Cole Smithey Predicts the 2013 Oscars
Ah, the glorious flaws of democracy! As a film critic, I learned long ago to abandon any sense of personal investment in the conclusions drawn by Academy Award voters about the most deserving participants in the seventh arts. As in every previous year, the 85th annual list of Oscar nominations comprises its share of clunkers — “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” glaring omissions — “The Turin Horse,” “Killing Them Softly,” and “Rust and Bone” are nowhere to be found — and blatant filler — “Argo” and “Sliver Linings Playbook” aren’t exactly the stuff of classic cinema.
Still, everyone loves to take a shot at second-guessing the results hidden in those carefully sealed envelopes come Oscar night — February 24th at 7pm Eastern Standard Time.
Of the nominations for Best Motion Picture, you can rest assured that Quentin Tarantino’s genre masterpiece “Django Unchained” will remain unfettered by the weight of any stinking award.
“Zero Dark Thirty” is too politically larded to charm the average notoriously elderly Academy voter. “Argo” tips the same scales, albeit with significantly less dramatic weight.
“Beasts of the Southern Wild” is far too kooky for a win in any of its three categories (Best Film, Best Directing, or Best Actress). How it scored an Academy nomination with its indefensible resort to child abuse is a mystery.
As for “Les Misérables,” suffice it to say it’s no “Cabaret.”
“Sliver Linings Playbook” contains some respectable performances, but has all of the narrative impact of a half-dose of Alka Selter.
With its ten nominations in various categories “Life of Pi” will receive its share of little gold statues; Best Picture won’t be one of them.
That leaves us flipping a coin between “Amour” and “Lincoln.” I’m putting my dime on Michael Haneke’s “Amour.” I forgot about “Lincoln” by the next day except for the fact that the movie painted its racist subject as some kind of humanitarian. Cough. Yet I’m still savoring the wellspring of emotions that “Amour” stirred up.
The Achievement in Directing award should go to either Ang Lee for “Life of Pi,” or to Michael Haneke for “Amour.” But logic based on the past dictates that it go to Michael Haneke alongside his statue for Best Picture.
Benh Zeitlin (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”) and David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook”) will go home empty-handed. That said, Steven Spielberg is likely to be the one making a speech for his Academy no-brainer “Lincoln.” A cold glass of irony will sit between Tarantino and Spielberg for their vastly different depictions of slavery in the South. Tarantino’s version is a damn sight more cathartic and, oddly, more accurate.
Daniel Day-Lewis is a shoe-in for the Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role prize even if Hugh Jackman is more deserving for his superb work on “Les Misérables.” The Academy could surprise everyone and give it to Jackman. After all, the Oscars are all about the surprises, and this year will have its share.
Bradley Cooper (“Silver Linings Playbook”), Denzel Washington (“Flight”), and Joaquin Phoenix (“The Master”) will look great in their seats — well, Cooper and Washington will look elegant in their seats. Joaquin Phoenix will just look uncomfortable and out of place.
I’d be bemused if not entirely surprised if Emmanuelle Riva didn’t win an Oscar for Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for her overwhelming work in “Amour.” Her performance stands heads and shoulders above all of the competition — Jennifer Lawrence (“Silver Linings Playbook”), Jessica Chastain (“Zero Dark Thirty”), Naomi Watts (“The Impossible”), and Quvenzhané Wallis (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”).
The Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role honor will likely go to Robert De Niro (“Silver Linings Playbook”) because it’s the first bit of respectable acting De Niro has done in recent memory.
Personally, I’m blinded by Christoph Waltz’s expansive gifts in “Django Unchained.” I’d put my money on Waltz because, well, it is my money after all, and I know consummate acting when I see it. If you put Waltz and De Niro at the same party, I know which man I’d want to spend a few hours talking to.
Tommy Lee Jones suffered from a poorly written part in “Lincoln” that left audiences scratching their heads. Alan Arkin’s lighthearted efforts in “Argo” come across as throwaway because that’s how his part was designed — I’d still watch Alan Arkin read from a phone book and love every second of it. Phillip Seymour Hoffman sadly seemed like he was reading from a phone book in Paul Thomas Anderson’s hollow excuse for a movie “The Master.” More filler.
Things get interesting in the Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role category. Helen Hunt went over the moon in “The Sessions,” and really does deserve to receive the honor for her transparent portrayal of a sex therapist. Sally Field lit up “Lincoln” with some much needed female energy. Anne Hathaway gave an indisputably powerful performance in "Les Misérables." Less deserving are Amy Adams (“The Master”) and Jacki Weaver (“Silver Linings Playbook”). Remember what I said about filler. The Academy will give the prize to Sally Field.
