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My recap of April’s Film Fest DC (belatedly) continues with the more serious films. Films that intend to have meaning, explore themes, and/or push outside the usual boundaries of cinema. Some succeed very well. Some succeed at being boring.

Since my colleagues don’t like films where films don’t go boom frequently or deign to move at a pace slower than “breakneck,”* I will identify the Grouch that would hate each film the most.

Julia’s Disappearance (Giulias Verschwinden), Switzerland, dir: Christoph Schaub

I think if someone made Another Year for a wider audience and set it in Zurich, the result would be Julia’s Disappearance, a wonderfully thoughtful and amusing film about aging and youth. Six stories intersect in one Swiss night. The titular Julia rides the bus to meet her friends at a restaurant for a dinner celebrating her 50th birthday. A gentleman her age catches her eye, but his eyes instead wander to a young woman in a revealing dress. An older woman next to Julia quips that at some age women become invisible.

While that older woman goes to her friend’s 80th birthday party at a retirement home, Julia bails on her friends and strikes up a flirtatious conversation with a German businessman at a bar. Meanwhile, her three sets of friends bicker and make sly observations about getting old as they wait for the guest of honor to arrive. Finally, some teenage girls on the initial bus decide to steal some sneakers for a boy they like.

Julia’s Disappearance doesn’t have the level of authenticity of Another Year, but that’s because it’s played more for laughs. The conversations are full of snappy dialogue. It does feel like movie dialogue that real people wouldn’t say, but who cares when it’s so humorous and insightful. Of the four major story threads, the one among the waiting friends in the restaurant is the best. A married couple, a gay couple with a sizable difference in age, and a bachelor growing forgetful in middle age spend their time ragging on each other and other patrons who are chasing youth through a doctor’s scalpel.

I might have done without the teenagers’ subplot, which feels a little superfluous, but Julia’s playful night with the stranger businessman is a delight and the older woman’s birthday party devolves into some amusing physical comedy. It’s not without its contrivances, but it’s infused with charm while holding back on the sentimentality. The result is a very enjoyable and intelligent film. A

Grouch who’d like it the least: Adam. Too talky.

The Hostage of Illusion (Rehén de ilusiones), Argentina, dir: Eliseo Subiela

This movie is the cinematic equivalent to claptrap. The director was in attendance at my screening and a Q&A followed. Audience members kept asking questions about various themes they picked up in the film and each question astounded me further. “You saw that??? The whole thing’s nonsense!” is what a more confident John would have yelled.

The synopsis provided an interesting premise: an author afflicted with writer’s block is haunted by his previous characters who want him to continue their stories. That could have made for a clever story indeed. It also only lasts one scene. The rest of the film follows the author as he embarks on an affair with a crazy woman.

And that’s really all there is to it. There’s no good reason for their attraction as best I can tell. He likes that she’s young, cute, and will sleep with him. She likes him because… she’s crazy? I don’t know. She has some manic and depressive episodes, he frets, the end.

You may find yourself wondering some of the same things my audience asked of the director. What if the woman is herself one of his characters haunting him? So what? What point is a question if it’s totally inconsequential? What if Superman was a Nazi? Who cares? D

Grouch Who’d Like it the Least: Brian, who’d probably be most offended at how unimportant it all is. I have a sneaking suspicion Jared wouldn’t even hate it all, given that it’s somewhat of a romcom with a version of a manic pixie dream girl.

I Am Slave, UK, dir: Gabriel Range

I was having second thoughts walking into this. It seemed unlikely that this drama about human trafficking wouldn’t turn into a manipulative mess. But boy was I wrong. It’s an entirely effective film that earns its emotion.

Malia is kidnapped from her south Sudanese village as a girl and pressed into service at a rich family’s home in Khartoum. Later she is shipped to another family in London. As she grows up a servant, her father travels through the country looking for her.

The greatest service of this film is addressing the tricky “whys” of human trafficking: why doesn’t she run away? Why doesn’t she fight back? The physical restraints are somewhat minimal. It’s the psychological torture that prevents Malia from doing anything. Her masters tell her that she is worthless, that no one outside will help her, that they will kill her family if she leaves. From our perspective as western viewers, we know these threats to be baseless. To a girl yanked away from the Sudanese countryside at the age of 12, the threats are her prison. She runs away once in London, just to come back. I hope viewers will understand this from Malia’s point of view and not grouse about why she didn’t just leave.

The film also does well to not become preachy or manipulative. The villains are not particularly cartoonish. They’re just housewives who fill similarly subservient roles for their husbands and they are even capable of some kindness. It’s a film that relies on its grounded realism to get its point across. The ending packs a powerful emotional punch and it’s a good sign that the only noteworthy criticism I have is that it should have been longer. A

Grouch Who’d Like it the Least: Adam. All this anti-slavery talk is just leftist mumbo jumbo. If she didn’t want to be a slave she should have learned a marketable skill.

The Names of Love (Le nom des gens), France, dir: Michel Leclerc

I’ve learned that “comedy” doesn’t always mean what I think it means when it comes to French films and film festivals. That didn’t bode well for The Names of Love, billed as a “witty and politically pointed romp of a romantic comedy.” And it gets worse: one of its significant themes is what it means to be French in modern France.

And yet, would you believe me when I say it’s delightful? And very funny? It’s populated by zany characters, none of which are realistic but all are entertaining. At the center is the unlikely love connection between Arthur, an awkward government scientist, and the free-spirited Bahia, an avowed leftist who sleeps with conservatives to convert them to her cause. They bicker and fall for each other and, while it’s not totally believable, it’s sweet enough.

A lot of zany things happen, some of them a little more serious than others. I guess more than anything it touches on themes of identity the most, but there’s a lot going on here, even including some Holocaust discussion. I can’t say it always works, but parts that hit wrong move along quickly. And even if the characters are cinematic creations, they at least have some real problems. B+

Grouch Who’d Like it the Least: Adam. French mumbo jumbo

Black Bread (Pa negre), Spain, dir: Augustí Villaronga

If Pan’s Labyrinth has taught us anything, it’s that the cruel era after the Spanish Civil War was a time with a lot of… surrealism. And if you’re in the mood for some supernatural Fascist barbarism, give Pan’s a look instead.

In a small Catalonian town, the young Andreu has his life upended when his father must flee the authorities and he goes to live with his grandmother and extended family. The plot revolves around a search for a spirit who may have killed the man Andreu’s father is accused of murdering. There’s a convoluted conspiracy involving some powerful Fascists and various other troubling things Franco’s thugs pull off.

But, honestly, the plot doesn’t matter because it devolves into a dreary slog. It’s never terrible but it lost me about a third of the way through. The supernatural elements never work and I can’t say the real world ones add up to much either. And the ending is pretty dumb. I don’t recall where, but one review I read said the main lesson Andreu learns is that adults can be pretty awful. Sounds about right and also sort of inconsequential. D+

Grouch Who’d Like it the Least: Jared. Boring. I think Brian would at least get something out of the history and Adam would appreciate that some lefties get killed real good.

*Their retort would surely be that I’m a snob. But they are dumbheads. So there.

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54. Buried

I have to give credit to whoever convinced the financial backers to sink money into Buried.  Pitching a bleak Iraq movie that takes place entirely inside a coffin could not have been the easiest of sells.  Screenwriter Chris Sparling put forth a sporting effort here, but I’m really hoping he learned from the experience for his script for ATM, hopefully to be released in the near future, which is about three people trapped in (by? near?) an ATM while some killer or robber type person lurks nearby.  Ryan Reynolds, the star of Buried, consistently impresses me, hopefully he can soon find a role that showcases his abilities to a wider audience.  Though this one did get an MTV Movie Award nomination.

53. Easy A

Easily my biggest disappointment of the year, though that’s partially due to the absurdly high expectations I had coming in to the film.  I’m, of course, extremely happy for Emma Stone and all the deserved attention, kudos, and roles she’s received as a result.  It is just so weird because I had been crazy obsessed with her and now that’s actually (somewhat) socially acceptable.  But it is OK, I know our love is strong and can withstand all this fame and fortune thrown her way.  I could spend a nearly endless amount of time discussing this movie (I could probably pull together a thesis comparing the film to the heyday of the high school romcom inspired by classic literature subgenre), but let’s focus on the best parts of the film: the scenes with Stone and her parents (Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson).  They last played a couple in 2009’s Blind Date (which I ranked as my 12th favorite movie of the year) and were marvelous, but here they get to be a lot happier.  Honestly, there weren’t too many better scenes in film this year than when Tucci, Clarkson, and Stone were interacting.

52. The Locksmith

I’ll be honest, it is entirely possible I made this film up.  I mean, I remember watching it.  I think I may have streamed it while on a business trip to Vegas.  Because, yes, I am that cool.  But I can’t remember anyone referencing it ever.  I guess that’s the uphill battle one faces when trying to market an independent film with no budget, huh?  Especially one like The Locksmith, which was decent, if unremarkable, and without any particular hook.  It is a day in the life of a guy in a work-release program who works as a locksmith and his encounter with a slightly unhinged woman.  I can’t really give a reason to see it, but I can’t give one not to, either.

51. Micmacs

From Jean-Pierre Jeunet comes this…I don’t even know how to describe it.  I’m a firm believer that restrictions can be good for creativity.  One reason I like one room films is that that I feel by so severely limiting the scene locations, writers and directors are forced to come up with interesting takes on things.  Anyway, the point is, the film kinda felt like Amelie, but without the central love story to guide the film.  So it gets a little unfocused and precious at times, but it certainly has the same sensibilities as the Audrey Tatou-starrer.

