Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Dammit! 24 Thoughts and OSCAR Aftermath ...

- So I think I did pretty well with my Oscar picks, right? Okay, so like most people I got tripped up by some of the smaller categories like Foreign Language Film (Waltz With Bashir was robbed!) and Live Action Short (how could a short titled "The Final Inch" lose out ...?), but, I predicted a lot of the major categories including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Supporting Actor. Okay, those weren't exactly giant question marks, but still. As for Best Actor ... as I alluded to in my last post, I did kind of have a feeling that Sean Penn would win for Milk. But I was really pulling for Mickey Rourke and The Wrestler, so part of me had to believe that one of the year's best movies would not get shut out entirely. Again, I did think Penn was great in Milk, but I just don't know if it was quite as powerful a performance as Rourke's. Now, I didn't see The Reader, but I'll have to check it out eventually to evaluate Kate Winslet's performance. Personally, I was just put off by everything that I read about the cutthroat campaigning that went into Winslet's Oscar push, and I guess I assumed that voters would be put off by it to some extent as well. Guess not - but congrats to Winslet on a win that was probably a long-time-coming. I was pretty surprised that Milk won for best original screenplay as well, it didn't strike me really as a writer's movie. But mostly, I was happy to see Slumdog recognized in several key categories, as to me it would have been both an upset and a disappointment if any other film had won for Best Picture or Director or Adapted Screenplay.

As for the show itself ... eh, whatever. The Oscars to me have always been overly long and boring, and I can't stand the scrutiny of what everyone's wearing and all of the other red-carpet celeb-worship. That's not to say I didn't have a lot of fun watching the Oscars with f riends and seeing if my picks were correct or not ... but other than a few funny bits with James Franco and Seth Rogen, and Ben Stiller ragging on Joaquin Pheonix, the Oscars still were not necessarilly great TV despite a change in format. I mean, how many song and dance numbers do you need? I did like the past winners coming out to present this year's nominees, but it still felt too long. I loved the idea of showing trailers for upcoming 2009 movies, it's too bad those were relegated to being shown over the ending credits.

Personally, my movie radar is now firmly affixed on WATCHMEN. The early reviews have so far have been good to great, and I am dying to see how Zack Snyder and co tackled the source material. Rest assured, I will be back here soon to talk a lot more about the hype for Watchmen. All I'll say for now is, as relates to the Oscars ... if Watchmen indeed turns out to be an excellent adaptation of one of Time Magazine's 100 Greatest Novels ... shouldn't that qualify it for some love come next year's Academy Awards? Man, I'm still bitter about nobody but me thinking that Hugo Weaving should have gotten an Oscar nom for V for Vendetta.

But yeah, as for this year's Oscars ... glad that Slumdog was a big winner, very nice to see Heath Ledger get his well-deserved kudos, and cool that Penelope Cruz won for a great turn in Vicky Cristina ... other than that, nothing that really got me too excited, and no huge, jaw-dropping surprises.

- But yeaaah, speaking of excitement and jaw-dropping surprises, it's time to talk ...


- Well, that's three certifiably kickass episodes of 24 in a row, meaning it's official: 24 is on fire. Boomshakalaka, baby. Last night's 24 was one of the show's classic "one threat ends, another surfaces" installments, which are usually fun since we get the rare satisfaction of seeing Jack actually avert a major threat and see the badguys get their due. Last night, it was the endgame (at least for now) for our old friend Dobaku, who goes out in something of a blaze of tragic glory. But let me just go through some highlights of why this episode kicked some ass:

- DOBAKU IS DOWN ... but the CANDYMAN (Tony Todd) is in the house as our next uber-villain. Sweeet.

- Meanwhile, KURTWOOD SMITH, one of the all-time badass actors, returned, and we can all hope that it's only a matter of time before he and Jack are standin' back to back sporting twin rifles and trading quips.

- Great car chase at the beginning of the episode ...

- Similarly, very nice progression of the whole Mole-In-the-FBI storyline. Sean's desperate schemes to protect his cover were a lot of fun to play out, and his attempt to escape the FBI offices once discovered were suitably intense.

