Sunday, February 26, 2006

NOMINATED ANIMATED FILMS GO RETRO

The mixing of live action and animation in WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? (1988) was a sea change for animated films. Soon, computer technology was the "new toy" for animation. Films using hand drawings, stop motion, and clay models (claymation) began to fade from the scene as studios closed animation departments, bought computers, software, and hired technocrats.

For the past decade computer generated animation has ruled the animation business. This year, none of the three nominated animated feature films depend upon computer generation. In some cases there may be some computer assistance, but the basic art forms are preserved.

HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE (Hauru no Ugoku Shiro, Japan) - This is a special animated feature in today's movie business. It involved thousands of hand-drawn frames, the type of animation Walt Disney pioneered. The Disney Company no longer uses the technique, has shutdown the division, and fired the artistic animators who were masters of the art form.

Disney holds the world-wide (except Asia) theatrical and Video / DVD distribution rights to all language versions of HOWL'S, including English. The production was directed by Hayao Miyazaki, and accomplished at Studio Ghibli Miyazaki, Tokyo. A former Disney executive, Stephen Alpert, is now senior vice-president of Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli, and his mission is to keep the original art form alive with a little help from his former employer.

PLOT: When a less than confident young woman is cursed with an old body by a spiteful witch, her only chance of breaking the spell lies with a self-indulgent, yet insecure, young wizard and his companions who share his home that walks on legs.

TIM BURTON'S CORPSE BRIDE - This is a stop-motion animated feature film, directed by Mike Johnson, considered an expert in stop-motion animation. PLOT: When a shy groom practices his wedding vows in the inadvertent presence of a deceased young woman, she rises from the grave assuming he has married her.

WALLACE & GROMIT IN THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT - This hand-crafted clay animated feature film from DreamWorks SKG, directed by Nick Parks, received the top Annie Award at this year's International Animation Awards. PLOT: Wallace, a cheese-loving inventor, voiced by Peter Sallis, and his loyal dog Gromit set out to discover the mystery behind the garden sabotage that plagues their village and threatens the annual giant vegetable growing contest.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

RATING THE BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILMS

This is a long post, and I hope and enlightening one. Stay with me, please, so you will understand my predictions.

This year's five films nominated for the Best Foreign Language (BFL) Film Oscar® are a varied lot, and critics are hinting that the race is too close to call. Actually, they aren't that much different in their themes from the five films nominated for Best Picture, and knowing AMPAS® from first-hand experience, I'm going to call the race.

Themes encompass the choices of two young Palestinian men recruited as suicide bombers (PARADISE NOW - Palestine); a young male hoodlum about to explode in the South African shantytown of Soweto (TSOTSI - "gangster," South Africa); resistors to the Nazis from inside WW II Germany (SOPHIE SCHOLL - The Final Days, Germany); an Italian incest victim brought to awareness when a nightmarish memory resurfaces (DON'T TELL (La Bestia nel Cuore, Italy); and a spontaneous temporary Christmas truce between German, British, and French soldiers fighting in the trenches during World War I, (MERRY CHRISTMAS - (Joyeux Noel, France)

These are, from all accounts outstanding films, and at least three have U.S. distribution. Unfortunately, the rules for this category deem that the majority of the members of AMPAS cannot participate in the choice of the winner.

It works like this: Unlike most Oscar categories, voters for BFL Film nominees must see all five contenders in a theater, and sign certification that they have before they receive a ballot for this category. Viewing the films on videotape or DVD can't count.

All the nominated BFL films are shown at least once in the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater, L.A., and in their New York City theater, as well as in local theaters in both cities, but Critics and filmmakers complain that the restriction means that probably less than 1,000 of the Academy's roughly 6,000 members will actually cast votes in this category. Only the Foreign and Documentary categories carry the same restriction. All members may vote for all other categories, except for this one and Documentary, even if they have not actually viewed the films involved.

Okay, what about the nominees' chances? First, mostly the older members of AMPAS have the time to view all the BFL and Documentary films, so the audience has a median age of about 60. Second, a large number of the members are Jewish, and/or supporters of Israel. Third, there are more male than female members of AMPAS.

Keeping the above demographics in mind, score points for SOPHIE SCHOLL (Who dares like the Nazis?). Remove points from PARADISE NOW, especially with the recent election of HAMAS in Palestine.

Add points for MERRY CHRISTMAS (nostalgia, Christianity, male bonding and such). Deduct points for DON'T TELL (it's a chick flick, and one that may make men uncomfortable to view).

