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Even a cursory review of this blog reveals that where John hews closer to arthouse (typical John post: “I would have liked this movie more if it moved a little more slowly, had less plot, and really just focused on the main character’s thoughts as he walked the fourteen steps from the hallway to his art studio.”), I’m maybe something closer to adolescent heartland (typical Jared post: “I would have liked this Fellini film better if it had explosions.  With fireballs.  And robots.”)

So I’m calling you out, John.  What on earth did you see in Avatar?  Obviously, like everyone else in the world, I’ll preface my thoughts by acknowledging the sheer beauty of the visuals.  The 3-D worked stunningly well.  There is a scene early on (in an aircraft, I believe), showing some instrumental panels that would be at the top of my list to convince people 3-D doesn’t have to be a fad or kitschy, just because of how the 3-D added to the vividness of the quiet scene.

But here’s the thing.  James Cameron aspires to not only have incredible images, but to tell a story well.  Which is a (maybe the) big difference between Cameron and, say, Michael Bay.  Cameron takes breaks from the action for attempts at theme and story.  Bay takes breaks from the action for…well, I suppose the concept of Michael Bay taking breaks from action is more of a hypothetical.

My evidence for Cameron’s intentions in Avatar would be all the (relatively) non-effects-laden scenes in the film, where ostensibly some sort of narrative is taking place.  Except nothing gets developed at all.  All of the characters are stock characters at best (Sigourney Weaver, Giovanni Ribisi, Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana), ciphers at worst (hulking Vince McMahon lookalike (apologies, Stephen Lang), guy from Dodgeball, Michelle Rodriguez).  Which isn’t a knock on the actors (I wouldn’t necessarily cry at a Saldana nom) as much as what happens when Cameron tries to cram story into his visuals, because I think that learning Rodiguez’s backstory, or seeing some of pressures Ribisi’s character is facing could both be really interesting, for example.  Instead, their stories are glossed over or assumed.

We’ve all seen and heard the jokes comparing Avatar to the Pocahontas story.  Frankly, I don’t see the relevance.  A compelling story is a compelling story.  I’m reminded of the old saw about how Shakespeare appropriated plots for many of plays.  The problem here, then, isn’t that the film uses an unoriginal framework, but rather that it never takes the next step by filling in that framework with anything meaningful.

Cameron’s ambition may be his undoing.  He’s created an extraordinary vision of the future, but tries to show too much in too short a time frame.  Maybe the story would have best been told as a miniseries, each episode focusing on a different character.  I dunno, perhaps this is a reason I don’t generally like fantasy.  For example, I’d rather not use my imagination to think about the other Na’vi tribes that happen to show up at the end, but would be happier with a subplot  (or at least a scene) concerning tribal relations.  Or something more than a montage (sorry, Brian) showing Worthington’s assimilation into the Na’vi culture.  Even the concept of avatars itself, a worthy addition to the sci fi philosophical discourse on the connection between mind and body (just off the top of my head, other examples being: Dollhouse, The Matrix, Total Recall, the Star Trek holodeck, Ender’s Game, Frankenstein) isn’t really explored.

I understand liking Avatar.  I understand how a little of the most awesome visual effects put on film could go a long way.  But I fail to see how they can completely cover for the times where the film is, well, pedestrian.

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If you want to get into an Oscar race but aren’t actually good enough to do something nomination-worthy, there is a fail-proof formula:

Romantic comedy + old people + winter release = absurd award attention!

It worked for As Good as it Gets and Something’s Gotta Give. (And the terminal old guy bromance, The Bucket List.) And this year it’s working for It’s Complicated!

It’s Complicated is a perfectly agreeable film, maybe even an above average romantic comedy. But if it’s not about old people or released in December (or starring a Serious Actor like Meryl Streep), it comes nowhere close to Oscar night. Actually, judging from the list above, if Alec Baldwin had been replaced by Jack Nicholson this would be a front-runner for Best Picture.

Oscar love probably won’t come anyway, but it’s pretty curious we’re talking about it at all. It does tackle the romantic comedy from a slightly different point-of-view, the older divorcee. And in fact I found it fairly insightful in the interactions between the main players. “Nobody tells you how to be divorced,” Streep’s Jane tells her kids. It’s an interesting point.

Too bad the it’s packaged around a completely by-the-numbers plot. Scenes involving awkwardly-timed tokes and webcam chats gone awry provide a few chuckles but are nothing noteworthy. The dialogue is quite ordinary and sometimes downright bad, like the scenes with Streep and her friends. I was intrigued by the characters and what they might do and think from a broad perspective, but not in what they actually did. A handful of unique sparks and a few solid points that hit home do not make a movie special. It makes it fine.