50. The Winning Season

I’m a sucker for sports movies.  Which apparently extends all the way to high school women’s basketball movies.  Basketball is, if you didn’t know, a silly heightist sport.  The Winning Season does its very best to avoid the traditional sports movie storylines.  I don’t know why, since they are what make sports movies great, plus the film eventually falls into the cliches anyway.  Plus, it starts on about five or six subplots that don’t really finish up anywhere.  That said, when you’ve got Sam Rockwell as the coach, the soon-to-be-huge Emmy snub Margo Martindale as his assistant, and Emma Roberts and Rooney Mara as players on the team, you don’t need too much else.

49. Frozen

The film cheats a little bit, but 90% of the movie does take place on a ski lift.  Which is pretty cool.  Especially for something that could be described as a thriller.  I actually found the non-ski lift bits to be the weakest parts of the film.  Writer/director Adam Green came up with a pretty smart idea, because I’m pretty sure everybody who has ridden a ski lift has wondered what would happen if they got stuck up there.

48. The Joneses

Saw The Joneses on an airplane.  I’m kinda surprised the film couldn’t find more traction.  It stars David Duchovny, Demi Moore, Amber Heard, and Ben Hollingsworth who all pose as a happy family newly moved in to an upper middle class neighborhood.  But they are, in fact, employees of a company specializing in what may be best described as real life product placement.  The idea being that this seemingly wildly successful and content “family” use whatever items the company wants to see (be it the latest high-tech toys or jewelry or sports drinks or whatever), and then friends and neighbors (including Gary Cole) will want to use those items as well.  Kinda brilliant, actually.  I understand why a movie with this sort of message may not have been the most popular of things, I suppose.  Plus, the requisite love story wasn’t adroitly handled, and the film does get a little dark.

47. Black Swan

Black Swan may have come across our radar once or twice.  I’m mostly talked out about the merits of the film, I think its placement speaks to my opinion.  And like I’ve said, to me, it felt like a horror film for people who don’t like horror films.  A few months ago, when the devastating news came out about Natalie Portman’s pregnancy and engagement, I had an idea to rank Black Swan last and talk about how it was the worst movie in the history of movies.  But this list has too much integrity for that!  Plus, I totally forgot until just now.  Also, I talk about it in the Spirit Awards post, but I’m kinda surprised Vincent Cassel couldn’t build any awards traction.  Seems like he is bound to get there sometime, hopefully soon.

46. Kites (Remix)

What’s the standard complaint about Bollywood movies?  They are too long and have unnecessary musical scenes.  So Brett Ratner said something along the lines of, “Well, heck, let’s just lop off the song and dance numbers!”  Not a terrible idea in theory.  Or in practice, as it turns out.  Some continuity was undoubtedly lost, of course, but the film was generally coherent.  And Kites had much of what I’d expect from Brett Ratner joint: car chases, shootouts, that sort of stuff.  Now, I’m guessing I personally would have liked the Bollywood version better, but I could definitely see this version having more crossover appeal.  Of course, there’s still a pretty big disconnect between Bollywood and Hollywood in terms of sex scenes (or lack thereof) and gratuitous violence, so I think we may still have to wait a bit before seeing a massive crossover hit.  Though I’d love to be wrong.

45. Robin Hood

Perfectly adequate.  I’d heard that earlier takes on the film had all sorts of interesting ideas about where to take the Robin Hood story, but the ultimate product felt very very safe.

64. TRON: Legacy

Saw this one on a plane, which maaaybe limited my enjoyment of the film’s best parts.  But I did happen to be in first class, which probably helped my mood some.  The movie’s many bells, whistles, and shiny bright lights go far to distract the viewer from the generally neglected script, so there’s maybe a fudge factor in my rating here because I didn’t see the film in its true intended glory.  It is still crazy to me that they gave us a sequel to a cult classic from nearly thirty years ago.  Other films that were released within a few weeks of Tron include: Poltergeist, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, E.T., Grease 2, Blade Runner, The Thing, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Night Shift, and An Officer and a Gentleman.  Not a bad little two month run, huh?

63. 44 Inch Chest

This British revenge flick starring Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, John Hurt, Tom Wilkinson, and Stephen Dillane is something Adam and I should love, just on general principle.  It ended up middle of the pack for me because…well, the reasons have been lost to time as I saw the film a year and a half ago and didn’t take any notes.

62. Repo Men

Honestly, Repo Men is a pretty terrible movie.  For me, the last five to ten minutes or so salvaged the operation, bumping the film up to three stars on Netflix and up probably thirty to forty slots in my rankings.  Not everyone is going to feel the same way, understandably, and for once that’s not a dig on Brian’s dismissal of endings.  The film’s a pretty rote tale starring Oscar-nominees Jude Law and Forest Whitaker about an enforcer turned renegade who must take down the system.  The sci-fi aspects are generally underutilized and the love interest (Alice Braga) isn’t shoehorned in very well.  Notable for the RZA cameo and an extremely short scene with Community’s Yvette Nicole Brown.

61. Legion

The trailer does a pretty accurate job showing what this movie is all about: a diner in the middle of nowhere turns into a last stand of sorts for humanity, save for a kinda weird third act.  Paul Bettany is great, naturally, as is Adrianne Palicki, though she plays a pregnant woman, so you couldn’t really call her sexy.  Unless, hey, that’s your thing.  No judgments on this blog.  I’m not saying Dennis Quaid is typecast, but casting him as the restaurant’s owner who has refused to admit that his dream has failed even though the proposed highway (or whatever) that was going to be a boon for business never materialized, and who always insists on manner and doing things the right way wasn’t necessarily the biggest stretch in casting history.

60. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Because I played the game above with Tron, let’s look at some movies that came out within a few weeks of Wall Street: Less Than Zero, The Running Man, Teen Wolf Too, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, Three Men and a Baby, Throw Momma From The Train, Empire of the Sun, Eddie Murphy Raw, Overboard, Broadcast News, Moonstruck, and Good Morning, Vietnam.  Huh, another good run, if entirely different sorts of films.  Honestly, I’m kinda surprised Wall Street 2 ended up this high on my list, I think that’s an indictment of the relatively crummy year that was 2010.  Acting-wise, the highlights for me was Eli Wallach being a badass in the courtroom and the few lines Natalie “Dub Dub” Morales had.  I still don’t entirely understand Shia LaBeouf as a star or why Carey Mulligan cut her hair short.

59. Unstoppable

You might recall this film was nominated for an Oscar, so we talked about it briefly.  As I mention there, the dialogue was often painful and the characters not developed at all.  And the story was exactly as simple as it sounds like: there’s an out of control train.  Yet somehow, it kinda works.  Maybe it was the sound.  Maybe director Tony Scott had something to do with it.  Maybe it was how the supporting cast (Rosario Dawson, Ethan Suplee, T.J. Miller, and Kevin Corrigan) can all be really funny?  Beats me.

58. The Tourist

Saw this with Adam during our drunken Passover movie mini-marathon.  Obviously, with Depp and Jolie, not to mention director/Bond villian Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, co-screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie and Julian Fellowes, and a supporting cast that included Paul Bettany and Timothy Dalton, this international spy film should have been huge.  Somewhere along the way, though, they lost the story.  It has the framework of a big spy thriller, but the moving parts of a smaller almost character study.

57. The Good Guy

Like there was any chance of me missing a flick starring Scott Porter and Alexis Bledel, not to mention fellow Maroon Anna Chlumsky.  I very rarely read reviews of films I’m recapping here for fear of inadvertently ripping anything off, so I want to make sure I cite Roger Ebert’s review, which I referenced because I remembered the film gave away a plot point through a book, but couldn’t remember which one.  And of course the good Mr. Ebert reminds me that was Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier, which I happened to have read.  A decent novel, but it will minorly spoiler some elements of the film.  Ebert’s review offers some excellent advice on women, so I suggest you go read it and stop wasting your time here.

56. Passenger Side

No idea how it got in my queue and one of those films I may never think about for the rest of my life.  Then again, youneverknow.  Can we just take a minute to talk about Adam Scott’s career?  Because I have absolutely no idea how to describe it or to whom it compares?  It isn’t just the duality of his comedic and dramatic roles.  While impressive, it certainly isn’t unique.  No, it is more than no matter if he is doing creepy or nice guy or asshole, he somehow quietly commands the screen, no matter the size of the role.  I think in some sense that makes him the consummate straight man.  Because Scott is so rock solid that any sort of antics, be they wacky or melodramatic, are dramatically amplified by bouncing off of him.

55. Fish Tank

It is perhaps fitting that when I go to the critically-lauded Fish Tank‘s imdb page, the user lists that show up are all titled something along the lines of “Movies I Have Seen” or “Watched Movies”.  Because that’s about right.  The film did well for itself on the awards circuit (outside the US, that is), but I’m not entirely certain why.  Maybe I’ve just OD’ed on disaffected youths.  I’m also trying to figure out my stance on Michael Fassbender.  Because so far I’ve found him rather forgettable, in the sense that I don’t remember in which films I’ve seen him.  But I’m sort of wondering if that’s because he disappears so completely into his roles.

Update: In the initial post, I incorrectly stated that Jennifer Garner starred in Morning Glory when it was, of course, Rachel McAdams.  I apologize and thank Brian for noticing the mistake and correctly pointing out that McAdams is hotter.

74. Youth in Revolt

It was as if in one instant, the USA simultaneously rose up as one and said, “No more Michael Cera!”  The publicists desperately tried to by counter by showing Cera blowing up things and playing a dual role, one of which included a wispy mustache.  Alas, it was too late, the country had already thrown in the towel on seeing Cera as a dorky adolescent, comically struggling to embrace adulthood.  Which is a bit of a shame, this film probably deserves better than that.  Especially given its top notch cast, highlighted by Portia Doubleday, and It girl Rooney Mara.

