You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘The Fighter’ category.

But first a special shoutout to Becca.  At least three people are reading these things!  Becca claims she’s laughed at loud multiple times while reading my posts.  She was kind enough not to specify whether that’s due to my rapier-like wit or my general lack of understanding of the English language.

134. The Fighter

I’ve made my feelings on The Fighter pretty clear in prior posts.  To briefly recap, like everyone else I’m fine with the acting awards, but everything else about the film is terrible.  In particular, I find the script to handle time very poorly and to derive unnecessarily wicked glee at insulting powhitetrash, and the boxing scenes to be pretty atrociously done (Mark Wahlberg has boasted that the scenes were shot in less time than planned, and I think it shows).  Now, a lot of people think differently than I do, some of whom I even respect.  The only logical conclusion I can draw is that Wahlberg has personally intimidated each and every one of them.

133. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Saw this one in a plane.  Though I was going to see it anyway, because of my Nic Cage fetish, which is totally normal.  Maybe I’m jaded, but to me, the film felt more like an origin story for a franchise than a standalone adventure.  Which may be for the best, because I heart Cage and Jay Baruchel way too much for them to be mired in more of these clunkers.  I imagine I lost out on the special effects, watching on those tiny plane monitors and all, but they rarely sway me anyway, especially when the dialogue is as awkward as it is here.  Not really relevant, but decades-old jokes about plane food aside, if you are ever fortunate enough to sit in first on a United flight where they are serving a meal, chow down, it is fairly decent stuff.

132. Just Wright

Unsurprisingly, I’ll watch just about any sports-related romcom.  Even basketball, which is a silly, heightist sport.  If you missed this one, Queen Latifah plays a physical therapist who after a meet-cute begins privately treating a veteran NBA star (Common).  Meanwhile, her attractive best friend (Paula Patton) who wants nothing more out of like than to be a trophy wife, starts dating said NBA star.  Love triangle!  The film’s problems may have started with Common’s character, who is just incredibly milquetoast.  There’s making a supposed celebrity down to earth and there’s making him like your uncle Mort.  Which maybe was needed to believe a celebrity would ever go for a girl like Queen Latifah over one like Paula Patton?  Also, I have a lot of respect for Common, I enjoy his music, but here he is just so wooden.  (I was going to make a John Wooden pun, but it would have been both stupid and over my head).  All of the characters lack nuance, really.  Which bleeds into their relationships, which are more assumed than ever really demonstrated.  Phylicia Rashad and Pam Grier are pretty awesome, naturally.

131. The Runaways

The name is something of a misnomer, as the script was based off of Cherie Currie’s book and I read somewhere that the producers were unable to get the rights to all of the band members.  So you have Alia Shawkat and Scout Taylor-Compton in the background in some scenes, but the film pretty much focuses on Currie and Jett.  The film made some noise because of the intimate scenes between Kristen Stewart and 16 year old  Dakota Fanning, and hey, did I just see Brian put the film in his queue?  Which, yeah, they do exist, but the sexualization of Cherie Currie is a significant point the film is trying to make.  I don’t think writer/director Floria Sigismondi really tells a very good story here, though.  I think she, like the world she depicts, gets so distracted by Cherie Currie, she fails to see how the whole band is needed to at least fill in the details.  I’m admittedly not super familiar with the story of The Runaways, but I’m not really that much more so after watching the film.  I thought Michael Shannon was pretty fantastic as the band’s completely over the top manager.

130. Grown Ups

I’m pretty sure I saw this one on a plane.  That’s the story I’m sticking with, at any rate.  The film is incredibly broad, with all the physical comedy and blindingly obvious life lessons you’d (sadly) expect out of an Adam Sandler movie these days.  It isn’t worth rehashing the story, as the plot is incidental at best, missing at worst.  The frustrating part to me isn’t that the film took in $160 million, it is that no one seems to be willing to try a movie that is even just a little bit…”smarter” is the wrong word, but it is the best I got.  You’ve got so many people who are so talented at being funny on broad scale, why not widen the audience just a little bit more?  I’m not saying cut Kevin James’s pratfalls, but the arc where Adam Sandler’s kids are obnoxiously over the top spoiled and they learn what it is to be a kid or whatever, that’s something you can make actually meaningful, with a little effort.

129. Valentine’s Day

More evidence that stars are nothing without a good script.  I mean, hey, the star power got me to see the film, I’m not suggesting producers stop paying big bucks for famous people.  I think it is pretty interesting to compare Love Actually, He’s Just Not That Into You, and Valentine’s Day.  Because for me, while I do remember the actors in each, what really sticks out in each are the memorable storylines.  For Love Actually, that’s just about all of them.  In He’s Just Not That Into You, it is Ginnifer Goodwin, Kevin Connolly, and Justin Long’s stories.  In this one, well, there sure were a lot of pretty people.  And that what these things have become: let’s see how many famous people we can cram into a movie.  It has to stop soon.  Right?