- How is Bill Buchanan basically running the government within a matter of hours? Is he just that damn good?

- Also, why would Jack give Dobaku's data chip to some random dude in a helicopter after all that talk about the FBI being corrupted? I guess it was necessary to progress the story at the needed pace, but still ...

- Did Freckles' #%&$-slap of doom turn out to be as intense as was hinted at in last week's preview? I thought it was a nice scene between her and Jack ... I'm just curious where they're going with it. Earlier in the season, it seemed like Jack was just being Jack, and all the complaining about his methods was just due to him being surrounded by a bunch of FBI pansys rather than his usual CTU compatriots. But now, they do really seem to portraying Jack as a guy one step away from losin' it. Pulling a gun on a random EMT worker, telling Freckles that if she pulls a gun on him to use it, and mouthing off to Tony "Soul-Patch" Almeida? That doesn't seem like the Jack we know. I'll be curious if they really go all the way with this and have Jack truly snap, or if it's just more good-cop / bad-cop shenanigans.

- Anyways, next week's two-hour spectacular looks off-the-chain. White house invasion! Aaron Pierce had better be involved. But man, Bauer, Almeida, Tony Todd and Clarence Boddikker all in one place? Now that's some serious gravitas!

My Grade: A-

- Alriiiight, I'm out for now. On one final note: Andy Richter is going to join Conan O'Brien on the Tonight Show! Awesome ... this is gonna be good.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Danny's OSCAR Picks 2009 ...

- Alright, I've already talked a bit about the Oscars in the last few weeks, and my overall thoughts on the movies of 2008 can be found in my giant-sized, year-end wrap-up post from December. So I'm going to try to keep this relatively bried (at least by Danny Baram standards ...). But I did want to adhere to tradition and present my personal picks for this year's Oscars.

One overall thought about this year's Oscars: since the overall pool of nominees in most categories is not that strong this year, and since many big-name films were snubbed in key areas, this year's Oscars *should* end up being pretty predictable. In most of the big categories, there's one choice that is clearly most deserving of the Oscar, and overall I think there's one movie this year, Slumdog Millionaire, which of the main nominees stands head and shoulders above the competition. Therefore, it's almost shocking to see how many times my personal pick seems to be aligned with my projected winner. We'll see how that pattern holds up tomorrow though ...

So without further ado ...



Should Win: Slumdog Millionaire
Will Win: Slumdog Millionaire

- I think most people who've seen Slumdog have little doubt that it was the best overall film of 2008. Given that most of the other Best Picture nominees are not particularly strong, and in some cases fairly divisive (ie Benjamin Button), I think it would be a huge upset if anything other than Slumdog won the award. And that's fine with me - Slumdog deserves it, hands down.


Should Win: Slumdog Millionaire
Will Win: Slumdog Millionaire

- Here's another category where you have to give it to Slumdog. On one hand, Danny Boyle did a phenomonal job injecting the movie with kinetic energy and dazzling imagery. Boyle is a director who is long overdue for recognition, and like the Coens' win last year, this award will be not just for Slumdog but for an incredible body of work overall. On the other hand, I don't think any of the other nominees had particularly notable directing. All had very good direction, but come on, I don't think Milk or Frost/Nixon dazzled anyone with their directorial prowess. Now, how Wall-E, Dark Knight, Gran Torino, Burn After Reading, or The Wrestler were not nominated in this category I have no freaking idea.


Should Win: Mickey Rourke
Will Win: Mickey Rourke

- Okay, this one COULD go to Sean Penn, and I think that that's because The Wrestler has a lot going against it as an Oscar favorite despite being in my view the year's second-best film behind only Slumdog. For one thing, not many people saw The Wrestler, and for another, it has pretty limited female appeal. Sean Penn was amazing in Milk, no doubt. But his performance was great because of Penn's total transformation. Was it ICONIC in the way that Rourke's was? No. Rourke deserves the win, and I think he will get it by a hair. Perhaps as a belated apology for The Wrestler being so otherwise snubbed.


