You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Hugo’ category.

My writeups, if you haven’t already gathered, rank  the nominees in reverse order of how I like them.  But here, as John mentioned, we’re ranking the best picture movies as if we were Oscar voters.

1. The Artist.  Yeah, picking this film is almost cliche at this point in awards season.  But that’s only because it is the best film of this lot by leaps and bounds.  The others really aren’t in the ballpark.  At this point I’ve waxed rhapsodic about so many aspects of the movie that really, all that’s left to say is that all these wonderful aspects of the film: writing, directing, acting, cinematography, just everything all combines together into one really great movie.

2. Midnight in Paris.  It is a sign of how poor an Oscar year it is that when I saw the film over the summer, I was wavering over whether I thought I’d give it Oscar consideration and now it is my second-favorite film of those nominated.  It is light, fun, and not particularly deep.

3. The Help.  It is a decent movie, and pretty much nothing like what people are projecting onto it.  Race issues get people riled up, and I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but if you can look past all that, you’ve got a fine movie.  Maybe a little bit bloated and unfocused at times, but it is funny, warm, and entertaining.  Not one of the nine best movies of the year, but certainly no outrage.

4. The Descendants.  And here’s the part of the list with films that make me go, “Eh.”  I currently have  this film as the 36th best movie of the year.  There are certainly plenty of good things about the movie, like George Clooney and Judy Greer and Matthew Lillard and Shailene Woodley constantly being in a bikini.  Each of us has voiced our problems with the plot, chiefly the underdeveloped plotline surrounding the land deal.

5. Moneyball.  As I’ve mentioned, great job figuring out how to turn the book into a movie, but they didn’t get quite all the way there.  Every single supporting character seemed underdeveloped and underutilized to me.  But hey, it is hard to be angry about a best picture-nominated film about the economics of baseball.

6. Everything Loud and Incredibly Close.  Another one of those issue movies where people make all sorts of outlandish claims about the film trying to “solve” some really huge issue and obviously failing to do so.  It is insane, to me, that anyone could think this film was about healing the wounds from 9/11.  Sure, clearly, the events form the backdrop here, but the movie is much smaller than that.  It is about a kid who lost his dad, isn’t particularly close to his mom, and is trying to figure out his world.

7. War Horse.  Not as bad as some people would have you believe, but hardly a great movie.  My biggest problem was that it was hard to get attached to any character, so while obviously it was sad when they died and happy when they lived, it wasn’t that sad or happy.

8. Hugo.  Just a bad movie and and a horrible movie-watching experience.  Sure, it is pretty and it is great that it references the birth of cinema.  But I dunno, I prefer my movies to have an interesting story and not be boring.

9. The Tree of Life.  Speaking of boring movies that don’t have a story!  Look, I understand if you want to make the argument that this film is high art.  I won’t even disagree.  But as a movie, it is horrendous.  One of the items on the film’s imdb trivia page states that in an Italian theater, two reels of the film were switched and nobody realized the mistake for an entire week.  If your film can be shown out of order for an entire week, there is something seriously, fatally, tragically wrong with it.  I’m not saying it is the worst movie I’ve ever seen in my life, but I’m also not saying I’ve ruled it out.

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Unlike other categories where voters pick one nominee, in Best Picture they rank them 1-9. Therefore my pick the winners post will follow the same format.

1. Midnight in Paris. In a season filled with nostalgic pursuits, this is the only one that seriously worked for me. It’s just an absolute delight and I had so much fun watching it. It has an enjoyable, original story and fills it with interesting characters. They’re most characters you’re already familiar with, but the film’s takes on them and their interactions are a good time. It’s all just a whimsical fantasyland. And its simple if elegant message about the nature of the past and nostalgia hit home for me.

2. The Tree of Life. Ambitious, beautiful, moving, grand. I love its structure of wispy memories paired with gorgeous music. It’s a bizarre creature that washed over me and I loved it. Plus it’s the only nominee with dinosaurs.

3. The Help. Probably the film here that surprised me the most. It’s very entertaining and I found it really effectively evoked a time and place (which always helps get me through the times the schmaltz gets dialed up to eye-rolling level). Great performances as well.

4. The Descendants. I didn’t love it, but it has some undeniable beautiful, heartfelt sentiments and moments. Even as the stories never really came together in a satisfying manner – this is the only movie where I wanted to hear more about a perpetual trust! – a sense of sadness settled within me. I have a lot of goodwill for this film though I wanted it to be more.

