Monday Morning Critic – 1/19

On tap this week:
— Scott tackles the world of online dating, in a way
— Predictions for Oscar nominations
— J.P Melville’s minor classic
— Top Fives with Kevin Wong
And slightly much more!

Have you ever wanted to prank someone so bad that you’d risk mortally offending them? That’s the decision a friend of mine was in a while back. She happens to be married and very happily so. It’s nice to see. She’s one of the few that encourages me in my sophomorically-infused attempt at intellectual humor, as opposed to the usual laughing/cringing reactions from friends and family. Needless to say we have a great friendship. She’s the Dante to my Randal.

She also has had an ongoing problem with a gentleman we both know. He just doesn’t take the hint that she’s married and not interested. He hasn’t backed off with the full-court press to the point where an ass-kicking from her husband and associates would be permissible. Encouraged, even. So she’s getting back with perhaps the meanest gag ever.

She put up a profile of him on Dating4Disabled.com.

What is it? It’s a website for people who are disabled from one thing or another and want to find love, if you couldn’t tell. Sort of like Match.com except for people on SSDI. People from like all over the country are on it, including people who aren’t crippled but have a thing for them. I guess even cripples need love too, right. Except they have to pay. I wonder if the site takes government checks. I mean you don’t see people on disability from Fibromyalgia lining up at the Lexus dealership on a regular basis.

Well, she put his profile up with his cause of disability being that he has a “bit of the ‘tard” in him. Used a picture of him from one of those social networking sites and everything and took snippets of his actual life and merged it with her impression of him with a “bit of the ‘tard” and had some fun. I would link it, but it’s funnier that way.

I was impressed with it, actually, but then I started snooping around the site to see what kind of gals are on there. And you’d be amazed at the sort of criteria gals who are too lazy to get out of bed in the morning have for potential crippled spouses. And man, some of these gals are pickier than the ones that populate the Match.com and eHarmony.com sites of the world. One gal had a list like 20 paragraphs of stuff she wanted in a mate. It was ridiculous. It was like cruising through any dating site, I suppose, except all the gals on this don’t come just with baggage. They come with walkers and tackle boxes of medications. While you could probably score some Percocet and Xanax on the cheap, it can’t be too hot if you have to rent a special van to pick your date up.

I guess beggars CAN be choosers in some sense, but I have to be honest. If you can’t get out of bed most times because of depression or some whiner-baby problem like a back injury or a neurological disorder maybe your criteria for a mate shouldn’t be so god damn high. Or maybe if it is so high, maybe you should get your ass out from behind your computer and work for a living to justify having such high standards. If you can get out of bed and surf the web for a relationship then you can finish the job and work for a living.

And it’s enlightened thoughts like that which kept me out of the good colleges.

Random Thoughts of the Week

Academy Award nominations due to be released in a couple days, the 22nd to be specific, I think it’s time that I officially speculate on who and what will be nominated. It’s always interesting to see who gets nominated and who doesn’t, as there are always surprises. Any time you have a voting body as diverse and numerous as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, you get surprises.

Really, there aren’t too many awards that people tune in to see. Most of the show is filler, but I still watch it because it is the awards that partially define the movie industry. An Oscar is like the Heisman trophy; it’s not always fair but it is something to talk about.

What do we care about? Easy. Best Picture, Best Director, Best Animated Feature, the acting awards and . . . well . . . that’s about it. Everything else is kind of perfunctory in a way; it’s there to remind us that there are more to films than the people in front of (and behind) the camera, but ultimately debates about which film had the better cinematography are rare. And who really notices a film’s editing?

People argue about which film was better or who was the better actor, pure and simple. So I’m not going to speculate on technical awards and whatnot. I’ll leave that to professional prognosticators.

Best Picture

There are three films that are pretty much locks, as be Slumdog Millionaire, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Milk all have the pedigree and are the kinds of films the Academy loves to nominate. Those three you can probably pencil in for nominations.

The last two nominations get tricky. The Producers Guild and Directors Guild have made the same picks, but the SAG nominees were different. There are two spots and at least three films that have a legit chance of being nominated. Someone deserving is going to get left out.

