Sunday, February 24, 2013




Hello, friends and constant readers, and welcome to my 8th annual LIVE, moment-by-moment, stream-of-consciousness Oscar commentary! Goddamn, I’ve been doing this for a long time... and you might think it has become obsolete in this day & age when everyone and their mother live-tweets everything... but I beg to differ. At this point, your Twitter feeds are likely blazing past your eyes at an alarming, indecipherable rate and it’s just too much to take in -- so feel free to stay here awhile and follow along for what I promise will be an entertaining read. For the first time in my prolific movie-going career, I have seen EVERY Oscar nominee in EVERY category -- we’re talkin’ all features, docs, foreign films, shorts, etc. -- therefore every one of my predictions, rants & raves will be informed rather than pulled out of my ass! High five!

I do not outwardly hate most of this year’s nominees, so I do not foresee much rage as we’ve seen in past years (CRASH, Natalie Portman, etc.). But it should still be an interesting evening. My #1 movie of 2012 was LINCOLN, so I’ll be rooting for it practically across the board -- my top movie has not won Best Picture since THE RETURN OF THE KING in 2004, so that would be fun for me. But recently, it looks like ARGO might be the film to beat -- a film I also enjoyed very much. Can’t imagine anyone but the great Daniel Day-Lewis winning Best Actor, but Best Actress is very much up for grabs: Will it be America’s sweetheart, Jennifer Lawrence? The glamorous Jessica Chastain? The youngest-ever nominee Quvenzhane Wallis or the oldest-ever, Emmanuelle Riva? (Sorry, Naomi Watts, you have no chance.) Will Anne Hathaway continue her triumphant march through awards season, much to the dismay of her legion of haters (personally, I love her)? Will this be the year that we stop taking Steven Spielberg and John Williams for granted for a change? Will the great cinematographer Roger Deakins, who is responsible for pretty much every Coen Bros. film that we love, finally win his first Oscar for SKYFALL? Will Supporting Actor go to Christoph Waltz or (my pick) Tommy Lee Jones or maybe Robert De Niro? Will the great Disney animated short PAPERMAN win Oscar’s heart, as it should? And perhaps most of all, how badly will host Seth MacFarlane stink up the joint??

My LIVE running commentary will begin with Red Carpet Madness (starting with the telecast on E!, if you want to watch with me, though I might switch over to ABC at some point) at 6 p.m. EST sharp, followed by the 85th Academy Awards at 8:30. I’ll be updating this blog every few minutes with my play-by-play, observations, predictions, reactions, rants and random musings -- if it pops into my head, I will write it! Absolutely no filtering allowed. And as an added bonus: I will be drinking heavily! Be sure to bookmark this page and check back often... or keep your browser right here and click “refresh” constantly & obsessively. See ya in a bit!


6:00 – Okay, let’s do this! I’m watching the E! red carpet show (God help me) and I have to say, Giuliana Rancic looks much less fish-faced than she has in past years. But also, far more skeletal. Give this woman a sandwich, stat!

6:02 – No celebrities yet. Just Giuliana and the other hosts blathering about God knows what. If Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t dominate the E! Heat Gauge, there’s something wrong with humanity.

6:03 – By the way, for the first time, and by popular demand, I am formatting this blog so that the most recent posts are on top! No more scrolling through thousands of words by the end of the night! You’re welcome, constant readers.

6:04 – Commercial for THE CALL, which looks like a distinct “Bottom 10” candidate, starring Oscar winner Halle Berry. Oy.

6:06 – Eddie Redmayne was arguably the biggest surprise in LES MIS. The dude’s got pipes and succumbed to the film’s sincerity with gusto. Also, I love that movie unabashedly (t was my #2 of the year), so expect lots of fanboy gushing.

6:08 – Shit, Quvenzhane Wallis has arrived? I’d better program her name into a macro, stat.

6:09 – Seth MacFarlane’s father and sister? That’s scraping the bottom of the celebrity barrel at this early hour. Seacrest is taking it in stride, though.

6:14 – Jessica Chastain looks like a statue. Cue Ralphie from A CHRISTMAS STORY: “Yeah, a statue…”

6:18 – Stop showing the hosts and keep showing Jessica Chastain in that ridiculously sexy gold dress! In fact, I think I speak for everyone when I say that they should have Jessica Chastain on screen in an inset all night long. D’gah.

6:21 – Jessica Chastain is back on screen and saying words. She seems like she’s probably cool in real life, aside from being unspeakably, jaw-droppingly, mind-bogglingly gorgeous. Maybe she’d like to hang out sometime! (Maybe not.)

6:23 – Commercial for G.I. JOE 2 during the Oscar pre-show. There’s a joke in there somewhere.

6:25 – AMY ADAMS! Love her so much. Amazing and kind of shocking performance in THE MASTER – in any other year, the award would probably be hers. Not sure how I feel about her hair and eye makeup, but she’s still the epitome of adorability.

6:28 – Whoa, Samantha Barks! Sexy. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Marius totally should’ve just gotten with Eponine. (Can we see Samantha in the upcoming LES MIS Broadway revival?)

6:29 – Zoe Saldana has arrived, and E! credits her with THE WORDS. Not something to be proud of. But I enjoy her very much.

6:30 – Reese Witherspoon is so damn cute! She hasn’t been in anything for a while, has she?

6:32 – Channing Tatum... still not very good. Probably just broke lots of women’s hearts by showing off his lovely pregnant wife. Womp womp!

6:34 – Q. Wallis (that’s better) can’t believe she’s nominated because the other actresses are “older and more sophisticated”... hehe… but no worries, Q, because you dominated BEASTS like a seasoned veteran. If by some unlikely chance she wins, I will smile so big, my face might fall off. 

6:36 – Cutie Reese is a big fan of Naomi Watts. That’s cool. Maybe recreate that one scene in MULHOLLAND DRIVE together…?

6:42 – Kerry Washington is pretty and her dress is sparkly around the boob region. (That’s the technical fashion world terminology, right?)

6:45 – Hey, Daniel Radcliffe! He should’ve worn a Gryffindor scarf just to throw everyone into a tizzy. But... I guess he’s past that now... shame.

6:46 – Jacki Weaver was good in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, I guess, but I would’ve much preferred to see Ann Dowd from COMPLIANCE get the Supporting Actress nod. Nice diamonds, though. “What beautiful eyes you have,” Weaver says to Seacrest. They’ll see each other later....

6:49 – More Amy Adams love on E! And now Reese again – she has been almost omnipresent during this telecast. Zoe Saldana, still my choice to play Susannah Dean in any future DARK TOWER adaptation. And now here’s Amanda Seyfried! Her dress is sparkly... but she has been relegated to an inset because JENNIFER LAWRENCE has arrived!!!

6:52 – Bryan Cranston: “We’re hoping for a wardrobe malfunction on someone.” PREACH!

