Availability Of Oscar-Nominated Films On DVD

You watched the 81st Academy Awards on Sunday.  You haven’t screened many of the nominated films.  But you really want to, just not at your local cinema.
 
What’s the solution?  DVD.
 
Here’s the good news.  The Visitor, Iron Man, The Dark Knight, Wanted, In Bruges, Kung Fu Panda, Wall-E, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Frozen River, Changeling, Tropic Thunder, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, The Duchess, Encounters At The End Of The World and Man On Wire can all be rented or purchased at your local video store right now.  That’s about half the features nominated at this year’s Oscars.
 
Here’s the bad news.  You have to wait for everything else.  Thankfully, a small number of these titles will be available on DVD sooner than later: 
 
Australia (March 2nd)
 
Happy-Go-Lucky (March 10th)
 
Milk (March 10th)
 
Rachel Getting Married (March 10th)
 
Trouble The Water (March 17th)
 
Bolt (March 24th)
 
Doubt (April 7th)
 
Frost/Nixon (April 21st)
 
 
As for the rest, official release dates have not been scheduled for The Wrestler, The Reader, Revolutionary Road, Defiance, The Class, Waltz With Bashir or The Betrayal.  The Garden, one of the Best Documentary Feature nominees, hasn’t had a theatrical release yet.  (According to the Internet Movie Database, it played one film festival last June.)  Revanche, nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category, opens in select cinemas next month.  Departures, which won that category, hasn’t had a cinematic run here, either, despite premiering at The Montreal Film Festival this past August.
 
Furthermore, IMDB claims that The Baader Meinhof Complex, another Foreign Language contender, will be released by Paramount on March 12th which is odd because that’s a Thursday.  Almost all DVD releases become available on Tuesdays.  It’s not on ComingSoon.net’s 2009 DVD release schedule.  Ditto Box Office Mojo.  (There are no March 12th entries for either.)  And you can’t pre-order it from Amazon.
 
IMDB also claims that The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button will be out on New Year’s Eve.  That sounds erroneous to me.  It’s not believable that the most commercially successful Best Picture nominee would see its DVD release postponed that long.  (It also doesn’t help that the title is listed as “Der seltsame Fall des Benjamin Button”.  Is that its German release date?  Sure looks like a mistake to me.)  As of now, because you can still catch the near three-hour epic in the theatre, no official release date has been announced.
 
As for Slumdog Millionaire, the biggest Oscar winner this year with eight trophies, the American-based CDUniverse.com is taking pre-orders for an alleged March 31st release.  You can pre-order it from Amazon, as well, but no release date is given on their site.  It’s awfully peculiar that only one site would announce this.  Grain of salt alert.
 
Remember, release dates are subject to change at any time.  Check out ComingSoon.net and Amazon for all upcoming releases.  They are the most reliable.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
7:26 p.m.
 
UPDATE:  Slumdog Millionaire is, in fact, scheduled for a March 31st release.  It’s been added to ComingSoon.net’s March 2009 list of upcoming titles and Amazon has confirmed the date, as well.  Also, The Wrestler will be available on DVD April 21st.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, March 7, 2009
6:22 p.m.
 
UPDATE 2:  ComingSoon.net has a release date for The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button.  The three-hour epic will be out on DVD May 5th.  It will be available in single-disc and double-disc editions.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, April 5, 2009
3:31 p.m.
 
UPDATE 3:  Some very good news for Kate Winslet fans.  Her Oscar-winning turn in The Reader is coming to DVD on April 14th.  Bizarrely, The Internet Movie Database offers a second release date of May 25th.  Perhaps, they are referring to the Blu-Ray version of the controversial film which will actually be released on April 28th.  Revolutionary Road, her second collaboration with Leonardo DiCaprio, is out June 2nd.  If that weren’t enough, Defiance, the World War II movie starring current James Bond Daniel Craig, will also be available on June 2nd.  Waltz With Bashir, the animated Israeli film, is pencilled in for June 23rd.  (The Internet Movie Database says a limited edition DVD will be out May 8th but Amazon has no such listing.)  The only remaining titles not yet headed for home video are the above-mentioned documentary and foreign-language feature nominees.
 
Special thanks to Rob Kerr for the reliable information on The Reader, Revolutionary Road and Defiance.  No thanks to ComingSoon.net which didn’t list any of these release dates on their otherwise terrific site.  Someone was asleep at the switch.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, April 5, 2009
4:49 p.m.
 
UPDATE 4:  Departures will be released theatrically in late May, according to IMDB.  One last thing.  IMDB updated The Garden’s festival history.  At the time of writing the original item, I noted that it had only played one festival.  The “release date” information now lists eight festivals it has played since June 2008.  Still no word on a possible cinematic run.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, April 5, 2009
5:04 p.m.
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Published in: on February 24, 2009 at 7:26 pm  Comments (2)  

2009 Oscar Round-Up

Ben Stiller.  Seth Rogen.  James Franco.  Steve Martin. 
 
What do these four stars have in common?  They’re all funnier in minutes than Hugh Jackman is in hours.  The charismatic Australian tried to hoof and sing, and occasionally quip his way through The 81st Annual Academy Awards.  Having previously hosted The Tonys, the actor best known as Wolverine from The X-Men movies was quite a comedown from past hosts like Jon Stewart, Billy Crystal and, of course, Martin.  While limiting his attempts at humour (a wise move), whenever he actually went for a laugh it fell far short.  A couple of mild chuckles just isn’t cutting it.  And the dance numbers were completely unnecessary.  Rob Lowe and Snow White, all is forgiven.
 
