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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.

Here’s a quick round-up of what we think should win tonight. Follow along to see what Oscar gets right! (Hint: use the “John” column)

Jared John
Picture Argo Django Unchained
Director Spielberg Lee
Actress Lawrence Chastain
Actor Day-Lewis Day-Lewis
Supporting Actress Hathaway Hathaway
Supporting Actor Waltz Hoffman
Original Screenplay Flight Flight
Adapted Screenplay Argo Argo
Animated Feature Wreck-It Ralph Brave
Animated Short Paperman
Cinematography Lincoln Anna Karenina
Costume Mirror Mirror
Film Editing Argo
Makeup and Hairstyling Les Miserables
Production Design Anna Karenina
Score Life of Pi
Song Skyfall Skyfall
Sound Editing Django Unchained
Sound Mixing Les Miserables
Visual Effects Life of Pi

The Oscars are quickly approaching. Because we’ve spent the time to see the nominees and because we’re really smart (and I, at least, have impeccable taste), we’re telling you what should win in all the categories.

The nominees are:

  • Michael Haneke, Amour
  • Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained
  • John Gatins, Flight
  • Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola, Moonrise Kingdom
  • Mark Boal, Zero Dark Thirty

John

This is another tough category for me. It contains a number of films I admire but trying to pick the best writing achievement from them is a hard proposition.

Amour is at the bottom of the pile for me. For those that love the movie, what do they love? The story? The dialogue? The character arcs? No, it’s probably the performances, the shot choices, the pace, and Haneke’s visual style. So vote for him for Best Director.

The problem with Zero Dark Thirty is not torture, per se. All the political hand-wringing about whether it condones torture is overblown. I don’t think it has any duty to explicitly show the downsides of torture (though it is pretty explicit about its horrors). But I think it may have been a better movie if it had. I found the story to be distressingly linear. The key to finding Bin Laden gets discovered very early in the film and much of the rest of the story relentlessly follows that lead, overly simplifying a fascinatingly complex process. Yesterday, Jeff Wells published a response from someone connected to ZDT to yet another editorial about the film. He argues that the film does show the inefficiencies of torture and the years of false starts, but cites literally two lines of dialogue to back that up. I just think the film could have been richer; the film mostly left me with a desire to read a book on the subject to get a more complete view of it. One other script quibble I have is that the film diverts to show literally every major terror attack after 9/11, presumably to add some explosions to the film.

Django Unchained is my favorite film in this category. My favorite film nominated in any category, in fact. Tarantino has made an immensely entertaining film, which is a compliment coming from me as someone who has never fully been on the Tarantino bandwagon. But while I enjoyed the story and the dialogue, all the other elements are what make it so great. The shots, the music, the visual flourishes. There’s no doubt Tarantino “authored” this movie’s success, but in the sense that I’d vote for him for Best Director. (Plus the story tends to meander a bit. People say he needs an editor to cut down on bloated runtime but I think he needs some help tightening up the scripts as well.) I could say the similar things about Moonrise Kingdom. Interesting characters and story but non-script elements make it special.

John Gatins

John Gatins

This leaves Flight, which I think is the movie whose success is most fueled by its script. It takes a story about alcoholism in a creative and compelling direction. Whip Whitaker is a fantastic and complex character. The script also injects some levity into the story, keeping it from getting too bogged down in dreariness. Denzel Washington’s performance and a harrowingly-realized plane crash are other important elements, but a lot of the film’s success started on the page.

Still, if I’m being honest, I’m rooting for Django or Moonrise so that one of them can win something.

What should have been here? I really had high hopes for Looper and it’s a shame it didn’t make it.

Jared

I get on Wes Anderson’s case a lot and I don’t regret any of it. However, his script with Roman Coppola for Moonrise Kingdom does have a lot of sweet moments. The quirkiness gets in the way of everything, but underneath is a touching story of first love and adolescence and being an adult and lots more interesting stuff.

