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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.

We’ll each putting up our own thoughts on Best Picture. Except now, when I’m publishing Adam’s writeup. Guess he wanted to continue his streak of not posting.

So, for the grand finale, I’ve decided to forego my previous format and write what I thought about each movie. Unfortunately for you, dear reader, none of the other Grouches have written their posts yet so I am forced to confine my analysis to the movies and my critiques of the others (if they should appear) will be constrained to hearsay and personal experience. So, without further ado, I give you The Nominees:

Precious
Throughout the year, we watch a lot of movies in preparation for the Oscars and I find that my opinion of some of these movies varies greatly from my initial impression as time goes on. As I rank the movies I’ve seen throughout the year, I constantly compare previous views to more recent ones to come up with the best possible score for each – some fall, others rise, and some stay steady throughout. Precious was definitely one of the fallen movies. I thought it was a fine movie, but realized that my initial opinion of it was artificially raised due to all the hype and praise surrounding it. As I time went on, I realized that the script wasn’t all that strong. Decent dialogue was scarce and most of the scenes were pretty blasé (with the notable exceptions of the apartment/stairs scene and the final social worker scene). Mo’Nique’s performance was terrific, granted, but Sidibe’s was, honestly, forgettable. No one will remember her performance in a year or two – if that. The directing was also fairly weak. The dream sequences were unnecessary and heavy-handed, and the other scenes were set up less than ideally. It may seem like I hated the movie, but I didn’t. I gave it a 5.8 out of 10 (though it started at a whopping 7 if you can believe it) so I didn’t think it was horrible, I just want you all to realize that the hype surrounding it is just that – hype.

An Education
An Education actually suffered the opposite fate as Precious. It actually moved up in my ranking as time went on. At first, I couldn’t get over what I viewed as a ridiculous plot. I couldn’t understand how we, the audience, were supposed to buy into the fact that a random older gentleman randomly picked up a school-girl; started to date her immediately – well, as soon as he was able to convince the girl’s very conservative and old fashioned father he was on the “up and up” via a 2 minute conversation, in which he told a joke; and convince her to quit school just shy of graduating. As time went on though, I was able to separate the weak story and horrible scene transitions, and appreciate the strengths of the film. Carey Mulligan actually puts on a pretty great performance – especially given she had very little experience prior to this. She was able to take on a leading role and make it her own. This was one of the few well written lead female characters I saw this year and it is due, in no small part, to Mulligan’s performance. The other fantastic performance was Alfred Molina’s. My respect for him (due in no small part to his role in The Man Who Knew Too Little) dropped dramatically with his part in Spider-Man 2 (one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen). However, he has totally redeemed himself by being one of the brightest spots in this movie. I am very disappointed he wasn’t nominated for Supporting Actor over Damon.

The Blind Side
The Blind Side has a higher score (6.5 out of 10) than I anticipated going into the movie. And, while the script wasn’t anything to write home about, I found myself enjoying the movie, nonetheless. Bullock does a decent job as a Southern, Tennessee-hating, heart-of-gold mother of two (then three), and her nomination for Best Actress is deserved. She was definitely the most impressive part of the movie and I am actually quite happy that she is the front-runner for the win. I have, for the most part, quite enjoyed Ms. Bullock over the years and am glad she has a chance to take home the gold. Other than that, there isn’t much to say about this movie. It is like Precious in a lot of ways – teenager with a troubled past and parental issues is taken in by a strong female character who tries to better them. The biggest difference between the two movies is the tone. While The Blind Side is, on the whole, light and fun (and has an uplifting ending), Precious is a study in just how wrong things can go in a child’s life (and that not everything has a happy ending). For whatever reason, though, I found myself enjoying The Blind Side more than Precious and more than I originally thought I would.

