2009 BAM Award Winners

In the last of the remaining re-posts here is a list of my 2009 BAM Award Winners complete with my rationale for each. Again, the text (save for minor grammar and syntax corrections) is mostly unchanged, in order to preserve my thoughts from the time accurately.

These awards and their winners are based on my opinion alone.

Best Picture

Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

Where the Wild Things Are

One of the most emotionally engaging experiences from beginning to end in a long time and also a purely visual film. When comparing all other Best Picture nominees, all of whom where great, nothing quite lives up to this.

Best Director

Where the Wild Things Are (2009, Warner Bros.)


Spike Jonze Where the Wild Things Are

It always takes something very special to split Best Picture and Best Director and that didn’t happen this year. However, here you have a case of a film thriving due to the vision of its director. A man amongst the few who can truly be called a visionary and who had such a clear concept of this adaptation that Maurice Sendak endorsed it in featurettes leading up to the release. Spike Jonze made this film happen beginning to end struggles with the studio and all.

Best Actor

A Single Man (2009, The Weinstein Company)

Colin Firth A Single Man

A performance which is reserved when the character is trying to be as such is great, however, it is when that reserve cracks that the true greatness bubbles over: when he’s questioned by Charley, when he’s trying not to let his voice crack on the phone and tears are rolling down his face, when he’s allowing himself to be happy and many other moments.

Best Actress

Jimmy Bennett and Michell Monaghan in Trucker

Michelle Monaghan Trucker

During this performance Monaghan reminded me of several different leading ladies such that her persona was unique and all her own. She plays a frustrated, somewhat immature, lonely woman and while she never fundamentally changes who she is. We do see her change in her attitude and behavior. She’s a gritty, tough character who does not hesitate to run out into the street and protect her estranged son at the first sign of trouble. It is a moving and complete performance and it is great.

Best Supporting Actor

landainglourious

Christoph Waltz Inglourious Basterds

Absolutely the easiest decision to make. This performance is the work of a virtuoso in action. How Waltz remained unknown to the American public this long is a mystery and it’s a credit to Tarantino that he cast him.

Best Supporting Actress

inglourious_basterds47

Diane Kruger Inglourious Basterds

A strong an impactive part very deftly played by Miss Kruger. She is believably a movie star, a lady of society and a spy. She is quite convincing in pain and like Waltz perfromed in more than one language astutely which is very admirable indeed.

Best Cinematography

Before Tomorrow (2008, Isuma)

Norman Cohn and Félix Lajeunesse Before Tomorrow

This is a film which spends a lot of its time in the cramped confines of a tent or cave but also shoots majestic arctic vistas. However, landscape and wilderness cinematography is not enough to win there is framing and exposure to consider and how these shots tell the simple story of the film which is just enchanting. The fire-lit scenes inside allow for added intensity in the simplest scenes and day scenes in tents allow for diffused backlight.

Best Makeup

Film Title: The Unborn

The Unborn

Creepy and effectively done job on several fronts where makeup and not effects were used.

Most Overrated Film

Paranormal Activity (2007, Paramount)

Paranormal Activity

Hyperbolic critical acclaim not withstanding this film never escalated whatever tension it did build far enough to be a satisfactory experience. How it can be cited by some as one of the scariest movies they’ve ever seen is a mystery.

Most Underrated Film

Aliens in the Attic (2009, 20th Century Fox)

Aliens in the Attic

A grossly underrated family film that is reminiscent of 1980s family films and sci-fi. It’s funny and a pretty good action film at the same time.

Worst Picture

Orphan (2009, Warner Bros.)

Orphan

The tagline says it all: “There’s something wrong with Esther.” This is a movie that starts going downhill and never stops.

Best Editing

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)


Mark Day Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

This film feels so much shorter than its running time. Everything is always visually clear the story is told well and none of the cuts leave you scratching your head.

Best Song


“Quiero Que Me Quieras” Gael Garcia Bernal Rudo y Cursi

As catchy as the original, if not catchier, “I Want You to Want Me,” however, this version has a Northern Mexican flair and also a very comedic side as can be witnessed here.

Best Score

Where the Wild Things Are (2009, Warner Bros.)

Carter Burwell and Karen O. Where the Wild Things Are

The score to Where the Wild Things Are not only made itself instantly felt and known but also played on a loop in this critic’s head for at least a solid week.

Best Sound Editing

Avatar (2009, 20th Century Fox)

Avatar

This version of the award truly combines the edit and the design and both, from what can told in a single screening, are great in this film.