73. The Killer Inside Me

By pure chance, I happened upon this book at a used book store a little bit ago, not realizing it was something of a cult classic or that it was being made into a film.  The book is especially noticeable for its use of an unreliable narrator as a look into the mind of a killer.  Which would have been difficult to translate to film no matter what, but writer John Curran and director Michael Winterbottom don’t really get there, the ultimate failing of the film.  The casting was great, though, with Casey Affleck stellar as the lead and Kate Hudson and Jessica Alba as the two women in his life, plus Ned Beatty and Elias Koteas.  If you follow such things, you may recall the film stirred some controversy due to its (arguably) graphic depiction of man on woman violence.  Said violence was actually taken directly from the book, and I thought handled very deftly by Curran and Winterbottom.

72. The Greatest

Possibly my favorite shot of the year was the opening (or possibly second, I don’t remember exactly) scene of The Greatest.  It is perhaps a minute or three of Pierce Brosnan, Susan Sarandon, and if I remember correctly Johnny Simmons all in a limo, not speaking.  Brosnan’s expressiveness is truly remarkable, doing so much with so little.  Writer/director Shana Feste put together a relatively fresh take on the family affected by a sudden death trope, with Brosnan as the aloof Dad, Sarandon the ever-grieving Mom, Simmons the kid brother trying to find his way, and Carey Mulligan as the unexpectedly pregnant girlfriend, of the golden boy son (Aaron Johnson).

71. Tangled

Nominated for Best Original Song, which we discussed here.  I stumped pretty hard for it, because the idea of Chuck singing an Oscar-winning song is pretty great, plus the other songs weren’t anything special.  The one song from the film that really stood out to me, though, was Grace Potter’s “Something That I Want“, which I listened to a bunch.  Unfortunately, I don’t believe it was eligible for an Oscar, as it was just a reworking of the same song that Potter originally wrote for One Tree Hill.  As for the movie, maybe I’m getting old, but it didn’t feel as epic as Disney movies had in the past.

70. Morning Glory

A movie forgotten as soon as it came out, save for a GIF of Rachel McAdams”s panty-clad rear end that seems to have taken on a life of its own.  Which is surprising, given the star power of Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton, plus director Roger Michell (Notting Hill, Venus) and screenwriter and new invitee to AMPAS Aline Brosh McKenna (The Devil Wears Prada, 27 Dresses).  The problem, I think, is that while everything seems to be pointing to the film being a romantic comedy, it really wasn’t.  Ford and Keaton have great chemistry and can banter like pros, but their characters remain platonic.  Garner is hooking up with Patrick Wilson in that GIF, but his character is entirely pointless in the film, and could easily have been cut.  The closer romcom relationship is that of Ford and Garner, but theirs is a platonic one.

69. The Kids Are All Right

We’ve, of course, covered this film a bunch.  Brian has a theory, and I’m paraphrasing here because he’s a bum and never got the post up that he promised, that The Kids Are All Right only received the awards and attention it did because the couple at the center of the film is lesbian and not heterosexual.  Which I buy, because I never really understood the love here.  Sure, the actors were great (I love me some Mark Ruffalo), and Cholodenko/Blumberg came up with some interesting characters, but the film never really delivers on its promise, in my opinion.  And I’m certainly confused by its placement in the comedy/musical category at the Globes, as I didn’t find it particularly humorous.

68. Daddy Longlegs

We talked about the film some during our Spirit chat.  I know John and Brian enjoyed this film and Adam hated it, I’m obviously somewhere in the middle.  Ronald Bronstein was certainly a revelation as a completely irresponsible New Yorker who gets his kids for two weeks a year.  His character, as written by Ben and Joshua Safdie, feels like a really fresh take on a manchild.  It makes the film pretty tough to watch, but Bronstein’s character is unlikable throughout, and doesn’t get any sort of redemption.  Here’s hoping some people somewhere were watching and give Bronstein the chance to shine on a bigger stage.

67. Country Strong

Though the decision to market Country Strong as Crazy Heart Part 2 is understandable, I think it was a pretty big mistake, for two reasons.  First, Crazy Heart wasn’t particularly good, so I’m skeptical anyone really wanted to see another version of it.  And second, though both films feature a strong performance by a name actor playing a country singer struggling with addiction, they really are quite different.  In some sense, Gwyneth Paltrow is actually a supporting actress, as I’d argue the film is actually about Garrett Hedlund’s character.  All of the main characters (rounded out by Tim McGraw and Leighton Meester) start out interesting, but start falling into cliches, which sounds oddly like what I said about writer/director Shana Feste’s other film in this post.  Though John and I weren’t crazy about this movie’s Oscar-nominated song, as a whole, I found the music better than Crazy Heart’s.

66. Paper Man

What’s that?  You haven’t heard of Paper Man?  Huh.  Well, then I guess you don’t care as much as I do about Emma Stone, do you?  <crosses another name of the list entitled “Contenders for Emma Stone’s Heart”>  <ignores another phone call from a loved one pleading for me to seek professional help>  The film stars Jeff Daniels as a writer suffering from writer’s block, Emma Stone as a teenager who he awkwardly befriends, Ryan Reynolds as Captain Excellent, Daniels’s superhero imaginary friend, and Kieran Culkin.  Plus I remembered that Daniels had a wife in the film who was a doctor, had her head on straight, but was maybe a little bit bitchy because Daniels couldn’t accept responsibility.  I couldn’t remember who played her, but I thought, “Gee, that sounds exactly like a Lisa Kudrow role”  And sho ’nuff, it was.  Ready for three fun facts about husband and wife writer/directors Kieran and Michele Mulroney?  1.  Yup, Kieran is Dermont Mulroney’s brother.  2.  Kieran grew up in Alexandria, VA.  3.  The Mulroneys have the sole screenwriting credits for the upcoming Sherlock Holmes sequel.

65. The Exploding Girl

Sadly not the gory actioner its title promises.  Was actually nominated for a couple of Spirit Awards we didn’t cover.  In a number of ways it feels like a stereotypical New York indie arthouse film, but compares favorably to, say, Tiny Furniture in that respect.  The story is very light, one of those coming back home from college for the summer and finding yourself deals.  I saw a lot of Zoe Kazan in a short time last year, for whatever reason, and I do think she has the potential to be something special, hopefully she can keep finding her way to meaty roles.

Update: I’m happy this post is getting the occasional link and I hope people enjoy my exhaustive look at voting procedures (who wouldn’t!). However, further reporting after the announcement in the change in the Best Picture nominating rules – particularly by Steve Pond at The Wrap – revealed that some of my initial assumptions were incorrect. I have inserted some updates to clarify where necessary. The original post:

This morning the Academy announced changes to the Best Picture nomination process. After two years of ten nominees, the number of nominated films may now vary between 5 and 10. Only films that receive at least 5% of first place votes may qualify for a nomination, though five is the minimum.

The intention of this rule change is great. Ten felt unwieldy at times, with a few also-also-rans filling out the slate. Allowing the quality of that year’s contenders determine the number of slots makes a lot of sense.

It’s too bad they bungled the math so bad.

Breaking 5%

In the Academy press release, Executive Committee members claimed they pored over the data from recent years to see what would have happened under the new 5% scenario. “In studying the data, what stood out was that Academy members had regularly shown a strong admiration for more than five movies,” said retiring executive director Bruce Davis. In the eight years before the expansion to ten nominees, the new system would have resulted in slates of 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 nominees. Note that there’s one number missing: 10.

I know this isn’t a large sample size, but in all the years they tested, a 5% threshold never reached the maximum number of allowed nominees. This means that the 5% rule is not tweaking the list of eligible candidates, it is the sole determinant of the nominees. (Update: Not entirely true. See below.)

An Elegant System Tossed Away

Why does that matter? Because the current system is surprisingly well-devised. A good voting system should accurately reflect voters’ preferences and diminish the temptation to vote strategically (“game the system”). The Oscar’s current voting process does this well.

Alternate Voting: Rather than voting for one film to nominate for Best Picture, voters submit a ranked list 1-10 of nominees. To count these ballots, the accountants make a pile for each film that receives a #1 vote. Any film that receives 1/11th of all #1 votes gets a nomination and those ballots are set aside. Next, the movie that receives the fewest #1 votes gets eliminated. Those ballots get transferred to the #2 film on each list. It does get a little more complicated, but essentially round after round of eliminations eventually results in ten films crossing the nomination threshold. Even though voters submit up to ten films, each voter only has one vote.

This process frees the voter to vote however she wishes. She doesn’t have to consider the “electability” of her number one choice. She can put any film at #1, no matter how remote its chances. If that film doesn’t have enough support, her vote transfers to her #2 choice. Her vote is not wasted. This isn’t like a political race where a vote for a third party is essentially meaningless. (Update: It turns out that any film that receives fewer than 1% of first place votes does get redistributed.)

Surplus Votes: Realistically, voters have preferences beyond seeing just one film nominated. Maybe they want a certain one to win the Oscar, but would also really like to see another one nominated. In such a scenario, the voter may be tempted to vote for the one she likes less just to help it get nominated if she thinks the one she prefers will get lots of other support. This is especially true in races where it’s dead certainty that a contender will receive a nomination (Avatar, The King’s Speech, etc…)

The Oscar vote tabulators take this into account. If one nominee receives 20% more votes than it needs, all that film’s votes get reassigned to the next film on the ballot on a pro-rated basis. So if a film needs 500 votes to get nominated and receives 1000 votes, all those votes will be reassigned to the next film on those ballots and be worth 50% of a vote. So now the voter doesn’t even have to worry about wasting her vote on an obvious front-runner! A portion of her vote will go to another favorite. (Update: The surplus rule isn’t entirely thrown out either, it turns out. A film that receives 20% more of the 1st place votes it would have needed to cross the 1/11th threshold still has its votes redistributed on a pro-rated basis. The result is a distribution for films that receive more than roughly 11% of first place votes.)

The combination of Alternate Voting and reassigning surplus votes makes for a system that removes most incentives for gaming the system. Voting strategically isn’t going to get a voter much further than simply voting with her heart.

