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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 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

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Well this morning the Official Mistress of the Golden Grouches (c), Anne Hathaway, announced the nominations — and there were few surprises among the acting nods, a couple shockers in the Best Picture, but overall things went according to plan. Nonetheless, we still pulled together our thoughts for a short post.

Brian: My biggest disappointment is that with Penelope Cruz’ nomination, I now have to see Nine, something that I had been avoiding doing. No real desire to see it at all, but it can’t be nearly as bad as Lovely Bones, which fortunately, did indeed garner Stanley Tucci a nomination. It would have been tragic had we had to sit through that dreck for no reason whatsoever.

With the best pictures, I was quite happy to see District 9 get the nod there and in screenplay — I held out hope for director until getting slapped in the face by Lee Daniels name being read. As Jared says below, Blind Side is the only real WTF here, and even that it’s rather pointless since it has no shot at winning. This batch of nominations also has me quite excited to see A Serious Man when it comes out on DVD next week.

Other thoughts: disappointed that Damon got nominated for the wrong role and left Molina in the dust. Happy to see Moore get snubbed for A Single Man as her role was more or less the same as Susan Sarandon’s in Lovely Bones and was less funny. I had forgotten all about In the Loop until John started his well-deserved campaign for it, and I’m happy that John got something to gloat about. By far my biggest disappointment though was Marvin Hamlisch getting crapola for The Informant. His score was such an integral character in the great movie that it deserved to win the award, not just the nod.

Looking forward to stewing over these races in the “should win” discussions — especially the screenplays. Lots to ponder. And I think the 10 films for best picture was a wild success — good job…academy?

Adam: Editor’s Note: Adam did not submit anything so I wrote it for him. Inglorious Basterds: Yay. If only It’s Complicated were nominated, then I could make fun of Brian more. I’ll find other ways.

Jared, via iPhone in the DFW airport: Most surprising to me is the relative lack of true surprises. There were some, of course, but I’d guess most Oscar prognosticators did pretty well, especially if they stayed conservative.

People will hate on The Blind Side, and sure, it probably isn’t a top ten film. However, in my opinion it is miles better than Crazy Heart, Invictus, and The Messenger, all of which now appear to have been viable contenders. Like, it just isn’t close at all. So while I would have preferred Star Trek, The Hangover, or In The Loop, I can settle for the middle ground.

I’ve heard people claim this is the wrong year for ten nominees. But you know what? This a very strong lineup, and for me, stacks up against much of this decade’s best picture groups. And really, assuming the expansion got District 9 and Up into the group, I’m fully prepared to call it a success.

I’m a little surprised we didn’t see something crazy in Supporting Actress. Sorta seems like the Academy threw its collective hands in the air and gave up. There was definitely room for another film to have made a play here. No Basterds is a surprise, I guess, but there seemed a very unWeinstein-like unfocused campaign.

Finally, the screenplay categories were a general success. My efforts to not jinx them went mostly rewarded. In the Loop getting a nomination is such a good thing. But, of course, the one nomination I really really wanted to see, (500) Days of Summer, missed. Probably at the hands of The Messenger, which I interpret as a direct, intentional, personal slap in my face.

John: Before going to bed last night I nearly made a quick post amending my earlier “biggest hopes” declarations. But I decided not to and both of those hopes came true!

I had been surprised at the amount of In the Loop predictions prognosticators were making yesterday, which gave me hope for an Adapted Screenplay nomination, whereas before I thought of it as only a longshot. But then it happened! It was my big fist pump moment of the morning. It really has made my day.

My other hope was that Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs would get left off the Animated Feature slate in favor of some of the more interesting films that came out this year. When Coraline was announced first (nominees are announced alphabetically) it was obvious this wish had come true and it was fun to see what would take its spot. The Secret of Kells is an interesting choice, although not the one I would make.

A few other quick thoughts:

  • A boring slate of acting nominees. Very by the numbers. Penelope Cruz was a surprise, but only because her long-presumed nomination seemed derailed by Nine‘s failure.
  • No Avatar in Original Screenplay. Not a problem for most of the Grouches, but interesting that such a juggernaut would miss. 500 Days of Summer also missed and that had seemed like the indie that would break out in a writing category. I suspect not being in the picture for Best Picture hurt it.
  • Hooray for Invictus not making Best Picture even though it appears to be supplanted by the awful The Blind Side.
  • No Makeup nod for District 9 despite the film’s heavy use of prosthetics. Instead the aging makeup for Il Divo and the hairstyles of The Young Victoria get in, along side Star Trek.
  • No Score nod for The Informant! excludes that gem of a film completely.
  • I’m generally happy with the Best Song slate. Thankfully “See You” from Avatar was left off.

I expected from A Single Man an emotional, slow-paced, character-driven drama. This is a type of film that I often like, or at least seem to like more often and more deeply than my esteemed colleagues. A Single Man is an emotional, slow-paced, character-driven drama. I did not like it. And here is my deeply intellectual analysis of the film:

Boooooooooring.

I’ve been trying to figure out why it didn’t connect with me. A lack of plot doesn’t really bother me and in fact the actual quantity of story here doesn’t cause me concern. Colin Firth’s George is a man in grief over the loss of his lover. But in the early 1960s there wasn’t much community support for gay men (the off-handed and cruel way he hears the news is heart-breaking). He goes into the world a man living a lie, hiding his grief and his sexuality. The day the film covers he has interactions with a female friend and brief former lover (Charlotte, played by Julianne Moore), a student, and a man who propositions him at a liquor store.

But none of these interactions particularly interested me. The parts where George is alone interested me a great deal more, but are a minority of the scenes. So whatever emotional weight George’s night with Charlotte is supposed to provide generally went right past me. His actions while alone are part of a plot point that would be too spoilery to reveal here, but suffice it to say it’s the one story I found very fascinating. I also didn’t like the ending. A few spoilery details after the jump at the end of the post.

Director Tom Ford gives the film an intensely artistic style with artsy (fartsy) shots and lots of playing with the film’s colors. This makes the film quite beautiful but I didn’t feel like the style helped the film narratively or thematically; in fact I think it threw the pace off-kilter.

What’s weird about this film is that it seems to be one some people really love but, unlike most films that evoke strong emotions, it is not polarizing. We all were totally underwhelmed but I’m beginning to think we were the only four people on earth who were. I don’t read a ton of movie sites, but you can count on every movie attracting some sort of comment about how stupid or lame or boring it was. But I haven’t seen anything like that for A Single Man.

People also really love Colin Firth and he’ll get an Oscar nomination. He does a fine job, but his performance left me about as uninterested as the film. I don’t mean to disparage his work, but I don’t think this performance, no matter how great, can really get under your skin if the film doesn’t. Julianne Moore may also sneak in for Supporting Actress and that would be too bad. She does a good job being boozy and a bit crazy. Great. Whatever.

Finally, a few spoilery points to make after the jump. You shouldn’t read ahead if you plan on seeing A Single Man, but you shouldn’t see it anyway so feel free to continue. Read the rest of this entry »

Blindess will not be winning any awards this season. I write about it as the award season’s first major flop. It has a serious topic and a heck of a pedigree, but it miscues in almost every possible way: character, plot, theme, style, message, but with the infuriating extra insult of having a kernel of promise.

A quick plot synopsis, because its anemic box office returns suggests you didn’t see it (and if I do my job you never will). Mark Ruffalo and Julianne Moore are an unnamed married couple in an unnamed city beset by an unnamed virus that renders its victims blind. God it sounds pretentious already, right? He is one of the first victims and is quarantined; she fakes blindness to stay with him and becomes the one sighted person incarcerated. The situation quickly deteriorates, with the blind using hallways for bathrooms, fornicating everywhere, and fighting over food. Another ward in the building seizes the food rations and demands money and sex in exchange. The ward with our heroes debates whether to meet those demands and/or fight back.

In other words, it’s pretty bleak.

There’s not much in the way of understatement in Blindness. Director Fernando Meirelles pounds the viewer over the head with his allegory for the evil of man and deterioration of society. Don’t you get it, we don’t see each other any more!!1! Then he goes and mucks it up with an incredibly unappealing and overbearing style where the colors are all washed out and overexposed, which just serves to obfuscate.

It’s a shame because the movie looks like such a winner on paper, with Moore, Ruffalo, and Gael Garcia Bernal as the evil ward leader. The novel the movie is based on was written by a Nobel Prize winner. Meirelles made one of the best films of the decade in City of God. He created the terrific “City of Men” franchise, with its successful multi-season Brazilian television series and feature film. His The Constant Gardener was mixed; it missed the mark thematically but was shot so gorgeously that it draws me in every time I pass it on cable. Director of Photography Cesar Charlone made City and Gardener so beautiful and stylish but Blindness so ugly, confusing, and pretentious. And it really could have been an interesting concept without being so relentlessly bleak and preachy. Really the only element I found consistently positive was the sets, which were always at least interesting.

Blindness is also one of those movies that just will not end. Sitting in the theater for two hours was painful enough, but it adds insult to injury going far past the climax to give it a drawn-out and annoyingly pat and convenient conclusion. What a mess.

September 2017
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