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The Oscars are quickly approaching. Because we’ve spent the time to see the nominees and because we’re really smart (and I, at least, have impeccable taste), we’re telling you what should win in all the categories.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

The nominees are:

  • Amy Adams, The Master
  • Sally Field, Lincoln
  • Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
  • Helen Hunt, The Sessions
  • Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook

Jared

I’m a big fan of Amy Adams. Watching Junebug (and her performance in it) was one of the reasons I started down this Oscar-obsessive path. She’s pretty much always fantastic, and one of the reasons I suggest people check out the underrated Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. That all said, there’s absolutely no good reason she was nominated for her role here. Sure, it was darker than she usually plays, and she was good. But it kinda seems like she got the nom for jacking off Philip Seymour Hoffman, which is maybe not the best reason ever to nominate someone.

It was surprising to me that Jacki Weaver hadn’t been receiving more Oscar buzz for her role, given she was a recent Oscar nominee and lots of people love Silver Linings Playbook. She’s actually pretty good as a character who is pretty much the complete opposite of her Oscar-nominated character in Animal Kingdom. But I don’t really get it. Especially considering Ann Dowd was in the mix this year as another middle-aged woman who struggles to keep things together while making a lot of food. Weaver and Adams’s nomination kinda make it seem like the Academy needs to get out and see more movies. Which is bad, since it is sort of their job to do that.

You know, I don’t quite get the love this year for Sally Field. As I mentioned earlier, I thought Kushner’s script had a little difficulty fitting the Lincoln family into the cast of thousands. Her scene with Tommy Lee Jones in the receiving line was fun, sure. And she does some good work in a bedroom scene. But in my mind there’s just not enough there to merit a nomination.

John and I both had Helen Hunt as the runner-up in our Spirit Awards picks, and we talk about her performance a little bit there. I’m not really a fan of the use of “brave” to describe acting, and the fact that Hunt got naked doesn’t really affect my opinion here. But how well she used her nakedness while portraying a sex therapist does. Nudity in movies often serves as a distraction (good or bad), and while it serviced the plot here, the impressive part was Hunt jumping into the character, almost teaching the audience to be comfortable with skin as she taught Hawkes the same. She also gets credit for the emotional scenes at home and in the car, even if I’m not sure they really added to the film.

hathaway1

But, yeah, obviously it is Anne Hathaway in her Sinead O’Connor homage. I don’t really have anything new to the conversation here, so I’ll just say that I watched the pilot episode of Get Real, which starred Hathaway and Jesse Eisenberg, among others. It was actually pretty decent. And kind of a fascinating link from the television of the late 90s/early 2000s and the often hyper self-aware television of today.

Should have been here: Man, this is a really tough category. If you asked me right this second, I have Hunt and Hathaway in my top five, along with Samantha Barks, Les Miserables; Rosemarie DeWitt, Your Sister’s Sister; and Emma Watson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. But a few seconds later I’d figure out a way to get Ann Dowd, Compliance; Emma Stone, The Amazing Spider-Man and/or Rebel Wilson, Pitch Perfect in there. And I’m leaving out a handful more performances I really want to mention. It was a great year for supporting actresses, if you are willing to think outside the box a little bit.

John

She really cleans up after she dies

She really cleans up after she dies

I’m a lemming and going with Anne Hathaway. She doesn’t have much screen time but she sure is memorable. She gets a little bit of derision since for “winning for one song,” but she does do at least a little more there. Not that it matters. Her “I Dreamed a Dream” is very powerful and instantly iconic.

Hunt is my second choice. The Sessions walks a fine line. It needs to be sympathetic to its subjects – it finds humor in the situation without ever mocking – but doesn’t want to stray into maudlin territory. The performance are a big reason why it succeeds.

Twice now in the short history of this site I’ve discussed that I like Amy Adams but that she was swept to an undeserved nomination as part of an acting showcase. Jared makes the same argument above because here she is again for a film that also landed nominations for two other actors. This time, though, I’m totally fine with it. Its hard to not be dominated by the likes of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix in a film, but she manages to be memorable in her own right.

Finally, not to disparage their work, but Field and Weaver made very little impact on me.

