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Yikes, it seems that I do this later and later each year. But you can’t rush quality.

So therefore I’m going to rush this a bit. It’s time to reset the site for 2010 but we cannot move forward til I weigh in with my top ten. It’s in the bylaws.

I thought 2009 was a great year for movies and a huge improvement over 2008. The trend seemed to have been fewer great movies each year but more good ones. I’d say that reversed in 2009; plenty of great movies but a smaller collection of merely pretty good ones.

1. Avatar

Say what you will about Dancing With Smurfs, but Avatar creates a world, gives it rules, and sticks to them. It’s a stunning visual achievement with a plot full of heart. Truly epic. I loved this movie.

2. In the Loop

Intensely hilarious, spectacularly vulgar, and cleverly satirical. Government was never so funny. I loved this movie.

3. The Informant!

Winner of Matt Damon of the Year! A simply delightful film that had me giggling and smiling throughout. I loved this movie.

4. Zombieland

Pure, balls out fun. Very clever, very funny, and very entertaining. I loved this movie.

5. An Education

It’s hard to say what I liked best about this film because everything is so right. A simple story with a powerful impact and an astonishing performance from Carey Mulligan. I loved this movie.

6. Up

Hilarious, heart-warming, touching. I loved this movie.

7. Summer Hours

It’s a film with themes and not much else. It’s kind of hard to make it sound appealing: a French matriarch dies and her three dispersed children try to figure out what to do with her estate. I dug its exploration of modern family dynamics. It also takes an interesting look at how we ascribe value to objects and how those values change over time, particularly as we move through our lives and beyond. I’m not talented enough to make it sound interesting but believe me it’s totally fascinating. I loved this movie.

8. Up in the Air

A slice of modern times and an effective look at the disconnected way we live our lives. Effective in characterization and atmosphere more than plot with terrific performances from George Clooney and Vera Farmiga.

9. I Love You, Man

Not as vulgar or spleen-splittingly funny than some of its Apatow produced brethren, but I think it’s a little more loony and genuinely heartfelt. I also know a guy just like the Paul Rudd character so it makes me laugh and laugh.

10. Julie & Julia

The 2009 surprise for me. Just utterly charming. I think it works so well for me because I was able to relate to the Julie character, easing the disparity between the two women’s stories that most people felt.

Some honorable mentions of films that I thought did something special:

Two films that I thought for sure were going to be on this list before I actually wrote it out and found out how many movies I really liked. Moon shows how a fantastic story and a terrific performance can succeed even on a small scale. A sci-fi thriller that will hang around in your head for quite some time. That Sam Rockwell Oscar campaign really should have received some traction… The Invention of Lying takes an interesting premise that could have followed the same path of a half dozen Jim Carrey movies (a man in a world where lies have not been invented!) and takes it in an entirely unexpected direction. Who thought it would turn into a treatise on religion? I found it thought-provoking and funny even if the premise gets stretched a bit by the end.

The Cove, the Oscar winning documentary, looks at a dolphin slaughter that occurs in Japan. For me, the success hinges not on the exposure of the slaughter itself, but the story of that exposure. The lengths these filmmakers go to in order to get their footage rivals any heist film… I know I’ve noted the aspects I dislike about World’s Greatest Dad, but the parts that work are just astonishing. The places this film goes are haunting and memorable… And finally, The Hangover, which made me cry with laughter.

Onwards to Oscar season 2010!

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43. Whip It

John and I shared some flash opinions on the film after we saw a promo screening.  I liked it more than he did, but I’m always going to a sucker for a halfway-decent sports flick.  Which, yeah, means the mountains of sports cliches John abhors are fine by me.  If you can get past the undeveloped characters, stock themes, Jimmy Fallon and relatively unnecessary subplots, there’s a fun movie underneath it all.  Plus, who doesn’t love Ellen Page?

42. Brothers

I actually read the script for this one before seeing the movie.  Was kinda surprised by the casting choices of Tobey Maguire and Natalie Portman.  The former because I didn’t see him doing the intensely deranged character needed for the second half of the film and the latter because I saw the script pitching the character more as a typical high school cheerleader, not that I’d ever doubt Ms. Portman.  Maguire was a little more appropriate than that I envisioned, but like I saw in the script, the final third of the film lacks the real punch it probably should have, which hurt his chances.  Clifton Collins, Jr. shows up, and hey, is that Carey Mulligan?  Man, was she in an array of roles last year.

41. Peter and Vandy

Jason Ritter’s character here isn’t too different from his character in Good Dick: slightly messed up and chasing after a slightly messed girl.  The different here is that Jess Wexler’s Vandy doesn’t quite have the issues as Marianna Palka’s Woman.  The story is told out of order, maybe a little off-putting at first, but it starts to feel fairly natural.  Often when this device is used, it feels like a character for a poorly-told story.  Here, I’m not entirely sure it was necessary, but it does add a little to the story.  Also, Mahandra (Tracie Thoms) from Wonderfalls is in it, so that’s a bonus.

40. Adam

Well, Asperger’s seems to be the in disorder lately, so it is only natural that we get a romantic comedy about it, I suppose.  But here it is treated with surprising sensitivity both by Hugh Dancy and the characters’ reactions to it.  The film is a sweet little number, not eternally optimistic, but maybe realistically so.  I’m a Rose Byrne fan, plus Peter Gallagher and Frankie Faison show up.  Oh, also, Mark-Linn Baker is in a scene, so that’s totally awesome, naturally.

39. The Vicious Kind

Garnered a surprise Independent Spirit nomination for Adam Scott, so of course I had to watch it.  Because Adam Scott is awesome.  He seems to be carving out a nice career riding a fine line (sometimes blurred, like here) between douchebag and in-charge (without all the answers) nice guy.  Can’t say I can argue with the nomination here, it is a great role for him.  Alex Frost works well in his role, and J.K. Simmons is always going to be great.  His character here actually reminds me a lot of another role we’ll see a little later on.  Seeming intent on shedding her all-American princess image from American Dreams and, well, her looks, Brittany Snow has had an interesting career path.  She played a stuck-up villain in Hairspray, a hooker in Finding Amanda, and here she plays a girl with a past, attached to the virginal younger brother, lusted after/reviled by the creepy older one.  I think she definitely has talent, here’s hoping she gets some higher profile roles.

38. Dare

Probably in the top five or so 2009 movies I most wanted to see.  I’m madly in love with Emmy Rossum.  And anyone who has seen Friday Nights would understand how psyched I was to see Zach Gilford play the bad boy.  The film is more complex than the average high school drama and more directly deals with sexuality.  I think the movie thought it was a lot more mature than it was; just because you have gay and bisexual characters doesn’t automatically make them serious.  Kate Mara’s younger sister, Rooney, shows up, as does Alan Cumming and Ana Gasteyer.

37. Play the Game

I’ve got a bit of a history with this movie.  I was fortunate enough to interview writer/director Marc Fienberg.  Then I saw the film with my grandma in Florida, bringing back a postcard thing that’s in our coffee table, and I wrote a review of the flick.  I saw the thing over a year ago, so I’m gonna stick with my original thoughts.  To recap, it feels like two movies not quite connected.  The first is a standard romcom, where Paul Campbell is not quite the leading man the film needs him to be, but Marla Sokoloff is great.  The second is a retirement home sex comedy, which mostly works because, come on, Andy Griffith, Liz Sheridan, and Doris Roberts in a sex comedy?

36.  The Canyon

Anyone who has seen Chuck knows how awesome Yvonne Strahovski is.  She’s funny, she can kick butt, and now I know she can do drama as well.  She’s just fantastic.  The thing I admire about this movie is there were definitely ways to make it appeal more broadly.  They could have gone horror, or made it more thrilling, or more gory, or have the characters strip down a little more (not super pleased with that last decision).  Instead, we get a nice little survival story.  The ending is a little weird, and I’m not sure I’m sold on Eion Bailey.  Will Patton was his usual larger than life self.

