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Thanks to everyone who has followed along.  This exercise took a little longer than I expected, and I shudder to count all the words I wrote, but I’ve enjoyed it every step of the way.

10. Up in the Air

I know Adam has said this movie spoke to him as a business traveler, and while I’m not quite at his level, I did just reach Premier status on United, and I am writing this from the Las Vegas airport on my way to Tulsa, so I think I can empathize a little.  You can read plenty about we thought of this Oscar nominee here.  I actually read the script to this one first, then saw it in theaters with my fellow Grouches, then watched it again in a plane a few months ago.  Side note: I’m not really sure this film sends the message airlines want their passengers receiving, but that’s a different debate.  I’m happy this film was nominated for Best Picture, but in the end, I think it received the exact number of Oscar wins it should have.  The movie did almost everything very well, but I’d hesitate to call it exception on any level.  That’s not really a knock on the film, I don’t think.

9. The Hangover

There was always the chance this breakout hit would get some Oscar love, it was just very very remote.  The film was all over our hopes and wishes posts, both for Best Picture and Best Song.  I’d also humbly submit that Zack Galifinakis should have received some supporting actor consideration.  Not to harp on the same point over and over again, but Matt Damon for Invictus was a stronger performance?  By what standard, exactly?  Anyway, so many things went right here.  The script snapped and popped.  The casting was sublime, with the main characters but also supporting actors like Ken Jeong or Mike Tyson’s cameo.  My only complaint of any real substance was that Heather Graham’s character never gets quite integrated into the film.  But the movie was just as movie watching it a second time as it was the first.  It is hard to choose, but my favorite line may be: “Tigers love pepper….they hate cinnamon.”

8. The Hurt Locker

I gotta say, when I saw this one in theaters with Adam over the summer, I did not think I had just seen the Best Picture winner.  The astounding thing to me is that when you pick it apart, this really isn’t my kind of movie.  The plot, such as it is, doesn’t exactly go anywhere.  Stuff happens, but not for any apparent reason.  But the word I keep over and over again when discussing this film is “taut”.  I was held in rapt attention throughout the movie, regardless of whether anything was going on.  The cast is really really strong here, and probably deserved more awards attention than they received.  Do I think the film is perfect?  No, far from it.  Maybe it wasn’t possible to keep the suspense while having a more coherent plot, but I’m skeptical.  If you are interested, you can read out thoughts on the film here.

7. Star Trek

Adam and I have had some fun ragging on John for not liking this film.  Scorn well-deserved.  In my mind, there’s really only one valid beef with this movie (coming from someone who is pretty well versed with the original and fairly familiar with ST:TNG).  In my mind, the Star Trek franchise was founded on morality plays.  And yeah, maybe it has moved away from that a little over the years, but I think the series was often most effective when it was trying to get a little preachy, and I didn’t see that here.  Otherwise, though, this movie was really really good.  It had action and intrigue and humor and a good story and was sexy and was a note perfect way of rebooting a series.  The sprawling cast was uniformly solid across the board, and the film managed to grab a number of actors whose stars are on the rise.  I’ve seen a few other Chris Pine movies and I’m not sure I would have picked him for Kirk, but I would have been wrong.  Eric Bana maybe needs to step back from heavy drama for a bit, but John Cho, Simon Pegg, Zachary Quinto, Anton Yelchin, Karl Urban, and Zoe Saldana were all great.  I still just can’t see why this missed with anyone.

6. I Love You, Man

That’s  right, Adam.  John and I are teaming up on a comedy where you missed the boat.  Saw this one in theaters and just could not stop laughing out loud.  Saw it again a few months ago after a party and it was still just fantastic.  Even if Brian fell asleep.  Oddly, the writers of this film (Larry Levin and John Hamburg, who also directed) had hands in writing: Dr. Doolittle, Dr. Doolittle 2, Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers, and Zoolander.  A spotty pedigree, perhaps, but sprinkle in some of the Apatow crew, and a little Rush and you get magic.  Paul Rudd trying to say “Slappin’ da bass” with a Jamaican accent.  Or trying to come up with a nickname for Jason Segel.  “I love you, Tyco Brohe”.  Jason Segel doing pretty much anything.  Telling Rashida Jones to return the favor.  “You know what?  I saw Chocolat and it was delightful.”  Thomas Lennon is funny, as is the always solid J.K. Simmons.  Just a really great comedy.