The Best Animated Feature Film category is crammed with worthy rivals. Tim Burton’s exquisite “Frankenweenie” sits agreeably alongside “ParaNorman,” ”The Pirates! Band of Misfits,” and ”Wreck-It Ralph” — “Brave,” not so much. I’d like to see the Academy give the award to ”The Pirates! Band of Misfits,” but I wouldn’t grouse if it went to any of the other nominees — except for “Brave.”
Original Screenplay is the one place where Wes Anderson [and his co-writer Roman Coppola] could win the limelight for “Moonrise Kingdom.”
Nonetheless, I believe the Academy will hand over the victory to Michael Haneke for “Amour.”
Obviously, Quentin Tarantino is the correct choice for the prize, but I don’t get the sense that the Academy is ready to welcome him into their club just yet. Not that it matters much since Tarantino already hit the international high watermark when he won the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or in 1994 for “Pulp Fiction.” The Academy is always a few decades behind.
John Gatins (“Flight”) and Mark Boal (”Zero Dark Thirty”) will be left to drown their sorrow in after-party vodka rather than champagne.
The squishy category of Adapted Screenplay will likely find favor for David Magee, whose ”Life of Pi” hits every grace note of religious predisposition Academy members lean toward.
It still wouldn’t be a surprise for Chris Terrio to get his chance to shout out thanks from the Oscar stage for his sugary script version for “Argo.”
“Beasts of the Southern Wild” (Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar), the historically dubious ”Lincoln” (Tony Kushner) and ”Silver Linings Playbook” (David O. Russell) will be left to parlay their Oscar nominations into future projects.
The Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar should be a cakewalk for Austria’s “Amour.” Other contenders include “A Royal Affair” (Denmark), “No” (Chile), War Witch (Canada), and Kontiki (Norway).
Hands down, the Original Score Oscar should go to the redoubtable Thomas Newman for “Skyfall.” The other nominees are “Anna Karenina” (Dario Marianelli), ”Argo” (Alexandre Desplat), ”Life of Pi” (Mychael Danna), and ”Lincoln” (John Williams).
Look for “Skyfall” to also take the Original Song trophy. Of the nominees, “Skyfall” is the only one that audiences will want to sit through, if nothing else to be wowed by the always mesmerizing Adele.
Rival contenders include: "Before My Time" (by J. Ralph for “Chasing Ice”), "Everybody Needs a Best Friend" (by Walter Murphy and Seth McFarlane for “Ted”), "Pi's Lullaby" (by Mychael Danna and Bombay Jayashri for “Life of Pi”), "Suddenly" (by Claude-Michel Schönberg, Herbert Kretzmer and Alain Boulil for “Les Misérables”).
“Life of Pi” will take the prize for Achievement in Production Direction. “Anna Karenina,” ”The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” ”Les Misérables,” and “Lincoln” just don’t have as much visual oomph.
The Achievement in Cinematography Oscar should go to Roger Deakins for “Skyfall.” But “Life of Pi” (Claudio Miranda) could run away with the prize.
The other nominees are: "Anna Karenina” (Seamus McGarvey), “Django Unchained” (Robert Richardson,” and ”Lincoln” (Janusz Kaminski).
The Achievement in Costume Design statue will be handed to Jacqueline Durran for her great work on “Anna Karenina.”
Paco Delgado (“Les Misérables”), Joanna Johnston (“Lincoln”), Eiko Ishioka (“Mirror Mirror”), and Colleen Atwood (“Snow White and the Huntsman”) have nothing on Jacqueline Durran.
The best-kept secret of the Oscars is the documentary category. The exclusion of Ken Burns’s “The Central Park Five” and Amy Berg’s “West of Memphis” are great oversights on the part of the Academy. “The Invisible War” deserves to take the Oscar considering the competition, but the Academy will likely present the award to the feel-good documentary “Searching for Sugar Man." The other contenders are: “5 Broken Cameras,” “The Gatekeepers,” and “How to Survive a Plague.”
Best Documentary Short Subject is the category that trips everyone up because hardly any of the public has seen any of the offerings. Sean and Andrea Nix Fine’s “Inocente” — about a young homeless artist — is a shoe-in. The other nominees include “Kings Point,” ”Mondays at Racine," “Open Heart," and "Redemption.”
“Life of Pi” is a lock for the Achievement in Film Editing Oscar, though “Zero Dark Thirty” could squeak out its only prize of the night in this category. “Argo,” “Lincoln,” and “Silver Linings Playbook” don’t stand a chance.
The Achievement in Makeup & Hairstyling trophy should and probably will go to “Hitchcock.” “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” and “Les Misérables” are the other noms.
