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John’s post made me remember I promised to write up a few more categories.  He’s kind to suggest that our “social lives” prevented us from going more in depth.  I don’t like to lie, but I don’t believe a lie of omission is necessarily a lie, so here’s Cinematography and Costume Design, which I believe wraps us up?

Cinematography

Nominees: Black Swan, Inception, The King’s Speech, The Social Network, True Grit

These nominees match up perfectly with the American Society of Cinematographers, who gave their award to Wally Pfister’s work in Inception.  I’m not going to pretend to really know anything about this art form, so sure, I’ll go with the people who actually know what Cinematographers do.  That said, Roger Deakins (nominated for True Grit) is on his 9th nomination and has yet to win, so it would be nice to see him take one down.

Costume Design

Nominees: Alice in Wonderland, I Am Love, The King’s Speech, The Tempest, True Grit

If you’ve seen me in person ever, you probably know I am one of the least qualified people in the world to discuss this category.  So yeah, I didn’t catch the Julie Taymor film, but all the others had pretty clothes, I guess.  But, uh, let’s make me feel good about myself for having seen I Am Love

We’re taking a look at Oscar categories in advance of tonight’s show. Now we’re on Supporting Actress. The nominees:

  • Javier Bardem, Biutiful
  • Jeff Bridges, True Grit
  • Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
  • Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
  • James Franco, 127 Hours

John

Give me my award. Today, junior. Did I stutter? Oh, right.

This is a good crew, but Best Actor usually is. It’s Colin Firth in a walk for me, but that doesn’t reflect poorly on any of the others. What chance do they have against the charm, the grace, and yes the stutter of Firth? He’s so good all the time so I’m glad he’s getting his due, even though it does take a showy disability to get him the prize. Didn’t Tropic Thunder say something about going partial retard is Oscar gold…?

Franco is perfect for his role, both as a slightly off outdoorsy guy and the type of presence that can carry a movie when he’s the only one on screen. I didn’t give enough credit to Eisenberg when I first saw The Social Network. He gets some crap for playing the same character repeatedly, but I happened to see Network again soon after watching Zombieland and the differences were clear. This is also a performance that succeeds on a lot more than just line reading. I really like the way he carries himself.

I do think Bridges gets a boost just by being Jeff Bridges. It’s a memorable character that allows for some showy acting, but the type of role that I think needs a name to propel it to awards season. He’s still great, of course, but I do see a clear gap between him and those listed above. And Bardem is an interesting nod, displaying the kind of acting that I have not seen from him before. I just wish it had been in a better movie where his performance could have affected me more.

Snubs: As good as this list is, I would have had Robert Duvall for Get Low and Sean Penn for Fair Game. Maybe also Ryan Gosling for Blue Valentine.

Jared

Yeah, geez, how do you pick a winner here?  It is a little odd that precursors have been so unanimous just because everyone here absolutely deserves consideration for the win.  The Grouches closed out Oscars this year with a screening of Biutiful, which was was too long and didn’t give the view a chance to get emotionally invested in the characters enough.  My expectations of Javier Bardem were maybe too high, because I’d that people just absolutely went gaga over his performance.  He does a fine job, of course, but I think he’s hampered by the script here.

If an actor can get a nomination for a role that won John Wayne an Oscar, well, he must be doing something right.  Even if Jeff Bridges took a note from the Marlon Brando school of acting and stuffed a handful of pebbles in his mouth before talking.  If he didn’t get his career achievement Oscar last year, I have the feeling that we’d be hearing a lot more about him.  It is still weird to me, as a devotee of Freaks and Geeks (OK, who am I kidding, as a devotee of Whatever It Takes), that James Franco is a highly-regarded thespian.  But he’s unquestionably deserving.  And in 127 Hours it takes some kind of screen presence to be the sole focus of nearly every shot of every scene.

John makes a good point above, Jesse Eisenberg definitely does not play the same character in every film.  Are they similar?  Sure.  There’s the ever present joke about how he and Michael Cera fight over the same roles.  But really, I can’t imagine  Eisenberg as Scott Pilgrim nor I could see Cera as Zuckerberg.  Sorkin’s Zuckerberg is  a difficult nut to crack, but I think Eisenberg handles it quite deftly.

Like Mr. Darcy needed anything else to be a chick magnet.

But, of course, like everyone else in the world, I’m jumping on the Colin Firth bandwagon.  And while he’s had an impressive career, this victory is certainly not just for his body of work.  Doing the stutter is the obvious part of his performance.  And he does do it in a way that (apparently) very close to reality, but also works on screen.  That said, there’s so much more to his role.  How he, as a prince and king, husband and father, handles his relationship with each one of the other characters.  Part of that is Seidler’s script, naturally.  But a lot of it is Firth working his magic.