The events of Amour are…”mundane” might be the wrong word, but they are largely commonplace. Which isn’t necessarily an obstacle to making an engaging movie, but throughout Michael Haneke’s whole script I felt like I was watching someone’s home videos. I understand that’s an appealing quality for some people, but I didn’t see the point.

The next three are among my favorite original screenplays of the year. Mark Boal’s script is part procedural and part action thriller. Perhaps unsurprisingly I prefer the latter. The first part of the movie is less remarkable, but it slowly builds to an epic climax. Boal seems really in his element writing tense war action, and maybe a little less confident in the investigation side of things.

I still maintain that Quentin Tarantino would benefit from an editor of some sort to tighten up and slim down his films. But not too much, because there’s a lot of fantastic stuff in there. Tarantino has an absolutely wicked sense of comic relief, the scene with the hoods may be one of the funniest of the year. But like the gruesome shootout at the end (which may be one of the best showdowns of the year), I question how they fit into the movie as a whole.

Great characters start on the page

Great characters start on the page

I was absolutely thrilled to see John Gatins get a nomination here. I thought he had two major roadblocks in his way: the fantastic crash sequence and the stellar work of Denzel Washington. Both of which, of course, stem from the fantastic screenplay. The story is well-plotted and the main character is fascinating. From hotel bed of sin to plane crash to hospital to farm to hearing, the film is always riveting, exquisitely paced, and thought-provoking.

Should have been here: I’d keep Boal, Tarantino, and Gatins. And I’d throw in David Wain and Ken Marino, Wanderlust and Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, and Wellesley Wild, Ted.

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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Oscar nominations are out on the 10th!  I’m taking a look at the state of the race in the eight major categories.  This time: Original Screenplay.

VIRTUAL LOCK

GOOD BET

  • Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola, Moonrise Kingdom
  • Mark Boal, Zero Dark Thirty

Many are hailing Moonrise Kingdom as Wes Anderson’s finest work, that combined with a pretty decent box office seems to suggest he could get in here, a category in which Oscar has seen fit to recognize quirkier fare.  Zero Dark Thirty isn’t out here yet, so I can’t speak to it, but by most accounts it will be a deserving nominee.

LIKELY IN

  • Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master

Buzz has been waning, but the field here doesn’t have many scripts dominating the conversation.  I haven’t seen the movie yet, but it sounds like a film where the screenplay is memorable.

ON THE BUBBLE

  • John Gatins, Flight
  • Michael Haneke, Amour
  • Rian Johnson, Looper
  • Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained

The WGA nod signals that there’s support for Flight, the question may be how many people remember to credit the script for the mesmerizing crash scene and Denzel’s performance.  Amour isn’t out here yet, but from afar seems like the stereotypical arthouse movie: foreign, not widely screened, boring as all get out.  Here’s hoping that last part isn’t true.  Now isn’t the place to discuss, but a Looper nomination wouldn’t make me very happy.  Still, it got the WGA nom, and Rian Johnson does have a distinctive voice.  It is pretty difficult to predict with any accuracy how many nominations Django Unchained will get, but if the Academy is feeling the love, Tarantino could get in here for a script that’s certainly distinctive.

DARK HORSES

  • Reid Carolin, Magic Mike
  • Ava DuVernay, Middle of Nowhere
  • Martin McDonagh, Seven Psychopaths

Carolin’s script feels pedestrian to me, but he’s got 100 million good reasons to call me an idiot.  If the voters are feeling indie, they could go with DuVernay, whose film many people say deserves a wider exposure.  I heart McDonagh, and his script was unique, but this one missed more than it should have.

