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We’re taking a look at Oscar categories in advance of tonight’s show. Now we’re on Supporting Actress. The nominees:

  • Javier Bardem, Biutiful
  • Jeff Bridges, True Grit
  • Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
  • Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
  • James Franco, 127 Hours

John

Give me my award. Today, junior. Did I stutter? Oh, right.

This is a good crew, but Best Actor usually is. It’s Colin Firth in a walk for me, but that doesn’t reflect poorly on any of the others. What chance do they have against the charm, the grace, and yes the stutter of Firth? He’s so good all the time so I’m glad he’s getting his due, even though it does take a showy disability to get him the prize. Didn’t Tropic Thunder say something about going partial retard is Oscar gold…?

Franco is perfect for his role, both as a slightly off outdoorsy guy and the type of presence that can carry a movie when he’s the only one on screen. I didn’t give enough credit to Eisenberg when I first saw The Social Network. He gets some crap for playing the same character repeatedly, but I happened to see Network again soon after watching Zombieland and the differences were clear. This is also a performance that succeeds on a lot more than just line reading. I really like the way he carries himself.

I do think Bridges gets a boost just by being Jeff Bridges. It’s a memorable character that allows for some showy acting, but the type of role that I think needs a name to propel it to awards season. He’s still great, of course, but I do see a clear gap between him and those listed above. And Bardem is an interesting nod, displaying the kind of acting that I have not seen from him before. I just wish it had been in a better movie where his performance could have affected me more.

Snubs: As good as this list is, I would have had Robert Duvall for Get Low and Sean Penn for Fair Game. Maybe also Ryan Gosling for Blue Valentine.

Jared

Yeah, geez, how do you pick a winner here?  It is a little odd that precursors have been so unanimous just because everyone here absolutely deserves consideration for the win.  The Grouches closed out Oscars this year with a screening of Biutiful, which was was too long and didn’t give the view a chance to get emotionally invested in the characters enough.  My expectations of Javier Bardem were maybe too high, because I’d that people just absolutely went gaga over his performance.  He does a fine job, of course, but I think he’s hampered by the script here.

If an actor can get a nomination for a role that won John Wayne an Oscar, well, he must be doing something right.  Even if Jeff Bridges took a note from the Marlon Brando school of acting and stuffed a handful of pebbles in his mouth before talking.  If he didn’t get his career achievement Oscar last year, I have the feeling that we’d be hearing a lot more about him.  It is still weird to me, as a devotee of Freaks and Geeks (OK, who am I kidding, as a devotee of Whatever It Takes), that James Franco is a highly-regarded thespian.  But he’s unquestionably deserving.  And in 127 Hours it takes some kind of screen presence to be the sole focus of nearly every shot of every scene.

John makes a good point above, Jesse Eisenberg definitely does not play the same character in every film.  Are they similar?  Sure.  There’s the ever present joke about how he and Michael Cera fight over the same roles.  But really, I can’t imagine  Eisenberg as Scott Pilgrim nor I could see Cera as Zuckerberg.  Sorkin’s Zuckerberg is  a difficult nut to crack, but I think Eisenberg handles it quite deftly.

Like Mr. Darcy needed anything else to be a chick magnet.

But, of course, like everyone else in the world, I’m jumping on the Colin Firth bandwagon.  And while he’s had an impressive career, this victory is certainly not just for his body of work.  Doing the stutter is the obvious part of his performance.  And he does do it in a way that (apparently) very close to reality, but also works on screen.  That said, there’s so much more to his role.  How he, as a prince and king, husband and father, handles his relationship with each one of the other characters.  Part of that is Seidler’s script, naturally.  But a lot of it is Firth working his magic.

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 Actor.