128. The Switch

Allan Loeb is well on his way to joining the ranks of my least favorite screenwriters.  He’s going to have to work on it a little, though, because he’s not quite at the point of sucking all the interest out of interesting topics (though 21 suggests he’s close).  There’s nothing bad about The Switch, per se, but there’s nothing good about it either.  There’s just nothing.  It isn’t funny or dramatic, but it isn’t sad or melodramatic.  Part of it is may be that Justin Bateman and Jennifer Aniston, when you get down to it, really are both straight men.  Left without anyone funny to play off of.  Maybe if Jeff Goldblum had a bigger (or relevant, at least) role?  Or if Patrick Wilson, who I love, wasn’t also written as a straight man?  The premise is a stretch, but it probably could have worked, in more capable hands.

127. Animal Kingdom

What a badass poster.  Wow.  John and I discussed the film a little in our Supporting Actress recap.  In case you missed it, I was watching this film with Brian at his place, and apparently was knocked out cold.  Brian said nothing, even shooting a nerf gun at me, could wake me up.  I did go back and watched what I had missed.  The movie may the most boring film ever described as a crime drama.  You know what’s exciting?  Crime!  You know what isn’t exciting?  People talking about crimes about which you have almost no context.  Jacki Weaver was good, and with a character written how it should have been, she’d be Oscar-worthy.

126. The Six Wives of Henry Lefay

Oddly enough, I was in a 7-11 with Brian last week when he pointed this movie out to me on the rack of misshapen movies that 7-11 always has and asked if I’d heard of it.  I’d seen it, of course.  One has to keep current on one’s Tim Allen movies.  It is a little hard to recap this movie because what I would consider the movie’s twists were all revealed in one trailer I saw.  But basically Tim Allen owns a small local chain of businesses, has been married five (or six!) times.  He comes back from a vacation in Mexico in a coffin.  Hilarity ensues as all of Tim Allen’s past and present wives (in no particular order: Jenna Elfman, Andie MacDowell, Lindsey Sloane, Paz Vega, Jenna Dewan, and S. Epatha Merkerson, if I remember correctly) fight over the funeral arrangements.  And Elisha Cuthbert, who is surprisingly good here, stars as Tim Allen’s daughter.  There’s a good movie in here somewhere, and you could probably keep this same cast.  But when you are asking Elisha Cuthbert to carry a movie, and she isn’t looking like she did in The Girl Next Door (to be fair, that’s Hall of Fame attractive), you need to have some sort of focus in the film.  But so much time is wasted on Cuthbert’s personal sideplot (Chris Klein is involved, which should tell you all you need to know) and establishing how crazy all of the wives are, that the various twists lose their impact.  And the ending just fizzles out.

125.  The Oxford Murders

I’ve actually read the novel on which the film was based, it is a kind of mathy knockoff of The Da Vinci Code, only with all the charm you’d expect of a mathematician writing a book.  And I say that as someone who did math team for three years.  Anyway, I’m not here to review underwhelming books, I’m here to review underwhelming movies.  The casting is way off here.  I don’t know if maybe all first, second, and third choices turned the producers down after reading the script or what, but no one feels comfortable in their roles.  I don’t have any feelings either way on Elijah Wood, but between him and writer/director Alex de la Iglesia (who co-wrote with Jorge Guerricaechevarria, who I mention not only because he has a completely absurd last time but because it is the same team who did The Perfect Crime, which suddenly makes everything make sense), the decision to imbue the main character with pretty much no emotion or defining traits probably is one they want back.  I guess you could point your favorite math teacher to this film, they might thank you.  Or perhaps better, point your least favorite math teacher here.

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We’re taking a look at Oscar categories in advance of tonight’s show. Now we’re on Supporting Actress. The nominees:

  • Amy Adams, The Fighter
  • Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech
  • Melissa Leo, The Fighter
  • Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
  • Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

Jared

I don't see the big deal, this FYC ad seems kinda classy...

The supporting categories are always tough for me because it is hard to figure out how, exactly, to weight screen time.  Should I favor being fantastic in five minutes over a solid performance in forty-five minutes?  Perhaps appropriately, I just flipped on the radio and The Zombies’s “She’s Not There” started playing.  I’m a big Amy Adams fan and loved that she got to play a little against type in The Fighter.  But she didn’t have enough to work with to make an impression on me.  She had a few memorable scenes, sure.  But I’m still not entirely certain how she nabbed a nomination over, say, Mila Kunis.

When the actress receiving a nomination is genuinely confused about it, you know Hollywood silly groupthink has reared its head again.  Like a movie?  Then vote for every single aspect of it!  Helena Bonham Carter does a perfectly fine job, but one of the five best performances of the year?  It is really odd how Hollywood can’t distinguish between different aspects of a movie they loved.

