Thursday, August 13, 2009

Blake Snyder, 1957 - 2009

My job has kept me too busy lately to keep up with blog writing or blog reading, in part because all these celebrities keep dying on my watch. But I was dismayed, while going through my Google Reader backlogs, to learn that Blake Snyder had passed away suddenly on August 4th.

Snyder is best remembered by moviegoers as the writer for Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot and Blank Check, but remembered even more fondly by the writing community for his screenwriting bible Save the Cat! But don't let the word "screenwriting" fool you - Cat is a brilliant blueprint for any writer, from novelist to playwright to, yes, screenwriter. With great humor and verve, Snyder lays out the basics of shaping a great story in a clear and refreshing way I have yet to see in any other writing how-to book. In fact, I'm generally against writing how-to books, but this one is absolutely essential. His passing touches me more than any of the others in the Summer of Death.

In an eerie coincidence, I purchased the sequel to Save the Cat! on the day he died. I was in Union Square's Barnes and Noble, killing time between an article interview and work, and spotted it on a table full of screenwriting books. I was surprised, I hadn't even realized he'd written a sequel. I picked it up, hoping it would cure me of my nasty writing procrastination streak. Now I'll appreciate it as among the last words of a gifted teacher and storyteller who truly loved movies and wanted to share that passion.

He'll be missed, but at least his words of wisdom will live on in his books and his stellar blog.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Tony Time!

The Tony Awards are tonight, lagging behind the rest of awards season like a runty little brother. Which is appropriate for such a blah Tony season. Granted, I've only seen a few of the shows this year - Hair, Next to Normal, Desire Under the Elms, and a pre-Piven puss-out Speed-the-Plow - but my still-avid theatre friends assure me I didn't miss much.

And what I have seen has been a mixed bag. Hair is my favorite musical, I've seen a frazillion productions of it, and this Broadway revival is among the best. If it doesn't snag Best Musical Revival I'll spit nails. Next to Normal, on the other hand, is only okay. I actually saw it back in 2001 as a condensed workshop performance and loved it, thought it was a great gem of a rock musical. But in its blown up, two and a half hour incarnation on Broadway, it's lost some of that original power in overstuffed power ballads and too much lag time where the story doesn't advance. As for Desire Under the Elms, well, it was shut out from the Tonys with good reason. A terrible clunker of a show.

What of the rest of the awards? Most categories are predictable - Billy Elliot for Best Musical, Hair for Best Revival, God of Carnage for Best Play (with Reasons to Be Pretty as the spoiler). That's less interesting.

It is, however, interesting that Reasons to Be Pretty is playwright Neil LaBute's Broadway debut and 33 Variations is Moisés Kaufman's Broadway debut, considering both have been NYC theatre scene staples for years.

Also interesting, Hallie Foote, one of the nominees for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play for Dividing the Estate, is performing in a play that her father, Horton, wrote, and Horton died in March.

As for the other categories, for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical, David Bologna from Billy Elliot was nominated for the role of Michael, but the kid he shares the role with (due to child labor laws, natch) was not because the producers neglected to lobby to have them nommed together the way the three Billys were, so the Tony committee just went with the opening night cast.

Best Direction of a Play is interesting because Matthew Warchus is competing against himself (he's nominated for God of Carnage and The Norman Conquests). I suspect he'll win for Carnage.

But of course the most compelling awards are the big acting prizes. Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play is stuffed with A-list Hollywood names (Jeff Daniels, James Gandolfini, Geoffrey Rush), an A-list theatre name (Raúl Esparza), and a rising newcomer (Thomas Sadoski) so regardless the outcome that's a category to watch. Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play is similarly stacked with Hope Davis, Jane Fonda, Marcia Gay Harden, Janet McTeer, and Harriet Walter.

But the category I'm most interested in is Leading Actress in a Musical. Alice Ripley is a theatre staple, tremendously talented, and though I found Next to Normal a little uneven her performance is flawless. She deserves the award, no doubt.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Buffy Lives! Maybe.

