Oscar Shmoscar: Surprises and Snubs

Even though not much surprised me with the Oscar announcements this morning, I still feel it’s my duty to address the matter, considering how often we talk about movies here anyways. So where to begin exactly? Well let’s begin with the things that surprised me.

Javier Bardem for Biutiful, the latest from Mexican writer/director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Also nominated in the Best Foreign Film category, this one came out of left field. Although Bituiful may have a had a great performance from Bardem and I bet it does, it’s interesting as the film itself really hasn’t been that raved about, I don’t even know how I could of seen it.

Next might be a good time for me to express my opinion about the other Best Actor nominees. Now I liked The Social Network as much as the next guy, but I still find it strange to see Jesse Eisenberg continually nominated for best actor. He was good, but never when watching him did I ever think “He deserves an oscar.” Of course he wont win, but I find it peculiar how all the critics seem to get set in their ways and all come to the same consensus. Personally I would of liked to see Robert Duvall get nominated for Get Low, one of his most powerful and moving performances in years, but that was probably never gonna happen.

John Hawkes in the best supporting actor category is definitely a pleasant surprise. I’m a fan of his work and I always enjoy seeing some of the lesser names get some recognition. Though it would seem the category is more or less a lock for Christian Bale, but still it’s fun to see. If it were up to me I’d give that shiny golden statue to Geoffrey Rush come Oscar night, but seeing that he’s already got an Oscar it’s unlikely, Oscars man, it’s all politics.

In the case of snubs, I think there’s one in particular that’s creating a frenzy and that’s the absence of Christopher Nolan for Best Director. As far as I’m concerned Inception was one of the best films of the year. It was a stunning exploration of the mind that came solely from Nolan’s own noggin, so he gets the royal screw job. It wouldn’t sting so bad if he hadn’t already been snubbed for The Dark Knight in 08′. I mean do the Coens really need another nomination? Come on, let’s mix it up! And David O. Russell? The Fighter was good, but it’s easily the weakest movie considering the amount of nominations it has. If it wasn’t for Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Melissa Leo I wonder if anyone would of even given a shit?

The Town is another film that I believe should of taken the place of The Fighter, in this case for the Best Picture category. It was one of the most critically acclaimed films of the fall and all it has is a single nomination for Jeremy Renner. I swear it’s like all these award shows make a pact about what movies to include and not include. It’s a real shame how uninventive and unfortunately predictable the nominations were this year, but I shouldn’t take it out on the movies most of them were gold!

C.A.T.: Milestones

Miles Davis – Milestones (1958)

The late ’50s to early ’60s wasn’t really a time in which the album had really taken hold as a huge force in rock n’ roll, and everything seemed to more based around singles.  I know jazz hasn’t really been represented on this blog at all, but I figured it was about time considering I’ve always been somewhat of a fan of the genre, but by no means a jazz expert or anything.

Milestones has pretty much always lived in the shadow of Miles’ next album, the landmark Kind Of Blue, and for good reason.  However, Milestones is nonetheless a pretty amazing set of songs, as it sees Miles in a way reaching the pinnacle of his frantic ’50s hard bop style, while pointing the way to the kind of etherial sound he’d explore on Kind Of Blue.  The album’s title track even sees Miles exploring the kind of modal-based compositions that would define Kind Of Blue as well as a lot of jazz in general that would come out of the early ’60s.

A big part of any great jazz album is without a doubt the instrumentation, and Milestones is another example of Miles’ ability to bring together the best musicians around and bring out the best in them.  Coltrane, Cannonball, Garland, Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones are all pretty much flawless, and you’d expect nothing less than phenomenal playing from a group like that.  And for anyone that’s ever said Miles Davis was a great conceptualist but not a great trumpet player, just check out “Dr. Jekyll”, in which the dude effectively blows his ass off.

If you’re not really familiar with jazz or the music of Miles Davis, this might not be quite as good a place to start as Kind Of Blue, but it’s definitely at that same level.  Either way, it ranks among my favorite Miles albums, and it captures him in one of the most adventurous and creative periods of his unprecedented career.

