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And now, part three of Ian and Jared’s fantasy Sundance draft.  If you missed it, check out part one for scoring and the first four picks and parts two and three.

With the thirteenth pick of the 2014 Fantasy Sundance Draft, Jared takes…

Happy Christmas

Jared: And the thing is, I’m not really a fan of mumblecore at all.  But I think you ignore a cast of Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey, Mark Webber, and Lena Dunham at your own peril.  And while it would be a surprise to see a mumblecore movie get a big win, I will note that the genre has been crossing over some.  Well, crossing over to the mainstream indie world, at any rate.  Your Sister’s Sister received some acclaim.  And writer/director Joe Swanberg’s 2013 release (also co-starring Anna Kendrick), Drinking Buddies, received some attention, including featuring on Quentin Tarantino’s list of the top ten films of the year.  I just watched the film, actually, and while Mr. Tarantino happens to be wrong in this case, I do see the potential for Swanberg to have some bigger “success” at some point in the future.

Ian: I don’t want to ignore the cast of Happy Christmas at all. I’m probably more predisposed to mumblecore than you, and I’ve liked everybody involved in this movie in at least one project or another. But I do think the verite style is not well-suited for winning flashier awards, and the subject of this movie also feels on the smaller side. That’s no knock against the movie, in fact I expect to like the movie, I just find it hard to imagine this comedy of manners with already established actors giving established performances finding much in the way of momentum. Of course, you have to pick something towards the end of the draft, and while I’d probably still choose a different movie that took a bigger swing, I understand the impulse to go with a surer established winner.

With the fourteenth pick of the 2014 Fantasy Sundance Draft, Ian takes…

Jamie Marks is Dead

Ian: I actually have some hope for this film, which seems to mash a coming-of-age story of sexual awakening together with a horror film. Carter Smith, the director, locked down a Jury Prize with Bugcrush, a short film that combined many of the same elements. Here, the movie will rely upon its young leads, and that’s where I think it may similarly score well. Morgan Saylor is a terrific young actress who carved a bigger role for herself in Homeland with her work, even as the show descended into inanity, and I don’t mean a slight when I say that Cameron Monaghan gives one of my four favorite performances on Shameless. Between the cinematography, script, direction, and jury prize, this movie seems like it has an outside shot in several categories.

Jared: I tend to shy away from supernatural and horror films with my awards picks.  And while Carter Smith does have a Sundance pedigree, I’ll also point out that he last directed The Ruins, which isn’t exactly the most encouraging sign.  Alex Orlovsky has a producing credit on the film, he comes from Half Nelson and Blue Valentine, so there’s some promise there, even if Ryan Gosling is nowhere in sight here.  I agree about the young acting talent here, which definitely has significant promise.

With the fifteenth pick of the 2014 Fantasy Sundance Draft, Ian takes…

Life After Beth

Ian: Now this movie, on the other hand, looks like total garbage. I would have handed it back to you to close out our draft, except that I liked the idea of ending with an indie zombie two-fer. If I were to advocate for my pick, I’d say that this movie will require excellent execution to work, and if it does work, it may have more screenwriting and visual flair than some moribund traditional Sundance film. I could see a movie like this being funny and surprisingly heartfelt, even if I find it hard to imagine that those tones can come from the co-writer of I Heart Huckabees. The actors may also help to elevate the material. Dane de Haan seems like a Sundance star in the making, and Aubrey Plaza…well, she can’t very well turn down her boyfriend for a role, can she?

Jared: I mean, I’m hoping I get to see this one while I’m at the festival.  But the official Sundance description includes a terribly punny joke, so I think the film was taken at slot.  Maybe it is “wickedly funny” and/or “shockingly poignant” and the film picks up an audience award or something, but it is difficult to see a clear path to awards.

With the final pick of the 2014 Fantasy Sundance Draft, Jared takes…

The Sleepwalker

Jared: I think I fell asleep reading the official Sundance description of this film.  I guess I’m having a difficult time figuring out this film’s hook.  Maybe it it just difficult to market or summarize or something.  Plus it is a Norwegian co-production, and I get the sense Sundance is a better play for more “American”-type films.  When I was doing my initial rankings, I had the film near the bottom of the list and never really saw a reason to move it.

Ian: This may be a case of too much knowledge being a bad thing, but unlike the other 15 movies, I saw the trailer to The Sleepwalker beforehand. And yes, it’s now ranked dead last. So, word to the wise on the people who made the trailer…maybe a re-cut? I don’t think this is as moribund as Austenland or The Lifeguard were last year, but boy, does this movie ever seem rote. The setting and the ambiance are unusual, but the performances seemed pallid, and there’s not a lot of proof to the contrary in any of their respective bodies of work to date. I keep trying to avoid the word sleepy, because it’s so obvious, but yeah. The title has become reality. That said, just in case you are randomly googling this and you worked on the movie or are just a major fan, a good thing to keep in mind is that we don’t know what we’re talking about here. Good luck in the fantasy Sundance season!

And that’s a wrap.  Thanks to everyone (or no one, as is more likely) for reading, and I’ll hopefully have good things to report back from Sundance.

Join us HERE!

I’m counting down all the movies released in 2012.  The ones I’ve seen, at any rate.  In what is unquestionably a timely manner.

#30.  Ruby Sparks

ruby sparks

Saw this on my baseball road trip last year.  A decent Twilight Zone episode.  Not sure if reading any more into it is a worthwhile exercise.  Didn’t really have the indie feeling I was expecting, given it was written by Zoe Kazan and starring her and Paul Dano.  Chris Messina was a great presence, as always.

#29.  Headhunters


Saw this with John at last year’s Filmfest DC.  Not quite as twisty as I felt I had been promised, but still an engaging thriller.  I do take particular umbrage with one facet of the film.  5’6″ is not short, and I, for one, was unable to suspend my disbelief that anyone could think it was, or have any resulting feelings of inadequacy.