What about TSOTSI? Add points because of current interest and sympathy for conditions in South Africa invoking good thoughts for Bishop Tutu and Bono, a juvenile punk finds redeeming value because of an unexpected relationship with a helpless baby (Who dares dislike a baby?), it's filmed mostly on location in Soweto (older members love films shot on location), Miramax is the distributor (great track record for independent film Oscar winners), and director/co-writer Gavin Hood is known in the U.S.

So, is TSOTSI my pick to win the BFL Film award? Sorry, I'll tell you later, but I will say that the two top contenders at this point, mentioned by others as well, are TSOTSI and SOPHIE SCHOLL, both for themes, milieu, over-all acting, and production values. They are both strong narrative movies and AMPAS members definitely prefer narrative films. Plus, standout performances by lead actors, South African Presley Chweneyagae, whose intensity may remind some of James Dean, and German Julia Jentsch, who plays a college student put to death for distributing anti-Nazi pamphlets are big pluses for both movies.

Stay tuned!

Friday, February 24, 2006

Final Oscar® Ballots Due Tuesday

Voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences® must return their completed final Oscar ballots to PricewaterhouseCoopers by 5 p.m., PST, Tuesday, February 28. 5,798 ballots were mailed to voting members of the Academy on Wednesday, February 8. Ballots received after the 5 p.m. deadline will not be counted.

Once PricewaterhouseCoopers has tabulated the votes, the winners’ names are placed in sealed, foil-lined envelopes. Two of the firm’s partners, Brad Oltmanns and Rick Rosas, will be the only two people to know the results prior to the envelopes being opened on Oscar Night®, Sunday, March 5.

Academy Awards for outstanding film achievements for 2005 will be presented on March 5, 2006, at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland®. It will be televised live by the ABC Television Network beginning at 8 p.m. EST, with a one-hour red carpet arrivals show beginning at 7 p.m. EST.

Monday, February 20, 2006

BERLIN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

The 56th Berlin Film Festival (9 - 19 February) has now concluded. The German Berlinale is the first of Europe's three major festivals in this new year. It is considered, after Cannes and alongside Venice, to be one of the world's most prestigious film showcases. This year's festival had a preponderance of films dealing with social and political themes, especially homosexuality, violence, terrorism, religious indoctrination, corporate abuses, and the current rise of fascism. All of these developments threaten the privacy and freedom of individuals around the world. Remind you of the Oscars®?

WINNERS ANNOUNCED! Read my "nutshell" coverage on my Film Festivals 2006 Page, and see who won the Golden Bear and other awards. Also there's a direct link to the Official Web site for the Berlinale and other major film festivals.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Oscar®-Nominated "Shorts" Screen for Public in NYC

On Saturday, 25 February, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will present two public screenings of the ten Oscar-nominated films in the Animated Short and Live Action Short categories. The screenings will feature the five films from each category, providing a rare opportunity for New York moviegoers to see the nominees prior to the 78th Academy Awards® telecast on Sunday, 5 March.

The screenings will be held at 12 p.m. and 4 p.m., EST, at the Academy Theater located at Lighthouse International in New York City. Film historian and television host Robert Osborne will serve as the host for both screenings. Tickets for the screenings are $5 for the general public and $3 for Academy members and students with a valid I.D. Advanced tickets may be reserved by calling 888-778-7575. The Academy's Theater at Lighthouse International is located at 111 East 59th Street between Park and Lexington avenues. All orders will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis.

The following ten Oscar-nominated short films will be shown at the New York screenings:

Short Film (Animated) - - Badgered; The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation; The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello; 9; One Man Band; and

Short Film (Live Action) - - Ausreisser (The Runaway); Cashback; The Last Farm; Our Time Is Up; and Six Shooter.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

FINAL OSCAR® BALLOTS MAILED TODAY



Final ballots for the 78th Academy Awards were mailed today to the 5,798 voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Completed ballots must be returned to PricewaterhouseCoopers by 5 p.m., Tuesday, 28 February. Ballots received after the deadline will not be counted. Once the auditing firm has tabulated the votes, the winners' names are placed in sealed envelopes to be opened on Oscar Night® Sunday, 5 March.

Listed on the ballots are nominees in 19 Oscar® categories. Separate ballots for five award categories (foreign language film, short and feature-length documentaries and animated and live-action short films) will be distributed after verification of mandatory member attendance at screenings.