35. The Ramen Girl

Mr. Baseball meets Lost in Translation?  Not sure there’s too much to say about this one.  A fun little movie, I’m getting hungry for ramen just thinking about it.  Xiaoyu (who was excited for this movie) took me for some ramen when I drove to LA with him and KC.  I may have gotten it a little too spicy, but man, that was some good stuff.  Oh, sorry, where was I?  The tropes here will be familiar to anyone who has watched an underdog movies.  And I thought Brittany Murphy (RIP) carried the film very well.

34. An Education

We spent some time discussing this Best Picture nominee.  John found it to be one of the best of the ten, where the rest of us had it near the bottom of the pack.  I think my placement shows I didn’t dislike the film.  But I found the sum to be something less than the the individual parts.  I really like pretty much all of the actors, and there’s a perfectly valid case to be made that it could have received two more acting nominations.  I love Nick Hornby, though I don’t think his voice shone through in the script at all.  One thing on which we all agreed was that Carey Mulligan was revelation.  More than just a pretty face, she really excelled in this role.

As Oscar movies all move onto DVD and the summer late night movie watching season (that’s a thing, right?) begins, it’s time to highlight movies that you should check out. We’ve told you what, out of the movies to which we’ve given little coverage, you should skip, but there are plenty that you should watch!

In the Loop (1 nomination)

A satire about the decision to go to war in Iraq. Now take your notions about what you would expect from that description and throw it out the window. This is a workplace farce where every character is self-serving, back-stabbing, and blindingly stupid. Members of Parliament, cabinet members, generals, and speech writers jostle for position and influence to help determine a decision that has already been made.

The writing is jam-packed full of jokes. It’s the type of film where you miss two punchlines by laughing at another. In the Loop is a semi-spin-off of British government farce sitcom The Thick of It, whose now dead American version was developed by the team behind Arrested Development. This is apropos since Loop‘s non-stop gag style reminded me of Arrested. It turns out the American version of the show just didn’t work because American television doesn’t allow the incredible profanity permitted in Britain. And, goodness, is that blue streak taken to new heights in Loop. If the slapstick jokes, the sly punchlines, the physical humor, the clever phrasings, or the bumbling characters don’t get you going, the inventive uses of swear words surely will.

An Education (3 nominations)

This is a film where everything just works. It’s a focused piece that avoids flash, dramatic scenes while hitting every note perfectly.

The plot is a simple coming of age story. Carey Mulligan plays Jenny, a sixteen-year-old schoolgirls in 1960s London on track for Oxford. A smooth and mysterious David (Peter Sarsgaard) charms his way into her life. He represents quite a change from her boring life and she wonders if a life with him is better than the books at Oxford.

We’re in well-worn territory here, but the writing and acting combine to produce a product where every element feels so right. The characters are complex and believable; in a word: real. I think the temptation is to make such a film lurid or overly dour as a precautionary tale, but instead I’d call it observative and wise. It’s very perceptive about the follies of youth without really condemning them. And Carey Mulligan puts it all over the top with a marvelous performance full of life and spirit. She does so much with a glance (look at the photo above!). What a talent. I also really liked Sarsgaard, who pulls off the creepiness without overdoing it.

This is the kind of film that I put on while getting ready for bed just to appreciate for a few minutes and before I knew it I’d stayed up til 2am watching the whole thing.

The Messenger (2 nominations)

This film is fairly reviled by my colleagues who never saw an understated film they didn’t hate. But I can kind of understand why in this one. It’s a story about two officers (Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson) charged with informing the next of kin after soldiers are killed overseas and the inner demons they struggle with. The fireworks come when they deliver the bad news. Between these episodes it does meander narratively a bit too much.

But, goodness, those next of kin scenes. They are so powerful. The soldiers banter in the car on the way there, steeling themselves for what they have to do without having to dwell on it. Then the knock on the door and the long wait to see if there’s an answer. Everyone handles the news differently, from screaming to anger to dazed acceptance. They’re an absolute emotional gut-punch. Check out the film for these scenes – though of course stay for the rest.

Up in the Air (6 nominations)

District 9 (4 nominations)

We covered these a little bit more, but they are certainly well worth your time. Up in the Air feels like a slice of modern life, a comment on our current times. It’s grounded in some terrific performances from George Clooney and Vera Farmiga. One of those films that is great at making you feel, even if some of the plot points feel not quite right.

District 9 thrives on its wonderfully inventive premise and a superb performance from frontman Sharlto Copley. Celebrate it for its originality and enjoy its pure entertainment value.

Well, here we are. I want to make sure to say thanks to Adam, Brian, and John for joining me on this ride. I’ve got no life, so it was relatively easy for me to catch these nineteen films (plus the other contenders we saw). But I know that you all made some sacrifices to make it happen. And thanks for all the discussions (both on- and off-blog). You guys rock.

Inglourious Basterds

Adam and I tend to have fairly similar taste in movies, so it was surprising to me that we disagree so much about Inglourious Basterds. He told me he didn’t think I would like it, leading me to believe that deep down he knows the film just doesn’t work. Sure, there are stretches of brilliance: the first few minutes of the opening scene, the whipped cream scene, most of the scene at the underground bar, everything about Christoph Waltz’s character. But Tarantino appears to be a guy who needs someone to keep him in check. Just about every scene goes on too long. And the story never comes together into a cohesive unit. I admire the film’s ambition and respect Tarantino’s vision. But the film left me unmoved.

Avatar

I’m not a particularly visual person, so while I personally can’t excuse Avatar‘s script, I guess I can understand how someone might get swept up by shiny things. But I don’t understand why this logic only applies to James Cameron. Criticisms of Michael Bay movies invariably levy charges of being bloated, overly-reliant on CGI with no character development and having things blowing up nonstop. Aren’t the exact same things being said about Avatar, more or less? Adam talked about not putting mindless action flicks up for Best Picture. That’s a stance I don’t understand to begin with, and I think the Avatar nomination discredits in practice. I’ve yet to hear any sort of logical argument about how the distinction between a “fun” movies and a “good” one isn’t arbitrary. As such, I’ll continue to only rank movies based on how much I enjoy them.

An Education

Possibly one of this year’s most fun collection of actors. It is just too bad they didn’t really have much to do. Think about the memorable scenes in the movie. Molina falling under Saarsgard’s charms. Thompson arguing with Mulligan. Williams arguing with Mulligan. Pike being a ditz. The birthday party with Mulligan’s former beau. Almost all of these things have the barest of setups or followthroughs. What is Emma Thompson doing in the film, anyway? As is, shouldn’t her character just been merged with that of Olivia Williams? The point is, I buy it is the right cast, the right screenwriter, and heck, the right director. But what if you didn’t bind Nick Hornby to a set of memoirs where apparently nothing happens, instead just describing the characters and themes? I think that could have been something really tremendous. And also probably would have had an ending.

A Serious Man

I’m still amazed this film received a Best Picture nomination. Not talking about its merits, just that the film had no discernible buzz, at least that I saw. The Coens and I clearly operate on different wavelengths. Not drastically different, just enough that I don’t quite get them. Plus, I don’t think they are as funny or clever as they think they are. Their work does have a timeless quality, though. I could have seen this movie being made ten years ago or twenty years ago. And (as with almost all of their films) their work is refreshing, an oddball little piece of cinema not quite fitting in anyway. Which I can definitely appreciate. And I don’t mean to completely badmouth the film, I did find that I generally enjoyed myself, even if I still haven’t quite figured it out. Assuming there is anything to figure out, I guess.

