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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.

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As Oscar movies all move onto DVD and the summer late night movie watching season (that’s a thing, right?) begins, it’s time to highlight movies that you should check out. We’ve told you what, out of the movies to which we’ve given little coverage, you should skip, but there are plenty that you should watch!

In the Loop (1 nomination)

A satire about the decision to go to war in Iraq. Now take your notions about what you would expect from that description and throw it out the window. This is a workplace farce where every character is self-serving, back-stabbing, and blindingly stupid. Members of Parliament, cabinet members, generals, and speech writers jostle for position and influence to help determine a decision that has already been made.

The writing is jam-packed full of jokes. It’s the type of film where you miss two punchlines by laughing at another. In the Loop is a semi-spin-off of British government farce sitcom The Thick of It, whose now dead American version was developed by the team behind Arrested Development. This is apropos since Loop‘s non-stop gag style reminded me of Arrested. It turns out the American version of the show just didn’t work because American television doesn’t allow the incredible profanity permitted in Britain. And, goodness, is that blue streak taken to new heights in Loop. If the slapstick jokes, the sly punchlines, the physical humor, the clever phrasings, or the bumbling characters don’t get you going, the inventive uses of swear words surely will.

An Education (3 nominations)

This is a film where everything just works. It’s a focused piece that avoids flash, dramatic scenes while hitting every note perfectly.

The plot is a simple coming of age story. Carey Mulligan plays Jenny, a sixteen-year-old schoolgirls in 1960s London on track for Oxford. A smooth and mysterious David (Peter Sarsgaard) charms his way into her life. He represents quite a change from her boring life and she wonders if a life with him is better than the books at Oxford.

We’re in well-worn territory here, but the writing and acting combine to produce a product where every element feels so right. The characters are complex and believable; in a word: real. I think the temptation is to make such a film lurid or overly dour as a precautionary tale, but instead I’d call it observative and wise. It’s very perceptive about the follies of youth without really condemning them. And Carey Mulligan puts it all over the top with a marvelous performance full of life and spirit. She does so much with a glance (look at the photo above!). What a talent. I also really liked Sarsgaard, who pulls off the creepiness without overdoing it.

This is the kind of film that I put on while getting ready for bed just to appreciate for a few minutes and before I knew it I’d stayed up til 2am watching the whole thing.

The Messenger (2 nominations)

This film is fairly reviled by my colleagues who never saw an understated film they didn’t hate. But I can kind of understand why in this one. It’s a story about two officers (Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson) charged with informing the next of kin after soldiers are killed overseas and the inner demons they struggle with. The fireworks come when they deliver the bad news. Between these episodes it does meander narratively a bit too much.

But, goodness, those next of kin scenes. They are so powerful. The soldiers banter in the car on the way there, steeling themselves for what they have to do without having to dwell on it. Then the knock on the door and the long wait to see if there’s an answer. Everyone handles the news differently, from screaming to anger to dazed acceptance. They’re an absolute emotional gut-punch. Check out the film for these scenes – though of course stay for the rest.

Up in the Air (6 nominations)

District 9 (4 nominations)

We covered these a little bit more, but they are certainly well worth your time. Up in the Air feels like a slice of modern life, a comment on our current times. It’s grounded in some terrific performances from George Clooney and Vera Farmiga. One of those films that is great at making you feel, even if some of the plot points feel not quite right.

District 9 thrives on its wonderfully inventive premise and a superb performance from frontman Sharlto Copley. Celebrate it for its originality and enjoy its pure entertainment value.

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.

    Ranking:

    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.

Grouching Week continues with our discussion of a category that we all feel is depressingly sub-par: Best Screenplay Written Originally for the Screen. First, your nominees:

  • The Hurt Locker” Screenplay by Mark Boal
  • Inglourious Basterds” Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino
  • The Messenger” Screenplay by Allesandro Camon and Oren Moverman
  • A Serious Man” Screenplay by Ethan and Joel Coen
  • Up” Screenplay by Bob Peterson, Pete Docter and Thomas McCarthy

Jared kicks us off again, with some wishful thinking this time:

    As with the adapted screenplays, four of the five films nominated for Original Screenplay also garnered Best Picture nominations. I have the feeling the others Grouches are going to disagree with me here, [Ed. note — WRONG] but I think this category is extremely weak. Granted, it wasn’t a particularly strong year for Oscar-contending original screenplays, it is just unfortunate the Academy lacked imagination when deciding these nominees.

