First Thoughts on the 87th Oscar Nominations

The 87th Oscar nominations were announced this morning, and I’m excited to finally post about an awards ceremony on All Eyes On Screen. This Washington Post article showed which movies received the most nominations this year:

Birdman/The Grand Budapest Hotel – 9
The Imitation Game – 8
Boyhood – 6
American Sniper – 6
Whiplash – 5
Interstellar – 5
Foxcatcher – 5

Continue reading below to see what got nominated, along with my first thoughts on the nominees.

Best Picture

American Sniper
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Selma
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash

First Thoughts: None of the entries on this list surprise me. The only movies I haven’t seen on this list are American Sniper and Selma, both of which I’m planning to see in the next couple weeks. What has me super thrilled is Whiplash making its way onto the Best Picture nominee list. It’s a great films that hasn’t gotten the mainstream attention the majority of the films on this list has.

Actor in a Leading Role

Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

First Thoughts: Pleasantly surprised to see Bradley Cooper nominated once again for Best Actor in a Leading Role. I think American Sniper really picked up steam following the Golden Globes. What is surprising is that David Oyelowo’s name missing, who I’ve heard turned in an award-worthy performance in Selma. And while I can’t say I’m surprised, I am disappointed that Jake Gyllenhaal didn’t make the list for his transformative role in Nightcrawler. Also, how crazy is it that from now on, before Steve Carell’s name is mentioned in movies, it will be preceded by the words “Academy Award Nominee”?!

Actress in a Leading Role

Marion Cotillard, Two Days One Night
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild

First Thoughts: It seems like I completely missed out on Still Alice, because Julianne Moore won the Golden Globe as Best Actress, and now she’s nominated for an Oscar. So that one has just arrived on my radar. The other movie I’m excited to check out is Two Days, One Night. If Moore doesn’t score this, I think Rosamund Pike will take it.

Actor in a Supporting Role

Robert Duvall, The Judge
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

First Thoughts: I realize that now I have to check out The Judge. I don’t really want to. However, I’m happy for all the other nominations on this list. J.K. Simmons is probably the favorite to win, and I wouldn’t argue that after witnessing him in Whiplash. Although, Ethan Hawke’s performance in Boyhood makes me sentimental . . .

Actress in a Supporting Role

Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Laura Dern, Wild
Emma Stone, Birdman
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

First Thoughts: I think Patricia Arquette is the shoe-in for this award, but I’m happy Laura Dern is getting some credit for her work in Wild. It’s no surprise that Meryl Streep is nominated, although I think she’s far from winning this. I’m very excited to have two of my favorite young actresses get nominated, Emma Stone and Kiera Knightly, although neither will likely win.

Directing

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

First Thoughts: I actually expected Ava DuVernay for Selma to get nominated, not only because of how much Selma has been praised as a film, but also because she’s one of the few incredibly talented female directors working today. From what I’ve read, this is Wes Anderson’s first Oscar nomination, and I think it’s well-deserved. At the end of the day, I imagine the real race is between Inarritu and Linklater, the most notable directors on this list.

Animated Feature Film

Big Hero 6
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Song of the Sea
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

First Thoughts: I’m legitimately shocked and disappointed that The LEGO Movie wasn’t nominated. Has anyone else heard of Song of the Sea?

Cinematography

Emmanuel Lubezki, Birdman
Robert D. Yeoman, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lynzewski, Ida
Dick Pope, Mr. Turner
Roger Deakins, Unbroken

First Thoughts: I’m now entering unchartered territory, where I have less I can say because of my limited knowledge. Considering that Interstellar does indeed get a few nominations this year, I’m a little surprised cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema doesn’t make this list. Emmanuel Lubezki has become the “household” name of cinematographers in recent years. Now I have a legitimate excuse to check out Mr. Turner . . .