The glory of the Best Animated Short Film Oscar presents one of the most beguiling guessing games the Academy plays. Look for Walt Disney’s “Paperman” to walk away with this one. The other nominees are “Adam and Dog,” ”Fresh Guacamole,” ”Head Over Heels,” and Maggie Simpson in "The Longest Daycare."
The category for Best Live-Action Short Film seemingly exists only to tack another five minutes to an already overlong Oscar ceremony. Look for “Death of a Shadow” to walk away with the Oscar. “Asad,” ”Buzkashi Boys,” ”Curfew Death,” and ”Henry” comprise the rest of the candidates.
It’s bizarre to imagine that Academy voters have the slightest clue about what fulfills the demands of the Achievement in Sound Editing category. On first blush a movie like “Zero Dark Thirty” would seem to have the requisite amount of woof and whistle to secure an Oscar from Academy voters who don’t know that “Life of Pi” is the title that most deserves the win. “Django Unchained,” “Skyfall,” and “Argo” make up the rest of the films considered in this category.
Common sense dictates that the “Achievement in Sound Mixing” Oscar go to the same film as won the Sound Editing award. Really, it’s just an excuse to give out another trophy to a movie that didn’t get a win in the previous category. Look for “Les Misérables” to get its just reward here. The other films considered for “Sound Mixing” are “Argo,” ”Life of Pi,” ”Lincoln,” and ”Skyfall.”
If you’ve made it this far into my predictions for the 85th annual Academy Awards, you probably feel like you’ve sat through three hours of backslapping and brownnosing. The Achievement in Visual Effects Oscar should and will go to Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi.” Don’t get me started on the other nominees — “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” “Marvel's The Avengers,” ”Prometheus,” ”Snow White and the Huntsman.” I could talk all night.Tweet
Cole Smithey’s Top Ten Films of 2012
2012 was an extremely eventful year in cinema. Expanded distribution channels meant more film titles being released than ever before. The growth of Video-on-Demand allowed movie audiences to avoid audience members who can’t refrain from talking, texting, or chatting on their cell phones while watching a film at the local cinema. An explosion of terrific foreign, independent, and documentary films gave Hollywood a run for its formulaic models of over-produced “movie-product.”
I’m obligated to throw stones at my ten most loathed movies of the year. Try as I might to avoid clunkers, I did manage to squander precious hours of my life on the following travesties of the seventh art.
The worst films of 2012:
10. The Master
8. The Paperboy
6. The Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning
5. Citizen Gangster
4. Tonight You’re Mine
3. Red Dawn
2. Beasts of the Southern Wild
1. Beyond the Black Rainbow
The best films of 2012:
10. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylon uses every shaded detail of time, atmosphere, human condition, and verbal and non-verbal communication to tell a quietly complex story about a murder investigation and the imperfect methods of the men assigned to solve the crime. At night Doctor Cemal accompanies a group of police officers and a soldier as they drive around the dark outskirts of the Anatolian steppe. The group has with them two incarcerated suspects they hope will lead them to the grave of a missing man. The story is about how detectives communicate. It’s also about how entrusted public servants wrangle with overpowering emotions and personal secrets. Nuri Bilge Ceylon is a lover of humanity. His great concern for every one of his characters goes beyond their innocence or guilt. He recognizes the balance of both qualities in their actions. The cinema of Nuri Bilge Ceylon is a transformative one. It is unique and honest. Most significantly, it offers a rare experience to be treasured.
9. Killer Joe
William Friedkin's dark, funny, and sexy black comedy is a triumph. “Killer Joe” makes “Fargo” seem like a rom-com. The "Exorcist" director once again works with source material by playwright/screenwriter Tracy Letts — the author responsible for Friedkin’s cool 2006 psychological thriller “Bug.” Mathew McConaughey explores his assassin character with calculated vengeance. Killer Joe is a natty Dallas detective who moonlights as a hitman. Joe gets called into action by the Smith family, a batch of trailer-trash nimrods that includes dumb-as-a-stump dad Ansel (Thomas Haden Church), his current wife Sharla (Gina Gershon), his gambler/drug-dealer son Chris (Emile Hirsch), and his sultry teen daughter Dottie (Juno Temple). For all of its nail-biting sensuality and quicksilver violence, Friedkin is smart about what he leaves to the viewer’s imagination. He concocts a black comedy stew of blood clots, torn panties, and hard-hitting slapstick humor.