    As much as Adam might be upset about The Messenger getting a nomination, I wonder if he’d be more upset if I made him watch it for no reason at all. I honestly have no idea what other people see in this film. Military deaths are horrific things, and I cannot possibly imagine the toll it takes on their families or what it must be like to be the one who delivers the news. Everyone involved in this horrible scenario absolutely deserves to have their story told. But told well, which I don’t believe is happening here. I would have believed this film was a Lifetime channel original. The story has no cohesiveness, the dialogue doesn’t lead to any memorable scenes, and frankly, nothing really happens.

    I really think Quentin Tarantino needs a writing partner, as his self-indulgence reaches all sorts of new heights in Inglourious Basterds. I’m fairly certain every scene ran at least two minutes too long. And where the use of disparate storylines was an effective storytelling device in most of his prior work, here it serves no real purpose other than imprinting the film with his watermark, along with his homages and in-jokes and lots of other things which may add up to his distinctive style, but obscure the actual film.

    The support for A Serious Man is completely baffling to me. Mostly because I don’t really think it is exists at all. I clearly don’t connect with the Coens the way other people seem to do so. And while I didn’t find this film nearly as frustrating as some of their other works, I don’t really see the genius behind it. Sure, I’ll give them some credit for a relatively novel main character. But otherwise, seems like middling stuff with a few unnecessary arthouse tricks.

    As I mentioned before, I found The Hurt Locker’s screenplay to be relatively weak. I think Bigelow, her cast and her crew put forth a yeoman’s effort to rescue Mark Boal’s script. To be fair, I’m positive some of the action scenes were delicately and exquisitively scripted. But there’s probably a legit argument that while the interactions between the bomb squad (and between the squad and the bombs) were pretty strong, everything else could have used some sharpening.

    So almost by default, I’m going with Up, and not just due to residual bitterness over WALL-E‘s loss. Sure, the opening montage was better than just about anything else in movies this year. But the rest of the film was also consistently strong. It managed to run the gamut of comedy, drama, action, and adventure while never really seeming hokey, no small feat if you consider the specifics of the story. And if you think about it, the characters weren’t especially likable, at least not at first. The script may not have been hard-hitting, uber-dramatic, or even trendsetting. But to me, it was undeniably entertaining throughout, and ultimately, isn’t that what a film should be?

    If I were choosing, I’d have gotten rid of four of these nominees, so I imagine I feel there are many snubs. The most obvious one, of course, is (500) Days of Summer. A huge miss by the Academy, in my opinion.

John is surprisingly succinct in his dismissal of this category:

    I agree with Jared that this is a fairly weak slate. Which isn’t to say any of them are poor efforts, but they don’t really jump out at me as clearly outstanding.

    Three of them suffer from the same problem: they create several great scenes that don’t really add up to a terrific whole. Inglourious Basterds doesn’t even really try to add up to a whole as it’s a series of vignettes. I’d argue the film succeeds more on its performances and visual style anyway. Some of the scenes in The Messenger are absolutely gut-wrenching, but the narrative around those scenes sort of falters. And I’d say the same is true with The Hurt Locker though it works better.

    It’s a tough call for me on the last two. I’m still puzzled by A Serious Man, but it sure is fascinating to ponder. It’s thoughtful, interesting, funny, and clever. But my winner is Up. One thing I had sort of forgotten about it until I watched it again recently is how ridiculously funny it is- one of the funniest of the year in fact. It has all you could ask for in an animated film: intriguing premise, developed and interesting characters, clever and funny dialogue, and a compelling story full of intelligence and heart. Pixar certainly makes films that look great, but they really shine because the writing is always so terrific.

Here are Adam’s thoughts, and I’m just thankful I wrote mine after his:

    Will Win: ?. I’m actually not sure who will win this one (or I do, and I just don’t want to key the other Grouches in on it). This has to be the closest race in the top 8 categories. I think it definitely will come down to The Hurt Locker and Inglourious Basterds, though.

