Sundance Film Review: Alpha Dog (dir by Nick Cassavetes)


The Sundance Film Festival is currently taking place in Utah so, for this week, I’m reviewing films that either premiered, won awards at, or otherwise made a splash at Sundance!  Today, I take a look at 2006’s Alpha Dog, which premiered, out of competition, at Sundance.

Sometimes, I suspect that I may be the only person who actually likes this movie.

Alpha Dog is a film about a group of stupid people who end up doing a terrible thing.  Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsch) is a 20 year-old living in Los Angeles.  His father, Sonny (Bruce Willis) and his godfather, Cosmo (Harry Dean Stanton), are both mob-connected and keep Johnny supplied with the drugs that Johnny then sells to his friends.  It’s a pretty good deal for Johnny.  He’s got a nice house and a group of friends who are willing to literally do anything for him.  Johnny, after all, is the one who has the money.

When Johnny’s former best friend, Jake Mazursky (Ben Foster), fails to pay a drug debt, things quickly escalate.  When Johnny refuses to accept even a partial payment, Jake responds by breaking into Johnny’s house and vandalizing the place.  (Just what exactly Jake does, I’m not going to go into because it’s nasty.  Seriously, burn that house down…)  Johnny decides that the best way to force Jake to pay up is to kidnap Jake’s younger brother, Zack (Anton Yelchin, who is heartbreakingly good in this film).

It quickly turns out that Zack doesn’t mind being kidnapped.  Everyone tells Zack not to worry about anything and that he’ll be set free as soon as Jake pays his debt.  Zack decides to just enjoy his weekend.  Since Johnny is better at ordering people to commit crimes than committing them himself, he tells his friend, Frankie (Justin Timberlake), to keep an eye on Zack.

And so it goes from there.  While Johnny leaves town, Frankie introduces Zack to all of his friends.  Everyone laughs about how Zack is “stolen boy.”  Zack’s going to parties and having a good time.  However, Johnny returns and reveals that he’s been doing some thinking, as well as talking to his lawyer.  Regardless of whether Zack’s enjoying himself, both Johnny and Frankie could go to prison for kidnapping him.  Frankie argues that Zack won’t tell anyone about what happened.  Maybe they could just pay him off.  Johnny thinks it might be easier to just have him killed.  Frankie’s not a murderer but what about Elvis Schmidt (Shawn Hatosy)?  Elvis is a loser who desperately wants to be a part of Johnny’s crew and he owes Johnny almost as much money as Jake does.  How far would Elvis be willing to go?

(While this plays out, the film keeps a running tally of everyone who witnesses Zack not only being kidnapped but also held hostage.  In the end, there were at least 32 witnesses but none of them said a word.)

Alpha Dog is based on the true story of Jesse James Hollywood and the murder of 15 year-old Nicholas Markowitz.  Hollywood spent five years as a fugitive from justice, hiding out in Brazil and reportedly being protected by his wealthy family.  He was arrested shortly before the Sundance premiere of Alpha Dog.  Since it was filmed before Hollywood’s arrest and subsequent conviction, Alpha Dog changed his name to Johnny Truelove.  Johnny Truelove is a good name but it’s nowhere near as memorable as Jesse James Hollywood.

Alpha Dog sticks close to the facts of the case, providing a disturbing portrait of a group of aimless wannabe gangsters who, insulated by money and privilege, ended up getting in over their heads and committing a terrible crime.  Emile Hirsch gives one of his best performances as the sociopathic Johnny Truelove while Ben Foster is both frightening and, at times, sympathetic as Jake.  Justin Timberlake is compelling as he wrestles with his conscience while Shawn Hatosy is properly loathsome as the type of idiot that everyone knows but wish they didn’t.  The dearly missed Anton Yelchin is heartbreaking and poignant as Zack.  And finally, there’s Harry Dean Stanton.  Stanton doesn’t say a lot in this movie.  Often times, he’s just hovering in the background.  The moment when he reveals his true self is one of the best in the movie.

