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You guys.  Oscar nominations come out January 10th.  Let’s get excited!  As is tradition, I’ll take a look as to where the race appears to be.  First up: Supporting Actor

VIRTUAL LOCK

(none)

GOOD BET

  • Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln

This category worries me a bit, but Tommy Lee Jones seems pretty safe to make it through to the next stage.  He’s riding a crowd-pleasing role in the presumptive favorite for Best Picture.  And he has history with the Academy (nominated for Best Actor for In the Valley of Elah, and Supporting Actor for JFK along with a win for Supporting Actor for The Fugitive).

LIKELY IN

  • Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
  • Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
  • Alan Arkin, Argo

I haven’t seen The Master yet, but Hoffman’s role is apparently quite meaty.  Like Tommy Lee Jones, he’s got two unsuccessful Oscar noms (Supporting Actor for Charlie Wilson’s War and Doubt) and a win (Capote).  The only knock is that The Master seemed to have run out of steam about a month ago, so it is hard to say for sure that he’ll be safe.

Wanna take a guess when Robert de Niro last received an Oscar nomination?  That’d be 1992, for Cape Fear.  He also has noms for AwakeningsThe Deer HunterTaxi Driver, and wins for Raging Bull and The Godfather: Part II.  Sure seems like the Academy would LOVE to get de Niro back in the conversation.  The catch is that he actually isn’t terribly good in the movie, it just seems that way compared to the rest of his output over the last two decades (save for Stardust).

Alan Arkin has an Oscar win for Little Miss Sunshine and prior to that had two noms in the 60s for The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and The Russians are Coming the Russians are Coming.  He’s good in a small role which happens to be a movie producer, complete with a catchphrase, in a likely Best Picture nominee.  The only question mark is that there isn’t a ton to the role in a film that has a huge ensemble.

ON THE BUBBLE

  • Javier Bardem, Skyfall
  • Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained
  • Samuel L. Jackson, Django Unchained
  • Matthew McConaughey, Magic Mike
  • Eddie Redmayne, Les Miserables
  • Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained

The fifth slot could go a ton of different ways.  “Genre” movies can occasionally break through, with Heath Ledger the obvious recent example.  Bardem’s role wasn’t quite in that league, but he’s been receiving a decent number of accolades and has a history with the Academy, plus Skyfall appears to have a chance at some Oscar traction.  Django Unchained came out late, of course, and it is still hard to gauge the reaction.  DiCaprio and Jackson both appear to have a lot of fun playing heavies, but Waltz is in a much larger role.  Matthew McConaughey has had a heck of year, which could lead voters to rally around his solid role in Magic Mike, buoyed by all those stories you hear of the film making $100 million off a $7 million dollar budget.  That said, it remains to be seen if the Academy is gender neutral about their strippers with hearts of gold.  I don’t know what to do with Les Miserables at this point.  Some people love it, that’s for sure.  Maybe that will mean enough support for Redmayne, since I don’t see people going for Crowe.

DARK HORSES

  • Russell Crowe, Les Miserables
  • John Goodman, Argo
  • John Goodman, Flight
  • Dwight Henry, Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Ewan McGregor, The Impossible
  • William H. Macy, The Sessions

Crowe is dealing with criticisms of his singing.  Goodman has to deal with votes being split between two tiny, but showy, roles.  Henry has to deal with fewer people seeing his movie.  What little capital The Impossible has left is being spent on the push for Naomi Watts.  And The Sessions is suffering from a lack of buzz, which would be needed to garner this nomination.

SHOULD HAVE BEEN CONSIDERED

  • Ezra Miller, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • Matthew McConaughey, Killer Joe
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Well, here we are. I want to make sure to say thanks to Adam, Brian, and John for joining me on this ride. I’ve got no life, so it was relatively easy for me to catch these nineteen films (plus the other contenders we saw). But I know that you all made some sacrifices to make it happen. And thanks for all the discussions (both on- and off-blog). You guys rock.

