Saturday, August 28, 2010

The 2010 Emmy Awards: My Predictions - PART III

The Series Awards

Best Drama Series
Breaking Bad, AMC
  • FOR IT: According to most critics, this AMC drama about a high school teacher who makes and sells meth to make ends meet is one of the more deserving series in this category. Star Bryan Cranston has won the Best Actor award the past two years (and is poised to take it for a third time) and its supporting players (including Supporting Actor frontrunner Aaron Paul and acclaimed actress Anna Gunn) have received raves.
  • AGAINST IT: Compared to its more promotable competition (like Mad Men and the final season of LOST), the show is not as noticeable. Its nomination (plus its two nominated actors winning in their categories) may just have to serve as the show's reward.
Dexter, Showtime
  • FOR IT: The show about a forensic specialist who is also a serial killer (with a heart of gold!) has been nominated twice before and, to many, its fourth season was its best with the addition of John Lithgow (who won the Guest Actor in Drama Series Emmy) as a rival serial killer.
  • AGAINST IT: Like most other cable shows, the series only has 12 episodes a season and the fourth season ended back in December 2009. Timing could work against this show that many people feel deserves recognition. Also, the show's graphic and bloody nature (it is referred to as one of the bloodiest shows on television) may be a turnoff to some of the more staid members of the voting Academy.
The Good Wife, CBS
  • FOR IT: It is one the freshman shows of the season that was a hit both with critics and with the ratings. Led by the sheer force of the poignant performance by Julianna Margulies, who is a frontrunner to win the Best Actress in a Drama prize, the cast has been lauded left and right (with Supporting Actress nods for Christine Baranski and breakout player Archie Panjabi in the process).
  • AGAINST IT: The nomination, while welcomed, was pretty much a surprise to most Hollywood insiders. It is primarily seen as a way of boosting Margulies' already strong chances in her category against tough competition from Damages' Glenn Close and Mad Men's January Jones.
  • FOR IT: The show about survivors of a plane crash on a strange and mystical island has been a fan favorite throughout its six year run. Back in 2005, it won this award for its groundbreaking first season. Thanks to a chilling and controversial finale episode in May, ABC hopes to win that same award again this time around.
  • AGAINST IT: It has not won since 2005 and has very tough competition from the cable shows it faces. Also, it has primarily been a fan favorite over its six years and while the finale episode was hailed, it was considered jarring and confusing to many. Voters may choose its competition in response to the fervor the final episode caused.
Mad Men, AMC
  • FOR IT: The reigning champ in the category for the past two years had a stellar third season about the lives (and loves) of the workers at the Sterling Cooper Ad Agency in the early 1960's. Several of its ensemble cast members (including leads John Hamm and January Jones) each received nominations in their categories and its writing (by creator Matthew Weiner) is a frontrunner to win yet again. It is the Awards "Go-To" when it comes to the top prize.
  • AGAINST IT: To avoid looking stale and stodgy (something the Academy has been accused of for years, especially last year), the voters may choose to go with a different winner this time no matter how deserving the third season was.
True Blood, HBO
  • FOR IT: When it was not among the 8 nominees in this category last year, the multitudes of fans this dark drama series about vampires and other creatures in the Louisiana bayou cried "FOUL!" The show has amassed a huge following (like the Twilight series, just not as big).
  • AGAINST IT: Much like LOST has been over the years (and Glee is in the Comedy category below), the love for this series has generally come from audiences and fans as opposed to within the Hollywood community itself. Also, like Dexter, the graphic and violent nature of the show (It IS called True Blood) might put off some of the older block of voters. The nomination could just be a way of making it up to audiences for not nominating it previously and nothing more.
Mad Men is probably the most deserving and certainly could pull off a third win, but it is also just as likely that the votes will go to LOST's final season just out of pure respect for the mindfreak that J. J. Abrams and company put people through in May. I'm gonna give the edge to Mad Men (based purely on what the critics have said), but I do not count LOST out.

It is also quite possible that Mad Men will be watching its fellow network series Breaking Bad in the winners' circle come Sunday night. The show has gained great respect from many within the Hollywood community and they may want to give it more than just acting awards.

Best Comedy Series
Curb Your Enthusiasm, HBO
  • FOR IT: Larry David's completely ad-libbed sitcom has been enjoyed by critics since it debuted in 2000. This past year, the show pulled off television history by reuniting the cast of Seinfeld (Jerry Seinfeld, Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Michael Richards) on an episode.
  • AGAINST IT: Seinfeld nostalgia aside, the series has been sporadically on HBO's schedule with its seventh season being in 2009 (when normally it would have been in 2007). The show often gets lost in the shuffle when it comes to awards like this. The nomination may just be enough.
Glee, FOX
  • FOR IT: Ryan Murphy's series about a high school glee club was the phenomenal success of the season filled with songs and dances that melted audiences' hearts. Lead actors Matthew Morrison, Lea Michele and supporting players Chris Colfer and Jane Lynch (who is destined to win Supporting Actress in a Comedy for her role as the vicious cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester) all have scored praise and nominations much to the happiness of the fans (who have dubbed themselves Gleeks!). The musical-dramedy won the Golden Globe award this past year over sitcoms like The Office, 30 Rock and Modern Family.
  • AGAINST IT: Two things really. Number 1 - The older block of voters have expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that a dramedy (although musical) is in the same category with sitcoms like The Office, 30 Rock and Modern Family. This is not a new issue, but it is beginning to rear its head and Glee may suffer for it. And Number 2 - The love it has received is mostly fanbased (most of which probably are not members of the voting Academy).
Modern Family, ABC
  • FOR IT: The critics absolutely love this mockumentary-style sitcom about a family made up of three different households. Most of its acclaimed ensemble cast scored nominations in the Supporting categories (each cast member entered in supporting because of their ensemble status). It has also brought ABC back to the realm of beloved sitcoms (where until recently their Comedy gold relied on dramedies like Desperate Housewives and Ugly Betty).
  • AGAINST IT: While it has a loyal audience and critics love it, it does not have the fanbase that FOX's Glee has. While some critics are members of the voting branch, they may not be enough to conquer those voters who might be voting for the FOX musical hit.
Nurse Jackie, Showtime
  • FOR IT: One of the three new shows of the year recognized in this category, the critically-acclaimed quirky hospital dramedy was a surprise amongst the nominees (scoring a nod over more popular fare like NBC's Community or CBS' The Big Bang Theory).
  • AGAINST IT: The show has mostly been noted for the stellar performance of its lead actress, Edie Falco. The nomination in this category might merely be a way to bolster Falco's standing in her category of Lead Actress in a Comedy where she faces tough competition from Glee star Lea Michele as well as previous winners Toni Collette and Tina Fey.
The Office, NBC
  • FOR IT: Having won this award back in 2006, the American version of the Ricky Gervais Britcom has been a fan favorite (especially in syndication). This (along with its fellow NBC show 30 Rock) has become a staple at awards shows. Also, with Steve Carell's announcement that the upcoming season will be his last, voters may choose to remember this show's contribution.
  • AGAINST IT: The comedy has had a lackluster season and critics have stated that since its uber-couple Jim and Pam (played by John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer, respectively) got married (and had a baby this year), the show has ultimately "jumped the shark." The last time it won in 2006, probably was the last time.
30 Rock, NBC
  • FOR IT: Tina Fey's quirky backstage TV comedy has won this award for the past 3 years. It was almost natural that it would be nominated for its fourth season which has already won Alec Baldwin a Golden Globe (and both Baldwin and Fey Screen Actors' Guild Awards) this year.
  • AGAINST IT: Like its network compatriot The Office, the show has been accused by critics of growing stale and has dwindled in ratings (which it didn't have that much of to begin with). Voters may choose to give newer shows a chance at this prestigious award.
It will be the Critics vs. the Fans as the freshman shows Modern Family and Glee have an Emmy stand-off. It is not clear how deep the fanbase of FOX's musical series runs in the Hollywood community, so I wouldn't count it out (cause you never know if there are some secret Gleeks out there!); but I still give the edge to Modern Family based on critical praise (as well as a growing audience). Either one winning would be okay with me, but if you belong to either camp - be prepared for possible disappointment when the other side wins.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The 2010 Emmy Awards: My Predictions - PART II

