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Yikes, it seems that I do this later and later each year. But you can’t rush quality.

So therefore I’m going to rush this a bit. It’s time to reset the site for 2010 but we cannot move forward til I weigh in with my top ten. It’s in the bylaws.

I thought 2009 was a great year for movies and a huge improvement over 2008. The trend seemed to have been fewer great movies each year but more good ones. I’d say that reversed in 2009; plenty of great movies but a smaller collection of merely pretty good ones.

1. Avatar

Say what you will about Dancing With Smurfs, but Avatar creates a world, gives it rules, and sticks to them. It’s a stunning visual achievement with a plot full of heart. Truly epic. I loved this movie.

2. In the Loop

Intensely hilarious, spectacularly vulgar, and cleverly satirical. Government was never so funny. I loved this movie.

3. The Informant!

Winner of Matt Damon of the Year! A simply delightful film that had me giggling and smiling throughout. I loved this movie.

4. Zombieland

Pure, balls out fun. Very clever, very funny, and very entertaining. I loved this movie.

5. An Education

It’s hard to say what I liked best about this film because everything is so right. A simple story with a powerful impact and an astonishing performance from Carey Mulligan. I loved this movie.

6. Up

Hilarious, heart-warming, touching. I loved this movie.

7. Summer Hours

It’s a film with themes and not much else. It’s kind of hard to make it sound appealing: a French matriarch dies and her three dispersed children try to figure out what to do with her estate. I dug its exploration of modern family dynamics. It also takes an interesting look at how we ascribe value to objects and how those values change over time, particularly as we move through our lives and beyond. I’m not talented enough to make it sound interesting but believe me it’s totally fascinating. I loved this movie.

8. Up in the Air

A slice of modern times and an effective look at the disconnected way we live our lives. Effective in characterization and atmosphere more than plot with terrific performances from George Clooney and Vera Farmiga.

9. I Love You, Man

Not as vulgar or spleen-splittingly funny than some of its Apatow produced brethren, but I think it’s a little more loony and genuinely heartfelt. I also know a guy just like the Paul Rudd character so it makes me laugh and laugh.

10. Julie & Julia

The 2009 surprise for me. Just utterly charming. I think it works so well for me because I was able to relate to the Julie character, easing the disparity between the two women’s stories that most people felt.

Some honorable mentions of films that I thought did something special:

Two films that I thought for sure were going to be on this list before I actually wrote it out and found out how many movies I really liked. Moon shows how a fantastic story and a terrific performance can succeed even on a small scale. A sci-fi thriller that will hang around in your head for quite some time. That Sam Rockwell Oscar campaign really should have received some traction… The Invention of Lying takes an interesting premise that could have followed the same path of a half dozen Jim Carrey movies (a man in a world where lies have not been invented!) and takes it in an entirely unexpected direction. Who thought it would turn into a treatise on religion? I found it thought-provoking and funny even if the premise gets stretched a bit by the end.

The Cove, the Oscar winning documentary, looks at a dolphin slaughter that occurs in Japan. For me, the success hinges not on the exposure of the slaughter itself, but the story of that exposure. The lengths these filmmakers go to in order to get their footage rivals any heist film… I know I’ve noted the aspects I dislike about World’s Greatest Dad, but the parts that work are just astonishing. The places this film goes are haunting and memorable… And finally, The Hangover, which made me cry with laughter.

Onwards to Oscar season 2010!

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Thanks to everyone who has followed along.  This exercise took a little longer than I expected, and I shudder to count all the words I wrote, but I’ve enjoyed it every step of the way.

10. Up in the Air

I know Adam has said this movie spoke to him as a business traveler, and while I’m not quite at his level, I did just reach Premier status on United, and I am writing this from the Las Vegas airport on my way to Tulsa, so I think I can empathize a little.  You can read plenty about we thought of this Oscar nominee here.  I actually read the script to this one first, then saw it in theaters with my fellow Grouches, then watched it again in a plane a few months ago.  Side note: I’m not really sure this film sends the message airlines want their passengers receiving, but that’s a different debate.  I’m happy this film was nominated for Best Picture, but in the end, I think it received the exact number of Oscar wins it should have.  The movie did almost everything very well, but I’d hesitate to call it exception on any level.  That’s not really a knock on the film, I don’t think.

