Thursday, January 22, 2009

Oscar Nom Nom Noms

The Oscar Nominations are in, and as usual, they’re kind of disappointing. The Academy has long taken the position that it’s better to mildly disappoint everyone instead of really outraging anyone, and while genre fans will most likely be rightfully pissed at THE DARK KNIGHT not getting a nod for Best Picture or Director, that’s actually not the biggest sin. Now, I haven’t seen some of these movies just yet and I have yet to post my finished review of dark horse/favorite SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (short version: It’s really good), but I feel qualified to rant on some of these.

As mentioned above, THE DARK KNIGHT did not get a Best Picture nomination. It was a bit of an outside shot, but definitely worthy, so it’s disappointing but not outrageous. However, the big prize also passed over WALL-E, one of the very best films from the consistently awesome Pixar and so, by definition, better than anything you could possibly have seen last year.

Both snubs have their reasons. THE DARK KNIGHT is a superhero movie, and it made lots of money so it technically doesn’t need Oscar validation. WALL-E also was reasonably popular, but more importantly, it has a nomination and almost certain win in the Best Animated Picture category. I kind of approved of that category back when it meant that SPIRITED AWAY got an Oscar, but now it’s clear that it’s just an excuse for the Academy to avoid the seeming indignity of giving Best Picture to a cartoon. It’s the first step towards a Grammy-style segregation of genres, and further dilutes the chance of animated features actually getting the full recognition they deserve. Imagine if there had been a “Best Comedy Feature” category when ANNIE HALL was up for nominations.

There’s also THE WRESTLER, which I need to see, but given how positive the reviews have been I’m starting to wonder just who Darren Aronofsky has pissed off in the business.

In the outside track, we instead have THE READER, which may well be a fine picture, but with a Metacritic score of 58 (RottenTomatoes lists no score due to some technical error on their part) it’s hardly a critical darling. And, you always hate to bring this up, but it is a Holocaust movie and you wonder if it wasn’t chosen simply because the subject matter was worthy. I’m also not really sure why THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is such a favorite, seeing as its reception has generally been warm rather than superheated.

Also, can I just say how incredibly unbelievably bored I am by the nominations for Best Art Direction? This is a category that’s been a problem for a while, because the people who nominate films for it consistently show a bias towards meticulously researched costume dramas over any other kind of movie. Some of the films that have NOT won Best Art Direction include BLADE RUNNER, THE WIZARD OF OZ, BRAZIL, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, THE FIFTH ELEMENT, FORBIDDEN PLANET, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, any of the Universal horror films, anything by David Lynch, anything by Terry Gilliam, an entire host of imaginative creative work passed over in favor of recreation. Don’t get me wrong, the challenge of expressing creativity and arranging images within the bounds and conventions of an established period is significant, but surely setting those bounds and conventions yourself is also challenging. WALL-E was a triumph of design and composition, and the same can be said of SPEED RACER, HELLBOY II, and arguably SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE despite the high levels of location work involved.

Finally, though this is another film I have to get around to seeing, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN was not nominated for Best Foreign Film despite a swarm of good reviews. The reason, yet again, is that its country of origin, Sweden, didn’t submit it on time, and apparently it didn’t even play theaters there in time to make the cutoff. Between this and the CITY OF GOD fiasco, I think it’s clear that we shouldn’t let the countries decide for us what movies we should look at, and just pick the best from the entire world market.

There were some pleasant surprises- Robert Downey Jr. won a Best Supporting Actor nomination for a great comic performance in TROPIC THUNDER, though the late Heath Ledger is almost certain to win. (It’s always a shame when an acting award is a foregone conclusion, though it’s tragically inevitable here.) Amy Adams also gets another nod, and though I haven’t seen DOUBT I’m sure she deserves it because she is cool. IN BRUGES gets a screenplay nod, and though it deserves more it’s a miracle the Academy even remembers it was released last year. Still, I have a feeling that Hugh Jackman will have to work hard to liven up these proceedings.

But then, it wouldn’t be the Oscars if they didn’t frequently get things horribly wrong, now, would it?

