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

73. Big Fan

I’m not entirely certain there’s a huge crossover between cineastes and sports fans, but as someone in the middle of that Venn diagram, I was looking forward to this film, which stars Patton Oswalt and was directed by Robert D. Siegel.  Oswalt was a revelation and deserved, I felt, to at least be in the Oscar discussion.  His character felt very fresh, even if much of the plot was exceedingly familiar.  The film is pretty dark, which sometimes led it to be a little opaque.  The ending was certainly interesting, not sure anyone could claim they saw it coming.

72. Trucker

There was roughly a week last year where Michelle Monaghan received some Oscar buzz for this role, so on my queue it went.  I tend to have strong reactions to her roles, I adored her in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, thought she was a cipher in Gone Baby Gone.  I absolutely do think she could have entered the Oscar conversation with a few more scenes written for her (well, and a larger distributor wouldn’t have hurt).  The story is a little sparse, occasionally too much so.  I did think the reversal of traditional gender roles was used pretty effectively.  Also, let’s take a second to appreciate Nathan Fillion, who’s every bit as amazing as you’d expect him to be.  In a just world he would have at least been mentioned in supporting actor talks.

71. Year One

Seems like I may have rated this one a little bit higher than I expected, I’m sure that’s in no way related to Gavin calling that this film would be a huge dud.  Saw this one with Matt, Jess, and their new baby Grace.  Who I guess isn’t so new any more!  I’m not entirely certain what went wrong here.  The cast is solid, with tons of cool cameos.  It was directed and co-written by comedy legend Harold Ramis and co-written by The Office scribes…wait a second.  Did anyone else see this season of The Office?  Suddenly it all makes a little more sense.

70. Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant

I think there are many extra challenges to adapting a series (as opposed to a standalone novel).  One pitfall this film fell into was the desire to establish a franchise without laying the groundwork for one.  Much of the film felt like a giant prologue for stories to come.  Which, hey, may work great in a TV pilot.  John C. Reilly was his usual great self and Salma Hayek was the hottest bearded lady since Rebecca Romijn in Dirty Work.  Orlando Jones shows up, I think he continues to be criminally underused.

69. Me and Orson Welles

I’ve said it before, but there’s absolutely no good reason Matt Damon gets a nom for Invictus and Christian McKay get bupkis.  I refuse to believe anyone could watch the two films and choose Damon.  The thing is, I can’t even come up with a compelling argument as to how it could happen.  I mean, sure, Hollywood loves them some Clint Eastwood movies, that’s fine.  But Christian McKay is playing Orson freakin’ Welles.  Which tells me no one saw this movie.  Kinda like my theater, which included John and two other people.  Zac Efron acquits himself nicely, I think, and Claire Danes reminds us that she should have had a better career.  Eddie Marsan was a nice casting choice, as was Zoe Kazan who was in like everything I saw during one two week stretch.

68. 9

The second film on the list from the infamous Bengie’s drive-in triple feature.  Undeniably cool-looking, the film is about as far away from that other Nine as possible.  The apocalyptic steampunk feel is quite vivid.  I think we all agreed afterward that the film’s style could be described as “cool.”  But we all also agreed that the story needed some work.  Which is the big difference between Pixar and all other animation studios.  A case could be made that 9 was more aesthetically exciting than some of Pixar’s work.  But Pixar’s scripts are almost universally top-notch, which just wasn’t the case here.  Of course, that’s a pretty unfair bar to be trying to reach.

67. Sunshine Cleaning

There’s a lot of good stuff here, but it ultimately feels like a rough draft of a film.  To echo John, the subplot with Mary Lynn Raskjub is almost entire irrelevant and Alan Arkin’s character never escapes his character from Little Miss Sunshine.  Emily Blunt’s character never really gets well-defined, though she’s solid.  And Amy Adams has proven quite proficient at playing the eternal optimist who faced a giant moment of self-doubt at a pivotal point.   I also thought the film seemed a lot like a TV pilot.  I could definitely envision the continuing adventures of the crew.  And again to echo John, Clifton Collins, Jr. is quickly becoming one of my favorite characters actors.

66. State of Play

As I’m sure Brian would be happy to tell you, the DC geography in this one is…questionable.  But Russell Crowe does go into Ben’s Chili Bowl, so I’ve got no problems with it.  The resounding word that comes to mind when I think of this film is “average.”  It is an average conspiracy theory thriller with average characters and average intrigue.  The cast is quite stellar, I think you get down a dozen names before you get to underused Oscar nominee Viola Davis.  Rachel McAdams deserves to have better roles, I think.  Mirren got to have a little fun, but her character didn’t have nearly enough screen time for anything meaningful.  I’ve had the miniseries on my queue forever, I can see how the additional time would help flesh out the conspiracy theory plot.

65. Invictus

You can read all our thoughts on this Oscar nominee by clicking the link on the sidebar (or, to save you the energy, here).  I’ve spent a lot of time bringing this movie down, so I want to make it clear that I actually think it is a good movie, and I don’t have anything bad to say about the performances.  But it is an Oscar movie by pedigree and subject, not by actual merit.  I think John’s talked about the film’s spirit, and I agree.  If I were making a movie about the feel good can-do spirit of togetherness, I’d probably head directly to Clint Eastwood.  And then have my butt handed to me for being so presumptuous.  One thing I must continue to emphasize is how poorly the rugby scenes were shot.  They were made to seem almost incidental to the story.

