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What up peoples?! It's been a long time since I've written over here, and part of that is because I've been very very busy. Going to school for Communications full-time, working a crappy job full-time, writing a novel, and now working as a Contributing Editor for digitalhippos.com part-time. That's enough about me though, I'm not writing this to tell you about me, I'm writing this to tell you to check out digitalhippos.com.
I know some of you are probably going to think that I'm spamming the site, well, sure I'm reaching out to you my friends on a network to join another network, but this isn't spam. At Digital Hippos we're not offering the same things they offer here at Rotten Tomatoes. Yeah, we have forums, blogs, and community but we focus on video games, music, and movies. But not the mainstream. We know that you can go to a lot of sites if you want mainstream, we're indie. Want to learn more about indie game developers, indie filmmakers, indie musicians? That's our focus. We interview the indies, we review their material, and we want you to know about it.
We (I) hope you're interested, and we (I) hope you'll pop on over to the site, join up, and help start some new discussions, let us know what you want to see, and help us build our community. I'm interested to hear what you think of the site so either find me back here or over there and let me know what you think.
Hope to see you there!
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Avatar has become a global phenomenon. It's become the first movie in history to gross more than $2 billion worldwide, and has surpassed Titanic's domestic gross to become the highest grossing movie domestically and worldwide. Personally, I've seen the movie three times, all times in 3-D, once in IMAX, and loved it each time as much as I did the first time. It's a highly engrossing movie that I believe has recently unfairly become the victim of a lot of vitriol among critics and bloggers. Naturally, whenever a movie becomes this big it's going to gain it's fair share of detractors, but I honestly believe that Avatar is being judged too harshly. I'm not here to say that it's the greatest movie ever made, or even the best movie of the year, but I do believe that it has become an important movie in our generations film history, but also in the history of film in general. I think the debate of it's merits is a healthy debate, and I just want to be another voice chiming in on this debate.
First, I think we need to examine the gross of this movie. A lot has been made of how if we adjusted for inflation Avatar has not even broken through the top 20 yet (a goal I think it will achieve by the time it's done in theaters, even if it doesn't get much further than that), but no one ever looks at what other movies have come before it and the factors attributable to it's place when adjusted for inflation in those articles. If you look at the top five movies of all time you'll notice that all of them were made before 1990 (Gone With the Wind, Star Wars, The Sound of Music, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, and The Ten Commandments). Of the top 20, only three have been made after 1990 (Titanic, Jurassic Park, and Star Wars: Episode I-The Phantom Menace), and if we look at the top 25, Avatar is the only movie made in the last decade to break the top 25. When adjusting for inflation, why are so many movies so old? Well, we make a lot more movies these days so movies have more competition now than they had in the past. Also, we watch movies differently than we have in the past. When Gone With the Wind came out it was the time of The Great Depression (not too much different than it is today, in a way), and the only way you were going to see a movie was to see it in theaters. Movies didn't play on TV, and there was no videos, DVD's or Blu-ray. Even when Titanic came out in 1997, VHS was still a large part of the way people watched movies then. And, even now compared to them, pirating has become more prominent than it has then. These days there's also the fact that studios will rush a film through it's theatrical release to push it out on DVD and Blu-ray so a lot of films don't have the staying time in theaters they used to. When Star Wars came out it was released in limited release and was expanded. We haven't even gotten into releases of movies in theaters. Eleven of the top 20 movies adjusted for inflation have been released in theaters more than once. But even looking at the top five films of all time that have been adjusted, had those films been released today would they have performed the same? Now, I'm not trying to discount the greatness of the movies that have come before, I'm trying to prove a point on just how different things are these days to how they were then, and what Avatar has had to overcome to make it where it is today. In a way, at least in my estimation, inflation helps to account for the obstacles a movie has to go through to reach the heights of the movies that have come before it.
Of course, that's not all there is to talk about when it comes to Avatar's gross, as the detractors will attack IMAX and 3-D sales as the reason for it's high grosses. There is something valid in that observation, and unfortunately with the slate of 3-D movies released so far the waters have largely been untested for the possible 3-D revolution. Something that must be said though is that people don't mind paying the added surcharges to see this movie in IMAX and 3-D. With Avatar, and it's grosses, this largely proves that 3-D isn't a gimmick anymore, but a viable new way to explore film in a new dimension of sight. That, of course won't stop detractors, but The Wizard of Oz had it's detractors in it's day when it set off the color revolution. I don't know if 3-D's going to stick or not, but Avatar has proven that it's got staying power and is a viable choice for the future of cinema.