Like any other television fan, I'm known to get a little cranky when my favorite show gets cancelled too soon. But some shows have healthy runs that come to their natural ending points, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer was one of them. Other shows get dragged on past their prime, to their detriment. See also: Scrubs (now coming back for yet another season on ABC!) and Sex and the City. But now some braintrusts are itching to add Buffy to that list.

THR reports that the producers of the original film - you know, the one that came out in 1992 and bombed because the directing/producing team of Fran and Kaz Kuzui had mangled Joss Whedon's original script and turned it into a campy, schlocky mess - want to bring it back in feature film form. Sans Whedon, or any of the television cast.

Because that makes sense. If I had a turkey of a film that became a surprise television hit, I'd definitely try to re-do it as a film and strip away all the elements that made the TV version a success.

A Brief Update

I usually loathe when blogs take the time to explain absences because, really, who cares if your master's thesis or new baby prevented you from obsessively tracking the results of American Idol or whatnot. But I think that more than that, I hate when blogs go on unexplained hiatuses. So, a brief update. I started a new job in January, one that I love because I get to work with a very kind, very intelligent, and very witty group of people, and I get to do what I love, which is analyzing and writing about pop culture, media, politics, and all that good stuff. The only downside is that my hours are kind of crazy (nights and weekend), which makes it hard to keep up with my extracurricular blogging, especially when I don’t have much time to watch movies and TV and thus have nothing to review.

But I’m trying to get back into the swing of things. After all, summer movie season is almost here, and while I don’t see anything on the horizon that looks as promising as last year’s Iron Man, I’m sure there will be something worth commenting on.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Josh Freese Would Like to Make You An Offer

Josh Freese has a new album coming out. I’d never heard of Josh Freese before tonight, so I can’t say for certain whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, but I can say this – his marketing campaign is worth paying attention to. It’s not unusual for bands to offer pre-release packages of varying prices - $10 gets you a CD, $20 gets you a CD and shirt, $30 gets you a CD, shirt, and lithograph, etc. – for loyal fans. Freese, who Wikipedia (that fount of rigorously fact-checked knowledge!) says “is a permanent member of A Perfect Circle, The Vandals, and Devo, and was the drummer for Nine Inch Nails from late 2005 until late 2008,” is willing to go the extra mile (or five) for his loyal, and loaded, fans, with several intriguing packages. $7 gets you a difital download, $15 gets you a CD/DVD and digital download, and for $50, Josh will call you on the phone and talk for five minutes about whatever you want. It gets weirder from there...

$250: Go on a lunch date with Josh to PF Changs or The Cheesecake Factory (whatever you're into.)

$500: Meet Josh in Venice, CA and go floating together in a Sensory deprivation tank (filmed and posted on youtube) -Dinner at Sizzler (get your $8.99 Steak and "all you can eat" Shrimp on)

$1,000: Josh washes your car OR does your laundry....or you can wash his car. -Have dinner with Josh aboard the "Queen Mary" in Long Beach, CA -Get drunk and cut each other's hair in the parking lot of the Long Beach courthouse (filmed and posted on youtube of course)

$2,500: Get a private drum lesson with Josh or for all you non-drummers have him give you a back and foot massage (couples welcome) -Pick any 1 member of the Vandals or DEVO (subject to availability) to accompany you and Josh to either the Hollywood Wax Museum or the lunch buffet at the "Spearmint Rhino" -Signed DW snare drum. -Take 3 items of your choice out of his closet (first come, first serve) -Change diapers and make bottles with him for an afternoon (after hitting the strip club)

[Ed. note – I’m assuming he has a baby, because otherwise the diaper implications are deeply unsettling.]

$5,000: Josh writes about a song about you and make available on iTunes. -Co-direct a video with him for the song about you and throw it up on the youtubes. -Josh gives you and a friend a private tour of Disneyland -Get drunk together. If you don't drink we can go to my Dads place and hang out under the "Tuba tree" -Stone from Pearl Jam will send you a letter telling you about his favorite song on "Since 1972"

$10,000: Signed DW snare drum from A Perfect Circle's 2003 tour. -Josh gives you a private drum lesson OR his and hers foot/back massage (couples welcome, discreet parking) -Twiggy from Manson's band and Josh take you and a guest to Roscoe's Chicken n' Waffle in Long Beach for dinner. -Josh takes you and guest to "Club 33" (the super-duper exclusive and private restaurant at Disneyland located above the Pirates Of The Caribbean) and then hit a couple rides afterwards (preferably the Tiki Room, Haunted Mansion and The Tower Of Terror) -At the end of the day at Disneyland drive away in Josh's Volvo station wagon. It's all yours....take it. Just drop him off on your way home though please.

