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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 Leading Role

The nominees are:

  • Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
  • Viola Davis, The Help
  • Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
  • Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn

JOHN

This is a tough category this year. I think, by a hair, the best performance of the year came from Meryl Streep. Not only did she have to tackle playing a real person but at a variety of ages in different stages of mental decline. This film calls for her to dodder around in her senility and jabber with the ghost of her dead husband but she handles it well. I shudder to think how bad The Iron Lady would have been without such a good central performance.

But if I’m being honest I’m rooting for Viola Davis. She’s always awesome and maybe a win would land her some more sizable, and meatier, roles. Streep already has two Oscars and I don’t think she’d begrudge her pal Viola a win. If I have any complaint about Davis in The Help it’s that she painfully out-acts Emma Stone in too many of their shared scenes!

I didn’t like My Week With Marilyn and I wasn’t looking forward to seeing it, but hell if Michelle Williams isn’t very good in it. She does a good job channeling Marilyn Monroe, including her insecurities and playfulness. I suspect I enjoyed Glenn Close’s performance more than my colleagues. I’m not sure she would have made my list but she really sells the restraint and social ineptitude of her character. And while I’m fine with Rooney Mara, I wonder how much of it is that she gets to sport an accent and wear a bunch of leather. I can’t recall ever being particularly taken by her performance.

And if I had my druthers I’d stick Elizabeth Olsen in.

JARED

Oscar did well here.  It would have been hard for them to do poorly, but they’ve shown a certain capability for that.  I’ve now seen Rooney Mara in four movies (this one, Youth in RevoltThe Social Network, and The Winning Season) and I’m very much impressed with her mutability.  I’d love to see her in an action spy show like Alias, or, at least, what I’m assuming Alias was.  She’s good here, but given what the character did for Noomi Rapace, I wonder if the love here is actually for the role.

Albert Nobbs is a challenging portrayal to reward.  The character has devoted his or her life to staying in the background, inconspicuous.  So Close is all small, controlled mannerisms here.  I think it is a performance that needs to sit a little bit to really appreciate, to get how she played at being a man, not really sure of her place in society when not at work.

I may have Davis third, but she’s absolutely deserving of the statue.  I’m not really one for race debates, especially when it comes to Oscar, because then you end up with Crash.  All I want to say is that should Davis take home the trophy, regardless of what caused people to vote for or against her, she’s a fantastic actress who earned the award on merit.

Not like I have anything new to say about Meryl Streep.  Other than that I hope she’s in the sequel to RED.

It isn’t news that I’m in the tank for Michelle Williams.  I’m assuming something was planted in brain when I saw Dick in theaters, but my love more directly stems from The Station Agent and The Baxter.  Anyway, Michelle’s Marilyn is a heck of a performance.  To take such an iconic figure and breathe such life and nuance into it?  Man.  She did Marilyn when she was on, when she was drugged, when she was nervously trying to act.  She dominates the film and is such a joy to watch.

BRIAN

Rooney Mara

ADAM

Rooney Mara

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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.

Art Direction

The nominees are:

  • The Artist, Production Design: Laurence Bennett; Set Decoration: Robert Gould
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Production Design: Stuart Craig; Set Decoration: Stephenie McMillan
  • Hugo, Production Design: Dante Ferretti; Set Decoration: Francesca Lo Schiavo
  • Midnight in Paris, Production Design: Anne Seibel; Set Decoration: Hélène Dubreuil
  • War Horse, Production Design: Rick Carter; Set Decoration: Lee Sandales

JOHN

Art Direction is probably my favorite small category after Song. Why? I love sets! Many a mediocre film has been upgraded in my eyes due to neat sets. Sherlock Holmes, for example, is a lot of noise but the film’s stylish take on Victorian London always gives you something to look at when the plot takes another stupid turn. Or how about a similar entry from this year, missing from the nomination list: Captain America devolved into a lot of mind-numbing explosions, but it happened in some fantastic-looking enemy bases with their mix of Nazi, supernatural, and mechanical elements.

There’s a clear best in show winner for this year in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which of course wasn’t even nominated. There’s a film with meticulous, detail-rich sets that help establish the film’s cool style. Is there a set image more iconic from 2011 than the egg-crate insulation in the MI6 isolation meeting rooms? That and that neat doorframe in the middle of the desert in The Tree of Life, of course!

So my winner will instead be Hugo, another film whose setting really sets the tone for its overall style. It’s colorful, busy, and often quite beautiful. The train station will get most attention, but the designs of Méliès’s studio and house are also quite memorable. The film intent to pull the audience into its sense of magic didn’t really work on me, but I can understand how the production design would help sweep away those who fell under its spell.

The Artist also looks great. Design is a different beast in black and white and the film still has a nice sense of artistry as well as a neat period look. Furthermore, War Horse also has some effective sets. They’re not as flashy, but I liked the look of the windmill and the family’s house at the beginning of the film. The war scenes, mostly stripped of any gore, work as well as they do to show the horrors of war with the help of the design of the bleak trenches and No Man’s Land.

