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And now, part two of Ian and Jared’s fantasy Sundance draft.  If you missed it, check out part one for scoring and the first four picks.

With the fifth pick of the 2014 Fantasy Sundance Draft, Jared takes…

Low Down

Jared: Director Jeff Preiss is a cinematographer and experimental filmmaker, and this film is about a jazz pianist and his daughter, so I’m taking the movie under the principle that anything unappealing to me is probably a good bet for awards love. Preiss has been knocking around for awhile to some acclaim, and this is his first crossover to anything that could be considered mainstreamish. What mostly drew me to the film were the lead actors: Elle Fanning and John Hawkes. I’m not saying we are high on Fanning, but I thought Elle Fanning deserved an Oscar nomination for Super 8, and Ian is the one who likes her more. She’s a fantastic actress who already has British Independent and Satellite nominations on her resume. John Hawkes has an Oscar nomination, of course, and is just generally awesome. He also shares an Sundance Special Jury Prize for ensemble acting. The rest of the cast includes Peter Dinklage, Glenn Close, Taryn Manning, Lena Headey, and Flea, with Anthony Kiedis listed as a produce. Which is fascinating, if nothing else.

Ian: Just to be clear, Internet weirdos, we think Elle Fanning is a terrific actress, nothing more. But yes, she was the best thing in the charming Super 8, and her performance in Somewhere was approaching transcendent. And I don’t need to sell anyone reading this on John Hawkes, or the rest of the cast. My hesitation is that it may seem a little slight and unfinished even for a Sundance movie, but that’s a mild reservation. If it’s good, I think it would perform well, and I’ll probably be strongly into seeing it. I’d have taken it next.

With the sixth pick of the 2014 Fantasy Sundance Draft, Ian takes…

Dear White People

Ian: Instead, I took a movie that’s probably going to end up less on the lyrical side. Dear White People seems like enough of a polemic that I suspect I’m giving up shots at the Grand Jury and Audience awards, since satire may be a genre even less favored than horror. I do think this movie is very likely to land Justin Simien something, however, since he seems like a smart, already recognized writer who, let’s face it, knows how to market himself well. I’m not saying that to be dismissive, or to say that the film is unlikely to stand on its own, but I think having a nose for p.r. and recognition is a skill (as the Weinsteins prove every award season). Aiming for a writer’s/director’s award here, and hopefully, a smart and subversive movie.

Jared: I strongly considered this one. Look, in order to be an ace awards pundit, you have to throw political correctness out the window. It seems safe to argue that the type of people going to an indieish awards festival in Utah created by Robert Redford will fall over themselves to applaud an intellectual look at race in the country. The only question, really, is how subversive, how funny, how frank the film is. One gets the feeling Sundance folk would like to tsk-tsk others for their racism, it is unclear what the awards impact would be if the film asks viewers to think more critically about themselves.

With the seventh pick of the 2014 Fantasy Sundance Draft, Ian takes…

Whiplash

Ian: This one is kind of a mirror image of Hellion, as a young man is brutally shaped by a parental figure in a feature film that was expanded from a short previously recognized at Sundance. The difference here is pedigree. Start with the cast, and Miles Teller in particular. I said this last year with The Spectacular Now, but Miles Teller is definitely one On The Verge, and he and Shailene Woodley took home a special jury award for his efforts in that film (aside: well-deserved, in my opinion). Now, he’s back in the competition as an intense student, being mentored by the always reliable J.K. Simmons. Add in that the film has already won a Jury Award as a short, and then Director Damien Chazelle got the feature-length script on the Black List, and this one has a lot of promise. Just as with J.J. Abrams and Infinitely Polar Bear, the presence of big macher Jason Reitman on the producer list also helps tip the scales. Starting to think I may have underrated it, if anything.

Jared: Hm. Yeah, this one may have fallen. Can’t think of many negatives here. Writer/director Damien Chazelle has a screenplay credit on The Last Exorcism Part II, which isn’t the most encouraging thing in the world, I suppose. And he wrote the upcoming Grand Piano, a thriller starring Elijah Wood as a concert pianist who John Cusack (presumably) threatens to kill if he plays a wrong note during a recital. But yeah, the film seems a good bet to bring home something.

With the eighth pick of the 2014 Fantasy Sundance Draft, Jared takes…

God’s Pocket

Jared: As a huge fan of the TV show Ed, I’m tickled pink to see John Slattery directing a Sundance film. Even though Dennis Martino was obviously a bastard and totally wrong for Carol Vesey and maybe I digress. Slattery is best known, of course, for his role on Mad Men and has directed five episodes of the series, to some acclaim. This film marks his feature film debut as director. The cast is jaw-droppingly good: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Eddie Marsan, John Turturro, Richard Jenkins, and Christina Hendricks, it isn’t unreasonable to hope for a nod for one of them. The film is based on a novel by Peter Dexter, on whose novel The Paperboy was based, and who has screenwriting credits for Mulholland Falls, Michael, and an Emmy nomination for Paris Trout. So that’s a mixed bag. But the Sundance description includes “authentic”, which is always a good sign, plus it specifically mentions the cinematography, so it could be in the running for a point there.

