Saturday, February 20, 2010

2002 Playlist

Again, here are my favorite tracks from 2002. This one was hard because there's so many long songs. Still, it would probably make a pretty sweet road mix. Just sayin'. As always, alphabetically:

The All-American Rejects - "Swing, Swing"
Authority Zero - "Mesa Town"
Bad Religion - "Sorrow"
Ben Folds - "Army" (Live)
Big D & the Kids Table - "Scenester"
The Decemberists - "Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect"
dredg - "The Canyon Behind Her"
Foo Fighters - "All My Life"
John Murphy - "In a House - In a Heartbeat" (28 Days Later soundtrack)
Johnny Cash - "The Man Comes Around"
Minus the Bear - "Get Me Naked 2: Electric Boogaloo"
New Found Glory - "Sonny"
Queens of the Stone Age - "Go with the Flow"
Red Hot Chili Peppers - "Can't Stop" (or "Venice Queen")
Reel Big Fish - "What Are Friends For"
Rilo Kiley - "The Good that Won't Come Out"
Something Corporate - "Punk Rock Princess"
Unwritten Law - "Sound Siren"
Vanessa Carlton - "A Thousand Miles"
The Vines - "Get Free"
Weezer - "Keep Fishin'"

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Top 10 Albums: 2002

Bless me, blogosphere, for I have sinned. It has been over two weeks since my last blog entry. The days have been filled with work, sleep, drinking, San Diego trips, and more procrastination than a cohort of second-year freshmen. These are not excuses, and I ask not for atonement (awesome book/film combo, by the way). I merely ask that you bear with me as I, slowly and somewhat un-surely, make my way through this backlog of entries. After all, it's not like I'm getting paid for this... ha!

Moving on, today we're talking about the year 2002 and my favorite albums thereof. It was a good year, 2002 -- I began my second year at ASU, I moved into an off-campus apartment, went on an epic trip to San Diego with high school friends, and spent the summer working at a bar on an Indian reservation in New Mexico. It was also a good year for driving -- which means it was a good year for music. Many of these albums (the ones I actually bought and listened to in 2002) were on regular rotation in my pre-boat Corolla (if you don't know, you don't) as I crisscrossed between California to New Mexico and everywhere in between. I remember cruising I-8 back from SD blasting RBF and screaming down Route 666 with dredg as my soundtrack. There's nothing like getting to know an album like scorched rubber and cracked asphalt under an unrelenting sun.

Here's my list of some stuff I was into in that road-weary summer, some stuff I found out about much later, and some stuff that's just timeless. As always, we begin with some Honorable Mentions:

Ben Folds - Ben Folds Live (probably my favorite live album ever, if only for "Army"), Millencolin - Home From Home (doesn't hold up as well as Pennybridge, but it was one of my favorites back in the day), Minus the Bear - Highly Refined Pirates (plenty raw but awesome), Phantom Planet - The Guest (actually pretty decent, if you can get past "Californiaaaaaaaaa..."), Vanessa Carlton - Be Not Nobody (Damn right... "Makin' my way downtown, walkin' fast, faces pass...), and I'll be honest -- I've never really listened to Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. If you have a lawyer, go ahead and sue me).

Now the top 10:

10) Unwritten Law - Elva
Produced by: Unwritten Law and three other dudes
Standout tracks: "Up All Night," "Sound Siren," "Seein' Red"

One of my favorite all time "punk" (so it's more like pop-punk, but still) albums is Unwritten Law's self-titled album. It was my entire JAM junior year of high school and it got me cred with the "punks" at my high school, who in turn introduced me to some pretty awesome bands that I still listen to (Bad Religion, All, Strung Out, etc.). Now, as "punk" as that album was (or wasn't), its follow-up removes all pretense of "punk." It's more like pop-rock with just enough edge/brashness to keep it from being mainstream. I think this album was actually pretty big on MTV2 if that gives you any idea. Anyway, this is the last good album by what was once one of my favorite bands, and I still give it fairly regular airplay, so I figured I'd throw it on here at #10 over the Millencolin album Home From Home, which I don't really give much airplay to anymore. It's the kind of anthemic chorus and hook-laden album that smacks of blink-182 meets Jimmy Eat world (and I mean that as a compliment). Tom DeLonge even gives a shout out after the last track -- SoCal "punk" at its finest.

