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I’m back at it with the 2009  movies I ranked 133-124.  We are now segueing from the movies I despised to the ones I merely disliked.

133. It’s Complicated

If Adam refuses to come back and watch this year’s Oscar movies it is because I dragged him to go see this one, on the chance it snagged a nomination.  He’s still pretty angry about that one.  Between this and The Holiday, I’m kinda worried that Something’s Gotta Give was the exception and not the rule for Nancy Meyers.  Again, she has a solid cast and a good premise, but fails to come up with anything entertaining.  The film’s sense of humor apparently exists, though it can only be seen by middle aged women, John, and Brian.  Well, OK, save for the infamous pot smoking scene, which inexplicably bumped the film’s rating up to an R.

132. Bob Funk

I blogged about this one nearly a year ago.  It is difficult to create an engaging film featuring a main character without redeeming qualities.  I initially wrote “an unlikeable main character” there, but I got rid of it, because  I could see how someone would argue a character like House is unlikeable.  To reiterate my main point, the movie is a bit of a mess.  I don’t know if it was rushed into production or what, but the script could have used another draft or three.  But hey, probably the best movie about a futon salesman I can think of.  As I mentioned, worth watching if you are an Amy Ryan or Rachael Leigh Cook completist.

131. Rudo y Cursi

Not exactly a worthy addition to the soccer movie canon, sadly.  I love Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal, but this movie had absolutely no idea what it wanted to be.  It careened from from cliche to cliche, never stopping to establish any sort of consistent tone.  That said, Garcia Bernal’s version of “I Want You To Want Me” and accompanying music video alone may make the movie worth seeing.

130. An American Affair

A Catholic schoolboy befriends an older neighbor, who happens to be having an affair with JFK.  No really, that’s the plot of this movie.  Ostensibly it is a coming of age film, but I have to imagine the JFK connection is one of the strangest plot devices used to get there. Especially because it really isn’t a necessary element.  Like, at all.  The high schooler is played by the kid from Thank You For Smoking, for whatever that is worth.   The neighbor is Gretchen Mol (you might remember seeing the film’s poster, where she’s wrapped in nothing an American flag.  There was one by my old apartment for a month).  She holds a special place in the hearts of two Grouches, excelling as the horrible wet blanket girlfriend in Rounders.  I think she could have carved out a better career playing those type of characters, even if I’m not sold on her leading this film.  The ending, by the way, is pretty terrible.

129. The Last Station

Not sure I could sum it up any better than John did recently.  I refuse to believe Oscar voters actually saw this film.  Maybe they watched the trailer.  But a hearty congratulations to the publicity crew and whoever decided to do an extremely limited release in 2009, you all worked magic in getting two nominations out of the film (which grossed less than $10 million worldwide).  One note I had is that every actor in the film spoke with a different accent.  Now, I personally don’t really care if a film sees its actors all put on accents.  But it was kinda off-putting.  Also off-putting?  Finding out that James McAvoy is married to one of his co-stars, but not the one with whom he hooks up in the film.  I cannot possibly fathom the negotiations that went on in order for him to pull that off.

128. My Life In Ruins

The Nia Vardalos movie that wasn’t I Hate Valentine’s Day.  When Rachel Dratch is your third lead, your comedy is going to have some problems.  The word “hackneyed” comes to mind.  I do think Vardalos has the comedic chops to be more than a one hit wonder, but goodness does she need to find some halfway decent material.  In this one, her love interest’s nickname is “Poupi”.  Pronounced “poopy”.  Yup.

127. The Messenger

The other reason Adam may never want to see a movie with me again.  I was fine with the Harrelson nomination because, hey, Woody Harrelson.  But the screenwriting nomination is inexcusable.  It is absolutely right that this story was told and fantastic that they got such great actors to tell it.  I think, though, that people are confusing a harrowing concept with a well-told story.  Because there really isn’t a story here.  Of course, major bonus points for the Gaius Charles sighting.

