Saturday, January 28, 2012

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS: 2012 Oscar Nominations - First Response

This past Tuesday morning, the 2012 Oscar nominations were announced.  And I thought I would just share with you some of my initial reactions.  There were things I was proud of and things I liked, but there were also things I really didn't care for or enjoy.  Then there were the things that made my jaw hit the floor (and there were more than I thought there would be!).  So let me give you a rundown of my first thoughts when I saw this year's Oscar nominations.

After years of brilliant work (often playing villains!), Gary Oldman finally has an Oscar nomination under his belt for his critically lauded, steely performance in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. And with love for the film at the BAFTAs, Oldman could quite possibly be a potential spoiler for frontrunner George Clooney.

Tony-winner Viola Davis and character actress Octavia Spencer got nods for their dynamic performances in the audience favorite The Help.  They are both favorites in their respective categories, so we could possibly have two African-American women winning the Actress and Supporting Actress Oscars this year.

This year's Supporting Actor race is filled with veterans (save for Jonah Hill, see below!).  Kenneth Branagh, who has channeled Laurence Olivier several times before My Week With Marilyn, is nominated for the first time since his nod for Henry V in 1988.  Nick Nolte is enjoying his third Oscar nomination (his first in Supporting!).  Christopher Plummer, one of the film business' best character actors, is the category's clear frontrunner.  And Max Von Sydow is nominated for not even saying a word (he plays a mute in Stephen Daldry's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close).

As much as veterans are always welcome (see Meryl Streep!), its nice to see a few newcomers in the mix, especially: Rooney Mara (for her astonishing work in David Fincher's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), Emmy-winner Melissa McCarthy (getting recognized for her scene-stealing performance in Bridesmaids) and The Artist co-stars Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo.

Moneyball was one of my favorite films of the year (not just because I'm from the Bay Area!).  I was very pleased to see it in the Best Picture category as well as nods for Brad Pitt's brilliant performance and the clever screenplay by Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian (two of my favorite screenwriters these days!).

Two of the best films of the year got shut out of the Best Picture category: David Fincher's stylish The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and the powerful finale to the Harry Potter film franchise (more on that below!).

Noteworthy films like The Help and War Horse did get Best Picture nods (and a few other nominations in various categories), but got ignored in ones they really deserved (i.e. Screenplay or Directing!).

When you have to cut it off at 5, several actors with worthy performances got ignored this year.  Among the names that come to mind are: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tilda Swinton, Kirsten Dunst, Michael Fassbender, Ryan Gosling, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Joseph-Gordon Levitt, Emma Stone, Marion Cotillard and Alan Rickman. I'm sure there are more, but I don't want to be here all day!

Only 9 Best Picture nominees, really?!? They couldn't find one more film they liked well enough to make it an even 10 (especially when films like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Bridesmaids, The Ides of March, Drive, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II got ignored!)?

Only 2 Best Song nominees?!?! The Academy's Music Department also revamped their voting system and this is their result!?! I'm definitely rooting for the Muppet song (written by Flight of the Conchords' Brett McKenzie), but come on people!!!

While I'm not disputing the five directors who made it into the Best Director category, where is David Fincher? Or Steven Spielberg? Or Bennett Miller? They expanded Best Picture, but Best Director can't get a few more names?

Steven Spielberg can't even get into the Animated category! His The Adventures of Tin-Tin, which won both the Golden Globe and the Producers' Guild Award for Best Animated Feature got shut out of the Oscar's Animated category.

Speaking of the Animated category, both Tin-Tin and Rio garnered nods from the Music Department (Tin-Tin for John Williams' score and Rio for its big musical production number) but neither could get in the Animated biggie.

The most successful movie franchise ended its run this year with a box office bang, but the Academy cannot take the time to recognize the cultural influence the Harry Potter series has had in the last decade.

With The Artist being the definite favorite in the Best Picture race, it may become the first silent Best Picture winner since Wings in 1927 (the very first Best Picture winner!).  This is just more of a surprising thought rather than a "WTF" thought.

