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In case you missed it, The Thin Man remake appears to be really and truly going forward.  As a fan of the series, I was pretty excited when I heard the rumors last year, so I’m glad it seems closer to happening.  Some may balk at the idea of messing with a classic.  But the original film had numerous sequels.  And as Hart to Hart, Moonlighting, Remington Steele (or Bones and Castle, if you prefer more recent incarnations) all show, attractive couples solving mysteries while engaging in non-stop witty repartee is a pretty timeless formula.

Rob Marshall is directing, which…I dunno.  Wouldn’t have been my first choice.  And Johnny Depp is playing Nick Charles, which should be interesting.  Depp clearly is capable of knocking a fast-talking smarter-than-thou boozehound out of the park.  So what of his wife, Nora?  The role, which vaulted Myrna Loy to stardom, requires a rather particular set of qualities.  Nora is a wealthy socialite who is every bit Nick’s equal in brains and alcohol tolerance.  And while they both may be familiar with the concept of manners, Nora is only one of the pair who actually puts them into practice, save for opportunities to take playful jabs at her husband.

Anyway, here are some names off the top of my head I’d toss out for Nora, if I got to cast her on an unlimited budget:

Rachel Weisz  is the first person who came to mind when I think about this.  And apparently, I’m not the only one.  Her performances in The Mummy and The Brothers Bloom suggest she’s got the comedic (both verbal and physical) chops needed to take on the role, and she does have an Oscar on the mantle.

Maybe it is my Bond-bias talking (if Gemma Arterton were about ten years older, this role would be perfect), but I think Rosamund Pike has been woefully underused.  I guess I haven’t really seen her in a straight comedic role yet, but she was cast in Johny English sequel, so someone thinks she can do it.  Compare her to Halle Berry in Die Another Day.  If she can so adroitly handle the quips there, she’ll do wonders with a more intelligent script.

Between Happy-Go-Lucky and Made in Dageham, Sally Hawkins clearly has the independent woman thing down.  Her Nora would perhaps be a little softer than Loy’s, but I think the only real question is how well she’d blend with Johnny Depp.

Frankly, I’m surprised Reese Witherspoon‘s name hasn’t come up more often.  Other than the whole being blond thing, she’s a fantastic fit.  If you only remember the romantic comedies, don’t forget she’s tackled two pretty big British works (Vanity Fair and The Importance of Being Earnest) and has an Oscar.  In a roundabout way, her June Carter is very much like Nora Charles.

I’ve always wanted to see Kate Winslet tackle a slightly less…depressing film.  She doesn’t have a rich comedy background, but she was pretty funny in Extras.  Nora Charles needs to fit in with the salt of the earth and high society, and I’m pretty certain Winslet could run that gamut.  Plus, she already successfully paired up once with Johnny Depp (you didn’t forget Finding Neverland was nominated for seven Oscars, did you?)

She’s actually turning 33 this month, Ginnifer Goodwin just plays young.  Don’t forget, Loy wasn’t a star until after the film.  And hey, it is my list, I’m allowed to play favorites if I want.  Besides, anyone who can handle Ed’s dialogue can take on the inevitable rat-a-tat lines that will be in this film’s script.

Of course, my Mom makes an excellent point.  All of this is pretty irrelevant.  The only casting decision that really matters is figuring out who is going to play Asta.

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Some awards season movies just aren’t meant to be Best Picture contenders. You can pick out films that seem like prestige flicks, but as they roll out a common refrain is that the film is just not good enough… but so and so sure is great! These are the performance showcases, a film whose only nomination hopes hinge on an actor or two.

I took a look at some of this year’s performance showcases, most of which totally fizzled down the stretch. But they’re all actually quite good and worth a watch (with one very notable exception).

Fair Game

This is the one whose lack of success puzzles me the most because it’s a darn good film that seems up the Academy’s aisle. A telling of the Valeria Plame affair with Naomi Watts as Plame and Sean Penn as her husband, Joe Wilson, Fair Game does a wonderful job of navigating a complex narrative while demonstrating the absurdities and injustices of the whole ordeal.