Meanwhile, as Richard Roeper correctly predicted, Slumdog Millionaire was the biggest winner.  The film that very nearly didn’t get a theatrical distribution took home Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Sound Mixing and Best Original Song for Jai Ho; eight Oscars altogether.  The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button had to settle for victories in the Best Make-Up, Best Visual Effects and Best Art Direction categories.
 
As expected, Heath Ledger won for Best Supporting Actor, thanks to his universally acclaimed performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight.  His parents and sister accepted the honour on his behalf with class and dignity.  His young daughter, Matilida, will have quite a memento to cherish always.  The film also won for Best Sound Editing.
 
Milk, Gus Van Sant’s biopic of San Francisco politician Harvey Milk, a film that took almost two decades to get made, won for Best Original Screenplay.  Sean Penn was named Best Actor for playing the title character.  He graciously singled out fellow nominee Mickey Rourke and rightly criticized the anti-gay marriage movement.  
 
Wall-E won for Best Animated Feature.  That’s Pixar’s fourth win in this category.  Penelope Cruz, who worried about being the first winner to faint on stage (she didn’t), was named Best Supporting Actress for her critically acclaimed performance in Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona.  And Kate Winslet snagged the Best Actress gong for appearing in The Reader.  Hands down, she delivered the best speech.  She rightly thanked her parents first rather than last (there was a cute moment where she wondered where her father was in the audience; she asked him to whistle so she could find him and he did), confessed to have practiced giving Oscar acceptance speeches in front of the bathroom mirror since she was a wee lass and acknowledged Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack, two of the film’s producers who died last year.
 
A close second would have to be Phillipe Petit, the subject of the Best Documentary Feature winner, Man On Wire.  After making a gold coin disappear, he briefly balanced an Oscar on his face.  Even the cynical Bill Maher, who presented the award, was impressed.  (The complete list of winners are at the end of this entry.)
 
The only real surprise was The Best Foreign Language Film winner, Departures.  The animated Israeli picture, Waltz With Bashir, which curiously didn’t get a Best Animated Feature nomination, was widely expected to win.  This was one of only three categories Richard Roeper got wrong this year.  That’s right.  He went 21 for 24.  Take a bow, sir.  Sure beats my measly 12 out of 24.  At least I won the annual family Oscar pool.  5 years in a row, baby!  10 overall.
 
Some other observations…
 
Um, Alan Arkin?  It’s Philip Seymour Hoffman, not Seymour Philip Hoffman.
 
Speaking of Hoffman, what was the deal with that black touque?  Planning a heist after the show, Phil?
 
Who was the genius who thought it would be a good idea to showcase the In Memoriam montage from angles so far away and mobile that you couldn’t always see the images clearly or read the names and their credits?  It looked disrespectful and unprofessional.
 
Danny Boyle looks like Morrissey’s cheerful older brother.
 
James Franco and Seth Rogan were hilarious reprising their Pineapple Express characters.  Absolutely loved it when they laughed at the serious movies, among other things.
 
Steve Martin should’ve hosted the show again.  Tina Fey set him up beautifully with one great zinger after another.
 
Ben Stiller had some funny moments imitating Joaquin Phoenix’s recent appearance on David Letterman’s program.  He could’ve gone further but he made me laugh a number of times nevertheless.
 
Why did it take forever to get through the acting categories?  I’m sure the nominees appreciated being congratulated like that but it slowed things down considerably.  Go back to the old way.  It was better.
 
It was neat to hear Coldplay’s Lovers In Japan, a bit of their Viva La Vida and Tick Tick Boom by The Hives during the Romance 2008 montage, the Jerry Lewis package and the Action 2008 montage, respectively.
 
Anthony Hopkins looks awfully thin.  What happened?
 
For the first time in years, no winners were cut off while making their thank yous.  It’s about time.
 
 
The complete list of winners:
 
BEST PICTURE – SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
 
BEST DIRECTOR – Danny Boyle (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE)
 
BEST ACTOR – Sean Penn (MILK)
 
BEST ACTRESS – Kate Winslet (THE READER)
 
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – Heath Ledger (THE DARK KNIGHT)
 
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – Penelope Cruz (VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA)
 
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY – MILK
 
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY – SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
 
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE – WALL-E
 
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE – MAN ON WIRE
 
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FEATURE – DEPARTURES
 
BEST ORIGINAL SONG – Jai Ho (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE)
 
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE – SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
 
BEST ANIMATED SHORT – LA MAISON ET PETITS CUBES
 
BEST ART DIRECTION – THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
 
BEST COSTUME DESIGN – THE DUCHESS
 
BEST MAKE-UP  – THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
 
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS – THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
 
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY – SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
 
BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT – TOYLAND
 
BEST FILM EDITING – SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
 
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT – SMILE PINKI
 
BEST SOUND EDITING – THE DARK KNIGHT
 
BEST SOUND MIXING – SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
 
 
Jean Hersholt Award – Jerry Lewis
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, February 23, 2009
1:45 a.m.
Published in: on February 23, 2009 at 1:45 am  Comments (2)  

Conan Ends Late Night Run Gracefully

There was emotion, some very funny clip montages, chunks of the set given away to every studio audience member, hugs and the freeing of Abe Vigoda.  All in all, the final Late Night With Conan O’Brien was a fitting end to a throughly surprising run.  Who knew that the tall, red-headed Catholic kid from Boston, with almost no previous on-camera experience and no stand-up background, would last longer (over 16 years) than the show’s predecessor, David Letterman.  (The original Late Night ran from February 1982 to June 1993.)
 
When Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels (and the executive producer of Late Night through his Broadway Video production company) convinced NBC to take a chance on one of his writers, who had occasionally popped up in bit parts during sketches and would also write for The Simpsons, it was a real risk.  His selection was an almost complete unknown, most certainly not the obvious choice to replace the iconic Letterman.  (Dana Carvey seemed more suitable but he turned down the gig.)
 
You would never know how great a choice he was after watching his awful debut on September 13, 1993.  There was no structured monologue and interviews with John Goodman and Drew Barrymore were forgettable.  (The only memorable moment occurred when Goodman was given a First Guest medallion and his picture was instantaneously snapped with O’Brien by photographers who appeared out of nowhere.)  And why did he need buddy Andy Richter (originally on-board as one of the writers) as a sidekick, anyway?  Neither were delivering the goods.
 
After that terrible start, I avoided the show like the plague, expecting it to be cancelled within a short while.  Reviews at the time were brutal.  The show would only be renewed every 13 weeks, not annually.  According to this New York Times story, NBC executives actually did pull the plug but remarkably, changed their minds.  That decision had to be a wake-up call for O’Brien who had to learn the hard way, through trial and error, how to be funny and connect with his audience.  By the end of the decade, after not watching the show for years, I remember catching a remote set in either an airport or bus terminal.  One guy was giving Conan a hard time but the always affable Bostonian assured him that the show was funny now. 
 
He wasn’t lying.  I began watching the show more often.  O’Brien and Richter had found their natural, comedic rhythm with themselves and their guests.  On the final Late Night, Richter made a return appearance (something he’s done for years to promote his movies and TV shows after leaving the show, albeit on a touching note, in 2000) to offer his congratulations and support to his old friend.  Although he’s had some success on the big screen, you can’t help but wonder if Richter made a big mistake. 
 
When he left, I wondered how O’Brien would adapt.  He ended up bantering with his superb and good-natured bandleader, Max Weinberg, and incorporating a number of Lettermanesque and Carsonian mannerisms.  Lots of mugging, deadpan stares, spontaneous fits of laughter and awareness of the audience’s reactions to various bits and quips, especially if something bombed or received a weird response (booing followed by clapping, for instance).  O’Brien has a quick wit (he did do improv with The Groundlings for a couple of years) that has served him well during those miscues which ultimately made the show funnier.
 
While watching the clip montages not only during the final episode but throughout this final week, one thing became evident to me.  O’Brien is far more confident of his timing and spontaneous jokes outside of the studio than within Rockefeller Center, even though he has evolved into a very good interviewer and confident joke teller.  Rewatching some of the best bits from his trip to Finland, I was reminded of how good he is when he interacts with complete strangers.  He has a genuine affection for these people, especially his fans, and they frequently reciprocate those feelings.  His laughter to their unscripted comments is genuine, not forced.  He understands instinctively that those moments enhance the show and he’s generous enough to allow them to air.  His “outside” comedy is more silly, teasing and playful than the biting sarcasm he reserves for studio bits and monologue jokes inside Studio 6A.  There’s a warmness to him that someone like Bill Maher would have to fake.
 
Saving the gracious sentimentality for the end, O’Brien allowed comedy to dominate his last show.  Poon hound John Mayer offered a funny, sarcastic song via videotape about how Los Angeles, the location for The Tonight Show, will eat him alive.  There was O’Brien’s favourite remote:  the time he checked out an accurate recreation of an 1864 baseball game.  (Love the fake moustache and sideburns.)  Will Ferrell doing that disturbingly amusing leprechaun dance of his.  And lots of funny, old clips.
 
The only moment we could’ve been spared was that dreadful White Stripes song.  One of O’Brien’s all-time favourites, he definitely appreciated the moment more than I did.  It went on too long and was the only low point in a terrific finale.
 
For the remaining ten minutes, O’Brien spoke from the heart thanking a whole bunch of people for his success.  He nearly broke down a couple of times while talking about Lorne Michaels who believed in him from day one and his family.  Most endearing were the shout-outs to his parents (who were there in the audience but not shown) who taught him that making it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have any character and his brother who watched every single episode (nearly 3000, it should be noted) and always offered his support even when O’Brien knew he wasn’t always on his game.  The unscripted monologue was reminiscent of Howard Stern’s final speech to his terrestrial radio audience:  sincere, deeply appreciative, moving and hopeful for another act in show business.
 
After signing off, O’Brien went up to the audience to hand out hacked off pieces of the set, a number of whom he embraced as the credits rolled.  You got the feeling he wanted to hug everybody who has ever supported the program.
 
The good news is that he’s moving on to tackle the holy grail of talk shows in June.  The bad news is that he’s still not the lead-off guy for NBC.  Who knows how Jay Leno’s prime-time chatfest will respond with audiences when it debuts in either August or September.  And who knows what kinds of things O’Brien will do an hour earlier.  (Hopefully, he won’t change too much.  He’s found his funny.)  If history is any guide, O’Brien will be in better shape.  David Letterman has adapted nicely over at CBS the last 16 years.  But how many 10 p.m. talk shows do you remember succeeding?
 
It also helps that O’Brien did a good job hosting The Emmys this decade which meant that prime-time audiences not familiar with his late night program got a chance to sample his comedy and may check out his new gig.  It may take time to adjust, but if anything, he has to proven to be adaptable.  He’s in the prime of his career and really has nothing left to prove now.  Whatever happens with his Tonight Show stint, it won’t detract from his unique legacy as Late Night’s second host.
 