SHOULD HAVE BEEN CONSIDERED

  • Max Landis, Chronicle
  • Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, and Wellesley Wild, Ted
  • David Wain and Ken Marion, Wanderlust

Over the past two weeks we’ve been revealing our choices for most of the Oscar categories. Here is a handy recap of those picks! Refer to this page often during tonight’s telecast to see if you should be agreeing with the winners! (Hint: use the “John” column)

Adam Brian Jared John
Picture Hugo The Artist Midnight in Paris
Director Allen Scorsese Havanavicius Malick
Actress Mara Mara Williams Streep
Actor Dujardin Dujardin Dujardin Oldman
Supporting Actress Bejo Bejo Spencer Chastain
Supporting Actor Hill Nolte Branagh Plummer
Original Screenplay Midnight in Paris Margin Call The Artist Midnight in Paris
Adapted Screenplay Hugo The Descendants Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Art Direction Midnight in Paris Hugo Hugo Hugo
Cinematography The Tree of Life Hugo The Tree of Life The Tree of Life
Costume Anonymous Jane Eyre
Film Editing Hugo Moneyball The Descendants
Makeup Harry Potter The Iron Lady Harry Potter The Iron Lady
Score The Artist The Adventures of Tintin
Song The Muppets The Muppets The Muppets
Sound Editing Transformers The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Transformers Drive
Sound Mixing Transformers The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Transformers Transformers
Visual Effects Transformers Rise of the Planet of the Apes Harry Potter Transformers
Animated Short A Morning Stroll A Morning Stroll A Morning Stroll Wild Life
Live Action Short Time Freak Time Freak
Documentary Short Saving Face The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom

The 84th Academy Awards is almost here! Leading up to the event, we’re going to put all the hours we spent watching these films to good use by giving our thoughts on all the categories, big and small. We may not be experts on everything, but I daresay that’s never stopped anyone from blogging before. On the (very remote chance) you disagree with us or the (much more likely chance) you want to applaud our picks, please chime in below.

Writing (Original Screenplay)

The nominees are:

  • The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius
  • Bridesmaids, Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig
  • Margin Call, J.C. Chandor
  • Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen
  • A Separation, Asghar Farhadi

JOHN

What a rich category this year as it contains two of my favorite films. I hope Midnight in Paris comes away with the win. It’s such a delightful movie and its success hinges around the script. It’s a film with well-formed characters (as necessary – I don’t think Ernest Hemingway needs to be too developed) and a clever story. It also has some interesting things to say about nostalgia and our relationship with the past. It’s not a profound message but it’s a theme I always find interesting to explore.

My other favorite here is Margin Call. It’s a terrific workplace drama where internal and external forces roil an investment bank over the course of a day. I think it would work splendidly on those terms but it also happens to be right up my political wheelhouse. The film could have easily been a screed against sleazy bankers but I think it takes a more nuanced approach by highlighting the absurdities of their world. The bankers muse that they don’t understand their work or how they make so much money, a sentiment I share. As the problems spread further up the ladder at the firm, our perspectives of the characters change and the villains shift. Plus each subsequent level knows less about markets but more about internal politicking.

I’m thrilled that Bridesmaids is here on a conceptual level, that the Academy is honoring not just a comedy but a raunchy one. I just didn’t respond to the film that much. I felt like it needed a tighter story and a bit better comedic rhythm (plus about 20 fewer minutes). Furthermore, the common film conceit of the main character doing ever more stupid things instead of just talking it out drives me nuts. The discussion around the screenplay for The Artist is going to revolve around whether a dialogue-free film can really have a great script. This ignores the real issue that the film is thin as hell in both theme and story. Any success the film has is due to its performances and visual style. Finally, A Separation just felt like two hours of people being stubborn to me. I wanted it to be more but it never grabbed me.

In my perfect world, the campaign for Contagion would have picked up some steam for its realistic and chilling depiction of a pandemic. The extraordinary amount of detail in the film really sells its realism. Going further afield, some recognition for the clever and thrilling Source Code would have made me very happy.

JARED

I certainly don’t agree with the Academy’s picks here, but I have to respect them.  You’ve got a foreign film, a broad comedy, two dramedies (one of which has no dialogue), and a workplace drama set in the world of finance, by a first-time writer.  Screenplay is one of the few categories where Oscar has some imagination, it would seem.

