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Oscar nominations arrive Tuesday, January 25. To prepare, we’re giving you our sharpest insight and predictions. Today’s topic: Call your longshot nominations. No guts, no glory! We actually have nailed a couple of these over the years.

John:

Everyone has 11 films vying for the 10 Best Picture slots. Something outside of that list of 11 will slip in instead. The top contenders are, in order of likelihood: Another Year, Blue Valentine, Biutiful, and How to Train Your Dragon.

Four Lions for Original Screenplay.

A big studio picture won’t take the third Animated Feature slot, instead falling to My Dog Tulip or The Illusionist.

Brian:

The academy satisfies Jared and me muchly by giving Nicole Holofcener a nod for her sweet and endearing script for Please Give in the Best Original Screenplay.

In its attempt to give the HFPA strong competition for their starf*cker reputation, the voters pull a Timberlake out of their hat, recognizing him for his role as Sean Parker in The Social Network.

Jared:

Shutter Island for Best Picture

Noomi Rapace for Actress

Rooney Mara for Supporting Actress

Vincent Cassel for Black Swan for Supporting Actor

Oscar nominees are announced on the 25th.  Yay!  So let’s summarize what we (the royal we, at least) know.  Keeping in mind, of course, that when it comes to the Academy, no one knows anything.  Especially me.  This time: Best Original Screenplay.

VIRTUAL LOCKS

  • David Seidler, The King’s Speech
  • Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg, The Kids Are All Right
  • Christopher Nolan, Inception

Seidler is a great story.  He’s over seventy years old with no major features to his credit and has been chasing this film much of his life.  Plus, it is a heck of a script, an Oscar bait movie that exceeds expectations.  I personally don’t understand the love for The Kids Are All Right.  But the script has been nearly universally praised, and there’s a palpable feeling that the Academy wants to recognize Cholodenko‘s voice.  Let’s make one thing clear: Inception isn’t nearly as deep as people seem to be making it out to be.  I think they actually mean Memento.  Nolan‘s script, though, is big and bold and most of its misses are noble failures.  I’m a sucker for intellectual sci-fi thrillers, so I’ll be pretty happy to see one get nominated here.

LAST TWO IN

  • Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, John J. McLaughlin, Black Swan
  • Mike Leigh, Another Year

You may want to have a fire extinguisher on hand for anyone who claims to know the final two spots in this category, because their pants are surely on fire.  Black Swan is a psychological horror flick that crossed into the mainstream and Oscar because of the big names associated with it.  I was under the impression that people generally thought Heyman, Heinz, and McLaughlin‘s script was the movie’s weak spot, but it has been nominated for everything and the film is en fuego.  Mike Leigh has six Oscar nominations, four of which were for original screenplays.  So yeah, I’m not going to count him out until he misses.

FIRST ALTERNATE

  • Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, The Fighter

I’m now on the record expressing how much I disliked The Fighter‘s script.  So maybe my bias is placing this film on the wrong side of the line.  It has every shot at getting a nomination.  Which would mean the guy who wrote Air Bud would be Oscar-nominated.  Just sayin’.

DARK HORSES

  • Derek Cianfrance, Cami Delavigne, Joey Curtis, Blue Valentine
  • Nicole Holofcener, Please Give

The Academy has a pretty well-established trend of using a slot in this category for a smaller film.  If that spot isn’t filled by Another Year, look for the gritty Blue Valentine or sublime Please Give to sneak in.

SHOULDA BEEN A CONTENDER

  • Sean Anders, John Morris, She’s Out Of My League
  • Nicholas Fackler, Lovely, Still
  • Jacob Tierney, The Trotsky
  • Raymond De Felitta, City Island

Grouching Week continues with our discussion of a category that we all feel is depressingly sub-par: Best Screenplay Written Originally for the Screen. First, your nominees:

  • The Hurt Locker” Screenplay by Mark Boal
  • Inglourious Basterds” Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino
  • The Messenger” Screenplay by Allesandro Camon and Oren Moverman
  • A Serious Man” Screenplay by Ethan and Joel Coen
  • Up” Screenplay by Bob Peterson, Pete Docter and Thomas McCarthy

Jared kicks us off again, with some wishful thinking this time:

    As with the adapted screenplays, four of the five films nominated for Original Screenplay also garnered Best Picture nominations. I have the feeling the others Grouches are going to disagree with me here, [Ed. note — WRONG] but I think this category is extremely weak. Granted, it wasn’t a particularly strong year for Oscar-contending original screenplays, it is just unfortunate the Academy lacked imagination when deciding these nominees.