The Blind Side

I liked this film a little more than the other Grouches. Possibly because I have a heart. Personally, I think it delivers exactly what it sets out to do. It is a big, broad movie that tugs at the heartstrings (but not too much) and ultimately leaves you feeling a little better about things. Is there anything so wrong with that? Sure, it never really tries to reach for anything higher, and that’s maybe why I didn’t fall in love it, but it is a solid, solid film. I think some of the criticisms hurled at it are kinda weak. Yes, a rich white lady helps a poor black kid. No, that doesn’t automatically mean you can toss around the phrase “white guilt”. Partially because this stuff, you know, actually happened. And I found it to be a fairly faithful adaptation of the book (other than the book’s discussion of the history of left tackle, of course). Not sure I could imagine anything better, actually. Well, except for maybe removing some of Lewis’s bias. But that’s probably a good thing.

Precious

We’ve been over the faults of this film’s script numerous times. The auxiliary characters weren’t sketched out well and the plot isn’t that interesting. What the story did do, however, was provide ample opportunity for Mo’Nique and Gabourey Sidibe to dominate all over the place. And sometimes, that’s enough. Like Avatar, oddly enough, when the film was allowed to play to its strengths, it was magical. In certain sense, the film captures drama better than anything else this year. The relationship between Sidibe and Mo’Nique is really unlike anything I’d seen on screen and while it was often hard to take, it was just so so powerful.

Up in the Air

Here’s another film I feel like I’ve unintentionally badmouthed a lot. There were lots of things I liked about Up in the Air, very few things I disliked. It was a very good film, and I’m happy it got nominated. My complaints were more about the acting nominations than anything else, I guess. And, well, not thinking that it was a great movie, because it didn’t quite get there. It was funny and dramatic and thought-provoking, just not very funny or very dramatic or very thought-provoking. Still, a smart film, Jason Reitman is crazy promising. What did I like, though? Hm. It was a fun ride throughout and rarely boring. Kept a solid pace. Made me laugh some. I don’t know, exactly. Just a well-made film.

The Hurt Locker

The dichotomy here is fascinating. $15 million grossing art house movie? Totally Oscar. Iraq war movie? Not Oscar. Cast filled with relative unknowns? Oscar. Action movie? Not Oscar. Finally rewarding a director who paid his dues? Oscar. Finally rewarding a director who paid her dues? Not Oscar. With a quality script, this film would have been something truly special. As is, it’s a fine piece of film making, and extraordinary example of how great a taut, exciting action film can be. Kinda interesting to compare to Slumdog Millionaire, in terms of a movie that didn’t make all that much money and about a topic not necessarily of general interest, and certainly wasn’t necessarily guaranteed to be here on Oscar night.

District 9

Speaking of great action films, I have no clue how District 9 ended up with an best picture nomination, but yay. Something went terribly right for that to happen, because honestly, does it seem like an Oscar movie in the least? I guess maybe if you squint. It is proof that action films can be totally riveting. Maybe next year can be comedy’s year? Nah, that’s crazy talk. Well, unless Peter Jackson produces a comedy. I guess that would be OK. Kinda rambling at this point, because the red carpet has started and Brian and Adam are arguing about something. Not sure what, but I’m sure it is ridiculous. But yes, everyone should see District 9. And be amazed at the effects, the action, and really the touching story. I know some other Oscar nominated movies about aliens the year seemed to imply that it wasn’t possible to have a great story with your alien action, but I assure you, that’s false.

Up

Yup, there’s little question that Up is the year’s best film. Pixar doesn’t make animated movies, they make movies. No need to gush about that opening sequence, because yeah, just out of this world. And I’ll be the only Grouch who likes agreeing with John. Up is consistently funny, definitely one of the funniest movies of the year. (And Adam, I’ll take the bait, yes, I laughed more at She’s Out of My League, but that’s an argument we are going to have in 2010 discussions.) But it was also one of the most exciting films, with one of the interesting stories. Just all around a fantastic movie. Never slow, never dull, always amazing. The Grouches don’t all agree on our favorite Pixar movies, but I think we all agree that at their best, no one tells stories like they do. And if you tell a story as close to perfectly as they do, well, you are going to get my vote for movie of the year.

And so it all comes down to this. This is a really terrific set of nominees. Even with the expanded category it has a better average film quality than most years. It has refreshing variety and even the selections I don’t really agree with are at least interesting. It remains to be seen how “The Ten” will affect the prestige of the Oscars in the long-term, but it was a wild success for 2009 by producing such an interesting and varied group of nominees.

Counting backwards, here is the ranked ballot I would have submitted had I been a voter.

10. The Blind Side. This is not a good movie. It’s cliched, simple, and emotionally manipulative, though it is centered with a forceful performance from Sandra Bullock. I think its biggest sin is the way Michael, the poor black football player adopted by Bullock’s character, is so poorly developed so that there’s nothing to him. But I do appreciate that people felt affected by the film and I think there’s room for mainstream drama like this in a field of ten.

9. Inglourious Basterds. Second from the bottom and we’re already at a movie I really enjoyed! This is a very good sign! Basterds is an interesting film and very entertaining. I remain committed to my assertion that I wish there was more substance to complement its style. Its scenes are tense and engrossing, but sometimes last a bit too long. A better theme or story to tie those scenes together would have made it much better so that there was more to it than just being awesome.

8. District 9. I enjoyed this film on first viewing. Its unique premise enthused me and its themes kept me thinking. I was dismayed at how much it turned into a standard action movie with unoriginal sequences by the end, however. On my second viewing I was much less bothered by the action and was impressed by all the little details built into the story and the world it creates. Very good stuff.

7. The Hurt Locker. This film clearly didn’t resonate with me the way it did so many others. I really liked it and found many of its scenes painfully suspenseful. I just didn’t find it to be the gut punch so many others did, or as so many other movies on this list did to me. I thought it didn’t come together as a whole as well as I hoped. It’s still very good, just not as good as the others.

6. A Serious Man. This is probably THE movie of 2009 that has me thinking the most. I found the story totally engrossing, even as I wasn’t understanding its point. I found myself drawn to the plot more than I expected upon second viewing. There’s something delightfully subversive about a film that revels in its sometimes-there-is-no-meaning meaning. Accept the mystery. I wouldn’t be surprised that if I revisit this list in a decade that this is the movie that moves up my list the most. I’m already looking forward to watching it again.

5. Precious. Powerful, effective, emotionally hefty. But it’s also very well-made. It really takes a talented hand to not make this film devolve into utter emotional manipulation. I enjoyed the way it’s visualized, though I know my fellow Grouches generally did not. I found the tone was balanced well enough to not make it relentlessly depressing. I’m never fond of a salvation-through-literacy plotline, but otherwise the story and characters (and acting) are uniformly terrific.

4. Up in the Air. This film really succeeds in tone and atmosphere. I have a couple problems with the plot, particularly actions by Vera Farmiga’s Alex, but they’re all overwhelmed by how deeply the film grabbed me and held me. It’s a film about what it’s like to be alive now, from the economic downturn to corporate indifference and the disconnected way we live our lives in this world. It has wonderful characters and terrific performances with some insightful writing and a story that, while not twisty, proceeds in unexpected directions.

3. Up. Here are two signs of how great this film is. In the lead-up to the Oscars there are lots of stories about the nominees. I have yet to see a clip of Up that doesn’t make me laugh. We talk a lot about the brilliant and heartbreaking Married Life montage, but the writing in this film is very strong throughout with lots of clever touches, insight, and hilarious jokes. Oh man, that Kevin just cracks me up. Second, I’ve been listening to some film scores recently and the one for Up always brings me right back to the film. And not just to the plot or the visuals, but to its heart.

2. An Education. The easiest way to explain my affection for film is to say: everything works. Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard are enchanting on screen. The script deftly develops Mulligan’s Jenny so that we understand her and therefore her desires and motivations for her actions. Then Mulligan nails every aspect of Jenny while Sarsgaard is the perfect mix of charm and creepiness. Their relationship never rings false.

