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It is easy to criticize the Academy for its choices. Like any organization, they are going to make unpopular decisions. And as with any vote, the most deserving person or film isn’t guaranteed victory in the least. But part of the genesis of this project is the idea that it isn’t fair to ridicule a winner without seeing all of the other nominees. So, we watched all the nominees. Quixotic? Maybe. Fun? Almost always. Here’s what we thought of the Best Picture category:

ADAM

Will Win: Slumdog Millionaire

    As I have stated before, Slumdog Millionaire has been sweeping all awards ceremonies. At this point, it seems like an unstoppable juggernaut. Overall, it was a well written screenplay, with very good acting (especially by the children, the cop, and the game show host). I have issues with the transition and handling of the older children and storyline, but other than that, I thought this was a very well put together movie.

I Want to Win: The Dark Knight

    As with Best Director, I realize that The Dark Knight was not nominated, but in my opinion there was no movie better this year. It is a travesty that it was excluded and my opinion of the Academy has reached an all time low (no small feat).

Dark Horse: The Reader

    The Reader‘s nomination was a surprise to a good many people. The love for it is obviously there so it has an outside chance of stealing this award from Slumdog. However, it is still Millionaire‘s award to lose.

Random Notes:

My disgust with the Academy over this award is palpable. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, The Dark Knight was the best movie of the year. The Academy does itself no favors by proving time and time again that it is both antiquated and close-minded. This is just another example.

BRIAN

Since The Wrestler isn’t in this group, I am going with the masses and hoping for a Slumdog win. Of the five, its the movie I most enjoyed and the one I would most be looking forward to watching again. Faint praise, but well, its the 2008 Oscars.

JARED

You know, I kind of like this group. Not because I think they are the five best pictures of the year, but because they sort of provide a good summary of the Oscar year in film. The Oscar-bait movies were generally disappointing affairs, and more frequently than not, the best movies came outside of the traditional framework (even Slumdog Millionaire didn’t exactly come from the studio system). Most of the biggest themes in 2008 films were largely ignored by the Academy. Looking at the top ten grossing films of the year, for example, there are four animated films, three super hero films, Indy, Bond, and Twilight. Moneymaking doesn’t equal quality, of course, but WALL-E landed on more critics’ top ten lists than other other film, and had the third-highest metacritic score of the year (behind 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, and The Class). The Dark Knight was on the fourth-most number of crtic’s lists, and is third of the viable Oscar contenders and nominees on Rotten Tomatoes list, behind The Wrestler and WALL-E.

At this point, I feel like I’ve spent enough time on Frost/Nixon. I’m stunned that anyone could consider it in the top five of 2008 movies. Sure, it felt like an Oscar movie, and was a decent film, but The Wrestler wasn’t better? Maybe as John (I think) said, the film just had more of an impact on people who lived through the Nixon administration. And I’m still content to be in the minority who didn’t think much of Milk. Maybe I’m just allergic to biopics. I can at least somehow see how people might love the film, I suppose, and I don’t think too much less of them.

It is hard to watch Benjamin Button and not think, “Yeah, this is an Oscar movie.” The effects (and I’m including makeup there) are really impressive, and the film has a grand feeling to it. It wasn’t completely successful or maybe even mostly successful in delivering an entertaining film. But it was a valiant effort. And really, I think more or less the same about Slumdog Millionaire. A fantastic start, but it falls a little short of greatness. Again, while I don’t quite understand all the love for the film, I’m certainly not opposed to it.

So yes, I’m the sole person waving a The Reader foam finger. It wasn’t perfect, far from it. But for me, it was touching, maybe even beautiful. Everybody looks for something different from a movie, and I’m not sure I can describe what I want. But I have to think when a film hits me like a punch to the gut, it is doing something right.

JOHN

And here we are, the Big Kahuna. I think this is sort of a middling group of films. The fact that I didn’t truly dislike any of them is better than average for the Academy. On the other hand, only two really moved me. I will have forgotten half this slate in six months.

First, the weakest. How did The Dark Knight lose out to The Reader? It’s not that good but it is total Oscar bait. Consider: forbidden love, the Holocaust, AND a lesson about the importance of art. I guess there’s no way the Academy could refuse (and, for the record, I had one of the few correct pre-nomination predictions on this site when I said it would sneak into the category). Its success is mixed. I was very fascinated by the affair plot. The way young Michael becomes so completely enamored with Hannah and the devastation her rejection wreaks on the rest of his life are very interesting. But the other more serious story lines are much less successful. There’s a very good film to be made exploring how we assign blame to an entire society that commited an atrocity but The Reader is not it. It has some good thoughts on the issue, however, and the scene with Michael’s classmate yelling at the professor is my favorite scene in the film. And then the whole redemptive power of literacy theme is a complete and utter miss. I couldn’t possibly have cared less. Hannah’s actions would be much more interesting explored from her position in society and her occupation than her literacy.