Ian: It’s hard for me to get a read on God’s Pocket. On the one hand, this is bigger than the type of movie usually in the Sundance competition. This is probably the best prestige cast we’ve seen in our storied history of fantasy Sundance drafting. And yes, Lance Acord, the cinematographer, generally works in movies that premiere at Sundance, and not films in competition. On the other hand, how much of this acclaim is a favor to the well-liked John Slattery? This isn’t said to be dismissive at all, he may well be a great screenwriter, and he’s taken on some visually inventive episodes of Mad Men (Signal 30 in particular is likely an underrated episode in the Mad canon). We (well, I) just don’t know yet, and the film description sounds a little on the pedestrian side to be in the Jury Prize running. It’s probably a pick that’s going to score, and maybe one that has broad audience appeal and familiar characters, so I endorse it here.

Coming up next, part three of our draft.

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.

#90.  For a Good Time, Call…

Well, I certainly had higher expectations for this one.  The story was undercooked and the jokes not frequent or funny enough to compensate.  I probably lean on this comparison too much, but it felt like a TV pilot.  For a good show, I mean, Lauren Miller and Ari Graynor running a phone sex line with Justin Long as the flaming best friend and Mark Webber as a boyfriend is something that would get a Season Pass on my brand new Genie.  On its own, though, the film isn’t terribly satisfying.

#89.  Return

I know this wasn’t supposed to be my takeaway, but you know how Michael Shannon is pretty much the creepiest actor ever?  Perhaps the most unsettling role I’ve seen him play is here, where he’s just an ordinary, loving, dad.  Like, I kept waiting for some twist where he went crazy or started killing people or something.  But it just never came.  Anyway, Linda Cardellini nabbed a Spirit Award nom for her role here.  Which is cool, because Linda Cardellini is great.  Not just for Freaks and Geeks, because don’t forget about her arc on Boy Meets World.  Her performance here is a lot more understated than I would have expected for a nominated role about a war veteran returning home and dealing with getting her life back to normal.  Which doesn’t make it any less unnerving, there just weren’t really many Oscar (TM) scenes.  Unfortunately, the story itself isn’t terribly gripping.

#88.  Snow White and the Huntsmen

#87.  Mirror Mirror

I did have these two movies next to each other on my list, but I’m sure that was at least subconsciously on purpose.  i do think it is fascinating to compare them, though.  Snow White and the Huntsman falls squarely in the Hollywood trend of making everything gritty.  Which sure seems like it is played out.  But economics aside, I think it was a poor choice here, because the Snow White story held the film back, restricting the creative choices allowed by needing to remain at least somewhat faithful to the fable.  For example, the odd decision to cast people like Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Eddie Marsan, and Toby Jones as dwarves.  I think the movie would have been significantly better if it weren’t a Snow White story.  Mirror Mirror, on the other hand, fell into the Tarsem trap of a lush-looking film without much of a script to prop it up.  Sometimes it feels like he prefers weak scripts so he has more room to do his thing.  The lead actresses also offer an interesting duality.  Kristen Stewart is an underrated actress, I think.  in particular, she’s quite adept at the action scenes.  Lily Collins, on the other hand, is a lovely princess.  But she does the action scenes like a lovely princess.  The male love interests were pretty well-cast.  Chris Hemsworth basically is the bastion of masculinity that is the huntsman and Armie Hammer has the more goofily refined nature to play a prince.  Charlize Theron and Julia Roberts were both interesting choices for evil stepmothers, I sorta wish the characters could have been even more than what they were.

86.  The Raven

I dunno, Edgar AllIan Poe fighting crime actually sounds interesting to me.  Or, at least, as a big fan of Poe’s writing, I was intrigued by a story which captured his cleverly plotted murders.  This one wanders too much, with an unsatisfying reveal. plus it wastes Brendan Gleeson.  John Cusack as Poe worked for me, I thought he was a good fit for the character and that filmmakers made the character halfway compelling.  As mentioned elsewhere, I love me some Alice Eve and hope she finds her way into some better roles, because I’m fairly certain in an earlier draft of the screenplay, her character’s name was Heaving Bosom.

#85.  Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World

If I’m being honest, Google Docs won’t let me unhide row number 86 (which has my #85 movie).  When trying to get the spreadsheet to work, I noticed elsewhere on it that I had listed this movie, which I’m 95% sure I saw, but forgot to add it to my list.  So let’s make life easy and put it here.  I mean, it probably deserves a little better rating, but it has been over a year since I saw it in theaters, so maybe not.  Like most movies, it needed more Connie Britton.  Actually, there are a bunch of fun cameos: Gillian Jacobs, Jim O’Heir, Amy Schumer, T.J. Miller, William Peterson, and more.  Which is how a good road trip movie should be.  The pairing of Steve Carell and Keira Knightley is actually kind of brilliant, and works a lot better than I thought it would.  The film has some problems establishing a tone, but I respect the ending.  (Though I sense the two are related.)

