Category Archives: Oscars 2012 Talk

Discussion about nominees for the 2012 Academy Awards.

It was . . . the Batman!

That’s right, I finally made it out to see The Dark Knight Rises and there was a lot to like about the movie.  It’s probably hard to tell by my general inability to actually get a blog post up on a single comic book movie thus far, but I love me some big screen comic book action and in a general comic book movie sense, The Dark Knight doesn’t disappoint.  There’s plenty of action, lots of explosions, the hero gets knocked down and has to fight his way back to the top; all good comic formula.  The movie is packed with talent and everyone mostly delivers.  Anne Hathaway as “the Cat” is enjoyable and Gary Oldman as the Commissioner haunted by his own lies portrays a certain depth that a lesser actor probably wouldn’t have achieved with this material.  Newcomer to the trilogy is Joseph Gordon-Levitt and he’s a fun addition as a smart beat cop who’s also a true believer in Batman.  In all honesty, after seeing Inception a few years back, I made the decision that Gordon-Levitt should be in every movie.  Filmmakers should just work him in there and I’m glad to see that quickly becoming the case.  Who knew the kid from 3rd Rock could throw a punch (or demonstrate a practical application of geometry by ricocheting a bullet off a cement truck to shoot an attacker)?  Unfortunately, as an audience member, one can only feel sorry for poor Michael Cain who was handed about the worst Alfred material of any of the most recent Batman movies.  He chewed scenery like his life depended on it, but there’s not much you can do when you’re handed the nana role in a comic book movie.

The Dark Knight series has always been more of a gritty comic book movie, not flashy and colorful like Iron Man or this summer’s The Avenegers.  It’s true of the Batman comics as well; they were based on some semblance of reality, featuring a real man with no superpowers – just some nifty tools and a lot of training, oh, and money.  As such, the comic books and the Dark Knight trilogy have attempted to buck the comic book conventions, playing Bruce Wayne as dark and moody, the anti-hero.  And there in lies the problem with The Dark Knight; it’s a little too formulaic.  It’s predictable.  When he talks, Bane sounds like Sean Connery gargling marbles and, while he’s physically intimidating, there is just no measuring up to Heath Ledger’s presence as the Joker.  Bane lacks depth – he is not a three-dimensional character – and if you can’t guess the “plot twist” of who his partner is by half way through the movie, you have not been paying attention.  That’s not to say that the movie doesn’t look great and there are a couple of fight scenes that are gritty, but at the same time, a quality of overkill permeates a lot of the movie.  With The Avengers if was clear from the get-go what the audience was going to get, witty banter, a lot of sh*t blowing up, and some good fight scenes.  In short, you expected a lot of flash and not a lot of substance and The Avengers delivered. 

A lot of people want to talk about the capitalist (or anti-capitalist) themes in the movie, the pitting of the have-nots against the haves.  Equally interesting is the hints at tyranny within Gotham itself.  But the reality is, if you buy into that premise, then the movie presents only two options, tyranny or chaos and that is, of a course, a false premise so I’m choosing to wrap both of these themes up in one package; anarchy.  We’re a law and order people; anarchy is not what we are used to and it is not what we want, but both of the last two films in the Dark Knight trilogy feature villains hell-bent on anarchy.  But the substance of the Joker’s anarchy, the unpredictability of his actions, allows him to toy with the Batman in a way no other villain has been able to do and the terror in the streets he creates is so much more palpable.  Maybe it is because you can’t be sure what the Joker’s end game is – chaos for chaos’ sake or is there something more?  But Bane’s version of anarchy has no substance, it is based entirely in destruction, which is spectacular to watch, but won’t hang onto you the way the Joker did.  It won’t work its way into your consciousness or have you puzzling over it hours or even days later.  Of course, that is not a prerequisite of an entertaining flick, but if you’re looking for another The Dark Knight, I’m afraid you’re gonna have to keep on looking.

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Posted by on July 25, 2012 in Oscars 2012 Talk


Oscars 2012–Actress In A Leading Role

Sarah: Actress in a leading role. Let’s start by acknowledging that neither one of us has seen My Week With Marilyn, so we’ll have to set Michelle Williams aside for discussion’s sake.

Doug: We don’t want to dis her. We’re sure she was excellent. But it’s not looking like the Academy is going to reward her, so we don’t feel quite as badly as we might otherwise.

Sarah: Let’s go down the list. Shall we start with Glenn Close?

Doug: This is your time, since I have also not seen Albert Nobbs.

Sarah (laughing): Not exactly a movie I would normally see, either, but it was a pretty good movie. You pretty much have to say Glenn Close gets lost in the role of being a man. And there’s a great scene where she puts on a dress and, at first, is really uncomfortable in it. But then she goes down to the beach and she becomes really free with it. She did a great job of showing someone who is very stifled by the requirements of her situation, pretending to be a man, etc. Glenn Close was very, very good. I think you could say Janet McTeer did an even better job, but Close was great.

Doug: And I had heard that this is a role Glenn Close had played as long as 30 years ago in the theater and that this was a role close to her heart for years. So, I guess it showed in her performance. Just for conversation sake, do we take points away because she had played the role before, or do we just say a great performance is a great performance?

Sarah: I don’t know, I hadn’t read that. But film is certainly a different craft than theater. So, I wouldn’t discount Close’s performance for that. But, still…

Doug: Are you saying a very good performance, but maybe not walking off with a statue?

Sarah: That’s probably it. This whole category is sort of unclear to me. I was positive on Bechir for best actor, but I’m not sure here.

Doug: I’m with you. For example, Viola Davis. What a wonderful, dignified performance. Really beautiful. But there’s the tiny doubt in my mind that maybe her performance looked better because, as my wife pointed out, pretty much all the characters in The Help other than Abilene were played as almost cartoon characters, ridiculously over the top. And that got me wondering how much I thought maybe Davis’ performance came off looking so great simply compared to the other performances in The Help, or at least how badly written the other characters were.

Sarah: Yeah, most of the other characters had no subtlety at all. But Viola Davis had it 100%. And I don’t think it was just in comparison to the other performances. She just had it.

Doug: I’m probably talking just a matter of degrees in deciding who I think should win this category. It’s clear as day that Davis was incredible, I’m maybe splitting hairs to get at who I think should win and am being maybe overly affected by the fact that I thought The Help was ultimately a pretty average movie. You’re right, good is good and Davis was good. But was she the best?

Sarah: Let’s skip Rooney Mara for a second. Let’s compare Viola Davis to Meryl Streep. In a way, a similar situation. Because I think both of us thought The Iron Lady was, to be kind, pretty weak material and another not so great movie. Did Meryl Streep seem really good because the rest of the movie was so bad? You could definitely say Meryl Streep’s Thatcher was just a caricature.

Doug: Oh, definitely.

Sarah: You couldn’t say Viola Davis’ performance was a caricature. She really embodied the character and was a whole person. And played this person as a very dignified woman.

Doug: In fairness, I was down on The Help a little, and I heard the book was much better and richer in portraying all these characters. And now I’m feeling a little guilty, because part of what originally was making me lean toward Meryl Streep a little was that I felt like she was so good with such weak material. But then I’m almost docking Viola Davis because she was so good in the middle of a movie that I also thought was pretty weak? Not real fair, in the end.

Sarah (laughing): That’s a little bit of a double standard there.

Doug: It is a double standard. And it’s not really fair. And I thought The Iron Lady was even worse as an overall film than I thought The Help was. Neither one of them exactly on my year end best of list. I really couldn’t even figure out what The Iron Lady was trying to be. A biopic? Just a human interest picture, the end of Margaret Thatcher’s life? A semi parody? I don’t know. There was a lot of fun, I guess, in simply watching Meryl Streep imitate Thatcher so well. But that’s about all there is.

Sarah: It’s a great imitation, but I don’t think, for me, you want to give someone an Oscar for that. Frankly, the better performance for me may have been the younger Thatcher.

Doug: And, not to get off on an Iron Lady tangent, but that may have been a more interesting movie, too, focusing more on the early years of Thatcher’s breaking into politics.

