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I’m counting down all the movies released in 2012.  The ones I’ve seen, at any rate.  In what is unquestionably a timely manner.

#120.  Beasts of the Southern Wild

Ladies and gentlemen, the worst 2012 movie I watched.  And an Oscar nominee to boot.  I often take notes on movies after I watch them, to help me remember what I want to say for this end of year write up.  The entirety of my notes on this one reads: “Just terrible.”  In my humble opinion, it was poorly written, poorly directed, and poorly acted.  Obviously, many people disagree with me on this one, though I wonder if they realize how wrong they are.  At any rate, the primary thing I look for in movies, generally speaking, is an interesting, coherent, engaging story.  Those words do not describe this movie’s plot.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, the film was snubbed for the one Oscar for which the film should have been nominated, Best Score.

#119.  Les Miserables

And my two least favorite films were both Best Picture nominees.  Look at me being all contrarian.  I was a pretty big fan of Tom Hooper’s prior two films (The King’s Speech and The Damned United), but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a director so directly sink a film so badly.  His tight shots got Anne Hathaway the Oscar (along with, obviously, her incredible talent).  But they made the rest of the movie nearly unwatchable.  The story isn’t the greatest thing in the world, but it is so epic in scope, I can’t fathom the rationale behind the decision to make it so claustrophobic.  Also on Hooper’s watch, all of the actors felt like they were in different movies.  And the comic relief of Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter never seemed to fit into the film at all.  Maybe the best example is that I came out of the film thinking the music was terrible.  And most of the songs probably are no great shakes.  But there are a handful in there I ended up listening to a bunch (“I Dreamed a Dream”, “On My Own”, “One Day More).  The film was such a misfire that it completely distracted from the quality parts that should have stood on their own.  A special shout out to Samantha Barks, who was a rather pleasant surprise and one of the few tolerable things about the film.

#118.  The Master

Another Oscar nominee, though fortunately not for Best Picture, thank goodness.  Paul Thomas Anderson and I clearly have very different cinematic sensibilities.  His is terrible, is the problem.  Actually, I respect the heck out of his ambition and the top notch actors he draws to his casts.  But to me, his movies feel obtuse and, well, arty, just for the sake of being obtuse and arty.  Which is a shame, because the story of a charismatic, enigmatic cultlike leader, especially portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman has tons of potential.  I like Joaquin Phoenix in his role, but didn’t really think Amy Adams was given enough to work with, certainly not enough to merit an Oscar nomination.

#117.  The Paperboy

The big story on this one was that Nicole Kidman pees on Zac Efron.  Which does happen, though to be fair, there’s some relatively reasonable context.  The problem is more that there’s no reason for the scene to be in the film.  Or any scene, really.  I do have to give credit to director Lee Daniels and the production design team for creating an omnipresent sense of a hot, sticky, mess.  Coupled with the bonkers events of the film, I felt like I needed to take a shower while watching the film.  And another one afterward.  But holy cow does this film miss.  It inhabits that sweet spot between camp and over the top goodness where the film is terrible without being watchable for its terribleness.

#116.  Amour

And a third Best Picture nominee finds its way into my bottom ten.  The film is an uncompromising look at an elderly couple as the wife slowly succumbs to a debilitating disease.  It is incredibly harrowing to think about suffering a stroke in general, what it must be like to have that happen near the end of one’s life, and the impact on a devoted life partner.  The film absolutely did a great job raising and portraying those questions.  But here’s the thing I don’t get.  A writer surpassing my meager talents, even in the least, could do the same in about three sentences.  For me, the film didn’t add anything beyond saying how terrible the situation must be, much less be actually interesting to watch.

#115.  Rust and Bone

I already wrote this up a little (in horribly awkward fashion).  The film is frustratingly ADD, potentially interesting threads are picked up and put down without any thought for cohesion.  To the film’s credit, though, if I told you there was an Oscar nominated movie about a women who lost her legs in an accident and I asked you how the accident happened, it would probably take you quite a few guesses to get to “training killer whales”.  Marion Cotillard is quite good, though she wouldn’t have made my Oscar shortlist.  And Mattihas Schoenarts is interesting enough.  But there’s no good reason to watch this movie.

