Wednesday, January 29, 2014

55 Things in Honor of the 55th Anniversary of Sleeping Beauty

On this day, 55 years ago, the Walt Disney animated film Sleeping Beauty was released in theaters. It's hard to imagine a time when such a big film would be released at the end of January, but I guess back in 1959 they figured people wanted to see good films throughout the entire year (Oh, how times have changed). Thanks to its gorgeous animation and perhaps the best villain to come out of the studio, Sleeping Beauty holds a place as my favorite animated film from the classic era (or pre-The Little Mermaid). It also takes on a new life this summer with the live-action film version starring Angelina Jolie as Maleficent. In honor of this anniversary, I'm celebrating with 55 factoids, fun-filled tidbits, or just random observations concerning the film. Hail to the Princess Aurora!

  1. The film was only the 3rd Disney animated feature based on a fairy tale (Snow White and Cinderella being the other two). The next fairy tale inspired film wouldn't come until 30 years later.
  2. It is also the last fairy tale inspired film that Walt Disney himself was involved with.
  3. Sleeping Beauty was Disney's 16th animated film
  4. Production on the film started in 1951 and lasted nearly a decade
  5. As the years past, Walt became more and more concerned and involved with the creation of Disneyland and took a hands-off approach toward the film.
  6. The look of the film was a departure from the previous films and was intended to look like a medieval storybook brought to life
  7. Artist Eyvind Earle was the color stylist and in charge of the backgrounds
  8. The backgrounds were so intricate that a single background painting would take from 7 to 10 days. A normal background usually took a single day to complete.
  9. Walt actually stole the kiss story element from the story of Sleeping Beauty to be used in Snow White. In the original Grimm fairy tale, Snow White has the piece of apple stuck in her throat. As the prince has the glass casket carried away with him, it gets dropped and the apple dislodges itself and it awakens her. What, food falling out of your mouth isn't a romantic enough way to break a spell, Walt?!?
  10. The film was shot in Super Technirama 70 mm film as opposed to 35 mm
  11. Despite being the titular character, the Sleeping Beauty only appears in about 18 minutes of the film–less than any other Disney Princess
  12.  The music for the film was adapted from Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty ballet by George Bruns (as a kid I always thought it said George Burns. He's so talented!)
  13. The film's only Oscar nomination came for the score. It lost.
  14. Walt originally wanted the three good fairies to be exactly the same.
  15. Animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston thought it would be better to give each their own personality and color (Thank goodness. How else would we have had the famous Pink/Blue dress color fight?)
  16. Although Aurora is one of the rare Disney characters to have both parents, her mother is never named in the film. Notes suggest it was supposed to be Leah and now the studio just goes with that.
  17. The Queen also has exactly two lines in the entire film: "And you're not offended your excellency" and the poignant and complex, "Oh, no!"
  18. There's also debate on who actually provided that voice. Some sources say that it was never written down and others think that Verna Felton (who voiced the fairy Flora) provided the Queen's voice as well.
  19. Eleanor Audley provided Maleficent's wicked voice. She also provided the voice of Lady Tremaine (Cinderella's stepmother). So does this mean that Angelina and Cate Blanchett (currently filming a live-action Cinderella as the stepmother) are the same actress as well? 
  20. It's rumored that the animators used Audrey Hepburn as an inspiration for the look of Aurora. It sounds more like a nice story as she looks absolutely nothing like Audrey. Because they both have thick eyebrows? This is like that rumor that Tinker Bell was modeled after Marilyn Monroe. Lies! It just sounds good.
  21. Flora's gift to the baby princess is the gift of Beauty.
  22. Fauna's gift is the gift of Song
  23. Haven't you always wondered what Merryweather was actually going to give as a gift to Aurora? Hopefully some intellect to go along with that pretty face and awesome singing voice.
  24. In the original fairy tale, the princess sleeps for 100 years before she is awakened. Disney's princess sleeps for about 8 hours or so. Or what doctors recommend as a good night's sleep.
  25. Marc Davis was responsible for animating both Aurora and Maleficent. The latter's design was so complicated that he pretty much animated her for the entire film.
  26. Prince Phillip was the first Prince to actually have a name...and a personality
  27. A flame-thrower was used to make the sound of fire being shot out when Maleficent changes into a dragon
  28. Castanets were used to make the sound of the jaw snapping. Olé!
  29. Live-action references were used extensively on the film as the human characters were intended to move more realistically than in any other previous film.
  30. My favorite part of the entire film is after Aurora is awakened and she and Phillip come down the stairs. But the reason it's my favorite is because I love the way her dress falls behind her as she walks down. It's so beautiful and elegent. Something that the plastic looking clothes in CGI have yet to master. 

  31. Apparently Maleficent's raven is named Diablo. 
  32. How come Maleficent's raven–I mean, Diablo–doesn't change to pink and blue when he spies on the fairies and gets hit with the colorful magic?
  33. The cookies that Merryweather makes appear with her wand are shaped like Mickey Mouse
  34. Even though it was opened 4 years before the film, the castle in Disneyland is named Sleeping Beauty's Castle and was used to garner interest in the film. The original plans were to make it Snow White's castle.
  35. Maleficent is actually an evil fairy (not a witch) and the self-proclaimed Mistress of All Evil.
  36. She resides in the Forbidden Mountains. You know, just a relaxing get-away spot.
  37. The design of Maleficent's goons were based on gargoyles
  38. The goons also make an appearance in Toontown in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
  39. Sleeping Beauty was the last film to use hand-inked cels. Starting with 101 Dalmatians they started using Xerox. 
  40. When Maleficent transports herself from her castle to stop Phillip from reaching Aurora, she turns  into a firework–taking the Katy Perry song quite literally.
  41. The "Once Upon a Dream" sequence was created 4 different times and was so costly that it nearly bankrupt the studio.
  42. Barbara Luddy provided the voice of Merryweather. She had previously provided the voice for Lady in Lady and the Tramp. 
  43. I remember being so impressed as child that Maleficent curses, "Now shall you deal with me, O Prince, and all the powers of HELL!"
  44. To this day, whenever I'm baking something, I still pronounce teaspoon as tsp. Oh, Fauna, you're my baking spirit animal.
  45. Aurora is named for the dawn, but that was also her name in the ballet.
  46. The Brothers Grimm version of the story has her named Briar Rose, which is the name used when she goes into hiding.
  47. The part where Maleficent taunts Prince Phillip in the dungeon was originally supposed to be a scene in Snow White but the animators were not confident with the animation of the Prince which is why he appears in that film so little.
  48. To defeat Maleficent, Prince Phillip is gifted the Sword of Truth and Shield of Virtue by the three good fairies. Those sound like fancy condom names...
  49. Mary Costa, who provided the voice of Aurora, also worked as a professional opera singer. She was asked by Jackie Kennedy to sing at the memorial service for JFK in LA in 1963 and also performed at the inaugural concert at the Kennedy Center in DC.
  50. If there's one take-away from the film, it's this: spinning wheels are evil. Don't touch them!
  51. At its release, the film barely made enough to cover the 6 million dollars it cost to make the film.
  52. Because of all the times it has been re-released, it is now the second highest grossing film of 1959 (behind Ben-Hur)
  53. The film was only the second Disney animated film released on VHS (the first was Pinocchio)
  54. For the record, the last shot of Aurora's dress is pink. Flora wins.
  55. But, I think everyone is in agreement that blue is better. Team Merryweather!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Blind Spot: City Lights

