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I’m at the Vegas airport, my flight was due out at midnight, but currently delayed until 2 AM, and I’m a little tipsy.  I take no responsibility for anything contained in this post.  If you are looking for a chill bar in Vegas, I recommend The Griffin, on Fremont St., downtown.  And across the street, check out Insert Coin(s), for a bar (with a decent beer selection) that features a number of old school video games.  I got to instruct my co-worker on the cultural importance of The Simpsons and X-Men arcade games.

44. Winter’s Bone

We talked about the film plenty this year, and I reviewed the film way back in October.  As with most of the other Oscar nominees, I’m all talked out here, so let’s just keep it moving.

43. The Town

Another movie we tackled some this year, including a great post pulled together by John.  I think the film ended up a little too high on my list, but 2010 really was a subpar year for film.  Honestly, I’d already forgotten that Jeremy Renner nabbed a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his performance in the movie.  Could we maybe institute a moratorium on Boston movies for a little bit?  The accent is annoying, and there are plenty of underused places in the US that would make for good locales.  Just saying.

42. Red

Red was a good idea, I just wish they fully committed to the absurdity.  Because this movie is, almost by definition, ridiculous.  If you are going to have Dame Helen Mirren machine gunning people, then just embrace that.  There was an undercurrent of seriousness here that I just didn’t get.  Not to say it was a bad movie, it wasn’t.  Just think there was the potential for something really great.

41. Dogtooth

I’m pretty certain Dogtooth is the most messed up movie I’ve ever seen.  It is just so (intentionally) wrong.  Just…wow.  To the point where I hope writer/director Giorgos Lanthimos (along with co-writer Efthymis  Filippou) seeks out therapy.  The fact that it received an Oscar nomination was heralded as a sign that the selection process for Best Foreign films was finally working.  Which may well be true.  But I think all the film’s advocates have some serious issues they need to work out.

40. Toy Story 3

Naturally came up a few times this year for us.  I gotta say, I’m baffled at the love for this film.  I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time bad-mouthing it, so I just want to clarify that I like the movie, but I didn’t love it and don’t see how others do.  It isn’t a bad movie, but not particularly compelling.  Pretty much just two hours of the familiar crew being placed in crappy situation after crappy situation.  Maybe because the characters mean so much from the first two movies that their predicaments felt a lot more meaningful for people?  I dunno.  To me, one great thing about Pixar movies is their heart, and I just didn’t see it here.

39. Salt

Questionable DC geography aside, Salt is a perfectly serviceable action flick.  Screenwriter Kurt Wimmer has come up with a bevy of thinking man’s thrillers, and he comes up with a good premise here.  The third act is a little disappointing, though, it felt like he could have gone a little deeper with the mysteries surrounding Angelina Jolie and Liev Schreiber (who between this and The Manchurian Candidate has found a rather specific niche for himself).  And hey, that was Smash from FNL as a CIA officer.

38. Date Night

Starring Tina Fey and Steve Carell, with cameos up the wazoo, Date Night should have been a home run, but instead settles for a double.  Which I’m inclined to lay at the feet of screenwriter Josh Klausner, who also wrote Shrek Forever After.  Man, can you imagine if Carell and Fey had co-written this bad boy?  The movie was generally funny, but I wouldn’t call the characters exactly in the respective wheelhouses of the leads.  And it doesn’t seem the film is sure exactly what question about their relationship is trying to be answered over the course of the night.

37. Kick-Ass

I mean, it was decent,  but given the hype, director (Matthew Vaughn), screenwriters (such as Jane Goldman) and cast (Aaron Johnson, Nicholas Cage, Mark Strong), I was kinda hoping for more.  I guess it was a little unsettling to see someone as young as Chloe Moretz being shot at by her character’s father, kicking butt, and tossing out curse words, but it takes a little more than that to rile me up.  Johnson does seem to have a promising career in front of him.  Also, I don’t know if it is the lack of vowels in her name or her lack of lines on HIMYM, but I was a little surprised to see that Lyndsy Fonseca is quite the fetching young lass.

36. Machete

Robert Rodriguez does a number of things very very well.  He’s probably got one of the best understandings of the sensibilities of Westerns of any writer or director working today.   Crazy shootout scenes with tons of guys going after each other?  Knocks that out of the park.  He can establish a certain gritty, Robert Rodriguez feel to a film.  He seems to work well with name actor and actresses, turning their roles in ensemble pieces into something memorable.  On the flip side, I’m not convinced he’s yet figured out how to put together a coherent story.

