– First off, Nebraska was far and away the most overrated film from last year, and this is coming from a longtime Alexander Payne fan. I would have given all of its nominations away to more deserving choices, especially in a year as jam-packed as 2013 was, but for some reason critics (not audiences, however) ate it up.
– Tom Hanks turned out to be the biggest victim of one of the most competitive Best Actor lineups in history. The last scene alone in Captain Philips was the most powerfully acted scene in recent memory and one of his career highlights. Paul Greengrass also got snubbed for Best Director.
– As did Spike Jonze for Her. Her was my favorite film from last year and it was a bummer it didn’t pick up any acting love. It did get a Best Picture nom, which was awesome. Hoping Jonze wins for Original Screenplay at least.
– American Hustle has to be considered the current Best Picture frontrunner. Has a lot of support from the all-important SAG, with noms in all four acting categories, and most of the momentum. Made my top 10 from last year but think there are more important choices out there like 12 Years A Slave, which seems to have peaked too soon. Would be welcome to see David O. Russell finally win, so hard to argue too vehemently against.
– Emma Thompson got snubbed for Best Actress for Saving Mr. Banks, but alas the Academy’s love affair for all things Meryl Streep continues, even when she’s in films that aren’t great.
– Really perplexing Documentary and Foreign Film choices. Left off almost all of the most critically acclaimed and publicized options, including Blackfish, Stories We Tell, The Past, The Grandmaster, etc. Interesting note: Netflix picked up its first Oscar nomination for the Egyptian documentary The Square, yet another sign of the changing media landscape. Haven't seen it yet but hear it's pretty incredible.
– Blue Jasmine, Before Midnight and/or Inside Llewyn Davis should have got Best Picture noms, especially since they went with Philomena instead. Heck, Saving Mr. Banks should have been picked over Philomena.
– Hardly any love for All Is Lost or Llewyn Davis and nothing for Fruitvale Station, which is disappointing. Same with Before Midnight, which I’d argue is one of the most effective threequels of all time, but only garnered an Adapted Screenplay nod.
– Pharrell got an Original Song nom. Thought that was pretty cool, but as usual they left off a lot of good choices as well, including Coldplay, Florence + The Machine and Please Mr. Kennedy!
– No love for Pacific Rim in any of the technical categories! C’mon, really? It was the second best visually and sonically impressive film of the year, behind only Gravity, but apparently they’d rather honor Lone Ranger instead. For shame!
– Bradley Cooper and Jonah Hill are now two-time Academy Award nominees, and they both actually deserve it. Let that sink in for a moment.
– I predict a lot of repeat winners from the Golden Globes, a huge rarity these days. Most of the potential winners are hard to argue against at this stage and actually quite worthy, though.
My interview with Cold War Kids has been posted. Fronntman Nathan Willett speaks on the band’s new album Mine Is Yours, the differences between abstract and relational, and how the group first started out.
Check out my interview with The Used over at Mammoth Press. Bassist Jeph Howard talks about why the band chose to name their fourth album Artwork, how it differs from their previous records and the mentality growing up in Utah has had on them.
My interview with The Myriad is now up at MammothPress.com. In it, vocalist/guitarist Jeremy Edwardson explains how the band became MTV2's "Breakout Band of the Year" and talks about the upcoming album With Arrows, With Poise.
The box office intake from this year’s five best picture nominees sits just north of $300 million, which is the second lowest tally from that group in two decades. While mainstream audiences were slow to embrace the top nominees — except breakout hit “Juno” — the quality from top to bottom is strong. Despite clear frontrunners in almost every major category, the night — led by host Jon Stewart — should be entertaining and exciting, proving why the Oscars are the only awards show left in which the awards actually mean something.
