Monday, December 14, 2009

Avatar is New York Film Critics Online's Best Picture

On Sunday, the New York Film Critics Online selected Avatar as Best Picture at their awards ceremony at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center. Jeff Bridges was named Best Actor for Crazy Heart while Meryl Streep was picked as Best Actress for her role as Julia Child in Julie & Julia.

Kathryn Bigelow snared the Best Director for The Hurt Locker, and marks the second time she's won the award in three weeks, having taken the same nod at the Washington DC Area Film Critics Awards (WAFCA), making her the first woman to ever receive prize from the WAFCA.

Rounding out the major awards, Mo'Nique won Best Supporting Actress for Precious, Christoph Waltz earned 'Breakthrough Performer' while 'Best Screenplay' went to Quentin Tarantino, both for Inglourious Basterds.

While it did not get an individual performance award and lost 'Best Picture' to Avatar, Up In The Air was named one of 2009s' top films.

Here's the full list of New York Film Critics Online winners from their website:

Picture - Avatar (20th Century Fox)
Actor - Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart)
Actress - Meryl Streep (Julie & Julia)
Director - Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker)
Supporting Actor - Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)
Supporting Actress - Mo'Nique (Precious)
Breakthrough Performer - Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)
Debut Director - Marc Webb - (500) Days of Summer
Ensemble Cast - In the Loop (IFC Films)
Screenplay - Inglourious Basterds - Quentin Tarantino
Documentary - The Cove (Roadside Attractions)
Foreign Language - The White Ribbon (Sony Classics)
Animated - Up (Disney/Pixar)
Cinematography - Inglourious Basterds - Robert Richardson
Film Music or Score - Crazy Heart - Steve Bruton & T. Bone Burnett, music supervisor: Jeffrey Pollack

Top 10 Films of 2009 (in alphabetical order)

Adventureland (Miramax Films)

Avatar (20th Century Fox)

Fantastic Mr. Fox (Fox Searchlight)

The Hurt Locker (Summit Entertainment)

Inglourious Basterds (The Weinstein Co.)

The Messenger (Oscilloscope)

Precious (Lionsgate)

A Serious Man (Focus Features

Two Lovers (Magnolia)

Up (Disney/Pixar)

Up in the Air (Paramount)

Star Trek is Quentin Tarantino's best film of 2009 - for now

Star Trek is Quentin Tarantino's best film of 2009 - for now. The critically-acclaimed producer and director of films like 2009s Inglorious Bastards and the classic Pulp Fiction sat down with The Hollywood Reporter to list his top films of 2009.

 Quentin Tarantino

Before we listen to Mr. Tarantino, here's his list, again, so far:

1. Star Trek
2. Drag Me to Hell
3. Funny People
4 Up In The Air
5. Chocolate
6. Observe and Report
7. Precious
8. An Education

Quentin Tarantino states that he's not seen "some of the films I'm expecting big things from" Avatar, Lovely Bones, and Invictus. He also stated that he's not including his own film, Inglorious Bastards, his highest grossing film to date.

Here's the Quentin Tarantino video interview:

This, coupled with the New York Film Critics Online choice of Avatar as Best Film, is starting a kind of cooling off of the rapid awards success of Up In The Air. Still, the awards season is young and it's just December 14th.

Stay tuned.

Oakland breakfast benefit to help families hurt by homicide: 12/18/09

I received an email from Sean Sullivan who's on the board of directors of the Oakland-based Khadafy Foundation for Non-Violence, regarding a breakfast this Friday, December 18th 2009. The event, called the Chicken & Waffle Holiday Breakfast, starts at 8am and goes until 10 am, and is something that you should attend. It's just $25 per person and the ticket goes to the foundations' work.

The founder of the organization is Marilyn Washington Harris, who lost her 18-year old son, Khadafy on my birthday - August 4th, 2000 - as he was just riding his bike in West Oakland. Ms. Harris channeled her grief into the creation of Khadafy Foundation for Non-Violence to provide support services to anyone who's lost a child or loved one to violence. 

Marilyn Washington Harris

I think Sean already expressed it better than I can in his communication to me; here's what he wrote:

Seasons Greetings,

As the holiday season approaches, this will not be a merry time for everyone, including the now 102 Oakland families that have lost a family member to homicide. The Khadafy Foundation for Non-Violence, which exists to help these families through their loss, bereavement and after, is hosting a Holiday breakfast Friday, December 18th at the House of Chicken & Waffles in 444 Embarcadero.