5.  In the Loop

John called the film the “single best written” film of 2009.  And the Grouches pretty much agreed (at least when it came to Oscars).  Obviously, the Britishness was hard to sell on us Americans, but I remain stunned that this film didn’t take DC by storm.  It really is a workplace comedy, where that workplace happens to be the political arena and all that goes on behind the scenes.  The jokes come rapid fire in this fast-paced satire.  And really, the only problem was that often as I was laughing at the last joke, two or three ones whizzed by me.  Peter Capaldi is lights-out fantastic and in a just world he gets and Oscar nom.  Still, I was tickled pink with the writing nomination, because overlooking this film would have been outrageous.  I could be mistaken, but I believe this movie is the second highest ranked one featuring a U of C alum (Anna Chlumsky).  If you haven’t seen this movie, and aren’t turned off by cursing, please do.

4. (500) Days of Summer

Most of our posts on this film were mine, unsurprisingly.  Coming out of the theater with Adam, I would have pegged this one a little lower than 4th overall.  There probably weren’t a whole lot of elite movies this year.  But my expectations were extremely high, and it says something that the film came close to hitting them.  I put Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Best Actress and Best Actor, and I really have no idea how the script missed a screenplay award.  There were plenty of bits big (musical number, the split-screen scene) and small (Yvette Nichole Brown!, the first scene in the elevator) that were pure magic.  The movie probably could have developed the characters a little bit more, maybe lingered on Deschanel a little longer in an effort to flesh her out a touch more.  Also, the opening credits could have not told me Minka Kelly was in it, so that I was thinking about was part she’d play as the movie went on.  I like Clark Gregg, and that was Chloe Moretz as the younger sister and Mr. Christina Hendricks as the friend.  It also had two of my favorite lines of the year.  The opening titles: “The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. Especially you Jenny Beckman. Bitch.”  And, Clark Gregg reading a card that Joseph Gordon-Levitt has written: “Roses are red, violets are blue…Fuck you, whore”.

3. District 9

We covered this one a little bit.  I’ve no idea how this one got any Oscar nominations, much less Picture and Adapted Screenplay.  Perhaps voters didn’t see the film, so didn’t realize it was an action flick, instead hearing that was a provoking metaphor on race relations.  It did have a political message, sure, but honestly, I found that mostly irrelevant.  At its heart, this is an action movie with an underlying sadness that is quite touching.  It is an underdog film without a saccharine ending.  It is actually pretty hard to classify this film.  A scifi-action film with a heart shot in a documentary style?  In any case, it was a breath of extremely fresh air, and I can’t say enough positive things about it.

2. Up

John and I gushed about this one some.  Honestly, if you took the opening montage, added however much screen time of just blank space to make it count as a full-length picture, it’d probably still make my top ten.  The scary thing is that the film minus that montage would make it as well.  Like with most Pixar films, this one made me want to cry and laugh.  Was tons of fun, but had a meaning, too.  I don’t think I have the words to describe how amazing this picture really was.  Plus, Ed Asner is a U of c alum.  Oh, and its funny because the squirrel got dead is obviously one of my favorite lines of the year.

1. Zombieland

This one gets its own post, to follow shortly.  But for now, here’s my favorite line from each character;

Little Rock – “No!  She’s only famous when she’s Hannah Montana!  She’s only famous when she’s wearing the wig!”

Wichita [said like Janine from Ghostbusters] – “Hurry!  He’s in the chandelier.”

Tallahassee – “I’m not great at goodbyes, so…that’ll do, pig”

Columbus – “Someone’s ear is in danger of having hair brushed over it.”

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

In the Loop (1 nomination)

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

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

An Education (3 nominations)

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

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

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

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

The Messenger (2 nominations)

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

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

Up in the Air (6 nominations)

District 9 (4 nominations)

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

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

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

Inglourious Basterds

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

Avatar

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

An Education

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

A Serious Man

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

The Blind Side

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

Precious

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

Up in the Air

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

The Hurt Locker

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

District 9

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

Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’re finishing off our look at the smaller categories today with a look at the ones that we care to talk about.

