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23. Pirate Radio

Was looking forward to this one for awhile because, well, Richard Curtis + classic rock + Philip Seymour Hoffman?  I’m not capable of dreaming up scenarios that awesome.  It was released as The Boat That Rocked in the UK but changed in the States because, um, pirates are cool?  This was the last of the 2009 movies I watched for this list, and it took the usually reliable Netflix almost a month to get the thing to me.  But I’m happy I was able to watch it with Megan (if only because it prevented either of us from making a decision about which movie to watch).  Anyway, the trailer doesn’t do the film justice, but I’m not really sure anything could.  The film doesn’t exactly have a story, per se, just a series of humorous events with the same cast of characters in a loose timeline.  It isn’t about character development so much as having fun with the characters. And the tremendous cast which includes a bunch of Curtis stalwarts, Bill Nighy, Emma Thompson, Rhys Ifans, January Jones, and Nick Frost, Kenneth Branagh, and Jack Davenport.  Also Gemma Arterton and Talulah Riley, but we’ll get to them next post.  Just a really fun movie.

22. 2012

Speaking of fun movies!  Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow are clearly superior, sure.  But this one is still an excellent disaster movie.  Saw this one in theaters with Brian and Zack, and I think it exactly met our amped up expectations.  The film isn’t going to sway anyone’s opinion of Roland Emmerich, I don’t think.  And yeah, we are talking about some broadly-drawn characters.  But give me a fun cast (highlighted by a hilariously bonkers Woody Harrelson), lots of stuff blowing up, and a little bit of a completely unsubtle morality play and I’ll be a happy boy.

21. The Invention of Lying

When are people going to cotton to Ricky Gervais movies?  It sure seems like they have the recipe for success.  They are funny, sweet, tell an interesting story, and have great cameos.  Just doesn’t make sense to me.  OK, I could see how the send-up of religion could be mildly offensive to some, I suppose.  And the movie did start to trail off a bit at the last third.  But come on.  What a brilliant concept.  Plus, Rob Lowe as the bad guy!

20. A Serious Man

Glancing over our thoughts on the film, seems a safe bet that this was the most thought-provoking Oscar film for the Grouches.  Heck, I reread my full recap and still have no idea what I thought (or think).  I do know that it was rather unfortunate to have A Serious Man and A Single Man come out in the same year.  Unless maybe they helped bump each other up at the box office due to mistaken viewing of the wrong film?  Even now, I struggle to come to terms with my thoughts on the film.  Which makes the movie unique in this year’s class, so that’s something.  I may not always like the Coen Bros., but their ability to consistently churn out thought-provoking films to which I have a visceral reaction is nearly unparalleled.

19. The Blind Side

Back to back Best Picture nominees!  We’ve had plenty to say about this film, including John calling the nomination (well done, John!) in our wild and crazy picks post.  Oddly, I seem to be a little lower on Sandra Bullock than my fellow Grouches, but a little higher on the film.  Maybe I’m just more in touch with my emotions than them.  I’m guessing that where they found it a little schmaltzy, I thought it consistently hit solid emotional notes.  Sometimes cliches are cliches because they work.  Did the film bring anything new to the world of moviemaking?  Probably not.  But I still think it is a very fine piece of work.

18. Away We Go

Saw this one in theater in New Jersey with my uncle and brothers.  I went back and saw John called this film “painfully contrived.”  Isn’t that any road trip movie (which this is, essentially)?  I suppose if one called this film a little too precious, I’d have a hard time disagreeing.  But I thought it had a lot of a heart and a good sense of humor.  The supporting cast is chock full of talent, including Paul Schneider and this year’s Oscar nominee Maggie Gyllenhaal.  And perhaps each supporting character is just a tad too outsized.  But I sorta thought that was the point of it all.  I dunno, I’m surprised there’s any divisiveness on this one.

17. Julie and Julia

Saw this one at Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse with Adam and Dylan as part of a two-city double feature.  Because that’s how we roll.  By the way, what’s the connection between this one and Away We Go?  Chris Messina (aka the guy who isn’t Stanley Tucci, Amy Adams, or Meryl Streep).  I kinda got the feeling that all the actors had a good time making this one, and it shows.  Don’t quite know how it worked out this way, but most of the movies in this post seem to follow the same general pattern of a fun, mostly positively movies with a few touching emotional moments that soon get swept away with humor.  Brian is still alarmingly wrong about the Julie part being better than the Julia one.

16. The Answer Man

Was among my most anticipated 2009 movies.  Why?  Hm.  I’m not entirely sure.  I really like the cast (Jeff Daniels, Lauren Graham, Olivia Thirlby, Lou Taylor Pucci, Kat Dennings, Tony Hale).  And I guess the concept just kinda appealed to me.  A lot of stuff just worked in this movie.  Jeff Daniels and Lauren Graham go really well together as the leads in this romcom.  Daniels is fantastic as the philosopher with none (and yet all) of the answers.  The misanthropic character is a familiar one, yet it doesn’t feel tired.  Like my life, needed more Kat Dennings.

15. Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire

We’ve written a bunch on this Oscar nominee.  It surely took an unconventional Oscar path.  It was Geoffrey Fletcher’s first produced screenplay, the second film directed by Lee Daniels, and starred an overweight newcomer and a BET regular whose recent filmography includes Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins and Phat Girlz.  But it would have been impossible to overlook this film.  And in particular, Gabby Sidibe and Mo’Nique.  It is staggering to me how Mo’Nique outdistanced herself from the competition.  By the end, it wasn’t even a matter of concocting a path as to how someone else could win Supporting Actress, it was a matter of figuring out if there was any possible way she wouldn’t win unanimously.  So I think it says quite a lot that going up against a performance like that, Sidibe more than held her own.  I didn’t quite understand the Directing and Adapted Screenplay nominations (let’s not talk about the writing win), but I do want to make it clear that I thought the film was very very good.

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Well, here we are. I want to make sure to say thanks to Adam, Brian, and John for joining me on this ride. I’ve got no life, so it was relatively easy for me to catch these nineteen films (plus the other contenders we saw). But I know that you all made some sacrifices to make it happen. And thanks for all the discussions (both on- and off-blog). You guys rock.

Inglourious Basterds

Adam and I tend to have fairly similar taste in movies, so it was surprising to me that we disagree so much about Inglourious Basterds. He told me he didn’t think I would like it, leading me to believe that deep down he knows the film just doesn’t work. Sure, there are stretches of brilliance: the first few minutes of the opening scene, the whipped cream scene, most of the scene at the underground bar, everything about Christoph Waltz’s character. But Tarantino appears to be a guy who needs someone to keep him in check. Just about every scene goes on too long. And the story never comes together into a cohesive unit. I admire the film’s ambition and respect Tarantino’s vision. But the film left me unmoved.

Avatar

I’m not a particularly visual person, so while I personally can’t excuse Avatar‘s script, I guess I can understand how someone might get swept up by shiny things. But I don’t understand why this logic only applies to James Cameron. Criticisms of Michael Bay movies invariably levy charges of being bloated, overly-reliant on CGI with no character development and having things blowing up nonstop. Aren’t the exact same things being said about Avatar, more or less? Adam talked about not putting mindless action flicks up for Best Picture. That’s a stance I don’t understand to begin with, and I think the Avatar nomination discredits in practice. I’ve yet to hear any sort of logical argument about how the distinction between a “fun” movies and a “good” one isn’t arbitrary. As such, I’ll continue to only rank movies based on how much I enjoy them.

An Education

Possibly one of this year’s most fun collection of actors. It is just too bad they didn’t really have much to do. Think about the memorable scenes in the movie. Molina falling under Saarsgard’s charms. Thompson arguing with Mulligan. Williams arguing with Mulligan. Pike being a ditz. The birthday party with Mulligan’s former beau. Almost all of these things have the barest of setups or followthroughs. What is Emma Thompson doing in the film, anyway? As is, shouldn’t her character just been merged with that of Olivia Williams? The point is, I buy it is the right cast, the right screenwriter, and heck, the right director. But what if you didn’t bind Nick Hornby to a set of memoirs where apparently nothing happens, instead just describing the characters and themes? I think that could have been something really tremendous. And also probably would have had an ending.

