February 27, 2013

Top 5 Oscar Winners That Should Have Been Losers

This is the first year of the blog and I procrastinated on posting my Oscar picks. What I am going to do instead is post my list of the Top 5 Oscar Winners That Should Have Been Losers. Its going to be controversial. Some people may believe that there are NEVER any mistakes with the Best Picture Winner. I disagree. I also think that there is a Weinstein Conspiracy (using their influence to impact Academy's voting decisions) to the Academy Awards. There, I said it. I will admit there was nothing better at this years awards than seeing Spielberg's face after he got shot down for Best Picture for Lincoln. Okay, without further ado.

5. (2003)

Winner: Chicago

What Should Have Won: Gangs of New York

America loves its Musicals. Chicago won a year after Moulin Rouge achieved success. I blame it on Bin Laden. Scorcese had been working on Gangs of New York since 1978. Yes, it has its flaws (Cameron Diaz), but it was still the best film of 2003.

4. (2012)

Winner: The Artist 

What Should Have Won: Moneyball

Alright, so I loved The Artist. It was a palette cleanser from the copious amount of garbage that comes out of Hollywood. It was a throwback to the silent film era and the acting was perfect, the cinematography was amazing. But its grossly over-rated. Moneyball had a better story, better cinematography and acting. Aaron Sorkin is the best screenwriter in Hollywood.

3. (1980)

Winner: Kramer vs. Kramer

What Should Have Won: Apocalypse Now

Its Apocalypse Now. Come on. The Documentary (Hearts of Darkness) about the MAKING of this film should have won an Oscar.

2. (1999)

Winner: Shakespeare in Love

What Should Have Won: Saving Private Ryan

Saving Private Ryan is one of the war films that sticks with you. It's one of the best War movies of ALL TIME. In my opinion, Tom Hank's second best performance of his career (Forrest Gump #1). The sniper scene will always stick with me. It was groundbreaking. Without Private Ryan, Band of Brothers wouldn't exist. Saving Private Ryan is #37 on IMDB's Top 250. Shakespeare in Love isn't even on the list. I think I've said enough.

1. (1991)

Winner: Dances with Wolves

What Should Have Won: GOODFELLAS

This is the worst mistake in the history of the Oscars. Goodfellas is timeless, its Scorcese's best Picture. The Academy felt guilty for this oversight, and that is why Scorcese finally won his Oscar in 2006 for The Departed. If this film is on cable (and it always is), I have to stop what I am doing and sit down and watch it. It's Ray Liotta's best film. Scarface is one of the most OVER-RATED films of all time. Goodfellas receives the same amount of hype, but deserves all of it. Hollywood was in love with Costner in the 1990's. He has had some good films, but this isn't one of his best. This a Hollywood big liberal cop-out: "now we can feel good about nominating the native-american epic".

February 26, 2013


Kristin Canty, 2011


Farmageddon delivers an interesting perspective from the micro-agricultural industry, but that is combined with mediocre film-making that makes it feel like a student film. Repeat shots, poor editing along with a small interview pool gives you the feeling that its an very early beta version of Food Inc. I don’t want to knock it too much because I agree with their libertarian mission, encouraging small farmers in America to have a more intimate relationship with the consumer, free from big-government intervention. The problem is they beat this message to death. Its also manipulative in the sense that they show the children crying when the family sheep is taken away, but they don’t really provide a good opportunity to let the USDA defend itself so ultimately the film lacks objectivity.

