Saturday, February 21, 2009


As I might have already mentioned, me and sleep didn't get along too well in 2008. Not sleeping though leaves you with a lot of time you didn't know existed. Rather than toss and turn or, I don't know, read a book, the best thing I did with all this free time I discovered was to watch more movies. I don't watch enough apparently. And with that, I had the chance to see hundreds of movies in 2008 and these, my friends, are my favorites from that year. Ladies, gentlemen, loyal Black Sheep readers, I give you the 2008 Mouton d'Or Awards ...

THE DARK KNIGHT embodies "BIG". How could I give this one to any other than the second biggest movie of all time? The best part about Christopher Nolan's benchmark superhero film is that it brought back the substance to the usually overstylized popcorn flick.

From very big to very small is essentially the trajectory that director, Darren Aronofsky took with THE WRESTLER. He tried his hand at going big and, after smashing into a wall, not only realized what he was good at but became better at it. THE WRESTLER is one of the most heartbreaking experiences I've had at the movies in some time.

When I have a bad time at the movies, I get pretty angry. That said, I saw this film with my roommate and I thought he was going to kill someone pretty much all the way through this piece of crap. HAROLD AND KUMAR ESCAPE FROM GUANTANAMO BAY is horrifically offensive but yet it plays out with this air as though it were racially responsible. It is crude, sloppy filmmaking and it is painfully unfunny. It is also the only film I have ever given an F-grade to. I enjoyed Harold & Kumar's first adventure but I would be very happy to never see them ever again. I've said it before but it bears repeating, this is a stoner movie that would be actually more horrible if watched high.

This one is very exciting for me. This is the first Mouton d'Or for Reader's Choice. These six films were the most mentioned during Black Sheep's Best of 2008 contest and Black Sheep readers have been voting on their favorite from the group for the last month. I was thrilled to see the six films that made the shortlist because I love these movies too. And IRON MAN was certainly one of the best times I had at the movies all year. Thanks for voting and good choice.

This award is named after my friend Trevor, the man who reminded how much I loved cartoons and, more importantly, showed me that animation is one of the most intricate and expansive art forms of our times. Now, while I loved the two other nominees in this category, there might as well have been only one nominee. There could only be one winner here because there is only one WALL•E. What Pixar did with this film was to bring animation out of this world. I'm sorry to be so corny but they seriously did. WALL•E wows me every time I see it and that little guy will hold a special place in my heart as one of the most endearing characters I've ever encountered.

Another Wally, another winner. Wally Pfister took THE DARK KNIGHT to unimaginable heights, literally. Watching Batman soar through the night skies has never been such a free fall and has never kept me on edge as though I were the one diving off Gotham's tallest buildings. The knight may be dark but Wally Pfister took that darkness and gave it countless shades.

Lee Smith's editing in THE DARK KNIGHT kept what could have been a long, overdrawn affair moving at a pace that never allowed for anyone to lose interest. If Pfister gave THE DARK KNIGHT depth, then Smith gave it edge.

Donald Harrison Jr and Zafer Tawil made beautiful music for RACHEL GETTING MARRIED. Variations on wedding themes and practice sessions for a band became original music but this is not why they won. It was the way in which the music is incorporated into the film that most impressed me. Rachel is marrying a musician and her house is filled with his musician buddies so there is never a quiet moment to be had. Its usage is intelligent and integral to creating the realism RACHEL GETTING MARRIED needs to be enjoyed.

Nominees from left to right: Josh Brolin (MILK), Ralph Fiennes (THE DUCHESS), James Franco (MILK), Philip Seymour Hoffman (DOUBT), Heath Ledger (THE DARK KNIGHT)

No one will ever know for sure whether THE DARK KNIGHT did as well as it did because of the fascination with Heath Ledger following his death or not. The truth is, it doesn't matter in the least. While THE DARK KNIGHT stands just fine on its own, it is Ledger's haunting performance as The Joker that gives it the ferocity and urgency that have made it a contemporary classic. Ledger is The Joker, in the manner in which he licks his lips or constantly fixes his scraggly hair or instills fear into all he encounters while seeming completely unaware the entire time. You cannot look away no matter how horrifying he is to look at and you also cannot help but leave THE DARK KNIGHT with a heavy regret that you will never get to see Ledger's original genius ever again.