5. The Artist. I just never took to this like everyone else seems to have. It’s fine enough, but there’s just not enough there. It gets some flak for being slight in that it’s thematically light, but its bigger sin is being narratively slight. Not enough happens and the thrill of the silent, black and white aesthetic wears off.

6. Moneyball. I can’t deny its technical proficiencies, but even after a second viewing it still feels like maybe a quarter of a story. I just think the filmmakers concentrated on parts of the Moneyball story that I find less interesting.

7. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. I never expected to like this and hell if it isn’t… adequate. It can be contrived and exasperating, but its unique perspective and occasional moments of earned emotion pull it through.

8. Hugo. It just didn’t do much for me. In fact, it mostly just bored me. I kept waiting for the magic to begin… then it ended. I guess my hard heart is a tough nut to crack.

9. War Horse. I’m going to ruin this movie for you: it’s just a damn horse. So when people do a bunch of stupid stuff for the main character they’re doing stupid stuff for a horse. And judging from the music you’d think the horse scores a winning touchdown every 20 minutes or so. Still, it has a few good WWI scenes.

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.

Costume Design

The nominees are:

  • Anonymous, Lisy Christl
  • The Artist, Mark Bridges
  • Hugo, Sandy Powell
  • Jane Eyre, Michael O’Connor
  • W.E., Arianne Phillips

JARED

I’m spectacularly unqualified to write about this category, as anyone who has seen me attempt to dress myself will attest.  But I’m a completist, dammit.  Also, I didn’t make it to W.E., because it was only playing in Shirlington, which as we all know, is a fictional place.  Let’s pretend it was out of protest for Immortals not getting a nod.  Because, seriously, the junk the wore in that movie was friggin’ nuts.

Otherwise, I’m sorta struck by how the costuming in these nominees was relatively subtle.  At least, I couldn’t really tell you much about the costumes in any of these films, because nothing stuck out much in particular.  Anonymous was typical Elizabethan garb, with those crazy collars.  So many collars.  The Artist had…um…suits and flapper dresses, maybe?  The dog maybe wore a collar.  Hugo did have some cool outfits in the flashbacks to the old movies, I’ll give it that.  But let’s give it to Jane Eyre.  No, not just so I can justify watching the bore of the movie.  Because I do remember noting that the dresses weren’t as loud or ostentatious as you’d normally find in these movies.  And other people seemed to like it a lot.

ADAM

Anonymous

 

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.

Visual Effects

The nominees are:

  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
  • Hugo
  • Real Steel
  • Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  • Transformers Dark of the Moon

JOHN

I’m going to be the crazy person here disagreeing with the popular choice and say I was underwhelmed by the effects in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the film with all the buzz for trying to get its motion captured actor an acting nod. I just don’t think it looks good enough yet. Motion capture works great in a cartoon like The Adventures of Tintin or in a surreal world like Avatar. When placed in a real location like the Golden Gate bridge, the motion capture characters just don’t look quite right. It’s the same for the apes’ facial expressions.

I would have rather seen The Tree of Life here for its gorgeous interstellar sequences, but since it is not my choice will be Transformers: Dark of the Moon. I never thought I’d be advocating so many Oscars for a Michael Bay noise fest! But the effects are big, impressive, and realistic. They are also more intelligible in this round of robot wars, though I’m not sure if that’s the result of better effects or a directorial/storyboarding decision. It is nice being able to tell which robot is which.

But if Transformers doesn’t win, Hugo and Harry Potter are fine substitutes as well.

JARED

I think it is a lot easier to argue why each of these films should win for visual effects than coming up with reasons why they shouldn’t.  Because all of them came up with some really cool stuff.  Real Steel had friggin’ boxing robots, for crying out loud.  Though really, their fighting styles involved a little more than just punching.  All of the fight scene were great.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes had all the neat motion capture stuff, of course.  But don’t forget the fight scene on the bridge, that was very well done.  Hugo may not have done a lot for me, but I’m not petty enough to suggest it didn’t look really awesome.  Transformers: Dark of the Moon was exactly what a Michael Bay movie should be, a near-constant adrenaline rush of insane image after insane image.  If I had written this post ten minutes ago or ten minutes later, I might have picked one of those four to win, that’s how close it is for me.  But for now, I’m going with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two.  The fight scenes were just too excellent to ignore.

ADAM

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

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.

