Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Day: One Extra Day, One Extra Post

This year is the one in every four years that's a leap year, meaning February gets one extra day. I don't remember the last Leap Day very well, but apparently its a new national holiday. It would be next in line for a movie with the caliber of "New Year's Eve" and "Valentine's Day," but "30 Rock" already beat Hollywood to the chase. Don't forget to wear blue and yellow and thank Leap Dave Williams today.

While a lot of people are deciding to use this extra day to do something spontaneous and unpredictable (I smell a rom-com!), I've just decided to write an extra blog post. This Leap Day, you will be treated to a new clip promoting Ridley Scott's upcoming "Alien" prequel, "Prometheus." It shows Guy Pearce, Australia's new national treasure, in character at the recent TED Conference. I am not one to be sucked in to Hollywood's obsession with sequels and prequels but when I do, it's for "Prometheus."

Happy Leap Day to all, and happy fifth birthday to all of my friends turning 20 today. Watch the "Prometheus" clip below, so you can feel educated about Greek Mythology today:

Monday, February 27, 2012

Now That The Oscars Are Over...

...I can finally start talking about important things again, such as the return of "Mad Men" on March 25. The show has been on hiatus for almost two years ago, and that unbearably long time almost made me forget how great this show is. "Breaking Bad" has taken over the spotlight as AMC's best show, but one does not simply forget about "Mad Men."

I bring this up because today, a very provocative teaser poster was revealed for the next season. Usually, teasers don't mean much to me, but "Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner can brilliantly tell the story of the entire upcoming season in just one image. From what I can tell, we will be entering a much less sheltered era. Things will become much more exposed, including Don Draper (Jon Hamm) himself. Weiner ambiguously says that by the end of this season, we will know what the show is really about. This fifth season could be the show's best one yet. But let's not get too ahead of ourselves yet. For now, take a look at the new poster. Discuss:

Read more over at The New York Times.

Oscars 2012 Wrap Up: Let the Dog Speak

And now, I conclude my incessant takeover of your Social Media newsfeeds with my very last blog post of awards season. As predicted, "The Artist" took home the top prize and a few more. Most surprisingly, Meryl Streep beat out Viola Davis for Best Actress, because apparently people were outraged that she only won two. Most disappointingly, George Clooney lost Best Actor to Jean Dujardin. I have respect for Mr. Dujardin and he gave a great performance, but his transformation was nothing like Clooney's.

For now, Clooney will just have to live with the fact that he's George Clooney.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Oscars: The Drinking Game

Given my age, I cannot officially endorse any drinking of any sort. So I will say that this game is for the 21+ readers out there (or if you are overseas, 12+ most likely). If you're underage, then I guess you'll just have to have a fun night with grape juice or something. Use your imagination. Many people have made Oscar drinking games in the past, but I would like to think that mine is at least slightly original. Here are the cues to drink. Feel free to add in any of your own: 
  • Billy Crystal makes a joke about how old Christopher Plummer is. 
  • Sean Penn addresses a humanitarian crisis.
  • A montage honoring old movies.
  • A montage honoring a bunch of movies that came out in the past year that nobody liked but still get a mention at the Oscars anyway. 
  • In their acceptance speech, an award winner tells their kids watching at home to "go to bed." 
  • Someone makes a joke about George Clooney.
  • George Clooney says something really funny and charming.
  • George Clooney makes a reference to a humanitarian crisis or a political cause in his acceptance speech.
  • Someone makes a joke about Meryl Streep.
  • Someone appears on stage in a "War Horse" costume.
  • A dance number dedicated to silent movies.
  • Someone makes a joke about how many movies Ryan Gosling has been in this year.
  • Sean Penn goes on stage saying the previous joke about Ryan Gosling wasn't funny, and that he is a talented and valued actor.
  • A nominee mouths something at the camera, or makes a Jim Halpert face
  • Two talented actors get on stage and perform a terrible bit of scripted publicity for their upcoming movie.
  • Someone makes a joke about the amount of Jews in the room. 
  • Someone makes a joke about Republicans, to which the entire audience cheers.
  • Fox News runs a new story about liberal bias in Hollywood the next day (this one is for the morning after). 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Oscars: Who Will Win

Best Picture: The Artist
            Thanks to a strange new voting system, there are nine Best Picture nominees this year. “War Horse” might have won in a different year, and “Hugo” merits much consideration for transforming 3D into a viable art form. This year, the nostalgia of “The Artist” has been contagious in various awards ceremonies. Look for it to be the second silent movie ever to win Best Picture.              