Best Visual Effects

Avatar (2009, 20th Century Fox)

Avatar

Probably the most impressive display of effects that has graced the silver screen in a long time. This is truly a technical milestone and it appears WETA has surpassed ILM at least for the time being.

Best Cast

A Single Man

The intimacy of scene in A Single Man is as cinematic as you can get. There are flashbacks, two-person parties, conversations in hushed tones and all demanding that scene partners match Firth. While it’s true he’s frequently alone it is through his character’s interactions with the world that we learn about him and for that the whole cast needs to be up to snuff, whether it be leads or smaller characters like Carlos and Jennifer Strunk.

Best Performance by a Child Actor

Is Anybody There? (2008, BBC Films)

Bill Milner Is Anybody There?

As stated in the review of the film Bill Milner is the greatest actor of his generation, meaning professional child actors around his age, there is seemingly nothing he can’t do just based on this performance and Son of Rambow. Should he continue taking smaller independent work he’ll be allowed to grow and could transition quite seamlessly into an adult career as currently his talents seem boundless.

Best Original Screenplay
Inglourious Basterds (2009, The Weinstein Company)

Quentin Tarantino Inglourious Basterds

It’s an original. The title takes its inspiration from an Italian film of the late 70s about American GIs behind enemy lines but similarities end there. Tarantino doesn’t second guess himself once and he created one of the most unique and enjoyable films of the year.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

Spike Jonze, David Eggers and Maurice Sendak Where the Wild Things Are

Jonze spoke about how he worked with Sendak to get something he felt was true. Sandak was quoted as saying he felt this film elevated his work. It was a brilliant adaptation which lead to a brilliant film. It was the rare adaptation which allows for expansion of tale as opposed to its contraction and it succeeded due in part to that fact.

Best Art Direction

Is Anybody There?

anybody_9small_1241523992_crop_550x362

This is a film that not only dresses a house but its roof, the yard, a train station, Clarence’s magic lorry and a cemetery amongst others. There is a muted tonality to everything in the film and there are great conscious decisions made all over the sets and appearing in frames all over.

Best Costumes

Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

Where the Wild Things Are

Thankfully CG was only needed for the faces of the Wild Things, and a great job was done there, however, if the Wild Things has been all CG it would’ve greatly diminished the overall effect and charm of the film.

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Paranormal Activity 4 and the Found Footage Problem

This year saw another installation in the Paranormal Activity series. I will not bemoan the perpetuation of the series. I understand that. They cost virtually no money and the profit margins have been fairly huge. As a business decision, it’s a no brainer.

When writing about the first installment of this series, removing the marketing scheme which was brilliant and the hoopla, I complained it was like a surprise symphony.

I have not given up on the series entirely and what I find odd is that each film has done something, in a particular section of the film, that if removed (as if that were possible) and combined with another section of another installment, would make a whole enjoyable horror film.

The main issue that this series has confronted in the sequels is that it hasn’t broken far enough away from the formula that the initial film established. If one looks at any lengthy horror series almost any of them will have a film that bucks the trend. Now, of course, that could backfire but at least it’s an attempt to shake things up.

What part three does best is have payoffs and a fairly good climax, but the build-up as per usual is fairly mind-numbing. In this recent installation certain motifs and twists are introduced, but it ultimately builds to something we’ve all seen before. Whether you’re a fan of the series or not, it’s not a progressive move.

Even purists couldn’t argue that the Halloween and Friday the 13th series kept trying to up the ante and find new avenues by which to lead into their new tales. What I can give to the first part is that it does catch you off guard, but the set-ups for the very modest scares are are too long, this film at least progressed (to an extent) the visual aesthetic.

Part of the dereliction of the series can be attributed to fear of rocking the boat, but the other part hinges on the found footage element. More often than not the found footage approach is used as a crutch rather than a license, or a challenge, to be more creative.

In four, I was very close to liking it, but they felt beholden to the formula.

Ultimately, how vital either this series or implementation of the found footage technique will be how varied, creative and unique the footage sources are. The image quality can be degraded but an over-abundence of static, uncut images is not modernizing; it’s regression to the advent of sound, if you’ll allow the hyperbole.

Cameras are now ubiquitous accessories, so there is much untrod ground in this series and the approach. It must be trod if found footage is not to die by atrophy.