#114.  Rock of Ages

One of the last 2012 movies I watched, I was actually looking forward to the film.  I haven’t seen the musical on the stage, but I grew up on classic rock and found the cast pretty intriguing.  Maybe this mess works on Broadway, but watching the movie, I felt insulted.  It is so relentlessly stupid.  So much emphasis was placed on cramming as many songs into the thing as possible that it seemed like no one stopped to think about whether the movie was actually fun to watch.  The film randomly shuttles between subplots.  Well, let’s go with “subplots”.  Because while the movie does a decent job establishing the outlines of the characters, nothing really happens except maybe occasionally in the broadest of strokes.  Which, granted, is supposed to happen in a musical.  Except in a musical, the music generally, you know, is related to the story.  Tom Cruise was a lot of fun as a rock god, Paul Giamatti is always worth watching, and I’ll probably never have anything bad to say about Malin Akerman, even though her subplot was exceedingly dumb.  Everyone else, though, yeesh.  Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand were just painful, campy in all the wrong ways.  Bryan Cranston must have needed the paycheck, I guess?  Catherine Zeta-Jones couldn’t manage to rise above the script, and I’m still not entirely certain why Mary J. Blige’s character exists.  And I felt pretty badly for the ostensible leads, Diego Boneta and Julianne Hough, who were mistakenly asked to carry this trainwreck.  Boneta sure felt like a pretty boy cipher who I’d expect to see on Nashville next season.  I do believe Hough is talented, but to leap off the screen in this movie required a raw magnetism which probably can’t be taught and is possessed by only a very few actresses.  So instead she’s left to miserably flop around, and it ain’t pretty.  I think I share director Adam Shankman’s sensibilities, and he does a lot of things well, particularly capturing the kinetic energy of crowds, but I think he let the material down here.

#113.  Moonrise Kingdom

Also wrote up this one.  Wes Anderson, in my humble opinion, is insufferable.  He’s maybe got something interesting things to say about the relationship between kids and adults, and growing up, though I’m not sure if there’s anything he hasn’t already said.  But good lord.  Watching a Wes Anderson movie  is like having Wes Anderson sitting next to you, staring at you the whole time and poking you every minute, saying “I made this.  I made this.  I made this.”  Only because he’s not actually there, you can’t turn around and punch him.

#112.  The Three Stooges

I think I watched this one on a plane…maybe to/from Vegas?  Anyway, the first fifteen minutes actually weren’t too bad.  The rest of the film?  Good lord.  Just nonsense.  I mean, I get that the Stooges are hard to do in a modern setting.  But it would have been nice if it felt like the filmmakers actually put some effort into the story and script.  I’ve been thinking about how to do the Stooges, and I keep coming back to Dumb and Dumber.  The problem, of course, is that film was lucky enough to have Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels.

#111.  Premium Rush

Saw this one in LA while on a baseball road trip.  We partook of the wonder that is the Cinerama Dome.  Which is just a fantastic place to see a film.  And not just because it is a dome.  The assigned seating was a feature new to me at the time, though probably not necessary for the dozen or so people who saw the film with us.  The movie, unfortunately, was pretty dreadful.  I had mild hopes because Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Shannon are awesome and I couldn’t fathom how they ended up in a bike messenger movie.  It turns out watching bike messenging is exactly as boring as it sounds like it would be.  Who could have guessed?  The plot is paper thin and involves some sort of Asian mafia and gambling.  So, basically it has the plot of every third action movie made in the 80s.  The difference being, of course, that where action movies have, you know, action, this movie has people riding around on bikes.  I guess you could put a little blame on David Koepp, director, but I think it is more on David Koepp, screenwriter.

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The Grouches traditionally do a series where we write up our biggest hopes, expected disappointments, and things of that ilk in the days leading up to the nominations.  For a variety of reasons we decided to just put together a single post summarizing some of our feelings.  I’m sure you’ll be hearing a lot more from us in the days leading up to the Oscars.

