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If Hollywood is going to make Westerns like 3:10 to Yuma then Hollywood is going to have to make more Westerns. It’s both a thought-provoking morality play and a shoot-em-up good time, though sometimes I think it tortures its logic. The plot is taut, the action thrilling, and the performances terrific.

Christian Bale is Dan Evans, a Civil War vet who volunteers to help escort a prisoner to the prison train, though he doesn’t entirely know why. Russell Crowe is Ben Wade, a cold-blooded killer who connects with Evans, though we don’t entirely know why. The two forge a curious bond, even as Evans tries to send Wade to the gallows and Wade kills the other members of Evans’ posse.

(More after the jump. We usually bury spoilers after the jump, but I warn you that the rest of this post goes into deep detail about the plot, especially the ending.)

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I enjoyed reading Jared’s analysis of the Sorkin leading male roles – constructive criticism of the uneven screenwriter is always welcome. But you missed the key character flaw of all Alpha Sorkin Males: drug use. I’m rather agnostic on drug policy, but I find Sorkin’s whitewashing of the inherent dangers in drug use to be a silly façade for him to say that his drug use isn’t that big a deal. The fact that Charlie Wilson actually did use drugs and drive drunk gives Sorkin a pass in my book…this time.

For what it’s worth, I enjoyed Sports Night, loved West Wing, hated Studio 60, and will always stop to watch The American President whenever it’s on TV. And I have to say that Charlie Wilson’s War was Sorkin at his best. Witty exposition and breezy conversation thrown in from beginning to end with political romanticism included. The scene with the pin-up aides and Philip Seymour Hoffman running in and out of Wilson’s office was the highlight of the film, in my mind. Sorkin excels at soaring rhetoric, and in Charlie Wilson’s War, strangely enough, the toned down subtlety worked just as well. I would have supported an Oscar nom for him in this, definitely over Atonement.

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All three of our fans may have picked up on the fact that I like the phrase “cute little film.” I use it too much, I know, and it comes off sort of backhanded sometimes, but in this case every word is true. Once is absolutely adorable (for which cute is an appropriate synonym), it is very little in scope and in budget (reportedly $160,000), and – yes – it is a film.

A guy and a girl (we never learn their names) meet cute on the street while he’s busking with his guitar, they play some music together, have some discussions about life, and cut a record. And that’s about it. But boy is it engrossing and emotional. For two characters whose names we never learn, I got utterly caught up in their lives. And the music’s pretty damn great.

I’ve been a fan of Glen Hansard’s band, The Frames, for a bit. They’re a fun, sort of poppy Irish rock band with a knack for writing good, passionate lyrics (director John Carney used to be the band’s bassist). Hansard’s a surprisingly good actor and does a great job selling the distraught starving artist role. Marketa Irglova… well, she’s not as good of an actress but she’s so enchanting on the screen. She’s not just very beautiful but also comes off so sincere. So even as I found her acting to be a bit off she’s sort of the cornerstone of the film and something that really makes it special. Read the rest of this entry »

Well, everyone else agreed on a little bit lower score for Charlie Wilson’s War than I did. I guess that just means I have a little bit better taste. In the interest of full disclosure, I’d put Sports Night in my top five television shows of all time, and I’ll defend Studio 60 to the death. Theoretically, a movie written by him, and starring a bunch of people in stuff I really like: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams (with Emily Blunt!) (and, OK, I’m a bit of a Shiri Appleby fan) should have been just about my favorite movie ever. And yes, it did score very highly with me. It made my Top 5 of the year (version 2), and while I’m not sure it will stay there, it will certainly be close.

I don’t agree with how the movie fared, in terms of Oscar nominations. Well, box office either, but that’s a different story. I heart Philip Seymour Hoffman, but wouldn’t have given him a nod for this role (explanation after the jump). I’m pretty sure I would have given Sorkin a screenplay nomination. And not just because A Few Good Men didn’t get one. If I had to choose between this and Knocked Up, because I only got to usher one pick in, I guess I’d go with the latter. But, to me, Charlie Wilson’s War was far superior to No Country. Maybe my most controversial pick from this movie, though, is that I’d suggest Amy Adams for Supporting Actress. Certainly over Ruby Dee or Amy Ryan. Even though I respect to no end that they only have seven letters in each of their names. After the jump, a bit of a Sorkin tangent.

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Live blog over on TTO.  Join us.  (Here are the picks.)

Remember the heady days when this was anointed the front-runner by the Oscar blogosphere? It was about the time when everyone realized Reservation Road was going to blow so they turned to the Aaron Sorkin/ Tom Hanks/ Julia Roberts film about war and terrorism and thought, “Hey, that looks good.” Then they all saw it and were all, “n/m back to No Country.” Good times.

I liked Charlie’s, didn’t love it. It’s genuinely funny and very clever. The characters are fairly well fleshed out and the plot is engaging. It never really congealed into something special, however. I’ve never been much of a Sorkin fanboy, though I’ve liked a lot of his work. The dialogue here feels very forced at times. Not necessarily unnatural, but more ill-fitting. Incidentally I watched a bunch of Sorkin’s Sports Night over New Years weekend and sort of found the same thing (and SN is a show I used to adore).

But if you look past that, there’s a lot to enjoy. Even if it sometimes hits the wrong notes, the script is smart and clever. There are a lot of funny moments and the characters are fun to watch, from Hanks’s playboy-Congressman to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s sharp-tongued CIA analyst. I enjoyed the DC scenes and all the back room political wrangling. And it’s simply a great story, full of relevance for today’s times with a pretty powerful ending, giving a hint about what we hath wrought.