As I said, I sometimes feel as if I’m the only person who likes this movie.  It got mixed reviews when it was released and, in the years since, it rarely seems to ever get mentioned in a positive context.  Personally, I think it’s a well-done portrait of privilege, stupidity, and the lengths to which people will go to avoid taking a stand.  In the end, no one escapes punishment but it’s the rich guy who, at the very least, gets to spend at least a few years enjoying his freedom in Brazil.

Previous Sundance Film Reviews:

  1. Blood Simple
  2. I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore
  3. Circle of Power
  4. Old Enough
  5. Blue Caprice
  6. The Big Sick

Lisa Marie’s Six Favorite Super Bowl Commercials!


As you may know, if you’re one of our longtime readers, I only watch the Super Bowl for one reason.  Right now, I know that at least three TSL contributors are happy because the Patriots won.  And I know that at least one is upset that the Falcons lost.  But me — all I care about are the commercials.

What were the commercials like this year?  They weren’t terrible.  As tends to happen with Super Bowl commercials, quite a few of them tried way too hard.  A lot of people are going to go crazy praising the more political of the commercials.  A few commercials attempted to comment on everything that’s going on in this country right now.  That’s their right but I always find it amusing when big, faceless corporations spend millions on commercials bragging about how progressive they supposedly are.

That said, it was fairly easy for me to pick my six favorite commercials this year.  It was also pretty easy for me to pick my least favorite commercial.  Seriously, Febreze, what the Hell?

Here’s my top six.  I’m not saying that these commercials would convince me to buy or do anything.  But they did amuse me and that’s the important thing!

6) Yellow Tail Wine

I hardly ever drink so I don’t have any idea whether Yellow Tail is a good wine or not.  To be honest, I really don’t care.  Nothing bores me more than when people start getting all technical and in-depth about wine.  The important thing is that the kangaroo is cute.

In fact, he’s almost as cute as the beaver in this 2008 commercial from Australia.

5) Tide

“I know, you’re trending.”  This made me laugh out loud.

4) Bai

Christopher Walken and Justin Timberlake need to do more commercials together.

3) Wix.Com

Speaking of pairings that unexpectedly work, I hope that Gal Gadot and Jason Statham will return for this commercial’s sequel.

Finally, for my top two spots, I have to admit that I’ve gone back and forth as to which one of these commercials should come in first and which should come in second.  I was even tempted to declare a tie but, in the end, one commercial managed to cling to the top spot.

First, here’s the runner-up:

2) Snickers

This commercial didn’t get much attention in the days leading up to the game.  It probably didn’t cost a lot to make.  It wasn’t trendy.  It wasn’t flashy. It most definitely wasn’t political.  But, by highlighting the absurdity of Super Bowl commercials, it nearly won the night.  (Plus, it features Adam Driver and who doesn’t love that?)

And finally, my pick for the best commercial of Super Bowl LI…

(Drum roll, please…)

1) Squarespace

John Malkovich!

Playing Catch-Up: Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (dir by Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone)


Have you heard of Conner4Real?

If you haven’t, you’re probably just old or else you don’t keep up with what’s happening in the world of popular music.  His real name is Conner Friel and he used to be a member of the Style Boyz.  Of course, the Style Boyz eventually broke up.  Kid Brain became a farmer.  Kid Contact became a DJ.  And Kid Conner — well, he became Conner4Real and he became a bigger star as a solo artist than he ever was as a Style Boy.  His debut album, Thriller, Also, broke records.

But the follow-up, Connquest … well, Connquest wasn’t quite as acclaimed.  In fact, it was hated by just about everyone.  This is despite featuring classic songs like:

Finest Girl (Bin Laden Song)

Mona Lisa

and Equal Rights (featuring P!nk).

Fortunately, when Conner4Real was facing his greatest existential crisis, a film crew was present to record his struggle.  For those of us who were fascinated by the career of Conner4Real, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is a chance to see how Conner dealt with everything from his terminally ill pet turtle to the elaborate marriage proposal ceremony that led to Seal being attacked by wild wolves.  We would have gotten to see Conner and his manager defeat a swarm of mutant bees but, unfortunately, that happened right after the only time that Conner’s manager asked the film crew to stop filming.

Oh well, these things happen.

