Movie Reviews by Paul Preston, Steven Lewis and Mary Gent
Reviews in alphabetical order


“Sometimes I truly fear that I… am losing my mind. And if I did it… it would be like flying blind.”

The sins of the father as the saying goes, more like the sins of the parents mold the future of the behavior of their offspring. Human behavior is cyclical. It is a repetitive pattern of trial and error. Something ingrained into the structure of generations can often times never be changed. Whether it is genetic or psychological, the child emulates the history of their namesake.

I’ve done a bit of research on the legendary Howard Hughes and don’t find much about his life before us as the public knew him. In his film “The Aviator”, Scorsese alludes to an overprotective, controlling and instigating mother, however we won’t ever be sure where his heartbreaking eccentricities came from. His battles with severe OCD, anxiety and mental illness are documented fact. That he slipped in and out of psychotic states and eventually became reclusive as his oddities grew more perverse are also fact. He struggled with addictions to codeine and valium, yet never seemed to imbibe. All of these crosses to bear shrouded behind the mind of a genius, a man who changed the airline industry as we know it and whose passion for planes superseded any mental deficiency he seemed to suffer from. I find it interesting that most people of such visionary grandeur seem cursed with some psychological debilitation.

There has been speculation that Scorsese may have lost his chutzpah for filmmaking, perhaps softening with old age. I may have been included in that theory as well until I saw “The Aviator.”

Granted it’s not a gritty, dirty dangerous mob flick nor does it have any of the menacing qualities of his earlier works but gosh darn if it isn’t a great film!! He may have dropped the ball with “Gangs of New York” but his memory, polished up and cleaned off, instilled with the breath of life, ponied up and gave us a new type of Scorsese with Leonardo DiCaprio as his muse, just as DeNiro was in days of yore.

Three hour films when made by Marty just don’t seem long enough. I could watch “The Aviator” over and over again and never grow tired of it. Leonardo DiCaprio’s gift at conjuring up historical or pop culture figures and bringing them to life is breathtaking. People who question his acting abilities obviously don’t appreciate good acting. Quite simply, I was watching a glamorized version of Howard Hughes who was captivating and charming, vulnerable and stubborn and also crippled by his obsessive behavior.

Now, of course, Scorsese takes some liberties in telling the film based on the timeline of events. He also leaves out much of the aviation part of Hughes illustrious career. What he does instead is subtly set up his protagonist by showing the beginning signs of a serious anxiety disorder which would later imprison Hughes in his own private hell, eventually leading to a complete breakdown. Little cues such as the specific way in which he needed things to be done: bottled milk with the cap still on, a heightened awareness of germs, his claustrophobic nature and significant hearing loss, tugging on his pant leg consistently, clearing his throat repeatedly and of course carrying around his own bar of soap which he used regularly. Today we understand anxiety disorders. We have created a plethora of medications to stifle or at least relieve them. Back then, it was misunderstood, a stigma of mental illness if you please, something you didn’t talk about. Another factual tidbit is that Hughes may have contracted syphilis and this eventually led to further cracks in an already fragile mind. I believe that only those closest to Howard truly knew the severity of his condition.

In many films there is always some “heartbreak” for me. I am a sensitive soul. This film held many heartbreaking moments in its hands. Fictionalized though it may have been I felt deeply for this character. DiCaprio’s Hughes is someone you root for. He is successful and wildly innovative, spontaneous, highly evolved and yet with all of his accreditations laid before him, he was just a man. A man that accomplished more than most of us even dream about and did so with psychological and physical disabilities. The director’s “view” of his relationship with Katherine Hepburn (played uncannily by Cate Blanchett) was tender and ferocious. She seemed to understand Howard and was comfortable with his eccentricities because she had just as many herself. As she gently says to him at a particularly poignant moment, “We’re not like everyone else. Too many acute angles, too many eccentricities. We have to be very careful not to let people in or they’ll make us into freaks.”

So with all that said, the movie still lingers with me. Since watching it I have become completely consumed with Hughes and who he was. I’ve been reading anything I can find on him. Reality is sometimes just as intriguing as fiction. All in all, “The Aviator” is a wonderful film in my book. Scorsese resurrected his incredible gift of storytelling with this one.


I have yet to read one of the ‘Harry Potter’ books and maybe it’s high time I did – because, based upon the movies made from them, I have a hard time seeing exactly why they’re so popular.

To be sure, the first movie (which, like the second, I saw as a chaperone for my young nieces) has a certain low-key charm, as the notion (and presentation) of the Hogwarts School of Wizardry contains enough wow-ee inventiveness to be sufficiently engaging. And, of course, the tried and true theme of the ugly-duckling transformed into a prince (or, closer still, the poor waif plucked from obscurity and ill-treatment to be lead into a life of wonder and personal distinction) that Harry’s story represents is a surefire route to the capture of any child’s imagination. It is accomplished, too, with sly Dickensian wit that can prove similarly entertaining to adults. As a stand-alone movie (and book, I guess), I can certainly see the appeal of ‘Harry Potter.’