Costume Design

Milena Canonero, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Mark Bridges, Inherent Vice
Colleen Atwood, Into the Woods
Anna B. Sheppard, Maleficent
Jacqueline Durran, Mr. Turner

First Thoughts: I imagine this is the win for Into the Woods, if there is one. The Grand Budapest Hotel‘s costumes were memorable as well. I almost thought Guardians of the Galaxy would pop up in this category.

Documentary Feature

Citizenfour
Last Days in Vietnam
Virunga
The Salt of the Earth
Finding Vivian Maier

First Thoughts: Am I the only one who was hoping for Life Itself to make this list?

Documentary Short Subject

Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
Joanna
Our Curse
The Reaper
White Earth

First Thoughts: N/A

Film Editing

Joel Cox and Gary Roach, American Sniper
Sandra Adair, Boyhood
Barney Pilling, The Grand Budapest Hotel
William Goldenberg, The Imitation Game
Tom Cross, Whiplash

First ThoughtsBirdman seems to be the one missing from the nominations, but perhaps it will make it up by winning Best Cinematography? I will be rooting for Tom Cross for Whiplash given that Miles Teller appears to do all the drumming in this movie, thanks to Cross’s incredible editing. I could see Sandra Adair winning for piecing together twelve years of filming for Boyhood in a fluid and coherent way.

Foreign Language Film

Ida
Leviathan
Tangerines
Wild Tales
Timbuktu

First Thoughts: Although I haven’t seen any of these, I’m surprised to not see the popular Force Majeure I have read about. Oh, and hey, there’s Ida again!

Makeup and Hairstyling

Bill Corso and Dennis Liddiard, Foxcatcher
Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou and David White, Guardians of the Galaxy

First Thoughts: Steve Carell’s prosthetic nose in Foxcatcher might be most memorable, but I’m rooting for Guardians of the Galaxy. Those characters really did look other-worldly.

Music – Original Score

Alexandre Desplat, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Alexandre Desplat, The Imitation Game
Hans Zimmer, Interstellar
Gary Yershon, Mr. Turner
Johann Johannsson, The Theory of Everything

First Thoughts: Double nomination for Alexandre Desplat meeans he has a 40% chance of winning in this category. Hans Zimmer’s score for Interstellar was my favorite. Go, Mr. Zimmer! I wasn’t rooting for it, but I’m shocked to not see Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s score for Gone Girl make this list.

Music – Original Song

“Everything Is Awesome” by Shawn Patterson, The LEGO Movie
“Glory” by Common and John Legend, Selma
“Grateful,” by Diana Warren, Beyond the Lights
“I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” by Glen Campbell and Julian Raymond, Glenn Campbell: I’ll Be Me
“Lost Stars” by Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois, Begin Again

First Thoughts: “Lost Stars” in Begin Again might be my favorite original song of the year, and it’s certainly the song I’ll be rooting for. Another pleasant surprise is seeing a song from Beyond the Lights make the list. I also love “Everything is Awesome,” and I feel like it would be a step in the right direction if The LEGO Movie won after being left out of the Best Animated Film category. My only disappointment is not seeing “The Last Goodbye” in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies make the list. Question: What is Glenn Campbell: I’ll Be Me?

Production Design

The Grand Budapest Hotel, Production design: Adam Stockhausen, Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
The Imitation Game, Production design: Maria Djurkovic, Set Decoration: Tatiana Macdonald
Interstellar, Production design: Nathan Crowley, Set Decoration: Gary Fettis
Into the Woods, Production design: Dennis Gassner, Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
Mr. Turner, Production design: Suzie Davies, Set Decoration: Charlotte Watts

First Thoughts: Both Into the Woods and The Grand Budapest Hotel had memorable sets and design, so I could see either of these movies taking the prize. But dude, apparently I need to see Mr. Turner, which keeps showing up in the nominations . . .

