Monday, February 28, 2011


The 83rd Academy Awards have come and gone. As young starlets party into the night, generating sensational TMZ footage for tomorrow, I take this time to reflect. ABC extended their contract so that they will have exclusive broadcasting rights through the year 2014. Did they make a mistake? There is little to describe this night as anything other than ho-hum. Fashionistas will be gushing for weeks over the designs worn to the red carpet, but there was nothing in the way of shocking like the infamous swan dress, or even stunning like Sandra Bullock's shimmering gown last year with its mile long slit. The awards were doled out in a mind numbingly predictable way. The biggest surprise of the night for me was short animated film Day & Night being beat out by The Lost Thing. Now, true, the awards are meant to honor the best- but where's the upset? The drama? The scandal? For a room full of entertainers, tonight was disturbingly dull. The only moment that is worth mentioning is Melissa Leo's unthinking F-Bomb (the first in Oscar history) for which she immediately apologized back stage. So who were we given to package this snooze fest in a swallowable pill?

The hosts. By all accounts this should have worked. Anne Hathaway and James Franco are young, hip, talented actors both with theatrical backgrounds. Why didn't it work? In the past, the show has shined with unexpected quips from its comedic hosts. Tonight, any funny jabs were scripted and lost their bite before they even passed through those glossy pink lips. The glossy pink lips of James Franco of course, who appeared in a Marilyn Monroe inspired pink dress. Yep, I think the quarterback at my highschool pulled the same prank at Homecoming 6 years ago. The saddest thing is, I wanted to like them. Everyone wanted to like them. They're likeable people, cute and sweet enough to be Mouseketeers. Unfortunately the same can be said about the majority of presenters and winners. The hosts, not from a valient act of trying, failed to fill the stage. Though still America's sweethearts, this pair will not be asked to host again.

Overall, I think Hollywood needs to rethink their Awards Show. Pull the stick out of Oscar's butt and liven things up a bit. Put on a show! Actors are the most emotional people on the face of the planet, but you've never seen stony faced apathy until you see reaction shots after a winner is announced. Sure, you can honor a job well done, but unless you're in the mood to actually entertain us, don't bother televising.


Sunday, February 27, 2011


I previously mentioned that over the next few weeks I'd be taking a look at the nominees in eight major categories for the 2011 Academy Awards. I'll be writing about what I think will win, what I want to win, and my thoughts about each category overall.

The nominees for Best Picture are:
Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King's Speech
127 Hours
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone
What a difference a few months and some hardcore Oscar campaigning makes. Back in October it seemed even moot to have an Academy Awards ceremony this year. "Why pretend there's a competition when The Social Network is going to LITERALLY win every single category?", went the prevailing thought. Not only was a movie that featured Facebook as its backdrop good, it was really, really, REALLY good. Perhaps the shock of this spun the Oscar talk for the film out of control, or perhaps people realized that it's simply not possible for one film to sweep the entire Academy Awards. Most likely it was a combination of those reasons and, also, the realization that 2010 actually produced a lot of really great films and, while The Social Network is one of them, it does face some pretty stiff competition.
The stiffest, of course, being the much ballyhooed and really British The King's Speech. Four months ago an Oscar upset would have been Tom Hooper's story of a stammering son of sovereign toppling David Fincher's tale of a twisted tough-tongued twerp. It appears, now, that the upset would be opposite.
Not as much of an upset, however, should any of the other eight films in the running for the Academy's most prestigious award come away with the honor. There is little chance of that happening, I think, for the following reasons:
Toy Story 3 is automatically out of the running, as it has the greatest chance of seizing the Best Animated Feature Film award and the Academy doesn't take animated films seriously anyway (see: the creation of a Best Animated Feature Film category in the first place).
Inception, while smarter (much smarter) than your average summer blockbuster is still, in the eyes of the Academy, just a summer blockbuster. Had the category only included five nominees (as it did just two years ago and for many years before that), Christopher Nolan's flick wouldn't even have been considered for the award. The Best Picture category was expanded precisely so that films like Inception (movies that play well with mainstream audiences, internet movie geeks, and critics alike) could be included, thereby assigning some credibility to the Academy in the eyes of these folks and also guaranteeing a larger audience than years past.
The Kid's Are All Right is simply too small to pick up the award, as is Winter's Bone. Had The Hurt Locker (an astounding piece of filmmaking, but one approximately ten people saw) not won last year, both of these films would have had a better chance (however slight).
The Fighter, while inspiring, is too formulaic, and not nearly as inspiring (or British) as The King's Speech is  while 127 Hours may be too unconventional for the Academy to handle (and who knows how many Academy members didn't see the whole film because they passed out during "that" scene).
The two films that have the best chance of sneaking up behind TKS and TSN only to push them both aside and proclaim the award as their own are Black Swan and True Grit. Swan just killed at The Independent Spirit awards, and although it's perhaps a tad too grotesque (and has roots in the horror genre, a genre the Academy almost always ignores) for the voting folks it's still very highly regarded by both critics and audiences. True Grit garnered an astonishing ten nominations, and people seem to be enamored with the Coen brothers' classy and tight retelling of Charles Portis's novel.
All that being said, I believe The King's Speech is going to own the 83rd Academy Awards. I'll offer director Tom Hooper and everyone involved in the production a congratulations in advance, and if I'm wrong, well, congratulations David Fincher and the cast/crew of The Social Network.