PART II The Leading Acting Awards

Best Leading Actor in a Drama Series
Kyle Chandler, Friday Night Lights, DirecTV/NBC
  • FOR HIM: The show, which has been shafted (and re-renewed) by NBC in the past, has gained a very loyal fanbase and many Hollywood insders were pleased to see Chandler (and co-star Connie Britton) among the nominees in these top categories. Could this be last minute love for a show many predicted as D.O.A.?
  • AGAINST HIM: The show, while loved by many, failed to garner the ultimate prize in a Drama Series nomination. The nods (for both Chandler and Britton) can be merely seen as appeasement of the naysayers.
Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad, AMC
  • FOR HIM: Cranston's role as a high school science teacher who turns to making and selling meth to make ends meet has been praised since the show began. He is the reigning champ in the category having won the past two years. He did some great work this year and many critics feel he will win a well-deserved third Emmy.
  • AGAINST HIM: The episode he submitted, the show's season finale, is not considered his best of the year by the critics who so love him. Voters may feel they have awarded him enough for his great work and decide to go with one of the actors they have ignored the past two years (like John Hamm, Hugh Laurie or Michael C. Hall).
Michael C. Hall, Dexter, Showtime
  • FOR HIM: His role as the forensic serial-killer with a heart of gold has garnered him praise for three years (with two previous nominations). With his recent battle with cancer (which he is reportedly surviving! YAY!), he won the Golden Globe and the Screen Actors' Guild Award this past year from his peers who admired his strength and hope.
  • AGAINST HIM: Emmy voters may feel the two previous awards this year are enough in the way of sympathy.
John Hamm, Mad Men, AMC
  • FOR HIM: Hamm's Don Draper has been nominated twice before and still has not won. For the show's third season, Hamm did what many feel is some of his best work. He also showed versatility by returning to his Emmy-nominated guest role on 30 Rock this year (which garnered him a second Guest Actor in a Comedy Series nod).
  • AGAINST HIM: Many do say this could be his year but he has very tough competition from Bryan Cranston (whom he has lost to previously) and Hugh Laurie. He may have done great work this year but it might not have been enough.
Matthew Fox, LOST, ABC
  • FOR HIM: With LOST's final season (and its stellar finale episode, which Fox submitted as his entry), Emmy gave Fox his first nomination for the series in its six year history. Fans would be extremely pleased to see Dr. Jack Shephard win (what they feel) is a well-deserved award.
  • AGAINST HIM: With this being his first nomination in the six seasons, it is likely the nomination is a consolation prize. Plus, the ending, while hailed, left many viewers confused and puzzled (as it was meant to, I'm sure). It may have also left Emmy voters puzzled and therefore marking their ballots likewise.
Hugh Laurie, House M.D., FOX
  • FOR HIM: With the phenomenal 2-hour season premiere in September 2009 (the rehab institution episode Laurie submitted), Laurie's Dr. Gregory House gained some of the best reviews of the early part of the 2009-10 season. This is Laurie's fifth nomination and he has yet to win for what many consider is the role of British actor's career.
  • AGAINST HIM: While individual episodes are submitted by the actors, voters are allowed to look at the season as a whole. And for House's sixth season, it wasn't has hailed as previous ones (except for the premiere).
This is yet another tough category to call. Both Hugh Laurie and John Hamm have proven themselves very deserving and may finally receive Emmy love. Michael C. Hall could also be a contender with voters on pure sympathy. But, ultimately, Bryan Cranston's really stellar third season should bring him a third Emmy.

Best Leading Actress in a Drama Series
Connie Britton, Friday Night Lights, DirecTV/NBC
  • FOR HER: The show, which has been shafted (and re-renewed) by NBC in the past, has gained a very loyal fanbase and many Hollywood insders were pleased to see Britton (and co-star Kyle Chandler) among the nominees in these top categories. Could this be last minute love for a show many predicted as D.O.A.?
  • AGAINST HER: The show, while loved by many, failed to garner the ultimate prize in a Drama Series nomination. The nods (for both Britton and Chandler) can be merely seen as appeasement of the naysayers.
Glenn Close, Damages, F/X
  • FOR HER: Close is one of the most respected and most rewarded actresses on Television ("She will not be ignored!"). Her role as the manipulative and vindictive lawyer Patty Hewes has already won her two Emmy awards for the show's first two seasons.
  • AGAINST HER: The show's third season, to many, stumbled a bit in quality (although NOT for Ms. Close). With the show's announcement that it will move to DirecTV and not be renewed by F/X, voters will most likely feel like they have rewarded this great actress enough.
Mariska Hargitay, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, NBC
  • FOR HER: Hargitay has been nominated every year since 2004 (and won in 2006). Her performance as Detective Olivia Benson has been raw, poignant and powerful. She has been hailed by critics and beloved by the fans. She even had some really good material this past season.
  • AGAINST HER: She has not won since 2006 and the L&O franchise has faltered (with the original getting cancelled in May). Her nomination may just be for her body of work and not for her work this past year.
January Jones, Mad Men, AMC
  • FOR HER: Jones' Betty Draper had some great material in the show's third season. Plus, to many fans, she was snubbed last year when she was not nominated for Best Actress in a Drama.
  • AGAINST HER: While she is beloved by producers and critics, her character is only occasionally a lead (which could be the reason voters failed to nominate her last year).
Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife, CBS
  • FOR HER: Margulies' stirring and poignant performance as humiliated political wife Alicia Florrick has been a critical highlight of the year (scoring a nomination for Best Drama Series in the process). She has won the Golden Globe and the Screen Actors' Guild Award, Emmy may clearly be in her grasp.
  • AGAINST HER: There isn't that much against her except maybe sympathy for Connie Britton, respect for Glenn Close or admiration for January Jones.
Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer, TNT
  • FOR HER: Sedgwick has won several Golden Globes for her role as Inspector Brenda Johnston on TNT's crime-drama. Voters may feel it time to give her the Emmy she has been denied for the past four years.
  • AGAINST HER: Her show is a summer replacement series and timing, being what it is, may be her downfall each year as the season she gets nominated for airs a year before awards are handed out.
Julianna Margulies will most likely add an Emmy Award to her mantle for her dynamic performance. It will be her second Emmy as she won Best Supporting Actress back in 1995 for E.R.'s gripping first season.

Best Leading Actor in a Comedy Series
Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock, NBC
  • FOR HIM: Baldwin's eccentric network executive Jack Donaghy has been considered the best part of the series since the beginning. Having won this award for the previous two years, he is the reigning champ and will not go down without a fight (literally, Alec Baldwin can be very scary!). If anyone can win for the show, he can!
  • AGAINST HIM: The show itself has lost fans and critics have begun to attack its quality (although NOT Baldwin's performance). It may be time for Baldwin to pass the torch to someone slightly more deserving.
Steve Carell, The Office, NBC
  • FOR HIM: Carell's enormously inept Michael Scott has yet to win an Emmy for this series which has received Emmy love in the past. With his recent announcement that the upcoming sixth season will be his last, voters may take their chance now to reward him for years of service.
  • AGAINST HIM: Since he has one more season left in him, voters may gamble on rewarding him next year instead of now. Plus, The Office (like 30 Rock) has dwindled in ratings (and quality, at least to critics). It's possible Carell may join the ranks of "Nominated but Never Won."
Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm, HBO
  • FOR HIM: As the creator and star of the beloved ad-libbed series, David's irascible character garnered his fourth nomination. Plus, the much hailed Seinfeld reunion episode (which David submitted), was a testament David and his contribution to both shows.
  • AGAINST HIM: The show has been on HBO's schedule sporadically over the decade (debuting in 2000 and 2009 being its 7th season). His nomination (his first since 2006) could be just recognition for his work on both Curb and Seinfeld.
Matthew Morrison, Glee, FOX
  • FOR HIM: Morrison's lead role as teacher Will Schuester is the heart of the phenom series. His musical style and great stage-trained acting ability could give him a leg-up on his competitors.
  • AGAINST HIM: Being surrounded in the show by showier roles (like Lea Michele, Jane Lynch and Chris Colfer, all of whom received nominations in their respective categories), his nomination may be seen as more for the show than for the actor.
Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory, CBS
  • FOR HIM: On his second nomination (his first was last year), many critics feel he deserves to take home the Emmy for his anal-retentive (to the Nth Degree) nerd. Plus, the show has grown in viewership and is making a bold move from Monday nights to Thursdays for its upcoming fourth season.
  • AGAINST HIM: Many critics were upset by the fact that The Big Bang Theory was NOT included amongst the Comedy Series nominees. With fewer nominations in major categories, Parsons may just have to be happy with the nomination and step up his already hilarious game for next year.
Tony Shalhoub, Monk, USA
  • FOR HIM: With Monk ending back in December, Emmy voters decided to remember his three-time Emmy winning role as the OCD genius detective and nominated him again.
  • AGAINST HIM: He has not won since 2006 and the last season was not considered his best comedically (it was more dramatic and poignant). The nomination merely serves as a tip of the hat to the actor and his memorable role.
Jim Parsons DID step up his game for The Big Bang Theory's third season (hence, the move to Thursdays!). Alec Baldwin already has two Emmys for his role but, while he may be just as deserving, Parsons pulled out so many stops and shows no signs of quitting.