1. Avatar. Yes I love the way the film looks. It’s absolutely stunning and unlike anything I’ve ever seen. But it really is more than that. So many films set out to create a universe and they almost always feel incomplete. Avatar succeeds. Everything makes sense in this universe. Rules are set and they are adhered to. The clever little details to the world come together to create a fascinating whole. And people get down on the story, but it’s a fine story. It takes an outline that has been used plenty of times before, but I think all the original details make it feel fresh. All the spiritual stuff is hogwash? Well, maybe on Earth but there are different rules on Pandora. And those elements interested me.

Avatar is an experience. A film-going milestone. I loved every second of it.

We’ll each putting up our own thoughts on Best Picture. Except now, when I’m publishing Adam’s writeup. Guess he wanted to continue his streak of not posting.

So, for the grand finale, I’ve decided to forego my previous format and write what I thought about each movie. Unfortunately for you, dear reader, none of the other Grouches have written their posts yet so I am forced to confine my analysis to the movies and my critiques of the others (if they should appear) will be constrained to hearsay and personal experience. So, without further ado, I give you The Nominees:

Precious
Throughout the year, we watch a lot of movies in preparation for the Oscars and I find that my opinion of some of these movies varies greatly from my initial impression as time goes on. As I rank the movies I’ve seen throughout the year, I constantly compare previous views to more recent ones to come up with the best possible score for each – some fall, others rise, and some stay steady throughout. Precious was definitely one of the fallen movies. I thought it was a fine movie, but realized that my initial opinion of it was artificially raised due to all the hype and praise surrounding it. As I time went on, I realized that the script wasn’t all that strong. Decent dialogue was scarce and most of the scenes were pretty blasé (with the notable exceptions of the apartment/stairs scene and the final social worker scene). Mo’Nique’s performance was terrific, granted, but Sidibe’s was, honestly, forgettable. No one will remember her performance in a year or two – if that. The directing was also fairly weak. The dream sequences were unnecessary and heavy-handed, and the other scenes were set up less than ideally. It may seem like I hated the movie, but I didn’t. I gave it a 5.8 out of 10 (though it started at a whopping 7 if you can believe it) so I didn’t think it was horrible, I just want you all to realize that the hype surrounding it is just that – hype.

An Education
An Education actually suffered the opposite fate as Precious. It actually moved up in my ranking as time went on. At first, I couldn’t get over what I viewed as a ridiculous plot. I couldn’t understand how we, the audience, were supposed to buy into the fact that a random older gentleman randomly picked up a school-girl; started to date her immediately – well, as soon as he was able to convince the girl’s very conservative and old fashioned father he was on the “up and up” via a 2 minute conversation, in which he told a joke; and convince her to quit school just shy of graduating. As time went on though, I was able to separate the weak story and horrible scene transitions, and appreciate the strengths of the film. Carey Mulligan actually puts on a pretty great performance – especially given she had very little experience prior to this. She was able to take on a leading role and make it her own. This was one of the few well written lead female characters I saw this year and it is due, in no small part, to Mulligan’s performance. The other fantastic performance was Alfred Molina’s. My respect for him (due in no small part to his role in The Man Who Knew Too Little) dropped dramatically with his part in Spider-Man 2 (one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen). However, he has totally redeemed himself by being one of the brightest spots in this movie. I am very disappointed he wasn’t nominated for Supporting Actor over Damon.

The Blind Side
The Blind Side has a higher score (6.5 out of 10) than I anticipated going into the movie. And, while the script wasn’t anything to write home about, I found myself enjoying the movie, nonetheless. Bullock does a decent job as a Southern, Tennessee-hating, heart-of-gold mother of two (then three), and her nomination for Best Actress is deserved. She was definitely the most impressive part of the movie and I am actually quite happy that she is the front-runner for the win. I have, for the most part, quite enjoyed Ms. Bullock over the years and am glad she has a chance to take home the gold. Other than that, there isn’t much to say about this movie. It is like Precious in a lot of ways – teenager with a troubled past and parental issues is taken in by a strong female character who tries to better them. The biggest difference between the two movies is the tone. While The Blind Side is, on the whole, light and fun (and has an uplifting ending), Precious is a study in just how wrong things can go in a child’s life (and that not everything has a happy ending). For whatever reason, though, I found myself enjoying The Blind Side more than Precious and more than I originally thought I would.

Avatar
As you may have realized by now, I have ordered these movies in ascending order. Which means that the second highest grossing film in history, and the film sure to take home the most amount of Oscars is only 6th on my list of Best Picture nominees. While this may seem confusing to most (I’m looking at you John), anyone who actually watched the movie (and has any taste) can tell you that this movie is over-rated by far. First of all, let’s get this out of the way: The film was absolutely visually stunning. Seriously. They did a tremendous job with the CGI and 3D scenery and sequences. Unfortunately, they stopped there. It is a beautiful façade over a weak structure. The most important part of the movie is the script. This movie’s script was decent – when it was used in Dances With Wolves, Pocahontas, and Fern Gully. If you are going to steal another movie’s idea/script (which I don’t necessarily disagree with – I mean, look at my boy Tarantino), at least improve upon it. Or, at the very least, make an attempt to change it in some way. The only thing they seem to have done is make the dialogue worse and delve less into every single one of the characters. I am actually floored that a 3+ hour movie had absolutely no character development. And don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of a bunch of movies with little to no plot, no character development, and awful dialogue (I mean, I watch mindless action films by the truckload), but I don’t nominate them for Best Picture. I don’t care what John tries to tell you – don’t drink the Kool-Aid on this movie. See it because it is visually stunning, not because you are looking for an actual Best Picture movie.

A Serious Man
I don’t know how Jared and John write so much. I’m not even half way through this and I’m exhausted. Major props to them. So, now on to A Serious Man. First of all, I’d like to say that I was a huge fan of the opening scene of this movie – especially once the film was over and I realized that I couldn’t figure out how it fit into the rest of the movie. Second, this movie had one of the most interesting characters of the entire year. It was fascinating for me to watch the actions and reactions of this character as we delved deeper and deeper into his mundane, depressing, and all too real existence. I am a huge fan of character studies (if done well). While this isn’t in the same league as Michael Clayton, it is a serviceable replacement for the year. It also has one of my favorite side-stories of the entire year. The scenes with the Korean student are absolutely hilarious.

Up
I’ve talked about this movie a couple of times. I can’t get over how the rest of the Grouches basically have an orgasm whenever they think or talk about it. Yes it was decent, but it wasn’t THAT good. It definitely had its moments (which is why it made it into the top 5 of contenders), but it fell well short of Pixar classics like Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles. The talking dog was pretty fantastic, and the little scout had some pretty great lines, but that is pretty much it. A lot of the jokes seemed forced or were predictable. The plot was weak, and the villain, one of my favorite elements of most movies, was very weak. I just couldn’t get invested in any of the characters or laugh at many of the jokes (I’d actually like to hear whether Jared thought he laughed more during Up or She’s Out of My League). I will give it this, though, the opening scene was very well done. Squirrel!

District 9
District 9 definitely had one of the most interesting takes on a tried-and-true story. Having the an alien race living in slums, cohabitating to humans, and regulated to second-class status in all things was brilliant. Telling the story in the form of a documentary (The Office style) was pretty fantastic as well. The surprisingly humorous script was augmented by and equally surprising strong cast (surprising in that it is comprised of unknowns). The reason this movie isn’t higher on my list, though, has to do with the plot. While the background and premise of the movie was original and interesting, the actual story was less than stellar. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I didn’t like it, it’s more that it didn’t live up to the promise of the movie’s premise. It was decent, not spectacular. I also felt it didn’t flow as well as it could in a couple of different areas, but that’s really just nit-picking. Overall, a very enjoyable movie that I recommend, and I am very glad to see it make it into the Best Picture nominees.

