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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 Director.

VIRTUAL LOCKS

  • David Fincher, The Social Network
  • Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
  • Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech

Confession time: I don’t really have any clue how to discern exactly what the director’s contributions to a film are.  And I don’t think many other people know either, other than a general assumption that good movie=good directing.  People are saying that David Fincher was exactly the director to make Aaron Sorkin’s script shine.  Maybe that’s true, I just hope the evidence is stronger than that regatta scene.  This’ll be Aronofsky‘s first Oscar nomination, an honor for which he’s probably overdue.  I don’t really see what others do in the movie, but given the script’s weakness, sure, I’m happy to pass some credit to the director for elevating the film into something better.  I really liked The Damned United, and the film was different enough from the book that I’ll begrudgingly pass some credit to screenwriter Peter Morgan and director Tom Hooper.  His follow-up, of course, has been a bit more successful.  I look forward to seeing his work in the future and I imagine that’ll only increase once I get around to watching Prime Suspect.

LIKELY IN

  • Christopher Nolan, Inception

Like everyone else, I do believe there’s a spot for Nolan, I’d just feel a little more comfortable if the buzz for the film was a little more palpable.  Still, it’d be shocking if he gets snubbing after creating such a visionary, successful film.

LAST ONE IN

  • David O. Russell, The Fighter

I’ve always heard that if you can’t say something nice, you should shut your big fat mouth.

FIRST ALTERNATES

  • Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, True Grit
  • Danny Boyle, 127 Hours
  • Lisa Cholodenko, The Kids Are All Right

I was really tempted to put the brother Coen in that last spot, but since I haven’t seen that anywhere else, I figured it is just my bias against that film in the fifth spot.  The Academy loves them some Coen Bros, but they do only have the one directing nomination (for No Country for Old Men, which they won).  I dunno, I won’t be surprised at all if they get the nomination.  The claustrophobia of 127 Hours sure is different from the vastness of Slumdog Millionaire, huh?  Maybe Boyle‘s film was released just a little too early to hit at the Oscars, or maybe it wasn’t quite as good as originally expected.  I hope to see Lisa Cholodenko get a directing nomination someday, but this year is just so tough, with so many well-respected auteurs in line to get their due.

DARK HORSES

  • Ben Affleck, The Town
  • Debra Granik, Winter’s Bone
  • Mike Leigh, Another Year
  • Martin Scorsese, Shutter Island

Affleck‘s two for two in critically acclaimed directing successes and this one even made a nice chunk of a change.  This kid may just have a career in the industry.  After what Down to the Bone did for Vera Farmiga and this film did for Jennifer Lawrence, if I were an agent with a starlet on my hands, I’d be busting my balls to get her an audition for whatever Granik has next on her plate.  As I mentioned elsewhere, it is always dangerous to count Mike Leigh out with the Academy.  But maybe next time he should make sure his film’s trailer doesn’t make it seem like the most boring film ever.  Shutter Island just edged out The Departed as Scorsese‘s highest-grossing film (in worldwide dollars).  What, now that’s he mainstream the Academy has no use for him?

SHOULDA BEEN A CONTENDER

  • Edgar Wright, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
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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 Adapted Screenplay.

VIRTUAL LOCKS

  • Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network
  • Michael Arndt, Toy Story 3

I’ve almost started multiple physical altercations defending Studio 60, so it isn’t terribly surprising how strongly I feel about Sorkin’s script for The Social Network.  Fortunately, the rest of Hollywood seems to agree with me as this lockiest of locks has been cleaning up the precursors.  I’m kinda bummed about the love for Toy Story 3.  Sure, it has the touching scene at the end, but the rest of the film was generally unremarkable.  Michael Arndt wrote Little Miss Sunshine, though, and that’s probably worth an extra Oscar nomination anyway.

LIKELY IN

  • Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, True Grit
  • Debra Granik and Anne Rosselini, Winter’s Bone

Man, I really got to get my lazy butt to see True Grit, huh?  Given the film’s strong box office and the Academy’s love for the Coen brothers, this nomination should be nearly in the bag.  The buzz for Winter’s Bone started with Jennifer Lawrence, I think.  From there, it was an easy Frozen River jump to a screenplay nomination.  I don’t really get it.  The story is relatively weak and dialogue nothing special.  I think Hollywood wants to pat itself on the back for recognizing an indie, especially one that doesn’t take place in a city.

LAST ONE IN

  • Ben Affleck, Peter Craig, and Aaron Stockard, The Town

Don’t forget that Affleck already has a screenplay Oscar.  The film’s buzz may have peaked just a tad before nominations were due back, but the movie inexplicably raked in plenty of dough and generally positive critical reviews.  If it does get a nomination, I’m going to pretend the nom is actually for Inside Man, because it seems to me that a heist movie should actually have a compelling heist.

