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The end of the month means top 5 time around these parts. But top fives jive nicely with our “If I Had a Ballot” posts, so I’m mixing them together today! Lucky you!

First, the top 5. I have been on record really enjoying the cinema of 2009, but I had yet to see a film that really knocked my socks off, that had that intangible “wow” factor. Well this month I’ve seen two and they catapult to the top of the list. But every time I see something else I love it gets harder and harder to make these lists!

1. Avatar

2. In the Loop

3. An Education

4. Zombieland

5. Up

Now on to the ballot. I’ve been pretending I’m part of various branches of the Academy and submitting my hypothetical ballots. All branches get to vote for Best Picture. So today I will be a member of, oh let’s say… the Public Relations branch. What a lame branch! Precisely the type of branch I’d belong to.

People say that ranked ballots allow voters to vote honestly and not have to vote strategically. Not true! If you have an interest in several films making the nomination list there is still reason to vote strategically and I will do so below!

It’s also been argued that you should fill out all ten slots on the Best Picture ballot, which apparently some voters have had trouble with. Not true! You should never vote for something you think is undeserving, even if that means only voting for a couple of films. Furthermore, if you have a film very likely to secure a nomination near the top of your ballot, the rest of the slots on your ballot are likely unnecessary. Don’t hurt your little Hollywood brain trying to name ten good films.

My ballot:

1. In the Loop. First place ballots are golden – securing about 3% is probably all that’s necessary for a nomination – and this film needs all the help it can get.

2. Zombieland. For fun.

3. The Informant! Would potentially still be in the running.

4. An Education. Probably the vote that would be cast from this ballot.

5. Up. If #4 has already qualified, this bubble film will probably get the vote from my ballot

6. Avatar. Doesn’t need my help. By the time my vote falls to slot four, it will have long been nominated. If I put it in slot #1 my vote is wasted on a near sure thing. The surplus rule allows votes for a film with overwhelming support to move forward on a proportional basis (e.g. ballots for a film with twice as many votes as needed move on and are worth half a vote), but I want my entire vote to count! But I put it here just in case.

7. Moon

8. Julie & Julia

9. Up in the Air

10. I Love You, Man

Finally, I’ll finish off as is customary with a film that would have made my top five had I seen it earlier in the year: World’s Greatest Dad. What if you were a single father, an awkward high school teacher and struggling author, whose son was a total dick that everyone, including you, disliked? Then what happens if suddenly everyone’s opinion of him changed and only you remember how much of a dick he was? Bobcat Goldthwait(!) directs Robin Williams as this character in an incredibly black comedy.

The first half is wonderful and Williams is terrific. I think it gets a little too zany by the end – it needed to either go even darker or hew a little more back to the realism of the first half – but it’s still quite an original ride.

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Jared challenged me to explain why I loved Avatar so much. Believe me, there’s no one more surprised at how much I loved it than me. Big, loud, action flicks aimed towards a broad audience rarely appeal to me, but this is something special. Avatar is a cinematic event that only comes around once in a blue moon, the kind of experience that film fans will talk about for ages.

And, yes, I’m primarily talking about the visuals. The stunning 3-D, lush landscapes, and CGI creatures are wonders to behold. Feeling immersed in this world really does feel like something; even two-plus hours into the film there were visuals that made me jump and cringe in my seat. I have a fear of heights and I don’t think any film has managed to parlay that fear into such pulse-quickening excitement.

Avatar is getting a lot of flak for its plot. I know it’s not an original story, but it’s a classic story for a reason and it is effective. There are enough original story elements to keep me satisfied and as a sci-fi film set on a foreign world the more fantastic parts are acceptable.

But the best thing about it is the world it creates. I love being transported by film to unfamiliar worlds, be they current or past or future, fictional or not. One reason I really liked Frozen River, a film about as opposite from Avatar as possible, is its depiction of life on a poor, cross-border Native American reservation, which is an unfamiliar world for me.

Science fiction and fantasy often create their own worlds, but they don’t usually feel fully realized or they don’t follow a logical set of rules. Harry Potter is fun but which wizards have what level of power and can perform what kinds of spells is inconsistent; the dead are conveniently called upon to fight in Lord of the Rings but then immediately forgotten. Avatar creates a world with its own rules and then adheres to those rules. All the Mother Nature stuff may be hokey to some, but Mother Nature mysticism is what exists in the alien and fictional world of Pandora and it remains consistent, so it is acceptable.

Brian says a major film like this needs a score that makes you hum as you walk out of the theater and James Horner’s work for Avatar falls short. First, I loved the score and found it to be a great accompaniment to the film. It enhances several intense scenes, like the one where the Na’vi encircle the tree, clasp hands and chant to save Dr. Augustine’s life. I’ve listened to the soundtrack at least a dozen times already.