A Serious Man

I’m still amazed this film received a Best Picture nomination. Not talking about its merits, just that the film had no discernible buzz, at least that I saw. The Coens and I clearly operate on different wavelengths. Not drastically different, just enough that I don’t quite get them. Plus, I don’t think they are as funny or clever as they think they are. Their work does have a timeless quality, though. I could have seen this movie being made ten years ago or twenty years ago. And (as with almost all of their films) their work is refreshing, an oddball little piece of cinema not quite fitting in anyway. Which I can definitely appreciate. And I don’t mean to completely badmouth the film, I did find that I generally enjoyed myself, even if I still haven’t quite figured it out. Assuming there is anything to figure out, I guess.

The Blind Side

I liked this film a little more than the other Grouches. Possibly because I have a heart. Personally, I think it delivers exactly what it sets out to do. It is a big, broad movie that tugs at the heartstrings (but not too much) and ultimately leaves you feeling a little better about things. Is there anything so wrong with that? Sure, it never really tries to reach for anything higher, and that’s maybe why I didn’t fall in love it, but it is a solid, solid film. I think some of the criticisms hurled at it are kinda weak. Yes, a rich white lady helps a poor black kid. No, that doesn’t automatically mean you can toss around the phrase “white guilt”. Partially because this stuff, you know, actually happened. And I found it to be a fairly faithful adaptation of the book (other than the book’s discussion of the history of left tackle, of course). Not sure I could imagine anything better, actually. Well, except for maybe removing some of Lewis’s bias. But that’s probably a good thing.

Precious

We’ve been over the faults of this film’s script numerous times. The auxiliary characters weren’t sketched out well and the plot isn’t that interesting. What the story did do, however, was provide ample opportunity for Mo’Nique and Gabourey Sidibe to dominate all over the place. And sometimes, that’s enough. Like Avatar, oddly enough, when the film was allowed to play to its strengths, it was magical. In certain sense, the film captures drama better than anything else this year. The relationship between Sidibe and Mo’Nique is really unlike anything I’d seen on screen and while it was often hard to take, it was just so so powerful.

Up in the Air

Here’s another film I feel like I’ve unintentionally badmouthed a lot. There were lots of things I liked about Up in the Air, very few things I disliked. It was a very good film, and I’m happy it got nominated. My complaints were more about the acting nominations than anything else, I guess. And, well, not thinking that it was a great movie, because it didn’t quite get there. It was funny and dramatic and thought-provoking, just not very funny or very dramatic or very thought-provoking. Still, a smart film, Jason Reitman is crazy promising. What did I like, though? Hm. It was a fun ride throughout and rarely boring. Kept a solid pace. Made me laugh some. I don’t know, exactly. Just a well-made film.

The Hurt Locker

The dichotomy here is fascinating. $15 million grossing art house movie? Totally Oscar. Iraq war movie? Not Oscar. Cast filled with relative unknowns? Oscar. Action movie? Not Oscar. Finally rewarding a director who paid his dues? Oscar. Finally rewarding a director who paid her dues? Not Oscar. With a quality script, this film would have been something truly special. As is, it’s a fine piece of film making, and extraordinary example of how great a taut, exciting action film can be. Kinda interesting to compare to Slumdog Millionaire, in terms of a movie that didn’t make all that much money and about a topic not necessarily of general interest, and certainly wasn’t necessarily guaranteed to be here on Oscar night.

District 9

Speaking of great action films, I have no clue how District 9 ended up with an best picture nomination, but yay. Something went terribly right for that to happen, because honestly, does it seem like an Oscar movie in the least? I guess maybe if you squint. It is proof that action films can be totally riveting. Maybe next year can be comedy’s year? Nah, that’s crazy talk. Well, unless Peter Jackson produces a comedy. I guess that would be OK. Kinda rambling at this point, because the red carpet has started and Brian and Adam are arguing about something. Not sure what, but I’m sure it is ridiculous. But yes, everyone should see District 9. And be amazed at the effects, the action, and really the touching story. I know some other Oscar nominated movies about aliens the year seemed to imply that it wasn’t possible to have a great story with your alien action, but I assure you, that’s false.

Up

Yup, there’s little question that Up is the year’s best film. Pixar doesn’t make animated movies, they make movies. No need to gush about that opening sequence, because yeah, just out of this world. And I’ll be the only Grouch who likes agreeing with John. Up is consistently funny, definitely one of the funniest movies of the year. (And Adam, I’ll take the bait, yes, I laughed more at She’s Out of My League, but that’s an argument we are going to have in 2010 discussions.) But it was also one of the most exciting films, with one of the interesting stories. Just all around a fantastic movie. Never slow, never dull, always amazing. The Grouches don’t all agree on our favorite Pixar movies, but I think we all agree that at their best, no one tells stories like they do. And if you tell a story as close to perfectly as they do, well, you are going to get my vote for movie of the year.

And so it all comes down to this. This is a really terrific set of nominees. Even with the expanded category it has a better average film quality than most years. It has refreshing variety and even the selections I don’t really agree with are at least interesting. It remains to be seen how “The Ten” will affect the prestige of the Oscars in the long-term, but it was a wild success for 2009 by producing such an interesting and varied group of nominees.

Counting backwards, here is the ranked ballot I would have submitted had I been a voter.

10. The Blind Side. This is not a good movie. It’s cliched, simple, and emotionally manipulative, though it is centered with a forceful performance from Sandra Bullock. I think its biggest sin is the way Michael, the poor black football player adopted by Bullock’s character, is so poorly developed so that there’s nothing to him. But I do appreciate that people felt affected by the film and I think there’s room for mainstream drama like this in a field of ten.

9. Inglourious Basterds. Second from the bottom and we’re already at a movie I really enjoyed! This is a very good sign! Basterds is an interesting film and very entertaining. I remain committed to my assertion that I wish there was more substance to complement its style. Its scenes are tense and engrossing, but sometimes last a bit too long. A better theme or story to tie those scenes together would have made it much better so that there was more to it than just being awesome.

8. District 9. I enjoyed this film on first viewing. Its unique premise enthused me and its themes kept me thinking. I was dismayed at how much it turned into a standard action movie with unoriginal sequences by the end, however. On my second viewing I was much less bothered by the action and was impressed by all the little details built into the story and the world it creates. Very good stuff.

7. The Hurt Locker. This film clearly didn’t resonate with me the way it did so many others. I really liked it and found many of its scenes painfully suspenseful. I just didn’t find it to be the gut punch so many others did, or as so many other movies on this list did to me. I thought it didn’t come together as a whole as well as I hoped. It’s still very good, just not as good as the others.

6. A Serious Man. This is probably THE movie of 2009 that has me thinking the most. I found the story totally engrossing, even as I wasn’t understanding its point. I found myself drawn to the plot more than I expected upon second viewing. There’s something delightfully subversive about a film that revels in its sometimes-there-is-no-meaning meaning. Accept the mystery. I wouldn’t be surprised that if I revisit this list in a decade that this is the movie that moves up my list the most. I’m already looking forward to watching it again.

5. Precious. Powerful, effective, emotionally hefty. But it’s also very well-made. It really takes a talented hand to not make this film devolve into utter emotional manipulation. I enjoyed the way it’s visualized, though I know my fellow Grouches generally did not. I found the tone was balanced well enough to not make it relentlessly depressing. I’m never fond of a salvation-through-literacy plotline, but otherwise the story and characters (and acting) are uniformly terrific.