64. Love Happens

I have absolutely no idea how I would have marketed this film.  So I can’t blame them for pitching it as a romantic comedy. The movie has many of the trappings of a romantic comedy: two attractive leads (Aaron Eckhart and Jennifer Aniston) each with a spunky best friend (Dan Fogler and Judy Greer) and a few other interesting characters (John Carroll Lynch and Martin Sheen).  But the movie is something else.  Something deeper and sadder.  Really, it is one of the better looks at grief I’ve seen.  The lack of definable genre was generally freeing, but at times it felt like the filmmakers themselves had lost sight of what the film was supposed to be.

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Ladies and Gentlemen, your nominees for Best Supporting Actor:

  • Matt Damon, Invictus
  • Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
  • Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
  • Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
  • Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

I’ll start things off — notice how everyone copies me with my pick:

    This one will be short. This category is probably the weakest of all the acting categories, and I’m not sure it’s even close. There’s one great performance — and a whole lotta nothing. So first — to dispense with the nothing. Damon as Francois Pienaar, the rugby player who channels Nelson Mandela’s magical wisdom to lead his team to victory (or something like that), is servicable in a pretty standard role. Harrleson as the fast-talking, heartless sergeant also does fine with the role he’s given — but its unevenly written and frankly, I liked him more as a kickass zombie killer in Zombieland.

    Christopher Plummer in The Last Station — whatever. Great death scene and all — but that whole movie — whatever. Stanley Tucci gets nominated here for playing a creepy dude — and he is wholly unrecognizable in the role, and I’d understand even giving him a nod here had it not been for the highly deserving Christoph Waltz for Inglourious Basterds. Everyone loves a villain, and Waltz is unforgettable. The screen lights up whenever he is on screen, and his climactic Machiavellian maneuver was unexpected. What a fantastic introduction to American audiences — can’t wait to see what he does next.If only Alfred Molina had gotten nominated — then this category could have gotten interesting.

One day after professing his love for Colin Firth, Jared waxes poetic about beards:

    Here’s Matt Damon’s every scene in Invictus: FRANCOIS [Standing apart from everyone else, Francois looks mildly confused]: <insert vague, short inspirational speech>  Francois leaves room.

    Matt Damon is pretty great, but a nomination for this?  Really?  The Morgan Freeman nomination wasn’t enough?  Terrible.

    Going along with Brian, I’m reading this Woody Harrelson nomination as taking into account his three supporting roles this year. Because I’m pretty sure he had the best year supporting actor year if you combine the performances.  The Messenger was the weakest, but he mined as much depth as possible from his one-dimensional character.

    I kinda want to give Christopher Plummer’s beard in The Last Station its own supporting award.  Is that possible?  Otherwise, sure, Plummer was fine, playing an outsized role to fit in with the movie.  What I mean is that I think if, say, Sean Connery had played Tolstoy, I would have enjoyed the film more, but the performance wouldn’t have fit in with the tone.  I don’t know what that means, exactly.  Plummer isn’t in my top five this year, but I don’t have any issues with the nomination.

    Stanley Tucci could have made this race more competitive had he been given maybe two more scenes of being creepy or if The Lovely Bones was any good.  Can’t say anything negative about him here, and I sure as heck hope he gets multiple chances to come back and claim his prize.

    As Christoph Waltz shows, bad guys have more fun.  There’s not really a point to me adding to all the wonderful things people have said about his role, so allow me to briefly digress.  This race has pretty clearly been over for months; a Waltz loss is nearly inconceivable at this point.  It is fascinating to me that of the thousands of supporting acting performances this year, everyone can nearly unanimously agree that Waltz stood head and shoulders above everyone else.  What are the odds of that?  There seemed to be absolutely no backlash, no one taking up the underdog mantle.  Brian asks about Alfred Molina, I kinda wonder if the team behind An Education figured the race was in the bag, they already had other nominations sewn up, why even both giving Molina a push.

    Christian McKay is the snub here.  I cannot believe anyone who put Damon on the ballot watched Me and Orson Welles.

Adam comes close to figuring out why he’s an ass, but decides just being an ass is more fun:

    1. Christoph Waltz
    2. Stanley Tucci
    3. Christopher Plummer
    4. Woody Harrelson
    5. Matt Damon
  • Will Win: Christoph Waltz

    Brilliant. I have to admit, I’m a huge fan of villains (big surprise there, I’m sure), and Waltz pulls off a great one. The last three years have given us three very different, but extremely good villains. Bardem’s pushed the limits on intensity and creepiness, Ledger put in the performance of a lifetime with his insanely dark (and darkly insane?) Joker, and now Waltz shows us the lighter side of the Nazi’s intellectual elite (and by “lighter” I mean humorous).

    I Want to Win: Christoph Waltz

    See above.

    Dark Horse: Everybody Else

    As with the last three years, the villain in one of the year’s most acclaimed movies is the “lock”  for the win in this category.

