Tuesday, February 23, 2010

82nd Academy Awards Preview

Believe it or not, the Academy Awards are just a couple of days away. Am I the only one finding it hard to stop writing 2009 on things?

The year seemed to zip by...but not from the amount of quality movies. Overall, I thought 2009 was a weak year for movies, and ironically, the Academy expanded their Best Picture field to 10 movies in a year where they would have been hard pressed to pick 5 movies that really deserved to be nominated.

I do like the decision to nominate 10 films, as it does give acclaim to more commercially successful movies that wouldn't have been nominated had the field still included 5. But, even though there are 10 best picture nominees, there are probably 7 or 8 films that don't stand a chance of winning, making the expansion a moot point.

And let's face it, the move to 10 nominees is about increasing the Oscar TV rating, which have been slumping over the last several years. The Academy is hoping that fans of more commercially successful films such as Avatar, The Blind Side and Up will tune in.

There still were some really good movies in 2009. And most of them were actually nominated for Best Picture. But what I found lacking in 2009 were the amount of standout performances. Only Christoph Waltz from Inglourious Basterds really jumps to mind when I think of great performances of the year. Maybe Mo'Nique from Precious gets in there too. But George Clooney was George Clooney again in Up in the Air. Did he really need to be nominated? Seeing Jeff Bridges nominated for Crazy Heart is cool, since the performance is very close to his performance as The Dude in The Big Lebowski, a role he wrongly wasn't nominated for. But Bridges can play those roles in his sleep by now. And oh yeah, Meryl Streep was nominated for like the 82nd time in a row. Big surprise there!

But enough rambling. Let's take a look at the important categories.


What's nominated (picks in bold represent the movies nominated if the field was still five): Avatar, The Blind Side, District 9, An Education, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, A Serious Man, Up, and Up in the Air.
What should have been nominated: Star Trek lacked the political messages in District 9, but Trek was much more fun. Crazy Heart should have been nominated in place of The Blind Side which was basically an overly sentimental made for TV movie that happened to feature a solid performance by Sandra Bullock. And while the first 15 minutes of Up was on par with the best of any nominee, the second half of the film was your typical Disney goofiness. I would have liked to see (500) Days of Summer or Sugar in its spot.
What will win: Avatar won the Golden Globe and still might be the favorite based on its technical achievements, financial success and treehugging political message, but my money is on The Hurt Locker, which has been gaining steam in recent months thanks to the buzz surrounding director Kathryn Bigelow, who is only the third female director nominated for Best Director.
What should win: I enjoyed The Hurt Locker, but I absolutely loved Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds. His alternative take on WWII was a funny and suspenseful film that featured the most tense scene of 2009, and possibly, of all time (basement bar scene).


Who's Nominated: Kathryn Bigelow, James Cameron, Lee Daniels, Jason Reitman, Quentin Tarantino.
Who Will Win: Kathryn Bigelow. I think the Academy will make a statement (and history) by giving the statue to a female director for the first time ever.
Who Should Win: James Cameron. He created the technology used in Avatar, from performance capture to the next generation 3-D. And while Best Director is not a technical award, Cameron created the world in Avatar, he didn't just hand off the special effects to someone else. His stamp is all over this film.


Who's Nominated: Jeff Bridges, George Clooney, Colin Firth, Morgan Freeman, Jeremy Renner.
Who Will Win: Jeff Bridges with Renner the second horse in this race.
Who Should Win
: Jeff Bridges. His performance gives Crazy Heart its...crazy heart. Yeah, I just said that.


Who's Nominated: Sandra Bullock, Helen Mirren, Carey Mulligan, Gabourey Sidibe, Maryl Streep.
Who Will Win: Sandra Bullock. It was a good performance by an actress who has been the same in pretty much ever role she's ever had and made a ton of money in 2009. She's the hot pick.
Who Should Win: Gabourey Sidibe. Her performance in Precious was raw, heartbreaking and uplifting all at once.


Who's Nominated: Matt Damon, Woody Harrelson, Christopher Plummer, Stanley Tucci, Christoph Waltz.
Who Will Win: Christoph Waltz. He was the one standout performance of the year.
Who Should Win: Christoph Waltz. He was the one standout performance of the year.

Who's Nominated: Penelope Cruz, Vera Farmiga, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Anna Kendrick, Mo'Nique.
Who Will Win: Mo'Nique. Her performance as a despicable inner city mother in Precious is good we can't allow ourselves to sympathize with her when her character finally sees the error of her ways.
Who Should Win: Mo'Nique.