JOHN

I find myself somewhat disengaged this year and I’m not sure if it’s my fault or the films’. I will say I haven’t found myself blown away by much this year and I haven’t uncovered much in the way of pet causes like the Richard Jenkins or In The Loop of years past. Part of that may be that I’ve seen fewer films than usual given the early nomination date. I’ll probably see Beasts of the Southern Wild or something next week and fall in love with it.

One nomination that could still possibly happen is an Original Screenplay nod for the inventive Looper, one of my favorite movies of the year. Some precursors have recognized the film, so my fingers will be firmly crossed.

Beyond that, my hopes are such long-shots that they’re not worth expending energy wishing for them:  Adapted Screenplay (or any category, really) for Bernie or a Best Actor nod for Logan Lerman in The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Finally, I’ll finish with some fairly unambitious desires. Brave moved me more than most, it seems. I think it will be fine but I hope the mild critical response and backlash about it being “lesser” Pixar doesn’t prevent it from getting its due in the Animated Feature category. And its two original songs are the best of the bunch so here’s hoping they get some recognition as well.

BRIAN

Biggest Hope:
The Fix-it Felix Version (happy): Since we’re working within reason here, its that Beasts of the Southern Wild gets a picture nomination. I’m relieved that I get to make this statement before my fellow grouches see it and hate it, because I loved it. The Katrina-inspired fable had some monumental acting performances, the score is the best I’ve heard since The Social Network (or perhaps even There Will Be Blood), and it toed the line masterfully between realism and fantasy.

The Wreck-it Ralph Version (angry): That Tom Hooper gets shut out of the director category for absolutely butchering Les Miserables. Everything about his choices ruined any chances I had of enjoying the musical and sapped all the life and emotion out of what is theoretically a good musical.

Biggest Lock:
The Channing Tatum 2012 Version (happy): Daniel Day-Lewis. He carried Lincoln from beginning to end and absolutely disappeared behind the beard and top hat.

The Taylor Kitsch 2012* Version (sad): Les Mis for best picture. See above — or just read Jared’s review in which he stole all of my good lines.

*John Carter was actually good. Don’t listen to people and go see it.

Biggest Disappointment:
The 21 Jump Street version (for a nomination): When someone from the boring and dull Best Exotic Marigold Hotel gets nominated.

The Rust and Bone version (for a non-nomination): When Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson get shut out of the Best Supporting Actor category. They carry the second half of the film and kick Django into a whole other gear of awesomeness.

JARED

Usually when we are writing up these posts, at least one of us begs for the Academy to throw some curveballs our way with an out of left field prediction or two.  You won’t see that this time.  Every single category is in play this year, and there are seemingly limitless scenarios of how this thing plays out.  Maybe Lincoln steamrolls to 300 nominations.  Maybe we only get five nominees and something big gets left out.  Could Zero Dark Thirty be huge and pull down all sorts of crazy noms?  It is going to be a lot of fun watching the nominations come out regardless of whose names are called.

Unfortunately I find myself agreeing with my compatriots.  I can’t really find any films or people on the bubble who I really want to see get in.  The Perks of Being of a Wallflower‘s screenplay, I guess?  It would be great if Matthew McConaughey could get a nomination, it is just hard to get behind his role in Magic Mike when he’s so riveting in Killer Joe.  I suppose, staying in the category, it is kind of silly that De Niro seems to be on his way to nomination for a relatively pedestrian performance, I wouldn’t mind if he missed.

I really want to be rooting for Skyfall, because Bond so rarely flies this close to Oscar, I just wish the film was, you know, actually a Bond movie.  That said, a cinematography nomination would be a lot of fun, and well-deserved.  And a Bond bad guy nomination is long overdue, so I’d be in favor of Javier Bardem showing up.

And the only thing I can think of that would really make me sad is a Tom Hooper nomination, but Brian covered that.  Well, the Les Miserables best picture nomination as well, for similar reasons.

Hey, maybe I’ll be able to get these all in before nominations are announced.

VIRTUAL LOCK

  • Ben Affleck, Argo
  • Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
  • Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty

Yup, that’d be Ben Affleck adding a directing nomination to his resume.  Which reminds me, you should really read Boston Magazine’s oral history of Good Will Hunting.  Sure, Spielberg missed a BAFTA nom, but there’s no way he’s missing an Oscar nomination.  Apparently the government redacted screenings of Zero Dark Thirty, because it isn’t playing here yet.  Part of me hopes this movie tells the story of the part in Point Break where Keanu Reeves says he spent like a year tracking Patrick Swayze down.

