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Thanks to everyone who submitted picks and/or joined us for the liveblog.  We had a great time this Oscar season and we hope we made it a little bit more tolerable for you.  Here are the final results from our Oscar pool.  A begrudging congrats to Adam, who ditched us on the big night, with an impressive 19 correct.  John, Gavin, and Borjan finished in second with 18 and Will and I finished tied for fifth with 17.  I’m pretty angry at Girl with the Dragon Tattoo‘s editing win because it prevented my test ballot from getting a perfect zero.  MSL, Ben, Kevin, and Allison finished tied for last with 5.

Name Total
Adam Lundberg 19
John 18
Gavin “G-Love” Weiss 18
Borjan Zic 18
Will Deitz 17
Jared 17
Blair Lundberg 16
Brian 15
The Bob 14
Mameleh 14
Jamie! 14
Ian 14
Grantland Mark Harris 14
Phil Sanford 13
Gregory Oshel 13
becca 13
Anne 13
Seth D 12
Molly Brown 12
Lisa Lindeke 12
Vincent Novicki 10
Suzanne 10
Leah Goldfine 10
Seth Hyatt 9
krista 9
Bryant 9
Scott Weese 8
Jeffro 8
Claudia 8
Lucy 7
Linda Lundberg 7
LeahW 7
Aaron 7
Reed 6
Emily in Ann Arbor 6
Alissa G 6
MSL 5
Kevin 5
Ben 5
Allison 5
Test Ballot 1

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Like my colleagues Jared and John, I too have listed my best picture nominees in reverse order of the degree to how much I liked them. Sadly, this year was so underwhelming that the distance between 7 and 2 is quite small. I have a clear favorite in the bunch, and if you’ve been reading it will come as no shock to you what it i. There was just one awful stinker, one underrated prestige film, and seven other middling, above-average movies. I hate it when Adam is right, but he is by-and-large correct — this group is not the best reflection of film in 2011.

9. Tree of Life — There’s no use in wasting too many words on this, but the first 45 minutes were agonizing. I don’t know how Jared and Adam managed to stick through it on DVD. I’m not sure I could have resisted the urge to shut off the movie and lie about watching the whole thing. The second 45 minutes I found legitimately interesting, but then the final 30 minutes dovetailed into more incomprehension. Just a terrible film that reinforces the worst of cineaste snobbery.

8. War Horse — I went into this with low expectations, so was pleased when I ended up not hating it. Spielberg never quite gets me past the, “Yeah, but its still a fucking horse” problem. No matter how good the camera work was, and it was quite good, War Horse never rose above that issue. The threads between all the vignettes were well integrated — I just wish I had cared more about some of the human characters. We need more World War I movies – this was a decent start.

7. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – Another film that benefitted from the soft bigotry of low expectations, ELIC actually had some well-earned emotional moments. As Tim Grierson wrote  over on Deadspin, the precociousness of Oskar was annoying, but it was supposed to be annoying. The contrivances of the plot weren’t as bothersome for me as they were for John — it’s not more contrived than War Horse. Overall, I found ELIC forgettable, which is a lot better than what others have written about it. Max von Sydow was fine, but not really integral to the central themes or plot. I’d hope the book does a better job with him.

6. Moneyball — I haven’t read Jared’s write-up of Moneyball, but I’ll give my blanket endorsement of it. I don’t understand the fascination and love of it — the truthiness of the script aside, which reminded me of the movie Joe Morgan thinks Billy Beane would write. The movie was just too superficial for me to care about any of the characters — even now I can’t recall any scene that I haven’t been seeing in previews or For Your Consideration ads.

5. The Help — This is the third and highest-ranking of my “oh that wasn’t so bad” movies. The “white people solved racism” angle is overplayed by a Hollywood press frustrated by their inability to force the industry to become more diverse (not that it should be their job in the first place). If anything, I feel the “5 strong roles for women” angle is underplayed. Bryce Dallas Howard should be getting more recognition for really chewing the scenery as the villain, and Viola Davis is deservedly getting her due. The worst part of the screenplay was the poorly thought out “boyfriend” played by Chris Lowell ( I think? I can’t even tell from IMDB — the role was that bad). Without that meandering plotline, I might have this higher.