So, as you should have guessed from all that, Popstar is not a serious film.  It’s a mockumentary, with the emphasis on mock.  It was also one of the funniest films of 2016, a spot-on parody of the silliness and pretensions of fame.  Conner is a combination of Justin Bieber and Macklemore at their shallowest, a well-meaning but thoroughly empty-headed singer.  In fact, if Conner was played by anyone other than Andy Samberg, he would be so annoying that the film would run the risk of being unwatchable.

But fortunately, Conner is played by Andy Samberg.  It’s hard to think of anyone who plays dumb with quite the same panache as Andy Samberg does.  There are plenty of lines in Popstar that shouldn’t work but they do, specifically because they’re being delivered by Samberg.  He brings just the right amount of sweetly sincere stupidity to the role.  Almost despite yourself, you find yourself hoping that things will work out for Conner and the other Style Boyz.  Conner may not deserve to be as big a star as he is but it was obviously going to happen to some idiot so why not a sincere one?

Samberg is not the only funny person in Popstar.  The movie is full of funny people, from Sarah Silverman to Bill Hader to the always underrated Tim Meadows.  It’s also full of celebrity cameos and I have to admit that I usually tend to cringe when I see too many people playing themselves.  But in Popstar, it works.  One need only rewatch something like Zoolander 2 to see how well Popstar pulls off its celebrity cameos.

Sadly, as funny as Popstar was, it was also one of the biggest bombs of 2016.  (The trailer, it must be said, did not do the film justice.)  However, I expect that it will soon develop a strong cult following.  In a few years, we’ll get a sequel.  It probably won’t be as as good.

Oh well.  These things happen.

Guilty Pleasure No. 29: On The Line (dir by Eric Bross)


OnTheLineposter

Last night, as I watched Dead 7, I could not help but think about the 2001 film, On The Line.  Don’t get me wrong, On The Line does not feature any zombies and there’s next to no violence.  However, much like Dead 7, it does feature quite a few boy banders.  In fact, with the exception of JC Chasez, every member of *NSYNC makes an appearance in On The Line.  Lance Bass stars in the movie.  Joey Fatone plays his best friend.  Finally, at the end of the film, in a scene that is so homophobic that it practically screams 2001, Justin Timberlake and Chris Kirkpatrick show up as a flamboyant makeup artist and an even more flamboyant hairstylist.

Lance plays Kevin, a shy and somewhat nerdy advertising exec who lives in Chicago.  Kevin falls in love easily but he’s always been too shy to have a serious relationship.  One day, Kevin is returning home from work on the train when he starts talking to Abbey (Emanuelle Chriqui).  It turns out that they both love the Chicago Cubs and Al Green!  (Oh my God!  Who would have guessed that two people living in Chicago would both love the local sports team!?)  It also turns out that both Kevin and Abbey can name all the Presidents in order!  Obviously, they are meant to be!  The universe arranged for them to both be on the train at the same time so that they can get married, have children, and discuss the presidency of Rutherford Hayes while watching the Cubs and listening to Al Green.

Unfortunately, despite being a single guy who has just totally hit it off with a single girl who is obviously attracted to him, Kevin forgets to get her phone number.  The movie explains this by saying that Kevin is shy but if he’s so shy that he can’t even give out his phone number then how did he ever find the courage to tell Abbey that he loves Al Green in the first place?

(Actually, Abbey isn’t really single but her fiancée is such a jerk that she might as well be.  Anyone who has ever seen a movie knows that Abbey is not meant to marry a guy who spends all of his time on the phone, yelling, “Sell!  Sell!”)

