Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Are Ten Best Picture Nominations Too Many?

Starting last year, the Academy Awards nominates ten pictures for best picture instead of the traditional five. This was taken as an admission that popular, mainstream releases such as Dark Knight and Iron Man were better than some of the small independent releases that were nominated and possibly the actual best picture was not even nominated. 

Here are the best picture nominations for this year:
  • "127 Hours," Fox Searchlight, six nominations, $11.2 million, released Nov. 12.
  • "Black Swan," Fox Searchlight, five nominations, $83.2 million, released Dec. 3.
  • "Inception," Warner Bros., eight nominations, $292.5 million, released July 16.
  • "The Fighter," Paramount, seven nominations, $72.6 million, released Dec. 10.
  • "The Kids Are All Right," Focus, four nominations, $20.8 million, released July 30.
  • "The King's Speech," Weinstein Co., 12 nominations, $57.3 million, released Dec. 10.
  • "The Social Network," Sony, eight nominations, $95.4 million, released Oct. 1.
  • "Toy Story 3," Disney, five nominations, $414.9 million, released June 18.
  • "True Grit," Paramount, 10 nominations, $137.9 million, released Dec. 22.
  • "Winter's Bone," Roadside Attractions, four nominations, $6.2 million, released June 10.
Does every movie on that list belong there? Probably not. But which ones would be cut if the list was pared back to five nominations? I have my own opinion but the Academy has a strong bias for small, independent films. Toy Story 3 was the top money-maker of the year and the best reviewed movie on Rotten Tomatoes. In fact, Pixar movies almost always take the top rank but normally have to settle for best animated picture. It would never have gotten picked if there were only five slots. The same is true for Inception which was one of the most talked-about movies of the year. At a guess, I would pick The Social Network and The Kids Are All Right as two more that would not have made the cut. That cuts out all of the light movies.

It is hard to guess the last one that would be cut. The Academy likes the Coen brothers and it got nine other nominations. The one strike against it is that it was successful - it broke $100 million making it the most successful western since the 1990s. The Academy seems to hate successful movies. No one has seen Winter's Bone. Even for an Academy that prefers small independent releases, it is pretty obscure. Finally most of the buzz about 127 Hours is for the acting so it might not have gotten a best picture nomination.

Often Best Picture and Best Director awards go to the same movie. Here is the list of Best Director nominations:

  • "Black Swan" Darren Aronofsky
  • "The Fighter" David O. Russell
  • "The King's Speech" Tom Hooper
  • "The Social Network" David Fincher
  • "True Grit" Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
That matches up pretty well with my guesses although the Social Network made the cut.

Personally, I think that the winner should be The King Speech with True Grit as a close second. Since both got best director nominations, they likely would have gotten best picture nominations. By that measure, the extra five slots were not needed.

Two last notes - Despicable Me really should have gotten an animated picture nomination. Hailee Steinfeld from True Grit should have gotten a best actress nomination instead of best supporting actress. Maybe they didn't want to nominate someone so young for best actress. I hope that she wins in her category. It was really her movie with Jeff Bridges as a supporting actor.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The King's Speech

This is one of those movies where the destination is not as important as the journey. It is based on (not just inspired by) historic events and it is a matter of historic record that the future George VI had a terrible stammer. His first attempt at public speaking was painful for both himself and his audience. A few years later he delivered a moving speech announcing that Britain had declared war on Germany. How did he manage this speech?

That is the point of the movie. It starts with Bertie (as he was known to his family) trying to speak to a soccer tournament. At the time he was the Duke of York and second in line for the throne. It follows an attempt or two at speech therapy before settling on Lionel Logue, an unconventional Australian with controversial methods. The two form an unlikely friendship as Bertie becomes a reluctant king.

The movie is fun on several levels. First, the lead characters are both good-humored as is Elizabeth, the mother of the current monarch.

The various exercises have their own charm. After noticing that Bertie has no trouble swearing, Lionel encourages him in a torrent of F-bombs that give the movie its R rating.

For those interested in the private lives of monarchs, this is a juicy time. George V was a tyrant to his family, insisting that since he feared his father his sons should fear him.

Bertie's brother, Edward VIII, is usually remembered romantically as the king who gave up his thrown for love. This shows him in a different light as a dilettante more concerned with refilling his mistress's champagne glass than doing his duties as king.  (Check his Wikipedia entry for an even darker view).

The movie is very well researched. The few errors that IMDB quotes are trivial things like women's stocking not having seams.

I do have a few quibbles. At the time of the movie, Churchill's party was out of power. I'm not sure that he had the level of access to the King shown.

The other quibble is the reaction to the king's speech at the end. Everyone reacted to the delivery of the speech, not the content. Given that this marked England's entry into World War II, I would expect a more sober response. This is a concession to the format of the movie. It has to have a tidy ending.

Regardless, this should get a bunch of nominations. It's Golden Globe for best actor was well-deserved. Colin Firth did an amazing job of reproducing a stammer.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

iPhone on Verizon - what does it mean for Android?

Until now the biggest reason to buy an Android phone was because only AT&T carried the iPhone. Now that Verizon has announced that they will carry the iPhone, how will that affect Android? I suspect that the impact will not be all that big.

The biggest thing to remember is that the people who will only buy an iPhone already have one. It has been out for nearly four years and most wireless contracts are only for two years so there were no penalties for switching to AT&T. This limits the potential iPhone customers to people who prefer Verizon's network over the iPhone.