Sarah: Yeah, breaking into the old boys’ club, the struggles, etc.

Doug: A weird movie, because it really minimized the struggles she probably experienced. One day she stepped into the old boys parliament and then, in the world of the film, she was instantly prime minister. Whatever you think of her politics and the job she did, there had to be more than that. It seemed like there would have had to have been some battles in there, and exploring those would have been far more interesting than what Iron Lady ultimately was.

Sarah: The dementia that they focused on, I guess, was the focus, but I don’t know. I didn’t get it all, either. And even those sections seemed like they were just caricature and imitation. And, essentially, since they focused more on Thatcher in the later years, it was kind of just Meryl Streep playing an old married woman with all the interaction between the confused Thatcher and her passed husband.

Doug: Well, I don’t want to get too far off on Streep’s performance because I don’t think either one of us think she really deserves to win, but I thought the dementia scenes were some of her best work in the film. But while I can see the draw to Streep of playing someone as recognized as Thatcher, how she thought this script was the one to roll with is beyond me.

Sarah: It completely glossed over the historical significance, good and bad, that Thatcher had. But, yes, we’ve talked a lot about a movie that we didn’t like a whole lot. And I think we agree that we don’t think Meryl Streep deserves to win for this, even though the Academy might give it to her.

Doug: I think it’s pretty well acknowledged that the Academy will give it to Meryl or Viola.

Sarah: And Rooney Mara is probably too unknown to win. I think we think Mara’s was the best performance. But to be fair, she may have been given the best material to work with.

Doug: The richest material, to be sure, and it’s kind of encouraging when you look at the types of roles the other nominees in this category played, that Mara got a nomination for this.

Sarah: The nominations for actress so often seem to be upsetting. You’ve got the usual suspects. A couple of bio picks, a couple of socially conscious picks. And even a woman who is actually playing a man. Come on. So, it’s good to see a different kind of role sneak in there.

Doug: It does make you shake your head. On an individual basis, you don’t want to criticize the roles. Taken on their own, they were each really good performances. But, you’re right. Streep and Williams for biopics, Close for a woman playing a man and, as delicate as it is, let’s face it, Davis for playing a maid? Where the heck are the roles for women that are even three inches outside the box? Alright, now I’m getting worked up over here. Now, I really want Rooney Mara to win, even though she won’t.

Sarah (laughing): Rooney Mara would probably be my pick, but I do have to put Viola Davis right there, too. And we have to acknowledge that we haven’t seen Michelle Williams. I have to say again that Mara had the best material to play, there was so much there. But she had to play up to all of it, and she really did. She had to play this character without being allowed to be real verbal about it. She wasn’t exactly talkative. She had to show you, the weird anti socialness and all of that. It all had to come through Mara’s performance.

Doug: If range is any factor, I’d lean toward Mara. Just the use of her eyes and very, very measured facial expressions. You could see the moments of humiliation, and of being unsure and the slow building of rage. And the difficulty of some of the scenes. She was clearly going places that none of the other actresses had to go.

Sarah: And playing all that, in my opinion, for a professional actress is probably harder in some ways than doing a more purely imitative thing like Meryl Streep did. The rape scenes, the anti social stuff.

Doug: Rooney Mara had a lot more to do, from the more subtle moments, to the rape and revenge scenes, right up to the almost pure action movie stuff. If anything, one thing I disliked a tiny bit about The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was especially at the end, that Lisbeth was presented as almost too much of a super hero. I would have like to have seen more of the empowerment issues explored. But Rooney Mara played what she was given and she was so good with it. I think we thought that although all the performances were good, most of the other performances in the best actress category were actresses doing more with less. Rooney Mara did more with more, which is probably why I liked her performance the best.

Sarah: The material the other actresses got left with was relatively shoddy, which is really too bad. But the performances across the board were good here. Some of the best supporting actress roles were more interesting, frankly. Like Berenice Bejo in The Artist, a strong female character. And even as much as I didn’t like Bridesmaids, which was really sort of demeaning to women overall, Melissa McCarthy was certainly playing a pretty strong female role.

Doug: And don’t get me started on how Bejo in The Artist is a supporting role. How was that not a leading role? She really got short changed.

Sarah: There’s just not enough good material for women.

Doug: Like you said earlier, why do all the “good” roles for women have to be playing real women, or they have to have some sort of huge societal message. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, but where are the good character roles for women. Why is just what we’ve talked about? Even Rooney Mara in Dragon Tattoo. An awesome female role. But even that came from a book and wasn’t written for the screen.

Sarah: You’re right. It wasn’t quite as bad in the supporting category, but where are the original characters for women? But, like you said, when you look at each performance taken for what it is, these women still turn in pretty great, strong performances. The question for us isn’t about the performances, it’s why aren’t there more options for female performers.

Doug: Right. So, we like Rooney Mara. Who do we think the Academy will go for?

Sarah: It’s going to come down to Meryl Streep and Viola Davis. I think the Academy would go Meryl Streep, but between those two, I’d go Viola Davis.

Doug: I agree with that. In the end, I’d have to say that maybe the reason Viola Davis seemed like she was doing a better job than everyone else in The Help, was because she was doing a better job than everyone else.

Sarah (laughing): It’s a possibility.


Oscars 2012: Actor in a Leading Role

Sarah: We’re taking the Oscar stuff category by category. I know we’re going to talk about our thoughts on Oscar snubs in another post, and the actor category is pretty strong. But I have to say I really thought Ewan McGregor got snubbed for his work in Beginners.

Doug: I agree with that.

Sarah: No offense to Brad Pitt in Moneyball, but he didn’t have to dig deep for that. That was Brad Pitt being Brad Pitt as a baseball general manager. Brad Pitt in Tree of Life as a nominated role, OK. But I can’t believe Brad Pitt is in for best actor, and Ewan McGregor is out.

Doug: You’re as pumped for this as I was about A Separation for best screenplay, but I’m with you. Ewan McGregor was 1000% the core of Beginners.

Sarah: I liked George Clooney in The Descendants, but there was so much more subtlety about Ewan McGregor in Beginners. It happens so often that the actor that nails it so well, and does it with such subtlety, gets overlooked for the actor who goes over the top with the emotion. It’s happened to Colin Firth several times. Ewan McGregor shows you so much, a whole range of emotions.

Doug: Yeah, McGregor nailed it. But here’s an example of where we talk about someone maybe having better material to work with, too. I’ve beaten this one to death, but Beginners was so perceptive about the myriad ways dealing with the death of a family member can affect you. The Descendants felt more like a stunt, using the death of a family member as a cheap plot prop. I don’t want to punish George Clooney for doing a good job with lesser material.

Sarah: So, we love Ewan McGregor in Beginners. Yeah, he definitely had better material than George Clooney. His dad is dying, and his dad tells him he’s gay, and the dad has the younger lover, and Ewan McGregor is falling in love himself, and grappling with the prospects of being alone. And it goes on. So, he had a lot more to chew on, but he did it soooo well. I told you before that I don’t cry at movies, but this one almost got a tear out of me! There were several scenes in this movie where I thought, this is just so touching. And while all this is going on, going through the steps of developing a relationship with this dying father that wasn’t really there for him. And McGregor pulled it all off.

Doug: Yup, now you’re the one that’s gushing. But the word I keep coming back to with Beginners is perceptive. And that perceptiveness can be on the page, but the actors have to bring it to the audience. Ewan McGregor definitely brought it to the audience. This might seem like a trite way to put it, but he kind of just showed what it is to be human. As much as you can in an hour and 45 minute movie, he really showed a broad range of life and…

Sarah: Human emotion and the human condition. If Ewan McGregor were nominated, I don’t think we’d even need to have this conversation.  He’d be it.

Doug: We haven’t even hit the list yet. On the list, in my mind, I keep coming back to Gary Oldman.

Sarah: I think George Clooney is probably going to win. But as far as human emotion and just the human experience, I wish they would give it to Demian Bichir, who was brilliant in A Better Life.

