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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.

Directing

The nominees are:

  • The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius
  • The Descendants, Alexander Payne
  • Hugo, Martin Scorsese
  • Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen
  • The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick

BRIAN

At the risk of repeating myself, I’ll just skip the pretense and toss the award to Scorsese for Hugo. Despite my minor qualms with the pacing, I loved the 3D and the general feel of the film. That it was so out of character of Scorsese makes it even better. Quickly with the rest: The Artist was a delight too; only a skilled director could make a silent film work with today’s tastes. Midnight in Paris and The Descendants each had major problems with their scripts, and since both were directed by their screenwriter, it’s hard for me to judge them separately. Oh and Tree of Life? HAHAHAHAHAHAH. Right.

JOHN

In the context of this season, the nominees for Director are quite good. I might not be all that fond of most of the nominees but even they are directorial achievements.

At the very top of the category is sort of an embarrassment of riches for me. Midnight in Paris is my favorite film of the year. The writing and acting really put it over the top, but Allen does a masterful job striking the right tone and keeping the pace zipping along. He also elicits a number of fine performances from mostly lesser known actors that readily recall the real life people they are portraying without slipping into caricature.

But my winner in this category is actually my second favorite Best Picture nominee, Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life. It’s a film that’s packed to the gills with directorial ambition, combining images, music, and a wispy narrative into a fragmented memory poem, audaciously scoped against no less than the history of the universe. It’s unlike anything I’ve experienced. Even if it still leaves me somewhat bewildered it made an unforgettable impact. There’s no other director who imparted such vision.

Two other lesser nominees also presented visions that didn’t always work for me, but I appreciate the efforts. I enjoy seeing directors like Scorsese and Hazanavicius take chances and really make their marks. I think both had pacing problems, but the worst thing I can say about either is that they just didn’t connect with me, which isn’t a terrible fault. If a film is going to misfire, it may as well do it with some panache! And while Payne directs with less flair, I do give him credit for building a film with a good sense of tone. In a jumbled story it’s the atmosphere that really pulls The Descendants through.

It has been quite a year for ambitious directors. My top nine of the year (https://goldengrouches.wordpress.com/2012/02/02/top-nines-through-january/) is filled with stylish, atmospheric films, from the cool (Steve Soderbergh’s Contagion and Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) to the disturbing (Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In and Steve McQueen’s Shame). Even something that was ultimately disappointing to us, like Drive, heralded the arrival of a promising talent.

ADAM

Woody AllenMidnight in Paris.

JARED

It isn’t exactly right for me to say I hate Terrence Malick.  I think it is more that I hate the Academy voters (and anyone else who gave The Tree of Life a glowing review) for giving me a good reason to watch the film.  Also, for all I know, Malick may be a warm and generous person.  So perhaps it would be more fair for me to say I hate his work.  Whatever promise the script may or may not have showed (and Sean Penn is on record saying the script was way more logical, one of the best he’s ever read, and nothing like what ended up on screen), Malick as director brutally hacked and mangled until it was something so stupefyingly awful, that pretentious snobs everywhere were all but forced to acknowledge it as a masterpiece.

I think I like everything about Martin Scorsese except for the movies he makes.  A lot of my problems with Hugo were with the script.  But I also found the movie generally boring, and a lot of that is on the director, for not finding ways to keep me engaged.  I don’t really have much to say about Alexander Payne.  I seem to be a little bit lower on him than other people, but not exorbitantly so.  I’m not entirely certain what all the fuss is about with the film, but I’m also not sure I would have liked it much more with anyone else directing.

You have to admire someone who is Woody Allen’s age who can keep cranking out movie after movie.  Some directors take years and years to make something that won’t look or feel nearly as good as Midnight in Paris.  I really appreciate that about Allen.  In particular, I think Allen did a good job differentiating between the different eras.  And especially, while the film is obviously in some way a love letter to Paris, Allen makes sure never to allow the film to go overboard and become a Love Letter to Paris.

But I think it has to be Michel Hazanavicius here.  Making a silent, black and white film that’s a crowdpleaser?  Give me a break.  That’s insane.  How many directors would have the balls to attempt that, much less be able to pull it off?  The Artist manages to have the feel of a old time movie as well as a new one, while always feeling classic.

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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.

Actress in a Supporting Role

The nominees are:

  • Berenice Bejo, The Artist
  • Jessica Chastain, The Help
  • Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
  • Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
  • Octavia Spencer, The Help

ADAM

Berenice Bejo.  (He is a man of a few words.)