Art Direction

The nominees are:

  • The Artist, Production Design: Laurence Bennett; Set Decoration: Robert Gould
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Production Design: Stuart Craig; Set Decoration: Stephenie McMillan
  • Hugo, Production Design: Dante Ferretti; Set Decoration: Francesca Lo Schiavo
  • Midnight in Paris, Production Design: Anne Seibel; Set Decoration: Hélène Dubreuil
  • War Horse, Production Design: Rick Carter; Set Decoration: Lee Sandales

JOHN

Art Direction is probably my favorite small category after Song. Why? I love sets! Many a mediocre film has been upgraded in my eyes due to neat sets. Sherlock Holmes, for example, is a lot of noise but the film’s stylish take on Victorian London always gives you something to look at when the plot takes another stupid turn. Or how about a similar entry from this year, missing from the nomination list: Captain America devolved into a lot of mind-numbing explosions, but it happened in some fantastic-looking enemy bases with their mix of Nazi, supernatural, and mechanical elements.

There’s a clear best in show winner for this year in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which of course wasn’t even nominated. There’s a film with meticulous, detail-rich sets that help establish the film’s cool style. Is there a set image more iconic from 2011 than the egg-crate insulation in the MI6 isolation meeting rooms? That and that neat doorframe in the middle of the desert in The Tree of Life, of course!

So my winner will instead be Hugo, another film whose setting really sets the tone for its overall style. It’s colorful, busy, and often quite beautiful. The train station will get most attention, but the designs of Méliès’s studio and house are also quite memorable. The film intent to pull the audience into its sense of magic didn’t really work on me, but I can understand how the production design would help sweep away those who fell under its spell.

The Artist also looks great. Design is a different beast in black and white and the film still has a nice sense of artistry as well as a neat period look. Furthermore, War Horse also has some effective sets. They’re not as flashy, but I liked the look of the windmill and the family’s house at the beginning of the film. The war scenes, mostly stripped of any gore, work as well as they do to show the horrors of war with the help of the design of the bleak trenches and No Man’s Land.

JARED

As anyone who has seen my room may attest, aesthetically pleasing spaces are maybe not so much my forte.  Being a war movie may have made War Horse a shoo-in, but I found the sets merely adequate.  Similarly, nothing in particular stood out for me with Midnight in Paris.  Though I suppose big and bold is what tends to get my attention in this category, and that may not be fair.  Speaking of bid and bold, though, this Harry Potter was the first that I’ve seen.  The wide range of locations were really impressive, but I wonder if maybe people are conflating their love of the series with admiration for the art direction.

I love many things about The Artist, and the scenery is certainly up there.  I’ve mentioned it elsewhere, but putting together a modern take on an old-timey look isn’t easy, and the crew pulled it off with style.  In particular, I’m thinking of the movie sets and scenes at the studios, which felt wonderfully alive.

Infringing on Brian’s turf here, but I think Hugo is my pick here.  I’m a big enough man to admit that even though I disliked much about the film, creating the world of the train station was really something special.  From the inner workings where Hugo lived to the bookstore, to the wide open concourses, the film established a magical, vivid world.  And Ben Kingsley’s film set was pretty neat too.

BRIAN

Hugo

ADAM

Midnight in Paris

 

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.

Sound Editing

The nominees are:

  • Drive Lon Bender and Victor Ray Ennis
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Ren Klyce
  • Hugo, Philip Stockton and Eugene Gearty
  • Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl
  • War Horse, Richard Hymns and Gary Rydstrom

And also:

Sound Mixing

The nominees are:

  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Bo Persson
  • Hugo, Tom Fleischman and John Midgley
  • Moneyball, Deb Adair, Ron Bochar, David Giammarco and Ed Novick
  • Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Peter J. Devlin
  • War Horse, Gary Rydstrom, Andy Nelson, Tom Johnson and Stuart Wilson

JOHN

Sound Editing is basically sound effects and do you know what had great sound effects? Drive. I’ve seen plenty of movie car chases in my day, but the sounds of a car engine have never made an impression on me like they did here. It made me want to go out and drive! I saw Drive about five months ago and I still think of it when I’m driving and the engine revs. But it’s not all mechanical noises here. Another one that made quite an impression on me is the sound of Ryan Gosling’s leather driving gloves and their creaks as he pulls them on or adjusts his hands on the wheel.