But as a SERIES?? It seems to endlessly repeat itself and its dramatic beats in each succeeding storyline. So, in this third movie we get – yet again – an opening glimpse into Harry’s home life with the cruel and spiteful Dursleys (whose overstated and unwarranted evil grew tiresome even before their exit from the first film); his re-acquaintance with friends Ron and Hermione on the train to Hogwarts; the preparations for the upcoming academic year; the maddeningly brief and perfunctory introduction to each of the whimsical wizardry classes for that year – all populated with masterful British actors who get only the most token of screen time; Harry’s ongoing (and boring) rivalry with the dreaded Malfoy (whose one-dimensionality bespeaks an artistic laziness); and the entire movie threaded through with an underlying evil and threat (either to Harry, the school in general, or both) which finally erupts into the inevitable rousing (or, would-be rousing) showdown at the end. Frankly, this last always stretches my credulity, as it becomes increasingly clear with each tale that not only is Hogwarts possibly the most dangerous place in the world for Harry to be, but that it is populated by a staff of “expert” wizards who are singularly ineffectual in combating any kind of outside threat. One gets the perverse sense that the school should actually be RUN by Harry and Hermione – they’re the only ones (her in particular) who seem to know what they’re doing. This robs the films of the tension and buildup which would come from the development of the kids as diamond-in-the-rough wunderkinds who only gradually come to expertise in their fledgling magical powers.

Now, don’t get me wrong: as a kid, I too was taken with books written in series (starring the likes of Encyclopedia Brown, the Hardy Boys, and the Great Brain) and demanded nothing more from them than that they provide the same types of stories and interactions that I loved so well the first time round. But J.K. Rowling’s inflation of her books to near `War and Peace’ lengths, as well as her insistence that each one represents a further step in the development of a larger artistic master plan strikes me as so much pretentious piffle. I don’t begrudge kids their fun – and ANYTHING that promotes reading on such a wide scale is to be cherished and encouraged. But let’s call a spade a spade.

And, while we’re at it, let’s call Rowling a sell-out. If there’s ANY work of literary fiction that could stand on its own, without a movie needed to popularize it among the masses, it’s ‘Harry Potter’ (probably ‘Lord of the Rings’ too, but we won’t go there). Frankly, I think the beloved authoress let slip a grand opportunity to stick her tongue out (and finger up) to Hollywood by refusing to allow her books to be adapted into movies. She certainly doesn’t need the money, the books don’t need the exposure, and it would have provided her young readers a glimpse into true artistic integrity at work: an example that some things DON’T work best when the most money and advertising is thrown at them . . . that sometimes, the inner recesses of your imagination is the best place for beloved characters to reside.

And of course, had she done so, we as moviegoers wouldn’t be subjected to productions so overly reverent to their source that the makers live in terror of leaving even the tiniest of details out. Why o why is it important for Potter fans – who know everything that’s going to happen anyway – to be able to see Hollywood’s representations of their private fantasies? Why o why is it important for us non-Hogwarts initiates to be force-fed every scene and character from the book in a compressed running time that gives none of it any room to breathe or create any resonance? It’s the absolute worst of all worlds, and everybody loses. (Yes, even fans of the books who enjoy the movies – because, whether they realize it or not, their own mental pictures of the characters and situations, formed when reading, are being reprogrammed and reconstituted by Hollywood. It’s doubtful whether, having seen the movies, even the most die-hard reader can ever picture Harry as anyone other than Daniel Radcliff, or Professor Snape as Alan Rickman, etc.. . . Which maybe wouldn’t even be an important point to bring up, except for the fact that the books had clearly done such an EXCELLENT job at capturing young imaginations, all on their ownsome. Now, even that accomplishment becomes suspect.)

But oops, I realize I haven’t yet said anything about the newest movie, re-conceived by director Alfonso Cuaron, which has received buckets and buckets full of praise (and, truth be told, was the only reason I went at all). Well, yes, he is a better director than Chris Columbus, and the photography in certain scenes is much more dramatic than anything in the other two, but we’re getting into some pretty minute distinctions. It’s a ‘Harry Potter’ film, and so subject to all the same annoyances and inconsistencies mentioned above. See it if you must – but me, I’m heading for the library . . .

CB056255OSCAR RANT 2005

(Honoring the best films of 2004)

Performance by an actor in a leading role:

Don Cheadle in “Hotel Rwanda”
Johnny Depp in “Finding Neverland”
Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Aviator”
Clint Eastwood in “Million Dollar Baby”
Jamie Foxx in “Ray”

Will win: Foxx
Should win: DiCaprio
This is a tough one because Foxx is so good as Ray Charles, but here’s what’s stacked against him. Foxx’s performance is great imitation, but, to me, Charles was SUCH a mean, awful person, according to this movie, that the acting didn’t require the levels DiCaprio’s Howard Hughes did. Also, DiCaprio is in a better movie. To me, I enjoyed Leo more because I enjoyed the movie more. “Ray” wasn’t all that great.
Who’s in and out: Naturally, I’m OUTRAGED that Paul Giamatti wasn’t nominated here. He was great in every way possible – in a good movie and anchored it in a funny, challenging way. I could do without Depp’s performance being nominated. He was sweet and handled the acting with the children with great ease. But it wasn’t enough to oust Giamatti. Other than that, Cheadle and Eastwood are both excellent in their roles.
Other notable performances of the last year include Kurt Russell in “Miracle”. How great was it to see him back on his game again? He’s got chops, now he needs to team up with a Tarantino or Alexander Payne to get ‘em showcased again. Billy Bob Thornton was good in “Friday Night Lights”, but his “I’ve got nothing but love for you” speech to the team FLOORED me. That guy’s ALWAYS surprising. Jim Carrey was great in the role of sad sack in “Eternal Sunshine”, I never thought of his as that type, but he did it. Kudos. Also, Kevin Bacon was very good in “The Woodsman”, a movie that’s quite good but nobody knows what to do with. And don’t say Kevin Spacey was miscast in “Beyond the Sea” – he’s got SERIOUS pipes.

