Monday, March 09, 2009

EXCLUSIVE: Yeah Yeah Yeahs-It's Blitz! Review

When the Yeah Yeah Yeahs released their debut album Fever to Tell in 2003 following two acclaimed EPs. They were one of the hot new bands from the New York City garage scene that also included the Strokes. Though they were signed to a label with affiliations with the major label Interscope, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were still considered indie by critics and their growing legion of fans. An unexpected hit in the song Maps gave them some mainstream attention as they were set to work on their second album. Vocalist Karen O was already going through high profile relationships with the Liars frontman Angus Andrew and film director Spike Jones.

Working with Jones’ brother Sam Spiegel for the Show Your Bones album, the band wanted to reinvent themselves musically as they leaned towards more acoustic instruments, broader arrangements, and diverse styles. The resulting album received some acclaim from fans and critics but some felt the album lacked the primal intensity of Fever to Tell as well as its cohesiveness. It was around the time that tension within the band was becoming troubling as Karen O, guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Nick Zinner, and drummer Brian Chase were dealing with fame and personal turmoil. 2007's Is Is EP featured re-recorded songs written from the Fever to Tell tour was produced by Nick Luanay. The famed producer who worked with acts like Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Public Image Ltd., and the Slits.

The record brought new inspiration from the band as they took a break to do side projects. In 2008, the band decided to return to the studio to work with Nick Luanay and their Fever to Tell producer David Andrew Sitek of TV on the Radio, who did additional production on Show Your Bones. For the next record, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs decided to reinvent themselves once again by trading guitars for synthesizers for some tracks. At the same time, the band explore the dance-punk sub-genre as well as more elements of post-punk for what is probably the band’s best work to date entitled
It’s Blitz!

Written & performed by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs with production by Nick Luanay and David Andrew Sitek, It’s Blitz! is an album filled with hypnotic, synthesizer-driven dance-punk songs, haunting ballads, and genre-bending cuts. With Karen O’s vocals more confident and engaging than in previous albums without the screeches of early albums. The musicianship of Nick Zinner on guitars, bass, keyboards, and synthesizers and Brian Chase on drums and other percussive-driven instruments reaches new heights in its performance and precision. The album features guest appearances from Sitek’s TV on the Radio cohorts Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone, the Birds and the Bees instrumentalist Greg Kurstin, Yeah Yeah Yeahs touring bassist Imaad Wasif, and from the Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, trumpet player Eric Biondo and saxophonist Stuart Bogie. The result isn’t just a new defining step for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs but also one of 2009's most surprising albums.

The album opens with its leading single Zero, a song that opens with a shimmering, menacing synthesizer line with Karen O’s sensual vocal lead the way. With Brian Chase’s thumping, throbbing beats and hi-hat cymbal crashes, the song becomes this full-on, dance-punk song with a wailing synthesizer accompaniment as Karen sings lyrics of loneliness meshed with her high-octane vocals. The track features wonderful arrangements by Nick Zinner on a guitar and synthesizer that includes a melodic, buzz-laden synthesizer solo. Heads Will Roll is an upbeat, electro-punk track with Chase’s throbbing, rhythmic drum beats, Zinner’s hypnotic synthesizer layers with swift, arpeggio guitar melodies in the background. Yet, it’s Karen’s vocals that is filled with wailing, energetic cries and a soft, silky range that is filled with partying lyrics for a song that is truly a dance number with a unique punk energy. Soft Shock is a mid-tempo number with melodic synthesizer tracks and smooth, thumping rhythms from Brian Chase’s drums. With a flute-like synthesizer solo in the background that sounds like a guitar, Karen’s vocals are smooth and calm as she sings imagery-laden lyrics filled with wonderful description along with Zinner’s swirling, melodic guitar accompaniment.

The ballad Skeletons is one of the album’s chilling highlights with its ambient-like synthesizer shimmers and wailing accompaniment as Karen’s somber yet seductive vocals being the major highlight of the song. Filled with melancholic lyrics, it’s a ballad that is earnest in its melancholia with Brian Chase bringing in soft yet powerful tom-tom beats and tapping sticks along with Zinner’s wailing, woodwind-like synthesizer solo that recalls the early synthesizer experiments of late 70s era David Bowie. Dull Life starts off as a haunting, melodic ballad led by Zinner’s guitar and Karen’s haunting vocals filled with dark lyrics as it becomes a more intense, mid-tempo track with thumping beats. With its swift, energetic performance of rollicking drums and driving guitars, it’s the band getting back to their old sound but in a refined fashion due to the crisp, layered production of Nick Luanay and David Andrew Sitek.

Shame And Fortune is a mid-tempo song with fuzzy bass lines and Chase’s shimmering, hi-hat beat accompaniment. With Chase’s pounding drums and Zinner’s bass-driven presentation driving the song, it’s Karen’s sinister, wailing vocals filled with angry lyrics that reveal the band being confrontational but without any of their old fury. Instead, Zinner’s screeching guitar solo and simple rhythms show a new side to the band without going into their old punk energy. Runaway is a piano-ballad of sorts featuring Greg Kurtsin playing a haunting piano accompaniment with Karen’s soothing vocals filled with evocative notes in her vocals. With a momentum-building arrangement from Zinner’s sliding, ethereal guitar, a cello performance from Jane Scarpantoni, and Chase bringing in a thumping drum track. It’s a new sound to the band that has them getting into darker territory with its somber lyrics and broad presentation that is fierce but also seductive.

