The Empty Bookshelf Guide to the 2010 Oscars

This won’t be a guide to all of the awards, but we’ll get through all of the important ones. I’m structuring this as an “Empty Bookshelf Guide” and selectively using the royal “we,” though I’ve not consulted with the Junior Staff for their opinions.

The format will be listing the ten Best Picture nominees, and being that the majority of the nominees for the “big” awards are culled from the Best Picture list, we’ll weave through the other categories and touch on those where appropriate.

In no particular order…

Toy Story 3
I saw this after hearing many peers (mid to late 20s) breathlessly explain how this was “the most emotional movie in the history of ever.” It wasn’t, and it’s not. I’ll award it points for being ostensibly a kids movie which presented a moment where the characters are resigned to their fates and have lots of time to realize that it’s going to happen, but points are deducted because the movie doesn’t follow through with it. That’s manipulative, not emotional, fellow 20-somethings.

The Kids are All Right
This movie is perfectly….fine, but it had no business being nominated and serves to show why so many people outside of California hate California. No, not because of the same-sex parents (which, by the way, is completely not what the movie is about and has little to do with the plot other than it enabling the “kids meet their sperm donor father” plot), but because of the darn “localvore,” organic-this, organic-that California silliness. Think the tone of American Beauty, but less fun. Also, what the heck is going on with the title? The Who song is “The Kids are Alright” which makes some sense and would fit movie (in terms of a title). Spelling it “all right” implies something like, “The Kids are All Correct” – I don’t think that makes sense. There are two kids in the movie, so that would mean, “both of the kids are correct.” Hmm, that still doesn’t really jibe with the movie. Both Mark Ruffalo and Annette Bening were nominated, but try to describe these characters in more than three words, and you’ll find that there wasn’t much material for them to work with and make memorable characters.

Inception
Remember when everyone was like, “The Dark Knight should have been nominated – I mean, it would never win, but it should’ve been nominated?” Inception. Great movie. Nominated. Won’t win. (for such a “smart” story, it was slightly reliant on guns in the third act – blech, I hate using lingo). Also, for you folks arguing/discussing the ending of the movie and whether it’s “real.” Just stop. The whole point of the ending was that it was ambiguous. Speaking of which, Inception had, far and away, the Best Original Screenplay.

The King’s Speech
See? The title’s a double-entendre! Seriously, though, this is a tough one. The movie made speech therapy interesting (sorry for any speech therapists who are reading), and sent me to Wikipedia to read more about that odd time in the British Monarchy, BUT….but, there were better movies that came out in 2010. Honestly, there’s not one thing I’d change in the movie (other than maybe having Guy Pearce play his character from Ravenous instead of a prince, but I digress), but it was just too staid, too safe, and didn’t surprise me (other than the “making the development of modern speech therapy more interesting” thing). In terms of acting for accolades, speech impediments and British Royalty both seem like low-hanging fruit, but darn it, Colin Firth should win for Best Actor.

The Fighter
I generally avoid boxing movies – there’s just something about the false romanticism applied to boxing that grates on my nerves, so this one of the ten movies I was least looking forward to seeing. So, it was a pleasant surprise that it almost avoided any sort of the phony, down-on-his-luck BS that accompanies stories like this. Christian Bale should win Best Supporting Actor. In principle, he’s a bit too much of a capital-A “Actor” for my tastes, but darn it, if you told me he wasn’t the same person who plays Bruce Wayne, I’d believe you (of course I’m ignoring the significant physical change and just going by cadence, body language, and tics). Now, Wikipedia says he stayed in character even when the cameras weren’t rolling, and that’s enough to make me want to slap someone. In terms of the movie, unfortunately it relied too much on the main character being a complete dolt about how much his family was holding him back, so even though it was (closely) based on a true story, that took me out of it. “Bartender with a heart of gold” is bit tougher to pull off than “prostitute with a heart of gold,” but both are in the realm of “awards-bait,” but Amy Adams should win best supporting actress (and they didn’t “uglify” her to really pull on the award strings, so that counts for something).