GOOD BET

  • Ang Lee, Life of Pi

Turns out that Life of Pi is a movie people just plain like, and since it isn’t the script or the acting, it probably had a lot to do with Mr. Lee.

LIKELY IN

ON THE BUBBLE

  • Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained
  • David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
  • Tom Hooper, Les Miserables
  • Michael Haneke, Amour

This last spot caused me no end of grief when putting together my predictions.  It’ll be fascinating to see where the Academy comes down here, especially how it relates to other nominations for these films.  Tarantino gets credit for executing a unique vision and his endless homages.  But will his take down of slavery play as well as killing Nazis?  I’m decidedly not a David O. Russell fan and found his direction distracting.  Plenty of people disagree with me.  We’ve been over Tom Hooper and his atrocious choices in Les Miserables, and I say that as a fan of both The King’s Speech and The Damned United.  Reaction has been sharply divided, but many respect his bold decisions.  Haneke has a devoted fanbase among the Oscar crowd, maybe they’ll lead to enough #1s to push him through.

DARK HORSES

  • Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master
  • Wes Anderson, Moonrise Kingdom
  • Robert Zemeckis, Flight
  • Sam Mendes, Skyfall
  • Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild

PTA also has his crew, but when everyone is talking about the dying buzz for your film, you have a problem.  Wes Anderson is another director who brings his specific vision to the screen, but he hasn’t hit the precursors.  Zemeckis hasn’t hit precursors either, but with a name familiar to Oscar in a triumphant return to live action, and that killer crash sequence, you could seem him sneaking in.  I’m personally not predicting a massive haul for Skyfall, but if it resonated wildly for voters, then maybe they are crediting Mendes.  Zeitlin seems like too much of an indie vote for Oscar, especially with the Andersons around to divert votes, but maybe the film’s earlier release date can work in its favor.

SHOULD HAVE BEEN CONSIDERED

  • Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight Rises

The annual Christmas movie with the family failed disastrously, so later on Gavin and I, along with Brian, headed off to see a sold out Les Miserables at Gallery Place.  I hadn’t seen the musical before, for whatever that is worth.

There are a handful of solid songs – Walking out of the theater, I probably grumbled something about there only being a good song and a half in the lot.  Upon further reflection, that was wrong, colored by something I’ll get to in the next point.  Still not sure I’ll ever have a desire to listen through the whole soundtrack, but I’ve listened to “I Dreamed a Dream”, “On My Own”, and “One Day More” a few times in the past week, and they are growing on me a lot.  And I kinda dug the march.
Tom Hooper is the worst director of the year – Hooper’s controversial non-stop use of extreme closeups singlehandedly made the movie darn near unwatchable.  Sure, the technique was effective in Anne Hathaway’s arresting take on “I Dreamed a Dream”, even if Hooper was essentially cribbing from John Maybury’s direction for video of Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”.  You know what isn’t effective?  TWO AND A HALF HOURS OF THAT.
Actors who can sing are important to a musical – And the people in charge of casting generally acquitted themselves quite well.  All of the women (Hathaway, Barks, Seyfried) are more than competent singers.  Regardless of your take on his performance, Hugh Jackman can clearly sing.  Eddie Redmayne is maybe a little too froggy for my taste, but again, not a distraction.  And while Russell Crowe may have the most limited range of the group, I found the stiff raggedness of his singing to actually mesh quite well with his interpretation of Javert.  Of course, you should keep in mind that Guys and Dolls is my favorite movie musical, and it includes the musical stylings of Marlon Brando, so as with most things, it is entirely possible I have no idea what I’m talking about.