126. Two Lovers

Joaquin Phoenix went crazy because of this movie?  I don’t get it.  Also don’t get the early year love for this movie.  A rather humdrum tale of a depressed guy living with his parents in New York lusting after a wild and crazy unavailable girl while going out with a more down to earth one.  Someone told me they heard the Jewish aspect was played up in the film, but that’s really not the case at all, not much more than a passing reference and some accents.  The movie is generally dull and muted.  Those commercials that played nonstop last year showing clips of classic films with scenes from this one (and a few other recent ones) always cracked me up.

125. Cold Souls

The simple description is Being John Malkovich, but with Paul Giamatti.  It’d be wrong, but comes closer than any single sentence I could come up with.  The film’s concept (souls can extracted from a body) is plenty fascinating.  As are some of the resulting issues it deals with, like the effect on a person of transporting souls, or how having a soul affects the rest of life, or how having a different soul changes a person.  But the film gets lots in a tale of Russians and smuggling that is just distracting.  It never gets as weird as Being John Malkovich, but it never gets as interesting either.  Though it is always great to see Paul Giamatti play a lead role.  David Strathairn and Lauren Ambrose are criminally underused.

124. The Graduates

Wrote about this one a few months back.  Great movie name to drop if you are trying to impress people with your vast knowledge of Animal House-style comedies.  As I mentioned, major props for the Ocean City, MD location.  But it ultimately felt like an unfinished work.  There’s a lot of potential here, as some scenes were set up very nicely, and I could see how the film was trying to dig a little deeper than your typical sex comedy.  But as is, just doesn’t hold up very well.

Thanks for tuning in.  Up next: We continue to learn that attractive women does not a movie make, one Oscar nominee, and the second Morgan Freeman sighting.

With the Oscars two months behind us, pretty much all the nominees and awards season players are finding their way to DVD. And there are so many we didn’t give full attention to here!

A few months back I highlighted critically-acclaimed films that I didn’t care for. They mostly didn’t find traction in awards season, but several more crappy movies did! And it’s so depressing to write about bad prestige films that we mostly skipped them on this blog. But no longer!

If you’re perusing the new releases on NetFlix and think, “Hey, that got nominated for some sort of Oscar, didn’t it? I should rent that,” make sure it’s not on this list or pay the price!

The Lovely Bones, 1 nomination

The deadliest of the deadly. The story follows a fourteen-year-old girl after she is murdered by a neighbor. She goes to some sort of “in-between” between Earth and heaven, where she watches as her family grieves and searches for her killer. Such a film hinges on the director’s vision for that “in-between:” what does it look like, how does she move through it, and how does she interact with those on Earth?

And all of that is awful. Peter Jackson brings out all his CG expertise to realize the in-between, which is colorful and beautiful but uninteresting and painfully literal. Even worse is how she interacts with the real world, which just comes off totally clumsy.

I loved the book when it dealt with the family’s grief, but that mostly gets pushed aside. The book’s supernatural elements really lost me; these parts were stupid enough in the book but in the film they are stupid AND confusing as they are poorly thought out and edited. I knew what was going to happen and some of it STILL came off as totally WTF. Finally, my favorite subplot, involving the girl vicariously experiencing growing up by watching her younger sister, is entirely absent.

Yes, Stanley Tucci is wonderfully creepy as the murderer. But unless you have a burning desire to check out all impressive cinematic villains, he’s not reason enough to watch. It also features another good performance by Saoirse Ronan, who we all really enjoyed a few years back in Atonement.

The Last Station, 2 nominations

I think we all agreed that if we were watching this at home we would have turned it off. It’s not as aggressively bad as The Lovely Bones, but it’s incredibly, notably tedious. Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren play Tolstoy and his wife in the last years of his life. Tolstoy’s followers want the rights to his works willed to them to advance his philosophies; she wants to keep them in the family.

The problem here is utter lack of context. There’s never any good understanding of why people care about Tolstoy and his teachings. His philosophy as presented is vague and sounds kind of awful. There’s no reason to care about the drama and intrigue. There are spies and competing allegiances all centered around a question I couldn’t care less about, which is pretty much the worst thing that can happen in a melodrama. Plummer and Mirren chew the scenery like no one’s business.

There’s vintage newsreel footage over the final credits, including some of Tolstoy interacting with the public. These seemed interesting! Why do people like Tolstoy? What impact did he have in the world? Who are the Tolstoyans and what was their place in Russian society? That’s what I want to see, not a film that assumes I know this stuff.