VIRTUAL LOCKS

  • Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
  • Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
  • Jeff Bridges, True Grit
  • James Franco, 127 Hours

One of your lockiest locks of Tuesday morning is hearing Colin Firth‘s name called.  And I can’t imagine anyone complaining, as Firth turns in a characteristically wonderful performance that has been universally lauded for its nuance, subtlety and faithfulness to how stutters actually sound and feel.  Jesse Eisenberg could have been nominated for The Squid and the Whale, should have been nominated for Zombieland (OK, maaaaybe that’s just me), but will have his first nomination this week for a truly memorable performance portraying Mark Zuckerberg.  Maybe someday I’ll get around that post to what the rise of nerd chic, led by Eisenberg, Michael Cera, and Jay Baruchel, means for Hollywood.  Jeff Bridges got his career achievement Oscar last year (ostensibly for Crazy Heart, but let’s be realistic here) and is still going strong.  Anyone who can take on a non-Genghis Khan John Wayne role and not make fool of himself, yeah, probably deserves a nomination.  127 Hours may be fading, Oscar-wise, but Franco‘s performance is still demanding to be noticed.  With a role like his, there’s really no middle ground, I feel, since there’s absolutely nowhere to hide.  Either it is going to be awards-worthy or it will be a joke.

LAST ONE IN

  • Mark Wahlberg, The Fighter

And here’s my upset special for this year’s Oscars.  I know Wahlberg hasn’t really gotten any precursors other than a Golden Globe, but stay with me for a sec.  He’s an Oscar-nominated lead actor in a film that peaked at the exact right time and that’s getting at least two acting nominations.  We’ll get to his competition shortly, but nobody has seen their respective films and neither of which seems likely for other nominations.

FIRST ALTERNATES

  • Robert Duvall, Get Low
  • Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine
  • Javier Bardem, Biutiful

Duvall‘s been nominated for six Oscars, winning one of them for…Tender Mercies?  He’s probably the best bet for the last nomination here and has been for maybe six months, but Get Low never quite got the traction of which some thought it was capable.  I haven’t seen Blue Valentine yet, but have made a half-dozen jokes about how you wouldn’t want to see it with your significant other.  Ryan Gosling is always good in his movies, which tend to be either really great or really atrocious.  Here’s hoping Blue Valentine is the former.  I’ll be perfectly honest, I’ve probably read dozens of blog posts on Biutiful, but I know absolutely nothing about it, short of the performance Javier Bardem is supposed to give.

DARK HORSES

  • Paul Giamatti, Barney’s Version
  • Leonardo DiCaprio, Inception/Shutter Island

If someone wins a Golden Globe, as Paul Giamiatti did, he gets to make my dark horses list, even if he’s got no shot.  I’m a little surprised they couldn’t build a stronger campaign for DiCaprio for one of his performances.

SHOULDA BEEN A CONTENDER

  • Martin Landau, Lovely, Still
  • Andy Garcia, City Island
  • Ed Norton, Leaves of Grass
  • David Duchovny, The Joneses
  • Casey Affleck, The Killer Inside Me

For the first time in way-too-long time, the Grouches got together and saw a movie together: 127 Hours. The film about the harrowing story of Aron Ralston, the canyoneer who had to amputate half of his right arm in order to free himself from a lodged rock, drew varying reactions between “apathetic” and “entertained” from the four of us, so  you likely won’t see much disagreement. But here’s my take:

The material itself would not give any director that much to work with. There are pretty much two plot points: guy gets stuck under rock — guy frees himself from rock. Everything else is filler, and it felt that director Danny Boyle knew this as he used a variety of gimmicks and camera tricks to break things up. Neither really worked. Boyle inserted himself into the film in a distracting fashion, and if we were to have other “characters” interact with Ralston, then I’d have liked to have seen more scenes of young Aron with his dad (Treat Williams) or sister. The script didn’t offer enough background development of Ralston, especially if we were going to spend over an hour with just him.

James Franco was quite good in a rather meaty role. He plays the serious goofball rather well, and its to his credit that I cared as much as I did. The amputation scenes had been built up for me, so  even though I covered my eyes for part of it, they didn’t have quite the emotional impact as I’d have hoped.

Rahman’s score was meh and his song was even worse (though I’ll let John tackle that one) — but it appears that Oscar nominations are in the offing for both of them. Grouches, take it from here.

