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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 84th Academy Awards is almost here! Leading up to the event, we’re going to put all the hours we spent watching these films to good use by giving our thoughts on all the categories, big and small. We may not be experts on everything, but I daresay that’s never stopped anyone from blogging before. On the (very remote chance) you disagree with us or the (much more likely chance) you want to applaud our picks, please chime in below.

Actor in a Leading Role

The nominees are:

  • Demián Bichir, A Better Life
  • George Clooney, The Descendants
  • Jean Dujardin, The Artist
  • Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  • Brad Pitt, Moneyball

JOHN

Actor is the hardest category this year. It’s a super strong line-up and I’m having a hell of a time picking a favorite. Honestly, I don’t think you can go wrong. It may even be the best slate of nominees in a major category since we’ve started this project. There’s also a convenient split in the type of performances represented here: the subdued and the classic movie star.

In the former category I’d put Bichir and Oldman. Neither are showy performances but both make a powerful impact. Bichir does a great job of selling the desperation of his situation as a man who is not used to displaying much emotion. I really liked his scenes with his son and the mixture of awkwardness and exasperation in their interactions. Oldman, meanwhile, turns in one of those blank slate performances that wow me every so often. He’s a closely guarded guy, used to the secrecy and politicking of spycraft and yet he can say so much with a little flicker or movement. Every action is so precise and measured.

Clooney, Pitt, and Dujardin instead shine as classic leading men. They have the charisma, conviction, and, indeed, the looks to really lead a film. You may say that’s not all that impressive, but think of how many films sink as their leading men can’t carry them on their shoulders. How many films must sink under Ryan Reynolds’s floundering?

I’ve been a long time Clooney proponent and have given him great praise in this space in previous years for Up in the Air and Michael Clayton. I know people seem to think he plays the same role again and again, but I maintain there’s nothing wrong with taking similar roles. While within something of a “Clooney Realm,” all have their own impressive nuances. His part in The Descendants is a great match for him and he gets to show a little range compared to the previous Best Actor nods. The film bounces around tonally and it works partly because he carries it, balancing the anger, bewilderment, sadness of his predicament. (The narrative doesn’t work nearly as well but that’s not his fault.)

Dujardin brings great physicality to his silent role in The Artist. Presumably he’s never tackled such a role before but he’s a natural. The heightened emotiveness needed for a silent film could easily come off as mimickry or over the top in less suave hands. He just has a magnetism that makes it work. I have a bit less to say about Pitt. The guy is always solid and he does a good job, though I didn’t really find myself thinking, “Pitt is awesome” while watching Moneyball. But I understand that to those who fell for the movie his performance was a big part of it. A good, confident leading performance.

So who should win? At any given moment I could go for Clooney, Dujardin, or Oldman. But I suppose I’ll pick one and I’ll go with Gary Oldman, who is also sort of a sentimental pick. Though this decision is prone to change at any time!

It was a strong year all around for actors. As great as this slate is, it would have also been great to see Michael Fassbender (Shame), Michael Shannon (Take Shelter), and Leonardo DiCaprio (J Edgar). I don’t know how I’d pick just five out of all of these great performances.

JARED

I’ll give Adam the voice he’s lacking: Where’s Brendan Gleeson?!  Playing basically a mix of all the characters who did get nominated, he absolutely belongs in this list.

I like Gary Oldman a lot.  If I ran the world, he’d probably already have at least one Oscar.  I’m thrilled he finally got a nomination.  But I wouldn’t have pulled the trigger here.  He’s received lots of plaudits for his super-restrained, barely emoting performance.  At some point, though, doesn’t that just translate to a boring performance where nothing happens?  I wouldn’t go that far here, but I’m not seeing what others are.

It is too facile to dismiss Clooney’s role as another one in a series of charming Clooneyesque guys dealing with #whitepeopleproblems. I also wouldn’t have gone so far as to give him a nomination.  There’s a lot of good stuff here, though.  And I think Clooney was a solid choice to portray the not quite sympathetic “hero” of the story because he certainly makes the film more watchable, and he adds a lot of needed nuance to the script.

I have to make a conscious effort to not just say for all of these guys how much I like their body of work.  Brad Pitt is no exception.  But I’m just not quite seeing it here.  To me, he’s just doing a Coach Taylor imitation.  And granted, everyone should be doing a Coach Taylor imitation.  But I’d love to see Oscar and Pitt better line up with each other.