I can understand how it can sneak into the Best Picture-Comedy/Musical category at the Golden Globes, even though it beat out much superior comedies (I Love You Man, In the Loop). And Streep gets some HFPA love for sneezing (and, yes, she’s good here). But the Best Screenplay nod is just dumbfounding. In a category that’s not divided by original/adapted or comedy/drama, how in the world can someone think this is in the top five of the year?

Alec Baldwin got some small amount of attention for Supporting Actor, but that seems to have dissipated. I dig the guy and am looking forward to his hosting stint, but this is probably for the best. And goodness, please don’t let this sneak into Original Screenplay.

So it’s been way too long since I’ve actually authored a post on this here blog, but better late than never, I guess. Since Christmas, I’ve gone on somewhat of a rampage seeing at lest 3-4 movies a week and at one point going 6 days straight seeing one of the Oscar-potential films. With one exception, they have been entertaining at the very least and wholly immersive and engrossing at most. Nothing has dethroned either Up or District 9 as my favorites of the year yet, but my top five changed slightly, which comes after my wrap-ups.

In order of viewing:

Avatar: This has been said before by people a lot smarter than me, but visually stunning with an atrociously derivate plot. I loved this Pocohantas gag plot abstract — one of the movie’s funnier spinoff jokes on the Web. As for the movie — just wow. The transitions between the WETA-designed costumes and Cameron’s CGI vistas was seamless — I couldn’t tell which was which. This movie alone has me so excited for the future of 3-D graphics — even the recent announcement of ESPN 3-D would have left me extremely skeptical had it not been from the gangbusters experience of watching Avatar. Oscar-wise, EW’s Dave Kargerwrites that Avatar is the clear front-runner for Best Picture. I don’t know if I quite agree with that, but presuming he has better sources than I do (which he of course does), I’ll defer to his reportage. A nomination is more than deserved — but a victory? Yikes.

Young Victoria: As Jared said shortly after we saw it, “above-average costume drama porn.” The Machiavellian politics of the English and European royals was pretty fascinating to me, although it did seem overly complicated. I almost wish it had gone longer, but then it would have been Young and Middle-Aged Victoria. Emily Blunt was quite good, and I’d be pleased with a nomination for her. Had the movie actually done better, I’d get my hopes up for a sequel — a la Elizabeth (though that sequel was awful) — but I’d have trust that Emily Blunt could make it happen.

It’s Complicated: Putting myself out there as an easy target, since Adam hated it and Jared disliked, but sorry: I enjoyed It’s Complicated. Sue me. Alec Baldwin was funny as the man-child who can’t find happiness with himself, and Steve Martin as the straight man was great — consider my expectations raised for the Oscars telecast. Between the two of them and John Krasinski doing his Jim Halpert thing, there were enough laughs to keep me entertained. That being said, the script took forever to get going and even then, I wasn’t impressed — the scenes between Meryl Streep and her ladyfriends was painful.

Hurt Locker: Expectations couldn’t have been higher — and they were met. Thrilling, exciting, engrossing, finally there’s an Iraq war movie I can heartily recommend. I cannot wait to see how the Hurt Locker pans out at the Oscars — it has the potential to upend so much conventional wisdom about Oscar movies. It’s an Iraq movie, released in June, about as slow rolling out buzz as you can get, no name actors, no MESSAGE. I may have found my horse for this race.

Inglorious Basterds: I can’t recall having as much fun watching the 2008 crop of films, but between Zombieland, Avatar, and Basterds, I have been thoroughly enjoying myself the past couple of months on numerous occasion. These films aren’t as artsy or contemplative as some of the usual Oscar fare, but goddamn it I was happy to be along for the ride. Who doesn’t love killing Nazis? I thought it dragged a little long, and there really was no “point” to anything in the movie, but that oddly enough is what made it great. No point — other than to get the thrill of watching Jews kill Nazis.

Blind Side: Read the book. It’s better, more nuanced, and doesn’t feature some pretty tired tropes. Not really a sports film, more a remade version of Erin Brockovich with Sandra Bullock. The movie does a decent job of fitting the book into movie form, however, so I’ll give them credit for that. The score is good, but ineligible for an Oscar. And the same guy directed/wrote The Rookie, so he’ll get my benefit of the doubt.

500 Days of Summer: I probably had unrealistic expectations going into this since I saw it months after the other grouches and most other friends. There was a lot in here I liked: Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, the musical scene in the park, the “reality/expectations” split screen, the disjointed plot device. I was hoping to see more of the happy times — and actually, I was hoping to see more period. (500 Days) was one of the rare instances this year where I was disappointed in how short it was, not in its overwrought length. I’d be pleased with a screenplay nom — and even seeing the entire crew get recognized for a best picture nomination, though I realize that’s a long shot at this point.