Should Win: Meryl Streep
Will Win: Meryl Streep

- This one is tough to predict, as none of these performances seem like they were all that mind-blowing. That said, to me Meryl Streep was pretty riveting in DOUBT, and I think that most academy voters will choose to recognize her for that fact. Her role in the movie is melodramatic, full of little quirks, and it's basically an acting clinic. This one should and will go to Streep.


Should Win: Heath Ledger
Will Win: Heath Ledger

- An easy category to pick. Last year, it was overflowing with talent - this year, one talent stands head and shoulders above the rest. Ledger wins it, hands down, and it will be a well-earned win. His JOKER in Dark Knight is one of the most iconic villains ever in cinema, and when you really look at why DK worked as well as it did, a huge, huge part of that has to be chalked up to Heath's breakthrough performance.


Should Win: Penelope Cruz
Will Win: Penelope Cruz

- Viola Davis, *maybe*, has a chance to upset here, but I just can't see it happening since her screentime is so, so limited in Doubt. On the other hand, Penelope Cruz was awesome in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and her character really elevated the movie and gave it life. She's my pick to win, and I think many of the voters will agree.


Should Win: Wall-E
Will Win: Wall-E

- Another easy pick, despite whispers to the contrary. I mean, come on, everyone knows Wall-E should have been nominated for Best Picture. If it doesn't at least win for Animated Feature, then there's something seriously wrong here.


Should Win: no opinion
Will Win: Man On Wire

- I wish American Teen had been nominated, but whatever ... I've heard nothing but great things about Man On Wire so I figure it'd be a huge upset if it somehow does not take home the trophy.


Should Win: Waltz With Bashir
Will Win: Waltz With Bashir

- Argh, it bites that LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is not nominated. But Waltz With Bashir is the one movie in this category that I've seen, and I'm guessing it will be a favorite with my fellow Hollywood Jews on the academy board. Go Israel!


Should Win: Tossup between Wall-E and In Bruges
Will Win: Wall-E

- Man, maybe IN BRUGES will win, but if so it would definitely be a big upset, as I think I'm one of about 5 people who's actually seen that movie. Check it out though - it rocks. That said, Milk could also win, but Wall-E is my pick as it really was a brilliant screenplay and just a brilliant concept in general. Let's see if the academy agrees ...


Should Win: Slumdog Millionaire
Will Win: Slumdog Millionaire

- To me, no contest on this one. A brilliant screenplay, amazingly structured and framed. This should win hands down.


Should Win: Benjamin Button
Will Win: Benjamin Button

- If there's one area where BB deserves a win, it's here. The aging and de-aging f/x were pretty remarkable, and I predict this will be the area where the movie is thrown a bone.


Should Win: Hellboy II
Will Win: Benjamin Button

- Hmm, how many academy members likely saw Hellboy II? I mean, seriously though, Hellboy II has some of the most incredible makeup I've ever seen in a movie, and the use of real costumes and makeup f/x rather than CGI is incredible. It should win, easily. But will it? The prestige pic will probably get the nod in BB, and that's a shame.


Should Win: The Dark Knight
Will Win: Benjamin Button


Should Win: Slumdog Millionaire
Will Win: Slumdog Millionaire


Should Win: Benjamin Button
Will Win: Benjamin Button


Should Win: no clue
Will Win: ah, I'l go with "The Final Inch" ... hey, it sounds dramatic!


Should Win: Slumdog Millionaire
Will Win: Slumdog Millionaire


Should Win: Slumdog Millionaire
Will Win: Slumdog Millionaire


Should Win: "Jai Ho" from Slumdog
Will Win: "Jai Ho" from Slumdog


Should Win: Presto
Will Win: Presto


Should Win: no clue ...
Will Win: again, no idea, but I'll guess "New Boy", why not?


Should Win: Wall-E
Will Win: Wall-E


Should Win: Slumdog Millionaire
Will Win: Slumdog Millionaire

- And that's it for now ... let's see how I fare ...

PS -- shoutouts to: Gran Torino, American Teen, Let the Right One In, Son of Rambow, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Pineapple Express, Role Models, Speed Racer, and Burn After Reading. Insanity that none of these fine films received nominations!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Thank You, CONAN~! A Tribute to Late Night With Conan O'Brien.

