Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sacred Secrets

Is it wrong that I've never seen Spirited Away? The film, directed by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, is probably still the most well-known Japanese animated movie more than a decade after its release. After a cutting a wide swath through audiences worldwide, it became the second ever recipient of the Academy Awards' Best Animated Feature award, and remains the only winner of that particular prize to be made outside of the English-speaking world. Since then, Miyazaki has of course become a name synonymous with Japanese animation; one could argue that he has done as much for the medium as Akira Kurosawa has for cinema in general. Studio Gibli, the animation studio Miyazaki founded way back in 1985, has turned out eighteen films so far, many of which have managed to make their ways to our shores, albeit in the dubbed, Hollywood-edited formats many of us are used to. Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke, Howl's Moving Castle, and Ponyo are all well known to the more culturally cinematic out there, and Miyazaki was a big reason those films are so loved the world over. Now, Studio Gibli brings us The Secret World of Arrietty, notable not only for being based on English novel 'The Borrowers' by Mary Norton, but for being the first major US release by Gibli to NOT be directed by Miyazaki (he did co-write the screenplay, however). As my first interaction with Gibli and Miyazaki, the big question is whether I'll be impressed with hand-drawn animations and archaic visuals after more than a decade of The Incredibles, Up, and Rango pushing the envelope of believable and surrealistic 3D graphics.

Won't someone spare the lady an umbrella??
Shawn (David Henrie), whose parents are too busy to care for him, has temporarily moved into his aunt's home in preparation for a coming surgical procedure. A problem with Shawn's heart has left him somewhat frail, and he's moved here to avoid too much excitement, so as to avoid worsening his condition. It's lonely at the house, though, and through exploration and plain luck he happens upon Arrietty (Bridgit Mendler). Arrietty is descended from a family of Borrowers, tiny people who borrow (hence the name) small things that nobody will miss; things that the Borrowers need to survive. Along with her wizened father (Will Arnett) and her cautious mother (Amy Poehler), fourteen-year-old Arrietty is just learning how to survive in a world where a six-inch person has no shortage of natural predators. Though Shawn and Arrietty want to be friends, just his knowledge of her existence causes dangers to arise and the pair to make difficult decisions as to their prospective futures.

Wow, you looked a LOT smaller from a distance...
As far as stories go, this is as simple a tale of mismatched friendship as you're likely to see on the big screen. Simplicity is not a bad thing, however. By taking this theme and building mythology, dangers and heart around it, it becomes far easier to root for our two heroes, and hope that their friendship survives the tale ahead. It is the characters that have the true depth. Arrietty as a person has more depth than a dozen Disney "Princesses", and is the type of spunky and self-sufficient female character all films should aspire to create. She also has her flaws, which only make her all the more human and lifelike. In short, she is the perfect hero around whom to base a story. Shawn isn't quite as fun to focus on; he's a little whiny and mopey, though you can blame much of that on his situation (he's got a life-threatening condition, after all). Still, given the chance to help a friend he more than makes up for his negative attitude, and does more than his share in building the strong bond of friendship between the two. The simplicity of the tale also allows debuting director Hiromasa Yonebayashi a chance to grow into his opportunity. The youngest-ever director at Gibli, the experienced animator does an excellent job, though that might not have been the case had he been given a more complex tale to tell.

"Heeeere's Johnny!"
If there's one thing I couldn't get fully behind with The Secret World of Arrietty, however, it's the voice-over work. Don't get me wrong; I enjoyed some of the performances that the voice actors put forward, but I was raised with the idea that when dealing with foreign films, voices in the natural language with English subtitles are always preferable to English dubbing (thanks, Dad!). I've seen plenty of foreign television shows and movies in which I've far enjoyed subtitles to dubs, but Hollywood has it in their head that to sell the most tickets, they need to handicap foreign films by releasing only the dubbed versions of these titles to mass audiences, and as a result the emotional connection between the native speakers and their translations are a bit far apart. Maybe I'm being snobbish, but I wish I could choose to purchase a ticket to a subtitled film in the same way I can choose to see a film in enhanced 3D or plain old 2D, whatever my personal preference might be. As for the voice actors, they were up and down quality-wise, with a large disparity of ability between the haves and have-nots. On the haves side are Bridgit Mendler as Arrietty and Amy Poehler as her mother Homily. Mendler captures a perfect blend of innocence and strength, making Arrietty a character whose motivations are deep and complex. Poehler plays a typical neurotic parent, but her delivery is genuine and emotional even as she's given not a whole lot to work with. On the other side of the equation are the men in the tale. The worst is David Henrie, whose Shawn isn't nearly as interesting as he should be. Too dry and emotionless, Henrie could have done more to inject some humanity into his performance. Will Arnett is also lacking a bit of flavor, but in his case he's given even less to work with than Poehler, and Arnett is one of those actors who needs a little more prodding to produce his best work. Somewhere in the middle is Carol Burnett as Hara, a caretaker who is familiar with the Borrowers. Maybe if we had a better idea of who the character was supposed to be from the get-go, Burnett's performance wouldn't be too bad; however her lack of character development means she's suddenly thrust into the spotlight without us even remotely understanding her motivations.

That can't be a comfortable ride...
Where the film excels, surprisingly, is the superb animation and artwork throughout the entirety of the film. In a world where 3D animation has all but wiped out hand-drawn work (remember the failure of The Princess and the Frog two years back?), it is so refreshing to see hand-drawn artwork look at times as photorealistic as what sometimes takes weeks to render on a computer. There are no "ugly" shots in Arrietty, and sweeping shots of grassy knolls, gardens and lakes are wonderful to behold. Character designs are simple, recognizable (as Studio Gibli characters often are), and unique enough to easily differentiate from one another. But what truly stood out for me was the excellent sense of SCALE captured in the animation. When focusing on Shawn's point of view, everything seems normal, but when we shrink down to witness Arrietty's, the world becomes much more grand in our eyes, and the artists did a perfect job making us feel like we were right there alongside Arrietty and her family in their world. The attention to detail is staggering as well, not only in the tools the Borrowers use in their exploits, but in every single color scheme in the background. After an adjustment, you stop thinking of this film as "animated" and simply "exhilarating."