[This post is apart of Ryan McNeil's Blind Spot Series at The Matinee. On the last Tuesday of ever month you watch and write about a movie that is considered important in the cinema lexicon, but that you've somehow missed along the way.]

This year marks the 100th anniversary of when Charlie Chaplin made his film debut and thus introduced the world to one of the most recognized cinematic figures of all-time: The Little Tramp. The character is immediately recognizable regardless if you have seen him in one of his many adventures or not: The baggy pants cinched at the waist, the derby hat perched atop his head, the swinging cane, the awkward, turned-out stance as he walks, and, of course, the iconic mustache. (It's unfortunate that another historical figure also gained notoriety with the same facial hair. Luckily, Chaplin was able to use the similarity to his advantage in the satiric film, The Great Dictator. Which is the only film that earned the star an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.) The Tramp made many appearances throughout the years, but the film most often cited as Chaplin's greatest achievement with the character is 1931's City Lights.

Released as a silent film, 4 years after The Jazz Singer started to bring in the new wave of "talkie" pictures, it was an art form of filmmaking that was becoming out-of-style. The film was a labor of love for Chaplin, who not only directed, but wrote the score, edited, and produced, spending almost 3 years making the film. At times throughout the filming, there were questions about whether or not it should be made with sound. But, Chaplin felt that the Tramp character and the film would be more universal without sound, able to connect across language barriers. So, it makes sense the film, despite the trademark humor come to be expected from Chaplin, is at its heart, an old-fashioned love story not afraid of sentimentality. 

This film was actually my first time experiencing a Charlie Chaplin film, so I had high expectations for it. Not only is Chaplin considered one of the greatest comedians to ever grace the silver screen, but the film itself is regarded as not just Chaplin's best but one of the greatest films ever created. After watching this film and The General last year, I think I've come to the conclusion that the comedy in silent films just isn't something that I appreciate. I find it to be too repetitive (I know, comedy comes in threes) and too reliant on slapstick (which is a type of comedy that I've never been a fan of). What saves me from disliking the film altogether, is the sweetness between Chaplin and the Blind Girl (played by Virginia Cherrill) and an ending that shocked me in how effective it was in its simplicity. But, I'm getting ahead of myself...

As the movie opens, a group of officials are dedicating a new statue in the city square. Despite there not being any spoken dialogue, Chaplin still incorporated sound effectively in the film. As a commentary about the speeches made by people in government (and also in response to those new talking films), the officials make unintelligible noise that sounds a lot like the adults in "Peanuts". As the statue is unveiled, there asleep among the monument is The Little Tramp himself. As he tries to get down off the statue, his pants become stuck on a sword and we get the first of many comedic bits of the film as he struggles to free himself.

Later that day, he first encounters a blind girl selling her flowers. She mistakes him for a man of wealth as he exits a fancy car after trying to avoid a policeman. As the audience we know that the way Chaplin is dressed, one would never mistake him for a man of money. But because she's incapable of seeing him as we do, she's able to look past that to see what he could be. 

In the evening along the river, the Tramp saves a drunken millionaire from committing suicide. The man ties a rope around his neck and ties the other end around a large rock that he intends to toss into the river. Somehow the Tramp finds the rope around his own neck and finds himself in the water (several times). As you can suspect, hilarity ensues. Except that the same thing keeps happening over and over again without any variation. If you found it to be funny the first time, it might wear thin the more you see it. Unfortunately, I didn't find it all that funny the first time.

The man is so grateful to be saved that he befriends the Tramp and takes him home. The only problem is that whenever he sobers up he doesn't recognize the Tramp at all. Like the blind girl, the millionaire is never able to see the Tramp the way he really is. For this reason, the Tramp character is seen as the ultimate outsider and loner. Not only does he live outside society's norms without a home or job, but people also see right through him.

Smitten with the girl he met earlier in the film, the Tramp begins to see her on a regular basis. Although, she still believes him to be a wealthy man. He discovers that there's a surgery that could cure her of her blindness and he vows to get the money for her. The Tramp gets a job as a street cleaner. There's a bit where a troop of horses prance by and you wait for the mess to occur for him to clean up. Luckily the horses don't leave anything behind, but an elephant (huh?) comes into view just as they leave. The film is full of gags like this that are juvenile in their humor. There's no easier way to get a laugh than a good poop joke.

After getting fired from his job for being late, the Tramp must make money another way. Which leads us to the comedic centerpiece of the film. The Tramp enters a boxing-match with a 50 dollar cash prize for the winner. He's in over his head, but he tries to hold his own in the ring. There's lots of mistaken identity play as he deftly switches places with the referee several times, confusing his opponent. And he accidentally keeps ringing the bell to signal the end of the round. The entire sequence is about 15 minutes long and serves only to highlight Chaplin's work as a physical comedian. It seems to draw out a little too long for me. Then at the end, he doesn't even win the money and we have to endure another comedic situation of errors.

The Tramp runs into his friend the drunk millionaire who gives him one thousand dollars to give to the blind girl. The only problem is, there are burglars in the house as well (of course, why wouldn't there be?) and the police try to arrest the Tramp for "stealing" the money. Because, wouldn't you know, the millionaire sobers up and doesn't recognize the Tramp. I think you'll notice a pattern in the comedy. Chaplin seems to enjoy returning again and again to the same devices and jokes. But, instead of making them different or building, they are literally just the same thing. 