    As much as Adam might be upset about The Messenger getting a nomination, I wonder if he’d be more upset if I made him watch it for no reason at all. I honestly have no idea what other people see in this film. Military deaths are horrific things, and I cannot possibly imagine the toll it takes on their families or what it must be like to be the one who delivers the news. Everyone involved in this horrible scenario absolutely deserves to have their story told. But told well, which I don’t believe is happening here. I would have believed this film was a Lifetime channel original. The story has no cohesiveness, the dialogue doesn’t lead to any memorable scenes, and frankly, nothing really happens.

    I really think Quentin Tarantino needs a writing partner, as his self-indulgence reaches all sorts of new heights in Inglourious Basterds. I’m fairly certain every scene ran at least two minutes too long. And where the use of disparate storylines was an effective storytelling device in most of his prior work, here it serves no real purpose other than imprinting the film with his watermark, along with his homages and in-jokes and lots of other things which may add up to his distinctive style, but obscure the actual film.

    The support for A Serious Man is completely baffling to me. Mostly because I don’t really think it is exists at all. I clearly don’t connect with the Coens the way other people seem to do so. And while I didn’t find this film nearly as frustrating as some of their other works, I don’t really see the genius behind it. Sure, I’ll give them some credit for a relatively novel main character. But otherwise, seems like middling stuff with a few unnecessary arthouse tricks.

    As I mentioned before, I found The Hurt Locker’s screenplay to be relatively weak. I think Bigelow, her cast and her crew put forth a yeoman’s effort to rescue Mark Boal’s script. To be fair, I’m positive some of the action scenes were delicately and exquisitively scripted. But there’s probably a legit argument that while the interactions between the bomb squad (and between the squad and the bombs) were pretty strong, everything else could have used some sharpening.

    So almost by default, I’m going with Up, and not just due to residual bitterness over WALL-E‘s loss. Sure, the opening montage was better than just about anything else in movies this year. But the rest of the film was also consistently strong. It managed to run the gamut of comedy, drama, action, and adventure while never really seeming hokey, no small feat if you consider the specifics of the story. And if you think about it, the characters weren’t especially likable, at least not at first. The script may not have been hard-hitting, uber-dramatic, or even trendsetting. But to me, it was undeniably entertaining throughout, and ultimately, isn’t that what a film should be?

    If I were choosing, I’d have gotten rid of four of these nominees, so I imagine I feel there are many snubs. The most obvious one, of course, is (500) Days of Summer. A huge miss by the Academy, in my opinion.

John is surprisingly succinct in his dismissal of this category:

    I agree with Jared that this is a fairly weak slate. Which isn’t to say any of them are poor efforts, but they don’t really jump out at me as clearly outstanding.

    Three of them suffer from the same problem: they create several great scenes that don’t really add up to a terrific whole. Inglourious Basterds doesn’t even really try to add up to a whole as it’s a series of vignettes. I’d argue the film succeeds more on its performances and visual style anyway. Some of the scenes in The Messenger are absolutely gut-wrenching, but the narrative around those scenes sort of falters. And I’d say the same is true with The Hurt Locker though it works better.

    It’s a tough call for me on the last two. I’m still puzzled by A Serious Man, but it sure is fascinating to ponder. It’s thoughtful, interesting, funny, and clever. But my winner is Up. One thing I had sort of forgotten about it until I watched it again recently is how ridiculously funny it is- one of the funniest of the year in fact. It has all you could ask for in an animated film: intriguing premise, developed and interesting characters, clever and funny dialogue, and a compelling story full of intelligence and heart. Pixar certainly makes films that look great, but they really shine because the writing is always so terrific.

Here are Adam’s thoughts, and I’m just thankful I wrote mine after his:

    Will Win: ?. I’m actually not sure who will win this one (or I do, and I just don’t want to key the other Grouches in on it). This has to be the closest race in the top 8 categories. I think it definitely will come down to The Hurt Locker and Inglourious Basterds, though.

    I Want to Win: Inglourious Basterds. As stated above, Quentin Tarantino’s fantastic script is in the running for the award and I couldn’t be happier. In my mind, this was the best script of the year (followed by In the Loop). I can’t believe that people are unsure whether to pick this over The Hurt Locker.

    Dark Horse: The Messenger. And thank god it IS a long shot. In the case of this script, I fully agree with Jared’s assessment.