4. Up in the Air. This film really succeeds in tone and atmosphere. I have a couple problems with the plot, particularly actions by Vera Farmiga’s Alex, but they’re all overwhelmed by how deeply the film grabbed me and held me. It’s a film about what it’s like to be alive now, from the economic downturn to corporate indifference and the disconnected way we live our lives in this world. It has wonderful characters and terrific performances with some insightful writing and a story that, while not twisty, proceeds in unexpected directions.

3. Up. Here are two signs of how great this film is. In the lead-up to the Oscars there are lots of stories about the nominees. I have yet to see a clip of Up that doesn’t make me laugh. We talk a lot about the brilliant and heartbreaking Married Life montage, but the writing in this film is very strong throughout with lots of clever touches, insight, and hilarious jokes. Oh man, that Kevin just cracks me up. Second, I’ve been listening to some film scores recently and the one for Up always brings me right back to the film. And not just to the plot or the visuals, but to its heart.

2. An Education. The easiest way to explain my affection for film is to say: everything works. Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard are enchanting on screen. The script deftly develops Mulligan’s Jenny so that we understand her and therefore her desires and motivations for her actions. Then Mulligan nails every aspect of Jenny while Sarsgaard is the perfect mix of charm and creepiness. Their relationship never rings false.

1. Avatar. Yes I love the way the film looks. It’s absolutely stunning and unlike anything I’ve ever seen. But it really is more than that. So many films set out to create a universe and they almost always feel incomplete. Avatar succeeds. Everything makes sense in this universe. Rules are set and they are adhered to. The clever little details to the world come together to create a fascinating whole. And people get down on the story, but it’s a fine story. It takes an outline that has been used plenty of times before, but I think all the original details make it feel fresh. All the spiritual stuff is hogwash? Well, maybe on Earth but there are different rules on Pandora. And those elements interested me.

Avatar is an experience. A film-going milestone. I loved every second of it.

We’ll each putting up our own thoughts on Best Picture. Except now, when I’m publishing Adam’s writeup. Guess he wanted to continue his streak of not posting.

So, for the grand finale, I’ve decided to forego my previous format and write what I thought about each movie. Unfortunately for you, dear reader, none of the other Grouches have written their posts yet so I am forced to confine my analysis to the movies and my critiques of the others (if they should appear) will be constrained to hearsay and personal experience. So, without further ado, I give you The Nominees:

Precious
Throughout the year, we watch a lot of movies in preparation for the Oscars and I find that my opinion of some of these movies varies greatly from my initial impression as time goes on. As I rank the movies I’ve seen throughout the year, I constantly compare previous views to more recent ones to come up with the best possible score for each – some fall, others rise, and some stay steady throughout. Precious was definitely one of the fallen movies. I thought it was a fine movie, but realized that my initial opinion of it was artificially raised due to all the hype and praise surrounding it. As I time went on, I realized that the script wasn’t all that strong. Decent dialogue was scarce and most of the scenes were pretty blasé (with the notable exceptions of the apartment/stairs scene and the final social worker scene). Mo’Nique’s performance was terrific, granted, but Sidibe’s was, honestly, forgettable. No one will remember her performance in a year or two – if that. The directing was also fairly weak. The dream sequences were unnecessary and heavy-handed, and the other scenes were set up less than ideally. It may seem like I hated the movie, but I didn’t. I gave it a 5.8 out of 10 (though it started at a whopping 7 if you can believe it) so I didn’t think it was horrible, I just want you all to realize that the hype surrounding it is just that – hype.

An Education
An Education actually suffered the opposite fate as Precious. It actually moved up in my ranking as time went on. At first, I couldn’t get over what I viewed as a ridiculous plot. I couldn’t understand how we, the audience, were supposed to buy into the fact that a random older gentleman randomly picked up a school-girl; started to date her immediately – well, as soon as he was able to convince the girl’s very conservative and old fashioned father he was on the “up and up” via a 2 minute conversation, in which he told a joke; and convince her to quit school just shy of graduating. As time went on though, I was able to separate the weak story and horrible scene transitions, and appreciate the strengths of the film. Carey Mulligan actually puts on a pretty great performance – especially given she had very little experience prior to this. She was able to take on a leading role and make it her own. This was one of the few well written lead female characters I saw this year and it is due, in no small part, to Mulligan’s performance. The other fantastic performance was Alfred Molina’s. My respect for him (due in no small part to his role in The Man Who Knew Too Little) dropped dramatically with his part in Spider-Man 2 (one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen). However, he has totally redeemed himself by being one of the brightest spots in this movie. I am very disappointed he wasn’t nominated for Supporting Actor over Damon.

The Blind Side
The Blind Side has a higher score (6.5 out of 10) than I anticipated going into the movie. And, while the script wasn’t anything to write home about, I found myself enjoying the movie, nonetheless. Bullock does a decent job as a Southern, Tennessee-hating, heart-of-gold mother of two (then three), and her nomination for Best Actress is deserved. She was definitely the most impressive part of the movie and I am actually quite happy that she is the front-runner for the win. I have, for the most part, quite enjoyed Ms. Bullock over the years and am glad she has a chance to take home the gold. Other than that, there isn’t much to say about this movie. It is like Precious in a lot of ways – teenager with a troubled past and parental issues is taken in by a strong female character who tries to better them. The biggest difference between the two movies is the tone. While The Blind Side is, on the whole, light and fun (and has an uplifting ending), Precious is a study in just how wrong things can go in a child’s life (and that not everything has a happy ending). For whatever reason, though, I found myself enjoying The Blind Side more than Precious and more than I originally thought I would.

Avatar
As you may have realized by now, I have ordered these movies in ascending order. Which means that the second highest grossing film in history, and the film sure to take home the most amount of Oscars is only 6th on my list of Best Picture nominees. While this may seem confusing to most (I’m looking at you John), anyone who actually watched the movie (and has any taste) can tell you that this movie is over-rated by far. First of all, let’s get this out of the way: The film was absolutely visually stunning. Seriously. They did a tremendous job with the CGI and 3D scenery and sequences. Unfortunately, they stopped there. It is a beautiful façade over a weak structure. The most important part of the movie is the script. This movie’s script was decent – when it was used in Dances With Wolves, Pocahontas, and Fern Gully. If you are going to steal another movie’s idea/script (which I don’t necessarily disagree with – I mean, look at my boy Tarantino), at least improve upon it. Or, at the very least, make an attempt to change it in some way. The only thing they seem to have done is make the dialogue worse and delve less into every single one of the characters. I am actually floored that a 3+ hour movie had absolutely no character development. And don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of a bunch of movies with little to no plot, no character development, and awful dialogue (I mean, I watch mindless action films by the truckload), but I don’t nominate them for Best Picture. I don’t care what John tries to tell you – don’t drink the Kool-Aid on this movie. See it because it is visually stunning, not because you are looking for an actual Best Picture movie.

A Serious Man
I don’t know how Jared and John write so much. I’m not even half way through this and I’m exhausted. Major props to them. So, now on to A Serious Man. First of all, I’d like to say that I was a huge fan of the opening scene of this movie – especially once the film was over and I realized that I couldn’t figure out how it fit into the rest of the movie. Second, this movie had one of the most interesting characters of the entire year. It was fascinating for me to watch the actions and reactions of this character as we delved deeper and deeper into his mundane, depressing, and all too real existence. I am a huge fan of character studies (if done well). While this isn’t in the same league as Michael Clayton, it is a serviceable replacement for the year. It also has one of my favorite side-stories of the entire year. The scenes with the Korean student are absolutely hilarious.

Up
I’ve talked about this movie a couple of times. I can’t get over how the rest of the Grouches basically have an orgasm whenever they think or talk about it. Yes it was decent, but it wasn’t THAT good. It definitely had its moments (which is why it made it into the top 5 of contenders), but it fell well short of Pixar classics like Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles. The talking dog was pretty fantastic, and the little scout had some pretty great lines, but that is pretty much it. A lot of the jokes seemed forced or were predictable. The plot was weak, and the villain, one of my favorite elements of most movies, was very weak. I just couldn’t get invested in any of the characters or laugh at many of the jokes (I’d actually like to hear whether Jared thought he laughed more during Up or She’s Out of My League). I will give it this, though, the opening scene was very well done. Squirrel!