Of course, if Kevin had gotten her phone number, there wouldn’t have been a movie.  So, instead, he recruits his loser friends (including Joey Fatone) to help him track down Abbey.  He puts up flyers all over Chicago.  A story about him appears in the newspaper.  Soon, the entire city is obsessed with whether or not Kevin will find this girl that he talked to for ten minutes.  However, Abbey apparently never watches TV or reads the newspaper because somehow, she doesn’t know all of this is going on…

There’s an interesting subtext to On The Line.  Lance Bass himself produced the film.  Five years after On The Line flopped at the box office, Lance officially came out as gay (and, it must be said, that whenever Kevin talks to Abbey, he comes across less like a future lover and more like every girl’s ideal gay best friend).  Lance has said that he was still deeply closeted when he made On The Line and there are times when the film seems to be almost desperate to convince us of Kevin’s (and, by association, Lance’s) heterosexuality.  In this context, that end credits scene with Chris and Justin, limp-wristed and speaking in exaggerated falsetto, is even ickier.  “Gay?” the film says to be saying, “If there was a gay person in On The Line, would Justin Timberlake be playing a makeup artist?  Would Chris Kirkpatrick be willing to appear as a hairdresser named Angelo?”

On The Line is not a particularly good film and yet, oddly, it’s one that I always find myself watching whenever I come across it on cable.  Lance may be miscast and he’s obviously uncomfortable in the majority of his scenes but he’s also likable.  You never believe for a second that Kevin and Abbey will last as a couple but Lance seems like a nice guy and Emmanuelle Chriqui is so pretty that you’re happy that they at least got to go on a date or two before breaking up and never seeing each other again.  They’re both pretty and it’s fun to watch pretty people talk to each other, even if they do lack a certain romantic chemistry.  As well, though his character is pretty obnoxious, Joey Fatone is still always fun to watch.

On The Line is no Dead 7 but it’s still watchable in its own stupid way.  I would suggest, however, skipping the end credits

Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan

6 Late Reviews: Atlas Shrugged: Part II, Project X, This Means War, A Thousand Words, Trouble With The Curve, The Vow


2012 is quickly drawing to an end and seriously, where has the time gone?  I’m seriously running behind in reviewing all of the films that I’ve seen in 2012 so, in the interest of getting caught up, here are six quick (and late) reviews of some of the film that I saw earlier this year.

(Fortunately, seeing as how we live in a world of Netflix, DVD, Blu-ray, and On Demand service, it’s never too late to review any film.)

1) Atlas Shrugged: Part II (dir by John Putch)

Picking up where the first Atlas Shrugged ended, Atlas Shrugged: Part II continues to tell the story of how America was ruined by elitist do-gooders and how the smartest people in the world responded by uttering the phrase, “Who Is John Galt?” and then vanishing.

There’s a lot of bad stuff that I could say about Atlas, Shrugged Part II.  I could point out how close to nothing actually happens in the film.  I understand that this is the second part of a proposed film trilogy but, seriously, that’s all that Atlas Shrugged Part II has in common with The Two Towers.  With the exception of the great Patrick Fabian (who has a lot of fun playing a weasel), the cast isn’t memorable and the film is full of slow spots.

Part II was made by a different director and with a far more professional cast than Part I but that proves to be a mistake.  Part of the odd charm of Atlas Shrugged, Part I was that it was such a low-budget, pulpy affair.  Atlas Shrugged, Part II is a lot more slick and, as a result, it feels a lot less sincere.

That said, I couldn’t help but enjoy Atlas Shrugged, Part II because, much like For Greater Glory, the film flew so completely in the face of conventional cinematic political statements.  Atlas Shrugged Part II might not be a great (or even a good) film but it annoyed all of the professional film critics and it’s always amusing to watch the same critical establishment that embraced Avatar whine about how any other film is too heavy-handed.

Am I, therefore, recommending Atlas Shrugged, Part II?  Not really.  I tend to learn towards the Libertarian point of view when it comes to politics and even I found the film to be tedious.  That said, if you ever really want to annoy your wannabe hipster friend (the same one who leaves a hundred comments a day over at the A.V. Club), Atlas Shrugged, Part II might make the perfect holiday present.

2) Project X (dir by Nima Nourizadeh)

In California, two loathsome high school students — Costa (Oliver Cooper) and J.B.(Johnathan Daniel Brown) — throw a birthday party for their friend Thomas (Thomas Mann).  Thomas is a stereotypical nice guy but he’s also friends with Costa and J.B. and that makes him loathsome by association.  The party quickly gets out of control and eventually, houses are destroyed and a SWAT team is called in to restore order.

