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I realize we’re just starting with the 2010 Oscar season, with the ceremonies in February of 2011, but having just came out of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, Part I, I can say with near certainty that Part II will be nominated for Best Picture and will be the early favorite for the win.

Part I was pretty good, and was one of the best of the series — perhaps the 3rd movie was better. David Yates is the right director for the job, he did a bang-up job with a lightly plotted film. Part II will give him a lot to work with. Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, and Daniel Radcliffe have came into their own as actors and they too have a lot of scenery to chew through in the next film. The corollary to the Lord of the Rings series isn’t perfect, as those films were all very strong and it could be argued that Return of the King was deserving as the best of the series. But…I’m calling it now — there will be a lot of pressure to reward the series in next year’s Oscars.

Brian: So faster than Adam could insult John’s movie taste, the news of Anne Hathaway and James Franco being the hosts of this year’s Oscars has spread quickly around the interwebs. Consider me thrilled and excited. I was probably more bullish on last year’s telecast than most, and that was in spite of Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin’s lame performance as hosts. As Dave Karger points out over on Inside Movies, “But [the Academy] clearly seems to be courting a different generation: Franco and Hathaway’s combined age (61) is less than Steve Martin’s.”

I love this pairing. Franco can pretty much do whatever he pleases and I’m sure he’ll amuse. He was the best part of Pineapple Express and I’m more than wiling to forgive him for Spiderman 3. He’s exceeded expectations on SNL. And Hathaway did the best she could with the weak material when she hosted SNL recently. They are both easy on the eyes, young up-and-comers who will likely be A-listers in due time. It’s clear that this is a cagey attempt at attracting younger audiences to the telecast — and while I think it will succeed, and hope it will — I’m more convinced that the age of the big television event is gone. This is now two years in a row that the Academy has shocked the grouches with a move to create buzz around the Oscars. Maybe we should stop giving them such a hard time for being fuddyduddies?

I’m intrigued to see how this affects Franco’s campaign for Best Actor. Help him or hurt him? Would sentimental votes of giving it to the young guy now dissipate because he’s getting such a huge platform with emcee duties? Does this help Hathaway’s dark horse campaign for Best Actress?

John? What do you think?

Jared: My first reaction to hearing Hathaway and Franco were named hosts was something along the lines of Sasha Stone at Awards Daily: disbelief.  Everyone has to start somewhere, but you are talking about people who are a decade removed from playing Disney princesses and the a-hole in high school romantic comedies.

There’s little doubt in my mind that they have the tools to be successful hosts.  They’ve both clearly demonstrated comedic chops and also had searingly successful dramatic turns.  But perhaps most importantly, they both have shown that they (or, their public personas, at least) can laugh at themselves.  I only wonder how the Oscar audience will feel getting razzed by the two.  Because when, say, Steve Martin heaps on you, that’s undeniably an honor.  But even with the same writers (crosses fingers for Bruce Vilanch to be involved again), I think the same joke comes out a little differently when it is the stoned drug dealer from Pineapple Express.

The Academy has a well-deserved reputation for being stodgy.  It is nice to see them moving another step away from that.  Also nice to see their taste in hosts is still strong.

John: What a strange choice. Both of them have the potential to be very good and both have done a good job hosting SNL. Hathaway was funny during a part of Hugh Jackman’s opening number in 2009. I just don’t understand why they’re hosting together. Do producers think neither has the chops to host solo? Or could they not make up their mind between the two? Is there any evidence they’d have chemistry?

It’s especially puzzling since last year’s hosting duo seemed like a great idea but were terrible. If Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin don’t work well together, why would Hathaway and Franco? Also Franco is likely to be a nominee for 127 Hours, which could be an interesting dynamic.

But the bigger factor is that Adam Shankman isn’t producing this year so the show has to be better than last year’s, no matter who is hosting.

Brian: Notice how John failed to answer my one question. I think this hurts Franco’s campaign and the smart money is on Colin Firth, even more than it ways before.

