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And now, part two of Ian and Jared’s fantasy Sundance draft.  If you missed it, check out part one for scoring and the first four picks.

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

Low Down

Jared: Director Jeff Preiss is a cinematographer and experimental filmmaker, and this film is about a jazz pianist and his daughter, so I’m taking the movie under the principle that anything unappealing to me is probably a good bet for awards love. Preiss has been knocking around for awhile to some acclaim, and this is his first crossover to anything that could be considered mainstreamish. What mostly drew me to the film were the lead actors: Elle Fanning and John Hawkes. I’m not saying we are high on Fanning, but I thought Elle Fanning deserved an Oscar nomination for Super 8, and Ian is the one who likes her more. She’s a fantastic actress who already has British Independent and Satellite nominations on her resume. John Hawkes has an Oscar nomination, of course, and is just generally awesome. He also shares an Sundance Special Jury Prize for ensemble acting. The rest of the cast includes Peter Dinklage, Glenn Close, Taryn Manning, Lena Headey, and Flea, with Anthony Kiedis listed as a produce. Which is fascinating, if nothing else.

Ian: Just to be clear, Internet weirdos, we think Elle Fanning is a terrific actress, nothing more. But yes, she was the best thing in the charming Super 8, and her performance in Somewhere was approaching transcendent. And I don’t need to sell anyone reading this on John Hawkes, or the rest of the cast. My hesitation is that it may seem a little slight and unfinished even for a Sundance movie, but that’s a mild reservation. If it’s good, I think it would perform well, and I’ll probably be strongly into seeing it. I’d have taken it next.

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

Dear White People

Ian: Instead, I took a movie that’s probably going to end up less on the lyrical side. Dear White People seems like enough of a polemic that I suspect I’m giving up shots at the Grand Jury and Audience awards, since satire may be a genre even less favored than horror. I do think this movie is very likely to land Justin Simien something, however, since he seems like a smart, already recognized writer who, let’s face it, knows how to market himself well. I’m not saying that to be dismissive, or to say that the film is unlikely to stand on its own, but I think having a nose for p.r. and recognition is a skill (as the Weinsteins prove every award season). Aiming for a writer’s/director’s award here, and hopefully, a smart and subversive movie.

Jared: I strongly considered this one. Look, in order to be an ace awards pundit, you have to throw political correctness out the window. It seems safe to argue that the type of people going to an indieish awards festival in Utah created by Robert Redford will fall over themselves to applaud an intellectual look at race in the country. The only question, really, is how subversive, how funny, how frank the film is. One gets the feeling Sundance folk would like to tsk-tsk others for their racism, it is unclear what the awards impact would be if the film asks viewers to think more critically about themselves.

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

Whiplash

Ian: This one is kind of a mirror image of Hellion, as a young man is brutally shaped by a parental figure in a feature film that was expanded from a short previously recognized at Sundance. The difference here is pedigree. Start with the cast, and Miles Teller in particular. I said this last year with The Spectacular Now, but Miles Teller is definitely one On The Verge, and he and Shailene Woodley took home a special jury award for his efforts in that film (aside: well-deserved, in my opinion). Now, he’s back in the competition as an intense student, being mentored by the always reliable J.K. Simmons. Add in that the film has already won a Jury Award as a short, and then Director Damien Chazelle got the feature-length script on the Black List, and this one has a lot of promise. Just as with J.J. Abrams and Infinitely Polar Bear, the presence of big macher Jason Reitman on the producer list also helps tip the scales. Starting to think I may have underrated it, if anything.

Jared: Hm. Yeah, this one may have fallen. Can’t think of many negatives here. Writer/director Damien Chazelle has a screenplay credit on The Last Exorcism Part II, which isn’t the most encouraging thing in the world, I suppose. And he wrote the upcoming Grand Piano, a thriller starring Elijah Wood as a concert pianist who John Cusack (presumably) threatens to kill if he plays a wrong note during a recital. But yeah, the film seems a good bet to bring home something.

