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54. Buried

I have to give credit to whoever convinced the financial backers to sink money into Buried.  Pitching a bleak Iraq movie that takes place entirely inside a coffin could not have been the easiest of sells.  Screenwriter Chris Sparling put forth a sporting effort here, but I’m really hoping he learned from the experience for his script for ATM, hopefully to be released in the near future, which is about three people trapped in (by? near?) an ATM while some killer or robber type person lurks nearby.  Ryan Reynolds, the star of Buried, consistently impresses me, hopefully he can soon find a role that showcases his abilities to a wider audience.  Though this one did get an MTV Movie Award nomination.

53. Easy A

Easily my biggest disappointment of the year, though that’s partially due to the absurdly high expectations I had coming in to the film.  I’m, of course, extremely happy for Emma Stone and all the deserved attention, kudos, and roles she’s received as a result.  It is just so weird because I had been crazy obsessed with her and now that’s actually (somewhat) socially acceptable.  But it is OK, I know our love is strong and can withstand all this fame and fortune thrown her way.  I could spend a nearly endless amount of time discussing this movie (I could probably pull together a thesis comparing the film to the heyday of the high school romcom inspired by classic literature subgenre), but let’s focus on the best parts of the film: the scenes with Stone and her parents (Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson).  They last played a couple in 2009’s Blind Date (which I ranked as my 12th favorite movie of the year) and were marvelous, but here they get to be a lot happier.  Honestly, there weren’t too many better scenes in film this year than when Tucci, Clarkson, and Stone were interacting.

52. The Locksmith

I’ll be honest, it is entirely possible I made this film up.  I mean, I remember watching it.  I think I may have streamed it while on a business trip to Vegas.  Because, yes, I am that cool.  But I can’t remember anyone referencing it ever.  I guess that’s the uphill battle one faces when trying to market an independent film with no budget, huh?  Especially one like The Locksmith, which was decent, if unremarkable, and without any particular hook.  It is a day in the life of a guy in a work-release program who works as a locksmith and his encounter with a slightly unhinged woman.  I can’t really give a reason to see it, but I can’t give one not to, either.

51. Micmacs

From Jean-Pierre Jeunet comes this…I don’t even know how to describe it.  I’m a firm believer that restrictions can be good for creativity.  One reason I like one room films is that that I feel by so severely limiting the scene locations, writers and directors are forced to come up with interesting takes on things.  Anyway, the point is, the film kinda felt like Amelie, but without the central love story to guide the film.  So it gets a little unfocused and precious at times, but it certainly has the same sensibilities as the Audrey Tatou-starrer.

50. The Winning Season

I’m a sucker for sports movies.  Which apparently extends all the way to high school women’s basketball movies.  Basketball is, if you didn’t know, a silly heightist sport.  The Winning Season does its very best to avoid the traditional sports movie storylines.  I don’t know why, since they are what make sports movies great, plus the film eventually falls into the cliches anyway.  Plus, it starts on about five or six subplots that don’t really finish up anywhere.  That said, when you’ve got Sam Rockwell as the coach, the soon-to-be-huge Emmy snub Margo Martindale as his assistant, and Emma Roberts and Rooney Mara as players on the team, you don’t need too much else.

49. Frozen

The film cheats a little bit, but 90% of the movie does take place on a ski lift.  Which is pretty cool.  Especially for something that could be described as a thriller.  I actually found the non-ski lift bits to be the weakest parts of the film.  Writer/director Adam Green came up with a pretty smart idea, because I’m pretty sure everybody who has ridden a ski lift has wondered what would happen if they got stuck up there.

48. The Joneses

Saw The Joneses on an airplane.  I’m kinda surprised the film couldn’t find more traction.  It stars David Duchovny, Demi Moore, Amber Heard, and Ben Hollingsworth who all pose as a happy family newly moved in to an upper middle class neighborhood.  But they are, in fact, employees of a company specializing in what may be best described as real life product placement.  The idea being that this seemingly wildly successful and content “family” use whatever items the company wants to see (be it the latest high-tech toys or jewelry or sports drinks or whatever), and then friends and neighbors (including Gary Cole) will want to use those items as well.  Kinda brilliant, actually.  I understand why a movie with this sort of message may not have been the most popular of things, I suppose.  Plus, the requisite love story wasn’t adroitly handled, and the film does get a little dark.

47. Black Swan

Black Swan may have come across our radar once or twice.  I’m mostly talked out about the merits of the film, I think its placement speaks to my opinion.  And like I’ve said, to me, it felt like a horror film for people who don’t like horror films.  A few months ago, when the devastating news came out about Natalie Portman’s pregnancy and engagement, I had an idea to rank Black Swan last and talk about how it was the worst movie in the history of movies.  But this list has too much integrity for that!  Plus, I totally forgot until just now.  Also, I talk about it in the Spirit Awards post, but I’m kinda surprised Vincent Cassel couldn’t build any awards traction.  Seems like he is bound to get there sometime, hopefully soon.

46. Kites (Remix)

What’s the standard complaint about Bollywood movies?  They are too long and have unnecessary musical scenes.  So Brett Ratner said something along the lines of, “Well, heck, let’s just lop off the song and dance numbers!”  Not a terrible idea in theory.  Or in practice, as it turns out.  Some continuity was undoubtedly lost, of course, but the film was generally coherent.  And Kites had much of what I’d expect from Brett Ratner joint: car chases, shootouts, that sort of stuff.  Now, I’m guessing I personally would have liked the Bollywood version better, but I could definitely see this version having more crossover appeal.  Of course, there’s still a pretty big disconnect between Bollywood and Hollywood in terms of sex scenes (or lack thereof) and gratuitous violence, so I think we may still have to wait a bit before seeing a massive crossover hit.  Though I’d love to be wrong.

45. Robin Hood

Perfectly adequate.  I’d heard that earlier takes on the film had all sorts of interesting ideas about where to take the Robin Hood story, but the ultimate product felt very very safe.