So there you have it. Do you agree with my picks? Let me know in the comment section below.

Mock Draft Round Up

It's that time of year when people hungry for football talk start predicting the NFL Draft. And with the Ravens having needs at the WR, TE, DL and DB position, there are any number of ways the Ravens could approach the draft. Here are a few of the predictions from mock drafts around the Internet:

The New NFL Draft predicts that the Ravens select TE Aaron Hernandez from Florida.

If Jermaine Gresham was healthy I would say he is the top TE in my 2010 NFL Mock Draft. At this time I have Hernandez surpassing him as the top TE because of his health and his ability to make plays. I have the Ravens taking Hernandez because they need another weapon for the Ravens young QB Flacco to throw to. I also think WR is a very likely option here but I have the top WR in this 2010 NFL Mock Draft already being taken.

Draft Countdown has the Ravens picking WR Arrelious Benn from Illinois.

Few teams do a better job on Draft Day than Ozzie Newsome and the Baltimore Ravens but one area in which they have struggled a bit is wide receiver. The Ravens got a real scare when Derrick Mason unexpectedly decided to retire this past offseason but he ultimately revered course, which bought them at least one more year. Still the thought of going into a season with Mark Clayton, Demetrius Williams and Kelley Washington had to have been a wakeup call and you can bet they will take the appropriate steps to avoid that rather terrifying scenario. A prized recruit who Ron Zook somewhat surprisingly lured to the Illini, Arrelious Benn is a great athlete with an ideal blend of size (6-2, 220) and speed (4.40) who has the ability to be a vertical threat and create in space. Benn didn’t have the big junior season everyone was expecting but for the most part that can be attributed to lackluster quarterback play and it certainly isn’t an indictment of his talent. If they decide to look elsewhere the Ravens could also use some additional help at cornerback, especially if Fabian Washington leaves as a free agent in the offseason, and it might be time to bring in an eventual replacement for Todd Heap at tight end as well. However, at the end of the day finding a future #1 wideout must be the Ravens main priority.

NFL Draft Dog has the Ravens taking OLB Sergio Kindle from Texas.

At 6' 3" 250 pounds, he figures to be an ideal outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Kindle can really come off the edge and get to the quarterback.

NFL Draft Blitz has the Ravens selecting WR Demaryius Thomas from Georgia Tech.

Something tells me the signing of Donte Stallworth is not the answer to the Ravens receiving issues. In fact, it speaks volumes to their desperation at the position. Thomas has the ability to one day make this a position of strength [for the Ravens].

And Football's Future predicts the Ravens selecting WR Golden Tate from Notre Dame.

Adding Joe Flacco and Ray Rice the past two years has given the Ravens life on offense. In order for them to take the next step however, they need a playmaker at wide receiver.

So there you have it, 5 different mock drafts and 5 different players selected. It should be interesting for Ravens fans on draft day.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A look at Flacco's 2009 season

Joe Flacco's potentially stellar 2009 season was disrupted by a foot injury suffered in week 6.

Toward the end of the season and during the playoffs, it felt like many Ravens fans had a change of heart when it came to Joe Flacco. On message boards and sports talk shows, fans wondered if Flacco was good -- or healthy -- enough to lead this team to the promised land. (Keep in mind this was also combined with much bitching and moaning about the Ravens WR corps for most of the season.)

My take is that Flacco is definitely good enough to take this team to the Super Bowl. I don't doubt it for a minute. Here's why...

The injury that Flacco suffered in the Week 6 game at Minnesota (he had his foot stepped on twice) affected him for the rest of the season. All you have to do is look at the numbers:

Flacco before injury (6 games):
12 TD
279 YPG

Flacco after injury (10 games):
9 TD (4 of which came in the CHI game)
193 YPG

Flacco in playoffs (2 games):
0 TD
111 YPG

That is a huge difference before/after the injury he suffered. Had Flacco not been injured he was on pace for 31 TD, 13 INT and 4,352 yards. That's on pace with Drew Brees, the MVP of the Super Bowl -- and with a WR corps that many Ravens fans demand be blown up this offseason. And they're going to get their wish. Rumors are swirling that the Ravens are currently negotiating a contract extension with Cardinals WR Anquan Boldin.

So the verdict is undeniable. The injury Flacco suffered in week 6 disrupted what could have been an even better 2009 season for Flacco. He looked worse after the injury than he did as a rookie in 2008, with less poise in the pocket and little ability to move outside of it.

The biggest improvement the Ravens can benefit from next season is a healthy Joe Flacco, regardless of whether they are able to trade for Boldin. When healthy, Joe Flacco is a pro bowl caliber QB, as he showed during the first 6 games of the season.