Another surprising thought: Michelle Williams has an Oscar nomination for playing the iconic Marilyn Monroe, someone who never got an Oscar nomination herself (be it for Bus Stop or Some Like It Hot or The Seven Year Itch).

One more surprising thought: Meryl Streep has now garnered 17 nominations in 33 years. That almost works out to a nomination every 2 years!

And finally...
Jonah Hill, star of Superbad and Get Him to the Greek, is now an Academy Award Nominee. 'Nuff said.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

10 FAVORITES (51) - Bromantic Movies

There's nothing quite like it.  The closeness, the communication, the care for each other, all of which describe elements of the ever-popular Bromance.  What is a Bromance?  A Bromance is a friendship between two men who are not related by blood.  Though most fictional Bromances have certain homo-erotic undertones (especially some of the more recent examples), the relationship is most frequently not sexual (so Brokeback Mountain doesn't count folks!).  There have been many really good examples of Bromances in film, on television and in literature.  Most of the best ones have come from film.  But what exactly are the best ones from film?  That is what this week's 10 FAVORITES is all about.


Bud Abbott & Lou Costello
from The Abbott & Costello Movies
No one can forget their classic "Who's on First?" routine (below).  They are the ultimate in a classic Vaudeville Comedy Duo.  The reason they are eked out of the Top 10 is because their influence in film is equally as strong as their influence in television.

Jay & Silent Bob (Jason Mewes & Kevin Smith)
from Clerks, Clerks 2, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma and Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back
They have been close since their very beginnings.  They even refer to each other as "hetero life mates" (though Jay really does all the talking!).  They were originally meant to be incidental characters in Kevin Smith's indie hit Clerks, but the response to them was so popular that Smith brought them back for his other films (and then created a film centered around them!).

Sherlock Holmes & Dr. John Watson (Robert Downey Jr. & Jude Law)
from Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's brilliantly written characters of Sherlock and Watson have been played on film and television by several people (most notably by Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce on film in the 1940s and by Jeremy Brett and Nigel Hardwicke on television in the 1980s).  But in Guy Ritchie's stylish adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes characters, the chemistry between Academy Award nominees Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law makes the two films as enjoyable as they are.

Shrek & Donkey (Mike Myers & Eddie Murphy)
from The Shrek Movies
The brilliance of the first Shrek film lies in the characters of Shrek and Donkey and how well they are performed by their voice actors, Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy.  Donkey attaches himself to Shrek, much to Shrek's chagrin, and their relationship is the driving force of the adventure (and, more importantly, the humor!) of the animated great.

Max Bialystock & Leo Bloom (Zero Mostel & Gene Wilder)
from The Producers
Timid accountant Leo Bloom is taken under the wing of the brash, over-the-top Broadway producer Max Bialystock.  With that, Mel Brooks' Oscar-winning musical-comedy romp has gone down in history as one of the funniest films of all-time.  The chemistry between Tony-winner Zero Mostel and then-newcomer Gene Wilder made the film soar with comedic delight.

Woody & Buzz Lightyear (Tom Hanks & Tim Allen)
from The Toy Story Movies
Since I mentioned Shrek, I cannot go without mentioning the animated friendship that has certainly inspired the last decade.  After three films (and a charming and catchy tune by Randy Newman!), the lovable Sheriff and Space Ranger have certainly proved to children (and adults!) that friendship can overcome anything.

Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy
from The Laurel & Hardy Movies
When it comes to classic Comedy Duos, these are among the first names that come to mind.  The stout Oliver Hardy and the slim and dim-witted Stan Laurel were a perfect team.  They made every film they were in a laugh riot for audiences.

Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid (Paul Newman & Robert Redford)
from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
When Brokeback Mountain was first released, many people joked that it was "the new Butch & Sundance!"  Well, the joke obviously comes from somewhere.  George Roy Hill's hilarious and touching 1969 film about the famed western duo has always been a favorite of many film buffs.  Mostly due to the chemistry between Robert Redford and the late Paul Newman, both good actors separately but together bring the film to a whole new level.  The two reunited about 4 years later (with director George Roy Hill!) on the Oscar-winning Depression Era classic The Sting.

