Sunday, November 23, 2008

Clint Eastwood Retires From Acting

My fears have now been confirmed by Britain's Sunday Express: Gran Torino will be the last time we see Clint Eastwood on the big screen. Here's what the article has to say.

Clint, 78, says he has no plans to appear in films again after starring in Gran Torino, a drama about a racist veteran of the Korean War.

"That will probably do it for me as far as acting is concerned," said Clint, whose iconic roles include Dirty Harry, the cop with .44 Magnum revolver, the most powerful handgun in the world.

"You always want to quit while you are ahead. You don’t want to be like a fighter who stays too long in the ring until you’re not performing at your best."
This isn't entirely surprising, but it's still somewhat saddening. At least Eastwood will continue to direct, though, so it's not as if we're losing his cinematic voice completely. If anything, this just makes me that much more excited to see his performance in Gran Torino.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The 5 Best-Looking Movies of the End of 2008

The year itself may be winding down, but there are still a handful of good-looking movies coming out before January 1, 2009. Here are my picks for the best-looking films that haven’t come out yet – so, in other words, they all still have the potential to turn out really well or really poorly. I’ve included the theatrical trailers for all of them so you can see for yourself whether they look interesting. Enjoy!

5. Revolutionary Road

Revolutionary Road reunites Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet for the first time since the highly overrated Titanic, but unlike that movie I think RR stands a chance at being a really good drama. Both Winslet and DiCaprio have grown significantly as actors since their last outing together, and having a story with real character drama rather than straight-up sappiness will hopefully help this movie to stand out.

4. Milk

Movies about people struggling for their rights are almost a dime a dozen these days, but Milk seems like it will rise above the crowd. By focusing on a different community than the ones we usually see in these types of movies, as well as by having an excellent cast, I think Milk is bound to make waves, win some awards, and hopefully, find itself a decent audience.

3. Defiance

Defiance was almost pushed back to 2009, but at the last minute the studio decided to put it on track for a December 31 release. I’m glad they did, because this movie looks great. Daniel Craig’s accent is perfect, and I don’t think I’ll have any problem buying into his character – unlike the protagonists in other WWII-themed movies coming out this year (read: Valkyrie). The film’s subject matter may be serious, but there is one thing I find rather funny about it: Craig has about as much dialogue in the trailer as he does in the entirety of Quantum of Solace.

2. The Wrestler

This movie has come seemingly out of nowhere and impressed a whole lot of people, myself included. A few days ago, who would have thought that Mickey Rourke, of all people, would be on the verge of staging a major career comeback? Whether or not you’re a fan of professional wrestling (I, for one, am not), this movie looks like it could be something truly great.

1. Gran Torino

I’ve posted this trailer before, but it’s so good that I think it bears watching again. It’s hard for me to pin down exactly what has me so fired up about this movie, but I think it has mostly to do with Clint Eastwood’s character, who is gruff and temperamental but somehow still seems endearing. There’s also something to be said for the fact that I haven’t seen Eastwood in a movie I’ve enjoyed in a really long time, and I’d like to see him in at least one more good role before he retires from filmmaking.

Well, those are my top five, but there are still other movies that look worthwhile as well. Honorable mentions for the list include Doubt, Last Chance Harvey, and Seven Pounds (click the titles to watch their respective trailers). So what movies are you looking forward to seeing before the year ends? Are they the movies in this list, or are there other ones you think will be worth your time and money?

Leave a comment below, and don’t forget to come back later this weekend, when I’ll have my picks for the worst-looking movies for the rest of this year!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hold On There, Disney

I was just browsing a list of upcoming DVD releases to see what would be coming out soon, and stumbled across this - a box set collecting the "Little Mermaid trilogy." Puzzled, since I only remembered there ever being one Little Mermaid movie, my confusion turned to extreme annoyance when I read the following:

The Little Mermaid (1989)
Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea (2000), MPAA Rating: G
The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning (2008), MPAA Rating: G

Now for years, I've sat by and said relatively little as Disney has defiled some of its most beloved movies time and time again by releasing these cheap direct-to-video cash-ins. But never before has it bothered me quite like this. At least before, I could always sort of pretend that these awful sequels never happened. I was content with the fact that most people would realize that the sequels were garbage and they would leave them well enough alone.

