Saturday, March 27, 2010

Random Instant Update #2

Question of the day: Hot Tub Time Machine toes the line between inspired hilarity and hideous trash. How far is too far for these interchangeable sex comedies?

There Will Be Tweets

Coming soon: Cinema Squared Mobile, featuring updates brought to you by mobile devices. Mobile updates, Twitter feeds, and more!

Monday, March 15, 2010

One Week Later: A Final Look at the Oscars

It's all over. And in the interim, while Cinema Squared has been toiling away at dealing with some debugging issues, we've all had time to think back on the Oscar season that was.

Awards season functions in a six-month cycle -- six months of Oscar build-up, and six months of rest and relaxation. We have just entered the off-season. And it feels simultaneously freeing and frustrating, exciting and empty. Plenty to talk about, not a lot to get excited about. For better or for worse, Oscar season hones the focus of entertainment journalists of all stripes, and gives a context for the entire discussion for nearly half the year. In the case of Cinema Squared, I have always felt like it brought out the best in our content -- always fascinating items to bring up, discuss, and analyze. And, of course, there are the Oscar movies, which may not all be perfect, but that strive for perfection in a way early 2010 releases like Edge of Darkness or Dear John would never dare. (I can't stress enough in this first quarter of the year: Thank God for Shutter Island).

So, in honor, in remembrance, in a quiet yearning for the return of...the Oscars, here's a final look back at this year's ceremony, based on some of the notes I took throughout the ceremony.

Extended Actor Excerpts: Good
In the supporting categories, viewers were given extended sequences of each nominated actor's performance, allowing us to fully understand the depth and complexity of each work and get an insight into each character. It was one of the few real changes this year's producers decided to make, and it was a successful one. I would have preferred the same strategy be applied to the lead acting categories instead of the "former co-stars take stage to shower praise on each nominee" format, but that was decent enough as it was.

Wrap-Up Music, and By Extension the Decision to Race Through the Show: Bad
Contrary to popular belief, this year's show raced by with uncommon zeal, obviously an attempt to capture viewers' attention for the entire broadcast and to finally combat accusations that the show runs long. But the show still ran long, so it didn't matter that they rushed the entire ceremony, which felt less intimate and more business-like than usual. The most offensive arm of this strategy -- even more offensive than in past years, even -- was the use of wrap-up music to cut off any attempt at a lengthier acceptance speech. The Oscars are supposed to celebrate every facet of filmmaking, thus reinforcing what a group effort the filmmaking process really is...except that preferential treatment was given to those higher on the totem pole. No one would dare try to interrupt Bridges or Bullock, and why should they? Both gave wonderful speeches that deserved to be heard in full. But the same holds true for the filmmaking team behind The Cove and the special effects team for Avatar, yet they were cut off the same way a dozen others were cut off throughout the night. Sorry, but that's bullshit. The shooting gallery will take their shots about length no matter how short the ceremony is, so allow these filmmakers -- at ALL levels -- to finish their speeches. This moment is supposed be special. Don't spoil it for them.

Martin and Baldwin as Hosting Duo: Good
Because the hosts only do real hosting for the first 10 minutes of the show, it's hard for any of them to really exude consistent greatness. With his forceful musicality, Hugh Jackman sustained greatness for nearly four hours, making him the best Oscar host in years, and if next year's producers know what's best for them, they will make him an offer before anyone else. But, as a comedy duo, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin did a fine job. Their old-school rapport was one of the only elements to work really well in this year's show. Their back-and-forth shtick worked really well for them and for the show.

Horror Dedication Montage: WTF?!
What was the point? If you wanted to do an extended dedication to genre, and horror was one part of a much larger whole, then fine. Or if one or two of the prominent Best Picture nominees were horror films, that might even work. As it was, there was no rhyme or reason. It was a strange montage that included films that weren't even horror pictures. It stopped the show dead in its tracks.

Best Picture Intros: Decent
The use of frequent breaks in the action to introduce each of the ten BP nominees worked pretty well, with a separate stage for the presenters to stand apart from the rest of the action and a card at the bottom of the screen that listed each nominated film's primary credits.