The Dark Knight should be on that list but it is a film that was a summer blockbuster AND a superhero film to boot. It’s also a film that has been tabbed as the best, or close to it, of 2008 by most critics and publications. But superhero films tend to not do so well come awards season. Spider-Man 2 was named with similar honors and didn’t get anything come awards season outside of some technical awards. The Dark Knight, however, did get a PGA and DGA nomination but not the Screen Actors Guild equivalent. Usually all three is a good indicator, so this may not get a nomination. It wouldn’t be shocking at all if it’s left out of the final five.

Wall-E has a strong chances of being nominated and in a sane world would get nominated for Best Picture. It was a huge hit and probably the best animated film of the decade not named The Incredibles, but it is animated and thus the temptation is that it will win Best Animated Feature and not get a chance at Best Picture. The Incredibles had the same thing happen to it in a weak year for Best Picture, so a strong year for it could doom its inclusion. The argument is there and there’s a strong chance it could find itself in the final five because it’s such a great film, however.

The Wrestler has a good chance, as it has had universally good reviews. It has momentum, as well. This could step in ahead of Chris Nolan’s masterpiece when all is said and done.

Frost / Nixon is likely BUT Ron Howard has already won the Best Picture / Best Director combo and unfortunately precedent does tend to dictate that prior winners have a much tougher time getting nominated again if it’s tight. Clint Eastwood for both Gran Torino and Changeling are in the same boat, having done that same combination twice already as well.

Defiance is a film that just went wide, but it is related to the Holocaust film as it has Jews in World War II. It’s an elegant film and the type that usually graces the podium. Outside chance at best, though, as this is a year loaded at the top.

Body of Lies was a big box office failure despite universally praised reviews. It has an outside shot, but films that do well with critics and have cultural appeal can get nominated. Major long shot, though.

The Reader and Revolutionary Road scream “nominate me for an Oscar” but might end up being actor showcases as opposed to being nominated for Best Picture.

Burn after Reading and Valkyrie got rave reviews and solid box office receipts and are long shots at best. Tropic Thunder falls in this same category, so does Iron Man. Both of those two have even bigger odds against them.

The Picks: Slumdog Millionaire, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Milk, Frost / Nixon and The Wrestler.

Best Animated Feature:

There’s only one logical choice here. Wall-E. Nothing comes close to being as good as this film and it’s the only choice for a winner. It’s a matter of seeing who gets the other two nominations for this category and gets to look gracious when Wall-E wins.

It’s hard to find two, though, in a weak field. Bolt was surprisingly good, but nothing special. You could say the same for Kung Fu Panda, which marked a year in which Jack had two good pictures. Look for these two to probably round out the category since animation only gets three nominees.

Igor and the Madagascar sequel might sneak in there, but probably won’t.

The Picks: Wall-E, Bolt and Kung Fu Panda.

Best Director

This seems like the category that’s the easiest. David Fincher, Chris Nolan, Ron Howard, Danny Boyle, Gus Van Sant and Darren Aronofsky seem to be the picks that get bantered around. BUT that’s six names for five slots, so someone’s going to be left at the door.

A film that doesn’t get a Best Picture nomination can get a Best Director nomination. That might leave the door open for someone like Charlie Kaufman for Synecdoche, NY, which was a critical darling. If Nolan gets nominated for Best Director but The Dark Knight gets shut out, or vice versa, would not be surprising.

Clint Eastwood has two Best Director Oscars already (Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby) so he might be out for Gran Torino or Changeling due to that factor alone. But you can never count him out.

Jon Favreau and Ben Stiller would be interesting picks for Iron Man and Tropic Thunder, but neither of those films has strong Oscar consideration and neither are arty enough for the Oscars.

Edward Zwick for Defiance and Sam Mendes for Revolutionary Road are big-time long shots but would be acceptable picks.

The Picks: Van Sant, Aronofsky, Howard, Fincher, Doyle

Best Actor

Sean Penn (Milk) and Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler) are mortal locks. Penn contributes another great performance and this is the year of Prop 8, so this is more of a statement pick as well by some members of the Academy. Rourke pulls out a performance that is as much an apology for a wasted career as it is iconic. He’s the odds-on favorite to win at the moment. It’ll take an act of God if either one of these two isn’t amongst the final five. Richard Jenkins in The Visitor has been in lockstep with them as well so you can put him just beneath them.

That leaves two potential slots and an armful of guys who are deserving of a nomination.

