Five 2011 Academy Award Upsets We’d Like to See

It should be stated for the record that while the editorial ‘we’ was used for the title of this column, the truth is that these are my picks and solely my picks. Let the first person speak begin.

The Academy Awards have become a bit of a bore in the last few years. There have been next to no surprises in the major categories, except for perhaps Marion Cotillard winning Best Actress in 2008 for “La Vie en Rose” or Alan Arkin winning Best Supporting actor in 2007 for “Little Miss Sunshine.” For the most part, it’s decided pretty early who’s going to win, which totally sucks, if you ask me. Of course, there are categories where there is a performance that clearly stands out above the others, but in many instances, people win their Oscars not because they’ve delivered something otherworldly, but because it’s their time, and they’re due, or other such nonsense. These aren’t lifetime achievement awards, and this isn’t a welfare system. If you give the award to the worthy party the first time around, there will be no need to “pay them back” later (cough, Al Pacino and Denzel Washington).

Take Tilda Swinton, for example. Do you know why she won the Academy Award for Supporting Actress? It’s because the voters knew that “Michael Clayton” was going to be shut out in every other category, so they threw Swinton a bone just so the movie walked away with at least one award. What the hell kind of logic is that? Did she really give the best performance or not? She was perfectly fine in the movie, but there was nothing extraordinary about it, certainly not compared to her hilariously stone-hearted harpy in “Burn After Reading.” Needless to say, the Academy’s predictability of late has led me to rebel, which is why on Sunday, I’d love nothing more than to hear the following five names be read instead of what we will probably hear.

Best Original Screenplay: Christopher Nolan, “Inception

Current Frontrunner: David Seidler, “The King’s Speech”

“The King’s Speech” is a wonderful little film. It was #7 on my list of top movies of 2010. But that story has been done many, many times before, while “Inception” was so layered that it took 10 years for Christopher Nolan to finish it. Small stories are good stories, but when someone dares to, pardon the pun, dream like Nolan did here – and better yet, pull it off, which he does in spades – that should be rewarded. It would also serve as a warning shot across the bows of every action movie director that story matters, damn it, and to get rid of the jive-talking robots.

Best Supporting Actor: Geoffrey Rush, “The King’s Speech

Current Frontrunner: Christian Bale, “The Fighter

We called it three years ago: Christian Bale will win an Oscar before it’s said and done, and more likely sooner than later. Now it’s about to happen, and strangely, I wish it weren’t.

First off, credit where credit is due. Bale positively disappeared into the role of Dicky Eklund, shedding a bunch of weight to resemble the body type of a crack addict and sounding like an authentic born-and-raised Southie. It was flashy without being gimmicky, and that is the key to Oscar glory. There is just one teensy problem; his character doesn’t support the story – he’s a distraction to it, and every time the movie becomes Dicky-centric, it loses momentum. Which brings us to Rush, the heart and soul of “The King’s Speech” and without whom, as Roger Ebert astutely observed, “the movie is unthinkable.” “The Fighter” could survive without Dicky; “The King’s Speech” is dead in the water without Lionel.

Best Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo, “The Fighter”

Current Frontrunner: Hailee Steinfeld, “True Grit

Now, here is the supporting performance that drives “The Fighter.” Like Bale, Melissa Leo also disappears into the character of Alice Ward, but unlike Bale, there isn’t that sense of watching someone act. Instead, it was more like watching someone be, something Leo is remarkably good at. She also seems to have a fondness for getting ugly on screen, if this and “Conviction” are any indication.

Of course, the general consensus is that Leo and Amy Adams will split the “Fighter” vote, opening the door for Steinfeld to become the latest child to win an Oscar…but she’s not really in a supporting role, is she? Nope, the academy rigged the vote so she wouldn’t have to go up against Annette Bening and Natalie Portman. Don’t you think that, should Steinfeld win, it would feel a little hollow that they bent the rules for her? Just sayin’.

Best Actor: James Franco, “127 Hours

Current Frontrunner: Colin Firth, “The King’s Speech”
Colin Firth was humbled and regal. Jesse Eisenberg fired Aaron Sorkin’s one-liners like a sharpshooter. James Franco, meanwhile, carried his movie from start to finish. It was a one-man show, and better yet, thanks to the savvy editing, it didn’t feel like a one-man show. I think Franco’s biggest problem is that a lot of people refused to see the movie on principle once they realized they would have to watch someone (pretend to) cut his arm off, and I get that; I didn’t want to see it either, but was positively blown away by the movie, and Franco’s performance, once I did.