9) Foo Fighters - One By One
Produced by: Foo Fighters and two other dudes
Standout tracks: "All My Life," "Times Like These," "Come Back"

Dave Grohl once told Rolling Stone that he didn't much care for this album. Something about it being rushed. What's funny is that it later won a Grammy for Best Rock Album. I'm not sure if that says more to the badassitude (it's a real word, trust me) of the Foos that they can basically shit an album out and take home hardware, or to the general crapitude (again, a real word) that is the Grammys. Either way, I respect both points of view -- I can see where the album pales in comparison to some other efforts by the Foos (although it's not my least favorite Foo record), but I can also see how it's better than probably 90% of the other stuff out there (I'd rather listen to a recording of Dave Grohl taking a shit than, say, the last 3-4 U2 records). The singles are right up there with anything Grohl and Co. have ever released (the opening to "All My Life" is aurgasmic (see what I did there?)), and the album cuts aren't half bad either, especially the slow burners like "Disenchanted Lullaby," "Burn Away," and "Come Back." Not exactly live show staples, sure, but perfect for the sunshine-and-shrubs monotony of the I-40 East.

8) Queens of the Stone Age - Songs for the Deaf
Produced by: Josh Homme, Adam Kasper, Eric Valentine
Standout tracks: "You Think I Ain't Worth a Dollar...," "No One Knows," "Go with the Flow," "Another Love Song"

Speaking of driving through the desert, Songs for the Deaf is a concept album about just that. That's right, a concept album about driving through the desert. In any other hands, this would probably be a complete disaster, but it turned into a minor masterpiece in the confident hands of Josh Homme, Nick Oliveri, Mark Lanegan, and, you know it, Dave Grohl. This is probably one of the most badass collections of musicians this decade has seen. Key word: "badass." No wonder it only lasted one album -- too much testosterone for one recording studio. If only they got "THE" Bruce Dickinson to produce... Regardless, their one foray into the studio is as rockin' as some bands' entire discographies. I'm also a sucker for concept albums -- all the songs are linked together by random snippets of Mojave Desert radio stations -- from hippy deejays to Spanish stations to what sounds like some guy broadcasting out of his trailer. It makes a stark counterpoint to the blistering rhythms, screaming guitars, and triumvirate vocals that mark the songs themselves. The resulting record is as complicated and varied as the desert itself -- alternately rugged, challenging, spare, and even tranquil. It's a trip, man -- too bad this experiment couldn't have lasted longer.

7) Reel Big Fish - Cheer Up!
Produced by: Reel Big Fish, Val Garay
Standout tracks: "Ban the Tube Top," "What Are Friends For," "Valerie," "New York, New York," "Boss D.J.," "Drunk Again"

This is probably the best -- but not my favorite, I don't think -- Reel Big Fish album. It's a ska record, so take that how you will. Can there even be such a thing as a "good" ska record? Tomas Kalnoky sure thinks so. But whatever your stance on ska, this is just an awesome record that contains a lot of staples of their always fun live shows -- "Tube Top," "Where Have You Been?" and the title track come to mind. It also continues their tradition of upbeat, vibrant covers (remember "Take On Me"?) -- their mostly a capella rendition of Ol' Blue Eye's "New York, New York" and the positively pop-tastic cover of Sublime's "Boss D.J." are both fantastic. The standout, however, might be album-capper "Drunk Again" where trumpeter/sidekick Scott Klopfenstein takes center stage for a Burt Bacharach-esque ballad about, what else, drinking your troubles away. It's not exactly a "cheery" track (or album), but RBF never really did shy away from irony.

6) New Found Glory - Sticks and Stones
Produced by: Neal Avron
Standout tracks: "Understatement," "Sonny," "It's Been A Summer," "The Story So Far"

A quick note before we begin: I recently saw NFG perform their self-titled album in its entirety. It made me realize that I probably ranked it too low in a previous entry. My bad, and I apologize to all involved.