It’s also a terrific domestic drama. Plame just wants to be a good CIA officer and stay out of the limelight while Wilson wants to fight back in the media and take on the Bush administration. The result is a strained marriage, portrayed effectively without dialing up the melodrama.

Penn is such a blowhard in real life that I’d never expect him to have a role that allows him to bloviate about the Bush administration without coming off like a blowhard. And yet, he’s great: stubborn but loving, hurt and lashing out but intelligent and calculating. I guess I should stop being surprised by him. I walk into a film thinking about how obnoxious I find the guy and yet he always makes me forget that I’m watching Sean Penn. Watts got more awards attention, though I found her less memorable but still very good.

Fair Game is a great mix of entertainment and message without overdoing the latter. It’s a great example of how to pull off an effective political drama. I’m afraid its lack of awards season traction will consign it to anonymity.

I'm gonna work wicked hahd to get you out of jail

Conviction

If any film had “Oscar bait” written all over it, it’s this one. If it wasn’t based on a true story you might think it was a parody of Oscar films. Hillary Swank plays a single mother who puts herself through law school in order to clear her brother (Sam Rockwell) of a murder he did not commit. This should really be an unbearable cliche of a film but it’s actually pretty good. I don’t think it does anything groundbreaking, but it tells the story coherently and hits the right notes without overdoing the schmaltz.

And here’s the surprising thing: Swank is really good. If I had a ballot, she would have been on it. She’s earnest and sports a Massachusetts accent but doesn’t overdo it. She picked up a SAG nomination and seemed like a decent shot for an Oscar nod up until the end. I would have been quite okay with that. Rockwell is also good, as always. I wouldn’t recommend Conviction over Fair Game or Made in Dagenham, but I think those who rent it during the dreary spring months would be pleasantly surprised.

Made in Dagenham

Sally Hawkins is the star of this one. Literally, sure, she leads the film, but she’s so good. She plays the leader of a group of female Ford sewing machinists who go on strike in 1960s England. It’s one of those films about fighting for what you believe in and daring to dream. And it’s pretty darn good. Once again, not groundbreaking, but very entertaining and effective. It’s the kind of film that leaves you smiling as you leave the theater.

Hawkins steers the film wonderfully. She’s appropriately inspiring when necessary and nails all the rousing lines. This is usually when my eyes start rolling, but her performance and some good writing combine to hit the right, sincere notes. But Hawkins is also great because of her range. She’s not just very good as an inspiring leader, but also as a mother, a friend, and even a jokester.

It’s too bad Hawkins’s campaign never picked up much traction. Miranda Richardson seemed like a better shot for Supporting Actress, at least earlier in the season. She’s also good, but I think her success as Secretary of Employment Barbara Castle has more to do with a forcefully written role that allows her to unleash some zingers on her bumbling male staff.

I would have thought Dagenham could have made some waves in some technical categories as a period piece: Makeup or Art Direction, perhaps. A small plot point revolves around an outfit, so Costume was a definite possibility to the point that I predicted its nomination. Alas, this nice film will be totally missing from Oscar night.

This scene is especially bad

Casino Jack

Kevin Spacey landed a Golden Globe nod for his role as Jack Abramoff. But boy is this an awful movie. It goes for a zany tone like Oceans Eleven or The Informant! but it’s all wrong. Turning the story into a humorous romp undermines the political points it tries to make, not that those points are made subtly or effectively. Furthermore, the plot has trouble unfolding coherently. I didn’t like Spacey at all in this role and Barry Pepper is terrible as his business partner.

I left Fair Game intrigued and spent an hour reading up on the whole affair online once I got home. It felt like I left Casino Jack knowing even less about Abramoff than I did going in and what’s worse is I didn’t care.

Skip it!

Hooray, the movie's over!