I have only one request:  bring back The Slip Nutz!
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, February 21, 2009
5:29 p.m.
Published in: on February 21, 2009 at 5:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Third Anniversary

“Three years…It’s a long time.”
 
Even though Andre The Giant was talking about coveting best friend Hulk Hogan’s WWF championship belt in 1987, he could’ve easily been referring to this website. 
 
It was February 19, 2006 that The Writings Of Dennis Earl quietly began on what used to be known as MSN Spaces (now Windows Live Spaces).  There was some hesitation, even a little trepidation, but ultimately, a determination to write more often in a public forum.  Any concerns I had about pursuing this quickly disappeared.
 
My ambitions were modest:
 
 
Unfortunately, I was a little confused about something.  In that very first entry, Let Me Introduce Myself, I wrote about the types of writing I wanted to post on my new site:
 
“This website will feature my poetry, reviews, commentary and writing from a historical perspective.”
 
But then, I wrote this:
 
“Besides all of that, I will write in my brand new blog, a first for me and an exciting new way to get people interested in reading my thoughts.”
 
This is a minor quibble but I was under the mistaken impression that the blog would feature nothing but new pieces and the older stuff would somehow be featured in a different area of the site, separate from the blog.  I didn’t realize that all of my writing would be lumped together in one place.  I ended up writing introductions for the old stuff to make them distinctive from the original blog material, so it turned out ok.
 
In that same piece, I announced my intention not to curse thinking it would get me into considerable trouble with Microsoft.  (I got a little freaked out while reading their Terms Of Service.)  After honouring that commitment for quite a while, I decided to drop it altogether.  I’m not Andrew Dice Clay or anything but it’s nice to not hold back anymore when you feel the need to be more blunt.
 
In its three years of existence, The Writings Of Dennis Earl has evolved from being a showcase for mostly old reviews, rejected newspaper articles, previously published newspaper articles, poetry and material generated for high school and college to a forum of public criticism regarding the enveloping sadness surrounding Quebecor’s newspaper and TV properties to occasional prognosticating, historical pieces, the odd news story and even personal memories of my own life.  In the beginning, there were a plethora of ideas to explore both old and new.  Now, things have slowed down considerably to an uncomfortable crawl.  Personal distractions are to blame.  Nonetheless, there are currently close to 400 entries with overall hits approaching 27000.  Old items continually pop up in searches on various engines like Dogpile and Google.  Various entries receive feedback either through email or direct comments.  (For instance, a number of professional journalists, mostly from Sun Media, have taken the time to contact me which is flattering beyond words.)  And, best of all, material first posted here sometimes get picked up by other sites.
 
The Toronto Sun Family Blog and Fading To Black have both kindly singled out my Sun Media stuff over the years.  (I later blogged for FTB directly between April 2007 and January 2008.)   In 2007, when I published Bill Brioux’s personal email, it was picked up by five different blogs including TSF.  And last year, the site was given a positive review by Blogged.com while one of my U2 pieces was selected as a Yahoo! Answer.  I might not be as widely read as The Huffington Post or any other high profile website you can think of, but I consider all of these developments to be quite positive and encouraging, as well.  Progress is slow but there is still progress. 
 
And now, the site has its own Facebook page.  Click here and become a fan.  Convince your friends to join, too.  Feel free to post comments on the wall there or send me a message.  As always, you can email me at dennischarlesearl@hotmail.com, leave comments on the entries (no spam please), sign my guestbook or send me a message through Windows Live.  I read everything I’m sent and respond where appropriate.  Whenever a new entry is posted, it’ll be linked and noted on Facebook so you’ll never miss it.
 
Starting this website has been one of the great joys of my life.  It helped me rekindle long lost friendships and begin new ones, it motivated me to refocus on my first love:  writing, it has allowed me the opportunity to establish an online identity and reputation, and, most importantly, it has been a comfortable forum for me to express myself in so many different ways both positive and negative.  I never intended to reveal so much of who I am through writing.  I always preferred mystery.  But after purging myself of the long resented disaster that was my brief stint as the Student Council President in my high school, there was a breakthrough.
 
I haven’t been the same since.  And that’s a good thing.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, Februrary 19, 2009
6:39 p.m.
Published in: on February 19, 2009 at 6:39 pm  Comments (5)  

Predicting The Oscar Winners Of 2009 (Part Two)

 
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – Penelope Cruz (VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA)
 
Without question, of all the acting categories, this one is the toughest to call.  You have past winner Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny) playing Mickey Rourke’s stripper girlfriend in The Wrestler, Viola Davis as a mom whose young son spends an awful lot of time with priest Philip Seymour Hoffman in Doubt, Amy Adams portraying the nun who unintentionally triggers the suspicions of Meryl Streep about that whole mysterious situation, Taraji P. Henson who looks after the title character in The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button and Penelope Cruz as Javier Bardem’s jealous ex-wife in Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
 
Last year, Tilda Swinton won this category unexpectedly for her work in Michael Clayton.  Is another upset forthcoming in 2009?
 
Amy Adams, who was last nominated for Junebug three years ago, probably won’t take it.  Roger Ebert is picking her co-star, Viola Davis, to win, a strong possibility but I can’t agree.  Henson is a long shot and Tomei, who was also nominated in 2002 for her performance in the overrated In The Bedroom, is an actress who could really use another trophy after all these years of malicious smearing she’s had to endure over the phony controversy regarding her win 16 years ago for My Cousin Vinny.  (How that awful urban legend continues to exist is beyond me.)  But Mickey Rourke’s performance has generated far more buzz so it would be a surprise to hear her name called.
 