Luckily, he's able to give the blind girl all the money right before he's arrested. After he is released he sees her again. Generally, I'm not one to spoil endings, but this one is so poignant that it made me reconsider my entire opinion of the film and I can't go without discussing it. After the boxing match, I started to get a little bored with the repetitiveness of the film. It never seemed to be going anywhere. But his reunion with the girl once she's gained her sight almost makes it all worth it. 

The girl, now able to see and working in a high-end floral shop, is spotted by the Tramp. He looks at her with such astonishment and wonder. For the first time we are seeing honest emotions from him and it awakened something in me as I watched it all unfold. He never thought he'd see her again and now here she is. Looking at his appearance (after leaving jail his clothes are even more tattered), she offers him some money and flower. But as she touches his hand she recognizes the Tramp as her benefactor. "You see now", he says. And she replies simply and heartfelt, "Yes, I can see now." 

It all sounds pretty cheesy, but Chaplin and Cherill pull it all off in a way that makes it touching and heartbreaking. What I love most about it, is how still it all is. There's minimum movement and everything is expressed in their faces and eyes. (It's like Norma Desmond said, "We didn't need dialogue. We had faces!") And all the mugging Chaplin has been doing for the last hour and a half melts away to the last image of him grinning at the girl. Its a smile filled with hope and fear (can she really care for him the way he does her?), but it's also a look of love. It's a moment that feels so real and perfect that although I hadn't cared for the rest of the film as much, the perfection of this moment made me reevaluate the whole film and appreciate it for the magic it could create. Even 100 years later, Charlie Chaplin and the Tramp can still surprise you.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

My Year in Advance Oscar Predictions 2013: How'd I Do?

I have an annual tradition. Every year, the day after the Oscar ceremony (while the winners are still tightly clutching their new golden guy from the night before), I predict who will be nominated for acting Oscars the following year. It's actually not as hard to predict as it may sound. There are just certain roles and people that naturally lend themselves to awards recognition. So, now that the nominees have been announced, let's gaze back into my crystal ball and see just how well I was at predicting the nominees an entire year in advance.

Don't look so forlorn, Bruce. You may have lost your teeth in the film, but you found a nomination.

Best Actor
Bruce Dern Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio The Wolf of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejiofor 12 Years a Slave
Tom Hanks Captain Phillips
Matthew McConaughey Dallas Buyers Club

The Actual Nominees:
Christian Bale American Hustle
Bruce Dern Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio The Wolf of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejiofor 12 Years a Slave
Matthew McConaughey Dallas Buyers Club

How Many Correctly Guessed: 4/5

Damn that Christian Bale! Damn him, I say! He stood in my way of correctly predicting all 5 of the Best Actor nominees. But, in my defense, it really did look like Hanks was in. No one was even predicting Bale even a few weeks ago, let alone a year ago. I guess the lesson I need to learn now is that David O. Russell gets actors nominations. His past 3 films (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, and American Hustle) have earned 11 nominations in the acting categories (and 3 wins). Of all my years doing this (before my blog I would e-mail my picks to my friends), this is the best I've ever predicted. I really was so close to getting all 5 correct. Looking back, I still would've put Hanks over Bale as Bale just won recently and Hanks is beloved in Hollywood and hasn't been nominated since 2000 for Cast Away. And if someone asked me if I would have predicted that Matthew McConaughey would be an Oscar nominee (and front-runner for the win) about 3 years ago, I would have laughed in their face. But such is the McConeissance (which, if you ask me, should have been the real word of 2013 instead of twerking). Alright, alright, alright.

"You know, I learned a very important lesson this year: not every biopic gets nominated. I guess the film has to actually be good as well..."

Best Actress
Nicole Kidman Grace of Monaco
Julia Roberts August: Osage County
Meryl Streep August: Osage County
Naomi Watts Diana
Kate Winslet Labor Day

The Actual Nominees:
Amy Adams American Hustle
Cate Blanchett Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock Gravity
Judi Dench Philomena
Meryl Streep August: Osage County

How Many Correctly Guessed: 1.5/5 
(The half point is for Roberts who did get Supporting)

I've said it once and I'll say it again: Never doubt an Oscar Nomination for Meryl Streep. Like death and paying taxes, it's just one of those inevitable things. And thank god she actually got in here otherwise I wouldn't have correctly predicted anyone (don't worry, that's coming up shortly). For my favorite category, I don't always do so well with predictions here. I think because I choose actresses that  I personally love over one's that will necessarily garner nominations. I would never predict Sandy Bullock getting awards for acting, but here she is a winner and receiving her second nomination. There are also women that I always end up choosing (Kidman, Winslet, and Keira Knightley–when is that second nomination gonna happen already?!) that the Academy don't seem to love as much as I do. I need to stop predicting Nicole Kidman for the simple fact that she never films things she signs on for or, like with this film, the release gets pushed back. After it was announced that the November release date was being pushed back until the spring of this year, it was not a good sign for Grace. Then, this week, it was dropped from the Weinstein Company's schedule all together...because it had been chosen as the opening film at the Cannes Film Festival. That's a roller coaster of release dates. But now that it will officially be released this year, I'm still not betting on it. And will Kate Winslet ever receive another nomination again? (I haven't seen Labor Day yet, but it's not looking so good.) It seems once she won they shoved her out the door. But, most importantly, what about Naomi Watts in Diana, you ask? Well, the less said about it the better...

Stop laughing at me, Jonah! Is there ANYONE that could've predicted you'd have TWO Oscar nominations?!?

Best Supporting Actor:
Javier Bardem The Counselor
Josh Brolin Labor Day
Steve Carrell Foxcatcher
Benedict Cumberbatch The Fifth Estate
Joaquin Phoenix Lowlife

The Actual Nominees:
Barkhad Abdi Captain Phillips
Bradley Cooper American Hustle
Michael Fassbender 12 Years a Slave
Jonah Hill The Wolf of Wall Street
Jared Leto Dallas Buyers Club

How Many Correctly Guessed: 0/5

Not only was I unable to predict any of the eventual nominees in this category, but all my choices were so spectacularly bad it's almost laughable. Let's recap: two films that weren't even released this year (Foxcatcher was supposed to be, then it wasn't, then it was going to be released in time for awards season, and then it eventually was rescheduled for this year sometime. And Lowlife played some film festivals with the new title The Immigrant, but again it's release date seems uncertain. IMDB is telling me sometime in April) and then we have three legitimate bombs. The Counselor was on countless worst of the year lists, but I don't even remember anyone mentioning Bardem at all in it. So he got off lucky. Labor Day has also popped up on some of those same lists and it sure didn't help its chances that it still hasn't even been released yet. (It had a week-long qualifying run in LA, so it was eligible for Oscars this year, but that just didn't happen.) And then we have The Fifth Estate. Last year, I had debated on whether or not to put Cumberbatch in the lead or supporting category, but it turns out the film was so bad that it didn't really matter at all! 

