her husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) is in prison, and he and Irene develop a certain relationship together.  Upon Oscar’s return, Gosling character (wouldn’t this be easier if he had a name) finds out that Oscar was indebted to some guys from prison who are now threatening his life, as well as Irene and Benicio’s.  To help, Gosling’s character agrees to be the driver for a job that will clear Oscar of his debts and save Irene and Benicio.  Unfortunately, however, the job ends up going very wrong.

Directed by Nicholas Winding Refn, this film, as mentioned earlier, is highly stylized and the handling of the visuals works great for the type of picture it is.  Newton Thomas Sigel’s cinematography further helps to develop the polished look of the movie, and there many shots throughout that I was very impressed with.  I think in a lesser year for cinematography, Sigel would have had a good chance at getting a nomination for this film.  Yet, polished looks aside, the story only held my attention to a degree.  It was interesting and I liked the film alright, but it wasn’t spectacular by any means.  Gosling did a good job in the lead role, as did Albert Brooks.  Again, however, Brook’s adoration for his role as Bernie Rose is a bit overrated in my book.  Yes, it was a good performance, but it wasn’t anything to write home about; we’ve all seen that character before.

I can see how many people really loved this film, and I can see how some didn’t care for it at all.  My opinion falls somewhere in between; it was good, but I’ve seen a dozen films off the top of my head with the same basic elements that I thought were better.

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