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When I was but a young award watcher it struck me as unfair that all the other awards shows could win Emmys but the Emmys had nothing to win. Can’t someone hand out an award for that terrific opening monologue from last year by the five reality show hosts?

The Academy Awards telecast received ten Emmy nominations. Just like the Oscars the Emmys give out a lot of technical awards but they don’t do it on the telecast. So any Oscar love on Emmy night will probably be announced earlier.

The nominations:

Art Direction for Variety, Music or Nonfiction Programming (vs the 2008 MTV Music Awards, A Colbert Christmas, American Idol, and the Grammy Awards)

Choreography for the Musicals Are Back number, probably the worst part of the telecast in my opinion. It was nothing but quick snippets of famous musical songs presented in no special order. Why is that interesting? (vs one Dancing With the Stars number and four from So You Think You Can Dance)

Directing for a Variety, Music or Comedy Special (vs Beijing 2008 Olympics Opening Ceremony, Bruce Springsteen Halftime Show, The Neighborhood Ball: An Inauguration Celebration, and Will Ferrell: You’re Welcome America A Final Night With George W Bush)

Lighting Direction (Electronic, Multi-Camera) for Variety, Music or Comedy Programming (vs American Idol, Dancing With the Stars, Jimmy Kimmel Live, Late Show With David Letterman, and Saturday Night Live)

Music and Lyrics for the cute and well-produced but only somewhat funny/clever opening number about the movies in recession (vs A Colbert Christmas, A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa, Flight of the Concords, “Motherlover” from SNL, and another Justin Timberlake performance from the 2008 ESPYs)

Short Form Picture Editing (vs Dancing With the Stars, Stand Up to Cancer, and two The Daily Show With John Stewart episodes)

Sound Mixing for a Variety or Music Series or Special (vs American Idol, Beijing 2008 Olympics Opening Ceremony, Bruce Springsteen Halftime Show, Dancing With the Stars, and the Grammy Awards)

Special Class Programs – I believe this is the top prize (vs Beijing 2008 Olympics Opening Ceremony, Carnegie Hall Opening Night 2008: Leonard Bernstein, George Carlin: The Kennedy Center, Tony Awards)

Technical Direction, Camerawork, Video Control for a Miniseries, Movie or Special (vs Beijing 2008 Olympics Opening Ceremony, Bruce Springsteen Halftime Show, Grammy Awards, and Tony Awards). There are literally dozens of people nominated in this category and it doesn’t appear that a single one is a woman. Are there really no camerawomen?

Writing for a Variety, Music or Comedy Special (vs Chris Rock – Kill the Messenger, Louis CK: Chewed Up, Ricky Gervais: Out of England, Will Ferrell: You’re Welcome America A Final Night With George W. Bush). It’s up against four stand-up comedy specials. I don’t think this ends well for the Oscars.

So go get them, Oscars! Beat those no-talent hacks at Dancing With the Stars!

The existence of Powder Blue suggests that sex does not, in fact, sell.  The film gained some notoriety when it was revealed that star Jessica Biel went topless for her role as a stripper, and then again when pictures of said stripping floated around the internet.  But it never made it into theaters, rather quietly going straight to DVD in May.

Powder Blue is one of those multiple intersecting storylines with an ensemble cast kind of deals.  Except the storylines barely intersect, instead there are sort of two focal points.  Biel is one of them,  she has a small son in the hospital who has been in a coma for a long time.  Ray Liotta plays the dad she never knew she had, just released from prison after a couple of decades, he’s also dying.  Patrick Swayze is the manager of the strip club where she works.  The other focal point is Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker who has been suicidal since he lost his wife.  But since he’s a former priest, he can’t kill himself, instead he’s looking to pay someone to kill him.  Which leads him to a transsexual prostitute and later an undertaker (Eddie Redmayne, who eventually hooks up with Biel).  He also befriends a waitress (Lisa Kudrow).  Oh, and Oscar-nominee Kris Kristofferson is in the film for a scene.  But it was the first scene, so it was pretty upsetting not to see him come back.

The thing about Powder Blue is that it is pretty darn boring.  While writer-director Timothy Linh Bui’s script actually does attempt to provide nuanced takes on a number of interesting concepts dealing with relationships and death, it fails to make anything compelling.  The film, alas, compensates for moving slowly by not going anywhere.  Which is sad, because I think the cast is an intriguing group of people.