9. The Hangover

There was always the chance this breakout hit would get some Oscar love, it was just very very remote.  The film was all over our hopes and wishes posts, both for Best Picture and Best Song.  I’d also humbly submit that Zack Galifinakis should have received some supporting actor consideration.  Not to harp on the same point over and over again, but Matt Damon for Invictus was a stronger performance?  By what standard, exactly?  Anyway, so many things went right here.  The script snapped and popped.  The casting was sublime, with the main characters but also supporting actors like Ken Jeong or Mike Tyson’s cameo.  My only complaint of any real substance was that Heather Graham’s character never gets quite integrated into the film.  But the movie was just as movie watching it a second time as it was the first.  It is hard to choose, but my favorite line may be: “Tigers love pepper….they hate cinnamon.”

8. The Hurt Locker

I gotta say, when I saw this one in theaters with Adam over the summer, I did not think I had just seen the Best Picture winner.  The astounding thing to me is that when you pick it apart, this really isn’t my kind of movie.  The plot, such as it is, doesn’t exactly go anywhere.  Stuff happens, but not for any apparent reason.  But the word I keep over and over again when discussing this film is “taut”.  I was held in rapt attention throughout the movie, regardless of whether anything was going on.  The cast is really really strong here, and probably deserved more awards attention than they received.  Do I think the film is perfect?  No, far from it.  Maybe it wasn’t possible to keep the suspense while having a more coherent plot, but I’m skeptical.  If you are interested, you can read out thoughts on the film here.

7. Star Trek

Adam and I have had some fun ragging on John for not liking this film.  Scorn well-deserved.  In my mind, there’s really only one valid beef with this movie (coming from someone who is pretty well versed with the original and fairly familiar with ST:TNG).  In my mind, the Star Trek franchise was founded on morality plays.  And yeah, maybe it has moved away from that a little over the years, but I think the series was often most effective when it was trying to get a little preachy, and I didn’t see that here.  Otherwise, though, this movie was really really good.  It had action and intrigue and humor and a good story and was sexy and was a note perfect way of rebooting a series.  The sprawling cast was uniformly solid across the board, and the film managed to grab a number of actors whose stars are on the rise.  I’ve seen a few other Chris Pine movies and I’m not sure I would have picked him for Kirk, but I would have been wrong.  Eric Bana maybe needs to step back from heavy drama for a bit, but John Cho, Simon Pegg, Zachary Quinto, Anton Yelchin, Karl Urban, and Zoe Saldana were all great.  I still just can’t see why this missed with anyone.

6. I Love You, Man

That’s  right, Adam.  John and I are teaming up on a comedy where you missed the boat.  Saw this one in theaters and just could not stop laughing out loud.  Saw it again a few months ago after a party and it was still just fantastic.  Even if Brian fell asleep.  Oddly, the writers of this film (Larry Levin and John Hamburg, who also directed) had hands in writing: Dr. Doolittle, Dr. Doolittle 2, Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers, and Zoolander.  A spotty pedigree, perhaps, but sprinkle in some of the Apatow crew, and a little Rush and you get magic.  Paul Rudd trying to say “Slappin’ da bass” with a Jamaican accent.  Or trying to come up with a nickname for Jason Segel.  “I love you, Tyco Brohe”.  Jason Segel doing pretty much anything.  Telling Rashida Jones to return the favor.  “You know what?  I saw Chocolat and it was delightful.”  Thomas Lennon is funny, as is the always solid J.K. Simmons.  Just a really great comedy.

5.  In the Loop

John called the film the “single best written” film of 2009.  And the Grouches pretty much agreed (at least when it came to Oscars).  Obviously, the Britishness was hard to sell on us Americans, but I remain stunned that this film didn’t take DC by storm.  It really is a workplace comedy, where that workplace happens to be the political arena and all that goes on behind the scenes.  The jokes come rapid fire in this fast-paced satire.  And really, the only problem was that often as I was laughing at the last joke, two or three ones whizzed by me.  Peter Capaldi is lights-out fantastic and in a just world he gets and Oscar nom.  Still, I was tickled pink with the writing nomination, because overlooking this film would have been outrageous.  I could be mistaken, but I believe this movie is the second highest ranked one featuring a U of C alum (Anna Chlumsky).  If you haven’t seen this movie, and aren’t turned off by cursing, please do.

