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The Oscars are quickly approaching. Because we’ve spent the time to see the nominees and because we’re really smart (and I, at least, have impeccable taste), we’re telling you what should win in all the categories.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

The nominees are:

  • Amy Adams, The Master
  • Sally Field, Lincoln
  • Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
  • Helen Hunt, The Sessions
  • Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook

Jared

I’m a big fan of Amy Adams. Watching Junebug (and her performance in it) was one of the reasons I started down this Oscar-obsessive path. She’s pretty much always fantastic, and one of the reasons I suggest people check out the underrated Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. That all said, there’s absolutely no good reason she was nominated for her role here. Sure, it was darker than she usually plays, and she was good. But it kinda seems like she got the nom for jacking off Philip Seymour Hoffman, which is maybe not the best reason ever to nominate someone.

It was surprising to me that Jacki Weaver hadn’t been receiving more Oscar buzz for her role, given she was a recent Oscar nominee and lots of people love Silver Linings Playbook. She’s actually pretty good as a character who is pretty much the complete opposite of her Oscar-nominated character in Animal Kingdom. But I don’t really get it. Especially considering Ann Dowd was in the mix this year as another middle-aged woman who struggles to keep things together while making a lot of food. Weaver and Adams’s nomination kinda make it seem like the Academy needs to get out and see more movies. Which is bad, since it is sort of their job to do that.

You know, I don’t quite get the love this year for Sally Field. As I mentioned earlier, I thought Kushner’s script had a little difficulty fitting the Lincoln family into the cast of thousands. Her scene with Tommy Lee Jones in the receiving line was fun, sure. And she does some good work in a bedroom scene. But in my mind there’s just not enough there to merit a nomination.

John and I both had Helen Hunt as the runner-up in our Spirit Awards picks, and we talk about her performance a little bit there. I’m not really a fan of the use of “brave” to describe acting, and the fact that Hunt got naked doesn’t really affect my opinion here. But how well she used her nakedness while portraying a sex therapist does. Nudity in movies often serves as a distraction (good or bad), and while it serviced the plot here, the impressive part was Hunt jumping into the character, almost teaching the audience to be comfortable with skin as she taught Hawkes the same. She also gets credit for the emotional scenes at home and in the car, even if I’m not sure they really added to the film.

hathaway1

But, yeah, obviously it is Anne Hathaway in her Sinead O’Connor homage. I don’t really have anything new to the conversation here, so I’ll just say that I watched the pilot episode of Get Real, which starred Hathaway and Jesse Eisenberg, among others. It was actually pretty decent. And kind of a fascinating link from the television of the late 90s/early 2000s and the often hyper self-aware television of today.

Should have been here: Man, this is a really tough category. If you asked me right this second, I have Hunt and Hathaway in my top five, along with Samantha Barks, Les Miserables; Rosemarie DeWitt, Your Sister’s Sister; and Emma Watson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. But a few seconds later I’d figure out a way to get Ann Dowd, Compliance; Emma Stone, The Amazing Spider-Man and/or Rebel Wilson, Pitch Perfect in there. And I’m leaving out a handful more performances I really want to mention. It was a great year for supporting actresses, if you are willing to think outside the box a little bit.

John

She really cleans up after she dies

She really cleans up after she dies

I’m a lemming and going with Anne Hathaway. She doesn’t have much screen time but she sure is memorable. She gets a little bit of derision since for “winning for one song,” but she does do at least a little more there. Not that it matters. Her “I Dreamed a Dream” is very powerful and instantly iconic.

Hunt is my second choice. The Sessions walks a fine line. It needs to be sympathetic to its subjects – it finds humor in the situation without ever mocking – but doesn’t want to stray into maudlin territory. The performance are a big reason why it succeeds.

Twice now in the short history of this site I’ve discussed that I like Amy Adams but that she was swept to an undeserved nomination as part of an acting showcase. Jared makes the same argument above because here she is again for a film that also landed nominations for two other actors. This time, though, I’m totally fine with it. Its hard to not be dominated by the likes of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix in a film, but she manages to be memorable in her own right.

