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24. Going the Distance

I had admittedly high hopes for Going the Distance, so I suppose you could argue there’s some wishcasting going on here.  I did have a lot of trouble figuring out how to rate the film, though.  Writer Geoff LaTulippe’s screenplay made a Black List, and for the first quarter or third of the film, I completely understood why and was clearing out room in my top ten.  The writing was sharp, funny, and sure, slightly more R-rated than your typical romcom, but to good ends.  Thing is, the rest of the movie took a sharp turn for the worse, finishing up a lot more like a traditional romantic comedy, seeming to lose its singular voice.  As is often the case with romantic comedies, the leads (Justin Long and Drew Barrymore) are strong, but the supporting cast (including Christina Applegate, Jim Gaffigan, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Ron Livingston and small roles by under the radar favorites of mine Natalie Morales and Kelli Garner) is quite stellar.

23. Ondine

Written and directed by Oscar winner Neil Jordan (The Crying Game), Ondine is an Irish fairy tale of sorts that didn’t really make an impact, unfortunately.  It stars Colin Farrell, who should be more of a star, but can’t seem to line up a good role in widely seen movie where he’s not outshone by a bigger name.  Here he plays a divorced fisherman with a young daughter (Alison Barry) who is confined to a wheelchair.  Out fishing one day, Farrell improbably drags in a beautiful and mysterious woman (Alicja Bachleda) who seems to mirror everything his daughter has been reading about mermaids.  The third act takes a pretty dark turn that’s somewhat out of the blue, for whatever that’s worth.

22. Predators

I saw Predators in theaters with Adam.  Oddly, someone brought a baby to the screening.  Which…hey, I’m the first one to say ratings are silly, but I’m not entirely certain that was the change for which I was rooting.  The film knows exactly what it is (a fun, contained, sci-fi shoot ’em up), and doesn’t strive for anything more or less.  Which is nice.  Action/adventure flicks can sometimes gets bloated with backstory and philosophy, but this one is rather lean.  And boats an incredibly bizarre cast, including Adrien Brody, Laurence Fishburne, Topher Grace, Walton Goggins, Danny Trejo, and Alice Braga.

21. Defendor

Along with the rash of superhero films has been a series of regular people inspired by superhero films (elsewhere on this list you’ll find Kick-Ass, and Paper Man probably counts, plus this year’s Super and the South Park crew has done it, off the top of my head).  Here, Woody Harrelson plays a possibly mentally disturbed man who has decided to become Defendor and chase down his nemesis, Captain Industry.  He befriends the lost and abused teen played by Kat Dennings (whose character is named Katerina Debrofkowitz) in a relationship not entirely until that of Jeff Daniels and Emma Stone in the aforementioned Paper Man.  Elias Koteas is a delightfully evil cop, and Sandra Oh’s psychiatrist doesn’t have quite enough of a role.  I liked the film’s ending, it is hopeful in an unexpected way.

20. Rabbit Hole

We’ve obviously written some about this Oscar and Spirit Awards nominee.  I saw it, alone, at the new West End theater.  Which was probably for the best, Rabbit Hole isn’t exactly the type of movie that makes you want to go out and talk about it over ice cream afterwards.  Over an endless stream of whiskey, maybe.  I generally agree with John’s take on the film, though I believe I liked it a little more.  The one exception is that I didn’t really get the awards hype for Dianne Wiest, though maybe I just expecting her character to be a little more meaty.  I’m a big Aaron Eckhart fan and this film only reinforces that.  His performance was absolutely Oscar-worthy.

19. Remember Me

It is impossible to talk about Remember Me without discussing the one controversial twist near the end of the film.  I think the statute of limitations has passed on spoiler alerts, but just in case anyone happens across this post before seeing the movie, I’ll try not to ruin anything.  I believe most people found the twist to be emotionally manipulative at best, and at worst, unnecessary, crass, and insulting.  Which is certainly fair, I wouldn’t presume to suggest otherwise.  However, to me, this relatively mundane approach is actually an honor and a tribute.  Vague enough, I hope?  The film stars Robert Pattinson, and I gotta say, he’s definitely more than just a Twilight heartthrob.  The charming Emilie de Ravin is the love interest, and Pierce Brosnan and Chris Cooper chew up scenery as their respective dads.

18. Knight and Day

Nothing personal against Knight and Day, but when it is in the top twenty movies of the year, something went wrong.  That said, the film is a fun summer popcorn flick.  And having more of those in the world wouldn’t be the worst thing ever.  The film is rather well-cast.  Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz both excel at action-comedies and can help smooth over any rough spots in the script.  Plus there’s Peter Sarsgaard (being creepy, naturally), Viola Davis, Maggie Grace, and Paul Dano.

