Thursday, September 29, 2011

I've been waiting for this...

I’ve been wet with anticipation for something, anything, to give me a glimpse at the big screen adaptation of my favorite novel of the moment, ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’.  Honestly, the novel was superb in every single way and when I first heard that it was being adapted by Daldry I was ecstatic.  I know that many have reservations about the director (especially since he’s been nominated for every film he’s made) but I personally consider him a great talent.  ‘Billy Elliot’ is one of my favorite films of all time, and the way that he was able to work with the environment as well as the actors was a dream.  It is that film that really inspired much faith in him when contemplating his role in bringing Jonathan Safran Foer’s masterpiece to life.  We’re talking about a very young boy with a very big mind and the need to portray that with some grit and depth and honesty.  Judging from his work with a young Jamie Bell, I was convinced that Daldry could do this book complete justice.

I just saw that trailer.

Maybe I’m totally bias and the fact that I adore the novel so much* is clouding my thoughts, or maybe it was the fact that the U2 song blasting throughout the trailer gave it such a clichéd and generic vibe, but I was wholly underwhelmed and I actually find myself a tad agitated.  I really wanted this film to be amazing, and maybe it will be and the trailer is just a really bad indicator, but I’m starting to get really worried.  It doesn’t help that I find both Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock to be odd fits for this film and so their inclusion and apparent prominence seems unsettling.  I also can’t stand that Horn kids voice, and his narration seems irritating and his line delivery (hard thing to completely judge from a trailer) seemed forced and unnatural, which was a serious concern I had when I heard that they cast that kid from the Jeopardy game show and not an actual actor.

This is such a BIG and IMPORTANT role…you give it to a professional!

The trailer just seemed too polished and too childish.  It seemed like a kid’s movie to me.  That isn’t what the source material should have produced.  Sure, this is a film about a kid, but the themes presented are very mature and I wanted to feel that in this trailer.  Instead it felt like it layered on the schmaltz with handpicked scenes of youthful wonderment and strategic emotional outbursts to get us sucked into what looked like a Lifetime movie with a big budget.

It felt somewhat cheap.

I hope to god that I’m wrong.  I hope that this trailer is absolutely no indication of the actual film itself.  That already happened to me once this year (the trailer for ‘Contagion’ looked almost comical, but the film was borderline genius) and so maybe this could be the case here as well.  While I am in the minority who detested ‘The Hours’, I consider ‘Billy Elliot’ a masterpiece and even think that ‘The Reader’ is ‘almost there’.  Daldry is very talented, and this should have been slam dunk (I’ve been predicting Oscar nominations in nearly every category for this) for him. 

I will say this; Oscar loves schmaltz and so maybe this will continue to be a big Oscar ticket for Daldry.  The trailer did have a Ron Howard feel to it, but then again, Ron Howard only struck Oscar gold ONCE with schmaltz (‘Frost/Nixon’ is anything but schmaltz) so I could easily see this tip either way.  The subject has Oscar written all over it, and the timing is impeccable (there’s a big, devastating anniversary to be remembered by this film) so the ball is still up in the air and its eventual landing is undetermined.

I’ll still have it on my prediction ballot (whenever I get around to posting it here) but it won’t be as high.

Things are looking much, much brighter for David Fincher!

*honestly, I’m not joking when I say that ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’ is my favorite novel at the moment.  Since I’ve read it about two years ago I have yet to read another novel that comes close to the emotional impact it left within me.  Here is the review I wrote for the novel, which I posted on Amazon.

“If you gave Chuck Palahniuk the writing talent of Michael Chabon and had him rewrite J.D. Salinger’s ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ using his uniquely strange character development and giving it a poignantly modern facelift, you may come out with a novel as brilliant as ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’; maybe.  I know that this is a heavy amount of praise to tag onto one particular book, especially a book that was written this past decade (not like the ‘classic’ status has been earned yet), but when you consider the fact that up until this point the greatest book I’d ever read was ‘The Road’ (and I don’t think even purist are going to argue that Cormac McCarthy’s modern masterpiece is undeserving of the endless heaps of praise it garners), it shouldn’t be too surprising.

I mean, it shouldn’t matter WHEN a book was written, just how well it was written, and this book is written flawlessly!

