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Oscar Picks

March 7th, 2010 by MiamiMovieCritic in Movie Reviews

Greetings, Oscar fans! It’s that time of year again, when Hollywood congratulates itself on another job well done. Here you’ll find a list of all of the nominees, plus my preferences and predictions. I’ll be rooting for one of the nominees in the picture, animated feature, directing, screenplay and acting categories. For the rest, I’ve tried to make educated guesses. This year’s race is pretty tight, and the hosts are none other than Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin, so it’s shaping up to be an unusually entertaining Oscar night. Enjoy the show!

Best Picture

Avatar, The Blind Side, District 9, An Education, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire, A Serious Man, Up, Up in the Air

Should Win: Inglourious Basterds
Will Win: Inglourious Basterds

Actor in a Leading Role

Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
George Clooney, Up in the Air
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

Should Win: Colin Firth
Will Win: Jeff Bridges

Actor in a Supporting Role

Matt Damon, Invictus
Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

Should Win: Christoph Waltz
Will Win: Christoph Waltz

Actress in a Leading Role

Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Helen Mirren, The Last Station
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious, Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Saphire
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia

Should Win: Gabourey Sidibe
Will Win: Sandra Bullock (d’oh!)

Actress in a Supporting Role

Penélope Cruz, Nine
Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Mo’Nique, Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Saphire

Should Win: Mo’Nique
Will Win: Mo’Nique


James Cameron, Avatar
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
Lee Daniels, Precious

Should Win: Quentin Tarantino
Will Win: Kathryn Bigelow

Adapted Screenplay

District 9, An Education, Precious, Up in the Air, In the Loop

Should Win: In the Loop (”‘Climbing the mountain of conflict’? You sounded like a Nazi Julie Andrews!”)
Will Win: Up in the Air

Original Screenplay

The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, A Serious Man, Up, The Messenger

Should Win: Inglourious Basterds
Will Win: Inglourious Basterds (yay Quentin!)

Animated Feature Film

Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Princess and the Frog, The Secret of Kells, Up

Should Win: Either Coraline or Fantastic Mr. Fox, I love them both
Will Win: Up

Foreign Language Film

Ajami, A Prophet, The Secret of Her Eyes, The White Ribbon, The Milk of Sorrow

Oscar Guess: The White Ribbon

Documentary Feature

Burma VJ, The Cove, Food, Inc., The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, Which Way Home

Oscar Guess: The Cove

Documentary Short Subject

China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province, The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner, The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant, Music by Prudence, Rabbit a() la Berlin

Oscar Guess: China’s Unnatural Disaster

Short Film (live action)

The Door, Instead of Abracadabra, Kavi, Miracle Fish, The New Tenants

Oscar Guess: Uhhhhhhh… The New Tenants?

Short Film (animated)

French Roast, Granny O’ Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty, Logoramam, The Lady and the Reaper, A Matter of Loaf and Death

Oscar Guess: A Matter of Loaf and Death

Film Editing

Avatar, District 9, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious

Oscar Guess: The Hurt Locker

Art Direction

Avatar, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Nine, Sherlock Holmes, The Young Victoria

Oscar Guess: Avatar


Avatar, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, The White Ribbon

Oscar Guess: Inglourious Basterds

Costume Design

Bright Star, Coco Before Chanel, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Nine, The Young Victoria

Oscar Guess: The Young Victoria


Il Divo, The Young Victoria, Star Trek

Oscar Guess: Star Trek

Original Score

Avatar, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Up, The Hurt Locker, Sherlock Holmes

Oscar Guess: Up

Original Song

“Almost There,” from The Princess and the Frog
“Down in New Orleans,” from The Princess and the Frog
“Loin de Paname,” from Paris 36
“Take It All,” from Nine
“The Weary Kind,” from Crazy Heart

Oscar Guess: “The Weary Kind”

Sound Editing

Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Star Trek, Up

Oscar Guess: Avatar

Sound Mixing

Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Star Trek, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Oscar Guess: Avatar

Visual Effects

Avatar, District 9, Star Trek

Oscar Guess: Avatar

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The Year in Film – 2009

January 12th, 2010 by MiamiMovieCritic in Movie Reviews

Best Films

1. Inglourious Basterds
2. Hunger
3. Adventureland
4. Drag Me to Hell
5. Fantastic Mr. Fox
6. Public Enemies
7. Coraline
8. Ponyo
9. Thirst
10. The Hangover

Best Documentary Feature


Best Director

Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

Honorable Mentions:
Lars Von Trier, Antichrist
James Cameron, Avatar
Neill Blomkamp, District 9
Steve McQueen, Hunger

Best Actor

Willem Dafoe, Antichrist

Honorable Mentions:
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, (500) Days of Summer
Sharlto Copley, District 9
Michael Fassbender, Hunger
Matt Damon, The Informant!