"I wish I knew how to quit you..."
By the time I sat down to write this, there really was no contest. The Secret World of Arrietty easily tops all of 2012's entries so far, becoming the #1 film of 2012. Anyone still unsure about the Japanese animation movement, I'd easily recommend this release as an entry point, as the sweet, smart story is easy to pick up and impossible to ignore. It might not be the best title out there, but if nothing else, it's inspired me to go back and check out the Studio Gibli back catalog, to see what I have been missing out on all these years. The next review you see from that studio on Hello, Mr. Anderson might just be a look back at Spirited Away.

Monday, February 27, 2012

There Goes Billy: A Hello, Mr. Anderson Academy Awards Recap

Wow, that was kinda boring.

At last year's Academy Awards ceremony, the producers attempted to try something new. Sagging in the ratings for years and attempting to appeal to a younger audience, The show hired rising talents Anne Hathaway and James Franco to co-host the biggest Hollywood show of them all and try and build a new base of movie fans who gave a rat's ass about who won Best Live Action Short Film (God of Love), Best Film Editing (The Social Network), and of course Best Picture (The King's Speech). It failed. Badly. The pair were maligned for being unfunny, derivative and having no chemistry with one another on the stage. A slew of similarly youthful presenters also failed to inspire confidence in Hollywood's current batch of emerging performers, and in the end it was all for naught. Ratings slipped again, especially among the younger demographics. Nobody cared. But Hollywood was willing to try again, this time signing action film favorite Brett Ratner to produce their ultimate celebration of validation. Well, that didn't last long. After Ratner embarrassed himself, the Academy and the industry in general by uttering an anti-gay slur during an interview, he and contracted host Eddie Murphy stepped down in November, leaving the show without direction or a face. Suddenly, appealing to young viewers didn't matter anymore, putting together a show at all did. So they went out and hired legendary producer Brian Grazier to be the show's director. For host? After a short deliberation, it was announced that Billy Crystal would host the Oscars for a ninth time, the second most times hosting behind Bob Hope.

It's questionable which one looks more artificial now,
That's right, Billy Crystal. A man who hasn't hosted the show since 2004. A man who hasn't headlined a major motion picture since 2002's Analyze That. A man who hasn't been culturally relevant since before the turn of the millennium. Sure, I enjoyed watching him host when I was younger, but I also admit that I was a kid and my tastes weren't quite developed at that stage in my life. The whole thing smacked of desperation (which it was), but perhaps Crystal could somehow take a show that hadn't really been all that entertaining in years past and reinvigorate it with an energy it hasn't seen since, well, 2004.

These were some of the people you may have been cheering for last night.
It didn't take long to dissuade me of this notion. At the show's opening, I was looking forward to an old stand-by, the video montage, in which Crystal would inject himself into the scenes of the major award nominees. While many hosts have done this over the years, only Crystal had managed to be consistently funny throughout his reign, combining the right mix of edge and wit to make it all work. That didn't come to pass last night. While Crystal had a few moments worth chuckling about - most of it a silly kiss between him and George Clooney on the set of The Descendants - far too much of the set was weak, and the producers obviously thought they didn't have much to work with. One reason to believe that was their blatant youth grab by planting Justin Bieber in the montage, just to sit there and soak up attention. Another was the dearth of Best Picture nominees featured in the montage, which included Midnight in Paris and the not-nominated Adventures of Tintin but steered clear of favorite The Artist and other nominees The Tree of Life and Hugo, an odd choice when there were nine films to work with. After slogging through that, most of Crystal's opening monologue and subsequent announcements were lumped around the recent "Occupy" movement and the disparity between rich and poor, shots which elicited a few chuckles from the financially-sound members of the audience but probably got far fewer from many homes around the country. His musical song and dance about the Best Picture nominees made you flash back to 2010, when Neil Patrick Harris performed a brilliant opening to the surprise of everyone who watched. Seeing Billy Crystal try to recapture that made me wonder what Harris was up to at that very moment.

I can feel my IQ dropping just remembering their presentation.
Fortunately Crystal, like most hosts, really doesn't do all that much throughout the course of the show. While his high moments were few and far between (his vocalizing the inside of Nick Nolte's mind was brilliant and perfectly delivered), his lows were never really as bad as say, James Franco in drag. What really irked me was that Crystal never really seemed secure in his presence on stage this time around. In other years, you could see that he is as natural hosting the Oscars as he was swimming in water. Not so in 2012, which only saw a few particularly good presenters (especially Emma Stone's first ever appearance) shine while presenting their awards. Though Crystal occasionally pushed the envelope in his presentations, the problem wasn't that he wasn't particularly funny, but that he couldn't or wouldn't keep up that level of energy. Overall, it created an Academy Awards that had a particularly dull feel, even in its lighter moments.

And Gandalf wins the Oscar for Best Hair. Seriously.
It doesn't help that there were no standout acceptance speeches or major surprises to break up the monotony that was the Oscars. The only f-bomb of the night dropped was not by Melissa Leo, but by one of the creators of Undefeated, winner of the Best Feature Documentary award. For the most part, acceptance speeches were short, precise, and emotional, though none transcended into true "Aww" moments, like last year's acceptance speech by Luke Matheny, who thanked his mother for providing craft services while filming Oscar-winning short film God of Love. The closest was probably Octavia Spencer's tearful speech after winning the Best Supporting Actress award for her work on The Help, though a close second was for Best Supporting Actor choice Christopher Plummer, who at 82 years of age became the oldest actor to become a first-time Academy Award winner. After some genuine humility, humor and class, Plummer thanked his wife, who he said deserved a Nobel Peace Prize for being with him all this time.

This image cannot properly convey the awesome that is Cirque du Soliel.
Some of the other presentations of the show varied in quality from excellent to drab, with the ultimate highlight easily being the one-time performance by celebrated theatrical troupe Cirque du Soliel. The famous company took the skies in a death-defying tribute to films past that only left one question: when a company is so well known for "blink and you'll miss it" spectacles, why as a director would you CUT TO THE AUDIENCE?? The blank expressions on the faces of celebrities was not nearly as interesting as the exceedingly complex choreography we just missed. Thank you Brian Grazier. Jazz musician Esperanza Spalding also sang a wonderful rendition of "What a Wonderful World" during another Oscars staple, the death montage. Stars such as Jane Russell, Elizabeth Taylor and Whitney Houston were celebrated and mourned in their loss, and as always the montage played no favorites, honoring actors, performers and even executives (like former Pixar CEO Steve Jobs) in even amounts. Meanwhile, having Chris Rock deliver the award for Best Animated Feature and the talented ladies of Bridesmaids present the awards in the Short Films categories brought out the first real funny moments of the night.