I think there’s a compelling story in there somewhere – I’m generally a fan of the 19th century epics, which seemingly always span decades and involve war/revolution, people hiding from their past which inevitably catches up with them, fallen women, true love, someone being spurned, the rigid nature of manners getting in the way of things, and orphans.  Always with the orphans.  Anyway, most of that stuff was in there.
Tom Hooper is the worst director of the year (part two) – Unfortunately, none of things were allowed to build into a cohesive story.  Granted, some of the blame is on the screenwriter and the original French adapters, and maybe even Victor Hugo.  But here’s the thing.    I shouldn’t have to be armed with the full backstory from the stage musical or novel to wishcast a fleshed out plot onto the film.  I also think Hooper’s obsession with extreme close ups prevented him from more completely showing the interactions between characters that I think was needed.
There are a few ‘quels I’d like to see – I found the idea of Javert kinda fascinating, that in order to enforce the laws you need to believe in them completely.  I bet his story would be pretty interesting.  As far as I could tell, Eponine was the only character who isn’t insufferable.  It was kind of frustrating to be dropped in at the tail end of her story, and a credit to Samantha Barks that the character was as compelling as she was.  Not to get all Nicholas Sparks up in here, but I think you’d have a heck of a tearjerker if you keep her portion of the movie as an ending and start at the beginning of her relationship with Marius (hopefully giving him actual depth).  Oh, and a Dennis Dugan-directed spinoff of the Thenardiers, of course.

Let’s not be too harsh on Tom Hooper – I actually enjoyed the “Master of the House” scene, for example.  I think Hooper deftly used space and camerawork to create a dementedly garish romp.
Tom Hooper is the worst director of the year (part three) – Of course, that scene was wildly different, tonally, from the rest of Hooper’s bleak, gray movie.  Jarringly so, to the point where I don’t see how it fits.  I’ve got one more (possibly unfair) criticism.  Again, I haven’t seen the musical on stage, but multiple sources have said part of the appeal is the spectacle of it all.  During the film, however, I noted the smallness of everything multiple times.  The hated close ups, sure.  But also the barricade seemed really insignificant.  And the funeral procession, to me, felt minor, which was off-putting, since the march seemed to indicate something grander.  I guess all this means Hooper was being relatively consistent in his choices, but…why?
I’m running out of nice things to say, so, um, Jean Valjean is a great name – No, seriously.  Say it out loud.  “Jean Valjean”.  It is great!  He should be a secret agent.

If the movie were a sandwich, it would be:  Hard to tell.  Something on a baguette, of course.  The filling smells kind of decent, but the fact that the chef keeps trying to jam the sandwich into your face kinda hinders your ability to enjoy it.

The nominees:

  • Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
  • Joel and Ethan Coen, True Grit
  • David Fincher, The Social Network
  • Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech
  • David O. Russell, The Fighter

Adam

Film Director: a person who directs the actors and crew in the making of a film. They control a film’s artistic and dramatic aspects, while guiding the technical crew and actors. They often develop the vision for a film and carry the vision out, deciding how the film should look.

This is the definition of what a film director’s job is from the source of all knowledge – Wikipedia. I see a director as the story teller. Screen writers write the story, but they are brought to life by the director’s vision. The better the story, the easier it is for the story teller to make the story real/interesting/good. Ultimately, it is the director’s decision how the shots are setup, how the actors act (through endless takes if necessary), and how the final version of the movie works.

I have come to the conclusion, after years of experience, that less than 5% of the Academy has any idea of what a director does or what a good one looks like. One has only to look at the movies nominated this year to see the truth in this. The Academy also has a strong case of envy when it comes to Christopher Nolan. Regardless of how original you think the script is, Inception was easily the best directed movie of the year. Of course, that makes no difference to the Academy as it doesn’t even make the top 5 in their eyes. Let’s take a look at who they thought did better.

Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan

Let me first say that I really liked The Wrestler. I thought Aronofsky did a terrific job of creating a compelling character study of a washed up pro wrestler. Black Swan was less impressive. Part of this was due to a weak script, but it wasn’t that bad. The acting is really what saved this movie from failure. Natalie Portman did an amazing job and absolutely deserves an Oscar. Mila Kunis and Vincent Cassel (as usual) both put on very strong performances – I actually like Mila more than many of the Supporting Actress nominees. That being said, this isn’t a very good movie and most of it is due to Aronofsky’s directing. Portman’s decent into madness seems almost sloppy. There were definitely compelling scenes (e.g. the finger/toe nail and dressing room scenes), however in an effort to raise audience tension/ anxiety, Aronofsky resorts to directing and camera techniques that lead more to motion sickness than to tension.