Finally, not to disparage their work, but Field and Weaver made very little impact on me.

Who should have been here? You have to think that Ann Dowd finished 6th or 7th in the voting for Compliance and she would have been a favorite for me in the category. Compliance is a film that requires all its characters to continually do stupid things at the behest of a prankster. Through Dowd’s character we can at least understand how a well-meaning person could be duped so much. At least she got our Independent Spirit vote. Jared says it was a good year for this category but I disagree. Even his outside of the box suggestions do very little for me.

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The Oscars are quickly approaching. Because we’ve spent the time to see the nominees and because we’re really smart (and I, at least, have impeccable taste), we’re telling you what should win in all the categories.

Best Actor in a Leading Role

The nominees are:

  • Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
  • Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
  • Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
  • Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
  • Denzel WashingtonFlight

John

ddl2Yes, of course I’m going with Daniel Day-Lewis in this category. It’s one of those instantly classic performances that will be remembered for a long time.

But it’s still not an instant choice because there are two other really good nominees in this category. Phoenix is intense as hell, squirmy and angry. Washington turns in what I’d call a classic leading man performance. There’s not much in the way of showy acting in Flight but Washington totally carries the film with charisma to spare. He really nails his character’s charming yet dickish personality.

Cooper didn’t make much of an impression on me and I think Les Miserables actively sputters when Jackman is on screen. I know it’s a stylistic choice to give the singing a ragged quality, but Jackman’s gasping and over-emoting didn’t work for me and paled in comparison to his costars that took a more conventional approach to their singing. “Maybe the director should have worked harder to make sure his cast members took similar approaches to singing,” you might say. Yes. Yes he should have.

I would have dropped Cooper and Jackman for John Hawkes’s marvelous performance in The Sessions. I suspect the real Mark O’Brien would have felt very well-represented by the portrayal. Logan Lerman in The Perks of Being a Wallflower never really got the acclaim he deserved. Forget Cooper; Logan gives the mentally ill performance of the year! Finally, he may win in Supporting Actor, but Tommy Lee Jones really knocked my socks off in Hope Springs, pairing his trademark gruffness with a lot of vulnerability.

Jared

When I have Hugh Jackman in the cellar, you know it is a strong year for this category. I’ll probably never have a bad thing to say about Jackman (and I’m always reminded of SNL’s Best of Both Worlds sketch), I think he was a little bit let down by his director and the material here. The sing-talking was mostly distracting and a lot of the time he just didn’t seem to be in the same movie as everyone else. I think there’s a potential Les Miserables that would see me have Jackman as my favorite, but this wasn’t it.

phoenix poseIt is admittedly a little difficult to get past the sheer boredom induced by The Master. But I think Joaquin Phoenix helped create a very distinct character. I don’t know if this is going to sound insane or not, but I was most taken by a particular pose Phoenix struck throughout the movie. Hands on his waist, elbows out, almost chicken-like. It felt vaguely unnatural, but maybe since nothing else was going on in the movie, I noticed it over and over, and was impressed with how well Phoenix stuck with it (and other mannerisms) throughout the movie.

I say this as a very big fan of the guy, but doesn’t it seem like Bradley Cooper’s star power is outpacing the movies he’s starred in by a significant margin? He’s got The Hangover and its sequel, this one, and…what else? Limitless? You have to start counting He’s Just Not That Into You and Valentine’s Day, or, like The A-Team. Now, that’s not any sort of knock on his acting, a rewatch of Wet Hot American Summer and, say, The Midnight Meat Train will reveal a perhaps surprisingly impressive range. Anyway, to be more relevant here, this nomination is absolutely deserved. Cooper overcomes a subpar script and direction to deliver a refreshingly nuanced take on mental illness.