So, I fell asleep during Animal Kingdom.  Apparently I was out cold.  But don’t worry, after waking up I went back and caught what I missed.  The whole time (at least when I was awake) I was wondering how on earth Weaver managed a nomination here.  For me, it isn’t even the role being confused for the performance, but the idea of the role.  The thing is, I can totally see a film where she’d be worthy of a nomination.  One that wasn’t the most boring crime film of all time.  And one where her role gets fleshed out a little more. I really hope, though, some casting director has taken notice and casts her as the villain in some better production, because I really do think she can pull it off admirably.

I’m a little lower on Hailee Steinfeld than others.  Maybe part of it is because there’s absolutely no way to defend calling her performance supporting.  None at all.  Whoever first pitched the idea of doing so has balls the size of golden globes.  John has mentioned how much he liked Dakota Fanning in The Runaways.  Obviously the roles aren’t really comparable, but I’d tend to agree that I’m not entirely comfortable seeing Steinfeld recognized but not Fanning.  I think Steinfeld has a very bright future and hope that she soon gets new roles to be her calling card.

I don’t think this category is as strong as other this year, which perhaps is one of the reasons prognosticators are finding it a little difficult to predict.  Hilariously, Melissa Leo, probably the front-runner, shot herself in the foot by running For Your Consideration ads on her own dime.  Doesn’t she know how to play the game?  You aren’t allowed to actually say you want to win!  In any case, she’s my pick here, overcoming an awful script to create a memorable presence.  And really doing everything you’d want from a supporting actress, I think.  She always looms large, but never takes over the movie.

John

This is a tough category to pick. Whereas so many of the other categories are embarrassments of riches, I find this one to be slim pickings.

Let’s start with the women from The Fighter. Adams simply failed to make an impression on me. So many others were impressed with her work that I concede I may need another viewing. To me, she’s being swept up in an acting nomination wave for the film. I enjoyed Leo much more, but she also has a more colorful role and I can’t deny that she does seem to be Acting Very Hard.

Everyone loved Steinfeld but she actually drove me a little nuts. I don’t think it’s her fault. For one, the lack of contractions in the dialogue sounded bizarre to me from all characters. And the inflectionless way she often delivers her lines was probably directed out of her. So I think these are stylistic choices that happened to not work for me and therefore reflect poorly on Steinfeld.

Carter is a totally blah nomination. She’s good in The King’s Speech, of course, but she doesn’t get to display much of her considerable skills. It’s just such a straight-forward role. And that leaves Weaver, who you might think therefore wins by default. She plays a ruthless matriarch of a crime family in Animal Kingdom. What makes her so successfully chilling is how sweet she is while doing awful things. I think the tendency would be for the actress to really sell the fact that the sweetness is a charade, but Weaver plays it pretty straight. So she’s just acting sweet. It’s a great choice for the film, but does that make a great performance? The same performance with different words and she’s just a normal doting mother. Or am I missing some nuance?

Oh, honey.

Therefore I have concerns over them all. I’m going to choose Melissa Leo with Jacki Weaver not too far behind. I also just want Leo to win, partly because I like her and partly because I’d feel bad for her if she won all these precursors and lost. People would be blaming it on that photo spread and it would be awful.

Snubs: I’d nominate and give the Oscar to Lesley Manville for Another Year. My off-the-wall choice is Marisa Tomei in Cyrus. (Note: I may be in the bag for Marisa Tomei.)

We’re taking a look at Oscar categories in advance of tomorrow’s show. Today we’re on Original Screenplay. The nominees:

  • Another Year
  • The Fighter
  • Inception
  • The Kids Are All Right
  • The King’s Speech

John

This is a really tough category for me. There are three potential winners, each with its own pros and cons. Of course, that makes it easy to discard two. The Kids Are All Right has an interesting premise that it takes in a plot direction that I found not terribly interesting or powerful. I can see why other people reacted strongly to it, but to me it is a mild diversion with promise for much more. And to me The Fighter is painfully straight-forward and much more of an actors’ movie. I don’t know for sure, but the three screenplay and three story by credits screams screenplay by committee and the film sort of feels like it.

This is how you script Inception

But what to do with the other three? There’s Inception, my favorite film of the year. But its success is so much more on the directorial and editing sides, to me. It didn’t get nominated in either of those categories so this could be its shot to be rewarded. I give it high points for having such a great concept and for the imagination required to create the different, interacting dream levels. But it really succeeds in how Nolan visualizes them as a director.

Another Year is a film I liked a great deal more than my colleagues. This is a picture that is very devoted to its theme of the ravages of the passage of time, which it supports beautifully. It does sacrifice plot for its theme, though to my mind that’s not a detriment. A scene that’s slow or subtle can have an impact. But there are several scenes that are both fairly uninteresting from a plot and character perspective AND not particularly good servants to the theme. The late scene featuring the characters of Mary and Ronnie in the greenhouse is an example. Furthermore, it should have been shorter.

I wonder if the way that Mike Leigh composes his movies has something to do with it. He famously relies on actors’ workshops to flesh out characters and plots. And the result is well-developed characters but some meandering scenes. It could use some tightening. The scenes could come together better or more explicitly explore the theme and the less effective ones could have been more direct.

