Friday, February 25, 2011

POLL RESULTS: Your 2011 Oscar Predictions

The big night is this Sunday.  Here's who YOU predicted will take home the awards...

Remember, I'll be tweeting during the show at  The Academy Awards are Sunday at 8 eastern/5 pacific on ABC.  Be sure to print out a ballot to follow along during the Oscar telecast.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Podcast Rollcall: You Look Nice Today

Genre: Panel

What It's About: Enigmatically branded by its creators as "a journal of emotional hygiene," this is probably the most difficult podcast for me to describe.  It's a free-form conversation between three funny guys -- Scott Simpson (computer technician), Merlin Mann (tech and time management blogger), and Adam Lisagor (editor, web marketer) -- who riff on random topics, building structure and comedy around what are essentially improv techniques (though it's unclear whether the players have any improv training).  Starting from simple topics or premises, they "yes, and..." their way through hilarious scenarios and philosophies.  Through natural conversation, they build on a topic, essentially creating a series of inside jokes that you, the audience, are in on.

Why You Should Care: Because of the humor, of course.  The participants are all funny in a subdued, "Modern Family" kind of way.  They're appealing, ordinary guys (though they've each reached a certain level of Internet fame, none of them are showbiz types) who met via Twitter, discovered that they clicked, and figured out how to form a show around it.

Frequency: Very infrequent

Average Length: 45 minutes

As always, if you become a regular listener to a podcast that solicits donations, try to find a way to make the occasional contribution.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Official YDJ 2011 Oscar Ballot

Keep track of the Oscar nominees and winners during the ceremony with the official Your Daily Joe ballot!

Click below to view and download the PDF, and print out your copy for Oscar night.  See how your guesses stack up against mine, and check off the winners as they're announced...

Click here to download

(*Special thanks to Helby for creating the ballot document)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

POLL: Your 2011 Oscar Predictions

Now that you've read my Oscar predictions, make your guesses on who you think will win:

Poll results will be posted February 25.

*Special thanks to Helby for creating the poll.

Monday, February 14, 2011

2011 Short Films Predictions

I had an opportunity to catch the short film nominees this year, so here are my predictions on which films will win these categories.

I have to say I'm a little disappointed that Bill Plympton's The Cow Who Wanted to Be a Hamburger wasn't nominated. It may not have won, but I think it deserved a nod.

As far as who is going to win... I think those bastards at Pixar have done it again. Such an amazing company; they keep coming through with strong movies -- shorts and features -- year after year. While all the nominees have their charms and deserve your attention, Day & Night (which you probably saw before Toy Story 3) was the real standout. I'd expect that to win. If not, The Gruffalo could come through as the victor.

A very strong crop of films this year. Tough to choose a winner. God of Love was a great concept, and snappily executed. It has a good chance of winning. But the one that really sticks with me is Wish 143, about a teenager with cancer whose Make-A-Wish-type request is to lose his virginity. Funny and touching, and avoids easy sentimentality.

Unfortunately, the BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT program was unavailable to me, so I can't place an informed guess. But here are the nominees, which I'm sure deserve the attention:
  • Killing in the Name, Jed Rothstein
  • Poster Girl, Sara Nesson and Mitchell W. Block
  • Strangers No More, Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon
  • Sun Come Up, Jennifer Redfearn and Tim Metzger
  • The Warriors of Qiugang, Ruby Yang and Thomas Lennon
The live-action and animated nominees are available through iTunes and your cable provider's on-demand starting February 22nd, presented by Shorts International. It's great that these days everyone has a chance to see these films. Be sure to check them out.

Read the rest of my 2011 Oscar predictions here.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

2011 Oscar Predictions

And then it was Oscar season.

It's a great list of movies this year, despite my concerns back in October that the outlook wasn't so good. For the second year, the Academy has nominated ten movies for Best Picture; and while I was initially skeptical of this gimmick, I'd say it's panned out pretty well both times. There's not a single Best Picture nominee this year that isn't worth watching. Some are better than others, but... I suppose that's the point of the Oscars in the first place, isn't it?