Sound Mixing is the mix of all audio elements of a film: dialogue, music, ADR, sound effects. People who have actual knowledge of the subject sayMoneyball has a great mix. But I think I’ll plump for Transformers. It sure has a lot of sound! But I was also struck with how it isn’t overwhelming. The dialogue remains clear even in the busiest action sequences while the music is complementary: notable but not overwhelming. Plus it would be nice to see Greg P Russell finally win an Oscar on his fifteenth try. The film would probably also make a good fit in the Sound Editing category for all those mechanical noises.

Something that crossed my mind during the big Chicago shoot-out at the end of Transformers is what would happen if they went for more realistic sounds as buildings crash and Transformers clang around? We think we know what disasters sound like from seeing so many movies, but think about footage from true disasters like 9/11 or the Japanese tsunami. The sounds are not like the movies and they are horrifying. An action movie should try it some day, unless they are worried about freaking people out for being too real.

The real best sound mixing of the year is Hanna. Truth be told, I’m kind of excited just to have an actual favorite sound mix. Since when does that happen? Anyway, Hanna has a great audio design with, like the rest of the movie, a bit of flair. They really put the thumping Chemical Brothers score to great use.

Hugo, War Horse, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo all got nominations in both categories. I can see Tattoo for Mixing while war films generally do well in sound categories, but I don’t get Hugo. How about some Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.

JARED

Sound just isn’t something I notice terribly often.  So if I really had to pull for someone, I’d probably go with what the guilds went for.  The MPSE honored War Horse for Sound Effects and Super 8 for Dialogue and ADR.  I will make the case, though, for Transformers.  That movie is pure eye and ear candy.  The Michael Bay conversation probably isn’t appropriate here, but to me, those movies are all whiz-crack-bang-boom, and that isn’t a bad thing.  Sound plays rather heavily into that sugar symphony, but it never gets distracting, just a natural part of the metallic cacophony.

ADAM

Transformers for both.

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.

Directing

The nominees are:

  • The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius
  • The Descendants, Alexander Payne
  • Hugo, Martin Scorsese
  • Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen
  • The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick

BRIAN

At the risk of repeating myself, I’ll just skip the pretense and toss the award to Scorsese for Hugo. Despite my minor qualms with the pacing, I loved the 3D and the general feel of the film. That it was so out of character of Scorsese makes it even better. Quickly with the rest: The Artist was a delight too; only a skilled director could make a silent film work with today’s tastes. Midnight in Paris and The Descendants each had major problems with their scripts, and since both were directed by their screenwriter, it’s hard for me to judge them separately. Oh and Tree of Life? HAHAHAHAHAHAH. Right.

JOHN

In the context of this season, the nominees for Director are quite good. I might not be all that fond of most of the nominees but even they are directorial achievements.

At the very top of the category is sort of an embarrassment of riches for me. Midnight in Paris is my favorite film of the year. The writing and acting really put it over the top, but Allen does a masterful job striking the right tone and keeping the pace zipping along. He also elicits a number of fine performances from mostly lesser known actors that readily recall the real life people they are portraying without slipping into caricature.

But my winner in this category is actually my second favorite Best Picture nominee, Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life. It’s a film that’s packed to the gills with directorial ambition, combining images, music, and a wispy narrative into a fragmented memory poem, audaciously scoped against no less than the history of the universe. It’s unlike anything I’ve experienced. Even if it still leaves me somewhat bewildered it made an unforgettable impact. There’s no other director who imparted such vision.

Two other lesser nominees also presented visions that didn’t always work for me, but I appreciate the efforts. I enjoy seeing directors like Scorsese and Hazanavicius take chances and really make their marks. I think both had pacing problems, but the worst thing I can say about either is that they just didn’t connect with me, which isn’t a terrible fault. If a film is going to misfire, it may as well do it with some panache! And while Payne directs with less flair, I do give him credit for building a film with a good sense of tone. In a jumbled story it’s the atmosphere that really pulls The Descendants through.

It has been quite a year for ambitious directors. My top nine of the year (https://goldengrouches.wordpress.com/2012/02/02/top-nines-through-january/) is filled with stylish, atmospheric films, from the cool (Steve Soderbergh’s Contagion and Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) to the disturbing (Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In and Steve McQueen’s Shame). Even something that was ultimately disappointing to us, like Drive, heralded the arrival of a promising talent.

ADAM

Woody AllenMidnight in Paris.

