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83. Paper Heart

Documentary?  Mockumentary?  Entirely fiction?  Part of this film’s appeal was the mystery surrounding whether the screen relationship between Charlyne Yi and Michael Cera was real.  I’m not sure the movie made me care enough to look any further than imdb’s trivia page.  It is an interesting enough idea, there are plenty of comedy celebrity cameos, and Yi’s asides are kinda cool.  But too often the film is inconsistent, and the end feels muddled.

82. Everybody’s Fine

Saw this one on an airplane, which I found strange for two reasons.  First, the movie is kinda depressing.  Second, one of the characters has a heart attack on an airplane.  Seems like maybe not exactly the message an airline would want to send.  Anyway, the film was much darker than I was led to believe.  I’m not sure the twists were as effective as they could have been.  But the role definitely fit Robert De Niro, and it allowed him to get a little bit away from the incredibly broad stuff he seems to be doing lately.  I don’t think his children (Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale, and Sam Rockwell) were allowed to shine as much.

81. Nine

Don’t miss everything we’ve said about Nine by clicking on the link in the sidebar (or here).  I made sure to watch 8 1/2 before seeing this film, and I think that was the right call.  I definitely had a better understanding of what was happening.  Of course, I found the Fellini film pretty boring, which probably didn’t help my appreciation of this one.  Too often it felt like it was just hitting the high points of 8 1/2, without every getting into any sort of interesting story.  Which might have been OK if the songs were good, but they weren’t.  I know John disagrees, but I thought the Kate Hudson song was the best song of the batch.  I do agree that the Marion Cotillard scene as a whole was solid, only partially due to the skin Ms. Cotillard shows.  And like Adam has said, that Penelope Cruz bit is really friggin’ sexy.  Not entirely certain I understand the Oscar nomination for it, though.

80. Bart Got A Room

I just can’t figure out why I keep putting dorky guy searching for a girl movies on my queue.  Notable castmembers here are Cheryl Hines, William H. Macy (in a ridiculous hairdo), and Alia Shawkat, who appears to finally be on a post-Arrested Development bounce.  This film takes a slightly different angle on the looking for a prom date trope.  It also more prominently features the main character’s parents and their love lives than some other similar films.  It isn’t related to what I thought of the film, but I did appreciate that the movie seems to be one of the few where the prom isn’t held at some ridiculously swanky complex.

79. Uncertainty

More proof that I’ll watch anything starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  The dialogue is pretty weak and the plot is surprisingly thin (imdb says the script was written without dialogue).  But the film does probe into some interesting topics surrounding decisions and the impact they have on people’s lives.  Never got quite as clever as I thought it could have been.  Lynn Collins is much more suited to this role than her character in Wolverine, I thought.  And Olivia Thirlby shows up, which is always nice.

78. Disgrace

John Malkovich is awesome.  And I hope he never ever stops playing creepy dudes.  The film felt a little bit disjointed to me.  I didn’t quite see the parallels between Malkovich’s professor character sleeping with a student and what ends up going down on his daughter’s farm.  I mean, yes, there’s some obvious stuff there.  But they are never really integrated well in the film, I thought.  Didn’t quite spur me on to read J.M. Coetzee’s novel.

77. The Road

What a dark, bleak, grim film.  You can check out our thoughts on the movie by clicking the link on the sidebar (or go here).  Brian thought Viggo should have received a Best Actor nom, and John wrote an eloquent piece delving into the point of the film.  I struggled to get involved with the characters.  Maybe that was partially due to the overriding sense of hopelessness, where the concept of morality is meaningless in a world where every day is a complete and total struggle for survival.  Anyway, the other Grouches yelled at me a bit when we were talking about the ending and I said I didn’t really care about the interpretation.  Which is fair, but if the film never lets me get into the characters, it is hard to care about what happens to them.

76. Ponyo

John’s the expert on animated films (see his animated film wrapup here).  I was told (by Dylan) to watch the English-dubbed version of the film, and I think I’m happy I did so.  I had this discussion with Adam, but Liam Neeson manages to be badass in every role he plays.  Which apparently extends to voice work.  I thought the film was a little bit sloppy.  It definitely had some elements I’d associate with Japanese insanity.  And the story isn’t always explained very well.  I can only find it in Spanish on youtube, but one of my favorite movie moments of the year was when they were talking on the radio and the mom says hi to the dad, and the kid says that he is taking care of things and then Ponyo screams, “HAM!!!”  I’m a simple man.

75. Bronson

A criticism I’ve read of this movie is that it never really goes anywhere beyond what it is shown in the trailer.  Which is fair, I think.  There’s a mishmash of neat stylistic flourishes, sometimes coming at the expense of a solid flow.  Certainly unlike any jail movie I’ve ever seen.  Tom Hardy is undoubtedly a revelation here.  I’ve apparently seen him in three or four other things, but his role in this movie is a textbook breakout performance.  It is based on a true story, though I’d never heard of the man before.  I wonder how that affected my perception.

74. Shall We Kiss?

Maybe this makes me a heretic, but it sure seems to me that the French have some wacky ideas about love.  I kinda dug the story within a story aspect, even if it was maybe a bit forced.  I had some difficult relating to the story, it is a cop out to say it was because the story was “French”, I guess it was more the obstacles placed in the way of the relationship, and the reasons to start the relationship, felt very different to what I was used to seeing.  Certainly a case where I could see a remake improving upon the product.  I’m definitely a Virginie Ledoyen fan, now.


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:]

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.

I dwell frequently on the points of films, a topic I discussed here. As a primer, I struggle with certain “important” films when their point escapes me or seems not worthwhile, but I wonder if that’s a hypocritical stance since I don’t demand the same from films that I love but who don’t strive to be anything more than entertaining. There’s no right answer but I find it a fascinating topic to ponder. Adam lambasted me for that post (in person, not on the blog because Adam does not write posts, apparently), which made me think more. And another friend gave some good perspective to my search for a point to Inglourious Basterds that I may dive into in a later post.

Amidst all of this I saw The Road, the type of bleak film that often interests me but leaves me pondering what the point of it all was. And I initially had the same reaction here. Viggo Mortensen and son Kodi Smit-McPhee wander a post-apocalyptic landscape, struggling to eat, avoiding roving bands of cannibals, and flashing back to happier times with wife/mother Charlize Theron. It’s essentially two hours of people doing horrible things. I know a common criticism hurled at the film is that the power of the novel comes from the beauty of the prose. In novels, beautiful writing can itself be a point. But how to make a film meaningful if you can’t translate the source’s most important asset?

But with reflection, The Road clearly has themes of survivalism and the challenge of retaining humanity in the most horrible of circumstances. I’d say many Holocaust movies explore similar topics.

So does that help me? I don’t know. It puts me more at peace with the film, which I liked but did not love. I find it more satisfying than There Will Be Blood, a film I still can’t wrap my mind around but which still enchanted me more.

As for the film itself, I very much enjoy the apocalyptic/dystopia genre so I had high hopes for this one. It does disappoint a little; I think the slow, ponderous pace wears a little thin after a while and the oppressive bleakness begins to bear down on you. The plot and the characters are interesting enough. I think where it excels is its imagery. My lasting impressions from the film won’t revolve around a plot point, a line of dialogue, or a performance, but of the burnt-out landscape and the atmosphere of devastation and desperation.

It’s also definitely a film that improves after you leave the theater. It takes some time to sink in and benefits from further reflection. Part of that too is that it has a pat and unsatisfying ending; taking some time to get away from that as well as recovering from rather unsettling experience of actually sitting through the film is a help. And, crucially for this discussion, thematically it needs some time to sink in because my first reaction after it was, “What in the world was that?”

I suspect at this point that The Road won’t be receiving any love from the Academy. Viggo is very good but probably not Best Actor good. I think a Cinematography nod would probably be pretty good though. And maybe northwestern Pennsylvania can get an award for managing to look so damn depressing. Area Most Like a Post-Apocalyptic Hellhole?

October 2019
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