At this point, it seems like “No Country For Old Men” has this award in the bag. After winning the top prize at the Directors, Screen Actors, Writers, and Producers Guild Awards, it clearly has the momentum and is the film to beat. Critical favorite “There Will Be Blood” and Golden Globe winner “Atonement” are runners-up, but they really don’t stand much of a chance. The Pick: “No Country For Old Men”
For the fourth year in a row, the winner here is a shoe-in. Daniel Day-Lewis in “There Will Be Blood” was hauntingly explosive, showing why his rare on-screen appearances are so special. In spite of George Clooney’s best all-around performance and the always-entertaining Johnny Depp, this belongs to Day-Lewis hands down. The Pick: Daniel Day-Lewis
No matter how much I liked “Juno” and its star turn by Ellen Page, this has become a two-person race between Julie Christie in “Away From Her” and Marion Cotillard in “La Vie En Rose.” Christie’s performance, which saw her character succumb to Alzheimer’s, has won the majority of the awards so far and should win this as well. The Pick: Julie Christie
Best Supporting Actor
In any other year, Philip Seymour Hoffman would be a lock for his second Oscar win with “Charlie Wilson’s War.” However, Javier Bardem was simply superb in “No Country,” creating one of the most memorable villains in recent memory. Sorry friend-o, but this is Bardem’s award all the way. The Pick: Javier Bardem
Best Supporting Actress
The murkiest category of the year, with three actresses having a legitimate shot at winning. Amy Ryan drew raves for her work in “Gone Baby Gone,” Cate Blanchett won the Globe for “I’m Not There,” and then 83-year-old Ruby Dee won the Screen Actors prize for “American Gangster.” The Academy loves Blanchett, as evidenced by her previous win for "The Aviator" and the two nods this year, so I give her the slight edge. The Pick: Cate Blanchett
The Coen brothers did an exceptional job in adapting Cormac McCarthy’s beloved novel, “No Country For Old Men,” and in the process created the most engaging film of the year. They’ve practically won every single directing award already and should finally earn their first Best Director statue. The Pick: Joel and Ethan Coen
Best Original Screenplay
While the Academy rarely awards its top prizes to comedies, stripper-turned-writer Diablo Cody’s script for “Juno” is too good to pass up. The wacky world and eccentric dialogue she created was wholly unique and the driving force behind the film, which charmed audiences all across the country. The Pick: Diablo Cody
Best Adapted Screenplay
It should come as no surprise that this award goes to the Coen brothers as well. Seriously, if you haven’t already seen this film, what are you waiting for? The Pick: Joel and Ethan Coen
Best Animated Feature: “Ratatouille”
Best Art Direction: “Sweeney Todd”
Best Cinematography: “There Will Be Blood”
Best Costume Design: “Atonement”
Best Documentary: “No End In Sight”
Best Film Editing: “No Country For Old Men”
Best Foreign Language Film: “The Counterfeiters”
Best Makeup: “La Vie En Rose”
Best Original Score: “Atonement”
Best Original Song: “Once”
Best Sound Editing: “Transformers”
Best Sound Mixing: “Transformers”
Best Visual Effects: “Transformers”
In the face of the impeding writer’s strike, Academy Award nominations were released last week. With emphasis on both solemn and contemplative fare, “No Country For Old Men” and “There Will Be Blood” led the pack with eight nominations apiece.
As with every year, there were several notable omissions. Gems such as “Sunshine” and “Zodiac” went ignored, “Eastern Promises” and “Into The Wild” were underrepresented and a late questionable call disqualified Jonny Greenwood’s superb score for “There Will Be Blood.” Meanwhile, the overrated “Atonement” racked up seven nods, while the abysmal “Norbit” can somehow call itself an Academy Award nominee, picking up one for Best Makeup.
Out of the films which did garner nominations, here are those I enjoyed the most:
“3:10 To Yuma” 2 Oscars, including Best Original Score
Christian Bale and Russell Crowe excel as men on either side of the law, and Ben Foster is a scene-stealer as Crowe’s ruthless right hand man. The story focuses on its characters yet manages to deliver plenty of action, proving all hope is not lost for this once great genre. The best western since 1992’s “Unforgiven.”
“The Bourne Ultimatum” 3 Oscars, including Best Editing
Matt Damon returned for a third outing as superspy Jason Bourne, and it matched the high bar of its predecessors. The action scenes are superbly staged, another adept display from director Paul Greengrass (“United 93”), and the film exhibits an unusual amount of smarts for a Hollywood blockbuster.
“Juno” 4 Oscars – Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay
Not only was it the breakout hit of the year, it was also the year’s best comedy. Buoyed by a star-making turn from Ellen Page, the story’s real charm lies in the script from rookie screenwriter Diablo Cody, made up of wildly inventive dialogue and wholly amusing characters.