And then there’s The King Speech, a film without a misstep. Every element is solid and it results in an amusing and rousing film. It also doesn’t have anything particularly outstanding. I feel like both Another Year and King’s Speech would have been successful as the same script in a different director’s hands. The same might not be said for Inception. Is that a fair way to judge a screenplay as a separate element? I don’t know.

So what is it? The one I loved for non-script reasons? The one with some really terrific parts and some notable downfalls? Or the one that’s totally solid but didn’t do anything that blew me away? That’s a tough choice. Today I’ll pick Inception, and I’ll be rooting for it on Sunday as it will be the only major category it has a chance in. But my mind may change.

Jared

Original Screenplay is often the category where the Academy will give a token nomination to a smaller, arty movie that is one of my favorite films of the year.  It still makes me smile to think that Lars and the Real Girl received a nomination here.  Of course, the Academy being the Academy, they also often use this category to recognize a smaller, arty movie that I really dislike.  The Messenger last year, for example (over (500) Days of Summer!).  Sadly, this year the academy has chosen the latter option and recognized Mike Leigh’s script for Another Year.  Which was just not good.  Now, I’ll give him credit for creating Lesley Manville’s character (though he obviously must share that with the actress).  But in a sense, she’s quite similar to Sally Hawkins’s character in his prior film, Happy-Go-Lucky.  Both are characters defined by their one-noteness.  They are unique characters, to be sure, but hardly developed.  And the rest of the movie, well, maybe someone out there thrills at the mundane details of a happily married older couple.  I just call my parents.

If you hate sports movies and get a pretty big kick out of insulting working class folk, then I guess I see how you could appreciate The Fighter.  Otherwise, I mean, the script is absolute dreck.  If handed to me, I think I would have demanded every scene rewritten.  The movie flits through time seemingly randomly, stopping to show unnecessary scenes and leaving out interesting or useful ones.  There’s little to no understanding of the relationships of the characters, other than in the broadest strokes possible.  The “humor” is even broader and extremely repetitive.  And the boxing scenes were scripted by someone who might have played Punch-Out once.  To me, the script failed at every conceivable level.

Maybe I’m the weird one, but I tend to prefer comedies to make me laugh, or at least smile a little.  Of course, The Kids Are All Right isn’t terribly dramatic, so I guess you couldn’t call it a drama.  I’m being a little harsh here, the film does at least bring up a number of interesting ideas.  And it does a pretty good job establishing interesting characters.  But the film never rose to the occasion.  The dialogue is serviceable, but never stands out.  The story is fine, but I think it is only a little interesting because of how few movies center on a lesbian couple.  And the script is content with leaving things there.

I think the script to The King’s Speech is being underrated by a lot of non-Academy types.  I’ll be the first to grant that the story arc and themes aren’t exactly novel to the realm of cinema.  But so what?  I don’t think a film has to be unique to be successful, it just has to entertain.  And this script absolutely is entertaining.  It keeps a good pace, has a consistently funny sense of humor, and hits plenty of emotional notes.  If every film were like this one, sure, movies would start getting boring.  But they aren’t, and the vast majority of movies could only dream of having a script of a quality as high as this one.

One thing that’s important to keep in mind is that a script is so much more than dialogue.  All that action, for example, has to be first written down before the director and guys behind all the tech stuff get the chance to work their magic.  Which is something you need to keep in mind when thinking about Christopher Nolan’s script for Inception.  It is big and bold.  It isn’t perfect, but it is wonderful.  Cold and unfeeling, with poor character development, sure.  But fun as all get out.  Without question one of those movies that makes you go, “Wow.”  And isn’t that, really, what movies should be about?

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

  • Christian Bale, The Fighter
  • John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone
  • Jeremy Renner, The Town
  • Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right
  • Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech

John:

He probably could have knocked down Sugar Ray.

This is a good group, but Christian Bale is an easy winner for me. He shines when he’s onscreen. It’s the line delivery, the manner of speaking, the body language, the way he walks: it’s so fully-formed. Not that it should be surprising; Bale is terrific in pretty much everything. And I think the dude seeks out movies that allow his body weight to swing wildly.

Hawkes is my second choice, and perhaps the nomination announcement that made me happiest. He may be the most memorable part of Winter’s Bone. It helps that his character is so important and interesting, but Hawkes is still great alternating between menacing and protective. Ruffalo is also a good choice. It’s not easy being both a douchebag but likeable.

And Rush and Renner are unmemorable picks in my mind. Why was Rush the front runner for so long?

Snubs: Two of my favorite supporting performances of the year, after Bale, had shots here but came up short: Andrew Garfield in The Social Network and Bill Murray in Get Low. At least I was able to vote for Murray in the Independent Spirits.

Jared:

I’d probably argue that, pound for pound, this category is the strongest of this year’s crop.  I don’t have anything bad to say about any of the nominees.  And honestly, the five nominees hew pretty darn close to my ideal ballot.