    Ranking:

    Grouches Critiques:

    As with Best Actor, I don’t really have much for this category. Because it’s not really a contest, no one threw out any odd-ball/horrible taste comments. I’m still holding out hope for John to say something stupid, but he won’t be writing his until after I submit mine. But, if anyone can do it, it’s John. It seems like he and Brian have a contest every year to see who can have the worst taste in movies.  I’ll let you know who comes out on top this year.

    Random Notes:

    The rest of the nominees were, in my mind, pretty weak. Maybe it was because Waltz outshone them on every level, but I’m not convinced.

John finishes things up by saying nothing new:

    I echo the sentiments of my colleagues when I say that Damon is such a nothing nomination. It’s kind of galling that this performance gets some Oscar love while his splendid turn in The Informant! gets ignored. But it’s really a performance of an accent, the occasional “c’mon guys, we can do it!” speech, and grunting while playing rugby.

    Plummer is fine but undermined by dreadful material. When we aren’t given any context to a character it’s hard to give him any depth. Unlike my colleagues I found a lot to like in Harrelson’s performance. He’s really terrific in any scene involving the army or notifying next of kin, though a little less so in any scene involving his personal demons.

    Tucci gave one of my favorite supporting performances of the year… in Julie & Julia. It’s quite a contrast to his serial killer role in The Lovely Bones, eh? I thought he was quite an effective creep and probably the best part of that ill-conceived picture.

    But of course my choice is Waltz. That’s a bingo! There’s not much more I can say about his delightfully sociopathic performance. I happen to be watching Basterds right now, so let me point out two aspects of this performance that I enjoy. One is his line delivery and the way he can say such awful things with a casual smile. And the second is the way he eats. Like with all his movements, he does it with just the right amount of flamboyance to maximize his sinister air but without really straying into cartoonishness. I’ve never seen a strudel devoured so menacingly.

    Snubs: The aforementioned Tucci in Julie & Julia. Harrelson in Zombieland of course. Zach Galifinakis in The Hangover. And two random ones for you: Chris Messina and Paul Schneider in Away We Go, the most sincere parts of a painfully contrived film.

Our build up to the Oscars on Sunday continues today with a look at Best Actor. Our choices of who we think should win have some nice diversity in this installment.

The nominees:

  • Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart
  • George Clooney in Up in the Air
  • Colin Firth in A Single Man
  • Morgan Freeman in Invictus
  • Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker

Jared kicks us off:

    The talent in this group is undeniable.  Four of them have put up such consistently amazing performances, playing a variety of roles demanding depth and range, it is almost scary.  And that’s no disrespect to Renner, who, this year at least, can hang with any one of them.

    If George Clooney were the type of guy to hold a grudge, he’d probably be egging Mira Nair’s house about now.  Because, as the story goes, after Nair’s Amelia tanked (honest-to-goodness, I typed “crashed and burned” before realizing how awful that would be to say), Fox Searchlight bumped up Crazy Heart‘s release date to get a horse in the Oscar race.  And that’s how Clooney went from a front-runner to an also-ran.  And one of the reasons I enjoy Oscar season.  Oh, to get back to the point, this is just George Clooney doing the same thing he’s done in just about every movie over the past decade, right? He’s quite good at it, of course.  But it is starting to feel a bit stale.

    I tend to conflate actor with character.  I think everyone does, to be honest.  Except I thought Jeff Bridges’ character in Crazy Heart was about as broadly-drawn as they come.  An alcoholic, down-on-his luck country singer who sleeps with any woman in sight?  No way!  He does as good a job with it as anyone could, but the buzz to me rings more of the Academy deciding it is time someone has paid enough dues to get a win (this is Bridges fifth nomination, and he hasn’t won in the past).  The film is about as “good” as Crazy Heart, but Jeff Bridges in The Open Road is what everyone thinks he is in Crazy Heart.

    Jeremy Renner was very very good in The Hurt Locker.  Not really sure that’s up for debate.  I think with an Oscar Scene (TM) or two, he would have had a great shot at taking this thing down.

    I’m not sure I would have put Morgan Freeman this high at first thought, and I wrestled with how he compared to Renner. Ultimately, though, it is Morgan Freeman.  I do believe I’d say I liked him more than Meryl Streep’s Julia Child.  Sue me.  Sure, it was partially an impersonation.  But Freeman humanized Nelson friggin’ Mandela.  That’s a job well done.

    It is entirely conceivable that I have a man crush on Colin Firth, if the concept made any sense.  I’ve watched four movies starring Colin Firth with 2009 U.S. release dates, and I’ll be darned if he doesn’t play entirely different characters in each one.  Here, Firth is working from a mediocre script, yet somehow manages to breathe life into his character.  Never flashy to begin with, Firth packs a ton of emotion into every movement of his character’s battle to let his reserve prevent emotion from coming through.  It isn’t my favorite performance of 2009, nor is it my favorite Colin Firth role.  But as always, he manages to be quietly fantastic.

Adam pulls for a guy who wasn’t nominated:

    Will Win: Jeff Bridges

    Actually, I agree with Jared’s assessment of Bridges role and nomination. Go read his piece if you want more…

    I Want to Win: Daniel Day-Lewis

    Yes, I realize he’s not nominated, and the movie he was in pretty much flopped, but DAMN can this guy act. Jared talked about Day-Lewis earlier a couple months ago, and I agree with his assessment. The guy is a chameleon and the intensity and range he can bring to a role is staggering. However, since he can’t win, I’m rooting for Jeremy Renner. He did a decent job and I’d like to see a non-Hollywood-heavyweight win.

