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I’m counting down all the movies released in 2012.  The ones I’ve seen, at any rate.  In what is unquestionably a timely manner.

#60.  The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Was nominated for Best Animated Film at the Oscars.  I thought the film actually had a pretty clever sense of humor at times, but the witty dialogue was too sparsely interspersed with the underdeveloped plot.  Which included Charles Darwin mooning over Queen Victoria, so in retrospect, maybe I’m being a little bit too harsh.

#59.  The Decoy Bride

Like I wasn’t going to watch a romantic comedy starring Alice Eve, Kelly MacDonald, and David Tennant.  The story, on the very slight chance you don’t know, is that Alice Eve is a famous actress (from the film: “You know, they asked 10,000 men to name their ideal partner and 9,800 said Lara [Eve’s character]. Statistically that includes at least 800 gay men. If you’re male and Lara Tyler’s interested in you, she’s the one; it’s kind of a rule. You can’t be happy with Lara Tyler, you can’t be happy with anyone.”) who is marrying David Tennant, a well-known author.  Tennant had set his book on a tiny island in Scotland, so they decide to get married there.  With the slight problem that Tennant never actually bothered to go there to research what the island is like.  Kelly MacDonald plays a local girl, desperate to get out, who, through a totally realistic series of events ends up being a decoy bride to fool the paparazzi, but accidentally gets married.  MacDonald shines in the role, not unexpectedly.  As I think I mentioned earlier in this series, I really hope Eve can break out of playing the incredibly hot love interest, because I’m convinced she can do more.  That said, it isn’t like she’s miscast in the role, and her come hither look is out of this world.  The film felt like it had been chopped up a little too much and (spoiler alert) MacDonald and Tennant maybe fall in love a little too quickly.  And I do think there’s some fascinating ideas in here.

#58.  Bernie

bernie

I felt like this film had a very consistent sense of humor, unfortunately that sense of humor didn’t exactly overlap with mine.  Though it did with John, so consider yourself warned.  We talked about the movie some in our Spirit Awards wrap, so feel free to check that out.  Both of us chose the movie for film of the year, though for me that was more due to the weakness of the other nominees.  I liked Jack Black in the role, it was similar to his other characters, but with a little more depth.  And MacLaine and McConaughey were both pretty solid as well.

#57.  The Hunger Games

hunger games

I’m sure other people have mentioned this, but Jennifer Lawrence is an incredibly beautiful woman, so why the need to turn her into plastic on the posters?  I haven’t read any of the books in the series for whatever that is worth.  And I have seen Battle Royale.  Multiple times.  Actually, I think as an Orientation aide one year at college, I may have forced some first-years (or “freshmen”) to watch the movie.  The comparisons are obvious, of course, and while Battle Royale is the better movie, I think it is also important to keep in mind that the two have some significant differences.  Anyway, again, not having read the books, it felt like the movie bit off more than it could chew.  It introduced a number of different story points which all sounded pretty interesting, but the film just couldn’t adequately explain all of them.  I mean, I love me some The Running Man, so I’m all for movies about dystopian game shows where people have to kill each other.  Having kids kill each other on screen is naturally going to be very difficult to pull off, so while I definitely don’t want to call the film a cop out, I am not certain I loved how Katniss performed in the games.

#56.  Trouble with the Curve

Trouble-with-the-Curve-Poster

I think I spent three innings at a Potomac Nationals game going over this movie with a friend in quite explicit detail, so sorry, any people sitting around me who hadn’t yet seen the movie and who will never read this blog.  It is too simple to call this film a response to Moneyball, but it wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate.  I won’t go into every single problem I had with the movie, as someone who knows a little bit about this stuff, but let me bring up three points.  First, there is no serious person high up in any major league team who would advocate for taking the #2 overall pick in the draft solely based on what his computer tells him.  Second, any team with the #2 overall pick would have extensively scouted prime candidates for the pick prior to two months before the draft.  And third, the odds of someone being considered that high in the draft having  trouble with the curve but no other scout picking up on it AND that player not being exposed to top quality pitching talents at various high school tournaments is extremely small.  That said, I’ll watch the heck out of any baseball movie, and if the movie is about Clint Eastwood being a curmudgeonly scout, with Amy Adams and Justin Timberlake flirting and spouting Orioles trivia, well, it can’t be all bad.  The subplots surrounding Amy Adams (her strained relationship with her dad and her burgeoning relationship with Timberlake) weren’t terribly well-developed, which really is what is holding this movie back more than any issues I had with the depiction of baseball.