Dragon Queen is a mid-tempo, funky track that features TV on the Radio vocalist Tunde Adebimpe on backing vocals and guitarist/vocalist Kyp Malone an accompanying tambourine. With Zinner’s melodic, swanky guitar and swirling synthesizer accompaniment with throbbing beats from Chase as Karen and Tunde Adebimpe sings the song’s verse. With its colorful, abstract lyrics, it features funky guitar breaks in the chorus with Karen’s lush, evocative vocals leading the way. Hysteric is another mid-tempo track that features thumping beats, vibrato guitar riffs, and melodic synthesizer notes as Karen sings in a cool, ethereal vocal. For its soothing chorus with a lush synthesizer accompaniment, Karen’s vocals take on a new world with her dreamy lyrics as she’s later accompanied by saxophonist Stuart Bogie and trumpeter Eric Biondo in the second half of the song as it’s one of the album’s great cuts. The album closer is the somber, acoustic-ballad Little Shadow that features Karen’s soft, dreamy vocals filled with melancholic lyrics. With the band’s auxiliary musician Imaad Wasif playing a melodic acoustic guitar track, it’s Chase’s slow, vibrant tom-tom drums that creates a building momentum. Then the track becomes bigger with Zinner’s ambient-like synthesizer swirls and dreamy guitar as it accompanies Karen’s somber vocals to its evocative ending.

What makes It’s Blitz! superior than its predecessors is its consistency, flow, and the production of Nick Luanay and David Andrew Sitek. Whereas Show Your Bones had a sluggish flow and production that was too sparse despite an array of great songs. It’s Blitz! is a record that has the band taking on someone as experienced like Nick Luanay along with longtime cohort David Andrew Sitek to shape their album. Along with dabbling their experiment into more synthesizer-driven sounds and re-shaping their art-punk sound. It’s Luanay’s experience in working on various different musical styles and Sitek’s experimentalism that actually gives the album a balance previous albums didn’t have. The result is something that’s more fluid and songs that range from dance-punk, arty ballads, and hybrid songs that often range from bands like the Smiths to the Cure.

At the same time, there’s a renewed sense of confidence in the band in their performance as Brian Chase’s drums delve into more rhythms as he plays with a precision and energy that wasn’t really heard in Show Your Bones. Nick Zinner proves to be the band’s key musician as he’s really the drive to what makes this album unique whether he’s playing guitar or synthesizers while making the instruments sound each other. Then there’s Karen O as the screeching, grunts, and yelps of her vocals in previous album have changed for something more sensual, lush, and evocative as she truly is the heart of the album. Yet, it’s a Yeah Yeah Yeahs record at the fullest form as all three create something that really shows a unique progression that is surely going to make them a band to watch in the years to come.

It’s Blitz! is far and beyond a masterpiece from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs that goes all over the place and doesn’t lose sight of what it achieves. Fans of the band will be surprised by what the album sounds like in its different styles yet be amazed they haven’t lost their energy or eclectic sound. It’s a record that is filled with dance tunes, funk songs, ballads, and romps that all fit in at the right place at the right time. Thanks in part to the superb production of Nick Luanay and David Andrew Sitek, it’s a record that is enjoyable in every note and sound as it makes it enjoyable and fresh with repeated hearings. In the end, It’s Blitz! is an album that proclaims that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are fulfilling their potential and more.

YYYs Reviews:

Yeah Yeah Yeahs EP:


Fever to Tell:


Gold Lion:

Show Your Bones:

Is Is EP:

Atlanta, GA-Echo Lounge 11/10/03:

Atlanta, GA-The Tabernacle 10/14/06:

Friday, February 20, 2009

81st Oscar Predictions

(Note: This project was written back in late January but due to's incompetence, it will be shown here)

2009 Oscar Picks

The Academy Awards is a time to celebrate the best of films and to show how out of touch the Academy always is in choosing nominees and placing rules and such for certain categories. The Oscars often do good in giving awards to films or individuals that deserve it but also are wrong in who or what they choose to win. There’s times the Oscar is willing to take risks with surprise winners but also end up copping out and give it to something that’s either purely sentimental or a political subject matter that has been explored with such dramatic contrivance. That’s the Oscars for you, where the beautiful people where glamorous clothing and maybe make fools of themselves or for a renegade to finally say something that will shock audiences but to the delight of true film fans. Well, it’s Oscar time and time to check out the nominees.

Pt. I: The Big 8, Animated, Documentary & Foreign-Language Films

Best Picture

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

A man aging backwards throughout the 20th Century while David Frost interviews Richard Nixon in 1977. The life of openly-gay city supervisor Harvey Milk is told as he becomes a hero for gay rights while a man recalls his relationship as a teenager with a woman who turns out to be a Nazi. Finally, a story of a young man playing Who Wants to Be a Millionaire as he’s one question away from winning it all while trying to get the attention of the girl that he loves. These five different films in various genres tell different stories about power, traumatic events, inspiration, determination, and curiosities. These are the nominees for Best Picture.

Who Will/Should Win: Slumdog Millionaire

Of all of the films in this category, Slumdog Millionaire was the film that no one expected to be a major contender in the Oscar race. Yet, due to the buzz it received from film festivals plus word-of-mouth from audiences since its limited release in November. This film became a true, sleeper, runaway hit that managed to be accessible to a wide audience while appealing to a Bollywood audience as it’s set entirely in India. Danny Boyle created a modern-day Charles Dickens story that proved to be inspirational and entertaining as it’s the film to beat. Most of all, it’s the one film that doesn’t look or feel like the traditional Oscar-type of film filled with prestige and large dramatic presentation.