Performance by an actor in a supporting role:

Alan Alda in “The Aviator”
Thomas Haden Church in “Sideways”
Jamie Foxx in “Collateral”
Morgan Freeman in “Million Dollar Baby”
Clive Owen in “Closer”

Will win: Morgan Freeman
Should win: Thomas Haden Church
Church should win because he should be in the Best Actor category. Being showcased as much as he is in that film can’t help but raise his stock to win. Freeman is due for an Oscar, and at least his performance here won’t seem like “lifetime achievement” because he’s great in “Million Dollar Baby”. Basically, it’s no “Scent of a Woman”, and thank god for that. This category is sorely missing the unforgettable performance by David Carradine in “Kill Bill, Vol. 2” He’s great! Slick, and evil and charming and strangely sexy, I’d easily trade out Alan Alda for Carradine. Also, John Lithgow in “Kinsey” was excellent, and a reminder of how great he can be after some time on “3rd Rock from the Sun”. Powerful and heartbreaking, he is very commanding in every scene he’s in.
Other notable performances of the last year include Stanley Tucci in “The Terminal”. “The Terminal” was a throwaway movie, but when you watch it again, just focus on how FUNNY Tucci is. When he get’s frustrated or pissed, it’s great to watch. Plus, he’s such a prick.

Performance by an actress in a leading role:

Annette Bening in “Being Julia”
Catalina Sandino Moreno in “Maria Full of Grace”
Imelda Staunton in “Vera Drake”
Hilary Swank in “Million Dollar Baby”
Kate Winslet in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”

Will win: Hilary Swank
Should win: Hilary Swank
Hilary Swank’s performance in “Million Dollar Baby” trumps all the competition, and if I were Annette Bening, I’d be pissed about the lack of hype for “Being Julia”. It is the only film nominated for anything major that I haven’t seen. Has ANYONE seen it? Swank absolutely won me over immediately and her character’s story is so emotional and so engaging, she wins easily for me. A totally overlooked actor in this category is Rachel McAdams in “The Notebook”, who’s presence EVERY MINUTE on screen is luminous and filled with such energy it is a NO-BRAINER why Ryan Gosling’s character falls in love with her. I did. It’s like Bening in “The American President”, sometimes just being totally radiant can be a challenging acting job, and McAdams nailed it.
Other notable performances of the last year include Audrey Tatou, proving “Amelie” was not a fluke, she can carry a picture and maintain an eccentric character with believability. “Spanglish” was crap, but Tea Leoni was so dead on in that film as a emotionally bombastic rich bitch, I was very impressed. There are too many people just like her here in LA for me to ignore the brilliance of that performance.

Performance by an actress in a supporting role:

Cate Blanchett in “The Aviator”
Laura Linney in “Kinsey”
Virginia Madsen in “Sideways”
Sophie Okonedo in “Hotel Rwanda”
Natalie Portman in “Closer”

Will win: Cate Blanchett
Should win: Virginia Madsen
Blanchett’s performance involves imitation just like Jamie Foxx, but, again, she’s in a better film, so I found alot more surprises in her performance that made her transcend the impersonation, and deal with more levels as an actor within the imitation. However, I gotta go with my heart on this one. I love Mya, Madsen’s character in “Sideways”, and Madsen plays her so real, so smart and loving, she’s a rare strong female character played with great care. Laura Linney is also great, and worthy of a nomination, too.
Other notable performances of the last year include, um, pretty much everyone listed here. There really isn’t a bad nomination. Maybe Regina King from “Ray” was good enough for a nod, I don’t know who I’d kick out of the party to make room.

Best animated feature film of the year:

“The Incredibles”
“Shark Tale”
“Shrek 2”

Will win: “The Incredibles”
Should win: “The Incredibles”
Is there even a discussion here? Good for Dreamworks/PDI to get two nominations here, but nobody, and I mean nobody does it as good as Pixar. And I thought “The Polar Express” was not great by any means, but it was better and more impressive than “Shark Tale”.

Achievement in art direction:

“The Aviator”
“Finding Neverland”
“Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events”
“The Phantom of the Opera”
“A Very Long Engagement”

Will win: “The Aviator”
Should win: I haven’t seen “The Phantom of the Opera”, but for now I’d go with “A Very Long Engagement”
The flashy “A Series of Unfortunate Events” and “Phantom” (based on what I’ve seen), don’t usually impress as much as an elaborate yet functional set quite like “A Very Long Engagement”, which just barely beats out “The Aviator”, which has some great sets, but sometimes they are coupled with some special effects that are a disservice. You HAVE to nominate the airport terminal in “The Terminal” – they built that thing from scratch!!! It was very striking and serviceable.
Other notable sets this year include “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”. The world of those films is so exceptionally realized, and never moreso than in this third Potter feature. The sets of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” were ridiculously exciting, working seamlessly in conjunction with the special effects. The totally lived-in feel of the gym and boxing rings of “Million Dollar Baby” brilliantly supported the weathered, aged feel of its to male stars.