Nine, 4 nominations

What a stillborn movie. I pretty much immediately forgot it after watching it. Even musicals I wasn’t particularly fond of (Moulin Rouge!, Sweeney Todd) had a spark to them. Nine is just lifeless. I’m on record as saying that plot is less important in musicals, but here the plot is so bland and entirely uninteresting. And the music isn’t even good! It has two good songs, including the Marion Cotillard number that got the Original Song nomination. That scene is so terrific and passionate, how is the rest of the movie so dull?

Also, it got a bizarre nomination for Art Direction. The musical sequences take place on a minimalist set of scaffolding in a large warehouse. It gets used in a mildly interesting way, but it’s just scaffolding! And it got nominated for an Oscar!

The Blind Side, 2 nominations & 1 win (Best Actress)

This thing is one big, mindless cliché. You know what’s going to happen going in and it delivers. I was hoping for some sort of originality but I can’t say any element has an ounce of cleverness. Sure Sandra Bullock gives a fine performance, but part of what makes her so dominant is that everything else is so weak. I don’t think it’s worth checking out just for her. Unless you like being emotionally manipulated, in which case please go ahead and see it.

It also shamefully sidelines the Michael Oher character, the black football player. He’s made one-dimensional and really deserves more.

The Young Victoria, 3 nominations & 1 win (Costume)

By no means a bad movie, but dull. It’s very nice to see a royal intrigue film where the heroine doesn’t constantly bemoan the repressions of her society and her inability to love the man she wants and instead uses the system – of which she is of course a major part – to her own benefit and to lead. Unfortunately the way it’s done here isn’t particularly compelling. It’s also pretty confusing for someone without a good knowledge of the time period. My goodness, which prime minister candidate shall the Queen support in the 1839 parliamentary elections? The pulse quickens!

Also it got a Makeup nomination so maybe you should check it out if you like Oscar-nominated hairstyling. Which of course you do.

Ladies and Gentlemen, your nominees for Best Supporting Actor:

  • Matt Damon, Invictus
  • Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
  • Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
  • Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
  • Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

I’ll start things off — notice how everyone copies me with my pick:

    This one will be short. This category is probably the weakest of all the acting categories, and I’m not sure it’s even close. There’s one great performance — and a whole lotta nothing. So first — to dispense with the nothing. Damon as Francois Pienaar, the rugby player who channels Nelson Mandela’s magical wisdom to lead his team to victory (or something like that), is servicable in a pretty standard role. Harrleson as the fast-talking, heartless sergeant also does fine with the role he’s given — but its unevenly written and frankly, I liked him more as a kickass zombie killer in Zombieland.

    Christopher Plummer in The Last Station — whatever. Great death scene and all — but that whole movie — whatever. Stanley Tucci gets nominated here for playing a creepy dude — and he is wholly unrecognizable in the role, and I’d understand even giving him a nod here had it not been for the highly deserving Christoph Waltz for Inglourious Basterds. Everyone loves a villain, and Waltz is unforgettable. The screen lights up whenever he is on screen, and his climactic Machiavellian maneuver was unexpected. What a fantastic introduction to American audiences — can’t wait to see what he does next.If only Alfred Molina had gotten nominated — then this category could have gotten interesting.

One day after professing his love for Colin Firth, Jared waxes poetic about beards:

    Here’s Matt Damon’s every scene in Invictus: FRANCOIS [Standing apart from everyone else, Francois looks mildly confused]: <insert vague, short inspirational speech>  Francois leaves room.

    Matt Damon is pretty great, but a nomination for this?  Really?  The Morgan Freeman nomination wasn’t enough?  Terrible.

    Going along with Brian, I’m reading this Woody Harrelson nomination as taking into account his three supporting roles this year. Because I’m pretty sure he had the best year supporting actor year if you combine the performances.  The Messenger was the weakest, but he mined as much depth as possible from his one-dimensional character.

    I kinda want to give Christopher Plummer’s beard in The Last Station its own supporting award.  Is that possible?  Otherwise, sure, Plummer was fine, playing an outsized role to fit in with the movie.  What I mean is that I think if, say, Sean Connery had played Tolstoy, I would have enjoyed the film more, but the performance wouldn’t have fit in with the tone.  I don’t know what that means, exactly.  Plummer isn’t in my top five this year, but I don’t have any issues with the nomination.

