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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

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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.

Actress in a Supporting Role

The nominees are:

  • Berenice Bejo, The Artist
  • Jessica Chastain, The Help
  • Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
  • Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
  • Octavia Spencer, The Help

ADAM

Berenice Bejo.  (He is a man of a few words.)

BRIAN

This is the first of a series of posts where I am generally apathetic about the winner. The distance between my pick and my least favorite nominees in supporting actress is pretty narrow, so I won’t dwell on this bunch much. Missing in this group is Jessica Chastain for Take Shelter, Shailene Woodley in The Descendants (I don’t want to hear it, Jared), Helen McCrory in Hugo, and Allison Pill in Midnight in Paris. All would have been strong contenders for my pick but since all were ignored, here we go:

I didn’t like Albert Nobbs very much at all, and contrary to John’s crackpot theories about her being a ringer for the Babysitter Bandit from “The Simpsons”, Janet McTeer wasn’t anything revelatory in it. I actually was surprised that she wasn’t in it for longer, considering the buzz she had been getting. Melissa McCarthy was funny and stole the show in Bridesmaids, but this also didn’t really stick with me. Much like the movie is getting notice and recognition for writing a gross-out movie for females, McCarthy was nominated for playing the gross-out role usually portrayed by men. But just because its novel doesn’t mean its anything special.

As for The Help performances, I liked Chastain and Octavia Spencer in their respective roles. I was more disappointed to not see Bryce Dallas Howard nominated for playing against type and really chewing the scenery in the fun “Worst Racist Ever” role. Chastain had a tremendous year — I clearly would have preferred to see her nom’d for Take Shelter — so I think this is mostly a cumulative nod. Spencer wasn’t playing a very nuanced role, so she never got to show the depth her fellow cast member Viola Davis did.

My pick would go to Berenice Bejo — She was an adorable ingenue with heart, class, smarts and that came through with having much less screen time than Jean Dujardin. I’d be really pleased if she took home the Oscar, even though that’s looking increasingly unlikely.

JOHN

This slate of nominees sure shows of the year’s range of quirky characters. We’ve got the silent actress hamming it up, the over-the-top bubbly blonde, the sassy black maid, the woman dressed as a man, and the overweight weirdo from a buddy movie. With a group like that I get worried about distinguishing the acting from the written character. Of course the performer goes a long way in building a character… but it helps when the script gives them good lines. Still, it’s a fine group.

I guess I think of this most in regards to Melissa McCarthy. She steals a lot of scenes, but that’s the job the script gives her. I know McCarthy has some range. Check out the differences between her work in Bridesmaids compared to more softer roles in “Mike & Molly” or “Gilmore Girls.” I especially dug the confident bravado she brings to the character, but, like with many performers in the Apatow oeuvre, I feel like I can see the wheels turning in her head during more improvised scenes and she’s just spit-balling lines. So, I’m conflicted and sway back and forth.

Spencer will probably walk away with the Oscar, but I think I somewhat prefer Jessica Chastain. I can’t really explain what drew me to her and it may also have to do with her all around extraordinary year. If she got a nod for Take Shelter instead it would have been a slightly easier decision. Both are quite memorable in The Help and I think Chastain ends up displaying a little more range. Honestly, it’s possible I would even abstain in this category if I were a real voter since I don’t really care much who wins among this solid if not mind-blowing crop.

JARED

Sorry for pulling a Brian here, but I’m a little miffed Elle Fanning didn’t make the cut, especially in a year with a theme of Hollywood on Hollywood.  On a plane ride with access to Super 8 after I’d already seen it in theaters, I fat-fingeredly found my way to the scene around the train crash, where she first “acts” and where she pretends to be a zombie, just because she’s so good in them.

Without a doubt, the best performance of this lot is Berenice Bejo.  Her role required a wide range of emotions and the ability to express them both broadly and in a subtle manner.  Additionally, the character and movie required a good deal of physicality.  And get your mind out of the gutter, I’m talking about her dancing and just motion in general.  Unfortunately, I have a little bugaboo about category fraud and to me, Bejo is a clear lead of The Artist.  As such, I can’t give her my vote, sadly.

Jessica Chastain, like an increasingly impressive number of twenty-somethings, appeared on Veronica Mars, and thus will always have my respect.  I realize she pretty much “had” to be nominated, given her year, but I don’t buy that reasoning.  You want to celebrate someone for being solid in a bunch of movies that happened to be released in the same year?  Fine.  Create an award to honor it.  We did, sorta, doing a Laura Linney of the year a few years back.  But Oscar should be for a single performance.  And I just don’t see it here.  Chastain, to be sure, was fine in the role, but there’s nothing to distinguish her from, say, Bryce Dallas Howard.

If Janet McTeer had a few more scenes, I could see her atop my rankings.  I was particular impressed with how she seemed to move and have the presence of a man, particularly of her (presumably lower middle) class.  It was an interesting juxtaposition with Close’s more timid, androgynous Nobbs.

I love that Melissa McCarthy got an Oscar nomination.  Just such an un-Oscar role.  Obviously having a good script helps a ton.  But comedy is an underappreciated talent, I think.  There’s so much that goes into timing and the ability to be funny on screen even after multiple takes.  And especially with physical comedy it is so tough not to go over the line and just look stupid.

But I’m going to go with the consensus (among awards-giver-outers, at least) and pip Octavia Spencer here.  It is a character type that doesn’t often receive Oscar love, so I’m glad to see it rewarded.  Spencer is, in large part, comic relief, but she does get a depth and some meaning to her character, aided in large part by the nuance she brings to it.  In a group of solid performances, she’s just a little bit stronger.

September 2017
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