Black Swan
This is the best movie of 2010 and maybe the best movie of the decade (whether the 2000s or the 2010s). There, I said it. See my comments above about “the development of modern speech therapy” and replace that with “ballet.” The screenplay and direction combine to hit notes of hard drama, suspense, sexy thriller, sports-drama (underdogs and all that), psychological horror, stuff-jumping-out-at-you horror, as well as the risky “movie within the movie.” Visually unique, maybe it’s not for everyone; here’s a negative review where I’d actually agree with him about pretty much every point, EXCEPT that my conclusion would be that it all worked. The last few shots (when she’s at the top of the “mountain” on the stage then jumps as the music hits the false crescendo until the fade to white) are perfect filmmaking. Every detail is perfect. The music (seriously the song has two finale crescendos which strike wildly disparate moods, yet are both…perfect. Those crazy Russians), the disconcerting push-pull as she appears to float onto the waiting mattress, her eyes, the audience which can’t contain its cheers which continue through to the end titles. Natalie Portman (who the Internet has apparently always thought can’t act?) should and will win the Best Actress award, but I see the Best Picture trophy going to a safer pick. Darren Aronofsky should be a shoe-in for Best Director, and Black Swan should also win for editing. Also, give it the Best Cinematography award, too. Sure, you’re thinking True Grit (“ooh, sweeping vistas!” says my dad) or The Social Network (“they shot so much in low light – think of the types of lenses they needed to use!” says the movie nerd [note: “nerd,” not “geek”]), but this is an artistic award, not a technical one, and the only truly unique “sweeping vistas” I’ve seen were in The Fall. It’s easy to make a sunset look artistic.

Soapbox warning: for you internet folks out there complaining that Clint Mansell was not eligible for the Soundtrack award, listen to his “arrangement” of the most dramatic and compelling scene of the movie with the most complementary music (the final scene), then compare it to Tchaikovsky’s original. Go on. I’ll wait. Yeah, adding two measures of glorified vamping to give the director room for another shot before the big finish doesn’t mean that the Academy’s rules are old-fashioned, and it was a travesty he was not DQ’d. Sorry, internet.

True Grit
Along with The Fighter, I wasn’t looking forward to watching this, but it was a pleasant surprise. It kept its “Coen Brothers-ish” tone under control for the most part which kept me happy, but they couldn’t let a few of their beloved “American Eccentrics” stop the movie dead in its tracks (specifically
the “doctor” with the bear skin); “hey character actor – how about you stare at the main characters and say things in a weird syntax with an even weirder, non-placeable but eminently ‘American’ accent while we roll the cameras until we get a take we like.” Also, what’s more Coen-ish than a precocious 14 year old girl with a passion for lawyering (and revenge)? BUT, my main concern was that Jeff Bridges was going to turn his role into a vanity project with the huge leeway afforded by the character’s accent (and wanting to separate the role from John Wayne’s original take on it) and tear up the scenery. I was pleasantly surprised that once I accepted his growling accent after five minutes of it, I was on-board and for such a broadly drawn character, and I actually enjoyed watching him. Hailee Steinfeld didn’t so much act as successfully spit out the typically Coens-ish dialogue (that’s not a knock on her), and enjoyable to watch or not, she wasn’t a supporting actress, she was the whole F’N show, so out of principle I won’t even consider her for that award.