#28.  Life of Pi


I’ve written about this one plenty.  Given all the talk of visuals and spirituality, I was expecting to dislike it, so I was pleasantly surprised at how strong the story actually was.  I didn’t really get falling in love with it, but it was a worthy entry into the awards race.

#27.  Wreck-It Ralph


Boasts a very clever premise and a generally interesting story.  I found the film to be more kid-oriented than I might have liked.  Of course, it is perfectly reasonable for a movie to be targeted at children.  But one of the things that puts Pixar in a class by itself is how their films can appeal to all ages.  I’m terrible at identifying voices, but I never would have gotten that Alan Tudyk was behind King Candy, in a splendid bit of voice acting.

#26.  Killer Joe


Matthew McConaughey should have received a Supporting Actor nomination for his role here, in my humble opinion.  In this grimy, sweaty, hot mess of a movie, his Killer Joe is a dark, twisted revelation.  The film is all kinds of bonkers, perhaps refreshingly so.  The rest of the main cast: Emile Hirsch, Gina Gershon, Thomas Haden Chuch, and Juno Temple are expertly cast to fill out this melange of nutty characters.  And the final scene really sealed the deal for me, I found it to be an instant classic.

#25.  Men in Black III


A perfectly decent movie with unexpected heart.  One of the keys to the success of this franchise is the playful sense of humor, which this installment largely continues.  Casting Josh Brolin as a younger version of Tommy Lee Jones was rather inspired, as Brolin is note perfect.  Emma Thompson was fun addition, as was Alice Eve as her younger self.  Though the former went to Cambridge and the latter went to Oxford, and I’ve been told those shouldn’t be mixed up.  The film probably could have used more of the ladies.  I also liked Michael Stuhlbarg’s character.

#24.  Prometheus


Full disclosure: This was the first film in the Alien franchise I watched.  I liked this one a lot, but I later watched Alien and found it to be pretty much the same thing.  So I wonder what I would have thought if I watched the films in reverse order.  At any rate the film was pretty taut.  There were maybe too many underdeveloped characters, and the ending was a little messy.  But I enjoyed the mythology, and the acting was first rate.  The people who were clamoring for a Michael Fassbender acting nomination had an interesting case, I thought.

#23.  The Amazing Spider-Man


Another movie hard to evaluate in a vacuum.  Can we all just agree that everyone knows the Spiderman origin story at this point?  Frankly, it seems like I tend to not enjoy origin stories all that much.  I think comic book films would be vastly improved if we got away from the super long story of the character’s beginnings and went right into the interesting part of the story.  Or, just do something like the fantastic montage at the beginning of Watchmen.  (I know, I know, easy for me to say.)  In any case, the reason this movie ranks so highly is the relationship between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy, so ably played by the pigdog Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone.  As the next movie on my list shows, there’s a lot of good stuff that can be mined from the life of a teenage superhero.  There are now tons of movies with lavish special effects and epic fights.  What will set movies apart, I think, are the same things that always have: compelling stories and interesting characters.  This film took the time to build something with Garfield and Stone, and it paid off.  Of course, it helped having such dynamic stars.

#22.  Chronicle


Max Landis obviously has thought a lot about superheroes, and I think he understands what makes them compelling.  This is a superhero origin story worth telling.  Because it is about things like growing up and becoming an adult and dealing with the world and friendship.  There are big fights where buildings get destroyed, sure.  But that’s not the essence of the film.  The movie instead looks how three teens deal with new-found superpowers and with each other.  It is a clever concept that’s well-executed.

#21.  The Loneliest Planet


This is a movie I should have hated.  Much of the film is devoted to lovingly and painstakingly capturing the beauty of the Caucasus Mountains.  The plot can probably be completely and accurately summarized in two or three sentences.  But somehow, it resonated with me.  It was the last film of a flurry I saw in an effort to cast a more-informed Spirit Award ballot, so that is part of it.  And the more uncouth of you might suggest the opening shot of a naked Hani Furstenberg jumping up and down perhaps unduly influenced my thinking.  Instead, and I hate to spoil/hype it up even more than descriptions elsewhere already do, but this film is about one scene, one moment, that defines who we are and what we become.  It feels almost pretentious as I’m typing it.  And yet, i believe it.  The long set up becomes worthwhile.  Gael Garcia Bernal is an extremely talented actor, and it feels like he’s wasted a little bit until the pivotal scene, when the casting becomes perfect.  Maybe I’m overselling it, and it was just a combination of a million factors leading to the perfect time for me to watch the movie, I dunno.  But I was kinda blown away by what it did.

I’m counting down all the movies released in 2012.  The ones I’ve seen, at any rate.  In what is unquestionably a timely manner.

#100.  Farewell, My Queen

Nominated for a ton of Cesar awards, it mostly lost out to Amour and Rust and Bone in the major categories, only managing wins for Cinematography, Costume Design, and Production Design.  Seeing as how those two movies already showed up on my list, I’d say it wasn’t a terribly good year for French film, at least in my humble opinion.  The film did have an interesting concept, I thought, with Lea Seydoux playing a reader for Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger), who would do anything for her queen.  The final, oh, ten minutes or so are actually fairly gripping, as Seydoux’s character has to come to terms with what her devotion actually means.  The rest of the film, though, is all over the place, with subplots going all over the place and not doing much to support what I thought was the main crux of the movie.  In some sense, that may have been intentional, as the film depicts the uncertainty of the court following the storming of the Bastille.  But the chaos of the film doesn’t translate to an interesting viewing experience.  Don’t let the trailer fool you, the Sapphic nature of the relationship between the three gorgeous ladies is a very minor part of the plot.  And the cast is always kinda wasted, though maybe I’m just saying that because I’m not sure any actresses do cruel better than Seydoux and Kruger can.  Someone needs to write them a withering look-off, stat.