Jared: Ever since 12 Angry Men, I’ve had a thing for films taking place in confined settings.  Perhaps it is because when the number of thing that can happen is very limited, the screenwriter is forced to focus on ways to make an engaging story.  In any case, 127 Hours is not boring, especially considering the premise, as Brian points out, is basically a guy is stuck under a rock in a canyon.  I don’t think it ever approaches anywhere close to the heights of must-see, either.  But given some of the dreck the Academy loves, I’m not going to complain too much about a fairly decent film getting some love. 

I find myself comparing the movie to Frozen, which was released this year and tells the story of three college students trapped on a ski lift and last year’s The Canyon, which stars the incomparable Yvonne Strahovski as half of a pair of newlyweds who get lost in a canyon and whose husband (MINOR SPOILER ALERT) gets trapped under a rock.  And in doing so, I’ve come to the realization that I don’t really understand what makes 127 Hours special.  James Franco?  Sure.  He definitely displays a greater range than anyone in the other two movies I mention, and I don’t think I’ll have any problem with his Oscar nomination.  I’m pretty much ambivalent on what Brian describes as Boyle’s stylistic flourishes, maybe they helped move the story long.  But a more minimalist approach certainly would have been feasible without really losing anything.

As a side note, especially in case Adam doesn’t get to respond, for a movie about a dude trapped in a canyon, the film sure managed to find room for a lot of attractive actresses.  Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn, Lizzy Caplan, and In Bruges‘s Clemence Poesy?  Yowza.  Maybe it was Boyle resorting to another trick to keep the audience engaged, but that’s the kind of trick I can support.

John: Yeesh, what a bunch of, well, grouches. 127 Hours is audacious, visionary filmmaking. This is a Danny Boyle experience and he makes sure it’s always interesting. A film like this, with its limited scope, depends nearly entirely on the director’s vision. How do you portray this ordeal? How do you make the audience understand what the character experienced?

Boyle does so via flashbacks, dreams, and hallucinations. He gives it his usual pizzazz with flashy camerawork, quick edits, and an electronic score. Transport Franco’s great performance into a film that gives the story a straightforward treatment – voice over, rousing music cues, some emotional manipulation to leave the audience teary-eyed – and you’d have one boring movie.

I can’t say every element connected with me. I didn’t realize some of the imagery was meant to be Ralston’s actual hallucinations, for instance. I think it could have eased off the gas in a few spots. But I feel like if you like film as an art form, and not just as a story telling medium, it would be hard not to be thrilled with Boyle’s ambitious work here.

I didn’t really feel like I was transported to a Utah cave, lost in the story. I felt like I was watching a gifted artist’s interpretation of an incredible event.

Brian: So faster than Adam could insult John’s movie taste, the news of Anne Hathaway and James Franco being the hosts of this year’s Oscars has spread quickly around the interwebs. Consider me thrilled and excited. I was probably more bullish on last year’s telecast than most, and that was in spite of Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin’s lame performance as hosts. As Dave Karger points out over on Inside Movies, “But [the Academy] clearly seems to be courting a different generation: Franco and Hathaway’s combined age (61) is less than Steve Martin’s.”

I love this pairing. Franco can pretty much do whatever he pleases and I’m sure he’ll amuse. He was the best part of Pineapple Express and I’m more than wiling to forgive him for Spiderman 3. He’s exceeded expectations on SNL. And Hathaway did the best she could with the weak material when she hosted SNL recently. They are both easy on the eyes, young up-and-comers who will likely be A-listers in due time. It’s clear that this is a cagey attempt at attracting younger audiences to the telecast — and while I think it will succeed, and hope it will — I’m more convinced that the age of the big television event is gone. This is now two years in a row that the Academy has shocked the grouches with a move to create buzz around the Oscars. Maybe we should stop giving them such a hard time for being fuddyduddies?

I’m intrigued to see how this affects Franco’s campaign for Best Actor. Help him or hurt him? Would sentimental votes of giving it to the young guy now dissipate because he’s getting such a huge platform with emcee duties? Does this help Hathaway’s dark horse campaign for Best Actress?