Best Actress

Charlotte Gainsbourg, Antichrist

Honorable Mentions:
Abbie Cornish, Bright Star
Alison Lohman, Drag Me to Hell
Sasha Grey, The Girlfriend Experience
Michelle Monaghan, Trucker

Best Supporting Actor

Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

Honorable Mentions:
Jim Broadbent, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Road
Zachary Quinto, Star Trek
Jackie Earle Haley, Watchmen

Best Supporting Actress

Mo’Nique, Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Saphire

Honorable Mentions:
Diane Kruger, Inglourious Basterds
Mélanie Laurent, Inglourious Basterds
Marion Cotillard, Public Enemies
Evan Rachel Wood, Whatever Works

Worst Films

The Brothers Bloom
Halloween II
The Informers
The Limits of Control
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Most Overrated Films

A Serious Man
Up in the Air

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The Best Movies of the Decade (Part I)

December 15th, 2009 by MiamiMovieCritic in Movie Reviews

Roger Ebert once said, “I know that to get a movie made is a small miracle, that the reputations, careers and finances of the participants are on the line, and that hardly anybody sets out to make a bad movie.” To make a great movie is an even bigger miracle. While the ‘00s may have been the decade of Bush, war and Hollywood remakes, we still have blessings to count. Here are 50 of them.

50. Frailty (year of release: 2001, director: Bill Paxton)

Bill Paxton directed and starred in this harrowing, sick-comic horror movie about an ordinary man who receives a message from God, commanding him to kill demons. Has he snapped, or is he simply doing the Lord’s work? Brent Hanley’s brilliant screenplay kept me guessing until the very end. My only complaint is that the movie should have been called GOD’S HANDS.

49. Grindhouse (2007, Robert Rodriguez & Quentin Tarantino)

As separately sold DVDs, PLANET TERROR and DEATH PROOF might not be so sweet they make sugar taste just like salt. But back in the spring of ‘07, when they were spliced together in an orgiastic 3-hour theatrical cut (along with a handful of fake exploitation trailers), these two sensationally directed horror movies had more action, gore, hilarity and sex appeal than you could possibly hope for. This was easily the decade’s most entertaining night at the movies.

48. Jimmy and Judy (2006, Randall Rubin & Jon Schroder)

NATURAL BORN KILLERS for the YouTube generation. Two young lovers go on a killing spree, recording their exploits on digital video. We never see anything except the footage they shoot, and the effect has an unsettling, can’t-tear-your-eyes-away-from-the-screen immediacy. Another amazing performance by Edward Furlong, who’s had quite a career when you think about it: TERMINATOR 2, LITTLE ODESSA, PECKER, AMERICAN HISTORY X, DETROIT ROCK CITY, ANIMAL FACTORY and now this.

47. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009, Wes Anderson)

Wes Anderson’s lovingly handcrafted family film feels like an instant classic, a twenty-first century “Charlie Brown Christmas” or “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Holy cuss, it’s good!

46. Wet Hot American Summer (2001, David Wain)

Funnier than BORAT, ANCHORMAN and BEST IN SHOW combined. Okay, maybe not. But still very, very funny.

45. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007, Andrew Dominik)

An electrifying mix of sight and sound. Nick Cave’s music, Roger Deakins’ cinematography and Hugh Ross’ narration combined to create a hauntingly evocative Western like no other. In a superb, Oscar-nominated performance, Casey Affleck played an obsessive young fan who figures the best way to get famous is to shoot his hero in the back of the head. The film’s themes are relevant right up to today’s headlines.

44. Across the Universe (2007, Julie Taymor)

Julie Taymor, one of the true geniuses working in the visual arts today, brought 33 Beatles songs to rapturous life in this gorgeous, exhilaratingly iconoclastic ‘60s musical. “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” rarely sounded so good… and never sounded so sad.

43. Monsters, Inc. (2001, Lee Unkrich & David Silverman)

For the record, my favorite Pixar movies are (in order of preference): TOY STORY 1 & 2, A BUG’S LIFE, MONSTERS, INC., WALL-E, THE INCREDIBLES and FINDING NEMO. I don’t really care for CARS, RATATOUILLE and UP.

