Saturday, July 12, 2008

Category Five: 5 Actors Who I Can't Believe Haven't Been Nominated For An Oscar

You know the old saying: "It's an honor just to be nominated." Obviously, it’s more of an honor to win, but for the most part, I think these statements are genuine. In the acting categories especially, there's often a favorite to win. If you aren't that favorite, you should still be pretty happy of the fact that you were in the running with them. In the end, you are still being hailed as great.

Still, it must not feel great to lose, especially if you are nominated lots of times and never get to take home the statuette. "Oscar nominee" just doesn't have quite the same ring to it as "Oscar winner."

But what about those that don't even get nominated? There have been numerous performances that deserved a nomination; however, I understand the selection is limited. Sometimes a great performance doesn't make the cut.

So instead of dwelling on specific performances, I'm going to talk about five performers that I'm shocked have yet to receive a nomination despite their numerous worthy performances. I'm not necessarily saying they deserved to be nominated for each of these roles, but I provide them as an example of their body of work.

#5: Dennis Quaid

Notable Performances in: In Good Company, Far From Heaven, The Rookie, Traffic, Wyatt Earp

Unfortunately I think most people know Quaid as the ex-husband of Meg Ryan. That’s a shame because he’s a very talented actor and continues to mix up commercial films with interesting fair, occasionally combining the two.

Other than his exceptional portrayal of Doc Holliday,[1] he excels at playing the “every man.” What keeps that from being generic is that he is the every man searching for what comes next in his life. That might be returning to an old love or confessing a new one, but either way, he wants something more out of life.

Of particular note is his role in Far From Heaven, where he plays a closeted homosexual husband. He brings a quiet passion to the role, and the entire time, there’s a pain behind his eyes. It’s never quite clear whether he’s upset at what he’s done to his wife or at himself for not having the courage to be who he really is.

#4: Bruce Willis

Notable Performances in: Twelve Monkeys, The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Sin City, 16 Blocks

In the late 80's to early 90's, there was a boom of action stars that we haven't seen since. Many faded away. One is busy running California.

Of all of these stars, Willis stands out for one particular reason: He's actually a good actor.[2]

Even as John McClaine, he has great comic timing. You laugh at him not because he kills bad guys and follows it up with an atrocious pun[3] but because he's genuinely funny.

And he has range. Along with his other action roles, he's played goofy, crazy, and depressed.

That last one is where I'd like to focus. In a way, all five of the notable roles that I mentioned are similar characters: depressed, hallowed-out, searching for meaning in life. Willis plays this type of role so well because there's something disarming about seeing him depressed. It doesn't feel natural for him not to be smiling, so you immediately sympathize with him.

I’m especially surprised he wasn’t recognized for The Sixth Sense. Toni Collette and Haley Joel Osment give great performances, but Willis is the anchor of the film. It’s his relationship with the boy that brings about the powerful scenes between mother and son.

And that world famous twist wouldn’t have worked if not for the horror Willis conveyed at realizing the truth: The only way he could help his wife was to finally let go.

#3: Guy Pearce

Notable Performances in: The Proposition, The Count of Monte Cristo, Memento, L.A. Confidential

Maybe it’s because of The Proposition (and his attachment to The Road), but when I think of Pearce, I think of “grit.” He’s not a guy I’d want to mess with.

And yet, behind that grit, there’s a perpetual longing to find answers to his questions. More often than not, the answers he seeks are about his own mind and moral compass.

Can he bring himself to kill? Is he happy with what he’s become? How important is the truth?

Grittiness may be a part of his performances now, but it was noticeable absent from his role in L.A. Confidential, where he played a straight-laced, by the book detective that waits until the end of the film to make the right (not the legal) decision.

Maybe if that role had come after all the others, people would have seen how talented he was.

#2: John Cusack

Notable Performances in: Grace is Gone, High Fidelity, Being John Malkovich, Grosse Point Blank, say anything…

Perhaps Cusack was before his time. He was quirky when quirky wasn’t cool.[4] Really, Lloyd Dobler is no different than Juno[5] (seemingly mature for their age but having striking moments of vulnerability; having a plan and sticking to it despite what outsiders think; not a part of the “in” crowd but still far from a loser).