But this is a different story. I can understand the desire to make quick, easy money when the opportunity presents itself, and to tell you the truth, if a film company wants to run its franchise into the ground with one poorly made sequel after another, I really couldn't care less. The only time there's ever a problem is when a sequel somehow diminishes what made the original a great movie in the first place. So in that sense, to package two cash-in sequels with the original and imply they're on the same level of cinematic quality by calling it a trilogy? Come on, Disney, that's low, even for you.

Monday, November 17, 2008

New Star Trek Trailer

Sorry for having so little in the way of updates over the last week, but I've been really, really busy. Posts may continue to be a little sporadic over the next week or so, but I'm hoping to get back to at least one a day as soon as possible. Hopefully Movie of the Week will be back next week as well.

Anyway, the biggest movie news today is that the trailer for the new Star Trek movie has been released online. You can watch it below:

I saw this trailer before Quantum of Solace last week, and to be honest, I wasn't all that impressed by it. It just looks to me like a bunch of stuff blowing up in outer space, which reminds me of Star Wars Episode III and what a disappointment that movie was. The whole "Kirk driving a hot rod" part was kind of lame too. I'll certainly give the trailer this, though: the special effects look very well done.

As I've said before, I have never been a big Star Trek fan. But still, that doesn't mean I shouldn't be able to look forward to this movie along with all the other non-Trekkies of the world. A franchise reboot should be all about bringing in new viewers, not just catering to the already-converted.

So what do all of you think? Does this trailer get you excited for the movie, or are you as indifferent as I am?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Quantum of Solace Review

If Casino Royale was two steps forward for the James Bond franchise, Quantum of Solace is one step back. While it tries desperately to reach the same level of quality that its predecessor did two years ago, it falls short in a number of respects.

But first, the good. Quantum of Solace may have problems, but Daniel Craig is certainly not one of them. He proves once again that he is perfect in the role of 007, even if screenwriters Paul Haggis and Neal Purvis don’t give him nearly enough to say. (In fact, I’m quite confident that he has the least lines of any of the main characters in the film.) Even in silence, Craig’s ferocity hints at an emotional turmoil more painful than Bond can admit, even to himself. Try as he might, he simply can’t escape the events of Casino Royale and how deeply they have affected him. The only way he can express himself is through violence, whether it comes coldly and decisively or in the form of unthinking, bone-breaking brutality.

The entire cast does a good job, actually, especially Judi Dench as M, in what is surely her most prominent role in a Bond film to date. Ukrainian model/actress Olga Kurylenko is surprisingly convincing as Camille, Bond’s main ally in Quantum of Solace. I call her an “ally” rather than a “Bond girl” because, unlike virtually every woman in every other James Bond movie, she is not an object of desire for Bond. In fact, through the lens of vengeance, Bond comes to see her as something of an equal. Her quest for revenge (against the man who murdered her family) mirrors Bond’s, and makes her character all the more effective as a physical manifestation of Bond’s unspoken rage.

However, such simple, primal emotions tend to make a story’s inconsistencies that much more noticeable, and this is undoubtedly the case with Quantum of Solace. A scene in which Bond seduces a fellow MI6 agent comes off as especially disruptive to the movie’s serious tone, as well as the general arc of Bond’s brooding pathos throughout the film. The point, I think, is to show Bond’s willingness to use his charm not merely to gain personal pleasure (as he would have in the Sean Connery and Roger Moore eras), but as a means to a greater end. This idea is hinted at in an exchange between Bond and M, but ultimately it goes nowhere. Unfortunately, the entire subplot culminates in a heavy-handed (even downright stupid) “homage” to the classic Bond movie Goldfinger, eliminating any inclination I might have had to take the scene in question seriously.

