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So it’s been way too long since I’ve actually authored a post on this here blog, but better late than never, I guess. Since Christmas, I’ve gone on somewhat of a rampage seeing at lest 3-4 movies a week and at one point going 6 days straight seeing one of the Oscar-potential films. With one exception, they have been entertaining at the very least and wholly immersive and engrossing at most. Nothing has dethroned either Up or District 9 as my favorites of the year yet, but my top five changed slightly, which comes after my wrap-ups.

In order of viewing:

Avatar: This has been said before by people a lot smarter than me, but visually stunning with an atrociously derivate plot. I loved this Pocohantas gag plot abstract — one of the movie’s funnier spinoff jokes on the Web. As for the movie — just wow. The transitions between the WETA-designed costumes and Cameron’s CGI vistas was seamless — I couldn’t tell which was which. This movie alone has me so excited for the future of 3-D graphics — even the recent announcement of ESPN 3-D would have left me extremely skeptical had it not been from the gangbusters experience of watching Avatar. Oscar-wise, EW’s Dave Kargerwrites that Avatar is the clear front-runner for Best Picture. I don’t know if I quite agree with that, but presuming he has better sources than I do (which he of course does), I’ll defer to his reportage. A nomination is more than deserved — but a victory? Yikes.

Young Victoria: As Jared said shortly after we saw it, “above-average costume drama porn.” The Machiavellian politics of the English and European royals was pretty fascinating to me, although it did seem overly complicated. I almost wish it had gone longer, but then it would have been Young and Middle-Aged Victoria. Emily Blunt was quite good, and I’d be pleased with a nomination for her. Had the movie actually done better, I’d get my hopes up for a sequel — a la Elizabeth (though that sequel was awful) — but I’d have trust that Emily Blunt could make it happen.

It’s Complicated: Putting myself out there as an easy target, since Adam hated it and Jared disliked, but sorry: I enjoyed It’s Complicated. Sue me. Alec Baldwin was funny as the man-child who can’t find happiness with himself, and Steve Martin as the straight man was great — consider my expectations raised for the Oscars telecast. Between the two of them and John Krasinski doing his Jim Halpert thing, there were enough laughs to keep me entertained. That being said, the script took forever to get going and even then, I wasn’t impressed — the scenes between Meryl Streep and her ladyfriends was painful.

Hurt Locker: Expectations couldn’t have been higher — and they were met. Thrilling, exciting, engrossing, finally there’s an Iraq war movie I can heartily recommend. I cannot wait to see how the Hurt Locker pans out at the Oscars — it has the potential to upend so much conventional wisdom about Oscar movies. It’s an Iraq movie, released in June, about as slow rolling out buzz as you can get, no name actors, no MESSAGE. I may have found my horse for this race.

Inglorious Basterds: I can’t recall having as much fun watching the 2008 crop of films, but between Zombieland, Avatar, and Basterds, I have been thoroughly enjoying myself the past couple of months on numerous occasion. These films aren’t as artsy or contemplative as some of the usual Oscar fare, but goddamn it I was happy to be along for the ride. Who doesn’t love killing Nazis? I thought it dragged a little long, and there really was no “point” to anything in the movie, but that oddly enough is what made it great. No point — other than to get the thrill of watching Jews kill Nazis.

Blind Side: Read the book. It’s better, more nuanced, and doesn’t feature some pretty tired tropes. Not really a sports film, more a remade version of Erin Brockovich with Sandra Bullock. The movie does a decent job of fitting the book into movie form, however, so I’ll give them credit for that. The score is good, but ineligible for an Oscar. And the same guy directed/wrote The Rookie, so he’ll get my benefit of the doubt.

500 Days of Summer: I probably had unrealistic expectations going into this since I saw it months after the other grouches and most other friends. There was a lot in here I liked: Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, the musical scene in the park, the “reality/expectations” split screen, the disjointed plot device. I was hoping to see more of the happy times — and actually, I was hoping to see more period. (500 Days) was one of the rare instances this year where I was disappointed in how short it was, not in its overwrought length. I’d be pleased with a screenplay nom — and even seeing the entire crew get recognized for a best picture nomination, though I realize that’s a long shot at this point.

Single Man — Zzzzzzz. It’s as if Tom Ford watched a whole bunch of New Age French films, picked the aspects he liked from each of them and threw them together in a film. There was no discernable plot, and I found the ending sort of a cop out. I don’t get the Julianne Moore buzz whatsoever, but I appreciated Colin Firth’s portrayal of the closeted college professor. But the most egregious Oscar buzz is for Ford, whose heavy hand reminded me of the worst “LOOK AT ME I AM A DIRECTOR” touches since watching Lee Daniels botch the fantasy sequences in Precious.

An Education — I’m a Nick Hornby fan — and I’ve been partial to Peter Sarsgaard ever since he ripped Hayden Christensen a richly deserved new one in Shattered Glass. Both were well-served in the aptly appreciated An Education, thought it was Alfred Molina who stole the show and deserves a nomination, which he probably won’t get. And while I did enjoy the movie, a couple of major flaws (the drawn out finale that could have been 15 minutes shorter, the lack of any recognition that Sarsgaard was creepy as hell) kept me from loving it. Carrie Mulligan, however, is beautiful and played a role 10 years her junior with aplomb. The success of the movie rode on her shoulders and she handled it extremely well. The fact that she’s in Wall Street 2 makes me pretty excited to see that later this year.

Hey look at that! I posted! Wasn’t THAT hard!