But I also think his criteria are too high. Yes, many classic films have classic scores. But if you walked into the film blind and not knowing the score, would you really know it well enough to hum it on the way out? Not even in Star Wars, I’d posit. The music very much stayed with me as the film ended, but I think it’s too much to expect the actual notes to linger after one viewing and before they enter the mainstream consciousness like many classic scores.

I walked out of that theater totally floored and I still remain literally excited to see Avatar again. In fact, my only regret is that I won’t get a chance to experience it for the first time ever again.

I am not a member of the Academy. I am instead but a lowly professional economist. Which means not only do studios not send me dozens of screeners but every time I go to the movies I’m always wondering if it’s worth my money.

But today I am pretending I’m a member of the acting branch and casting my ballot for Best Actor.

Acting nominations are made by ranking up to five actors in each category. If the ballot’s number one choice does not have the support needed to receive a nomination, the ballot is counted instead as a vote for the #2 choice, and so on. There is no guidance as to how to separate between Lead and Supporting categories; that determination is left up to individual voters.

1. Matt Damon, The Informant!

Damon puts on the pounds and a mustache for this film, but it’s his complex performance and not the gut that make it so memorable. His squirrelly character is outrageous but not flashy and even though he’s exasperating we’re always able to empathize.

2. Peter Sarsgaard, An Education

I’m not sure whether this is really Lead or Supporting. If I had a ballot I’d put him in both categories just to make sure. He must walk a thin line as a character that’s both charming enough to win over a teenage girl – and the audience, to some extent – but also creepy enough to be trying to win over a teenage girl. At least Damon got a little recognition and a Golden Globe nod; the utter lack of respect this awards season for Sarsgaard is confounding.

3. Michael Stuhlbarg, A Serious Man

This film is essentially two hours of the world shitting on the main character so the man portraying him better be someone the audience wants to watch. The role calls for Stuhlbarg’s exasperation to forever increase while never overcoming his nebbishness and I think Stuhlbarg does a great job of keeping us all frustrated but empathetic.

4. George Clooney, Up in the Air

I’m always impressed by Clooney’s quiet performances. He’s one of those uber-famous, attractive Hollywood types that it’s easy to forget is damn good at what the does. He’s interesting in zany roles like in O Brother, Where Art Thou? and The Men Who Stare at Goats, but there’s so much talent in his subtle acting that requires a role like this one or in Michael Clayton to really display.

5. Paul Rudd, I Love You, Man

Not a conventional choice,but the man needs some recognition for his wonderfully awkward performance. I don’t think it’s easy to pull of bumbling faux machismo. Most comedies in this vein feel a little rough around the edges in the performances, like the punchlines don’t come across quite polished enough. No offense to the Jonah Hills of the world, but Rudd has the comedic chops and smooth delivery that are often lacking even in the comedies I love. Rudd was so great in this and Role Models and I hope he gets more and more leading roles.

Next on my list were Sam Rockwell for Moon and Michael Sheen for The Damned United.

Oscar nominations will be announced on February 2. We’re counting down to the big day by offering some hard-hitting analysis and incisive opinions on the toughest questions surrounding the nominees. While no one know for sure what will happen on Tuesday, some nominees are a foregone conclusion. Which lock for a nomination is undeserved?

John: Voters Blind Sided by Bullock

This has been a good year in that I don’t see any real egregious locks. The silly nominations I see coming, like those for Invictus, I wouldn’t really call locks. So let me highlight a few performances that have been on the track to nominations since their films were released. Neither are bad performances and perhaps both are even deserving of nominations. I have trouble understanding how so many people saw these films and immediately thought, “This is so good she’s absolutely sure to get a nomination!”

The first is Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side. I think this is a combination of a name actress who hasn’t received much awards attention in her career, a Southern accent, a big character, and a late-year release date. If any of these components change, does this performance become a lock? It’s a good performance helped by a script that give her lots to work with, but the assumed inevitability of a nomination is puzzling.

The other is Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air. This is a performance I have mixed feelings about. All of her physical acting is terrific: the way she carries herself, her facial expressions, her stiff seriousness. But the way she sort of spits out her lines drives me nuts and that was hard to get past, at least on the first viewing. I just don’t think people talk like that, even the uptight, self-serious ones. I left the theater thinking, “that’s what everyone’s been so ecstatic about?”

To be fair, she’s sharing the screen with two terrific performances from George Clooney and Vera Farmiga and maybe I was just wowed by their excellence!

Both Bullock and Kendrick will get nominated; Bullock may win and Kendrick is probably the only one who can knock off Mo’Nique. And the nominations won’t be wrong, necessarily. I just have a hard time seeing the hype.

