Saturday, January 10, 2009

SAG Awards Picks: More Best of '08 I'm not going to run out and rent "Towelheads" after Tim's blistering review. But here's my gift to Tim, and everyone else reading this:

More of the BEST of '08
As the deadline approaches for completing the actual SAG Awards ballot, here are my top picks. I think you'll probably like them as much as I did, so check 'em out:

Best Male Actor in the Lead
Why must I pick between Richard Jenkins, Sean Penn, and Mickey Rourke? Why?? Let's take a look, shall we?

"The Visitor"

For anyone who thinks Bill Murray has cornered the market on the underplayed, tormented middle aged man, take a gander at Richard Jenkins' suppressed college professor in "The Visitor." Where Murray sometimes becomes a style, Jenkins is nothing but real here. This heart-breaking story follows Jenkins as he reluctantly heads to a conference in New York City. When he arrives at his urban pied a terre, he discovers a young foreign couple already living there. What they share is tender and thought-provoking. Loved this. Want more films like this. Please?

At this point, do we really ever expect anything less than Oscar-worthy performances from Sean Penn? But even this performance was a stunning surprise. Yes, he's really that good. The love scenes were G-rated but steamy and real with Penn's committed passion and James Franco's beauty. A wrenching reminder of prejudice, human rights and that vile orange juice woman.

"The Wrestler"
It's driving me nuts that every film reviewer just can't help mention the correlation between Rourke's return and his character's return. Screw that, thank you very much. Forget about his past---this performance stands on it's own. Longing to reach through the digital ether and give him a hug, Mickey Rourke's "still hangin' in there" professional wrestler is layered with longing, regrets, determination and ultimately, honor. A hero and a gentleman. A loser and winner. More films needed like this one, too.

In an ideal world....this is a three-way tie. Since this isn't an ideal world, I'm going to have to pick one.

Best Female Actor in a Lead

Once again, I'm torn. This is a two way tie between Meryl Streep in "Doubt" and Melissa Leo in "Frozen River." Since I've previously reviewed both films, I'll just say that once again, I'll be torn between two stellar performances that leave their competition in the dust.

Best Supporting Male
Oh for the love of all that is good...there is not one nominee here who doesn't deserve this award.
Josh Brolin in "Milk": this guy is so good, I can't even recognize him from one role to the next. A twistedly vile politician here. Come to think of it....I loved him in W, too. Where he was a simplistically twisted and vile politician.
Robert Downey, Jr. in "Tropic Thunder": it takes a lot to stir the powers that be enough to recognize comedy in awards shows. And Downey's got more than enough. See this film, please.
Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Doubt": yes, yes, yes. If you've read my posts before, you know that Hoffman is in that Sean Penn category of "actors who are incapable of anything less than greatness" in my opinion. Here, no exception. Did he? Didn't he? Why did this movie have to end?
Heath Ledger in "The Dark Knight": I'm one of the few that detested this film. However, Heath Ledger did deliver a mind-blowing, creepy joker and we are all the better for the brief time we had to savor his talent.
Dev Patel in "Slumdog Millionaire": This is a role of a lifetime for any actor, with a sweeping story from a brutal youth to utter degradation as an adult. Dev Patel soared in this role. Bravo, bravo.

Best Supporting Female
Look, you don't get to this level without being phenomenal (and, let's face it, lucky, but that's another story). So here, we have a strong cast of contenders (Amy Adams for "Doubt," Penelope Cruz for "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," Viola Davis for "Doubt," Taraji P. Henson for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," and Kate Winslet for "The Reader").

But my vote will go to:
Kate Winslet in "The Reader": I knew nothing about this film prior to seeing it, and I hope you can approach it the same way. The less I say, the better. But Winslet reveals...oh, nevermind. This is a disturbing, intense and brilliant film very much worth seeing.

Outstanding Cast

Another tough category to pick a winner. But my top picks are:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Like an old-fashioned, epic sweeping saga, this tale takes you through time and space, places and situations that delve deep. A big story, well-told, beautifully done.
In graphic design, the epitome of great design is the ability to boil an idea down to the fewest visual marks you can make that will tell the story. Here, we have the epitome of film. A small cast, no excess, nothing exists without it's absolute necessity. Brilliant on every level.
Slumdog Millionaire
Another epic saga that can only achieve this level of greatness by every single piece being in its perfect place. And it was. And they were. And it is.

How can this not be a three-way tie?

For teeth-gnashing, told-you-so, popcorn chewing fun, check out the SAG Awards on Sunday, January 25th on TNT and TBS at 8 pm ET/PT, 7 CT and 6 MT.

Friday, January 9, 2009

“Towelhead”- Coming of age is horrifically gross - let's shoot that in close-up!

Isn’t the world horrible? Jesus what a way to start a new year! I see and usually rate the “look I’m provocative for the sake of provocation” school of films a banal average rating. (“Welcome to the Dollhouse”, “Happiness”, “Kids”, “Spanking the Monkey”, etc) They remind me of the ‘torture porn’ flicks that have to desperately go over the top in the name of attempted coolness. (Cough- Tarantino!) Excess only works in the context of an already strong film (“Thirteen”, ”Trainspotting”, “Eating Raoul”, “Boogie Nights”, “City of God” and in theaters “Slumdog Millionaire”).

Since Alan Ball wrote the fun “American Beauty” (and “Six Feet Under”) and was making his directorial debut with “Towelhead”, I thought this would be decent. Somewhere between the low angle shot of menstruated panties and the -well: the dead pet in the freezer, the casual sex between young children, the pedophilia, bigotry, abuse and other such horrors presented in a matter of fact fashion, my mind just switched off. Our shell shocked teen (who in fact acts appropriately like a zombie compared to thirteen year olds I’ve met) moves from one abuse to another while some critics cheer. Set in Texas against the backdrop of the first Gulf War our broken Middle Eastern family comments on – blah- blah-blah…not one of these characters seemed real to me but were more like caricatures in a morality play. The DVD has extras that include discussions on prejudice in a desperate attempt to cast this film as non-exploitive. It is in the “Funny Games” camp of filmmaking to manipulate the audience to teach it about itself. I get enough condescension in real life guys, get into documentaries and stop exploiting the same wrongs that you preach to be against. It’s ‘Theaters’ not “The Haters" , so please stop hating the audience. Like your main charactor we are shell shocked and in need of love or at the very least meaningful entertainment that touches us without that sledgehammer.