With the Academy Awards ceremony coming on Sunday, there is only one new local opening on Friday, Feb. 20 -- although Defiance is returning, in case you missed it. Last Chance Harvey opened nationally on Jan. 16 and seems to have gotten lost in the Oscar shuffle. Set in London, the film stars Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson in a sort of later-life romance. They meet at an airport bar where Hoffman's character is drowning his disappointing life in alcohol and the rest is romantic in vino veritas. I never thought of Hoffman and Thompson as a romantic duo, but who knows? Rated PG-13 for brief strong language. 92m. At the Broadway.
Risking total humiliation, I am reviving the Who Will Win/Who Should Win Oscar predictions, and happily my Journal colleague Ryan Burns agreed to join me. His comments and both our picks for eight major categories are below.
From Ryan: Yes, Hollywood's annual self-love fest is silly, grotesquely opulent and in the grand scheme, totally meaningless, particularly in these (all together now) "dire economic times." But what greater escape in a fiscal downturn than the movies? (The Great Depression was a Golden Age for cinema.) All of which is merely a convenient excuse -- my justification for watching The Oscars, something I do every year regardless of the state of the economy. A big part of my nerdy fandom is predicting the winners and then bitching when the big golden eunuch goes the wrong way. (I'm still bitter about 1990, when Dances With Wolves beat Goodfellas for Best Picture.)
Ryan: Will win: Slumdog Millionaire. Should win: I watched Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King last weekend, and it filled me with magical movie joy. No such film stood head and shoulders above the competition in 2008, which isn't to say there weren't some outstanding ones, though Slumdog Millionaire and Milk are the only two in this category that would make my top 10. I'll go with Slumdog because it so clearly was not made with Oscar in mind, and because it's wonderful.
Charlie: It's hard to disagree here so I'm also going with Slumdog, and it should win, but Curious Case has an outside chance.
Ryan: Will win: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire. Should win: Danny Boyle, though Christopher Nolan should have gotten some nomination love for The Dark Knight.
Charlie: You can't not pick the director of your Best Film choice; Boyle also should win.
Ryan: Will win: Sean Penn, Milk. Should win: Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, with a shout-out to the late Heath Ledger, who's nominated for Best Supporting Actor, but if he wasn't the star of The Dark Knight I don't know who was.
Charlie: Penn will win, but Richard Jenkins should win.
Ryan: Will win: Kate Winslet, The Reader. Should win: I'm tempted to say Sally Hawkins, who unbelievably wasn't even nominated for her dazzling-as-the-sun-itself performance in Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky. But I think Winslet did give the year's best female performance -- her un-nominated turn in Revolutionary Road.
Charlie: There's no better actor than Winslet and she will win, but Anne Hathaway should win in this case for her turn in the off-beat Rachel Getting Married.
Best Supporting Actor
Ryan: Will win: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight. Should win: Since I put Ledger in the Lead Actor category, I'll give this one to Michael Shannon whose festering creepiness in Revolutionary Road stole scenes from two of Hollywood's best actors.
Charlie: This is a no-brainer category; of course it will be Ledger, and he should win.
Best Supporting Actress
Ryan: Will win: Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Should win: Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Charlie: Will win: Viola Davis (Doubt). Should win: the under-appreciated Marisa Tomei for The Wrestler.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Ryan: Will win: Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire. Should win: Justin Haythe, who's not even nominated, Revolutionary Road
Charlie: Will win: Slumdog. Should win: The Reader.
Best Original Screenplay
Ryan: Will win: Dustin Lance Black, Milk. Should win: Woody Allen, not nominated, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Charlie: Not having seen Frozen River, I have to go with Milk. Should win, though: Happy-Go-Lucky.
Looks like it comes down to the Supporting Actress category for bragging rights.
THE INTERNATIONAL: The International has villains everyone can hate these days: a large bank and its unscrupulous management. The fact that, as the title indicates, the bank is based in Europe with offices in the States just adds to the scale of the villainy it is capable of, and in this instance that villainy includes callous murder.
Arraigned against the evil forces are Louis Salinger (Clive Owen), an idealistic and driven Interpol agent and Manhattan A.D.A. Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts) who gets drawn into Salinger's quest to bring down the men behind the bank despite the fact that the rest of the world is either indifferent, ignorant or complicit in the bank's activities, which includes arms deals.
In fact, it transpires that the International Bank of Business and Credit is too useful to our government and others for them to make any attempt to bring the IBBC's officers to justice. This fact leads to the film's central moral and ethical dilemma: As with Batman in The Dark Knight, Salinger is faced with the possibility of having to go outside the law in order to accomplish his task, a move that goes against all he believes in.
While this dilemma is typical for financial thrillers, German director Tom Tykwer brings a nice intensity to the narrative along with impeccable pacing. Tykwer, who made his name in this country with the hip Run Lola Run in 1998, has clearly moved into more slick commercial films, but still brings a slightly off-beat style to The International, which, along with the solid acting, makes the film perhaps better than it should be. Watts is the very model of acting restraint here and Owen is credible if not as subtle. Plus, it was good to see the lead female and male characters have a purely professional relationship without the clutter of the silly romance that most such films inject into their stories.
The set piece for the film is a long gun battle at the Guggenheim. I wonder if Mayor Bloomberg knows how big a hit his budget is going to take to restore the place? The International will make two hours of your time go by nicely. Rated R for some sequences of violence and language. 118m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC: I have my own confession: Shopping for clothes doesn't even appear in my radar as a human activity, so I am probably not the ideal viewer for this "chick flick" exercise. Based on a series of novels by British writer Sophie Kinsella, Confessions of a Shopaholic seems lightweight even by the standards of this genre. In fact, the film retroactively makes the miserable Bridget Jones's Diary seem like a masterpiece of insight into the human condition. No wonder my film companion was lightly snoring within the first half-hour; the wonder is that she didn't leave altogether. I guess shopping doesn't float her boat, either.
