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Thanks to popular demand, we’ve decided to bring back the insightful series of posts we ran last year in the week leading up to Oscar nominations.  As you might recall, in Grouching the Oscars, we finally put to use all the Oscar movies we’ve seen by sharing our hopes and expectations for the list.

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.  Let’s kick things off by asking the team: What bone fide long shots should get a nomination?

Adam: No comedy on Oscar night would give me a Hangover

Is The Dark Knight still in the running for this year? No? Then I guess I will have to go with The Hangover.

What is it about comedies that make it impossible for the Academy to nominate them for Best Picture? Does no one in the Academy have a sense of humor? But I don’t think that is the case as what “serious” person could vote for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button as a legitimate (and former front-runner) nomination for Best Picture? Who can possibly talk about Alec Baldwin being nominated for Best Supporting Actor with a straight face? Maybe the Academy thinks The Hangover is too main-stream, too hip, and/or too generational (at least, a generation other than their own).

Whatever the reason, it is almost guaranteed not to secure a nomination (in almost every category). Another year, another disappointment by the Academy. If they keep this up, they’ll have to do a lot more than increase the number of Best Picture nominees to increase viewership.

Jared: Without Paul Schneider, the Academy would be missing a Bright Star

I had a little trouble with this category because some things I’m rooting for seem to be hovering around that last one in/first one out spot.  But I didn’t want John to yell at me, and Adam beat me to the punch on The Hangover (which I would have used for script).  So I’ll go with Paul Schneider for Supporting Actor.  Part of it, of course, is my appreciation of his prior work (I literally just now realized the oddity of him starring in All the Real Girls and Lars and the Real Girl.)  And yes, part of it is that I want to justify putting Bright Star in the super secret Golden Grouches worksheet.  But, looking back at my writeup of the movie, I called Schneider “clearly the highlight of the film” and I guess my appreciation hasn’t diminished since then.  In a period film light on, well, just about everything, Schneider managed to shine.  He provided comic relief without going over the top (something more difficult to do in a slight film like Bright Star, I think) and served as friction to create much of the drama in the film.  But perhaps the best thing about the performance is how Schneider gets his character into a subtle space between hero and anti-hero, friend and user.  It is a fascinating look at what the stereotypical”best friend” role can be.  He’s not a good guy, he’s not really a bad guy, he’s just interesting.  It is a complex role, one I may even have missed if not for this here blog, but it would be nice to see Oscar voters be more perceptive than I was.

Brian: Viggo Mortensen Should Walk The Road to Oscar

Probably my favorite bad-ass actor out there, I’d like to see Viggo nominated for Best Actor, in part because he was great in The Road but also because it’s the movie’s best shot at being recognized period. For a character with no name at all (listed as “Man” in the credits, Viggo is superb in creating a lot out of nothing. The sparse landscape of post-apocalyptic Earth is matched by the equally sparse script and character development. So much of the fear, love, and existential dread comes via the acting, and I don’t know if another actor could have pulled off the role and made the movie bearable to watch.

John: Keep the Academy In the Loop

The single best written film I saw in 2009 was In the Loop. And it really wasn’t even close. It has everything you want in a script, from crackling dialogue to a premise that never falls short. The large ensemble of characters is all fleshed out, but not to the point of diminishing their impact as satirical caricatures. And the jokes come a mile a minute, from broad, expletive-laden comedic rants and one-liners to over-arching clever thematic points on government, power, and war.

I don’t want to detract from other elements of the film, such as the terrific acting and spot-on direction, but the script would work on its own as a piece of hilarious literature. We need more films with writing like In the Loop and it needs to find a place in the Adapted Screenplay slate.

If anyone else out there has other long shots whose names they’d like to hear read on February 2nd, please chime in, we’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Why don't you whine about it some more?

Why don't you whine about it some more?

Period romances have an inherent edge in the quest to be compelling, I think.  Just seems it is a lot easier to find obstacles to love in the class and gender boundaries of the 19th century than today.  Girl has money, guy doesn’t, girl’s family won’t let them marry.  See, just takes five seconds to set up the story.

Of course, that simplicity is a double-edged sword.  While it can take just a scene to set up a plausible and engaging romantic entanglement, that leaves the whole rest of the movie to figure out ways to make that romance interesting.  Bright Star, unfortunately, isn’t up to the task.

Even if you don’t know anything about John Keats’s life, the film isn’t really particularly surprising.  Abbie Cornish plays Fanny Brawne, a somewhat educated young woman of some means who is a bit proud of her sewing career.  As soon as Keats (Ben Whishaw), a young poet of little renown and even less money enters her life, it is clear (by all the usual ways) they’ll be an item.  The problem is that the film never really advances much beyond that stage.

The movie in a nutshell: Fanny is whiny and Keats is wimpy.  Other people claim the film has subtle, delicate layers.  But frankly, I’m didn’t see that at all.  There isn’t really much to their story, or much reason to get invested in the characters.  Their courtship was vague and detached.  I never saw a moment where Fanny falls in love or even a reason why she does.  And Keats seems to mostly ignore her.  There is very little romantic bickering.  And the scene where they do get together feels accidental.  It is kinda sorta a forbidden romance, but only in the sense that Fanny and Keats exert the least possible effort to try to get together.  I half expected any of the secondary character to slap either Keats or Fanny and excoriate them for their inaction.  Basically, in my mind, the story held very little interest as a romance, and there wasn’t really anything else there besides the romance.

Other than the comic relief, which was far and away the best part of the film.  There were several legitimately funny moments in the film, and increasingly they became focal points.  Certainly a large part of that is due to Paul Schneider, but I’d also spread the love around to the rest of the cast and writer/director Jane Campion.  Schneider plays the portly Charles Armitage Brown who has what kids these days call a bromance going with Keats.  A fellow poet, Brown is wholly devoted to his and Keats’ work, well, except for partaking in some sensual pleasures, and is (rightly, in my mind) skeptical of Fanny.  Obnoxious and overbearing, Brown is clearly the highlight of the film.

Bright Star has been bandied about in talks of all the major Oscar categories, save supporting actress.  Frankly, I think it’d be a mistake for the film to receive any nominations.  I’ve covered why I think the film is boring and how I was put off by Abbie Cornish and Ben Whishaw.  I don’t like to speak about direction, but I will say that I found the cuts between scenes to be highly distracting, so I guess I have to blame Campion for that.  I wouldn’t really be upset if Schneider picked up a supporting actor not.  He did a lot with a relatively slight role; had he been given a more substantial character, I’d be much more confident in handing him a nomination.

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