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Thanks to those who joined us for the liveblog. For those who didn’t but are still interested in all our hilarious comments, including the time I ridiculed Michael C Hall for wearing a skull cap inside when it turns out he has cancer, check below the fold for a full transcript.

Hopefully we’ll have a couple analytical thoughts up early this week.

Your list of winners:

  • Best Picture, Drama – Avatar
  • Best Picture, Comedy/Musical — The Hangover
  • Best Director — James Cameron, Avatar
  • Best Actress, Drama — Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
  • Best Actor, Drama — Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
  • Best Actress, Comedy/Musical — Meryl  Streep, Julie & Julia
  • Best Actor, Comedy/Musical — Robert Downey Jr, Sherlock Holmes
  • Best Supporting Actress — Mo’Nique, Precious
  • Best Supporting Actor — Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
  • Best Foreign Language Film — The White Ribbon
  • Best Animated Feature — Up
  • Best Screenplay — Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air
  • Best Original Score — Michael Giacchino, Up
  • Best Original Song — The Weary Kind, Crazy Heart
  • Best TV Series, Drama  –  Mad Men
  • Best TV Series, Comedy  — Glee
  • Best TV Miniseries — Grey Gardens
  • Best Actress, TV Miniseries — Drew Barrymore, Grey Gardens
  • Best Actor, TV Miniseries — Kevin Bacon, Taking Chance
  • Best Actress, TV Drama — Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
  • Best Actor, TV Drama — Michael C. Hall, Dexter
  • Best Actress, TV Comedy — Toni Collette, United States of Tara
  • Best Actor, TV Comedy — Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
  • Best Supporting Actress, TV — Chloe Sevigny, Big Love
  • Best Supporting Actor, TV — John Lithgow, Dexter

Read the rest of this entry »

We were a little behind in getting out our top fives, so we put them all into one post.  Like the good old days.  Tragically, we all agree way too much.  And it appears we wish the Academy would find a little more room for comedies.  Especially comedies concerning the undead.  I do wonder, though, at the counting abilities of a few of my fellow Grouches.  I’m not naming any names, but I swear I see more than five movies listed for a couple of them.

Adam

Inglourious Basterds
Zombieland
The Hangover
(500) Days of Summer
Up In The Air

Honorable Mentions:
Sunshine Cleaning
Taken
Star Trek

Brian

Up
District 9
Zombieland
The Informant!
The Hangover

Honorable Mentions:
I Love You, Man
Sin Nombre

Jared

Zombieland
Up
District 9
(500) Days of Summer
I Love You, Man

John

Up
Zombieland
The Informant!
Julie and Julia
Up in the Air

Sometimes I leave a theater and think, “What was the point of that?” It tends mostly to happen with films that dwell in negativity without any obvious message, like There Will Be Blood. That’s a film I still can’t wrap my mind around as far as what it was trying to say.

But I’m not sure wondering about a film’s point is entirely fair. There are plenty of recent movies I’ve loved whose points – or lack thereof – never gave me pause. I can’t say I bothered with wondering about the points of The Bank Job or Zombieland. For these films a good, well-told story is a point unto itself. Heck, straight entertainment is a pretty good point. Maybe expectations are higher for prestige pics and I demand more, but even for these pictures I try to extend the principle that sometimes a story well-told is good enough. Some movies just eschew messages and themes for story, character, style, and atmosphere.

And that takes me to Inglourious Basterds, a film that really seems to eschew message. And if I can pat myself on the back I think I did a good job enjoying it despite it having no point. It’s a good, very enjoyable film with lots of fun, stylistic flourishes. I think what keeps it from being a great film is that it also doesn’t really have a story. There’s an overarching idea of Jewish American soldiers killing Nazis and a French Jew’s revenge plot to take out important Nazis. But instead of telling the whole tale, the film is divided into several vignettes, like Tarantino decided to just skip to the good parts. It seems to me his only real point is to be awesome, which certainly makes for an entertaining film but I think I need a bit more ambition to really love a movie.

The Weinsteins are gearing up for a Best Picture nomination campaign for it. I can’t say I really could get behind the nomination on its merits, but it would be an interesting, outside-the-box type nomination and those are always welcome. With ten nominations it’s hard to imagine a Basterds nod will squeeze out a personal favorite. I’ve also never been a huge Tarantino fan – I like him fine but his films are never a must-watch for me – but he’s undeniably an important and influential modern director with a dearth of Oscar recognition beyond Pulp Fiction (for which he won the Original Screenplay award). I can imagine forty years from now later generations of Oscar watchers wondering how the Academy managed to ignore him so often.

Beyond Best Picture and Tarantino as writer and director, Christoph Waltz seems to be a lock for a Supporting Actor nod for his role as an evil SS commander. That will certainly be well-deserved as Waltz is the primary image that remains in my mind from this film. He’s so deliciously evil, scheming, ad creepy. I’m not sure what else the Weinsteins are aiming for. Melanie Laurent for sure, though who knows whether in Supporting or Lead. Maybe Diane Kruger too? Or Brad Pitt? None would be a bad choice. And along with the film’s intense kick-assery could come some technical recognition (Editing? Score? Art Direction? Costume?).

Anyway, Inglourious Basterds is certainly one of the most distinctive films of the year and an enjoyable and entertaining one at that. I think it’s a testament to Tarantino’s cultural importance (and the Weinsteins’ PR prowess) that it’s even in the discussion for top prizes. But, even if I don’t think it’s in that top echelon of films, it’s hard to argue when something a bit different sneaks into the Academy’s exclusive club.

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