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John’s post made me remember I promised to write up a few more categories.  He’s kind to suggest that our “social lives” prevented us from going more in depth.  I don’t like to lie, but I don’t believe a lie of omission is necessarily a lie, so here’s Cinematography and Costume Design, which I believe wraps us up?

Cinematography

Nominees: Black Swan, Inception, The King’s Speech, The Social Network, True Grit

These nominees match up perfectly with the American Society of Cinematographers, who gave their award to Wally Pfister’s work in Inception.  I’m not going to pretend to really know anything about this art form, so sure, I’ll go with the people who actually know what Cinematographers do.  That said, Roger Deakins (nominated for True Grit) is on his 9th nomination and has yet to win, so it would be nice to see him take one down.

Costume Design

Nominees: Alice in Wonderland, I Am Love, The King’s Speech, The Tempest, True Grit

If you’ve seen me in person ever, you probably know I am one of the least qualified people in the world to discuss this category.  So yeah, I didn’t catch the Julie Taymor film, but all the others had pretty clothes, I guess.  But, uh, let’s make me feel good about myself for having seen I Am Love

We continue our discussion casting our votes for the Independent Spirit Awards. Find part one here.

BEST DIRECTOR

  • Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
  • Danny Boyle, 127 Hours
  • Lisa Cholodenko, The Kids Are All Right
  • Debra Granik, Winter’s Bone
  • John Cameron Mitchell, Rabbit Hole

WINNER: Debra Granik (8 points – 3 from Adam, 2 from Brian, 2 from Jared, 1 from John)

Other votes: Darren Aronofsky (4 points – 3 from John, 1 from Brian)

John: Looks like we cared a ton on this one, eh?

Brian: Hahaha. Jared, no love for Aranofsky?

Jared: He crossed my mind, but I really didn’t think the film was anything special.

Adam: Good news! I just filed my taxes. I hated Daddy Longlegs so much I actually started doing my taxes

Brian: I’ll just say that I liked that Aronofsky went balls-out and the overall ridiculousness of the film is largely due to him.

John: To me, Black Swan‘s success, such that it is, hinges on how it displays the descent into insanity. This film could have been a ridiculous melodramatic mess, but it’s an effective as a psychological thriller through Aronofsky’s vision. It’s a good ridiculousness, not a messy roll your eyes ridiculousness

Jared: I guess, to me, the camp didn’t come through, and I didn’t think it was a strong psychological thriller

Brian: It’s not a good movie, but what makes it interesting is Aranofsky’s WTF ness. As for Winter’s Bone — we’ve covered this, I thought the directing was strong enough to compensate for a mediocre script

John: I didn’t care too much who won this one. I like Granik too. She does a good job with the cast and settings. A lot of the cast are non-professionals from the area. I also considered throwing some points to Boyle, but couldn’t justify giving three people votes

Brian: Boyle bleh. 127 Hours bleh

John: 127 Hours is just so bold. It’s almost as much the Danny Boyle Makes A Movie About a Stuck Dude story as much as the Aron Ralston story. But in the end the film just isn’t strong enough, especially compared to Winter’s Bone and Black Swan.

Jared: As a fan of closed room films, I found it distracting that Boyle did everything possible to prevent staying in that closed room.

Brian: I actually had the opposite problem. I thought the flashbacks were way too short. I wanted to know about the character stuck in the canyon and the brief cuts to him as a kid or pre-Kate Mara would have been interesting

John: A major problem I had is that I didn’t realize the visions were actual visions Ralston was seeing in the cave. I thought they were just general artsy fartsiness. That’s a directorial problem

BEST MALE LEAD

  • Ronald Bronstein, Daddy Longlegs
  • Aaron Eckhart, Rabbit Hole
  • James Franco, 127 Hours
  • John C. Reilly, Cyrus
  • Ben Stiller, Greenberg

WINNER: John C. Reilly (16 points – Adam)

Other votes: Ronald Bronstein (10 points – 6 from John, 4 from Brian)

Aaron Eckhart (9 points – 8 from Jared, 1 from Brian)

James Franco (2 points – John)

John: Yowza

Adam: Boooyah

Brian: WHAT? That’s ridiculous

John: Well, there goes my first line of discussion of “We can all agree that John C Reilly doesn’t belong here”

Adam: HAHAHAHA

Brian: Adam, please explain yourself.

Adam: Well, you can either believe that I just wanted to screw everyone over (definitely valid). Or that I actually really liked this movie.

John: Actually, I liked John C Reilly, but behind several of the others. He has a tough character to work with and does a fine job. Eckhart is the most unmemorable one here, I think

Adam: Stiller sucks. Franco was fine but not great. Eckhart was decent. Bronstein was horrible. Process of elimination.

John: But still… 16 points??

Adam: I know how to win.

Adam: I didn’t feel all that strongly about any of the categories so I went big in one. I liked Cyrus more than the rest of you.

Brian: I agree on Stiller, who is easily the worst of the bunch. The angry material is really a bad fit for Stiller.

John: I feel like if you pick a good actor doing great work in a tough role, Bronstein is the answer.

Brian: All I could see was “oh this is Ben Stiller being obnoxious.”

Adam: I actually liked Stiller better than Bronstein, which is saying a LOT.

Brian: I couldn’t see anyone else doing that role besides Bronstein. Easily the most memorable and irreplaceable character of the group of 5 with Eckhart a close 2nd.

Jared: Eckhart’s role is the most subtle of the group, by far. He’s in this fragile situation, dealing with a tragic death, a wife that’s falling apart and trying to maintain some sort of normalcy. And this is exactly what Eckhart does so well, inhabit characters to make them feel so real

Brian: not that it would have made a difference, but I now wish I had given Eckhart more. In terms of snubs, where is Ryan Gosling on this list. I liked Blue Valentine a lot more than the rest of you but I thought Gosling’s performance was great.