February 25, 2013

180 Degrees South

Chris Malloy, 2010


A quick watch 90 minute documentary about a group of buddies trip to Patagonia, South America. The trip is inspired by the same journey made in the 60's by Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins, the founders of Patagonia gear and The North Face. They bring a camera along for the ride as they mountain climb, surf and hike... and the result is a life insurance actuary's worst nightmare. Cinematography was done by Daniel Moder, that proved to be a good grab because there is really impressive camera work in this film. I am a sucker for time lapse shots and there was a beautiful one of a South American city skyline with an orange luminescent glow to it. The camera work as they are mountain climbing is also really impressive, they must have had the camera roped off behind them. What's most impressive is all of the amazing footage of the Patagonian mountains and the countryside itself. I am not a beach guy, and THIS would be my version of paradise. There is a cedar-shake cabin that reminded me a bit of a Vermont sugar shack that I would move into in a SECOND if I had the chance. There is a message to the film, the push for Land Conservation in South America. Also a lot of anti-industrialization and anti-urbanization dialogue. That message seemed to be a little blurry and was distracted by the other elements of the film. I really liked the B&W hand-sketch overlay's that they show, along with the old footage from Chouinard's/Tompkin's original trip that is overlaid periodically throughout the film. Overall, its good Nature Porn with enough activity that it would appeal to adrenaline junkies/adventure sports fans.

February 24, 2013

Top 5 TV Dramas

1. The Sopranos
David Chase, 1999-2007

I recently re-watched this entire series, and fell in love with it again. The series is loosely based on the actual Boiardo New Jersey crime family. It won 21 Emmys and 5 Golden Globes and deserved every one of them. The show that put HBO on the map. The show is more than just a mob-drama. It has elements of psychology, pop-culture, romance, drug addiction, and family dynamics. Tony Soprano is the ultimate anti-hero. The only negative I can come up with is the characters were so well developed that they are now typecast.

2. The Wire
David Simon, 2002-2008

Best Season: Season 4

The Wire was so original and so well written, I don't believe we will never see anything like it again. Simon's followup to The Wire, Treme, just didn't do it for me. I'm going to try to give it another chance, but I know that even if it grows on me - it will never be remotely close to the Wire. There was so much purity to it, you get the feeling that David Simon, a Baltimore native, KNEW the city. I visited Baltimore in the middle of the show's run and got to spend time in some of the bars, and drink with the natives. What I noticed is although the show showed the not-so-pretty aspects of Baltimore, the residents really embraced the show. They are proud of their town, warts and all. The show has its own street-lingo, and after a few episodes you will be fluent. The Wire is filled with squatter-filled condemned brownstones, orange airborne extension cords running from window to window, and the constant harmony of gun-shots in the periphery. The average lifespan in the Wire is low, and you get attached to characters who might not make it to the next episode.

3. Boardwalk Empire
Terence Winter, 2010-

Best Season: Season 3

When you watch Boardwalk, you feel like you are literally standing on the 1920's Atlantic City Boardwalk. And it isn't the disgusting Boardwalk filled with Ed Hardy shirts and spray on tans. This Boardwalk has class. This one has Irish and Italian immigrants, with a well-defined class structure. It makes me wonder why we never really saw Steve Buscemi in a lead role like this before, he is SO GOOD. He's always shined in gritty supporting roles like in Reservoir Dogs but I can't picture anyone else playing Nucky Thompson.

4. Breaking Bad
Vince Gilligan, 2008-2013

Best Season: Season 1

I remember watching the pilot of this series a couple of years ago. I remember thinking to myself: "this is WAY too far-fetched". I didn't watch the next episode for about 6 months. My wife and I picked it up again a few months later, and after watching four or so more episodes in one viewing session we were both immediately sure that it was one of the best series we had ever seen. I don't think there has been another series that I've felt as ADDICTED to. It torments you with end of the episode cliffhangers. Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul are so amazing together. This show deserves all of the hype. Its that good. I really don't want it to end.

5. Game of Thrones
David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, 2011-

Best Season: Season 2

There are so many dramatic elements to this series. Complicated family dynamics, deception and betrayal, love, grief. Big budget production paints a beautiful picture. The cast is perfect and so is the acting. There is so much richness to this series that you really can't miss a second of it.

Honorable Mentions:

Band of Brothers (2001)

Dexter (2006-

Lost (2004-2010)

Homeland (Season 2)

Howard Gordon & Alex Gansa, 2012


There isn't much to say about season 2 of Homeland, because it just remains consistent. Its AS good as Season 1. There is still such a perfectly placed amount of tension where it needs to be. The acting is near perfect. The casting director deserves an Emmy. The story-line continues to be compelling. The cinematography is great. The small additions to the cast in this season only made it better. This show might break into my top 10 television series of all time.