Original Song

The nominees, with videos so that you may listen:

  • “Almost There” Princess and the Frog, Music and lyric by Randy Newman
  • “Down in New Orleans” Princess and the Frog, Music and lyric by Randy Newman
  • “Loin de Paname” Paris 36, Music by Reinhardt Wagner and lyric by Frank Thomas
  • “Take it All” Nine, Music and lyric by Maury Yeston
  • “The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)” Crazy Heart, Music and lyric by Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett

Jared starts us off:

Randy Newman has written many smart, catchy songs for film and for his albums.  “Down in New Orleans” is an example of some of the dreck he’s also come up with.  Reminds me of that bit from Family Guy about Randy Newman singing what he sees (couldn’t find video, but here’s the audio).

“Loin de Paname” was a surprise nominee, but having heard the song, it totally makes sense.  Because it is basically “La Vie en Rose”.  Except they say “Paris” a lot.  New rule of thumb for picking Oscar song nominees: If it sounds like it could play over a Sabrina-like character finding herself in Paris montage, it is probably going to get a nomination.

“Almost There” sounds almost exactly like I’d expect a song from a Disney animated to sound.  Fits right in with the throwback feel the studio was going for with the movie.  Anika Noni Rose does a lovely job with the song, but to me, the tune is lacking soul.  It is a fine song, but doesn’t have that extra oomph to really make it memorable.

Since Oscar voters get to see the context in which the songs appear in their respective films, it is no wonder that “Take It All” received a nomination.  Heck, I’d probably consider some Nickelback if it got Marion Cotillard to strip.  But really, it is an average burlesque number, and Cotillard isn’t nearly bold enough a singer to cover for the song’s lack of originality.

So yeah, no surprise that “The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)” is the class of the bunch.  Haunting and at time soul-wrenching, it is a pretty little number that perhaps raised my expectations for the film a little too high.  There was absolutely space to use the song in a much more striking fashion, like in many other areas, the film fell short.  Still, a great song used to good effect in the film.  A worthy nominee and hopefully more.

But John sets him straight

I like this slate of original songs. Of course if I had made the nominees they would be substantially different, but it’s a good mix of seriously good songs, contenders, and a completely from left field entry. The song category is good for these outlier nominees and it keeps it interesting even if I don’t always agree.

That outlier is “Loin de Paname.” To me it’s a nondescript French tune, as if someone set out to write a song that was stereotypically French complete with accordion.

“Almost There” is too simplistic for my tastes. Too much of the lyrics simply repeat the title. I think the music is fine.

“This Is It” didn’t strike me as particularly noteworthy when first listening to the eligible songs. It starts alluring and ends dramatic, so I could sort of see the appeal. But I totally understand after watching Nine where this number is easily the best scene in the film. It works in a way that the rest of the movie does not so the song’s inclusion here makes a lot more sense. On its own I think it’s still only okay, but at least now I can picture the film while it’s playing.

The final two songs are terrific. Jared’s dismissal of “Down in New Orleans” is disappointing. I really dig this jazzy tune. It has some catchy lyrics and a more complex structure than “Almost There.” Part of the key is listening to the version sung by Dr. John that comes early in the film rather than the Anika Noni Rose version, which is split between a prologue and epilogue. I’m always tickled by the way Dr. John croons “They got music,  it’s always playin’/ start in the day time, go allllllll through the night.”

The winner of course is “The Weary Kind” from Crazy Heart. It’s heartfelt and beautiful and fits the tone of the film perfectly. I also appreciate the song’s role in the film itself. If anything it’s problem is that it’s so much better than everything else in the film! With this song playing over the trailer I expected some great music going into the film, just to be disappointed when every other Bad Blake song is bland mainstream country.

Snubs: I’ve had two songs stuck in my head the most this season along with “The Weary Kind.” One is “Help Yourself” from Up in the Air which was deemed ineligible. But I hear this song and I am transported right back to the film’s powerful atmosphere.

