Okay, now we can talk about the Oscars…

…Because the somewhat mysterious organization that mysteriously somehow sets the stage and begins the momentum for the awards season, the National Board of Review, has given its awards. Perhaps not so unexpectedly, the big winner appears to be “The Social Network” which earned awards for Best Picture, Best Director (David Fincher), Best Adapted Screenplay (Aaron Sorkin), and, most interestingly, earned a Best Actor nod for Jessie Eisenberg, making him suddenly something of a frontrunner for Best Actor, which is not to say that the award makes him some kind of a sure thing.

Jessie Eisenberg and I'm not sure who in

At 27, if Eisenberg does wins for his thoroughly on-target performance, he’ll be the youngest winner in that category yet, beating 29 year-old Adrien Brody for “The Pianist.” Still, he’ll likely be facing stiff competition from 50 year-old Colin Firth (“The King’s Speech”), 70 something Robert Duvall (“Get Low“), 30 something co-host James Franco (“127 Hours“) and, perhaps, 60 something Jeff Bridges (“True Grit,” a bit less stiff since he won last year and Oscar likes to spread the love around).

The Best Actress prize was equally interesting. Lesley Manville won for her extraordinary work in the upcoming “Another Year.” I’ve seen (and will be reviewing here), the latest from Mike Leigh. There’s no doubt that Manville did an absolutely remarkable job but her supremely needy, depressed, alcoholic character is often irritating to the point of distraction, on purpose. It hits closer to home because I think most of have known or have actually been (hopefully temporarily) people very much like her. Still, sometimes people tend to blame actors for playing characters they dislike or are made uncomfortable by. Regardless, she’s been noticed. At the press day, I half-jokingly suggested to Ms. Manville that she should work on her American accent.

Jacki Weaver's back in Another heretofore far from world-famed actress who might consider studying up on U.S. dialects is Australian veteran performer Jacki Weaver. She was nominated for her magnetically squirm-inducing crime grandma in the effective thriller, “Animal Kingdom.” It’s the first time she’s been in a film to make a splash stateside since Peter Weir’s “Picnic at Hanging Rock” back before Jesse Eisenberg and James Franco were yet born.

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Saturday morning news dump

A very busy day and technical problems conspired to keep me from posting last night, so I’m back with what I hope will be the Reader’s Digest condensed version of one of my more typical Friday news dumps…okay, maybe not so much.

* Taylor Lautner, who is apparently playing second fiddle these days to his own abdominal muscles, is nevertheless being thought of as the next big action star and he’ll start out in a video-game adaptation. I’m so excited, my mind is already wandering.

* The popular comic heavy-metal documentary, “Anvil!,” has picked up an award.

Anvil

* Believe it or not, I once tried to write a screenplay set in Las Vegas using Dante’s Divine Comedy. Now, a film with a cast of outstanding indie stalwarts led by Steve Buscemi and Sarah Silverman, is just taking Dante’s Inferno (the first third of the long work) to Vegas. Better to keep things simple, though I’m totally up-in-the-air about what I think of JoBlo’s trailer.

* I’m not a particular fan of Roger Friedman‘s reporting, and I think it’s a bit less than intelligent to try to make a scandal of a “Precious” being left out of the National Board of Review’s top 10 without some kind of actual evidence or even an indication. As our own Jason Zingale shows, not everyone loves or even likes the movie. Mileage will always vary. On the other hand, any look into the somewhat shadowy organization’s membership is always of interest. The only member I ever met or even heard about before recently, was this man.

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“New Moon” and “The Blind Side” to have repeat box office bout

With a number of mostly rather underwhelming looking new films debuting this post-Thanksgiving/pre full-Christmas insanity week in medium-to-wide-release, box office pros like jolly Carl DiOrio of The Hollywood Reporter and Variety‘s Pamela McClintock appear to agree pretty strongly that the battle this week will once again be between the romantic monsters of Summit’s “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” and the football loving Red State good Samaritans of Warners’ “The Blind Side.” Considering that, as I wrote about last Sunday, “New Moon” dropped by 70% in its second last week while “The Blind Side” actually grew without the benefit of a major expansion — something I’ve never seen in the entire time I’ve been writing these posts — my money’s on the Sandra Bullock feel-good drama.

