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And now, part three of Ian and Jared’s fantasy Sundance draft.  If you missed it, check out part one for scoring and the first four picks and part two for picks 5 through 8.

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

Camp X-Ray

Jared: When Sundance announced the movies playing the festival this year, many (if not most) of the headlines touted Kristen Stewart, who stars in this film.  I get the feeling Twilight has made her a divisive figure, but if you’ve only seen her or heard of her in those films, I think you’ll be surprised at her acting ability.  The film tells the story of a burgeoning friendship of a guard (Stewart) and a detainee (Payman Maadi) at Guantanomo Bay, and the combination of an intense character study coupled with the morals and politics involved with Gitmo could mean this film has the potential to play well to this audience.  Writer-director Peter Sattler went to college with David Gordon Green and did some work on his films, and Green returns the favor here as a producer.  Also producing is Sophia Lin, who has producing credits on lauded films Take Shelter and Compliance.  And I wouldn’t want to leave out that she was production manager on The Baxter, a film I know Ian and I both love.

Ian: You’ve mentioned a lot of things that I love more than the world at large in that writeup, but I’ll focus on KStew first. I’m with you, if you only know her as tabloid fodder and a Twilight star, you’re missing out on great performances in The Runaways or Adventureland in particular. And if Peter Sattler has any of the eye for detail of his NCSA compatriots like David Gordon Green or Jody Hill, there’s probably going to be a sensitivity to the subject matter. And yet, reading this, I wonder if KStew can take on such a major focus, and whether the subject matter can be told without being either didactic or mawkish. Like most of our midpack films (and, let’s face it, the entire lineup as far as we know), this one has some boom/bust potential.

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

Song One

Ian: Camp X-Ray was the last film remaining for me that had over a one-in-three chance of scoring. I think there’s a little bit of a gap here. The big draw for Song One is probably getting Anne Hathaway to come to Park City, but Hathy doesn’t seem like the kind of actress who the jury would feel compelled to give a Special Jury prize. The rest of the movie…well, it sure feels like Once in Brooklyn, doesn’t it? Once was obviously a shoo-in for the Audience Award back when it was in competition. While Jenny and Johnny don’t write songs with the same kind of naked emotional hooks as Glen Hansard does, I could see an affecting musical performance in a romantic weeper having much the same effect upon audiences. My biggest concern is the director, Kate Barker-Froyland’s pedigree. Sure, she seems prepared, but can she overcome her roots going to some state school in the midwest?

Jared: All Anne Hathaway does is win awards.  She’s got around 26 credits on imdb, and I believe she’s garnered at least a nomination for over half of them.  Or didn’t you realize she has an Emmy for voiceover work on The Simpsons, a British Independent Film Awards nomination for Becoming Jane, and a Young Artist nomination for Get Real?  So yeah, I’d say she’s in the running for playing the lead in an Sundance film.  She’s also a producer on this one, as are veteran producers Marc Platt and Jonathan Demme, so the film has some definite oomph behind it.  And to flesh out Ian’s joke, along with writer/director Kate Barker-Froyland, we are proud graduates of the University of Chicago.  Or graduates, at least.  So as fellow Maroons, we wish nothing but the best for Barker-Froyland.  Though I do question how anyone can escape that institution and be mentally stable enough to direct a feature-length movie.

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

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter

Ian:  If Bunzo the rabbit does not win some sort of award, I am boycotting the festival next year. If I can give a little bit of a fantasy Sundance tip from an expert: I think once you get past the top picks (or if there are no top picks), you want to look for the best hooks for an award. Here, I could potentially see a potential award path for Rinko Kikuchi, in an All is Lost way, and the visual depiction of loneliness may also lead to some challenging direction or scenework. The Zellner brothers also have a pedigree of getting recognized, at least, so they may be building to a coming out party. I think I’m less enthused with the pick than I was when I made it, though, and this may be an overdraft, even here towards the end of the competition.

Jared: Yeah, I had this one near the bottom of my rankings.  The brothers Zellner are well-regarded Sundance alums, and Rinko Kinkuchi does have an Oscar nomination, sot here are a few things working in its favor.  But while I’m definitely curious about the film, the descriptions I’ve seen don’t scream out “Awards bait” to me.  And while I like Kinkuchi, sure seems like Hollywood hasn’t really figured out what to do with her since Babel.

