Sunday, March 21, 2010

Woody Harrelson: Zombie Killer, Messenger and Defendor

I never expected to be writing anything praising the acting skills of Woody Harrelson, the bartender from "Cheers." I thought he did a decent job of playing the over-the-top crazy guy (Natural Born Killers, 2012) and the "doofus" (Kingpin, Edtv), and didn't really have too much to offer aside from that.

In the past few months, I have seen Zombieland, The Messenger and Defendor. If not for Christoph Waltz's outstanding performance in Inglourious Basterds, I really think that Harrelson could have been the one sweeping the awards for his genuine performance in The Messenger. (He did manage win the Independent Spirit and National Board of Review awards for Best Supporting Actor.) He provided depth and a range of emotion in that part that I wasn't really aware that he could pull off. He brought the right blend of that depth with the aforementioned archetypes to play Tallahassee in Zombieland and the titular character in Defendor. Sure, Zombieland was a little over-the-top (what zombie movie isn't?), but in the scenes that called for a little more than the guns-blazing action star performance, Harrelson delivered both the comedy and the drama. In Defendor, Harrelson plays Arthur, a man who isn't "all there" mentally and decides to become a real-life superhero. The world of Defendor is not pretty - from the dirty cop's crew that nearly beats Defendor to death to his unlikely female sidekick, who is also a hooker - but Harrelson manages to play Arthur (and Defendor) with a mix of innocence and fortitude that really makes the whole story compelling.

Out of the three films, I have to say that Defendor surprised me the most. I knew going into The Messenger that it was getting a lot of awards buzz, so Harrelson's strong performance wasn't a huge shocker. Zombieland was pretty much a straight-forward horror comedy, it just featured some better-than-normal performances and plot twists. I'm a big fan of comic book/superhero films and I also love revisionist takes on pretty much any genre, so when I first heard about Defendor I was curious to see the revisionist superhero movie. The narrative structure of the film provides the story, more or less, from Arthur's point-of-view. I don't want to give too much away, but through his conversation with Sandra Oh's character, a framework is established that allows Arthur to gradually reveal more about himself by sharing the events of his life over the last few weeks. The setting of the story and a lot of the situations the characters find themselves in might be bleak, but Arthur/Defendor carries a sense of hope if he can help turn things around, and he extends that hope to the people around him. And that, my friends, is what any good superhero should do.

After seeing these three films, I'm feeling hopeful about the future of Harrelson's acting career (which includes Zombieland 2).

Defendor: 4 (out of 5)
The Messenger: 4
Zombieland: 4

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Happy Birthday Chuck Norris!

Chuck Norris turned the big seven-zero today. Although we don't see much of him these days besides the occasional Walker, Texas Ranger rerun or Bowflex commercial, here's a poem for our favorite Bearded Superhero:

No longer a ranger, he's long since retired
Now an internet meme, to which many aspire
The man, the myth, the legend, the beard
Even by Death the Bowflex master is feared

On Chuck Norris age should have no power,
And he can clean himself, has no need of a shower
He does impossible things, like believe it's not butter,
As well as being able to judge a book by its cover

If you see the Beard Master, be sure to tip your hat,
Although I'd advise against bothering him with known "facts"
But if you live next door, you better turn down the bass,
Or you'll be getting a roundhouse kick to the face

Now, when's that Walker, Texas Ranger movie coming out? I know there's no official word, but with all of the remakes and spin-offs these days, don't you think there should be one?

Monday, March 8, 2010

2009-2010 Awards Season Wrap-Up

I laughed, I cried, I got angry. That description could've worked for this year's Oscars or the 2009-2010 awards season as a whole.

Hosts, presenters and award-winners provided hilarious and heartfelt moments, from the Critics' Choice Awards in January to the Academy Awards last night (March 7). Seeing the first woman to win an Academy Award for Direction (Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker) provided a moment that brought me to tears. Avatar's overall presence provoked a good share of anger, climaxing when I yelled, "It's just visual effects!" at the screen after its Best Cinematography Oscar win.

Sadly, my initial dream at the start of the awards season of seeing Quentin Tarantino (Best Original Screenplay for Inglourious Basterds) and George Clooney (Best Actor for Up in the Air) win Oscars on the same night didn't come true. But I can abide The Dude (Jeff Bridges) winning Best Actor for Crazy Heart. I did get to see Pedro Almodovar and Tarantino, two of my favorite filmmakers, present an award together.

I don't even want to go there with Sandra Bullock again. (She won a Razzie the night before the Oscars!) I'm just happy that Carey Mulligan (An Education) and Colin Firth (A Single Man) won at the BAFTAs. It was also good to see Gabourey Sidibe (Precious) win at the Independent Spirit Awards just two days before the Oscars.

The tributes to John Hughes at the Critics' Choice Awards and the Oscars also won me over - his death was the one movie-related death that really got to me last year. I know I would not be the person I am today without his films.

Personally, I would've liked to see Away We Go, Bright Star, 500 Days of Summer, A Single Man and Fantastic Mr. Fox get more attention across the board. But that's just me, and this awards season is now finally over. Goodbye, Avatar.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

My Final Fearless Oscar Predictions

If I were a betting person, these are the films I would put my money on tomorrow night (March 7) to win this year's Academy Awards. (Personally, I'm rooting for Bright Star, Inglourious Basterds, A Single Man, Fantastic Mr. Fox and An Education.)