"Have sex with a car, they said. Do a crazy accent, they said. You're sure to get an Oscar nomination. What was I thinking?"

Best Supporting Actress
Cate Blanchett The Monuments Men
Cameron Diaz The Counselor
Margo Martindale August: Osage County
Emma Thompson Saving Mr. Banks
Oprah Winfrey The Butler

The Actual Nominees:
Sally Hawkins Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence American Hustle
Lupita Nyong'o 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts August: Osage County
June Squibb Nebraska

How Many Correctly Guessed: 1 0/5 (no Oprah?!)

Remember how I said Bardem got off easy with The Counselor? Well, the same cannot be said of Cameron Diaz who was continually singled out as the worst part of the movie (especially for the scene where she has sex with a car). Rumor has it that she also had to re-record all her dialogue because the Rihanna-like accent she used during filming was too hard to understand. Oh, Cammie D. I like that you keep trying. Hopefully one day it will work out for you. For awhile there, it looked like Emma Thompson and Oprah were actually going to be nominated, but it just wasn't meant to be. Emma ended up in the lead category anyway and Julia Roberts (an actual lead) made her way to this category thus taking away any chances that Margo Martindale had of being nominated. Do I get any points for correctly predicting that Cate Blanchett would get a nomination this year? True, it was in the wrong category and for a movie that got its release date pushed to the wasteland that is February, but it might still count for something. I think the biggest disappointment is that, despite a SAG nomination and being predicted by most pundits, the one and only Oprah failed to get a nomination for Lee Daniels' The Butler. That's the second year in a row that an actress in one of his movies has been shut out in this category despite scoring a SAG nom. I would feel sorry for her if she wasn't so wildly wealthy and successful already.

Make sure you check back on March 3 to see who I predict for Oscar Nominations in 2014!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Oscar Nominations 2013!

By now I'm sure you've all seen the actual nominations announced this morning (I would love to post right after they're announced, but, you know, day job...). But I couldn't let them pass without a little commentary about them (except that Best Documentry: Short Subject category. I have no opinion on that. I can't even pronounce most of the titles). But now I've had time to digest and think them all over, so here we go...

"Sorry, Renner, your hair is just not crazy enough to score an acting nomination..."
Best Picture
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

So, can we just assume that there will always be 9 nominees in this category from now on? This anywhere from 5-10 nominees is too much. How am I supposed to remember all of these anyway. Without googling, can anyone name all of last year's 9 Best Picture nominees? Anyway, I was only right with 7 out of my 9 predictions with Lee Daniels' The Butler and Saving Mr. Banks (which the Academy really did not go for in a big way, as both films, combined, only scored 1 nomination) instead of eventual nominees Captain Phillips (which somehow still scored despite no love for it's director or star) and Philomena (man, people love Judi Dench. I liked the film, but I would hardly go so far as to name it best picture). I added Dallas Buyers Club at the last minute to my predictions because people have some unexpected love for that film (if anyone can explain why, I'd be grateful). Obviously I want Her to win here, but it has no chance. So now all I can hope is that 12 Years a Slave takes it over American Hustles' meandering, celebrity dress-up. 

Best Director
David O. Russell American Hustle
Alfonso Cuarón Gravity
Alexander Payne Nebraska
Steve McQueen 12 Years a Slave
Martin Scorsese The Wolf of Wall Street

Guys, I'm bummed that Spike Jonze didn't make the cut here. I guess I should just be thankful that it was nominated for Picture. But, seriously, I hated every minute of Alexander Payne's condescending Nebraska. I grew up in the state and I know Payne is from there–saying this film is his love letter to Nebraska–but if that's the case he must be one of those boyfriend's that likes to belittle you and make fun of everything about you. All I saw was contempt for small-town America and a patronizing tone. I'd like a McQueen, but I'm fine with a Cuarón.

"Cheers to my fellow nominees: Redford, Hanks, Joaquin Phoenix, Oscar Isaac. Wait..."
Best Actor
Christian Bale American Hustle
Bruce Dern Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio The Wolf of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejiofor 12 Years a Slave
Matthew McConaughey Dallas Buyers Club

Whoa. I mean, Christian Bale, huh? I know there where rumblings after his BAFTA nomination, but I never thought it would erupt into a nom here especially over near-lock Tom Hanks. And now American Hustle matches Silver Linings Playbook with a nominee in all 4 of the acting categories. Remember when it looked like Hanks might be a double nominee this year (like everyone else, I too think the scene in Phillips after his rescue, when he breaks down, is one of the best things Hanks has ever done, but then I think about how awful he is in that first scene in the car with all that exposition, and that accent, so I'm not torn up about this)? Or back in the Fall when people were predicting a Robert Redford win? Well, that's how it goes. Obviously I had Hanks over Bale in this category, but I could sense that Leo was getting in. And after that Golden Globe win, it was a done deal. This is actually one of the few races that can't be called. I can see any of the four (not Bale–he's won before and the nomination was the reward) taking this on Oscar night. 

"You mean to tell me people weren't predicting a nomination for me? Well, the odds are against ya, babe."
Best Actress
Amy Adams American Hustle
Cate Blanchett Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock Gravity
Judi Dench Philomena
Meryl Streep August: Osage County

I think we've all learned a very important lesson today: Never EVER bet against Meryl fucking Streep at the Oscars. The greatest Actress That Ever Lived now has a record 18 acting nominations. But, it's not even that impressive because she broke her own record. Runners-up Kate Hepburn and Jack Nicholson only have 12 each. One is dead and the other is retired, so I think it's safe to say that Meryl will be holding that record for a very long time. My final prediction was Amy Adams in (now her 5th nom and first in this category) and Meryl out. She sure showed me. But it was at the expense of Emma Thompson, who with a win in both acting and writing, doesn't need another nomination, but damn if she wasn't great in Saving Mr. Banks. I'm sure she's off throwing shoes aside and tossing back martinis anyway. It'll be Oscar night's lose. Anyway, this category of all previous nominees are just placeholder's for Cate Blanchett's inevitable victory. God, she's good.