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

The Skeleton Twins

Jared: Most importantly, one of the executive producers of this film is named “Jared Ian Goldman”, so I think we have to be rooting for this one.  I’ll grant that co-writer/director’s mumblecore heritage (this film was produced by the Duplass brothers) and stars Kristin Wiig and Bill Hader are not necessarily the stuff on which awards are built.  But to counter the latter, I’ll note that Nebraska, which co-stars Will Forte, seems to be doing pretty decently for itself.  And I’ve heard some incredibly premature buzz that Wiig and Hader are quite good in the roles, not really surprising giving their talent and how much people seem to generally like them.  Co-screenwriter Mark Heyman has a credit on Black Swan, for whatever that is worth.

Ian: I was deciding between The Skeleton Twins and Kumiko, and in the cold light of Sundance day, I think I made the wrong choice. (There are few sins less forgivable than making a poor fantasy Sundance draft decision.) I agree with both sides of your argument: the pedigree of the movie is enough to drop it towards the end of the draft, and Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader are probably enough to make the movie a value pick here. Wiig and Hader play well together (second shoutout to Adventureland in one writeup!), and they’re both capable of quiet nuanced performance when away from the Groundlings character-first influence. I do wonder somewhat which of the awards this movie could possibly contend for, but that’s what made it available here in the first place.

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

The annual Christmas movie with the family failed disastrously, so later on Gavin and I, along with Brian, headed off to see a sold out Les Miserables at Gallery Place.  I hadn’t seen the musical before, for whatever that is worth.

There are a handful of solid songs – Walking out of the theater, I probably grumbled something about there only being a good song and a half in the lot.  Upon further reflection, that was wrong, colored by something I’ll get to in the next point.  Still not sure I’ll ever have a desire to listen through the whole soundtrack, but I’ve listened to “I Dreamed a Dream”, “On My Own”, and “One Day More” a few times in the past week, and they are growing on me a lot.  And I kinda dug the march.
Tom Hooper is the worst director of the year – Hooper’s controversial non-stop use of extreme closeups singlehandedly made the movie darn near unwatchable.  Sure, the technique was effective in Anne Hathaway’s arresting take on “I Dreamed a Dream”, even if Hooper was essentially cribbing from John Maybury’s direction for video of Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”.  You know what isn’t effective?  TWO AND A HALF HOURS OF THAT.
Actors who can sing are important to a musical – And the people in charge of casting generally acquitted themselves quite well.  All of the women (Hathaway, Barks, Seyfried) are more than competent singers.  Regardless of your take on his performance, Hugh Jackman can clearly sing.  Eddie Redmayne is maybe a little too froggy for my taste, but again, not a distraction.  And while Russell Crowe may have the most limited range of the group, I found the stiff raggedness of his singing to actually mesh quite well with his interpretation of Javert.  Of course, you should keep in mind that Guys and Dolls is my favorite movie musical, and it includes the musical stylings of Marlon Brando, so as with most things, it is entirely possible I have no idea what I’m talking about.

I think there’s a compelling story in there somewhere – I’m generally a fan of the 19th century epics, which seemingly always span decades and involve war/revolution, people hiding from their past which inevitably catches up with them, fallen women, true love, someone being spurned, the rigid nature of manners getting in the way of things, and orphans.  Always with the orphans.  Anyway, most of that stuff was in there.
Tom Hooper is the worst director of the year (part two) – Unfortunately, none of things were allowed to build into a cohesive story.  Granted, some of the blame is on the screenwriter and the original French adapters, and maybe even Victor Hugo.  But here’s the thing.    I shouldn’t have to be armed with the full backstory from the stage musical or novel to wishcast a fleshed out plot onto the film.  I also think Hooper’s obsession with extreme close ups prevented him from more completely showing the interactions between characters that I think was needed.
There are a few ‘quels I’d like to see – I found the idea of Javert kinda fascinating, that in order to enforce the laws you need to believe in them completely.  I bet his story would be pretty interesting.  As far as I could tell, Eponine was the only character who isn’t insufferable.  It was kind of frustrating to be dropped in at the tail end of her story, and a credit to Samantha Barks that the character was as compelling as she was.  Not to get all Nicholas Sparks up in here, but I think you’d have a heck of a tearjerker if you keep her portion of the movie as an ending and start at the beginning of her relationship with Marius (hopefully giving him actual depth).  Oh, and a Dennis Dugan-directed spinoff of the Thenardiers, of course.

