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With Oscar nominations just days away, I must admit this is a weird year for me. First, I feel somewhat less engaged than normal. The earlier nominations (they are announced two weeks earlier than they used to be) mean that I’ve seen fewer of the contenders. Perhaps I’m paying a bit less attention. Maybe I haven’t found anything to champion. But this year it’s not for a lack of good movies but because many of the ones I liked are getting plenty of awards chatter.

But surely there will be a few things that would excite me on Thursday morning.

oblivion

1) Let Oblivion get nominated for something. In particular I have M83’s fantastic score in mind. The film’s end credit song, naturally called “Oblivion,” is eligible in the Best Original Song category and would be a good choice in a year of lackluster choices. A nod in the Visual Effects category would be well-deserved too. In other words, I’m hoping for an Original Score nod but would take the others as consolation prizes.

isaac llewyn davis2) I’m worried Inside Llewyn Davis is turning out to be the contender that will be just on the outside. If anything is going to get edged out in some big categories (Picture, Director, Actor, Original Screenplay), this seems to be the one. It’s not a movie I immediately loved, but it’s sticking to my bones and that’s usually a sign of a film that I grow to love. I hope Oscar Isaac sneaks into the Best Actor lineup.

louis dreyfus gandolfini enough said3) Some love for Enough Said would be wonderful. I was the Golden Grouch detractor on Nicole Holofcener’s last film, Please Give, but I was totally on board with this one. James Gandolfini has received due praise (though I can’t help but think his death is playing a role in that) but Julia Louis-Dreyfus is a revelation. It seems extremely doubtful that she’ll claim a nod but she’s at the top of my list so far. A Gandolfini Supporting Actor nomination or one for Holofcener’s Original Screenplay would be excellent.

gatsby lana4) I don’t think it’ll have much trouble getting them, but some craft nominations for The Great Gatsby would be nice to see. Production Design would be at the top of my list. Meanwhile, the film contributes my favorite of the Best Song contenders, Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful,” which has the added benefit of having a killer placement in the film. “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody” from – gasp! – Fergie would also be a decent choice.

 

 

broken circle breakdown5) It’s not exactly a fair wish as I haven’t seen the other films on the shortlist, but I’m hoping for a Best Foreign Language nomination for The Broken Circle Breakdown. It doesn’t always work, but the parts that do pack some of the most powerful punches in 2013 cinema.

So that’s my list. In two weeks when I’ve finally caught up with the likes of Fruitvale Station, Wolf of Wall Street, Her, and Nebraska I’ll probably have a lot more to add. I’ll look back at this prior version of myself who contentedly set his hopes low and pity him once I know better. But for now I’m an easy man to please.

Nominations are less than a day away! Time to put our forecasting mettle to the test and see if we can’t pick the nominees. Jared and I did all non-short categories and Brian joined us for the big six. I’ve highlighted in yellow where we differ.

Check back tomorrow to see how we did!

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I think Oscar news outlets feel forced at this point to complain about the Foreign Language shortlist each year. And it’s getting kind of stupid.

The Hollywood Reporter has a basic “the picks are controversial” story that proceeds to list five of the nine shortlisted films as good and expected. But then it goes on to complain about a bunch of films that always had problems. Miss Bala and Le Havre just aren’t very good. No one had anything good to say about Flowers of War. Where Do We Go Now? and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia never really had the festival impact to justify complaining about their omission and The Turin Horse apparently spends much of its runtime literally watching potatoes boil.

Furthermore, Belgium’s choice of Bullhead over The Kid with a Bike not only resulted in a shortlist spot but was also a good pick.

This slate strikes me as a good one, despite seeing just one of the films. It’s a good mix of the expected juggernauts and the unknown that a competition like this is meant to uncover.

But at least the Hollywood Reporter and I can agree on something: Spain’s choice of the lackluster Black Bread over the terrific The Skin I Live In is ridiculous and it may have cost them a nod.

It’s time for the third and final part of my round-up of the films I saw at the 2011 AFI Latin American Film Festival in the Washington, DC area. Also see parts one and two.

No Return (Sin Retorno), Argentina/Spain, dir: Miguel Cohan

Clubbing wasn’t the gritty morality tale I was expecting, but No Return sure fit the bill! After a hit and run death in Buenos Aires, police zero in on a suspect: Federico, a young family man (and ventriloquist!). But, while Federico is not totally blameless, he is not the killer. Matías, a teenager from an upper class family, is the true culprit. His panicked reaction to the accident has him claiming he was carjacked.

