Thursday, February 25, 2010

DVR Foils My Plans

Sorry. My DVR went nuts last night and didn't record Idol. You're on your own for pithy reactions to last night's performances from the top 12 guys. Boo!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Hey, Ladies!

I'm in the middle of tech week for Plaza Suite, but I stayed up until about 11:30 last night to watch the first round of semifinals on Idol. I don't have a tremendous amount to say. I found the whole evening largely disappointing. Some women I had had high hopes for disappointed, yet others I hadn't expected much of did really well. Overall, though, the girls didn't really make a case for this being their year, as Simon has predicted. I saw a lot of stuff that would have flown back in season one or two but now, in the post-Cook/Lambert/Allen era, it just won't fly. We're looking for originality, and some of the ladies just didn't deliver.

Here are my rankings from favorite to least favorite. It's the best I can do on 5-1/2 hours of sleep.

1. Crystal Bowersox -- Have I mentioned how much I freakin' love this chick? Not only did she get out there and sing Alanis, but she did it with a guitar and a freakin' harmonica. She is the BOMB. Idol will eat her alive eventually, but I love the sort of Joan Osborne vibe she's bringing to the show right now. I would buy her album. I plan to download her first song. And that baby is adorable!

2. Siobhan Magnus -- Okay, I am so sorry I mocked Siobhan's fashion sense. Her performance of "Wicked Game" last night was sheer glory. My hero Michael Slezak said it had a Cowboy Junkies vibe, which is does and which made me remember how much I used to love the Cowboy Junkies. Note to self: Download some Junkies! I think Siobhan could be a real sleeper here if she continues to bring it the way she did last night with her original song choices and tremendous range. Love her!

3. Lilly Scott -- Lilly is the source of some debate in our house. I love her quirky voice. My sister can't get over her freakish silver hair and peacock feather earrings. Her performance of "Fixing a Hole" last night, though, was fun, and I even got my sis to admit that if she didn't have to listen to Lilly, she was pretty cool. I suspect, though, that my sis is right when she says that Lilly absolutely cannot win. But she'll give some nice performances until she gets the boot and will probably add at least a couple tunes to my ipod in the process.

4. Didi Benami -- Didi is another polarizing performer Chez Mel. My sis finds her voice affected. I kind of like it. And maybe I was just swayed last night because she sang "The Way I Am," a song that never fails to put a smile on my face. My sis kept reminding me of Megan Joy from last season, but I think Didi is just a bit more talented than Megan. I see the potential for some cool stuff from her, so I'm sticking with her!

5. Janell Wheeler -- Janell really was a disappointment last night. After her awesome Hollywood Week performance of "American Boy," I was expecting her to come out with the guitar and play something equally awesome. Instead, we got a Heart song. Confession time: I've never been a big Heart fan, so I was a little put off. I didn't think Janell's performance was great, but it was better than a lot of the other ladies on this list, so that earns her a top six spot in my book.

6. Katie Stevens -- First of all, I have to take issue with Mr. Seacrest. Yes, Michael Buble sings "Feeling Good." He COVERED it. It is not his original work. Instead, credit should go first to Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse who wrote the song for the musical The Roar of the Greasepaint - The Smell of the Crowd. Gilbert Price recorded the first version of the song for that show's cast album. The most famous, perhaps, version prior to Michael Buble's COVER was performed by the amazing Nina Simone. Most every performance that has followed owes a tremendous debt to Nina -- including Michael Buble whose version is pretty much a carbon copy of Nina's. Give credit where it's due, Ryan.

7. Paige Miles -- Paige's performance didn't really earn her this spot on my list so much as the fact that I finally heard her sing did. She's not bad. Her song choice ("All Right Now") was kind of jank, but she seems like an appealing performer. I want to hear a little more from her before I decide whether she should be in the top 12.

8. Katelyn Epperly -- Katelyn seems like a lovely, sweet girl. Unfortunately, they styled her like Olivia Newton-John at the end of Grease (in other words, 1960's slut), and her performance of "Oh Darlin" was kind of forgettable. (Seriously, I had to look up what she sang!) But she's pretty and pretty often has legs on this show.

9. Ashley Rodriguez -- Seriously, I am struggling with this chick because she reminds me so much of Jordin Sparks, and I strongly dislike Jordin. I'm not familiar with the Leona Lewis song Ashley chose, but my sis informs me that Ashley pretty much murdered it last night. I also thought her attitude during judging was a little petulant and snotty. One thing America doesn't like is snotty, snobby Idols. Ashley may be skating on thin ice.

