The 84th Academy Awards

The Oscars were awarded last night and here are the winners:




MAKEUP: The Iron Lady



FILM EDITING: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo






SUPPORTING ACTOR: Christopher Plummer







ANIMATED SHORT: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

DIRECTOR: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist




This post is part of our ongoing series on the 84th Annual Academy Awards.


Academy Award Nominations: The Descendants

NOTE: This post contains mild spoilers for the film The Descendants.

Matt King (George Clooney) must deal with the aftermath of a tragic boating accident that leaves his wife in a coma. He has two daughters, Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and Scottie (Amara Miller), acting out in their own ways for their own reasons. He also has an extended family that, through inheritance, is entrusted with a large parcel of pristine land on the island of Kauai; seven years remain on the trust, and many of the cousins want to sell the land for development.

Clooney gives a heartfelt performance as a husband grieving his wife before she dies, even as his own life continues and changes. Especially impressive are the scenes in which he expresses his anger to his comatose wife, confronts relatives who knew of her betrayal, and faces the other man. Matt’s relationships with his daughters form the heart of the movie, and his relationship with his father-in-law forces a kind of restraint we’re not accustomed to seeing from Clooney. He deserved the nomination for Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role; whether he deserves to win is debatable.

Alexander Payne’s direction is sure and observant. Sideways is a better effort, but The Descendants has much to recommend it. Alexandra’s reaction to the news that her mother is not going to come out of coma is one of the most visually stunning and emotionally affecting moments on film this year. If Michel Hazanavicius doesn’t benefit from the talk surrounding The Artist, this could be Payne’s year.

The Descendants uses voiceover narration by Clooney to convey a lot of information to the audience. I usually dislike narration—it usually tells too much, but here it helps the viewer understand some of the more complicated proceedings with the relatives and the land deal, and it also lets us in on Matt’s internal monologue. Clooney handles it well.

The Descendants is also nominated for Best Picture and Adapted Screenplay.

Watch the trailer here.

This post was written by LR Simon as part of our ongoing series on the 84th Academy Awards, which air tomorrow night on ABC.


Martin Scorsese

Rick Tetzeli at fastcocreate.com has an article listing 85 films Martin Scorsese recommends for people who want to learn about film. How many have you seen?

Academy Award Nominations: Hugo

Hugo deserves its Oscar nominations for Best Achievement in Art Direction:Francesca Lo Schiavo (set decorator), Dante Ferretti (production designer); Best Achievement in Costume Design: Sandy Powell; Best Achievement in Film Editing: Thelma Schoonmaker; and Martin Scorsese’s direction (though it is not his best).

Film fans of all kinds will want to own this one just for the celebration of Georges Méliès, the pioneering French filmmaker who basically invented visual effects in movies. Scenes showing HIS films being made and then projected are simply amazing.

The story and the adapted screenplay are a little wobbly and unfocused but not enough to keep us from enjoying a first-ever Scorsese for-the-whole-family movie. It might have benefited by shifting the point of view from Hugo (Asa Butterfield) to Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz).

The world of the story in a miraculous train station and locations in Paris in the 1930s makes enough magic to give this movie “classic” status. Look for the “silent movies” within the film – stories involving minor characters that are told visually, without dialogue. And kudos to Sacha Baron Cohen for his portrayal of the station’s policeman; he provides humor without making his character stupid OR heartless.

Watch the trailer here.

This review was written by Howard Allen and LR Simon as part of our ongoing series on the 84th Academy Awards. Hugo was nominated for eleven Oscars, including Best Picture.


If we could nominate a tenth film...

This year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences changed the way it nominates films for Best Picture. The idea was to give films with fewer votes but more enthusiastic support a better chance of being nominated, while films with wide but tepid support might not make the cut. This means that there is no guarantee that ten films will be nominated in any given year, although there is a minimum number of nominees: five.

This year, the Academy nominated nine films for Best Picture, leaving one spot free. Here are some films that CoyoteMoon Films staffers (and founder) believe deserved consideration for the tenth slot.

