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As of November 15, 2013, Sonic Cinema will be temporarily holding off on accepting further filmmaker requests for reviews. I have had a great many significant life changes this past year, and I have not yet been able to get to all the ones I currently have on the books. Until those have been completed, I will not be accepting new ones at this time. Thank you for your understanding. -Brian Skutle


2014 Oscars - Personal Choices & Nomination Reactions

It’s that time of year again. Unfortunately, I’m still missing a lot of movies on my “have watched” that could have an effect on these, but it will be updated as we go along. In a bit of a switch, I will be adding the nominees, and my commentary, to this blog, mainly because of how behind I am on what got nominated. I hope you enjoy!

Viva La Resistance!

Brian Skutle
www.sonic-cinema.com

Best Picture
Brian’s Picks:
“How to Train Your Dragon 2”
“Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
“Boyhood”
“Selma”
“Snowpiercer”
“Life Itself”
“The LEGO Movie”
“X-Men: Days of Future Past”
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
“Showing Sydney”

The Nominees
“American Sniper”
“Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
“Boyhood”
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
“The Imitation Game”
“Selma”
“The Theory of Everything”
“Whiplash”

Commentary: This year has been a roller coaster in this category. Expected nominees fell by the wasteside (“Interstellar,” “Unbroken”) while the list of probable nominees became clear with the precursor awards (“Birdman,” “Boyhood,” “Grand Budapest Hotel”). The weighted voting for Best Picture, where the nominees required 10% of all the first-place voting, makes a nomination probable for beloved movies, even if they are rarely represented elsewhere (see “Selma”). It also makes the fact that, for the first time, we only have eight nominees an intriguing prospect.

Prediction: Unless the Academy is feeling randy and goes with a comedy for the first time in 16 years in widely-supported “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” I think “Boyhood” is still the one to beat.

Best Director
Brian’s Picks:
Alejandro González Iñárritu, “Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”
Ava DuVernay, “Selma”
Bong Joon-ho, “Snowpiercer”
Christopher Nolan, “Interstellar”

The Nominees:
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, “Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”
Bennett Miller, “Foxcatcher”
Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Morten Tyldum, “The Imitation Game”

Commentary: Here we have our first genuine surprise, as Miller (a previous nominee for “Capote”) sneaks in over Clint Eastwood (“American Sniper”), Ava DuVernay (“Selma”) and James Marsh (“The Theory of Everything”), who directed Best Picture nominees. Still, this has turned into a three-horse race between “Birdman,” “Boyhood,” and “Grand Budapest Hotel” (especially when it comes to directing achievements), so Miller and Tyldum are basically also-rans anyway.

Brian’s Honorable Mentions: Darren Aronofsky, “Noah”; Edgar Muniz, “Showing Sydney”; Jonathan Glazer, “Under the Skin”; John Carney, “Begin Again”; Bryan Singer, “X-Men: Days of Future Past”; Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”; Pawel Pawlikowski, “Ida”; Dan Gilroy, “Nightcrawler”; RJ Cutler, “If I Stay”; James Gunn, “Guardians of the Galaxy”; Jon Stewart, “Rosewater”; Anthony & Joe Russo, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”; Jason Bateman, “Bad Words”; Jon Favreau, “Chef”; Amma Asante, “Belle”; Garrett Batty, “The Saratov Approach”; David Gordon Green, “Joe”; Luc Besson, “Lucy”; Kevin Smith, “Tusk”; Terry Gilliam, “The Zero Theorem”

Prediction: More than ever, the Director’s Guild will be the key to this race. I can see any of the big three in the race (Anderson, Linklater and Inarritu) winning, depending on what singular achievement the Academy chooses from. Still, I think the 12-year accomplishment of “Boyhood” will be too much for the Academy to ignore, giving Linklater the edge.

Best Actor
Brian’s Picks:
Michael Keaton, “Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Jake Gyllenhaal, “Nightcrawler”
David Oyelowo, “Selma”
Ralph Fiennes, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Ellar Coltrane, “Boyhood”

The Nominees:
Steve Carell, “Foxcatcher”
Bradley Cooper, “American Sniper”
Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Imitation Game”
Michael Keaton, “Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything”

Commentary: If you don’t see your favorite performance on here, don’t worry, because this category was going to be a bloodbath from the beginning. By all accounts, you could easily have made an alternate final five just as worthy from Ralph Fiennes (“Grand Budapest Hotel”), David Oyelowo (“Selma”), Jake Gyllenhaal (“Nightcrawler”), Oscar Isaac (“A Most Violent Year”) and Joaquin Phoenix (“Inherent Vice”). By all accounts, every performance deserves to be there.