JARED

As anyone who has seen my room may attest, aesthetically pleasing spaces are maybe not so much my forte.  Being a war movie may have made War Horse a shoo-in, but I found the sets merely adequate.  Similarly, nothing in particular stood out for me with Midnight in Paris.  Though I suppose big and bold is what tends to get my attention in this category, and that may not be fair.  Speaking of bid and bold, though, this Harry Potter was the first that I’ve seen.  The wide range of locations were really impressive, but I wonder if maybe people are conflating their love of the series with admiration for the art direction.

I love many things about The Artist, and the scenery is certainly up there.  I’ve mentioned it elsewhere, but putting together a modern take on an old-timey look isn’t easy, and the crew pulled it off with style.  In particular, I’m thinking of the movie sets and scenes at the studios, which felt wonderfully alive.

Infringing on Brian’s turf here, but I think Hugo is my pick here.  I’m a big enough man to admit that even though I disliked much about the film, creating the world of the train station was really something special.  From the inner workings where Hugo lived to the bookstore, to the wide open concourses, the film established a magical, vivid world.  And Ben Kingsley’s film set was pretty neat too.

BRIAN

Hugo

ADAM

Midnight in Paris

 

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.

Sound Editing

The nominees are:

  • Drive Lon Bender and Victor Ray Ennis
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Ren Klyce
  • Hugo, Philip Stockton and Eugene Gearty
  • Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl
  • War Horse, Richard Hymns and Gary Rydstrom

And also:

Sound Mixing

The nominees are:

  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Bo Persson
  • Hugo, Tom Fleischman and John Midgley
  • Moneyball, Deb Adair, Ron Bochar, David Giammarco and Ed Novick
  • Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Peter J. Devlin
  • War Horse, Gary Rydstrom, Andy Nelson, Tom Johnson and Stuart Wilson

JOHN

Sound Editing is basically sound effects and do you know what had great sound effects? Drive. I’ve seen plenty of movie car chases in my day, but the sounds of a car engine have never made an impression on me like they did here. It made me want to go out and drive! I saw Drive about five months ago and I still think of it when I’m driving and the engine revs. But it’s not all mechanical noises here. Another one that made quite an impression on me is the sound of Ryan Gosling’s leather driving gloves and their creaks as he pulls them on or adjusts his hands on the wheel.

Sound Mixing is the mix of all audio elements of a film: dialogue, music, ADR, sound effects. People who have actual knowledge of the subject sayMoneyball has a great mix. But I think I’ll plump for Transformers. It sure has a lot of sound! But I was also struck with how it isn’t overwhelming. The dialogue remains clear even in the busiest action sequences while the music is complementary: notable but not overwhelming. Plus it would be nice to see Greg P Russell finally win an Oscar on his fifteenth try. The film would probably also make a good fit in the Sound Editing category for all those mechanical noises.

Something that crossed my mind during the big Chicago shoot-out at the end of Transformers is what would happen if they went for more realistic sounds as buildings crash and Transformers clang around? We think we know what disasters sound like from seeing so many movies, but think about footage from true disasters like 9/11 or the Japanese tsunami. The sounds are not like the movies and they are horrifying. An action movie should try it some day, unless they are worried about freaking people out for being too real.

The real best sound mixing of the year is Hanna. Truth be told, I’m kind of excited just to have an actual favorite sound mix. Since when does that happen? Anyway, Hanna has a great audio design with, like the rest of the movie, a bit of flair. They really put the thumping Chemical Brothers score to great use.

Hugo, War Horse, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo all got nominations in both categories. I can see Tattoo for Mixing while war films generally do well in sound categories, but I don’t get Hugo. How about some Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.

JARED

Sound just isn’t something I notice terribly often.  So if I really had to pull for someone, I’d probably go with what the guilds went for.  The MPSE honored War Horse for Sound Effects and Super 8 for Dialogue and ADR.  I will make the case, though, for Transformers.  That movie is pure eye and ear candy.  The Michael Bay conversation probably isn’t appropriate here, but to me, those movies are all whiz-crack-bang-boom, and that isn’t a bad thing.  Sound plays rather heavily into that sugar symphony, but it never gets distracting, just a natural part of the metallic cacophony.

ADAM

Transformers for both.

Once again this year we are a member of Film Independent, the group that runs the Independent Spirit Awards. That is, the four of us combine to form one voting member with one ballot. I guess we could probably each afford the fee to join, but we had such fun last year wrangling to figure out our one set of votes that we decided to do it again!

Each of us have a certain number of points to assign to the whichever nominees we want. The nominee with the most points for each category gets the Grouches’ collective vote! And in a few categories only one of us saw all the movies and therefore got the sole vote in that category.

Last week just before the deadline we gathered to reveal our votes and discuss the outcome.