Let’s not be too harsh on Tom Hooper – I actually enjoyed the “Master of the House” scene, for example.  I think Hooper deftly used space and camerawork to create a dementedly garish romp.
Tom Hooper is the worst director of the year (part three) – Of course, that scene was wildly different, tonally, from the rest of Hooper’s bleak, gray movie.  Jarringly so, to the point where I don’t see how it fits.  I’ve got one more (possibly unfair) criticism.  Again, I haven’t seen the musical on stage, but multiple sources have said part of the appeal is the spectacle of it all.  During the film, however, I noted the smallness of everything multiple times.  The hated close ups, sure.  But also the barricade seemed really insignificant.  And the funeral procession, to me, felt minor, which was off-putting, since the march seemed to indicate something grander.  I guess all this means Hooper was being relatively consistent in his choices, but…why?
I’m running out of nice things to say, so, um, Jean Valjean is a great name – No, seriously.  Say it out loud.  “Jean Valjean”.  It is great!  He should be a secret agent.

If the movie were a sandwich, it would be:  Hard to tell.  Something on a baguette, of course.  The filling smells kind of decent, but the fact that the chef keeps trying to jam the sandwich into your face kinda hinders your ability to enjoy it.

Let’s get this out of the way first: Love and Other Drugs is a mess. Tonal shifts are swift and severe. Characterizations are thin and off-putting. The line between decency and ickiness gets thoroughly trampled. Time drags.

But there’s just something about it that clicks. I guess the story works just enough and the emotional notes connect just enough to keep it hanging around in my head. It’s usually light – except when it abruptly isn’t – but that doesn’t prevent it from thematically punching above its weight.

This is of course the Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal get naked romantic comedy. And the Parkinson’s movie. And the Viagra movie. And the movie that takes on Big Pharma. (You can see some of the problem here.)

As Hathaway and Gyllenhaal (Maggie and Jamie, respectively) court, she repeatedly tries to push him away due to her illness. Meanwhile, he climbs the corporate ladder at Pfizer as Viagra hits the market while pausing his horndog lifestyle as he pursues her.

Oddly enough, I do not share the concerns I see cited most often with this film. Let’s discuss.

One, that giving Hathaway’s character Parkinson’s is unnecessarily manipulative. I say the biggest issue is that she’s already a classic manic pixie dream girl and giving her Parkinson’s puts her too far over the top. The short shrift the disease gets in the film as it races through a dozen other plot points and themes is a problem because its development remains too superficial. A better romantic comedy is waiting to be made to adeptly explore the issue, but Drugs only scratches the surface.

But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t occasionally connect. I’d say there are a good number of small moments with resonance and subtle power.

Manic pixie dream... I forget the rest

Others say the film is too preachy or too obvious with the indictments of the healthcare system it tries to make. Maybe because it was preaching to the choir with me, the various points it tries to make didn’t strike me as that egregious. The issue isn’t that a doctor wearily confides to Jamie that the decked is stacked against him providing quality care to his patients, it’s that the doctor never shows that kind of contemplation at any other part of the movie.

It’s not that Maggie makes comments about drug affordability as she leads a group of seniors on a bus trip to Canada to buy their medications, it’s that by doing so she becomes an increasingly fictional character. It’s not that Jamie’s boss has an outburst about the company screwing him over, but that the film immediately cuts away and that plot thread and theme are never picked up again.

Finally, the plot launches when Jamie poses as a medical intern while trying to sell a doctor Pfizer products. Maggie is the patient and she whips out her breast during the exam. Naturally this is a huge invasion of privacy and probably violates a dozen ethics rules. Apparently this has ruined the film for some people the offenses are so grievous. I think the film does enough to establish the doctor is a sleazebag that I don’t mind.

But shouldn’t a larger problem be that Maggie, once discovering what Jamie did, gets over her anger in about 90 seconds and soon after invites him into her bed (or kitchen floor, as it were)? Once again, her character just gets less believable.

And the complaints that the character of Jamie’s brother was useless? Chill out.

Which all is to say that I’m somewhat conflicted. I found it mildly amusing and adequately emotionally effective. As this winter’s film crop moves onto DVD I could probably recommend two dozen other movies over Love and Other Drugs. But should you decide to spend the time with a naked Hathaway and Gyllenhaal, it wouldn’t really be a waste.