Drive demonstrates that the best chase scenes are not necessarily full-speed-ahead at all times—the best chase scenes are smart. Ryan Gosling plays the unnamed driver who anticipates the moves of his pursuers, sometimes hiding in the shadows just long enough for the police helicopter to be called away. Tension builds as the driver waits to make his move. Drive may have the best car chase sequence since Bullitt, and some might argue that this one improves upon its iconic predecessor. – LR Simon

My Week With Marilyn works spectacularly on many more levels than the obvious biographical moment in Marilyn Monroe's life. The movie says more about the destructive and the intoxicating power of celebrity than any recent movie. Its look behind the scenes at dramatic storytelling is every bit as good as Shakespeare In Love even if the story they are working on is The Prince and The Showgirl instead of Romeo And Juliet. The period is 1960s England instead of the 1580s. Michelle Williams and the script let us into a life with life-threatening issues just as Gwyneth Paltrow did in the other Best Picture worthy movie. – Howard Allen

Sucker Punch:
I was skeptical before watching this movie thinking it would be just another action flick with a soulless female lead. Quite the opposite! This movie not only showcases female characters with heart and soul, it tells a unique story through alternate reality sequences keeping you glued to your seat. It reminds me vaguely of Chicago, though a bit more violent. With stunning visuals and a stellar cast, Sucker Punch deserves a nomination. –Cassie Zweig

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a rare spy thriller that concerns itself with the reality of espionage – paper trails and quiet observation. George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is called out of retirement to ferret out a mole in the Circus (the nickname for MI-6, Britain’s version of the CIA). He must operate outside his former place of employment, so he uses Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) to acquire inside information. With four main suspects and at least as many subplots providing both information and disinformation, the film seems to take its time introducing us to its many characters, but the pace is deceptively slow. The filmmakers assume the audience is intelligent, not merely intelligent enough – scenes that seem to take a long time have so much information that if you miss something, you might end up losing the thread of the plot. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy easily deserved a nomination for Best Picture. –LR Simon

WATCH the trailers:


My Week with Marilyn

Sucker Punch

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

This article is part of our ongoing series on the 84th Academy Awards.

Academy Award Nominations: The Help

The Help can’t help but inspire conflicted emotions — it is set during the early years of the American Civil Rights movement, and it depicts black women doing about the only kind of work that was available to them at that time, especially in the South. Best Actress nominee Viola Davis has said in interviews that she felt some trepidation about taking the part of Aibilene because of the character’s job as a nanny to a white woman’s child. The first black actress to win an Oscar, Hattie McDaniel, won for playing a similar role. Davis decided to take the role because she found a way to make the character human, and not just a stereotype. Davis plays Aibilene with quiet strength, but you can feel her anger and frustration in every frame.

Octavia Spencer (Minny) and Jessica Chastain (Celia Foote) earned nominations for Best Supporting Actress, and the relationship between their characters gives the film its heart. Minny is fired from her job working for Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard) and eventually finds a new job working for Celia, whom the high society women consider white trash. Celia treats Minny more humanly and more humanely than Hilly did, and Minny tries to help Celia navigate society.

The Help does something else that most stories dealing with this subject matter don’t – it exposes how stultifying the lives of rich white women of that time were. They went to college to get married, and when they got married, it was for the purpose of making babies, and when the babies were born, they were to be raised by the help. That left the white women to their society functions and games of bridge, and precious little else for their own enrichment and development. If Hilly seems bitchy and ridiculous, it’s because she has a little life and the one thing that might have improved her situation, i.e., raising her child, must, by the strictures of her society, be handed off to Aibilene.

The cast is excellent – if the actors had fallen into caricatures, the film could have been awful. Davis, Spencer, and to a lesser extent Chastain are getting a lot of attention for their performances, and deservedly so. Howard deserves a special mention. Her character could have been too ridiculous to take seriously as a villain, or too menacing to reveal the awful mind-numbing limitations of her situation. She walks a fine line expertly. And Sissy Spacek is a stitch as her mother.