35. Leaves of Grass

In this Tim Blake Nelson film, Ed Norton plays…you may want to sit down for this one…a dual role.  He’s a well-regarded philosophy professor drawn back to his Oklahoma hometown at the request of his drug-dealing twin brother.  The rest of the eclectic cast includes Susan Sarandon, Richard Dreyfuss, Maggie Siff, Keri Russell and (that) Steve Earle.  The film may not be quite as insightful as it thinks it is, and occasionally veers into weird subplots (including one revolving around anti-Semitic graffiti spraypainted on the wall of a synagogue).  But it has a good heart and manages to be funny, interesting, and often insightful

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We continue our discussion casting our votes for the Independent Spirit Awards. Find part one here.

BEST DIRECTOR

  • Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
  • Danny Boyle, 127 Hours
  • Lisa Cholodenko, The Kids Are All Right
  • Debra Granik, Winter’s Bone
  • John Cameron Mitchell, Rabbit Hole

WINNER: Debra Granik (8 points – 3 from Adam, 2 from Brian, 2 from Jared, 1 from John)

Other votes: Darren Aronofsky (4 points – 3 from John, 1 from Brian)

John: Looks like we cared a ton on this one, eh?

Brian: Hahaha. Jared, no love for Aranofsky?

Jared: He crossed my mind, but I really didn’t think the film was anything special.

Adam: Good news! I just filed my taxes. I hated Daddy Longlegs so much I actually started doing my taxes

Brian: I’ll just say that I liked that Aronofsky went balls-out and the overall ridiculousness of the film is largely due to him.

John: To me, Black Swan‘s success, such that it is, hinges on how it displays the descent into insanity. This film could have been a ridiculous melodramatic mess, but it’s an effective as a psychological thriller through Aronofsky’s vision. It’s a good ridiculousness, not a messy roll your eyes ridiculousness

Jared: I guess, to me, the camp didn’t come through, and I didn’t think it was a strong psychological thriller

Brian: It’s not a good movie, but what makes it interesting is Aranofsky’s WTF ness. As for Winter’s Bone — we’ve covered this, I thought the directing was strong enough to compensate for a mediocre script

John: I didn’t care too much who won this one. I like Granik too. She does a good job with the cast and settings. A lot of the cast are non-professionals from the area. I also considered throwing some points to Boyle, but couldn’t justify giving three people votes

Brian: Boyle bleh. 127 Hours bleh

John: 127 Hours is just so bold. It’s almost as much the Danny Boyle Makes A Movie About a Stuck Dude story as much as the Aron Ralston story. But in the end the film just isn’t strong enough, especially compared to Winter’s Bone and Black Swan.

Jared: As a fan of closed room films, I found it distracting that Boyle did everything possible to prevent staying in that closed room.

Brian: I actually had the opposite problem. I thought the flashbacks were way too short. I wanted to know about the character stuck in the canyon and the brief cuts to him as a kid or pre-Kate Mara would have been interesting

John: A major problem I had is that I didn’t realize the visions were actual visions Ralston was seeing in the cave. I thought they were just general artsy fartsiness. That’s a directorial problem

BEST MALE LEAD

  • Ronald Bronstein, Daddy Longlegs
  • Aaron Eckhart, Rabbit Hole
  • James Franco, 127 Hours
  • John C. Reilly, Cyrus
  • Ben Stiller, Greenberg

WINNER: John C. Reilly (16 points – Adam)

Other votes: Ronald Bronstein (10 points – 6 from John, 4 from Brian)

Aaron Eckhart (9 points – 8 from Jared, 1 from Brian)

James Franco (2 points – John)

John: Yowza

Adam: Boooyah

Brian: WHAT? That’s ridiculous

John: Well, there goes my first line of discussion of “We can all agree that John C Reilly doesn’t belong here”

Adam: HAHAHAHA

Brian: Adam, please explain yourself.

Adam: Well, you can either believe that I just wanted to screw everyone over (definitely valid). Or that I actually really liked this movie.

John: Actually, I liked John C Reilly, but behind several of the others. He has a tough character to work with and does a fine job. Eckhart is the most unmemorable one here, I think

Adam: Stiller sucks. Franco was fine but not great. Eckhart was decent. Bronstein was horrible. Process of elimination.

John: But still… 16 points??

Adam: I know how to win.

Adam: I didn’t feel all that strongly about any of the categories so I went big in one. I liked Cyrus more than the rest of you.

Brian: I agree on Stiller, who is easily the worst of the bunch. The angry material is really a bad fit for Stiller.

John: I feel like if you pick a good actor doing great work in a tough role, Bronstein is the answer.

Brian: All I could see was “oh this is Ben Stiller being obnoxious.”

Adam: I actually liked Stiller better than Bronstein, which is saying a LOT.

Brian: I couldn’t see anyone else doing that role besides Bronstein. Easily the most memorable and irreplaceable character of the group of 5 with Eckhart a close 2nd.