That said, while this album isn't as good as that one, I'm still probably ranking it too low. But how do you rank an album (band) that has such obvious aesthetic flaws (it's unclear if they know you can have more than three chords in a song) and very limited subject matter (read: all the songs are about girls... literally, all of them)? It's tough, especially since it's so easy to relate to the material. Relationships, breakups, casual hook-ups, the one who got away, the one you're chasing -- there isn't a song in the band's catalog that I haven't been able to relate to personally at some point. I have memories attached to just about all of these songs like so many post-it notes. There's not many bands out there -- at least for me -- that I can say that about. I know they're just silly pop-punk songs about girls, but I'd like to think they mean something, dammit! Or maybe I'm just a sucker for three-chord love songs with breakdowns.

5) Rilo Kiley - The Execution of All Things
Produced by: Mike Mogis
Standout tracks: "The Good That Won't Come Out," "Paint's Peeling," "With Arms Outstretched," "Spectacular Views"

Another moment of honesty: I've never really been into the whole "Omaha Sound"/Saddle Creek thing. I'm only really into Cursive's later stuff, Bright Eyes bores the fuck out of me, and I've never heard The Faint. All that Midwest scene shit is slow, morose, and with a predilection toward quiet -- hey, kinda like life in the Midwest must be! All kidding aside, yes it can be intricate and moving at times, but what on this list so far would make you think I'd be into that scene? That said, I absolutely love this record. Maybe it's the L.A. connection or the random flourishes of electronica (probably the same thing anyway), but Rilo Kiley hits all the right buttons on this one. The songs all seem like little short stories, with full-fledged characters and arcs, all sung/narrated by my indie crush Jenny Lewis. Yes, guitarist Blake Sennett makes an occasional appearance, but who really listens to Rilo Kiley for his vocals? I mean, really? As a whole, the album dips from country to electronica to indie rock all with a kind of playful, self-aware vibe that only makes sense from a band featuring two former child actors (Lewis and Sennett). To sum the album up in four words: As Lewis says in the phenomenal final track "Spectacular Views": "It's so fucking beautiful."

4) dredg - El Cielo
Produced by: dredge and a bunch of guys
Standout tracks: "Same Ol' Road," "Whoa Is Me," "The Canyon Behind Her"

"It's so fucking beautiful" might be an even better descriptor for this album -- to date, dredg's finest work. This one is another concept album based on -- wait for it -- a painting by Salvador Dali. It's about as mindblowing as you'd expect. I've taken the liberty of embedding the painting below. Let this marinate for a minute:

Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bumblebee around a Pomegranate One Second Before Awakening
It's got it all: fish, tigers, fish eating tigers, flying elephants, a naked chick, bees, cliffs. The album's got it all too, traipsing around from hard rock to metal to jazz to prog, all with excellent musicianship and featuring vocals by one of my favorite singers, Gavin Hayes. The guy seriously has one of the best voices around -- and it totally translates live as well. And, to keep with the theme of amazing album closers, "The Canyon Behind Her" is probably one of the most beautiful songs of the decade.

3) The Decemberists - Castaways and Cutouts
Produced by: The Decemberists
Standout tracks: "Leslie Anne Levine," "Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect," "July, July," "California One"

This was the first Decemberists record I ever heard... and I didn't really like it. I think I was still firmly entrenched in my third-wave ska phase, and this record was too slow, too acoustic, too... accordion-y. I definitely missed the boat there (get it... there's a boat on the album cover!), but it's a good thing I came back to this record after hearing -- and falling in love with -- Picaresque and The Crane Wife. I would have missed the macabre amazingness of the aborted baby-POV "Leslie Anne Levine." I would have missed the hypnotic melancholy of "Here I Dreamt..." (one of my favorite all-time Decemberists songs). I would have missed the sunny, twisted shout out to my birth month, "July, July!" And I would have missed "California One / Youth and Beauty Brigade," perhaps the best tribute to the two-faced nature of my home away from home, California. And I would have missed all the Gothic-folk-indie gems in between, peppered with accordion and sarcastic barbs and sailors and literary references and star-crossed lovers and dark humor and a distinct fascination with the morbid. And that would have been a damn shame. This was the first Decemberists record I ever heard -- and it just might be my favorite.