Inglourious Basterds

Adam and I tend to have fairly similar taste in movies, so it was surprising to me that we disagree so much about Inglourious Basterds. He told me he didn’t think I would like it, leading me to believe that deep down he knows the film just doesn’t work. Sure, there are stretches of brilliance: the first few minutes of the opening scene, the whipped cream scene, most of the scene at the underground bar, everything about Christoph Waltz’s character. But Tarantino appears to be a guy who needs someone to keep him in check. Just about every scene goes on too long. And the story never comes together into a cohesive unit. I admire the film’s ambition and respect Tarantino’s vision. But the film left me unmoved.

Avatar

I’m not a particularly visual person, so while I personally can’t excuse Avatar‘s script, I guess I can understand how someone might get swept up by shiny things. But I don’t understand why this logic only applies to James Cameron. Criticisms of Michael Bay movies invariably levy charges of being bloated, overly-reliant on CGI with no character development and having things blowing up nonstop. Aren’t the exact same things being said about Avatar, more or less? Adam talked about not putting mindless action flicks up for Best Picture. That’s a stance I don’t understand to begin with, and I think the Avatar nomination discredits in practice. I’ve yet to hear any sort of logical argument about how the distinction between a “fun” movies and a “good” one isn’t arbitrary. As such, I’ll continue to only rank movies based on how much I enjoy them.

An Education

Possibly one of this year’s most fun collection of actors. It is just too bad they didn’t really have much to do. Think about the memorable scenes in the movie. Molina falling under Saarsgard’s charms. Thompson arguing with Mulligan. Williams arguing with Mulligan. Pike being a ditz. The birthday party with Mulligan’s former beau. Almost all of these things have the barest of setups or followthroughs. What is Emma Thompson doing in the film, anyway? As is, shouldn’t her character just been merged with that of Olivia Williams? The point is, I buy it is the right cast, the right screenwriter, and heck, the right director. But what if you didn’t bind Nick Hornby to a set of memoirs where apparently nothing happens, instead just describing the characters and themes? I think that could have been something really tremendous. And also probably would have had an ending.

A Serious Man

I’m still amazed this film received a Best Picture nomination. Not talking about its merits, just that the film had no discernible buzz, at least that I saw. The Coens and I clearly operate on different wavelengths. Not drastically different, just enough that I don’t quite get them. Plus, I don’t think they are as funny or clever as they think they are. Their work does have a timeless quality, though. I could have seen this movie being made ten years ago or twenty years ago. And (as with almost all of their films) their work is refreshing, an oddball little piece of cinema not quite fitting in anyway. Which I can definitely appreciate. And I don’t mean to completely badmouth the film, I did find that I generally enjoyed myself, even if I still haven’t quite figured it out. Assuming there is anything to figure out, I guess.

The Blind Side

I liked this film a little more than the other Grouches. Possibly because I have a heart. Personally, I think it delivers exactly what it sets out to do. It is a big, broad movie that tugs at the heartstrings (but not too much) and ultimately leaves you feeling a little better about things. Is there anything so wrong with that? Sure, it never really tries to reach for anything higher, and that’s maybe why I didn’t fall in love it, but it is a solid, solid film. I think some of the criticisms hurled at it are kinda weak. Yes, a rich white lady helps a poor black kid. No, that doesn’t automatically mean you can toss around the phrase “white guilt”. Partially because this stuff, you know, actually happened. And I found it to be a fairly faithful adaptation of the book (other than the book’s discussion of the history of left tackle, of course). Not sure I could imagine anything better, actually. Well, except for maybe removing some of Lewis’s bias. But that’s probably a good thing.