    Dark Horse: Morgan Freeman (once again, not being racist)

    I love me some Morgan Freeman, but the nomination is for Morgan Freeman being Morgan Freeman…not for his portrayal of Nelson Mandela (that, and they are petrified of Clint Eastwood – as everyone should be – and need to make up for no Directing nomination). I personally thought he put on a pretty great performance, but not necessarily Oscar worthy.

    Ranking:

    1. Jeremy Renner
    2. Colin Firth
    3. George Clooney
    4. Morgan Freeman
    5. Jeff Bridges

    Grouches Critiques:

    Unfortunately for the -3 people reading this, I have no comments for this section. At the time I am writing this, only Jared has written his post and, unfortunately, I completely agree with his assessment (as stated above).

    Random Notes:

    Strong talent, mediocre performances for most.

Brian has a similar take:

    I too am rather impressed with this group — there’s not one nominee that causes me to scratch my head or ponder what the Academy was thinking or want to stab myself in the eye. This is an improvement. Even Morgan Freeman, who was quite good even while the script called for him to do his best impersonation of Yoda, is a reasonable nomination. A) He’s Morgan Freeman and B) He’s playing Nelson Mandela and C) He’s actually good at both those things.

    Speaking of actors being very good at being themselves, George Clooney. He’s really good at doing the roles he does, and he seems to just be an awesome person in general. I liked Up in the Air, as did all the Grouches I think — and Ryan Bingham was a fantastic character that was tailormade for Clooney. I liked Jared’s gamesmanship analysis — but see, thats not how Clooney rolls. How awesome would it be if he played a vicious villain in a future role? Like what if he did Christoph Waltz’s character in Basterds — that would be fantastic. I too have gotten off point — Clooney is great, but just not enough for my nod.

    Jared has a major man crush on Colin Firth. A Single Man is one of those instances when I have hard time separating his strong performance from a mediocre, dare I say subpar film. I have vague remembrances of his portrayal of a closeted gay man still mourning the tragic death of his lover — but the scenes that stick out in my mind are Julianne Moore’s failed Oscar-bait overacting, Nicholas Hoult’s monotonous cherubicity (yes, I made up that word) all blanketed by Tom Ford’s obnoxious direction. That was part of the point, too, I’d guess in having Firth as the stoic character (the “strong, silent type” as Tony Soprano would say.) But in a year with other, more enrapturing performances like Michael Stuhlbarg in A Serious Man and, of course, Matt Damon in The Informant, it doesn’t make the cut.

    As for Bridges, Jared’s analysis is truly spot-on. I’m going to take the same cop out as Adam and tell you all to read that. If you read Mark Harris’ New York story on this year’s Oscar campaign, then you’ll get the fuller story on how this definitely is the Career Achievement award for Bridges. Which is too bad, as I’ve loved him in other things (The Contender, Big Lebowski)

    If you’ve read this far, you’ll see that I’ll be pulling for Jeremy Renner. I can’t imagine anyone else in this role — he has the charisma and the badassery to pull off playing SGT William James. Considering he’s relatively unknown, I’m sure that other actors could have been considered — but no one, not even the modern everyday infantryman Matt Damon, would have brought the calm and coolness of Clooney with the internal pain/crazy that you’d see from a younger Daniel Day-Lewis. Really just a bravura performance that carried the whole film on its shoulders.

And John goes in an entirely different direction:

    Let me first cast judgment on this category. 2009 was a strong year for actors. I highlighted some great ones here. It’s not uncommon for one’s favorite candidates to not get nominated, but it is a little interesting that so many of mine seem like they should have been in the conversation but weren’t. So this is a fine slate but it kind of leaves me thinking of what might have been.

    Freeman is commanding in Invictus but I feel like he’s hampered by the material. He does a fine Mandela but he doesn’t get to do much but give cliched motivational speeches so he doesn’t get to exhibit much range. Speaking of hampered by material, I think the same can be said for Firth. At least we know he’s very good at long, boring conversations that try your patience. But I think it’s a performance that’s hard to buy into if you don’t buy into the film.

    Renner is terrific in The Hurt Locker. I love his intensity, sometimes verging on insanity, contrasted with his level-headed leadership when dealing with an over-his-head subordinate. The film takes some weird plot directions that left me a little unsettled, but Renner sells them to the extent that they didn’t really bother me until the film was over.

    Bridges is the best part of Crazy Heart. Is that saying a lot? Probably not much. But I think the picture is absolutely nothing outside of a good song without him. He gives a broadly-drawn character depth and empathy.

    But there’s one very clear winner here, and that’s George Clooney. Yes, the suave, self-assured character he plays at the beginning of the Up in the Air is standard for him, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive. It’s in his subtlety where he really shines; compare this performance to the over-the-top smooth characterhe played in the Oceans movies. Here there’s a perceptible softening as the film goes on and a shift in the character that very easily could have been overplayed but was not. He also has the magnetism to really lead a film.

    Jared says this is a character he plays all the time, but check out what he’s done in the last decade. Most of his roles are significantly more zany or animated. What this is like is his role in Michael Clayton. Which, by the way, was terrific and Oscar-nominated.