Doug: The Academy had to nominate Pitt and Clooney to make sure they’d be at the Oscars and on camera. Although I’m OK with Clooney’s nomination because he sort of put lipstick on a pig in The Descendants.

Sarah: You’ve said he held that movie up, and I agree with that.

Doug: And to keep the agreement train going, I’m with you on Pitt in Moneyball. It’s too much Pitt being Pitt, and the movie isn’t good enough for him to just do that and win an Oscar. Dujardin in The Artist, you can’t argue that it was darn fun. He made me smile. Maybe a little bit of a trick performance, a sort of sleight of hand.

Sarah: He had a little bit of an odd role to play. He had the fun part, but he also had to play the fallen star sections well, too. Sort of a 180 there when he hit the skids. And I think the audience went with it. You certainly wouldn’t be upset with him, there’s something to be said for that performance. Better than Brad Pitt, yes, but not better than the other four.

Doug: Like you said earlier, you’ve got some pretty wide ranging performances here. Do you go more for the understated performance, a Gary Oldman? Or Dujardin, who by necessity in a silent film, almost had to be over the top and overly expressive.

Sarah: That’s part of it. But basically you just have to decide which performance took more skill and craft.  I do tend to think that the subtleties are harder. Gary Oldman is so good at showing you that George Smiley is on the case and knows all and is putting the pieces together. But he doesn’t have to say anything to show it.

Doug: A pretty tough thing to pull off. Oldman is telling the audience everything without telling the characters in the story anything. He only really had the one scene in the movie where he really got to overact. But it wasn’t even really overacting. Because it was the George Smiley’s character’s way of telling his young assistant, OK, I trust you and I’m going to let my hair down with you to show you that. And Oldman played that scene perfectly, too.

Sarah: And once I show you I trust you, play time is over.  I’ve been in your shoes, and I’m going to let you know I understand what you’re going through.

Doug: But how fun was Dujardin?

Sarah: His dancing was phenomenal. I think there should be an award for dancing.

Doug: His physicality, in general, was awesome. We’ve talked about different things we find underrated and tough to do, but physical comedy, I think, is really hard to pull off, and he is brilliant.

Sarah: I think you said this, but he really did capture exactly what the film was going for, the feeling of the old, classic movies.

Doug: I loved Berenice Bejo in The Artist, too, but I did find myself in little moments thinking of her as an actress of today playing an old time actress. With Dujardin, I never really thought that. Like you said, it felt like they just plucked him right out of the 1920s. There’s a whole lot to be said for that.

Sarah: To pull that off and have people come into that world with you, I can agree that’s talent.

Doug: We’re ultimately talking about nominated performances that are so different. It’s probably going to come down to Clooney and Dujardin. And for my tastes, I wish Oldman would get more serious consideration, because it seems like so much more of a serious role.

Sarah: But I’ve been schooled a little bit lately by friends, even about Midnight in Paris. Telling me “don’t underestimate a fun little romp.”  I think we’re right about Midnight in Paris.  It’s fun in places, but it doesn’t measure up as an Oscar winner, but The Artist, another fun little romp, is much better in terms of quality. Dujardin was so much better in it.

Doug: We talked about the section of The Artist where Dujardin’s character had the downward spiral, how we thought it went on too long, wasn’t edited well, etc. But Dujardin himself acted it very well. In a way, if I’m going to say it sort of jolted me away from the fun of the movie, which it did for me, that may be a compliment to Dujardin’s performance.

Sarah: Right. The scenes there were odd, but they were believable. It wasn’t him making it feel out of place. But I think the Oscar is going to George Clooney.

Doug: I’d be disappointed if it went to Clooney.

Sarah: I sort of would, too. But he’s already won the Golden Globe. And the Academy likes George Clooney.

Doug: Well, clearly, who doesn’t like George Clooney?

Sarah: True, there are few people. You’ve expressed your love for Gary Oldman, so let me tell you why I think Demian Bichir should win. It’s partly the story, which was really well written. And it explores some truths of life that a lot of people don’t want to face. Bichir did an unbelievable job of portraying someone in terrible conditions who rises above, going about his everyday life, and trying to be, and managing to be, a better person. But the story had to be pulled off with a naturalness and a dignity, and Bichir did it. There was a beauty in the way Bichir portrayed a man who tries to be a better person for his son, despite so many around him giving in to their circumstances. The movie was really beautiful, and Bichir embodied his role.

Doug: And there was an almost effortlessness in Bichir’s performance. It was certainly the most organic and natural feeling of the five here. I didn’t have any consciousness, really, that this was an actor playing a role. I can’t say that for any of the other four nominees, and that’s certainly a notch in Bichir’s favor.

Sarah: I like Dujardin, but I would vote for Bichir in this category. And I think Clooney and Oldman were very, very good, too. Brad Pitt is the only one I can’t see as a nominee, even though he made what could have been a boring subject for me pretty entertaining.

Doug: Yeah, I don’t think we’re saying Pitt was bad, he’s a cool guy. But we are talking about winning an Academy Award here.

Sarah: Yes. But it’s still just sort of Brad Pitt playing Brad Pitt as a baseball executive. I thought Clooney was good, because normally when you see George Clooney in a movie, you think there’s George Clooney playing a politician, or there’s George Clooney playing a robber. But I don’t think you can say that as much about Clooney in The Descendants. He kind of lost himself in that role and deserves a lot of credit for it.

Doug: I still think a huge part of Clooney’s brilliance is his taste in choosing roles. Because if you see a George Clooney movie, there is never any question about who George Clooney is in the movie. But a lot of times, you’ll see a Gary Oldman movie and say, wait, that was Gary Oldman?  And in fairness to Clooney and Pitt, that’s one of the few downsides to their level of fame. How could you not think of who they are at this point when you watch them in a film? And maybe I just like Gary Oldman enough that I’m doing the whole lifetime achievement thing when I say I think he deserves the Oscar.

Sarah: There might be some of that, but I think you’re right that Oldman’s performance was great. There’s definitely the lifetime achievement angle on Christopher Plummer in the best supporting actor category.

Doug: Maybe you could say Clooney or Pitt’s fame works against them when you evaluate their performances, although in the end Clooney or Dujardin are probably going to win here. You might say that Bichir’s lack of fame helps him in a way, because this guy is a big star and he plays a role where you’re not thinking about that for a second. This is a movie like any other movie, but there were sections when Bichir was on camera when it felt almost documentary like. I don’t think you can be more complimentary to an actor. Unfortunately, the two guys I think deserve to be battling it out, Oldman and Bichir, have the least chances to win.

Sarah: I really, really wish we were able to talk about Bichir actually winning, because he really deserves it.


Oscars 2012 – Original Screenplay

Doug: And we’re on to the Original Screenplay category. I think we’re as close to on the same page in this category as we may be in any category, so this should be fun. We’re going to save our definite favorite in this category, A Separation, for last. But I know that one of your thoughts is that it’s pretty awesome to have a silent film nominated in the screenplay category.

Sarah: Because normally part of the equation in the screenplay category is how was the dialogue, was it snappy, was it emotional, compelling? But obviously the Academy is looking at how The Artist had to be written to translate into an actual movie and acknowledging that technically it must have been different and a challenge.

Doug: And I would argue that the dialogue in The Artist, while you couldn’t hear it, was nothing if not snappy. It was quite snappy, quite jaunty.

Sarah: The story was kind of jaunty. And that’s what’s weird. Because you don’t have dialogue, really, so you have to base your thoughts about the writing on the story, which is pretty straightforward, right?

Doug: Again, to me it’s pretty clearly nominated for the dialogue that you can’t hear.

Sarah: It’s not nominated for a complicated story arc. I still think it’s pretty interesting that you can get an Academy Award nomination these days for a film with no speaking. It’s almost like reading a book with no dialogue, just description.

Doug: Yeah, it’s like reading a book with no quotation marks, although in The Artist, I guess you’re watching a movie with all quotation marks, since you’re not hearing the dialogue, you’re reading it.

Sarah: I can’t say I think The Artist will win in the screenplay category, but I think it’s pretty cool that it can get nominated.

