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Many people (including John) quite liked Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.  A common reason for their appreciation of the film seems to focus on how the movie kept peeling back layers upon layers of spy intrigue to eventually reveal which of the four people represented by the codenames (or actually five, Poorman is a suspect as well), high up in the British spy department, is actually a mole, reporting back to the KGB.  That’s a generalization, of course, but I think a fair one.  And anyway, I come not to attack a strawman, because I think this argument is perfectly logical and reasonable.  The film does slowly reveal information, I don’t want to say in the style of Rashomon but we learn more and more about certain things, until it arrives at a rather satisfactory answer.

For me, however, that’s like saying a present was good because it was packaged in a whole lot of wrapping paper, even if it did end up being a pair of socks.

The overaching problem, for me, is that the “suspects” were on screen for so little time that it was impossible to be emotionally invested in the outcome of the investigation.  Ciaran Hinds, for example, is in maybe five scenes, and has more than one line in two of them?  Colin Firth and Toby Jones each have maybe three or four scenes.  It is telling that none of these superb actors are even on the periphery of the Oscar conversation and haven’t been cited by any awards so far.  And that lack of presence was an unhurdled stumbling block for me.

The script focuses more on the process and events that lead Gary Oldman to his conclusion.  Which is why, in part, the two supporting actors nominated by the British Independent Film Awards were Tom Hardy, playing an agent in the field, and Benedict Cumberbatch, who becomes Oldman’s right hand man.  If you’ll indulge me (and you really shouldn’t), let’s take a brief detour here.  In pretty much every review/news item about this film, Cumberbatch’s name will be mentioned in the same breath as Sherlock, the BBC series where he plays the famous detective.  As pretty much everyone else says, the first three episodes of Sherlock were simply fantastic and deserve to be watched.  So I’m happy, in that sense.  But, excuse me?  Ever hear of a little movie called Starter for Ten, where Cumberbatch plays the mildly annoying captain of a college quiz bowl team?  Well, you should have.  Look, I’m not saying I’m a better person than everyone else for being in love with this movie and thus being on (if you will) Cumberbatch, Rebecca Hall, and Alice Eve before their current rise to fame.  But I think it is pretty well implied.

Like every other decent human being, I’m a big Gary Oldman fan.  It is so rare that we get to see an actor disappear into such a wide swath of roles.  How many other people could play over the top villains in things like The Fifth Element or The Professional or maybe Red Riding Hood (seriously, he’s INSANE in that one) and also be so serenely restrained in The Dark Knight?  Here he’s much more the latter.  Seemingly cold and emotionless but never quite veering onto the cruel side of the fence, he’s everything you’d expect from a British spymaster.  But here again, I think the script gets in the way of the awards, preventing him from showing something truly top-notch.  Believe me, I wouldn’t be unhappy to see a Gary Oldman nomination, and if he gets it, he won’t be the worst nominee.  But I don’t really see how someone could pick this role over, for example, Brendan Gleeson’s in The Guard.

For me, the script substitutes vagueness and confusion for misdirection and half-truths.  The plot (and maybe this is on Le Carre, I haven’t read the novel) is actually relatively straightforward. But needing to kill a couple hours, the film takes its sweet time getting to any useful information.  By which point, the intel barely seems relevant.

I know that some people crave a sense of realness from their movies.  They want characters to talk and act like real people.  They want actors to portray someone who seems like an actual person.  I’ve long made it clear that such things don’t really influence my opinion of a movie.  Well, if any movie was going to put that maxim to the test, it’d be Moneyball.

I’ll spare you my life’s story, but suffice it to say I’ve been familiar with sabermetric thought for at least a decade (thanks Ian!) and so Moneyball was perhaps the 2011 movie I was most anticipating, even if I wasn’t quite looking forward to it.  After that Soderbergh mess (an animated Bill James?!), how could Zaillan, Sorkin, and Bennett Miller make a coherent film out of the book?  Could Brad Pitt make baseball sexy?  Who on earth was going to see a movie about baseball economics?  Would I be able to handle poetic license in a story I know so well?

