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Have you ever seen a movie and thought that the trailer was better than the movie? Not necessarily as a form of criticism of the film or that the trailer simply had all the good jokes or something, but that the trailer was literally a better piece of cinematic art?

I’ve been thinking about this after seeing Like Crazy last week. I think the film’s trailer is a knockout and emotionally evocative in ways the film simply isn’t.

Usually trailers are necessarily thin, reducing a plot to its basics and giving a feel for the tone. (Or they outright lie when a marketing plan calls for it.) But for films that rely on creating atmosphere that task may well be easier in two and a half minutes as a montage backed by an appropriately emotional song and slick editing. The Like Crazy trailer is better than the film because it’s unencumbered by the film’s narrative or characters (bazinga!).

The trailer still gives me chills, though I think part of it is that I see what could have been and it’s a reminder of the missed opportunities of the film.

This happened last year as well with True Grit, which was more of a case of the trailer being great than the film being poor. The first half of the trailer is sweet though fairly standard, but when it launches into the Johnny Cash song it turns totally badass.

And it’s not like great trailers are a curse. The Social Network and The Dark Knight both lived up to kick-ass trailers.

Who knows what next film will be unable to match a great trailer? I’m pretty confident that it will be great, but is it possible The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo won’t equal the intensity of it’s trailer?

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The final shoutout goes to Ben.  If you are one of our vast audience who didn’t receive a shoutout, there’s always next year!

94. You Again

I’m not entirely certain why Kristen Bell keeps finding herself playing such bitchy characters.   I mean, yeah, she can pull it off, and I suppose if you’ve watched twenty minutes of a Veronica Mars episode, you might think that’s what she does, but Veronica was so much more layered than that.  You Again isn’t quite as stupid as its trailers made it seem.  And the cast (including Sigourney Weaver, Jamie Lee Curtis, James “Lone Star” Wolk, Betty White, Kristin Chenoweth and a whole ton of cameos) certainly help prop up the weak parts.  The film, by the way, passes the Bechdel test rather easily as the men take a backseat.  Of course, they are also the only rational people in the movie.  So You Again is at least somewhat realistic.

93. I Love You Phillip Morris

I was expecting to have a strong reaction to this film.  Not entirely sure why, maybe its unexpected WGA Adapted Screenplay nomination, the week Jim Carrey had Oscar buzz or Brian’s recommendation to stay away.  Instead, I found a serviceable, if unremarkable movie.  I Love You Philip Morris is essentially a con movie, starring Jim Carrey as the con artist and Ewan McGregor as the titular recipient of his affection.  I think a more successful movie would have focused on the cons, though I suppose as it drew from real life, Requa and Ficarra were limited by the actual story.

92. Life in Flight

 

Absolutely no clue how this one crossed my radar.  It stars Patrick Wilson as a successful and promising architect (side note: is it just me or does it seem there are a ton of film architects) on the verge of a major deal to have his business bought out by a larger corporation.  Amy Smart, his socialite wife, has helped and pushed him along, eagerly anticipating the rise in social status.  But as the deal near, Wilson begins to have second thoughts, both about his career and his wife, after he comes across a graphic designer (Lynn Collins).  Life in Flight achieves its incredibly modest ambitions: depicting the standard movie dilemma of dreams/desire vs. ambition/practicality.  I won’t spoil the ending, but it isn’t imaginative, though the film does try to raise the stakes by giving Wilson a kid.  I’m a huge Patrick Wilson fan, so glad to see him getting leading man gigs, and I think Amy Smart acquits herself well.  Definitely liked Lynn Collins more in this than in stuff last year, maybe it is because this movie had an actual script, maybe it is because she was a redhead here.  Oddly, Rashida Jones and Zak Orth appear in the requisite best friend roles.

91. Get Low

You can read some of John’s thoughts on the film here.  Sadly, I wasn’t quite as high on it as he was.  It is a decent enough flick, but Get Low never really goes anywhere that interesting.  And I think it built up the funeral party too much without being able to deliver; similarly, the decades-old secrets that were revealed weren’t necessarily worth the wait.  It is a little curious Duvall couldn’t get the traction needed to secure an Oscar nomination.  Perhaps a combination of it being a strong year and that there were stretches of time where he wasn’t on screen.