In case you missed the news, The Independent Spirit award nominations come out Tuesday morning (streaming at spiritawards.com, announced by Eva Mendes and Jeremy Renner).  Which is of special importance this year, because your humble bloggers ponied up for a membership to Film Independent this year and so actually have a vote to this shindig.  Scary, right?  Anyway, we’ll have lots more coverage coming up, but I figured I’d put together my predictions for the nominations.  You might remember we did this for the Oscars last year and actually didn’t do too badly.  Well, with Oscar, no one knows anything, but at least there’s a lot of people trying to guess, so you can employ a little wisdom of the crowds.  For the Independent Spirit awards, I’ve only seen one attempt.  One tricky thing is that it isn’t exactly clear which films are eligible.  The rules state the production must be American, with a budget of $20 million or less, have played this year and not have been submitted for eligibility in prior years.  Below I have my list of possible contenders, I’m sure I’m missing some and have a few ineligibles on there.

Here goes nothing:

BEST PICTURE
Black Swan
Blue Valentine
The Kids Are All Right
Please Give
Winter’s Bone
(Next five: City Island; Cyrus; Greenberg; Rabbit Hole; Tiny Furniture)

BEST DIRECTOR
Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
Lisa Cholodenko, The Kids Are All Right
Derek Cianfrance, Blue Valentine
Sofia Coppola, Somewhere
Debra Granik, Winter’s Bone
(Next Five: John Cameron Mitchell, Rabbit Hole; Nicole Holofcener, Please Give; Jay and Mark Duplass, Cyrus; Lena Dunham, Tiny Furniture; Noah Baumbach, Greenberg)

BEST LEAD MALE
Michael Douglas, Solitary Man
Robert Duvall, Get Low
Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine
Ed Norton, Leaves of Grass
Ben Stiller, Greenberg
(Next Five: Ryan Reynolds, Buried; Andy Garcia, City Island; Jesse Eisenberg, Holy Rollers; James Franco, Howl; Casey Affleck, The Killer Inside Me)

BEST LEAD FEMALE
Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine
Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
(Next Five: Catherine Keener, Please Give; Julianne Moore, The Kids Are All Right; Amanda Seyfried, Chloe; Zoe Kazan, The Exploding Girl; Halle Berry, Frankie and Alice)

BEST SUPPORTING MALE
John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone
Bill Murray, Get Low
Sam Rockwell, Conviction
Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right
Michael Shannon, The Runaways
(Next Five: Bill Murray, Get Low; Paul Reubens, Life During Wartime; John Ortiz, Jack Goes Boating; Jonah Hill, Cyrus; Chris Cooper, Remember Me)

BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE
Dale Dickey, Winter’s Bone
Barbara Hershey, Black Swan
Julianne Moore, Chloe
Sissy Spacek, Get Low
Dianne Wiest, Rabbit Hole
(Next Five: Mila Kunis, Black Swan; Julianna Margulies, City Island; Amy Ryan, Jack Goes Boating; Rebecca Hall, Please Give; Mia Wasikowska, The Kids Are All Right)

BEST FIRST FEATURE
Get Low
Happythankyoumoreplease
Jack Goes Boating
Sympathy for Delicious
Tiny Furniture
(Next Five: The Company Men; Solitary Man; I Love You Philip Morris; Buried; Welcome to the Rileys)

BEST SCREENPLAY
Black Swan
Get Low
The Kids Are All Right
Please Give
Winter’s Bone
(Next Five: City Island; Rabbit Hole; Somewhere; Blue Valentine; Howl)