Margin Call didn’t do very much for me, though I appreciated certain aspects of it.  I thought the way the story unfolded was kinda clever.  And the comparison is a little awkward, but the film reminded me a little bit of this year’s Outrage (which I saw during the DC Film Festival) in how it was about the structure of a company and how that structure affects its impact.  Also, any movie glorifying number crunchers can’t be all bad.  But ultimately, I found the script less compelling as the movie went on, getting bogged down with the situation and all the characters in it.

I really wanted to like A Separation, since everyone was raving about the script.  Instead, I found it to be Law and Order: Iran.  OK, that’s not entirely fair, and learning a little about the police system in Iran was neat.  But the only character I found interesting was the daughter, no one else was sketched out enough to really fascinate me.  And the twists and turns of the plot were more bunny slope than black diamond.

Bridesmaids is one of the weaker films in the Apatow oeuvre, so of course it would be the one to be recognized by the Academy.  Of course, a weaker Apatow film is funnier than 90% of films.  And sure, it is great to recognize a comedy, and not just that, a female-written and -driven comedy.  The movie had plenty of entertaining moments, of course, there’s no denying that.  But the script, overall, wasn’t that strong.  Almost none of the characters were well-developed, and the plot gets a little thing at times.  I’m curious if the script would have been honored if a different actress had been cast in Melissa McCarthy’s part.

Midnight in Paris has a very good script.  Allen shows a light touch, deftly moving between time periods to create an entertaining movie.  But while it may be OK for the historical figures to be caricatures because they are so funny, the broad strokes don’t work nearly as well for characters in the modern era.  Most scenes, save for when Michael Sheen is being pompous, are insufferable.  Which I guess is maybe kinda the point?  The film is breezy enough that it doesn’t really matter.

For me it has to be The Artist.  And to repeat everyone else in the world, it is so wonderful and unexpected to see a silent film get this treatment.  But a script is so much more than the dialogue.  And for a silent movie to be so engrossing today, the script just has to be top notch.  Hazanavicius goes broad comedy and dark melodrama with equal verve and skill.  The movie is laugh out loud funny, and moving, and just plain wonderful.  And that’s largely due to the fantastic script.

ADAM

Midnight in Paris

Well this look at the successful performance showcases, the complement to my earlier look at the failed ones, is ridiculously late. But it’s been sitting on my hard drive for a while so why waste it? Plus many of these are now available on DVD so you can go judge them for yourselves. Though you may as well leave the judging to me, right?

Animal Kingdom

There was a good chance that this one was going to land on the “failed” portion of these posts, but happily Jacki Weaver eked out a Supporting Actress nod for this very low profile film. Animal Kingdom is an Australian crime drama centered around a family of bank robbers. The opening credits made me think I was about to see The Town: Down Under with its images of bank heists. Instead, it’s a character-focused drama about the family unraveling as the crooked cops close in.

Weaver plays the family matriarch. She’s outwardly sweet and caring, but in reality is chillingly ruthless. Her daughter dies of a heroin overdose so her estranged grandson comes to live with her. Meanwhile, her son is hiding out from the cops while the Melbourne police become more brutal with their tactics. The cops begin killing off members of the gang, the gang retaliates, and the heretofore innocent grandson gets entangled in it all.

The movie is very good. I think some people may find the grandson character frustrating as he waffles between his family and the police and seems to willfully put himself in danger. But I think the film does a good job establishing the character and his passiveness. Weaver is quite memorable. I think it’s a role ripe for scenery chewing, but she dials it back and it makes her actions even more chilling. Hopefully her nomination will cause more people to seek out the film.

Rabbit Hole

This story of a couple mourning their recently-deceased son works in parts. Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart grieve in their own ways, which drives a wedge into their relationship. Kidman is prone to awkward public outbursts that can be quite uncomfortable to watch. The film is filled with these scenes and it can be hard to take.

But some scenes are just wonderful. Most of the scenes Kidman shares with her mother, played by Dianne Weist, are terrific and insightful. Eckhart has a nice scene in his son’s bedroom with a family looking to buy the house.

The film is a series of mostly successful individual scenes while some overall plot points fall a little short. I found the relationship between Kidman and a young man sort of contrived, but it yielded several nice moments.