As it turn out the answers are: More than expected, Brad Pitt can make anything sexy, plenty of people, and maybe. Zaillan and Sorkin (although, to be honest, I didn’t really hear Sorkin’s voice in the movie, save for a line or two) ended up telling a rather  familiar story: a dashing, tolerably flawed hero teams up with his young sidekick and uses his smarts to (almost) vanquish the richer, more powerful bad guys.  The screenwriters stripped away a lot of the story of course, they had to, but they ended up with a marketable movie that still feels very faithful to the book.  Which is a rather impressive feat.

While the story may have ended up coherent, it felt far from complete.  Part of that stems from the trap into which so many adaptations fall – the compulsive need to name drop bits of the source story without enough explanation.  The well-known jean salesman line felt forced, for example.  But more than that, I’m not sure the characters were given compelling arcs.  The ancillary characters (so everyone who wasn’t Brad Pitt or Jonah Hill) flitted in and out of the film willy-nilly.  All of the players, Brad Pitt’s ex-wife and kid, the old braintrust, the A’s owner, everyone showed up for a scene or two, never to return.  Some have talked about Billy Beane as a father, but I don’t think that subplot is nearly present enough to be worth mentioning.

I suppose I’m partially upset because the film grabbed a lot of actors I like and gave them nothing to do.  Chris Pratt has a dozen lines.  Tammy Blanchard has four seconds of screen time.  I bet you didn’t even realize Nick Searcy (Timothy Olyphant’s boss on Justified) was in the film.  Philip Seymour Hoffman got a couple of scenes, I guess.

But fine, this is Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill’s story.  Or is it?  Jonah Hill is just there to look out of place and suggest players.  No character development there.  Hill was a savvy casting choice though, I think.  The character isn’t much more than highbrow comic relief.  Look at the nerd be uncomfortable around athletes!  Hill obviously can handle that with ease.

The whole time, it felt to me like Brad Pitt was doing an impression of Kyle Chander’s Coach Taylor from FNL.  A very good one, of course, since Brad Pitt is very talented.  Even if he’s constantly eating on screen.  Which I think is a function of how he tends to act with his hands, but that’s a different post.

I’ve been working on this post, off and on, for a couple of weeks now, but I don’t think I’m ever going to get it to where I want.  Because I did like movie OK, but I keep wanting to be super reactionary to the fact that it is one of the best-reviewed films of the year, which just does not make sense to me.  And so I keep struggling to see the movie that others seem to see, even though I’m not close to finding it.  Sure, I found it a little weird from a baseball perspective that they didn’t mention starting pitching.  And from econ perspective that they don’t really justify the Carlos Pena trade.  And from a modern perspective the comment about how defense doesn’t matter.  And from an Orioles/lover of baseball players as actors that there wasn’t more Royce Clayton as Miguel Tejada.

But I think I can put all that aside and say that I’m pretty convinced critics, generally speaking, are wrong on this one.  I don’t know if they were distracted by Brad Pitt or what, but this film isn’t an extremely well told story.  It is a mostly competently told one.  The team did an admirable job adapting the book, but there’s no way the screenplay should be in line for an Oscar nomination, much less be a front-runner.

The Academy has released the list of the nearly three hundred films eligible for the Oscars.  It is an interesting read, if you are a huge movie dork, if only as a refresher of all the movies that came out this year.  And I’ll admit that there are a few on there (like Amigo or @urfrenz) that I hadn’t heard of, which hurts my pride just a little bit.

I know a rules post is generally in John’s purview.  But I just wanted to reiterate that deep down, I’ve always felt that it isn’t really right to voice an opinion on the best movie of the year without having seen all of them.  I know that’s not especially feasible.  Heck, I’ll be thrilled if I can get to half of these movies.  Still, it seems like each movie deserve its fair shot.  Of course, that’s how I end up watching lots and lots of junky movies.