Best Director: Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)
            With just a few rare exceptions, the Best Picture and Best Director choices go to the same movie. Hazanavicius will be victorious along with his movie for bringing the art of silence to typically noisy 21st century movie theaters. Plus, he already picked up the Directors Guild of America Award. So far, only 6 directors who have this honor have not gone on to win the Oscar. Hazanavicius will not be a part of this statistic.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Horrible Decisions: The Ten Best Movies That Weren't Nominated For Best Picture

As I get older, I feel that I get more and more pessimistic about award ceremonies, especially the Oscars. Unlike sports-related competitions, the Oscars are not about which movie is best, but rather which movie had the most lavish ad campaign. The recent revelation that Academy voters are none too diverse certainly did not help. To think that some of the most revered movies of all time weren't even nominated. They are the bold outsiders. Some were completely overlooked, others were just too damn "hip." Many on the proceeding list would be chosen by many, and a few I exclusively would have chosen had I been a voter. I present with you the ten best movies that deserved a Best Picture nomination, arranged by year of release:

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Horrible Decisions: The Ten Best Movies That Didn't Win Best Picture

Every once in a while, I ponder why the Oscars even exist, and why I should care. Sure, they have no monumental impact on the world, but for me, the Oscars are a little like Super Bowl, just a little less dramatic. Voters have a bad habit of picking the wrong winner, year after year. Sometimes, the real winner is obvious. Other times, people won't realize it until 50 years later. Click after the jump for my list of the ten best movies that should have won Best Picture (sorted by year of release):

Friday, February 17, 2012

Morning Madness: Nicolas Cage's 100 Greatest Movie Quotes

I took this video, like most of the videos I post, from FilmDrunk. The first thing I can think is, I guess this video had to get made? It is the 100 greatest movie quotes from Nicolas Cage.

Cage is known sometimes for being a great actor who takes great rolls ("Adaptation," "Raising Arizona") and other times the complete opposite ("The Wicker Man"). He also seems to belong to the acting camp that believes that shouting a line will make it better. For whatever reason, my favorite quote here is, "What's in the bag? A shark or something?"

No more words are necessary, time to watch for yourself:

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Reel Deal Interviews: Sarah Koskoff

Sarah Koskoff (far left) with the rest of the cast and crew of "Hello I Must Be Going" during opening night at Sundance.
Movies set in a filmmaker's hometown can evoke feelings of pain, longing, or joyful nostalgia. Perhaps it all started when George Lucas set "American Graffiti" in Modesto, California at the end of the summer of 1962. All of the people, places, and music felt so heartfelt and familiar that it only could have come out of one's memory. Richard Linklater did the same thing to 1976 with "Dazed & Confused." Even the fictional town of David Lynch's "Blue Velvet" is based off the small town in Washington that he grew up in.

Months ago, I heard the news that a movie would be filming in my hometown of Westport. That movie was called "Hello I Must Be Going" and months later, it became a hit of the Sundance Film Festival. "Hello I Must Be Going" is directed by Todd Louiso, based on a script by his wife Sarah Koskoff.

Koskoff grew up in Westport and is an alumni of Staples High School. This is her debut feature length script, after years as an actress in various productions. I caught up with Sarah, and got some insight into her motivations as a writer, growing up in Westport, and the many challenges that went into getting this movie made. Yes, one of them was a natural disaster:

1. Congratulations for the success at Sundance. How would you sum up the entire experience? 

Thanks!  It was really thrilling to share the film with audiences and to be a part of such a vital community.  At times it was also overwhelming and chaotic, honestly.  But overall, it was inspiring and invigorating. 