Dark Horse: The Reader

One of the last projects that was developed by Sydney Pollock and Anthony Minghella, two Oscar-winning directors who had died in the past two years. The Reader was a passion project for the two as it revolves a man recalling his experience about an affair he had as a teenage boy with an older woman. Then when he learns that she was a Nazi, his world is crumbled as the man tries to recall those events. The reason this film is the least likely to win is that of its nominees, it’s dramatic structure is the most flawed as some complained that the second half of the film was too dramatic. Also, its nomination caused the following films to be snubbed in its favor: The Dark Knight, WALL-E, Revolutionary Road, Doubt, Che, and The Wrestler.

Best Director

Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
Stephen Daldry, The Reader
David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon
Gus Van Sant, Milk

Who Will Win: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire

One of Britain’s acclaimed and revered directors, Danny Boyle has always created films that delved in different genres whether it’s sci-fi with Sunshine, family drama with Millions, or a zombie-thriller in 28 Days Later. While those films managed to restore Boyle’s profile following the critical and commercial bomb for 2000's The Beach, Boyle hadn’t made a film that garnered as much attention and acclaim since 1996's Trainspotting. With Slumdog Millionaire, Boyle made his best film since Trainspotting with a vibrant, energetic, and inspiring film that mixes Bollywood with Boyle’s unique approach to storytelling. Particularly in capturing the scenes shot in Mumbai to capture its energy and realism with help from co-director Loveleen Tandan as Boyle is likely to win the Oscar and truly deserves it.

Who Should Win: Gus Van Sant, Milk

Of all of the directors in this category, no one is as revered or as influential than Gus Van Sant. From his art-house hits like Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho to some mainstream hits like To Die For and Good Will Hunting, Van Sant has been prolific in recent years working with experimental films about death and teen angst. The Death trilogy of Gerry, Elephant, and Last Days along with 2007's Paranoid Park provided Van Sant with more room to create films that are haunting and dream-like. With Milk, Van Sant returns to more mainstream territory while playing around with the conventions of a traditional bio-pic by providing audiences with a history lesson as well as profiling one of the most influential figures in the history of gay rights. Van Sant should win not just for his film but for his career as a victory for him would mean a victory for the other greats like Stanley Kubrick, Robert Altman, Akira Kurosawa, and others who never got their due.

Dark Horse: Stephen Daldry, The Reader

With only three films to his credit including Billy Elliot and The Hours, Daldry seems to be the least experienced and least well-known among the nominees. While he doesn’t have the commercial appeal of David Fincher and Ron Howard or the artistic prestige of Gus Van Sant and Danny Boyle. Daldry does stand out for his theatrical background and his unique take for his approach of a film like The Reader despite its flaws. Yet, his nomination does manage to get others like Clint Eastwood, Sam Mendes, Darren Aronofsky, Christopher Nolan, Andrew Stanton, John Patrick Shanley, and Steven Soderbergh to be snubbed this year.

Best Actor

Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn, Milk
Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

A professor enlivened by new experiences from immigrants while Richard Nixon tries to defend his actions to the public in a televised interview. A gay businessman becomes a politician and an unlikely hero for gay rights while a man ages backwards as he experiences many wonders in his life. Finally, an aging pro wrestler contends with realism and regrets as he has the opportunity to wrestle for the big time again.

Who Will Win: Sean Penn, Milk

Already an Oscar winner for Best Actor back in 2003 for Mystic River, Sean Penn remains one of the most celebrated and revered actors of his generation. For the role of real-life, openly gay politician Harvey Milk, Penn strays away from the dark characters he had played in previous years for someone more likeable and open. Capturing all of Milk’s mannerisms and quirks, Penn brings Milk back to life in a performance that is inspirational while having Penn smile for the majority of the film giving him his most likeable performance since his 1982 breakthrough in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Who Should Win: Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

One of the most gifted actors to come out the 1980s, Mickey Rourke had it all including good looks and talent. Yet, he was also troubled and unpredictable as he was a bad boy who managed to squander his talents by the early 1990s and nearly labeled a has-been. While Rourke managed to find work in recent years, it was his portrayal of Randy "The Ram" Robinson for The Wrestler that proved to the ultimate comeback role. A role originally given to Nicolas Cage who decided to drop out for Rourke to play the character, Rourke manages to take all of his flaws and troubles into a character who wanted to please everyone but also struggle with reality. Rourke’s performance exudes all of the sadness and yearn for redemption in his character as a victory of him would truly be the ultimate comeback story.

Dark Horse: Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

While Brad Pitt might be the most well-known and famous actor among the nominees, there’s a reason why he’s a longshot to win. Veteran character actor Richard Jenkins might seem like the longshot since not many people have seen him playing a rare lead in The Visitor. Yet, Jenkins was the actor who garnered a lot of critical acclaim and buzz for his performance as a professor finding new life through friendships with immigrants. While Pitt’s performance in the title character is an excellent performance, it’s the one performance that seems too tailor-made for Oscar as Pitt seems clearly to be out-acted by the rest of his nominees. Plus, his nomination has managed to get actors like Clint Eastwood for Gran Torino, Leonardo DiCaprio for Revolutionary Road, Colin Farrell for In Bruges, and Benicio del Toro for Che to be snubbed.

Best Actress

Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie, Changeling
Melissa Leo, Frozen River
Meryl Streep, Doubt
Kate Winslet, The Reader

A troubled model returns home for her sister’s wedding while a mother struggles to find her sons in the 1930s through police corruption. A working class woman helps smuggle illegal immigrants for money while a school nun makes accusations towards a new, progressive priest. A young woman has an affair with a man half her age as she would give the boy a mesmerizing experience.