Jared: Eckhart’s role is the most subtle of the group, by far. He’s in this fragile situation, dealing with a tragic death, a wife that’s falling apart and trying to maintain some sort of normalcy. And this is exactly what Eckhart does so well, inhabit characters to make them feel so real

Brian: not that it would have made a difference, but I now wish I had given Eckhart more. In terms of snubs, where is Ryan Gosling on this list. I liked Blue Valentine a lot more than the rest of you but I thought Gosling’s performance was great.

John: Yep. He’s good. Not sure how he’s not here. Not sure how Blue Valentine isn’t on this nomination list more, to be honest. I wasn’t thrilled with it, but I thought it would be clean up here. Naturally to me the big snub is Robert Duvall for Get Low.

Jared: I can’t explain the relative lack of love for Blue Valentine either.

John: Also, James Franco is just naturally perfect for his role.

Brian: Yeah, that’s why I didn’t want to give him any credit.

John: If he wasn’t an actor, he may well be Aron Ralston.

Brian: Then why did you vote for him? That’s not acting!

John: I mean, it’s still acting. He also has the charisma needed to lead this movie.

Brian: I’d disagree, but that’s probably because we disagree on the merits of 127 Hours itself. John, why didn’t you like Eckhart? Jared and John, why didn’t you like Reilly?

John: I didn’t dislike him. It’s just solid. He wasn’t a standout for me. But nothing from that film is a standout. I thought Reilly was a case of a name actor getting a nominee for being a name actor, especially since Cryus didn’t get anything else, suggesting no great love for the film.

Jared: I’m a big John C. Reilly fan, to be honest, and I’m not really sad that he’s our pick or anything…this is going to sound weird, but I actually much prefer dramatic John C. Reilly to comedic one.

Brian: I found Reilly all right, but playing a version of the sad sack he plays in every movie and Cyrus was barely even a comedy.

Jared: It wanted to be, I think.

John: I didn’t find him convincing, but maybe that was the writing. He’s like a schmuck in Dinner for Schmucks. They made nearly everything possible wrong with him, but not really a realistic loser. It’s not like he does a bad job or anything. I just think there are better choices. And Bronstein nails the majorly flawed character better.

Jared: I hate to go against you, Adam, but I’d probably have to agree with John here.

Brian: That makes three of us.

BEST FEMALE LEAD

  • Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
  • Greta Gerwig, Greenberg
  • Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
  • Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone
  • Natalie Portman, Black Swan
  • Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

WINNER: Natalie Portman (9 points – 5 from Jared, 3 from Brian, 1 from Adam)

Other votes: Jennifer Lawrence (9 points- 6 from John, 3 from Brian)

Annette Bening (3 points – Brian)

Michelle Williams (1 point – Brian)

By receiving votes from more Grouches, Portman wins the tiebreaker.

Jared: Brian, I’m fascinated to learn why you voted for four actresses, and gave three points to three of them

John: Please explain!

Jared: Maybe he just really hates Nicole Kidman.

Brian: Because I liked all four of them

John: But if you liked them all equally, why 3? Couldn’t use those points elsewhere?

Brian: I really liked Benning, but knew I couldn’t win, so I wanted to show her the respect with 3 pts.

Jared: if you had given all those points to her, you would have.

Brian: I guess. But I also liked Portman, and liked Lawrence, and Williams. So I was torn. I guess I could used the points more judiciously, but I didn’t want to not give points to any of them.

Jared: I’m sure they appreciate the sentimentality

John: I like Portman too. Initially I split my points between Lawrence and Portman. But I was worried 1 or 2 points for Portman would overtake Lawrence. And there it is.

Jared: Honestly, yeah, I’m not entirely certain there’s a wrong answer here. Other than Greta Gerwig, of course.

Jared: I thought Bening was better in Mother and Child. And I dunno, I think Lawrence did a fine job, but I just sort of wonder if the love is for her character or her.

John: That’s a possibility, Jared. But she plays that character well! I think Lawrence stands out, but Portman isn’t far behind. But I still liked Bening and Kidman plenty too. Plenty of strong nominees in this category

Jared: Yeah, it was a very strong year for actresses. Staving off, for at least a year, the seemingly annual column about how there’s not any good roles for women in Hollywood.

John: It was almost so strong I considered not bothering with too many points. But it turns out I would have just wasted them on Bornstein for Actor. I also have a snub for you. Are you ready to boo? Hillary Swank in Conviction.

Jared: I would boo if I saw the film, John.

John: A Swank nomination would have been kind of boringly straightforward, but she really is good

Brian: and here comes the requisite snub mention of Please Give

John: Keener? Her best work of 2010 was in Cyrus. Though I haven’t seen Percy Jackson and the Olympians.