And the other – would it be weird to say? – was the Sinead O’Connor end credits track to The Young Victoria, Only You.” The combination of her breathy voice and a catchy hook and chorus combo completely draw me in.

And of course I was hoping for a Karen O entry from Where the Wild Things Are because she’s so great.

Original Score

The nominees:

  • James Horner, Avatar
  • Alexandre Desplat, Fantastic Mr. Fox
  • Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders, The Hurt Locker
  • Hans Zimmer, Sherlock Holmes
  • Michael Giacchino, Up

Brian lets us in on his musical brilliance:

So I write this as a guy who would consider buying satellite radio for the sole purposes of listening to Cinemagic — the movie score channel — all the time. Movie scores are grossly underappreciated, I think, and are the equivalent of the concertos and symphonies written by the musical masters of the 19th century. So I go into this category with pretty high expectations and a healthy dose of snobbery. A couple of caveats and qualifiers: I haven’t seen two of these films in theaters, so I’m judging based on what I can listen to online and my favorite composers (James Newton Howard, Michael Newman, and Philip Glass) aren’t up for awards this year — which is a good thing because I’m going through this with an open mind. Lastly, had Marvin Hamlisch been nominated for The Informant, he would have won my vote.

In order of least favorite to favorite, with only really one disappointing score among them:

James Horner — Avatar

In my Lock That Shouldnt Be post, i wrote about how I really wished that Horner would get ignored, but that was not meant to be. I’m generally disinclined to like any score that uses choirs as heavily as Horner does in Avatar. If I wanted to hear falsettos chanting unintelligbly, I’d go to the opera or buy a CD of Gregorian chants. Using the Carmina Burana has become so cliched that composers like Horner just try and mimic it with middling success. A moaning chorus is a hallmark of bad action movies. A great score sets the tone of what is happening on the screen and when standing on its own, should be evocative of the same emotions as the movie — but Horner bolds, underlines, italicizes his notes too much. I have the same problems with the score that I had with the movie — bombastic, bludgeoning and too in love with itself to uncover the subtle emotions within.

Marco Beltralmi – Hurt Locker

Here’s the first of four scores that I would definitely want to hear on Cinemagic. Taking a cue from Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western scores, the score underscores Jeremy Renner’s “go it alone” manner. The bomb detonation squad is almost like the classic Eastwood cowboy — they’re the ones who have to face danger head on in the hot desert while the rest of the town (army) waits until the coast is clear. Heck, there’s even a shootout in The Hurt Locker. Beltraimi infuses the heavy metal music preferred by Renner’s SGT James into the score in a much more effective use of that music than what was done in, say, The Messenger — where it was merely a cliched example of how Ben Foster’s character is coping with the war. It’s really great score and I think a textbook example of how a score can improve a movie.

Hans Zimmer — Sherlock Holmes and Alexandre Desplat — Fantastic Mr. Fox

Here are the two films I didn’t see — so I feel somewhat unqualified to give them a full appraisal, but I really love what I’ve heard so far. Zimmer is one of the most prolific composers out there — so he’s done his share of forgettable and memorable scores in the past. While this isn’t as good as his work for The Dark Knight, which may be one of my favorite scores of the past 10 years, it ranks up there with the Pirates of the Caribbean in terms of catchiness and ability to stand on its own as a musical composition. It’s so good, that it even makes me want to go see the movie whereas before I’d probably have been happy to let it slide.

As for Desplat’s Mr. Fox — it too is another score that makes me want to see the film from another veteran on a hot streak. His score for The Queen was a significant contributor to how much I liked that movie, and I can hear shades of it in the Mr. Fox themes. It’s light, playful — the staccato strings liven up a breezy mood — one that I hope is dominant in the film itself.

Michael Giacchino — Up

This may be my second favorite Pixar score — falling behind The Incredibles which, surprise surprise, was also composed by Giacchino. The versatile 8-note motif comes up over and over again, but in totally different styles and in different situations. You hear it during the heart-warming prologue, the momentous occasion when the house lifts into the air, during the climactic chase scene with the dogs. And its been stuck in my head for days at a time, and I couldn’t be happier for it. It’s such a joyful theme that is a great start to making my best scores list of the 2010s. It’s my pick for this year in what amounts to a very talented group. Do doo do dooo….do doo do dooo….