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

God’s Pocket

Jared: As a huge fan of the TV show Ed, I’m tickled pink to see John Slattery directing a Sundance film. Even though Dennis Martino was obviously a bastard and totally wrong for Carol Vesey and maybe I digress. Slattery is best known, of course, for his role on Mad Men and has directed five episodes of the series, to some acclaim. This film marks his feature film debut as director. The cast is jaw-droppingly good: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Eddie Marsan, John Turturro, Richard Jenkins, and Christina Hendricks, it isn’t unreasonable to hope for a nod for one of them. The film is based on a novel by Peter Dexter, on whose novel The Paperboy was based, and who has screenwriting credits for Mulholland Falls, Michael, and an Emmy nomination for Paris Trout. So that’s a mixed bag. But the Sundance description includes “authentic”, which is always a good sign, plus it specifically mentions the cinematography, so it could be in the running for a point there.

Ian: It’s hard for me to get a read on God’s Pocket. On the one hand, this is bigger than the type of movie usually in the Sundance competition. This is probably the best prestige cast we’ve seen in our storied history of fantasy Sundance drafting. And yes, Lance Acord, the cinematographer, generally works in movies that premiere at Sundance, and not films in competition. On the other hand, how much of this acclaim is a favor to the well-liked John Slattery? This isn’t said to be dismissive at all, he may well be a great screenwriter, and he’s taken on some visually inventive episodes of Mad Men (Signal 30 in particular is likely an underrated episode in the Mad canon). We (well, I) just don’t know yet, and the film description sounds a little on the pedestrian side to be in the Jury Prize running. It’s probably a pick that’s going to score, and maybe one that has broad audience appeal and familiar characters, so I endorse it here.

Coming up next, part three of our draft.

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Once again this year we are a member of Film Independent, the group that runs the Independent Spirit Awards. That is, the four of us combine to form one voting member with one ballot. I guess we could probably each afford the fee to join, but we had such fun last year wrangling to figure out our one set of votes that we decided to do it again!

Each of us have a certain number of points to assign to the whichever nominees we want. The nominee with the most points for each category gets the Grouches’ collective vote! And in a few categories only one of us saw all the movies and therefore got the sole vote in that category.

Last week just before the deadline we gathered to reveal our votes and discuss the outcome.

BEST DOCUMENTARY

The nominees:

  • We Were Here
  • The Redemption of General Butt Naked
  • The Interrupters
  • Bill Cunningham New York
  • An African Election

WINNER: We Were Here

John: My sole vote goes to We Were Here. It’s a documentary about the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco.

Adam: Booooo

Brian: Boooooo – Bill Cunningham all the way

Adam: I completely disagree with both of you

Jared: Well, it didn’t take very long to turn on John, huh?

Adam: How can you not pick….quick, Jared, what’s another documentary?

Brian: John where is it available? That actually does sound interesting

John: It’s well made and naturally has an emotional impact. But what I found especially interesting is its look at what life was like during that time. What is it like when a mysterious disease is wiping out gay men? When something like a third of the people you know are dying? I think its next stop is DVD. It’s also a Film Fest DC 2011 alum!

Adam: There is an AIDS epidemic in San Francisco? Is it similar in scope to Africa?

Brian: I think he means during the 80s

John: I also rather enjoyed the two films about Africa. One about a militant leader who killed thousands in Liberia but is now a pastor (The Redemption of General Butt Naked). He goes around asking for forgiveness, which sets up some really fascinating encounters. What I really want to see is a follow-up. What do these people think of this guy, General Butt-Naked, when the cameras aren’t following him around? The other African film, An African Election, embeds filmmakers during the 2008 Ghanaian Presidential election. They have an extraordinary amount of access and present a very interesting portrait of a young democracy.