    Snubs: Michael Stuhlbarg in A Serious Man at least got some traction. But Peter Sarsgaard in An Education somehow did not. And I’ll say it til the world goes deaf: Matt Damon gave the best performance of the year in The Informant!

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.

Like you could live on nomination day without my thoughts on this year’s crop of Original Songs!

Rather than writing a small blurb on each of eligible songs this year (there are only so many adjectives for “bland”) I thought I’d pretend to be a part of the Music branch and nominate as if I had a ballot.

63 songs qualified this year. Voters screen three minute clips of each eligible song as it appears in the movie. I understand the idea since you’d ideally like to consider the song as a piece of a film. But clips have the effect of taking the song out of context – undermining their effect – and undervaluing final credits songs. A good final credits song can be perfect for a film as you sit and contemplate what you’ve just seen; think last year’s title track from The Wrestler. That’s lost in a clip screening like this.

Voters give each song a score between 6 and 10 with half votes allowed. A song must average an 8.25 score to qualify for nomination; there is no further guidance for what each score should mean. I take it to mean I should score 8.5 or above any song I think is worth of nomination.

The Best

“The Weary Kind” from Crazy Heart: 10. Sort of the point of the entire film.

“Smoke Without Fire” from An Education: 10. I love Duffy’s smoky voice. Could be hurt by its placement on the end credits even though it’s perfect there.

Depression Era” from That Evening Sun: 10. Nice, stripped down, folksy tune from Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers fame.

Down in New Orleans” from The Princess and the Frog: 9.5. Terrifically catchy bluesy song from Dr. John. Best of the film.

Only You” from The Young Victoria: 9.5. I have a terrific soft spot for Sinead O’Connor.

Hideaway” and “All Is Love” from Where the Wild Things Are: 9 and 9. I love me some Karen O and I love me some non-professional choir singers.

The Good

Somebody Else” from Crazy Heart: 8. Jeff Bridges pulls out his twangy country singing voice.

When You Find Me” from Adam: 8.5. There’s literally nothing interesting about Joshua Radin but the duet here makes it work.

“Fly Farm Blues” from It Might Get Loud: 9. I love Jack White and I love the idea that a song he was challenged to create in ten minutes for a documentary could get nominated. Polish up the vocals and this is awesome.

The Other Contenders

You Got Me Wrapped Around Your Little Finger” from An Education: 7. Lounge-y. Not for me.

Cinema Italiano” from Nine: 8. Kind of not good but also kind of appealing, at least when it gets fast. A lot of film lingo in the lyrics, which is funny.

Take it All” from Nine: 7.5. Marion Cotillard can sing.

(I Want to) Come Home” from Everybody’s Fine: 7. Bland Paul McCartney.

The other songs from The Princess and the Frog aren’t as good as “Down in New Orleans.” “Almost There” (7) is a likely nominee but too simplistic after a nice intro. “Ma Belle Evangeline” (7.5) is admittedly the best love song I’ve ever heard a Cajun firefly sing. “Never Knew I Needed” (6.5) is the Ne-Yo song I never knew I needed.

The Funny

Dove of Peace” from Bruno: 7. Fake celebrity benefit song gets an extra .5 since it’d be funny performed on the Oscar telecast

Stu’s Song” from The Hangover: 8.5. Amusing!

Other Father Song” from Coraline: 8. Crazy short! Yes that’s the whole thing. The problem with short catchy songs is they get stuck in your head.

Petey’s Song” from Fantastic Mr Fox: 7. Even Jarvis Cocker is sub-par in this movie. Wouldn’t mind seeing a nice banjo tune on the telecast though

The Schmaltzy

I See You” from Avatar: 6. No. Even worse than “My Heart Will Go On.”

Invictus 9,000 Days” and “Colorblind” from Invictus: 6.5 and 6. No and no. “Colorblind” may be the worst of the bunch. And god, so literal! Perfect for a Clint Eastwood film.

Winter” from Brothers: 6. U2 makes schmaltzy crap? Who knew! And again so literal!

God Bless Us Everyone” from Disney’s A Christmas Carol: 8.5. Maybe it’s just Andrea Bocelli’s voice but I think this could make a nice standard Christmas carol.

The Different

I Bring What I Love” from Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love: 6. Youssou Ndour wrote a song for a documentary about himself?

Innocent Child” and “Let Freedom Reign” from Skin: 6.5 and 7. A little bit better African music

Loin de Paname” from Paris 36: 6.5. The winner of a “make a song that sounds French” contest. Yes there are accordians.

Un Boquete de Violettes” from New York, I Love You: 7.5. Opera. Kinda of bizarre especially after Paris, je t’aime had such a great song.

“We Are the Children of the World” and “We Love Violence” from The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus: 6.5 and 7. I can’t say it better than New York Magazine: “We Are the Children of the World” is a mockery of celebrity charity, sung by urchins at a glittery A-list benefit. “We Love Violence” is a rowdy celebration of police brutality shouted out by vicious police officers, who conclude their ditty with spectacular flatulence.

The Hannah Montana

Hannah Montana The Movie qualified five songs just to torment me. Let’s get this over with

Back to Tennessee“: 6. Nice they let Billy Ray have a song. Awful.

Butterfly Fly Away“: 6. Awful.