Brian’s Honorable Mentions: Matthew McConaughey, “Interstellar”; Russell Crowe, “Noah”; Jason Bateman, “Bad Words”; Mark Ruffalo, “Begin Again”; Gael García Bernal, “Rosewater”; Chris Pratt, “Guardians of the Galaxy”; Jamie Blackley, “If I Stay”; Kevin Costner, “Draft Day”; Phillip Gay, “Monster Killer”; Nicolas Cage, “Joe”; Corbin Allred, “The Saratov Approach”; Maclain Nelson, “The Saratov Approach”; Daniel Radcliffe, “What If”; Phillip Seymour Hoffman, “A Most Wanted Man”; Michael Stahl-David, “In Your Eyes”; Chris Evans, “Snowpiercer” & “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”; Jon Favreau, “Chef”; Justin Long, “Tusk”; Joel McHale, “A Merry Friggin’ Christmas”; Christophe Waltz, “The Zero Theorem”

Prediction: Oscar winner Michael Keaton has a great ring to it. At this point, it’ll be a shock if he doesn’t win.

Best Actress
Brian’s Picks:
Scarlett Johansson, “Under the Skin”
Kiera Knightley, “Begin Again”
Suley Rivera, “Showing Sydney”
Agata Trzebuchowska, “Ida”
Gugu Mbatha-Raw, “Belle”

The Nominees:
Marion Cotillard, “Two Days, One Night”
Felicity Jones, “The Theory of Everything”
Julianne Moore, “Still Alice”
Rosamund Pike, “Gone Girl”
Reese Witherspoon, “Wild”

Commentary: Cotillard is the only one that can be considered a “surprise,” but the past Oscar winner will always be in the mix. The fact that I’ve seen none of these movies means it’s time to play catch up. Big time.

Brian’s Honorable Mentions: Reese Witherspoon, “Wild”; Angelina Jolie, “Maleficent”; Chloe Grace Moretz, “If I Stay”; Zoe Kazan, “In Your Eyes” & “What If”; Anne Hathaway, “Interstellar”; Emily Blunt, “Edge of Tomorrow”; Jennifer Lawrence, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1”; Scarlett Johansson, “Lucy”; Kirsten Bell, “Veronica Mars”

Prediction: Julianne Moore is the front-runner, and at this point, it’s hers to lose.

Best Supporting Actor
Brian’s Picks:
Tony Revolori, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Edward Norton, “Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Rohan Chand, “Bad Words”
Gary Poulter, “Joe”
Ethan Hawke, “Boyhood”

The Nominees:
Robert Duvall, “The Judge”
Ethan Hawke, “Boyhood”
Edward Norton, “Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Mark Ruffalo, “Foxcatcher”
J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”

Commentary: It wasn’t certain whether Hawke (a previous nominee for acting for “Training Day” and writing for the last two “Before” films) would make the cut, but it’s good to see him there. Everyone else was expected.

Brian’s Honorable Mentions: Stephan James, “Selma”; Zach Galifianakis, “Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”; Michael Parks, “Tusk”; Tye Sheridan, “Joe”; Tom Wilkinson, “Selma”; Robin Williams, “A Merry Friggin’ Christmas” & “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb”; Lucas Hedges, “The Zero Theorem”; Dan Stevens, “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb”; Adrien Brody, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”; Anthony Mackie, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”; Willem Dafoe, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Prediction: J.K. Simmons for the sweep of just about everything he’s been up for this year.

Best Supporting Actress
Brian’s Picks:
Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”
Rene Russo, “Nightcrawler”
Carmen Ejogo, “Selma”
Tilda Swinton, “Snowpiercer,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel” & “The Zero Theorem”
Agata Kulesza, “Ida”

The Nominees:
Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”
Laura Dern, “Wild”
Keira Knightley, “The Imitation Game”
Emma Stone, “Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Meryl Streep, “Into the Woods”

Commentary: Dern was a bit of a surprise for a movie that was basically thought to be the Reese show. Everyone else was expected to be here. And it is disappointing that Rene Russo didn’t make the cut.