Who Will Win: Kate Winslet, The Reader

Kate Winslet has been nominated several times for an Oscar but always managed to lose to someone. While she remains one of cinema’s most celebrated actresses, she still hasn’t one an Oscar where it’s even been joked in the British TV comedy Extras where Winslet stars in a Holocaust film so she can win an Oscar. Well, Winslet seems to take that idea by playing a woman who is later revealed to be a Nazi. While it’s Winslet providing the kind of subtlety and brilliance she displays as an actress, her chances to win seem high as she won 2 Golden Globes for this role and as a frustrated housewife in Revolutionary Road.

Who Should Win: Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married

The youngest nominee among her fellow actresses in her 20s, Anne Hathaway proved herself to be a serious, credible actress in the role of an ex-model/former drug addict attending her older sister’s wedding. Hathaway, who had been known for acting in light-hearted films like The Princess Diaries, Ella Enchanted, and The Devils Wears Prada with fellow nominee Meryl Streep along with more serious films like Brokeback Mountain, Nicholas Nickelby, and Becoming Jane. Hathaway’s performance in Rachel Getting Married shows Hathaway stripping away from convention for a raw, intense, and dramatic performance as a character who is both sympathetic and unlikeable. It’s a true tour-de-force performance from the young actress.

Dark Horse: Angelina Jolie, Changeling

Already an Oscar winner for Best Supporting Actress with 1999's Girl, Interrupted, Jolie, like her partner Brad Pitt, is the most well-known and more famous among her nominees. Yet, her as the longshot seems baffling when she’s up against not just three very likely winners like Winslet, Streep, and Hathaway, but also a more obscure actress in another veteran character actor in Melissa Leo. Yet, Leo came into the race with critical acclaim and awards buzz while Jolie’s performance has garnered mixed reviews with critics. Though Jolie has recently reminded audiences why she is an excellent actress with Changeling and Michael Winterbottom’s A Mighty Heart. She doesn’t seem likely to win while her nomination managed to get people like Sally Hawkins for Happy-Go-Lucky, Cate Blanchett for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Rebecca Hall for Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and Michelle Williams for Wendy & Lucy to be snubbed.

Best Supporting Actor

Josh Brolin, Milk
Robert Downey Jr., Tropic Thunder
Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road

An angry city supervisor becomes the man who would kill Harvey Milk while a white Australian actor takes his role way too seriously as an African-American platoon sergeant. A progressive priest defends himself against accusations from a nun while a nihilistic criminal wreaks havoc against Gotham City. A man watches a couple’s marriage disintegrate as he tries to break against the conventions of society.

Who Will/Should Win: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

The late actor whose January 2008 death was a shock to the film world as Heath Ledger was poised to become one of cinema’s most gifted actor of his generation. In his penultimate role as the Joker for The Dark Knight, Ledger reinvents the characters as darkly humor nihilist hellbent on destroying Gotham to prove that there’s no good in the world. Straying away from the comic take of Cesar Romero in the TV version, the extravagance bravado of Jack Nicholson of Tim Burton’s 1989 film version of Batman, and Mark Hamill’s darkly-comic take on the animated versions of Batman. Ledger brings a twisted, punk-rock take on the character with grungy makeup and dark humor that is truly one of the greatest performances captured on film as it’s a brilliant performance from the late actor.

Dark Horse: Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road

Michael Shannon has been known as a character actor playing small roles and such throughout the years. Yet, he’s always managed to make his performances to be memorable no matter how small it is. In the role of a mentally-ill neighbor who sees a couple’s marriage disintegrating while dealing with the constraints of the neighborhood he lives in. His performance might seem the most traditional that’s expected in a supporting role but it’s one that also has garnered criticism from a few critics. Shannon’s nomination did manage to get several actors snubbed like Emile Hirsch and James Franco for Milk, Michael Sheen for Frost/Nixon, Bill Irwin for Rachel Getting Married, Brendan Gleeson for In Bruges, Eddie Marsan for Happy-Go-Lucky and Ralph Fiennes for The Reader.

Best Supporting Actress

Amy Adams, Doubt
Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis, Doubt
Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler

A nun being caught in the middle of a scandal while a volatile artist disrupts her ex-husband’s relationship only to become part of it. A student’s mother face off against a nun over accusations while a woman takes care of an aging man. An aging stripper befriends an aging wrestler as she becomes his unlikely supporter.

Who Will Win: Viola Davis, Doubt

Though she’s only in the film for 10 minutes, Viola Davis’ performance as the mother of a boy who is the subject of scandal at a Catholic school is truly mesmerizing. In her lone scene where she faces off against Meryl Streep as the school’s principal, it’s a performance that gives the veteran actress a chance to shine against one of the best. While 10 minutes might seem not enough for a win, it should be noted that Judi Dench won the Best Supporting Actress 10 years before for a very small role as a queen in Shakespeare in Love. So that piece of history might help Davis win.

Who Should Win: Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona

In the role of the fiery, volatile Maria Elena in Woody Allen’s comedy s

et in Spain, Penelope Cruz brings a role that truly is a tour-de-force and often unpredictable. Stealing the show from her co-stars including real-life boyfriend Javier Bardem, Cruz exudes the sexiness as well as suspicion of what her ex-husband’s new girlfriend wants in the relationship as a love triangle ensues. Doing the character both in English and her native Spanish, it’s a performance from Cruz that is mesmerizing to watch from the first time she appears to her final scene-stealing moment.

