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It is easy to criticize the Academy for its choices.  Like any organization, they are going to make unpopular decisions.  And as with any vote, the most deserving person or film isn’t guaranteed victory in the least.  But part of the genesis of this project is the idea that it isn’t fair to ridicule a winner without seeing all of the other nominees.  So, we watched all the nominees.  Quixotic?  Maybe.  Fun?  Almost always.  Here’s what we thought of the Best Supporting Actress category:
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I can appreciate a film constructed around a concept, but to work that film better nail the intended concept. Doubt is, unsurprisingly, about doubt and as such should give the viewer a lot to ponder about doubt. However I, when enveloped in the world of Doubt, doubted the importance of the doubt portrayed, and I seriously doubt that was the intent.

It won’t be too long before the discussion grows too spoilery and I’ll have to shove it all after the jump so let’s get the Oscar stuff out of the way. Doubt tallied four acting nominations since it is a Very Serious Acting Movie. Meryl Streep’s Sister Aloysius, headmistress at a Catholic school in 1960s the Bronx, believes Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Father Flynn has entered into an inappropriate relationship with a young pupil. Amy Adams’s Sister James brings the initial allegation to Aloysius and feels torn between the two as Aloysius pursues him without firm evidence. Viola Davis has a couple emotional scenes as the potential victim’s mother with a shocking agenda.

Streep is sometimes dead-on and sometimes a little hammy. She is always a force on the screen, however, even when I wondered why something was being played up so dramatically. I liked Hoffman, as I usually do. He imparts a lot of humanity into a character who we are led to believe may have done something quite terrible. Even at his darkest moments I felt like I’d enjoy having a drink with him or even would have liked him as a teacher. Davis’s brief appearance seems to have moved many people though I’m not sure I would have made any special note of it without the Oscar hype. I think maybe part of the performance was lost on me since the substance of her scenes was occupying me, and not usually in a good way (more on that later). And Adams, well, as I said in one of our nomination prediction posts I usually enjoy her but this time she was just one-note and chirpy. What worked so well in Enchanted is now growing stale, between this and Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day. She seemed to just get swept up in this wave of acting nominations for the film because I don’t think she contributes much to her character, and neither she nor her character contributes much to the film.

As for everything else, it failed to sneak into Best Picture or Director, thankfully. It’s Adapted Screenplay nod is pretty weak considering it probably took The Dark Knight‘s spot. (By the way, writer/director John Patrick Shanley’s only other film? Joe Versus the Volcano!) That was the end of its Oscar journey, but it is very effective in transporting the viewer to another time. I’ve heard several comments, including from my mother, about how brilliantly it recreates the world of a Catholic school at that era down to the smallest detail, so some credit must be due in areas such as cinematography, costume, and art direction even if those nominations failed to materialize.

And truth be told it’s a pretty good movie. The plot is interesting and naturally dramatic. The setting and peek into the Catholic church at a time of pretty dramatic institutional change are interesting. The characters are really great and fleshed-out, especially Aloysius and Flynn. Doubt has a clear objective, however, and it doesn’t meet it. A film built on a central thesis has trouble succeeding if that thesis fails, no matter how great the periphery elements are. And so it works in a way, but not in the intended way.

I know the fellow Grouches I’ve discussed this with disagree with me, but I think a significant amount of people who see Doubt are going to leave the theater thinking it’s a film about (spoiler time- continue on after the jump) Read the rest of this entry »

Earlier this week I was talking with Adam about why Doubt didn’t do much for me.  Not that I’m intelligible to begin with, but I made a complete hash of my thoughts.  Which sorta trashed my plans to just copy the conversation into here.  Instant post, just add water.  So my new plan is to ramble for awhile and see what happens.  I can’t see any flaws.

I don’t think it is presumptuous to suggest “doubt” the concept, is supposed to be an integral part of Doubt the movie.  Did Philip Seymour Hoffman’s priest character engage in inappropriate relations with a student?  Meryl Streep as the head nun sure seems pretty positive he did, with scant evidence to back it up.  Amy Adams’s naive nun teeters back and forth on the fence.  And the child’s mother, as played by Viola Davis, prefers not to think about anything which could derail her son from getting through the next few months.  So, fine, we have different levels of doubt, and the impact it has on decision-making.

But my fundamental problem with the film is a lack of development, a failure to communicate the so what.  Fairly early on it becomes clear where each character stands, save for the one bit at the end I won’t spoil, but is too little too late.  Really, it seems like the script started out as a two minute sketch, where Adams says, “I don’t know if he did or didn’t do it.”  Then Streep says, “Oh, I know he did it.”  Adams replies, “How do you know?” and Streep answers, “I just do.”  Then Hoffman says, “This is ridiculous, why are you doing this.”  Rinse and repeat.

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