But while Juno deals with a pregnancy, all Lloyd does during say anything… is fall in love and do whatever it takes to stay in love.[6] Yet by the time the film is over, you feel as if you know him better than some people you actually went to school with.

Even when playing a nostalgic hitman or a earnest puppeteer, Cusack brings a serious intensity to his roles that makes you momentarily forget about the absurdity going on around him. Or, in the best moments, connect with him on an emotional level despite the events being unrealistic.

#1: Jim Carrey

Notable Performances in: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Man on the Moon, The Truman Show

I don’t list as many notable performances for Carrey simply because he doesn’t have that many. But he takes the number one spot on this list because he should have been nominated for each of them.

He’s the only actor to win back-to-back Best Actor awards at the Golden Globes and yet not receive an Academy Award nomination.

I honestly don’t know what more they want from him. First he played a subdued version of his persona in The Truman Show, a likeable goofball who just happens to be the center of a reality show all about him.[7] While it’s definitely a comedy, Carrey avoids the manic actions of his normal routine, keeping Truman on an even keel until he discovers the truth of his situation. His reaction to the information, and the choice he makes once he knows, stick with me each time I see it.

He followed this up with a spot-on portrayal of Andy Kaufman. There were a few juggernauts in the running for Best Actor that year, but I’ll continue to be baffled at how Carrey slipped through the cracks. Forget the fact that he becomes Kaufman, and just look at the range showed in the film itself: anger, sadness, pure joy, depression, etc.

The only possible explanation is that people thought it wasn’t that far of a stretch from his own bizarre personality. He then blew that out of the water by playing one of the meekest love interests of recent years in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a hapless (and hopeless) romantic that just wants to love, and when that doesn’t work, just wants to not hurt anymore.

If the pain and suffering he shows after love’s gone bad doesn’t get you, and the emptiness he portrays as he realizes he’s about to lose the only thing he has left of love doesn’t get you, then just wait until the end where he decides to go through all the pain all over again just for the chance to love.

Carrey shouldn’t just have been nominated by now; he should have a couple of Oscars on his mantle. Right next to a picture of him talking through his ass.

[1] This role was overshadowed by Val Kilmer’s fantastic take on the same character in the previous year’s Tombstone. If you forced me to pick between the performances, I would go with Kilmer.

[2] Yes, Stallone was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his role in the original Rocky, a damn fine movie. But his performance in First Blood shows his limited range. Rambo is really just Rocky with a (more pronounced?) mental disorder.

[3] Sure, I’m guilty of laughing at these from time to time, but I would never call them well-acted.

[4] Which is what made him cool.

[5] Except, I would argue, MUCH more believable.

[6] Actually, now that I think about it, that is a pretty big deal. And the film treats it as such.

[7] This film has only gotten more relevant.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

In Defense of "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom"

I was extremely disappointed by the latest Indiana Jones movie. While I wouldn't go so far as to call it "terrible," I did leave the theater feeling let down and kind of angry, though a large part of that was due to the fact that the stuff I disliked the most was at the end of the film.

However, a number of people I know thought it was pretty good and a few others loved it. But I hope that they can understand my side of things. While most fans of the movie would argue that people are only critiquing it so heavily because it's an Indiana Jones film, I take the opposite view. People are only letting stuff go because it's an Indiana Jones film.

If you were watching a film about entirely new characters and all of that stuff started happening, you'd be complaining as much as I was. While I didn't quiz each person that enjoyed the film about why, the general consensus seems to be that they love Indiana Jones so much that they didn't care what happened; they were just happy to see him again.

I can understand that. I loved seeing him again too. But I wanted him to be the same (more or less) as the great character I remembered from the past films. The amazing Raiders of the Lost Ark. The highly entertaining Last Crusade. And the mediocre but still Indiana Jones Temple of Doom.

At least...that's how I used to feel. But after seeing Temple of Doom again for the first time in many years, I owe it an apology.

Sure, it's different from the other films. But it's jam-packed with action. It never slows down, which can make even a bad film highly entertaining. Temple of Doom, however, is not a bad film.

One of the biggest critiques (and one that I associated with it) is that it's much darker than the other films. The scene that stands out in everyone's mind is the beating heart being pulled from the man's chest. In reality, this scene isn't as gruesome as I remembered from my childhood. There's no blood, as the hand passes through the chest by way of magic (or mysticism).