It is easy to criticize the Academy for its choices.  Like any organization, they are going to make unpopular decisions.  And as with any vote, the most deserving person or film isn’t guaranteed victory in the least.  But part of the genesis of this project is the idea that it isn’t fair to ridicule a winner without seeing all of the other nominees.  So, we watched all the nominees.  Quixotic?  Maybe.  Fun?  Almost always.  Here’s what we thought of the Best Actress category:

Read the rest of this entry »

I’m often one to go on about films that succeed without much of a plot. The actual story can take a back seat to the film’s characters and interesting themes or we can simply revel in its atmosphere. For every complaint from another Grouch about how nothing much happens in a movie there’s a reply from me talking about how it doesn’t matter because it’s actually a character-driven film, that the plot isn’t as important. Who cares when a story plods along if everything else is so right? Forget the usual conflict or plot twist if the film manages to fascinate us through other means.

So, um, Happy-Go-Lucky is kind of boring and nothing really happens.

It’s meant to be one of those character-driven films but I didn’t find the characters enthralling enough to hold my attention over its long spans of plotlessness. Sally Hawkins plays Poppy, a school teacher who is always genuinely happy. And it is a generally interesting character. Initially she comes off manic, like maybe she’s using her joy to mask insecurity or some sort of mental imbalance. But it’s not an act, she is just plain cheerful. And the happiness isn’t a mark of immaturity as we learn that she is grounded and certainly not naive.

And that’s a nice angle in such a cynical age. A character who’s just plain happy. Brilliant in its simplicity, no?

My problem was that it might be too simple. At some point Poppy’s cheer begins to feel one-note and even a little irritating. She doesn’t seem to express her own opinions much as scene after scene shows conversations where she simply agrees with whatever other people say even as they become contradictory. Her style of cheer is to goof around but not in a truly funny manner. She just sort of riffs without much in the way of joke development. And that’s not really all that interesting over time. It also drew away from the realism as Poppy and other characters snap off mildly amusing one-liner after mildly amusing one-liner.

There’s not much in the way of conflict. Eddie Marsan’s character is Poppy’s opposite: angry, rude, racist, short-tempered. I liked they way they play off each other for a while, but the conclusion felt a bit contrived. I’d like to see a sequel centered around him. A subplot with a pupil peters out and a scene with a homeless man is jut confusing.

So Hawkins was overlooked for Best Actress to many’s dismay but to my indifference. Sure I probably would have chosen her over Angelina Jolie but it’s not a great loss. The Original Screenplay nod is nice as something different and it does develop a fairly interesting character even if the plot doesn’t much take her anywhere.

But the big question is, Eddie Marsan’s teeth: real or fake? If fake, get Happy-Go-Lucky a Makeup nomination, post haste!

Well the nominations have been announced and those looking for surprises are happy this morning. The Grouches did get at least one nasty surprise.

Dark Knight Debacle

I was expecting the Academy to screw up and skip over Dark Knight for Best Picture. I thought Christopher Nolan had a better shot at Director. But the huge surprise was no Adapted Screenplay nomination. Four of the five Best Picture nominees were nominated in that category with the fifth slot going to Doubt. That’s a pretty shoddy film to be passed over for.

On the other hand, it got nominated in every technical category it was eligible for besides Score and Costume for a total of 8 nominations (including Supporting Actor Heath Ledger).

The Winslet Conundrum

Kate Winslet was aiming for Lead Actress in Revolutionary Road and Supporting in The Reader despite both roles probably being lead. She won these categories at the Globes. But the Academy puts her in the Lead role for The Reader and nothing for Road.

So we can play the what if game. Rules in the acting categories state an actor cannot: a) be nominated more than once in the same category, nor b) be nominated twice for the same role. If those rules were removed I would not be surprised if Winslet qualified for Lead for both roles AND Supporting for The Reader. When something like this happens the Academy goes with the role that got the most support and that apparently was Lead for The Reader.

Hooray for Little Movies!

My happiest moment came with the announcement of Richard Jenkins for Actor in The Visitor. Melissa Leo also managed an Actress nod for Frozen River when it seemed like her chances were fading. The biggest out of nowhere surprise may be that film’s Original Screenplay nomination.

Leo’s inclusion may have meant Sally Hawkins’s exclusion for Happy-Go-Lucky but that film still managed an Original Screenplay nod. And that interesting category ALSO includes the wonderful In Bruges. Plus WALL-E, which no one would call a little movie. Those interesting nominations pushed out films like Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Burn After Reading, however.