$20,000: A signed drum from the 2008 Nine Inch Nails tour. -Maynard James Keenan, Mark from Devo and Josh take you miniature golfing and then drop you off on the side of the freeway (all filmed and posted on youtube) -Josh gives you a tour of Long Beach. See his first apartment, the coffee shop on 2nd St where his buddy paid Dave Grohl $40 to rip up tile just weeks before joining "Nirvana." See the old Vandals rehearsal spot, the liquor store he got busted using a Fake I.D. at when he was 17 (it was Dave from the Vandals old ID). Go check out Snoop Dogg's high- school. For an extra 50 bucks see where Tom and Adrian from No Doubt live.=2 0For another $25 he'll show ya where Eric from NOFX and Brooks from Bad Religion get their hair cut. -Spend the night aboard the Queen Mary and take the "Ghosts And Legends" tour. (separate spooning.) -Josh writes 2 songs about you and it's made available on iTunes and appears on his next record (you can sing back up on em, clap, play the drums, triangle, whatever....) -Drum lesson OR foot and back massage (once again...couples welcome and discreet parking available) -Pick any 3 items out of Josh's closet.

$75,000: Go on tour with Josh for a few days. -Have Josh write, record and release a 5 song EP about you and your life story. -Take home any of his drumsets (only one but you can choose which one.) -Take shrooms and cruise Hollywood in Danny from TOOL's Lamborgini OR play quarters and then hop on the Ouija board for a while. -Josh will join your band for a shows, record, party with groupies, etc.... -If you don't have a band he'll be your personal assistant for a month (4 day work weeks, 10 am to 4 pm) -Take a limo down to Tijuana and he'll show you how it's done (what that means exactly we can't legally get into here) -If you don't live in Southern California (but are a US resident) he'll come to you and be your personal assistant/cabana boy for 2 weeks. -Take a flying trapeze lesson with Josh and Robin from NIN, go back to Robin's place afterwards and his wife will make you raw lasagna.

I don’t know, man...I have always wanted my own personal cabana boy, but $75K is about $74.9K more than I can afford at any given time. Is this the future of self-marketing? Are all artists doomed to become glorified prostitutes in order to finance a creative career in this unfriendly economic climate? Or, in the very least, will we all have to devote at least 70% of our creative energy on figuring out new, wacky ways to promote the stuff we created with the other 30% of our creative energy? I can’t decide if this whole thing is brilliant or insane. I’m leaning towards brilliant, but to be fair I’m a little punchy because it’s 3:30 in the morning and I only got home from work an hour ago, because I’m financing my creative career by working in media, which is at least a clothes-on endeavor.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Five TV Shows That Need An End Date

Hey, remember when Lost first premiered, and it was really, really cool? With the WTF-polar-bear and mysterious monster and “Guys, where are we?” And then it got really confusing and half the characters died and the other half got arrested for DUI and we all kind of got over it? Well eff that, because Lost is back. Sure, it kind of sucks for you if you got into the show because of the specific characters from Season 1, because most of them remain dead and the rest have to share screentime with newer characters of varying quality. But the mysteries are kind of intriguing again, and answers are finally getting doled out at a decent pace. Clearly, setting a specific end date was the best thing that the show has ever done creatively because it has allowed them to focus on a specific story arc and stop, you know, sucking. Which got me thinking, what other shows would benefit from knowing when they’re going to end? Not counting, of course, Two and a Half Men, whose end date should have been somewhere in the same year it premiered.

1. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
This show kind of boxed itself into a corner, because pretty much every episode has to deal with the evil robots gunning for John Connor, and you know John’s gonna be fine because a few years later he’s yelling at some poor schmuck on the set of his next movie. Picking an expiration date will let them work towards tucking all those nasty loose ends into the movie continuity and save us from lame, supposedly nail-biting cliffhangers where we’re supposed to wonder whether this will finally be the episode where the evil robots win. (Hint: it’s not.)

2. How I Met Your Mother
Is she the mother? Wait, no, is she the mother? No, she’s the mother, right? It’s hard to tell whether the writers are teasing us intentionally or stalling for time. Eventually, they’re gonna have to reveal who the mother is, or the title of the show will just be silly. “Kids, let me tell you about the time I impregnated a transient behind a dumpster on Central Park West...” Setting an end date will let everyone breathe easier knowing roughly when the big reveal will come.

3. Gossip Girl
An end date? But we’ve only just met! True, Gossip Girl is only in its second season, and its quality is comparable to its first season – good news if you’re a fan, bad news if you’re not – but it can’t stay like this for long with so much drama and partner-swapping and scheming. They’re about one season away from an incest storyline. It doesn’t help that the kids are in theory going off to college in a season or two. So pick an end date and stick with it, because no one is gonna stick around to watch the adventures of Little J, aka Scrappy-Doo with the crappy ‘do. No one.

4. Heroes
Confession – I stopped watching this show last year. For all I know, they already set an end date, and it was two months ago. But on the off chance they’re still plowing ahead with this dreck, I heartily advise Kring and Co. set a stop date on this sucker and work on making a coherent story that builds into a larger arc, stat. Or, you know, keep hemorrhaging viewers, whatever.

5. Big Love
This would be a preemptive strike, because I feel like this season is the best one the show has had to date. But are you really able to keep track of all the Juniper Creek crazies? There’s a ton of them floating around, most just kind of doing their own thing while Bill builds his harem. This show needs to end with a bang, and that means laying the seeds now for an awesome finale two or three seasons, max, from now. Because, like Gossip Girl, Big Love is one tequila away from an incest storyline, and believe me, the therapy needed after that kind of thing is expensive.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

2009 Oscars Liveblog

8:12 - I think Taraji P. Henson's dress is my favorite so far. Tim Gunn is a much better pre-show host than Ryan Seacrest and Ben Lyons.

8:30 - What's up with the music? Lawrence of Arabia theme in big band-style? Terrible. Oh, Hugh Jackman looks dashing. Here's the opening bit. Oh, no, no recession jokes, please. Oscars = escapism, the ultimate form of in fact. I can worry about the economy again tomorrow.

8:38 - Okay, that was pretty good, actually, Hugh Jackman acting out all the movies. Anne Hathaway was wonderful as well. Hugh to Mickey Rourke: "We're on an 8-second delay, but if you win we're switching to a 20-second delay."

8:45 - Fifteen minutes in and they really haven't given out an award yet? I mean, seriously?

8:47 - Performance by an actress in a supporting role: Penélope Cruz in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” Saw that one coming. Wouldn't have been my choice, I suspect this is more one of those wins actors get because of their general respect in the community as opposed to the specific performance.

8:54 - Oh snap, did Tina Fey and Steve Martin just make a Scientology joke? Ha! Awesome.

8:56 - Original screenplay: “Milk” Saw that one coming, too. Eh. I mean, whatever, I would rather see this award go to a wholly original story rather than a biopic. But I'm digging Justin Lance Black's speech.

9:01 - Adapted screenplay: “Slumdog Millionaire” Oh hell yes. Well deserved. Oh my, Simon Beaufoy just thanked "Dev and Latika"...Latika being the character played by Freida Pinto. Awkward.

9:07 - Best animated feature film of the year: “WALL-E” Also awkward, Jennifer Aniston trying to do the Wall-E voice when announcing. Another well-deserved win. Not unexpected in the least, though.

9:09 - Best animated short film: “La Maison en Petits Cubes” Hey, first surprise of the night! I thought Presto was a lock. Wow, that may be my new favorite Oscar speech ever...halting English capped off with "Domo arigato Mr. Roboto."

