Monday, February 27, 2012

Burning Questions from the 84th Annual Academy Awards

So I guess that whole banning Sacha Baron Cohen from the red carpet thing didn't exactly work out, did it?

And didn't Ryan Seacrest look thrilled?

Who would have ever thought the opening would feature Billy Crystal inserting himself into a montage of the year's Best Picture nominees?



Justin Bieber?


Wasn't Crystal in Tintin face slightly more disturbing than Crystal in Blackface?

Wasn't the segue from the pie-eating scene in The Help to the bathroom scene in Bridesmaids pretty clever?

Who would have thought Crystal would ever do a song and dance number?

Is there something to be said for not stepping out of your comfort zone?

Is it 1997?

No monologue?

Didn't the set actually look pretty good this year?

Why do I always seem to predict cinematography wrong every year?

Is it really THAT difficult a category?

That I feel more invested in the results since reviewing films be a viable reason why my predictions have gotten progressively worse over the years?

So how about J-Lo's dress?

Wardrobe malfunction?

Wouldn't it be great if we someday saw the return of serious actress Lopez who starred in Out of Sight, Anaconda and The Cell?

Did I just call Anaconda "serious?"

But compared to her recent work, isn't it?

How bad was that audio all night?

With its near sweep of the technical awards Hugo really had some momentum going there for a while didn't it?

Did that give its fans false hope it actually had a shot at the big prize?

Based on the clips, didn't the makeup for The Iron Lady actually look pretty bad?

Didn't the makeup in Albert Nobbs look even worse?

How about that standing O for Octavia Spencer?

How often does a film not nominated for Best Picture win film editing?

Weren't having clips of actors sharing their first movie memories a cool idea (at least on paper)?

Should Brad Pitt have offered up a spoiler warning before discussing War of the Gargantuas?

So Miss Piggy and Kermit introduce Cirque du Soleil but they can't find time to have the nominated Muppets song performed?

Wasn't it funny when Christopher Plummer pointed out that Oscar is only two years older than him?

Isn't it scary he's right?

How great was Crystal's dig following Academy president Tom Sherek's "speech?"

Bret McKenzie for "Man or Muppet"...most deserving win of the night?

Does Crystal's mind reading bit ever get old?

Especially when he's doing it to Nick Nolte?

Is Angelina Jolie okay?

Does it bother anyone else that Woody Allen no-shows when the Academy went out of their way to give him multiple nominations for an average film?

Why is it when Terrence Malick no-shows it adds to his mystique but with Allen it makes him look bitter and resentful?

We know these awards are ridiculous but would it really kill him to just once suck it up and graciously accept the praise of his peers?

Was Emma Stone (successfully) imitating Anne Hathaway's performance last year as host?

Was she the only presenter all night who was actually funny and charming?

Couldn't a case be made she deserved a nomination for The Help?

Weren't you glad the previous year's Best Director winner didn't announce this year's Best Director since no one remembers him?

Did you know it was Tom Hooper?


Wasn't the In Memoriam montage well done and classy this year?

Isn't it always a pleasure to be reminded that Esperanza Spalding beat Justin Bieber for the Best New Artist Grammy?

Natalie Portman had some work ahead of her with that Best Actor presentation, didn't see?

Didn't she do a good job?

Am I the only one who misses the five friends/colleagues personally addressing each Best Actor/Actress nominee?

Am I just saying that because I wanted Katie Holmes to appear and talk about Michelle Williams?

Would that have made the show for me?

And how exactly does Portman doing the work of of five people at the podium SAVE time? 

Given their connection with The Professional wouldn't it have been great to see her announce Gary Oldman as the winner?

Didn't Jean Dujardin have a Roberto Benigni/Cuba Gooding Jr. moment of excitement there toward the end of his speech?

Am I the only one hoping his post-Oscar career is significantly better than theirs?

How could it not be?

Didn't Clooney look legitimately happy for him?

Or was he just happy to be there with Stacy?

Given how her career's been going, should we just go ahead and reserve Michelle Williams and BFF Busy Phillips their front row seats at next year's Oscars now?

Did Colin Firth really need to remind everyone of Mama Mia?

Wasn't Meryl Streep spot-on when she imitated everyone's likely reaction to her winning?

Do I wish she would give her Oscar to its rightful owner Charlize Theron?

