A month ago I gave you the six mortal locks of the Best Picture category, movies destined to receive a nomination. I'm now ready to cut that down to the two films with a legitimate chance at victory, making me either 1) Ridiculously foolish or 2) Exceptionally brave. Maybe both. But unlike last year's depressing Avatar vs. Hurt Locker battle this one offers real intrigue, and so it deserves as much advanced bloggin' as we can give it. You ready?
127 Hours vs. True Grit. That's the Academy's choice, and it's a great one for a number of reasons. First off, we'll have two returning champions, Danny Boyle versus The Coen Brothers. Secondly, the match-up will pit two disparate styles of cinema against each other, and whichever way The Academy goes will say something significant about where our artists and culture are headed.
In one corner you've got 127 Hours, Danny Boyle's "true story brought to life," starring "it" guy James Franco. Based solely on the trailer, the film is brightly lit, offering quick cuts, rapid tonal shifts, and a dynamic tale. In the other corner you've got The Coen Bros. offering up a remake of a classic, wry and dark, Jeff Bridges squinting quietly off into the distance. Slumdog Millionaire, a tale steeped in humanity, never got a chance to face off against No Country for Old Men, a tale steeped in dread. I loved both of 'em, but you'd never confuse the directors or the films, would you?
Which brings me back to last year's Best Picture race. As the field was winnowed down it became apparent that Avatar was on a collision course with Hurt Locker (no matter how hard I tried to get the superior film, Inglourious Basterds, into the mix). It was pretty clear what the narrative was, exes facing off, the commercial titan versus the "controversial" indie, the general public juggernaut against a film that desperately needed a DVD push. The Academy made the call, correctly I think, going with a film that needed support over a movie that was big fun ... but fell apart in the last hour.
This year will be much tougher to call, but infinitely more interesting. You'll have a generation gap, Jeff Bridges battling James Franco, and a remake taking on a true story is compelling as well. A.R. Rahman's soundtrack versus Johnny Cash's mournful twang. But most of all it will be a verdict on style. Does The Academy goes with Boyle's more visceral and earnest method of cinema? Or do they reward the quieter, measured approach of True Grit? Old versus new, light versus dark, authentic versus intelligent. Now that's a race I want to tune into. A little over four months until we find out!
Even if you've never read a Tom Clancy novel, you know Tom Clancy. He's the novel writer behind The Hunt for the Red October, Patriot Games, and Clear and Present Danger. Based on those titles you're thinking "Military hero stuff, got it." Not so fast! He did two books that weren't Jack Ryan or hero based, and one of them is being adapted into a film. That book is called Without Remorse and it's completely atypical of Tom Clancy's oeuvre (the other one, Red Storm Rising, is a well-paced story of global warfare).
Without Remorse reminds me a little bit of Payback, it's a movie about an anti-hero, gritty and painful, heartbreaking and sudden. The book claims, at least on Wikipedia, to be part of the "Ryanverse" but I'd argue, having read all of Clancy's fiction, that it is far more of an origin story for a fellow named Clark (played by Willem Dafoe back in Clear and Present Danger). Without Remorse has much more in common with a series like Dexter than it does with anything Cold War related.
So when the news came down that Shawn Ryan, creator of The Shield, was tapped to handle the adaptation it put a little hop in my step. He's the perfect guy to handle it, as Without Remorse deals much more with street crime and drugs than it does far-flung political intrigue. I'm really looking forward to this project, it's the one Clancy story that evokes emotion while eschewing military hardware.
On October 23, 2009 a sea change occurred. Paranormal Activity, in its fifth weekend out, beat the newly released Saw VI straight up at the box office, $21m to $14m. It pulled off this feat with a thousand less theaters, and coming off a $19m weekend on October 18.
There were a number of ways to parse this occurrence. The first theory was that Paranormal Activity and Saw VI were going for the same audience, and Paranormal Activity won, while Saw VI limped to its worst opening and worst total box office of the franchise. The second theory holds that the Saw franchise and the Paranormal Activity crowd don't mix, and the Saw VI result was merely evidence of a series that had been on the decline since 2007's Saw IV. Whatever the case, I hold that it's good news for movie fans the whole world round.
The Paranormal Activity franchise is high on suspense, low on gore, and shot on the cheap. It feels more intimate than contrived torture porn. It opens up the horror genre, if it is even in that category, up to a wider group of folks. You couldn't take a date to Saw -- you can take one to Paranormal Activity. I don't want to be the guy that says "Back in my day," but back in my day scary films didn't have to beat you over the head with blood. Let's chalk up films like Hostel and Saw to the previous decade of irrational exuberance and discretionary income. Where will we get our scares from here on out? Hand-held cameras, lower budgets, and limited special effects. Anyone with a camera has a shot at making a splash, and you won't need to keep upping the ante on your "kills." At this point, go ahead and insert the inspiring sounds of "What a Wonderful World" (The Iz version) into this conversation. And check out Paranormal Activity 2 this weekend, you'll get a few jumps. Saw 3-D next weekend? I can't go for that, no can do.
On that note, I hope you have a weekend without any special effects at all.
Laremy is the lead critic and senior producer for a website named Film.com. He's also available on Twitter.