Monday, February 28, 2011

I liked it. I really, really liked it.

Props to Social Network screenwriter Aaron Sorkin for his shout-out to Paddy Chayefsky -- the writer of that "other" Oscar winner with Network in the title -- while claiming his Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. And a tip of the hat to co-host Anne Hathaway for her tongue-in-cheeky allusion to a genuine injustice: She didn't get a Best Actress nomination for Love and Other Drugs. ("You know, it used to be you get naked, you get nominated!") My other observations about Sunday evening's Oscarcast -- which, judging from Tweets and blog posting I have sampled, I enjoyed much more than most folks -- can be found here.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

A moment of Oscar zen

Future movie historians will note: The Wolfman and Citizen Kane each won the same number of Oscars. One.

And the winner will be...

Shortly after last month's announcement of nominations for the 83rd annual Academy Awards, I offered my predictions for winners in the top tier categories. Five weeks later, and just hours away from the Oscarcast, I can't say I'm ready to back away from any of those choices -- except, maybe, in the Best Actress category. Even though I remain convinced that Annette Bening is (a) the sentimental choice for many over-35 Academy voters, and (b) an altogether worthy choice strictly on the merit of her excellent performance in The Kids Are Alright, Natalie Portman now appears to have the momentum -- an impression only reinforced Saturday by her victory at the Spirit Awards -- for her fearless portrayal of  an emotionally frazzled  ballerina who drives herself to extremes while pursuing perfection in the Black Swan (arguably the least likely megaplex box-office hit of the past year).

As for the Best Picture category: The Social Network may have been the front-runner during the  early stages of the race, but The King's Speech looks like the nominee that will gallop into the winner's circle Sunday night. It's a perfectly respectable choice...

Gee, wait, that sounds awfully condescending, and I don't mean to sound that snarky. Truth to tell, I enjoyed King's Speech quite a bit when I viewed a DVD screener that I received because of my status as a voting member of the Houston Film Critics Society. I admired the first-rate performances -- Colin Firth richly deserves the Best Actor prize he almost certainly will win, and  Geoffrey Rush conceivably could score an upset in the Supporting Actor category --  and appreciated the intelligence of the writing and the potency of the emotional uplift.

On the other hand: I never, ever, felt compelled to rush out and see how the movie worked on the big screen. Because, frankly, I think I watched it in the medium where it likely would work best. Again: The King's Speech is a very good movie. But not quite as good as the movies I chose for my Top 10 of 2010. And if, through some unexpected turn of events, The Social Network were to take home the gold, I would not be disappointed.

And if Inception, through some miraculous twist of fate, were to be named Best Picture, I will be, in the immortal words of Addison DeWitt, available for dancing in the streets and shouting from the housetops.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

A melancholy realization

Or, perhaps more accurately, a reluctant acknowledgement: Both Spike Lee and I are old enough for his Do the Right Thing to qualify as a film I can (and should) screen in my History of Film courses. Sigh.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

The Force will be with Super Bowl XLV

Gee, do you think George Lucas got a free Volkswagen or two out of this? (Hat tip to John Guidry.)

Truth in advertising

Some jolly jokers over at a Brit website called The Shiznit have designed their alternative versions of posters for this year's Best Picture nominees. And some of them are pretty damn funny.

And even though I'm a big fan of Love and Other Drugs, I have to admit I had a giggle with this faux poster, too.

Welcome to the Future

Friday, February 04, 2011

Watch Ronald Reagan kicking ass and taking names -- for free!

Those wild and crazy guys over at the Warner Archive Collection have come up with a playfully respectful way to celebrate this weekend's 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan's birth. From 12:00 am PST Sunday through 11:59 pm PST Monday, WAC will offer a complimentary streaming of 1939's Secret Service of the Air, the first of four action-adventure flicks in which Reagan -- a prolific if not always prodigious actor long before his stint as the 40th US President -- played two-fisted Secret Service agent Brass Bancroft.

But wait, there's more: Whether by design or chance, the WAC folks have selected a movie that deals with a still-topical issue -- the transportation of undocumented workers across the Tex-Mex border. No kidding. From the WAC website:

Lieutenant "Brass" Bancroft leaves his job as a commercial pilot to work for the Secret Service. His first assignment: Stop a smuggling ring that brings illegal aliens into the U.S. from Mexico -- by air. When the operation is threatened by the Feds, the villains callously drop their human cargo through a trap door in the plane and it's up to Brass to bring them to justice.