2) Johnny Cash - American IV: The Man Comes Around
Produced by: Rick Rubin, John Carter Cash
Standout tracks: "The Man Comes Around," "Hurt," "In My Life," "Sam Hall"

Honestly, I'm not sure which is the greater achievement: the use of "The Man Comes Around" over the opening credits of the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake or how Cash absolutely crushes NIN's "Hurt" (and the accompanying video). Either of them -- an appearance in a zombie movie and the Grammy the "Hurt" video picked up -- is a feat, marking Cash as a cultural force in his 70th year. I mean, the man was DYING as he made this record. As if you couldn't tell, with cover choices like "In My Life" and "Desperado" -- not to mention "I Won't Back Down" off the previous American Recordings record. There's just something abso-fucking-lutely profound about a man confronting his fate with nothing more than a gravely, world-weary voice and a guitar. There's an added earnestness, an urgency, when he sings a line like, "You better let somebody love you, before it's too late." Whether it's an old country standard or a contemporary industrial song, to hear Cash cover it here is to hear the song again for the first time. Here, here, ya hear? It was the last album released in Cash's lifetime, and it has to be considered one of his best.

1) Red Hot Chili Peppers - By the Way
Produced by: Rick Rubin
Standout tracks: "By the Way," "Can't Stop," "Midnight," "Minor Thing," "Venice Queen"

The Keidis/Frusciante/Flea/Smith incarnation of the Chili Peppers (everything from Mother's Milk through Stadium Arcadium, with the exception of One Hot Minute) is one of the most ridiculously talented collections of musicians of this generation. I'm not even kidding. Say what you will of Keidis's lyrics, but I've always thought they were more of a compliment to the group's sound than the driving force behind the music, and there's no denying the superior talent of the Flea/Smith rhythm battery. But the star of the Chili Peppers (or, if you're cool like me, RCHP -- and yes, I know that's not the correct abbreviation), to me, has always been lead guitarist/backup vocalist extraordinaire John Frusciante. Just think about it: the opening riff to "Under the Bridge" or "Soul to Squeeze." The slide guitar solos in "Scar Tissue." The haunting backing vox that permeate By the Way. All Frusciante. Without Frusciante, they're a bunch of funk-rock wannabes with socks on their dicks that hang out with Dave Navarro. With Frusciante, they're one of the defining mainstream rock bands of the last 20 years. All of which makes me nervous about the future of the band without Frusciante. That said, this album is Frusciante's finest hour. His guitar sound throughout is... incendiary. Incendiary. And his pitch-perfect backing vocals add a layer of depth to an already-deep album. Just listen to the song "Venice Queen" (quite possibly a) the best song the Chili Peppers have recorded or will ever record and b) one of the best songs of the decade). The song -- a heartbreaking tribute to Keidis's late drug counselor, Gloria (or G-L-O-R-I-A) -- is a veritable playground for Frusciante's many talents. From the delicate fingerpicking of the first half of the song to the frenetic acoustic strumming of the second half to the melodic backing vox throughout, it's all a stunning display of talent. It's a shame his solo stuff -- what he ostensibly left RCHP to pursue -- isn't as good as his stuff with the Peppers. But enough talking. I'll let the song speak for itself:

Done at last. Lemme know what you think. As always, thanks for reading. Until next time, whenever it may be...

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Oscar Nominations Ramble

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has just announced that next year's Super Bowl will feature a whopping FOUR entrants and will be played as a free-for-all/melee, Braveheart-style battle. But with a football instead of swords. Okay, not really (although the Pro Bowl actually did have over 100 players involved -- ridiculous). But a Super Bowl with four teams is about as good an idea as having TEN Best Picture nominees. I know, I know, that's how they used to do it back in the day, but if we did everything like they did 70 years ago, we'd be in the midst of an economic depression and deposing foreign dictators. Oh wait. Whatever. If I wasn't so sure it was just a marketing ploy by the studios to slap the 'Best Picture Nominee' tag on DVDs and get a theatrical re-release, I'd be more open to it. But it just seems like a money grab. Either way, there will probably be one or two nominees that flat-out don't deserve it, and one or two that were rightly rewarded.  Sounds like a wash to me -- why bother? Oh well. I sound like a crotchety old man. All I know is that the Oscars with 20 Best Picture nominees would be a more legitimate awards ceremony than the Grammys...

Moving on, we're a few scant hours away from the nomination announcements. True to form as a legendary procrastinator, I've waited until now to offer up my predictions. I'm sticking to the main eight categories (Picture, Director, all the acting awards, and both screenplay awards), because a) I'm lazy, b) I don't care about documentaries, c) the red tape for foreign films is just retarded, and d) the tech categories would be a crapshoot anyway. The lists are roughly in order or likelihood of a nomination. I'll even offer a waaaaay too early winner prediction in each category as well. You can also probably look forward to (or dread) a reactions piece and final predictions closer to the ceremony. Enjoy. Or not.