Doug: Depending on how you want to frame the argument about what makes a good screenplay, you could argue against The Artist because of the dialogue that has to be written simply enough to be effective in a silent movie. Or you could argue for it in that it overcomes that hurdle and still tells a great story.

Sarah: Well, I can say I’d take The Artist for best screenplay over Bridesmaids or Midnight in Paris.

Doug: Oh my gosh, Bridesmaids as best screenplay? Ouch, that’s a tough one.

Sarah: But I will say this about Midnight in Paris, because I know we knocked it in the best director category. I think it fits a lot better in this category, because it is well written. What I think happened is Woody Allen said, “I like Hemingway, I like F. Scott Fitzgerald, I like Paris, how do I make a movie out of this?” And the story is really fun, and sort of clever. The fact that Owen Wilson is going back to be inspired by these great figures from the past. The story was fun, it just didn’t quite translate.

Doug: I agree with that. I think Woody Allen wrote a great movie here, but he just didn’t direct a great movie.

Sarah: I mean, how do you not like Hemingway in that movie? Woody wrote great characters, he played around with good ideas. Playing around with all those ideas and characters was a fun way to do what he wanted to do, which was sort of pay homage to all those literary and artistic icons. Really fun, but again, I’m not sure he had to dig too deep for all of it. So, I understand the nomination for the writing, but we’re not talking about an Oscar winner.

Doug: So, we’re thinking fun, but not a winner. OK, Bridesmaids. Where to go with this one? First of all, I have to throw in that I read somewhere that a bunch of Bridesmaids was improvised. Are we really going to give a writing Oscar to an improvised movie? But you can argue that writing is writing and it doesn’t really matter what the process is. You can still be writing even if you’re not jotting things down on paper. So, alright, but for me I don’t think Bridesmaids was even that hilariously funny when you get right down to it. And we’re nominating it for an Academy Award? The competition is just too exceptional in this category and Bridesmaids is clearly last place on this list for me.

Sarah: I pretty much have to agree with you on Bridesmaids. Not that funny, and in some places actually kind of depressing. The story was trite and really sort of horrible, the idea of these stupid feuding women. I have to say, I don’t like seeing women being made fools of.

Doug: And it’s kind of ironic because when Bridesmaids came out it was celebrated as a movie that could allow women to be empowered going forward. I was excited to see it. But I felt they really sort of had to demean themselves in a way to make the movie and, honestly, sort of settled for the same old, same old in the comedy they did. It could have been so much funnier. I mean, come on, why didn’t they just go to Vegas? Go wild, have some fun.  It says about all I can say about Bridesmaids that the most memorable part of it was the mass bowel movement scene. Nothing particularly funny about that, nothing particularly original about it.

Sarah: That was horrible.  They wanted to make a raunchy movie for women. But it just wasn’t very funny. A couple of funny lines, but that was about it. It was sort of a pathetic story and the women in it were pretty pathetic. It wasn’t an empowering story.

Doug: It didn’t really seem like a raunchy movie for women, it seemed like a raunchy movie with women in it.

Sarah: The only thing that was even remotely good about the movie was when Megan literally beats up on Annie to get her to fight back a little in her life. And I was thinking that I wished they had done that a couple of hours earlier, because she was so frickin’ annoying. Again, what’s empowering about a movie with a main character that is letting herself fail?  

Doug: If we were giving awards simply for dialogue, I could go with Margin Call. The little details and interactions, the borderline panic of the individuals involved as they slowly realized the financial hole their firm was going down was spot on. Not judging them so much, but just portraying the characters as real people with real, personal reactions to the peril they were in.  And recognizing that while there were people at certain levels that absolutely deserve scorn for the greed and recklessness they showed that caused the financial crisis, there also had to be a ton of people in the middle of that shit storm that had, really, little or nothing to do with causing it that still had to deal with it. And their world was falling apart.   

Sarah: And you have to give props to J.C. Chandor for trying to boil the entire financial crisis down into something that an audience can try to wrap their brains around, as least as to how it might have played out on a human level.  I’m not exactly sure how I feel in general about trying to put a human face on a Goldman Sachs-esque company, but that had to be a pretty difficult undertaking and it was done pretty well.

Doug: There are lots of institutions we get cynical about these days. Government, the banks, etc. And I do think it’s OK to at least try to understand that there are plenty of people out there just trying to do their best. Or we just give up to the cynicism. It’s more complicated than just everyone is evil. But I do agree that Margin Call glosses over, at best, and completely misses at worst, the severity of the pain the financial crisis really brought in order to focus on a particular set of characters.

Sarah: And it gets points for taking what could be a very difficult subject for people to understand, the toxic assets, the risk variable formulas being used, and translated them for a wider viewing audience. I’m not sure it completely got there but, like Moneyball, Margin Call could have been really tedious, but isn’t. If nothing else, it works as a sort of financial thriller. It’s got sort of a John Grisham quality, almost more of a suspenseful mystery. But, of course, we know how this one ends.

Doug: And I’m maybe putting more responsibility on Margin Call to recognize the big picture than it deserves. The whole point is a financial firm in the middle of it over a 24 hour period when decisions had to be made right now. Few people in the middle of it would have been able to see the big picture, which was part of the point. When you come upon a car accident and people are hurt, you’re not thinking about the big picture necessarily. You’re just trying to figure out how to stop the bleeding and minimize the damage. And in the financial world, the selfishness of saving your own butt, and not worrying so much about anybody else’s.

Sarah:  Margin Call is really depicting the financial collapse in a way that people can understand. But the best lines were often throw-away one-liners, and it was largely propped up by an all-star cast. Ultimately, my vote goes to A Separation. Everything about this film is so good, the acting, the directing, and what a great story. We’ve spoken about this before and will again, but how did this not become a Best Picture nominee?   

Doug: I loved The Tree of Life, but A Separation is my favorite movie of the year. Tree of Life is so beautifully shot and has a wonderful philosophy of what we can shoot for in life as humans. To me, a truly beautiful film. But, in contrast, A Separation is one of the best films I’ve ever seen about what it means to actually be human; all the complexities and nuance and complication that comes with life; what we see as important in life; how what we see as important can and does change; and what influences us in our own individual cases to decide for ourselves what we see as important in our life. This film is certainly and absolutely a film about life in Iran, and what that means in today’s times. But it is so much more than that, completely universal in its themes. What can I say? This movie explores family dynamics as a family comes apart, male/female, religious/secular, class dynamics, working class/intellectual, young/old, moral/survival dynamics.  And that just scratches the surface of what’s going on in A Separation. And not for a second does it get cumbersome. And, oh by the way, did I mention that it comes in a suspense package that would make Hitchcock proud? You could argue that The Tree of Life could be more of a work of art than A Separation. But A Separation is so purely what truly great movies can be. A riveting, entertaining story, to be sure. And one that is so eye openingly perceptive about life that it should be required viewing for any person who looks at life in absolute terms on any level. And it’s all down to the story. Wow, this was a great film, and my clear, clear pick for best screenplay.    

Sarah:  Hah!  You’re gushing!  I feel like I need to bring this party down a little.  You said earlier that you thought A Separation was like a companion piece to the utterly loathsome The Tree of Life and I have to disagree.  I know, I know, you like all that overarching, high-falutin’ universality in movies, but that’s not what I look for.  What I think is compelling is perspective on the human condition.  I don’t think a comment on the very nature of humanity is necessary.  I think A Separation should be partnered with A Better Life because of how they bring into focus the nature of life; they are both so detailed, so focused on the one story they are trying to express.  I think people’s endurance through life – especially with the oppressiveness of the circumstances represented in these two films – is what is awesome, in the old-school awe-inspiring sense of the word.  That’s why A Separation is my pick, it’s the compelling and sort of cunning way it brings into focus people’s ability to endure and affect their circumstances.