I’ve been trying to think for some time now why the plot of The Descendants seems so familiar.  To briefly sum up, and I think I’m not describing anything that wasn’t in the trailer, George Clooney’s wife gets into a boating accident that leaves her on life support.  Things hadn’t been going great in that relationship, but Clooney is still surprised when his kid (Shailene Woodley) tells him that Mom was cheating on him.  While all this is going on, Clooney, as a result of land that goes several generations back in the family, is negotiating with his family to determine which of the various buyers he’ll sell the land to, transferring the largest lot of virgin land left in Hawaii and garnering a huge windfall.

So, OK.  Our cast of characters includes a cheating wife (and later on we are introduced to the guy with whom she was cheating) and various family members who aren’t really sketched out aside from the fact that they are bickering over who to sell to and are somewhat greedy, especially consider they didn’t really do anything to earn the land other than get lucky in the gene lottery.

Then it hit me.  That’s the plot of at least one episode of virtually every single mystery show I’ve watched.  And I’ve watched a ton of them.  I can turn this movie into an episode of Murder, She Wrote in three easy steps.  First, Jessica Fletcher gets involved in the case either because she is George Clooney’s cousin on the other side or because she was visiting an old friend who ended up in the same hospital as Clooney’s wife and she is the biggest busybody in the world.  Second, deviating from the movie a little, the police get called in and lock Clooney up for attempted murder, because they find his wife’s boat had been tampered with.  Third, Jessica now does all the stuff Clooney’s character did, except she snoops around a lot and figuring out who the real murderer was.

So perhaps it won’t be surprising to hear that I’m dismayed at all the acclaim the movie is receiving.  And not just because it isn’t actually a detective story.  I’m not necessarily shocked, though.  Other than not taking place during WWII, the film seems built to hit all the Academy notes.  George Clooney gets you half the way there, of course, but he’s playing a dad and husband who never really figured out what that means, though he’s trying to do so now.  Combined with the accident, you’ve got George Clooney as a flawed-yet-nearly-perfect rich single dad who lives in Hawaii.  Heck, I’m practically swooning over him.

For the straight males somehow immune (or pretending to be, most likely) to the charms of Clooney, you’ve got the beautiful Woodley.  She’s racking up the supporting nominations, but really, it is the bikinis she’s constantly in that should be getting the nominations for supporting her rack.  Ouch.  I’m sorry.  That’s a terrible line and I should know better.  Look, Woodley is a great actress and while I can’t yet say if she’d be in my top five, I’m certain I won’t be upset should we hear her name called nomination morning.  That said, she’s constantly wearing bikinis.  Even when no one else is in a bathing suit.  And John/Adam/Gavin made this point first after we left the theater, so I know I’m not just being pervy.

For issues voters, there’s Clooney trying to figure out how to be a dad and also dealing with white man’s burden.  And for the small percentage of geeks, there’s Judy Greer (with her Arrested Development cred) and co-writer Jim Rash (Dean Pelton on Community).

But frankly, I just don’t see how the film is deserving of all the acclaim it is receiving.  Since I know Adam isn’t going to write anything up, I’ll voice his complaint with the script: that it was uneven to the point where one scene would hit and the next would miss badly, suggesting it was pretty obvious the film was written by different writers.  I don’t necessarily disagree, even if I didn’t find the differences between scenes quite that stark.  Regardless, the script was maddeningly inconsistent.

The film found its biggest success when focusing on Clooney’s relationship with his kids (and by extension, his wife).  A “single” dad learning how to be a father to his kids isn’t exactly virgin cinematic territory.  But compare The Descendants, to, say, The Boys are Back, and you’ll see how this film is so confident and grounded in reality that the story never feels like it is one of those movies, in the sense that it is super easy to pigeonhole the Clive Owen movie as never escaping the single dad genre.

The other subplots, however, weren’t nearly as well-written.  The land deal, in particular, wasn’t fleshed out nearly enough.  The screenwriters didn’t figure out a way to adequately integrate that subplot with the rest of the film.  Which was frustrating, because it was interesting enough that I wanted to know more.  As is, however, it was pretty distracting.  To the point where I had zero emotional reaction to the inevitable scene of them looking out at their family’s land, other than wanting them to move things along.  I found the stuff with the wife’s infidelity adequate.  I liked all the actors involved (Mary Birdsong/Rob Huebel and Judy Greer/Matthew Lillard), but none of their scenes really stood out to me (save for Judy Greer’s final scene, of course).  That said, I appreciated how it served the family drama that I liked so much.