JARED

It isn’t exactly right for me to say I hate Terrence Malick.  I think it is more that I hate the Academy voters (and anyone else who gave The Tree of Life a glowing review) for giving me a good reason to watch the film.  Also, for all I know, Malick may be a warm and generous person.  So perhaps it would be more fair for me to say I hate his work.  Whatever promise the script may or may not have showed (and Sean Penn is on record saying the script was way more logical, one of the best he’s ever read, and nothing like what ended up on screen), Malick as director brutally hacked and mangled until it was something so stupefyingly awful, that pretentious snobs everywhere were all but forced to acknowledge it as a masterpiece.

I think I like everything about Martin Scorsese except for the movies he makes.  A lot of my problems with Hugo were with the script.  But I also found the movie generally boring, and a lot of that is on the director, for not finding ways to keep me engaged.  I don’t really have much to say about Alexander Payne.  I seem to be a little bit lower on him than other people, but not exorbitantly so.  I’m not entirely certain what all the fuss is about with the film, but I’m also not sure I would have liked it much more with anyone else directing.

You have to admire someone who is Woody Allen’s age who can keep cranking out movie after movie.  Some directors take years and years to make something that won’t look or feel nearly as good as Midnight in Paris.  I really appreciate that about Allen.  In particular, I think Allen did a good job differentiating between the different eras.  And especially, while the film is obviously in some way a love letter to Paris, Allen makes sure never to allow the film to go overboard and become a Love Letter to Paris.

But I think it has to be Michel Hazanavicius here.  Making a silent, black and white film that’s a crowdpleaser?  Give me a break.  That’s insane.  How many directors would have the balls to attempt that, much less be able to pull it off?  The Artist manages to have the feel of a old time movie as well as a new one, while always feeling classic.

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.

This time we are going to talk about Score.

Music (Original Score)

The nominees are:

  • The Adventures of Tintin, John Williams
  • The Artist, Ludovic Bource
  • Hugo, Howard Shore
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Alberto Iglesias
  • War Horse, John Williams

BRIAN

I enjoyed many of the scores that came out this year and am generally pleased with this crop of nominees. I’d have liked for there to have been room for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo — Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ work on The Social Network was stronger, but their collaboration was a good match for Lisbeth Salander’s detached perserverance. Other good scores: X-Men: First Class and Super 8. (I’m a sucker for Michael Giacchino’s work)

On to the nominees (with an interesting note — only the film names are included on the ballot, not the composers):

John Williams for Tin Tin and War Horse: Unfortunately I didn’t get to see Tin Tin, so my knowledge of this score comes solely from YouTube audio streams. I’m guessing if I saw it I’d have stronger feelings, but what I heard didn’t sound very adventurous or exciting. Williams’ composition for War Horse was one of the high points of the much-maligned (unnecessarily, honestly) film. He transposed an Irish jig tune into a moving theme that popped up throughout the movie. It’s not Williams’ fault that the movie itself was overlong and melodramatic, but the score fit the tone well.

Howard Shore for Hugo. I loved this movie for many reasons, and Shore’s score helps it along. But where Williams’ War Horse succeeds by infusing what the audience knows (an Irish motif) with something new, Shore’s Hugo fails by being too close to the cliched Parisian cafe tones. The multiple train station characters were enough of a reminder of what I loved about Amelie — the music made it just too much.

Alberto Iglesias for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: This nominee is probably my least favorite of the bunch, though my criticisms of it are also the same I have of the movie itself: too plodding and sparse, not enough tension. Giving it a 2nd and 3rd listen don’t bring back any visceral memories of watching the film — no specific memories or callbacks. A good score should at least do that.

And my pick for winner, which I think will be the Academy’s as well, is Ludovic Bource’s phenomenal work for The Artist  Just consider how much heavy lifting the score had to do to keep the action moving. There were at least 2 or 3 distinct reoccurring themes that had as much personality as the characters each represented. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to mock Kim Novak for her bizarre tirade against Bource’s sampling of Bernard Hermann’s Vertigo. The absurdity of it makes me think that she may be mentally ill, so I won’t dwell on it or mock Novak for it, but the homage was far from “rape.” I thought it was a great wink-and-nudge for the film buffs in the audience. The Artist gets pretty bleak in parts, and theVertigo score was used well. Now if it had been used in The Hangover Part II, then maybe Novak would have something to stand on.