Don’t Walk Away“: 6. Awful.

You’ll Always Find Your Way Back Home“: 6. Awful.

“Hoedown Throwdown”: 7. This is a square dance rap. Yes, you read that right. It goes into the “so awful it’s kind of catchy” territory! SO BAD YOU MUST WATCH! BOOM BOOM CLAP!

The Awful

The Word is Love” from Oy Vey! My Son is Gay!: 6. If I didn’t know better I’d say this is a joke video. Also features a horrifying Bruce Vilanch.

New Divide” from Transformers 2: 6. Transformers + Linkin Park = awful.

Possibility” from New Moon: 6. I can’t get over how bad this song is. I don’t know who you are Lykke Li, but you are on notice.

Na Na” from Couples Retreat: 6.5. What AR Rahman does after winning his Oscars for Slumdog Millionaire.

Blanco” from Fast and Furious: 6.5. To be fair reggaeton can only be so good.

One Day” from Post Grad: 6. Jack Savoretti wishes he was Jack Johnson. So that he could be mediocre instead of awful.

AyAyAyAy” from The Maid: 6. I don’t do slow hispanic tunes.

Legendary” from Tyson: 6. Bad Nas song.

“Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea” from Ponyo: 6. Available in Japanese and English (the latter with a little Jonas and a little Cyrus!). Monumentally irritating!

The Boring

Raining Sunshine” from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs: 6.5. Is Miranda Cosgrove ever not boring?

Being Bad” from Duplicity: 6.5. Is this a cha-cha?

Forget Me” from I Love You, Beth Cooper: 6.5. Acoustic version is a little better.

“My One and Only” from My One and Only: 6.5. Did you know Kevin and Bacon and Renee Zellweger did a movie together this year? Anyway, lounge-y and bad.

“Brothers in Arms” from Brothers at War: 6. I had been wondering what the guy from Five for Fighting was up to. Or not. Whatever.

Here” from Shrink: 6. I like Jackson Browne but this is a snoozer.

If You’re Wondering” from The Lightkeeper: 6.5. Yet another female crooner.

Through the Trees” from Jennifer’s Body: 6.5. This band, Low Shoulder, has a future entertaining teens and irritating me.

“Trust Me” from The Informant!: 6. More crooning. Still love the movie.’

“You’ve Got a Friend in Me” from Old Dogs: 6.5. Bryan Adams needs to go away.

The Ineligible But I Wish They Weren’t!

I Can See in Color” from Precious: 9.5. Mary J Blige brings it!

Help Yourself” from Up in the Air: 9.5. Sad Brad brings it! Whoever he is. Good song but it also works very well in the film.

Final Tally

That’s 58 of the 63 songs reviewed; the others I couldn’t find. Average score: 6.9. Yikes! I rated eleven 8.5 or higher, indicative of being worthy of nomination in my eyes. Now what bland, derivative songs will the Academy choose?

Oscar nominations will be announced on February 2. We’re counting down to the big day by offering some hard-hitting analysis and incisive opinions on the toughest questions surrounding the nominees.  One of the great things about nomination morning is that it never fails to surprise.  What strange stuff could we see tomorrow morning?

John:

The Blind Side gets a Best Picture nomination.

Clint Eastwood gets a Best Director nomination instead of Lee Daniels.

“The Weary Kind” from Crazy Heart is left off the Original Song list.

Jared:

Oscar sometimes moves in chunks.  So, Crazy Heart picks up a Best Picture nomination, and Maggie Gyllenhaal gets a Best Supporting Actress.

Or, similarly, The Messenger picks up a Best Picture, and Samantha Morton gets a Supporting Actress.

Finally, Nine gets a Best Picture nomination.

Oscar nominations will be announced on February 2.  We’re counting down to the big day by offering some hard-hitting analysis and incisive opinions on the toughest questions surrounding the nominees. This time around, we are looking at each category as a whole. Which categories appear to be the strongest and weakest?

John: Everyone With A Solid Year Take A Step Forward…Not So Fast Supporting Actresses

I think the likely slates of nominees will be pretty solid this year, mostly bereft of bad choices. On the other hand, there are few categories I’d call particularly strong. If I had a ballot I’d still have trouble filling it out with performances/films that I found worth advocating for. If there were only three slots for animated films, Best Animated Feature would certainly be the strongest category. But enough films qualified this year that there ought to be five nominees, which dilutes its still considerable strength.

The strongest category overall is Best Actor. If I chose irrespective of those choice’s chance at nomination, there are many strong candidates. If we’re looking at likely candidates, both screenplay categories look very strong. Even films whose scripts I wouldn’t find strong enough to nominate (Inglourious Basterds, (500) Days of Summer) are at least somewhat different. Compare that to the screenplay nominees I found disappointing from last year, like Frost/Nixon or Doubt, that were neither particularly great nor interesting.

The weakest category is Supporting Actress, where I find little to interest me either in the whole pool of 2009 supporting actresses nor in the list of those who have a shot at a nomination. Beyond Mo’Nique and Vera Farmiga there’s very little for me to get excited about.

I also don’t think there’s any doubt that the ten nominees has weakened the Best Picture slate. But at least the films that are going to get in because of the category expansion tend to be different, fresh choices, even if I didn’t always love the films.