“Skyfall” divides three distinct acts as individual homages to specific aspects of the franchise. The first act is a nod to the leaner and grittier modern James Bond — as exquisitely played by Daniel Craig. He’s a first-rate action movie actor. This time around, Bond has to return to work after being thought dead for several years. He’s been off playing civilian — i.e., drinking a lot of booze. A computer-hacking genius villain named Silva launches an attack on Her Majesty’s Secret Service’s — with M (played by the irrepressible Judi Dench) in the crosshairs. Javier Bardem introduces the film’s second act as Silva, an effeminate villain busy revealing the identities of NATO undercover agents embedded in terrorist organizations. The third act provides a retro vantage point. Bond pulls his trusty 1964 Aston Martin (circa Sean Connery's "Goldfinger") out of the garage, and treats the audience to a gloomy bit of nostalgia-defying action set in the Scottish mansion where James Bond lived as a boy when his parents died. Bond says he “never did like the place.” One thing's for sure, it won't be the same when his enemies are through with it.
7. The Central Park Five
Witness the sordid handling of the notorious “Central Park Jogger” case. An April 19, 1989 brutal beating and rape of a twentysomething white woman led to the railroading of five teenagers, all members of minority groups, whose convictions were eventually vacated — but only after serving more than 41 combined years in prison. Ken Burns’s reputation as one of our era's finest documentarians informs the film’s airtight veracity. Burns made “The Central Park Five” with his daughter Sarah and her filmmaker husband David McMahon, a frequent contributor to Burns’s films. No effort is spared to expose the misconduct and complicity of New York City police detectives, prosecuting attorneys — you’ll never buy another Linda Fairstein novel — media outlets, political figures, and such racist fringe celebs as Donald Trump. Careers were made; justice be damned. The city of New York still has not settled the case to make the wrongfully convicted men whole. Each man is suing the city for $50 million in damages. In Ken Burns’s words, “After 13 years of justice denied – which everyone agrees on — there’s suddenly now justice delayed, which we know is just justice denied.” Justice, as many wrongly accused Americans can attest, is not what we do here in the trademarked “land of the free.”
6. Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai
Takashi Miike’s update of Masaki Kobayashi’s black-and-white 1962 film “Harakiri” never so much as brushes a wrong note. The setting is Japan’s 17th century feudal Edo period — a peaceful era without much need for samurai warriors. Hanshiro, an impoverished ronin, approaches the local samurai lord — Kageyu — to request use of the House of Li’s courtyard to commit seppuku to lend a warrior’s finish to his dishonorable state. Hanshiro’s request is met with cold contempt. Kageyu tells in flashback the story of another samurai — Motome — who came with a similar request the previous week. In the sequence, Kageyu’s assistant Omodaka warns his master that he suspects the man of attempting a “suicide bluff” in order to procure money. Once situated in the courtyard, Motome is assigned a second, a witness, and an attendant. Realizing his dire condition, Motome begs for one more day, or even a few hours, to leave and return before carrying out his bloody mission. His desperate appeal is refused. When he is finished telling the story, Kageyu offers Hanshiro to give up his request and leave without incident; Hanshiro refuses, and insists on following through with his ritual suicide. What follows is all of the backstory behind Motome’s decision to attempt a suicide-bluff, and his relationship to the unwavering Hanshiro. “Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai” is a stunner from start to finish.
5. Rust and Bone
A tour de force by any standard, Jacques Audiard’s convention-breaking romantic drama is one more example of how French filmic storytelling rises above the fray of Hollywood’s forced efforts. Audiard meticulously examines a complex love story between Alain (Matthias Schoenaerts), a single father who boxes in an underground circuit in Cannes, and Stephanie (Marion Cotillard), a killer whale trainer at a waterpark park who loses her legs in a freak accident involving one of the giant creatures. Matthias Schoenaerts makes for an empathetic anti-hero in spite of, and due to, his character’s honest but guarded nature. The film’s thought-provoking title evokes the strange compatibility linking Alain and Stephanie, two unlikely lovers who develop a unique romantic bond. Based on a novel by Craig Davidson, “Rust and Bone” is an in-depth character study that never telegraphs its motivations. The provocative sexual component of the couple’s relationship helps the drama earn its stripes. Look for “Rust and Bone” to be a contender for a foreign entry at the Oscars.