Flight is an underrated movie, and I think maybe as a result (along with the fact that there’s a clear front-runner in this category), Denzel Washington is getting lost in the shuffle a little bit. Which is ridiculous, because he’s Denzel. Like most actors, he’s more fun to watch when he’s playing someone who isn’t the ultimate do-gooder, and his character here is just fascinating. There’s a wide spectrum of ways of playing drunk, none of them necessarily wrong, but it is a lot more difficult to play a character going through an entire movie in an alcohol and narcotic infused haze of dependency. And Washington nails it.

ddl1I always love the stories of Daniel Day-Lewis so fully immersing himself into a character – texting like Lincoln, staying in character for the entire production and dearly hope the more ridiculous they are, the more true they are. To me, he’s a testament to what we can accomplish if we want something badly enough, including putting in the work. And for me, there’s not necessarily a value judgement there. His Lincoln is pitch perfect, of course. But when you think about what he sacrificed to prepare and stay in the character’s mindset, it is hard to say if it is was “worth” it.

At any rate, I think the world has pretty much acknowledged this race is and should be set, and everyone’s OK with that.

Should have been here: Along with Day-Lewis and Washignton, I have John Hawkes, The Sessions; Matthew McConaughey, Killer Joe, and Logan Lerman, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. With Cooper; Channing Tatum, Magic Mike; and Liam Neeson, The Grey on the outside.

The Oscars are quickly approaching. Because we’ve spent the time to see the nominees and because we’re really smart (and I, at least, have impeccable taste), we’re telling you what should win in all the categories.

Best Original Song

The nominees are:

  • “Before My Time,” Chasing Ice (Scarlett Johansson)
  • “Everybody Needs a Best Friend,” Ted (Norah Jones)
  • “Pi’s Lullaby,” Life of Pi (Bombay Jayashri)
  • “Skyfall,” Skyfall (Adele)
  • “Suddenly,” Les Miserables (Hugh Jackman)

Jared

For all my hate of Les Miserables, there actually is some good (maybe even great) music in there. “Suddenly” is not that. There are a few exciting measures around the “Trusting me the way you do/I’m so afraid of failing you” bit, but the rest feels like a poor man’s imitation of a lesser Muppet song or something. John and I were talking about the problems with Jackman’s speak-singing, and I think some of those are manifested in the song, in that the music isn’t terribly interesting to begin with, and since Jackman isn’t going all out, the song ends up pretty boring.

Maybe it is because I first came across the song on YouTube, but “Before My Time” sounds exactly like it should be played over the end credits. Always gently moving forward, it presumably allows for some mild reflection as it provides the soundtrack for your exit. Somber and inoffensive, I’ll completely forget this song in 15 minutes.

So, my listens of “Everybody Needs a Best Friend” are probably colored by two other things I’ve been listening to lately. Norah Jones’s “Miriam” (thanks Ian!) is a murder ballad that, frankly, makes me terribly frightened of the chanteuse. But she’s so good on it, I keep wanting to hear a sinister undertone to this song. Which is on me, I know. And then yesterday I listened to Emmy Rossum’s new album of standards. Anyway, where I’m at is that “Everybody Needs a Best Friend” is a perfectly fine throwback to the olden days, and one of the reasons I’m cautiously optimistic about Seth MacFarlane hosting the show. The song is an earnest attempt at a standard, but I’d argue is hampered by its timidness. MacFarlane can be quite clever, but the lyrics lack a hook or spark that I heard in some of the stuff on Rossum’s album. Granted, it is a bit much to ask an Oscar nominee to be a classic, but the point still holds.

I have to admit that the first three or four or times I listened to “Pi’s Lullaby”, it felt inconsequential. But then something finally clicked. Especially once the main theme kicks in around a minute and a half into the song. I think the key is to think “lullaby”. Danna creates a dreamy, almost lush, sound that is light and effervescent, playful and calming.

adele

But obviously it was always going to be “Skyfall”. Obviously it sounds exactly like what you’d expect an Adele Bond theme song to sound like. But that’s OK, because I’d expect an Adele Bond theme to be amazing. You know, I’ve spent the past ten minutes trying to figure out how to reconcile this song with the rest of the Bond movie (which I’d argue save for the opening sequence, the plot point cribbed from The World is Not Enough, and maaybe the last five minutes, isn’t really a Bond film). I think it was too easy for this collaboration to happen, it would have been more difficult to come up with a different plan. And while everything about this is on the nose, again, that doesn’t make it bad.