9:15 - Sarah Jessica Parker and Daniel Craig presenting together? That's random.

9:17 - Achievement in art direction: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”

9:20 - Achievement in costume design: “The Duchess” Oh, awesome! The costumes for that film were gorgeous, so that makes me happy.

9:23 - Achievement in makeup: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” Aww, he thanked New Orleans.

9:25 - Robert Pattinson and Amanda Seyfried presenting together! Too cute. "2008 in Romance" = most ridiculous montage ever? Seriously.

9:32 - Ha, Joaquin Phoenix joke. Natalie Portman to Ben Stiller-as-Joaquin: "You look like you work at a Hassidic meth lab." Achievement in cinematography: “Slumdog Millionaire”

9:41 - Commercial for "The Soloist" - so looking forward to that film. But it said it's coming out April 24, wasn't it supposed to be in March? Did it get delayed again?

9:45 - "2008 in Comedy" - I think I spoke too soon when I said "2008 in Romance" was the most ridiculous montage ever. What is this shit? Are these bits the "big secret surprises" the Oscar producers were hinting at for this year?

9:47 - Best live action short film: “Spielzeugland (Toyland)”

9:56 - As cute as Amanda Seyfried is all Marlena Deitriched up, I am so over montages both movie and musical. This needed to be a tight minute and a half, not a bloated five minutes. Oh, god, my beloved Baz Luhrmann was responsible for that dreck? Ouch.

10:05 - What a motley crew of presenters. Alan Alda, Cuba Gooding Jr, Christopher Walken, Joel Grey? Man, this just reminds me that Robert Downey Jr. so would have won for best actor had The Soloist not been bumped to '09. Performance by an actor in a supporting role: Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight” Like it was ever gonna go any other way. Well done. Whoah, close ups on Brad Pitt and Adrien Brody with teary eyes during Heath's dad's speech. Wow, RDJ, too. Heath's sister is talking, Angelina's crying. Wow.

10:15 - Bill Maher presenting documentary: "Thank you very much, everyone's crying and now I have to go on." Best documentary feature: “Man on Wire” Oh god that dude just did a coin trick, then balanced his Oscar on his chin.

10:18 - Best documentary short subject: “Smile Pinki”

10:28 - Achievement in visual effects: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” Would have been nice to see Iron Man get some love, but for all of Benjamin Button's flaws, I have to admit the visuals were amazing.

10:29 - Achievement in sound editing: “The Dark Knight” Hm. I think Wall-E still deserved it more.

10:30 - The smaller prizes are almost dispatched of, meaning the night can finally start heating up. Achievement in sound mixing: “Slumdog Millionaire” What, you thought Wanted was gonna get it? Oh wow, I think this guy is gonna have a panic attack right here on stage. Cut to Jennifer Aniston and a very douchey looking John Mayer...what is up with that creepy thin mustache? Ew.

10:35 - Achievement in film editing: “Slumdog Millionaire” What a haul for the underDog so far! Thought Button would get it, happy to be wrong.

10:37 - What in the...are they really playing out to commercial using Aimee Mann's "Momentum"? Random! I mean, awesome, I love that song, it's giving me flashbacks to 2002 when I was way into Aimee Mann, and sure, it's a movie song (from the Magnolia soundtrack), but still...random!

10:42 - Oh, hey, it's the In Memorium segment...wait, Jerry Lewis isn't dead yet? Oh. Nevermind. Wow, I am going to hell for saying this, but Jerry looks terrible. I feel like he and Dick Clark are on this horrible race to the grave. Speaking of unnecessarily morbid observations, over at DHD, Nikki Finke has declared: "The show has been on for 2 hours now. I've officially lost the will to live."

10:54 - Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score): “Slumdog Millionaire”

10:56 - Still weird Springsteen didn't get a nod for Wrestler for best song. Wait, what the shit is this - are they really performing the Wall-E song as a mashup of gospel and Bollywood? What? What in the hell? Oh cripes. What now, they're mashup up Jai Ho and Down to Earth? Oh god this is making my ears bleed. That was a hotass mess.