Dark Horse: Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Taraji P. Henson is an actress that’s been getting some standout roles in the past few years with films like Hustle & Flow and Talk to Me. In the role of Benjamin Button’s adoptive mother who raises him as a boy in an old man’s body, Henson’s performance as a no-nonsense, charming woman who runs a retirement home is truly her best performance to date. Yet, it’s also a role that kind fits into a stereotype for African-American parts where they do something for white characters. Henson’s surprise nomination does manage to get other possible nominees like fellow Benjamin Button co-star Tilda Swinton, Rosemarie DeWitt from Rachel Getting Married, Alison Pill for Milk, Misty Upham for Frozen River, and Hiam Abbass for The Visitor.

Best Original Screenplay

Dustin Lance Black, Milk
Courtney Hunt, Frozen River
Mike Leigh, Happy-Go-Lucky
Martin McDonagh, In Bruges
Pete Docter, Jim Reardon, & Andrew Stanton, WALL-E

The life of an openly-gay politician is told during the 1970s Gay & Lesbian Rights movement while a working class woman and a Native American smuggle illegal immigrants for money. An upbeat woman tries to cheer up people in her life while two hitmen hide out in a small Belgium town. A robot in the future falls for another robot as he goes on a big journey to retrieve her.

Who Will/Should Win: Pete Docter, Jim Reardon, & Andrew Stanton, WALL-E

Of all the Pixar feature films since the 1995 film that started it all with Toy Story, WALL-E is a film that transcends all genres. While it’s a 3-D computer animated film, it’s a film that features silent comedy, drama, science fiction, musical, and adventure. While there’s not much dialogue in the script for the film, the story of a robot who becomes an unlikely hero is a universal one that reveals the brilliance behind the Pixar film team that consists of top animators like Pete Docter and WALL-E director Andrew Stanton. It’s a film that is both accessible to children and adults while having a story that is both enthralling and emotionally empowering.

Dark Horse: Courtney Hunt, Frozen River

The story of a working class woman teaming up with a Native American woman to smuggle illegal immigrants to the U.S. for money is an unlikely nominee but also worth-deserving. From Courtney Hunt, who won the Dramatic Jury Prize at Sundance for this film creates a story that is powerful that includes real human drama. While it’s most likely the least-seen film among its nominees, it’s nomination does raise the film’s profile. Yet, it also manages to snub the nominations of scripts for Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York, Robert Smigel’s The Wrestler, and Jenny Lumet’s script for Rachel Getting Married.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire
David Hare, The Reader
Peter Morgan, Frost/Nixon
Eric Roth & Robin Swicord, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
John Patrick Shanley, Doubt

A young man from the slums of Mumbai takes part on an Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire while a young man has an affair with an older woman that would change his life. Richard Nixon battles David Frost in the 1977 TV interviews while a man ages backwards throughout the 20th Century. A nun running a Catholic school battles a progressive priest over accusations involving him and a child.

Who Will/Should Win: Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire

Based on the novel Q&A by Vikas Swarup, Simon Beaufoy adapts Swarup’s simple tale of an Indian waiter who becomes the biggest winner in an Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire only to be accused of cheating. By exploring the world of India, the slums of Mumbai, and adding a love story subplot to the film, Beaufoy creates a story that is a modern-day Charles Dickens tale with a mix of Bollywood to create a universal story that is inspiration with characters to root for. At the same time, he takes Swarup’s exploration into why the protagonist answered these questions and how it relates to a memory in his life.

Dark Horse: David Hare, The Reader

Based on the 1996 novel by German writer Bernard Schlink, the adaptation of the film explores a man dealing with memories as a teenager whom he has an affair with a woman who is later revealed to be a Nazi. The script is an adaptation though some critics had problems with its second half of the story that revealed Kate Winslet’s character’s true identity and the man trying to explore the truth. Its nomination definitely caused other scripts like Jonathan and Christopher Nolan’s script for The Dark Knight with help from David S. Goyer and the adaptation for Revolutionary Road to be snubbed.

Best Animated Film:

Kung-Fu Panda

A movie star dog enters the real world realizing he doesn’t have superpowers while trying to find a little girl. A panda tries to become a kung-fu master while helping other masters fight an escaped enemy. A robot in the future falls for a robot trying to find life on Earth only to follow her later into outer space. These nominees for Best Animated Film prove that animated films show the brilliance and art of animation as they all try to break new ground in the technical scale along with stories that prove to be entertaining and universal.

Who Will/Should Win: WALL-E

If there’s a film that raises the bar of what animation can do, WALL-E is that film because it transcends all genres of film while creating a story that is truly mesmerizing. With help from renowned cinematographer Roger Deakins as a visual consultant along with special effects master Dennis Muren, director Andrew Stanton creates a film that references classic sci-fi films while adding new layers to the genre. A film that is accessible to children and film buffs, WALL-E is a film that reveals in what animated films can do in its technical and visual scale with a story that can prove to be emotionally powerful.

Dark Horse: Bolt

While it’s clear that Pixar’s WALL-E is the likely winner, it will give its distributor Disney another victory in that category. With Pixar co-founder John Lasseter running the animation field for Disney while hoping to revive the 2-D, hand-drawn animation style of the past. Bolt marks a right step in the direction for the company as its 3-D animated film has a story that is entertaining yet heartfelt. While other animated films from other companies like Madagascar 2, Horton Hears a Who?, and Igor could’ve been nominated. None of those films have created the technical brilliance or strong storylines that its nominees has while Kung-Fu Panda is an unlikely film that is truly entertaining while exploring the martial arts genre. Bolt and Kung-Fu Panda might be longshots, their nominations are well-deserved.

