Sunday, February 28, 2010

Muriels Awards 2009: And the winner is...

Pretty sure you saw this coming, right? Still, I can't complain. For the fourth year in a row, we've done a bang-up job, I'd say.

Of course, I'd like to thank Steve for hosting this shindig, to the voters for participating, and to all of you for reading. The full countdown of best films and such is available here.

Finally, the Muriels site is 100% live right over here. Enjoy, and see you all next year.

Friday, February 26, 2010

2009 Muriel Awards: Best Female Lead Performance

There aren't many voting bodies out there whose tastes are cool and omnivorous enough to embrace this performance instead of simply trying to follow the Oscar-imposed party line. This, among other reasons, is why the Muriels rock. I love you guys.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

2009 Muriel Awards: Best Male Lead Performance

Renner's been a solid character actor ever since he played Jeffrey Dahmer, so it's nice to see him get a chance to shine in a high-profile role like this. Too bad the lead acting Oscars are never just for one performance...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

2009 Muriel Awards: Best Director

Another close one. Bigelow got more votes, but Quentin won on points'n'passion. I love them both, so I would've been happy either way.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Monday, February 22, 2010

2009 Muriel Awards: Best Female Supporting Performance

This category, on the other hand, was somewhat tougher to call. Not my pick, but not a bad one either.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

2009 Muriel Awards: Best Male Supporting Performance

This guy got even more points than last year's winner, Heath Ledger. And with three fewer voters in the mix, for that matter. As the man himself would say... it's a bingo!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

2009 Muriel Awards: Best Screenplay

Lt. Archie Hicox: Well, if this is it, old boy, I hope you don't mind if I go out speaking the King's.
Major Dieter Hellstrom: By all means, Captain.
Lt. Archie Hicox: [picks up his glass of scotch] There's a special rung in hell reserved for people who waste good scotch. Seeing as I might be rapping on the door momentarily...
[drinks it]
Lt. Archie Hicox: I must say, damn good stuff, Sir.
[sets his glass down and smokes his cigarette]
Lt. Archie Hicox: Now, about this pickle... we find ourselves in. It would appear there's only thing left for you to do.
Major Dieter Hellstrom: And what would that be?
Lt. Archie Hicox: Stiglitz.
Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz: Say "auf Wiedersehen" to your Nazi balls.
[Stiglitz fires his gun into Hellstrom's crotch, Hicox and Hellstrom fire their guns at each other, and all three men are quickly killed in the ensuing battle]

Who else could have written this? No names spring to mind.

Friday, February 19, 2010

2009 Muriel Awards: Best Ensemble Performance

This was pretty much the only photo I could find of the cast that contained the awesome Michael Fassbender, which compensates for the inclusion of Eli Roth. Now, try to imagine that Denis Menochet, August Diehl, Julie Dreyfus, Samm Levine, Til Schwieger, and Jacky Ido are in it as well...

Click here for more.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

2009 Muriel Awards: Best Cinematography

Bess MacNeill and her ilk might think of him as a sinner, but Mr. Mantle's Muriel-winning cinematography is nothing short of divine.

Also, check out the doofus who wrote this one up. Yeesh, they'll let anybody vote for the Muriels nowadays...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

2009 Muriel Awards: Best Music

The full name of this category is actually "Best Music (Original, Adapted, or Compiled)". This winner falls under all three subheadings.

Click here for more.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

2009 Muriel Awards: Best Cinematic Breakthrough

For the first time in three years, this award isn't going to a director. But I think you'll agree that this guy made one hell of an impression.

Monday, February 15, 2010

2009 Muriel Awards: Best Body of Work

I've always found it admirable when a director can be both prolific and consistently good, even when he makes more than one film in the course of a given year. So while I didn't give top points to this director/writer/editor/cinematographer/funny-face-makin'-guy, I'm definitely down with him winning.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

2009 Muriel Awards: Best Web-Based Film Criticism

Sure, there were plenty of folks who got votes in both lead and supporting categories. But how many can lay claim to getting votes for both acting and criticism? Only the gentleman pictured above.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

2009 Muriel Awards: 10th Anniversary Award for Best Film of 1999

Remember yesterday when I said there were some really close calls this year? This was the closest of all.