The Hurt Locker*
Inglourious Basterds
Up in the Air
An Education
A Serious Man

Also in the running: District 9, A Single Man, Star Trek, (500) Days of Summer
Possible WTF? nomination: The Last Station
Haven't seen: Nine, The Last Station

I think there's really only one spot that's still up for debate -- everything from Hurt Locker to Invictus seems fairly well locked in to me. Hurt Locker and Avatar are the clear front runners at this point, while Up in the Air, Basterds, and Precious (I refuse to type out the whole title) have plenty of precursor awards and momentum themselves. One-time contender Education leads the pack of also-rans, along with the now probably automatic Coen nom (I can't imagine they won't get nominated in any given year with TEN spots) Serious Man, Eastwood award-bait Invictus and Pixar's Up (it'll be good to finally have them get a nomination in the big boys category though, I'll admit). I really didn't want to pick Nine for the last spot, but I really couldn't see any of the other films in the running snagging the spot. District 9 and Star Trek are both sci-fi (NOT SyFy), and we've already got Avatar. A Single Man is too small (like Crazy Heart and The Messenger), while Summer probably skews too young for most of the Academy. Nine, critical raping aside, still has pedigree and a lot of Academy-friendly talent behind it. I think it gets a pity nom. I would say it's undeserving, but I haven't seen it. So I'll just say that it's probably undeserving. I wouldn't actually mind that and Invictus being dropped from two of the other ones in the running. As for the WTF? nom, I don't think The Hangover has a shot, but The Last Station seems like the kind of hoity-toity picture that, carried by strong veteran performances (from what I hear), could get the Merchant-Ivory Memorial nomination.

As for the eventual winner, I'd say The Hurt Locker has got its statue signed, sealed, and delivered. Or whatever the actual logistics for getting a statue are. Avatar is a threat, but Cameron has already been rewarded for directing the highest-grossing movie of all time, No need to do it twice (plus, I don't think the movie has much support in the acting or writing branches). Basterds is the real dark horse here (and I'd love to see it win), but I don't see it happening. The Globes snub killed Up in the Air's chances, and Precious never really had a chance but would seem to be the final contender. Hey -- that's five movies! Weird! Anyway, the rest are filler nominations with varying degrees of worthiness, from Education (very) to Nine (not at all). The Hurt Locker is just the right movie for the right time. I'll be keeping tabs on what will probably either be an Avatar backlash or groundswell of support. For now though, it's Locker.

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

Also in the running: Nobody really, but Clint Eastwood (Invictus) and the Coens (A Serious Man) are probably next in line
Possible WTF? nominations: Lone Scherfig (An Education), Michael Haneke (The White Ribbon)
Haven't seen: The White Ribbon

This one's easy -- one through five seem pretty locked in to me. I don't see any of them getting bumped. Coincidentally (or not...), these are the same films that are the probable top five front runners for Best Picture. Bigelow's mastery of tension and explosions (how cool is it that one of the best action directors of all time is a woman?) made Hurt Locker one of the most engrossing films of the year; Cameron is a shoo-in (and, again, NOT a shoe-in) for Avatar -- I just hope he wears a suit made of $100 bills to the ceremony; Tarantino delivered the goods after a lengthy wait with Basterds and is probably a bigger contender than Cameron (did you see his Golden Globe acceptance speech? smug, smug, smug); Reitman will be happy with his second nomination (although, for the life of me, I don't see what's so special about his fairly lackadaisical pacing, "more indie than thou" soundtracks, and lazy endings -- he's like a more polished Zach Braff, although he does get great performances from his actors); finally, Daniels is actually probably the true dark horse in this category -- Precious is raw and hard to watch at times, but there is an undeniable energy and soul about the film that speaks to Daniels's abilities behind the camera.