6:53 – Everybody shut up, Jennifer Lawrence has arrived! And she’s starving! Get her some appetizers ASAP! She also looks amazing. I think she will probably win Best Actress, and deservedly so. OH MY GOD, she just leaned face-first into E!’s Mani Cam and said, “Your ass is mine, Stone!” to Emma Stone. As if we needed another reason to love her!!

6:59 – Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Sally Field are here together. I wish they were really mother and son!

7:00 – Dustin Hoffman is here and he’s a little worried about his future. Kind of an awkward introduction with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who was totally star-struck (and Dustin had no idea who JGL was), but that’s okay.

7:03 – Charlize Theron just appeared in the distance looking like an actual Goddess who could smite us all on a whim. Now Melissa McCarthy is here – IDENTITY THIEF sucked but I’m holding out hope that the movie with Sandra Bullock does not suck (as much).

7:05 – Jessica Chastain back on screen as we go to another commercial. No complaints.

7:14 – Sorry, guys, I’m back after setting up a Papa John’s online account so I could redeem my free pizza that I won during the Super Bowl coin toss! Yes, that’s right – FREE PIZZA will be my Oscar noms! (I’ll be here all night, folks.)

7:15 – Helen Hunt is here. Great performance in THE SESSIONS… and let’s face it… she looked damn good naked! I also spied Anne Hathaway in the background. And heeeeere come the haters (all of whom can suck it when she wins)!

7:16 – Of course Quentin Tarantino wrote Christoph Waltz’s DJANGO role with him in mind: It’s basically the same character he played in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. The man is awesome but he should not win this year...

7:17 – The seams of Anne Hathaway’s dress make it look like her nipples are out of control. Or maybe her nipples ARE out of control. Either way, I’m all for it!

7:19 – Anne Hathaway probably pissed off so many haters just now talking about finding her soulmate and how her dress “spoke to her.” BUT I LOVE HER.

7:20 – Naomi Watts looks amazing, as always. That dress is probably the craziest of the night (in a good way). Too bad THE IMPOSSIBLE was not very good and she is the least-likely Best Actress nominee to win by a great margin.

7:21 – Charlize, we bow before your splendor. If her dress was gold, she actually would look like an Oscar, and we would have to rename the award “the Charlizes.” I’d be okay with this.

7:27 – Still crazy to think that Bradley Cooper is an Oscar nominee. He deserves it, though – SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK is an excellent (if perhaps sliiiightly overblown) movie. But who knew he had such a performance in him? That said, I am fucking psyched for THE HANGOVER PART III.

7:29 – Oh man, aside from being spectacularly nipply, Anne Hathaway’s dress is also side boob-tastic. She is giving the haters every reason to hate her and I love her for that!

7:34 – Big dress recap happening right now. What is there a lull on the Red Carpet or something? But it’s cool -- more J-Law and C-Ther and J-Chas. A wealth of pulchritude on the show tonight.

7:38 – More non-Red Carpet bullshit happening on E! right now. Boooo! But I will take this opportunity to say that anyone reading this should feel free to comment, agree, argue, yell at me, etc. I can take it!

7:40 – Jennifer Aniston looks pretty meh tonight. Though she was surprisingly good in WANDERLUST. Maybe someday a David Wain/The State movie will get some Oscar love... maybe the WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER prequel! (Maybe not.)

7:43 – Nicole Kidman looks like a mermaid. An alien mermaid.

7:47 – First appearance of Ben Affleck’s beard, which continues to make me self-conscious about my own beard. Mine is fluffier, which may be a factor for any ladies who may be choosing between us... but his is far more well-kempt.

7:51 – Seems like most people on Twitter have switched to the ABC Red Carpet show, so I’m doing that, too, for the final few minutes of this portion of my live-blog. Think I just missed something fun with Hugh Jackman... dammit! Can I get a do-over on this whole affair?

7:53 – Some have told me that I look like a young Robert De Niro, which I take as a huge compliment (whether or not it’s true). Very good chance that he could win his first Oscar in many years, which would be cool, even though I’ll be rooting for Tommy Lee Jones....


7:58 – Commercial break on ABC; back to E! and I see Salma Hayek! Basically every time you change a channel you should be greeted by Salma Hayek and I would never stop watching TV.

8:00 – Okay, well, that was fun. I’m gonna take a break now and eat some pizza (Oscar noms!). Be back at 8:30 for the big show!


8:30 – Aaaaaaand we’re back! And away we go! Seth MacFarlane is here, oh God, please don’t suck too much. “The quest to make Tommy Lee Jones laugh begins now”… and it’s a success! (TLJ must be drunk, just like me.) ARGO is so top secret that the film’s director is unknown to the Academy… “They know they screwed up.” Oooh!

8:33 – MacFarlane takes digs at Jean Dujardin and touts the Oscar-filled Coppola family. He’s off to a decent, if not spectacular, start. Asks Daniel Day-Lewis if he would try to free Don Cheadle if he bumped into him on the studio lot... eek! AND A CHRIS BROWN/RHIANNA/DJANGO VIOLENCE JOKE… double eek! This is going from suck to blow quickly.

8:35 – WHOA, stop the presses, here’s William Shatner in full Starfleet garb, chiding MacFarlane for fucking up the Oscars! Ahh, so his crappy monologue is just part of the joke? Nice try. “Why can’t Tina & Amy host everything?” Captain Kirk asks. I made that joke hours ago on Twitter!

8:37 – Okay, this musical ode to boobs is kinda funny. Jennifer lawrence with a thumbs up. “And Scarlett Johansson, we saw them on our phones!” Long list of Kate Winslet nudity. On second thought, this is, unfortunately, very Family Guy and it’s wearing thin quickly.

8:40 – Channing Tatum and Charlize with a dance number while Seth sings. Kudos to Tatum for keep his clothes on. Captain Kirk still chiding Seth for sucking. This is getting worse and worse. FLIGHT performed by sock puppets (granted, this is actually slightly better than the actual movie). Meanwhile, in South Park, Colorado, fellow Family Guy hater Eric Cartman must be having a conniption fit right now.

8:42 – Daniel Radcliffe and Joseph Gordon-Levitt join Seth to perform “High Hopes”… which is ironic because all of our hopes for this show are quickly being dashed.

8:44 – Seth dressed as the FLying Nun, fanboying over Sally Field, is the mostly mildly amusing of this thing so far. And it’s still bad. “You know they’re gonna give it to Anne Hathaway.” And now they’re making out… aaaand it’s crap again.

8:46 – More traditional musical number about the nominees to the tune of “Be Our Guest.” And finally, mercifully, one of the worst opening numbers I’ve ever seen is over. Fuck you, Seth MacFarlane, you fucking douchebag.