John? What do you think?

Jared: My first reaction to hearing Hathaway and Franco were named hosts was something along the lines of Sasha Stone at Awards Daily: disbelief.  Everyone has to start somewhere, but you are talking about people who are a decade removed from playing Disney princesses and the a-hole in high school romantic comedies.

There’s little doubt in my mind that they have the tools to be successful hosts.  They’ve both clearly demonstrated comedic chops and also had searingly successful dramatic turns.  But perhaps most importantly, they both have shown that they (or, their public personas, at least) can laugh at themselves.  I only wonder how the Oscar audience will feel getting razzed by the two.  Because when, say, Steve Martin heaps on you, that’s undeniably an honor.  But even with the same writers (crosses fingers for Bruce Vilanch to be involved again), I think the same joke comes out a little differently when it is the stoned drug dealer from Pineapple Express.

The Academy has a well-deserved reputation for being stodgy.  It is nice to see them moving another step away from that.  Also nice to see their taste in hosts is still strong.

John: What a strange choice. Both of them have the potential to be very good and both have done a good job hosting SNL. Hathaway was funny during a part of Hugh Jackman’s opening number in 2009. I just don’t understand why they’re hosting together. Do producers think neither has the chops to host solo? Or could they not make up their mind between the two? Is there any evidence they’d have chemistry?

It’s especially puzzling since last year’s hosting duo seemed like a great idea but were terrible. If Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin don’t work well together, why would Hathaway and Franco? Also Franco is likely to be a nominee for 127 Hours, which could be an interesting dynamic.

But the bigger factor is that Adam Shankman isn’t producing this year so the show has to be better than last year’s, no matter who is hosting.

Brian: Notice how John failed to answer my one question. I think this hurts Franco’s campaign and the smart money is on Colin Firth, even more than it ways before.

Harvey Milk’s story is the stuff from which biopics are made. He faced discrimination, became a leader in his community, had a series of failed campaigns, was finally the first openly gay person elected to major office, and was murdered by a disgruntled fellow politician. There’s tragedy and triumph, all surrounding Important Social Issues.

Dustin Lance Black and Gus Van Sant’s depiction of that story, however, never really rises to the challenge. Compelling actors and back story make the movie watchable, but it doesn’t seem particularly special. If, as some people claim, 2008 is a relatively weak year for Oscar movies, this movie’s awards success might be helping the notion gain traction.

Milk’s primary weakness is its inability to provide context.  It is never quite clear who, exactly, is impacted by Harvey Milk.  This vagueness starts with his coterie, none of whom are given any discernible character traits.  Other than his two boyfriends, who maybe get one apiece.  There’s never any sense of how many gay people were living in San Francisco, or how many people (gay or straight) supported Milk.  Or didn’t.  The movie hints at Milk uniting the gay vote and turning it into a force, but what was the magnitude of that force?  Perhaps Van Sant attempts to answer these concerns with his insertion of stock footage from the era.  But it only serves to weaken the film’s tenuous creation of an environment.

That’s not to say the movie is a failure.  It has plenty of solid moments.  The film has some funny bits and some touching ones.  It is paced well and is fortunate to have a great cast.  Milk, perhaps obviously, advocates gay rights, but the message is generally used to enhance the film, rather than take it over.

I’ve probably made it clear I’ll be disappointed if/when the movie grabs Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay nominations.  The Academy has done far worse, but I just don’t get why Milk is considered great, and not merely good.

At this point, I’m all for Sean Penn and James Brolin to be nominated for Actor and Supporting Actor, respectively.  I love me some James Franco, but I’m not sure he’s deserving here.  Penn as Milk, is probably the highlight of the movie (other than the doggie, naturally),  and he certainly makes the movie much more interesting.  Brolin’s character is another supporting one who deserved to be better fleshed out.  But he turns Dan White into the most intriguing character in the movie, one who provokes the most thought.  For me, anyway.

August 2017
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