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I’m back at it with the 2009  movies I ranked 133-124.  We are now segueing from the movies I despised to the ones I merely disliked.

133. It’s Complicated

If Adam refuses to come back and watch this year’s Oscar movies it is because I dragged him to go see this one, on the chance it snagged a nomination.  He’s still pretty angry about that one.  Between this and The Holiday, I’m kinda worried that Something’s Gotta Give was the exception and not the rule for Nancy Meyers.  Again, she has a solid cast and a good premise, but fails to come up with anything entertaining.  The film’s sense of humor apparently exists, though it can only be seen by middle aged women, John, and Brian.  Well, OK, save for the infamous pot smoking scene, which inexplicably bumped the film’s rating up to an R.

132. Bob Funk

I blogged about this one nearly a year ago.  It is difficult to create an engaging film featuring a main character without redeeming qualities.  I initially wrote “an unlikeable main character” there, but I got rid of it, because  I could see how someone would argue a character like House is unlikeable.  To reiterate my main point, the movie is a bit of a mess.  I don’t know if it was rushed into production or what, but the script could have used another draft or three.  But hey, probably the best movie about a futon salesman I can think of.  As I mentioned, worth watching if you are an Amy Ryan or Rachael Leigh Cook completist.

131. Rudo y Cursi

Not exactly a worthy addition to the soccer movie canon, sadly.  I love Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal, but this movie had absolutely no idea what it wanted to be.  It careened from from cliche to cliche, never stopping to establish any sort of consistent tone.  That said, Garcia Bernal’s version of “I Want You To Want Me” and accompanying music video alone may make the movie worth seeing.

130. An American Affair

A Catholic schoolboy befriends an older neighbor, who happens to be having an affair with JFK.  No really, that’s the plot of this movie.  Ostensibly it is a coming of age film, but I have to imagine the JFK connection is one of the strangest plot devices used to get there. Especially because it really isn’t a necessary element.  Like, at all.  The high schooler is played by the kid from Thank You For Smoking, for whatever that is worth.   The neighbor is Gretchen Mol (you might remember seeing the film’s poster, where she’s wrapped in nothing an American flag.  There was one by my old apartment for a month).  She holds a special place in the hearts of two Grouches, excelling as the horrible wet blanket girlfriend in Rounders.  I think she could have carved out a better career playing those type of characters, even if I’m not sold on her leading this film.  The ending, by the way, is pretty terrible.

129. The Last Station

Not sure I could sum it up any better than John did recently.  I refuse to believe Oscar voters actually saw this film.  Maybe they watched the trailer.  But a hearty congratulations to the publicity crew and whoever decided to do an extremely limited release in 2009, you all worked magic in getting two nominations out of the film (which grossed less than $10 million worldwide).  One note I had is that every actor in the film spoke with a different accent.  Now, I personally don’t really care if a film sees its actors all put on accents.  But it was kinda off-putting.  Also off-putting?  Finding out that James McAvoy is married to one of his co-stars, but not the one with whom he hooks up in the film.  I cannot possibly fathom the negotiations that went on in order for him to pull that off.

128. My Life In Ruins

The Nia Vardalos movie that wasn’t I Hate Valentine’s Day.  When Rachel Dratch is your third lead, your comedy is going to have some problems.  The word “hackneyed” comes to mind.  I do think Vardalos has the comedic chops to be more than a one hit wonder, but goodness does she need to find some halfway decent material.  In this one, her love interest’s nickname is “Poupi”.  Pronounced “poopy”.  Yup.

127. The Messenger

The other reason Adam may never want to see a movie with me again.  I was fine with the Harrelson nomination because, hey, Woody Harrelson.  But the screenwriting nomination is inexcusable.  It is absolutely right that this story was told and fantastic that they got such great actors to tell it.  I think, though, that people are confusing a harrowing concept with a well-told story.  Because there really isn’t a story here.  Of course, major bonus points for the Gaius Charles sighting.