    Ranking:
    1. Inglourious Basterds
    2. The Hurt Locker
    3. Up
    4. A Serious Man
    5. The Messenger


    Grouches Critiques:
    As of the writing of this, I have only seen Jared and John’s write-ups. While I agree with them that this is a weak slate of movies as well as their comments on The Hurt Locker, A Serious Man, and The Messenger (especially Jared’s), both of their takes on Inglourious Basterds are way off the mark. The only thing I can think of is they went into the wrong movie. Otherwise, I have to get used to the fact that John’s horrible taste in movies is starting to rub off on Jared. Also, Up is not as great as they both seem to think it is. I actually am a big fan of a lot of Pixar’s work, but it’s last two movies…while good…were not the darlings that everyone seems to think they are. Wall-E was funnier, and Up had a less annoying plot/message, but they were no Incredibles or Finding Nemo.

    Random Notes: Wow. What a weak slate of movies.

And here are the correct opinions, written by Brian:

    Even though I liked all five of these films more than you, Jared, I still think this is a weak group, but I don’t think that (500) Days of Summer would have saved it. This category was pretty much screwed from the beginning — unless of course they included Zombieland, though we all know that would never have happened.

    Having just watched The Messenger last night, I was at first a little befuddled by Jared’s comments. I thought Luc Besson’s directing was pretty good and Mila Jovovich was outstanding. But then I watched the correct movie, the one with Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson, and I understood. But I don’t entirely agree — the first hour was riveting — each time they knocked on a door I tensed up — fearful of the next death announcement. But once the focus shifted from their duty to Foster’s personal life and attachment to Samantha Morton, it sort of went off the rails. There was a good movie in there — somewhere — maybe a great live-action short, but the script failed halfway through the film.

    I’m still trying to understand what the hell happened in A Serious Man, and while Slate published a pretty good analysis today, I still don’t think that bodes well for the screenplay. I appreciated a lot of what the Coen brothers did with the script — and the schlubby portrait of the titular character Larry Gopnik was quite good — but no script should be this obtuse and senseless. Maybe if they made a pop-up video version of the movie it could have been more successful.

    The Hurt Locker was a tremendous piece of filmmaking — but the script wasn’t a contributor to it. Jeremy Renner’s side-trip into the streets of Baghdad was unneccessary, and the mystery of the body-bomb kid was too transparent. The film will get deservedly recognized elsewhere — it doesn’t belong in this category.

    Gah, am I really going to agree AGAIN with Jared and John? Inglorious Basterds was brilliant in its own way. I was hoping that Adam would go into greater depth on why he loved it — but maybe he’s holding his fire for the Best Picture category. As for why I liked it, well, its Jews killing Nazis. What’s not to like? Beyond the strength of the plot, I thought that Tarantino’s willingness to throw historical accuracy out the window was refreshing — and his whimsical take on the sober subject of World War II captivated me.

    It’s a very very close race for me, but Up takes my vote. Its such an imaginative script, and the characters are incredibly developed considering how long we get to know them. And it has a TALKING DOG!

Well this morning the Official Mistress of the Golden Grouches (c), Anne Hathaway, announced the nominations — and there were few surprises among the acting nods, a couple shockers in the Best Picture, but overall things went according to plan. Nonetheless, we still pulled together our thoughts for a short post.

Brian: My biggest disappointment is that with Penelope Cruz’ nomination, I now have to see Nine, something that I had been avoiding doing. No real desire to see it at all, but it can’t be nearly as bad as Lovely Bones, which fortunately, did indeed garner Stanley Tucci a nomination. It would have been tragic had we had to sit through that dreck for no reason whatsoever.

With the best pictures, I was quite happy to see District 9 get the nod there and in screenplay — I held out hope for director until getting slapped in the face by Lee Daniels name being read. As Jared says below, Blind Side is the only real WTF here, and even that it’s rather pointless since it has no shot at winning. This batch of nominations also has me quite excited to see A Serious Man when it comes out on DVD next week.

Other thoughts: disappointed that Damon got nominated for the wrong role and left Molina in the dust. Happy to see Moore get snubbed for A Single Man as her role was more or less the same as Susan Sarandon’s in Lovely Bones and was less funny. I had forgotten all about In the Loop until John started his well-deserved campaign for it, and I’m happy that John got something to gloat about. By far my biggest disappointment though was Marvin Hamlisch getting crapola for The Informant. His score was such an integral character in the great movie that it deserved to win the award, not just the nod.

Looking forward to stewing over these races in the “should win” discussions — especially the screenplays. Lots to ponder. And I think the 10 films for best picture was a wild success — good job…academy?

