Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Most anticipated movies of 2012

I read an interesting piece lately that discussed the shift in how and when movies are part of the pop cultural landscape. Thirty years ago, there wasn't much hype or press ahead of time; the year that a movie was in the corporate awareness was the year following its release. For example, E.T. played in theatres for a year in 1982, and in 1980, my dad remembers seeing a movie no one had really heard about when it had been out for a few weeks: Raiders of the Lost Ark. Now, movies of those calibres have their releases after a year of hype, with the release date marking the end of the cycle, rather than the beginning. Of course, VOD, IMAX, and accelerated blu-ray releases attempt to extend the cycle a little longer, but it still rarely lasts much over a year, save for the very rare cases in which a movie transcends that short window. In any case, this is all justification for writing a blog post about movies I'm looking forward to in 2012.

Fanboy flicks: There's not much commentary needed here. These are the five blockbusters I will definitely see this year.
The Hunger Games (March 23)
The Avengers (May 4)
The Amazing Spider-Man (July 3)
The Dark Knight Rises (July 20)
The Hobbit (Dec 14)

Anticipated animated movies: Amidst the sea of sequels and half-baked ideas, there are usually a few quality family films that are released. Here are four that I'm looking forward to.
The Secret World of Arietty (Feb. 17) - Studio Ghibli takes on adapting the children's classic The Borrowers.
The Pirates! Band of Misfits (March 30) - Aardman Animation, the team behind Wallace and Gromit, make a movie about Pirates. Could be fun.
Brave (June 22) - Pixar's next film concerns the adventures of a Scottish lass proving herself in the medieval highlands. The trailer looks gorgeous.
Wreck-it-Ralph (Nov 2) - A Disney film about an arcade game bad guy who is out to prove he is actually good. The 8-bit musical possibilities alone could be a lot of fun.

Sci-Fi geekery: Whatever nerdish needs are not met in the aforementioned blockbusters will possibly be met in these three films, each of which have a certain pedigree from their directors.
Prometheus (June 8) - Ridley Scott goes back to what he does best: creepy space horror. I hope.
Looper (Sept 28) - Rian Johnson directs and Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars in a movie about a hitman who has to deal with time-traveling mobsters.
Gravity (Nov 21) - Alfonso Cuaron directs, George Clooney stars, and Emmanuel Lubezki (The Tree of Life) is cinematographer in a story about two astronauts on a space station. It promises to be visually striking.

Authors and auteurs: These films are intriguing because of their source material and/or their directors.
Blue Like Jazz (April 13) - Steve Taylor directs the adaptation of the Don Miller book, one of my all-time favourites.
Moonrise Kingdom (May 25) - Wes Anderson's newest brings summer camp and Bruce Willis into the fold. He hasn't had a new live action movie in five years, so I'm excited to see it.
Silver Linings Playbook (N21) - David O. Russell's new comedy "tells the story of a former teacher who, after spending four years in a mental institution, moves back in with his mother and tries to reconcile with his ex-wife." Russell's always interesting, to say the least.
Life of Pi (Dec 21) - Ang Lee directs the adaptation of Yann Martel's ethereal book.
The Great Gatsby (Dec 25) - The stills from Baz Luhrmann's adaptation
starring, among others, Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, and Tobey Maguire, make it look like Gatsby will finally get the treatment it deserves.

Five projects without release dates that I'm looking forward to.
Cosmopolis - David Cronenberg's next film
Gambit - The Coens wrote a remake of the 1966 heist classic starring Colin Firth.
Inside Llewyn Davis - The Coens' next project is about the folk scene in the 1960s in Grenwich Village in New York.
Lincoln - The Spielberg biopic has a star-studded cast featuring Daniel Day-Lewis as the titular president.
The Master - P.T. Anderson's next movie stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, and Amy Adams in what promises to be a scathing take on Scientology. But not really scientology, of course (wink, wink).