Nominees from left to right: Penelope Cruz (VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA), Rosemarie DeWitt (RACHEL GETTING MARRIED), Taraji P. Henson (THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON), Marisa Tomei (THE WRESTLER), Kate Winslet (THE READER)

This winner is decidedly lower key than the last but she eliminated the very fierce competition with the same agrression as The Joker would have. Rosemarie DeWitt totally blew me away in RACHEL GETTING MARRIED. Everyone was all over Anne Hathaway but as the title character, DeWitt is not only subtle and understated but simultaneously broken and hopeful. When she fights back, you do not want to be on the receiving end but when she reaches out to hold you, she is the first person you would want to get close to. I cannot wait for more from her.

Nominees from left to right: Benicio del Toro (CHE), Richard Jenkins (THE VISITOR), Frank Langella (FROST/NIXON), Sean Penn (MILK), Mickey Rourke (THE WRESTLER)

Of all the Mouton d'Or categories to decide on, this was the hardest. I am not ordinarily taken in by the plight of the male actor on screen. It is usually easier to get sucked into the higher drama of the female performance, but these five actors did exceptionally fine jobs and all are deserving of the win. There can be only one and Sean Penn is that one because his performance in MILK is entirely devoid of ego. I am not his biggest fan but Penn wore Harvey Milk's shoes as though they had been on his feet all along. His compassion and enthusiasm is infectious and Penn's performance is nothing short of transformed.

Nominees from left to right: Anne Hathaway (RACHEL GETTING MARRIED), Angelina Jolie (CHANGELING), Meryl Streep (DOUBT), Michelle Williams (WENDY AND LUCY), Kate Winslet (REVOLUTIONARY ROAD)

I am still sad that Kate Winslet will not be able to score her first Oscar for her smack in the face of a performance in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD. She is hard on the outside and soft on the inside in THE READER but she is the complete opposite here. Her beauty, composure and style cannot hide her character's deep, unfulfilled sadness despite the grand effort. Winslet is consistently incredible to watch but her wasted suburban promise is so hollowing and disheartening that it raises the film itself and every one in it to her own particular level of excellence.

This is the second Mouton d'Or award for Peter Morgan. He won the Original Screenplay award a couple of years back for THE QUEEN and he takes the adapted category this year for his sharp and insightful work on FROST/NIXON. He took his own screenplay and expanded its world to an international level while keeping all the play's themes of redemption and public approval in tact. Morgan is a master of inversion, taking his audience behind the scenes to worlds they only know from the outside and as usual, he avoids sensation and sticks to substance.

The word "original" is what led me to my winner in this catgeory. Andrew Stanton and Jim Reardon's WALL•E is the product of pure imagination. Not only did they envision a world where human waste has driven us from our corporate run planet but they managed to do so through one of the biggest corporations around. And instead of being preachy about the effects of humanity's lethargy, they decided to remind us what we are losing sight of underneath all this useless garbage, love. WALL•E is one of the most endearing love stories I have seen in years. The fact that it is told with little to no dialogue and that it is a love between robots is only a further testament to its beauty.

I was very disappointed that RACHEL GETTING MARRIED did not garner more recognition this award season. I believe it to be Jonathan Demme's finest work and a strikingly original piece that teeters between as many emotions as one would expect to find in the mind of an addict. With Demme at the helm, you felt as though you were actually at Rachel's wedding. The family felt so close, so real. The tension in the house was just as palpable as the love at the wedding itself. Demme's documentary approach to the film required realism and he made damn sure it was there the whole time. It was certainly the most fun I've had at a wedding in a very long time.

There you have it, this year's big Mouton d'Or winner. MILK for Best Picture! Of the five nominees, it is the only film that I felt was flawless. Dustin Lance Black's script is moving and meaningful. Harris Savides' cinematography is perfectly styled to fit the times. Danny Elfman's score is his most dynamic work ever. And the cast ... what a fantastic cast! It's reverence is like a swift punch to the gut, the kind that leaves you short for breath. Gus Van Sant has made his most sensitive and accomplished film to date and there is plenty to cry about over this spilled MILK. Not only is it a beautiful film but it is tribute to acceptance and humanity that is just as relevant now as it was when Harvey Milk was alive.