Best Picture Announcement:
Tom Hanks did a fine job presenting the Best Picture award (and I kinda liked the suppressed smirk on his face as he read the winning title, as if this was rooting for Hurt Locker all along), but the actual moment was so truncated that it felt like one rushed afterthought at the end of a rushed night.

shut-out in major categories: Good
We all pretty much knew this was brewing for weeks, thanks to the overall critical love for Hurt Locker and the David vs. Goliath story that resulted from it. But it was nonetheless satisfying to see a film that didn't deserve to win any of the major awards lose in every major category. Amazing thing is, Avatar also lost in some of the smaller categories, getting shut out of the sound categories by The Hurt Locker. Cameron's epic walked away with three awards, but only two of them -- visual effects and art direction -- were deserved. I had predicted The White Ribbon to win Best Cinematography, and actually assumed if it lost, it would be to Hurt Locker. But it's not a ridiculous win for Avatar, so...whatever.

So funny that watching the Oscars brings out the cutthroat, "rah-rah" mentality in all of us. I was actively rooting against Avatar for the entirety of the Oscar broadcast, even though I actually really like the movie. The Hurt Locker wasn't my number one for the year, but I feel like it was a big victory that it took home so many awards. Kinda ridiculous.

Up in the Air
shut-out in all categories: Embarrassing
The biggest jaw-dropper of the night was Up in the Air losing the Adapted Screenplay Oscar to Precious. It is utterly shameful that the year's best, most enlightened and important film failed to win even one Oscar, especially for the core of its profundity, Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner's beautiful screenplay. the worst way. For his part, Geoffrey Fletcher was also shocked by his own victory, so much so that he literally couldn't muster a word without ample stuttering. The guy was in awe and I admire his genuine happiness, but of all the awards to give Precious, Screenplay was the least deserving, in my opinion. Fletcher's speech did provide fodder for the evening's best joke, when Steve Martin took the stage upon Fletcher's exit and proudly stated, "I wrote his acceptance speech."

The Hurt Locker
mini-sweep: Very Good
Six Oscars for Kathryn Bigelow's masterpiece, which is a nice haul for one of Oscar's lowest-grossing Best Picture winners ever. The film charted an interesting trajectory, from little indie picture to critical favorite to Oscar dark horse to a victim of Avatar's expected dominance to the odds-on favorite. But this was one instance where the film in question deserved all the praise and came out on the proper end of the spin machine. Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound impressive showing.

Bigelow Making History: Wonderful
Don't forget this may not happen for a while. But it has been done, which means it can be done again. The glass ceiling has been broken, and the road has been paved for future female filmmakers. Kathryn Bigelow could not have been more gracious in her moment of glory -- which, for me, was the ceremony's high point. She also could not have been more deserving. Politics come into play in any Oscar campaign, but Bigelow always stayed above the fray and let her work speak for itself. Make no mistake: this award was earned. And I can't wait to see what Bigelow chooses to follow up this momentous achievement.


The new indie drama starring Parker Posey and Demi Moore is now in select cities and On Demand. It may cause more tears of cinematic despair, for this is one of the worst indie dramedies I've seen in years.

Check out my review at

Technical Difficulties

Hey there, loyal readers. Guess what?

We're still here!

The past week has been a strange and tiresome one for Cinema Squared. We have had to deal with a couple different issues that have kept us from continuing the work we are dedicated to doing for you all. It seems -- for the moment, at least -- that we have managed to resolve said issues to the best of our ability. And with that in mind, it is time to return to the work.

Thank you for sticking with us. There are plenty of updates lined up...plenty of things to talk about.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Oscar Winners

The Hurt Locker

Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker

Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side

Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart

Mo'Nique, Precious

Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker

Geoffrey Fletcher, Precious

El Secreto de Sus Ojos (The Secret in Their Eyes), Argentina

The Cove


Art Direction by Rick Carter and Robert Stromberg; Set Decoration by Kim Sinclair

Mauro Fiore

The Young Victoria
Sandy Powell

The Hurt Locker
Bob Murawski and Chris Innis

Star Trek
Barney Burman, Mindy Hall, Joel Harlow

Michael Giacchino

"The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)" from Crazy Heart
Music and Lyric by Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett

The Hurt Locker
Paul N.J. Ottosson

The Hurt Locker
Paul N.J. Ottosson and Ray Beckett

Joe Letteri, Stephen Rosenbaum, Richard Baneham, and Andrew R. Jones


Don't underestimate the moment.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

OSCARS: He Said, She Said Final Predictions

Oscar hour is almost upon us. Before tuning in tonight to find the actual winners, check out what we think will win and (because we just can't help ourselves in the big categories) what we think should win.