Jared: Love/Hate Relationship With The Ladies

I actually think Best Actress is a very strong category this year.  Small caveat, The Last Station is (probably) the last Oscar movie I need to see.  But Helen Mirren is always awesome, so should she beat out a strong Emily Blunt performance, I’m not super concerned.  Otherwise, I think Gabourey Sidibe walks away with the statue in many other years, but she’s nearly out of the picture this year.  Similarly, Carey Mulligan was just breathtaking.  I’m a little lower on Sandra Bullock than most, but would still be tickled pink if she won.  And Meryl Streep certainly doesn’t need me to praise her.

Depending on what happens, Original Screenplay is a close second.  It has the potential to be filled with riveting, unique works.  And even if my dream scenario doesn’t happen, it is still going to be very very strong.

And yeah, Supporting Actress is far and away the weakest category this year.  I’m surprised there hasn’t been more of a push to get more names into the race.  Maybe it is because Mo’Nique has this thing in the bag.  Otherwise it is her, and then meh.  I already said my piece on the lovely ladies from Up in the Air, and then you are looking at, what?  Someone from the horribly overrated Inglourious Basterds?  (Although, I’d love a Diane Kruger nod, just to bump up the Oscar nominees who appeared in National Treasure 2.  The actresses from Nine were decent, but their roles weren’t anything special.  That Julianne Moore has a shot to sneak in here shows how much of a joke this category is this year.

Brian: If Only The Actors Could Sing A Song

If the Academy had expanded the Best Actor slot to ten nominees as they had with Best Picture, I’m not sure I would have found a choice about which to complain. Sure, Morgan Freeman is a gimme nomination, but if I’m going with the Academy trends, I can understand it. The next five in probably includes Mortensen, Damon, Day-Lewis, Stuhlbarg, and maybe even one of my faves, Sharto Copley for District 9. I have seen neither Nine or Serious Man, but from what I have heard I can’t image there would be anything too objectionable about any of their performances. Once I see them, they might even find a lobbyist in me for their likely snubbing tomorrow. Of the five nominated, I liked all of their performances. Freeman was serviceable as Mandela and he rose above what was a script replete with platitudes and Yoda-like pieces of wisdom. Colin Firth was the best part of Single Man and like with Freeman, transcended the limits of the story, not to mention the over-the-top direction. I disagree with Jared on Clooney and thought that even though was just doing his Clooney thing, it still worked great and I can’t see anyone else in the role. I’ll get to Bridges v. Renner when we do our Oscar posts later in the month, but both were fantastic.

Weakest category has to be Best Song. Not one of the Princess and the Frog has broken out and reached the public discourse. Granted its a wholly different era in entertainment from the years when Aladdin and Lion King permeated the popular music culture and had songs played ad nauseum on the radio, but still — I expect at least one of them to be recognizable. The song from Crazy Heart is the best of the bunch but even then — I am sorely disappointed in the list of possible songs and cannot see any of them being memorable even a couple of months from now. I leave it now to John to disagree with me.

Oscar nominations will be announced on February 2.  We’re counting down to the big day by offering some hard-hitting analysis and incisive opinions on the toughest questions surrounding the nominees.  All of us have our favorite films and performances currently on the bubble.  And we all have spent long periods of time spewing invective at the films and performances that will keep our favorites out.  What inclusion or exclusion on Tuesday will disappoint you?

John: Out With The Old, In With The Old?

On Tuesday, Invictus is likely to end up with nominations for Best Picture, Actor, and Supporting Actor. It’s not a bad movie and in fact has an irresistible spirit that partially overcomes some of its flaws. And Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon turn in fine performances, though they do not reach the level required for nominations in my humble opinion.

But what disappoints me is how unimaginative these nominations will be. Invictus is an epitome of Oscar bait: schlocky, a plot that superficially tackles difficult social issues, and directed by Clint Eastwood. With an expanded slate of ten Best Picture nominations, if we’re going to have mediocre nominees let’s at least make them interesting and not just the same old stuff. The sort of narrow vision that rewards films like this year after year is tiresome.

Plus the Freeman/Damon nomination combo will likely put the kibosh on Damon’s chances to be nominated for a much better performance in The Informant!, the performance of the year in fact. Freeman will slip into the fourth or fifth spot for Actor, denying Damon, while Damon’s own popularity in Supporting Actor for Invictus will erode his support for Lead. These perennial safety nominations are usually worth an eye-roll but now they’re actively undermining my own preferences! Gah!

Brian: Give Him The Idol, Or He’ll Throw You The Whip

Like John, and its pretty scary to write those words, I saw a lot to enjoy in An Education, and a few things to nitpick on (too long, etc..), but my adoration of the film begins with Alfred Molina as Carey Mulligan’s father. His bombast was great comic relief and his scene later trying to comfort Mulligan is one of the best in the movie. Viewed in the modern context, his views on the roles of a wife/daughter were abhorrent enough that you couldn’t even see why his wife would have married him, but it is to Molina’s credit that they were played of as buffonery instead of malicious disrespect. While I hope (and deep down think) that he will get recognized for the role, I’m going for the reverse jinx here and saying that he will be ignored. And if the Academy had any cojones, they would take a page from the American Latino Media Awards and nominate him for his role in Pink Panther 2 as well.