Wild Cards: There are a few movies that have caught my eye that look interesting, but that may be nothing more than a distraction. I'm not hedging my bets on any of these, but I'll at least give them each a second look.
John Carter (March 9) - Tim Riggins fighting monsters on Mars.
The Raven (April 27) - I'll admit that this looks terrible, but that I'm intrigued as an English teacher.
Dark Shadows (May 11) - Tim Burton and Johnny Depp team up again; that's enough for me to be interested.
Men In Black III (May 25) - Maybe we didn't need another MIB, but the prospects of Jemaine Clement as an alien and some time travel shenanigans may make me waste a summer night on this.
Snow White and the Huntsman (June 8) - It's not the Julia Roberts one. That looks terrible. This one, at least, looks visually unique.
The Bourne Legacy (Aug 3) - Jeremy Renner is one of my favourite action actors right now.
Total Recall (Aug 3) - Judging by the director (whose credits include Underworld and Live Free or Die Hard), this could be a dud. Or it could be an imaginative retelling of the story.
Skyfall (Nov 9) - Sam Mendes' take on a Bond movie could be interesting, especially with Javier Bardem as the villain.
World War Z (Dec 21) - Marc Forster directs Brad Pitt in a movie about zombie war.
Django Unchained (Dec 25) - Tarantino can never be counted out, especially when Leonardo DiCaprio is involved as well as an eclectic and constantly evolving cast, and the subject is a slave's rampage in the Deep South.

So, for everyone counting at home, that's 32 movies I'm already keeping track of in the upcoming year. And that's not including all the dramas that will be released in the last quarter as awards show fodder. I will just be glad to put the general stink of 2011 movies behind me and get on to what I hope will be a great year. Finally, just for good measure, five more sci-fi movies coming up in 2013 that intrigue me:
Elysium (Mar 1) - Neill Blomkamp directs, Matt Damon stars.
Ender’s Game (Mar 15) - I've been waiting for an adaptation for years, and this one stars Asa Butterfield, Abigail Breslin, Hailee Steinfeld, and Harrison Ford.
Pacific Rim (May 10) Guillermo Del Toro's "beautiful poem to giant monsters"
Star Trek 2 (May 17) - Benedict Cumberbatch as the villain!
After Earth (June 7) - M. Night Shyamalan directs, Stephen Gaghan writes, Will Smith stars.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

2011 Oscars: Early thoughts

Call 2011 the year of saccharine sentimentalism. This year's Academy Award nominees are overly sentimental, even for the Oscars - and that's saying something. Very few of the films seemed to focus on any sense of satire or darkness, and the nominees were mostly predictable. Here's my early analysis of the nominations.

Best Picture: The only surprise here is in how many films were nominated, because of the new voting processes and the general consensus for the best film of the year. I predicted six, all correctly, but the additional three surprised me. Of those six, I think five probably "deserve" the nomination (The Artist, Hugo, The Descendants, The Tree of Life, and Midnight in Paris), as there has been general consensus on their level of quality and craftsmanship; I don't think The Help is there except for populist influence. Of the additional three, I'm glad to see Moneyball make it, as I think it should be there (I just didn't think it would make the cut). I'm not sure about War Horse since I haven't seen it, but it seems like a nominee like Seabiscuit or Finding Neverland that is meant to appeal to families. I was really surprised by Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close; the fact that it received only one other nomination (supporting actor) indicates that there were a few very vocal supporters for the film that pushed it above the necessary 5% barrier. As far as the competition itself goes, I think the question is if anyone can beat The Artist. I think that The Descendants has an outside shot, but I think The Artist will probably win unless something seismically shifts in the next month.

Best Director: The true "Best Picture" category. I'm disappointed not to see Bennett Miller or David Fincher here, but the nominees seem pretty solid. I think the competition will be between The Artist's Hazanavicius and Tree of Life's Malick, as many peers respect Malick's work even if they don't understand the film. It's too early to tell if the recluse can pull off the upset.

Best Actor: Clooney, Pitt, and three other guys who are happy to be there. Both of the big hitters were spectacular in the nuances of their roles; something tells me this is Pitt's year. But I've been wrong before.