4. (500) Days of Summer

Most of our posts on this film were mine, unsurprisingly.  Coming out of the theater with Adam, I would have pegged this one a little lower than 4th overall.  There probably weren’t a whole lot of elite movies this year.  But my expectations were extremely high, and it says something that the film came close to hitting them.  I put Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Best Actress and Best Actor, and I really have no idea how the script missed a screenplay award.  There were plenty of bits big (musical number, the split-screen scene) and small (Yvette Nichole Brown!, the first scene in the elevator) that were pure magic.  The movie probably could have developed the characters a little bit more, maybe lingered on Deschanel a little longer in an effort to flesh her out a touch more.  Also, the opening credits could have not told me Minka Kelly was in it, so that I was thinking about was part she’d play as the movie went on.  I like Clark Gregg, and that was Chloe Moretz as the younger sister and Mr. Christina Hendricks as the friend.  It also had two of my favorite lines of the year.  The opening titles: “The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. Especially you Jenny Beckman. Bitch.”  And, Clark Gregg reading a card that Joseph Gordon-Levitt has written: “Roses are red, violets are blue…Fuck you, whore”.

3. District 9

We covered this one a little bit.  I’ve no idea how this one got any Oscar nominations, much less Picture and Adapted Screenplay.  Perhaps voters didn’t see the film, so didn’t realize it was an action flick, instead hearing that was a provoking metaphor on race relations.  It did have a political message, sure, but honestly, I found that mostly irrelevant.  At its heart, this is an action movie with an underlying sadness that is quite touching.  It is an underdog film without a saccharine ending.  It is actually pretty hard to classify this film.  A scifi-action film with a heart shot in a documentary style?  In any case, it was a breath of extremely fresh air, and I can’t say enough positive things about it.

2. Up

John and I gushed about this one some.  Honestly, if you took the opening montage, added however much screen time of just blank space to make it count as a full-length picture, it’d probably still make my top ten.  The scary thing is that the film minus that montage would make it as well.  Like with most Pixar films, this one made me want to cry and laugh.  Was tons of fun, but had a meaning, too.  I don’t think I have the words to describe how amazing this picture really was.  Plus, Ed Asner is a U of c alum.  Oh, and its funny because the squirrel got dead is obviously one of my favorite lines of the year.

1. Zombieland

This one gets its own post, to follow shortly.  But for now, here’s my favorite line from each character;

Little Rock – “No!  She’s only famous when she’s Hannah Montana!  She’s only famous when she’s wearing the wig!”

Wichita [said like Janine from Ghostbusters] – “Hurry!  He’s in the chandelier.”

Tallahassee – “I’m not great at goodbyes, so…that’ll do, pig”

Columbus – “Someone’s ear is in danger of having hair brushed over it.”

Like you could live on nomination day without my thoughts on this year’s crop of Original Songs!

Rather than writing a small blurb on each of eligible songs this year (there are only so many adjectives for “bland”) I thought I’d pretend to be a part of the Music branch and nominate as if I had a ballot.

63 songs qualified this year. Voters screen three minute clips of each eligible song as it appears in the movie. I understand the idea since you’d ideally like to consider the song as a piece of a film. But clips have the effect of taking the song out of context – undermining their effect – and undervaluing final credits songs. A good final credits song can be perfect for a film as you sit and contemplate what you’ve just seen; think last year’s title track from The Wrestler. That’s lost in a clip screening like this.

Voters give each song a score between 6 and 10 with half votes allowed. A song must average an 8.25 score to qualify for nomination; there is no further guidance for what each score should mean. I take it to mean I should score 8.5 or above any song I think is worth of nomination.

The Best

“The Weary Kind” from Crazy Heart: 10. Sort of the point of the entire film.

“Smoke Without Fire” from An Education: 10. I love Duffy’s smoky voice. Could be hurt by its placement on the end credits even though it’s perfect there.

Depression Era” from That Evening Sun: 10. Nice, stripped down, folksy tune from Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers fame.

Down in New Orleans” from The Princess and the Frog: 9.5. Terrifically catchy bluesy song from Dr. John. Best of the film.

Only You” from The Young Victoria: 9.5. I have a terrific soft spot for Sinead O’Connor.

Hideaway” and “All Is Love” from Where the Wild Things Are: 9 and 9. I love me some Karen O and I love me some non-professional choir singers.

The Good

Somebody Else” from Crazy Heart: 8. Jeff Bridges pulls out his twangy country singing voice.