Plot hiccups like this one are almost irrelevant in the face of Quantum of Solace’s larger issues, though. Whereas Casino Royale was a truly engaging experience, the cinematic seams are visible in Quantum of Solace – the movie reminds us, again and again, that what we are seeing is indeed only a movie. One of the main problems is that director Marc Forster clearly does not get action. Every single action scene – whether it’s a rooftop chase, a car chase, a boat chase, or an airplane chase (are you noticing a pattern?) – is composed of enough quick cuts and changes in camera angle to almost completely eliminate any sense of continuity between shots.

Part of the blame can be laid at the feet of second unit director Dan Bradley, who worked on the second and third Bourne films, and who brings a similar style to the action sequences in Quantum of Solace. However, most of the responsibility lies with Forster, who doesn’t seem to have the sense to just let the movie’s action be. Twice in Quantum of Solace he intercuts heavy action sequences with completely unrelated (and uninteresting) events: a horse race and an opera. The effect is disorienting and uncomfortable, and only serves to confuse the audience in the end. Even the movie’s more traditional action sequences suffer from poor editing and a general lack of fluidity. Halfway through the movie’s big boat chase, I literally had no idea who was chasing who or in what direction anyone was going.

Above all, the movie’s biggest problem is that in many ways it represents a return to convention for the series. While Casino Royale broke new ground in terms of changing our perceptions of what a Bond movie could be, Quantum of Solace settles for far less and seems content to do so. I’ve already mentioned the movie’s absurd reference to Goldfinger, as well as Bond’s ill-fitting (albeit brief) return to his pre-Casino womanizing ways. But more generally, Quantum of Solace promotes action over plot and style over substance in a way that reminds me all too much of the direction the franchise was headed before Casino Royale came along.

Overall, Quantum of Solace works best as a companion piece to Casino Royale – but, to be honest, Casino Royale works much better as a standalone film. It doesn’t need Quantum, and neither do we. But as it is with so many things that we don’t necessarily need, it’s hard to say no to James Bond – especially this James Bond. Daniel Craig’s performance alone will justify the price of admission for most, and viewers can for the most part expect a fun, if not entirely comprehensible, experience. My only hope is that next time around, we’ll be in for a much smoother ride.

Rating: *** (out of ****)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Dark Knight Score Disqualified From the Academy Awards

According to Variety, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has disqualified the score of The Dark Knight from consideration in the Academy Awards. Here's why:
Sources inside the committee said that the big issue was the fact that five names were listed as composers on the music cue sheet, the official studio document that specifies every piece of music (along with its duration and copyright owner) in the film.
This is absolutely infuriating. It was bad enough when they disqualified the score of There Will Be Blood last year for using eight minutes of preexisting material (thirty-five minutes were original). But this isn't even a matter of whether or not the music is original – The Dark Knight's score is being disqualified because the Academy thinks too many people are credited for it.

Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard, who collaborated on the score, gave credit to the three other people as "a way of financially rewarding parts of the music team who helped make the overall work successful" (as Zimmer stated in a recent interview). These people were the music editor, ambient music designer and ambient music composer. All three of them signed an affidavit saying that Howard and Zimmer were the primary composers.

I don't see what the Academy's problem is here. Thinking back to The Dark Knight, it's almost impossible to imagine how completely different the movie would have been without the work of those three individuals. There is no way to argue that their contributions weren't integral to the effectiveness of the score, and the fact that the Academy refuses to acknowledge credit where credit is due is absurd.

The Academy has been hanging from my high opinion by a loose thread for the last few years, and this certainly doesn't help its case. It's about time for the Academy to get off its high horse and start addressing some of the ridiculous hypocrisies and double standards that have been bringing it down for so long.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Jaden Smith is the Kung Fu Kid

Now here’s a remake that actually doesn’t sound like a complete disaster. About a year ago, a rumor went around that Will Smith would be directing a remake of The Karate Kid, except that he would be retooling it as The Kung Fu Kid. One year later, the movie seems to have its star – Smith’s son Jaden. ComingSoon has this to say:

Columbia Pictures has refashioned its new version of the 1984 hit The Karate Kid as a star vehicle for Jaden Smith, reports Variety. The film will be produced by Jerry Weintraub (who launched the original franchise) and Overbrook Entertainment's James Lassiter, Jaden's father Will Smith and Ken Stovitz.