Friday, February 25, 2011


I previously mentioned that over the next few weeks I'd be taking a look at the nominees in eight major categories for the 2011 Academy Awards. I'll be writing about what I think will win, what I want to win, and my thoughts about each category overall.

The nominees for Best Director are:
Darren Aronofsky - Black Swan
David O. Russell - The Fighter
Tom Hooper - The King's Speech
David Fincher - The Social Network
Joel and Ethan Coen - True Grit
Wow, looking at this list of nominees makes me realize movies are not dead, and that we are lucky to live in a cinematic era that produces these filmmakers. All five of these helmers directed the hell out of their respective films, and if any of these gentlemen (gentlemens in the case of True Grit?) were to walk away with the award I don't think I would have any compaints. (Except, maybe, for David O. Russell. While The Fighter is grade A formula filmmaking, it's one of Russell's lesser works, and if he were to win it would lessen his chances of receiving The Big One in the future for something more spectacular. And no, I'm not talking about his adaptation of the videogame Uncharted).
Of course, there can be only one winner, and I'm having trouble deciding whether or not that will be Tom Hooper or David Fincher. I have a feeling that if The Social Network wins for Best Picture, Hooper will walk away with the Director award, and vice-versa. None of the other nominees are a real threat to those two filmmakers, whose films have been topping critic lists and garnering multiple awards since the season began.
If I was an active, voting member of the Academy, I'd throw down for Aronofsky. I have yet to go back and revisit Black Swan, as I had planned to, but it simply grows in stature with each passing moment in my mind. No director put more blood, sweat, and tears into each frame of their film as Aronofsky, and while the film certainly has a few issues, there's quite frankly nothing quite like Black Swan out there.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


I previously mentioned that over the next few weeks I'd be taking a look at the nominees in eight major categories for the 2011 Academy Awards. I'll be writing about what I think will win, what I want to win, and my thoughts about each category overall.

The nominees for Best Actor in a Leading Role are:

Javier Bardem - Biutiful
Jeff Bridges - True Grit
Jessie Eisenberg - The Social Network
Colin Firth - The King's Speech
James Franco - 127 Hours
Colin Firth seems poised to acquire his first Academy Award after snagging two big other acting kudos: a SAG and a BAFTA. I just recently saw The King's Speech and can vouch for the greatness of Mr. Bridget Jones's work in the film. Prince Albert's subtle transformation from stubborn, diffident son of a King to confident, strong Royal Monarch is handled beautifully by the actor. I'll be very surprised if Firth doesn't pick up the award on the 27th. He's certainly not as much of a shoe in as Jeff Bridges was for 2009's Crazy Heart, but you won't find as much support, recognition, and general goodwill behind any of the other four nominees.
Out of the other performances I've seen (Eisenberg, Bridges, and Franco), I was most impressed with James Franco's work in 127 Hours. By far one of the most interesesting (and consistently great) actors of his generation, Fanco carried 95% of the movie on his shoulders. 127 Hours is practically a one man show, and the young, talented actor is all blood, sweat, and tears throughout it's 100 minutes.
I don't know how he did it, but Jessie Eisenberg turned a prick of a character into a fascinatingly watchable prick of a character. I have no idea what Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg is like in real life, but The Social Network's Mark Zuckerberg is one of the great acid-tongued characters of modern cinema, and the fact that Eisenberg made this vengeful, privileged Harvard preppie actually likeable is a testament to how good his performance is.
I haven't seen Biutiful and only plan to because I've heard Bardem is fairly amazing in it. I find director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's melodramatic meditations on misery to be barely tolerable, and Biutiful looks to be in the same vein as his previous 21 Grams and Babel. Bardem won't win, but apparently he's very deserving of the nomination.
Finally, Jeff Bridges picks up his second Oscar nom in two years, for his awesome portrayal of Rooster Cogburn in True Grit. He too will be denied a win, a big reason being because a lot of folks couldn't understand what Rooster was saying throughout most of the film. I can only assume these folks are hard of hearing.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


I previously mentioned that over the next few weeks I'd be taking a look at the nominees in eight major categories for the 2011 Academy Awards. I'll be writing about what I think will win, what I want to win, and my thoughts about each category overall.

The nominees for Best Actor in a Supporting Role are:

Christian Bale - The Fighter

John Hawkes - Winter's Bone
Jeremy Renner - The Town
Mark Ruffalo - The Kids Are All Right
Geoffrey Rush - The King's Speech
Let me just get this out of the way right now: I think the Academy made one heck of a mistake nominating Jeremy Renner's performance in The Town over Andrew Garfield's work in The Social Network. That's not a slight against Renner by any means; I think the man is an insanely talented actor - I predicted his nomination in the lead category for The Hurt Locker last year, and I think he'll have an Oscar sitting on his mantle within the next ten years, if not sooner than that. He also did great work in The Town, and I enjoyed watching him. However, the character of James Coughlin was simply too one-dimensional for Renner to show off any real range, and although he does his best to make the Bostonite more than an ill-tempered, meat-headed grunt, the movie's screenplay hampers his effort. Certainly it's a job done memorably. But not award worthy. Garfield, on the other hand, turned in a breakout performance in the Facebook movie, creating a layered and fascinating character. His work in this scene alone should have been enough to sustain an Oscar nomination. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the Academy decided differently. Renner won't win, but it's a shame that Garfield didn't even get a chance to be in the race.
Speaking of actors that won't win: Mark Ruffalo and John Hawkes. I love both of these guys, but Ruffalo's in a film that loses prestige by the day, and Hawkes is simply too much of an unknown to be awarded the small naked statue.
The competition lies in the race between Christian Bale and Geoffrey Rush. Bale picked up the Globe and the SAG award, but Rush seems poised for another win (he nabbed a statue in 1997 for his lead role in Shine).
If I had to, I'd put my money on Bale. But I wouldn't get upset if Rush ends up screwing with my gambling.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

-V's Netflix Dequeued: RED Blu-RAY

What do you get when you mix Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Karl Urban, Morgan Freeman, and Richard Dreyfuss with a script that looks like it was inspired by "The Whole Nine Yards"?

You get a quirky action comedy that's just as fun, exciting, and re-watchable!

Robert Schwentke, does an excellent job directing. The action flows smoothly with plenty of places to let you catch your breath.

The entire cast plays the comedy straight and does a fantastic job. I never imagined John Malkovich or Richard Dreyfuss as action stars but they totally pull it off.

The shots are colorful. The camera work is dynamic and inspiring.

The effects hold up very well on Blu Ray, although I could tell the muzzle flash was composited in at times (getting to know AfterEffects has destroyed my ability to fully appreciate visual effects sequences).

I have no idea why I never heard of this movie before. IMDB gives it a 7/10 and I say that's a bum rap!

I give it a 9/10 personally. If you liked The Whole Nine Yards, you'll love this.

I'm not going to give you a breakdown of the story because I think the trailer does a fantastic job. If you like the trailer. You'll love the movie.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


I previously mentioned that over the next few weeks I'd be taking a look at the nominees in eight major categories for the 2011 Academy Awards. I'll be writing about what I think will win, what I want to win, and my thoughts about each category overall.