Steve Carell's announcement about ending his contract at the end of next season seemed to be timed in the right place. He was most likely on voters minds when they read their ballots and made decisions.

Best Leading Actress in a Comedy Series
Toni Collette, United States of Tara, Showtime
  • FOR HER: Collette's performance as a woman struggling with multiple personalities won her last year's Emmy Award and this past year's Golden Globe. The acclaimed actress has certainly won critics and fans with sheer diversity.
  • AGAINST HER: She won this award last year in what many saw as a surprise (a welcome one, but a surprise). Also, her show's second season has not been as hailed as the first one.
Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie, Showtime
  • FOR HER: In the series pilot of this quirky Showtime dramedy (which is the episode Falco submitted), critics claimed that Edie Falco's titular pill-popping no-nonsense character was one of the most fascinating characters of the year. On mere Sopranos nostalgia alone, Falco has huge fans amongst many Hollywood insiders.
  • AGAINST HER: The show is a summer replacement series, meaning that the inaugural season that has received major nominations (for this category and Best Comedy Series) aired over a year ago. Timing may just work against this well-seasoned and well-respected actress.
Tina Fey, 30 Rock, NBC
  • FOR HER: Fey has been at the forefront of comedy in the last few years and has earned her place as the genre's so-called "Queen." She had a hit movie this summer (with Date Night), a successful hosting gig on SNL (for which she received a Guest Actress in a Comedy Series nod) and her Primetime show is hailed as one of the best shows on TV (for which, as head writer, creator and star, she is a major reason for).
  • AGAINST HER: Her show, to many, has dwindled in quality this past fourth season. She also won this same award back in 2008 (for the show's second season, which to many was its best). If her show was a contender in any category, it would be more likely to win in Leading Actor for Alec Baldwin (who is considered the best part of the show).
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, The New Adventures of Old Christine, CBS
  • FOR HER: Louis-Dreyfus won this award back in 2006 and has been critically acclaimed for the role since. She also was part of the Seinfeld reunion episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm that was so beloved this year. Her show, unfortunately, got cancelled at the last minute this past May and many Hollywood insiders (including Louis-Dreyfus herself) are unhappy about the way CBS did it. She may get votes based on sympathy and solidarity.
  • AGAINST HER: Her win was over 4 years ago and her show had dwindled in the ratings, hence CBS' decision to cancel. She may get some votes, but not enough to conquer her more palatable competitors.
Lea Michele, Glee, FOX
  • FOR HER: Michele's Rachel Berry is the self-proclaimed star and darling diva of the phenomenal smash hit series of the year. Her musical performances are what most fans have looked forward to in each episode (especially her "Sectionals" performance, which she cleverly submitted as her entry). Emmy voters may choose to go with someone young and fresh as the winner of this major category.
  • AGAINST HER: At 24 (and playing a high-school student!), she is the youngest in the category this year. Though she has been in the business since she was 8 (when she made her Broadway debut), she has less experience when compared to her more seasoned competitors.
Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation, NBC
  • FOR HER: In its second season, Parks and Recreation gained new fans amongst many critics and Poehler's nomination is a testament to the power of their suggestion (several critics pushed for her to be noticed this year). Her sweet but inept government worker has been praised as a good reason to catch the struggling show.
  • AGAINST HER: To many critics dismay, this was the only nomination the show received. Had it received more nominations, Poehler would be a major contender. But since it did not, she will have to be happy with the nomination.
Judging by mere acting quality, it will come down to Edie Falco or Toni Collette. Since Collette won this award last year and many voters still remember The Sopranos, Falco should be polishing off her acceptance speech.

With her flawless musical performances and quirky character antics, Lea Michele could create an upset (at least to some) just based on versatility.

Next Post: PART III - Best Drama Series AND Best Comedy Series

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The 2010 Emmy Awards: My Predictions - PART I

With this year's Emmy Awards fast approaching (Sunday, August 29), I thought it would be a good idea to share my predictions for the winners. What I will do is breakdown each major category and give my final assessment. So, here it goes:

PART I The Supporting Acting Awards

Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Andre Braugher, Men of a Certain Age, TNT
  • FOR HIM: Braugher is a well-respected actor amongst the Hollywood crowd and was a critical highlight of TNT's new serio-dramedy about three friends struggling through middle age. He also did some great work on FOX's House M.D. as Dr. House's psychiatrist.
  • AGAINST HIM: The show, while it has the critics behind it, is not uber-popular with audiences. Also, Braugher's role on the series can be viewed as a Leading role just as much as a Supporting Ensemble member.
Michael Emerson, LOST, ABC
  • FOR HIM: LOST had one of its best seasons in its final one and Emerson's manipulative and disturbed Ben has been a crucial part of the accolades the show has received in its last years, winning this same award last year.
  • AGAINST HIM: One of his competitors comes from the same show, Terry O'Quinn. The two would most likely cancel each other out.
Terry O'Quinn, LOST, ABC
  • FOR HIM: O'Quinn's Locke was one of the most intriguing characters of the season, drifting between devil and hero. O'Quinn, like Braugher, is also a well-respected character actor that Emmy voters may just want to reward for years of service.
  • AGAINST HIM: Those years of service were rewarded back in 2007 when O'Quinn won this award. And since both he and co-star (and co-nominee) Emerson are previous winners, the canceling each other out is much more likely.
Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad, AMC
  • FOR HIM: As a former student helping his teacher make and sell meth, Paul has gotten some great critical notices for his role. He also got some of the best reviews of the show this season for his work (better reviews than Lead Actor Bryan Cranston, who is poised to take home a third Emmy Award).
  • AGAINST HIM: He is up against some tough veterans in this category and while he got some fantastic critical notices for his work this season, so did they. Emmy voters may wish to go for experience instead.
Martin Short, Damages, F/X
  • FOR HIM: Short, one of the best comedic actors in the business, defied audience expectations in his role as the Machiavellian con-artist-turned-powerful-attorney. Emmy voters might recognize that it is comedians who make the best actors by giving him the award.
  • AGAINST HIM: Damages is not the most watched show to have Emmy respect. The show has floundered on F/X's schedule forcing the producers to make a crucial move to DirectTV for its fourth season. To gain more fans, Emmy voters might look at the show as a whole as opposed to just the actor.
John Slattery, Mad Men, AMC
  • FOR HIM: Slattery's performance as founding partner Roger Sterling Jr. has garnered him praise for the past three seasons. His character has gone through divorce, two heart attacks and still manages to smoke, drink and (possibly) womanize.
  • AGAINST HIM: Mad Men, while knocking them dead as the Drama Series champ, has failed to win over in the acting categories (Slattery's two previous unsuccessful nominations serve as proof). His nomination may be more for the show than for his well-respected performance.
Aaron Paul will most likely vanquish the threat from both the LOST actors considering he received some of the best critical notices of the year.

