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Ladies and Gentlemen, your nominees for Best Supporting Actor:

  • Matt Damon, Invictus
  • Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
  • Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
  • Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
  • Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

I’ll start things off — notice how everyone copies me with my pick:

    This one will be short. This category is probably the weakest of all the acting categories, and I’m not sure it’s even close. There’s one great performance — and a whole lotta nothing. So first — to dispense with the nothing. Damon as Francois Pienaar, the rugby player who channels Nelson Mandela’s magical wisdom to lead his team to victory (or something like that), is servicable in a pretty standard role. Harrleson as the fast-talking, heartless sergeant also does fine with the role he’s given — but its unevenly written and frankly, I liked him more as a kickass zombie killer in Zombieland.

    Christopher Plummer in The Last Station — whatever. Great death scene and all — but that whole movie — whatever. Stanley Tucci gets nominated here for playing a creepy dude — and he is wholly unrecognizable in the role, and I’d understand even giving him a nod here had it not been for the highly deserving Christoph Waltz for Inglourious Basterds. Everyone loves a villain, and Waltz is unforgettable. The screen lights up whenever he is on screen, and his climactic Machiavellian maneuver was unexpected. What a fantastic introduction to American audiences — can’t wait to see what he does next.If only Alfred Molina had gotten nominated — then this category could have gotten interesting.

One day after professing his love for Colin Firth, Jared waxes poetic about beards:

    Here’s Matt Damon’s every scene in Invictus: FRANCOIS [Standing apart from everyone else, Francois looks mildly confused]: <insert vague, short inspirational speech>  Francois leaves room.

    Matt Damon is pretty great, but a nomination for this?  Really?  The Morgan Freeman nomination wasn’t enough?  Terrible.

    Going along with Brian, I’m reading this Woody Harrelson nomination as taking into account his three supporting roles this year. Because I’m pretty sure he had the best year supporting actor year if you combine the performances.  The Messenger was the weakest, but he mined as much depth as possible from his one-dimensional character.

    I kinda want to give Christopher Plummer’s beard in The Last Station its own supporting award.  Is that possible?  Otherwise, sure, Plummer was fine, playing an outsized role to fit in with the movie.  What I mean is that I think if, say, Sean Connery had played Tolstoy, I would have enjoyed the film more, but the performance wouldn’t have fit in with the tone.  I don’t know what that means, exactly.  Plummer isn’t in my top five this year, but I don’t have any issues with the nomination.

    Stanley Tucci could have made this race more competitive had he been given maybe two more scenes of being creepy or if The Lovely Bones was any good.  Can’t say anything negative about him here, and I sure as heck hope he gets multiple chances to come back and claim his prize.

    As Christoph Waltz shows, bad guys have more fun.  There’s not really a point to me adding to all the wonderful things people have said about his role, so allow me to briefly digress.  This race has pretty clearly been over for months; a Waltz loss is nearly inconceivable at this point.  It is fascinating to me that of the thousands of supporting acting performances this year, everyone can nearly unanimously agree that Waltz stood head and shoulders above everyone else.  What are the odds of that?  There seemed to be absolutely no backlash, no one taking up the underdog mantle.  Brian asks about Alfred Molina, I kinda wonder if the team behind An Education figured the race was in the bag, they already had other nominations sewn up, why even both giving Molina a push.

    Christian McKay is the snub here.  I cannot believe anyone who put Damon on the ballot watched Me and Orson Welles.

Adam comes close to figuring out why he’s an ass, but decides just being an ass is more fun:

    1. Christoph Waltz
    2. Stanley Tucci
    3. Christopher Plummer
    4. Woody Harrelson
    5. Matt Damon
  • Will Win: Christoph Waltz

    Brilliant. I have to admit, I’m a huge fan of villains (big surprise there, I’m sure), and Waltz pulls off a great one. The last three years have given us three very different, but extremely good villains. Bardem’s pushed the limits on intensity and creepiness, Ledger put in the performance of a lifetime with his insanely dark (and darkly insane?) Joker, and now Waltz shows us the lighter side of the Nazi’s intellectual elite (and by “lighter” I mean humorous).

    I Want to Win: Christoph Waltz

    See above.

    Dark Horse: Everybody Else

    As with the last three years, the villain in one of the year’s most acclaimed movies is the “lock”  for the win in this category.

    Ranking:

    Grouches Critiques:

    As with Best Actor, I don’t really have much for this category. Because it’s not really a contest, no one threw out any odd-ball/horrible taste comments. I’m still holding out hope for John to say something stupid, but he won’t be writing his until after I submit mine. But, if anyone can do it, it’s John. It seems like he and Brian have a contest every year to see who can have the worst taste in movies.  I’ll let you know who comes out on top this year.

    Random Notes:

    The rest of the nominees were, in my mind, pretty weak. Maybe it was because Waltz outshone them on every level, but I’m not convinced.

John finishes things up by saying nothing new:

    I echo the sentiments of my colleagues when I say that Damon is such a nothing nomination. It’s kind of galling that this performance gets some Oscar love while his splendid turn in The Informant! gets ignored. But it’s really a performance of an accent, the occasional “c’mon guys, we can do it!” speech, and grunting while playing rugby.

