Tuesday, February 26, 2008

2008 Academy Awards: Best & Worst

Now that the hype has died down, it's time to look at who the real winners and losers were at the 80th annual Oscars

No beating around the bush here. This is my assessment of what went right and what went wrong at the Oscars Sunday night. (Note: click on post title to properly view all links)

Best Appearance, Women
(not just best dressed, but encompassing the whole she bangs)
1.) Katherine Heigl
I don't think the Grey's Anatomy hottie ever really looks bad, but she nearly set the red carpet on fire with this stunning old Hollywood glam look
2.) Kristen Chenowith
Didn't really know much about her before the ceremony, but now I know one thing: I'm going to start watching that quirky "Pushing Daisies" show from now on. Va. Voom.
3.) Marion Cotillard
Many people have trashed the Best Actress winner for this mermaid-meets pillow top gown, but I give her credit for being one of the few actresses to try something daring; she also gets bonus points for being drop dead gorgeous
4.) Laura Linney
She's not a glamorous young starlet, or an eye-popping show-stopper, but she's cool, she's clean, and she's classy. Nothing wrong with that.
5.) Jen Garner
I'm normally not a fan of this mousy maven, with her uni-lip and chest of a 12-year-old boy, but this might be the best she ever looked. Perhaps it was because she was sans Ben?

Best Appearance, Men
(as always, this list was compiled with help from the wife)
1.) The Rock
He's big. He's brawny. He's got an impeccable smile. Did I mention he's big? Cause the women sure did it enough!
2.) George Clooney
Although he was snubbed for his portrayal of Michael Clayton, he was on nearly every expert's "best dressed" list
3.) Patrick Dempsey
While the chicks continue to swoon over Dr. McDreamey, I still can't get the image out of my mind of him as the scrawny star of terrible teenage coming-of-age flicks. But I guess now he's the Woo Woo Man.
4.) Steve Carell
He just looks like he was made to wear a tux. Maybe it's the Michael Scott side of him.
5.) Javier Bardem
The wife chose P. Diddy for her 5th pick, but I say "Xavier" went a long way towards making people forget about that horrid Anton Chigurh hairdo, so he gets my vote

Worst Appearance, Women
Tilda Swinton
This was the no-brainer of the night. What is this chick thinking? I mean she's ugly enough when she tries to look good, but was she purposely trying to look like a cross between Carrot Top and Steve Buscemi?
2.)Diablo Cody
Just saw Juno and it's a great flick, but please, you're not a stripper anymore, so drop the tawdry togs and tasteless tats and try to get a bit of what you obviously haven't found yet-class. Oh, and it was just a matter of time before these leaked out. You know what they say, you can take the girl out of the strip club...
3.)Rebecca Miller
I guess you can't really blame her since her husband's one of the worst dressed as well, but isn't the woman supposed to have better taste than the guy?
4.)Jennifer Hudson
As if last year's foil wrap wasn't bad enough...
5.)Kelly Preston
Look I love this woman--met her once and she was beautiful just wearing a sweatsuit--but she went from a leopard print to an apricot. Dial it down, Kelly, and you'll be fine. Maybe try the sweatsuit?

Worst Appearance, Men
1.)Daniel Day-Lewis
This regular Oscar contender and 2-time winner is also a perennial lock for this list. Bonus points for clinching the Worst Dressed Duo award with wife Rebecca Miller
2.) Viggo Mortensen
He looked like he forgot his role as a mean Russian mobster in eastern promises was just a character. The beard, the coat, the horror!
3.)Johnny Depp
It's not even fun to make fun of his look anymore. Like Day-Lewis, he obviously enjoys looking like a wacko/geek
4.)John Travolta
The tux was okay, but this man-kissing Sino was rockin the worst 'do this side of a chia pet. Maybe his follicles will make a comeback like his career once did
5.) Tilda Swinton
Wait, she wasn't trying to look like a dude? Never mind.


Monday, February 25, 2008

80th Academy Awards Recap

The annual gala was dominated by Old Men, Blood, foreign actors winning golden statues, and a sea of red.
DO NOT make fun of this man's hair

It was only fitting on a night in which storm clouds hovered over the venue and rain soaked the red carpet that the 80th annual Academy Awards would be dominated by a couple of dark films in front of an audience clad primarily in crimson.