BEST DOCUMENTARY

The nominees:

  • We Were Here
  • The Redemption of General Butt Naked
  • The Interrupters
  • Bill Cunningham New York
  • An African Election

WINNER: We Were Here

John: My sole vote goes to We Were Here. It’s a documentary about the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco.

Adam: Booooo

Brian: Boooooo – Bill Cunningham all the way

Adam: I completely disagree with both of you

Jared: Well, it didn’t take very long to turn on John, huh?

Adam: How can you not pick….quick, Jared, what’s another documentary?

Brian: John where is it available? That actually does sound interesting

John: It’s well made and naturally has an emotional impact. But what I found especially interesting is its look at what life was like during that time. What is it like when a mysterious disease is wiping out gay men? When something like a third of the people you know are dying? I think its next stop is DVD. It’s also a Film Fest DC 2011 alum!

Adam: There is an AIDS epidemic in San Francisco? Is it similar in scope to Africa?

Brian: I think he means during the 80s

John: I also rather enjoyed the two films about Africa. One about a militant leader who killed thousands in Liberia but is now a pastor (The Redemption of General Butt Naked). He goes around asking for forgiveness, which sets up some really fascinating encounters. What I really want to see is a follow-up. What do these people think of this guy, General Butt-Naked, when the cameras aren’t following him around? The other African film, An African Election, embeds filmmakers during the 2008 Ghanaian Presidential election. They have an extraordinary amount of access and present a very interesting portrait of a young democracy.

I also have to make one note about The Interrupters. It’s the film everyone is yelling about not even making the Oscar short list, which is also what happened to Hoop Dreams

Brian: Right

John: But it draaaags. The subjects and their work – stepping into street conflicts before they escalate – are really impressive. But after the nth scene where the interrupters do their interrupting, I felt like I got the point

Brian: If John thinks it drags then it must reallllly drag

John: But at least it has a bigger impact than Bill Cunningham 🙂

Brian: wait wait who needs an impact in a documentary? Not every documentary has to be out to solve the world

Adam: “solving the world” and “impact” are two different things

John: No, of course not. But I would like to have had a reason to have watched it

Brian: Sorry, I keep forgetting that you are a robot

John: And as I don’t care about fashion and have no nostalgia for old-timey journalism, Bill Cunningham was a trifle

Adam: wait…what? You went from arguing something didn’t have to have an impact to accusing John of being a “robot”

Jared: Documentary catfight!

Brian: hahaha. I misinterpreted what John meant by impact

John: I think though that you’ll like We Were Here

Brian: I probably will

John: And I know that Brian hates when I talk about this, but it also has a terrific title.

JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD

(For features made for less than $500,000)
The nominees:

  • Bellflower
  • Hello Lonesome
  • Circumstance
  • Pariah
  • The Dynamiter

WINNER: Bellflower

Jared: Our (or rather my) pick for the Cassavetes award is Bellflower.

John: Guh. Were the others really that bad?

Brian: Bellflower wasnt bad!

Jared: I really liked Bellflower, it was one of the real surprises of the year for me. It had flaws, no question, but I found it really engaging and found myself thinking about it for days after seeing it.

John: Did you find the first half at all engaging?

Jared: Yes.

Brian: the first half was fascinating

John: What was fascinating about it? It’s a group of shitstain hipsters being insufferable.

Brian: its the latter half that went off the rails

Jared: I didn’t say I wanted to hang out with the characters.

John: I at least appreciated that the last half went so insane. Best tattoo of the year?

Jared: Hahaha.

John: Better than the dragon tattoo.

Brian: Oh I found the latter half just too batshit crazy, but the first half felt very authentic and natural

Jared: And yes, the juxtaposition of the madness of the second half with the hipsterness of the first was really effective, I thought. I really liked how the film mixed things up, careening through genres.

John: So it’s a film about male aggression. But why does it have to be so uninteresting at the front end? And so obnoxiously artsy fartsy to end

Jared: It is more than just male aggression, though. Like any indie film it is about ennui and not having a direction. It is also a love story and apocalyptic.

Brian: and a bromance

Jared: Exactly. Not saying every beat hit or anything. But I admired the ambition and thought it mostly worked. Oh, also, I’m kind of in love with Rebekah Brandes.

John: Had you heard of her before the movie?

Jared: Nope.

Brian: She kept reminding me of Taylor Swift. Then I laughed at the idea of Taylor Swift being in that movie

John: She caught my eye too. For a while I thought she was the best actor in the film

Brian: yes, I’m sure that’s why Jared loves her. For her acting.

John: Haha

Adam: I guess I should put my comment on Bellflower in. I have to admit that this was probably the most powerful movie I saw this year. For whatever reason, I was also thinking about it for days afterwards. However, I just didn’t have the same positive reaction to it that Jared and Brian had. I will say that I still have not fully processed my feelings about the movie.