Best Foreign-Language Film

Der Baader Meinhof Komplex (The Baader Meinhof Complex)-Germany
Entre les murs (The Class)-France
Vals Im Bashir (Waltz with Bashir)-Israel

Uli Edel’s story of West Germany’s terrorist group Red Army Faction from its beginnings in the late 60s to the student movement of 1977. A teacher inspires students an inner-city school middle school in Paris by Laurent Cantet. Gotz Spielmann’s ill-fated love story between an ex-convict and a Ukranian prostitute as they attempt a bank robbery. Yojiro Takita tells the story of a cellist who loses his job as he and his wife return to his hometown as he takes a new job dealing with the dead. Ari Folman re-creates his memories of his experience in the 1982 Lebanon war in an animated documentary. One of the most exciting and often controversial categories, it’s one that often gives these films from foreign countries the chance to be seen by American audiences.

Who Will/Should Win: Vals Im Bashir

Animated documentaries are a rare thing in films these days as Ari Folman tells the story of his own experience as a soldier during the 1982 Lebanon war. Recreating images through roto-scope style animation similar to the films of Richard Linklater like Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. For Israel, an Oscar win might seem to be a huge victory as it’s often a country plagued with conflict. Yet, it faces serious competition with Entre les murs from France, the film that beat Vals Im Bashir at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival for the prestigious Palme D’or.
Dark Horse: Okuribito

While the Japanese film industry remains vital through the horror genre with a few art-house films popping up every now and then. It hasn’t gotten the same kind of international prestige when it was led by Akira Kurosawa. It’s story of loss and dealing with loss has been a film festival winner though it’s nomination does seem surprising. It’s often reason why there’s controversy over the voting process towards the foreign-film category. Films that could’ve been nominated like Italy’s Gommora by Matteo Gorrone, Sweden’s Lat den Ratte Komma in (Let the Right One In) by Tomas Alfredson, and another French film in Il ya Longtemps que Je T’aime (I Loved You So Long) by Phillippe Claudel reveal the controversy over the selection of what films should be nominated.

Best Documentary Feature Film

The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)
Encounters at the End of the World
The Garden
Man on Wire
Trouble the Water

Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasvath explore a family from Laos leaving the country to go to the U.S. during Vietnam and eventual reunion between splintered families. Werner Herzog explores the mystifying world of Antarctica and the people who study the continent and its surroundings. Scott Kennedy Hamilton explores a garden made following the L.A. riots that is being threatened by bulldozers causing an entire community to fight against land developers. James Marsh explore Philippe Petit’s famous tightrope walk between the World Trade Center buildings in 1974. Tia Lessen and Carl Deal explore a couple’s survival during Hurricane Katrina as they’re trapped inside their house during the flood. The feature-length documentary is always one of the Oscar’s most exciting categories in its emphasis to document courageous stories based on fact.

Who Will Win: Man on Wire

James Marsh’s documentary about Philippe Petit’s famous walk between the World Trade Center in 1974 is truly one of the most mesmerizing tales in film. Marsh’s approach to recreate the event along with interviews with the people involved. With photos of Petit’s famous walk shown, it reveals the powerful feat of a man doing something impossible without any mentions of 9/11. It’s clearly the film to beat as it’s a film that’s garnered rave reviews as well as decent box office numbers.

Who Should Win: Encounters at the End of the World

One of cinema’s renowned personalities, Werner Herzog is a man who always made fascinating documentaries about nature with his unique, cynical point of view. For his documentary about Antarctica, the land, and the people that live and work at the place, Herzog creates the anti-March of the Penguins documentary for something more insightful. Talking to the scientists and people exploring the land with worlds that are never seen in other nature documentaries, it’s one of Herzog’s most enduring films. His nomination marks the first time Herzog has been nominated for an Oscar since his career began back in 1962. A win would be a glorious achievement for his career with fans knowing that a speech from him would be an entertaining moment.

Dark Horse: The Garden

Choosing a longshot in the documentary field is tough. Among the nominees, The Garden and Scott Kennedy Hamilton are the least known and profiled. While Trouble the Water was a film that won the documentary prize at Sundance while The Betrayal was co-directed by renowned cinematographer Ellen Kuras. Hamilton’s tale about a garden created in the aftermath of the L.A. riots that provided a positive element to its community of urban farmers. When land developers tried to destroy the garden, a community rallies against the developers seems like an inspirational story but one that’s been told numerous times. Yet, the category is always complicated with films often snubbed either due to rules or votes leading to films like Roman Polanski: Wanted & Desired by Marina Zenovich to be snubbed due to its rules.

Pt. II: Shorts & Technical Awards

Best Cinematography

Changeling-Tom Stern
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button-Claudio Miranda
The Dark Knight-Wally Pfister
The Reader-Roger Deakins & Chris Menges
Slumdog Millionaire-Anthony Dod Mantle

Who Will/Should Win: Anthony Dod Mantle, Slumdog Millionaire

One of the prominent cinematographers of the Dogme 95 movement, Mantle’s unique hand-held style has been praised by critics for years. Mantle has become Danny Boyle’s regular cinematographer since 2002's 28 Days Later in which Mantle brought a loose, grainy style to the zombie thriller. For Slumdog Millionaire, Mantle complements the colorful world of India with his hand-held style with some grainy footage but also high colors to complement the nightlife of India. It’s clear that Mantle deserves the award for bringing something new and energetic to wide audiences in its depiction of India and the world of Mumbai.