John

I enjoy the Original Song category, but damned if it isn’t frustrating. Some years there’s a crappy crop of songs and the Academy dutifully nominates a crappy slate. Then other years there are a number of good and compelling songs… and the Academy nominates a bunch of crappy songs. At least this year they are nominating five unlike last year’s debacle. This was a decent year and if you made a playlist of the eligible tunes you’d be sure to find many you like. So it’s too bad this year’s list of nominated songs is so bland.

There’s a clear winner. Thankfully, it’s also a darn good song used to good effect in its film and not just the best of a weak crop. And that winner is “Skyfall.” Adele was made to sing a Bond song, don’t you think?

“Pi’s Lullaby” is the only other nominee I like and it’s sort of an unmemorable Indian chant tune. “Chasing Ice” and “Everybody Needs a Best Friend” are totally bland. “Suddenly” is not helped by Hugh Jackman’s heavily-emoted singing and it sounds pretty bad out of context. I might say maybe it would be better if it was recorded in studio, but it just isn’t a very good song.

So what should have been here? I don’t know how both of the folksy tunes from Brave, “Learn Me Right” (Mumford and Sons” and “Touch the Sky,” missed here. The latter is even part of a neat early scene in the film. For some hip hop, check out “100 Black Coffins” from Django Unchained. “He’s Everything” (Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah) from gospel choir movie Joyful Noise and “Let It Rain” (Badly Drawn Boy) from Being Flynn are two longshot favorites of mine.

Best Original Score

The nominees are:

  • Dario Marianelli, Anna Karenina
  • Alexandre Desplat, Argo
  • Mychael Danna, Life of Pi
  • John Williams, Lincoln
  • Thomas Newman, Skyfall

John

We have a nice slate of Original Score nominees and there isn’t an obvious winner. I’d say Anna Karenina and Life of Pi are the only two nominees whose scores truly caught my attention during the film. Joe Wright always lines up some interesting music for his films. Marianelli’s previous contribution to a Wright film in Atonement won him a well-deserved Oscar and check out last year’s Hanna for a pulsating score from the Chemical Brothers. The Anna Karenina score doesn’t have quite the gusto of Atonement, but it is a great complement to the film’s inventive scenes. Life of Pi works better in the film than on its own. Without the stunning visual displays it feels a bit incomplete but it is a vital part of the film as a whole.

Every year there always seems to be one understated nominee in this category and Argo fits the bill this year. Good music with interesting Middle Eastern twinges to some of the compositions, but not particularly memorable.

Finally, there are the brash nominees. Williams leaves no doubt that he is scoring a Spielberg film and sometimes Lincoln is suffocated in swells of music that hammer home every emotional beat. But the woodwind motifs make it feel like an instant classic (or is it so derivative of previous Williams compositions that it just feels like a classic?). Finally, Skyfall is in your face, loud, and thrilling. It’s probably the best of the bunch when listening to it on its own.

Mychael Danna

Mychael Danna

So which to choose? Is it better to lean towards the work that I simply like the best or is its use in the film most important? It’s a very close race for me between Life of Pi, Skyfall, and Lincoln. At any given point my mind may change, but for now I lean towards Life of Pi. It doesn’t quite hold up to the other two as standalone compositions, but it’s so successful in the context of the film and essential to the film.

Should have been here: Aside from Les Miserables, the only soundtrack that has received numerous replays from me this year is Brave with its Scottish folk compositions. It can be overbearing, but the music in Cloud Atlas sometimes feels like a separate character while the pulsing music from Beasts of the Southern Wild perfectly punctuate a few great scenes, particularly at the end. And I’m not sure if it was eligible, but Johnny Greenwood gives Paul Thomas Anderson another brilliant, off-kilter composition for The Master.