Oh!  And the entire film is presented as being a bunch of “found footage.”  What that means is that we have to sit through all the usual stuff of people acting awkward in an attempt to convince us that we’re not watching a movie, despite the fact that we clearly are.

Project X fails on so many levels that it’s hard to even know where to begin.

It’s impossible to sympathize with the film’s three main characters and let’s just say that Oliver Cooper is no Jonah Hill.

There’s no real build-up to the party getting out of control and hence, most of the film’s comedy falls flat.  This is the type of film where a midget happens to show up at the party just so he can then be tossed into an oven.  Uwe Boll would probably call that genius but, for the rest of us, it just feels like desperation on the part of the filmgoers.  (You can just here them going, “Midgets are always funny!”)

Finally, worst of all, Project X is the latest film to use the whole found footage gimmick as a way to try to explain away the fact that it’s just not a very good movie.  Seriously, mediocre filmmakers of America — it’s time to move on to a new gimmick!

3) This Means War (dir. by McG)

Two CIA Agents (Chris Pine and Tom Hardy) set aside their friendship and go to war when they realize that they’re both attempting to win the heart of the same woman (played by Reese Witherspoon).   Fortunately for them, they’ve both managed to fall in love with the one woman in the world too stupid to realize that there’s anything strange going on.  Chelsea Handler is also in this film.  She plays Witherspoon’s best friend and delivers all of her lines in this kind of depressed monotone that seems to suggest that she’d rather be co-starring with Whitney Cummings.  Eventually, a lot of things explode and well, anyway … bleh.

Seriously, This Means War has absolutely no right to be as boring as it is.  Outside of this film, Chris Pine and Tom Hardy are both hot, Reese Witherspoon is likable, and even Chelsea Handler still makes me laugh on occasion.  And yet, when all four of these people are put together in the same film, the end result is a mess that just gets more and more annoying with each passing second.

Most of the blame has to be put on the director.  McG never finds a consistent tone for his film and never seems to be sure whether he’s parodying or celebrating the conventions of both action films and romantic comedies.

Myself, I just find it funny that people actually address him as “McG.”

4) A Thousand Words (dir by Brian Robbins)

Jack (Eddie Murphy) is a literary agent who talks too much.  So, one night, a tree with a thousand leaves magically appears in his back yard.  Every time that Jack says a word, a leaf falls off of the tree.  Luckily, Jack happens to know a new age guru (Cliff Curtis) who explains that once every leaf has fallen, Jack will die.  As a result, the formerly glib Jack learns the importance of saying just the right thing and he becomes a better husband, father, and son as a result.

A Thousand Words is just as bad as the above plot synopsis suggests and that’s all that really needs to be said about it.  Wasting a thousand words talking about A Thousand Words would be a mistake indeed.

5)  Trouble With The Curve (dir by Robert Lorenz)

Widower Gus (Clint Eastwood) is an aging baseball scout who is slowly losing his eyesight.  Mickey (Amy Adams) is Gus’s daughter, a driven lawyer who has a strained relationship with her father.

And together … they solve crimes!

No, not really.  Instead, Gus is given one last assignment and Mickey, who is both concerned for her father’s well-being and wants to try to repair their fractured relationship, accompanies him.  At first, Gus doesn’t want Mickey around but she eventually proves her worth to him and gets to flirt with a young scout played by Justin Timberlake as well.  So, it’s a win-win.

 I don’t know much about baseball (beyond the fact that my sister Erin yells at the TV a lot whenever the Rangers are playing) but Trouble With The Curve is such a predictable movie that you really don’t have to know much about the game to be able to follow the plot.  That said, Trouble With The Curve might be predictable but it’s also a genuinely sweet and likable film.  Timberlake and Adams make for a really cute couple and it’s always fun to watch Eastwood growl at a world that never fails to disappoint him.

6) The Vow (dir by Michael Sucsy)

Paige (Rachel McAdams) and her husband Leo (Channing Tatum) are in a horrific car accident.  Paige is sent flying through the windshield and when she recovers consciousness, she no longer remembers being married or anything else about her life after she first met Leo.  While Leo attempts to get Paige to fall in love with him for a second time, Paige’s parents (Sam Neill and Jessica Lange) attempt to convince her to divorce him and return to her previous life as a pampered law student with a rich fiancée (played by Scott Speedman).