#55.  Paranorman

paranorman

My notes on this Best Animated Film nominee read: “Got deep at times, except for story.”  Hm.  I think what I was trying to say is that the plot isn’t really anything to write home about.  Which isn’t necessarily a mortal sin for a film targeted at a wide audience.  But I found the subject matter rather thought-provoking.  The film takes a nuanced look at what it means to be an outcast.  And not just the superficial “oh he wears glasses and likes sci-fi” kind of “nerd” outcast.  I was pretty surprised.  If the story was more interesting, this really could have been a knockout of a movie.

#54.  This Is 40

thisis40

I mean, sure, I’ll keep watching anything Judd Apatow makes.  But it sure seems like there’s been a steady decline in the quality of his films.  I’ve got a few theories why his past two movies haven’t been as good as his earlier output, but I’m not really satisfied with them, and it is a small sample size anyway.  But this one is probably only memorable for Megan Fox being in it (and not being half bad).  I don’t want to say that Apatow has lost his sense of humor, but it seems like maybe in an attempt to make us sympathize with his main characters, he’s lost sight a little bit of what made his TV and films so good.

#53.  The Man with the Iron Fists

ironfists-poster

The first five actors billed in this one are: RZA, Rick Yune, Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, and Dave Bautista.  Which is probably all you need to know.  I want to make sure to give credit to RZA for his direction.  Many of the fight scenes were strikingly bold and showy without being distracting, a fine line to hold when making a martial arts film like this one.  The screenplay from RZA and Eli Roth was…well…it got us to the fight sequences, so it had that.  The problem, of course, is figuring out how to develop a sensical screenplay while devoting so much time to the fights and to setting up the fights.

#52.  The Impossible

Impossible-Digital-Poster-1080x1584

I was really dreading seeing this movie.  Bad on you, publicity department.  But I ended up seeing the film and liking it more than I expected.  Good on you, publicity department.  I think the subject matter is just tough to watch.  I have no idea, for example, to whom I would recommend the film.  It is kind of depressing and vaguely uplifting.  Naomi Watts was good, but it was clearly a supporting actress performance, in my humble opinion.

#51.  Gayby

gayby

A Spirit Award nominee.  Maybe gets lost a little bit among all the unorthodox ways people are raising kids movies.  But it was actually pretty funny at times.  The character, in particular, were amusing, and I enjoyed spending time with them.  I almost want to argue this set up would have been better as a TV show.  I mean, the characters were better-developed and the writing sharper than the vast majority of first-season sitcoms.  I think it would be pretty doable as a TV show.  Just not sure anyone would watch.

I’ve said before in this blog that you can’t underestimate Clint Eastwood come awards season. But I’m beginning to think that’s not the case any more. Changeling and Gran Torino had little effect on awards season while Invictus couldn’t ride Eastwood to Best Picture as plenty thought it would.

And now Hereafter has quickly dropped from memory. I’m not going to say that fate is undeserved, but it’s a more ambitious and memorable film than Eastwood’s recent works. I had loads of problems with it, but it has still hung around in my head the past few months.

The plot ruminates on life after death via three characters. Matt Damon has some sort of visionary power that allows him to see people’s departed loved ones, a skill he sees as a curse since it prevents him from living a normal life. Cécile De France is a French journalist who narrowly survives the Asian tsunami in the film’s harrowing opening. She experiences a glimpse of the afterlife and uses her journalistic skills to investigate. Finally, Frankie and George McLaren play grade school twins. One is killed and the other looks for answers.

The film has some real narrative problems and the usual Eastwood problems. Each thread is beset by problems and dull stretches. When the stories finally meet it’s unsatisfying. Really everything feels like it needs a tightening up, which makes sense since it was apparently shot off an early draft of Peter Morgan’s script. Some of the acting is suspect.