The Descendants is currently a near-lock for Oscar nominations for Picture, Director, Actor, and Adapted Screenplay, with Supporting Actress looking a pretty decent bet.  I enjoyed the film, but it is currently sitting around #25 in my list of 2011 movies, so you won’t be seeing the movie or script in my best of list.  As I mentioned with Woodley above, I’m OK with the seemingly inevitable Clooney nomination.  I’m not sure if he’ll end up in my personal top five, but I imagine he’ll be close enough that I won’t really get worked up over it.  Mostly, though, I’m confused about the passion this film seems to inspire in people.  I’m glad they are moved, I just can’t see why.

As I move on to part two of my AFI European Union Showcase round-up, I come to three films where I struggle to understand the point. I suppose this is something I ponder a lot. I’m never sure it’s a fair question since I don’t find myself thinking this during an entertaining action flick. But, to some extent, all of these left me wondering, “why?”

The Poll Diaries (Poll), Estonia/ Germany/ Austria, dir: Chris Kraus

This coming of age story, which I actually enjoyed, left me wondering what the young heroine has learned, save that sometimes people are shitty. Oda von Siering – who would group up to become poet Oda Schaefer – lives in Estonian Russia with her father and step-mother on the verge of World War I. Her step-mother comes from old German money that is mostly gone and the family lives in a dilapidated mansion on stilts over the water. Her father is a doctor and keeps hundreds of gruesome samples. When she arrives at the mansion from Germany she brings him a gift of some Siamese twin fetuses in a jar.

Over the course of the film, her parents’ relationship becomes strained, Russia and Germany move ever closer to war, her father works to achieve some sort of recognition from other doctors, and Oda hides an Estonian rebel in her father’s workshop. It’s an eventful year, but not one that seems to be full of lessons, except that life can kinda suck, maybe? It doesn’t even really set up Oda’s future as a poet, though the Estonian rebel does encourage her to write. Maybe someone more familiar with her work will draw some parallels.

At least it’s a fairly interesting story set in a fascinating time period. The relationship between the German family and the local Russian soldiers is interesting. A review I read claimed it would be a shoo-in for an Art Direction Oscar, which I dismiss because generally to win an Oscar your movie must be released in the US and people have to actually see it. But beyond those minor details, I see what the reviewer means. The crumbling sea-straddling mansion and the laboratory filled with gross specimens are a production designer’s delight. B.

We Have a Pope (Habemus Papam), Italy, dir: Nanni Moretti

I was much less forgiving with the pointlessness of this next film. At Cannes this got the reputation as the Papal King’s Speech with good reason as it follows the plight of a reluctant Cardinal elected Pope. When he has a crisis of confidence a psychiatrist is brought in to try to help him out and convince him to accept the position.

The early parts of the film are quite strong. The opening scenes portraying the dramatic election are engrossing. The tone turns lighter as the psychiatrist comes in and the film is a laugh riot for about twenty minutes. But soon the new Pope has escaped the Vatican where he wanders around and has aimless discussions with regular folk. The psychiatrist is left to hang out with the rest of the Cardinals. In one particularly pointless sequence he organizes a volleyball tournament.

Early on it seems like it will be a humorous film with a powerful explanation of a crisis of faith. But by the end it’s totally run out of steam and we barely know any more about any of the main characters. D+.

Innocence (Nevinnost), Czech Republic, dir: Jan Hřebejk

In this film the existential question doesn’t arrive until the end. For the vast majority of the film it’s an interesting story about an accusation of sexual abuse. When respected doctor Tomás is accused of forcing himself upon a teenage patient, his family and the police (and the audience) are unsure of what to believe. It’s one of those stories where the truth is a malleable concept and it does it pretty well. It’s been done better in other films, but it’s still pretty interesting.