Friday, February 12, 2010

2009 Muriel Awards: 25th Anniversary Award for Best Film of 1984

So far, this is the closest race we've posted. In fact, you might say that the suspense went up to eleven. However, there are more barn-burners still to come.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

2009 Muriel Awards: 50th Anniversary Award for Best Film of 1959

In what was one of the great years for movies, Hitchcock's masterful cat-and-mouse thriller came out on top, besting classics from such luminaries as Hawks, Truffaut, Wilder, Bresson, Cassavetes, Resnais, Ozu, Preminger, Godard, Sirk, and many, many others. But don't take my word for it...

Monday, February 08, 2010

In Memoriam: Charlotte

Out of my three guinea pigs, Charlotte was the only one who was born under my roof. Consequently, she was the only one whose birthday I knew for certain- March 9, 2007. I remember clearly the day she was born. It was a Friday night, the end of a long work week, and I came home that night with the idea of catching a late movie. I even remember that the movie was The Lives of Others- strange, the way some movie lovers associate movies with particular events, innit? Anyway, after having a bite to eat and feeding Muriel and Victoria, I decided to take a quick nap before the movie. An hour or so later, I woke up to discover that Victoria wasn’t alone in her cage.

At first, I thought her new roommates were mice- they were roughly the size of domesticated mice. But no, these rodents didn’t have any tails. Then it hit me- Victoria had babies. After thoroughly inspecting Muriel to be sure she wasn’t concealing something, I discerned that Victoria had come home from the store with a few, shall we say, bonus features. This would certainly explain the hostility that Muriel had toward Victoria- after all, she was throwing off all kinds of hormones from the time I’d brought her home. What really sticks out in my mind about that day is that I hadn’t heard a thing. Sure, I was taking a nap, but Victoria’s cage was right next to my bed, and you’d think that a guinea pig giving birth might make some noise. Nope, at least not loud enough to wake me up.

I spoke with a local pet rescue group about getting the babies adopted, and while they told me they’d be happy to take them off my hands, I would have to keep them for at least a month so that Victoria could nurse them. As these little creatures grew, so did their personalities, and I became attached to all three even before I was able to discern their sexes. This, by the way, was how I came up with Charlotte’s name- for a while I thought all three of the babies were female, and being the pompous humanities major I am, I decided to name them after the Brontë sisters. Eventually, I discovered that Anne was Andy, but Charlotte’s name stuck all the same.

But I digress. The three little piggies grew and flourished under their mother’s watchful eye, and although my original plan was to give all three of them away, I soon decided it best to hold on to one, partly because I couldn’t bear to part with them, but also because I thought Victoria would want some company. After some thought, I settled upon the idea of keeping Charlotte. One reason for this was for the sake of adoption- most adopters prefer their guinea pigs with smooth, silky fur, and although both Emily and Anne/Andy had straight fur (presumably like their absent father), Charlotte got her kinkier coat from her mother. Fearing that this could keep her from finding a good home, I decided to keep her for myself.

But beyond that, of the three little ones, I had grown closest to Charlotte. More than the others, she had developed a charming and sweet personality, mixed with a degree of animal intelligence that the others didn’t have. This sweetness comes through most clearly for me on the day I had to say goodbye to the others- after leaving them with the rescue group, I returned home to find Charlotte searching all over her cage, trying to find her now-absent siblings and playmates. It would have been adorable if not for how sad it was. I made sure to comfort her (and Victoria as well) that night, but I could tell she missed them, and I did too. Just because it had to be done didn’t make it easy.