I think your mileage may vary in a heavily dramatic movie like this. What rings true or connects emotionally for one will feel wrong to another. And that is fine, considering the film is about people who express their grief differently.

Kidman is very good and she grabbed the film’s one Oscar nomination for Best Actress. I enjoyed Eckhart, and he did land an Independent Spirit nod, though a few of his showcase scenes didn’t work very well for me. How much was him and how much was the writing, I don’t know. Finally, Weist is also very good and it’s too bad awards momentum for her stalled so early.

It’s a good film that I would recommend, but given its weight I’m not sure if there are many people I’d specifically recommend it to.

Biutiful

We all severely despised this movie. Javier Bardem landed a Best Actor nod for his role as a Barcelona black marketeer who is severely down on his luck. His illegal immigrant workers get deported and he has the heart to care about their families. His own ex-wife is unreliable, leaving him to worry for his children’s safety. He is sick. His dreams are full of tiresome artsy fartsy imagery.

The film received some critical malign for being such a downer. I contend that to be a downer a film must make the viewer care enough to feel the depression and Biutiful fails miserably at that. I wasn’t saddened by Bardem’s slog. I was bored. Very, very bored.

It severely drags. I started looking out for the ending, constantly expecting for the finale to be right around the corner and pondering if I liked certain developments as the denouement. In hindsight it turns out I started doing this about 45 minutes in. That is a bad sign.

Blue Valentine

I anticipated this being up my alley but it started losing me pretty quickly. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are a married couple with a young daughter. The film starts with their relationship in trouble and watches as it crumbles. Interspersed are flashbacks showing them meeting and falling in love.

It reminded me a lot of Revolutionary Road from a few years back. It could be a poignant look at the strains that are put on a relationship, but it’s really just about two people that shouldn’t be together. And at least one is a douchebag. It becomes pretty clear that there isn’t a lot of depth to their relationship and I began rooting against the pair because it seemed like they’d both be better off alone. By the end it was just tedious.

Williams got a Best Actress nomination but it’s surprising that Gosling was barely even in the picture. He didn’t even score any recognition from the Independent Spirits. Maybe the field for Best Actor was just more competitive. But I have a hard time imagining someone responding the movie and Williams’s performance but not Gosling’s.

Another Year

This one isn’t a successful performance piece but at least it did get some Oscar attention, receiving an Original Screenplay nod. Lesley Manville really should have been in the mix for Supporting Actress, but at least she was a contender.

My colleagues liked Another Year considerably less than I did and I understand why. It’s slow with a very understated plot. But it’s all in service of its themes. I’m not sure why, but I’m drawn towards films about the passage of time and the transient nature of lives in this permanent world and Another Year has these in spades. Four segments corresponding to each of the seasons follow English married couple Tom and Gerri as they host family and friends at parties and events over the course of a year. They are in love and appear to have a happy life, but the same cannot be said about everyone else in their coterie. Manville stands out as Gerri’s lonely middle aged coworker who drinks too much at the get-togethers and fancies her hosts’ much younger son.

The film does sacrifice plot for theme. In fact, it would be hard to claim there’s much of a plot at all as the action is all conversation. We do see the characters’ progression throughout the year though much of the action occurs between the seasonal meetings. Mary’s excitement to buy a car and subsequent troubles with said car later in the year is one more light-hearted example.

The slowness did get to me a little as some of the scenes aren’t the best at advancing the themes. I’m happy to accept subtlety when warranted, but sitting through some of the scenes that seemed pointless to me was harder to stomach. With a little tightening it could be more entertaining and packed a heftier punch.

We’re taking a look at Oscar categories in advance of tomorrow’s show. Today we’re on Original Screenplay. The nominees:

  • Another Year
  • The Fighter
  • Inception
  • The Kids Are All Right
  • The King’s Speech

John

This is a really tough category for me. There are three potential winners, each with its own pros and cons. Of course, that makes it easy to discard two. The Kids Are All Right has an interesting premise that it takes in a plot direction that I found not terribly interesting or powerful. I can see why other people reacted strongly to it, but to me it is a mild diversion with promise for much more. And to me The Fighter is painfully straight-forward and much more of an actors’ movie. I don’t know for sure, but the three screenplay and three story by credits screams screenplay by committee and the film sort of feels like it.

