Oscar nominations are 15 hours away. It’s probably my favorite part of the whole Oscar season, even better than the ceremony itself.

I don’t have a lot to champion this year. Unlike in 2011, my Richard-Linklater-directed favorite film of the year is firmly in the Oscar race. Many other favorites are nowhere near it. Some lower profile films that are right up my alley have high upside to appear in a number of categories, which means I don’t feel the need to hold my breath. Meanwhile, several contenders causing the largest bubble speculation – American Sniper and Cake – aren’t even available to the general moviegoing public yet.

It seems to be a consensus pick to make it in, but I’m still holding my breath for The Boxtrolls in the Animated Feature category and I’d love for it to appear anywhere else (Song? Costume?).

Whiplash will certainly pick up one nod for JK Simmons and an Adapted Screenplay nomination on top of that. Nightcrawler is vying for a number of categories. I’ll be rooting for them to show up as much as possible.

The Original Song category is super weak this year and I have no gem in the rough to root for. So let’s hope for something from Muppets Most Wanted because the Muppets are great, even though my favorite song from the movie is not eligible:

Finally, they’re long, long, long shots, but hey, why not? Let’s hope for love anywhere for the likes of SnowpiercerCalvaryOnly Lovers Left Alive, or A Most Wanted Man.

As usual, Jared and I have made predictions in the non-short categories – and he one-upped me by picking the shorts as well. Brian joins in for the big eight categories.

When the nominations come out tomorrow, we’ll see who is the best Grouch. I think we differed a little more than often. I also felt like there were more categories than usual where I was agonizing over final picks due to a lack of good options. Is Robert Duvall really going to slide into the Supporting Actor field?

As usual, areas where we differ are shaded in yellow.

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Oh hey, I guess this place still exists.

Jared

1. Guardians of the Galaxy
2. Calvary
3. Snowpiercer
4. The Guest
5. The Raid

Adam

1. Guardians of the Galaxy
2. Calvary
3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
4. Edge of Tomorrow
5. Draft Day

John

1. Boyhood
2. Gone Girl
3. The Boxtrolls
4. Edge of Tomorrow
5. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Brian

1. Heaven is For Real
2. God’s Not Dead
3. Left Behind
4. Son of God
5. Sex Tape

Adam and I love movies.  We also love board games.  And though the idea of movies based on board games may sound absurd, we’re setting out to prove that doesn’t have to be the case.  So in the first of a (maybe!  probably not!) continuing series, here’s our pitch for Battleship, the movie.  And no, our version doesn’t involve aliens.

Our Battleship tells the story of a (fictional) Cold War naval battle, the secrets of which have just now come to light. The U.S. – Russian skirmish was led and fought by an admiral on each side who have a shared past thanks to a World War II exchange program.

Midshipmen together in the US, they were best friends and class standouts at the Naval Academy. Subverting cliche a little, the American is strictly by the book in his tactics, where the Russian is more seat of his pants. Perhaps obviously, this will be relevant for the final showdown.

Their friendship is strong, but the ideological pressure of the Cold War proves an insurmountable strain as they fall further and further out of touch as they rise the ranks of the Navy, both becoming admirals by 1970.

The 1973 oil crisis had global ramifications, including a scramble by both superpowers to find alternative sources of oil. A subsection of a decade-old report by Scandinavian scientists theorizing the potential for an oil field in unclaimed territory off the northern coast of Greenland suddenly takes on the utmost strategic importance.

Both sides send out fleets to secure the area. Already high tensions are exacerbated when an American aircraft carrier gets damaged by unexpected ice that is initially suspected to be a Russian mine. An overzealous higher-up in the Navy orders a reciprocal sinking of a Russian aircraft carrier.

Faced with the potential of a cold war suddenly becoming very hot, our two hero admirals reach an unspoken, implicit agreement to take their fleets toward the North Pole, in an effort to defuse the situation. But when a captain of one of the Russian vessels goes rogue and fires on an American ship, severely crippling it, the two sides are forced into an epic battle, trapped by the ice into a confined area.

The two friends turned mortal enemies are forced to exploit their friendship to anticipate the other’s every move, adroitly using their subs and destroyers as the primary units of warfare, protecting the battleships. The epic battle rages on, with both sides suffering heavy losses. As the battle nears the end, all ships are sinking or immobilized, save for the heavily damaged American battleship, which seems like it might be able to be the sole ship able to escape. Understanding the potential Cold War ramifications, though, the American admiral leaves his ship open to one final attack, one he knows his Russian friend will anticipate for similar reasons, and as that final ship goes down, he utters the famous final words, mournfully, but with a hint of a smile: “You sunk my battleship.”