Recently, there was an article titled "Are the Standards Lower for Avatar." I think since then there's been proof to the opposite. Of course this article was citing the plotline as being too generic as people see so many similarities between Avatar and movies like Dances With Wolves, Pocahontas, and even Ferngully. I can see the similarities, but I can also see the similarities between a lot of buddy cop movies and District 9 which was hailed as being highly original (and I still hold it as my favorite movie of the year). The point of originality isn't to come up with something completely different, but can even be defined as taking something old and making it your own. If you boil something down to a few sentences you can make any movie sound like several others movies or stories. "A boy, through the help of a mentor, learns that he has great power and how to wield such power; through this power the boy grows up and changes the course of history." This sentence can be ascribed to Star Wars, Harry Potter, and even the story of King Arthur. Even if you choose not to be that vague, Star Wars borrows a lot from Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress, Harry Potter borrows a lot from Lord of the Rings, The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe, and the story of Jesus Christ. Yeah, Avatar might borrow from other sources, but it would not be the first movie to do so.
It should also be remembered that a lot of movies these days, as the studios believe that only films based on some other sources make money, are either sequels, prequels, remakes, or movies based on other sources. With a budget well over $200 million (I've heard $237, $300, and $350 million) do you really think Fox (known for believing that sci-fi does not make money) would greenlight a movie, even one made by a film maker superstar like James Cameron, if they didn't think it had something that would click with people. In reality, Cameron had no choice but to make a movie that was familiar to a certain extent. Of course, that was really a great idea to make the plot familiar, it insured that people would have something familiar to equate the movie with. Let's be honest, in this day and age of the MTv generation, with everything in film based on familiarity, something had to be familiar to audiences. Not to mention that the movie is about exploring new lands and cultures, meaning that it was the perfect plot to use in a movie like this. In opera, it was common to reuse plot lines to write an opera, but they would change the music and the lines, and you never hear critics and opera enthusiasts counting out Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro because it was the first take on The Marriage of Figaro.
But also in the debate of Avatar's originality, no one looks at everything else that went into making this movie. The world that Cameron as created, the attention to detail with every frame of film you see on screen, is meticulous. This is, at the least, the most fully realized world to be committed to film since Star Wars, if not the most fully realized world committed to film of all time. Cameron has spent the past twelve years not just writing the script, but creating the creatures, the flora and fauna, the humanoids, etc. And all of that appears on screen. There are so many movies that you can say the money doesn't appear on screen, but with Avatar it does, down to the last penny. No one seems to think about the work that goes into creating a new world. You can throw extra legs on a human, that doesn't mean that things will work on an anatomic level, or that people will identify with it. In the end, Cameron was able to make a movie that not only expressed what he wanted to get across, but also appealed to people.
There have also been grumblings about the dialogue in the movie, but as a former Marine myself, I have to say that the way members of the military talked was right on target. That's one of Cameron's strengths, he doesn't make the dialogue stylish like, say Quentin Tarantino, but he makes characters that are real, regular people that find themselves in extraordinary situations. The dialogue argument could be made about any one of Cameron's films, and has been made about great films in the past like Star Wars. Clunky dialogue doesn't always make a movie bad, but can mean at times that the movie in a way transcends it's peers by making it's characters real rather than just cool archetypes.
Don't get me wrong, while I love Avatar, it's not the greatest movie ever made, or the greatest movie of the year. I would definitely say it's one of the greatest of the year, and of the decade, and a highly important movie in the history of film though. I honestly think that this film needs to be reviewed again by those who have tried to detract from it's accomplishments. Yeah, it has it's problems, but no film is perfect, and I think Avatar gets a lot right where many films do not.