Monday, January 19, 2009

I'm Helping

New Neko Case material is always a reason to celebrate. Her latest single, 'People Got a Lotta Nerve', has been released on the interwebs. It's a quick, infectious ditty that I think is either about men who demonize strong women, or about how Steve Irwin had it coming.

Evidence to support Theory B: for every blog that posts the song, Neko's record label donates 5 bucks to the Best Friend Animal Society. So here it is:

People Got A Lotta Nerve - Neko Case

This is from her album 'Middle Cyclone', out on March 3. I can't wait. Digging around on YouTube, one can find some poor-quality iPhone camera footage of Neko performing new material, such as this:

Sounds good to me! I'm biased; Neko's been my favorite singer since I purchased half of her albums the day after a friend played the song 'Deep Red Bells' for me. I can't talk about music with much authority -- I don't have the vocabulary for it -- but Neko's the rare singer for me whose lyrics, melodies and arrangements are equally powerful in their own right. I listen to the same song multiple times to focus on each element separately. Also doesn't hurt that she has a preternaturally beautiful singing voice. She packs more meaning into a two minute song than most artists have in their entire output. I'm gushing.

Here she is performing my favorite song, 'Knock Loud':

And for those who wish for the polished studio sound, here's 'Deep Red Bells' played over someone's personal camcorder footage (ignore that part):

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

New Year's Resolutions, Only Two Weeks in

Back at the beginning of the year, Adam Ross at DVD Panache made up a meme - nine movie related resolutions for 2009. Ah yes. Our very own Moviezzz got tagged, and actually did it - which is certainly more than I can say about the last couple times I've been tagged for things. Meanwhile, Evan did his own resolution post - last week now... we're two weeks into the freaking year... I have stopped writing 2008 EVERY time I write the year...

Anyway: I am a resolution maker, of sorts - though most years it amounts to, spend less money, eat more greens, see more movies and post more often... no exceptions this year I guess. But - in the spirit of film, discussion, Making a Clean Start to the Year, and the End of the Decade (ooh! lists!), I shall now undertake this very meme for your reading and perhaps discussing pleasure!

Nine film (and blogging) resolutions:

1. As every year - aim to watch at least 250 movies. That's a good number.
2. Turn over a Netflix film every week. MOre if possible. This is a bad habit - letting them sit there for a month at a time... this would not be so bad except for the next resolution -
3. Watch the DVDs I buy. Just found a used copy of Centre Stage! Maggie Cheung! at her youthful finest! Will I ever watch it? will I at least attach a screen cap to this post?
4. Take a film class - I miss writing about films where there's something at stake - I need the discipline now and then. With luck, the discipline translates to more general writing - and more posting - with luck...
5. Speaking of which - post 3 times a week - make at least one of them substantive. This should be such an easy target - yet I go ages without posting anything worth the trouble. Alas! The brain is a muscle - if you do not use it, it becomes flabby and weak! etc.
6. Comment 3 times a week - or something like that. Enter conversations! post, comment, whatnot, here! and elsewhere! [I have not, contrary to appearances, resolved to use more exclamation points. There may be spiritual influences at work, however.]
7. Make things - films or videos maybe - whether this means vlogs or animations or home videos or swedes, make them, post them. Before the the Lawyers arrive en masse especially if there's sweding involved.
8. do Piper's dinner with X meme he tagged me with sometime back in the 90s, I think it was. In an ideal world, this would combine with #7. More likely, this will be part of my 46 resolutions for 2046 post....
9. Rather than another blogging resolution (which might get me to 46, before I'm done) - try this: go to an out of town film festival. NY - Toronto - something. Takes some planning, and some money, but - something like that. This or leave the country. For a while anyway. On principal.

I guess that's it. If anyone want to feel tagged - go for it! For Maggie's sake...

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Hi & "Best Taglines EVER"

Hi Everyone! On winter break, so I can actually read and post a little bit here. I hope everyone is well. (I do miss the social aspect of our old posting sites. . . .) I thought you'd enjoy this article as much as I did. Original found at

Peter Hartlaub Pop Culture

Drink from me and live forever - the art of the movie tagline

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

When he pours, he reigns.