Who should have been here? You have to think that Ann Dowd finished 6th or 7th in the voting for Compliance and she would have been a favorite for me in the category. Compliance is a film that requires all its characters to continually do stupid things at the behest of a prankster. Through Dowd’s character we can at least understand how a well-meaning person could be duped so much. At least she got our Independent Spirit vote. Jared says it was a good year for this category but I disagree. Even his outside of the box suggestions do very little for me.

Oscar nominations come out on the 10th.  I’m looking at the state of the race in the big eight categories.  This time: Supporting Actress

VIRTUAL LOCK

  • Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
  • Sally Field, Lincoln

Say what you will about Hooper’s direction (and I did), but Hathaway’s “I Dreamed a Dream” may well have been the quintessential Oscar scene.  She has one prior nomination, for Rachel Getting Married.  In my mind, Sally Field’s Mary Todd Lincoln wouldn’t have been enough if the rest of the movie had turned out to not be very good.  As is, the two time Oscar winner (Norma Rae and Places in the Heart) should be through just fine.

GOOD BET

LIKELY IN

  • Helen Hunt, The Sessions

The only thing dropping Hunt down to this section is that The Sessions just hasn’t been in the Oscar conversation as much as I would have expected.  But she gets naked, and it is Meaningful, so the Academy should eat it up.  Hunt won an Oscar for As Good as It Gets.

ON THE BUBBLE

  • Amy Adams, The Master
  • Samantha Barks, Les Miserables
  • Judi Dench, Skyfall
  • Ann Dowd, Compliance
  • Nicole Kidman, The Paperboy
  • Maggie Smith, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Still haven’t seen The Master, but Amy Adams is supposed to be solid and in a role unlike most of her others.  She suffers from being a movie that appears to be losing ground in the Oscar race, though she does have three prior noms (JunebugDoubt, and The Fighter).  I thought Barks was quite good, but she is facing a movie with sharply divided reviews and is overshadowed by Hathway, plus she has no Oscar history.  Judi Dench has five Oscar noms (Mrs. BrownChocolat, IrisMrs. Henderson PresentsNotes on a Scandal) and a win (the infamous Shakespeare in Love), all since 1998.  Her role isn’t terribly showy, but it is a meaningful one in the Bond canon, and Skyfall‘s PGA nom may suggest support for the film.  I just figured out that Ann Down played Busy Philipps’s mom on Freaks and Geeks.  I haven’t seen Compliance yet, but Dowd is the easy to root for underdog, as the veteran character actress is self-financing her campaign.  The Paperboy is supposed to be dreadful, which would be entirely consistent with seemingly 90% of the films Nicole Kidman picks.  She’s picked up steam lately, and has past noms for Moulin Rouge! and Rabbit Hole, along with a win for The Hours.  I don’t understand the love for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  The characters really weren’t any fun at all, but Smith’s is the only one who shows even mild signs of development.  She has prior noms for OthelloTravels with My Aunt, A Room with a View, and Gosford Park along with wins for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and California Suite.

DARK HORSES

  • Emily Blunt, Looper
  • Jennifer Ehle, Zero Dark Thirty
  • Kelly Reilly, Flight
  • Amanda Seyfried, Les Miserables
  • Kerry Washington, Django Unchained
  • Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook

I don’t really think any of these actresses have much of a shot, you basically have to believe in the wave theory of nominations and that the Academy really liked each respective film.

SHOULD HAVE BEEN CONSIDERED

  • Emily Blunt, Your Sister’s Sister
  • Rosemarie DeWitt, Your Sister’s Sister
  • Anne Hathaway, The Dark Knight Rises
  • Taraji P. Henson, Think Like a Man
  • Emma Stone, The Amazing Spider-Man
  • Charlize Theron, Snow White and the Huntsman
  • Emma Watson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • Rebel Wilson, Pitch Perfect

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

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

Jared

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

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

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

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

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

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

John

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

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

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

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

Oh, honey.

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

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

Oscar nominations arrive Tuesday, January 25. To prepare, we’re giving you our sharpest insight and predictions. Today: What disappointing nominations do you anticipate?