Achievement in cinematography:

“The Aviator”
“House of Flying Daggers”
“The Passion of the Christ”
“The Phantom of the Opera”
“A Very Long Engagement”

Will win: “The Passion of the Christ”
Should win: I’m especially dumb in this category, having missed “Phantom” AND “House of Flying Daggers”, but I’d go with “A Very Long Engagement” once again.
Jean-Pierre Jenuet is a viscerally visual director, and I can’t deny how well the set, costumes and photography worked together. The cinematography let me smell the bombed-out war fields, feel the squishy mud under the soldier’s boots, and stare in awe how a little visual flare can bring a scene to life (like when the wheat fields blow in the wind from an MP to the AWOL soldier he’s come to find. I’m shocked to see that the shadowy “Million Dollar Baby” wasn’t nominated for it’s noir-esque feel, often using it’s shadows to great effect, not just effect for effect’s sake. I think they want to reward Mel Gibson’s labor of love with something.
Other notable cinematography this year includes “Kill Bill, Vol. 2”, which was a great match-up of classic Tarantino close-ups and visually impressive fight scenes. “Collateral” captured LA only the Michael Mann could, and his vision is always Oscar-worthy. I was also impressed with “Closer” , “Sideways” and “Ray”.

Achievement in costume design:

“The Aviator”
“Finding Neverland”
“Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events”

Will win: “The Aviator”
Should win: “The Aviator”
Here’s another category where I usually go with the piece of work that impresses without over-doing it. For example, I’m more of the kind of guy to give an Oscar to “Wall Street” for defining MODERN clothes (the Academy didn’t) than for the splashy, period, flamboyant garb of “The Last Emperor” (which the Academy did). With that in mind, I liked the dresses and suits of Hollywood’s most glamorous time more than the complex period armor of “Troy” or the fantastical work of “A Series of Unfortunate Events”.
Other notable costumes this year included “Kill Bill, Vol. 2”. Although first appearing in “Vol. 1”, I’ll never forget how The Bride looked in her hot yellow outfit.

Achievement in directing:

“The Aviator”
“Million Dollar Baby”
“Vera Drake”

Will win: Clint Eastwood
Should win: Clint Eastwood
WHAT?!?! But Paul, you’ve always said that the Best Picture winner should win Best Director, too. Well, I’ve mentioned that this is the best film Eastwood has ever made, there’s actually more at stake in “Million Dollar Baby” that Eastwod has to handle with kid gloves than with “Sideways”. Plus, Eastwood deftly brought together all disciplines of making the film exceptionally well – the cinematography, costumes, sets, and ever-so-subtly controlling the acting and making it all look as relaxed as they say Eastwood is on the set. But naturally the trouble here, once again, is that they haven’t nominated someone who has directed a Best Picture nominee. Marc Forster, brilliant director of “Monster’s Ball”, did a fine job. Again, if you nominate the film, nominate the director. However, I wouldn’t have nominated the film. More on that later. I think the Academy will bypass Scorsese again. The director category isn’t usually as dopey as the acting categories and you usually have to earn it. They don’t often dole out the career achievement. “The Aviator” is good, but it’s not Scorsese’s best, and it’s not as good as the other nominees here.
Other notable direction this year includes “Kill Bill, Vol. 2”. Tarantino, as annoying as he can be in person, is a wickedly talented director, and he returned to form after trying some new stuff to modest success in “Vol. 1”. I would also nominate two guys for unconventional direction – Brad Bird for his visionary “The Incredibles” and Michael Moore for “Fahrenheit 9/11”. Both movies seem made with passion that’s clearly on the screen.

Best documentary feature:

“Born into Brothels”
“The Story of the Weeping Camel”
“Super Size Me”
“Tupac: Resurrection”
“Twist of Faith”

Will win: “Born into Brothels”
Should win: “Super Size Me”
I’m just a fan of the Documentary category not being stuffy, so I’ll admit, I haven’t seen any of the nominees except “Super Size Me”, but dammit, “Super Size Me” is a fun movie! And smart and entertaining. I wish I could see “Twist of Faith”, Kirby Dick made the great “Sick”, which I highly recommend to anyone. It’s the strangest love story of all time. Naturally, the great omission here is “Fahrenheit 9/11”. I understand Michael Moore’s attempt to get it on TV, though, and withdrawing it from competition. That, certainly, is the great documentary of the year.
Another good documentary this year was “The Yes Men”. It’s disguised as a prank film, sort of a “Jackass” with a social conscience, but the side effect is knowledge all about the dunderheads who run the World Trade Organization.

Best documentary short subject:

“Autism Is a World”
“The Children of Leningradsky”
“Mighty Times: The Children’s March”
“Sister Rose’s Passion”

Will win: No idea
Should win: No opinion.
Why do I even include this category year after year? It’s so hard to see these films, and The Academy should make it easier.

Achievement in film editing:

“The Aviator”
“Finding Neverland”
“Million Dollar Baby”

Will win: “Million Dollar Baby”
Should win: “Million Dollar Baby”
Boxing movies have won editing praise since “Raging Bull”, I expect it will win again. Plus, didn’t this guy win for “Unforgiven”, too?
Other notable editing jobs this year include “Fahrenheit 9/11”. Michael Moore’s films are all edited with such deliberate pace, they transcend the ridged-sounding “documentary” status and become a genre all their own. Other than that, these are good nominees all-round.