Adam: I have. She’s better in Cyrus.

John: Though, again, in Please Give part of my problem may be the writing

BEST PICTURE

  • 127 Hours
  • Black Swan
  • Greenberg
  • The Kids Are All Right
  • Winter’s Bone

WINNER: 127 Hours (6 points – Jared)

Other votes: Black Swan (5 points – 3 from John, 2 from Brian)

Winter’s Bone (3 points – 2 from John, 1 from Brian)

The Kids Are All Right (3 points – 2 from Brian, 1 from Adam)

Brian: No way! That’s awful.

John: Hahaha unexpected!

Jared: i’m stunned.

John: On the one hand, not what I chose. On the other hand, I clearly didn’t care that much. One awful movie, plus the two worst Oscar nominees in this category. And two fine ones.

Jared: Honestly, I originally had it at about 3 points, but had 3 points left over and figured, eh, it was best picture, I should give it a little more weigh. To me, 127 was the best of a pretty boring set of five. I honestly didn’t really connect with any of them, but Boyle’s film was at least generally entertaining

John: Generally Entertaining is your winner, ladies and gentlemen!

Brian: Ha, for me I also didn’t really care.

John: If Get Low had been nominated I would have pulled an Adam

Brian: had either Please Give or Blue Valentine been in there, I probably would have put down enough points for them to win. At least Greenberg got nothing.

Jared: I’m sad Rabbit Hole didn’t make it over Greenberg, I would have been much happier voting for that.

John: Someone should have sacrificed a point just so Greenberg could be shut out and finish a definitive last.

Adam: Agreed.

Brian: What do you all think will win on Saturday?

John: Kids.

Brian: I think Kids or Swan

John: or Winter’s Bone

Brian: but I lean toward Kids

John: Kids just screams Independent Film

Jared: I’ll go with Swan, I guess…it is such a success story

John: couldn’t that hurt at the Spirits?

Brian: I don’t think so. There have been so many of these lighthearted comedies that have been the sole successes commercially. (Juno, Little Miss Sunshine.) I’d think they would relish a darker film

The Oscars are less than a week away and we’re taking a look at all the categories we care to. Today it’s Actress.

  • Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
  • Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
  • Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone
  • Natalie Portman, Black Swan
  • Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

John:

This is the most unflattering image I could find. I hate you, Natalie Portman.

Two ladies compete for my pick here, but truthfully none of them blow me away. Williams and Kidman are both good, though undermined by some weak material. It’s hard for me to tell what doesn’t push me over the top for Williams. I think the film isn’t successful enough to make her performance connect with me. And Kidman has to deal with a bunch of phony scenes so it kind of feels like she’s Acting Very Hard.

Bening is terrific in a role that takes some range: caring wife/mom, icy household leader, betrayed spouse. But Lawrence and Portman lead for me. I’m glad Lawrence got in; it seemed like her star was falling by nomination time. She’s delightful with her tough, stubborn façade that only occasionally cracks to reveal the unsure teenager she actually is. And at this moment I’ll choose Portman, though maybe I’ll go back and forth a few times. What can I say, she’s fierce! And I think the over-the-top scenery chewing is kept at the right level.

Snubs: My dream ballot would include Hilary Swank for Conviction and Sally Hawkins for Made In Dagenham, both discussed here.

Jared:

I’ll echo the sentiments of every other Oscar-watcher out there and say this year was and extremely strong one for leading ladies.  Honestly, the next five actresses on the list would likely stack up favorably to most other years.

Jennifer Lawrence would probably be the first out of my top five, though I’m certainly not upset she’s here.  I guess I think people are confusing their admiration for her character with their admiration for her a little.  A young, attractive woman struggling to take care of her family against all manners of hardships?  Yeah, that’s a trope the Academy eats up.  That said, she did a very fine job, and I look forward to seeing what she takes on in the future.

Annette Bening is being pipped by some as an upset pick to take home the trophy Sunday night.  In my mind that would be a (deserved) career achievement win.  Something the Academy has <sarcasm> never ever been known to do </saracasm>.  She’s clearly very good in this role, but I’d look to her turn in Mother and Child as the performance that should have been nominated.  To be sure, at times it is hard to separate the character as written from the actor’s performance, but I just didn’t get enough there.  Maybe I needed to see an Oscar Scene (TM).

In Rabbit Hole, Nicole Kidman broke her nearly decade long streak of appearing in forgettable movies.  The tough thing about her character, I think, is that she had to tiptoe such a fine line to retain some of the audience’s sympathy, but almost as little as possible, since her character was so frequently lashing out in an effort to bring some sense of normalcy back into her world.  While she obviously benefited from being a big name (since really, how many people actually saw this film?), Kidman’s nomination was certainly a valid choice.