90. Chloe

Chloe is one of those movies that in theory should be amazing, but doesn’t manage to live up to expectations.  Julianne Moore stars as a doctor and loving wife to Liam Neeson, a professor.  She begins to think he’s cheating on her and so, naturally, hires an escort (Amanda Seyfried) to seduce him in order to get proof of the infidelity.  But as her relationship with Seyfried progresses, things get a little more complicated.  The film stirred up some headlines thanks to the sexy time between Moore and Seyfried.  Which, I mean, hey hey, but it actually was relevant to the film, even if not adequately developed.

89. It’s Kind of a Funny Story

My favorite film by writers/directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, also the only one I find tolerable.  Keir Gilchrist is a teen dealing with the attendant problems of being a teen who ends up checking himself into an adult psychiatric ward where he befriends Zach Galifianakis and Emma Roberts, also high functioning patients.  The film certainly doesn’t make light of depression or other mental illnesses, but I wonder if it veered a little too close to falling into the Hollywood trap of depicting mental illness as something that can be solved with a specific key.  They aren’t in the movie often, but Lauren Graham and Jim Gaffigan play Gilchrist’s parents, so props to you, Gaffigan.

88. Night Catches Us

Talked about this one briefly in our Spirit Awards chat.  The film, when you strip away all its adornments, is a fairly standard secret from the past movie.  Characters reunite, but there’s always that elephant in the room about The Secret and then in the climax, all is revealed in a twist, and credits rolls.  I’m not sure the secret was terribly interesting here, but still a solid first effort from writer/director Tanya Hamilton, buoyed by Anthony Mackie and the perpetually underrated Kerry Washington.

87. The Romantics

The Romantics has a very simple story: college friends (Malin Akerman, Adam Brody, Josh Duhamel, Katie Holmes, Rebecca Lawrence, Anna Paquin, Jeremy Strong) are reunited at a beach house for the marriage between Paquin and Duhamel.  The only trouble is that Holmes and Duhamel were an item first.  There are enough side plots with those friends, mother Candice Bergen, and younger siblings Elijah Wood and Dianna Agron to keep things moving.  For a character study, though, there’s not a whole lot of studying characters.  It’d be easy to dismiss the failings of Duhamel and Holmes to carry a movie like this one, but I don’t buy it, certainly not completely.  Because whatever you think of them as actors, it is difficult to convey emotion when there’s apparently none to portray.  Writer/director Galt Niederhoffer (nice try, but not a real name) relies too much on the unspoken love triangle as a crutch instead of defining who these characters are, exactly, save for some very late moment reveals.  There’s a wrenching speech at the rehearsal dinner that brought back memories of the classic scene from Rachel Getting Married.

86. True Grit

These posts are more fun for me when I get to talk about movies no one really remembers from last year, as opposed to the Oscars films where I feel I’ve already said my piece.  Which was: “[Runyonesque] dialogue serves kinda interesting characters doing terribly uninteresting things.”  If it were up to me, the film would be in the conversation for a few acting nominations and that’s it.  But I clearly haven’t been on the same wavelength as the Coen brothers for years and years.  And can we once again have a laugh about Steinfeld’s supporting actress nomination?