The Vow is a lot like Trouble With The Curve in that it’s totally predictable but, at the same time, it’s so sweet and likable that anyone who complains about the film being too predictable probably doesn’t have a heart.  Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum have a lot of chemistry and anyone who complains that this film is too much like a Lifetime movie has obviously never experienced a really great Lifetime movie.

A Quickie With Lisa Marie: Bad Teacher (dir. by Jake Kasdan)


So, last Friday night, I went and saw the new Cameron Diaz comedy, Bad Teacher.  Right now, all sorts of mainstream critics are running out of ways to trash this film but, for the most part, they seem to overlooking one important fact.  Flawed and unfocused as this film may be, it’s funny.  It made me laugh, it made Jeff laugh, it made my sister laugh, and it made my friend Evelyn laugh.  (Of course, according to Evelyn, I laugh at everything, even if it means I’m the only person laughing, but that’s another story.  Hi, Evelyn!)  It also made almost the entire audience laugh.  Admittedly, it was a small audience.  I guess everyone else was busy crying at Cars 2.  (It’s a Pixar film after all.)  As for Bad Teacher, it may not be a great film but it works.

Anyway, Bad Teacher tells the story of a very bad teacher, played by Cameron Diaz.  She doesn’t care about her students, goes out of her way to antagonize her fellow students, and shows up to work everyday either hungover or stoned.  She’s also snobbish, petty, shallow, and you’d totally hate her except for the fact that 1) you can’t help but admire the way that Diaz throws herself into being as crass and as shallow as possible (she may be playing a vain character but there’s no vanity in her performance) and 2) every other teacher in the school is so annoyingly perky and movie perfect that you can’t help but share Diaz’s disgust with them. 

Anyway, Diaz is teaching because her rich fiancée has dumped her.  (One of the better jokes in the film is the number of lies that Diaz comes up with to explain why her engagement ended.)  She is content to spend the school day asleep while her class watches movies featuring other, better teachers.  However, then she meets the new substitute teacher who is really kinda creepy with his constant “up with humanity” perkiness but is also 1) rich and 2) played Justin Timberlake so he’s like totally hot.  However, Timberlake is dating Diaz’s sworn enemy, the incredibly upbeat Amy Squirrel (played by Lucy Pond).  Diaz realizes that the only way she’ll ever capture Timberlake’s attention is if she can raise the money necessary to get bigger boobs.  The rest of the film basically deals with Diaz’s efforts to raise the money for her boob job (among other things, she accepts bribes from parents and embezzles from the school car wash) while continuing to pursue Timberlake and be pursued by the gym teacher (Jason Segal).

That’s actually a lot of plot for an 89 minute film and, as a result, Bad Teacher does feel overly episodic and ultimately disjointed.  But so what?  I laughed consistently for 89 minutes and that’s the important thing.  It’s not that the film itself is filled with witty lines as much as it’s the fact that the entire cast so totally throws themselves into playing these genuinely odd characters.  Pond steals every scene she’s in and Timberlake especially seems to be having fun spoofing his own image.  If you think that watching people dry hump while fully clothed can’t be hilarious, than you haven’t seen Justin Timberlake in Bad Teacher.

For me, there were two other things that made Bad Teacher a success. 

1) It confirms what we all always suspected and knew in middle school and high school — that our teachers were a bunch of horny, pot-smoking degenerates.  Admittedly, I used to actually get high with my drama teacher — shhhhh!  Don’t tell anyone! — but I’ve always figured that same was probably true of every high school drama student.  This film confirms that the history and math teachers were just as stoned.

2) It features this scene, which got laughs and applause from the Dallas audience that I saw it with:

What Lisa Watched Last Night: The 83rd Annual Academy Awards


Last night, I watched the 83rd Annual Academy Awards.

Why Was I Watching It?