David O. Russel, The Fighter

This is possibly the worst directed film of the year. There are really only two options when considering how this film was nominated: a.) Academy members thought they were voting for the Razzies, b.) the Academy is populated by a bunch of morons. The script for this film was atrocious, but that only excuses you so far. The fight scenes in this movie (barring the final one) are utter garbage. It’s like Russel has never seen a well done fight scene…ever. I can only assume this was nominate to piss off Christopher Nolan that much more.

Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech

The King’s Speech was one of my favorite movies of the year. An extremely entertaining movie that succeeded despite the fact that the premise is overcoming a speech impediment (not exactly gripping material). However, as much as I liked the film, its real strengths are in the script and the acting. I am thrilled it was nominated, but one of the most impressive things about the direction of this film is that Hooper managed to not ruin the movie. That may be a disservice to Hooper, though. He did a tremendous job of pulling this movie together and making it the entertaining production that it turned out to be.

David Fincher, The Social Network

What can I say about David Fincher? In the 1990’s, he made three movies I really enjoyed (Seven, The Game, and Fight Club). In the 2000’s, he made two movies I was not impressed at all with (Zodiac and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and one I didn’t see (Panic Room). After going back and thinking about these movies as a whole, I came to one conclusion: David Fincher is completely dependent upon the script he has been chosen to bring to life. Now, some may argue that that is the fate of any director. My rebuttal is that Fincher doesn’t seem to bring much else to the table, and, in fact, may even negatively impact any production he is associated with. After watching his movies, I would pay good money to see what a more talented director could do with Seven and Fight Club. The Social Network falls into that same category. I really liked this movie despite hating Facebook and rarely being impressed with Fincher. This is due solely to Aaron Sorkin’s script. We’ll talk more about that in a later post, but it is important to note that any success that The Social Network has is entirely the result of a fantastic script. This year, Fincher is once again saved by (and lauded for) being associated with an award winning script. Great job, David, not completely ruining this movie. (That’s about the biggest complement I can give him as the directing in this movie was uninspiring to say the least, and, in my opinion, negatively impacted the movie.)

Joel & Ethan Coen, True Grit

I appreciate the Coen brothers. I may not always LOVE their movies, but I can almost always appreciate what they were trying to accomplish. The way in which they approach and execute their movies is very impressive. True Grit is no exception. It is rare that a remake is better than the original, but the Coen brothers were able to accomplish this feat handily. Their re-envisioning of the beloved John Wayne movie is impressive – I enjoyed their version a lot better than the original. Joel and Ethan excel at giving their movies scope and depth using the locations and sets of their movies. Shots are meticulously planned and executed to get the most of both the action and the backdrop. This movie was no exception. The biggest flaw was the ending. The last 5-10 minutes of the movie were horrible. This is the only aspect of the movie that was far inferior to the original.

Who Should Win: Christopher Nolan

However, since he can’t win: Toss-up between the Coens and Hooper, but I probably give it to the Coens. Either would be fine with me, though.

Jared

The Fighter is one of the worst-directed films of the year, and I’m stunned so few people seem to be on the same page as me here.  Sure, David O. Russell was working with a crappy script.  But take any boxing scene from the film, other than the final fight.  Take it and burn it because it is nothing less than an insult.  At best, they are cut scenes from a low-grade boxing video game.  They alone should have prevented Russell from getting a nomination.  While it is hard to blame Russell too much for the rest of the movie’s failures, I do think he heavily contributed to the repeated references, to the point of being really obnoxious, that the family was lower class.

I’m clearly just not on the same page as the Coen brothers.  If one of the major roles of a director is establishing a compelling tone, then the Coens have missed the mark on that front.  With True Grit, as perhaps other of their films of late, I never really felt drawn into the story.  And while a lot of that is on the script, I think some of it has to be thrown at the feet of the brothers’ directing efforts.  Similarly, Aronofsky’s directing in Black Swan was fine, but not awards-worthy.  He had a difficult task, at there was a lot of incomplete thoughts going on, to be sure.  But I think the film would have had a significantly stronger impact if, for example, it had been directed by someone with more of a feel for horror films.