4. Midnight in Paris — There was a lot to love about Midnight in Paris — the supporting cast, especially Michael Sheen, Allison Pill and Corey Stoll; the breezy script; the fun score; a fresh take on Woody Allen’s neurotic protagonist. But the absurdity of Rachel McAdams as the harpy fiancee and her equally horrible parents was just too much. Having her cheat on Owen Wilson with Michael Sheen was unnecessary. It was already abundantly clear that Wilson and McAdams were incompatible (so how did they ever get engaged in the first place? Who knows!), so why make her even more dislikable by having her be a two-timer as well? That’s just an example of why this movie that could have been great was instead just okay.

3. The Descendants —  MOAR LAND DEALZ PLEASE!

2. The Artist — As an inverse to ELIC, the Artist suffers from too high expectations. I found it charming, enjoyable, surprisingly dark but overall a very solid film. Folks who are saying this is such a typical Oscar winner are forgetting that it has so much going against it: it’s silent, black and white AND foreign! When’s the last time a Best Picture winner was ANY of those things? Jean Dujardin, no doubt helped along by Uggie, is a treat and I’m looking forward to seeing him in more. Berenice Bejo is also darling. I can’t claim this “moved” me or resonated emotionally, but from beginning to end its construction was near perfect.

1. Hugo — Ah yes, the film I loved that no one else (among the Grouches) did. I feel like I need to explain myself on this one, but I need to give it a 2nd viewing, which I’ll do within the next week and write a proper post on it. IN the meantime, I’ll add that prior to 50/50Hugo was the film that hit me in the gut and heart. The latter half, as acted by Ben Kingsley and Helen McCrory (Mrs. Damien Lewis!), was just heartbreaking. It got dusty in the theaters as George Melies remembered his love for film and his missing art. It reminded me a little bit of another Brian Wolly special, The Rookie, in which an older and washed up author forgets about the life he left behind. Chloe Moretz was also brilliant, a total 180 from her performance in Kick-Ass.

More to come on Hugo, but enjoy the show tonight!


Over the past two weeks we’ve been revealing our choices for most of the Oscar categories. Here is a handy recap of those picks! Refer to this page often during tonight’s telecast to see if you should be agreeing with the winners! (Hint: use the “John” column)

Adam Brian Jared John
Picture Hugo The Artist Midnight in Paris
Director Allen Scorsese Havanavicius Malick
Actress Mara Mara Williams Streep
Actor Dujardin Dujardin Dujardin Oldman
Supporting Actress Bejo Bejo Spencer Chastain
Supporting Actor Hill Nolte Branagh Plummer
Original Screenplay Midnight in Paris Margin Call The Artist Midnight in Paris
Adapted Screenplay Hugo The Descendants Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Art Direction Midnight in Paris Hugo Hugo Hugo
Cinematography The Tree of Life Hugo The Tree of Life The Tree of Life
Costume Anonymous Jane Eyre
Film Editing Hugo Moneyball The Descendants
Makeup Harry Potter The Iron Lady Harry Potter The Iron Lady
Score The Artist The Adventures of Tintin
Song The Muppets The Muppets The Muppets
Sound Editing Transformers The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Transformers Drive
Sound Mixing Transformers The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Transformers Transformers
Visual Effects Transformers Rise of the Planet of the Apes Harry Potter Transformers
Animated Short A Morning Stroll A Morning Stroll A Morning Stroll Wild Life
Live Action Short Time Freak Time Freak
Documentary Short Saving Face The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom

None of the films nominated for Best Picture are even close to my Top 10, and some (I’m looking at you War Horse & Tree of Life) are some of the worst movies I’ve seen all year. Way to go Academy. Your complete inability to select enjoyable and well made movies has hit an all-time low.

My writeups, if you haven’t already gathered, rank  the nominees in reverse order of how I like them.  But here, as John mentioned, we’re ranking the best picture movies as if we were Oscar voters.