JOHN

Original Score is an interesting category because who I want to win and who should win are a bit different. The best of the nominees is John Williams for The Adventures of Tintin. It’s the right amount of playfulness for the fun motion-captured/animated adventure flick and it’s consistently complementary without overwhelming the rest of the film. That’s not the case with Williams’s other nomination, for War Horse. That score is more quintessentially Williams and overbearing. That dude knows how to hammer home a swell in the music and it becomes way too much.

But Williams already has five Oscars and this is a fairly insular branch. It’s good for everyone to spread the love around a bit in this category. I would probably vote for Alberto Iglesias’s work in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, a string-heavy, understated yet tension-building work. I think The Artist will win and I wonder if that’s partly because there’s just so much music. The score is the dialogue and is therefore very noticeable. But is any of it really memorable? Don’t get me wrong, it complements the film well and has a nice period-appropriate style. I just hope voters have the right motives.

I’ve heard a lot of good music in movies this year, even if they didn’t always qualify as original scores for the Oscars. The Tree of Life uses music marvelously though much of it was not original to the film. Other great uses of music include the electronic scores in Hanna and Attack the Block and the colder but still terrific Contagion and Drive. Music went a long way to establishing the disturbing atmospheres of Shame and The Skin I Live In.

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.

This time we are going to talk about Adapted Screenplay.

Adapted Screenplay

The nominees are:

  • The Descendants, Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
  • Hugo, John Logan
  • The Ides of March, George Clooney & Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon
  • Moneyball, Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, story by Stan Chervin
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan

JOHN

No need to beat around the bush here. This category has a very clear winner, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan pack an incredible amount of detail into this story. I understand there’s a lot more going on in the original novel and they have performed a master work of consolidation and narrative structure. Just think of the precision needed to properly order the scenes for the mystery to slowly unwrap. You can’t just rely on the novel for that when excising so many other plot lines. I also appreciate the intelligence the script assumes of the audience. It rewards careful attention and rarely feels the need to stop and explain things. There are no stray lines of unnatural dialogue meant to catch the audience up. I understand that some viewers found it confusing, but it kept me incredibly engaged.

Because we are the Grouches, let me whine about a couple of the other nominees. Moneyball improved a bit on second viewing with me, but it still feels like maybe a quarter of a story. Odd parts get a lot of attention: the big dramatic sports moment is the attempt at a 20th straight win, which is a cool achievement but wouldn’t a film about the quantitative revolution in baseball acknowledge that it’s still just one game, no more or less important than any of the other 161? And then it speeds right through the team’s upswing. The movie moves from several big trades to a montage where Billy Beane and Peter Brand are giving the players advice and the team begins its ascent. But these are unrelated episodes. What would a series of personnel movements have to do with telling players to take more pitches? If you’re changing the way people think about baseball, why would you wait to have these conversations until mid-season? And its quick presentation glosses over these important aspects of the Beane philosophy. As a baseball fan, a lot of little things like this hit me just a little wrong. And I’m not even as steeped in the game and the numbers behind it as some of my colleagues here on the site.

And while I’m ranting, what’s the deal with The Descendants? There are three major plot threads running through the movie: George Clooney’s wife is dying, he discovers she cheated on him, and he needs to make a decision about the development of his family’s land. Why don’t all of these come together better? I don’t often say this about movies, but give us more about the land trust! There’s probably a pretty profound statement to be made by connecting these threads about the responsibility to family and one’s place as a link in the generational chain but The Descendants just doesn’t do it. It has several wonderful scenes but it really needs to come together better.

I’ll finish with something that’s been driving me nuts about The Ides of March. the story hinges around the fact that Ryan Gosling’s character met with the campaign manager of the other candidate. This is viewed as a huge betrayal. But it never explains why. These guys are all Democrats. They run in a small circle of elite political consultants. They’ll all be on the same side after the primaries are done. Why is it so horrible to talk to the other side? This is all too under-explained for me and it really took away from the film’s impact.

JARED

Coming into Oscar season, if you had told me that the nominees in the category would include:  An actor on Community, the guy writing the upcoming Bond movie, a political thriller, a script about baseball and economics co-written by Aaron Sorkin, and a spy thriller, well, you could have made a lot of money betting with me.  But had I believed you, I’d be one happy camper.  Until I saw the movies, that is.  What a horribly disappointing category, chock full of uninspired scripts.  There’s nothing even to root for.  I realize the  films eligible don’t overlap, but for comparison, here are the films nominated for Best Scream-play at the 2011 Scream Awards: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2Black SwanScott Pilgrim vs. the WorldSuper 8, and X-Men: First Class.  I mean, geez, that’s not even close, Academy.