I'm finding myself taking an analytical approach to my Oscar predictions this year, more from the brain than the heart. My analysis is below, with just the occasional heartfelt plea. Let's dig in...

  • Inception, Richard King
  • Toy Story 3, Tom Myers and Michael Silvers
  • TRON: Legacy, Gwendolyn Yates Whittle and Addison Teague
  • True Grit, Skip Lievsay and Craig Berkey
  • Unstoppable, Mark P. Stoeckinger
  • Inception, Lora Hirschberg, Gary A. Rizzo and Ed Novick
  • The King’s Speech, Paul Hamblin, Martin Jensen and John Midgley
  • Salt, Jeffrey J. Haboush, Greg P. Russell, Scott Millan, and William Sarokin
  • The Social Network, Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick, and Mark Weingarten
  • True Grit, Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff, and Peter F. Kurland
These categories sound confusingly similar to most people, so here are some quick explanations. It would be helpful if sound editing were referred to by its other name, sound design. That gives you a clearer idea of what the sound editor does, which is to find or create audio for everything that makes a sound in a movie (both real and imagined). Sound mixing is, as you might imagine, the process of sitting at a sound board with all the audio elements and adjusting the levels, blending the sounds, balancing the dialogue against the music, etc.

That being said, I'll admit that these are two of my weakest categories. I don't know much about how they're judged. But looking at the history of winners, it seems that flashiness tends to get all the attention - war movies, effects movies, action movies. I'd expect Inception to win both of these categories.

  • Alice in Wonderland, Ken Ralston, David Schaub, Carey Villegas and Sean Phillips
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 1, Tim Burke, John Richardson, Christian Manz and Nicolas Aithadi
  • Hereafter, Michael Owens, Bryan Grill, Stephan Trojanski and Joe Farrell
  • Inception, Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley and Peter Bebb
  • Iron Man 2, Janek Sirrs, Ben Snow, Ged Wright and Daniel Sudick
Of the nominees, Inception stands out as the most innovative and original.

  • Alice in Wonderland, Colleen Atwood
  • I Am Love, Antonella Cannarozzi
  • The King’s Speech, Jenny Beaven
  • The Tempest, Sandy Powell
  • True Grit, Mary Zophres
This is another one of those categories that I can't claim to have any expertise on. I mean, what do I know from sewing? But this is also one of those categories where a little bit of research sheds a lot of light. For the last four consecutive years, royalty has always won (see the list). Not only do we have a movie about royalty this year, but we have a movie about royalty which is also poised to take some of the bigger awards. The King's Speech will win this category.


**UPDATED FEB. 14: Click here to read my short film predictions.

  • 127 Hours, Jon Harris
  • Black Swan, Andrew Weisblum
  • The Fighter, Pamela Martin
  • The King’s Speech, Tariq Anwar
  • The Social Network, Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter
This is an award that most often goes to the best picture winner, but not always. I think this is one of the rare years where Editing and Picture won't go to the same movie. Expect a Social Network win here.

  • “Coming Home,” Country Strong, Tom Douglas, Troy Verges and Hillary Lindsey
  • “I See the Light,” Tangled, Alan Menken, Glenn Slater
  • “If I Rise,” 127 Hours, A.R. Rahman, Dido, Rollo Armstrong
  • “We Belong Together,” Toy Story 3, Randy Newman
Ugh. Look, do any of these songs get stuck in your head? They don't mine. The song from Tangled rings some '90s-Disney bells, but I think an overall affection for Toy Story 3 will push Randy Newman to the win.

  • 127 Hours, A.R. Rahman
  • How to Train Your Dragon, John Powell
  • Inception, Hans Zimmer
  • The King’s Speech, Alexandre Desplat
  • The Social Network, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
This one's a tough call as far as I'm concerned. I'd guess the front runners are Inception and The Social Network. I'm going to give the edge to The Social Network for the hipness factor of Trent Reznor, and the fact that Inception's Hans Zimmer is a previous winner.