Favorite Tracks: “Two Bass Hit”, “Milestones”, “Straight, No Chaser”

Long Live the King

The Decemberists – The King is Dead

Last September, myself and fellow Damorgue blogger Nancy Tin-Tin went to Bumbershoot. There we had the pleasure of seeing indie folk rockers The Decemeberists. Not only that but we got to hear three new cuts off of their then unreleased album before anyone else. This was also where frontman Colin Meloy announced the new album, what a way to hear about it huh? That’ll always stick with me, but hey, now we got that album to focus on.

“Folk Rock” I suppose is the best way you could sum up this mixed bag of multi-instrumentalists, though I’m not sure where the accordion fits into all of this. The results are both a very American and rootsy sound, complete with bright acoustics and soulful vocals. Known in the past for their lengthy concept albums, The King is Dead is much more basic in it’s approach and overall sound. It’s also the group’s shortest album at 40 something minutes and although it’s a bit lacking in ingenuity, the overall feel is one of enthusiasm and joy. At least that’s how I feel, hard to read that Colin Meloy, he’s so deep.

Thus far critics have compared this new work to something Bruce Springsteen might cook up, which I guess can understand. Another recurring comparison has been to R.E.M with songs like “Down By the Water” which is funny because who else is featured on the track but R.E.M guitarist Peter Buck, also featured on two other tracks. Of course The Decemeberists don’t need much assistance when it comes to additional musicians, they themselves are already proficient multi-instrumentalists and musicians in general.

I’ve always felt that Colin Meloy is like the folk rock answer to Ben Gibbard, or maybe you could say he’s Oregon’s answer to Washington’s favorite Indie songwriter. Both posses a gentle, almost angelic singing voice and are both talented wordsmiths. Though I’ll always be a bigger Death Cab fan, The Decemeberists will always be there when I feel like something earthier from our Northwest brothers down south.

Favorite Tracks: “Calamity Song”, “Down By the Water”, “Rox In the Box”

C.A.T: The "Chirping" Crickets

The Crickets- The “Chirping” Crickets (1957)

We had a good run with our regular “Classic Album Tuesday” segment spanning consecutive albums from 1976-2003, but I think there’s a point where you have to draw the line on how much time is needed for an album to become a classic, so we settled snugly in the mid 2000s. So now I’m turning back the clock to present to you my favorite album of the 50s, a decade yet to be represented by our CAT feature.

I can firmly say that Buddy Holly is my not only my favorite artist of the Rockabilly genre, but of the 1950s as well. With such a distinct geeky howl, janglin’ geetar, and such prowess as a songwriter, he truly was an amazing figure in rock. Racking up such classics as; “Oh Boy”, “Not Fade Away”, “Maybe Baby”, “That’ll Be the Day”, “I’m Looking for Someone to Love”, “Everyday”, “Rave On”, “Words of Love” and “Peggy Sue” all within a mere 2 1/2 year span before his tragic death at the age of 22.

This album (one of only three released during his lifetime) is perhaps is most impressive work. Containing six of the songs previously mentioned, this might as well be a greatest hits, cause they just a keep on coming. Now before I go any further I should probably address the fact that this is not a solo album. Here Holly works alongside drummer Jerry Allison, bassist Joe B. Maudlin and rhythm guitarist Niki Sullivan to form the slick quartet that is The Crickets. And these guys weren’t just a backup band, they wrote alongside Holly as well. There couldn’t of been many other bands during the 50s that that functioned that way, so in a way these guys were real trailblazers.

The songs present are all oozing with that 50s rockabilly charm that Holly very much helped popularize. The melodies are tight and simple and the backup vocals provided by an additional group of vocalists make for a delightfully charming listening experience. The Beatles were supposedly inspired greatly by this vocal approach and have always considered Holly a great influence. As a matter of fact I believe Paul McCartney still owns the Buddy Holly catalog. Hmm, anyways yeah, what an album what a legend.