2. Tell us a little about your background. Where did you go to college? What got you into movies in the first place?

I studied Literature and Anthropology at Sarah Lawrence College.  After that, I moved to LA and started working as an actor in film and television.  I got lucky early on with jobs and an agent, and the sporadic well-paying work gave me a lot of free time.  I started writing plays.  I had no interest in screen writing at the time, but I got to the end of what I felt I could do in Los Angeles as a playwright. I wrote Hello I Must Be Going just to try out the form.  And I loved it.  It felt very natural.  

3. Hello I Must Be Going is your debut feature film screenplay. What inspired you to tell this story? Have you written any other screenplays in the past?

My husband is a film director.  I thought it would be fun to do something on a small scale, together, to get back to the heart of the work -- to remember what we both loved about it.  I had the intention of writing about a relationship between an older woman and a younger guy.  But I wanted it to be from her perspective, and I wanted it to start out as a sexual relationship and really grow into something more.  I didn’t have any grandiose intentions in writing it.  I just wanted to tell a story about personal transformation, and to see if I could track that transformation moment-to-moment.   

4. This film was shot in your hometown of Westport, CT [all of it, I'm guessing?]. How do you feel the town reflected your story and characters? Do you think it could've taken place anywhere else?

It didn’t have to take place in Westport, but I wanted to film it there, so I set it there!  It was really a very practical thing.  I know the town so well, and I know so many people, I just felt it would be so much easier than going to a new place.  We ended up shooting a lot of it in South Norwalk and Fairfield.  But everyone was incredibly helpful.  In terms of the story -- the characters are very defined by their status in a specific way, that Westport lends itself to.  They’re trapped by it, really.  They’re so identified with appearance that they can’t access a deeper level of happiness -- an experiential happiness.  At this point the film and Westport are really inextricably linked. 

5. How did growing up in Westport impact you as a writer?

I actually went to elementary school in Wilton, and those long, long walks in the woods, they definitely gave me space to think.  I still call on that space to write. 

6. Your husband, Todd Louiso, directed the movie. What was it like collaborating with him? Did it make it easier for the entirety of your original vision to make it into the final product?

It was great collaborating with Todd.  We actually met on an acting job -- we were both acting in a television pilot.  And we’ve worked together a lot over the years.  This was the first time I was the writer and he was the director, but it was an easy transition.  And, yes, I have a lot of say with him, and I had a LOT of say with the project.  It’s uncommon as a screenwriter to have a say. 

7. Did any movies in particular inspire you when writing Hello I Must Be Going? If so, how? 

Originally I was thinking about the films of Eric Rohmer, the French director.  His films are about the smallest events, so much subtlety and character detail.  But as I got more invested, and after going through the Sundance Screenwriting Lab, I wanted to challenge myself to make bigger choices.  So, I went back to films I love by Woody Allen and Mike Leigh and even Bergman’s films -- simple stories with a lot of vulnerability and humor.  And, yes, there is humor in Bergman’s films!  

8. What was the most challenging part of getting this movie made?

The most challenging part was the shoot itself.  We had 20 days!  It was extremely hard on the actors, especially Melanie Lynskey. 
The character she plays is in every singly scene and has to go through so many emotional ups and downs--a real challenge for an actor in any circumstances.  But in 20 days it really pushes the limits.  She was a amazing about it, (and she is amazing in the film) but it was really hard to see her go through all that--and to feel responsible for it.  On top of that Hurricane Irene hit Westport toward the end of the shoot.  We lost locations and a day of was a lot.  But I have to say it really gave the whole experience a kind of urgency and reality that I think shows up on screen.  We all had to stay very awake!

9. Where do you do your best writing? In other words, what place gives you the most inspiration and motivation as a writer?

I live in Los Angeles, and I’ve found it to be a great place to write.  But mostly for me it’s about time and quiet.  

10. Do you have any future projects in mind? What lies ahead for you?

I have quite a few scripts I’m working on at once.  I’m looking for some time.  And some quiet.  