  • Alice in Wonderland, Robert Stromberg, Karen O’Hara
  • Happy Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 1, Stuart Craig, Stephenie McMillan
  • Inception, Guy Hendrix Dyas, Larry Dias, Doug Mowat
  • The King’s Speech, Eve Stewart, Judy Farr
  • True Grit, Jess Gonchor, Nancy Haigh
An even tougher call than Score. I'm going to shoot from the hip and just blurt out Inception. I could be expected to get this one wrong. If you have a better guess and a good reason for it, I'd love to hear about it in the comments.

  • Black Swan, Matthew Libatique
  • Inception, Wally Pfister
  • The King’s Speech, Danny Cohen
  • The Social Network, Jeff Cronenweth
  • True Grit, Roger Deakins
Very strong contenders here, but I'd narrow it down to either Social Network or True Grit. My brain says the former, my heart says the latter. I'm going to put my money on True Grit.

  • How to Train Your Dragon
  • The Illusionist
  • Toy Story 3
I'm going to do something very stupid with this category and take a long shot. Look, folks, I liked Toy Story 3 as much as the next guy. But while everyone's been distracted by Pixar for all these years, DreamWorks Animation has quietly grown into a superstar in its own right. Make no mistake about it, the smart money is on Toy Story 3 (the incinerator scene alone). But I was really impressed with How to Train Your Dragon, and am playing the odds on a dark horse victory.

  • Hors la Loi (Outside the Law) (Algeria)
  • Incendies (Canada)
  • In a Better World (Denmark)
  • Dogtooth (Greece)
  • Biutiful (Mexico)
I'll be honest: the only one of these movies I've even heard of is Biutiful, so... that one? I'll be more diligent with foreign films next year.

  • Exit Through the Gift Shop, Banksy and Jaimie D’Cruz
  • Gasland, Josh Fox and Trish Adlesic
  • Inside Job, Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs
  • Restrepo, Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger
  • Waste Land, Lucy Walker and Angus Aynley
The omissions in this category are surprising. No Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work? No Tillman Story? No Waiting for "Superman"? Crazy stuff.

Of the nominees, I'd say it comes down to Exit Through the Gift Shop and Restrepo. Gift Shop is innovative and fun, but Restrepo is a compelling perspective on an ongoing war. Even so, I think Gift Shop has it. Big questions: can Banksy attend the Oscars, and can he give an acceptance speech if he wins?

  • Another Year, written by Mike Leigh
  • The Fighter, Screenplay by Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson; 
Story by Keith Dorrington & Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson
  • Inception, written by Christopher Nolan
  • The Kids Are All Right, written by Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg
  • The King’s Speech, Screenplay by David Seidler
If it takes the fun out of it for you to know that most of the remaining categories are a foregone conclusion, then read no further. For better or for worse, the big awards this year are already decided. Just follow the guilds. Original screenplay will go to The King's Speech.

  • 127 Hours, Screenplay by Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy
  • The Social Network, Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin
  • Toy Story 3, Screenplay by Michael Arndt; Story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich
  • True Grit, written for the screen by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
  • Winter’s Bone, adapted for the screen by Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini
This is a well-deserved win for Aaron Sorkin.

  • Christian Bale, The Fighter
  • John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone
  • Jeremy Renner, The Town
  • Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right
  • Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech
Christian Bale's winning streak will culminate in a victory here.

  • Amy Adams, The Fighter
  • Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech
  • Melissa Leo, The Fighter
  • Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
  • Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom
Melissa Leo, and good for her. She's been kicking ass in obscurity for a long time. If you missed Frozen River and "Treme," check them out as soon as possible.

  • Javier Bardem, Biutiful
  • Jeff Bridges, True Grit
  • Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
  • Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
  • James Franco, 127 Hours
Good thing they gave Jeff Bridges an Oscar last year. He deserves it again this year, but they're going to give it to Colin Firth no matter what.

  • Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
  • Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
  • Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone
  • Natalie Portman, Black Swan
  • Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine
A well-timed win for Natalie Portman.

  • Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
  • Joel & Ethan Coen, True Grit
  • David Fincher, The Social Network
  • Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech
  • David O. Russell, The Fighter
  • 127 Hours
  • Black Swan
  • The Fighter
  • Inception
  • The Kids Are All Right
  • The King’s Speech
  • The Social Network
  • Toy Story 3
  • True Grit
  • Winter’s Bone
Of course, the one glaring flaw with having ten Best Picture nominees and only five Best Director nominees is that you can pretty much rule out the five best pictures that don't have matching director nominations. It's great that movies like Winter's Bone and Inception can be included in this category for praise, but they're simply not going to win.

There are three ways, and only three ways, that Oscar night can end. Either (1) Social Network wins Director and Picture, (2) King's Speech wins Director and Picture, or (3) Fincher wins director and Speech wins picture. I think a lot of people are expecting #1 to be the case. I think that's the least likely scenario of the three.

I love The Social Network. It's interesting and propulsive. It benefits from rewatching. It gives you a lot to think about. It doesn't tell you how to feel about its characters. It will last in your memory - twenty years from now, you'll find yourself thinking about it and having an urge to watch it again.

You might find yourself thinking that The Social Network will no longer be relevant when the whole Facebook fad wears off. Well, has All the President's Men become irrelevant with the obsolescence of the newspaper? Social Network isn't about Facebook; it's about success, the people who attained it, what they did in order to attain it, and what the consequences of their actions were. These themes are timeless. Social Network is great now, and it will remain great for decades to come.

But you won't win your Oscar pool thinking that way.

The Academy loves their royals. And they love period. And they love handicaps. And they love it when a handicap is overcome. And they love World War II. It's a ridiculous cliché to say that the Academy falls for these same conventions over and over again, but it happens to be true. The King's Speech has all of these things. Oh, and it's also a good movie. It will win Best Picture.

What's less certain is who will win Best Director. The DGA gave it to The King's Speech's Tom Hooper. That's a pretty strong predictor of him winning the Oscar. But it's not a guarantee, and I've got this naggingly strong feeling about Fincher. It might be a smart move to bet on Hooper; so if you're feeling Hooper, I can't fault you for placing your chips there. Me, I'm going to have to defer to my heart and go with Fincher. I think this will be one of the rare instances of Best Director and Best Picture going to different films.

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Think the Oscars are pointless? Say so in the comments.

On Oscar night, I'll be live blogging during the ceremony via Twitter. Click here to follow me. The 83rd Academy Awards ceremony will air on February 27, 2011 at 8pm eastern/5pm pacific on ABC.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Conflicting Views On Digital Projection

I noticed it this past fall. The movies I was attending were suddenly brighter and clearer than what I was used to. They were in sharp focus. There were no scratches, no dirt specks, no hairs caught in the gate. There were no cigarette burns in the top right corner. There was no wavering as tape splices passed through the sprockets. It was jaw-dropping; the most perfect movie presentation I'd seen outside of a studio lot.

The tape splices were seamless because there were no tape splices. The film didn't jitter through the sprocket holes because there were no sprocket holes. In fact, there was no film at all. I was watching digital projection.

Among the many expectations I had when I moved to Los Angeles back in 2002 was that the movie theaters here would be the best in the world. I thought I'd be seeing the most perfectly calibrated picture and sound, the cleanest auditoriums, the best trained staffs. This is a company town, after all, and these movie theaters are attended by the very people who made the films that are being shown. In L.A. more than anywhere else, wouldn't theater chains put their best foot forward?

As it turns out, no. Unless you're going to a premium or arthouse theater -- Grauman's Chinese, the NuArt, the ArcLight, etc. -- you're getting the same generic, corporatized multiplex experience as everyone else in North America: assembly line snack foods, a demoralized grunt staff, and shoddy projection. No pride, no sense of presentation.

Look, I'm a realist. If movie theaters can't make economic sense of providing better snack food than popcorn and a bag of M&M's, then it's not really fair for me to expect it of them. Likewise, it's just a simple fact of capitalism that theaters would price themselves out of business if they paid to hire a premium staff. These things I can accept. But why is film projection -- the centerpiece attraction of the picturehouse -- so consistently bad on every single multiplex screen you've ever been to in the last 30 years?