Jared:The Fighter should be KO’d

At first I wondered if the cut of The Fighter in my theater was different than what everyone else seemed to have saw.  But no, the audience in my viewing seemed to have enjoyed themselves.  So I’m left to conclude that David O.Russell managed to incorporate some subliminal message telling people they love the movie and my brain just isn’t wired to receive said messages (kinda like how I can’t see those 3-D Magic Eye pictures).  Because the film is bad, failing on nearly every conceivable level, other than the acting.

I’d call the story cliche, but that would assume there was any semblance of a story.  We get very clear depictions of each character’s lot in life, but no clue as to got they got from point A to B.  To wit, the relationship between Mark Wahlberg and Amy Adams is almost entirely glossed over.  They meet, go out on a date, some undefined time apparently passes and then they are inseparable.  Time, I should point out, is also irrelevant to the filmmakers.  Anyone have any clue the time between Wahlberg’s first fight show in the film and his title bout?  Melissa Leo and Christian Bale both see their characters kinda sorta maybe have a change of heart, but it isn’t clear how superficial that change is or why we should care.  Of course, that little change is really the only character or plot development in the entire film.

But OK, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with a simple story.  The Fighter is a boxing movie and obviously a good chunk of boxing movies involve the fights, and it is hard to advance the story too much while the main character is in the ring.  But here’s why I’m absolutely appalled David O. Russell is on the shortlist for a best director nom: the boxing is depicted as if he really rather doesn’t like the sport.  The final match aside, the fights are glossed over at best, portrayed as some weird rejected video game cut scene at worst.  Not even bland, the fighting scenes are, if you’ll excuse my limited vocabulary, stupid.  They aren’t suspenseful, interesting, exciting, or even artistic.  Just a complete waste of time.

"Say hi to yourself for me."

Absolute worst of all, though, was the character interactions.  It felt like a quarter of the movie could be described in the following three beats: Character A says a line talking at character B.  Character B “responds” with something no human would say and tangentially relevant to what character A said.  Then there’s a cue (be it in the dialogue or visual) about how these people are white trash.  I could see a line or two for comic relief, maybe, but the filmmakers felt this bizarre need to consistently unsubtly describe the characters and their town as white trash.  It wasn’t funny, it wasn’t clever, it was just obvious and worse, it was mean.

So when Mo’Nique reads off The Fighter as a best picture nom, I’m going to be disappointed that a movie which had great acting, but failed on nearly every conceivably important other level is taking the place of so many other actually watchable films.

John: Man the levies, nomination waves are coming!

The nomination wave: it’s a common occurrence in Oscar season. A beloved film gets support across all guilds, sweeping many to nominations even if their work wasn’t as exemplary. It’s going to happen to two supporting actresses this year.

She wasn't nearly as committed to head enlargement in The King's Speech

The first, and most prominent, is Helena Bonham Carter in The King’s Speech. Carter is a great, versatile actress, but this is such a nothing performance. It’s not like she’s bad, but she’s a stock supporting character without a ton to do. She’s more interesting this year in both Alice in Wonderland and Harry Potter. Even she admits to being puzzled over why this performance is getting singled out for award attention.

I'm wicked strong willed!

The other is Amy Adams for The Fighter, a sentiment I know is not shared by many. I’ve actually seen plenty of arguments that she’s the supporting female star in the film and not supposed category front runner Melissa Leo. I just don’t think she does much beyond sporting a Boston accent. The film’s treatment of her character bothered me, and part of it is due to her performance (though the bulk is probably the script’s fault).

I’ve always said I’m an Amy Adams fan, but this is the third time I’ve come to complain about her on this blog so maybe my affection is waning? But maybe she just gets recognized for the wrong roles. Oscar nod for Doubt, critical acclaim for Sunshine Cleaning, and a probable nod for The Fighter, but not enough support for Enchanted or Julie & Julia.

Brian: The Town will rob a nomination from a more deserving film

Jared and John adeptly discussed why The Town is overrated last month. As Jared put it in his elegant way, “Frankly, I don’t even think the film is particularly good genre fare, much less a good movie.” So since they’ve covered much of why its bad, especially the horribly underdeveloped relationship between Ben Affleck and Rebecca Hall, I’ll keep my entry to this category short.

