Big B’s Oscar Picks and Predictions (with some offal artwork)

Best Actress

Natalie Portman, “Black Swan”

Best Supporting Actress

Melissa Leo, “The Fighter”

Honorable Mention: Hailee Steinfeld, “True Grit”

Best Actor

Colin Firth, “The King’s Speech”

Honorable Mention: James Franco, “127 Hours”

Best Supporting Actor

Christian Bale, “The Fighter”

Honorable Mention: John Hawkes, “Winter’s Bone”

Best Picture

“The King’s Speech”

Best Director

Should win: Darren Aronofsky, “Black Swan”

Will win: David Fincher, “The Social Network”

Best Animated Film

“Toy Story 3”

Best Art Direction

Should win: “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1”

Will win: “Alice in Wonderland”

Best Cinematography

Should win: “Black Swan”

Will win: “True Grit” Continue reading

Romantic Movie Moments You Shouldn’t Attempt at Home

Say Anything… via

For hopelessly romantic introverts such as myself, the dating world can be unkind and troublesome. Words don’t come out right, and romantic gestures are misinterpreted. Luckily, we have movies to give us scripted romantic scenarios. From John Cusack and his stereo to Tom Hank’s online connection with Meg Ryan, movies have offered us wonderful pick-up lines and possible dating situations.

Unfortunately, some movies are more practical than others. And some romantic movie moments should never be attempted by nonfictional individuals. So, in the spirit of camaraderie amongst hopeless romantics, I’ve created a list of some movie moments you shouldn’t attempt at home.

(Romantic scenes often double as final scenes. So, by nature, this post is full of spoiler alerts. Consider yourself warned.)


Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a wonderful movie with many clever lines to try on your date. The film’s romantic finale, though, probably shouldn’t be reproduced in real life. By the end of the scene, Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard are kissing in the rain and snuggling with a newly found cat. But, the cat has to be lost before it can be found. To orchestrate this admittedly romantic moment, Audrey Hepburn tosses her adorable feline from a taxi in the middle of a city during a rainstorm. While kissing in the rain should be on every romantic’s bucket list, animal cruelty should never be a by-product of infatuation. If Audrey Hepburn’s cat had run away (as perhaps it should have) then Audrey and her man-friend would have spent their romantic moment searching through crates and trashcans in a dark, wet alley. So, don’t try this moment at home unless your cat is a stuffed animal. Or imaginary.


Grease (1978)

Grease is full of semi-romantic scenes that are only possible in the leather-filled, fictional world of Rydell High. Amidst awkward drive-in flirting and dances on carnival rides, Grease doesn’t offer much practical dating advice. But there is one scene that should be particularly avoided in real life, and it’s not the film’s absurd flying-car ending. Ladies and gentlemen, don’t date drag racers. Even if they’re competing against age-old rivals or defending the honor of a bro, drag racing is a sport that is better left to Kenickie and the wonderfully dense characters of The Fast and the Furious (2001). Though I have never participated, I imagine drag racing in concrete ditches is less romantic than it may initially seem. Sure, drag racing offers whiplash and the intoxicating smell of fuel, but a true racer learns to turn. If Danny Zuko had stopped cheating on Sandy with Greased Lightning, Danny and Sandy could have ridden away in their flying car much earlier.


Moulin Rouge! (2001)

Secret flirtations can be delightful. Filled with passionate whispers and subtle glances, such relationships can jump-start the heart of even the most cynical bachelor or bachelorette. Couples enticed by secrecy, however, must be willing to commit to the role. The whole appeal of clandestine relationships is the thrill of confidentiality (and perhaps love of one’s partner), and PDA is an easy way to unveil a once-classified hook-up. And, as seen in the secret relationship between Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman, these situations are further complicated when authority figures forbid such relationships. So, if you are going to yield to the temptations of secret love, remember that PDA is, indeed, public. If you can see others while you’re snogging near the red satin curtains of an old stage, the confused and oddly entertained audience in the theater can probably see you.