Best Sound Editing

The nominees are:

  • Arog
  • Django Unchained
  • Life of Pi
  • Skyfall
  • Zero Dark Thirty

Best Sound Mixing

The nominees are:

  • Argo
  • Les Miserables
  • Life of Pi
  • Lincoln
  • Skyfall

John

I’m no expert on the subject, but I usually have some sort of opinion on the sound categories. But I look at these nominees and I’ve got nothing. The mixture of Western and blacksploitation styles in Django Unchained gets my vote for Sound Editing. That film wasn’t nominated in Mixing, so I’ll switch allegiance to Les Miserables. I didn’t think the live singing always worked as a stylistic choice, but it did always feel realistic and gave the mixers an extra challenge to properly balance the vocals, backing music, and effects. Plus bonus points for the extra-loud, extra-gross sound of Jalvert’s body slamming into the stones below while committing suicide!

 

The Impossible: Not nominated but memorable

The Impossible: Not nominated but memorable

Last year I made a comment that action movies do not have realistic sounds and compared the digital clangs in Transformers to the terrifying noises produced by tsunami footage found online and in last year’s Documentary Short nominee The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom. I said an action movie should try some more realistic sounds and one actually did this year, with a tsunami to boot! The Impossible‘s tsunami scenes expertly use sound to terrify the audience. The relentless pounding of the current displays the awesome power of the sea. The groans, cracks, and crunches of debris feel deadly and not just digital creations. Then the film does all the above while underwater to bring home the utter chaos of it all. This is immersive, thrilling, and terrifying work.

The Oscars are quickly approaching. Because we’ve spent the time to see the nominees and because we’re really smart (and I, at least, have impeccable taste), we’re telling you what should win in all the categories.

Best Visual Effects

The nominees are:

  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  • Life of Pi
  • Marvel’s The Avengers
  • Prometheus
  • Snow White and the Huntsman

John

pi_effects

I like seeing films with more of an artistic bent show up in this category. Superheroes and monsters are fun enough, but they feel pretty standard at this point. Something like The Hulk in The Avengers is a bit different, but it’s hard to beat the imagination and artistry of Life of Pi. The animals are truly fantastic, not to mention the storms, the shipwreck, and the more surreal scenes on the ocean. The effects are also absolutely vital to the film, which helps.

I actually didn’t particularly care for the effects in Snow White and the Huntsman, but the way they turned recognizable actors into dwarfs was pretty neat.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

The nominees are:

  • Hitchcock
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  • Les Miserables

John

This category strikes me as a quantity vs quality argument. Hitchcock turns Anthony Hopkins into the Master of Suspense, plastering his face to fill out his jowls. It’s effective but also the only really notable makeup work in the film. On the other hand, The Hobbit and Les Miserables have no one makeup job nearly as impressive and important as Hitchcock, but instead spread the work out across a whole cast of made-up characters.

The Hobbit isn’t really breaking any new ground here, creating the same creatures they did back in the Lord of the Rings movies. But still, there are a variety of creatures with distinguishing features (think of elven ears). The variety of hair and beard styles among the traveling band of dwarfs was a nice touch that stood out to me.

lesmis_makeupI admit after watching Les Miserables I puzzled over its nomination in this category. Was it the period hairstyles? The grime spread across everyone’s faces? The dirty teeth? Probably all of the above, but diving deeper there are some showier makeup showcases, such as on the innkeepers and the prostitutes, not to mention aging the main characters. It has a theatrical effect, which I’m sure was the intent, and wins my vote, though I admit not caring all that much.

The Makeup branch declined to nominate two more ostentatious makeup showpieces in Looper and Cloud Atlas. I know some people found the work in these films to be a bit too distracting so their omission is understandable (and, truth be told, a few of the many ballsy makeup jobs in Cloud Atlas can look totally dreadful), but I would have enjoyed to see them here, even if just to get these two memorable films some Oscar love in at least one category.

The Oscars are quickly approaching. Because we’ve spent the time to see the nominees and because we’re really smart (and I, at least, have impeccable taste), we’re telling you what should win in all the categories.

Best Production Design

The nominees are:

  • Anna Karenina
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  • Les Miserables
  • Life of Pi
  • Lincoln

John

Meerkat island aside, what part of Life of Pi earned it a nomination in this category? The look and feel of the lifeboat? The precise level of surreal air given to any particular scene surrounded by vast open sea? But the Art Directors Guild gave it the win in the fantasy film category so maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about.