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As I sit here watching The Hurt Locker (front runner for Best Director and Best Picture Oscars) I figured I'd chime in and let you know who I think is going to win the Oscars this year since the nominees were just announced on February 2nd. I haven't seen all of the films that are nominated for Academy Awards this year, but you don't necessarily have to watch the movies in order to figure out who's going to win. Example: 65% of the time the Producer's Guild winner for Best Picture ends up winning the Best Picture at the Oscars. Now, this is not an exact science of course, the last two years the Producers Guild winner won the Best Picture Oscar, but in 2007 Little Miss Sunshine took the Producer's Guild while The Departed took the Oscar, in 2006 Brokeback Mountain won over the Guild but Crash got the Oscar and so on. A lot of people think that the Golden Globes matter, but the Globes are ruled by the Foreign Press Association and there's no overlap between Foreign Press Association and Academy voters.
The real awards shows to look at are guild awards. Screen Actor's Guild, Director's Guild, Producer's Guild, etc. provide the closest look to how the Oscars will go. Of course, as with the Golden Globes there can always be surprises. There weren't many, if any, analysts who actually thought The Hangover or Robert Downey Jr. would win Globes this year, but they did. There are a few sure things though when it comes to this year's Oscar race though. In this blog I'm not going to bother with who was nominated, look around the net and you'll find out who was nominated. I'll just give you who I think is going to win, and why.
The Hurt Locker
This year the field of the Best Picture was increased from five pictures to ten. The vote is still out as to whether this was a smart move or not, but one thing's for sure, it meant that movies that typically would not get a vote were going to be included. One of things this means is that a lot of pictures will have to contend with other pictures stealing there votes. Case in point, Avatar was a sure fire nomination choice on it's own. Now that the field was increased to ten District 9, which probably would not have been nominated otherwise, will steal some of it's votes. Now, Avatar, going into awards season, seemed almost a sure fire win. It's won several critical awards earlier in the awards season, but could hold the momentum as it missed out on a nomination for the Screen Actor's Guild Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture award (SAG's equivalent to Best Picture), and lost the Director's Guild and Producer's Guild. The Hurt Locker, on the other hand, is a critical darling and has taken both the Director's Guild and Producer's Guild awards, and was considered the favorite to win the Golden Globes. the only movie that truly stands in The Hurt Locker's way in terms of stealing votes is going to be Inglorious Basterds which took the Screen Actor's Guild cast performance award.
My favorite in this category though is District 9. It's not likely to win, but, so far, it's my favorite movie of the year. It's fresh, while also telling the story that's familiar. The special effects are amazing, looking like movies made for more than quadruple it's budget, with amazing acting as the cherry on an already amazing sundae!
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
The Academy's choices for Best Actor are the same as the SAG award nominations. Jeremy Renner has a leg up on many as The Hurt Locker, which he stars in, is also nominated (and the front runner) for Best Picture. The Oscars, though, have a tendency to award people based on lifetime achievement, or payback, so to speak. Morgan Freeman (nominated for Invictus) won Million Dollar Baby, and that could be in large part due to the fact that he lost for The Shawshank Redemption. The fact of the matter is that he already has a win. Bridges, on the other hand, is now receiving his fifth nomination in a career of strong performances for a part many critics are saying is the role of a lifetime for Bridges.
Anyone who's seen The Big Lebowski, how can you not give it up for The Dude?! Jeff Bridges, will win, and should win the Oscar for Best Actor.
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
This choice is a little harder to come up with. Earlier in the year Gabourey Sidibe seemed like a sure win for Best Actress. Sandra Bullock came out of nowhere though, twice breaking her personal box office record in the same year, as well as winning her first Globe. At the same time, though, she's up against 16 time nominated actress Meryl Streep. On Bullock's down side, Streep is actually playing someone who is famous and in the public eye whereas Bullock's character might be real, but she's more of a private character, even though she is real. On the other down side for Bullock, she's also nominated for a Razzie award for All About Steve. The last time I recall an actor/ actress being nominated for an Oscar and a Razzie in the same year was Eddie Murphy who seemed like he was going to be the sure win for Best Supporting Actor, but seemed to lose based on his win in Norbit. Of course, I can't recall a time when an actor/actress has been nominated for a Razzie and an Oscar has won in same year, and the Norbit/Dreamgirls nomination was without Dreamgirls having been nominated. Bullock has the edge here because her film was nominated for a Best Picture, as well as her having won the Screen Actor's Guild award.