8:47 – Okay, the first award of the night! Octavia Spencer presents Best Supporting Actor. Alan Arkin was geat in ARGO, but he was basically playing Alan Arkin. Robert De Niro hasn’t won in a very long time and could be a sentimental favorite – I know I’d mark out. Phillip Seymour Hoffman… astonishing in THE MASTER and maybe SHOULD win… but Tommy Lee Jones was equally amazing in LINCOLN, often stealing scenes from DDL himself. And then there’s Christoph Waltz, reprising his BASTERDS role with a good guy slant. And the Oscar goes to… CHRISTOPH WALTZ for DJANGO UNCHAINED. Kind of surprising, I have to say! Waltz looks legitimately flustered and sincerely offers respect to his fellow nominees – very humble speech – gotta love the guy even though he shouldn’t have won. But why is he walking off to the E.T. music? That’s weird. Give the guy a bike to fly away on! (Terribly constructed sentence there, but fuck off, I’m tipsy.)

8:55 – Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy are here… “See if you can tell ‘em apart,” Seth says, offensively. Paul Rudd rules and his hair and beard are awesome. Maybe that’s the look I personally will go for, instead of my current Ben Affleck / ARGO look. But I digress. Paul and Melissa are totally spoofing animated voiceovers, I guess? Oh, Animated Short Film is next. Really liked all of these, but Disney’s PAPERMAN has to be the winner. And the OScar goes to… PAPERMAN!! YES!! Such a beautiful film that is so up my alley because it’s about a NYC lonelyhearts being hit by the thunderbolt. Kudos, John Kahrs, and kudos, Disney for proving that you’ve still got that magic!

8:59 – And now Best Animated Feature! I’m rooting for WRECK-IT RALPH Because of the nostalgia factor, but BRAVE was also very good. PARANORMAN was also great… but the Oscar goes to BRAVE! Wow! No anti Disney/Pixar bias this year! Well done, Academy! And the guy is wearing a kilt because, y’know, Irish.

9:01 – Cutie Reese Witherspoon comes out to introduce some Best Picture nominees. LES MIS is up first... God, I love this movie... so epic and sincere and awesome. Now LIFE OF PI, which was a great book that only Ang Lee could possibly adapt successfully... and he did. Beautiful. And BEASTS! I love BEASTS! Once there was a Hushpuppy and she lived with her daddy in the Bathtub! On some level, I kind of hope BEASTS wins even though there are several movies ahead of it on my list.

9:04 – Seth MacFarlane with his first actually funny joke of the night: “Q. Wallis hopes she doesn’t lose to that old lady… Jennifer Lawrence.” (Nevermind, still not funny.)

9:05 – Holy shit, the Avengers are on stage... except for Thor, apparently. If they somehow get Ruffalo to Hulk out on stage, this will be the most amazing thing ever. And they’re presenting Best Cinematography. ANNA, a lovely period piece. LIFE OF PI, DJANGO, LINCOLN… but come on, ROGER DEAKINS for SKYFALL! And the Oscar goes to… LIFE OF PI. Damn! The great Roger Deakins goes home empty-handed once again. Damn shame that he is now the Susan Lucci of cinematographers. On the other hand, Claudio Miranda’s hair is unbelievable. And LIFE OF PI was pretty lovely... and did amazing things with 3D.

9:09 – The Avengers remain on stage to present Best Visual Effects. Rooting for THE HOBBIT here because that was some damn good looking CGI, especially in 48fps. Granted, who knows how many Academy voters saw it that way. And the Oscar goes to… LIFE OF PI, which is not surprising, again, because it was so lovely and dreamlike and managed to visually represent a seemingly unfilmable tale. Damn, maybe I should have rooted for LIFE OF PI. HAHAAH, the JAWS theme kicks in as these visual fx guys take too long – funniest bit of the night so far!

9:16 – Channing Tatum (who still sucks, by the way) and Jennifer Aniston (who has always sucked) are here to present the next award(s). Best Costume Design is up: ANNA KARENINA… can never count out a Keira Knightley period piece. LES MIS! LINCOLN! And then the Snow White smackdown, MIRROR MIRROR vs. HUNTSMAN. And the Oscar goes to… ANNA KARENINA! I guess I’m okay with that, as the costumes were amazing. Didn’t love the movie, though, which was a bit more infatuated with its gimmicks than the actual story.

9:18 – Tatum & Aniston stick around for Best Makeup & Hairstyling. HITCHCOCK, meh… it was only marginally better than J. EDGAR. THE HOBBIT kind of HAS to win this, which means it probably won’t. I love LES MIS but was kind of underwhelmed by the makeup… if anything Valjean should’ve been made to look even older and more at death’s door at the end. Oh, but hairstyling, too… they sure did a number on Hathaway! And perhaps for that reason, LES MISERABLES wins! Forget everything I just said – I’d like to hear the Les Mis music many more times tonight!

9:22 – “Oscar winner Halle Berry” (Christ) comes out to introduce a tribute to 50 years of James Bond! This ought to be cool. The theme kicks in and here we go! Lots of gadgets and Bond girls and memorable moments. This whole thing appears to be edited to resemble the opening credits to a Bond film, which is cool. They should also throw a few Austin Powers clips in here to see if we’re paying attention (which we are, because this rules). And now here’s Shirley Bassey to perform “Goldfinger!” This cool, though for a second I thought Adele had let herself go. Actually, fuck me and my stupid ignorant joke - this woman looks amazing. And she is bringing the goddamn house down! Adele is actually going to be hard pressed to top this when she performs “Skyfall”…

9:32 – Stars of vastly overrated DJANGO UNCHAINED, Kerry Washington and Jamie Foxx, take the stage. But where’s Jamie’s daughter? Looks like Best Live Action Short are up next. Didn’t much care for ASAD or BUKSASHI BOYS. Loved CURFEW, DEATH OF A SHADOW is great, HENRY is brutal. And the Oscar goes to… CURFEW! YES! Amazing little film. Keep your eyes open for this guy Christensen. His speech is cool and sincere. Also, for the record, this is only the second winner I’ve guessed all night… my ballot is a debacle. But that’s what I get for voting with my heart, which has shit for brains.

9:35 – Best Documentary Short is up next. Didn’t love INOCENTE, loved KINGS POINT, MKONDAYS AT RACINE probably wins, OPEN HEART could win, REDEMPTION was interesting if you’re a New Yorker… and the Oscar goes to INOCENTE. Kind of surprising there, as it was a good but not great doc. However, Inocente herself is there, which is a far cry from where she was before this movie was made, and that is pretty cool.

9:37 – SCHINDLER’S LIST music accompanies Liam Neeson to the stage. Classic American superhero, eh? Not sure about that. He’s introducing some more Best Picture nominees, starting with the current frontrunner, ARGO. I liked this film a lot – pure entertainment – but probably shouldn’t win. On the other hand, LINCOLN is a perfect film, brilliantly written, expertly directed, flawlessly acted, beautifully scored. Oh yeah, almost forgot about ZERO DARK THIRTY… great film, as Kathryn Bigelow asserts herself as the Master of the Military Procedural. But nah.