We’ve been releasing our takes on the big eight categories throughout the week with a few more to come. Before the big show tonight, I wanted to take one last look at some of the smaller categories that we didn’t bother to do the full treatment on, mostly because we have successful careers and vibrant social lives. Mmmhmm

Art Direction

Nominees: Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 1, Inception, The King’s Speech, True Grit


How many of these movies have rotating hallways and a flooded Japanese pagoda-style mansion? Oh, just Inception? Then I pick that.

Makeup

I’ve only seen The Way Back, but what a makeup job it is. This is a film about escaped prisoners traveling across Siberia and the Gobi desert. That is a hard trek and the makeup really sells it: sunburn, bug bites, extreme thirst, swollen limbs. The makeup is integral, noticeable, and realistic. Also, Colin Firth has some badass tattoos.

Documentary Feature

Restrepo and Exit Through the Gift Shop are both terrific and number among my favorite films of the year. I do like Restrepo slightly more, though I’m rooting for Exit because it’s so different from the usual Oscar documentary and because I love the idea of Banksy as an Oscar winner.

There’s been some talk of Waste Land coming up on the outside and sneaking in for the win. That would be unfortunate. It follows an artist as he recruits trash pickers in Rio de Janeiro’s largest dump to help him create large-scale works of art out of garbage. It’s a decent film, but it piqued my interest in ways I don’t think it intended. The first half deals a lot with the pickers’ daily lives. Where the film sees degradation I see fascinating economic forces at work – mainly positive ones. The film also has an intense Savior Through Art theme, which is probably the common movie theme that I hate the most. It drives my left-sided economist brain crazy. Savior Through Economic Growth, Technological Advancement, Improving Institutions, and Access to Credit, anyone?

I haven’t seen the other two nominated documentaries.

Animated Feature

Toy Story 3 is still my pick, but I have seen The Illusionist since my look at this category a month or so back. (You can go there to see my thoughts on Toy Story and the third nominee, How to Train Your Dragon.)

The Illusionist is amazingly gorgeous. The hand-drawn, watercolor style is breathtaking and creates a wonderfully colorful and vivid version of Scotland. It also has one of my favorite shots of the year, one that starts on a grassy hilltop and swoops through the streets of Edinburgh. I literally gasped, which I believe no 3D animated film has made me do. Director Sylvain Chomet also composed his own music, and it’s very good.

I wish Chomet would break away from the wordless style that he uses here and in Triplets of Belleville. Both films feel slight on plot without dialogue to advance them, which makes them drag. The whimsy and the animation go a long way, but a little more needs to happen to really push me over the top.

Live Action Short

Shorts International and Magnolia have been releasing the Oscar nominated shorts theatrically for the past few years. I would encourage those who can to see out this year’s Live Action program (I believe you can also find them on iTunes).

My choice is Wish 143, about a teen with terminal cancer who gets to participate in a Make A Wish-type program. His wish? To lose his virginity. This film killed me. It does a great job of portraying one’s reaction to illness. The teen, played by Samuel Holland, is so richly realized. For most of it I wondered if it would be appropriate to put a short on my Top 10 list. Unfortunately the ending stumbles a bit.

Na Wewe is my second choice and will be your winner tonight. A van is stopped by rebels in Burundi during the Rwanda/Burundi genocide in the 90s. The rebels separate the passengers into Hutus and Tutsis, planning to execute the latter. The passengers try to convince the rebels to spare them. It has basic emotional elements (suspense/ tragedy/ injustice), an important issue (genocide), and a well-developed and feel good – albeit somewhat obvious – theme (self-definition and how we’re all connected). A natural winner.

The other nominees are God of Love, a cute film about a modern-day hipster Cupid who uses darts instead of arrows; The Crush, a trite story of a young boy who has a crush on his teacher and will fight for his love; and The Confession, a good-looking but sort of pointlessly bleak tale of two boys who can’t figure out what to confess for their first Confession so they set out to cause some trouble.

Animated Short

I try to catch these every year because it usually features some really creative animation. I was underwhelmed with this slate. Check out the live action shorts if you can only see one.

Madagascar, carnet de voyage (Madagascar, a Journey Diary) is the only one that wowed me. And even then, it’s much more style than substance. It’s about a trip into the Malagasy countryside, visualized as a scrapbook come to life. The story is sort of bland, but the animation pops with some cool use of perspective. The Malagasy music used as accompaniment is also a treat.

Let’s Pollute is an amusing take on a 1950s public service film, sarcastically promoting the benefits of pollution. The Lost Thing follows a boy who finds some sort of alien-robot on the beach and tries to find a home for it. Honestly, I just didn’t get it. Day & Night is the cute Pixar short preceding Toy Story 3 about two characters representing the two times of day. I hear it’s great in 3D, but I’ve only seen it in two dimensions, where it’s rather flat, pardon the pun.