"Act sadder!"

But even as I fidgeted in my seat during the story’s missteps, I was still taken in by the film’s thoughtful address of its themes. The characters’ struggles, particularly Damon’s and De France’s, are affecting. De France’s segment looks at the science behind the common “peace and bright light” near-death experiences while Damon’s wonders if we should even strive to know the answer to the afterlife.

Don’t go into Hereafter expecting an answer. Perhaps at his age Eastwood knows that answers don’t come easy. And while I would understand if the film’s story problems kills it for you, I found viewing to be a rewarding experience, albeit one I like better to look back on than I did while sitting through it.

Oscar nominations will be announced on February 2. We’re counting down to the big day by offering some hard-hitting analysis and incisive opinions on the toughest questions surrounding the nominees.  One of the great things about nomination morning is that it never fails to surprise.  What strange stuff could we see tomorrow morning?

John:

The Blind Side gets a Best Picture nomination.

Clint Eastwood gets a Best Director nomination instead of Lee Daniels.

“The Weary Kind” from Crazy Heart is left off the Original Song list.

Jared:

Oscar sometimes moves in chunks.  So, Crazy Heart picks up a Best Picture nomination, and Maggie Gyllenhaal gets a Best Supporting Actress.

Or, similarly, The Messenger picks up a Best Picture, and Samantha Morton gets a Supporting Actress.

Finally, Nine gets a Best Picture nomination.

Well, John worked more of his magic and we found ourselves at a free screening of Invictus.  Directed by Clint Eastwood, the film tells the story of Nelson Mandela’s interest in the South African rugby team, specifically in its performance at the 1995 Rugby World Cup, not coincidentally hosted by South Africa.  A quick note before getting to our initial thoughts.  If you find yourself at a movie, and something amazing or inspiring or whatever happens on-screen, please resist the temptation to clap.  The filmmakers can’t hear you.  The actors can’t hear you.  You know who can hear you?  Your fellow audience members.

Brian

I’m generally someone who appreciates the parts of a movie more than the sums, but Invictus is an example of a movie where the sum was greater than the parts. The more I’ve pondered over it since seeing it, the less I’ve liked it. Overall, it was entertaining and I’d probably recommend it to most folk. So many of Eastwood’s choices — focusing on the security detail, using too much slow motion, beat-you-over-the-head preaching — left bad tastes in my mouth that if you give me a couple of months I’ll probably be actively rooting against it at the awards show. Kind of like the anti-Rachel Getting Married.

Jared

I thought the first third of Invictus was really solid.  A bit heavy-handed, sure, but Eastwood knows how to go for the incredibly low-hanging fruit of heart-tugging eye-watering melodrama.  Plus, I mean, Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela.  Soon, however, the film became repetitive and increasingly filled with poorly thought out sports scenes.  And an impressively buff Matt Damon doesn’t really have a place in the movie.  I will say, though, it is the best rugby movie I’ve ever seen.

John

Invictus is classic Eastwood: corny, horrible dialogue, utter lack of nuance, and an over-reliance on cinematic scenes that don’t advance the film as a whole, but damned if its spirit doesn’t win you over. Hollywood has dished out schlock since its inception and the Academy has lapped it up for nearly as long; I think if I’m going to consume said schlock it may as well be from its master. Eastwood just gets it to feel right even as I’m rolling my eyes.

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 Actor category:

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Oscar nominations will be announced on January 22. We’re counting down to the big day by tackling some tough questions and spouting some mad opinions. Today we’re making predictions. Going out on a limb a little, what will and will not happen in the nominations?

Brian: Torino for the Upset

Gran Torino will squeeze in as a Best Picture nominee, kicking out Frost/Nixon. I think Oscar voters will be blinded by the strong box office performances of Eastwood’s take on the Incredible Hulk, and the old fogeys will be regretful if they don’t throw some dap to what could possibly be Eastwood’s last film. Considering the movie’s pure audacity, I can’t even protest the pick that much, even though it was not very good. I like its chances, and like the Arizona Cardinals making a playoff run, I think that a surprise nomination could give it upset special potential over Slumdog in the end game.