One other predicted disappointment I’ll make note of: Both Star Trek and District 9 fail to get nominated, clearing the way for Avatar to lock up the nerd/blockbuster-loving/visual-effects vote and coasting to a Best Picture nod, which would disappoint everyone this side of John (which is everyone). With those two in the mix, the outlook for a Hurt Locker or even an Up in the Air win becomes much more likely (albeit less than I’d like.)

Jared: Would Like To Make It Perfectly Clear That He Has Nothing Against Mr. Eastwood And Means No Disrespect.  About Anything.  Ever.

I’ve got a few gripes here, so I figure I’ll lay them all out and maybe I’ll get lucky and one will hit, like last year (with The Reader).  In the Best Picture race, the one film that really is going to cheese me off is Invictus, exactly the opposite of the type of film the expansion is supposed to help, I think.  Did anyone love this movie?  If you want to like it, that’s fine, whatever.  But just like Frost/Nixon, this film will be largely forgotten a year from now.  Heck, I’d wager the movie is largely forgotten right now.  It is just stunning to me that anyone who has seen at least a dozen movies this year could count the film as one of the year’s best.  If a film like The Messenger gets in, I’ll be sad, but at least I can understand how it inspires reverence.  With Invictus, I think people are confusing an inspiring story with a well-told one.

For Best Actor, I’m increasingly realizing I’m alone here, but I think Daniel Day-Lewis is getting lost in shuffle, thanks to the mediocrity that is Nine.  Well, and we also probably take him for granted at this point, since he keeps turning in larger than life performances over and over again.  Putting the movie aside, Day-Lewis is mesmerizing as director Guido Contini as he balances all the women in his life with putting together a new movie.  Any success the film has may well be directly attributed to him.  (Well, OK, Judi Dench is pretty cool, and Penelope Cruz’s dance didn’t hurt.)  The transformation Day-Lewis undergoes from role to role is just staggering.

Finally, if you want to have a debate over how much “acting” goes into mimicking someone famous, that’s fine.  But if you want Morgan Freeman and Meryl Streep to get nods, you have to want Christian McKay to get one as well, for playing the titular character in Me and Orson Welles (that would be Orson, not Me).  It really is as simple as that, for me.  His Welles is a whirlwind of a character, dominating his screen time, as any Welles should.  And he left an impression every much as vivid as Freeman or Streep, if not moreso.

Adam: The Academy Should Be Full Of Basterds

This is actually a pretty easy category for me. My favorite film of the year was Inglourious Basterds and it will also easily cause the biggest disappointment for me. While last year’s snub of Dark Knight for Best Picture and the little love for In Bruges caused me anguish, this year I believe my front-runner will get the nominations it deserves. Unfortunately, this triumph will be bittersweet and tempered by the fact that it will not win for Picture, Director, or Writing (I hope, at this point, that Waltz is a lock for Supporting Actor – not sure if I will be able to continue to watch the Oscars if he doesn’t). While my love for all things Tarantino biases my opinion, I don’t think it can be denied that he writes one hell’va script. To the point that even Jason Reitman gave him props at the Golden Globes saying he was still waiting for Tarantino’s name to be called instead of his own. Since I won’t be able to be unbiased, I’ll leave my ranting there and forgo the reasons Picture and Director should go to him as well.

Needless to say, the lack of a win in these categories will definitely be the biggest disappointment for me this year.

Well, John worked more of his magic and we found ourselves at a free screening of Invictus.  Directed by Clint Eastwood, the film tells the story of Nelson Mandela’s interest in the South African rugby team, specifically in its performance at the 1995 Rugby World Cup, not coincidentally hosted by South Africa.  A quick note before getting to our initial thoughts.  If you find yourself at a movie, and something amazing or inspiring or whatever happens on-screen, please resist the temptation to clap.  The filmmakers can’t hear you.  The actors can’t hear you.  You know who can hear you?  Your fellow audience members.

Brian

I’m generally someone who appreciates the parts of a movie more than the sums, but Invictus is an example of a movie where the sum was greater than the parts. The more I’ve pondered over it since seeing it, the less I’ve liked it. Overall, it was entertaining and I’d probably recommend it to most folk. So many of Eastwood’s choices — focusing on the security detail, using too much slow motion, beat-you-over-the-head preaching — left bad tastes in my mouth that if you give me a couple of months I’ll probably be actively rooting against it at the awards show. Kind of like the anti-Rachel Getting Married.

Jared

I thought the first third of Invictus was really solid.  A bit heavy-handed, sure, but Eastwood knows how to go for the incredibly low-hanging fruit of heart-tugging eye-watering melodrama.  Plus, I mean, Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela.  Soon, however, the film became repetitive and increasingly filled with poorly thought out sports scenes.  And an impressively buff Matt Damon doesn’t really have a place in the movie.  I will say, though, it is the best rugby movie I’ve ever seen.

John

Invictus is classic Eastwood: corny, horrible dialogue, utter lack of nuance, and an over-reliance on cinematic scenes that don’t advance the film as a whole, but damned if its spirit doesn’t win you over. Hollywood has dished out schlock since its inception and the Academy has lapped it up for nearly as long; I think if I’m going to consume said schlock it may as well be from its master. Eastwood just gets it to feel right even as I’m rolling my eyes.

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