So we’re down to the big question, Hooper or Fincher? The two films are pretty different and demanded quite different styles.  Sure, The King’s Speech is a lot less showy than The Social Network.  But I think it is a testament to Hooper that he didn’t get in the way of the story.  Starting with that cast is a big leg up.  Hooper’s straightforward style runs with that advantage, creating a crisp, efficient feel that is quite effective for the film.

But I’ll join in with the chorus who say that it was Fincher‘s directing that made Sorkin’s script something truly special.  I wasn’t in Fincher’s camp at first, when I mainly though of the regatta scene, and how odd it was.  Instead, take the scene in the bar with Justin Timberlake.  Other directors may have turned that into artsy, clubby nonsense.  Instead, Fincher rather effectively creates an atmosphere that furthers the story.  Really, the shifts in tone from location to location are pretty remarkable, and I think a good chunk of the credit there goes to Fincher for effortlessly weaving together the different parts of the story while maintaining a consistent overall tone.

John

I’ll leave the vitriol and verbosity to my colleagues. I quite liked all the nominees. When talking directing, there’s no better indicator of greatness than simply making a great movie, but I also look for things like vision, style, tone, and pacing.

A few of these nominees stand out from the others. The Coens create what I would call a well-crafted movie. It’s one of those films where all the technical elements come together so well: camerawork, acting, sets, costumes, music. I wish it added up to a bit more. Aronofsky produces the flashiest work of the group. Black Swan is intense and frenetic and his capable hands. I’ve loved all of his films I’ve seen so I’m glad to see him finally get some Oscar love.

My winner, fairly handily, is Fincher. Adam is too uncharitable here. The script simply establishes the dialogue and structures the story. The shot composition that follows a complex narrative and rapid fire dialogue, the film’s cool aesthetic, the varying but always spot-on tone, the breathless pacing: these have Fincher’s fingerprints all over them. There are an unlimited number of directions the exact same Sorkin script could have gone in someone else’s hands. It’s great with Fincher at the helm.

Snub: The best directed film of the year is Inception. What creativity! What vision! What style! What does Christopher Nolan have to do to get a directing Oscar nomination??

Huh.  Looks like we don’t have a proper post on The King’s Speech.  Guess I should rectify that before we start up our pre-Oscarpalooza.

The reason we never got one up, perhaps, is that the film gives you exactly what you see.  There’s nothing (I’d argue) deep or extraordinary or even special, really, about it.  The story is fairly simple: a prince turned king with a stutter learns, after peaks and valleys, to overcome his weakness, thanks to a supportive wife and determined therapist.  There’s no sex, no violence, and no catchphrases. And yet it is going to end up one of the Grouches favorite films of the year.

The best picture nominees this year were, generally speaking, very successful at the box office.  Inception, True Grit, and Toy Story 3 all sailed past $100 million domestic. Black Swan will do so tomorrow, The King’s Speech will by next weekend, The Fighter could sneak past and The Social Network seems like it will fall just short.  So suggesting that The King’s Speech has broad appeal doesn’t exactly make unique among the best picture nominees. That said, where specific audiences may have difficulty getting into any of the other contenders, it is very hard to dislike The King’s Speech.  Its feel-good story is accessible, smartly paced and never sappy.  If the lines aren’t especially memorable, they almost never fall flat.  And, of course, the actors absolutely sell the film.

I won’t waste anyone’s time rehashing the merits of Geoffrey Rush or Colin Firth.  But I think it is fairly easy to imagine how much of a prick the therapist could have been in lesser hands.  Or how unwatchable the king’s stutter could have been, with a different approach. I think everyone knows Helena Bonham Carter is riding on the coattails of the film this awards season, I’m just confused why everyone continues to play along.  No fault of her own, of course, just isn’t a meaty role.  And hey, I’ve seen the BBC’s version of Pride and Prejudice twice, I like me some Jennifer Ehle, but she’s hardly in the film.  I did, though, kinda like Guy Pearce.  Who hasn’t had nearly the career he should have.  Even if he’s somehow been in three Oscar-nominated films over the past two years.