So is he a man... or a Muppet? Maybe he's a very manly Muppet.
However, the constant film montages of actors saying what inspired them to work in film was well-done but unnecessary. The theme of the night seemed to be film as inspiration, and just about everyone had something to say about what inspired them to work in film. Of course, since many of the interviewees were older, that meant a lot of golden age nostalgia and "the way things were" moments, making one wonder if any of them actually care about the FUTURE of cinema. And since the show is already over-long, these self-serving interviews pushed aside a few choice options, including live performances from the Best Original Song nominees. In the past these bits have been hit or miss and consume more minutes than a teenager with an iPhone, but with only two actual nominees, I would have loved to see a live rendition of Bret McKenzie's winning "Man or Muppet" onstage. Having Kermit and Miss Piggy introduce one of the acts is nice, just not as much as a full Muppet show onstage.

It just looks natural in his hands.
Finally, the awards. Huh. Where to begin? Hugo was arguably the biggest surprise of the night. Early on, it won five Oscars in Visual Effects, Cinematography, Art Direction, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing. This was significant because it was up against some truly effects-laden heavy hitters in those categories, including Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt 2. Winning all those trophies early on suddenly got me excited for Hugo, which I had just seen for the second time the day before with Todd. The tear-jerking Scorcese drama was a wonderful film, and if it managed to steal the Best Picture from the seemingly-inevitable clutches of The Artist, I would not have been disappointed. Sadly, this was not meant to be, as The Artist dominated the latter half of the night, winning major upsets in the Best Actor (I loved him, but Dujardin was still my FOURTH favorite male performance last year) and Best Director (I never would have expected Hazanavicius to take the statue from Scorcese) categories, and surprising nobody by finally winning Best Picture at night's end. In the end we were given the expected finale, and while I couldn't fault the Academy for electing it best of the year, I still wish they had given The Artist a little more competition. I had very little reason to believe any other film would take the top prize.

Finally, her world conquest is complete.
Other non-surprises included Meryl Streep winning her third Academy Award for Iron Lady (I loved Viola Davis in The Help too, folks, but any of you who thought she actually had a chance of winning were few and far between), Rango for Best Animated Film, and A Separation for Best Foreign Feature. For Streep, this was a much deserved award not only for her exceptional performance, but also a recognition of what Streep means to Hollywood and her fans. Frankly, if Meryl wasn't in the world, constantly giving us world-class performances, the world as a whole would be a far less glamorous place.

Without a doubt the happiest man of the night.
In the end, the 84'the Annual Academy Awards was a spectacularly dull affair, even compared to the dud one year prior. Appealing to young audiences didn't work. Nostalgia didn't work. While the show had a few "Wow" moments, perhaps next year's show might benefit from taking a "back to basics" approach, as a scaled-down, more modern presentation might be just the thing we need in a world that ineffably lives more in the present (and sometimes the future) than it does in the past, which is where Hollywood seems to prefer to reside more and more. And now I hesitate to check my Oscar picks, as there's no way I could have done better than last year's disappointing 11 for 24 performance

Category                      My Pick                              Winner                        Result
Picture                       The Artist                          The Artist                        Hit!
Director                     Martin Scorcese               Michel Hazanavicius          Miss!
Actor                        George Clooney                Jean Dujardin                    Miss!
Actress                      Meryl Streep                     Meryl Streep                     Hit!
Supporting Actor      Christopher Plummer         Christopher Plummer          Hit!
Supporting Actress   Octavia Spencer                 Octavia Spencer                Hit!
Original Screenplay    Midnight in Paris                Midnight in Paris               Hit!
Adapted Screenplay   Moneyball                         The Descendants              Miss!
Animated Film            Rango                                Rango                            Hit!
Foreign Lang. Film     A Separation                     A Separation                     Hit!
Documentary Feat.      Pina                                 Undefeated                       Miss!
Documentary Short    Incident in New Baghdad   Saving Face                      Miss!
Live Action Short       The Shore                         The Shore                        Hit!
Animated Short       Fantastic Flying Books...      Fantastic Flying Books...  Hit!
Sound Editing          Transformers 3                       Hugo                            Miss!
Sound Mixing           Transformers 3                      Hugo                            Miss!
Art Direction             Midnight in Paris                    Hugo                            Miss!
Cinematography        The Tree of Life                    Hugo                            Miss!
Makeup                    Iron Lady                            Iron Lady                        Hit!
Costume Design       Anonymous                          The Artist                      Miss!
Film Editing              Hugo                          Girl with the Dragon Tattoo      Miss!
Visual Effects            Transformers 3                    Hugo                             Miss!

I actually would have done okay if Hugo hadn't managed to steal those effects awards, but I'll take 10 out of 22 for 2011, especially because I have long been championing The Artist and Meryl Streep since the nominations were announced. How did you do out there? Any major upsets you're not happy with? Let me know, and we'll commiserate together, and hope that next year's show is a huge improvement on what we saw last night.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Here Comes Billy: A Hello, Mr. Anderson Academy Awards Preview

2011 was a big year for Hello, Mr. Anderson. For starters, it was the year I changed the site's moniker and design from the outdated style of former comic book review site The Latest Issue to its currently awesome settings. The site hosted many beginnings, including its first Academy Award Preview, its first Academy Awards Recap, and its first Summer Movie Preview. I live-Tweeted the Academy Awards. And I spent an unparalleled amount of time in the theaters, to the tune of at least 100 films seen and reviewed last year. Most of them were even worth the time and effort.

It's a shame that the movie industry as a whole didn't enjoy as much growth as did this site. An attempt to make the Academy Awards "young and hip" by hiring young co-hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco was a disaster, both creatively and in the show's ratings, which continue to nosedive as the potential young audiences failed to show up for the festivities. It was so bad that after supposed 2012 Oscar director Brett Ratner and host Eddie Murphy resigned following Ratner's public utterance of a gay slur, the producers responded by going to a tried a true formula, replacing Murphy with eight-time former host Billy Crystal. Just for the record, Crystal hasn't headlined a major film release since 2002. So from "young and hip", The Academy Awards decided to "break a hip" instead. With Hollywood mainly focusing on sequels and 3D technology in their marketing efforts, theater attendance sagged in 2011, with ticket sales at their lowest level since 1995. Poorly developed 3D movies drove many people away from the theaters with poor experiences and inflated prices, and the effects from that might be felt harshly in the near future.

