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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.

#80.  The Lady

A surprisingly shallow movie from Luc Besson, who is one of my favorites.  Honestly, I’m not sure Besson and screenwriter Rebecca Frayn did well by Aung San Suu Kyi, in the sense that I’m not certain they capture the magnitude of her importance to Burma.  Or maybe I just didn’t love the choice to focus so much on her relationship with her husband, as I found it less interesting.  Michelle Yeoh was good, but it wasn’t a role written to be awards bait.

#79.  Sleepless Night

The action in this French film wasn’t as good as I was led to believe.  And the story of a dark, almost antihero who needs to kill the bad guys in order to save his son doesn’t really add much to the genre.  But I do want to spend some time talking about the film’s setting.  The bulk of the movie takes place in a giant nightclub like thing.  I don’t really know how to describe it, but it is this huge building where every room has a different vibe.  The technical folk involved with the film really made it work, the building never felt cartoonish, and the action always felt like it continuously flowed through the building.

78.  Butter

I was looking forward to this one, since it is director Jim Field Smith’s followup project to She’s Out of My League.  Plus, you know, the field of competitive butter carving seems like it might be ripe for the picking.  Screenwriter Jason A. Micallef appeared to make the decision to play the butter carving straight and derived the humor from the various characters, which is maybe the only decision to make in a post-Christopher Guest world.  The problem, I think, is that the jokes just don’t seem to always be there.  Olivia Wilde’s character, for example, was kinda fascinating, maybe not the most unique take on the the stripper character in the world, but still rather engaging.  But her motivation seemed all over the place.  I was talking with someone who is a big fan of Jennifer Garner, and while I was initially skeptical, thinking over her work here and in other stuff, she’s actually a sneaky solid actress.  Hugh Jackman shows up for a few scenes in a cowboy hat, which is amusing.  And Olivia Wilde makes out with Ashley Greene, for reasons totally relevant and necessary to the movie.

77.  Save the Date

Isn’t like I’m not going to watch a movie starring Lizzy Caplan and Alison Brie.  The film was too lo-fi (for lack of a better turn of phrase) for my liking.  Not that everything has to be super melodramatic or bombastic, but my experience with this trend of indie-feeling movies is that they de-emphasize actors and actresses, at least in terms of them having an opportunity to leap off the screen.  Additionally, I might argue that their screenplays are more difficult to write, at least the good ones, because the more “naturalistic” the film, the less the dialogue can hide behind events, action sequences, or broad humor.

#76.  Lay the Favorite

A sports betting movie starring Bruce Willis and Rebecca Hall should have been a slam dunk.  Especially from the guys who respectively wrote and directed High Fidelity.   I haven’t read the memoir on which this film is based, but the end results seems to read much better as a logline: Attractive women who knows nothing about sports betting becomes a bookie than an actual movie.  Because the characters were underdeveloped and various plot points overemphasized to add some oomph to the long periods of the movies which dragged.  Hall and Willis were good, but this was a movie and a pair of actors who demanded some fast-paced witty banter, instead of whatever it was we ended up with.  Vince Vaughn was a lot of fun in his role.