17. Iron Man 2

I agree with most of the criticisms of the film: not as good as the first one, too many characters crammed in, not enough story.  Still, there’s lots of fun action.  And when the too-many characters include a crazy Russian Mickey Rourke, a crazy Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson, John Slattery, and cameos by Olivia Munn and Kate Mara, well, I’m willing to forgive some sins.  The first one was a refreshing take on the superhero movie.  This one still had some of that voice, but moved in a bad direction toward standard comic book fare, as is too often the case with sequels.

16. Four Lions

Brian absolutely loves this film, he’ll be disappointed I didn’t give it an even better ranking.  If it helps, there’s a definite gap between Four Lions and films that have come before.  The movie is a mockumentary about a group of British jihadists.  Which, I know.  Sounds wrong on a million different levels.  And yet somehow writer-director Christopher Morris (along with his co-writers and the actors) make it work.  The film is funny, often laugh out loud so.  A few subplots maybe don’t work out, but here’s a dark comedy that’s actually manages to be both dark and a comedy.  Ending a movie like this one was always going to be difficult, and I’m not quite sure they stuck the landing.  Which probably explains any difference between Brian and I.

15. Despicable Me

Saw this one on a plane.  And just about couldn’t stop laughing.  A large part of it, I’m sure, were the minions.  Who were, as pretty much everyone agrees, essentially just rabbids from Rayman Raving Rabbids.  Which isn’t a problem, because man, those rabbids are friggin’ hilarious.  One thing I’ve realized is that I’m pretty horrible at guessing who is doing the voice acting for an animated film.  I can’t tell if it is because I’m so engrossed in the film or I’m just bad at identifying voices, but I consistently find myself surprised when going over the credits for animated films.

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Well this look at the successful performance showcases, the complement to my earlier look at the failed ones, is ridiculously late. But it’s been sitting on my hard drive for a while so why waste it? Plus many of these are now available on DVD so you can go judge them for yourselves. Though you may as well leave the judging to me, right?

Animal Kingdom

There was a good chance that this one was going to land on the “failed” portion of these posts, but happily Jacki Weaver eked out a Supporting Actress nod for this very low profile film. Animal Kingdom is an Australian crime drama centered around a family of bank robbers. The opening credits made me think I was about to see The Town: Down Under with its images of bank heists. Instead, it’s a character-focused drama about the family unraveling as the crooked cops close in.

Weaver plays the family matriarch. She’s outwardly sweet and caring, but in reality is chillingly ruthless. Her daughter dies of a heroin overdose so her estranged grandson comes to live with her. Meanwhile, her son is hiding out from the cops while the Melbourne police become more brutal with their tactics. The cops begin killing off members of the gang, the gang retaliates, and the heretofore innocent grandson gets entangled in it all.

The movie is very good. I think some people may find the grandson character frustrating as he waffles between his family and the police and seems to willfully put himself in danger. But I think the film does a good job establishing the character and his passiveness. Weaver is quite memorable. I think it’s a role ripe for scenery chewing, but she dials it back and it makes her actions even more chilling. Hopefully her nomination will cause more people to seek out the film.

Rabbit Hole

This story of a couple mourning their recently-deceased son works in parts. Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart grieve in their own ways, which drives a wedge into their relationship. Kidman is prone to awkward public outbursts that can be quite uncomfortable to watch. The film is filled with these scenes and it can be hard to take.

But some scenes are just wonderful. Most of the scenes Kidman shares with her mother, played by Dianne Weist, are terrific and insightful. Eckhart has a nice scene in his son’s bedroom with a family looking to buy the house.

The film is a series of mostly successful individual scenes while some overall plot points fall a little short. I found the relationship between Kidman and a young man sort of contrived, but it yielded several nice moments.

I think your mileage may vary in a heavily dramatic movie like this. What rings true or connects emotionally for one will feel wrong to another. And that is fine, considering the film is about people who express their grief differently.

Kidman is very good and she grabbed the film’s one Oscar nomination for Best Actress. I enjoyed Eckhart, and he did land an Independent Spirit nod, though a few of his showcase scenes didn’t work very well for me. How much was him and how much was the writing, I don’t know. Finally, Weist is also very good and it’s too bad awards momentum for her stalled so early.

It’s a good film that I would recommend, but given its weight I’m not sure if there are many people I’d specifically recommend it to.

Biutiful

We all severely despised this movie. Javier Bardem landed a Best Actor nod for his role as a Barcelona black marketeer who is severely down on his luck. His illegal immigrant workers get deported and he has the heart to care about their families. His own ex-wife is unreliable, leaving him to worry for his children’s safety. He is sick. His dreams are full of tiresome artsy fartsy imagery.

The film received some critical malign for being such a downer. I contend that to be a downer a film must make the viewer care enough to feel the depression and Biutiful fails miserably at that. I wasn’t saddened by Bardem’s slog. I was bored. Very, very bored.