Brian: I also give Bellflower points for being the most original movie I’ve watched this year. Jared, tell us about the two films we missed

Jared: So Circumstance is eerily similar to Pariah, it is about two adolescent girls in Iran who become more than friends with each other and how they deal with their affection for each other in present day Iran. It was better than I was expecting, but I felt there was something more there to explore than the filmmakers shied away from, maybe because they thought the film was controversial enough.

Brian: was it made in Iran? or made by expats elsewhere

Jared: imdb says it is filmed in Lebanon, but it was in Persian.

Brian: Farsi

Adam: Farsi

Jared: Farsi. Sorry. Actually, no. I’m not sorry. Imdb says “Persian”

John: Since you say it’s similar to Pariah, can I ask if has a similar issue that I had with Pariah? That it feels like a film that tries too hard to be about the Lesbian Experience at the expense of story?

Jared: John, I hear what you are saying and I think that’s one difference between the two films. Probably because there doesn’t seem to be a lesbian culture in Iran to which the girls could escape. It was much more the two of them against the world.

John: I liked Pariah and it was an interesting look into a world I’m not familiar with. But it sort of seemed like they had a list of “bad things that happen to black lesbians” and checked the boxes

Jared: Hello Lonesome tells three stories: a May December relationship between a middle-aged guy who works from home and his elderly neighbor, a voiceover artist who works from home who has alienated his family and doesn’t have friends, and a budding relationship between two people who met online (one of whom is Sabrina Lloyd!) only for one of them to soon find out she has cancer. The stories never meet up at all, which is kind of strange.

John: Hmm, sounds like these people may be LONESOME or something

Adam: That sounds like one of the most boring movies ever

Brian: sounds like something John would love

Jared: It is a little better than boring, but not by a whole lot.

Adam: I was nodding off as I was reading your description

Jared: The filmmaker clearly had something to say about the need for relationships with other people, but couldn’t really figure out a story to tell it.

BEST SUPPORTING MALE

The nominees:

  • Albert Brooks, Drive
  • John Hawkes, Martha Marcy May Marlene
  • Christopher Plummer, Beginners
  • John C Reilly, Cedar Rapids
  • Corey Stoll, Midnight in Paris

WINNER: Corey Stoll (12 points – 8 from Jared, 4 from Adam)
Other votes: John Hawkes (4 points – Brian)
Christopher Plummer (3 points – John)

Brian: Woooo. I’m pleased with that

Adam: Nice!

Brian: but I need a defense from John on Plummer

John: I think you guys are the largest concentration of Plummer haters out there.

Adam: Actually, I would go with Plummer over Hawkes

John: He’s just marvelous. So much so that the movie blows when he’s off screen.

Brian: I think thats more because he was adequate

John: That said, I almost tossed Hawkes and/or Stoll points too. And I figured you guys would outvote me

Brian: Stoll was easily the best “character” of the bunch of the fantasy land folks in Parisian Narnia

Adam: True, and he had better dialogue than the others as well…BUT, he pulled it off fantastically

Jared: I don’t think anyone else dominated the screen the way Stoll did.

John: Yep, true

Adam: Agreed. I can’t believe he got passed over for the Oscars

John: Hawkes is still the master creep. That guy is going to get typecast but he’s so good at it!

Jared: Yeah, if he had more screen time, I’d have considered him, maybe.

Brian: Yes that was my only hesitation in giving him points — was he just being his usually creepy self

Jared: I don’t think he’s like that normally.

John: And don’t say too many mean things about him or he’ll show up at your house, sing you a creepy song, and stab your throat. So there was no temptation to give John C Reilly 35 points, Adam?

Adam: Yes. There was. You have no idea how strong it was. I just couldn’t do that because I felt so strongly about Stoll

Jared: I also want to say I’m glad none of us gave points to Brooks…I have no idea where his Oscar campaign came from.

John: I get it. He’s playing against type and he’s very memorably creepy. But, hell, you’ve got Hawkes doing it better here

Jared: Yeah, absolutely.

Brian: and Ron Pearlman was better in the same role

John: Surprisingly, Brooks has a great voice for being cruel

CINEMATOGRAPHY

The nominees:

  • John Hodge, Bellflower
  • Benjamin Kasulke, The Off Hours
  • Darius Khondji, Midnight in Paris
  • Guillaume Schiffman, The Artist
  • Jeffrey Waldron, The Dynamiter

WINNER: Midnight in Paris (15 points – Adam)
Other votes: Bellflower (4 points – 3 from Brian, 1 from John)
The Artist (1 point – Jared)

Adam: Yes!!! I win

Brian: Wow

John: Haha

Adam: I should have known none of you care about Cinematography. Barbarians

Jared: So maybe you can expound here, Adam?

Adam: Why?

John: I hope you enjoyed watching all these movies just to blow all your points on Cinematography

Adam: I didn’t really like most of the movies

Jared: What did you like about Midnight in Paris‘s cinematography?

John: I loved Midnight in Paris but I don’t recall much about the cinematography. Not that I cared much about this category this year.

