Sunday, March 28, 2010

Goldilocks and the Three Steaks

So, Shane bought a LOT of steak the other day. Big fat 2-inch thick steaks. I fancy myself a pretty good amateur chef, but one thing I have never been able to master is The Steak. The guys like to grill, and usually Shane can make me a perfect steak, medium-rare to rare, but there must be a trick to cooking these really thick ones. BTW, I have no idea what cut of meat they got, and neither do they.

Since Shane spends a lot of time in "the city to the north" with his girlfriend, Adam and I have been experimenting with the steaks. Adam cooked for us last night. It was RARE. Even too bloody for me, and I like it pretty bloody. So I spent today looking at steak recipes from all my cookbooks and the Internet. I thought I'd give it a shot tonight, I even used a meat thermometer, but I went too far in the other direction.

Last night the steak was too rare. Tonight the steak was much too cooked.

We're gonna try again. Maybe it will be just right.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Oscars for 2009 films ( 3/7/10)

Laura’s Oscar List, 2009 movies
Awards March 7, 2010
Not predictions necessarily, just assessments.
Categories in alphabetical order

Actor in a Leading Role
Colin Firth – A Single Man
Jeff Bridges – Crazy Heart
Morgan Freeman – Invictus
Jeremy Renner – The Hurt Locker.
George Clooney – Up in the Air

Morgan Freeman doesn’t look anything like Nelson Mandela, not in the face or the body, but it took very little time for me to forget that this was the American actor. Freeman really embodied the style and spirit of Mandela – in the way he held his shoulders, his stance, his walk, and his vocal cadence. Good job. Better performances were from Colin Firth, Jeff Bridges, and Jeremy Renner, who were equally brilliant. Colin Firth gave the most emotionally moving performance of his career. The Hurt Locker would not possibly have been as great a film without Renner’s compelling and understated performance. I think Jeff Bridges will win, as much for a body of amazing work, as for this particular (and particularly outstanding) performance. If I had a vote, that’s what I would cast. He is long overdue for recognition of an exceptional oeuvre.

Actor in a Supporting Role
Christoph Waltz – Inglourious Basterds
Matt Damon – Invictus
Christopher Plummer – The Last Station
Stanley Tucci – The Lovely Bones
Woody Harrelson – The Messenger

I hated The Lovely Bones. Hated, hated, hated. Stanley Tucci is a terrific actor. Why couldn’t he have been nominated for Julie & Julia this year? Or ANYTHING else in any other year? Not that his performance in TLB was bad, it just was an awful movie. I didn’t get a chance to see The Messenger. I don’t understand Christopher Plummer being in this category. He should have been a nominee for Actor in a Leading Role rather than Supporting. Fer cryin out loud, the movie was about Tolstoy! And he was wonderful! Christoph Waltz was noticeably good in Inglourious Basterds for playing Nazi Col. Hans Landa. I would submit that the better supporting performance in that same film came from French actor, Denis Menochet, for his portrayal of Perrier LaPadite, the farmer whom Hans Landa visits to find out if he was hiding Jews under his farmhouse. Menochet was only on screen for a few minutes, but his performance was exquisite. Quiet and tense, it’s one of the most powerful scenes on that subject that I have ever seen. If Christoph Waltz wins, as I suspect he will, he owes M. Menochet a debt of gratitude for making that scene as compelling as it was, and setting the tone for Landa’s character for the rest of the film.

By the way, Christopher Plummer was on a roll this year! He was the bad guy in Up. He was Doctor Parnassus. And he was Tolstoy in The Last Station. Hurray for older actors!

Actress in a Leading Role
Carey Mulligan – An Education
Meryl Streep – Julie & Julia
Gabourey Sidibe – Precious
Sandra Bullock – The Blind Side
Helen Mirren – The Last Station

See – Helen Mirren is nominated in the category for Leading Role for being Tolstoy’s wife Why was Plummer’s Tolstoy in the Supporting Role?. Mirren is as good as Meryl Streep overall as an actress. If there were awards for performance duets, my nominees would be Mirren & Plummer for The Last Station, Sidibe & Mo’Nique for Precious, and Streep & Tucci for Julie & Julia. Anyway, that’s not how it works.