Brian’s Honorable Mentions: Emma Stone, “Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”; Jessica Chastain, “Interstellar”; Emma Watson, “Noah”; Naomi Watts, “Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”; Laura Dern, “Wild”; Saoirse Ronan, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”; Eva Green, “300: Rise of the Empire” & “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For”; Jennifer Connelly, “Noah”; Amy Ryan, “Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”; Mélanie Thierry, “The Zero Theorem”

Prediction: Patricia Arquette is almost as much of a lock at this point as J.K. Simmons is. Deservedly so.

Best Original Screenplay
Brian’s Picks:
“Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” (Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolas Giacobone, and Alexander Dinelaris)
“Boyhood” (Richard Linklater)
“Selma” (Paul Webb)
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” (Wes Anderson, Hugo Guiness)
“Showing Sydney” (Edgar Muniz & Suley Rivera)

The Nominees:
“Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” (Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo)
“Boyhood” (Richard Linklater)
“Foxcatcher” (E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman)
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” (Wes Anderson, Hugo Guiness)
“Nightcrawler” (Dan Gilroy)

Commentary: I’ve actually seen four of the nominees. I didn’t see that coming. This is a great list, and I guess either ballots were already turned in by the time “Foxcatcher’s” subject blasted the film on Twitter last week, or it didn’t matter.

Brian’s Honorable Mentions: “Nightcrawler” (Dan Gilroy); “Interstellar” (Christopher Nolan & Jonathan Nolan); “Begin Again” (John Carney); “The Saratov Approach” (Garrett Batty); “Bad Words” (Andrew Dodge); “Joe” (Gary Hawkins); “Belle” (Misan Sagay); “Tusk” (Kevin Smith); “Chef” (Jon Favreau); “In Your Eyes” (Joss Whedon); “Lucy” (Luc Besson); “The Zero Theorem” (Pat Rushin)

Prediction: This is a very tough call. How Best Picture and Director pan out could determine what wins. My money is on Anderson finally winning his first Oscar for “Budapest’s” precise, lovely script, but the narrative high-wire act of “Birdman” could just sweep in, as well.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Brian’s Picks:
“How to Train Your Dragon 2” (Dean DeBlois)
“Rosewater” (Jon Stewart)
“Guardians of the Galaxy” (James Gunn & Nicole Perlman)
“The LEGO Movie” (Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Phil Lord & Christopher Miller)
“Noah” (Darren Aronofsky & Ari Handel)

The Nominees:
“American Sniper” (Jason Hall)
“The Imitation Game” (Graham Moore)
“Inherent Vice” (Paul Thomas Anderson)
“The Theory of Everything” (Anthony McCarten)
“Whiplash” (Damien Chazelle)

Commentary: This is one of those categories where you can tell that I just haven’t seen any of the nominees. The “Whiplash” nomination (it was considered Adapted from a short film that was just a scene from the full script) feels out of place, but I can accept it, from what I’ve heard about the movie.

Brian’s Honorable Mentions: “Snowpiercer” (Joon-ho Bong & Kelly Masterson); “Under the Skin” (Walter Campbell & Jonathan Glazer); “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely); “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (Simon Kinberg, Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn); “If I Stay” (Shauna Cross); “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” (Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver); “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay- Part 1” (Peter Craig & Danny Strong); “Big Hero 6” (Jordan Roberts, Daniel Gerson & Robert L. Baird); “Maleficent” (Linda Woolverton); “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” (Craig Wright & Michael McCullers); “Unbroken” (Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese & William Nicholson)

Prediction: The surprising switch of category makes me think “Whiplash” could win over fellow Best Picture nominees “Sniper” and “Imitation Game.”

Best Original Score
Brian’s Picks:
“Interstellar” (Hans Zimmer)
“Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” (Antonio Sanchez)
“Noah” (Clint Mansell)
“How to Train Your Dragon 2” (John Powell)
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” (Alexandre Desplat)

The Nominees
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” (Alexandre Desplat)
“The Imitation Game” (Alexandre Desplat)
“Interstellar” (Hans Zimmer)
“Mr. Turner” (Gary Yershon)
“The Theory of Everything” (Jóhann Jóhannsson)

Commentary: To call the nomination for “Mr. Turner” surprising is to put it mildly—all the other nominees (including the double nomination for Desplat) could be predicted. Now, to hear three of them.