And when you get right down to the nominees for this year's Academy Awards, there just isn't a lot to love. Much like the current Republican Presidential Primary race, there just isn't one nominee that the audiences can universally rally around. The Artist should have been that film, but weak box office grosses indicate that the French silent film is much like Mitt Romney: too outside the box and not enough people are ready to admit that it's the best choice, despite the mediocrity of the opposition. Still, I thought 2011 was a great time to be a fan of the cinema, and I'm seriously looking forward to seeing who takes home those golden men this Sunday. So without further ado, I present you my picks for the major categories in the 84'th Academy Awards.

Best Original Screenplay nominee: Bridesmaids
Best Writing (Original Screenplay): The Artist - Michael Hazanavicius; Bridesmaids - Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig; Margin Call- J.C. Chandor; Midnight in Paris - Woody Allen; A Separation - Asghar Farhadi

Who will win: Woody Allen pretty much has this in the bag, having already won comparable awards from the Golden Globes, Critics' Choice Awards, the Writers Guild of America, and even the Alliance of Women Film Journalists for his work on Midnight in Paris. It's not only Allen's most popular film in years, it's also a wonderful, smart story that holds Allen's amazing screenplay as the foundation for greatness.

Who SHOULD win: But in the end, Midnight in Paris is a light, fun film that doesn't tackle any major issues, like the one presented in Iran's Foreign Language nominee A Separation. Okay, I admit I'm saying this sight unseen, but it's the best-reviewed film of 2011, and takes on an idea that many AMERICAN filmmakers are hesitant to approach, let alone those in the Middle East. It's one of the 2011 films I missed out on, though I'll be doing my best to rectify that situation soon.

Who was snubbed: 50/50's clever, funny and emotionally-heartbreaking story of fighting cancer was one of 2011's unsung gems, thanks to a less-than-spectacular theatrical run. Based on the real-life struggle of screenwriter Will Reiser to overcome that disease, this should have been one of the movies we were talking about nonstop last year, and it certainly should have received a nomination here.

Best Adapted Screenplay nominee: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay): The Descendants - Alexander Payne & Nat Faxon & Jim Rash; Hugo - John Logan; The Ides of March - George Clooney & Grant Heslov & Beau Willimon; Moneyball - Steven Zaillian & Aaron Sorkin; Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - Bridget O'Connor & Peter Straughan

Who will win: There's a real mix of talent represented in this category, but like Midnight in Paris, Moneyball has won all the major screenplay awards, and touting Sorkin's easily recognizable name is a sure sign that this excellent baseball film will at least walk away with one award.

Who SHOULD win: There was no matching Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy's blend of exciting drama, excellent pacing and three-dimensional character development that had you constantly guessing as to what comes next. There might be no more deserving nominee this year.

Who was snubbed: This WILL be a trend tonight, I assure you. Hossein Amini's screenplay for Drive was just as well-paced as Tinker, but failed to crack the top 5. Unlike most of the snubs I'm going to award Ryan Gosling's crime drama this day, this might be the most benign, as I really had no problem with any of those that made the cut. On a side note, what the heck happened to The Help? When you're based on one of the best selling novels of the past decade, you expect more platitudes tossed your way, such as an Adapted Screenplay nomination.

Best Foreign Language Film nominee: A Separation
Best Foreign Language Film: Bullhead - Belgium; Monsieur Lazhar - Canada; A Separation - Iran; Footnote - Israel; In Darkness - Poland

I'm not even going to play games with this one; if A Separation fails to walk away with this Oscar, it will be nothing short of a monumental upset. Every single one of these films has been highly praised, and each seems to be deserving of their nomination (again, I have sadly seen none of them). However, only the Iranian film has received such amazing attention and a following that rivals any known Foreign Film nomination, past or present. This is about as sure a thing as it gets.

Best Animated Feature Film nominee: Rango
Best Animated Feature Film: A Cat in Paris; Chico & Rita; Kung Fu Panda 2; Puss in Boots; Rango

Who will win: Normally, this award would automatically go to the Pixar film released last year. Unfortunately, that film was Cars 2, so that simple plan went awry. The best of what was nominated, Rango should handily earn the Academy Award for the first film produced by George Lucas's special effects company Industrial Light & Magic.

Who SHOULD win, but wasn't even NOMINATED: Am I the ONLY one who placed Arthur Christmas among last year's best? Aardman might not be the best-known animation company, but it's difficult to imagine how the creators of the Wallace & Gromit franchise could have been ignored so that DreamWorks could get two nominations for mediocre 3D films. Maybe it's being penalized for being a Christmas movie, but I don't care; it was the best.

Who else was snubbed: How does The Adventures of Tintin, a superb animated film and the better of the two 2011 films directed by Steven Spielberg, win the Golden Globe in this category and completely avoid nomination here, while the dreadfully dull War Horse gets nominated for Best Picture? It was nice to see two lesser-known foreign films get nominated, but knocking Tintin and Arthur Christmas out was just plain wrong.

Best Supporting Actress nominee: Octavia Spencer in The Help
Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Berenice Bejo - The Artist; Jessica Chastain - The Help; Melissa McCarthy - Bridesmaids; Janet McTeer - Albert Nobbs; Octavia Spencer - The Help

Who will win, and SHOULD: Last year the Supporting Actor category was especially crowded, with talented names such as Geoffrey Rush, Jeremy Renner and John Hawkes all good enough to win had they been nominated in any other year. There were even a number of deserving talents crowded out of the picture entirely. But The Fighter's Christian Bale was so far above everybody else that in the end, there was truly no other choice. That's what this category feels like. As excellent as Bejo, McCarthy and the rest are in their respective films, there was simply no matching Octavia Spencer's star-making turn in The Help.

Who was snubbed: Jessica Chastain was undeniably 2011's breakout female actress, but if you're going to nominate her for this category, why for her relatively light-hearted role in The Help and not her silent but forceful performance in Tree of Life? Either way, she should have been passed over for Shailene Woodley, the absolute heart of The Descendants. For as good as The Descendants was to start, Woodley made it a thousand times better with her take-no-prisoners attitude, excellent delivery and emotional depth. Like Chastain, she's one to look out for in the future.