The Social Network
Keeping up the theme of “making something not-interesting interesting for two hours,” The Social Network worked. I was less enamored than many others (Mark goes to California, his best friend is royally screwed, the movie abruptly ends). Aaron Sorkin avoids his typical speechifying, and provides the Best Adapted Screenplay, which is why the movie is so enjoyable, and actually could be the reason that Jesse Eisenberg won’t be stuck playing “think ‘Michael Cera,’ but with darker hair” roles until he’s 35. Like other David Fincher movies, there’s a lot of crazy special effects/camera tricks going on which don’t call attention to themselves (the crew race was filmed with no one in the stands, and famously quoted by people who have the internet, the twin jerks were played by one guy.) Speaking of the twin jerks, the fact that they’re entitled jerks but that you still get a sense that they were unceremoniously screwed by Zuckerberg hints at the strength of the screenplay, actors, and director. Also, because True Grit was not eligible for Best Soundtrack (and TRON Legacy wasn’t nominated to provide some competition), Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross should get an Oscar to match their Golden Globe. (special note: I’m still undecided about the TRON Legacy soundtrack. I agree with this review more than I disagree with it. The album is a little too “safe” and doesn’t stand out as anything other than a post-Batman Begins soundtrack.)

Winter’s Bone
I knew nothing about this movie when I saw it other than its poster. Naturally, I assumed it was about kids hunting for treasure while it was cold outside. With a canoe. Wow, that was not what the movie was about. At all. Unless a deadbeat dad is considered “treasure” in the sadder parts of Arkansas! Ha! Poverty Humor! Speaking of poverty, the movie was more enjoyable than this critic implies [special note: he uses the awesome and awesomely made-up word “yokelocracy” (and if you saw the movie you’d understand how precisely appropriate his word is)], but I agree with his point that the movie is glorified “poverty porn.” Maybe it was written/based on some intensely researched and nuanced perspective of the greater Ozarks, but if I were to be tasked with “write a three paragraph description of the meth-addled South,” I don’t think it’d be too different from what we see up on the screen. Like “The Kids are All Right,” [alternatively titled: “Both Children are Correct”] it won’t win and has no business winning, but they needed ten nominees to make up for not nominating “The Dark Knight” two years ago.

127 Hours
Coming off of “Slumdog Millionaire,” and one of my top 5 movies, “Sunshine” (well, the first two-thirds and the final 3 minutes of it), Danny Boyle had an opportunity to establish himself, but he didn’t trust his sound team enough. Let me explain. This movie should really be titled, “he cuts his own damn arm off with a dull blade,” so, of course, that’s the critical moment. It makes the movie. Sound people in Hollywood were drooling for this contract; what exactly is the sound of a dull blade cutting through ligament, tendon, flesh, muscle, bone, and marrow? Well, they came up with it (did they ever), and instead of letting the sounds speak for themselves (hmm – I guess that’s an oddly literal figurative expression in this case) Boyle kept the camera in a series of tight shots of the cutting process, when the risky move would have been to re-establish the precariousness of the situation with a shot showing the entire canyon, then letting that sickly sound establish that the cut had been successful. Risk = reward, and Boyle didn’t trust his sound team with that risk. It needed only to be visually OR aurally shocking; both were too much.

So, some wrap-up to cover all of my bases…

Other than Natalie Portman, I don’t think Black Swan will win anything, so generally, where I circled Black Swan, transfer it to The King’s Speech.

Best Picture Nominee I liked and appreciated as a “good” movie, but would actively avoid watching in the future (also called the Schindler’s List award): Winter’s Bone.

Safe pick for the Best Picture Nominee I would recommend to my mom (who doesn’t like violence, excessive swearing, excessive sex, excessive volume, and is a constant risk for falling asleep any time after 9:00PM): The King’s Speech.

Risky pick for the Best Picture Nominee I would recommend to my mom (but wouldn’t want to be in the same room or reachable by telephone after): Black Swan.

Best Picture Nominee I would not want to watch with my mom in the same room: Black Swan.

Best Picture Nominee I’d flip past on TBS during another show’s commercial break, then watch until well after the original commercial break ended, causing me to miss my show: True Grit

Best Picture Nominee I’ll watch out-of-order in 5 minute chunks on FX over the course of two months: The Fighter.

Best Picture Nominee which needs a sequel or spin-off (degree of difficulty, low): Toy Story 3.