But once that mystery gets resolved in a surprisingly definitive manner considering the ambiguities earlier in the film, the plot totally goes off the rails with further revelations that are neither interesting nor particularly related to the rest of the film. The final twenty or so minutes are awful and killed any of the goodwill I had for the film. D+.

As always, the standard caveat about the Golden Globes applies.  The voting body (the HFPA) is a mysterious organization with a known record of catering to stars and hot (in both sense of the word) young actresses.  Which, you know, isn’t this blight on humanity some people make it out to be.  If I were hosting a party and could get George Clooney to come by making a few compromises, well, that’s a no brainer.  Also, they are one of the few bodies that recognizes the existence of comedies.

Let’s start with the good.  As you’ve no doubt been following our top fives, you know that Adam and I are really big fans of The Guard.  So we were both rather giddy at seeing Brendan Gleeson to get a nom for Actor in a Comedy or Musical.  I’m still working my way through probable contender, but Gleeson’s performance was better than those of at least two actors who will be nominated.

Haven’t seen Albert Nobbs yet, so I can’t speak to the worthiness, but Glenn Close received a much-needed boost this week.  The story heading into awards season was how long and how much effort it took her to get the film made and how it was such a challenging, defining role.  But she’d largely been off of lists, so it seemed like she needed to pick up momentum with the nominations that came out this week.

I also haven’t yet seen We Need to Talk About Kevin, but neither has or will anyone else, so Tilda Swinton need to stay in the conversation as much and as frequently as possible.  In a similar vein, the buzz surrounding Leo DiCaprio died pretty much the second everyone realized the film was so blah, and so while a Globe nom wasn’t surprising, given how big a star he is, a snub might well have been a death knell.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and A Dangerous Method were thought to have a chance at awards, it seems like their late releases may be hurting them with the precursors, so Rooney Mara and Viggo Mortensen really needed these noms.

Since I’m mentioning Jessica Chastain, I’m legally obligated to say that she’s been in six movies this year in one of the greatest breakout years ever.  Everyone knew she should be considered for awards, they just couldn’t figure out for which performance.  Seems like the awards world has settled on her horse being The Help.

As for the bad, the first thing Brian, John, and I all said after seeing the nominations was: “What about the Muppets?!”  I was, frankly, predicting it to get a best comedy/musical nod.  But how did it get shut out of the song category?  Just a travesty.

There’s sucking up to George Clooney and then there’s making fools of yourselves.  The HFPA moved into the latter category by swooning over The Ides of March.  I mean, sheesh, didn’t they read my write up?  It is rather unremarkable movie that I think everyone had forgotten existed.

I’m a huge Ryan Gosling fan (Lars and the Real Girl 4 life!), and I (unsurprisingly, I’m sure) really liked Crazy, Stupid, Love.  But that’s a clear case of category fraud, in my book.  If pressed, I could argue there was no lead, but if the film had to have one, it was pretty clearly Steve Carell.

And there’s no point in getting worked up over the TV noms, as the HFPA pretty clearly hasn’t watched much television.  I mean, New Girl over Parks and Rec?  That’s just inconceivable.  Anyway, let’s be happy for the Homeland noms as well as the one for Madeleine Stowe.  Yay Revenge!

Finally, I just wanted to say that I find the trend of having actors read off nomination lists to be quite amusing.  On one hand, it is kind of bizarre, asking actors to read twenty names off a list.  But it is kinda interesting to see these people a little out of their element.  So you get Judy Greer’s giddiness at friends and co-workers, Woody Harrelson working the crowd like a boss and pimping his movie, and Sofia Vergara valiant attempt to pronounce “Hazanavicius” before shrugging it off.

We’re getting into the fast and furious part of the season. Some big changes occurred in our top fives this month and more are sure to come.