Best Supporting Actor nominee: Nick Nolte in Warrior
Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Kenneth Branagh - My Week with Marilyn; Jonah Hill - Moneyball; Nick Nolte - Warrior; Christopher Plummer - Beginners; Max von Sydow - Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Who will win: I admit with sadness that among the major categories (besides Best Foreign Film), this is the one in which I've actually seen the fewest nominees (with two). It seems like the only ones with a reasonable chance for victory are two men who have never won an Oscar in extensive careers, with Christopher Plummer as a father rebooting his life after coming out of the closet, and Max von Sydow as a mute Dresden survivor who "speaks" with a notepad and "yes" and "no" tattoos on his palms living in post-9/11 NYC. Of those two, Plummer seems most likely to claim the prize.

Who SHOULD win: Well, maybe he shouldn't, but I still feel I have to argue on behalf of Nolte, who is at a distinct disadvantage as Warrior was an abject failure at the box office. Nolte hasn't gotten nearly the credit he deserves for his jaw-dropping portrayal of a recovering alcoholic trying to reconnect with a family that wants little to do with him. Without him, the failure of Warrior would have been a brief distraction. With him, it is a tragic injustice, one that demands reparations from those who willfully ignored its theatrical release.

Who was snubbed: of all the Drive snubs, this was perhaps the most surprising, as an against-type Albert Brooks had received numerous commendations for his seedy, violent mob boss character. The role has completely changed how we look at Brooks as a performer, and it was a shame he got left off of the final list. Another one who could have made it was Young Adult's Patton Oswalt, who essentially fulfilled for that movie what Shailene Woodley did for The Descendants, but with more physical work.

Best Directing nominee: Alexander Payne for The Descendants
Best Directing: Woody Allen - Midnight in Paris; Michael Hazanavicius - The Artist; Terrence Malick - The Tree of Life; Alexander Payne - The Descendants; Martin Scorcese - Hugo

Who will win: Wow, that's a lot of talent. These are five supremely skilled directors, and a couple of them are putting out their best films in years. But the correct answer to this riddle is Martin Scorcese, who managed to make one of the most impressive 3D films of all time, and on his first attempt no less. Not only that, Hugo was an emotional tour-de-force, and Scorcese's involvement was a huge part of the reason behind it becoming one of the year's most awesome titles.

Who SHOULD win: I'd be happy if Scorcese or Woody Allen won, but I think special consideration should be given to Alexander Payne for The Descendants. Years ago Payne was overly praised for perfectly fine but overrated films About Schmidt and Sideways. This time around he showed me what others had seen years before, as he created one of the year's absolute best dramas. He won't get the award, but he definitely deserved this nomination.

Who was snubbed: I wasn't enamored with Terrence Malick's Tree of Life, despite his obvious abilities as an artist. If the choice had been mine, I'd have gone with Nicolas Winding Refn, whose crime story Drive was one of the most visually appealing films this year, easily chopping down Malick's Tree. Arguments could also be made for Shame's Steve McQueen, The Help's first timer Tate Taylor, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy's Tomas Alfredson. I'm mostly happy with the nominations, but if any of these had slipped in I would not have been disappointed.

Best Actress nominee: Rooney Mara in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Best Actress in a Leading Role: Glenn Close - Albert Nobbs; Viola Davis - The Help; Rooney Mara - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; Meryl Streep - Iron Lady; Michelle Williams - My Week with Marilyn

Who will win: Meryl Streep.

Who SHOULD win: Yeah, still Meryl. With her last Academy Award win way back in 1982 for Sophie's Choice, Streep has gone too long without a win in this category, despite being a perennial contender just about every single year. The category showcases a talented batch of actresses and some people believe that Marilyn Monroe is a more worthy role to win the coveted statuette than Margaret Thatcher, but Meryl is just too damned good to let this one go. This is probably her best chance in a decade.

Who was snubbed: Despite not liking Young Adult, Charlize Theron really should have been included in this list of the top female performances in 2011. This was a category that was so crowded it pushed Berenice Bejo into the Supporting Actress lists, but there was still no room for Theron, who did some of the year's best work despite working with a script and story determined to make her look as bad as humanly possible.

Best Actor nominee: George Clooney in The Descendants
Best Actor in a Leading Role: Demian Bichir - A Better Life; George Clooney - The Descendants; Jean Dujardin - The Artist; Gary Oldman - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; Brad Pitt - Moneyball

Who will win: It's probably the most well-rounded performance you're likely to see from this batch, as George Clooney helped make The Descendants into a wonderful film with a surprisingly off-beat performance, dialing back on the charisma to make his suburban husband and father more human and lifelike than than the usual proto-charmers he often plays. After missing his shot with the excellent Up in the Air a few years back, he's poised to take the top prize right now.

Who SHOULD win: While Clooney will be a deserving winner, and it would be nice to see Gary Oldman take home his first-ever Oscar, the man I'm really rooting for this year is The Artist's Jean Dujardin, who told an entire film with the audience privy to only two spoken words of dialogue. Dujardin had to communicate his entire tale in silence, and I dare anyone to successfully argue that his work was anything less than stellar. He won't get the award, but I hope what he showed us here translates into more in the quite near future.

Who was snubbed: There's not a single undeserving actor here, but the lack of certain performers leaves me a very cold inside. Most insulting is the absence of 2011 breakout actor Michael Fassbender, whose sex addict in Shame should have single-handedly WON the damn award with little fuss. Ryan Gosling was once again passed over, though his amazing performances in Drive, The Ides of March and Crazy Stupid Love were still no match for last year's Blue Valentine massacre. Win Win was definitely overlooked this award season, and in that film nobody was more deserving of attention than Paul Giamatti in a role that evocatively tugged at the heartstrings while delivering the feel-good film of the year.

Best Picture: The Artist; The Descendants; Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close; The Help; Hugo; Midnight in Paris; Moneyball; The Tree of Life; War Horse

Who will win: There are no clear favorites here, but barring a major catastrophe, The Artist should walk away with the Best Picture Academy Award. Sure, it's a black and white silent film created by the French, but its dissimilarity from everything else in Hollywood is EXACTLY why it deserves your attention. And when it does get that from you, it will prove to you that it's handily the best film of 2011.