Did you know you can see for yourself when Young Adult hits DVD/Blu-ray on March 13?

How boring a year is it when Streep winning Best Actress is an "upset?"

Did this screw everyone up in their Oscar pools?

Are there even still Oscar pools?

Do you think voters realized Viola Davis' performance really belonged in the supporting category instead?

Has Tom Cruise aged in the past twenty years?

Is it ironic he was seriously considered for the role of Benjamin Button?

Wouldn't The Artist's catchy score make for a great ringtone? 

Given how much they played Mychael Danna's incredible score for Moneyball in the video packages all night, isn't it embarrassing it wasn't nominated?

Considering the year he had, wasn't it weird not seeing Ryan Gosling at the show?

Isn't it weirder he wasn't nominated?

After a really awkward start, didn't Crystal settle back into his role well?

Unlike Hathaway and Franco last year, doesn't it help when a host actually HOSTS the show?

Wasn't there something strangely reassuring about seeing him up there again?

Are you as excited as I am to not (mis)spell or (mis)pronounce Hazanavicius again for a while?

Should I just be relieved there couldn't have possibly been an injustice as big as The King's Speech winning over The Social Network last year?

Friday, February 24, 2012

2012 Oscar Predictions

Below are my predictions in all categories for the 84th Academy Awards airing Sunday. Since I haven't seen ALL of the nominees I'll dispense with the "should wins." I hesitate calling these "final" since it's  still possible I'll tinker with a few before Sunday night. But mostly, this is it. And just a reminder to those who may have missed my guest appearance on Dennis Has a Podcast, you can listen to a more detailed rundown and analysis of the various races by clicking here. As usual, I'll be posting my thoughts on the show on Monday.

(* predicted winner)

*"The Artist"
"The Descendants"
"Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close"
"The Help"
"Midnight in Paris"
"The Tree of Life"
"War Horse"

*Michel Hazanavicius ("The Artist")
Alexander Payne ("The Descendants")
Martin Scorsese ("Hugo")
Woody Allen "Midnight in Paris"
Terrence Malick ("The Tree of Life)

Demin Bichir in "A Better Life"
George Clooney in "The Descendants"
*Jean Dujardin in "The Artist"
Gary Oldman in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"
Brad Pitt in "Moneyball"

Kenneth Branagh in "My Week with Marilyn
Jonah Hill in "Moneyball"
Nick Nolte in "Warrior"
*Christopher Plummer in "Beginners"
Max von Sydow in "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close"

Glenn Close in "Albert Nobbs"
*Viola Davis in "The Help"
Rooney Mara in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"
Meryl Streep in "The Iron Lady"
Michelle Williams in "My Week with Marilyn"

Benice Bejo in "The Artist"
Jessica Chastain in "The Help"
Melissa McCarthy in "Bridesmaids"
Janet McTeer in "Albert Nobbs"
*Octavia Spencer in "The Help"

*"The Descendants"
"The Ides of March"
"Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"

"The Artist"
"Margin Call"
*"Midnight in Paris"
"A Separation"
"A Cat in Paris "
"Chico & Rita"
"Kung Fu Panda 2"
"Puss in Boots"

"The Artist"
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2"
"Midnight in Paris"
"War Horse"

*"The Artist"
"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"
"The Tree of Life"
"War Horse"

*"The Artist"
"Jane Eyre"

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

"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"

*"The Artist"
"The Descendants"
"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

"In Darkness"
"Monsieur Lazhar"
*"A Separation"

"Albert Nobbs"
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2"
*"The Iron Lady"

"The Adventures of Tintin"
*"The Artist"
"Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"
"War Horse"

*"Man or Muppet" from "The Muppets"
"Real in Rio"from "Rio"

*"The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore"
"La Luna"
"A Morning Stroll"
"Wild Life"

"The Shore"
"Time Freak"
*"Tuba Atlantic"

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"
"War Horse"

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"
"Transformers: Dark of the Moon"
"War Horse"

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2" Tim Burke, David Vickery, Greg Butler and John Richardson
"Real Steel"
*"Rise of the Planet of the Apes"
"Transformers: Dark of the Moon"