We did a terrible job making our picks this year. We swear we saw most of the movies! Here’s what we think should win in selected categories.

Brian Jared John
Picture 12 Years a Slave Nebraska Gravity
Director Cuaron Cuaron Cuaron
Actor Ejiofor McConaughey Ejiofor
Actress Blanchett Blanchett Blanchett
Supp Actor Leto Leto Fassbender
Supp Actress Nyong’o Lawrence Nyong’o
Adapted Screenplay The Wolf of Wall Street Philomena 12 Years a Slave
Original Screenplay Her Nebraska Her
Makeup Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
Song “Let it Go” “Happy” “Let it Go”
Production Design American Hustle Her Her
Sound Editing All Is Lost
Sound Mixing Gravity
Visual Effects Gravity Gravity
Animated Short Mr Hublot
Live Action Short Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa?

The Sundance awards were announced last night, so let’s see how Ian and I did.

Jared – Fishing Without Nets – WINNER – Directing

Ian – Hellion

Ian – Cold in July

Jared – Infinitely Polar Bear

Jared – Low Down – WINNER – Cinematography

Ian – Dear White People – WINNER – Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent

Ian – Whiplash – WINNER – Grand Jury Prize AND Audience Award

Jared – God’s Pocket

Jared – Camp X-Ray

Ian – Song One

Ian – Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter – WINNER – Special Jury Award for Musical Score

Jared – The Skeleton Twins – WINNER – Screenwriting

Jared – Happy Christmas

Ian – Jamie Marks is Dead

Ian – Life After Beth

Jared – The Sleepwalker

Ian wins 9-3, though I’m going to suggest next year we make directing and screenwriting each worth more than score.  We clearly let Whiplash fall way too far, though we again did a good job of picking out the films least likely to win something.

And Ian would like me to note: Most Ridiculous Award – World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for the Delightful Ensemble Performance, and How the Director Brought His Own Unique Universe into Cinema: God Help the Girl.

My closing remarks from last year still fit fine, so I’ll repeat them: A big thanks to Ian for suggesting this, taking the time to do it, and for breathlessly reporting the results.  I look forward to getting revenge next year.

And now, part three of Ian and Jared’s fantasy Sundance draft.  If you missed it, check out part one for scoring and the first four picks and parts two and three.

With the thirteenth pick of the 2014 Fantasy Sundance Draft, Jared takes…

Happy Christmas

Jared: And the thing is, I’m not really a fan of mumblecore at all.  But I think you ignore a cast of Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey, Mark Webber, and Lena Dunham at your own peril.  And while it would be a surprise to see a mumblecore movie get a big win, I will note that the genre has been crossing over some.  Well, crossing over to the mainstream indie world, at any rate.  Your Sister’s Sister received some acclaim.  And writer/director Joe Swanberg’s 2013 release (also co-starring Anna Kendrick), Drinking Buddies, received some attention, including featuring on Quentin Tarantino’s list of the top ten films of the year.  I just watched the film, actually, and while Mr. Tarantino happens to be wrong in this case, I do see the potential for Swanberg to have some bigger “success” at some point in the future.

Ian: I don’t want to ignore the cast of Happy Christmas at all. I’m probably more predisposed to mumblecore than you, and I’ve liked everybody involved in this movie in at least one project or another. But I do think the verite style is not well-suited for winning flashier awards, and the subject of this movie also feels on the smaller side. That’s no knock against the movie, in fact I expect to like the movie, I just find it hard to imagine this comedy of manners with already established actors giving established performances finding much in the way of momentum. Of course, you have to pick something towards the end of the draft, and while I’d probably still choose a different movie that took a bigger swing, I understand the impulse to go with a surer established winner.

With the fourteenth pick of the 2014 Fantasy Sundance Draft, Ian takes…

Jamie Marks is Dead

Ian: I actually have some hope for this film, which seems to mash a coming-of-age story of sexual awakening together with a horror film. Carter Smith, the director, locked down a Jury Prize with Bugcrush, a short film that combined many of the same elements. Here, the movie will rely upon its young leads, and that’s where I think it may similarly score well. Morgan Saylor is a terrific young actress who carved a bigger role for herself in Homeland with her work, even as the show descended into inanity, and I don’t mean a slight when I say that Cameron Monaghan gives one of my four favorite performances on Shameless. Between the cinematography, script, direction, and jury prize, this movie seems like it has an outside shot in several categories.

Jared: I tend to shy away from supernatural and horror films with my awards picks.  And while Carter Smith does have a Sundance pedigree, I’ll also point out that he last directed The Ruins, which isn’t exactly the most encouraging sign.  Alex Orlovsky has a producing credit on the film, he comes from Half Nelson and Blue Valentine, so there’s some promise there, even if Ryan Gosling is nowhere in sight here.  I agree about the young acting talent here, which definitely has significant promise.