(Update: With Steve Pond’s reporting, we now know that the surplus rule is applied first. Then any film with less than 1% of first place votes gets redistributed. After that one round of redistribution, all films with 5% or more of first place votes receives a nomination for Best Picture. The result is many fewer wasted ballots than I feared, but still many more than under the previous voting system.)

An Arbitrary Threshold

No need to fill all of this out

I understand the desire to adjust the number of nominees based on the qualities of the contenders. “A Best Picture nomination should be an indication of extraordinary merit,” says Davis. “If there are only eight pictures that truly earn that honor in a given year, we shouldn’t feel an obligation to round out the number.” But requiring at least 5% of #1 votes is not the way to do it.

First, the number of films receiving 5% of #1 votes is not necessarily indicative of the strength of that year’s slate. More than anything it indicates the strength of the front-runners. If there is a strong front-runner or two, those two films could easily account for more than a third of #1 votes. Even if other potential nominees are broadly well-respected, it will be tough for many to hit that 5% level.

Awards Daily, a popular Oscar site, did a simulated ballot for its readers last year using the same voting system as the Academy. The top three vote-getters netted 65.6% of all #1 votes. As you can see, this left very little room for other films to also hit 5%, even well-respected ones that garnered lots of support once votes were reallocated. I know the audience for an Oscar blog is going to be different from the Academy membership, but similar patterns could certainly emerge.

A year that has many nominees wouldn’t mean that the crop of films that year was better. It most likely means the field is more even with no one or two films leading the pack and snapping up extra #1 votes.

So the 5% rule doesn’t have much to do with film quality, despite the justification from the Academy. What it DOES do is eliminate the also-rans. In a year with just a couple true contenders to win Best Picture, let’s just abandon the pretense and not nominate a bunch of films that have no chance to win, even if the consensus considers them great. In years that have a lot more films in the running for the win, let them in even if not all of them are that good. I don’t think this is what the Academy is trying to do but it least it would make sense.

The usual voting system spelled out above comes into play to determine nominees among eligible films. But the 5% target is so high that never once in the eight test cases the Academy studied was the usual counting system necessary. Eleven films would have to receive 5% of #1 votes before the weighted ballots came into play. That is very, very unlikely.

(The usual voting process could also come into play if less than five films hit 5%. In fact, only four films did so on the Awards Daily 2009 simulated ballot.)

Barring the unlikely event that more than ten or less than five films reach the 5% threshold, the slate of Best Picture nominees will be entirely composed of those films that hit the threshold. No alternate voting. No reallocation of excess votes. And therefore lots of incentive to vote strategically as voters try not to waste their ballots on long-shots.

An Example in Screwy Voting

We’ll use my 2009 Best Picture mock ballot as an example. My top five votes would have been:

1. In the Loop
2. Zombieland
3. The Informant!
4. An Education
5. Up

I had little expectation that In the Loop would garner a Best Picture nomination. But it wasn’t impossible. It was in the conversation for a screenplay nod and with ten nominees something could sneak in out of left field. Its chances were low but not nil. There was no risk to voting for it, however, because if it got eliminated my vote would move down to my #2 film, then #3, etc… Realistically this ballot would have resulted in a vote for An Education or Up as numbers 1-3 got eliminated.

Now, I really loved An Education. I wanted it to get nominated and I was concerned it was on the bubble. With the 5% rule, it doesn’t just need my vote to get nominated. It needs my #1 vote. So now I have a dilemma: do I vote for In the Loop, the film that I loved the most even though its chances were very slim under the old rules and are much slimmer with a 5% threshold, knowing that if it doesn’t hit 5% my vote will count for absolutely nothing? Or do I vote for An Education in case it needs my vote to cross 5%? The rational vote is the latter and I don’t think that’s a good thing.

Bad incentives make economists angry!

Think about it like this: I have two preferences. The primary preference is to get a nomination for In the Loop. The secondary one is to help An Education elbow out its competition for the final few slots. The old system lets me have both my preferences and assigns my vote based on how others vote. If my vote for In the Loop helps it, then my vote goes there. If my vote for In the Loop doesn’t help, then at least my vote can help my secondary objective. Under the 5% rule, I must make the choice and risk wasting my vote if I choose wrong.

Ultimately, there’s no reason to submit a list of ten films on the nomination ballot any more. In fact, there’s no reason to vote for more than one. Either your #1 choice gets 5% of votes and it is nominated or it doesn’t reach 5% and it’s not nominated. That’s it.

(Update: With the subsequent further clarification, the problem of strategic voting is somewhat diminished but still prominent. A voter can vote for a real long-shot with no risk. Once that film is eliminated the vote will redistribute to the next film on the ballot. However, a ballot is still wasted if the first place vote goes to a film that receives between 1% and 4.999% of first place votes. This is enough to give an informed voter pause and strategically alter her vote.)

Rational Voters?

All this analysis depends on voters being rational. Strategic voting is an issue only when voters understand the voting system. I think it’s fair to say Academy voters never really understood it to begin with and there’s a good chance the 5% rule will make it seem closer to their misunderstanding of what the process is anyway (i.e., they think it works like a political race). In 2009 there was a nonsensical campaign to list The Hurt Locker at #1 and Avatar at #10 thinking that it would somehow hurt Avatar.

I also don’t think Academy voters have been voting with their heart much anyway. I suspect many put at #1 the Oscar contender they liked the most, not their favorite film regardless of its place in the Oscar race. Therefore, the history of a combination of laziness and being too stupid to realize they don’t have to vote strategically could mute the effect of the new rule.

The new rule was devised with the help of PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the firm that does the ballot counting for the Academy. These are smart accountants. Did they not advise the Academy on the obvious problems of an arbitrary 5% threshold? It’s possible they realized that the 5% rule doesn’t affect the vote too much due to the unoriginality of Academy voters who all vote for the same group of potential nominees.

I sing the praises of the current voting process with its alternate voting system, but the Awards Daily experiments show that #1 votes are still king. Categories with five slots rarely have a nominee that finished outside the top six (or seven) in #1 votes. Very often after the lengthy vote reallocation process, the nominees are just the ones who got the most #1 votes. So maybe the results end up about the same.

I do think it makes it harder for smaller films. Does something like Winter’s Bone even bother with a Best Picture campaign knowing that 5% is going to be tough to reach? Because now it’s not only facing the normal challenges of a minnow candidate, but it also must face people thinking it has no chance to reach 5% so they won’t be wasting their vote on it. The type of momentum a smaller film needs to generate simply never materializes.

(Update: Now that we know there is a round of surplus rule reallocation and vote redistribution for films that received less than 1% of first place votes, this problem is somewhat diminished. Realistically, a film can receive a little less than 5% – maybe even as low as 4%? – and pick up some support via reallocation and redistribution.)

John’s Perfect Solution

All that said, I love the idea of altering the number of nominees based on the quality of films in the running. The Academy just needs better criteria. I’m sure they could unleash an egg head (like me! I’ll do it!) to create some sort of complex formula that measures broad-based consensus support for films.

But I think a workable solution is easier. The current ballot counting system is iterative. Votes are counted, films are eliminated, votes are reallocated, and the votes are counted again. Repeat until there are ten nominees. Simply cap the number of times you eliminate and reallocate votes. I don’t know what the optimal number of rounds is, but analyzing the data of past years should come up with a good number. 15? 20? If round after round passes without the slate of ten filling out, that’s a sign that there is no broad consensus on what films are quality enough to be nominated. That is the whole point, right?

In the 2010 Awards Daily example, the first six nominations were secured in three rounds. The next didn’t come until round 17. The last three came in round 20 when literally every other film had been eliminated. I think in this case it’d be fair to take the first six or seven qualified nominees and call it a day.

Realistically the round limit would probably have to be determined by how far apart the remaining potential nominees are. If there’s not a lot separating them then there is no consensus and you can be okay nominating none. But looking at it from a round-perspective should be a much better indicator of quality than an arbitrary 5% target.

Academy, please feel free to use my system. Just toss me a few tickets to the ceremony!

(Update: The rules clarification doesn’t prevent my solution from being the perfect one!)

84. Splice

Vincenzo Natali’s scifi tale of two scientists (Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley) who create a new life form (against their bosses orders!) then watch as the thing/creature/human? matures.  An interesting enough idea that never quite gets where it wants to, in that it probably should have been thought-provoking but instead it just gets kinda weird.  Brody has had a bizarre post-Oscar career, I’m not convinced anyone (including himself) knows exactly what sort of characters he should be playing.  Polley, let’s not forget, has an Oscar nomination for the screenplay to Away From Her.

83. How Do You Know

This James L. Brooks film famously hit a budget well past $100 million.  The bulk of which went to stars Jack Nicholson, Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, and Paul Rudd, but still, one does wonder what suit decided it’d be a good bet for this film to make back all that.  Especially with a script that’s rather ordinary.  Mildly funny at times, it never really gets sexy, hilarious, or dramatic.  Everyone does their part: Nicholson chews up scenery for the few scenes he’s in, Witherspoon is the consummate professional, Wilson is wacky and Paul Rudd is Paul Rudd.  But if Nicholson and Witherspoon were replaced with supporting castmates Tony Shalhoub and Kathryn Hahn, I think you could have saved a lot of money without losing too much.  I’m also a little bitter at the decided lack of baseball and DC in the film (Wilson plays a pitcher on the Nationals).

82. Nowhere Boy

Received four BAFTA nominations, but failed to make much of a splash on this side of the pond.  Aaron Johnson plays a teenage John Lennon (showing range, when compared to Kick-Ass, that is quite impressive) who had been raised by his uncle and rather severe aunt (Kristin Scott Thomas).  After his uncle passes, he learns that his mother (Anne-Marie Duff) actually lives fairly close by.  She’s fun-loving, reckless, gets rock and roll, virtually the complete opposite of his aunt.  He does meet Paul and George, but this film is less a Beatles biopic and more a nice little teen angst in post-war Britain film.