"We're going on to this next gig, and sometimes I read that it's time for Conan to grow up because he's going to 11:30. And I assure you ... that's just not going to happen."

And with that CONAN O'BRIEN said exactly what all of us wanted to hear, with heartfelt sentiment and defiant honesty, and with that one of the greatest comic geniuses of our time took LATE NIGHT out with a bang.

Any fan of great comedy had to get a little choked up along with Conan throughout this past week and tonight in particular. Because, yeah, Conan is off to do big things in taking over the hosting gig of The Tonight Show, but the end of Late Night With Conan O'Brien marks the end of an era in television, and the culmination of one of the absolute best stories in showbiz. Because Conan is not some Hollywood posterboy who coasted along on easy charisma and charm. Conan is one of us, he's the geek who made it, who hit it big, and who went out there each and every night and fought the good fight. Late Night With Conan O'Brien has never been afraid to be awkward, weird, crazy, random, and just plain off-the-wall. It's never been afraid to be SMART. And through it all, Conan's pretty much been the same awkward yet hilarious guy - and even though he can be one of the craziest dudes on TV, I think most people realize that beneath it all he is one of the most humble, talented, and genuine people in the world of entertainment. Even though his success story is one of Hollywood's least likely, few people are more deserving of it than Conan.

And tonight's final episode of Late Night has some special meaning to me, as not only have I been a longtime fan, but I also had the honor and great privilege to work on the show as an intern and production assistant in 2004. I still remember the feeling of amazment I got when I walked into the Late Night offices for the first time. It was my first real gig in the world of entertainment, and ever since I've basically been working to recapture the sense of fun and creative energy that was flowing through those halls at 30 Rock.

As an intern at Conan, I had all kinds of crazy encounters with the various guests on the show, but the main attraction was really just the chance to watch Conan and his outstanding team of writers and producers at work. Each and every day, I was really just in awe of how much creative and hilarious material was being churned out. And then, watching Conan and team rehearse before each show was like attending a free comedy clinic. I've never seen someone so focused on getting all of the details of a joke or gag just right. Conan is truly a student of the game, and just one of the most prolific and creative minds I've ever seen at work. Same goes for the writing staff, who never had a shortage of great material, and the regular troupe of great character actors who could seemingly play any crazy character on a moment's notice. I feel incredibly lucky that I got to see a genius like Robert Smigel at work, or that I got to hear Joel Goddard tell old showbiz stories, or that I got to hang out with a young writer / comedian named Demitri Martin, who is now enjoying a ton of success in his own right. There was a great group of interns at that time, and I think the majority of us went into work each day just sort of giddy that we were actually there working for Conan O'Brien.

I also think back and realize that I was lucky to have been at Late Night during what has to be regarded as one of its creative high-points. I got to see firsthand the introduction of the now-classic Walker Texas Ranger Lever. I saw Will Ferrell do the Leprauchan Dance. I saw the birth of Pierre Bernard's Recliner of Rage. I saw Conan spontaneously destroy his old offices with a hammer in one of the all-time hilarious segments. I even saw Conan interview a then-obscure oddball by the name of Borat, in what at the time was one of the funniest segments I have ever seen on TV. On tonight's final episode, I couldn't help but smile ear-to-ear when Conan introduced a clip that he called his all-time favorite bit on the show - Old Tyme Baseball. Not only is the bit completely hilarious and quintissential Conan, but I clearly remember being assigned to run out to FYE and select a couple of CD's of banjo-music for use in the sketch. I remember running into Conan in the hall and proudly telling him that I had just picked up a bunch of music that he could use in the bit. I think it's safe to say that in most cases when working on a show you'd eventually just sort of get used to being around a particular celeb. But on Late Night, I think us interns has so much pent-up hero-worship for Conan that anytime we saw him or got a chance to actually talk to him, we'd basically be reduced to quivering masses of jelly. I mean - this was the guy who wrote the Monorail episode of The Simpsons!