The story, such as it is, focuses on Rebecca Bloomwood (Isla Fisher) who has moved to Manhattan so she can more completely feed her addiction. Since her job as a columnist for an outdoor magazine fails to support her tastes, she runs up a rather large credit card debt. Her dream is to work for the fashion magazine Alette, headed by Alette Naylor (Kristin Scott Thomas with a heavy French accent, a language she speaks fluently) but inexplicably ends up instead as a financial advice columnist for a magazine edited by Luke Brandon (Hugh Dancy). Actually, it's not inexplicable as Luke is destined to provide the romantic comedy aspect of the plot.
Throw in being a bridesmaid for her best friend and being stalked by a debt collector and you have the elements of a totally predictable film. Yet there's Ms. Fisher, who uses her terminal cuteness and very real comic sensibilities to make the viewer actually root for her. I can think of no other reason to sit through the film. Rated PG for mild language and some thematic elements. 105m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
FRIDAY THE 13th: Anyone in the target group for this film will find no surprises in the latest from the slasher franchise. In fact, simply by relying on the slasher parameters, the viewer will be able to pick out the woman who is destined to survive (sort of) the relentless attacks of the eternal Jason, played in this incarnation by stuntman Derek Mears. I attempted to ruin the suspense for my film companion by whispering early on that (name suppressed) was going to get away, but she didn't believe me anyway.
To the film's credit, this 2009 Friday ditches some of the ridiculous recent storylines and attempts to return to the roots of the slasher film, established as early as 1960 with Hitchcock's Psycho. After briefly referencing the 1980 film, the narrative is set in the present at Camp Crystal Lake, where we are introduced to the usual group of vacationing, binge drinking and gratuitously topless brain dead young people. Of course, you don't want to get attached because they'll be picked off one by one as they wander in the night woods or have sex -- unconsummated, alas -- in a lighted tent that nicely shows off the copulating shadows.
The main part of the narrative takes place six weeks later when Clay (Jared Padalecki) arrives at Crystal Lake searching for his missing sister Whitney (Amanda Righetti) at the same time as the latest group, which includes the actually talented Danielle Panabaker from the TV series Shark, of vacationing etc. From here, the film wends its way to its preordained climactic scene. As most viewers will know, this sort of story is only over until the next version picks up the thread.
For those interesting in delving more deeply into this genre, check out my favorite academic piece of criticism: Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film by Carol J. Clover. Rated R for strong bloody violence, some graphic sexual content, language and drug material. 97m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Minor.
BRIDE WARS. Best friends and brides-to-be find themselves at war when their wedding plans go awry. Rated PG. 94m. At The Movies.
CORALINE. Girl finds a secret door leading to a parallel, better reality. But there's a catch. Rated PG. 100m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and in 3-D at the Fortuna.
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON. Brad Pitt ages backward, Cate Blanchett ages forward, they enjoy blissful moments in the middle and confusion at either end. Rated PG-13. 166 m. At The Movies.
FIRED UP. High school football stars hatch a scheme that lands them in a sea of sexy ladies instead of summer football camp. Rated PG-13. 90m. At the Broadway.
GRAN TORINO. Veteran/racist/retired autoworker versus the local Asian gang-bangers. Rated R. 116m. At the Broadway and Fortuna.
HE'S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU. Women, men and their relationships. Rated PG-13. 132m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
HOTEL FOR DOGS. Kids faced with "no pets" rule in their new foster home convert abandoned hotel into foster home for doggies. Rated PG. 100m. At The Movies.
INKHEART. Beware of reading aloud: You may get sucked into the book's pages while a character gets released into the real world. Rated PG. 106m. At The Movies.
MILK. Chronicle of the political life and 1977 assassination of Harvey Milk, America's first openly gay public office-holder. Rated R. 128m. At the Minor.
NEW IN TOWN. Up-and-coming executive based in Miami takes assignment in the cuts and finds her life changed for the better. Rated PG. 96m. At The Movies.
PAUL BLART: MALL COP. Mall cop must man up to save the day when Santa's helpers at the mall stage a coup. Rated PG. 91m. At the Broadway and Fortuna.
PINK PANTHER 2. Inspector Jacques Clouseau is at it again. Rated PG. 93m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
PUSH. Trouble arises when shady government agency genetically transforms citizens into an army of psychic warriors. Rated PG-13. 111m. At Mill Creek and Broadway.
SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. Orphan from slums of Bombay who rocks India's Who Wants to be a Millionaire must clear his name of cheating before claiming his prize. Rated R. 121m. At the Broadway, the Minor and Fortuna.
TAKEN. Former spy launches one-man war to bring down gang that kidnapped his daughter. Rated PG-13. 91m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
TWILIGHT. Teen girl gets swept up in unorthodox romance with vampire. Rated PG-13. 122m. At The Movies.
UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS. The Death Dealers, a group of aristocratic vampires, versus the Lycans, barbaric werewolves. Rated R. 93m. At The Movies.
UNINVITED. Anna returns home from time in a psych unit to find her recently passed mom's nurse creepily infiltrating her life. Rated PG-13. At The Movies.
WRESTLER. Retired wrestler that rocked in the '80s attempts to stage a comeback in the ring. Rated R. 110m. At the Minor.