I’ve seen all these films and my favorite performance is Helen Mirren’s. I liked Carey Mulligan, but it seemed more like great casting than great acting. I always love Meryl Streep and she really embodied Julia Child. Gabi Sidibe’s Precious was indescribably good. That’s especially evident when I’ve seen her on talk shows and interviews. The actress is NOTHING like the character. Seems like the odds are on Sandra Bullock to win. I really liked that movie. It spoke to me on a personal level. Bullock gave a terrific performance and was nothing like Miss Congeniality or the Proposal girl. My vote would have gone to Helen Mirren, though. If Sidibe pulls out a surprise win over the more established actresses, it would be a triumph both for African American actresses and plus-sized actresses.

Actress in a Supporting Role
Maggie Gyllenhaal – Crazy Heart
Penélope Cruz – Nine
Mo’Nique – Precious
Anna Kendrick – Up in the Air
Vera Farmiga – Up in the Air

The only one I didn’t see was Nine – because Roger Ebert didn’t like it and because one doesn’t re-do Fellini. Besides, Penélope Cruz just won an Oscar for Supporting Actress last year for an obnoxious, over-the-top performance of a crazy byatch in a mediocre movie, Vicky Cristina Barcelona. For me, this is a tossup between Maggie Gyllenhaal and Mo’Nique. Mo’Nique had a tough job to be a very abusive mother. It must not have been easy for her to do the things she was required to do in that movie. I think another hard to accomplish task, in another way entirely, was to be a believable girlfriend to Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart. “The Girl” could have been a throwaway role in the hands of a lesser actress than Gyllenhaal. I believed that these two could get together and even love each other. Vera Farmiga was great in Up in the Air. Wonderful sex appeal from an “older” (i.e. over 30) woman character. Young Hot Chicks only aspire to that kind of sexual self-assurance. If I had a vote, I’d struggle up to the last minute to decide between Gyllenhaal and Mo’Nique and I’d end up casting my vote for the less volatile role. Academy voters tend to do the opposite. The more screaming and throwing things, the better your chances (see notes on Cruz last year). If that holds true this year, congratulations will be in order to Mo’Nique.

Animated Feature Film
Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Princess and the Frog
The Secret of Kells

I saw Coraline, Mr Fox, and Up. Still hoping to see The Princess & The Frog. The Secret of Kells will be at The Loft theater in a few months, and it looks terrific. It’s by the same folks who did The Triplets of Belleville, but it has more of a Persepolis look, only in color. Mr. Fox was just: very Wes Anderson. ‘Nuff said. Enjoyable, if you’re in a Wes Anderson mood, and not for kids. I loved Coraline. It was really freaky. I wish I had seen it in 3-D. Up was great, in spite of some dark and frightening scenes that were incongruous to the tone of the rest of the film. My favorite animated film was Coraline, but Up will win if for no other reason than for having one of the best opening sequences of any film, ever. Besides, if an animated film is nominated in both the Animated Film and Best Picture categories, it usually wins for best animated film.

Art Direction
Do I even have to mention the “other” nominees? (Nine, Sherlock Holmes, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, and The Young Victoria)
If Avatar doesn’t win, the voters were paid off.
And if you don’t see Avatar in a real theatre in 3D, you’re missing the point.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Inglourious Basterds
The Hurt Locker
The White Ribbon