#75.  Silver Linings Playbook

You’d think I’d be all over a Best Picture-nominated romantic comedy, right?  Unfortunately, David O. Russell is kind of terrible.  He rode a ridiculously talented cast into awards season, but you can’t fool me.  I did like some aspects of the film, but let’s go through the problems since I’m worked up.  The conceit of silver linings is dropped midway through the film.  Chris Tucker’s character is pointless.  Bradley Cooper’s shrink becoming his friend is odd.  The concept that mental illness can be cured by finding someone else who has mental problems is icky at best.  I’m fine accepting poetic license there, but the film was lauded for its depiction of mental illness, which I know is a classic Weinstein tactic, but still.  The direction was constantly getting in the way, from the unsteady camera work to the awkward depiction of the dancing scenes.  The story flops all over the places, only firming up into place in the last third, when it becomes a more traditional romantic comedy, but by that point, the beats lose resonance because they have less emotional weight.  The film succeeds almost exclusively on the shoulders of its two leads.  Bradley Cooper is very very good.  Which wasn’t a surprise to those who have followed his career from the start.  Certainly deserving of the Oscar nomination for a textured, riveting performance.  And then there’s Jennifer Lawrence.  Oh, Jennifer Lawrence.  She’s basically won the internet.  Physically speaking, she’s essentially perfection itself.  For a lot of actresses, that would have been enough, I think.  Look pretty while dancing, yell some, and there’s no shame in that.  But Lawrence put on a masterclass here.  She rose above the mediocre script to shine, constantly, while on screen.  She makes it impossible to look away because she’s so fascinating while on screen.  The best evidence, maybe, is looking at her scenes with Robert De Niro.  De Niro is just absolutely blown away, essentially shrinking off the screen to let Lawrence dominate the scene like a fierce tornado.  She isn’t chewing scenery, either.  At any rate, it was a little silly that De Niro and Weaver also picked up noms.  De Niro was mediocre but I guess not as terrible as he’s been for the past decade, and Weaver’s character was underwritten.

#74.  Smashed

I think maybe Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s performance in this one was too hyped up by the time I got to it.  Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and she is very very good in the film.  My expectations were not managed correctly, I guess.  The film is a no holds barred look at alcoholism, recovery, and the stress of a relationship where one person is a functioning alcoholic and the other doesn’t want to be any more.  Which, no question, is a worthy exploration, if not terribly riveting.  Nick Offerman is pretty great, because of course he is, but there’s a scene in there which probably won’t let me look at him the same way.

73.  Anna Karenina

I believe I saw this one in theaters, alone, because I am awesome.  The film, as you no doubt remember, won an Oscar (Costume Design) and was nominated for three others (Cinematography, Score, and Production Design).  No arguments here.  The staging of the film was, by far, its strongest feature.  With transitions that read like changing sets on a stage in a theater and vividly distinct depictions of the various rooms of the film, the production design was endlessly fascinating.  The script, though, didn’t live up to Joe Wright’s direction.  Keira Knightley is very good, of course, but I can’t help thinking she needs to find the right role to break out of her mold and take things to the next level.  I didn’t entirely get Jude Law or Aaron Taylor-Johnson, I guess they helped make the film a little tiresome.  Matthew MacFayden and Alicia Vikander were the standouts of a surprisingly deep and underutilized cast.

#72.  Dredd 3D

Saw this in theaters with Adam, and I get the feeling he won’t be too thrilled with where I placed it.  The film’s biggest flaw, probably, was me seeing it so soon after seeing The Raid, which probably wasn’t the most avoidable thing in the world.  Both utilize a similar conceit of an undermanned team forced to take a big building of bad guys, floor by floor.  The film is a remake, of course, but I’m told this one hews a lot closer to the original comic books, and, regardless, is original enough that it is the kind of remake that makes sense.  The film had some interesting ideas, I thought.  The Slo-Mo drug, Olivia Thirlby’s psychic powers, forcing Karl Urban to stay in his helmet the whole time, and the building conceit, for example.  But it never really coalesced into something memorable.

#71.  Sleepwalk With Me

There are some funny bits in here, but the film felt kinda lightweight.  To the point where I don’t really remember much of it.  So let’s take my opinion even less seriously than possible, if that were possible.  I thought the stand up parts were funny, but most of the supporting stuff (life on the road, his relationship) wasn’t, really.  I’m sure Lauren Ambrose was good, because she always is.

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

We continue our discussion casting our votes for the Independent Spirit Awards. Find part one here.

BEST DIRECTOR

  • Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
  • Danny Boyle, 127 Hours
  • Lisa Cholodenko, The Kids Are All Right
  • Debra Granik, Winter’s Bone
  • John Cameron Mitchell, Rabbit Hole

WINNER: Debra Granik (8 points – 3 from Adam, 2 from Brian, 2 from Jared, 1 from John)

Other votes: Darren Aronofsky (4 points – 3 from John, 1 from Brian)

John: Looks like we cared a ton on this one, eh?

