Thursday, January 22, 2009

81st Annual Academy Awards Nominations

Today was a fairly positive day. I mean, how can anything go wrong on Oscar nomination day? Well, things can go wrong, but the anticipation is always pretty exhilarating.

I haven't seen many of the nominated films, but that won't stop me from sharing my two cents.

Like most people, The Dark Knight snub came as a surprise to me. And of course, all that love for The Reader was also quite unexpected. I've seen both and liked both, but honestly, The Dark Knight deserved the Best Picture and Best Director nominations a little more in comparison. The Reader may be a haunting piece of dramatic cinema, but The Dark Knight possesses a grand, epic vision that is usually void from the stereotypically vacuous superhero genre.

But I'm sure several people are glad to see The Dark Knight snub. The Reader is a pleasing enough alternative, I suppose.

And why does Kate Winslet have to be nominated for Best Leading Actress for The Reader? I guess she is technically the leading actress in the film but I'd rather see her with two nominations--one for Best Supporting Actress for The Reader (in which she would've gone head-to-head with Penelope Cruz, who is currently a bit of a lock as for her performance in Vicky Cristina Barcelona) and another for Best Leading Actress nomination for Revolutionary Road (I kinda-sorta want to see this). I mean, wouldn't that have been amazing? Now Winslet also has less of a chance to win in the Best Leading Actress category, especially with Meryl Streep in the running. And Anne Hathaway, with all that buzz for Rachel Getting Married, is tough competition too.

I'm torn by Amy Adams's Best Supporting Actress nomination for Doubt. She is undoubtedly (ha ha get it? okay, never mind) one of the greatest young talents working in film right now but her performance in Doubt isn't quite Oscar-worthy--in this year, or any year. And this is coming from someone who adores her sweet, charming, and all-around contagious naivete glee in Enchanted and Junebug. Adams does indeed deliver a strong performance in Doubt, but when compared to the likes of Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Viola Davis, she is overshadowed and left clinging to the last resort of fourth place. I guess I'll just consider this as the Academy's apology to Adams for not nominating her for Enchanted.

In a perfect world, David Kross (The Reader) and Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight) would both be nominated for Best Supporting Actor. (I know the Heath Ledger win is nearly inevitable--and will be completely, totally deserved--but these two supporting actors provided the beating heart to their films.) Yeah, I know I haven't seen enough movies to judge, but I'm just throwing it out there in case someone more knowledgeable and wiser actually agrees with me.

And as if the world doesn't know, Brangelina (both parts) are nominated for their work in film, not for the number of times their faces has appeared on a tabloid.

For the complete list of Oscar nominees, please head on over to IMDb's Oscar nominations page.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Obligatory Golden Globes Post

The annual Golden Globes is one of the few prestigious (I use that word loosely) film award ceremonies that conveniently air on network television, along with the Academy Awards. It's always an entertaining event to watch, although I never really catch up with the films until an entire year after the award ceremonies are over. Fortunately, this might change once I get a job and my driver's license.

The Hollywood Foreign Press (the folks behind the Golden Globes) has a reputation for nominating celebrities for the sake of nominating celebrities. That doesn't stop any of the fun that steams from the three-hour telecast (including commercials).

This year's triumphant victor is Kate Winslet, who won both Best Supporting Actress (for The Reader) and Best Leading Actress (for Revolutionary Road). Being an admirer of Ms. Winslet and having seen her act with electrifying passion in The Reader, I couldn't be more proud of her achievements. Here's hoping she finally gets a well-deserved Oscar.

Last night's Golden Globes also awarded the prolonged Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award to director Steven Spielberg. Spielberg was introduced by friend and fellow director, Martin Scorsese, along with a number of clips from the movies Spielberg has produced and/or directed over the years. It is no secret that I am a relatively huge fan of Spielberg (I have seen all but three of his directed films), and I am thrilled that he was honored for his work in cinema.

Finally, I would like to apologize for ever dissing Slumdog Millionaire's Oscar chances. For the past several months, the film has proved itself to be more of a potential Oscar winner for Best Picture than any other film in contention. This also reminds me that I should see it (post-finals, of course).

Since this must be the tenth (or tenth billion) post about the Golden Globes, I'll just cut the rant short. If you're curious, a complete list of the Golden Globe nominees and winners can be found here.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

"I have doubts. I have such doubts."

Playwright John Patrick Shanley adapted and directed his own Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Doubt for the screen, but the film is trapped in the confines of a stagey setup. Doubt is certainly a delicious showcase of very strong actors delivering riveting performances due to the tension-driven dialogue of Shanley's script, but the film is not quite a full-blown cinematic experience, although the story itself is often dramatic and engrossing. The film plays like a ardent debate between two fierce, persuasive characters. The concluding note is a mist of profound ambiguity that questions the audience on whom they believe based on the evidence provided. But doubt will prevail.

Doubt takes place a year after President John F. Kennedy's assassination. America's spirit has been torn by the fears of uncertainty and a culture captivated by modern ideas of change. St. Nicholas Chuch School is no longer immune to the changes of the outside world and the new priest, Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) wants to see the changes come full circle within the heavily traditional climate of St. Nicholas. Father Flynn is friendly with the students, uses a ballpoint pen, and suggests a secular song for the school's annual Christmas pageant. St. Nicholas is finally changing with the times, thanks to a charismatic reformer at the its core.

While Father Flynn develops a fabulous relationship with all the students, Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep), the universally feared principal of St. Nicholas School, sees Father Flynn as a nemesis and a threat to the very walls of the Catholic church. When the compassionately naive and easily conflicted Sister James (Amy Adams) confides in Sister Aloysius that Father Flynn may have acted inappropriately with the school's first black student, Donald Miller (Joseph Foster), Sister Aloysius takes full advantage of this opportunity to take Father Flynn down--with great certainty in tact.

The performances are uniformly excellent. After four decades, Streep shows that she is still the reigning queen of the film industry, with her complex performance as Sister Aloysius. Sister Aloysius is undeniably cold and stern, but she is a powerful force of nature, accompanied by dry wit, assured judgments, and unyielding confidence. Although he differs in personality, Hoffman's Father Flynn possesses the same inner qualities as Sister Aloysius, which makes their heated conversations a wonder to behold, especially in the head-to-head verbal battles leading up to the finale. Hoffman's Father Flynn holds on to Streep's Sister Aloysius's every word like a calm, biting breeze.

But the true surprise in the cast is Viola Davis, who plays the boy's struggling mother. In a single scene, Davis lets the audience into her hardships at home and her hopes for her son. Nothing can stand in her son's way of future success if she can help it.

Doubt benefits from the finely-tuned performances from its masterful ensemble cast and Shanley's dialogue, but the film is sometimes dull and restrained. After watching Doubt, I wondered if I would admire the cinematic treatment as much if I had already experienced the play on stage. The film has all the bareness of basic theater and doesn't bother to take any risks that go beyond the Dutch angle. But there is an elegance about Doubt, mainly attributed to Roger Deakins' cinematography that paints a blooming yet restricted portrait of a sixties-era Catholic church.

Like another film released in 2008, The Reader, Doubt also dares to ask tough, intense questions attached with its characters' final decisions and the emotional consequences that follow. Doubt tells us that beliefs are rarely not without uncertainty. Despite the film's dismissible theatricality, Shanley directs his story well.

Rating: *** (out of four)