81. Devil

Fun fact: This film was first on my radar because I noticed Caroline Dhavernas was in it, though I thought she looked a little weird in the commercials.  Turns out that wasn’t Dhavernas with an awkward makeup job, but Bojana Novakovic.  The star of Wonderfalls is actually only in the movie for a few minutes in a couple of relatively unnecessary scenes.  Whoops!  The other reason I was drawn to Devil was my well-documented love of single room movies.  And while the film wasn’t quite that claustrophobic (e.g. Chris Messina mostly observers the elevator via a camera), the bulk of the movie sees the main characters (which includes Mr. Christina Hendricks) stuck in elevator, being killed off one at a time.  The story comes from M. Night Shymalan, but the script was penned by Brian Nelson, who also scribed Hard Candy.  The toughest part of a film like this one is the resolution, which they couldn’t quite figure out how to make satisfying enough.

80. The Next Three Days

I don’t know if I’m getting soft in my old age, but here’s a Paul Haggis movie I didn’t hate.  I guess it helps that he adapted from a French film, but I can’t even lodge any complaints about the dialogue.  Of course, the film isn’t devoid of Haggis’s trademark heavy-handedness: the movie makes a point of not disclosing whether Elizabeth Banks actually did the crime, save for taking a definite stand at the end.  Russell Crowe does his Russell Crowe thing, though I personally would have preferred that he have the one scene cameo and Liam Neeson the main role, instead of vice versa.  The movie features a great, if wildly underused supporting cast, the best of which (naturally) is Trudie Styler (aka Mrs. Sting).

79. The Disappearance of Alice Creed

Stars the lovely Gemma Arterton as the titular kidnap victim, with Martin Compston and the always great Eddie Marsan as the kidnappers.  The bulk of the movie takes place in two rooms in the apartment where the kidnappers stash Arterton, and the story is largely about the power shifting between the three parties.  Writer/director J Blakeson puts forth a game effort, but his take falls a little short of something special, even with the excellent casting.  Generally good stuff, the ending kinda fizzles out and almost seems like it belongs to a different movie.

78. Mother and Child

Another film we briefly covered in our Spirit Awards chat.  Rodrigo Garcia’s film is one of those intersecting storyline deals.  Naomi Watts received a Spirit nom for playing a cold, calculating lawyer who sleeps with her boss (Samuel L. Jackson) and married neighbor (Marc Blucas), at times seemingly because she can.  Jackson also received a nomination, and while I’m glad for the man, not sure the character warranted it here.  I was actually more taken with Annette Bening’s turn as a woman whose inability to escape the guilt from a decades-old decision has turned her cruel.  Thought she was better here than in The Kids Are All Right, but I’m apparently alone in the world there.  Isn’t the first time, won’t be the last.  Kerry Washington was also very good, as was Jimmy Smits, though their characters and storylines weren’t very developed.

77. Saint John of Las Vegas

Dante is given a story credit on this film.  Which…no.  I mean, in the sense that every road trip movie owes something to Inferno, sure.  But I call BS.  The movie, in any case, is somehow bizarre without any one scene ever feeling especially weird.  Well, Tim Blake Nelson leading militant nudists was a little weird, I’ll grant you that.  Steve Buscemi plays an employee at an insurance firm whose ambition to move up in the company (and also to impress Sarah Silverman playing a character with a bizarre smiley face fetish) leads him to take a case investigating insurance fraud with Romany Malco given by their boss (Peter Dinklage in a scene-stealing role).  The problem is that the case is just outside of Las Vegas, and Buscemi has a gambling addiction.  Hijinks involving John Cho, Emmanuelle Chriqui, and Danny Trejo then ensue.

76. The Ghost Writer

A lot of people who follow the awards circuit (and thus almost by definition more into cinema as “art” than I am) and whose opinions I otherwise respect, really really liked this Roman Polanski joint.  Leaving me a bit befuddled.  Sure, the cast is top notch, with Olivia Williams seemingly receiving near-universal plaudits, along with Pierce Brosnan, Ewan McGregor, and turns by Tom Wilkinson, Eli Wallach, and Kim Cattrall, among others.  But the story is a third-rate political thriller devoid of any real intrigue save for some faint whiffs of conspiracy, and an ending that feels tacked on and cheap.

75. Burlesque

I’m not the world’s biggest Christina Aguilera fan, after Genie in a Bottle she just seems too obsessed with hitting as many notes as possible.  But if imdb trivia is to be believed, in the role that eventually went to Kristen Bell, Aguilera’s first choice was Emma Stone.  So, if nothing else, she has exquisite taste in women.  Burlesque has a mindless, by the numbers, cliche-ridden  plot .  But musicals are allowed to have mindless, by the numbers cliche-ridden plots.  If the songs are catchy, at least.  Which, sadly, isn’t the case here.  I can’t really remember any of them now.  And by all rights, Cher’s torch song should have been Oscar-worthy, except it is oddly-placed and not a good song.  I would have liked the characters to have had time to be more than one note, though it was fun to see Bell as a drunken bitch all the time.  Stanley Tucci and Cher do a lot with a little, but it isn’t really fair to Julianne Hough or Cam Gigandet to ask the same.

The final shoutout goes to Ben.  If you are one of our vast audience who didn’t receive a shoutout, there’s always next year!

94. You Again

I’m not entirely certain why Kristen Bell keeps finding herself playing such bitchy characters.   I mean, yeah, she can pull it off, and I suppose if you’ve watched twenty minutes of a Veronica Mars episode, you might think that’s what she does, but Veronica was so much more layered than that.  You Again isn’t quite as stupid as its trailers made it seem.  And the cast (including Sigourney Weaver, Jamie Lee Curtis, James “Lone Star” Wolk, Betty White, Kristin Chenoweth and a whole ton of cameos) certainly help prop up the weak parts.  The film, by the way, passes the Bechdel test rather easily as the men take a backseat.  Of course, they are also the only rational people in the movie.  So You Again is at least somewhat realistic.

93. I Love You Phillip Morris

I was expecting to have a strong reaction to this film.  Not entirely sure why, maybe its unexpected WGA Adapted Screenplay nomination, the week Jim Carrey had Oscar buzz or Brian’s recommendation to stay away.  Instead, I found a serviceable, if unremarkable movie.  I Love You Philip Morris is essentially a con movie, starring Jim Carrey as the con artist and Ewan McGregor as the titular recipient of his affection.  I think a more successful movie would have focused on the cons, though I suppose as it drew from real life, Requa and Ficarra were limited by the actual story.

92. Life in Flight

 

Absolutely no clue how this one crossed my radar.  It stars Patrick Wilson as a successful and promising architect (side note: is it just me or does it seem there are a ton of film architects) on the verge of a major deal to have his business bought out by a larger corporation.  Amy Smart, his socialite wife, has helped and pushed him along, eagerly anticipating the rise in social status.  But as the deal near, Wilson begins to have second thoughts, both about his career and his wife, after he comes across a graphic designer (Lynn Collins).  Life in Flight achieves its incredibly modest ambitions: depicting the standard movie dilemma of dreams/desire vs. ambition/practicality.  I won’t spoil the ending, but it isn’t imaginative, though the film does try to raise the stakes by giving Wilson a kid.  I’m a huge Patrick Wilson fan, so glad to see him getting leading man gigs, and I think Amy Smart acquits herself well.  Definitely liked Lynn Collins more in this than in stuff last year, maybe it is because this movie had an actual script, maybe it is because she was a redhead here.  Oddly, Rashida Jones and Zak Orth appear in the requisite best friend roles.

91. Get Low

You can read some of John’s thoughts on the film here.  Sadly, I wasn’t quite as high on it as he was.  It is a decent enough flick, but Get Low never really goes anywhere that interesting.  And I think it built up the funeral party too much without being able to deliver; similarly, the decades-old secrets that were revealed weren’t necessarily worth the wait.  It is a little curious Duvall couldn’t get the traction needed to secure an Oscar nomination.  Perhaps a combination of it being a strong year and that there were stretches of time where he wasn’t on screen.

90. Chloe

Chloe is one of those movies that in theory should be amazing, but doesn’t manage to live up to expectations.  Julianne Moore stars as a doctor and loving wife to Liam Neeson, a professor.  She begins to think he’s cheating on her and so, naturally, hires an escort (Amanda Seyfried) to seduce him in order to get proof of the infidelity.  But as her relationship with Seyfried progresses, things get a little more complicated.  The film stirred up some headlines thanks to the sexy time between Moore and Seyfried.  Which, I mean, hey hey, but it actually was relevant to the film, even if not adequately developed.

89. It’s Kind of a Funny Story

My favorite film by writers/directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, also the only one I find tolerable.  Keir Gilchrist is a teen dealing with the attendant problems of being a teen who ends up checking himself into an adult psychiatric ward where he befriends Zach Galifianakis and Emma Roberts, also high functioning patients.  The film certainly doesn’t make light of depression or other mental illnesses, but I wonder if it veered a little too close to falling into the Hollywood trap of depicting mental illness as something that can be solved with a specific key.  They aren’t in the movie often, but Lauren Graham and Jim Gaffigan play Gilchrist’s parents, so props to you, Gaffigan.

88. Night Catches Us

Talked about this one briefly in our Spirit Awards chat.  The film, when you strip away all its adornments, is a fairly standard secret from the past movie.  Characters reunite, but there’s always that elephant in the room about The Secret and then in the climax, all is revealed in a twist, and credits rolls.  I’m not sure the secret was terribly interesting here, but still a solid first effort from writer/director Tanya Hamilton, buoyed by Anthony Mackie and the perpetually underrated Kerry Washington.