Best foreign language film of the year:

“As It Is in Heaven”
“The Chorus (Les Choristes)”
“The Sea Inside”

Will win: “The Sea Inside”
Should win: “The Sea Inside”, but I’ve never seen any of these nominated films.
I had the chance to see “The Sea Inside”, but something came up. I’m just bugged that “Hero” was released four years ago overseas and “A Very Long Engagement” was not chosen over “The Chorus” as France’s submission in this category, ‘cause they are the two finest foreign films I’ve seen this year.

Achievement in makeup:

“Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events”
“The Passion of the Christ”
“The Sea Inside”

Will win: “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events”
Should win: “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events”
Why is this category so small every year? Would it kill the Academy to nominate “Hellboy”? Ron Perlman looked AWESOME as Hellboy, and Abe Sapien looked pretty kick-ass, too. How about “Dawn of the Dead”? These were amazing zombies! I know, I worked with the makeup people, they do a great job, and they’re making up literally hundreds of people hundreds of times to make this film work, and I thought the end effect was very well done. Prissy little Academy, isn’t it?

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score):

“Finding Neverland”
“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”
“Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events”
“The Passion of the Christ”
“The Village”

Will win: “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”
Should win: “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”
It’s time for the Harry Potter franchise to come out from under the shadow of those damn Hobbits and this is the category in which they will. Plus, there is no argument to be made about anyone being better than John Williams at scoring a film. Memorable, dramatic, authoritative, his scores simply ROCK. I think “Finding Neverland” has a chance to win here as well, giving a small award to a film I’m predicting won’t win anywhere else. The great and unjust omission here is the retro-snazzy score of “The Incredibles”. That score is phenomenal. Also, Clint Eastwood’s score for “Million Dollar Baby” is just right, a cool mix of the jazz he loves and the non-intrusive music needed to propel such a powerful story. I couldn’t tell you how the score of “The Village”, or anything else from “The Village” went.
Other notable scores of the year include “Spider-Man 2”, which was as rousing and exciting as the first, and actually propelled and even better movie than the first.

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song):

“Accidentally In Love” from “Shrek 2”
“Al Otro Lado Del Río” from “The Motorcycle Diaries”
“Believe” from “The Polar Express”
“Learn To Be Lonely” from “The Phantom of the Opera”
“Look To Your Path (Vois Sur Ton Chemin)” from “The Chorus (Les Choristes)”

Will win: “Believe”
Should win: “Accidentally in Love” – I actually haven’t heard any of the other songs.
That being said, though, I just think the “Believe” song is a little to haughty, heavy and pretentious. I miss the light, Christmas songs, and Josh Groban doesn’t do anything lightly. However, that goddamn Counting Crows song is catchy and I’ve found it in my head on numerous occasions. Here is another example of Oscar trying to be smarter than you and voting for songs from a couple of foreign films, when clearly, many of the best songs of the year are in the film “Team America: World Police”. “America, F**k Yeah” is my personal favorite, but “The End of an Act”, a song that compares missing your loved one to Michael Bay missing the point when he made “Pearl Harbor” is genius, as well as “Everyone Has AIDS”, a spoof of “Rent” and “Montage”. Bruckheimer had it coming.
The song used best in any movie this year was “The Blower’s Daughter” by Damien Rice in “Closer”. That song is so haunting, and Mike Nichols uses it in it entirety in unconventional ways. However, it wasn’t written for the film, it just seems like it was in the hands of a good director.

Best motion picture of the year:

“The Aviator”
“Finding Neverland”
“Million Dollar Baby”

Will win: “Million Dollar Baby”
Should win: “Sideways”
Unfortunately, despite the critical praise, “Sideways” does not have the momentum “Million Dollar Baby” has right now. Most people are just seeing “Million Dollar Baby” now, and every one of them loves it when they see it. I think that’s gonna propel it past “The Aviator”, despite “The Aviator”’s Golden Globe win. “Million Dollar Baby” just has the emotional connection “The Aviator” doesn’t. I think the worst nomination here is “Ray”. The movie is mediocre and way too long. Plus, I heard they were going to show Ray, warts and all. Well, it seemed to me like ALL warts, I wanted more musical genius. It’d be like watching “What’s Love Got to do with it” and only focusing on Ike, without the redemption of Tina. I was also disappointed that the real “Ray” showed up in the end. Let Jamie finish what he started. They did that with Angela Bassett, too. I thought the Academy might go with “Hotel Rwanda” (they love a good message) or take a shot on “The Passion of the Christ”. I was not as hot on “Collateral” as most, but I thought that, too, had a better shot than “Ray”. I’d like “Sideways” to win, because, despite it’s drama, it’s a comedy at heart, and comedies always get the shaft.
Naturally, if you’ve seen my Top 10 list for the year, you can guess my nominees: “Sideways”, “Million Dollar Baby”, “Kill Bill, Vol. 2”, “Fahrenheit 9/11” and “The Incredibles”. That’s a motely bunch, isn’t it. But the scope of styles of movies is more interesting than the comedy and four dramas represented by the Academy this year. Other notable movies this year include “Kinsey” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”.

Best animated short film:

“Birthday Boy”
“Gopher Broke”
“Guard Dog”

Will win: No idea
Should win: No opinion.
Why do I even include this category year after year? It’s so hard to see these films, and The Academy should make it easier.

Best live action short film:

“Everything in This Country Must”
“Little Terrorist”
“7:35 in the Morning ( 7:35 de la Mañana)”
“Two Cars, One Night”

Will win: No idea
Should win: No opinion.
Why do I even include this category year after year? It’s so hard to see these films, and The Academy should make it easier.