Serendipity (2001)

If you manage to find someone who makes your heart flutter and who can match wits with you in a game of flirtatious small talk, get his or her contact information. Serendipity is perhaps one of the most emotionally frustrating romantic comedies of the past couple decades. John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale meet, spend an adorable few moments together, and then, for some awful reason, decide to leave their future in the hands of fate. After the movie’s initial scenes, viewer have to sit through an irritating hour of wrong decisions and missed opportunities. Though the ending is happy, no last-minute romantic embrace can fully justify the emotional angst of handing possible love over to fate like giving a baby to a hooded figure sporting some hate tattoos at a low-budget daycare. Again, if you’ve managed to find someone worth seeing again, get some contact information. Phone number. E-mail address. Or enough random information to enable successful Facebook stalking. Get something.

Review: Gnomeo & Juliet (2011)


Yes, I know. Kelly Asbury, director of Shrek 2, is bold for suggesting that moviegoers pay money for yet another version of Shakespeare’s famous play. For many, the majesty of the classic faded after numerous high school projects and reading quizzes. And, even if Asbury can create a respectable version of Romeo and Juliet, perhaps lawn gnomes aren’t the best vehicle, especially when compared to gritty movies like Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet (1996) and Andrzej Bartkowiak’s Romeo Must Die (2000).

But, the crew of Gnomeo & Juliet (2011) knew all this. The film’s opening scene features a single gnome who explains that, yes, this story has been told many times before and that, yes, they are going to tell it again. But, this time, it will be different. And it is different. Never before has an adaptation of Shakespeare’s play featured the voices of Ozzy Osbourne and Hulk Hogan (for some reason). Not to mention the whole lawn gnome element.

Gnomeo & Juliet offers a pleasant and simple version of the classic play. The movie follows Shakepeare’s storyline relatively well, which is impressive given the animated cast of gnomes, clay bunnies, and plastic flamingos. Any large diversion from the original script is explained during the movie. In fact, the only questionable use of Shakespeare’s fame is the film’s portrayal of Shakespeare himself. The playwright appears as an oddly unlikable Shakepeare statue (voiced by Patrick Stewart) who, for some reason, doesn’t seem to care much about the lives of lawn gnomes.

If nothing else, the movie sounds fantastic. The smooth and upbeat music of Elton John (one of the film’s executive producers) is sprinkled with the vocal talents of James McAvoy (Gnomeo), Emily Blunt (Juliet), Michael Caine, Jim Cummings, Stephen Merchant, Maggie Smith, Jason Statham, Patrick Stewart, and Julie Walters. And, of course, Hulk Hogan, Ozzy Osbourne, and Dolly Parton lend their voices as well.

I recommend Gnomeo & Juliet. It sounds great and it looks great. The first ten minutes or so are a bit awkward and unfunny, but it’s easy enough to pass that time by counting the not-so-subtle allusions to Romeo and Juliet or counting the changes made to Elton John’s songs to better accommodate the lives of lawn ornaments. Make it a drinking game. Just don’t play in the theater.

Indie/Alternative Music in Blockbuster Films

The “Yes Man” soundtrack heavily featured Eels (via

Recently, theaters (and not just the artsy theaters) have offered experiences similar to those gained from chilling in a store’s alternative music section for two hours. This phenomenon is not new, but the status of independent and alternative artists in big-name films has shifted. Now, songs from such artists are highlighted as climactic-moment songs or as songs in movie trailers instead of being relegated to background music for on-screen moments of contemplation.