So it was with a great mixture of pride and sadness that I watched the last-ever episode of Late Night With Conan O'Brien. Proud to see the hometown hero graduate to the big leagues, but sad at the thought that the show that got him to the big dance was coming to an end. Will Conan be able to be Conan as host of The Tonight Show? Who can say, exactly ... But tonight was a happy reminder that Conan likely is incapable of being anyone or anything else. And while that might make some people cringe, for most of us, well, we couldn't be more excited. So be cool my babies, something tells me that Conan will be giving us plenty of memorable and hilarious moments in the months and years ahead. But for sixteen seasons of one of the all-time great television comedy showcases, all I can say is: thank you, Conan!

See you in LA!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Agent of B.L.O.G. : TAKEN - Reviewed!, 24, Lost, and More

Alright, it's been a longer gap than I'd hoped, but finally ... I'm back once again. Hope everyone had a great long weekend, a happy Valentine's Day, and for those of you here in LA, hope you got through a weekend that was uncharacteristically cold, rainy, and un-LA-like.
Also, hope everyone caught last week's entry ... but as I mentioned then, there's still have a ton to talk about so I'm hoping to write quite a bit over the next several days.

I know I've been behind on my TV Reviews, and that's partly because I've been behind on TV in general. But as any loyal readers know, the two shows I almost never miss are 24 and LOST. Now, just a quick preface: I did catch tonight's most recent episode of 24 and hope to comment on it soon, but for now I'm catching up by going back and looking at last week's installment. In any case, let me offer up some quick thoughts on recent installments of two of TV's heaviest hitters ...


- On Wednesday's episode: the short version ... Another extremely compelling episode of Lost, in what's been a great season thus far. I know some people have been frustrated with how plot-heavy this season has been, with how deeply it's delved into hard sci-fi at times (there was even an EW cover story about it ...). But to me, I've really enjoyed the breakneck pace and multiple huge reveals, the pieces of the puzzle are falling into place, and, finally, we are in the early *payoff* stages of the uber Lost storyarc. Plus, even in the midst of all the craziness, there have still been tons of great character moments so far - Locke, Desmond, Ben, Daniel - just some of the characters who have really had a chance to shine over the course of the last couple of eps.

That being said, I think this past week's installment was cool, but probably the weakest overall ep of the season thus far. It had some great moments, don't get me wrong, but overall things just felt a bit rushed. I mean, the scene that epitomized this was toward the end, when Desmond runs into Jack, Ben, Sun, etc. and barely even gets an acknowledgement, after presumably not having seen his island-mates in years. A small point, but still ... Bigger picture, it was a little frustrating to see an extended glimpse of Rousseau's early days on the island and yet get few if any real answers regarding what happened to her and her crew. I am still left wondering what exactly drove everyone in her group insane, and why exactly they were all targeted by the Smoke Monster. And Smokey guards an ancient temple ...? Say what now?

Still, the reunion of Jin with Sawyer and everyone else was great, and I also really liked the scenes with Daniel and Charlotte. I'm completely intrigued by the hints that Daniel will somehow interact with young Charlotte and influence her and her family to leave the island -- even though Daniel is the one who keeps espousing that you cannot change the past. But is it changing the past if his involvement in history was already recorded? Hmmm ...

I'm also ultra-curious for next week's ep, in which it looks like Eloise, aka the Grand Dame of Time Travel, will presumably use her wise-sounding British-nanny accent to whimsically explain some of the big mysteries about the island that we've all been wondering about since Season 1. Man, that should be good ...

So yeah, I don't think this week's was the best-ever ep of Lost, but in general I'm digging this season. Still the best show on TV, says me.

My Grade:

(This week's ep): B

24 (last week's episode ...):

- Okay, for all of us who were waiting for the first truly kickass episode of 24: Season 7, we got it last week. I don't think I need to overanalyze this one too much, suffice it to say that the potent combo of badass Bauer, Bill Buchanan, Agent Freckles, and a high-stakes rescue mission to save the First Gentleman made for some exciting, gravitas-filled television. Not to mention, "With all due respect, Madame President -- ask around." is probably one of the all-time classic 24 lines. Apparently things will kick up a notch even more in the coming weeks as these will be post-Writer's Strike episodes ... here's hoping for even more Power in the Hour of Bauer.