42. Amélie (2001, Jean-Pierre Jeunet)

Found this review online: “Please go out and watch this, It’ll make you a better person!” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

41. Little Otik (2000, Jan Švankmajer)

Czech filmmaker Jan Švankmajer – the surrealist master behind ALICE and FAUST – was in top form with this satirical, frequently hilarious nightmare about an infertile couple caring for a voraciously hungry tree-child.

40. Persepolis (2007, Marjane Satrapi & Vincent Paronnaud)

Adapted from Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel, this totally punk-rock animated film tells the life story of an Iranian girl who loves Bruce Lee movies and heavy metal music. By filtering out the propaganda, PERSEPOLIS revealed that “the enemy” is just like us.

39. Inglourious Basterds (2009, Quentin Tarantino)

Like every Quentin Tarantino movie, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS displays an intense amount of film-geek love. But this supremely enjoyable WWII epic was the first one to show us how cinema could be a force for good in the world – a force so powerful it could blow up a theater, sending Hitler, Goebbels and all those other Nazi bastards down to hell in a handbasket.

38. Brick (2005, Rian Johnson)

The most astonishing thing about BRICK is the way its film noir trappings – the labyrinthine plotting, hard-boiled dialogue and femme fatales – fit perfectly into the world of a high school movie. A revelatory work by Rian Johnson.

37. The Host (2006, Bong Joon-Ho)

After the American military dumps 100 bottles of formaldehyde into the Han River, a monster emerges to terrorize a South Korean family. Bong Joon-Ho, the director of MEMORIES OF MURDER, MOTHER and this perfectly awesome monster movie, is one of the guiding lights of the Korean New Wave.

36. Ichi the Killer (2001, Takashi Miike)

I usually watch Takashi Miike movies with my eyes shut (see – or rather don’t see – AUDITION and IMPRINT). But I couldn’t get enough of this dazzling manga movie, about an unstoppable killing machine named Ichi. That’s not to say the film isn’t sickeningly violent; in one scene, a gangster is suspended from a ceiling with metal hooks through his back. It’s just that this is the most violent and stylish live-action cartoon since David Fincher’s FIGHT CLUB.

35. Zodiac (2007, David Fincher)

The Zodiac Killer was never caught, leaving behind at least five bodies that were discovered in Northern California in the late 1960s. David Fincher’s great 2007 thriller – one of the most meticulously researched true crime movies ever made – focuses less on the victims than on a handful of obsessed men who never stopped trying to catch the Zodiac. The period details are staggering, the performances uniformly excellent – including Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo.

34. All the Real Girls (2003, David Gordon Green)

David Gordon Green is one of the most exciting filmmakers of his generation. From 2000 to 2007, he directed GEORGE WASHINGTON, ALL THE REAL GIRLS, UNDERTOW, SNOW ANGELS and PINEAPPLE EXPRESS. They’re all must-sees, but ALL THE REAL GIRLS remains his best work to date – a story about young love that’s so real it hurts.

33. Battle Royale (2000, Kinji Fukasaku)

Unlucky teens get dropped off on an island, where they’re given weapons and told to pick each other off one by one. Rumored to be banned in the United States (it’s not), this audacious Japanese jaw-dropper has to be seen to be believed.

32. Let the Right One In (2008, Tomas Alfredson)

This is one brutal Swedish vampire film, almost Bergmanesque in its sense of melancholy, but also surprisingly touching. Oskar and Eli – two outsiders just trying to find a place to hide – cling to each other in a wintry Stockholm suburb. Just don’t expect any vegetarian vampires with bad skin and commitment issues; Eli likes blood. The streets in this movie run red with it.

31. Grizzly Man (2005, Werner Herzog)

Look out man, that’s a goddamn bear behind ya!

30. Death Trilogy (2002-2005, Gus Van Sant)

Three experimental, deliberately distant art films by Gus Van Sant – GERRY, ELEPHANT, and LAST DAYS – each inspired by a true story: the death of David Coughlin at the hands of his best friend, the massacre at Columbine High School, and Kurt Cobain’s suicide. Van Sant lets his characters set the pace, often following them from behind as they walk away from the camera and toward death.

29. 25th Hour (2002, Spike Lee)

In the future, when people want to know what it felt like to be an American in the months after 9/11, they’ll watch Spike Lee’s 25TH HOUR. Here was the spirit of America – not exploited or commercialized, just presented with an inestimable amount of pride.

28. The Rules of Attraction (2002, Roger Avary)

I love you, Roger Avary. Now quit tweeting from jail, dumbass.

27. Yi Yi: A One and a Two (2000, Edward Yang)

The late, great Taiwanese director Edward Yang’s penultimate film achievement.