If one of the five has to be weakest, then I guess it would be Jeremy Renner.  Hampered by a relatively weak script, he plays a very familiar character, the screw-up best friend, but does so very well.  Obviously there are significant differences, but I was reminded a lot of Ed Norton’s Worm from Rounders.  I think Renner would have had a stronger case had his character been given a little more room to shine.

Geoffrey Rush has shown incredible range in his career, further extended by his role his as a speech therapist to a king.  Even held to a stricter standard, because (in my opinion) he really is a lead actor in the film, it is hard to find anything to criticize about his performance.

I was pleased as punch when John Hawkes’s name was read on nomination morning.  Regardless of what I think about Winter’s Bone, it is really neat to see a role like this one recognized.  Teardrop is an extremely interesting character, but he isn’t a hero, villain, or foil.  Kudos to the Academy for recognizing a very fine performance in a different sort of role

Christian Bale is a guy you want in your movie.  He always give a consistently superb performance, regardless of the genre of the film in which he’s appearing.  But he also seems to allow his co-stars to shine.  It is a rare talent indeed who can range from perhaps the ultimate straight man (Batman) to a showy, scenery-chomping character like this one.  Especially with this script, Dicky could have been obnoxiously, unbearably over the top.  But Bale reels the character in to something much more appealing.

So talented, he's also nominated for Animated Short.

Only since all these guys can’t be winners, I’m going with Mark Ruffalo as my favorite.  Though in all likelihood this order would have been different had I written this entry on a different day.  I’m repeating myself, but no actor makes playing a character look as effortless as Mark Ruffalo.  If you look over his career, maybe he tends to play a certain general type of character, but it is clearly wrong to suggest he’s just playing himself.  I usually hate to fall back on the cliche, but Paul just felt real.  As in, not a character, but an interesting person.  We’ll shortly get to what I think of the script, but suffice it to say that I’m laying just about all of that on Ruffalo.

Adam:

Says that this category is probably this year’s strongest and can’t decide between Bale and Rush.  I assume he also would have insulted at least one of us.

The nominees:

  • Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
  • Joel and Ethan Coen, True Grit
  • David Fincher, The Social Network
  • Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech
  • David O. Russell, The Fighter

Adam

Film Director: a person who directs the actors and crew in the making of a film. They control a film’s artistic and dramatic aspects, while guiding the technical crew and actors. They often develop the vision for a film and carry the vision out, deciding how the film should look.

This is the definition of what a film director’s job is from the source of all knowledge – Wikipedia. I see a director as the story teller. Screen writers write the story, but they are brought to life by the director’s vision. The better the story, the easier it is for the story teller to make the story real/interesting/good. Ultimately, it is the director’s decision how the shots are setup, how the actors act (through endless takes if necessary), and how the final version of the movie works.

I have come to the conclusion, after years of experience, that less than 5% of the Academy has any idea of what a director does or what a good one looks like. One has only to look at the movies nominated this year to see the truth in this. The Academy also has a strong case of envy when it comes to Christopher Nolan. Regardless of how original you think the script is, Inception was easily the best directed movie of the year. Of course, that makes no difference to the Academy as it doesn’t even make the top 5 in their eyes. Let’s take a look at who they thought did better.

Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan

Let me first say that I really liked The Wrestler. I thought Aronofsky did a terrific job of creating a compelling character study of a washed up pro wrestler. Black Swan was less impressive. Part of this was due to a weak script, but it wasn’t that bad. The acting is really what saved this movie from failure. Natalie Portman did an amazing job and absolutely deserves an Oscar. Mila Kunis and Vincent Cassel (as usual) both put on very strong performances – I actually like Mila more than many of the Supporting Actress nominees. That being said, this isn’t a very good movie and most of it is due to Aronofsky’s directing. Portman’s decent into madness seems almost sloppy. There were definitely compelling scenes (e.g. the finger/toe nail and dressing room scenes), however in an effort to raise audience tension/ anxiety, Aronofsky resorts to directing and camera techniques that lead more to motion sickness than to tension.

David O. Russel, The Fighter

This is possibly the worst directed film of the year. There are really only two options when considering how this film was nominated: a.) Academy members thought they were voting for the Razzies, b.) the Academy is populated by a bunch of morons. The script for this film was atrocious, but that only excuses you so far. The fight scenes in this movie (barring the final one) are utter garbage. It’s like Russel has never seen a well done fight scene…ever. I can only assume this was nominate to piss off Christopher Nolan that much more.

Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech

The King’s Speech was one of my favorite movies of the year. An extremely entertaining movie that succeeded despite the fact that the premise is overcoming a speech impediment (not exactly gripping material). However, as much as I liked the film, its real strengths are in the script and the acting. I am thrilled it was nominated, but one of the most impressive things about the direction of this film is that Hooper managed to not ruin the movie. That may be a disservice to Hooper, though. He did a tremendous job of pulling this movie together and making it the entertaining production that it turned out to be.