Adam: Editor’s Note: Adam did not submit anything so I wrote it for him. Inglorious Basterds: Yay. If only It’s Complicated were nominated, then I could make fun of Brian more. I’ll find other ways.

Jared, via iPhone in the DFW airport: Most surprising to me is the relative lack of true surprises. There were some, of course, but I’d guess most Oscar prognosticators did pretty well, especially if they stayed conservative.

People will hate on The Blind Side, and sure, it probably isn’t a top ten film. However, in my opinion it is miles better than Crazy Heart, Invictus, and The Messenger, all of which now appear to have been viable contenders. Like, it just isn’t close at all. So while I would have preferred Star Trek, The Hangover, or In The Loop, I can settle for the middle ground.

I’ve heard people claim this is the wrong year for ten nominees. But you know what? This a very strong lineup, and for me, stacks up against much of this decade’s best picture groups. And really, assuming the expansion got District 9 and Up into the group, I’m fully prepared to call it a success.

I’m a little surprised we didn’t see something crazy in Supporting Actress. Sorta seems like the Academy threw its collective hands in the air and gave up. There was definitely room for another film to have made a play here. No Basterds is a surprise, I guess, but there seemed a very unWeinstein-like unfocused campaign.

Finally, the screenplay categories were a general success. My efforts to not jinx them went mostly rewarded. In the Loop getting a nomination is such a good thing. But, of course, the one nomination I really really wanted to see, (500) Days of Summer, missed. Probably at the hands of The Messenger, which I interpret as a direct, intentional, personal slap in my face.

John: Before going to bed last night I nearly made a quick post amending my earlier “biggest hopes” declarations. But I decided not to and both of those hopes came true!

I had been surprised at the amount of In the Loop predictions prognosticators were making yesterday, which gave me hope for an Adapted Screenplay nomination, whereas before I thought of it as only a longshot. But then it happened! It was my big fist pump moment of the morning. It really has made my day.

My other hope was that Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs would get left off the Animated Feature slate in favor of some of the more interesting films that came out this year. When Coraline was announced first (nominees are announced alphabetically) it was obvious this wish had come true and it was fun to see what would take its spot. The Secret of Kells is an interesting choice, although not the one I would make.

A few other quick thoughts:

  • A boring slate of acting nominees. Very by the numbers. Penelope Cruz was a surprise, but only because her long-presumed nomination seemed derailed by Nine‘s failure.
  • No Avatar in Original Screenplay. Not a problem for most of the Grouches, but interesting that such a juggernaut would miss. 500 Days of Summer also missed and that had seemed like the indie that would break out in a writing category. I suspect not being in the picture for Best Picture hurt it.
  • Hooray for Invictus not making Best Picture even though it appears to be supplanted by the awful The Blind Side.
  • No Makeup nod for District 9 despite the film’s heavy use of prosthetics. Instead the aging makeup for Il Divo and the hairstyles of The Young Victoria get in, along side Star Trek.
  • No Score nod for The Informant! excludes that gem of a film completely.
  • I’m generally happy with the Best Song slate. Thankfully “See You” from Avatar was left off.

So it all comes down to this. Nominations come out tomorrow and the Grouches are staking their pristine reputations on their predictive powers! Brian, Jared, and John took a stab at the top eight categories while John and Jared went on to predict the rest of the non-short categories. There’s a lot of overlap, so any picks where we differ has been shaded.

The Big Eight:

And the rest (note we also predicted how many Best Song nominees there will be, since there can be 0, 2, 3, 4, or 5)

Who will reign supreme? We’ll declare a winner tomorrow!

Oscar nominations will be announced on February 2. We’re counting down to the big day by offering some hard-hitting analysis and incisive opinions on the toughest questions surrounding the nominees.  We can be sometimes be pretty negative, but we like stuff too!  What’s your biggest hope for nomination morning?

John: Matt Damon And Left Field

My biggest hope is fairly easy. I hope Matt Damon slides into the Best Actor race from the back of the bubble for his wonderful work inThe Informant! I’ve steeled myself for the likely eventuality that he won’t make it, but I’ll be holding my breath to see who comes after George Clooney in the alphabetical announcement tomorrow.

I’m also hoping that something entirely out of left field sneaks into the Best Picture nominations. With ten slots available, something with a fairly small amount of support can make it in. I won’t necessarily agree with the choice – I’d guess the most likely possibilities to be The Blind Side or Crazy Heart – but it’d make for some excitement to see something come out of nowhere. And imagine if it becomes something of an Oscar tradition! What film will shock everyone each year? That would be fun!