As you can tell by my strategic placement of the asterisk next to Bigelow's name, I think Locker pulls the double whammy and wins both Picture and Director. The time is ripe for a lady director to take home the top prize, and the veteran Bigelow is as worthy as any -- I mean, come on, surely you've seen POINT BREAK. If she wins, AMPAS should just call it like it is and make it retroactive for what is probably the best action movie of all time. On another serious note, The Hurt Locker was fantastic and I think being shut out at the Globes actually helped its -- and Bigelow's -- cause (by getting them more #1 votes). I think Tarantino and Daniels are the only other interesting candidates here -- I don't think Cameron or Reitman have much of a shot. As for the WTF? noms, the Academy could go overboard with two female nominees, and Scherfig would be a very deserving one for Education. Haneke's Ribbon, meanwhile, won the Palme d'Or, which, while not necessarily a very good prognosticator of Oscar success, brings a certain amount of prestige to the table for an already-well-respected vet. At the end of the day (well, it'll actually be night), expect to see Bigelow at the podium. (Yes, I know Bigelow and Cameron used to be married and, no, I don't think it's worth discussing.)

Jeff Bridges* - Crazy Heart
George Clooney - Up in the Air
Colin Firth - A Single Man
Morgan Freeman - Invictus
Michael Stuhlbarg - A Serious Man

Also in the running: Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker), Viggo Mortensen (The Road), Tobey Maguire (Brothers)
Possible WTF? nomination: Nicolas Cage (Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans)
Haven't seen: The Road, Brothers

While I think Jeff Lebowski... er, Bridges has this wrapped up tighter than Jesus Quintana's pants, the rest of the category is more loose than Bunny Lebowski herself. Extended Big Lebowski analogy for the win. Moving on, Clooney and, to a lesser extent, Firth are both basically locks, but all bets are off after that. Freeman would seem to be a sure thing, but the movie was mediocre at best and received barely more than a smattering of applause from critics. I'm counting him in for now, but it wouldn't shock me not to hear his name called in the morning (I might even be up to watch). As for the fifth spot, I really have no idea. Renner would seem to be a good bet, as Locker figures to get a lot of love, but there are other, more established, names on his heels -- Maguire has the Globe nod and Mortensen is probably the best actor of the last 10 years. My money's on Stuhlbarg though. He's got a couple things going for him -- 1) he's a theatre vet and has paid his dues, and 2) he's in a Coen brothers movie. That might be enough for some voters. Or, you know, his excellent performance.

Whoever the other nominees wind up being, this is Bridges's time to shine. I can't think of many actors that are more due for a statue than him. While Crazy Heart as a film isn't exactly a revelation, Bridges as Bad Blake is exactly that -- a revelation. The film is a quiet character study of a broken man putting himself back together again and Bridges puts his all into it. His win will be more or less a lifetime achievement award, but that doesn't take anything away from this performance. Clooney was good as Michael Clayton again, and Firth was even better as a gay college professor in 1960's L.A. who has just lost his partner and must fend off the advances of a drunken Julianne Moore. Freeman was perfunctory as Nelson Mandela in a role that he could have sleepwalked through and picked up a nom (and perhaps he did). WTF?-wise, Nic Cage as a drug-addled, post-Katrina Nawlins detective was truly something to behold, if only for the line, "Shoot him again... his soul is still dancing." Amazing stuff. I haven't seen The Road or Brothers, but I'm sure Viggo is excellent, and I have a hard time believing that Tobey Maguire turned in an Oscar-caliber performance. If he sneaks into the field of five, I'll have to check it out. I'll leave you with this: Jeff Bridges performing "Fallin' and Flyin'" from Crazy Heart. No video, but well worth listening to:

       Jeff Bridges Fallin and Flying - Watch more Videos at Vodpod.

Meryl Streep* - Julie and Julia
Sandra Bullock - The Blind Side
Carey Mulligan - An Education
Gabourey Sidibe - Precious
Helen Mirren - The Last Station

Also in the running: Emily Blunt (The Young Victoria), Saoirse Ronan (The Lovely Bones)
Possible WTF? nomination: Abbie Cornish (Bright Star)
Haven't seen: Julie and Julia, The Blind Side, The Last Station, The Young Victoria, Bright Star

As you can probably tell from the lengthy 'Haven't seen' list, this category is not my forte. I've got Julie and Julia in my Netflix cue, and I'll probably see The Blind Side this week, but the other ones are less likely. I'll *try* to see all the nominated performances though -- it looks like all of these movies are either out on DVD or still playing at Camelview. Anyway, the performances I *have* seen -- Mulligan's and Sidibe's -- were both fine work. Mulligan is probably the best female performance I've seen this year and would be a contender if she was a bigger name. Sidibe showed equal parts bravery and spunk in Precious, but the nomination was her win. Those two are locks. The fifth spot is wide open -- I'm giving it to Mirren for now based on her track record and less-than-stellar reviews for Victoria and Bones. Blunt is thisclose though. I've heard very good things about Cornish's performance in Star, so that's my Melissa Leo in Frozen River Memorial left field performance.