After The Baxter (and OK, sure, The Station Agent), I’m wholeheartedly in the tank for Michelle Williams.  A sentiment not shared by all of my fellow Grouches.  I didn’t love Blue Valentine because I think the script failed to make me care about the couple.  But I almost shudder to think what the film would have been like in lesser hands.  Perhaps the thing I most like about Williams is that her characters never feel like caricatures.  It is really difficult to describe any of the in a word or two, because they feel like such normal people.

And the second most unfortunate. Damn, she's pretty.

Natalie Portman is dead to me.  Maybe I shouldn’t be so harsh.  I guess I could have been a little more aggressive in pursuing her.  It was actually a little surprising how much of the internet blew up when the news was announced.  She could have had her pick of any nerd out there and she goes with a ballerina?  Anyway, if she weren’t dead to me, I’d probably say that in a year of strong performances, I’m not sure it is particularly close among these nominees.  The role required such range and such ability.  And she pulled it off magnificently.  Black Swan really wasn’t all that special, in my opinion, but a good chunk of the reason it is doing so well is squarely on the shoulders of Portman, who has carried the film on the back of her memorable performance.

Adam:

Is completely unoriginal and also picked Natalie Portman.

The Oscars are less than a week away and we’re taking a look at all the categories we care to. Today it’s Supporting Actor.

  • Christian Bale, The Fighter
  • John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone
  • Jeremy Renner, The Town
  • Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right
  • Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech

John:

He probably could have knocked down Sugar Ray.

This is a good group, but Christian Bale is an easy winner for me. He shines when he’s onscreen. It’s the line delivery, the manner of speaking, the body language, the way he walks: it’s so fully-formed. Not that it should be surprising; Bale is terrific in pretty much everything. And I think the dude seeks out movies that allow his body weight to swing wildly.

Hawkes is my second choice, and perhaps the nomination announcement that made me happiest. He may be the most memorable part of Winter’s Bone. It helps that his character is so important and interesting, but Hawkes is still great alternating between menacing and protective. Ruffalo is also a good choice. It’s not easy being both a douchebag but likeable.

And Rush and Renner are unmemorable picks in my mind. Why was Rush the front runner for so long?

Snubs: Two of my favorite supporting performances of the year, after Bale, had shots here but came up short: Andrew Garfield in The Social Network and Bill Murray in Get Low. At least I was able to vote for Murray in the Independent Spirits.

Jared:

I’d probably argue that, pound for pound, this category is the strongest of this year’s crop.  I don’t have anything bad to say about any of the nominees.  And honestly, the five nominees hew pretty darn close to my ideal ballot.

If one of the five has to be weakest, then I guess it would be Jeremy Renner.  Hampered by a relatively weak script, he plays a very familiar character, the screw-up best friend, but does so very well.  Obviously there are significant differences, but I was reminded a lot of Ed Norton’s Worm from Rounders.  I think Renner would have had a stronger case had his character been given a little more room to shine.

Geoffrey Rush has shown incredible range in his career, further extended by his role his as a speech therapist to a king.  Even held to a stricter standard, because (in my opinion) he really is a lead actor in the film, it is hard to find anything to criticize about his performance.

I was pleased as punch when John Hawkes’s name was read on nomination morning.  Regardless of what I think about Winter’s Bone, it is really neat to see a role like this one recognized.  Teardrop is an extremely interesting character, but he isn’t a hero, villain, or foil.  Kudos to the Academy for recognizing a very fine performance in a different sort of role

Christian Bale is a guy you want in your movie.  He always give a consistently superb performance, regardless of the genre of the film in which he’s appearing.  But he also seems to allow his co-stars to shine.  It is a rare talent indeed who can range from perhaps the ultimate straight man (Batman) to a showy, scenery-chomping character like this one.  Especially with this script, Dicky could have been obnoxiously, unbearably over the top.  But Bale reels the character in to something much more appealing.

So talented, he's also nominated for Animated Short.

Only since all these guys can’t be winners, I’m going with Mark Ruffalo as my favorite.  Though in all likelihood this order would have been different had I written this entry on a different day.  I’m repeating myself, but no actor makes playing a character look as effortless as Mark Ruffalo.  If you look over his career, maybe he tends to play a certain general type of character, but it is clearly wrong to suggest he’s just playing himself.  I usually hate to fall back on the cliche, but Paul just felt real.  As in, not a character, but an interesting person.  We’ll shortly get to what I think of the script, but suffice it to say that I’m laying just about all of that on Ruffalo.