Brian: Directing District (and Dodgeball)

In Dave Karger’s list of slightly plausible shots in the dark for tomorrow morning, he posits that Lee Daniels of Precious will get pushed out for Best Director and Neill Blomkamp of District 9 will come in with the upset. I can think of no other switcheroo that would make me happier. Daniels nearly ruined my good feelings about Precious with the gratuitous use of verite camera shots, obnoxious fantasy interludes, and grotesque (and overused) zoom-ins of boiling pig’s feet. Blomkomp created a new world — based on the all-to-real world of the slums of South Africa — of aliens, super weapons, Michael Scott-inspired humans, and juiced up mercenaries straight out of Avatar that directors should be awarded for. I don’t see it happening, but man — that would be like what Gary Cole in Dodgeball calls a “two-person swing!”

Jared: Mo’ Mo’Nique, No Problems

When I first heard the Oscar buzz surrounding Precious, I immediately pictured the sheer ridiculousness of Mo’Nique getting a nomination.  Which isn’t meant as an insult to the actress, I don’t think, I’m the first one to advocate the Academy getting outside their comfort zone.  It is just that Mo’Nique doesn’t exactly fit the Oscar mold, and I still smile to think of her being mentioned in the same breath as, say, Jack Nicholson or Meryl Streep.  That said, yowza.  I don’t know what I can say about her performance that hasn’t already been said.  And while it is an admittedly weak year for supporting actresses, it is instructive that there’s really zero momentum for any other contender.  Rightfully so, because Mo’Nique just towers over everyone else.  Sure, part of it is that everyone loves a villain (see Waltz, Christoph).  But it would have been so easy to take Mary somewhere comic book over-the-top, making her an unrelatable, emotionaless automaton.  Mo’Nique gives Mary depth and humanity, which just makes the character that much scarier.

The non-lock category is a little trickier.  There’s definitely some fluidity this year, so while a lot of nominees are all but nailed down, there’s no one scenario that every single person is picking.  So I’m happy there’s be some excitement.  My biggest hope lies in the categories that may mean most to me: Adapted and Original Screenplay. I’m terrified of jinxing anything, because I think my favorites are on the bubble.  I won’t name names, but it is probably obvious which movies have my backing.  So here’s hoping some of my favorite movies of the year aren’t excluded at the expense of some of my least favorite.

Oscar nominations will be announced on February 2.  We’re counting down to the big day by offering some hard-hitting analysis and incisive opinions on the toughest questions surrounding the nominees. This time around, we are looking at each category as a whole. Which categories appear to be the strongest and weakest?

John: Everyone With A Solid Year Take A Step Forward…Not So Fast Supporting Actresses

I think the likely slates of nominees will be pretty solid this year, mostly bereft of bad choices. On the other hand, there are few categories I’d call particularly strong. If I had a ballot I’d still have trouble filling it out with performances/films that I found worth advocating for. If there were only three slots for animated films, Best Animated Feature would certainly be the strongest category. But enough films qualified this year that there ought to be five nominees, which dilutes its still considerable strength.

The strongest category overall is Best Actor. If I chose irrespective of those choice’s chance at nomination, there are many strong candidates. If we’re looking at likely candidates, both screenplay categories look very strong. Even films whose scripts I wouldn’t find strong enough to nominate (Inglourious Basterds, (500) Days of Summer) are at least somewhat different. Compare that to the screenplay nominees I found disappointing from last year, like Frost/Nixon or Doubt, that were neither particularly great nor interesting.

The weakest category is Supporting Actress, where I find little to interest me either in the whole pool of 2009 supporting actresses nor in the list of those who have a shot at a nomination. Beyond Mo’Nique and Vera Farmiga there’s very little for me to get excited about.

I also don’t think there’s any doubt that the ten nominees has weakened the Best Picture slate. But at least the films that are going to get in because of the category expansion tend to be different, fresh choices, even if I didn’t always love the films.

Jared: Love/Hate Relationship With The Ladies

I actually think Best Actress is a very strong category this year.  Small caveat, The Last Station is (probably) the last Oscar movie I need to see.  But Helen Mirren is always awesome, so should she beat out a strong Emily Blunt performance, I’m not super concerned.  Otherwise, I think Gabourey Sidibe walks away with the statue in many other years, but she’s nearly out of the picture this year.  Similarly, Carey Mulligan was just breathtaking.  I’m a little lower on Sandra Bullock than most, but would still be tickled pink if she won.  And Meryl Streep certainly doesn’t need me to praise her.