Academy Awards for outstanding film achievements for 2005 will be presented on 5 March 2006, at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland®, and televised live by the ABC Television Network beginning at 5 p.m., PST. A one-hour red carpet show beginning at 4 p.m., PST, featuring arrivals, will precede the main event.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Johnny Cash Movie Walked the Plank

The headline for an article in The Los Angeles Times January31, written by Dean Goodman was, "Oscar makes Johnny Cash movie walk the plank." I thought it was so clever that I'm using an edited version as the title for this post. Many fans are disappointed, and there are those who will put forth reasons WALK THE LINE was slighted for a Best Picture nomination.

One was postulated by Joel Siegel on Good Morning America immediately after the nominations were read. He said something to the effect that he, and some other critics, have noted that the acting is the driving force of the film. By checking my Awards Page, I find at least seven Best Actress awards won by Reese Witherspoon, including a Golden Globe, Critics' Choice, and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) award. Now, that's impressive.

The film, on the other hand, has won only one major award as Best Picture, a Golden Globe. The reason it was able to win the Globe is that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association that runs the awards has two separate categories, Best Dramatic and Best Musical Film. That is the second, and major, reason it was not nominated for Best Picture by the members of AMPAS®. Musical films have always been forced to play second fiddle in the Oscar® race.

The Academy refuses to add a Best Musical category for the Oscars, which many feel it needs to do. If there had been such a category for the past decades, perhaps new movie musicals would be abundant today. Only recently did AMPAS add the Best Animated Film category, and that took a ten-year fight. The Best Musical category should have been added in the 1960's. It is probably too late for a musical film category.

WALK THE LINE did receive five nominations: Best Performance by an Actor in a leading role (Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash), Best Performance by an actress in the leading role (Reese Witherspoon as June Cash); Costume Design; Film Editing; and Sound Mixing.

All these nominations came from AMPAS members who are members of guilds. They are the ones who make all the so-called "craft" nominations, including the directing and writing awards. Only the Best Picture nomination is voted upon by the entire membership. Of course, the entire membership votes for all final awards.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

BEST FILM NOMINEES MAY RUFFLE FEATHERS

The one thing all the nominated films for Best Picture have in common are their strong social themes. Some critics have labeled them "Art House Films," but they are much more than that. The theme for the leader of the pack, BROKEBACK is homosexuality, set in the time of 1960's mores. [I never use the term "gay," if I can help it, because using the word gay that way is a perversion of the original meaning of it, and people who don't know history misread titles and statements such as "The Gay Nineties," "When Our Hearts Were Young and Gay,' etc.]

The theme for CAPOTE is social violence, but the main character is a homosexual, as was the real Truman Capote who wrote the book In Cold Blood about the true-life 1959 murders of the Clutter family in Kansas. MUNICH is about terrorism, specifically the terrible incident during the 1972 Olympics in the city of Munich, Germany, and its aftermath.

GOOD NIGHT is about those dark days in 1950's America that have become known as the McCarthy Era, when civil liberties were at the greatest risk of being constitutionally revoked in any time prior to the current Bush Administration. CRASH is the only one set in contemporary times. This Lions Gate Film, according to its Web site, "Takes a provocative, unflinching look at the complexities of racial tolerance in contemporary America in this case Los Angeles."


In other words, they all deal with contemporary social problems set in prior times, except for CRASH. It is much safer to deal with today's problems that way, because we can put them in a box and tell ourselves we are not involved, until the day our lives and the social concerns -- sexuality, murder, violence of humans against humans in general, authoritarianism, civil liberties, racial tolerance, etc., collide.

BLOCKBUSTERS SNUBBED FOR BEST FILM

The top box office films, all considered blockbusters, were snubbed this year by the members of AMPAS® when it came to the Best Film nominations. The big ones grossed (approximated for end of January) from top grosser: STAR WARS: EPISODE III (380 M); HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE (287 M); THE CHRONICLE OF NARNIA (286 M); WAR OF THE WORLDS ($234 M); and KING KONG ($213).

By comparison, the total gross for all the nominated films combined was $184 M, less than the lowest in the list above. To be fair, you will note in the table below that MUNICH was not released until 23 December, and BROKEBACK 9 December. But, on the other hand, CHRONICLES was released 9 December, and Kong 16 December. Compare the grosses.

TITLE - GROSS - RELEASE DATE
Crash - 53 M - 5/6/05
Brokeback Mountain - 51 M - 12/9/05
Munich - 40 M - 12/23/05
Good Night and Good Luck - 25 M - 10/7/05
Capote - 15 M - 9/30/05

And, just in case you are wondering, WALK THE LINE would not qualify as a blockbuster, either. It was released in mid-November, and its gross was only $106 M. Respectable but no cigar. More about this film later.

Box Office statistics from The Movie Times