Best Picture Nominee which needs a sequel or spin-off (degree of difficulty, cash-in): The King’s Speech.

Best Picture Nominee which needs a sequel or spin-off (degree of difficulty, high): True Grit (maybe about Matt Damon’s character?)

Movie which could easily get a spin-off or sequel but shouldn’t: Inception.

Movie which should’ve taken the place of either “Both Children are Correct” or Winter’s Bone: Blue Valentine.

Best Picture Nominee about which I wrongly underestimated before I saw it: The Fighter.

Best Picture Nominee to recommend to people who don’t usually like ‘Best Picture Nominee-type movies’ (degree of difficulty, The Departed): The Social Network.

Best Picture Nominee to recommend to people who don’t usually like ‘Best Picture Nominee-type movies’ (degree of difficulty, The English Patient): Winter’s Bone.

****½

Four-and-a-half stars – It was a pretty good year for movies.

When in-character WWE wrestlers interview movie stars.

Check out these two videos of “The Miz” interviewing the cast and director of “The Dark Knight.” I realized that the hype machine for the movie was pretty crazy (even crazier now that it’s obvious that the movie could have sold itself on its own merits), but I had no idea they were so desperate to allow a WWE “representative” to interview the stars.

The image of a ridiculous wrestler (title belt draped over his body) interviewing Maggie Gyllenhall is really one for the ages as is her confusion when he insists on playing with the action figures. Likewise his mustache discussion with Gary Oldman of all people hits “awkward” right on the head. (I guess Oldman insisted that he not be interviewed by someone wearing a championship belt from a fixed “sport.”)

Also of note is Christian Bale’s look over to his assistant as he has no idea how to react to “The Miz.” You’d think they could’ve had an interesting comparison of the injuries accumulated in filming a fight scene (Bale seems intense enough to acquire injuries during filming – it looks like he has marks on his arms from filming Terminator 4 around the time of the interview) to the injuries in wrestling or stories about “working through pain in the name of entertainment” – who knows.

Anyway, enjoy the awkwardness.

Superstar To Superstar: Miz interviews the stars of “The Dark Knight” – Part I.

Superstar To Superstar: Miz interviews the stars of “The Dark Knight” – Part II.

*****

There’s a reason that professional wrestling will never be considered a “mainstream” form of entertainment. This is it.

Other People Stealing Your Ideas Without Ever Having Met You or Knowing that They Stole Something Part 2

Mini-Review (no exclamation mark)

Yet one more instance of the Bookshelf® being a step ahead of the mass media.

Last week, the latest “internet phenomenon movie,” 300 released its first official trailer. Without judging the movie, of which I only know a marginable amount, it looks like someone decided to make a bluescreen movie, but this time, turn up the dynamic range.

300
Just imagine how mad he’d be if someone unknowingly stole his idea…Without asking!

Anyway, take a look at the trailer here, and give it a nice listen. Yep, the music might sound a bit familiar for those of you that remember a semi-but-now-quickly-being-un-disowned movie trailer put together by your favorite group of (not so) local idiots. That’s “Just Like You Imagined” from Nine Inch Nails’ album, The Fragile. These “300” people stole my idea without even having met me or knowing that they stole something.

*

They get one star because they’re movie looks pretty darn cool, but they lose four because of the aforementioned idea-stealing, and the fact that they didn’t take advantage of the fact that the song already has the “quiet, loud, quiet” dynamic good for making movie trailers dramatic (or in our case, confusing) and just recycled the beginning of the song at the end. Bad form, Hollywood. Bad form.

*to be fair, the song was used in a trailer before we used it, but it was a trailer for a Nine Inch Nails concert DVD, so I think it’s safe to say that that doesn’t count. I’d send a link to that video, but it’s buried within the Flash in the “clips and trailers” section of the DVD’s website.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ Trick Plays

Each game, the Steelers come in with eight trick plays. These include end-arounds, halfback options, double-reverses, etc. In the middle of the second quarter, they used their first with great success.