Depending on what happens, Original Screenplay is a close second.  It has the potential to be filled with riveting, unique works.  And even if my dream scenario doesn’t happen, it is still going to be very very strong.

And yeah, Supporting Actress is far and away the weakest category this year.  I’m surprised there hasn’t been more of a push to get more names into the race.  Maybe it is because Mo’Nique has this thing in the bag.  Otherwise it is her, and then meh.  I already said my piece on the lovely ladies from Up in the Air, and then you are looking at, what?  Someone from the horribly overrated Inglourious Basterds?  (Although, I’d love a Diane Kruger nod, just to bump up the Oscar nominees who appeared in National Treasure 2.  The actresses from Nine were decent, but their roles weren’t anything special.  That Julianne Moore has a shot to sneak in here shows how much of a joke this category is this year.

Brian: If Only The Actors Could Sing A Song

If the Academy had expanded the Best Actor slot to ten nominees as they had with Best Picture, I’m not sure I would have found a choice about which to complain. Sure, Morgan Freeman is a gimme nomination, but if I’m going with the Academy trends, I can understand it. The next five in probably includes Mortensen, Damon, Day-Lewis, Stuhlbarg, and maybe even one of my faves, Sharto Copley for District 9. I have seen neither Nine or Serious Man, but from what I have heard I can’t image there would be anything too objectionable about any of their performances. Once I see them, they might even find a lobbyist in me for their likely snubbing tomorrow. Of the five nominated, I liked all of their performances. Freeman was serviceable as Mandela and he rose above what was a script replete with platitudes and Yoda-like pieces of wisdom. Colin Firth was the best part of Single Man and like with Freeman, transcended the limits of the story, not to mention the over-the-top direction. I disagree with Jared on Clooney and thought that even though was just doing his Clooney thing, it still worked great and I can’t see anyone else in the role. I’ll get to Bridges v. Renner when we do our Oscar posts later in the month, but both were fantastic.

Weakest category has to be Best Song. Not one of the Princess and the Frog has broken out and reached the public discourse. Granted its a wholly different era in entertainment from the years when Aladdin and Lion King permeated the popular music culture and had songs played ad nauseum on the radio, but still — I expect at least one of them to be recognizable. The song from Crazy Heart is the best of the bunch but even then — I am sorely disappointed in the list of possible songs and cannot see any of them being memorable even a couple of months from now. I leave it now to John to disagree with me.

Oscar nominations will be announced on February 2.  We’re counting down to the big day by offering some hard-hitting analysis and incisive opinions on the toughest questions surrounding the nominees.  All of us have our favorite films and performances currently on the bubble.  And we all have spent long periods of time spewing invective at the films and performances that will keep our favorites out.  What inclusion or exclusion on Tuesday will disappoint you?

John: Out With The Old, In With The Old?

On Tuesday, Invictus is likely to end up with nominations for Best Picture, Actor, and Supporting Actor. It’s not a bad movie and in fact has an irresistible spirit that partially overcomes some of its flaws. And Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon turn in fine performances, though they do not reach the level required for nominations in my humble opinion.

But what disappoints me is how unimaginative these nominations will be. Invictus is an epitome of Oscar bait: schlocky, a plot that superficially tackles difficult social issues, and directed by Clint Eastwood. With an expanded slate of ten Best Picture nominations, if we’re going to have mediocre nominees let’s at least make them interesting and not just the same old stuff. The sort of narrow vision that rewards films like this year after year is tiresome.

Plus the Freeman/Damon nomination combo will likely put the kibosh on Damon’s chances to be nominated for a much better performance in The Informant!, the performance of the year in fact. Freeman will slip into the fourth or fifth spot for Actor, denying Damon, while Damon’s own popularity in Supporting Actor for Invictus will erode his support for Lead. These perennial safety nominations are usually worth an eye-roll but now they’re actively undermining my own preferences! Gah!

Brian: Give Him The Idol, Or He’ll Throw You The Whip

Like John, and its pretty scary to write those words, I saw a lot to enjoy in An Education, and a few things to nitpick on (too long, etc..), but my adoration of the film begins with Alfred Molina as Carey Mulligan’s father. His bombast was great comic relief and his scene later trying to comfort Mulligan is one of the best in the movie. Viewed in the modern context, his views on the roles of a wife/daughter were abhorrent enough that you couldn’t even see why his wife would have married him, but it is to Molina’s credit that they were played of as buffonery instead of malicious disrespect. While I hope (and deep down think) that he will get recognized for the role, I’m going for the reverse jinx here and saying that he will be ignored. And if the Academy had any cojones, they would take a page from the American Latino Media Awards and nominate him for his role in Pink Panther 2 as well.