Before I continue, I offer a disclaimer: I have no education or background that makes me particularly qualified to discuss independent or alternative music. Read this post as one would read the comments section of a YouTube video (approach it with vague interest and hints of cynicism). To eliminate semantically driven debate over “indie” and “alternative,” I will use the labels given to these artists by third parties such as iTunes and

The growing phenomenon of alternative music in blockbuster films first gained my attention when I rented Yes Man (2008) on pay-per-view. The film’s soundtrack heavily features the brilliant music of the Eels. (The only other group on the soundtrack is Munchausen By Proxy, a fictional band featuring Zooey Deschanel and Von Iva.) Eels contributed a total of nine songs to the movie, including “Sound of Fear” and “Flyswatter.” And Yes Man isn’t the only movie to use the Eels’ music: the group also has soundtrack credits on movies such as Shrek the Third (2007) and Shrek 2 (2004). Other artists such as Eddie Vedder and Belle and Sebastian have benefited from the popularity of blockbusters as well. Eddie Vedder provided the music for Into the Wild (2007), and Belle and Sebastian’s music appeared in Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008). The O.C. has used or featured music from Sufjan Stevens, Imogen Heap, Beck, and Modest Mouse. And Bon Iver, Death Cab for Cutie, Grizzly Bear, Muse, OK Go, and St. Vincent, among others, all have tracks on the New Moon (2009) soundtrack. And, recently, Florence and the Machine was featured on Glee (a wonderful episode).

New Moon via

So what does this mean? Nothing, really, except that indie-loving movies such as Juno (2007), Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008), and (500) Days of Summer (2009) no longer have a monopoly on the use of independent and alternative music. Now, moviegoers are just as likely to hear their favorite independent artist in a film featuring Robin Williams as they would in a film starring Michael Cera. And, given how much Cera’s particular brand of teen angst is starting to annoy me, I consider this a welcome change.

Now, for those of you who are still skeptical about your favorite independent or alternative artist ending up in a blockbuster, consider this trailer of It’s Kind of a Funny Story (2010) featuring “Oh My God” by Ida Maria. Regardless of how you feel about the movie, you must admit that Ida Maria’s song fits this preview beautifully.

Review: The King’s Speech (2010)

Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter (movie photo via

Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech (2010) is a delightfully inspirational and intriguing movie about stuttering, family issues, and the endearing relationship between King George VI of England and Lionel Logue. But the quality of the film is obvious. The King’s Speech received twelve Oscar nominations, seven Golden Globe nominations, four Screen Actors Guild Award nominations, and thirteen nominations from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. The King’s Speech speaks for itself.

To add more praises for The King’s Speech to the Internet would be a waste of virtual space. So, instead, I’d like to talk about Timothy Spall. Timothy Spall‘s performance in The King’s Speech as Winston Churchill has received some criticism. Some call it Tom Hooper’s only mistake. Others consider Spall to be a poor representation of Churchill. The Guardian calls Spall a “woefully thin pastiche,” and USA Today writes, “The only weak link is Timothy Spall, miscast as Winston Churchill. It’s not clear who Spall is playing, but it doesn’t appear to be Churchill.” For those who haven’t seen The King’s Speech, here is a clip featuring Timothy Spall as Churchill.

Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill (photo via

I disagree with the criticism of Timothy Spall’s performance. So, to counter such criticism, I offer three arguments:

1) Churchill was an intriguing character. His cigar poses are awesome. His drunken episodes are legendary. And some of his first words as Prime Minister to the British House of Commons were “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” Also, Churchill’s interests were as broad as his chin. He enjoyed painting and writing, and he even received the 1952 Nobel Prize in Literature. So, when critics say that Timothy Spall’s version of Churchill didn’t match the rest of the picture, they didn’t consider that perhaps that’s because Timothy Spall believes that Winston Churchill’s awesome qualities didn’t match the rest of twentieth-century Europe.


2) Who else? Some critics believe strongly that Timothy Spall was a poor choice, but I have yet to hear any feasible alternatives. Winston Churchill, though awesome, provides a unique challenge to directors who like to create semi-accurate physical portrayals of historical figures. To understand my point, consider, for a moment, some possible alternatives. Frank Langella: This lanky Churchill would be too similar to Langella’s portrayal of Nixon, and, while it may be interesting, a Nixon-infused Churchill is not what The King’s Speech needs. Alec Baldwin: Intriguing but ultimately wrong; this emotionless Churchill lacks the raw manliness of the real man. Martin Sheen: This Churchill doesn’t sound like Churchill. Bill Nighy: This Churchill has the sound and the attitude but not the look. Geoffrey Rush: Already in The King’s Speech. My conclusion is this: Timothy Spall may not be the right Churchill, but he is certainly the best.