When You Find Me” from Adam: 8.5. There’s literally nothing interesting about Joshua Radin but the duet here makes it work.

“Fly Farm Blues” from It Might Get Loud: 9. I love Jack White and I love the idea that a song he was challenged to create in ten minutes for a documentary could get nominated. Polish up the vocals and this is awesome.

The Other Contenders

You Got Me Wrapped Around Your Little Finger” from An Education: 7. Lounge-y. Not for me.

Cinema Italiano” from Nine: 8. Kind of not good but also kind of appealing, at least when it gets fast. A lot of film lingo in the lyrics, which is funny.

Take it All” from Nine: 7.5. Marion Cotillard can sing.

(I Want to) Come Home” from Everybody’s Fine: 7. Bland Paul McCartney.

The other songs from The Princess and the Frog aren’t as good as “Down in New Orleans.” “Almost There” (7) is a likely nominee but too simplistic after a nice intro. “Ma Belle Evangeline” (7.5) is admittedly the best love song I’ve ever heard a Cajun firefly sing. “Never Knew I Needed” (6.5) is the Ne-Yo song I never knew I needed.

The Funny

Dove of Peace” from Bruno: 7. Fake celebrity benefit song gets an extra .5 since it’d be funny performed on the Oscar telecast

Stu’s Song” from The Hangover: 8.5. Amusing!

Other Father Song” from Coraline: 8. Crazy short! Yes that’s the whole thing. The problem with short catchy songs is they get stuck in your head.

Petey’s Song” from Fantastic Mr Fox: 7. Even Jarvis Cocker is sub-par in this movie. Wouldn’t mind seeing a nice banjo tune on the telecast though

The Schmaltzy

I See You” from Avatar: 6. No. Even worse than “My Heart Will Go On.”

Invictus 9,000 Days” and “Colorblind” from Invictus: 6.5 and 6. No and no. “Colorblind” may be the worst of the bunch. And god, so literal! Perfect for a Clint Eastwood film.

Winter” from Brothers: 6. U2 makes schmaltzy crap? Who knew! And again so literal!

God Bless Us Everyone” from Disney’s A Christmas Carol: 8.5. Maybe it’s just Andrea Bocelli’s voice but I think this could make a nice standard Christmas carol.

The Different

I Bring What I Love” from Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love: 6. Youssou Ndour wrote a song for a documentary about himself?

Innocent Child” and “Let Freedom Reign” from Skin: 6.5 and 7. A little bit better African music

Loin de Paname” from Paris 36: 6.5. The winner of a “make a song that sounds French” contest. Yes there are accordians.

Un Boquete de Violettes” from New York, I Love You: 7.5. Opera. Kinda of bizarre especially after Paris, je t’aime had such a great song.

“We Are the Children of the World” and “We Love Violence” from The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus: 6.5 and 7. I can’t say it better than New York Magazine: “We Are the Children of the World” is a mockery of celebrity charity, sung by urchins at a glittery A-list benefit. “We Love Violence” is a rowdy celebration of police brutality shouted out by vicious police officers, who conclude their ditty with spectacular flatulence.

The Hannah Montana

Hannah Montana The Movie qualified five songs just to torment me. Let’s get this over with

Back to Tennessee“: 6. Nice they let Billy Ray have a song. Awful.

Butterfly Fly Away“: 6. Awful.

Don’t Walk Away“: 6. Awful.

You’ll Always Find Your Way Back Home“: 6. Awful.

“Hoedown Throwdown”: 7. This is a square dance rap. Yes, you read that right. It goes into the “so awful it’s kind of catchy” territory! SO BAD YOU MUST WATCH! BOOM BOOM CLAP!

The Awful

The Word is Love” from Oy Vey! My Son is Gay!: 6. If I didn’t know better I’d say this is a joke video. Also features a horrifying Bruce Vilanch.

New Divide” from Transformers 2: 6. Transformers + Linkin Park = awful.

Possibility” from New Moon: 6. I can’t get over how bad this song is. I don’t know who you are Lykke Li, but you are on notice.

Na Na” from Couples Retreat: 6.5. What AR Rahman does after winning his Oscars for Slumdog Millionaire.

Blanco” from Fast and Furious: 6.5. To be fair reggaeton can only be so good.

One Day” from Post Grad: 6. Jack Savoretti wishes he was Jack Johnson. So that he could be mediocre instead of awful.

AyAyAyAy” from The Maid: 6. I don’t do slow hispanic tunes.