That's it folks, another year closed. Here's to you and to the year ahead. Thanks for reading and I hope to see you again soon.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Black Sheep @ The Oscars: BEST DIRECTOR & BEST PICTURE

For only the fifth time in Oscar history, the five nominees for Best Director are exactly in line with the five films nominated for Best Picture. It would seem silly not to focus on both in the same posting. Otherwise, the two separate postings would sound pretty similar. Besides, I’m fairly certain the same film will win in each category anyway.

Two of this year’s nominees for Best Director are here for the first time and they are here with the two films that stand the most chance of winning. And so, congratulations go out to Danny Boyle and David Fincher for SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE and THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, respectively. Gus Van Sant and Ron Howard make their second plays for the top prize. Van Sant tried and failed in 1998 with GOOD WILL HUNTING but certainly stands a decent chance with MILK. Meanwhile, Howard already has an Oscar in this category for 2002’s A BEAUTIFUL MIND and is hopeful to repeat his success with FROST/NIXON. Oddly enough, the least known name amongst the bunch, Stephen Daldry, actually holds the most nominations with three total, including nods for BILLY ELLIOTT, THE HOURS and now for THE READER.

Here’s what the five nominees have going for and against them …

Directed by David Fincher

Fincher has done what so many have tried to do for years now; he has successfully adapted a story to the screen that was thought to be an impossible tale to tell. The visual demands of following a character that ages in reverse were supposed to prove to laborious to be effective and convincing. Somehow, he managed to find a team who could make it happen. This epic sentimental tale is also completely removed from the dark work Fincher is famous for (ZODIAC, FIGHT CLUB, SE7EN), but yet he makes this work too without abandoning his visual sensibilities. The buzz throughout the year was that this gargantuan masterwork was the film to beat and while it has wowed many and is the top earner amongst the nominees, it did not impress across the board. Its detractors call it Fincher’s FORREST GUMP and consider it cold and empty. The lack of warmth, I feel, will ultimately leave it out in the cold come Oscar night.

Directed by Ron Howard

I am not a Ron Howard fan. In fact, I was severely disappointed when he won his first Oscar for A BEAUTIFUL MIND. Howard makes very conventional and safe films that often feel heavier than necessary as they don’t have the insight to warrant the tone. There is something distinctly different about his work in FROST/NIXON though. It almost feels like Howard is having fun while he is working. His playful tone lends a breeziness to an intense game between interviewer and interviewee that could have otherwise played out in similar fashion to his previous heavy-handed work. The light tone though does nothing to detract from the seriousness of the task at hand and still keeps us guessing right through to the interviews defining moments. It is by far the best Howard film I’ve seen in ages but having already won one these guys, I doubt he’ll be returning this year to the podium.

Directed by Gus Van Sant

Van Sant is often hit or miss but he is almost always pushing himself in different directions. He does not often play towards the masses and does not seem to be the least bit concerned about doing so. And while I’ve heard the argument that he is doing just that with MILK, I cannot disagree more with the statement. MILK is not a plea to the straight masses to accept the gay and marginalized. It is the story of a man plead with humanity to embrace all as their brothers and sisters. It is a time in history that is being told at another time in history in order to learn from the errors of our past. And aside from being such an important film, it is also a beautiful and tender experience. Van Sant brought together a cast of contemporaries and infused them all with a sense of history that brought about the best ensemble performance of the year. Anyone who knows me, knows how much I loved BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN for what it gave to gay cinema. I can honestly say, as far as the genre goes, if you can call it that, MILK is a very close second to the cowboys. My sensitive heart is pulling for a MILK upset.

Directed by Stephen Daldry

Daldry is certainly the surprise guest at this party. I don’t think people expected him to edge out Christopher Nolan for THE DARK KNIGHT but here we are. Obviously, some people put Daldry’s name down otherwise he wouldn’t be here. And the simple truth is that he definitely deserves to be here. In fact, with this nod, Daldry is now the first director in Oscar history to earn directing honours for his first three films. His work here continues to exhibit his strengths as a sensitive filmmaker with a deep understanding for his characters and their plights. He is not overly sympathetic but rather direct and forgiving. In that sense, given that THE READER focuses on Germans understanding how to forgive previous generations for their atrocious acts, Daldry was the perfect man for the job and the only one who could get it done as succinctly. Still, Daldry is the dark horse here, despite having the force known as Harvey Weinstein championing its campaign. A win for THE READER is certainly the least likely to happen in either category.

