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Vicky Cristina Barcelona (#110 of 7)

Poster Lab: To Rome with Love

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Poster Lab: <em>To Rome with Love</em>
Poster Lab: <em>To Rome with Love</em>

You never know what you’re going to get with a Woody Allen poster. Sometimes, it’s a great beauty like the one-sheet for Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which slices its lead trio’s faces in half, leaving each with an eye that’s free to wander. Sometimes, as with the poster for Midnight in Paris, it’s an inspired merger of film still and relevant masterpiece. Other times, it’s a hasty design without a plan, as has been the case with both posters for Allen’s latest, To Rome with Love.

Continuing the director’s love affair with European hotspots, this cryptically described romantic jaunt has all the signs of an Allen misfire, seemingly tossed together from casting to marketing. The initial poster was an odd mix of cells, swoony backdrops, and awkward clipping paths, which allowed the title to be flanked by clownish cutouts of Roberto Benigni and Allen himself, back on screen for the first time since Scoop. The second poster can’t even earn points for tasteful minimalism, so lazy and generic is its whitewashed approach. Both ads don’t just imply that no one knows how to sell this thing, but that no one particularly cares about putting in the effort.

Tightrope-Walking Cynical Humanist: On Recent Woody Allen

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Tightrope-Walking Cynical Humanist: On Recent Woody Allen
Tightrope-Walking Cynical Humanist: On Recent Woody Allen

There have been complaints that the Woody Allen of the ’00s does not live up to the Woody Allen of the ’70s or ’80s. But there are four moments (thematic footfalls) that prove him to be just as he’s always been—the rarest and greatest of tightrope-walking cynical humanists.

The Dueling Tongues

The Curse of the Jade Scorpion is set in 1940 (the same year that His Girl Friday and its faster-than-bullets/sharper-than-knives dialogue was released) and contains some of the outwardly meanest dialogue Allen has ever written. C.W. (Allen) and Fitzgerald (Helen Hunt), warring employees at an insurance firm, trade insults set to a rapid metronome that sometimes falters when it comes time for C.W. to shoot. The slight pauses and stutters between retorts offer light into the crevices of his personality. It’s the central condition of the Allen character (be it played by Allen or a surrogate), the quick-witted egoist who, when it really comes down to it, is shivering with insecurity. Whereas Grant and Russell’s dueling tongues send confident and strident sparks, Allen’s words are reluctant, gripping onto his vocal cords for an extra moment before being forced out. His is a cinema populated with men who wince as they unload the barrels of their mouths.

Oscar 2009 Composite Winner Predictions

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Oscar 2009 Composite Winner Predictions
Oscar 2009 Composite Winner Predictions

Below is a complete list of our predicted winners at the 2009 Academy Awards.

Picture: Slumdog Millionaire
Directing: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
Actor: Sean Penn, Milk
Actress: Kate Winslet, The Reader
Actor in a Supporting Role: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Actress in a Supporting Role: Penélope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Original Screenplay: Milk
Adapted Screenplay: Slumdog Millionaire
Foreign Language Film: The Class
Documentary Feature: Man on Wire
Animated Feature Film: WALL-E
Documentary Short: Smile Pinki
Animated Short: La Maison en Petits Cubes
Live Action Short: Toyland
Film Editing: Slumdog Millionaire
Art Direction: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Cinematography: Slumdog Millionaire
Costume Design: The Duchess
Makeup: Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Score: Slumdog Millionaire
Song: “Jai Ho,” Slumdog Millionaire
Sound Editing: Slumdog Millionaire
Sound Mixing: Slumdog Millionaire
Visual Effects: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

 

Oscar 2009 Nomination Predictions: Original Screenplay

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Oscar 2009 Nomination Predictions: Original Screenplay
Oscar 2009 Nomination Predictions: Original Screenplay

