Monday, 25 February 2008

Random Notes on the 2008 Oscars

  • Though I prefer the song "When Your Mind's Made Up" from the film Once, the Academy voters chose right with "Falling Slowly" as the year's Best Song. It's the first time the pair sing together in the movie, shows them working through the song and is really the core of the film as their relationship takes off from there. It would have been great to see "When Your Mind's Made Up" nominated (especially in place of that awful ballad from Enchanted), but I guess I can live with things the way they are...

  • What I didn't like so much was the way the song was arranged for the Oscars - with sweetened strings and other accompaniment. It plays so much better and emotional as a duet. IMO the proof is here:

  • The two other songs from Enchanted (ie. non-crappy ballads) were also pretty good. My wife (who saw the film) mentioned that Amy Adams made them a great deal of fun in the film and that they came across better than on stage at the Oscars. I'm not quite sure why Adams only sang one of the songs at the awards, but the songs both had memorable tunes to them. Along with the fine performance of the tune from August Rush, that made it 4 out of 5 decent songs nominated. That must be a record...

  • Tilda Swinton's acceptance speech may have been my favourite moment of the night. She was genuinely surprised, thankful and yet still very funny. I loved her comments about Clooney being really dedicated to the Batman costume...

  • Jon Stewart was a bit flat last time out as host, but seemed more relaxed and even spontaneous this time around (about Glen Hansard - "Boy, that guy was arrogant").

  • I'm a bit bummed about Madame Tutli-Putli not winning the Best Short Animated film, but I haven't seen any of the others, so I suppose it wouldn't be fair to comment. But...Those clips from Peter The Wolf just didn't seem to come close. And why did they have to pick a story that's been done a hundred times already? Oh well, I'm sure the winner is quite deserving...

  • Marion Cotillard was stunning. Wowza.

  • And I have to say that I'm even curious to see La Vie En Rose now. I didn't have a whole lot of interest previously (the length of the film, the lukewarm reviews and likely way too much music by Edith Piaf - sorry, not my fave singer).

  • The spoofs on the montages were pretty funny, in particular the bee one that included The Swarm. I mean, did you ever expect to see a clip from The Swarm at The Oscars?

  • I missed the roll call of the dead - maybe I can find the video on Youtube. I can't say I "enjoy" it every year, but it's a nice reminder of those that have passed away. For the broadcast though, they should really just mute the audience and play recorded music over it - even if you tell people to hold their applause, they usually can't.

  • "Henry Kissinger - Man On The Go".

  • That slippery spot that almost wiped out both Colin Farrell and John Travolta.

  • Daniel Day-Lewis kneeling before Helen Mirren - something all mortal men should indeed do. She too was pretty damn stunning.

  • I liked the montages of the previous winners, but there wasn't a great deal of focus on the Best Picture nominees.

  • Marion Cotillard really was gorgeous...

  • I still think Steve Carrell is one of the funniest people around.

  • The audience really seemed to approve of the win by "Falling Slowly" - that was probably the biggest round of applause of the night.

  • I'm not exactly a fan of Hannah Montana, but Miley Cyrus sure carried herself well and was very composed.

  • Not only were all the acting awards won by Europeans, it seemed most of the other awards were too.

Did I mention Marion Cotillard is really good-looking?

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

The Nicholas Brothers are the 2 Smoothest People to Have Ever Walked the Earth

My cuz Nelson sent me the following YouTube video of Cab Calloway and the Nicholas Brothers from the film "Stormy Weather". I'd seen it before (at least parts of it), but it still remains one of the most amazing dance sequences I've ever seen:

Those jump splits on the stairs are phenomenal. I winced all the way through it.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Madame Tutli-Putli Goes For Oscar

James over at Toronto Screen Shots (when are we going for beers James?) has a great post about the Oscar campaign being run by the Canadian National Film Board (NFB) for its short film "Madame Tutli-Putli". If enough people go to the site and unlock a frame of the film, the NFB will begin streaming the entire thing on February 22nd. You can already see part of the film due to the number of frames unlocked so far.

Here's the frame I unlocked (number 2713 out of the 23287):

I haven't seen any of the other animated short films up for the Oscar (though I've heard "I Met The Walrus" is also terrific), but if this picks up the statue on the 24th, it would be my favourite win of the night.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Kon Ichikawa's "Tokyo Olympiad"

Japanese director Kon Ichikawa passed away Wednesday of this week at the age of 92. Though he has a vast set of films behind him (88 credits on IMDB over the last 60 odd years) my only experience with him so far has been with his 1965 documentary about the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games - "Tokyo Olympiad". But what an experience...

The film was commissioned to create a record of the first Olympics to be held on the Asian continent. But it's far more than just that and far greater than any sports documentary I've ever seen.

It opens with an image of a close-up of the rising sun (essentially a reverse image of the flag of Japan) followed immediately by a wrecking ball crashing into a building - presumably tearing down old buildings, possibly damaged ones left from the end of the war, to make way for the new Olympic site and for the World to come to Tokyo.