    I Want to Win: Inglourious Basterds. As stated above, Quentin Tarantino’s fantastic script is in the running for the award and I couldn’t be happier. In my mind, this was the best script of the year (followed by In the Loop). I can’t believe that people are unsure whether to pick this over The Hurt Locker.

    Dark Horse: The Messenger. And thank god it IS a long shot. In the case of this script, I fully agree with Jared’s assessment.

    Ranking:
    1. Inglourious Basterds
    2. The Hurt Locker
    3. Up
    4. A Serious Man
    5. The Messenger


    Grouches Critiques:
    As of the writing of this, I have only seen Jared and John’s write-ups. While I agree with them that this is a weak slate of movies as well as their comments on The Hurt Locker, A Serious Man, and The Messenger (especially Jared’s), both of their takes on Inglourious Basterds are way off the mark. The only thing I can think of is they went into the wrong movie. Otherwise, I have to get used to the fact that John’s horrible taste in movies is starting to rub off on Jared. Also, Up is not as great as they both seem to think it is. I actually am a big fan of a lot of Pixar’s work, but it’s last two movies…while good…were not the darlings that everyone seems to think they are. Wall-E was funnier, and Up had a less annoying plot/message, but they were no Incredibles or Finding Nemo.

    Random Notes: Wow. What a weak slate of movies.

And here are the correct opinions, written by Brian:

    Even though I liked all five of these films more than you, Jared, I still think this is a weak group, but I don’t think that (500) Days of Summer would have saved it. This category was pretty much screwed from the beginning — unless of course they included Zombieland, though we all know that would never have happened.

    Having just watched The Messenger last night, I was at first a little befuddled by Jared’s comments. I thought Luc Besson’s directing was pretty good and Mila Jovovich was outstanding. But then I watched the correct movie, the one with Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson, and I understood. But I don’t entirely agree — the first hour was riveting — each time they knocked on a door I tensed up — fearful of the next death announcement. But once the focus shifted from their duty to Foster’s personal life and attachment to Samantha Morton, it sort of went off the rails. There was a good movie in there — somewhere — maybe a great live-action short, but the script failed halfway through the film.

    I’m still trying to understand what the hell happened in A Serious Man, and while Slate published a pretty good analysis today, I still don’t think that bodes well for the screenplay. I appreciated a lot of what the Coen brothers did with the script — and the schlubby portrait of the titular character Larry Gopnik was quite good — but no script should be this obtuse and senseless. Maybe if they made a pop-up video version of the movie it could have been more successful.

    The Hurt Locker was a tremendous piece of filmmaking — but the script wasn’t a contributor to it. Jeremy Renner’s side-trip into the streets of Baghdad was unneccessary, and the mystery of the body-bomb kid was too transparent. The film will get deservedly recognized elsewhere — it doesn’t belong in this category.

    Gah, am I really going to agree AGAIN with Jared and John? Inglorious Basterds was brilliant in its own way. I was hoping that Adam would go into greater depth on why he loved it — but maybe he’s holding his fire for the Best Picture category. As for why I liked it, well, its Jews killing Nazis. What’s not to like? Beyond the strength of the plot, I thought that Tarantino’s willingness to throw historical accuracy out the window was refreshing — and his whimsical take on the sober subject of World War II captivated me.

    It’s a very very close race for me, but Up takes my vote. Its such an imaginative script, and the characters are incredibly developed considering how long we get to know them. And it has a TALKING DOG!

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.  One of the great things about nomination morning is that it never fails to surprise.  What strange stuff could we see tomorrow morning?

John:

The Blind Side gets a Best Picture nomination.

Clint Eastwood gets a Best Director nomination instead of Lee Daniels.

“The Weary Kind” from Crazy Heart is left off the Original Song list.

Jared:

Oscar sometimes moves in chunks.  So, Crazy Heart picks up a Best Picture nomination, and Maggie Gyllenhaal gets a Best Supporting Actress.

Or, similarly, The Messenger picks up a Best Picture, and Samantha Morton gets a Supporting Actress.

Finally, Nine gets a Best Picture nomination.

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