Leo DiCaprio in Revolutionary Road seems to be a good bet, as another nomination in a long list of them would fit his career path so far. He’s following the Al Pacino path to an Oscar wherein you get a dozen nominations for great roles, then earn one for one that’s not in the same category. Add Ralph Fiennes in The Reader to that same boat too. He’s another guy who’s had a handful of nominations but has always come up short and a nomination here would probably fit in a similar path to DiCaprio.

Clint Eastwood has a handful of Oscars already as a director but has never won as an actor despite a couple nominations and redefining the anti-hero. Gran Torino is another masterful portrayal from the actor and it’s been rumored that it’s the last time he’ll step in front of a camera. A nomination here would not be surprising.

Michael Sheen in Frost/Nixon would be a surprise for some but isn’t completely out of the question. While his counterpart gets the better lines, Sheen helps to carry the film and making the Rocky type comeback in the film’s final act. It’ll be a long road but it’s not out of line.

Brad Pitt in Benjamin Button would be a solid nomination to go along with the plethora of nominations for that film. He’s gotten nothing but strong reviews for this part and a nomination seems likely as Button seems to be the film that will garner more nominations than any other.

Philip Seymour Hoffman was wonderful in Doubt and received good reviews for Synechdoche, NY. He’s always a candidate, it seems, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he gets a nomination.

Josh Brolin in W has long odds. Brolin is more likely a pick for Supporting Actor despite the hype that W had going into its release. Robert Downey Jr. was electric in Iron Man but his odds are about as good as Brolin in this category.

Will Smith had his usual “give me a nomination” role in Seven Pounds that was solid but pandering in the Jim “dramatic actor” Carrey style. Luke Wilson in Henry Poole is Here was a performance worthy of the category, but few saw it. Daniel Craig in Defiance follows suit. All are extreme long shots at best.

Colin Farrell won a Golden Globe for In Bruges, so his odds have gotten better. But it was in the beginning of the year and most voters tend to forget the first eight months of the year when it comes to voting.

The Picks: Pitt, Eastwood, Jenkins, Rourke, Penn

Best Actress

The odds on favorite to bring home the Oscar is Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married. Pencil her in, no problem. Brilliant performance and completely out of what she’s done in the past. The film may have had plenty of problems, but she was amazing in it.

Keira Knightley in The Duchess and Sally Hawkins in Happy Go Lucky are both worthy of nominations, but neither film was particularly successful. That factor might end up knocking one of them out of the picture, most likely Knightley.

Kate Winslet was wonderful in The Reader and Revolutionary Road, so look for a nomination for one of those films. She’s overdue for a win and the race for Best Actress is her and Hathaway. Plus she walked away with a couple Golden Globes, so this just might be here year.

Cate Blanchett is another regular on the awards podium and Benjamin Button will have enough momentum to probably get her another nomination.

Based on name recognition alone, Angelina Jolie might be on the short list. She did do her usual screaming act in Changeling and that just might get her nominated. Meryl Streep in Doubt seems like another lock based on her name, but she was excellent in it. Nicole Kidman in Australia might be another one of those name value nominations, but it would be an extreme shock.

Jennifer Anniston in Marley and Me could be something that’s similar and out of the blue as well, but don’t count on it.

The Picks Streep, Hathaway, Blanchett, Winslet, Hawkins

Best Supporting Actor

Now this is where it gets interesting.

Heath Ledger in Dark Knight is the odds on favorite, but he’s also dead. Posthumous nominations are a tough go, despite the fact that Ledger is perhaps the biggest reason why that film worked as well as it did. The Academy tends to award the living, not the dead, so not being alive could work against him. He’s the big favorite BUT I wouldn’t bet the house on it just yet.

Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder is a possibility, capping off a year of redemption for the actor. Rourke may be getting all the press because he flushed his career completely away in spectacular fashion, but Downey Jr. was a guy in similar circumstances who managed to clean himself up and this could be another redemption type nomination. He was terrific in Iron Man as well, but his turn as an Australian actor trying to play an African-American Sergeant from Louisiana might come out of the blue.

James Franco for Pineapple Express would be the sort of offbeat pick the Academy is known for. He carried that film and was completely out of what we expect him to be in a film with some interesting material, to say the least. The fact that he got a Golden Globe nomination bodes well.

A choice that has a weirdly interesting ring to it would be Paul Rudd for Role Models. It’s a comedy, which takes out 95% of his chances to begin with, but Supporting Actor is the big risk taking choices so this would be an out of left field choice.