The concept behind ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’ is an endearing one.  The story revolves around a nine-year-old boy who lost his father in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  His life is thrust upside down, and he begins to slowly unravel.  Bad enough that his father died, but Oskar Schell carries with him a dark and disturbing secret about that day, a secret he has shared with no one but continually reminds himself of.  It is eating him alive (and when it is revealed it will eat you alive as well).  Oskar is a bright young boy, and a highly imaginative one (not to mention an oddly mature one, like a male Dakota Fanning) and this serves as the focal point of Foer’s narrative.  When Oskar finds a blue vase at the tip top shelf of his father’s closet that contains an envelope baring a strange key and the word ‘Black’ written in red ink, he becomes intrigued.  He thinks of the games he and his father used to play and he decides to discover what this key belongs to, hoping that it will bring him closer to his father. 

Written in a very engaging way, using photographs and letters and flashbacks to illuminate more than just Oskar’s present but his past and eventual future as well, ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’ is a true treasure in written form.  I have never been so engulfed in a particular novel (I plowed through this in 2 days, and it only took me that long because I needed to work).  In fact, I’m aching to read it a second time.

Far from just a gimmicky novel, Foer’s masterpiece really understands Oskar.  This is a hard feat beings that Oskar is so young and conveying the identity of a child not yet out of the single digits can be quite the undertaking.  If you mature him too much be feels fake but if you make him too childish you will take out the dramatics needed to really embellish the story.  Foer remarkably finds a great balance, giving Oskar a maturity beyond his years but underlining its origin (he’s suffered so much and has been forced to mature quickly) and being careful to litter his character with enough childish actions to establish his age. 

Using 9/11 as a backdrop was risky, but it pays off for Foer.  Instead of making this a novel ABOUT 9/11, he merely underscores the travesty of Oskar’s predicament by plating it alongside a memorable disaster in human history.  He thus relates Oskar to us before we even get to know him fully.  The novel though, is not about terrorism or about that fateful day at all, but it is about the bond between a father and son that is unbreakable and the lengths one will go to in order to keep that bond alive.  It also beautifully highlights the paternal love and naïve understanding that helps create the family dynamic.  The ruptured affections that dwell within Oskar and his mother are heartbreakingly real, and Oskar’s childish assumptions about his mother’s own feelings are very real and only make his development all the more understandable.

In the end, I strongly recommend this fantastic novel.  It is controversial, sure, but it is also richly rewarding!”

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Michael VS. Michael: the search for DiCaprio's 'runner-up' continues...

I’ve been thinking over my predictions quite extensively the past few days, and a certain dilemma keeps rearing its ugly (well, somewhat attractive actually) head.  The lead actor category is seemingly pretty well sewn up.  You’ve got four actors who are all but guaranteed a nomination.  Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Jean DuJardin are all going to lose to Leonardo DiCaprio come next year’s Oscar ceremony.  Here’s the thing; I can’t put my finger on that fifth spot.  I really want to say it’ll be Ryan Gosling, considering the fact that he’s had a great year, he’s a great actor and he was disgustingly snubbed last year; but his buzz is fading faster than I’d like it to.  I still think he’ll land on quite a few ballots, and his Globe nomination (and possible BFCA) is almost certain; but in the end I think that one of two people is going to snag that fifth spot from under him.

And no, I’m not thinking Gary Oldman any longer.

Michael Fassbender and Michael Shannon both received RAVES for their performances this year; Fassbender in the sexually explicit ‘Shame’ and Shannon for that supernatural thriller ‘Take Shelter’.  They both are starring in vehicles that won’t garner much Oscar attention outside of acting and possible screenplay, but they are sure to cause a stir come critic’s awards. 

Fassbender has the momentum at the moment.  He just won a big price in Venice and his career has been on such an upswing lately.  He’s soaking it all in, delivering one great performance after another, and like Gosling, he’s had a tremendous year (four films, all of which gave note to his range and talent).  While I initially stated at the beginning of the year that I was most certain about Fassbender and Gosling nominations (Fassbender for ‘A Dangerous Method’ and Gosling for ‘The Ides of March’), I am now not so certain.  ‘Shame’ is an obvious NC-17 film that could play in a favorable or unfavorable light.  We all remember the hoopla surrounding the ‘Blue Valentine’ rating last year, which resulting in a solitary nomination for Michelle Williams.  Sure, the controversy kept her name in the equation, but who’s to say that an initial R-rating wouldn’t have secured Gosling, Screenplay and maybe even Picture nominations.