John

1. Midnight in Paris
2. Source Code
3. Armadillo
4. Elite Squad: The Enemy Within
5. Contagion

Jared

1. The Muppets
2. Paul
3. The Guard
4. X-Men First Class
5. The Names of Love

Brian

1. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
2. The Muppets
3. Page One: Inside the New York Times
4. The Adjustment Bureau
5. Captain America: The First Avenger

Adam

Adam didn’t submit a top five, but I’ve been paying attention to all that he’s been saying about 2011 movies and I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on his favorites. Even though most of you might think, “no sane Adam would ever enjoy these movies that are terrible terrible terrible (save #1 which he’s just not smart enough to understand),” I ensure you Adam is a man of principle who would share with you his favorites regardless of how they might play in the court of public opinion. He’s a stand-up gentleman in that regard.

1. The Tree of Life
2. Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1
3. Paul
4. Justin Bieber: Never Say Never
5. Fast Five

I can see why some people would love A Better Life.  There’s a pervasive sense of realness throughout, the kind that seductively passes itself off as truth. That, for better or worse, doesn’t affect how I watch movies, at least consciously.  So while I may not have found the movie anything special, that wouldn’t preclude me from recommending it to others.  A Better Life was sent out around September as one of the first for your consideration screeners of the year.  Not to me, of course.  Though, hey.  If anyone mistakenly stumbles across this post in some google search gone horrible awry, please feel free to send us stuff.  We’ll happily review anything, and with the four of us, someone is bound to like it.  Plus, we are voting members of the Independent Spirits awards, so, you know, that almost means something.

The story is relatively simple.  Demian Bichir is an illegal immigrant living in LA, eking out a living as a gardener.  An only father, he works long hours in an effort to provide for his son (Jose Julian), your typical disaffected high schooler.  After starting as a day laborer offering services outside a Home Depot (or Home Depot-like place), he found steady work for a fellow Mexican with a truck.  He’s presented with an opportunity to buy the truck, and I won’t spoil the rest of the movie after he buys the truck, but there’s a reason I brought up his immigration status.

I actually really liked the relationship between Bichir and his son, in particular how it relates to this better life.  In any other movie, Julian is a rather standard kid, who has a good heart, but thanks to plentiful opportunity and limited means, is pulled toward bad elements.  If the film took place in middle America, he’d be pulling pranks and hanging out with the kids who cut class to smoke cigarettes, and there’d be a bittersweet ending where he finally realizes everything his dad had done for him.  Here, though, the stakes are higher.  Bichir has sacrificed any semblance of a life and at the risk of deportation, just to make sure his son has a chance in life, and the kid seems to be spitting on the opportunity, even if just by being a kid.  It is a heartbreaking thought.

Bichir just received a Spirit Award nomination, hopefully not the culmination of months of buzz surrounding his performance.  In some sense, Bichir is just like his character when compared to most other Oscar Best Actor contenders.  The category seems likely to be chock full of Hollywood luminaries: Clooney, DiCaprio, Pitt and here’s a guy who’s just happily (?) chugging along.  His performance is delightfully subtle, contributing above all else to the sense of realness.  A comparison to Kyle Chandler is probably silly, but I think Bichir would absolutely knock a character like Coach out of the park, given the chance.

The film itself isn’t terribly interesting, though Bichir helps prevent the film from ever getting boring.  The story is slight and dialogue not particularly memorable, if generally effective. I guess it made me think a little, but that may well be a function of the fact that I knew I was going to write a post about the movie.  Assuming, I suppose, you believe I put any thought into this stuff.

Still talking about the 2012 Spirit Award nominations?  Man, how lame are you.  All the cool kids are talking about the 2013 Spirit Awards!

The Sundance Film Festival just announced the films that’ll be playing next year.  Which is relevant because about half the films that played in the Dramatic Competition last year ended up with Spirit nominations.  So let’s handicap the upcoming crop of films, based solely on the plot descriptions and cast from the Sundance website.

Beasts of the Southern Wild / U.S.A. (Director: Benh Zeitlin, Screenwriters: Benh Zeitlin, Lucy Alibar) — Waters gonna rise up, wild animals gonna rerun from the grave, and everything south of the levee is goin’ under, in this tale of a six year old named Hushpuppy, who lives with her daddy at the edge of the world. Cast: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: I have absolutely no idea what that description means, but I’m in.  And also considering naming my first-born Quvenzhane.  But sounds a little too out there for the Spirits.