This is how you script Inception

But what to do with the other three? There’s Inception, my favorite film of the year. But its success is so much more on the directorial and editing sides, to me. It didn’t get nominated in either of those categories so this could be its shot to be rewarded. I give it high points for having such a great concept and for the imagination required to create the different, interacting dream levels. But it really succeeds in how Nolan visualizes them as a director.

Another Year is a film I liked a great deal more than my colleagues. This is a picture that is very devoted to its theme of the ravages of the passage of time, which it supports beautifully. It does sacrifice plot for its theme, though to my mind that’s not a detriment. A scene that’s slow or subtle can have an impact. But there are several scenes that are both fairly uninteresting from a plot and character perspective AND not particularly good servants to the theme. The late scene featuring the characters of Mary and Ronnie in the greenhouse is an example. Furthermore, it should have been shorter.

I wonder if the way that Mike Leigh composes his movies has something to do with it. He famously relies on actors’ workshops to flesh out characters and plots. And the result is well-developed characters but some meandering scenes. It could use some tightening. The scenes could come together better or more explicitly explore the theme and the less effective ones could have been more direct.

And then there’s The King Speech, a film without a misstep. Every element is solid and it results in an amusing and rousing film. It also doesn’t have anything particularly outstanding. I feel like both Another Year and King’s Speech would have been successful as the same script in a different director’s hands. The same might not be said for Inception. Is that a fair way to judge a screenplay as a separate element? I don’t know.

So what is it? The one I loved for non-script reasons? The one with some really terrific parts and some notable downfalls? Or the one that’s totally solid but didn’t do anything that blew me away? That’s a tough choice. Today I’ll pick Inception, and I’ll be rooting for it on Sunday as it will be the only major category it has a chance in. But my mind may change.

Jared

Original Screenplay is often the category where the Academy will give a token nomination to a smaller, arty movie that is one of my favorite films of the year.  It still makes me smile to think that Lars and the Real Girl received a nomination here.  Of course, the Academy being the Academy, they also often use this category to recognize a smaller, arty movie that I really dislike.  The Messenger last year, for example (over (500) Days of Summer!).  Sadly, this year the academy has chosen the latter option and recognized Mike Leigh’s script for Another Year.  Which was just not good.  Now, I’ll give him credit for creating Lesley Manville’s character (though he obviously must share that with the actress).  But in a sense, she’s quite similar to Sally Hawkins’s character in his prior film, Happy-Go-Lucky.  Both are characters defined by their one-noteness.  They are unique characters, to be sure, but hardly developed.  And the rest of the movie, well, maybe someone out there thrills at the mundane details of a happily married older couple.  I just call my parents.

If you hate sports movies and get a pretty big kick out of insulting working class folk, then I guess I see how you could appreciate The Fighter.  Otherwise, I mean, the script is absolute dreck.  If handed to me, I think I would have demanded every scene rewritten.  The movie flits through time seemingly randomly, stopping to show unnecessary scenes and leaving out interesting or useful ones.  There’s little to no understanding of the relationships of the characters, other than in the broadest strokes possible.  The “humor” is even broader and extremely repetitive.  And the boxing scenes were scripted by someone who might have played Punch-Out once.  To me, the script failed at every conceivable level.

Maybe I’m the weird one, but I tend to prefer comedies to make me laugh, or at least smile a little.  Of course, The Kids Are All Right isn’t terribly dramatic, so I guess you couldn’t call it a drama.  I’m being a little harsh here, the film does at least bring up a number of interesting ideas.  And it does a pretty good job establishing interesting characters.  But the film never rose to the occasion.  The dialogue is serviceable, but never stands out.  The story is fine, but I think it is only a little interesting because of how few movies center on a lesbian couple.  And the script is content with leaving things there.