The Hurt Locker
This is another movie that has increase its ranking as time has gone on. I put it slightly lower on my list originally due to the lack of thought put into the overall plot of the movie. What were all those highly entertaining scenes leading up to? Who is SSG William James and why should we care about his story? However, discounting that, this was a fantastic movie. Kathryn Bigelow does a phenomenal directing job here and I very much hope her Best Director hopes are realized – she deserves it. The tension she is able to create in almost every single scene is nothing short of amazing. The bomb scenes are some of the best I’ve ever seen – due in no small part to the great camerawork. Let’s not forget about Renner either. Even though I didn’t know why I should care about him or his story, I couldn’t help but be fully engrossed in whatever he was doing due to Renner’s extremely strong performance. I seriously wish the Academy wasn’t going to hand over the Best Actor award to Jeff Bridges solely as a “Lifetime Achievement Award” because Renner far-and-away out acted Bridges this year. There is a reason this is in my top 3 of nominees. This is a terrific movie, and, had it had a better script, could have been a serious contender for my favorite movie of the year.

Up in the Air
What can I say about this movie? My fellow Grouches have, on many occasions, ridiculed this movie – its script, acting, and directing – and I can’t understand it. Not because I liked it so much (though that is an extremely valid reason in-and-of-itself), but because they all profess to like it as much or more than me. The lowest score it got between us is an 8.4. It actually has the third highest average score of any film we’ve seen this year (beaten by Zombieland and Up). That’s saying quite a bit. I thought it was great. Since Michael Clayton, my respect for Clooney has skyrocketed and I think he does a great job here. Not only that, the two female characters in this movie are both widely different but equally well written and portrayed. Kendrick and Farmiga both shine as opposite sides of the same coin (the professional woman), and complement Clooney’s character as few roles do, now-a-days. I thought the script, while not out-of-this-world, was very well done – with humorous, contemplative/deep, and sad/depressing moments sprinkled in throughout the movie. I actually also really like the directing here as well. Reitman was a very close third to Tarantino and Bigelow this year. Each gave very strong efforts this year, which were rewarded with equally strong movies. I will admit that this movie struck a nerve with its portrayal of the constantly traveling businessman (as that was my life for 2 ½ years), but even discounting that, this was a pretty great movie.

Inglourious Basterds
The Big Kahuna (and no, not Big Kahuna Burger) – nine down, one to go. Since seeing this movie, it has topped my annual Top 5 with only one other movie even coming close to toppling it (Zombieland for those keeping track). Quentin Tarantino is one of my all-time favorites and he doesn’t disappoint with this dialogue-driven, Nazi-killin’, action flick. From the first scene, Tarantino is able to fully invest the audience into his world. How many other directors/films would have such a long, dialogue-heavy opening scene? And how many people actually noticed that the scene went on for so long after the first couple of minutes of interplay between Waltz’s SS Colonel and the out-matched farmer? Tarantino’s ability to take the seemingly most inane scene and turn it into a focal point of a movie based solely on the dialogue (and underlying story) never ceases to amaze me. And he does this more than once in the movie (don’t forget that amazing bar room scene). All this is without taking into account the overall story or the wonderfully violent action scenes. Tarantino gives us a movie that is entertaining on multiple levels and does so with style (plus, he killed Hitler…come on!). If it were up to me, Basterds would receive Best Picture, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, and Film Editing along with the almost assured Best Supporting Actor for Waltz. Alas, it is not to be.

Nominees:

  • Sandra Bullock, Blind Side
  • Helen Mirren, The Last Station
  • Carey Mulligan, An Education
  • Gabourey Sidibe, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
  • Meryl Streep, Julie and Julia

Brian starts the discussion:

    Unlike the Best Actor category, where all the nominations made some modicum of sense, there are a couple of headscratchers here. On the other hand, I can’t really think of many other strong female lead performances from this year, so maybe its just one of those years. Perhaps I’d include Emily Blunt in here for Young Victoria, but otherwise, it was a lackluster year, unfortunately. There are two nominees that are clearly superior to the rest of the batch — and its a shame that they are not the two expected to duke it out on Sunday night.

    To dispense with those two first: Streep is the second best actress in Julie and Julia — Amy Adams shows a wider range of emotions and is the heart of the film. Streep does a fine impersonation — and is good filler for the non-Julie Powell moments — but I found myself much more caught up in the modern day love story than Julia Child’s background. Which is odd, because I’m a history dork and all. I’m more interested in Julia’s next phase of life — when she became a television star.

    Sandra Bullock is the best part of The Blind Side — but thats truly faint praise. In a bastardization of a solid, nuanced book by Michael Lewis, The Blind Side is a poor-man’s Erin Brockovich. I think Dana Stevens said it best over at Slate: this is Bullock’s “Least Objectionable Thing She’s Made in Years.” Ergo, since this may be her only shot ever at a nomination, give her the career achievement award now. Her actual acting in the movie is good — but much like the rest of the movie, its cliched and devoid of any intrigue.

    Helen Mirren was fed a filmful of Oscar-worthy scenes, and she did her usual bang-up job with them. Unfortunately, when you’re dealing with material as weak as The Last Station‘s — your performance has to transcend crap. And Mirren, this time, did not — and I’d also question her position as a leading actress on this one. If they had pushed her for supporting — I think that she’d have gotten a lot more recognition than this film — which I am still convinced that no one actually saw before nominating Mirren. Now THAT is the power of a strong brand.

    My two favorites: Mulligan and Sidibe. Carey Mulligan was brilliant as the young teen taken in by Peter Saarsgard’s creepiness. Stuck in an era when her parents (and society writ large) told her she could be a wife or a teacher, and thats it, she yearned for something more. It was a trite subject, but Mulligan expressed the highs of love and the lows of devastation with great aplomb. I cannot wait to watch what she does next.

    But my vote goes for newcomer Gabourey Sidibe. It’s hard for me to judge what she’s like in real person — and how much of her performance was “ACTING!” — but wow. I never once doubted the pain and hardship that Precious had to deal with — and watching her eventually open up and tread a path away from her current life situation was heart-wrenching. I place the success of the film’s bittersweet and ambiguous ending on Sidibe’s shoulders. Had she not been so good — I think the film would have fallen a lot flatter, with no hope and only despair for Precious’ future.

John adds his two cents

    I think too much as been said about this being a “weak” slate of actresses. It’s fine. I’d say not weaker or stronger than average with three terrific performances.

    Nothing against Helen Mirren, but without a better constructed film she’s just wailing and chewing scenery aimlessly. It’s hard to show any nuance when the material doesn’t allow it.

    The way this year has turned into The Year of Bullock is perplexing. Yes, I know she was snubbed for The Net, but is this the way we want to make up for it? The Blind Side is not a good movie though I did like Bullock’s performance in it. But I can’t help but think a lot of her support comes from playing a strongly-written character with an accent. Sure she dominates the movie, but with the other elements so underwhelming that’s pretty easy.

    Sidibe is swell in Precious and I’m really interested in seeing what she does next. Her performance is so monotone, which I know is what the role calls for, that I think it opens the door for some others to outshine her. She does a very good job of leading the film despite being a new actress and her range is impressive.

    I’m a little surprised I’m not choosing Mulligan because it’s the type of performance I’m so drawn to. It’s a restrained performance, but perfectly-crafted and we totally understand how her character could get into the mess she finds herself. She’s so enchanting on screen and can do so much with just a look. It’s true she’s helped by playing a character that’s so well-written, but she nails it.

    But I choose Meryl Streep. She’s just such a delight to watch and brings what I’d say is just the right amount of camp to the role. And it’s more than an impression; this really is a full-throated performance. We gave Morgan Freeman a tough time for (partly) adapting a South African accent and walking like Nelson Mandela. Streep shows how you play a well-known, real person and put your mark on it.