A still image from "Hello I Must Be Going" taken from the Sundance catalogue. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day: The Best Romantic Romance Movies

1. Harold and Maude

A person committing suicide is never funny. A person who keeps trying to kill themselves in the most elaborate ways (hanging, burning, etc.) is dark comedy gold. "Harold and Maude" has always been a cult classic, and it was once called "the greatest love story of our time" in "There's Something About Mary." This may be the only time that won't feel at all creeped out by two people 70 years apart falling in love. This is one of the few movies about romance that doesn't feel shallow. "Harold and Maude" is that good, and you can never go wrong with a soundtrack filled with Cat Stevens.

2. When Harry Met Sally...

We can thank Rob Reiner for setting the bar high, and then setting the template for 20 years of horrible romantic comedies. "When Harry Met Sally..." does it right for so many reasons. Maybe that's because it turned a rom-com hater into a believer, at least for its 96 minute running time. Maybe it's because it never tries to create some implausible, cosmic true love to bring the characters together. Rather, it shows love as something that takes time. Mainly, "When Harry Met Sally..." hasn't aged a day. Any references involving the 80s have only become funnier.

3. Punch-Drunk Love

Finally, a movie about love that isn't about people who need to be together, but rather people who make each other happy. As deeply troubled and neurotic Barry Egan, Adam Sandler gives the best performance of his career. Despite shying away from all of the romantic cliches that typically define this holiday, this is a model story about love. Perhaps love isn't about a card, a box of chocolates, and a lavish dinner. Maybe it's just about playing the harmonium for your lover and telling them the truth, even if the truth involves you getting into trouble with a phone sex hotline.

Valentine's Day: The Best Anti-Romantic Romance Movies

SPOILER ALERT: This post vaguely reveals the endings to the movies listed below. This is not to discourage you from reading, but I advise that you proceed with cautions. Although at this point, it's hard not to know the ending of "The Graduate."  

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Some common themes on this list are couples who act cutesy and people making big decisions without putting much thought into them. After breaking up, Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) get the memories of their relationship erased, only to realize there was something there that was worth remembering. It's peculiar that movies about love going wrong have the most to say about love in general. Being treated to Joel and Clementine's relationship crumbling from the top to bottom is just as devastating as it sounds.The ending leaves a bittersweet feeling: they are finally getting back together again, but they are also subject to hate each other again as in their previous relationships. The question of whether or not the two of them are meant to be together, or if they constantly breakup because they truly hate each other, haunts me to this day.

2. Annie Hall

Sure, Alvy (Woody Allen) and Annie (Diane Keaton) have fun together and they both enjoy playing with live lobsters and making fun of Truman Capote lookalikes, but they are far from soul mates. Alvy is New York (close-minded, uptight) and Annie is Los Angeles (free-spirited, unpredictable). "Annie Hall" contains some of the grandest romantic moments in the movies (Alvy and Annie in front of the Brooklyn Bridge), yet in its ending, it reduces relationships to a need, and not a desire. Nonetheless, this is one of the most enjoyable instances of a failed relationship you'll ever be a part of.

3. The Graduate

Ben Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) sweeps in and saves Elaine (Katharine Ross) on the day of her wedding to tall, blonde, and handsome Carl. The shot of them sitting on the back of the bus together, laughing and smiling over what they have just done, could bring the hopeless romantic in all of us to tears. But then, reality, unhappiness, and ambiguity quickly set in. Maybe these two were acting on impulse and not calls of fate. Maybe they are making the same mistakes their parents once made, which they both wanted to escape from. The uncertainty of the future lies ahead for them, one likely filled with Vietnam War protests and occasional acid flashbacks.

4. (500) Days of Summer

Sure, Tom's (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) belief in true love is reaffirmed in the end when he meets Autumn, but the path to getting there is filled with doubt. Watching Tom be misled into a relationship with Summer (Zooey Deschanel) is as painful as it is funny. While Tom goes on a tirade against greeting cards and pop music, there is no need to start protesting Hallmark or plan a mass burning of Smiths records. Rather, try not to fall in love with someone because they also think "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" is a good song. A lot of people like The Smiths.