26. Requiem for a Dream (2000, Darren Aronofsky)

Darren Aronofsky’s devastating follow-up to PI gives you the sensation of falling in a dream. Its structure is merciless: the summer, fall and winter seasons pass and the rebirth of spring never comes.

A 2000 comedy-drama is my Number One pick; click here to view my list of the Top 25 Films of the Decade!!

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The Best Movies of the Decade (Part II)

December 15th, 2009 by MiamiMovieCritic in Movie Reviews

The Top 25! Click here to read Part I…

25. Waking Life (year of release: 2001, director: Richard Linklater)

Richard Linklater’s dreamy ode to intellectual curiosity – wonderfully written, performed and animated.

24. Dogville (2003, Lars von Trier)

In which Tea Party activists and birthers receive their just desserts.

23. Memento (2000, Christopher Nolan)

Most movies can’t tell a good story from beginning to end. Christopher Nolan told a great one – about a man with short-term memory loss searching for his wife’s killer – from end to beginning. As good as BATMAN BEGINS, THE PRESTIGE and THE DARK KNIGHT are, Nolan set the bar pretty high with this one. It may turn out to be his PULP FICTION.

22. Y tu mamá también (2001, Alfonso Cuarón)

Alfonso Cuarón’s groundbreaking teen comedy – sexy, eye-opening and achingly real.

21. City of God (2002, Fernando Meirelles)

The GOODFELLAS of Brazilian crime dramas.

20. Mysterious Skin (2005, Gregg Araki)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Brady Corbet were heartbreaking as Neil McCormick and Brian Lackey, two Kansas teenagers who share a terrible secret. Gregg Araki’s fearless adaptation of Scott Heim’s novel felt emotionally authentic the whole way through, from its surreal opening frames to the very end, when “Samskeyti” by Sigur Ros takes over the soundtrack and Neil and Brian magically disappear.

19. Oldboy (2003, Park Chan-wook)

The best, most popular part of Park Chan-wook’s mind-blowing Vengeance Trilogy – preceded by SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE and followed by LADY VENGEANCE.

18. The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003, Peter Jackson)

I don’t know what Frodo would have done without his Sam.

17. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000, Ang Lee)

Only one of the greatest wuxia films of all time.

16. The New World (2005, Terrence Malick)

The story of Pocahontas and John Smith gets the Terrence Malick treatment in this impossibly gorgeous romantic epic. I know many people find the film boring; it’s certainly indifferent to the average moviegoer’s attention span. But if you keep an open mind, I promise Malick will hand you a ticket to nirvana.

15. Punch-Drunk Love (2002, Paul Thomas Anderson)

A love story by, for and about people who are complete and utter lunatics.

14. You Can Count on Me (2000, Kenneth Lonergan)

“Remember when we were kids? Remember what we used to say to each other?”

13. Kill Bill (2003-2004, Quentin Tarantino)

Dear Quentin,

Any plans to release KILL BILL: THE WHOLE BLOODY AFFAIR on DVD? When you do, could you please take out that part where The Bride is talking to the camera before the massacre at Two Pines? That’s the only scene that doesn’t really work for me. Thanks!


12. The Devil’s Backbone / Pan’s Labyrinth (2001/2006, Guillermo del Toro)

These two dazzling fantasy/horror films by Guillermo Del Toro form an anti-fascist masterpiece about the Spanish Civil War. If you love PAN’S LABYRINTH, do yourself a favor and watch THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE, which is different in that it’s a ghost story, but similar in its theme: the triumph of the imagination over evil.

11. Wonder Boys (2000, Curtis Hanson)

Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Robert Downey Jr. and Katie Holmes were all comic gold in this hilarious adaptation of Michael Chabon’s 1995 novel. Remember how good Katie used to be before she met Tom? (See THE ICE STORM, GO, THE GIFT and PIECES OF APRIL.) WONDER BOYS is my favorite college comedy ever – it captures campus life perfectly.

10. In the Mood for Love (2000, Wong Kar-wai)

If asked to explain what this visually spectacular film is about, I’d say it’s about three important things: finding someone you love, listening to Nat King Cole, and having good fashion sense.

9. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001, Wes Anderson)

There’s a terrific scene in Wes Anderson’s new animated film, FANTASTIC MR. FOX, in which Mrs. Fox tells her sullen son Ash, “You’re different. We all are. But there’s something kind of fantastic about that, isn’t there?” That idea never seemed more fantastic than it did in THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS.

8. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004, Michel Gondry)

Charlie Kaufman, the genius behind BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, ADAPTATION and SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK, drew a map of the human heart with this completely original sci-fi/romance. Directed by the incomparable Michel Gondry, the movie is about a cartoonist (Jim Carrey) who gets his heart broken by a free spirit (Kate Winslet) and volunteers to have her scrubbed from his memory. Kaufman and Gondry are perceptive enough to realize that while many of us would elect to do the same thing, it wouldn’t necessarily be a good idea.

7. Children of Men

Alfonso Cuarón’s bleak vision of the future is the most amazingly shot sci-fi/action movie ever.

6. Spirited Away (2001, Hayao Miyazaki)

Since 2001, the beloved Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki has given us three masterworks: HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE, PONYO ON THE CLIFF BY THE SEA, and this magical film – one of his best – about a little girl who enters a spirit world. Even if you don’t like anime, you’ll like this. It serves up a feast for aesthetes.

5. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001, Steven Spielberg)

Stanley Kubrick shelved this sci-fi dream project in the 1990s and then died of a heart attack before he could complete it. Steven Spielberg – a friend of Kubrick’s – picked up the baton, and the result was an emotionally draining magnum opus that combined Spielberg’s childlike awe with Kubrick’s chilly observations about human nature. Divisive, singular, never less than technically stunning, A.I. is going to age beautifully, just like any other Kubrick production.

4. There Will Be Blood (2007, Paul Thomas Anderson)

“Now if you had a milkshake… and I had a milkshake… and I had a straw, you see? Watch it. My straw reaches acrooooooss the room and starts to drink your milkshake. I. DRINK. YOUR. MILKSHAKE! *makes slurping sound* I DRINK IT UP!!”

3. Donnie Darko (2001, Richard Kelly)

Richard Kelly’s apocalyptic coming-of-age film – about a time-traveling teen and a giant bunny rabbit named Frank – was the decade’s most cherished cult hit.

2. Mulholland Drive (2001, David Lynch)

Aaron Keeling of FetusFilmsInc on David Lynch: “I think what inspires us most about him is the fact that he does what he wants, how he wants, and doesn’t seem to mind if others don’t like it or disagree. He is completely original and his films are unlike anything we’ve ever seen. One of our favorite movies is MULHOLLAND DRIVE. We love it. It’s so complex, so confusing, and strange, and beautiful all at once. It’s hard to describe.”

1. Almost Famous (2000, Cameron Crowe)

For my Number One pick, I wanted to single out the movie that makes me feel the best. Cameron Crowe’s cinematic self-portrait – about the days he spent as a teenage rock journalist for Rolling Stone – just makes me feel groovy. If you’ve ever been in love, had a great conversation, or felt like a piece of music was speaking to you and only to you, then you’ll absolutely love this movie. Even if rock ‘n’ roll can’t save the world, maybe ALMOST FAMOUS can.

Honorable mentions:

Brokeback Mountain, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Songs from the Second Floor, Ghost World, Gangs of New York, House of Flying Daggers, Lake of Fire, The Triplets of Belleville, The Proposition, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Unbreakable, The Way of the Gun, I Heart Huckabees, I’m Not There, O Brother, Where Art Thou?

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Happy Thanksgetting

November 27th, 2009 by MiamiMovieCritic in Movie Reviews

Thanksgiving is kind of an orphan holiday in American life. Nobody puts up Thanksgiving decorations anymore; they go from Halloween and skip straight to Christmas. I’m not sure there are any Thanksgiving-themed movies. I guess Terrence Malick’s THE NEW WORLD counts since it’s partly about the origins of Thanksgiving, and Ang Lee’s THE ICE STORM might be one since it’s set over a long Thanksgiving weekend in 1973. I think my favorite Thanksgiving movie is Eli Roth’s hilarious Thanksgiving, though technically that’s just a trailer. (I gather from iMDB that a feature-length film is in the works – hell to the yeah!)

Thanksgetting, a Real Band – one of the funniest videos on FilmNet – isn’t really about Thanksgiving, but the title is appropriate for a holiday that’s more about getting than giving. It’s about two slackers named Matt and David. They’re basically like Bill and Ted or Jesse and Chester from DUDE, WHERE’S MY CAR? In terms of stupidity, they’re equally matched.

Matt and David are seniors in college. They’re the hosts of Disaster Industry Junction, a punk-rock show on the college radio station. Their shows seems to consist of yelling random things into the microphone. You get the feeling these guys wouldn’t have much to say if they were on their own, but together they get really worked up and blurt out whatever pops into their heads. They give each other a totally unjustified amount of confidence, to the point where they’re almost on the verge of saying something profound in a flaky, pseudo-philosopher kind of way. (”No man will compromise” or “We’re students of life.”)