Picture-17

Of the four new releases said to be appearing in 1,000 to 2,000+ theaters this weekend, the most promising, both artistically and commercially, is “Brothers,”  a remake of a widely acclaimed Afghanistan war-themed 2005 drama from Denmark. Distributed by Lionsgate, the movie is an intense love triangle involving the not-actually-dead young Afghanistan war vet played by Tobey Maguire, his not-actually-a-widow played by Natalie Portman, and his black sheep brother, Jake Gyllenhaal — who looks so much like a brother to Maguire that he once is supposed to have nearly replaced him in one of the “Spiderman” sequels.  (If they worked Elijah Wood into the cast, they would have achieved the baby-faced, raspy-voiced star trifecta.)

Director Jim Sheridan of “My Left Foot,” “In the Name of the Father,” and “In America” has a real flair for intense tales that dance around the edges of melodrama and then sometimes dive right in. The one-two-three punch of the very well known youngish stars would make you think this should come in with a decent amount of money — at least in the double digits. However, considering the growing news and controversy around the Afghanistan war, the topic might be a bit too timely for audience tastes. Also, a film like this should probably should at least crack 70% on the Tomatometer, especially, but hitting it of with something  in the neighborhood of 5060% of critics will have to do. Worse reviewed films have received Oscar nominations, however.

Robert De Niro in Next up is another remake of a foreign language hit, this time of an Italian comedy-drama/tearjerker from 1990 that starred the great Marcello Mastroianni and was directed by Giuseppe Tornatore of “Cinema Paradiso.” (Not at all a favorite of mine, by the way.) Disney’s PG-13 “Everybody’s Fine” brings us Robert De Niro as a widower trying to reconnect with his children and grandchildren and costars Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale, and Sam Rockwell. A sentimental tale for the holidays with this kind of star power should have some wattage in theory, though  apparently the “tracking” is kind of stinking for this film which isn’t really wowing the critics either. Our own Jason Zingale liked it mainly on the strength of DeNiro’s performance but this one feels like the movie you settle for if grandma, or maybe great-grandma, wants to see something nice and you can’t get into the “The Blind Side.”

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Big news and not really so big news

Two items worth mentioning:

* In a move that could have an enormous impact on pretty much all media, Comcast has officially announced its long-expected, and highly complicated, deal which — if understand it correctly and its possible I don’t — will make NBC/Universal a joint venture between General Electric and the cable TV giant, with Comcast holding a 51% stake in the deal. Arguably, this is a more of a TV story and I’m the movie guy, but the dividing line between movies and television grows ever thinner and this surely will impact the movie world. After all, TV is still probably the single most dominant delivery system for movies.

I will say that, as someone who has been worried about media consolidation for a very long time, this deal makes me incredibly suspicious. For starters, a cable company will now be involved with one of the main providers of content, and there are not only consumer ramifications but also political factors here that could go to the  heart of our democracy and, no, I’m not really exaggerating. Though I don’t expect Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow to be frog-marched out of 30 Rock tomorrow, giving any company this much power could actually allow them to mold and shape the limits of debate in this country. Actually, corporations already do a pretty good job of that, but this could make it all that much worse.

Anyhow, a couple of days back, Josh Silver made a cogent, if wonkish, argument that I hope people will read. Serious stuff, but the good news, for what it’s worth, is that it will be subject to federal scrutiny. But there’s may be a turf war over which agencies will do it. Great.

I’ll feel a lot better if this marriage gets annulled.

* On a  much lighter, and more typical note, the eternally mysterious one hundred year old National Board of Review — which I suspect gets all its power from its quasi-governmental sounding title (it started as essentially a censorship organization supported by the studios as a sort of preemptive act) but which is always seen as an Oscar harbinger — gave out it’s awards today.  The awards where rather spread around, but the much touted George Clooney/Jason Reitman comedy, “Up in the Air” won for Best Picture and Clint Eastwood picked up a Best Director award for “Invictus.” Gee, who’d ever expect that guy to win a major award?

A real class act.

  

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