With the fifteenth pick of the 2014 Fantasy Sundance Draft, Ian takes…

Life After Beth

Ian: Now this movie, on the other hand, looks like total garbage. I would have handed it back to you to close out our draft, except that I liked the idea of ending with an indie zombie two-fer. If I were to advocate for my pick, I’d say that this movie will require excellent execution to work, and if it does work, it may have more screenwriting and visual flair than some moribund traditional Sundance film. I could see a movie like this being funny and surprisingly heartfelt, even if I find it hard to imagine that those tones can come from the co-writer of I Heart Huckabees. The actors may also help to elevate the material. Dane de Haan seems like a Sundance star in the making, and Aubrey Plaza…well, she can’t very well turn down her boyfriend for a role, can she?

Jared: I mean, I’m hoping I get to see this one while I’m at the festival.  But the official Sundance description includes a terribly punny joke, so I think the film was taken at slot.  Maybe it is “wickedly funny” and/or “shockingly poignant” and the film picks up an audience award or something, but it is difficult to see a clear path to awards.

With the final pick of the 2014 Fantasy Sundance Draft, Jared takes…

The Sleepwalker

Jared: I think I fell asleep reading the official Sundance description of this film.  I guess I’m having a difficult time figuring out this film’s hook.  Maybe it it just difficult to market or summarize or something.  Plus it is a Norwegian co-production, and I get the sense Sundance is a better play for more “American”-type films.  When I was doing my initial rankings, I had the film near the bottom of the list and never really saw a reason to move it.

Ian: This may be a case of too much knowledge being a bad thing, but unlike the other 15 movies, I saw the trailer to The Sleepwalker beforehand. And yes, it’s now ranked dead last. So, word to the wise on the people who made the trailer…maybe a re-cut? I don’t think this is as moribund as Austenland or The Lifeguard were last year, but boy, does this movie ever seem rote. The setting and the ambiance are unusual, but the performances seemed pallid, and there’s not a lot of proof to the contrary in any of their respective bodies of work to date. I keep trying to avoid the word sleepy, because it’s so obvious, but yeah. The title has become reality. That said, just in case you are randomly googling this and you worked on the movie or are just a major fan, a good thing to keep in mind is that we don’t know what we’re talking about here. Good luck in the fantasy Sundance season!

And that’s a wrap.  Thanks to everyone (or no one, as is more likely) for reading, and I’ll hopefully have good things to report back from Sundance.

And now, part three of Ian and Jared’s fantasy Sundance draft.  If you missed it, check out part one for scoring and the first four picks and part two for picks 5 through 8.

With the ninth pick of the 2014 Fantasy Sundance Draft, Jared takes…

Camp X-Ray

Jared: When Sundance announced the movies playing the festival this year, many (if not most) of the headlines touted Kristen Stewart, who stars in this film.  I get the feeling Twilight has made her a divisive figure, but if you’ve only seen her or heard of her in those films, I think you’ll be surprised at her acting ability.  The film tells the story of a burgeoning friendship of a guard (Stewart) and a detainee (Payman Maadi) at Guantanomo Bay, and the combination of an intense character study coupled with the morals and politics involved with Gitmo could mean this film has the potential to play well to this audience.  Writer-director Peter Sattler went to college with David Gordon Green and did some work on his films, and Green returns the favor here as a producer.  Also producing is Sophia Lin, who has producing credits on lauded films Take Shelter and Compliance.  And I wouldn’t want to leave out that she was production manager on The Baxter, a film I know Ian and I both love.

Ian: You’ve mentioned a lot of things that I love more than the world at large in that writeup, but I’ll focus on KStew first. I’m with you, if you only know her as tabloid fodder and a Twilight star, you’re missing out on great performances in The Runaways or Adventureland in particular. And if Peter Sattler has any of the eye for detail of his NCSA compatriots like David Gordon Green or Jody Hill, there’s probably going to be a sensitivity to the subject matter. And yet, reading this, I wonder if KStew can take on such a major focus, and whether the subject matter can be told without being either didactic or mawkish. Like most of our midpack films (and, let’s face it, the entire lineup as far as we know), this one has some boom/bust potential.