The film spends some time with Federico and his legal troubles as he slides from incredulous assertions of innocence to bitterness. The victim’s father plays a role in publicly shaming Federico and forcing the prosecutor’s hand. The film really shines when focusing on Matías and his family as they continuously double down on their cover-up and justify it to themselves. The strain, conflicted emotions, and intense guilt of the situation are portrayed beautifully.

The plot does sort of go off the rails a bit at the end, but even so the film is quite effective and had me totally riveted. The performances are top-notch across the board. It’s not the most pleasant film to sit through, but if you’re in the mood for something a bit difficult this is a very good choice. A-.

Miss Bala, Mexico, Gerardo Naranjao

If there’s one thing that the drug wars in Mexico have given us it’s the ability to use the prefix “narco-” in front of any word. Well, great ready for much narco-tinged discussion this Oscar season as this narco-thriller gets a major push to bring the Foreign Language award back to the narco-torn country of Mexico. Not that I particularly liked it. I just know that everyone else seems to.

Stephanie Sigman plays Laura, a Tijuana youngster who aims to compete in the Miss Baja California competition. But she attends the wrong party and crosses paths with a drug cartel. Soon she is an unwilling participant in the cartel’s activities, running errands and even doing its bidding in the beauty pageant.

Over the course of a few days, Laura is thrust into a slew of violent situations. The action sequences are sort of the standard movie shootouts with the nice twist of always keeping the focus on Laura. Rather than showing an entire battle, we see Laura stumble, flee, and hide.

This strict point of view also may be part of what disappointed me. I found a bunch of the cartel content quite hard to follow. I suspect that’s on purpose as we only know what Laura knows and she’s swept up in a much larger force of which she only sees a small part. But the result is that I didn’t end up caring. This made the thrills less thrilling and the tension less tense. So I could watch and enjoy the scenes but never felt invested.

I doubt confusion over plot points was the sole reason I was left cold but I can’t really explain any other factors. I’ll actually be interested to see it again in case I was just having a bad night or something. Everyone else seems to love the film and it’s sure to make a splash as Mexico’s submission for this year’s Foreign Language Oscar. I hear Fox is giving it a large commercial push later in the year as well. B-.

Blackthorn, Spain/France/Bolivia/USA, dir: Mateo Gil

Making a sequel to a classic film is an invitation for derision. Thankfully, of the commentary I’ve seen on Blackthorn, a sequel to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, not much of it has devolved to the lazy criticism of questioning the point of its existence. I think that if you believe you have an interesting take on classic characters, go ahead. But just know that comparisons are inevitable and it’s a hard bar to clear.

So let’s just judge Blackthorn on its own merits: which is that it’s sort of meh.

Blackthorn imagines a world where Butch Cassidy survived the raid at the end of the original movie and has been hiding out in Bolivia for a few decades. He decides it’s finally time to head home and sets off, just to have his journey interrupted by a Spaniard on the run after stealing from a local mining bigwig. The pursuit takes the pair through the Bolivian landscape, through valleys and across desolate deserts.

The Bolivian setting gives it a slight air of exoticism, but it’s really quite similar to what you’d expect an American Western to look like. The story is decent though not especially compelling. The film really shines in a couple of scenes, such as a protracted chase across an expanse of salt flats. But I’m not really sure this movie needed to feature Butch Cassidy. I admit I haven’t seen the first film so maybe I don’t have the best perspective, but it seems like the narrative would be fine with new characters. Flashbacks to the younger outlaws during the time of the first movie and soon after don’t help the film at all and the reintroduction of a character from the first film in Blackthorn’s third act only serves to convolute things. Consequently, forging it as a sequel seems a little gimmicky.

The AFI calls it a Bolivian film for the purpose of its festival, but much of it is in English and the star and (I think) much of the financing are American. It is playing in limited release in America this fall. Outreach to Oscar bloggers suggests the studio is trying some sort of Oscar push for lead Sam Shepard, but there’s no way that’s happening and it’s for the best. B.

This ends our coverage of the AFI Latin American Film Festival. It was a pretty good year and maybe slightly better than last year. And now my attention shifts to another AFI fest, this one the AFI European Union showcase which includes some Oscar contenders and Foreign Language category submissions. Stay tuned!

I took a long break between posts about the AFI Latin American Film Festival to go to, well, Latin America. Two weeks eating steak in Argentina make me an expert now, right?

Carancho, Argentina, dir: Pablo Trapero

Here’s a hint to other travelers: don’t watch a movie about how dangerous your destination is just days before leaving. Carancho is set on Argentina’s dangerous roads and made me worried to jump in a cab while I was there.