I actually don't have a quip. I'd just like to point out that Jared Leto is 42. 22-year-olds don't have skin that nice.
Best Supporting Actor
   Barkhad Abdi Captain Phillips
Bradley Cooper American Hustle
Michael Fassbender 12 Years a Slave
Jonah Hill The Wolf of Wall Street
Jared Leto Dallas Buyers Club

We now live in a world where Jonah Hill is a two-time Academy Award Nominee. Just let that sink in. He has more nominations than Robert Redford, Edward G. Robinson, Donald Sutherland, Peter Lorre, and John Barrymore combined. He was the one nomination I didn't predict here, opting for James Gandolfini instead. But, I'm not entirely surprised by Hill's nom as it's a pretty showy role. And I'm just glad Daniel Bruhl missed out for Rush for the purely selfish reason that now I don't have to see that movie (all Picture and Acting nominees seen!). I want Fassy to win (just glad he finally got a nomination), but know Leto will win. Ugh, this is always my least favorite category.

Best Supporting Actress
Sally Hawkins Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence American Hustle
Lupita Nyong'o 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts August: Osage County
June Squibb Nebraska

Sally Hawkins!!! You get a nomination (can you believe it)! JLaw and Julia–you get nominations! Oprah! Um, sorry, we're all out...I might be in the minority, but if we can't have a Scarlett Johansson nom (it never was really gonna happen anyway) I'd rather have an Oprah over a June Squibb. Look, she's old and foul-mouthed! Isn't that hilarious?!? Jennifer lawrence is now the youngest actor to score three nominations–but she better not win back-to-back Oscars. This award is for Lupita (or as my phone's autocorrect likes to say: Lipitor). 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

My Oscar Wish List 2013

I'm not sure if I'll even be able to sleep tonight in anticipation of the real Christmas: Oscar nomination morning! Thankfully they cater to the East Coast with Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth, announcing the nominees at 8:30 AM tomorrow. (Jeez, I'd hate to have to get up at the ungodly hour of 5:30 on the West Coast.) At least this year we'll be able to gaze upon the face of a Norse god (or Marvel Superhero–same diff) instead of having to endure Seth MacFarlane and (the usually lovely) Emma Stone exchange mildly funny quips (it's too early for comedy, people!). This year's theme for the Oscar was just announced the other day: A Celebration of Movie Heroes. Which would explain the presence of Mr. Hemsworth. (But, why exactly is there an Oscar Ceremony theme anyway? What is this a Junior High Homecoming dance?) Silly themes and muscley blonde men aside, I'm most excited to see what surprise nominees will be announced along sure-things Cate Blanchett, Jared Leto, and Jennifer Lawrence. With so many great performances vying for a nomination each year, there's always going be people left behind. In honor of those "forgotten" actors, I've selected someone in each category that I would most like to become surprise nominees. Their chances at a nomination aren't the best, but their work deserves to be celebrated.

Best Actor:
Joaquin Phoenix Her

Amid the awards chatter for Best Actor–Will Robert Redford make that fifth spot? Is Leo due for a nomination for his splashy turn in The Wolf of Wall Street? Did you see how much weight McConaughey lost?–people seem to be overlooking one of the best performances from an actor this year. And perhaps it's because his work is usually so intense and begs to be noticed that people seem to be ignoring the quietly moving and heart-achingly sweet turn by Joaquin Phoenix in Spike Jonze's Her. When we first meet Theodore Twombly (Phoenix), a man in near-future Los Angles who makes a living writing "Beautiful Handwritten Letters" for people, he is a man lost and alone (play a melancholy song, he instructs his mobile device) due to his separation from his wife (played by Rooney Mara). Walking home from the office, where everyone is too absorbed in their own personal electronic devices to notice much of anything, he seems to be silently screaming for affection. This man, who is capable of being so intimate with total strangers for his job (finding out lovers' favorite body parts to incorporate into letters), is incapable of intimacy in his real life. It isn't until he meets his new Operating System (Samantha, she quickly names herself) gifted with artificial intelligence, that something is unlocked in Theodore. Samantha delves into him. She senses when something isn't right with him. She asks questions that provoke his mind and heart. With Samantha, he begins to love again–not only her, but the person he is when he's with her. Phoenix, who seems to have cornered the market on oddballs and weirdos (on screen as well as off), brings just enough of his off kilter personality to fit perfectly into this world where a man can convincingly have a relationship with his computer. But the surprising thing about his work in the film is how intimate, likable, and believable he's able to make the relationship feel. (It helps greatly that Samantha is given the warm, breathy voice of Scarlett Johansson.) After last year's frenzied Oscar-nominated performance in The Master, in which Phoenix commanded the screen like a feral animal, the sight of him laughing on a beach and giddily spinning in circles at a fair seems downright revelatory. But beneath the light-heartedness is that tempest of emotions and intelligence we've come to expect from Phoenix. His work as Theodore is just as layered, complicated, and complex as his work in previous films, but, unlike those performances, aren't nearly as joyful to watch unfold.

Best Actress
Greta Gerwig Frances Ha

If everything goes according to everyone's predictions, tomorrow morning we could have a Best Actress category made up entirely of previous winners (if Meryl makes it in) or entirely of previous nominees (if Amy Adams' mesmerizing décolletage gets the fifth spot instead). It just doesn't seem like a new actress will be able to add "Best Actress Oscar nominee" to her résumé this year. And if anyone deserved to do it, it should be Greta Gerwig, an actress who not only created one of the most interesting and lived-in characters of the year in one of the year's best films, but was also responsible for her creation as co-writer of Frances Ha. Along with director and fellow writer (and real-life lovah), Noah Baumbach, Gerwig presents a portrait of girl during that awkward phase (called your twenties), when society tells you that you should be a responsible, functioning adult, but you haven't quite found your footing yet. Gerwig plays Frances, a modern dancer (okay, so, maybe not in a company or anything, but she is an apprentice) in New York City living with her best friend, Sophie (Sting and Trudie Styler's daughter, Mickey Sumner). But the film isn't so much concerned with plot, as much as it's a character study of Frances as she stumbles her way through the journey of life. Appearing in every scene, the film showcases Gerwig's quirky charm and naturalistic acting. Despite her ditziness and clumsiness (Gerwig somehow manages to even make a scene about finding an ATM hilarious), her Frances never veers off into manic pixie dream girl land. That character type, a male fantasy created as the ideal woman (she's sexy and kooky!), could hardly describe Frances as she's too real and far from anyone's ideal (she's actually "undateable" as one character teasingly calls her). For Frances, romantic love and finding a man don't even really factor in nor does it define who she is as a person. She's an accidental feminist–forging her way for herself. And despite the curveballs and bumps along the way to her self-fulfillment, she remains ever optimistic and hopeful (some might say delusional, but they're just cynics). Awards aren't usually given to performances so effortless, tending to reward technique and histrionics, but Gerwig's performance works so well because despite the heavy lifting of carrying an entire film on her shoulders, she never lets us see her sweat.