Precious

We’ve been over the faults of this film’s script numerous times. The auxiliary characters weren’t sketched out well and the plot isn’t that interesting. What the story did do, however, was provide ample opportunity for Mo’Nique and Gabourey Sidibe to dominate all over the place. And sometimes, that’s enough. Like Avatar, oddly enough, when the film was allowed to play to its strengths, it was magical. In certain sense, the film captures drama better than anything else this year. The relationship between Sidibe and Mo’Nique is really unlike anything I’d seen on screen and while it was often hard to take, it was just so so powerful.

Up in the Air

Here’s another film I feel like I’ve unintentionally badmouthed a lot. There were lots of things I liked about Up in the Air, very few things I disliked. It was a very good film, and I’m happy it got nominated. My complaints were more about the acting nominations than anything else, I guess. And, well, not thinking that it was a great movie, because it didn’t quite get there. It was funny and dramatic and thought-provoking, just not very funny or very dramatic or very thought-provoking. Still, a smart film, Jason Reitman is crazy promising. What did I like, though? Hm. It was a fun ride throughout and rarely boring. Kept a solid pace. Made me laugh some. I don’t know, exactly. Just a well-made film.

The Hurt Locker

The dichotomy here is fascinating. $15 million grossing art house movie? Totally Oscar. Iraq war movie? Not Oscar. Cast filled with relative unknowns? Oscar. Action movie? Not Oscar. Finally rewarding a director who paid his dues? Oscar. Finally rewarding a director who paid her dues? Not Oscar. With a quality script, this film would have been something truly special. As is, it’s a fine piece of film making, and extraordinary example of how great a taut, exciting action film can be. Kinda interesting to compare to Slumdog Millionaire, in terms of a movie that didn’t make all that much money and about a topic not necessarily of general interest, and certainly wasn’t necessarily guaranteed to be here on Oscar night.

District 9

Speaking of great action films, I have no clue how District 9 ended up with an best picture nomination, but yay. Something went terribly right for that to happen, because honestly, does it seem like an Oscar movie in the least? I guess maybe if you squint. It is proof that action films can be totally riveting. Maybe next year can be comedy’s year? Nah, that’s crazy talk. Well, unless Peter Jackson produces a comedy. I guess that would be OK. Kinda rambling at this point, because the red carpet has started and Brian and Adam are arguing about something. Not sure what, but I’m sure it is ridiculous. But yes, everyone should see District 9. And be amazed at the effects, the action, and really the touching story. I know some other Oscar nominated movies about aliens the year seemed to imply that it wasn’t possible to have a great story with your alien action, but I assure you, that’s false.

Up

Yup, there’s little question that Up is the year’s best film. Pixar doesn’t make animated movies, they make movies. No need to gush about that opening sequence, because yeah, just out of this world. And I’ll be the only Grouch who likes agreeing with John. Up is consistently funny, definitely one of the funniest movies of the year. (And Adam, I’ll take the bait, yes, I laughed more at She’s Out of My League, but that’s an argument we are going to have in 2010 discussions.) But it was also one of the most exciting films, with one of the interesting stories. Just all around a fantastic movie. Never slow, never dull, always amazing. The Grouches don’t all agree on our favorite Pixar movies, but I think we all agree that at their best, no one tells stories like they do. And if you tell a story as close to perfectly as they do, well, you are going to get my vote for movie of the year.

Thanks to those who joined us for the liveblog. For those who didn’t but are still interested in all our hilarious comments, including the time I ridiculed Michael C Hall for wearing a skull cap inside when it turns out he has cancer, check below the fold for a full transcript.

Hopefully we’ll have a couple analytical thoughts up early this week.