While it appeared that the majority of starlets got the internal memo to blend in with the most infamous rug this side of Howard Cosell, two films that dealt with the darker side of life took home the most coveted awards.

The early oil industry saga "There Will be Blood" helped Daniel Day-Lewis earn his second Best Actor trophy in the least surprising outcome of the evening, while Joel & Ethan Coen's tale of a deranged killer with a horrendous hairdo, "No Country For Old Men", was the big winner, garnering statues for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Javier Bardem), Best Director(s) and Best Adapted Screenplay.

The telecast was strangely devoid of excitement and surprises for the most part, with milquetoast host Jon Stewart playing it safe on the heels of the writer's strike, while the stars were apparently just happy to be able to play dress up and attend an event after the aborted fiasco that was the Golden Globes.

Ironically despite all the testosterone and griminess it was the fairer sex that provided most of the intrigue on the evening.

First carrot-topped Tilda Swinton swiped the Best Supporting Actress trophy from front runner Cate Blanchett and sentimental fave Ruby Dee for her portrayal as a powerful woman with a closet full of insecurities in "Michael Clayton", a victory that took even Swinton off guard judging by her "what, I really won?" expression upon hearing her name announced.

Then former stripper-turned screenwriter Diablo Cody "shocked the world" by scoring the Best Original Screenplay hardware, not so much for her penning of the tender reality check flick "Juno", but for her decision to wear a slitted, sleeveless leopard print frock that exposed her tacky stripper tat to the stodgy Hollywood upper crust.

But the biggest surprise was newcomer Marion Cotillard winning the Best Actress award for her portrayal of troubled singer Edith Piaf in the French biopic "La Vie en Rose." Cotillard, a stunningly beautiful actress who had never been in a hit movie in the States, beat out Hollywood heavyweights Blanchett, Julie Christie and Laura Linney in winning America's premier acting award.

Plus she wore the most evocative dress, had the best acceptance speech, and sung at the post-show presser. Hard to top that.

Her win combined with Bardem's (Spain), Day-Lewis' (England) and Swinton's (England) made it a clean sweep for foreign-born actors in the 4 major categories for the first time since 1964 and only the second time ever. Bardem's win marked the first for a Spaniard, and Cotillard the first by a French woman since 1960.

As Swinton succinctly put it in her speech,"Don't tell everybody, but we're everywhere - that's what Hollywood is."

Who said our country's foreign policy was a mess?

Coming tomorrow: The Best & Worst of the 80th annual Oscars


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Oscar Nominee Review: Michael Clayton

Michael Clayton
Directed by
Tony Gilroy
Starring: George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, Sydney Pollack
Rated: R for adult language & themes

Running Time: 2 hours

Nominated for: Picture, Director, Actor,(Clooney), Supporting Actor (Wilkinson), Supporting Actress (Swinton), Original Score, Original Screenplay

George Clooney and Director Tony Gilroy shine in the feel-good "movie" of the year

First I want to preface this review by stating that I haven't had a chance to screen most of the major Oscar nominees this year. Whether it was a case of a lack of interesting contenders (Sweeney Todd, Atonement, La Vie en Rose, this means you), the late release of front runners such as There Will be Blood, or a lack of interest due to the possibility of the writer's strike cancelling the ceremony, my wife and I just weren't as into the whole process as much as in years past.

We were able to catch Viggo Mortensen's chilling portrayal of a sinister Russian killer with a conscience in Eastern Promises a few weeks ago, easily recognizing it as an Oscar-worthy performance before the nominees were announced, and we also witnessed Ruby Dee's heart wrenching turn as the mother of a corrupt American killer in American Gangster last summer, but that's about it as far as the major players go.

But thankfully we did watch 7-time nominee Michael Clayton last night, and as far as I'm concerned the quality of that film more than made up for the lack of quantity we suffered from missing most of the others.

That's because Michael Clayton is a true movie lover's movie, one devoid of shootouts, car chases, contrived plot twists and foul-mouthed dialog that's too witty for its own good.