Charlie Wilson’s War managed a bunch of Golden Globe nominations but just one from the Academy: Best Supporting Actor for Philip Seymour Hoffman. That’s probably about right and Hoffman is terrific as always, stealing a lot of the focus and laughs in every scene he’s in.

So as the fourth and last to post on the movie, there’s not much I can add to the discussion. But as my title should indicate, I join Adam and Jared in my distaste and ambivalence for La Vie en Rose.

I guess it was a bad sign when I fell asleep for about 10 minutes in the first hour of the film, sometime during Gerard Depardieu’s cameo in the film as Piaf’s first manager. It was probably an even worse sign when I woke up, asked Jared if I missed anything, and he said, “No, not really.” Like all of us other than Jared, I knew nothing about Piaf’s life, but I think that the poor editing job hindered anyone’s ability to get a good handle on her life.

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Jared, I’ll take your two-day delay and raise it by a day-and-a-half. So there. And John? I know I only have myself to blame, dammit, but I started writing this before you posted yours and now you stole most of my thoughts.

  • Eddie Vedder’s non-nomination was clearly the biggest head-scratcher for me. If the Academy is going to withhold an Oscar eligibility for Best Score because it’s based mostly on songs, then at least nominate his damn song. I thought it was a shoo-in for the Oscar beforehand, and now it’s not even nominated?
  • Along the same lines, I’m the only one to date who even saw Enchanted. “That’s How You Know” is your typical cheery Disney melody, and it deserves a nomination mostly because the song and dance number through Central Park is the sole highlight of the otherwise uninteresting movie.
  • My biggest disappointment had to be the exclusion of Angelina Jolie from A Mighty Heart. As I wrote in my post, Jolie’s performance was nothing short of brilliant. I was looking forward to having the Page/Jolie debate with Jared and (in all likelihood Adam), but now I’m resigned to take my second choice. And is there an over/under on years before Cate Blanchett plays Queen Victoria? What about Catherine the Great? or Maria Theresa? I’d be convinced that Oscar voters don’t actually go to the movies if it weren’t for…
  • Laura Linney. Yay. I know Gavin disagrees with the crew here (pipe up, dude), but her acting was superb throughout. She made a role that could have been overacted look easy.
  • Original Score. This is my favorite category. And I agree with John on the technicality with the There Will be Blood score. It is awe-inspiring and matches the movie perfectly. In the future, in a music/video culture where mashups are becoming increasingly common, perhaps there will be changes in the award process. But Greenwood’s work wasn’t fully original, so the ruling makes sense.
    • On that note…the actual nominees will bear more listening to. My favorite so far is Atonement, though I do remember liking 3:10 to Yuma on the XM Cinematical station on my flight out to California last month.
  • And…Best Picture. I can’t figure why Michael Clayton has had such staying power. It’s a strong legal thriller with lots of strong acting. But it came out at the end of September, and for a movie that isn’t terribly original in scope or message, I don’t get the huge buzz. Oh wait, it stars George Clooney. Now I get it.

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The biggest surprise is clearly Tommy Lee Jones’ nomination for In the Valley of Elah. He got absolutely no recognition for that role from critics groups or the SAG. And now Jared has to watch the latest Haggis film, which I admit amuses me some in a mean sort of way.

The only real big surprise is Surf’s Up taking the third Animated Feature Film slot. The Simpsons Movie was my sentimental choice, but I’d admit that the surprisingly sweet and trippy Meet the Robinsons was even better. Surf’s Up looks absolutely terrific, which might have given it a big boost. You feel like you’re surfing with those penguins. Plus the creators pioneered a new way of “filming” animation. The scenes were animated in 3-D and then a “cameraman” “walked” through the scene (really an empty space with motion sensors) “filming” the action, allowing it to really feel like a documentary.

But it’s not a very good movie. It’s like they spent all their time on the style and not enough on story or characters. Minus the spectacular imagery it’s mostly a big yawn.

I’m most upset that I spent all that time breaking down the Original Song contenders just to have such a bad list of nominees. It’s not even that the songs are bad, but that the list is so unoriginal. Three songs from Enchated? Are you kidding me? Pick one, sure, but three? Then after the requisite Once pick (and at least they got that right) and the three Enchanted songs they squeeze out Eddie Vedder’s awesome work for Into the Wild for an August Rush song? I do like “Raise it Up” and can give the Academy some credit for choosing a song outside the usual mold, but it’s nowhere close to Vedder’s work, which felt like another character in the film.

Ruby Dee popped up from mid-pack with her SAG nomination but we clearly missed the boat since not a single one of us mentioned her in our reviews.

I was very happy to see Laura Linney get nominated for The Savages. She got a “YES” and a fist pump when her name was announced (the only other nominee to get the same treatment was Juno for Best Picture).

Sad but not particularly surprising to see Knocked Up shut out of Original Screenplay, though it’s nice that Lars and the Real Girl got some love. The Adapted Screenplay nod for Away From Her was mildly surprisin.

Jared thinks the disqualification of the score from There Will Be Blood is a joke. Maybe it’s a joke that the decision only came out a day before the nominations, but it’s not a joke of a decision. Significantly less than half of the score was composed by Greenwood and he also relied heavily on a BBC-commissioned work he created a few years back. It’s called “Original” Score for a reason, otherwise everyone could just throw on some Beethoven and collect their trophy.

Anyway, it’s a good spread-out year this year (just one film – Michael Clayton – grabbed more than one acting nomination) and I’m looking forward to catching up with the films I’ve missed.

Some quick hit initial reactions (yeah, I know they’ve been out for like two days now, but I can’t surf the internet on my work computer!) to the Oscar noms. But first, congrats to us for crossing the 1,000 hit and 100 views on a post (Adam’s post on Juno) plateaus.
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January 2008