Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Monday, February 28, 2011

Tips for Next Years Oscar Pool

If you are one of the few people who walked with an extra skip in their step today because you won your Oscar pool last night, congratulations to you. However, the rest of us are listening to friends and co-workers gloat as they collect their winnings. Maybe next year.

Unfortunately, there are no saber metrics for the Academy Awards but with an understanding of voting techniques, past history and basic pool strategy you can be in contention year in and year out.

Pick an Underdog

Assuming none of the categories are weighted, don’t be afraid to shy away from the favorite. I’m not saying you should have picked Toy Story 3 for Best Picture – although calling that upset should be rewarded with a cut of the winnings but pick a nominee who will probably come in a close 2nd. Annette Benning, Geoffrey Rush, or The Social Network (Best Picture) all qualified under this principle.

As important as the major categories appear, in a pool they are only one category. I picked The Social Network to win best picture because I knew The King’s Speech was going to get a lot of love from my co-workers. If there was an upset, that could push me over the edge when it’s all said and done.

While strategy can help, I DO NOT recommend you apply this to your entire ballot. Favorites are such for good reason and a good portion of academy voters are just going to vote for whatever gets the most buzz. However, if you apply this to one or two categories and lose, you will make it up in the long run.

More Often Than Not, Match Your Best Picture and Director

A little known fact: Producers, not directors, get the Best Picture award. The Academy feels bad about this, so they give their Directing award to the film that leads their Best Picture rankings. Unless you are picking Best Picture as your underdog, match this category with the Best Picture Favorite.

There are years where the consensus is that the categories will split but this hasn’t happened since 2007 when Crash upset Brokeback Mountain for Best Picture (No going into the reasons for that debacle). This was another one of those years as people were convinced David Fincher would win for directing The Social Network even if The King’s Speech won best picture.

Look at (Recent) History

Did you see how I used a stat from the 2007 awards in explaining last night’s winners. The human element certainly hurts the Oscars from being a pure stat’s game, more so than sports but they’re still useful. There’s no need to look at trends from the more than five or ten years ago which can easily be done on IMDb.

This also helps out with those pesky technical categories like cinematography or visual effects. Directors often work with the same people, especially if they made a similar movie. Take the Coen Brothers True Grit, similar tone and landscape to No Country for Old Men. Both were shot by Roger Deakins. If Deakins hadn’t won for No Country, he probably would’ve won this year.

Don’t Pick the Popular Foreign Films

Another little known fact: Only the Academy members who attend designated screenings and see all the films nominated in the foreign category, vote for the category. This is the major reason why, Pan’s Labyrinth, Waltz with Bashir, The White Ribbon and A Prophet – all of which were extremely popular – didn’t win in their respective years. Use this to your advantage and eliminate those from your mind and just pick one of whatever’s left.

There are exceptions to the rule. If a foreign film is nominated for Best Picture a la Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, vote that film in the foreign category.

Pick the Blockbuster Best Picture Nom. in EVERYTHNG Else.

The move to ten Best Picture nominations allows hit blockbusters to get some respect from The Academy. Last year it was Avatar, this year it was Inception. For better or worse, these movies are generally considered out of the running for the big prize.

Inception was almost universally loved. This love helped it win for Cinematography, Visual Effects, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing. The “popular” films are generally a given for many of the technical categories.

Don’t Pay Attention to Any One Prior Award Show

I wrote an entry about this after The Golden Globes last year. Neither that or any other award show solely decides the Oscars. While that particular awards show was precise in the acting categories but so were other shows. All I can say on these is focus on the other shows as a whole, particularly those from the Globes on. Past Oscar stats are more important though.

Other Things to Keep In Mind

• Anything with a non-linear narrative is a safe bet for editing.
• If there’s an obvious choice for make-up, i.e. The Wolfman, is a sure thing more than not.
• Period pieces almost always win for Costume

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Friday, February 11, 2011

The Lights Go Out in Dillon, Texas

The following post is a retrospective on not only last night’s Friday Night Lights Series Finale but the entire series as a whole. There are spoilers ahead. So if you haven’t seen this weeks series finale or plan on watching the entire show on your own time – why haven’t you? It’s on Instant – then you best stop reading.