Bob Hope & Bing Crosby
from The Road to... Movies
Like Laurel & Hardy, Hope & Crosby are another team that gets named with the best Comedy Duos.  And because their chemistry was primarily in films (save for a few TV variety specials in the 1960s and 1970s!), their influence in movies is that much stronger.  Their Road to... Movies are the perfect examples of the best "roadtrip" movies in film history.

Joe & Jerry/Josephine & Daphne (Tony Curtis & Jack Lemmon)
from Some Like  It Hot
I've talked about my love for this movie.  Nothing unites a friendship more than being on the run and hiding from the mob (we see it later in films like the hilarious Nuns on the Run and the less-hilarious Connie and Carla).  While Marilyn Monroe may have been this film's biggest box office draw, the drive of this film is the chemistry between Tony Curtis and the brilliant Jack Lemmon.  Though Lemmon had chemistry with everyone.  His work with Walter Matthau (in films like Neil Simon's delightful The Odd Couple or the beloved Grumpy Old Men) has been hailed and was almost worthy of this list!

Martin Riggs & Roger Murtaugh (Mel Gibson & Danny Glover)
from The Lethal Weapon Movies
When it comes to movie Bromances, nothing holds a candle to Riggs and Murtaugh.  Let's face it, these movies have come to define a whole generation (and a whole genre!).  The "buddy cop" genre would be nowhere without characters like Martin Riggs, renegade cop whose wife's death brought him very close to suicide; or Roger Murtaugh, the by-the-book cop who is so close to retirement is always "getting too old for this sh--!"  Together, Mel Gibson and Danny Glover showed us that two different guys could partner up and get the job done.  They are the ultimate movie Bromance!

On another note: Congratulations to this year's Oscar nominees!  Within the month, I shall post my predictions for the major awards.

Friday, January 13, 2012

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS: Oscar Season 2012

Pictured: Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids; Rooney Mara and Yorick van Wageningen in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo; George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller and Nick Krause in The Descendants; Daniel Radcliffe and Ralph Fiennes in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II

With the Golden Globe Awards this Sunday, the Oscar Season is pretty much in full swing.  And pundits all over Hollywood are scrambling to predict which 5-10 films will be nominated for the top prize at this year's Academy Awards.  Yes, notice I said "5-10 films."  That is because this year the Motion Picture Academy is shaking things up a bit from previous years.  Two years ago, they expanded the Best Picture category from 5 nominees to 10.  But because last year's 10 films seemed (at least to the Academy) to be predicted by every Hollywood pundit from Hawaii to Maine, they felt that they would change the way the voting is done on the nominees for Best Picture.  It is very complicated to explain (and there are breakdowns on the new system all over the web!) but basically: the eligible films will go through several rounds of voting until a handful of films receive a certain percentage of votes.  The Academy has stated there will be a total of no less than 5 nominees and no more than 10 nominees (meaning there could be 7 or 8 nominees for Best Picture).  Because of this new system and this unpredictable possibility of slots, critics are expanding their "Short Lists" of what could be nominated this year.  In this week's article, I am going to discuss the possible nominees for the top 4 Awards this year (Picture, Actor, Actress & Director).