These two dumbass friends want to score an interview with their favorite band, Thankgetting. They’re not exactly encouraged by the editor of the school paper, who aptly describes them as “total dick rags.” Matt and David proceed anyway, and the results are predictably disastrous. The heroes of BILL & TED and DUDE, WHERE’S MY CAR? were more innocent than these guys; the message of those movies was that stupidity was basically harmless in and of itself. Thanksgetting, a Real Band shows what happens when stupid people are egotistical – they can literally get people killed. The movie was made while George W. Bush was in office, so the heroes are definitely of their time.

We only get to hear one song by Thanksgetting, but it’s pretty killer. Terry Lieb also contributes a track, called “Perpetual Motion of the Proverbial Ocean.” It plays once during the movie and once over the end credits, and both times I nearly threw up from laughing.


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Give Thanks for the Movies

November 27th, 2009 by Enrique in Movie Reviews

This year I have a lot to give thanks for. For the first time in a long time I have a bit of hope for the future. Sure, Michael Bay is still making movies that millions waste their hard earned money on, and our President – try as he might – is still being opposed at every turn for attempting to bring the millions of uninsured a way of visiting a doctor without going broke. But for the first time in almost a decade somebody is trying to help us, and that’s something to smile about.

Most of my other smiles come from the movie world. There have been a lot of cinematic abortions this year (I’m thinking of you Transformers 2 & Twilight: New Moon, but the few good movies that did come out were well worth the wait. Watchmen, Inglourious Basterds, Coralline, Adventureland, Harry Potter 6, Star Trek, Terminator: Salvation, The Hurt Locker, Up, District 9, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Capitalism: A Love Story, Where the Wild Things Are, & This Is It. So far these movies have made 2009 a great year for flicks.

What I’m most thankful for is the future, the movies that I can’t wait to see. Avatar, Invictus, The Lovely Bones & Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus should make this Christmas quite spectacular. And 2010 is shaping up to be a great year with Iron Man 2, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, The Losers, Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps, Harry Potter 7 & Tron: Legacy. And let’s not forget that The Hobbit will finally begin production in 2010 with Guillermo Del Toro at the helm and Peter Jackson producing. In these hard times, escapism is something to be thankful for.

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I ♥ This Movie

November 21st, 2009 by MiamiMovieCritic in Movie Reviews

With the release of NEW MOON, I thought it might be fun to take a look at some of the best teen romance movies ever made. Not that I’m a fan of TWILIGHT – if you want to see the year’s best teen romance starring Kristen Stewart, see ADVENTURELAND.

IMO, the best of the decade are John Stockwell’s CRAZY/BEAUTIFUL, Peter Sollett’s RAISING VICTOR VARGAS and Aaron Katz’s heartfelt mumblecore DANCE PARTY, USA. (I also want to give a shout-out to Tomas Alfredson’s extraordinary vampire pic LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, even though the outcasts in this movie are a little too young – or, in the case of Eli the vampire, a little too young-looking – to qualify.) I had high hopes for Sollett’s 2008 adaptation of NICK & NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST, but man, what a faux-indie bummer that turned out to be. There was more soul in its soundtrack than in its storytelling. Read the book instead; in fact, if you like this genre of fiction, you should read everything by NICK & NORAH co-writer David Levithan, especially his highly re-readable book of poetry, THE REALM OF POSSIBILITY.

If you’re in the mood for a classic Hollywood romance, you could do worse than watching three rapturous movies starring Natalie Wood: WEST SIDE STORY, REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE and SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS. For audiences of the 1950s and early 1960s, these movies all but defined what it meant to be a teenager. They spoke to thoughts and feelings that are unique to being a teen and are created in the heads and hearts of young people, not in a focus group on Madison Avenue.

So what’s the greatest teen romance of all time? Cameron Crowe’s SAY ANYTHING – with Lloyd Dobler winning the heart of the girl he loves by lifting a boom box over his head – is a definite possibility. THE MAN IN THE MOON is also in the running; the scene where Reese Witherspoon gets her first kiss (from Jeremy London, aka “Pink” in DAZED AND CONFUSED) is easily one of the sweetest moments in movie history. There are other movies that have great characters and situations – like Knox Overstreet reading a poem to Chris Noel in DEAD POETS SOCIETY, or William Miller confessing his love to Penny Lane in ALMOST FAMOUS – but they don’t really belong in the same genre as SAY ANYTHING and MAN IN THE MOON.