I’m tickled pink that the Academy saw fit to nominate Bichir.  A Better Life went out super early to members, so maybe that turned out to be an effective strategy.  For me, this performance was a case study in how a role doesn’t have to be showy to have a big impact.  There’s nothing you’d expect from a typical Oscar performance, such as wild swings of emotion.  Bichir commands the screen here, nearly flawlessly portraying the character and turning it into something quite real.

It was always going to be Jean Dujardin for me, though.  Not because his is the biggest and broadest role of the bunch.  But because he is just so darn good in the role.  I mean, honestly, even his crooked half-smile lights up the day.  Dujardin creates a character that feels so much like the actors of yesteryear would pull off, screwball and slapstick while also being dramatic and serious.  Dujardin nails the range and the depth of the character. And it feels like he is having tons of fun, a feeling that can’t help but be infectious.

BRIAN

Jean Dujardin

ADAM

Jean Dujardin

The 84th Academy Awards is almost here! Leading up to the event, we’re going to put all the hours we spent watching these films to good use by giving our thoughts on all the categories, big and small. We may not be experts on everything, but I daresay that’s never stopped anyone from blogging before. On the (very remote chance) you disagree with us or the (much more likely chance) you want to applaud our picks, please chime in below.

Actor in a Supporting Role

The nominees are:

  • Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn
  • Jonah Hill, Moneyball
  • Nick Nolte, Warrior
  • Christopher Plummer, Beginners
  • Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

BRIAN

My list of Supporting Actor couldashouldas is even longer than what I had for Supporting Actress– I could easily fill out a full batch of nominees for the category: Ben Kingsley for Hugo, Andy Serkis for Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Corey Stoll for Midnight in Paris, Patton Oswalt in Young Adult and Uggie in The Artist. Sure, the last one was a little bit of a stretch, but you never know.

I’ll start with everyone’s favorite nominee that I don’t really understand. Christopher Plummer plays a gay, dying old man. If he has been a Holocaust survivor then that’d have checked off all of the Academy’s weak spots. It helps his case that he’s in the same movie as a flaccid romance and a way-too-twee conceit. But I found his performance underwhelming.

Max Von Sydow falls in the same category as a “career achievement” nominee for me, though I appreciated his work as a mute in ELIC. (Yet another Academy weak spot — physical disability). Playing off the unbearable precociousness of Thomas Horn’s Oskar, von Sydow’s expressive face was a nice respite, but he was never able to transcend the strained premise.

Kenneth Branagh? Sure, whatever. Get him back to doing something that befits a man of his pedigree. He was as stuck in Marilyn as Olivier was inThe Prince and the Showgirl.

Jonah Hill’s nomination is the one that makes me angriest, mostly because I should be thrilled that a young, comedic actor is getting recognized. But Hill didn’t DO anything in Moneyball except wear glasses and play against “type.” There are many things about Moneyball that make me think I saw a different movie than the one others did (especially the folks at The Atlantic) — Jonah Hill’s nomination is a the top of this list.

Everyone should go see Warrior. I’ve been preaching the gospel far and wide on this one. Nick Nolte is one of many reasons why. His sons are MMA fighters — strong, brutal and merciless — but they are feeble when it comes to interacting with Nolte. It’s a multi-layered performance that can only improve with repeated watchings. Give the award to Nolte!!

JOHN

Supporting Actor elicits the opposite response from me than Supporting Actress. I have no pretty much no interest in three of the nods, a fourth is okay, and one is miles above the rest. I wish I had the Supporting Actress problem of having to parse great acting from the great written character for these uninspiring picks.

I generally like Jonah Hill but I don’t see what’s so special about this performance. I can see some improvement in his work – he’s no longer half-shouting his lines – but I wouldn’t rank it among the year’s best. Branagh didn’t entrance me, though he’s not helped by a total snoozer of a film, while von Sydow is meh. By the time I saw Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close I knew von Sydow had scored an Oscar nomination. I kept waiting for some scene that would show how he earned that nod… and then nothing materialized.