Avatar
As you may have realized by now, I have ordered these movies in ascending order. Which means that the second highest grossing film in history, and the film sure to take home the most amount of Oscars is only 6th on my list of Best Picture nominees. While this may seem confusing to most (I’m looking at you John), anyone who actually watched the movie (and has any taste) can tell you that this movie is over-rated by far. First of all, let’s get this out of the way: The film was absolutely visually stunning. Seriously. They did a tremendous job with the CGI and 3D scenery and sequences. Unfortunately, they stopped there. It is a beautiful façade over a weak structure. The most important part of the movie is the script. This movie’s script was decent – when it was used in Dances With Wolves, Pocahontas, and Fern Gully. If you are going to steal another movie’s idea/script (which I don’t necessarily disagree with – I mean, look at my boy Tarantino), at least improve upon it. Or, at the very least, make an attempt to change it in some way. The only thing they seem to have done is make the dialogue worse and delve less into every single one of the characters. I am actually floored that a 3+ hour movie had absolutely no character development. And don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of a bunch of movies with little to no plot, no character development, and awful dialogue (I mean, I watch mindless action films by the truckload), but I don’t nominate them for Best Picture. I don’t care what John tries to tell you – don’t drink the Kool-Aid on this movie. See it because it is visually stunning, not because you are looking for an actual Best Picture movie.

A Serious Man
I don’t know how Jared and John write so much. I’m not even half way through this and I’m exhausted. Major props to them. So, now on to A Serious Man. First of all, I’d like to say that I was a huge fan of the opening scene of this movie – especially once the film was over and I realized that I couldn’t figure out how it fit into the rest of the movie. Second, this movie had one of the most interesting characters of the entire year. It was fascinating for me to watch the actions and reactions of this character as we delved deeper and deeper into his mundane, depressing, and all too real existence. I am a huge fan of character studies (if done well). While this isn’t in the same league as Michael Clayton, it is a serviceable replacement for the year. It also has one of my favorite side-stories of the entire year. The scenes with the Korean student are absolutely hilarious.

Up
I’ve talked about this movie a couple of times. I can’t get over how the rest of the Grouches basically have an orgasm whenever they think or talk about it. Yes it was decent, but it wasn’t THAT good. It definitely had its moments (which is why it made it into the top 5 of contenders), but it fell well short of Pixar classics like Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles. The talking dog was pretty fantastic, and the little scout had some pretty great lines, but that is pretty much it. A lot of the jokes seemed forced or were predictable. The plot was weak, and the villain, one of my favorite elements of most movies, was very weak. I just couldn’t get invested in any of the characters or laugh at many of the jokes (I’d actually like to hear whether Jared thought he laughed more during Up or She’s Out of My League). I will give it this, though, the opening scene was very well done. Squirrel!

District 9
District 9 definitely had one of the most interesting takes on a tried-and-true story. Having the an alien race living in slums, cohabitating to humans, and regulated to second-class status in all things was brilliant. Telling the story in the form of a documentary (The Office style) was pretty fantastic as well. The surprisingly humorous script was augmented by and equally surprising strong cast (surprising in that it is comprised of unknowns). The reason this movie isn’t higher on my list, though, has to do with the plot. While the background and premise of the movie was original and interesting, the actual story was less than stellar. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I didn’t like it, it’s more that it didn’t live up to the promise of the movie’s premise. It was decent, not spectacular. I also felt it didn’t flow as well as it could in a couple of different areas, but that’s really just nit-picking. Overall, a very enjoyable movie that I recommend, and I am very glad to see it make it into the Best Picture nominees.

The Hurt Locker
This is another movie that has increase its ranking as time has gone on. I put it slightly lower on my list originally due to the lack of thought put into the overall plot of the movie. What were all those highly entertaining scenes leading up to? Who is SSG William James and why should we care about his story? However, discounting that, this was a fantastic movie. Kathryn Bigelow does a phenomenal directing job here and I very much hope her Best Director hopes are realized – she deserves it. The tension she is able to create in almost every single scene is nothing short of amazing. The bomb scenes are some of the best I’ve ever seen – due in no small part to the great camerawork. Let’s not forget about Renner either. Even though I didn’t know why I should care about him or his story, I couldn’t help but be fully engrossed in whatever he was doing due to Renner’s extremely strong performance. I seriously wish the Academy wasn’t going to hand over the Best Actor award to Jeff Bridges solely as a “Lifetime Achievement Award” because Renner far-and-away out acted Bridges this year. There is a reason this is in my top 3 of nominees. This is a terrific movie, and, had it had a better script, could have been a serious contender for my favorite movie of the year.