10. Lacey Brown -- Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Last week, I pegged Lacey as a lock for the top 12. My sis took me to task for not ranking her higher, claiming that she thought Lacey would go all the way. When we heard she was covering "Landslide," we both were kind of excited. That's a great song. And then Lacey started singing and her voice was all over the place and she was doing that affected kewpie doll thing and suddenly Lacey's in big, big trouble.

11. Haeley Vaughn -- Haeley, though, is in even bigger trouble. While I liked what she attempted to do to "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," giving it a youthful, country feel, her voice was just a mess, her styling was a mess, and it just did not work. I stand by my assertion that Haeley should have been given a year (or two) for her voice to mature and maybe get, um, some speech coaching to help her with the lisp that is a bit problematic in her singing. But hey, at least she got a nose ring.

12. Michelle Delamor -- While I don't necessarily think Michelle was the worst of the night (I would give that "honor" to Haeley or Lacey), I do think Michelle is perhaps the most in danger. She's had next-to-no screen time and her performance was pretty dreadful. Seriously, sweetheart, covering "Fallin'" went out circa 2004. That sort of performance may have flown when your competition is Kimberley Locke, but it's not gonna fly in the post Cook/Lambert era. I think Michelle is in real danger.

The guys get their shot tonight, and I have to admit I'm not overly optimistic outside of hoping Andrew Garcia proves he's not another Danny Gokey -- huge promise but ultimately disappointing when the going gets tough.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Future Stars and Cannon Fodder

American Idol finished unveiling its top 24 contestants last night. After an interminable Tuesday night that seemed more like the Idol production of No Exit than anything even remotely resembling entertainment, last night wrapped things up in relatively speedy fashion as the judges exercised their last threads of power before turning everything over to the capricious whims of the American public. Tuesday, we got to watch the four of them huddled over a conference table (fascinating entertainment!) and then last night, they sat in comfy chairs on the stage at the Kodak to deliver the news to the nauseous performers. Who had made the cut? Who was being sent home?

There were some attempts to stir up some suspense. Would the final female spot go to teenaged black country crooner Haeley Vaughn (um, am I the only one who thinks of All My Children whenever they mention her name?) who has gotten HOURS of screen time or would it instead go to Tori Kelly, a lovely young woman that I feel like I had never seen for a second before last night. Wouldn't it have been a little more suspenseful if, instead of Tori, the other possibility had been Angela Martin who was truly the big shock of the night? (Seriously, the producers were clearly pushing for us to root for Angela with her multiple trips to Hollywood, her multiple tales of heartache and adversity. If anyone needed American Idol, it was Angela, and yet there was Kara hugging her and telling her that she had not made the cut.) Same with the "Who's the last man?" cliffhanger. Was there anyone sitting at home who thought Andrew Garcia was going to be sent home? Sure, Thaddeus Johnson had gotten more screen time than Tori Kelly and was memorable for his refusal to be "Bubbly" when the band started playing the wrong song. But with Andrew Garcia as the other contender, it didn't seem like a mystery as to which one would advance. There were several other men who made it through without the fawning screentime Andrew Garcia got. If it had come down to Thaddeus and, say, Alex Kelly? Or Jermaine Sellers? Now those would have been a case where you could see the judges going either way. Missed opportunity on the part of the producers, I have to say.

Let's take a look at our top 24 and size up their chances for the future. Idol has this year returned to the semifinal format that it used for several years -- 12 men and 12 women who will be whittled down week-by-week until we get the group cut in half with 6 men and 6 women. From there, it's anyone's game. This is Idol's attempt at gender equity, an idea that, I believe, sprang out of season 3 where there were so many amazing women (Fantasia, J-Hud, LaToya London, Diana DiGarmo) and not so many amazing men (George Huff anyone? John Stevens?). They went back to a less restrictive environment last year and ended up with a more male-heavy season with only Allison Iraheta being much of a contender for the ladies. So of the lists below, only half of the men and half of the women will make it to the big show, and the decision lies with us.

The semifinalists below are listed in terms of the ones I think have the best shot at cracking the top 12.

