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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.

#110.  Safety Not Guaranteed

Saw this one in theaters with my family.  In completely unrelated news, I haven’t been asked to pick a family movie since then.  The film is gratingly lo-fi.  Which means the actors don’t have anywhere to hide.  Aubrey Plaza actually acquits herself quite nicely, she can definitely anchor a movie.  And Jake Johnson can curmudgeon his way across any screen of mine any time he likes.  Mark Duplass, though, I don’t know.  At this point I’ve seen him in a bunch of things, and I’m impressed with the variety of roles he takes, and that he also writes, directs, and produces many films.  But I can only take him in small doses of smarminess.  The Mindy Project has used him well, I think.  And he’s best on The League when relegated to a supporting slot being douchey.  I will say that this movie has a cameo it managed to hide very well.  Also, the guys who wrote and directed this (Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow, respectively) are lined up to do Jurassic Park IV.  So, uh, be prepared for that.

109.  Kill List

This one came across my radar because I saw multiple places talking about how it was a riveting, surprising thriller which defied genre and contained some crazy twists.  I…must have seen a different cut of the movie than everyone else?  I was never on the edge of my seat, save for that one time I almost nodded off.  Weird for the sake of being weird, I suppose the film did kinda cut through genres, but not to any meaningful effect.  For me, the film just became progressively more and more bonkers.  A little unsettling, sure, but more puzzling than disquieting.  And I didn’t find the film particularly twisty.  There’s one bit at the end, but by that point the movie had veered so far off course that the twist didn’t have the impact it must have had on others.

108.  Hitchcock

I’ll always remember seeing this in theaters with John.  Not due to anything from the film, which may well have been the least essential movie of the year.  Helen Mirren was fun, naturally, but man, what a waste of her and everything else.  There was no reason this story had to be told, because there wasn’t really a story at all.  But anyway.  So I meet up with John before the movie.  We watch the movie.  We walk the six or seven blocks to California Tortilla.  We order food.  We eat the food there.  We chitchat, of course.  I remember at one point John mentioned how he had realized NBC still had the prior Olympics up online so he was watching something like archery.  So.  Including the movie, we’ve been hanging out for about four hours at this point.  We’ve finished up the tortillas and it is just about time to start heading back home.  And then John tells me, oh, by the way, he proposed last weekend.

107.  Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

The movie that launched a million jokes on the Internet.  It made two big mistakes, I think.  First, I haven’t read Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel, but his screenplay is entirely too earnest.  There are plenty of vampire movies these days, most of which have, frankly, more engaging dramatic premises than our 16th president deciding to fight the bloodsuckers.  If any movie was set up to be tongue in cheek, it was this one, which took itself entirely too seriously.  Second, the story’s structure is rather awkward.  It felt like the first three-quarters of the movie was an origin story, and then as soon as Lincoln gets involved with politics, we jumped forward to the presidency, with a climactic action sequence.  A sequence which was, admittedly, pretty cool, surely thanks to director Timur Bekmambetov who would undoubtedly be my first choice to direct any sort of gothic and/or steampunk scenes my movie required, though I might ask him to step aside once filming of those had completed.  A highly interesting cast, including Dominic Cooper, Benjamin Mackie, Rufus Sewell, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead was pretty much wasted, with Jimmi Simpson the only one who I thought managed to come off OK.

106.  Holy Motors

Multiple movie blogs I follow were in love with this film.  There’s, sadly, only so much time to watch movies (even for me!), and so I have to make hard decisions about which movies to see.  And an important factor is whether the movie inspires passion in anyone.  Better if it someone whose opinion I respect, of course, but I’m always fascinated to see which movie inspire fervent emotion.  All of which is to say that while I personally found this movie kinda boring, I stand by the process by which it ended up on my Netflix queue.  The structure of the film was kinda cool, with Denis Levant taking on a number of different personas in a number of different situations, over the course of a day.  And Levant was quite good in the role (even if Tatiana Maslany has essentially ruined actors playing different characters).  I could see the different parts of the day working well as a series of one-act plays tied together by some common purpose or theme.  But to me, the different parts of the days felt like disparate middle acts of a wide variety of three act plays: experimental, musical, etc. without any reason they were mashed together.

105.  The Deep Blue Sea

Rachel Weisz received some Oscar attention for her performance in this film, including garnering a Golden Globe nomination.  Unfortunately, there were three major roadblocks, none of which were her fault: the film was released early in the year, nobody saw it, and it is mind-numbingly dull.  It is a character study without really studying a character.  People mope, stuff happens off-screen, people get angry or sad or mope some more.  That’s not entirely fair, of course, I get that it is about love or wanting to be in love, and a time not so long ago when women still didn’t have a ton of options (or, at least, were constrained by society) in terms of deciding who or how to love.  Although, really, I could say it is about pretty much anything.  Not like you’ll stay awake long enough to disagree with me.  Tom Hiddleston is solid, as usual.  Rachel Weisz is good, certainly better than Quvenzhane Wallis, but I’m not sure she would have made my final list.

104.  Frankenweenie

I’m sad I didn’t like this one, because John August wrote the screenplay, and I’ve loved his blog for years.  But this half-baked riff on the story of Frankenstein’s monster was entirely forgettable.  The concept of all these horror movie standbys being in middle school was pretty clever, but that seemed to be about where the creativity stopped.  Imdb lists a biopic of Margaret Keane as Tim Burton’s next directorial effort and one wonders if the break from his gothic sensibilities might do him some good.