Up in the Air
What can I say about this movie? My fellow Grouches have, on many occasions, ridiculed this movie – its script, acting, and directing – and I can’t understand it. Not because I liked it so much (though that is an extremely valid reason in-and-of-itself), but because they all profess to like it as much or more than me. The lowest score it got between us is an 8.4. It actually has the third highest average score of any film we’ve seen this year (beaten by Zombieland and Up). That’s saying quite a bit. I thought it was great. Since Michael Clayton, my respect for Clooney has skyrocketed and I think he does a great job here. Not only that, the two female characters in this movie are both widely different but equally well written and portrayed. Kendrick and Farmiga both shine as opposite sides of the same coin (the professional woman), and complement Clooney’s character as few roles do, now-a-days. I thought the script, while not out-of-this-world, was very well done – with humorous, contemplative/deep, and sad/depressing moments sprinkled in throughout the movie. I actually also really like the directing here as well. Reitman was a very close third to Tarantino and Bigelow this year. Each gave very strong efforts this year, which were rewarded with equally strong movies. I will admit that this movie struck a nerve with its portrayal of the constantly traveling businessman (as that was my life for 2 ½ years), but even discounting that, this was a pretty great movie.

Inglourious Basterds
The Big Kahuna (and no, not Big Kahuna Burger) – nine down, one to go. Since seeing this movie, it has topped my annual Top 5 with only one other movie even coming close to toppling it (Zombieland for those keeping track). Quentin Tarantino is one of my all-time favorites and he doesn’t disappoint with this dialogue-driven, Nazi-killin’, action flick. From the first scene, Tarantino is able to fully invest the audience into his world. How many other directors/films would have such a long, dialogue-heavy opening scene? And how many people actually noticed that the scene went on for so long after the first couple of minutes of interplay between Waltz’s SS Colonel and the out-matched farmer? Tarantino’s ability to take the seemingly most inane scene and turn it into a focal point of a movie based solely on the dialogue (and underlying story) never ceases to amaze me. And he does this more than once in the movie (don’t forget that amazing bar room scene). All this is without taking into account the overall story or the wonderfully violent action scenes. Tarantino gives us a movie that is entertaining on multiple levels and does so with style (plus, he killed Hitler…come on!). If it were up to me, Basterds would receive Best Picture, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, and Film Editing along with the almost assured Best Supporting Actor for Waltz. Alas, it is not to be.

Nominees:

  • Sandra Bullock, Blind Side
  • Helen Mirren, The Last Station
  • Carey Mulligan, An Education
  • Gabourey Sidibe, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
  • Meryl Streep, Julie and Julia

Brian starts the discussion:

    Unlike the Best Actor category, where all the nominations made some modicum of sense, there are a couple of headscratchers here. On the other hand, I can’t really think of many other strong female lead performances from this year, so maybe its just one of those years. Perhaps I’d include Emily Blunt in here for Young Victoria, but otherwise, it was a lackluster year, unfortunately. There are two nominees that are clearly superior to the rest of the batch — and its a shame that they are not the two expected to duke it out on Sunday night.

    To dispense with those two first: Streep is the second best actress in Julie and Julia — Amy Adams shows a wider range of emotions and is the heart of the film. Streep does a fine impersonation — and is good filler for the non-Julie Powell moments — but I found myself much more caught up in the modern day love story than Julia Child’s background. Which is odd, because I’m a history dork and all. I’m more interested in Julia’s next phase of life — when she became a television star.

    Sandra Bullock is the best part of The Blind Side — but thats truly faint praise. In a bastardization of a solid, nuanced book by Michael Lewis, The Blind Side is a poor-man’s Erin Brockovich. I think Dana Stevens said it best over at Slate: this is Bullock’s “Least Objectionable Thing She’s Made in Years.” Ergo, since this may be her only shot ever at a nomination, give her the career achievement award now. Her actual acting in the movie is good — but much like the rest of the movie, its cliched and devoid of any intrigue.

    Helen Mirren was fed a filmful of Oscar-worthy scenes, and she did her usual bang-up job with them. Unfortunately, when you’re dealing with material as weak as The Last Station‘s — your performance has to transcend crap. And Mirren, this time, did not — and I’d also question her position as a leading actress on this one. If they had pushed her for supporting — I think that she’d have gotten a lot more recognition than this film — which I am still convinced that no one actually saw before nominating Mirren. Now THAT is the power of a strong brand.