    Plummer is fine but undermined by dreadful material. When we aren’t given any context to a character it’s hard to give him any depth. Unlike my colleagues I found a lot to like in Harrelson’s performance. He’s really terrific in any scene involving the army or notifying next of kin, though a little less so in any scene involving his personal demons.

    Tucci gave one of my favorite supporting performances of the year… in Julie & Julia. It’s quite a contrast to his serial killer role in The Lovely Bones, eh? I thought he was quite an effective creep and probably the best part of that ill-conceived picture.

    But of course my choice is Waltz. That’s a bingo! There’s not much more I can say about his delightfully sociopathic performance. I happen to be watching Basterds right now, so let me point out two aspects of this performance that I enjoy. One is his line delivery and the way he can say such awful things with a casual smile. And the second is the way he eats. Like with all his movements, he does it with just the right amount of flamboyance to maximize his sinister air but without really straying into cartoonishness. I’ve never seen a strudel devoured so menacingly.

    Snubs: The aforementioned Tucci in Julie & Julia. Harrelson in Zombieland of course. Zach Galifinakis in The Hangover. And two random ones for you: Chris Messina and Paul Schneider in Away We Go, the most sincere parts of a painfully contrived film.

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Our build up to the Oscars on Sunday continues today with a look at Best Actor. Our choices of who we think should win have some nice diversity in this installment.

The nominees:

  • Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart
  • George Clooney in Up in the Air
  • Colin Firth in A Single Man
  • Morgan Freeman in Invictus
  • Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker

Jared kicks us off:

    The talent in this group is undeniable.  Four of them have put up such consistently amazing performances, playing a variety of roles demanding depth and range, it is almost scary.  And that’s no disrespect to Renner, who, this year at least, can hang with any one of them.

    If George Clooney were the type of guy to hold a grudge, he’d probably be egging Mira Nair’s house about now.  Because, as the story goes, after Nair’s Amelia tanked (honest-to-goodness, I typed “crashed and burned” before realizing how awful that would be to say), Fox Searchlight bumped up Crazy Heart‘s release date to get a horse in the Oscar race.  And that’s how Clooney went from a front-runner to an also-ran.  And one of the reasons I enjoy Oscar season.  Oh, to get back to the point, this is just George Clooney doing the same thing he’s done in just about every movie over the past decade, right? He’s quite good at it, of course.  But it is starting to feel a bit stale.

    I tend to conflate actor with character.  I think everyone does, to be honest.  Except I thought Jeff Bridges’ character in Crazy Heart was about as broadly-drawn as they come.  An alcoholic, down-on-his luck country singer who sleeps with any woman in sight?  No way!  He does as good a job with it as anyone could, but the buzz to me rings more of the Academy deciding it is time someone has paid enough dues to get a win (this is Bridges fifth nomination, and he hasn’t won in the past).  The film is about as “good” as Crazy Heart, but Jeff Bridges in The Open Road is what everyone thinks he is in Crazy Heart.

    Jeremy Renner was very very good in The Hurt Locker.  Not really sure that’s up for debate.  I think with an Oscar Scene (TM) or two, he would have had a great shot at taking this thing down.

    I’m not sure I would have put Morgan Freeman this high at first thought, and I wrestled with how he compared to Renner. Ultimately, though, it is Morgan Freeman.  I do believe I’d say I liked him more than Meryl Streep’s Julia Child.  Sue me.  Sure, it was partially an impersonation.  But Freeman humanized Nelson friggin’ Mandela.  That’s a job well done.

    It is entirely conceivable that I have a man crush on Colin Firth, if the concept made any sense.  I’ve watched four movies starring Colin Firth with 2009 U.S. release dates, and I’ll be darned if he doesn’t play entirely different characters in each one.  Here, Firth is working from a mediocre script, yet somehow manages to breathe life into his character.  Never flashy to begin with, Firth packs a ton of emotion into every movement of his character’s battle to let his reserve prevent emotion from coming through.  It isn’t my favorite performance of 2009, nor is it my favorite Colin Firth role.  But as always, he manages to be quietly fantastic.

Adam pulls for a guy who wasn’t nominated:

    Will Win: Jeff Bridges

    Actually, I agree with Jared’s assessment of Bridges role and nomination. Go read his piece if you want more…

    I Want to Win: Daniel Day-Lewis

    Yes, I realize he’s not nominated, and the movie he was in pretty much flopped, but DAMN can this guy act. Jared talked about Day-Lewis earlier a couple months ago, and I agree with his assessment. The guy is a chameleon and the intensity and range he can bring to a role is staggering. However, since he can’t win, I’m rooting for Jeremy Renner. He did a decent job and I’d like to see a non-Hollywood-heavyweight win.

    Dark Horse: Morgan Freeman (once again, not being racist)

    I love me some Morgan Freeman, but the nomination is for Morgan Freeman being Morgan Freeman…not for his portrayal of Nelson Mandela (that, and they are petrified of Clint Eastwood – as everyone should be – and need to make up for no Directing nomination). I personally thought he put on a pretty great performance, but not necessarily Oscar worthy.