A Best Picture nom for The Town would be an embarrassment as it would only provide fodder for those critics who last year assailed the Academy’s decision to expand the category to 10 films. “It will allow mediocre, commercially successful films to sneak in,” they warned — and The Town is just that. After last year, when the final 10 offered a little something for everyone to be happy about, I hoped that these concerns would be laid to rest. But I imagine they will reappear on Tuesday when The Town gets its undue recognition.

Does anyone know why we love each other?

How anyone can deem that the best of the year is beyond me. The characters were one-dimensional (ooh, Jeremy Renner as a hothead!), the stakes were non-existent, the shootout at Fenway was cool to watch but ultimately unfulfilling, and the heists were forgettable. It’s as if the Academy has a Departed hangover and thinks that all Boston-related movies are somehow deep because people have funny accents. (Also see: The Fighter) So put this down as my big disappointment.

Oscar nominees are announced on the 25th.  Yay!  So let’s summarize what we (the royal we, at least) know.  Keeping in mind, of course, that when it comes to the Academy, no one knows anything.  Especially me.  This time: Best Supporting Actress.

VIRTUAL LOCKS

  • Nobody

There are at least ten women you could legitimately claim to have, based on precursor awards, a shot at a nomination.  Coupled with the fact that the Oscars have a tendency to go crazy in the supporting categories (as commenter Sarah astutely pointed out) and you are looking at a category impossible to call with any certainty.

LIKELY IN

  • Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
  • Melissa Leo, The Fighter
  • Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech

Everything I’ve read about True Grit suggests two things about Steinfeld: that’s she absolutely deserving of a nomination; that nomination should be for a leading role as she’s in every single scene.  I haven’t seen the movie yet so I can’t weigh in there.  Best Actress is a crazy tough category to break into this year, so I understand why she’s been campaigned as supporting, but Oscar voters are free to place her as they see fit.  I’m enjoying the Melissa Leo buzz because it means Adam gets to rant about Frozen River some more.  She plays a mother quite easy to hate, desperately close to going over the top as a scheming, manipulating manager/mom, but never quite doing so.  Impressive considering how much of a hack job that script was.  I loved The King’s Speech and I’m always a fan of nominations for muted performances, but I don’t know, I think Helena Bonham Carter is riding the coattails of the movie and her co-stars.  Not her fault, her character is really only given two or three instances to shine.

LAST TWO IN

Mila Kunis, Black Swan
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

I reserve the right to change my predictions, but here’s where I’m at right this instant.  Black Swan has been getting widespread support in the precursors, suggesting to me there’s an opportunity for it to pick up a nomination in this category.  I’ll get to the other contender shortly, but, if you’ll forgive my crassness,  given that I’m predicting a forty-something, fifty-something, sixty-something, and a fourteen year old, I think the Academy will find a place for the incredibly sexy Mila Kunis.  Which, please understand, isn’t meant to take away anything from her performance as the sometimes real, sometimes friend, sometimes rival, sometimes missing half to Natalie Portman’s character.  Animal Kingdom will be arriving very shortly, so I can’t speak to it, but from everything I hear, the only way Weaver doesn’t get the nomination is if not enough voters saw the movie.

FIRST THREE OUT

  • Amy Adams, The Fighter
  • Barbara Hershey, Black Swan
  • Lesley Manville, Another Year

Amy Adams has garnered a number of precursor nominations, is ridiculously cute, and is a damn fine actress, but her character lacks depth.  Given the crowded race, I think if voters have to choose only one supportive partner, they go with Bonham Carter or one actress from The Fighter, they go with Leo.  But if/when I’m wrong, it most likely will be her.  Way  back before people had really seen the film, Hershey was touted as strong favorite here.  Her star has dimmed a little since then, perhaps because there are so many other actresses playing mothers with severe issues handling their offspring.  I’m stunned I can’t find a place for Manville, given director Mike Leigh’s consistent ability to create strong, Oscar-friendly female characters.  I’m told she’s wonderful, it again may just come down who did due diligence and watched her film.