Why was I watching it?  I was watching it because I love awards shows.  I love them in all of their tacky, silly glory.  I was watching for the clothes, the celebrity meltdowns, and the infamous acceptance speeches.  I was watching because James Franco is hot and Anne Hathaway is adorable.  I was watching because I loved Black Swan and I was only mildly impressed with the Social Network.  I was watching because, as a film lover, my year starts and ends with the Oscar ceremony.  You boys have got your super bowl.  I’ve got my Academy Awards.

What Was It About

This year, the big question was would best picture be taken by the Social Network or by the King’s SpeechI predicted that the Social Network would win and I was wrong.  The Academy gave best picture to The King’s Speech which, unlike Black Swan (my personal choice for best picture), is a film that is very easy to love.  Don’t get me wrong.  I loved The King’s Speech and, seeing as how I wasn’t exactly a huge fan of The Social Network, I can’t complain about the Academy’s decision (though apparently almost everyone else can).

By the way, as far as my Oscar predictions went, I ended up going 15 for 22.  I correctly predicted all of the categories except for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Foreign Language Film, Best Editing, Best Costume Design, and Best Cinematography.  So, in other words, I correctly predicted all of the awards except for the ones that actually mattered.  However, I am proud to say that, as the broadcast started, I predicted that it would last for 3 hours and 15 minutes and by God, I was right.

So there.

What Worked

Roger Ebert called last night’s ceremony the worst he had ever seen so I guess it’s no surprise that I actually enjoyed it.  I certainly felt it was an improvement over last year’s ceremony which was pretty boring except for when Kathryn Bigelow won best director.  There weren’t any endless tributes, self-congratulatory speeches about how important the film industry is for the survival of the world, and we didn’t have to sit through any pre-scripted, awkward banter between poorly matched presenters. 

As for the hosts, James Franco appeared to have mentally checked out before the show actually started but he was nice to look at.  Anne Hathaway, meanwhile, was a bundle of nervous energy and you know what?  I would have been too.  For the first time in my history of watching the Oscars, I could actually relate on a personal level to what was happening on the stage.  I’ll take the charming awkwardness of Franco and Hathaway over Hugh Jackman any day.  Ebert disagrees.  He apparently tweeted that Kevin Spacey should host.  And, if I ever felt like spending three and a half hours watching some smug jackass singing Under the Sea, I’d agree with him.

I liked the opening film montage, which featured Hathaway and Franco going into Alec Baldwin’s dreams in order to learn how to host the show.  If nothing else, it paid tribute to just how much of a cultural phenomenon Inception actually was last year.  (At the same time, it also pointed out just how ludicrous it is that Christopher Nolan — who is hot along with being a genius, by the way — was not nominated for best director.)

Probably my favorite presenters were Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake.  Kunis looked great and Timberlake won my heart all over again by announcing that he was actually Banksy.

The In Memoriam Tribute was actually pretty touching this year and I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that the audience has finally figured out how inappropriate it is to break out into applause in the middle of it.  A lot of viewers were apparently angered that Corey Haim wasn’t included.  Personally, I was disappointed (but not surprised) to see that Jean Rollin was left out.

For me, the best acceptance speech came from David Seidler as he accepted his Oscar for writing The King’s Speech.  His speech touched me as a former stutterer but on top of that, he delivered it with just the right amount of humility and humor.  Aaron Sorkin could learn a thing or two from Mr. Seidler.

Finally, I said earlier that I was hoping for just one upset win to keep things interesting and, to my surprise, the show provided me one when Tom Hooper beat David Fincher for best director.  Even among those who expected the King’s Speech to take best picture, the general assumption seemed to be that Fincher would win best director.  Personally, I think Fincher would have won best director except for the fact that people tended to think of The Social Network as being an Aaron Sorkin film as opposed to a David Fincher film.  In all of the preliminaries leading up the Oscars (the Golden Globes, the critics awards), the emphasis was always put on Sorkin’s screenplay as opposed to Fincher’s direction.  David Fincher was almost treated as an after thought and, as a result, Tom Hooper won best director.

(Of course, personally, I was rooting for Darren Aronofsky.)