Awards buzz never really materialized (Gyllenhaal and Hathaway did both pick up Golden Globe nods, however) but Hathaway still punched her ticket to the big show by hosting the damn thing.

Brian: So faster than Adam could insult John’s movie taste, the news of Anne Hathaway and James Franco being the hosts of this year’s Oscars has spread quickly around the interwebs. Consider me thrilled and excited. I was probably more bullish on last year’s telecast than most, and that was in spite of Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin’s lame performance as hosts. As Dave Karger points out over on Inside Movies, “But [the Academy] clearly seems to be courting a different generation: Franco and Hathaway’s combined age (61) is less than Steve Martin’s.”

I love this pairing. Franco can pretty much do whatever he pleases and I’m sure he’ll amuse. He was the best part of Pineapple Express and I’m more than wiling to forgive him for Spiderman 3. He’s exceeded expectations on SNL. And Hathaway did the best she could with the weak material when she hosted SNL recently. They are both easy on the eyes, young up-and-comers who will likely be A-listers in due time. It’s clear that this is a cagey attempt at attracting younger audiences to the telecast — and while I think it will succeed, and hope it will — I’m more convinced that the age of the big television event is gone. This is now two years in a row that the Academy has shocked the grouches with a move to create buzz around the Oscars. Maybe we should stop giving them such a hard time for being fuddyduddies?

I’m intrigued to see how this affects Franco’s campaign for Best Actor. Help him or hurt him? Would sentimental votes of giving it to the young guy now dissipate because he’s getting such a huge platform with emcee duties? Does this help Hathaway’s dark horse campaign for Best Actress?

John? What do you think?

Jared: My first reaction to hearing Hathaway and Franco were named hosts was something along the lines of Sasha Stone at Awards Daily: disbelief.  Everyone has to start somewhere, but you are talking about people who are a decade removed from playing Disney princesses and the a-hole in high school romantic comedies.

There’s little doubt in my mind that they have the tools to be successful hosts.  They’ve both clearly demonstrated comedic chops and also had searingly successful dramatic turns.  But perhaps most importantly, they both have shown that they (or, their public personas, at least) can laugh at themselves.  I only wonder how the Oscar audience will feel getting razzed by the two.  Because when, say, Steve Martin heaps on you, that’s undeniably an honor.  But even with the same writers (crosses fingers for Bruce Vilanch to be involved again), I think the same joke comes out a little differently when it is the stoned drug dealer from Pineapple Express.

The Academy has a well-deserved reputation for being stodgy.  It is nice to see them moving another step away from that.  Also nice to see their taste in hosts is still strong.

John: What a strange choice. Both of them have the potential to be very good and both have done a good job hosting SNL. Hathaway was funny during a part of Hugh Jackman’s opening number in 2009. I just don’t understand why they’re hosting together. Do producers think neither has the chops to host solo? Or could they not make up their mind between the two? Is there any evidence they’d have chemistry?

It’s especially puzzling since last year’s hosting duo seemed like a great idea but were terrible. If Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin don’t work well together, why would Hathaway and Franco? Also Franco is likely to be a nominee for 127 Hours, which could be an interesting dynamic.

But the bigger factor is that Adam Shankman isn’t producing this year so the show has to be better than last year’s, no matter who is hosting.

Brian: Notice how John failed to answer my one question. I think this hurts Franco’s campaign and the smart money is on Colin Firth, even more than it ways before.

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 Actress category:

Read the rest of this entry »

It’s a few weeks later and it’s time to check the latest Rachel Getting Married Index (RGMI).

The RGMI for November 14, 2008 is: 7.5.

rgmi21

I think part of the increase has to do with Jared’s very good recent post, which served as a good reminder of all that works well in the movie. Anne Hathaway, natch. The way the film deftly provides atmosphere even in its mundane moments. The powerful emotional punch it packs.

I’m not sure I buy his theories on the noteworthy scenes where all rules on pacing get thrown out the window. Do these scenes serve a point? Sure. To some extent they’re quite successful. I think the point starts to fade when the timing gets all screwy. Hey this toast is sorta silly, what’s Rachel gonna do?! Let’s lose interest as we wait 15 minutes to find out! When Rachel’s awkward speech finally occurs, I agree it was absolutely cringe-worthy (I had trouble watching, to be honest), but the scene lost the build-up eventually. It’s interesting to ponder, however, because looking back I’m reminded more of character and mood and less about technique.