Favorite Tracks: “Oh Boy”, “Maybe Baby” “That’ll Be the Day”

Rage in the Cage

Cage the Elephant – Thank You Happy Birthday

And so it begins again. It’s only been a week since we posted our Favorite Albums of 2010 and here I am back to reviewing new albums and I never would of believed you if you told me the first would be by Cage the Elephant.

For starters, I was fairly familiar with such Cage songs as “In One Ear” and “Ain’t No Room for Wicked” from the radio and commercials. They kind of reminded me of a poor man’s Jack White, they had the style, but I wasn’t too big on the tunes. After this sophomore release I may have to reassess this group entirely. If you’d have randomly put on this new album without telling me, I never would of guessed it’s Cage the Elephant. The songs are far more primal, grungier, and well, just better.

Before this album I would of probably wrote Cage off as another run of the mill, one-two punch rock band, but this album is hardly run of the mill. It feeds off of angsty vocals, heavy riffs and Pixies-like melodies that will please indie and mainstream crowds alike. It’s a little bit punk, it’s a little bit pop and a step in the right direction for this still young band.

First of I have to address the song “Aberdeen”. I basically bought this album solely on the confidence of this song and as far as I’m concerned, it’s their best effort yet. A raw n’ infectious rocker that just bares more than a striking resemblance to something the Pixies might do. Loud, quiet, loud, awesome! It’s simply a great song, easily my favorite on the entire album, but there’s lots for you to dig your sugary teeth into. “Shake Me Down” is a rather unconventional pop song that sounds as if it was sewn together from other songs. There’s no real chorus or verse structure and yet it feels just right. It’s another track that leans toward the more “pop” oriented songs on the album.

The punk moments of the album aren’t nearly as entertaining, but they feel at place with the loose playful structure of the whole experience. Man if this is the direction Cage the Elephant is going in now, I might just have to hitch a ride.

Favorite Tracks: “Aberdeen”, “Around My Head”, “Shake Me Down”

Sean’s Top Ten Movies of 2010

2010 felt like a disappointing year for movies, yet here I am with like 10 movies that I feel should be on this list but couldn’t make the cut. Yeah, I’m looking at you, The Kids are All Right. So quickly: Micmacs is neat, The Fighter is good, The Town is a lot of fun, True Grit is pretty impressive, Greenberg is interesting, Kick-Ass is funny (I’ve seen it three times!), Scott Pilgrim is cool, I guess, How to Train Your Dragon was surprisingly charming, The A-Team is a masterpiece. There. Glad I got that out. Also, I missed out on some movies that are probably really good. Specifically: Animal Kingdom, Mother, Shutter Island, I am Love and Please Give. Just didn’t have the time. Now that I’ve gotten through those massive lists, I’m sure you’re dying to see what my real list is; so let’s dig in.

10. Restrepo

What makes Restrepo a triumph is that it doesn’t politicize anything. And that would have been so easy to do: this is a documentary about the troops in the most dangerous part of Afghanistan, after all. But these soldiers don’t politicize it, they’re not out there saying they’re fighting because the liberals are too weak or anything like that. These are guys as old as me, and they remind me of the people I know. Except a lot braver. They are fighting because they swore to defend us. They are fighting because they want they’re buddies to live. After the recent passing of Band of Brothers hero Dick Winters, it’s comforting to know that while the times have changed, the caliber of the young men asked to defend us has not.

9. Black Swan

The more I’ve come to think of the Black Swan’s screenplay, the more I’ve come to doubt the writing. So I hope it means something when I say that doesn’t matter. Future Wolverine sequel director Darren Aronofsky is such an expert with his camera and the performances are so strong that the film still triumphs as one of most intense, uncomfortable, trashy movies I’ve seen in recent memory. Oh man, that last ballet sequence at the end gives me chills.

8. Winter’s Bone

The world of Winter’s Bone is so alien to me this might as well have been a sci fi movie. Kinda like The Road but better. This is a world where everyone seems to be related in some way, where gossip has enormous power, and no one is safe. It’s a complex and dark movie that I could see a lot of people really being turned off by, but I found it enthralling. I just really wanted that girl to get a better life.