Doug: You got me, I am gushing. I was just fanning myself over here while you were talking. And, yeah, my whole point about why I like A Separation more than Tree of Life is just what you said. A Separation is so perceptive about the basics of simply what it means to be human. And how our own upbringing and background and world view and gender and spiritual view and current circumstances and so much else can all intertwine constantly in a changing mishmash that informs everything we do. A decision we may make today, maybe we don’t make if we had gone through different experiences in life, and maybe we don’t make the same decision 5 or 10 years from now. Maybe I’d say A Separation is about human reality and Tree of Life is about human hope. But they both still touch on aspects of just being human. It’s a great point you make about A Better Life as a companion for A Separation. I think A Separation goes much deeper than A Better Life, but certainly they both explore how one’s circumstances can control a person in many ways. OK, I’m going to stop gushing now. A Separation is probably my favorite movie since There Will Be Blood.


Oscar Nominations for “Adapted Screenplay”: A Discussion

Alright, movie lovers, following up on last week’s discussion of the “Directing” category of the Oscar nominations, Doug and I decided we’d dig into the writing categories this week.  We kick the week off by delving into the “Adapted Screenplay” category.  Enjoy!

Sarah: Let’s try to decide on criteria for this category. The question is, do we think the voters actually read the original material that the screenplays are based on, or is it just this was a good story, the movie had a good flow, everything fits together, it has a good story arc?

Doug: Don’t we think there’s almost no way the voters actually read the source material.

Sarah: I’m guessing they’re probably not giving homework to Academy voters, so they’re just voting on how the story presents on screen.

Doug: A pretty sneaky way, in the end, to get 10 groups of writers instead of 5 nominated for a screenwriting Academy Award. Because if you really do take into consideration how well the adapted screenplays are actually adapted, then it seems like it would be a requirement that you’d have to read the source material to be able to tell that.  But, since I haven’t read any of the source material of the nominees except Moneyball, maybe we should give the Academy voters a pass. Because if that is a criteria, I can’t give a full opinion, really, on any of these.

Sarah: I haven’t read any of them either, so I think we just have to go with how the stories come across on screen, or this is going to be a short discussion.

Doug: It might be short, anyway, because for me this is one of the easier categories to choose a winner in.

Sarah (laughing): Let me guess.  You’re going Tinker, Tailor, aren’t you?

Doug: Yeah.

Sarah (laughing): See how good I am? I know what you’re going to pick.

Doug (laughing right back): Do we need to talk any further? We should just have a talk where you tell me my picks for each category, and we could stop there. And I promise to not change my picks after you guess just to make you look bad.

Sarah: I’d be happy to do that, but just for fun, let’s talk over the adapted nominees, anyway. Why Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy?

Doug: Before I answer, let me say it can be tough to tell sometimes what makes a film like Tinker, Tailor great. How much credit goes to the writing and how much goes elsewhere? When you watch what you think is a bad performance, how much was it the performance or how much was because the writing stunk? A good example of this, for me, is Maggie Gyllenhaal in Crazy Heart. My first reaction to her in that film was how bad she was. But then I realized that she was acting her ass off with material that was laughably bad. In Tinker, Tailor I do struggle a little with who deserves what credit for the feel of the movie.

Sarah: Right, because so much of the movie came from the atmosphere; it was in the editing, the performances, the directing, there was a great flow about it.

Doug: And how much of that was on the page? The thing I liked the best about the film was that it told the viewer everything we needed to know in a way that revealed nothing to the characters within the world of the film. And, again, I haven’t read the book, but it seems to me that that feel would be easier to write in a book than in a screenplay. George Smiley doesn’t reveal anything, but in the film you can still see his wheels turning. In a book, you can go on for five pages, if you want, to tell the reader what this character is thinking. In a film, that can be harder to get across. I’m assuming that the screenplay for Tinker, Tailor has that feel somewhere in it as a guide to the director. So, assuming I’m right about that, I have to say Tinker, Tailor is the best of the nominees.

Sarah: I have some thoughts about a couple of the other nominees. Not so much because I think they should win, but they’re worth discussing.   I didn’t read the book Moneyball, but I will say one thing; to me, that could have been the most boring story in the world. A story about statistics and baseball? It could have been horrible, but it wasn’t. And I thought it was primarily the way it was written that pulled it off. The acting was good, as was the directing, but nothing special.  It still could have been a pretty not fun movie for most people. It ended up really enjoyable and compelling. It got me invested in something that I don’t give a damn about. Not saying this is an Oscar winner, but you have to give Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin props for making something decent out of it.

Doug: Here’s where a lot of personal perspective can bias your view of something. Because everything this movie was about, sabermetrics, advanced statistical analysis of baseball, yada, yada, was something I was heavily into as a pre-teen and teenager who loved baseball. It was a whole new world opening up to me. So, that part of me was disappointed that the more technical parts of the book Moneyball weren’t explored in much greater detail in the film. But I also recognize that, ultimately, this is a movie designed as entertainment for the masses, so I can’t really say anything other than your breakdown is spot on.

Sarah: Yeah, it appealed to a broader audience and did it well.

Doug: Like with Tinker, Tailor, how much of that was other factors, like Brad Pitt, and how much was the writing? But it was broadly appealing.

Sarah: And speaking of biases, people kind of know Aaron Sorkin and anticipate good work out of him.

Doug: Which can work against you. Before I saw Moneyball, I saw all the Social Network comparisons. For me, Moneyball fell flat compared to The Social Network. But how fair is that? Does that mean Moneyball wasn’t any good, just because it wasn’t as good as The Social Network?

Sarah: I think of Aaron Sorkin as writing snappy, smart dialogue. He’s known for the walk and talk.  And while there was some of that in Moneyball, the dialogue was more just sort of funny. There was a lot of personality written into a story that could have been dry. Who knows how much personality Billy Beane really has?

Doug: He probably isn’t Brad Pitt hanging out wearing his little visor…

Sarah: And shoving Twinkies into his face.

Doug: Probably was a little more complicated than the film made it out to be.

Sarah:  But even in a scene like the one with Brad Pitt and the scouts. That scene was written with a lot of personality. I understand those were real scouts and some of the actual lines came from them, but it was force of personality that worked there. The dialogue throughout wasn’t super snappy or smart, necessarily. Really, it wasn’t supposed to be The Social Network, so the idea of comparing it to The Social Network is sort of foolish.

Doug: Right, and again how fair is it, anyway? Even if Moneyball was supposed to be like The Social Network, which it wasn’t, if The Social Network was the best movie of its type in the last five years or so, what’s the problem if Moneyball wasn’t as good? It still was a pretty well done film.

Sarah: And who’s to say Sorkin wasn’t trying to purposefully do something different from The Social Network, to branch out?

Doug: Right. But we are ultimately talking about handing out Academy Awards, and I don’t think Moneyball rises to that level.

Sarah: Let’s talk about some of the others. Ides of March. I can only hope that this screenplay was worse than the source material. Because this movie was predictable, the supposed plot twists were not very twisty. The dialogue was OK, but the story overall, at best, missed its target.

Doug: And overbaked. Or if you want to be a soap opera, just go even more over the top. I couldn’t really figure out what this movie was trying to be. Is it trying to reflect real life in politics? I mean, I understand it’s a two hour movie and a work of fiction and is purposefully exaggerated. But, could it have been more cynical?

Sarah: And the other thing is you’ve already seen political movies that do it right. Like, say, Primary Colors, that takes two hours and actually does encapsulate the feeling of a campaign.  Ides of March was just so stark. It was very stylized, but that didn’t seem to come from the writing. It was visually pretty good, and that seemed to have more to do with the director, George Clooney, and not so much with the…

Doug: With the writer, George Clooney? You brought up Primary Colors, which is a great example of how to do a movie on politics. In a sense, it was a parody, but it captured the politics of the time so well. It wasn’t real, but it was so real, if that makes any sense.

Sarah: And a lot more believable than Ides of March.

Doug: Right, like you say, that’s the point. In the world that Primary Colors created for itself, it was all believable.

Sarah: Yes, and Ides of March not so much. It was really the performances in Ides of March that made it watchable, not the writing. If you had that story and writing and lesser actors, it would have probably been just a bad movie.

Doug: You would have almost been looking at a Lifetime movie.