I also have to make one note about The Interrupters. It’s the film everyone is yelling about not even making the Oscar short list, which is also what happened to Hoop Dreams

Brian: Right

John: But it draaaags. The subjects and their work – stepping into street conflicts before they escalate – are really impressive. But after the nth scene where the interrupters do their interrupting, I felt like I got the point

Brian: If John thinks it drags then it must reallllly drag

John: But at least it has a bigger impact than Bill Cunningham 🙂

Brian: wait wait who needs an impact in a documentary? Not every documentary has to be out to solve the world

Adam: “solving the world” and “impact” are two different things

John: No, of course not. But I would like to have had a reason to have watched it

Brian: Sorry, I keep forgetting that you are a robot

John: And as I don’t care about fashion and have no nostalgia for old-timey journalism, Bill Cunningham was a trifle

Adam: wait…what? You went from arguing something didn’t have to have an impact to accusing John of being a “robot”

Jared: Documentary catfight!

Brian: hahaha. I misinterpreted what John meant by impact

John: I think though that you’ll like We Were Here

Brian: I probably will

John: And I know that Brian hates when I talk about this, but it also has a terrific title.

JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD

(For features made for less than $500,000)
The nominees:

  • Bellflower
  • Hello Lonesome
  • Circumstance
  • Pariah
  • The Dynamiter

WINNER: Bellflower

Jared: Our (or rather my) pick for the Cassavetes award is Bellflower.

John: Guh. Were the others really that bad?

Brian: Bellflower wasnt bad!

Jared: I really liked Bellflower, it was one of the real surprises of the year for me. It had flaws, no question, but I found it really engaging and found myself thinking about it for days after seeing it.

John: Did you find the first half at all engaging?

Jared: Yes.

Brian: the first half was fascinating

John: What was fascinating about it? It’s a group of shitstain hipsters being insufferable.

Brian: its the latter half that went off the rails

Jared: I didn’t say I wanted to hang out with the characters.

John: I at least appreciated that the last half went so insane. Best tattoo of the year?

Jared: Hahaha.

John: Better than the dragon tattoo.

Brian: Oh I found the latter half just too batshit crazy, but the first half felt very authentic and natural

Jared: And yes, the juxtaposition of the madness of the second half with the hipsterness of the first was really effective, I thought. I really liked how the film mixed things up, careening through genres.

John: So it’s a film about male aggression. But why does it have to be so uninteresting at the front end? And so obnoxiously artsy fartsy to end

Jared: It is more than just male aggression, though. Like any indie film it is about ennui and not having a direction. It is also a love story and apocalyptic.

Brian: and a bromance

Jared: Exactly. Not saying every beat hit or anything. But I admired the ambition and thought it mostly worked. Oh, also, I’m kind of in love with Rebekah Brandes.

John: Had you heard of her before the movie?

Jared: Nope.

Brian: She kept reminding me of Taylor Swift. Then I laughed at the idea of Taylor Swift being in that movie

John: She caught my eye too. For a while I thought she was the best actor in the film

Brian: yes, I’m sure that’s why Jared loves her. For her acting.

John: Haha

Adam: I guess I should put my comment on Bellflower in. I have to admit that this was probably the most powerful movie I saw this year. For whatever reason, I was also thinking about it for days afterwards. However, I just didn’t have the same positive reaction to it that Jared and Brian had. I will say that I still have not fully processed my feelings about the movie.

Brian: I also give Bellflower points for being the most original movie I’ve watched this year. Jared, tell us about the two films we missed

Jared: So Circumstance is eerily similar to Pariah, it is about two adolescent girls in Iran who become more than friends with each other and how they deal with their affection for each other in present day Iran. It was better than I was expecting, but I felt there was something more there to explore than the filmmakers shied away from, maybe because they thought the film was controversial enough.

Brian: was it made in Iran? or made by expats elsewhere

Jared: imdb says it is filmed in Lebanon, but it was in Persian.

Brian: Farsi

Adam: Farsi

Jared: Farsi. Sorry. Actually, no. I’m not sorry. Imdb says “Persian”

John: Since you say it’s similar to Pariah, can I ask if has a similar issue that I had with Pariah? That it feels like a film that tries too hard to be about the Lesbian Experience at the expense of story?

Jared: John, I hear what you are saying and I think that’s one difference between the two films. Probably because there doesn’t seem to be a lesbian culture in Iran to which the girls could escape. It was much more the two of them against the world.