Like most contemporary television shows, I find myself in the awkward spot with Friday Night Lights. I’m not one of the die-hard fans who were there from the premiere all the way to the end. In fact I was against the entire idea of building a show based on the solid sports movie, based on the book of the same name. I even went as far as to playfully mock others on my dorm floor with being captured by what appeared to be (and still is) a predictable sports show pilot. A year later, one of my best friends and fraternity brothers came back to school with the first season on DVD. As soon as he finished a disc, he would pass it on to me. From that point on, we were hooked.
Now that the spotlight on the fictional town of Dillon, Texas has been shut down for good I can say I never felt as connected to a place and its citizens. Yes, The Wire is still the best television drama ever and the understanding it gave me to Baltimore at that time is something this white-suburban male couldn’t find any other way. But I could never see myself, nor would I want, in that world. I would, however, be satisfied growing up in Dillon. I would long leave and go on to bigger and better things beyond football like Julie, Matt, Landry or Tyra but like those characters I can also see the value in living in Dillon which is best summed up by the show’s intro.

This love for Dillon and its citizens kept me through the shows down period which is basically the second season. Said season includes a number of plotlines beyond Landry’s murderous rampage that I completely forgot about (Street and Riggins’ trip to Mexico, Tyra’s short-lived volleyball career and Tami’s sister living with the Taylors). There were others in subsequent seasons (Matt’s internship with the metal sculpture artist) but no matter how off-beat the storylines were, myself and the other dedicated fans stuck with the show with the hope we would be given the glory of that first season and more often than not, we were rewarded.

Through the few failed plots, cast changes and small changes in tone, the show has always had two excellent leads in Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton to hold our attention as seen in the final shots of season three and season five, both of which were meant as a series finale.

There has been plenty said about how Chandler and Britton played the most realistic, happily married couple in the history of television. This is all true so I won’t spend a paragraph discussing it. All I’ll say is hopefully they get their second consecutive Emmy nominations and hopefully a win for at least one of them and go on to lead roles on other shows of a high caliber.

The same goes for the rest of the cast. Some who left the cast early are already making some noise. Gaius Charles (Smash) did four movies in the past two years including Takers, Salt and The Messenger. Minka Kelly is currently in theaters with The Roommate and is in the pilot for the Charlies Angels reboot. Based on their talents seen throughout Friday Nights Lights is potentially endless.

It’s going to be hard to live without a show with the quality of Friday Night Lights, possibly harder than something like Lost. I look forward to hearing friends ask, “Do you know about this show Friday Night Lights,” in the future and revisiting the show with them through a discussion about each season. Until then we’ll have to keep our eyes clear and hearts full and know that the show never lost as it left on its own terms.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Directors to Trust with 3D

Earlier this week, reports rose of Keanu Reeves breaking news of two more films in The Matrix franchise which will be shot back to back, in 3D, and according to Reeves will “truly revolutionize the action genre like the first movie.” While this report was latter deemed inaccurate but still brings up a larger topic. Movie franchises are getting an unnecessary extra film from the technology’s prominence i.e. the latest Chronicles of Narnia film which followed a less than stellar performance from its predecessor.

There has also been a large amount of backlash for Baz Luhrman’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby which is also being filmed in the third dimension. The novel is almost everybody’s favorite book (one of mine too) because they first read it in High School (as did I) so invariably, people hold it very close to their hearts and the unavoidable mistreatment of even the smallest detail will cause distress amongst high school graduates everywhere.

Criticism aside, I would actually be excited for a 3D venture from both the Wachowski’s or Luhrman. James Cameron created an excellent movie experience unique to theaters with Avatar and there are a number of other directors who could play with the tech in unique ways. Here are a few other director I would trust in the third dimension.

Tim Burton – I’m sorry to all the fanboys out there but last years’ Alice in Wonderland doesn’t count. It wasn’t shot in or for 3D. While his more recent films are bogged down in visual effects, his imagination his still rightfully intact as seen in Big Fish, his last great film. Imagine a situation where viewers only put on their glasses during that film’s story sequences. The scene at the circus would be breathtaking.

Steven Spielberg – A bit of an obvious choice and his films are known for crumbling when they over-rely on effects but dammit when his movies work, they pay-off tenfold. Look at something like Minority Report, a film that combines excellent effects and action scenes with a compelling mystery and sci-fi themes. A similar movie may actually make me pay extra for the third dimension.