Nolte does kind of hit the same notes again and again in Warrior. Sad, angry, or thrilled the dialogue all gets croaked out similarly. But given his years of boozing you could say he’s been preparing for this role for years! He’s certainly memorable, though it is a little tough since Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton both stood out to me more in the film. Still, I think there would be a temptation to play up some of the character’s emotional moments – create an Oscar Scene, even – but Nolte keeps it realistic.

Not that I needed to eliminate the others to reach this conclusion, but Christopher Plummer is the obvious winner. There’s a lot of complexity to a the role despite its fairly limited profile. There’s the regret for all the years he suppressed his true self, the timidity of launching into a new life at an advanced age, the joy of new love, the support of a father for a son, and the contemplation of impending death. Plummer is marvelous in all these aspects. Whenever he isn’t on screen, Beginners seriously drags. Plummer is so mesmerizing and his subplot so interesting that the primary plot thread pales in comparison. I would love to see a whole film built around this character.

This category is so lackluster I can’t even name many other actors I wish were here instead. I wasn’t as taken by Drive‘s Albert Brooks as others, but his play against type as a psychopath made for a great story. Ditto for Patton Oswalt in Young Adult, whose unrealized nomination would have been a nice recognition for a terrific but underexposed film. Otherwise, some of the actors from the sprawling casts of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy orMidnight in Paris would have been nice: Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy, Corey Stoll, or Tom Hiddleston.

ADAM

Jonah Hill, Moneyball

JARED

What an odd collection of nominees.  The next time someone tries to convince you there’s such a thing as an Oscar performance, point them to this category.  You can’t say the nominees came from “Oscar movies”, because two of the films weren’t nominated for anything else.  The nominees aren’t all old or young or handsome or ugly or rookies or veterans or dramatic or comedic.  And you can’t say any had an Oscar scene.  Heck, it’d be easier to argue none of them had a traditional Oscar scene.  Indeed, about the only thing the performances have in common is that they aren’t particularly near my top picks of the year.

I remain baffled as to how Jonah Hill secured a nomination for such a blank character.  I’m guessing Brad Pitt just went around telling people to vote for Hill.  Which, to be honest, is probably the most effective campaign strategy for anything that I’ve ever heard.

I love the concept of Nick Nolte getting a nod for portraying a grilled old dad/trainer in a fighting movie that was one of the best of the year.  Kudos to the PR team for turning that in an Oscar nomination.  What complicates the pitch is that I’m not sure Nolte was required to show any depth or range.

There has to be someone somewhere who can explain to me what’s so great about Christopher Plummer in Beginners.  I swear that I went in with an open mind and additionally have read multiple people’s takes on the role.  But, I dunno.  Nothing in particular stands out for me there.

Does Max von Sydow get in if this wasn’t the year where a silent picture rampaged through the awards circuit?  That’s a tough call.  I’d argue The Artist certainly made people more receptive to a character that doesn’t speak.  Though that film is also an example of how people in a movie can be so expressive even without any dialogue.  As opposed to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.  I seem to to recall the book giving the character more backstory, maybe that is what’s missing here.

So by process of elimination, that leaves…Kenneth Branagh?  Fine, whatever.  I think people are getting too caught up in the storyline about how Branagh is like Olivier, and so it is cute the former is playing the latter in the film.  Or how odd it is for this all to be happening in a relatively light movie.  But I think Branagh was solid.  More than anything, his character served as a way to explain to the audience what was going on with the movie in a movie and what should be going. Branagh rises to the occasion and turns the character into one worth remembering.

The 84th Academy Awards is almost here!  Leading up to the event, we’re going to put all the hours we spent watching these films to good use by giving our thoughts on all the categories, big and small.  We may not be experts on everything, but I daresay that’s never stopped anyone from blogging before.  On the (very remote chance) you disagree with us or the (much more likely chance) you want to applaud our picks, please chime in below.

This time we are going to talk about Adapted Screenplay.

Adapted Screenplay

The nominees are:

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

JOHN

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

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

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

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

JARED

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 84th Academy Awards is almost here!  Leading up to the event, we’re going to put all the hours we spent watching these films to good use by giving our thoughts on all the categories, big and small.  We may not be experts on everything, but I daresay that’s never stopped anyone from blogging before.  On the (very remote chance) you disagree with us or the (much more likely chance) you want to applaud our picks, please chime in below.