Achievement in sound editing:

“The Incredibles”
“The Polar Express”
“Spider-Man 2”

Will win: “Spider-Man 2”
Should win: “The Incredibles”
I’m always impressed when you look at the screen at a bunch of things interacting in a world of sound and the entire world was created from scratch. There was NOTHING on-screen when “The Incredibles” started, so the sounds they edited together were very impressive. The same can be said of “The Polar Express”. I saw that in IMAX 3-D, which REALLY helps that movie, which is OK, but made great when it’s really big like that. The sound in there was pumping, and the train was churning to great effect. “Spider-Man 2” had the most real sounds to work with, but the effect was no less impressive. These are all great nominees.
Othe notable sound effects editing jobs include other action movies of the year like “I, Robot” and “The Day After Tomorrow”, which sounded great, but some of its visual effects accompanying the sounds blew.

Achievement in sound mixing:

“The Aviator”
“The Incredibles”
“The Polar Express”
“Spider-Man 2”

Will win: “Spider-Man 2”
Should win: “The Incredibles”
I’m pretty much making the same argument here as above. Although “Ray” is nominated well in this group. “Chicago” and other musicals lately have mixed the music and dialogue and room atmosphere together to equally good effect. These are also great nominees.

Achievement in visual effects:

“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”
“I, Robot”
“Spider-Man 2”

Will win: “Spider-Man 2”
Should win: “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”
This is a tough one, but I think “Spider-Man 2” will squeak past the much deserving “Harry Potter”. It’s just, those Dementors, man, they were creepy. They haunt my dreams, man. “I, Robot” had seamless, polished effects in nearly EVERY scene of the film and that’s all I really came away with from that movie, so this is a good nomination. I go with “Harry Potter”, though, because the effects seemed really LIVED IN. It wasn’t whiz-bang magic, it was everyday magic, and nothing beats Buckbeak as most vivid and stiking effect of the year.
Other notable effects this year include (if they ever decide to nominate more than three movies): “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, again not flashy, but served the story effectively and were visually exciting. I’d nominate “The Day After Tomorrow” for the wave that overtakes NY, but those wolves sucked so bad I wanted to kill myself.

Adapted screenplay:

“Before Sunset”
“Finding Neverland”
“Million Dollar Baby”
“The Motorcycle Diaries”

Will win: “Sideways”
Should win: “Sideways”
I think this’ll be the night’s biggest no-brainer. “Sideways” will probably win nothing else, so it’ll get the “Pulp Fiction” award, which is when the best film of the night only wins for it’s script. It’s happened alot. “Million Dollar Baby” has a slight chance here if it’s gonna sweep the evening, but I think Payne will get his much deserved Oscar.
Other notable adapted scripts this year include “Closer”. I thought for sure this was gonna be nominated. I wasn’t so big on its style. It seemed so detached that the players never got the emotional investment of something like “Sideways”, but it was a tight script with the most memorable line of the year about sperm, uttered by America’s sweetheart Julia Roberts. Also liked the adaptations of “The Notebook” and “A Very Long Engagement” (tracking that story alone and making it accessible is an accomplishment).

Original screenplay:

“The Aviator”
“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”
“Hotel Rwanda”
“The Incredibles”
“Vera Drake”

Will win: “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”
Should win: “Eternam Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”
Is there any other writer that more defines “ORIGINAL Screenplay”? This one even more than his other scripts puts him over the top because of the sweetness lying underneath. The love story is more apt to get to voters than the self-involvement or dark turns of characters in “Being John Malkovich” or “Adaptation”. “The Aviator” has a shot here, but I think Charlie will come out on top. Great to see “The Incredibles” nominated here.
Other notable original scripts this year include “Kill Bill, Vol. 2”. That’s just great writing, great scene framing, great characters, great dialogue.

Well, there you have it. Let’s see how wrong The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences can be this year.

By the way, did you see the Grammys? The music scene really needs help, but every year, they still nominate all the wrong people, but manage to give the award to the one artist in each category that deserves it. That’s why U2 walked with a 3 Grammys, so did Prince. They also gave ‘em to Ray Charles and John Mayer and Green Day, thank God. And the telecast proved once again that Jennifer Lopez, now and forever, sucks.


10. HOTEL RWANDA – Does anyone else feel really ignorant coming out of this movie? I was shocked to know that I went along with the rest of the world in ignoring the mass genocide in Rwanda in the mid-90s. “Hotel Rwanda” brings the story to light while making it personal to one fascinating man who saved 1500 or so people buy giving them shelter in his hotel. The politics in this film are infuriating (All the murder there was tribal, and totally pointless – one group LOOKED different than another). Don Cheadle is very strong as he has to balance family, survival, business, bribery and decency and it’s a delicate balance in a completely unstable country. I’m always fascinated by movies that teach me something. “Hotel Rwanda” was fascinating.

9. SUPER SIZE ME – Mission accomplished. Fast food looks absolutely disgusting to me now. It took longer than it should have to excise it from my diet, but “Super Size Me” was step number one. This movie also prompted me to buy “Fast Food Nation”, a book about this same subject, which I will read ASAP. One major accomplishment of director Morgan Spurlock in his quest to eat nothing but McDonald’s for 30 days is that he is likable throughout the whole proceeding. He had every chance to become snotty, holier-than-thou, or one of those obnoxious protestors you just wanna punch. He maintained a congeniality that made the film an entertaining way to ingest education about the world of fast food. And you gape at the facts he presents in the film. A very unique movie.