85. All Good Things

So you’ve got an Oscar-nominated director (Andrew Jarecki), screenwriter (Marc Smerling), lead actor (Ryan Gosling), supporting actor (Frank Langella), plus Kirsten Dunst as the lead actress in a role where, according to imdb’s trivia page, she felt like Jodie Foster must have when she read the script for The Accused (where Foster won an Academy Award).  So…why haven’t you heard of this movie?  First, this year was an extremely tough one for lead roles.  Gosling was a much better bet to get one for Blue Valentine, so I imagine effort went there.  And while Dunst was fine, there just wasn’t any room for her, not in a movie with a late release that no one saw.  In the film, which is based on a true story, Gosling is the son of a New York real estate maestro (Langella) who first wants to get away from the business, but then, believing he needed to best provide for his new wife (Dunst), starts following in Dad’s footsteps.  Only it turns out that Gosling is apparently severely disturbed, and becomes the center of an investigation surrounding an unsolved murder.  The film, by the way, takes a decidedly biased stand on Gosling’s role in the murder, which officially remains unsolved to this day.  The movie probably deserved a better audience, but there’s just not that much there to the story, which pretty much just sees Gosling get weirder and weirder.  Kristin Wiig acquits herself well in a dramatic role.  But there is one really good reason to see the film:  Nick Offerman.  In a (relatively) serious role.  Without his mustache.

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.

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

  • Amy Adams, The Fighter
  • Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech
  • Melissa Leo, The Fighter
  • Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
  • Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

Jared

I don't see the big deal, this FYC ad seems kinda classy...

The supporting categories are always tough for me because it is hard to figure out how, exactly, to weight screen time.  Should I favor being fantastic in five minutes over a solid performance in forty-five minutes?  Perhaps appropriately, I just flipped on the radio and The Zombies’s “She’s Not There” started playing.  I’m a big Amy Adams fan and loved that she got to play a little against type in The Fighter.  But she didn’t have enough to work with to make an impression on me.  She had a few memorable scenes, sure.  But I’m still not entirely certain how she nabbed a nomination over, say, Mila Kunis.

When the actress receiving a nomination is genuinely confused about it, you know Hollywood silly groupthink has reared its head again.  Like a movie?  Then vote for every single aspect of it!  Helena Bonham Carter does a perfectly fine job, but one of the five best performances of the year?  It is really odd how Hollywood can’t distinguish between different aspects of a movie they loved.

So, I fell asleep during Animal Kingdom.  Apparently I was out cold.  But don’t worry, after waking up I went back and caught what I missed.  The whole time (at least when I was awake) I was wondering how on earth Weaver managed a nomination here.  For me, it isn’t even the role being confused for the performance, but the idea of the role.  The thing is, I can totally see a film where she’d be worthy of a nomination.  One that wasn’t the most boring crime film of all time.  And one where her role gets fleshed out a little more. I really hope, though, some casting director has taken notice and casts her as the villain in some better production, because I really do think she can pull it off admirably.

I’m a little lower on Hailee Steinfeld than others.  Maybe part of it is because there’s absolutely no way to defend calling her performance supporting.  None at all.  Whoever first pitched the idea of doing so has balls the size of golden globes.  John has mentioned how much he liked Dakota Fanning in The Runaways.  Obviously the roles aren’t really comparable, but I’d tend to agree that I’m not entirely comfortable seeing Steinfeld recognized but not Fanning.  I think Steinfeld has a very bright future and hope that she soon gets new roles to be her calling card.

I don’t think this category is as strong as other this year, which perhaps is one of the reasons prognosticators are finding it a little difficult to predict.  Hilariously, Melissa Leo, probably the front-runner, shot herself in the foot by running For Your Consideration ads on her own dime.  Doesn’t she know how to play the game?  You aren’t allowed to actually say you want to win!  In any case, she’s my pick here, overcoming an awful script to create a memorable presence.  And really doing everything you’d want from a supporting actress, I think.  She always looms large, but never takes over the movie.

John

This is a tough category to pick. Whereas so many of the other categories are embarrassments of riches, I find this one to be slim pickings.

Let’s start with the women from The Fighter. Adams simply failed to make an impression on me. So many others were impressed with her work that I concede I may need another viewing. To me, she’s being swept up in an acting nomination wave for the film. I enjoyed Leo much more, but she also has a more colorful role and I can’t deny that she does seem to be Acting Very Hard.

Everyone loved Steinfeld but she actually drove me a little nuts. I don’t think it’s her fault. For one, the lack of contractions in the dialogue sounded bizarre to me from all characters. And the inflectionless way she often delivers her lines was probably directed out of her. So I think these are stylistic choices that happened to not work for me and therefore reflect poorly on Steinfeld.