Directed by Danny Boyle

I think I’ve said enough about how I feel SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is not deserving of the top Oscars. Why not focus now on why it is still a pleasure to see it racking up all of these prestigious accolades. Boyle felt trapped after completing his last project, SUNSHINE, having filmed the entire thing on a space ship set. He wanted to get outside and paint a bigger, brighter picture and that is exactly what he did. Only, after he finished this work, the company that was due to distribute it, Warner Independent, folded., and Boyle & co. found themselves homeless and eventually hopeless as it seemed that, considering Warner Bros. did not know what to do with the film, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE was headed straight for DVD. Boyle managed to convince somebody to submit it to a couple of festivals in the fall and the audience reaction was practically palpable. And so goes the story of how a little movie almost went nowhere at all but ended up being the front-runner for the Best Picture Oscar.

There you have it, the big five. And despite the recent backlash in India upon the release of the film, Black Sheep still believes, even though he doesn’t want to, that SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE will take both Best Director and Best Picture. That said, I bet you didn’t need me to fill in those two categories on your Oscar poll.

Enjoy the Oscars and be sure to check out the winners of the 2008 MOUTON D’OR AWARDS this coming Saturday, February 21. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE isn’t even nominated there so it’s anyone’s game.

WEEKEND BOX OFFICE: For Love and Horror

You would never know there was an economic crisis going on if you just looked at this year’s box office results. For the second week in a row, the highest drop off was just over 30% and that wasn’t even for the critically lambasted PINK PANTHER 2. No, there was plenty to celebrate this weekend with Valentine’s Day falling on the biggest date night of the week and FRIDAY THE 13TH returning to theatres just in time to have the release day coincide with the film’s title.

When the original FRIDAY THE 13TH opened in 1980, it cumed about $6 million and went on to take in a total of just under $40 million. This was big back then. Oh how far we have come as this latest relaunch of a franchise has amassed more than that in just one weekend. I’m sure once you take inflation into consideration, the original still has a lead but it won’t for long. Not only did this new installment debut on Friday the 13th to the best opening day of the year, it also had the added benefit of coming out in time for Valentine’s Day. Horror and comedy are the top favorite genres of couple on dates so it is no shocker to see this kind of response.

Keeping that in mind, it is also no surprise to see last week’s champ, HE'S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU, hold on so strongly with just a 29% decline. In fact, its hold could account for the mediocre debut of CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC. The “Shopaholic” series by author, Sophie Kinsella, is immensely popular, much more so that the “He’s Just Not That Into You” book, but yet could not compete with the latter’s star power. Also, it might have hurt its chances given that spending irresponsibly is really not the direction the country is going in.

Tom Tykwer’s bid at the mainstream, THE INTERNATIONAL, had to settle for a 7th place start. Tykwer, famous for his cult classic, RUN LOLA RUN, put together a stylish thriller with top-notch actors (Clive Owen and Naomi Watts) but an overcomplicated plot bogged it down. Also, viewers might want to deal with the idea of corrupt banks just as much as foolish shopping habits. No, what viewers want these days is leftovers as both CORALINE and TAKEN saw declines under 10%. This kind of staying power is practically unheard of.

It’s the week before Oscar and all through the house, not creature was stirring except for SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. The front-runner for Best Picture is the only one out of the five nominees to place in the Top 10 this year. Clearly people are clamoring to see it before the big event as they assume it will inevitably be crowned king dog. The rest of the nominees fall in the following order: THE READER ($2 million, down 10%), THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON ($1.6 million, down 30%), MILK ($816K, down 27.5%) and FROST/NIXON ($473K, down 39%). Meanwhile, Oscar hopeful in the Foreign Language category, THE CLASS, continued to play well in limited release, pulling in $222K, for an increase of 23.5% over last week.

NEXT WEEK: I highly recommend you catch up on your Oscar pics as there certainly isn’t anything worth seeing in first run. Well, if you like teen comedies about jocks joining the cheerleading squad to score, you could see FIRED UP. Or if you like men in grandmother drag placed in awkward scenarios, you could check out TYLER PERRY’S MADEA GOES TO JAIL. I told you you’d want to stay home.