Pitt and his good friend George Clooney in Burn After Reading would be solid choices, but Pitt will probably be overlooked here (despite it being the better performance) and Clooney won a couple years ago. They are in the same boat as Russell Crowe. He could pick up another nomination in Body of Lies, but it wasn’t as good as either of his performances from 2007 and he’s a former winner too. Supporting Actor tends to have the most new nominees and these three are old hands.

Liev Schrieber in Defiance has been picking up raves but hasn’t really been seen nationwide yet. His odds will be about as good co-star Daniel Craig’s.

Josh Brolin’s better performance in 2008 was in Milk and in theory should almost be a lock to join Heath Ledger. Frank Langella in Frost / Nixon was incredible as well and the perfect ballast to Sheen. But this is usually the category where what seems like an obvious choice gets over-looked on a regular basis. So one or both could end up on the outside looking in.

Viggo Mortensen in Appaloosa will probably end up in the same boat as Ben Foster in 3:10 to Yuma last year and be a great performance that doesn’t get anything.

The Picks: Brolin, Langella, Downey Jr., Franco, Ledger

Best Supporting Actress

Marissa Tomei in The Wrestler seems like a pretty safe pick. The Wrestler has been picking up steam and she’s a big reason the film works. Throw in Evan Rachel Wood from the same film as well, but at a longer shot. She’s got what amounts to an extended cameo in the film but its laurels could be enough to propel her into the final five.

Penelope Cruz in Vicky Cristina Barcelona seems like a logical pick.

Tilda Swinton is a year removed from winning for Michael Clayton in the same category and another nomination for Button wouldn’t be out of the question.

Amy Adams in Doubt or Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day wouldn’t be bad choices, though she was stronger in the former and most people have forgotten about the latter.

Adams’ compatriot in Doubt, Viola Davis, has been getting nominations for the other awards as well for what’s an extended cameo role.

Meryl Streep got a Golden Globe nomination for Mamma Mia! and it wouldn’t be shocking if she got nominated in both categories. The Oscars are goofy like that.

The Picks: Adams, Cruz, Winslet, Tomei, Swinton

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

This Week’s Film – Le Doulos

ledoulos

One of J.P Melville’s minor classics, Le Doulos (also known as The Finger Man) is a crime film that focuses on a heist and a betrayal. It may not be Bob le Flambeur or Le Samourai, but it holds up with those (as well as Le Cercle Rouge and Un Flic).

Following the perspectives of Maurice and Silien, it’s the tale of a guy going for one final score. Maurice is planning a heist, complete with cracking a safe. It’s a job that’ll give him walk away money, to leave the criminal life behind and start anew elsewhere. It’s the criminal dream and cliché, admittedly, but it makes for a great setup.

Silien gets picked up the night before by the police and people think he has informed on his good friend. Especially considering the heist goes south, with the police coming in halfway through the heist and Maurice’s partner dying in his arms.

Through a series of twists, including a deus ex machina to explain it all, nothing is what it appears to be. And when everything is sorted out, our view of everything before changes radically to the point where re-examining the first half of the film is almost necessary.

It’s definitely a minor work for Melville, but it bears all his signature dialogue and plot movements. Released before Rouge and Samourai, it’s interesting to watch Melville develop as a director and before his final string of masterpieces that ended his career.

Top Five Challenge

Another week, another member of the Inside Pulse family, and another fun filled question. This week, TV and MMA writer Kevin Wong joins me for another round of Top Fives.

As many of you don’t know, Kevin Wong has perhaps the best-looking family in the Inside Pulse family. Seriously, his kid and his wife are adorable. Like if you ever wanted to become a diabetic, look at pictures of his family. It’s so sweet your blood sugars will top 200 in less than a minute. In this vein we ask K-Dub the following question:

Which five criteria do you have for watching a film now that you have a wife and kids?