The announcement doesn’t say whether Will Smith is still attached to direct, but I think we can assume that to be the case. If The Pursuit of Happyness is any indication, he and Jaden seem to have a real synergy when it comes to working together, so I’m interested to see how this turns out.

I think the fact that they’re not essentially trying to “redo” the original Karate Kid movie is a good thing, and will ultimately work in its favor. Casting a younger actor as the star and changing up the martial arts style actually seem to make this a spiritual sequel more than anything else.

So now, the only real question is: who will play Mr. Miyagi?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Marvel News > DC News

The big comic book movie news today is that Joe Johnston will be directing the Captain America movie, which comes out in 2011. Johnston’s career has been relatively hit (The Rocketeer, October Sky) or miss (Jurassic Park III, Hidalgo), but I’m fairly happy with this news.

To be honest, I was worried Marvel would pick someone absolutely terrible to helm this movie, and the fact that they picked someone with a 50/50 track record gives me at least some hope. Besides, what’s really going to make or break this movie is who they pick to play Captain America. Personally, I’m hoping for Matt Damon. No, seriously.

So DC must have had some pretty good news today to counter this announcement, right? Sure, if you consider the fact that BeyoncĂ© wants to play Wonder Woman to be “good.” But wait, that’s not all! IESB is also reporting that McG is interested in directing said Wonder Woman project.

You know, it never ceases to amaze me how poorly Warner Bros. has managed to handle all of DC’s comic book franchises, other than the last two Batman movies. Marvel has the right idea: introduce several major characters in their own movies, and then bring them together in one big movie (Avengers). For years, DC’s plan has been to start with a team movie, Justice League, and then spin each character off into his or her own franchise from there. That plan has obviously gone nowhere, and the Justice League movie itself was actually cancelled just a few months ago.

It’s a shame, really. DC’s characters could be just as viable as Marvel’s if WB put some effort behind it, the way they did with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. But really – BeyoncĂ© and McG? There is no way that’s the best they can do.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Movie of the Week - Casino Royale

With a new James Bond movie opening in the US this week, could there really be a better time to take a look back at what made its spiritual predecessor so great? It’s been two years now since Casino Royale injected new life into the Bond franchise – both in terms of casting, with Daniel Craig stepping into the role, and in terms of overall cinematic quality. It’s almost hard now to remember all of the anxiety that surrounded the film before its release. Many fans were convinced that Craig would be the worst Bond ever and, consequently, that Casino Royale would mark a new low for the series. Today, it’s quite obvious how that dilemma played out: the pessimists were wrong.

My own interest in the James Bond character dates back to elementary school. By the sixth grade I had seen every Bond film made up to that point (there were nearly twenty), and I could have easily recited the entire list in chronological order. My personal favorites have changed a number of times over the years, but as I became able to recognize the objective quality (or lack thereof) of each film, my top picks have become basically stabilized. I was more hopeful than most in the days and weeks before Casino Royale came out, but I did not expect it to crack the top five, much less the top two. As of today, I consider the title of “Best Bond Film” a toss-up between Casino Royale and From Russia with Love (the second movie, which came out in 1963).

In the summer before Casino Royale’s release, I decided to read the 1953 novel by Ian Fleming – the first one in the series, and James Bond’s first appearance to the world. I was happy to find that the Bond in Casino Royale was the version I enjoyed most in the films. Bond was distant, cruel, uncompromising, and violent, just as a secret agent with a “license to kill” should be. His sense of humor was pitch-black, but at the same time he was sympathetic and human.