4. Django Unchained
Campy, funny, shocking, and seeping with sardonic social commentary, “Django Unchained” is Quentin Tarantino’s finest film to date. The madness of slavery, the ultimate expression of racism, hangs thick in the air of the American South circa 1858. In customary revenge-plot fashion, Tarantino establishes the nimble bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (brilliantly played by Christoph Waltz) as the kind of guy who can get himself out of any situation. The retired dentist “purchases” freedom from slavery for Django (Jamie Foxx) in order to assist Schultz in identifying a trio of brothers named Brittle whose heads carry a hefty reward. Django proves more than qualified to hunt down and kill slave-owners. Working together as a team, Dr. Schultz and Django craft a complex plan to free Django’s enslaved wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from the clutches of Leonardo DiCaprio’s evil plantation owner Calvin Candie. “Candyland” is the name of Mr. Candie’s plantation, where he cultivates “Mandingo” slave warriors who fight to the death. Tarantino’s plot acrobatics have never seemed silkier — or bloodier. Blood doesn’t just splatter — intestines explode from bodies. As with all of Tarantino’s films, “Django Unchained” is filled with spellbinding dialogue and crazy plot twists. Movie lovers rejoice; Q.T. is back in the house.
3. The Turin Horse
At the relatively young age of 56, Bela Tarr announced he would retire after the completion of his eighth feature film, “The Turin Horse.” The anti-narrative picks up after an apocryphal event on January 3, 1889 in Turin, Italy, when the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche came to the defense of a stubborn carriage horse being brutally whipped by its driver in a piazza. As folklore goes, the sobbing Nietzsche wrapped his arms around the elderly horse’s neck in order to protect it from the enraged driver before the philosopher fell to the ground. Within a few weeks Nietzsche became mentally ill and was mute for the last ten years of his life, which he spent in the care of his mother and sisters. “The Turin Horse” is an existential provocation to its audience, demanding that we consider the effect of man’s judgments against nature and ultimately against ourselves. The film’s repeated visual, musical, and thematic motifs make it simultaneously transparent and opaque.
2. Killing Them Softly
Andrew Dominik’s cold-blooded satire of American corporate-political-capitalism cuts through its subject like a freshly sharpened guillotine blade. Economic metaphors big and small fill the narrative about gangster vengeance set in 2008. Dominik based the script on a George V. Higgins novel — see Peter Yates’s “The Friends of Eddie Coyle.” “Killing Them Softly” is a stylish crime drama made up of piercing monologues and canny dialogue that reverberates with social implications. Nothing is wasted. People and places are appropriately ugly. Every performance is spot-on. That the film so effectively lashes out at economic hypocrisy in America is truly rewarding. Here is a one-movie revolution against all of the corporate-controlled two-party bullshit that has turned America into a third-world dictatorship. Brilliant is too soft a word to describe it.
Michael Haneke’s elegiac exploration of an elderly couple’s final days together transcends all definition of the romantic ideal. Retired music teachers Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) rarely leave the comfort of their spacious Parisian apartment. Anne suffers a stroke that leaves Georges as her primary caregiver. A second attack leaves Anne barely able to communicate with her long-adoring husband. The tenderness and fire in Trintignant’s and Riva’s portrayals occurs with a quietly operatic significance. The brutality of nature is a mutual enemy that the characters struggle to command. A pigeon that flies into the apartment through a courtyard window is a tragic metaphor that informs Georges’s sense of personal justice. “Amour” is an incredibly intimate movie that provides a priceless definition of romantic commitment and loyalty.
Honorable mention for their teriffic efforts goes to:
Compliance (Craig Zobel)
Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson)
Searching for Sugar Man (Malik Bendjelloul)
The Invisible War (Kirby Dick)
Let the Bullets Fly (Wen Jiang)
Klown (Mikkel Nørgaard)
Cole Smithey's Fall 2012 Movie Preview
Autumn is the best season for moviegoers. Oscar-bait movies from all corners of foreign, independent, documentaries, and of course Hollywood, are pitted against one another in an ever more crowded series of weekly release windows than usual. Choosing ten must-see movies for audiences to mark on their calendars is like shooting fish in a barrel – albeit some incredibly large fish in a very big barrel. Some lower-profile films, such as Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master” (September 14), David Ayer’s “End of Watch” (September 21), or Andrew Dominik’s “Killing Them Softly” (October 19) didn’t quite make the list but are definitely worth checking out.
Sharpen those pencils and get out your calendar. Here we go.
Although he said he’d given up acting for good after “Gran Torino” (2008) Clint Eastwood returns to the big screen for what could actually be his last performance. Eastwood plays Gus, an ailing legendary baseball scout whose eyesight isn’t what it used to be. Gus brings along his adult daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) on a road trip to Atlanta to help him get a look a prospective player. Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Matthew Lillard, and Clint’s son Scott Eastwood star in this auspicious family drama. If you’re a Clint Eastwood fan, you don’t want to miss the master in action.
