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Well, here we are. I want to make sure to say thanks to Adam, Brian, and John for joining me on this ride. I’ve got no life, so it was relatively easy for me to catch these nineteen films (plus the other contenders we saw). But I know that you all made some sacrifices to make it happen. And thanks for all the discussions (both on- and off-blog). You guys rock.

Inglourious Basterds

Adam and I tend to have fairly similar taste in movies, so it was surprising to me that we disagree so much about Inglourious Basterds. He told me he didn’t think I would like it, leading me to believe that deep down he knows the film just doesn’t work. Sure, there are stretches of brilliance: the first few minutes of the opening scene, the whipped cream scene, most of the scene at the underground bar, everything about Christoph Waltz’s character. But Tarantino appears to be a guy who needs someone to keep him in check. Just about every scene goes on too long. And the story never comes together into a cohesive unit. I admire the film’s ambition and respect Tarantino’s vision. But the film left me unmoved.

Avatar

I’m not a particularly visual person, so while I personally can’t excuse Avatar‘s script, I guess I can understand how someone might get swept up by shiny things. But I don’t understand why this logic only applies to James Cameron. Criticisms of Michael Bay movies invariably levy charges of being bloated, overly-reliant on CGI with no character development and having things blowing up nonstop. Aren’t the exact same things being said about Avatar, more or less? Adam talked about not putting mindless action flicks up for Best Picture. That’s a stance I don’t understand to begin with, and I think the Avatar nomination discredits in practice. I’ve yet to hear any sort of logical argument about how the distinction between a “fun” movies and a “good” one isn’t arbitrary. As such, I’ll continue to only rank movies based on how much I enjoy them.

An Education

Possibly one of this year’s most fun collection of actors. It is just too bad they didn’t really have much to do. Think about the memorable scenes in the movie. Molina falling under Saarsgard’s charms. Thompson arguing with Mulligan. Williams arguing with Mulligan. Pike being a ditz. The birthday party with Mulligan’s former beau. Almost all of these things have the barest of setups or followthroughs. What is Emma Thompson doing in the film, anyway? As is, shouldn’t her character just been merged with that of Olivia Williams? The point is, I buy it is the right cast, the right screenwriter, and heck, the right director. But what if you didn’t bind Nick Hornby to a set of memoirs where apparently nothing happens, instead just describing the characters and themes? I think that could have been something really tremendous. And also probably would have had an ending.

A Serious Man

I’m still amazed this film received a Best Picture nomination. Not talking about its merits, just that the film had no discernible buzz, at least that I saw. The Coens and I clearly operate on different wavelengths. Not drastically different, just enough that I don’t quite get them. Plus, I don’t think they are as funny or clever as they think they are. Their work does have a timeless quality, though. I could have seen this movie being made ten years ago or twenty years ago. And (as with almost all of their films) their work is refreshing, an oddball little piece of cinema not quite fitting in anyway. Which I can definitely appreciate. And I don’t mean to completely badmouth the film, I did find that I generally enjoyed myself, even if I still haven’t quite figured it out. Assuming there is anything to figure out, I guess.

The Blind Side

I liked this film a little more than the other Grouches. Possibly because I have a heart. Personally, I think it delivers exactly what it sets out to do. It is a big, broad movie that tugs at the heartstrings (but not too much) and ultimately leaves you feeling a little better about things. Is there anything so wrong with that? Sure, it never really tries to reach for anything higher, and that’s maybe why I didn’t fall in love it, but it is a solid, solid film. I think some of the criticisms hurled at it are kinda weak. Yes, a rich white lady helps a poor black kid. No, that doesn’t automatically mean you can toss around the phrase “white guilt”. Partially because this stuff, you know, actually happened. And I found it to be a fairly faithful adaptation of the book (other than the book’s discussion of the history of left tackle, of course). Not sure I could imagine anything better, actually. Well, except for maybe removing some of Lewis’s bias. But that’s probably a good thing.