John: I liked Pariah and it was an interesting look into a world I’m not familiar with. But it sort of seemed like they had a list of “bad things that happen to black lesbians” and checked the boxes

Jared: Hello Lonesome tells three stories: a May December relationship between a middle-aged guy who works from home and his elderly neighbor, a voiceover artist who works from home who has alienated his family and doesn’t have friends, and a budding relationship between two people who met online (one of whom is Sabrina Lloyd!) only for one of them to soon find out she has cancer. The stories never meet up at all, which is kind of strange.

John: Hmm, sounds like these people may be LONESOME or something

Adam: That sounds like one of the most boring movies ever

Brian: sounds like something John would love

Jared: It is a little better than boring, but not by a whole lot.

Adam: I was nodding off as I was reading your description

Jared: The filmmaker clearly had something to say about the need for relationships with other people, but couldn’t really figure out a story to tell it.

BEST SUPPORTING MALE

The nominees:

  • Albert Brooks, Drive
  • John Hawkes, Martha Marcy May Marlene
  • Christopher Plummer, Beginners
  • John C Reilly, Cedar Rapids
  • Corey Stoll, Midnight in Paris

WINNER: Corey Stoll (12 points – 8 from Jared, 4 from Adam)
Other votes: John Hawkes (4 points – Brian)
Christopher Plummer (3 points – John)

Brian: Woooo. I’m pleased with that

Adam: Nice!

Brian: but I need a defense from John on Plummer

John: I think you guys are the largest concentration of Plummer haters out there.

Adam: Actually, I would go with Plummer over Hawkes

John: He’s just marvelous. So much so that the movie blows when he’s off screen.

Brian: I think thats more because he was adequate

John: That said, I almost tossed Hawkes and/or Stoll points too. And I figured you guys would outvote me

Brian: Stoll was easily the best “character” of the bunch of the fantasy land folks in Parisian Narnia

Adam: True, and he had better dialogue than the others as well…BUT, he pulled it off fantastically

Jared: I don’t think anyone else dominated the screen the way Stoll did.

John: Yep, true

Adam: Agreed. I can’t believe he got passed over for the Oscars

John: Hawkes is still the master creep. That guy is going to get typecast but he’s so good at it!

Jared: Yeah, if he had more screen time, I’d have considered him, maybe.

Brian: Yes that was my only hesitation in giving him points — was he just being his usually creepy self

Jared: I don’t think he’s like that normally.

John: And don’t say too many mean things about him or he’ll show up at your house, sing you a creepy song, and stab your throat. So there was no temptation to give John C Reilly 35 points, Adam?

Adam: Yes. There was. You have no idea how strong it was. I just couldn’t do that because I felt so strongly about Stoll

Jared: I also want to say I’m glad none of us gave points to Brooks…I have no idea where his Oscar campaign came from.

John: I get it. He’s playing against type and he’s very memorably creepy. But, hell, you’ve got Hawkes doing it better here

Jared: Yeah, absolutely.

Brian: and Ron Pearlman was better in the same role

John: Surprisingly, Brooks has a great voice for being cruel

CINEMATOGRAPHY

The nominees:

  • John Hodge, Bellflower
  • Benjamin Kasulke, The Off Hours
  • Darius Khondji, Midnight in Paris
  • Guillaume Schiffman, The Artist
  • Jeffrey Waldron, The Dynamiter

WINNER: Midnight in Paris (15 points – Adam)
Other votes: Bellflower (4 points – 3 from Brian, 1 from John)
The Artist (1 point – Jared)

Adam: Yes!!! I win

Brian: Wow

John: Haha

Adam: I should have known none of you care about Cinematography. Barbarians

Jared: So maybe you can expound here, Adam?

Adam: Why?

John: I hope you enjoyed watching all these movies just to blow all your points on Cinematography

Adam: I didn’t really like most of the movies

Jared: What did you like about Midnight in Paris‘s cinematography?

John: I loved Midnight in Paris but I don’t recall much about the cinematography. Not that I cared much about this category this year.

Adam: I actually thought Midnight in Paris was well done. Especially the camera work and the dialogue. Just watch the opening scenes again to see what I mean. For me, Cinematography has a lot to do with the composition of the shots. It is hard to explain why one person or movie is able to compose and convey more through their shots than others. Midnight in Paris did it more for me than the others…which were, by and large, nothing special in this category.