Tim Burton brings his trademark creepy and ghoulish style of animation to bear in his latest effort. In a movie about a boy and his recently deceased dog, young Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) has a plan to bring little “Sparky” back to life. The trouble is that Victor’s reanimated version of Sparky isn’t exactly the same canine he was before he died — he’s more of a monster dog. Burton’s classically composed stop-motion black-and-white animation pays homage to James Whale’s original “Frankenstein.” Burton also references other classic horror films such as David Lynches “Eraserhead.” Keep your ears peeled for vocal performances by Martin Landau, Christopher Lee, Martin Short, and Winona Ryder. [In a whispering aside] “FrankenWeenie” could just be the best animated movie of the year.
You’ve got your Brad Pitt. You’ve got your James Gandolfini. The endlessly watchable actors star in “Killing Them Softly” as hired assassins. Writer-director Andrew Dominik (“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”) oversees the action. The setting is post-Katrina New Orleans. Pitt plays Jackie Cogan, a prudent hitman working in economically depressed America. The media might not admit we’re in a Depression, but it’s taken as fact in the movie. Jackie has to call in for reinforcement in the guise of Gandolfini’s killer Mickey to assist with a double killing that needs doing. All nuance, social commentary, and neo-noir style, Domink’s movie is based on Geroge V. Higgins’s 1974 novel. Higgins is big in the cult movie fan club for writing “The Friends of Eddie Coyle.” “Killing Them Softly” made waves when it premiered in Cannes this year. You say you like serious adult crime drama that oozes with social and political subtext — you’ve got it. Sam Shepard and Ray Liotta also star in this gritty potboiler.
The first movie from the Wachowski Brothers since Larry Wachowski’s sex-change transformation to “Lana” finds the duo teaming up with co-director Tom Tykwer (“Run Lola Run”). “Cloud Atlas” is a macro-micro “exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution.” Heady stuff. The all-star international cast includes: Tom Hanks, Hugo Weaving, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, Jim D’Arcy, and Zhu Zhu. Last year’s “Tree of Life” has nothing on “Cloud Atlas.” This is not a movie to watch at home. Get thee to the big screen and don’t be late.
Sean Penn plays his age as Cheyenne, a 50-year-old former Goth rock star who has lived in seclusion for the past 30 years. He once sang with Mick Jagger, or perhaps it was the other way around. Cheyenne lives a luxurious existence in Dublin from his still incoming royalties. He and his wife (Francis McDormand) play handball in their emptied-out swimming pool. Penn’s deeply introspective [read moody] character maintains his teased-out hairdo. He still wears eyeliner. News of his Jewish father’s death brings Cheyenne around to the idea of hunting down the America-dwelling Nazi who victimized his dad in Auschwitz. The first English-language film from Italian director Paolo Sorrentino (“Il Divo”), “The Must Be the Place” is a trippy road movie that should give audiences plenty to chew on. Given the Weinstein’s track record at the Oscars, their oddball movie might just “be the place” come February.
“Quentin Tarantino presents” is the name above the title. That fact alone tells you all you need to know, since everything that the master-of-all-things-tasty touches turns to gold. In this case, a character actually does turn into a gold-shielded warrior. Tarantino’s frequent collaborators RZA and Eli Roth team up as co-writers — RZA directs. Feudal China is the setting for a blacksmith who makes crazy weapons for his small village. A battle-royal explodes when seven clans come together in a blood-splattering fight for power, gold, and ultimate bragging rights. Kung-Fu super-action will hit epic heights in this fast-twitch bloodbath that stars Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, Pam Grier, and Rick Yune. Get the popcorn ready, and plan on seeing “The Man with the Iron Fists” more than once — if you’ve got the stomach, that is!
The name is Bond — James Bond. For all of the meaningless flack Daniel Craig has caught for his lean-and-mean interpretation of everyone’s favorite 007 agent, Craig is the real deal. “Skyfall” is the 23rd Bond franchise movie — for anyone who’s keeping count. In “Skyfall,” Bond’s MI6 agency is under attack. Only he can track down and destroy the threat. Impossibly sexy women, edge-of-your-seat chase sequences, and sleek style spilling out like there’s no tomorrow, come together in an action spy movie that should put “The Dark Knight Rises” to shame. “Skyfall” is for the big kids. Ralph Fiennes and Javier Bardem play opposite Helen McCrory and Berenice Marlohe in this seriously badass movie. Sam Mendes (“Road to Perdition”) directs.
Director Ang Lee ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon") will make your eyes pop with this groundbreaking 3D movie about an Indian boy named Pi who survives a terrible disaster at sea and is hurtled into an “epic journey of adventure and discovery.” The movie is based on Yann Martel’s bestselling novel. You may have seen the film’s poster that alludes to the Bengal tiger — named Richard Parker — that accompanies our hero as the only other survivor on a lifeboat they must share in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Ang Lee is a master filmmaker whose work in a diverse range of film genres always proves fascinating — his version of “The Hulk” notwithstanding. “Life of Pi” has been chosen as the opening film for the 50th New York Film Festival. Grab a cocktail with your date before the movie and know that you’re in good company when you go see it.