LIST OF POTENTIALLY MAYBE POSSIBLY ELIGIBLE FILMS:
Black Swan
Blue Valentine
Buried
City Island
Chloe
The Company Men
Conviction
Country Strong
Cyrus
The Dry Land
The Exploding Girl
The Extra Man
Frankie and Alice
Frozen
Daddy Long Legs
Easy A (OK, I don’t really buy it, but it fits the criteria!)
Flipped
Get Low
Greenberg
The Good Guy
Happythankyoumoreplease
Holy Rollers
Howl
I Love You Phillip Morris
It’s Kind of a Funny Story
Jack Goes Boating
The Joneses
The Kids are All Right
The Killer Inside Me
Leaves of Grass
Let Me In
Life During Wartime
Lovely, Still
Middle Men
Mother and Child
Night Catches Us
Please Give
Rabbit Hole
Remember Me
The Runaways
Solitary Man
Somewhere
Sympathy for Delicious
Tiny Furniture
Welcome to the Riley’s
Winter’s Bone
The Yellow Handkerchief
Youth in Revolt

By now (especially since I’ve inexplicably had this post sitting in drafts for a week), you’ve probably heard about Blue Valentine receiving an NC-17 and The King’s Speech receiving an R from the ratings board, along with all the indignation and trotting out of 14-year-old daughters to proclaim who should and shouldn’t see what.  Comparisons to Saw 3D abound, and much shame has been heaped on the MPAA.  But honestly?  I think the ratings board has been unfairly bearing the brunt of the anger.

The problem is with the system.  I haven’t yet seen the aforementioned movies, so I’ll refrain from commenting on them and instead focus on the problem in general.  The discussion seems to focus around three main areas of questionable content: language, sexuality, and violence.  And specifically comparisons between the three groups.  So people want to know why characters dropping a few f-bombs is the same as characters being brutally tortured or why sex without showing skin is more adult than murders without blood.

But how could any person or organization be expected to make these kind of comparisons for the entire country?  People like to talk about about the coasts have been desensitized to language and sexuality where the middle areas of the country are more OK with the violence, that, of course, is a gross exaggeration.  In nearly any given population you have families who let their kids watch anything, and parents who forbid television in the house.  And somehow the MPAA ratings board is supposed to come up with a single rating that is going to make everyone happy?

There’s no simple fix here, but assuming the system has to stay basically the same, I’m on board with instituting a PG-15 rating.  That would make R a harder rating, as Dan Glickman first proposed a few years back.  That’s ostensibly what NC-17 was supposed to be anyway, but we’ve seen that there’s really no incentive to ever release an NC-17 movie in theaters.   Ideally, this would allow a movie like The King’s Speech to move to PG-15 and Blue Valentine to the new R.

For me, though, even if the framework has to stay the same, I’d like to see ratings for all three elements (language/sexuality/violence).  Which isn’t too big a leap, I don’t think, since the MPAA’s rating already come with a blurb about why they received the rating.  So again, I haven’t seen the movie, but maybe The King’s Speech becomes something like PG-15/PG-13/PG.  If you need to have a single rating, fine, take the max of the three ratings.  Perhaps having three ratings would make things marginally more complicated, but I think everyone could understand it.  And this way, there’s a little bit more of a bright line for parents to use when restricting the viewing of adult-themed movies.  Because we have to respect that different people find different things not OK for children to watch.  And I think that comparing violence to sexuality to language is silly because there is no obvious comparison.  So let’s agree on a goal of letting as many people have access to a movie as possible and more finely-tune the system so parents can better choose exactly what types of movies they don’t want their kids to see.

I took a long break between posts about the AFI Latin American Film Festival to go to, well, Latin America. Two weeks eating steak in Argentina make me an expert now, right?

Carancho, Argentina, dir: Pablo Trapero

Here’s a hint to other travelers: don’t watch a movie about how dangerous your destination is just days before leaving. Carancho is set on Argentina’s dangerous roads and made me worried to jump in a cab while I was there.

The plot revolves around a dirty lawyer who chases ambulances in Buenos Aires, signing victims to represent, then pocketing most of the insurance settlements. Or sometimes he skips the chasing and just stages the accidents himself. The life is weighing on him, but his attempts to exit the business are stymied by his criminally-connected boss. Meanwhile, he begins a relationship with a paramedic.