I can’t say whether Charlotte forgot about her siblings over time, but she and Victoria remained a team from that point forward. I kept the two of them in the same cage, and while they had the occasional conflict (as mothers and daughters are prone to do), it was also apparent that they were close and cared about each other a great deal. Whenever it was time to eat, they would wait patiently near the opening of the cage, and at bedtime they’d snuggle up next to each other before going to sleep.

I always felt a little guilty whenever I would intrude on this closeness, but Charlotte and I nonetheless enjoyed a good relationship. Of my three girls, she was the most reluctant to be handled (possibly because she never had to live at the pet store), but she always enjoyed being seated on my chest. Every guinea pig has a spot where she especially enjoys people petting her, and Charlotte’s was just above her hind legs. Whenever I would pet her there, she would let out a long, pleasurable purr, which was enough to provide a little warmth for my heart.

As you may already be aware, Saturday night I discovered that Charlotte has passed away. But I’d rather not think of her lying there, lifeless, in her cage, or of the fact that she wasn’t even three years old (guinea pigs have an average lifespan of 5 to 6 years). No, I want to remember her as she lived- sweet, well-behaved, but also full of life and curiosity. I want to remember how she was the only one of my girls who would sit still when getting her nails trimmed. Or how she absolutely hated baths. Or the way she would defer to Victoria when I filled up their pellet food, but couldn’t restrain herself when it was time for lettuce. Or her adorable squeak- not as loud as Victoria’s or as insistent as Muriel’s, but just as attention-grabbing in its way. Or, yes, the day she discovered that her brother and sister had gone away.

Somewhere, someday, I hope she finds them again.

2009 Muriel Awards: Best Male Performance of the 2000s

"There's a whole ocean of acting awards under our feet! And no one can get at it except for me!"

Click here for more.

Saturday, February 06, 2010


I recently realized that, considering all I’ve written about the Muriels Awards in the past four years, I’ve written precious little about the inspiration for their name. For those of you who don’t know, the name for the Muriels came from that of my little guinea pig, who I’d bought a few months prior to getting these awards started. And while the Muriels name was originally intended as a placeholder until a better suggestion came along, I think it’s worked out pretty well, don’t you?

But what about Muriel herself? This past year has been an eventful one for us, which has gotten me thinking about the effect she’s had on my life. Back in October, Muriel had some health problems, which I discovered when I found that her eye was glazed over and swollen. In most small animals, the only thing that can be done for this is to remove the eye. Unfortunately, the pain from the infected eye was affecting her appetite as well, her weight began to drop, and the veterinarian refused to perform the surgery on Muriel until her weight level began to rise again, for fear that other complications would arise from the operation.

As you can imagine, this was a difficult time in my life. I tried to do everything I could to get Muriel to eat, but nothing worked. Not eating for a guinea pig is especially dangerous, since their digestive tract must remain active at all times, and if their digestive cycle stops altogether then it’s almost impossible to start it back up again. Finally, I rushed her to the veterinary hospital where they were able to feed her some special solutions to rev up her appetite, but it was pretty touch-and-go up to that point. The drive to the hospital was especially hard, as I drove with one hand on the wheel and the other trying to comfort her, fearing that this might be the last time we spend together.

It was then that it dawned on me just how important this little rodent had become in my life. I first bought Muriel on Halloween back in 2006, when I was in a fairly rough spot. Only a few months before, I had moved back to Columbus after living in Akron for a year for family-related reasons. I had spent most of the time since I graduated from college trying (and failing) to make it as a writer, and I had finally buckled down and was trying something less exciting but more stable. But all I had going on back then was work, plus the occasional movie, and I decided I needed something to liven up my home life. A pet was in order, and having cared for guinea pigs when I was a kid, buying a guinea pig was the obvious choice.

Since that time, Muriel and her friends Victoria and Charlotte (who joined the family later) have seen me through a lot. I’ve been able to make a new path for my self in the last 3 ½ years. I’ve got a pretty good job, and I’m back in school to help me get a better one. And I’ve met a woman I love, and we’ve got our own little family, of which Muriel and friends are de facto members. I won’t say that none of these things would have been possible without Muriel, but I believe that taking care of a pet helps us to think outside ourselves, and I think that having to be responsible for Muriel has helped me to become more responsible in other aspects of my life as well.