Hyde Park on Hudson (December 7)
It wouldn’t be December without a little highbrow historic drama to brighten the intellectual mood of the season. Bill Murray angles for Oscar attention as the wheelchair-bound President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in director Roger Martin’s (“Notting Hill”) period piece about a love affair between FDR and his distant cousin Margaret Suckley aka “Daisy” (Laura Linney). A spring 1939-weekend meeting in upstate New York with Britain’s King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) gives FDR an opportunity to spend some quality time with Daisy. The event marks the first time a British King has ever visited America. Britain is verge of war with Germany, and its Royals are seeking FDR’s crucial support. Juggling the demands of his wife, (Olivia Williams), mother and mistress, FDR has a weekend social calendar that is very full. How Murray’s FDR divides his time amid so many demands and so much desire is the stuff of one very witty romantic drama.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (December 14)
“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” has been so long in the works that many audiences have all but forgotten about Peter Jackson’s promise to finish what he started with his impressive cinematic rendition of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy (2001 – 2003). The time has finally arrived for Tolkien’s tale of Bilbo Baggins to enchant new and returning fans of Peter Jackson’s unique vision. The hobbit Bilbo (Martin Freeman) embarks on an epic quest to reclaim the lost Lonely Mountain and its treasure, which was “long ago conquered by the dragon Smaug.” The dragon still lurks. Bilbo teams up with 13 dwarves to journey into the Wild where Goblins, Orcs, Wargs, Giant Spiders, Shapeshifters, and Sorcerers await. Naturally, Gollum (Andy Serkis) plays a key role with a certain gold ring that holds the fate of Middle-earth. Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Saruman (Christopher Lee), and even Frodo (Elijah Wood) are in attendance for this extraordinary trip into the enormously popular fantasy world of J.R.R. Tolkien.
Django Unchained (December 25)
Christmas day 2012 promises to be a great time at the movies. Whenever Quentin Tarantino has a new film out, it is automatically an “event.” His seventh film — if you count “Kill Bill: Vol. 1 and 2” as one — is a period piece set two years before the Civil War. Think exploitation-spaghetti-western-Southern-style. Yum. Jamie Foxx plays Django, an abused slave who gets a shot at reaping vengeance on his former owners thanks to Dr. King Schultz, a German-born bounty hunter played by the always scene-chewing Christoph Waltz. Dr. Schultz acquires Django to lead him to his prey. Django and Dr. Schultz develop a working rapport that keeps them on the hunt for racist exploiters such as Leonardo Dicaprio’s Calvin Candle, the owner of a plantation where slaves are trained to battle one another. Django searches his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), whom he lost to the slave trade many years ago. Indisputably the most exciting American auteur working today, Quentin Tarantino keeps upping his game to cinema’s loftiest heights. If you only see one movie this year you’ll only have a week to catch “Django Unchained” before the ball drops in Times Square.
Breaking the Window
What You're Not Supposed to Know About 3D
By Cole Smithey
To listen to Variety's 3D-guru David Cohen talk you'd think we'll all be wearing 3D glasses for every movie we see in the coming years. He compares the advent of 3D to the arrival of sound in cinema. You'd never hear Cohen say that only 70% of the population can properly see 3D due to a variety of ocular anomalies that include things such as color blindness. Naturally, that means only seven out of every ten people can actually see 3D. You won't read anything in Entertainment Weekly about 3D audiences who suffer from constant eye-watering or debilitating migraine headaches during or after watching a 3D movie. You certainly won't read about audience members who crashed their cars after seeing a 3D film. That's because the most important aspect of Hollywood's current force-feeding trend of stereoscopic "immersion" has more to do with raising ticket prices across the board on all movies than it does in delivering a quality 3D experience.
At the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas, Panasonic was giving away DVD copies of "Avatar" with their latest 3D televisions as if it were the best example of a 3D film to show off their product. Little do they realize that the convergence level set on the cameras used for "Avatar" were set to keep its 3D effects behind the proscenium. It's the same conservative approach being used by the current flood of 3D filmmakers who are either too timid to put the technology through its paces, or simply aren't skilled in the complex practice of planning, setting up, and lighting the shots for the off-the-screen effects that we go to 3D movies for in the first place. Such before-your-eyes tricks are referred to in the industry as "breaking the window." It gives 3D films their kick. The only 3D movie of 2010 to take advantage of the practice was "My Bloody Valentine."