Shannon would be a returning nominee, who also happened to land a surprise nomination back in ’08.  I’ve had a very ‘Javier Bardem’ vibe about Shannon since early word on his performance came out so strong.  This is the type of performance that your peers rally behind to get nominated.  Remember last year when Bardem wasn’t nominated for anything yet everyone from Julia Roberts to some other random celebrity who had the privilege of working with Bardem was saying that his turn in ‘Biutiful’ was the best thing they had ever seen and then BAM, he was nominated.  I expect a similar scenario with Shannon.

And then, part of me wonders if their supporting ladies may factor into the equation.

Jessica Chastain and Carey Mulligan are certainly going to pick up some awards this year.  Chastain is going to be all over those breakthrough awards, considering that she’s in half the movies released this year (and I already have a hunch that the NBR is hers), and Carey Mulligan has a juicy role that has earned her raves and she’s like the ‘it girl’ of the moment, so expect her to add a few more trophies to her collection. 

With these girls, it’s a bit of a reversed situation. 

Chastain has had one hell of a year, and she’s in quite a few high profile films (‘The Help’, ‘The Tree of Life’) as well as buzzed projects like ‘Coriolanus’ and of course, ‘Take Shelter’.  Her name is all over the place and she’s going to be mentioned quite a few times this year.  Because of her hefty bag of films, she’s also bound to win a few (if not the majority) of Breakthrough awards this year, and sometimes that is enough to solidify a nomination.  Besides, I can’t help but get a ‘Maggie Gyllenhaal in Crazy Heart’ vibe.  Shannon’s buzz may be so strong that Chastain gets roped in at the last minute. 

With Mulligan, I honestly don’t think she’ll need Fassbender to make it in.  She has respect already, thanks to her remarkable turns over the past few years.  She’s proven already that her nomination in ’09 was far from a fluke (she should have won) and she could very well be a big player this year.  A friend of mine noted that she’s going to be the critical darling this year, and I agree.  While Chastain may be racking up ‘Breakthrough’ awards, Mulligan may very well be stealing actual ‘Supporting Actress’ awards out of the hands of Davis and Winslet (whose category confusion could lead to a lack of support) and Redgrave (whose buzz is slowly fading).  Mulligan could actually prove to be a major contender in the end and her nomination may solidify itself halfway through the season.

Chastain may need Shannon for the nomination, but I don’t think Mulligan needs anybody.

In the end I’m torn.  I think one of these couples is going to make it, but I can’t put my finger on which.  Maybe both girls make it in and Shannon steals that final spot, or maybe Davis and Winslet both go lead and Fassbender and Mulligan become crowned this year’s golden couple.

Or maybe Daniel Craig comes out of hiding and commands that final Lead Actor spot!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Project Blogger

If I were a contestant on Project Runway I’d have been ousted a long time ago (like Anya, I can’t sew, but at least she can fake it), but more recently I’ve been feeling like last week’s dearly departed Olivier.  I have major time management issues.  Seriously, here it is the middle of September (no, I take that back…the last week of September) and I’ve only posted five of my August Oscar predictions.  Yeah, I totally suck at this blog thing.  I really need to kick into some kind of a schedule.  I’ve just been so busy, and I have this problem where I waste time doing nothing that feels like something at the moment. 

Me, piddling away at ideas for my blog...

Yeah, that.

Anyways, I’m trying to wrap up my predictions and I’m just going to lump post them this time since spacing them out OBVIOUSLY backfired on me.  I also am trying to finish up my 2004 Fisti Awards so I can post those and move onto 2005.  That, and I promised a friend a copy of my novel, which I’m currently pretending to edit, and it’s been nearly a month since I told her I’d send it to her.  Sorry Viv. 

Oh, and I just watched Meek’s Cutoff last night.  By god that was amazing.  So many words and I’m not sure which order I want to put them at the moment.

I’ll say this:

Surprisingly visual…emotionally compacted…ambiguously conclusive…masterpiece?  Probably.  I’ll have to mull that over a bit more, but next to The Social Network (undisputed masterpiece) and Toy Story 3 (nostalgia binds me), it’s the best film I’ve seen this decade (what there is of it so far).  And am I the only one obsessed with Michelle Williams’ face?  She holds so much power in that stare of hers.  It’s amazing.  Certain actresses have such gifts in their physical attributes.  Cate Blanchett has that voice of hers, and Kristen Scott Thomas has that body (her body language is brilliant).  Michelle Williams has her face.  I couldn’t take my eyes off of her.

Someone give her an Oscar; please.

In the meantime, I’ll be trying to figure out how to kick my own ass into grabbing the reins and creating a real blog here.