Adam:

Says that this category is probably this year’s strongest and can’t decide between Bale and Rush.  I assume he also would have insulted at least one of us.

The Grouches are Independent Spirit Awards voters this year. That is, combined we are ONE voter under Jared’s name. It costs like $90, you think each of us are going to pony that up?

Besides, merging our four formidable minds into one blob of consensus allows us to devise a complex voting system that makes us to compete for our individual opinions to be heard.

Essentially we each earned points by seeing all films nominated in a category. We can allocate those points to any category so we can – and do! – waste whole bunches of points to ensure our favorites win. For a few categories only one of us saw all the nominees and that person got to choose the winner.

We gathered online the other night to reveal our votes.

BEST FIRST FEATURE

The nominees:

  • Everything Strange and New, about a man who feels trapped in his life by his wife and kids
  • Get Low, following a hermit who decides to throw his own funeral party while he is still alive
  • The Last Exorcism, a “documentary” following a reverend who wants to show the sham of exorcisms
  • Night Catches Us, a drama set in the aftermath of a betrayal in the Philadelphia Black Panther community
  • Tiny Furniture, a semi-autobiographical film about a woman who returns home from college unsure what to do with her life.

WINNER: Get Low

John: My sole vote goes to Get Low, which shouldn’t be a big surprise. I’ll be interested to see what you all think about it should you see it. I don’t know if this is another one of those movies I love and everyone hates or not. It’s amusing and heartfelt. Robert Duvall and Bill Murray are great.

Brian: I look forward to seeing that movie and once again wondering if we saw the same film, like Green Zone.

Jared: I saw all the other films in that category, and I don’t think it is going to take too much for me to agree with you on this choice

John:  If these directors are the future of movies, are you looking forward to the future?

Brian: Having been rather meh on Tiny Furniture, I’m still looking forward to Lena Dunham’s future. I think she has talent — I’d like to see what she can do when it’s not starring her family.

Jared: Adam and I saw Dunham’s actual first feature.  I think she needs to break free from biographical stuff before she really can find her voice. I think working with Apatow could do wonders for her

John: I agree, Tiny Furniture was okay but I’ll probably check out her future work. The Last Exorcism is a pretty straight horror flick but it very effectively got under my skin. If they do some non-horror stuff I’d be interested. Night Catches Us was a very nice period piece. And Everything Strange and New… what would you say about that, Jared?

Jared: I watched that film last night and while I didn’t like it, I think I’m going to rate it higher than you did. That said, I can’t really imagine watching another film from the director. At some point, you just can’t substitute voiceover for actual plot.

John: It’s boring and exasperating. And highlights a common theme of the Independent Spirits this year: Moping.

Brian: This year? Isn’t that sort of the point of independent films?

John: It does take some bizarre turns at the end which are interesting, but also sort of awful and ridiculous. It also has plenty of sad clowns. For real!

Jared: Of the group, I’d probably say the people behind Night Catches Us have the most potential…with some refining and a little less reliance on those archival clips, I think they could really make some interesting films

John: And I feel like The Last Exorcism doesn’t get a great rep in the horror genre. I think I liked it just because it got to me, but I hardly ever watch horror.

Jared: It seemed like standard fare to me

BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE

The nominees:

  • Ashley Bell, The Last Exorcist
  • Dale Dickey, Winter’s Bone
  • Allison Janney, Life During Wartime
  • Daphne Rubin-Vega, Jack Goes Boating
  • Naomi Watts, Mother and Child

WINNER: Dale Dickey (13 points – 8 from Jared, 5 from John)

Jared: Well, sadly, we wasted a lot of points here

John: I considered that you might not give points to anyone else, but I wanted to make sure she had enough in case you for some reason chose Naomi Watts

Jared: Not going to lie, my strategy wasn’t all that different. I was surprised to see Watts here, considering her character is virtually emotionless.

John: I also considered tossing a few to Ashley Bell just in case. Watts could also be considered lead.

Jared: Yeah, Ashley Bell was my runner-up, but again, I don’t think she added anything new to the horror genre. I wouldn’t consider Watts lead, personally.

John: Bell is appropriately creepy as a possessed girl. But this category was more or less a Dickey win by default. She’s good; I might have seen her as an Oscar nominee. But the rest really didn’t do much for me. Dale Dickey is quite memorable. I don’t want to tarnish her work here. But there wasn’t much competition.

Jared: A good summation, I think. I found her just as memorable as John Hawkes and found it unfortunate she couldn’t get much awards traction.

John: To be fair to Allison Janney, what do you do with that material? So, who else could be here? Cyrus is up the Independent Spirit wheelhouse, but no nomination for Marisa Tomei?? That movie flat out fails without her.