Dark Horse: Wally Pfister, The Dark Knight

Pfister’s work in The Dark Knight truly raises the bar for the action film genre with sepia-like lighting motifs for some of the film’s action sequences, IMAX camera footage of city locations, and everything. The reason it’s the dark horse is often due that action films usually don’t get the win so it’s not likely to change despite Pfister’s brilliant work.

Best Editing

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button-Angus Wall & Kirk Baxter
The Dark Knight-Lee Smith
Frost/Nixon-Daniel P. Hanley & Mike Hill
Milk-Elliot Graham
Slumdog Millionaire-Chris Dickens

Who Will/Should Win: Chris Dickens, Slumdog Millionaire

Dickens’ energetic, fluid editing to capture the energy of Mumbai and India itself truly is fascinating. With a rhythmic cutting for some of the film’s energetic scene to more slower yet hypnotic cutting for the more dramatic scenes. Dickens’ work is truly superb in its flow and rhythm along with moving the story back and forth to emphasize its idea of memory.

Dark Horse: Lee Smith, The Dark Knight

Smith’s work does go against some of the conventions of traditional action blockbuster films. At the same time, it emphasis on dramatic tension, suspense, and dark humor is to complement the brilliance of the film and Smith’s editing. The reason is a longshot is that action films often get slighted in the editing field for more dramatic features.

Best Art Direction

Changeling-James J. Murakami & Gary Fettis
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button-Donald Graham Burt & Victor J. Zoffo
The Dark Knight-Nathan Crowley & Peter Lando
The Duchess-Michael Carlin & Rebecca Alleway
Revolutionary Road-Kristi Zea & Debra Schutt

Who Will/Should Win: Donald Graham Burt & Victor J. Zoffo-The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The art direction of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by production designer Donald Graham Burt and set decorator Victor J. Zoffo is truly magnificent. From its early 20th Century look featuring the backwards clock that is an important part of the film to the 1960s duplex that Benjamin Button and Daisy live in. It’s got a very authentic look of early New Orleans to its pre-Hurricane Katrina look. It’s art direction at its finest in its recreation of a period and atmosphere.

Dark Horse: Nathan Crowley & Peter Lando, The Dark Knight

Production designer Nathan Crowley and set decorator Peter Lando do brilliant work with the look of the Wayne condo pad plus a new Batcave and other places. The problem is that the film has a contemporary look while the rest of its nominees are more period pieces. Films with a contemporary look in terms of art direction are likely to not win since there’s so much work made towards period sets.

Best Costume Design

Australia-Catherine Martin
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button-Jacqueline West
The Duchess-Michael O’Connor
Milk-Danny Glicker
Revolutionary Road-Albert Wolsky

Who Will/Should Win: Jacqueline West, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Jacqueline West’s approach in the costume design for the film is truly magnificent as she creates various looks for the film as it moves from one period to another. From the early 20th Century to the present time, West’s work in the costume design is superb in creating various looks of clothing and such. Especially the suits that the men wear and the dresses that the women wear to reveal the work that it takes to create great costumes for a period film.

Dark Horse: Danny Glicker, Milk

Danny Glicker’s work to recreate the 1970s look of San Francisco from the early hippie-like look of the early 70s to the more buttoned-down, clean-cut look of 1978 for the character of Harvey Milk. Glicker’s work is brilliant but in comparison to the rest of its nominees. It’s the one film that seems more contemporary while its other nominees are more from different time periods like early 20th Century and 18th Century periods.

Best Sound Mixing

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button-David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce, & Mark Weingarten
The Dark Knight-Ed Novick, Lora Hirschberg, & Gary Rizzo
Slumdog Millionaire-Ian Tapp, Richard Pryke, & Resul Pookutty
WALL-E-Tom Myers, Michael Semanick, & Ben Burtt
Wanted-Chris Jenkins, Frank A. Montano, & Petr Forejt

Who Will Win: David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce, & Mark Weingarten-The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The sound mixing in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is truly magnificent from the way it captures the raucous world of early New Orleans nightlife to a brilliant World War II sequence. It’s sound design and mixing at its finest as it deserves its nomination for the way it captures each period setting in all of its layers.

Who Should Win: Tom Myer, Michael Semanick, & Ben Burtt-WALL-E

Led by the legendary sound designer Ben Burtt of Star Wars fame, Burtt and his team of mixers recreate the idea of science fiction in its layering of voices, spaceship noises, and such. With Burtt providing the voice for the title character along with other robots, it’s truly sound design at its mastery with Burtt truly deserving the honor.

Dark Horse: Chris Jenkins, Frank A. Montano, & Petr Forejt-Wanted

Action films are often longshots depending on the film. Wanted seems to be the one film that is not likely to win despite the layering of noise in gun fights and action they create. It’s largely because it’s a film that doesn’t get a lot of acclaim and is representative of a blockbuster film that gets a mixed response from audiences.

Best Sound Editing

The Dark Knight-Richard King
Iron Man-Frank E. Eulner & Christopher Boyes
Slumdog Millionaire-Tom Sayers
WALL-E-Ben Burtt & Matthew Wood
Wanted-Wylie Stateman

Who Will/Should Win: Ben Burtt & Matthew Wood-WALL-E

The sound work in WALL-E in terms of what is expected for an animated film is magnificent. Led by Ben Burtt and sound editor Matthew Wood, the sound editing work truly exemplifies the work that is put in terms of creating sound knowing when to not use it. Burtt’s sound work on the voices which were created by various objects and Wood’s cutting style is truly a landmark in what is expected in the terms of creating sound. Especially for an animated film and a science fiction film.