Who SHOULD win: The Artist was definitely the best picture this year, though four other nominated films (The Descendants, The Help, Hugo and Moneyball) were in my Top 10 for 2011, and I wouldn't complain should one of them come out of nowhere to win. I'd even be okay if Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris stole the prize, as there's a reason it was the only film I saw twice in the theater last year. But for me at least, The Artist is still the absolute best.

What was snubbed: For much of 2011, Drive was my #1 film until The Artist bested it. Why isn't it nominated instead of War Horse, which is only in the running because it was directed by Steven Spielberg? The Tree of Life was beautiful to behold but overpowerd by its chaotic style of storytelling. Why that instead of the emotionally strong 50/50? I admit I haven't seen Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, but why was this unevenly-reviewed title picked over Win Win, Shame or even Super 8? I had issues with last year's Best Picture nominations, but at least I had an understanding of why each film was selected. That's certainly not the case now.

Another year, another Academy Awards show previewed! What were some of your favorite films from 2011? Any you think should be seriously considered over what's currently up? Shout it loud here on Hello, Mr. Anderson, and let's get a feeling on what Hollywood missed while feeding their egos this awards season.

Remember, I'll be live-Tweeting the show, so be sure to follow @HelloMrAnderson Sunday night! Hope to see you all there!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Don't Stop Believing

When Journey to the Center of the Earth was remade as a 3D adventure film starring Brendan Fraser in 2008, I'm not sure box office experts realized what would come next. Here was a film rebuilt not only from an already classic 1959 release, but also an historic science fiction novel by the legendary Jules Verne. Top that off with the implementation of 3D tech (and mind you, this was a year before 3D actually got anywhere close to quality) and you had a film release with "Box Office Bomb" written all over it. But you can never underestimate the family film, and parents took their spawn to the theaters in droves for Journey, and while for the year it was no Hancock, Wall-E or Wanted in the blockbuster sense, the film was successful enough that a sequel was definitely a foregone conclusion. Four years later, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island has made its way to our shores (after a worldwide release tour), and what a difference time makes. Of course, the 3D has come a long way. I've dedicated whole posts to the changes the tech has seen the past few years, so we hardly need a reminder once again. There were other major changes, with 2008 stars Fraser and Anita Briem out of the picture and former professional wrestler Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson headlining a new cast. Johnson has been in front of some popular family films the last few years, and no matter how much some people would like to see him prosper as an action star, until bombs and explosions can match his earnings in fare such as The Game Plan or The Tooth Fairy, he's going to keep making these kid-friendly titles for the foreseeable future.

The casting on the new Blues Brothers sequel gets a bit out of hand.
Sean Anderson (Josh Hutcherson, reprising his earlier role here) is one of the few people in the world who believes that the literary works of Jules Verne are not the tales of fiction everyone believes, but in fact based on real life places and stories. Known as Vernians, the Anderson family has searched the world over to uncover those secrets. When Sean discovers a faint radio transmission, he and his stepfather Hank Parsons (Johnson) travel halfway around the world to investigate. Sean believes the signal originated from his grandfather Alexander (Michael Caine), who has spent much of his adult life searching for the Mysterious Island of Verne legend. Hank isn't so sure, and is tagging along to become closer with the boy he's trying to help raise. After hiring a helicopter pilot (Luiz Guzman) and his teenage daughter (Vanessa Hudgens) to fly them out to the coordinates, the four crash-land on an island that only a few people thought actually existed. They've discovered the Mysterious Island, but when trouble rears its ugly head, it will take all their wits to survive and escape the dangers the place presents.

Michael Caine, you've been voted off of the island.
I'm of two minds when I contemplate my time watching Journey 2. On one hand, I want to bash it like comedian Gallagher with so many watermelons, since the entire thing feels like a cheap adventure flick, and dumbed down to boot. Lacking any real coherent plot or character development, it's incredibly difficult to take the film even remotely seriously. There's no doubt in my mind that the producers of this film set out to make a widely-appealing adventure film for kids, and they broke no rules nor stretched any boundaries to make that happen. Then again... I have to admit that the kid in me (the one who likes Kix cereal) actually had a decent time in the theater, and it wasn't just because of the half-dozen mojitos I consumed in preparation. For all its obvious faults, Journey 2 does manage to trot out a few surprises to make the experience much more entertaining than it really should have any right to claim.

"'All your base are belong to us?' What kind of secret code is this?"
One of the biggest additions is also arguably the biggest thing on the screen. And no, I'm not talking about Journey 2's CGI lizards or bumblebees. Once known worldwide as "The Brahma Bull", Johnson remains as charismatic as his had been in his early wrestling days, and his good looks, easygoing attitude and charismatic smile will win audiences over every time. Able to switch between serious and embarrassing parental figure on a dime, he's also has the benefit of playing the film's most well-rounded character. He even gets to pull out a few hitherto unexpected talents in this film, but I'll leave those for you to discover. He's easily the film's #1 asset, stealing just about every scene with perfect comic timing, not to mention quality acting.

"So... come here often?"
It's a shame that the rest of the cast either is not as interesting or doesn't seem to have as much fun as Johnson. Hutcherson has been a recent standout in cinema, and many consider him the unsung hero of the vastly overrated The Kids are All Right. 2012 will prove to be a big year for the young actor, as he holds major roles in the much anticipated adaptation of The Hunger Games and the remake of Cold War classic Red Dawn. Here, Hutcherson displays that his least effort is still better than the average Shia LaBoeuf performance, though that's really not saying much. Suffice it to say he is tolerable, if not exactly proving himself leading man material. Worse is Vanessa Hudgens, another young actress who hasn't proven that she belongs outside of High School. Sure, she has a pretty face (and other... attributes), but the longer she relies on her physical "talents" to get by, the longer it will take for the rest of us to get what supposedly makes her so special. Michael Caine is really slumming it up here. I'm not sure Caine really cares what he does these days; if he does it really doesn't show in his resume for the past few years. He'll lend his voice or presence to just about anything, and he seems to be enjoying himself, but long gone are the leading roles that defined his once-noble career. And Luis Guzman is plain old comic relief, with every word he speaks intended to force laughter from audience members' lips. Sure, it's a bit forced, but there are some good moments (as the group tries to stealthily cross a field filled with giant eggs, Guzman quips "We are literally walking on eggshells"), and Guzman is a better performer than most people realize, with a comic timing approaching that of Johnson.