Let's start with:
There are two major front-runners in this category: the moving George Clooney comedy-drama The Descendants and the critical favored French-made silent film The Artist.  Both films have topped every "Best of" list for 2011 and The Artist just yesterday won the Critics Choice Award for Best Picture (The Descendants has won the top prize from both the American Film Institute and the L.A. Film Critics).  Their slots on the list are almost more than assured.  Three other films have been in every discussion when it comes to Best Picture: the extremely popular comedy-drama The Help, the Brad Pitt lead film about the Oakland Athletics Moneyball and Steven Spielberg's emotional World War I film War Horse.  The Help surprised many by being one of the better box office draws of the end of the Summer and Moneyball is receiving praise left and right in particular for Brad Pitt's dynamic performance and the verbose screenplay by previous Oscar-winners Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List) and Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network).  As for War Horse, the film is being hailed as "Spielberg magic" and is getting positive comparisons to his previous Oscar faves Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List.  But we should not forget the dark horses that this category has seen over the past 2 months: Martin Scorsese's charming fantasy Hugo, David Fincher's dark and stylistic vision of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Woody Allen's artistic and imaginative Midnight In Paris.  All three have made their way in to various pre-Oscar Awards (with Hugo winning the top honors from the National Board of Review and all three esteemed directors knocking even Steven Spielberg out of contention with the Director's Guild Awards).  And when it comes to dark horses, both Terrence Malick's stream of consciousness film The Tree of Life and Stephen Daldry's 9/11-related drama Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close both won the earliest of the pre-Oscar prizes (with Tree of Life winning at the Cannes Film Festival and Extremely Loud winning praise from the Broadcast Critics Association).  Though their respective Oscar buzz has faltered, they still are not out of the running.  And let's not forget the bigger box office hits.  Recent years, people have noted that the bigger box office winners get ignored come Oscar time.  That changed when the third Lord of the Rings movie won in 2004.  Now, films like the hit comedy Bridesmaids and 2011's ultimate box office champ Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II have stronger chances than they would have had say ten years ago.  Lower on most lists are some other critical favorites like the George Clooney-directed political drama The Ides of March, the stylish adaptation of John le Carre's novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Clint Eastwood's biopic of controversial FBI director J. Edgar Hoover simply titled J. Edgar.  Ultimately, if 10 films are indeed to be nominated, the Best Picture nominees will look something like this:

  • The ArtistThe DescendantsThe HelpMoneyballWar HorseHugoThe Girl With the Dragon TattooMidnight In ParisBridesmaids and The Tree of Life
  • With these possible spoilers (replacing any of the ones after Hugo!): Extremely Loud and Incredibly CloseHarry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part IIThe Ides of MarchJ. Edgar and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Spoilers can happen people!  Remember when The Blind Side was nominated two years ago?  Nobody saw that one coming!

Speaking of The Blind Side, let's move on to:
Like Best Picture, this category has two very clear and very strong front-runners.  Viola Davis wowed critics and audiences alike with her moving performance in The Help (and her recent win at last night's Critics Choice Awards doesn't hurt either!).  Her biggest competitor is her Doubt co-star and quite possibly the greatest actress of the last 30 years, Ms. Meryl Streep.  This year, Streep conquered the polarizing role of Great Britain's former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady and critics everywhere are saying this is the performance to win Streep a potential third Oscar (she has been nominated 16 times over 32 years, winning twice back in 1980 and 1983!).  The third lady to mention with this category is Michelle Williams.  The late Heath Ledger's former wife has certainly been on the Oscar radar with her performances in films like Brokeback Mountain and 2010's critical favorite Blue Valentine.  This year, her performance in backstage showbiz flick My Week With Marilyn (in which Williams tackles the role of Marilyn Monroe!) is gaining universal praise and she is assured a win this Sunday at the Golden Globes for Best Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy.  Some have even stated that should voters split between the choice of Viola Davis and Meryl Streep, that Williams would be the potential victor.  And let us not forget Glenn Close.  The multiple Tony and Emmy-winner has not been nominated for an Oscar since 1989 (Dangerous Liaisons, her fifth nomination by then!), but her performance in the indie film Albert Nobbs has generated buzz and nominations from both the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild.  The fifth slot would most likely go to Oscar-winner Tilda Swinton (who won a few years back for her icy performance in Michael Clayton).  Swinton has left critics awestruck with her performance as the mother of a child who is a possible sociopath in We Need to Talk About Kevin.  But since its the Oscars, there's always a chance of a surprise nominee.  Three other actresses on the Awards radar are Oscar-winner Charlize Theron for her role in Diablo Cody's darkly sardonic Young Adult, Kirsten Dunst won at both the Cannes Film Festival and National Society of Film Critics for Lars Von Trier's metaphorical Melancholia and Rooney Mara garnered a Golden Globe nod for her performance in David Fincher's stylish remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  Here is what Best Actress most likely will look like:

  • Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs; Viola Davis, The Help; Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady; Tilda Swinton, We Need To Talk About Kevin; Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn
  • With Charlize Theron, Kirsten Dunst or Rooney Mara as potential surprises (likely knocking out Ms. Close or Ms. Swinton).