In the past few weeks the film has emerged as a front-runnner for a whole heap of awards, including Best Picture, thanks to the guilds’ unanimity in rewarding the movie.  Which has led to some rather unseemly sniping by the supporters of The Social Network, the erstwhile presumptive favorite after its near sweep of the critic’s awards.  Now, if you want to argue that The King’s Speech was not the best film of the year, fine, I can’t argue with that.  But we aren’t talking about a Crash situation here.  Hooper, Seidler, et al have created a damn fine movie.  Does it break boundaries?  No, probably not.  Will it inspire any new trends in cinema?  Doubtful.  But I’m not sure why either would be a prerequisite to being a great movie.

Oscar nominees are announced on the 25th.  Yay!  So let’s summarize what we (the royal we, at least) know.  Keeping in mind, of course, that when it comes to the Academy, no one knows anything.  Especially me.  This time: Best Director.

VIRTUAL LOCKS

  • David Fincher, The Social Network
  • Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
  • Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech

Confession time: I don’t really have any clue how to discern exactly what the director’s contributions to a film are.  And I don’t think many other people know either, other than a general assumption that good movie=good directing.  People are saying that David Fincher was exactly the director to make Aaron Sorkin’s script shine.  Maybe that’s true, I just hope the evidence is stronger than that regatta scene.  This’ll be Aronofsky‘s first Oscar nomination, an honor for which he’s probably overdue.  I don’t really see what others do in the movie, but given the script’s weakness, sure, I’m happy to pass some credit to the director for elevating the film into something better.  I really liked The Damned United, and the film was different enough from the book that I’ll begrudgingly pass some credit to screenwriter Peter Morgan and director Tom Hooper.  His follow-up, of course, has been a bit more successful.  I look forward to seeing his work in the future and I imagine that’ll only increase once I get around to watching Prime Suspect.

LIKELY IN

  • Christopher Nolan, Inception

Like everyone else, I do believe there’s a spot for Nolan, I’d just feel a little more comfortable if the buzz for the film was a little more palpable.  Still, it’d be shocking if he gets snubbing after creating such a visionary, successful film.

LAST ONE IN

  • David O. Russell, The Fighter

I’ve always heard that if you can’t say something nice, you should shut your big fat mouth.

FIRST ALTERNATES

  • Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, True Grit
  • Danny Boyle, 127 Hours
  • Lisa Cholodenko, The Kids Are All Right

I was really tempted to put the brother Coen in that last spot, but since I haven’t seen that anywhere else, I figured it is just my bias against that film in the fifth spot.  The Academy loves them some Coen Bros, but they do only have the one directing nomination (for No Country for Old Men, which they won).  I dunno, I won’t be surprised at all if they get the nomination.  The claustrophobia of 127 Hours sure is different from the vastness of Slumdog Millionaire, huh?  Maybe Boyle‘s film was released just a little too early to hit at the Oscars, or maybe it wasn’t quite as good as originally expected.  I hope to see Lisa Cholodenko get a directing nomination someday, but this year is just so tough, with so many well-respected auteurs in line to get their due.

DARK HORSES

  • Ben Affleck, The Town
  • Debra Granik, Winter’s Bone
  • Mike Leigh, Another Year
  • Martin Scorsese, Shutter Island

Affleck‘s two for two in critically acclaimed directing successes and this one even made a nice chunk of a change.  This kid may just have a career in the industry.  After what Down to the Bone did for Vera Farmiga and this film did for Jennifer Lawrence, if I were an agent with a starlet on my hands, I’d be busting my balls to get her an audition for whatever Granik has next on her plate.  As I mentioned elsewhere, it is always dangerous to count Mike Leigh out with the Academy.  But maybe next time he should make sure his film’s trailer doesn’t make it seem like the most boring film ever.  Shutter Island just edged out The Departed as Scorsese‘s highest-grossing film (in worldwide dollars).  What, now that’s he mainstream the Academy has no use for him?

SHOULDA BEEN A CONTENDER

  • Edgar Wright, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
September 2017
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