Most sports documentaries choose one of two areas for focus: 1) the stories of the individual athletes (their backgrounds, accomplishments, rivalries, etc.) or 2) the excitement of competition and the battles for victory. These are indeed important elements which can make for riveting drama and give us some insight into the human desire for sporting contests. Ichikawa doesn't seem to care so much for either of these approaches though - his interest seems to lie in the form of the human body and how it manages to coordinate all its components to accomplish these athletic feats. Close-ups of different appendages and joints abound throughout the film and there are many cases where you may only see the a portion of an athlete for an entire event (there are several shots of only the bottom half of runners' bodies). These shot selections allow you to really focus on what the athlete is doing and not necessarily the outcome.

Ichikawa uses a number of techniques to reinforce this focus - freeze frames, slow motion, black & white film, unusual camera angles and even a few bits of animation (to emphasize muscular movement in the weightlifting competition). It makes for a beautiful series of images:

He also likes to focus on the tools of the trade - things that the athletes may use during their competitions:

But he's not totally insensitive to the athletes...There's a long section of the film that follows a young runner from the newly created (at the time) African nation of Chad. There's nothing particularly noteworthy about the athlete's abilities (he fails to qualify for the semi-finals), but Ichikawa seems interested in the concept of a young man from Africa ending up in Japan to run a foot race. Voice-overs and on-screen titles describe other event outcomes and there is pause to show emotional moments of victory or failure for some of the athletes.

It's vastly different than any typical Olympic documentary or ABC Wide World Of Sports type coverage you may have seen before. That's not to knock that style - you'll probably sometimes even wish for more of that kind of information while watching "Tokyo Olympiad" as there must have been plenty of exciting stories from the '64 Games - but Ichikawa's documentary is a glorious piece of filmmaking.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Mitch & Mickey was Robbed!

I re-watched Christopher Guest's "A Mighty Wind" the other night and three things came to mind:

1) If not his funniest, I think it's his best film overall. Oh sure, it isn't perfect - there's some slow passages followed by strangely out of place humour - but the characters are great and the music is wonderful.

2) Catherine O'Hara is simply fantastic in her role and she's just one of my favourite performers EVER. Her comedic skills are unsurpassed (her celebrity impressions, character creations, ability with slapstick, etc.), but she shines here as an actress with some nicely subtle moments.

3) The song "A Kiss At The End Of The Rainbow" by the film's fictional duo Mitch & Mickey was nominated for an Oscar as Best Song that year - and I think it should have won. It was written by Eugene Levy, performed by both himself and O'Hara in the film, used as bookends for their story and did a great job of mimicking the style of music that was being gently parodied. Best of all, it's just simply a very lovely song.

This was their performance of it at the 2004 Oscars:

C'mon, Catherine O'Hara even plays the autoharp herself! Can she do no wrong?

Like the recent winner "It's Hard Out Here For A Pimp" and this year's likely winner from "Once", the song was integral to the story of the film. Isn't that a better indication of a Best Song winner than something that plays over the credits?

By the way, 2004 was a strong year for Best Song contenders. I would've been happy if either of these other two nominees had won:

"The Scarlet Tide" was from the film "Cold Mountain" (which I did not see) and combined the talents of Elvis Costello, T-Bone Burnett and the lovely voice of Alison Krauss.

"Belleville Rendezvous" from the animated "The Triplets Of Belleville" is probably my favourite song of the bunch - something I would listen to outside the context of the film. And there's a guy playing a bicycle in this performance. C'mon!

But in the end, Annie Lennox's "Into The West" won since it was featured in the juggernaut that was "The Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King" - over the end credits I believe...

Oh well. So as not to leave on that note, here's another tune by the fictional Mitch & Mickey from "A Mighty Wind" (actually this footage wasn't in the film, but parts of this song played during the movie and the entirety of it was during the closing credits). Again, it's a terrific tune and honestly sweet in a way that much of today's "twee" pop could only hope to achieve.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Deeply Superficial

The Deeply Superficial Blog-a-thon is taking place over at South Dakota Dark all week long. This post has been submitted as part of it.

When I read about the Deeply Superficial Blog-a-thon, I pretty much knew that I'd be going heavy on the screenshots. But what to choose?

I've already done screenshots galore for other beautiful looking films like Tears Of The Black Tiger, Citizen Dog, Princess Raccoon, Pistol Opera and Genesis, so I had to randomly cobble a few choices together. I was finding it difficult in a few spots though, as the beauty of some of the scenes I wanted to capture only really came through with the movement of the characters, objects or the camera itself. A film like "Koyaanisqatsi" might not come across as being a gorgeous feast for the eyes without getting the full motion of many of those scenes.

But anyway, here's a bunch of screen captures that I just love to look at...I guess I could discuss several of them, but then that would be running the risk of being only Somewhat Superficial.

Double Suicide (1969 - Masahiro Shinoda)

Samurai Spy (1965 - Masahiro Shinoda)

Shinoda would make a terrifc choice for one of those Eclipse box sets.

8 1/2 (1963 - Federico Fellini)

Onibaba (1964 - Kaneto Shindo)

Lady Vengeance (2005 - Chan-wook Park)

Raise The Red Lantern (1991 - Zhang Yimou)

Dolls (2002 - Takeshi Kitano)

Metropolis (2001 - Rintaro)

The Tales Of Hoffmann (1951 - Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger)

The Conformist (1970 - Bernardo Bertolucci)