And the nominees for Best Actress in a Leading Role are as follows:

Annette Bening - The Kids Are All Right

Nicole Kidman - Rabbit Hole

Jennifer Lawrence - Winter's Bone

Natalie Portman - Black Swan

Michelle Williams - Blue Valentine

I'm sure they're out there, but I have yet to find anyone who thinks this category is going to be, at best, anything other than a catfight between Annette Bening and Natalie Portman. Of course, more than likely Portman walks away with the award and nary a scratch on her, but Bening has been nominated for an Oscar three times previously (and twice before in this same category), while the younger actress has only received one nod in the supporting category for 2005's Closer. Bening has seniority on her side, and the fact that Mrs. Warren Beatty hasn't scored a win in twenty years may mean the Academy thinks she's due. Still, there's the little fact that Portman has been bestowed the Best Actress award from many critic circles, and managed to take home the Golden Globe AND SAG awards. She's clearly the frontrunner, but I wouldn't count Bening out of the race.

The three other nominees are almost non-entities in this category. Nicole Kidman's nominated performance comes from a film relatively few people care about. Michelle Williams spends a lot of time crying and being miserable at her husband in Blue Valentine, but it's certainly not a performance worthy of an Oscar win (let alone nomination - co-star Ryan Gosling, however, is a different story. Why he was snubbed in favor of Williams - who, in all honesty, gives a good, if overly weepy, performance - is beyond me). I have a feeling Jennifer Lawrence could sneak in with an upset, but I really have nothing to base that on except Winter's Bone seems like the "little movie that could" this year.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Jay's take: In defense of Kevin Smith

We've talked recently on the show about Kevin Smith and his decision to bypass the Hollywood system and distribute his new film "Red State" completely on his own. Many on the internet are outraged and embarrassed by Kevin Smith's actions at Sundance where he hosted a fake auction to distributors and then gave the winning bid to himself only moments after the auction began. Accompanying this are many writers who scoff at the idea of Smith distributing his own film by himself and have used many words to describe their anger on any forum the modern digital age has provided for them. And even more have complained about Smith's twitter posting which usually are several paragraphs posted one after another in blog like faction.

And I have no idea what the big fuss is all about.

That's what has inspired me to write a counter-argument to Kevin Smith's detractors. To illustrate why I believe this whole "Red State" fiasco is not as much of a big deal as some try to play it out to be. So follow me now in numerical-argumentative-order (or something) and let me state my case for Mr. Kevin Smith.

1. The Sundance Situation. Or: How Smith is an entertainer who will help bring change.
I will write off the bat that I did not attend Sundance nor did I view the video of the mock auction that he held (EDIT: here is the video I only know of the auction from what I've read and heard from people who were there. So while I cannot defend or detract Mr. Smith for the auction I can say this: Kevin Smith is an entertainer. Besides being a filmmaker, he spends many of his days doing Q&A sessions across America on several elaborate stages where he tells interesting and hilarious stories about his life experiences in the film business and at home. It's in his blood to put on a show even at the expense of important executives. Does that make this right? Who am I to say. BUT, this was a smart way to tell distributors "hey, you are not the only way films are being released anymore."

This will help in slowly paving the way for other filmmakers to self-distribute their own films. I know, "he's Kevin Smith so he can do that. I'm Joe Blow and that does nothing for me." Many independent filmmakers were saying the same thing about digital filmmaking back in 1999 when George Lucas shot the Star Wars Episode 1 with digital cameras rather than the traditional 35mm celluloid. That was the starting point for digital filmmaking making its way into the mainstream and introducing itself to the film industry as a serious contender. 11 years later supporters of digital filmmaking are still fighting with the celluloid-lovers but this time have a lot more evidence of it's success than was present in 1998. I know "Red State" won't be the first self-distributed feature film. I know it would be unfair to compare "Red State" to "Star Wars" at this time as well. However, this does feel a lot like history repeating itself even in a miniscule way.