The next factor are those two year contracts. I'm sure that some people will be willing to pay full retail in order to upgrade to an iPhone on Verizon but I doubt that many will. Most will wait until their current contract expires. The prospect of an iPhone 5 coming out soon will also be a factor here.

Other things to keep in mind - Android does some things better than the iPhone. Most technical writers felt that the last iOS upgrade was more catchup than anything else. Android does better multi-tasking and isn't tied to iTunes. Many Android phones support external storage and standard USB connectors. Android phones come with turn by turn directions out of the box. Want to install a custom ringtone without paying Apple - then you need an Android.

There is only one iPhone model released per year while several vendors release multiple Android models and all of them cost less than the iPhone.

Verizon has a lot of incentive to keep pushing their Droid line of Android phones. It sets them apart from the other vendors. They will never have an iPhone that is noticeably different from the AT&T model.

Many reviewers rank some Android models ahead of the iPhone.

Then there are people like me who are irritated by Apple's arrogance in general and their inconsistent standards for approving apps.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Green Hornet

It isn't out yet and I'm not sure that I will go to see it when it premiers so I might as well write about the Green Hornet now.

I've seen the trailers and the Mythbusters episode (they busted the stunts). It doesn't look good.

Then there is the release date - January is when studios dump movies. It is an off month for theater-going. Christmas is over, the kids are back in school, and a lot of the country has cold and snow. They have to have something new for the theaters so they release the movies that they are sure would do poorly, anyway. The movies that do well in January were already in the theaters before New Years. So, a mid-January release means that the studio thinks that the movie is a stinker.

There have been rumors of a funny take on a super hero movie for years. At one point Green Lantern was going to star Jack Black. I remember rumors of a funny Aquaman movie, also. This is the first one to actually make it to the screen.

From interviews with Seth Rogen, this movie was sort of inspired by the 1960s TV series. That was done by the same producers as Batman but they played it straight with the Green Hornet. There were still a few fancy weapons like the Hornet's Sting that could open locks but the plots and the villains were all toned down from Batman. Even the hero's "costume" mainly consisted of a black suit and overcoat with a fancy mask. It only lasted one season. The source material for the show was a radio show that is only spoken of in terms of the TV show.

A cable channel was showing reruns of the TV show a couple of years ago. It was more boring than I remembered it. Unlike Batman, the Green Hornet never became a cult classic. It was simply canceled and forgotten.

So, there is not much sacred territory. Besides the connection with the Batman TV show, the only other memorable thing about the Green Hornet was the actor who played his sidekick, Kato - Bruce Lee. In fact, Lee did actual side-kicks and other martial arts. Each show's climactic fight had the Green Hornet fighting the head bad guy while Kato knocked off the rest of the gang.

What's the point? I guess it is to make an "everyman hero". From the trailers, it looks like Kato is the real hero and the Green Hornet is just along for the ride for some reason - maybe because he is paying the bills.

To be fair, the Tim Burton Batman looked bad at first glance. Bruce Wayne was played by Michael Keaton, a guy known for playing Beetlejuice and Mr. Mom. Burton himself was mainly known for Pee Wee Herman and Beetlejuice. Batman worked because they played against type - they played it straight. Plus, Jack Nicholson chewed up the set in one of his best roles.

There is no Nicholson to save the Green Hornet. Rogen is the biggest-name star in the movie. Is was also one of the writers. That doesn't offer much hope of a watchable movie.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Fantastic Three

Marvel has announced that they will kill a founding member of the Fantastic Four. They have not said which character. I'm going to make an educated guess.

I think that they will kill the Johnny Storm, Human Torch. There are several reasons.

The biggest reason is the novelty.

Reed and the Thing have been killed before. Sue and the Thing have each left for extended periods for other reasons. There has not been an extended plotline with the Torch missing and the other three still there.

There are other considerations. When Reed was dead, it really changed the dynamics of the team. I don' t think that the title could survive without him.

The kids are an integral part of the comic. that makes Sue indispensable. I don't see Marvel leaving them motherless and the prospect of Reed trying to raise two kids as a single dad are frightening.

The Thing is a popular character. He has had his own solo book and a team-up book. Killing him would affect long-term sales of the FF. Again, there is the novelty factor. Ben left the group for years in the 1980s and was replaced by She-Hulk.

The Torch is no longer unique. Both the Golden Age Human Torch and his sidekick Toro have been revived. The fact that Marvel ran a book called "The Human Torch" that did not star Johnny Storm is a bad omen.

As a character, the Torch stopped growing in the 1990s. The movies showed him as a jerk and the comic book version seemed to become younger and less mature to match the movie version.

The Torch's characterization has changed dramatically since the days of Lee and Kirby. Back then he was easily the most powerful and versatile member (not counting the time a small dinosaur knocked a flower vase on him and doused his flame). When Doctor Doom stole the Silver Surfer's power, the Torch took him on single-handed. He lost but the off-screen battle caused miles of devastation.

When John Byrne took over the book and the Thing took an extended leave of absence, Johnny started a romance with the Thing's girlfriend, Alicia. They eventually married. Later writers hated the idea so it turned out that "Alicia" was actually a Skrull named Lyja. The two developed an interesting relationship until the comic was rebooted as part of the Onslaught story arc. Lyja was forgotten after that until the Skrull invasion.

In the 1990s there was a special embossed cover of the Fantastic Four showing the Torch using his nova-strength flame and melting a good portion of Empire State University.