Adam: I actually thought Midnight in Paris was well done. Especially the camera work and the dialogue. Just watch the opening scenes again to see what I mean. For me, Cinematography has a lot to do with the composition of the shots. It is hard to explain why one person or movie is able to compose and convey more through their shots than others. Midnight in Paris did it more for me than the others…which were, by and large, nothing special in this category.

Jared: That’s fair, the whole point of this category is visuals.

John: Did you know they built their own camera for Bellflower? That sort of industriousness will earn a point from me. So this category had two really small movies nominated in The Off Hours and The Dynamiter. And none of us can figure out why. I googled some reviews of The Off Hours and several mentioned the cinematography. So it’s not just the nominating committee smoking something

Adam: They ran out of eligible movies.

John: Drive has all sorts of iconic shots. Why not go for that over a where bored people populate a diner?

Jared: Drive was nothing but iconic shots, it seems silly for it not to be in here.

Brian: At least last year, with a movie like Tiny Furniture which I didnt enjoy, I found the cinematography noteworthy. But The Dynamiter – I didn’t get it at all.

John: Exactly. Jared, did you hate The Off Hours as much as us?

Jared: I wouldn’t say I hated it, but I didn’t enjoy it.

John: Jared, why The Artist?

Brian: Emulating an old movie style while also being modern

Jared: I’m not a visual person, so this category doesn’t mean that much to me, but I wanted to vote for something, and I had several vivid memories of shots from the film.

Adam: well that’s stupid

John: I appreciate that filming a black and white film requires different camera and lighting decisions. I think it would have been cooler if they actually used an older style camera instead of just changing it to black and white later

Brian: to quote Adam — well that’s stupid

John: But oh well. It definitely has some interesting visual elements, though I wonder if that’s more directorial

Adam: I would argue more directorial

BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE

The nominees:

  • Jessica Chastain, Take Shelter
  • Anjelica Huston, 50/50
  • Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
  • Harmony Santana, Gun Hill Road
  • Shailene Woodley, The Descendants

WINNER: Jessica Chastain (16 points – 12 from Brian, 3 from John, 1 from Jared)
Other votes: Shailene Woodley (2 points – John)

Brian: Thats hilarious. I thought John was going to Botz me and considering your inexcusable like of Albert Nobbs, I was worried

John: Well, it is the year of Chastain. I can’t pick which of her roles I like best. I generally think Take Shelter, but she’s also great in The Help. And of course I liked her in Tree of Life. But there’s no doubt she’s hottest in The Debt. A guy started talking to me in the bathroom about how much hotter she was in The Debt compared to the Israeli actress in the original

Brian: One of the things that has bothered me about a number of the movies this year is that the wives/girlfriends are harpy, selfish, whiny, or just awful people. But Chastain did a great job with the role of being the supportive mom and wife, while giving her moments to shine through her frustration. There’s no doubt that this was her best performance of the big 3 (Help, Tree of Life, Take Shelter) — and just thought I’d reward her for it.

John: It’s a noticeable, impressive dramatic performance. Does Huston seem like a nomination for being a name actress?

Jared: That is bizarre.

Brian: I thought she was great in 50/50 but…. not in it very much

John: It’s such a small role. But people were certainly talking about it

Jared: I’ll be honest, looking through our spreadsheet, where we just had the movie listed under this category, I assumed it was Anna Kendrick that had the nomination.

Brian: as did I

Adam: I would DEFINITELY have voted for her

John: But if you’re choosing a supporting role from 50/50 I think it has to be Bryce Dallas Howard

Brian: ew no

Adam: No. Once again, John is wrong

John: BDH is the anti-Chastain, racking up great, varied villain roles

Jared: And since John brought up hotness already…how about Shailene Woodley? Hubba hubba.

John: I gave Woodley two honorary points for contributing the two best parts of The Descendants: her gams. Yowza

Brian: Her gams?

Jared: Gams does not mean what you think it does.

Brian: that is not where I thought that was going

John: I don’t mind a movie where Woodley gets to wonder about in shorts or bikinis throughout

Adam: Agreed

Jared: She wore so much fewer clothing than anyone else in that movie. It was a solid choice by the costumer.

John: Haha. Yknow, Hawaii, or whatever

Adam: Do you think that is why they decided to do it in Hawaii?

John: She’s good too. I guess push come to shove I’d pick McTeer over her, but she’s still memorable. Love the swimming pool scene

Brian: you all are a bunch of cads

BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY

The nominees:

  • Another Earth
  • Margin Call
  • Terri
  • Cedar Rapids
  • 50/50

WINNER: 50/50 (10 points – 8 from Jared, 2 from Brian)
Other votes: Margin Call (6 points – John)

Brian: wooo

John: Oh PHEW. I suddenly got petrified you voted for Another Earth. I have a lot of goodwill for 50/50. But it just didn’t hit with me as much as I had hoped

Jared: So 50/50 was, hands down, one of the best screenplays of the year, it is a travesty it didn’t get an Oscar nom.