11:01 - Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song): “Jai Ho” from “Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight), Music by A.R. Rahman, Lyric by Gulzar Gotta admit that song is catchy.

11:07 - I love Freida Pinto's dress. Best foreign language film of the year: “Departures”

11:11 - Queen Latifah singing "I'll Be Seeing You" over the In Memoriam montage is so, so very wrong.

11:19 - Here we go, time for the heavy hardware. Wow, Reese Witherspoon's dress is looks kind of like Kate Winslet's, but ugly.

11:21 - That is some crazy loud applause for all the nominees. Achievement in directing: “Slumdog Millionaire” Hell yeah. Hope this isn't one of those nights where one movie (Slumdog) gets everything but something else (Milk?) gets the big prize, that would make me sad.

11:29 - Performance by an actress in a leading role: Kate Winslet in “The Reader” YES!!!!! YES!!!!!!!! YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

11:35 - What a lovely speech by a lovely actress. Unbelievable. She looked lovely, from her chic coiffed hair to her sparkly bracelet to her unusual and stunning dress.

11:43 - Wait, I love Adrian Brody, but why of all things is he talking about Google? And hey, random, Robert Pattinson and Tina Fey are sitting behind Mickey Rourke. Performance by an actor in a leading role: Sean Penn in “Milk” Holy shit check that out, it's the only real surprise of the night. Eh, I wasn't impressed by his performance, plus I was looking forward to a weirdo Rourke speech. Penn says: "You commie-loving homo sons of guns." "I do know how hard I make it to appreciate me...often."

11:49 - Here we go...

11:51 - It's kind of neat how they're interspersing complimentary older movie clips with the current nominees. it's the first "fancy" "new" think they've tried that actually makes sense.

11:53 - Best motion picture of the year: “Slumdog Millionaire” !!!!!!! Proof of a just god.

So we come to the end. An Oscars with very few surprises, to be sure, but I'll take a predictable Oscars where something like Slumdog sweeps over a surprising Oscars where dreck like Crash wins. Here's hoping next year combines unpredictability with deserving wins. Watchmen, anyone?

Best Films of 2008: My Picks

In a few hours, the Academy will crown their pick for the best film of 2008. And while I agree with some of their nominees (Slumdog Millionaire, Frost/Nixon, The Reader), it seems like most of my favorite films didn’t even make the shortlist. Which isn’t surprising since my taste runs slightly off the main stream. So here are my favorite films of 2008.

#10: The Wrestler
Honestly, I was on the fence with this movie, but the ending is what pushed it into a favorite for me. Had it ended any other way, it would have been an overly sentimental piece of schmaltz. But the end is just perfect.

#9: Rachel Getting Married
Like The Wrestler, this movie to me is like the cinematic equivalent of a short story. Small but powerful.

#8: Repo! The Genetic Opera
There’s something about this I just love, tuneful and anarchic. Go rent the DVD now if you haven’t already seen it.

#7: Australia
This one got drubbed by the critics but I don’t care, it’s sweeping and romantic and lovely.

#6: Funny Games
Another movie that didn’t get the credit it deserved, an unsettling mix of A Clockwork Orange and The Strangers.

#5: Frost/Nixon
Michael Sheen and Frank Langella are wonderful in this. I feel like every wannabe journo should put this DVD next to their copy of All the President’s Men by Woodward and Bernstein.

#4: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
This Romanian film is very savvy in what it shows and what it doesn’t show. The most harrowing parts take place off screen, but that absence makes the horror more sharply felt. This is an important film, worth hunting down on DVD.

#3: Iron Man
The hell with The Dark Knight, this was the best superhero film of the year.

#2: Slumdog Millionaire
Sweet and sharp, a feel-good movie that isn’t afraid to kick you in the teeth a few times before giving you a happy ending.

#1: Cloverfield
This movie is not just my favorite of 2008, it’s one of my Top 5 of all time. Cloverfield doesn’t reinvent any wheels, just takes the wheels and makes them awesome.