Indeed, whenever Bui can be bothered to quit his meandering and get to some sort of revelation (which he’s usually been building to for some time), he refuses to explore the impact of the reveal, instead quickly reverting back to the meandering.  Which obviously can get frustrating, as it feels like a deliberate attempt to make the movie less enjoyable.  Besides, when you have Liotta, Swayze, and Whitaker, you have to just let them do their thing.  If you can’t give Liotta the space to be creepy, or Swayze the space to be completely over the top, why bother?

Finally, back to Jessica Biel.  It doesn’t work (well, other than that she’s a beautiful woman).  Her nudity feels forced and unnecessary for a variety of reasons.  First, her character embodies just about every stripper movie cliche you can think of.  And whenever we see a glimpse of something halfway original, Bui, as mentioned, quickly moves on.  Second, frankly, her dances aren’t all that erotic.  Which kinda feels like it should be intentional (given certain plot elements), but isn’t.  And last, it suggests an unwritten rule: If the only reason to watch a film is to see X get naked, then you don’t actually want to see that film.

The idea here is to take a look at some movies you might not have noticed.  Where I define “you” however I please.

Killshot‘s pedigree is rather impressive.  The film was scripted by Oscar-nominee Hossein Amini (Best Adapted Screenplay, The Wings of the Dove) and based off an Elmore Leonard novel.  Many of Leonard’s books and stories have been adapted for the silver screen, including: 3:10 to Yuma, Get Shorty, Jackie Brown, and Out of Sight.

But, OK, as much as I’d like to believe otherwise, writing isn’t everything.  Killshot was directed by Oscar-nominee John Madden, who, granted, has been responsible for a couple of duds since Shakespeare in Love.  But I don’t think he has been proven completely incompetent.

So maybe the film barely saw the light of day because of the actors?  Well, no.  Killshot stars Oscar-nominee Mickey Rourke as a Native American hitman.  He soon partners up with Joseph Gorden-Levitt (OK, he hasn’t been nominated for an Oscar, but that’s only because he is too awesome for the Academy to handle), a brash small-time crook with a big mouth.  After a botched scam, they go after the two witnesses, Oscar-nominee Diane Lane and Thomas Jane, who play a married couple, newly separated.  Oscar-nominee Hal Halbrook has a small role, as does Rosario Dawson.

To recap, that’s five Oscar nominees, a story whose author has generated multiple films which could best be described as “cool,” attractive women, and Mickey Rourke as a friggin’ hit man.

I had thought Killshot went straight to DVD, but both IMDb and Box Office Mojo claim it played on 5 screens for a few weekends in January of this year, taking in a cool $10,000.  So what went wrong?

Well, as I’ve described the film to a few people (and as I’ll keep doing until the analogy becomes true), Killshot is like a hookless pop song: it isn’t bad, but there’s no real reason for it to exist.  The solid production can’t make up for the extremely thin and uninteresting plot.  Honestly, with a few changes, it could be an unaired pilot for an 80s Stephen J. Cannell action-adventure TV show.  Which certainly isn’t bad, but not the tone for which the filmmakers were striving.  If, that is, they had a tone in mind at all.

There are very few twists and even fewer subplots, meaning the end result hits many of the cliches you’d imagine in a story about a hit man with a talkative apprentice hunting down an innocent couple.  There’s nothing particularly bad about the film (assuming you can get past the idea of Mickey Rourke having any difficulty whatsover tracking someone down and killing him or her).  There’s just nothing particularly outstanding.

It is unfortunate all this talent is wasted on such a forgettable film.  But at least no one has to be ashamed of the work.

Adam had a good comment in my earlier post about Christian Bale:

How can you be in “too many” movies? Most actors/actresses would kill to get as many great-to-decent roles as Bale. Ask one of our other Grouches if he thinks you can get “too many” job offers. And if you can swing it, and don’t mind the long hours, why turn down good money? Both the studios and Bale himself seem to be trying to cash in on his time in the spotlight. What’s wrong with that?
Also, your second point about the leading men in a franchise was completely under-thought. Mark Hamil was the “leading man” in Star Wars? Were you watching the same films as the rest of us? Is there any doubt that Ford was real leading man of those films? Ergo, Ford was able to pull off the double franchise deal.

I guess I didn’t make my first point too artfully. I don’t blame someone at all for taking on a lot of roles. I’m just amused at how suddenly Bale is everywhere. He’s one of the few actors who would be enough on my radar screen for me to at least give a second look at anything he’s in. But there’s no need to look forward to the next Christian Bale movie because a) nearly everything he’s in already interests me and b) a new Christian Bale movie comes along every few months. When does he have time to beat his mom and sister?