Single Man — Zzzzzzz. It’s as if Tom Ford watched a whole bunch of New Age French films, picked the aspects he liked from each of them and threw them together in a film. There was no discernable plot, and I found the ending sort of a cop out. I don’t get the Julianne Moore buzz whatsoever, but I appreciated Colin Firth’s portrayal of the closeted college professor. But the most egregious Oscar buzz is for Ford, whose heavy hand reminded me of the worst “LOOK AT ME I AM A DIRECTOR” touches since watching Lee Daniels botch the fantasy sequences in Precious.

An Education — I’m a Nick Hornby fan — and I’ve been partial to Peter Sarsgaard ever since he ripped Hayden Christensen a richly deserved new one in Shattered Glass. Both were well-served in the aptly appreciated An Education, thought it was Alfred Molina who stole the show and deserves a nomination, which he probably won’t get. And while I did enjoy the movie, a couple of major flaws (the drawn out finale that could have been 15 minutes shorter, the lack of any recognition that Sarsgaard was creepy as hell) kept me from loving it. Carrie Mulligan, however, is beautiful and played a role 10 years her junior with aplomb. The success of the movie rode on her shoulders and she handled it extremely well. The fact that she’s in Wall Street 2 makes me pretty excited to see that later this year.

Hey look at that! I posted! Wasn’t THAT hard!

Random thoughts here.

George Clooney plays a character named Ryan Bingham in Up in the Air.

The singer/songwriter who composed “The Weary Kind,” a likely Best Original Song nominee for Crazy Heart is named Ryan Bingham.

Zoe Kazan plays a character named Gabby Adler in It’s Complicated (second from right).

Zoe Kazan plays a character named Gretta Adler in Me and Orson Welles (left).

Thanks to those who joined us for the liveblog. For those who didn’t but are still interested in all our hilarious comments, including the time I ridiculed Michael C Hall for wearing a skull cap inside when it turns out he has cancer, check below the fold for a full transcript.

Hopefully we’ll have a couple analytical thoughts up early this week.

Your list of winners:

  • Best Picture, Drama – Avatar
  • Best Picture, Comedy/Musical — The Hangover
  • Best Director — James Cameron, Avatar
  • Best Actress, Drama — Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
  • Best Actor, Drama — Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
  • Best Actress, Comedy/Musical — Meryl  Streep, Julie & Julia
  • Best Actor, Comedy/Musical — Robert Downey Jr, Sherlock Holmes
  • Best Supporting Actress — Mo’Nique, Precious
  • Best Supporting Actor — Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
  • Best Foreign Language Film — The White Ribbon
  • Best Animated Feature — Up
  • Best Screenplay — Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air
  • Best Original Score — Michael Giacchino, Up
  • Best Original Song — The Weary Kind, Crazy Heart
  • Best TV Series, Drama  –  Mad Men
  • Best TV Series, Comedy  — Glee
  • Best TV Miniseries — Grey Gardens
  • Best Actress, TV Miniseries — Drew Barrymore, Grey Gardens
  • Best Actor, TV Miniseries — Kevin Bacon, Taking Chance
  • Best Actress, TV Drama — Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
  • Best Actor, TV Drama — Michael C. Hall, Dexter
  • Best Actress, TV Comedy — Toni Collette, United States of Tara
  • Best Actor, TV Comedy — Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
  • Best Supporting Actress, TV — Chloe Sevigny, Big Love
  • Best Supporting Actor, TV — John Lithgow, Dexter

Read the rest of this entry »

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It’s last week’s news at this point, but the music branch of the Academy ruled Randy Newman’s score for The Princess and the Frog ineligible for Best Original Score. The branched cited the rule that a score cannot be “diminished on impact by the predominant use of songs.” Apparently all the original music for this musical had too many lyrics on top of it.

I’m not here to comment on the legitimacy of the rule. I understand it despite its awkwardness. And, while I’ve heard the film’s Oscar-eligible original songs, I haven’t seen it nor listened to its score. I liked the songs and I imagine at least one will get a nomination.

What’s troubling is the inconsistency. I rewatched Slumdog Millionaire this week. (Incidentally, I really enjoyed it, which surprised me. I liked it a lot the first time through but had sort of already consigned it to the “underwhelming Oscar winner” category.) I’m very familiar with its terrific, multiple Oscar-winning music and fully enjoyed its pulsating beats. But almost every piece is a song! And not just a piece with some vocal elements, but a full on song with meaningful lyrics! How in the world was this eligible?

In 2007, Eddie Vedder’s wonderful score to Into the Wild ran afoul of the same rule and I wouldn’t call that film any more song-centric than Slumdog. Ditto for Karen O and Carter Burwell’s music for Where the Wild Things Are this year. Crazy Heart didn’t even bother to submit due to the song restrictions.

Join us here for the Golden Globes tomorrow night, January 17, at 8pm ET! We’ll be spicing up the proceedings by liveblogging.

If you’re watching the Golden Globes there’s no reason not to join us because the telecast will be boring. Let us make inappropriate jokes to put a smile on your face!

