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Sorry about the hiatus.  Traveling for work and getting sick don’t do much for getting posting done.

113. Sherlock Holmes

Confession: I actually started this list with three 2009 movies to go,  since I was fairly confidant I wouldn’t loathe any of them.  I thought this one was the safest, but geez, there’s a chance I’m ranking it too high.  I didn’t like Snatch, so maybe I just don’t get Guy Ritchie, but this film had countless problems.  I’d already accepted that they turned Holmes into an action hero.  Fine, whatever.  But the movie felt like someone had read The Da Vinci Code, heard it was the next big thing, and morphed an existing Holmes script into something more Dan Brown-esque.  And it didn’t work at all.  Lots of bells and whistles, but no substance at all.  The character development was shockingly minimal.  I have no idea why Rachael McAdams’s character was in the movie.  I have no idea why Guy Ritchie insists on cramming in bare-knuckle fistfights.  And I have no idea why this movie is getting a sequel.

112. Easy Virtue

I touched on the film briefly, and I’ll stand by what I said.  Any period piece featuring Kristin Scott Thomas and this year’s Oscar nominee Colin Firth shouldn’t require much else to be good.  I’m not the world’s biggest Jessica Biel fan, but she was certainly an adequate choice for the role.  The problem was with the setup.  If events had played out like in a Meet The Parents, then the film would have been fine, but a little cliche.  Instead, well, the order in which things happened didn’t really make much sense.  And I suppose I’m never really going to be able to see the humor in accidentally sitting on a doggie.

111. Gamer

I was pretty psyched for this movie.  I mean, who wouldn’t be excited for an update of The Running Man?  And by the guys who did Crank!  But while random insanity worked for that movie, it kinda failed here.  The plot was all over the place.  I think Kyra Sedgwick’s role probably could have been eliminated without losing anything.  Michael C. Hall was an inspired casting choice.  But as Gavin points out, why does Gerard Butler headline so many movies?  I’ve got nothing against the guy, I’m just not sure he carries this movie the way a huge action star could.

110. Watchmen

Remember when this was going to be the hugest thing of last year?  You know, I read the graphic novel before seeing the movie, and frankly, I didn’t really see what all the fuss was about.  The film did a pretty good job in terms of how it handled the adaptation.  The cast is pretty solid all around.  And that opening montage, well, I think Brian (who has a bizarre obsession with montages)  is still drooling over it.  But I think the film showed that the graphic novel was lacking a really interesting story.  And can we all take a second to remember the delightfully ridiculous sex scene set to “Hallelujah”?

109. Julia

I devoted an entire post to this film, so read up, if you are curious.  This year happened to be very strong for Best Actress nominees, but I think Tilda Swinton deserved a little more discussion, even if I ultimately didn’t think she was one of the year’s five best.  The film isn’t ever aggressively bad, but it feels longer than it is, and does tend to get bogged down at times.  Also, Julia the character isn’t exactly sympathetic, which can make the film a little tough to watch, at times.  As always, if you want to read more about the film, check out what Roger Ebert has to say (he liked the movie considerably more than I did).

108. The Ugly Truth

The type of movie people who hate romantic comedies point to.  Sure, the entire plot of the film is immediately apparent, but I don’t really think it is fair to call that a fault of the movie.  No, the problems are that the script isn’t clever and the characters are really annoying.  But Shirley from Community is in a few scenes, as is the boss from Justified, so that’s something.  And Katherine Heigl isn’t unattractive, so that’s something.  Gerard Butler shows up again, and again, I admire his versatility, I’m just surprised at the roles in which he is cast.  The ending, which can be key for a movie like this, isn’t very good.

107. The Mark Pease Experience

This film didn’t make much of a splash, which is maybe a little surprising considering it stars Jason Schwartzman, Ben Stiller and this year’s Supporting Actress nominee Anna Kendrick.  And also because of the success of Glee.  Oh, huh, I just saw that it was directed and co-written by That Guy Todd Luiso.  Anyway, I probably didn’t like this film that much because I don’t really get Schwartzman, so if you like him you’ll probably enjoy the movie more than I did.  He stars as a guy who hasn’t quite moved on from high school, where almost a decade ago he was a star singer in the drama club.  Which is run by Ben Stiller.  Both of whom have taken an interest in high schooler Anna Kendrick.  And in a completely unrelated note, I recommended this movie to Brian.  I referenced Glee above, but that’s not entirely fair.  This movie isn’t anywhere near as flamboyant and focuses more on a Schwartzman’s a cappella group and the school’s musical.