But I maintain the second. I guess I can’t fault the Terminator producers if they really felt like Bale could handle the role unlike anyone else. But is that really the case? It doesn’t seem like a terribly challenging part. Plus the guy just starred in another sci-fi/fantasy action thriller last summer that racked up the second highest box office in history. It just seems like they could have found another face that would have been all their own without a significant downgrade in acting quality. Now they share a lead man with Batman, which takes away the opportunity of making their lead man a unique symbol of the franchise and they have to adjust to Bale’s Batman schedule for future sequels.

It’s like as if Daniel Radcliffe starred in Twighlight as well as Harry Potter. Wouldn’t that be weird?

Anyway, it’s just a thought. I think Terminator Salvation‘s lukewarm box office results shows the rebooted Terminator franchise will never reach the top tier occupied by Batman so it becomes much less of a conflict.

I love how secretive the Academy is about their members.  Go to the official site, and you’ll get a “sample” of voters.  For the past few years, though, they’ve issued press releases listing the people they invited.  Here are the 134 newbies.  If you’d like to compare, I’ve found linkes to the invitees for 2008, 2007, and 2006.

I have two main comments here.  First, the press release lists two films after each person, and it is pretty entertaining to see their choices.  Among the actors, my favorite may be Jeffrey Wright getting Quantum of Solace and W. But there are some pretty tremendous films namechecked in the other categories.  The casting director of Agent Cody Banks!  Paul Blart Mall Cop‘s cinematographer!  And Failure to Launch‘s!  The woman who designed the costumes for The Hangover and Superman Returns gets the nod.  The dude who edited Step Brothers and Talladega Nights gets to vote.  And no need to check your vision, the Academy really does acknowledge the existence of Santa Clause 3.  My favorite duo is either those attributed to producer Broderick Johnson: One Missed Call and P.S. I Love You or sound designer Hamilton Sterling: Fool’s Gold and Scary Movie 4.

My point here isn’t to disparage the picks.  I know nothing about these people, and I’m sure they are all perfectly qualified voters.  Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were more in tune with my preferences than current voters, and at first glance they seem to represent an interesting mix of movies.  It is just kind of odd to see these sort of movies listed on an AMPAS press release.

Perhaps more importantly, I don’t really know how AMPAS decided on these people, but the timing is pretty odd.  Did it take Madea Goes to Jail to get Tyler Perry into the club?  Not that I’m surprised the Academy is behind the curve, it just would seems that Perry been a legit contender for years, and I’d wager he represents a point of view AMPAS has been trying to add to their roster.

Does the fact that the actors category skews relatively young provide more evidence that the Academy is trying to freshen its image, or is it just that all the older actors are already in?  Still, it is kind of crazy that two members of “Freaks and Geeks” get in, and just odd in general at the Academy’s seemingly implicit acceptance of comedy.

The writers category is fascinating.   I’m absolutely thrilled writer John August got in, because he is awesome (his blog is a must-read).  He wrote, among other things, the excellent Big Fish, the Charlie’s Angels movies, and Go.  Dustin Lance Black was nominated for last year’s Milk, the Academy decided to keep pissing off Adam as much as possible by inviting Courtney Hunt (and Melissa Leo) whose Frozen River is her only produced work.  And finally, Howard Rodman, who has written a few movies no one saw, including Savage Grace and Joe Gould’s Secret.  Before you go yapping your mouth, I realize that isn’t a true statement, in fact I watched one of his movies, August.  I didn’t like it.

What does it all mean?  Frankly, not much.  The Academy says they have about 6000 members, meaning this year’s class will represent about 2% of the population.  Still, it is interesting to put some names and faces to the infamous “Oscar voters” you might see us rant about in the coming months.

UPDATE: I forgot Coraline. Edits below.

I guess since all the cool kids (plus Jared) are doing so, I’ll throw in my two cents on the first half of the year. “Do a top five,” I said. “It’ll be fun and easy,” I said. Then I realized I’ve only seen about ten 2009 releases and not many were good. Adam and Jared’s posts seem to indicate the same, that their choices are fine but flawed. I mean, look at our lists from last year at this time. Those are a lot better slates, no?

Well here we go, first half of 2009 top five. I think only a few of these we’ll still be talking about in a few months.