Firth has the buzz because he’s well liked and has carved out a nice, well regarded filmography for himself. But the race to an Oscar isn’t a marathon; it’s a sprint. And from here, Franco was running faster than everyone else.

Best Picture: “The Social Network

Current Frontrunner: “The King’s Speech”

In the interest of full disclosure, my #1 movie of 2010 was “Black Swan.” For the sake of the awards, though, I’m changing my tune.

What we’re looking at is something akin to when “Forrest Gump” beat “Pulp Fiction” and “The Shawshank Redemption” for Best Picture in 1995 (though if we’re honest, few of us knew how truly great “Shawshank” was until it was released on video a few months after the Oscars). The Academy has a chance to award a movie that will transcend time – there is a reason many people speak of “The Social Network” as a movie that will define a generation – but they won’t, and I’m not exactly sure why. Perhaps the elder members of the academy can relate to “The King’s Speech” better than they can to a movie about a group of kids haggling in court over Internet money, so they’re choosing what makes them comfortable. That makes sense, I suppose. But here’s the thing – odds are, someone is going to make a movie a lot like “The King’s Speech” in the next 12 to 18 months. You won’t see another movie like “The Social Network,” however, for a long, long time.

Oh, and I’d also love to see “Exit Through the Gift Shop” win Best Documentary. The movie rules.


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Let the Games Begin: Best Death Scenes, Saw Edition

We may have been lukewarm with some of the later installments in the series – and in the case of the third movie, downright hostile – but as the “Saw” series wraps up this week with, of course, a 3D movie, we have to admit that we’re going to miss John “Jigsaw” Kramer, even if he’s actually been dead for four years now. The movies may have plunged the depths of depravity in terms of the methods they dreamed up to dispatch their victims, but they were also wildly original, as the legion of copycat movies that followed in its wake will attest (cough “Captivity” cough).

As Jigsaw, Jill and Hoffman ride off into the sunset – though since we haven’t seen “Saw 3D” yet, we admit that claim is a tad premature since Hoffman and Jill could end up dead – we were tempted to update our much-debated “Best Death Scenes” piece from 2007 with some of Jigsaw’s nastier work, but ultimately decided that the series deserved its own installment, kind of like the Beatles getting their own version of “Rock Band.” We’ve compiled our favorite deaths (which doesn’t go hand in hand with the best traps nearly as much as you’d think), along with some other notable exercises in sadism and sociopathic morality. If some notable scenes didn’t make the first list, well, there’s a reason for that. Read on, fellow gorehounds.

Favorite Death Scenes

The Spike Trap (“Saw IV“)

A married couple is bound by long metal rods. They will both die if they do nothing. Morgan, however, will live if she pulls out the rods, but doing so will kill her husband Rex, who’s pierced in vital places that will cause him to bleed out. Did we mention that Rex frequently beats Morgan?

What makes the scene for us is the blind rage on Morgan’s face as she’s pulling one of the final rods out of her body. Something about her gaining her freedom from Rex’s tyranny strikes us as, well, hilarious.

The Acid Needle Room (“Saw VI“)

We’re still debating whether we would have flicked the switch on insurance hatchet man William Easton, but there is no arguing that his death is one of the more memorable deaths in the series, as a gaggle of needles inject his mid-section with acid, melting him from the inside and ultimately splitting him in half. That had to hurt, and his sister watched the whole thing, helpless to stop it.

The Razor Wire Maze (“Saw“)

One of the refreshing things about the original “Saw” was its reluctance to actually show the bodily harm Jigsaw’s first victims suffered, instead going the “Se7en” route and forcing the viewer to use their own sick little imagination to picture what it might have been like. No trap benefits from this as much as the Razor Wire Trap, where an attention-starved suicide attemptee must penetrate a maze of razor wire or be locked away forever. The scene is a model of restraint that its successors would have been wise to employ.

The Bedroom Trap (“Saw IV”)

If there were a scale that measured suffering against how much the victim deserved to suffer, Ivan would be at the top of the list. A serial rapist who tortured his victims, Ivan is strapped into a device that will tear off his limbs if he does not push the triggers that will lead to his being blinded. Ivan obliges, but doesn’t press the second trigger in time, which leads to him suffering the blinding and still being drawn and quartered. Brutal, but we can’t say the dude didn’t have it coming.