    I’m pretty perplexed by Brian’s assessment of Streep and the film. I thought I was going out on a limb by saying the Julie half of the film was not significantly inferior to the Julia half. He’s the first person I’ve ever seen assert that Julie was better. This is dumbfounding. If anything, Streep is so dominant she overshadows the rest of the film.

Adam is the charmer, as always:

    • Carey Mulligan
    • Sandra Bullock
    • Meryl Streep
    • Gabourey Sidbe
    • Helen Mirren

    Will Win: Sandra Bullock. There was a pretty big push for her throughout the Awards season and I believe it will pay off. While I don’t think this role was all that taxing, Bullock still put on an impressive performance so I’m not upset that she will win here. I’m more excited that Meryl Streep won’t win…for some reason, I just don’t like her.

    I Want to Win: Carey Mulligan. She’s beautiful. But that’s not why I want her to win (ok, that’s not the ENTIRE reason I want her to win). I had major problems with the script (e.g. plot, flow, dialogue wasn’t too bad, etc), but I will admit that despite its faults, it generated two strong performances from Alfred Molina and Mulligan. Given her less than bulky resume, she puts on a surprisingly strong performance…and she’s beautiful.

    Dark Horse: Carey Mulligan. While not out of the realm of possibility, there is little chance she would be able to overtake Ms. Streep or Ms. Bullock – much to the audience’s dismay.

    Ranking:

    Grouches Critiques: Since only Brian has written one so far, I will confine my review to him – lucky him. First off, some praise, his introductory statement is accurate enough. Actress this year was pretty weak. I have to question writers as a whole’s ability to write strong and/or good female leads. His review goes downhill from there though. I hate to say it (because I like Adams MUCH better than Streep), but Streep definitely outshone in her half of the movie. Adams’ character and storyline were, overall, quite boring. Adams played an uninteresting, selfish bitch…and not the fun kind.

    His comparison of The Blind Side to Erin Brockovich is confusing and incorrect. I have no idea what part of which is comparable. It’s much easier to compare it to Precious, in fact, though, in my opinion, neither is as great as people seem to believe. Even his review of The Last Station is off and we both disliked it. I am actually a big fan of Mirren, but while her performance most likely fit the role as written, it was a horribly written script so her performance suffered the same fate. There was not one “Oscar-worthy” scene in the entire movie. I also can’t say I agree with his view of women striving for more than being regulated to a wife/mother/teacher as a “trite” subject. Guess we’re seeing the “real” Brian.

    Finally, his conclusion is way off the mark. Don’t believe the hype , folks. Precious is not that good. Sidibre does a fine job, but ultimately there isn’t a lot of range required in the role and the script was pretty weak in both story and dialogue – and the lackluster directing didn’t help either.

    Now I can sit back and bathe in the glow Brian’s hatred of me will give off.

    Random Notes: Write better female characters Hollywood writers. There is a ton of talent out there and few good characters for them to portray.

Jared has had a little to drink and is writing at 4 in the morning:

    Finally, I get to both go last and disagree with Brian.  It is a bad call to say it was a poor year for lead actress performances.  Add Blunt and Deschanel in here, and you are hot to trot.  Relatively weak year for mainstream performances? Maybe.  But one you get into Julia and Cheri and Trucker, I’m not so convinced.  Hate to say it, but I kinda agree with John.  Probably about an average year.

    I’ve loved Sandra Bullock since Love Potion No. 9 (here’s where I totally geek out and make a Donovan Tate joke (that’s some baseball prospect humor for you!)).  I really don’t understand the Oscar love for her this year.  Thrilled that’s she’s in the running. No clue what makes this role so special.  Honestly, and I’m completely serious here, I don’t understand why she wasn’t up for an Oscar for Miss Congeniality.  I dare almost any former Oscar nominee to pull off that role. I gotta question Brian, though.  “Devoid of any intrigue?”  You read the book and know the story, dude. What intrigue were you expecting?  Oh, and the book isn’t nuanced. Sorry. Not like I needed to bring all this up. The minute you cite Slate in an argument is the minute you lose.

    And while we are ragging on Brian, I’m totally with John about Julie and Julia. Brian, you are no longer ever allowed to make fun of my appreciation of romcoms. The Julie side of the film was better? Bold statement there, boss. I heart Meryl Streep to pieces, I just think we could maybe hold back on the automatic check next to her name. Though, hey, she seems to be the only one who can get nominated for comedies. So more power to her.

    Unsurprisingly, Helen Mirren was pretty great in The Last Station.  It is unfortunate that the movie was roughly seventeen hours long. That’s how it felt at least. The unsteadiness in the script came through as Mirren’s character was not only a biatch, but sorta all over the place. Mirren salvaged it admirably, but still.  I’ll agree with Brian here (since I made the point first).  No one saw Last Station.  No one.

    Top two are really tough for me. I’ve gone back and forth numerous times. So screw it, I need to get some sleep, I’m calling it a tie between Gabourey Sidibe and Carey Mulligan.  Sidibe is all kinds of powerful asPrecious. Maybe few established actresses could have pulled it off for physical reasons, but I also think few could have so completely owned the character. Sidibe took a relatively weak script and turned the character into something magical.

    I’m madly in love with Carey Mulligan and not ashamed to admit it. No one who saw An Education should be afraid to admit it either.  Again, she took a subpar script and created a character I won’t forget for some time. Maybe she had it easier because of how attractive the character was (both inside and out). I dunno. I do know that she took a character who had been seen time and again (smart pretty girl who loses her naivete) and made it her own.

OK Folks, here we go. It’s Grouching the Oscars week here and we will kick things off with Adapted Screenplay.

Your nominees:

  • District 9” Written by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell
  • An Education” Screenplay by Nick Hornby
  • In the Loop” Screenplay by Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche
  • Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” Screenplay by Geoffrey Fletcher
  • Up in the Air” Screenplay by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner

Take it away, Jared:

    As has been noted elsewhere, the Best Picture winner has generally come out of the Adapted Screenplay category, so it feels a bit odd that the three front-runners for Best Picture come from original screenplays.  For some time there, sure looked like Precious and Up in the Air were right in the thick of the top race (and who knows, maybe they still are).  The former (unquestionably, in my mind) has the weakest script of the category, relying almost entirely on the performances of the two main characters and the situations in which they are placed.  I liked the film and certainly don’t think the nomination here is a tragedy.  But all of the supporting characters are generic and underdeveloped, for example.  I actually read Up in the Air’s script, so I at least know a little bit about what I’m talking about here, for a change.  It is a fairly strong script, but ultimately lacks any sort of punch.  The dialogue is zippy, though not often funny.  And the story (which takes quite a few liberties with the original source, I’m told), is interesting, if not really thought-provoking.

    I’ve probably voiced my problems with An Education elsewhere, but to recap, I love Nick Hornby wish he shone through more in the film’s script. The ending had serious issues, mostly stemming from the fact that there wasn’t really any sort of proper ending.  And while most of the characters showed some sort of Nick Hornby shading, I never really felt a connection with any of them.  Hornby excels in creating relatable characters, and I just wasn’t seeing that here. The dialogue was crisp, but I can only remember one line from the film, I think.

    District 9 was one of my favorite movies of the year, and the script was definitely a large part of that.  I think sometimes people unfairly dismiss the writing that goes into creating action scenes.  But I’m convinced the film could have been just as powerful without any actions scenes at all, and I think that’s why it got a nomination.  Because whether you choose to view the movie as a metaphor or not, it manages to hit some raw emotions, evoking some pretty powerful stuff.  Most of this movie was brilliant, and the script was no exception.