106. A Single Man

You can check out everything the Grouches have had to say on Colin Firth’s Oscar-nominated performance here.  I believe we all agreed the movie was slow and generally subpar.  Don’t let the trailer fool you, there’s not really much suspense here.  I never really understood the push for Julianne Moore for supporting actress, to be honest.  She was decent in the one scene she was in, but nothing amazing.  I think it says a lot about Colin Firth that he got a nomination for a film that wasn’t particularly interesting.  Which I think is on the head of writer/director/fashion designer Tom Ford.  Matthew Goode shows up for the second time this post.  I was excited that Lee Pace and Ginnifer Goodwin were in this movie, but neither one had a particularly big role.

105. Death In Love

I’m man enough to admit that the only reason this movie made its way to my Netflix queue is that Morena Baccarin (Inara from Firefly) went topless.  Oddly, she’s in the first scene and gone the rest of the movie.  I don’t really know how to describe Death In Love.  It is really two different stories.  That of Jacqueline Bisset, which is part Holocaust movie (though with a very odd angle) and part, um, serial killer, I guess.  And then there’s Josh Lucas’s story, which is part ladies’ man learning to change his ways and part a con man story.  Really, the movie is all over the place, which gets distracting.  It was written and directed by Boaz Yakin, who also co-wrote Prince of Persia.

104. The Open Road

A baseball road trip movie with this year’s Oscar winner Jeff Bridges?  Plus, Justin Timberlake, who acquits himself well enough.  And Kate Mara, who, for reasons beyond me, has yet to realize I’m the man of her dreams.  If you missed this one, Bridges plays a famous baseball player, Timberlake is his estranged son who journeys with friend Mara because his mom is sick in the hospital and asked him to bring Bridges back to see her.  The film struggles to set a consistent tone or really establish any sense of purpose.  At times it avoids the cliches of a reuniting road trip by replacing them with nothing at all.

Coming up next time: another baseball movie, a couple of failed Oscar contenders, and another movie where I disagree with Roger Ebert.

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Our build up to the Oscars on Sunday continues today with a look at Best Actor. Our choices of who we think should win have some nice diversity in this installment.

The nominees:

  • Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart
  • George Clooney in Up in the Air
  • Colin Firth in A Single Man
  • Morgan Freeman in Invictus
  • Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker

Jared kicks us off:

    The talent in this group is undeniable.  Four of them have put up such consistently amazing performances, playing a variety of roles demanding depth and range, it is almost scary.  And that’s no disrespect to Renner, who, this year at least, can hang with any one of them.

    If George Clooney were the type of guy to hold a grudge, he’d probably be egging Mira Nair’s house about now.  Because, as the story goes, after Nair’s Amelia tanked (honest-to-goodness, I typed “crashed and burned” before realizing how awful that would be to say), Fox Searchlight bumped up Crazy Heart‘s release date to get a horse in the Oscar race.  And that’s how Clooney went from a front-runner to an also-ran.  And one of the reasons I enjoy Oscar season.  Oh, to get back to the point, this is just George Clooney doing the same thing he’s done in just about every movie over the past decade, right? He’s quite good at it, of course.  But it is starting to feel a bit stale.

    I tend to conflate actor with character.  I think everyone does, to be honest.  Except I thought Jeff Bridges’ character in Crazy Heart was about as broadly-drawn as they come.  An alcoholic, down-on-his luck country singer who sleeps with any woman in sight?  No way!  He does as good a job with it as anyone could, but the buzz to me rings more of the Academy deciding it is time someone has paid enough dues to get a win (this is Bridges fifth nomination, and he hasn’t won in the past).  The film is about as “good” as Crazy Heart, but Jeff Bridges in The Open Road is what everyone thinks he is in Crazy Heart.

    Jeremy Renner was very very good in The Hurt Locker.  Not really sure that’s up for debate.  I think with an Oscar Scene (TM) or two, he would have had a great shot at taking this thing down.