Best Actress: I'm glad to see Mara made it (though I haven't yet seen her Lisbeth Salander), though I'm disappointed that Charlize Theron missed the cut (as did Young Adult in its entirety). It's Streep vs. Davis here, with a lot of politicking to come for both. Will the ambivalence toward The Iron Lady affect Streep's sweep? Will Davis' chances be harmed by a campaign for her costar Octavia Spencer in the supporting category? It seems like the award is Streep's to lose at this point, though.

Best Supporting Actor: Will Fox advertise 21 Jump Street as starring "Academy Award nominee Jonah Hill" just because they can? Hill's the youngest by far, and any of the other nominees could pull a sentimental vote in any other year. Unfortunately, they're up against Christopher Plummer, and he should get his due for the unjustifiably otherwise ignored indie film Beginners.

Best Supporting Actress: Four first-timers and a "long-time-between-nominations" story. I wish Shailene Woodley could have gotten a nomination for The Descendants, but I am very glad to see Melissa McCarthy get acknowledged for Bridesmaids. I see Octavia Spencer as the frontrunner, though Bérénice Bejo could pull a Binoche and go for the upset.

Best Animated Film: For the first time in the history of the award, a Pixar film was not nominated. That's okay, since Brave will win next year. (A bolder prediction would be calling it for Best Picture next year - and that might happen.) I'm surprised to see Kung Fu Panda 2 and Puss In Boots here instead of Rio and The Adventures of Tin Tin, but I think that Rango has the best shot: it was original, entertaining, visually striking, it can play to the history of westerns in the Oscars, and people saw it (unlike the other two indie nominees).

Best Adapted Screenplay: It's a testament to the brilliance of Moneyball that it's the frontrunner despite the fact that Aaron Sorkin won last year and Steven Zaillian narrowly missed a second nomination for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The competition here I think is between Moneyball and Hugo, though Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a dark horse.

Best Original Screenplay: Though I'm ecstatic to see Bridesmaids be nominated, the story here is which films were not nominated: 50/50, Win Win, Beginners, and Young Adult. Of the other nominees, The Artist is a possibility, though if Hazanavicius starts looking likely for Best Director, he might not get love here. Allen's always a threat, especially with a Best Pic nominee. The dark horse and/or prohibitive favourite might be A Separation, the foreign language film frontrunner. This one seems wide open to me.

Best Original Song: Bret McKenzie will win an Oscar! I thought it would be for "Life's A Happy Song", but I'm good with "Man or Muppet".

Technical awards: Other than The Tree of Life winning Best Cinematography, I think that Hugo, War Horse, and Harry Potter will win most of these awards.

Overall, I'm happy enough with the nominations. A few (mostly indie) films were underrepresented, a couple of films received some nominations from lobbying, but the Oscar picture accurately reflects an almost entirely underwhelming year in movies. I think people will look back on this year and wonder about the quality of the winning Picture, regardless of which it is, but then they will be able to wonder aloud: what other films should have won? I'd place the year on par with 2004, when Million Dollar Baby won the award: a year of mostly sequels and sentimental tripe, and a mostly unsatisfying showdown for the awards. (Also a year in which Scorsese and Payne were both nominated for Picture and Director.)

There are also some interesting prospects for the telecast. Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Jim Rash (Dean Pelton from Community), Bret McKenzie, Jason Segel, and Jim Parsons should be featured, so there should be a comedic element.

And my list of films to watch in the next month (in order): The Artist, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Midnight in Paris, (rewatch) The Tree of Life. and The Help.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

2011: The Year in Turner!

Every year, I feel a little twinge of social guilt when I start receiving all of the Christmas cards and letters at the beginning of December. I've never been the type of person who sits down and writes those kinds of documents (and my wife even less so). I decided that rather than writing a simple "Christmas letter"-style review that I would write a list of the top ten trends or developments in my life in the past year. Here they are, with light commentary, in roughly chronological order.