It severely drags. I started looking out for the ending, constantly expecting for the finale to be right around the corner and pondering if I liked certain developments as the denouement. In hindsight it turns out I started doing this about 45 minutes in. That is a bad sign.

Blue Valentine

I anticipated this being up my alley but it started losing me pretty quickly. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are a married couple with a young daughter. The film starts with their relationship in trouble and watches as it crumbles. Interspersed are flashbacks showing them meeting and falling in love.

It reminded me a lot of Revolutionary Road from a few years back. It could be a poignant look at the strains that are put on a relationship, but it’s really just about two people that shouldn’t be together. And at least one is a douchebag. It becomes pretty clear that there isn’t a lot of depth to their relationship and I began rooting against the pair because it seemed like they’d both be better off alone. By the end it was just tedious.

Williams got a Best Actress nomination but it’s surprising that Gosling was barely even in the picture. He didn’t even score any recognition from the Independent Spirits. Maybe the field for Best Actor was just more competitive. But I have a hard time imagining someone responding the movie and Williams’s performance but not Gosling’s.

Another Year

This one isn’t a successful performance piece but at least it did get some Oscar attention, receiving an Original Screenplay nod. Lesley Manville really should have been in the mix for Supporting Actress, but at least she was a contender.

My colleagues liked Another Year considerably less than I did and I understand why. It’s slow with a very understated plot. But it’s all in service of its themes. I’m not sure why, but I’m drawn towards films about the passage of time and the transient nature of lives in this permanent world and Another Year has these in spades. Four segments corresponding to each of the seasons follow English married couple Tom and Gerri as they host family and friends at parties and events over the course of a year. They are in love and appear to have a happy life, but the same cannot be said about everyone else in their coterie. Manville stands out as Gerri’s lonely middle aged coworker who drinks too much at the get-togethers and fancies her hosts’ much younger son.

The film does sacrifice plot for theme. In fact, it would be hard to claim there’s much of a plot at all as the action is all conversation. We do see the characters’ progression throughout the year though much of the action occurs between the seasonal meetings. Mary’s excitement to buy a car and subsequent troubles with said car later in the year is one more light-hearted example.

The slowness did get to me a little as some of the scenes aren’t the best at advancing the themes. I’m happy to accept subtlety when warranted, but sitting through some of the scenes that seemed pointless to me was harder to stomach. With a little tightening it could be more entertaining and packed a heftier punch.

We continue our discussion casting our votes for the Independent Spirit Awards. Find part one here.

BEST DIRECTOR

  • Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
  • Danny Boyle, 127 Hours
  • Lisa Cholodenko, The Kids Are All Right
  • Debra Granik, Winter’s Bone
  • John Cameron Mitchell, Rabbit Hole

WINNER: Debra Granik (8 points – 3 from Adam, 2 from Brian, 2 from Jared, 1 from John)

Other votes: Darren Aronofsky (4 points – 3 from John, 1 from Brian)

John: Looks like we cared a ton on this one, eh?

Brian: Hahaha. Jared, no love for Aranofsky?

Jared: He crossed my mind, but I really didn’t think the film was anything special.

Adam: Good news! I just filed my taxes. I hated Daddy Longlegs so much I actually started doing my taxes

Brian: I’ll just say that I liked that Aronofsky went balls-out and the overall ridiculousness of the film is largely due to him.

John: To me, Black Swan‘s success, such that it is, hinges on how it displays the descent into insanity. This film could have been a ridiculous melodramatic mess, but it’s an effective as a psychological thriller through Aronofsky’s vision. It’s a good ridiculousness, not a messy roll your eyes ridiculousness

Jared: I guess, to me, the camp didn’t come through, and I didn’t think it was a strong psychological thriller

Brian: It’s not a good movie, but what makes it interesting is Aranofsky’s WTF ness. As for Winter’s Bone — we’ve covered this, I thought the directing was strong enough to compensate for a mediocre script

John: I didn’t care too much who won this one. I like Granik too. She does a good job with the cast and settings. A lot of the cast are non-professionals from the area. I also considered throwing some points to Boyle, but couldn’t justify giving three people votes

Brian: Boyle bleh. 127 Hours bleh

John: 127 Hours is just so bold. It’s almost as much the Danny Boyle Makes A Movie About a Stuck Dude story as much as the Aron Ralston story. But in the end the film just isn’t strong enough, especially compared to Winter’s Bone and Black Swan.

Jared: As a fan of closed room films, I found it distracting that Boyle did everything possible to prevent staying in that closed room.