So relax, Ravens fans. It's still OK to be wacko for Flacco.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

One thing is for certain...and that is nothing is certain

Nick Markakis is one of a few Orioles players who fans can be confident about in 2010.

On the eve of spring training, I sit at my computer, eager to write something positive about the 2010 Orioles. And it's not that hard to do. The O's have a good blend of young players and veterans. And for once, the younger players are the better group of players.

But projecting this team in 2010 is very difficult. And that usually is the case when you've got a team full of promising young players. Some players are going to do well, some are going to do OK, and some are going to struggle. You just don't know which players will do what.

Right now, Nick Markakis is the Orioles most reliable player. You can pencil him down for an OPS above .800 in 2010, and have realistic hope that it'll be closer to .900. But beyond Markakis, it gets dicey. Here's why.

Kevin Millwood had ERA's above 5 in 2007 and 2008 before finishing the 2009 season with a 3.67 ERA. I expect Millwood to regress from '09, I'm just not sure how much. Jeremy Guthrie is the opposite of Millwood. He had ERA's under 4 in '07 and '08 before struggling in 2009 with a 5.04 ERA. I do believe he'll improve, but there are no guarantees. Guthrie was throwing batting practice in 2009, allowing the most home runs (35) of any AL pitcher.

Brad Bergesen was a rock in 2009, but his K rate and injuries are cause for concern. He could regress in 2009, but I don't expect him to have an ERA above 4.50. Brian Matusz could end up being the ace of the Orioles at year's end and I will be surprised if he finishes the season with an ERA high above 4. Of all the young players on the Orioles roster, he's the one I am most confident about. Then there's Chris Tillman, who struggled last year. He could be as good as Matusz or he could continue to throw a 100+ pitches in 5 IP.

The bullpen is far from solid. There are some good candidates for success in there, but nothing to be very confident about. Matt Albers and Koji Uehara both have a bad injury history. Jim Johnson was very hittable last year. Mark Hendrickson performed well out of the bullpen in '09 but his magic could be running out. Mike Gonzalez should fill George Sherrill's shoes just fine, but his walk rate is high. Kam Mickolio is promising as a late-innings guy, and throws serious heat but has control problems.

That said, the success of the bullpen is going to largely come from the starting pitching and their ability to pitch deeper into games.

The hitters, on the other hand, are a little more solid.

I already touched on Markakis. Brian Roberts lead the league in doubles last year (56), and should be counted on for an OPS at or slightly above .800. Nolan Reimold looked polished at the plate as a rookie, showing good discipline. He should only get better. Matt Wieters started off slow but finished the season on a tear (.882 OPS in September) and is one of the best hitting prospects in the game. Like Matusz, you can be confident in the youngster.

And here's where the question marks start to creep in. Adam Jones had a hot first two months to '09, but then he started trying to hit more home runs which lead to a lower average and OBP. Then he missed all of September. Can he play a whole season? Miguel Tejada can still hit doubles, he lead the NL last year, but he's also lead the league in double plays 5 out of the last 6 years. Garrett Atkins' performance declined for the last 4 years before bottoming out in '09 and losing his job. It'll be a miracle if he keeps it through 2010. Cesar Izturis has never been a factor at the plate. Ty Wigginton has pretty bad last year after being a decent utility player, so nothing would surprise me from him. Felix Pie played well with increased playing time, but he doesn't look to get many chances to play in '09 unless there are injuries. And Luke Scott is consistently inconsistent, one of the most streakiest players in the game.

So there you have it. A lot could go right, a lot could go wrong. At least we have enough promising young players on the roster that things should go right more than they go wrong.

I think the 2010 Orioles can win 80 games and be poised for a playoff run in 2011, but as with the general tone of this article, nothing is certain. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Orioles limping to the finish line with 70 wins.

We'll just have to wait and see how the season plays out. At least it's finally getting close.

Ravens Ink Stallworth

Donte Stallworth will likely become the Ravens #3 wide receiver.

The Ravens signed WR Donte Stallworth over the weekend. Stallworth, 29, has played with the Saints, Eagles, Patriots and Browns over the course of his 7 year career. But Stallworth is perhaps most famous for the 2009 incident where he fatally struck a pedestrian in Miami while driving under the influence of alcohol.

According to Wikipedia, Stallworth was still over the legal limit from the night before when the accident occurred the next morning. So it's not like he got behind the wheel as he left the club and then ran someone over. It's also important to note that the man was walking on a highway bridge which doesn't contain a walkway for pedestrians.