    Ranking:

    1. Jeremy Renner
    2. Colin Firth
    3. George Clooney
    4. Morgan Freeman
    5. Jeff Bridges

    Grouches Critiques:

    Unfortunately for the -3 people reading this, I have no comments for this section. At the time I am writing this, only Jared has written his post and, unfortunately, I completely agree with his assessment (as stated above).

    Random Notes:

    Strong talent, mediocre performances for most.

Brian has a similar take:

    I too am rather impressed with this group — there’s not one nominee that causes me to scratch my head or ponder what the Academy was thinking or want to stab myself in the eye. This is an improvement. Even Morgan Freeman, who was quite good even while the script called for him to do his best impersonation of Yoda, is a reasonable nomination. A) He’s Morgan Freeman and B) He’s playing Nelson Mandela and C) He’s actually good at both those things.

    Speaking of actors being very good at being themselves, George Clooney. He’s really good at doing the roles he does, and he seems to just be an awesome person in general. I liked Up in the Air, as did all the Grouches I think — and Ryan Bingham was a fantastic character that was tailormade for Clooney. I liked Jared’s gamesmanship analysis — but see, thats not how Clooney rolls. How awesome would it be if he played a vicious villain in a future role? Like what if he did Christoph Waltz’s character in Basterds — that would be fantastic. I too have gotten off point — Clooney is great, but just not enough for my nod.

    Jared has a major man crush on Colin Firth. A Single Man is one of those instances when I have hard time separating his strong performance from a mediocre, dare I say subpar film. I have vague remembrances of his portrayal of a closeted gay man still mourning the tragic death of his lover — but the scenes that stick out in my mind are Julianne Moore’s failed Oscar-bait overacting, Nicholas Hoult’s monotonous cherubicity (yes, I made up that word) all blanketed by Tom Ford’s obnoxious direction. That was part of the point, too, I’d guess in having Firth as the stoic character (the “strong, silent type” as Tony Soprano would say.) But in a year with other, more enrapturing performances like Michael Stuhlbarg in A Serious Man and, of course, Matt Damon in The Informant, it doesn’t make the cut.

    As for Bridges, Jared’s analysis is truly spot-on. I’m going to take the same cop out as Adam and tell you all to read that. If you read Mark Harris’ New York story on this year’s Oscar campaign, then you’ll get the fuller story on how this definitely is the Career Achievement award for Bridges. Which is too bad, as I’ve loved him in other things (The Contender, Big Lebowski)

    If you’ve read this far, you’ll see that I’ll be pulling for Jeremy Renner. I can’t imagine anyone else in this role — he has the charisma and the badassery to pull off playing SGT William James. Considering he’s relatively unknown, I’m sure that other actors could have been considered — but no one, not even the modern everyday infantryman Matt Damon, would have brought the calm and coolness of Clooney with the internal pain/crazy that you’d see from a younger Daniel Day-Lewis. Really just a bravura performance that carried the whole film on its shoulders.

And John goes in an entirely different direction:

    Let me first cast judgment on this category. 2009 was a strong year for actors. I highlighted some great ones here. It’s not uncommon for one’s favorite candidates to not get nominated, but it is a little interesting that so many of mine seem like they should have been in the conversation but weren’t. So this is a fine slate but it kind of leaves me thinking of what might have been.

    Freeman is commanding in Invictus but I feel like he’s hampered by the material. He does a fine Mandela but he doesn’t get to do much but give cliched motivational speeches so he doesn’t get to exhibit much range. Speaking of hampered by material, I think the same can be said for Firth. At least we know he’s very good at long, boring conversations that try your patience. But I think it’s a performance that’s hard to buy into if you don’t buy into the film.

    Renner is terrific in The Hurt Locker. I love his intensity, sometimes verging on insanity, contrasted with his level-headed leadership when dealing with an over-his-head subordinate. The film takes some weird plot directions that left me a little unsettled, but Renner sells them to the extent that they didn’t really bother me until the film was over.

    Bridges is the best part of Crazy Heart. Is that saying a lot? Probably not much. But I think the picture is absolutely nothing outside of a good song without him. He gives a broadly-drawn character depth and empathy.

    But there’s one very clear winner here, and that’s George Clooney. Yes, the suave, self-assured character he plays at the beginning of the Up in the Air is standard for him, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive. It’s in his subtlety where he really shines; compare this performance to the over-the-top smooth characterhe played in the Oceans movies. Here there’s a perceptible softening as the film goes on and a shift in the character that very easily could have been overplayed but was not. He also has the magnetism to really lead a film.

    Jared says this is a character he plays all the time, but check out what he’s done in the last decade. Most of his roles are significantly more zany or animated. What this is like is his role in Michael Clayton. Which, by the way, was terrific and Oscar-nominated.

    Snubs: Michael Stuhlbarg in A Serious Man at least got some traction. But Peter Sarsgaard in An Education somehow did not. And I’ll say it til the world goes deaf: Matt Damon gave the best performance of the year in The Informant!