District 9
District 9 definitely had one of the most interesting takes on a tried-and-true story. Having the an alien race living in slums, cohabitating to humans, and regulated to second-class status in all things was brilliant. Telling the story in the form of a documentary (The Office style) was pretty fantastic as well. The surprisingly humorous script was augmented by and equally surprising strong cast (surprising in that it is comprised of unknowns). The reason this movie isn’t higher on my list, though, has to do with the plot. While the background and premise of the movie was original and interesting, the actual story was less than stellar. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I didn’t like it, it’s more that it didn’t live up to the promise of the movie’s premise. It was decent, not spectacular. I also felt it didn’t flow as well as it could in a couple of different areas, but that’s really just nit-picking. Overall, a very enjoyable movie that I recommend, and I am very glad to see it make it into the Best Picture nominees.

The Hurt Locker
This is another movie that has increase its ranking as time has gone on. I put it slightly lower on my list originally due to the lack of thought put into the overall plot of the movie. What were all those highly entertaining scenes leading up to? Who is SSG William James and why should we care about his story? However, discounting that, this was a fantastic movie. Kathryn Bigelow does a phenomenal directing job here and I very much hope her Best Director hopes are realized – she deserves it. The tension she is able to create in almost every single scene is nothing short of amazing. The bomb scenes are some of the best I’ve ever seen – due in no small part to the great camerawork. Let’s not forget about Renner either. Even though I didn’t know why I should care about him or his story, I couldn’t help but be fully engrossed in whatever he was doing due to Renner’s extremely strong performance. I seriously wish the Academy wasn’t going to hand over the Best Actor award to Jeff Bridges solely as a “Lifetime Achievement Award” because Renner far-and-away out acted Bridges this year. There is a reason this is in my top 3 of nominees. This is a terrific movie, and, had it had a better script, could have been a serious contender for my favorite movie of the year.

Up in the Air
What can I say about this movie? My fellow Grouches have, on many occasions, ridiculed this movie – its script, acting, and directing – and I can’t understand it. Not because I liked it so much (though that is an extremely valid reason in-and-of-itself), but because they all profess to like it as much or more than me. The lowest score it got between us is an 8.4. It actually has the third highest average score of any film we’ve seen this year (beaten by Zombieland and Up). That’s saying quite a bit. I thought it was great. Since Michael Clayton, my respect for Clooney has skyrocketed and I think he does a great job here. Not only that, the two female characters in this movie are both widely different but equally well written and portrayed. Kendrick and Farmiga both shine as opposite sides of the same coin (the professional woman), and complement Clooney’s character as few roles do, now-a-days. I thought the script, while not out-of-this-world, was very well done – with humorous, contemplative/deep, and sad/depressing moments sprinkled in throughout the movie. I actually also really like the directing here as well. Reitman was a very close third to Tarantino and Bigelow this year. Each gave very strong efforts this year, which were rewarded with equally strong movies. I will admit that this movie struck a nerve with its portrayal of the constantly traveling businessman (as that was my life for 2 ½ years), but even discounting that, this was a pretty great movie.

Inglourious Basterds
The Big Kahuna (and no, not Big Kahuna Burger) – nine down, one to go. Since seeing this movie, it has topped my annual Top 5 with only one other movie even coming close to toppling it (Zombieland for those keeping track). Quentin Tarantino is one of my all-time favorites and he doesn’t disappoint with this dialogue-driven, Nazi-killin’, action flick. From the first scene, Tarantino is able to fully invest the audience into his world. How many other directors/films would have such a long, dialogue-heavy opening scene? And how many people actually noticed that the scene went on for so long after the first couple of minutes of interplay between Waltz’s SS Colonel and the out-matched farmer? Tarantino’s ability to take the seemingly most inane scene and turn it into a focal point of a movie based solely on the dialogue (and underlying story) never ceases to amaze me. And he does this more than once in the movie (don’t forget that amazing bar room scene). All this is without taking into account the overall story or the wonderfully violent action scenes. Tarantino gives us a movie that is entertaining on multiple levels and does so with style (plus, he killed Hitler…come on!). If it were up to me, Basterds would receive Best Picture, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, and Film Editing along with the almost assured Best Supporting Actor for Waltz. Alas, it is not to be.

Nominees:

  • Penelope Cruz, Nine
  • Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
  • Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart
  • Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
  • Mo’Nique, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

Jared guides us:

    I’ve been saying for some time now that I’m surprised at the relative lack of campaigns to push actresses for a nomination in the Supporting Actress category. The group feels really soft to me, and I don’t think it had to be that way. My best guess? From early on everyone saw this category as over and so saw any spending as a waste.

    I realize I’m missing something about the Up in the Air love. But honestly, in a vacuum, I never would have pegged Vera Farmiga for a nomination. Is it just because her character go toe-to-toe with Clooney’s? I mean, yay for strong, independent female characters, but shouldn’t they have some depth or something.

    Not that there is anything necessarily worthwhile about Crazy Heart, but how pointless is Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character? I mean, she’s basically a MacGuffin, right? She’s maybe one-dimensional at most. Gyllenhaal is never bad, and the casting totally makes sense, but no one could have saved this script.

    I do like Anna Kendrick. Rocket Science is an underrated film, and I’m stunned that Brian didn’t see 2009’s The Marc Pease Experiment. Because it is about music theater. Gosh. Anyway, apparently the Academy is giving out nominations to every actress who co-stars with Clooney and doesn’t immediately let him jump in their pants. Now, granted, I’m not trying to say that’s not impressive. But I sorta kinda feel an Oscar nomination should be based on a little bit more than that.

    Pretty much second by default, Penelope Cruz sure was hot in Nine, amiright? Yowza. Not that I condone adultery (especially with Marion Cotillard), but I mean, could you really blame the guy? The character is right out of 8 1/2 and doesn’t get to do all that much, but whatever. The Academy clearly has a thing this year for attractive, underdeveloped female characters, so whatever.

    It isn’t just that Mo’Nique wins this thing. It is that if you take any single one of her scenes and stacked it up against any of the other nominated performance, she’d win. And handily. Absolutely riveting stuff. One of those times where it seems like nothing should have worked out (less that great script, a cruel character with no redeeming qualities, an actress known for her comedic work) and yet somehow everything gloriously did.

Adam chimes in:

    Will Win: Mo’Nique

    Fantastic performance especially considering the fairly weak script and less-than-stellar directing she had to work with. Well deserved nomination and win.

    I Want to Win: Penelope Cruz

    Did you SEE her dance scene in Nine? And yes, it is shallow for me to want her to win because she is stunningly beautiful…sue me. She’s also a great actress, and while Mo’Nique deserves to win this year, I can’t say I’d rather see her up there than Cruz. She’s just so pretty.

    Dark Horse: Anyone other than Mo’Nique

    This one’s been in the bag for months.

    Ranking:

    Penelope Cruz
    Mo’Nique
    Anna Kendrick
    Vera Farmiga
    Maggie Gyllenhaal

    Grouches Critiques:

    Ugh. Only Jared’s written his so far and he agrees with me too much. No fun. Go back and read my lambasting of Brian again.

    Random Notes:

    Seriously…you should watch this:

Brian briefly drops by:

    Jared and I had this debate offline, but I thought that Supporting Actor was much weaker from top-down than this category — but that probably has a lot more to do with our differing opinions on Up in the Air than anything else. Of the three leads, I found Farmiga to be the least engaging and I’d have even welcomed Julianne Moore to this category over Farmiga. I should also state upfront that I haven’t seen Nine yet — so if you are REALLY interested in reading my views on supporting actress, check this space again on Sunday for my update.