It is far from a sure thing but I’m predicting a win for Penelope Cruz.  From what I understand, she had the most challenging role to play of all the nominated performances, she needs this acknowledgment more than anyone (her Spanish work usually gets more respect than her American movies) and considering the number of actors who have won Oscars for appearing in Woody Allen pictures (Diane Keaton, Michael Caine, Mira Sorvino, Dianne Wiest (twice)), she has a lot going for her.  Cruz for Best Supporting Actress.
 
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – Heath Ledger (THE DARK KNIGHT)
 
A bigoted politician.  A method actor who gets a race lift.  A kindly or abusive priest.  A compulsively honest mental patient.  The Joker.
 
It’s an eclectic mix of comedic and dramatic performances in the race for Best Supporting Actor.  Right away, we can eliminate Josh Brolin (Milk) and Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road), two first-time nominees just happy to be recognized.  Philip Seymour Hoffman already has a Best Actor statue for playing Truman Capote.  And Robert Downey Jr., one of the great comeback stories of recent years and a previous nominee for his brilliant portrayal of Charlie Chaplin in an otherwise disappointing biopic, doesn’t need anything else to celebrate besides his sobriety, his family, and his newfound movie star status.
 
Heath Ledger’s highly acclaimed work in The Dark Knight was talked about months before the film’s summer release.  Even if he survived that tragic overdose in January 2008, he would still be the frontrunner in this category.  It will be a bittersweet victory for his family and supporters as he’s about to join actor Peter Finch (Network) and cinematographer Conrad L. Hall (Road To Perdition) among many others in the growing group of posthumous Academy Award winners.  Ledger for Best Supporting Actor.
 
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE – WALL-E
 
Since the introduction of this category seven years ago, Pixar has seen three of its blockbusters rewarded with golden statues.  (Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and Ratatouille.)  The company will need to find space on their mantelpiece for Oscar number four.  Wall-E, their latest commercial and critical juggernaut, will be their second consecutive win in this category.  Disney’s Bolt and DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda, the latter of which also made money and has its admirers, don’t have a prayer.
 
 
Here are my picks in the remaining categories: 
 
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE – TROUBLE THE WATER
 
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY – Dustin Lance Black (MILK)
 
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY – Simon Beaufoy (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE)
 
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM – WALTZ WITH BASHIR
 
BEST SOUND MIXING – THE DARK KNIGHT
 
BEST SOUND EDITING – THE DARK KNIGHT
 
BEST ART DIRECTION – THE DARK KNIGHT
 
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY – THE DARK KNIGHT
 
BEST FILM EDITING – SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
 
BEST ORIGINAL SONG – Down To Earth (WALL-E)
 
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE – Thomas Newman (WALL-E)
 
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS – THE DARK KNIGHT
 
BEST COSTUME DESIGN – THE DUCHESS
 
BEST MAKE-UP – HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY
 
BEST ANIMATED SHORT – PRESTO
 
BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT – TOYLAND
 
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT – THE WITNESS: FROM THE BALCONY OF ROOM 306
 
 
The 81st Academy Awards, hosted by Hugh Jackman, air Sunday, February 22nd on ABC in America and CTV in Canada.  The pre-show starts at 8 p.m. with the ceremony following at 8:30.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, February 15, 2009
5:36 p.m.
Published in: on February 15, 2009 at 5:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

Predicting The Oscar Winners Of 2009 (Part One)

Here we are again.  The 81st annual Academy Awards are happening next weekend and you know what that means.  That’s right.  It’s time for my annual list of predictions.  Who will be rewarded for all of their hard work on the evening of Sunday, February 22nd?  Let’s get started.
 
BEST PICTURE – SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
 
The life and times of an openly gay politician in 1970s San Francisco.  A desperate Television interviewer vs. a reviled American President in a series of historic, contentious broadcasts.  An affair between an older woman and a younger man and the consequences of staying silent.  An epic about a guy who experiences life through the process of reverse aging.  A young, lovelorn teen and the girl he hopes to reconnect with through a controversial appearance on the most popular TV game show in India.
 
These are the five nominees for Best Picture and as usual, it’s a category dominated by dramas, many of which are set in the past.  But which one will be declared the winner?  You can forget about Milk, the highly acclaimed biopic about California politician Harvey Milk.  It’s got no chance.  Frost/Nixon, Ron Howard’s well respected adaptation of the famous play, itself inspired by the original 1977 David Frost/Richard Nixon TV interviews, won’t win, either.  The Reader, yet another Oscar nominee with a Holocaust theme, divided critics.  Academy members probably feel the same way.  The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, the most decorated picture this year with 13 nods and the biggest grosser of the nominees with nearly 200 million in international receipts, just hasn’t generated the kind of overwhelming support it needs to win.  Accusations of being a bit too similiar to Forrest Gump (Eric Roth adapted both scripts from the original novels), which won this category in 1995, hasn’t helped its cause.
 
That leaves Slumdog Millionaire.  Critics loved this movie.  (It has a 94% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the highest ranking of all the nominees in this category.)  Audiences loved this movie.  (It has thus far made 130 million globally.)  And it has been cleaning up on the awards circuit.  (The film has been named Best Picture by The National Board Of Review, The BAFTAs, The Golden Globes, The British Independents, The SAGs, The Satellite Awards and The Producers Guild Of America, as well as the following critics’ groups:  Boston, Broadcast, Florida, Kansas City, Phoenix and Southeastern.)
 