Carter is a totally blah nomination. She’s good in The King’s Speech, of course, but she doesn’t get to display much of her considerable skills. It’s just such a straight-forward role. And that leaves Weaver, who you might think therefore wins by default. She plays a ruthless matriarch of a crime family in Animal Kingdom. What makes her so successfully chilling is how sweet she is while doing awful things. I think the tendency would be for the actress to really sell the fact that the sweetness is a charade, but Weaver plays it pretty straight. So she’s just acting sweet. It’s a great choice for the film, but does that make a great performance? The same performance with different words and she’s just a normal doting mother. Or am I missing some nuance?

Oh, honey.

Therefore I have concerns over them all. I’m going to choose Melissa Leo with Jacki Weaver not too far behind. I also just want Leo to win, partly because I like her and partly because I’d feel bad for her if she won all these precursors and lost. People would be blaming it on that photo spread and it would be awful.

Snubs: I’d nominate and give the Oscar to Lesley Manville for Another Year. My off-the-wall choice is Marisa Tomei in Cyrus. (Note: I may be in the bag for Marisa Tomei.)

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??

[ed. note: Apologies for the delay in posting this QotW.  My computer’s hard drive crashed last week (for the second time this year), so our responses may be slightly out of date.  This question went out before TIFF and Venice.  Hopefully we’ll get back on schedule soon.]

This week’s installment: What yet-to-be-released potential Oscar contender or contenders are you most looking forward to seeing?

John

I had been getting excited for this fall, but when I went to check the list of suspected contenders at the usual awards sites, well, yikes. I mean, did you know there’s a period piece this winter about King George IV’s speech impediment and how he overcame it? Lord.

For now the prognosticators can play it safe with the likes of Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours. (How do you go from pulsating Mumbai to a whole movie where a guy is just stuck under a rock? It sounds like a snoozefest.) But as time goes on some of these pictures that have awards season written all over them will fall by the wayside and some interesting stuff will take their places. Meanwhile, the one I’m most looking forward to is Black Swan. Darren Aronofsky has a terrific track record and this one is a psychological thriller with Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis. Okay, so it’s set in the world of ballet, but otherwise it couldn’t sound more exciting.

I’m also looking forward to True Grit. An interesting string of westerns have come out in recent years and the Coens’ take on any genre is something to anticipate. I can totally see Jeff Bridges and Josh Brolin in a western, but I’m interested to see what Matt Damon will do.

Finally, I have Another Year and Blue Valentine pegged as this year’s films I will love that the rest of the Grouches hate.

Jared

In case anyone out there would like a summary of the very rough Oscar picture, I though In Contention did a nice job recently.

I dunno, John.  Sure, The King’s Speech is Oscar-baity as all get out.  But it was directed by the guy who did The Damned United and features a pretty fun cast, including Colin Firth in the lead.

You definitely stole one from me, though.  Sure, Portman and Kunis are ridiculously attractive, but I tend to have extremely visceral reactions to Aronofsky’s work (well, The Wrestler was a little more muted, I suppose).  Similarly, the pairing of Knightley and Mulligan has me intrigued for Never Let Me Go.

There’s also a few films being bandied about now for the Oscar race that I’m not yet convinced will make an impact.  If The Tourist actually makes a play, you are looking at a film with Jolie, Depp, and Paul Bettany directed by the guy who did The Lives of Others and written by guys who wrote Gosford Park, The Young Victoria, The Day After Tomorrow, and The Usual Suspects.  And you may have recently seen the trailer for Love and Other Drugs.  I haven’t loved the few Ed Zwick movies I’ve seen, but I was completely sold on the trailer.

But if I had to name one film, it’d be The Social Network.  In Jesse Eisenberg, it has the star of my favorite 2009 film.  Rooney Mara seems on the verge of a breakout.  While I haven’t loved David Fincher’s films, I’ve certainly liked them.  Plus he did the video for Englishman in New York!  But, of course, the main reason I’m most looking forward to the film is because it was written by Aaron Sorkin.

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