I remember the first time I noticed a tagline for a Tom Cruise film, on an advertisement for his 1988 bottle-flipping bartender romance "Cocktail." From that moment on, I became a lifelong fan - not of Cruise's acting but of the snippets of text that appear on his movie posters.

There was Cruise like Thunder for "Days of Thunder," Drink from me and live forever promoting "Interview With a Vampire" and Expect the impossible ... again for "Mission Impossible II." And even as the actor's career continues into the 21st century, he can still bring it. Many saw evil ... they dared to stop it on the poster of the current release "Valkyrie" isn't as overwrought or self-referential as Cruise's best work. But it's still the product of a man who, after more than a quarter century in the business, is near the top of his game.

Taglines are the promotional lines for a film, usually anywhere from a few words to three sentences in length, that appear on movie posters and other advertising. They're often more entertaining than the film itself. I haven't paid to see a Steven Seagal film in a theater since 1995, but I eagerly await each of his taglines, which remain among the best in the business.

Taglines are also proof that in the minds of Hollywood marketing executives, the IQ of the average moviegoer is about 63. Either that or the IQ of the average tagline writer is 63. How else to explain this sentence on the poster of the 1977 movie "Suspiria": The only thing more terrifying than the last 12 minutes of this film are the first 92. Or this gem, from the 1982 action film "Silent Rage": Science created him. Now Chuck Norris must destroy him. Other taglines seem painfully obvious (See "The Matrix Revolutions") or intentionally cryptic. I'm still trying to figure out what this tagline means, from the 1998 film "Urban Legends": It happened to someone who knows someone you know ... you're next.

Not all taglines are campy or laughable or just plain bad. Lines such as Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water and They're back remain part of the lexicon decades after everyone has forgotten the bad sequels that spurred them. (New journalism rule: Every time a lazy columnist, blogger or editor in the American media uses a variation of "They're ba-aaack," he or she gets a week's suspension without pay.)

But all too often, it would be better to say nothing at all. Sequels in particular seem to get the most negligent tagline treatment. Search on and you can find more than two dozen sequels where the tagline writer did nothing more than add "... again!" to a line from the original film. A sampling:

"Hellbound: Hellraiser II": It will tear your soul apart ... again!

"Home Alone 3": It's bad news for bad guys .... again.

"Alien 3": Start running .... again.

"Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh": Dare you say his name 5 times ... again!

"Poltergeist III": They're back ... again.

Academy Award-caliber movies tend to play it safe with their marketing. Still, there's little relation between the quality of a movie and its corresponding tagline. There was absolutely nothing good about the 1986 Sylvester Stallone movie "Cobra" except the tagline, Crime is a disease. He's the cure. If you look at the 11 films on my all-time-best tagline list accompanying this article, six were panned by critics.

But there are definitely good years and good eras for taglines. Despite a few memorable entries ("The Happening": We've sensed it. We've seen the signs. Now ... it's happening), the year 2008 doesn't match up with anything in the late 1980s, when Arnold Schwarzenegger, Patrick Swayze, Stallone and Cruise were each good for at least one memorable tagline per year.

And there are good and bad tagline actors. Tom Hanks may have more Oscars, but his taglines will never be as awesome as Swayze's.

The dancing's over. Now it gets dirty.

Now, if that doesn't make you rush home and put "Road House" in your DVD player, nothing will.

The best taglines

Here are my choices for the all-time-best taglines, judged for their ability to sell the movie, not for campiness or so-bad-it's-good qualities. I was born in the 1970s and watch a lot of bad science fiction and horror films, so your picks might differ. Add your favorites to the online version of this story at

"Texas Chain Saw Massacre" (1974): Who will survive and what will be left of them?

"Rocky" (1976): His whole life was a million-to-one shot

"Jaws 2" (1978): Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water ...

"Alien" (1979): In space, no one can hear you scream

"This Is Spinal Tap" (1984): "Does for rock and roll what "The Sound of Music" did for hills

"Poltergeist II: The Other Side" (1986): They're back

"Jaws: The Revenge" (1987): This time, it's personal

"Predator 2" (1990): He's in town with a few days to kill

"Army of Darkness" (1992): Trapped in time. Surrounded by evil. Low on gas.