Films that just missed my Top 10: The Reader, Blindness, Tropic Thunder, Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay, Charlie Bartlett, Wall-E, The Air I Breathe

And, to spread the love to my favorite movie genre, my Top 10 Horror Movies of 2008 are: Cloverfield, Funny Games, Repo! The Genetic Opera, Diary of the Dead, One Missed Call, Quarantine, Splinter, Mirrors, The Strangers, and The Eye

Okay, enough pre-show festivities. Tune back in at 8:30 for the Oscars liveblog!

2009 Oscar Predictions

Here are my predictions for the 2009 Oscars:

Performance by an actor in a leading role

Richard Jenkins in “The Visitor”
Frank Langella in “Frost/Nixon”
Sean Penn in “Milk”
Brad Pitt in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler”

Should Win: Frank Langella’s turn as Nixon was pitch perfect, sympathetic and intriguing.
Will Win: Mickey Rourke is pretty much a lock….Sean Penn could win in an upset but smart money is on Mickey.

Performance by an actor in a supporting role

Josh Brolin in “Milk”
Robert Downey Jr. in “Tropic Thunder”
Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Doubt”
Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight”
Michael Shannon in “Revolutionary Road”

Should Win: Michael Shannon’s live-wire Revolutionary Road performance was mesmerizing, one of the best on-screen performances I’ve seen in a while.
Will Win: Heath Ledger

Performance by an actress in a leading role

Anne Hathaway in “Rachel Getting Married”
Angelina Jolie in “Changeling”
Melissa Leo in “Frozen River”
Meryl Streep in “Doubt”
Kate Winslet in “The Reader”

Should Win: Kate Winslet. Anne Hathaway’s turn in Rachel was great, but this is Kate’s year.
Will Win: Kate Winslet

Performance by an actress in a supporting role

Amy Adams in “Doubt”
Penélope Cruz in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”
Viola Davis in “Doubt”
Taraji P. Henson in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
Marisa Tomei in “The Wrestler”

Should Win: Viola Davis
Will Win: This is tough...I see this going to either Marisa or Penélope. I think I’ll go with Penélope Cruz.

Best animated feature film of the year

“Kung Fu Panda”

Should Win: WALL-E
Will Win: WALL-E

Achievement in art direction

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
“The Dark Knight”
“The Duchess”
“Revolutionary Road”

Should Win: Revolutionary Road
Will Win: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Achievement in cinematography

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
“The Dark Knight”
“The Reader”
“Slumdog Millionaire”

Should Win: Slumdog Millionaire
Will Win: Slumdog Millionaire

Achievement in costume design

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
“The Duchess”
“Revolutionary Road”

Should Win: The Duchess
Will Win: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Achievement in directing

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
“The Reader”
“Slumdog Millionaire”

Should Win: Slumdog Millionaire
Will Win: Slumdog Millionaire

Best documentary feature

“The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)”
“Encounters at the End of the World”
“The Garden”
“Man on Wire”
“Trouble the Water”

Should Win: n/a, haven’t seen any of them myself.
Will Win: Man on Wire seems to be favored.

Best documentary short subject

“The Conscience of Nhem En”
“The Final Inch”
“Smile Pinki”
“The Witness - From the Balcony of Room 306”

Should Win: n/a, haven’t seen any of them myself.
Will Win: The Witness - From the Balcony of Room 306

Achievement in film editing

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
“The Dark Knight”
“Slumdog Millionaire”

Should Win: Slumdog Millionaire
Will Win: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Best foreign language film of the year

“The Baader Meinhof Complex”
“The Class”
“Waltz with Bashir”

Should Win: n/a, haven’t seen any of them myself.
Will Win: Waltz with Bashir

Achievement in makeup

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
“The Dark Knight”
“Hellboy II: The Golden Army”

Should Win: Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Will Win: The Dark Knight

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score)

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
“Slumdog Millionaire”

Should Win: Slumdog Millionaire
Will Win: Slumdog Millionaire

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song)

“Down to Earth” from “WALL-E” (Walt Disney), Music by Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman, Lyric by Peter Gabriel
“Jai Ho” from “Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight), Music by A.R. Rahman, Lyric by Gulzar
“O Saya” from “Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight), Music and Lyric by A.R. Rahman and Maya Arulpragasam