The Comedy / U.S.A. (Director: Rick Alverson, Screenwriters: Rick Alverson, Robert Donne, Colm O’Leary) — Indifferent even to the prospects of inheriting his father’s estate, Swanson whiles away his days with a group of aging Brooklyn hipsters, engaging in small acts of recreational cruelty and pacified boredom. Cast: Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim, Kate Lyn Sheil, Alexia Rassmusen, Gregg Turkington.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: A film about ennui in New York?  Those are two pretty huge check marks.  And it would help if that title is ironic.  Big problem, though.  That Tim and Eric in the cast list?  That’s THE Tim and Eric of Awesome Show, Great Job fame.  So it is hard to see much Spirit love.

The End of Love / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Mark Webber) — A young father unravels following the loss of the mother of his child. Cast: Mark Webber, Shannyn Sossamon, Michael Cera, Jason Ritter, Amanda Seyfried, Frankie Shaw.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: Well that’s an unhelpful yet decidedly Spirit-friendly description.  I’m absolutely in love with that cast, though, and the Spirits aren’t necessarily afraid of nomination younger actors.  Seems like it has Spirit potential.  Plus, Mark Webber is Stephen Stills from Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World.

 

Filly Brown / U.S.A. (Directors: Youssef Delara, Michael D. Olmos, Screenwriter: Youssef Delara) — A Hip Hop-driven drama about a Mexican girl who rises to fame and consciousness as she copes with the incarceration of her mother through music.Cast: Lou Diamond Phillips, Gina Rodriguez, Jenni Rivera, Edward James Olmos.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: One thing you should know about me is that one year for my birthday my brothers got me a three pack of Lou Diamond Phillips DVDs.  I cannot tell you how excited I would be for him to be nominated.  This one sounds unlikely to hit, but if it does, Edward James Olmos is a prime supporting actor candidate.

The First Time / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Jonathan Kasdan) — Two high schoolers meet at a party. Over the course of a weekend, things turn magical, romantic, complicated and funny, as they discover what it’s like to fall in love for the first time. Cast: Brittany Robertson, Dylan O’Brien, Craig Roberts, James Frecheville, Victoria Justice.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: Not unless they let me be on the nominating committee.

For Ellen / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: So Yong Kim) — A struggling musician takes an overnight long-distance drive in order to fight his estranged wife for custody of their young daughter. Cast: Paul Dano, Jon Heder, Jena Malone, Margarita Levieva, Shay Mandigo.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: Has to be a favorite.  So Yong Kim has a directing credit on Spirit nominee The Exploding Girl, and Dano, Heder, Malone, and Levieva are chock full of indie cred.  Plus the description has “struggling”, “estranged”, and “custody” in it.

Hello I Must Be Going / U.S.A. (Director: Todd Louiso, Screenwriter: Sarah Koskoff) — Divorced, childless, demoralized and condemned to move back in with her parents at the age of 35, Amy Minsky’s prospects look bleak – until the unexpected attention of a teenage boy changes everything. Cast: Melanie Lynskey, Blythe Danner, Christopher Abbott, John Rubinstein, Julie White.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: I’m smelling an Actress and/or Supporting Actress nomination.  Lynskey seems due (and deserving) and who doesn’t like Blythe Danner?  Louiso, if you don’t know, is the non-Jack Black guy from High Fidelity.  He also directed The Mark Pease Experience which was underwhelming but also about a teenager’s relationship with an adult, so that’s a creepy pattern.

Keep the Lights On / U.S.A. (Director: Ira Sachs, Screenwriters: Ira Sachs, Mauricio Zacharias) —An autobiographically inspired story of a passionate long-term relationship between two men driven by addiction and secrets but bound by love and hopefulness. Cast: Thure Lindhardt, Zachary Booth, Julianne Nicholson, Souleymane Sy Savane, Paprika Steen.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: Yes.  Even if they have to make up a new category, this film seems a shoo-in.  Savane already had a Spirit nomination, for Goodbye Solo.