With the ladies out of the way, let's go to:
With The Descendants and The Artist being the front-runners in the Best Picture category, their respective male leads (George Clooney and Jean Dujardin) certainly have made their way to the top of the list of Best Actor candidates.  Both actors are poised to win Golden Globes on Sunday night: Clooney for Best Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama and Dujardin for Best Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy.  And don't forget the praise that Brad Pitt has received for his dynamic portrayal of Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane in Moneyball.  And when it comes to playing real-life figures, Leonardo DiCaprio earned praise and Oscar buzz for his performance as J. Edgar Hoover in Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar.  With four slots taken now, that last slot becomes extremely competitive.  The likeliest candidate (and my personal favorite!) is Gary Oldman.  Oscar loves to bestow praise on veteran actors who have been around for years and never fully got recognition.  In Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy, Oldman has received some of the best reviews of his long career and when his name was NOT among the nominees for both the Golden Globes or the Screen Actors' Guild Awards, the cry of "Foul!" was loud enough to be heard around the world.  Oscar voters may want to rectify the mistake that the HFPA and the SAG have made.  But Oldman's major competitors for that final spot are two actors who have had a wealth of good film performances this year.  Ryan Gosling made three critically notable films this year (The Ides of March, Drive and Crazy, Stupid Love) and he could be nominated for any one of them.  Inglorious Basterds co-star Michael Fassbender also made multiple films this year (he was Magneto in the prequel X-Men: First Class and starred in three independent films Jane Eyre, A Dangerous Method and the controversial Shame).  While he got a Golden Globe nod for Shame, his performance in the other two independent flicks have not gone unnoticed.  The one problem with multiple film entries for an actor or actress come Oscar time is that if each film earns the actor praise, voters might split between which film the actor should receive a nod for that year.  The final competitor who could likely steal the final nod is Owen Wilson.  In Woody Allen's well-received Midnight In Paris, Wilson charmed audiences and critics alike well enough to garner a Golden Globe nomination and is considered to have at least a quarter of a chance against the power of the praise poured onto Jean Dujardin's performance in The Artist.  With all that said, this is what I think Best Actor will look like:

  • George Clooney, The Descendants; Leonardo DiCaprio, J. Edgar; Jean Dujardin, The Artist; Gary Oldman, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Brad Pitt, Moneyball
  • With Gosling, Fassbender (for any one of their films!) and Wilson as potential surprises (unfortunately acing out Mr. Oldman from getting his first Oscar nod!).

And last but certainly not least, we move on to:
Most often, Best Director tends to match the Best Picture nominees.  But that changed with the Best Picture category being expanded.  And with this year's unpredictable number of Best Picture nominees, Best Director still is very difficult to match.  Just as their films are front-runners for the top prize, both Alexander Payne (The Descendants) and Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist) are on the top of the Best Director list.  As I said above, Martin Scorsese (Hugo), Woody Allen (Midnight In Paris) and David Fincher (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) joined Payne and Hazanavicius as nominees for the Directors' Guild Award.  And George Clooney (for his political drama The Ides of March) joined all those names (sans Fincher) as the nominees for this Sunday's Golden Globes Best Director prize.  As a fan of his for most of my life, I never ever underestimate the Academy's love for Steven Spielberg and his War Horse could definitely garner him his sixth Oscar nod for Best Director.  While both Moneyball and The Help have received tons of critical praise, their respective directors (Bennett Miller and Tate Taylor) have been mostly afterthoughts when it comes to discussing this category.  And finally both Stephen Daldry and Terrence Malick tend to get notice come Oscar time whenever they make films, but their respective movies (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and The Tree of Life) have faltered on their road to the Oscar nominations.  Best Director will most likely look something like this:

  • Woody Allen, Midnight In Paris; David Fincher, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo; Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist; Alexander Payne, The Descendants; Martin Scorsese, Hugo; Steven Spielberg, War Horse
  • I realize I have listed 6 names here, but I just cannot count out Spielberg's chances just yet!  He is for sure the top potential "surprise."
  • The other potential surprises could be either Mr. Daldry, Mr. Malick or Mr. Clooney.