Jared: That’s fair, the whole point of this category is visuals.

John: Did you know they built their own camera for Bellflower? That sort of industriousness will earn a point from me. So this category had two really small movies nominated in The Off Hours and The Dynamiter. And none of us can figure out why. I googled some reviews of The Off Hours and several mentioned the cinematography. So it’s not just the nominating committee smoking something

Adam: They ran out of eligible movies.

John: Drive has all sorts of iconic shots. Why not go for that over a where bored people populate a diner?

Jared: Drive was nothing but iconic shots, it seems silly for it not to be in here.

Brian: At least last year, with a movie like Tiny Furniture which I didnt enjoy, I found the cinematography noteworthy. But The Dynamiter – I didn’t get it at all.

John: Exactly. Jared, did you hate The Off Hours as much as us?

Jared: I wouldn’t say I hated it, but I didn’t enjoy it.

John: Jared, why The Artist?

Brian: Emulating an old movie style while also being modern

Jared: I’m not a visual person, so this category doesn’t mean that much to me, but I wanted to vote for something, and I had several vivid memories of shots from the film.

Adam: well that’s stupid

John: I appreciate that filming a black and white film requires different camera and lighting decisions. I think it would have been cooler if they actually used an older style camera instead of just changing it to black and white later

Brian: to quote Adam — well that’s stupid

John: But oh well. It definitely has some interesting visual elements, though I wonder if that’s more directorial

Adam: I would argue more directorial

BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE

The nominees:

  • Jessica Chastain, Take Shelter
  • Anjelica Huston, 50/50
  • Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
  • Harmony Santana, Gun Hill Road
  • Shailene Woodley, The Descendants

WINNER: Jessica Chastain (16 points – 12 from Brian, 3 from John, 1 from Jared)
Other votes: Shailene Woodley (2 points – John)

Brian: Thats hilarious. I thought John was going to Botz me and considering your inexcusable like of Albert Nobbs, I was worried

John: Well, it is the year of Chastain. I can’t pick which of her roles I like best. I generally think Take Shelter, but she’s also great in The Help. And of course I liked her in Tree of Life. But there’s no doubt she’s hottest in The Debt. A guy started talking to me in the bathroom about how much hotter she was in The Debt compared to the Israeli actress in the original

Brian: One of the things that has bothered me about a number of the movies this year is that the wives/girlfriends are harpy, selfish, whiny, or just awful people. But Chastain did a great job with the role of being the supportive mom and wife, while giving her moments to shine through her frustration. There’s no doubt that this was her best performance of the big 3 (Help, Tree of Life, Take Shelter) — and just thought I’d reward her for it.

John: It’s a noticeable, impressive dramatic performance. Does Huston seem like a nomination for being a name actress?

Jared: That is bizarre.

Brian: I thought she was great in 50/50 but…. not in it very much

John: It’s such a small role. But people were certainly talking about it

Jared: I’ll be honest, looking through our spreadsheet, where we just had the movie listed under this category, I assumed it was Anna Kendrick that had the nomination.

Brian: as did I

Adam: I would DEFINITELY have voted for her

John: But if you’re choosing a supporting role from 50/50 I think it has to be Bryce Dallas Howard

Brian: ew no

Adam: No. Once again, John is wrong

John: BDH is the anti-Chastain, racking up great, varied villain roles

Jared: And since John brought up hotness already…how about Shailene Woodley? Hubba hubba.

John: I gave Woodley two honorary points for contributing the two best parts of The Descendants: her gams. Yowza

Brian: Her gams?

Jared: Gams does not mean what you think it does.

Brian: that is not where I thought that was going

John: I don’t mind a movie where Woodley gets to wonder about in shorts or bikinis throughout

Adam: Agreed

Jared: She wore so much fewer clothing than anyone else in that movie. It was a solid choice by the costumer.

John: Haha. Yknow, Hawaii, or whatever

Adam: Do you think that is why they decided to do it in Hawaii?