1. Up. It’s a funny movie because the squirrel got dead. Like #1 could be anything else. I just had an unfortunate realization today that this is going to be knocked out of 3-D theaters by Ice Age. I should go back and see it in 3-D, right?

2. I Love You, Man. Funny stuff but also original and clever. Between this and Role Models Paul Rudd is really showing that he can lead a movie.

3. The Hangover. Breakout hit of the year. Damn funny but I thought it needed more polish. Just not quite as tight as other R-rated comedies we’ve seen lately.

4. Coraline (3-D). Gorgeous style with some genuinely creepy touches. The “Other” characters with their button eyes were surely nightmare fuel for legions of youngsters. I just wish the conflicts resolved in a less straight-forward manner.

4. 5. State of Play. And now we enter the winner by default section of the list. Quite enjoyable but it got a big boost from me for being a DC film. I don’t think it’d be as good for people not from here. Not that it has any big DC insight, it just has lots of neat DC settings. The twists and turns are fun, except for the horrible last one. When Russell Crowe was in town to shoot this last spring I saw him play a short surprise set at a Great Big Sea show. He was surprisingly good.

5. 6. Duplicity. Frustrating in that only parts of it are truly great while other parts falter. Great story with a terrific ending, but I was tired of Julia Roberts and Clive Owen’s little back-and-forth with each other about a third of the way through. How many times can she pretend to be mad at him before it’s stale? I think if you take out some of those scenes you’re left with a pretty terrific film.

As I have yet to see more than 10 movies that have been released this year, this list may not be the most well informed.  However, since I have excellent taste in movies – much better than my fellow Grouches – you can be sure that the movies I have chosen are excellent and you should immediately go see them.  So, without further ado, my current top 5:

1. The Hangover

I agree with Jared about the film trailing off towards the end and Heather Grahms’ character’s lack of development, but overall this was easily the funniest movie I’ve seen all year (and possibly last year).  Zach Galifianakis was absolutely hilarious as the awkward brother-in-law to be and really made the movie for me – though Ed Helms and Bradley Cooper were great as well.  (Ed. Note: I have yet to see I Love You, Man so “funniest movie I’ve seen all year” does not include this apparent gem – at least, according to Jared.)

2.  Sunshine Cleaning

Once in awhile a movie comes along that warms even my cold heart (i.e. Juno) and this was another one.  It doesn’t hurt your chances if you cast Amy Adams, though.  I actually really liked the plot of this movie.  A struggling, single mother with man issues is trying to make ends meet so that she can afford to provide for her son.  Sound familiar?  Basically this movie took the scenario from Frozen River and made a MUCH better movie.  Instead of turning to crime, Adams starts her own business in the crime scene cleaning industry with her “loser” sister (Emily Blunt).  Hilarity ensues.

3.  Star Trek

Surprisingly enough, Jared and I agree that John is wrong.  I really wanted to dislike this movie.  J.J. Abrams is highly over-rated and, at best, I’ve only decently liked some of his stuff.  However, Star Trek turned out to be a very enjoyable summer action/adventure film.  There were a number of things wrong with the plot and handling of some things, but overall the movie worked.   I was also really impressed with the casting.  Karl Urban as “Bones” McCoy was fantastic – I can’t think of anyone who could have pulled it off better.  Zoe Saldana….excellent choice….she should be in more movies…  I’m a huge Simon Pegg fan, so his appearance as Scotty was welcome, as was Anton Yelchin as Chekov.  All-in-all, a surprisingly fun and fairly well done summer blockbuster a la Iron Man last year.

4. Taken

Liam Neeson is great.  I was recently discussing this movie with a friend and neither of us were able to come up with a movie in which Liam Neeson was not great.  This movie was no exception and had him in a different type of role than I am used to seeing him in.  I really like the plot, the scene flow, the tempo, and most of the action sequences.  A great movie that was suprising released in the doldrums of new movies.  Oh well, that just means it’s already out on DVD for your viewing pleasure.

5. Up

I am sure to be the only Grouch with this at the bottom of my top 5, but I stand by my decision.  I did like this movie (especially the talking dogs, which were easily the best thing about the film), but I think Pixar screwed themselves.  Finding Nemo and The Incredibles set the bar way too high.  Both Wall-E and Up, while very good movies, have been unable to live up to their predecessors’ greatness.  While very enjoyable, and recommended, I find it unlikely that this movie will be able to hold on in my top 5 movies of the year.  “SQUIRREL!!”

July 2009