The film is good, but uneven. The lawyer’s plight is more interesting than the paramedic’s and it’s one of those movies that is better thematically than narratively. In other words, it’s more interesting thinking about it later than sitting through it. The lawyer is fascinating and he is more than the simple “bad guy looking to for a way out” stock character. I loved the ending, especially the very, very end, which is a bit deus ex machina but perfect.

Argentina nominated Carancho for the Foreign Language Oscar. It is coming off a win in the category last year with The Secret in Their Eyes and the two films share star Ricardo Darín, so it’s sure to get some attention. I doubt it will grab a nomination, however. Scott Cooper, who directed Crazy Heart, is said to be in line to direct an American remake.


Bad Day to Go Fishing (Mal día para pescar), Uruguay, dir: Álvarao Brechner

This is sort of like the South American The Wrestler. A washed up East German professional wrestler travels around dinky South American towns challenging locals. His manager sets up the bouts and fixes the outcomes while convincing his frustrated star to stick to it and not return home. In one town, a capable opponent refuses to be bought and the prize money the challenger stands to win would bankrupt the traveling star.

This one’s a bit of a bore. I wouldn’t say it fully drags, but the lack of progress in the middle wore on me. Part of that may have been that I thought I knew where the plot was heading. Happily I was wrong and the ending is terrific. All in all a decent film.

 

And that brings to an end our coverage of the AFI Latin American Film Festival. Also see Part 1 and Part 2. I had a nice time over those few weeks and it was a good way to get ready for my trip (and tune up my Spanish). AFI does some interesting programs throughout the year and hopefully I’ll be able to take some in.

Every Oscar season has titles that fall by the wayside. Some don’t even get a chance. As fall started last year, prognosticators had their eyes on two films with winning pedigrees just to see them pushed back to spring of 2010. I finally caught up with Shutter Island and Green Zone recently. I’d say I my reactions to the two were roughly opposite.

Ghost lovin': better in hindsight than sitting through it

Any combination of Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, and material written by Dennis Lehane (Gone Baby Gone, Mystic River) is bound to get some Oscar looks. Here, DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo are 1960s FBI agents investigating a patient’s disappearance from a mental institution located on an island in Boston Harbor. Once there, a storm hits and weird things start happening. The film is part horror, part supernatural thriller, and part procedural. Scorcese really amps up the visual flair when delving into the supernatural. I found the middle too disjointed and too WTF bizarre that by the time the emotional and beautifully portrayed (and totally expected) ending came along, it had lost me. The work as a whole has hung in my head for a while, however. Just not enough that I’d watch again.

On the other hand, Green Zone thrilled me from the get-go. Matt Damon teams up with his Bourne director Paul Greengrass for an Iraq war action thriller. Damon is an army officer charged with finding weapons of mass destruction soon after the fall of Baghdad in 2003. When he repeatedly comes up empty he decides to find out why. Greg Kinnear is a CIA officer in charge of the WMD search and Amy Ryan plays a journalist whose stories backed the flawed case for the war. From an action perspective it’s taut and exciting; from a thematic perspective it’s a very effective indictment of the war without becoming preachy. A lot of the horrific details of the bungled occupation related in the Oscar nominated (and my #9 film of 2007) documentary No End in Sight find their way into the narrative and sets. It’s a great mix of action and content.

For much of the movie I was ready to declare it my favorite of the year so far. But it unfortunately falters in the last act as it devolves into ridiculous action sequences. For a film that is so thoughtful for the first two-thirds, the rising body count of the climax is too incongruous. I also think the plot errs by making the conspiracy Damon attempts to uncover the entire Iraq war. Narrow your scope, guys.

Still, a terrific movie and I heartily endorse it to everyone.

If both films had remained in their release dates last fall, each could have made a minor Oscar push. Greengrass’s signature jerky cam action earned an Editing win for The Bourne Ultimatum and that style is significantly more effective and less nauseating in Green Zone. Scorsese is always a force to be reckoned with come Oscar time, but Shutter Island likely could have only succeeded in below the line categories like Costume, though who knows with the ten Best Picture slots. Now of course both have a long uphill slog to the Kodak Theater. Green Zone is gone and forgotten though Shutter Island could still make a play given the afforementioned Scorsese Factor (and I hear an awards season campaign is forthcoming). I don’t think I’d agree, but at least any awards success it finds will show that awards can still be won with February release dates.