BRIAN

This is the first of a series of posts where I am generally apathetic about the winner. The distance between my pick and my least favorite nominees in supporting actress is pretty narrow, so I won’t dwell on this bunch much. Missing in this group is Jessica Chastain for Take Shelter, Shailene Woodley in The Descendants (I don’t want to hear it, Jared), Helen McCrory in Hugo, and Allison Pill in Midnight in Paris. All would have been strong contenders for my pick but since all were ignored, here we go:

I didn’t like Albert Nobbs very much at all, and contrary to John’s crackpot theories about her being a ringer for the Babysitter Bandit from “The Simpsons”, Janet McTeer wasn’t anything revelatory in it. I actually was surprised that she wasn’t in it for longer, considering the buzz she had been getting. Melissa McCarthy was funny and stole the show in Bridesmaids, but this also didn’t really stick with me. Much like the movie is getting notice and recognition for writing a gross-out movie for females, McCarthy was nominated for playing the gross-out role usually portrayed by men. But just because its novel doesn’t mean its anything special.

As for The Help performances, I liked Chastain and Octavia Spencer in their respective roles. I was more disappointed to not see Bryce Dallas Howard nominated for playing against type and really chewing the scenery in the fun “Worst Racist Ever” role. Chastain had a tremendous year — I clearly would have preferred to see her nom’d for Take Shelter — so I think this is mostly a cumulative nod. Spencer wasn’t playing a very nuanced role, so she never got to show the depth her fellow cast member Viola Davis did.

My pick would go to Berenice Bejo — She was an adorable ingenue with heart, class, smarts and that came through with having much less screen time than Jean Dujardin. I’d be really pleased if she took home the Oscar, even though that’s looking increasingly unlikely.

JOHN

This slate of nominees sure shows of the year’s range of quirky characters. We’ve got the silent actress hamming it up, the over-the-top bubbly blonde, the sassy black maid, the woman dressed as a man, and the overweight weirdo from a buddy movie. With a group like that I get worried about distinguishing the acting from the written character. Of course the performer goes a long way in building a character… but it helps when the script gives them good lines. Still, it’s a fine group.

I guess I think of this most in regards to Melissa McCarthy. She steals a lot of scenes, but that’s the job the script gives her. I know McCarthy has some range. Check out the differences between her work in Bridesmaids compared to more softer roles in “Mike & Molly” or “Gilmore Girls.” I especially dug the confident bravado she brings to the character, but, like with many performers in the Apatow oeuvre, I feel like I can see the wheels turning in her head during more improvised scenes and she’s just spit-balling lines. So, I’m conflicted and sway back and forth.

Spencer will probably walk away with the Oscar, but I think I somewhat prefer Jessica Chastain. I can’t really explain what drew me to her and it may also have to do with her all around extraordinary year. If she got a nod for Take Shelter instead it would have been a slightly easier decision. Both are quite memorable in The Help and I think Chastain ends up displaying a little more range. Honestly, it’s possible I would even abstain in this category if I were a real voter since I don’t really care much who wins among this solid if not mind-blowing crop.

JARED

Sorry for pulling a Brian here, but I’m a little miffed Elle Fanning didn’t make the cut, especially in a year with a theme of Hollywood on Hollywood.  On a plane ride with access to Super 8 after I’d already seen it in theaters, I fat-fingeredly found my way to the scene around the train crash, where she first “acts” and where she pretends to be a zombie, just because she’s so good in them.

Without a doubt, the best performance of this lot is Berenice Bejo.  Her role required a wide range of emotions and the ability to express them both broadly and in a subtle manner.  Additionally, the character and movie required a good deal of physicality.  And get your mind out of the gutter, I’m talking about her dancing and just motion in general.  Unfortunately, I have a little bugaboo about category fraud and to me, Bejo is a clear lead of The Artist.  As such, I can’t give her my vote, sadly.

Jessica Chastain, like an increasingly impressive number of twenty-somethings, appeared on Veronica Mars, and thus will always have my respect.  I realize she pretty much “had” to be nominated, given her year, but I don’t buy that reasoning.  You want to celebrate someone for being solid in a bunch of movies that happened to be released in the same year?  Fine.  Create an award to honor it.  We did, sorta, doing a Laura Linney of the year a few years back.  But Oscar should be for a single performance.  And I just don’t see it here.  Chastain, to be sure, was fine in the role, but there’s nothing to distinguish her from, say, Bryce Dallas Howard.

If Janet McTeer had a few more scenes, I could see her atop my rankings.  I was particular impressed with how she seemed to move and have the presence of a man, particularly of her (presumably lower middle) class.  It was an interesting juxtaposition with Close’s more timid, androgynous Nobbs.

I love that Melissa McCarthy got an Oscar nomination.  Just such an un-Oscar role.  Obviously having a good script helps a ton.  But comedy is an underappreciated talent, I think.  There’s so much that goes into timing and the ability to be funny on screen even after multiple takes.  And especially with physical comedy it is so tough not to go over the line and just look stupid.

But I’m going to go with the consensus (among awards-giver-outers, at least) and pip Octavia Spencer here.  It is a character type that doesn’t often receive Oscar love, so I’m glad to see it rewarded.  Spencer is, in large part, comic relief, but she does get a depth and some meaning to her character, aided in large part by the nuance she brings to it.  In a group of solid performances, she’s just a little bit stronger.

February 2012
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