5. Blue Valentine

Most of these movies end with the main character meeting someone who they at least think they will spend the rest of their lives with. If you were looking for a movie that could diagnose you with chronic depression, than look no further. "Blue Valentine" is about a marriage completely falling apart in grueling detail. Any movie that could make you want to punch Ryan Gosling in the face must be well made because seriously, nobody hates Ryan Gosling.* "Blue Valentine" is ultimately a cautionary tale, and its greatest lesson is that you should never marry anyone just because they can play your favorite song on the ukulele.

*This is not an assumption
Thanks to friend of The Reel Deal Josh Fisher for the "Blue Valentine" suggestion.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Another Wes Anderson Montage to Brighten Your Day

Here I am, after a long day of Rush recruitment, trapped in the "dungeon" of Bird Library. This is supposed to be a distraction free zone, that is until you find a new video like this one.

A little while back, I posted a supercut of Wes Anderson closeups. Now, someone has gone to the trouble of compiling another one of the director's trademarks: the slow-motion shot. The makers of this video (Slacktory) took an unconventional approach and set this montage to Ja Rule music. While Anderson's movies typically consist of 60s pop music, this music choice works surprisingly well, and synchs almost perfectly against most of the shots.

This is what I love about YouTube: it allows users to not only analyze movies they like, but retell them in a way that even the best filmmaker might never have thought of. Here's hoping this video is not breaking too many copyright laws. Watch it below:

I found out about this video on Filmdrunk.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Oscars: Who Should Win

Best Picture: War Horse 
Not because it feels like a Best Picture winner, because movies made solely for the purpose of winning Best Picture are just as bad as movies made solely for profit. "War Horse" simply struck a cord that no other movie this year did. Its combination of sight and sound is unparalleled; its story is the stuff that makes a classic possible. Few movies can come with a large set of flaws, yet still come out as my favorite movie of the year. Spielberg realizes, like few others do, the power of moments of pure cinema.

Best Director: Terrence Malick
If you put Terrence Malick's name into just about any search engine, only one picture will consistently pop up of him.* In it, he looks more like a guy who has gone bird watching for two decades (which he actually did). Make no mistake, this is one of the greatest living directors. Part of the intrigue of a Terrence Malick movie has always been the director's intensely private life. However, he always intended that so the viewer would focus on the movie itself, so that is exactly what we are going to do right now. I still don't totally understand "The Tree of Life," but it is the kind of movie that is intended to be as dumbfounding as life itself so often is. The movie brings a sense of wonder to the creation of the universe, and an intimacy in its portrayal of family. And of course, it looks stunning too; as if each frame is another painting.

Best Actor: George Clooney
I have always liked Clooney's acting. However, he never really stuck out to me until recently. In "The Descendants," he didn't go through the physical change that he did in his Oscar winning turn in "Syriana," but he discovered new emotional range as an actor. In "The Descendants," he looked less like a movie star and more like an ordinary working family man who has been warn out by both. He continues to impress me with his wide range of performances, and he truly earns the comparisons he receives as a modern day Cary Grant. Like Grant, despite having a huge public persona to live up to, he would still do anything to make a role as funny or dramatic as possible.^

Best Actress: Rooney Mara
Nice girl Erica Albright took a turn for her role in "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo." She created both the strongest, and most vulnerable, character onscreen this year. Lisabeth Salander was already a popular character, but Mara cemented her as one of the great feminine heros of our time. She took a physical and emotional transformation that is nothing short of brave. Bravery is usually the last thing that comes to mind when I think of actors, but Mara truly understands what it means to embody a character, and take a walk in their shoes for a day.

Best Supporting Actor: Jonah Hill
Jonah Hill has been a favorite of mine since his brief scene-stealing performance in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin." His comedic chops transferred over well this year in "Moneyball." He gives such a great dramatic turn because, in a way, he still acted as if he was a comedy. Peter Brand might have just been a more grown up version of himself in "Superbad." I hope Jonah Hill continues to take comedic roles, but his newfound dramatic talents are worth continuing to explore.