Legendary” from Tyson: 6. Bad Nas song.

“Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea” from Ponyo: 6. Available in Japanese and English (the latter with a little Jonas and a little Cyrus!). Monumentally irritating!

The Boring

Raining Sunshine” from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs: 6.5. Is Miranda Cosgrove ever not boring?

Being Bad” from Duplicity: 6.5. Is this a cha-cha?

Forget Me” from I Love You, Beth Cooper: 6.5. Acoustic version is a little better.

“My One and Only” from My One and Only: 6.5. Did you know Kevin and Bacon and Renee Zellweger did a movie together this year? Anyway, lounge-y and bad.

“Brothers in Arms” from Brothers at War: 6. I had been wondering what the guy from Five for Fighting was up to. Or not. Whatever.

Here” from Shrink: 6. I like Jackson Browne but this is a snoozer.

If You’re Wondering” from The Lightkeeper: 6.5. Yet another female crooner.

Through the Trees” from Jennifer’s Body: 6.5. This band, Low Shoulder, has a future entertaining teens and irritating me.

“Trust Me” from The Informant!: 6. More crooning. Still love the movie.’

“You’ve Got a Friend in Me” from Old Dogs: 6.5. Bryan Adams needs to go away.

The Ineligible But I Wish They Weren’t!

I Can See in Color” from Precious: 9.5. Mary J Blige brings it!

Help Yourself” from Up in the Air: 9.5. Sad Brad brings it! Whoever he is. Good song but it also works very well in the film.

Final Tally

That’s 58 of the 63 songs reviewed; the others I couldn’t find. Average score: 6.9. Yikes! I rated eleven 8.5 or higher, indicative of being worthy of nomination in my eyes. Now what bland, derivative songs will the Academy choose?

Oscar nominations will be announced on February 2. We’re counting down to the big day by offering some hard-hitting analysis and incisive opinions on the toughest questions surrounding the nominees. No claims the Academy is perfect.  But sometimes they seem to refuse to consider certain films or performances, which can be terribly infuriating. If you ruled the Academy, what would you decree to get a nomination?

***SPECIAL NOTE***
We exempted one film from this discussion. Look for our thoughts on that movie in the coming days.

Brian: Maybe The Film Would Do Better If It Had A Name

I write this without seeing any of the other nominated foreign films, but if I could pick a film to get some overdue recognition, it’d be Sin Nombre, a thrilling, engaging, and beautifully shot film that handles the dicey subjects of illegal immigration and the spread of MS-13 with grace. Critically, it was adored by most when it came out last spring, but it seems to have faltered pretty fast this Oscar season. I’m disappointed — there are parts of the movie that still stick with me and it’s been nearly a year since I saw it. Based on the trailers I’ve seen for the nominated foreign films, this looks much more accessible to American audiences and falls far from the cliched tropes of the dreaded “foreign film” with subtitles. Truly great and deserving of recognition.

Jared: Move the Oscars to Summer

Oscar actually isn’t doing a terrible job this year.  As always, comedy gets shafted in the Best Picture race.  My ideal nominee list would likely include The Hangover, (500) Days of Summer, I Love You, Man, and as much as it pains me to agree with John, In the Loop.  One of my pet films this year is an obscure movie called Blind Date. I’ll be talking about it more later on, but I think Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson’s performances should have been in the discussion this year.  Fudging things a little bit, if I only had control of one thing, I’d advocate for the acting in (500) Days of Summer.  I imagine Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel faced the double disadvantage of not being in a drama and not “paying their dues,” but their work absolutely contributed to the magic of the film, and it makes me sad that they were barely considered.

John: Best Loop-de-loop

I have a couple ideas of what omnipotent John would do with the Oscar nomination and damned if it isn’t hard to pick. The Informant! could be put in Best Picture or Matt Damon in Best Actor. But I’m going to go with a film I loved even more, In the Loop, for Best Picture. This is an exquisitely written film, packed to the gill with jokes and spot-on as a satire. I don’t think a plot point or performance goes wrong. If there’s any recent film that I can say, “we need more films like this!” it’s In the Loop. It won’t get the recognition it deserves without me breaking into PricewaterhouseCoopers and messing with the ballots. Which is too bad because more people should check it out.