Grouching Week continues with our discussion of a category that we all feel is depressingly sub-par: Best Screenplay Written Originally for the Screen. First, your nominees:

  • The Hurt Locker” Screenplay by Mark Boal
  • Inglourious Basterds” Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino
  • The Messenger” Screenplay by Allesandro Camon and Oren Moverman
  • A Serious Man” Screenplay by Ethan and Joel Coen
  • Up” Screenplay by Bob Peterson, Pete Docter and Thomas McCarthy

Jared kicks us off again, with some wishful thinking this time:

    As with the adapted screenplays, four of the five films nominated for Original Screenplay also garnered Best Picture nominations. I have the feeling the others Grouches are going to disagree with me here, [Ed. note — WRONG] but I think this category is extremely weak. Granted, it wasn’t a particularly strong year for Oscar-contending original screenplays, it is just unfortunate the Academy lacked imagination when deciding these nominees.

    As much as Adam might be upset about The Messenger getting a nomination, I wonder if he’d be more upset if I made him watch it for no reason at all. I honestly have no idea what other people see in this film. Military deaths are horrific things, and I cannot possibly imagine the toll it takes on their families or what it must be like to be the one who delivers the news. Everyone involved in this horrible scenario absolutely deserves to have their story told. But told well, which I don’t believe is happening here. I would have believed this film was a Lifetime channel original. The story has no cohesiveness, the dialogue doesn’t lead to any memorable scenes, and frankly, nothing really happens.

    I really think Quentin Tarantino needs a writing partner, as his self-indulgence reaches all sorts of new heights in Inglourious Basterds. I’m fairly certain every scene ran at least two minutes too long. And where the use of disparate storylines was an effective storytelling device in most of his prior work, here it serves no real purpose other than imprinting the film with his watermark, along with his homages and in-jokes and lots of other things which may add up to his distinctive style, but obscure the actual film.

    The support for A Serious Man is completely baffling to me. Mostly because I don’t really think it is exists at all. I clearly don’t connect with the Coens the way other people seem to do so. And while I didn’t find this film nearly as frustrating as some of their other works, I don’t really see the genius behind it. Sure, I’ll give them some credit for a relatively novel main character. But otherwise, seems like middling stuff with a few unnecessary arthouse tricks.

    As I mentioned before, I found The Hurt Locker’s screenplay to be relatively weak. I think Bigelow, her cast and her crew put forth a yeoman’s effort to rescue Mark Boal’s script. To be fair, I’m positive some of the action scenes were delicately and exquisitively scripted. But there’s probably a legit argument that while the interactions between the bomb squad (and between the squad and the bombs) were pretty strong, everything else could have used some sharpening.

    So almost by default, I’m going with Up, and not just due to residual bitterness over WALL-E‘s loss. Sure, the opening montage was better than just about anything else in movies this year. But the rest of the film was also consistently strong. It managed to run the gamut of comedy, drama, action, and adventure while never really seeming hokey, no small feat if you consider the specifics of the story. And if you think about it, the characters weren’t especially likable, at least not at first. The script may not have been hard-hitting, uber-dramatic, or even trendsetting. But to me, it was undeniably entertaining throughout, and ultimately, isn’t that what a film should be?

    If I were choosing, I’d have gotten rid of four of these nominees, so I imagine I feel there are many snubs. The most obvious one, of course, is (500) Days of Summer. A huge miss by the Academy, in my opinion.

John is surprisingly succinct in his dismissal of this category:

    I agree with Jared that this is a fairly weak slate. Which isn’t to say any of them are poor efforts, but they don’t really jump out at me as clearly outstanding.

    Three of them suffer from the same problem: they create several great scenes that don’t really add up to a terrific whole. Inglourious Basterds doesn’t even really try to add up to a whole as it’s a series of vignettes. I’d argue the film succeeds more on its performances and visual style anyway. Some of the scenes in The Messenger are absolutely gut-wrenching, but the narrative around those scenes sort of falters. And I’d say the same is true with The Hurt Locker though it works better.

    It’s a tough call for me on the last two. I’m still puzzled by A Serious Man, but it sure is fascinating to ponder. It’s thoughtful, interesting, funny, and clever. But my winner is Up. One thing I had sort of forgotten about it until I watched it again recently is how ridiculously funny it is- one of the funniest of the year in fact. It has all you could ask for in an animated film: intriguing premise, developed and interesting characters, clever and funny dialogue, and a compelling story full of intelligence and heart. Pixar certainly makes films that look great, but they really shine because the writing is always so terrific.

Here are Adam’s thoughts, and I’m just thankful I wrote mine after his:

    Will Win: ?. I’m actually not sure who will win this one (or I do, and I just don’t want to key the other Grouches in on it). This has to be the closest race in the top 8 categories. I think it definitely will come down to The Hurt Locker and Inglourious Basterds, though.

    I Want to Win: Inglourious Basterds. As stated above, Quentin Tarantino’s fantastic script is in the running for the award and I couldn’t be happier. In my mind, this was the best script of the year (followed by In the Loop). I can’t believe that people are unsure whether to pick this over The Hurt Locker.

    Dark Horse: The Messenger. And thank god it IS a long shot. In the case of this script, I fully agree with Jared’s assessment.

