Monday, February 27, 2012

The 84th Academy Awards

I did a long post going through all of the Oscar nominations here so I'll keep this fairly brief and not get into every single category.

First of all I didn't get to see most of the 84th Academy Awards. I had work and by the time I got home I was only able to see the awards for Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Picture. This means I didn't really see the show so I won't comment on that. I did see the entire show last year and I'll just say I'm glad Billy Crystal was the host and not Anne Hathaway and James Franco!

The Artist
and Hugo were the big winners this year. Both are movies about cinema. The Artist won five awards including Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Picture. Hugo also won five awards including Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects.

I didn't watch many 2011 films so I wasn't too surprised that the only movie to win an Oscar this year that I had seen was The Muppets! "Man or Muppet" certainly deserved to win Best Original Song. However, only one other song ("Real in Rio" from Rio) was nominated so it didn't have much competition.

I was a little surprised that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 didn't win any of the categories it was nominated for. I figured that the Academy would throw the series a bone in its final installment like they did for Lord of the Rings. I still think the Harry Potter series deserves a special achievement award for making a series of eight films with (mostly) the same actors and no true clunker.

I am happy that Christopher Plummer finally won his first Oscar! His role in The Beginners got him the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. I would have been happy if any of the other nominees for this category won except for Jonah Hill. To be fair I haven't seen Moneyball yet, but it would be a travesty if he had won an Oscar and Plummer, von Sydow, Nolte, and Branagh had not.

Meryl Streep won her third Oscar and first in almost thirty years. Streep went twelve straight nominations without a win until her performance in The Iron Lady. I wish she won for her role in Adaptation but at least she has won multiple Academy Awards, something not many actors and actresses can say.

I'm glad that Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and Transformers: Dark of the Moon did not win any awards! I thought that Rise of the Planet of the Apes would win Best Visual Effects but it lost to Hugo. Brad Pitt and Gary Oldman didn't win, but I have a feeling they will both be nominated again very soon. I can't believe that this year was Gary Oldman's first Oscar nomination! I hope both these actors are able to win an Academy Award someday.

I was disappointed that The Tree of Life did not win any of the three awards it was nominated for. I didn't think it would win Best Picture or that Terrence Malick would win Best Director but I thought it had a good shot at Best Cinematography. For me this was like 2010 when District 9 was nominated for four Oscars but didn't win any of them. I was disappointed but not surprised that both film ended up winless in their respective years.

The Artist
won both Best Director and Best Picture. As soon as the film won Best Director I knew it would win Best Picture. Over 70% of movies that have won Best Picture also win Best Director.
While I want to see The Artist and think it is something I will like, I do have two issues with the Academy giving it Best Picture. That does not mean I don't think it deserves to win Best Picture. I honestly can't really say since I haven't seen it or most of the other Best Picture nominations yet.
First, I hope that it didn't win just because it was a throw-back to the days of silent cinema but because it is a great film. A Star is Born (several versions, I actually haven't seen any yet), Sunset Blvd (1950) and Singin' in the Rain (1952) dealt with similar subject matter even though they weren't made as silent films. Sunset Blvd won three Oscars but none of the big awards other than Best Writing. Singin' in the Rain only got two nominations and didn't win either of them. Sure these weren't silent films themselves, but its possible the Academy might be trying to right some wrongs here. Or maybe the Academy wanted this to win so people would be more interested in silent film. While I think making the general public more aware about film history and silent film is great (of course I do, that is what my Tales from the Archives posts are all about!) giving a film an award it doesn't deserve is not the way of doing it. I'm not saying The Artist didn't deserve to win, I just hope that the Academy gave it Best Picture because they truly felt it was the best film from 2011 and not just for political reasons.