Best Picture:
Will Win: The Hurt Locker
Should Win: The Hurt Locker
Will Win: The Hurt Locker
Should Win: Up in the Air

Best Director:
Will Win: Kathryn Bigelow (...period.)
Should Win: Kathryn Bigelow (...period.)
Will Win: Kathryn Bigelow
Should Win: Jason Reitman (with big props to Bigelow)

The rest after the jump...

He Said: THE BEST OF 2009

For as long as I can remember, I've spoken of how bad 2009 was for the movies. In many ways, that's true -- far too many mediocre films, outright disappointments, and some of the worst films of the last decade bowed in 2009, and it was enough to drive a critic crazy. Perhaps this list was delayed so long because I wondered if the year even deserved such a celebratory retrospective.

But whether or not the year deserves it, the movies deserve it. This year I have 20 titles to represent the year's best, and they are all worthy of special mention. A few others, pushed just to the outside, deserve mention as well. They are, in alphabetical order: Amreeka, Big Fan, Coco Before Chanel, Coraline, The Cove, Food, Inc., Funny People, The Hangover, Hunger, Sugar, Tyson, and Whip It.

So I guess the year deserved it after all.

Here are the Best Films of 2009...

Continue reading after the jump...

Friday, March 5, 2010

She Said: BEST OF 2009

Here we are. Very late, but here nonetheless. Even though there were plenty of stinkers this year in film, 2009 was a truly fantastic year for cinema (in my opinion anyway). Dear "Oscar" has already declared its love with its top ten nominees, and tomorrow, we will learn which movie is Hollywood's pick of the year. However, below you will find my #1 in addition to 19 more that round out a top 20. There were so many worth mentioning this year, that I finalize my list with a few honorable mentions as well.

Without further ado...

Continue reading after the jump...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

He's Why I Do This. He's Why I Love This.

Roger Ebert is the reason this blog exists.

No, I've never met the man, and haven't had anything more than a one-sided e-conversation with him in the form of my many letters to his famous "Movie Answer Man." But without him, I would not be a movie writer. It was the years and years of watching Siskel & Ebert and the countless hours of reading all of Ebert's reviews, both new and archived, both in print and online, and the years of studying Ebert's historic, legendary work in his many books, from the wonderful Movie Yearbook series to the invaluable Great Movies collections. Roger Ebert has always been, and will always remain, my greatest hero and greatest inspiration in this field. He is the Scorsese of Film Criticism.

Why am I saying all this? Today, Ebert will appear on Oprah, and the world will witness the debut of Ebert's new voice -- which is, amazingly enough, his old voice. After many years of battling a few different forms of cancer and several surgeries on his neck and jaw region, Ebert was left without the ability to speak, and his face has been re-constructed to the appearance that recently appeared in a wonderful Esquire piece on the World's Most Notable Movie Lover. For the last few years -- while his writing has thrived unlike any other period in his career -- he has spoken through a computerized voice program, the first version of which his wife, Chaz, fondly dubbed, "Sir Lawrence," due to its British accent. Lately he's spoken in an American accent called "Alex." Now a Scottish company, CereProc, has devised a way to utilize all the recordings from Ebert's TV appearances and his DVD commentary tracks to form a new "voice" for Ebert, a voice that will sound far more familiar than Lawrence or Alex. It is an exciting development, and will be something to watch. So, too, will be his discussion of the upcoming Oscars, which I'm sure will also be an obligatory -- but oh so fun -- segment on Oprah's show.