With the tenth pick of the 2014 Fantasy Sundance Draft, Ian takes…

Song One

Ian: Camp X-Ray was the last film remaining for me that had over a one-in-three chance of scoring. I think there’s a little bit of a gap here. The big draw for Song One is probably getting Anne Hathaway to come to Park City, but Hathy doesn’t seem like the kind of actress who the jury would feel compelled to give a Special Jury prize. The rest of the movie…well, it sure feels like Once in Brooklyn, doesn’t it? Once was obviously a shoo-in for the Audience Award back when it was in competition. While Jenny and Johnny don’t write songs with the same kind of naked emotional hooks as Glen Hansard does, I could see an affecting musical performance in a romantic weeper having much the same effect upon audiences. My biggest concern is the director, Kate Barker-Froyland’s pedigree. Sure, she seems prepared, but can she overcome her roots going to some state school in the midwest?

Jared: All Anne Hathaway does is win awards.  She’s got around 26 credits on imdb, and I believe she’s garnered at least a nomination for over half of them.  Or didn’t you realize she has an Emmy for voiceover work on The Simpsons, a British Independent Film Awards nomination for Becoming Jane, and a Young Artist nomination for Get Real?  So yeah, I’d say she’s in the running for playing the lead in an Sundance film.  She’s also a producer on this one, as are veteran producers Marc Platt and Jonathan Demme, so the film has some definite oomph behind it.  And to flesh out Ian’s joke, along with writer/director Kate Barker-Froyland, we are proud graduates of the University of Chicago.  Or graduates, at least.  So as fellow Maroons, we wish nothing but the best for Barker-Froyland.  Though I do question how anyone can escape that institution and be mentally stable enough to direct a feature-length movie.

With the eleventh pick of the 2014 Fantasy Sundance Draft, Ian takes…

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter

Ian:  If Bunzo the rabbit does not win some sort of award, I am boycotting the festival next year. If I can give a little bit of a fantasy Sundance tip from an expert: I think once you get past the top picks (or if there are no top picks), you want to look for the best hooks for an award. Here, I could potentially see a potential award path for Rinko Kikuchi, in an All is Lost way, and the visual depiction of loneliness may also lead to some challenging direction or scenework. The Zellner brothers also have a pedigree of getting recognized, at least, so they may be building to a coming out party. I think I’m less enthused with the pick than I was when I made it, though, and this may be an overdraft, even here towards the end of the competition.

Jared: Yeah, I had this one near the bottom of my rankings.  The brothers Zellner are well-regarded Sundance alums, and Rinko Kinkuchi does have an Oscar nomination, sot here are a few things working in its favor.  But while I’m definitely curious about the film, the descriptions I’ve seen don’t scream out “Awards bait” to me.  And while I like Kinkuchi, sure seems like Hollywood hasn’t really figured out what to do with her since Babel.

With the twelfth pick of the 2014 Fantasy Sundance Draft, Jared takes…

The Skeleton Twins

Jared: Most importantly, one of the executive producers of this film is named “Jared Ian Goldman”, so I think we have to be rooting for this one.  I’ll grant that co-writer/director’s mumblecore heritage (this film was produced by the Duplass brothers) and stars Kristin Wiig and Bill Hader are not necessarily the stuff on which awards are built.  But to counter the latter, I’ll note that Nebraska, which co-stars Will Forte, seems to be doing pretty decently for itself.  And I’ve heard some incredibly premature buzz that Wiig and Hader are quite good in the roles, not really surprising giving their talent and how much people seem to generally like them.  Co-screenwriter Mark Heyman has a credit on Black Swan, for whatever that is worth.

Ian: I was deciding between The Skeleton Twins and Kumiko, and in the cold light of Sundance day, I think I made the wrong choice. (There are few sins less forgivable than making a poor fantasy Sundance draft decision.) I agree with both sides of your argument: the pedigree of the movie is enough to drop it towards the end of the draft, and Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader are probably enough to make the movie a value pick here. Wiig and Hader play well together (second shoutout to Adventureland in one writeup!), and they’re both capable of quiet nuanced performance when away from the Groundlings character-first influence. I do wonder somewhat which of the awards this movie could possibly contend for, but that’s what made it available here in the first place.

Nominations are a mere 15 hours away. As usual, Jared and I have made our predictions. Jared even tackled the shorts categories this year. Check back in tomorrow to see how we did.

Instances where we differed in our selections are highlighted in yellow.

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General lack of participation delayed our regular top five lists until now. But with three Grouches participating, we’re back on track!

Jared

1. Nebraska
2. Gravity
3. The Wolf of Wall Street
4. Fast and Furious 6
5. In a World…

John

1. Gravity
2. The Attack
3. The Place Beyond the Pines
4. Enough Said
5. Drinking Buddies

Adam

1. Fast and Furious 6
2. Nebraska
3. The Wolf of Wall Street
4. Star Trek Into Darkness
5. Gravity

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