The Men:
The judges repeatedly said last night that this was a strong year for the ladies, and this list bears witness to this. There aren't a ton of really solid contenders for Kris Allen's tiara outside of one or two. Entry into the top 12 may largely come down to personality or the cute factor, which is unfortunate because it may allow some weaker men in while stronger women are sent home. We'll see....

1. Andrew Garcia: This guy is, right now, the strongest shot the guys have at the title. He's like this perfect blend of Kris Allen and Danny Gokey -- folksy vibe with some mighty chops. (Oh, God, I sound like Kara!) The worry I have is that he doesn't necessarily LOOK the part of an Idol with his neck tattoo and I wonder how America will respond to an Idol with his rough background. (Remember, he's the one whose parents were in gangs.) He is a real talent, though, and I can't wait to hear him perform again after that amazing "Straight Up" from Hollywood Week, Day 1.

2. Mike Lynche -- Is Mike Lynche the next best singer? No, but he has the best story, and Americans are suckers for a good story. Big Mike is the guy whose wife went into labor DURING Hollywood Week. He stayed and kept America updated on the progress of his wife's cervix and the baby's arrival throughout the Hollywood episodes. If the editing is to be believed, Baby Lynche was born seconds before Daddy took the stage for the group performance. Mike seems like a really likable guy, has a good voice, and maybe can be the one to really break the curse African-American men seem to have on this show. Since Ruben Studdard won in season 2, there hasn't been a black man who could be viewed as a real contender -- or at least there hasn't been one allowed into the final 12. (Ju'not Joyner, people!) Maybe Mike is the one. Or maybe not. Maybe staying up late with baby will ruin those pipes and send him packing.

3. Casey James -- Casey initially seemed like a joke contestant. Remember he is the poor guy who was sexually harrassed by Kara and Posh Spice, asked to take down his hair and remove his shirt at his Denver audition. Tres jolie, Coco. Tres jolie. Once Casey got to Hollywood, though, he demonstrated some significant talent with a raspy, bluesy vibe reminiscent of a rough-around-the-edges Kenny Wayne Shepherd or Johnny Lang. Or to put it in Idol parlance, he's a more attractive Taylor Hicks. He seems like a good guy that America can cling to. My sis points out his resemblance to Bucky Covington, but I would like to remind her that Bucky made it pretty far in the competition, so there!

4. John Park -- John had a great Chicago audition, although, again, he is perhaps better known for being yet another victim of sexual harassment hilarity when Shania Twain's comment about his "bottom end" was turned into frat house guffawing by Randy. John, though, was virtually invisible during Hollywood Week, which could be a concern. He received almost zero screen time. With the notoriously short attention spans Americans have, can John survive to the top 12? He's going to have to bring a lot of that bottom end to his performance.

5. Tyler Grady -- Tyler is cute. He's rocking a 70s, wannabe-Morrison vibe. Girls need a cutie to vote for, and Tyler may be the one this year even though to me, he's just a less attractive Justin Guarini.

6. Lee Dewyze -- I'm honestly putting Lee in here because he's a Chicagoan, he's older, and I feel no real love for any of the other men in the 12 here.

My "alternate" vote would go to Todrick Hall, a kind of arrogant seeming kid who has worked with Fantasia. He's got a sparkle about him, though, and he could really make a run for the top 12 with some dynamite performances over the next couple weeks.

As for the rest of the guys, I'm probably the most annoyed with the inclusion of Aaron Kelly. Aaron is a kid who forgot his lyrics multiple times during Hollywood Week. He seems like a talented kid, but he also seems a bit immature and fragile. He's a kid who could have benefited from sitting it out for a year and then coming back next with with a more mature voice and ego.

I will be honest in saying I have no idea who Joe Munoz or Jermaine Sellers really are. Sellers had a good audition (as you can see here), but has not really registered with me since then. And I keep confusing the emo stylings of Tim Urban with the emo stylings of Alex Lambert (That name has to be fake, right? Is he like the straight Adam Lambert? Like in a drag show where it's Lisa Minooli instead of Liza Minelli? This is a "drag" version of Adam?). And yes, I realize that I could be dismissing our future Idol without a moment's hesitation by writing these four guys off so quickly. Kris Allen was virtually nonexistent at this point last year (and my friends may remember that I wrote him off pretty quickly, too). So maybe it's in their best interest that I predict that Joe, Jermaine, Tim, and Alex will be sent packing pretty quickly.