Brian: Hahaha. Jared, no love for Aranofsky?

Jared: He crossed my mind, but I really didn’t think the film was anything special.

Adam: Good news! I just filed my taxes. I hated Daddy Longlegs so much I actually started doing my taxes

Brian: I’ll just say that I liked that Aronofsky went balls-out and the overall ridiculousness of the film is largely due to him.

John: To me, Black Swan‘s success, such that it is, hinges on how it displays the descent into insanity. This film could have been a ridiculous melodramatic mess, but it’s an effective as a psychological thriller through Aronofsky’s vision. It’s a good ridiculousness, not a messy roll your eyes ridiculousness

Jared: I guess, to me, the camp didn’t come through, and I didn’t think it was a strong psychological thriller

Brian: It’s not a good movie, but what makes it interesting is Aranofsky’s WTF ness. As for Winter’s Bone — we’ve covered this, I thought the directing was strong enough to compensate for a mediocre script

John: I didn’t care too much who won this one. I like Granik too. She does a good job with the cast and settings. A lot of the cast are non-professionals from the area. I also considered throwing some points to Boyle, but couldn’t justify giving three people votes

Brian: Boyle bleh. 127 Hours bleh

John: 127 Hours is just so bold. It’s almost as much the Danny Boyle Makes A Movie About a Stuck Dude story as much as the Aron Ralston story. But in the end the film just isn’t strong enough, especially compared to Winter’s Bone and Black Swan.

Jared: As a fan of closed room films, I found it distracting that Boyle did everything possible to prevent staying in that closed room.

Brian: I actually had the opposite problem. I thought the flashbacks were way too short. I wanted to know about the character stuck in the canyon and the brief cuts to him as a kid or pre-Kate Mara would have been interesting

John: A major problem I had is that I didn’t realize the visions were actual visions Ralston was seeing in the cave. I thought they were just general artsy fartsiness. That’s a directorial problem

BEST MALE LEAD

  • Ronald Bronstein, Daddy Longlegs
  • Aaron Eckhart, Rabbit Hole
  • James Franco, 127 Hours
  • John C. Reilly, Cyrus
  • Ben Stiller, Greenberg

WINNER: John C. Reilly (16 points – Adam)

Other votes: Ronald Bronstein (10 points – 6 from John, 4 from Brian)

Aaron Eckhart (9 points – 8 from Jared, 1 from Brian)

James Franco (2 points – John)

John: Yowza

Adam: Boooyah

Brian: WHAT? That’s ridiculous

John: Well, there goes my first line of discussion of “We can all agree that John C Reilly doesn’t belong here”

Adam: HAHAHAHA

Brian: Adam, please explain yourself.

Adam: Well, you can either believe that I just wanted to screw everyone over (definitely valid). Or that I actually really liked this movie.

John: Actually, I liked John C Reilly, but behind several of the others. He has a tough character to work with and does a fine job. Eckhart is the most unmemorable one here, I think

Adam: Stiller sucks. Franco was fine but not great. Eckhart was decent. Bronstein was horrible. Process of elimination.

John: But still… 16 points??

Adam: I know how to win.

Adam: I didn’t feel all that strongly about any of the categories so I went big in one. I liked Cyrus more than the rest of you.

Brian: I agree on Stiller, who is easily the worst of the bunch. The angry material is really a bad fit for Stiller.

John: I feel like if you pick a good actor doing great work in a tough role, Bronstein is the answer.

Brian: All I could see was “oh this is Ben Stiller being obnoxious.”

Adam: I actually liked Stiller better than Bronstein, which is saying a LOT.

Brian: I couldn’t see anyone else doing that role besides Bronstein. Easily the most memorable and irreplaceable character of the group of 5 with Eckhart a close 2nd.