John: Yep. He’s good. Not sure how he’s not here. Not sure how Blue Valentine isn’t on this nomination list more, to be honest. I wasn’t thrilled with it, but I thought it would be clean up here. Naturally to me the big snub is Robert Duvall for Get Low.

Jared: I can’t explain the relative lack of love for Blue Valentine either.

John: Also, James Franco is just naturally perfect for his role.

Brian: Yeah, that’s why I didn’t want to give him any credit.

John: If he wasn’t an actor, he may well be Aron Ralston.

Brian: Then why did you vote for him? That’s not acting!

John: I mean, it’s still acting. He also has the charisma needed to lead this movie.

Brian: I’d disagree, but that’s probably because we disagree on the merits of 127 Hours itself. John, why didn’t you like Eckhart? Jared and John, why didn’t you like Reilly?

John: I didn’t dislike him. It’s just solid. He wasn’t a standout for me. But nothing from that film is a standout. I thought Reilly was a case of a name actor getting a nominee for being a name actor, especially since Cryus didn’t get anything else, suggesting no great love for the film.

Jared: I’m a big John C. Reilly fan, to be honest, and I’m not really sad that he’s our pick or anything…this is going to sound weird, but I actually much prefer dramatic John C. Reilly to comedic one.

Brian: I found Reilly all right, but playing a version of the sad sack he plays in every movie and Cyrus was barely even a comedy.

Jared: It wanted to be, I think.

John: I didn’t find him convincing, but maybe that was the writing. He’s like a schmuck in Dinner for Schmucks. They made nearly everything possible wrong with him, but not really a realistic loser. It’s not like he does a bad job or anything. I just think there are better choices. And Bronstein nails the majorly flawed character better.

Jared: I hate to go against you, Adam, but I’d probably have to agree with John here.

Brian: That makes three of us.

BEST FEMALE LEAD

  • Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
  • Greta Gerwig, Greenberg
  • Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
  • Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone
  • Natalie Portman, Black Swan
  • Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

WINNER: Natalie Portman (9 points – 5 from Jared, 3 from Brian, 1 from Adam)

Other votes: Jennifer Lawrence (9 points- 6 from John, 3 from Brian)

Annette Bening (3 points – Brian)

Michelle Williams (1 point – Brian)

By receiving votes from more Grouches, Portman wins the tiebreaker.

Jared: Brian, I’m fascinated to learn why you voted for four actresses, and gave three points to three of them

John: Please explain!

Jared: Maybe he just really hates Nicole Kidman.

Brian: Because I liked all four of them

John: But if you liked them all equally, why 3? Couldn’t use those points elsewhere?

Brian: I really liked Benning, but knew I couldn’t win, so I wanted to show her the respect with 3 pts.

Jared: if you had given all those points to her, you would have.

Brian: I guess. But I also liked Portman, and liked Lawrence, and Williams. So I was torn. I guess I could used the points more judiciously, but I didn’t want to not give points to any of them.

Jared: I’m sure they appreciate the sentimentality

John: I like Portman too. Initially I split my points between Lawrence and Portman. But I was worried 1 or 2 points for Portman would overtake Lawrence. And there it is.

Jared: Honestly, yeah, I’m not entirely certain there’s a wrong answer here. Other than Greta Gerwig, of course.

Jared: I thought Bening was better in Mother and Child. And I dunno, I think Lawrence did a fine job, but I just sort of wonder if the love is for her character or her.

John: That’s a possibility, Jared. But she plays that character well! I think Lawrence stands out, but Portman isn’t far behind. But I still liked Bening and Kidman plenty too. Plenty of strong nominees in this category

Jared: Yeah, it was a very strong year for actresses. Staving off, for at least a year, the seemingly annual column about how there’s not any good roles for women in Hollywood.

John: It was almost so strong I considered not bothering with too many points. But it turns out I would have just wasted them on Bornstein for Actor. I also have a snub for you. Are you ready to boo? Hillary Swank in Conviction.

Jared: I would boo if I saw the film, John.

John: A Swank nomination would have been kind of boringly straightforward, but she really is good

Brian: and here comes the requisite snub mention of Please Give

John: Keener? Her best work of 2010 was in Cyrus. Though I haven’t seen Percy Jackson and the Olympians.

Adam: I have. She’s better in Cyrus.

John: Though, again, in Please Give part of my problem may be the writing

BEST PICTURE

  • 127 Hours
  • Black Swan
  • Greenberg
  • The Kids Are All Right
  • Winter’s Bone

WINNER: 127 Hours (6 points – Jared)

Other votes: Black Swan (5 points – 3 from John, 2 from Brian)

Winter’s Bone (3 points – 2 from John, 1 from Brian)

The Kids Are All Right (3 points – 2 from Brian, 1 from Adam)

Brian: No way! That’s awful.

John: Hahaha unexpected!

Jared: i’m stunned.

John: On the one hand, not what I chose. On the other hand, I clearly didn’t care that much. One awful movie, plus the two worst Oscar nominees in this category. And two fine ones.

Jared: Honestly, I originally had it at about 3 points, but had 3 points left over and figured, eh, it was best picture, I should give it a little more weigh. To me, 127 was the best of a pretty boring set of five. I honestly didn’t really connect with any of them, but Boyle’s film was at least generally entertaining

John: Generally Entertaining is your winner, ladies and gentlemen!

Brian: Ha, for me I also didn’t really care.

John: If Get Low had been nominated I would have pulled an Adam

Brian: had either Please Give or Blue Valentine been in there, I probably would have put down enough points for them to win. At least Greenberg got nothing.

Jared: I’m sad Rabbit Hole didn’t make it over Greenberg, I would have been much happier voting for that.

John: Someone should have sacrificed a point just so Greenberg could be shut out and finish a definitive last.

Adam: Agreed.

Brian: What do you all think will win on Saturday?