9:41 – Terrible, terrible, Lincoln / John Wilkes Booth joke by MacFarlane. I know it was probably intentionally bad… but it’s exacerbated by how bad he has been so far. Ugh. I wish Tina Fey & Amy Poehler would bum rush the stage right now and take over.

9:43 – Ben Affleck’s Beard is here to talk about documentarians, which can only mean that he will be presenting Best Documentary Feature! All of these are kind of bleak and/or super serious. 5 BROKEN CAMERAS and THE GATEKEEPERS about the Middle East. INVISIBLE WAR about rape in the military (and the best of the bunch). HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE about AIDS. And hey, SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN, the one feel-good movie, wins. Eh. Rodriguez is awesome, though. Ahh, looks like they’re sticking with the JAWS theme as the “get off the stage” music, rather than mixing it up with other ominous-sounding themes. Okay.

9:49 – Jennifer Garner and Jessica Chastain is a pairing of pulchritudinous proportions. If my cable decided to freeze on this screen right now, I’d be fine with it. Best Foreign Film is up next. AMOUR wins, easily. KON TIKI Was a swashbuckling Norwegian sea adventure. A ROYAL AFFAIR was okay. WAR WITCH was like the R-rated fucked up version of BEASTS. And the Oscar goes to… AMOUR! Of course, it kind of HAD to win, since it’s also nom’ed for Best Picture. If it lost, it would’ve created a paradox that would’ve torn a hole in the fabric of the time-space continuum and destroyed the universe! Probably. Michael Haneke is accepting the award but he’s nothing like his Twitter persona in real life...

9:53 – Hail Xenu, John Travolta is here to present the highly-anticipated tribute to movie musicals. CHICAGO montage first... good movie, but remember when it won Best Picture, despite THE PIANIST winning Best Actor, Director and Screenplay? That made no sense. But here’s Catherine Zeta-Jones looking good and singing “All That Jazz,” which I heard about six times during the Bellagio fountain show last time I was in Vegas.

9:57 – That being said, while CHICAGO maybe shouldn’t have won Best Picture, it was still pretty good. DREAMGIRLS, on the other hand, was pretty much complete shite. Also, doesn’t the fact that Jennifer Hudson is now thin and conventionally hot sort of go against the message of the film? Eh, she’s still no Beyonce...

10:00 – LES MIS!!! I love it so much, I don’t even fucking care anymore. Sometimes I regret not anointing it as my #1 movie of the year out of sheer, unbridled adoration. And here comes Hugh Jackman to sing... eh, the not-so-great new song from the movie, “Suddenly”… which segues into “One Day More!” YES! Anne Hathaway, I love you – suck it, haters! Marius and Cosette and now Eponine, all amazing. I cannot possibly type fast enough to express my love for this. RUSSELL CROWE IS SINGING LIVE ON STAGE, MOTHERFUCKERS, AND HE IS DOING A GOOD JOB. EVERYONE IS SINGING AND IT’S THE BEST PART OF THE NIGHT AND I WANT TO SEE THE MOVIE AGAIN RIGHT NOW AND I HOPE IT WINS AND I CAN’T WAIT FOR IT TO COME BACK TO BROADWAY IN 2014 AND I’M AS HAPPY AS A LITTLE GIRL! SQUEEEEE!

10:08 – Pretty sure I heard Yoda’s theme when they came back from the commercial break. Cool. And now Chris Pine and Zoe Saldana are here to talk about something... Oh, they were the young, attractive people to present technical awards. That’s cool. Usually it’s just a hot chick, so including Pine for the benefit of female and gay nerds is sort of progressive of the Academy. Right? Anyone?

10:11 – Oh Christ, here’s Mark Wahlberg and Ted. We knew that was coming, and it sucked just as much as we knew it would. Though if Marky Mark says, “Say hi to your mother for me,” it’ll all be worthwhile. They’re presenting Best Sound Mixing, which has to go to LES MIS because of the whole “singing live on set” thing. An the Oscar goes to… LES MISERABLES! Woo-hooo!

10:14 – Wahlberg and Ted tell some weird Jew jokes, and now it’s Best Sound Editing, which I believe will go to SKYFALL… or maybe ZERO DARK THIRTY, which I seriously keep forgetting about. Holy shit, there’s a tie?! That’s crazy! ZERO DARK THIRTY gets one of them… and the other one goes to SKYFALL! So… I guess I get half a point on my Oscar ballot for this one? I’LL TAKE IT!

10:19 – That was a funny SOUND OF MUSIC joke but because the execution reminds me of Family Guy, I automatically hate it. And now here’s the man, Christopher Plummer, presumably to present Best Supporting Actress! The Anne Hathaway Haters are collectively frothing at the mouth in anticipation of spitting their vitriol. But I love her! I also love Amy Adams, who was incredible and shocking in THE MASTER… what happened to my sweet girl?? Sally Field did a fine job as the token woman in an all-male LINCOLN cast. And here’s Anne singing “I Dreamed a Dream,” possibly the single best scene in any movie of 2012. There’s Helen Hunt… brave performance in THE SESSIONS. And Jacki Weaver, whose nomination still befuddles me, but SILVER LININGS is good. And the Oscar goes to… ANNE HATHAWAY for LES MISERABLES! So deserved. She’s emotional and seems to be making a concerted effort to remain poised. She also sounds incredibly sincere to me. Also, have I mentioned that she is adorable? I love this! “Here’s hoping that in the future, the misfortunes of Fantine will only be found in stories and never in real life.” And cue THE GODFATHER music as we go to commercial…?

10:28 – INDIANA JONES theme as we return. Nice music picks by the orchestra tonight. Now comes the requisite moment where the Academy President comes out and puts everyone to slee….zzzzzzzzzzzzz.

10:31 – MacFarlane is reeeeally struggling out there. I’m almost starting to feel bad for the guy. (Almost.) Sandra Bullock is here (she’s an Oscar winner, too, you know). I believe she is going to present Best Film Editing, which could be a telling category. ARGO, very taut. LIFE OF PI, dreamy. LINCOLN, political procedural. SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, snappy. ZERO DARK THIRTY, intense rollercoaster… and the Oscar goes to… ARGO. Well, that pretty much seals the deal: It will win Best Picture. Okay.

10:34 – EVERYBODY SHUT UP, JENNIFER LAWRENCE IS ON STAGE AND LOOKS AMAZING. She’s introducing Adele, who is performing “Skyfall” from, um, I forget the name of the movie. Just kidding, I’m on like my fifth drink. It occurs to me that I’ve never actually listened to this song outside of the context of the movie. It’s good! Now let’s have Bassey vs. Adele in a Bond theme sing-off lightning round!