Martin Short could surprise people by winning for his vicious role. A win for Short, however, would be bittersweet as his wife of over 20 years, Nancy Dolman, passed away on Sunday night (August 22nd). For the nay-sayers out there, this piece of tragic news would NOT have affected voting as the deadline was over a week ago.

Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Christine Baranski, The Good Wife, CBS
  • FOR HER: Baranski is beloved by the Awards circuit. Her nomination was almost a foregone conclusion for a lot of people. Basically, she gets nominated just for standing there (as seen by her other nomination for Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for her role on The Big Bang Theory).
  • AGAINST HER: While she is beloved, her role as law partner Diane Lockhart on the show is not the standout (at least as far as supporting cast goes). Her co-star and co-nominee Archie Panjabi's investigator has wowed more critics and fans of the show.
Rose Byrne, Damages, F/X
  • FOR HER: Byrne's protagonist role on the F/X drama has been praised for all three seasons (she has two previous unsuccessful nominations). She may be due to get recognition.
  • AGAINST HER: Her role is more of a Leading role, though extremely overshadowed by her co-star Glenn Close (hence, her entry into the Supporting category).
Sharon Gless, Burn Notice, AMC
  • FOR HER: Gless is a favorite of Emmy voters and her role as Maddie Weston has been a critical highlight of the spy drama. Her nomination was a pleasant surprise for many Hollywood insiders.
  • AGAINST HER: Her nomination was a complete surprise. Her show has not been on Emmy's radar for the past three years. The nomination could be more for the actress than for the show.
Christina Hendricks, Mad Men, AMC
  • FOR HER: Hendricks has been the "It Girl" of TV for this past year (a ploy that worked in the past for Katherine Heigl and Julianna Margulies). Her performance in the episode "Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency" (which she cleverly submitted) was, to many critics, one of the best performances of the year.
  • AGAINST HER: One of her competitors is her co-star Elisabeth Moss, who also got some good reviews last year. Also, like John Slattery's problem, Mad Men has never gotten Emmy love in the acting categories.
Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men, AMC
  • FOR HER: Moss' role as innocent copywriter Peggy Olson has garnered praise from critics and audiences (she was nominated last year for Lead Actress in a Drama Series).
  • AGAINST HER: Her co-star Christina Hendricks has had a showier season and her being in the Supporting category instead of the Lead could be seen as a downgrade. All that plus the problem that works against John Slattery and Christina Hendricks.
Archie Panjabi, The Good Wife, CBS
  • FOR HER: Panjabi's straight-forward and mysterious investigator Kalinda Sharma has received several positive notices from critics. Her highlighted performance may be enough to charm Emmy voters.
  • AGAINST HER: While she is a stand-out in the supporting cast of the series (more than Christine Baranski), the show truly is on the shoulders of the titular star, Julianna Margulies.
It will come down between Christina Hendricks and Archie Panjabi. Both have had great reviews and have gained loyal fans. I would have to give the edge to Hendricks merely because of her "It Girl" status.

Hendricks and Panjabi could be cancelled out by their own co-stars and the benefactor of that could very well be Sharon Gless. Many Hollywood insiders would welcome the chance to applaud Gless walking up to the stage to accept her third career Emmy Award.

Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Ty Burrell, Modern Family, ABC
  • FOR HIM: As the quirky father and husband, Burrell's performance has been a comic highlight of the well-praised ensemble. He also has had character performances in movies and TV shows over the years that have garnered him respect from his peers
  • AGAINST HIM: Being in a category with his fellow co-stars (save Ed O'Neill), he could just go home empty-handed and watch his co-star win (or someone else entirely).
Chris Colfer, Glee, FOX
  • FOR HIM: Colfer's nomination for playing the boy soprano/diva struggling with his sexual orientation was a welcome surprise to many fans and Hollywood insiders. He, apart from Jane Lynch's Sue Sylvester, is one of the most popular characters on the show.
  • AGAINST HIM: His youth and inexperience basically. He is in a category with more seasoned veterans. He might have to try again next year but this nomination certainly gives him a leg up.
Jon Cryer, Two and a Half Men, CBS
  • FOR HIM: Cryer is the reigning winner in this category and his work this season just got better as far as critics were concerned.
  • AGAINST HIM: His co-star Charlie Sheen's high-profile antics earlier this year has marked the show in a bad way. Last year's win for Cryer may have been the last time we would see this show in the Winners' Circle.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Modern Family, ABC
  • FOR HIM: Ferguson's neurotic gay lawyer has been critically praised and he has a loyal fanbase from his days on Broadway.
  • AGAINST HIM: His co-stars Ty Burrell and Eric Stonestreet (who plays his partner) have showier roles and so he may be watching one of them win on Emmy night.
Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother, CBS
  • FOR HIM: He was a favorite last year, but Jon Cryer won. His Barney Stinson character has had some really big moments including a musical number and bedding 100 women in 1 week (where he was interviewed by Jim Nance).
  • AGAINST HIM: With three nominations this year (for this, a guest spot on Glee and hosting last year's Tony Awards), Emmy voters are less likely to let him win all three. He won in the latter two categories at last week's Creative Arts Emmys.
Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family, ABC
  • FOR HIM: As the stay-at-home gay dad, Eric Stonestreet's Cameron has been a reason critics have lauded the show. He's even had some great moments like singing "Ave Maria" at a wedding.
  • AGAINST HIM: Being up against his co-stars could work against him and he could watch Burrell or Ferguson win.

It will come down between the Modern Family guys with Ty Burrell or Eric Stonestreet emerging victorious. I'm gonna give the edge to Burrell because of his past performances.

Chris Colfer has a loud and loyal fanbase (almost to the point of obsession). The vote could go his way based just on pure nerve.

Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Julie Bowen, Modern Family, ABC
  • FOR HER: Bowen's neurotic-yet-stable housewife has been a highlight of the Modern Family ensemble. Voters may want to recognize her contribution.
  • AGAINST HER: Being in an ensemble has its drawbacks. Her competitor and co-star Sofia Vergara is just as worthy of the award, so the two actresses will most likely cancel each other out. That and she is up against Jane Lynch.
Jane Krakowski, 30 Rock, NBC
  • FOR HER: Krakowski's vain actress Jenna Meloni has been a highlight of the show since the beginning and this past season, Tina Fey and the writers gave her some of her best stuff (like reuniting with her mother, played by Jan Hooks, and her dating a Jenna Meloni drag queen, played by Will Forte).
  • AGAINST HER: This nomination is more for the show than for the actress (she has unsuccessfully been nominated twice before). 30 Rock has dwindled in fans and the nomination may just be enough. That and she is up against Jane Lynch.
Jane Lynch, Glee, FOX
  • FOR HER: Lynch as the vicious and heartless cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester has been the phenom of the phenom. She is beloved by Hollywood and her peers. Her scheming alter-ego would also try to find some way of fixing the race so Lynch could win.
  • AGAINST HER: There's not much against her except possibly a major anti-Glee movement that could stem from the reaction to the loyal (and sometimes obsessive) fanbase.
Holland Taylor, Two and a Half Men, CBS
  • FOR HER: While she didn't have much to do this year (she was in half of the show's 20 episodes), what she did do was worthy of notice.
  • AGAINST HER: With Sheen's antics earlier this year, the show has suffered financially and in standing. So, like Cryer, the nomination will have to suffice. That and she is up against Jane Lynch
Sofia Vergara, Modern Family, ABC
  • FOR HER: Vergara's Colombian accent and luscious curves are just icing on the comic cake. She has proven herself quite hilarious and witty in the Family's many awkward situations.
  • AGAINST HER: Like her co-star Julie Bowen above, they are both equally good and voters will more likely choose against them than for them. That and she is up against Jane Lynch.
Kristen Wiig, Saturday Night Live, NBC
  • FOR HER: Like Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Molly Shannon, Jan Hooks and Gilda Radner before her, Wiig's quirky characters have become the highlight of SNL in recent years.
  • AGAINST HER: SNL has only recently been considered contenders for Acting awards (both Amy Poehler and Kristen Wiig were nominated last year). It may take a few more years before cast members find themselves winners in major categories like this one. That and she's up against Jane Lynch.
I'd have to be crazy to not predict that Jane Lynch would walk away with the award come Sunday night. Unless there is some massive anti-Glee movement amongst Emmy voters (meaning one of the Modern Family ladies would benefit), Lynch WILL win this award. Sue Sylvester wouldn't have it any other way.