I'm not going to discuss the potential Supporting nominees or the potential Writing nominees, since those categories will most likely match the Golden Globe nominees or those respective Guild Awards (both Actors and Writers!).  Once the nominees have been announced (on Tuesday, January 24th), I will begin work on researching my predictions.  Who will win the top prizes this year?  We shall see!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

10 FAVORITES (50) - Hollywood's Golden Age

It is now almost 2 years ago when I began this blog with a list of my 100 Favorite Movies of All-Time.  One of the things I noticed on the list was the number of movies from certain eras and decades.  Naturally, as a member of what was once known as "Generation X," a majority of the films came from the 1970s, the 1980s and the 1990s.  The decades that seemed to be the least prominent on the list were the 1930s and the 1940s, two decades that together have been called "Hollywood's Golden Age."  Together, there were a total of 10 films from both decades on the list.  So, technically, the "Top 10 of the Golden Age" were: 

But over the last few months (in large part, thanks to my father!), I have been watching several Hollywood classics from those decades (Bless you, Turner Classic Movies!).  And I started thinking about what movies from that era do I love.  Which films from that Golden Age just missed making my Top 100?  So, for the 50th  edition of 10 FAVORITES, I decided that this week would be devoted to: 

THE 1930s & 1940s

Meet Me In St. Louis (1944)
Since the #1 movie of the '30s and '40s is the film that sky-rocketed Judy Garland to Hollywood stardom, then it seems only fitting that one of the other movies from that era to make such a list would be the one that introduced her to the director who used her best in her career (and her husband!): Vincente Minnelli.  In Meet Me In St. Louis, Garland sings two of her (other) most iconic songs: the poignant Christmas ballad "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"  (of which I have already spoken about on this blog!) and the jaunty "Trolley Song" in which she sings the legendary line "Clang Clang Clang! Went the Trolley!"  This film became one of three films that are considered "definitive" Judy Garland (the other two being The Wizard of Oz and 1954's A Star Is Born).

Rebecca (1940)
Long before Alfred Hitchcock was making masterpieces like Psycho or North By Northwest or Rear Window, he began his career as a title designer and art director in the Silent Era.  And his flair for the picturesque is never more obvious than in his 1940 Oscar-winning adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's gothic novel Rebecca.  It was his first American project and it starred Joan Fontaine as a young woman who marries a dashing widower, Maxim de Winter (played by the always brilliant Laurence Olivier).  But de Winter has one flaw as a husband, the lingering memory of his first wife (the titular character) dominates everything within his large and gloomy household.  The mystery surrounding Rebecca's death becomes the focal point of Fontaine's character and Hitchcock's mastery of the psychological thriller entices the audience even more.

Ball of Fire (1941)
When it comes to the slang and the jargon of the era, no film uses it more perfectly than the 1941 classic Romantic Comedy Ball of Fire.  Gary Cooper is well cast as the smart and stiff ring leader of a band of professors compiling an encyclopedia about the entire world up to that date.  When he realizes that his article on slang is incomplete, he sets out to find out everything he can about the subject.  Enter the amazing Barbara Stanwyck as Sugarpuss O'Shea, a night club singer who Cooper asks to teach him about slang.  As a mobster's girlfriend on the run from the law, she uses this opportunity to take residence in the professors' home and shakes everything up.  It is a hilarious and well-acted twist on the Snow White tale, especially with the delightful character actors who fill the parts of the other professors (just look up S. Z. Sakall or Henry Travers or Richard Haydn to get an idea of the track record of these actors!).

Modern Times (1936)
A couple people pointed out to me that my 100 Favorite Movies list neglected to recognize the genius of Charlie Chaplin.  To be honest, I have never been a great fan of his films but I do respect his artistry (especially in his classics like The Gold Rush or City Lights).  But, for me, it is his 1936 semi-silent satire of industrialism and trying to make it in tough economic climates (something we all know too well these days!).  Chaplin's iconic Tramp character is charming, endearing and hilarious with his knack for physical comedy.  The scene in the factory alone makes the movie a pure classic!