John: Kids.

Brian: I think Kids or Swan

John: or Winter’s Bone

Brian: but I lean toward Kids

John: Kids just screams Independent Film

Jared: I’ll go with Swan, I guess…it is such a success story

John: couldn’t that hurt at the Spirits?

Brian: I don’t think so. There have been so many of these lighthearted comedies that have been the sole successes commercially. (Juno, Little Miss Sunshine.) I’d think they would relish a darker film

The Oscars are less than a week away and we’re taking a look at all the categories we care to. Today it’s Actress.

  • Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
  • Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
  • Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone
  • Natalie Portman, Black Swan
  • Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

John:

This is the most unflattering image I could find. I hate you, Natalie Portman.

Two ladies compete for my pick here, but truthfully none of them blow me away. Williams and Kidman are both good, though undermined by some weak material. It’s hard for me to tell what doesn’t push me over the top for Williams. I think the film isn’t successful enough to make her performance connect with me. And Kidman has to deal with a bunch of phony scenes so it kind of feels like she’s Acting Very Hard.

Bening is terrific in a role that takes some range: caring wife/mom, icy household leader, betrayed spouse. But Lawrence and Portman lead for me. I’m glad Lawrence got in; it seemed like her star was falling by nomination time. She’s delightful with her tough, stubborn façade that only occasionally cracks to reveal the unsure teenager she actually is. And at this moment I’ll choose Portman, though maybe I’ll go back and forth a few times. What can I say, she’s fierce! And I think the over-the-top scenery chewing is kept at the right level.

Snubs: My dream ballot would include Hilary Swank for Conviction and Sally Hawkins for Made In Dagenham, both discussed here.

Jared:

I’ll echo the sentiments of every other Oscar-watcher out there and say this year was and extremely strong one for leading ladies.  Honestly, the next five actresses on the list would likely stack up favorably to most other years.

Jennifer Lawrence would probably be the first out of my top five, though I’m certainly not upset she’s here.  I guess I think people are confusing their admiration for her character with their admiration for her a little.  A young, attractive woman struggling to take care of her family against all manners of hardships?  Yeah, that’s a trope the Academy eats up.  That said, she did a very fine job, and I look forward to seeing what she takes on in the future.

Annette Bening is being pipped by some as an upset pick to take home the trophy Sunday night.  In my mind that would be a (deserved) career achievement win.  Something the Academy has <sarcasm> never ever been known to do </saracasm>.  She’s clearly very good in this role, but I’d look to her turn in Mother and Child as the performance that should have been nominated.  To be sure, at times it is hard to separate the character as written from the actor’s performance, but I just didn’t get enough there.  Maybe I needed to see an Oscar Scene (TM).

In Rabbit Hole, Nicole Kidman broke her nearly decade long streak of appearing in forgettable movies.  The tough thing about her character, I think, is that she had to tiptoe such a fine line to retain some of the audience’s sympathy, but almost as little as possible, since her character was so frequently lashing out in an effort to bring some sense of normalcy back into her world.  While she obviously benefited from being a big name (since really, how many people actually saw this film?), Kidman’s nomination was certainly a valid choice.

After The Baxter (and OK, sure, The Station Agent), I’m wholeheartedly in the tank for Michelle Williams.  A sentiment not shared by all of my fellow Grouches.  I didn’t love Blue Valentine because I think the script failed to make me care about the couple.  But I almost shudder to think what the film would have been like in lesser hands.  Perhaps the thing I most like about Williams is that her characters never feel like caricatures.  It is really difficult to describe any of the in a word or two, because they feel like such normal people.

And the second most unfortunate. Damn, she's pretty.

Natalie Portman is dead to me.  Maybe I shouldn’t be so harsh.  I guess I could have been a little more aggressive in pursuing her.  It was actually a little surprising how much of the internet blew up when the news was announced.  She could have had her pick of any nerd out there and she goes with a ballerina?  Anyway, if she weren’t dead to me, I’d probably say that in a year of strong performances, I’m not sure it is particularly close among these nominees.  The role required such range and such ability.  And she pulled it off magnificently.  Black Swan really wasn’t all that special, in my opinion, but a good chunk of the reason it is doing so well is squarely on the shoulders of Portman, who has carried the film on the back of her memorable performance.

Adam:

Is completely unoriginal and also picked Natalie Portman.

The Grouches are Independent Spirit Awards voters this year. That is, combined we are ONE voter under Jared’s name. It costs like $90, you think each of us are going to pony that up?

Besides, merging our four formidable minds into one blob of consensus allows us to devise a complex voting system that makes us to compete for our individual opinions to be heard.

Essentially we each earned points by seeing all films nominated in a category. We can allocate those points to any category so we can – and do! – waste whole bunches of points to ensure our favorites win. For a few categories only one of us saw all the nominees and that person got to choose the winner.

We gathered online the other night to reveal our votes.

BEST FIRST FEATURE

The nominees:

  • Everything Strange and New, about a man who feels trapped in his life by his wife and kids
  • Get Low, following a hermit who decides to throw his own funeral party while he is still alive
  • The Last Exorcism, a “documentary” following a reverend who wants to show the sham of exorcisms
  • Night Catches Us, a drama set in the aftermath of a betrayal in the Philadelphia Black Panther community
  • Tiny Furniture, a semi-autobiographical film about a woman who returns home from college unsure what to do with her life.

WINNER: Get Low

John: My sole vote goes to Get Low, which shouldn’t be a big surprise. I’ll be interested to see what you all think about it should you see it. I don’t know if this is another one of those movies I love and everyone hates or not. It’s amusing and heartfelt. Robert Duvall and Bill Murray are great.

Brian: I look forward to seeing that movie and once again wondering if we saw the same film, like Green Zone.

Jared: I saw all the other films in that category, and I don’t think it is going to take too much for me to agree with you on this choice

John:  If these directors are the future of movies, are you looking forward to the future?