I found Frost/Nixon to be a pretty entertaining ride. It reminds me of Oceans Eleven of all films with the way its characters playfully work their scheme to trick the villain. It’s fun but that’s about it. It’s the problem I mention again and again: I just didn’t care. The big climax is… a contrite Richard Nixon!! Um, so? That surely means a lot to some people but not for me. Without more context Nixon just feels like another movie villain, albeit one I have knowledge of going in. So it’s a fun flick without much weight. I liked Frank Langella and Michael Sheen and Frost’s team of three researchers is hilarious.

Benjamin Button is a darn good story. Take the crazy premise of aging in reverse, choose the time to begin the guy’s life, and let it go. I enjoyed seeing where the story would go and generally the plot is quite interesting. It made me think about the practical challenges of aging backwards. It clearly wanted me to think about something deeper, however, and I think any intended lessons on youth and love fall short. The film looks great and the special effects are very neat without being too ostentatious. Some of the unnecessary contrivances, such as the framing device of old Daisy on her death bed while Hurricane Katrina bears down on New Orleans, are nicely counterbalanced by some really superb segments like the ones in the USSR and World War II. It is a little too sprawling and goes on too long, but it is for the most part a pleasant film-going experience.

There’s a pretty big gap to my top two. Slumdog Millionaire will win and I’ll be okay with that. It’s great to see something untraditional get so much love. Even though I’m making Milk my choice I understand how boring it is to reward a biopic. The contrivances annoyed me at times. It’s meant to be a Dickensian fairy tale and that does make me feel better about them but I’d be lying if I said they didn’t bother me a little. But most of those reservations get blown away by the picture’s look and feel. Exhilarating pieces like the chase through the slums and the scenes at the Taj Mahal took my breath away. The throbbing score gives the entire thing a great pulse. Clearly it has the feel-good thing going for it that puts audience in a good mood and I wonder how much of the love for the film is an outsized response to that. I adore Slumdog Millionaire but I’m not sure how well it will hold up.

And so my choice is Milk. I loved pretty much everything about this film. It transcends its biopic genre by being not just about a man but a time and an ideal. It’s a message film that never grows preachy or sappy. Sean Penn turns in an incredible performance. He’s one of those stars that you immediately forget is Sean Penn when he is on the screen. The supporting cast is also terrific, led by Josh Brolin, James Franco, and Emile Hirsch. I also really liked how Milk treats its antagonist, Dan White, by making him quite complex and even somewhat sympathetic. Even the editing in Milk stood out for me with its terrific opening montage that so perfectly set the stage and its use of archival footage. In a lackluster year I’m thrilled to find such a gem even in the guise of a standard Hollywood biopic.

Snubs: I so wish The Dark Knight had made it into the big show. I would never consider myself a superhero movie fan but this felt like a superhero movie made for me with its dark style and thought-provoking themes. It would have been nice to see a big action flick get the recognition. And even though I wasn’t as entranced with WALL-E as nearly everyone else – I merely really liked it instead of loved it – it, too, would have been a fun change of pace for the nomination.

And then there’s The Wrestler, which totally fits into the Academy’s box of the types of films to get recognition and yet did not. Great story, great acting, great camerawork, resonant themes- it’s a shame it never even really entered the conversation.

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It is easy to criticize the Academy for its choices.  Like any organization, they are going to make unpopular decisions.  And as with any vote, the most deserving person or film isn’t guaranteed victory in the least.  But part of the genesis of this project is the idea that it isn’t fair to ridicule a winner without seeing all of the other nominees.  So, we watched all the nominees.  Quixotic?  Maybe.  Fun?  Almost always.  Here’s what we thought of the Best Original Screenplay category:

Read the rest of this entry »

John

  1. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
  2. The Dark Knight
  3. Milk
  4. The Wrestler
  5. Slumdog Millionaire

Adam

  1. Dark Knight
  2. Forgetting Sarah Marshall
  3. In Bruges
  4. Doubt
  5. Slumdog Millionaire

Jared

  1. WALL-E
  2. The Reader
  3. Pineapple Express
  4. Forgetting Sarah Marshall
  5. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist

Brian

  1. The Wrestler
  2. Milk
  3. WALL-E
  4. Forgetting Sarah Marshall
  5. Dark Knight

Not too much change from last time.  Adam added Doubt, John stayed the same, I added The Reader, and Brian decided to rearrange his order, plus put WALL-E in for Slumdog Millionaire.  We’re coming down the home stretch, boys and girls, just two weeks away from the big night.  We’ll be rolling out our should wins, our predictions, and we’ll wrap up our movie reviews.  Plus, don’t miss our world famous Oscar night liveblog.