John: TDK Loses, HSM3 Wins

I’ll believe Dark Knight getting a Best Picture nod when I see it. It deserves it but the Academy is so good at disappointing me. Despite love from nearly every guild (producers, directors, writers, art directors, editors, sound mixers, cinematographers, costume designers) SAG skipped it for its Ensemble award and the acting branch is by far the largest in the Academy. I know the correlation between SAG Ensemble and Best Picture isn’t perfect, but I’m pessimistic. The Reader seems so much more up the Academy’s alley that I can definitely see it ignoring the comic book film. This is a prediction I’d love to be wrong, but I expect lots of fanboy bitching tomorrow.

After last year’s debacle in the category I expect High School Musical 3: Senior Year to score at least one Original Song nomination. Fortunately rule changes prevent it from nabbing more than two so it can’t match Enchanted‘s three. None of the groups that names Best Song has given the bland musical tunes any love, but if anyone can it’s the Academy.

Jared: Good News Coming for Happy, Winslet, Leo (DiCaprio); Bad for Jolie, Blanchett, Leo (Melissa)

It is hard to make exciting predictions this year, with so many categories seeing so much uniformity across guild awards and the other precursors.  I won’t make up something crazy just for the sake of being bold, but I can see a few slightly unexpected things to happen.  Happy-Go-Lucky will garner three nominations (Actress, Supporting Actor, and Original Screenplay). I wouldn’t necessarily agree with all of them, but I think the film’s unbridled optimism will resonate with voters in this political and economic climate, and since Eddie Marsan is the one counter to that in the whole movie, he stands out too much not to be noticed.  Kate Winslet grabs two noms, and Leonardo DiCaprio comes along for the ride. The former is more likely than the latter, but I think Winslet peaked at the right time, is a name people know and want to vote for, and I think people want to get her an Oscar win.  There are scenarios where Revolutionary Road or The Reader pull down more nominations, but I see them having difficulty cracking the big categories, so support could funnel to DiCaprio.  Leo, Jolie, Blanchett out for Best Actress. This category is an eight woman (well, no, nine, Michelle Williams has a non-zero shot) free-for-all, and really, nothing is absolutely guaranteed.  I think Jolie misses because Changeling didn’t resonate in general any more than A Mighty Heart.  I’m even now second-guessing myself about Blanchett, since the Academy loves her so, but I think she has more of a chance if Benjamin Button broke out a little more at the box office.  And Leo will suffer from being in a movie released too early and being too little of a name.

Adam: Those Expecting Surprises Will be Disappointed

Not sure how much of a long shot it is, but I think Leonardo DiCaprio edges out Pitt and Jenkins for a Best Actor nod.  I also second Jared’s prediction of Happy-Go-Lucky getting more nods than it deserves (which I have no problem ridiculing in the days to come).  I think Dev Patel rides the seemingly-universal love for Slumdog Millionaire into a supporting actor spot.  Honestly though, I really don’t see that many “long shots” in even remote contention.

Clint Eastwood’s Walt Kowalski (from Gran Torino) may be the manliest character ever caught on film.  Sure, guys may aspire to be suave like Bond, badass like Bourne, and lethal like Bruce Lee or Rambo, but deep down we know those are unrealistic exaggerations.  Fun to be for a day, but maybe not much longer.  Kowalski, though, is what we all wish and fear we might be when we reach seventy.  Kowalski’s material possessions exemplify masculinity.  He has a garage full of tools he’s accumulated over his lifetime, a more realistic version of what MacGyver represents.  He’s got the cool car, obviously, which he keeps in immaculate condition.  Comfortable around guns, he saw combat and received a medal, something which most guys wish they could say they’ve done, even if they have absolutely no desire of actually doing it.  Most of all, he doesn’t take nothing from nobody.  He is his own man, unencumbered by anyone and certainly not by whatever these things you call “feelings” are.  If he wants to spend his life on his front porch, drinking PBRs (of course) by the six-pack, hurling racial epithets when mere grunting isn’t an effective enough method of communication, he damn well will.  Kowalski isn’t cynical, exactly, just entirely comfortable with where he is and entirely unwilling for anyone to suggest otherwise.  And, of course, has a faithful dog by his side.  But as the pinnacle of masculinity he is, naturally, the ultimate joke.