    To be quick because I have some best picture write-ups to begin:

    Maggie Gyllenhaal – I liked her a good bit, though I agree with some of the criticism written when Crazy Heart was released about female journalists always getting into the pants of their subjects — and how you never see male reporters do the same. As with the rest of the movie though, thats a script problem. She does indeed improve upon a weak role, and I liked seeing her pained expressions as she saw her relationship with Bad deteriorate.

    Anna Kendrick — the role was made for her. Literally. And she was great in it. Her transformation was a tad predictable, but being a foil for Clooney worked for the movie, and for both of them. Maybe its partially my newfound crush speaking, but I loved her in Up in the Air.

    Mo’Nique — What Jared and Adam have said. She is just devastatingly cruel and manages to avoid becoming a cartoon. I was and still am so impressed how she managed to wake up each morning and get into character. I’d give her perhaps the highest compliment I can give any actor — this was a performance of Daniel Day-Lewis quality.

John gets the last word:

    Cruz is a very weak nomination. Her big scene in Nine isn’t particularly good, just hot. The rest of her scenes failed to register for me. She’s just filler here, which is appropriate since she’s mostly just filler in her movie, not that Nine has any parts that are particularly imperative. Gyllenhaal is underwhelming, which is sad because she’s usually so great. She just doesn’t have much to work with though, playing a rather thin character who falls for Jeff Bridges in about five seconds. I wish she could show more nuance.

    I’m a bit conflicted about Kendrick. I concede I may be wrong because I’ve yet to see anyone else mention this, but I’m not a fan of the way she talks in Up in the Air. It seems forced and mannered. On the other hand, she’s still terrific to watch. Her expressions, the way she walks, the way she sits: it’s all terrific. She’s such a great part of the film.

    An even greater part is Farmiga, who’s just so wonderful. I know I picked George Clooney to win for Best Actor, but Farmiga may be even better. And since they play similar characters I can say similar things about their performances: subtle, charming, intelligent, self-assured. She’s also an interesting mix of serious and sort of cold yet inviting. The way the other Grouches dismiss her is incredible to me.

    Farmiga is my winner any other year; I think Marisa Tomei is the only one who gives her a run for her money in the years that we’ve done this. But she has the misfortune of being up against a powerhouse in Mo’Nique. Fortunately she’s great in everything she’s in (The Departed, Nothing But the Truth) so this won’t be her only trip to the Oscars.

    As for the winner, Mo’Nique will win and should win. This role by all rights should be cartoonish: a one-note, oversimplified monster. And yet, Mo’Nique makes us understand her character. Sympathize, even. Not a lot, but just enough. It’s a bare, powerful performance. Legendary. And that final scene… just killer.

    Snubs: Too bad the wonderful ladies from Inglourious Basterds, Melanie Laurent and Diane Kruger, didn’t get some love here.

Nominees:

  • Sandra Bullock, Blind Side
  • Helen Mirren, The Last Station
  • Carey Mulligan, An Education
  • Gabourey Sidibe, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
  • Meryl Streep, Julie and Julia

Brian starts the discussion:

    Unlike the Best Actor category, where all the nominations made some modicum of sense, there are a couple of headscratchers here. On the other hand, I can’t really think of many other strong female lead performances from this year, so maybe its just one of those years. Perhaps I’d include Emily Blunt in here for Young Victoria, but otherwise, it was a lackluster year, unfortunately. There are two nominees that are clearly superior to the rest of the batch — and its a shame that they are not the two expected to duke it out on Sunday night.

    To dispense with those two first: Streep is the second best actress in Julie and Julia — Amy Adams shows a wider range of emotions and is the heart of the film. Streep does a fine impersonation — and is good filler for the non-Julie Powell moments — but I found myself much more caught up in the modern day love story than Julia Child’s background. Which is odd, because I’m a history dork and all. I’m more interested in Julia’s next phase of life — when she became a television star.

    Sandra Bullock is the best part of The Blind Side — but thats truly faint praise. In a bastardization of a solid, nuanced book by Michael Lewis, The Blind Side is a poor-man’s Erin Brockovich. I think Dana Stevens said it best over at Slate: this is Bullock’s “Least Objectionable Thing She’s Made in Years.” Ergo, since this may be her only shot ever at a nomination, give her the career achievement award now. Her actual acting in the movie is good — but much like the rest of the movie, its cliched and devoid of any intrigue.

    Helen Mirren was fed a filmful of Oscar-worthy scenes, and she did her usual bang-up job with them. Unfortunately, when you’re dealing with material as weak as The Last Station‘s — your performance has to transcend crap. And Mirren, this time, did not — and I’d also question her position as a leading actress on this one. If they had pushed her for supporting — I think that she’d have gotten a lot more recognition than this film — which I am still convinced that no one actually saw before nominating Mirren. Now THAT is the power of a strong brand.

    My two favorites: Mulligan and Sidibe. Carey Mulligan was brilliant as the young teen taken in by Peter Saarsgard’s creepiness. Stuck in an era when her parents (and society writ large) told her she could be a wife or a teacher, and thats it, she yearned for something more. It was a trite subject, but Mulligan expressed the highs of love and the lows of devastation with great aplomb. I cannot wait to watch what she does next.

    But my vote goes for newcomer Gabourey Sidibe. It’s hard for me to judge what she’s like in real person — and how much of her performance was “ACTING!” — but wow. I never once doubted the pain and hardship that Precious had to deal with — and watching her eventually open up and tread a path away from her current life situation was heart-wrenching. I place the success of the film’s bittersweet and ambiguous ending on Sidibe’s shoulders. Had she not been so good — I think the film would have fallen a lot flatter, with no hope and only despair for Precious’ future.

John adds his two cents

    I think too much as been said about this being a “weak” slate of actresses. It’s fine. I’d say not weaker or stronger than average with three terrific performances.

    Nothing against Helen Mirren, but without a better constructed film she’s just wailing and chewing scenery aimlessly. It’s hard to show any nuance when the material doesn’t allow it.

    The way this year has turned into The Year of Bullock is perplexing. Yes, I know she was snubbed for The Net, but is this the way we want to make up for it? The Blind Side is not a good movie though I did like Bullock’s performance in it. But I can’t help but think a lot of her support comes from playing a strongly-written character with an accent. Sure she dominates the movie, but with the other elements so underwhelming that’s pretty easy.

    Sidibe is swell in Precious and I’m really interested in seeing what she does next. Her performance is so monotone, which I know is what the role calls for, that I think it opens the door for some others to outshine her. She does a very good job of leading the film despite being a new actress and her range is impressive.

    I’m a little surprised I’m not choosing Mulligan because it’s the type of performance I’m so drawn to. It’s a restrained performance, but perfectly-crafted and we totally understand how her character could get into the mess she finds herself. She’s so enchanting on screen and can do so much with just a look. It’s true she’s helped by playing a character that’s so well-written, but she nails it.

    But I choose Meryl Streep. She’s just such a delight to watch and brings what I’d say is just the right amount of camp to the role. And it’s more than an impression; this really is a full-throated performance. We gave Morgan Freeman a tough time for (partly) adapting a South African accent and walking like Nelson Mandela. Streep shows how you play a well-known, real person and put your mark on it.

    I’m pretty perplexed by Brian’s assessment of Streep and the film. I thought I was going out on a limb by saying the Julie half of the film was not significantly inferior to the Julia half. He’s the first person I’ve ever seen assert that Julie was better. This is dumbfounding. If anything, Streep is so dominant she overshadows the rest of the film.

Adam is the charmer, as always:

    • Carey Mulligan
    • Sandra Bullock
    • Meryl Streep
    • Gabourey Sidbe
    • Helen Mirren

    Will Win: Sandra Bullock. There was a pretty big push for her throughout the Awards season and I believe it will pay off. While I don’t think this role was all that taxing, Bullock still put on an impressive performance so I’m not upset that she will win here. I’m more excited that Meryl Streep won’t win…for some reason, I just don’t like her.