#99. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

I like the idea of this movie more than the movie itself, I think.  It was a story of redemption for director John Madden, who had seemingly spiraled into directing increasingly obscure and, well, not good movies after helming Shakespeare in Love fifteen years ago.  It was a story of Hollywood economics, where everyone seemed stunned that a film starring a bunch of elderly British actors cavorting around India could be crazy profitable.  The only thing without a compelling story, as it turns out, was the film itself.  The premise was solid.  And the cast is fantastic.  I mean, any film with Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, and Tom Wilkinson is going to be watchable on some level.  But the characters all had only the minutest of progressions.  As a pilot for a TV show, it got the job done.  As a complete movie, it seemed like the film got lost in all the characters and didn’t have enough time to give them all engaging arcs.

#98.  Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

I can still remember when last year’s Golden Globe nominations came out and the sheer befuddlement upon realizing this film, which had rather quietly come and gone from theaters, and had received pretty much zero awards love anywhere else, managed to pull down not one, not two, but three Golden globe nominations.  Never change, Globes.  Never change.  Not having read the novel, I can’t say for sure if it is the source material or the script (written by Simon Beaufoy, who won an Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire along with nominations for The Full Monty and 127 Hours), but the film has a terrible case of ADD.  Subplots are picked up and put down seemingly at random, only to be picked up again several scenes later, when they’ve completely lost their resonance.  Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt are fine, if not terribly stretched.  Kristin Scott Thomas definitely made the most of her turn, and with a stronger script, probably could have received some awards attention.

#97.  Savages

We’ll talk more about Taylor Kitsch as the countdown goes on, I’m sure, but sure seems like Riggins’s luck has carried over from FNL.  Because I don’t see any way you can blame his string of flops on him.  Correlation does not equal causation!  Take this film.  Doesn’t matter who you put in his role, the film isn’t going to make any more sense.  For me, the film was one of those that wasn’t anywhere close to being as sexy, innovative, and envelope-pushing as it seemed to think it was.  Instead, everything felt unnecessarily over the top and campy without having a sense of humor at all.  So, boring, really.  Which is the worst crime of all to commit.  Especially because it wasted such a bizarre and fascinating cast.

#96.  Arbitrage

I honestly couldn’t tell you the difference between this film and a made-for-TV movie Hallmark mystery, other than this one had a better cast and the Hallmark movie would likely have more interesting twists.  Richard Gere generated some awards buzz, including a Globe nom, but I think that was more due to Richard Gere playing a douche than anything specific to the performance.  Not to take anything from Gere, the character just didn’t lend itself to anything career-defining.  The machinations related to various business deals aren’t anywhere near as interesting as it seems like they should be, and there’s a poorly-done subplot involving license plates that’s been done better by probably dozens of mystery shows.

#95.  Keep the Lights On

John and I discussed this film some in our Spirit Awards post, as the film received four nominations: lead actor, screenplay, director, and picture.  I thought Thure Lindhardt was pretty great, but the film didn’t do a whole lot for me.  I guess I sorta felt like I did about The Kids Are All Right, if the film was about a heterosexual couple, would it have received as much notice?  Obviously, in some sense that’s not fair at all.  Gay and heterosexual couples certainly had different experiences in the mid-90s, and I don’t mean to give that short shrift.  My point is more than I personally felt the hardships a gay man faced in the time were used, not necessarily as a crutch, but as a way to give more import to the characters than they may have otherwise deserved.

#94.  Think Like A Man

This movie raked in $90 million dollars, for the record.  Which says something.  The film heavily employs one of my least-favorite trappings of romantic comedies: boiling relationships down to a small set of rules which magically grant you all the power over the person you are chasing.  That said, the film is based on a relationship book by Steve Harvey, and I, for one, am not going to disagree with anything Steve Harvey has to say.  So the movie is basically the girls read the book, take the power in the relationships, and then the guys find out about the book and then they get the power.  Hilarity ensues somewhere along the way, I guess?  The biggest shame is how badly the cast is wasted.  Taraji P. Henson is all kinds of amazing and really should be getting better roles.  I’m hoping Almost Human works out for Michael Ealy, because he deserves a good vehicle (and not just because he’s from Silver Spring).  At this point in her career, Gabrielle Union should finding her way into more awards bait, instead of being an on-screen couple with Turtle (?!).  Etc.  Etc.  Pretty much the whole cast is coming back for a sequel, though, so look for it in theaters in June 2014.

#93.  Looper

The time travel/sci-fi movie for people who don’t like time travel/sci-fi movies.  Maybe my expectations were just too high for a time travel film directed by Rian Johnson and starring Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and involving hitmen, Emily Blunt, and Jeff Daniels, but this movie just didn’t do anything for me.  All of the genre stuff was undercooked, the rest of the film wasn’t terribly interesting, and aside from maybe two or three scenes, Johnson’s signature flashy style was nowhere to be seen.  Where Brick was a fantastically creative take on noir, this one felt flat and uninspired.

#92.  Hope Springs

I made sure to watch this film for two main reasons.  First, I know John loved it.  Second, to more fully appreciate this subplot of a Bunheads episode.  Oh, Bunheads, you were gone too soon.  Anyway, turns out Tommy Lee Jones being uncomfortable with his sexuality is not enough to get me to like a movie.  Who knew?  I look forward to John calling me out in the comments, but as far as I can tell, that’s pretty much the whole premise of the movie, along with Meryl Streep, playing his wife, learning to stand up for herself a little more.  I mean, yeah, I guess it is charming at times, but the film has no real shape and isn’t particularly funny.