Brian: Having been rather meh on Tiny Furniture, I’m still looking forward to Lena Dunham’s future. I think she has talent — I’d like to see what she can do when it’s not starring her family.

Jared: Adam and I saw Dunham’s actual first feature.  I think she needs to break free from biographical stuff before she really can find her voice. I think working with Apatow could do wonders for her

John: I agree, Tiny Furniture was okay but I’ll probably check out her future work. The Last Exorcism is a pretty straight horror flick but it very effectively got under my skin. If they do some non-horror stuff I’d be interested. Night Catches Us was a very nice period piece. And Everything Strange and New… what would you say about that, Jared?

Jared: I watched that film last night and while I didn’t like it, I think I’m going to rate it higher than you did. That said, I can’t really imagine watching another film from the director. At some point, you just can’t substitute voiceover for actual plot.

John: It’s boring and exasperating. And highlights a common theme of the Independent Spirits this year: Moping.

Brian: This year? Isn’t that sort of the point of independent films?

John: It does take some bizarre turns at the end which are interesting, but also sort of awful and ridiculous. It also has plenty of sad clowns. For real!

Jared: Of the group, I’d probably say the people behind Night Catches Us have the most potential…with some refining and a little less reliance on those archival clips, I think they could really make some interesting films

John: And I feel like The Last Exorcism doesn’t get a great rep in the horror genre. I think I liked it just because it got to me, but I hardly ever watch horror.

Jared: It seemed like standard fare to me

BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE

The nominees:

  • Ashley Bell, The Last Exorcist
  • Dale Dickey, Winter’s Bone
  • Allison Janney, Life During Wartime
  • Daphne Rubin-Vega, Jack Goes Boating
  • Naomi Watts, Mother and Child

WINNER: Dale Dickey (13 points – 8 from Jared, 5 from John)

Jared: Well, sadly, we wasted a lot of points here

John: I considered that you might not give points to anyone else, but I wanted to make sure she had enough in case you for some reason chose Naomi Watts

Jared: Not going to lie, my strategy wasn’t all that different. I was surprised to see Watts here, considering her character is virtually emotionless.

John: I also considered tossing a few to Ashley Bell just in case. Watts could also be considered lead.

Jared: Yeah, Ashley Bell was my runner-up, but again, I don’t think she added anything new to the horror genre. I wouldn’t consider Watts lead, personally.

John: Bell is appropriately creepy as a possessed girl. But this category was more or less a Dickey win by default. She’s good; I might have seen her as an Oscar nominee. But the rest really didn’t do much for me. Dale Dickey is quite memorable. I don’t want to tarnish her work here. But there wasn’t much competition.

Jared: A good summation, I think. I found her just as memorable as John Hawkes and found it unfortunate she couldn’t get much awards traction.

John: To be fair to Allison Janney, what do you do with that material? So, who else could be here? Cyrus is up the Independent Spirit wheelhouse, but no nomination for Marisa Tomei?? That movie flat out fails without her.

Brian: that was rather surprising

Jared: Where was Mila Kunis? I also liked Julianna Margulies in City Island and Rebecca Hall in Please Give

Brian: yes! Mila Kunis of course

Adam: Mila Kunis is ALWAYS a good decision

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

  • Black Swan
  • Greenberg
  • Never Let Me Go
  • Tiny Furniture
  • Winter’s Bone

WINNER: Black Swan (4 points – John)
Other votes: Winter’s Bone (3 points – 2 from Jared, 1 from Brian)
Never Let Me Go (2 points – Brian)

Brian: Booooo. Really, John? Explain yourself.

Adam: Agreed. As usual, John makes a HORRIBLE decision. I am starting to think John doesn’t actually watch the same movies as everyone else.

John: Black Swan gets so much energy from the camerawork!

Brian: The dance was horribly shot because Natalie Portman had to use a body double

Adam: Moving the camera around a lot does not equate to “energy”

John: It puts the viewer into the descent into madness! I also considered Winter’s Bone.  What was special about Never Let Me Go?

Brian: Since no one else voted for it, I’ll give some dap to Never Let Me Go. As we discussed last fall, it had a lot of flaws, but the bleak cinematography really gave us a sense of place and added the dystopian feel of the English countryside. Cinematography was easily the best part of that film and the most memorable.

John: Is that cinematography or a combination of set decoration and pretty scenery?

Brian: I believe reading at the time that they used specific filters

Adam: Is the camera work in Black Swan due to cinematography or editing?

Brian: Or directing?

John: All of the above.

BEST SUPPORTING MALE

  • Bill Murray, Get Low
  • John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone
  • Samuel L. Jackson, Mother and Child
  • John Ortiz, Jack Goes Boating
  • Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right

The votes are all mine!

WINNER: Bill Murray

John: My sole vote goes to Bill Murray

Brian: Shocker. How close were Hawkes and Ruffalo?

John: I really like Murray here. He plays something of a sleazeball funeral home owner and is appropriately funny and smarmy, but also hits the serious notes just right. If this was a competitive category, I might have tossed some points to Hawkes to cover my bases. I really liked him. And I dug Ruffalo as well. So a good top three in that category.

Jared: I also saw four of these films. I think we can agree that Samuel L. Jackson has no business being here, and Jack Goes Boating was so unwatchable, it is hard to tell if John Ortiz was any good. I slightly favor Ruffalo over Hawkes this year, but you can’t go wrong with either, so Murray must have been really great.

John: The movie just connected with me, and the movie is all on Duvall and Murray

Brian: Hawkes really took over the second half of Winter’s Bone — and took care of much of the boredom of the first half.

John: Any snubs stand out here? Since Jackson is such a nothing nom?

Brian: Oliver Platt for Please Give? I could buy it

Jared: Vincent Cassel (Black Swan)

John: True. Strange that Please Give got a casting award but no other acting nominations. Also, Vincent Cassel is a good choice.