John: She’s good too. I guess push come to shove I’d pick McTeer over her, but she’s still memorable. Love the swimming pool scene

Brian: you all are a bunch of cads

BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY

The nominees:

  • Another Earth
  • Margin Call
  • Terri
  • Cedar Rapids
  • 50/50

WINNER: 50/50 (10 points – 8 from Jared, 2 from Brian)
Other votes: Margin Call (6 points – John)

Brian: wooo

John: Oh PHEW. I suddenly got petrified you voted for Another Earth. I have a lot of goodwill for 50/50. But it just didn’t hit with me as much as I had hoped

Jared: So 50/50 was, hands down, one of the best screenplays of the year, it is a travesty it didn’t get an Oscar nom.

Brian: I concur. It had a fatal weakness, but was still very strong

Jared: Fatal would mean it died.

John: The weakness being the plot line with Anna Kendrick?

Brian: no. Bryce Dallas Howard

Jared: I actually liked that part.

John: The character?

Brian: the girlfriend was written so unsympathetically and given no chance at all to be a real person

Jared: I strongly disagree.

Adam: I agree with Jared…about strongly disagreeing

John: I hate to say it but I think it probably played out pretty realistically

Adam: Absolutely

John: A lot of young people bail on relationships when one gets sick

Adam: Brian, you are an idiot

Jared: It was made very clear the relationship had severe problems before the cancer diagnosis, and then she’s forced to deal with handling a guy she doesn’t really love having cancer.

Brian: sure

John: I liked that she kept trying to justify it to herself

Adam: Yep and yep

Jared: So where’s the weakness?

Brian: but from her being a mooch, to being a bad artist, to making out with a gross hippie, just layer upon layer of her sucking as a person, they could have had her just being a shitty person by bailing on him

Adam: Which is COMPLETELY realistic. You are just biased because you hang out with awesome people like us. Those type of people exist in spades

John: Ha, forgot about the hippie

Jared: She was in a bad spot and felt a need to escape.

Brian: she didn’t need to be a bad person in every realm of her life and she was

John: I really didn’t care for the romantic plot. Dating your patient is icky.

Jared: I don’t think they made her a horrible person, just not a completely successful one. And I agree with John, romancing Anna Kendrick was kinda icky and forced.

Brian: also agreed

Adam: But it was Anna Kendrick

Jared: Oh yeah. Don’t get me wrong, if she were my doctor, I’d fall in love with her.

Adam: Exactly

Brian: and if Joseph Gordon-Levitt were your patient? you’d probably fall in love with him

John: I mean, you have a film about a young person with a serious illness combined with a mildly profane comedy. That’s enough. Why also shoehorn in a basic romantic plot?

The only twist to the basic movie romantic plot was that she is his therapist, which just makes it worse. Or just make her a random person or a fellow patient. There’s a lot of stuff to mine there. But, like I said, it still worked for me in the illness half of the film and it really packs a wallop with the occasional scene or line of dialogue

Jared: I hate to agree with John about romance, but I think you are spot on. Could you talk a little about the Oscar-nominated Margin Call?

John: Margin Call just enthralled me. It’s got a great structure of a workplace drama with big stakes taking place over a limited period of time. And it also fits into my political wheelhouse, which made me just love it even more. It could have easily been just about sleazy bankers, which is rote at this point. But instead its point, such as it is, is more subtle: that the whole system is kind of ridiculous. Like the way characters occasionally marvel at how much they make or how little they know.

Jared: I would have liked to have focus more on the number crunchers. Number crunchers seem like the true heroes in today’s society.

Brian: I really appreciated how the “villain” kept shifting further and further up the ladder

Jared: That was a neat conceit. Which ties into what John was saying, I think.

John: Yep. And the further up the chain you go the less in tune they are to the actual market. These guys make so much money and I just don’t really get why it isn’t competed away. They get paid like professional athletes for much more common skillsets. It could have been fine as an Occupy Wall Street screed, but it happened to present an outlook that I share so it really hit home for me.