2. Self-Distribution. Or: Who cares, how does this affect you?
Where was I? Oh, right. Kevin Smith distributing "Red State" by himself and many having a problem with that. May I ask the detractors a question? What stake do you have in "Red State"? Did you invest money in the film yourself? If so then you have a right to have an issue with this process if you don't agree with it. If you have not then who cares? You can keep posting on forums saying "I don't like it. It's stupid. Does anyone here me? I said I don't like it." How does this really affect you? You will see the film in October in a wide release if you so choose to the same way you would if Miramax was making sure the prints made it to the theater okay.

Not only that, if bringing "Red State" through a regular distributor there would be several million dollars spent on advertising alone. And who will see "Red State"? People who like Kevin Smith. With a podcast network, a traveling Q&A session, online social media tools, and the newly appointed SModcast Pictures, Smith will actually spend far less money on advertising and still reach the same people who would want to see the movie anyway. The less money spent, the easier it will be to make the money back and make a profit.

3. I hate his Twitter posts. Or: It only takes one button.
Unfollow. Problem solved.

4. Kevin Smith and reviewers. Or: Is this even an issue?
So Kevin Smith has a problem with many film "critics" and websites. Smith reportedly has toyed with the idea of charging critics for screener copies of the film. I can see how many who make a hard living reviewing films would have a problem with this to an extent but with one less film to review will this really be an issue? If you're mad at him don't see the film. Don't pay for it. It wasn't made for you anyway probably. See, Smith has already had himself a decent career and created a decent following and at this point he's not hurting for money. At this stage in his career he's making movies for his fans. The people who pay to see and respect his movies.

Tired of several negative reviews of movies on the internet, Smith has challenged wannabe critics (myself included I suppose as I sit here in write this) to write about movies they love. To support positive talk about movies instead of trying to find things to nitpick about. I understand half the fun about reviewing movies is thinking critically about what makes a movie work and not work. We do this every week. I cannot blame Kevin Smith, however, for trying to promote positive thinking towards movies. We do live in an age where nearly every forum you come to has at least a few members who make outrageous claims and start arguments that usually end in name-calling and thoughtless insults. And that's really easy to do behind the internet personality "InceptionMan85." I'd say it's far more challenging and thought-provoking to take a positive stance for a movie you didn't enjoy.

Bottom line, if you have nothing to do with "Red State" then why does this really upset you that much? The dude's put out several movies the traditional way for 17 years. In what way will it disrupt your life for him to do it differently?

Another non-issue making the front pages.

Agree or disagree? Let your thoughts be known in the comments.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


review by Mark Pezzula

Directed by Gaspar Noe

Starring Nathaniel Brown, Paz de la Huerta, Cyril Roy

Seven years after his controversial film Irreversible (which centered on a graphic eight minute rape of a character played by Monica Bellucci) competed for the Palm d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, Gaspar Noe unveiled his new project - the experimental and visually stunning Enter the Void. Prompting both exuberant and irritated responses in equal measure, Enter the Void solidified Noe's reputation, depending on which side one was on, as either a cinematic innovator and one of the most exciting modern filmmakers of any country or a hack simply hellbent on punishing his audience.

As it goes with most conclusions that are drawn after examining the subject of two extremes, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Enter the Void is without a doubt one of the most innovative films I've ever seen, and it certainly portrays its cliched story in a way I don't think we've ever seen before. But it's also deliberately repetitive and insists on departing from its main (and thin) narrative into long, abstract passages of everything from 2001 inspired subjective drug trips to scenes of explicit sex and violence.

The first aspect of Enter the Void that one will notice differs from a typical film is that it's shot completely from the first-person perspective of the main character, Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) (barring a portion of the film that follows Oscar around from the third-person). It immediately opens as Oscar has a conversation with his sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta) on the balcony of their Tokyo apartment. After his sister leaves, Oscar smokes a psychedelic drug called DMT, and trips until his friend Alex (Cyril Roy) comes over to accompany Oscar to a shady drug deal. The drug deal ends badly, and Oscar is shot and killed by the Tokyo PD. Good thing Oscar read the Tibetan Book of the Dead (given to him by Alex) because the movie would end there after only thirty minutes. Instead, Oscar's soul floats out of his body and spends the next two hours experiencing its former temple's past, present, and future in non-linear order.