    Ranking:
    1. Inglourious Basterds
    2. The Hurt Locker
    3. Up
    4. A Serious Man
    5. The Messenger


    Grouches Critiques:
    As of the writing of this, I have only seen Jared and John’s write-ups. While I agree with them that this is a weak slate of movies as well as their comments on The Hurt Locker, A Serious Man, and The Messenger (especially Jared’s), both of their takes on Inglourious Basterds are way off the mark. The only thing I can think of is they went into the wrong movie. Otherwise, I have to get used to the fact that John’s horrible taste in movies is starting to rub off on Jared. Also, Up is not as great as they both seem to think it is. I actually am a big fan of a lot of Pixar’s work, but it’s last two movies…while good…were not the darlings that everyone seems to think they are. Wall-E was funnier, and Up had a less annoying plot/message, but they were no Incredibles or Finding Nemo.

    Random Notes: Wow. What a weak slate of movies.

And here are the correct opinions, written by Brian:

    Even though I liked all five of these films more than you, Jared, I still think this is a weak group, but I don’t think that (500) Days of Summer would have saved it. This category was pretty much screwed from the beginning — unless of course they included Zombieland, though we all know that would never have happened.

    Having just watched The Messenger last night, I was at first a little befuddled by Jared’s comments. I thought Luc Besson’s directing was pretty good and Mila Jovovich was outstanding. But then I watched the correct movie, the one with Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson, and I understood. But I don’t entirely agree — the first hour was riveting — each time they knocked on a door I tensed up — fearful of the next death announcement. But once the focus shifted from their duty to Foster’s personal life and attachment to Samantha Morton, it sort of went off the rails. There was a good movie in there — somewhere — maybe a great live-action short, but the script failed halfway through the film.

    I’m still trying to understand what the hell happened in A Serious Man, and while Slate published a pretty good analysis today, I still don’t think that bodes well for the screenplay. I appreciated a lot of what the Coen brothers did with the script — and the schlubby portrait of the titular character Larry Gopnik was quite good — but no script should be this obtuse and senseless. Maybe if they made a pop-up video version of the movie it could have been more successful.

    The Hurt Locker was a tremendous piece of filmmaking — but the script wasn’t a contributor to it. Jeremy Renner’s side-trip into the streets of Baghdad was unneccessary, and the mystery of the body-bomb kid was too transparent. The film will get deservedly recognized elsewhere — it doesn’t belong in this category.

    Gah, am I really going to agree AGAIN with Jared and John? Inglorious Basterds was brilliant in its own way. I was hoping that Adam would go into greater depth on why he loved it — but maybe he’s holding his fire for the Best Picture category. As for why I liked it, well, its Jews killing Nazis. What’s not to like? Beyond the strength of the plot, I thought that Tarantino’s willingness to throw historical accuracy out the window was refreshing — and his whimsical take on the sober subject of World War II captivated me.

    It’s a very very close race for me, but Up takes my vote. Its such an imaginative script, and the characters are incredibly developed considering how long we get to know them. And it has a TALKING DOG!

We’re not just tackling the big categories this year, but the smaller ones as well. Some of them, at least. Not all of these categories are worthy of the intense and brilliant consideration we give things here at Golden Grouches, now are they?

Today I’m looking at two visual technical categories.

Cinematography

Nominees: Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Inglourious Basterds, White Ribbon

This feels hard to call because so much of Avatar is visual effects and the traditional relationship between how the director of photography films and what the audience experiences is altered. And so it’s something different from what we see in the other nominees. (Here’s a little about it.) The camerawork in The Hurt Locker does a great deal to insert the viewer into the action and is instrumental in creating the film’s thrills. But I’ll lean towards Avatar and its trailblazing 3-D shooting.

Film Editing

Nominees: Avatar, District 9, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious

I think it’s impressive how Avatar has such a huge scope but the action never gets muddled. I don’t recall ever getting lost in a scene due to confusing shots- and this film is full of epic battles in 3-D. For both Inglourious Basterds and The Hurt Locker, the editing is part of what makes the tension so palpable. The way the intense scenes of The Hurt Locker are artfully constructed is what pushes it over the top.

Today we’re taking on the Best Director race and declaring who we think should win.

The nominees:

  • Avatar: James Cameron
  • The Hurt Locker: Kathryn Bigelow
  • Inglourious Basterds: Quentin Tarantino
  • Precious: Lee Daniels
  • Up in the Air: Jason Reitman

John says:

    This is another terrific lineup of nominees and again I feel like I’m nitpicking some to narrow it down to my favorite. Any of these five would make a great winner. So what am I looking for in Best Director besides who made the best movie? I’d say overall vision, style, tone, pacing, and coherence. Does that sound about right? Of course, these are all things I look for in a movie anyway.

    Tarantino strikes me as all flash with minimal substance. He made Basterds a thrilling ride, but I don’t think I really shared his vision. No doubt a fascinating and stylish film, however. The weighty material in Precious requires a deft hand to prevent it from slipping into absurd melodrama or emotional manipulation. Daniels cast the right actors and extracted pitch-perfect performances out of them. His visions for Precious’s dream sequences hit the right tone to balance the more intense scenes.

    I give Bigelow lots of credit for finely honing the tension in The Hurt Locker, making it one of the best war thrillers I’ve seen. And Reitman does a great job with the tone and atmosphere in Up in the Air. The film sort of settled in my gut and that feeling was the largest takeaway for me, even more than any scene or performance.