The above comments on Art Direction do not apply to Cinematography. There’s more to cinematography than great art direction and visual effects. I would love to see The White Ribbon, a black & white German film, win for being visually beautiful in a classic way. The use of light is underrated and misunderstood. That this film was in b&w allowed for a more textured use of light and dark. The film is set just before WWI, so the light would have been either from the sun or from lanterns. The DP had you see exactly what you were supposed to see, even in a dark room lit ostensibly by one lantern. Each scene was perfectly lit and the tone was what was needed for that scene in the film. I saw The Hurt Locker when it came out, last summer, I think. I don’t remember the details enough to give an analysis here. I didn’t see Harry Potter. I’m surprised that A Single Man wasn’t nominated for best cinematography. That was a beautiful film. I mean that literally. Especially if you like men and the male body. I don’t mean that in an overtly sexual way. There are scenes of a man swimming, and just nice shots of nonsexual body parts: a knee, a neck, a shoulder, a forearm. That was just the icing on the cake. I haven’t been as taken with the look of a film so much since Road To Perdition, which won the Oscar for Cinematography in 2002.

Costume Design

Bright Star – Sweet and sad film about John Keats and his romance with the love of his life.
Coco before Chanel – Hellooo! This is Chanel! I would vote for this one not just for a display of style but for letting the viewer peek into the Evolution of Style.
Nine – didn’t see it
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus – good nominee for a film with a strange style.
The Young Victoria – didn’t see the whole thing but the costumes were intricate and wonderful. This is the kind of film that usually wins, but I think Coco will win this time.


James Cameron – Avatar
Quentin Tarantino – Inglourious Basterds
Lee Daniels – Precious
Kathryn Bigelow – The Hurt Locker
Jason Reitman – Up in the Air

Clearly the two front runners are ex-spouses Cameron and Bigelow. Avatar was a great achievement in special effects and 3D filmmaking. Cameron changed filmmaking once already with The Abyss and Terminator 2. This is another leap forward in special effects thanks to the hubris and determination of one man. However, the making of a film involves more than visual effects. I hope Kathryn Bigelow wins for good storytelling. The Hurt Locker was exquisitely put together in every way. That is a testament to the film’s director. Lee Daniels deserves recognition for Precious. It could have been melodramatic or exploitive, but it worked because of great acting and great directing. My vote: Kathryn Bigelow.

Documentary Feature

Burma VJ
The Cove
Food, Inc.
The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers
Which Way home

Front runners are The Cove and Food, Inc. I think The Cove will win. Many documentaries move the viewer emotionally because of the subject matter. This film moves the viewer also because of the way the story is told. There are scenes as tense as in any thriller, as touching as any romance, and as frightening as the rare “good” horror film. I was literally on the edge of my seat, heart racing, during some scenes. In the end, I cried. And gave money to a cause.

Documentary Short Subject

China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province
The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner
The Last Truck: The Closing of a GM Plant
Music By Prudence
Rabbit à la Berlin

No idea. Didn’t see any of them. But they’ll be on my Netflix queue.

Film Editing

District 9
Inglourious Basterds
The Hurt Locker

You’d think Avatar would be the clear winner here, but I think all these films are worthy contenders. My vote would go to The Hurt Locker. Editing to great tension with little action or props is probably more difficult than editing to tension with lots of scenery and explosions.

Foreign Language Film

Ajami – haven’t seen it, but it will be at The Loft soon.
The Milk of Sorrow – haven’t seen it
Un Prophète – haven’t seen it, but it will be at The Loft soon.
El Secreto de sus Ojos – haven’t seen it.
The White Ribbon – This is an instant classic.

The only one I’ve seen is The White Ribbon. Ajami and Un Prophète will be showing at The Loft in the next couple of months. The winner will either be Un Prophète or The White Ribbon.


El Divo
Star Trek
The Young Victoria

What the heck, I’ll go for Star Trek.

Music – Original Score

Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Hurt Locker
Sherlock Holmes

Did The Hurt Locker even have a score? One of the things I loved about it was its lack of music directing the viewer’s emotions (well, except for the scene in the truck near the end). No prediction here from me.

Music – Original Song

“Almost There” – The Princess and the Frog
“Down In New Orleans” – The Princess and the Frog
“Loin de Paname” – Paris 36
“Take It All” – Nine
“The Weary Kind” – Crazy Heart

Of these films, I only saw Crazy Heart, and I’m surprised the cartoon has more nominated songs. Weren’t all the songs in Crazy Heart written specifically for the movie? I loved every song in that film, and I don’t even like Country music – anymore – I used to like it, but it hasn’t been the same since about 1990. This is old school Country, which reminds me, I should go to iTunes to see if I can buy that soundtrack.