Next Post: PART II - The Leading Acting Awards

Monday, August 23, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: Just the List!

Just for the people who want to see a list version of my favorite movies of all-time. While I wish a lot of these movies could be #1, I ultimately had to rank these films by my personal taste and favor.

So here is the list of my 100 favorite movies, or as I like to call them:
The 100 Best Movies!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #1

1. My Fair Lady (1964)

For my #1 spot, I have chosen what I believe is the perfect musical. It has the best musical score in Broadway history. It has the best script and the best characters perfectly established by George Bernard Shaw in his fantastic comedy Pygmalion. I have loved this musical ever since I first saw the movie (and heard the original Broadway soundtrack) very long ago. I knew every song (and every scene) by heart and would try to see any production I could (which explains why I dragged my parents to a skimpy college production when we were vacationing in North Dakota). The musical tells the story of phoenetics Professor Henry Higgins as he trains flower seller Eliza Doolittle to speak beautifully. The film version, directed by the great George Cukor and featuring a phenomenal cast (two of which were from the Broadway production), is a perfect edition of the stage musical I have loved since childhood. The musical has been special to me for as long as I can remember and is extremely deserving of the number 1 spot on both my movies list and my musicals list.

Film producer Gabriel Pascal, who produced the 1938 film version of Shaw's Pygmalion starring Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller, devoted the last two years of his life to getting a stage musical made of Shaw's classic. With the help of friend Herman Levin, he got the Brigadoon composer-lyricist team of Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner to adapt Shaw's work (after uncsuccessfully trying to convince Rodgers and Hammerstein and then Cole Porter). Librettist Lerner decided to use Shaw's original script rather then rework it because he felt that his words lent themselves perfectly to musical storytelling. The show opened in March of 1956 at the Mark Hellinger Theatre (which is now the Times Square Church) starring Rex Harrison as Professor Henry Higgins, Stanley Holloway as Alfred P. Doolittle and (in her second Broadway show) Julie Andrews in the role of Eliza Doolittle. The musical was a critical and box-office success running for over 8 years and 2,000 performances. Harrison, Andrews and Holloway repeated their performances in the hailed London production in 1958 (in which the first performance was attended by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip).

The film rights were purchased by Jack Warner. Warner's casting choice has been a controversy amongst Broadway fans for the past 40 years. While he had Rex Harrison and Stanley Holloway reprise their roles, he chose not to ask Julie Andrews repeat her Broadway triumph because he wanted his Eliza to be an actress with star power. He instead chose Academy Award-winning actress Audrey Hepburn to play the role. Hepburn was a gorgeous choice (acting-wise) to play Eliza. She exudes her undeniable beauty even in flower seller mode. When she's singing, even though it is dubbed by the beautifully voiced Marni Nixon, Hepburn looks like she is actually belting it out! Harrison (in his Oscar-winning performance) is a charmingly codgerish Higgins. His grumpy moods fill the role perfectly the way Shaw created him. Holloway leads an amazing supporting cast in addition to his British Music Hall-style performance. Wilfred Hyde-White, Jeremy Brett, Gladys Cooper and Theodore Bikel are among the great character actors that fill this sumptuous musical. The film won several Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director for George Cukor and Best Actor for Rex Harrison. Julie Andrews, ironically, was not to be forgotten as she won that year's Best Actress for #11: Mary Poppins. Yet, My Fair Lady is the single greatest movie-musical that I will enjoy for the rest of my life!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #2

2. West Side Story (1961)

The combination of musical jazz dancing, beautiful symphonic-style score and the dramatic tension of a William Shakespeare tragedy make for this landmark cinematic masterpiece. I think what I love the most about this musical (and the movie) is the legendary creatives behind this wonderful work of art. Leonard Bernstein was a brilliant composer and his musical scores (and symphonic suites) showed that. Just listening to the opening chords of this musical get my heart pumping. Arthur Laurents is an amazing writer and librettist, plus Ernest Lehman (one of the most underrated screenwriters of all-time) beutifully adapted Laurents' stage script. Stephen Sondheim, at the beginning of his career, wrote some of his best lyrics to accompany Bernstein's music. And was there ever a better director-choreographer than Jerome Robbins? His glavanic, latin-flavored dances make this musical legend what it is. His work is so indelibly marked on this show that every revival and every production worldwide uses his original steps in some way. All of these people (plus the film mastery of co-director Robert Wise) are among the many, many, many reasons I adore this movie-musical.

When Jerome Robbins' friend, actor Montgomery Clift, was rehearsing for a stage production of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet in 1947, Robbins began thinking of the idea of the story being set amongst the (then) modern world of New York City. Together with Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Laurents, Robbins began fleshing out the characters and how the story would play out. Robbins and Laurents decided to use the street gang wars occurring at the time in New York's West Side, where a large amount of young Puerto Rican and other Latino immigrants had begun to settle. Laurents was able to tap young composer Stephen Sondheim (with some prodding from Sondheim's mentor Oscar Hammerstein II) to write the lyrics for the show. All four men convinced legendary producer Harold Prince and his business partner Robert E. Griffith to produce the show on Broadway. The musical opened at the Winter Garden Theatre in September of 1957 and featured Larry Kert and Carol Lawrence as the star-crossed lovers (and also featured Chita Rivera in a scene-stealing supporting performance). The show received mixed reviews because of its dramatic subject matter, but obtained more respect as the show toured the United States (and had a successful London production).

The Mirisch Brothers, for United Artists studio, purchased the rights to the film and knew that they should have Jerome Robbins' input. They decided to have the more established film director Robert Wise and Robbins share the directorship. While Wise and Robbins' directing style were extremely different (so different that the Mirisch Brothers fired Robbins halfway through filming), the film adaptation rendered is a very masterful edition of the Broadway show. With slight changes in structure (thanks to Ernest Lehman with assistance from Sondheim and Laurents), the story of the Caucasian Jets versus the Puerto Rican Sharks is still as tense as it was on stage. The lovers, Puerto Rican girl Maria and former Jet member Tony (played by Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer, respectively) are still as romantic and passionate. Wood especially gives an emotionally beautiful performance (even though her singing is dubbed by the fabulous Hollywood ghost-dubber Marni Nixon). Beymer is wide-eyed and lovingly naive as Tony, as he needs to be (Beymer's singing, too, is dubbed by singer Jimmy Bryant). And, of course, the supporting performances of the ensemble cast are energetic, powerful and perfect especially Russ Tamblyn as Jet leader Riff, George Chakiris as Sharks leader (and Maria's brother) Bernardo and the phenomenal Rita Moreno as Bernardo's girl, Anita. The movie was a huge box-office hit (as was its soundtrack) and the critics adored it. The film went on to win 10 Academy Awards (the most for ANY movie-musical) including Best Picture, Best Director (for both Wise and Robbins, the first co-director team to win) and Supporting Oscars for both George Chakiris and Rita Moreno. It is a tremendous musical that has made several great films list from the American Film Institute to Entertainment Weekly to even my own (and that's the only one that counts!).

Next Post: #1

Friday, August 20, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #3

3. Schindler's List (1993)

Is there anything I can say about this movie that people don't already know? Steven Spielberg's masterful Holocaust drama is widely considered to be the single greatest film of (at least) the last 30 years. Now, there are two questions people might ask when they see this film appear on a list such as this (a list of favorite films of all-time) and I would like to address both of them. Number 1: Why is this dark and (at times) disturbing film on a list of favorites? Yes, the subject matter of this movie is not the happiest of stories. It certainly does seem out of place alongside the lighthearted Disney movies and snappy musicals that dominate the rest of this list. But despite that, it really IS one the greatest pieces of cinema in my lifetime and therefore certainly belongs on anyone's list. Number 2: If it is so great, why is it only #3 and not #1? I will definitely admit that were this just a list of the greatest films of all-time (not including personal biases and such), this movie would most assuredly take the top spot. But, seeing as how this is my personal list, there is one genre that just tops anything in my mind: musicals (for those who know me, this is not a surprise). The two movies that rank higher than this one are the best of that genre, so Spielberg's brilliant picture has to settle for the Best Drama Film on the list (not a bad title to hold in and of itself).