    But James Cameron is my choice. The man had a big vision for Avatar and he completely delivers. We may quibble about the writing, but he shepherds the story through the long running time without ever letting it drag and always keeps it entirely coherent. In lesser hands, Avatar could be a mess of visual effects and thematic missteps; Cameron makes his technological breakthroughs enhance and complement all the other components of the film without taking away from any. I just love the world he creates and the way he uses all the tools at his disposal to realize it.

    Snubs: I don’t mean to overdo my love for The Informant!, but it’s absolutely a triumph in tone, editing, and style and for that Steven Soderbergh should have received some love.

Jared replies:

    Like John mentioned, I’m not sure anyone has a good idea how to judge a director (i.e. where the direction starts and the writing/acting/editing/cinematography, etc. starts), and so I’m a little less comfortable here than with the other categories.

    I didn’t really like Inglourious Basterds, and I think part of the reason for that was that no segment of the film really felt complete. Tarantino’s mishmashing style may have worked elsewhere, but I found it pointless here.

    Maybe Jason Reitman’s direction just seemed effortless. And it isn’t like I could point to a single thing non-script thing I’d do differently with the film. But I also can’t really think of a memorable thing about the film I’d attribute to Reitman.

    Hopefully this time will be the last I have to say that the key to Precious was Mo’Nique, Sidibe, and the basic story construct, almost everything else is besides the point. I fall somewhere between John and Brian on the dream sequences, but I’ll give credit to Daniels for how he handled the stairwell shots.

    Like many people, it seems, I had a hard time making the final decision here. My problems with Avatar stem almost exclusively from the script. Cameron obviously has a nearly unparalleled ability to do big, splashy sequences while working them into something bigger. But ultimately, I guess I’ll shift a little bit of the blame for the slow parts onto his direction.

    Enough, at least, to anoint the ex-Mrs. Cameron the winner. We’ll get to it, but I think Kathryn Bigelow was working from a relatively weak script. The film was tremendously tense. And sure, it helps when a bomb is involved. But really, not that much happens in the film. So I’m going to assign a good chunk of the credit to Ms. Bigelow for creating a really taut film with neat action scenes.

Brian adds:

    Fantastic. Let the Avatar bashing begin! But first, the two near-contenders for my pick for the Oscar. I know Adam will follow up with a full-throated defense of Inglourious Basterds, but Tarantino is my runner-up choice. Everything that made the movie great, the episodic chapters, the white-knuckled tense scenes at the prologue and in the bar, the fantastic conclusion — can be ascribed to Tarantino’s direction. It was truly a great marriage of material with cinematography, and the way that he brought together a melange of actors and stories is definitely to his credit. For a guy who dislikes “message” movies, I’m surprised by how much Jared disliked Basterds.

    Up in the Air was also a great display of directing — which I tend to think of an award for “how well does everything come together.” Reitman got great performances out of Kendrick and Clooney — and I thought the bumpers he used between cities, the plane’s eye view, was a nice touch. But this year — not enough to compete with the big guns.

    Going by the definition above, I blame Cameron’s ego for disqualifying him for an Avatar win. He let Giovanni Ribisi and Stephen Lang chew the scenery to pieces and failed to recognize the shallowness of his own script. The final third took forever to come, even though the final battle was inevitable. His vision of a technical masterpiece came true, but I just can’t give a director award to a half-good film.

    And I definitely can’t fathom giving it to Precious, which as Jared has said, is only being considered for anything because of Mo’Nique and Sidibe. The fantasy sequences that John and Jared refer to are pointless, distracting, and overdone. Daniels’ penchant for shakycam when in the social worker scenes with Mariah Carey infuriated me — I was so engrossed by the performances only to be drawn out by an unnecessary zoom.

    But, Bigelow. There’s your winner. Many of the setpieces from the film will stay in my memory, including the UN car bomb scene and the final shot back in Iraq. From start to finish, Hurt Locker keeps you on your toes, never truly sure what’s going to happen. A less competent director (*cough* Paul Haggis) would have found a way to insert their own ideologies and politics into what may end up being one of the best Iraq war movies ever, but Bigelow is smart enough to let her work speak for itself.

Adam proclaims:

    Will Win: Kathryn Bigelow

    While I may have had more love this year for other movies, the reason this movie wasn’t in my top 5 had nothing to do with the directing. Given a better script, this movie had the potential to be near the very top of my list of movies this year. I have to agree with both Jared and John that the tension she was able to create, as well as the very well done action scenes, make for a very strong nominee. I have no problem with her winning this category (especially if it is over Cameron).

    I Want to Win: Quentin Tarantino

    I am a huge Tarantino fan, so maybe my opinion is somewhat biased, but I don’t think that really matters. I’m biased because I believe Tarantino is one of the (if not THE) best writer/director/producers out there, and Inglourious Basterds is no exception – despite Jared’s felonious assertions. I’d LOVE to see this movie sweep all categories…but I’m not naïve enough to believe it will happen.

    Dark Horse: Lee Daniels (and no, I’m not being racist. He’s the longest shot)

    He’s last in the rankings (both mine and others’ predictions) and there is a reason…he didn’t do that great of a job. I hate to admit it, but I agree with John – Soderbergh is a MUCH stronger candidate for the slot.