Well, having a 15-month-old really changes things for us, since we used to watch about 4-6 movies a year in theatres. So with that in mind, I’ll start with my first piece of criteria:

Is it on DVD or on an HD movie channel?
As first time parents, it’s pretty tough to leave the little one alone with someone else, even if that’s her grandparents. So we watch movies at home. We’ve got a 1080p 46″ Sharp Aquos, an upconverting DVD player, StarChoice HD and a decent home theatre system so it’s not a bad setup. For that full movie experience, I’ll make popcorn using Alton Brown’s “Plain Brown Popper” method and shoot down 2L of diet cola. Of course, if my daughter (she’s 15 months old) is awake I’ll forgo the popcorn and break out the Cheerios. Infants love Cheerios. But the biggest advantage for us is that we can hit that pause button if there are any infant-related interruptions. Believe me, this came in handy when we watched The Dark Knight

Have we seen it?
Usually we go for something we haven’t seen before. My wife likes seeing a movie only once, whereas I have no problem seeing a film more than once. I’m pretty sure I’ve been banned from watching Rounders for the foreseeable future.

Time
It’s usually better if the running time is less than two hours. We used to wonder why animated movies ran under 90 minutes. No longer. It’s very difficult to watch a long movie without the little one getting bored (again, the pause button), so a shorter movie gives us a better chance to watch the whole thing end to end. Thus, as far as movies go, Iron Man worked better for us than the aforementioned The Dark Knight

Can we watch without truly watching?
Again this comes down to the attention span of a 15-month-old. A movie that requires you to pay attention isn’t going to fly in her eyes. So if we were watching a detail-oriented caper film for the first time we probably couldn’t do it. But a sports movie? Perfect.

Would we have watched it prior to the baby?
We really haven’t changed our preferences since my daughter’s birth. The truth of the matter is that what’s on TV is going to influence your child if you make them watch it instead of playing with them. At this point what’s on TV is just white noise to her, so we can watch what we like – within reason, of course. We usually go for action movies, but we’ll mix in comedies as well. My wife likes the Jane Austen stuff, and I’ll watch sci-fi.

So I guess the lesson learned here is – if you’re expecting your first child soon, anticipate a lot of not going out to watch movies as you deal with the greatest joy of your life. Do I miss going to the theatre? Of course, but you know, I wouldn’t trade parenthood for anything.

Awful Trailer of the Week

Beyonce Knowles stars in Obsessed.

Average guy gets Beyonce every night, then an illicit bathroom hookup with Ali Larter, and we wonder why it turns into a Fatal Attraction? No office fling in a thriller can be consummated unless the really, really hot object of affections is three shades of crazy. It’s like A Perfect Stranger was last year, except probably significantly worse.

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and Northwestern University Co-Eds with low standards at the Rhythm Room

Inkheart – Brendan Fraser in another film where he has to be witty and save the day.

Skip it – If you’ve seen one Brendan Fraser film, you’ve seen them all.

Possession – Sarah Michelle Gellar’s husband and brother in law trade bodies in a remake of a South Korean horror flick.

Skip it – It’s a horror film remake being released in January. If you didn’t learn your lesson from The Unborn last week you will this week.

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans – A prequel to the first Underworld film, this details the beginnings of the war between the Lycans and Vampires.

See it – Rhona Mitra in tight leather may not be the best substitute for Kate Beckinsale the world was waiting for, but the series does have a solid quality to it and it looks decent enough. The Underworld franchise has been a bright spot in several cruddy winter film seasons so this has some potential. It is the third film in a franchise that went down hill significantly from the first to second films, and doesn’t return one of the major reasons for the first two films’ success, so the odds are long that this will be anything worthwhile though.

Killshot – Thomas Jane and Diane Lane are on the run from Mickey Rourke. Joseph Gordon-Levitt lightens things up by trying to kill them.

Skip it – It’s been in the can for three years and is now getting a quick release into theatres before release onto DVD. Anytime a film with this sort of cast gets put off for as long as it has, it probably is awful.

Last Chance Harvey – Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson meet cute after Hoffman’s daughter treats him like trash at her wedding.

See it – Dustin Hoffman never disappoints.

The Dark Knight – Christian Bale battles Heath Ledger and the whole mob of Gotham City in the best film of last year.

Skip it – Only three people on the planet haven’t seen this film by now. If you’re one of them, go see it in theaters. If not, then there’s no real good reason to see this film again since it is on DVD and Blu-ray already. It’s a heck of a film to watch in theaters, but unless you want to scratch that itch again there’s no real strong reason to see it.

Do you have questions about movies, life, love, or Brannigan’s Law? Shoot me an e-mail at Kubryk@Insidepulse.com and you could be featured in the next “Monday Morning Critic.” Include your name and hometown to improve your odds.

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