    Stanley Tucci could have made this race more competitive had he been given maybe two more scenes of being creepy or if The Lovely Bones was any good.  Can’t say anything negative about him here, and I sure as heck hope he gets multiple chances to come back and claim his prize.

    As Christoph Waltz shows, bad guys have more fun.  There’s not really a point to me adding to all the wonderful things people have said about his role, so allow me to briefly digress.  This race has pretty clearly been over for months; a Waltz loss is nearly inconceivable at this point.  It is fascinating to me that of the thousands of supporting acting performances this year, everyone can nearly unanimously agree that Waltz stood head and shoulders above everyone else.  What are the odds of that?  There seemed to be absolutely no backlash, no one taking up the underdog mantle.  Brian asks about Alfred Molina, I kinda wonder if the team behind An Education figured the race was in the bag, they already had other nominations sewn up, why even both giving Molina a push.

    Christian McKay is the snub here.  I cannot believe anyone who put Damon on the ballot watched Me and Orson Welles.

Adam comes close to figuring out why he’s an ass, but decides just being an ass is more fun:

    1. Christoph Waltz
    2. Stanley Tucci
    3. Christopher Plummer
    4. Woody Harrelson
    5. Matt Damon
  • Will Win: Christoph Waltz

    Brilliant. I have to admit, I’m a huge fan of villains (big surprise there, I’m sure), and Waltz pulls off a great one. The last three years have given us three very different, but extremely good villains. Bardem’s pushed the limits on intensity and creepiness, Ledger put in the performance of a lifetime with his insanely dark (and darkly insane?) Joker, and now Waltz shows us the lighter side of the Nazi’s intellectual elite (and by “lighter” I mean humorous).

    I Want to Win: Christoph Waltz

    See above.

    Dark Horse: Everybody Else

    As with the last three years, the villain in one of the year’s most acclaimed movies is the “lock”  for the win in this category.


    Grouches Critiques:

    As with Best Actor, I don’t really have much for this category. Because it’s not really a contest, no one threw out any odd-ball/horrible taste comments. I’m still holding out hope for John to say something stupid, but he won’t be writing his until after I submit mine. But, if anyone can do it, it’s John. It seems like he and Brian have a contest every year to see who can have the worst taste in movies.  I’ll let you know who comes out on top this year.

    Random Notes:

    The rest of the nominees were, in my mind, pretty weak. Maybe it was because Waltz outshone them on every level, but I’m not convinced.

John finishes things up by saying nothing new:

    I echo the sentiments of my colleagues when I say that Damon is such a nothing nomination. It’s kind of galling that this performance gets some Oscar love while his splendid turn in The Informant! gets ignored. But it’s really a performance of an accent, the occasional “c’mon guys, we can do it!” speech, and grunting while playing rugby.

    Plummer is fine but undermined by dreadful material. When we aren’t given any context to a character it’s hard to give him any depth. Unlike my colleagues I found a lot to like in Harrelson’s performance. He’s really terrific in any scene involving the army or notifying next of kin, though a little less so in any scene involving his personal demons.

    Tucci gave one of my favorite supporting performances of the year… in Julie & Julia. It’s quite a contrast to his serial killer role in The Lovely Bones, eh? I thought he was quite an effective creep and probably the best part of that ill-conceived picture.

    But of course my choice is Waltz. That’s a bingo! There’s not much more I can say about his delightfully sociopathic performance. I happen to be watching Basterds right now, so let me point out two aspects of this performance that I enjoy. One is his line delivery and the way he can say such awful things with a casual smile. And the second is the way he eats. Like with all his movements, he does it with just the right amount of flamboyance to maximize his sinister air but without really straying into cartoonishness. I’ve never seen a strudel devoured so menacingly.

    Snubs: The aforementioned Tucci in Julie & Julia. Harrelson in Zombieland of course. Zach Galifinakis in The Hangover. And two random ones for you: Chris Messina and Paul Schneider in Away We Go, the most sincere parts of a painfully contrived film.

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