Brian: I concur. It had a fatal weakness, but was still very strong

Jared: Fatal would mean it died.

John: The weakness being the plot line with Anna Kendrick?

Brian: no. Bryce Dallas Howard

Jared: I actually liked that part.

John: The character?

Brian: the girlfriend was written so unsympathetically and given no chance at all to be a real person

Jared: I strongly disagree.

Adam: I agree with Jared…about strongly disagreeing

John: I hate to say it but I think it probably played out pretty realistically

Adam: Absolutely

John: A lot of young people bail on relationships when one gets sick

Adam: Brian, you are an idiot

Jared: It was made very clear the relationship had severe problems before the cancer diagnosis, and then she’s forced to deal with handling a guy she doesn’t really love having cancer.

Brian: sure

John: I liked that she kept trying to justify it to herself

Adam: Yep and yep

Jared: So where’s the weakness?

Brian: but from her being a mooch, to being a bad artist, to making out with a gross hippie, just layer upon layer of her sucking as a person, they could have had her just being a shitty person by bailing on him

Adam: Which is COMPLETELY realistic. You are just biased because you hang out with awesome people like us. Those type of people exist in spades

John: Ha, forgot about the hippie

Jared: She was in a bad spot and felt a need to escape.

Brian: she didn’t need to be a bad person in every realm of her life and she was

John: I really didn’t care for the romantic plot. Dating your patient is icky.

Jared: I don’t think they made her a horrible person, just not a completely successful one. And I agree with John, romancing Anna Kendrick was kinda icky and forced.

Brian: also agreed

Adam: But it was Anna Kendrick

Jared: Oh yeah. Don’t get me wrong, if she were my doctor, I’d fall in love with her.

Adam: Exactly

Brian: and if Joseph Gordon-Levitt were your patient? you’d probably fall in love with him

John: I mean, you have a film about a young person with a serious illness combined with a mildly profane comedy. That’s enough. Why also shoehorn in a basic romantic plot?

The only twist to the basic movie romantic plot was that she is his therapist, which just makes it worse. Or just make her a random person or a fellow patient. There’s a lot of stuff to mine there. But, like I said, it still worked for me in the illness half of the film and it really packs a wallop with the occasional scene or line of dialogue

Jared: I hate to agree with John about romance, but I think you are spot on. Could you talk a little about the Oscar-nominated Margin Call?

John: Margin Call just enthralled me. It’s got a great structure of a workplace drama with big stakes taking place over a limited period of time. And it also fits into my political wheelhouse, which made me just love it even more. It could have easily been just about sleazy bankers, which is rote at this point. But instead its point, such as it is, is more subtle: that the whole system is kind of ridiculous. Like the way characters occasionally marvel at how much they make or how little they know.

Jared: I would have liked to have focus more on the number crunchers. Number crunchers seem like the true heroes in today’s society.

Brian: I really appreciated how the “villain” kept shifting further and further up the ladder

Jared: That was a neat conceit. Which ties into what John was saying, I think.

John: Yep. And the further up the chain you go the less in tune they are to the actual market. These guys make so much money and I just don’t really get why it isn’t competed away. They get paid like professional athletes for much more common skillsets. It could have been fine as an Occupy Wall Street screed, but it happened to present an outlook that I share so it really hit home for me.

Jared: I agree that Margin Call’s structure was unique, I just found the dialogue uninspired

Brian: and I found the character development was too sparse other than Spacey

John: That’s true re: character development. But I think it’s fine to let that slide as it’s meant to be about intense developments in a large organization over the course of about 24 hours.

I want to talk about Terri quickly because the movie it reminds me of the most is Please Give. The “ships passing in the night” thing that Brian talked about last year

Brian: I forgot about Please Give!

Jared: I don’t see that comparison at all.

John: You’ve got interesting characters. A few things happen over the course of a week or two. A few things are somewhat resolved, many are not. Movie over.

Jared: Isn’t that a lot of movies?

Brian: I thought Terri was fine and all, but I dont see the connection either

Jared: Like, you just described The Descendants.

Brian: And A Better Life

John: It’s that the plot revolves around these people crashing into each other and that’s about it. Descendants, Better Life, etc have more plot threads

Brian: I found Terri to be much more difficult to watch than Please Give and not nearly as well written

John: Please Give and Terri are really nothing more than creating some characters and letting them interact with a minimum of story points

Jared: Please Give also had lots of jokes. Terri…did not.

Brian: and Please Give has Catherine Keener!

John: It’s just interesting that all our opinions are flipped. I forgot about Please Give immediately and you guys loved it. The opposite for Terri

Brian: maybe because the movies aren’t similar

Jared: Terri just seemed so proud of itself for coming up with the idea of a hulking kid in high school having trouble fitting in, and then never went anywhere.