DARK HORSES

  • Dianne Wiest, Rabbit Hole
  • Olivia Williams, The Ghost Writer
  • Dale Dickey, Winter’s Bone
  • Pretty much anyone from For Colored Girls

Everyone was talking about Dianne Wiest and then no one was, I don’t quite get it.  Dollhouse proved to me that Olivia Williams deserves more recognition, and she’s actually quite good in The Ghost Writer, the film just can’t get any traction in the U.S. (and rightly so).   If I had done this two months ago, I would have put Dickey in the top five, given the buzz for Winter’s Bone, and she’s absolutely deserving of a spot.  I hope whoever did the awards promotion for For Colored Girls learned some lessons from the near total failure to get the film out there.  Granted, I hear the subject matter is difficult and it is can be hard to narrow down an ensemble, but we’re looking at a year with twenty white nominees.

SHOULDA BEEN A CONTENDER

Marion Cotillard, Inception
Rosamund Pike, Made in Dagenham
Ellen Wong, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Rebecca Hall, Please Give
Ellen Burstyn, Lovely, Still
Julianna Margulies, City Island
Patricia Clarkson, Easy A
Annette Bening, Mother and Child

I think I’m leaving out at least a half-dozen interesting performances.  A pretty strong year for supporting actress roles, if you ask me.

Is there anything better than being blown away by a film out of the blue? That “I can’t believe how great that was” enthusiasm as the credits roll? My latest surprise revelation was Julie & Julia. I had only middling expectations going in. I’m not really the target audience and the critical reaction had been mixed: Meryl Streep was supposed to be wonderful as usual but only her half of the film was worthwhile.

Well I found myself entirely enchanted. Yes of course Meryl turns in another terrific performance. But it’s an all-around entertaining time and I didn’t even feel like the “Julie” part paled significantly compared to the “Julia” part.

Sticking with Julie for a bit, I think it’s true to say that a story of one woman blogging a cooking challenge isn’t going to be a cinematic as the Julia Childs story of revolutionizing cooking forever. And while I would agree the script doesn’t develop Julie as well as it perhaps could have to make the viewer care for her more, the Julie story is not a notable let-down compared to Julia.

Maybe it’s a generational thing, but I related to Julie. We’re a hyper-connected and creative generation and that yearning to make a mark in the world – or at least to find a worthwhile outlet for expression – resonated. (I mean, here I am writing on a blog after all.) Maybe Julie’s need to create and connect and overshare just doesn’t have the same impact on people who didn’t grow up with Live Journal. One’s connection with Julie can vary widely, but I imagine it helps if the entire point of her story isn’t dismissed outright.

The fact that Julie isn’t necessarily a likable character doesn’t detract from the film. In fact I think it probably makes it more interesting. Without a dynamic character that’s allowed to have some large flaws I think the Julie story really would fall flat. And it’s nice to see Amy Adams in a role where she can dial down the chirpiness.

That said, it’s undeniable that the Julia story is wonderful and the real heart of the film. Streep is just delightful and I found the journey through Childs’ life fascinating and enjoyable. One of the more interesting elements is her marriage to Paul, played superbly by Stanley Tucci. Their deep devotion to each other is played straight and without false drama, which is refreshing and not at all boring. Even while sharing scenes with the marvelous Streep playing the larger-than-life Julia Childs, Tucci shines and their chemistry is sparkling.

It seems likely Streep will get a Best Actress nod here, and it would be well-deserved. I wonder if someone else gives the exact same performance, would even get consideration? On the other hand, who else could give the exact same performance? And Tucci would get a (again, well-deserved) Supporting Actor nomination if he wasn’t probably going to get one for The Lovely Bones instead. And I’d be happy with an Adapted Screenplay nod as well since the story is so infectiously enjoyable.

I caught Julie & Julia on a flight where I was already jet-lagged out of my skull and my previous two nights had been spent on an overnight bus hurtling down a Kenyan highway and on an airplane, so I’m looking forward to seeing it again while in a more normal state of mind. If it charmed me even while I was completely out of it, I’d call that a good sign. And this time I’ll be able to eat more than airline food while watching it.

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 Supporting Actress category:
Read the rest of this entry »

I can appreciate a film constructed around a concept, but to work that film better nail the intended concept. Doubt is, unsurprisingly, about doubt and as such should give the viewer a lot to ponder about doubt. However I, when enveloped in the world of Doubt, doubted the importance of the doubt portrayed, and I seriously doubt that was the intent.

