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The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (#110 of 3)

Poster Lab: Killing Them Softly

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Poster Lab: <em>Killing Them Softly</em>
Poster Lab: <em>Killing Them Softly</em>

You really can’t miss the irony in the Killing Them Softly poster designs, as both of them are about as soft as a shell casing. Be it the graphic of a loaded pistol pointing in your face, or the ultra-loud placement of sans serif font atop Brad Pitt’s shotgun wielder, this ad campaign aims to hit you hard, just in case that title was at all misleading. Released to coincide with Killing Them Softly’s premiere at Cannes, where the crime drama lost the Palme d’Or to Michael Haneke’s Amour, the first poster looks a whole lot like the front of a trendy T-shirt, and not just because of the flag fabric in that sunglasses silhouette. If not for the title, one would be forgiven for thinking this was a glimpse at H&M’s fall line, its flipped stars and stripes all set to grace the rack alongside screen-prints of neon monsters. It’s a groovy design, for sure, and its adherence to just a few badass elements ably communicates the no-nonsense cool the film is clearly after. Again, it’s decidedly tough stuff, an amalgam of three very masculine bits of “USA!” iconography: the flag, the gun, and the aviator sunglasses. That the whole image calls to mind a certain bandana-rocking, great American train robber is mere gravy.

Oscar 2008 Winner Predictions Cinematography

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Oscar 2008 Winner Predictions: Cinematography
Oscar 2008 Winner Predictions: Cinematography

If we learned anything last year, it’s that the more independent-minded the nominations, the more disappointing and reactionary the likely winner. We were thrilled when the Academy’s cinematography branch filled their slate last year with movies well outside of the best picture race. (To be fair, how could they not with Little Miss Sunshine and The Queen in contention?) We were especially thrilled that a couple of the nominations represented fine work in otherwise denigrated movies. Then, of course, the Academy en masse had to go and screw it up by giving it to the least impressive work simply by virtue of the fact that it had the most nominations in other technical categories. This year’s nominees are nowhere near as satisfyingly autonomous, with no less than three Best Picture contenders extending their influence here, but as we’ve said before, this is one of those years the Best Picture ripple effect isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Nor does it make this year’s contest any easier to call. (Only Atonement, whose attempt to one-up Children of Men’s one-take wondershots unfortunately downplays some of its outré lensing choices elsewhere, seems out of the running, but just barely.) Robert Elswit, whose richly textured experiment with desaturated DV for Good Night, and Good Luck. was one of the nominees who unjustly sat on the side while Dion Beebe’s Memoirs of a Geisha meekly bowed and accepted the Oscar, has won the approval of the American Society of Cinematographers. While their record is roughly half-and-half, they do tend to recognize superior work in riskier movies more often than Oscar does. (Previously, for instance, they went for Children of Men, The Man Who Wasn’t There, and The Thin Red Line.) Still, in a race as tight as this, it probably won’t take much to tip the race. We’d be even more likely to put Elswit out in front if we thought Roger Deakins’s votes would be split between No Country for Old Men (which has the same momentum that carried Pan’s Labyrinth to its win here last year) and The Assassination of Jesse James, et al (which has the passionate fan base tickled by all those precious, gauzy doll-house shots serving as scene bumpers). But, according to Oscar expert Damien Bona, the nomination ballots apparently don’t list cinematographers’ names, only the films nominated. That could also keep two-time winner Janusz Kamiński’s work on The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (practically an entire film made up of trick shots, and certainly an easy choice for those who vote “most cinematography,” a la “most sound” and “most film editing”) in the race as well. We’ll stick with There Will Be Blood by a straw’s length, if only because eight nominations has to translate to something more than one predestined acting award, right?

2007: It’s Okay to Play Catch-Up

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2007: It’s Okay to Play Catch-Up
2007: It’s Okay to Play Catch-Up

Commentary, first.

1. A landmark year for me as well as for the movies. Returning to school proved the right thing to do, despite all the concessions that go with such a decision. Not only did I find the vocabulary I’d always yearned for, and lacked, it keeps growing as I keep writing and reading. I giggle to think of how measly my first attempts at film writing were back when I joined the blogosphere a mere year and a half ago. I giggle more when I realize how right on I was about some movies back then without really knowing why (beyond “that made me cry” or “that was a dope edit” or “Wes Anderson’s wit speaks for me”). What makes me giggle the most is coming to understand how cool it is to change one’s mind. Before 2007 I was a staunch platformist: this is what I believe, deal with it. 2007 taught me some humility, in school and out. Not that I don’t stand by my arguments: I will continue to defend my use and experience with and understanding of the English language. Yet I find myself more willing to have a conversation about a topic, with a topic, to take my time with a topic (films, books, meals, loves, families, etc). This topic of conversation finds its best example, perhaps, in my engagement with The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou during the first half of this year. I wrote a big, long paper about Wes Anderson’s fourth film at the end of my first semester back at Berkeley detailing how I’ve come to appreciate the picture. I still think it a fine piece of writing, one I enjoyed revisiting this week, but I view it as a necessary step, a stage of my education, if you will, towards a better understanding of what film is, and how film works, and how to write about both, from my experience. More simply: I would not write the same thing about The Life Aquatic again, now. I would write something more film-specific about its liquid, eternal philosophy. But I may keep that final paragraph.