42nd Street (1933)
It is considered the ultimate backstage movie musical.  It contains the classic line "You're going out a youngster, but you've got to come back a star!"  It features some of the most notable of Busby Berkeley's filmed dance sequences.  It is also the film that introduced us to the likes of Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell and Ginger Rogers, three of the biggest names in Hollywood's finest musicals.  It is a love letter to Broadway from Hollywood (which Broadway has since utilized fully well!).

It Happened One Night (1934)
Before Frank Capra moved us with emotional powerhouses like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington or It's a Wonderful Life, he created one of the most enduring Romantic Comedies in film history.  The movie follows the now-standard narrative of "Opposites Attract" as beautiful heiress Claudette Colbert, running away from her domineering father, falls for brash and married-to-the-job journalist Clark Gable.  The film further joined the pantheon of legendary classics when on Oscar night 1935 it became the first film to win the top 5 major awards of the evening: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Screenplay (for Robert Riskin's wry and witty adaptation of Samuel Hopkins Adams' magazine story).  Only two other films have since been able to match that record (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in 1976 and The Silence of the Lambs in 1992).

Stagecoach (1939)
Another criticism I received from my 100 list was for my lack of appreciation of Westerns.  It's true, I have never been a fan of the genre (most Westerns I tend to gravitate towards are more non-traditional with unconventional elements).  But if I had to pick which "traditional" Western would be considered my favorite, I would have to say that John Ford's 1939 Stagecoach is definitely a top contender.  The film is filled with great character actors in some of their best performances (like Claire Trevor as a prostitute with a good heart, John Carradine as a Southern gambler and Thomas Mitchell as a kind-hearted but alcoholic doctor - a role which won him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor).  The film also features John Wayne in a breakout role as the Ringo Kid, a fugitive out to avenge the killing of his father and brother.  But the true highlight of the film for me is Ford's camerawork that has influenced countless of other films.

His Girl Friday (1941)
If I had to pick a favorite actor from Hollywood's Golden Era, Cary Grant would be the first one to come to my mind (with Jimmy Stewart not too far behind, but I already discussed The Philadelphia Story!).  Grant was the ultimate in some of the two decades most enduring Romantic Comedies.  In His Girl Friday (which was an adaptation of the 1931 film The Front Page), Grant plays Walter Burns, a nose-to-the-grindstone newspaper editor who is stumbling on the story that will make his paper the best in the business.  As the movie begins, he is losing the one person he trusts more than anyone else, his ex-wife and star reporter Hildy Johnson (played to perfection by the dynamic Rosiland Russell).  She is leaving the newspaper business to get married and live in the suburbs, a life Walter knows deep in his heart that Hildy doesn't want.  The chemistry between Grant and Russell is pitch perfect.  Every word they speak to each other (in their mile-a-minute dialogues) is filled with wit and verve.

Pinocchio (1940)
As Walt Disney's second full-length Animated feature, Pinocchio set the standard for the emotional pull that most Disney films have mastered over the years.  It perfectly combines music ("When You Wish Upon a Star," "I've Got No Strings" or "Hi Diddle Dee Dee") with poignant storytelling and characters that range from the comical ("catty" conman Gideon!) to the downright scary (Monstro!).  It also featured a lead character who, as a child-like character that certainly had flaws, was learning lessons right along with the target Disney audience members: children.

Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
When it comes to showbiz biographical films, Hollywood tends to sanitize the facts so much that the final story doesn't even come close to matching what really happened (look at the biographies of Florenz Ziegfeld, Cole Porter or George Gershwin for examples).  But the 1942 film about Broadway legend George M. Cohan is different from most of the other Hollywood biopics.  While the darker parts of Cohan's life are subject to the usual Hollywood sanitation cycle, the film does stick pretty close to the chronological happenings in Cohan's life and captures the nationwide sensation that the master showman was.  It really helps that the man cast as George M. Cohan really shines in a dazzling performance.  James Cagney, who before was known for his work in 1930s gangster films (Grapefruit anyone?), truly surprised everyone with his musical talents and he struck a chord with audiences with his moving portrayal of the iconic man who "Gave His Regards to Broadway."