No, Clayton is a stylish, subtle and understated legal thriller, one that doesn't spell out its agenda in the opening scenes, yet keeps the viewer engrossed enough to follow the narrative through all the way to the intense final frame. It's a thinking viewer's movie, one that relies on the powerful dramatic chops of the actors involved and the polished guidance of a first-time director to lead the viewer through a straightforward plot that manages to astound and impress without beating the audience over the head with what it's trying to accomplish.

Clooney plays the title character, a legal "fixer" at a large and prestigious law firm in New York who has suffered through numerous obstacles in his life while trying to navigate a road to riches & success, with just the right amount of gravitas and severity. He's a divorced father of a grade-school aged son with a gambling problem and an addict brother who convinced him to invest in a local restaurant that ended up going belly-up, leaving Michael with a $75,000 debt and facing the eternal question of "what am I doing with my life?"

When the chief litigator at his firm, Artur Edens (a superb Wilkinson) goes berserk at a deposition in a $3 billion dollar class action suit for agricultural giant U-North, Clayton, who has been a close friend of Edens for many years, is called in to handle the situation and bring the rogue lawyer back to reality. That's when the slow-starting film takes its turn into mesmerizing, memorable cinema.

Turns out Edens has not just suffered a relapse of his manic-depression caused by his failure to stay on his meds, but he has discovered, via a long-buried interdepartmental U-North memo, that the company knew it was pumping cancer-causing agents into the wells of unsuspecting farmers for years, choosing to bury the revelation at the risk of spending millions of dollars to rectify the problem.

At the urging of the firm's founder, Marty Bach (co-producer Pollack), Clayton is instructed to reign in the rogue partner or the company's proposed merger with a London-based firm could fall through, not to mention cost the firm millions in legal fees it is owed for the 6+ years of billable hours it has put in on behalf of U-North.

Trouble is Clayton has enough issues of his own on his plate, namely the $75k he owes for his failed business venture, which combined with his years of gambling losses has left him near penniless and on the verge of emotional collapse himself.

This conundrum faced by the lead character, who could have been portrayed as a suave, slick legal eagle with a Fortune 500 portfolio and a stable of sexy mistresses, combined with the laid-back direction of first-timer Gilroy, best known as a writer of the Bourne trilogy and producer of Proof of Life, makes for fascinating cinema, and witnessing how Clooney handles this crossroads in his character's life is what makes Clayton one of the most absorbing films to grace the screen in a long time.

There are two scenes that best exemplify the subtle yet powerful punch the actor and director provide, and although they are mere minutes in length and are not pivotal to the overall plot, they serve as crystal-clear reminders why this is one of the year's best films.

The first is a scene involving Clayton and a trio of wild horses, which we witness both in the beginning of the movie as well as later when the story comes back to where we joined it. Brilliantly shot with just the right amount of silence and background illumination, it leaves an indelible impression on the viewer's mind, and not because of the single explosive scene in the film that comes afterward.

The second is a quiet yet gut-punching monologue with Clayton and his young son in the car. After leaving a family function in which Michael's deadbeat brother shows up as they are leaving his sister's house, Michael tries to explain to his boy that not all men turn out to be drug-addled losers like his brother. Watching Clooney wrestle with emotions as his eyes well up and his brow twists in knots is by far one of the most heart-wrenching, emotional three minutes of film I've ever seen an actor produce, and I couldn't help but think as the scene ended that he could have won the Oscar based on that snippet of cinematic excellence alone, the rest of his brilliant performance aside.

Of course his is not the only great acting job turned in, as Wilkinson is at the top of his game as the hot shot lawyer who either has had a moment of epiphany after realizing that the people he has been fighting for all these years are really the true enemies in life, or he has just finally snapped following years of legal wrangling in which people's lives are destroyed, his own included.

Tilda Swinton also turns in a terrific performance as the chief litigator for U-North who has to appear calm and confident in front of the stuffed suit millionaires she represents, but underneath the facade she is merely an insecure woman on the verge of a breakdown herself. All the other roles are deftly handled as well, from Pollack as the money-grubbing chief partner, to Clayton's son Henry, played by Austin Williams with just the right mix of child-like naivete and grownup smarts.

All in all Michael Clayton is one of the most satisfying movies for fans of real movies ever made. The acting is top notch, the directing is first rate, the cinematography is attention-getting with out being over the top, and to top it all off it has an ending that will leave you with goose bumps and still smiling at the same time.

What more can you ask of a film?