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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 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

I’ve said before in this blog that you can’t underestimate Clint Eastwood come awards season. But I’m beginning to think that’s not the case any more. Changeling and Gran Torino had little effect on awards season while Invictus couldn’t ride Eastwood to Best Picture as plenty thought it would.

And now Hereafter has quickly dropped from memory. I’m not going to say that fate is undeserved, but it’s a more ambitious and memorable film than Eastwood’s recent works. I had loads of problems with it, but it has still hung around in my head the past few months.

The plot ruminates on life after death via three characters. Matt Damon has some sort of visionary power that allows him to see people’s departed loved ones, a skill he sees as a curse since it prevents him from living a normal life. Cécile De France is a French journalist who narrowly survives the Asian tsunami in the film’s harrowing opening. She experiences a glimpse of the afterlife and uses her journalistic skills to investigate. Finally, Frankie and George McLaren play grade school twins. One is killed and the other looks for answers.

The film has some real narrative problems and the usual Eastwood problems. Each thread is beset by problems and dull stretches. When the stories finally meet it’s unsatisfying. Really everything feels like it needs a tightening up, which makes sense since it was apparently shot off an early draft of Peter Morgan’s script. Some of the acting is suspect.

"Act sadder!"

But even as I fidgeted in my seat during the story’s missteps, I was still taken in by the film’s thoughtful address of its themes. The characters’ struggles, particularly Damon’s and De France’s, are affecting. De France’s segment looks at the science behind the common “peace and bright light” near-death experiences while Damon’s wonders if we should even strive to know the answer to the afterlife.

Don’t go into Hereafter expecting an answer. Perhaps at his age Eastwood knows that answers don’t come easy. And while I would understand if the film’s story problems kills it for you, I found viewing to be a rewarding experience, albeit one I like better to look back on than I did while sitting through it.

Every Oscar season has titles that fall by the wayside. Some don’t even get a chance. As fall started last year, prognosticators had their eyes on two films with winning pedigrees just to see them pushed back to spring of 2010. I finally caught up with Shutter Island and Green Zone recently. I’d say I my reactions to the two were roughly opposite.

Ghost lovin': better in hindsight than sitting through it

Any combination of Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, and material written by Dennis Lehane (Gone Baby Gone, Mystic River) is bound to get some Oscar looks. Here, DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo are 1960s FBI agents investigating a patient’s disappearance from a mental institution located on an island in Boston Harbor. Once there, a storm hits and weird things start happening. The film is part horror, part supernatural thriller, and part procedural. Scorcese really amps up the visual flair when delving into the supernatural. I found the middle too disjointed and too WTF bizarre that by the time the emotional and beautifully portrayed (and totally expected) ending came along, it had lost me. The work as a whole has hung in my head for a while, however. Just not enough that I’d watch again.

On the other hand, Green Zone thrilled me from the get-go. Matt Damon teams up with his Bourne director Paul Greengrass for an Iraq war action thriller. Damon is an army officer charged with finding weapons of mass destruction soon after the fall of Baghdad in 2003. When he repeatedly comes up empty he decides to find out why. Greg Kinnear is a CIA officer in charge of the WMD search and Amy Ryan plays a journalist whose stories backed the flawed case for the war. From an action perspective it’s taut and exciting; from a thematic perspective it’s a very effective indictment of the war without becoming preachy. A lot of the horrific details of the bungled occupation related in the Oscar nominated (and my #9 film of 2007) documentary No End in Sight find their way into the narrative and sets. It’s a great mix of action and content.

For much of the movie I was ready to declare it my favorite of the year so far. But it unfortunately falters in the last act as it devolves into ridiculous action sequences. For a film that is so thoughtful for the first two-thirds, the rising body count of the climax is too incongruous. I also think the plot errs by making the conspiracy Damon attempts to uncover the entire Iraq war. Narrow your scope, guys.

Still, a terrific movie and I heartily endorse it to everyone.