1. The Artist.  Yeah, picking this film is almost cliche at this point in awards season.  But that’s only because it is the best film of this lot by leaps and bounds.  The others really aren’t in the ballpark.  At this point I’ve waxed rhapsodic about so many aspects of the movie that really, all that’s left to say is that all these wonderful aspects of the film: writing, directing, acting, cinematography, just everything all combines together into one really great movie.

2. Midnight in Paris.  It is a sign of how poor an Oscar year it is that when I saw the film over the summer, I was wavering over whether I thought I’d give it Oscar consideration and now it is my second-favorite film of those nominated.  It is light, fun, and not particularly deep.

3. The Help.  It is a decent movie, and pretty much nothing like what people are projecting onto it.  Race issues get people riled up, and I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but if you can look past all that, you’ve got a fine movie.  Maybe a little bit bloated and unfocused at times, but it is funny, warm, and entertaining.  Not one of the nine best movies of the year, but certainly no outrage.

4. The Descendants.  And here’s the part of the list with films that make me go, “Eh.”  I currently have  this film as the 36th best movie of the year.  There are certainly plenty of good things about the movie, like George Clooney and Judy Greer and Matthew Lillard and Shailene Woodley constantly being in a bikini.  Each of us has voiced our problems with the plot, chiefly the underdeveloped plotline surrounding the land deal.

5. Moneyball.  As I’ve mentioned, great job figuring out how to turn the book into a movie, but they didn’t get quite all the way there.  Every single supporting character seemed underdeveloped and underutilized to me.  But hey, it is hard to be angry about a best picture-nominated film about the economics of baseball.

6. Everything Loud and Incredibly Close.  Another one of those issue movies where people make all sorts of outlandish claims about the film trying to “solve” some really huge issue and obviously failing to do so.  It is insane, to me, that anyone could think this film was about healing the wounds from 9/11.  Sure, clearly, the events form the backdrop here, but the movie is much smaller than that.  It is about a kid who lost his dad, isn’t particularly close to his mom, and is trying to figure out his world.

7. War Horse.  Not as bad as some people would have you believe, but hardly a great movie.  My biggest problem was that it was hard to get attached to any character, so while obviously it was sad when they died and happy when they lived, it wasn’t that sad or happy.

8. Hugo.  Just a bad movie and and a horrible movie-watching experience.  Sure, it is pretty and it is great that it references the birth of cinema.  But I dunno, I prefer my movies to have an interesting story and not be boring.

9. The Tree of Life.  Speaking of boring movies that don’t have a story!  Look, I understand if you want to make the argument that this film is high art.  I won’t even disagree.  But as a movie, it is horrendous.  One of the items on the film’s imdb trivia page states that in an Italian theater, two reels of the film were switched and nobody realized the mistake for an entire week.  If your film can be shown out of order for an entire week, there is something seriously, fatally, tragically wrong with it.  I’m not saying it is the worst movie I’ve ever seen in my life, but I’m also not saying I’ve ruled it out.

The 84th Academy Awards is almost here! Leading up to the event, we’re going to put all the hours we spent watching these films to good use by giving our thoughts on all the categories, big and small. We may not be experts on everything, but I daresay that’s never stopped anyone from blogging before. On the (very remote chance) you disagree with us or the (much more likely chance) you want to applaud our picks, please chime in below.

Writing (Original Screenplay)

The nominees are:

  • The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius
  • Bridesmaids, Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig
  • Margin Call, J.C. Chandor
  • Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen
  • A Separation, Asghar Farhadi

JOHN

What a rich category this year as it contains two of my favorite films. I hope Midnight in Paris comes away with the win. It’s such a delightful movie and its success hinges around the script. It’s a film with well-formed characters (as necessary – I don’t think Ernest Hemingway needs to be too developed) and a clever story. It also has some interesting things to say about nostalgia and our relationship with the past. It’s not a profound message but it’s a theme I always find interesting to explore.