Jared: I got the John seal of approval! I also liked Michael Shannon in The Runaways for supporting male.

BEST SCREENPLAY

  • The Kids Are All Right
  • Life During Wartime
  • Please Give
  • Rabbit Hole
  • Winter’s Bone

WINNER:  Please Give (10 points – 5 from Jared, 5 from Brian)
Other votes: Winter’s Bone (4 points – John)

Brian: wooot

John: I kept knocking down points on this one, figuring that my votes would go for naught here

Brian: I knew Jared and my combined points would get us over. I just didnt know how low to go.

Jared: Game theory!

John: I found Please Give pretty bland

Jared: That might be because you don’t have a sense of humor.

Adam: Or taste in movies

John: Good performances. The casting award was probably a good choice.

Brian: For me, it was an exceptional character study. I like ships passing in the night films, and Please Give was no exception to that rule. And for some reason or other, I’m a sucker for old people dying films.

Jared: I found the script to be witty and populated with interesting characters, plus a plot that kept my attention.

Adam: hmm…Jared thought the script was good. The one thing in a movie he actually pays attention to. I feel it is probably a better than even chance I’d at least appreciate the movie

John: Parts of it I liked and some of the characters/relationships. But then it ended and I was like, “shrug.” It may be that we spend so much time with Catherine Keener when she wasn’t interesting and everyone else was.

Brian: Take that back!

Jared: You need a good straight man to highlight the quirks of other people. I don’t think it is supposed to reveal any hidden mysteries of mankind.

Brian: John, what did you like about Winter’s Bone screenplay because I found that to be one of its weaker points.

John: I liked the plot, setting, and characters in Winter’s Bone. They’re all understated, but all compelling. But this also got my votes since nothing else in the category did much for me. Winter’s Bone is a pretty plot-driven movie. It has a lot more of a story than Please Give. I considered Rabbit Hole too, but that script is uneven. I loved certain parts to it and disliked others.

Jared: Rabbit Hole has a surprisingly strong script. It wasn’t great, to be sure, but it was definitely compelling in a way that many other adaptations of plays are not.

John: Like, the whole relationship between Nicole Kidman and the boy felt weird and forced to me. But some of their conversations are terrific.

Brian: I think that was sort of the point

John: For a movie that seemed to try to be quite realist, that relationship felt too cinematic. Like a thing that would only happen that way in movies. Though I felt similarly about a lot of the over-arching plot threads. Not so great at a macro level, but many great individual scenes

Brian: I liked how we were introduced to the boy in that we didn’t really know who he was or why Kidman was stalking him until about 10-15 mins after we met him. The pay-off worked. And the scene with Dianne Wiest and Nicole Kidman was the best of them all. I probably would have voted for it had it not been for Please Give

John: I really liked the scene that gives Rabbit Hole its name

Jared: Same here.

John: Also the scene in the boy’s bedroom. I could list many. But put them all together and it’s like, “another scene where Nicole Kidman says something socially awkward??”

Jared: We can’t move on before discussing Life During Wartime!

Brian: Hahahahaha. Oh man, I really really wish Adam had seen this

John: Absolutely atrocious movie. And the writing is the worst part!

Jared: I will give it credit for its consistency…granted, it is consistently unbearable, but still

Adam: I feel like I have seen enough horrible movies because of you all

Brian: I’ve blocked out most of LDW, but anyone want to reminisce their favorite worst parts?

John: I think Life During Wartime was not as awful as Greenberg because at least LDW had a WTF element that makes you wonder what the hell could possibly happen next. Also: MOPE! MOPEY MOPE MOPE

Jared: haha

John: (plus molestation and suicide)

Jared: and sexual harassment

Brian: and Pee-Wee Herman coming back from the dead!

John: I’m not sure there’s any part I didn’t dislike

Coming up later: the lead actor, director, and best picture categories!

The nominees:

  • Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
  • Joel and Ethan Coen, True Grit
  • David Fincher, The Social Network
  • Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech
  • David O. Russell, The Fighter

Adam

Film Director: a person who directs the actors and crew in the making of a film. They control a film’s artistic and dramatic aspects, while guiding the technical crew and actors. They often develop the vision for a film and carry the vision out, deciding how the film should look.

This is the definition of what a film director’s job is from the source of all knowledge – Wikipedia. I see a director as the story teller. Screen writers write the story, but they are brought to life by the director’s vision. The better the story, the easier it is for the story teller to make the story real/interesting/good. Ultimately, it is the director’s decision how the shots are setup, how the actors act (through endless takes if necessary), and how the final version of the movie works.

I have come to the conclusion, after years of experience, that less than 5% of the Academy has any idea of what a director does or what a good one looks like. One has only to look at the movies nominated this year to see the truth in this. The Academy also has a strong case of envy when it comes to Christopher Nolan. Regardless of how original you think the script is, Inception was easily the best directed movie of the year. Of course, that makes no difference to the Academy as it doesn’t even make the top 5 in their eyes. Let’s take a look at who they thought did better.

Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan

Let me first say that I really liked The Wrestler. I thought Aronofsky did a terrific job of creating a compelling character study of a washed up pro wrestler. Black Swan was less impressive. Part of this was due to a weak script, but it wasn’t that bad. The acting is really what saved this movie from failure. Natalie Portman did an amazing job and absolutely deserves an Oscar. Mila Kunis and Vincent Cassel (as usual) both put on very strong performances – I actually like Mila more than many of the Supporting Actress nominees. That being said, this isn’t a very good movie and most of it is due to Aronofsky’s directing. Portman’s decent into madness seems almost sloppy. There were definitely compelling scenes (e.g. the finger/toe nail and dressing room scenes), however in an effort to raise audience tension/ anxiety, Aronofsky resorts to directing and camera techniques that lead more to motion sickness than to tension.