Adam: Shouldn’t a Best Picture Actually Be, You Know, Good?

One word – Avatar. Don’t get me wrong, I think this was an enjoyable movie. But Best Picture good? I think not. Let’s look at it’s pros: visually beautiful, moves along pretty well (even for a 3 hour movie) … not much else. Cons: no attempt to re-engineer/better a stolen script/story, no character development (in a 3 hour movie), very weak dialogue, ridiculous scenes (not involving explosions). How can a movie that fails in a majority of the areas that make up a FILM let alone a GREAT film be the front-runner for Best Picture?

For all of those out there that use the advancing technology/3D/movie-going experience argument I have two words for you – Jurassic Park. Back in 1993, Spielberg and company revolutionized the CGI industry and how audiences view movies. Not only that, he did it with a pretty entertaining movie. One reason for this was good material (Michael Crichton’s novel), but also the ability to adapt it reasonably well to the silver screen. After all of that, Jurassic Park won 3 Oscars, but wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture. And I think that that was the right call. It didn’t deserve a nomination – and neither does Avatar.

For those of you who want to use the dollars argument, I submit Dark Knight. Last year, Dark Knight made more money in a single day then any other movie in history and went on to make more money than most of the films ever made. Not only that, it was a phenomenal movie and easily the best one last year. Fantastic writing, beautiful scenes, decent dialogue and one of the best villain portrayals ever. With all of that, it didn’t even get a nomination for Best Picture.

So, I submit to you, how is it that a film like Avatar gets a nomination for Best Picture?

Jared: Full of Hot Air

Hm.  Adam took Avatar, I already addressed Invictus, and if I say anything bad about Inglourious Basterds, I think Adam will probably hurt me (though it really isn’t a good movie).  Not sure any other locks make me too angry.  But I will admit to not quite understanding why Up in the Air is receiving plaudits for its acting.  Don’t get me wrong, I love me some George Clooney.  But isn’t his Ryan Bingham just the same thing he always does?  A charming, in-charge guy who needs to be humbled a little bit (but not too much, because he gets his way in the end), and who draws easy comparisons to Clooney himself?  I’m OK with Bingham as a character, but I think that’s due to the writing, and I could see a bunch of people doing justice to that role.  And maybe I’m wrong, but sure seems that one (if not both) of Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick are locks as well.  Which I don’t get at all, both roles didn’t appear to be particularly challenging and serve more as mirrors for Bingham than anything else.  Just seems to me that the sheen of the movie is unduly rubbing off on these ladies.

Brian: Avatar Doesn’t Score

Since John is incapable of originality and is once again piggybacking on Jared, I will decline writing about Vera Farmiga’s bewildering lock status. Avatar is the low-hanging fruit when it comes to the Best Picture category, so it jibes that Adam would have gone there; I always look forward to his brutal take-downs. After struggling a bit to find another true lock that I found baffling, I came back around to Avatar, but for musical score.

If I’m coming out of an epic, big, bombastic picture like Avatar, I need to be humming the score as I leave the theater for it to be impactful enough for an Oscar nom. The score is such an integral part of these films that if you name me a commercially and critically successful epic — I can most likely hum the main theme — and thats how it should be. I find James Horner’s work to be uneven — I loved his scores to Enemy at the Gates, A Beautiful Mind, and Apollo 13 — and his work for Avatar was sub-par. Inspiring motifs here or there, but overall bland and forgettable. Perhaps I am being unfair to Horner, since the key to a great score is if it matches the tone of the film — and since I found Avatar to be superficial and derivative — it makes sense that I thought the same about the score. Should Horner be recognized and Marvin Hamlisch be left in the cold for his flighty composition for The Informant, I will be upset.

I considered writing about Lee Daniels’ heavy-handed and distracting direction of Precious, but I think there’s a enough of a chance that he gets pushed out for another director that I didn’t deem him enough of a lock. If he gets the nomination, however, you’ll hear plenty from me on my frustration with him.

Oscar nominations will be announced on February 2.  We’re counting down to the big day by offering some hard-hitting analysis and incisive opinions on the toughest questions surrounding the nominees.  All of us have our favorite films and performances currently on the bubble.  And we all have spent long periods of time spewing invective at the films and performances that will keep our favorites out.  What inclusion or exclusion on Tuesday will disappoint you?

John: Out With The Old, In With The Old?

On Tuesday, Invictus is likely to end up with nominations for Best Picture, Actor, and Supporting Actor. It’s not a bad movie and in fact has an irresistible spirit that partially overcomes some of its flaws. And Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon turn in fine performances, though they do not reach the level required for nominations in my humble opinion.