Should Win: Jai Ho
Will Win: Jai Ho

Best animated short film

“La Maison en Petits Cubes”
“Lavatory - Lovestory”
“This Way Up”

Should Win: Presto
Will Win: Presto

Best live action short film

“Auf der Strecke (On the Line)”
“Manon on the Asphalt”
“New Boy”
“The Pig”
“Spielzeugland (Toyland)”

Should Win: n/a
Will Win: “The Pig”

Achievement in sound editing

“The Dark Knight”
“Iron Man”
“Slumdog Millionaire”

Should Win: WALL-E
Will Win: Iron Man might get this as the consolation prize for getting shut out of everything else.

Achievement in sound mixing

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
“The Dark Knight”
“Slumdog Millionaire”

Should Win: WALL-E
Will Win: WALL-E

Achievement in visual effects

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
“The Dark Knight”
“Iron Man”

Should Win: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Will Win: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, though Iron Man might get it in an upset.

Adapted screenplay

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
“The Reader”
“Slumdog Millionaire”

Should Win: Slumdog Millionaire
Will Win: Slumdog Millionaire

Original screenplay

“Frozen River”
“In Bruges”

Should Win: Frozen River
Will Win: Milk

Best motion picture of the year

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
“The Reader”
“Slumdog Millionaire”

Should Win: Slumdog Millionaire, hands down, though Frost/Nixon is a close favorite
Will Win: I feel like this is Slumdog’s award to lose.

You can find reviews of most of the nominated movies here. Check back later for a live Oscar blog, and my own picks for the best movies of 2008.

Edit: 11:58pm - now that the winners are in, here's my tally:
I correctly predicted: Performance by an actress in a supporting role: Penélope Cruz in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”, Original screenplay: “Milk”, Adapted screenplay: “Slumdog Millionaire”, Best animated feature film of the year: “WALL-E”, Achievement in art direction: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, Achievement in cinematography: “Slumdog Millionaire”, Performance by an actor in a supporting role: Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight”, Best documentary feature: “Man on Wire”, Achievement in visual effects: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score): “Slumdog Millionaire”, Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song): “Jai Ho” from “Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight), Music by A.R. Rahman, Lyric by Gulzar, Achievement in directing: “Slumdog Millionaire”, Performance by an actress in a leading role: Kate Winslet in “The Reader”, Best motion picture of the year: “Slumdog Millionaire”

I incorrectly predicted: Best animated short film, Achievement in costume design, Achievement in makeup, Best live action short film, Best documentary short subject, Achievement in sound editing, Achievement in sound mixing, Achievement in film editing, Best foreign language film of the year, Performance by an actor in a leading role

So that's 14 right and 10 wrong.

Movies: The Reader and The Visitor

Okay, did a last bit of Oscar catching up this weekend and caught The Reader and The Visitor, so now I’m officially awards ready.

The Reader is a fantastic film. As Hanna Schmitz, Kate Winslet gives a phenomenal, nuanced performance that has well earned her an Oscar nomination and hopefully a win later tonight. But credit should also be given to David Kross and Ralph Fiennes for their portrayals of Michael Berg young and old. The film is largely single-minded, sticking close to the narrative of Michael and Hanna as they reconcile their own pasts and passions, but the narrow focus allows for great exploration of the larger historical issues of the Holocaust. This is a beautiful, complicated film that offers no easy answers, a film that will stay with you long after you’ve left the theatre.

Then there’s The Visitor. I see now why Richard Jenkins was nominated for his performance as a recent widower trying to reconnect with life, though I’m not sure his performance was quite strong enough to win. The Visitor is a sweet little indie drama that also wrestles with difficult questions – not as difficult as The Reader, mind, but immigration debates are certainly timely at the moment. The Visitor follows the standard indie template where lessons are learned and everyone walks away a little sadder but wiser. It’s worth seeing but not a must see by any means.

And now I’m finally ready to make my Oscar predictions. The show is shaping up to be interesting if the pre-show chatter is any indication – at this very moment E! is forcing all of their employees to do the Bollywood dance number from Slumdog Millionaire...