Oscar nominations will be announced on February 2.  We’re counting down to the big day by offering some hard-hitting analysis and incisive opinions on the toughest questions surrounding the nominees.  We tend to focus on the “major” categories (acting, directing, writing, picture), but let’s take a look at the artistic and technical categories.  What would you like to see happen in these lesser profile categories?

John: I Am the Grand Poobah of Smaller Categories

I’m having a hard time choosing just one hope for the smaller categories. The three I really care about, The Informant! and Avatar for Score and “The Weary Kind” from Crazy Heart for Song, are already probably nominees. So I’ll highlight a few that were noteworthy to me, all of which I thoroughly like but whose exclusion will not cause me extraordinary pain.

Depression Era” from stalled Hal Holbrook vehicle That Evening Sun for Song. It’s a simple, soulful folk tune from Drive-By Truckers front man Patterson Hood. The Song selection is sort of weak this year but this one stands out.

I’d also like to plump for one of Karen O’s tunes from Where the Wild Things Are for Song; “Hideaway”  and “All Is Love” are eligible. Beyond those mentioned above, some scores that made me sit up and take notice include those from The RoadPonyo, and The Secret of Kells, though I think the final one is ineligible for Score.

I love me some An Education so some recognition in Art Direction and/or Costume would be wonderful.

Finally, how about some love for The Brothers Bloom for the costumes? I didn’t enjoy all of the self-conscious quirky elements of the film, but I did enjoy the clothing, which did serve to develop the film’s offbeat characters.

And, oh yes, I can’t finish without whining again about the obnoxious sound in Star Trek.

Adam: What do tigers dream of? Oscar gold.

Since my Dracula’s Lament piece last year failed to sway the Academy (and yes, most Academy members read our blog), I’ve decided to tempt failure again and make my plug for “Stu’s Song” from The Hangover. Another Hangover piece you say? Yes. While I did thoroughly enjoy the movie, the reason I am picking it again is it is a no brainer for these types of posts – i.e. great movie that will get no love. I would pick Zombieland, but John is a Blog-Nazi and won’t let us pick something that has no shot at any kind of nomination…*cough* LAME *cough* *cough*.

Oh, right, “Stu’s Song”. Apparently humor and originality don’t factor into the nomination process for the Oscars. Like “Dracula’s Lament” last year, this was a hilarious song, well written, and original. What about it makes it unviable? I mean, it’s short, but why does that matter? The video just has clips from the movie, but that actually adds to the song. It’s in a comedy – and I think we have a winner. Once again the Academy shows it’s small-mindedness by completely overlooking a legitimate contender because it does not fall within their comfort zone. Well done.

[As John points out, don’t miss Helms’s tailoring of the song for Conan: http://incontention.com/?p=21285]

Jared: Destroy Visual Effects

I’m really happy John proposed we tackle this question, because I otherwise spend very little time thinking about these categories.  Part of it, I suppose, is that I tend to believe I’m appreciating a movie for its story, so I pay less attention to its visual or auditory approach.  I’m clearly not qualified to talk at all about some of these categories (for the sound categories, if you haven’t already done so, I’d urge you to check out the really cool stuff at SoundWorks Collection).  I’m the last person in the world to notice costume design, for example, but it strikes me as a little odd that so often the nominees are predominantly period pieces.

Anyway, I’m here to plump for 2012‘s visual effects.  Granted, I may enjoy Roland Emmerich’s movies a little more than the next guy.  But the point, I think, is that when you think Emmerich, you think of sh*t done gettin’ destroyed.  Unlike some other films likely to get nominated here, 2012 doesn’t have any sort of coherent storyline or fascinating turn of events.  No, in this disaster movie, you get exactly what you’d expect.  Nonstop, relentless, continuous destruction of every landmark (natural or manmade) imaginable.  But, to me, at least, it doesn’t get boring.  And kudos for that, in my mind, should be placed squarely at the feet of the visual effects crew.  Tasked with creating tons of scenes of destruction, they came through brilliantly, and it seems odd to me that their work could be diminished just because their movie was little more than the results of their efforts.

Brian: Single Man Deserves Recognition — Say What?