    I’m not sure I would have put Morgan Freeman this high at first thought, and I wrestled with how he compared to Renner. Ultimately, though, it is Morgan Freeman.  I do believe I’d say I liked him more than Meryl Streep’s Julia Child.  Sue me.  Sure, it was partially an impersonation.  But Freeman humanized Nelson friggin’ Mandela.  That’s a job well done.

    It is entirely conceivable that I have a man crush on Colin Firth, if the concept made any sense.  I’ve watched four movies starring Colin Firth with 2009 U.S. release dates, and I’ll be darned if he doesn’t play entirely different characters in each one.  Here, Firth is working from a mediocre script, yet somehow manages to breathe life into his character.  Never flashy to begin with, Firth packs a ton of emotion into every movement of his character’s battle to let his reserve prevent emotion from coming through.  It isn’t my favorite performance of 2009, nor is it my favorite Colin Firth role.  But as always, he manages to be quietly fantastic.

Adam pulls for a guy who wasn’t nominated:

    Will Win: Jeff Bridges

    Actually, I agree with Jared’s assessment of Bridges role and nomination. Go read his piece if you want more…

    I Want to Win: Daniel Day-Lewis

    Yes, I realize he’s not nominated, and the movie he was in pretty much flopped, but DAMN can this guy act. Jared talked about Day-Lewis earlier a couple months ago, and I agree with his assessment. The guy is a chameleon and the intensity and range he can bring to a role is staggering. However, since he can’t win, I’m rooting for Jeremy Renner. He did a decent job and I’d like to see a non-Hollywood-heavyweight win.

    Dark Horse: Morgan Freeman (once again, not being racist)

    I love me some Morgan Freeman, but the nomination is for Morgan Freeman being Morgan Freeman…not for his portrayal of Nelson Mandela (that, and they are petrified of Clint Eastwood – as everyone should be – and need to make up for no Directing nomination). I personally thought he put on a pretty great performance, but not necessarily Oscar worthy.

    Ranking:

    1. Jeremy Renner
    2. Colin Firth
    3. George Clooney
    4. Morgan Freeman
    5. Jeff Bridges

    Grouches Critiques:

    Unfortunately for the -3 people reading this, I have no comments for this section. At the time I am writing this, only Jared has written his post and, unfortunately, I completely agree with his assessment (as stated above).

    Random Notes:

    Strong talent, mediocre performances for most.

Brian has a similar take:

    I too am rather impressed with this group — there’s not one nominee that causes me to scratch my head or ponder what the Academy was thinking or want to stab myself in the eye. This is an improvement. Even Morgan Freeman, who was quite good even while the script called for him to do his best impersonation of Yoda, is a reasonable nomination. A) He’s Morgan Freeman and B) He’s playing Nelson Mandela and C) He’s actually good at both those things.

    Speaking of actors being very good at being themselves, George Clooney. He’s really good at doing the roles he does, and he seems to just be an awesome person in general. I liked Up in the Air, as did all the Grouches I think — and Ryan Bingham was a fantastic character that was tailormade for Clooney. I liked Jared’s gamesmanship analysis — but see, thats not how Clooney rolls. How awesome would it be if he played a vicious villain in a future role? Like what if he did Christoph Waltz’s character in Basterds — that would be fantastic. I too have gotten off point — Clooney is great, but just not enough for my nod.

    Jared has a major man crush on Colin Firth. A Single Man is one of those instances when I have hard time separating his strong performance from a mediocre, dare I say subpar film. I have vague remembrances of his portrayal of a closeted gay man still mourning the tragic death of his lover — but the scenes that stick out in my mind are Julianne Moore’s failed Oscar-bait overacting, Nicholas Hoult’s monotonous cherubicity (yes, I made up that word) all blanketed by Tom Ford’s obnoxious direction. That was part of the point, too, I’d guess in having Firth as the stoic character (the “strong, silent type” as Tony Soprano would say.) But in a year with other, more enrapturing performances like Michael Stuhlbarg in A Serious Man and, of course, Matt Damon in The Informant, it doesn’t make the cut.