Short Film – Animated

The Bigger Picture, Daisy Jacobs and Christopher Hees
The Dam Keeper, Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi
Feast, Patrick Osbirne and Kristina Reed
Me and My Moulton, Torill Kove
A Single Life, Joris Oprins

First Thoughts: N/A

Short Film – Live Action

Aya, Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis
Boogaloo and Graham, Michael Lennox and Ronan Blaney
Butterlamp, Hu Wei and Julien Feret
Parvenah, Talkhon Hamzavi and Stefan Eichenberger
The Phone Call, Mat Kirkby and James Lucas

First Thoughts: N/A

Sound Editing

American Sniper, Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman
Birdman, Martin Hermandez and Aaron Glascock
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Brent Burge and Jason Canovas
Interstellar, Richard King
Unbroken, Becky Sullivan and Andrew Decristofaro

First Thoughts: A lot of people complained about the soundtrack drowning out the actors in Interstellar, yet it’s still getting nominated in this department. I actually had a bigger issue with Trent Reznor’s and Atticus Ross’s score drowning out the actors in Gone Girl. And hey, look, The Hobbit and Unbroken decided to show up to the Oscars.

Sound Mixing

American Sniper, John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff and Walt Martin
Birdman, Jon Taylor, Frank A Montano and Thomas Varga
Interstellar, Garry A. Rizzo, Gregg Landaker and Mark Weingarten
Unbroken, Jon Taylor, Frank A Montano and David Lee
Whiplash, Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins and Thomas Curley

First Thoughts: N/A

Visual Effects

Captain America: Winter Soldier, Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Bryan Grill and Dan Sudick
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett and Erik Winquist
Guardians of the Galaxy, Stephanie Ceretti, Nicolas Aithadi, Jonathan Fawkner and Paul Corbould
Interstellar, Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter and Scott Fisher
X-Men: Days of Future Past, Richard Stammers, Lou Pecora, Tim Crosbie and Cameron Waldbauer

First Thoughts: Hello there, every superhero movie from 2014. Either Dawn of the Planet of the Apes for Andy Serkis’s work or X-Men: Days of Future Past  for that scene with Quicksilver should win this category.

Writing – Adapted Screenplay

Jason Hall, American Sniper
Graham Moore, The Imitation Game
Paul Thomas Anderson, Inherent Vice
Anthony McCarten, The Theory of Everything
Damien Chazelle, Whiplash

First Thoughts: There’s a big discussion behind why Damien Chazelle’s screenplay for Whiplash is making the Adapted list rather than the Original list, thanks to the oddball rules of the Academy. Regardless, I think it deserves to be nominated for its writing. Compared to the major change in characters and plot in The Imitation Game, I would rather root for Anthony McCarten’s writing for The Theory of Everything for honoring the people he portrayed. I’ve also heard Paul Thomas Anderson’s work in adapting the novel for Inherent Vice was quite good.

Writing – Original Screenplay

Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman, Foxcatcher
Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler

First Thoughts: Well, it’s about time to see Nightcrawler show up. I’m a big fan of Dan Gilroy’s script for the creepy thriller, but it’s likely to lose to literally any of the other nominees. I couldn’t argue with any of the nominations in this category: I like them all.

What are your first thoughts on this year’s Oscar nominations? Which ones are you most excited for? Which snubs are you most disappointed about?

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Welcome, 2013: Free Screenplays, Interview with a Quvenzhané, and an Angry Tolkien

The Oscar nominations are in, and I find it interesting that 2012 film does not a pose a strong #1 film that will take down Oscar this year. Perhaps that will happen regardless, as it does most years, but with so many great movies that came out, I really do wonder who will take Best Picture.

Within this past week alone, I have seen Django UnchainedSilver Linings Playbook, and The Impossible. I’m gearing up for Zero Dark Thirty‘s release tomorrow. Oh, and I’ve made a list of movies to see yet before Oscar date February 24:

When all the top 10 lists start popping up, I can’t help but mentally compose my own for the movie year of 2012. So many of the heavy-hitters didn’t get released in Chicago theaters until early 2013, so I’m battling to see many of the films in their short theater runs before they slip away, their DVD releases not arriving until after the Academy Awards air.