10:43 – Whoa, faceless announcer voice, not Seth, introduces Nicole Kidman. Did they give him the boot? Here’s hoping! Nicole – who looks less alien-like than she did during the Red Carpet show, but still very mermaid-esque – is introducing the last batch of Best Picture noms. SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK first… very charming and funny and lovable film, even though it kinda sort of trivializes mental illness, a little. But on the other hand: Jennifer Lawrence. Now, DJANGO UNCHAINED... so overrated… Tarantino at his most bloated and self-indulgent. And AMOUR… God, so good… but now I wanna slit my wrists.

10:47 – WOW, Daniel Radcliffe and Kristen Stewart presenting together.. that is kind of crazy and surreal. Ten points to Gryffindor! They’re presenting Best Production Design, which I believe will go to LES MIS, but I’d obviously like to see LINCOLN win, or even THE HOBBIT! And the Oscar goes to LINCOLN! oh wow! Very cool. First award of the night for my #1 movie of the year, I believe… maybe there’s still some hope??

10:50 – Seth with another unfunny joke about Salma Hayek’s, Penelope Cruz’s and Javier Bardem’s accents and attractiveness. Sigh. And now here’s Salma, whose boobs are distressingly covered up this evening. She’s introducing a tribute to… something… I wasn’t paying attention. But they’re now playing the JURASSIC PARK theme, which always gets my attention. Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award? Governors Awards? Something involving old white dudes? No idea what just happened. Sorry/not sorry.

10:56 – Sometimes I wish these commercial breaks were a little longer so much drunk ass could catch my breath (and get another drink). Ah crap, Clooney is introducing In Memoriam, which has particularly sad music behind it this year. Ernest Borgnine, crap. RALPH McQUARRIE, the man who pretty much designed most of STAR WARS. Jack Klugman. Bunch of people I don’t know but I’m still sad. I just read on Twitter than Carlo Rambaldi gave E.T. his heart light, which is literally making me cry. Tony Scott, damn, I still need to re-watch CRIMSON TIDE. Nora Ephron. Ray Bradbury. Did they show Michael Clarke Duncan while I was typing? Sadness. Holy shit, and here’s Barbra Streisand to sing “The Way We Were”… wow. She’s like butter!

11:07 – Shit, Seth is still here. Ohh shit and he made a Rex Reed joke in reference to Adele, which is meant to be a knock on Reed but is also sort of a veiled knock on Adele’s weight. Seth, you suck. Richard Gere. Renee Zellweger (god she looks bad), Queen Latifah and Catherine Zeta-Jones are here to present Best Original Score. Big category for me tonight. Reeeeeally would love to see John Williams win for the first time since 1994 for LINCOLN, his best score in a long time. Have no memory of the ANNA KARENINA or ARGO or LIFE OF PI scores. SKYFALL is solid. But come on, it’s gotta go to LINCOLN! Listen to this! Understated but powerful, just like Honest Abe himself. Come on, Academy, give it to the old man! And the Oscar goes to… Mychael Danna for LIFE OF PI. Booooo. Just boo. Disappointment.

11:12 – Best Original Song is next… we’ve already heard “Suddenly” from LES MIS and “Skyfall”… there’s also this song from CHASING ICE which is performed by Scarlett Johansson! So I’m kind of rooting for that with my balls. This LIFE OF PI song is nice, but I’m mad at LIFE OF PI for stealing Best Score. And whoa, here’s Norah Jones to perform the stupid song from stupid “Ted.” And the Oscar goes to… “SKYFALL,” which I officially picked on my ballot, so yay, another one right! That’s a mere 6 1/2… which, I know, is flat awful. Aw, Adele is cute. And we’re going way overtime here tonight, aren’t we? Buckle up, folks!

11:23 – Bet it took forever to film that Dior commercial with Natalie Portman because she kept bursting into tears. ZING! Okay, Charlize Theron and Dustin Hoffman are here to talk about plastics. No, wait… Best Adapted Screenplay. I’m rooting fir LINCOLN here because it’s my #1 movie and all… but boy, would I be happy if BEASTS won, too. And the Oscar goes too… ARGO, further solidifying its likely big win in a little while. I’m not going to turn on the movie because I liked it very much… but I’m a little discouraged!

11:26 – Best Original Screenplay now! AMOUR has a good shot at this. DJANGO could win, which would be a shame. FLIGHT is the biggest joke nomination of the night, so fuck that. MOONRISE KINGDOM would be a dream. And ZERO DARK THIRTY, which, again, I forgot existed. And the Oscar goes to Quentin Tarantino for DJANGO UNCHAINED. And the Twitterverse explodes. He thanks his actors, which is surprisingly humble of him. Ha, the orchestra started playing the GONE WITH THE WIND theme, but not to play him off the stage – they simply thought he was done. But he wasn’t! Actually, kind of funny that they’d choose that theme, since GWTW is kind of the polar opposite of DJANGO UNCHAINED in some ways. Heh.

11:32 – Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas! That’s some royalty right there! They’re presenting Best Director, another big one. Come on, Steven Spielberg! Win this thing! Michael Haneke would also be acceptable. But that’s it! And the Oscar goes… ANG LEE FOR LIFE OF PI. Holy shit, this movie has now stolen my two most-wanted Oscars of the night from two of my greatest cinematic idols. Not cool, LIFE OF PI. Not cool at all. I did like the movie very much… and there may not be another director who could have pulled it off quite like Ang Lee… but man! So bummed! What’s it gonna take for the world to stop taking Spielberg and Williams for granted??!

11:40 – Jean Dujardin says “Bon soir” and the audience coos in adoring approval. Last year’s Best Actor winner is, of course, presenting Best Actress, which is a tight race. Jessica Chastain was a commanding presence in ZERO DARK THIRTY (I remembered it existed this time). Jennifer Lawrence… so damn good in SILVER LININGS, and also responsible for my most-quoted line from any movie last year, “Calm down, crazy!” which I say to my cat, Shea, every day. Emmanuelle Riva… heart-wrenching performance in AMOUR (plus she’s celebrating her 86th birthday today). HUGE OVATION for Q. Wallis! SHE’S THE MAN and she dominated BEASTS like a seasoned veteran. Eh, Naomi Watts is great but THE IMPOSSIBLE is meh. And the Oscar goes to… JENNIFER LAWRENCE FOR SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK! Oooooooh this means she gets to give a speech! EVERYBODY SHUT UP!  What, did she trip going up to the stage? THAT’S SO J-LAW. Breathless speech… she was legit shocked. Love her!