If both films had remained in their release dates last fall, each could have made a minor Oscar push. Greengrass’s signature jerky cam action earned an Editing win for The Bourne Ultimatum and that style is significantly more effective and less nauseating in Green Zone. Scorsese is always a force to be reckoned with come Oscar time, but Shutter Island likely could have only succeeded in below the line categories like Costume, though who knows with the ten Best Picture slots. Now of course both have a long uphill slog to the Kodak Theater. Green Zone is gone and forgotten though Shutter Island could still make a play given the afforementioned Scorsese Factor (and I hear an awards season campaign is forthcoming). I don’t think I’d agree, but at least any awards success it finds will show that awards can still be won with February release dates.

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.

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. No claims the Academy is perfect.  But sometimes they seem to refuse to consider certain films or performances, which can be terribly infuriating. If you ruled the Academy, what would you decree to get a nomination?

***SPECIAL NOTE***
We exempted one film from this discussion. Look for our thoughts on that movie in the coming days.

Brian: Maybe The Film Would Do Better If It Had A Name

I write this without seeing any of the other nominated foreign films, but if I could pick a film to get some overdue recognition, it’d be Sin Nombre, a thrilling, engaging, and beautifully shot film that handles the dicey subjects of illegal immigration and the spread of MS-13 with grace. Critically, it was adored by most when it came out last spring, but it seems to have faltered pretty fast this Oscar season. I’m disappointed — there are parts of the movie that still stick with me and it’s been nearly a year since I saw it. Based on the trailers I’ve seen for the nominated foreign films, this looks much more accessible to American audiences and falls far from the cliched tropes of the dreaded “foreign film” with subtitles. Truly great and deserving of recognition.

Jared: Move the Oscars to Summer

Oscar actually isn’t doing a terrible job this year.  As always, comedy gets shafted in the Best Picture race.  My ideal nominee list would likely include The Hangover, (500) Days of Summer, I Love You, Man, and as much as it pains me to agree with John, In the Loop.  One of my pet films this year is an obscure movie called Blind Date. I’ll be talking about it more later on, but I think Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson’s performances should have been in the discussion this year.  Fudging things a little bit, if I only had control of one thing, I’d advocate for the acting in (500) Days of Summer.  I imagine Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel faced the double disadvantage of not being in a drama and not “paying their dues,” but their work absolutely contributed to the magic of the film, and it makes me sad that they were barely considered.

John: Best Loop-de-loop

I have a couple ideas of what omnipotent John would do with the Oscar nomination and damned if it isn’t hard to pick. The Informant! could be put in Best Picture or Matt Damon in Best Actor. But I’m going to go with a film I loved even more, In the Loop, for Best Picture. This is an exquisitely written film, packed to the gill with jokes and spot-on as a satire. I don’t think a plot point or performance goes wrong. If there’s any recent film that I can say, “we need more films like this!” it’s In the Loop. It won’t get the recognition it deserves without me breaking into PricewaterhouseCoopers and messing with the ballots. Which is too bad because more people should check it out.

I am not a member of the Academy. I am instead but a lowly professional economist. Which means not only do studios not send me dozens of screeners but every time I go to the movies I’m always wondering if it’s worth my money.

But today I am pretending I’m a member of the acting branch and casting my ballot for Best Actor.

Acting nominations are made by ranking up to five actors in each category. If the ballot’s number one choice does not have the support needed to receive a nomination, the ballot is counted instead as a vote for the #2 choice, and so on. There is no guidance as to how to separate between Lead and Supporting categories; that determination is left up to individual voters.

1. Matt Damon, The Informant!

Damon puts on the pounds and a mustache for this film, but it’s his complex performance and not the gut that make it so memorable. His squirrelly character is outrageous but not flashy and even though he’s exasperating we’re always able to empathize.

2. Peter Sarsgaard, An Education

I’m not sure whether this is really Lead or Supporting. If I had a ballot I’d put him in both categories just to make sure. He must walk a thin line as a character that’s both charming enough to win over a teenage girl – and the audience, to some extent – but also creepy enough to be trying to win over a teenage girl. At least Damon got a little recognition and a Golden Globe nod; the utter lack of respect this awards season for Sarsgaard is confounding.

3. Michael Stuhlbarg, A Serious Man

This film is essentially two hours of the world shitting on the main character so the man portraying him better be someone the audience wants to watch. The role calls for Stuhlbarg’s exasperation to forever increase while never overcoming his nebbishness and I think Stuhlbarg does a great job of keeping us all frustrated but empathetic.