Not having seen Daniel Craig’s performance as Bond at that point, I tried to hit upon which Bond actor I would use to visualize the character in the novel. After a few pages, though, I could tell that something wasn’t working – Fleming’s Bond was not quite like any of the Bond actors. He wasn’t bumbling, flippant or snarky like Roger Moore, nor was he the emotional wreck George Lazenby had made Bond out to be. In the end, I settled on alternating my visualization of Bond between Timothy Dalton in The Living Daylights and Pierce Brosnan in Goldeneye. But even then, the match wasn’t quite perfect.

Anyhow, I loved the novel. When I finally saw Casino Royale at the movie theater, it not only met the high expectations I had formed after reading the book – it exceeded them. It kept everything that was great about the novel intact (particularly its portrayal of the character) and expanded the story’s scope, modernizing it. Daniel Craig brought an intensity to the role that elevated him above every actor who had come before him. Yes, even Sean Connery. Craig wasn’t an actor playing James Bond. He was James Bond.

Casino Royale also succeeds in that it tells a story that, unlike many other Bond movies, actually makes sense. And I don’t mean that simply on the level of “the story is understandable,” although there are certainly several Bond movies where that isn’t entirely the case. What I mean is that it makes sense emotionally, which is a first for the franchise. The James Bond of Casino Royale is not just a tough-guy ladies’ man who puts a few bullets in the bad guy and calls it a day. If anything, Bond is too emotionally invested, and it comes back to hurt him in the end.

I could belabor the issue further, but I think I’ve made my point. Casino Royale stands as one of the best James Bond movies because it is essentially different from the twenty that preceded it. That isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with the old movies, of course, because they can be a lot of fun. But in the end, Casino Royale is the only one that can resonate with us emotionally because it is the only one in which Bond is truly human. His struggles, for once, are not self-obsessed, chauvinistic, or incomprehensible – instead, they are ours.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Remembering Bernie Mac

Yahoo has posted a video interview with several of the people who worked with Benie Mac on his new movie Soul Men, which opened today. Some of the interviewees include Samuel L. Jackon (Mac's costar in the movie) as well as the film's director, Malcolm D. Lee. It's definitely worth a watch and made made me much more interested in seeing the movie as well. You can check it out below.

James Bond vs. Vampires

USA Today is reporting that the teen vampire movie Twilight is absolutely dominating the competition in terms of online ticket sales, including the new James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace. Here's what the article has to say:

According to online movie ticket seller Fandango, Twilight is accounting for nearly two-thirds of ticket sales, and more than 100 shows have sold out for the movie's Nov. 21 premiere. Solace, meanwhile, is accounting for only 6%, even though the movie comes out in eight days.

That doesn't mean Solace won't still win the box office battle when all is said and done, but those are the kinds of numbers that can leave even steel-nerved spies a little shaken and stirred.

My guess (and my sincere hope) is that Quantum of Solace will destroy Twilight at the box office regardless. Twilight looks awful, and there's no way it will attract many viewers from outside of its already-established fanbase, the way the Harry Potter movies have. Most people hadn't even heard of Twilight two months ago, and I imagine bad reviews will kill the interest of everyone other than the most rabid fans of the series. So you can rest easy, Mr. Bond – you have nothing to fear.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Three Stooges Are Getting a Remake

I've done my best so far on this blog to make sure that my opinion on remakes is clear: in general, I don't like them. They turn out well sometimes, but for the most part, remakes these days are cheap cash-ins on the original. The people who make these movies never seem to realize that a good remake is almost always the result of some combination of luck, talent, and most importantly, reverence for the source material.

This brings me to the news which led me to bring all of this up in the first place:
according to, the Farrelly Brothers are remaking The Three Stooges. The movie has been fast-tracked for release in 2009, and will be an origin story for Larry, Curly, and Moe, set in the modern day.

Now, there are certain things that I've always considered "untouchable" when it comes to being remade. Star Wars, The Godfather, and Casablanca come to mind as some of the first and foremost examples, but another one for me has always been The Three Stooges. For all of the examples that I mentioned, though, there is just something about the specific way in which these stories were originally told that, in my mind, has always made them unique and unreplicable. The form, the style, and the historical moment they were made in are absolutely integral to our understanding of their stories and subject matter.