You can see a vintage trailer, courtesy of Turner Classic Movies, here:

And if you're hankering to see more of "The Gipper" during his heyday as a Hollywood star, check out these other titles available for purchase and/or download, and my own appraisal of his acting career.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Another shameless attempt to attract blog traffic with cheesecake

According to my Culture Map colleague Chris Baldwin, Brooklyn Decker -- Adam Sandler's sexy leading lady in the upcoming comedy Just Go With It -- has been spotted among the celebs converging on Dallas during the days leading up to the Super Bowl. Of course, considering what the weather is like in Big D right now, I seriously doubt she's been spotted wearing the same attire she does in the above photo. But, hey, that won't stop me from running the picture here. Because, as we all know, I have no shame. And neither, it appears, does Ms. Decker. (I kid, I kid!)

BTW: I didn't realize this until comparatively recently, but Just Go With It is a remake of Cactus Flower, a 1969 comedy -- based on the Broadway play by Abe Burrows -- that starred Walter Matthau as a womanizing dentist who pretends to be married to his spinsterish assistant (Ingrid Bergman) in order to avoid a commitment with his hot young girlfriend (Goldie Hawn, whose bubbly performance netted her an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress). Looks like Sandler will be playing the Matthau part, Decker takes over for Hawn -- and Jennifer Aniston plays the spinsterish assistant.

Hmmmm. I strongly suspect there was some serious rewriting, and more than a little reconceptualizing, while updating the original scenario.

Super commercials

During the days leading up to Super Bowl weekend, Advertising Age has been polling folks to determine the greatest Super Bowl commercial of all time. Here are the two finalists:

After what appears to have been a gruelling gridiron contest, Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Mean Joe Greene gets "a Coke and a smile" from a young fan (Tommy Okon). Believe it or not, this 1979 spot (directed by Lee Lacy) was so phenomenally popular, it actually spawned a 1981 TV-movie about its production: The Steeler and the Pittsburgh Kid, directed by Lou Antonio, featuring a pre-E.T. Henry Thomas as the youngster who offers a soft drink to his favorite football star.

Two years after he unleashed Blade Runner, director Ridley Scott went all retro-futuristic again for this classic TV spot that launched the Apple McIntosh personal computer. Taking his cue from 1984, George Orwell's dystopian novel about surveillance and repression in a totalitarian tomorrow, Scott -- working from a concept developed by Steve Hayden, Lee Clow and Brent Thomas -- pits a hammer-wielding heroine (Anya Major) against the despotic Big Brother (David Graham) in a battle meant to symbolize the notion that owning a Macintosh (as opposed to, say, an IBM personal computer) was a great way to triumph over conformity and assert your individuality. Or something like that. Appropriately enough, the commercial first aired on Jan. 22, 1984 -- during the third quarter of Super Bowl XVII.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Would you believe... Colin Firth as a conniving art curator? Cameron Diaz as a Texas steer roper?

Usually, an actor has to actually win an Academy Award before he can start having his pick of paycheck roles. But Colin Firth has been a Best Actor front-runner for several months now -- really, since The King's Speech started making the rounds of the festival circuit last fall -- so it comes as no surprise that he's already considered sufficiently bankable to be cast as the male lead of Gambit, an upcoming remake of the 1966 seriocomic heist flick that starred Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine.

The original Gambit, directed by Ronald Neame (The Poseidon Adventure),  was a tricky, kicky caper in which a cocksure thief (Caine) employed an Eurasian beauty (MacLaine) to pull off a complex con involving a gullible millionaire (Herbert Lom) and a priceless antiquity. (The picture pivoted on a clever switcheroo at the midway point that, back in the day before Internet-disseminated spoilers, actually surprised audiences.) The remake, which will be directed by Michael Hoffman (Soapdish, The Last Station), reportedly deals with a London art curator (Firth) who hits upon an elaborate plan to lure a wealthy collector into buying a fake Monet painting. To pull off the scheme, the curator recruits a Texas steer roper (Cameron Diaz, shown above) to impersonate a woman whose grandfather liberated the real Monet masterwork at the end of World War II.

Are audiences ready to accept Diaz as a lasso-twirling rodeo queen? Can the producers hope to surprise contemporary ticketbuyers with the original plot twist (or some reasonable facsimile thereof)? And if the new Gambit turns out to be box-office smash, will it revive interest in a relatively obscure but fascinating documentary about the U.S. role in the post-WWII liberation of Nazi-seized artwork? Who knows?

But for those of you who are customarily averse to remakes of any any sort, consider this: The screenplay for the new Gambit was written by Joel and Ethan Coen, the filmmaking siblings who didn't fare too badly with their recent re-imagining of True Grit.