The Bathroom Trap (“Saw”)

Gotta give a shout-out to the one that started it all. Dr. Gordon and Adam, chained to radiators in a dank bathroom, have the tools to secure their freedom – they just have to saw off one of their limbs to do it. It’s a good set-up, and one that the movie wisely waits to execute until the finale.

The Venus Fly Trap (“Saw II“)

The first truly gut-wrenching trap in the “Saw” series. Professional informant Michael must take out one of his eyes in order to retrieve the key that will remove the iron maiden-like death mask on his face. But just as he brings the scalpel to his eye, he just can’t do it, and ultimately throws the scalpel across the room in frustration. Three, two, one, snap!

Ice Ice Baby (“Saw IV”)

Nothing in the entire series has made us laugh harder than this. Detective Rigg finally finds Detective Matthews, but he violates police protocol doing so, and the new Jigsaw, police chief Hoffman, makes him pay for it by sending two gigantic ice blocks down to smash Matthews’ head like a grape. A truly laugh-out-loud moment in an otherwise sober franchise.

Most gruesome but ultimately non-lethal traps and games

The Needle Pit (“Saw II”)

Not even the Venus Fly Trap scene that opened “Saw II” could prepare us for this, as one of the gas house prisoners, a drug dealer named Xavier, is tasked with jumping into a giant pit of dirty syringes in order to retrieve a key. Of course Xaiver, being a buff, macho douchebag, throws Amanda in the pit to do it for him. Amazingly, Amanda finds the key (though we’re guessing being a secret accomplice of Jigsaw may have helped), but Xavier drops the key, and the door they were to open locks them in. Never has crunching glass sounded so vile.

The Blade Table (“Saw V“)

Where Brit and Mallick realize that if they all had worked together, no one would have had to die. Jigsaw even told them that at the beginning, but of course, they didn’t listen. And now Brit and Mallick must pay the ultimate price by filling a container with half of the blood in their bodies, instead of a more manageable (but still significant) two pints. Either way, the idea of willingly sticking your hand in a blade saw is just ghastly, and it is easily the highlight of the movie. They do a shot of Mallick where you see that he’s cut himself almost to the elbow, which is just silly; he surely would have bled out in real life.

The Reverse Bear Trap (“Saw,” “Saw VI”)

One of the crueler traps in the series – stranger still, it’s only used on people who either will become or have already become Jigsaw’s accomplices – but it has yet to claim a life. Amanda has to cut a guy open to get the key to remove her mask, which will basically split her head open like a melon. Hoffman has one placed on him by Jill, but manages to stick it between two bars long enough to cut himself free. Of all the traps in the series, this is one of the worst ways to go.

Blissfully quick death scenes

The Shotgun Collar (“Saw III“)

Poor Lynn does exactly what’s asked of her. She works to keep Jigsaw alive, but Amanda doesn’t want her to get away, and shoots Lynn in the back. In comes Lynn’s estranged husband Jeff, who shoots Amanda in retaliation, then uses a blade saw to cut Jigsaw’s neck, unaware that doing so just signed his wife’s death certificate. And guaranteed that there will be no way to identify her using dental records.

The Carousel Room (“Saw VI”)

Shotgun blast point blank to the chest. You don’t have much time to think about that one after it’s happened. Watching it load had to have been a bitch, though.

The Collars (“Saw V”)

Jigsaw implored them to work together, but it would have been pretty tricky for all five of them to retrieve their keys in 60 seconds, and goodness knows the fire inspector tried. A common theory is that one key could open all the collars, but what if you try that and you’re wrong? We would have gone gunning for a key, too.

The Magnum Eye Hole (“Saw II”)

Here, I’ll look through this eye hole while you turn the key in the door we’re not supposed to open. *Blam*

The Jars (“Saw V”)

A bittersweet one for us as the victim was Carlo Rota, who played Chloe O’Brian’s wise-cracking husband Morris on “24.” Hey, at least they would have been able to identify Lynn using fingerprints. But poor Charles here was trapped in a room with four nail bombs. Forget the body bag – bring a hose.

Brutal, or self-parody?