My second point isn't really about The Artist. When I first heard about The Artist I thought that a silent movie being made in this day and age was a great idea. But when I found out it was going to be filmed in Black & White and set in past I was a bit disappointed even though I still wanted to see it. I was hoping for a true modern silent film. A film with no dialogue but filmed in color like any movie of today's world, set in the present, and with no intertitles. I feel that this type of movie would be even more bold and daring than making a 1920s type silent movie that is a period piece. If there is a movie that exists like the one I described I'd love to see it. If not somebody should make it! And although I haven't seen Mel Brooks' Silent Movie (1976), that doesn't count since it was made over 35 years ago and it is more of a parody. I have heard that The Thief (1952) starring Ray Milland is one of the few films made in the post-silent era with synchronized sound that has no dialogue. This is still not quite what I'm looking for since its 60 years old and in Black & White. The Thief is pretty obscure and I only heard of it while researching this post. If there are any movies that fit the criteria I am looking for please let me know. I am sure there are some out there that I, and most people, are simply not aware of.

I must give credit where its due and congratulate The Artist for winning Best Picture while being a silent film in 2012. Even if its status as a silent film may have helped it win with the Academy, it is still quite an accomplishment in today's world. I can't wait to see it!

Switching gears a bit, the Razzie nominations were announced Saturday (February 25th). For those who don't know, the Golden Raspberry Awards were founded in 1981 to celebrate the worst in cinema. The Adam Sandler vehicle Jack and Jill received a record twelve Razzie nominations! Somehow The Smurfs did not get any nominations, probably because of Jack and Jill. The 32nd Razzie Awards ceremony will be on April 1st and I'll make a post about it when the time comes.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Bloody Valentine (1981)

I've gotten pretty busy with classes and work so I haven't had time for a post in awhile which means I am really far behind and have a lot of catching up to do. I'm not sure when my next post will be so enjoy this Valentine's Day special!

My Bloody Valentine
I watched this movie with a bunch of friends in honor of Valentine's Day and we all agreed that it was better than expected. Usually we watch bad movies but this one was good and I legitimately liked it!

This Canadian film is set in the mining town of Valentine Bluffs. In 1960 there was an explosion at the mine after the foremen left early to attend a Valentine's Day dance. Some miners were trapped in a shaft for weeks and by the time they were rescued only one was still alive, Harry Warden. Warden had to eat his dead fellow miners to survive and went insane as a result. One year later he escaped from a mental institution and killed the guilty foremen by ripping out their hearts. Harry Warden left a warning that anyone else celebrating Valentine's Day in the town would suffer the same fate. Twenty years after these murders the town decides that enough time has passed and plan on holding a Valentine's Day party. However, some people planning the party get killed and there is a warning to stop the partying or else. Is Harry Warden back? Or is somebody else picking up where he left off? If so, why? You'll have to watch the film to find out!

The movie takes place over the course of three days: February 12-14th. And of course the 13th is a Friday! I actually haven't seen any of the Friday the 13th movies so unfortunately I can't compare the two.

Although this movie is by no means a masterpiece, it is well written and competently directed. Like most slashers this was made on a low budget but it doesn't really show. My Bloody Valentine is a slasher with a solid mystery and could be described as Halloween meets a "whodunit." Honestly I was not sure how it was going to play out as there was plenty of ambiguity and red herrings setting up a couple different possibilities that get narrowed down by the end.

The miner outfit of the killer is not only intimidating but quite memorable. The gas mask, construction helmet with headlight, and big leather boots are frightening. Unlike some slasher flicks, the killer's outfit was not chosen just to be scary or conceal the identity of the killer, but fits in perfectly with an interesting back story and motives. The main instrument of death for the killer is a mining pickaxe which is different than your typical slasher weapons, although to be fair the killer carries a knife as a back-up plan! Probably the best part of the movie is the isolated atmosphere with its unique setting of a small mining town and the mine itself of course. The movie was filmed in an actual mine (on location in Nova Scotia) which is already dark and claustrophobic without a killer trying to get you! The deaths are imaginative and gruesome with some nice special effects work.The creepy soundtrack also works well. Unlike a lot of 80s slashers which tended to go with a heavy metal theme, this one has a twisted folk song. Check it out here!