Black Sheep @ The Oscars: ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

The Original Screenplay category is certainly aptly named this year. This is by far the freshest and most unexpected category in the bunch. There was not one, not two, but three surprise nominations in this category. Three surprises meant no room for Writers Guild nominees, BURN AFTER READING by the Coen Brothers (winners in the Adapted Screenplay category last year for NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN), VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA by Academy favorite, Woody Allen, or the underappreciated and subtle screenplays for THE WRESTLER or THE VISITOR. Still, the WGA winner for Original Screenplay is here so who knows whether all the surprises will actually lead to an original winner come Oscar night.

And the nominees for Best Original Screenplay are …

Written by Courtney Hunt

Ray: I’m not taking them over the border. That’s a crime.
Lila: There’s no border here. This is free trade between nations.
Ray: This isn’t a nation.

It has finally happened. I have seen FROZEN RIVER. I have seen it and can now honestly say that I think it is overrated. Melissa Leo certainly deserves her nod for Best Actress but any one of the overlooked scripts I mentioned above would have made a better competitor here. I do commend Hunt for telling her tale honestly and frankly; this is certainly a bleak tale told by a brave soul. Its setting though is far more compelling than its actual plot. In the end, it doesn’t add up to much more than two women smuggling immigrants across a river again and again so that they can both afford better lives. Perhaps I’m just angry that they portrayed Montreal (the city I live in) with a run down shack of a strip club in a forest somewhere. Montreal certainly has its share of strip clubs but they’re in the middle of a cosmopolitan city, not the woods.

Written by Mike Leigh

Scott: Bear with me.
Poppy: Is there? Where is he?

What I like best about Mike Leigh’s boisterous script for HAPPY-GO-LUCKY is that is as unapologetic as its unforgettable heroine, Poppy (Sally Hawkins). Within the first few minutes, the viewer is instantly challenged to the point where you question whether or not you can make it through this film. It isn’t too gruesome or disturbing. In fact, it is entirely the opposite. Leigh kills you with kindness through Poppy. The woman is seemingly impervious to the world’s incessant negativity and instead of celebrating her, you want to shake her until she sees that the world is a horrible place. That’s pretty much the time when you realize that you see the world as such a horrible place and you begin to wonder why you can’t be more like Poppy.

Written by Martin McDonagh

Ken: Your girlfriend’s pretty.
Jimmy: She ain’t my girlfriend. She’s a prostitute I just picked up.
Ken: Well, you’ve picked up a very pretty prostitute then.
Jimmy: Thank you.

This is only Martin McDonagh’s second screenplay but it carries itself with a weight that typically comes with experience and maturity. It was billed as a comedy and though it does make for some good laughs, it was certainly one of the most tragic comedies I’ve ever seen. When two hit men find themselves literally in the little town of Bruges while they await further instruction from their boss, they have no idea what’s in store. They expect a fairly uneventful few days of site seeing but find that even the most seemingly quaint of places has an underbelly. Ordinarily, they would fit in just fine but they both come face to face with accountability instead. When in Bruges …

Written by Dustin Lance Black

Dan White: Society can’t exist without the family.
Harvey Milk: We’re not against that.
Dan White: Can two men reproduce?
Harvey Milk: No, but God knows we keep trying.

Dustin Lance Black may not have adapted any particular source material to tell Harvey Milk’s life story but he definitely had a plenty of inspiration to draw from. Harvey Milk was quintessentially original. His spirit was infectious; his ambitions and pride, boundless. Still, as larger than life as his particular life was, it was grounded in a harsh reality and Black balances both of these extremes seamlessly. Black gives us Milk, the politician, the humanitarian and the lover. Basically, he gives us Milk, the man, and then we watch that man be built up only to be taken down by hatred and ignorance so disturbing that we can only find solace in the fact that that was then and this is now. Only according to Black, now is still then.

Screenplay by Andrew Stanton and Jim Reardon
Original Story by Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter

Blue-lit eyes.
Wall-E is transfixed..
Inches closer.
Watches EVE from behind the device.
Tilts his head.
Time stops.
She’s the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen.