3) Love for Peter Pettigrew. Timothy Spall has devoutly played Wormtail in every Harry Potter movie from Prisoner of Azkaban to Deathly Hallows: Part 1. That alone should earn him our love and respect.

So, The King’s Speech is a wonderful movie with well-written dialogue, excellent directing, and one stunning Winston Churchill.

Review: Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)

Film picture via

Prior to seeing Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010), I knew very little about the world of graffiti and street art. After seeing Banky’s film, I still know little about this world, but I now have a growing appreciation for those who can climb about rooftops late at night with large sheets of personalized paper and buckets of paste. And I have an even bigger appreciation for those who can do so with grace and style.

The film outlines the evolution of Thierry Guetta (later known as Mr. Brainwash), a hopelessly enthusiastic videographer and aspiring street artist. The film’s juxtaposition of Guetta with the suave, laid-back Banksy offers viewers a comedic introduction to a number of street art subtleties, not the least of which is the existence of street art imitators. Guetta, though endearing, is (spray-)painted as a somewhat annoying copycat of established street artists such as Shepard Fairey and Banksy. After discovering the world of street art, Guetta follows Fairey, Space Invader, and others as they make and share street art. Guetta documents the entire process, occasionally offering odd commentaries to otherwise stunning scenes. Guetta later tries his hand at beautifying cities with his own street art and eventually hosts his own high-profile art show as Mr. Brainwash. The transformation of Thierry Guetta into Mr. Brainwash challenges many assumptions about art and graffiti. Even Banksy himself wonders aloud (with perfect comedic timing) if art is truly accessible: “I used to encourage everyone I knew to make art; I don’t do that anymore.”

Exit Through the Gift Shop via

Some speculate that Exit Through the Gift Shop is another elaborate Banksy hoax. Perhaps Banksy hired Thierry Guetta. Or, maybe, Guetta and Banksy are one and the same. As a recent convert to the wonders of street art, including the works and character of Bansky, I have no guess as to how the film came to be. Hoax or not, Banksy’s film is wickedly entertaining and offers a commentary on some genuine issues within the world of street art. The film, despite its aggressive satire, is surprisingly inspirational. Were my drawings anything more than oddly high-brow stick figures, I’d be tempted to share them with the world. For those, like me, who don’t have great artistic abilities, Exit Through the Gift Shop is an entertaining reminder that beauty can be found (and put) anywhere. Amidst this often misunderstood counter-cultural movement, true art can emerge.

Exit Through the Gift Shop, Banksy’s directorial debut, received a Oscar nomination in the Documentary Feature category, and Banksy was nominated for an award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer. In the Oscar race, I’m rooting for Exit Through the Gift Shop. I have nothing against the other Documentary Feature nominees (Gasland, Inside Job, Restrepo, and Waste Land), but I’m curious if Banksy would show up to accept his award.

Dissecting the Best Director Nominees: 2011 Oscars

This year’s Academy Award nominees for Best Director seem fairly standard. All five directors are nominated for films that also received Best Picture nominations. All five films feature well-known celebrities. All five films and directors fared relatively well in other award ceremonies this year (though the Coen pair was nudged out of the Golden Globes by Christopher Nolan, and David O. Russell didn’t get nominated for a Critics’ Choice Award). David Fincher has already grabbed the Golden Globe and the Critics’ Choice Award for directing The Social Network, and many have written off the Directing category at the Oscars as an easy win for Fincher. But these five (the Coens here considered a single unit) directors have interesting backgrounds and unique perspectives. While Fincher may very well grab the Oscar, viewers shouldn’t underestimate the other four.

