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Nominees:

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

Jared guides us:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adam chimes in:

    Will Win: Mo’Nique

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

    I Want to Win: Penelope Cruz

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

    Dark Horse: Anyone other than Mo’Nique

    This one’s been in the bag for months.

    Ranking:

    Penelope Cruz
    Mo’Nique
    Anna Kendrick
    Vera Farmiga
    Maggie Gyllenhaal

    Grouches Critiques:

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

    Random Notes:

    Seriously…you should watch this:

Brian briefly drops by:

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

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

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

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

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

John gets the last word:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oscar nominations will be announced on February 2.  We’re counting down to the big day by offering some hard-hitting analysis and incisive opinions on the toughest questions surrounding the nominees. This time around, we are looking at each category as a whole. Which categories appear to be the strongest and weakest?

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

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

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

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

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

Jared: Love/Hate Relationship With The Ladies

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

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

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

Brian: If Only The Actors Could Sing A Song

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

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

Oscar nominations will be announced on February 2. We’re counting down to the big day by offering some hard-hitting analysis and incisive opinions on the toughest questions surrounding the nominees. While no one know for sure what will happen on Tuesday, some nominees are a foregone conclusion. Which lock for a nomination is undeserved?

John: Voters Blind Sided by Bullock

This has been a good year in that I don’t see any real egregious locks. The silly nominations I see coming, like those for Invictus, I wouldn’t really call locks. So let me highlight a few performances that have been on the track to nominations since their films were released. Neither are bad performances and perhaps both are even deserving of nominations. I have trouble understanding how so many people saw these films and immediately thought, “This is so good she’s absolutely sure to get a nomination!”

The first is Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side. I think this is a combination of a name actress who hasn’t received much awards attention in her career, a Southern accent, a big character, and a late-year release date. If any of these components change, does this performance become a lock? It’s a good performance helped by a script that give her lots to work with, but the assumed inevitability of a nomination is puzzling.

The other is Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air. This is a performance I have mixed feelings about. All of her physical acting is terrific: the way she carries herself, her facial expressions, her stiff seriousness. But the way she sort of spits out her lines drives me nuts and that was hard to get past, at least on the first viewing. I just don’t think people talk like that, even the uptight, self-serious ones. I left the theater thinking, “that’s what everyone’s been so ecstatic about?”

To be fair, she’s sharing the screen with two terrific performances from George Clooney and Vera Farmiga and maybe I was just wowed by their excellence!

Both Bullock and Kendrick will get nominated; Bullock may win and Kendrick is probably the only one who can knock off Mo’Nique. And the nominations won’t be wrong, necessarily. I just have a hard time seeing the hype.

Adam: Shouldn’t a Best Picture Actually Be, You Know, Good?

One word – Avatar. Don’t get me wrong, I think this was an enjoyable movie. But Best Picture good? I think not. Let’s look at it’s pros: visually beautiful, moves along pretty well (even for a 3 hour movie) … not much else. Cons: no attempt to re-engineer/better a stolen script/story, no character development (in a 3 hour movie), very weak dialogue, ridiculous scenes (not involving explosions). How can a movie that fails in a majority of the areas that make up a FILM let alone a GREAT film be the front-runner for Best Picture?

For all of those out there that use the advancing technology/3D/movie-going experience argument I have two words for you – Jurassic Park. Back in 1993, Spielberg and company revolutionized the CGI industry and how audiences view movies. Not only that, he did it with a pretty entertaining movie. One reason for this was good material (Michael Crichton’s novel), but also the ability to adapt it reasonably well to the silver screen. After all of that, Jurassic Park won 3 Oscars, but wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture. And I think that that was the right call. It didn’t deserve a nomination – and neither does Avatar.

For those of you who want to use the dollars argument, I submit Dark Knight. Last year, Dark Knight made more money in a single day then any other movie in history and went on to make more money than most of the films ever made. Not only that, it was a phenomenal movie and easily the best one last year. Fantastic writing, beautiful scenes, decent dialogue and one of the best villain portrayals ever. With all of that, it didn’t even get a nomination for Best Picture.

So, I submit to you, how is it that a film like Avatar gets a nomination for Best Picture?