The Gruffalo is by far the longest and features the voices of several famous actors like Helena Bonham Carter. The animation is nothing special and the plot is aimed at the toddler level. At 30 minutes, this adult was very restless by the end as I knew where it was heading about 5 minutes in. And yet, except for one brief mention of Madagascar, it was literally the only film people were talking about walking out of the theater. It makes me wonder if it has a shot for the win.

We’re taking a look at Oscar categories in advance of tonight’s show. Now we’re on Supporting Actress. The nominees:

  • Amy Adams, The Fighter
  • Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech
  • Melissa Leo, The Fighter
  • Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
  • Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

Jared

I don't see the big deal, this FYC ad seems kinda classy...

The supporting categories are always tough for me because it is hard to figure out how, exactly, to weight screen time.  Should I favor being fantastic in five minutes over a solid performance in forty-five minutes?  Perhaps appropriately, I just flipped on the radio and The Zombies’s “She’s Not There” started playing.  I’m a big Amy Adams fan and loved that she got to play a little against type in The Fighter.  But she didn’t have enough to work with to make an impression on me.  She had a few memorable scenes, sure.  But I’m still not entirely certain how she nabbed a nomination over, say, Mila Kunis.

When the actress receiving a nomination is genuinely confused about it, you know Hollywood silly groupthink has reared its head again.  Like a movie?  Then vote for every single aspect of it!  Helena Bonham Carter does a perfectly fine job, but one of the five best performances of the year?  It is really odd how Hollywood can’t distinguish between different aspects of a movie they loved.

So, I fell asleep during Animal Kingdom.  Apparently I was out cold.  But don’t worry, after waking up I went back and caught what I missed.  The whole time (at least when I was awake) I was wondering how on earth Weaver managed a nomination here.  For me, it isn’t even the role being confused for the performance, but the idea of the role.  The thing is, I can totally see a film where she’d be worthy of a nomination.  One that wasn’t the most boring crime film of all time.  And one where her role gets fleshed out a little more. I really hope, though, some casting director has taken notice and casts her as the villain in some better production, because I really do think she can pull it off admirably.

I’m a little lower on Hailee Steinfeld than others.  Maybe part of it is because there’s absolutely no way to defend calling her performance supporting.  None at all.  Whoever first pitched the idea of doing so has balls the size of golden globes.  John has mentioned how much he liked Dakota Fanning in The Runaways.  Obviously the roles aren’t really comparable, but I’d tend to agree that I’m not entirely comfortable seeing Steinfeld recognized but not Fanning.  I think Steinfeld has a very bright future and hope that she soon gets new roles to be her calling card.

I don’t think this category is as strong as other this year, which perhaps is one of the reasons prognosticators are finding it a little difficult to predict.  Hilariously, Melissa Leo, probably the front-runner, shot herself in the foot by running For Your Consideration ads on her own dime.  Doesn’t she know how to play the game?  You aren’t allowed to actually say you want to win!  In any case, she’s my pick here, overcoming an awful script to create a memorable presence.  And really doing everything you’d want from a supporting actress, I think.  She always looms large, but never takes over the movie.

John

This is a tough category to pick. Whereas so many of the other categories are embarrassments of riches, I find this one to be slim pickings.

Let’s start with the women from The Fighter. Adams simply failed to make an impression on me. So many others were impressed with her work that I concede I may need another viewing. To me, she’s being swept up in an acting nomination wave for the film. I enjoyed Leo much more, but she also has a more colorful role and I can’t deny that she does seem to be Acting Very Hard.

Everyone loved Steinfeld but she actually drove me a little nuts. I don’t think it’s her fault. For one, the lack of contractions in the dialogue sounded bizarre to me from all characters. And the inflectionless way she often delivers her lines was probably directed out of her. So I think these are stylistic choices that happened to not work for me and therefore reflect poorly on Steinfeld.

Carter is a totally blah nomination. She’s good in The King’s Speech, of course, but she doesn’t get to display much of her considerable skills. It’s just such a straight-forward role. And that leaves Weaver, who you might think therefore wins by default. She plays a ruthless matriarch of a crime family in Animal Kingdom. What makes her so successfully chilling is how sweet she is while doing awful things. I think the tendency would be for the actress to really sell the fact that the sweetness is a charade, but Weaver plays it pretty straight. So she’s just acting sweet. It’s a great choice for the film, but does that make a great performance? The same performance with different words and she’s just a normal doting mother. Or am I missing some nuance?

Oh, honey.

Therefore I have concerns over them all. I’m going to choose Melissa Leo with Jacki Weaver not too far behind. I also just want Leo to win, partly because I like her and partly because I’d feel bad for her if she won all these precursors and lost. People would be blaming it on that photo spread and it would be awful.

Snubs: I’d nominate and give the Oscar to Lesley Manville for Another Year. My off-the-wall choice is Marisa Tomei in Cyrus. (Note: I may be in the bag for Marisa Tomei.)

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