David O. Russel, The Fighter

This is possibly the worst directed film of the year. There are really only two options when considering how this film was nominated: a.) Academy members thought they were voting for the Razzies, b.) the Academy is populated by a bunch of morons. The script for this film was atrocious, but that only excuses you so far. The fight scenes in this movie (barring the final one) are utter garbage. It’s like Russel has never seen a well done fight scene…ever. I can only assume this was nominate to piss off Christopher Nolan that much more.

Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech

The King’s Speech was one of my favorite movies of the year. An extremely entertaining movie that succeeded despite the fact that the premise is overcoming a speech impediment (not exactly gripping material). However, as much as I liked the film, its real strengths are in the script and the acting. I am thrilled it was nominated, but one of the most impressive things about the direction of this film is that Hooper managed to not ruin the movie. That may be a disservice to Hooper, though. He did a tremendous job of pulling this movie together and making it the entertaining production that it turned out to be.

David Fincher, The Social Network

What can I say about David Fincher? In the 1990’s, he made three movies I really enjoyed (Seven, The Game, and Fight Club). In the 2000’s, he made two movies I was not impressed at all with (Zodiac and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and one I didn’t see (Panic Room). After going back and thinking about these movies as a whole, I came to one conclusion: David Fincher is completely dependent upon the script he has been chosen to bring to life. Now, some may argue that that is the fate of any director. My rebuttal is that Fincher doesn’t seem to bring much else to the table, and, in fact, may even negatively impact any production he is associated with. After watching his movies, I would pay good money to see what a more talented director could do with Seven and Fight Club. The Social Network falls into that same category. I really liked this movie despite hating Facebook and rarely being impressed with Fincher. This is due solely to Aaron Sorkin’s script. We’ll talk more about that in a later post, but it is important to note that any success that The Social Network has is entirely the result of a fantastic script. This year, Fincher is once again saved by (and lauded for) being associated with an award winning script. Great job, David, not completely ruining this movie. (That’s about the biggest complement I can give him as the directing in this movie was uninspiring to say the least, and, in my opinion, negatively impacted the movie.)

Joel & Ethan Coen, True Grit

I appreciate the Coen brothers. I may not always LOVE their movies, but I can almost always appreciate what they were trying to accomplish. The way in which they approach and execute their movies is very impressive. True Grit is no exception. It is rare that a remake is better than the original, but the Coen brothers were able to accomplish this feat handily. Their re-envisioning of the beloved John Wayne movie is impressive – I enjoyed their version a lot better than the original. Joel and Ethan excel at giving their movies scope and depth using the locations and sets of their movies. Shots are meticulously planned and executed to get the most of both the action and the backdrop. This movie was no exception. The biggest flaw was the ending. The last 5-10 minutes of the movie were horrible. This is the only aspect of the movie that was far inferior to the original.

Who Should Win: Christopher Nolan

However, since he can’t win: Toss-up between the Coens and Hooper, but I probably give it to the Coens. Either would be fine with me, though.

Jared

The Fighter is one of the worst-directed films of the year, and I’m stunned so few people seem to be on the same page as me here.  Sure, David O. Russell was working with a crappy script.  But take any boxing scene from the film, other than the final fight.  Take it and burn it because it is nothing less than an insult.  At best, they are cut scenes from a low-grade boxing video game.  They alone should have prevented Russell from getting a nomination.  While it is hard to blame Russell too much for the rest of the movie’s failures, I do think he heavily contributed to the repeated references, to the point of being really obnoxious, that the family was lower class.

I’m clearly just not on the same page as the Coen brothers.  If one of the major roles of a director is establishing a compelling tone, then the Coens have missed the mark on that front.  With True Grit, as perhaps other of their films of late, I never really felt drawn into the story.  And while a lot of that is on the script, I think some of it has to be thrown at the feet of the brothers’ directing efforts.  Similarly, Aronofsky’s directing in Black Swan was fine, but not awards-worthy.  He had a difficult task, at there was a lot of incomplete thoughts going on, to be sure.  But I think the film would have had a significantly stronger impact if, for example, it had been directed by someone with more of a feel for horror films.

So we’re down to the big question, Hooper or Fincher? The two films are pretty different and demanded quite different styles.  Sure, The King’s Speech is a lot less showy than The Social Network.  But I think it is a testament to Hooper that he didn’t get in the way of the story.  Starting with that cast is a big leg up.  Hooper’s straightforward style runs with that advantage, creating a crisp, efficient feel that is quite effective for the film.

But I’ll join in with the chorus who say that it was Fincher‘s directing that made Sorkin’s script something truly special.  I wasn’t in Fincher’s camp at first, when I mainly though of the regatta scene, and how odd it was.  Instead, take the scene in the bar with Justin Timberlake.  Other directors may have turned that into artsy, clubby nonsense.  Instead, Fincher rather effectively creates an atmosphere that furthers the story.  Really, the shifts in tone from location to location are pretty remarkable, and I think a good chunk of the credit there goes to Fincher for effortlessly weaving together the different parts of the story while maintaining a consistent overall tone.

John

I’ll leave the vitriol and verbosity to my colleagues. I quite liked all the nominees. When talking directing, there’s no better indicator of greatness than simply making a great movie, but I also look for things like vision, style, tone, and pacing.

A few of these nominees stand out from the others. The Coens create what I would call a well-crafted movie. It’s one of those films where all the technical elements come together so well: camerawork, acting, sets, costumes, music. I wish it added up to a bit more. Aronofsky produces the flashiest work of the group. Black Swan is intense and frenetic and his capable hands. I’ve loved all of his films I’ve seen so I’m glad to see him finally get some Oscar love.

My winner, fairly handily, is Fincher. Adam is too uncharitable here. The script simply establishes the dialogue and structures the story. The shot composition that follows a complex narrative and rapid fire dialogue, the film’s cool aesthetic, the varying but always spot-on tone, the breathless pacing: these have Fincher’s fingerprints all over them. There are an unlimited number of directions the exact same Sorkin script could have gone in someone else’s hands. It’s great with Fincher at the helm.