Brian: but Terri does have one thing in common with Cedar Rapids

Jared: Can we all agree Cedar Rapids was atrocious?

John: No

Brian: yes! Speaking of movies that don’t have jokes

John: All comedies seem to have to be hard R, romcoms, or kiddie movies these days. I liked that here was one that is just a basic comedy for adults. Amusing, entertaining, and isn’t going for anything more

Jared: It had exactly one funny joke.

John: Now, I’m not saying I need to see it again, but it hit a niche I feel like we don’t see any more. Don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of edgier movies. But now that they are the trend we’re getting a lot of bad ones and it’s nice to have something like Cedar Rapids which is content as it is

Jared: I wish it weren’t content not being funny.

John: It was humorous. Gives you some good chuckles but your spleen ain’t splitting. Oh and Another Earth: Awful or really awful?

Brian: neither

Jared: Another Earth was fine. I would have liked to explore the sci-fi aspects a little more.

Brian: I thought it was a fine premise with good characters but I concur with Jared about the sci-fi parts

John: Another Earth has a boring domestic drama and a barely used sci-fi element. The sci-fi seems like all a build up for the final shot, which does pack a punch. But woo boy did I not care by then

Brian: I thought it was just a backdrop

John: Yeah but why bother if you’re hardly going to use it?

Brian: That didn’t bother me as much as the fact that if the Another Earth was that close. How come the waves weren’t affected?

John: Haha yeah really. There have been a number of movies this year where I thought “Why aren’t the tides affected?” Another Earth, Melancholia, Transformers

Stay tuned for when we cast our votes for the other categories!

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.

Makeup

The nominees are:

  • Albert Nobbs, Martial Corneville, Lynn Johnston, and Matthew W. Mungle
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Nick Dudman, Amanda Knight and Lisa Tomblin
  • The Iron Lady, Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland

BRIAN

The Iron Lady

JOHN

I like the mix here for Best Makeup. You’ve got some classic fantasy work, some classic period-spanning and aging work, and some classic identity-altering work. I have no qualms with any. I know Glenn Close doesn’t really look like a man in Albert Nobbs but she does look potentially masculine, which I think is a better effect than being caked under layers of makeup. Janet McTeer was a bit more convincing, particularly with that haircut.

The Iron Lady is my winner. It’s a good physical transformation, turning Meryl Streep into a recognizable figure without making the effect too eerie, which is what I think sank J Edgar in this category. She’s Margaret Thatcher-ish and Streep-ish, but you don’t find yourself thinking “That’s Meryl Streep dressed up as Thatcher and in weird old age makeup.” Speaking of which, the aging makeup is quite good. Referring back to J Edgar again, I liked the aging work on Leonardo DiCaprio but Armie Hammer and Naomi Watts ended up with weird, stiff faces, particularly around their mouths. This doesn’t happen in The Iron Lady. Finally, hairstyling is within the purview of this category and the film does a nice job of marking the passage of time by tweaking Thatcher’s hairstyle. I understand they had quite a wig collection on this film!

ADAM

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

JARED

I don’t really have any criticisms here.  I think the people behind Albert Nobbs did a good job making Close and McTeer believable as men while not obscuring the fact that they were Glenn Close and Janet McTeer.  A whole lot of The Iron Lady focuses (inexplicably) on an old Margaret Thatcher.  The makeup team did a great job keep the audience in the moment by making Meryl Streep actually look like an elderly Margaret Thatcher.

But I’ll give the hardware to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 2.  The team obviously did so much more, but I think making Ralph Fiennes virtually unrecognizable was really cool and extremely impressive.

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.

Actor in a Supporting Role

The nominees are:

  • Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn
  • Jonah Hill, Moneyball
  • Nick Nolte, Warrior
  • Christopher Plummer, Beginners
  • Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

BRIAN

My list of Supporting Actor couldashouldas is even longer than what I had for Supporting Actress– I could easily fill out a full batch of nominees for the category: Ben Kingsley for Hugo, Andy Serkis for Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Corey Stoll for Midnight in Paris, Patton Oswalt in Young Adult and Uggie in The Artist. Sure, the last one was a little bit of a stretch, but you never know.

I’ll start with everyone’s favorite nominee that I don’t really understand. Christopher Plummer plays a gay, dying old man. If he has been a Holocaust survivor then that’d have checked off all of the Academy’s weak spots. It helps his case that he’s in the same movie as a flaccid romance and a way-too-twee conceit. But I found his performance underwhelming.

Max Von Sydow falls in the same category as a “career achievement” nominee for me, though I appreciated his work as a mute in ELIC. (Yet another Academy weak spot — physical disability). Playing off the unbearable precociousness of Thomas Horn’s Oskar, von Sydow’s expressive face was a nice respite, but he was never able to transcend the strained premise.

Kenneth Branagh? Sure, whatever. Get him back to doing something that befits a man of his pedigree. He was as stuck in Marilyn as Olivier was inThe Prince and the Showgirl.