One other predicted disappointment I’ll make note of: Both Star Trek and District 9 fail to get nominated, clearing the way for Avatar to lock up the nerd/blockbuster-loving/visual-effects vote and coasting to a Best Picture nod, which would disappoint everyone this side of John (which is everyone). With those two in the mix, the outlook for a Hurt Locker or even an Up in the Air win becomes much more likely (albeit less than I’d like.)

Jared: Would Like To Make It Perfectly Clear That He Has Nothing Against Mr. Eastwood And Means No Disrespect.  About Anything.  Ever.

I’ve got a few gripes here, so I figure I’ll lay them all out and maybe I’ll get lucky and one will hit, like last year (with The Reader).  In the Best Picture race, the one film that really is going to cheese me off is Invictus, exactly the opposite of the type of film the expansion is supposed to help, I think.  Did anyone love this movie?  If you want to like it, that’s fine, whatever.  But just like Frost/Nixon, this film will be largely forgotten a year from now.  Heck, I’d wager the movie is largely forgotten right now.  It is just stunning to me that anyone who has seen at least a dozen movies this year could count the film as one of the year’s best.  If a film like The Messenger gets in, I’ll be sad, but at least I can understand how it inspires reverence.  With Invictus, I think people are confusing an inspiring story with a well-told one.

For Best Actor, I’m increasingly realizing I’m alone here, but I think Daniel Day-Lewis is getting lost in shuffle, thanks to the mediocrity that is Nine.  Well, and we also probably take him for granted at this point, since he keeps turning in larger than life performances over and over again.  Putting the movie aside, Day-Lewis is mesmerizing as director Guido Contini as he balances all the women in his life with putting together a new movie.  Any success the film has may well be directly attributed to him.  (Well, OK, Judi Dench is pretty cool, and Penelope Cruz’s dance didn’t hurt.)  The transformation Day-Lewis undergoes from role to role is just staggering.

Finally, if you want to have a debate over how much “acting” goes into mimicking someone famous, that’s fine.  But if you want Morgan Freeman and Meryl Streep to get nods, you have to want Christian McKay to get one as well, for playing the titular character in Me and Orson Welles (that would be Orson, not Me).  It really is as simple as that, for me.  His Welles is a whirlwind of a character, dominating his screen time, as any Welles should.  And he left an impression every much as vivid as Freeman or Streep, if not moreso.

Adam: The Academy Should Be Full Of Basterds

This is actually a pretty easy category for me. My favorite film of the year was Inglourious Basterds and it will also easily cause the biggest disappointment for me. While last year’s snub of Dark Knight for Best Picture and the little love for In Bruges caused me anguish, this year I believe my front-runner will get the nominations it deserves. Unfortunately, this triumph will be bittersweet and tempered by the fact that it will not win for Picture, Director, or Writing (I hope, at this point, that Waltz is a lock for Supporting Actor – not sure if I will be able to continue to watch the Oscars if he doesn’t). While my love for all things Tarantino biases my opinion, I don’t think it can be denied that he writes one hell’va script. To the point that even Jason Reitman gave him props at the Golden Globes saying he was still waiting for Tarantino’s name to be called instead of his own. Since I won’t be able to be unbiased, I’ll leave my ranting there and forgo the reasons Picture and Director should go to him as well.

Needless to say, the lack of a win in these categories will definitely be the biggest disappointment for me this year.

Even a cursory review of this blog reveals that where John hews closer to arthouse (typical John post: “I would have liked this movie more if it moved a little more slowly, had less plot, and really just focused on the main character’s thoughts as he walked the fourteen steps from the hallway to his art studio.”), I’m maybe something closer to adolescent heartland (typical Jared post: “I would have liked this Fellini film better if it had explosions.  With fireballs.  And robots.”)

So I’m calling you out, John.  What on earth did you see in Avatar?  Obviously, like everyone else in the world, I’ll preface my thoughts by acknowledging the sheer beauty of the visuals.  The 3-D worked stunningly well.  There is a scene early on (in an aircraft, I believe), showing some instrumental panels that would be at the top of my list to convince people 3-D doesn’t have to be a fad or kitschy, just because of how the 3-D added to the vividness of the quiet scene.