Sarah: It was all about the performances with Ryan Gosling, in particular, as the anchor that made Ides of March watchable at all.

Doug: Yeah, Gosling should get the “I know we didn’t nominate you for any single performance, but we’re going to give you an award for your body of work for the year” award. If they give lifetime achievement awards, why can’t they do that on a year by year basis?

Sarah: How Ides of March got nominated for writing, who knows? Maybe the play was so horrible that the writing for the film looked better. I don’t know…

Doug: Well, and to pull a smooth transition, The Descendants. Again, didn’t read the source material, but I have to believe the film did a pretty good job of recreating the overall tone and point of the book. So, I give it that. And I’m operating on the bias that I feel like the Academy chose the wrong film about the subject of a loved one dying. Beginners was so much better. I’m not going to deny that there are people who react the way Clooney’s character and family do to that sort of stress, to sort of focus on something else other than the main issue at hand. I’m sort of criticizing the message itself more than the delivery of the message. But it felt like a copout. I’m not saying The Descendants isn’t a movie that can resonate for some people, and reflect how many people handle a loved one dying. But if the point is you have this person dying, and you focus on all these other side issues to avoid dealing with the main issue, and then all of a sudden realize the person is actually dying, I’m not sure there is a whole movie there.

Sarah: I think, like with Ides of March, the thing that made The Descendants work at all was really the performances. You even said you thought that it was really George Clooney who held that movie up. But if you’re talking about screenplay and story arc, like we are in this category, I don’t see it for The Descendants. Because that wasn’t what was good about the movie.

Doug: And in fairness to the adaptation of the book, the fact that I am reacting this strongly, it probably isn’t Alexander Payne’s fault. I’m reacting to the source material, not Alexander Payne’s adaptation. So, I don’t want to be too critical of somebody who looks like he recreated this book well. But, again, we’re talking about handing out an Oscar. And I don’t think I can say OK to giving an Oscar just for faithfully recreating something on screen.

Sarah: That goes back to what the criteria should be for this. If you just say it’s a good story, is that really enough for this category? Because it’s an adapted screenplay so, really, someone else came up with the story.

Doug: And having said all this, you’ve got something like The Descendants nominated in a lot of other categories, so you usually end up with a movie with multiple nominations winning. That makes me worry for Tinker, Tailor because other than Gary Oldman, who I think should win Best Actor, Tinker, Tailor is kind of out there alone on screenplay. Maybe we’re looking at The Descendants as a possible winner. Or maybe Hugo?

Sarah: Let’s talk about Hugo. Because for me the best adapted screenplays come down to Hugo or Tinker, Tailor. Even though I thought Moneyball was well written, I think it falls just short of being Oscar caliber.

Doug: And there’s no huge message in Moneyball, like the Academy normally likes. Other than, you know, the underdog can overcome.

Sarah: Yeah, except they don’t really overcome.

Doug (laughing): Yeah, they quasi overcome. The underdog can come in second place instead of eighth.

Sarah: Hugo may come off as sort of simple, but there are an awful lot of clever ideas being thrown in there. You have old filmmaking being celebrated, science fiction, the dream sequence, imagination, all of it. There is an awful lot of fun stuff being written into it. Again, the source material argument, and it isn’t a massively deep film… But there are some larger messages some different levels. Tinker, Tailor might be a little more complex in some ways, but it’s essentially a thriller.

Doug: One thing, for me, that makes me feel like I’m not being completely fair to the writing in Hugo is that the visual world that is created is so spectacular that it sort of distracts from the number of different ideas being addressed in the writing.

Sarah: With Hugo, like we spoke about in directing, you have a child’s movie and an adult movie all rolled into one. It has to succeed on multiple levels, and it does succeed. Tinker, Tailor is complex, and it perfectly recreates the feeling of the Cold War and is clearly well written, but it is what it is. You have the difference between do you go with the best written real feeling film in Tinker, Tailor or the best written fantasy in Hugo.

Doug: The Ides of March is the only one on this list that, to me…

Sarah: We should just kick it out?

Doug: Just kick it out. The other four are all actually well written. We’ve sort of made some arguments for all of them. I’ve said my peace about The Descendants. I don’t think the story is all that perceptive. It wasn’t horribly written, but…

Sarah: I think we have a slight disagreement on that. I don’t think I feel as strongly as you about it, but I will agree to the extent that The Descendants doesn’t bring a particularly profound message. Of course, we can’t say Tinker, Tailor is really profound, although I liked it a lot. I’m sort of hedging toward Hugo on this one. I’m not sure it is the most likely to win, but I’d like to see a film written with this many layers and so fun to watch win. Fun is sort of the purpose of going to movies. Well done escapism and to have some fun. Tinker, Tailor had a good story, but not sure I would say it was fun.

Doug: Well, definitely not fun in the way Hugo is fun. Tinker, Tailor was pretty fun as a film, but not sure the Cold War is really super fun as a subject.

Sarah: And Tinker, Tailor has the violence. The violence was done and handled really well. It was perfectly effective for what is was used for. But you’d have to say that that is one of the things that make it not a purely “fun” film. At least not fun like Hugo.

Doug: Tinker, Tailor does use violence in the way it should be used.

Sarah: It was sparing. But it really had an impact. It wasn’t thrown in for the sake of gore as it is often in movies. It really made you understand and think about the consequences of making a wrong move in the world of the film.  It was impactful without being overly gory.

Doug: It felt like a film paying homage to all those great 70s political thrillers. But in a more modern way. In the 70s, you may not have been using the violence in the same way.

Sarah: A lot of it in Tinker, Tailor was implied.

Doug: Yes, but often implied after you saw just enough of the real deal to make you understand its purpose.  And I would imagine a lot of the violence was on the pages of the book. Another example of it being adapted really well to the film.

Sarah: A lot of our choice on this one is probably coming down to the types of movies we’re predisposed to like. My bias is usually a little more towards fantasy. And your bias is more toward…

Doug: Right. Hugo, as you have pointed out, is not just a kid’s movie, but it is largely a kid’s movie. If you have two great movies like this, I’m almost always going to lean toward the more adult orientated, realistic film. So, I think Tinker, Tailor is the best adapted screenplay. But probably won’t win. I hope maybe they have a runner up trophy they can give out.

Sarah: I think Hugo should win. As for who the Academy will give it to. I have to think the Ides of March is out. I think Moneyball is OK, but it comes up a little short.

Doug: Although Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian are the big names in the screen writing category.

Sarah: Yeah, they’re darlings, but I suspect it comes down to Hugo and The Descendants. And even though The Descendants wasn’t one of your favorites, I think the Academy might end up showing a little of the same bias you do against a “kids’ movie” in the screenplay category and give it to The Descendants.

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Posted by on February 13, 2012 in Oscars 2012 Talk


Oscars 2012–Best Director

When we started trianglemovietalk, one of our goals was to try to capture the fun we have, and the fun everyone who loves movies has, just talking about film. And so here is the first of what will be our ongoing attempt to present trianglemovietalk in the purest form–talking. So, settle in with a hot chocolate and an old school copy of Movieline magazine, and enjoy the chat.

Doug: OK, the directing category…Break it down for me.

Sarah: For me, the way to break it down is to treat it like a multiple choice question and start to eliminate the obviously inferior choices. And, for me, the two obviously inferior choices are Midnight in Paris and The Tree of Life. These are the two that should not win. I’m kicking out the trash first.

Doug: I completely disagree with you about The Tree of Life and completely agree that Midnight in Paris should be off the list.

Sarah: Then what would you put in its place?

Doug: I don’t know, it just seems like the Academy sort of settled this year and didn’t go for any risky movies at all. It all seems safe and, let’s face it, the overall theme is nostalgia, which can be fun, but it’s all too comfy.

Sarah: Well, except The Descendants.