#84.  Cloud Atlas

A noble failure.  I respect the heck out of the ambition of the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer, but this one just didn’t quite work.  The individual segments were all fine.  None of them were boring, but not really sure I needed to see any more of any of them.  It was neat seeing the actors take on a bunch of wildly different role, but I’ll confess I didn’t really see the point.  Which may have been my problem overall with the film.  It seemed like it was maybe trying to make a point or have a message, with the various storylines and actors in multiple roles and vaguely philosophical underpinnings.  But I didn’t see one.

#83.  Damsels in Distress

My first Whit Stillman film, and I was not impressed.  To me, it felt like Greta Gerwig’s character was out of a Wes Anderson film, and that’s not a compliment.  Most of the other characters were somewhat less twee, but still pretty unbearable to watch.  That said, I do kinda wish there was someone around who would appreciate if it I started calling things a “playboy” or “operator” move.  Partially because she’s great and partially because hers was the only character I could recognize, but the standout to me was Analeigh Tipton.  Curious to hear John’s thoughts on the Sambola! and if it deserves to be an international dance craze.  Also, it was odd to see Aubrey Plaza in a world where her shtick feels like normalcy.

#82.  The Sessions

Talked about this one in various awards wrap ups.  The main acting performances were top notch.  Helen Hunt certainly deserved her Oscar nomination.  And John Hawkes probably was robbed of his.  Hawkes’s performance, I’d argue, is kinda sneaky good.  For an awards baity movie about a guy with a serious medical condition, there are a surprisingly few number of baity-type scenes.  Instead, Hawkes somehow imbues his character with such depth while only moving his head.  It is really impressive.  The story was a little weak, though.  In particular, the relationship between the characters never felt justified.  Hunt and Hawkes only meet for a few times and while I realize spending a lot of time together is not a prerequisite to feeling a deep connection, I think it is on the film to show how and why their relationship is so strong.

#81.  Brave

There were some funny bits.  The triplets. for example, were quite amusing.  And the clans fighting was a great scene.  Actually, you know, the clans fighting probably should have been the movie’s focus.  Because Merida’s story was second-rate.  Just felt uninspired.  And I don’t think that’s me holding Pixar to a higher standard, I think that’s me holding it to the same standard I would any other movie.

I thought Fast & Furious 6 was pretty fantastic.  The hyperbolic bombast led to a sense of ridiculous fun all too often forgotten in summer blockbusters.  I’ve got plenty of thoughts on the film, but as the opening credits rolled, I came to a surprising realization.  (Caution: one minor spoiler below.)

Guess how many people from the film are proud Spirit Award nominees?

This swaggiest of Hollywood sequels contains at least four!

Director Justin Lin was nominated for the John Cassevetes award for Better Luck Tomorrow.  He lost to the team behind The Station Agent, a film I find quite wonderful.

Michelle Rodriguez won Best Debut Performance for her role in Girlfight.  Other nominees included Rory Culkin, Mike White, and the simply amazing Emmy Rossum.

John Ortiz returns to the franchise in this installment.  He was nominated for the truly horrible Jack Goes Boating, losing out to John Hawkes’s performance in Winter’s Bone.

And Thure Lindhardt was up for Best Male Lead in the most recent Spirit Awards for his turn in Keep the Lights On, also losing out to John Hawkes (The Sessions).

Oscar nominations on the 10th!  Yay!  I’m taking a look at the state of the race, because…uh…tradition.  This time: Actor.

VIRTUAL LOCK

  • Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

Ladies and gentlemen, your lockiest lock.  Day-Lewis has noms for In the Name of the Father and Gangs of New York along with wins for My Left Foot and There Will Be Blood.  No one needs me to say anything more about him or his performance.

GOOD BET

  • Denzel Washington, Flight
  • Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables

Sure, Denzel’s character isn’t necessarily as much a stretch for him as some would have you to believe.  That doesn’t make him any less good.  He’s got noms for Cry FreedomMalcolm X, and The Hurricane, and wins for Glory and Training Day.  If Hugh Jackman is shaky here, it is only because Les Miserables wasn’t the unanimous success some expected it to be.  And because Tom Hooper screwed over his non-Anne Hathaway actors.  Jackman has no Oscar nominations to his name.  Fun fact, though.  His Golden Globe nomination this year was his second.  Any guesses as to which film led to his first?  Obviously, it was Kate & Leopold.  Never change, Globes.

LIKELY IN

  • Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
  • John Hawkes, The Sessions

I’m certainly not claiming this category is set in stone, but the above five gentlemen have hit all of the major precursors (Globes, Critics Choice, and most importantly SAG), so you’d have to bet on them.  Bradley Cooper took some Tropic Thunder advice and didn’t go full retard, which should be Oscar catnip, especially if they take to the rest of the film, as it seems like they will.  I realize this is going to make me sound (even more) like an idiot, but it is only while writing this up that I’m realizing the import of Hawkes not being able to move for his performance.  Full body movement is so vital to the other four actors mentioned above, making Hawkes’s performance that much more impressive.  With a prior nomination for Winter’s Bone, if he misses, it is because not enough people saw the film.  Or an insufficient Oscar campaign, I guess.