87. The Romantics

The Romantics has a very simple story: college friends (Malin Akerman, Adam Brody, Josh Duhamel, Katie Holmes, Rebecca Lawrence, Anna Paquin, Jeremy Strong) are reunited at a beach house for the marriage between Paquin and Duhamel.  The only trouble is that Holmes and Duhamel were an item first.  There are enough side plots with those friends, mother Candice Bergen, and younger siblings Elijah Wood and Dianna Agron to keep things moving.  For a character study, though, there’s not a whole lot of studying characters.  It’d be easy to dismiss the failings of Duhamel and Holmes to carry a movie like this one, but I don’t buy it, certainly not completely.  Because whatever you think of them as actors, it is difficult to convey emotion when there’s apparently none to portray.  Writer/director Galt Niederhoffer (nice try, but not a real name) relies too much on the unspoken love triangle as a crutch instead of defining who these characters are, exactly, save for some very late moment reveals.  There’s a wrenching speech at the rehearsal dinner that brought back memories of the classic scene from Rachel Getting Married.

86. True Grit

These posts are more fun for me when I get to talk about movies no one really remembers from last year, as opposed to the Oscars films where I feel I’ve already said my piece.  Which was: “[Runyonesque] dialogue serves kinda interesting characters doing terribly uninteresting things.”  If it were up to me, the film would be in the conversation for a few acting nominations and that’s it.  But I clearly haven’t been on the same wavelength as the Coen brothers for years and years.  And can we once again have a laugh about Steinfeld’s supporting actress nomination?

85. All Good Things

So you’ve got an Oscar-nominated director (Andrew Jarecki), screenwriter (Marc Smerling), lead actor (Ryan Gosling), supporting actor (Frank Langella), plus Kirsten Dunst as the lead actress in a role where, according to imdb’s trivia page, she felt like Jodie Foster must have when she read the script for The Accused (where Foster won an Academy Award).  So…why haven’t you heard of this movie?  First, this year was an extremely tough one for lead roles.  Gosling was a much better bet to get one for Blue Valentine, so I imagine effort went there.  And while Dunst was fine, there just wasn’t any room for her, not in a movie with a late release that no one saw.  In the film, which is based on a true story, Gosling is the son of a New York real estate maestro (Langella) who first wants to get away from the business, but then, believing he needed to best provide for his new wife (Dunst), starts following in Dad’s footsteps.  Only it turns out that Gosling is apparently severely disturbed, and becomes the center of an investigation surrounding an unsolved murder.  The film, by the way, takes a decidedly biased stand on Gosling’s role in the murder, which officially remains unsolved to this day.  The movie probably deserved a better audience, but there’s just not that much there to the story, which pretty much just sees Gosling get weirder and weirder.  Kristin Wiig acquits herself well in a dramatic role.  But there is one really good reason to see the film:  Nick Offerman.  In a (relatively) serious role.  Without his mustache.

With a shoutout to commenter Sarah.  Not sure we’ve ever met, but you said I made you LOL, which make you A-OK in my book.

104. Flipped

Maybe my expectations were too high.  Not sure why, Rob Reiner hasn’t directed a really good movie since…geez…The American President fifteen years ago?  Flipped is a story of puppy love.  Not literally.  Sadly.  It tells the tale of two kids growing up across the street from each other in the 50s.  Madeline Carroll falls in love with Callan McAuliffe the minute she sees his family moving in, where McAuliffe is more in the “girls are yucky” phase.  As they grow up they learn about themselves and each other and life, etc.  The film utilized the neat trick of switching between the points of view of the two main character every so often.  Not sure how effectively it was used, though.

103. Unthinkable

Is it OK to torture someone if you believe they have information about nuclear bombs due to go off?  If so, how much torture?  Quintessential questions that I’m not going to touch, but ones that Unthinkable at least tries to portray.  Carrie-Anne Moss is the FBI agent protagonist, Samuel L. Jackson is the mysterious closer brought in to do the dirty stuff, and the terrorist is the always excellent Michael Sheen.  I’m bringing some personal taste to it, but I think the film wasted a lot of time setting things up, establishing certain details about the FBI, that sort of thing, until we get to the bulk of the action, which is Michael Sheen locked in a small room, and a bunch of people observing the interrogation in a larger room just outside.  I would have limited the action to just those two rooms, would have made the mind games a lot more effective and the suspense more taut.  Also, it is probably really challenging to resolve the problem without feeling like it was a cop out, in regards to the moral dilemmas posed, and this film didn’t figure out a way to do so.

102. Dear John

I find reaction to this movie pretty confusing.  If you haven’t seen the movie, you are most likely like: “Jared.  Seriously.  Dear John?  Really?”.  And if you have, then you are most likely a teenage girl who propelled it into $80 million domestic and a handful of Teen Choice and MTV Movie nominations (including a Teen Choice win for Best Chemistry between Amanda Seyfried and Channing Tatum).  But honestly, it is a pretty average movie, not really worth getting worked up over either way.  Tatum is a strong/silent solider with a bit of a past and a father (Richard Jenkins) battling some mental problems.  Seyfried is a college student, not yet wise to the ways of the world who is first kinda with Scott Porter, which is hilarious (to me, at least).  Most of the plot is rote, but the end kinda jumps time a lot and throws in some unexpected twists that probably should have been set up a little better.  Again, not the tearjerker I’d expect a Nick Sparks movie to be.

101. The Last Exorcism

We discussed The Last Exorcism briefly in our Spirit Awards chat.  I tend not to watch too many horror films, but the film felt like rather unexceptional horror fare to me.  I’m getting a little tired of documentary-style films (District 9 is the only one I can remember really liking), but of course, I’m not big on documentaries.  The film is about a preacher/exorcist (Patrick Fabian) who is a self-professed huckster, out to do one last exorcism to prove it is all hogwash.  He goes to a remote locale and a religious family that keeps itself even more tucked away from civilization where the daughter (Ashley Bell) is seemingly possessed.  The plot then, of course, thickens.  I liked Fabian, perhaps partially because he looked vaguely familiar, it took a check of imdb to realize he was Professor Landry from Veronica Mars.

100. Wild Target

I’m a little surprised this hitman screwball  comedy starring Bill Nighy, Emily Blunt, and Rupert Grint (and delightful supporting turns by Rupert Everett, Martin Freeman and Eileen Atkins) couldn’t find some sort of audience at the box office.  Nighy plays the world’s best assassin, following in his father’s footsteps and egged on by his mother.  Tasked with killing Blunt, he finds himself unable to do so and takes her under his protection, picking up Grint as a protege along the way.  The movie never commits to true madcap screwball style, but isn’t funny enough otherwise.  And the characters are never really developed, instead displaying traits that arbitrarily change, which makes the resolution not terribly satisfying.

99. The Other Guys

I do have a pretty strict no-Will Ferrell policy, but I was visiting Ben and he put it on while I was doing work, I’m going to say it doesn’t violate my rule, on a technicality.  Besides, I couldn’t not watch, right?  The Other Guys is a decent-enough 90s buddy cop throwback.  It has some funny moments (Samuel L. Jackson and Dwyane Johnson kill) and a ton of fun people in the sprawling cast (e.g. Michael Keaton, Natalie Zea, Bobby Cannivale).  For whatever reason, I just don’t find Ferrell and McKay’s brand of humor funny.  They can distract me with a fun cast and throwback storyline, but in the end it is still the same junk.  I feel like a bad person saying it, but I enjoyed the Derek Jeter cameo.

98. Finding Bliss

Xiaoyu has accused me of making up some of these movies, and I’m guessing he’s going to think the same about this one.  But it is real, I swear!  And I had to check it out because it stars the matron saint of our blog, Leelee Sobieski, as a doe-eyed film school grad who can’t land a job in Hollywood until she reluctantly decides to accept a job editing a porn film so she can covertly use the porn’s studio to film her own movie.  Matthew Davis (Legally Blonde) co-stars as the hotshot porn director.  The film is a typical exercise in learning to expand your comfort zone: Leelee has to learn to accept her sexuality, Davis to break back into the mainstream or something like that, the porn stars that they are capable of more traditional acting.  The oddest subplot involves the dual role of Denise Richards as Bliss, which is apparently supposed to be a big reveal at the end, even though fresh-faced not-Denise Richards looks exactly like porn star Denise Richards, just with different wigs.  The film tried to get a little arty here, but I’m not sure the storyline was fleshed out enough.

97. Secretariat

Saw this one on an airplane.  I realize that’s not the most important piece of information, but I feel obligated to share it because it probably affected my movie-watching experience in one way or another.  Anyway, Secretariat is a fairly unremarkable movie.  For so much of the film, the stakes just didn’t really seem raised, and there’s only so long Diane Lane juggling running a horse farm and a family states away without really doing anything is watchable.  John Malkovich clearly had a lot of fun playing the wacky Quebecois trainer, and it is always nice to see Margo Martindale (Justified what what).

96. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Up until about fifteen minutes before this movie ended, I was set to rate Prince of Persia one of my least favorite films of the year, but I found the ending solid enough to bump its rating up thirty slots or so.  My irrational dislike of Sir Ben Kingsley aside, the story was just so linear and so uninteresting.  And the action, save the last bits, wasn’t even really all that engaging.  Another miss in what should have been Gemma Arterton’s year, we’ll see her one more time before we even get to the top half of the list.  And I’ll keep checking Netflix daily to see if St. Trinian’s 2 is finally available stateside.

95. Heartbreaker

My annual disappointing French romcom.  Heartbreaker stars Romain Duris as…well…a professional heartbreaker.  He gets paid, by a variety of interested parties, to seduce women in order to break up relationships.  Which, yeah, sounds exactly like a profession you’d find in a romcom.  And I’m certain you can figure out the rest of the plot from here.  He takes a job to stop a wedding that will happen in a week, but falls in love with the bride to be (Vanessa Paradis).  Now, to be fair, he normally only takes jobs where there’s time for a solid plan and he feels the couple truly is unhappy.  Which does provide a pretty fun beginning.  But this time he (and his crew, which includes his practical sister and her goofy sweetheart) needs the money.  So yeah, adequate idea, adequate execution.