It won’t be too long before the discussion grows too spoilery and I’ll have to shove it all after the jump so let’s get the Oscar stuff out of the way. Doubt tallied four acting nominations since it is a Very Serious Acting Movie. Meryl Streep’s Sister Aloysius, headmistress at a Catholic school in 1960s the Bronx, believes Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Father Flynn has entered into an inappropriate relationship with a young pupil. Amy Adams’s Sister James brings the initial allegation to Aloysius and feels torn between the two as Aloysius pursues him without firm evidence. Viola Davis has a couple emotional scenes as the potential victim’s mother with a shocking agenda.

Streep is sometimes dead-on and sometimes a little hammy. She is always a force on the screen, however, even when I wondered why something was being played up so dramatically. I liked Hoffman, as I usually do. He imparts a lot of humanity into a character who we are led to believe may have done something quite terrible. Even at his darkest moments I felt like I’d enjoy having a drink with him or even would have liked him as a teacher. Davis’s brief appearance seems to have moved many people though I’m not sure I would have made any special note of it without the Oscar hype. I think maybe part of the performance was lost on me since the substance of her scenes was occupying me, and not usually in a good way (more on that later). And Adams, well, as I said in one of our nomination prediction posts I usually enjoy her but this time she was just one-note and chirpy. What worked so well in Enchanted is now growing stale, between this and Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day. She seemed to just get swept up in this wave of acting nominations for the film because I don’t think she contributes much to her character, and neither she nor her character contributes much to the film.

As for everything else, it failed to sneak into Best Picture or Director, thankfully. It’s Adapted Screenplay nod is pretty weak considering it probably took The Dark Knight‘s spot. (By the way, writer/director John Patrick Shanley’s only other film? Joe Versus the Volcano!) That was the end of its Oscar journey, but it is very effective in transporting the viewer to another time. I’ve heard several comments, including from my mother, about how brilliantly it recreates the world of a Catholic school at that era down to the smallest detail, so some credit must be due in areas such as cinematography, costume, and art direction even if those nominations failed to materialize.

And truth be told it’s a pretty good movie. The plot is interesting and naturally dramatic. The setting and peek into the Catholic church at a time of pretty dramatic institutional change are interesting. The characters are really great and fleshed-out, especially Aloysius and Flynn. Doubt has a clear objective, however, and it doesn’t meet it. A film built on a central thesis has trouble succeeding if that thesis fails, no matter how great the periphery elements are. And so it works in a way, but not in the intended way.

I know the fellow Grouches I’ve discussed this with disagree with me, but I think a significant amount of people who see Doubt are going to leave the theater thinking it’s a film about (spoiler time- continue on after the jump) Read the rest of this entry »

Earlier this week I was talking with Adam about why Doubt didn’t do much for me.  Not that I’m intelligible to begin with, but I made a complete hash of my thoughts.  Which sorta trashed my plans to just copy the conversation into here.  Instant post, just add water.  So my new plan is to ramble for awhile and see what happens.  I can’t see any flaws.

I don’t think it is presumptuous to suggest “doubt” the concept, is supposed to be an integral part of Doubt the movie.  Did Philip Seymour Hoffman’s priest character engage in inappropriate relations with a student?  Meryl Streep as the head nun sure seems pretty positive he did, with scant evidence to back it up.  Amy Adams’s naive nun teeters back and forth on the fence.  And the child’s mother, as played by Viola Davis, prefers not to think about anything which could derail her son from getting through the next few months.  So, fine, we have different levels of doubt, and the impact it has on decision-making.

But my fundamental problem with the film is a lack of development, a failure to communicate the so what.  Fairly early on it becomes clear where each character stands, save for the one bit at the end I won’t spoil, but is too little too late.  Really, it seems like the script started out as a two minute sketch, where Adams says, “I don’t know if he did or didn’t do it.”  Then Streep says, “Oh, I know he did it.”  Adams replies, “How do you know?” and Streep answers, “I just do.”  Then Hoffman says, “This is ridiculous, why are you doing this.”  Rinse and repeat.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

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