Brian: that was rather surprising

Jared: Where was Mila Kunis? I also liked Julianna Margulies in City Island and Rebecca Hall in Please Give

Brian: yes! Mila Kunis of course

Adam: Mila Kunis is ALWAYS a good decision

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

  • Black Swan
  • Greenberg
  • Never Let Me Go
  • Tiny Furniture
  • Winter’s Bone

WINNER: Black Swan (4 points – John)
Other votes: Winter’s Bone (3 points – 2 from Jared, 1 from Brian)
Never Let Me Go (2 points – Brian)

Brian: Booooo. Really, John? Explain yourself.

Adam: Agreed. As usual, John makes a HORRIBLE decision. I am starting to think John doesn’t actually watch the same movies as everyone else.

John: Black Swan gets so much energy from the camerawork!

Brian: The dance was horribly shot because Natalie Portman had to use a body double

Adam: Moving the camera around a lot does not equate to “energy”

John: It puts the viewer into the descent into madness! I also considered Winter’s Bone.  What was special about Never Let Me Go?

Brian: Since no one else voted for it, I’ll give some dap to Never Let Me Go. As we discussed last fall, it had a lot of flaws, but the bleak cinematography really gave us a sense of place and added the dystopian feel of the English countryside. Cinematography was easily the best part of that film and the most memorable.

John: Is that cinematography or a combination of set decoration and pretty scenery?

Brian: I believe reading at the time that they used specific filters

Adam: Is the camera work in Black Swan due to cinematography or editing?

Brian: Or directing?

John: All of the above.

BEST SUPPORTING MALE

  • Bill Murray, Get Low
  • John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone
  • Samuel L. Jackson, Mother and Child
  • John Ortiz, Jack Goes Boating
  • Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right

The votes are all mine!

WINNER: Bill Murray

John: My sole vote goes to Bill Murray

Brian: Shocker. How close were Hawkes and Ruffalo?

John: I really like Murray here. He plays something of a sleazeball funeral home owner and is appropriately funny and smarmy, but also hits the serious notes just right. If this was a competitive category, I might have tossed some points to Hawkes to cover my bases. I really liked him. And I dug Ruffalo as well. So a good top three in that category.

Jared: I also saw four of these films. I think we can agree that Samuel L. Jackson has no business being here, and Jack Goes Boating was so unwatchable, it is hard to tell if John Ortiz was any good. I slightly favor Ruffalo over Hawkes this year, but you can’t go wrong with either, so Murray must have been really great.

John: The movie just connected with me, and the movie is all on Duvall and Murray

Brian: Hawkes really took over the second half of Winter’s Bone — and took care of much of the boredom of the first half.

John: Any snubs stand out here? Since Jackson is such a nothing nom?

Brian: Oliver Platt for Please Give? I could buy it

Jared: Vincent Cassel (Black Swan)

John: True. Strange that Please Give got a casting award but no other acting nominations. Also, Vincent Cassel is a good choice.

Jared: I got the John seal of approval! I also liked Michael Shannon in The Runaways for supporting male.

BEST SCREENPLAY

  • The Kids Are All Right
  • Life During Wartime
  • Please Give
  • Rabbit Hole
  • Winter’s Bone

WINNER:  Please Give (10 points – 5 from Jared, 5 from Brian)
Other votes: Winter’s Bone (4 points – John)

Brian: wooot

John: I kept knocking down points on this one, figuring that my votes would go for naught here

Brian: I knew Jared and my combined points would get us over. I just didnt know how low to go.

Jared: Game theory!

John: I found Please Give pretty bland

Jared: That might be because you don’t have a sense of humor.

Adam: Or taste in movies

John: Good performances. The casting award was probably a good choice.

Brian: For me, it was an exceptional character study. I like ships passing in the night films, and Please Give was no exception to that rule. And for some reason or other, I’m a sucker for old people dying films.

Jared: I found the script to be witty and populated with interesting characters, plus a plot that kept my attention.

Adam: hmm…Jared thought the script was good. The one thing in a movie he actually pays attention to. I feel it is probably a better than even chance I’d at least appreciate the movie

John: Parts of it I liked and some of the characters/relationships. But then it ended and I was like, “shrug.” It may be that we spend so much time with Catherine Keener when she wasn’t interesting and everyone else was.

Brian: Take that back!

Jared: You need a good straight man to highlight the quirks of other people. I don’t think it is supposed to reveal any hidden mysteries of mankind.

Brian: John, what did you like about Winter’s Bone screenplay because I found that to be one of its weaker points.