Dialogue? Who needs it? Certainly not this writing team. WALL-E director, Andrew Stanton, along with Pixar mainstay Pete Docter and relative newcomer, Jim Reardon, shattered the conventions of animated film with this endearing and enduring love story. Sure, it has to be colorful to keep the kids happy but I had my doubts that kids my age would be able to sit through a relatively silent film, let alone the young kids Disney was banking on to make the film a hit. The beauty of WALL-E though is that so many deeply felt emotions are communicated not only without the use of words but through two non-gender specific robots. That little computer generated robot knew love when he saw and he knew how important and precious it was that he was even feeling it. We humans could learn a lot from that guy.

Despite the surprises amongst the nominations, I would have to say the WGA winner, MILK, should follow through as the expected winner. I certainly wouldn't mind a WALL-E upset.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Black Sheep @ The Oscars: ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

As you are reading these words, I suppose it goes without saying that I am a writer. I have an appreciation for the craft, as I do know, to some extent, the difficulties faced when one sits down in front of the computer to stare at a blank screen. That said, I am mostly uninspired by the nominees in this category. Perhaps I am just bitter not to see THE DARK KNIGHT nominated. Or perhaps I am just upset to see films I felt were held back by their screenplays receiving recognition as the best of the year. I can’t be sure. Regardless, my apathy could apparently make for a great adapted screenplay.

And the nominees are …

Screenplay by Eric Roth
Screen story by Eric Roth and Robin Swicord
Based on the short story, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Daisy: Would you still love me if I were old and saggy?
Benjamin Button: Would you still love me if I were young and had acne? When I’m afraid of what’s under the bed? Or if I end up wetting the bed?

This is Eric Roth’s fourth Oscar nomination. In fact, he actually won the Oscar in this very same category in 1994 for adapting FORREST GUMP. Now, you might be saying to yourself right now that this is amusing seeing as how, when you really think about it, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is an awful lot like FORREST GUMP. Both are epic stories about one man’s life and just how expansive that can be. Both ask the audience to appreciate what they have in their lives by showing us men with serious obstacles still finding meaning in life. Both go on a little longer than they should but personally, I found I at least felt some connection with that lovable guy waiting for the bus. Mr. Roth, I believe you already have an Oscar for writing this script.

Screenplay by John Patrick Shanley
Based on the stageplay, “Doubt” by John Patrick Shanley

Father Brendan Flynn: Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty. When you are lost, you are not alone.

Although it was easy for me to point out that John Patrick Shanley’s direction in DOUBT was what kept the film from achieving greatness, it is impossible for to fault him for his writing. Sadly, I cannot say that I had the opportunity to see DOUBT on stage but if the play held a fraction of the insight and mystery that his screenplay holds, it must have been one heck of a religious experience. The only reason that I am not more excited about this title being nominated is because I don’t imagine that Shanley had to work too hard to make words he already knew worked work again on screen. Perhaps I am being far too naïve about his process but I’d say he was fairly familiar with the material going in.

Screenplay by Peter Morgan
Based on the stageplay, “Frost / Nixon” by Peter Morgan

David Frost: I’ve had an idea for an interview, Richard Nixon.
John Birt: You’re a talk show host. I spent yesterday watching you interview the Bee Gees.
David Frost: Weren’t they terrific?

I like this Peter Morgan fella. His first and last Oscar nomination before this one, for THE QUEEN, was so playful and sincere that he brought great humanity to a monarch that is oft criticized for her lack thereof. And just as he brought us behind the castle gates last time, he brings us this time behind the cameras for an interview that had America holding its breath. You can just tell that Morgan is having a great time with FROST/NIXON. You never know who is going to break first in this historic interview and he makes it so that you aren’t necessarily rooting for one side of the other. Although Morgan expanded his stageplay to a much larger space Shanley did with DOUBT, his familiarity with the material is stellar but not necessarily new.

Screenplay by David Hare
Based on the novel, “The Reader” by Bernhard Schlink

Hanna Schmitz: It doesn’t matter what I think. It doesn’t matter what I feel. The dead are still dead.

Having not read Bernhard Schlink’s tale of dealing and healing, I cannot say whether the criticisms of David Hare’s screenplay are true. It has been said that Hare’s take is fairly straightforward and does not have its own voice. This is the same complaint I have about the adapted stageplays. Adaptation certainly has its advantages. There is a solid framework that is already firmly in existence. The trick is to bring something new to table and make the words seem as if they are all of your own construction without taking full credit for where they come from. Personally, I enjoyed Hare’s script. I found it to be appropriately short and stunted given that it discusses subject matter that no one is comfortable with. Still, despite THE READER’s surge in popularity since it scored an unexpected five Oscar nods, it still has nothing on …

Written by Simon Beaufoy
Based on the novel, “Q and A” by Vikas Swarup

Jamal Malik: When somebody asks me a question, I tell them the answer.