Jared: Eckhart’s role is the most subtle of the group, by far. He’s in this fragile situation, dealing with a tragic death, a wife that’s falling apart and trying to maintain some sort of normalcy. And this is exactly what Eckhart does so well, inhabit characters to make them feel so real

Brian: not that it would have made a difference, but I now wish I had given Eckhart more. In terms of snubs, where is Ryan Gosling on this list. I liked Blue Valentine a lot more than the rest of you but I thought Gosling’s performance was great.

John: Yep. He’s good. Not sure how he’s not here. Not sure how Blue Valentine isn’t on this nomination list more, to be honest. I wasn’t thrilled with it, but I thought it would be clean up here. Naturally to me the big snub is Robert Duvall for Get Low.

Jared: I can’t explain the relative lack of love for Blue Valentine either.

John: Also, James Franco is just naturally perfect for his role.

Brian: Yeah, that’s why I didn’t want to give him any credit.

John: If he wasn’t an actor, he may well be Aron Ralston.

Brian: Then why did you vote for him? That’s not acting!

John: I mean, it’s still acting. He also has the charisma needed to lead this movie.

Brian: I’d disagree, but that’s probably because we disagree on the merits of 127 Hours itself. John, why didn’t you like Eckhart? Jared and John, why didn’t you like Reilly?

John: I didn’t dislike him. It’s just solid. He wasn’t a standout for me. But nothing from that film is a standout. I thought Reilly was a case of a name actor getting a nominee for being a name actor, especially since Cryus didn’t get anything else, suggesting no great love for the film.

Jared: I’m a big John C. Reilly fan, to be honest, and I’m not really sad that he’s our pick or anything…this is going to sound weird, but I actually much prefer dramatic John C. Reilly to comedic one.

Brian: I found Reilly all right, but playing a version of the sad sack he plays in every movie and Cyrus was barely even a comedy.

Jared: It wanted to be, I think.

John: I didn’t find him convincing, but maybe that was the writing. He’s like a schmuck in Dinner for Schmucks. They made nearly everything possible wrong with him, but not really a realistic loser. It’s not like he does a bad job or anything. I just think there are better choices. And Bronstein nails the majorly flawed character better.

Jared: I hate to go against you, Adam, but I’d probably have to agree with John here.

Brian: That makes three of us.

BEST FEMALE LEAD

  • Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
  • Greta Gerwig, Greenberg
  • Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
  • Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone
  • Natalie Portman, Black Swan
  • Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

WINNER: Natalie Portman (9 points – 5 from Jared, 3 from Brian, 1 from Adam)

Other votes: Jennifer Lawrence (9 points- 6 from John, 3 from Brian)

Annette Bening (3 points – Brian)

Michelle Williams (1 point – Brian)

By receiving votes from more Grouches, Portman wins the tiebreaker.

Jared: Brian, I’m fascinated to learn why you voted for four actresses, and gave three points to three of them

John: Please explain!

Jared: Maybe he just really hates Nicole Kidman.

Brian: Because I liked all four of them

John: But if you liked them all equally, why 3? Couldn’t use those points elsewhere?

Brian: I really liked Benning, but knew I couldn’t win, so I wanted to show her the respect with 3 pts.

Jared: if you had given all those points to her, you would have.

Brian: I guess. But I also liked Portman, and liked Lawrence, and Williams. So I was torn. I guess I could used the points more judiciously, but I didn’t want to not give points to any of them.

Jared: I’m sure they appreciate the sentimentality

John: I like Portman too. Initially I split my points between Lawrence and Portman. But I was worried 1 or 2 points for Portman would overtake Lawrence. And there it is.

Jared: Honestly, yeah, I’m not entirely certain there’s a wrong answer here. Other than Greta Gerwig, of course.

Jared: I thought Bening was better in Mother and Child. And I dunno, I think Lawrence did a fine job, but I just sort of wonder if the love is for her character or her.