Precious

We’ve been over the faults of this film’s script numerous times. The auxiliary characters weren’t sketched out well and the plot isn’t that interesting. What the story did do, however, was provide ample opportunity for Mo’Nique and Gabourey Sidibe to dominate all over the place. And sometimes, that’s enough. Like Avatar, oddly enough, when the film was allowed to play to its strengths, it was magical. In certain sense, the film captures drama better than anything else this year. The relationship between Sidibe and Mo’Nique is really unlike anything I’d seen on screen and while it was often hard to take, it was just so so powerful.

Up in the Air

Here’s another film I feel like I’ve unintentionally badmouthed a lot. There were lots of things I liked about Up in the Air, very few things I disliked. It was a very good film, and I’m happy it got nominated. My complaints were more about the acting nominations than anything else, I guess. And, well, not thinking that it was a great movie, because it didn’t quite get there. It was funny and dramatic and thought-provoking, just not very funny or very dramatic or very thought-provoking. Still, a smart film, Jason Reitman is crazy promising. What did I like, though? Hm. It was a fun ride throughout and rarely boring. Kept a solid pace. Made me laugh some. I don’t know, exactly. Just a well-made film.

The Hurt Locker

The dichotomy here is fascinating. $15 million grossing art house movie? Totally Oscar. Iraq war movie? Not Oscar. Cast filled with relative unknowns? Oscar. Action movie? Not Oscar. Finally rewarding a director who paid his dues? Oscar. Finally rewarding a director who paid her dues? Not Oscar. With a quality script, this film would have been something truly special. As is, it’s a fine piece of film making, and extraordinary example of how great a taut, exciting action film can be. Kinda interesting to compare to Slumdog Millionaire, in terms of a movie that didn’t make all that much money and about a topic not necessarily of general interest, and certainly wasn’t necessarily guaranteed to be here on Oscar night.

District 9

Speaking of great action films, I have no clue how District 9 ended up with an best picture nomination, but yay. Something went terribly right for that to happen, because honestly, does it seem like an Oscar movie in the least? I guess maybe if you squint. It is proof that action films can be totally riveting. Maybe next year can be comedy’s year? Nah, that’s crazy talk. Well, unless Peter Jackson produces a comedy. I guess that would be OK. Kinda rambling at this point, because the red carpet has started and Brian and Adam are arguing about something. Not sure what, but I’m sure it is ridiculous. But yes, everyone should see District 9. And be amazed at the effects, the action, and really the touching story. I know some other Oscar nominated movies about aliens the year seemed to imply that it wasn’t possible to have a great story with your alien action, but I assure you, that’s false.

Up

Yup, there’s little question that Up is the year’s best film. Pixar doesn’t make animated movies, they make movies. No need to gush about that opening sequence, because yeah, just out of this world. And I’ll be the only Grouch who likes agreeing with John. Up is consistently funny, definitely one of the funniest movies of the year. (And Adam, I’ll take the bait, yes, I laughed more at She’s Out of My League, but that’s an argument we are going to have in 2010 discussions.) But it was also one of the most exciting films, with one of the interesting stories. Just all around a fantastic movie. Never slow, never dull, always amazing. The Grouches don’t all agree on our favorite Pixar movies, but I think we all agree that at their best, no one tells stories like they do. And if you tell a story as close to perfectly as they do, well, you are going to get my vote for movie of the year.

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We’ll each putting up our own thoughts on Best Picture. Except now, when I’m publishing Adam’s writeup. Guess he wanted to continue his streak of not posting.

So, for the grand finale, I’ve decided to forego my previous format and write what I thought about each movie. Unfortunately for you, dear reader, none of the other Grouches have written their posts yet so I am forced to confine my analysis to the movies and my critiques of the others (if they should appear) will be constrained to hearsay and personal experience. So, without further ado, I give you The Nominees:

Precious
Throughout the year, we watch a lot of movies in preparation for the Oscars and I find that my opinion of some of these movies varies greatly from my initial impression as time goes on. As I rank the movies I’ve seen throughout the year, I constantly compare previous views to more recent ones to come up with the best possible score for each – some fall, others rise, and some stay steady throughout. Precious was definitely one of the fallen movies. I thought it was a fine movie, but realized that my initial opinion of it was artificially raised due to all the hype and praise surrounding it. As I time went on, I realized that the script wasn’t all that strong. Decent dialogue was scarce and most of the scenes were pretty blasé (with the notable exceptions of the apartment/stairs scene and the final social worker scene). Mo’Nique’s performance was terrific, granted, but Sidibe’s was, honestly, forgettable. No one will remember her performance in a year or two – if that. The directing was also fairly weak. The dream sequences were unnecessary and heavy-handed, and the other scenes were set up less than ideally. It may seem like I hated the movie, but I didn’t. I gave it a 5.8 out of 10 (though it started at a whopping 7 if you can believe it) so I didn’t think it was horrible, I just want you all to realize that the hype surrounding it is just that – hype.