Snub: The best directed film of the year is Inception. What creativity! What vision! What style! What does Christopher Nolan have to do to get a directing Oscar nomination??

The Oscar ceremony is just a few days away. With dozens of films under our belts it’s time for us to weigh in on this year’s nominees. We’ll be doing our usual in depth analysis for the major categories, but we’ll give some of the ol’ Grouch treatment to the smaller and technical categories as well.

Today, I (John), tackle Visual Effects and Film Editing. Feel free to make your preferences known in the comments, especially if you happen to know more about these subjects!

Visual Effects

The nominees:

  • Alice in Wonderland
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 1
  • Hereafter
  • Inception
  • Iron Man 2

By seeing Hereafter on a whim months ago and Tron: Legacy getting a surprise snub here, I happen to have seen all the nominees. Hereafter is the one that strikes me as behind the others. It’s nominated based on an opening sequence where a character is caught in the Boxer Day tsunami. It’s a terrifying sequence and very effective from a film making standpoint. You really feel in the middle of the swell and experience its power. I know the sequence is well-respected in the field and I know water is particularly hard to work with in effects, but I must admit it set off my realism sensors. It’s hard to explain, but little things let me know it wasn’t real, like little errors in physics or the interaction between the animated water and filmed background. Also, it’s a support sequence up against four films reliant on visual effects.

I don’t have much to say about Iron Man 2, Alice in Wonderland, or Harry Potter except that they have good and frequent visual effects in films that are bad, very bad, and mediocre, respectively.

I choose Inception as my winner. It uses its effects mostly cleverly (though as a very clever film one would hope the visuals would also be clever). I also like that it’s a mix of computer generated and more traditional special effects. There’s a city that folds onto itself, but they also built an actual spinning hallway and blew up a model winter fortress.

Film Editing

The nominees:

  • Black Swan
  • The Fighter
  • The King’s Speech
  • 127 Hours
  • The Social Network

I won’t pretend to be an expert in editing. It’s one of those things you don’t usually notice unless it bothers you or if it’s flashy. The Oscars often reward Best Picture contenders or films that have the most editing, like the Bourne Ultimatum debacle.

The editing in 127 Hours provides some necessary pizazz. The guy’s stuck under a rock. You gotta get some energy from somewhere. Black Swan ratchets up the intensity. But I’ll go with The Social Network for maintaining clarity during fast-moving scenes with rat-a-tat dialogue and nailing all its dramatic and comedic beats.

Snubs: Forget a nomination snub, the winner here should be Lee Smith for Inception. The film is an editing marvel, weaving together multiple dream narratives moving at different speeds and keeping it all coherent, especially at the end.

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

John:

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

Four Lions for Original Screenplay.

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

Brian:

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

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

Jared:

Shutter Island for Best Picture

Noomi Rapace for Actress

Rooney Mara for Supporting Actress

Vincent Cassel for Black Swan for Supporting Actor

[ed. note: Apologies for the delay in posting this QotW.  My computer’s hard drive crashed last week (for the second time this year), so our responses may be slightly out of date.  This question went out before TIFF and Venice.  Hopefully we’ll get back on schedule soon.]

This week’s installment: What yet-to-be-released potential Oscar contender or contenders are you most looking forward to seeing?

John

I had been getting excited for this fall, but when I went to check the list of suspected contenders at the usual awards sites, well, yikes. I mean, did you know there’s a period piece this winter about King George IV’s speech impediment and how he overcame it? Lord.

For now the prognosticators can play it safe with the likes of Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours. (How do you go from pulsating Mumbai to a whole movie where a guy is just stuck under a rock? It sounds like a snoozefest.) But as time goes on some of these pictures that have awards season written all over them will fall by the wayside and some interesting stuff will take their places. Meanwhile, the one I’m most looking forward to is Black Swan. Darren Aronofsky has a terrific track record and this one is a psychological thriller with Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis. Okay, so it’s set in the world of ballet, but otherwise it couldn’t sound more exciting.

I’m also looking forward to True Grit. An interesting string of westerns have come out in recent years and the Coens’ take on any genre is something to anticipate. I can totally see Jeff Bridges and Josh Brolin in a western, but I’m interested to see what Matt Damon will do.

Finally, I have Another Year and Blue Valentine pegged as this year’s films I will love that the rest of the Grouches hate.

Jared

In case anyone out there would like a summary of the very rough Oscar picture, I though In Contention did a nice job recently.

I dunno, John.  Sure, The King’s Speech is Oscar-baity as all get out.  But it was directed by the guy who did The Damned United and features a pretty fun cast, including Colin Firth in the lead.

You definitely stole one from me, though.  Sure, Portman and Kunis are ridiculously attractive, but I tend to have extremely visceral reactions to Aronofsky’s work (well, The Wrestler was a little more muted, I suppose).  Similarly, the pairing of Knightley and Mulligan has me intrigued for Never Let Me Go.

There’s also a few films being bandied about now for the Oscar race that I’m not yet convinced will make an impact.  If The Tourist actually makes a play, you are looking at a film with Jolie, Depp, and Paul Bettany directed by the guy who did The Lives of Others and written by guys who wrote Gosford Park, The Young Victoria, The Day After Tomorrow, and The Usual Suspects.  And you may have recently seen the trailer for Love and Other Drugs.  I haven’t loved the few Ed Zwick movies I’ve seen, but I was completely sold on the trailer.

But if I had to name one film, it’d be The Social Network.  In Jesse Eisenberg, it has the star of my favorite 2009 film.  Rooney Mara seems on the verge of a breakout.  While I haven’t loved David Fincher’s films, I’ve certainly liked them.  Plus he did the video for Englishman in New York!  But, of course, the main reason I’m most looking forward to the film is because it was written by Aaron Sorkin.

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