Last year I took a look (and listen) at the eligible original songs. It was a pretty satisfying endeavor with some gems and otherwise interesting tunes in the list of 59. I’ll even occasionally revisit my 2007 Oscar songs Rhapsody playlist.

So I happily decided to try it again in 2008. Yikes. This year’s crop of 49 is a pretty shabby group. And fully 22% come from High School Musical 3: Senior Year alone.

This year we have youtube embedding capability. To keep the post from being dozens of bandwidth-draining clips, I will just embed the ones I think should be experienced while the rest will merely be linked.

The Best

Bruce Springsteen contributes the title song to The Wrestler. It plays as the film fades to black from its highly emotional climax and into the credits. It’s perfect for the moment and a terrific song on its own. A sure nominee and the front-runner for the win.

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Oscar nominations will be announced on January 22. We’re counting down to the big day by tackling some tough questions and spouting some mad opinions. Today’s topic: Disappointment. We’re all going to feel it in some way on Thursday morning. To help get ready for the blow, we’re predicting it now. What inclusion or exclusion on Thursday will disappoint you? How do you like that, a topic that combines both our savvy prediction skills and our impeccable opinions!

John: Adams’s Prowess Doubtful, For Once

I dig Amy Adams, I really do. I liked her a lot in Charlie Wilson’s War, Junebug, and even The Office. She really should have gotten a Best Actress nod last year for the shockingly terrific Enchanted. But she’s about to get swept up in an acting nomination wave for Doubt and that will be too bad. I had a lot of problems with the film but generally agreed with the consensus that the acting was terrific, particularly from Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman (I think Viola Davis’s big scene was too initially puzzling for me to pay a lot of attention to her). But Adams is chirpy and one-note. Her character is pretty shallow, which may have more to do with the writing, but it also doesn’t give her much opportunity to show what she can do. She was supposed to personify the doubt in the film’s central question but I never really saw much complexity in her performance.

But if not Adams, then who, realistically? Good question. She has nominations from both the SAG and Golden Globes. I’d like to see Rosemary DeWitt from Rachel Getting Married but in the end, as long as Adams doesn’t displace Marisa Tomei I’ll be able to live with my disappointment.

And let that be the last time this blog ever speaks unkindly about Amy Adams.

Jared: If I Wasn’t Depressed Enough by The Reader, I Will be When it’s Snubbed for Best Picture

In a year of mediocrity, where movies are missing the mark by just a little bit, one movie managed to get inside my head, to the point where I was too wrecked to get up out of my seat until all the credits had rolled.  So I’ll be disappointed when I don’t hear The Reader making the cut for Best Picture.  Disappointed because I know the movie would have stood a better chance if it hadn’t received bad buzz stemming from various delays and on-set mishaps.  Disappointed because of the seemingly ineffective Oscar marketing campaign, especially when the nascent Slumdog backlash is looking for a candidate to rally behind.  And disappointed that the current climate is absolutely wrong for such a horribly depressing movie.  The Reader is a hauntingly beautiful film, in my mind undoubtedly one of the best of the year, and it is frustrating that it is going to unjustly barely miss the Oscars.

Brian: Adapted Screenplay a Disappointment All Around

My biggest disappointment will be the adapted screenplay category as a whole, especially when Benjamin Button and Frost/Nixon both get nominated for mediocre scripts. Both were unevenly paced with broadly drawn characters with little depth to them. Eric Roth’s screenplay for Button succeeded in spite of itself, to use a great Schollism, and the interplay between the hospital death bed and the story was tangential and distracting. Frost/Nixon perverted history, which makes little to no sense when you are writing about a series of television interviews that ACTUALLY HAPPENED! This wasn’t like The Queen where you could make up the dialogue and history because it all happened behind closed doors, you can compare the action in Frost/Nixon to the transcript. Since Ron Howard made Quiz Show, I thought he’d at least be able to handle a similar scenario here, but with the screenplay already written for the stage, I guess he didn’t have much to work with.