David Fincher, The Social Network

What can I say about David Fincher? In the 1990’s, he made three movies I really enjoyed (Seven, The Game, and Fight Club). In the 2000’s, he made two movies I was not impressed at all with (Zodiac and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and one I didn’t see (Panic Room). After going back and thinking about these movies as a whole, I came to one conclusion: David Fincher is completely dependent upon the script he has been chosen to bring to life. Now, some may argue that that is the fate of any director. My rebuttal is that Fincher doesn’t seem to bring much else to the table, and, in fact, may even negatively impact any production he is associated with. After watching his movies, I would pay good money to see what a more talented director could do with Seven and Fight Club. The Social Network falls into that same category. I really liked this movie despite hating Facebook and rarely being impressed with Fincher. This is due solely to Aaron Sorkin’s script. We’ll talk more about that in a later post, but it is important to note that any success that The Social Network has is entirely the result of a fantastic script. This year, Fincher is once again saved by (and lauded for) being associated with an award winning script. Great job, David, not completely ruining this movie. (That’s about the biggest complement I can give him as the directing in this movie was uninspiring to say the least, and, in my opinion, negatively impacted the movie.)

Joel & Ethan Coen, True Grit

I appreciate the Coen brothers. I may not always LOVE their movies, but I can almost always appreciate what they were trying to accomplish. The way in which they approach and execute their movies is very impressive. True Grit is no exception. It is rare that a remake is better than the original, but the Coen brothers were able to accomplish this feat handily. Their re-envisioning of the beloved John Wayne movie is impressive – I enjoyed their version a lot better than the original. Joel and Ethan excel at giving their movies scope and depth using the locations and sets of their movies. Shots are meticulously planned and executed to get the most of both the action and the backdrop. This movie was no exception. The biggest flaw was the ending. The last 5-10 minutes of the movie were horrible. This is the only aspect of the movie that was far inferior to the original.

Who Should Win: Christopher Nolan

However, since he can’t win: Toss-up between the Coens and Hooper, but I probably give it to the Coens. Either would be fine with me, though.

Jared

The Fighter is one of the worst-directed films of the year, and I’m stunned so few people seem to be on the same page as me here.  Sure, David O. Russell was working with a crappy script.  But take any boxing scene from the film, other than the final fight.  Take it and burn it because it is nothing less than an insult.  At best, they are cut scenes from a low-grade boxing video game.  They alone should have prevented Russell from getting a nomination.  While it is hard to blame Russell too much for the rest of the movie’s failures, I do think he heavily contributed to the repeated references, to the point of being really obnoxious, that the family was lower class.

I’m clearly just not on the same page as the Coen brothers.  If one of the major roles of a director is establishing a compelling tone, then the Coens have missed the mark on that front.  With True Grit, as perhaps other of their films of late, I never really felt drawn into the story.  And while a lot of that is on the script, I think some of it has to be thrown at the feet of the brothers’ directing efforts.  Similarly, Aronofsky’s directing in Black Swan was fine, but not awards-worthy.  He had a difficult task, at there was a lot of incomplete thoughts going on, to be sure.  But I think the film would have had a significantly stronger impact if, for example, it had been directed by someone with more of a feel for horror films.

So we’re down to the big question, Hooper or Fincher? The two films are pretty different and demanded quite different styles.  Sure, The King’s Speech is a lot less showy than The Social Network.  But I think it is a testament to Hooper that he didn’t get in the way of the story.  Starting with that cast is a big leg up.  Hooper’s straightforward style runs with that advantage, creating a crisp, efficient feel that is quite effective for the film.

But I’ll join in with the chorus who say that it was Fincher‘s directing that made Sorkin’s script something truly special.  I wasn’t in Fincher’s camp at first, when I mainly though of the regatta scene, and how odd it was.  Instead, take the scene in the bar with Justin Timberlake.  Other directors may have turned that into artsy, clubby nonsense.  Instead, Fincher rather effectively creates an atmosphere that furthers the story.  Really, the shifts in tone from location to location are pretty remarkable, and I think a good chunk of the credit there goes to Fincher for effortlessly weaving together the different parts of the story while maintaining a consistent overall tone.

John

I’ll leave the vitriol and verbosity to my colleagues. I quite liked all the nominees. When talking directing, there’s no better indicator of greatness than simply making a great movie, but I also look for things like vision, style, tone, and pacing.

A few of these nominees stand out from the others. The Coens create what I would call a well-crafted movie. It’s one of those films where all the technical elements come together so well: camerawork, acting, sets, costumes, music. I wish it added up to a bit more. Aronofsky produces the flashiest work of the group. Black Swan is intense and frenetic and his capable hands. I’ve loved all of his films I’ve seen so I’m glad to see him finally get some Oscar love.

My winner, fairly handily, is Fincher. Adam is too uncharitable here. The script simply establishes the dialogue and structures the story. The shot composition that follows a complex narrative and rapid fire dialogue, the film’s cool aesthetic, the varying but always spot-on tone, the breathless pacing: these have Fincher’s fingerprints all over them. There are an unlimited number of directions the exact same Sorkin script could have gone in someone else’s hands. It’s great with Fincher at the helm.