61 Days of Halloween: Paranormal Activity

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment, I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

Paranormal Activity

Paranormal Activity is the kind of movie that generates so much hype that people are likely to end up on either extreme with regards to their opinion of the film. There are definitely kudos to be given to Paramount and their marketing scheme for this film. That, and that alone about this film, is pure genius and I am sure it made many more people want to see this film than otherwise would’ve wanted to – myself included. The expectations were then heightened by hyperbolic reviews like “scariest of decade” and references to “scaring the living hell out of” people.

As ingenious as it is, and one can’t really dispute that, it is ultimately a wolf in sheep’s clothing, meaning if you’ve seen The Blair Witch Project or one of its many first person knock-offs over the last 10 years then you’ve seen Paranormal Activity. This has a somewhat more definitive ending than most but even still it ends up being ultimately ineffective as whole.

It is undeniable that there is a sense of dread and foreboding throughout, after a certain point, but it is much too subdued for a while. There is much anticipation, and while the subtlety is to be appreciated, there isn’t enough escalation of incidents throughout. Many of the first few recorded events are very minor. In my opinion, a more incessant film out this year was a The Haunting in Connecticut. One might dispute the merits of where that story goes but it is incessant, you might call it cliché but no one is calling this film original.

It’s only 86 minutes long, and not only does it seem longer, but even while being that short it manages to be repetitive. There are several fights about stopping the taping, not buying a Ouija board and whether or not to contact a demonologist. Almost each and every incident needs to be reviewed on video or in audio and they feel it necessary for the audience as well as the characters because the shots aren’t clear, or the incident perhaps too subtle. So, in being redundant in its two most vital aspects, verbally and visually; it is doomed to fail.

While found footage, an updated cinéma vérité style, might more aptly be called progeny of the YouTube age, and believe me there is nothing wrong with that, as I note in another article, what it does create and perpetuate is bad framing. Framing is being turned into a lost art; however, it is fine if it exists through most of this film but there a moments in this film where you would have preferred a clearer shot of something even if that something was the book of demonic illustrations the likes of which we’ve seen in myriad horror films.

While this film cannot be knocked for keeping a consistent level of tension that level is far too low, and never really escalated. It’s a flat-liner, which is unforgivable. The acting is passable but not going to sink or save this film unlike its godfather The Blair Witch Project, which is elevated and believable due to the strength of the performances.

Ultimately, the good that will come from this film is from the marketing. While they tried to make the film seem like a real event with no opening title and closing title sequence, I doubt with the internet as ubiquitous as it is now that many people believe that as they did 10 years ago. However, the legacy it will leave is due completely to people wanting to see it due to buzz. I wouldn’t doubt if a similar tactic was used again and we can only hope it’s selling a better product.

3/10

That Movie Sucked: Trailers That Give Too Much Away

I had a recent Twitter conversation with Larry Richman, after he had attended an advance screening of Someone Like Us, and he had some interesting thoughts on the film. I told him I was glad to hear some of them after having seen the trailer. When he watched the trailer he confirmed what I feared: The trailer essentially gives away the entire movie.

I am doing my best to forget the details of said trailer before seeing it and won’t link to it here, but it does raise the point about why trailers feel the need to be so spoiler-laden. Now, there are certain realities I know and acknowledge, such as: I believe (and correct me if I’m wrong) it’s mainly the marketing department (in a studio) in collaboration with the producers who select highlight type moments, good footage and shop them out to companies who specialize in cutting trailers together. They usually get two or three different versions and choose one. Essentially, it’s a sub-contractor relationship. However, this outsourcing of the job isn’t the only reason that over-sharing in trailers occurs, if you ask me. The first part is that some involved with the film select segments to supply the bidders. So the selection has to be a bit more guarded.

What is going to compel me to see a movie is not necessarily knowing the synopsis, not that synopses are innocent of giving away too much (far too often on the back of a film you are told not just the first act break but the second also). What will compel me is getting a sense of the tone of the film with some compelling images that make me wonder “What’s that about? I have to see that!”

Some notable examples of this for upcoming films are:

Les Miserables (Teaser)

The Road (2012)

Even way back when in the Golden Age and before when audiences were not as sophisticated in certain respects as they are now, trailers disseminated information through voice-over and text but not too much of the story was seen and heard through actual footage:

1930s

Dracula (1931)

When I went to YouTube I just typed in the very generic search of “1930s Trailer” and sure enough I got more or less what I expected. A presentational pitch with hyperbolic text, grandiose announcements and key images that intimate what the film is but give very little real information. A lot of times with older films you were allowed to see a piece (sometimes a large piece) of a scene play out but you had little context by which to understand it. It was all just supposed to be enticing.