Since this category matters a bunch to me, I’m going to delve deeper.  Hugo is a bad movie for a number of reasons, chief among them, I’m sorry to say, is the script.   It is impossible to get attached to any of the main characters, since none of their developments are fluid.  The stuff with the early movies feels tacked on.  The bits with the characters who inhabit the train station are  a huge waste of time since they aren’t developed enough to care about them. Oh, perhaps most importantly, the movie is really really boring.

Speaking of boring, hello Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy!  Maybe it is just me, but I’m of the belief that if you are going to have a spy movie about uncovering which one of four or five people are actually double agents, then those people should appear on screen for more than two or three scenes before the big reveal.  Because I totally was not invested in the outcome.  I honestly don’t understand complaints that the action was hard to follow, because there wasn’t really much action to speak of.

The Ides of March is a great idea, in theory.  But it sputters in practice.  I agree with John’s points above about the movie under-explaining things.  He talks about the meeting, but that’s just one of any number of plot points where the film didn’t explain to the audience why it was such a huge deal in the context of the story.  It isn’t much fun to have a movie about the game of politics if the film doesn’t explain what the rules are.

Moneyball was always going to be a tough sell.  I’ll give credit to Chervin (and/or whoever) for figuring out how to turn the book into a movie.  That wasn’t an easy nut to crack, and a clear case where the adaptation from the source material required some serious work.  But a truly successful adaptation apparently required more work.  I’m a tough judge here, since baseball and economics are my thing.  But you know what?  I’m more or less OK with how they handled that aspect of the film.  I’ve more a problem with characters and how they flitted in and out in a desultory fashion.  I get that this is a film about Beane and Pitt.  But if you are going to have other characters in the film, you might as well use them with some coherence.  Also, and this goes to what John talked about, I think the writers got sidetracked a little too often from the main story about Beane learning, adopting, and arguing for this new line of thinking.

John also mentions this above, but all of the Grouches agreed that we wanted to know more about the land deal in The Descendants.  If we all are agreeing about a plot point pertaining to real estate, I have to think we are right on this one.  There’s nothing particularly memorable about the dialogue, either.  And I just realized by default that this movie gets my pick.  So I should say something nice about it, I guess.  Um.  It wasn’t terrible?  No, that’s a little harsh.  The script is fine.  I think it does a pretty decent job sketching out the different characters and making them distinguishable, and also like they seem they are from the real world.  Sure, the daughter’s boyfriend or the grandfather may be a little cartoonish, especially at first, but they get smoothed out over the course of the script.  Which is kinda like real life.

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.

This time we are going to talk about Cinematography and Film Editing.

Cinematography

The nominees are:

  • The Artist, Guillaume Schiffman
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Jeff Cronenweth
  • Hugo, Robert Richardson
  • The Tree of Life, Emmanuel Lubezki
  • War Horse, Janusz Kaminski

JOHN

When I saw War Horse, I thought it was being projected incorrectly. Particularly in the opening act as our remarkable horse is mucking about in the mud, the lighting is so bizarre that I thought it looked like a sound stage. It turns out they were specifically going for an old-fashioned visual style and lit accordingly. But, well, it’s not for me. I understand that shooting in black and white requires some special considerations from equipment to lighting and The Artist certainly has some visual flair, so I suppose I won’t begrudge its nomination. Dragon Tattoo and Hugo both look great, though the 3D was sort of a miss for me in the latter, but The Tree of Life really takes this in a walk. Even though it drives my colleagues nuts, the bulk of the film is a stream of exquisitely crafted shots. Lightbeams, clouds, reflections. A little meandering, but gorgeous! It’s really just a visual delight. And while I know that’s all part of Malick’s style, DP Emmanuel Lubezki still captured those images and they aren’t the delicate, crisp visuals that they are without him.

ADAM

As much as it pains me to say it, The Tree of Life should win Cinematography (if for no other reason than it shouldn’t even be considered a “movie” without the fantastic camera shots).