4. George Clooney, Up in the Air

I’m always impressed by Clooney’s quiet performances. He’s one of those uber-famous, attractive Hollywood types that it’s easy to forget is damn good at what the does. He’s interesting in zany roles like in O Brother, Where Art Thou? and The Men Who Stare at Goats, but there’s so much talent in his subtle acting that requires a role like this one or in Michael Clayton to really display.

5. Paul Rudd, I Love You, Man

Not a conventional choice,but the man needs some recognition for his wonderfully awkward performance. I don’t think it’s easy to pull of bumbling faux machismo. Most comedies in this vein feel a little rough around the edges in the performances, like the punchlines don’t come across quite polished enough. No offense to the Jonah Hills of the world, but Rudd has the comedic chops and smooth delivery that are often lacking even in the comedies I love. Rudd was so great in this and Role Models and I hope he gets more and more leading roles.

Next on my list were Sam Rockwell for Moon and Michael Sheen for The Damned United.

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.  All of us have our favorite films and performances currently on the bubble.  And we all have spent long periods of time spewing invective at the films and performances that will keep our favorites out.  What inclusion or exclusion on Tuesday will disappoint you?

John: Out With The Old, In With The Old?

On Tuesday, Invictus is likely to end up with nominations for Best Picture, Actor, and Supporting Actor. It’s not a bad movie and in fact has an irresistible spirit that partially overcomes some of its flaws. And Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon turn in fine performances, though they do not reach the level required for nominations in my humble opinion.

But what disappoints me is how unimaginative these nominations will be. Invictus is an epitome of Oscar bait: schlocky, a plot that superficially tackles difficult social issues, and directed by Clint Eastwood. With an expanded slate of ten Best Picture nominations, if we’re going to have mediocre nominees let’s at least make them interesting and not just the same old stuff. The sort of narrow vision that rewards films like this year after year is tiresome.

Plus the Freeman/Damon nomination combo will likely put the kibosh on Damon’s chances to be nominated for a much better performance in The Informant!, the performance of the year in fact. Freeman will slip into the fourth or fifth spot for Actor, denying Damon, while Damon’s own popularity in Supporting Actor for Invictus will erode his support for Lead. These perennial safety nominations are usually worth an eye-roll but now they’re actively undermining my own preferences! Gah!

Brian: Give Him The Idol, Or He’ll Throw You The Whip

Like John, and its pretty scary to write those words, I saw a lot to enjoy in An Education, and a few things to nitpick on (too long, etc..), but my adoration of the film begins with Alfred Molina as Carey Mulligan’s father. His bombast was great comic relief and his scene later trying to comfort Mulligan is one of the best in the movie. Viewed in the modern context, his views on the roles of a wife/daughter were abhorrent enough that you couldn’t even see why his wife would have married him, but it is to Molina’s credit that they were played of as buffonery instead of malicious disrespect. While I hope (and deep down think) that he will get recognized for the role, I’m going for the reverse jinx here and saying that he will be ignored. And if the Academy had any cojones, they would take a page from the American Latino Media Awards and nominate him for his role in Pink Panther 2 as well.

One other predicted disappointment I’ll make note of: Both Star Trek and District 9 fail to get nominated, clearing the way for Avatar to lock up the nerd/blockbuster-loving/visual-effects vote and coasting to a Best Picture nod, which would disappoint everyone this side of John (which is everyone). With those two in the mix, the outlook for a Hurt Locker or even an Up in the Air win becomes much more likely (albeit less than I’d like.)

Jared: Would Like To Make It Perfectly Clear That He Has Nothing Against Mr. Eastwood And Means No Disrespect.  About Anything.  Ever.

I’ve got a few gripes here, so I figure I’ll lay them all out and maybe I’ll get lucky and one will hit, like last year (with The Reader).  In the Best Picture race, the one film that really is going to cheese me off is Invictus, exactly the opposite of the type of film the expansion is supposed to help, I think.  Did anyone love this movie?  If you want to like it, that’s fine, whatever.  But just like Frost/Nixon, this film will be largely forgotten a year from now.  Heck, I’d wager the movie is largely forgotten right now.  It is just stunning to me that anyone who has seen at least a dozen movies this year could count the film as one of the year’s best.  If a film like The Messenger gets in, I’ll be sad, but at least I can understand how it inspires reverence.  With Invictus, I think people are confusing an inspiring story with a well-told one.