And if nothing else, she’s given me plenty of laughter and animal companionship. I wouldn’t say that Muriel is my favorite of my three guinea pigs, but I’ve always enjoyed a much closer relationship with her than with Victoria or Charlotte. It’s more than simply the fact that I adopted her first- it’s that Victoria and Charlotte have always been close, whereas Muriel is more or less a loner, so she seems to enjoy spending time with me much more than the other two. Additionally- and I realize how odd this sounds, considering how small guinea pigs are- but she really does have an engaging personality (so to speak). She’s ornery as hell- as you may have seen from the pictures I post here, she chomps on the cage bars whenever she’s ready to eat- and she’s also much more excitable than the other two. But she’s also very affectionate, loves to be held, and has even made friends with our strange little pug.

All in all, I think Muriel has worked out better than I could have hoped when I first adopted her, and I’m looking forward to many more years both with her and with the awards that bear her name. Steve Carlson will be posting the winners over at his site beginning tomorrow- hope to see you there.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Bane of the Oscar™ Completist

Since college if not before, I've had a yearly tradition of trying to see all of the Best Picture nominees prior to the Oscars. Previously, this wasn't a problem, seeing as how there were only five of them. But this year, I've had a little more work to do. I've been successful at seeing eight of the ten so far, but I had the feeling that with the expanded category, I'd have to end up biting the bullet on at least a few. You may recall that back in December I was anxious at the thought of seeing three of the perceived awards-season juggernauts: Precious, Nine, and Invictus. However, while I've dodged a bullet re: Nine and Invictus, I had no idea then that my tradition would force me to see a movie about which I care even less than Precious.

Yes, folks- I'm talking about The Blind Side. Really, Academy? Really???

Is it too late for me to change my tradition to "boycotting the BS People's Choice Award winner that somehow squeaks into the Oscar nominees"? No? Damn.

Meanwhile, Craig keeps cranking out the Muriels goodies:

I figured he'd have a Basterds poster in the pipeline, though I was glad he chose this one instead of the single-character posters. After all, the phrase "Muriel is a Basterd" constitutes fightin' words where I come from.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Muriels by design

See that snazzy new Muriels banner in the sidebar over there?---->

Of course you do. That banner, as well as the larger one below, were designed by Martin McClellan, longtime SLH friend and member of the inaugural Muriels voting class. Martin, a writer and designer living in Seattle (as his web site is quick to point out), has graciously donated his services to providing the Muriels with banners and such for the past two years. Here's this year's big banner, which I couldn't find room for in the sidebar but which deserves to be seen anyway:

But Martin isn't the only one cranking out Muriel-related images. Our old pal Craig Kennedy has been doing Muriel-themed mock movie posters for the past three years, and he shows no signs of stopping. Here's what he's come up with so far this year- Muriel in space...

Stop-motion Muriel...

And Muriel taking to the high wire...

I especially like the third one, which combines everyone's favorite award-bestowing guinea pig with my favorite one-sheet of 2008, for something that's sort of magical.

Check out the fourth year of the Muriel Awards starting this Sunday over at Steve Carlson's blog. I've helped out with the tabulating process again this year, and I can assure you that Muriel is, as always, full of surprises.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Muriels Spring 2010- The Home Stretch

Title: Afterschool
Director: Antonio Campos
Potential nominations: Breakthrough (Campos), body of work (Michael Stuhlbarg)
Notes: Ever get that strange feeling that you admire the hell out of a movie without necessarily digging it all that much? That’s how I felt about Afterschool, a film that announces the presence of a supremely gifted director but which didn’t really hit me on my wavelength. The latter part is sort of surprising, considering how many of Campos’ influences (Wiseman, Haneke, Egoyan, etc.) I think are awesome. And if I wasn’t quite feeling Afterschool, it wasn’t because of lack of ambition. After all, Campos has a lot on his plate here, first and foremost the role of video and electronic mediation in today’s world. So accustomed are we to viewing the world through the lens of YouTube that it’s easy to lose sight of what’s outside the frame- the clip form makes the content easily digestible, so that context scarcely matters.