LUV / U.S.A. (Director: Sheldon Candis, Screenwriters: Sheldon Candis, Justin Wilson) — An orphaned 11-year-old boy is forced to face the unpleasant truth about his beloved uncle during one harrowing day in the streets of Baltimore. Cast: Common, Michael Rainey Jr., Dennis Haysbert, Danny Glover, Charles S. Dutton.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: Of course one of these films had to be “harrowing”.  Maybe if it counts as a first feature?  Or has lots of Orioles references.  I hear Spirit voters love that.  I could see it, but the fact that Common is in it makes me a little skeptical.  Love the guy, but I watched Just Wright.

Middle Of Nowhere / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Ava DuVernay) — When her husband is incarcerated, an African-American woman struggles to maintain her marriage and her identity. Cast: Emayatzy Corinealdi, David Oyelowo, Omari Hardwick, Lorraine Touissant, Edwina Findley.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: Seems like a pretty good shot for something.

Nobody Walks / U.S.A. (Director: Ry Russo-Young, Screenwriters: Lena Dunham, Ry Russo-Young) — Martine, a young artist from New York, is invited into the home of a hip, liberal LA family for a week. Her presence unravels the family’s carefully maintained status quo, and a mess of sexual and emotional entanglements ensues. Cast: John Krasinski, Olivia Thirlby, Rosemarie DeWitt, India Ennenga, Justin Kirk.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: Seems like it’d be silly to bet against anything Lena Dunham at this point.  Heck of a cast, by the way.  Two Grouch favorites in Thirlby and DeWitt probably means it’ll get shafted, though.

Safety Not Guaranteed / U.S.A. (Director: Colin Trevorrow, Screenwriter: Derek Connolly) — A trio of magazine employees investigate a classified ad seeking a partner for time travel. One employee develops feelings for the paranoid but compelling loner and seeks to discover what he’s really up to. Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson, Karen Soni.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: Nope.  Well, I would have said that about Another Earth, but nope.  That said, I’m already in line for the movie.

Save the Date / U.S.A. (Director: Michael Mohan, Screenwriters: Jeffrey Brown, Egan Reich, Michael Mohan) — As her sister Beth prepares to get married, Sarah finds herself caught up in an intense post-breakup rebound. The two fumble through the redefined emotional landscape of modern day relationships, forced to relearn how to love and be loved. Cast: Lizzy Caplan, Alison Brie, Martin Starr, Geoffrey Arend, Mark Webber.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: Not a chance, but ladies and gentleman, your front-runner for Jared’s favorite movie of 2012.

Simon Killer / France, U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Antonio Campos) — A recent college graduate goes to Paris after breaking up with his girlfriend of 5 years. Once there, he falls in love with a young prostitute and their fateful journey begins. Cast: Brady Corbet, Mati Diop, Constance Rousseau, Michael Abiteboul, Solo.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: Seriously, what it is with the French and young prostitutes?  I’m guessing no, but that’s based on connection “killer” and “fateful journey”.  But if there’s more ennui and self-discovery, maybe.

Smashed / U.S.A. (Director: James Ponsoldt, Screenwriters: Susan Burke, James Ponsoldt) — Kate and Charlie are a young married couple whose bond is built on a mutual love of music, laughter and… drinking. When Kate decides to get sober, her new lifestyle brings troubling issues to the surface and calls into question her relationship with Charlie.Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul, Octavia Spencer, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: This film sounds so good, right?  It isn’t just me?  I’m already excited.  If the film isn’t too funny, I could see it happening.  That’s a really talented cast right there.

The Surrogate / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Ben Lewin) — Mark O’Brien, a 36-year-old poet and journalist with an iron lung, decides he no longer wishes to be a virgin. With the help of his therapist and the guidance of his priest, he contacts a professional sex surrogate to take him on a journey to manhood. Cast: John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy.

SPIRIT OUTLOOK: Is there somewhere I can put a bet on this movie winning the 2013 Spirit Awards?  I mean, come on.  This one has to be a joke, right?  I dare you to put together a more likely contender.

December 2011
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