It's mostly due to cutting corners, with a little bit of ignorance and laziness thrown in.

For some 20 years, film critic Roger Ebert has been trying to raise public awareness about a cost-cutting measure employed by most theater chains. In an effort to reduce electric bills and prolong the life of the (very expensive) film projector lamps, theaters will reduce the light output on their projectors. They assume that almost no one will notice, and they're basically right about that; few people ever feel as ripped off as they should. To the theater operators, the money saved more than makes up for the rare customer complaint.

But reducing the light intensity is misguided. "I've quoted Eastman Kodak experts who say the light level has no effect on bulb life," says Ebert.

So audiences are being deprived of the full experience they paid for, and the theaters get a marginal-at-best benefit from it.

While the quality of projection has been intentionally reduced, projectionists themselves have been systematically removed from the equation. Instead of one projectionist running one movie from start to finish for every showing, the process has been automated. Multiplexes put one or two people in charge of running 20 screens, usually a manager instead of a trained projectionist. This person flips a switch, and the system takes care of itself. Of course, a number of things can go wrong that require human attention -- the focus can slip, the bulb can start to fade, the sound can get bumped higher or lower -- and no one working for the theater notices or cares enough to fix them.

Theater operators are aware of the fact that, since no one is monitoring the projector during a typical screening, there's a great risk of the film getting stuck in the gate and becoming damaged or completely broken. To help ensure that this won't happen, chain theaters loosen the pressure plate on the projector - the component that holds the film at the proper distance between the light and the lens. If the film is not held in the right place, the focus is going to be off. This happens all the time.

All of these problems go away with digital projection. There's no physical film, so there's no wear and tear -- no scratches, no dirt specks, no snapping, no fading colors. There's no bulb that will dim over time. Plus, it's a lot cheaper for the studios. They don't have to spend tens of thousands of dollars striking film prints and then shipping them out all over the world; they simply beam a digital file around via satellite link. If you're conservation-minded, you can rest assured it's a lesser toll on the environment: less film is being manufactured, less dangerous chemicals are being used to process said film, and no planes or trucks are being used to ship physical prints to and from their destination theaters.

Sounds like digital projection is nothing but great, right? Unfortunately, I think it's exactly the wrong way to go.

Let's set aside my nostalgic notions of why film "feels" different than digital video, and focus on the practical.

For the past decade or so, movie theater attendance has been on the decline. There are too many competing distractions. The internet alone is enough to keep most people busy. Then there's the fact that TV has gone high def and added the convenience of DVRs. On top of that, you've got a dozen ways to rent or buy movies and have them delivered instantly to your home. Not to mention the fact that younger generations would rather play video games than watch movies anyway.

To keep up with competitors, movie studios continue to close the gap between the theatrical release and the home video release of their films. Some distributors are even experimenting with releasing movies to home video the same day as the theatrical opening, so theaters don't even have much claim on exclusivity anymore. The real question is, why hasn't movie theater attendance fallen off completely?

This past December, Helby and I went out and got ourselves a new TV. We'd already had an HDTV, but this one is four years newer, four years more advanced. It has a bigger screen and a far superior picture, and it cost less than our previous HDTV. Plus it's more energy efficient. We've also got a 5.1 surround sound system hooked up to our home theater. And of course, we have blu ray.

With brilliant HD video and optical surround sound, watching a movie at home rivals the theater going experience. Plus, my couch is there. If I have to wait a couple months to see the latest movie, it's usually worth it.

This is what the movie theaters are competing with these days. As the audience dwindles, digital projection is an appealing patch job that will slow their profit loss, but will end up biting them in the ass. As an audience member, if I'm looking for high definition digital video, I don't have to go all the way to a movie theater to find it - it's right there at home. It seems to me that, in order to stay competitive, theaters should be offering audiences something unique instead of giving them the exact same thing they already have in their living rooms.