#91.  The FP

The Vegas line on where this film would end up on my list had to be around, like #10, right?  Basically a modern take on an 80s post-apocalyptic movie where gangs battle via a Dance Dance Revolution clone.  I mean, that sounds like a pure genius.  But I’m not sure I quite got the joke they were going for, or that they played the tone right.  1980s camp is a surprisingly difficult thing to emulate, I think.  And they played this one pretty straight, which I’m not certain was the right call for a story that never really made any sense at all.  I really wanted to like this one, but it just wouldn’t let me.

I’ll be starting my annual countdown just a little bit late this year as there are a few more 2012 movies I want to make sure to see.  Anyone have any movies I should absolutely make sure to see before I call it a year?

The Grouches traditionally do a series where we write up our biggest hopes, expected disappointments, and things of that ilk in the days leading up to the nominations.  For a variety of reasons we decided to just put together a single post summarizing some of our feelings.  I’m sure you’ll be hearing a lot more from us in the days leading up to the Oscars.


I find myself somewhat disengaged this year and I’m not sure if it’s my fault or the films’. I will say I haven’t found myself blown away by much this year and I haven’t uncovered much in the way of pet causes like the Richard Jenkins or In The Loop of years past. Part of that may be that I’ve seen fewer films than usual given the early nomination date. I’ll probably see Beasts of the Southern Wild or something next week and fall in love with it.

One nomination that could still possibly happen is an Original Screenplay nod for the inventive Looper, one of my favorite movies of the year. Some precursors have recognized the film, so my fingers will be firmly crossed.

Beyond that, my hopes are such long-shots that they’re not worth expending energy wishing for them:  Adapted Screenplay (or any category, really) for Bernie or a Best Actor nod for Logan Lerman in The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Finally, I’ll finish with some fairly unambitious desires. Brave moved me more than most, it seems. I think it will be fine but I hope the mild critical response and backlash about it being “lesser” Pixar doesn’t prevent it from getting its due in the Animated Feature category. And its two original songs are the best of the bunch so here’s hoping they get some recognition as well.


Biggest Hope:
The Fix-it Felix Version (happy): Since we’re working within reason here, its that Beasts of the Southern Wild gets a picture nomination. I’m relieved that I get to make this statement before my fellow grouches see it and hate it, because I loved it. The Katrina-inspired fable had some monumental acting performances, the score is the best I’ve heard since The Social Network (or perhaps even There Will Be Blood), and it toed the line masterfully between realism and fantasy.

The Wreck-it Ralph Version (angry): That Tom Hooper gets shut out of the director category for absolutely butchering Les Miserables. Everything about his choices ruined any chances I had of enjoying the musical and sapped all the life and emotion out of what is theoretically a good musical.

Biggest Lock:
The Channing Tatum 2012 Version (happy): Daniel Day-Lewis. He carried Lincoln from beginning to end and absolutely disappeared behind the beard and top hat.

The Taylor Kitsch 2012* Version (sad): Les Mis for best picture. See above — or just read Jared’s review in which he stole all of my good lines.

*John Carter was actually good. Don’t listen to people and go see it.

Biggest Disappointment:
The 21 Jump Street version (for a nomination): When someone from the boring and dull Best Exotic Marigold Hotel gets nominated.

The Rust and Bone version (for a non-nomination): When Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson get shut out of the Best Supporting Actor category. They carry the second half of the film and kick Django into a whole other gear of awesomeness.


Usually when we are writing up these posts, at least one of us begs for the Academy to throw some curveballs our way with an out of left field prediction or two.  You won’t see that this time.  Every single category is in play this year, and there are seemingly limitless scenarios of how this thing plays out.  Maybe Lincoln steamrolls to 300 nominations.  Maybe we only get five nominees and something big gets left out.  Could Zero Dark Thirty be huge and pull down all sorts of crazy noms?  It is going to be a lot of fun watching the nominations come out regardless of whose names are called.

Unfortunately I find myself agreeing with my compatriots.  I can’t really find any films or people on the bubble who I really want to see get in.  The Perks of Being of a Wallflower‘s screenplay, I guess?  It would be great if Matthew McConaughey could get a nomination, it is just hard to get behind his role in Magic Mike when he’s so riveting in Killer Joe.  I suppose, staying in the category, it is kind of silly that De Niro seems to be on his way to nomination for a relatively pedestrian performance, I wouldn’t mind if he missed.

I really want to be rooting for Skyfall, because Bond so rarely flies this close to Oscar, I just wish the film was, you know, actually a Bond movie.  That said, a cinematography nomination would be a lot of fun, and well-deserved.  And a Bond bad guy nomination is long overdue, so I’d be in favor of Javier Bardem showing up.

And the only thing I can think of that would really make me sad is a Tom Hooper nomination, but Brian covered that.  Well, the Les Miserables best picture nomination as well, for similar reasons.

27.  Transformers: Dark of the Moon

The cast of a Coen Bros. movie meets the casts of a studio romantic comedy in a film where the actors don’t really matter at all.  At some point the crashwhizbanginess of Michael Bay’s films have to get old, right?  Seems like there should be diminishing returns.  But so far I’ve found the films continue to be watchable, even as they move away from any semblance of logic and toward a cacophony of lights and sound.

26.  Young Adult

This dark comedy reminded me a little of Rachel Getting Married in its depiction of a unlikable emotionally scarred lead who finds herself in the middle of some pretty uncomfortable to watch situations.  And Charlize Theron is quite good in the role.  It was great that Patton Oswalt was in the Oscar conversation.  I’m not sure he would have made my personal top five, but that’s probably more on the size of the role than his performance.  And, similarly, I think the script overall was good, but not great.