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

Cinematography

The nominees are:

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

JOHN

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

ADAM

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

JARED

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

BRIAN

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

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

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

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

Film Editing

The nominees are:

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

JOHN

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

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

JARED

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

I know that some people crave a sense of realness from their movies.  They want characters to talk and act like real people.  They want actors to portray someone who seems like an actual person.  I’ve long made it clear that such things don’t really influence my opinion of a movie.  Well, if any movie was going to put that maxim to the test, it’d be Moneyball.

I’ll spare you my life’s story, but suffice it to say I’ve been familiar with sabermetric thought for at least a decade (thanks Ian!) and so Moneyball was perhaps the 2011 movie I was most anticipating, even if I wasn’t quite looking forward to it.  After that Soderbergh mess (an animated Bill James?!), how could Zaillan, Sorkin, and Bennett Miller make a coherent film out of the book?  Could Brad Pitt make baseball sexy?  Who on earth was going to see a movie about baseball economics?  Would I be able to handle poetic license in a story I know so well?

As it turn out the answers are: More than expected, Brad Pitt can make anything sexy, plenty of people, and maybe. Zaillan and Sorkin (although, to be honest, I didn’t really hear Sorkin’s voice in the movie, save for a line or two) ended up telling a rather  familiar story: a dashing, tolerably flawed hero teams up with his young sidekick and uses his smarts to (almost) vanquish the richer, more powerful bad guys.  The screenwriters stripped away a lot of the story of course, they had to, but they ended up with a marketable movie that still feels very faithful to the book.  Which is a rather impressive feat.

While the story may have ended up coherent, it felt far from complete.  Part of that stems from the trap into which so many adaptations fall – the compulsive need to name drop bits of the source story without enough explanation.  The well-known jean salesman line felt forced, for example.  But more than that, I’m not sure the characters were given compelling arcs.  The ancillary characters (so everyone who wasn’t Brad Pitt or Jonah Hill) flitted in and out of the film willy-nilly.  All of the players, Brad Pitt’s ex-wife and kid, the old braintrust, the A’s owner, everyone showed up for a scene or two, never to return.  Some have talked about Billy Beane as a father, but I don’t think that subplot is nearly present enough to be worth mentioning.

I suppose I’m partially upset because the film grabbed a lot of actors I like and gave them nothing to do.  Chris Pratt has a dozen lines.  Tammy Blanchard has four seconds of screen time.  I bet you didn’t even realize Nick Searcy (Timothy Olyphant’s boss on Justified) was in the film.  Philip Seymour Hoffman got a couple of scenes, I guess.

But fine, this is Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill’s story.  Or is it?  Jonah Hill is just there to look out of place and suggest players.  No character development there.  Hill was a savvy casting choice though, I think.  The character isn’t much more than highbrow comic relief.  Look at the nerd be uncomfortable around athletes!  Hill obviously can handle that with ease.

The whole time, it felt to me like Brad Pitt was doing an impression of Kyle Chander’s Coach Taylor from FNL.  A very good one, of course, since Brad Pitt is very talented.  Even if he’s constantly eating on screen.  Which I think is a function of how he tends to act with his hands, but that’s a different post.

I’ve been working on this post, off and on, for a couple of weeks now, but I don’t think I’m ever going to get it to where I want.  Because I did like movie OK, but I keep wanting to be super reactionary to the fact that it is one of the best-reviewed films of the year, which just does not make sense to me.  And so I keep struggling to see the movie that others seem to see, even though I’m not close to finding it.  Sure, I found it a little weird from a baseball perspective that they didn’t mention starting pitching.  And from econ perspective that they don’t really justify the Carlos Pena trade.  And from a modern perspective the comment about how defense doesn’t matter.  And from an Orioles/lover of baseball players as actors that there wasn’t more Royce Clayton as Miguel Tejada.

But I think I can put all that aside and say that I’m pretty convinced critics, generally speaking, are wrong on this one.  I don’t know if they were distracted by Brad Pitt or what, but this film isn’t an extremely well told story.  It is a mostly competently told one.  The team did an admirable job adapting the book, but there’s no way the screenplay should be in line for an Oscar nomination, much less be a front-runner.

November 2017
S M T W T F S
« Jan    
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
2627282930