The Women
This is a particularly strong year for women, yes. As I look at this list, I see 4 or 5 women who could very well be standing on the Kodak stage in May crooning some god-awful Kara DioGuardi tune. It could be a battle amongst these women, all of whom seem quite nice and even a bit fragile. Could another Christina Christian collapse be on the way? Pretty please??

1. Didi Benami Picking a favorite among these women is really tough. When it comes down to it, I'm not sure Didi Benami is my favorite vocalist, but she may have the best chance in terms of presenting a package. I give her the slight edge over Janell Wheeler despite the fact that I worry about Didi's emotional fragility. Didi seems just a touch more mainstream, and I can easily see Janell going the country route. Yes, we loved our Carrie Underwood, but the country route hasn't paid out so well since Carrie.

2. Janell Wheeler But I would not at all be surprised to see Janell advance to the finals. She's like Brooke White with more talent. She's gorgeous and has a beautiful voice. My concern with her, outside of the country thing, is also whether she is up to the challenge. Hollywood Week left her hoarse and sick. What will the top 12 do?

3. Lilly Scott I love Lilly. She has such a wonderful, pure voice with this delightful quirky vibe. I don't know how America will react, though, to that quirky vibe. I think Lilly is in need of a good stylist. Her hair is a fright, her fashion sense is limited, and Americans can be really harsh on stuff like that. I'd hate to see Lilly go the way of an Amanda Overmyer where her style keeps America from embracing her.

4. Crystal Bowersox Crystal is my favorite of the women, but as a potential "rocker" she has a tougher road than anyone else. America does not like rocker chicks. Just ask Ryan Starr, Amy Adams, Vanessa Olivarez, Gina Glocksen, Amanda Overmyer, Carly Smithson, Alexis Grace, Allison Iraheta . . . . The thing is that, with the exception of maybe Allison and Carly, Crystal is way more talented than the other rocker chicks who've made a charge for the title. She also has a vulnerability that those other women were lacking. I admit I am completely charmed by this little Janis Joplin wannabe and suspect I may be making a lot of calls on her behalf.

5. Lacey Brown
Lacey was stopped just short of the top 24 last year, being denied the spot that was instead given to Megan Corkery. Good choice, judges. Lacey seems like a fun, talented woman who is perhaps best equipped to hold her own in the face of the juggernaut presented by Didi, Janell, Lilly, and Crystal. There's a maturity about Lacey, too, that will serve her well in terms of dealing with the pressure of the gig. She seems like maybe the emotionally strongest of the bunch. I do feel like her voice seems a bit affected at times, but that may not be an issue.

6. Katie Stevens
We like precocious, wildly talented teenagers. Katie fits the bill. She's cute, she's got a grandma with Alzheimer's. She may be the sixth woman in.

Alt: Haeley Vaughn
Or it may be Haeley. Now, I will say the same thing about Haeley that I said about Aaron Kelly. I think the judges did a disservice by putting her in the top 24 this year. She needs a little more time to age and mature and to get a better handle on her voice. A couple of her Hollywood Week performances seemed shaky at best with some wonky notes popping up throughout. Haeley, though, seems very cute and sweet and there's a certain novelty about a 16-year-old black girl singing Carrie Underwood songs. She has a sort of Mandy Moore vibe about her, and her little lisp is endearing. I just think that she needed another year.

Of the other women, Paige Miles and Michelle Delamor seem like total strangers to me. I feel like I've never seen them before in my life. In Paige's case, that may be true since a youtube search for her pulls up absolutely nothing. Ashley Rodriguez reminds me too much of Jordin Sparks, and I am still raw from Jordin winning in the season that should have belonged to Melinda Doolittle. (Seriously, what was America thinking?!?!????!???) I honestly can't get over Siobhan Magnus's Punky Brewster-inspired wardrobe, and I felt like the snippets we saw of her final Hollywood Week performance we shouty. As for Katelyn Epperly, well, it seems like she's the recipient of this year's "pretty girl" slot. Every year, the judges let through some pretty girl whose vocals are weak but who makes up for it with legs, face, hair, boobs, et cetera. Compared to most of the women on this list, Katelyn is a seems like a real lightweight. Would it be that shocking to see her make the top 12? Probably not -- we like cute girls, and the show does have a history of those girls making it further than they should (think Kimberly Caldwell, Julia DiMato, Lisa Tucker, Kellie Pickler, Haley Scarnato). Katelyn could be a Katherine McPhee in disguise, but we really haven't seen anything to indicate that to us at this point, so I'm more than willing to write her off.

