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True Grit (#110 of 30)

Cannes Film Festival 2014: The Homesman Review

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Cannes Film Festival 2014: <em>The Homesman</em> Review
Cannes Film Festival 2014: <em>The Homesman</em> Review

Back in 2005, Tommy Lee Jones made his directorial debut with the gritty (and somewhat gruesome) The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, a neo-western with a distinctly Peckinpahvian flavor. Now he returns with The Homesman, an oddball oater about a cagey claim-jumper who partners with a stern spinster to take three madwomen to Iowa and thence to their homes back East. In contrast to Three Burials, this one counts as a retro-western—“retro” as in retrograde with regard to fundamental depictions of generic tropes, not as in old-school throwback.

The film was adapted by Jones and two other screenwriters from the novel by Glendon Swarthout, whose works have previously provided source material for the John Wayne swan song The Shootist and, perhaps more telling given The Homesman’s unwieldy mix of earnest intentions and batshit craziness, Stanley Kramer’s Bless the Beasts and Children, wherein a ragtag bunch of misfit campers derogatorily labeled the Bedwetters take on Great White Hunters involved in a wild buffalo safari. All this is to say that no doubt some of the problems inherent with The Homesman’s abrupt shifts in tone can be laid at the doorstep of the original novel.

Take Two #14: The Ladykillers (1955) & The Ladykillers (2004)

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Take Two #14: <em>The Ladykillers</em> (1955) & <em>The Ladykillers</em> (2004)
Take Two #14: <em>The Ladykillers</em> (1955) & <em>The Ladykillers</em> (2004)

[Editor’s Note: Take Two is an occasional series about remakes, reboots, relaunches, ripoffs, and do-overs in every cinematic genre.]

True Grit has been rightfully celebrated for the last few months, though few critics have expressed the appropriate surprise at how well this remake turned out. Lest we forget, the last time the Coen brothers remade someone else’s movie, they churned out their unquestionable worst, a juvenile reimagining of Alexander Mackendrick’s scabrous Ealing comedy The Ladykillers. Technically, True Grit is less a movie remake than a second try at filming the wonderful Charles Portis source novel, but the irony here is that the Coens’ Ladykillers is a more ambitious, clever concept for a film than their admittedly beautiful western. Alas, the movie itself is utterly half-assed, the only time that can be said of a Coen brothers picture.

The Mackendrick film’s plot and imagery both rely on the timely, English steam trains that always seem to be within earshot of the action, and the Coens found a wonderful cultural-historical parallel by setting the new movie along the Mississippi River. It was equally thoughtful to cast Tom Hanks, a kind of American Alec Guinness, to play the Guinness role, particularly since both actors clearly relish every ludicrous line of dialogue as they play scheming villains against type. And the occasional performance scenes of a black gospel choir are some of the most purely joyful, documentary moments in any Coen brothers film. But the filmmakers apparently made a few excellent artistic decisions and then phoned everything else in.

Oscar 2011 Composite Winner Predictions

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Oscar 2011 Composite Winner Predictions
Oscar 2011 Composite Winner Predictions

Below is a complete list of our predicted winners at the 2011 Academy Awards.

Picture: The King’s Speech
Directing: Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech
Actor: Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
Actress: Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Actor in a Supporting Role: Christian Bale, The Fighter
Actress in a Supporting Role: Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Original Screenplay: The King’s Speech
Adapted Screenplay: The Social Network
Foreign Language Film: Incendies
Documentary Feature: Exit Through the Gift Shop
Animated Feature Film: Toy Story 3
Documentary Short: Poster Girl
Animated Short: The Gruffalo
Live Action Short: Wish 143
Film Editing: The Social Network
Art Direction: The King’s Speech
Cinematography: True Grit
Costume Design: The King’s Speech
Makeup: The Wolfman
Score: The King’s Speech
Song: “I See the Light,” Tangled
Sound Editing: Inception
Sound Mixing: Inception
Visual Effects: Inception

Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Picture

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Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Picture
Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Picture

The ascendance of the stuttering king and Oscar’s perceived instantaneous regression into the mottled pastures of White Elephant Cinema (how quickly we forget The Reader) has rendered some of our most reliable barometers speechless. Suddenly, the movie no one wanted to pay attention to became the movie all your friends and relatives who see two movies a year have seen and just know is the best picture of the year. What can one say in the face of that? Even dependable crank Armond White, who had been working himself up a pretty good head of anti-Social Network steam leading up to an Ingracious Basterd-worthy final snit as MC of the New York Film Critics Circle awards, has been more or less reticent in the wake of The King’s Speech’s dozen proofs in support of the theory that dusty linens, not bloody tourniquets and certainly not hackers’ grease-stained pizza boxes, are the fabric that holds Oscar together. And why shouldn’t he remain mum? There’s no one this year to disabuse of the notion that Oscars actually matter.

Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Directing

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Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Directing
Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Directing

Six. That’s the number of times the DGA winner has failed to win the Oscar. Advantage: Tom Hooper. Two thousand and three. That’s the last time the DGA winner didn’t seize the Oscar, which went to Roman Polanski instead of another Harvey Weinstein-backed newcomer, Rob Marshall. Advantage: David Fincher? Not exactly. Fincher, even though he’s never roofee’d a girl in Jack Nicholson’s Jacuzzi, doesn’t have sentiment on his side. (Note to the chilly auteur: It’s okay for the awards process to make you uncomfortable, just ask Danny Boyle, but at least pretend to want to be in its spotlight.) One clear advantage for Fincher was securing the support of the stiff upper lips who make up BAFTA’s directors branch, but by how many votes did he best Hooper? More or less than the number of votes Hooper beat Fincher by for the DGA prize? And how many of those Fincher-favoring BAFTA directors will also cast Oscar votes? Enough to null Hooper’s advantage once you consider all those TV directors who voted for the DGA (which didn’t, by the way, reward Hooper for John Adams) are taken out of the equation? In the end, you don’t have to have the mind of John Nash to come up with a formula that factors all of those scenarios, along with the prevailing mood of Oscar’s non-director branches (we know how their respective guilds went down), and doesn’t end with Hooper taking this in a walk. We know the Oscars have agreed with critics more than usual this past decade, making very respectable choices for Best Picture since Crash won the top prize, but with more than one critic hailing the The King’s Speech the best film of the last decade, it really is looking like it’s going to be a Ron Howard sort of year.

Will Win: Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech

Could Win: David Fincher, The Social Network

Should Win: David Fincher, The Social Network

Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Actress in a Supporting Role

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Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Actress in a Supporting Role
Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Actress in a Supporting Role

While maybe not quite as tight as this category was in 2007, at which time we guessed correctly that Tilda Swinton would take the trophy from the likes of Cate Blanchett, Amy Ryan, and Ruby Dee practically by default, once again Best Supporting Actress is giving Oscar prognosticators everywhere the fear of—gasp!—getting one category wrong. The only candidate everyone feels pretty safe writing off without a qualm is Jacki Weaver, whose performance as Animal Kingdom’s quasi-incestuous Ma Barker picked up a citation from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, but whose slow-burning presence in the film doesn’t really start to accrue merit points until long after some voters could be expected to hit eject.

Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing

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Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing
Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing

Conventional wisdom says that one film wins both sound awards only about half the time. Which means betting on double ups makes only a little more sense than betting on a Picture-Director split. Since nearly everyone this year is doing just that, we feel a little safer presuming that Christopher Nolan’s moody, pretentious apparatus is the frontrunner for both Best Sound Editing as well as Best Sound Mixing. Do we wish a musical had somehow found its way into the mix here to make our job easier, even one as nontraditional as, say, the fluttering Black Swan? You bet your ears, especially since it’s difficult to tell when exactly voters will clean out theirs and back superior, if less showy, mixes like those accompanying The Social Network and True Grit. They heard beyond the sound and fury last year when they awarded The Hurt Locker, but were deaf to the positively terrifying environment of No Country for Old Men. Which goes to show that the only barometer less reliable than worrying about what’s going on over in Best Sound Editing is to consider the dynamics guiding Best Picture. Not that that’s going to stop us, especially not this year when we’re looking at maybe the biggest sweep since Peter Jackson’s hobbits stormed the Kodak. When Ed and I were comparing notes the other day to see just how many awards we had The King’s Speech penciled in for wins, we realized the projected tally had ballooned to eight. We weren’t including this category in that count because, well, aside from its reasonably impressive simulations of early microphone technology, the movie’s focus is on the sounds that don’t happen than those that do. Still, Harvey Weinstein turned The English Patient’s dozen nominations into nine Oscars, and the ninth…was in this category. Consider us nervous.

Will Win: Inception

Could Win: The King’s Speech

Should Win: The Social Network

Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Sound Editing

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Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Sound Editing
Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Sound Editing

In the five years since this category, which was previous known as Best Sound Effects, was bumped up from three to five nominations, it has matched up with the Best Sound Mixing slate for four out of those five slots every year. Except this year. Only Inception and, somewhat more puzzlingly, True Grit managed nominations in both fields this year. Which either goes to show the ever-widening quality gulf between the sort of effects-laden blockbusters that get cited here and the more nuanced work that earns nominations in the other category. Yeah, yeah, Salt, which got nominated for Sound Mixing, is a dozen times worse—and noisier—than any movie nominated here this year. No one said the patterns were infallible. Especially not this year, in our confusing, post-The Hurt Locker era.