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

10 FAVORITES (49): Highly Anticipated in 2012

It is now 2012 and with all the things from 2011 behind us, I thought we should go over some of the things that audiences are looking forward to this year in TV and Film.  So this week's 10 FAVORITES covers 10 things (4 from TV and 6 from Film) that our culture has deemed "highly anticipated."

THE 10 
OF 2012

Oprah's Next Chapter
Premiered: January 1, 2012
This first one already premiered on New Year's Day and the reaction, so far, has been somewhat mixed.  It seems audiences are thrilled to have their favorite TV personality back in interview mode, but the format (for many) seems all too similar to her in-studio format (just without the studio!).  But only the first episode has aired, so we shall see where Ms. Winfrey's "Next Chapter" takes her this year.

Premieres: January 16, 2012
J.J. Abrams' new prison-themed mystery series certainly has the LOST factor going into it (it even features LOST co-star Jorge Garcia!).  Both critics and audiences are looking forward to what could very well be the next LOST.

Premieres: January 29, 2012
When it comes to edgy and acclaimed dramas, HBO seems to have the monopoly on them (see Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones, etc.).  This new series has the added pedigree of an Oscar-winning legend in the lead role: Dustin Hoffman.

Premieres: February 5, 2012
Everyone wants to have the kind of success Glee enjoyed (at least in its first season!).  While NBC's new musical-drama is more based in the creation of a musical (rather than a high school setting!), the comparisons to FOX's musical-dramedy are inevitable.

The Hunger Games
Premieres: March 23, 2012
Suzanne Collins' successful novel series is making its way to the big screen.  After several casting sessions and meetings of studio bigwigs, Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone, X-Men: First Class) garnered the lead role of Katniss in this highly anticipated apocalyptic fantasy.

The Avengers
Premieres: May 4, 2012
Marvel Comics has set the stage with their successful film adaptations of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America.  Now, the stars of those films have come together (except with Mark Ruffalo replacing Edward Norton as The Hulk) in the Marvel film comic book nerds have been drooling for since the first Iron Man film was released.

The Amazing Spider-Man
Premieres: July 3, 2012
Speaking of Marvel Comics, reboots are very much in style now (Thank you, Christopher Nolan! But more on that in a bit!).  Marvel's most popular superhero and his story have been re-imagined once again this time with The Social Network's Andrew Garfield donning the Spidey suit and The Help's Emma Stone as his main squeeze Gwen Stacy (no, not Mary Jane!).

The Dark Knight Rises
Premieres: July 20, 2012
And since I mentioned Christopher Nolan, I thought it only fair we talk about his offering this Summer 2012.  Nolan brings back his darker and more cerebral vision of Batman (as played by newly minted Oscar-winner Christian Bale!) in the third (and presumably final) installment of his Dark Knight Trilogy.  While Michael Caine (Alfred), Gary Oldman (Commissioner Gordon) and Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox) return, Bale's Batman faces Tom Hardy as the very primal Bane and Hollywood darling Anne Hathaway as the sexy and sultry Catwoman.  Also Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard (who, along with Hardy, worked with Nolan in the 2010 hit Inception) join in on the action as characters whose motives are not entirely clear, but it will be fun finding out come July 2012!

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Premieres: December 14, 2012
After months and even years of creative squabbles and changing directors, Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Lord of the Rings prequel story The Hobbit is coming to theaters.  Jackson, in his creative fervor, has chosen to split the book up into two movies (probably heavily inspired by what Harry Potter and Twilight have done recently!) with the first one approaching this December.  For all of us LOTR fans, this has been years in the making ever since Return of the King back in 2003!

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part II
Premieres: November 16, 2012
And last (and, in my opinion, least!), Part II of the final story in Stefenie Meyer's widely popular vampire romance shall be released around Thanksgiving this year.  I can't really say a lot about this "saga" as I have spent my pop culture days avoiding this...I'll be nice: little story.

There you have it!  Some of the most highly anticipated TV and Film projects of the coming year.  Please, feel free to comment and talk about anything you think I might have missed.  Let's see if there's more to look forward to in this great year.  Go 2012!!!