The actual movie is almost irrelevant here.  Gran Torino is a pretty standard tale of neighborhood justice – bad guys start picking on the good guys, main character learns something about himself, someone has to make a sacrifice.  Nothing particularly new or exciting.  The non-Eastwood actors were seemingly chosen to contrast the awesomeness of the man.  And it involves Hmong community probably because they provide an easy group for Eastwood to slur an entertainingly large number of different ways, but don’t have vocal enough support to affect the box office.

No, Gran Torino is pretty much entirely about Eastwood tearing through every scene.  I’m still not entirely sure how he manages to be so incredibly over the top (to the point where a mere grunt elicited raucous laughter in my theater) and yet have the film maintain some semblance of gravitas.  The concept is hard to grasp, as all the other actors are serious, the plot is serious, and Eastwood’s character is the most serious of them all, yet he turns out genuinely funny.  His Kowalski is cantankerous, curmudgeonly, and ignorant, but also a reminder that as annoying as other people are, it is pretty hard to avoid them.  Eastwood single-handedly makes the film worth watching.

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I liked that Changeling has a sharp sense of time and place. I didn’t like that it didn’t have a sense of focus or pacing. I think where it unravels is when it tries to do too much; there are plenty of aspects to it that I found admiral but maybe there are just too many aspects.

The root of the story is the disappearance of Christine Collins’s (Angelina Jolie) son, Walter, in 1928 Los Angeles. Months later the LA police return to her a boy that she insists is not actually her son. She then campaigns to force the police to stop dragging their heels and look for her real son while the police fight her back viciously. It’s certainly an emotional story with Christine trying to keep it together while dealing with the loss of her son and seeking justice. I liked Jolie’s performance, which is generally not showy. Christine is a fairly grounded and very strong woman and even in dramatic moments Jolie plays her with some restraint. Of course there are scenes involving emotional outbursts and those mostly felt earned and genuine.

But the film doesn’t stay focused on Christine’s story. Deep into the runtime it takes an abrupt and dark shift to a farm east of the city. Jolie is offscreen for significant periods of time as the investigation into the farm unfolds. I’ll keep it vague until after the jump to avoid spoilers, but this subplot feels like part of a different film. It is still often effective taken on its own, but it’s too involved and developed of a subplot for a film that should really be focused on Christine Collins.

Then the film begins to feel like it’s spiraling out of control. It goes on for way too long, far past what felt like its natural climax. It’s frustrating because the film feels so promising for so long and each of the scenes and story elements usually works on its own, just to discover as the film unfolds that many are wasted.

From an Oscars standpoint, Jolie will likely get a Best Actress nod and it’ll be well-deserved. As I mentioned at the beginning, despite Changeling‘s thematic and story missteps, to its credit it creates a wholly enveloping and consistently interesting environment. Even during the times I felt the story slipping away from me I found something of interest in the setting. A Costume nomination could certainly be in the cards and I would love to see an Art Direction nomination. The sets and the props were my favorite part of the film. Just take in the architecture, trolleys, cars, and time-appropriate props.

Besides directing, Clint Eastwood also contributed the score, nominated for a Golden Globe. I think it succumbs to indie/artsy guitar plucking far too often, a trend I find ever more obnoxious. The Academy loves Clint, but maybe they’ll go for him for Actor in Gran Torino and shut him out for Changeling.

One weird note is that there is a completely superfluous scene about the Oscars in the film. Christine’s coworkers go out to listen to the 1934 Oscar radio broadcast while she hangs back and happily cheers when It Happened One Night is announced the winner (wouldn’t it be something if the audio used in the film is from the actual broadcast; the Academy jealously guards that footage). All I could wonder is if Eastwood was sucking up; at 130 minutes in I was just ready to go.

It won’t be getting Director or Picture nominations and it shouldn’t. Specifics and theories after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

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