    My two favorites: Mulligan and Sidibe. Carey Mulligan was brilliant as the young teen taken in by Peter Saarsgard’s creepiness. Stuck in an era when her parents (and society writ large) told her she could be a wife or a teacher, and thats it, she yearned for something more. It was a trite subject, but Mulligan expressed the highs of love and the lows of devastation with great aplomb. I cannot wait to watch what she does next.

    But my vote goes for newcomer Gabourey Sidibe. It’s hard for me to judge what she’s like in real person — and how much of her performance was “ACTING!” — but wow. I never once doubted the pain and hardship that Precious had to deal with — and watching her eventually open up and tread a path away from her current life situation was heart-wrenching. I place the success of the film’s bittersweet and ambiguous ending on Sidibe’s shoulders. Had she not been so good — I think the film would have fallen a lot flatter, with no hope and only despair for Precious’ future.

John adds his two cents

    I think too much as been said about this being a “weak” slate of actresses. It’s fine. I’d say not weaker or stronger than average with three terrific performances.

    Nothing against Helen Mirren, but without a better constructed film she’s just wailing and chewing scenery aimlessly. It’s hard to show any nuance when the material doesn’t allow it.

    The way this year has turned into The Year of Bullock is perplexing. Yes, I know she was snubbed for The Net, but is this the way we want to make up for it? The Blind Side is not a good movie though I did like Bullock’s performance in it. But I can’t help but think a lot of her support comes from playing a strongly-written character with an accent. Sure she dominates the movie, but with the other elements so underwhelming that’s pretty easy.

    Sidibe is swell in Precious and I’m really interested in seeing what she does next. Her performance is so monotone, which I know is what the role calls for, that I think it opens the door for some others to outshine her. She does a very good job of leading the film despite being a new actress and her range is impressive.

    I’m a little surprised I’m not choosing Mulligan because it’s the type of performance I’m so drawn to. It’s a restrained performance, but perfectly-crafted and we totally understand how her character could get into the mess she finds herself. She’s so enchanting on screen and can do so much with just a look. It’s true she’s helped by playing a character that’s so well-written, but she nails it.

    But I choose Meryl Streep. She’s just such a delight to watch and brings what I’d say is just the right amount of camp to the role. And it’s more than an impression; this really is a full-throated performance. We gave Morgan Freeman a tough time for (partly) adapting a South African accent and walking like Nelson Mandela. Streep shows how you play a well-known, real person and put your mark on it.

    I’m pretty perplexed by Brian’s assessment of Streep and the film. I thought I was going out on a limb by saying the Julie half of the film was not significantly inferior to the Julia half. He’s the first person I’ve ever seen assert that Julie was better. This is dumbfounding. If anything, Streep is so dominant she overshadows the rest of the film.

Adam is the charmer, as always:

    • Carey Mulligan
    • Sandra Bullock
    • Meryl Streep
    • Gabourey Sidbe
    • Helen Mirren

    Will Win: Sandra Bullock. There was a pretty big push for her throughout the Awards season and I believe it will pay off. While I don’t think this role was all that taxing, Bullock still put on an impressive performance so I’m not upset that she will win here. I’m more excited that Meryl Streep won’t win…for some reason, I just don’t like her.

    I Want to Win: Carey Mulligan. She’s beautiful. But that’s not why I want her to win (ok, that’s not the ENTIRE reason I want her to win). I had major problems with the script (e.g. plot, flow, dialogue wasn’t too bad, etc), but I will admit that despite its faults, it generated two strong performances from Alfred Molina and Mulligan. Given her less than bulky resume, she puts on a surprisingly strong performance…and she’s beautiful.

    Dark Horse: Carey Mulligan. While not out of the realm of possibility, there is little chance she would be able to overtake Ms. Streep or Ms. Bullock – much to the audience’s dismay.

    Ranking:

    Grouches Critiques: Since only Brian has written one so far, I will confine my review to him – lucky him. First off, some praise, his introductory statement is accurate enough. Actress this year was pretty weak. I have to question writers as a whole’s ability to write strong and/or good female leads. His review goes downhill from there though. I hate to say it (because I like Adams MUCH better than Streep), but Streep definitely outshone in her half of the movie. Adams’ character and storyline were, overall, quite boring. Adams played an uninteresting, selfish bitch…and not the fun kind.