Brian: I actually had the opposite problem. I thought the flashbacks were way too short. I wanted to know about the character stuck in the canyon and the brief cuts to him as a kid or pre-Kate Mara would have been interesting

John: A major problem I had is that I didn’t realize the visions were actual visions Ralston was seeing in the cave. I thought they were just general artsy fartsiness. That’s a directorial problem

BEST MALE LEAD

  • Ronald Bronstein, Daddy Longlegs
  • Aaron Eckhart, Rabbit Hole
  • James Franco, 127 Hours
  • John C. Reilly, Cyrus
  • Ben Stiller, Greenberg

WINNER: John C. Reilly (16 points – Adam)

Other votes: Ronald Bronstein (10 points – 6 from John, 4 from Brian)

Aaron Eckhart (9 points – 8 from Jared, 1 from Brian)

James Franco (2 points – John)

John: Yowza

Adam: Boooyah

Brian: WHAT? That’s ridiculous

John: Well, there goes my first line of discussion of “We can all agree that John C Reilly doesn’t belong here”

Adam: HAHAHAHA

Brian: Adam, please explain yourself.

Adam: Well, you can either believe that I just wanted to screw everyone over (definitely valid). Or that I actually really liked this movie.

John: Actually, I liked John C Reilly, but behind several of the others. He has a tough character to work with and does a fine job. Eckhart is the most unmemorable one here, I think

Adam: Stiller sucks. Franco was fine but not great. Eckhart was decent. Bronstein was horrible. Process of elimination.

John: But still… 16 points??

Adam: I know how to win.

Adam: I didn’t feel all that strongly about any of the categories so I went big in one. I liked Cyrus more than the rest of you.

Brian: I agree on Stiller, who is easily the worst of the bunch. The angry material is really a bad fit for Stiller.

John: I feel like if you pick a good actor doing great work in a tough role, Bronstein is the answer.

Brian: All I could see was “oh this is Ben Stiller being obnoxious.”

Adam: I actually liked Stiller better than Bronstein, which is saying a LOT.

Brian: I couldn’t see anyone else doing that role besides Bronstein. Easily the most memorable and irreplaceable character of the group of 5 with Eckhart a close 2nd.

Jared: Eckhart’s role is the most subtle of the group, by far. He’s in this fragile situation, dealing with a tragic death, a wife that’s falling apart and trying to maintain some sort of normalcy. And this is exactly what Eckhart does so well, inhabit characters to make them feel so real

Brian: not that it would have made a difference, but I now wish I had given Eckhart more. In terms of snubs, where is Ryan Gosling on this list. I liked Blue Valentine a lot more than the rest of you but I thought Gosling’s performance was great.

John: Yep. He’s good. Not sure how he’s not here. Not sure how Blue Valentine isn’t on this nomination list more, to be honest. I wasn’t thrilled with it, but I thought it would be clean up here. Naturally to me the big snub is Robert Duvall for Get Low.

Jared: I can’t explain the relative lack of love for Blue Valentine either.

John: Also, James Franco is just naturally perfect for his role.

Brian: Yeah, that’s why I didn’t want to give him any credit.

John: If he wasn’t an actor, he may well be Aron Ralston.

Brian: Then why did you vote for him? That’s not acting!

John: I mean, it’s still acting. He also has the charisma needed to lead this movie.

Brian: I’d disagree, but that’s probably because we disagree on the merits of 127 Hours itself. John, why didn’t you like Eckhart? Jared and John, why didn’t you like Reilly?

John: I didn’t dislike him. It’s just solid. He wasn’t a standout for me. But nothing from that film is a standout. I thought Reilly was a case of a name actor getting a nominee for being a name actor, especially since Cryus didn’t get anything else, suggesting no great love for the film.

Jared: I’m a big John C. Reilly fan, to be honest, and I’m not really sad that he’s our pick or anything…this is going to sound weird, but I actually much prefer dramatic John C. Reilly to comedic one.

Brian: I found Reilly all right, but playing a version of the sad sack he plays in every movie and Cyrus was barely even a comedy.

Jared: It wanted to be, I think.

John: I didn’t find him convincing, but maybe that was the writing. He’s like a schmuck in Dinner for Schmucks. They made nearly everything possible wrong with him, but not really a realistic loser. It’s not like he does a bad job or anything. I just think there are better choices. And Bronstein nails the majorly flawed character better.

Jared: I hate to go against you, Adam, but I’d probably have to agree with John here.

Brian: That makes three of us.

BEST FEMALE LEAD

  • Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
  • Greta Gerwig, Greenberg
  • Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
  • Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone
  • Natalie Portman, Black Swan
  • Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

WINNER: Natalie Portman (9 points – 5 from Jared, 3 from Brian, 1 from Adam)

Other votes: Jennifer Lawrence (9 points- 6 from John, 3 from Brian)

Annette Bening (3 points – Brian)

Michelle Williams (1 point – Brian)

By receiving votes from more Grouches, Portman wins the tiebreaker.