My Grade: A

- I'd also like to make mention of last week's return to TV of KING OF THE HILL. One of my all-time fave comedies, the perpetually underrated KOTH returned with what was actually something of a landmark episode, which saw the long-awaited birth of LuAnne's baby. The episode had a lot of vintage KOTH moments, and once again surprised me with just how genuine and emotional the show can get and with how real the characters feel, despite being animated. Hail to the King, baby.

My Grade: A-

- I feel like I barely even need to grade THE OFFICE and 30 ROCK anymore, as both have been so consistently good this season. Especially The Office, which to me has just been on a real roll of late, finding the perfect balance between more off-the-wall humor and the darker, bleaker, and more subtle style of the British original. Last night's Office ep was just great overall. Michael's breakdown following his realization that Holly was now dating someone else was both hard to watch and hilariously awkward. 30 ROCK this season has at times felt a bit too old-school sitcom-y for my tastes, but still, no other show delivers as many awesome quotables week in and week out.

My Grades:

The Office: A

30 Rock: B+

Okay, onto some movie reviews ...

TAKEN Review:

- Sometimes, a movie comes along that you can't quite judge on a normal grading scale. Sometimes, a movie comes along that a lot of people won't quite appreciate, but that some people, people like me, will hail as a film that plain and simply, well, kicked ass. Taken is one such movie -- a badass action flick that makes you want to cheer. It's got a hero you can't help but root for, played with ultra-intensity by the great Liam Neeson. It's got some great action scenes, some memorable lines, and a breakneck pace that's quite literally all-killer no-filler. If you've been jonesing for an old-school action / revenge movie of the kind that they don't really make enough of anymore, then I can't recommend Taken enough. This is a manly movie, and it will grab you in a headlock and make you scream "uncle."

Told with a laser-focused sense of urgency, Taken is a movie that trims away the fat and presents a very streamlined story that manages to waste little time with extraneous plot. But what the movie does relaly well is that it takes just enough time to build up Liam Neeson's character. You get that gradual, slow build in the movie's first twenty minutes or so - just enough time to hammer home that Neeson at this stage in his life is basically a quiet, mild-mannered regular Joe Sixpack. He's a guy who retired early and moved across the country to be closer to his teenage daughter, who now lives with his ex-wife and her millionaire husband. Sure, we know that in a past life he was some kind of military operative, but no matter how badass he may have been back in the day, all indications are that those days are long gone.

And that's the whole fun of Taken -- the build-up of Neeson as an unassuming guy with a hard-edged past slowly but surely creates a huge level of anticipation for his mild-mannered character's inevitable hulk-up. So when his daughter is kidnapped and Neeson vows to wreak unholy vengeance on her captors, it's simply a joy to watch him begin his rescue mission with cold and calculating precision and ruthless aggression.

Really, this is just a fun movie that pushes all the right buttons for action-movie fans. It has an over-the-top, European feel to it that brings to mind the B-movie trappings of other recent Luc Besson-scripted fare like The Transporter. Not to say that Taken is quite as cartoonish as that film, but it does have that same sly sense of humor where you can't always quite be sure when the film is winking at the audience and when it's being deadly serious. With a guy like Luc Besson, it's often a pretty fine line. But that tightrope-walk between campy humor and straight-up action-drama makes for the perfect formula for one hell of an entertaining movie. All I know is, there were several scenes that made our theatrical audience burst into spontaneous bouts of applause. An action movie that makes you want to stand up and cheer due to sheer badass overload? Sign me up.

My Grade: A-

- Alright, back soon with reviews of FANBOYS and CORALINE and much more! Stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Back On Blog: Oscar Thoughts, a WALTZ WITH BASHIR Review, and MORE

I'm back, and there's a ton to talk about, so let's get right to it. A quick preface in that I really do have a ton to talk about, and I've been unbelievably backlogged in terms of writing down stuff here on the blog. In fact, I have FOUR, count 'em, FOUR movie reviews I need to get out there, and hopefully I'll get to at least one of them in this very entry.