What little narrative Enter the Void has to offer centers on Oscar's relationship with his sister. His soul recalls their relatively happy childhood until a car accident (which is violently shown over and over again) kills their parents and Oscar and his sister are ultimately separated. The story of how the two reconnected is slowly unfolded, intermixed with Linda's life coping with the death of her brother, Oscar's memories of an affair he had with a friend's mother, and his soul's desperate journey to reincarnation. Along the way, Noe touches shallowly on themes such as Freudian psychology and Eastern religious philosophy, but with little or no consequence. There are some who will try to say Enter the Void is "deep" or "meaningful." It's not. It's not that Noe is pretentious or even takes these aspects of the film seriously; he simply doesn't care much about them, and the film is honest about that.

Enter the Void is an exhausting watch, and not just for folks unfamiliar with or averse to directors with a predilection for such experimental extravagances. Noe's camera is constantly in motion, whether it's floating above the city of Tokyo, winding through a human orifice, or diving into a burning flame. To be sure, the film is exhilarating at times, but it's also a mental work-out. Noe plays with flickering images and seizure-inducing strobe effects that will test the endurance of the most dexterous viewer. Even the opening credits sequence threatens to tire one out before the movie even begins.

Those who are up to the challenge of continuing through Enter the Void, though, will be treated to an impressive array of visual and audio feats. With production design by Marc Caro (frequent collaborator with Jean-Pierre Jeunet on films such as Delicatessen and City of Lost Children), Enter the Void portrays Tokyo as a plush neon purgatory, with a pinball machine aesthetic. If Flynn's Arcade cannon-balled into the pool of the Los Angeles in Ridley Scott's Bladerunner, the rave-soaked wonderland that is Enter the Void's capital of Japan would be the splash's aftermath.

The film's visual splendor, though, is hampered by the frankly awful lead performance by Nathaniel Brown (who has no upcoming work listed on his IMDB page, and with good reason). This is Brown's first feature film work, and it Boggles the mind as to how he received the role. With monotone delivery and minimal inflection, the actor is a bore to listen to. Imagine Hayden Christensen's Anakin Skywalker performance. Now imagine it delivered by someone even more inept with the role. It's awful work, and although it never threatens to derail the film (Oscar doesn't have many lines, thankfully), it definitely makes an already difficult film even harder to endure.

Paz de la Huerta (most recently seen as Steve Buscemi's mistress on HBO's Boardwalk Empire), does serviceable work as Linda, and she certainly fares better than Brown does. Noe isn't concerned with dazzling you with fine acting work, though. And it shows, because every other supporting performance is almost as underwhelming as the lead's is.

Enter the Void is most definitely not for everyone, and although I was immensely impressed and completely absorbed by it I don't think I could ever sit through the whole experience ever again. It's a cinematic endurance test, and for those seeking that sort of thing it's the Holy Grail. Often trite in its narrative and loose with structure and characterizations, Enter the Void nonetheless is successful and deeply satisfying, but only for those who can withstand its punishing length, repetitiveness, graphic depictions of sex, violent outbursts, and complete dedication to style and experimentation over substance.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


I previously mentioned that over the next few weeks I'd be taking a look at the nominees in eight major categories for the 2011 Academy Awards. I'll be writing about what I think will win, what I want to win, and my thoughts about each category overall.