    As for Bridges, Jared’s analysis is truly spot-on. I’m going to take the same cop out as Adam and tell you all to read that. If you read Mark Harris’ New York story on this year’s Oscar campaign, then you’ll get the fuller story on how this definitely is the Career Achievement award for Bridges. Which is too bad, as I’ve loved him in other things (The Contender, Big Lebowski)

    If you’ve read this far, you’ll see that I’ll be pulling for Jeremy Renner. I can’t imagine anyone else in this role — he has the charisma and the badassery to pull off playing SGT William James. Considering he’s relatively unknown, I’m sure that other actors could have been considered — but no one, not even the modern everyday infantryman Matt Damon, would have brought the calm and coolness of Clooney with the internal pain/crazy that you’d see from a younger Daniel Day-Lewis. Really just a bravura performance that carried the whole film on its shoulders.

And John goes in an entirely different direction:

    Let me first cast judgment on this category. 2009 was a strong year for actors. I highlighted some great ones here. It’s not uncommon for one’s favorite candidates to not get nominated, but it is a little interesting that so many of mine seem like they should have been in the conversation but weren’t. So this is a fine slate but it kind of leaves me thinking of what might have been.

    Freeman is commanding in Invictus but I feel like he’s hampered by the material. He does a fine Mandela but he doesn’t get to do much but give cliched motivational speeches so he doesn’t get to exhibit much range. Speaking of hampered by material, I think the same can be said for Firth. At least we know he’s very good at long, boring conversations that try your patience. But I think it’s a performance that’s hard to buy into if you don’t buy into the film.

    Renner is terrific in The Hurt Locker. I love his intensity, sometimes verging on insanity, contrasted with his level-headed leadership when dealing with an over-his-head subordinate. The film takes some weird plot directions that left me a little unsettled, but Renner sells them to the extent that they didn’t really bother me until the film was over.

    Bridges is the best part of Crazy Heart. Is that saying a lot? Probably not much. But I think the picture is absolutely nothing outside of a good song without him. He gives a broadly-drawn character depth and empathy.

    But there’s one very clear winner here, and that’s George Clooney. Yes, the suave, self-assured character he plays at the beginning of the Up in the Air is standard for him, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive. It’s in his subtlety where he really shines; compare this performance to the over-the-top smooth characterhe played in the Oceans movies. Here there’s a perceptible softening as the film goes on and a shift in the character that very easily could have been overplayed but was not. He also has the magnetism to really lead a film.

    Jared says this is a character he plays all the time, but check out what he’s done in the last decade. Most of his roles are significantly more zany or animated. What this is like is his role in Michael Clayton. Which, by the way, was terrific and Oscar-nominated.

    Snubs: Michael Stuhlbarg in A Serious Man at least got some traction. But Peter Sarsgaard in An Education somehow did not. And I’ll say it til the world goes deaf: Matt Damon gave the best performance of the year in The Informant!

John’s a good man and got this up before the nominees were announced.  I’m gonna see how many categories I can get through before Oscars.  Now, I’ve seen probably more 2009 movies than I should have, but I’m still slogging my way through some, so between that and the game theory of the ballot, I reserve the right to have my best of 2009 list look a little different, though ballots are due when ballots are due.

1.  Stanley Tucci, Blind Date

A remake of the same-named Theo van Gogh film, Blind Date slipped into a few theaters rather quietly, and I have no idea how it came across my radar.  Little more than Tucci, Patricia Clarkson, and a single room, it blurs the line between film and staged play.  Revolving around a husband and a wife who set up blind dates with each other as they deal with a tragedy, the role requires tremendous range and depth, and I can’t really imagine too many actors pulling it off successfully.

2.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt, (500) Days of Summer

He’ll have turned 30 around next year’s Oscars, so maybe he’ll finally be old enough for some Academy love.  He’s certainly built an impressive resume.  The male lead in a romantic comedy of this sort is difficult to play, in my opinion.  It is very easy to veer off into sheer whininess, but Gordon-Levitt is eminently relatable.

3. Sharlto Copley, District 9

In traditional hands, this role is played by someone like Vin Diesel.  Which would have been interesting, sure.  But instead, one of the most unlikeliest action heroes turned in something quite memorable.

4.  Daniel Day-Lewis, Nine

The movie wasn’t great, sure.  But Daniel Day-Lewis was his usual crazy impressive self.  If he had been billed as, say, Baniel Bay-Kewis, I would have had absolutely no idea that this actor was the same one who played Daniel Plainview.  His ability to morph from role to role is just staggering.

5.  Colin Firth, A Single Man

Another performance hampered by a subpar film.  It tickled me pink to see Colin Firth get a nod, because he’s been so consistently great.  Given about as much to work with as Jeff Bridges, for example, Firth creates a much more textured character, one who felt more like a real person than a caricature.