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Artist

Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Starring: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, Uggie, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Missi Pyle, Penelope Ann Miller, Malcolm McDowell, Beth Grant
Running Time: 100 min.
Rating: PG-13
★★★ ½ (out of ★★★★)
The exact moment when The Artist becomes really interesting arrives when silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) puts down a glass and it actually makes a sound. Up until then it's the first noise we hear other than the film's bouncy musical score. Then his dog Jack (Uggie) barks. Actresses walk by giggling. Valentin screams in frustration but he can't make a sound as the whole sequence plays out like a scene from The Twilight Zone. This nightmare quickly becomes reality for Valentin as Kinograph Studios' boss Al Zimmer (John Goodman) announces that the advent of "talkies" have led to them halting production on silent films and his services are no longer needed. Watching, it's hard not to think of actors being replaced by computer graphics and motion capture in an age of 3D technology, older actresses being marginalized in an industry that worships youth and, of course, the current economic crisis. Despite the old fashioned approach, it's surprising just how fresh and relevant it all seems, and while it's frequently funny, it's also a bit deeper than you'd expect. 

It's out with the old and in with the new as Valentin suddenly finds himself out of work, replaced with a new generation of fresh faces at Kinograph. The freshest is Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) an energetic young actress accidentally discovered by Valentin at one of his premieres. As the stock market crashes in 1929 and The Great Depression hits, her star rises fast while he's forced to finance his own silent films, which flop. Kicked out by his wife Doris (Penelope Ann Miller) he's forced to declare bankruptcy, auction off all his belongings and even fire his loyal valet Clifton (James Cromwell). Other than his dog, the one willing to help is Peppy, if only Valentin can somehow swallow his pride and let her before he hits rock bottom.

The big question is whether the film would attract this much attention if it wasn't silent and in black and white, but that's mostly irrelevant since director Michel Hazanavicius didn't just take any old material and tell it in this style for kicks. It's about a specific era and technology and he's using that technology to tell the story it so it can hardly be considered a gimmick. There is sound aside from Ludovic Bource's score (which drew some controversy for incorporating a portion of Bernard Herrmann's work from Hitchcock's Vertigo) but it's carefully placed at key moments related to the story, making its impact that much greater. It's not every day you see get to see a contemporary silent film on the big screen so it does take a couple of minutes to get used to the somewhat jarring effect of seeing contemporary actors in this setting.

You could only imagine the effect if the actors were huge, recognizable names so its helps American audiences are relatively unfamiliar with Dujardin and Bejo and the rest of the cast is rounded out with solid supporting players like Goodman, Miller (who shares a great Citizen Kane-inspired breakfast scene with Dujardin), Missi Pyle, James Cromwell and Malcolm McDowell. All actors who can slide into any environment, a useful skill here in contributing to the feeling we're actually watching a movie from that era.With no dialogue there's added pressure on the acting, so with his matinee idol looks that recall Clark Gable or Douglas Fairbanks, Dujardin's not only a perfect physical match for the part, he tells the entire story on his face and with his movements. At one point, Valentin's silent movie acting is disparagingly referred to as "mugging" which is funny considering what Dujardin does here is anything but. You'll gain a new appreciation of how screen acting so often transcends dialogue and the best moments in a screenplay can be found in between the lines, brought to life by the actor.

It's somewhat ironic Dujardin's competing against George Clooney in the Best Actor race considering that he's essentially playing a suicidal version of Clooney if he were exiled from the industry and lost everything. Given Valentin's movie star charisma and nice guy likability it's too tempting not to draw the comparison. Bejo is charming, lighting up the scenes she shares with Dujardin, as well as all the ones she doesn't. And as someone who always has trouble winking, I could also appreciate she has one the best winks I've ever seen. But the most memorable performance just might come from Uggie the dog, the Jack Russell Terrier who seems to display a whole range of emotions that go way beyond merely performing tricks and being obedient. He makes a good case for an honorary animal Oscar.