It’s all right there in that quote. By this point, it is no secret that I am not riding the SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE wave all the way to the podium. And here I find myself face to face with my biggest beef about this film, its screenplay. Yes, I will admit to loving the Jamal and Latika’s love story just as much as the next guy and I do admire that it is a love that endures poverty, betrayal and the perils of the slums to find its place in the sun. That said, I cannot condone the beating Simon Beaufoy gives to fate and the stifling structure that robs the film of its spontaneity. Question, answer, here’s how I knew it – over and over again. Seriously though, Jamal’s life history is referenced one question after the next on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” in chronological order. This didn’t strike anyone as odd? This is fate deconstructed, not celebrated.

Rant aside, Black Sheep still predicts that the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay will go to Simon Beaufoy for SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. There is just no keeping the slumdog down.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

WEEKEND BOX OFFICE: We're Just That Into You

Valentine’s Day doesn’t come until next weekend but there was a lot of love at the box office this weekend. I couldn’t throw specific dates at you but I don’t recall the last time I saw such slight declines across the board in the Top 10. You just know that when a disappointment like THE UNINVITED drops off only 38% in its second week, something isn’t right.

Of course, the most love went to the impressive ensemble comedy, HE’S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU. The film is based on a the popular novel of the same name, which was essentially based on one line of dialogue from the “Sex and the City” television series. All they need to do now is develop the film into a Broadway musical and then develop a film based on that and the cycle will be complete. I suppose there could be a book encapsulating the entire process. Or better still, maybe they could refer to it in the next “Sex and the City” movie. No matter really as the film, which was originally slated for last October, proved to be another hit for Jennifer Aniston, who, after MARLEY & ME, has finally found her box office stride.

The girl power generated from the romantic comedy’s success made its way down to kids too as CORALINE finally found its way to screens. This film was originally slated for release last year and surpassed industry expectations in its new weekend. Not only did the stop-motion animation film, based on the Neil Gaiman children’s book, play well to kids, it also played well to cult audiences who have been waiting for a new Henry Selick film ever since his last, THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS.

There was a lot more love shown to holdovers than any other new releases. Last week’s champ, TAKEN, found itself, uh, taking in another $20 million, off only 17% from last week. Liam Neeson, the action star – who knew? Maybe they’ll reissue DARKMAN to capitalize on his newfound action hero role. Hmm, probably not. Clint Eastwood couldn’t get any love from the Oscar people but GRAN TORINO continues to pull in solid cash, falling off less than 10% this week for a grand total of over $120 million. Kevin James must be laughing a lot harder than any of us are as I’m sure he never imagined that PAUL BLART: MALL COP would spend a month in the Top 5 and pass the $100 million mark, which it is sure to do by next weekend. And Best Picture favorite, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE continues to pull in droves of people desperate for hope. With only two weeks to go before the Oscar telecast, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE remains the only Best Picture nominee in the Top 10.

All that holding over left little room for THE PINK PANTHER 2 and PUSH to find their own love. The Steve Martin sequel opened about $8 million lower than its predecessor. I’d say that puts an end to this embarrassing series. And PUSH had a hard time getting past its limited run to find the wide X-MEN audience it so clearly was trying to rip off.

NEXT WEEK: Given the current economic climate, I’m not sure this film has the best timing but CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC will make the jump from page to screen. Tom Tykwer goes Hollywood with THE INTERNATIONAL, starring Clive Owen and Naomi Watts. And given that next Friday is the 13th, what better time could there be to release the FRIDAY THE 13TH remake?

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Black Sheep @ The Oscars: BEST ACTRESS

This was a tough one. The nomination competition was fierce enough on its own without Kate Winslet contending for a spot for two standout performances. Sally Hawkins won the Golden Globe and a number of critics’ accolades for her performance in HAPPY-GO-LUCKY but missed her shot here. Kristen Scott Thomas hoped for a spot for her performance in I’VE LOVED YOU SO LONG but that little seen film left little impression. Michelle Williams had hoped that her stark performance in WENDY AND LUCY would earn her a second nod but it was too bare to register. Even Cate Blanchett, an Oscar regular, couldn’t get swept up in the Benjamin Button bonanza. And so with one slot inevitably going to Winslet, who else managed to squeak past the stiff competition?