Next week is where the real fun begins. I'll do my best to post quickly after each performance episode. I know that for some of my readers, this is their only American Idol information, so I will do my best to keep you informed. And if you don't care about American Idol, sorry.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Only a Week Late

Yeah, I've been sitting chewing on the Oscar nominations for about a week now. Part of my silence really stems from lack of time to put thoughts on paper. Besides teaching full time, I'm also coaching a speech team (five kids head to Sectionals this weekend, and I have my first Regional champion -- the team itself placed fourth), directing a school musical (Wonderful Town), starring in another play (Plaza Suite), and generally trying to keep my head above water. Sigh!

As expected, there weren't a ton of surprises in the nominations. I went 8-for-10 in the Best Picture race. I knew Star Trek and The Hangover were long shots, but darnit, I liked both of those movies . . . a lot. I will admit I briefly entertained throwing The Blind Side in there, but I kind of assumed Sandra Bullock's shoe-in nomination would be sufficient. It wasn't. Despite my love of Sandra Bullock, I have not seen The Blind Side for one simple reason -- the previews made me weep copiously. I can't imagine what the whole movie would do. I cry easily at movies. I am, in fact, rather notorious for my "ability" to cry at just about anything cinematically. Some movie, I just get a little teary -- say for the end of The Mighty Ducks. (Come on, when that kid scores the winning goal? Priceless! For some reason, triumphant sports movies get me every time.) Other movies leave me heaving gut-wrenching sobs that I am sure make every other patron absolutely miserably uncomfortable. I was a total mess by the end of Finding Neverland and nearly inconsolable at the end of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I have, over the course of the past couple years, made sort of a conscious effort to avoid movies that I think will put me in that "I'm embarrassing myself" place in terms of tears. The Blind Side seemed like such a film. Darnit! Of course, it's a longshot to win, so I'm not going to be racing all over the state of Illinois to find a theatre still playing it. I like to see the winner, but I don't necessarily feel the drive I once did to see every nominee, especially now that there are 10 to contend with instead of 5.

Of the pictures nominated, I have, I am embarrassed to admit, only seen two -- Avatar and Inglorious Basterds. Many of the nominees have not shown up in my town. A couple of them did, but I missed them because they fall into categories of films I generally don't go see. I'm not a huge fan of animated films, so I missed Up. (Plus, I heard a lot of people talking about how Up made them cry, and if there's anything I hate more than crying in the movie theatre, it's crying in a movie theatre full of children!) I usually don't go for sci fi, so no District 9 for me. I expect the next couple weekends will be busy with me tracking the nominees out of DVD down so that I can enjoy them (on my new HDTV -- thank you, IRS) in the comfort of my own home.

Even though I haven't seen it, I am kind of rooting for The Hurt Locker. I understand it's wonderful, and the English teacher/theatre geek in me loves the story I could see developing on Oscar night where the little David of a movie (if it wins, The Hurt Locker will be the lowest grossing best picture of all time) beats the mighty Goliath of a movie (if it wins, Avatar would be the highest grossing best picture of all time). Add to it that it pits Kathryn Bigelow against ex-husband James Cameron . . . . I spent a lot of my formative years watching soap operas, and I guarantee you Gloria Monty, Bill Bell, and James E. Reilly combined couldn't come up with better shit even if Agnes Nixon stood over them cracking the whip. (Granted, Reilly probably would have had Linda Hamilton burying Suzy Amis alive while Arnold Schwarzenegger schemed to take down Bigelow, but that's another story.)

As for the acting categories, again, not a lot of surprises. Good to see Maggie Gyllenhaal sneak in there for having the torturous job of having to fall in love with Jeff Bridges on screen. (I am not going to mention the ick factor of 32-year-old Gyllenhaal being romanced by 60-year-old Bridges if only because, well, I wouldn't kick Bridges out of bed no matter how old he is!) The other categories pretty much went as expected. I'd included Alfred Molina as my longshot in Supporting Actor, but I knew it was a longshot.

I hope as the next couple weeks play out, I'll get a little more invested in the Oscars. I think that the difficulty in actually getting to see pictures like An Education, Precious, and Up in the Air (yes, Up in the Air has STILL not shown up in my town!) has dampened my spirits a little. But hey, at least I saw Avatar!