I specifically saw Les Miserables on a larger screen because I thought the sets would be fun to see, but they were underutilitzed in the film. Director Tom Hoopers constant closeup shots didn’t bother me as much as it did others, but it certainly made it hard to appreciate the backdrops. The film also lacked the epic air I expected it to have, part of that due to uninspired (and overly-digital) period sets.

Lincoln and The Hobbit both have very effective production design that subtly help establish their settings without getting in their way. They are also both somewhat unmemorable and The Hobbit‘s sets aren’t really breaking any new ground. There are a few new castles, but otherwise much of the film takes place outside or in settings first created for Lord of the Rings over a decade ago.

annakpd1

That leaves me with Anna Karenina. I love the creative use of sets in this film. Many scenes take place in an old theater that is constantly shifting to represent different settings, from a horse race to a train station to a ballroom. The film notably loses its luster in its second half when it moves away from the theater more often. I am somewhat conflicted, however, because I’m not sure it’s much more than a gimmick. I pilloried the nomination Nine received in this category a few years back because it was basically creative use of scaffolding and I don’t want to be a hypocrite. But, hell, the production design by itself greatly enhanced my enjoyment of the film so I’ll roll with it, even if the “living life on a stage” allegory is a little trite.

There were several films with really interesting production design that would have made for a stellar list of nominees. What about the various spacecraft of Prometheus? The numerous time periods – particularly the future dystopia – of Cloud Atlas? And, especially, Skyfall for its villain lair, Shanghai skyscraper, gloomy London offices, and creaky Scottish estate?

Jared

annakpd2

I haven’t been able to bring myself to see The Hobbit, so I won’t submit a vote, but I wanted to a say a few words on behalf of Anna Karenina, my clear favorite among the other four nominees. Granted, I’m not sure the production design was used as well as it could have been (I’m putting that more on Joe Wright). But I can vividly remember the sets from the film (no small feat), a wide array of different settings. And different levels, really, thanks to the odd play within a movie effect that Wright seemed to be going for, some of the time. Those meta-sets were all extremely clever. I also thought the design team put together some pretty impressive sets which were a little more traditional. Oblonsky’s workplace and home, the cottage in the field, Vronsky’s apartment, really, just about everywhere felt heightened without going over the top, a large range of different types of sets, all of which enhanced the feel of the movie.

Best Costume Design

The nominees are:

  • Anna Karenina
  • Les Miserables
  • Lincoln
  • Mirror Mirror
  • Snow White and the Huntsman

John

mirrormirror2As usual, this category is dominated by fantasy and period pieces. Lincoln, Anna Karenina, and Les Miserables all have flashy period costumes, but I’m a little tired of frilly frocks taking this prize year after year. Plus, as advocates for more contemporary designs often point out, a lot of period costumes can simply be rented. Not to deride the costumes in these films – all are notable and interesting in their films – but none feel vital to their films or their visual designs except that they are period-appropriate.

mirrormirror1The Snow White films do more. In Snow White and the Huntsman, I’d say Cherlize Theron’s Evil Queen wardrobe really drove the nomination and her clothing, in turn, helped set the tone for the character. But Mirror Mirror takes only about five minutes to win the battle of the Snow Whites and, therefore, this category. The late Eiko Ishioka designs a wide range of bizarre yet delightful designs that contribute to the film’s fun, campy tone. An animal-themed costume party and the seven dwarfs’ slinky pogo pants are two standouts for me.

Looking at some other films that might have made an impact here, how about combination of period clothing and Andersonian design for Moonrise Kingdom? Or the bizarre fashion and dystopian look of The Hunger Games?

The annual Christmas movie with the family failed disastrously, so later on Gavin and I, along with Brian, headed off to see a sold out Les Miserables at Gallery Place.  I hadn’t seen the musical before, for whatever that is worth.