For Best Actor, I’m increasingly realizing I’m alone here, but I think Daniel Day-Lewis is getting lost in shuffle, thanks to the mediocrity that is Nine.  Well, and we also probably take him for granted at this point, since he keeps turning in larger than life performances over and over again.  Putting the movie aside, Day-Lewis is mesmerizing as director Guido Contini as he balances all the women in his life with putting together a new movie.  Any success the film has may well be directly attributed to him.  (Well, OK, Judi Dench is pretty cool, and Penelope Cruz’s dance didn’t hurt.)  The transformation Day-Lewis undergoes from role to role is just staggering.

Finally, if you want to have a debate over how much “acting” goes into mimicking someone famous, that’s fine.  But if you want Morgan Freeman and Meryl Streep to get nods, you have to want Christian McKay to get one as well, for playing the titular character in Me and Orson Welles (that would be Orson, not Me).  It really is as simple as that, for me.  His Welles is a whirlwind of a character, dominating his screen time, as any Welles should.  And he left an impression every much as vivid as Freeman or Streep, if not moreso.

Adam: The Academy Should Be Full Of Basterds

This is actually a pretty easy category for me. My favorite film of the year was Inglourious Basterds and it will also easily cause the biggest disappointment for me. While last year’s snub of Dark Knight for Best Picture and the little love for In Bruges caused me anguish, this year I believe my front-runner will get the nominations it deserves. Unfortunately, this triumph will be bittersweet and tempered by the fact that it will not win for Picture, Director, or Writing (I hope, at this point, that Waltz is a lock for Supporting Actor – not sure if I will be able to continue to watch the Oscars if he doesn’t). While my love for all things Tarantino biases my opinion, I don’t think it can be denied that he writes one hell’va script. To the point that even Jason Reitman gave him props at the Golden Globes saying he was still waiting for Tarantino’s name to be called instead of his own. Since I won’t be able to be unbiased, I’ll leave my ranting there and forgo the reasons Picture and Director should go to him as well.

Needless to say, the lack of a win in these categories will definitely be the biggest disappointment for me this year.

The Oscar races are continuing to shake out and I think we generally know who is in the ballpark for the major awards at this point. This sort of winnowing happens every year for better or for worse. It can be helpful to know that some of your favorites have no shot so as to avoid the frustration on nomination morning. Or it can keep hopes alive so that they are cruelly crushed (see: Dark Knight). And it can be a joy to watch as time goes on and your favorite longshot still holds on (see: Richard Jenkins).

A couple developments in the Best Actor race seem notable to me.

The first is that Johnny Depp in Public Enemies has completely fallen off the map. Thank goodness. The film is one of my biggest disappointments of the year. I’ll never know how such a stylish film based on such an interesting character with an interesting life could be so dull. I never thought I’d care so little about seeing the back of Depp’s head blown off. In all it’s not a bad film, but I forgot about it about 30 minutes after leaving the theater.

Not to disparage Depp, but if he was still in the running at this point it would only be on name value alone. And when that happens it drives me nuts. (Of course when I expect the hype to be based on the name and the performance really does deliver it’s always wonderful; see: Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia.)

Completely countering my joy of not having to discuss an underwhelming Michael Mann film here is how ignored The Informant! has become. Matt Damon should be a lock for a nomination and on the inside track for the win. Instead all you hear about him is a possible Supporting nod for Invictus. What a shame. Thank goodness for the Golden Globes (the first/only time I’ll ever say that?) for giving him some proper recognition.

There’s no film from 2009 I’m more excited to see again than The Informant! and it doesn’t even appear to have a DVD release date yet. Steven Soderbergh saw a tale of corporate price collusion, somehow thought it’d make a great zany comedy, and then totally nailed the necessary timing and tone. Quite an accomplishment and, to me, the underachieving box office disappointment of the year.

At this point Damon probably has to fade in the Supporting Actor race and over take either Jeremy Renner or (hopefully!) Morgan Freeman to make it to Oscar night. Needless to say that looks unlikely. At least a Best Score nomination for Marvin Hamlisch seems probable at this point so at least one major piece of this remarkable work could get recognized.

Well, John worked more of his magic and we found ourselves at a free screening of Invictus.  Directed by Clint Eastwood, the film tells the story of Nelson Mandela’s interest in the South African rugby team, specifically in its performance at the 1995 Rugby World Cup, not coincidentally hosted by South Africa.  A quick note before getting to our initial thoughts.  If you find yourself at a movie, and something amazing or inspiring or whatever happens on-screen, please resist the temptation to clap.  The filmmakers can’t hear you.  The actors can’t hear you.  You know who can hear you?  Your fellow audience members.

Brian

I’m generally someone who appreciates the parts of a movie more than the sums, but Invictus is an example of a movie where the sum was greater than the parts. The more I’ve pondered over it since seeing it, the less I’ve liked it. Overall, it was entertaining and I’d probably recommend it to most folk. So many of Eastwood’s choices — focusing on the security detail, using too much slow motion, beat-you-over-the-head preaching — left bad tastes in my mouth that if you give me a couple of months I’ll probably be actively rooting against it at the awards show. Kind of like the anti-Rachel Getting Married.

Jared

I thought the first third of Invictus was really solid.  A bit heavy-handed, sure, but Eastwood knows how to go for the incredibly low-hanging fruit of heart-tugging eye-watering melodrama.  Plus, I mean, Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela.  Soon, however, the film became repetitive and increasingly filled with poorly thought out sports scenes.  And an impressively buff Matt Damon doesn’t really have a place in the movie.  I will say, though, it is the best rugby movie I’ve ever seen.

John

Invictus is classic Eastwood: corny, horrible dialogue, utter lack of nuance, and an over-reliance on cinematic scenes that don’t advance the film as a whole, but damned if its spirit doesn’t win you over. Hollywood has dished out schlock since its inception and the Academy has lapped it up for nearly as long; I think if I’m going to consume said schlock it may as well be from its master. Eastwood just gets it to feel right even as I’m rolling my eyes.

For once our opinions are relevant and timely instead of only thoughtful and brilliant! Three of the Grouches got to take in a preview screening of Steven Soderbergh’s newest film, The Informant!. Matt Damon stars as Mark Whitacre, a manager at agri-conglomerate ADM in the early 90s. He tips the FBI off to his firm’s schemes to fix prices for corn derivatives. But rather than a corporate or crime thriller – this is no Michael Clayton or The FirmThe Informant! is a zany journey through Whitacre’s twisted motivations and off-kilter personality.

The film opens this Friday. Here are our quick thoughts:

Brian

Speaking as someone who knew next to nothing about the ins and outs of the Mark Whitacre story, I loved watching the plot unfold and seeing the case for/against ADM unfold. Damon was hilarious and transformative, and Marvin Hamlisch’s score reminded me of one of my favorite movies, The Sting. Even before the big reveals towards the end, I enjoyed playing the “crazy like a fox?” or “just plain crazy?” game with Damon. Highly recommended.

Jared

Frustratingly obvious and consistently flat, The Informant! knows where the jokes should be, but fails to deliver on any of the punchlines. Perhaps because I knew the story ahead of time, the barely-there plot isn’t as twisty as it thinks it is. But maybe most disappointing is the criminally underused supporting cast. What’s the point in having people like Scott Bakula, Tony Hale, Tom Wilson, and the Smothers Brothers in a comedy if they are all going to play straight?

John

The highest praise I can give The Informant! is that it is spot-on tonally. Rather than playing the plot straight, Soderbergh turns the story into a madcap adventure into one businessman’s twisted mind. The plot is interesting enough but the true strength comes in all the clever little touches and humorous absurdities. I wouldn’t call it laugh-out-loud funny for the most part but it’s always amusing and intensely fun. Damon should get some Best Actor consideration. In short: see this because not only is it terrific but I fear it will need every dollar it can scrounge up. The Oscar season is truly off and running.

August 2017
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