So Anne Hathaway’s pretty terrific, no? She’s absolutely Oscar material. Sometimes I become convinced that Hollywood popularity is based mostly on looks and then some beautiful actor comes along with a performance like this and I’m like, oh yeah, there’s more keeping me from an acting career than looks.

I’d also be interested to see if Bill Irwin gets much buzz for his performance. I’m not sure he is better than Hathaway because I think he has a tendency to ham it up a little too much, but he’s pretty much a scene stealer. There’s a lot going on with his character and by the end I felt for him but also felt pretty exasperated. Nice guy but would be a pain to deal with, I think.

So that’s the RGMI update for now. As we start getting into the meat of Oscar season I’ll be interested to see how Rachel Getting Married fares comparatively.

Oh, also, Bill Irwin is a trained clown and was in the video for Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Enjoy!

It helps if you know a Kym.  Maybe yours isn’t dealing with any many personal demons and doesn’t attend court-mandated rehab.  Heck, maybe it is you, at least at certain times.  “Self-centered” isn’t an adequate description here, though it may be a start.  It is more how Kym looks for her role in any conversation, her place in any event.  That doesn’t necessarily mean bringing the spotlight around to her, even if that’s often the case.  It is that utter desperation to fit in, to be acknowledged (if not loved).  And it is a vicious cycle, where her attempts not to be noticed, but to be a noticeable member, just lead her to be pushed away even more.  A losing struggle to find normality.  So, I think knowing a Kym, someone who deep down, maybe way down, has good intentions, but whose attempts to fit in are manifested as a blatant attempt to grab attention helps with the movie.

I’ll get back to Kym/Anne Hathaway shortly (spoiler: when I spend a paragraph talking about how I get a character, I probably liked her), but I wanted to focus on three scenes, at least two of which probably elicited different reactions from my fellow Grouches: the toasting scene at the rehearsal dinner, the dishwasher-stacking scene, and the wedding reception.  And in case I don’t get to them at a later date, just wanted to toss some recognition the way of Jenny Lumet, the first-time screenwriter, and Rosemarie DeWit, who played Rachel.

The toasts at the rehearsal dinner went on an extraordinarily long time, and I loved every minute of it.  Here’s something extremely mundane; after all, who, really, enjoys hearing awkward speeches about two of their friends getting married, much less movie characters they barely know?  And the speeches were awkward, moving, poignant, silly, stupid, and everything else wedding toasts normally are.  In a different movie, I’d certainly agree that the scene went on too long, even if the point was to show how boring these things can be.  But as director Jonathan Demme shows us, the point of this scene isn’t to see people endlessly toasting Rachel and Sydney, it is to see Kym trying to handle people endlessly toasting Rachel and Sydney, desperately trying to plan a toast which will fit in.  It is going to sound ridiculous, but I was cringing on the edge of my seat for the entire scene.  Because Kym, probably surprised that this was a time for people to toast her big sister, was going to turn this ordinary event into a trainwreck.  We knew it and she knew it, even as she frantically clawed for ideas on how to give an ordinary toast.  And so, if you will, Kym is the metaphorical bomb under the table, and the suspense is generated by the other guests, who seem completely oblivious to the surely inevitable explosion.

The dishstacking competition is likely to be one of my favorite scenes of the year.  It is fun, funny, and disturbingly poignant.  Incredibly simple, the soon-to-be son-in-law good-naturedly mocks his future father-in-law’s ability to fit dishes in the dishwasher, a skill in which the old man clearly takes a good amount of pride.  And so, obviously, a competition is borne, egged on by close friends and family.  Ridiculous?  Absolutely.  Clearly part of the reason I love it.  But there’s also the juxtaposition of the insanity that is females planning a wedding with the much more masculine contest to see who can fit more dishes in a dishwasher.  It is absurd and yet honest.  The groom and father of the bride have gotten along swimmingly, but, after all, he’s the new generation, stealing away daddy’s little girl.  And amid all the chaos and tension of a wedding, here’s something they can do to just push everything aside.