7. The King’s Speech

I had to really think about this one. Something about it just seemed cliche to me. Oh, the British monarchy period piece movie. Look at its all-star British cast! I didn’t want to succumb to those temptations, but here I am. At least I can say that my favorite part wasn’t British, but in fact Geoffrey Rush, who was great in the role and a real treat to see out of Pirates of the Carribbean makeup. You know what? This is a really good movie about a pretty crazy part of history I only knew a little bit about before.

6. 127 Hours

So, yeah, this is a movie about one dude stuck in a canyon for a long time. It is a movie which graphically shows said dude amputating his arm. None of that sounds appealing. But what makes it great is DB’s direction and JF’s performance. It becomes clear pretty quick that this is a story about more than survival, it is a story about perseverance and finding out why you want to survive. That’s pretty cool. Also, Sigur Rós.

5. Exit Through the Gift Shop

Is this really an entry on my list, or a trick? In a year with a lot of disappointing comedies, it was even more surprising when one of the most amusing movies I saw was a “documentary.” Whether there’s any truth to this document doesn’t matter, because its story of a rebellious art form selling out and this unstable guy who was there to see it all is just so good. I really recommend you check this out, it’s on Netflix Instant streaming.

4. A Prophet

A Prophet is kinda like the French version of The Wire, but it’s a movie. Yeah, I can get behind that. It takes its time to get you into this world and these characters. The argument can probably be made that this makes the movie way too long and unfocused, but to me I felt like I knocked out a whole TV series over the course of one movie. There are some seriously crazy moments packed in here, making it among the best prison films I’ve ever seen. Plus, France is weird. The give you a day off of jail? What’s up with that? Also, Sigur Rós.

3. The Social Network

Hollywood started paying attention to the creepy qualities of Facebook in 2010. It was well documented in the creepy, surreal Catfish. The Social Network touches on what makes Facebook scary, from a privacy point of view, but is more content telling a great story with some tremendously memorable characters. So am I. I think in my review of this movie I compared it to Citizen Kane, in that it is a story of a youth’s rise to power and fortune at the cost of everything he once held dear. However, Mark is never that likable, he’s too distant and possibly mentally troubled for anyone to really get that close. The Social Network is an extraordinary film that I believe will still survive even after we’ve all moved on to whatever comes after Facebook.

2. Inception

I sure do like me some Chris Nolan, I tell you what. Is there anyone better than him when it comes to big action movies? He manages to make movies that are more thrilling than the Michael Bays of the world, and he still is able to fit in interesting plots and quality characters. Inception is a crazy movie for a lot of reasons, including just the fact that it was made with the big budget it had. It’s a real trip the first time through and you pick up more each time you revisit it, or at least I have.

1. Toy Story 3

I think we waited long enough for this one. The first two Toy Story movies are certainly among my favorite animated films, and Woody and Buzz are one of the best couples in cinema. There was some concern that the threequel for this series couldn’t live up to that legacy, especially so many years later. We’ve all grown up, and, fortunately, Andy did too. Toy Story 3 is a more mature film, dealing with some very adult themes and featuring some pretty harrowing sequences. Pixar did a great job with both the familiar and new, and provided us with a damn satisfying conclusion to a wonderful franchise.

Kevin’s Nine Movies of 2010

Overall, 2010 was a great year for Kevin. Regarding movies, however, 2010 was one of pity. I only racked up seeing nine movies in theaters this last year, not counting seeing Inception twice. All the movies I screened in the public setting I enjoyed and feel they can be ranked. They are as follows. (I have approval from King of Damorgue to do this post as a top ten)

Movies I wanted to see (Honorable Mention):
True Grit
The Town

9. Get Him to the Greek
This movie points out the hey that’s cool but so what test.  It amusing, and I mostly remember that one scene in the Vegas hotel room where the one guy is battling his father while the other guy has smoked something that requires him to rub against carpet on the wall.  The movie made me laugh, but when it was over, I forgot about it and don’t really care for it at all.  The Superbad guy (pictured) is co-starring in the film.  He is Kevin’s actor enemy #1.