As thrilling – or nauseating – as some of the traps were, there were times when it was just embarrassing and clumsy.

The Mausoleum Trap (“Saw IV”)

Bar none the worst scene in the franchise’s history. Two guys, one rendered blind and another rendered mute, must find a way to free themselves from a pulley that’s dragging them both to be crushed. As we said in our review, it’s like watching a fight between two drunk brothers at a family reunion.

The Pound of Flesh (“Saw VI”)

Hasaan chop! Look at the girl’s eyes as she crazily chops off her arm. That’s funny, right there, we don’t care who ya are.

Fire bad

The Flammable Jelly (“Saw”)

It’s surprising that Jigsaw didn’t use fire more often, because it’s a hell of a way to die. Slow, painful, and messy. This poor bastard had to walk over broken glass to boot in order to escape his dilemma. Pity he got a bit sloppy with that candle.

Dishonorable mention: The inescapable traps of Saw III

If you’ve made it this far, then you are surely wondering why there has been only one mention of a device from “Saw III.” The answer is simple: the movie is appalling.

Those people had no chance of surviving – worse, they killed our beloved Dina Meyer this way – and while that was the point, that Jigsaw was trying to teach the warped Amanda a lesson, the movie ultimately claimed to be above torture in the end after spending the previous 90 minutes wallowing in it. If we’re going to watch a “Saw” movie, the filmmakers damn well better not be wagging a finger at us for doing so. So fuck you, Rack, Angel Trap, Freezer Room and Classroom Trap. Those bits officially crossed the line between unsettling and ghoulish, and will get no love from us here.

So let’s hear your picks for best deaths and traps from the series. We eagerly await your tasteful, carefully considered and courteous comments in the section below.


“Cyrus” makes a solid comedy out of the mama’s boy myth

Cyrus cast.

If you aren’t an avid fan of the mumblecore movement you have may have missed the Duplass brothers’ newest film, “Cyrus.” No, that’s not as in Miley Cyrus, a point the film studio is trying to hammer home with, a site with links to funny clips from the movie (why they decided to go forward with that title is beyond me, but they didn’t ask me).

The Duplass brothers are best known for their indie work with movies like “Baghead” and “The Puffy Chair.” Despite the A-list cast in “Cyrus,” the film managed to retain a lot of that indie flavor. The basis of the movie is simple: John (played by John C. Reilly) is still struggling with a divorce from seven years ago when he meets Molly (Marisa Tomei), a stunning mother with a secret – her son. Jonah Hill plays Cyrus, the never-been-weaned son that will do anything to keep his mom to himself.

Our own Jason Zingale wrote a full review for Bullz-Eye. Here’s a quick take from his article concerning the relationship between Jonah Hill and Marisa Tomei:

It’s a relationship that could have easily come across as creepy if the material didn’t have such a genuine quality to it. Granted, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still hard to swallow at times, but the cast does a pretty good job of not focusing too much on the somewhat taboo nature of their bond by keeping the story flowing – particularly since all the dialogue is improvised. Marisa Tomei is easily the best actor of the bunch, but she’s a little out of her element here, relying mostly on her co-stars to guide her through each scene.

For his full “Cyrus” review and more reviews on this summer’s hottest movies, head over to the Bullz-Eye movie guide.


Premium Hollywood talks to the guys from “Get Him to the Greek”

Jonah Hill and Russel Brand.

Get Him to the Greek” could easily become this summer’s “The Hangover,” a rollicking comedy filled with enough laughs to keep you out of the heat for an hour and 49 minutes. Bob Westal at our entertainment blog, Premium Hollywood, had a chance to catch up with the cast from the “Get Him to the Greek” as well as the film’s director, Nicholas Stoller.

“The big movements of this story really locked into place pretty quickly,” Stoller said. “I knew that I wanted to go to London, New York, Vegas and LA. I knew it needed to end with a threesome. There were like a few things I knew very early on — ‘I’m building towards this threesome, how do we get there? Really, every movie should end with a threesome. That’s my comedy theory — it’s in Syd Field’s Screenplay. ”

There you have it. Three of the world’s greatest cities, two of comedy’s funniest people, and a director (who’s not in porn, mind you) who just came out and said his whole film is “building towards this threesome.” Check out our “Get Him to the Greek” review to see how Stoller pulled together the summer’s first solid comedy.