And John makes his points, albeit less artfully:

There are some neat pieces in The Hurt Locker score if you listen to them on their own. They are interesting and very good. The rest of the tracks are sort of generic tension-building soundtrack music. But I just watched the film again and I still barely noticed the music – and I was listening for it!

The music for Fantastic Mr. Fox is playful and not a bad listen. But it also doesn’t grab me and the most successful music in the film are the pop songs, not the score. I haven’t seen Sherlock Holmes but I dig the the score. I don’t know how you compose the score for Sherlock Holmes and say, “You know what this needs? Fiddles and banjos!” And it works.

There are two clear front runners for me. One I got a bit more pleasure out of while watching the film, the other I think is better on its own. It’s a tough choice between the two and maybe I’ll change my mind a few times before the show tonight.

The Avatar score made a huge impact on me during the film. Brian dislikes the choral use but I eat that stuff up. Two scenes that stand out to me as especially enhanced by music are Jake’s first flight on an ikran and when the Na’vi try to save Grace at Hometree. That music struck me as very powerful. And the bombastic score during the climax and as it fades to credits? Wonderful.

Was I humming the tune as I left the theater? No. But the music was absolutely part of my thoughts on my walk home, and I can’t say I’ve ever really learned a film’s music enough after one viewing to be able to hum it. So I listened to the soundtrack several times in subsequent days. It’s a good listen, but outside the context of the movie it’s not quite as noteworthy.

I’m giving the edge to Up because I think it holds up a bit better on its own and because, when I listen to it, I’m transported back to the film and how it made me feel. All of it is just so integral part of that wonderful film as it weaves its motifs into different scenes and tones. But while same themes appear again and again, they’re used differently enough to not feel repetitive. And, of course, the music is very lovely.

Animated Feature

The nominees:

  • Coraline
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox
  • The Princess and the Frog
  • The Secret of Kells
  • Up

John chimes in on this one:

I’m really thrilled this category got expanded to five films this year. It was a good year for animation. Furthermore, I’m quite happy that middling efforts from big studios like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Monsters vs Aliens were left off in favor of some more interesting films. There is a clear winner here, but any Academy member that took the time to watch these films surely had a great time.

Except when they watched Fantastic Mr. Fox, which is too self-consciously quirky for its own good. Wes Anderson is too beholden to his style at this point that he fails to tell a coherent story that we care about. I did not find Anderson’s ruminations on modern ennui to work in a film about foxes. Even the stop-motion animation wore out its welcome by the end.

The Secret of Kells looks fantastic with the most distinct visual style of the nominees. It’s a hand-drawn film, full of bright colors and a playful use of perspective. The music is also wonderful. I found the story to be a chore to get through, however.

The Princess and the Frog is a nice return to form for Disney hand-drawn animation. It’s funny, sweet, musically catchy, and beautifully drawn. I think it tried to do too much with its story and themes; the thing has about a half dozen lessons. A really nice film.

Coraline is seriously creepy. It even creeped me out a bit and I’m twice as old as the target audience. I love the way it looks, particularly its use of contrast between darkness and bright colors. Again there are some story elements that left me a little cold.

And naturally my winner is Up. It just has the whole package from great writing to beautiful animation. It’s not just a great animated film but a great film.

Snubs: I was hoping that if Cloudy wasn’t going to make it in that Mary and Max or 9 would instead.

The Rest

None of us wrote about the sound categories because we are neither knowledgeable nor interested enough to do so. We also didn’t see enough films to comment on Art Direction, even though that’s one of my favorite technical categories. One quick observation on it though: Nine had to be nominated for its use of its stage set for its musical numbers, right? None of the real world sets are particularly interesting. But neither is the stage set- it’s just simple and used in mildly imaginative ways. A nomination for building scaffolding. Wonderful.