11:45 – "”Ladies and gentlemen, our next presenter needs no introduction,” Seth says and then immediatrely leaves the stage – best thing he’s done all night. It’s Meryl Streep, of course, the greatest actress of our time, to present Best Actor! This one is pretty much a foregone conclusion… or so we’d think. Bradley Cooper, great work in SLP. Daniel Day-Lewis, who must win this thing and solidifying himself as the greatest actor of our time. Would not be disappointed, though, if Hugh Jackman won for a bravura performance in LES MIS. Oh yeah, and freakin’ Joaquin Phoenix for THE MASTER! Amazing performance. Lastly, there’s Denzel, basically doing his impression of Jay Pharoah from SNL doing his impression of Denzel drunk. Fuck that movie. An the Oscar goes to DANIEL DAY-LEWIS FOR LINCOLN! Hahaha, did Meryl even open the envelope? First person to win Best Actor THREE TIMES! Just incredible. The man is a god. Hahahahaha, DDL says he was poised to play Margaret Thatcher and Meryl was Spielberg’s first choice for Lincoln! I’d like to see that version, too! “Since we got married 16 years ago, my wife has lived with some very strange men.” That’s a Method acting joke, folks! Great moment. History!

11:52 – Heeeeeeeeere’s Jack Nicholson to present Best Picture! He’s still cool as hell, yo. Whoa, he’s introducing Michelle Obama, live via satellite from the White House. She looks amazing! Might have to rethink my “best dressed” (or as I call it in my mind, “hottest”) list now. She’s giving a far more inspiring speech than anyone else could have hoped to give. Nice. Now, back to Jack for the nominees. AMOUR, so heartbreaking. ARGO, pure entertainment. BEASTS, magical. DJANGO, overrated. LES MIS, love it. LIFE OF PI, beautiful. LINCOLN, the best. SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, solid rom-com. ZERO DARK THIRTY, super intense. And the FLOTUS has the envelope… and the Oscar goes to… will it be ARGO or PI at this point? And it’s ARGO! Despite the lack of Best Actor and Director noms – first time that has happened since DRIVING MISS DAISY many years ago. Hehehe, the weird-looking guy no one knows stands alongside Clooney and Affleck and says, “I know what you’re thinking… three sexiest producers alive!” Affleck getting props – aw – but he’ll always be the douchebag who works at the Fashionable Male to me! Kind of a “fuck you” to the Academy here for not nominating him in the first place. Affleck gives props to Spielberg, as he should – blazing through a speech so he doesn’t get cut off by the JAWS theme. First time Canada and Iran have both been thanked in an Oscar speech? Okay, now he’s slowing down and waxing poetic a little more… talking about how his career has been a bit of a rollercoaster… very nice speech, Ben! And you’ve got a fucking killer beard.

12:01 – Seth and Kristen Chenoweth are now closing the show by singing “Here’s to the Losers” to the losers. Pretty terrible. And we’re done!

Well, all in all, pretty lousy show this year. Seth MacFarlane was pretty much as bad as expected from the start, and he just got downright painful and sad as the night wore on and his jokes fell flatter and flatter. It’s been a popular meme even since the Golden Globes, but next year, seriously, just give the job to Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. The James Bond tribute was cool, most notably Shirley Bassey’s performance of “Goldfinger,” and I had a bit of a fanboy conniption fit during the LES MIS portion of the movie musical tribute (which may be a little embarrassing when I go back and re-read it tomorrow). Awards-wise, my ballot is a goddamn travesty: Only 8 1/2 right (including the tie)! That would have won me approximately zero Oscar pools. I had pretty much resigned myself to ARGO winning Best Picture (we’ll just have to keep waiting for my #1 movie to win Best Picture), but I have to admit, I am bitterly disappointed that LIFE OF PI stole Best Score from John Williams and Best Director for Steven Spielberg. Really, really wanted them to win. Also irked that Quentin Tarantino’s most overrated film scored two big wins (Original Screenplay and Supporting Actor). On the plus side, big smiles for Anne Hathaway (SUCK IT, HATERS!), Jennifer Lawrence and the man, Daniel Day-Lewis. PAPERMAN winning Best Animated Short also makes me very, very happy. Hottest ladies of the night: Jessica Chastain, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams (despite – or perhaps because of – her messy hair), Samantha Barks, Jamie Foxx’s daughter, and special shout-outs to Michelle Obama and Anne Hathaway’s Nipples & Side-Boob. (Probably forgetting some others, but it’s late and I’m drunk – I’ve had nearly as many drinks as correct Oscar predictions.) Blogger analytics informs me that this has been one of my most-read blog posts ever – so if you made it all the way through this epic ridiculousness (over 6,500 words!) or even just stopped by for a minute, I salute and thank you! Goodnight!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

REVIEW: 2013 Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts


Quality-wise, this year’s animated short nominees are very solid and likeable at worst... and a slice of pure, transcendent joy at best. There’s a Biblical tale, a wacky bit of food porn, a couple of love stories and the freakin’ Simpsons! Also, interestingly, none of them have any spoken dialogue. That’s kind of cool. And the nominees are....

longest-daycareMAGGIE SIMPSON IN “THE LONGEST DAYCARE” (USA) -- Seriously, how surreal is it to see The Simpsons nominated for an Oscar? It’s about time! I missed this short when it debuted before the latest ICE AGE but clearly, good things come to those who wait; while I maintain that The Simpsons is still one of the most consistently funny shows on TV, this short is one of the best things to involve the family in some time. The story is simple: Maggie goes to daycare where she feuds with Baby Gerald, her one-eyebrowed nemesis, and tries to protect a caterpillar as it transforms into a butterfly. The film moves at a lightning pace and sight gags galore are crammed into its five minutes and it’s hilarious -- in other words, classic Simpsons. No chance it will win (though imagine if it did?), but here’s hoping its success leads to lots more Simpsons shorts from now on!

Adam-and-DogADAM AND DOG (USA) -- I enjoyed this retelling of the Book of Genesis from the perspective of the first Dog, how he met Adam and became the first Man’s Best Friend. Director Minkyu Lee’s film is beautifully hand-drawn, with a dreamy, nature-intensive visual style that actually invokes such Disney classics as BAMBI (indeed, Lee is a former Mouse House employee) and is filled with both subtle humor and poignancy. (Also, lots of full-frontal cartoon male nudity, if that floats your boat.) While meant to be a deliberately-paced, meditative sort of film, at 16 minutes it feels a bit overlong. But if the Academy decides to give this award to non-mainstream fare -- as they are wont to do in this category -- it probably has the best shot.

fresh_guacamoleFRESH GUACAMOLE (USA) -- Directed by Adam Pesapane (also known as PES), this wacky little ditty is noteworthy for being the shortest film ever to receive an Oscar nomination: 1 minute and 45 seconds! Using clever stop-motion animation, it shows you how to make guacamole using various inanimate objects, including a grenade, a baseball, dice, a pincushion and the houses from Monopoly. Each sight gag is funnier than the one before it and laughs are plentiful. At first I tried to figure out if there was any hidden meaning here -- perhaps the objects represent some kind of deeper sociopolitical message? But no... I think it can only be taken at face value... in which case, it is simply a fun & delicious way to spend a couple of minutes.

headoverheelsHEAD OVER HEELS (UK) -- This 10-minute claymation tale from first-time director Timothy Reckart tells the story of a couple who have grown so far apart that they literally live on different planes of existence: He lives on the floor, she lives on the ceiling, and their house floats aimlessly through the sky. They passive-aggressively argue about whether their wedding photo should be turned up or down -- but after so many years together, even as they share appliances and do chores and go about their days, their actions are still instinctively in sync. Will they ever be able to rekindle their romance and rediscover true equilibrium? Animation is a bit crude (and clearly influenced by Pixar’s UP) but it’s a funny and touching love story and an all-around strong nominee.