There are two ways to spin this category. The first and most polite way is to say that, unlike Adapted Screenplay, it’s filled with qualified, even great, contenders, that it will be an honor to be nominated in this category this year. The second and less polite way to spin it is that there are a lot of films here that probably ought to be stronger contenders in a lot of other categories, starting with the other category writers can nominate them in: Best Picture. Beyond Milk (which, being based on a true story, is only tenuously “original” given that the Academy delegated sequel-not-remake Before Sunset to Adapted Screenplay), there aren’t many eligible films that feel as though they could crossover into that venerated top category, and yet still we find a surplus of possibilities here. Sure, Rachel Getting Married drives as many people to drink as it does inspire others to celebrate it with a long, unwieldy toast. Sure, the relish with which writer Nick Schenk serves up Clint Eastwood’s persuasive, creative racial slurs in Gran Torino occasionally suggests the use of Paul Haggis’s thesaurus. Sure, we think Vicky Cristina Barcelona is more Icky Christina Barfelona and that buzz for The Visitor has overstayed its welcome and that The Wrestler falls hard into cliché whenever it tries to string a narrative sentence together. The point is some of these movies can at least boast a passionate fanbase, something I refuse to believe exists for Frost/Nixon, even if evidence in the form of a near-perfect precursor record suggests the opposite. It’s a logical fallacy to synthesize the actions of a small subgroup with the larger voting body, and I don’t mean to suggest that a great script automatically means a great film. I’m merely holding the state of this race up as an illustration of why it sometimes seems that you’ll find genuine character in individual categories that you only rarely find at the very top. Why you get Children of Men, A History of Violence, and Borat down in the writing categories but don’t presume they were even in the running against the preordained likes of Babel, Capote, and Ray. Oftentimes you hear film fans moan how the Oscar nominees for either of the screenplay categories would’ve made a better, or at least more interesting set of Best Picture nominees. Nothing suggests this year will be any different.

Will Be Nominated: Happy-Go-Lucky, Milk, Rachel Getting Married, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and WALL-E

Should Be Nominated: Happy-Go-Lucky, My Winnipeg, Rachel Getting Married, Reprise, and The Witnesses

This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.

Understanding Screenwriting #4: Vicky Cristina Barcelona, I Served the King of England, Juno, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #4: <em>Vicky Cristina Barcelona</em>, <em>I Served the King of England</em>, <em>Juno</em>, & More
Understanding Screenwriting #4: <em>Vicky Cristina Barcelona</em>, <em>I Served the King of England</em>, <em>Juno</em>, & More

Coming Up In This Column: Vicky Cristina Barcelona; I Served the King of England; Juno; Raising the Bar; Writing for video games, but first…

Fan Mail: Keith, Matt, and I have been wrestling with a title for this section of the column. My original choice was “Fan Mail,” but they understandably thought it was a little too self-congratulatory. They preferred the more neutral “Mailbag,” which always sounded to me like something out of 1950s local radio in Chicago. I always thought of “Fan Mail” as ironic, even snarky, rather than self-congratulatory, since I figured at least some of the comments would not particularly be of a typical “fan” variety. That has certainly proved to be the case. So we’re going try the ironic approach. Feel free to jump in with your comments. As you always do.

Getting Lazy: Vicky Cristina Barcelona

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Getting Lazy: Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Getting Lazy: Vicky Cristina Barcelona

That was the first thought that struck me during my viewing of the Woodman’s latest, Vicky Cristina Barcelona. The film’s title is an appropriate stand-in for the movie itself: straightforward exposition laid bare. As Vicky Cristina Barcelona begins, we are treated to images of Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) traipsing off to the titular city. Alongside said images is a narration that lays everything bare with the most minimal effort: Vicky and Cristina are off together to Barcelona for a summer, they’re going to stay at Vicky’s parents’ friend’s place, Vicky is studying for her Masters, Cristina doesn’t know what’s next for her, et cetera. And there they are, five minutes into the film, the audience expectantly wondering what adventures will befall them?

Cannes Film Festival 2008: Vicky Cristina Barcelona

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Cannes Film Festival 2008: <em>Vicky Cristina Barcelona</em>
Cannes Film Festival 2008: <em>Vicky Cristina Barcelona</em>

“This guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, ’Doc, my brother’s crazy. He thinks he’s a chicken.’ And the doctor says, ’Well, why don’t you turn him in?’ And the guy says, ’I would, but I need the eggs.’ Well, I guess that’s pretty much now how I feel about relationships. You know, they’re totally irrational and crazy and absurd, but I guess we keep going through it, because… most of us need the eggs.”—Woody Allen (Annie Hall)

Woody Allen ended his Oscar-winning Annie Hall with that joke, one of the most unconventional yet appropriate odes to love to ever be committed to film. Since then, he has spent nearly 30 years trying to recapture the mix of humor and pathos that have helped make Annie Hall such an enduring classic, and, with Vicky Cristina Barcelona, he has finally found it again. If not quite up to the level of Annie Hall or his masterpiece Manhattan, Vicky Cristina Barcelona is nonetheless Allen’s strongest, most philosophically and morally profound film since 1989’s Crimes and Misdemeanors.