“Michael Clayton” 7 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director
A character-driven, legal thriller centering on a man caught in a moral crisis. Tony Gilroy’s sophisticated screenplay is brought to life by one of the best casts of the year — George Clooney has never been better, and Tom Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton excel in support.
“No Country For Old Men” 8 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Best Cinematography
The Coen brothers’ strongest outing to date turned out to be the best of the entire year. Highlighted by an impressive cast, including the phenomenal Javier Bardem, it is impeccably written and executed. How much you like the film hinges on its unconventional ending, which has generated a significant amount of debate among viewers.
"Once” 1 Oscar – Best Original Song (“Falling Slowly”)
The stirring Irish musical incorporates songs naturally into its storytelling style. The indie soundtrack is stellar, and first time actors Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová deliver heartfelt performances in a down-to-earth movie devoid of Hollywood conventions.
“Ratatouille” 5 Oscars, including Best Animated Feature, Best Original Screenplay and Best Original Score
Pixar bounces back from 2006’s disappointing “Cars” with one of their best yet. Directed by Brad Bird (“The Incredibles”), it is cute and full of humor, yet unafraid to tackle existential themes for older audiences.
“Transformers” 3 Oscars, including Best Visual Effects
A widely entertaining popcorn extravaganza with some of the best visual effects ever seen in a film, it is director Michael Bay’s (“The Rock”) most accomplished work. It also features plenty of humor, especially from budding star Shia LaBeouf.
“Sicko,” “Sweeney Todd” and “There Will Be Blood.”
Jet Li and Jason Statham are prototypical examples of how to be modern-day action movie stars, and their repertoire of films showcases their amazing abilities in both martial arts and stunts. Reuniting for the first time since 2001’s mediocre “The One,” it would be logical to assume their latest film “War” would be a worthy addition to their careers.
The plot is what one would expect from a movie of this sort—an assorted hodgepodge of the stories from a dozen or so other films, amassed and thrown together here to fill the gaps in between the action. FBI agent Jack Crawford (Statham) is on the hunt for the mysterious assassin known only as Rogue (Li), who happened to kill Crawford’s partner three years ago. In the meantime, a deadly feud ensues between the Chinese and Japanese mobs, and Crawford and Rogue are caught right in the middle.
In a movie such as this, the plot is essentially reduced to an afterthought to make room for the action sequences, which are the main draw and reason to see the film in the first place. Unfortunately, someone should have reminded the filmmakers of this.
The movie inexplicably gets bogged down by its second-rate plot, relying more often on the dialogue instead of the stunts. The more time they focus on the story, the more we realize how poor and cliché-driven it is, a weakness it never recovers from. Matters only worsen when they pull off a huge twist of an ending so ridiculous it’s hard to take any of it seriously.
When the action finally does come, which is at a fairly consistent rate throughout the second half, it fails to live up to its billing. While it’s not bad, it’s also nothing we haven’t seen before, and done better previously by the parties involved. The at-times hyperactive editing doesn’t add much, if anything, and none of the film’s fights exhibit any sort of a “wow” element.
Li and Statham regrettably only have a handful of scenes together and, when they do finally meet up for their big confrontation, it can only be defined as disappointing. One would have thought choreographer Cory Yuen (“The Transporter”) could have been able to think up something far more creative, especially considering the talent he had at his disposal.
As far as the acting is concerned, it’s nothing special either. Li isn’t given too much to do other than look menacing, failing to build on his recent string of strong performances (“Hero,” “Unleashed,” “Fearless”). The martial arts aspect also tends to take a backseat to the gunplay, a questionable decision because martial arts are when Li is at his best.
Statham doesn’t fare much better. His cynical sense of humor and distinct charisma, which he exhibited in his early Guy Ritchie days (“Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels,” “Snatch”) and in last year’s “Crank,” is curiously missing. Here, only his customary gruff persona is on display, which robs Statham of the very reason why is so entertaining to watch. The cast is also brought down by the presence of John Lone, the annoying villain from “Rush Hour 2,” who is up to more of his grating over-the-top antics as the leader of the Chinese mob.
In the end, for a movie named “War,” there certainly isn’t as much fighting as one would expect. Instead, it spends too much time dwelling on its shoddy storyline and not enough providing the types of spectacles action aficionados anticipate. For Li and Statham fans, it’s still worth watching at some point just to see them together again, but for everyone else, there’s really not much incentive.