Snub: The best directed film of the year is Inception. What creativity! What vision! What style! What does Christopher Nolan have to do to get a directing Oscar nomination??

The Oscar ceremony is just a few days away. With dozens of films under our belts it’s time for us to weigh in on this year’s nominees. We’ll be doing our usual in depth analysis for the major categories, but we’ll give some of the ol’ Grouch treatment to the smaller and technical categories as well.

Today, I (John), tackle Visual Effects and Film Editing. Feel free to make your preferences known in the comments, especially if you happen to know more about these subjects!

Visual Effects

The nominees:

  • Alice in Wonderland
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 1
  • Hereafter
  • Inception
  • Iron Man 2

By seeing Hereafter on a whim months ago and Tron: Legacy getting a surprise snub here, I happen to have seen all the nominees. Hereafter is the one that strikes me as behind the others. It’s nominated based on an opening sequence where a character is caught in the Boxer Day tsunami. It’s a terrifying sequence and very effective from a film making standpoint. You really feel in the middle of the swell and experience its power. I know the sequence is well-respected in the field and I know water is particularly hard to work with in effects, but I must admit it set off my realism sensors. It’s hard to explain, but little things let me know it wasn’t real, like little errors in physics or the interaction between the animated water and filmed background. Also, it’s a support sequence up against four films reliant on visual effects.

I don’t have much to say about Iron Man 2, Alice in Wonderland, or Harry Potter except that they have good and frequent visual effects in films that are bad, very bad, and mediocre, respectively.

I choose Inception as my winner. It uses its effects mostly cleverly (though as a very clever film one would hope the visuals would also be clever). I also like that it’s a mix of computer generated and more traditional special effects. There’s a city that folds onto itself, but they also built an actual spinning hallway and blew up a model winter fortress.

Film Editing

The nominees:

  • Black Swan
  • The Fighter
  • The King’s Speech
  • 127 Hours
  • The Social Network

I won’t pretend to be an expert in editing. It’s one of those things you don’t usually notice unless it bothers you or if it’s flashy. The Oscars often reward Best Picture contenders or films that have the most editing, like the Bourne Ultimatum debacle.

The editing in 127 Hours provides some necessary pizazz. The guy’s stuck under a rock. You gotta get some energy from somewhere. Black Swan ratchets up the intensity. But I’ll go with The Social Network for maintaining clarity during fast-moving scenes with rat-a-tat dialogue and nailing all its dramatic and comedic beats.

Snubs: Forget a nomination snub, the winner here should be Lee Smith for Inception. The film is an editing marvel, weaving together multiple dream narratives moving at different speeds and keeping it all coherent, especially at the end.

Oscar nominations arrive Tuesday, January 25. To prepare, we’re giving you our sharpest insight and predictions. Everyone cares about the big categories, but you need in depth coverage from visionaries like us to know: What are some nominations in technical categories that must happen?

Jared: Scott Pilgrim’s effects are essential

Some might say the visual effects are the only thing keeping Scott Pilgram afloat. But Jared wouldn't say that, and it would be an abuse of this poster's editorial position to suggest anything of the sort

This isn’t the spot to discuss all the merits of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, many though they may be.  The film didn’t connect with nearly as many people as it should have, most frequently dismissed as something along the lines of “that video game movie.”  Well, you know what made it seem like a video game movie?  The visual effects!  Regardless of whether you think the film was actually the generation-defining movie of the year or a trifle never rising above something meant for kids, I think you have to concede the visuals were both wildly inventive and crucial to the story.

As a devotee of the graphic novels, I’m a little biased, but more than any Facebook movie, I think this one better sums up kids turning to adults these days.  And that’s due in an extremely large part to the whiz-bang visuals.  Frequently borrowing from or reminiscent of video games, sure, but that’s the entire point.  Edgar Wright and his team unleashed an often unrelenting barrage of visual effects, but always in service of the story.  And always, as is perhaps most important, looking really really cool.

John: Fighter costumes effective and entertaining

You know what this character's about without even seeing the movie

My support is going to Mark Bridges for Best Costume for The Fighter. Now, no one has accused me of having a sense of style, but I appreciated the clothing in the film for both defining the time period and the characters. Set in the early 1990s in blue collar Massachusetts, the film makes good use of the era’s most garish fashion.

A film set in the near past often has a hard time establishing its time period. Fewer electronics on sets, maybe. Older cars. But the clothing is the most effective, without resorting to misplaced Desert Storm jokes. Plus, in this case, the clothing establishes the characters’ class.

Melissa Leo’s character has some really zany outfits, but the one scene that stands out in my head is Christian Bale leaving his crack house, multicolored parachute pants flapping in the wind.

Oscar nominations arrive Tuesday, January 25. To prepare, we’re giving you our sharpest insight and predictions. Today: What disappointing nominations do you anticipate?