Adam: Actually, Original Screenplay Too (And Have I Mentioned I Really Liked In Bruges?)

My biggest disappointment is with the Academy as a whole (especially if The Dark Knight doesn’t get the nods it deserves). However, if we need to pick and choose, one of the bigger disappointments will be in the Original Screenplay category. The complete lack of respect for Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges script is frustrating. This movie has the most original story, some of the most interesting characters, and the best ending of any film this year. The complete snub by the Academy in exchange for films like Happy-Go-Lucky and Wall-E is embarrassing (putting hyphens in a title doesn’t make it Oscar worthy). Happy-Go-Lucky was a pointless movie that had one decent scene and shouldn’t be nominated for anything. Wall-E was a cute movie, but the main problem I have with it is its script. The plot was, by far, the weakest point. One of my fellow Grouches pointed out that if you look at Wall-E as a romantic comedy that it was the best of that genre all year. However, he later went on to admit that it was a horrible year for that genre. But does that warrant it a nomination? Disappointing… that’s what this category is.

Oscar nominations will be announced on January 22. We’re counting down to the big day by tackling some tough questions and spouting some mad opinions. Today’s topic: What bona fide long shots should get a nomination?

Adam: Give Killer In Bruges a Shot

Segueing nicely from my last post, a long shot for Best Picture that I would like to see is In Bruges. As I stated before, this was one of my favorite movies of the year and I honestly think it deserves a nod for Best Picture above Benjamin Button and Frost/Nixon. I liked Frost/Nixon, but the fact that it is even in the running for Best Picture is a testament to the Academy’s complacency with mediocrity – as long as it is in the correct genre/format. Exceptional comedies or action movies are largely ignored in favor of familiar dramas, bio pics, or period pieces. I think The Dark Knight‘s seeming lock for a Best Picture nomination is the best thing to happen to the Oscars in a number of years. The fact that it is a long shot to win, however, just underscores the trend of prepossessed b***s*** that pervades the institution as well as the awards.

Jared: It’s Great WALL-E is in the Best Picture Universe But it Should Be a Nominee

That WALL-E is even in the discussion for Best Picture is a victory of sorts. But its status as a long shot is still disheartening. Sure, I could point to its status as tied for the second-highest metacritic rating of the year or its 96% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, better than any of the current favorites for Best Picture as evidence to how highly-regarded it is among critics. Or its 8.5 rating on imdb, good for third among 2008 releases, as evidence of its popular appeal. Certainly it would seem strange for a movie with such widespread admiration among critics and the masses to not be noticed by the Academy. (Note that almost all of the arguments in favor of The Dark Knight work as well, if not better, for WALL-E). And yet I keep coming back to the impact it had on me. No other movie this year came so close to actually taking my breath away, to leaving me slightly stunned as I took an extra second after it finished to collect my thoughts. Surely that’s what filmmaking is all about. And surely that’s what defines a best picture.

John: Can The Wrestler Stage a Comeback (From Long Shot Status)?

The Wrestler is a really terrific movie that has stayed in my head much longer than expected. It’s a simple but classic story with a great, well-developed central character. I loved Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei’s performances as well as Darren Aronofsky’s documentary-style visuals. For a film that has been widely admired it’s odd that it hasn’t even moved onto the bubble for Best Picture. A lot of times a film garnering wide acclaim for only its acting will falter in other aspects (think La Vie en Rose or The Last King of Scotland) but that’s certainly not the case for The Wrestler. Every time a commercial for the film comes on and that Springsteen title song plays I get chills. I wouldn’t wish to promote it over The Dark Knight but it’s a shame that it’s barely in the conversation.

We all went with Best Picture choices, so let me throw out a few acting options as well. Burn After Reading was funnier in concept than in reality (meaning I enjoy thinking back on it than I did actually watching it) but it had some really terrific acting. As far as I know no performance has been promoted over the others, potentially causing the actors to cancel each other out, but it’d be great to see one of them pick up a Supporting nod. I’d put Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand at the top, but John Malkovich, Twilda Swinton, and George Clooney were also swell.

That’s what we say. What are some genuine long shots that deserve more of a chance?

Stars:                  Jeff Garlin, Fred Willard, Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight

Directed By:  Andrew Stanton

Written By:    Andrew Stanton & Pete Docter

 

Grouches Ratings: 

Adam:             8

Brian:              7.5

Jared:              9.5

John:                7.5

 

Overall:          8.13

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Wow.

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