I can't really say that I have a favorite here. The actresses that have been nominated are all great, and have done great work. I haven't actually seen any of them though, and so of the ones I recall seeing before I would have to say Bullock. At the same time, I can't say that I can count out Gabourey Sidibe or Carey Mulligan.
Best Supporting Actor
Christoph Waltz, Inglorious Basterds
This one is a sure win for Christoph Waltz. He's won every major award he's been up for, not to mention that Inglorious Basterds would not have been made had they not found him to play the role.
I've always liked Woody Harrelson and Stanley Tucci, but I can't say that there's been a role that I've seen them in as much as I've enjoyed Waltz in Inglorious Basterds. Here, Waltz would have to be my top choice.
Best Supporting Actress
I can't say that I like it, but from what I've seen, Mo'Nique has earned this Oscar. I'm not a fan of her comedy, but from what I've seen of Precious, she's definitely got chops. She's also won the major awards for her role, and has become a critical darling as well.
As with Best Actress, I can't say that I really know these that well. Mo'Nique seems the best choice for me here as well from what I've seen.
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Here's where things start to get icky. This year is only the fifth time a woman has been nominated, and no woman has ever woman an Oscar, for Best Director. Add to that the fact that she's up against James "I'm King of the World" Cameron who is her ex husband and you have a race! But Cameron failed to win the Director's Guild and Producer's Guild over with his semi-generic (I disagree with that term, but I'm sure Academy voters will use it) story line despite his state of the art camera work and such. Honestly, I think Bigelow will become the first woman to win best director.
In all honesty, I think Bigelow's earned the right to become the first female director to earn the best director Oscar. Yeah, I love Tarantino and Cameron, but, come on, did they really make a more pertinent movie than The Hurt Locker?! Not to mention that The Hurt Locker is commercial (like both movies) while also being the only movie based on Operation: Iraqi Freedom that has avoided politics.
Best Original Screenplay
Quentin Tarantino, Inglorious Basterds
Here, it's nice to see the animation domination continue with Up getting a nomination, but it's been a while since Tarantino's been here, and after Pulp Fiction he's an Academy darling. The Hurt Locker has a good chance here, but Tarantino's got a lot of fans here and he's created a war movie that doesn't meet convention, and is all his own world. The Hurt Locker's got some tough competition in this category, and I have a feeling it'll lose.
I think, in this category, my pick might be wishful thinking. There's a damn good chance that The Hurt Locker will win, but I think that movie wins mainly on it's acting and directing. Inglorious Basterds is one of my top three favorite movies of the year (haven't finished The Hurt Locker yet), but to create a character like Colonel Hans Landa takes a lot of talent!
Best Adapted Screenplay
Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air
It's one thing to re-write a novel into a movie, it's another thing to re-write that novel to where it barely appears like the novel and have the author maintain that the main characters have remained true to their spirit. Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner have accomplished that in their version of Up in the Air. Winning the major awards doesn't hurt either!
I don't really think that a movie like District 9, based on a short film by the film maker, deserves to be in this category. While I may not agree with District 9 being in this category I have to say that I think it should win this category.
Best Animated Film
Coraline was good, Fantastic Mr. Fox might have been great (sorry, I have to see it still, but I love Wes Anderson) but with a nomination in Best Picture (only the second time for an animated picture), and Best Original Screenplay, how can Up lose?!
Again, I say, with nominations in Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay, how can Up lose?!
For the rest of the nominations they are really up in the air (forgive the pun!). I won't describe why I think they should win, I'll just let you know that I think they will win. Some will just be favorites of mine, others I think are just better than the rest. You can't really judge them, you can only wait!
Best Foreign Language Film
The White Ribbon (Germany)
Best Art Direction
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
Best Costume Design
The Young Victoria
“The Weary Kind,” Crazy Heart, T-Bone Burnett & Ryan Bingham
Best Sound Editing
Best Sound Mixing
Best Visual Effects
The rest of the nominations are shorts, and unfortunately at this time I have not been able to view them. I will try to see them before the Oscars, and if at all possible, I will let you know what I think is most likely for them. If you have any differences from me in what you think will and should win I'd love to hear it. Until then, word to your mother (yeah, I talked to her last night, hahaha) and hope to talk to you all soon!