103.  Haywire

An action movie for people who don’t like action movies.  (And I love me some action movies.)  The film is super stripped down, which in theory is a welcome breath of fresh air compared to summer blockbuster fare.  But Soderbergh and screenwriter Lem Dobbs go too far in the other direction, as this film is spare to the point of distraction.  For me, the comparison to make is with Colombiana.  Both feature strong and deadly hitwomen, but where Colombiana is fun and gripping, this one was a chore to get through.  Soderbergh did a great job pulling down name talent, as Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender, Ewen McGregor, Michael Douglas, and Antonio Banderas all litter the cast, among others, but almost serve more as a distraction, given the limited nature of their roles.  Speaking of Colombiana, I would love to see Gina Carano in a Luc Besson film, I think that’s pretty much a perfect match.

102.  ATM

I want to stress that I think Alice Eve is a talented actress.  She’s been in a couple of my favorite movies, but even in the clunkers she’s shown an impressive magnetism.  I sincerely hope that she gets a chance to play some meatier roles in the near future.  That said, since I’m going to lose my man card with the next movie on my list, let me ask a question.  If you are going to have a movie where Alice Eve is trapped in a room and decided that harsh weather would play a factor, would you decide to place the setting somewhere cold, where she’d have to wear as many layers as possible, or, I don’t know, somewhere really hot where it is the exact opposite?!  I feel like that should have been the studio’s first note.  At any rate, I tend to be  a big fan of one-setting films, but this one missed for me.  It wasn’t terribly clever, and the ending was far from satisfying.  The end credits seemed fascinated by the bad guy’s detailed and elaborate plans, but said plans weren’t really displayed in the movie.

101.  Scents and Sensibility

I’m scared to look back and see how many years in a row I’ve told myself to stop watching terrible Marla Sokoloff films.  I’d like to say it ends now, but let’s face it, time has shown that I’m an idiot.  This one is based off of Sense and Sensibility, only Marla Sokoloff’s character has a real talent for making scented lotions, so it is Scents and Sensibility.  And that’s probably the most clever thing about the screenplay.  The film also stars Ashley Williams (aka Victoria from HIMYM).  Who, like Sokoloff, deserves better.  Most frustrating to me, I think, is that I know many people poured many hours into making this film.  I’m sure most, if not all of those people put in hard, solid work, work of which they wanted to be proud.  So I can’t understand the process which led to this film being the final product.  Surely at some point, someone asked about the vision, the creativity, the flair, the reason for existing so sorely lacking from this movie?

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You know the drill.  Oscar nominations out on the 10th, I’m taking a look at the big eight categories.  This time: Actress.

VIRTUAL LOCK

  • Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
  • Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

Zero Dark Thirty isn’t out here yet, and while I can totally appreciate the strategy, it still cheeses me off that Oscar nominations for 2012 movies will be out before the vast majority of people had a chance to see the movie.  I like playing along, you know?  Anyway, Jessica Chastain has a nomination for The Help and seems like a sure bet in this presumably two women race, assuming enough people saw the film.  I thought Lawrence was absolutely fantastic in Silver Linings Playbook and she absolutely deserves to be a front-runner.  She, of course, has a prior nomination for Winter’s Bone and that red dress.

GOOD BET

LIKELY IN

ON THE BUBBLE

  • Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
  • Marion Cotillard, Rust and Bone
  • Helen Mirren, Hitchcock
  • Naomi Watts, The Impossible
  • Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Rachel Weisz, The Deep Blue Sea

If you have any confidence in predicting this category, you are a braver person than I.  Riva is supposed to be fantastic, and director Haneke is essentially an arthouse cult figure at this point.  The question that everyone is asking is whether enough people managed to see the film in time.  Also, is there enough room in the category for two ladies speaking French?  Marion Cotillard sure hopes so.  I still maintain it is a supporting role.  As Adam surely remembers, Cotillard has an Oscar win for La Vie en Rose.  Having seen Hitchcock, I want to say Helen Mirren is in the weakest position of the lot.  Except, you know, it is Helen freakin’ Mirren, who has nominations for The Madness of King GeorgeGosford Park, and The Last Station, and a win for The Queen.  I haven’t gotten to The Impossible, partially because ugh.  But Naomi Watts is hitting her precursors and had a well-publicized endorsement from Reese Witherspoon.  She has an Oscar nomination for 21 Grams.  I’ve got Beasts of the Southern Wild at home from Netflix.  Wallis is supposed to be quite memorable, but the indie film has had a little bit of trouble navigating the Oscar race, and some people will have trouble voting for a nine year old who, apparently, doesn’t seem like she’s Acting.  The Deep Blue Sea came out months ago, was little seen, and is kind of not good, none of which bodes well for Rachel Weisz.  She did get the Globes nom, but the movie is in the Globes’s wheelhouse.  She’s pretty great in the film, though, which might be the most important factor of all.  Weisz has an Oscar for The Constant Gardener.

DARK HORSES

  • Judi Dench, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
  • Keira Knightley, Anna Karenina

Count Judi Dench or The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel out at your own peril.  I think the Grouches have had like six different email threads about going to see Anna Karenina, but it just hasn’t happened yet.  The film seems likely to get some technical nominations, so maybe Knightley can squeak through, even without any major precursors.  She has a nomination for Pride and Prejudice.

SHOULD HAVE BEEN CONSIDERED

  • Carla Gugino, A Girl Walks Into a Bar
  • Michelle Williams, Take This Waltz

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.

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