Christopher Nolan – Inception was a visual feast for the eyes. We’ll have to wait till after The Dark Knight Rises before we get a chance to see Nolan experiment in the third dimension (which is for the better!) but it will certainly be worth the wait.

Wes Anderson – A dark horse to be sure and a director who is certainly capable of causing apathy in his audience (Darjeeling Limited) and I don’t approve of his directing methods for the very good Fantastic Mr. Fox. However, his commitment to mis-en-scene and his film’s overall visual style is amazing. His first 3D film would definitely grab the attention of every hipster and film student in the country.

Are there other directors you would trust with 3D? Would you even want some of these directors to take on the tech? Leave your comments below and check out the poll to left of the screen.

As always, make sure to follow Audible Motion on Twitter at for news and updates on the blog. Also, be sure to check out my gaming blog, Eyes Open Thumbs Down at

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Grown-up Movies #1: No Return allowed

Unlike many film lovers, my parents were surprisingly effective at keeping me away from films they deemed inappropriate. Even more surprising I honored their judgment and opinion. More than often, I picked age appropriate titles out at the video store. However, there were times when I’d bring my parents a video and was met with the phrase, “That’s a Grown-up movie.” I would then proceed to find a new choice.

I’ve decided to go back and watch or re-watch some of those films and offer my thoughts on if they were indeed worth the wait or if my parents were protecting me from more than violence, sex, and foul language.

Despite my parent’s stringent stance on films with a rating outside my age range, I experienced Tim Burton’s Batman for the first time at five years-old. This along with my biological alarm clock set for the daily airing of Batman: The Animated Series and the Dark Knight taking up the majority of my action figure collection, the caped crusader was easily my favorite of the comic book characters.

So when I first saw advertisements for the next Batman film in which he would battle The Penguin and Catwoman, I was stoked. I was Batman that year for Halloween, got the Happy Meal toys (before they were pulled) and got the Wayne Manor /Bat Cave play set for Christmas.

However when I wanted to go see Burton’s Batman sequel, I was met with a surprising “No,” which may have been due to stories of parents groups turning against the film, or just word of mouth from my mom’s friends who took their kids to see it opening weekend. All this hype and it surprises me that I never saw the film start to finish until a couple of years ago and just watched it again as I'm on a bit of an all things Batman binge.

It’s interesting to go back and watch the Burton Batman films having now experienced Nolan’s Gotham City. The current trend to favor gritty real-world action in lieu of theatrics definitely dates the Batman of the nineties, especially Burton’s. However since Batman Returns features characters not yet seen in Nolan’s films, this sequel holds up far better than its predecessor. The scope of the film is much tighter with the first films klunky handling of the mob eliminated and characters meant to deepen the universe like Billy Dee Williams’ Harvey Dent left out of the final script. Despite these positives there were still too many characters.

The first major Superhero sequel is also the first to suffer from “too many villains syndrome,” that is now a significant part of the superhero film lexicon. While The Penguin character was always a part of the film, it definitely feels like he character operates outside of the film’s most compelling threads. His master plan of murdering Gotham’s first born is over almost before it even begins. In the film’s best scene and final showdown, he’s nowhere to be found.

It’s funny to think of how The Dark Knight visits the same concept of Batman being no different than the crazy villains he fights and throws in Arkham Asylum, yet back then, everyone talked about the films dark atmosphere and the scary nature of the Penguin. Excluding the Penguin from the film would result in a much more mature film but also less theatrical and action oriented. No one in 1995 – Warners, Audiences or Burton – wanted a Batman film that was a deep meditation on who comprises of Gotham’s truly insane. This would result in a film that would bore more children than it would frighten, upset fewer parents and be an overall better film.

Finally there’s the films last scene – specifically the last shot – that is fresher in my mind than any other Batman moment. The scene marks a strong sense of hope, for both the characters and subsequent films that is truly beautiful. It’s too bad Burton wasn’t given another chance to bring Gotham alive.

Worth the wait or Worse than any inappropriate content: Worth the wait.

Would you like to see more posts in this series or would you rather things stay current? Make your voice heard in the poll to the left.

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Monday, December 6, 2010

Can a Good Film Have Only Bad Performances?