Darren Aronofsky via

Darren Aronofsky: The Weirdo

Sliding into the pop-cinema scene with the psychological thrillers Pi (1998) and Requiem for a Dream (2000), Darren Aronofsky quickly made a name as the creator of bizarre brainteasers. Aronofsky’s films tend to leave moviegoers confused, amazed, and slightly disturbed. Some of his movies look and feel like a combination of Christopher Nolan’s intriguing psycho-cinema and Reefer Madness‘s, well, madness. While The Wrestler (2008) was arguably a break from the typical Aronofsky dazzler, Black Swan, his latest thriller and 2010 Oscar-nominated film, certainly bears the Aronofsky mark of madness.

This is Aronofsky’s first Oscar nomination. Despite the bizarre brilliance of some of his past films, none of them gained Aronofsky notice as a director or writer at the Academy Awards. Aronofsky has screenplay writing credits for Pi (1998), Requiem for a Dream (2000), and The Fountain (2006). Interestingly, Aronofsky is also a producer of The Fighter (2010), the film that gained David O. Russell his nomination for directing. Regardless of what one may say of his past films, Darren Aronofsky’s recent breakthrough at the Oscars gives me a reason to see the upcoming installment of the Jackman-as-Wolverine franchise (The Wolverine), which Aronofsky will direct.

David O. Russell via

David O. Russell: The Underdog

The Fighter (2010) is just David O. Russell’s latest addition to his expanding underdog filmography. His early films, Spanking the Monkey (1994) and Flirting with Disaster (1996), feature humorously agitated underdogs who struggle with romance and identity. His 1999 film, Three Kings, transformed three male prima donnas (George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, and Ice Cube) into an underdog trio of soldiers who become thieves and, eventually, heroes. And perhaps his most popular film until now, I Heart Huckabees (2004), features a couple of hopelessly lost thinkers (Jason Schwartzman and, again, Mark Wahlberg) who simply want to understand the world around them.

In addition to the out-of-towner-like qualities of his characters, David O. Russell may be the underdog of the 2010 nominated directors. When all counted, Russell has less past nominations/awards than the other four nominees. Not only is this Russell’s first nomination for directing, this is Russell’s first nomination in any category at both the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes. The film that landed Russell these nominations, The Fighter, is also Russell’s first high-profile attempt at a drama.

Tom Hooper via

Tom Hooper: The Historian

Tom Hooper’s filmography almost reads like the index of a history textbook. Hooper featured the life of English sports manager Brian Clough in The Damned United (2009). He highlighted the voice and mind of British politician Lord Longford in Longford (2006). In 2005, he directed a mini-series about Queen Elizabeth I , and, in 2008, he directed a mini-series about John Adams. And, now, Hooper presents the life of King George VI of England in his Oscar-nominated film, The King’s Speech (2010). According to this interview with Tom Hooper, bits of Lionel Logue’s actual diary even made it into the movie’s script.

Like Russell and Aronofsky, this is Hooper’s first Oscar nomination. This is, however, not Hooper’s first nomination for directing. The majority of Hooper’s directing experience is in television. In fact, Hooper has been nominated for three Emmy Awards. He was nominated in 2004 for directing ExxonMobil Masterpiece Theatre: Prime Suspect 6; in 2006 for Elizabeth I; and again in 2008 for John Adams. Of the three, only Elizabeth I won Hooper an Emmy.

David Fincher via

David Fincher: The Voyager

From Seven (1995) to The Social Network (2010), David Fincher has dazzled audiences with his wonderfully risky direction. His early films, Alien³ (1992), Seven (1995), and The Game (1997) showed that Fincher had a knack for putting his characters through emotional (and sometime physical) hell. Fincher fine-tuned his bold approach to filmmaking in 1999 when he directed Fight Club. Fincher’s screen adaptation of the Chuck Palahniuk novel earned him status as a pop-culture icon. Having improved his adventurous, risk-taking style of direction, Fincher went on to direct two thrillers, Panic Room (2002) and Zodiac (2007). Fincher’s first brush with the Academy Awards came from his direction of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008). The movie earned thirteen Oscar nominations, one of which was for Fincher’s directing. Though Danny Boyle was given the Oscar that year for directing Slumdog Millionaire, Fincher’s film still won three Oscars (Art Direction, Makeup, and Visual Effects).