Jared: Brian, I’m fascinated to learn why you voted for four actresses, and gave three points to three of them

John: Please explain!

Jared: Maybe he just really hates Nicole Kidman.

Brian: Because I liked all four of them

John: But if you liked them all equally, why 3? Couldn’t use those points elsewhere?

Brian: I really liked Benning, but knew I couldn’t win, so I wanted to show her the respect with 3 pts.

Jared: if you had given all those points to her, you would have.

Brian: I guess. But I also liked Portman, and liked Lawrence, and Williams. So I was torn. I guess I could used the points more judiciously, but I didn’t want to not give points to any of them.

Jared: I’m sure they appreciate the sentimentality

John: I like Portman too. Initially I split my points between Lawrence and Portman. But I was worried 1 or 2 points for Portman would overtake Lawrence. And there it is.

Jared: Honestly, yeah, I’m not entirely certain there’s a wrong answer here. Other than Greta Gerwig, of course.

Jared: I thought Bening was better in Mother and Child. And I dunno, I think Lawrence did a fine job, but I just sort of wonder if the love is for her character or her.

John: That’s a possibility, Jared. But she plays that character well! I think Lawrence stands out, but Portman isn’t far behind. But I still liked Bening and Kidman plenty too. Plenty of strong nominees in this category

Jared: Yeah, it was a very strong year for actresses. Staving off, for at least a year, the seemingly annual column about how there’s not any good roles for women in Hollywood.

John: It was almost so strong I considered not bothering with too many points. But it turns out I would have just wasted them on Bornstein for Actor. I also have a snub for you. Are you ready to boo? Hillary Swank in Conviction.

Jared: I would boo if I saw the film, John.

John: A Swank nomination would have been kind of boringly straightforward, but she really is good

Brian: and here comes the requisite snub mention of Please Give

John: Keener? Her best work of 2010 was in Cyrus. Though I haven’t seen Percy Jackson and the Olympians.

Adam: I have. She’s better in Cyrus.

John: Though, again, in Please Give part of my problem may be the writing

BEST PICTURE

  • 127 Hours
  • Black Swan
  • Greenberg
  • The Kids Are All Right
  • Winter’s Bone

WINNER: 127 Hours (6 points – Jared)

Other votes: Black Swan (5 points – 3 from John, 2 from Brian)

Winter’s Bone (3 points – 2 from John, 1 from Brian)

The Kids Are All Right (3 points – 2 from Brian, 1 from Adam)

Brian: No way! That’s awful.

John: Hahaha unexpected!

Jared: i’m stunned.

John: On the one hand, not what I chose. On the other hand, I clearly didn’t care that much. One awful movie, plus the two worst Oscar nominees in this category. And two fine ones.

Jared: Honestly, I originally had it at about 3 points, but had 3 points left over and figured, eh, it was best picture, I should give it a little more weigh. To me, 127 was the best of a pretty boring set of five. I honestly didn’t really connect with any of them, but Boyle’s film was at least generally entertaining

John: Generally Entertaining is your winner, ladies and gentlemen!

Brian: Ha, for me I also didn’t really care.

John: If Get Low had been nominated I would have pulled an Adam

Brian: had either Please Give or Blue Valentine been in there, I probably would have put down enough points for them to win. At least Greenberg got nothing.

Jared: I’m sad Rabbit Hole didn’t make it over Greenberg, I would have been much happier voting for that.

John: Someone should have sacrificed a point just so Greenberg could be shut out and finish a definitive last.

Adam: Agreed.

Brian: What do you all think will win on Saturday?

John: Kids.

Brian: I think Kids or Swan

John: or Winter’s Bone

Brian: but I lean toward Kids

John: Kids just screams Independent Film

Jared: I’ll go with Swan, I guess…it is such a success story

John: couldn’t that hurt at the Spirits?

Brian: I don’t think so. There have been so many of these lighthearted comedies that have been the sole successes commercially. (Juno, Little Miss Sunshine.) I’d think they would relish a darker film

The Oscars are less than a week away and we’re taking a look at all the categories we care to. Today it’s Actress.

  • Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
  • Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
  • Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone
  • Natalie Portman, Black Swan
  • Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

John:

This is the most unflattering image I could find. I hate you, Natalie Portman.

Two ladies compete for my pick here, but truthfully none of them blow me away. Williams and Kidman are both good, though undermined by some weak material. It’s hard for me to tell what doesn’t push me over the top for Williams. I think the film isn’t successful enough to make her performance connect with me. And Kidman has to deal with a bunch of phony scenes so it kind of feels like she’s Acting Very Hard.

Bening is terrific in a role that takes some range: caring wife/mom, icy household leader, betrayed spouse. But Lawrence and Portman lead for me. I’m glad Lawrence got in; it seemed like her star was falling by nomination time. She’s delightful with her tough, stubborn façade that only occasionally cracks to reveal the unsure teenager she actually is. And at this moment I’ll choose Portman, though maybe I’ll go back and forth a few times. What can I say, she’s fierce! And I think the over-the-top scenery chewing is kept at the right level.