I bring this up because I know the Ravens will get a lot of flack for signing Stallworth when coach John Harbaugh is trying to build the Ravens with good character guys. He helped develop the "Play like a Raven" motto from last year. And of course, the Ravens start linebacker, Ray Lewis, was involved in the Atlanta scandal in 2000 that saw 2 men killed in a scuffle outside of a night club. So opposing fans will have plenty of "murderer" smack to choose from in 2010, despite the details of each incident that paint a much different picture.

That said, Stallworth did act irresponsibly, and a man lost his life. It can't just be glossed over.

However, the Ravens signed Stallworth to play football, and what the Ravens get in him is a decent #3 wide receiver. Stallworth had some good seasons in 2005-2007 before signing with the pass-challenged Browns in 2008 and missed the entire 2009 season because of a suspension stemming from the accident. So it's a good bet that Stallworth will take some time to get his football legs back under him.

Because the signing was made early, many Ravens fans will dislike the move, thinking that Stallworth has been signed to be a top 2 receiver. Well, I hope he wasn't signed with that intention and I don't think he was. Harbaugh was the special teams coach in Philly when Stallworth was there, so it's pretty clear that Harbaugh sees Stallworth as a role player. Along with Kelley Washington, Stallworth is a good possession receiver. And if Washington decides to sign elsewhere, Stallworth is a solid replacement.

But beyond that, the Ravens still have a lot of work to do to improve their WR corps, with Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton both potential free agents.

But as of today, I like the move.

Friday, February 12, 2010

They don't make 'em like this anymore

I've always been kind of fascinated with the Italian horror movies of the 1970's and 1980's but never really followed that up by actually watching them. After all, you can watch all of the films' famous gory bits on You Tube these days and the movies themselves are infamous for incoherent plots, bad acting, and even worse dubbing.

So why waste the time?

Anyway, a friend lent me his copy of Lucio Fulci's The House by the Cemetery the other day so I popped it in last night while fighting the urge to watch I Love You, Man for the twenty-third time this month. I really need to stop watching that movie.

The plot, if you can call it one, is simple. A family moves into a house near Boston so that the father can continue some research that was put on hold when his colleague mysteriously killed his mistress and then hung himself. But little do they know that a zombie doctor is living downstairs in the basement, murdering his victims so he can harvest their organs to stay alive.

And while THBTC commits all of the sins of Italian horror (incoherent plot, bad dubbing, etc), it still manages to be a good and creepy little movie. These Italian horror movies are known first for their gore, and THBTC doesn't disappoint in that regard. But perhaps the second best aspect of Italian horror films are their atmosphere, and THBTC nails the dreamy and creepy atmosphere that most modern horror movies have forgotten about.

I mean, there's a freaking tomb in the floor of the house! How freaking creepy and awesome is that? Also, the house is located right next to a cemetery (hence the title, duh) and horror movies can always use more cemeteries. Perhaps the film's best scene is when mother and son are searching the basement for proof that the child just saw the head of his dead babysitter roll down the stairs (yes, I just wrote that). As they are searching the basement, the killers' eyes pop out of the darkness. It's something you don't expect and while it doesn't cause you to jump out of your seat like the loud jumps that most horror movies employ these days, it does send shivers down your spine.

THBTC is a relic from an era when film makers wanted to genuinely scare you, not treat the movie as if its a roller coaster ride. And that's what I miss about these kinds of horror movies.

But despite as much as THBTC gets right, it gets as much wrong. I mean really, how can the filmmakers ignore such blatant inconsistencies?

Take for instance the family's babysitter, cleaning up the blood from the previous night's murder. The mother notices the sitter cleaning the blood and just asks "what are you doing?" I don't know about you, but if I woke up to find a massive blood smear on my floor, leading to the basement, I'd call the freaking cops! After that scene, I started thinking that maybe the sitter was a protector of the zombie doc, but then she gets killed. There goes that theory!

The film's ending is also a mind-F of the worst kind. We're lead to believe different things throughout the film (is the little girl real?) but at the end, nothing is explained or made clearer. A quote at the end of the movie, attributed to poet Henry James, is actually Fulci's, and does nothing but make the proceedings even more confusing.

But let's be real. We don't watch these movies for the seamless film making. THBTC is basically a prono. You can watch the best parts on line. After all, why sit through all the exposition when all we want to see is people fucking?

So do I recommend THBTC? Not exactly. If you find yourself bored by today's horror movies and miss the atmospheric creepers from the past, check it out.