Best Supporting Actor
Ryan Gosling The Place Beyond the Pines

Best Supporting Actor always seems to be the hardest category to predict (and also the most all-over-the-place). It seems the only locks are Jared Leto (still can't believe Jordan Catalano is gonna be an Oscar nominee) and Michael Fassbender (it's about time, Academy). So, it surprises me that more outside-of-the-box choices haven't been able to make their way into the running for the three other spots. I know a lot of people take issue with the films over-ambitious three-part story (I agree that each act is less engaging than the previous, but I really appreciated what was created with the story taken as a whole) and it was never really going to factor in at awards time with it's March release date, but the film is still one of my favorites of the year and Ryan Gosling's performance has still stayed with me almost a year later. Having previously worked together on his first film, Blue Valentine, director Derek Cianfrance and star Ryan Gosling create another emotional drama with a showcase of Gosling's charisma and depth. Covered in tattoos (including one on his face. Gosling apparently regretting having done it and asked if they could reshoot without it, but production was too far to go back. Cianfrance told Gosling the film was about living with the choices you've made - good or bad - and Gosling was just going to have to live with this one as well), his hair a bleach blonde, and playing a motorcycle stuntman named Handsome Luke, Gosling is the epitome of cool–recalling James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. And like Dean before him, Gosling is able to mix that hard edge with a tender understanding. Gosling, able to convey much with just a stoic gaze and silence, plays a similar character to his role in Drive, but the reason this performance works better is because there's a humanity behind the stillness. After finding out that he has fathered a son with a girl he left a year ago (Eva Mendes), Luke decides to straighten-up and do right by his son. But the straight and narrow path doesn't suit Luke who starts robbing banks to support his estranged family. After one robbery too many, Luke meets his end and the story is handed off to the cop that got him (Bradley Cooper) and then ultimately to the son Luke left behind, 18 years later. The audience never really gets over the shock of losing the main character so early on and it's a testament to Gosling's performance that the lose weighs so heavily over the rest of the film.

Best Supporting Actress
Scarlett Johansson Don Jon

After already missing out on Oscar nominations in her breakthrough year in 2003 (for Lost in Translation and Girl With a Pearl Earring), it's disappointing to think that 10 years later, with another pair of strong performances (for her voice work in Her and her work in this film), that ScarJo will miss out again on a nomination. (It's also a little hard to believe that a non-actor like Oprah could be on her way to a second Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination.) And while much is being said about her vocal work as Samantha in Her, including a history-in-the-making campaign to be the first to score an acting nomination for a voice-over performance, her real achievement of the year was as Barbara Sugarman–which excellently combined both her voice and body–in Joseph Gordon-Levitt's directorial debut. As Gordon-Levitt's object of desire, not much is really asked of Johansson in the film except to look pretty–which she never has been more so, in a trashy/chic, Real Housewives of New Jersey sort of way. Embracing her curves in a series of tight-fitting costumes, she uses her body to tantalize the film's titular character and then ultimately uses it to wield power over him by denying him sex until he enrolls in night classes. Johansson elevates the material by throwing herself completely into the character. With her long nails, hair-extensions, and perfect Jersey accent (all used to fine effect on her first date with Jon, "You're cute. I like you") she fully embodies a character we've come to know through reality shows, but the performance never feels like a parody and comes across as a fully developed character. She's even makes the scene where she goes off on Jon for talking about housecleaning because it's not "sexy" seem credible. For Barbara, there are very specific gender assigned roles and to deviate from them is unacceptable. She also seems to be looking for an unrealistic relationship that could never meet her expectations. A view formed by her love of romantic comedies. Her inflexibility, especially in regards to Jon's porn addiction, ultimately leads to their break-up. The script asks us to look at Barbara as the villain of the film, but with the scene-stealing way Johansson plays her–it's impossible not to be enamored.  

Sunday, January 12, 2014

My Oscar Ballot 2013

For some strange reason, I have yet to be asked to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. I can't think of why. Perhaps my invitation got lost in the mail. But how else will they be able to factor in my choices for the best of the year? Luckily, over at The Film Experience, we've submitted our own Oscar ballots. Check back on Tuesday at The Film Experience, after the votes have been counted, to see who our collective winners are. In the meantime, below is the ballot I submitted for consideration. And I have to say that it was a lot harder to compile than I thought. I kinda felt like I was just picking the same movies over and over again in a different order. But, I looked over a list of all the films released over the year, and these were definitely the ones that I thought were the best of the year.

* * *

Best Picture
1. Her
2. 12 Years a Slave
3. Frances Ha
4. Gravity
5. Frozen
6. The Wolf of Wall Street
7. The Place Beyond the Pines
8. Stories We Tell
9. Inside Llewyn Davis
10. Before Midnight

Best Director
1. Steve McQueen 12 Years a Slave
2. Spike Jonze Her
3. Alfonso Cuarón Gravity
4. Sarah Polley Stories We Tell
5. Martin Scorsese The Wolf of Wall Street

Best Screenplay
1. Spike Jonze Her
2. Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig France Ha
3. John Ridley 12 Years a Slave
4. Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke & Richard Linklater Before Midnight
5. Terence Winter The Wolf of Wall Street

Best Actor
1. Joaquin Phoenix Her
2. Oscar Isaac Inside Llewyn Davis
3. Chiwetel Ejiofor 12 Years a Slave
4. Leonardo DiCaprio The Wolf of Wall Street
5. Michael B. Jordan Fruitvale Station

Best Actress
1. Cate Blanchett Blue Jasmine
2. Greta Gerwig Frances Ha
3. Brie Larson Short Term 12
4. Emma Thompson Saving Mr. Banks
5. Julie Delpy Before Midnight

Best Supporting Actor
1. Michael Fassbender 12 Years a Slave
2. Ryan Gosling The Place Beyond the Pines
3. Keith Stanfield Short Term 12
4. Matthew Goode Stoker
5. Colin Farrell Saving Mr. Banks

Best Supporting Actress
1. Lupita Nyong'o 12 Years a Slave
2. Scarlett Johansson Don Jon
3. Sarah Paulson 12 Years a Slave
4. Elizabeth Debicki The Great Gatsby
5. Léa Seydoux Blue Is the Warmest Color

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

My 10 Most Anticipated Films of 2014

Here we are already looking ahead to the films of 2014 and I feel like I haven't even caught up with 2013 yet! (I know everyone complains every year about how all the good films come out at the end of the year, but, seriously...I went to the theatre two separate times on Saturday just to catch up!) And I'll get to my Best of the Year soon. Don't you worry.

You may have noticed that I haven't been as prolific on this site as I should be. But, I haven't been gone completely. Head on over to The Film Experience to read some articles I've done since that last lonely post at the beginning of September. (It's like the Fall films didn't even happen...) The start of the New Year is full of resolutions. So who am I to buck tradition? Let me just say that one of my resolutions is to post at least one thing a week on my blog. But, I need you all to keep me going. Your comments and page views keep me going! I'm like the Sanderson sister's sucking the life out of childern to survive (Um, that doesn't sound right.) Uh, is anyone actually out there anymore anyway...

Without further ado, my first post in 2014. Here are the 10 Films I am most looking forward to in 2014.

* * *

Honorable Mention: There are actually a lot of films that were supposed to come out in 2013 or were only at film festivals last year that I'm anticipating. But, the one's that got pushed back (Grace of Monaco and Foxcatcher) both seem to have problems surrounding them. Never a good sign. And the Festival Films (Under the Skin and The Immigrant) seem (in the words of the great Hilary Duff) so yesterday -  without even having been released. Oh, well. I do want to see them all still. I'll try not to pass judgement until I've actually seen them.

10. Gone Girl

Realease Date: October 3
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry (and he he's not even in a dress!)
Plot: The "perfect" wife, Amy Dunne (Pike), mysteriously disappears on the day of her wedding anniversary to husband, Nick (Affleck). As clues and secrets start to unfold, Nick becomes the prime suspect. But, could the answer really be so obvious? Not in this story...
Why this film?: The film is based on the best-selling novel by Gillian Flynn. It seemed everyone on the subway was reading this the summer of 2012. I, myself, was included in that legion of readers and...didn't really care for it. When the twist comes (there's always a twist), the book loses momentum and we're left with a lot more story to go. But, the reason I've included the film on my list is for two reasons. First When the casting process was happening, the usual roster of names came out: Reese Witherspoon, Charlize Theron, Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson. So, I'm really happy that they went with an actress that's not a household name but very talented and getting the opportunity to star in a film that could bring her more notoriety. But, more importantly, I've included it because of David Fincher. The Oscar nominated director doesn't always make films that I necessarily enjoy, but not one to shy away from dark material (that's certainly an understatement if you've ever seen Se7en or Fight Club...), he always creates something worth watching. (Please just take a moment to watch the amazing Open Title sequence in his Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.)

9. Magic in the Moonlight

Release Date: Summer 2014 (Everything on the interwebs keeps telling me the Japanese release date. July 26th, if you're interested. Hopefully we see it before Japan!)
Director: Woody Allen
Stars: Emma Stone, Colin Firth, Marcia Gay Harden, Hamish Linklater, Jacki Weaver
Plot: You never know with Woody. But we do know it was filmed in the South of France and from the released still that some part of it is set in the 1920's.
Why this film?: With Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine, it seems that Woody is on a role recently! (Eh, let's just pretend that the unfortunate To Rome With Rome in between the two never happened, deal?) So, I am already onboard for what the Wood-man has in store for us this year. Add a great cast that includes a couple Oscar winners, a recent two-time Supporting Actress nominee, and the internet's favorite girl crush (outside of Jennifer Lawrence, of course), throw in some snazzy Jazz Age ensembles (let's not forget how good that last trip to the 20's was - Don't speak!) and a swoon-worthy European locale, and you have yourself a recipe for another Woody Allen classic. 

8. Birdman

Release Date: TBD, but probably in the fall
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Stars: Michael Keaton, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone (again! She may be the most ubiquitous star of 2014, also appearing in this year's The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Cameron Crowe's next film), Edward Norton, Amy Ryan, Zach Galifianakis
Plot: An once-famous actor known for portraying a superhero (Keaton - don't forget he was Batman!) tries to bring a play to Broadway, but must confront his ego and the star he used to be. He is also forced to deal with his family relationships as well.
Why this film?: When you think comedy, doesn't the director of such side-slitters as 21 Grams and Babel rank up there with other comedic greats? No? Well, that's the main reason why I'm so intrigued by this whole crazy thing. I absolutely loved his first film, Amores Perros, but each film that followed seemed more and more dour and I found myself liking each subsequent film less and less than the previous one. Until we got to his last film, Biutiful, a film so intent on showing you how horrible everything in life is, that I started wondering why I liked him as a director in the first place. A comedy seems like the kind of artistic reset needed. And anything that employs a cast like that (Michael Keaton, where have you been all this millennium?) is differently bound to be intriguing no matter if it succeeds or not.

7. The Boxtrolls

Release Date: September 26
Director: Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi
Stars: Stop-motion boxtrolls! And also the voices of Ben Kingsley, Elle Fanning, Toni Colette, and Simon Pegg
Plot: A boy that was raised by underground, box dwellers tries to save them from an exterminator intent on killing them all. (Okay, so maybe the plot doesn't sound all that special.)
Why this film?: Just watch that trailer which embraces and celebrates the process of stop-motion animation and tell me you're not enchanted by it. (You are made of stone if you think otherwise, sir.) This is the third film from Laika who previously made two other films that I really enjoyed, Coraline and ParaNorman (both stop-motion, of course). At a time when it seems every animated movie has to be computer animated (oh, how I miss you hand-drawn animation), I'm so glad that films are still being made that aren't afraid to be unique. There is something really admirable about the fact that everything in the film is created and touched by human hands - made of tangible things and not made up of zeros and ones. 