Doug: OK, but even The Descendants seems a safe choice. I like Alexander Payne as a director and The Descendants is an OK film. We can talk about this when we discuss the Best Picture category, but if the Academy felt compelled to put a film about dealing with a loved one’s death on the docket, they chose the wrong film. They should have gone with Beginners instead, which was way more perceptive and real in how dealing with a family member dying can affect you. Watching  Beginners makes The Descendants almost feel like a copout and dodge of the whole subject. Having said that, this might be an unfair comparison, but Alexander Payne seems to be the safe slice of life go to guy. When I compare him to say, a Wes Anderson, he just kind of pales.  Alexander Payne seems like the Kmart of the slice of life genre. Maybe that’s a little harsh…

Sarah (laughing): How about at least Target?

Doug: Yeah, that’s good. I’ll give him Target. Because I like Alexander Payne alright. I don’t dislike his stuff.  And I like Target. I get things at Target. I’m comfortable going to Target. But I’m not looking to Target to really inspire me.

Sarah: I think we’re saying Alexander Payne is slightly better than mediocre. When I look at The Descendants I can sort of say, OK, I can see it being nominated for some of the other categories. George Clooney, really nice job, some nice performances from some of the other actors. But when I look at Best Director, I’m normally looking for a few things. One of them, and here even though I ultimately didn’t like The Tree of Life, I have to give it this, is I look for something visionary on some level. I’m also looking for the director to get good performances out of the maximum number of actors in the film. And I feel like some of the performances in The Descendants didn’t really hold up. We got a great performance out of George Clooney, but I’m not sure I saw a whole lot of greatness out of too many other actors in the movie. And with only one great performance,  I start to wonder how much the director really had to do with it.   Maybe Clooney just delivered on his own.

Doug: I’m listening to you talk, and now I really know I can’t go with Alexander Payne for Best Director. Because I would say that on an individual level the performances from the main characters that really carried the film were actually quite good. But, in the end, the movie still didn’t speak to me on any real level.  It barely even seemed authentic.

Sarah: Well, yeah, and I know we kind of disagreed about that because I thought there was a theme there that spoke to me. Which is, whenever people are in an overwhelmingly bad situation, they will look to any little thing to avoid being overwhelmed. So, Clooney’s character focuses for three days on tracking down the guy his wife had the affair with to avoid having to truly deal with his wife dying. But, I agree that there was nothing epic about the movie, or visionary.

Doug: Again, OK. I wasn’t upset that I saw the movie. And we’ll talk about this in a Best Picture discussion, but Beginners was a far more insightful and poignant way to look at dealing with a loved  one’s death.

Sarah: I’d agree with you on Beginners.  I think when we get to the best actor category we’ll really have something to talk about there.  For now, I’ll just say that you know I don’t cry at movies, but Beginners almost elicited a tear from even me. I will say that The Descendants is one of the first times I saw a George Clooney performance and thought it wasn’t just George Clooney playing himself in that situation.  Like, when I saw Ides of March. Look, there’s George Clooney running for office. This seemed like a fuller performance.

Doug: But I would add one thing I really like about Clooney is that he seems spot on in choosing his roles. Maybe one aspect of delivering really good performances is recognizing up front the roles you are capable of delivering a great performance in. Clooney might be the best at that right now. I don’t think that’s a minor thing in talking about actors. Just like with people discussing Malick’s direction in The Tree of Life. It seems there are some reviewers saying, “It was beautiful visually, but…”.  As if a film being that incredibly beautifully shot is a minor thing. Film is, if nothing else, visual.

Sarah: I know we’re headed for a showdown over Tree of Life before the month is out and that will probably be a whole separate blog so I want to get out of the way why Midnight in Paris, not only shouldn’t win for directing, but shouldn’t even be on the list of nominees. And that is that it is a trite little film. At least Tree of Life had a vision. Midnight in Paris had none. It took an hour and a half to get to the grass is always greener.

Doug: Absolutely. It was a complete lark for Woody Allen.

Sarah: An excuse for him to throw some literary and art icons together, film in Paris. It’s going to look awesome, right? How can I get F. Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway in Paris? I’ll write a little film around that. And there’s some fun in that, but just a little romp through Paris in the 20s.

Doug: Definitely fun, and I have a lot of fun going on Youtube to get my nostalgia and watch, say, old reruns of Three’s Company. They’re very fun. But they’re not getting nominated for Academy Awards.

Sarah: Plus, I don’t think Woody got a good performance out of any of the main actors. They were all just sort of tepid. So, you end up with kind of light hearted, mediocre fare.

Doug: The main performances were pretty bad. I’m just going to say it. If anything, the performances by the leads were actually distracting to the vignettes in some places. I would find myself thinking, “Cool, there’s Dali, who is he going to be talking to?” Then Owen Wilson would start jabbering and I wish Woody would have just shut him up. So, yeah, Midnight in Paris, out for Best Director. How about The Artist? Another nostalgic movie in a year of nostalgia.

Sarah: But you’re talking about a lot of the movies being safe. A silent picture in this day and age? I wouldn’t call that safe. To go silent, and black and white. You could say kind of risky. But then again, is that basically why it has been so popular, more just the novelty of it?

Doug: That’s the kicker. I saw a lot of good movies this year, a lot of them. But where are the classics? I’m having a whole lot of fun sitting in The Artist, but 15 years from now, is this a movie where I am looking at it as a classic? Maybe we’re just looking back and saying about The Artist, “That was smart.” There’s a lot to be said for smart. I’m not criticizing it. But…

Sarah: To go back to a director getting performances out of actors, that’s one thing I loved about The Artist. This is a hard movie to get great performances, I would think. Great performances that are believable. It’s a silent movie. You’ve got the movie within a movie thing. To get it just right the way Hazanavicius does. It could have gotten campy. But it really rises above that.

Doug: Agreed. It uses camp, but sparingly and in the best ways possible. We’ll talk about this, too, when we talk about the acting categories, but Berenice Bejo for Best Supporting Actress? This might be the one thing that actually annoyed me this year. How is this not a Best Lead Actress nomination? This is so clearly a lead role. You’re pushing me toward The Artist here. The Artist probably had my favorite single scene from a movie this year. The staircase scene really had it all. Everything about it, the visuals were a perfect throwback to the silent era. The hustle and bustle of the studio. He was coming down the stairs, she was going up the stairs. That really sort of summed up almost everything that was fun about The Artist.

Sarah: A very cool looking scene.  It was a great scene.

Doug: We’re nitpicking a lot, but this really isn’t the greatest year in the directing category. I know we have a big disagreement about The Tree of Life. To me, hands down, that should win for directing. This is the only directing job that potentially sticks out as a classic. It says something incredibly sincere and moving in a sarcastic era. But I’ll lay off that because I know we disagree on it, and it’s probably not going to win. If I have to stipulate that, are we thinking we’re coming down to Scorsese for Hugo and Hazavanicius for The Artist?

Sarah: I think so.

Doug: It would be a pretty slick trick out of Scorsese to win another Oscar, and do it after all these years from, basically, a kid’s movie.

Sarah: It would be. The thing I liked about Hugo is that it was almost like two separate films. The first half of the movie was entirely this great kids’ buddy pick, right? And then all of a sudden at the end, it’s still going to be fun for kids, but it turns into an adult drama.

Doug: I have to confess that Hugo is the only nominated film in the directing category that I haven’t seen all the way through yet. So, I have to ask whether you’re saying the second half of Hugo becomes an actual adult drama, or just has elements of adult drama, like almost all “kid’s movies” do now. I think even a lot of the straight animated movies are made almost as much for adults as kids anymore.

Sarah: It’s still a kid’s movie. It’s still a family friendly movie. It’s basically about this kid finding his place. That’s going to be interesting for kids. And it stays fun throughout. Definitely visually interesting. It’s still basically an adventure. But towards the end, this kid is basically rescuing the adults. But Georges Melies, at the same time, has to come to terms with abandoning what he loved and all that lost time. So there’s an emotional drama element that a kid could bypass. And if that had been the whole film, we wouldn’t be talking about it as a kid’s film. So, you get two films, in a way, pushed together. But done nicely, not disjointed, just different levels.