And Visual Effects is a cakewalk for Avatar, but I recently saw District 9 again and was reminded how terrific the special effects are in that film. The aliens, the weapons, and the main character’s metamorphosis from human to alien are all stunning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’re not just tackling the big categories this year, but the smaller ones as well. Some of them, at least. Not all of these categories are worthy of the intense and brilliant consideration we give things here at Golden Grouches, now are they?

Today I’m looking at two visual technical categories.

Cinematography

Nominees: Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Inglourious Basterds, White Ribbon

This feels hard to call because so much of Avatar is visual effects and the traditional relationship between how the director of photography films and what the audience experiences is altered. And so it’s something different from what we see in the other nominees. (Here’s a little about it.) The camerawork in The Hurt Locker does a great deal to insert the viewer into the action and is instrumental in creating the film’s thrills. But I’ll lean towards Avatar and its trailblazing 3-D shooting.

Film Editing

Nominees: Avatar, District 9, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious

I think it’s impressive how Avatar has such a huge scope but the action never gets muddled. I don’t recall ever getting lost in a scene due to confusing shots- and this film is full of epic battles in 3-D. For both Inglourious Basterds and The Hurt Locker, the editing is part of what makes the tension so palpable. The way the intense scenes of The Hurt Locker are artfully constructed is what pushes it over the top.

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

Your nominees:

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

Take it away, Jared:

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

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

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

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

Adam, writing by his own rules, per usual:

    Will Win: Up in the Air

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

    I Want to Win: In the Loop

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

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

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

    Grouches Critiques:

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

    Random Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coming up tomorrow: Best Director

John’s a good man and got this up before the nominees were announced.  I’m gonna see how many categories I can get through before Oscars.  Now, I’ve seen probably more 2009 movies than I should have, but I’m still slogging my way through some, so between that and the game theory of the ballot, I reserve the right to have my best of 2009 list look a little different, though ballots are due when ballots are due.

1.  Stanley Tucci, Blind Date

A remake of the same-named Theo van Gogh film, Blind Date slipped into a few theaters rather quietly, and I have no idea how it came across my radar.  Little more than Tucci, Patricia Clarkson, and a single room, it blurs the line between film and staged play.  Revolving around a husband and a wife who set up blind dates with each other as they deal with a tragedy, the role requires tremendous range and depth, and I can’t really imagine too many actors pulling it off successfully.

2.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt, (500) Days of Summer

He’ll have turned 30 around next year’s Oscars, so maybe he’ll finally be old enough for some Academy love.  He’s certainly built an impressive resume.  The male lead in a romantic comedy of this sort is difficult to play, in my opinion.  It is very easy to veer off into sheer whininess, but Gordon-Levitt is eminently relatable.

3. Sharlto Copley, District 9

In traditional hands, this role is played by someone like Vin Diesel.  Which would have been interesting, sure.  But instead, one of the most unlikeliest action heroes turned in something quite memorable.

4.  Daniel Day-Lewis, Nine

The movie wasn’t great, sure.  But Daniel Day-Lewis was his usual crazy impressive self.  If he had been billed as, say, Baniel Bay-Kewis, I would have had absolutely no idea that this actor was the same one who played Daniel Plainview.  His ability to morph from role to role is just staggering.

5.  Colin Firth, A Single Man

Another performance hampered by a subpar film.  It tickled me pink to see Colin Firth get a nod, because he’s been so consistently great.  Given about as much to work with as Jeff Bridges, for example, Firth creates a much more textured character, one who felt more like a real person than a caricature.

Just off the ballot: Michael Sheen (The Damned United) and Patton Oswalt (Big Fan)

Well this morning the Official Mistress of the Golden Grouches (c), Anne Hathaway, announced the nominations — and there were few surprises among the acting nods, a couple shockers in the Best Picture, but overall things went according to plan. Nonetheless, we still pulled together our thoughts for a short post.

Brian: My biggest disappointment is that with Penelope Cruz’ nomination, I now have to see Nine, something that I had been avoiding doing. No real desire to see it at all, but it can’t be nearly as bad as Lovely Bones, which fortunately, did indeed garner Stanley Tucci a nomination. It would have been tragic had we had to sit through that dreck for no reason whatsoever.