Long shots Darren Aronofsky and the film itself for Best Picture didn’t pan out, but at least Marisa Tomei was able to join co-star Mickey Rourke as an acting nominee for The Wrestler. That’s great, though the film really should have gotten a screenplay nod. And Bruce Springsteen’s exclusion for Song is downright confounding.

Other Surprises

I’m not complaining, but it was widely expected Dev Patel to get a Supporting Actor nomination for Slumdog Millionaire and he did not. Instead Michael Shannon from Revolutionary Road snuck in from way back in the pack to give the film its only major nomination.

Another puzzling exclusion was Waltz with Bashir in the Animated Feature category. The animated, foreign-language documentary was nominated for Foreign Language Film and ineligible for Documentary Feature. Kung Fu Panda and Bolt join WALL-E as Animated Feature nominees. After the near unanimous love for the film its absence is quite surprising.

So Jared got his wish for some surprises but managed to be nearly completely wrong in his predictions.

Some other prediction notes after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

Happy-Go-Lucky is brilliant in its simplicity.  It details a few weeks in the life of Poppy (Sally Hawkins), who is remarkable for the complete and utter joy she gets out of life.  And that’s the whole story.  The beauty of the film is that Poppy’s joie de vivre never really gets cartoonish (in, say, a Jim Carrey sort of way) or off-putting, and she’s never forced to deal with some horrible tragedy that shatters her worldview.  Instead, Poppy’s everlasting happiness is actually the source of her depth, creating a memorable character.

In this case, it is important to distinguish the character from the film.  Because while Hawkins’s effervescence dominates the movie, it is a mistake to let her define it.  And if Hawkins is like the bubbles in a glass of seltzer, the movie is that seltzer: refreshing, to be sure, but unlikely to be remembered after a day or so.  Maybe that’ll be the last extended metaphor for awhile.

The film’s genre may be best defined as “family-friendly, but not meant for kids”; it is hard to imagine any adult being offended by Happy-Go-Lucky.  It was bold to make a movie with virtually no conflict (save for perhaps two exceptions) and I think it is a testament to writer/director Mike Leigh and Sally Hawkins that the movie succeeds as well as it does.  That said, the movie is far from great.  The lack of conflict leads to lack of resolution, leaving the movie feeling somewhat incomplete.  While many comedies overcome a weakish plot by being consistently funny, Happy-Go-Lucky too often seems to get bogged down preparing to make some sort of bold statement it never gets around to making.  The scene by the train tracks, for example.  Or the subplot starting with Poppy’s student who likes to pick fights.  Perhaps most telling is that it is a struggle to remember which, exactly, were the funny parts, but I can distinctly remember the parts which seems slow or off-kilter.

I’d certainly recommend Happy-Go-Lucky, it is probably a good movie to see when trying to find something to pacify everyone in a group.  But there have been plenty of movies this year I more enjoyed.  I’ve seen a little buzz around an original screenplay nomination, and while I wouldn’t be upset, I don’t think the film is deserving, so I’d be a little disappointed.

I’m starting to see a little bit of support for Eddie Marsan getting a supporting actor nod.  He’s actually quite good in the movie, being the only one who gives Hawkins a run for her money.  His driving instructor was also pretty much the only character in the movie to exhibit any sort of range of emotions, which probably props up his chances some.  I liked him, but if his character were in a different movie, I don’t think he’d be getting as much notice.  Again, I’m not sure I’d start advocating an Oscar revolution if he gets a nomination, but I’d be very surprised if he’s one of my top five by the end of the year.

Finally, there’s Sally Hawkins.  Who, right now, is looking like she’ll get squeezed out of a relatively strong actress race.  It is kind of hard to compare her here, because her character is intentionally one note.  I have to give her credit, Hawkins remains funny throughout the entire film, without ever really veering over the top, and her timing is pretty fantastic.  She makes the film, and in the hands of some other actresses, I think the movie would have been much less enjoyable.  I haven’t seen enough of the contenders yet to make any sort of statement here, but I look forward to placing her in context.

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