    I Want to Win: Carey Mulligan. She’s beautiful. But that’s not why I want her to win (ok, that’s not the ENTIRE reason I want her to win). I had major problems with the script (e.g. plot, flow, dialogue wasn’t too bad, etc), but I will admit that despite its faults, it generated two strong performances from Alfred Molina and Mulligan. Given her less than bulky resume, she puts on a surprisingly strong performance…and she’s beautiful.

    Dark Horse: Carey Mulligan. While not out of the realm of possibility, there is little chance she would be able to overtake Ms. Streep or Ms. Bullock – much to the audience’s dismay.

    Ranking:

    Grouches Critiques: Since only Brian has written one so far, I will confine my review to him – lucky him. First off, some praise, his introductory statement is accurate enough. Actress this year was pretty weak. I have to question writers as a whole’s ability to write strong and/or good female leads. His review goes downhill from there though. I hate to say it (because I like Adams MUCH better than Streep), but Streep definitely outshone in her half of the movie. Adams’ character and storyline were, overall, quite boring. Adams played an uninteresting, selfish bitch…and not the fun kind.

    His comparison of The Blind Side to Erin Brockovich is confusing and incorrect. I have no idea what part of which is comparable. It’s much easier to compare it to Precious, in fact, though, in my opinion, neither is as great as people seem to believe. Even his review of The Last Station is off and we both disliked it. I am actually a big fan of Mirren, but while her performance most likely fit the role as written, it was a horribly written script so her performance suffered the same fate. There was not one “Oscar-worthy” scene in the entire movie. I also can’t say I agree with his view of women striving for more than being regulated to a wife/mother/teacher as a “trite” subject. Guess we’re seeing the “real” Brian.

    Finally, his conclusion is way off the mark. Don’t believe the hype , folks. Precious is not that good. Sidibre does a fine job, but ultimately there isn’t a lot of range required in the role and the script was pretty weak in both story and dialogue – and the lackluster directing didn’t help either.

    Now I can sit back and bathe in the glow Brian’s hatred of me will give off.

    Random Notes: Write better female characters Hollywood writers. There is a ton of talent out there and few good characters for them to portray.

Jared has had a little to drink and is writing at 4 in the morning:

    Finally, I get to both go last and disagree with Brian.  It is a bad call to say it was a poor year for lead actress performances.  Add Blunt and Deschanel in here, and you are hot to trot.  Relatively weak year for mainstream performances? Maybe.  But one you get into Julia and Cheri and Trucker, I’m not so convinced.  Hate to say it, but I kinda agree with John.  Probably about an average year.

    I’ve loved Sandra Bullock since Love Potion No. 9 (here’s where I totally geek out and make a Donovan Tate joke (that’s some baseball prospect humor for you!)).  I really don’t understand the Oscar love for her this year.  Thrilled that’s she’s in the running. No clue what makes this role so special.  Honestly, and I’m completely serious here, I don’t understand why she wasn’t up for an Oscar for Miss Congeniality.  I dare almost any former Oscar nominee to pull off that role. I gotta question Brian, though.  “Devoid of any intrigue?”  You read the book and know the story, dude. What intrigue were you expecting?  Oh, and the book isn’t nuanced. Sorry. Not like I needed to bring all this up. The minute you cite Slate in an argument is the minute you lose.

    And while we are ragging on Brian, I’m totally with John about Julie and Julia. Brian, you are no longer ever allowed to make fun of my appreciation of romcoms. The Julie side of the film was better? Bold statement there, boss. I heart Meryl Streep to pieces, I just think we could maybe hold back on the automatic check next to her name. Though, hey, she seems to be the only one who can get nominated for comedies. So more power to her.

    Unsurprisingly, Helen Mirren was pretty great in The Last Station.  It is unfortunate that the movie was roughly seventeen hours long. That’s how it felt at least. The unsteadiness in the script came through as Mirren’s character was not only a biatch, but sorta all over the place. Mirren salvaged it admirably, but still.  I’ll agree with Brian here (since I made the point first).  No one saw Last Station.  No one.

    Top two are really tough for me. I’ve gone back and forth numerous times. So screw it, I need to get some sleep, I’m calling it a tie between Gabourey Sidibe and Carey Mulligan.  Sidibe is all kinds of powerful asPrecious. Maybe few established actresses could have pulled it off for physical reasons, but I also think few could have so completely owned the character. Sidibe took a relatively weak script and turned the character into something magical.

    I’m madly in love with Carey Mulligan and not ashamed to admit it. No one who saw An Education should be afraid to admit it either.  Again, she took a subpar script and created a character I won’t forget for some time. Maybe she had it easier because of how attractive the character was (both inside and out). I dunno. I do know that she took a character who had been seen time and again (smart pretty girl who loses her naivete) and made it her own.

We’re not just tackling the big categories this year, but the smaller ones as well. Some of them, at least. Not all of these categories are worthy of the intense and brilliant consideration we give things here at Golden Grouches, now are they?

Today I’m looking at two visual technical categories.

Cinematography

Nominees: Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Inglourious Basterds, White Ribbon

This feels hard to call because so much of Avatar is visual effects and the traditional relationship between how the director of photography films and what the audience experiences is altered. And so it’s something different from what we see in the other nominees. (Here’s a little about it.) The camerawork in The Hurt Locker does a great deal to insert the viewer into the action and is instrumental in creating the film’s thrills. But I’ll lean towards Avatar and its trailblazing 3-D shooting.

Film Editing

Nominees: Avatar, District 9, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious

I think it’s impressive how Avatar has such a huge scope but the action never gets muddled. I don’t recall ever getting lost in a scene due to confusing shots- and this film is full of epic battles in 3-D. For both Inglourious Basterds and The Hurt Locker, the editing is part of what makes the tension so palpable. The way the intense scenes of The Hurt Locker are artfully constructed is what pushes it over the top.

Today we’re taking on the Best Director race and declaring who we think should win.

The nominees:

  • Avatar: James Cameron
  • The Hurt Locker: Kathryn Bigelow
  • Inglourious Basterds: Quentin Tarantino
  • Precious: Lee Daniels
  • Up in the Air: Jason Reitman

John says:

    This is another terrific lineup of nominees and again I feel like I’m nitpicking some to narrow it down to my favorite. Any of these five would make a great winner. So what am I looking for in Best Director besides who made the best movie? I’d say overall vision, style, tone, pacing, and coherence. Does that sound about right? Of course, these are all things I look for in a movie anyway.

    Tarantino strikes me as all flash with minimal substance. He made Basterds a thrilling ride, but I don’t think I really shared his vision. No doubt a fascinating and stylish film, however. The weighty material in Precious requires a deft hand to prevent it from slipping into absurd melodrama or emotional manipulation. Daniels cast the right actors and extracted pitch-perfect performances out of them. His visions for Precious’s dream sequences hit the right tone to balance the more intense scenes.

    I give Bigelow lots of credit for finely honing the tension in The Hurt Locker, making it one of the best war thrillers I’ve seen. And Reitman does a great job with the tone and atmosphere in Up in the Air. The film sort of settled in my gut and that feeling was the largest takeaway for me, even more than any scene or performance.

    But James Cameron is my choice. The man had a big vision for Avatar and he completely delivers. We may quibble about the writing, but he shepherds the story through the long running time without ever letting it drag and always keeps it entirely coherent. In lesser hands, Avatar could be a mess of visual effects and thematic missteps; Cameron makes his technological breakthroughs enhance and complement all the other components of the film without taking away from any. I just love the world he creates and the way he uses all the tools at his disposal to realize it.

    Snubs: I don’t mean to overdo my love for The Informant!, but it’s absolutely a triumph in tone, editing, and style and for that Steven Soderbergh should have received some love.