I can’t believe I am actually writing a mini-post in favor of A Single Man, considering I found it absolutely boring and pretentious (I rated it less than a 4 out of 10), but I’m pretty surprised to see that it is not expected to be nominated for either Art Direction or Costume Design. If fashion-designer-turned-filmmaker Tom Ford knows anything, it’s style, and his movie has lots of it. Colin Firth is quite particular about his shirts and suits — and while I didn’t enjoy Julianne Moore’s big OSCAR(!!!) scene, her apartment and outfit seemed apropos of both the character and the film overall. Maybe this is just Mad Men withdrawal, as both of them cover the same time period, and both have problems with pacing and that all important thing called “plot,” but I’d be pretty disappointed if Single Man got an Oscar nom for best picture, but was left out for what it did best: highlighting both the cool and the isolation of early 1960s America.

Thanks to popular demand, we’ve decided to bring back the insightful series of posts we ran last year in the week leading up to Oscar nominations.  As you might recall, in Grouching the Oscars, we finally put to use all the Oscar movies we’ve seen by sharing our hopes and expectations for the list.

Oscar nominations will be announced on February 2.  We’re counting down to the big day by offering some hard-hitting analysis and incisive opinions on the toughest questions surrounding the nominees.  Let’s kick things off by asking the team: What bone fide long shots should get a nomination?

Adam: No comedy on Oscar night would give me a Hangover

Is The Dark Knight still in the running for this year? No? Then I guess I will have to go with The Hangover.

What is it about comedies that make it impossible for the Academy to nominate them for Best Picture? Does no one in the Academy have a sense of humor? But I don’t think that is the case as what “serious” person could vote for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button as a legitimate (and former front-runner) nomination for Best Picture? Who can possibly talk about Alec Baldwin being nominated for Best Supporting Actor with a straight face? Maybe the Academy thinks The Hangover is too main-stream, too hip, and/or too generational (at least, a generation other than their own).

Whatever the reason, it is almost guaranteed not to secure a nomination (in almost every category). Another year, another disappointment by the Academy. If they keep this up, they’ll have to do a lot more than increase the number of Best Picture nominees to increase viewership.

Jared: Without Paul Schneider, the Academy would be missing a Bright Star

I had a little trouble with this category because some things I’m rooting for seem to be hovering around that last one in/first one out spot.  But I didn’t want John to yell at me, and Adam beat me to the punch on The Hangover (which I would have used for script).  So I’ll go with Paul Schneider for Supporting Actor.  Part of it, of course, is my appreciation of his prior work (I literally just now realized the oddity of him starring in All the Real Girls and Lars and the Real Girl.)  And yes, part of it is that I want to justify putting Bright Star in the super secret Golden Grouches worksheet.  But, looking back at my writeup of the movie, I called Schneider “clearly the highlight of the film” and I guess my appreciation hasn’t diminished since then.  In a period film light on, well, just about everything, Schneider managed to shine.  He provided comic relief without going over the top (something more difficult to do in a slight film like Bright Star, I think) and served as friction to create much of the drama in the film.  But perhaps the best thing about the performance is how Schneider gets his character into a subtle space between hero and anti-hero, friend and user.  It is a fascinating look at what the stereotypical”best friend” role can be.  He’s not a good guy, he’s not really a bad guy, he’s just interesting.  It is a complex role, one I may even have missed if not for this here blog, but it would be nice to see Oscar voters be more perceptive than I was.

Brian: Viggo Mortensen Should Walk The Road to Oscar

Probably my favorite bad-ass actor out there, I’d like to see Viggo nominated for Best Actor, in part because he was great in The Road but also because it’s the movie’s best shot at being recognized period. For a character with no name at all (listed as “Man” in the credits, Viggo is superb in creating a lot out of nothing. The sparse landscape of post-apocalyptic Earth is matched by the equally sparse script and character development. So much of the fear, love, and existential dread comes via the acting, and I don’t know if another actor could have pulled off the role and made the movie bearable to watch.

John: Keep the Academy In the Loop

The single best written film I saw in 2009 was In the Loop. And it really wasn’t even close. It has everything you want in a script, from crackling dialogue to a premise that never falls short. The large ensemble of characters is all fleshed out, but not to the point of diminishing their impact as satirical caricatures. And the jokes come a mile a minute, from broad, expletive-laden comedic rants and one-liners to over-arching clever thematic points on government, power, and war.

I don’t want to detract from other elements of the film, such as the terrific acting and spot-on direction, but the script would work on its own as a piece of hilarious literature. We need more films with writing like In the Loop and it needs to find a place in the Adapted Screenplay slate.

If anyone else out there has other long shots whose names they’d like to hear read on February 2nd, please chime in, we’d love to hear your thoughts.

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