The plot revolves around a dirty lawyer who chases ambulances in Buenos Aires, signing victims to represent, then pocketing most of the insurance settlements. Or sometimes he skips the chasing and just stages the accidents himself. The life is weighing on him, but his attempts to exit the business are stymied by his criminally-connected boss. Meanwhile, he begins a relationship with a paramedic.

The film is good, but uneven. The lawyer’s plight is more interesting than the paramedic’s and it’s one of those movies that is better thematically than narratively. In other words, it’s more interesting thinking about it later than sitting through it. The lawyer is fascinating and he is more than the simple “bad guy looking to for a way out” stock character. I loved the ending, especially the very, very end, which is a bit deus ex machina but perfect.

Argentina nominated Carancho for the Foreign Language Oscar. It is coming off a win in the category last year with The Secret in Their Eyes and the two films share star Ricardo Darín, so it’s sure to get some attention. I doubt it will grab a nomination, however. Scott Cooper, who directed Crazy Heart, is said to be in line to direct an American remake.


Bad Day to Go Fishing (Mal día para pescar), Uruguay, dir: Álvarao Brechner

This is sort of like the South American The Wrestler. A washed up East German professional wrestler travels around dinky South American towns challenging locals. His manager sets up the bouts and fixes the outcomes while convincing his frustrated star to stick to it and not return home. In one town, a capable opponent refuses to be bought and the prize money the challenger stands to win would bankrupt the traveling star.

This one’s a bit of a bore. I wouldn’t say it fully drags, but the lack of progress in the middle wore on me. Part of that may have been that I thought I knew where the plot was heading. Happily I was wrong and the ending is terrific. All in all a decent film.

 

And that brings to an end our coverage of the AFI Latin American Film Festival. Also see Part 1 and Part 2. I had a nice time over those few weeks and it was a good way to get ready for my trip (and tune up my Spanish). AFI does some interesting programs throughout the year and hopefully I’ll be able to take some in.

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

The Big Eight:

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

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

Well the nominations have been announced and those looking for surprises are happy this morning. The Grouches did get at least one nasty surprise.

Dark Knight Debacle

I was expecting the Academy to screw up and skip over Dark Knight for Best Picture. I thought Christopher Nolan had a better shot at Director. But the huge surprise was no Adapted Screenplay nomination. Four of the five Best Picture nominees were nominated in that category with the fifth slot going to Doubt. That’s a pretty shoddy film to be passed over for.

On the other hand, it got nominated in every technical category it was eligible for besides Score and Costume for a total of 8 nominations (including Supporting Actor Heath Ledger).

The Winslet Conundrum

Kate Winslet was aiming for Lead Actress in Revolutionary Road and Supporting in The Reader despite both roles probably being lead. She won these categories at the Globes. But the Academy puts her in the Lead role for The Reader and nothing for Road.

So we can play the what if game. Rules in the acting categories state an actor cannot: a) be nominated more than once in the same category, nor b) be nominated twice for the same role. If those rules were removed I would not be surprised if Winslet qualified for Lead for both roles AND Supporting for The Reader. When something like this happens the Academy goes with the role that got the most support and that apparently was Lead for The Reader.

Hooray for Little Movies!

My happiest moment came with the announcement of Richard Jenkins for Actor in The Visitor. Melissa Leo also managed an Actress nod for Frozen River when it seemed like her chances were fading. The biggest out of nowhere surprise may be that film’s Original Screenplay nomination.

Leo’s inclusion may have meant Sally Hawkins’s exclusion for Happy-Go-Lucky but that film still managed an Original Screenplay nod. And that interesting category ALSO includes the wonderful In Bruges. Plus WALL-E, which no one would call a little movie. Those interesting nominations pushed out films like Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Burn After Reading, however.

Long shots Darren Aronofsky and the film itself for Best Picture didn’t pan out, but at least Marisa Tomei was able to join co-star Mickey Rourke as an acting nominee for The Wrestler. That’s great, though the film really should have gotten a screenplay nod. And Bruce Springsteen’s exclusion for Song is downright confounding.

Other Surprises

I’m not complaining, but it was widely expected Dev Patel to get a Supporting Actor nomination for Slumdog Millionaire and he did not. Instead Michael Shannon from Revolutionary Road snuck in from way back in the pack to give the film its only major nomination.

Another puzzling exclusion was Waltz with Bashir in the Animated Feature category. The animated, foreign-language documentary was nominated for Foreign Language Film and ineligible for Documentary Feature. Kung Fu Panda and Bolt join WALL-E as Animated Feature nominees. After the near unanimous love for the film its absence is quite surprising.

So Jared got his wish for some surprises but managed to be nearly completely wrong in his predictions.

Some other prediction notes after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

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