My other favorite here is Margin Call. It’s a terrific workplace drama where internal and external forces roil an investment bank over the course of a day. I think it would work splendidly on those terms but it also happens to be right up my political wheelhouse. The film could have easily been a screed against sleazy bankers but I think it takes a more nuanced approach by highlighting the absurdities of their world. The bankers muse that they don’t understand their work or how they make so much money, a sentiment I share. As the problems spread further up the ladder at the firm, our perspectives of the characters change and the villains shift. Plus each subsequent level knows less about markets but more about internal politicking.

I’m thrilled that Bridesmaids is here on a conceptual level, that the Academy is honoring not just a comedy but a raunchy one. I just didn’t respond to the film that much. I felt like it needed a tighter story and a bit better comedic rhythm (plus about 20 fewer minutes). Furthermore, the common film conceit of the main character doing ever more stupid things instead of just talking it out drives me nuts. The discussion around the screenplay for The Artist is going to revolve around whether a dialogue-free film can really have a great script. This ignores the real issue that the film is thin as hell in both theme and story. Any success the film has is due to its performances and visual style. Finally, A Separation just felt like two hours of people being stubborn to me. I wanted it to be more but it never grabbed me.

In my perfect world, the campaign for Contagion would have picked up some steam for its realistic and chilling depiction of a pandemic. The extraordinary amount of detail in the film really sells its realism. Going further afield, some recognition for the clever and thrilling Source Code would have made me very happy.

JARED

I certainly don’t agree with the Academy’s picks here, but I have to respect them.  You’ve got a foreign film, a broad comedy, two dramedies (one of which has no dialogue), and a workplace drama set in the world of finance, by a first-time writer.  Screenplay is one of the few categories where Oscar has some imagination, it would seem.

Margin Call didn’t do very much for me, though I appreciated certain aspects of it.  I thought the way the story unfolded was kinda clever.  And the comparison is a little awkward, but the film reminded me a little bit of this year’s Outrage (which I saw during the DC Film Festival) in how it was about the structure of a company and how that structure affects its impact.  Also, any movie glorifying number crunchers can’t be all bad.  But ultimately, I found the script less compelling as the movie went on, getting bogged down with the situation and all the characters in it.

I really wanted to like A Separation, since everyone was raving about the script.  Instead, I found it to be Law and Order: Iran.  OK, that’s not entirely fair, and learning a little about the police system in Iran was neat.  But the only character I found interesting was the daughter, no one else was sketched out enough to really fascinate me.  And the twists and turns of the plot were more bunny slope than black diamond.

Bridesmaids is one of the weaker films in the Apatow oeuvre, so of course it would be the one to be recognized by the Academy.  Of course, a weaker Apatow film is funnier than 90% of films.  And sure, it is great to recognize a comedy, and not just that, a female-written and -driven comedy.  The movie had plenty of entertaining moments, of course, there’s no denying that.  But the script, overall, wasn’t that strong.  Almost none of the characters were well-developed, and the plot gets a little thing at times.  I’m curious if the script would have been honored if a different actress had been cast in Melissa McCarthy’s part.

Midnight in Paris has a very good script.  Allen shows a light touch, deftly moving between time periods to create an entertaining movie.  But while it may be OK for the historical figures to be caricatures because they are so funny, the broad strokes don’t work nearly as well for characters in the modern era.  Most scenes, save for when Michael Sheen is being pompous, are insufferable.  Which I guess is maybe kinda the point?  The film is breezy enough that it doesn’t really matter.

For me it has to be The Artist.  And to repeat everyone else in the world, it is so wonderful and unexpected to see a silent film get this treatment.  But a script is so much more than the dialogue.  And for a silent movie to be so engrossing today, the script just has to be top notch.  Hazanavicius goes broad comedy and dark melodrama with equal verve and skill.  The movie is laugh out loud funny, and moving, and just plain wonderful.  And that’s largely due to the fantastic script.

ADAM

Midnight in Paris

Unlike other categories where voters pick one nominee, in Best Picture they rank them 1-9. Therefore my pick the winners post will follow the same format.