An Education
An Education actually suffered the opposite fate as Precious. It actually moved up in my ranking as time went on. At first, I couldn’t get over what I viewed as a ridiculous plot. I couldn’t understand how we, the audience, were supposed to buy into the fact that a random older gentleman randomly picked up a school-girl; started to date her immediately – well, as soon as he was able to convince the girl’s very conservative and old fashioned father he was on the “up and up” via a 2 minute conversation, in which he told a joke; and convince her to quit school just shy of graduating. As time went on though, I was able to separate the weak story and horrible scene transitions, and appreciate the strengths of the film. Carey Mulligan actually puts on a pretty great performance – especially given she had very little experience prior to this. She was able to take on a leading role and make it her own. This was one of the few well written lead female characters I saw this year and it is due, in no small part, to Mulligan’s performance. The other fantastic performance was Alfred Molina’s. My respect for him (due in no small part to his role in The Man Who Knew Too Little) dropped dramatically with his part in Spider-Man 2 (one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen). However, he has totally redeemed himself by being one of the brightest spots in this movie. I am very disappointed he wasn’t nominated for Supporting Actor over Damon.

The Blind Side
The Blind Side has a higher score (6.5 out of 10) than I anticipated going into the movie. And, while the script wasn’t anything to write home about, I found myself enjoying the movie, nonetheless. Bullock does a decent job as a Southern, Tennessee-hating, heart-of-gold mother of two (then three), and her nomination for Best Actress is deserved. She was definitely the most impressive part of the movie and I am actually quite happy that she is the front-runner for the win. I have, for the most part, quite enjoyed Ms. Bullock over the years and am glad she has a chance to take home the gold. Other than that, there isn’t much to say about this movie. It is like Precious in a lot of ways – teenager with a troubled past and parental issues is taken in by a strong female character who tries to better them. The biggest difference between the two movies is the tone. While The Blind Side is, on the whole, light and fun (and has an uplifting ending), Precious is a study in just how wrong things can go in a child’s life (and that not everything has a happy ending). For whatever reason, though, I found myself enjoying The Blind Side more than Precious and more than I originally thought I would.

Avatar
As you may have realized by now, I have ordered these movies in ascending order. Which means that the second highest grossing film in history, and the film sure to take home the most amount of Oscars is only 6th on my list of Best Picture nominees. While this may seem confusing to most (I’m looking at you John), anyone who actually watched the movie (and has any taste) can tell you that this movie is over-rated by far. First of all, let’s get this out of the way: The film was absolutely visually stunning. Seriously. They did a tremendous job with the CGI and 3D scenery and sequences. Unfortunately, they stopped there. It is a beautiful façade over a weak structure. The most important part of the movie is the script. This movie’s script was decent – when it was used in Dances With Wolves, Pocahontas, and Fern Gully. If you are going to steal another movie’s idea/script (which I don’t necessarily disagree with – I mean, look at my boy Tarantino), at least improve upon it. Or, at the very least, make an attempt to change it in some way. The only thing they seem to have done is make the dialogue worse and delve less into every single one of the characters. I am actually floored that a 3+ hour movie had absolutely no character development. And don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of a bunch of movies with little to no plot, no character development, and awful dialogue (I mean, I watch mindless action films by the truckload), but I don’t nominate them for Best Picture. I don’t care what John tries to tell you – don’t drink the Kool-Aid on this movie. See it because it is visually stunning, not because you are looking for an actual Best Picture movie.