February 23, 2013

Grave Encounters

The Vicious Brothers, 2011


I am a fan of the found-footage genre, but for every good film (Blair Witch, Paranormal Activity, Cloverfield, Troll Hunter) there are ten horrible films. This film is not unwatchable; there are some interesting twists and some original visual concepts. I will compliment the directors on the pacing, there was a noticeable sense of build-up in the beginning, but unfortunately that was paralleled by lackluster acting. Overall its just predictable, and its paint-by-numbers horror. Its a parody of the ghost-chasing reality shows shows that air currently. What Grave succeeds in is accurately portraying the annoying qualities of those reality show actors. To be fair, there's nothing pretentious about this film. I believe the directors were just trying to make an entertaining film in the found-footage genre, not break any new ground.

February 22, 2013

Cool Hand Luke

Stuart Rosenberg, 1967


“Cool Hand Luke” is sort of like having that friend that has a good sense of humor, and then you meet his father and he’s hilarious and you think to yourself: “Oh, THIS is where it came from!”. Without Cool Hand, there would be no “Oh Brother Where Art Thou”. I assume that the Coen Brothers were certainly inspired by this film. It is a somewhat-warm prison film... basically the Anti-Shawshank. The scenery is full of golden sun filled skies and the landscape with lush willow trees. There is a sense of comradery among the prisoners, and they are not threatening. I was thinking to myself: “Wow, this camp doesn’t seem all THAT bad”. I mean sure, there are long work days involved... but if “A Prophet” taught us anything, it taught us it could be a LOT worse.

Luke is an ambiguous, resilient character. He is a non-conformist. He is a lost person in the opening scene. He is confused, not really sure what he wants to do with his life. The irony is he constantly wants to escape this prison (even though its only a two year sentence) which at least would provide him some sense of structure. But he’s clearly not looking for structure. He’s looking for something else. A notable scene in the film is when hes playing cards with one of the other prisoners. He recklessly continues to bluff his hand until he finally has to show it, and he was running with nothing. This is one his characteristics: run head first into the situation, abandoning any fear of a negative outcome (ie. boxing scene). Luke is clearly looking for answers, and he didn't feel he was going to find them inside of those prison walls.

February 18, 2013

The Master

Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012


My immediate reaction to this film is the same as my reaction to "There Will Be Blood": I knew i liked it, just not exactly sure how to explain why. Just like "Blood" it is Paul Thomas Anderson doing a character study on a flawed person... or many people. You get the feeling that The Church of Scientology provided some inspiration to Anderson for his two hour + runtime. You basically see a charismatic Cult leader in action as he wows crowds and hopefully indoctrinates some new followers from city to city. During these nomadic sequences you watch as they struggle to find footing and maintain credibility within their following, and to create some formative principles for the group that will have a long-standing impact.

I wonder if this is the style that Anderson will pursue in his film-making at this point forward. This is a long journey from Boogie Nights and Magnolia. Those films seemed heavily stylized and you just don't see that visual element in his last two films. Its strange, because Magnolia and Boogie Nights were also character driven, but not with the many layers of the onion as you see in There Will Be Blood and The Master.

Phoenix's character is a lonely drifter named Freddie Quell who is introverted, yet aggressive. He is un-grounded. I wondered during the film whether or not he suffered from PTSD. This could contribute to his primal nature, that at times is disturbingly stripped of any sense of etiquette. His has little boundaries, if any. His character acts on id impulses without a sense of consequence. Philip Seymour Hoffman's character Lancaster Dodd is intelligent, yet devious. His character possesses that "it factor" that creates this magnetic energy that his followers gravitate to. He can get up, cocktail in hand, and give a humorous and concise speech that has everyone in the crowd attentive and wanting more. These characters are so complex that I find myself a day later still thinking about them. You got to see them develop in a sense, but there was no fragmented beginning, middle or end to the film. Its certainly a stream of consciousness from PT Anderson. If he continues to make films like this, I'll be right here waiting.