25.  Mysteries of Lisbon

In the interest of full disclosure, I watched this Portuguese epic over the course of two nights, and really, films are meant to be seen in one sitting.  In my defense, this bad boy clocks in at a whopping four and a half hours.  Which is a lot of movie.  As my Dumas books will attest, I’m kind of a sucker for long winding interconnected 19th centuryish tales of adventure and intrigue.  And there were a lot of stories crammed into this one.  But the framing convention and connecting narrative of a sick boy seeking to learn his history was really effectively used to show that maybe all was not as it seemed.  So it is a little bit of a mindf*ck.  In a sense, I thought it tackled a lot of the themes and ideas Tree of Life was going for.  Only, you know, effectively.

24.  Hanna

Whenever you start getting frustrated about the lack of original movies that Holly greenlights, it is nice to think of the less obvious stuff that has managed to come along.  Like this super low-key action movie about an adolescent girl who was trained, from birth, to be an assassin.  The film takes an interesting approach to telling the story and has some well-designed fight sequences.  It is almost like an “indie” action movie, and no comparisons immediately come to mind.

23.  Martha Marcy May Marlene

This indie smash does a fantastic job maintaining tension throughout the whole movie.  I was continually drawn in, trying to figure out exactly what was going on, while never finding the film too opaque.  Enough digital ink has been spilled over Olsen’s coming out party  that I don’t feel obliged to chime in.  Especially because we get it, she’s the Olsen sister we never saw.  Jokes about that stopped being funny a long time ago, if they even ever were.  Good for her for taking them in stride, though.  Actually, she reminds me a little bit of Maggie Gyllenhaal, for whatever that is worth.

22.  Midnight in Paris

Here’s my full take on this movie.  You can tell my knowledge of cinema has a real depth and breadth and couples well with my understanding of nuance, because I compare Midnight in Paris to Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

21.  Just Go with It

I firmly believe you can never know how good a movie is before actually watching it.  You can have an educated guess, of course, but if you go into a movie with an open mind, sometimes it is going to surprise you.  I’ll grant the conditions were favorable, I believe I watched this on a plane after getting a lucky upgrade to first class.  And the fact that the soundtrack heavily leaned on Sting and the Police songs certainly didn’t hurt any.  But underneath the, yes, somewhat tired romantic comedy was a genuine warmth.  The kids were cute and Bailee Madison’s intentionally bad British accent slayed me.  Brooklyn Decker is an incredible physical specimen, sure, but she showed a perhaps surprising competence, and her character was given actual depth.  And there was a sly sense of humor, for example the ballyhooed cameos from Nicole Kidman and Dave Matthews that went beyond stunt casting into something oddball and fun.

20.  The Help

Huh.  Thought I had written this one up, but I guess not.  I sorta think people projected their own stuff onto this film.  Which is probably all but inevitable, especially for a film where race issues feature so prominently.  But personally, I viewed it more as a feel good underdog type movie and didn’t really think it tried to “solve” racism or have any sort of deep social message (while i may agree with the idea that racism is stupid, I’d like to think we are living at a point where that’s a particularly complex idea).  I mean, look at Octavia Spencer’s end scene, where she thinks she’s going to be fired, but it turns out Jessica Chastain cooked her a meal.  That’s just heartwarming.  The only real criticism I have is that the film felt a little bloated, I think they could have trimmed the running time down a bit without losing anything.  The cast is top notch.  I’m not sure if I were running things I would have given them three Oscar noms, but I’m certainly not upset about it.  For me, the most questionable one is Jessica Chastain, both because voters probably should have settled on her role in Take Shelter over this one and because I’m not sure what separates her from Bryce Dallas Howard (intended as a compliment to the latter) here.  Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer were both fantastic.  Davis wouldn’t have been my pick for Oscar, I guess, but it is baffling to me why she isn’t getting better roles.  Frankly, I’m surprised Showtime hasn’t nabbed her to lead some series and win Emmys for the next half-decade.  Oh, and as I alluded to, I think the argument that the film is about a young white woman ending racism are silly.  But, if a young white woman were to end racism, let’s just say I wouldn’t be bet against it being Emma Stone.

19.  Super 8

The movie was simply fantastic up until the train crash, but once the film turned into a monster movie, I think the quality leveled off some.  If J.J. Abrams could have toned down the supernatural elements, I think the movie could have been something truly special, instead of simply a solid film.  And I guess while I’m critiquing, I’ll say that I was really hoping this would be a breakout role for Coach, er, Kyle Chandler, but his role just didn’t allow for that.  I do need to go on a little rant about the relative lack of recognition for Elle Fanning’s performance.  Which probably was, for me, the performance of the year.  Certainly the supporting performance of the year.  I’m not sure I can remember being a theater where our collective breath was taken away the way it was during the scene was Fanning was acting out a scene at the train station.  In fact, coming back from Europe, I put on Super 8 and fast forwarded to that scene and then the scene where she does a zombie.  Riveting stuff.

18.  Contagion

Probably one of the scariest movies I’ve seen, in the sense that I didn’t want to touch anything or even really go outside for about a week after seeing this one.  I though director Steven Soderbergh and writer Scott Z. Burns did a fantastic job depicting a global epidemic by way of a number of different storylines.  The film lost a little steam about 3/4 of the way, possibly as a result of so many different stories.  And I think the very end was maybe a bit much.  Still, it was a skillfully handled film chock full of talented actors and actresses.  Side note: I distinctly remember the first time I saw the trailer for Contagion in theaters.  When Gwyenth Paltrow died, my theater applauded.  That says something, I think.

77.  Cowboys and Aliens

Saw this one in a theater in the Outer Banks with family last summer, and I distinctly remember the place had at least two pinball machines on which we might have killed a half hour (and who knows how much money) before the film.  Afterward, I think we all agreed that it was nice to be in the air conditioning for a couple of hours.  Increasingly (and perhaps not surprisingly) it seems that if a movie is so ridiculous that its insanity can be encapsulated in its title (e.g. Snakes on a Plane), the movie isn’t going to be able to live up to expectations.  My big problem with this one is that pretty much every supporting character could have been cut without the film needing to be edited for coherence.