This runs 100 minutes and that's just enough. Any longer would have felt too long, but the highest compliment just might be that anyone uninterested in silent films would lose themselves in the story without realizing they were watching one. Say what you want about the Academy Awards, but they rarely ever nominate garbage. How this holds up will be determined by time, which hasn't been kind to Best Picture winners in the past. But at least it'll still be fun to see the stunned looks on people's faces years later when they're told the year this was released. The movie doesn't feel like a dated relic from a bygone era and tackles nostalgia on a deeper level than Woody Allen's far slighter Midnight in Paris by actually exploring what it's about. As the biggest silent star of the '20's, Valentin thinks he's untouchable and this sound thing is just a fad, an idea that can almost be considered as crazy as releasing a silent black and white film in 2011. But it's not much the idea that Hazanavicius could do this that's crazy, but rather that any studio would agree to release it and expect success. The Artist is a lot of things, but safe isn't one of them.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Dennis Has a Podcast: Jeremy The Critic (2012 Oscar Preview)

My good friend Dennis of Dennis Has a Podcast was kind enough to invite me on as his guest to preview the 2012 Oscars airing this Sunday. This marked my first podcast guest appearance in over three years and it was a blast. We talked predictions, snubs, potential surprises and even found time for Kevin Costner.

Listen here (50:33)

....And be sure to check out Dennis' blog where you can catch up on fantastic previous episodes covering everything from sports and comedy to politics. You can also follow him on Twitter (@dmoneymania) and Tumblr (

Friday, February 10, 2012

The 10 Best Alternative Drive Movie Posters

Conspicuously absent from my annual post highlighting 2011's best and worst movie posters was the critically adored Drive, a film many (including myself) would rank amongst the very best of the year. Never an easy sell and seemingly destined for cult classic status from the start, its commercial failure could be chalked up to the studio just simply not knowing what they had, or at least being able to articulate it in a manner that would entice audiences to see it. The result was a confused print campaign featuring a Ryan Gosling-centric character poster that strangely misrepresents and epitomizes the film's retro style all at the same time. It's not terrible, but good luck finding it hanging anywhere other than a teen girl's bedroom. Another one clumsily repositioned it as some kind of lost entry in the Fast and Furious franchise and its DVD/Blu-Ray cover art is just flat-out embarrassing, not to mention inaccurate (the scorpion's not on the front of the jacket!). So artists and fans came up with designs of their own and I've rounded up the best ones below, with a top pick so extraordinary it was wisely approved by the studio for release as an official poster for the film. Whatever anyone thinks of the movie, it's impossible to deny its iconic images and motifs inspired some really creative designs. Wherever possible I've tried to include links to the artists and their work, some of which is available for purchase.

10. by Peter Gagic

9. by Rich Andrews (Empire Design)

8. by Vincent Gabriele

7. by Mike Horowitz

6. by Louis Fernando Cruz

5. by Louis Fernando Cruz

4. by Cory Schmitz

3. by Phil Noto

2. by Ken Taylor

 *Downloadable Blu-Ray Cover
 1. by James White (Signal Noise Studio)


by Cory Schmitz

by Cory Schmitz

by Vincent Gabriele
by Louis Fernando Cruz

by Scott Hopko (Hopko Designs)

by Adri Ncde

by Timo Lessmollmann
by Edward B.G.
by Masse Hjeltman

by Pierrot Neron

 by Drew Wise

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Best (and Worst) Movie Posters of 2011

It's funny how every year I do this list (and apologies for the tardiness this time) I plan on posting just the ten best and before long the entire page is filled with images and explanations. And here I was thinking this was actually one of the weaker years for posters. Maybe not. Here's the best and worst of 2011:

10. (Tie)

The Devil's Double

I had literally no clue what this film even was before seeing the poster (the title refers to the man chosen for the job of "body double" for Uday Hussein, the playboy son of Saddam). Knowing that, this image makes a lot more sense, in addition to an all gold poster just looking incredibly cool. 

We Need To Talk About Kevin

Or rather, we need to talk about how creative this poster is. There's nothing wrong with using classic movie posters as your inspiration provided it's done well and it really doesn't get much better than this Rosemary's Baby-esque design. From the devil tail on the sonogram to the old school book jacket style, this is top notch, selling it as pure horror instead of drama. And from everything I've heard about the film, that may not be a misrepresentation. 

9. Martha Marcy May Marlene

It was between this and the other QR Code-inspired MMMM poster (see runners-up below), but I far prefer this one. Really clever using the overlapping images and dreamlike photography to reflect the film's themes. Not sure if all that text is necessary but everything else is so visually arresting it hardly matters.