First of all though, I do want to talk a little about the movies, but more specifically, the Oscars. Don't worry, no Christian Bale-style rants ahead, just some looong, long-overdue thoughts on this year's nominees that I've been meaning to write down for, oh, the last three weeks or so ...

To start, congrats to Slumdog Millionaire for all of its nominations, including Best Picture. Personally, I really don't get whatever backlash exists towards this movie. The worst is that so many people talk down the movie who haven't even seen it. I completely understand the fatigue that comes with so much hype around a given film, but I also hate when people dismiss something based on hype alone. Slumdog deserves to win Best Picture this year, and I also think that Danny Boyle deserves a Best Director nod. Adapted screenplay is another category where I've got to go with Slumdog as well. It's for that reason that I can't get *too* worked up about some of this year's snubs, because Slumdog would probably have been my overall pick in a number of categories anyways ... So, if we're talking about Dark Knight ... part of me does wish that DK was nominated, and part of me says "well, it wasn't going to win anyways, so ...". And then, with Dark Knight, I don't know ... Was it one of my absolute favorite movies of 2008, and the undisputed king of comic book adaptations? Yes indeed. But, from a purely objective standpoint, are there things about it that dont' exactly hold up to intense scrutiny? Unfortunately, yes there are. An at-times awkward script, some messy editing, and an anticlimactic ending all take points away in my book from Dark Knight's overall Oscar viability. To me, the one area where the movie absoultely HAD to get a nom was for Heath Ledger's iconic turn as The Joker. Since Ledger did in fact get nominated, I do believe that the movie's biggest strength was in fact acknowledged. Now, if only there was a Best Cameo award, I'd give it to William Fichtner in a heartbeat.

Now, that said, the question arises ... are movies like The Reader, Benjamin Button, and Frost/Nixon really so much better than The Dark Knight, that *they* should get Best Picture recognition? I haven't seen The Reader, but I will say that I am a bit puzzled by a movie like Frost/Nixon being in that elite category, and even more so by Button, which to me was a solid B+ but not in the A-range that to me is necessary to be a serious Oscar contender. If I had to pick one film that really got a Best Picture snub though, it would have to be The Wrestler. I mean, come on, The Wrestler is the complete package. Not only should it have gotten a Best Picture nomination, but man, Darren Aranofsky should really have gotten a Best Director nom as well for his gritty, understated work behind the camera. Not to mention that The Wrestler's screenplay was easily one of the year's best -- I wa honestly shocked not to see it nominated.

I was not really shocked to see a lack of noms for Gran Torino, as I loved it, but it's sort of a B-movie. But ... I don't see how Gran Torino got no Oscar love while Clint Eastwood's other directorial effort of '08, Changeling, did. I really wasn't crazy about Angelina's melodramatic acting in that one - in fact, I'd go so far as to say that she was actually better and more memorable in Wanted. Similarly, I thought Robert Downey Jr. was hilarious in Tropic Thunder, but at the same time, it just seems wrong that he wa nominated for his role there as opposed to Iron Man ...

I also was kind of annoyed at Wall-E's lack of nominations ... again, as with Dark Knight, I wasn't that surprised that Wall-E got snubbed for Best Picture, but at the same time, I couldn't help but feel some frustration. Because Wall-E may have been Pixar's best film yet, and you have to wonder - if the venerable Pixar's best film can't get a Best Picture nomination, isn't that kind of pathetic?

Finally, I have to wonder how Burn After Reading was completely snubbed. Are you kidding me? It's funny too, because I actually think that Bradd Pitt was better in Burn than in Button. As was Tilda Swindon. And Frances McDorman and John Malkovich surely deserved some recognition as well. Overall, it just annoys me that when the Coen Brothers put out a great drama like No Country For Old Men, critics unanimously praise it, and yet when they do a great comedy, it feels like people are afraid to give it the kudos it deserves.

But really, other than these couple of gripes, I don't know if I'm in the camp of being quite as angry with the Oscar picks as some other seem to be. I mean, it's not like The Oscars have ever really represented what's cool, buzzworthy, or cutting edge. It almost seems not worth it to complain about how Son of Rambow got no noms, or American Teen, or how the outdated Foreign Language rules prevented Let The Right One In from even being nominated.