February 17, 2013

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Stephen Chbosky, 2012


"Perks" has all of the innocence and awkward moments of being a freshman in high school, but also contains the complexity that separates itself from other high school dramedies. Chbosky wrote the book, the screenplay, and directed it so you can rest easy knowing that the popular book is in good hands. It has the snappy dialogue and the naive youthful sense of invincibility that reminds me of "Empire Records" although it is a much better film. Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller and Emma Watson all provide great performances. I haven't seen Ezra Miller since "We Need to Talk About Kevin", which was really night and day compared to this. I am interested in seeing more of his work, he seems to have quite a bit of range. Like "The Virigin Suicides", this film also hit my emotional Achilles heel - the beautiful girl dancing in the middle of the school dance to the cheesy Rock song. Still dont know why that gets to me. Its not like thats the memory I have of my awkward school dances growing up. In fact, they were nothing like that. They were devoid of any spontaneity, or any music that would strike an emotional nerve in me.

February 16, 2013


Craig Zobel, 2012


A quick watch of a film based on true events. A man calls into a fast food restaurant and tells the manager that he is a police officer. He tells the manager that one of the employees is suspected of a crime and he needs her help in the investigation.

The film feels original. The beginning is loaded with grainy close-ups of various restaurant decor and greasy food. Throughout the film you hear dreary classical music playing that only adds to the disturbing tone of the film. There are many layers to the caller's perversions and he continues to go deeper and deeper with every request that actually gets answered.

The acting was impressive. Ann Dowd, who played the manager Sandra, was particularly good. Her character was proud, sensitive, and committed to her job. She was heavy-hearted enough that it left her with a certain vulnerability that the caller ultimately preyed upon.


Robert Zemeckis, 2012


Flight is a good film. You get a sense of familiarity with Zemeckis at the helm. I forgot how good of actor Denzel Washington is, he deserves more credit than I typically give him - especially in this film. His character Whip Whitaker is a conflicted, yet sympathetic man who is struggling with his alcoholism throughout the film. It is clearly a character study on Whip Whitaker, who is a man of many layers. You get a sense of the unpredictable nature of an alcoholic, someone whose disease has spread to every facet of their life but still remains heavily charismatic. You have to sympathize with Whip's character, because if you don't the film is going to lose its power.

The first half of the film was fantastic. Great pacing, gritty imagery, compelling story-line  The plane scene rivaled the scene in "Cast Away" which was probably the most terrifying plane crash scene I have ever seen before on film (even more than "Alive"). The second half for me seemed to have veered off course a bit. I enjoyed John Goodman's character but I would have been satisfied with the first appearance early on in the film. I found the scene with him later in the film distracting and I didn't think the moment was ripe for a comedic tone.

One scene that really stood out to me was when the three characters are in the stairwell of the hospital. Walt Whitaker, Nicole and the cancer patient (Mark Mellon) are smoking when the subject of death comes up. Mark says something along the lines of "anyone who doesn't believe in God is stupid. As soon as you start to see that all of the random events that happen in your life are actually God, the world gets a whole lot easier". I love how this tackles the subject of death and the concept surrounding yourself to the world. You have three people who are in a hospital under completely separate circumstances. Of course the psychology of that comes into play. These traumatic events have just happened, and you're left with a great deal of uncertainty. Why did this happen to me? Perhaps if you believed that it was pre-destined, it softens the blow a bit.

February 10, 2013


Greg Mottola, 2009


Adventureland is the often traveled late-teen/early 20's love story. The film is set in the 1980's, although the only feature that seems to remind you of that is the soundtrack (Lou Reed, The Cure, Bowie, Falco) that is very forced. Jesse Eisenberg is Jesse Eisenberg like he is in EVERY other film. I don't have a huge problem with that (I guess I don't in any of his films) - he satisfies me in his role as James Brennan. James is awkward,   tense & insecure. James is hard-up for cash and works at the local theme park "Adventureland". Adventureland is run by Bobby & Paulette, played by Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig. Any fans of them will feel satisfied with their quirky comedic roles. Kristen Stewart is impressive in her role as Em Lewin. Kristen Stewart is perfect at playing the introverted, conflicted and mysterious love interest. I hope she is picky with her future acting roles, now that shes had a nice pay-day from those AWFUL Twilight films. She has a natural ability that seems quite evident. Memorable shot in the film: Bumper car scene (my favorite scene in the film). Although flawed, repetitive, and predictable - Adventureland is endearing, entertaining and funny.