I also mention Ebert based on another recent article, by Will Leitch for Deadspin, in which the author recounts his own personal history of following Ebert as his idol, much as Ebert has been my idol. It is a wonderful story...the story I wish I could tell, in all honesty. And so I link to the piece with some requisite light resentment -- why couldn't I have sat with Ebert in a deli, listening and learning and laughing? -- but also with an identification of a kindred spirit. Ebert is a luminary, a legend, but he is also, very simply, a movie lover who inspired me to be a movie lover. For the longest time, my movie reviews mimmicked Ebert's writing style, and I'm sure some of that tone still seeps in from time to time. His influence on me, as was his influence on Leitch and countless others in this business, is inestimable, invaluable, and incredible. I wouldn't be here if not for Roger Ebert. He can take full credit for me even though he's never met me.

Maybe one day I will meet him. Maybe not. But as we approach the industry's annual formal celebration of the cinema, I must give a note of recognition, a note of love, a note of thanks, to the person whose unmatched love of film both formed and informed my own.

Thank you, Roger.

Oscar Charts, Round 4: Five Days To Go

I'm amazed at what a crap shoot it's all become. It seemed like it would be an incredibly competitive Best Picture race from the start, then Avatar came along and pounded its blue CGI chest...but then The Hurt Locker won 99% of the pre-Oscar awards...and now people are floating the idea of an Inglourious Basterds upset! Now we are back to square one...maybe not quite that far, but none of us can be so sure of our predictions...not even Tom O'Neil.

And what of the stories that are floating around as we barrel down the home stretch (ballots must be returned by today)? Hurt Locker producer Nicolas Chartier sending out e-mails to Academy members bad-mouthing Avatar...Hollywood mafioso Harvey Weinstein proclaiming that a Basterds win is already locked...Weinstein and Quentin Tarantino throwing lavish schmoozing parties to woo voter support...and the reports that Hurt Locker isn't an accurate depiction of soldiers in combat, and that the film is in fact a damaging portrayal. Bottom line on all these stories: they are all, for the most part, absolute crap. Chartier's e-mail was a mistake on the embattled producer's part, but the note wasn't distributed to so many Academy members that it would even make a difference, nor are his words all that inflammatory (Avatar is a big, blue money-making behemoth...anything false about that statement?). Weinstein, as always, is a bloviating producer monster, and he's out to grab those Oscars as voraciously as any studio head. It would be unfortunate, in my opinion, if he's able to massage Academy members into voting Basterds, but good for him if he would be a move tantamount to his unlikely Shakespeare in Love win back in '98...maybe even bigger in light of the fact that it would simultaneously be defeating the year's unmatched critical darling and the highest-grossing film of all-time. The schmoozing parties are held all the big deal. And as for Hurt Locker's accuracy or lack thereof: most of the naysayers have already been debunked months ago, and regardless, Kathryn Bigelow's film is not intended as an incisive look at military minutiae, but an incisive look into the soldier's soul...military minutiae is merely the backdrop.

Completed ballots will arrive today. Counting will begin tomorrow. Five days until this suddenly contentious season will come to an end. Most of our questions will be answered by Sunday night. Then it will be back to the movies, and isn't that the point of all this...the movies?

Of course, soon enough we will be handicapping next year's Oscar race, so enjoy the movies while you can.

This week's charts...

1. The Hurt Locker
2. Avatar
3. Inglourious Basterds
4.  Up in the Air
5. Precious: Based on the novel Push by Sapphire
6. The Blind Side
7. An Education
District 9
A Serious Man

Note: I'm not parting with The Hurt Locker just yet, nor am I so convinced by all this Inglourious Basterds rumor-mongering that I think it is suddenly a favorite, let alone that it would simultaneously leap over top of both Locker and Avatar. Who knows...maybe that will somehow change over the course of the next five days, but it's unlikely. However, there are clearly three films left in major contention: Locker, Avatar, and Basterds.

The weighted voting system might come into play, and if it does, it seems to me that Avatar would be the first film out. A lot of people think it should be awarded a first-place vote for its innovation and history-making technology...and history-making box-office. But it's hard to imagine, if voters don't think it deserves a first-place vote, that they would place it second or third. For many, Avatar is a love-it-or-hate-it type of experience. And yet it could garner enough first place votes to give it a substantial BP lead before the second and third place votes come into play. Hurt Locker and Basterds are less polarizing, and my guess is that Locker is the least polarizing, given the fact that it has been, very simply, the year's most widely praised film.

The rest of the major categories after the jump...