8. A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT – The director and star of “Amelie” reunite to create a huge epic that couldn’t be further from the love story of “Amelie”. This love story is enormous in a sprawling story. Production design thoroughout is top-notch and the WWII battle scenes are soaked in mud and blood. But the intriguing, winding story steals the show as every scene we’re introduced to becomes something else entirely, constantly surprising. The lush photography captures every emotion under the sun, from memorable pans around a lighthouse with two lovers embracing atop it, to haunting war imagery of a room filling with a raging explosion. Jean-Pierre Jenuet is such a viscerally visual filmmaker, you can’t forget this movie.

7. KINSEY – I LOVE a good religion vs. science debate! There were two good biopics this year about men I knew little about – Alfred Kinsey and Howard Hughes. Both were quite good, but “Kinsey” made my Top 10 because…I LOVE a good religion vs. science debate! Seriously, I’m absolutely fascinated by that stuff. The 50s in America makes for the perfect time for Kinsey to come about and study sexual habits. The repression he faced and “moral outrage” were typical and Kinsey always countered with the truth. Good shit. The performances here are great across the board, especially Liam Neeson, Laura Linney and the Great John Lithgow, who you can’t take your eyes of off every scene he’s in.

6. ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND – Here is not only a great script, but do not forget the great direction it takes to make a totally scattershot movie like this, plus the editors who had to bust their ass to make it coherent. Also, the actors in every major role were great and the production design totally captured that dream-like state you up till now could only imagine. The best part about this movie, which enthralls with it’s imagination, is that its core is a love story that is the kind you totally want to root for. Sweet and good and worth watching the movie for. We need more of those kind of love affairs in the movies. Too many movies have guys or girls just NOT WORTH THE EFFORT. The sweetness underlying the whiz-bang of the production here adds a layer unexpected in a Charlie Kaufman script, which is usually something a little cold. Good casting plays a part here, too. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet soar in great roles I wouldn’t have expected either of them in.

5. THE INCREDIBLES – Will Pixar ever make a bad film? God, I hope not. I was concerned about the first computer-animated film that is all people (no toys, fish or monsters). I never thought people looked good when created by computers or I find them simply not as interesting most of the time as a more fantastical tale. I was proven wrong on both counts as “The Incredibles” is visually stunning, with these computer-generated characters displaying some more human levels than some scripts give live actors the chance to portray. The retro-feel of the “The Incredibles” is great, wonderfully achieved by the production design and rousing score and the action scenes beat anything in the current “Star Wars” movies and are certainly on par with some of the best of the year like “Spider-Man 2”. The genius of Pixar is that it seems like they are so sure their movie is going to look brilliant, that they can spend alot of time on the script. This is a unique look at superheroes not seen yet, and a friend of mine pointed out that the powers each family member has is certainly relevant to any suburban family – the daughter who is (or feels) “invisible”, the mom who is stretched in all directions, etc. Top it all of with great voice work from Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter and Jason Lee, this is an awesome movie, and Pixar has again raised the bar for themselves.

4. FAHRENHEIT 9/11 – I saw this movie twice in the same week. A movie made with this much passion is hard to ignore, couple that with the fact that I agree with its point of view and I was hooked. “Fahrenheit 9/11” is certainly an acquired taste, but I’ve always been a fan of Michael Moore. Is there anybody he targets in his films who doesn’t deserve it? Give ‘em hell, Mike! Nobody is more deserving than our current batch of government yahoos. Just as “Bowling for Columbine” was a mix of the hilarious (a cartoon about our scared, white, founding fathers) and the poignant (the brilliant editing together of 9-11 calls and Columbine security cam footage), “9/11” gives us the hilarious (Ashcroft sings!) and the poignant (the hard-to-watch devastation of Lila Lipscomb). The Lipscomb segment is especially well made because Moore lets Lila read the entire letter from her son with out score or comment and the effect is very emotional. Throughout there are highly emotional moments, not the least of which is the Twin Towers attack shown with haunting music, reaction and aftermath shots and no shots of the plane actually hitting the building – a very dynamic way to represent that event. But there are literally hundreds of memorable images and moments in this movie, and I thought “Super Size Me” pissed me off. The facts Moore brings to light in this film are riveting, and Moore wisely (after much comment concerning his presence in “Columbine”) removes himself visibly from the camera for much of film, taking a voice-over role instead. Again, you cannot deny a movie made with this amount of zeal, rage and enthusiasm. It’s all up there on the screen, and it’s mesmerizing.

3. KILL BILL, VOL 2 – Woohoo! Tarantino is back! I enjoyed “Kill Bill, Vol.1” enough, but weren’t you like me? You dug the action, but were missing the Quentin? “Vol. 2” brings back all the things I love about a Tarantino film – long, interesting conversations that are usually delaying violence, eccentric characters, smartly used pop culture references that make his movies hipper than anything out there. My wife commented when I came home from this movie that I was visibly happy and smiling, I mean, this is just a great movie, it has everything! There are loads of memorable, extremely well done scenes – the bride’s wedding, the Texas funeral, Bill cutting sandwiches while talking about how he wanted to kill The Bride, and anything with Pai Mei. In the center of it all is the welcome return of David Carradine, who turns out to be equal parts charming, menacing and in total control of the movie. Quite commanding for a guy who’s been MIA for a while. Uma Thurman and Michael Madsen prove once again that they do their best work with Quentin, and Tarantino continues to pull good performances out of people we haven’t heard from in a while (Daryl Hannah). Toning down the excess of “Vol.1”, Tarantino has fashioned a masterpiece.