FIRST TWO ALTERNATES

  • Robert Harris and Roman Polanski, The Ghost Writer
  • Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy, 127 Hours

Adapted screenplays and I just aren’t getting along this year.  I’m completely mystified as to The Ghost Writer‘s buzz.  It just isn’t an interesting film.  127 Hours‘s star has been plummeting over the past few weeks, giving me mixed feelings because while I didn’t think it was anything special, I’d rather it get in than others on the bubble.  It may come down to how many people realize just how difficult it is to write an engaging screenplay when the film almost entirely takes place in one spot.

DARK HORSES

  • Laeta Kalogridis, Shutter Island
  • David Linsday-Abaire, Rabbit Hole
  • Glen Ficarra and John Requa, I Love You Phillip Morris

Shutter Island is floating around the fringes of a number of categories, but I really hope it doesn’t break through here.  Haven’t seen Rabbit Hole yet, but it seems like exactly the kind of movie Oscar loves to nominate.  Brian told me I wouldn’t like I Love You, Phillip Morris so I haven’t seen it.  The WGA gets a huge kick out of ruling films ineligible for its awards, so it doesn’t necessarily mean anything that Phillip Morris picked up a nomination, but youneverknow.

SHOULDA BEEN A CONTENDER

William Davies, Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders, How to Train Your Dragon
Michael Konyves, Barney’s Version
Michael Bacall, Edgar Wright, Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World

I think my biggest disconnect with the Academy this year will be in the Adapted Screenplay category.  There’s a ton of middling fare that will see nominations.

After disliking No Country for Old Men and darn near loathing Burn After Reading, I thought maybe I stopped liking the Coen Bros. altogether.  But after dwelling on A Serious Man for a little bit now, I think they just have a completely different sensibility than I do, and I can’t decide if that means they are wrong.  More specifically, what for the Coens might be sublimely absurd is for me dumb (Burn After Reading) or inconsequential (the other two).  I did like A Serious Man more than their recent prior output, but I still feel like I fail to connect with it on some fundamental level.  Though, to be fair, the subplot with the Asian student is probably one of the funniest things I’ve seen so far this year.

Take the opening scene, for example.  I’m sure I wasn’t the only theater patron to question if I had accidentally gone into the wrong movie.  And while it may have been the most entertaining scene of the movie, I have absolutely no idea why it is in the film.  I mean, yes, I could probably BS something about thematic elements, but really, there’s no reason it is in there.

As for the story proper, it is interesting enough, but feels a bit undercooked.  The premise, basically, is that a physics professor (Michael Stuhlbarg) goes through the somewhat-familiar crumbling of his life, albeit set in a 1960s Minnesota Jewish suburb, so it is a nebbish life.  His wife wants to leave him for another man.  His kids ignore him, other than to have him adjust the TV antenna.  He’s having trouble getting tenure.  His brother isn’t exactly all there.  His bills are piling up.

One thing I liked about A Serious Man is that it doesn’t play out as a typical movie might.  I’d say there are two normal resolutions to this scenario.  One is that the main character learns how to man up, wins back his wife, and wins over his kids, co-workers, and whomever else might be in the way.  The other is that the character realizes he needs to break free from his dreary existence.  In this case, he is fine with his no-good wife leaving him for some schmuck, because he knows at the end of the movie, she’ll realize her mistake and come crawling back,  because he’ll be off following his heart’s dream of being a scuba instructor, and tagging along will be the secretary/co-worker/best friend who was always there secretly pining away for him.

But A Serious Man isn’t like that at all.  Instead of the main character learning how to be a man, he more questions what a man really is.  I was asked if you had to be Jewish to appreciate the finer points of the movie and responded that I didn’t think so.  There are some scenes surrounding a bar mitzvah and some Hebrew is read aloud, but really, unless you have absolutely no idea what a rabbi is, I don’t think being raised Jewish is particularly relevant to getting the movie.  Except, thinking about it now, I don’t know.

Because I think there is a sensibility more prevalent in the Jewish culture than many others of the henpecked husband.  Obviously, yes, lots of guys from all religions are run over by their wives and lots of Jewish guys have the upper hand in their marriage.  But generally speaking, I think the stereotypes would confirm my assertion, at least.  In any case, all I’m trying to say is that the character’s reactions to the obstacles life throws him seemed “real” enough to me and I could see other people viewing it slightly differently.  Perhaps better put, you don’t have to be Jewish to best appreciate the film, just able to empathize with a browbeaten husband.

I was not a fan of the movies’ flourishes.  The first scene, the title screens with the rabbis, the fantasy pops, really, everything not focused on the main character felt distracting and inorganic.  As if they were compensating for the relatively spare story.  Which didn’t bother me as much as I might have expected, I even can justify the ending in ways I never could with No Country.

So where does that leave things?  Beats me.  Took me this long to piece together any sort of semi-coherent response to the film.  I think I liked it and I know I didn’t love it.  It won’t be in my top ten movies of the year, but if I limit the list to films with an actual shot at Oscar, I’m guessing A Serious Man will be right on the bubble.

August 2019
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