And Kym even manages to get subsumed in the madness, at least for a moment.  But in achingly beautiful fashion, while being more helpful than anyone present, Kym manages to bring the entire thing to a crashing halt (Bill Irwin is so good for this scene, by the way).  Going from off-the-rails fun to tenderly sad, especially when it seems no one quite knows why Irwin is experiencing this sudden attack of sorrow, just made for tremendous scene, in my book.

Finally, the wedding reception, which took over the top to whole new levels.  it is pretty likely the scene stems directly from Demme’s experience as a director of music videos and films of live performances.  At the very least, it explains what Robyn Hitchcock was doing in the movie.  Here’s the thing.  I’m completely convinced the absurdity was intentional.  Sure, view it as a metaphor for how Kym sees the world: a myriad of strange and exotic cultures, none of which quite fit her.  But I saw it more as fun insanity.  I suppose I could make argument about how it is a statement on the interracial marriage.  Or a stronger one on how it continues the leitmotif of how music can influences emotions (seriously, music played a bigger factor in this movie than Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, I’d argue).  Mostly, though, I think Demme et al may have created a wedding where it is virtually impossible to not forget yourself and have fun.

To get back to, you know, Oscars, other than best actress, the movie’s been mentioned in at least the film and two supporting races.  Right now the only serious chance may be Debra Winger, but it shouldn’t be.  I think I’d be happy if the film surprises and picks up multiple nominations, but we can cross that bridge when needed.

Anne Hathaway is incredibly beautiful.  It’s just a fact.  But I think I’m managing to put that aside when I say that based on what I’ve seen so far, she absolutely deserves a nomination.  Kym is an incredibly difficult and complex character, and with Hathaway, she is sympathetic when she needs to be, but not all the time, because she isn’t always a likeable character.  At times, it is frustrating as all heck to deal with the Kyms of the world, and we might wish them away in the heat of the moment.  I enjoyed the character of Kym because she wasn’t all good or all evil.  She just felt like a person struggling (more than most, to be sure) to find her place.

As time goes on it’s only natural that one’s opinion of a movie will change. The technical deficiencies fade away in the mind to let emotion and tone shine through, for instance. Maybe a theme takes some time to strike a chord but will hang around in your head for a while. Last year I found Michael Clayton and Into the Wild stuck with me long after I wrote my initial unenthusiastic posts. My obvious problems with Knocked Up quickly slipped from the forefront, replaced with what pure joy that film was.

Of course, the process can work the opposite way as well. A movie jam-packed with emotion that leaves you reeling as the credits roll can become melodramatic and manipulative the more you think about it (see: Blow). As time went on I thought less of Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose and more of what a structural mess it was. And boy does A Beautiful Mind feel like a dull Best Picture choice now, huh?

I’m saying all this because last night the Grouches saw Rachel Getting Married, a film I’m really not sure what to think about. I left feeling like I needed to work through it a little before making any firm judgment. It’s a film with some serious pros and cons, both in quantity and magnitude. I’m curious to see how my feelings about it coalesce; in a month will I think back to its performances and brilliant emotional scenes or its severe pacing problems? How will a second viewing in a few months hold up?

So I present to you the Rachel Getting Married Index (RGMI). I will periodically check in throughout the Oscar season to explain my current thoughts on the film and what, if anything, has changed. Or if I get bored with the conceit, then not. Whatever.

The RGMI for October 22, 2008 is: 6.5.

This is what I’m thinking hours after leaving the theater. When Rachel Getting Married connects it really connects. Some scenes hit so hard I could feel them. In the good scenes everything is right on and it feels authentic. And yet I didn’t think director Jonathan Demme really had any control over the film as a whole. I don’t demand action and I’m perfectly happy with a slow pace that builds mood, theme, or character but scenes continually go on for just way too long for no apparent reason. A scene like the one at the rehearsal dinner starts off kind of pointless as characters start giving toasts to the happy couple. Then, even as it doesn’t really go anywhere, I get into it because it’s all about building mood. But then it starts going a little long.

Then it ends 15 minutes later.

It’s also the most WTF wedding I’ve ever seen. It’s so out there it took me out of the film at times. And it’s intensely uncomfortable at times. In an effective way? Not sure.

Stay tuned for further RGMI updates! No matter what happens, at least this dysfunctional-family-at-a-wedding film will probably not fall to Margot at the Wedding depths (though while writing this I’ve managed to call it Rachel at the Wedding several times). I also intend to explore the parallels I saw to another recent film, and that film is of course Dan in Real Life, but you already knew that.

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