76.  Drive

In my notes I describe this film as a B-movie with great actors.  I’m not sure that’s entirely fair, but I didn’t see in the movie what other people seemed to.  I think what I was getting at is that there’s a lot of down time between the action scenes, stuff that maybe some people see as “arty” and others see as “boring.”  Maybe “arthouse B-movie” would be a better description.  It felt a little bit like director Nicholas Winding Refn and cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel spent a lot of effort making every shot precious.  Which is maybe a good idea in theory, though here I often find it tiring and distracting.

75.  Like Crazy

Something of an arthouse hit after winning the Grand Jury award at Sundance, it was considered to have been snubbed by the Spirit Awards.  As much as anything can be snubbed by the Spirit Awards.  On one hand, it is very easy to be angry at Anton Yelchin (perhaps best known as Chekov from Star Trek who got to hook up with Kat Dennings in Charlie Bartlett a few years back and now gets to hook up with both the lovely and talented Felicity Jones and the equally lovely and talented Jennifer Lawrence here.  On the other hand, screw that guy.  The movie is about Yelchin and Jones falling in love in college, but when Jones intentionally overstays her visa, the couple has to figure out how to make a trans-Atlantic relationship work.  I found the time jumps a little hard and it was also difficult to sympathize with the characters, which seems pretty important for a movie like this.

74.  Immortals

Tarsem movies are always visually stunning and. I’d argue, in a way that actually services the plot.  And it turns out his visual flourish translates pretty well to the fight scenes in an action movie.  In particular, the fights scenes with the gods were really really cool.  It would be nice, then, if he viewed plot as something more than a necessary evil.  Speaking of necessary evils, Mickey Rourke was an inspired casting choice as a bad guy.

73.  Rango

I found Rango to be pleasant, a little weird, and mostly forgettable.  Didn’t seem nearly as clever to me as some people made it out to be.  Of course, I didn’t really like Chinatown.  Still, you do have to give them a lot of credit for Timothy Olyphant voicing the Clint Eastwood role.

72.  The Adjustment Bureau

Based on a Philip K. Dick short story (and if you are playing along with the Jared recap drinking game, drink!), the movie sure needed Dick to have written more pages, because there is too much padding and general aimlessness here.  There also feels like a constant level of tension from the very start to end of the movie, which isn’t exactly how that’s supposed to work.  But hey, a Philip K. Dick movie with Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie, and lots of cool hats can’t be all bad.

71.  Footnote

Saw this Israeli movie, which was nominated for a Foreign Language Oscar and Spirit Award for screenwriting, in theaters with my grandma.  It is a surprisingly watchable movie, given its Oscar status.  I mean, sure, there’s the requisite depression and ennui, but the film takes on a relatively light tone and tells a very micro-level story about the relationship between a father and son, and how that impacts their family life.  I found the story engaging, though it occasionally went in directions other than I would have liked.  Also, generally speaking, I’m not a huge fan of open-ended, well, endings.  When, as we were filing out of the theater, multiple little old ladies in the audience asked me if they had missed something in the abrupt ending, I think writer-director Joseph Cedar made a creative mistake.

70.  The Debt

This is the American remake.  With Helen Mirren as a member of Mossad and let’s just say I’m not 100% convinced that part was made up.  Tom Wilkinson and Ciaran Hinds make up the rest of the team in the present day, and in the past the characters are played by Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas, and Sam Worthington, respectively.  Director John Madden is experiencing a nice career bounce with this year’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and while this one may be a step above Killshot, it certainly didn’t suggest a return to the form of Shakespeare in Love.  Especially disappointing because the screenwriting pair behind Stardust (Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn) have a credit (then again so does one of the people who wrote Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.  Anyway, this movie took awhile to get to the stakes, but there’s an interesting spy movie hiding somewhere in there.

69.  The Ledge

This is different from Man on a Ledge, which is currently sitting in a Netflix envelope on my shelves, waiting to be watched.  In this one, Charlie Hunnam is the titular guy on the ledge (and side note, it took me like an hour to place him as the guy from Undeclared), who had gotten involved with his neighbor (Liv Tyler) who has a devoutly Christian husband (Patrick Wilson) who doesn’t take kindly to being cuckolded, and Terence Howard is the police negotiator.  The movie got a little preachy at times, (if it took a side, it was equally preachy on all sides) and tried to frame the story as a battle between ideological viewpoints without actually doing so.  Instead, it just seemed like Charlie Hunnam was in a different movie than everyone else.  Wilson, naturally, was fantastic.  He’s one of those guys who I would cast in a movie without needing to know what type of movie or role it was.  Also, Liv Tyler’s boobies.

68.  The Beaver

I’m not sure the first movie directed by Jodie Foster in fifteen years, written by Kyle Killen (the guy behind the cancelled TV shows Lonestar and Awake) and starring the still-searching for redemption Mel Gibson as a guy who loses the ability to function without talking through the beaver puppet on his hand was ever going to match the hype brought about by that confluence of factors.  The thing is, the movie isn’t really as strange as it seems like it would be.  Gibson plays a deeply depressed husband and father who uses the beaver puppet as a way to cope.  There’s a subplot with Gibson’s son (Anton Yelchin) hooking up with a high school classmate (Jennifer Lawrence) that is distractingly underdeveloped.  Observant readers will note that’s the second time in this post those two play an on-screen couple.

137.  Outrage

Copying from my film festival writeup:

Anyway, Outrage is a Yakuza movie about warring families/clans (apologies if nomenclature is incorrect) who operate within a larger group of clans.  About a half hour into the film, it becomes clear that the movie is really about who is going to kill who, and how twisted the death scene will be.