But to discuss The Three Stooges more specifically, I think it would be a real disservice to the memories of the original actors and filmmakers to bring the Stooges back. What's worse is that most young and even middle-aged people who watch movies these days have never seen The Three Stooges, and this new movie will be their first (and possibly only) exposure to them.

Furthermore, The Three Stooges was never based in some sort of continuity, nor should it be. We need an "origin" story for the Stooges as much as we need a movie about Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck meeting for the first time. There's just no point, especially when you consider the fact that Larry, Curly, and Moe were never real characters – they were caricatures. They were larger-than-life goofballs who poked, slapped, and kicked one another to slapstick effect, often while parodying real-life events. Many of their WWII-era short films, for example, were brilliant parodies of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. Turning Larry, Curly, and Moe into "real" people by having them meet one another for the first time changes what they are about and takes away everything that made them fun in the first place.

So now I'll open it up to you. Is this news as appalling to you as it is to me, or am I just overreacting? (And if you're interested in watching The Three Stooges but have never seen them before, I would recommend the 1940 short "You Nazty Spy" as a good starting point. You can watch it

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Michael Crichton Dies

CNN is reporting that best-selling author Michael Crichton has died at the age of 66. Crichton was best known as the author of Jurassic Park and the creator of ER, although he also directed a number of films. Several of his other novels, including The Andromeda Strain, Congo, and Sphere were made into movies at one point or another as well. The cause was cancer.

The only book of Crichton's I ever read was Jurassic Park (it was better than the movie, although I like both), but I have seen a fair number of films based on his works. I would attempt to explain what appealed to me about his stories, but I think Steven Spielberg does him better justice than I could in this quote from CNN:

"Michael's talent out-scaled even his own dinosaurs of 'Jurassic Park,' " said Spielberg, a friend of Crichton's for 40 years, according to The Associated Press.

"He was the greatest at blending science with big theatrical concepts, which is what gave credibility to dinosaurs again walking the Earth. ... Michael was a gentle soul who reserved his flamboyant side for his novels. There is no one in the wings that will ever take his place."

He will be missed. Rest in peace, Michael.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Obama Wins

Congratulations to President Elect Barack Obama! Thanks to Cinematical for both of today's pictures.

Election Day

Go on, vote already! The Internet will still be here when you get back.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Why Terrence Howard Was Dumped From Iron Man 2

Entertainment Weekly has finally spilled the beans on why Terrence Howard lost the role of Jim Rhodes to Don Cheadle for the Iron Man sequel. One of the main reasons is that Howard was the highest-paid actor in the movie. Yes, that’s right – he was paid more than Robert Downey Jr., even though his part was much smaller. Marvel was apparently not sure how bankable Downey would be when they initially signed him, and they were counting on Howard’s star power more than anyone else’s.

On top of that, it seems that Iron Man director Jon Favreau felt working with Howard was a bad experience. The Entertainment Weekly article says that Howard was difficult on the set and Favreau was unhappy with his performance overall – so much so that he spent a good deal of time cutting and reshooting Howard’s scenes.

I didn’t think Terrence Howard did a bad job in the first Iron Man movie, but if the director felt that way and thinks he would be able to make a better sequel without Howard, then the casting change was probably for the best. I would have to agree, in addition to that, that Howard being the highest-paid actor in Iron Man is ridiculous. The supporting cast certainly added to the film’s success, but I think everyone can agree that Downey is the one who truly carried the movie.

So unless new information comes out refuting what Entertainment Weekly said, you’ve heard me complain about Howard losing the role for the last time. It sounds like the sequel will be all the better for it, and having Don Cheadle in the role instead certainly can’t be a bad thing.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Oscars Are Up For Grabs

I’ve tried to think of a nicer way of saying this, but there really isn’t one: 2008 hasn’t been the best year for movies. The end of the year is traditionally the time when the movies that get nominated for Oscars are released, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that the movies of late 2008 are not living up to expectations. Films like Body of Lies, Changeling, The Duchess, and Synecdoche, New York in particular were billed as major Oscar contenders, but they all opened to mixed reviews.