A Serious Man
I don’t know how Jared and John write so much. I’m not even half way through this and I’m exhausted. Major props to them. So, now on to A Serious Man. First of all, I’d like to say that I was a huge fan of the opening scene of this movie – especially once the film was over and I realized that I couldn’t figure out how it fit into the rest of the movie. Second, this movie had one of the most interesting characters of the entire year. It was fascinating for me to watch the actions and reactions of this character as we delved deeper and deeper into his mundane, depressing, and all too real existence. I am a huge fan of character studies (if done well). While this isn’t in the same league as Michael Clayton, it is a serviceable replacement for the year. It also has one of my favorite side-stories of the entire year. The scenes with the Korean student are absolutely hilarious.

Up
I’ve talked about this movie a couple of times. I can’t get over how the rest of the Grouches basically have an orgasm whenever they think or talk about it. Yes it was decent, but it wasn’t THAT good. It definitely had its moments (which is why it made it into the top 5 of contenders), but it fell well short of Pixar classics like Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles. The talking dog was pretty fantastic, and the little scout had some pretty great lines, but that is pretty much it. A lot of the jokes seemed forced or were predictable. The plot was weak, and the villain, one of my favorite elements of most movies, was very weak. I just couldn’t get invested in any of the characters or laugh at many of the jokes (I’d actually like to hear whether Jared thought he laughed more during Up or She’s Out of My League). I will give it this, though, the opening scene was very well done. Squirrel!

District 9
District 9 definitely had one of the most interesting takes on a tried-and-true story. Having the an alien race living in slums, cohabitating to humans, and regulated to second-class status in all things was brilliant. Telling the story in the form of a documentary (The Office style) was pretty fantastic as well. The surprisingly humorous script was augmented by and equally surprising strong cast (surprising in that it is comprised of unknowns). The reason this movie isn’t higher on my list, though, has to do with the plot. While the background and premise of the movie was original and interesting, the actual story was less than stellar. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I didn’t like it, it’s more that it didn’t live up to the promise of the movie’s premise. It was decent, not spectacular. I also felt it didn’t flow as well as it could in a couple of different areas, but that’s really just nit-picking. Overall, a very enjoyable movie that I recommend, and I am very glad to see it make it into the Best Picture nominees.

The Hurt Locker
This is another movie that has increase its ranking as time has gone on. I put it slightly lower on my list originally due to the lack of thought put into the overall plot of the movie. What were all those highly entertaining scenes leading up to? Who is SSG William James and why should we care about his story? However, discounting that, this was a fantastic movie. Kathryn Bigelow does a phenomenal directing job here and I very much hope her Best Director hopes are realized – she deserves it. The tension she is able to create in almost every single scene is nothing short of amazing. The bomb scenes are some of the best I’ve ever seen – due in no small part to the great camerawork. Let’s not forget about Renner either. Even though I didn’t know why I should care about him or his story, I couldn’t help but be fully engrossed in whatever he was doing due to Renner’s extremely strong performance. I seriously wish the Academy wasn’t going to hand over the Best Actor award to Jeff Bridges solely as a “Lifetime Achievement Award” because Renner far-and-away out acted Bridges this year. There is a reason this is in my top 3 of nominees. This is a terrific movie, and, had it had a better script, could have been a serious contender for my favorite movie of the year.

Up in the Air
What can I say about this movie? My fellow Grouches have, on many occasions, ridiculed this movie – its script, acting, and directing – and I can’t understand it. Not because I liked it so much (though that is an extremely valid reason in-and-of-itself), but because they all profess to like it as much or more than me. The lowest score it got between us is an 8.4. It actually has the third highest average score of any film we’ve seen this year (beaten by Zombieland and Up). That’s saying quite a bit. I thought it was great. Since Michael Clayton, my respect for Clooney has skyrocketed and I think he does a great job here. Not only that, the two female characters in this movie are both widely different but equally well written and portrayed. Kendrick and Farmiga both shine as opposite sides of the same coin (the professional woman), and complement Clooney’s character as few roles do, now-a-days. I thought the script, while not out-of-this-world, was very well done – with humorous, contemplative/deep, and sad/depressing moments sprinkled in throughout the movie. I actually also really like the directing here as well. Reitman was a very close third to Tarantino and Bigelow this year. Each gave very strong efforts this year, which were rewarded with equally strong movies. I will admit that this movie struck a nerve with its portrayal of the constantly traveling businessman (as that was my life for 2 ½ years), but even discounting that, this was a pretty great movie.