Jared: I agree that Margin Call’s structure was unique, I just found the dialogue uninspired

Brian: and I found the character development was too sparse other than Spacey

John: That’s true re: character development. But I think it’s fine to let that slide as it’s meant to be about intense developments in a large organization over the course of about 24 hours.

I want to talk about Terri quickly because the movie it reminds me of the most is Please Give. The “ships passing in the night” thing that Brian talked about last year

Brian: I forgot about Please Give!

Jared: I don’t see that comparison at all.

John: You’ve got interesting characters. A few things happen over the course of a week or two. A few things are somewhat resolved, many are not. Movie over.

Jared: Isn’t that a lot of movies?

Brian: I thought Terri was fine and all, but I dont see the connection either

Jared: Like, you just described The Descendants.

Brian: And A Better Life

John: It’s that the plot revolves around these people crashing into each other and that’s about it. Descendants, Better Life, etc have more plot threads

Brian: I found Terri to be much more difficult to watch than Please Give and not nearly as well written

John: Please Give and Terri are really nothing more than creating some characters and letting them interact with a minimum of story points

Jared: Please Give also had lots of jokes. Terri…did not.

Brian: and Please Give has Catherine Keener!

John: It’s just interesting that all our opinions are flipped. I forgot about Please Give immediately and you guys loved it. The opposite for Terri

Brian: maybe because the movies aren’t similar

Jared: Terri just seemed so proud of itself for coming up with the idea of a hulking kid in high school having trouble fitting in, and then never went anywhere.

Brian: but Terri does have one thing in common with Cedar Rapids

Jared: Can we all agree Cedar Rapids was atrocious?

John: No

Brian: yes! Speaking of movies that don’t have jokes

John: All comedies seem to have to be hard R, romcoms, or kiddie movies these days. I liked that here was one that is just a basic comedy for adults. Amusing, entertaining, and isn’t going for anything more

Jared: It had exactly one funny joke.

John: Now, I’m not saying I need to see it again, but it hit a niche I feel like we don’t see any more. Don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of edgier movies. But now that they are the trend we’re getting a lot of bad ones and it’s nice to have something like Cedar Rapids which is content as it is

Jared: I wish it weren’t content not being funny.

John: It was humorous. Gives you some good chuckles but your spleen ain’t splitting. Oh and Another Earth: Awful or really awful?

Brian: neither

Jared: Another Earth was fine. I would have liked to explore the sci-fi aspects a little more.

Brian: I thought it was a fine premise with good characters but I concur with Jared about the sci-fi parts

John: Another Earth has a boring domestic drama and a barely used sci-fi element. The sci-fi seems like all a build up for the final shot, which does pack a punch. But woo boy did I not care by then

Brian: I thought it was just a backdrop

John: Yeah but why bother if you’re hardly going to use it?

Brian: That didn’t bother me as much as the fact that if the Another Earth was that close. How come the waves weren’t affected?

John: Haha yeah really. There have been a number of movies this year where I thought “Why aren’t the tides affected?” Another Earth, Melancholia, Transformers

Stay tuned for when we cast our votes for the other categories!

I’ve been trying to think for some time now why the plot of The Descendants seems so familiar.  To briefly sum up, and I think I’m not describing anything that wasn’t in the trailer, George Clooney’s wife gets into a boating accident that leaves her on life support.  Things hadn’t been going great in that relationship, but Clooney is still surprised when his kid (Shailene Woodley) tells him that Mom was cheating on him.  While all this is going on, Clooney, as a result of land that goes several generations back in the family, is negotiating with his family to determine which of the various buyers he’ll sell the land to, transferring the largest lot of virgin land left in Hawaii and garnering a huge windfall.

So, OK.  Our cast of characters includes a cheating wife (and later on we are introduced to the guy with whom she was cheating) and various family members who aren’t really sketched out aside from the fact that they are bickering over who to sell to and are somewhat greedy, especially consider they didn’t really do anything to earn the land other than get lucky in the gene lottery.