Of the nominated films, Black Swan was my favorite, followed by 127 Hours, Inception, Winter’s Bone, and the King’s Speech.  I thought The Social Network was a good film but certainly not a great film and, to be honest, I’ve come to resent being told again and again by various online, self-appointed film gurus that my refusal to unconditionally love The Social Network is somehow an indication of a character defect on my part.  Seriously, some of these Social Network partisans make the Avatar people look tolerant by comparison.  I’m sure these people have spent last night and today ranting their little hearts out about how the Academy sucks and how The Social Network is clearly the greatest film ever made.  And to them, all I can say is get over it.  If you were watching the Academy Awards because you seriously felt that the awards actually mean anything, then you’ve obviously still got a lot of growing up to do.

That said, I make no apologies for being ticked off over the award for Best Feature Documentary but more about that below.

What Didn’t Work

Well, I’ll get the big one out of the way first.  This was the only time I actually got angry while watching last night’s show.  I’m talking, of course, about Inside Job winning best documentary.  This upset me even though I had actually predicted that Inside Job would defeat Exit Through The Gift Shop.  My objection comes down to this — Inside Job was the Capt. Hindsight of documentaries this year.  Inside Job was basically a documentary that told us what we already know and then encouraged us to pat ourselves on the back for agreeing.  In a year that was actually a pretty good one for documentaries, Inside Job was the least challenging of all of the nominees and therefore, I guess it’s not a shock that it won.  Meanwhile, Exit Through The Gift Shop — a film which should have been nominated for best picture — was ignored.

Add to that, I was really hoping for a chance to see how Banksy would accept the award or if he would even show up at all (or if he would turn out to be Justin Timberlake).  Instead, I got the director of Inside Job going, “You know, nobody’s been arrested for the bad economy yet.”  Well, if that’s what you think should happen then go to talk to the people who make and enforce laws.  But you’re on an awards show, buddy.  And if you think anyone watching an awards show is going to take action just because of some comment you weakly muttered during your acceptance speech, then you really are out of touch with reality.

We were reminded one too many times that we were watching “the young and hip Oscars.”  The young and hip Oscars would not have featured Celine Dion singing.

I really wish the Oscars would stop trying to force some artificial “theme” on each year’s ceremony.  This year, they took time to celebrate “the greatest films” of Oscar Past.  The problem, of course, is that most of the greatest films of Oscar past didn’t win best picture.  Usually, they ended up losing to movies like How Green Was My Valley, The Greatest Show on Earth, and Crash.

Aaron Sorkin won best adapted screenplay as we all knew he would and, as usual, he came across as smug and condescending during his acceptance speech.  The whole, “Daddy’s an Oscar winner now…” thing would have been touching if not for the fact that it’s been used at least once at every single Oscar ceremony in history.

Trent Reznor did not say, “I want to fuck you like an animal” while accepting his award for scoring The Social Network.  However, I must say, Trent cleans up well.

Technically, yes, James Franco was not real impressive as co-host.  The general consensus on twitter was that he was stoned but I can’t say too much against him because he’s James Franco.  Even when he showed up in drag, he was still James Franco.  I know some people looked at Franco last night and thought, He’s not even trying.  I looked at Franco and thought, yum…..

“Oh my God!  Just Like Me!” Moments

There were a few and most of them had to do with Anne Hathaway.  Most of the comments on twitter concerning Hathaway’s performance as host were not kind but I don’t care.  I love her and I think her lack of polish was actually rather adorable.  If I was hosting the Oscars, I would probably take a few moments to brag about my dress as well.  I know I’d certainly probably start giggling at random moments.  I also know that I’d probably get a little bit annoyed with James Franco’s lack of commitment to the show as well but you know what?  I’d still get all sorts of naked with him after the show because he’s James Franco and he just does things to me.

(If anything, last night’s show proved that the difference between a hot guy and all other guys is that a hot guy can get away with it.)

My other big “Oh my God!  Just like me!” moment came when Melissa Leo won for best supporting actress for the Fighter and dropped the F-bomb on national TV.  I would so do that too.  I mean, it’s an Oscar!  God knows what I’d end up saying if I ever got one.

Lessons Learned:

I’ve seriously got a thing for James Franco.