Then the man being sacrificed is lowered into the lava where he burns alive. Sure, it's dark. But no darker than people's faces melting (Raiders) or a man rapidly aging to the point of decay (Crusade).

While there's straight gore (yes, extremely light gore compared to, say, a horror film, but still technically gore), Temple has other dark elements as well, such as Indy being brainwashed through drinking the blood and the voodoo doll that's used to injure him.

Really though, this isn't any darker than the greed and sinister plans of the Nazis in the other films. It's just a different type of darkness. And while those other films don't dwell as much on the sinister elements, the fast-paced, non-stop action of Temple more than makes up for the creepier moments.

Truth be told, I think a lot of the criticism comes down to the fact that its "magic" isn't based on Biblical elements like the other two films. While I enjoyed that aspect of them, there's nothing wrong with branching out and including mysticism. It sure as hell beats aliens.

The other major point of contention is the sidekicks. A lot of people find them annoying. Short Round either works for you or he doesn't. It's that simple. But when you think about it, he's really just a feistier, scrappier (Come to think of it, Short Round is a lot like Scrappy-Doo, though much less annoying.) version of Indy's dad, mostly just along for the ride but contributing to the cause every now and then. (I'd agree that Indy's dad is decidedly NOT annoying, but you'd have to concede that his interactions with Indy become a lot sappier than Short Round's.)

And then there's Willie Scott. Pretty much everyone finds her annoying. Good. That's the point. She's an anti-Marion. She contributes as little to the action as a character can without being dead. While I like Marion much more as a character, it would have been worse to create another tough girl character that paled in comparison to her. Better to make the female lead a complete 180.

While I still say it's my third favorite Indiana Jones film, I'll never again brush it aside when discussing the Indiana Jones legacy. (That "luxury" is now reserved for Crystal Skull.)

It deserves tons of credit for the mining car chase sequence alone. Seriously, that still holds up 24 years later. And can somebody tell me why this isn't a theme park ride somewhere? (I know there's an Indiana Jones ride, but I found it lackluster.) There could be another car chasing you with animatronic characters shooting at you. And there could be a point where you go over a hill and they make it look like the track disappears, so that you're jumping (The car could shake.). And finally, they could change things so that the water filling the tunnel happens while you're still in the car, and you barely outrun it, water misting down on you.

That would be awesome.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Liveblogging A Terrible Movie

I recently rented National Lampoon's Cattle Call. Though this was strictly for research purposes, I’m still ashamed. And since I was going to have to watch this thing anyway, I figured we should both get some entertainment out of it. So I liveblogged it.

As it turns out, it was far from the worst comedy I’ve ever seen. That’s not to say it was good. It was horribly put together, featuring lots of shots but very few actual scenes. Still, it genuinely made me laugh a couple of times.

Here’s a brief description of the plot to get you started: Three friends start a fake production company to audition hot women to find potential mates. (So really, it’s a comic turn on the uber-disturbing Japanese horror film Audition. Seriously, if you watch that, don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

10 seconds: The opening credits actually have some decent production value. For some reason, the font reminds me of Abercrombie & Fitch.

1 minute, 44 seconds: The film opens with a guy (Richie) on the computer. My guess was he would be looking at porn, but it turns out to be a video dating service. Girls talk to the camera. They go with the “shotgun” technique and throw about twenty at us, hoping some are funny. And in case we don’t understand what’s funny about their personalities, their ridiculous screennames drive home the point.

3 minutes, 31 seconds: While playing basketball, Richie’s friend Sherman tells a “story” about how he was at the casting agency where his sister works and tried to call a girl who they had rejected by using her headshot. But the most disgruntled janitor ever shows up demanding to throw it away because “that’s his job.”

Richie makes a joke that they should create a casting agency to meet girls, and Sherman thinks it’s a great idea. So the first act was four minutes long, apparently.

4 minutes, 54 seconds: In the very next scene, they are getting responses to their ad. But they haven’t found a space to hold the auditions. Good planning, guys.

5 minutes, 57 seconds: They call their other friend, Glenn. It’s Oswald from “The Drew Carey Show.” He answers a Lego phone. Take that, Juno.