Inglourious Basterds
The Big Kahuna (and no, not Big Kahuna Burger) – nine down, one to go. Since seeing this movie, it has topped my annual Top 5 with only one other movie even coming close to toppling it (Zombieland for those keeping track). Quentin Tarantino is one of my all-time favorites and he doesn’t disappoint with this dialogue-driven, Nazi-killin’, action flick. From the first scene, Tarantino is able to fully invest the audience into his world. How many other directors/films would have such a long, dialogue-heavy opening scene? And how many people actually noticed that the scene went on for so long after the first couple of minutes of interplay between Waltz’s SS Colonel and the out-matched farmer? Tarantino’s ability to take the seemingly most inane scene and turn it into a focal point of a movie based solely on the dialogue (and underlying story) never ceases to amaze me. And he does this more than once in the movie (don’t forget that amazing bar room scene). All this is without taking into account the overall story or the wonderfully violent action scenes. Tarantino gives us a movie that is entertaining on multiple levels and does so with style (plus, he killed Hitler…come on!). If it were up to me, Basterds would receive Best Picture, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, and Film Editing along with the almost assured Best Supporting Actor for Waltz. Alas, it is not to be.

Nominees:

  • Penelope Cruz, Nine
  • Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
  • Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart
  • Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
  • Mo’Nique, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

Jared guides us:

    I’ve been saying for some time now that I’m surprised at the relative lack of campaigns to push actresses for a nomination in the Supporting Actress category. The group feels really soft to me, and I don’t think it had to be that way. My best guess? From early on everyone saw this category as over and so saw any spending as a waste.

    I realize I’m missing something about the Up in the Air love. But honestly, in a vacuum, I never would have pegged Vera Farmiga for a nomination. Is it just because her character go toe-to-toe with Clooney’s? I mean, yay for strong, independent female characters, but shouldn’t they have some depth or something.

    Not that there is anything necessarily worthwhile about Crazy Heart, but how pointless is Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character? I mean, she’s basically a MacGuffin, right? She’s maybe one-dimensional at most. Gyllenhaal is never bad, and the casting totally makes sense, but no one could have saved this script.

    I do like Anna Kendrick. Rocket Science is an underrated film, and I’m stunned that Brian didn’t see 2009’s The Marc Pease Experiment. Because it is about music theater. Gosh. Anyway, apparently the Academy is giving out nominations to every actress who co-stars with Clooney and doesn’t immediately let him jump in their pants. Now, granted, I’m not trying to say that’s not impressive. But I sorta kinda feel an Oscar nomination should be based on a little bit more than that.

    Pretty much second by default, Penelope Cruz sure was hot in Nine, amiright? Yowza. Not that I condone adultery (especially with Marion Cotillard), but I mean, could you really blame the guy? The character is right out of 8 1/2 and doesn’t get to do all that much, but whatever. The Academy clearly has a thing this year for attractive, underdeveloped female characters, so whatever.

    It isn’t just that Mo’Nique wins this thing. It is that if you take any single one of her scenes and stacked it up against any of the other nominated performance, she’d win. And handily. Absolutely riveting stuff. One of those times where it seems like nothing should have worked out (less that great script, a cruel character with no redeeming qualities, an actress known for her comedic work) and yet somehow everything gloriously did.

Adam chimes in:

    Will Win: Mo’Nique

    Fantastic performance especially considering the fairly weak script and less-than-stellar directing she had to work with. Well deserved nomination and win.

    I Want to Win: Penelope Cruz

    Did you SEE her dance scene in Nine? And yes, it is shallow for me to want her to win because she is stunningly beautiful…sue me. She’s also a great actress, and while Mo’Nique deserves to win this year, I can’t say I’d rather see her up there than Cruz. She’s just so pretty.

    Dark Horse: Anyone other than Mo’Nique

    This one’s been in the bag for months.