Ellen Arrives

I've been relatively silent over the course of the past several weeks since American Idol's return. To tell you the truth, I'm not a big fan of the audition rounds. Yes, I poke a lot of fun at Idol and its contestants, and you would think that the audition rounds would be like my snarky crack. Instead, I find myself irritated by the clearly joke auditioners and by the producers' manipulation of my tear ducts. Yes, I cry everytime some hopeful talks about overcoming cancer/prison/poverty/death of a loved one/gang violence/hang nails, but I do so with a mix of cynicism. All suspense is stripped away from these contestants. Logic tells me that the producers are not going to go above and beyond to produce a package (including home visits and family interviews) for someone who sucks. As soon as I see that the producers have gone on location and hear that sappy background track, I know this person is going to walk out with a golden ticket. Each episode has a person or two that I think, "Oooh...potential!" and then they never show up again. Or they show up in Hollywood and kinda suck. I hate that we are only shown a small fraction of the overall talent headed to Hollywood and that in the much larger fraction that is ignored we could be missing early glimpses of our actual American Idol. (Remember how Kelly Clarkson and Kris Allen flew under the radar for so long? Wouldn't their journey have been even cooler if you could have thought, "Hey! I remember when that ragtag kid showed up at auditions!!"?)

Yes, the auditions had their moments. The absence of Paula prompted the producers to bring in celebrity judges who ranged from pretty smart and savvy (Shania Twain, Neil Patrick Harris) to delightfully bitchy (Katy Perry) to downright useless (Joe Jonas . . . or one of those Jonas boys. I don't know. He didn't really talk much.) Once again, Randy proved that he is like your uncle who was cool in high school but is completely out of touch with what's going on today, using outdated slang and showing a lack of knowledge about modern music. (He kind of reminds me of that scene in Billy Madison where Billy returns to the high school he once ruled but is now seen as a ridiculous fool rather than the cool 80's dude he once was. Yeah, that's Randy Jackson.) He's also made it clear that his "thing" for this season is going to be taking percentages to ridiculous levels of hyperbole. Kara vacillated back and forth between dumb and irritating. And Simon was Simon . . . only slightly more bored looking. I felt like he clearly missed having Paula to bounce off of. I mean, when Neil Patrick Harris is basically able to take over the judging table and call for votes, you know Simon's heart just isn't in it.

Last night was, for me (oh, God, I sound like Randy -- for me, for you, dawg) the real start of American Idol as 180 or so hopefuls filed into the Kodak Theatre and had their moment on the stage that will feature the eventual winner in just a few months. Added to the excitement of getting to meet our potential new Idol was the fact that the arrival in Hollywood also brought the arrival of new judge Ellen Degeneres. I will admit, my hopes were not high. I am a fan of Ellen. I love her standup. I understand that her talk show is a delight. (I'm really not much of a talk show fan, and Ellen is on when I'm at work. I could DVR it, but I know it would just pile up since I don't have time to watch it every night.) I worried, though, that Ellen's lack of real musical knowledge would continue Idol's slide away from being a singing competition into being a personality/style competition. With Simon already having one foot out the door, would Ellen be enough to keep Kara and Randy from driving this train off the ledge into ridiculousness?

It's still a bit early to predict the fate of the show during the Ellen Era with much confidence, but I will admit to being surprised with her performance last night. I thought that she brought a tremendous amount of intelligence and thoughtfulness to her role as a judge. She was able to temper her criticism with enough tact to keep from being cruel but not so much that it becomes pandering. She called them like she saw them with consideration but honesty. I thought she and Simon had a nice, complimentary chemistry. I foresee disagreements between them, but I see them being much more civil and respectful than similar spats with Paula and the other idiots at the table. Will Ellen be able to stay so thoughtful and tactful as the stakes get higher? Who knows? But I thought she held her own well last night and continued to prove that Randy Jackson is an idiot and that Kara DioGuardi needs to step up her game.

As for the singers, there were several performers last night who made me sit up and take notice. More than once, I found myself uttering, "I want to download that!" My favorite of the night was, hands down, Andrew Garcia's beautiful, accoustic re-imagining of "Straight Up." Yes, as in Paula Abdul's "Straight Up." It knocked my socks off. I am a fan of that mellow Jack Johnson/John Mayer/Jason Mraz/etc vibe, and Garcia's performance had me itching for more. LOVED IT!