Jared replies:

    Like John mentioned, I’m not sure anyone has a good idea how to judge a director (i.e. where the direction starts and the writing/acting/editing/cinematography, etc. starts), and so I’m a little less comfortable here than with the other categories.

    I didn’t really like Inglourious Basterds, and I think part of the reason for that was that no segment of the film really felt complete. Tarantino’s mishmashing style may have worked elsewhere, but I found it pointless here.

    Maybe Jason Reitman’s direction just seemed effortless. And it isn’t like I could point to a single thing non-script thing I’d do differently with the film. But I also can’t really think of a memorable thing about the film I’d attribute to Reitman.

    Hopefully this time will be the last I have to say that the key to Precious was Mo’Nique, Sidibe, and the basic story construct, almost everything else is besides the point. I fall somewhere between John and Brian on the dream sequences, but I’ll give credit to Daniels for how he handled the stairwell shots.

    Like many people, it seems, I had a hard time making the final decision here. My problems with Avatar stem almost exclusively from the script. Cameron obviously has a nearly unparalleled ability to do big, splashy sequences while working them into something bigger. But ultimately, I guess I’ll shift a little bit of the blame for the slow parts onto his direction.

    Enough, at least, to anoint the ex-Mrs. Cameron the winner. We’ll get to it, but I think Kathryn Bigelow was working from a relatively weak script. The film was tremendously tense. And sure, it helps when a bomb is involved. But really, not that much happens in the film. So I’m going to assign a good chunk of the credit to Ms. Bigelow for creating a really taut film with neat action scenes.

Brian adds:

    Fantastic. Let the Avatar bashing begin! But first, the two near-contenders for my pick for the Oscar. I know Adam will follow up with a full-throated defense of Inglourious Basterds, but Tarantino is my runner-up choice. Everything that made the movie great, the episodic chapters, the white-knuckled tense scenes at the prologue and in the bar, the fantastic conclusion — can be ascribed to Tarantino’s direction. It was truly a great marriage of material with cinematography, and the way that he brought together a melange of actors and stories is definitely to his credit. For a guy who dislikes “message” movies, I’m surprised by how much Jared disliked Basterds.

    Up in the Air was also a great display of directing — which I tend to think of an award for “how well does everything come together.” Reitman got great performances out of Kendrick and Clooney — and I thought the bumpers he used between cities, the plane’s eye view, was a nice touch. But this year — not enough to compete with the big guns.

    Going by the definition above, I blame Cameron’s ego for disqualifying him for an Avatar win. He let Giovanni Ribisi and Stephen Lang chew the scenery to pieces and failed to recognize the shallowness of his own script. The final third took forever to come, even though the final battle was inevitable. His vision of a technical masterpiece came true, but I just can’t give a director award to a half-good film.

    And I definitely can’t fathom giving it to Precious, which as Jared has said, is only being considered for anything because of Mo’Nique and Sidibe. The fantasy sequences that John and Jared refer to are pointless, distracting, and overdone. Daniels’ penchant for shakycam when in the social worker scenes with Mariah Carey infuriated me — I was so engrossed by the performances only to be drawn out by an unnecessary zoom.

    But, Bigelow. There’s your winner. Many of the setpieces from the film will stay in my memory, including the UN car bomb scene and the final shot back in Iraq. From start to finish, Hurt Locker keeps you on your toes, never truly sure what’s going to happen. A less competent director (*cough* Paul Haggis) would have found a way to insert their own ideologies and politics into what may end up being one of the best Iraq war movies ever, but Bigelow is smart enough to let her work speak for itself.

Adam proclaims:

    Will Win: Kathryn Bigelow

    While I may have had more love this year for other movies, the reason this movie wasn’t in my top 5 had nothing to do with the directing. Given a better script, this movie had the potential to be near the very top of my list of movies this year. I have to agree with both Jared and John that the tension she was able to create, as well as the very well done action scenes, make for a very strong nominee. I have no problem with her winning this category (especially if it is over Cameron).

    I Want to Win: Quentin Tarantino

    I am a huge Tarantino fan, so maybe my opinion is somewhat biased, but I don’t think that really matters. I’m biased because I believe Tarantino is one of the (if not THE) best writer/director/producers out there, and Inglourious Basterds is no exception – despite Jared’s felonious assertions. I’d LOVE to see this movie sweep all categories…but I’m not naïve enough to believe it will happen.

    Dark Horse: Lee Daniels (and no, I’m not being racist. He’s the longest shot)

    He’s last in the rankings (both mine and others’ predictions) and there is a reason…he didn’t do that great of a job. I hate to admit it, but I agree with John – Soderbergh is a MUCH stronger candidate for the slot.

    Ranking:

    1. Quentin Tarantino
    2. Kathryn Bigelow
    3. Jason Reitman
    4. James Cameron
    5. Lee Daniels

    Grouches Critiques:

    I find it almost unfathomable that Brian of all people is the only one to really give adequate credit to Inglourious Basterds – shame on you Jared and John. I will have plenty of time to bash John’s love of Avatar and James Cameron in the next couple of days. All I can say now is…really? Really, John? Nothing else really jumps out at me about the rest, though. We were pretty close with our critiques on these movies with 3 of 4 picking Bigelow. Precious wasn’t great and the direction was one of the weakest parts, and the strongest part of Up in the Air was not the directing.

    Random Notes:

    As much as I think Avatar is over-hyped, the direction wasn’t horrible (second best thing about the film next to the visuals – which has something to do with the direction). That said, I actually like more of the picks here than in Adapted Screenplay. And, like Adapted Screenplay, my top two are close enough that I’m not going to be pissed at the Academy if they go with Bigelow. She did a terrific job with the little she was given.

    God I hope James Cameron doesn’t win.

OK Folks, here we go. It’s Grouching the Oscars week here and we will kick things off with Adapted Screenplay.

Your nominees:

  • District 9” Written by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell
  • An Education” Screenplay by Nick Hornby
  • In the Loop” Screenplay by Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche
  • Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” Screenplay by Geoffrey Fletcher
  • Up in the Air” Screenplay by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner

Take it away, Jared:

    As has been noted elsewhere, the Best Picture winner has generally come out of the Adapted Screenplay category, so it feels a bit odd that the three front-runners for Best Picture come from original screenplays.  For some time there, sure looked like Precious and Up in the Air were right in the thick of the top race (and who knows, maybe they still are).  The former (unquestionably, in my mind) has the weakest script of the category, relying almost entirely on the performances of the two main characters and the situations in which they are placed.  I liked the film and certainly don’t think the nomination here is a tragedy.  But all of the supporting characters are generic and underdeveloped, for example.  I actually read Up in the Air’s script, so I at least know a little bit about what I’m talking about here, for a change.  It is a fairly strong script, but ultimately lacks any sort of punch.  The dialogue is zippy, though not often funny.  And the story (which takes quite a few liberties with the original source, I’m told), is interesting, if not really thought-provoking.

    I’ve probably voiced my problems with An Education elsewhere, but to recap, I love Nick Hornby wish he shone through more in the film’s script. The ending had serious issues, mostly stemming from the fact that there wasn’t really any sort of proper ending.  And while most of the characters showed some sort of Nick Hornby shading, I never really felt a connection with any of them.  Hornby excels in creating relatable characters, and I just wasn’t seeing that here. The dialogue was crisp, but I can only remember one line from the film, I think.

    District 9 was one of my favorite movies of the year, and the script was definitely a large part of that.  I think sometimes people unfairly dismiss the writing that goes into creating action scenes.  But I’m convinced the film could have been just as powerful without any actions scenes at all, and I think that’s why it got a nomination.  Because whether you choose to view the movie as a metaphor or not, it manages to hit some raw emotions, evoking some pretty powerful stuff.  Most of this movie was brilliant, and the script was no exception.