I think the script to The King’s Speech is being underrated by a lot of non-Academy types.  I’ll be the first to grant that the story arc and themes aren’t exactly novel to the realm of cinema.  But so what?  I don’t think a film has to be unique to be successful, it just has to entertain.  And this script absolutely is entertaining.  It keeps a good pace, has a consistently funny sense of humor, and hits plenty of emotional notes.  If every film were like this one, sure, movies would start getting boring.  But they aren’t, and the vast majority of movies could only dream of having a script of a quality as high as this one.

One thing that’s important to keep in mind is that a script is so much more than dialogue.  All that action, for example, has to be first written down before the director and guys behind all the tech stuff get the chance to work their magic.  Which is something you need to keep in mind when thinking about Christopher Nolan’s script for Inception.  It is big and bold.  It isn’t perfect, but it is wonderful.  Cold and unfeeling, with poor character development, sure.  But fun as all get out.  Without question one of those movies that makes you go, “Wow.”  And isn’t that, really, what movies should be about?

Oscar nominations arrive Tuesday, January 25. To prepare, we’re giving you our sharpest insight and predictions. Our last topic: what are you most hoping will happen tomorrow? If you’re reading this Tuesday, give your favorite Grouch a high five or a supportive pat on the back, depending on what happens.

Brian: Reznor needs to score

Only in the fantastical world of the Oscars would it be possible for a nominee to be just on the edge of being recognized yet should it get nominated, be a favorite for win. That’s the general consensus around Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score for The Social Network. Having already won the Golden Globe for Best Score, you’d think this is a shoo-in. But you’d be wrong. It’s rather astonishing and remarkable that such a simple series of 6 notes could be so evocative. Listening to it while writing this post, I could visualize so much of the film in my head. Like Sorkin and Fincher’s portrayal of Zuckerberg, the score is isolating and contemplative, not to mention brilliant.

Honorable mention: Please Give for Best Original Screenplay. My hobby horse for the year — great storytelling with subtle character development. More to come from me on this one.

John: A Duvall-less Oscars would make me Low

I didn’t have a pet cause this season until right at the last minute. That cause is Get Low, a delightful and touching drama with a nice comedic streak. Robert Duvall gives a wonderful, subtle performance. He’s on the bubble for a Best Actor nomination and I’m rooting hard for him. (I also hold out very small hope for Bill Murray.)

On some smaller notes, I’m rooting for Eddie Vedder to finally land a Best Song nod, this time for “Better Days” from Eat, Pray, Love. It’s actually not a very good song, but… Eddie Vedder! Cmon!

Finally, I just want an out of left field surprise (provided it doesn’t push out a favorite of mine) and/or some better-than-expected love for some smaller films like Another Year.

Jared: Snub Hawkes and I’ll have a Bone to pick with the Academy

I think the other Grouches will agree that this year it is difficult to find too much to root for, nomination-wise.  Films and performances I loved are either safely in the club or so far off the radar that there’s really no chance at all to pick up a nomination.

Still, what fun is this if you can’t root for something?  When I first heard a few months ago someone suggesting that John Hawkes could nab an Oscar nomination, I laughed it off, thinking the person was probably just a huge Winter’s Bone fan forgetting the crush of performances that would enter the fray come Oscar season.  And Hawkes almost didn’t factor into awards season.  Except for getting a SAG nomination.  Which has to establish him as a viable contender, given the frequent overlap between the SAGs and the Oscars.  Hawkes’s role may not be as showy as Bale’s, on the nose as Renner’s, or have the screen time of Rush’s, but his performance is incredibly memorable nonetheless.  Yeah, it would be nice to give someone his first nomination and share some indie love.  But more than that, it’d be nice to recognize a performance that I believe really is one of the best of the year, name recognition be damned.

(As a side note, I’m not hoping for Hawkes as the expense of Ruffalo.  And the thing that would conceivably make me the happiest is a screenplay nom for How to Train Your Dragon, but that seems a little more remote.)

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