But I would recommend Ti West's The House of the Devil to a fan of film in general, as it's just a great movie, and not just something for fans of cult movies.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Congrats to the Saints!

Drew Brees kisses his wife with the Lombardi Trophy in hand after beating the Colts 31-17. He won the MVP.

I usually wake up the day after the Super Bowl kind of pissed off. For one, I have to go back to work after a weekend of drinking, and secondly, it's usually because a team that I dislike has just won the Super Bowl. For instance, in the past decade, hated teams such as the Patriots (three times), Steelers (twice), and Colts have won Super Bowls.

But when the Saints won the Super Bowl last night, beating the Colts, I couldn't feel anything but happiness for the city of New Orleans and Saints fans everywhere.

The Saints were founded in 1967 and didn't have a winning season for 20 years. They didn't get a playoff win until 2000. If ever there was a franchise that deserved to win the Super Bowl for past performance, or lack of, it was the Saints. Watching historically bad teams like the Buccaneers, Cardinals and Rams have resurgences, it was only fair that the Saints had one of their own. They were perhaps the last of the "bad" franchises to at least make it to the Super Bowl.

And if ever there was a city that deserved a Super Bowl title, it is New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina decimated the city in 2005, and New Orleans is still recovering from that disaster. I visited the city in 2007, and while a lot of the touristy areas were back to normal, you could tell that the city's spirit was still healing. And while a Super Bowl victory won't account for the losses of family members, homes and businesses, it does take some of the sting out of those tragedies at least for the time being.

Also, this Super Bowl victory is the first major championship for the city of New Oreleans, a town that saw the Jazz relocate to Utah in the 1980's and was on the verge of losing the Hornets after Hurricane Katrina. You know that the streets of the French Quarter will be rocking for the next week. Add to that, Mardi Gras is only a few days away.

I watched the game with my friend, Jason, who has always been a huge Saints fan, and has family from Louisiana. I shared his joy in watching the Saints win while drinking some Abita beer. It was probably the best I've felt about a Super Bowl since the Ravens won it in 2000.

And finally, it was nice to see the Colts lose. It doesn't happen very often, and when Peyton Manning threw that game-clinching interception lat in the 4th quarter, I couldn't help but celebrate Manning's rare mistake, a mistake that cost him his second Super Bowl ring. Call me a jaded Ravens fan, call me whatever you want. I don't care. I hate the bleeping Colts.

So here's to the Saints and the city of New Orleans. Congratulations.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Beach House

Beach House's third album, Teen Dream, received a 9 out of 10 rating from Pitchfork.

Hailing from Baltimore, I've found it difficult to get into the city's musical offerings. Occasionally my musical tastes mesh up with quasi-Baltimore act Animal Collective, but most times I shrug off their nauseating repetitiveness which is basically Caucasian vegan Baltimore club music, circa 1994, when DJ Boobie was still making mix-tapes.

That is until Beach House arrived on the scene. Their self-titled 2006 debut caught my ear when I heard "Master of None" on Sirius radio. However, their first two albums were downtrodden and difficult to sit through in their entirety. Instead, I opted to be a fan of the band in small doses. "Yeah, Beach House, they're from Baltimore. I like a couple of their songs, and I want to like them, but..."

Then came Teen Dream, officially released last Tuesday, despite having been leaked last November. The wait was worth it. Teen Dream is by far the band's best album to date.

Beach House, made up of French-born Victoria Legrand and Bmore native, Alex Scally, push their core minimalist sound to the limit in Teen Dream, resulting in an album of more movement and layers. The band previously consisted of Legrand on vocals, Scally on guitar, and a drum machine rivaling the cheapness of the one that Terrance Howard's character found in Hustle & Flow. Now, there is a drummer (I think, or they bought a better sounding drum machine) and organ-sounding keyboards at the band's disposal. They make great use of the new wrinkles, but this is still very much a Beach House record.

Thematically, Teen Dream evokes the 80's as seen by a depressed teenager who watches too many John Hughes movies. I mean, come on...it's dream-pop at its best. But I've never experienced so much beautiful sadness on an album. In that regard, Beach House isn't for everyone. Despite it's revamped sound, this is still a slow album, one that takes it's time getting to where it wants to go, and even in some cases, still takes too long getting there.

And in a year that looks to be filled with new albums from some of my favorite bands (The Walkmen, Arcade Fire, The National, Stars, Radiohead, etc.), it's ironic that an album that I wasn't expecting comes out of nowhere and hit me so hard.

Teen Dream is going to be tough to wake up from.

You can check out their album at lala.com here.