Brian’s Honorable Mentions: “Godzilla” (Alexandre Desplat); “The LEGO Movie” (Mark Mothersbaugh); “Rosewater” (Howard Shore); “Under the Skin” (Mica Levi); “Lucy” (Eric Serra); “The Zero Theorem” (George Fenton); “If I Stay” (Heitor Pereira)

Prediction: I really want to say Zimmer will win his second Oscar for “Interstellar,” but the truth is this is Desplat’s year. The question is which film. I kind of want to give the nod to nomination co-leader “Grand Budapest Hotel,” but the Weinstein’s have a lot of success pushing in this category, so it could be “Imitation Game.”

Best Original Song
Brian’s Picks:
“Glory” from “Selma” (Common, John Legend)
“Lost Stars” from “Begin Again” (Gregg Alexander, Danielle Brisebois, Nick Lashley & Nick Southwood)
“Everything is Awesome!” from “The LEGO Movie” (Shawn Patterson, Joshua Bartholomew, Lisa Harriton, Akiva Schaffer, Andy Samberg & Jorma Taccone)
“I Never Wanted to Go” from “If I Stay” (Heitor Pereira)
“Mercy Is” from “Noah” (Patti Smith & Lenny Kaye)

The Nominees:
“Glory” from “Selma” (Common, John Legend)
“Lost Stars” from “Begin Again” (Gregg Alexander, Danielle Brisebois)
“Everything is Awesome!” from “The LEGO Movie” (Jo Li, Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer)
“Grateful” from “Beyond the Lights” (Diane Warren)
“I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me” (Glen Campbell, Julian Raymond)

Commentary: Even though there are a few I haven’t seen, there don’t appear to be any ringers or bizarre inclusions this year. We’ll see how the rest of them sound.

Brian’s Honorable Mentions: “For The Dancing And The Dreaming” from “How to Train Your Dragon 2” (Shane MacGowan, Jon Thor Birgisson & John Powell); “Where No One Goes” from “How to Train Your Dragon 2” (Jon Thor Birgisson & John Powell); “Coming Up Roses” from “Begin Again” (Glen Hansard & Danielle Brisebois); “Tell Me If You Wanna Go Home” from “Begin Again” (Gregg Alexander & Nick Lashley); “Sister Rust” from “Lucy” (Damon Albarn)

Prediction: “Glory” is the winner. Just try to accept it.

Best Animated Feature
Brian’s Picks:
“How to Train Your Dragon 2”
“The LEGO Movie”
“Big Hero 6”
“Mr. Peabody & Sherman”

The Nominees:
“Big Hero 6”
“The Boxtrolls”
“How to Train Your Dragon 2”
“Song of the Sea”
“The Tale of Princess Kaguya”

Commentary: Pardon the language, but how in the Hell did “The LEGO Movie” not make the cut? Did everyone just assume it was going to get nominated and not vote for it? That’s got to be it, right?

Prediction: “How to Train Your Dragon 2” duplicates it’s Golden Globe win. Deservedly so.

Best Documentary Feature
Brian’s Picks:
“Life Itself”
“Virunga”
“Finding Vivian Mayer”
“Jodorowsky’s Dune”
“The Comic Book Palace”

The Nominees:
“CITIZENFOUR”
“Finding Vivian Mayer”
“Last Days in Vietnam”
“The Salt of the Earth”
“Virunga”

Commentary: Did I miss a step where “Life Itself” didn’t make it to the shortlist before the nominations? I thought the Ebert documentary would be a shoe-in.

Prediction: “CITIZENFOUR.”

Best Foreign-Language Film
“Ida”

The Nominees:
“Wild Tales” (Argentina)
“Tangerines” (Estonia)
“Timbuktu” (Mauritania)
“Ida” (Poland)
“Leviathan” (Russia)

Prediction: “Ida.”

Best Visual Effects
Brian’s Picks:
“Interstellar”
“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”
“Guardians of the Galaxy”
“Noah”
“Godzilla”

The Nominees:
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”
“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”
“Guardians of the Galaxy”
“Interstellar”
“X-Men: Days of Future Past”

Commentary: “The Battle of the Five Armies” becomes the first Middle Earth movie to not get nominated in this category. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. I’m still cheesed “Noah” didn’t make the bake-off shortlist.