An admirable message to be sure, but Campos’ lack of subtlety in relaying it holds the film back from greatness. This is especially true of Rob’s (Ezra Miller) dialogue with his counselor, in which he talks about looking for “something real,” a rather ham-fisted attempt to explain an early scene in which a Rob mimics a porn video by choking his girl in order to get a spontaneous reaction from her. Rob is a textbook voyeur, whether he’s holding a camera or watching videos, and Campos has little to say on the subject of voyeurism that hasn’t been said by Peeping Tom or Benny’s Video. Video puts distance between Rob and the world, and by the end of the film he’s only comfortable bridging that distance when he can manipulate it.

That said, Afterschool is an impressive piece of work from the relative newcomer Campos, a scant 23 years old when he made it. His filmmaking decisions here- the shallow-focus objective shots, the deliberately off-kilter framing- reveal his confidence behind the camera. In addition, he’s crafted one of the few genuinely effective 9/11-inspired narratives I’ve seen, in which the destruction of two beautiful girls and the schoolwide mourning that results (complete with “never forget” banners and memorial services) motivate the school’s administrators to crack down hard on students, take a “with us or against us” stand against offenders, and re-imagine their deaths by slathering on the sentimentality and whitewashing the suffering. Afterschool certainly isn’t perfect, but it’s also the kind of movie I wish more independent filmmakers would make- the kind that takes chances one can only take without the money men breathing down your neck. I’m looking forward to what Campos does next.
Rating (out of 10): 7.

Since I’m running out of time, some drive-by comments on the other stuff I’ve seen lately:

Title: Moon
Director: Duncan Jones
Potential nominations: Male lead (Sam Rockwell), breakthrough (Jones), music (Clint Mansell)
Notes: Rented this one mostly because Rockwell gave one of my favorite performances of the past decade (in Joshua), and I was curious to see him essentially acting opposite himself. And in the first reel or so, this holds a good amount of interest, as Jones does a fine job imagining the loneliest job imaginable- the sole inhabitant of a remote colony on the dark side of the moon, mining moon rocks for energy. Unfortunately, Jones can’t resist the urge to impose a plot on the story, so he throws a twist into the movie that is meant to be mindblowing but I found fairly predictable. From there on it, it’s mostly of interest for the Rockwell show, and for the lunar effects, which are surprisingly convincing for a movie that was obviously low-budget. Am curious to see what Jones can do in the future, but I hope he gets better material next time.
Rating: 5.

Title: Seraphine
Director: Martin Provost
Potential nominations: Female lead (Yolande Moreau), male supporting (Ulrich Tukur)
Notes: You know, as fine as Moreau and Tukur were here, what really drew me into this film was its re-creation of French provincial life in the early part of the 20th century. There’s no tradition-of-quality style opulence for Provost and his crew- the world of the film is one of run-down rented country houses and dingy flats, and weed-filled meadows and overgrown woods are never far away. Consequently, the world of Seraphine feels lived-in in a way that many period films never do. I could never have bought Seraphine’s story had I not first bought the world that produced her, but I never had a moment’s doubt. Eventually, Provost slips more and more into biopic clichés, yet I was always able to enjoy the film as a re-creation of this particular time and place, as well as for its fine principal performances. And sometimes, that’s good enough.
Rating: 7.