"Volcano" (1997): The coast is toast

"Monster's Inc." (2001): You won't believe your eye

- Peter Hartlaub

E-mail Peter Hartlaub at

Sunday, January 4, 2009

2008 Lists


It's a confusing year for top ten lists. Two of my favorites of the decade, Flight of the Red Balloon and Silent Light, were on my 2007 list, but keep appearing on '08 lists. The paltry distribution most foreign films received outside of film festivals are leaving critics confused as to whether some of their favorites qualify as '08 releases. I've decided not to be shackled by silly rules. No one's gonna whip me for including a film on my list that I saw at a film festival, are they? The following ten films were seen by me, one way or another, in a movie theater during 2008:

10. Gran Torino (dir. Clint Eastwood)

9. La France (dir. Serge Bozon)

Set during World War I and inspired by the early war films of Samuel Fuller, Bozon follows a troop of French soldiers through the countryside, joined by a woman in drag (the incomparable Sylvie Testud) searching for her husband. They walk, they fight, and the men occasionally burst into songs sung from a female perspective. When motives are revealed and a distinct aimlessness to the journey becomes apparent, the film begins to feel like a vision of purgatory. Weird and fascinating in the best possible ways.

8. My Blueberry Nights (dir. Wong Kar Wai)

7. Transsiberian (dir. Brad Anderson)

6. Encounters at the End of the World (dir. Werner Herzog)

5. Tulpan (dir. Sergei Dvortsevoy)

Life on a steppe in Kazakhstan may not sound like an exciting subject for a film, but in my mind, there was no moment more thrilling in 2008 cinema than watching a mother camel wailing in despair as she chased after a jeep that drove off with her injured child. A close second would be seeing a baby sheep born in one long take. Then there are the awesome lightning storms, miniature tornadoes, and the little girl who sings at the top of her lungs to defy her father. Dvortsevoy's film focuses on sensitive sailor Asa's attempts to woo the titular bachelorette, one of a handful of women available to marry on the steppe. A broader scope and a deeply felt outlook on life develop thanks to the documentary style and constant, welcome peeks into the day-to-day goings on in the life of a Kazakh sheepherder. Not to be missed.

4. Shotgun Stories (dir. Jeff Nichols)

3. WALL-E (dir. Andrew Stanton)

2. Happy-Go-Lucky (dir. Mike Leigh)

1. Synecdoche, New York (dir. Charlie Kaufman)

My Fantasy Acting Award Nominations:


Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino
Michael Shannon, Shotgun Stories
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
Sean Penn, Milk
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Redbelt


Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky
Emily Mortimer, Transsiberian
Rebecca Hall, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Meryl Streep, Doubt
Michelle Williams, Wendy and Lucy

Supporting Actor

Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road
James Franco, Pineapple Express
Josh Brolin & Emile Hirsch, Milk
Brad Pitt & Richard Jenkins, Burn After Reading
Eddie Marsan, Happy-Go-Lucky

Supporting Actress

Viola Davis, Doubt
Dianne Weist, Synecdoche, New York
Hanna Schygulla, The Edge of Heaven
Vera Farmiga, Quid Pro Quo
Frances McDormand, Burn After Reading


Rather than list my favorite albums of the year, I'm gonna give you a little tracklisting of the songs I had on repeat throughout 2008. I'd appreciate you doing the same, as I'm always looking for new tracks on the mp3. No particular order of preference:

1. "You'll Find a Way", Santogold
2. "Family Tree", TV on the Radio
3. "The Rip", Portishead
4. "Acid Tongue", Jenny Lewis
5. "Up!", M83
6. "Kids", MGMT
7. "Human", The Killers
8. "L.E.S. Artistes", Santogold
9. "Too Late", M83
10. "Things Ain't Like They Used To Be", The Black Keys
11. "Don't Hold Me Close", Spiritualized
12. "Valerie Plame", The Decemberists
13. "Buzzer", Dar Williams
14. "Panama", The Cat Empire
15. "You, Me & the Bourgeoisie", The Submarines