    His comparison of The Blind Side to Erin Brockovich is confusing and incorrect. I have no idea what part of which is comparable. It’s much easier to compare it to Precious, in fact, though, in my opinion, neither is as great as people seem to believe. Even his review of The Last Station is off and we both disliked it. I am actually a big fan of Mirren, but while her performance most likely fit the role as written, it was a horribly written script so her performance suffered the same fate. There was not one “Oscar-worthy” scene in the entire movie. I also can’t say I agree with his view of women striving for more than being regulated to a wife/mother/teacher as a “trite” subject. Guess we’re seeing the “real” Brian.

    Finally, his conclusion is way off the mark. Don’t believe the hype , folks. Precious is not that good. Sidibre does a fine job, but ultimately there isn’t a lot of range required in the role and the script was pretty weak in both story and dialogue – and the lackluster directing didn’t help either.

    Now I can sit back and bathe in the glow Brian’s hatred of me will give off.

    Random Notes: Write better female characters Hollywood writers. There is a ton of talent out there and few good characters for them to portray.

Jared has had a little to drink and is writing at 4 in the morning:

    Finally, I get to both go last and disagree with Brian.  It is a bad call to say it was a poor year for lead actress performances.  Add Blunt and Deschanel in here, and you are hot to trot.  Relatively weak year for mainstream performances? Maybe.  But one you get into Julia and Cheri and Trucker, I’m not so convinced.  Hate to say it, but I kinda agree with John.  Probably about an average year.

    I’ve loved Sandra Bullock since Love Potion No. 9 (here’s where I totally geek out and make a Donovan Tate joke (that’s some baseball prospect humor for you!)).  I really don’t understand the Oscar love for her this year.  Thrilled that’s she’s in the running. No clue what makes this role so special.  Honestly, and I’m completely serious here, I don’t understand why she wasn’t up for an Oscar for Miss Congeniality.  I dare almost any former Oscar nominee to pull off that role. I gotta question Brian, though.  “Devoid of any intrigue?”  You read the book and know the story, dude. What intrigue were you expecting?  Oh, and the book isn’t nuanced. Sorry. Not like I needed to bring all this up. The minute you cite Slate in an argument is the minute you lose.

    And while we are ragging on Brian, I’m totally with John about Julie and Julia. Brian, you are no longer ever allowed to make fun of my appreciation of romcoms. The Julie side of the film was better? Bold statement there, boss. I heart Meryl Streep to pieces, I just think we could maybe hold back on the automatic check next to her name. Though, hey, she seems to be the only one who can get nominated for comedies. So more power to her.

    Unsurprisingly, Helen Mirren was pretty great in The Last Station.  It is unfortunate that the movie was roughly seventeen hours long. That’s how it felt at least. The unsteadiness in the script came through as Mirren’s character was not only a biatch, but sorta all over the place. Mirren salvaged it admirably, but still.  I’ll agree with Brian here (since I made the point first).  No one saw Last Station.  No one.

    Top two are really tough for me. I’ve gone back and forth numerous times. So screw it, I need to get some sleep, I’m calling it a tie between Gabourey Sidibe and Carey Mulligan.  Sidibe is all kinds of powerful asPrecious. Maybe few established actresses could have pulled it off for physical reasons, but I also think few could have so completely owned the character. Sidibe took a relatively weak script and turned the character into something magical.

    I’m madly in love with Carey Mulligan and not ashamed to admit it. No one who saw An Education should be afraid to admit it either.  Again, she took a subpar script and created a character I won’t forget for some time. Maybe she had it easier because of how attractive the character was (both inside and out). I dunno. I do know that she took a character who had been seen time and again (smart pretty girl who loses her naivete) and made it her own.

Stupid work getting in the way of this.  Seems like every year people say it was a bad year for the Best Actress category, which is generally hogwash, and  I especially don’t really think it is true this year.  Sure, maybe my list for Best Actor possibilities was longer, but I’m fairly certain the next five women off the list would have still made a very strong category.

1. Patricia Clarkson, Blind Date

Nobody does sullen and deadpan like Ms. Clarkson.  Just no one.  And here, to pull off that underlying sadness while playing a variety of personalities, well, it was pretty perfect.