7 minutes, 58 seconds: They divide headshots into two boxes, one that says “Dump Her” and one that says “Keep Her.” So they literally went to the trouble of making a box and printing out fancy lettering for that.

Also, there’s a Morgan Fairchild joke. Strange. I don’t think the typical viewing audience would get that.

One of the guys declares that a headshot is like a personal ad. Not too far from the truth.

10 minutes, 18 seconds: There’s a National Lampoon’s Gold Diggers poster in the background of the “production office.” Classic.

14 minutes, 32 seconds: The girl that will wind up being Richie’s love interest (Marina) calls at the exact moment that he is looking at her headshot. Impossible.

15 minutes, 7 seconds: A HUGE line of women waiting to audition. Even if that were believable, when Glenn (who’s pretending to be the non-existent film’s director) comes out, they begin to whisper that he’s the director and then TOTALLY MOB him.

I like Oswald too, but get serious.

18 minutes: Women waiting in line for the only bathroom as Glenn is inside. They discuss listening to a guy’s pee to determine how big his dick is.

Sherman overhears this and goes in next, claiming he has to get back for the auditions. But then he can’t pee. (Gee, since you didn’t really HAVE to go, are you surprised?)

He grabs some sort of fire extinguisher that sprays water and uses it to pretend that he’s peeing. Why isn’t there a REAL fire extinguisher? And why is this one in the bathroom?

21 minutes, 56 seconds: The first appearance of a vibrator.

A woman auditioning sings a song that goes, “All men should die; All they do is shit and lie.”

23 minutes: Marina shows up for the audition with her dog in tow. She apologizes and claims that she “never does this,” but it’s also established that she just drove into town, making this her first audition.

24 minutes, 15 seconds: Glenn has an unexplained coughing fit. It’s not funny. Just confusing and weird.

28 minutes, 20 seconds: “No one in Hollywood who says they're gonna make a movie actually makes one.” So true.

32 minutes, 20 seconds: Marina doesn’t want to admit that she’s living out of her car, so when Richie asks her where’s she living, she says it’s “kind of embarrassing.” He responds, “Oh, are you in Orange County?”

That’s actually really funny.

37 minutes, 54 seconds: The first appearance of a strip club.

41 minutes, 38 seconds: Sherman “auditions” a girl at his apartment that missed the “actual” auditions. He plays electric guitar, and after his solo, she responds, “I almost climaxed.” Then she proceeds to give him the most awkward blowjob ever, as she wants him to keep playing the guitar.

43 minutes, 44 seconds: The guys get their “script” by writing down the English subtitles from a foreign film. Pretty funny idea.

44 minutes, 12 seconds: Jonathan Winters makes a cameo as a crazy, belligerent studio tour guide. This just makes me sad. Plus I can barely understand what he’s saying. And I honestly don’t know why this scene is here.

1 hour, 1 minute, 51 seconds: After Richie tells Marina the truth, she tells the other two woman that have been “cast” as leads. And one of them reveals that she’s undercover. WTF?

1 hour, 3 minutes, 19 seconds: Richie wants out of the deal, but the other guys want to keep it up. Perhaps it would be a good idea to tell them that he told Marina it was fake.

1 hours, 5 minutes, 23 seconds: The “trap” that the undercover reporter sets is that the three of them want to make the film more pornographic, so they want to film themselves having sex with the guys so that they can study it.

This is how they are luring them in. Amazing.

1 hours, 8 minutes, 32 seconds: Richie leaves, but the other two guys strip and wait for the girls in a separate hotel room. But instead, a hefty dominatrix and a biker chick come over. Then the police rush in.

Um…so who the hell sent this woman undercover?

1 hour, 12 minutes: Richie has twenty four hours to provide evidence to clear their name. My question is: why isn’t he in jail too? He conned the girls just like the other two guys.

1 hour, 15 minutes, 30 seconds: Richie storms in with his “evidence” after the judge has made the sentence. Pretty sure that makes it too late.

1 hour, 18 minutes, 26 seconds: Instead of using the footage to make a movie about guys creating a fake casting agency, which is what I thought he would do, he made a trailer that pretended like it was a reality show. Lame.

1 hour, 21 minutes, 27 seconds: Marina takes him back without him having to do anything other than show up. Lazy writing.