1940s

Casablanca (1942)

Approximately a decade later the formula was still pretty much the same. The hard thing is watching trailers for films you’ve seen already, for some the edit seem to be giving away a lot of the story because you know it, but it’s really not. Think of the moments in Casablanca that became iconic and none of them are here the farewell, “Louis, this could be the start of a beautiful friendship…”, “…shocked to find that there’s gambling going on in this establishment”, “As Time Goes By,” etc. Yes, this trailer is selling the adventure and danger much more than it is the romance but it’s not shying away from it either. The ethos is still similar in these two examples compelling images, backdrop, genre, stars but not the whole film.

1950s

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

My favorite professor in film school, Max Simkovitch, was not only great at planning double and triple features but also at screening clips and trailers. Therefore, even if something didn’t quite make it on the syllabus, we were made aware of it and tempted to see it. His horror/Sci-Fi class was where I first got a glimpse of Suspiria and then I had to track it down. We also watched The Invasion of the Body Snatchers there and while I can’t argue that this is a brilliant trailer, it is fragmentary enough in the ethos of its time to succeed. There is the frame of panicked reaction. First, you assume insanity then as images compound you think there’s more to it. The best part is the impact of the film is far greater than the trailer and the trailer doesn’t show it all, or intimate it all either. The bad part is that it doesn’t show you just how very good this movie is.

1960s

Psycho (1960)

Now, I will grant you that there are many things that allow this trailer to be as unique as it is. Firstly, you’re dealing with Alfred Hitchcock one of the greatest directors to ever walk the face of the Earth. However, he was also by this point a TV personality too. So his pitching his own film in an extended trailer is not so odd. However, what’s really brilliant about this Psycho trailer is how it seems to be telling you everything but there is so much misdirection and trickery afoot.

1970s

The Exorcist (1973)

Now, this is absolutely brilliant. There is next to now visual information revealed. There is one high contrast shot of Regan, no clear indication of what many of the shots mean and you don’t see the face of the exorcist. That creates the reaction you want. It gives you the emotional tenor of the film and compels you to want to see it. The voice-over works in conjunction with the images and scenes as opposed to presenting them. This is a clear indicator of the evolution of movie trailers. However, this sophisticated near artistry will in the course of the next forty years of film history will lose its restraint and start to give away too much information.

1980s

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Granted here’s another case where you’ve got a lot going for you as you set about creating a trailer: this is the follow-up to the most successful box-office smash of all-time as of this trailer’s debut, you have John Williams’ score and incredible visuals. Yet the temptation could exist to overplay your hand but it’s laid back. You have an exciting kinetic montage, with no information of any kind divulged really and the voice-over only comes in at the very end for one line. Perfect.

1990s

Jurassic Park (1993)

I tried to get a Spielberg film on for the 80s, I couldn’t because I thought of E.T. but the trailer I found had an incessant narrator who wanted to delineate every emotional beat in the whole film. With this short, if not brilliant Jurassic Park trailer, I think I re-affirm my point. Spielberg’s images are always strong. Here the story does a lot of the selling anyway, so just briefly touch upon what the chaos in the park is and make it a short, quick sell.

2000s

Peter Pan (2003)

For quite a bit of time I thought of Peter Pan as a standard-bearer of shorts. It had been some time since I had seen the trailer but I remembered how it had set the expectations very high for me, and then I saw the film it lived up to or exceeded practically every one of them. However, it also is a great illustration of how treacherous a game the cutting of trailers is. For above, what you have is the second version of the trailer. Multiple versions of trailers existing is nothing new, but what struck me as most interesting is that the minutest of changes could have such a drastic impact. When I found the #2 trailer I knew pretty quickly it was the one I liked for it seemed a more fragmentary and tonal presentation of this vision of the story whereas the #1 (below) felt a lot like a demonstration “Here’s this part of Neverland and this part and that part.”

The Present

As for the newer crop the trailer fo Dark Shadows is bad, but does contain a similar tonal dissonance to the actual end product. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an excellent trailer.

Dark Shadows (2012)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

A recently compelling one, that convinced not only me, but many people to see the bad movie being hocked, was that of The Devil Inside.