2. Zooey Deschanel, (500) Days of Summer

I swear, it wasn’t intentional to have my top two actors and actresses match up.  Maybe it is fitting, though.  It was pretty fascinating to see Deschanel’s character morph from The One to a biatch and all phases in between, at least through Gordon-Levitt’s eyes.  Sure, the role was right in Deschanel’s wheelhouse, but she still knocked it out of the park.

3. Emily Blunt, The Young Victoria

To me, at least, a monarch at a young age is a fascinating topic.  And here, a terribly difficult role to play, as Victoria learned to play the political game while going through adolescence.  Which is insane.  I mean, think about Adventureland, only if instead of learning to survive on his own, Jesse Eisenberg had to rule a friggin’ country.  And I think Blunt didn’t get a nomination here for exactly that reason.  The Academy wasn’t comfortable with a ruler who showed such humanity.

4.  Gabourey Sidibe, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

I think I may have discussed her elsewhere, but wowza.  When going through the best actress nominees this year, I’d be stunned if voters didn’t take at least a second to think about writing in her name. [Edit: To clarify, I meant choosing her as the nominee they think should win.]

5.  Carey Mulligan, An Education

It isn’t just that I fell madly in love with Ms. Mulligan after the film, it is that I can’t imagine anyone not falling in love with her.  I think she took a weak script and ran with it something fierce, and with many other actresses, this film gets shut out of Oscar completely.

Just off the ballot: Meryl Streep (Julie and Julia) and Tilda Swinton (Julia).  And not just because that’s funny.

I don’t know what it means, exactly, but I wrote three-quarters of this post a month ago.  Unable to finish it off, I left it hanging as a draft.  About a week ago, I decided, perhaps partially influenced by the flagging buzz for the film, that I didn’t really agree with what I’d written and I should take a new angle.  Except that when I looked back over what I had written, it matched up pretty closely with my “new” revelation.

Whatever It is, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire has It.  And sadly, no, I’m not talking about Tim Curry dressed as a clown.  Sure, I guess you could argue I was biased by all the Oscar hype, but I’m not sure that has significantly affected my opinion of an Oscar contender before.  I didn’t even love Precious.  It is a very good movie, to be sure, but I didn’t think it was amazing.  Still, the film boasts a rather lustrous Oscar sheen.

Part of it is the subject matter.  Precious has some tough scenes and gets into some rather grim places.  But while the film rarely gets schmaltzy, there’s an overarching feeling of hope.  Maybe it is that feeling that lends the film its Oscar gravitas.  That seeming small space between the extremes of a dark, angry film and one with a storybook ending.

The other major part is the characters/actors, obviously.  We’ll soon find out if leader fatigue will hurt Gabourey Sidibe and Mo’Nique.  But to me, they rank right up there with the best larger-than-life performances of late because they form such distinct, unique, memorable characters.  Sidibe’s Precious is a hulking mess of person who never had a shot.  And yet, she feels different from all prior put-upon dreamer-protagonists.  That’s partially due to her not having some sort of amazing secret talent which would make her famous/popular/loved if she were just allowed to shine.  And I think that goes a long way toward reducing any hamminess that could show up in the film.  (Bizarre fantasy pops aside.)

The consistent disgust the film throws at Mo’Nique’s character is nearly unparalleled, to my limited memory.  I’m fairly certain she could make the Terminator cry.  There’s little doubt in my mind that ten years from now, when this blog is all I have to remember this decade’s movies, I won’t have forgotten Mo’Nique’s role any more than that of Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurrh.  She’s an ugly, ugly character and an extremely cutting villain.

The rest of the film, frankly, seems largely like background noise meant to make the scenes between Sidibe and Mo’Nique pop that much more.  Maybe that’s not entirely fair.  The first glimpses of Precious’s schooling are pretty compelling.  But then I started getting flashbacks to the treacly Freedom Writers.  Perhaps, in a perfect world, the lack of substance beyond the two characters would have a significant impact on the Academy.  And who knows, maybe it does.

But I think a pretty convincing case could be made that Oscar tends to fall for character-driven films.  Which isn’t necessarily bad, of course.  I’m certainly not advocating the Academy should try to honor movies with weaker characters.  Just that a solid character does not always a movie make.  Precious, though, comes darn close because of just how vividly it paints the two major characters.

May 2017
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