But what disappoints me is how unimaginative these nominations will be. Invictus is an epitome of Oscar bait: schlocky, a plot that superficially tackles difficult social issues, and directed by Clint Eastwood. With an expanded slate of ten Best Picture nominations, if we’re going to have mediocre nominees let’s at least make them interesting and not just the same old stuff. The sort of narrow vision that rewards films like this year after year is tiresome.

Plus the Freeman/Damon nomination combo will likely put the kibosh on Damon’s chances to be nominated for a much better performance in The Informant!, the performance of the year in fact. Freeman will slip into the fourth or fifth spot for Actor, denying Damon, while Damon’s own popularity in Supporting Actor for Invictus will erode his support for Lead. These perennial safety nominations are usually worth an eye-roll but now they’re actively undermining my own preferences! Gah!

Brian: Give Him The Idol, Or He’ll Throw You The Whip

Like John, and its pretty scary to write those words, I saw a lot to enjoy in An Education, and a few things to nitpick on (too long, etc..), but my adoration of the film begins with Alfred Molina as Carey Mulligan’s father. His bombast was great comic relief and his scene later trying to comfort Mulligan is one of the best in the movie. Viewed in the modern context, his views on the roles of a wife/daughter were abhorrent enough that you couldn’t even see why his wife would have married him, but it is to Molina’s credit that they were played of as buffonery instead of malicious disrespect. While I hope (and deep down think) that he will get recognized for the role, I’m going for the reverse jinx here and saying that he will be ignored. And if the Academy had any cojones, they would take a page from the American Latino Media Awards and nominate him for his role in Pink Panther 2 as well.

One other predicted disappointment I’ll make note of: Both Star Trek and District 9 fail to get nominated, clearing the way for Avatar to lock up the nerd/blockbuster-loving/visual-effects vote and coasting to a Best Picture nod, which would disappoint everyone this side of John (which is everyone). With those two in the mix, the outlook for a Hurt Locker or even an Up in the Air win becomes much more likely (albeit less than I’d like.)

Jared: Would Like To Make It Perfectly Clear That He Has Nothing Against Mr. Eastwood And Means No Disrespect.  About Anything.  Ever.

I’ve got a few gripes here, so I figure I’ll lay them all out and maybe I’ll get lucky and one will hit, like last year (with The Reader).  In the Best Picture race, the one film that really is going to cheese me off is Invictus, exactly the opposite of the type of film the expansion is supposed to help, I think.  Did anyone love this movie?  If you want to like it, that’s fine, whatever.  But just like Frost/Nixon, this film will be largely forgotten a year from now.  Heck, I’d wager the movie is largely forgotten right now.  It is just stunning to me that anyone who has seen at least a dozen movies this year could count the film as one of the year’s best.  If a film like The Messenger gets in, I’ll be sad, but at least I can understand how it inspires reverence.  With Invictus, I think people are confusing an inspiring story with a well-told one.

For Best Actor, I’m increasingly realizing I’m alone here, but I think Daniel Day-Lewis is getting lost in shuffle, thanks to the mediocrity that is Nine.  Well, and we also probably take him for granted at this point, since he keeps turning in larger than life performances over and over again.  Putting the movie aside, Day-Lewis is mesmerizing as director Guido Contini as he balances all the women in his life with putting together a new movie.  Any success the film has may well be directly attributed to him.  (Well, OK, Judi Dench is pretty cool, and Penelope Cruz’s dance didn’t hurt.)  The transformation Day-Lewis undergoes from role to role is just staggering.

Finally, if you want to have a debate over how much “acting” goes into mimicking someone famous, that’s fine.  But if you want Morgan Freeman and Meryl Streep to get nods, you have to want Christian McKay to get one as well, for playing the titular character in Me and Orson Welles (that would be Orson, not Me).  It really is as simple as that, for me.  His Welles is a whirlwind of a character, dominating his screen time, as any Welles should.  And he left an impression every much as vivid as Freeman or Streep, if not moreso.

Adam: The Academy Should Be Full Of Basterds

This is actually a pretty easy category for me. My favorite film of the year was Inglourious Basterds and it will also easily cause the biggest disappointment for me. While last year’s snub of Dark Knight for Best Picture and the little love for In Bruges caused me anguish, this year I believe my front-runner will get the nominations it deserves. Unfortunately, this triumph will be bittersweet and tempered by the fact that it will not win for Picture, Director, or Writing (I hope, at this point, that Waltz is a lock for Supporting Actor – not sure if I will be able to continue to watch the Oscars if he doesn’t). While my love for all things Tarantino biases my opinion, I don’t think it can be denied that he writes one hell’va script. To the point that even Jason Reitman gave him props at the Golden Globes saying he was still waiting for Tarantino’s name to be called instead of his own. Since I won’t be able to be unbiased, I’ll leave my ranting there and forgo the reasons Picture and Director should go to him as well.