As Roger Ebert has previously noted, Academy members tend to vote with their hearts when selecting their favourite movie of the year.  With no threat posed by The Dark Knight (a surprise omission from this category) and the many fans who were deeply moved by its story, Slumdog Millionaire will triumph.
 
BEST DIRECTOR – Danny Boyle (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE)
 
When The Directors Guild Of America gives you an award for helming your movie, The Motion Picture Academy is more than likely to reward you with an Oscar, as well.  (This has happened 90% of the time.)  53-year-old Scottish director Danny Boyle won the DGA prize this year for putting together Slumdog Millionaire.  Barring an unforeseen upset, the Best Director Academy Award is his for the taking.
 
Ron Howard, who directed Frost/Nixon, already won this category for A Beautiful Mind back in 2002.  Past nominees Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliott, The Hours) and Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting) will see their losing streaks continue.  And first-time nominee David Fincher, who oversaw The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, will have to be content with simply being selected for consideration.  It’s Boyle all the way.
 
BEST ACTRESS – Kate Winslet (THE READER)
 
A troubled, narcissistic alcoholic attending a family wedding.  A mother determined to find her missing child.  Another mother forced to commit a crime in order to save her place of residence.  A strict Catholic official with a roving eye of suspicion.  A guilt-ridden woman forced to face her own cowardice.
 
These are the characters the five nominees for Best Actress played to great acclaim.  But who has the edge?  Who will impress the Academy more?
 
It won’t be the beautiful Anne Hathaway whose work in Rachel Getting Married is very different from her past “princess” roles.  She’ll have to settle for the awards she’s already won along with this first Oscar nomination.  Angelina Jolie, who plays the determined mom in Clint Eastwood’s Changling, already has a Best Supporting Actress Oscar.  She won in 2000 for appearing in Girl, Interrupted.  After that ill-advised shout-out to her brother during her acceptance speech, don’t expect the Academy to give the big-lipped beauty a reason to do it all over again (although, it’s likely she’d thank him in a less creepy manner the second time around).
 
Melissa Leo could be a spoiler, thanks to her performance in Frozen River, but I doubt it.  As for the great Meryl Streep who had a terrific 2008, this will not be the year she wins her third Oscar.  Her fifteenth nomination for her lead role in Doubt will have to suffice.  (Howard Stern can only vote for her once, unfortunately.)
 
That leaves Kate Winslet, the lovely British star who will finally score the golden naked man on her sixth try.  (It doesn’t hurt that The Reader is yet another Holocaust-themed drama, either.)  After being rejected for Best Actress three times previously (Little Children, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Titanic) and Best Supporting Actress twice before (Iris, Sense & Sensibility), February 22nd will finally be her lucky night to shine.  Besides, she’s due.
 
BEST ACTOR – Mickey Rourke (THE WRESTLER)
 
Three first-time nominees battle it out with two returning stars in the lead actor category this year.  Sean Penn, who plays the openly gay lead character in Milk, previously won in 2004 for his controversial performance in Mystic River.  (He should’ve won for The Assassination Of Richard Nixon but he was stupidly snubbed for a nomination.)  This is his fifth nod overall but his name won’t be called out for the second time.  Brad Pitt, who hasn’t been nominated since his Best Supporting Actor nod for that dreadful 12 Monkeys thirteen years ago, might pull an upset for playing Benjamin Button.  But when you’re one of the best looking dudes in Hollywood, happily married to Angelina Jolie and remain just as popular today as you were 15 years ago, do you really need the validation of an Oscar?  Exactly, so count him out this year.
 
Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon) and longtime character actor Richard Jenkins (The Visitor), who both scored their first nominations in 2009, are both highly respected for not only these recognized performances but for their long bodies of work.  Unfortunately, they will cancel each other out.
 
That means Mickey Rourke, the other first time nominee, is the man to beat.  His story somewhat parallels that of Randy “The Ram” Robinson, the emotionally and physically tortured protagonist he portrays in Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler.  He once had it all:  good looks, critical respect, and regular, high profile work.  But he grew disillusioned with Hollywood, burned bridges, foolishly became a boxer, allowed his face to be ruined by botched plastic surgery and slummed it for years.  Gradually, he delivered solid supporting work in good films like John Grisham’s The Rainmaker and crap like that Get Carter remake.  After his brilliant work in Frank Miller’s Sin City, he reminded audiences and critics that he still has real screen presence.  The immense acclaim he’s received for The Wrestler along with numerous trophies from critics groups and his peers can only mean one thing.  On his first try, he will become an Oscar winner.  Can’t wait for that speech.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, February 14, 2009
9:12 p.m.
Published in: on February 14, 2009 at 9:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

Grammy Observations & Unanswered Questions

 
1. What the fuck is happening with Billie Joe Armstong’s hair?
 
2. Andrew W.K. should sue Dave Grohl for stealing his look.
 
3. If Joe Satriani wins his lawsuit against Coldplay, will he be awarded their Song Of The Year Grammy as part of his compensation?
 
4. The Rock should never be allowed to tell a joke ever again.  “The Beatle Fighters”?  The I Kissed A Girl reference?  What a jabroni.
 
5. Why did Radiohead perform 15 Step, the only bad song on In Rainbows, instead of, say, Reckoner or House Of Cards?  That being said, it was a good performance.  Using a drum corps improved the arrangement.  And is it just me or were Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood the only members of the band who actually played?
 