Well, awards show season is upon us.  Check back Sunday, maybe we’ll liveblog the Golden Globes.  In the meantime, here are some thought on the Critics’ Choice Awards, which, confusingly, comes from the BFCA.

The red carpet wasn’t terribly exciting.  Saorise Ronan’s accent always throws me for a loop.  And it was charming to hear her talk about the newbies, as if this was old hat for her.  Sarah Silverman said her favorite comedy of the year was Zombieland, so she’s awesome.  Paul McCartney sounded terribly bored by the whole process.

I want to make it perfectly clear that I heart Kristin Chenoweth (Pushing Daisies 4 life!).  But wow did it feel like her hosting gig did not go well.  Starting from the very opening, it seemed like just about every joke fell flat, leaving the room in silence.  I normally enjoy the bizarreness that is awards show writing, but just about every bit or banter between presenters was terribly unfunny.

Presenter highlights: Tobey Maguire looking like he was coming off a 36-hour bender, the pairing of Joseph Gordon-Levitt with Tracy Morgan, Chenoweth calling the lovely Kristen Bell “my brotha from another mutha”, Samuel L. Jackson’s ridiculously badass suit

I know this is Brian’s category, but I quite liked the John Hughes montage.  Thought it was put together very well.  Wish I could say the same about the Death Cab for Cutie version of “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”.

My favorite collection of nominees (and one of the reasons I decided to watch) was the Best Comedy category, which was a mix of some of my favorite movies of the year ((500) Days of Summer, The Hangover, Zombieland), and the most disappointing films of the year (It’s ComplicatedThe Proposal).

I don’t have any particular comments on the winners or losers.  I’d honestly been thinking the whole Kathryn Bigelow female director story was overblown, but I might be forced to reconsider, after the collective appreciative gasp in the room when her name was announced.  And I’m pretty tired of the “Mo’Nique isn’t being gracious” stories, hopefully her classy acceptance speech puts them to bed.

Thought it was a little strange to have a tie for Best Actress.  I felt badly for the nominees because they announced Meryl Streep and let her do her speech before announcing the other winner.  The wait must have been agony.  The category provided some of the best moments of the night, though.  Along with the suspense, there was Meryl Streep talking about how she liked food and sex, Bullock (after her name was announced) pretending to stare down Streep before full-on kissing her, and then managed to somehow strike an effective tone, balancing humor and humility at being up there next to Streep.

I expected from A Single Man an emotional, slow-paced, character-driven drama. This is a type of film that I often like, or at least seem to like more often and more deeply than my esteemed colleagues. A Single Man is an emotional, slow-paced, character-driven drama. I did not like it. And here is my deeply intellectual analysis of the film:

Boooooooooring.

I’ve been trying to figure out why it didn’t connect with me. A lack of plot doesn’t really bother me and in fact the actual quantity of story here doesn’t cause me concern. Colin Firth’s George is a man in grief over the loss of his lover. But in the early 1960s there wasn’t much community support for gay men (the off-handed and cruel way he hears the news is heart-breaking). He goes into the world a man living a lie, hiding his grief and his sexuality. The day the film covers he has interactions with a female friend and brief former lover (Charlotte, played by Julianne Moore), a student, and a man who propositions him at a liquor store.

But none of these interactions particularly interested me. The parts where George is alone interested me a great deal more, but are a minority of the scenes. So whatever emotional weight George’s night with Charlotte is supposed to provide generally went right past me. His actions while alone are part of a plot point that would be too spoilery to reveal here, but suffice it to say it’s the one story I found very fascinating. I also didn’t like the ending. A few spoilery details after the jump at the end of the post.

Director Tom Ford gives the film an intensely artistic style with artsy (fartsy) shots and lots of playing with the film’s colors. This makes the film quite beautiful but I didn’t feel like the style helped the film narratively or thematically; in fact I think it threw the pace off-kilter.

What’s weird about this film is that it seems to be one some people really love but, unlike most films that evoke strong emotions, it is not polarizing. We all were totally underwhelmed but I’m beginning to think we were the only four people on earth who were. I don’t read a ton of movie sites, but you can count on every movie attracting some sort of comment about how stupid or lame or boring it was. But I haven’t seen anything like that for A Single Man.

People also really love Colin Firth and he’ll get an Oscar nomination. He does a fine job, but his performance left me about as uninterested as the film. I don’t mean to disparage his work, but I don’t think this performance, no matter how great, can really get under your skin if the film doesn’t. Julianne Moore may also sneak in for Supporting Actress and that would be too bad. She does a good job being boozy and a bit crazy. Great. Whatever.

Finally, a few spoilery points to make after the jump. You shouldn’t read ahead if you plan on seeing A Single Man, but you shouldn’t see it anyway so feel free to continue. Read the rest of this entry »

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