Brian and I were going to liveblog the MTV Movie Awards, but we got back a little late from a murder mystery party.  Yes, we are that cool.  So instead, here’s our thoughts in a running diary:

Opening Sequence: Jason Sudeikis (our host) loses Taylor Lautner in a Hangover-esque scene that involves Chelsea Handler, Justin Bartha, Eve Mendes, and scenes from 127 HoursThe Social Network and Black Swan

Brian: Not really sure anyone was asking for a Hangover 2 spoof, but there you go . And is Chelsea Handler really a well known enough figure among the teen set? And is it really appropriate to have budweiser, drinking to the point of black out, and graphic lesbian sex scenes between Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman? (uh yes on the last part)

Jared: Not a great start to the show, as we learn yet again that making cultural references is not quite the same as using those references to make actual jokes.  It was a cheap laugh, but I did chuckle at Jason Sudeikis’s reactions to the Natalie Portman/Mila Kunis scene.

Opening Monologue:

Brian: Soapbox: I like how you can make fun of getting drunk, and grope each other in public but cant say assholes. I hate America.  Emma Stone — purtiest girl at the ball. And she sells Sudekis’ Canadian joke too.  Cant believe hes made two Schwarzenegger jokes in his monologue — didn’t realize people really cared about that. Judging from the reaction, they don’t.  THREE TIMES? I dont understand it! FOUR TIMES? Come on — what is he, Jay Leno?  John’s secret girlfriend, Amanda Bynes, pops up in the audience.

Jared: We get our a first shot of Emma Watson, eliciting a very vocal “Oooh” from my faithful co-blogger.  You know you only got your twentieth choice for host when you host spends the first few minutes of his monologue explaining who he is.  We get a joke about how MTV used to play music.  Huh.  What an original observation!  Makes up for a little by asking for the Twilight fans, getting a cheer, and then asking where his King’s Speech fans where, and a cut to a shot of a bunch of elderly people going crazy.  Brian claims to not be aware of who Selena Gomez is, he’s definitely hiding something, as Sudeikis makes some crack about her swallowing some of Bieber’s baby teeth.  To clarify Brian’s point above, Sudeikis joked that Emma Stone starred in a Canadian porno: Easy A (say it out loud).  Which was funny, but funnier was Stone’s stony-faced reaction shot.  And yes, the first Schwarzenegger joke bombed, so let’s go back to the well for four more?  Oh, and for your best reaction shot of the night: Gary Busey.

Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis present Best Male Performance, which goes to Robert Pattinson

Jared: The pre-nominees shtick was Justin Timberlake grabbing Kunis’s boobs, and then her grabbing his junk.  You have a blessed life, Timberlake.  I wanted Eisenberg to win, expected Radcliff to.  Also, Zac Efron pulled a nomination for Charlie St. Cloud, which absolutely no one remembers.

Brian: Mila Kunis — my secret girlfriend. So go to hell Justin Timberlake.  Who I want to win: Jesse Eisenberg. Who will win? Lautner. In the reaction shots, I dont think I’ve ever seen Kristen Stewart not squirm/slouch — she’s really odd looking.

J.J. Abrams, Spielberg, Elle Fanning, Joel Courtney present an exclusive premiere of Super 8.  

Brian: ZOMG SNEAK PEAK OF SUPER 8 — SO FUCKING EXCITED FOR THIS MOVIE. Though that preview did not make more excited.

Jared: Yeah, at this point, I don’t think any additional trailers are going to build excitement for the film if they don’t want to reveal anything else.

Steve Carell, Emma Stone, and Ryan Gosling present best villain, which goes to Tom Felton

Brian: I may/may not be avoiding Twitter so I am not spoiled by the upcoming awards. I may be a little weird.  Ryan Gosling looks like such a douchebag here — and Steve Carell is still very funny.  Should win: Tom Felton, will win: Leighton Meester. Hey how about that — Felton wins. Has he had any career outside of the Potter films? It’s weird seeing him not pale and albino hair’d. He had some weird scruff above his lip though, not sure that was intentional.

Jared: The shtick is a standard joke, says a lot about Carell that he is able to sell it so well, even if he looked like he had no desire to be there.  I wanted Ned Beatty to win (what?  that bear was evil!), figured Tom Felton would win.

Jim Carrey, in a really cool FX suit that displays pictures, including one dog humping another, presents Foo Fighters.  We fast forwarded.

Chris Evans comes out to tell people to vote for best movie.

Brian: Baja Men Who let the dogs out? really? Thats more dated than a Schwarzenegger joke.  If Twilight wins, thats awful and America should be ashamed of itself.

Danny McBride, Aziz Ansari and Nick Swardson present Jaw dropping moment which goes to Justin Bieber

Brian: So 30 Minutes or Less gets a call out and we’re stuck with McBride and Swardson. I’m beginning to lose my faith in that movie.  Should win: Natalie Portman Will win: The Bieber. And of course the Bieb won, but what could a possible jaw-dropping moment be? God, two earrings with a matching suit? God he’s such a fucking tool. Where do you see Bieber in 5 years?

Jared: It is almost like Danny McBride is never funny ever!  I thought the cafe scene in Inception would win, figured Bieber would.  He comes out, which is apparently a surprise.  For the US Weekly crowd, he didn’t thank Selena, nor was the awards show director kind enough to cut to a shot of her.  Oh, and I think Bieber has washed out in five years, Brian thinks he is going strong.

Sudeikis interviews the boulder from 127 Hours then Shia LaBoeuf, Rosia Huntingond, Josh Duhamel, and Patrick Dempsey present best fight, which goes to Twilight

Brian: Well that Bob the Boulder bit cratered pretty bad — see what I did there?  Patrick Dempsey just came in off the set of “Cool Dads — come on kids, I’m kids look at my jacket!”  Should win: Inception hotel fight. Will win: Inception. This shouldnt even be close. Oh for fuck’s sake, Twilight? “I ripped your head off and now you’re pregnant” is the leading comment of the night. This is what you’ve done to me, America’s youth.

Jared: That boulder was painfully unfunny.  I wanted the Inception fight to win, because it was super cool, but of course Twilight was going to win.  After you watch a few of these, you realize how much sway that franchise has here.  Also, Pattinson is apparently funny?

Sudeikis brings out a piano plays a lot of “rejected theme songs” to Green Hornet, No Strings Attached, Just Go With It, The Karate Kid, Buried, Jackass 3D

Brian: Jason Sudekis song bit again flopping terribly. Not even Emma Stone could save it. Putting her hair back to the fake color was a good line though.

Jared: Felt like an SNL opening monologue or something.  It isn’t funny to say Green Hornet has a skinny Seth Rogen and some Asian dude.  That’s just a fact.  The No Strings Attached is a duet to the tune of Don’t Go Breaking My Hornet where he makes Emma Stone sing about peeing.  I wouldn’t do that to you Emma, just saying.  Sudeikis does get off a funny line when Dave Grohl comes out to bang a gong (“Who knew he could play percussion?”) and Brooklyn Decker appears to have a sense of humor about herself as Sudeikis talks about her breasts multiple times.  A ton of Emma Watson reaction shots.

Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively present Best Kiss, which goes to Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson

Brian: You can make boner jokes and masturbation innuendo, but you cant say asshole. Should win: Black Swan. Will win: Black Swan — oh whoops. I thought the Twilight categories would split the vote. Eww, Kristen Stewart is really thin. Well played Robert Pattinson, I kind of like that this sort of stunt is passe by now.

Jared: The shtick is a not funny joke involving the Jackass 3D folks and green laser boners.  Black Swan should win, I figured maybe Twilight would split the vote, but nope, this is an R-Patz year.  In a funny move, Pattinson tells Stewart to wait, he knows who the right people kissing should be, and runs out in crowd, ostensibly to get Lautner on stage, but then kisses him.  Well played.

Emma Watson exclusive sneak peak of the Harry Potter movie.

Brian: I still think I have a chance to hit gold on my prediction last year on its Oscar prospects. She’s adorable.  Nicki Minaj may win the award for the worst reaction shot so far by looking bored as hell and wondering where are the black people are on this stage.
Jared: I don’t watch the Harry Potters, so it is always weird to me to hear Emma Watson’s voice.  British accents pretty sexy.  Nicki Minaj had a classic reaction shot of not caring.  Don’t worry, Nicki!  MTV will remember that black people exist a little bit later on!  Whoops, shoulda prefaced that with a spoiler alert.

Patrick Dempsey, Robert Pattinson and Chelsea Handler present Generation award to Reese Witherspoon.  

Brian: Robert Pattinson totally got one by the censors with that off-color joke. I have newfound respect for him after that monologue. Chelsea Handler is again out there — though I’m not sure why. Apparently they are friends. She says that she mistook Zac Efron for Emma Watson. Not sure who that’s more offensive to.  I love me my montages — but this Reese Witherspoon montage needs a lot more Pleasantville and a lot less Sweet Home Alabama. Reese shows that she’s clearly underrated and underutilized in Hollywood today. It’s too bad that her strong performance got stuck in the general badness that was How Do You Know.

Jared: Dempsey starts out by listing Witherspoon’s big movies.  Lot of cheers for Sweet Home Alabama, nobody saw Election, apparently.  Yours truly is guilty of that, though it is high on my queue.  Robert Pattinson looks confused and brings out his notes.  Handler tells him there’s a teleprompter, he says, “Mine says ad lib on it.”  Cut to teleprompter, which does.  His speech was rambling and amazing.  I think he secretly be a comedic genius.  Chelsea Handler knows there’s no way she can follow it up.  The montage doesn’t shy away from Four Christmases or Legally Blonde 2, though sadly, I’m not sure The Importance of Being Earnest got on there.  Witherspoon’s speech is classy and funny, finishing the joke that Pattinson couldn’t get out.

Jason Segel, Cameron Diaz present best line from a movie which goes to the little kid from Grownups (“I want to get chocolate wasted.”