The main point of any piece of Holocaust literature, media or documentation is one major rule: "Never to Forget." That was the key for Poldek Pfefferberg, a Holocaust survivor because of the efforts of one man, Oskar Schindler. Schindler, a Nazi party member through the monetary success of his metal factory, was able to save over 1,200 Jews from execution by the Nazis in the concentration camps within Poland and Germany. Pfefferberg devoted the rest of his life in America to bringing Schindler's story to cinematic life. After years of disappointment, Pfefferberg met author Thomas Keneally who, fascinated by the Schindler story, turned it into a successful (and award-winning) biographical novel in 1982. With the novel bringing the story to the foreground, Pfefferberg was able to gain interest from Steven Spielberg. Spielberg, who was unsure of his directorial prowess in the mid-1980's (for some reason!), tried for a couple years to get another director to film the novel (his talks with Roman Polanski, Sydney Pollack and Martin Scorcese were each unsuccessful). In the early 1990's, Spielberg (finally willing to take the project on) agreed to first direct #89: Jurassic Park for Universal Pictures if they would produce this daunting piece. Pfefferberg's dream was finally being realized (and there was more to come!).

As stated above, what can I say about this amazing film? Spielberg's direction is so iconic and filled with so many unforegettable moments and images (just look at the trailer above!). The cinematography (by photography master Janusz Kaminski) is a chilling black and white (with few hints of color) and there is the hauntingly gorgeous score by John Williams (complete with violin solos by the legendary Itzhak Perlman). The cast is absolutely first rate. Liam Neeson plays Oskar Schindler with such dramatic power and charm. He goes from amoral Nazi businessman to caring Holocaust hero over the course of the film with such emotional resonance (just watch his final scene when he says goodbye to his workers!). Ben Kingsley is a highlight as Itzhak Stern, the Jewish accountant who assists Schindler in his crusade ("The list is life."). And the phenomenal performance of Ralph Fiennes as the cruel and monstrous Amon Göth, the Nazi commandant of the concentration camp where Schindler's workers are forced to live, is so frightening and fitting for the feeling of the picture. The movie is a powerful piece of American cinema that (of course!) won 7 Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director, finally gaining award recognition for Spielberg whose usual "popcorn fare" had been dismissed by prestigious awards in the past.

Next Post: #2

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #4

4. Beauty and the Beast (1991)

This is the best Disney animated feature film and the first of them to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, which was a monumental feat for any animation studio (let alone Disney!). The movie has a sophistication not seen in many of Disney's other films. Its animation is crisp and more life-like (even the talking objects have a realistic quality to them!). Its musical score is inspired (and perfectly mimics) the classic Broadway musical archetype. Its story, one of the hardest fairy tales to retain on film, is fleshed out with more interesting plot points and well-developed characters. It also came at a time for the studio when the House of the Mouse needed their new musical formula (brilliantly explored in 1989's hit The Little Mermaid) to be cemented with both critics and box-office receipts. It even inspired the Disney studio to tackle Broadway when they adapted the film into a stage musical in 1994 that ran in New York for over 10 years and is still touring to packed houses.

Based on the Madame de Beaumont fairy tale written in the 18th century, its an iconic story about a beautiful young woman who forms a relationship with a hideous monster. The tale has been told and re-told in many ways ranging from nursery rhymes to gothic novels (like The Phantom of the Opera). The original story is made up over a passage of time with the two main characters sitting down to dinner each night. Therefore, it has become one of the most difficult tales to capture on film. Before 1991, the most successful movie version of the original tale was Jean Cocteau's 1946 French film (still today considered one of the greatest foreign films of all-time). Cocteau's version is filled with stylistic images that are definitive of French films of the time. To match those visuals, who better than the Disney animation studios? The animators, energized from the success of The Little Mermaid, worked tirelessly to get the two lead characters to have distinctive and stylistically different looks.

In the meantime, producer Don Hahn tapped writer Linda Woolverton to work with composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman (both of whom had worked on Mermaid) on the movie's script. Ashman's influence is heavily noticeable especially in the structure of the songs which, like many Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, move the story and characters along rather than distract from the action. In voice casting, they picked from some of Broadway's (and TV's) brightest luminaries. Stage actress Paige O'Hara and former child star Robby Benson were chosen to voice the titular characters. O'Hara's beautiful voice and Benson's dramatic style work quite well for the characters as they grow closer over the course of the film. In the roles of the household objects, stage and TV veterans Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers and the brilliant Angela Lansbury voice the candelabra, the clock and the teapot, respectively. The songs, by Menken and Ashman (the latter passed away just as the film was released), are delightful and perfectly fit the Disney narrative (like the opener "Belle," the show-stopper "Be Our Guest" and the gorgeous title tune). The film is an amazing masterpiece that defines the Disney "Musical Renaissance" and became a well-deserved pioneer in the animation world by garnering critical praise and award recognition.

Next Post: #3

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #5

5. Amadeus (1984)

This one is yet another surprise to make the list (and probably more surprising as to its high placement), but this film was one of the first movies I remember seeing that just wowed me. I saw it first on video after it had won the praise of all the critics and its 8 Academy Awards (including Best Picture, Director, Actor and Adapted Screenplay). I thought before seeing it, like most kids would have, that it was just a boring drama that old people liked. What I found when I watched it (with my parents) was a majestic, sumptuous and gorgeous masterpiece that was filled with some of the most amazing music I have ever heard and some of the most memorable images I have ever seen. And as I have grown older, my appreciation for this film has grown with me. First of all, it is based on a fascinating play by Peter Schaffer (which he cleverly reworked for the screen). And second of all, it has a fantastic ensemble cast and they are an ENSEMBLE. There are no major stars in the cast that the great director Milos Forman assembled. Most of the roles are played by character actors pulled directly from the New York stage.

Peter Schaffer, who was the toast of the West End and Broadway after his groundbreaking and controversial play Equus, conceived of a drama about the antipathy that existed between two classical composers, who were contemporaries: one enormously famous and the other, not so much. Schaffer took dramatic license in depicting the relationship between his two main characters, so much so that he was criticized by some music purists. Nevertheless, the play opened in London and was a great success, prompting a Broadway transfer. The Broadway production (which featured Sir Ian McKellen, Tim Curry and Jane Seymour) was a critical and audience hit running for over 3 years and winning 7 Tony Awards (including Best Play and Best Actor for Ian McKellen). Producer Saul Zaentz, who had won an Oscar producing the film version of another play (#55: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), purchased the rights to Schaffer's play and felt that only Milos Forman (director of his previous Oscar-winner) could do justice to the work. Forman and Schaffer worked very hard at adapting the play for the screen (reworking several scenes) and spent several months on casting in New York.

The movie (like the play) focuses on composer Antonio Salieri's jealousy and resentment of his contemporary, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Mozart is everything Salieri is not. Salieri is refined and gentlemanly with a modest talent, while Mozart is vulgar, rude and a pure genius when it comes to music. Unlike the play, the film ups the ante in the relationship between Salieri and Mozart. It stresses a stronger respect and friendship between the two, yet contains a severe "dose" of backbiting and mystery. While the filming was to occur mostly in Prague and Vienna, Forman insisted to Schaffer that they cast mostly Americans in the roles (so audiences wouldn't have trouble with accents!). In the roles played onstage by McKellen, Curry and Seymour, they cast unknowns F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce and (as a last minute replacement for the injured Meg Tilly) Elizabeth Berridge, respectively. Each of these actors play their roles prefectly, especially Abraham (in an Oscar-winning performance). In addition to the leads, as mentioned before, the movie features a phenomenal ensemble of New York stage actors including Roy Dotrice (in an amazing performance as Mozart's father), Jeffrey Jones, Christine Ebersole, Cynthia Nixon (years before Sex and the City) and, one of the "lone Britons" in the film, Simon Callow (who had played Mozart in the London stage production of Schaffer's play). Mozart's music is beautifully adapted to serve as underscoring for the movie and gives an emotional power to the fabulous images (the gorgeous sets and costumes) within the film. It is a thrilling piece of cinema that was a well-deserved winner of several awards worldwide.