Just off the ballot: Michael Sheen (The Damned United) and Patton Oswalt (Big Fan)

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.

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 tend to focus on the “major” categories (acting, directing, writing, picture), but let’s take a look at the artistic and technical categories.  What would you like to see happen in these lesser profile categories?

John: I Am the Grand Poobah of Smaller Categories

I’m having a hard time choosing just one hope for the smaller categories. The three I really care about, The Informant! and Avatar for Score and “The Weary Kind” from Crazy Heart for Song, are already probably nominees. So I’ll highlight a few that were noteworthy to me, all of which I thoroughly like but whose exclusion will not cause me extraordinary pain.

Depression Era” from stalled Hal Holbrook vehicle That Evening Sun for Song. It’s a simple, soulful folk tune from Drive-By Truckers front man Patterson Hood. The Song selection is sort of weak this year but this one stands out.

I’d also like to plump for one of Karen O’s tunes from Where the Wild Things Are for Song; “Hideaway”  and “All Is Love” are eligible. Beyond those mentioned above, some scores that made me sit up and take notice include those from The RoadPonyo, and The Secret of Kells, though I think the final one is ineligible for Score.

I love me some An Education so some recognition in Art Direction and/or Costume would be wonderful.

Finally, how about some love for The Brothers Bloom for the costumes? I didn’t enjoy all of the self-conscious quirky elements of the film, but I did enjoy the clothing, which did serve to develop the film’s offbeat characters.

And, oh yes, I can’t finish without whining again about the obnoxious sound in Star Trek.

Adam: What do tigers dream of? Oscar gold.

Since my Dracula’s Lament piece last year failed to sway the Academy (and yes, most Academy members read our blog), I’ve decided to tempt failure again and make my plug for “Stu’s Song” from The Hangover. Another Hangover piece you say? Yes. While I did thoroughly enjoy the movie, the reason I am picking it again is it is a no brainer for these types of posts – i.e. great movie that will get no love. I would pick Zombieland, but John is a Blog-Nazi and won’t let us pick something that has no shot at any kind of nomination…*cough* LAME *cough* *cough*.

Oh, right, “Stu’s Song”. Apparently humor and originality don’t factor into the nomination process for the Oscars. Like “Dracula’s Lament” last year, this was a hilarious song, well written, and original. What about it makes it unviable? I mean, it’s short, but why does that matter? The video just has clips from the movie, but that actually adds to the song. It’s in a comedy – and I think we have a winner. Once again the Academy shows it’s small-mindedness by completely overlooking a legitimate contender because it does not fall within their comfort zone. Well done.

[As John points out, don’t miss Helms’s tailoring of the song for Conan: http://incontention.com/?p=21285]

Jared: Destroy Visual Effects

I’m really happy John proposed we tackle this question, because I otherwise spend very little time thinking about these categories.  Part of it, I suppose, is that I tend to believe I’m appreciating a movie for its story, so I pay less attention to its visual or auditory approach.  I’m clearly not qualified to talk at all about some of these categories (for the sound categories, if you haven’t already done so, I’d urge you to check out the really cool stuff at SoundWorks Collection).  I’m the last person in the world to notice costume design, for example, but it strikes me as a little odd that so often the nominees are predominantly period pieces.

Anyway, I’m here to plump for 2012‘s visual effects.  Granted, I may enjoy Roland Emmerich’s movies a little more than the next guy.  But the point, I think, is that when you think Emmerich, you think of sh*t done gettin’ destroyed.  Unlike some other films likely to get nominated here, 2012 doesn’t have any sort of coherent storyline or fascinating turn of events.  No, in this disaster movie, you get exactly what you’d expect.  Nonstop, relentless, continuous destruction of every landmark (natural or manmade) imaginable.  But, to me, at least, it doesn’t get boring.  And kudos for that, in my mind, should be placed squarely at the feet of the visual effects crew.  Tasked with creating tons of scenes of destruction, they came through brilliantly, and it seems odd to me that their work could be diminished just because their movie was little more than the results of their efforts.

Brian: Single Man Deserves Recognition — Say What?