Through The Social Network (2010), Fincher has once again polished his adventurous approach to films and protagonists. Feature-length films, however, are not the only items on his resume. Fincher has worked on music videos for Aerosmith, Paula Abdul, and Madonna. And Fincher lent his voice to the Oscar-nominated short film Logorama (2009). Fincher’s intensity and unpredictability (and his work with Aerosmith, perhaps) make him a true voyager.

Joel Coen via

Joel Coen and Ethan Coen: The Veterans

Joel and Ethan Coen’s resume is as diverse as it is brilliant. The early films Raising Arizona (1987), Miller’s Crossing (1990), Barton Frink (1991), and The Hudsucker Proxy (1994) seemed to serve as test drives of the Coen brothers’ unique and eventually well-rewarded style. Their first big break, Fargo (1996), caught the eye of the Academy Awards, earning them nominations for both directing and writing. The Coen brothers then went on to direct The Big Lebowski (1998) and O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000). Both films earned the brothers esteem and recognition, and O Brother, Where Art Thou? helped the Coens’ grab another Oscar nomination for writing. Turning back to a directing style reminiscent

Ethan Coen via

of their early work, Joel and Ethan Coen then directed The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001). Despite the comparisons, The Man Who Wasn’t There was substantially more successful than the Coens’ earlier work of a similar style. Intolerable Cruelty (2003), The Ladykillers (2004), and Paris, Je T’Aime (2006) were relatively well-received by the movie-going public. From 2007 to 2010, the Coen brothers directed four films that received notice at the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes, or both. No Country for Old Men (2007) won Oscars for directing, writing, and best picture. Burn After Reading (2008) received two Golden Globe nominations, one for Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical. A Serious Man (2009) was nominated for two Academy Awards, including best picture. And, now, True Grit (2010) is nominated for an impressive ten Oscars. The fact that True Grit went unmentioned at the Golden Globes seems to be less indicative of the quality of the Coen brothers’ film and more of the quality of the awards themselves.

Bonus Character

Christopher Nolan via

Christopher Nolan: The Runner-Up

Success at the box office sometimes parallels poor performance at the Academy Awards. And, given some of the movies that succeed at the box office (Clash of the Titans and New Moon, for example) this heuristic is well-proven. In Christopher Nolan’s case, however, many (including myself) believe that his successes in directing should rise above the stigma of the box office. In terms of direction, perhaps films like Following (1998), Insomnia (2002), and The Prestige (2006) aren’t Oscar-worthy, but Nolan has directed other films that, in regards to direction and writing, rival those of the Coen brothers and James Cameron. Many Nolan fans felt robbed when Nolan was not recognized at either the Oscars or the Golden Globes for The Dark Knight (2008). Though the film received eight Academy Award nominations, none were for Nolan, the film’s director and writer. And, now, Christopher Nolan’s directing talents go, once again, unnoticed at the Oscars despite the originality and flow of Inception (2010) (though he is nominated as the writer of Inception‘s original screenplay).

At least Nolan fans have the next installment of Nolan’s Batman franchise to look forward to in 2012. The Dark Knight Rises is looking like it will be a dream-come-true for those who love superheroes and celebrities. Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine will return as Batman, Gordan, Fox, and Alfred. Tom Hardy (from Inception) and Anne Hathaway will be added to the cast as Bane and Catwoman, respectively. And, recently, it has been rumored that Robin Williams will play Hugo Strange. Though, I’m learning not to trust rumors about the cast of The Dark Knight Rises. Past rumors suggested that either Eddie Murphy or Johnny Depp would play the Riddler; Philip Seymour Hoffman would play the Penguin; and Shia LeBeouf would play Robin. So, while I think Robin Williams would be a wonderful addition to the film, I’m not holding my breath.