Next Post: #4

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #6

6. E. T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

One of my earliest childhood memories is getting in the car with Mom, Dad and my brother and heading to our town's local drive-in (which was later torn down and turned into a strip mall with a 25 screen movie theater, but I digress!). Steven Spielberg's phenomenal alien drama was the first film I remember seeing at that drive-in. I basically grew up with this movie, so it will always hold a special place in my heart. So many of the iconic moments that define this film are a large part of my childhood: the alien dressed for Halloween, the glowing finger, the flying bicycle and, of course, the phrase "Phone Home!" (which I repeated endlessly after seeing the movie, probably driving my family crazy!). I think its also the movie that made me fall in love with a candy known as Reese's Pieces (who doesn't like a little product placement?). But Spielberg's masterpiece is more than just moments and memories. It is a turning point in the director's amazing career that put him on a path to more dramatic fare that would define him professionally just as much as the blockbusters he perfected.

The concept for the movie came from a potential sequel to Spielberg's 1977 hit Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The plot of that abandoned sequel was darker and dealt with more hostile aliens, but a subplot about a young boy's relationship with an alien fascinated the filmmaker. While working on his 1981 film #49: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Spielberg began work on the concept and story with screenwriter Melissa Mathison (who was on-set visting the film's star Harrison Ford, her then-husband). The most important feeling the director wanted to get across in the movie was the childlike innocence of both the lead characters: the boy Elliot and the stranded alien. Originally to be produced by Columbia Pictures (who let it go to put their money behind 1984's Starman instead), the large budget, spent mostly on the creation of the titular alien and his species, was taken up by Universal Pictures. The film was a massive success at the box-office, receiving a standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival (where it was an unofficial entry) and receiving great praise from critics.

The story is of a young boy, named Elliot (played by Henry Thomas), who doesn't quite fit in with other kids. He finds a stranded alien, whom he nicknames E.T., and decides to hide him from others, except his siblings: older brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton) and younger sister Gertie (five-year-old Drew Barrymore near the beginning of her "storied" career). The relationship between Elliot and E.T. is a touching and heartwarming force that becomes jeopardized when the adults begin to find out about the alien's presence. In addition to the charm of the children's roles, there are supporting character performances from the adults in the film like Dee Wallace as the children's mother and Peter Coyote as the government agent determined to find E.T. at all costs. And, of course, what Spielberg film would be complete without John Williams and his hauntingly beautiful score? The theme from the movie has been conisdered one of the greatest and most memorable of all-time. The film brought Spielberg great audience acclaim as well as award recognition winning the Golden Globe Award for Best Picture (Drama) and receiving 9 Academy Award nominations including Best Picture. It is a masterful science-fiction drama that I will remember forever as a special part of my childhood. Spielberg also notes it as the film that pushed him towards more emotionally powerful and resonant dramas, some of which have been mentioned previously on this list (and one more soon to be discussed!).

Next Post: #5

Monday, August 16, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #7

7. Star Wars (1977)

Oh, to listen to the opening strains of John Williams' phenomenal and majestic score for the iconic space fantasy franchise just gets my heart racing! George Lucas' pet project was an absolute favorite in my house growing up, but not from me. Don't get me wrong, I love the characters and the worlds that Lucas and his cohorts created, but this movie franchise was an obsession of my older brother's. If musicals were my enjoyment, then the Star Wars series was his (and still is!). He insisted on knowing everything Star Wars and, as we all know, he was not the only one. The series has a mega-following of fans (to the NTH DEGREE!) who will dress up as characters, who will write fan fiction or will even stalk Lucas' Skywalker Ranch in Northern California to get a peek at the fantasy genius. It certainly has been a presence in my life (as ominous as Darth Vader's breath!) since almost every vacation growing up, my brother and I would watch the entire original trilogy (this film along with The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi) in one day. But it is this fantastic movie that started all the adventure and excitement for millions of fans worldwide.

While Lucas was still a film student at the University of Southern California in the late 1960's, he conceived of a film about archetypal characters in a space age battle for power. After making the critically acclaimed American Graffiti in 1973, he began work on the project that would define the rest of his career. For his story, he was inspired by the Akira Kurosawa films he fell in love with and studied in film school. The look, the motivation and even the very philosophy of most of the characters can be compared to the likes of Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai and Rashomon. 20th Century Fox took the gamble to help finance Lucas' cinema journey (and, boy did the gamble pay off!). After months of casting and screen tests, Lucas and team (which included producer Gary Kurtz and the newly minted visual effects company of Industrial, Light and Magic) began the long film process. The special effects process itself pushed the release of the film back five months. The film opened in May of 1977 and was the biggest summer blockbuster of the time (DUH!). It was the first fantasy-style film to even garner award recognition. It received several Academy Award nominations including Best Picture (a big feat for a fantasy film since #11: Mary Poppins in 1964 and #10: The Wizard of Oz in 1939).

I don't think there is a person in this world who doesn't know this story. But just in case, wide-eyed hero Luke Skywalker (played by Mark Hammill) joins a rebellion against the Intergalactic Empire to destroy their destructive space station, the Death Star. The story takes place "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away" and is filled with memorable (and marketable, as far as 20th Century Fox is concerned) characters. The cast is amazing including Carrie Fisher (with her cinnamon bun-style hairdo) as tough damsel-in-distress Princess Leia, Harrison Ford as the dashing and slick bounty hunter Han Solo (my brother's absolute favorite character) and the brilliant Sir Alec Guinness in an Oscar-nominated performance as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jedi mentor to the young Skywalker. I should not forget the charming robots, C-3PO and R2-D2, as well as Chewbacca the Wookie (Solo's co-pilot). And then there is the imposing figure of the great villain Darth Vader with his dark black cape, intimidating helmet and the deep booming voice of James Earl Jones (need I say more?). Its visual and sound effects are thrilling for audiences and innovative (for its time). As mentioned before, John Williams' amazing score fills the movie with grandeur, beauty and excitement. While there have been sequels (two really good ones, I might add!), prequels (which are decent enough) and mid-quels, it is this first film that can stand on its own as a masterpiece of American cinema. This one is for you, my brother!

Next Post: #6

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #8

8. Braveheart (1995)

Once upon a time in a magical land known as Hollywood, there lived a handsome "prince" by the name of Mel Gibson. All the ladies desired him, while all the boys wished to be him. He was even honored with Hollywood's own golden statuettes (both foreign and domestic). Since that time, he has fallen into a downward spiral that has affected his professional career, his personal life and his public reputation. He has floated between adequate performances in somewhat decent films (like Ransom and The Patriot) to courting controversy (with The Passion of the Christ) to just plain flopping altogether (with Apocalypto). His image began to be scorned because of his high-and-mighty conservative religious zealousness, bouts with public drunkenness and multiple angry rants of a racist and anti-semitic nature to the wrong people: the authorities and his girlfriend. But despite all of this, we must remember that there was a time period where Mel Gibson was good. And this brilliant Oscar-winning motion picture was the top of Mount Everest in the story of his success. So, no matter what despicable and borderline dangerous things the man has done recently, it will never change my opinion of his 1995 masterpiece.

