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In case you missed it, The Thin Man remake appears to be really and truly going forward.  As a fan of the series, I was pretty excited when I heard the rumors last year, so I’m glad it seems closer to happening.  Some may balk at the idea of messing with a classic.  But the original film had numerous sequels.  And as Hart to Hart, Moonlighting, Remington Steele (or Bones and Castle, if you prefer more recent incarnations) all show, attractive couples solving mysteries while engaging in non-stop witty repartee is a pretty timeless formula.

Rob Marshall is directing, which…I dunno.  Wouldn’t have been my first choice.  And Johnny Depp is playing Nick Charles, which should be interesting.  Depp clearly is capable of knocking a fast-talking smarter-than-thou boozehound out of the park.  So what of his wife, Nora?  The role, which vaulted Myrna Loy to stardom, requires a rather particular set of qualities.  Nora is a wealthy socialite who is every bit Nick’s equal in brains and alcohol tolerance.  And while they both may be familiar with the concept of manners, Nora is only one of the pair who actually puts them into practice, save for opportunities to take playful jabs at her husband.

Anyway, here are some names off the top of my head I’d toss out for Nora, if I got to cast her on an unlimited budget:

Rachel Weisz  is the first person who came to mind when I think about this.  And apparently, I’m not the only one.  Her performances in The Mummy and The Brothers Bloom suggest she’s got the comedic (both verbal and physical) chops needed to take on the role, and she does have an Oscar on the mantle.

Maybe it is my Bond-bias talking (if Gemma Arterton were about ten years older, this role would be perfect), but I think Rosamund Pike has been woefully underused.  I guess I haven’t really seen her in a straight comedic role yet, but she was cast in Johny English sequel, so someone thinks she can do it.  Compare her to Halle Berry in Die Another Day.  If she can so adroitly handle the quips there, she’ll do wonders with a more intelligent script.

Between Happy-Go-Lucky and Made in Dageham, Sally Hawkins clearly has the independent woman thing down.  Her Nora would perhaps be a little softer than Loy’s, but I think the only real question is how well she’d blend with Johnny Depp.

Frankly, I’m surprised Reese Witherspoon‘s name hasn’t come up more often.  Other than the whole being blond thing, she’s a fantastic fit.  If you only remember the romantic comedies, don’t forget she’s tackled two pretty big British works (Vanity Fair and The Importance of Being Earnest) and has an Oscar.  In a roundabout way, her June Carter is very much like Nora Charles.

I’ve always wanted to see Kate Winslet tackle a slightly less…depressing film.  She doesn’t have a rich comedy background, but she was pretty funny in Extras.  Nora Charles needs to fit in with the salt of the earth and high society, and I’m pretty certain Winslet could run that gamut.  Plus, she already successfully paired up once with Johnny Depp (you didn’t forget Finding Neverland was nominated for seven Oscars, did you?)

She’s actually turning 33 this month, Ginnifer Goodwin just plays young.  Don’t forget, Loy wasn’t a star until after the film.  And hey, it is my list, I’m allowed to play favorites if I want.  Besides, anyone who can handle Ed’s dialogue can take on the inevitable rat-a-tat lines that will be in this film’s script.

Of course, my Mom makes an excellent point.  All of this is pretty irrelevant.  The only casting decision that really matters is figuring out who is going to play Asta.

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The Reader was my second-favorite film from 2008.  Which I hope doesn’t make me a shill for the Hollywood establishment.  But since I liked it so much, I figured I should at least respond to John’s eloquent (as always) post.  Specifically his problems with how they treated Hannah’s illiteracy.

I agree that it is a problem if you think the reveal that Hannah can’t read was supposed to be a shocking twist.  For me, though, I thought it was more a big secret for Michael than for the audience.  I also didn’t think Hannah’s illiteracy was used to explain or defend her crimes.  Rather, it fit in with one of the major themes of the movie: life sucks.

Honestly, I didn’t think The Reader was a Holocaust movie, using any definition of the phrase other than a movie in which the Holocaust plays a role.  What affected me most was the idea that sometimes life just puts us in bad situations.  That there isn’t always a happy ending.  Michael’s entire life was screwed up as a direct result of his dalliance with Hannah.  And in turn he screwed up his daughter’s life (and probably messed with the lives of countless women).