    Ranking:

    Penelope Cruz
    Mo’Nique
    Anna Kendrick
    Vera Farmiga
    Maggie Gyllenhaal

    Grouches Critiques:

    Ugh. Only Jared’s written his so far and he agrees with me too much. No fun. Go back and read my lambasting of Brian again.

    Random Notes:

    Seriously…you should watch this:

Brian briefly drops by:

    Jared and I had this debate offline, but I thought that Supporting Actor was much weaker from top-down than this category — but that probably has a lot more to do with our differing opinions on Up in the Air than anything else. Of the three leads, I found Farmiga to be the least engaging and I’d have even welcomed Julianne Moore to this category over Farmiga. I should also state upfront that I haven’t seen Nine yet — so if you are REALLY interested in reading my views on supporting actress, check this space again on Sunday for my update.

    To be quick because I have some best picture write-ups to begin:

    Maggie Gyllenhaal – I liked her a good bit, though I agree with some of the criticism written when Crazy Heart was released about female journalists always getting into the pants of their subjects — and how you never see male reporters do the same. As with the rest of the movie though, thats a script problem. She does indeed improve upon a weak role, and I liked seeing her pained expressions as she saw her relationship with Bad deteriorate.

    Anna Kendrick — the role was made for her. Literally. And she was great in it. Her transformation was a tad predictable, but being a foil for Clooney worked for the movie, and for both of them. Maybe its partially my newfound crush speaking, but I loved her in Up in the Air.

    Mo’Nique — What Jared and Adam have said. She is just devastatingly cruel and manages to avoid becoming a cartoon. I was and still am so impressed how she managed to wake up each morning and get into character. I’d give her perhaps the highest compliment I can give any actor — this was a performance of Daniel Day-Lewis quality.

John gets the last word:

    Cruz is a very weak nomination. Her big scene in Nine isn’t particularly good, just hot. The rest of her scenes failed to register for me. She’s just filler here, which is appropriate since she’s mostly just filler in her movie, not that Nine has any parts that are particularly imperative. Gyllenhaal is underwhelming, which is sad because she’s usually so great. She just doesn’t have much to work with though, playing a rather thin character who falls for Jeff Bridges in about five seconds. I wish she could show more nuance.

    I’m a bit conflicted about Kendrick. I concede I may be wrong because I’ve yet to see anyone else mention this, but I’m not a fan of the way she talks in Up in the Air. It seems forced and mannered. On the other hand, she’s still terrific to watch. Her expressions, the way she walks, the way she sits: it’s all terrific. She’s such a great part of the film.

    An even greater part is Farmiga, who’s just so wonderful. I know I picked George Clooney to win for Best Actor, but Farmiga may be even better. And since they play similar characters I can say similar things about their performances: subtle, charming, intelligent, self-assured. She’s also an interesting mix of serious and sort of cold yet inviting. The way the other Grouches dismiss her is incredible to me.

    Farmiga is my winner any other year; I think Marisa Tomei is the only one who gives her a run for her money in the years that we’ve done this. But she has the misfortune of being up against a powerhouse in Mo’Nique. Fortunately she’s great in everything she’s in (The Departed, Nothing But the Truth) so this won’t be her only trip to the Oscars.

    As for the winner, Mo’Nique will win and should win. This role by all rights should be cartoonish: a one-note, oversimplified monster. And yet, Mo’Nique makes us understand her character. Sympathize, even. Not a lot, but just enough. It’s a bare, powerful performance. Legendary. And that final scene… just killer.

    Snubs: Too bad the wonderful ladies from Inglourious Basterds, Melanie Laurent and Diane Kruger, didn’t get some love here.

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. This time around, we are looking at each category as a whole. Which categories appear to be the strongest and weakest?

John: Everyone With A Solid Year Take A Step Forward…Not So Fast Supporting Actresses

I think the likely slates of nominees will be pretty solid this year, mostly bereft of bad choices. On the other hand, there are few categories I’d call particularly strong. If I had a ballot I’d still have trouble filling it out with performances/films that I found worth advocating for. If there were only three slots for animated films, Best Animated Feature would certainly be the strongest category. But enough films qualified this year that there ought to be five nominees, which dilutes its still considerable strength.