The House of Chicken & Waffles is being so generous that they are picking up the entire cost of the breakfast so 100% of your $25 ticket for breakfast will go towards the Khadafy Foundation's work with these victimized families and is tax deductible.

This moving breakfast also serves as a way for businesses with smaller budgets than past years to treat staff out during the holidays without the high cost of a holiday party.

Whatever your situation, I hope you can join us.

Warm Wishes for a Happy Holiday Season,

Sean Sullivan

Here's a map showing the House of Chicken & Waffles' location at 444 Embarcadero in Oakland:

View Khadafy Foundation Oakland in a larger map

Please come on Friday morning.

Dexter Season Finale video controversy, race, and dissent

Yesterday I created a video-blog (video above) asking why the Showtime Original Series Dexter was so popular given the, er, habits, of its main character Dexter Morgan (played by Michael C. Hall from Six Feet Under) and why Dexter was cast as a white male.

In "Dexter Season 5 - what's Dexter anyway?" I asked two questions: first, what's wrong with a society that makes a show featuring a serial killer popular?; second Would the show be as popular if he were black? I ask those questions because I'm not comfortable with how we as a culture tend to consume mass media images given to us without questioning their existence. Simply, why is this what it is?

Dexter (regardless of Season 4 or Season 5 to come) may be good and with Michael C. Hall in the title role I'm sure its excellent, but I don't like what it says about America in 2009.

I am used to being insulted and criticized; that comes with the territory. However, what I find bothersome in this case is the sheer anger that some express over asking questions. Someone over at YouTube wrote that I should just "shut up and enjoy the show", which is a solid guarantee that I will do neither.

There aren't a lot of voices video-blogging such questions for a mass audience and I can think of just a few names with major news organizations who write about why blacks or women or people of color in general are regularly excluded from anything - but the question is important to raise regardless.

I remind all that I have and will employ the right of dissent. And if you need a refresher on its meaning, here it is:

1. To differ in sentiment or opinion, esp. from the majority; withhold assent; disagree (often fol. by from): Two of the justices dissented from the majority decision.
2. To disagree with the methods, goals, etc., of a political party or government; take an opposing view.
3. To disagree with or reject the doctrines or authority of an established church.

In Dexter's case, I received precious few sensible answers to my questions, but even then what I got was both elegantly presented and a bit disturbing. Here's an example:

"Dexter is popular because many people like the idea of payback. Justification makes the concept of ending a life understandable. Not saying it is good, but if a person were to be removed from this planet and they were a vicious killer, Dexter's concept of testing and finding guilty is great!"

What I found bothersome, and the author agrees with me, is the idea that "Dexter's concept of testing and finding guilty is great!"

When I read that and considered that the organization Dexter Morgan works in is within the Miami Police Department, I wondered if a real life Dexter existed and if he went unnoticed in part because he was a good-looking white guy. So I openly wondered why Dexter isn't black?

And this - in a time when one online publications' list of the passing of important figures in American media included not a single African American person - is an important question. We as a nation must end this knee-jerk fear of questioning (or lack of attention to the question of) why people of color are excluded from presentations of our World in media.

Here's what's bothersome to me: the possibility that being bombarded with such images causes us to judge how bad someone is by the color of their skin, and at a subconscious level. Could Dexter's fans handle seeing a black Dexter exact his unique form of justice on mostly white victims? For that matter, would the people that could not stand such an image become fans of the show in the first place?

Those are the questions swirling in my head. They don't take the place of my concern with the America Economy, or the lack of spending for the University of California and the outrageously high tuition cost, or for the safety of Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau in the midst of this season of protest, but they're important nonetheless.

We must make sure that the images presented to us for consumption in media do not cause us to violate our amazing civil rights progress or forget the basic ideals that created America.

The elimination of racism and the embrace of dissent are key objectives in the advancement of American culture. Let's make sure we don't reject them and deteriorate into a society directed by the irrational, unpredictable, harmful, and occasionally racist desires of the mob.

Lastly, for those who've not seen Dexter and want a taste of it, as well as the show's producers, who are certainly happy for the Internet chatter, here's a clip from the show's last episode of 2009:

Stay tuned.