Prediction: “Interstellar” seems like a lock, but it wouldn’t surprise me if either “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” or “Guardians of the Galaxy” won, either.

Best Sound Mixing
Brian’s Picks:
“Interstellar”
“Noah”
“How to Train Your Dragon 2”
“Guardians of the Galaxy”
“Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

The Nominees:
“American Sniper”
“Birdman”
“Interstellar”
“Unbroken”
“Whiplash”

Commentary: I’m kind of surprised the controversial sound mix of “Interstellar” made the cut, but I guess other sound people find it more impressive than audiences.

Prediction: “Interstellar” could easily win, or lose to “American Sniper.” I’m going with “American Sniper,” just because it’ll be hard for the film to get love elsewhere.

Best Sound Effects Editing
Brian’s Picks:
“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”
“How to Train Your Dragon 2”
“Interstellar”
“Guardians of the Galaxy”
“Noah”

The Nominees:
“American Sniper”
“Birdman”
“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies”
“Interstellar”
“Unbroken”

Commentary: As with the “Star Wars” prequels, a lone nomination rounds out the “Hobbit” series’s time with Oscar, and it’s a strange solo nomination.

Prediction: I feel more confident here saying that “American Sniper” will likely win easily over “Interstellar.”

Best Cinematography
Brian’s Picks:
“Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
“Interstellar”
“Noah”
“Snowpiercer”
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”

The Nominees:
“Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
“Ida”
“Mr. Turner”
“Unbroken”

Commentary: How “Interstellar” failed to get nominated is anyone’s guess—the use of IMAX in that film is fantastic.

Prediction: That said, “Birdman” is a shoe-in to earn Emmanuel Lubezki his second Oscar in a row.

Best Film Editing
Brian’s Picks:
“Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
“Boyhood”
“Snowpiercer”
“Nightcrawler”
“X-Men: Days of Future Past”

The Nominees:
“American Sniper”
“Boyhood”
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
“The Imitation Game”
“Whiplash”

Commentary: The editing branch has definitely marched to it’s own beat the past few years, which might explain why “Birdman” (he of the “single-take-looking” amazement) didn’t get the nod over other Best Picture nominees.

Prediction: This is always an interesting Best Picture bellweather, for some reason. I’m going with the 12-years-in-the-making “Boyhood,” though, for obvious reasons.

Best Production Design
Brian’s Picks:
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
“Snowpiercer”
“Noah”
“Guardians of the Galaxy”
“Maleficent”

The Nominees:
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
“The Imitation Game”
“Interstellar”
“Into the Woods”
“Mr. Turner”

Prediction: “The Grand Budapest Hotel” definitely has this in the bag. Right?

Best Costume Design
Brian’s Picks:
“Snowpiercer”
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
“Maleficent”
“Belle”
“Noah”

The Nominees:
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
“Inherent Vice”
“Into the Woods”
“Mr. Turner”
“Maleficent”

Prediction: “The Grand Budapest Hotel” beats out “Maleficent” and “Into the Woods.”

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Brian’s Picks:
“Guardians of the Galaxy”
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
“Snowpiercer”

The Nominees:
“Foxcatcher”
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
“Guardians of the Galaxy”

Prediction: “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

Best Documentary (Short Subject)
“Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1”
“Joanna”
“Our Curse”
“The Reaper”
“White Earth”

Prediction: “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1”

Best Short Film (Animated)
“The Bigger Picture”
“The Dam Keeper”
“Feast”
“Me and My Moulton”
“A Single Life”

Prediction: “The Dam Keeper”

Best Short Film (Live Action)
The Nominees
“Aya”
“Boogaloo and Graham”
“Butter Lamp”
“Parvaneh”
“The Phone Call”

Brian’s Picks:
“Eroticide”
“Choosing Sides”
“Under the Dark Wing”
“Always a Reason”
“Sky’s the Limit”

Prediction: “Aya”


A Movie a Week


A Movie a Week: "The Muppets Take Manhattan"

Here we are, at last, as we begin the seventh year of this series. The past few years, I’ve gotten painfully behind at times delivering these reviews, but no time was worse than the last part of 2014, when I basically had to do two reviews a week sometimes just to catch up. Now that last year is finished up, it’s time to start this year.