My fundamental problem with the film, and I’m not entirely certain to what extent it is a cultural thing, is that it felt like so much of the movie dealt with the bureaucracy of the Yakuza.  The guy at the top would order a kill, or imply that he wanted a kill.  His second in command would relay that order to the appropriate head of family, sometimes changing it slightly.  The head would pass on the order to his second in command, or perhaps ignore it.  The second in command passed it on to his henchmen, sometimes, who would execute the kill.  And then the information would go back up the chain a similar way.  Rinse and repeat.  Like the bloodiest game of telephone ever.

The other problem is that we don’t really get to know the characters.  And few of them have any sort of distinguishing characteristic.  So it is hard to care too much when they get offed.

Some of the kills were cool.  But I wouldn’t recommend to see the film just on that basis, there are plenty of movies with better death scenes, I think.   It isn’t a bad film, though, and if you are a mob movie fanatic or completist, it is probably worth your while.

136.  Heartbeats

This film won an award at Cannes and cemented writer/director/actor Xavier Dolan as something of an indie darling.  I was confused to see it was nominated for a Cesar for Best Foreign Film, since the movie is in French, but then I remembered they speak French in Canada too.  The movie is about two close friends, a girl and a gay guy who both become infatuated with the same guy.  The film had some interesting points to make, I think.  Unfortunately, it made those points 20 minutes in, and so we got to see the same situation play out for another hour.  I do see why others liked it so much, though, there’s a lot of style to make up for the lack of substance.

135.  The Three Musketeers

Adam is going to be upset with me for not having this movie closer to the bottom of my list.  Make no mistake, The Three Musketeers is a terrible movie.  And it bastardizes the source material something fierce.  For example, you’d think that swordfighting would be an integral aspect of any musketeer movie, right?  Well, this one goes out of its way to throw in scenes of the musketeers using any number of different weapons, so it feels like 45 minutes until we get to a swordfight.  But that’s OK, the swordfighting choreography  is horribly uninspired.  Granted, the movie does take a bunch of key plot points from the book.  And then you get to the zeppelin fight.  Anyway, the writing is bad, with no clear direction other than maybe petulance from having to adapt the novel rather than creating something original.  Some of the casting is fun, like Christoph Waltz as Richelieu, Mads Mikkelsen as Rochefort, Juno Temple as the Queen, and surprisingly, Orlando Bloom as the Duke of Buckingham.  This is all prelude, though.  Because of our schedules and poor timing with Easter, for our annual Passover drunken movie watching, we ended up watching this movie on a weeknight after a class I was taking.  I plowed through a bottle of Manichewitz in about an hour.  So we are watching the film in a certain state, lamenting how crappy it was (Adam and I both love the book) when Adam says we could do better swordfights.  I laugh.  He leaves for a minutes and brings back down a big bag.  Out of which he pulls a couple swords, actual real swords, throws one at me and says, “En garde.”  At which point we swordfight for ten minutes with the movie in the background.  And that’s why I gave the movie a little bump.

134.  The Conspirator

The Robert Redford movie about the conspiracy to assassinate Racing President Abe Lincoln and the ensuing trial of Mary Surratt.  I won’t bother listing all the actors out, but the cast is top notch.  Didn’t really have much to do, other than stand around in mid-19th century garb, but hey, they can say they worked with Redford.  There was a surprising lack of story and some themes were repeated over and over.  It seems like there should be an interesting story in here, but maybe only from someone willing to take more liberties with history.

133.  30 Minutes or Less

As you might recall from my blurb on Your Highness, Danny McBride is the worst.  Ugh.  This film’s problems extended beyond him, though.  I find Aziz Ansari pretty funny, I like his most recent album a lot, but I have absolutely no idea why he was cast in this movie or why he accepted the role.  The biggest problem, though, is that the film couldn’t really decided what it wanted to be, a send up of action films or an actual film, and so spent most of the time nervously toeing the line of both.

132.  The Sitter

So I had plans to see My Week with Marilyn, but when I got to E St, a fire alarm had gone off earlier, which screwed with the schedule, and so the theater wasn’t showing any more movies that night.  Desperate for a movie, my friend and I walked to Gallery Place, where we eventually landed on this.  There were a few laughs in there, and I’m an Ari Graynor fan, but the script felt like a hatchet job.  Not just because of Graynor, but Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist comes to mind when thinking about one crazy night movies, and I think the comparison shows how The Sitter failed not just with jokes, but with building an interesting story around them.

131.  Hello Lonesome

This Spirit Awards nominees features three stories: a guy and a girl fall in love, but the girl has cancer; a voiceover guy doesn’t have any friends or family; a 30-something guy starts spending lots of time with his elderly female neighbor.  None of the stories overlap at all.  I guess there’s a common theme of human interaction, but that’s pretty weak, in my opinion.  But Sabrina Lloyd is the girl with cancer, so yay for that.  Lloyd, not the cancer.

130.  Weekend

If you follow indie movies, you’ve likely heard about Weekend, for everyone else, it is a drama about two gay British guys who hook up for the weekend.  I’ve thought a lot about why I didn’t like this film, because it is generally well-regarded and I’d rather it not just be because the movie is about two gay guys.  I think where I’ve landed is that the gay thing is probably something of a factor, both because it is harder to relate to what it must be like to be gay and because, everything else equal, if I’m going to watch two attractive people getting it on for what seemed like the bulk of the movie, I’d rather at least one be a female.  So part of it is on my end.  But I think the larger point is that, to me, it falls in the category of indie films where people just talk about life and nothing really happens.  And I’ve pretty consistently not enjoyed those.

129.  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II

Cards on the table: I read the first Harry Potter book and didn’t like it.  And this is the first Harry Potter movie I’ve seen.  Clearly not for me, so let’s just move on.

128.  The Devil’s Double

Dominic Cooper does a fine job as Uday Hussein and his double in this film based on a true story.  But here is a description of every scene in the movie: Uday does something horrible because he is a horrible person.  The double is like, “Wow, Uday is a horrible person.”  I just saved you a lot of time.  Though I guess you’d miss a heck of a showcase for Cooper.