But here’s the thing.  James Cameron aspires to not only have incredible images, but to tell a story well.  Which is a (maybe the) big difference between Cameron and, say, Michael Bay.  Cameron takes breaks from the action for attempts at theme and story.  Bay takes breaks from the action for…well, I suppose the concept of Michael Bay taking breaks from action is more of a hypothetical.

My evidence for Cameron’s intentions in Avatar would be all the (relatively) non-effects-laden scenes in the film, where ostensibly some sort of narrative is taking place.  Except nothing gets developed at all.  All of the characters are stock characters at best (Sigourney Weaver, Giovanni Ribisi, Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana), ciphers at worst (hulking Vince McMahon lookalike (apologies, Stephen Lang), guy from Dodgeball, Michelle Rodriguez).  Which isn’t a knock on the actors (I wouldn’t necessarily cry at a Saldana nom) as much as what happens when Cameron tries to cram story into his visuals, because I think that learning Rodiguez’s backstory, or seeing some of pressures Ribisi’s character is facing could both be really interesting, for example.  Instead, their stories are glossed over or assumed.

We’ve all seen and heard the jokes comparing Avatar to the Pocahontas story.  Frankly, I don’t see the relevance.  A compelling story is a compelling story.  I’m reminded of the old saw about how Shakespeare appropriated plots for many of plays.  The problem here, then, isn’t that the film uses an unoriginal framework, but rather that it never takes the next step by filling in that framework with anything meaningful.

Cameron’s ambition may be his undoing.  He’s created an extraordinary vision of the future, but tries to show too much in too short a time frame.  Maybe the story would have best been told as a miniseries, each episode focusing on a different character.  I dunno, perhaps this is a reason I don’t generally like fantasy.  For example, I’d rather not use my imagination to think about the other Na’vi tribes that happen to show up at the end, but would be happier with a subplot  (or at least a scene) concerning tribal relations.  Or something more than a montage (sorry, Brian) showing Worthington’s assimilation into the Na’vi culture.  Even the concept of avatars itself, a worthy addition to the sci fi philosophical discourse on the connection between mind and body (just off the top of my head, other examples being: Dollhouse, The Matrix, Total Recall, the Star Trek holodeck, Ender’s Game, Frankenstein) isn’t really explored.

I understand liking Avatar.  I understand how a little of the most awesome visual effects put on film could go a long way.  But I fail to see how they can completely cover for the times where the film is, well, pedestrian.

If you want to get into an Oscar race but aren’t actually good enough to do something nomination-worthy, there is a fail-proof formula:

Romantic comedy + old people + winter release = absurd award attention!

It worked for As Good as it Gets and Something’s Gotta Give. (And the terminal old guy bromance, The Bucket List.) And this year it’s working for It’s Complicated!

It’s Complicated is a perfectly agreeable film, maybe even an above average romantic comedy. But if it’s not about old people or released in December (or starring a Serious Actor like Meryl Streep), it comes nowhere close to Oscar night. Actually, judging from the list above, if Alec Baldwin had been replaced by Jack Nicholson this would be a front-runner for Best Picture.

Oscar love probably won’t come anyway, but it’s pretty curious we’re talking about it at all. It does tackle the romantic comedy from a slightly different point-of-view, the older divorcee. And in fact I found it fairly insightful in the interactions between the main players. “Nobody tells you how to be divorced,” Streep’s Jane tells her kids. It’s an interesting point.

Too bad the it’s packaged around a completely by-the-numbers plot. Scenes involving awkwardly-timed tokes and webcam chats gone awry provide a few chuckles but are nothing noteworthy. The dialogue is quite ordinary and sometimes downright bad, like the scenes with Streep and her friends. I was intrigued by the characters and what they might do and think from a broad perspective, but not in what they actually did. A handful of unique sparks and a few solid points that hit home do not make a movie special. It makes it fine.

I can understand how it can sneak into the Best Picture-Comedy/Musical category at the Golden Globes, even though it beat out much superior comedies (I Love You Man, In the Loop). And Streep gets some HFPA love for sneezing (and, yes, she’s good here). But the Best Screenplay nod is just dumbfounding. In a category that’s not divided by original/adapted or comedy/drama, how in the world can someone think this is in the top five of the year?

Alec Baldwin got some small amount of attention for Supporting Actor, but that seems to have dissipated. I dig the guy and am looking forward to his hosting stint, but this is probably for the best. And goodness, please don’t let this sneak into Original Screenplay.

February 2020
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