Sure, the film says that if Hannah could read she probably wouldn’t have gone to the SS.  But that’s not an excuse, it is an example of how sometimes life leads you down a crappy path.  And yeah, if Michael had pointed out that Hannah couldn’t read, maybe that would have changed the outcome of the trial.  Maybe not.  Either way, it wouldn’t have changed what actually happened.

Similarly, I don’t think Hannah finds redemption by learning how to read.  Unless you are making the argument that reading leads to redemption by helping her realize the magnitude of her actions, or to humanize herself, which is why she kills herself.  In which case, OK, you would have liked to have seen something else?  I don’t think the film ever pardons Hannah.  Michael doesn’t.  I don’t think Hannah was emerging from jail a new woman.  And it isn’t like when Michael visits the Holocaust survivor, she forgives Hannah at all.

I know people are upset that The Dark Knight and The Wrestler didn’t get nominated and have focused their anger on The Reader, the surprise nominee.  But I’d suggest that Frost/Nixon should be viewed as a weak link.  Or ask yourself, did anyone really love Benjamin ButtonThe Reader hit me harder than any of those movies.  To me, it was a bleak, bleak look at how sometimes people don’t live happily ever after, that sometimes you can’t fix things, and sometimes one person screwing up things can affect multiple people down the line.  I don’t think the film is trying to address or make a statement about the Holocaust any larger than that it continues, directly or indirectly, to affect people’s lives today.

I know 2008 is a distant (bad) memory, but much like last year’s Margot at the Wedding diatribe I wanted to circle back and get a few things off my chest. It’s funny how it worked out- this site managed five posts dedicated to the entire Best Picture slate (and none for The Reader or Benjamin Button) but got up multiple posts for films like The Wrestler, Happy-Go-Lucky, and The Visitor. We know how to be relevant, eh?

The Reader‘s big category nods still bother me (to the extent that one can still be bothered by Oscar nominations in May), especially if it was at the expense of The Dark Knight or The Wrestler. It’s still a decent film but not all that effective at what it sets out to do.

Plus Kate Winslet is going for her third major award for her work in this film, as she is up for an MTV Movie award! And she’s competing against some familiar 2008 Oscar faces! She’s taking on Anne Hathaway again, though for Bride Wars instead of Rachel Getting Married. And Angelina Jolie- but for Wanted. Oh and Kristen Stewart for Twilight! Taraji P. Henson (Button) rounds out the list.

But let’s step back and reflect on this again: The Reader has been nominated for an MTV Movie award (but will lose to Twilight)! Its themes clearly resonate with the tween set.

ANYWAY

To me, the film has three distinct elements: the relationship between Hannah (Kate Winslet) and Michael (David Kross and Ralph Fiennes), the implications of Hannah’s involvement in the Holocaust, and the power of literature. Apparently the Weinsteins tried to play down the pedophiliac aspect but to me it was the best part of the film. Their awkward relationship, the way he becomes totally involved in her, and the repercussions that last for decades all really grabbed me. A sexual relationship with an older woman at the age of 15 isn’t going to affect every kid for the rest of his life but it’s entirely likely that it could. By young adulthood Michael is distant in all his social relationships. And when he is unexpectedly confronted with Hannah’s past it’s devastating.

The Holocaust elements have some good ideas. Who do we blame individually when a whole society commits and atrocity? And how does that society move on? It’s a fascinating question that helps propel the film even when it falters. The line from Michael’s classmate about how Hannah’s trial is proceeding only because a victim wrote a book about her crimes – that this is selective prosecution – is brilliant and I was dismayed when the film didn’t dig much deeper. But then Michael’s trip to a concentration camp completely crosses the line into Holocaust porn, one of the most egregious examples I’ve ever seen.

And then there’s the whole message about literature and literacy that couldn’t have fallen more flat. My discussion about this will go at the end due to spoilers, but suffice it to say it nearly entirely killed the movie for me. I couldn’t have cared less about the bond of literature between Hannah and Michael.

Quick Oscar notes. Kate Winslet is terrific and it’s nice she finally got her win. She’s excellent here though I wouldn’t have voted for her. I hope her win doesn’t go down as one of those “make up” or “lifetime” Oscars but it may since she was better in every other film I’ve seen that she’s been nominated for. I loved David Kross, who learned English for the role. He would have made an excellent supporting actor nomination. The picture, director, and adapted screenplay nominations are all hogwash. Cinematography is a fine nomination, especially since Roger Deakins needs a nom every year, right?

The end here is spoilery, but let’s face it if you haven’t seen The Reader by now you aren’t going to. You probably forgot about its existence.

It’s amusing that the “big secret” of the film is not that Hannah was involved in the Holocaust, as I had assumed walking in (in which case it would have been a horribly kept secret). Instead it is that she is illiterate. So. What. The film has gall to try to explain some of Hannah’s crimes using her illiteracy: note how she never would have taken the job with the SS if she hadn’t have been promoted at an earlier job to a position that required reading skills. If you want to make a film about an individual’s culpability in the midst of a civilization committing a terrible atrocity then do it- it could be very interesting. But literacy couldn’t be more irrelevant. Does her inability to read mitigate or exacerbate Hannah’s crimes in any way? Of course not.

And then she learns to read! Hooray! What redemption! Except that it matters not at all. Y’know, because of the Holocaust and all. Here’s a hint: if you’re going to make a film about the redemptive power of literature, DON’T REDEEM THE HOLOCAUST! Redemption from Holocaust requires a lot more than reading.

But Hollywood is self-centered likes to be reminded of the Importance of Art so it ate this film up. And I’ll stop before this turns into a post appropriate for the mouth-breathers at Big Hollywood.

It is easy to criticize the Academy for its choices.  Like any organization, they are going to make unpopular decisions.  And as with any vote, the most deserving person or film isn’t guaranteed victory in the least.  But part of the genesis of this project is the idea that it isn’t fair to ridicule a winner without seeing all of the other nominees.  So, we watched all the nominees.  Quixotic?  Maybe.  Fun?  Almost always.  Here’s what we thought of the Best Actress category:

Read the rest of this entry »

I’m kind of curious as to who actually loved Revolutionary Road.  As near as I can figure, it cater to people who want their philosophy of “Life sucks and then you die” affirmed.  But only in the American middle class definition of “sucks,” of course.  Oh, wait, I got it.  People who found Titanic insufferable and knew deep down that if Leo and Kate had ended up together, they’d be absolutely miserable.

Otherwise, I don’t know.  The film is ninety minutes of DiCaprio and Winslet whining at each other.  Which is exactly as much fun as it sounds like.  John asks if people sympathize with one character over the other.  It is a good question, the answer to which probably reveals something about ourselves.  Other than bros before, um, gardening tools, I’d offer that neither is particularly likable.  Which I guess is sort of interesting in that in the movie they are repeatedly referred to as the “fun” couple, but really I’d rather hang out with just about any other character in the movie.

That’s all I got.  The film is pretty clearly failed Oscar-bait.  It isn’t bad, but it drags, is repetitive and doesn’t have much in the way of redeeming qualities.  I felt after filming they went back and inserted a few soliloquies nearly at random for Kate Winslet in an effort to bolster her Oscar chances.  Because if there is one thing people like more than whiny characters, it is whiny characters who drone on.

I hinted at it above, but I guess I sorta liked all the minor characters.  Kathy Bates had been tipped by some for a nomination, which is silly in my mind, but she was fun.  I enjoyed Kate and Leo’s neighbors, and I think I would have much more love for the movie if they featured more prominently.  And Leo’s co-workers were all very amusing, in a film that could have benefited from more comic relief.

And then there’s Michael Shannon.  Call me a dreamer, but I think I just might start a Michael Shannon for Bond villain bandwagon.  His character pretty much runs roughshod over the movie.  I mean, his character is a well-worn plot device and it is probably misused, but a definite breath of fresh air.  So yeah, his awesomeness is probably amplified by the more subdued nature of the rest of the film.  But the nomination is still deserved, I’d say.

I love me a good suburban malaise movie. I’ve lived in a variety of types of suburbs and now live in a city so I think I have a good handle on the pros and cons of suburban living. There can be a lot of interesting themes to mine there, not the least of which is that chase for the elusive “American dream.” That’s a broad subject to tackle though, especially for a viewer like me with a “quit yer whining” mentality.

But I really loved American Beauty so I thought Sam Mendes’s return to suburbia might be up my alley. Advanced word diminished my hopes, which even still turned out to be set way too high. The problem is that Revolutionary Road isn’t an effective portrait of the soul-sucking suburbs, it’s just a story of two tools in a bad marriage. They use the oppressive homogeneity of suburban living as an excuse for their crumbling relationship, a potentially interesting topic, but in the end they’re two pieces of work that shouldn’t be married to each other, if anyone, who just subject us to their yelling and whining for two hours. I’d be curious to hear if anyone else found themselves leaning towards one character or the other. I found myself sympathizing with him marginally more; he is a jerk but she’s truly unbalanced.

Revolutionary Road is billed to be this great acting movie, but to me it felt bogged down in its Serious Acting. Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio never felt real (she was a worse offender than him). Or perhaps the style of precise enunciation and showy emotion missed its mark for me; regardless I was not terribly impressed. Supporting Actor nominee Michael Shannon steals every scene he’s in, but he feels like part of a completely different movie. His character also managed to sap any sense of subtlety out of the film; what better way to hammer a point home than to have a crazy person just come out and say it explicitly?

Not all of it is bad, however. A lot of it is quite interesting from a technical or more cerebral standpoint (y’know, if you don’t bother with little things like plot or character). It’s fun to see a film throw itself so completely into its era, especially since 1950s America tends to get overlooked in film in favor of World War II on one side and the swinging 60s on the other. So the sets and costumes, both Oscar nominated, were interesting, as were all the little touches from the time period (like the serious amounts of liquor and cigarettes Kate Winslet manages to imbibe while pregnant, or the glimpses into the business world). And I will say it’s often effective in tone; if more people had seen it it could’ve been responsible for a measurable increase in marriage postponements. For a film with so many missteps it was impressively brutally bleak and mostly earned it.

I also really dug the ending. I wasn’t always fond of where the film leads but for where it does lead the resolution works very well. But then the very final scene killed my good will. If your film has to make an over-the-top, meaning-telegraphing final pronouncement, then make it ridiculously over the top like the absurd rat at the end of The Departed, not stupid and smug like In the Valley of Elah.

Maybe the American dream with its illusory suburban picket fence is just a formidable challenge to take head-on. One of my favorite suburbia movies of recent years isn’t really about the suburbs at all: Brick, a modern noir populated with detached youth and set among the sidewalk-free roads and empty big box store parking lots of the suburbs. Maybe suburban angst works best as a supporting character.

Well the nominations have been announced and those looking for surprises are happy this morning. The Grouches did get at least one nasty surprise.

Dark Knight Debacle

I was expecting the Academy to screw up and skip over Dark Knight for Best Picture. I thought Christopher Nolan had a better shot at Director. But the huge surprise was no Adapted Screenplay nomination. Four of the five Best Picture nominees were nominated in that category with the fifth slot going to Doubt. That’s a pretty shoddy film to be passed over for.

On the other hand, it got nominated in every technical category it was eligible for besides Score and Costume for a total of 8 nominations (including Supporting Actor Heath Ledger).

The Winslet Conundrum

Kate Winslet was aiming for Lead Actress in Revolutionary Road and Supporting in The Reader despite both roles probably being lead. She won these categories at the Globes. But the Academy puts her in the Lead role for The Reader and nothing for Road.

So we can play the what if game. Rules in the acting categories state an actor cannot: a) be nominated more than once in the same category, nor b) be nominated twice for the same role. If those rules were removed I would not be surprised if Winslet qualified for Lead for both roles AND Supporting for The Reader. When something like this happens the Academy goes with the role that got the most support and that apparently was Lead for The Reader.

Hooray for Little Movies!

My happiest moment came with the announcement of Richard Jenkins for Actor in The Visitor. Melissa Leo also managed an Actress nod for Frozen River when it seemed like her chances were fading. The biggest out of nowhere surprise may be that film’s Original Screenplay nomination.

Leo’s inclusion may have meant Sally Hawkins’s exclusion for Happy-Go-Lucky but that film still managed an Original Screenplay nod. And that interesting category ALSO includes the wonderful In Bruges. Plus WALL-E, which no one would call a little movie. Those interesting nominations pushed out films like Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Burn After Reading, however.

Long shots Darren Aronofsky and the film itself for Best Picture didn’t pan out, but at least Marisa Tomei was able to join co-star Mickey Rourke as an acting nominee for The Wrestler. That’s great, though the film really should have gotten a screenplay nod. And Bruce Springsteen’s exclusion for Song is downright confounding.

Other Surprises

I’m not complaining, but it was widely expected Dev Patel to get a Supporting Actor nomination for Slumdog Millionaire and he did not. Instead Michael Shannon from Revolutionary Road snuck in from way back in the pack to give the film its only major nomination.

Another puzzling exclusion was Waltz with Bashir in the Animated Feature category. The animated, foreign-language documentary was nominated for Foreign Language Film and ineligible for Documentary Feature. Kung Fu Panda and Bolt join WALL-E as Animated Feature nominees. After the near unanimous love for the film its absence is quite surprising.

So Jared got his wish for some surprises but managed to be nearly completely wrong in his predictions.

Some other prediction notes after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

Oscar nominations will be announced on January 22. We’re counting down to the big day by tackling some tough questions and spouting some mad opinions. Today we’re making predictions. Going out on a limb a little, what will and will not happen in the nominations?

Brian: Torino for the Upset

Gran Torino will squeeze in as a Best Picture nominee, kicking out Frost/Nixon. I think Oscar voters will be blinded by the strong box office performances of Eastwood’s take on the Incredible Hulk, and the old fogeys will be regretful if they don’t throw some dap to what could possibly be Eastwood’s last film. Considering the movie’s pure audacity, I can’t even protest the pick that much, even though it was not very good. I like its chances, and like the Arizona Cardinals making a playoff run, I think that a surprise nomination could give it upset special potential over Slumdog in the end game.

John: TDK Loses, HSM3 Wins

I’ll believe Dark Knight getting a Best Picture nod when I see it. It deserves it but the Academy is so good at disappointing me. Despite love from nearly every guild (producers, directors, writers, art directors, editors, sound mixers, cinematographers, costume designers) SAG skipped it for its Ensemble award and the acting branch is by far the largest in the Academy. I know the correlation between SAG Ensemble and Best Picture isn’t perfect, but I’m pessimistic. The Reader seems so much more up the Academy’s alley that I can definitely see it ignoring the comic book film. This is a prediction I’d love to be wrong, but I expect lots of fanboy bitching tomorrow.

After last year’s debacle in the category I expect High School Musical 3: Senior Year to score at least one Original Song nomination. Fortunately rule changes prevent it from nabbing more than two so it can’t match Enchanted‘s three. None of the groups that names Best Song has given the bland musical tunes any love, but if anyone can it’s the Academy.

Jared: Good News Coming for Happy, Winslet, Leo (DiCaprio); Bad for Jolie, Blanchett, Leo (Melissa)

It is hard to make exciting predictions this year, with so many categories seeing so much uniformity across guild awards and the other precursors.  I won’t make up something crazy just for the sake of being bold, but I can see a few slightly unexpected things to happen.  Happy-Go-Lucky will garner three nominations (Actress, Supporting Actor, and Original Screenplay). I wouldn’t necessarily agree with all of them, but I think the film’s unbridled optimism will resonate with voters in this political and economic climate, and since Eddie Marsan is the one counter to that in the whole movie, he stands out too much not to be noticed.  Kate Winslet grabs two noms, and Leonardo DiCaprio comes along for the ride. The former is more likely than the latter, but I think Winslet peaked at the right time, is a name people know and want to vote for, and I think people want to get her an Oscar win.  There are scenarios where Revolutionary Road or The Reader pull down more nominations, but I see them having difficulty cracking the big categories, so support could funnel to DiCaprio.  Leo, Jolie, Blanchett out for Best Actress. This category is an eight woman (well, no, nine, Michelle Williams has a non-zero shot) free-for-all, and really, nothing is absolutely guaranteed.  I think Jolie misses because Changeling didn’t resonate in general any more than A Mighty Heart.  I’m even now second-guessing myself about Blanchett, since the Academy loves her so, but I think she has more of a chance if Benjamin Button broke out a little more at the box office.  And Leo will suffer from being in a movie released too early and being too little of a name.

Adam: Those Expecting Surprises Will be Disappointed

Not sure how much of a long shot it is, but I think Leonardo DiCaprio edges out Pitt and Jenkins for a Best Actor nod.  I also second Jared’s prediction of Happy-Go-Lucky getting more nods than it deserves (which I have no problem ridiculing in the days to come).  I think Dev Patel rides the seemingly-universal love for Slumdog Millionaire into a supporting actor spot.  Honestly though, I really don’t see that many “long shots” in even remote contention.

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