147.  Swinging with the Finkels

Won’t somebody please put Mandy Moore in a good movie?!  For me, this was When Harry Met Sally meets Humpday.  Moore and Martin Freeman (who is also great) are a married couple who have lost their spark, so they decide to give swinging a try.  The film’s only funny scene involves Moore and Freeman interviewing potential couples though tonally it is completely different from the rest of the movie.  There’s also a scene with Moore, a cucumber, and her grandparents that is exactly as uncomfortable as it sounds.

146.  Dylan Dog: Dead of Night

Dylan Dog

I have a mild obsession with Brandon Routh and his complete inability to emote.  I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who has noticed this, and yet he keeps getting cast in roles where, eventually, he has to show some sort of emotion.  And always with hilarious results.  But that can’t sustain my interest over the course of a whole movie, unfortunately.  The film had some interesting horror/comedy aspects, but mostly was supernatural mumbo jumbo that wasn’t terribly interesting.  Poor Taye Diggs, something went really wrong for him to be taking supporting roles in a clunker like this.

145.  Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune

Two relevant pieces of information here.  I have trouble appreciating documentaries.  Haven’t quite figured out why, I think it has something to do with me being so willing to suspend disbelief for films that maybe the opposite is true for documentaries.  And my dad is a huge Phil Ochs fan, so I was fairly familiar with Ochs’s story and music.  And, I should clarify, I’m also a fan.  His lyrics are witty, of course, but the music is disarmingly catchy.  And “Changes” is one of the prettiest songs ever recorded.  Anyway, I didn’t think the film did a good job telling a cohesive story.  If anything, I came away more confused as to what, exactly was Phil Ochs’s place in the folk scene.  The talking heads often seemed more interested in reminiscing about how great the time was and less about Ochs specifically.

144.  Rampart

Oren Moverman’s followup to The Messenger generated some Oscar buzz, but ultimately fell short, settling for a Spirit Awards nomination for lead actor Woody Harrelson.  Who is great, of course.  And his character is kinda interesting.  But the film seems like it is going more for shock than substance, from the nearly recognizable Ben Foster in a wheelchair to whatever the domestic situation was with Cynthia Nixon and Anne Heche to Harrelson’s character’s nickname (Date Rape Dave).  Not to mention stunt casting Sigourney Weaver, Steve Buscemi, and Robin Wright in glorified cameos.

143.  Hobo with a Shotgun

Watched this with Adam.  I’m reasonably certain alcohol was involved.  In some sense the movie delivered exactly what it promised: Rutger Hauer plays a hobo.  With a shotgun.  So maybe my expectations were too high.  Or maybe the filmmakers focused too much on the premise and ensuing ridiculousness (this is a messed up movie) and not enough on coming up with an actual story to last the whole movie.

142.  Texas Killing Fields

One of the hundreds of movies released in 2011 that featured Jessica Chastain.  To me, this was a police procedural (not a compliment) with seemingly arbitrary pieces missing.  The comparison is unfair because I knew heading in that the movie was directed by Ami Mann, Michael’s daughter (though both are unrelated to Aimee Mann), but like father like daughter.  I don’t know what is with the Mann family that they feel compelled to make interesting premises as boring as possible.  A stellar cast, though, with Chastain, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Grace Moretz, and Sam Worthington.

141.  A Dangerous Method

The film enjoyed Oscar buzz pre-release, but ultimately settled for a single Golden Globe nomination for Viggo Mortensen.  Whose facial hair certainly deserved awards consideration.  The cast, which also includes Keira Knightley, Michael Fassbender, and Vincent Cassel is top notch, the script just can’t pass muster.  Unless nonstop psychological mumbo-jumbo punctuated only by someone spanking Knightley is your thing.

140.  Anonymous

Roland Emmerich is way better when he gets to destroy the world.  Here, he treats the theory that Edward De Vere actually wrote the works attributed to William Shakespeare in his typical grandiose manner.  But the story is much more intimate.  Rhys Ifans, playing De Vere gets that.  Shakespeare’s works may have shaped the course of the English language, not being able to take credit for them isn’t the kind of thing that affects the fate of nations.  But it is a terrible price to pay for De Vere, and Ifans is great fun to watch as he sees his works go over so huge but can’t tell anyone about it.

139.  What’s Your Number?

The premise is everything that’s wrong about romcoms: Anna Faris reads some article in a magazine about how women aren’t supposed to sleep with more than 20 guys (or whatever), which happens to be the same number she’s hit, so she starts looking up old boyfriends to see if one of them is actually the one.  Meanwhile, her attractive, unattached neighbor who is totally wrong and yet totally right for her (Chris Evans) helps her on her quest.  To the movie’s credit, it tries to get away from that premise as much as possible, but it really shouldn’t be framing the movie at all.  It has a few funny scenes, like Anna Faris’s slipping British accent as she re-connects with Martin Freeman and little kids cursing, and a great supporting cast, but ultimately it isn’t enough.

138.  Season of the Witch

So when Ian and I were doing our baseball road trip through the Rust Belt, we found a local video rental store that proudly proclaimed on its sign outside: “We have Season of the Witch”.  So I had to watch.  It didn’t hurt that the movie stars Nicholas Cage, of course.  The first two acts aren’t terrible.  Cage and Ron Perlman are two knights in the Middle Ages who end up transporting an accused witch to some far away place.  The first part is mostly mind games, you know, is the girl actually a witch, is she screwing with the minds of the people in the traveling party, that sort of thing.  The last act of the movie, though, is just nuts.  I found it jarring and unnecessary, but I can see how they thought there’d be no way to sell the movie if that bit (which does have more action) didn’t make the final cut.

April 2020