Jonah Hill’s nomination is the one that makes me angriest, mostly because I should be thrilled that a young, comedic actor is getting recognized. But Hill didn’t DO anything in Moneyball except wear glasses and play against “type.” There are many things about Moneyball that make me think I saw a different movie than the one others did (especially the folks at The Atlantic) — Jonah Hill’s nomination is a the top of this list.

Everyone should go see Warrior. I’ve been preaching the gospel far and wide on this one. Nick Nolte is one of many reasons why. His sons are MMA fighters — strong, brutal and merciless — but they are feeble when it comes to interacting with Nolte. It’s a multi-layered performance that can only improve with repeated watchings. Give the award to Nolte!!

JOHN

Supporting Actor elicits the opposite response from me than Supporting Actress. I have no pretty much no interest in three of the nods, a fourth is okay, and one is miles above the rest. I wish I had the Supporting Actress problem of having to parse great acting from the great written character for these uninspiring picks.

I generally like Jonah Hill but I don’t see what’s so special about this performance. I can see some improvement in his work – he’s no longer half-shouting his lines – but I wouldn’t rank it among the year’s best. Branagh didn’t entrance me, though he’s not helped by a total snoozer of a film, while von Sydow is meh. By the time I saw Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close I knew von Sydow had scored an Oscar nomination. I kept waiting for some scene that would show how he earned that nod… and then nothing materialized.

Nolte does kind of hit the same notes again and again in Warrior. Sad, angry, or thrilled the dialogue all gets croaked out similarly. But given his years of boozing you could say he’s been preparing for this role for years! He’s certainly memorable, though it is a little tough since Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton both stood out to me more in the film. Still, I think there would be a temptation to play up some of the character’s emotional moments – create an Oscar Scene, even – but Nolte keeps it realistic.

Not that I needed to eliminate the others to reach this conclusion, but Christopher Plummer is the obvious winner. There’s a lot of complexity to a the role despite its fairly limited profile. There’s the regret for all the years he suppressed his true self, the timidity of launching into a new life at an advanced age, the joy of new love, the support of a father for a son, and the contemplation of impending death. Plummer is marvelous in all these aspects. Whenever he isn’t on screen, Beginners seriously drags. Plummer is so mesmerizing and his subplot so interesting that the primary plot thread pales in comparison. I would love to see a whole film built around this character.

This category is so lackluster I can’t even name many other actors I wish were here instead. I wasn’t as taken by Drive‘s Albert Brooks as others, but his play against type as a psychopath made for a great story. Ditto for Patton Oswalt in Young Adult, whose unrealized nomination would have been a nice recognition for a terrific but underexposed film. Otherwise, some of the actors from the sprawling casts of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy orMidnight in Paris would have been nice: Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy, Corey Stoll, or Tom Hiddleston.

ADAM

Jonah Hill, Moneyball

JARED

What an odd collection of nominees.  The next time someone tries to convince you there’s such a thing as an Oscar performance, point them to this category.  You can’t say the nominees came from “Oscar movies”, because two of the films weren’t nominated for anything else.  The nominees aren’t all old or young or handsome or ugly or rookies or veterans or dramatic or comedic.  And you can’t say any had an Oscar scene.  Heck, it’d be easier to argue none of them had a traditional Oscar scene.  Indeed, about the only thing the performances have in common is that they aren’t particularly near my top picks of the year.

I remain baffled as to how Jonah Hill secured a nomination for such a blank character.  I’m guessing Brad Pitt just went around telling people to vote for Hill.  Which, to be honest, is probably the most effective campaign strategy for anything that I’ve ever heard.

I love the concept of Nick Nolte getting a nod for portraying a grilled old dad/trainer in a fighting movie that was one of the best of the year.  Kudos to the PR team for turning that in an Oscar nomination.  What complicates the pitch is that I’m not sure Nolte was required to show any depth or range.

There has to be someone somewhere who can explain to me what’s so great about Christopher Plummer in Beginners.  I swear that I went in with an open mind and additionally have read multiple people’s takes on the role.  But, I dunno.  Nothing in particular stands out for me there.

Does Max von Sydow get in if this wasn’t the year where a silent picture rampaged through the awards circuit?  That’s a tough call.  I’d argue The Artist certainly made people more receptive to a character that doesn’t speak.  Though that film is also an example of how people in a movie can be so expressive even without any dialogue.  As opposed to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.  I seem to to recall the book giving the character more backstory, maybe that is what’s missing here.

So by process of elimination, that leaves…Kenneth Branagh?  Fine, whatever.  I think people are getting too caught up in the storyline about how Branagh is like Olivier, and so it is cute the former is playing the latter in the film.  Or how odd it is for this all to be happening in a relatively light movie.  But I think Branagh was solid.  More than anything, his character served as a way to explain to the audience what was going on with the movie in a movie and what should be going. Branagh rises to the occasion and turns the character into one worth remembering.

February 2012
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