6. Speaking of Thom Yorke, he needs a haircut.  So does T-Bone Burnett.
 
7. Robert Plant should never be seen in public ever again.
 
8. How is Morgan Freeman friends with Kenny Chesney?
 
9. How are Samuel L. Jackson and Justin Timberlake pals?
 
10. Speaking of Timberlake, he sounded great during the Al Green duet.
 
11. The Best New Artist trophy went to the wrong act.  Based on their performance, Sugarland should’ve taken it.
 
12. Kanye West needs to go to rehab to cure his addiction to whining.  While presenting the above-mentioned category, he complained about not being a past Best New Artist winner.  For the record, Kanye, you’ve won a grand total of 12 Grammys, including two this year.  So, shut up, you obnoxious douchebag.
 
13. U2’s new single, Get On Your Boots, is terrific, based on the band’s show-opening performance.
 
14. Whitney Houston looks horrible.  (Is that a botched facelift I see?)  And she sounded out of it.
 
15. Why are there so many performances and yet, so few awards presented during the televised portion?  It would’ve been nice to have seen Radiohead accept the Best Alternative Music Album award they so richly deserved.
 
16. Kid Rock’s set was so good, even my mom was impressed.  Dad?  Not so much.
 
17. Sweet Caroline?
 
18. The tribute to New Orleans was wonderful.  Lil Wayne, Allen Toussaint and company, take a bow.
 
19. Katy Perry never looks bad and she sounded good singing her biggest hit, but she needs dance lessons.
 
20. Stevie Nicks, call the cops.  Carrie Underwood stole one of your outfits.
 
21. Craig Ferguson was funny.  Someone give him a hosting gig, already.
 
22. The tribute to the late, great and sadly mistreated Bo Diddley was worthy of the pioneering axman.  T-Bone Burnett’s Diddleyesque playing on the second Robert Plant/Alison Krauss number was also a nice tribute.
 
23. All the substitute Four Tops were better than the lone original.
 
24. Alison Krauss is much lovelier with long hair.
 
25. Radiohead were robbed for Album Of The Year.  Again.
 
26. M.I.A. is a trooper.  Nine months pregnant and still ready to perform?  That’s gangsta.
 
27. The recording industry lost so many important people this year including George Carlin, Bo Diddley, two Jimi Hendrix drummers and the guy who created the TV theme song (the best one ever) for The Andy Griffith Show. 
 
28. There’s new hope for the Middle East.  Blink 182 have reunited.
 
29. Too much rap, not enough rock.
 
30. Why was the audio so lousy?  Turn up the volume next time, will ya?  We’re getting old.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, February 9, 2009
2:04 a.m.
Published in: on February 9, 2009 at 2:04 am  Leave a Comment  

Satriani Has A Case

Plagiarism.  It’s a loaded word.  No one wants to be accused of it.  Why?  Because if you’re found guilty, not only will your finances take a hit, so will your credibility.
 
This is the dilemma currently facing Coldplay.  Ever since the June 2008 release of Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends (that title is growing on me), their terrific fourth album, a longtime axman has come forward to complain that one song off that album is not entirely original.
 
In early December last year, guitarist Joe Satriani filed a lawsuit against the band alleging that their number one hit, Viva La Vida, sounds an awful lot like his 2004 track, If I Could Fly.  A week later, the British quartet offered this response to the charge on their website:
 
“With the greatest possible respect to Joe Satriani, we have now unfortunately found it necessary to respond publicly to his allegations. If there are any similarities between our two pieces of music, they are entirely coincidental, and just as surprising to us as to him. Joe Satriani is a great musician, but he did not write the song ‘Viva la Vida.’ We respectfully ask him to accept our assurances of this and wish him well with all future endeavours.”
 
As the 51st Grammy Awards telecast approaches, Satriani remains determined to see his case heard in front of a jury.  (He’s seeking “damages and ‘any and all profits’ attributable to the alleged copyright infringement,” according to MTV News.)  The timing of all of this couldn’t be worse for Coldplay.  They’re up for seven prizes including Album Of The Year and Record & Song Of The Year for Viva La Vida.  Could this whole situation cost them trophies?
 
More importantly, is Satriani right?  Did Coldplay steal a key element of a song the 52-year-old shredder had been working on, as a tribute to his wife, for 14 years?  And if so, why haven’t they reached a deal in order to avoid a long, costly, possibly acrimonious jury trial?  (According to Satriani, attempts to avoid a lawsuit altogether by reaching out to the band personally proved fruitless and frustrating.)
 
The only way to get to the bottom of this dispute is to hear the relevant portions of the two songs back to back.  Thankfully, this is possible through a one-minute YouTube clip which you can check out by clicking here and scrolling down.  Having heard it three times myself, it’s hard to imagine Coldplay convincing a jury that Satriani is out of his mind.  If they foolishly decide to take their chances in court, they will lose.  Even though Viva La Vida’s melody is in a lower key than If I Could Fly, the arrangement of the former is quite similiar to that of the latter.
 
Coldplay missed a glorious opportunity to work out a quiet, reasonable deal with Satriani, a common industry practice, as music historian Alan Cross has noted.  But their stubbornness has clearly gotten in the way.  While Viva La Vida is a beautiful song worthy of multiple Grammys, Satriani deserves compensation.  It makes no difference whether all of this was an accident on Coldplay’s part.  The two songs at the centre of this dispute have a moving melody in common.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, February 8, 2009
12:48 a.m.
 
UPDATE:  There’s a surprise twist that has recently come to my attention today.  I was sent this YouTube clip of Cat Stevens performing an abbreviated live version of his 1973 track, The Foreigner Suite.  There’s nothing out of the ordinary until you reach the 3:18 mark.  Listen very closely to the piano and vocal melody.  It sounds almost exactly like the riff from Satriani’s If I Could Fly.  If you click here, you’ll hear that riff seamlessly mixed with that section of The Foreigner Suite.  Will Stevens (now known as Yusuf Islam) try to protect his copyright against Satriani and Coldplay?  The plot thickens.
 
