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For the first time in way-too-long time, the Grouches got together and saw a movie together: 127 Hours. The film about the harrowing story of Aron Ralston, the canyoneer who had to amputate half of his right arm in order to free himself from a lodged rock, drew varying reactions between “apathetic” and “entertained” from the four of us, so  you likely won’t see much disagreement. But here’s my take:

The material itself would not give any director that much to work with. There are pretty much two plot points: guy gets stuck under rock — guy frees himself from rock. Everything else is filler, and it felt that director Danny Boyle knew this as he used a variety of gimmicks and camera tricks to break things up. Neither really worked. Boyle inserted himself into the film in a distracting fashion, and if we were to have other “characters” interact with Ralston, then I’d have liked to have seen more scenes of young Aron with his dad (Treat Williams) or sister. The script didn’t offer enough background development of Ralston, especially if we were going to spend over an hour with just him.

James Franco was quite good in a rather meaty role. He plays the serious goofball rather well, and its to his credit that I cared as much as I did. The amputation scenes had been built up for me, so  even though I covered my eyes for part of it, they didn’t have quite the emotional impact as I’d have hoped.

Rahman’s score was meh and his song was even worse (though I’ll let John tackle that one) — but it appears that Oscar nominations are in the offing for both of them. Grouches, take it from here.

Jared: Ever since 12 Angry Men, I’ve had a thing for films taking place in confined settings.  Perhaps it is because when the number of thing that can happen is very limited, the screenwriter is forced to focus on ways to make an engaging story.  In any case, 127 Hours is not boring, especially considering the premise, as Brian points out, is basically a guy is stuck under a rock in a canyon.  I don’t think it ever approaches anywhere close to the heights of must-see, either.  But given some of the dreck the Academy loves, I’m not going to complain too much about a fairly decent film getting some love. 

I find myself comparing the movie to Frozen, which was released this year and tells the story of three college students trapped on a ski lift and last year’s The Canyon, which stars the incomparable Yvonne Strahovski as half of a pair of newlyweds who get lost in a canyon and whose husband (MINOR SPOILER ALERT) gets trapped under a rock.  And in doing so, I’ve come to the realization that I don’t really understand what makes 127 Hours special.  James Franco?  Sure.  He definitely displays a greater range than anyone in the other two movies I mention, and I don’t think I’ll have any problem with his Oscar nomination.  I’m pretty much ambivalent on what Brian describes as Boyle’s stylistic flourishes, maybe they helped move the story long.  But a more minimalist approach certainly would have been feasible without really losing anything.

As a side note, especially in case Adam doesn’t get to respond, for a movie about a dude trapped in a canyon, the film sure managed to find room for a lot of attractive actresses.  Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn, Lizzy Caplan, and In Bruges‘s Clemence Poesy?  Yowza.  Maybe it was Boyle resorting to another trick to keep the audience engaged, but that’s the kind of trick I can support.

John: Yeesh, what a bunch of, well, grouches. 127 Hours is audacious, visionary filmmaking. This is a Danny Boyle experience and he makes sure it’s always interesting. A film like this, with its limited scope, depends nearly entirely on the director’s vision. How do you portray this ordeal? How do you make the audience understand what the character experienced?

Boyle does so via flashbacks, dreams, and hallucinations. He gives it his usual pizzazz with flashy camerawork, quick edits, and an electronic score. Transport Franco’s great performance into a film that gives the story a straightforward treatment – voice over, rousing music cues, some emotional manipulation to leave the audience teary-eyed – and you’d have one boring movie.

I can’t say every element connected with me. I didn’t realize some of the imagery was meant to be Ralston’s actual hallucinations, for instance. I think it could have eased off the gas in a few spots. But I feel like if you like film as an art form, and not just as a story telling medium, it would be hard not to be thrilled with Boyle’s ambitious work here.

I didn’t really feel like I was transported to a Utah cave, lost in the story. I felt like I was watching a gifted artist’s interpretation of an incredible event.

An interesting development this season is the awards season trajectory of The Town, the Ben Affleck-helmed, Ben Affleck-written, Boston bank heist thriller starring Affleck and last year’s Best Actor nominee Jeremy Renner (plus Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, and Chris Cooper). After Affleck’s crew robs a bank managed by Hall, he approaches her to make sure she didn’t see any indentifying features to tell the police. Naturally they fall for each other, just as he is planning one last big score.

The film bowed at number 1 in mid-September with $33 million and surprisingly rapturous critical approval. As of now it’s nearly hit $92 million. The box office success and critical acclaim has thrust it into the awards race.

Oscar bloggers are predicting it for Best Picture. Warner Bros. rushed it to DVD yesterday, just three months after its release, to time it for an awards push. Every other day there’s an item about someone loving the film, like Robert Duvall.

On the other hand, in the early awards it’s only picked up Supporting Actor nods for Renner from the Golden Globes and SAG with little acknowledgment from critics groups.

But what’s the real deal, the straight talk you can only get from the Grouches? We’re here to tell you. And we think it’s hogwash.

John

I find the Oscar buzz for The Town puzzling. Though, to be fair, I find the slobbering critical response puzzling as well.

It’s a good movie. It’s entertaining and taut. But what people see as special elements transcending its genre just don’t work for me.

Mainly it’s the relationship between Ben Affleck and Rebecca Hall that trips me up. They don’t have any chemistry and I don’t see any reason they should be together. I suppose I can understand why she would cause him to soul search. She represents a new, positive force in his life and a way out of the criminal world that he’s been considering. But I don’t know why she sticks around with him.

Faaaaaake

And because it’s not a believable relationship it doesn’t give the film the emotional depth it intends. Which just makes it a good heist film. It’s not that it isn’t a typical Oscar film. It’s that it’s not a great film.