In tone, The Help brings to mind Fried Green Tomatoes. I don’t know that I’d suggest that as a double feature – I’m a little too fond of both barbeque and pie. But both films deal with the empowerment of women living in cultures that limit their spheres.

The Help is nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress (Davis), and twice for Best Supporting Actress (Spencer, Chastain).

Watch the trailer for The Help.

This review, by LR Simon, is part of our series on the 84th Academy Awards.


Academy Award Nominations: Moneyball

Moneyball dramatizes the first serious attempt to effect a paradigm shift in the way baseball is managed. The basics of the game itself remain the same, but a cash-strapped Oakland team needs to compete with teams that have more money.

Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, Oakland’s general manager, who decides that a statistics geek, Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), may have the key to his team’s success. Beane and Brand meet with resistance from the seasoned pros, who are reluctant to try a method that’s never been tried and with which they are completely unfamiliar. Both Pitt and Hill are nominated for Oscars for their performances; while I think Pitt had a better performance in The Tree of Life, Hill definitely deserves the recognition.

This isn’t a baseball movie in the way that Bull Durham was a baseball movie; it’s more about the management than the players. You see more of the business of baseball—the deals, the trades, the negotiations—and somewhat less of the actual games. You see how the strategy for the game starts well before the season does. You see how conflict behind the scenes affects results during the game. And you get the story of a man trying something new in a game of tradition.

Moneyball is nominated for Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor (Pitt), Best Supporting Actor (Hill), Film Editing, Sound Mixing, and Adapted Screenplay.

Watch the trailer here.

Read about some of the liberties the film took with historical accuracy here.

This review, by LR Simon, is part of our series on the 84th Academy Awards.


Academy Award Nominations: Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris may be Woody Allen’s best film in years, but it isn’t on par with his best work from the 1970s and 1980s. You don’t have to be an aficionado of Allen’s work to see where the story is going most of the time, and the minor characters seem to have the most interesting action and dialogue.

Male leads in Allen’s films have a tendency to act like the writer-director himself—see Michael Caine in Hannah and Her Sisters—but here, Owen Wilson (Gil) does a decent job of not playing Woody Allen, but he doesn't quite shake his own persona. Rachel McAdams does well with probably the most thankless role in the film, but she and Wilson are easily outshone by the supporting characters played by Kathy Bates (Gertrude Stein), Corey Stoll (Ernest Hemingway), Alison Pill (Zelda Fitzgerald), and Marion Cotillard (Adriana).

Allen’s weakest dialogue still runs circles around what pollutes most Hollywood films. The dialogue in the contemporary scenes seem pedestrian compared to that in the period scenes. While this helps elucidate Gil's fascination with the past, the comparative flatness and dullness of the contemporary characters work against the believability of the ending.

Like many of the nominated films, Midnight in Paris is beautiful to look at. Modernist era Paris looks like someplace one would want to live while contemporary Paris looks by turns like a series of postcards and a tourist trap

With so much to recommend it, it’s a shame Midnight in Paris doesn’t have a more surprising or thought-provoking script. The time-travel device works to get Gil into the 1920’s, but that era is so well-realized that this viewer wishes Allen had focused on it and left out the Wilson-McAdams story.

Midnight in Paris is nominated for Best Picture, Art Direction, Director, and Original Screenplay.

Watch the trailer here.

Read more reviews at rottentomatoes.com

This review, written by LR Simon, is part of our series on the 84th Academy Award nominations.

Academy Award Nominations: The Artist

SPOILER ALERT: There may be spoilers within this review. We believe the spoilers to be minor, but readers who haven’t yet seen The Artist and wish to remain unspoiled are advised to return to this review after seeing the film.

If the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs are reasonably accurate predictors, The Artist is the favorite to win the Oscar for Best Picture. This charming movie takes the risk of using black and white and, for the most part, limiting its audio to the score.