John: That’s a possibility, Jared. But she plays that character well! I think Lawrence stands out, but Portman isn’t far behind. But I still liked Bening and Kidman plenty too. Plenty of strong nominees in this category

Jared: Yeah, it was a very strong year for actresses. Staving off, for at least a year, the seemingly annual column about how there’s not any good roles for women in Hollywood.

John: It was almost so strong I considered not bothering with too many points. But it turns out I would have just wasted them on Bornstein for Actor. I also have a snub for you. Are you ready to boo? Hillary Swank in Conviction.

Jared: I would boo if I saw the film, John.

John: A Swank nomination would have been kind of boringly straightforward, but she really is good

Brian: and here comes the requisite snub mention of Please Give

John: Keener? Her best work of 2010 was in Cyrus. Though I haven’t seen Percy Jackson and the Olympians.

Adam: I have. She’s better in Cyrus.

John: Though, again, in Please Give part of my problem may be the writing

BEST PICTURE

  • 127 Hours
  • Black Swan
  • Greenberg
  • The Kids Are All Right
  • Winter’s Bone

WINNER: 127 Hours (6 points – Jared)

Other votes: Black Swan (5 points – 3 from John, 2 from Brian)

Winter’s Bone (3 points – 2 from John, 1 from Brian)

The Kids Are All Right (3 points – 2 from Brian, 1 from Adam)

Brian: No way! That’s awful.

John: Hahaha unexpected!

Jared: i’m stunned.

John: On the one hand, not what I chose. On the other hand, I clearly didn’t care that much. One awful movie, plus the two worst Oscar nominees in this category. And two fine ones.

Jared: Honestly, I originally had it at about 3 points, but had 3 points left over and figured, eh, it was best picture, I should give it a little more weigh. To me, 127 was the best of a pretty boring set of five. I honestly didn’t really connect with any of them, but Boyle’s film was at least generally entertaining

John: Generally Entertaining is your winner, ladies and gentlemen!

Brian: Ha, for me I also didn’t really care.

John: If Get Low had been nominated I would have pulled an Adam

Brian: had either Please Give or Blue Valentine been in there, I probably would have put down enough points for them to win. At least Greenberg got nothing.

Jared: I’m sad Rabbit Hole didn’t make it over Greenberg, I would have been much happier voting for that.

John: Someone should have sacrificed a point just so Greenberg could be shut out and finish a definitive last.

Adam: Agreed.

Brian: What do you all think will win on Saturday?

John: Kids.

Brian: I think Kids or Swan

John: or Winter’s Bone

Brian: but I lean toward Kids

John: Kids just screams Independent Film

Jared: I’ll go with Swan, I guess…it is such a success story

John: couldn’t that hurt at the Spirits?

Brian: I don’t think so. There have been so many of these lighthearted comedies that have been the sole successes commercially. (Juno, Little Miss Sunshine.) I’d think they would relish a darker film

The Oscars are less than a week away and we’re taking a look at all the categories we care to. Today it’s Actress.

  • Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
  • Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
  • Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone
  • Natalie Portman, Black Swan
  • Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

John:

This is the most unflattering image I could find. I hate you, Natalie Portman.

Two ladies compete for my pick here, but truthfully none of them blow me away. Williams and Kidman are both good, though undermined by some weak material. It’s hard for me to tell what doesn’t push me over the top for Williams. I think the film isn’t successful enough to make her performance connect with me. And Kidman has to deal with a bunch of phony scenes so it kind of feels like she’s Acting Very Hard.

Bening is terrific in a role that takes some range: caring wife/mom, icy household leader, betrayed spouse. But Lawrence and Portman lead for me. I’m glad Lawrence got in; it seemed like her star was falling by nomination time. She’s delightful with her tough, stubborn façade that only occasionally cracks to reveal the unsure teenager she actually is. And at this moment I’ll choose Portman, though maybe I’ll go back and forth a few times. What can I say, she’s fierce! And I think the over-the-top scenery chewing is kept at the right level.

Snubs: My dream ballot would include Hilary Swank for Conviction and Sally Hawkins for Made In Dagenham, both discussed here.

