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As you no doubt remember, Ian and I drafted the movies in the U.S. Dramatic Competition from last year’s Sundance festival.  Hopefully you forgot that Ian wiped the floor with me.  As you might have guessed, we’re bringing the draft back again this year.

But first, I’m excited to announce that Adam and I will be attending this  year’s Sundance festival.  No clue whether we’ll actually be able to see any in competition films, but I’ll be sure to report back.

We are using the same scoring system as last year:

Grand Jury Prize: 3 points
Audience Award: 2 points
Special Jury Prizes: 2 points each
US Directing Award: 1 point
Screenwriting Award: 1 point
Cinematography Award: 1 point
Alfred P. Sloan Award: Tiebreak

And the draft will snake, like all drafts should.  I get first pick this year since I got trounced last year.  For summaries of all films, check out the official Sundance page.  Here’s part one of four of our draft.

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

Fishing Without Nets

Jared:  I’m not sure what a clear #1 pick would be in a fantasy Sundance league, but I didn’t see one this year.  The overly simplified summary of this film you’ll probably see floating around is that it is Captain Phillips from the perspective of the pirates.  And I’m banking on this film getting a boost by riding the coattails of the likely Oscar nominee, which at this point in the Oscar race seems to have a healthy base of support.  The film is writer/director Cutter Hodierne’s first feature effort (which isn’t necessarily a point against him; the last two Grand Jury prizes were won by first-time filmmakers: Ryan Coogler for Fruitvale Station and Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild), but he’s directed a documentary of U2, and this film is actually based on a short of the same name, which won a Jury prize at the 2012 Sundance festival.  The film apparently used nonactors, so it is unlikely to compete for acting prizes, but I think the apparent combination of action and moral dilemmas, plus the aforementioned pedigree gives the film a good chance to click.

Ian:  In our long and storied history of the Fantasy Sundance League, there’s never been a year with as little stratification as this one. I also see fewer “locks” than last year, and the bigger name directors were of the mumblecore “it’s an honor to be nominated” variety. This one was a little down my list, if only because Captain Phillips may have sucked up some of the air in the piracy genre. Oh, and also because the movie has been gestating for so long that Somali piracy has been eradicated in the meantime. The fact that this movie was already honored is a point in its favor, but I thought there were better choices on the board with similar Sundance pedigrees.

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

Hellion

Ian: This film was also selected to premiere at Sundance as a short film. While it didn’t win any prizes then (and may not have been in competition), I like its odds better now. If I had to explain why in two words, they would read, “Aaron Paul.” Paul has been in indies before, of course, but this is going to be the first movie he takes onto the festival circuit after the triumphant end of Breaking Bad. And if we’re talking about a “commanding performance” from him, I think this is one that juries or audiences have been well primed to honor. The subject matter also seems harrowing, and frankly more interesting than most of the other movies in competition. I’m looking for a combination of quality and timing to lead to some of the big awards.

Jared: I strongly considered this one for my first overall pick.  Recent Sundance winners such as Winter’s Bone and Beasts of the Southern Wild, suggest a certain proclivity for rewarding films set in the U.S. in between the two coasts.  Kat Candler seems a prime candidate to break out, and having Jeff Nichols as an executive producer is surely a good sign.  Aaron Paul is obviously hot off a slew of Breaking Bad recognition.  He’s yet to garner any awards recognition for film roles, for whatever that is worth.  I’m usually wary of adolescent-led films, but on the flip side, if Josh Wiggins impresses, he could be rewarded.

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

Cold in July

Ian:  Last year, a brilliant and unconventional director of genre film got its start in competition at Sundance. And while Upstream Color wasn’t a big winner there, it was a successful launch, and one that would probably receive greater awards from the same jury if they revoted today. It’s not a perfect analogue, but Jim Mickle strikes me as this year’s answer to Shane Carruth: a director with more experience and acclaim than the rest of the field who is working in a genre that usually doesn’t rack up awards. The difference to me is that Mickle seems to have come up within the system to a greater degree, which means that Michael C. Hall is attached to the project, along with Sam Shepard and Don Johnson (!). I’m hoping that this movie is inventive enough that the panel feels they have to award it with something, or that it’s populist enough that an audience goes wild.

Jared:  Personally, I had this one a little lower.  Phrases from the official Sundance summary of the film include: “pulpy, southern-fried mystery”, “older breed of action film”, “gore-soaked”, and “Don Johnson”.  Which means I’m super excited for the movie.  But also gives me some pause in terms of how broad an appeal the film will have.  Mickle’s last film, We Are What We Are, scored a 5.7 on imdb, and a 69 on metacritic, (though, to be fair, it garnered an 87% on Rotten Tomatotes).  Michael C. Hall is another actor who has received much love on TV, but yet to break through in a film, and I suppose one has to wonder if the universally-hated Dexter final season will have any impact.

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

Infinitely Polar Bear

Jared:  It just sounds like a Sundance movie, doesn’t it?  Mark Ruffalo’s career has been absolutely fascinating: he’s an indie darling turned Oscar nominee with crossover appeal thanks to somehow becoming Hulk in The Avengers.  And let’s not forget the three Teen Choice nominations way back in 2004.  He got some Sundance love a few years ago for directing Sympathy for Delicious.  So he always strikes me as a viable contender.  A viable concern is the film being too funny for the major awards (and don’t get me started on that), given that writer/director Maya Forbes has screenwriting credits on The Larry Sanders Show, The Rocker, and Monsters vs. Aliens.  But descriptors such as “bittersweet” and “transcendent” provide some hope, and the concept of the trials and tribulations of a father struggling to raise his two daughters seems prime Sundance material.  That J.J. Abrams is a producer suggests the film might have some mass appeal.

Ian:  I had Infinitely Polar Bear, and then erased it before sending it to you. I certainly agree that the Ruff is awards bait, the premise seems like Sundance madlibs, and the J.J. Abrams imprimatur seems like this could be on the fast track. I just struggled to get past Maya Forbes’ resume on this one. Larry Sanders is probably the show most directly responsible for the current state of comedy in movies, but it seems like ever since then, she’s been doing some work for hire. I understand The Rocker has its charms, and I won’t dismiss any of those movies out of hand, but it’s not a resume that screams “Sundance favorite,” which makes me think that there’s a chance the movie could be slight. Also, not for nothing, but that’s a horrible film title.

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!

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

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.

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