There are a handful of solid songs – Walking out of the theater, I probably grumbled something about there only being a good song and a half in the lot.  Upon further reflection, that was wrong, colored by something I’ll get to in the next point.  Still not sure I’ll ever have a desire to listen through the whole soundtrack, but I’ve listened to “I Dreamed a Dream”, “On My Own”, and “One Day More” a few times in the past week, and they are growing on me a lot.  And I kinda dug the march.
Tom Hooper is the worst director of the year – Hooper’s controversial non-stop use of extreme closeups singlehandedly made the movie darn near unwatchable.  Sure, the technique was effective in Anne Hathaway’s arresting take on “I Dreamed a Dream”, even if Hooper was essentially cribbing from John Maybury’s direction for video of Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”.  You know what isn’t effective?  TWO AND A HALF HOURS OF THAT.
Actors who can sing are important to a musical – And the people in charge of casting generally acquitted themselves quite well.  All of the women (Hathaway, Barks, Seyfried) are more than competent singers.  Regardless of your take on his performance, Hugh Jackman can clearly sing.  Eddie Redmayne is maybe a little too froggy for my taste, but again, not a distraction.  And while Russell Crowe may have the most limited range of the group, I found the stiff raggedness of his singing to actually mesh quite well with his interpretation of Javert.  Of course, you should keep in mind that Guys and Dolls is my favorite movie musical, and it includes the musical stylings of Marlon Brando, so as with most things, it is entirely possible I have no idea what I’m talking about.

I think there’s a compelling story in there somewhere – I’m generally a fan of the 19th century epics, which seemingly always span decades and involve war/revolution, people hiding from their past which inevitably catches up with them, fallen women, true love, someone being spurned, the rigid nature of manners getting in the way of things, and orphans.  Always with the orphans.  Anyway, most of that stuff was in there.
Tom Hooper is the worst director of the year (part two) – Unfortunately, none of things were allowed to build into a cohesive story.  Granted, some of the blame is on the screenwriter and the original French adapters, and maybe even Victor Hugo.  But here’s the thing.    I shouldn’t have to be armed with the full backstory from the stage musical or novel to wishcast a fleshed out plot onto the film.  I also think Hooper’s obsession with extreme close ups prevented him from more completely showing the interactions between characters that I think was needed.
There are a few ‘quels I’d like to see – I found the idea of Javert kinda fascinating, that in order to enforce the laws you need to believe in them completely.  I bet his story would be pretty interesting.  As far as I could tell, Eponine was the only character who isn’t insufferable.  It was kind of frustrating to be dropped in at the tail end of her story, and a credit to Samantha Barks that the character was as compelling as she was.  Not to get all Nicholas Sparks up in here, but I think you’d have a heck of a tearjerker if you keep her portion of the movie as an ending and start at the beginning of her relationship with Marius (hopefully giving him actual depth).  Oh, and a Dennis Dugan-directed spinoff of the Thenardiers, of course.

Let’s not be too harsh on Tom Hooper – I actually enjoyed the “Master of the House” scene, for example.  I think Hooper deftly used space and camerawork to create a dementedly garish romp.
Tom Hooper is the worst director of the year (part three) – Of course, that scene was wildly different, tonally, from the rest of Hooper’s bleak, gray movie.  Jarringly so, to the point where I don’t see how it fits.  I’ve got one more (possibly unfair) criticism.  Again, I haven’t seen the musical on stage, but multiple sources have said part of the appeal is the spectacle of it all.  During the film, however, I noted the smallness of everything multiple times.  The hated close ups, sure.  But also the barricade seemed really insignificant.  And the funeral procession, to me, felt minor, which was off-putting, since the march seemed to indicate something grander.  I guess all this means Hooper was being relatively consistent in his choices, but…why?
I’m running out of nice things to say, so, um, Jean Valjean is a great name – No, seriously.  Say it out loud.  “Jean Valjean”.  It is great!  He should be a secret agent.

If the movie were a sandwich, it would be:  Hard to tell.  Something on a baguette, of course.  The filling smells kind of decent, but the fact that the chef keeps trying to jam the sandwich into your face kinda hinders your ability to enjoy it.

Geez, has it really been two months since this blog saw a post?  In our defense, three of us are doing grad school in addition to the full time jobs we all hold down (I guess Adam is just lazy).  But no need to worry, now that Oscar season is heating up, we’ve been seeing movies.  And hopefully will get some thoughts up here.