Needless to say, the lack of a win in these categories will definitely be the biggest disappointment for me this year.

I would enjoy being a member of the Academy. I would like getting to feel important and vote for things and have dozens of screeners arrive in the mail. Unless my life takes a drastic turn, this is unlikely to happen.

Nomination ballots are in and the announcement is around the corner. What if I were a member of the animation branch? What would have been on my ballot, currently being tabulated by PriceWaterhouseCoopers?

And why the animation branch? Because I was looking for categories I felt knowledgeable enough to comment on, that’s why. But why see so many animated movies? Animated films often have two elements I love in the movies: they create new worlds and they allow for a wide range of stylistic expression. Things that cannot exist do in animation, be they computer-generated, hand-drawn, or painstakingly sculpted. In a bad live-action film you only have the actors’ ugly mugs to look at. In a bad animated film at least you often have interesting visuals to carry you through.

Unlike many other categories, Best Animated Feature nominees are not determined by ranked ballots. Instead, branch members making nominations are required to view, in theaters, 80% of eligible films. The voter gives each film a score of a whole number between 6-10, with 10 being excellent, 8 good, 7 fair, and 6 poor. Which is an interesting system since a 6 can run the gambit between mildly disliked to downright awful.

Any film with an average over 7.5 is eligible to be nominated. The top three receive nominations (or, like this year, the top 5 if 16 films qualified).

It’s pretty impossible for a regular joe to actually see 80% of the animated films since many barely got a qualifying release. Some were even straight-to-DVD releases their distributors stuck in theaters for a week to qualify and increase the chances of five nominations this year. But I have seen half and that’s pretty good.

Up: 10

It’s hard not to call this an excellent film. It has so much heart and earned emotion. Most people remember the terrific and heartbreaking opening sequence, but they forget how genuinely, laugh-out-loud funny it is too. It is beautifully animated and backed with wonderful characters.

Fantastic Mr. Fox: 6

A major misfire for me. Instead of fun or clever or funny it’s just smugly quirky and completely listless. Wes Anderson is so wrapped up in his own style that he doesn’t tell a compelling story. Even the stop-motion animation is wasted by not providing much in the way of fun visuals.

Ponyo: 8

This is really a beautiful film. I think I’ve given anime short shrift if this is how it usually looks. The narrative elements of the film are all over the place, with plot elements coming unexplained out of nowhere and immediately forgotten, and the voice acting sounds like teachers reading a book to students: slow and overly animated. I understand it’s probably a stylistic choice but it drove me nuts. But it’s gorgeous, imaginative, and adorable with some terrific music.  Everyone’s going to want their own Ponyo.

9. 8

I really enjoyed the look and style to this film and appreciated its dark edge and unique premise (at least for animated films). I just wish the story didn’t play out so unoriginally. The action sequences are entirely by-the-number and there’s no sort of development to any character’s motivations- I felt like I had walked into a film already in progress. But the second half is a significant improvement and its dark turns provide a fun ride.

Mary and Max: 9

An Australian claymation film telling the story of a lonely Australian girl and her middle-aged penpal with Aspberger’s in New York. I loved its visual style, from the smooth claymation to the sparse use of color. The story deals with some surprisingly dark themes but without ever losing its humor. A very unique film.

The Secret of Kells: 7

No 2009 animated feature had a more distinctive style. Its bright colors and playful disregard for perspective are quite entertaining, which is good because the story left me utterly baffled. I believe it’s based on an Irish legend about the creation of the Book of Kells, but I’m familiar with neither the legend nor the book so the whole thing was confusing. I loved the Celtic music too. With a better story this would have been a real winner.

Coraline: 8

This is pretty much an animated horror film for kids and it really is seriously creepy, especially some parts at the end. It’s imaginative and lovely to look at. I wish the plot points were as intriguing as the premise, however, as the story – especially the climax – plays out routinely, albeit with a nice helping of creepiness.

Monsters vs. Aliens: 6

Not bad, but not recommendable, hence the score. DreamWorks did terrific work both visually and narratively for Kung Fu Panda so it was a little disappointing to see it fall back on run-of-the-mill kiddie action for this one. It has a few hilarious jokes and the monster characters are pretty amusing, but this one is pretty forgettable as a film and as animation.