Title: The Maid
Director: Sebastian Silva
Potential nominations: Female lead (Catalina Saavedra), female supporting (Mariana Loyolla), breakthrough (Silva, Saavedra, Loyolla)
Notes: I don’t think I can accurately judge the film as a whole, considering that the projector lamp went dark twice during my screening, and the first time this happened the film continued running without an image for more than five minutes. But while I not doubt missed some key narrative points and motifs, I saw enough of the movie to know that I want to see more. The film is anchored by a incendiary performance by Saavedra as Raquel, the long-serving domestic to a Chilean family who has become so entrenched in the house that she is fiercely protective of her position whenever she feels threatened. She’s nicely balanced by Loyolla as Lucy, the latest in a series of backup maids hired to help Raquel when her health begins to fail, and Loyolla does a fine job at playing Raquel’s polar opposite, an irreverent job-hopper who succeeds in pulling the senior servant out of her shell. Of course, this description of things sounds over-simplified, and would surely be more complex had I been able to see everything. Until that time comes, I can say for sure that I found The Maid to be an intriguing piece of work- sometimes funny, sometimes nasty, but often fascinating.
Rating: hovering around 7-ish; need to see again.

And just for fun, I decided to try my hand at predicting the Muriels results. I made the following list below prior to receiving any ballots, but I wanted to delay posting it until everyone had voted. So, a propos of nothing, my predictions for this year’s Muriels.

Best Film:
1. Inglourious Basterds
2. Up
3. Fantastic Mr. Fox
4. The Hurt Locker
5. A Serious Man

Best Male Lead:
1. Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker
2. Michael Stuhlbarg, A Serious Man
3. George Clooney, Up in the Air
4. Michael Fassbender, Hunger
5. Matt Damon, The Informant!

Best Female Lead:
1. Melanie Laurent, Inglourious Basterds
2. Carey Mulligan, An Education
3. Tilda Swinton, Julia
4. Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
5. Abbie Cornish, Bright Star

Best Male Supporting:
1. Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
2. Peter Capaldi, In the Loop
3. Anthony Mackie, The Hurt Locker
4. Jackie Earle Haley, Watchmen
5. Jason Schwartzman, Fantastic Mr. Fox

Best Female Supporting:
1. Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
2. Mo’Nique, Precious
3. Diane Kruger, Inglourious Basterds
4. Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
5. Catherine Keener, Where the Wild Things Are

Best Director:
1. Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
2. Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
3. Joel and Ethan Coen, A Serious Man
4. Wes Anderson, Fantastic Mr. Fox
5. Spike Jonze, Where the Wild Things Are

Best Cinematic Moment:
1. Carl and Ellie grow old together, Up
2. Opening scene, Inglourious Basterds
3. Bobby meets the priest, Hunger
4. Ash’s triumphant “hotbox!”, Fantastic Mr. Fox
5. Meeting in a basement, Inglourious Basterds

Best Screenplay: Inglourious Basterds
Best Ensemble: Inglourious Basterds
Best Cinematography: The Hurt Locker
Best Music: Up
Best Breakthrough: Jeremy Renner
Best Body of Work: George Clooney
Best Web-Based Criticism: The Onion A.V. Club
10th Anniversary Award: Eyes Wide Shut
25th Anniversary Award: This Is Spinal Tap
50th Anniversary Award: North by Northwest

Decade awards:

Best Film:
1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
2. There Will Be Blood
3. In the Mood for Love
4. Mulholland Dr.
5. The New World

Best Male Performance: Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
Best Female Performance: Naomi Watts, Mulholland Dr.
Best Body of Work, Director: Quentin Tarantino

So how’d I do? Find out when Steve Carlson announces the awards starting on Sunday, February 7. And if you’d like to chime in with your predictions, feel free to use the comments section below.

Finally, I’d rather keep my votes under wraps until all the Muriels are announced, but I feel okay posting a video of my favorite Cinematic Moment of 2009. If you’ve seen the movie, this needs no explanation. And if you haven’t, consider this a taste:

And while there’s no award for best Cinematic Moment of the 2000s, I figure I’d post my choice below. Hell, just hearing the music practically brings a tear to me eye. Yes, one would be hard-pressed to top this one, says I:

Except for maybe this one, of course: