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Looking at film years from a high level always interests me and 2010 provided an interesting contrast to 2009. The latter had a good number of movies I loved but was light in quality beyond the very top films. By November I was talking about how 2010 was already better than 2009. I actually pondered making this a top 15 list since the quality was so high in my mind… until it came time to actually make the list. It turns out there was a lot I liked but not an especially large amount that I was passionate about. So kind of the exact opposite of 2009.

In the end, there are two films I loved and a good number I really liked.

1. Inception. Clever, entertaining, and bad-ass. I suppose I sound like every other internet nerd when I slobber all over this film, but Christopher Nolan is the master at mixing traditional blockbuster elements with thought-provoking topics. Part of what’s so great about Inception is how brashly original it is. It’s pretty much like nothing that’s been done, which makes it all the more astonishing. A year later, it still feels so complete. How is a plot so clever, original, and complex so airtight? I feel like we’ll be talking about this one for years.

2. The Social Network. This has just about everything you could ask for in a film. It has a compelling plot, it’s technically brilliant from the camerawork and score to the acting, and it’s wonderfully atmospheric and thematically resonant. The second time I saw it the ending snuck up on me and I was very sad that it was over. I think too many people want it to be a movie about a generation since it’s about a technology that defines a generation. But it’s not. It’s about relationships and ambition and how they can be at odds – and it’s damn good at it.

3. Get Low. This is just a delightful film. To some extent it’s hard to explain the joy I felt watching this. It’s a mix of an interesting premise, terrific characters, and some wonderful acting. Robert Duvall stars as a hermit in the 1940s who decides to return to public life by throwing himself his own funeral. Bill Murray is fantastic as the funeral director that Duvall hires. Sissy Spacek plays an old flame of Duvall’s. It’s a film about regret, but doesn’t overtly dwell on it. Its lack of awards season traction is the disappointment of the year for me.

4. Carlos. Here is a film that can succeed because of its length. At about six hours long – it has also been released as a TV miniseries – it really has time to make a deep dive into its subject. Carlos is “The Jackal,” the famed terrorist from the 1960 and 70s. At the beginning of the film, Carlos is a fit, idealistic young man that turns to violence for his conception of revolution. By the end, he’s a chubby has-been living off the generosity of unsavory friends. The journey from one to the other is all the fun. And, best of all, we spend enough time with Carlos that we understand the whys behind it all. Despite its six hour runtime it almost never drags and includes some long, involved action scenes of Carlos’s plots.

5. Exit Through the Gift Shop. This is the second documentary on my top ten lists about the natures of art and nonfiction film (see 2007’s My Kid Could Paint That). These are certainly themes that resonate with me. This is a film about the anarchic world of street art, just to have the camera turned back on the original director to question his role and what makes something “art” and not mere derivative. While leaving you with plenty to ponder (including “what just happened??”), it’s also terrifically entertaining.

6. Restrepo. Co-director Tim Hetherington was killed in Libya this year. This guy was the real deal and the film he shot is as well. He and collaborator Sebastian Junger have incredible access while embedded with an infantry unit stationed at an isolated outpost in Afghanistan. If there’s any film that shows you what it’s like to be in the war in Afghanistan, this is it. The battle scenes are chaotic and immersive, but it also gives insight to the human experience of fighting this war: the emotional toll, the adrenaline rush, the camaraderie, the grief of losing a friend. It also gives a sense of the futility of the mission and the mistakes made earlier in the war that we’re still paying for.

7. Green Zone. To me, this is a great mix of action and political thriller. I like my shootout sequences balanced with compelling intrigue. While it’s certainly preaching to the choir with me, the politics got me appropriately angered and I liked that it included real-life events from the occupation of Iraq, such as the disastrous debaathification of the Iraqi government. I don’t deny it has a few issues (see my earlier post for more) but I found this a thrilling ride.

8. Catfish. Forget The Social Network. This is the film that takes a microscope to what it means to be alive in today’s electronically connected world. Two friends turn their cameras on another friend as he embarks on a relationship with a girl he met online. Things don’t develop according to plan. It’s interesting to me that a story ostensibly about online romance reveals so much about true human emotion and imperfection. If you caught the marketing campaign for it and came away thinking it was some sort of horror documentary, forget you ever saw that. It has several taut moments but it’s more likely to leave you heartbroken than saddened.

9. The House of Branching Love. I’m not sure this Finnish film really counts because it never got a U.S. release. I saw it at the 2010 Film Fest DC and it’s managed to hang around in my head. It’s too bad I can’t figure out how to watch it again as it never got a DVD release here in the U.S.

The madcap plot is centered around a middle aged couple who decides to break up but remain living in the same house. They agree not to bring dates home, but that rule is quickly broken. Plus there are gangsters, goofy cops, misunderstandings galore, and plenty of hijinks. It’s just very funny and a lot of fun with a few delightfully dark touches.

9.1. Fair Game. This is my replacement number nine while considering only films released  in the U.S. in 2010. A telling of the Valerie Plame affair, Fair Game is a nice mix of political and domestic dramas. Naomi Watts and particularly Sean Penn give very good performances. It’s an engrossing film that really does a good job bringing home the outrage of the whole situation without getting too preachy.

10. Kick-Ass. I saw this appear on several year-end top ten lists… and a lot of worst ten lists. I can understand how some people found a film featuring a foul-mouthed pre-teen girl massacring dozens of people morally reprehensible. But to me it’s a stylish and original film that was quite enjoyable to watch. It doesn’t have anything special to say, but it feels fresh and entertained me greatly.

As for some other films that were in contention for this list: The Secret in Their Eyes is an entertaining police melodrama where Argentina and its recent history is a central character. The Foreign Language Oscar winner has interesting characters and a stylish look… A film it beat out for the Oscar, France’s A Prophet, is an intense crime drama with the ability to leave a lasting, if sometimes disturbing, impression… The intensity of Black Swan is quite the head trip.

I think this site is the world’s biggest proponent of She’s Out of My League, a comedy with good jokes and entertaining characters… Daddy Longlegs was the Independent Spirit surprise of the year for me. It’s a very small budget drama about a father who means well, but is really not a good father. Ronald Bornstein is great in the lead role. To his – and the film’s – credit, it is quite watchable despite its stable of unlikeable characters… Unstoppable is simply a great time as Denzel does his thing. It’s also interesting to see an action film without any real bad guys (except physics).

Four Lions is the terrorism comedy of the year, following four inept Brits as they attempt to wage jihad. The climax as they try to put their plan into action is hilarious and memorable… The Special Relationship takes what could be a dry topic (the friendship between Tony Blair and Bill Clinton) and turns it into an enjoyable romp through recent history, skipping around to important events.

Some other prizes:

Worst Film of the Year: Life During Wartime. I kind of can’t believe this movie exists. If you feel like your movie experiences have been lacking in boring and ridiculous ruminations on molestation and suicide, then this is the film for you. My runners-up are also Independent Spirit nominees: Greenberg and Jack Goes Boating. What was the deal with the Spirits?

Shots of the Year: I choose two similar shots as my shots of the year, one starting wide and zooming into its subject and the other doing the opposite. In The Secret in Their Eyes, a shot begins from above a soccer stadium. It swoops into the stadium, over the field, and into the stands where the two policemen are looking for a suspect. As they push their way through the crowd, their suspect runs and the police and camera follow. The shot continues for five and a half unbroken minutes and its audacity is a delight. Check out the scene here (caution: auto-play) along with the techniques behind how they pulled it off.

In The Illusionist, our shot begins tight on the magician and his rabbit on a hill. The shot swirls upwards, first revealing a hill covered with rabbits before panning through and over the cityscape of Edinburgh. It’s already an incredibly gorgeous film and that shot literally made me flinch. Its effect was better than anything I’ve seen in a 3D animated film.

Surprises of the Year (Good): Tron: Legacy is bad ass. Sort of incoherent, sure, but a bit better treatment of the terrific Tron premise than the original and with an awesome look. The score is also wonderful… I couldn’t have been less excited about Conviction but it’s surprisingly effective featuring a very good performance from Hillary Swank… I mocked The King’s Speech in our first season preview for what seemed to be a boring premise, but hell if it isn’t entertaining and moving.

Whoops

Surprises of the Year (Bad): I thought a political comedy featuring the talents of Kevin Spacey would appeal to me if no one else, but Casino Jack turned out to be a complete mess tonally… Megamind had been on my radar for ages as a premise of a supervillain looking for meaning in his life after vanquishing his superhero foe. Too bad it doesn’t live up to that clever premise and it has a serious lack of humor.

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Ugh.  I was halfway through this when my computer crashed and then I was out of town for two weeks.  Apologies for the delay! Thanks so much to everyone who has read these, and for commenting on them publicly or privately.  I’ve spent a good chunk on time on this, not to mention the…well, figure an average of 100 minutes per movie * 154 movies and that’s what, 10.5 days of watching movies?  In any case, it is nice to know someone else is getting at least a little something out of this exercise.  And, of course, thanks to Adam, Brian, and John for watching movies with me, exposing me to new ones, dealing with my travel schedule, and inspiring me to keep going with this. I believe that my favorite movies are the year’s best movies.  As such, if I were filling out an Oscar ballot without any considerations to game theory, this would be my list.

10. Please Give

A few months ago, I wrote up Please Give, suggesting the script was among my favorites of the year.  Seven months later, I still firmly believe that.  Characters in ensemble films can often feel underdeveloped or like stock characters because of how difficult it is to convey a character in such limited amount of words.  Writer-director Nicole Holofcener’s characters here are rich and engaging.  They feel like real people, sure, but real people interesting enough to warrant being in a film.  Plus, the dialogue is always sharp and often funny.  In my mind, the Academy seriously missed not nominating this WGA-nominated screenplay.  The film was very well-cast (and thus deserving of its Spirit Award).  I won’t be a bore and list out all the actors and actresses, but they are a lot of fun.

9. My Name is Khan

If I’m not mistaken, no Indian film received a nomination for Foreign Film since the quite excellent Lagaan in 2001.  And if My Name is Khan can’t make the cut, I’m not quite sure what will do the trick.  It has an autistic main character, a love story, deals with a Social Issue (the United States’s response to potential domestic terrorism threats), has heroism in the face of tragedy (there’s a subplot involving a small town being flooded), and is an ultimately hopeful look at one man’s long journey to meet President Obama.  Is it maybe a little melodramatic?  Sure.  But to good effect, I think.  The film stars Shah Rukh Khan, who seems to be in half the Bollywood movies I’ve seen and is one of my favorite actors.  He’s a leading man in the mold of Harrison Ford or Nathan Fillion — dashing and an action hero, but also self-aware enough to handle comedy.  The story is too long to rehash here, but he has a high-functioning form of autism, ends up marrying a single mother (Kajol), and after a serious tragedy and a comment said in anger, heads off on a Forrest Gump-like road trip to see Obama.

8. Lovely, Still

This Spirit Award nominee actually features some relatively big names: Martin Landau, Ellen Burstyn, Adam Scott, and Elizabeth Banks.  Landau is a depressed, lonely old man.  He lives pretty much just for his bagging job at a supermarket, where Scott is his almost overbearingly well-meaning boss.  But one day, a little before Christmas, Ellen Burstyn moves next door along with her daughter (Banks) and after a meet cute, they start dating and living life as if they were decades younger.  Writer-director Nicholas Fackler’s film is charming, sweet, and packs an emotional punch.  The resolution won’t satisfy everyone, but I found it hauntingly powerful.  Plus the performances were really solid.  Lovely, Still was clearly in my wheelhouse, I hope it finds its way to other people who feel similarly.  Each year there’s one film I wouldn’t have seen if not for awards and I’m really happy I did.  This year, this is the film.

7. How to Train Your Dragon

Saw this one on a plane.  And then again on one of the movie channels I pay too much for.  The Academy absolutely made a right call putting an animated film in the Best Picture hunt, they just chose the wrong one.  For reasons still unclear to me, Toy Story 3 lapped up all the love this year that should have gone How to Train Your Dragon‘s way.  Not that the film did too shabby, raking in almost $500 million worldwide, two Oscar nominations, and has a sequel on the way.  Many people raved about how effectively the flying scenes used 3-D, I of course can’t speak to that.  I can speak to the heart and wit showcased in the film, though.  The story was both epic and extremely personal.  And sure, the movie espoused the usual themes of togetherness, understanding, and respect, but always in a way that serviced the story.  Like everyone else in the world, I”m a big Pixar fan, but their reign at the top actually ended one year earlier than people think.

6. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

A few years ago, when I was writing for The Playlist, the editor recommended I read Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novels.  I initially balked, both because I had a fear of the unknown when it came to graphic novels and if you’ve ever read anything over at The Playlist, you know their taste in movies tends to be directly opposite to mine.  I’m very glad I came to my senses.  The first volume of the series is one of the best pieces of literature I’ve ever read and the following books are all quite good.  And yet even with all those expectations, the film manages to make good on its promise.  There’s a whole other post I could write devoted to the many reasons it “flopped”, but this movie is funny, touching, inventive, charming, and altogether brilliant.  It is so perfectly cast, from the always unintentionally hilarious Brandon Routh as the super vegan to Chris Evans’s skateboarding action star to Kieran Culkin’s hilarious Wallace to the underrated Alison Pill absolutely nailing Kim Pine to the divine Mary Elizabeth Winstead figuring out the elusive Ramona Flowers.  Heck, even blog favorite Clifton Collins, Jr. has a cameo.  It is unfortunate that the country had a collective Michael Cera fatigue because he too really is quite good.

5. Hot Tub Time Machine

I suppose there was a chance I wouldn’t love an 80s throwback film starring John Cusack.  Well, OK, no, not really.  But where Hot Tub shines, is its self-awareness, whether it is Craig Robinson winking into the camera as he delivers the titular line or giving Chevy Chase a role, or all the ridiculous 80s things the film highlights.  This sort of time travel film can be difficult to pull off as it can often devolve into just killing time until the lesson is learned and the heroes just barely make it back to their present.  But Hot Tub is consistently funny and the tub itself is more a relatively minor MacGuffin to facilitate the nonstop humor.  And honestly, any movie that can get me to enjoy a Black Eyed Peas song must be doing something right.  The film was co-written by Sean Anders and John Morris (along with Josh Heald), and as we’ll soon see, I clearly dig their sensibilities.

4. She’s Out of My League

Remember screenwriters Anders and Morris from the last sentence I wrote? Here’s another one they did.  How about that foreshadowing!  I saw a sneak preview of this film with Adam, then watched on a movie network with a friend in a different city who had the DVD, and probably caught bits and pieces again.  So I’m fairly confident in my ranking here.  Broadly speaking, it is framed by many of the conventions of a modern romantic comedy: dorky guy, impossibly hot girl, wacky best friends, and there’s even a scene of people running to an airport.  (As a side note, someday I’ll get around to the post arguing those constructs aren’t really modern at all.  Taking a few liberties, that’s basically the general idea of It Happened One Night).  But She’s Out of My League places so high on my list because it subverts those conventions and does so while being really really funny.  I could spend a long time discussing this movie, but let’s take a look at the running to/in an airport scene as a microcosm of everything that is great about the movie.  We start with T.J. Miller (best friend of Jay Baruchel) calling up Krysten Ritter (best friend of Alice Eve).  This film was my first introduction to T.J. Miller, who is friggin’ hilarious.  And Krysten Ritter is nothing short of fantastic, here’s hoping Apartment 23 blows up huge this year.  Throughout the movie, these two strongly dislike each other.  In a traditional romcom, obviously, that means they’d end up together.  But no, here, they end up continuing to truly just hate each other.  Anyway, Ritter picks up Eve, true feelings are confessed, they rush to the airport where T.J. Miller, who works for TSA (or the airport, at least) hilariously barges her through security and then gets his friend to prevent the plane from taking off.  Meanwhile, Baruchel comes to his own realization, and tells off his whole family and ex-girlfriend, only to be unable to get off the plane in time.  When he eventually does, he has his own run through the airport, on one of those airport golf carts — chased by his maniacal ex-girlfriend (Lindsay Sloane).  Plus, I have a man-crush on Baruchel, and actual crush on Alice Eve.  And the film takes place in Pittsburgh, which is a refreshing change of pace.  Oh, and burying the lede here, but a Hall and Oates cover band may be involved.

3. The King’s Speech

I’m not sure how many people pegged this one correctly.  Plenty of people dismissed its Oscar prowess because the film was about British royalty.  Well, sure, but it was hardly the costume drama one normally thinks of as Oscar bait.  I won’t go so far as to claim the royalty stuff was incidental, but the film is more about the relationship between Firth and Rush than anything else.  Also, if I were angling for a Best Picture win, seems like I’d be sure to cast Guy Pearce in a supporting role.  I’m not sure he’ll be in much this year, but I guess The Wettest County in the World has to be an early front-runner for next year’s Oscar race.

2. Inception

Christopher Nolan is this generation’s defining action filmmaker, I think.  Like most action films, his films don’t really develop characters at all.  Which is certainly a problem in a relationship drama or a character study.  But I think many action films need rapidly-defined types in order for the audience to better appreciate all the explosions/destruction/carnage going on around the characters.

1. The Social Network

So, yeah.  Real original top three, I know.  And it is shocking that I would love an Aaron Sorkin script.  Can we talk for a minute about Jesse Eisenberg’s movies?  He starred in my favorite 2010 film.  He starred in my favorite 2009 film.  I wasn’t ranking movies in 2005, but The Squid and the Whale may have been my favorite movie of the year.  And I just watched Roger Dodger a month or so ago and loved that.  So I suppose you should be expecting plenty of Eisenberg movies high up these here rankings in the years to come.

John’s post made me remember I promised to write up a few more categories.  He’s kind to suggest that our “social lives” prevented us from going more in depth.  I don’t like to lie, but I don’t believe a lie of omission is necessarily a lie, so here’s Cinematography and Costume Design, which I believe wraps us up?

Cinematography

Nominees: Black Swan, Inception, The King’s Speech, The Social Network, True Grit

These nominees match up perfectly with the American Society of Cinematographers, who gave their award to Wally Pfister’s work in Inception.  I’m not going to pretend to really know anything about this art form, so sure, I’ll go with the people who actually know what Cinematographers do.  That said, Roger Deakins (nominated for True Grit) is on his 9th nomination and has yet to win, so it would be nice to see him take one down.

Costume Design

Nominees: Alice in Wonderland, I Am Love, The King’s Speech, The Tempest, True Grit

If you’ve seen me in person ever, you probably know I am one of the least qualified people in the world to discuss this category.  So yeah, I didn’t catch the Julie Taymor film, but all the others had pretty clothes, I guess.  But, uh, let’s make me feel good about myself for having seen I Am Love

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

  • Javier Bardem, Biutiful
  • Jeff Bridges, True Grit
  • Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
  • Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
  • James Franco, 127 Hours

John

Give me my award. Today, junior. Did I stutter? Oh, right.

This is a good crew, but Best Actor usually is. It’s Colin Firth in a walk for me, but that doesn’t reflect poorly on any of the others. What chance do they have against the charm, the grace, and yes the stutter of Firth? He’s so good all the time so I’m glad he’s getting his due, even though it does take a showy disability to get him the prize. Didn’t Tropic Thunder say something about going partial retard is Oscar gold…?

Franco is perfect for his role, both as a slightly off outdoorsy guy and the type of presence that can carry a movie when he’s the only one on screen. I didn’t give enough credit to Eisenberg when I first saw The Social Network. He gets some crap for playing the same character repeatedly, but I happened to see Network again soon after watching Zombieland and the differences were clear. This is also a performance that succeeds on a lot more than just line reading. I really like the way he carries himself.

I do think Bridges gets a boost just by being Jeff Bridges. It’s a memorable character that allows for some showy acting, but the type of role that I think needs a name to propel it to awards season. He’s still great, of course, but I do see a clear gap between him and those listed above. And Bardem is an interesting nod, displaying the kind of acting that I have not seen from him before. I just wish it had been in a better movie where his performance could have affected me more.

Snubs: As good as this list is, I would have had Robert Duvall for Get Low and Sean Penn for Fair Game. Maybe also Ryan Gosling for Blue Valentine.

Jared

Yeah, geez, how do you pick a winner here?  It is a little odd that precursors have been so unanimous just because everyone here absolutely deserves consideration for the win.  The Grouches closed out Oscars this year with a screening of Biutiful, which was was too long and didn’t give the view a chance to get emotionally invested in the characters enough.  My expectations of Javier Bardem were maybe too high, because I’d that people just absolutely went gaga over his performance.  He does a fine job, of course, but I think he’s hampered by the script here.

If an actor can get a nomination for a role that won John Wayne an Oscar, well, he must be doing something right.  Even if Jeff Bridges took a note from the Marlon Brando school of acting and stuffed a handful of pebbles in his mouth before talking.  If he didn’t get his career achievement Oscar last year, I have the feeling that we’d be hearing a lot more about him.  It is still weird to me, as a devotee of Freaks and Geeks (OK, who am I kidding, as a devotee of Whatever It Takes), that James Franco is a highly-regarded thespian.  But he’s unquestionably deserving.  And in 127 Hours it takes some kind of screen presence to be the sole focus of nearly every shot of every scene.

John makes a good point above, Jesse Eisenberg definitely does not play the same character in every film.  Are they similar?  Sure.  There’s the ever present joke about how he and Michael Cera fight over the same roles.  But really, I can’t imagine  Eisenberg as Scott Pilgrim nor I could see Cera as Zuckerberg.  Sorkin’s Zuckerberg is  a difficult nut to crack, but I think Eisenberg handles it quite deftly.

Like Mr. Darcy needed anything else to be a chick magnet.

But, of course, like everyone else in the world, I’m jumping on the Colin Firth bandwagon.  And while he’s had an impressive career, this victory is certainly not just for his body of work.  Doing the stutter is the obvious part of his performance.  And he does do it in a way that (apparently) very close to reality, but also works on screen.  That said, there’s so much more to his role.  How he, as a prince and king, husband and father, handles his relationship with each one of the other characters.  Part of that is Seidler’s script, naturally.  But a lot of it is Firth working his magic.

The Oscars are less than a week away and we’re taking a look at all the categories we care to. Today it’s Adapted Screenplay, whose nominees are all also Best Picture nominees.

  • 127 Hours: Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy
  • The Social Network: Aaron Sorkin
  • Toy Story 3: Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich
  • True Grit: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
  • Winter’s Bone: Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini

Adam:

He isn't coming for 30% of the Oscar

The Social Network. Fin.

Oh, I am assuming I will need to write more about this category. Ok. First, Aaron Sorkin writes dialogue better than anyone else out there – bar none. Let me qualify that, he writes dialogue for smart people better than anyone else out there. Sports Night and The West Wing are two of the best television programs ever made. The largest reason for this is Aaron Sorkin and his writing. The Social Network owes pretty much all of its appeal and positive criticism to Sorkin’s script – and it is well deserved. Sorkin’s trademark rapid-fire dialogue is present in all its glory, but is supported/ enhanced by his artful telling of this story. I liked the back-and-forth of depositions and actual story, mainly because Sorkin was able to do so smoothly and keep the story moving at the same time. The biggest compliment I can give Sorkin and his script  is that I really enjoyed the movie, and that is as someone who hates Facebook and is unimpressed by David Fincher (so that is pretty impressive).

As the only Grouch to really enjoy True Grit, I throw in a few words about the Cohen brothers’ script. A minor spoiler is that they modified the story slightly from the original. At first I was a little worried about it, but that quickly changed. I thought they did a great job with both the changes and the script as a whole. The story moved, the changes were largely relevant, and the dialogue was entertaining. The only thing they failed miserably on was the ending. I stated before that the glaring failure of the remake was the ending. While I liked the Coen brothers’ version a lot better, the ending was far inferior to the original’s. All in all, though, I definitely think they deserve to be nominated and their script ranks second in my mind.

I honestly don’t have a lot to say about the other movies nominated. I liked Winter’s Bone’s story (surprisingly enough some of the scenery/ characters reminded me of home). There were definitely better movies made in 2010 and better scripts, but I am not angry about its nomination. Toy Story 3 was fine. Not great, but fine. I laughed some, and didn’t hate that I watched it. 127 Hours is pretty much in the same boat. All in all, we have an extremely strong script, a strong one, a decent one, and two weak ones. Not the most impressive bunch I’ve seen, but, for the Academy, I’d say this is a pretty good showing.

Who Should Win: Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network (hands down)

Jared

I was pretty proud of myself for describing the dialogue in the Joel and Ethan Coen’s True Grit screenplay as “Runyonesque”, so I’ll stick with that.  Which makes it a little surprising, then, that I didn’t like the film more, given how much I like Damon Runyon.  Here’s the thing, though.  Runyon’s dialogue serves interesting characters doing interesting things.  The Coen’s dialogue serves kinda interesting characters doing terribly uninteresting things.  So while at times it was a welcome distraction, a Western can very rarely be entertaining because of the talking in it.  Brian makes an excellent point about Josh Brolin’s Tom Chaney (there’s a Washington Senators dying to be made here): That’s it?  The man was on screen for what, three minutes?  This film was a road trip movie, and not a particularly good one at that.

There were lots of good things about Winter’s Bone.  The cast were all pretty interesting.  The look of the film felt great.  And it was refreshing setting for a movie for a script.  And while the script was certainly the genesis of all that, I personally want to see a little bit more from my Oscar nominees.  I’m not sure I can point any one particularly weak part of the script, just not sure I could point to any one particularly strong one, either.  The plot seemed almost like a procedural in nature.  Jennifer Lawrence’s quest was, at times, very linear.  The sparseness of the script certainly matched the locale, but I tend to need more.

I’ve said it before and I’ll keep harping on it, I don’t understand all this love for Toy Story 3 and would be much happier if people replaced How to Train Your Dragon wherever I see the former.  OK, yes, the scene at the end got the room a little dusty.  But otherwise it is just the toys being placed in crappy situation after crappy situation.  I didn’t see the heart or wit that were the hallmarks of the first two films.  I’m not suggesting this film was bad, just that people are perhaps lauding it with praise left over from 1 and 2.

127 Hours is perfectly adequate.  The script is generally taut and engaging, though it may rely a little too heavily on the dream sequences.  Especially considering it really is a one trick pony: a hiker gets stuck and (SPOILER ALERT!) cuts off his arm, the end.  It is hard to envision how that simple story could make for a compelling story, so kudos to Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy for turning in a relatively interesting screenplay.

He's coming for...

Clearly though, Aaron Sorkin’s script for the The Social Network is tops here and it isn’t particularly close.  Thank goodness it qualifies as an adapted screenplay so there’s no chance of it losing to the juggernaut that is The King’s Speech.  From the opening seconds of the film, you know you are in for something uniquely Aaron Sorkin.  And something amazing.  I undoubtedly felt, while the movie was still going on, that I was watching something epic.  I think it is mistake to take the film for something grandiose, like generation-defining.  But that doesn’t make the movie any less enthralling, filled with clever lines and fascinating scenes.  Sorkin’s screenplay is the best one of the year, and maybe the best we’ve seen in awhile.

John

Another decent slate, though marked with films whose strongest elements were outside the script, in my estimation. 127 Hours is all fast cuts, splashy camerawork, and terrific acting. The story is fine, but it achieves what it does through the ways Danny Boyle chooses to visualize it. Toy Story 3 works quite well. I can only say it didn’t build up to something as delightful and emotional as most Pixar movies for me. It is still quite humorous and clever with Mr. Tortilla Head one of my favorite gags of the year.

ALL OF IT


I think True Grit is full of great language, strong characters, and a decent story, but the performances and technical work stand out more to me. Winter’s Bone is a strong second place, particularly in its characters. But it succeeds on atmosphere, which is a lot more than what’s on the written page.

I follow my colleagues with a resounding decision for The Social Network. When people think screenplays they think dialogue and Sorkin has a great way with words. But let me also draw attention to the film’s flashback structure, which really allows its themes to unfold. Or the drama and humor in the plot. This is more than just Sorkin walk-and-talk pizazz.

Snub: I think Fair Game would have found a good home here.

We’re going to go ahead and knock out all the sonic categories today. They happen to be some of the favorite niche categories of several Grouches.

Best Original Song

Your nominees:

  • “Coming Home” from Country Strong
  • “I See the Light” from Tangled
  • “If I Rise” from 127 Hours
  • “We Belong Together” from Toy Story 3

John bemoans the state of the category:

This is such a bland group of nominees. It was a bland slate of eligible titles this year, so much so that I didn’t even bother with my annual look at this category. Usually there are a couple big names eligible in the category and a few songs I really like that come out of nowhere. And then the Academy will nominate a bunch of songs I’m mostly ambivalent about. This year didn’t have many I actively disliked, but also few really stood out. I don’t anticipate any getting listens after this Oscar season.

And yet this set of nominees still puzzles me. Only four songs got the nod, meaning only those four received scores high enough to be deemed worthy of nomination. It’s no big tragedy that any particular song didn’t get in and it wouldn’t bother me if these four had just happened to rise to the top. But it amazes me that the music branch decided it would rather forgo a fifth nominee than nominate one of the other choices. This crop gets nominations but nothing from Burlesque is even good enough to qualify for a nod??

The only one I dislike is “If I Rise,” which is almost not even a song. It’s about as low-key as music can be, with just enough lyrics to constitute a song and not a chant. I concede it works well over end credits and it’s an effective counterbalance to AR Rahman’s pulsating score through much of the film. The Dido parts aren’t bad, particularly in the beginning, but they feel out of place with the bizarre elements of the rest of the song.

The rest are all generic genre tunes to my ear. “Coming Home” is a bland pop country song that’s devoid of good hooks and is too reptitive. The bizarre thing is that there is a good song from Country Strong. It’s even called “Country Strong.” But it’s not original to the movie! Go figure.

“We Belong Together” is a nice enough ditty, but I defy you to tell it apart from any other Randy Newman contribution to a Pixar film. That leaves “I See the Light,” which is my winner by default. Again, fine enough musical number but I can’t say it had much impact. Disney purposefully only submitted this song to increase its chances at a nomination/win. I’d say there are songs that I like better from Tangled, but at least this one is thematically resonant.

Snubs: Of the weak eligible slate, the Burlesque songs really do stand out. I would have nominated them all and given “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me” and given it the win, albeit without a ton of enthusiasm. I also have a small soft spot for Avril Lavigne’s “Alice” from Alice in Wonderland. She really shows off her pipes.

Jared sees things similarly

“If I Rise” is the kind of breathy atmospheric song that is instantly forgettable.  Rahman is clearly better served going big and bold.  And I’ve always viewed Dido’s successes as more plaintive numbers.  It is going to be interesting to see Florence – The Machine tackle the song on Oscar night, even if I’m not yet convinced she can salvage it.

“Coming Home” probably isn’t as good as “Country Strong”.  Either way, the titles hint at the largely generic tunes populating this movie.  “Coming Home” is the type of soaring, chorus-less song that does not exist outside of movies.  And I’m not entirely certain why the Academy insists on continuing to recognize its ilk.

Randy Newman can crank out movie songs in his sleep at this point.  I won’t go for the obvious joke there because I don’t think “We Belong Together” is that bad.  Even if the title conjures superior Mariah Carey and Pat Benatar songs.  This one, however, is pretty decent montage-y type of song.  It doesn’t have a strong presence, and tends to fade into the background at bits, but it has some decent parts to remind you it is still there.

But “I See the Light” is the only legitimate song of the bunch.  Now, OK, perhaps I was always going to liked a song sung by Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi.  I think Moore is an underrated singer.  I probably listened to “I Could Break Your Heart Every Day of the Week” daily for about a month at one point.  And most of you probably know that I have a weak spot for celebrities who dabble in singing.  So when I heard Chuck was singing on an Oscar-contending song, I mean, I was sold.  The song has its own merits.  I found myself humming the song a few times after listening to it, including a couple of times while writing this post.  I mean, yeah, it feels like a traditional Disney song in a lot of ways.  But groundbreaking songs aren’t really the Academy’s thing.  The song is pleasantly uplifting, and that’s going to be enough to take the category for me.

Best Original Score

The nominees:

  • John Powell, How to Train Your Dragon
  • Hans Zimmer, Inception
  • Alexadre Desplat, The King’s Speech
  • A.R. Rahman, 127 Hours
  • Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, The Social Network

John takes this one:

Score is one of those categories where I’m never sure what I’m going to like. Some music transports me back to a film I enjoyed. Some work great in the context of the movie. Some are wonderful on their own. I’m not sure any characteristic stands out for me. Atonement had wonderful music that stood on its own; Up was less of a good stand alone listen but terrific as a transport back to the film’s rich emotion. This year it’s a bit of all of the above.

When I think of the 127 Hours music, I think of a throbbing score. But most of the pieces are much more subdued. The slower stuff clearly didn’t make much of an impact, while I’m not sure I ever really got into the more up tempo music. It is a compelling artistic choice for a film about a guy stuck in a canyon.

I don’t have anything to say about How to Train Your Dragon except that if I heard it without context, I would suspect its a film score. The potential of a sweep for The King’s Speech has fans particularly annoyed in this category, but Desplat delivers a score I quite enjoy. It works very well in the film and it’s good even on its own. The repeated piano motif is nice.

I love the score from The Social Network and it complements the film beautifully. The electronic music and repeated six distinct notes reinforce the film’s themes. But it’s less fun listening to it on its own so I’m going for the bombast and BRAAAAAAAAAH! Inception‘s score just heightens its already considerable bad assery. It’s big and dramatic, fun and brash.

That said, two of my favorite scores were ineligible this year due to their reliance on preexisting work: Clint Mansell for Black Swan and Carter Burwell for True Grit, which probably would have received my vote if it were nominated.

Snubs: I really enjoyed director Sylvain Chomet’s score to The Illusionist and Rachel Portman’s orchestral accompaniment to Never Let Me Go.

Sound

There are two sound categories. Sound Editing is sound effects. Sound Mixing is the mix of all sonic elements: dialogue, music, ADR, and effects.

The nominees for Sound Editing are Inception, Toy Story 3, Tron: Legacy, True Grit, and Unstoppable.

For Sound Mixing: Inception, The King’s Speech, Salt, The Social Network, and True Grit.

Jared talks Editing:

I’m nowhere near observant or knowledgeable enough about sound editing and mixing, so I’ll abstain, even though I’ve seen eight of the ten nominees (and Salt is waiting for me at home).  But I wanted to take a minute to highlight the most unlikely Oscar nominee, Unstoppable.  I saw the film on the plane to Vegas on this trip out, so it is fresh in my mind.  I’ll save my thoughts on the film for elsewhere.  But it was generally exciting.  And considering the dialogue and characters were uniformly useless and the visuals fairly rote, I’m going to go ahead and say that by process of elimination, the sound must have played a key role in my appreciation of the film.

John talks Mixing:

I just happen to have seen all the nominees here. I can’t say I can really judge a mix that well, but I’ll point out that The King’s Speech seems like an odd choice for a sound category. What kind of audio landscape is this? Most of the scenes have two characters talking in a room with whimsical music playing in the background.

The Social Network probably has the most noticeably-mixed scene of the year with its nightclub scene. Cranking up the techno music to nearly drown out the conversation is an interesting choice. And maybe I’m falling into the more = better trap, but I’ll choose Inception for the same reason I’ll choose it in a lot of categories: there’s so much going on that the technicians who make it coherent deserve some recognition.

The nominees:

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

Adam

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

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

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

Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan

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

David O. Russel, The Fighter

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

Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech

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

David Fincher, The Social Network

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

Joel & Ethan Coen, True Grit

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

Who Should Win: Christopher Nolan

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

Jared

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

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

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

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

John

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visual Effects

The nominees:

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

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

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

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

Film Editing

The nominees:

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

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

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

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

Nominations are up and we have a lot to chew on for the next few weeks.

The John vs Jared prediction contest came right down to the wire with me eking it out, 83-82. For perfect categories, Jared nailed Animated Feature while I got Picture, Original Screenplay, Sound Editing, and Makeup. But both of us did quite well in other categories, usually only missing one. A common pattern was us picking the same slate except for one in a given category with both of our dissenting picks correct and one common pick incorrect.

We got two of three of our biggest wishes, just one of our outlandish picks hit, and no luck on our technical category hopes, but one of our anticipated disappointing locks failed to materialize.

Beyond that, how are the Grouches feeling today?

Jared:

I suppose after all that buildup, feeling a little let down by the nominations is inevitable.  On first glance, I see a few themes to this year’s crop.  There weren’t really any major surprises.  Yeah, Waiting for Superman felt like a frontrunnner, but the documentary branch is a notoriously hard one to pin down.  I’m not sure anyone guessed Nolan would miss a director’s nod, but he’s clearly yet to be completely accepted by the Academy.  Perhaps the biggest questions is whether The Social Network is still the favorite to win Best Picture, since The King’s Speech tallied more nominations.  I’m a little hesitant to go there yet, because the only category in which the Facebook movie really missed was supporting actor, but Garfield was never a shoo-in and we already knew that The King’s Speech had the more widely respected actors.  Otherwise, I’m happy, of course, that Hawkes and Ruffalo both received nominations.  And looking forward to slicing and dicing these things up with you guys over the next month.

Brian:

I too am looking forward to debating these categories with you all as well. I’m pretty disappointed about Inception missing director and editing, yet somehow still getting a screenplay nomination. If any of those three deserved to be left out, it was Nolan’s writing that often verged on psychobabble. I probably would have gone to the mat pushing a Nolan win for directing, but now I won’t have the chance.

The Social Network vs. King’s Speech fight will be a lot of fun to analyze and look at, as prognosticators will call the race closer than it likely is in order to spruce up interest in the evening. Consider me pleased that The Town got overlooked it most every category but supporting actor, and I’m even willing to let that slide with John Hawkes popping up as one of the few surprises of the morning.

Looks like we have a few more movies to add to our list, fellas.

John:

I’m a bit bummed about a shut out for Get Low but there aren’t many egregious choices and I’m pleasantly happy with a way a few of the races broke. I’m surprised at how few films got nominations in major categories: just 16. The last three years saw 19, 18, and 21, respectively. Maybe the ten Best Picture nominees aren’t inviting anyone new to the party.

And, despite Brian’s claim above, there’s not much left to see!

Oscar nominations arrive Tuesday, January 25. To prepare, we’re giving you our sharpest insight and predictions. Our last topic: what are you most hoping will happen tomorrow? If you’re reading this Tuesday, give your favorite Grouch a high five or a supportive pat on the back, depending on what happens.

Brian: Reznor needs to score

Only in the fantastical world of the Oscars would it be possible for a nominee to be just on the edge of being recognized yet should it get nominated, be a favorite for win. That’s the general consensus around Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score for The Social Network. Having already won the Golden Globe for Best Score, you’d think this is a shoo-in. But you’d be wrong. It’s rather astonishing and remarkable that such a simple series of 6 notes could be so evocative. Listening to it while writing this post, I could visualize so much of the film in my head. Like Sorkin and Fincher’s portrayal of Zuckerberg, the score is isolating and contemplative, not to mention brilliant.

Honorable mention: Please Give for Best Original Screenplay. My hobby horse for the year — great storytelling with subtle character development. More to come from me on this one.

John: A Duvall-less Oscars would make me Low

I didn’t have a pet cause this season until right at the last minute. That cause is Get Low, a delightful and touching drama with a nice comedic streak. Robert Duvall gives a wonderful, subtle performance. He’s on the bubble for a Best Actor nomination and I’m rooting hard for him. (I also hold out very small hope for Bill Murray.)

On some smaller notes, I’m rooting for Eddie Vedder to finally land a Best Song nod, this time for “Better Days” from Eat, Pray, Love. It’s actually not a very good song, but… Eddie Vedder! Cmon!

Finally, I just want an out of left field surprise (provided it doesn’t push out a favorite of mine) and/or some better-than-expected love for some smaller films like Another Year.

Jared: Snub Hawkes and I’ll have a Bone to pick with the Academy

I think the other Grouches will agree that this year it is difficult to find too much to root for, nomination-wise.  Films and performances I loved are either safely in the club or so far off the radar that there’s really no chance at all to pick up a nomination.

Still, what fun is this if you can’t root for something?  When I first heard a few months ago someone suggesting that John Hawkes could nab an Oscar nomination, I laughed it off, thinking the person was probably just a huge Winter’s Bone fan forgetting the crush of performances that would enter the fray come Oscar season.  And Hawkes almost didn’t factor into awards season.  Except for getting a SAG nomination.  Which has to establish him as a viable contender, given the frequent overlap between the SAGs and the Oscars.  Hawkes’s role may not be as showy as Bale’s, on the nose as Renner’s, or have the screen time of Rush’s, but his performance is incredibly memorable nonetheless.  Yeah, it would be nice to give someone his first nomination and share some indie love.  But more than that, it’d be nice to recognize a performance that I believe really is one of the best of the year, name recognition be damned.

(As a side note, I’m not hoping for Hawkes as the expense of Ruffalo.  And the thing that would conceivably make me the happiest is a screenplay nom for How to Train Your Dragon, but that seems a little more remote.)

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