Snubs: My dream ballot would include Hilary Swank for Conviction and Sally Hawkins for Made In Dagenham, both discussed here.

Jared:

I’ll echo the sentiments of every other Oscar-watcher out there and say this year was and extremely strong one for leading ladies.  Honestly, the next five actresses on the list would likely stack up favorably to most other years.

Jennifer Lawrence would probably be the first out of my top five, though I’m certainly not upset she’s here.  I guess I think people are confusing their admiration for her character with their admiration for her a little.  A young, attractive woman struggling to take care of her family against all manners of hardships?  Yeah, that’s a trope the Academy eats up.  That said, she did a very fine job, and I look forward to seeing what she takes on in the future.

Annette Bening is being pipped by some as an upset pick to take home the trophy Sunday night.  In my mind that would be a (deserved) career achievement win.  Something the Academy has <sarcasm> never ever been known to do </saracasm>.  She’s clearly very good in this role, but I’d look to her turn in Mother and Child as the performance that should have been nominated.  To be sure, at times it is hard to separate the character as written from the actor’s performance, but I just didn’t get enough there.  Maybe I needed to see an Oscar Scene (TM).

In Rabbit Hole, Nicole Kidman broke her nearly decade long streak of appearing in forgettable movies.  The tough thing about her character, I think, is that she had to tiptoe such a fine line to retain some of the audience’s sympathy, but almost as little as possible, since her character was so frequently lashing out in an effort to bring some sense of normalcy back into her world.  While she obviously benefited from being a big name (since really, how many people actually saw this film?), Kidman’s nomination was certainly a valid choice.

After The Baxter (and OK, sure, The Station Agent), I’m wholeheartedly in the tank for Michelle Williams.  A sentiment not shared by all of my fellow Grouches.  I didn’t love Blue Valentine because I think the script failed to make me care about the couple.  But I almost shudder to think what the film would have been like in lesser hands.  Perhaps the thing I most like about Williams is that her characters never feel like caricatures.  It is really difficult to describe any of the in a word or two, because they feel like such normal people.

And the second most unfortunate. Damn, she's pretty.

Natalie Portman is dead to me.  Maybe I shouldn’t be so harsh.  I guess I could have been a little more aggressive in pursuing her.  It was actually a little surprising how much of the internet blew up when the news was announced.  She could have had her pick of any nerd out there and she goes with a ballerina?  Anyway, if she weren’t dead to me, I’d probably say that in a year of strong performances, I’m not sure it is particularly close among these nominees.  The role required such range and such ability.  And she pulled it off magnificently.  Black Swan really wasn’t all that special, in my opinion, but a good chunk of the reason it is doing so well is squarely on the shoulders of Portman, who has carried the film on the back of her memorable performance.

Adam:

Is completely unoriginal and also picked Natalie Portman.

The Grouches are Independent Spirit Awards voters this year. That is, combined we are ONE voter under Jared’s name. It costs like $90, you think each of us are going to pony that up?

Besides, merging our four formidable minds into one blob of consensus allows us to devise a complex voting system that makes us to compete for our individual opinions to be heard.

Essentially we each earned points by seeing all films nominated in a category. We can allocate those points to any category so we can – and do! – waste whole bunches of points to ensure our favorites win. For a few categories only one of us saw all the nominees and that person got to choose the winner.

We gathered online the other night to reveal our votes.

BEST FIRST FEATURE

The nominees:

  • Everything Strange and New, about a man who feels trapped in his life by his wife and kids
  • Get Low, following a hermit who decides to throw his own funeral party while he is still alive
  • The Last Exorcism, a “documentary” following a reverend who wants to show the sham of exorcisms
  • Night Catches Us, a drama set in the aftermath of a betrayal in the Philadelphia Black Panther community
  • Tiny Furniture, a semi-autobiographical film about a woman who returns home from college unsure what to do with her life.

WINNER: Get Low

John: My sole vote goes to Get Low, which shouldn’t be a big surprise. I’ll be interested to see what you all think about it should you see it. I don’t know if this is another one of those movies I love and everyone hates or not. It’s amusing and heartfelt. Robert Duvall and Bill Murray are great.

Brian: I look forward to seeing that movie and once again wondering if we saw the same film, like Green Zone.

Jared: I saw all the other films in that category, and I don’t think it is going to take too much for me to agree with you on this choice

John:  If these directors are the future of movies, are you looking forward to the future?

Brian: Having been rather meh on Tiny Furniture, I’m still looking forward to Lena Dunham’s future. I think she has talent — I’d like to see what she can do when it’s not starring her family.