ON THE BUBBLE

  • Joaquin Phoenix, The Master

Still haven’t seen this one.  The Master‘s buzz has fallen faster than perhaps any other contender this year, and Phoenix missing the SAG was tough.  But Phoenix has two prior nominations (Gladiator and Walk the Line), the film has been out long enough for people to have seen it, and there are a sizable number of fervent Paul Thomas Anderson fans.

DARK HORSES

  • Richard Gere, Arbitrage
  • Jean-Louis Trintignant, Amour
  • Anthony Hopkins, Hitchcock
  • Jamie Foxx, Django Unchained

Gere was pretty decent, and it is the type of role you would think could get him a nomination, I’m just not sure he has enough showy scenes.  Though word on the street is that there is growing support for him.  Pretty impossible to get any sort of read on Amour, and Riva has been generating more buzz than Trinignant.  But my understanding is that if you are for one, you are probably for both of them.  Sure seemed like all the stars were aligned for an Anthony Hopkins nominations.  But the movie is entirely inessential and he is content to let Hitchcock’s girth do all the acting.  I’m kind of surprised there hasn’t been more buzz for Jamie Foxx.  He’s quite good in the movie and has a nomination for Collateral and a win for Ray.

SHOULD HAVE BEEN CONSIDERED

  • Channing Tatum, everything
  • Logan Lerman, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • Liam Neeson, The Grey

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

  • Christian Bale, The Fighter
  • John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone
  • Jeremy Renner, The Town
  • Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right
  • Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech

John:

He probably could have knocked down Sugar Ray.

This is a good group, but Christian Bale is an easy winner for me. He shines when he’s onscreen. It’s the line delivery, the manner of speaking, the body language, the way he walks: it’s so fully-formed. Not that it should be surprising; Bale is terrific in pretty much everything. And I think the dude seeks out movies that allow his body weight to swing wildly.

Hawkes is my second choice, and perhaps the nomination announcement that made me happiest. He may be the most memorable part of Winter’s Bone. It helps that his character is so important and interesting, but Hawkes is still great alternating between menacing and protective. Ruffalo is also a good choice. It’s not easy being both a douchebag but likeable.

And Rush and Renner are unmemorable picks in my mind. Why was Rush the front runner for so long?

Snubs: Two of my favorite supporting performances of the year, after Bale, had shots here but came up short: Andrew Garfield in The Social Network and Bill Murray in Get Low. At least I was able to vote for Murray in the Independent Spirits.

Jared:

I’d probably argue that, pound for pound, this category is the strongest of this year’s crop.  I don’t have anything bad to say about any of the nominees.  And honestly, the five nominees hew pretty darn close to my ideal ballot.

If one of the five has to be weakest, then I guess it would be Jeremy Renner.  Hampered by a relatively weak script, he plays a very familiar character, the screw-up best friend, but does so very well.  Obviously there are significant differences, but I was reminded a lot of Ed Norton’s Worm from Rounders.  I think Renner would have had a stronger case had his character been given a little more room to shine.

Geoffrey Rush has shown incredible range in his career, further extended by his role his as a speech therapist to a king.  Even held to a stricter standard, because (in my opinion) he really is a lead actor in the film, it is hard to find anything to criticize about his performance.

I was pleased as punch when John Hawkes’s name was read on nomination morning.  Regardless of what I think about Winter’s Bone, it is really neat to see a role like this one recognized.  Teardrop is an extremely interesting character, but he isn’t a hero, villain, or foil.  Kudos to the Academy for recognizing a very fine performance in a different sort of role

Christian Bale is a guy you want in your movie.  He always give a consistently superb performance, regardless of the genre of the film in which he’s appearing.  But he also seems to allow his co-stars to shine.  It is a rare talent indeed who can range from perhaps the ultimate straight man (Batman) to a showy, scenery-chomping character like this one.  Especially with this script, Dicky could have been obnoxiously, unbearably over the top.  But Bale reels the character in to something much more appealing.

So talented, he's also nominated for Animated Short.

Only since all these guys can’t be winners, I’m going with Mark Ruffalo as my favorite.  Though in all likelihood this order would have been different had I written this entry on a different day.  I’m repeating myself, but no actor makes playing a character look as effortless as Mark Ruffalo.  If you look over his career, maybe he tends to play a certain general type of character, but it is clearly wrong to suggest he’s just playing himself.  I usually hate to fall back on the cliche, but Paul just felt real.  As in, not a character, but an interesting person.  We’ll shortly get to what I think of the script, but suffice it to say that I’m laying just about all of that on Ruffalo.

Adam:

Says that this category is probably this year’s strongest and can’t decide between Bale and Rush.  I assume he also would have insulted at least one of us.

The Grouches are Independent Spirit Awards voters this year. That is, combined we are ONE voter under Jared’s name. It costs like $90, you think each of us are going to pony that up?

Besides, merging our four formidable minds into one blob of consensus allows us to devise a complex voting system that makes us to compete for our individual opinions to be heard.

Essentially we each earned points by seeing all films nominated in a category. We can allocate those points to any category so we can – and do! – waste whole bunches of points to ensure our favorites win. For a few categories only one of us saw all the nominees and that person got to choose the winner.

We gathered online the other night to reveal our votes.

BEST FIRST FEATURE

The nominees:

  • Everything Strange and New, about a man who feels trapped in his life by his wife and kids
  • Get Low, following a hermit who decides to throw his own funeral party while he is still alive
  • The Last Exorcism, a “documentary” following a reverend who wants to show the sham of exorcisms
  • Night Catches Us, a drama set in the aftermath of a betrayal in the Philadelphia Black Panther community
  • Tiny Furniture, a semi-autobiographical film about a woman who returns home from college unsure what to do with her life.

WINNER: Get Low

John: My sole vote goes to Get Low, which shouldn’t be a big surprise. I’ll be interested to see what you all think about it should you see it. I don’t know if this is another one of those movies I love and everyone hates or not. It’s amusing and heartfelt. Robert Duvall and Bill Murray are great.

Brian: I look forward to seeing that movie and once again wondering if we saw the same film, like Green Zone.

Jared: I saw all the other films in that category, and I don’t think it is going to take too much for me to agree with you on this choice

John:  If these directors are the future of movies, are you looking forward to the future?

Brian: Having been rather meh on Tiny Furniture, I’m still looking forward to Lena Dunham’s future. I think she has talent — I’d like to see what she can do when it’s not starring her family.

Jared: Adam and I saw Dunham’s actual first feature.  I think she needs to break free from biographical stuff before she really can find her voice. I think working with Apatow could do wonders for her

John: I agree, Tiny Furniture was okay but I’ll probably check out her future work. The Last Exorcism is a pretty straight horror flick but it very effectively got under my skin. If they do some non-horror stuff I’d be interested. Night Catches Us was a very nice period piece. And Everything Strange and New… what would you say about that, Jared?

Jared: I watched that film last night and while I didn’t like it, I think I’m going to rate it higher than you did. That said, I can’t really imagine watching another film from the director. At some point, you just can’t substitute voiceover for actual plot.

John: It’s boring and exasperating. And highlights a common theme of the Independent Spirits this year: Moping.

Brian: This year? Isn’t that sort of the point of independent films?

John: It does take some bizarre turns at the end which are interesting, but also sort of awful and ridiculous. It also has plenty of sad clowns. For real!

Jared: Of the group, I’d probably say the people behind Night Catches Us have the most potential…with some refining and a little less reliance on those archival clips, I think they could really make some interesting films

John: And I feel like The Last Exorcism doesn’t get a great rep in the horror genre. I think I liked it just because it got to me, but I hardly ever watch horror.

Jared: It seemed like standard fare to me

BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE

The nominees:

  • Ashley Bell, The Last Exorcist
  • Dale Dickey, Winter’s Bone
  • Allison Janney, Life During Wartime
  • Daphne Rubin-Vega, Jack Goes Boating
  • Naomi Watts, Mother and Child

WINNER: Dale Dickey (13 points – 8 from Jared, 5 from John)

Jared: Well, sadly, we wasted a lot of points here

John: I considered that you might not give points to anyone else, but I wanted to make sure she had enough in case you for some reason chose Naomi Watts

Jared: Not going to lie, my strategy wasn’t all that different. I was surprised to see Watts here, considering her character is virtually emotionless.

John: I also considered tossing a few to Ashley Bell just in case. Watts could also be considered lead.

Jared: Yeah, Ashley Bell was my runner-up, but again, I don’t think she added anything new to the horror genre. I wouldn’t consider Watts lead, personally.

John: Bell is appropriately creepy as a possessed girl. But this category was more or less a Dickey win by default. She’s good; I might have seen her as an Oscar nominee. But the rest really didn’t do much for me. Dale Dickey is quite memorable. I don’t want to tarnish her work here. But there wasn’t much competition.

Jared: A good summation, I think. I found her just as memorable as John Hawkes and found it unfortunate she couldn’t get much awards traction.

John: To be fair to Allison Janney, what do you do with that material? So, who else could be here? Cyrus is up the Independent Spirit wheelhouse, but no nomination for Marisa Tomei?? That movie flat out fails without her.

Brian: that was rather surprising

Jared: Where was Mila Kunis? I also liked Julianna Margulies in City Island and Rebecca Hall in Please Give

Brian: yes! Mila Kunis of course

Adam: Mila Kunis is ALWAYS a good decision

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

  • Black Swan
  • Greenberg
  • Never Let Me Go
  • Tiny Furniture
  • Winter’s Bone

WINNER: Black Swan (4 points – John)
Other votes: Winter’s Bone (3 points – 2 from Jared, 1 from Brian)
Never Let Me Go (2 points – Brian)

Brian: Booooo. Really, John? Explain yourself.

Adam: Agreed. As usual, John makes a HORRIBLE decision. I am starting to think John doesn’t actually watch the same movies as everyone else.

John: Black Swan gets so much energy from the camerawork!

Brian: The dance was horribly shot because Natalie Portman had to use a body double

Adam: Moving the camera around a lot does not equate to “energy”

John: It puts the viewer into the descent into madness! I also considered Winter’s Bone.  What was special about Never Let Me Go?

Brian: Since no one else voted for it, I’ll give some dap to Never Let Me Go. As we discussed last fall, it had a lot of flaws, but the bleak cinematography really gave us a sense of place and added the dystopian feel of the English countryside. Cinematography was easily the best part of that film and the most memorable.

John: Is that cinematography or a combination of set decoration and pretty scenery?

Brian: I believe reading at the time that they used specific filters

Adam: Is the camera work in Black Swan due to cinematography or editing?

Brian: Or directing?

John: All of the above.

BEST SUPPORTING MALE

  • Bill Murray, Get Low
  • John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone
  • Samuel L. Jackson, Mother and Child
  • John Ortiz, Jack Goes Boating
  • Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right

The votes are all mine!

WINNER: Bill Murray

John: My sole vote goes to Bill Murray

Brian: Shocker. How close were Hawkes and Ruffalo?

John: I really like Murray here. He plays something of a sleazeball funeral home owner and is appropriately funny and smarmy, but also hits the serious notes just right. If this was a competitive category, I might have tossed some points to Hawkes to cover my bases. I really liked him. And I dug Ruffalo as well. So a good top three in that category.

Jared: I also saw four of these films. I think we can agree that Samuel L. Jackson has no business being here, and Jack Goes Boating was so unwatchable, it is hard to tell if John Ortiz was any good. I slightly favor Ruffalo over Hawkes this year, but you can’t go wrong with either, so Murray must have been really great.

John: The movie just connected with me, and the movie is all on Duvall and Murray

Brian: Hawkes really took over the second half of Winter’s Bone — and took care of much of the boredom of the first half.

John: Any snubs stand out here? Since Jackson is such a nothing nom?

Brian: Oliver Platt for Please Give? I could buy it

Jared: Vincent Cassel (Black Swan)

John: True. Strange that Please Give got a casting award but no other acting nominations. Also, Vincent Cassel is a good choice.

Jared: I got the John seal of approval! I also liked Michael Shannon in The Runaways for supporting male.

BEST SCREENPLAY

  • The Kids Are All Right
  • Life During Wartime
  • Please Give
  • Rabbit Hole
  • Winter’s Bone

WINNER:  Please Give (10 points – 5 from Jared, 5 from Brian)
Other votes: Winter’s Bone (4 points – John)

Brian: wooot

John: I kept knocking down points on this one, figuring that my votes would go for naught here

Brian: I knew Jared and my combined points would get us over. I just didnt know how low to go.

Jared: Game theory!

John: I found Please Give pretty bland

Jared: That might be because you don’t have a sense of humor.

Adam: Or taste in movies

John: Good performances. The casting award was probably a good choice.

Brian: For me, it was an exceptional character study. I like ships passing in the night films, and Please Give was no exception to that rule. And for some reason or other, I’m a sucker for old people dying films.

Jared: I found the script to be witty and populated with interesting characters, plus a plot that kept my attention.

Adam: hmm…Jared thought the script was good. The one thing in a movie he actually pays attention to. I feel it is probably a better than even chance I’d at least appreciate the movie

John: Parts of it I liked and some of the characters/relationships. But then it ended and I was like, “shrug.” It may be that we spend so much time with Catherine Keener when she wasn’t interesting and everyone else was.

Brian: Take that back!

Jared: You need a good straight man to highlight the quirks of other people. I don’t think it is supposed to reveal any hidden mysteries of mankind.

Brian: John, what did you like about Winter’s Bone screenplay because I found that to be one of its weaker points.

John: I liked the plot, setting, and characters in Winter’s Bone. They’re all understated, but all compelling. But this also got my votes since nothing else in the category did much for me. Winter’s Bone is a pretty plot-driven movie. It has a lot more of a story than Please Give. I considered Rabbit Hole too, but that script is uneven. I loved certain parts to it and disliked others.

Jared: Rabbit Hole has a surprisingly strong script. It wasn’t great, to be sure, but it was definitely compelling in a way that many other adaptations of plays are not.

John: Like, the whole relationship between Nicole Kidman and the boy felt weird and forced to me. But some of their conversations are terrific.

Brian: I think that was sort of the point

John: For a movie that seemed to try to be quite realist, that relationship felt too cinematic. Like a thing that would only happen that way in movies. Though I felt similarly about a lot of the over-arching plot threads. Not so great at a macro level, but many great individual scenes

Brian: I liked how we were introduced to the boy in that we didn’t really know who he was or why Kidman was stalking him until about 10-15 mins after we met him. The pay-off worked. And the scene with Dianne Wiest and Nicole Kidman was the best of them all. I probably would have voted for it had it not been for Please Give

John: I really liked the scene that gives Rabbit Hole its name

Jared: Same here.

John: Also the scene in the boy’s bedroom. I could list many. But put them all together and it’s like, “another scene where Nicole Kidman says something socially awkward??”

Jared: We can’t move on before discussing Life During Wartime!

Brian: Hahahahaha. Oh man, I really really wish Adam had seen this

John: Absolutely atrocious movie. And the writing is the worst part!

Jared: I will give it credit for its consistency…granted, it is consistently unbearable, but still

Adam: I feel like I have seen enough horrible movies because of you all

Brian: I’ve blocked out most of LDW, but anyone want to reminisce their favorite worst parts?

John: I think Life During Wartime was not as awful as Greenberg because at least LDW had a WTF element that makes you wonder what the hell could possibly happen next. Also: MOPE! MOPEY MOPE MOPE

Jared: haha

John: (plus molestation and suicide)

Jared: and sexual harassment

Brian: and Pee-Wee Herman coming back from the dead!

John: I’m not sure there’s any part I didn’t dislike

Coming up later: the lead actor, director, and best picture categories!

Nominations are up and we have a lot to chew on for the next few weeks.

The John vs Jared prediction contest came right down to the wire with me eking it out, 83-82. For perfect categories, Jared nailed Animated Feature while I got Picture, Original Screenplay, Sound Editing, and Makeup. But both of us did quite well in other categories, usually only missing one. A common pattern was us picking the same slate except for one in a given category with both of our dissenting picks correct and one common pick incorrect.

We got two of three of our biggest wishes, just one of our outlandish picks hit, and no luck on our technical category hopes, but one of our anticipated disappointing locks failed to materialize.

Beyond that, how are the Grouches feeling today?

Jared:

I suppose after all that buildup, feeling a little let down by the nominations is inevitable.  On first glance, I see a few themes to this year’s crop.  There weren’t really any major surprises.  Yeah, Waiting for Superman felt like a frontrunnner, but the documentary branch is a notoriously hard one to pin down.  I’m not sure anyone guessed Nolan would miss a director’s nod, but he’s clearly yet to be completely accepted by the Academy.  Perhaps the biggest questions is whether The Social Network is still the favorite to win Best Picture, since The King’s Speech tallied more nominations.  I’m a little hesitant to go there yet, because the only category in which the Facebook movie really missed was supporting actor, but Garfield was never a shoo-in and we already knew that The King’s Speech had the more widely respected actors.  Otherwise, I’m happy, of course, that Hawkes and Ruffalo both received nominations.  And looking forward to slicing and dicing these things up with you guys over the next month.

Brian:

I too am looking forward to debating these categories with you all as well. I’m pretty disappointed about Inception missing director and editing, yet somehow still getting a screenplay nomination. If any of those three deserved to be left out, it was Nolan’s writing that often verged on psychobabble. I probably would have gone to the mat pushing a Nolan win for directing, but now I won’t have the chance.

The Social Network vs. King’s Speech fight will be a lot of fun to analyze and look at, as prognosticators will call the race closer than it likely is in order to spruce up interest in the evening. Consider me pleased that The Town got overlooked it most every category but supporting actor, and I’m even willing to let that slide with John Hawkes popping up as one of the few surprises of the morning.

Looks like we have a few more movies to add to our list, fellas.

John:

I’m a bit bummed about a shut out for Get Low but there aren’t many egregious choices and I’m pleasantly happy with a way a few of the races broke. I’m surprised at how few films got nominations in major categories: just 16. The last three years saw 19, 18, and 21, respectively. Maybe the ten Best Picture nominees aren’t inviting anyone new to the party.

And, despite Brian’s claim above, there’s not much left to see!

Oscar nominations arrive Tuesday, January 25. To prepare, we’re giving you our sharpest insight and predictions. Our last topic: what are you most hoping will happen tomorrow? If you’re reading this Tuesday, give your favorite Grouch a high five or a supportive pat on the back, depending on what happens.

Brian: Reznor needs to score

Only in the fantastical world of the Oscars would it be possible for a nominee to be just on the edge of being recognized yet should it get nominated, be a favorite for win. That’s the general consensus around Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score for The Social Network. Having already won the Golden Globe for Best Score, you’d think this is a shoo-in. But you’d be wrong. It’s rather astonishing and remarkable that such a simple series of 6 notes could be so evocative. Listening to it while writing this post, I could visualize so much of the film in my head. Like Sorkin and Fincher’s portrayal of Zuckerberg, the score is isolating and contemplative, not to mention brilliant.

Honorable mention: Please Give for Best Original Screenplay. My hobby horse for the year — great storytelling with subtle character development. More to come from me on this one.

John: A Duvall-less Oscars would make me Low

I didn’t have a pet cause this season until right at the last minute. That cause is Get Low, a delightful and touching drama with a nice comedic streak. Robert Duvall gives a wonderful, subtle performance. He’s on the bubble for a Best Actor nomination and I’m rooting hard for him. (I also hold out very small hope for Bill Murray.)

On some smaller notes, I’m rooting for Eddie Vedder to finally land a Best Song nod, this time for “Better Days” from Eat, Pray, Love. It’s actually not a very good song, but… Eddie Vedder! Cmon!

Finally, I just want an out of left field surprise (provided it doesn’t push out a favorite of mine) and/or some better-than-expected love for some smaller films like Another Year.

Jared: Snub Hawkes and I’ll have a Bone to pick with the Academy

I think the other Grouches will agree that this year it is difficult to find too much to root for, nomination-wise.  Films and performances I loved are either safely in the club or so far off the radar that there’s really no chance at all to pick up a nomination.

Still, what fun is this if you can’t root for something?  When I first heard a few months ago someone suggesting that John Hawkes could nab an Oscar nomination, I laughed it off, thinking the person was probably just a huge Winter’s Bone fan forgetting the crush of performances that would enter the fray come Oscar season.  And Hawkes almost didn’t factor into awards season.  Except for getting a SAG nomination.  Which has to establish him as a viable contender, given the frequent overlap between the SAGs and the Oscars.  Hawkes’s role may not be as showy as Bale’s, on the nose as Renner’s, or have the screen time of Rush’s, but his performance is incredibly memorable nonetheless.  Yeah, it would be nice to give someone his first nomination and share some indie love.  But more than that, it’d be nice to recognize a performance that I believe really is one of the best of the year, name recognition be damned.

(As a side note, I’m not hoping for Hawkes as the expense of Ruffalo.  And the thing that would conceivably make me the happiest is a screenplay nom for How to Train Your Dragon, but that seems a little more remote.)

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 Supporting Actor.

VIRTUAL LOCKS

  • Christian Bale, The Fighter
  • Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech

These two have been nominated in pretty much all Oscar precursors and split winning them.  Both have gobs of screen time; it is fairly easy to imagine their respective movies undergoing relatively minor rewrites to portray each as the main character.  Bale plays a loose cannon crack addict who can’t let go of the past, constantly reliving past fights, which is getting in the way of training his brother.  His performance is all kinds of showy, especially contrasted with Mark Wahlberg’s patented stoicism.  Rush, as a speech therapist tasked with helping a future king, is tasked with a more subtle role, playing mentor, friend, inferior to Colin Firth’s regal stutterer.

LIKELY IN

  • Andrew Garfield, The Social Network
  • Jeremy Renner, The Town
  • Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right

The Academy has tendency to shower films it likes with lots and lots of nominations, so if it has caught the lovefest bug for The Social Network, we could hear Andrew Garfield’s name called.  He co-starred this year in the mostly-ignored Never Let Me Go and will be donning Peter Parker’s spiderduds in the upcoming Spiderman reboot.  Garfield’s character in the Facebook movie served an interesting and perhaps necessary counterpoint to the increasingly powerdrunk Zuckerberg.  The Town raked in a ton of dough and is generally well-liked, for reasons I can’t quite understand.  It boasts a strong ensemble, but awards buzz has focused on Jeremy Renner, nominated last year for The Hurt Locker.  Renner’s character doesn’t necessarily add anything new to the sidekick who is always looking for an edge even (or especially) when bending the rules.  Think Worm from Rounders, only from Boston.  But Renner is clearly quite talented.  In The Kids Are All Right, Mark Ruffalo plays a laid-back restaurateur who finds out that a sperm donation from nearly two decades ago has yielded two kids.  The idea isn’t novel to me, but I believe Ruffalo’s talent appears so natural that his work isn’t appreciated nearly as much as it should be.

FIRST ALTERNATE

  • Matt Damon, True Grit

I haven’t seen the film yet, so I won’t comment on Damon’s role or performance.  Buzz has been waning some, but count out at a respected, well-liked guy in a critical and commercial success at your own peril.

DARK HORSES

  • John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone
  • Michael Douglas, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
  • Sam Rockwell, Conviction
  • Justin Timberlake, The Social Network
  • Armie Hammer, The Social Network

In a just world, Hawkes would see a nomination here, he truly turned in great stuff.  I just saw Wall Street 2 on the plane to Vegas, and while the movie was nothing special, Douglas does have an Oscar scene or two, and is a beloved industry veteran who was just in the news for kicking cancer.  I don’t think anyone saw Conviction, including yours truly, but Sam Rockwell is supposed to be very good.  Since the inevitable backlash for The Social Network hasn’t hit yet, you can’t count out Timberlake or Hammer, especially since they both have memorable scenes and lines.

SHOULDA BEEN A CONTENDER

  • Michael Shannon, The Runaways
  • Tom Hardy, Inception
  • Vincent Cassel, Black Swan
May 2017
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