The only two contenders are Streep and Bullock though. The cagey veteran vs. the fan favorite. It's kind of like Kobe vs. LeBron (yes, now TWO sports analogies in an Oscar blog!), except with strappy dresses and sequins instead of puppets (I hate those commercials). I've seen a lot of bloggers and entertainment writers predicting gold for Bullock, but I don't buy it. The Globes were her moment in the sun -- Streep will pick up a long-deserved third statue. Respected comedienne Bullock has to settle for the Bill Murray/Lost in Translation treatment, watching the veteran Actress win the award she thought was hers.

Christoph Waltz* - Inglourious Basterds
Woody Harrelson - The Messenger
Stanley Tucci - The Lovely Bones
Christopher Plummer - The Last Station
Christian McKay - Me & Orson Welles

Also in the running: Matt Damon (Invictus), Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker)
Possible WTF? nomination: Alfred Molina (An Education)
Haven't seen: The Last Station, Me & Orson Welles

The supporting categories are so locked in, it's barely worth talking about. Christoph "Don't Call Me Christopher" Waltz will win this award -- and deservingly so. SS Colonel Hans Landa is one of the year's truly memorable characters, along with Alan from The Hangover, Up's Dug the talking dog, the aforementioned Bad Blake from Crazy Heart, probably Nic Cage's character from Bad Lieutenant, and in a very different way, Claireece Precious Jones from, you guessed it, Precious. So yeah. He's winning. The other nominees are tricky -- I can really see the Academy taking some chances here. I think Harrelson, Tucci and Plummer are more or less locks, but the fifth spot is there for the taking. Matty Damon has the name brand and the Eastwood factor, but I just don't think the performance was that great (although he could get support from those that don't want to vote for him in lead for The Informant! but want to see him nominated). I think he'll get his later. Mackie could swoop in, but I'm just not seeing much love for the actors of The Hurt Locker. McKay was initially my WTF? nom, but, in this category, I'm actually thinking the Academy does pull one out of their asses. McKay -- an unknown playing Orson freaking Welles -- would seem to fit the bill. I still need to see this one, but I think enough AMPAS members will have McKay high enough on their ballots for him to sneak in. He -- and everyone else -- is just fodder for Waltz though.

Mo'Nique* - Precious
Anna Kendrick - Up in the Air
Vera Farmiga - Up in the Air
Julianne Moore - A Single Man
Penélope Cruz - Nine

Also in the running: Marion Cotillard (Nine), Samantha Morton (The Messenger), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Crazy Heart)
Possible WTF? nomination: none, really, since this is so wide open, but Diane Kruger (Inglourious Basterds) is the closest thing
Haven't seen: Nine

Again, this statue is Mo'Nique's to lose, although I don't think the performance is worthy of the prohibitive favorite status it so obviously has. Acts I & II -- yell and curse a lot, throw things. Act III -- channel Viola Davis in Doubt. Yeah, I just don't see it. Oh well. She's winning, so what are you gonna do? I'd love to see either of the Up in the Air girls win (they were the strongest part of the movie for me), but the Mo'Nique train and possible vote-splitting means it's not happening. Moore is the next closest thing to a lock, but in reality, the last two spots are... wait for it... up in the air. Moore gets one because she's Julianne Moore. I think someone from Nine could easily nab the last spot and Cruz is the best bet because she won here last year and was also excellent in Broken Embraces. Cotillard is another former winner with another fine performance under her belt this year (Public Enemies -- which was once thought of as a Best Picture contender, believe it or not, but then the movie actually came out...) and could get the spot as well. Morton is yet *another* vet with past nominations and probably has even odds with the two Nine ladies. Gyllenhaal will probably get in if Crazy Heart picks up a Picture nom, and Kruger (who was excellent) is a dark horse. Like, if she was a horse, you wouldn't be able to see her very well at night. I wonder where that term comes from, anyway. A name that's missing here is Mélanie Laurent, also from Basterds, and also excellent. From what I understand, however, she was campaigned as a lead actress, which she probably won't get and probably crippled her chances here. Again though, it doesn't matter as Mo'Nique is winning this.