The “new normal” of my life without my father, and a lot of balls in the air at the same time, is starting to normalize. Part of what kept me so behind last year was my decision to take online courses in film music at the Berklee College of Music, and it was a wonderful choice, even if it was stressful at times. Now, I have a body of work I can share, and hopefully get my foot in the door of something I love. But this is about reviewing movies, my other big love, so let’s get to it.

This year will feature a lot of the same mix of old favorites with movies I haven’t seen before that has been something of a regular happening the past few years in this column, and that will start right off the bat. For this year’s “bookend director,” I decided to go with a filmmaker who isn’t as highly regarded as some of my other choices, but definitely a personal favorite of mine. He’s directed some of my all-time favorite genre films over the years, and the more I’ve watched them, the more they find a place in my cinematic memory. That’s the hallmark of a great filmmaker, and as with Alfred Hitchcock (last year’s bookend), Richard Donner knows exactly how to push an audience’s buttons, and entertain them easily.

This week, I’m still stuck in the ‘80s with my movie choices (3 in 4 weeks so far this year), but that was my childhood, so hopefully you’ll forgive me for the nostalgia trip. Today’s entry is Frank Oz’s only Muppet film he directed, “The Muppets Take Manhattan”, which has always been a personal favorite from Jim Henson’s wonderful creations. Watching it again, that still holds true. I hope you enjoy!

Thank you for continuing to read these. Hopefully, this will truly become a weekly endeavor again, because it’s a lot of fun to do, and wicked stressful when I get behind. I hope you enjoy!

Brian Skutle
www.sonic-cinema.

“The Muppets Take Manhattan” (1984)- B+
The Muppets always seemed to have it rough on the big screen. The variety show format of their TV show worked well because you didn’t have to have a narrative that could justify an 80-90 minute feature film. When they made their big screen debut in 1979, though, the magic came through beautifully by having them be underdogs trying to make it in the big world. When Jason Segel resurrected them in 2011, he was able to capture that feeling again, although with last year’s “Muppets Most Wanted,” it’s uncertain how long it may last. Still, I’m a Muppet fan for life, so even when it’s not so good, I’ll be appreciative to see the gang again.

From the Jim Henson-era of The Muppets, while the 1979 “Muppet Movie” is easily the best film the franchise has brought out, it’s their 1984 effort, “Muppets Take Manhattan,” that has been my favorite, and watching it again, I think I figured out why. By casting Kermit and the gang as a group of recent college graduates trying to sell a musical on Broadway, director Frank Oz and his co-writers (Tom Patchett and Jay Tarses) bring back that underdog sensibility to the characters that keeps us rooting for them when the rest of the world seems to be against them. Yeah, the film has a gratuitous plug for “Muppet Babies” during one of it’s musical numbers, but that moment comes at a time when Kermit and Miss Piggy, who have been apart after the gang runs out of money, are having a romantic carriage ride through Central Park, and Miss Piggy starts to day dream. Plus, it’s got an entertaining musical number (one of many in the film) that works with the setting, and the overall arc of Kermit and Piggy’s relationship in the film.

If you’re a Muppet fan, you pretty much know what you’re going to get out of this movie: all sorts of comedy, with humans taking a back seat to the characters made of felt, and comedy stars (like Art Carney, Dabney Coleman, and Joan Rivers, among others) making cameos to play off of the Muppets, and musical numbers. The numbers in this film are written by Jeff Moss, and they’re some of the best and most memorable in Muppet film history, with “Together Again,” “Somebody’s Getting Married” and “Saying Goodbye” standing out. The fact that a lot of the movie is about a transitional moment in the lives of the characters, whether you’re talking about graduating from college or moving to the big city or having to make your way in life without your friends makes it really work on an emotional level that the likes of “Muppet Treasure Island” or, shudders, “Muppets From Space” can’t. Of course, it also helped that the original muppeteers bringing the characters to life, starting with Henson and Oz, were still working with them. They knew these characters in a way few others could, and it comes through in every frame of the film. This is a film that understands its place as a silly, funny, sweet family movie that also has plenty of that great Muppets subversion for adults. It’s a lark more than it is art, and that’s all I really ask for from a movie featuring these characters. Sure, some emotional storytelling is important, but if it keeps me engaged, and plays with the concept of a dog, a bear, a chicken, a frog, a pig, and a whatever existing in the real world, and doesn’t hit you over the head with fourth wall winking at the audience, I’m fine with that, and “The Muppets Take Manhattan” does that well.