PapermanPAPERMAN (USA) -- I first saw Disney’s brilliant tale of the power of “the thunderbolt” before WRECK-IT RALPH, and while I liked the feature very much, it was the short that really stuck with me. Using a new-fangled blend of 3D and 2D animation in lovely black & white, director John Kahrs introduces us to a man who has a memorable encounter with a pretty woman on a train platform... only to have her rush off before anything can come of it. Convinced that the moment has been lost forever, he trudges off to work... but to his surprise, he spots her in a window in the office building next to his. So he decides to do what any quick-thinking, mid-20th century New York lonelyheart would do to try and catch her attention: He takes a stack of paperwork on his desk, makes a bunch of paper airplanes and throws them in her direction. I will not reveal what the fates have in store -- but if you’ve ever had a “missed connection” in NYC (and let’s face it, we all have, whether it’s fleeting eye contact on the subway or a passing smile in the grocery store), this simple, sweet story strikes a major chord.

I’M ROOTING FOR: Paperman, unquestionably the best of the bunch and a reminder that Disney (not Pixar, mind you) can still work some real magic.
WILL PROBABLY WIN: Paperman. But if anti-Disney bias rears its ugly head, I’d expect Adam & Dog to take it.

But wait, there’s more! We were also treated to three “highly commended” films to pad the run-time of the program and give us a bit more bang for our buck....

AbiogenesisABIOGENESIS (New Zealand) -- Vibrant CGI and cool visuals dominate this five-minute sci-fi extravaganza in which a machine lands on a lifeless planet and, well, brings it to life. That’s pretty much it. I’m sure there’s some kind of environmental message in there, too, but frankly, I was still fawning over PAPERMAN to much to pay attention... sorry, Kiwis!

drippedDRIPPED (France) -- Cool-looking nine-minute ditty about an art thief who steals paintings, eats them and adopts each artistic style as a kind of superpower. Set mainly in a stylized 1950s NYC and featuring a fast-paced jazz score, this is a twisty-turny adventure and a visual treat if you have even the slightest inkling about famous artists (which is about all I have). But the real twist is that the film actually serves as a tribute to one artist in particular -- to say who would be a spoiler, so I’ll leave it at that!

Gruffalos_ChildTHE GRUFFALO’S CHILD (UK) -- A couple of years ago, THE GRUFFALO was nominated for Best Animated Short and it bored the heck out of me, despite some cutesy animation and an all-star voice cast. I’m still unfamiliar with the Gruffalo, the kids’ book... and I’m even less familiar with the apparent sequel. Now the Gruffalo has a child, and one snowy night, the child goes off in search of the Big Bad Mouse, and hijinks ensue. At an obscene 27 minutes, it bored the heck out of me again. Please tell me this isn’t a trilogy....

Monday, February 18, 2013

REVIEW: 2013 Oscar-Nominated Live Action Shorts


The Live Action Shorts are funny because they almost always seem to follow a set pattern: There’s one about a kid, an ethnic one, an emotional drama, a American quirk-fest and a weird foreign comedy. This year, however, they’ve thrown convention out of the window and given us TWO ethnic ones that are also about kids! Crazy! All the others are there, though, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Let’s see what there is to see....

Death_Of_A_ShadowDEATH OF A SHADOW (Belgium/France) -- Nathan is a World War I soldier who was hit by the thunderbolt when he met Sarah... and then died, only to be given a second chance at life & love in return for an odd task: Using a special camera, he must collect people’s shadows at the exact moment of their death, for display in the mansion of an otherworldly collector. However, as the deal nears completion, it hits a snag when Nathan learns that his final target is, in fact, the man with whom Sarah has been in love all along. Tom Van Avermaet’s film is macabre, melancholic and beautifully shot with great visual detail that reminds me of Jean-Pierre Jeunet (particularly the creepy shadow portraits and steampunk-style machinery). It does succumb to some clichés in the end, but the overall originality more than makes up for it. An extremely enjoyable 20 minutes.

henryHENRY (Canada) -- Last year was a rough one for old folks in cinema. Michael Haneke’s AMOUR offers a devastating, clinical look at the harsh realities of old age. The Oscar-nominated documentary short KINGS POINT follows a group of elderly folks who are essentially waiting to die at a retirement home. And now this 21-minute film from director Yan England puts a genre-bending twist on the subject. Henry, a renowned concert pianist, goes for a walk one day, only to be informed that he is in danger and his wife has been kidnapped. Or has she? The mystery unfurls as Henry desperately tries to make sense of the situation, while flashing back to how he met the love of his life. Of course, things are not necessarily as they seem. You might pick up on the twist early but it still packs a serious emotional punch and provides another potent, heart-wrenching, deeply affecting perspective on the aging process.

curfewCURFEW (USA) -- As this 19-minute dark comedy begins, Richie, a twentysomething New Yorker, is attempting to kill himself in his bathtub. Suddenly, the phone rings, and he is surprised to hear his estranged sister’s voice asking him to babysit his niece, Sophia. Despite the fact that he’s sitting there with blood dripping from his wrists, he agrees -- and thus begins a surreal adventure through a vibrantly-realized New York in which Richie & Sophia get to know each other and he rediscovers his will to live. Sophia is precocious, sassy and wise beyond her years and slowly breaks through Richie’s jaded façade. The film takes on a kind of AFTER HOURS-meets-Wes Anderson feel with all sorts of NYC weirdness -- most notably, a random bowling alley dance sequence that pushes the limits of quirkiness but somehow works. Fantastic work across the board from writer/director/star Shawn Christensen, with an underlying family message that resonates with me personally -- while I am unlikely to slit my wrists anytime soon, I do think it would be awesome to someday hang out in NYC with my niece!