JARED

There are differing schools of thought on just how invisible good cinematography should be, but I think everyone can agree that great cinematography shouldn’t be distracting.  Well, everyone save for Janusz Kaminski, apparently.  His shots may be pretty, but they are so repeatedly in your face, demanding you acknowledge their beauty.  If I were to guess, it seems like there were a few specific shots that locked in his nomination here, and I would have edited every single one out for taking away from the film.  The cold, gray feel of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo seems rather appropriate, though I’m not sure anything stands out in particular.  Here’s some thoughts from Robert Richardson, cinematographer for Hugo, on the film.  I’m not sure if it is fair or not, but I’m docking the film some for the 3D here.  If Hugo represents the new frontier of 3D movies, then to me, 3D is dead.  Here’s an interview with Guilluame Schiffman, cinematographer of The Artist.  I was struck by how the film managed to look both old and new.  It is impressive to end up not looking like a replica, or a parody, of old black and white films while still feeling like it was something more than someone just hit the switch for black and white.  Schiffman talks about light in the interview, and I really liked the lighting of the scenes just before the fire.  In the end, though, if John and Adam can agree on something, seems like I’m going to be with them.  Whatever my thoughts on The Tree of Life as a movie, it seems impossible to argue against the cinematography.  The shots were, yes, beautiful and memorable and exquisite.  But they did all that while feeling so essential to the movie as a whole.

BRIAN

I wish I knew more about how the film industry, the production aspect essentially. I don’t wholly understand how to split out film editing from directing from cinematography from each other. Who makes specific decisions on how to film a particular scene or splice a set of scenes together? Who should I really be giving credit to? Hopefully, the Oscar voters themselves know how to divvy up the credit, but I’m probably giving them too much credence. No matter, I’ll use this space to offer the first in a series of why Hugo is my favorite movie of the year.

I have seen two movies that give me hope for the future of 3D technology: Avatar and Hugo. The former bombarded me with visual awe, in part because that’s what James Cameron does and in part to obscure the weaknesses in plot and character development (also what James Cameron does). But Hugo uses the technology to create the atmospherics surrounding Hugo the character. The opening sequence especially threw me into the world of early-20th-century Paris — first the snow that appeared to be falling on my feet and then the journey through the clock gears of the Montparnasse station. The movie itself is a mash note to the early days of film and the imaginative spirit of the industry’s pioneers – and Scorsese and his team created a film that the Georges Melieses of the world would have made had the technology existed. I was enthralled by the film for multiple reasons, but the aesthetics made me yearn to be a part of Hugo’s world.

As for the other nominees, I’d also be pleased to see recognition for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Artist, as both also built a world in which even if I don’t want to visit it (those Scandanavians are scary!), I feel as though I understand the types of characters who live there.

MoneyballWar HorseThe Descendants and Tree of Life — all of them leave me cold and uninterested.

Film Editing

The nominees are:

  • The Artist, Anne-Sophie Bion and Michel Hazanavicius
  • The Descendants, Kevin Tent
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall
  • Hugo, Thelma Schoonmaker
  • Moneyball, Christopher Tellefson

JOHN

Film Editing is an interesting category, partly because I’m not sure I’d always be able to tell a well edited film! The Artist, Hugo, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo all had bloat issues. I know that’s not all editing; it’s not the editors’ fault that the script for Dragon Tattoo calls for a story that just refuses to end. On the other hand, I had significant problems with The Descendants and Moneyball but still found them slickly edited. The visual style of Moneyball gives a film about numbers some flash. The segues between scenes are something I definitely noticed on a second viewing. I suppose I pick The Descendants as my winner for its tonal balancing act. The dramatic parts don’t become over the top and the comedic parts are nicely balanced by pathos. Yes, that’s also parts writing, acting, and directing, but hitting the right beats and matching with the right shots are all within the Editing realm.

Snubs: To me, the master Editing work of the year is in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. In such a dense, non-stop story, the editing needs to be precise to keep it all coherent. But this is also a film that keeps its revelations understated, allowing the audience to figure things out for itself. With that in mind, editing is key. A shot lingers just long enough to register who that character is out in the courtyard or to note that there’s something odd with one man’s shoes. It’s always just enough to tease without hammering its points home.

JARED

I feel completely out of my depth when talking about editing, so I’ll keep it brief.  I’ve found the article I’ve read on the discipline fascinating, but it kinda seems that without knowledge of the script and total footage the editor had to work with, bestowing honors is something of a crapshoot.  I’m going with Moneyball.  I had a number of problems with the movie, one of which was some of the weird scenes that felt out of place from the standpoint of the story.  But these stylistic touches, or flashes to statistics from a computer, or video from a baseball all felt like they organically flowed, and I’m going to chalk that up to the editing.

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