To be honest, I can’t say that upcoming movies like Milk, Australia, or Frost/Nixon look like they’re going to curb the trend either. And it is a trend – there’s an almost indescribable blandness that seems to permeate the marketing campaigns for all of these films. They all seem to be mining the same “surefire Oscar” well, and the effect is that they all run together and become lost in the crowd.

On top of that, some of the movies that were assumed to be the biggest Oscar contenders this year, including The Soloist and The Road, were pushed back to 2009. What we’re left with for the remainder of the year are a very small handful of potentially great films. But if these movies continue to fall short of our expectations, we’ll be left without any end-of-the-year movies that are truly Oscar-worthy.

So what does this mean? It means that, for better or for worse, we could be looking at a potential Dark Knight Oscar sweep – best picture, director, the whole works. After all, the last time a movie made as much money as The Dark Knight did (Titanic in 1997) it swept the Oscars quite handily. But while there’s no question that The Dark Knight was a great movie, I can’t help but feel that there’s something a little off about the whole situation. Had TDK come out last year, it would have had no business winning more than one or two awards aside from the “craft” awards – editing, sound, sound editing, and visual effects. You could have made a case for the movie being nominated for best picture (over the highly overrated Atonement), perhaps best cinematography, and maybe a handful of other awards, but it wouldn’t have deserved to win any of them.

My point here is that one of the most satisfying things about seeing a movie you love win an award is the sense of competition that justifies having awards in the first place. Without any real competitors, though, I think I would find a TDK best picture win to be pretty hollow.

On the other hand, if the Academy isn’t enthusiastic about handing The Dark Knight every award it’s eligible for, the current cinematic vacuum could give way to a free-for-all the likes of which haven’t been seen in four or five years. I think this is a more likely scenario than the TDK sweep – the Academy has shown over the last few years that, much like the Golden Globes, they’ve become overly fond of distributing the awards to as many films as possible. It’s also the best scenario, because while TDK was a good movie, it wasn’t so good that it put every other movie this year to shame.

If the Oscars go this route, the winners will be next to impossible to predict. The Academy will put all its focus into the nominations, making sure all of the movies that were hyped up before they came out get their recognition, deserved or not. Brad Pitt will get an acting nomination for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Nicole Kidman will get a best actress nomination for Australia. Charlie Kaufman will get a screenplay nomination for Synecdoche, New York. You don’t even have to have seen any of the movies in question to know who will get nominated. When there aren’t a plethora of truly outstanding movies to choose from, the Academy will “spread the wealth” to the same people it’s recognized countless times before.

Even the studios have recognized the cinematic void of 2008’s fourth quarter, and they’re doing all they can to push for Oscars in places that wouldn’t get a second glance in any other year. Paramount is currently promoting Robert Downey Jr. as best supporting actor for his role in Tropic Thunder. Marvel Enterprises is considering an Oscar push for Iron Man, which could lead to a best actor nomination for Downey as well. The extent to which the Oscars are beginning to mirror the MTV Awards is frightening. The only studio effort that I can really get behind is Disney’s push for WALL-E to get a nomination for best picture. As the best-reviewed movie of 2007, Ratatouille was absolutely robbed of a nomination last year and it’s high time for the Academy to recognize animated films as being worthy of more than just their own award subcategory.

Unfortunately, the real casualties in this whole situation are the good movies. The Dark Knight, as I mentioned before, could be robbed of a real victory by the fact that it has so little competition. Clint Eastwood will almost surely win an Oscar for his acting in Gran Torino, which looks fantastic, but the Academy won’t choose him for the reasons they should. They’ll do it because Eastwood has yet to receive an Oscar for his acting and the Academy has been trying to give him one for years. Is an award even still meaningful when it’s given away like that? Since it’s never entirely possible to explain exactly why people in a group vote one way or another, I guess it’s up for debate.

I’ve taken the long road in getting to this point, but here it is: the Oscars are completely up for grabs at this point. You might as well start making your predictions now, because I doubt it will get any easier in the next few months.