I can’t believe I am actually writing a mini-post in favor of A Single Man, considering I found it absolutely boring and pretentious (I rated it less than a 4 out of 10), but I’m pretty surprised to see that it is not expected to be nominated for either Art Direction or Costume Design. If fashion-designer-turned-filmmaker Tom Ford knows anything, it’s style, and his movie has lots of it. Colin Firth is quite particular about his shirts and suits — and while I didn’t enjoy Julianne Moore’s big OSCAR(!!!) scene, her apartment and outfit seemed apropos of both the character and the film overall. Maybe this is just Mad Men withdrawal, as both of them cover the same time period, and both have problems with pacing and that all important thing called “plot,” but I’d be pretty disappointed if Single Man got an Oscar nom for best picture, but was left out for what it did best: highlighting both the cool and the isolation of early 1960s America.

So it’s been way too long since I’ve actually authored a post on this here blog, but better late than never, I guess. Since Christmas, I’ve gone on somewhat of a rampage seeing at lest 3-4 movies a week and at one point going 6 days straight seeing one of the Oscar-potential films. With one exception, they have been entertaining at the very least and wholly immersive and engrossing at most. Nothing has dethroned either Up or District 9 as my favorites of the year yet, but my top five changed slightly, which comes after my wrap-ups.

In order of viewing:

Avatar: This has been said before by people a lot smarter than me, but visually stunning with an atrociously derivate plot. I loved this Pocohantas gag plot abstract — one of the movie’s funnier spinoff jokes on the Web. As for the movie — just wow. The transitions between the WETA-designed costumes and Cameron’s CGI vistas was seamless — I couldn’t tell which was which. This movie alone has me so excited for the future of 3-D graphics — even the recent announcement of ESPN 3-D would have left me extremely skeptical had it not been from the gangbusters experience of watching Avatar. Oscar-wise, EW’s Dave Kargerwrites that Avatar is the clear front-runner for Best Picture. I don’t know if I quite agree with that, but presuming he has better sources than I do (which he of course does), I’ll defer to his reportage. A nomination is more than deserved — but a victory? Yikes.

Young Victoria: As Jared said shortly after we saw it, “above-average costume drama porn.” The Machiavellian politics of the English and European royals was pretty fascinating to me, although it did seem overly complicated. I almost wish it had gone longer, but then it would have been Young and Middle-Aged Victoria. Emily Blunt was quite good, and I’d be pleased with a nomination for her. Had the movie actually done better, I’d get my hopes up for a sequel — a la Elizabeth (though that sequel was awful) — but I’d have trust that Emily Blunt could make it happen.

It’s Complicated: Putting myself out there as an easy target, since Adam hated it and Jared disliked, but sorry: I enjoyed It’s Complicated. Sue me. Alec Baldwin was funny as the man-child who can’t find happiness with himself, and Steve Martin as the straight man was great — consider my expectations raised for the Oscars telecast. Between the two of them and John Krasinski doing his Jim Halpert thing, there were enough laughs to keep me entertained. That being said, the script took forever to get going and even then, I wasn’t impressed — the scenes between Meryl Streep and her ladyfriends was painful.

Hurt Locker: Expectations couldn’t have been higher — and they were met. Thrilling, exciting, engrossing, finally there’s an Iraq war movie I can heartily recommend. I cannot wait to see how the Hurt Locker pans out at the Oscars — it has the potential to upend so much conventional wisdom about Oscar movies. It’s an Iraq movie, released in June, about as slow rolling out buzz as you can get, no name actors, no MESSAGE. I may have found my horse for this race.

Inglorious Basterds: I can’t recall having as much fun watching the 2008 crop of films, but between Zombieland, Avatar, and Basterds, I have been thoroughly enjoying myself the past couple of months on numerous occasion. These films aren’t as artsy or contemplative as some of the usual Oscar fare, but goddamn it I was happy to be along for the ride. Who doesn’t love killing Nazis? I thought it dragged a little long, and there really was no “point” to anything in the movie, but that oddly enough is what made it great. No point — other than to get the thrill of watching Jews kill Nazis.

Blind Side: Read the book. It’s better, more nuanced, and doesn’t feature some pretty tired tropes. Not really a sports film, more a remade version of Erin Brockovich with Sandra Bullock. The movie does a decent job of fitting the book into movie form, however, so I’ll give them credit for that. The score is good, but ineligible for an Oscar. And the same guy directed/wrote The Rookie, so he’ll get my benefit of the doubt.