8. Hesher
Part of another great set of posters (see the teaser below) and the most attention-grabbing of the bunch. Looks like a vintage Metallica vinyl record cover, complete with the band's title font. If you've seen the movie (and if not you should) you'll appreciate this even more as it perfectly captures the anarchism of the title character. Nice touch with the cigarette burns. 

7. Meek's Cutoff

Didn't like the movie, but LOVE the poster. How often do you see a woodcut-style design for a film poster? My only worry is that people may check out the movie based on it and be disappointed it isn't quite as bad-ass as this.

6. Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Kind of resembles a WWE D-Generation X poster...starring an Ape. It might also be the first time a hashtag is prominently featured instead of the actual title. Yet somehow it's still very clear what the movie is. Bravest design of the year.

5. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Should I post the censored version? The uncensored version? I settled for the one in between. This advanced teaser (which seemed to appear no where outside the internet or overseas) caused a lot of controversy when it leaked. But it got your attention and generated interest which is exactly what movie posters should do. Shock value doesn't always work, but in this case it definitely did.

4. Haywire

This is for a movie technically released in 2012, but its art house style poster dropped in 2011 so I'm counting it. This comes from Neil Kellerhouse, the artist who designed some of the best prints of the past decade, and while I wouldn't rank this as high as those it's still among the more impressive and interesting of the year. It effectively plays up the sex and violence with a Blow-Up-inspired image depicting the most memorable scene of the film.

3. Shame
I'm starting to notice a trend here. How do you sell an NC-17 film about a sex addict? I have no idea. Which is what makes this poster so impressive. They somehow answered that question. You just let it sell itself. Those who know about the movie will think the striking, lonely image of crumpled bedsheets makes perfect sense, while those who don't will be intrigued enough to want to know more. Perfect.

2. Young Adult

A brilliant film gets an equally brilliant poster to go along with it. The idea of having the poster double as a YA book cover in honor of its (anti-) heroine is really inspired and the execution is even better. All the details like the "Jason Reitman" seal and creases in the corner prove the designers gave as much attention to this poster as Reitman and Diablo Cody gave to their tragicomedy, which was easily 2011's most criminally underrated film.

1. The Ides of March

Once again George Clooney stars (or at least co-stars) in the year's best poster. The guy must be doing something right if all his movies are not only being touted for awards consideration, but their posters are also topping "best of" lists. Featuring the two acting MVP's of 2011, this is a fresh, inspired twist on the usually stale concept of plastering stars' faces and heads on the page. The best posters are ones that can convey multiple meanings and given that Ryan Gosling plays press secretary to George Clooney's Presidential candidate this is a clever visual play on how a person's identity can be lost in someone else. And I haven't even seen the movie yet. Who knew those two looked so much alike?



The Best Unofficial Movie Poster of 2011

If only the actual movie were as captivating as this Drew Struzan-inspired 80's throwback poster implies. A mixed bag if there ever was one, J.J. Abrams' Super 8 was 2011's most strangely disappointing (but at times oddly entertaining) blockbuster. Anyone looking for a reason why it didn't completely succeed should just stare at this image. While the movie managed to capture only the superficial pleasures of early Spielberg, this poster looks and feels like the real deal. 

And The Worst...
The alternate Fassbender version is just as bad, but something about the silhouette of the wheelchair superimposed with the floating MacAvoy head gives this one the edge.

Tom Cruise just dropped a new hip hop album.

One of Quentin Tarantino's favorite movies of 2011. No, seriously.

The Spy Kids posters are always an eyesore but this takes it to a new level. Haven't we all been waiting for 4D Aroma-Scope?

A close call between this and the Spanish version. Very close.

You knew this would show up here. Much like the film, it doesn't even seem like they're trying.

I was almost tempted to put this on the "best" list because at least it bothers to be hilariously awful and entertainingly over-the-top. Complete with photoshopped cash that's likely more than the film's box office total. No one can claim this doesn't capture the movie's spirit. For better or worse. Would you let that man chaperone a school trip?

What does that title even mean? Forget it. I don't want to know.

Nothing "cool" about this. This kind of looks like Community: The Movie if Community was, you know, unfunny and went straight to DVD. What's on Sean Astin's head? 

What would this list be without the inclusion of the ubiquitous Nicolas Cage, who at one time not only starred in quality movies, but quality posters. This one looks like an ad for a wax museum.