1. Midnight in Paris. In a season filled with nostalgic pursuits, this is the only one that seriously worked for me. It’s just an absolute delight and I had so much fun watching it. It has an enjoyable, original story and fills it with interesting characters. They’re most characters you’re already familiar with, but the film’s takes on them and their interactions are a good time. It’s all just a whimsical fantasyland. And its simple if elegant message about the nature of the past and nostalgia hit home for me.

2. The Tree of Life. Ambitious, beautiful, moving, grand. I love its structure of wispy memories paired with gorgeous music. It’s a bizarre creature that washed over me and I loved it. Plus it’s the only nominee with dinosaurs.

3. The Help. Probably the film here that surprised me the most. It’s very entertaining and I found it really effectively evoked a time and place (which always helps get me through the times the schmaltz gets dialed up to eye-rolling level). Great performances as well.

4. The Descendants. I didn’t love it, but it has some undeniable beautiful, heartfelt sentiments and moments. Even as the stories never really came together in a satisfying manner – this is the only movie where I wanted to hear more about a perpetual trust! – a sense of sadness settled within me. I have a lot of goodwill for this film though I wanted it to be more.

5. The Artist. I just never took to this like everyone else seems to have. It’s fine enough, but there’s just not enough there. It gets some flak for being slight in that it’s thematically light, but its bigger sin is being narratively slight. Not enough happens and the thrill of the silent, black and white aesthetic wears off.

6. Moneyball. I can’t deny its technical proficiencies, but even after a second viewing it still feels like maybe a quarter of a story. I just think the filmmakers concentrated on parts of the Moneyball story that I find less interesting.

7. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. I never expected to like this and hell if it isn’t… adequate. It can be contrived and exasperating, but its unique perspective and occasional moments of earned emotion pull it through.

8. Hugo. It just didn’t do much for me. In fact, it mostly just bored me. I kept waiting for the magic to begin… then it ended. I guess my hard heart is a tough nut to crack.

9. War Horse. I’m going to ruin this movie for you: it’s just a damn horse. So when people do a bunch of stupid stuff for the main character they’re doing stupid stuff for a horse. And judging from the music you’d think the horse scores a winning touchdown every 20 minutes or so. Still, it has a few good WWI scenes.

The 84th Academy Awards is almost here! Leading up to the event, we’re going to put all the hours we spent watching these films to good use by giving our thoughts on all the categories, big and small. We may not be experts on everything, but I daresay that’s never stopped anyone from blogging before. On the (very remote chance) you disagree with us or the (much more likely chance) you want to applaud our picks, please chime in below.

Documentary (Short Subject)

The nominees are:

  • The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement
  • God is the Bigger Elvis
  • Incident in New Baghdad
  • Saving Face
  • The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom

JOHN

I had a fantastic time watching the Documentary Shorts this year. A common complaint I have with documentaries is that they don’t have enough material to stretch to a proper full-length feature. Some topics can be appropriately addressed in less time. Several of these documentaries left me wanting more, an issue I don’t often have.

Two really stand out. One is Saving Face, about the plight of women in Pakistan who have been disfigured by acid attacks. Usually husbands or other family members commit these attacks, but sometimes it’s even a spurned suitor. Even worse, many have no other place to turn and return to those that hurt them. The film peeks into the lives of these women as they try to bring their attackers to justice and learn to readjust their lives. A Pakistani ex-pat plastic surgeon living in the UK has come home to repair their faces as best as he can. He can never get them back to how they were before, but his work is astounding. With some adjustments to the legal system, a support network, and some medical assistance, perhaps their lives are not as ruined as they initially believed. It’s quite a powerful film highlighting a serious issue that leaves you with a sense of hope.