    Very often, it seems, the Academy hides away in the screenplay categories one of my favorite movies of the year, one that received nowhere near the attention it should have.  This year, that film is In the Loop.  It was actually a close call for me here, but where District 9 had some really cool special effects, In the Loop relied almost entirely on its zany, madcap, hilarious, insane, divine script.  I’m trying to pick one or two great lines from the film, but in order to do the script justice, I’d have to go through every single page, because the zingers came nonstop.  But more than that, the plot was exquisitely crafted to poke fun at the ridiculousness of government.  I have to believe that if every single adult in D.C. saw this film, over half of them would say it was the year’s best.  Sure, maybe not every single joke worked, but so many did and so often, that, just, wow.  It is hard to imagine a tighter, or better crafted, script.

Adam, writing by his own rules, per usual:

    Will Win: Up in the Air

    Up in the Air turned out to be one of my favorite movies of the year. This was based on a combination of its script, acting, and directing, so a win here in Adapted Screenplay is not a disappointment for me. While there may a more deserving film, the love people are showing Up in the Air is well deserved.

    I Want to Win: In the Loop

    Up until John started talking about this movie maybe a month or two ago, I hadn’t even heard about it. Since it was John talking about it, I didn’t pay it any attention until it was nominated. Unfortunately, after I watched it, I realized I actually had to agree with the rest of the Grouches as this was a wonderfully scripted movie. Like In Bruges last year, I’m glad to see the Academy at least giving a nod to superior writing – regardless of the shot they have at winning.

    Dark Horse: In the Loop No way in hell the Academy makes the right choice…as usual.

    Ranking:
    1. In the Loop
    2. Up in the Air
    3. District 9
    4. An Education
    5. Precious

    Grouches Critiques:

    While Jared was correct about In the Loop, he was wrong in at least one aspect in everything else (which is a lot better than the other Grouches will be though I can’t be more specific as, at the writing of this, they have yet to complete their posts). Up in the Air wasn’t as weak as he makes it out to be (I don’t care if he read the script or not), Precious wasn’t nearly as good as the other Grouches make it out to be, District 9 was good/great, but not brilliant, and the script of An Education was horrible (with only its acting being able to bring it out of utter rubbish).

    Random Notes:

    Not a bad year for this category. Three of the five scripts are at least well done, and two are crap. Way to be 60%, Academy.

John, for a change, may be right about movies:

    This is a really terrific slate of nominees. Four of my favorite films of the year are represented here and the fifth is pretty darn good too. Compare it to the underwhelming 2008 list and you can understand my elation.District 9 is a film I liked less than my cohorts, but it’s still a good movie whose success hinges upon its terrific premise. The plot, characters, and themes are handled well. Any criticisms I have for it extend from elements outside the script. Up in the Air is a mixed bag in that it’s powerful in what it gets it right but has some noteworthy missteps, such as the characterizations of the female characters. Vera Farmiga is wonderful but her character does some frustratingly inconsistent things. I’m being picky here, but such strong competition demands pickiness.

    I really liked Precious and the way it handles such weighty material. The film thrives on the acting and – though Brian will disagree – directing more than the writing, however. And while the writing is terrific, it’s really the other elements propel the film to greatness. My runner-up An Education tells a terrific story with a dynamic central character. It unfolds cleverly, though not in a twisty way but in the way it astutely develops its themes without being too heavy-handed.

    But my winner is In the Loop. I think there’s a danger in declaring it a winner based solely on its dialogue. Yes, it’s dialogue is terrific; it absolutely crackles and the rat-a-tat lines are hilarious and clever. The jokes come so fast it’s hard to keep up. But it’s also an artfully constructed farce and brilliantly satirical. While the dialogue is the star, the situations and characters are so well-formed that they complement the dialogue and give it perfect context.

    Snub: As great as this category is, imagine if it included The Informant!, a film that combines a complex story, a complicated protagonist, and a delightfully whimsical tone.

Here’s where I wrap things up and take credit for everything that the other Grouches have said (except for John):

    It really cannot be overstated how strong a group this year’s nominees are in the adapted screenplay category. If this had been the list of the five films nominated for best picture, I would have only had a problem with Precious, and that’s nothing compared to previous bad nominees of years past (see 2008, The Reader) I concur with most of what Jared wrote about Precious, though its really up against very tough competition. The script is clearly not the strongest part, though the scenes between Mariah Carey and Gabourey Sidibe were especially well written, the classroom scenes were a tad derivative of the Freedom Riders/Stand and Deliver/”How do I reach deeese kiiiiids” genre. Had it not been for Lee Daniels’ horrible directing…well, that’s for tomorrow when I eviscerate John’s reasoning on Lee Daniels.

    I’m in agreement with the group on Up in the Air as well. I really enjoyed the script and the plot — it was very touching and just perfect for the cast, from Clooney to Kendrick on down to J.K. Simmons’ cameo. In another year, against weaker competition, this would probably be my pick. I’d disagree with Jared on the thought-provoking part, as of now the strongest memories I have of the film are of the big themes, and the testimonials from the “real folk.” — so perhaps the kudos for this one should go more toward directing and acting, than Reitman and Turner’s script.

    It’s Adam’s turn to be wrong when it comes to An Education — where I once again find myself largely agreeing with Jared. I too am a big Nick Hornby fan, but I was disappointed in the latter third of this movie. Maybe I can chalk it up to this being his first screenplay not adapted from his own material, but Hornby scribed a meandering finale with an odd lack of moral direction. More Carey Mulligan love to come later, however.

    To be quick with the last two — and the best two– scripts, since the rest of the grouches have said what I would have: District 9 is on my personal top 5 for 2009 and I loved the transition from Michael Scott mockumentary to kick-ass action movie. Blomkamp took a unique angle at a tried-and-true genre and ran with it with great success. Ahhh, In the Loop — my pick for who should win as well. Make that four-for-four. Any movie that has the line “Fuckity bye” is a winner in my book. (VERY NSFW link)

Coming up tomorrow: Best Director

Stupid work getting in the way of this.  Seems like every year people say it was a bad year for the Best Actress category, which is generally hogwash, and  I especially don’t really think it is true this year.  Sure, maybe my list for Best Actor possibilities was longer, but I’m fairly certain the next five women off the list would have still made a very strong category.

1. Patricia Clarkson, Blind Date

Nobody does sullen and deadpan like Ms. Clarkson.  Just no one.  And here, to pull off that underlying sadness while playing a variety of personalities, well, it was pretty perfect.

2. Zooey Deschanel, (500) Days of Summer

I swear, it wasn’t intentional to have my top two actors and actresses match up.  Maybe it is fitting, though.  It was pretty fascinating to see Deschanel’s character morph from The One to a biatch and all phases in between, at least through Gordon-Levitt’s eyes.  Sure, the role was right in Deschanel’s wheelhouse, but she still knocked it out of the park.

3. Emily Blunt, The Young Victoria

To me, at least, a monarch at a young age is a fascinating topic.  And here, a terribly difficult role to play, as Victoria learned to play the political game while going through adolescence.  Which is insane.  I mean, think about Adventureland, only if instead of learning to survive on his own, Jesse Eisenberg had to rule a friggin’ country.  And I think Blunt didn’t get a nomination here for exactly that reason.  The Academy wasn’t comfortable with a ruler who showed such humanity.

4.  Gabourey Sidibe, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

I think I may have discussed her elsewhere, but wowza.  When going through the best actress nominees this year, I’d be stunned if voters didn’t take at least a second to think about writing in her name. [Edit: To clarify, I meant choosing her as the nominee they think should win.]

5.  Carey Mulligan, An Education

It isn’t just that I fell madly in love with Ms. Mulligan after the film, it is that I can’t imagine anyone not falling in love with her.  I think she took a weak script and ran with it something fierce, and with many other actresses, this film gets shut out of Oscar completely.

Just off the ballot: Meryl Streep (Julie and Julia) and Tilda Swinton (Julia).  And not just because that’s funny.