Best Actor nominee Jean Dujardin plays George Valentin, a big star in early films who faces a crisis when movies start using sound. He thinks sound is a fad that won’t last, but when talkies take off, he finds himself financing his own silent films and losing money. Starlet Peppy Miller (Best Supporting Actress nominee Bérénice Bejo) plays a role in both his downfall and his revival.

The filmmakers did an excellent job of mimicking silent-era film style while still taking modern sensibilities into account. Some of the music is anachronistic to the story—Bernard Herrmann’s Love Scene from Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo especially can be jarring for those who know well the great composer’s iconic score. Allusions to other films, such as Citizen Kane, are less of a distraction but come across more as an admiring homage.

The Artist is also up for Best Adapted Screenplay (Michel Hazanvicius, also nominated for Director). Silent films challenge modern writers to restrict themselves to visual storytelling, and they demonstrate to modern viewers that movies don’t have to spell things out in order to get the point across. You don’t need to hear George laugh to know that he’s laughing. You don’t need to hear the individual bids at an auction to understand who’s winning all the items. Hazanavicius keeps ambient sound out of every scene until a dream/nightmare sequence, and the sounds, though what one would expect in the scene, seem oppressive and almost unreal. When ambient sound returns, it comes with a transitional scene and thus seems more natural and inviting. These technical aspects of storytelling aside, the plot itself has few unpredictable turns.

The Artist may not be the best picture of the year, but it is probably the most-loved movie of the year. I personally would include it with The Princess Bride and Harold and Maude as a movie that I can watch repeatedly without diminishing any of the affection I have for it.

Trailer for The Artist
Charlie Rose interview with Michel Hazanavicius, Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo

This review, by LR Simon, is part of our ongoing series on the 84th Academy Awards. The Artist is nominated for ten Oscars, including Best Picture.


Academy Award Nominations: The Tree of Life

Best Picture nominee The Tree of Life is an exercise in metaphor and conflict. In some respects it’s a challenging film that employs nonlinear storytelling and feels like an odd mix of memory, dream, and fantasy.

Jack, played as a child by Hunter McCracken and as an adult by Sean Penn, has to deal with his parents’ influences. His mother (Jessica Chastain) says in voiceover that everyone has to choose a path, either that of grace or that of nature. As she describes them, neither path sounds particularly appealing. In one of the film’s more ham-fisted metaphors, Mother represents the path of grace, nurturing and kind, and Father (Brad Pitt, in probably the least typical role of his career) represents the path of nature, unflinching and somewhat violent. This conflict does help the thin story, but when I finished watching, I felt that at Sean Penn’s age he should have already figured out that it was a false dichotomy.

The film’s cinematography, by Emmanuel Lubezki, has deservedly been nominated for an Oscar. The childhood sequences look beautiful and idealized, even as the action depicted is unpleasant, stark, even ugly. The look of the film enhances the wishful thinking and the pain of childhood memories.

The Tree of Life has sequences of images and music depicting the origin of the universe through the development of life on earth. The reason for the inclusion of these sequences is not immediately obvious. They are beautiful to look at, and throughout the film the music is gorgeous.

I understand the film's nomination for Best Picture--it's unusual for Hollywood to recognize a film that's more poem than story, especially in this category. Director Terrence Malick, also nominated, took some enormous risks with this film. Some of those risks paid off while others may have hurt the film more than the risk was worth. Risky impressionistic films tend not to be crowd-pleasers, and they also usually don't win the big prize on Oscar Sunday.

You can view a trailer for The Tree of Life here.

This post, written by LR Simon, is part of a series on films nominated for the 84th Academy Awards.


Rob Resetar

Rob Resetar, better known among CoyoteMoon Films people as a wonderful composer of films scores (including our own Se Habla Español) has a Kindle book called Fabulous Tucson Travel Destinations. Rob calls it "A fun read about the most interesting places and experiences Tucson
and southern Arizona have to offer."

You can read more about it on amazon here.