I don’t think any filmmaker has such a disastrous record with me than Noah Baumbach. It’s not bad enough that I hate nearly every moment of his awful films, but that each seems like they should appeal to me. “Oh, this looks interesting,” I say. “Maybe Baumbach has made something good this time.”

He has not.

I hated the Baumbach-written and -directed Margot at the Wedding. He wrote Fantastic Mr. Fox and even though I’ve directed most of the blame for that huge letdown of a film toward Wes Anderson, all the dialogue problems I had in Fox are apparent in other Baumbach films more than Anderson’s. And their earlier collaboration, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, was also pretty awful. I hated his latest directorial and writing effort, Greenberg.

I hate him so much. It it- the- fl- flames. Flames, on the side of my face

Ben Stiller plays Roger Greenberg, an aimless 40ish man fresh from from a stay in a mental institute. He heads to L.A. to house sit for his successful brother. While there he looks up his old friends, who have matured and moved on with their lives while he has not. Though, because it’s a Baumbach film, none of these friends are happy. Greenberg also strikes up a relationship with his brother’s nanny, Florence, played by Greta Gerwig. She’s much younger but also directionless. There’s no reason for them to be together, yet they each awkwardly pursue each other while he does something incredibly mean to her every fifteen minutes or so.

Save for one mini-revelation at the end, the plot goes nowhere and nobody changes. Including me, as I turned it off neither enlightened nor entertained.

As I’ve said time and again, a film choosing to be character rather than plot driven is fine with me. A quiet character study has a solid chance of charming me. It does help when the characters aren’t big self-made losers that are incredibly painful to watch, however. Characters need more characteristics than “whiny,” “mopey,” and “miserable.”

And the dialogue! Oh goodness, the dialogue. Sometimes I feel like Baumbach starts with a bunch of pithy observations then writes a plot around them. “Laughing already demonstrates appreciation,” Greenberg says when seeing a man clapping while laughing. “The applause just seems superfluous.” Fine, that’s a mildly amusing observation. But it’s also apropros of nothing in the scene and immediately forgotten. It reminds me of what I said about Margot at the Wedding, that the characters talk at each other instead of to each other. Greenberg doesn’t seem to have conversations. He says something and someone responds, perhaps on topic and perhaps not, then he says something unrelated. None of these discussions go anywhere, or at least not anywhere interesting.

I’m concerned that with Baumbach’s pedigree and the film’s mild financial success that the studio might make a play for an Original Screenplay nod. I think that’s a long shot, thankfully, but I fully expect it to clean up at the Independent Spirit Awards this year. I dig serious Ben Stiller so it’s too bad everything he does here is so cringeworthy. Gerwig is a rising star – actually already something of a star in the mublecore movement – but she really didn’t do anything for me here. This, naturally, would make her an Independent Spirit front-runner.

Your charms don't work on me!

Actually, maybe it would be nice for Greenberg to rack up some Indie nominations so the rest of the gang will watch it. Sometimes I’m sadistic like that. I look forward to us hating on this film for years to come.

Not much movement on these lists since last month, but we’re about to hit an onslaught of awards contenders.  As always, my collaborators are horribly wrong on any movies not found in my Top Five.

Adam

1. Inception
2. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
3. The Social Network
4. From Paris with Love
5. She’s Out of My League

John

1. Inception
2. The Social Network
3. Green Zone
4. A Prophet
5. Kick-Ass

Brian

1. Inception
2. The Social Network
3. Toy Story 3
4. Kick-Ass
5. The Kids Are All Right

Jared

1. The Social Network
2. Inception
3. She’s Out of My League
4. Hot Tub Time Machine
5. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

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