The following are the nominees for outstanding performance by an actress in a supporting category. (Wow, that was WAY too formal).
Amy Adams - The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter - The King's Speech
Melissa Leo - The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld - True Grit
Jacki Weaver - Animal Kingdom
If I had my druthers, I wouldn't screw a chimpanzee like Les Claypool, but I would bypass any envelope opening on Oscar night and hand the award right over to Hailee Steinfeld who has delivered what is my second favorite performance of the year (Natalie Portman's Black Swan turn as Nina Sayers being the first). Not only did Steinfeld handle the Coen brothers' tongue-twisting dialogue with as much - if not maybe more - finesse than veteran actors Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon, she also carried nearly every scene of the second True Grit adaptation, with the gargantuan task of being a street-wise, quick-witted (but not mouthy) teenager who's not so much older than her years than she is very adept at making herself appear that way. Steinfeld's one of the main reason I went to see the film a second time, after feeling lukewarm about it at first. After that second viewing I was sold on the film, and I saw it a third time just to enjoy her performance even more.
That being said, this is a strong category all the way around. Amy Adams and Melissa Leo both impressed in The Fighter, although Leo is more memorable (and the actress more unrecognizable. Maybe it's because I last saw her as tough but softer-spoken attorney in HBO's Treme, but I didn't realize I was watching the same actress until halfway through The Fighter). She just picked up a SAG award a few nights ago, so there's little doubt she'll walk home with Hollywood's highest award on the 27th.
Helena Bonham Carter, though, has the best chance of having her name called instead of Leo, and as The King's Speech just nabbed a bunch of SAG (and a Director's Guild Award as well) the odds are even lower that Mrs. Tim Burton will win her first Oscar (twelve years after being snubbed for her performance as Marla Singer in David Fincher's Fight Club).
Animal Kingdom was a film I had multiple chances to see but passed up every time (and that's something I'm regretting, after finally watching this amazing trailer), but I've heard many good things about Jacki Weaver's work in the film. Her win would be an upset, but one that I'm sure no one would mind.


Reviewed by Gina Muscato

Starring Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher, Greta Gerwig

I'm a sucker for a decent Hollywood rom-com. Even predictable rom-coms at that. So when No Strings Attached hit theaters, I was all in. Directed by Ivan Reitman, the film is certainly predictable -- you know exactly where it's headed right from the start. But with Elizabeth Meriwether's clever and charming script, punctuated by funny little moments, audiences shouldn't mind going along for the ride anyway.

The basic premise of No Strings Attached asks the question: Does the "friends with benefits" arrangement really work? Or does someone always end up falling in love and getting hurt? That's the dilemma facing Adam and Emma, who run into each other every five to 10 years or so. They first meet at Camp Weehawken as teenagers and again at a frat party in college. Now in their late-20s, Adam (Ashton Kutcher) is an assistant on a Glee-like TV show, and Emma (Natalie Portman) is a new doctor at the local hospital. When they run into each other for the first time in years, she invites him to "this thing" (i.e. her dad's funeral) and he goes and eventually scores her cell phone number. A year later, he calls her in a drunken stuper and winds up naked on the couch at her place.

Although he's really looking for his next girlfriend, she's just looking for someone to sleep with. They agree to be 'sex friends.' No cuddling or spooning, no morning-after breakfasts, no nicknames for body parts. No dating, just screwing. Much like the gender role reversal in Love & Other Drugs, where Anne Hathaway’s character is the one who insists on keeping things breezy and commitment-free, Portman's character -- not Kutcher's -- is the one avoiding a serious relationship.

Of course, it's not long before Adam starts falling for Emma and, even though she would rather deny it, she's falling for him too.

Surprise, surprise.

Predictability aside, the movie still works. There are great performances, particularly from the supporting cast which includes Kevin Kline as Adam's father -- a former TV star with compromised values -- and Ludacris and Jake Johnson as Adam's buddies. Scenes with Emma’s roommates, played by Greta Gerwig, Mindy Kaling and Guy Branum, are some of the funniest in the movie, and Kutcher plays the role of charming and cute Adam effortlessly.

Portman isn't the obvious choice to play Emma, a role typically given to other rom-com staples like Hathaway or Katherine Heigel or even Jennifer Aniston. This movie seems almost beneath her acting abilities, but she's believable playing the too-serious-for-a- serious-relationship-but-horny Emma. Surely this role was a refreshing change from the obsessive ballerina she portrays in Black Swan, for which she will likely grab an Oscar.

The chemistry between Kutcher and Portman is also believable, but their spontaneous romps in the closet, handicapped bathrooms and cars -- just to name a few places -- are just not hot or raunchy enough, especially for an R-rating. Some critics have noted that this is a PG-13 rated film masquerading as a R. They're right.

Despite its limitations and predictability, No Strings Attached is pleasant and entertaining. I admit, the movie really had me at first note ... literally. Within seconds, Color Me Badd's catchy 1991 hit "I Wanna Sex You Up" emanated from the screen. Yes, I'm a sucker for rom-coms. And, apparently, cheesy 90s R&B songs too.