Like you could live on nomination day without my thoughts on this year’s crop of Original Songs!

Rather than writing a small blurb on each of eligible songs this year (there are only so many adjectives for “bland”) I thought I’d pretend to be a part of the Music branch and nominate as if I had a ballot.

63 songs qualified this year. Voters screen three minute clips of each eligible song as it appears in the movie. I understand the idea since you’d ideally like to consider the song as a piece of a film. But clips have the effect of taking the song out of context – undermining their effect – and undervaluing final credits songs. A good final credits song can be perfect for a film as you sit and contemplate what you’ve just seen; think last year’s title track from The Wrestler. That’s lost in a clip screening like this.

Voters give each song a score between 6 and 10 with half votes allowed. A song must average an 8.25 score to qualify for nomination; there is no further guidance for what each score should mean. I take it to mean I should score 8.5 or above any song I think is worth of nomination.

The Best

“The Weary Kind” from Crazy Heart: 10. Sort of the point of the entire film.

“Smoke Without Fire” from An Education: 10. I love Duffy’s smoky voice. Could be hurt by its placement on the end credits even though it’s perfect there.

Depression Era” from That Evening Sun: 10. Nice, stripped down, folksy tune from Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers fame.

Down in New Orleans” from The Princess and the Frog: 9.5. Terrifically catchy bluesy song from Dr. John. Best of the film.

Only You” from The Young Victoria: 9.5. I have a terrific soft spot for Sinead O’Connor.

Hideaway” and “All Is Love” from Where the Wild Things Are: 9 and 9. I love me some Karen O and I love me some non-professional choir singers.

The Good

Somebody Else” from Crazy Heart: 8. Jeff Bridges pulls out his twangy country singing voice.

When You Find Me” from Adam: 8.5. There’s literally nothing interesting about Joshua Radin but the duet here makes it work.

“Fly Farm Blues” from It Might Get Loud: 9. I love Jack White and I love the idea that a song he was challenged to create in ten minutes for a documentary could get nominated. Polish up the vocals and this is awesome.

The Other Contenders

You Got Me Wrapped Around Your Little Finger” from An Education: 7. Lounge-y. Not for me.

Cinema Italiano” from Nine: 8. Kind of not good but also kind of appealing, at least when it gets fast. A lot of film lingo in the lyrics, which is funny.

Take it All” from Nine: 7.5. Marion Cotillard can sing.

(I Want to) Come Home” from Everybody’s Fine: 7. Bland Paul McCartney.

The other songs from The Princess and the Frog aren’t as good as “Down in New Orleans.” “Almost There” (7) is a likely nominee but too simplistic after a nice intro. “Ma Belle Evangeline” (7.5) is admittedly the best love song I’ve ever heard a Cajun firefly sing. “Never Knew I Needed” (6.5) is the Ne-Yo song I never knew I needed.

The Funny

Dove of Peace” from Bruno: 7. Fake celebrity benefit song gets an extra .5 since it’d be funny performed on the Oscar telecast

Stu’s Song” from The Hangover: 8.5. Amusing!

Other Father Song” from Coraline: 8. Crazy short! Yes that’s the whole thing. The problem with short catchy songs is they get stuck in your head.

Petey’s Song” from Fantastic Mr Fox: 7. Even Jarvis Cocker is sub-par in this movie. Wouldn’t mind seeing a nice banjo tune on the telecast though

The Schmaltzy

I See You” from Avatar: 6. No. Even worse than “My Heart Will Go On.”

Invictus 9,000 Days” and “Colorblind” from Invictus: 6.5 and 6. No and no. “Colorblind” may be the worst of the bunch. And god, so literal! Perfect for a Clint Eastwood film.

Winter” from Brothers: 6. U2 makes schmaltzy crap? Who knew! And again so literal!

God Bless Us Everyone” from Disney’s A Christmas Carol: 8.5. Maybe it’s just Andrea Bocelli’s voice but I think this could make a nice standard Christmas carol.

The Different

I Bring What I Love” from Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love: 6. Youssou Ndour wrote a song for a documentary about himself?

Innocent Child” and “Let Freedom Reign” from Skin: 6.5 and 7. A little bit better African music

Loin de Paname” from Paris 36: 6.5. The winner of a “make a song that sounds French” contest. Yes there are accordians.

Un Boquete de Violettes” from New York, I Love You: 7.5. Opera. Kinda of bizarre especially after Paris, je t’aime had such a great song.

“We Are the Children of the World” and “We Love Violence” from The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus: 6.5 and 7. I can’t say it better than New York Magazine: “We Are the Children of the World” is a mockery of celebrity charity, sung by urchins at a glittery A-list benefit. “We Love Violence” is a rowdy celebration of police brutality shouted out by vicious police officers, who conclude their ditty with spectacular flatulence.

The Hannah Montana

Hannah Montana The Movie qualified five songs just to torment me. Let’s get this over with

Back to Tennessee“: 6. Nice they let Billy Ray have a song. Awful.

Butterfly Fly Away“: 6. Awful.

Don’t Walk Away“: 6. Awful.

You’ll Always Find Your Way Back Home“: 6. Awful.

“Hoedown Throwdown”: 7. This is a square dance rap. Yes, you read that right. It goes into the “so awful it’s kind of catchy” territory! SO BAD YOU MUST WATCH! BOOM BOOM CLAP!

The Awful

The Word is Love” from Oy Vey! My Son is Gay!: 6. If I didn’t know better I’d say this is a joke video. Also features a horrifying Bruce Vilanch.

New Divide” from Transformers 2: 6. Transformers + Linkin Park = awful.

Possibility” from New Moon: 6. I can’t get over how bad this song is. I don’t know who you are Lykke Li, but you are on notice.

Na Na” from Couples Retreat: 6.5. What AR Rahman does after winning his Oscars for Slumdog Millionaire.

Blanco” from Fast and Furious: 6.5. To be fair reggaeton can only be so good.

One Day” from Post Grad: 6. Jack Savoretti wishes he was Jack Johnson. So that he could be mediocre instead of awful.

AyAyAyAy” from The Maid: 6. I don’t do slow hispanic tunes.

Legendary” from Tyson: 6. Bad Nas song.

“Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea” from Ponyo: 6. Available in Japanese and English (the latter with a little Jonas and a little Cyrus!). Monumentally irritating!

The Boring

Raining Sunshine” from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs: 6.5. Is Miranda Cosgrove ever not boring?

Being Bad” from Duplicity: 6.5. Is this a cha-cha?

Forget Me” from I Love You, Beth Cooper: 6.5. Acoustic version is a little better.

“My One and Only” from My One and Only: 6.5. Did you know Kevin and Bacon and Renee Zellweger did a movie together this year? Anyway, lounge-y and bad.

“Brothers in Arms” from Brothers at War: 6. I had been wondering what the guy from Five for Fighting was up to. Or not. Whatever.

Here” from Shrink: 6. I like Jackson Browne but this is a snoozer.

If You’re Wondering” from The Lightkeeper: 6.5. Yet another female crooner.

Through the Trees” from Jennifer’s Body: 6.5. This band, Low Shoulder, has a future entertaining teens and irritating me.

“Trust Me” from The Informant!: 6. More crooning. Still love the movie.’

“You’ve Got a Friend in Me” from Old Dogs: 6.5. Bryan Adams needs to go away.

The Ineligible But I Wish They Weren’t!

I Can See in Color” from Precious: 9.5. Mary J Blige brings it!

Help Yourself” from Up in the Air: 9.5. Sad Brad brings it! Whoever he is. Good song but it also works very well in the film.

Final Tally

That’s 58 of the 63 songs reviewed; the others I couldn’t find. Average score: 6.9. Yikes! I rated eleven 8.5 or higher, indicative of being worthy of nomination in my eyes. Now what bland, derivative songs will the Academy choose?

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