    Ranking:

    1. Quentin Tarantino
    2. Kathryn Bigelow
    3. Jason Reitman
    4. James Cameron
    5. Lee Daniels

    Grouches Critiques:

    I find it almost unfathomable that Brian of all people is the only one to really give adequate credit to Inglourious Basterds – shame on you Jared and John. I will have plenty of time to bash John’s love of Avatar and James Cameron in the next couple of days. All I can say now is…really? Really, John? Nothing else really jumps out at me about the rest, though. We were pretty close with our critiques on these movies with 3 of 4 picking Bigelow. Precious wasn’t great and the direction was one of the weakest parts, and the strongest part of Up in the Air was not the directing.

    Random Notes:

    As much as I think Avatar is over-hyped, the direction wasn’t horrible (second best thing about the film next to the visuals – which has something to do with the direction). That said, I actually like more of the picks here than in Adapted Screenplay. And, like Adapted Screenplay, my top two are close enough that I’m not going to be pissed at the Academy if they go with Bigelow. She did a terrific job with the little she was given.

    God I hope James Cameron doesn’t win.

OK Folks, here we go. It’s Grouching the Oscars week here and we will kick things off with Adapted Screenplay.

Your nominees:

  • District 9” Written by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell
  • An Education” Screenplay by Nick Hornby
  • In the Loop” Screenplay by Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche
  • Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” Screenplay by Geoffrey Fletcher
  • Up in the Air” Screenplay by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner

Take it away, Jared:

    As has been noted elsewhere, the Best Picture winner has generally come out of the Adapted Screenplay category, so it feels a bit odd that the three front-runners for Best Picture come from original screenplays.  For some time there, sure looked like Precious and Up in the Air were right in the thick of the top race (and who knows, maybe they still are).  The former (unquestionably, in my mind) has the weakest script of the category, relying almost entirely on the performances of the two main characters and the situations in which they are placed.  I liked the film and certainly don’t think the nomination here is a tragedy.  But all of the supporting characters are generic and underdeveloped, for example.  I actually read Up in the Air’s script, so I at least know a little bit about what I’m talking about here, for a change.  It is a fairly strong script, but ultimately lacks any sort of punch.  The dialogue is zippy, though not often funny.  And the story (which takes quite a few liberties with the original source, I’m told), is interesting, if not really thought-provoking.

    I’ve probably voiced my problems with An Education elsewhere, but to recap, I love Nick Hornby wish he shone through more in the film’s script. The ending had serious issues, mostly stemming from the fact that there wasn’t really any sort of proper ending.  And while most of the characters showed some sort of Nick Hornby shading, I never really felt a connection with any of them.  Hornby excels in creating relatable characters, and I just wasn’t seeing that here. The dialogue was crisp, but I can only remember one line from the film, I think.

    District 9 was one of my favorite movies of the year, and the script was definitely a large part of that.  I think sometimes people unfairly dismiss the writing that goes into creating action scenes.  But I’m convinced the film could have been just as powerful without any actions scenes at all, and I think that’s why it got a nomination.  Because whether you choose to view the movie as a metaphor or not, it manages to hit some raw emotions, evoking some pretty powerful stuff.  Most of this movie was brilliant, and the script was no exception.

    Very often, it seems, the Academy hides away in the screenplay categories one of my favorite movies of the year, one that received nowhere near the attention it should have.  This year, that film is In the Loop.  It was actually a close call for me here, but where District 9 had some really cool special effects, In the Loop relied almost entirely on its zany, madcap, hilarious, insane, divine script.  I’m trying to pick one or two great lines from the film, but in order to do the script justice, I’d have to go through every single page, because the zingers came nonstop.  But more than that, the plot was exquisitely crafted to poke fun at the ridiculousness of government.  I have to believe that if every single adult in D.C. saw this film, over half of them would say it was the year’s best.  Sure, maybe not every single joke worked, but so many did and so often, that, just, wow.  It is hard to imagine a tighter, or better crafted, script.

Adam, writing by his own rules, per usual:

    Will Win: Up in the Air

    Up in the Air turned out to be one of my favorite movies of the year. This was based on a combination of its script, acting, and directing, so a win here in Adapted Screenplay is not a disappointment for me. While there may a more deserving film, the love people are showing Up in the Air is well deserved.

    I Want to Win: In the Loop

    Up until John started talking about this movie maybe a month or two ago, I hadn’t even heard about it. Since it was John talking about it, I didn’t pay it any attention until it was nominated. Unfortunately, after I watched it, I realized I actually had to agree with the rest of the Grouches as this was a wonderfully scripted movie. Like In Bruges last year, I’m glad to see the Academy at least giving a nod to superior writing – regardless of the shot they have at winning.

    Dark Horse: In the Loop No way in hell the Academy makes the right choice…as usual.

    Ranking:
    1. In the Loop
    2. Up in the Air
    3. District 9
    4. An Education
    5. Precious

    Grouches Critiques:

    While Jared was correct about In the Loop, he was wrong in at least one aspect in everything else (which is a lot better than the other Grouches will be though I can’t be more specific as, at the writing of this, they have yet to complete their posts). Up in the Air wasn’t as weak as he makes it out to be (I don’t care if he read the script or not), Precious wasn’t nearly as good as the other Grouches make it out to be, District 9 was good/great, but not brilliant, and the script of An Education was horrible (with only its acting being able to bring it out of utter rubbish).