Jared: Adam and I saw Dunham’s actual first feature.  I think she needs to break free from biographical stuff before she really can find her voice. I think working with Apatow could do wonders for her

John: I agree, Tiny Furniture was okay but I’ll probably check out her future work. The Last Exorcism is a pretty straight horror flick but it very effectively got under my skin. If they do some non-horror stuff I’d be interested. Night Catches Us was a very nice period piece. And Everything Strange and New… what would you say about that, Jared?

Jared: I watched that film last night and while I didn’t like it, I think I’m going to rate it higher than you did. That said, I can’t really imagine watching another film from the director. At some point, you just can’t substitute voiceover for actual plot.

John: It’s boring and exasperating. And highlights a common theme of the Independent Spirits this year: Moping.

Brian: This year? Isn’t that sort of the point of independent films?

John: It does take some bizarre turns at the end which are interesting, but also sort of awful and ridiculous. It also has plenty of sad clowns. For real!

Jared: Of the group, I’d probably say the people behind Night Catches Us have the most potential…with some refining and a little less reliance on those archival clips, I think they could really make some interesting films

John: And I feel like The Last Exorcism doesn’t get a great rep in the horror genre. I think I liked it just because it got to me, but I hardly ever watch horror.

Jared: It seemed like standard fare to me

BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE

The nominees:

  • Ashley Bell, The Last Exorcist
  • Dale Dickey, Winter’s Bone
  • Allison Janney, Life During Wartime
  • Daphne Rubin-Vega, Jack Goes Boating
  • Naomi Watts, Mother and Child

WINNER: Dale Dickey (13 points – 8 from Jared, 5 from John)

Jared: Well, sadly, we wasted a lot of points here

John: I considered that you might not give points to anyone else, but I wanted to make sure she had enough in case you for some reason chose Naomi Watts

Jared: Not going to lie, my strategy wasn’t all that different. I was surprised to see Watts here, considering her character is virtually emotionless.

John: I also considered tossing a few to Ashley Bell just in case. Watts could also be considered lead.

Jared: Yeah, Ashley Bell was my runner-up, but again, I don’t think she added anything new to the horror genre. I wouldn’t consider Watts lead, personally.

John: Bell is appropriately creepy as a possessed girl. But this category was more or less a Dickey win by default. She’s good; I might have seen her as an Oscar nominee. But the rest really didn’t do much for me. Dale Dickey is quite memorable. I don’t want to tarnish her work here. But there wasn’t much competition.

Jared: A good summation, I think. I found her just as memorable as John Hawkes and found it unfortunate she couldn’t get much awards traction.

John: To be fair to Allison Janney, what do you do with that material? So, who else could be here? Cyrus is up the Independent Spirit wheelhouse, but no nomination for Marisa Tomei?? That movie flat out fails without her.

Brian: that was rather surprising

Jared: Where was Mila Kunis? I also liked Julianna Margulies in City Island and Rebecca Hall in Please Give

Brian: yes! Mila Kunis of course

Adam: Mila Kunis is ALWAYS a good decision

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

  • Black Swan
  • Greenberg
  • Never Let Me Go
  • Tiny Furniture
  • Winter’s Bone

WINNER: Black Swan (4 points – John)
Other votes: Winter’s Bone (3 points – 2 from Jared, 1 from Brian)
Never Let Me Go (2 points – Brian)

Brian: Booooo. Really, John? Explain yourself.

Adam: Agreed. As usual, John makes a HORRIBLE decision. I am starting to think John doesn’t actually watch the same movies as everyone else.

John: Black Swan gets so much energy from the camerawork!

Brian: The dance was horribly shot because Natalie Portman had to use a body double

Adam: Moving the camera around a lot does not equate to “energy”

John: It puts the viewer into the descent into madness! I also considered Winter’s Bone.  What was special about Never Let Me Go?

Brian: Since no one else voted for it, I’ll give some dap to Never Let Me Go. As we discussed last fall, it had a lot of flaws, but the bleak cinematography really gave us a sense of place and added the dystopian feel of the English countryside. Cinematography was easily the best part of that film and the most memorable.

John: Is that cinematography or a combination of set decoration and pretty scenery?

Brian: I believe reading at the time that they used specific filters

Adam: Is the camera work in Black Swan due to cinematography or editing?

Brian: Or directing?

John: All of the above.

BEST SUPPORTING MALE

  • Bill Murray, Get Low
  • John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone
  • Samuel L. Jackson, Mother and Child
  • John Ortiz, Jack Goes Boating
  • Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right

The votes are all mine!

WINNER: Bill Murray

John: My sole vote goes to Bill Murray

Brian: Shocker. How close were Hawkes and Ruffalo?