Spurred on by two separate email conversations, I thought I’d check in on the Intrade market for Best Picture.  As a refresher, an Intrade share has a set expiration date, at which time it will pay out either $10 or $0.  In the market for Best Picture, each share represents a movie, so whichever movie wins Best Picture will pay out $10 and all other movies will pay out $0.  But you can buy and sell shares of movies at any point prior to the Oscars, so, in effect, the current share price represents the market’s prediction of the likelihood that film will win Best Picture.

According to Intrade, we are currently looking at a three-horse race.

FRONTRUNNERS

Les Miserables ($2.90) – So these discussions started last week when Ian declared Les Miserables the winner, leading me to check prices on Intrade.  At which point the film was trading around $1.50 – $1.70.  I have documented, time-stamped proof that Brian, John, and I all declared the film a strong buy at that price.  The film was actually trading around $1.60 yesterday.  So what changed?  Yesterday saw the first screenings of the film and though there’s still an embargo on full reviews, initial reports are that the film went over very well and is likely going to be a surefire contender for Best Picture.  Nice to see the market react so quickly.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see the price dip a bit with the inevitable backlash and posts about how these were pro-musical audiences.  But a classic musical is the kind of thing that can start steamrolling through awards seasons.

Argo ($2.85) – Argo is a near-lock for a nomination.  I personally think it has a better than 29% chance to win it all, with the reviews, the box office, the massive cast of known actors (and actors make up a big chunk of the voting membership), it being a patriotic film where Hollywood is the hero, and the story of Ben Affleck’s redemption.  That said, it is hard to recommend a buy, because I’m not even sure a nomination alone will bump up the price, it would need to start winning some precursors.

Lincoln ($2.64) – Another near-lock for a nomination.  I saw this film yesterday, so I’m still sorting through my thoughts.  It has a lot going for it, obviously it is  Spielberg movie, has a huge cast, and the story of abolishing slavery is one that is going to resonate with the Academy.  The movie does have some flaws, though, and it isn’t nearly as broad in scope as a Spielberg Lincoln movie might be expected to be.  Probably best not to touch this one before precursors

OTHER STRONG CONTENDERS

Silver Linings Playbook ($0.52) – Nothing about a Bradley Cooper-led romantic comedy screams Oscar bait, I know.  But the film is directed by David O. Russell (and remember, The Fighter pulled two Oscar wins and an additional five nominations) and co-star Jennifer Lawrence may well be the front-runner for Best Actress.  The Gurus o’ Gold all believe the film will be nominated and Dave Karger (whose predictions have been spot on in years past) still believes the film will win the top spot.  It is looking like the film might not do as well as hoped at the box office this weekend, but given the apparent widespread love for the film, it might be smart to pick up this film right before the awards circuit heats up and sell it off after it climbs.

Zero Dark Thirty ($0.45) – John and I both pegged this as a strong buy.  (Though as I’m writing this, I got an e-mail from Xiaoyu about how he’s already lost money on it.)  The film is still largely a mystery, but it is now it is the one unseen film that still has a shot at the top prize.  Directed by Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), early word is that the film is top-notch, but maybe doesn’t adhere to many of the traditional Hollywood narrative structures.  We should get an idea as to this film’s future pretty quickly after some more screenings, but I’m betting (other people’s money) that we’ll see a spike.  And I know John is on board with me here.

OTHER FILMS OF NOTE

Life of Pi/The Master ($0.30/$0.20) – I don’t think either of these films have much of a shot at winning.  But they currently seem to be in position to get nominations, so if you believe that will bump their prices, they could provide some value.

Beasts of the Southern Wild ($0.08) – On the next tier of likelihood for a nomination, but it should do well with the Independent Spirit nominations this week, which might lead to a bump in price.

Amour/Flight/The Impossible/Moonrise Kingdom/The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel ($0.03/$0.02/$0.02/$0.04/$0.02) – Maybe one or two of these get a nomination, and they may be seeing nominations in other categories, so if you feel like gambling with the penny stocks, these may be the way to go.

Django Unchained ($0.10) – Your guess is as good as mine.

 

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