Previous “A Movie a Week” Reviews
“The Goonies” (1985)
“The Outlaw Josey Wales” (1976)
“Conan the Barbarian” (1982)
“The Muppets Take Manhattan” (1984)

See Brian’s list of 2009 “Movies a Week” here.
See Brian’s list of 2010 “Movies a Week” here.
See Brian’s list of 2011 “Movies a Week” here.
See Brian’s list of 2012 “Movies a Week” here.
See Brian’s list of 2013 “Movies a Week” here.
See Brian’s list of 2014 “Movies a Week” here.


Music News

If you are a fan on Sonic Cinema, Brian's music, or the work of Cinema Nouveau Productions, and would like to show your support, a store is now available through Cafe Press, with T-shirts, hats, buttons, and other merchandise. A wide variety of designs and products are available. The store is Sonic Cinema Shop and can be found at the link provided. Thank you for your support, so I can continue to do what I love. -Brian Skutle


Musical Happenings: June 2014

I don’t know how people go to school full-time, and work full-time, without going insane. It’s been a crazy three months just doing one online class and working full-time. And then there’s that pesky task of having a life in between. I’m baffled.

To recap: in my last blog about my musical endeavors, I mentioned how I had decided to go back to school and augment my education. And so, for the past three months, I have been taking an online course in film scoring from the Berklee College of Music, the first of three classes required for their Specialist Certificate program in Music for Movies and TV. (Up next: Language of Film & TV, aka the class Mr. “Writing About Film Since 1996” should get an A in.) I’ll admit, it’s been a bit nerve-racking to go back to school, especially since online classes are new to me, but it’s also been invigorating. Since films, and filmmaking, was already a profound passion of mine, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much I already understood about the process, to say nothing of how much my own personal experiences would come full circle. Due to computer issues (all of which are now taken care of, courtesy of my friend Dave), I had to wing it on a couple of assignments, which meant throwing me back to earlier times of recording music and scoring films, especially my friend Chris’s series, “The Case”. Just goes to further prove that, in fact, everything happens for a reason.

One thing that has become abundantly clear over the past 11 weeks of this course is that film music, and the creative process, is what makes me happiest, and what will make me happiest, in terms of what I want to do with my life. I have the chops for it, and it’s a fun challenge. In terms of the creative aspects, it’s a jolt of energy, and even though I’ll probably always write stand-alone musical works, my musical voice is at it’s best, I think, when it has a definite story to tell. In addition to learning about the techniques of film music, we’ve also had three opportunities to score different student films/scenes, and I’d put the music I’ve written for those projects—“Sinead Rising”, a scene from the short, “Roller Palace”, and “Blue City” (our final project)—toe to toe with my scores for “The Case” or “Walpurgis Night”, or my “2001: A Space Odyssey”-inspired album, “Beyond the Infinite: A Musical Odyssey” as a strong example of what I’m capable of, and what I’m passionate about.

In addition to the music done for these projects (which I will gladly share with anyone interested in checking them out via Dropbox—just private message me, and I’ll send you the links), I continued to work on stand-alone pieces. The band piece I had started on the last update is very much finished; all that remains is doing the parts in Finale, figuring out dynamics and the depth of certain parts. (The working title is currently “Brian Skutle’s Passions”, but we’ll see if that sticks or not.) I’m working on updated software, not just for Finale, but also Cakewalk Sonar (my sequencer of choice for going on eight years now) and Sound Forge (my long-time editing software), which I got as a result of starting this class. I also purchased a small rhythm machine back in May, and immediately put it to use, doing a new electronica piece entitled, “Cosmic Energy”. There’s definitely going to be more featuring that machine in the near future; maybe even another album comparable to last year’s “Arpeggiations & Atmospeheres” down the road.

That’s all I have for now, but that seems like a lot, doesn’t it? Great things going on, and hopefully, more to come as the year progresses.

Thanks for listening,

Brian Skutle
www.sonic-cinema.com
brianskutle.bandcamp.com
“Creative Beginnings” at CDBaby
“Dark Experiments” at CDBaby
“Sonic Visions of a New Old West” at CDBaby
“Beyond the Infinite: A Musical Odyssey” at CDBaby
“Storytelling” at CDBaby
“Arpeggiations & Atmospheres” on BandCamp

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