The strongest category overall is Best Actor. If I chose irrespective of those choice’s chance at nomination, there are many strong candidates. If we’re looking at likely candidates, both screenplay categories look very strong. Even films whose scripts I wouldn’t find strong enough to nominate (Inglourious Basterds, (500) Days of Summer) are at least somewhat different. Compare that to the screenplay nominees I found disappointing from last year, like Frost/Nixon or Doubt, that were neither particularly great nor interesting.

The weakest category is Supporting Actress, where I find little to interest me either in the whole pool of 2009 supporting actresses nor in the list of those who have a shot at a nomination. Beyond Mo’Nique and Vera Farmiga there’s very little for me to get excited about.

I also don’t think there’s any doubt that the ten nominees has weakened the Best Picture slate. But at least the films that are going to get in because of the category expansion tend to be different, fresh choices, even if I didn’t always love the films.

Jared: Love/Hate Relationship With The Ladies

I actually think Best Actress is a very strong category this year.  Small caveat, The Last Station is (probably) the last Oscar movie I need to see.  But Helen Mirren is always awesome, so should she beat out a strong Emily Blunt performance, I’m not super concerned.  Otherwise, I think Gabourey Sidibe walks away with the statue in many other years, but she’s nearly out of the picture this year.  Similarly, Carey Mulligan was just breathtaking.  I’m a little lower on Sandra Bullock than most, but would still be tickled pink if she won.  And Meryl Streep certainly doesn’t need me to praise her.

Depending on what happens, Original Screenplay is a close second.  It has the potential to be filled with riveting, unique works.  And even if my dream scenario doesn’t happen, it is still going to be very very strong.

And yeah, Supporting Actress is far and away the weakest category this year.  I’m surprised there hasn’t been more of a push to get more names into the race.  Maybe it is because Mo’Nique has this thing in the bag.  Otherwise it is her, and then meh.  I already said my piece on the lovely ladies from Up in the Air, and then you are looking at, what?  Someone from the horribly overrated Inglourious Basterds?  (Although, I’d love a Diane Kruger nod, just to bump up the Oscar nominees who appeared in National Treasure 2.  The actresses from Nine were decent, but their roles weren’t anything special.  That Julianne Moore has a shot to sneak in here shows how much of a joke this category is this year.

Brian: If Only The Actors Could Sing A Song

If the Academy had expanded the Best Actor slot to ten nominees as they had with Best Picture, I’m not sure I would have found a choice about which to complain. Sure, Morgan Freeman is a gimme nomination, but if I’m going with the Academy trends, I can understand it. The next five in probably includes Mortensen, Damon, Day-Lewis, Stuhlbarg, and maybe even one of my faves, Sharto Copley for District 9. I have seen neither Nine or Serious Man, but from what I have heard I can’t image there would be anything too objectionable about any of their performances. Once I see them, they might even find a lobbyist in me for their likely snubbing tomorrow. Of the five nominated, I liked all of their performances. Freeman was serviceable as Mandela and he rose above what was a script replete with platitudes and Yoda-like pieces of wisdom. Colin Firth was the best part of Single Man and like with Freeman, transcended the limits of the story, not to mention the over-the-top direction. I disagree with Jared on Clooney and thought that even though was just doing his Clooney thing, it still worked great and I can’t see anyone else in the role. I’ll get to Bridges v. Renner when we do our Oscar posts later in the month, but both were fantastic.

Weakest category has to be Best Song. Not one of the Princess and the Frog has broken out and reached the public discourse. Granted its a wholly different era in entertainment from the years when Aladdin and Lion King permeated the popular music culture and had songs played ad nauseum on the radio, but still — I expect at least one of them to be recognizable. The song from Crazy Heart is the best of the bunch but even then — I am sorely disappointed in the list of possible songs and cannot see any of them being memorable even a couple of months from now. I leave it now to John to disagree with me.

Thanks to those who joined us for the liveblog. For those who didn’t but are still interested in all our hilarious comments, including the time I ridiculed Michael C Hall for wearing a skull cap inside when it turns out he has cancer, check below the fold for a full transcript.

Hopefully we’ll have a couple analytical thoughts up early this week.

