Saturday, March 6, 2010

Oscar Predictions - Movie Review: Precious

My esteemed reader Theresa reminded me that I hadn't posted my Oscar predictions yet. Before I predict the winners of the major awards, let me get to a mini review of Precious which I just saw tonight. Lee Daniels' film tells the story of a large young black woman (Gabourey Sidibe) growing up with a terrifying menace of a mother (Mo'Nique) in Harlem and trying to make something of her life. The movie is very depressing overall and the subject matter of physical and sexual abuse is extremely dark. Daniels does a great job of making it all seem very raw and real and he gets two great performances out of his actresses (and a third from a toned down Mariah Carey).

Sidibe is very good in her first movie role and is able to carry the movie as the lead. Mo'Nique is an absolute revelation. She is a menacing storm of rage and emotion and really gives the viewer chills whenever she's on screen. Hands-down one of the best female performances I've seen in years. And who knew a guest star on Moesha could turn into an Academy Award worthy actress. Precious is not a movie I'd ever want to see again and it did get slow at times, but all in all it is worthy of Best Picture consideration. 3.5 JR's for me and I urge people to see it if only for Mo'Nique's performance.

Unfortunately I only got through 7 of the 10 Best Picture nominees this season (still more than the 5 annual films I'd seen in all of the previous years). I still want to see The Blind Side at some point, but A Serious Man and An Education may never come across my Netflix list. The following categories include the selection that I would make (in BLUE) if I had an Academy vote (and why don't I have one already!?!). The choice I believe will take home the statue is highlighted in GREEN. I'll be heading to Omar's tomorrow night to watch the awards at a mini Oscar Party.

Best Picture

"The Blind Side"
"District 9"
"An Education"
"The Hurt Locker"
"Inglourious Basterds"
"Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire"
"A Serious Man"
"Up in the Air"

This will be very close between Hurt Locker and Avatar and is really a toss-up right now. I think Avatar's worldwide influence pushes it over the top.

Best Actor

Jeff Bridges, "Crazy Heart"
George Clooney, "Up in the Air"
Colin Firth, "A Single Man"
Morgan Freeman, "Invictus"
Jeremy Renner, "The Hurt Locker

I haven't seen Crazy Heart so I can't judge Bridges here but he has won most of the major awards already so I think he's a near lock for this. Clooney gets my vote based on only seeing two of these performances. (I think Renner is slightly overrated, as is Hurt Locker)

Best Actress

Sandra Bullock, "The Blind Side"
Helen Mirren, "The Last Station"
Carey Mulligan, "An Education"
Gabourey Sidibe, "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire"
Meryl Streep, "Julie & Julia"

Meryl Streep was so good in Julie & Julia that I didn't find myself caring about any of the scenes without her in them. Sandra Bullock has a real chance of stealing this from Streep.

Best Supporting Actor

Matt Damon, "Invictus"
Woody Harrelson, "The Messenger"
Christopher Plummer, "The Last Station"
Stanley Tucci, "The Lovely Bones"
Christoph Waltz, "Inglourious Basterds"

Waltz was real good in Basterds and is probably the biggest lock of the night (along with the next category).

Best Supporting Actress

Penelope Cruz, "Nine"
Vera Farmiga, "Up in the Air"
Maggie Gyllenhaal, "Crazy Heart"
Anna Kendrick, "Up in the Air"
Mo'Nique, "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire"

Probably the best performance in any category this year (see above for the reasons why).

Best Director

James Cameron, "Avatar"
Kathryn Bigelow, "The Hurt Locker"

Lee Daniels, "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire"
Quentin Tarantino, "Inglourious Basterds"
Jason Reitman, "Up in the Air"

I think the Academy will end up splitting Hurt Locker and Avatar in the Director and Picture categories. This could go Hurt Locker / Cameron instead. Tarantino kicked so much ass in Basterds, but I would vote for Cameron for making a monumental cinematic achievement.

As for District 9? My only hope for an award win would be in the makeup category. Disagree with my picks above? Let me know about it.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Movie Review: Shutter Island

Martin Scorsese may be getting better with age. His last two movies (Shutter Island and The Departed) have been amongst his best ever. I'm starting to think that he's getting better as a filmmaker thanks to his partner in crime, Leonardo DiCaprio. Marty and Leo collaborate once again on a thrilling and gripping mind-bender of a mystery in Shutter Island. As some of you may already have read in other reviews, this movie has some major plot twists which I won't reveal in this review.

The setting is rather simple. Two federal US Marshals visit a maximum security psychiatric ward on a remote island off the coast of Massachusetts. Someone has escaped the mental facility and DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo must track down the escapee and solve the mystery of the island. The film is shot wonderfully in dark and depressing tones (the constant bad weather during the stay on the island adds to the overall gloomy effect). Scorsese does a great job of inter-cutting back story through brief flashbacks to fill us in on the narrative provided by Dennis Lehane's novel. An intense score composed of previously released songs played at the perfect time help add to the atmosphere. Amazingly this is not an original score but the arrangement evokes memories of the brilliant in-your-face over-the-top music found in There Will Be Blood.

The acting across the board is outstanding including great supporting performances from Ben Kingsley and Michelle Williams. You really find yourself believing that you are on the island, immersed in the scenery. What takes this movie to that next level is the acting typhoon that is Leo DiCaprio. He completely owns this performance and makes you fascinated with his character from start to finish. Simply put, DiCaprio is the greatest actor of his generation and I hope the Academy remembers this performance a year from now. If Shutter Island was released as originally planned in 2009, he would be in the 5-man race for Best Actor for sure. I hope he decides to try to branch out more and work with other directors, but after the last two Marty/Leo collaborations, I can't really complain too much.

After much thought I will go ahead and give this a perfect 5 out of 5 JR's. This is the best film I've seen since District 9 and is immediately the front-runner for the 2010 Oscar for Best Picture. After knowing the plot twist in full I feel like I need to see the movie again to watch it from a different vantage point. I'd almost like to have another blog post where I can talk about the full plot for those who have seen the movie. If you want to do so, send me an email. I hope this will not be my only 5 JR movie of the year, but the bar has certainly been set high. The Clash of the Titans remake with Sam Worthington is next up on my radar.

Monday, March 1, 2010

We're Number One!

Ever since 1993 I have bled the color Orange. Having attended every home basketball game in the Carrier Dome for four years and experienced the Final Four in person in 1996, Syracuse Basketball is the number one seed in my personal sports world. The start of this season was ominous as we lost an early exhibition game to LeMoyne (a small local D II school in the upstate NY area). Having lost 1 player to the NBA (Jonny Flynn) and two other starters, I thought we were in for a rebuilding year after that opening loss. Since then we've gone 27-2 and are now the #1 team in the country after a great basketball Saturday.

With the former top three teams all losing, Syracuse was able to leap frog into the top spot for the first time since 1990 (back when I was a Georgetown fan). Standing at #1 heading into the last week of the season, we're basically assured of having a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. I usually pick the Orange to go far out of habit and root for them as underdogs as they proceed through the tourney (when we won it all in 2003 we were a 4 seed). Now being #1 in the nation, we can't play the underdog card. All in all I'd still rather be where we are so we can have the easiest possible road to the Final Four.

This has been an amazing season to watch as our players have really gelled together and our depth is our strongest asset. I can only hope we don't trip up in March and are able to make a deep run. For one thing, this edition of March Madness will be the most anticipated in my lifetime.