It’s widely acknowledged that the marketing job done by Paramount to make this film a financial success while thudding with critics and audiences alike is astoundingly good. Another recent Paramount win was the viral marketing effort, the introduction of the “Demand It” concept prior to the release of the first Paranormal Activity film. However, regardless of whether you liked the film or not, the trailer is practically all the highlights of the film. Watch below…

Now, I will readily admit that I, as someone who frequents multiplexes and art houses alike and have a tendency to be quite early, such that I watch not only the trailer but the pre-show, will view these more times over than the average spectator. However, the success of the studios, the box-office both domestically and globally relies on everyone, and trailers are one of the best methods to repeat your business. You have a captive audience, a packed auditorium for the latest tentpole, all the big movies want to advertise in front of it. Whereas sometimes commercials work better because they can give less away, a trailer gives you anywhere from 90 to around 150 seconds to give your best pitch. So please try and tantalize not bore.

When a short film of mine Suffer the Little Children got into Shockerfest, we were afforded the opportunity to buy commercial time on local cable airwaves to advertise our screening. With only 30 seconds and my proclivity to tease rather than over inform, this is what I decided to do:

Here you’ve seen quite a few of the major plot points in the story, however, without knowing the Stephen King short story upon which the film is based you don’t necessarily know the context or the significance of the events. The shots come at you quickly, with juxtapositions that are apropos of nothing and little dialogue is heard. You are given the tone of the piece and some allusions as to what it’s about but you are not told everything. That’s as it should be I feel, even given more time to play around.

Far too often, after seeing a trailer, I will snidely say to myself “That movie sucked.” Now, of course, I’ve learned that the trailer is never a good indicator of what the film is. However, while I do want to be compelled to see the film by the trailer I don’t want to feel like I watched the movie. I felt John Carter, despite other marketing missteps at least attempted to compel with images first and not giveaway all the plot intricacies therein. The removal of the qualifier ‘of Mars’ from the title, the reticence to be upfront about the literary pedigree of the tale right off the bat likely had more to do with its failing, than a trailer that didn’t spoon-feed absolutely everything.

I think above there are plenty of examples of how to do it and how not to do it, and I hope that we get more good than bad in the future. However, in the meantime caveat emptor, buyer beware is definitely a motto to live by. Most recently I heard warnings to stay away from the trailer for Sinister. He is correct. The movie does look very good but there is much information in the trailers. So happy viewing but try and avoid spoilery trailers.

61 Days of Halloween- The Amityille Horror (1979)

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment so I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

The Amityille Horror

James Brolin and Margot Kidder in The Amityille Horror (American International Pictures)

What is interesting to note, for what it’s worth is that both the 1979 and 2005 versions of this film have the same score on the IMDb. This score seemingly ignores the biggest difference between the two which is that the original runs 120 minutes and the remake runs 90 and that running time is put to very good use. Not only do the incidents mount and come with greater frequency it allows for more narrative threads to be developed to support what we all know to be true.

What people are likely to hold against it might be that not enough happens but mind you that there are many incidents and there certainly seems to be more of a crescendo than last year’s (at the time of this writing) runaway hit Paranormal Activity which may be the slowest moving horror film ever crafted.

Another rarity that makes this film one worth seeing is that it has always been difficult to attract names to tales of horror or the supernatural but this film boasts James Brolin, who at the time was already an Emmy-winner, Margot Kidder who was just coming off Superman and Rod Steiger who had already won an Academy Award for In the Heat of the Night. This is in the same decade as The Exorcist which boasted Ellen Burstyn and Max von Sydow. These are the kinds of casts you can’t find anymore and the kind you need to convey a tale in which terror lives in the characters’ minds even more than it does in reality.
 
The score which opens the film and recurs a few times is reminiscent of certain Giallo films. The score combined with the quick flashbacks at the beginning to illustrate the house’s past are the perfect way to set the table.

I am not going to say this is the quintessential haunted house movie because that would be a disservice to films like The Haunting and The Legend of Hell House which deserve recognition, however, it does take a different approach than those and ushers in the age of suburban terror and perils of home ownership into the genre.

While occasionally you do get some bad looking blood, which is such a pet peeve of mine. There is the compelling case of the priest trying to convince people of what he experienced. The nun who was violently ill on the premises, then subplots that run longer like the obsession with woodcutting due to the cold; Jodie, the “imaginary” friend, The dog digging at the wall in the basement and the police sergeant sensing something is amiss and tailing the family and the priest. All this offers many more layers than you usually get in this type of tale.

Lastly, the film also employs titles very effectively as not many do. It can be an extremely effective when used well and this film does on more than one occasion.The Amityville Horror definitely has a lot to offer the horror connoisseur.

8/10