6. Noah

Release Date: March 28
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Stars: Russell Crowe (let's just hope he doesn't sing in this one), Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Anthony Hopkins, Ray Winstone
Plot: A romantic comedy about...just kidding. What do you think it's about? A biopic about Noah Wylie?
Why this film?: Growing up Catholic, I'm not all that keen on having all the Bible stories presented on film. I've heard enough of them to last me a lifetime of Sundays. But, what really interests me is that Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, Black Swan) is directing this and, judging from the trailer, there doesn't seem to be much in the way of God-talk. (There are, however, silly looking CGI animals and I'm not talking about Russell Crowe.) Rumors that the director is fighting with the studio after test-screenings with religious-types didn't go so well also sounds promising. I'm not saying it should be blasphemous, but taken as a story (not a religious parable), and treated as such, it has the potential to be good. And with Ridley Scott's Moses film Exodus coming out this year as well, it seems 2014 is the year of the Bible stories. But, I'm giving the edge to this film if only because you can't make a movie about Moses without Anne Baxter.

5. Interstellar

Release Date: November 7
Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Ellen Burstyn, Michael Caine
Plot: It's Nolan, so you know it's gonna be complex. After a wormhole is discovered, a group of scientists and explorers use it to go beyond the constraints of human conditions, including time travel and alternate universes. 
Why this film?: There are people that worship at the alter of Christopher Nolan (although, I feel that last Batman needed to take the advice of Heath Ledger's Joker and stop taking itself so seriously). I just admire him for making blockbuster films that aren't dumbed down. He's making films that make people think, while still making them entertaining (and making huge amounts of money). He also seems to cast actors that I like as well (Annie! Chasty! 2013 wasn't the same without you two). And being one of the only directors that shoots with the IMAX camera makes this film even more of a have-to-see-it-on-the-big-screen spectacle. 

4. Maleficent

Release Date: May 30
Director: Robert Stromberg
Stars: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Miranda Richardson, Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville
Plot: Based on Disney's animated film Sleeping Beauty, the film focuses on the villain of that story, the evil Maleficent who curses Princess Aurora. The film gives a back-story to the horned-one and tells the story from her prospective
Why this film?: Sleeping Beauty is my favorite classic Disney film and Maleficent is a big reason why. I was really disappointed in the last two big Disney live-action films (Alice in Wonderland and Oz the Great and Powerful), so I also list this film with a lot of trepidation mixed with the anticipation. Angie looks great in the teaser trailer and the stills released so far. And she's said that Maleficent was always her favorite Disney character growing up (no surprise there). But then seeing that stupid CGI fairy (that better not be what the fairies actually look like. They need pointy hats and wands!) and the kinda generic look of the whole thing (especially when the animated film is so stylized and intricate) makes me have doubts. But, if it works, it looks like it could be a real treat and my hope is that Angie nails the role so much so that people are talking Oscar nomination (no pressure, Angie).

3. The Grand Budapest Hotel

Release Date: March 7
Director: Wes Anderson
Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Tilda Swinton, Saoirse Ronan, Bill Murray, Adrian Brody, Jude Law, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Edward Norton
Plot: In 1920's Europe, the concierge of the famed Grand Budapest Hotel, Gustave H (Fiennes), inherits a painting from a wealthy, elderly guest (Swinton, in a part originally intended for Angela Lansbury) that dies. He and his lobby boy (Revolri) must hide the painting from the woman's son (Brody) and the authorities. I think it's safe to say that hilarity ensues. 
Why this film?: Because the world needs more of Wes Anderson's twee creations. That sounds sarcastic, but I'm serious! I just want to live in his movies - they're so perfect in their hipster aesthetic and sensibility. I've seen the trailer for this film so many times over the last month preceding films in the movie theatre and I have to admit that I'm still not sick of it. Not only that, it still makes me laugh. I've thoroughly enjoyed most of Anderson's past films, but his last one (Moonrise Kingdom) was easily one of my favorite films of 2012. So, I'm particularly intrigued to see his latest. If for no other reason than Ralph Fiennes looks hilarious in it, which is not generally a side of him we see.

2. Inherent Vice

Release Date: TBD, most likely the Fall
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Jena Malone, Benicio del Toro
Plot: Based on the book by Thomas Pynchon, the story takes place in 1970's Los Angeles and concerns a weed-smoking detective by the name of "Doc" Sportello (Phoenix) that investigates the disappearance of a former girlfriend.
Why this film?: Like González Iñárritu and Birdman, it seems director Paul Thomas Anderson is following up his two past films (the complex and dramatic There Will Be Blood and The Master), with something a little more light-hearted! I love that these great auteurs are diversifying their style. The film also reunites the (Oscar nominated) star of The Master with its director. And after this past year's Her, it's looking like Joaquin Phoenix is also looking to let loose a little. This is the first time that Anderson is adapting the screenplay from a novel and not using an idea of his own. And what an author to choose. Pynchon is greatly admired and notoriously reclusive (he refuses to do interviews, although he has appeared on "The Simpsons" as himself...with a paper bag over his head) and this is the first of his novels to ever be turned into a film. 

1. Into the Woods

Release Date: December 25
Director: Rob Marshall
Stars: Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Johnny Depp, Christine Baranski, Tracey Ullmann
Plot: Adapted from Stephen Sondheim's musical, the story concerns a Baker and his Wife (Corden and Blunt) who are cursed by a witch (Streep) to remain childless. The two enter the woods to break the spell and encounter characters from classic fairy tales (Jack as in "Jack and the Beanstalk" fame, Cinderella played by Kendrick, Rapunzel, and Little Red Riding Hood) on their journey.
Why this film?: Most of the films on this list are chosen for the most part because of the director, but this film is my number one for everything else except Marshall. Look, I loved Chicago as much as everyone else, but he really hasn't been able to capture that magic again (ugh, let's not even talk about Nine, aka Chicago 2: The Fantasies Take Italy). But, I love this musical so much that I'm really rooting for it to succeed. This time, with the fairy tale subject matter, Marshall is free to let the fantasy take center stage and not just be confined to dream sequences. I really want him to go all out and make this a spectacle, but also remember that family and legacy are at the heart of the story. I'm curious about the casting across the board. There's Broadway stars mixed in with movie stars, but hopefully all of them are actually able to sing the part (ahem, Russell Crowe. Damn, that's twice in one post. Got you, Crowe!) because Sondheim ain't easy. But the biggest question mark has to be Emily Blunt in the part that Joanna Gleason won the Tony for. I've never heard Blunt sing, so don't know what she's capable of. I've also heard the almost 3 hour stage show has been cut to 2 hours, but they somehow still found room for a new song...I guess we'll all find out on Christmas Day. Hopefully it'll be a gift we treasure and not a lump of coal...