Doug: And it’s undeniable that the visual world that Scorsese created for Hugo is incredible. But going to your criteria of deciding if the director got great performances out of the actors, for me it’s a lot harder in a movie like Hugo to get a feel for that as opposed to, say, The Descendants. In a world as fantastical as Hugo, does the fun of the characters come more from the source material?

Sarah: And you have to wonder whether these performances really are all that good, frankly. Ben Kingsley’s character has a little depth to him, but these are characters that aren’t  all that fleshed out, frankly.

Doug: I think it might be easy to underestimate how tough it can be to get good, believable performances in more of a kid’s movie.

Sarah: True. Especially out of the kids. Hugo himself was a three dimensional character, but a lot of the other characters were more sketches. So, it’s hard to say whether Scorsese gets good performances or not. But it’s not like Midnight in Paris, where some of the main performances actually detracted from the fun of the movie.

Doug: I guess sometimes it can be an advantage or a disadvantage to know directors’ processes in getting a performance out of actors. But in The Tree of Life, if your requirement is going to be that a director has to “coax” a better performance out of actors, maybe you would say that did not happen. Malick rolls film all day and the actors go. As Brad Pitt tells it, you have some directors that meticulously tell you, stand here, do that, follow this direction. But Pitt says Malick doesn’t do that. Malick is like a butterfly collector. He stands there with his net and waits until he sees the most beautiful butterfly go by, and he captures it. Which to me, is just as much a skill for a director as making sure you get the performance up front. And there’s a lot that goes into capturing the right stuff from all that shooting. Editing, etc., some of the technical sides of things.

Sarah: Editing, for me, is a big problem in films a lot of the time. Even The Artist, for example. I was sitting watching it, and really enjoying myself. But then there was that myopic section at the end , where he was just sitting there  pitying himself for close to half an hour. And you couldn’t have edited five or so minutes out of that?

Doug: Exactly, take 15 or so minutes out and now we are talking a great movie instead of very good. And even not just the length of that segment. The Artist isn’t a complete lark, there’s certainly some depth to it. But overall, it’s a pretty jaunty movie and all of a sudden you have a guy with a gun in his mouth.

Sarah (laughing): Spoilers, but it’s a pacing thing.

Doug: It just wasn’t of a piece with the rest of the film. That section of the movie goes by, and then you’re sort of back into the movie you were watching the whole time.

Sarah: Right. It was disjointed and didn’t flow  there. I really didn’t have that problem with the editing in the other directing nominated movies. Although The Tree of Life, they could have cut out 2 hours and I would have been fine with it.

Doug (laughing): I think you would have been happy to see the evolution of earth scenes as a 20 minute documentary on the Discovery channel.

Sarah: Correct. And leave the whole rest of it out. I really felt like it wasted my time.

Doug: That really hurts, because I still think we’re talking about a very beautiful film that says something in a time where that isn’t happening a whole lot. I’m feeling like if you made me guess, I would be thinking that you would be leaning toward Scorsese for Hugo as Best Director.

Sarah: Hugo has a lot to be said for it. Visually it was a lot of fun. The performances fit and were good throughout.  Scoresese clearly had a vision and it was epic in a lot of ways. But part of me thinks that maybe it fits better as Best Picture. For me, it does come down to Scorsese and Hazanavicius for The Artist.

Doug: For me, it’s Malick for The Tree of Life.

Sarah: I know.

Doug: And I know we are so far apart on that one, that I feel like we didn’t discuss that as much. That’s what I think should win. But if you’re going to make me narrow it down to The Artist and Hugo as far as directing, I probably like The Artist a little better as a movie. But if we’re talking about achievement in directing, which we are, I probably have to go with Hugo. It seems like more of an achievement and step forward in directing. Martin can get his second Oscar.  And, so, are you going with Hugo?

Sarah: I think I would go with Scorsese for Hugo. There’s that pacing problem in The Artist. That could go more in the editing category, but it still speaks to the vision of the director, or should. Hugo felt like it was paced correctly, it fit together, it was fun, it was stimulating, it was uplifting, it had a great message. And it worked for kids and adults.

Doug: You’re talking about all the directing elements coming together. For me, in the directing category there can be certain aspects of the directing that stick out so far and above single elements of other films, that you can award the director for that. Which is part of why I think Malick should win for Tree of Life. It’s a truly original, singular piece of work. But if you don’t assign that to Tree of Life, as you don’t, you’re sort of left with a stack of good, solid movies and you just have to decide who did the best overall job. And while I don’t necessarily see any of the other directing nominated movies as all time classics, I could see someone saying the way Scorsese uses 3D is a big advance, or doing a black and white, silent movie in this day and age and pulling it off, is pretty edgy.

Sarah: Yeah, when you say that, I  think which ones of the nominated films here would you want to watch over and over again, I’m not sure there are any on the list that I would want to rush out and buy  for future viewing.

Doug (laughing): I’ve already watched The Tree of Life twice.

Sarah:  I could barely watch it once!


Oscar Nominations 2012

Here we go. It’s Oscar season finally, and Sarah and Doug give day of Oscar nominations first impressions. Plenty more to come on worthy/not worthy films of the year, but let’s get the talk started.

SARAH: Well, Oscar nominations came out today.  It’s hard to really encapsulate the noms in a few quippy sentences, especially given the range of movies honored by a nomination, but I’m going to do it anyway.  There is probably no single commonality or theme to be seen in the nominations in the major categories like Best Picture and Directing, but several of the films do seem to be celebrating the art of filmmaking and love of cinema.  The obvious examples are Hugo and The Artist, both of which feature filmmaking as part of the plot, but Midnight in Paris and The Tree of Life also seem more like indulgences by the filmmakers.  Midnight in Paris, which was generally regarded as a long shot for a nomination actually received both a Best Picture and Directing nominations.  The film, while fun, seemed more like an excuse for director Woody Allen to feature Paris in the ‘20s and several of his favorite literary and artistic legends.  Meanwhile, Terrence Malick was so intent on being innovative with The Tree of Life that his picture turned out self-indulgent and insufferable.

I was disappointed to see that The Adventures of Tintin didn’t get an Oscar nomination for Animated Feature Film.  Overall, I would say that the nominations for the 84th Academy Awards held a few surprises, but are mostly as expected.

DOUG: It’s tempting to say that the Academy played it safe when it came to Oscar nominations this year. But it’s probably more accurate to say film makers in general were the ones to play it safe. My theme for the year, particularly in the Best Picture category, is nostalgia. A lot of it enjoyable nostalgia to be sure and, as Sarah points out, many films celebrating the joy of movies and making movies. I can’t argue with the fun factor in films like The Artist, Midnight in Paris or Hugo. And there are certainly worse ways to use valuable screen time than worthy efforts such as War Horse, The Help or The Descendants. Every one of these films has value to be recommended. But as enjoyable and comfortable as it can be to look back, where is the excitement, the reach, the edginess, the moves forward that are often what make movies so exciting? I thought the extra nominations were supposed to be for recognizing a broader range of efforts. Part of me can’t blame the Academy for such bland nominations because 2011 seemed very much like a year for safe movies. But what about Drive, what about The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, even Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy for Best Picture? If for no other reason than to recognize where films can go, not just where they’ve been (or maybe at least where they are).

Sarah and I are headed for a showdown on The Tree of Life, the only movie this year that aspired to be great art and pulled it off, excuse me for saying it, so artfully.  Tree of Life was the one truly dazzling effort out of Hollywood this year and in a year so relatively staid, it’s great to see such a sincere effort at something more rewarded.  I will say I’d love to see one of the extra slots in the Best Picture category go to a worthy foreign film. Why can’t we nominate A Separation? I don’t think history would be too horribly shaken if, say, Moneyball didn’t get a Best Picture nom. It was nice to see the snap of the screenplay for Margin Call getting a nod, but disappointing to see the brilliance of Senna overlooked in the documentary category. And Berenice Bejo in The Artist as a supporting actress? If ever there was a lead performance in a film, it was hers. There will be plenty of time for us to break down the categories in more detail over the next few weeks, and I look forward to it. May the best work win.


Posted by on January 25, 2012 in Oscars 2012 Talk

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