Those movies are all terrific. But, if I go with my head and my heart, I’d have to say the best teen romance ever made is John Duigan’s FLIRTING.

Never heard of it? Neither had I until a few months ago. It’s an Australian movie that came out in 1991 – a sequel to Duigan’s THE YEAR MY VOICE BROKE, which is impossible to find on DVD. But you don’t need to see it first, because FLIRTING is the rare sequel that stands on its own. It’s about Danny Embling (Noah Taylor), a charmingly offbeat teen who belongs in the same heroic league as Holden Caulfield and Max Fischer. Danny falls for the new girl in school, Thandiwe Adjewa (a young and very beautiful Thandie Newton). He’s white and she’s black. And, as the movie makes exquisitely clear, they’re perfect for each other.

The movie features the most realistic second-base scene I’ve ever seen, a great school dance scene (scored to “With a Girl Like You” by The Troggs), and a wonderfully affecting cast including Nicole Kidman and Naomi Watts. But I think what really puts it over the moon is Duigan’s screenplay – especially Danny’s poetic voiceover. I love the scene where Danny and Thandiwe are sitting together with their friends. He’s admiring her legs, and when he sees the little bruises around her ankles that her socks have made, he says: “That’s how I knew she was real.” No other movie is better at expressing what it feels like to be a teenager in love. As high school romances go, FLIRTING is at the top of the class.

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Why moviegoers are wrong about THE BOX

I was really taken aback when I learned that American audiences had declared THE BOX one of the worst movies of all time. CinemaScore, the Las Vegas-based research firm that compiles responses from the movie-going public, reported that Richard Kelly’s new film had received the lowest possible grade: an “F”. That makes it the fourth least-popular film of the decade – after BUG, WOLF CREEK and DARKNESS. Sheesh!

Only one of those movies is genuinely bad: DARKNESS. (Is it a coincidence that they’re all horror movies?) What the remaining three have in common (besides the horror element) is that they all happen to be exceptional works of filmmaking. Greg McLean’s Australian shocker WOLF CREEK may be a brutally unforgiving experience – one of the female protagonists ends up as a “head on a stick” – but you can’t fault the movie for its scare tactics; on the contrary, they’re extraordinarily effective. And BUG is arguably William Friedkin’s best movie since THE EXORCIST, with unforgettable performances by Ashley Judd and the great Michael Shannon (WORLD TRADE CENTER, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD).

That leaves us with Kelly’s latest offering, THE BOX – which, as I mentioned in my review, may go down as the best-directed bad movie of 2009. Technically, it’s a terrific achievement – imaginative makeup and special effects, period-perfect production design (the story takes place in 1976), and superb cinematography. Visually, it’s a throwback to some of the best thrillers of the 1970s, like Alan J. Pakula’s THE PARALLAX VIEW and Brian De Palma’s THE FURY. The only thing missing from Kelly’s new film is a good story.

Frankly, I’m a little shocked that an auteur like Kelly doesn’t receive a few brownie points for creating a superlative sensory experience. Instead, the public response seems to be based solely on a gut reaction – on whether the film is, well, crowd-pleasing. It’s the movie-going equivalent of voting for the politician you’d most like to have a beer with. (I’m generalizing, of course – obviously, there are some very sophisticated viewers out there – but the CinemaScore grade is nothing if not a generalization.)

Here are some other recent films and the CinemaScore grades they received:

Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince: A-
Bruno: C
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen: B+
The Proposal: A-
The Hangover: A
Up: A+
Star Trek: A+

The two that stand out for me are TRANSFORMERS and THE PROPOSAL. Savvier viewers know that, as a piece of filmmaking, Michael Bay’s TRANSFORMERS sequel is a headache-inducing train wreck. There’s simply too much going on in the frame and, with each shot lasting about 2 seconds, too little time to absorb it. THE PROPOSAL is at the opposite end of the spectrum – in pictorial terms, it’s like watching paint dry.

So if THE BOX is an epic fail, then what are we to make of the good-to-excellent grades given to THE PROPOSAL and TRANSFORMERS? Simply that average moviegoers don’t factor in superior filmmaking when assessing their likes and dislikes. I’m not saying they should have loved THE BOX – I didn’t – but, for crying out loud, an F?!

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Forget AVATAR. This is the science-fiction movie I want to see.

November 4th, 2009 by MiamiMovieCritic in Movie Reviews

36 Stairs is the new live-action short from director Grzegorz Jonkajtys, the award-winning creator of Ark and Legacy. Viewers of those mini-masterworks know that Jonkajtys is an exceptional storyteller and a talented animator. For the first time, he’s using those gifts to make a life-action movie, and the results are nothing short of jaw-dropping.