Hollywood is attempting to blur the line between "High Definition" and "3D" to acclimate audiences to spending more for an "immersive" experience that may be pretty but has little to do with the very thing 3D is supposed to accomplish, namely put the audience inside the fourth wall. The best way to judge the current barrage of crummy 3D movies is to compare a high-watermark standard bearer like "Avatar" with the far more "immersive" experience you'll have watching "Hubble 3D" on a real IMAX screen--beware the mini IMAXs. Then seek out a rare screening of "Andy Warhol's Frankenstein" in 3D--be sure to sit middle/center for this one. What you will come away with is a sense of how inferior "Avatar" is against "Hubble 3D"--for the obvious reasons that the audience experiences "Avatar's" effects only in depth behind the screen, whereas the IMAX 3-D process used in "Hubble" brings the action in front of the viewer's face. "Andy Warhol's Frankenstein 3D" (also titled "Flesh for Frankenstein") illustrates the suitability of 3D to embellish a campy horror movie filled with gross-out gore that flies off the screen. When I think of the thrill of 3D, I think of films like Warhol's "Frankenstein" or "Journey to the Center of the Earth," not "Avatar."
True IMAX cinemas (with their 76' x 97' screens) can get away with charging a premium because of the screen size and pricey specialized glasses. But the mini-IMAX cinemas have screens that are only 28' x 58' in size. As well, most IMAX 3D pictures run considerably shorter than an hour, which keeps them out of feature film range.
Hollywood has succeeded in giving audiences two reasons to boycott 3D movies--cost and quality. Making movies is expensive regardless of whether they are 2D or 3D, so it doesn't make sense to charge any more for a 3D feature. Retrofitting cinemas with projectors that can handle 3D should be absorbed by the big studios as the cost of doing business, or in this case conducting a large scale experiment with filmgoers as the guinea pigs.
James Cameron believes that audiences should require 3D because, "We see in 3D." But what he doesn't admit is that we don't have to wear special glasses to watch 2D movies. I like 3D if it's done well. 3D defenders will argue to the death that the process is not a gimmick, but we all know it is. Personally, I don't want to put a pair of 3D glasses over my own glasses for every movie I watch. I've never seen a 3D film that comes close to the best 2D films I've seen, and they are many.
Out of work Americans won't find any solace in the current 3D explosion that's creating thousands of post production jobs in India. The systemic greed at the heart of Hollywood's 3D craze is intrinsic. If 3D is to attain any lasting stronghold with audiences it must be used aptly to embellish stories whose dramatic effect will gain something from it. Last year's "Piranha" was a terrible disappointment because it was an ideal opportunity for the filmmakers to put the audience in the water with the schools of demonic fishes. But rather than hiring a cinematographer versed in 3D, the production used a director of photography who had never made a 3D movie before. Sadly, this is a standard practice in Hollywood where 3D filmmaking experience is seen as an obstacle rather than an advantage. To direct "Tron Legacy," Disney hired Joseph Kosinski, a television director with no previous 3D experience. The result is a nice-looking stylized adventure movie with some visual depth but no "pop" in its art. With a $170,000,000 budget you would expect the filmmakers to go all out with the 3D effects. But that's not the case.
Health issues will always surround 3D. Regarding their 3D televisions, Samsung recently issued warnings to pregnant women, elderly people, kids, people suffering from serious medical conditions, and people who are sleep-deprived or drunk that they could suffer confusion, nausea, convulsions, altered vision, or dizziness. Nintendo has warned that kids under six should not use its 3D mode because it could permanently damage their undeveloped eyes.
The first 3D films in America ("Rural America" and "Niagara Falls") were shown in 1915 in Manhattan. There were 3D films made in the '20s and '30s before hitting a boom in the '50s with 3D films like Arch Oboler's seminal "Bwana Devil." 3D hit another streak in the '80s with sequel films like "Jaws 3D" and "Amityville 3-D." In the 21st century, the technology is going through another reintroduction, albeit during an economic depression that challenges Hollywood to improve the quality of its 3D films, and to stop charging more than normal ticket prices for the experience. Personally, I think audiences should boycott 3D films until Hollywood gets the message that they can't charge extra, and that 3D means breaking the fourth wall in a big way.
Companies like Cannon, Fuji, and JVC are delivering consumer 3D cameras so that anyone can experiment with 3D. It's only a matter of time before independent filmmakers are creating 3D films that compete with Hollywood's monopoly. But it still doesn't mean that all movies should or will be made in 3D. It's simply not equal to the advent of sound or color in cinema. As for the James Camerons of the world, I suggest they take a look at "Andy Warhol's Frankenstein," and see what they're missing.
Cole Smithey's Top Ten Films of 2010