    Very often, it seems, the Academy hides away in the screenplay categories one of my favorite movies of the year, one that received nowhere near the attention it should have.  This year, that film is In the Loop.  It was actually a close call for me here, but where District 9 had some really cool special effects, In the Loop relied almost entirely on its zany, madcap, hilarious, insane, divine script.  I’m trying to pick one or two great lines from the film, but in order to do the script justice, I’d have to go through every single page, because the zingers came nonstop.  But more than that, the plot was exquisitely crafted to poke fun at the ridiculousness of government.  I have to believe that if every single adult in D.C. saw this film, over half of them would say it was the year’s best.  Sure, maybe not every single joke worked, but so many did and so often, that, just, wow.  It is hard to imagine a tighter, or better crafted, script.

Adam, writing by his own rules, per usual:

    Will Win: Up in the Air

    Up in the Air turned out to be one of my favorite movies of the year. This was based on a combination of its script, acting, and directing, so a win here in Adapted Screenplay is not a disappointment for me. While there may a more deserving film, the love people are showing Up in the Air is well deserved.

    I Want to Win: In the Loop

    Up until John started talking about this movie maybe a month or two ago, I hadn’t even heard about it. Since it was John talking about it, I didn’t pay it any attention until it was nominated. Unfortunately, after I watched it, I realized I actually had to agree with the rest of the Grouches as this was a wonderfully scripted movie. Like In Bruges last year, I’m glad to see the Academy at least giving a nod to superior writing – regardless of the shot they have at winning.

    Dark Horse: In the Loop No way in hell the Academy makes the right choice…as usual.

    Ranking:
    1. In the Loop
    2. Up in the Air
    3. District 9
    4. An Education
    5. Precious

    Grouches Critiques:

    While Jared was correct about In the Loop, he was wrong in at least one aspect in everything else (which is a lot better than the other Grouches will be though I can’t be more specific as, at the writing of this, they have yet to complete their posts). Up in the Air wasn’t as weak as he makes it out to be (I don’t care if he read the script or not), Precious wasn’t nearly as good as the other Grouches make it out to be, District 9 was good/great, but not brilliant, and the script of An Education was horrible (with only its acting being able to bring it out of utter rubbish).

    Random Notes:

    Not a bad year for this category. Three of the five scripts are at least well done, and two are crap. Way to be 60%, Academy.

John, for a change, may be right about movies:

    This is a really terrific slate of nominees. Four of my favorite films of the year are represented here and the fifth is pretty darn good too. Compare it to the underwhelming 2008 list and you can understand my elation.District 9 is a film I liked less than my cohorts, but it’s still a good movie whose success hinges upon its terrific premise. The plot, characters, and themes are handled well. Any criticisms I have for it extend from elements outside the script. Up in the Air is a mixed bag in that it’s powerful in what it gets it right but has some noteworthy missteps, such as the characterizations of the female characters. Vera Farmiga is wonderful but her character does some frustratingly inconsistent things. I’m being picky here, but such strong competition demands pickiness.

    I really liked Precious and the way it handles such weighty material. The film thrives on the acting and – though Brian will disagree – directing more than the writing, however. And while the writing is terrific, it’s really the other elements propel the film to greatness. My runner-up An Education tells a terrific story with a dynamic central character. It unfolds cleverly, though not in a twisty way but in the way it astutely develops its themes without being too heavy-handed.

    But my winner is In the Loop. I think there’s a danger in declaring it a winner based solely on its dialogue. Yes, it’s dialogue is terrific; it absolutely crackles and the rat-a-tat lines are hilarious and clever. The jokes come so fast it’s hard to keep up. But it’s also an artfully constructed farce and brilliantly satirical. While the dialogue is the star, the situations and characters are so well-formed that they complement the dialogue and give it perfect context.

    Snub: As great as this category is, imagine if it included The Informant!, a film that combines a complex story, a complicated protagonist, and a delightfully whimsical tone.

Here’s where I wrap things up and take credit for everything that the other Grouches have said (except for John):

    It really cannot be overstated how strong a group this year’s nominees are in the adapted screenplay category. If this had been the list of the five films nominated for best picture, I would have only had a problem with Precious, and that’s nothing compared to previous bad nominees of years past (see 2008, The Reader) I concur with most of what Jared wrote about Precious, though its really up against very tough competition. The script is clearly not the strongest part, though the scenes between Mariah Carey and Gabourey Sidibe were especially well written, the classroom scenes were a tad derivative of the Freedom Riders/Stand and Deliver/”How do I reach deeese kiiiiids” genre. Had it not been for Lee Daniels’ horrible directing…well, that’s for tomorrow when I eviscerate John’s reasoning on Lee Daniels.

    I’m in agreement with the group on Up in the Air as well. I really enjoyed the script and the plot — it was very touching and just perfect for the cast, from Clooney to Kendrick on down to J.K. Simmons’ cameo. In another year, against weaker competition, this would probably be my pick. I’d disagree with Jared on the thought-provoking part, as of now the strongest memories I have of the film are of the big themes, and the testimonials from the “real folk.” — so perhaps the kudos for this one should go more toward directing and acting, than Reitman and Turner’s script.

    It’s Adam’s turn to be wrong when it comes to An Education — where I once again find myself largely agreeing with Jared. I too am a big Nick Hornby fan, but I was disappointed in the latter third of this movie. Maybe I can chalk it up to this being his first screenplay not adapted from his own material, but Hornby scribed a meandering finale with an odd lack of moral direction. More Carey Mulligan love to come later, however.

    To be quick with the last two — and the best two– scripts, since the rest of the grouches have said what I would have: District 9 is on my personal top 5 for 2009 and I loved the transition from Michael Scott mockumentary to kick-ass action movie. Blomkamp took a unique angle at a tried-and-true genre and ran with it with great success. Ahhh, In the Loop — my pick for who should win as well. Make that four-for-four. Any movie that has the line “Fuckity bye” is a winner in my book. (VERY NSFW link)

Coming up tomorrow: Best Director

Stupid work getting in the way of this.  Seems like every year people say it was a bad year for the Best Actress category, which is generally hogwash, and  I especially don’t really think it is true this year.  Sure, maybe my list for Best Actor possibilities was longer, but I’m fairly certain the next five women off the list would have still made a very strong category.

1. Patricia Clarkson, Blind Date

Nobody does sullen and deadpan like Ms. Clarkson.  Just no one.  And here, to pull off that underlying sadness while playing a variety of personalities, well, it was pretty perfect.

2. Zooey Deschanel, (500) Days of Summer

I swear, it wasn’t intentional to have my top two actors and actresses match up.  Maybe it is fitting, though.  It was pretty fascinating to see Deschanel’s character morph from The One to a biatch and all phases in between, at least through Gordon-Levitt’s eyes.  Sure, the role was right in Deschanel’s wheelhouse, but she still knocked it out of the park.

3. Emily Blunt, The Young Victoria

To me, at least, a monarch at a young age is a fascinating topic.  And here, a terribly difficult role to play, as Victoria learned to play the political game while going through adolescence.  Which is insane.  I mean, think about Adventureland, only if instead of learning to survive on his own, Jesse Eisenberg had to rule a friggin’ country.  And I think Blunt didn’t get a nomination here for exactly that reason.  The Academy wasn’t comfortable with a ruler who showed such humanity.

4.  Gabourey Sidibe, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

I think I may have discussed her elsewhere, but wowza.  When going through the best actress nominees this year, I’d be stunned if voters didn’t take at least a second to think about writing in her name. [Edit: To clarify, I meant choosing her as the nominee they think should win.]

5.  Carey Mulligan, An Education

It isn’t just that I fell madly in love with Ms. Mulligan after the film, it is that I can’t imagine anyone not falling in love with her.  I think she took a weak script and ran with it something fierce, and with many other actresses, this film gets shut out of Oscar completely.

Just off the ballot: Meryl Streep (Julie and Julia) and Tilda Swinton (Julia).  And not just because that’s funny.

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