NOTE: Emily Blunt's performance in the largely forgotten Sunshine Cleaning is as good or better than anything listed here. Too early in the year, I guess.

Quentin Tarantino* - Inglourious Basterds
Mark Boal - The Hurt Locker
Joel Coen & Ethan Coen - A Serious Man
Bob Petersen & Pete Docter - Up
Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber - (500) Days of Summer

Also in the running: James Cameron (Avatar), Pedro Almodóvar (Broken Embraces), Alessandro Camon & Oren Moverman (The Messenger), Michael Haneke (The White Ribbon)
Possible WTF? nominations: Nancy Meyers (It's Complicated), Dave Eggers & Vendela Vida (Away We Go)
Haven't seen: The White Ribbon

One thing about nomination morning is that you NEVER know what's going to happen in the screenplay categories, especially Original. In Bruges, Lars and the Real Girl, Happy-Go-Lucky and numerous other smaller films have been nominated here in recent years -- it's practically its own WTF? category. Hence the lengthy 'also in the running' and WTF? lists. I wouldn't be surprised if any or all of those were nominated. (Well, maybe if *all* of them were). I think the top five are pretty solid though. There's no way Tarantino doesn't get nominated, and I have him winning right now more because I'm a fan and it's so wide open than any real inkling of AMPAS's intentions. Boal and the Coens are also incredibly likely, but the other two spots could go to two of any number of films. I just picked the two most likely. If you were about to shoot me in the face and asked me to tell you the best script of the bunch, I might just say it is Up's. Just a great story, and Pixar usually does well here. Summer also had great script, but, again, I wonder about demographics here. I wouldn't think Cameron would be able to get a nomination for ripping off Pocahontas and Dances with Wolves, but stranger things have happened (and the script, while the film's weak point, wasn't actually bad, in my opinion). Almodóvar is a past winner and always gets consideration. The Messenger could get the Frozen River treatment, and I just have a feeling that we'll be seeing The White Ribbon outside the foreign category somewhere. The WTF? noms both skew comedically, but that shouldn't hurt their chances in this category. I'd be willing to wager that I get the most wrong here.

Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner* - Up in the Air
Nick Hornby - An Education
Geoffrey Fletcher - Precious
Neill Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell - District 9
Scott Cooper - Crazy Heart

Also in the running: Wes Anderson & Noah Baumbach (Fantastic Mr. Fox), Nora Ephron (Julie & Julia), Anthony Peckham (Invictus)
Possible WTF? nomination: A bunch of guys (In the Loop)
Haven't seen: Fantastic Mr. Fox, Julie & Julia, In the Loop

This one's a bit easier to call since AMPAS doesn't take as many chances in Adapted, but there's still a couple spots... wait for it... up in the air (yes! twice!). Speaking of which, Up in the Air appears to be the favorite after the Globes win, although support for the rest of the movie is clearly starting to dry up, so I could see Hornby sneaking in for the win. The Precious and District 9 scripts are both solid bets, but no sure things. Cooper's Crazy Heart script is even less of a sure thing, but the words behind Bridges's performance is surely worth a nom (although it must be said that the story is fairly weak, if not entirely derivative). I may be making a mistake by not putting a script written by two former nominees in my top five, but then I remembered the script was about a talking fox. Still, it's got a great shot at a nomination. Ephron's and Peckham's scripts are buoyed by strong performances, so they merit consideration as well. While I haven't seen it, I've heard In the Loop is the kind of crazy genius script that could propel it to the top of voter's ballots (those who have seen it anyway), making a surprise nomination a distinct possibility. However the field turns out, I expect it to be Reitman and Turner against Hornby. The former has the edge right now, but there's plenty of time for a late charge from Hornby (or someone from the field).

Egads, that was close to 4000 words. Well, we'll see how I did in about four hours -- when the actual nominations are announced. I did fairly well last year -- hoping for a repeat performance. Thanks for reading. Must sleep now.