1. Theology of place: The night before we left to go back to SK for Christmas in 2010 was when we decided that we would be staying in Victoria for the foreseeable future. In the past year, we have really started putting down roots here, and we have developed deep, lasting friendships in that year. We miss the 3-0-6, but we also love it here, and we're learning more all the time how to be here.
2. Financial stability: There is a great irony that, in the midst of a year of unemployment, we would realize the best financial stability in several years. We were able to pay down significant amounts of debt due to extra work (not to mention filing back taxes), and we came out not only in the black, but with less debt. Go figure.
3. New technology: Over the course of the year, almost every major piece of technology in our house has been upgraded. In January, we bought smart phones; friends gave us a 32" TV and a DVD player in spring; and we finally bought a new computer in the fall.
4. Social media: The purchase of the smart phones certainly helped toincrease my presence in various social media. I had started on Twitter in fall 2010, and I felt like I really started to get it this year. Foursquare came early on, and I still like signing in to places. Goodreads has been a great resource for networking about books, and I finally signed up for Last.fm a month ago. I've recently started using Reddit and Pinterest more effectively, and I've even signed up for Tumblr. I know it will still take a lot more time to learn the intracacies of each service, but I'm feeling more networked all the time.
5. Physical self-awareness: As I entered my "late twenties", I began to realize that my body was beginning to operate differently. I began to see a chiropractor regularly for the first time after my car was rear-ended in February. I have had several periods of illness this year (very irregular for me). And I started going to the gym. I didn't exactly make a habit of it yet, but at least I started, and I know that I need to keep it up. Maybe I'll actually go see a doctor sometime this year; after all, it's only been five years since my last physical.
6. The Forge: Leadership at church took up a lot of the year, through bylaw review, growing pains, pastoral care, financial management and switching positions to become the "Steward-Moderator" (the chair of the LT). Considering that most churches don't have chairs or moderators under the age of 40, I think I'm in rare company. It's been very rewarding to learn how to lead others who are one or two generations older, and I'm really excited about the upcoming season for our community.
7. Life After High School: I spent much of the 2010-11 school year working in a program that helped graduating students transition into post-secondary. I learned a lot of professional skills in the process. I also got to try a lot of Thai restaurants around the province, and I got to shop at over two dozen new thrift stores. Good times.
8. Unexpected trips: My wife and I took three trips together this year (with an extra trip for her), and all three were unexpected until within a few weeks of travel. We went to see U2 play on the 360 Tour in Seattle in June; we went to SK to celebrate several family milestones (my parents' 30th anniverary, my grandmother's 75th birthday, our godson's baptism) when we hadn't anticipated being able to go; and then we saw the Civil Wars in concert in Vancouver in November. Who needs to plan more than three weeks ahead, anyway?
9. Board game geek: This was the year when I finally feel like I made the transition from "casual" to "serious" gamer. I've even had a renewed interest in video games near the end of the year
10. Re-kickstarting the career: I was hired at a new school for the fall. It has a lot of new challenges for me, and although it has been draining and stressful at times, it is incredibly rewarding. It has been great to be in a classroom again, and I'm looking forward to more of a sense of place there in the year to come.

Since resolutions are so definitive and unyielding, I've resolved to have intentions for 2012. Here, then, are twelve of my intentions for the year to come, in no particular order:
1. Continue to refine and expand my internet and social media presence, including finally launching a website.
2. Play more video games and board games. (Seriously.)
3. Go to the gym regularly.
4. Get a doctor and have a physical.
5. Read through the entire Bible (I've never actually done it in a systematic fashion, especially in the course of a year).
6. Pay off more debt (I'd love to have only my big student loan left by the end of the year.)
7. Write at least two blog posts each week.
8. Start podcasting.
9. Read fifty books. (At an average of 200 pages per book, that's 10,000 pages total in reading a book a week. Eminently doable.)
10. Start an RRSP.
11. Finally defeat The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask.
12. Get a (permanent) job.

And, as a bonus: 13. Survive the impending zombie apocalypse.

There you have it: my 2011 year in review and thoughts on the year to come. Thanks for journeying with me through it all.

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