Jared:The Fighter should be KO’d

At first I wondered if the cut of The Fighter in my theater was different than what everyone else seemed to have saw.  But no, the audience in my viewing seemed to have enjoyed themselves.  So I’m left to conclude that David O.Russell managed to incorporate some subliminal message telling people they love the movie and my brain just isn’t wired to receive said messages (kinda like how I can’t see those 3-D Magic Eye pictures).  Because the film is bad, failing on nearly every conceivable level, other than the acting.

I’d call the story cliche, but that would assume there was any semblance of a story.  We get very clear depictions of each character’s lot in life, but no clue as to got they got from point A to B.  To wit, the relationship between Mark Wahlberg and Amy Adams is almost entirely glossed over.  They meet, go out on a date, some undefined time apparently passes and then they are inseparable.  Time, I should point out, is also irrelevant to the filmmakers.  Anyone have any clue the time between Wahlberg’s first fight show in the film and his title bout?  Melissa Leo and Christian Bale both see their characters kinda sorta maybe have a change of heart, but it isn’t clear how superficial that change is or why we should care.  Of course, that little change is really the only character or plot development in the entire film.

But OK, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with a simple story.  The Fighter is a boxing movie and obviously a good chunk of boxing movies involve the fights, and it is hard to advance the story too much while the main character is in the ring.  But here’s why I’m absolutely appalled David O. Russell is on the shortlist for a best director nom: the boxing is depicted as if he really rather doesn’t like the sport.  The final match aside, the fights are glossed over at best, portrayed as some weird rejected video game cut scene at worst.  Not even bland, the fighting scenes are, if you’ll excuse my limited vocabulary, stupid.  They aren’t suspenseful, interesting, exciting, or even artistic.  Just a complete waste of time.

"Say hi to yourself for me."

Absolute worst of all, though, was the character interactions.  It felt like a quarter of the movie could be described in the following three beats: Character A says a line talking at character B.  Character B “responds” with something no human would say and tangentially relevant to what character A said.  Then there’s a cue (be it in the dialogue or visual) about how these people are white trash.  I could see a line or two for comic relief, maybe, but the filmmakers felt this bizarre need to consistently unsubtly describe the characters and their town as white trash.  It wasn’t funny, it wasn’t clever, it was just obvious and worse, it was mean.

So when Mo’Nique reads off The Fighter as a best picture nom, I’m going to be disappointed that a movie which had great acting, but failed on nearly every conceivably important other level is taking the place of so many other actually watchable films.

John: Man the levies, nomination waves are coming!

The nomination wave: it’s a common occurrence in Oscar season. A beloved film gets support across all guilds, sweeping many to nominations even if their work wasn’t as exemplary. It’s going to happen to two supporting actresses this year.

She wasn't nearly as committed to head enlargement in The King's Speech

The first, and most prominent, is Helena Bonham Carter in The King’s Speech. Carter is a great, versatile actress, but this is such a nothing performance. It’s not like she’s bad, but she’s a stock supporting character without a ton to do. She’s more interesting this year in both Alice in Wonderland and Harry Potter. Even she admits to being puzzled over why this performance is getting singled out for award attention.

I'm wicked strong willed!

The other is Amy Adams for The Fighter, a sentiment I know is not shared by many. I’ve actually seen plenty of arguments that she’s the supporting female star in the film and not supposed category front runner Melissa Leo. I just don’t think she does much beyond sporting a Boston accent. The film’s treatment of her character bothered me, and part of it is due to her performance (though the bulk is probably the script’s fault).

I’ve always said I’m an Amy Adams fan, but this is the third time I’ve come to complain about her on this blog so maybe my affection is waning? But maybe she just gets recognized for the wrong roles. Oscar nod for Doubt, critical acclaim for Sunshine Cleaning, and a probable nod for The Fighter, but not enough support for Enchanted or Julie & Julia.

Brian: The Town will rob a nomination from a more deserving film

Jared and John adeptly discussed why The Town is overrated last month. As Jared put it in his elegant way, “Frankly, I don’t even think the film is particularly good genre fare, much less a good movie.” So since they’ve covered much of why its bad, especially the horribly underdeveloped relationship between Ben Affleck and Rebecca Hall, I’ll keep my entry to this category short.

A Best Picture nom for The Town would be an embarrassment as it would only provide fodder for those critics who last year assailed the Academy’s decision to expand the category to 10 films. “It will allow mediocre, commercially successful films to sneak in,” they warned — and The Town is just that. After last year, when the final 10 offered a little something for everyone to be happy about, I hoped that these concerns would be laid to rest. But I imagine they will reappear on Tuesday when The Town gets its undue recognition.

Does anyone know why we love each other?

How anyone can deem that the best of the year is beyond me. The characters were one-dimensional (ooh, Jeremy Renner as a hothead!), the stakes were non-existent, the shootout at Fenway was cool to watch but ultimately unfulfilling, and the heists were forgettable. It’s as if the Academy has a Departed hangover and thinks that all Boston-related movies are somehow deep because people have funny accents. (Also see: The Fighter) So put this down as my big disappointment.

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