Lining up in the I formation, one of the most flexible of the offensive formations, Ben Roethlisberger, faked the handoff to the half-back who then ran to the right side of the offensive line as the fullback ran to the left all while a wide receiver from the right side ran towards the half-back. The wide receiver got the hand off, followed the fullback’s blocks to the left and got the easy first down.

Unfortunately for the Steelers, the drive ended in an interception.

****

The trick play doesn’t receive five stars if only because it didn’t result in a huge gain, just a first down.

The Blown Whistle on That Seahawks Incomplete Pass that was a fumble

The Seahawks WR just caught the ball, made a football motion (a turn), and put feet down, as the steelers player hit him and the ball popped loose. Unfortunately the refs blew the whistle for an incomplete pass, blowing the play dead, and unreviewable. In my opinion the refs never get this call right, because on iffy calls like this, both teams should be able to get a reasonable image of what actually happened. The safe call here is to let them play, like in hockey or soccer in a situation like that. when the play is dead, then the team that felt ripped off could officially challenge the play and get a definitive answer. In all reality it didn’t matter in this instance though, as the ball went all the way back to the pittsburgh 10 yard line or thereabouts, and the punt recovery probably gave them better field position.

the blown whistle on the iffy call gets no stars because because the only reason for them to call a play like that dead is for the refs to save face and claim their authority on the field. Nobody likes refs though, and power plays like this don’t help their cause. This hurts both teams in the long run, because that really was a fumble, and by letting the play go through they can look at all the evidence, and not just a quickly-viewed, one sided opinion.

Food (supplied by Primo)

Mmm…. mozzarella, prosciutto, and other Italian words I probably can’t spell very well. The Suprimo and Turkey Diablo.

primo.jpg

Best sandwiches ever. 1/2 star off for a necessary lack of variety.

****½

The Superbowl 2006 “Preview Show”

In order to predict the outcome of this year’s Superbowl, we used the best tool in our repertoire to predict the outcome: John Madden NFL 98 for Sega Genesis. It was a tense game, filled with back and forth scoring. Nate’s Steelers came up short after a risky “going for it” on 4th down situation late in the 4th quarter.

prediction.jpg
Too bad there isn’t a Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes predictor…

In typical Madden 98 form, the final score (in spite of the 5 minute quarter length) was (my) Seattle Seahawks 39 to Nate’s Steelers 32. We each had about 300 yards of total offense, though I won the battle of time of possession.

You heard it here first: Seahawks 39, Steelers 32.

****½

The “preview show” (meaning our game of Madden 98) receives four-and-a-half stars due to its close finish that we can only hope the actual game will also have. Go Seahawks!

The 2006 Puppy Bowl

puppybowl.jpg
Hey, it’s better than watching the Jets

As a warm-up to the Superbowl, Animal Planet is offering a marathon of the Puppy Bowls from years past. For the uninitiated, the Puppy bowl is at least an hour or so of about 7 or 8 puppies running around in a miniature stadium, made of cardboard. Multiple cameras around the “stadium” show images of puppies running around, jumping on each other, or mostly just laying on the turf, all set to zany music. To make matters worse, they spared no expense on the announcing, getting NFL Films, NFL Radio, and longtime Philadelphia Phillies announcer Harry Kalas to do the deed. Also, this is a big production, probably 5 cameras, including one called the “bowl cam”, placed underneath a glass bottom of the water bowl that they drink out of. At halftime they clean up the turf with a blatantly used bissel vacuum cleaner, and then they bring out the kitty castle for the kitty bowl halftime show. While an interesting diversion for about 5 minutes, it get incredibly boring and repetitive as the animals don’t do very much, other than walk around to wacky music and disco lighting. Also, you can buy the video here

*½

Puppy Bowl II receives 1.5 stars for being a pretty big waste of your pre-superbowl time. I honestly think I’d rather watch a marathon of“The OC”.