Morgan Spurlock, 2012


Mansome is the sixth film by Morgan Spurlock. It is original, interesting, and humorous. It is an original concept, questioning the effect of popular culture/media and the concept of what makes a man a "man". It is a casual study on sexuality, attraction and ego. I really enjoyed Will Arnett & Jason Bateman's role in between the various sections of the film where they would parody the male sexuality as they got facials, pedicures, massages. Its an entertaining film that doesn't contain a lot of depth, but held my attention for the 82 minute run-time.

Party Monster

Fenton Bailey & Randy Barbato, 2003


Party Monster is not a good film. I feel bad just coming out and saying that, because there are some REALLY great shots in this film (ie. Church party with Angel, Rat on the couch) that make me want more from these directors. But that's about all there is. Seth Green is distractedly bad, early on, in the film - although he did settle in as the film went on. Macaulay Culkin gave it his best, but in the end even he seemed like he was trying too hard. This film is supposed to be an accurate portrayal of the club scene in New York City in the early 90's. The one asp[ect that seemed to be authentic was how annoying the club kids actually were. The highs will consist of blacklit, neon visuals and the thump of house music but you will be left with a long come-down that is messy, scattered, and rambling.

February 9, 2013

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

David Gelb, 2011


I tried and can't come up with any justification for not calling this a perfect documentary. Beautiful images of sushi that will make you crave it as you watch. You could have easily convinced me to hand over the $300 for one of Jiro's masterpiece 15 piece meals. Jiro is a man who lives to work, not works to live. He has spent his entire life perfecting his sushi craft. He is a man who is so committed to mastering his skill he rarely takes a day off and at 85, has absolutely no plans to retire. The end-result is a one month backlog of customers who cannot wait to have Jiro coldly stare at them from the other side of the bar while they indulge in whats likely the best sushi in the world. The classical music that constantly played in the background so perfectly augmented the Japanese landscape.

Sexy Beast

Jonathan Glazer, 2000


This British crime drama has some raw dialogue, tense moments, and a few really great stylistic shots. Ray Winstone was impressive in his role as a sympathetic, sun burned "Gal Dove". Ben Kingsley's character Don Logan is despicable, unfiltered, unpredictable and intrusive. Kingsley's peformance steals the show for the most part, although I eventually grew tired of him. Perhaps thats the point; the abrasive houseguest who just never leaves even though you REALLY want him to. Overall, I was entertained but not blown away.

February 5, 2013

Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles

Jon Foy, 2011


This documentary follows the relentless pursuit of identifying an unknown artist who has laid ambiguous tile plates throughout the world from Philadelphia to South America. On the plates reads the phrase: “Toynbee Idea in Kubrick’s 2001 Resurrect Dead on Planet Jupiter”. You watch as obsessive fans/cataloguers tirelessly try to track down the mysterious artist. The story is intriguing, and the cinematography is striking. The narration captures the determination and the film is peppered with tenebrous artwork which is a recollection of a manic artist’s pursuit of the elusive Toynbee Tiler.

February 4, 2013


Michael Curtiz, 1943


What is immediately evident in this film is the attention to detail in set design, lighting, sound & editing. Beautiful scenery such as the nightclub, or the opening scene in the Casablanca marketplace. The tricks they play with shadows is impressive, and of course the piano playing by Dooley Smith in the background greatly contributed to the romantic feel of the film. Humphrey Bogart is the epitome of cool. Ingrid Bergman is magnetic, and the love between them feels natural.

February 3, 2013

12 Monkeys

Terry Gilliam, 1995


I really wanted to like this film, but I couldn't. The beginning of this film had a lot going for it, with very high production value providing rich scenery that reminded me of Alien. As the film progressed, I found Brad Pitt's character Jeffrey Goines to be cartoonish, and Madeleine Stowe's lackluster performance very distracting. By the second act the story wasn't holding me, and I found it convoluted and unnecessarilly complicated.