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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.

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Oscar nominees are announced on the 25th.  Yay!  So let’s summarize what we (the royal we, at least) know.  Keeping in mind, of course, that when it comes to the Academy, no one knows anything.  Especially me.  This time: Best 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

I missed out on the free screening of The Social Network that Brian and John saw, I instead caught the film last weekend with Adam and Gavin.  From the very second the film begins, there’s no denying this is an Aaron Sorkin joint.  Full disclosure: I’m passionately in love with Aaron Sorkin’s writing.  Well, except for Malice, we won’t talk about what happened there.  I’m one of the few who will proudly defend Studio 60.

Anyway, I’ll freely admit that generally speaking, Sorkin only writes one character.  He writes that character very very well, of course, and his characters have minor nuances.  But in his world, characters are basically good people who adhere very strongly to their moral code, strongly protective of their team/group/substitute family, and are often boxed into situations where they are forced to question their ethics.  And who are intelligent, talk really fast and walk down lots of hallways.

The brilliant part here is that Mark Zuckerberg is unlike any character Sorkin has written before.  The Facebook (co-?)founder is unabashedly self-centered and would be wholly out of place in any of Sorkin’s dramas.  He’s decidedly not part of any team, and there are very few hallways at all.  Which means Sorkin gets to soften a character who would probably be unlikeable in the hands of a different screenwriter, but also is forced to explore a new venue for his creativity.

The end result is pure magic.  Sorkin and Fincher combine to tell a really interesting and engaging story.  As much as I may hate to admit it, I find myself agreeing with John here.  I’m utterly fascinated by the attempt to ascribe larger questions to the film.  I’ve seen people question the movie’s take on race and gender, not to mention positioning the film as generation-defining.  Because to me, this movie is much smaller than all that.  If you want to say it starts some discussion on ideas and intellectual property in the digital era, fine.  But mostly, it is simply a well-told story and something of a character study of a (kinda) genius.  Never overly dramatic or broadly funny, the film adroitly exploits Sorkin’s gift for dialogue to have drama and be funny, but not distract from the underlying story.

The only complaint I have was with the ending of the film.  Not entirely the fault of the filmmakers, I think, because I’m not really sure there is any good way to end the Facebook story, but it did feel abrupt.  I’m also not sure I would have framed the story with the two interview rooms.  I see why they did that, and it certainly allowed for some great lines, but I’m not entirely certain it was necessary.

I’m really curious to see how the film does come Oscar time.  A Best Picture nod is all but set, it seems like.  David Fincher is a good bet for a Director nomination at this point.  There’s been some hubbub over whether the script should be adapted or original (apparently Sorkin was writing the screenplay at the same time as and largely independently from Mezrich), but I’m fairly confident it will get an Adapted Screenplay.  I’m a big Jesse Eisenberg fan.  The Squid and the Whale was probably my favorite 2005 movie and Zombieland was obviously my favorite 2009 film.  So I’d love to see him get a nod, but I personally don’t see it.  His performance wasn’t flashy and I couldn’t point to any single Oscar scene.  His competition this year is shaping up to be a bunch of Hollywood vets and James Franco commanding a movie to himself, so Eisenberg may find himself just on the outside.  I’m between Brian and John on Andrew Garfield.  I thought he was fine, a good fit for the role, nothing spectacular.  He’s got a good shot for a Supporting Actor nomination, not sure he’d be my pick, but I won’t argue too much against it.  Especially if it will help the Spiderman reboot, which I increasingly think will be the greatest thing ever.

Last week, John and I got to see a preview screening of The Social Network. Our thoughts, below:

JOHN: The Social Network is an immensely entertaining film. I was totally skeptical of the concept of a Facebook film, but the advance raves piqued my interest. Good thing it did because I had a hell of a good time.

I hesitate to give it any sort of higher significance as a lot of other commentators have. It’s not the film that explains our generation or anything like that. It’s an inherently interesting story about a driven kid and a business dispute, deftly constructed and full of entertaining dialogue. Truthfully, the fact that it’s about a game-changing website barely even matters. It does sort of dwell on themes of obsession and honor, but it’s primarily a plot-driven film and is better for it.

Come Oscar time it could certainly find a spot in the Picture, Director, and Screenplay races, and probably deservedly so. I’ve soured on Sorkin over the years as his contrived dialogue does less and less for me. It’s still quintessentially Sorkin, but the characters don’t feel like they came from some sort of smooth-talking alien planet like in Studio 60. Interestingly, it may end up in the Original Screenplay race since it was apparently written separately although concurrently with the Ben Mezrich book. And David Fincher brings an interesting enough visual style to the table, though there’s one totally bizarre rowing scene that stands out whose flair I didn’t get at all.

I liked Trent Reznor’s score, but not as much as I hoped. As for the cast, I love Jesse Eisenberg but he’s got the Michael Cera syndrome of playing the same character in every movie. Here he tightens his lips and alters his body movements, but it’s sort of the same old performance. Justin Timberlake is turning into a very good actor but if he ends up in the Supporting Actor hunt it’s only because he’s Justin Timberlake. The acting revelation here is Spider-Man-in-waiting Andrew Garfield as Mark Zuckerberg’s screwed business partner Eduardo Saverin. If audiences come out of the theater sympathizing with Saverin over Zuckerberg more than the creators intended, it’s probably because Garfield nails it.

Go see The Social Network when it comes out. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

BRIAN: Like Jared, this film was high on my list of movies to see. Probably would have been my answer to our Question of the Week of the Oscar movie we are most looking forward to. Having been a relatively early Facebook user, and been on the perimeter of the perimeter of the entire Facebook creation story (Hi Alice!), I was fascinated to see how it translated to the screen. And then there’s the pedigree behind it. Aaron Sorkin on the script, David Fincher behind the camera and Jesse Eisenberg in front of it.

Verdict? Highly entertaining and enjoyable — funny in parts, depressing in others. Watching Eisenberg work through the Machiavellian scheming was a joy — here is a character whose brain is always working. The gem of his performance is that you never know if he’s thinking about the next release of Facebook or if he actually cares about the people he’s screwing over. The early sequence of the implementation of Facemash, Facebook’s predecessor, really sets the tone and allows Sorkin’s script to shine. The whole first hour was a perfect example of Sorkin at his best: heavy exposition with a light touch that gives you just enough insight into the characters to be drawn in for the next sequence.

My only trepidation going in was that Sorkin was working off of a book by Ben Mezrich, a fiction author who pretends to write non-fiction. Notorious for playing fast and loose with his facts, Mezrich devises a backstory to the Facebook narrative that doesn’t really exist. Yet as I watched The Social Network, I realized that in the end, it doesn’t really matter, because even when movies are based on just-the-facts sources, they inevitably alter the story for cinematic convenience.

For this, and other reasons, The Social Network reminded me a lot of one of my other favorite (and underrated) movies, Shattered Glass. In both, you have a narcissistic prodigal genius who has little ability to interact with others. The difference, of course, is that Stephen Glass got caught. But what I appreciate out of both films is their ability to let you sympathize with and despise its central character — not an easy feat. And each of them finds a way to make what should be boring, exciting. For Shattered Glass, its fact-checking and editing a magazine (and believe me — its not that exciting), and in The Social Network, it’s coding the back-end of a website. Aaron Sorkin makes programming look cool.

Unfortunately, I’m worried that this film is going to bomb, and bomb badly, and the box office. The screening was half-empty and the few friends I’ve talked with have little to no interest in seeing it, which is a shame. It’s a very good movie that deserves to be seen — and I hope that Sorkin gets his much deserved screenwriting nod. Eisenberg, and the film itself, are deserving of recognition too, but it’s too early for me to say if it’s my front-runner.

And just to disagree with John — I thought Garfield hammed it up and was actually distractingly bad in this. I’ll be curious to see what he’s like in Never Let Me Go.


September 2017
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