2. MILLION DOLLAR BABY – This movie BLINDSIDED me. What a thoughtful, surprising, powerful movie. I’ve found alot of Clint Eastwood-helmed films have run a bit long – “White Hunter, Black Heart”, “A Perfect World”, even “Mystic River” was a touch long. The tightest direction up till now for Clint was “Unforgiven”, but the western was familiar territory that he made interesting again. “Million Dollar Baby” is the best film Clint has ever directed. Period. Worthy of the Best Director Oscar, which I hope he wins. Original and with more emotion than any other film released this year, I was drawn in to “Million Dollar Baby” from the very beginning. The casting is perfect, I can’t imagine hearing the narration in this film with any other voice than Morgan Freeman. This is perhaps Clint’s finest hour acting-wise, and Hilary Swank balances desire, innocence and ruggedness into a very appealing character I could’ve watched for another two hours. Despite the grace with which this film handles it’s drama, it’s also very funny, capitalizing on Eastwood’s slow burn and comedic supporting characters. The actors here make it all look so natural. You can feel the history and mileage of the locations in the brilliant set design and shadowy cinematography that’s practically black and white. Actors as good as Eastwood and Freeman embody the years in look and relationship. “Million Dollar Baby” had the longest applause I’ve heard after a movie in years.

1. SIDEWAYS – The finest script of the year. Co-writer and director Alexander Payne, like Pixar, is incapable of making a bad film. The outrageous “Citizen Ruth”, “Election” and the funny/sad brilliance of “About Schmidt” lead up to “Sideways”. No bad films in the bunch. You’ll hear words to describe this film like “personal journey of discovery”, “wine as a metaphor for life” and other lofty depictions. Don’t be fooled, this is a GUY MOVIE disguised as an art house flick. I just don’t want people to think it isn’t a totally accessible movie given its cagey release by Fox Searchlight Pictures. It is both a critical darling AND a movie worthy of everyone’s attention. Leading the way are the great performances by the cast. Paul Giamatti follows up GREAT work in “American Splendor” here with a very fine, subtle, nuanced performance that is also at times outrageous. He is solidifying himself as THE guy to have in your movie. It’s tough to play such a self-loathing character and be likeable, but he does it. I don’t know what rock they found Thomas Haden Church under, but cheers to Payne for casting him, ‘cause he’s PERFECT for this role, and who knew? It’s good to see this mostly-in-sitcoms actor have such a breakthrough performance in a feature. He’s hilarious and a great foil for Giamatti. Also, Viriginia Madsen has a career-making performance. Career-making 20 years or so in her career. Here’s an actor that’s been in mostly crap for years, with occasional bright spots. Her job and Church’s in this movie are proof (as Tarantino proves time and again) that the right SCRIPT can bring out the best in all your talent. And I should also mention Sandra Oh, who has been relegated to comic relief often, shines as well here, when given a complex character. This is simply a movie I was ALWAYS ENGAGED in. And there was never a dull moment. There is wine metaphor, and it comes in the most well-written, truth-exposing scene of the year between Giamatti and Madsen. Also, “Sideways” has the funniest moment of the year, known simply as the “wallet retrieval scene”. No character is straight up here, and I enjoyed watching the levels, the discoveries and the implosions as everything comes to a head in California’s wine country. Number One.

“The Aviator”, “The Notebook”, “The Woodsman”, “Team America: World Police”, and props to “Dawn of the Dead” and “Shaun of the Dead” for keeping alive the zombie genre in new and interesting ways.

The Worst Films of 2004:

10. Wimbledon – wouldn’t have been exciting, even with Hugh Grant
9. I’m Not Scared – lousy foreign films…
8. The Punisher – trashy can be good, just don’t include John Travolta
7. Seed of Chucky – made to suck, lived up to it
6. Harold & Kumar go to White Castle – dopey stuff that wanted really bad to be cool
5. Open Water – don’t believe the hype, this movie’s boring
3. The Day After Tomorrow – effects and NOTHING else. And the effects sucked
2. Wicker Park – Josh Hartnett, you a goddamn bore
1. Van Helsing – rubbery, fake monsters chasing rubbery, fake actors. Such an exercise in excess could only be made by Stephen Sommers.

Honorable mention: Spanglish – close, but no cigar. It was bad.

And, just for fun, the

Best Films of the Last Twenty Years:

2003 – In America
2002 – Chicago
2001 – Monster’s Ball
2000 – Requiem for a Dream
1999 – South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut
1998 – Saving Private Ryan
1997 – 3 WAY TIE I CANNOT BREAK FOR THE LIFE OF ME: Titanic, L.A. Confidential, Boogie Nights
1996 – Fargo
1995 – Braveheart
1994 – Pulp Fiction
1993 – Schindler’s List
1992 – Malcolm X
1991 – JFK
1990 – Goodfellas
1989 – Do the Right Thing
1988 – Mississippi Burning
1987 – Broadcast News
1986 – Platoon
1985 – Witness

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