Your list of winners:

  • Best Picture, Drama – Avatar
  • Best Picture, Comedy/Musical — The Hangover
  • Best Director — James Cameron, Avatar
  • Best Actress, Drama — Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
  • Best Actor, Drama — Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
  • Best Actress, Comedy/Musical — Meryl  Streep, Julie & Julia
  • Best Actor, Comedy/Musical — Robert Downey Jr, Sherlock Holmes
  • Best Supporting Actress — Mo’Nique, Precious
  • Best Supporting Actor — Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
  • Best Foreign Language Film — The White Ribbon
  • Best Animated Feature — Up
  • Best Screenplay — Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air
  • Best Original Score — Michael Giacchino, Up
  • Best Original Song — The Weary Kind, Crazy Heart
  • Best TV Series, Drama  –  Mad Men
  • Best TV Series, Comedy  — Glee
  • Best TV Miniseries — Grey Gardens
  • Best Actress, TV Miniseries — Drew Barrymore, Grey Gardens
  • Best Actor, TV Miniseries — Kevin Bacon, Taking Chance
  • Best Actress, TV Drama — Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
  • Best Actor, TV Drama — Michael C. Hall, Dexter
  • Best Actress, TV Comedy — Toni Collette, United States of Tara
  • Best Actor, TV Comedy — Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
  • Best Supporting Actress, TV — Chloe Sevigny, Big Love
  • Best Supporting Actor, TV — John Lithgow, Dexter

Read the rest of this entry »

I don’t know what it means, exactly, but I wrote three-quarters of this post a month ago.  Unable to finish it off, I left it hanging as a draft.  About a week ago, I decided, perhaps partially influenced by the flagging buzz for the film, that I didn’t really agree with what I’d written and I should take a new angle.  Except that when I looked back over what I had written, it matched up pretty closely with my “new” revelation.

Whatever It is, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire has It.  And sadly, no, I’m not talking about Tim Curry dressed as a clown.  Sure, I guess you could argue I was biased by all the Oscar hype, but I’m not sure that has significantly affected my opinion of an Oscar contender before.  I didn’t even love Precious.  It is a very good movie, to be sure, but I didn’t think it was amazing.  Still, the film boasts a rather lustrous Oscar sheen.

Part of it is the subject matter.  Precious has some tough scenes and gets into some rather grim places.  But while the film rarely gets schmaltzy, there’s an overarching feeling of hope.  Maybe it is that feeling that lends the film its Oscar gravitas.  That seeming small space between the extremes of a dark, angry film and one with a storybook ending.

The other major part is the characters/actors, obviously.  We’ll soon find out if leader fatigue will hurt Gabourey Sidibe and Mo’Nique.  But to me, they rank right up there with the best larger-than-life performances of late because they form such distinct, unique, memorable characters.  Sidibe’s Precious is a hulking mess of person who never had a shot.  And yet, she feels different from all prior put-upon dreamer-protagonists.  That’s partially due to her not having some sort of amazing secret talent which would make her famous/popular/loved if she were just allowed to shine.  And I think that goes a long way toward reducing any hamminess that could show up in the film.  (Bizarre fantasy pops aside.)

The consistent disgust the film throws at Mo’Nique’s character is nearly unparalleled, to my limited memory.  I’m fairly certain she could make the Terminator cry.  There’s little doubt in my mind that ten years from now, when this blog is all I have to remember this decade’s movies, I won’t have forgotten Mo’Nique’s role any more than that of Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurrh.  She’s an ugly, ugly character and an extremely cutting villain.

The rest of the film, frankly, seems largely like background noise meant to make the scenes between Sidibe and Mo’Nique pop that much more.  Maybe that’s not entirely fair.  The first glimpses of Precious’s schooling are pretty compelling.  But then I started getting flashbacks to the treacly Freedom Writers.  Perhaps, in a perfect world, the lack of substance beyond the two characters would have a significant impact on the Academy.  And who knows, maybe it does.

But I think a pretty convincing case could be made that Oscar tends to fall for character-driven films.  Which isn’t necessarily bad, of course.  I’m certainly not advocating the Academy should try to honor movies with weaker characters.  Just that a solid character does not always a movie make.  Precious, though, comes darn close because of just how vividly it paints the two major characters.

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