Wow, Indy really let himself go.
Of course, acting is not the draw of a movie like Journey 2; that would be the point of all those special effects that you've witnessed in the commercials and glimpsed on the movie posters. There are some nice visuals in the beginning, and the first images of the Mysterious Island are absolutely magical when beheld. Sadly, the honeymoon effect doesn't last long, and when it runs out you'll start wishing you hadn't shelled out the extra five bucks to see this film in 3D. Actually, the 3D is fine, but the special effects themselves cease to be incredible after a few scenes, as you will practically see the green screen the actors are pantomiming before. Too often, the film feels like a second-rate animated film with live actors plugged in, and it really diminishes the authentic feel you perceive early on.

I'm guessing they're not looking at Thumbelina.

While I would have loved it if the film could have infused a little more Verne mythos into the main story, I'm not sure it could have helped this title too much, as Journey 2 is far from smart enough to be considered a quality film. It's a dumbed-down film for kids, and director Brad Peyton and his financiers obviously had no illusions of making it otherwise. That said, at least it's a marginally fun one, though luck and the promise of even lesser releases in the future will be all that keeps it out of the year's worst list this coming December. For right now it's the #9 film of 2012. Please don't tell me you expected anything more.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Safety First

Denzel Washington has worn dozens of hats in his storied Hollywood career. In his numerous films he's played soldiers, detectives, reporters, gangsters, incarcerated boxers, football coaches, men on a mission, and civil rights activists. Arguably the most well-known and respected African American actor in Hollywood history, you can't walk into a theater playing one of his films and not be astounded by what he puts forth, even if the rest of the movie isn't necessarily worth watching. One of Washington's biggest career turning points was when he played dirty cop Alonzo Harris in 2001's detective film Training Day, a role that won him his second Academy Award (the first was for his supporting role in Civil War drama Glory). The upside was that Washington got the attention he deserved, not a mean feat for a nonwhite man in this industry. The downside was that his work in Training Day was so effective, it became difficult for audiences to accept him as anything outside that brand of gritty character, or that type of downtrodden universe. That's what made 2007's American Gangster so popular, as Washington played a legitimately bad dude in real-life mobster Frank Lucas. Meanwhile, more uplifting, dramatic films like Antoine Fischer and The Great Debaters were moderately successful, but not the hits this prolific actor has been known for. Well, Washington is back after a slow couple of years (The Book of Eli and Unstoppable were fun excursions if nothing else), and Safe House looked to be very Training Day-like in the bad-boy portrayal of its star performer. Even if the film doesn't live up to his unnaturally high ability, it would be worth it just to see this great performer in action.

Nope, this isn't the waiting room for the Oprah Winfrey show...
Tobin Frost (Washington) is a former CIA operative who went rogue several years ago, selling State secrets to interested parties around the world, and earning the ire of his former bosses in the Central Intelligence Agency. He's remained invisible for years, until a mysterious group comes hunting for him, and the only escape he can make is to surrender himself to an US embassy in Cape Town, South Africa. Meanwhile, Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) is a young CIA agent who is stuck babysitting a Cape Town safe house, unable to qualify for a more active posting due to a lack of field experience. His life is sitting in an empty building, where nobody ever visits and nothing ever happens. That is at least until Frost is extracted from the embassy and placed into his custody. Very quickly, the people who have been hunting Frost track him down and start killing anyone who gets into his way. Responsible for keeping Frost out of enemy hands, Weston must escape the safe house, get in touch with his agency handlers, and figure out why Frost is being hunted, and by whom.

"No, Tobin, this is a bad time to try and teach me the Vulcan neck pinch!"
There's no doubt soon after the opening credits that this is an action film, and Swedish filmmaker Daniel Espinosa (in his American directorial debut) was definitely a good choice to take advantage of that. He obviously has an eye for the detail necessary to make an action story work, and manages to turn any location - from a high-end urban sprawl to a football (soccer, for the uninitiated) stadium to a disheveled shanty town to a rural farmhouse - into a believable set piece of epic violence and imminent death. None of these things feel regurgitated from one another, either; each scene is fundamentally different and exciting in its own unique way, with only the overarching story binding it all together. One thing I hate about modern action movies is the director's decision to focus so closely on the action that we the audience cannot tell exactly what is going on. Safe House does unfortunately suffer from this affliction, but thankfully not as often as it could have. For the most part, action sequences are clear, fun, and without any doubt as to who has the upper hand.

If you want to avoid drawing attention, you probably shouldn't have the black dude drive.
Of course, it's that storyline that is the real problem with Safe House. For all the fun excitement that it throws out there, the premise is very much Training Day meeting a modern-day 3:10 to Yuma. The entire story revolves around the straight-laced Weston getting the Frost from point A to point B, with all the obstacles both in between and at the destination. It's thanks to a well-paced screenplay that this doesn't become completely obvious until the final act, but the derivative plot points do get slightly troublesome after a while. Worse are the sudden-but-inevitable betrayals (thanks, Wash) which are visible a mile away and provide absolutely no surprise. Its here that the film's lack of character depth becomes a problem, as everyone reacts pretty much exactly as you would expect, with nothing so shocking as to be a game-changer.