126. Two Lovers

Joaquin Phoenix went crazy because of this movie?  I don’t get it.  Also don’t get the early year love for this movie.  A rather humdrum tale of a depressed guy living with his parents in New York lusting after a wild and crazy unavailable girl while going out with a more down to earth one.  Someone told me they heard the Jewish aspect was played up in the film, but that’s really not the case at all, not much more than a passing reference and some accents.  The movie is generally dull and muted.  Those commercials that played nonstop last year showing clips of classic films with scenes from this one (and a few other recent ones) always cracked me up.

125. Cold Souls

The simple description is Being John Malkovich, but with Paul Giamatti.  It’d be wrong, but comes closer than any single sentence I could come up with.  The film’s concept (souls can extracted from a body) is plenty fascinating.  As are some of the resulting issues it deals with, like the effect on a person of transporting souls, or how having a soul affects the rest of life, or how having a different soul changes a person.  But the film gets lots in a tale of Russians and smuggling that is just distracting.  It never gets as weird as Being John Malkovich, but it never gets as interesting either.  Though it is always great to see Paul Giamatti play a lead role.  David Strathairn and Lauren Ambrose are criminally underused.

124. The Graduates

Wrote about this one a few months back.  Great movie name to drop if you are trying to impress people with your vast knowledge of Animal House-style comedies.  As I mentioned, major props for the Ocean City, MD location.  But it ultimately felt like an unfinished work.  There’s a lot of potential here, as some scenes were set up very nicely, and I could see how the film was trying to dig a little deeper than your typical sex comedy.  But as is, just doesn’t hold up very well.

Thanks for tuning in.  Up next: We continue to learn that attractive women does not a movie make, one Oscar nominee, and the second Morgan Freeman sighting.

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If you want to get into an Oscar race but aren’t actually good enough to do something nomination-worthy, there is a fail-proof formula:

Romantic comedy + old people + winter release = absurd award attention!

It worked for As Good as it Gets and Something’s Gotta Give. (And the terminal old guy bromance, The Bucket List.) And this year it’s working for It’s Complicated!

It’s Complicated is a perfectly agreeable film, maybe even an above average romantic comedy. But if it’s not about old people or released in December (or starring a Serious Actor like Meryl Streep), it comes nowhere close to Oscar night. Actually, judging from the list above, if Alec Baldwin had been replaced by Jack Nicholson this would be a front-runner for Best Picture.

Oscar love probably won’t come anyway, but it’s pretty curious we’re talking about it at all. It does tackle the romantic comedy from a slightly different point-of-view, the older divorcee. And in fact I found it fairly insightful in the interactions between the main players. “Nobody tells you how to be divorced,” Streep’s Jane tells her kids. It’s an interesting point.

Too bad the it’s packaged around a completely by-the-numbers plot. Scenes involving awkwardly-timed tokes and webcam chats gone awry provide a few chuckles but are nothing noteworthy. The dialogue is quite ordinary and sometimes downright bad, like the scenes with Streep and her friends. I was intrigued by the characters and what they might do and think from a broad perspective, but not in what they actually did. A handful of unique sparks and a few solid points that hit home do not make a movie special. It makes it fine.

I can understand how it can sneak into the Best Picture-Comedy/Musical category at the Golden Globes, even though it beat out much superior comedies (I Love You Man, In the Loop). And Streep gets some HFPA love for sneezing (and, yes, she’s good here). But the Best Screenplay nod is just dumbfounding. In a category that’s not divided by original/adapted or comedy/drama, how in the world can someone think this is in the top five of the year?

Alec Baldwin got some small amount of attention for Supporting Actor, but that seems to have dissipated. I dig the guy and am looking forward to his hosting stint, but this is probably for the best. And goodness, please don’t let this sneak into Original Screenplay.

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!

Random thoughts here.

George Clooney plays a character named Ryan Bingham in Up in the Air.

The singer/songwriter who composed “The Weary Kind,” a likely Best Original Song nominee for Crazy Heart is named Ryan Bingham.

Zoe Kazan plays a character named Gabby Adler in It’s Complicated (second from right).

Zoe Kazan plays a character named Gretta Adler in Me and Orson Welles (left).

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 »

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