Best Supporting Actress: Melissa McCarthy
Maybe I'm biased because this is the only performance I've seen in this category. Screw that, Melissa McCarthy should win an Oscar. Megan may be too sexually overt and a little bit crazy, but its the confidence that McCarthy instills in her performance is what makes her such a funny and memorable character. She is not someone we ridicule for her antics, but rather someone we commend for being who she is. Many critics hailed "Bridesmaids" as the most groundbreaking thing for women since they gained the right to vote. That is a gross overstatement; but comedies that can't figure out to make a good female character should just look right here.

Best Original Screenplay: Midnight in Paris
"Midnight in Paris" was not merely Woody Allen's best movie in years, it was one of his best movies, period. I don't normally believe in fate, but I believe this is the role that Owen Wilson was put on this Earth to play, because he delivered each line of brilliant dialogue with the same neurotic sarcasm that Allen would have, but with his own unique twist. The script also included a plot that broke the space time continuum, and so rightfully didn't explain why or how this could happen. What "Midnight in Paris" realizes that few other movies do is that oftentimes the more you try and explain the unexplainable, the less sense it will make. Allen understands in this kind of movie that it is more important why the characters are there, not why it exists in the first place. Blending fantasy and reality has never been this funny.

Best Adapted Screenplay: The Descendants
I thought "The Descendants" was a tad overrated. A very good movie, but not the masterpiece many have hailed it as. Also, it will be hard for another Alexander Payne movie (yes, even "Sideways") to hold a candle to "Election" in my eyes. Nonetheless, "The Descendants" had one of the year's best written movies, and it certainly is the most mature of all of Payne's works. It is just as good as any Coen Brothers movie in its close attention to the beauty and humor of regional colloquialisms. The poster image for this movie has been Clooney running down the street in nothing but boat shoes. But truly the most unforgettable image from this movie comes at the end, as Matt King and his two daughters sit on the couch and watch TV, just trying to be a normal family again. I can picture that scene being written out on a script so eloquently, and so quietly moving.

*Malick can also be seen in a brief cameo in "Badlands."
^I would especially check out Grant's performances in "North By Northwest" and "Arsenic and Old Lace."

Thursday, February 2, 2012

For Groundhog Day: Watch Groundhog Day

If I'm doing something really wrong with my life, then this post will be gone tomorrow and I will be doomed to rewrite it every single day for the rest of my life. Today, is Groundhog Day, a silly little holiday that got a whole new meaning with the release of "Groundhog Day" in 1993.

Just about every person who has brought up today's holiday has also included some reference to this movie. That is because "Groundhog Day" has officially moved into the spectrum of cinematic classic. When a ten-year-old version of me watched "Groundhog Day" for the first time, little did I know that this Bill Murray comedy would be named by some as one of the best movies ever made, and used by our military as a codeword in Iraq. "Groundhog Day" was not maligned upon its initial release, but it was certainly undervalued. Rarely does a movie such a universally likable quality: movie buffs will admire the model character development, comedy junkies will marvel at Bill Murray's ingenious deadpan, and those with philosophical minds will admire its attempt to answer age-old quandaries about fate and the possibility of living the same life over and over again.

Phil Connors (Murray) didn't want to spend February 2 in Punxsutawney for the rest of his life (though he eventually learned to think otherwise). However, "Groundhog Day" is a movie I could watch on repeat and still find something new to appreciate, and something old to continue to enjoy. "Groundhog Day" is not something that should be thought about on Groundhog Day alone; it is a movie for everyday and any day of the year.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Supercut of the Day: Wes Anderson From Above

If you're one of those people who likes to place Wes Anderson in the category of pretentious, overly artistic filmmakers, then watch this supercut and think again. In its succinct running time, it shows Anderson's painstaking attention to every detail within a given frame. This is what sets him apart as a filmmaker.

Wes Anderson // FROM ABOVE from kogonada on Vimeo.

Supercuts are one of the Internet's finest contributions to the world of art. What are some of your favorite supercuts? Share them in the comments.