Quiznos Steakhouse Roast Beef Dip

Site note: We’ll be having our first night of live reviewing on Sunday, February 5 during the Superbowl. That’s right; we’ll be reviewing all aspects of the game while it’s still in progress: we’ll review plays, people, commercials, the foods we’re eating, you name it. Be part of our reviewing milestone starting at 6pm EST on Sunday Feb. 5.

MINI-REVIEW!


Quiznos? More like Quiz-MAYBES!!!

I had this sandwich the other day, and I suppose while I can’t really claim to have expected there to be any more to it, it was very underwhelming. Having not lived under a rock for the past however many years, I realize that ads for food usually exaggerate (or “overrexaggerate” as friend of The Bookshelf Josh Calloway would say) the overwhelming deliciousness that said foods provide, and that Quiznos is a big purveyor of such underhanded tactics.

First of all, and yet a side note, Quiznos likes to pretend that their prices are cheap when they’re anything but. When you hear them speak of just 2.99, you automatically jump to the mindset that Subway instilled in us about subs being 6-inch or footlong, however that’s not the case. It’s more along the lines of 4, 8, and 14 inches, or something like that, and so the 2.99 price is for the small. I’m willing to forgive the higher pricing as the sandwiches are mostly considerably more “gourmet” than subway, but the fact that they advertise them as cheap without saying the actual size, essentially preying on this mindset, really grills my flatbread.

Back on topic. So the sandwich looks all big and stacked full of slow cooked roast beef and melted swiss cheese, when in reality, all it is is a regular roast beef sandwich (the beef hasn’t been specially cooked or anything), with swiss cheese, served with a cup of roast beef juice, known better by some french term that i’m not going to stoop to saying. The sandwich was hot, but I’m not giving them the special credit for that because they toast all of their subs. Basically this was a plain roast beef sandwich, made to look all important, and the price that the people paid for it probably wasn’t worth the letdown.

Not saying that the sandwich wasn’t good (it was quite tasty), but I probably would’ve been better off with the Chicken Carbonara sandwich, the classic italian (minus the olives), or the more expensive black angus sandwich, but hey, I wasn’t paying for it, so nothing to lose.

***

This sandwich gets three stars, due to the fact that while it was good, it was small, and didn’t even have the filler (lettuce, tomato, etc.) to make it more substantial a meal. Add to it that the roast beef was actually cold in spots, due to the hasty toasting of the sandwich, and the fact that the commercial makes it look substantially more overwhelming than it turned out to be, the sandwich leaves a good amount to be desired.

Footnote: While I understand that I am again using the argument that a product did not live up to my prior expectations as a gauge by which to judge said product, this case is different from before in the sense that the company itself was inducing false presumptions, and not other noted reviewers.

Warm Winters

Mini-Review!

Not to get all Seinfeldian here, but really, what’s the deal with warm winters? Here it is, January and it’s feeling like mid-March. Everyone knows what winter is good for, so I won’t go into detail here, but still, I expect some snowy fun. Of course it did snow in December and it remained cold enough to make driving no fun for a solid two weeks or so, but spring time in January? I won’t have any of that. And for those of you who hate the cold weather, just remember there’s a whole month (then three weeks) for the weather to get back in sync. So at best, this warm spell serves only to get your hopes up as February prepares its icy wrath.

robin
Yes, this is a picture of a robin. Yes, I took it today. Yes, it’s January. No, I don’t expect a prize for seeing the first one. (Calvin and Hobbes joke, there)

**

Warm Winters receive two stars due to their disobeying of the natural order of things. I’ve not skiied for a number of years BM, but if I were a skier, I wouldn’t be a happy camper. Is it too much to ask that the seasons be seasonal? The two stars are given for the fact that the car-based world is generally a safer place when roads aren’t slippery and the fact that my house is kept at the “meat locker” setting on the thermostat and warmer weather makes that much less of an issue. Regardless, I want my wintry rage!