I also quite enjoyed the performances from Lilly Scott (love that jazz girl vibe and I can't wait for the Idol stylists to get their hands on her fried, dyed locks and help her become the chanteuse she deserves to be), Crystal Bowersox (who kind of reminded me of a folksy Janis Joplin), Didi Benami (who charmed me with her audition "Hey Jude" and kept me charmed even though she DID choose a Kara-penned tune -- at least it wasn't that "Climb Every Mountain" crap Kara foisted on Adam and Kris last year!), and Janell Wheeler (who was rocking a nice Cobie Callait vibe for me). I'm rooting for these kids because they all kind of have the sort of sound I really enjoy (folksy/jazzy/mellow/etc) and they all seem like good kids who are true to the spirit of the show -- undiscovered talent that just need the right moment to happen. You all may remember last year my lobbying for Kris Allen and Allison Iraheta because of that very thing. Did Adam Lambert really need Idol? Well, probably, but he did just fine without winning the title. Kris and Allison needed that spotlight, that attention, and, in Kris's case, that title to help him have access to opportunities he never would have before.

Of course I know that the odds are that at least one of my faves from last night will go home brokenhearted before I get a chance to speed dial on their behalf, but I must admit to being much, much more hopeful about the next couple months than I was a year ago at this point. The judges did a good job of getting rid of the ludicrous this year (unlike last year when we had to contend with Tatiana and Norman Gentle all the way through the semifinal rounds!) and keeping some kids who show tremendous promise and make my ipod excited about what's heading its way over the course of the next couple months.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Oscar, Oscar

For some reason, I'm not as jazzed about Oscar season as I've been in years past. Part of me wonders if it's because the winners seem to already have been determined before the nominations are even announced. Part of me wonders if the expansion of the Best Picture category has taken a little of the competitive spirit out of it. In a year that seemed to be relatively mediocre at best, there doesn't seem to be an abundance of films jockeying for those ten spots. Many critics believe that the expansion from five to ten best picture nominees was made to help blockbuster, audience-friendly flicks make the list. After last year's snubbing of The Dark Knight, the outcry was presumably large. The need for such an expansion, then, seems a little moot this year when the big frontrunner (maybe) is Avatar, a film that now stands as the highest grossing film in the world. Nominations come out tomorrow, though, so I feel a sort of impetus to chime in with some thoughts and predictions. Maybe that will get my excitement going.


So here we go . . . .

Best Picture
  • Avatar
  • Up in the Air
  • Inglorious Basterds
  • Precious
  • The Hurt Locker
These five seem to be the recognized shoo-ins, the films that would have occupied these slots no matter how many nominees were allowed in this category. The question now becomes how is the Academy going to fill out this category when the five best pictures of the year are already assured of a spot on the list? How about these five?:
  • Up
  • Star Trek
  • District 9
  • An Education
  • The Hangover
These five, I'm not as confident about. Well, I think Up is probably a sure thing. Ever since the creation of the Best Animated Feature category, a lot of fine films have been on the short list for nomination consideration. Up just gets to be the one that lucks into a nomination under the rule change. We wouldn't be talking about it as a contender if there were only five nominees, particularly considering the strength of the "guaranteed" slate, but it's nice to see the animated art form get a little mainstream recognition again.

As for the other four, I am perfectly prepared to be way off base on those. I wonder how much genre will play into the nominations. Will the fact that Star Trek, District 9, and Avatar are all sci-fi movies hurt one or more of them? Will the Academy think, "Well, Avatar's in there so forget those other two" even though I kind of felt like Star Trek was a more engaging and entertaining film than Avatar, if I'm being honest. An Education is one of those films that critics would have been begging the Academy to remember, one of those movies that you always suspect would have been next on the list. As for The Hangover . . . well . . . one of my main hopes when the Best Picture category expanded was that it would allow room for comedy to get a little more recognition. This was not a huge year, though, for comedies. There were the adult niche kind of comedies like Julie and Julia and It's Complicated (two of my favorite films from 2009). Those two films, though, didn't necessarily have the critical groundswell that, say, a Little Miss Sunshine or Juno have had in years past. I think that (500) Days of Summer would be an excellent addition to this list, but it's lack of big commercial success may keep it out of the running (even though, truth be told, I'd include it over The Hangover). I also really loved Away We Go, but that movie tended to repel critics just as much as it charmed them. What makes me put The Hangover on this list over (500) Days is that it is the comedy that seemed to work all the angles most successfully -- it was critically beloved and a box office success. It is the kind of film that would never even have a shot in other years, but with ten slots up for grabs, it could be a real contender for a nomination this year at the expense of the other comedies I've listed or a more artistic, critical darling like A Serious Man. With "sure things" like Nine and Invictus stumbling out of the gate, it could make things a lot easier on those ragtag buddies.