8. Kick Ass
This film, in my mind, was a major success.  Nicholas Cage has been going downhill in his movie performances ever since the first National Treasure.  It was a pleasure to finally enjoy a movie where he doesn’t completely destroy it.  Apparently, the key to success is to simply limit his amount of air time.  Favorite scene has to be when the green monster runs into the gang right after he declares himself a superhero.  It’s nice to see a superhero get the shit beaten out em’ every now and then, just as long as its not batman, he is too cool.

7. Tron: Legacy
The full review of this film will be coming right after we finish up the top ten movies of 2010.  Overall though, it was a visually entertaining film but, at movies end left me in a huge labyrinth that not even Wikipedia can help me get out of.  For those that haven’t seen it, I would rate it as “go see it in theaters” but finish reading this post first.

6. The Social Network
As some of the more loyal readers of my parent blog may know, I am a huge fan of Aaron Sorkin’s work.  When news came that he was working on a movie for the big screen, I didn’t care what it was about, I knew I would see it (even if it were about myspace).  The facebook orientated film exceeded any expectations I had and even spurred a desire to ‘acquire’ the movie and watch it again.  The press power of this movie I have to accredit as it’s biggest success.  After the world came to know that Mark Zuckerburg wasn’t the most generous or nice guy on the street, he has actively become involved in what is hopefully the start to a long future in philanthropy.  

5. The American
As with a few others on the list, The American, is another film I saw where I had few others I could talk to about.  Like the Sorkin film, I cannot say no to seeing George Clooney on the big screen, after Up in the Air,  he, behind Harrison Ford, claims title of Kevin’s favorite thespian.  Back to the film, odd would be a good way to describe it.  This movie probably has the most dramatic ending of all the others on the list, I don’t think anyone saw it coming.  Even though it is Clooney, I would wait to see this movie when it’s $4.99 at Target.

4. Iron Man 2
Beside the new batman films, Iron Man tops my list of the recent comic book superhero movies that have been hitting the screens over the last decade.  Ever since Air America, Robert Downey Jr. I have viewed as a respectable actor.  The sequel wasn’t nearly as good as the first, but still enjoyable.  The scene I refer to the most in the film is when Stark has been summoned in front of the congressional board to give up his suit, and he hijacks the television to show that other countries are ten years away from Iron Man technology, then shows a video of the Hammer Industries suit blowing up and he’s like “Hammer Industries, twenty years.”  If you haven’t seen the film, go buy it, when convenient.        

3. Toy Story 3
It was announced and advertised in theaters nearly a year before it finally came out so to say I was awaiting this movie is an understatement.  However, I didn’t quite know how it could be done.  Andy has grown up, the last one was already sad, so how could this movie possibly be any better.  Somehow though, Pixar figured  out how to do it.  The movie brought plenty of laughs and good memories for not only has Andy grown up, but so have I since this film’s predecessor first came out.  Yes, at movie’s end I did cry, the only time I can ever remember in a movie.  If it were to go see Toy Story 3 right now, I would authorize abandoning reading this post.

2. The A-team
Easily the best original film of the year for me.  Liam Neison is awesome, very entertaining, and made me want to watch the television series.  I can’t say anything bad about the film.  It was exceptional!  My favorite scene is pictured, it’s when the drone shoots down the teams escape from Germany and they try to “fly the tank.”

1. Inception
Easily number one film on my list.  This movie still blows me away.  It seems to be the climax of a year of movies that like to mess with the mind.  With lack of a better term, this movie is one big cluster fuck.  Mr. Nolan went above and beyond with this film, I don’t know what else you could ask for it has: action, love, romance, comedy (go British guy!), and even some cartoons.  Ever house should own this film and watch it over the holidays multiple times.  The snow level was my favorite,  it turns out the fortress (pictured) is a real place, actually a ski resort in Canada, that will be the location of my next trip and future empire.