    Random Notes:

    Not a bad year for this category. Three of the five scripts are at least well done, and two are crap. Way to be 60%, Academy.

John, for a change, may be right about movies:

    This is a really terrific slate of nominees. Four of my favorite films of the year are represented here and the fifth is pretty darn good too. Compare it to the underwhelming 2008 list and you can understand my elation.District 9 is a film I liked less than my cohorts, but it’s still a good movie whose success hinges upon its terrific premise. The plot, characters, and themes are handled well. Any criticisms I have for it extend from elements outside the script. Up in the Air is a mixed bag in that it’s powerful in what it gets it right but has some noteworthy missteps, such as the characterizations of the female characters. Vera Farmiga is wonderful but her character does some frustratingly inconsistent things. I’m being picky here, but such strong competition demands pickiness.

    I really liked Precious and the way it handles such weighty material. The film thrives on the acting and – though Brian will disagree – directing more than the writing, however. And while the writing is terrific, it’s really the other elements propel the film to greatness. My runner-up An Education tells a terrific story with a dynamic central character. It unfolds cleverly, though not in a twisty way but in the way it astutely develops its themes without being too heavy-handed.

    But my winner is In the Loop. I think there’s a danger in declaring it a winner based solely on its dialogue. Yes, it’s dialogue is terrific; it absolutely crackles and the rat-a-tat lines are hilarious and clever. The jokes come so fast it’s hard to keep up. But it’s also an artfully constructed farce and brilliantly satirical. While the dialogue is the star, the situations and characters are so well-formed that they complement the dialogue and give it perfect context.

    Snub: As great as this category is, imagine if it included The Informant!, a film that combines a complex story, a complicated protagonist, and a delightfully whimsical tone.

Here’s where I wrap things up and take credit for everything that the other Grouches have said (except for John):

    It really cannot be overstated how strong a group this year’s nominees are in the adapted screenplay category. If this had been the list of the five films nominated for best picture, I would have only had a problem with Precious, and that’s nothing compared to previous bad nominees of years past (see 2008, The Reader) I concur with most of what Jared wrote about Precious, though its really up against very tough competition. The script is clearly not the strongest part, though the scenes between Mariah Carey and Gabourey Sidibe were especially well written, the classroom scenes were a tad derivative of the Freedom Riders/Stand and Deliver/”How do I reach deeese kiiiiids” genre. Had it not been for Lee Daniels’ horrible directing…well, that’s for tomorrow when I eviscerate John’s reasoning on Lee Daniels.

    I’m in agreement with the group on Up in the Air as well. I really enjoyed the script and the plot — it was very touching and just perfect for the cast, from Clooney to Kendrick on down to J.K. Simmons’ cameo. In another year, against weaker competition, this would probably be my pick. I’d disagree with Jared on the thought-provoking part, as of now the strongest memories I have of the film are of the big themes, and the testimonials from the “real folk.” — so perhaps the kudos for this one should go more toward directing and acting, than Reitman and Turner’s script.

    It’s Adam’s turn to be wrong when it comes to An Education — where I once again find myself largely agreeing with Jared. I too am a big Nick Hornby fan, but I was disappointed in the latter third of this movie. Maybe I can chalk it up to this being his first screenplay not adapted from his own material, but Hornby scribed a meandering finale with an odd lack of moral direction. More Carey Mulligan love to come later, however.

    To be quick with the last two — and the best two– scripts, since the rest of the grouches have said what I would have: District 9 is on my personal top 5 for 2009 and I loved the transition from Michael Scott mockumentary to kick-ass action movie. Blomkamp took a unique angle at a tried-and-true genre and ran with it with great success. Ahhh, In the Loop — my pick for who should win as well. Make that four-for-four. Any movie that has the line “Fuckity bye” is a winner in my book. (VERY NSFW link)

Coming up tomorrow: Best Director

The Golden Grouches are proud to announce our first annual Beat the Grouches Oscar Pick’Em Competition.  You’ve heard us kvetch about the Academy’s poor decision making.  You’ve heard us whine about any number of movies.  Now here’s your chance to get us to shut up!

The rules of the contest are simple.  Whoever correctly picks the winners of the most Oscar categories wins.  And we use all categories, because we are manly men.  Tiebreaker is the time at which the credits start rolling.  You can find the list of nominees here.  E-mail who you think will win each category to goldengrouchesATgmailDOTcom.  Don’t forget your tiebreaker!  And please get ballots in by 3 PM on Sunday.

Then, Sunday night, join us around 7 PM Eastern as our liveblogging starts with some red carpet coverage.  The real ceremony is scheduled to begin at 8 PM, for those of you not comfortable with the merging of fashion and telestrators.

But what about the prize?  Well, other than eternal fame and glory, the winner will get to write one (1) post published here at Golden Grouches about anything at all.  You could, for example, write a missive about how Jared is clearly the handsomest Grouch.  If you wanted.  Or you could freak everyone out by writing a post pretending to be Adam.  (Because Adam never posts, is the joke.)  We’ll even, begrudgingly, let you write about how Paul Haggis is the best thing to hit cinema ever.  The choice is yours.  All you have to do is Beat the Grouches.

March 2010
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