Your list of winners:

  • Best Picture, Drama – Avatar
  • Best Picture, Comedy/Musical — The Hangover
  • Best Director — James Cameron, Avatar
  • Best Actress, Drama — Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
  • Best Actor, Drama — Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
  • Best Actress, Comedy/Musical — Meryl  Streep, Julie & Julia
  • Best Actor, Comedy/Musical — Robert Downey Jr, Sherlock Holmes
  • Best Supporting Actress — Mo’Nique, Precious
  • Best Supporting Actor — Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
  • Best Foreign Language Film — The White Ribbon
  • Best Animated Feature — Up
  • Best Screenplay — Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air
  • Best Original Score — Michael Giacchino, Up
  • Best Original Song — The Weary Kind, Crazy Heart
  • Best TV Series, Drama  –  Mad Men
  • Best TV Series, Comedy  — Glee
  • Best TV Miniseries — Grey Gardens
  • Best Actress, TV Miniseries — Drew Barrymore, Grey Gardens
  • Best Actor, TV Miniseries — Kevin Bacon, Taking Chance
  • Best Actress, TV Drama — Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
  • Best Actor, TV Drama — Michael C. Hall, Dexter
  • Best Actress, TV Comedy — Toni Collette, United States of Tara
  • Best Actor, TV Comedy — Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
  • Best Supporting Actress, TV — Chloe Sevigny, Big Love
  • Best Supporting Actor, TV — John Lithgow, Dexter

Read the rest of this entry »

Sometimes I leave a theater and think, “What was the point of that?” It tends mostly to happen with films that dwell in negativity without any obvious message, like There Will Be Blood. That’s a film I still can’t wrap my mind around as far as what it was trying to say.

But I’m not sure wondering about a film’s point is entirely fair. There are plenty of recent movies I’ve loved whose points – or lack thereof – never gave me pause. I can’t say I bothered with wondering about the points of The Bank Job or Zombieland. For these films a good, well-told story is a point unto itself. Heck, straight entertainment is a pretty good point. Maybe expectations are higher for prestige pics and I demand more, but even for these pictures I try to extend the principle that sometimes a story well-told is good enough. Some movies just eschew messages and themes for story, character, style, and atmosphere.

And that takes me to Inglourious Basterds, a film that really seems to eschew message. And if I can pat myself on the back I think I did a good job enjoying it despite it having no point. It’s a good, very enjoyable film with lots of fun, stylistic flourishes. I think what keeps it from being a great film is that it also doesn’t really have a story. There’s an overarching idea of Jewish American soldiers killing Nazis and a French Jew’s revenge plot to take out important Nazis. But instead of telling the whole tale, the film is divided into several vignettes, like Tarantino decided to just skip to the good parts. It seems to me his only real point is to be awesome, which certainly makes for an entertaining film but I think I need a bit more ambition to really love a movie.

The Weinsteins are gearing up for a Best Picture nomination campaign for it. I can’t say I really could get behind the nomination on its merits, but it would be an interesting, outside-the-box type nomination and those are always welcome. With ten nominations it’s hard to imagine a Basterds nod will squeeze out a personal favorite. I’ve also never been a huge Tarantino fan – I like him fine but his films are never a must-watch for me – but he’s undeniably an important and influential modern director with a dearth of Oscar recognition beyond Pulp Fiction (for which he won the Original Screenplay award). I can imagine forty years from now later generations of Oscar watchers wondering how the Academy managed to ignore him so often.

Beyond Best Picture and Tarantino as writer and director, Christoph Waltz seems to be a lock for a Supporting Actor nod for his role as an evil SS commander. That will certainly be well-deserved as Waltz is the primary image that remains in my mind from this film. He’s so deliciously evil, scheming, ad creepy. I’m not sure what else the Weinsteins are aiming for. Melanie Laurent for sure, though who knows whether in Supporting or Lead. Maybe Diane Kruger too? Or Brad Pitt? None would be a bad choice. And along with the film’s intense kick-assery could come some technical recognition (Editing? Score? Art Direction? Costume?).

Anyway, Inglourious Basterds is certainly one of the most distinctive films of the year and an enjoyable and entertaining one at that. I think it’s a testament to Tarantino’s cultural importance (and the Weinsteins’ PR prowess) that it’s even in the discussion for top prizes. But, even if I don’t think it’s in that top echelon of films, it’s hard to argue when something a bit different sneaks into the Academy’s exclusive club.

September 2017
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