(Special thanks to Anne Pleydon.)
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, February 8, 2009
3:04 p.m.
Published in: on February 8, 2009 at 12:48 am  Comments (1)  

Are The Golden Globes Really A Barometer For The Oscars?

When Slumdog Millionaire won four Golden Globes (including one for Best Motion Picture – Drama) on January 11, it was immediately pegged as the movie to beat at the forthcoming Academy Awards ceremony.  Eleven days later, it secured ten Oscar nominations including one for Best Picture.
 
For many years now, The Globes, which air in January, have been tagged as “a barometer” for what will happen at The Oscars, which used to air in either March or April but for much of this decade have been bumped up to February.  The conventional wisdom says that whatever and whomever wins big at The Globes will do likewise at The Academy Awards.
 
But is this true?  Let’s start with Best Picture.
 
The Golden Globes began handing out bowling trophies in 1944 in order to “honour” films released the previous year.  What title did the mysterious Hollywood Foreign Press Association pick as the best movie of 1943?  The Song Of Bernadette.  Surely, it won the Oscar, as well, right?  Nope.  The golden naked man went to Casablanca.
 
That’s right.  There weren’t two separate Golden Globe categories for Best Picture that first year.  (That wouldn’t start happening until 1946 when a category for Best Motion Picture Promoting International Understanding was introduced.  It was discontinued after 1964.)  In fact, from 1959 to 1963, there were three categories.  During the golden age of movie musicals, those particular pics were nominated in a separate category from comedies and dramas.  Also, for one year only, 1956, there was a Best Picture – Outdoor Drama category along with Best Picture – Drama and Best Picture – Musical or Comedy.  The last time there was only one Best Picture category occurred in 1954.
 
That being said, how many times has a Golden Globe Best Picture winner, regardless of the category it was nominated in, gone on to take home the Academy Award, as well?  Of the 65 previous ceremonies (1944 to 2008), only 43 movies have managed to win both.  That’s a 66% success rate.  Not bad but hardly “a barometer”.
 
Lately, a Golden Globe Best Picture winner hasn’t won the Best Picture Oscar for four consecutive years.  The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King was the last double-winner in 2004.  Curiously, in 2006, when Brokeback Mountain won Best Picture – Drama, Crash, the film that would ultimately beat it for the Academy Award, wasn’t even nominated.  In 1983, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial won the Globe while Gandhi, which didn’t make the cut for Best Picture – Drama, won the Oscar.  And in 1973, The Exorcist won the bowling trophy while The Sting brought home the Oscar.  The latter film was also rejected for nomination by The Hollywood Foreign Press Association. 
 
Let’s move on to Best Actor.  What are Mickey Rourke’s chances for winning an Oscar in this category this year?
 
Of all the Lead Actor Globe winners between 1944 and 2008, whether they won for being dramatic, funny or musical, 49 from the past 65 ceremonies have gone on to win the Best Actor Academy Award.  That’s a 75% success rate.  That’s good news for Rourke, whose work in The Wrestler snagged him the bowling trophy and secured him an Oscar nod.  Even more good news is the fact that since 2004, the Best Actor In A Drama winner has also won the Best Actor Oscar.  Still, there’s a 25% chance someone else will win.  We shall see.
 
What about Best Actress?
 
Only 45 Lead Actress Globe winners between 1944 and 2008 have also been awarded the Best Actress Oscar.  That’s a 69% success rate.  Interestingly, there have been two occasions where a Best Actress Oscar winner didn’t even receive a bowling trophy nomination for the same performance.  It happened in 1962 when Sophia Loren won the Academy Award for her work in Two Women and again in 1964 when Patricia Neal won the same prize for her performance in Hud. 
 
Since 2003, however, a Lead Actress Globe winner, mostly in the drama category, has also taken home an Oscar in the same year.  That won’t be happening this year.  While Kate Winslet’s Globe-winning lead performance in Revolutionary Road failed to earn her an Academy Award nomination, her Globe-winning supporting work in The Reader did secure her a shot at Best Actress.  Sally Hawkins, The Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy Globe winner, wasn’t nominated.  Make that a 68% success rate.
 
Moving on to Best Director.  Only 35 Globe winners have gone on to win the Oscar for the same movie.  That’s a 54% success rate.  Pathetic.  By comparison, only six winners of the Directors Guild of America prize have failed to win the Best Director Oscar since those awards were first distributed 60 years ago.  That’s a 90% success rate.
 
Finally, there’s Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress.  Only 31 Supporting Actor Globe winners since 1944 have won the Oscar for the same performance while a mere 26 Supporting Actress Globe winners have done the same.  Those success rates are 48% and 40%, respectively.  Some “barometer”, huh?
 
Past Supporting Oscar winners like Helen Hayes (Airport), James Coburn (Affliction), Walter Matthau (The Cookie Fortune), Robert De Niro (The Godfather Part II), Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine), Kevin Kline (A Fish Called Wanda) and Estelle Parsons (Bonnie & Clyde) were completely snubbed for Globe nominations.
 
So, to all those 2009 Globe winners also gunning for Oscars, take note.  (You, too, media.)  Being handed a meaningless trophy from an unrespected organization is by no means a sign of Academy Awards in your future.  Just ask Jim Carrey.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, February 2, 2009
10:12 p.m.
Published in: on February 2, 2009 at 10:12 pm  Comments (2)