When you first meet Kym in Jonathan Demme’s "love it or hate it" family drama, RACHEL GETTING MARRIED, she is a lot to take. She talks to fill the silence and she does so very defensively in order to close the doors before they are even opened. She doesn’t want anyone to see what lies behind those doors, not ever herself. Hathaway infuses Kym with a nervous likeability that makes her both compelling and repelling. It is certainly the kind of performance that gave everyone pause and had everyone wondering if there was more to this princess than anyone had ever imagined.

Hathaway was considered to be an early favorite in this category when the film debuted to rave reviews at the Venice and Toronto film fests. Still, the film has proven to be more of a critical darling than anything else and, quite sadly as this critic loved it, this is the film’s only nomination, indicating that overall support may be thin.

Angelina Jolie in CHANGELING

Christine Collins is always a lady. She is always properly made up and appropriately composed. This would prove to be her downfall as all assume that she will just sit quietly and take all that is thrown at her but they did not take into account what a mother would do for her missing son. Jolie delivers another understated performance here and is just as captivating for her fragility and endurance as for her beauty.

CHANGELING is also not a widely regarded film. Jolie missed the nomination in this category last year for her role in A MIGHTY HEART and so some might want to reward her for both as a means of making up for the past but she does already have an Oscar at home for her earlier performance in GIRL, INTERRUPTED. Jolie is not considered a threat in this category and I doubt that will change.

Melissa Leo in FROZEN RIVER

To be fair, I still have not seen this film. It only comes out next week on DVD and I can’t even remember it playing in theatres here in Montreal, which is odd considering the story takes place party in Quebec. I can tell you Leo plays Ray Eddy, a single mother drawn into the world of border smuggling. Aside from that, I got nothing.

Leo is certainly the dark horse in this category. The nomination alone has made people take notice of the film and, along with its nod for original screenplay, it could build some last minute momentum. Leo has been nominated for a number of awards already, including the National Board of Review, the Independent Spirit Awards and the Screen Actors Guild. There is certainly good reason to consider her the underdog contender but keep in mind, the SAG nominated her but she did not ultimately win. No, that honour went to …

Meryl Streep in DOUBT

You may never know a scarier screen nun after Streep’s Sister Aloysius Beauvier. The way that she leers at the children in the playground, just waiting for them to step out of line so that she can assume her duties as disciplinarian and well, discipline them. She almost seems to get some perverse joy out of it. She scours the world for all its evils and when she sets her eyes on her parish priest, you know he’s in big trouble because even God will be too scared to not side with the sister.

How many times does someone need to be nominated in their lifetime? Streep holds the records for most Oscar nods with 15 in total. She does have two wins but her last was for SOPHIE’S CHOICE in 1982. She is definitely due and many are saying that this will be her year. DOUBT did not play well outside of the acting categories, which denotes a certain apathy toward the film but Streep did take home the SAG award for this intense performance. The trouble is, so did …

Kate Winslet in THE READER

Hanna Schmitz is one of Winslet’s most complex characters. We meet her under the same circumstances as the young boy she ends up taking to bed. She seems nice enough, if not perhaps just a bit cold and guarded. Still, you would never imagine that she was personally responsible for countless deaths as an SS officer in the Second World War. Furthermore, it is unfathomable that she is actually able to rationalize her actions as entirely reasonable.

Winslet was expected to earn a nomination here for REVOLUTIONARY ROAD. In fact, after her double win at the Golden Globes opened the possibility of an Oscar repeat. Her role in THE READER was touted as a supporting performance but as she has the most screen time of any character in the film, that was a hard sell that was eventually rejected by the academy. The SAG rewarded Winslet in the supporting category and now both SAG honoured actresses find themselves going head to head at the Oscars. It could get ugly.

I would say though that even though Winslet did not get the nod for REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, no one will forget the force with which she delivered in both films. And so, Black Sheep predicts Kate Winslet for Best Actress in THE READER.