Dark Horse: Wylie Stateman, Wanted

Wylie Stateman’s work in Wanted is what is expected for the action film genre. The problem is that action films often overdoes itself in terms of creating lots of violence and sound bites. A film like Wanted seems to fall into those traps as it seems to be overwhelmed by its competition.

Best Makeup

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button-Greg Cannom
The Dark Knight-John Caglione Jr. & Conor O’Sullivan
Hellboy II: The Golden Army-Mike Elizalde & Thomas Floutz

Who Will/Should Win: Greg Cannom, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Greg Cannom work to age Brad Pitt from an old man to a young version of him must be a challenge. Yet, it worked to show the mastery of makeup where Pitt looked old where as he got young, he looked like an older version of Marlon Brando to what Pitt looks like now. Cannom’s work on Cate Blanchett is also great from being a young woman to being an old woman having to take care of the young Benjamin Button.

Dark Horse: John Caglione Jr. & Conor O’Sullivan-The Dark Knight

In comparison to its nominees, the makeup work by John Caglione Jr. and Conor O’Sullivan seems to be a longshot since there wasn’t much work on the makeup with the exception of two characters. The grungy look of the Joker and the half-burned face of Two-Face are brilliant though it can’t compete with its nominees.

Best Visual Effects

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button-Eric Baba, Steve Pregg, Burt Dalton, & Craig Barron
The Dark Knight-Nick Davis, Chris Corbould, Timothy Webber, & Paul J. Franklin
Iron Man-John Nelson, Ben Snow, Daniel Sudick, & Shane Mahan.

Who Will/Should Win: Eric Baba, Steve Pregg, Burt Dalton, & Craig Barron-The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The visual effects work is truly mesmerizing in its recreation of New Orleans and Russia to putting Brad Pitt’s head on the bodies of its model actors. At the same time, it creates a certain atmosphere to the locations that Benjamin Button encounters along with the periods of time that goes on. It’s visual effects that works while not looking too fake for its imagery.
Dark Horse: Nick Davis, Chris Corbould, Timothy Webber, & Paul J. Franklin-The Dark Knight
Its nomination seems a bit baffling since it’s the one film that doesn’t use a lot of visual effects with the exception in the look of Two-Face. While there were a few visual effects sequence involving Batman flying in the air, its emphasis on stunts and such makes this film to be the longshot in terms of its nomination.

Best Score

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button-Alexandre Desplat
Defiance-James Newton Howard
Milk-Danny Elfman
Slumdog Millionaire-A.R. Rahman
WALL-E-Thomas Newman

Who Will/Should Win: A.R. Rahman-Slumdog Millionaire

A.R. Rahman’s unique take of Indian-inspired music with its vibrant Bollywood sound and beat-laden electronic accompaniment truly makes the film’s score to be one of the most original scores heard in a film. Especially with elegant themes for one of the film’s main characters and suspenseful tone for the game show sequences truly has Rahman as the top contender for this prize.

Dark Horse: James Newton Howard-Defiance

James Newton Howard is one of Hollywood’s most sought-out and well-known composers. While creating a dramatic and intense, orchestral score for Edward Zwick’s World War II film, Howard is this year’s longshot because he is the film’s sole nomination and he’s up against more profiled scores and nominations.

Best Original Song

Jai Ho, Slumdog Millionaire-A.R. Rahman & Gulzar
O Saya, Slumdog Millionaire-A.R. Rahman & M.I.A.
Down To Earth, WALL-E-Peter Gabriel & Thomas Newman

Who Will/Should Win: A.R. Rahman & Gulzar-Jai Ho from Slumdog Millionaire

The song that appears during the final credits in a very memorable, bombastic Bollywood-style dance sequence. The song is definitely one of the film’s highlights with its loud beats, sweeping arrangements, and Indian-style vocals from Sukhwinder Singh, Tavi Shah, and Mahalakshmi Iyer. It’s clearly the song that’s going to win with a presentation of Bollywood-style dancing and energy.

Dark Horse: A.R. Rahman & M.I.A.-O Saya from Slumdog Millionaire

With its pulsating, pounding electronic beats and M.I.A.’s vibrant raps, it’s a song that captures the energy of modern India. While it’s nomination is deserved, to go up against another song from Slumdog Millionaire and Peter Gabriel’s Down To Earth from WALL-E makes this song a longshot. Yet, this category has become controversial as of late from its rule change of nominating three instead of five songs for the category provided Bruce Springsteen’s title song for The Wrestler to be snubbed that’s angered several people. At the same time, songs from films like Rachel Getting Married, Gran Torino, and more teen-pop style music from films like Bolt and High School Musical 3 to be snubbed providing more controversy to the nomination.

Short Picks: (Winners picked in bold)

Best Documentary Short

The Conscience of Nhem En
The Final Inch
Smile Pinki
The Witness-From the Balcony of Room 306

Best Animated Short

Les Maisons en Petite Cubes
This Way Up

Best Live-Action Short

Aur Der Strecke (On the Line)
Manon on the Asphalt
New Boy
Spielzeugland (Toyland)

That is it for the 2009 Oscar Picks. It’s likely that Slumdog Millionaire is going to win the majority of the awards that they’re nominated from. It’s nomination will at least make this year’s Oscars to be more exciting though the snubbing and new rules provide how out of touch it will be. At the same time, with all of the glamour and prestige the Oscars have, it will reveal that some things will change and some will not. That’s the Academy Awards. An organization that wants to be exciting while being extremely out of touch with what audiences and critics have in mind.

Oscar Picks 2008-Pt. 1: & Pt. 2:
Oscar Picks 2007:
Oscar Picks 2006:
Oscar Picks 2005:
Oscar Picks 2004: