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I’m counting down all the movies released in 2012.  The ones I’ve seen, at any rate.  In what is unquestionably a timely manner.

#120.  Beasts of the Southern Wild

Ladies and gentlemen, the worst 2012 movie I watched.  And an Oscar nominee to boot.  I often take notes on movies after I watch them, to help me remember what I want to say for this end of year write up.  The entirety of my notes on this one reads: “Just terrible.”  In my humble opinion, it was poorly written, poorly directed, and poorly acted.  Obviously, many people disagree with me on this one, though I wonder if they realize how wrong they are.  At any rate, the primary thing I look for in movies, generally speaking, is an interesting, coherent, engaging story.  Those words do not describe this movie’s plot.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, the film was snubbed for the one Oscar for which the film should have been nominated, Best Score.

#119.  Les Miserables

And my two least favorite films were both Best Picture nominees.  Look at me being all contrarian.  I was a pretty big fan of Tom Hooper’s prior two films (The King’s Speech and The Damned United), but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a director so directly sink a film so badly.  His tight shots got Anne Hathaway the Oscar (along with, obviously, her incredible talent).  But they made the rest of the movie nearly unwatchable.  The story isn’t the greatest thing in the world, but it is so epic in scope, I can’t fathom the rationale behind the decision to make it so claustrophobic.  Also on Hooper’s watch, all of the actors felt like they were in different movies.  And the comic relief of Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter never seemed to fit into the film at all.  Maybe the best example is that I came out of the film thinking the music was terrible.  And most of the songs probably are no great shakes.  But there are a handful in there I ended up listening to a bunch (“I Dreamed a Dream”, “On My Own”, “One Day More).  The film was such a misfire that it completely distracted from the quality parts that should have stood on their own.  A special shout out to Samantha Barks, who was a rather pleasant surprise and one of the few tolerable things about the film.

#118.  The Master

Another Oscar nominee, though fortunately not for Best Picture, thank goodness.  Paul Thomas Anderson and I clearly have very different cinematic sensibilities.  His is terrible, is the problem.  Actually, I respect the heck out of his ambition and the top notch actors he draws to his casts.  But to me, his movies feel obtuse and, well, arty, just for the sake of being obtuse and arty.  Which is a shame, because the story of a charismatic, enigmatic cultlike leader, especially portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman has tons of potential.  I like Joaquin Phoenix in his role, but didn’t really think Amy Adams was given enough to work with, certainly not enough to merit an Oscar nomination.

#117.  The Paperboy

The big story on this one was that Nicole Kidman pees on Zac Efron.  Which does happen, though to be fair, there’s some relatively reasonable context.  The problem is more that there’s no reason for the scene to be in the film.  Or any scene, really.  I do have to give credit to director Lee Daniels and the production design team for creating an omnipresent sense of a hot, sticky, mess.  Coupled with the bonkers events of the film, I felt like I needed to take a shower while watching the film.  And another one afterward.  But holy cow does this film miss.  It inhabits that sweet spot between camp and over the top goodness where the film is terrible without being watchable for its terribleness.

#116.  Amour

And a third Best Picture nominee finds its way into my bottom ten.  The film is an uncompromising look at an elderly couple as the wife slowly succumbs to a debilitating disease.  It is incredibly harrowing to think about suffering a stroke in general, what it must be like to have that happen near the end of one’s life, and the impact on a devoted life partner.  The film absolutely did a great job raising and portraying those questions.  But here’s the thing I don’t get.  A writer surpassing my meager talents, even in the least, could do the same in about three sentences.  For me, the film didn’t add anything beyond saying how terrible the situation must be, much less be actually interesting to watch.

#115.  Rust and Bone

I already wrote this up a little (in horribly awkward fashion).  The film is frustratingly ADD, potentially interesting threads are picked up and put down without any thought for cohesion.  To the film’s credit, though, if I told you there was an Oscar nominated movie about a women who lost her legs in an accident and I asked you how the accident happened, it would probably take you quite a few guesses to get to “training killer whales”.  Marion Cotillard is quite good, though she wouldn’t have made my Oscar shortlist.  And Mattihas Schoenarts is interesting enough.  But there’s no good reason to watch this movie.

#114.  Rock of Ages

One of the last 2012 movies I watched, I was actually looking forward to the film.  I haven’t seen the musical on the stage, but I grew up on classic rock and found the cast pretty intriguing.  Maybe this mess works on Broadway, but watching the movie, I felt insulted.  It is so relentlessly stupid.  So much emphasis was placed on cramming as many songs into the thing as possible that it seemed like no one stopped to think about whether the movie was actually fun to watch.  The film randomly shuttles between subplots.  Well, let’s go with “subplots”.  Because while the movie does a decent job establishing the outlines of the characters, nothing really happens except maybe occasionally in the broadest of strokes.  Which, granted, is supposed to happen in a musical.  Except in a musical, the music generally, you know, is related to the story.  Tom Cruise was a lot of fun as a rock god, Paul Giamatti is always worth watching, and I’ll probably never have anything bad to say about Malin Akerman, even though her subplot was exceedingly dumb.  Everyone else, though, yeesh.  Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand were just painful, campy in all the wrong ways.  Bryan Cranston must have needed the paycheck, I guess?  Catherine Zeta-Jones couldn’t manage to rise above the script, and I’m still not entirely certain why Mary J. Blige’s character exists.  And I felt pretty badly for the ostensible leads, Diego Boneta and Julianne Hough, who were mistakenly asked to carry this trainwreck.  Boneta sure felt like a pretty boy cipher who I’d expect to see on Nashville next season.  I do believe Hough is talented, but to leap off the screen in this movie required a raw magnetism which probably can’t be taught and is possessed by only a very few actresses.  So instead she’s left to miserably flop around, and it ain’t pretty.  I think I share director Adam Shankman’s sensibilities, and he does a lot of things well, particularly capturing the kinetic energy of crowds, but I think he let the material down here.

#113.  Moonrise Kingdom

Also wrote up this one.  Wes Anderson, in my humble opinion, is insufferable.  He’s maybe got something interesting things to say about the relationship between kids and adults, and growing up, though I’m not sure if there’s anything he hasn’t already said.  But good lord.  Watching a Wes Anderson movie  is like having Wes Anderson sitting next to you, staring at you the whole time and poking you every minute, saying “I made this.  I made this.  I made this.”  Only because he’s not actually there, you can’t turn around and punch him.

#112.  The Three Stooges

I think I watched this one on a plane…maybe to/from Vegas?  Anyway, the first fifteen minutes actually weren’t too bad.  The rest of the film?  Good lord.  Just nonsense.  I mean, I get that the Stooges are hard to do in a modern setting.  But it would have been nice if it felt like the filmmakers actually put some effort into the story and script.  I’ve been thinking about how to do the Stooges, and I keep coming back to Dumb and Dumber.  The problem, of course, is that film was lucky enough to have Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels.

#111.  Premium Rush

Saw this one in LA while on a baseball road trip.  We partook of the wonder that is the Cinerama Dome.  Which is just a fantastic place to see a film.  And not just because it is a dome.  The assigned seating was a feature new to me at the time, though probably not necessary for the dozen or so people who saw the film with us.  The movie, unfortunately, was pretty dreadful.  I had mild hopes because Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Shannon are awesome and I couldn’t fathom how they ended up in a bike messenger movie.  It turns out watching bike messenging is exactly as boring as it sounds like it would be.  Who could have guessed?  The plot is paper thin and involves some sort of Asian mafia and gambling.  So, basically it has the plot of every third action movie made in the 80s.  The difference being, of course, that where action movies have, you know, action, this movie has people riding around on bikes.  I guess you could put a little blame on David Koepp, director, but I think it is more on David Koepp, screenwriter.

Today we’re taking on the Best Director race and declaring who we think should win.

The nominees:

  • Avatar: James Cameron
  • The Hurt Locker: Kathryn Bigelow
  • Inglourious Basterds: Quentin Tarantino
  • Precious: Lee Daniels
  • Up in the Air: Jason Reitman

John says:

    This is another terrific lineup of nominees and again I feel like I’m nitpicking some to narrow it down to my favorite. Any of these five would make a great winner. So what am I looking for in Best Director besides who made the best movie? I’d say overall vision, style, tone, pacing, and coherence. Does that sound about right? Of course, these are all things I look for in a movie anyway.

    Tarantino strikes me as all flash with minimal substance. He made Basterds a thrilling ride, but I don’t think I really shared his vision. No doubt a fascinating and stylish film, however. The weighty material in Precious requires a deft hand to prevent it from slipping into absurd melodrama or emotional manipulation. Daniels cast the right actors and extracted pitch-perfect performances out of them. His visions for Precious’s dream sequences hit the right tone to balance the more intense scenes.

    I give Bigelow lots of credit for finely honing the tension in The Hurt Locker, making it one of the best war thrillers I’ve seen. And Reitman does a great job with the tone and atmosphere in Up in the Air. The film sort of settled in my gut and that feeling was the largest takeaway for me, even more than any scene or performance.

    But James Cameron is my choice. The man had a big vision for Avatar and he completely delivers. We may quibble about the writing, but he shepherds the story through the long running time without ever letting it drag and always keeps it entirely coherent. In lesser hands, Avatar could be a mess of visual effects and thematic missteps; Cameron makes his technological breakthroughs enhance and complement all the other components of the film without taking away from any. I just love the world he creates and the way he uses all the tools at his disposal to realize it.

    Snubs: I don’t mean to overdo my love for The Informant!, but it’s absolutely a triumph in tone, editing, and style and for that Steven Soderbergh should have received some love.

Jared replies:

    Like John mentioned, I’m not sure anyone has a good idea how to judge a director (i.e. where the direction starts and the writing/acting/editing/cinematography, etc. starts), and so I’m a little less comfortable here than with the other categories.

    I didn’t really like Inglourious Basterds, and I think part of the reason for that was that no segment of the film really felt complete. Tarantino’s mishmashing style may have worked elsewhere, but I found it pointless here.

    Maybe Jason Reitman’s direction just seemed effortless. And it isn’t like I could point to a single thing non-script thing I’d do differently with the film. But I also can’t really think of a memorable thing about the film I’d attribute to Reitman.

    Hopefully this time will be the last I have to say that the key to Precious was Mo’Nique, Sidibe, and the basic story construct, almost everything else is besides the point. I fall somewhere between John and Brian on the dream sequences, but I’ll give credit to Daniels for how he handled the stairwell shots.

    Like many people, it seems, I had a hard time making the final decision here. My problems with Avatar stem almost exclusively from the script. Cameron obviously has a nearly unparalleled ability to do big, splashy sequences while working them into something bigger. But ultimately, I guess I’ll shift a little bit of the blame for the slow parts onto his direction.

    Enough, at least, to anoint the ex-Mrs. Cameron the winner. We’ll get to it, but I think Kathryn Bigelow was working from a relatively weak script. The film was tremendously tense. And sure, it helps when a bomb is involved. But really, not that much happens in the film. So I’m going to assign a good chunk of the credit to Ms. Bigelow for creating a really taut film with neat action scenes.

Brian adds:

    Fantastic. Let the Avatar bashing begin! But first, the two near-contenders for my pick for the Oscar. I know Adam will follow up with a full-throated defense of Inglourious Basterds, but Tarantino is my runner-up choice. Everything that made the movie great, the episodic chapters, the white-knuckled tense scenes at the prologue and in the bar, the fantastic conclusion — can be ascribed to Tarantino’s direction. It was truly a great marriage of material with cinematography, and the way that he brought together a melange of actors and stories is definitely to his credit. For a guy who dislikes “message” movies, I’m surprised by how much Jared disliked Basterds.

    Up in the Air was also a great display of directing — which I tend to think of an award for “how well does everything come together.” Reitman got great performances out of Kendrick and Clooney — and I thought the bumpers he used between cities, the plane’s eye view, was a nice touch. But this year — not enough to compete with the big guns.

    Going by the definition above, I blame Cameron’s ego for disqualifying him for an Avatar win. He let Giovanni Ribisi and Stephen Lang chew the scenery to pieces and failed to recognize the shallowness of his own script. The final third took forever to come, even though the final battle was inevitable. His vision of a technical masterpiece came true, but I just can’t give a director award to a half-good film.

    And I definitely can’t fathom giving it to Precious, which as Jared has said, is only being considered for anything because of Mo’Nique and Sidibe. The fantasy sequences that John and Jared refer to are pointless, distracting, and overdone. Daniels’ penchant for shakycam when in the social worker scenes with Mariah Carey infuriated me — I was so engrossed by the performances only to be drawn out by an unnecessary zoom.

    But, Bigelow. There’s your winner. Many of the setpieces from the film will stay in my memory, including the UN car bomb scene and the final shot back in Iraq. From start to finish, Hurt Locker keeps you on your toes, never truly sure what’s going to happen. A less competent director (*cough* Paul Haggis) would have found a way to insert their own ideologies and politics into what may end up being one of the best Iraq war movies ever, but Bigelow is smart enough to let her work speak for itself.

Adam proclaims:

    Will Win: Kathryn Bigelow

    While I may have had more love this year for other movies, the reason this movie wasn’t in my top 5 had nothing to do with the directing. Given a better script, this movie had the potential to be near the very top of my list of movies this year. I have to agree with both Jared and John that the tension she was able to create, as well as the very well done action scenes, make for a very strong nominee. I have no problem with her winning this category (especially if it is over Cameron).

    I Want to Win: Quentin Tarantino

    I am a huge Tarantino fan, so maybe my opinion is somewhat biased, but I don’t think that really matters. I’m biased because I believe Tarantino is one of the (if not THE) best writer/director/producers out there, and Inglourious Basterds is no exception – despite Jared’s felonious assertions. I’d LOVE to see this movie sweep all categories…but I’m not naïve enough to believe it will happen.

    Dark Horse: Lee Daniels (and no, I’m not being racist. He’s the longest shot)

    He’s last in the rankings (both mine and others’ predictions) and there is a reason…he didn’t do that great of a job. I hate to admit it, but I agree with John – Soderbergh is a MUCH stronger candidate for the slot.

    Ranking:

    1. Quentin Tarantino
    2. Kathryn Bigelow
    3. Jason Reitman
    4. James Cameron
    5. Lee Daniels

    Grouches Critiques:

    I find it almost unfathomable that Brian of all people is the only one to really give adequate credit to Inglourious Basterds – shame on you Jared and John. I will have plenty of time to bash John’s love of Avatar and James Cameron in the next couple of days. All I can say now is…really? Really, John? Nothing else really jumps out at me about the rest, though. We were pretty close with our critiques on these movies with 3 of 4 picking Bigelow. Precious wasn’t great and the direction was one of the weakest parts, and the strongest part of Up in the Air was not the directing.

    Random Notes:

    As much as I think Avatar is over-hyped, the direction wasn’t horrible (second best thing about the film next to the visuals – which has something to do with the direction). That said, I actually like more of the picks here than in Adapted Screenplay. And, like Adapted Screenplay, my top two are close enough that I’m not going to be pissed at the Academy if they go with Bigelow. She did a terrific job with the little she was given.

    God I hope James Cameron doesn’t win.

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.

Oscar nominations will be announced on February 2. We’re counting down to the big day by offering some hard-hitting analysis and incisive opinions on the toughest questions surrounding the nominees.  One of the great things about nomination morning is that it never fails to surprise.  What strange stuff could we see tomorrow morning?

John:

The Blind Side gets a Best Picture nomination.

Clint Eastwood gets a Best Director nomination instead of Lee Daniels.

“The Weary Kind” from Crazy Heart is left off the Original Song list.

Jared:

Oscar sometimes moves in chunks.  So, Crazy Heart picks up a Best Picture nomination, and Maggie Gyllenhaal gets a Best Supporting Actress.

Or, similarly, The Messenger picks up a Best Picture, and Samantha Morton gets a Supporting Actress.

Finally, Nine gets a Best Picture nomination.

Oscar nominations will be announced on February 2. We’re counting down to the big day by offering some hard-hitting analysis and incisive opinions on the toughest questions surrounding the nominees.  We can be sometimes be pretty negative, but we like stuff too!  What’s your biggest hope for nomination morning?

John: Matt Damon And Left Field

My biggest hope is fairly easy. I hope Matt Damon slides into the Best Actor race from the back of the bubble for his wonderful work inThe Informant! I’ve steeled myself for the likely eventuality that he won’t make it, but I’ll be holding my breath to see who comes after George Clooney in the alphabetical announcement tomorrow.

I’m also hoping that something entirely out of left field sneaks into the Best Picture nominations. With ten slots available, something with a fairly small amount of support can make it in. I won’t necessarily agree with the choice – I’d guess the most likely possibilities to be The Blind Side or Crazy Heart – but it’d make for some excitement to see something come out of nowhere. And imagine if it becomes something of an Oscar tradition! What film will shock everyone each year? That would be fun!

Brian: Directing District (and Dodgeball)

In Dave Karger’s list of slightly plausible shots in the dark for tomorrow morning, he posits that Lee Daniels of Precious will get pushed out for Best Director and Neill Blomkamp of District 9 will come in with the upset. I can think of no other switcheroo that would make me happier. Daniels nearly ruined my good feelings about Precious with the gratuitous use of verite camera shots, obnoxious fantasy interludes, and grotesque (and overused) zoom-ins of boiling pig’s feet. Blomkomp created a new world — based on the all-to-real world of the slums of South Africa — of aliens, super weapons, Michael Scott-inspired humans, and juiced up mercenaries straight out of Avatar that directors should be awarded for. I don’t see it happening, but man — that would be like what Gary Cole in Dodgeball calls a “two-person swing!”

Jared: Mo’ Mo’Nique, No Problems

When I first heard the Oscar buzz surrounding Precious, I immediately pictured the sheer ridiculousness of Mo’Nique getting a nomination.  Which isn’t meant as an insult to the actress, I don’t think, I’m the first one to advocate the Academy getting outside their comfort zone.  It is just that Mo’Nique doesn’t exactly fit the Oscar mold, and I still smile to think of her being mentioned in the same breath as, say, Jack Nicholson or Meryl Streep.  That said, yowza.  I don’t know what I can say about her performance that hasn’t already been said.  And while it is an admittedly weak year for supporting actresses, it is instructive that there’s really zero momentum for any other contender.  Rightfully so, because Mo’Nique just towers over everyone else.  Sure, part of it is that everyone loves a villain (see Waltz, Christoph).  But it would have been so easy to take Mary somewhere comic book over-the-top, making her an unrelatable, emotionaless automaton.  Mo’Nique gives Mary depth and humanity, which just makes the character that much scarier.

The non-lock category is a little trickier.  There’s definitely some fluidity this year, so while a lot of nominees are all but nailed down, there’s no one scenario that every single person is picking.  So I’m happy there’s be some excitement.  My biggest hope lies in the categories that may mean most to me: Adapted and Original Screenplay. I’m terrified of jinxing anything, because I think my favorites are on the bubble.  I won’t name names, but it is probably obvious which movies have my backing.  So here’s hoping some of my favorite movies of the year aren’t excluded at the expense of some of my least favorite.

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