With the best pictures, I was quite happy to see District 9 get the nod there and in screenplay — I held out hope for director until getting slapped in the face by Lee Daniels name being read. As Jared says below, Blind Side is the only real WTF here, and even that it’s rather pointless since it has no shot at winning. This batch of nominations also has me quite excited to see A Serious Man when it comes out on DVD next week.

Other thoughts: disappointed that Damon got nominated for the wrong role and left Molina in the dust. Happy to see Moore get snubbed for A Single Man as her role was more or less the same as Susan Sarandon’s in Lovely Bones and was less funny. I had forgotten all about In the Loop until John started his well-deserved campaign for it, and I’m happy that John got something to gloat about. By far my biggest disappointment though was Marvin Hamlisch getting crapola for The Informant. His score was such an integral character in the great movie that it deserved to win the award, not just the nod.

Looking forward to stewing over these races in the “should win” discussions — especially the screenplays. Lots to ponder. And I think the 10 films for best picture was a wild success — good job…academy?

Adam: Editor’s Note: Adam did not submit anything so I wrote it for him. Inglorious Basterds: Yay. If only It’s Complicated were nominated, then I could make fun of Brian more. I’ll find other ways.

Jared, via iPhone in the DFW airport: Most surprising to me is the relative lack of true surprises. There were some, of course, but I’d guess most Oscar prognosticators did pretty well, especially if they stayed conservative.

People will hate on The Blind Side, and sure, it probably isn’t a top ten film. However, in my opinion it is miles better than Crazy Heart, Invictus, and The Messenger, all of which now appear to have been viable contenders. Like, it just isn’t close at all. So while I would have preferred Star Trek, The Hangover, or In The Loop, I can settle for the middle ground.

I’ve heard people claim this is the wrong year for ten nominees. But you know what? This a very strong lineup, and for me, stacks up against much of this decade’s best picture groups. And really, assuming the expansion got District 9 and Up into the group, I’m fully prepared to call it a success.

I’m a little surprised we didn’t see something crazy in Supporting Actress. Sorta seems like the Academy threw its collective hands in the air and gave up. There was definitely room for another film to have made a play here. No Basterds is a surprise, I guess, but there seemed a very unWeinstein-like unfocused campaign.

Finally, the screenplay categories were a general success. My efforts to not jinx them went mostly rewarded. In the Loop getting a nomination is such a good thing. But, of course, the one nomination I really really wanted to see, (500) Days of Summer, missed. Probably at the hands of The Messenger, which I interpret as a direct, intentional, personal slap in my face.

John: Before going to bed last night I nearly made a quick post amending my earlier “biggest hopes” declarations. But I decided not to and both of those hopes came true!

I had been surprised at the amount of In the Loop predictions prognosticators were making yesterday, which gave me hope for an Adapted Screenplay nomination, whereas before I thought of it as only a longshot. But then it happened! It was my big fist pump moment of the morning. It really has made my day.

My other hope was that Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs would get left off the Animated Feature slate in favor of some of the more interesting films that came out this year. When Coraline was announced first (nominees are announced alphabetically) it was obvious this wish had come true and it was fun to see what would take its spot. The Secret of Kells is an interesting choice, although not the one I would make.

A few other quick thoughts:

  • A boring slate of acting nominees. Very by the numbers. Penelope Cruz was a surprise, but only because her long-presumed nomination seemed derailed by Nine‘s failure.
  • No Avatar in Original Screenplay. Not a problem for most of the Grouches, but interesting that such a juggernaut would miss. 500 Days of Summer also missed and that had seemed like the indie that would break out in a writing category. I suspect not being in the picture for Best Picture hurt it.
  • Hooray for Invictus not making Best Picture even though it appears to be supplanted by the awful The Blind Side.
  • No Makeup nod for District 9 despite the film’s heavy use of prosthetics. Instead the aging makeup for Il Divo and the hairstyles of The Young Victoria get in, along side Star Trek.
  • No Score nod for The Informant! excludes that gem of a film completely.
  • I’m generally happy with the Best Song slate. Thankfully “See You” from Avatar was left off.
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