Brian: Jason Sudekis still looks like he’s at David Greenbaum’s bar mitzvah. Should win: invented Facebook. Will win: Inception — dream a little bitter. Grownups is an award winning movie! BOOM! ROASTED! Ok, so this girl’s acceptance speech is brilliant.

Jared: Man, remember when Jason Segel was in Freaks and Geeks?  And now he gets to co-star with Cameron Diaz.  Crazy.  I agree with Brian about what should win, I think I said anything but the Grownups one will win.  And holy cow, that little girl is so professional, it is scary.  I think at her age I couldn’t have strong four words together coherently.  (I’m up to an even dozen now, on my good days.)

Teen Wolf cast present scared as sh*t performance to Ellen Page.  No nominees announced or anything.

Ashton Kutcher and Nicki Minaj present Best Female Performance which goes to Kristen Stewart.

Brian: Should win: Emma Stone. Will win: Natalie Portman. This is on the belief that Twi-hards actually hate Kristen Stewart. Doh. She seriously looks like she’s permanently on smack. Do you think the Emmas actually care about not winning this award?

Jared: Emma Stone should win, and Kristen Stewart will win, of course.  She’s been down this road so many times before, I think after the Twilight series she’ll still be coming up here out of habit.

Selena Gomez, Leighton Meester, Katie Cassidy present Lupe Fiasco and Trey Songz.

Jared: And MTV remembers black people exists!  Presented by the whitest chicks in the crowd!  I’m trying to figure out a way to avoid seeing Monte Carlo.

Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis present Best Comedic performance, which goes to Emma Stone

Brian: Should win: Emma Stone. Will win: Russell Brand. YAYYYY. Finally some justice in these awards, and shes just so darn lovable. AND YOU KNOW WHO ISNT LOVABLE? Kristen Stewart.

Jared: The other Horrible Bosses guys do a good job making fun of Sudekis.  Emma Stone should win, Ashton Kutcher will win.  I was really annoyed to see Zach Galifiankis get a nom for Due Date, there was nothing funny about that movie.  But yay for Emma Stone!  Just remember that she’s mine, America.  At the end of her speech, she tugged her ear, which I’m guessing is a reference to Carol Burnett, who famously did so at the end of her shows to tell her grandma she loved her.  Man, Emma Stone, you are too awesome.

Kristen Stewart, R-Pats, Lautner present a clip from Breaking Dawn

Gary Busey presents best movie.  In a hamster ball.  To Twilight.

Brian: Gary Busey is so friggin weird. Every awards show needs him. Should win: The Social Network. Will win: Uh, Twilight, duh.

Jared: Any time you get a chance to put Gary Busey in a hamster ball, you have to do it.  Golden rule of broadcasting.  My picks are same as Brian’s.
Thanks for playing along at home.  Was fun.  See you next year!

But first, a special shoutout to my dad.  And not just because he reads these.  Congrats on your retirement!

114. Tiny Furniture

Just remember, we talked to Lena Dunham way before she was an indie darling.  You could argue that we helped make her.  It’d be a faulty argument, but you could do it.  Watched this one with Brian and John at Brian’s pad, I think because he could get it streaming via his cable or something.  We all weren’t crazy about the film, but look forward to Dunham’s work in the future.  Personally, I’m really curious to see what she could do when she gets away from her semi-autobiographical work.  I’m sure her life is a never-ending fount of ideas, just as most people derive inspiration from their own lives, but I think her work has been too personal, too much of a rehashing and not enough cobbling together into an interesting story.

113. Holy Rollers

For year, the world had been crying out for a Hasidic Jew turned drug trafficker film, and Hollywood finally decided to answer.  Holy Rollers stars Oscar nominee Jesse Eisenberg as a disaffected young Hasid, fed up with his family life and desperate to impress girls.  Through the connection of a fellow Hasid turned bad (The Hangover‘s Justin Bartha), he becomes a drug mule and then starts rising up the ladder of drug trafficking.  An intriguing, original-enough setup.  But as The Sundays sang, here’s where the story ends.  Not literally, of course, there’s the requisite scene where Eisenberg realizes things have gone too far and he just wants to make things right and get out.  Which has been done plenty.  Ari Graynor is solid in a supporting role.  Also, Hallie Kate Eisenberg plays Jesse’s sister, as she does in real life.  I think I may have been the last person in the world to realize they were brother and sister.

112. Never Let Me Go

We gave some thoughts on this film when we first saw it, so I’ll be uncharacteristically brief, as past Jared isn’t any less eloquent than present Jared.  In that post I noted that Never Let Me Go made me think of a different film, and since we are probably past the point of spoiling, I’ll say that film was The Island.  And not just because every movie makes me think of a Michael Bay flick.  The similarities in the premises are pretty obvious, so it is kinda fascinating to see how the different stories delve into the concept.  The reaction of the characters in The Island, is defiance (at least eventually), as befitting a Michael Bay movie.  But here, the characters are resigned to their fate.  And even their grand plan to break free rests entirely on the shoulders of the authorities.

111. Greenberg

John’s probably going to yell at me for having Greenberg this high.  I’m a little surprised too, to be honest.  We’ve spilled plenty of virtual ink on this film (if you scroll down to the bottom, you’ll see lengthier reviews by the two of us), so I won’t rehash too much.  I saw none of the genius I did in The Squid and the Whale.  In many ways, the film felt like the stereotypical indie film of today: boring, talky, a mainstream actor aiming for cred, an indie princess, and a whole lot of malaise.  And geez, indie screenwriters need to get out more.  It was kind of charming when Woody Allen made movies about not knowing what to do with his life, but how many movies do there need to be about a guy who is really bored with his life?

110. Blue Valentine

Saw this Oscar nominee at E Street with Adam (Grouches’s Oscar talk about it here).  We tend to have similar taste in films, and I think we were about the same on this one, but some reason he refuses to acknowledge that Michelle Williams is attractive.  Not sure what he is repressing, exactly.  I like the idea of Blue Valentine a lot.  The idea being a sort of gritty, stripped-down modern look at a couple who eventually get married, only to find not too long after that the relationship isn’t working.  Plus Ryan Gosling and Williams are nothing short of fantastic in their roles.  Gosling ran up against very tough Oscar bunch, I can’t imagine he missed a nomination by much.  He would have been helped, of course, by a stronger script.  One that really got inside the characters.  By the way, not that we needed more evidence the MPAA is a joke, but the fact that Blue Valentine was originally NC-17 is beyond absurd.

109. The Losers

A forgettable A-Team knockoff with a barely there story and middling action.  I’m glad the internet is finally picking up on my theory that Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Javier Bardem are the same person.  Zoe Saldana is great, though.  I can’t tell you how I excited I am for Colombiana, co-written by Luc Besson, where she plays a ruthless assassin.

108. The Extra Man

If you’ve seen the trailer for The Extra Man or read a synopsis, you’ll be expecting a story where Kevin Kline is an escort (or gigolo) for elderly ladies, using his old school manners to sponge off of them.  Paul Dano is a young ex-teacher wannabe writer with similar sensibilities who becomes his protege.  Which is a decent enough summary.  Except the film is a whole lot weirder than that.  John C. Reilly plays a mountain man-looking, squeaky-voiced neighbor who is just bizarre.  And Paul Dano’s character has this occasional internal battle to fight the urge to crossdress, which doesn’t have to be weird, necessarily, but the film kinda shoehorns the subplot in for no reason.  Directors Pulcini and Berman also did American Splendor, but where that film uses the main characters eccentricity to great effect, here it isn’t handled nearly as deftly.

107. Cyrus

We briefly touched on Cyrus during out Independent Spirits chat, where Adam rather hilariously made John C. Reilly our choice for Male Lead.  Reilly plays a moping mess unable to recover from his divorce from Catherine Keener until he meets Marisa Tomei at a party and they hit it off famously after a drunken meet-cute.  I’m going to pause here for a minute to ask: Why is Marisa Tomei the go to actress for roles involving hooking up with schlubby character actors?  I mean, John C. Reilly here, Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, and William H. Macy in Wild Hogs.  That’s an impressive threesome to plow through, but still.  I guess Steve Carell in the upcoming Crazy, Stupid, Love is an upgrade?  In any case, Cyrus was pitched as a comedy, but it really isn’t.  Which was the film’s problem, I don’t think it quite figured out what tone it wanted to take.

106. Everything Strange and New

John and I chatted briefly about this film during our Independent Spirits chat.  In a nice change of pace, it is the story of a white guy in his late 30s struggling to find meaning in his life.  Jerry McDaniel plays the main character, a working class joe with a wife and small kid, struggling to pay the bills and finding solace in hanging out with his few friends.  The film has a few tics, like the sad clowns John mentions or the constant sad sack narration/philosophizing.  I don’t think they really add to the story, but I found the narration to be an interesting experiment, at least.  There’s a lot more moping than plot.  Save, I guess, for the end, where a bunch of rather unexpected things go down.

105. From Paris with Love

I can already hear Adam yelling at me for putting this film so low.  And hey, I consider myself a huge fan of nearly everything Luc Besson touches (here he gets a story credit and listed as a producer), but I’m not going to blindly approve of everything he does.  Just almost everything.  The story definitely does have a Besson-like feel.  Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays a relatively straight-edge ambassador’s aide – except that he’s doing odd jobs for the CIA on the side.  Enter John Travolta, a larger than life assassin who takes Rhys-Meyers along for a killing spree.  Secrets abound as they try to figure out…I don’t remember exactly, I think someone is threatening to blow up someone else.  Besson and co. excel at these sort of lean actioners (of late there’s The Transporter, Taken, District B13).  Except From Paris with Love is a little too lean, a little too linear.  It seems to rely too heavily on Travolta’s manic portrayal of an unmemorable character.  The action scenes were good, but not remarkable, I thought.

June 2011
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