The actual film won’t be released until early 2010. What we have here is a 75-second teaser. It provides a few tantalizing clues as to what the story is about, while fleshing out the film’s visual extravagance and dystopian, futuristic setting.

I’m assuming this is a “virtual backlot” movie, like SIN CITY and SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW. Instead of being physically constructed, the movie’s “sets” have been digitally rendered on a computer. This mix of real actors and fake sets can be distracting in films like the STAR WARS prequels, but with other filmmakers the virtual backlot is a godsend – it lets their imaginations run wild. Jonkajtys is a case in point.

The film stars Rodrigo Lopresti as Jeffrey Brief, a tragic Everyman in a world where humans depend on bio-mechanical alterations to withstand the deteriorating climate. We see a few of these alterations in the trailer, first an organic-looking respirator and later a phone that appears to be physically attached to Jeffrey’s hand. In part, the film looks to be a biological horror movie, like David Cronenberg’s VIDEODROME. Like that 1983 sci-fi masterpiece, 36 Stairs appears to be exploring how technology can overtake our lives and destroy us.

Many shots in the trailer establish the frightening world Jeffrey lives in. A scene in a hallway, with rows and rows of lockers standing sentinel while Jeffrey is backlit by a blinding light source, has the feel of a bureaucratic nightmare – like something out of Orson Welles’s THE TRIAL or Terry Gilliam’s BRAZIL. The central scene shows Jeffrey making a desperate phone call to his health insurance provider. The automated voice on the other end of the line tells him, “I’m sorry, this number is invalid.” It all feels insanely timely.

The attention to detail in the wide cityscape shots would do sci-fi heavy-hitters like Ridley Scott and James Cameron proud. In fact, forget AVATAR. This is the science-fiction movie I want to see.

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Happy Halloween!

October 31st, 2009 by MiamiMovieCritic in Movie Reviews

It’s October 31, and you know what that means: Time to watch some horror movies that will scare the living bejesus out of you. Mwa-ha-ha-ha!

If that’s what you’re looking for, you’ve come to the right place. FilmNet has lots of great horror flicks to watch. Today I’ll be your guide to the best-of-the-best. So stick out your plastic pumpkin pail, say “Trick or Treat,” and allow me to share some goodies with y’all.

Where would the horror genre be without zombies? Dead, that’s where. For a comedic take on the undead, check out seasons one and two of Zomblogalypse. Reportedly made as a response to George A. Romero’s DIARY OF THE DEAD, the series shows us the recorded misadventures of three Brits in the aftermath of a (what else?) zombie apocalypse. See the Dead is a fast-paced zombie shocker with some very imaginative special effects. And, speaking of imaginative, Patrick Boivin offers his own unique spin on the genre with Le Queloune, a zombie origin story like no other.

For those who prefer their horror with tongue planted firmly in cheek, there’s Toss of the Coin, about an angel wrestling with a demon over the soul of a man whose cat has just gotten him electrocuted. Written by Patrick Steele, the movie is both funny and frightening. Delta Delta Dead! (great title) is a slasher movie that takes place in a sorority house; it’s like SCREAM crossed with REVENGE OF THE NERDS. Now there’s a winning combination!

Some horror aficionados might be in the mood for an all-out shocker. Well look no further than The Insane, which stars James Spofforth as a hard-boiled detective killing off ghouls in an abandoned city. The action is staged like a gory video game. Free To Go is basically a torture-porn movie in the tradition of HOSTEL and WOLF CREEK, except most of the torture takes place off screen. The movie still hits you where it hurts, though. So does Fear at Dusk, Andrew Pearce’s extraordinary three-minute thriller. In it, a brother and sister are faced with an unseen threat.

No horror collection would be complete without at least a few creepy-kid movies. The Keeling Brothers offer up a doozey with Pop Spoon. It’s about a twisted girl who dreams up the creepiest imaginary friend imaginable. Pop Spoon is a guy, but girls can be scary too. Exhibit A: Two Story House, a haunted-house movie that sustains a shivery, spellbinding tone throughout.

Last but not least is the terror-in-the-woods genre. From EVIL DEAD to THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, this has always been one of my favorites. The Keelings deliver something genuinely unsettling with Playtime with Schlompkins, in which the monster addresses the camera directly. As in BLAIR WITCH, the camera – in other words, the audience – becomes the prey. Effigy is a poetic, physically beautiful horror movie based on folklore. It’s also told through subjective camerawork, but here we see the action from the point-of-view of a witch.

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