This historical epic is based on the true story of the Medieval Scottish hero known as William Wallace, who led Scottish rebellions against the English King Edward I (known as Edward "Longshanks," because of his height). Edward I (the grandson of King John, of Robin Hood fame) wielded strong and often violent power over his neighbors to the north. Several battles ensued including famous (or infamous) ones like Stirling Bridge, Teba and Falkirk. Wallace's legend was cemented in the epic poem by Blind Harry, a 15th century minstrel. The poem served as most of the basis for the Mel Gibson's film. In the early 1990's, Mel Gibson had been intrigued by the figure of William Wallace and pursued the chance to produce, direct and star in a film about the legendary hero. He first went to Warner Brothers, but they wanted him to commit to a fourth Lethal Weapon movie before committing to produce Gibson's project which Gibson refused (although ironically he did a fourth Lethal Weapon movie in 1998). Eventually, Paramount Pictures agreed to a deal with 20th Century Fox to co-distribute the movie and share the high production costs.

Filmed in both Scotland and Ireland, Gibson was inspired by the big historical epics of the late 1950's and early 1960's like Ben-Hur and Spartacus. Gibson's film shares that same sweeping style and those same grandiose qualities. His performance as Wallace is stirring and even heartbreaking at times especially in the scene where he watches his wife being executed and the famous "Never take our freedom" speech. In addition to Gibson, the film features an amazing supporting cast beginning with the late great Patrick McGoohan as King Edward I. He had such a great presence in the role and gave the monarch a complexity beyond normal antagonism. Also in the cast are Brendan Gleeson as Wallace's compatriot and friend, Sophie Marceau as Princess Isabella (the French princess married to King Edward's son, future King Edward II, by arrangement) and Brian Cox as Wallace's father figure and mentor. The film has masterful qualities (especially in John Toll's picturesque cinematography and James Horner's phenomenal score) and its screenplay has great heart and pathos. The screenplay is by screenwriter (and later director) Randall Wallace (it is unknown as to whether he is a descendant of William Wallace). It is a dynamic and poignant film that won Oscars for Gibson (as producer and director) before he fell from grace. Here's to hoping the man gets his life in order again and returns to the types of movies (like this one) that once made him beloved.

Next Post: #7

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #9

9. Fiddler On the Roof (1971)

This is a landmark Broadway musical that opened on Broadway at a time when the American musical was in transition from the traditional Rodgers and Hammerstein style book musicals to the darker and more non-linear plot structured musicals that featured new styles of music (ranging from Stephen Sondheim to Rock and Roll). Coincidentally, this film version of the phenomenal stage hit came at a time when American cinema was becoming more groundbreaking and lighthearted movie-musicals were beginning to look old-fashioned. The days of the MGM musicals and the great musicals of early 1960's were now a thing of the past with few fantastic exceptions. This movie is among the greatest of those exceptions. I remember when my parents showed me this film at a young age and just loving every minute of it (especially the musical numbers like "Matchmaker, Matchmaker" and "Sunrise, Sunset"). It also gave me my first taste of old world Jewish culture (like it did for many others who saw the musical or the film). It has a sweeping sophistication and a gorgeous style that is fitting to the narrative.

Sholem Aleicheim's stories about the dairyman and his family (5 daughters!) in the Ukrainian Jewish village of Anatevka at the beginning of the century have become literary classics in both Europe and the United States. When the composer-lyricist team of Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick along with librettist Joseph Stein brought the idea of turning the stories into a musical to legendary producer Harold Prince, Prince stated there was only one director who could bring these tales to a musical life: director-choreographer Jerome Robbins. Robbins threw himself into the making of the musical (and worked his cast and crew notoriously hard). Not only did he oversee every scene, song and dance number within the show, but he was integral to the creation of three key moments within the musical (the opening number, the colorful "Dream" sequence and the dances at the wedding). The show opened at the Imperial Theatre in September of 1964 starring Zero Mostel in the role of Tevye, the dairyman. It was a great success, with both audiences and critics, winning several Tony Awards (including Best Musical, Best Actor for Mostel, Best Director and Best Choreographer both for Robbins). The musical's original production ran for 8 years with over 3,000 performances come closing night. With such great success on Broadway, it was inevitable a film version was soon to follow.

United Artists in association with the Mirisch Brothers (who had produced the film version of Robbins' landmark musical West Side Story, but more on that later!) purchased the film rights to the musical and tapped the up-and-coming Canadian director Norman Jewison to direct the movie. Jewison had begun his career working as a production assistant and eventual director on television variety shows before he hit it big with critically acclaimed films like The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming and In the Heat of the Night (the latter won the Best Picture Oscar in 1967). After a long casting process, Jewison (who both produced and directed the film) and Joseph Stein (who adapted his Broadway libretto into the screenplay) chose Israeli actor Topol to play the role of Tevye (Topol had played Tevye in the London production of the show directed and choreographed by Robbins in 1966). Topol, with his imposing physique, was a very strong Tevye with a booming voice and charming comic style. He delivers the iconic "If I Were a Rich Man" song with a giant's power. The supporting cast are all fantastic especially Norma Crane as Tevye's wife, Molly Picon as the matchmaker and Leonard Frey as the tailor who marries Tevye's eldest daughter. Robbins' masterful choreography is perfectly recreated for the film (the legendary "Bottle Dance" in the wedding scene and the Russian dances during the song "To Life" are delightful musical highlights). It is a powerful movie-musical that was a special part of my life and is enjoyed by several people the world over (including almost my entire family!).

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Friday, August 13, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #10

10. The Wizard of Oz (1939)

It is probably the most beloved family film of all-time. I cannot think of anyone I know (or know of) that has NOT seen this movie. It is one of those movies that, when mentioned, brings people back to their childhood. It delights, enchants, frightens and warms the heart of even the toughest of critics. I remember it as being one of my first film obsessions, and I mean, obsession. I wanted to know everything about this film and everything about everyone involved with the making of this film. Anything that has those two magical letters of "OZ" on it, I wanted to see it, hear about it or own it. It is such a powerful film that anytime anyone thinks of L. Frank Baum's timeless characters, they automatically think of the way they were portrayed in this classic masterpiece. And this is not the ONLY piece of Baum's OZ world. Baum wrote multiple sequels (one of which, the darker Return to Oz, was turned into a film in 1985) and there have been several versions of Baum's original (ranging from graphic novels to animated film editions to the 1975 musical The Wiz). It even has spawned a very successful prequel (ever hear of a little musical called Wicked, people?). But it is this 1939 gem that people will never forget.

In the late 1930's, inspired by the growing strength of the Walt Disney Studio, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer wanted to produce more movies that appealed to family audiences. Having retained the rights to L. Frank Baum's 1900 novel earlier, Louis B. Mayer entrusted the production to several writers and directors to make a musical extravaganza (directorship credit went to Victor Fleming, but other directors like George Cukor and King Vidor had made crucial contributions to the filming). In the casting process (which was long and drawn out, due to several studio politics and some production mishaps), producer Mervyn LeRoy gave the all-important role of Dorothy Gale to Judy Garland, at the time a young up-and-comer in her MGM contract. Garland, with her booming grown-up style voice, was the perfect Dorothy. She had an innocence necessary but physical power that was just right for the musical numbers (she was trained in the vaudeville houses along with her sisters as part of "The Gumm Sisters). Her amazing performance (especially of the ultimate "I Want" song "Over the Rainbow") is at the very center of this film and a major part of why it is so beloved.

Everyone knows this story. Dorothy, a Kansas farm girl, is transported to the magical land of OZ. To get home, she must go and see the titular Wizard. Along the way, she meets characters who join her in her quest to the Emerald City. They even help her defeat the Wicked Witch who is after her. It is a powerful story about finding your way and realizing that home is as much a part of you (and always will be!). In addition to Garland, the film features an array of great character actors from that era. Ray Bolger is a clownish gem in the role of the Scarecrow and Jack Haley charms as the Tin Man. My personal favorite character is the Cowardly Lion as played by the marvelous comedian Bert Lahr. There is also Frank Morgan as the Wizard and Billie Burke as Glinda the Good, both of whom are quite excellent. And who could forget the indomitable Margaret Hamilton as the green-faced Wicked Witch of the West (quite possibly the greatest villain of all-time!). With great songs (like "Over the Rainbow" and "We're Off to See the Wizard!), it is a phenomenal MGM musical that lead the studio to an entire slew of movies in that genre. No one will ever forget this film!

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