buzkashiboysBUZKASHI BOYS (Afghanistan/USA) -- My least favorite film of the bunch, this 28-minute entry from director Sam French tells a story of unlikely friendship between two Afghani boys -- a street peddler and the son of a blacksmith -- as they struggle to come of age and realize their dreams in their war-torn environment (the ultimate dream, we learn, is to become a superstar Buzkashi champion, which is a version of polo that involves a dead goat). While the two kids are fine, the film is thinly-plotted and an all-around bore. However, the story behind the production of the project is far more interesting: It’s a joint venture of Afghani and international filmmakers and one of the first major films to be shot entirely in Kabul, making impressive use of local scenery. That being said, in the end, it has an odd anti-“follow your dreams” message that makes me wonder just what kind of propaganda film (partially funded by the U.S. Department of State, I might add) this really is....

asadASAD (South Africa/USA) -- Like BUZKASHI BOYS, this is another coming-of-age tale of a Somali boy named Asad who must choose between joining his peers and becoming a pirate, or becoming a fisherman as per his destiny. Unfortunately, Asad is not a very good fisherman -- but an eccentric old-timer nevertheless predicts that he will someday bring home the biggest catch their village has ever seen. The 18-minute film by director Bryan Buckley mixes humor and pathos to portray life in this run-down society -- plus, in an interesting bit of stunt casting, all characters are played by actual Somali refugees. In the end, we learn that the film is little more than an extended set-up to one ultimate punchline, which is wacky and amusing but not really worth the time it takes to get there.

I’M ROOTING FOR: My first instinct after the program ended was Henry because it packed such an emotional punch... but I’ve since changed my mind: Curfew is perfect.
WILL PROBABLY WIN: Curfew, because this is the one Oscar category where quirky is often king.


Sunday, February 17, 2013

REVIEW: 2013 Oscar-Nominated Documentary Shorts

There aren’t many things that could have gotten to me to leave the house the day after a blizzard -- but last Saturday, my annual marathon of Oscar-Nominated Short Films at the IFC Center was one of them. This activity has quickly become one of my favorite movie-watching traditions of the year, right up there with THE TEN COMMANDMENTS on Easter weekend and 24 hours of A CHRISTMAS STORY. My day began with the Documentary Shorts, which were split into two programs, totaling nearly 3 1/2 exhausting hours; fortunately, they were generally quite strong and tapped into a variety of emotions. Let’s take a look....

kings-pointKINGS POINT (USA) -- This is the true story of a bunch of senior citizens living together in a Florida retirement community -- find out what happens when they stop being polite and start getting real! Yes, on the surface, this 39-minute entry that focuses on the lives on several retirees (all former New Yorkers) at the Kings Point resort does feel like The Real World: The Golden Years, with all the humor, gossip, cliques and drama you’d expect. But as the layers are peeled back and we learn more about each person’s life, a much deeper story emerges about humanity’s desire for independence, our need for acceptance and ultimately resigning ourselves to the realities of the aging process. The group on which director Sari Gilman chooses to focus are eclectic and more than willing to share their stories and feelings with a mix of exuberance and melancholy. My personal favorite is Frank, an outgoing gent who enjoys female companionship but doesn’t want to get too close. At first, he comes off as a bit of a playboy, leaving broken hearts in his wake -- until he reveals that the reason he can’t bring himself to commit is because he has already buried one wife and doesn’t want to have to do it again. Sad.

mondays-at-racineMONDAYS AT RACINE (USA) -- In this 39-minute film from director Cynthia Wade, we follow the lives of several women who are battling breast cancer and learn about the impact the disease has had on their bodies, and psyches, as well as their families and personal relationships. Their stories are tied together by a Long Island beauty salon called Racine, run by two sisters who offer free services to women dealing with the effects of chemotherapy and hair loss. Their goal, on the third Monday of every month, is to help these women regain their confidence and dignity, while also giving them a place to meet & talk to each other. The result is both gut-wrenching and heartwarming, to say the least. If there’s one knock against the film, it’s that it doesn’t spend quite enough time in the actual salon; in fact, you could remove that framing device altogether and it wouldn’t lose any impact. But it’s still, obviously, great that the place exists, and the individual stories are extremely moving and more than make up for any cinematic shortcomings.

inocenteINOCENTE (USA) -- I really wanted to like this portrait of a homeless teenage girl who finds salvation and survival through art. Fifteen-year-old Inocente has been living on the streets and in various shelters in San Diego with her mother and siblings for nine years. But instead of succumbing to her dark childhood and seemingly-bleak surroundings, she focuses all of her energies into creating canvases that explode with color and passion. Directed by Sean Fine & Andrea Nix, the 39-minute film is told from Inocente’s perspective, in her own words, often accompanied by striking close-ups of her painted face, which achieves a sense of poetry and wisdom beyond her years. Unfortunately, the film also feels a tad manipulative and somewhat lacking in depth. Not to take anything away from Inocente’s struggles, but she seems like a very well-adjusted young woman, and while we are TOLD about some truly horrific things she has had to deal with, we never really SEE anything worse than her mother refusing to sign a permission slip. On one hand, this is a testament to her own strength and ability to overcome adversity and put it behind her -- but as a documentary, it feels somewhat incomplete.

|  courtesy Shorts International<br />New Yorkers find treasure in the trash in REDEMPTION (USA) -- If you’ve spent any time in New York City, you’ve probably seen them but may not have given them much thought: People combing through the trash and carting around giant bags of empty cans and bottles, presumably to redeem them for a nickel apiece. In this 35-minute film, directors Jon Alpert & Matthew O’Neill follow some particularly memorable and charismatic members of this ever-growing legion, letting them tell their stories and offer insight into how the whole thing works, how they interact and feud with each other, and most of all, how they manage to survive in this rough economic climate. Even for a born & bred, self-involved New Yorker who is only peripherally aware of such subcultures, it’s interesting to see it in the forefront -- and frightening to think about how quickly such a lifestyle could become reality.

openheartOPEN HEART (USA) -- If you are a child battling rheumatic heart disease in Rwanda, the odds are stacked against you. The one hospital in all of Africa that offers free cardiac surgery is located 2,500 miles away, and only a select few children are fortunate enough to get there. Director Kief Davidson presents a two-pronged story: First, it follows eight children who are chosen to leave their families and make this long, life-or-death journey. Second, it is a plea to ensure that this treatment continues to remain available. The doctors at the privately-run, state-of-the-art Salam Center, located in the Sudanese desert, led by Dr. Gino Strada, work tirelessly to save as many lives as possible, while negotiating with the government for funding and support. There’s a lot of information crammed into 39 minutes that might have been better served as a feature film -- in particular I would have liked to know more about Dr. Strada, a blunt and outspoken Italian who knows his stuff and isn’t afraid to talk back to no less than Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir. As it stands, you can’t fault the film for focusing more on the kids, which it does well and, naturally, packs an emotional punch.

Kings Point, the most well-rounded (and entertaining, despite its innate sadness) of the bunch.
WILL PROBABLY WIN: Open Heart, for the double-whammy of emotional impact and humanitarian importance.

Next up... LIVE ACTION!