The Princess and the Frog: 8

I’m happy to see Disney return to old-fashioned hand-drawn animation. There’s really no inherent benefit to computer animation, it’s just a stylistic choice. Plus this Disney animation is a nice American tradition it would be a shame to lose; in fact this is the only hand-drawn film eligible this year. I enjoyed its very colorful palette, amusing characters, and some of the songs, though I did find the story a little blah. The plot and theme are a little all over the place, like it can’t decide on just one direction and it tries to pack too many lessons. Disney could have gone for another routine computer-animated yarn about forest animals, but instead took a chance on a hand-drawn fairy tale set in 1920s New Orleans starring black characters. A very nice return to tradition.


Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs: 7

This is, by far, the funniest of the animated films I saw. There are dozens of very funny jokes. But the animation is nothing special and the plot unfolds unimaginatively, including several uninspired action sequences. I wish the sort of talent that went into writing the jokes could have been applied to any of other elements of the film.

For what it’s worth, here are the other eligible films:

  • Intriguing Belgian Gumby-style claymation film A Town Called Panic.
  • Computer-generated forgettables Astro Boy, Planet 51 and Battle for Terra, as well as computer-generated forgettable blockbuster Ice Age 3.
  • The latest motion capture film from Robert Zemeckis, Disney’s A Christmas Carol.
  • The depressingly-successful Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel.
  • Straight-to-DVD until Disney put it in a theater to push the number of eligible films and therefore the number of nominees, Tinkerbell and the Lost Treasure.
  • And two foreign computer-generated imports: the Peruvian The Dolphin: Story of a Dreamer and Spanish The Missing Lynx (produced by Antonio Banderas). I know the former was picked up by Fox to bolster the number of eligible films but I’m not sure how the latter got distribution. Unless it’s seriously entering the competition and not a cynical ploy to help a major studio. As if!

Oscar nominations will be announced on February 2.  We’re counting down to the big day by offering some hard-hitting analysis and incisive opinions on the toughest questions surrounding the nominees.  We tend to focus on the “major” categories (acting, directing, writing, picture), but let’s take a look at the artistic and technical categories.  What would you like to see happen in these lesser profile categories?

John: I Am the Grand Poobah of Smaller Categories

I’m having a hard time choosing just one hope for the smaller categories. The three I really care about, The Informant! and Avatar for Score and “The Weary Kind” from Crazy Heart for Song, are already probably nominees. So I’ll highlight a few that were noteworthy to me, all of which I thoroughly like but whose exclusion will not cause me extraordinary pain.

Depression Era” from stalled Hal Holbrook vehicle That Evening Sun for Song. It’s a simple, soulful folk tune from Drive-By Truckers front man Patterson Hood. The Song selection is sort of weak this year but this one stands out.

I’d also like to plump for one of Karen O’s tunes from Where the Wild Things Are for Song; “Hideaway”  and “All Is Love” are eligible. Beyond those mentioned above, some scores that made me sit up and take notice include those from The RoadPonyo, and The Secret of Kells, though I think the final one is ineligible for Score.

I love me some An Education so some recognition in Art Direction and/or Costume would be wonderful.

Finally, how about some love for The Brothers Bloom for the costumes? I didn’t enjoy all of the self-conscious quirky elements of the film, but I did enjoy the clothing, which did serve to develop the film’s offbeat characters.

And, oh yes, I can’t finish without whining again about the obnoxious sound in Star Trek.

Adam: What do tigers dream of? Oscar gold.

Since my Dracula’s Lament piece last year failed to sway the Academy (and yes, most Academy members read our blog), I’ve decided to tempt failure again and make my plug for “Stu’s Song” from The Hangover. Another Hangover piece you say? Yes. While I did thoroughly enjoy the movie, the reason I am picking it again is it is a no brainer for these types of posts – i.e. great movie that will get no love. I would pick Zombieland, but John is a Blog-Nazi and won’t let us pick something that has no shot at any kind of nomination…*cough* LAME *cough* *cough*.

Oh, right, “Stu’s Song”. Apparently humor and originality don’t factor into the nomination process for the Oscars. Like “Dracula’s Lament” last year, this was a hilarious song, well written, and original. What about it makes it unviable? I mean, it’s short, but why does that matter? The video just has clips from the movie, but that actually adds to the song. It’s in a comedy – and I think we have a winner. Once again the Academy shows it’s small-mindedness by completely overlooking a legitimate contender because it does not fall within their comfort zone. Well done.

[As John points out, don’t miss Helms’s tailoring of the song for Conan: http://incontention.com/?p=21285]

Jared: Destroy Visual Effects

I’m really happy John proposed we tackle this question, because I otherwise spend very little time thinking about these categories.  Part of it, I suppose, is that I tend to believe I’m appreciating a movie for its story, so I pay less attention to its visual or auditory approach.  I’m clearly not qualified to talk at all about some of these categories (for the sound categories, if you haven’t already done so, I’d urge you to check out the really cool stuff at SoundWorks Collection).  I’m the last person in the world to notice costume design, for example, but it strikes me as a little odd that so often the nominees are predominantly period pieces.