But on the plus side, you get a great little movie like In Bruges that has a screenplay nomination. You get Mickey Rourke in the mix for best actor, Heath Ledger a favorite for Supporting, and an overall amazing movie like Slumdog that looks poised to sweep a number of categories. As long as the end results reward the best of the best, you can't complain all that much about the ins and outs of the nominations.

I'll be back soon with my actual picks and predictions, but for now, those are my Oscar thoughts ... dammit all.

- Okay, I have a ton of movies I need to specifically talk about, but I'll start with one that I actually saw a couple of weeks back that I've been meaning to review. So without further ado ...


- Waltz With Bashir is a wholly unique movie that I would definitely recommend checking out -- it's not always the easiest film to watch, but it is undoubtedly powerful. More than anything else, it really is a pretty powerful anti-war film. Personally, I was fascinated by its subject matter. Having just come back from Israel, you can't help but visit that country and come away with a huge sense of Israeli pride and patriotism. But - there is a flipside - that being that for all of that pride and patriotism, you can't just ignore the fact that, in the conflicts that Israelis find themselves in, a lot of bad things do happen. Innocent people die, young soldiers are prematurely aged, hatreds are reinforced. No matter how noble the cause, war is ugly and horrible. And even when your intentions are the well-meaning, in war there is always, always the potential for things to go awry, with tragic results. Waltz With Bashir deals with this very issue - detailing the struggle of its filmmaker, Ari Folman, to come to grips with his time as a soldier in the Israeli army during the Lebanon War in the 1980's.

Despite it being relatively recent history, the now middle-aged Folman has a mental block when it comes to the events of the Lebanon War. He has hazy memories of the time, and has trouble piecing together where he was during some of the key events of the war. Most notably, he can't quite figure out what if any role he played during the notorious Sabra massacre that occured during the war, in which numerous innocent Palestinian civilians were executed by extremists, as Israeli forces failed to act in time to stop the slaughter.

Waltz With Bashir employs a unique animation style that is realistic, but stylized - not simply rotoscoped a la Waking Life or A Scanner Darkly. The Flash animation really works well in the context of the story, reinforcing the dreamlike nature of the various flashbacks to Ari's time in the army. Essentially, the movie follows Ari around in the present-day, as he seeks out old army compatriots, asking them for their accounts of their days fighting in Lebanon. Ari is searching for any hint, any account, that jogs his memory and in turn puts a top to his recurring nightmares about that time. To that end, a lot of the movie is comprised of these various accounts, narrated by the actual witnesses in documentary-like fashion. And here's where the movie is unique -- its structure and real-life subjects make it essentially a documentary, but its animated style allows the movie to veer into all kinds of surreal territory. Even as we hear the first-hand accounts of our various subjects, the visuals on-screen paint a stylized and often abstract picture of their stories. The effect is that of an autobiographical graphic novel on screen.

And to be honest, my favorite moments of the film were easily those that were the most far-removed from what you'd see in a traditional documentary. There are chill-inducing rock n' roll montages, scenes of surreal imagery, and nightmarish warzones, that really wowed me. The music as a whole in the movie is awesome - with songs that evoke the era, set the tone of the movie, and just plain rock.

Honestly, the main time the movie drags is when it simply presents a sort of animated documentary. When it's just talking heads and fairly static images, the pace begins to slow and you get a bit taken out of the movie. Because so many of the scenes are wholly enveloping and immersive, it's harder to concentrate during the slow points.

But still, I will be rooting for WALTZ WITH BASHIR come Oscar time. It's a story that reveals the inner-conflicts of Israel, the price of war, and the strange nature of time and memory. It frames one man's life as dream and nightmare, as one cog in the wheel of a larger drama. It's unique visual style, structure, and use of music are all completely unique as compared to so much of what is out there. Certainly a movie I'd urge people to check out if it's playing near you.

My Grade: A-

- Alright, back soon with updates on Lost, 24, and reviews of Taken, Fanboys, and Coraline.