Jared:

I’ll echo the sentiments of every other Oscar-watcher out there and say this year was and extremely strong one for leading ladies.  Honestly, the next five actresses on the list would likely stack up favorably to most other years.

Jennifer Lawrence would probably be the first out of my top five, though I’m certainly not upset she’s here.  I guess I think people are confusing their admiration for her character with their admiration for her a little.  A young, attractive woman struggling to take care of her family against all manners of hardships?  Yeah, that’s a trope the Academy eats up.  That said, she did a very fine job, and I look forward to seeing what she takes on in the future.

Annette Bening is being pipped by some as an upset pick to take home the trophy Sunday night.  In my mind that would be a (deserved) career achievement win.  Something the Academy has <sarcasm> never ever been known to do </saracasm>.  She’s clearly very good in this role, but I’d look to her turn in Mother and Child as the performance that should have been nominated.  To be sure, at times it is hard to separate the character as written from the actor’s performance, but I just didn’t get enough there.  Maybe I needed to see an Oscar Scene (TM).

In Rabbit Hole, Nicole Kidman broke her nearly decade long streak of appearing in forgettable movies.  The tough thing about her character, I think, is that she had to tiptoe such a fine line to retain some of the audience’s sympathy, but almost as little as possible, since her character was so frequently lashing out in an effort to bring some sense of normalcy back into her world.  While she obviously benefited from being a big name (since really, how many people actually saw this film?), Kidman’s nomination was certainly a valid choice.

After The Baxter (and OK, sure, The Station Agent), I’m wholeheartedly in the tank for Michelle Williams.  A sentiment not shared by all of my fellow Grouches.  I didn’t love Blue Valentine because I think the script failed to make me care about the couple.  But I almost shudder to think what the film would have been like in lesser hands.  Perhaps the thing I most like about Williams is that her characters never feel like caricatures.  It is really difficult to describe any of the in a word or two, because they feel like such normal people.

And the second most unfortunate. Damn, she's pretty.

Natalie Portman is dead to me.  Maybe I shouldn’t be so harsh.  I guess I could have been a little more aggressive in pursuing her.  It was actually a little surprising how much of the internet blew up when the news was announced.  She could have had her pick of any nerd out there and she goes with a ballerina?  Anyway, if she weren’t dead to me, I’d probably say that in a year of strong performances, I’m not sure it is particularly close among these nominees.  The role required such range and such ability.  And she pulled it off magnificently.  Black Swan really wasn’t all that special, in my opinion, but a good chunk of the reason it is doing so well is squarely on the shoulders of Portman, who has carried the film on the back of her memorable performance.

Adam:

Is completely unoriginal and also picked Natalie Portman.

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 Actress.

VIRTUAL LOCKS

  • Natalie Portman, Black Swan
  • Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
  • Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone

I remember the good ol’ days when I could talk about Portman‘s riveting  and undeniably Oscar-worthyperformance of a ballerina in a yin-yang struggle for perfection.  Too bad she’s dead to me now.  I’ll be honest, I don’t quite see why Bening should be nominated for her portrayal of a lesbian Mama Bear protecting her cubs, but she appears to be in a two horse race for the statue.  Don’t get me wrong, that’s not a slight on the actress (I would probably give a nomination this year for Mother and Child), probably more a reflection that everyone else in the world seems to see something in the film that I don’t.  I’m also maybe a little bit lower on Lawrence than others, but that may be more due to my issues with the script and my belief that people have just zeroed in on the concept of a backwoods girl struggling to keep her family afloat than looking at the actual movie itself.

LIKELY IN

  • Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole

I haven’t seen any prognosticators leave Kidman out of the final five, but her place just feels a little shakier to me than the others.  Maybe it is because I’m not really sure Rabbit Hole has registered with voters. Or me, I guess, because I haven’t felt like being mortally depressed for two hours yet.

LAST ONE IN

  • Julianne Moore, The Kids Are All Right

The last spot in this category is huge crapshoot.  I changed my pick a few times before settling on four-time Oscar nominee Moore, who I think gave a more memorable performance than Bening.  John bemoaned the traditional Oscar wave of films the Academy loves racking up nomination after nomination, but it does seem like it will happen again and seems as good a reason as any to pick someone for this slot.

FIRST ALTERNATES

  • Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine
  • Lesley Manville, Another Year
  • Hilary Swank, Conviction
  • Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit

Yeah, there’s a lot of them, but I don’t think anyone would really be surprised should any of these four women pull down the last nomination.  Michelle Williams stole my heart in The Baxter, so I’m probably rooting for her here.  Mike Leigh has a well-established history of getting his actresses Oscar noms, so Manville has a great shot even if she may be the least recognizable name on the list.  I’m really hoping I don’t have to see Conviction, which probably means that Swank should be the leading contender here.  We’ve discussed Steinfeld‘s category fraud, we’ll just have to wait and see if she ends up the category she should be in, the category she’ll win, or if the confusion made her miss in both.

DARK HORSES

  • Noomi Rapace, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • Tilda Swinton, I Am Love

Rapace has been mentioned on enough lists that maybe she’s a bit more than a dark horse, in a weaker year she might have been able to break through.  A bunch of people are obsessed with I Am Love, the film clearly isn’t my cup of tea, but Swinton turns in her usual solid performance.

SHOULDA BEEN A CONTENDER

Emma Stone, Easy A (duh)
Naomi Watts, Mother and Child
Patricia Clarkson, Cairo Time

I actually saw Winter’s Bone in a theater in Kansas City, MO.  I was on a weeklong baseball road trip with Ian affectionately dubbed “Baseball in the Ozarks” so when we were deciding between seeing it or Inception, the former just seemed a little more appropriate.  Obviously we weren’t watching baseball in forests infested with meth dealers.  But we did see enough of the area to get a better appreciation of the movie’s locale.  Plus, there was this one drive at two in the morning to Steak n’ Shake that took us through a really scary stretch that could have been lifted straight from this movie.

I appreciate the film as the little indie that could.  It has taken in over $6 million at the box office and garnered significant Oscar buzz for star Jennifer Lawrence.  Also some ancillary hype for maybe a screenplay nomination for Debra Granik (who also directed) and Anne Rosellini .  Which I’d say seems overly hopeful, but the obvious Oscar comp here is Adam’s favorite movie of all time (Frozen River), which improbably received a screenplay nom.  The movies are comparable not only as out of nowhere indie successes, they both detail the struggle of a woman trying to take care of her family against heavy odds.  The two have wildly different locations, but both are effectively used to highlight the bleakness of the protagonist’s situation.

Of course, the big difference between the two is that Frozen River is nearly unwatchable, while Winter’s Bone is a decent enough movie.  I’ll be honest, I don’t entirely understand the buzz surrounding the film.  As with Melissa Leo, it seems the hype has started with the performance of the leading actress and cascaded down.  But I think Jennifer Lawrence is benefiting from the perception of her role, rather than the role itself.  She plays a young woman forced to raise her two younger siblings because her mom suffers from a mental disability, and her meth-making dad is missing.  Lawrence’s character wades her way through the murky happenings of her drug-dealing clan in an effort to find her father.  So yes, I appreciate the dearth of strong, young, female leads in dramas, and I certainly mean no disrespect to Ms Lawrence.  But originality does not equal greatness.  If the part was rewritten for a male and performed by a actor of similar accomplishment, I don’t think I’m writing this post.

And like I say, I’m not here to knock Jennifer Lawrence.  I think she does a fine job, and am looking forward to seeing her in the future.  But I don’t think she’s going to be anywhere near my supporting actress list, come year end.  I want to also note John Hawkes and Dale Dickey turning in solid work, which I hope leads to more jobs.  Anyway, Winter’s Bone is an average movie that you probably won’t regret catching on DVD at some point.  But if you want a taste of the Ozarks, I recommend actually going there.  Or, if that isn’t an option, watch Justified.

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