There are parts of the movie that are over the top (a crazy old bartender trying to warn the young miners, paper hearts turned upside down by the killer) but its still enjoyable. We have a decent amount of slasher cliches here such as typical jump scares, those who are promiscuous die but the virgin lives, and the movie's focus on a holiday/event. 1981 was just when the slasher genre was kicked wide open, so the movie manages to get away with them. My Bloody Valentine does break some slasher cliches though. For example, instead of the killer just going after high school or college students, the targets are anybody celebrating Valentine's Day, which makes perfect sense given the back-story. Of course several twenty-somethings are killed, but a couple of senior citizens bite the dust as well!

Some scenes are pretty slow although just when it starts to get boring something interesting happens. The acting is not bad but there are no noteworthy performances either. I liked fat guy as he was a fun character but nobody else really stood out. This isn't totally an acting issue as I wish we got to know the characters better. One reason for this problem is that there are simply a lot of characters to keep up with. We also switch back and forth from the young miners to the police chief. To play devil's advocate, this does work a bit in the movie's favor as it heightens the uncertainty of who the killer is. Although we never root for the brutal killer, I didn't find myself caring for these characters as much as those in better horror movies like Halloween for instance.

As an film junkie I must mention that in this movie some of the characters play the same stab a knife between the fingers game that is played by Bishop and Pvt. Hudson in Aliens. I wonder if James Cameron got the idea from this movie. I have only seen and heard of this game in these two movies. Do people actually play this game?!

Back in the 1980s, film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert went on a crusade against slasher movies which they perceived to be misogynist. In 1980 they even dedicated a whole episode of their TV show to the subject, which they entitled "Women in Danger." You can watch it on YouTube here.
Maybe if I watch more slasher movies I'll make a post to further weigh in on this topic, but I didn't see My Bloody Valentine as anti-female at all. The killer takes out both men and women equally and the two survivors are one man and one woman instead of the typical lone "final girl." The surviving woman is feminine, but she is strong enough to fight back and unmask the killer at the end. The murderer in this movie doesn't discriminate based on gender, just don't go to a Valentine's Day party or have a tattoo of a heart! There also is no nudity in this movie which seems to be unusual for early 80s slasher flicks. There is a shower scene but its all men from the mines! I couldn't find out what Siskel and Ebert thought about this movie but I hope they weren't too quick to judge it based on other slasher flicks.

Siskel and Ebert liked Halloween but generally hated the other "dead teenager movies" as they often called them. While I can't comment on if a lot of these movies were misogynist since I haven't seen too many of them, I disagree with some of the assumptions Siskel & Ebert make in the above YouTube video. These movies weren't made to appeal to audiences who wanted to see women attacked and killed, but because they could be made very cheaply and therefore would almost always earn a profit no matter what. Slasher movies still exist today, but the ubiquity of the genre from about 1979 through 1984 was mainly due to the popularity of Halloween and Friday the 13th. Popular movies always indirectly create knock-offs since producers see it was a way to make a quick buck. This was always the case going back to the early days of cinema and is certainly still true today.

The ending is open for a sequel although it stands fine on its own. I'm glad My Bloody Valentine did not turn into a franchise as the sequels probably would've sucked. This movie had a lot cut out on its original release because it was too violent. Ironically I think is probably why it didn't do so well in theaters. I saw the Uncut version which is what I would recommend. Just be aware that the scenes which were originally cut from the theatrical release are much rougher than the rest of the movie. I think it works in favor of the gritty tone but is noticeable and a bit jarring at first as these scenes look like they were filmed on Super 8. It kinda takes the viewer out the experience, especially because you know something bad is going to happen when the film switches to these low quality scenes. That said, I always like to see the filmmaker's original intent so I'm just glad this footage survived.

My Bloody Valentine has gained a cult following over the years which led to a 3-D re-make in 2009. There is even an Irish rock band named after this movie! Who is the most famous fan of My Bloody Valentine you ask? Why it's none other than director Quentin Tarantino! Here is what Tarantino has to say about the film: "as far as slasher films go, of course, I love Halloween and all those. But as time's gone on, I think My Bloody Valentine may be my favorite."

I don't watch too many slasher films but this is a solid movie that deserves more attention. You certainly could do a lot worse within this sub-genre (Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2).