500 Days of Summer: I probably had unrealistic expectations going into this since I saw it months after the other grouches and most other friends. There was a lot in here I liked: Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, the musical scene in the park, the “reality/expectations” split screen, the disjointed plot device. I was hoping to see more of the happy times — and actually, I was hoping to see more period. (500 Days) was one of the rare instances this year where I was disappointed in how short it was, not in its overwrought length. I’d be pleased with a screenplay nom — and even seeing the entire crew get recognized for a best picture nomination, though I realize that’s a long shot at this point.

Single Man — Zzzzzzz. It’s as if Tom Ford watched a whole bunch of New Age French films, picked the aspects he liked from each of them and threw them together in a film. There was no discernable plot, and I found the ending sort of a cop out. I don’t get the Julianne Moore buzz whatsoever, but I appreciated Colin Firth’s portrayal of the closeted college professor. But the most egregious Oscar buzz is for Ford, whose heavy hand reminded me of the worst “LOOK AT ME I AM A DIRECTOR” touches since watching Lee Daniels botch the fantasy sequences in Precious.

An Education — I’m a Nick Hornby fan — and I’ve been partial to Peter Sarsgaard ever since he ripped Hayden Christensen a richly deserved new one in Shattered Glass. Both were well-served in the aptly appreciated An Education, thought it was Alfred Molina who stole the show and deserves a nomination, which he probably won’t get. And while I did enjoy the movie, a couple of major flaws (the drawn out finale that could have been 15 minutes shorter, the lack of any recognition that Sarsgaard was creepy as hell) kept me from loving it. Carrie Mulligan, however, is beautiful and played a role 10 years her junior with aplomb. The success of the movie rode on her shoulders and she handled it extremely well. The fact that she’s in Wall Street 2 makes me pretty excited to see that later this year.

Hey look at that! I posted! Wasn’t THAT hard!

I expected from A Single Man an emotional, slow-paced, character-driven drama. This is a type of film that I often like, or at least seem to like more often and more deeply than my esteemed colleagues. A Single Man is an emotional, slow-paced, character-driven drama. I did not like it. And here is my deeply intellectual analysis of the film:

Boooooooooring.

I’ve been trying to figure out why it didn’t connect with me. A lack of plot doesn’t really bother me and in fact the actual quantity of story here doesn’t cause me concern. Colin Firth’s George is a man in grief over the loss of his lover. But in the early 1960s there wasn’t much community support for gay men (the off-handed and cruel way he hears the news is heart-breaking). He goes into the world a man living a lie, hiding his grief and his sexuality. The day the film covers he has interactions with a female friend and brief former lover (Charlotte, played by Julianne Moore), a student, and a man who propositions him at a liquor store.

But none of these interactions particularly interested me. The parts where George is alone interested me a great deal more, but are a minority of the scenes. So whatever emotional weight George’s night with Charlotte is supposed to provide generally went right past me. His actions while alone are part of a plot point that would be too spoilery to reveal here, but suffice it to say it’s the one story I found very fascinating. I also didn’t like the ending. A few spoilery details after the jump at the end of the post.

Director Tom Ford gives the film an intensely artistic style with artsy (fartsy) shots and lots of playing with the film’s colors. This makes the film quite beautiful but I didn’t feel like the style helped the film narratively or thematically; in fact I think it threw the pace off-kilter.

What’s weird about this film is that it seems to be one some people really love but, unlike most films that evoke strong emotions, it is not polarizing. We all were totally underwhelmed but I’m beginning to think we were the only four people on earth who were. I don’t read a ton of movie sites, but you can count on every movie attracting some sort of comment about how stupid or lame or boring it was. But I haven’t seen anything like that for A Single Man.

People also really love Colin Firth and he’ll get an Oscar nomination. He does a fine job, but his performance left me about as uninterested as the film. I don’t mean to disparage his work, but I don’t think this performance, no matter how great, can really get under your skin if the film doesn’t. Julianne Moore may also sneak in for Supporting Actress and that would be too bad. She does a good job being boozy and a bit crazy. Great. Whatever.

Finally, a few spoilery points to make after the jump. You shouldn’t read ahead if you plan on seeing A Single Man, but you shouldn’t see it anyway so feel free to continue. Read the rest of this entry »

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