All these TVs and no HBO? What has the world come to??
At least the acting talent of this ensemble cast makes up for the lack of real characters. Washington of course is amazing, but that shouldn't be unexpected to those who have seen him in just about anything else. Tobin Frost is not a good guy. For those out there who thought his betrayal was a coy misdirection shouldn't get their hopes up, as you'll be disappointed. But playing bad is no new skill for the actor, who still will manage to be the "hero" to many watching him on the big screen. Smart, efficient, and utterly without compassion or loyalty to any but himself, Tobin Frost succeeds as a character due to being incredibly detailed, a trait many of the rest lack. Ryan Reynolds is almost surprising in that he's nearly as good as Washington, something most folks won't be expecting. Like Ethan Hawke in Training Day, Reynolds' Weston is a rookie ripe for life lessons, and Frost is, well, maybe not "happy" but able to impart his wisdom as an ace agent. Weston is shown to be physically capable, however, and able to hold his own against the living legendt, in an important distinction to Hawke's character, who was more over his head than anything else and survived thanks to luck rather than skill. Between Washington and Reynolds is a constant see-saw of control between the two characters, and Reynolds, who is out of his comedic comfort zone, proves here that can handle a serious piece. The rest of the cast is less able to evoke anything akin to emotion or believability. Brendan Gleeson doesn't get a whole lot of attention in America (probably because he's a big, ugly Irishman), so when he gets roles in big movies, he goes all out but generally isn't given much to work with. I'd love to see him in last year's The Guard, in which he was epically praised, but here he's smarmy and normal. The same goes for Sam Shepard as a plain Jane CIA Deputy Director. Vera Farmiga and Nora Amezeder play the film's only two substantial female roles, and they are pretty much at opposite ends from one another. Farmiga is a senior CIA operative who can learn anything about anyone in an instant, while Amezeder plays Weston's girlfriend, a nurse who doesn't even know Weston's real occupation. Neither play a major force in the film, and are just foils for the male characters in the room. And seeing Robert Patrick so old just makes me want to go back and watch Terminator 2 again.

Sure, it's not a .44 Magnum, but do YOU feel lucky?
In the end, Safe House is a fun, if derivative, thriller that utilizes better talent in the final production than it did in the early, formative stages. Washington and Reynolds carry this film to new heights, and while it's no piece of perfection, it does come in at #4 when ranking the year's best releases. While I'd love to see Washington get back into Oscar-hunting territory with his film choices, I certainly won't complain when he takes an otherwise dull retread and turns it into something I'd eagerly recommend. Enjoy.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Black Friday

Todd and I went on our second movie trip this past week. Originally I wasn't 100% certain what we were going to see, but with our shared love of all things science fiction, we were prepared to take in the 3D re-release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, which had made its way into theaters over the weekend. While both of us (and most Star Wars fans) agree that it is nowhere close to the best film in the iconic George Lucas franchise, we both also agreed that "yeah, we'll see it" on the big screen given the chance. But when the witching hour came, there was a moment of doubt, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced. Actually, what happened is that we had a change of heart. If there's one thing Todd loves more than sci fi, it's horror, and when the Poltergeist fan offhandedly mentioned The Woman in Black - the new film featuring everybody's favorite Hogwarts graduate Daniel Radcliffe - it suddenly opened the way for a new opportunity. Forgoing Lucas' special effects extravaganza (seriously, I should have learned my lesson the first time), she and I settled down for the old-school nitty gritty of a classical haunted house tale.

Yes, because taking on a ghost with an axe is SO smart...
Four years ago, the wife of Edwardian era lawyer Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe) passed away giving birth to their young son. Today, Kipps is depressed, lonely, and something of an alcoholic, never getting over the circumstances surrounding the love of his life's death. Kipps is sent on a business trip to sort out the affairs of Eel Marsh House, a secluded mansion located in a tiny village in rural England, in a last chance to sort out his issues and emotional turmoil. While most of the locals can't wait to be rid of Kipps, he does gain an ally in Sam Daily (Ciaran Hinds), the one man in the whole village who doesn't believe in the superstitious mumbo jumbo spoken aloud. And yet something evil undeniably permeates the small town; reports of a restless spirit haunting Eel Marsh House are followed by the tragic deaths of several local children. Despite the dangers, and the increasing hostility of the people in the village, Kipps makes it his mission to discover what force has taken residence in the foreboding house, and make things safe for the children again, even as he is due to be joined by his own young son in only a few days time.

Don't worry; he'll exorcise this spirit with MAGIC!
As just about anyone can tell you, Woman in Black is the first film to star Radcliffe since the last entry of the Harry Potter series was released this past fall. As for his appearance here, I am of two minds. The first is that Radcliffe does an amazing job playing a role about as far from that of his family-friendly wizard as it can possibly be. Playing a depressed widower to the level that he achieves would be a challenge for any veteran performer, and Radcliffe is incredibly impressive in his first role as a full-fledged adult. That being said, the 23-year old still looks like he should be in high school, and his baggy eyes and oh-so-lifelike facial fuzz do little to hide his youthful looks. It was quite the distraction, and while he does his absolute best to be involved with the story at hand, you can't help but notice how much more appropriate the film would be with magic wands and Rupert Grint.

...and The Joker demanded a do-over
Questionable lead casting aside, The Woman in Black remains a classic haunted house film. That "classic" adjective is unfortunately a hindrance as well as a help. I don't know if it has something to do with the story's origins as a novel by English author Susan Hill, or perhaps simply a lack of unique ideas by director James Watkins, but this film felt somewhat derivative of haunted house tales of yesteryear, with each plot point accentuated by the thought of having been seen somewhere else. If the source material is to blame, perhaps that's because The Woman in Black was published back in 1983, and a lot of horror films have been released in the time since. One that I was easily reminded of was 2002's The Ring, directed by Gore Verbinski. The Woman in Black is similar in theme, and even sports a similar ghost and ending; you can do worse than be akin to one of the scariest films of the new millennium. Still, this means The Woman in Black is nothing you haven't seen before, especially if you're already a huge fan of horror films.

Hey, look! Someone who isn't Daniel Radcliffe!
The rest of the cast is thankfully as good as Radcliffe, though they are certainly few in number. Ciaran Hinds surprised me by playing decent guy Sam Daily (he has more the look of a classic Bond villain), a wealthy land-owner who doesn't believe in ghost stories despite the tragic death of his own child. Academy Award nominee Janet McTeer also impresses as Daily's affected wife, who seems to suffer from dementia and believes herself a medium through which her deceased son speaks. She manages to steal every one of her scenes, and when she actually gets a chance to show off in the film (which is sadly little), they are among the best moments of the film. And Liz White is at times sympathetic and scary as the house's possessive spirit, perfectly capturing both the cheap and expensive scares needed to make this film a success.

...aaaand back to Daniel
And a success it is. While not as scary as say, last year's Insidious, The Woman in Black is a complete package of entertainment, with excellent atmosphere, wonderful acting, and insanely scary moments that keep you on the edge of your seat. If this film had been a teeny bit more original, it might have topped at #1, but landing at #4 for 2012 is no small feat, and I'd easily recommend this title for those horror fans who are looking for something more familiar and classic than what usually gets released these days, and it gets a few points for being done right.