Jared: Full of Hot Air

Hm.  Adam took Avatar, I already addressed Invictus, and if I say anything bad about Inglourious Basterds, I think Adam will probably hurt me (though it really isn’t a good movie).  Not sure any other locks make me too angry.  But I will admit to not quite understanding why Up in the Air is receiving plaudits for its acting.  Don’t get me wrong, I love me some George Clooney.  But isn’t his Ryan Bingham just the same thing he always does?  A charming, in-charge guy who needs to be humbled a little bit (but not too much, because he gets his way in the end), and who draws easy comparisons to Clooney himself?  I’m OK with Bingham as a character, but I think that’s due to the writing, and I could see a bunch of people doing justice to that role.  And maybe I’m wrong, but sure seems that one (if not both) of Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick are locks as well.  Which I don’t get at all, both roles didn’t appear to be particularly challenging and serve more as mirrors for Bingham than anything else.  Just seems to me that the sheen of the movie is unduly rubbing off on these ladies.

Brian: Avatar Doesn’t Score

Since John is incapable of originality and is once again piggybacking on Jared, I will decline writing about Vera Farmiga’s bewildering lock status. Avatar is the low-hanging fruit when it comes to the Best Picture category, so it jibes that Adam would have gone there; I always look forward to his brutal take-downs. After struggling a bit to find another true lock that I found baffling, I came back around to Avatar, but for musical score.

If I’m coming out of an epic, big, bombastic picture like Avatar, I need to be humming the score as I leave the theater for it to be impactful enough for an Oscar nom. The score is such an integral part of these films that if you name me a commercially and critically successful epic — I can most likely hum the main theme — and thats how it should be. I find James Horner’s work to be uneven — I loved his scores to Enemy at the Gates, A Beautiful Mind, and Apollo 13 — and his work for Avatar was sub-par. Inspiring motifs here or there, but overall bland and forgettable. Perhaps I am being unfair to Horner, since the key to a great score is if it matches the tone of the film — and since I found Avatar to be superficial and derivative — it makes sense that I thought the same about the score. Should Horner be recognized and Marvin Hamlisch be left in the cold for his flighty composition for The Informant, I will be upset.

I considered writing about Lee Daniels’ heavy-handed and distracting direction of Precious, but I think there’s a enough of a chance that he gets pushed out for another director that I didn’t deem him enough of a lock. If he gets the nomination, however, you’ll hear plenty from me on my frustration with him.

The Grouches were again fortunate enough to see a sneak preview of an Oscar contender.  Unfortunately, our extremely rigorous editing standards prohibited posting our initial thoughts on Up in the Air until now.  You may have heard of the film, it is the one currently beginning to romp its way through the awards circuit.  Looks like we too think that you should go out and see the film, once it makes it way to a theater near you.

Adam

I think it is safe to say I liked this movie more than the other Grouches.  I will have to think about it some more before I make the decision of whether it makes my current top 5 for the year, but it has the potential to.  I think my greater enjoyment of the movie came from so many aspects of the movie being familiar – the constant traveling, living out of a suitcase, coming from the middle of nowhere, not really liking people all that much, etc.  Added to that, I thought the script was smart.  It wasn’t overly funny, but the comedic elements were spot-on when they were used.  It wasn’t overly dramatic, but it was able to inspire some emotional involvement and draw the audience into the storyline without being overly sappy.  None of the acting was Oscar-worthy, but I thought the acting was strong across the board – with some of the cameos and all of the smaller parts being some of the most noteworthy parts of the film.  I actually also liked cinematography – the plethora of bird’s-eye shots of cities and random parts of the countryside, the very simple block-lettering displaying where each scene’s drama was unfolding, the various locations they chose for the action to take place.  All of these added to the feel of the movie for me.  Looked at individually, no one piece of the movie was spectacular.  However, they were all very strong – with only minor flaws – and so, as a whole, the movie worked for me and I found myself enjoying it quite a bit.

I’m sure the other Grouches will be less kind to the movie, but if anyone has read anything written on this blog before, you’ll know that their opinions are wholly suspect

Jared

Up in the Air is a very likable film: George Clooney plays a hybrid of his on- and off-screen personas, Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga are both very charming, heck, it even got me to not hate Danny McBride.  And in lesser hands, I think the story could have devolved into something cutesy.  The movie is consistently entertaining, and I found myself smiling throughout.  It is unfortunate, then, that the ending (by which I really mean the last maybe 20%) prevented the film from achieving something greater.

John

Up in the Air is a very good film in the odd position where I felt it had a lot of specific and not insignificant problems. Things like characters’ actions not making sense based on what we’ve seen from them, plot contrivances, and a general sense of the parts not adding up to coherently say what the film wants to say. But it is consistently very funny, entertaining, and thought-provoking and its tone is astonishingly pitch-perfect. It’s stuck around in my head since we saw it and I’m looking forward to seeing it again. It may well be one of those films that benefits from further viewings. So in the end it’s a clear ringing endorsement from me.

May 2017
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