A Serious Man
An Education
District 9
Inglourious Basterds
The Blind Side
The Hurt Locker
Up in the Air

There used to be ten nominees for Best Picture in the early days of the Academy Awards. The last year there were ten was 1943, the year Casablanca won. My favorite films of this past year were: The Hurt Locker, District 9, A Single Man (which wasn’t nominated), Precious, and Crazy Heart. I liked Avatar, Inglourious Basterds, The Blind Side, Up in the Air, and Up. I also liked The Men Who Stare at Goats. I only saw half of A Serious Man because it was so painful to tolerate, I could only handle so much before I had to just get up and leave the theatre.

I’m thrilled that District 9 was nominated. It was a wonderful examination of humanity, good and bad. I wish Sharlto Copley had been nominated for best actor as Wikus van der Merwe. He was, as the film progressed, weasly, incompetent, prejudiced, cowardly, frightened, desperate, selfish, angry, loving, manipulative, courageous, selfless, powerful and peaceful.

Am I making a prediction here? My vote would go for the Hurt Locker and I hope it wins.

Short Film (animated)

A Matter of Loaf and Death
French Roast
Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty
The Lady and the Reaper (La Dama y La Muerte)

This was a good crop of animated films. I liked A Matter of Loaf And Death, a Wallace and Gromit film. French Roast was really cute. My personal favorite was La Dama y La Muerte. I wouldn’t know what to predict. Seems like, with the exception of The Danish Poet in 2006, my favorite is never the same as the winner.

Short Film (Live Action)

Instead of Abracadabra
Miracle Fish
The Door
The New Tenants

In general, I did not like this crop of films as a group. They were all so depressing! There was blood in every one except the one with cancer! I thought The New Tenants was like every dark comedy indie I’ve seen for twenty years. Instead of Abracadabra was like the Scandinavian Napoleon Dynamite. The audience loved it and I suspect it will win. Kavi and Miracle Fish were good films featuring terrific child actors. The Door was very sad. I thought about The Door a lot in the days after seeing all of these.

Sound Editing (the art of recording sound effects, the production of sounds from scratch)

Inglourious Basterds
Star Trek
The Hurt Locker

Sound Mixing (refers to how the sounds of a film are put together)

Inglourious Basterds
Star Trek
The Hurt Locker
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

I’d like to see Avatar win for Sound Editing and The Hurt Locker win for Sound Mixing.

Visual Effects

District 9
Star Trek

Take a wild guess.

Writing (adapted screenplay)

An Education
District 9
In The Loop
Up in the Air

Writing (original screenplay)
A Serious Man
Inglourious Basterds
The Hurt Locker
The Messenger

Often the writing awards are like runners up or consolation prizes for films that won’t win the big prize. Usually if there’s a kooky comedy, that will win. Recent examples include Juno, Little Miss Sunshine, and Sideways. There isn’t one of “those” types in these nominees.

For adapted screenplay, I would personally vote for District 9, but it won’t win. I predict Precious or Up in the Air. By the way, I rented In The Loop and shut it off after ten minutes.

For original screenplay, I would vote for The Hurt Locker. I didn’t see The Messenger. I suspect The Hurt Locker will win.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Cove

My tweets from the last couple of hours:

About to watch DVD "The Cove" - Oscar nominated documentary about dolphins in captivity.

Documntry makes me think the self destruction of human kind will be an ok thing -- if there's anything left of nature to recuperate from us.

The Cove: in addition to the topic, it's a well crafted film. some scenes are as tense as any thriller or as touching as any romance.

"You're either an activist or an inactivist."

Dolphin killers sitting around talking about how there used to be so many more whales years ago.

Oh, God. I want to vomit. This is horrible.

Text DOLPHIN to 44144 or go to