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

Oscar nominations will be announced on February 2.  We’re counting down to the big day by offering some hard-hitting analysis and incisive opinions on the toughest questions surrounding the nominees.  Let’s kick things off by asking the team: What bone fide long shots should get a nomination?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brian: Viggo Mortensen Should Walk The Road to Oscar

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

John: Keep the Academy In the Loop

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

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

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

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I dwell frequently on the points of films, a topic I discussed here. As a primer, I struggle with certain “important” films when their point escapes me or seems not worthwhile, but I wonder if that’s a hypocritical stance since I don’t demand the same from films that I love but who don’t strive to be anything more than entertaining. There’s no right answer but I find it a fascinating topic to ponder. Adam lambasted me for that post (in person, not on the blog because Adam does not write posts, apparently), which made me think more. And another friend gave some good perspective to my search for a point to Inglourious Basterds that I may dive into in a later post.

Amidst all of this I saw The Road, the type of bleak film that often interests me but leaves me pondering what the point of it all was. And I initially had the same reaction here. Viggo Mortensen and son Kodi Smit-McPhee wander a post-apocalyptic landscape, struggling to eat, avoiding roving bands of cannibals, and flashing back to happier times with wife/mother Charlize Theron. It’s essentially two hours of people doing horrible things. I know a common criticism hurled at the film is that the power of the novel comes from the beauty of the prose. In novels, beautiful writing can itself be a point. But how to make a film meaningful if you can’t translate the source’s most important asset?

But with reflection, The Road clearly has themes of survivalism and the challenge of retaining humanity in the most horrible of circumstances. I’d say many Holocaust movies explore similar topics.

So does that help me? I don’t know. It puts me more at peace with the film, which I liked but did not love. I find it more satisfying than There Will Be Blood, a film I still can’t wrap my mind around but which still enchanted me more.

As for the film itself, I very much enjoy the apocalyptic/dystopia genre so I had high hopes for this one. It does disappoint a little; I think the slow, ponderous pace wears a little thin after a while and the oppressive bleakness begins to bear down on you. The plot and the characters are interesting enough. I think where it excels is its imagery. My lasting impressions from the film won’t revolve around a plot point, a line of dialogue, or a performance, but of the burnt-out landscape and the atmosphere of devastation and desperation.

It’s also definitely a film that improves after you leave the theater. It takes some time to sink in and benefits from further reflection. Part of that too is that it has a pat and unsatisfying ending; taking some time to get away from that as well as recovering from rather unsettling experience of actually sitting through the film is a help. And, crucially for this discussion, thematically it needs some time to sink in because my first reaction after it was, “What in the world was that?”

I suspect at this point that The Road won’t be receiving any love from the Academy. Viggo is very good but probably not Best Actor good. I think a Cinematography nod would probably be pretty good though. And maybe northwestern Pennsylvania can get an award for managing to look so damn depressing. Area Most Like a Post-Apocalyptic Hellhole?

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