John: I really like Murray here. He plays something of a sleazeball funeral home owner and is appropriately funny and smarmy, but also hits the serious notes just right. If this was a competitive category, I might have tossed some points to Hawkes to cover my bases. I really liked him. And I dug Ruffalo as well. So a good top three in that category.

Jared: I also saw four of these films. I think we can agree that Samuel L. Jackson has no business being here, and Jack Goes Boating was so unwatchable, it is hard to tell if John Ortiz was any good. I slightly favor Ruffalo over Hawkes this year, but you can’t go wrong with either, so Murray must have been really great.

John: The movie just connected with me, and the movie is all on Duvall and Murray

Brian: Hawkes really took over the second half of Winter’s Bone — and took care of much of the boredom of the first half.

John: Any snubs stand out here? Since Jackson is such a nothing nom?

Brian: Oliver Platt for Please Give? I could buy it

Jared: Vincent Cassel (Black Swan)

John: True. Strange that Please Give got a casting award but no other acting nominations. Also, Vincent Cassel is a good choice.

Jared: I got the John seal of approval! I also liked Michael Shannon in The Runaways for supporting male.

BEST SCREENPLAY

  • The Kids Are All Right
  • Life During Wartime
  • Please Give
  • Rabbit Hole
  • Winter’s Bone

WINNER:  Please Give (10 points – 5 from Jared, 5 from Brian)
Other votes: Winter’s Bone (4 points – John)

Brian: wooot

John: I kept knocking down points on this one, figuring that my votes would go for naught here

Brian: I knew Jared and my combined points would get us over. I just didnt know how low to go.

Jared: Game theory!

John: I found Please Give pretty bland

Jared: That might be because you don’t have a sense of humor.

Adam: Or taste in movies

John: Good performances. The casting award was probably a good choice.

Brian: For me, it was an exceptional character study. I like ships passing in the night films, and Please Give was no exception to that rule. And for some reason or other, I’m a sucker for old people dying films.

Jared: I found the script to be witty and populated with interesting characters, plus a plot that kept my attention.

Adam: hmm…Jared thought the script was good. The one thing in a movie he actually pays attention to. I feel it is probably a better than even chance I’d at least appreciate the movie

John: Parts of it I liked and some of the characters/relationships. But then it ended and I was like, “shrug.” It may be that we spend so much time with Catherine Keener when she wasn’t interesting and everyone else was.

Brian: Take that back!

Jared: You need a good straight man to highlight the quirks of other people. I don’t think it is supposed to reveal any hidden mysteries of mankind.

Brian: John, what did you like about Winter’s Bone screenplay because I found that to be one of its weaker points.

John: I liked the plot, setting, and characters in Winter’s Bone. They’re all understated, but all compelling. But this also got my votes since nothing else in the category did much for me. Winter’s Bone is a pretty plot-driven movie. It has a lot more of a story than Please Give. I considered Rabbit Hole too, but that script is uneven. I loved certain parts to it and disliked others.

Jared: Rabbit Hole has a surprisingly strong script. It wasn’t great, to be sure, but it was definitely compelling in a way that many other adaptations of plays are not.

John: Like, the whole relationship between Nicole Kidman and the boy felt weird and forced to me. But some of their conversations are terrific.

Brian: I think that was sort of the point

John: For a movie that seemed to try to be quite realist, that relationship felt too cinematic. Like a thing that would only happen that way in movies. Though I felt similarly about a lot of the over-arching plot threads. Not so great at a macro level, but many great individual scenes

Brian: I liked how we were introduced to the boy in that we didn’t really know who he was or why Kidman was stalking him until about 10-15 mins after we met him. The pay-off worked. And the scene with Dianne Wiest and Nicole Kidman was the best of them all. I probably would have voted for it had it not been for Please Give

John: I really liked the scene that gives Rabbit Hole its name

Jared: Same here.

John: Also the scene in the boy’s bedroom. I could list many. But put them all together and it’s like, “another scene where Nicole Kidman says something socially awkward??”

Jared: We can’t move on before discussing Life During Wartime!

Brian: Hahahahaha. Oh man, I really really wish Adam had seen this

John: Absolutely atrocious movie. And the writing is the worst part!

Jared: I will give it credit for its consistency…granted, it is consistently unbearable, but still

Adam: I feel like I have seen enough horrible movies because of you all

Brian: I’ve blocked out most of LDW, but anyone want to reminisce their favorite worst parts?

John: I think Life During Wartime was not as awful as Greenberg because at least LDW had a WTF element that makes you wonder what the hell could possibly happen next. Also: MOPE! MOPEY MOPE MOPE

Jared: haha

John: (plus molestation and suicide)

Jared: and sexual harassment

Brian: and Pee-Wee Herman coming back from the dead!

John: I’m not sure there’s any part I didn’t dislike

Coming up later: the lead actor, director, and best picture categories!

June 2019
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