As for the Oscar buzz, I suspect people are looking for any box office hit to throw into the race after the way The Blind Side made bank on its way to a Best Picture nod last year. And I think that’s not a bad way to look at it because voters are probably doing the same thing. I just can’t help but think it’s more about timing than quality. If it was released in the summer, I doubt we’d be talking about it now.

Jared

It’s rather unfortunate (for blog purposes) that Brian, John and I all fundamentally agree about The Town, at least in the sense that we don’t really get why it is an Oscar contender.

Frankly, I don’t even think the film is particularly good genre fare, much less a good movie.  The heists don’t feel fresh and really aren’t all that interesting.  The film isn’t twisty.  John points to the poorly developed relationship between Ben Affleck and Rebecca Hall.  I’d submit that none of the relationships between the primary characters are developed.  Mostly because none of the characters are. Jeremy Renner is the stock angry young man.  There’s not really any point for Jon Hamm or Blake Lively to be in the movie.  I’m a Rebecca Hall fan, but I don’t think she’s given anything to work with here.  And Ben Affleck, I mean, I get that he’s the brains of the operation trying to make good.  But didn’t we figure that out in the first two or three scenes?

I agree with John that because The Blind Side received a nomination in the Academy’s return to ten Best Picture slots, that people are figuring on one spot being taken by a more populist movie.  I still think that despite the good box office and favorable reviews, it has a tough road to a nomination.  Thanks to all the actors named above, plus brief appearances from the likes of Chris Cooper and Pete Postlewaite, it did seem likely to pick up some steam with the SAG awards, but I don’t see too many other groups singling it out as a best movie. The Blind Side was kept in the conversation thanks to the story of Sandra Bullock’s march to victory, I’m not sure The Town has any similar sort of buoyancy.  Besides, if you are looking for a well-received movie that broke $100 million at the box office, would Shutter Island make more sense?  Ben Affleck and Jeremy Renner are well-regarded, but Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio are a little bit more so, I’d imagine.

In Nicole Holofcener’s Please Give, blog favorite Catherine Keener stars as the owner of a furniture shop, perhaps a little uneasy about procuring her goods from recently deceased fellow New Yorkers (“ambulance chaser” as one prospective customer calls her) and seemingly on a constant, if quiet, quest to give back.  Her husband is Oliver Platt,  who co-owns the store with her, is easygoing about all aspects of life.  They’ve got a daughter (Sarah Steele) and bought the apartment next to theirs from elderly current tenant Ann Guilbert, for whom they patiently (and morbidly) wait to pass away so they can knock down the wall between the two.  Guilbert has two granddaughters, Rebecca Hall (another blog favorite) a nurse who comes by every day to take care of her grandma and the wildly insensitive Amanda Peet.

That’s the basic setup, the rest generally follows the lines of a typical New York indie study of characters and relationships (though, to be fair, it does have a discernible plot, which is more than I can say for a few movies in the running for Spirit awards).  I realize I’m doing a horrible job selling this movie, but Holofcener’s sparkling dialogue is among the best I’ve heard all year.  I found myself laughing aloud multiple times and smiling throughout the film.  And while I’m not one who particularly cares if characters or lines seem “real” or not, I’m fairly certain this movie will satisfy those looking for that sort of reality from their movies.  From the way Oliver Platt tries to cover up the awkwardness with Hall and Peet about his incentive to have their grandmother die to the conversation Hall and Steele have about dog poop, Holofcener mines the real world to create some very funny moments.

Not everything works.  The ending feels…if not rushed, then not quite in sync with the rest of the movie.  I’m not sure Oliver Platt’s subplot reaches a resolution I’m comfortable with.  Actually, really, the problem with setting up so many characters, I think, that it is hard to find adequate resolutions to all the subplots.  Instead, the film just kinda stops at a certain point.  Which is fine, but not satisfying.

The film won the Independent Spirit award, honoring the director, casting director and cast in what amounts to a best ensemble award.  And I think that’s exactly right.  Each character portrayed by the main group is integral to the story and each actor fills her role admirably.  It is also up for Best Screenplay.  I’m still working my way through the nominees, but Please Give is certainly the front-runner.  If it can make me laugh at short jokes at the expense of Thomas Ian Nicholas (let’s be honest, I would have killed for a shot to draft Henry Rowengartner in a fantasy league), it must be doing something right.

November’s done and prestige titles are starting to come out! Will any little period dramas overshadow our slobbering fanboy love for Inception?

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

John

1. Inception
2. The Social Network
3. Green Zone
4. Carlos
5. Get Him to the Greek

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

Brian

1. Inception
2. The Social Netowrk
3. Four Lions
4. Waiting For Superman
5. Toy Story 3

If you haven’t already, check out the nominees.  As a reminder, in most categories, films must be American and have a budget of no more than $20 million.

We’ll have lots more on the Independent Spirit Awards soon, but here are some of the first things that came to mind upon seeing the nominations.  (The points below come from all of us.)

  • Lots of overlap with Oscar contenders, seems like moreso than usual.
  • One of the big snubs is Robert Duvall from Get Low.  We can’t figure that one out, but it shouldn’t knock him out of the Oscar race just yet.
  • With a miss here, it seems increasingly likely Julianne Moore is going to have to go down to the Supporting Actress category to get a nomination for The Kids Are All Right.
  • Would anyone be surprised if the Best Actress category (other than Gerwig) matched the Academy’s?
  • Or if Supporting Actress matched none at all?
  • You know, when Greenberg came out, it felt like it would do well here, but I figured the meh reactions would have tempered things a bit.
  • After last year’s Paranormal Activity, the spots to The Last Exorcism make some sense, and I have heard good things about it.  But if I had to pick a suspense flick, I sorta would have thought Frozen would have been recognized.
December 2010
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