At a panel interview with the Hollywood Reporter Mark Ruffalo and Jesse Eisenberg compared David Fincher’s shooting technique – one in which he shoots many takes – to that of legendary director Stanley Kubrick. After the comment, actor Robert Duvall commented that Kubrick’s films contain “the worst performances I’ve ever seen.” He did add that they may be good filmsbut he still thought the acting was terrible.

I currently do not subscribe to the Hollywood Reporters online service so I do not have access to the full quote. You can read more about it on The Onion AV Club here.

I have no interest in criticizing Duvall’s comments (interviews can cause people to simply say things) or point out the great performances Kubrick got out of the likes of Kirk Douglas, Peter Sellers, and Malcolm McDowell – to name a few. What does interest me is whether or not a “great” film can exist with poor performances from its principal actors.

One common thread in modern film criticism is to point out individual actors that give excellent performances in lesser films. Popular recent examples include Kate Winslet in The Reader, Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side, or Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart (hmm…all Oscar-winning performances). However, it is very rare for critics to praise a film while dismissing the principal performances.

Kevin Smith’s Clerks finds itself in this small group. While Smith wasn’t working with then professional actors, Brian O’Halloran (Dante) and Jeff Anderson (Randal) give sometimes hard to watch performances relative to their performances in the sequel. Each performance is there to reiterate the script, which is interesting considering a popular rumor that Smith never allowed his actors to improvise – a myth he dispelled in the comic-con panel for Zach and Miri Make a Porno. That being said, Clerks is a hilarious film. From its release to this very day, its’ refreshing dialogue opens viewers to a unique brand of comedy and dialogue.

As charming as Smith’s first film is, there is something special about a movie that combines a compelling story, interesting idea and excellent performances. Nearly all universally praised films like Goodfellas or Casablanca are exalted for their themes, technique, and story, directing and yes…acting. These are also all rated higher on iMDB than Clerks. While this can’t be taken as gospel, (movie criticism is subjective…imagine that!) audiences clearly recognize certain films as being “complete,” in this regard.

It’s very rare for a film to earn praise without at least one solid to astounding performance. It’s definitely more common in first films like Clerks or Darren Aranofsky’s Pi. It’s certainly possible, however a poor performance can go a long way to pull viewers out of a film.

What do you think? Are there any films you love that don’t have any especially great lead performances? Is it possible for a film to be great but not have a single good performance? Post your thoughts in the comments below or share them on Twitter @audible_motion.

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Down on the Boardwalk: Why the Show That Couldn't Fail Left Viewers Wanting More

No new show was built higher... and made to fall farther than HBO's Boardwalk Empire. Even as the highly anticipated premiere approached, a small stream of negative buzz and backlash began to surface. I first saw the ads for the new series as I sat down for The Pacific Steve Buscemi's line of pure exposition was fresh and exciting at the time and the proposition of seen Michael Pitt do some serious mainstream work was promising.

The hour and a half long pilot won praise from both the critics and audiences alike. The show averaged 4.8 million viewers - a record for HBO and enough to warrant renewal for a second season. And why not? HBO treated its viewers to the latest feature length production from none other than the man who brought us Goodfellas, Mean Streets and The Departed. The show couldn't possibly fail. But it did...sort of.

While the first episode made great use of the show's elaborate rendition of the Atlantic City Boardwalk with the bustling fanfare of Dixie bands, side-shows and carnival games, the second episode was much quieter focusing more on character interactions than place.

This was to be expected as it’s the pilot episodes job to introduce us to the show's Who, What, Where, and When - it's also worth noting that second episodes are shot well after pilots, and Boardwalk is no exception. Now that the show is nearing the end of its inaugural season (and significantly lower ratings), it's clear that the first episode was vastly different from what the show turned out to be.

In a B.S. Report interview with Lost producer Carlton Cuse, host Bill Simmons asserted Lost would be the last show of its kind and the days of the big budget network drama were over. Simmons also said the television drama will transform to a series of interpersonal interactions, often indoors and between no more than three characters. HBO's newest drama couldn't represent that transition more clearly.

With this transition, show's such as Boardwalk Empire will serve only to confuse viewers who don't give it a chance. This isn't the epic look at the emergence of organized crime that audiences thought it would be but a small examination of a place and time leading up to The Great Depression and what some will do to make sure they don't fall victim to a very prevalent lower-middle class.

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