John: I liked the plot, setting, and characters in Winter’s Bone. They’re all understated, but all compelling. But this also got my votes since nothing else in the category did much for me. Winter’s Bone is a pretty plot-driven movie. It has a lot more of a story than Please Give. I considered Rabbit Hole too, but that script is uneven. I loved certain parts to it and disliked others.

Jared: Rabbit Hole has a surprisingly strong script. It wasn’t great, to be sure, but it was definitely compelling in a way that many other adaptations of plays are not.

John: Like, the whole relationship between Nicole Kidman and the boy felt weird and forced to me. But some of their conversations are terrific.

Brian: I think that was sort of the point

John: For a movie that seemed to try to be quite realist, that relationship felt too cinematic. Like a thing that would only happen that way in movies. Though I felt similarly about a lot of the over-arching plot threads. Not so great at a macro level, but many great individual scenes

Brian: I liked how we were introduced to the boy in that we didn’t really know who he was or why Kidman was stalking him until about 10-15 mins after we met him. The pay-off worked. And the scene with Dianne Wiest and Nicole Kidman was the best of them all. I probably would have voted for it had it not been for Please Give

John: I really liked the scene that gives Rabbit Hole its name

Jared: Same here.

John: Also the scene in the boy’s bedroom. I could list many. But put them all together and it’s like, “another scene where Nicole Kidman says something socially awkward??”

Jared: We can’t move on before discussing Life During Wartime!

Brian: Hahahahaha. Oh man, I really really wish Adam had seen this

John: Absolutely atrocious movie. And the writing is the worst part!

Jared: I will give it credit for its consistency…granted, it is consistently unbearable, but still

Adam: I feel like I have seen enough horrible movies because of you all

Brian: I’ve blocked out most of LDW, but anyone want to reminisce their favorite worst parts?

John: I think Life During Wartime was not as awful as Greenberg because at least LDW had a WTF element that makes you wonder what the hell could possibly happen next. Also: MOPE! MOPEY MOPE MOPE

Jared: haha

John: (plus molestation and suicide)

Jared: and sexual harassment

Brian: and Pee-Wee Herman coming back from the dead!

John: I’m not sure there’s any part I didn’t dislike

Coming up later: the lead actor, director, and best picture categories!

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.

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

Brian: Reznor needs to score

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

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

John: A Duvall-less Oscars would make me Low

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I actually saw Winter’s Bone in a theater in Kansas City, MO.  I was on a weeklong baseball road trip with Ian affectionately dubbed “Baseball in the Ozarks” so when we were deciding between seeing it or Inception, the former just seemed a little more appropriate.  Obviously we weren’t watching baseball in forests infested with meth dealers.  But we did see enough of the area to get a better appreciation of the movie’s locale.  Plus, there was this one drive at two in the morning to Steak n’ Shake that took us through a really scary stretch that could have been lifted straight from this movie.

I appreciate the film as the little indie that could.  It has taken in over $6 million at the box office and garnered significant Oscar buzz for star Jennifer Lawrence.  Also some ancillary hype for maybe a screenplay nomination for Debra Granik (who also directed) and Anne Rosellini .  Which I’d say seems overly hopeful, but the obvious Oscar comp here is Adam’s favorite movie of all time (Frozen River), which improbably received a screenplay nom.  The movies are comparable not only as out of nowhere indie successes, they both detail the struggle of a woman trying to take care of her family against heavy odds.  The two have wildly different locations, but both are effectively used to highlight the bleakness of the protagonist’s situation.

Of course, the big difference between the two is that Frozen River is nearly unwatchable, while Winter’s Bone is a decent enough movie.  I’ll be honest, I don’t entirely understand the buzz surrounding the film.  As with Melissa Leo, it seems the hype has started with the performance of the leading actress and cascaded down.  But I think Jennifer Lawrence is benefiting from the perception of her role, rather than the role itself.  She plays a young woman forced to raise her two younger siblings because her mom suffers from a mental disability, and her meth-making dad is missing.  Lawrence’s character wades her way through the murky happenings of her drug-dealing clan in an effort to find her father.  So yes, I appreciate the dearth of strong, young, female leads in dramas, and I certainly mean no disrespect to Ms Lawrence.  But originality does not equal greatness.  If the part was rewritten for a male and performed by a actor of similar accomplishment, I don’t think I’m writing this post.

And like I say, I’m not here to knock Jennifer Lawrence.  I think she does a fine job, and am looking forward to seeing her in the future.  But I don’t think she’s going to be anywhere near my supporting actress list, come year end.  I want to also note John Hawkes and Dale Dickey turning in solid work, which I hope leads to more jobs.  Anyway, Winter’s Bone is an average movie that you probably won’t regret catching on DVD at some point.  But if you want a taste of the Ozarks, I recommend actually going there.  Or, if that isn’t an option, watch Justified.

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