Anyway, I’m here to plump for 2012‘s visual effects.  Granted, I may enjoy Roland Emmerich’s movies a little more than the next guy.  But the point, I think, is that when you think Emmerich, you think of sh*t done gettin’ destroyed.  Unlike some other films likely to get nominated here, 2012 doesn’t have any sort of coherent storyline or fascinating turn of events.  No, in this disaster movie, you get exactly what you’d expect.  Nonstop, relentless, continuous destruction of every landmark (natural or manmade) imaginable.  But, to me, at least, it doesn’t get boring.  And kudos for that, in my mind, should be placed squarely at the feet of the visual effects crew.  Tasked with creating tons of scenes of destruction, they came through brilliantly, and it seems odd to me that their work could be diminished just because their movie was little more than the results of their efforts.

Brian: Single Man Deserves Recognition — Say What?

I can’t believe I am actually writing a mini-post in favor of A Single Man, considering I found it absolutely boring and pretentious (I rated it less than a 4 out of 10), but I’m pretty surprised to see that it is not expected to be nominated for either Art Direction or Costume Design. If fashion-designer-turned-filmmaker Tom Ford knows anything, it’s style, and his movie has lots of it. Colin Firth is quite particular about his shirts and suits — and while I didn’t enjoy Julianne Moore’s big OSCAR(!!!) scene, her apartment and outfit seemed apropos of both the character and the film overall. Maybe this is just Mad Men withdrawal, as both of them cover the same time period, and both have problems with pacing and that all important thing called “plot,” but I’d be pretty disappointed if Single Man got an Oscar nom for best picture, but was left out for what it did best: highlighting both the cool and the isolation of early 1960s America.

Thanks to popular demand, we’ve decided to bring back the insightful series of posts we ran last year in the week leading up to Oscar nominations.  As you might recall, in Grouching the Oscars, we finally put to use all the Oscar movies we’ve seen by sharing our hopes and expectations for the list.

Oscar nominations will be announced on February 2.  We’re counting down to the big day by offering some hard-hitting analysis and incisive opinions on the toughest questions surrounding the nominees.  Let’s kick things off by asking the team: What bone fide long shots should get a nomination?

Adam: No comedy on Oscar night would give me a Hangover

Is The Dark Knight still in the running for this year? No? Then I guess I will have to go with The Hangover.

What is it about comedies that make it impossible for the Academy to nominate them for Best Picture? Does no one in the Academy have a sense of humor? But I don’t think that is the case as what “serious” person could vote for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button as a legitimate (and former front-runner) nomination for Best Picture? Who can possibly talk about Alec Baldwin being nominated for Best Supporting Actor with a straight face? Maybe the Academy thinks The Hangover is too main-stream, too hip, and/or too generational (at least, a generation other than their own).

Whatever the reason, it is almost guaranteed not to secure a nomination (in almost every category). Another year, another disappointment by the Academy. If they keep this up, they’ll have to do a lot more than increase the number of Best Picture nominees to increase viewership.

Jared: Without Paul Schneider, the Academy would be missing a Bright Star

I had a little trouble with this category because some things I’m rooting for seem to be hovering around that last one in/first one out spot.  But I didn’t want John to yell at me, and Adam beat me to the punch on The Hangover (which I would have used for script).  So I’ll go with Paul Schneider for Supporting Actor.  Part of it, of course, is my appreciation of his prior work (I literally just now realized the oddity of him starring in All the Real Girls and Lars and the Real Girl.)  And yes, part of it is that I want to justify putting Bright Star in the super secret Golden Grouches worksheet.  But, looking back at my writeup of the movie, I called Schneider “clearly the highlight of the film” and I guess my appreciation hasn’t diminished since then.  In a period film light on, well, just about everything, Schneider managed to shine.  He provided comic relief without going over the top (something more difficult to do in a slight film like Bright Star, I think) and served as friction to create much of the drama in the film.  But perhaps the best thing about the performance is how Schneider gets his character into a subtle space between hero and anti-hero, friend and user.  It is a fascinating look at what the stereotypical”best friend” role can be.  He’s not a good guy, he’s not really a bad guy, he’s just interesting.  It is a complex role, one I may even have missed if not for this here blog, but it would be nice to see Oscar voters be more perceptive than I was.

Brian: Viggo Mortensen Should Walk The Road to Oscar

Probably my favorite bad-ass actor out there, I’d like to see Viggo nominated for Best Actor, in part because he was great in The Road but also because it’s the movie’s best shot at being recognized period. For a character with no name at all (listed as “Man” in the credits, Viggo is superb in creating a lot out of nothing. The sparse landscape of post-apocalyptic Earth is matched by the equally sparse script and character development. So much of the fear, love, and existential dread comes via the acting, and I don’t know if another actor could have pulled off the role and made the movie bearable to watch.