Best Actor
  • Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
  • George Clooney, Up in the Air
  • Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker
  • Colin Firth, A Single Man
  • Morgan Freeman, Invictus
I know I just said that Invictus stumbled out of the gate, but even the critics who panned it tended to focus a lot of love and admiration for the acting work done in the film. And let's be honest -- right now, this is a two-man race between Bridges and Clooney. The other nominations are just padding to fill out the category. In other years, Renner and Firth would both be solid contenders, but Bridges and Clooney have claimed a pretty early advantage here. There are a lot of other actors I'd like to see in here -- Matt Damon for The Informant!, Joseph Gordon-Levitt for (500) Days of Summer -- but it's tough to go up against Freeman, especially when he's playing Nelson Mandela.

Best Actress
  • Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
  • Meryl Streep, Julie and Julia
  • Carey Mulligan, An Education
  • Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
  • Helen Mirren, The Last Station
Again, I don't expect many surprises here. Again, it seems to be a two-woman race between Bullock and Streep who are both coming off amazing years with multiple hit films. I have to confess I think I was slightly more taken with Streep's performance in It's Complicated if only because it allowed her to go to that real, understated place she works in so well, but there's no denying she was amazing (and nomination worthy) in Julie and Julia. The other three have spent the awards season so far smiling in their seats while Bullock and Streep walk to the podium, so it's safe to assume they'll be doing the same thing come Oscar night.

Best Supporting Actor

  • Christoph Waltz, Inglorious Basterds
  • Alfred Molina, An Education
  • Matt Damon, Invictus
  • Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
  • Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
There is a lot of room for surprise here, although the ultimate winner will probably be no shock at all. I could imagine this list with Stanley Tucci (most likely for The Lovely Bones, although I think his work in Julie and Julia was a delight) or with Alec Baldwin. Molina is my gamble, but the guy has been doing amazing work for decades with little appreciation or recognition. This may finally be his shot at a nomination. I'm pulling for him even if it's at the expense of Tucci and Baldwin, two actors I adore.

Best Supporting Actress
  • Monique, Precious
  • Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
  • Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
  • Julianne Moore, A Single Man
  • Diane Kruger, Inglorious Basterds
This room doesn't quite have as much wiggle room as the Supporting Actor race, although, again, the winner seems pre-determined. Monique, Kendrick, Farmiga, and Moore have been racking up bags full of nominations this season. My gamble here is picking Diane Kruger instead of Penelope Cruz. Here's the thing -- I love Penelope Cruz, and I know she was the best thing about Nine. But that's the thing, she was perhaps, from what I've heard, the ONLY good thing about Nine. That movie was such a huge disappointment, that I could see Cruz being shut out if only to punish Nine for letting so many people down. And it also becomes a delicious screw-you to the Weinsteins, to nominate the actress from the movie that got kind of buried at the end of the summer only to emerge as a hit over the Christmas blockbuster that fell flat on its bloated face. Plus, Penelope Cruz just won last year for the far superior Vicky Cristina Barcelona. I would personally rather see Basterds's Melanie Laurent on this list, but there seems to be a groundswell for Kruger, so . . . . Kruger it is.

Best Director
  • James Cameron, Avatar
  • Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
  • Quentin Tarentino, Inglorious Basterds
  • Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
  • Lee Daniels, Precious
And here's where the "original five" will become clear -- which five movies would have been nominated regardless of whether there were five slots or ten. I would be hard pressed to come up with another director to unseat one of these five. Clint Eastwood edged out Daniels for the Golden Globes, but everyone knows the HFPA are whores for celebrities. Nine's failure almost surely falls in the lap of Rob Marshall, so it becomes hard to imagine him getting any recognition here.

Nominations are announced tomorrow morning. I'll comment sometime after to see how well (or poorly) I did.