Then it hit me.  That’s the plot of at least one episode of virtually every single mystery show I’ve watched.  And I’ve watched a ton of them.  I can turn this movie into an episode of Murder, She Wrote in three easy steps.  First, Jessica Fletcher gets involved in the case either because she is George Clooney’s cousin on the other side or because she was visiting an old friend who ended up in the same hospital as Clooney’s wife and she is the biggest busybody in the world.  Second, deviating from the movie a little, the police get called in and lock Clooney up for attempted murder, because they find his wife’s boat had been tampered with.  Third, Jessica now does all the stuff Clooney’s character did, except she snoops around a lot and figuring out who the real murderer was.

So perhaps it won’t be surprising to hear that I’m dismayed at all the acclaim the movie is receiving.  And not just because it isn’t actually a detective story.  I’m not necessarily shocked, though.  Other than not taking place during WWII, the film seems built to hit all the Academy notes.  George Clooney gets you half the way there, of course, but he’s playing a dad and husband who never really figured out what that means, though he’s trying to do so now.  Combined with the accident, you’ve got George Clooney as a flawed-yet-nearly-perfect rich single dad who lives in Hawaii.  Heck, I’m practically swooning over him.

For the straight males somehow immune (or pretending to be, most likely) to the charms of Clooney, you’ve got the beautiful Woodley.  She’s racking up the supporting nominations, but really, it is the bikinis she’s constantly in that should be getting the nominations for supporting her rack.  Ouch.  I’m sorry.  That’s a terrible line and I should know better.  Look, Woodley is a great actress and while I can’t yet say if she’d be in my top five, I’m certain I won’t be upset should we hear her name called nomination morning.  That said, she’s constantly wearing bikinis.  Even when no one else is in a bathing suit.  And John/Adam/Gavin made this point first after we left the theater, so I know I’m not just being pervy.

For issues voters, there’s Clooney trying to figure out how to be a dad and also dealing with white man’s burden.  And for the small percentage of geeks, there’s Judy Greer (with her Arrested Development cred) and co-writer Jim Rash (Dean Pelton on Community).

But frankly, I just don’t see how the film is deserving of all the acclaim it is receiving.  Since I know Adam isn’t going to write anything up, I’ll voice his complaint with the script: that it was uneven to the point where one scene would hit and the next would miss badly, suggesting it was pretty obvious the film was written by different writers.  I don’t necessarily disagree, even if I didn’t find the differences between scenes quite that stark.  Regardless, the script was maddeningly inconsistent.

The film found its biggest success when focusing on Clooney’s relationship with his kids (and by extension, his wife).  A “single” dad learning how to be a father to his kids isn’t exactly virgin cinematic territory.  But compare The Descendants, to, say, The Boys are Back, and you’ll see how this film is so confident and grounded in reality that the story never feels like it is one of those movies, in the sense that it is super easy to pigeonhole the Clive Owen movie as never escaping the single dad genre.

The other subplots, however, weren’t nearly as well-written.  The land deal, in particular, wasn’t fleshed out nearly enough.  The screenwriters didn’t figure out a way to adequately integrate that subplot with the rest of the film.  Which was frustrating, because it was interesting enough that I wanted to know more.  As is, however, it was pretty distracting.  To the point where I had zero emotional reaction to the inevitable scene of them looking out at their family’s land, other than wanting them to move things along.  I found the stuff with the wife’s infidelity adequate.  I liked all the actors involved (Mary Birdsong/Rob Huebel and Judy Greer/Matthew Lillard), but none of their scenes really stood out to me (save for Judy Greer’s final scene, of course).  That said, I appreciated how it served the family drama that I liked so much.

The Descendants is currently a near-lock for Oscar nominations for Picture, Director, Actor, and Adapted Screenplay, with Supporting Actress looking a pretty decent bet.  I enjoyed the film, but it is currently sitting around #25 in my list of 2011 movies, so you won’t be seeing the movie or script in my best of list.  As I mentioned with Woodley above, I’m OK with the seemingly inevitable Clooney nomination.  I’m not sure if he’ll end up in my personal top five, but I imagine he’ll be close enough that I won’t really get worked up over it.  Mostly, though, I’m confused about the passion this film seems to inspire in people.  I’m glad they are moved, I just can’t see why.

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