Beating it out by a nose for me is The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom. Director Lucy Walker had already planned to make a film about cherry blossoms when the Japanese tsunami hit. She shifted the scope of her film and was in the country just a few weeks after the disaster. The first portion of the film focuses on the tsunami in a particularly hard-hit region. The opening scene is horrifying raw footage of waves sweeping away the town and its people. A survey of the physical and human toll follows. But then the film changes focus and discusses the cherry tree and its importance in Japanese culture. At first this turned me off a bit. Not only am I more interested in the tsunami but people waxing poetic about nature isn’t often my thing (see how much I hated the 2011 festival darling Nostalgia for the Light). But then the film begins to subtly connect the cherry blossoms and the tsunami. Victims talk about the hope the cherry blossoms bring them as spring settles in. Others discuss how the fleeting nature of the cherry blossom flowers – which bloom and flutter away over a short period of time – reminds them of the impermanence of human life. One couple points out a blossoming tree next to their destroyed house. Their neighbors planted it when their son was born 20-plus years ago. Now the neighbors and their house are swept away but the tree blooms again.

These sort of beautiful sentiments make for an extraordinarily moving film. The subjects (or their translations) make some amazingly profound and touching observations. Walker captures some gorgeous images to back up these voice overs, particularly of trees blooming among the tsunami wreckage. An original score by Moby just adds to the majesty. This film is gorgeous, enthralling, and moving.

The other two shorts in the package I didn’t like quite as much. Incident in New Baghdad is the one I think really needed to be longer. It explores one soldier’s disillusionment with the Iraq war through one incident where a helicopter strike kills several people. This is also the same attack that got world attention when WikiLeaks leaked it. There’s so much more to this story that the short barely touches. Clearly it wanted to keep the scope narrow or else the film would have been longer, but the result could have been really powerful. Meanwhile, The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement has the interesting idea of exploring the Civil Rights movement through an ordinary participant. I like the concept but I think it needed to tie together some of its ideas better.

The 84th Academy Awards is almost here! Leading up to the event, we’re going to put all the hours we spent watching these films to good use by giving our thoughts on all the categories, big and small. We may not be experts on everything, but I daresay that’s never stopped anyone from blogging before. On the (very remote chance) you disagree with us or the (much more likely chance) you want to applaud our picks, please chime in below.

Short Film (Live Action)

The nominees are:

  • Pentecost
  • Raju
  • The Shore
  • Time Freak
  • Tuba Atlantic

JARED

I quite enjoyed the live action shorts this year.  Perhaps correlated, the shorts are the one place where Oscar seems to be OK with comedy on a regular basis.  Wasn’t really thrilled with any of their endings – most seemed to just fizzle out, but overall they were pretty entertaining.

Raju feels like the filmmakers started production, filming scenes sequentially, only to realize they’d run out of money halfway through filming.  The film eventually finds its way to a point three-quarters of the way in, in the manner of a Meaningful ethical dilemma, only to “resolve” a half-beat later just as soon as the characters finally start to get interesting.

It is a well-known fact that Scandinavians are weird, and Tuba Atlantic just provides more evidence.  It has a handful of very funny moments: anything with the seagulls (in particular the washing machine, but really all of them), when the girl shows up, the way they say “tuba”.  The meat of the short didn’t really connect with me, though.

I’m in the tank for Ciaran Hinds, so I was happy to see him show up in The Shore.  I think there was definitely an interesting short in there, but the setup wasn’t quite worth the payoff.  Which, to be fair, is sorta the point.  Fun fact: the director of photography also lensed Albert Nobbs and Winter’s Bone.

Pentecost is about 50% perfection.  The opening was OK, nothing special.  But the central conceit was simply fantastic.  It was a brilliant idea executed nearly flawlessly.  But the ending, ugh.  Other people in the audience seemed to love it, which just made me dislike it that much more.  To me, it just sorta comes out of nowhere and feels out of place.  Still, I’d recommend the short to pretty much everyone.

Time Freak was hilarious.  When Adam and I were discussing the shorts, I think we spent a solid minute just laughing at various jokes and bits from the short.  It does have a certain student film feel to it, but I think that may only enhance the experience.  It does everything so well you almost have to wonder if the filmmakers were like the main character, going back in time over and over just to things exactly right.

ADAM

Time Freak

February 2012
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