John: Keep the Academy In the Loop

The single best written film I saw in 2009 was In the Loop. And it really wasn’t even close. It has everything you want in a script, from crackling dialogue to a premise that never falls short. The large ensemble of characters is all fleshed out, but not to the point of diminishing their impact as satirical caricatures. And the jokes come a mile a minute, from broad, expletive-laden comedic rants and one-liners to over-arching clever thematic points on government, power, and war.

I don’t want to detract from other elements of the film, such as the terrific acting and spot-on direction, but the script would work on its own as a piece of hilarious literature. We need more films with writing like In the Loop and it needs to find a place in the Adapted Screenplay slate.

If anyone else out there has other long shots whose names they’d like to hear read on February 2nd, please chime in, we’d love to hear your thoughts.

Some brief thoughts on the SAG awards broadcast.  Like I would have anything better to do on a Saturday night.

Red Carpet

Steve Carell gave a shoutout to Gino’s East.  Now, my heart belongs to Giordano’s, but still, gotta give him credit.

E! had a couple hours of red carpet coverage, where TNT did the standard half hour before the telecast began.  And I have to say, E!’s red carpet crew blew TNT out of the water.  Giuliana Rancic is quite comfortable out there, and while I wasn’t as much a fan of  her incredibly effeminate partner who gushed over everyone, he was tolerable, at least.  The TNT guy and gal, did little but promote TNT and robotically recite facts about the stars.  Just brutal stuff.  Oh, and TNT made the bold decision to go with awful smooth jazz going in and out of commercial breaks.

Weirdest part?  Flipping between the two channels when both were somehow interviewing Morgan Freeman at the same time.  I guess the guy just is that good.

The castmembers of Glee were highlighted all over the red carpet.  Heck, even the Asian girl got spotlighted.  Most jarring, though, was they showed Tony Shalhoub walked down the carpet, but they instead focused on mohawk guy who was just behind him, putting his name up on the screen, not Shalhoub’s.

Red carpet winners: Anna Kendrick, Sofia Vergara, Christina Hendricks.

Show

The clip of Monk they showed for Tony Shahlhoub, featured Sharona, not Natalie.

Brian, I’m kinda sad you missed the comedy montage.  First off, I mean, how can you have a montage showcasing comedy in film?  Isn’t that just a little bit broad?  A lot of classic stuff (both in terms of older things and generally appreciated bits), but they also included scenes from: House Bunny, Sister Act, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Madea, My Cousin Vinny, and Burn After Reading.

The video relating Betty White’s story wasn’t bad, I definitely learned some things about her and it provides a little more justification about why she’s receiving the award.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I think the world of Betty White as an actress, and as her speech showed, she has a nearly unparalleled sense of humor, but it just strikes me that you shouldn’t have to resort to a video to convince people someone should win a lifetime achievement award.

I think Cuba Gooding, Jr. (nominated for miniseries) hasn’t gotten a fair shake.  But, of course, I also liked Boat Trip.  In any case, pretty sure I saw him help women up the stairs on multiple occasions.  Classy, sir.

Nice of Warren Beatty to pop up, even if only got to say a dozen words.

George Clooney to close out felt fitting, and you have to admire him joking about having slept with Betty White .

The writing for the show was pretty atrocious, I thought. I realize time comes into play, and some of the jokes were OK, but so many times the presenters seemed to lapse into banal generalities about acting or the category or whatever.

Oh, and like always, I’m really bad at predicting these things. Other than Glee, not sure I got any of the tossups.

I promised Golden Globes thoughts in the liveblog post. Can’t say I have a ton though.

Avatar may or may not be a  frontrunner, but it’s more likely that it is now than before.

There’s no clarity in the Actress race with both Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep winning. Alas if Carey Mulligan were to have a shot I think it’s now faded. Maybe awards voting bodies are punishing her for dating Shia LaBeouf.

On the Actor side, if George Clooney can’t win over even the star-loving HFPA then I think Jeff Bridges has it wrapped up. I was really hoping for a Matt Damon win for The Informant! so that maybe he could sneak into the Oscar category. I think that’s unlikely now, unfortunately.

Up in the Air strikes me a writers’ movie and its Screenplay win makes me think it still has a good shot at Adapted Screenplay even if it fades in other categories.

I still think Kathryn Bigelow will win Director, but James Cameron could very well come out on top now.

And Ricky Gervais is hilarious.

That’s about it. The end of my very original Golden Globes analysis.

January 2010
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