Best Picture
It will still boil down to The Hurt Locker vs. Avatar, and I think that The Hurt Locker will prevail.
(Likely) Winner: The Hurt Locker
Runner-Up: Avatar
2nd Runner-Up (only for this category as there are 10 nominees): Inglourious Basterds

Best Director
Again, it's The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow) vs. Avatar (James Cameron), and I think that Bigelow will walk away with this one as well (making her the first woman to do so).
Winner: Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker)
Runner-Up: James Cameron (Avatar)

Best Original Screenplay
Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds) is the front-runner here, but he could face an upset from Oscar-winners Joel and Ethan Coen (A Serious Man) or from Mark Boal should The Hurt Locker build up a sweep.
Winner: Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds)
Runner-Up: Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker)

Best Adapted Screenplay
As it goes in a few categories, this one is Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner's (Up in the Air) to lose.
Winners: Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner (Up in the Air)
Runner-Up: Geoffrey Fletcher (Precious)

Best Actor
Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart) pretty much has this one locked up, although Colin Firth (A Single Man) did give a very strong, award-winning performance as well.
Winner: Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart)
Runner-Up: Colin Firth (A Single Man)

Best Actress
I never thought I would be saying this, but it looks like Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side) is going to win. However, Carey Mulligan (An Education), Gabourey Sidibe (Precious) and Meryl Streep (Julie & Julia) are close behind, and I could see any of them walking away with the Oscar.
Winner: Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side)
Runner-Up: Carey Mulligan (An Education)

Best Supporting Actor
This one is Christoph Waltz's (Inglourious Basterds) to lose.
Winner: Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)
Runner-Up: Woody Harrelson (The Messenger)

Best Supporting Actress
This one is Mo'Nique's (Precious) to lose.
Winner: Mo'Nique (Precious)
Runner-Up: Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air)

Best Foreign Film
The White Ribbon has been winning the majority in this category at other awards, but A Prophet has an outside chance.
Winner: The White Ribbon
Runner-Up: A Prophet

Best Documentary
The Cove has been winning the majority in this category at other awards, but Food, Inc. has been picking up a few awards here and there too.
Winner: The Cove
Runner-Up: Food, Inc.

Best Animated Film
Pixar will continue its dominance in this category.
Winner: Up
Runner-Up: Fantastic Mr. Fox

Best Animated, Live-Action and Documentary Shorts
I really am not sure what will win in these three categories (especially seeing as I've only seen one of them in each category), so I'm just going to pick one for each.
Random Picks: Logorama, Miracle Fish and China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province (respectively)

Best Cinematography, Editing, Sound Mixing and Sound Editing
As it goes a lot of the time with the Oscars, I'm going to predict that there will be a sweep. This year these four categories all fall into the epic The Hurt Locker vs. Avatar battle. If I'm correct and there is a sweep, all four of these awards will likely go to the people from The Hurt Locker. If there isn't a sweep, they'll likely be split between the two films, with the people from Inglourious Basterds also having a fair shot.
Winners: the nominees for The Hurt Locker
Runners-Up: the nominees for Avatar

Best Visual Effects
This is Avatar's to lose.
Winners: Joe Letteri, Stephen Rosenbaum, Richard Baneham & Andrew R. Jones (Avatar)
Runners-Up: Dan Kaufman, Peter Muyzers, Robert Habros & Matt Aitken (District 9)

Best Original Song
I will be very surprised if "The Weary Kind" (Crazy Heart) doesn't win.
Winner: "The Weary Kind" (Crazy Heart)
Runner-Up: "Take It All" (Nine)

Best Score
This is Michael Giacchino's (Up) to lose.
Winner: Michael Giacchino (Up)
Runners-Up: Marco Beltrami & Buck Sanders (The Hurt Locker)

Best Art Direction
I don't exactly agree with it (as I think this particular film's art direction falls into the visual effects category), but the team from Avatar has been winning the awards leading up to this, and will likely continue.
Winners: Rick Carter, Kim Sinclair & Robert Stromberg (Avatar)
Runners-Up: Maggie Gray & Patrice Vermette (The Young Victoria)

Best Costume Design
Sandy Powell (The Young Victoria) has been winning a lot of awards leading up to this, so there's no reason to believe she won't win the Oscar.
Winner: Sandy Powell (The Young Victoria)
Runner-Up: Janet Patterson (Bright Star)

Best Makeup
Out of the three films nominated, Star Trek seems like the winner to me.
Winners: Barney Burman, Mindy Hall & Joel Harlow (Star Trek)
Runners-Up: Jon Henry Gordon & Jenny Shircore (The Young Victoria)

The complete list of nominees can be found here.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Speaking of Cinema's Oscar Picks

If we picked the Oscar winners, we would choose the following people and films to bring home the trophies at the 82nd Annual Academy Awards on Sunday night (March 7).

Best Picture - Inglourious Basterds is a clear favorite at Speaking of Cinema.
Best Director - Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) and Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds) would have to be involved in some kind of tiebreaker if we picked the Oscar-winner in this category.
Best Original Screenplay - Tarantino (again for Inglourious Basterds) has found himself in another tie, this time with Joel and Ethan Coen (A Serious Man).
Best Adapted Screenplay - Nick Hornby's script for An Education barely edged out Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner's for Up in the Air.
Best Actor - Colin Firth is our unanimous choice for his terrific performance in A Single Man.
Best Actress - Newcomer Carey Mulligan is our choice for An Education. Fellow newcomer Gabourey Sidibe was close behind for her titular performance in Precious.
Best Supporting Actor - Christoph Waltz is another unanimous choice for his portrayal of Col. Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds.
Best Supporting Actress - Mo'Nique is a front-runner on Sunday night and our choice to win for her performance in Precious.

The full listing of nominees can be found here.