I am only dying to post my Top 10 Favorites of 2012, but before I do that, I need to cross a few of those off my list. It’s difficult to catch all the great movies before the Oscars, but my goal is to post a top 10 list by the end of January. In the meantime, I’d like to offer up some film goodies:

  • Oscar Screenplays Available for Download — Now I cannot take credit for this because my boyfriend, Matt, knows how much I love film, and he found this online. Perhaps you’ve already seen these, or you’re not one for screenplays. Even so, this is quite the motherload of screenplays for several critically-acclaimed films of 2012. I know they’ll be available only for a limited time, so I’d recommend downloading your favorites while they’re available.
  • Roger Ebert’s Interview with Quvenzhané Wallis — Quvenzhané Wallis is the youngest person to ever get nominated in Oscar history. It’s a pretty extraordinary achievement! Now while I haven’t seen Beasts of the Southern Wild yet, from the trailer, the interview, the article, the reviews of this film and her performance, I can only imagine how powerful her performance must have been.
  • Christopher Tolkien Disenchanted with The Hobbit film — This is quite the read for anyone interested in the Lord of the Rings world J.R.R. Tolkien created, be it the books, maps, languages, or most well-known, the Peter Jackson film adaptations. After reading this, I can’t help but see both sides of issue. Credit goes to my friend Deb for the find.

As of now, one of the movies I saw this week holds my #1 slot for favorites films of 2012, with a couple films following that I haven’t see on anyone else’s top 10 list.

What’s your #1 film of 2012? What are your first thoughts on the Oscar nominations?

Backstage Spotlight: The Overlapping Themes of Hugo, The Artist, and Midnight in Paris

Having finally seen Hugo this past weekend, I was once again brought into France via the movies–this time, a Parisian world, namely a train station, built by Martin Scorsese. After seeing it, I noticed that Midnight in ParisHugo, and The Artist all share some overlapping themes that made 2011 film feel very full circle for me. These are the similar ideas/themes I gleaned from watching the three films:

French Influence/Setting

I started to think about how France majorly influenced some of the biggest pictures of 2011. The ArtistMidnight in Paris, and Hugo–all were nominated for Best Picture. The Artist took the big prize (and then some other big ones) without breaking a sweat, Woody Allen was once again MIA to pick up his Best Original Screenplay trophy, and Hugo ran away with five technical awards at the Oscars.

Midnight in Paris is perhaps the most self-explanatory in terms of relating to France. It was filmed in Paris! The City of Lights was highlighted most in Midnight in Paris of the three films. Castor over at Anomalous Material wrote this great article that acts as a travel guide for many of the locations where Midnight in Paris was filmed.

While Hugo was actually filmed in London, Scorsese built a Parisian world that was often viewed through the eyes of Hugo, sitting in a clock tower in a train station. Multiple shots of the Eiffel Tower sitting in the distance appeared throughout the film, although the majority of film took place on a train station set. Scorsese celebrates Georges Melies, the early French filmmaker and most notably the film, A Trip to the Moon. You can learn more about how Hugo celebrates Melies in this Star News article.

The Artist has become one of the great film feats of France to take place in America, having won most of the big awards, Best Picture at the Academy Awards sitting at the top. Other French actors and films have received accolade, but The Artist triumphed in showcasing relatively new director Michel Hazanavicius, French actors Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo, and French film composer Ludovic Bource. Jerry Garrett wrote a well-researched article about the different LA locations where The Artist was filmed and how some related to old Hollywood or were specifically chosen by Hazanavicius for inspired reasons.

Love Letters

It’s fitting that Paris is dubbed the “City of Love”–the theme of each of the three films had the idea of “love” well-integrated into them, each acting as a love letter of sorts: Midnight in Paris, a love letter to the past and to the city; Hugo, a love letter and homage to film; The Artist, a love letter to art and expression, and a well-developed underlining theme of love itself.

Not only was Midnight in Paris a masterpiece and a beauty to view as an audience, but the film elicited charm, bringing the early 1900s Paris to life, and showing the origination of some of the most celebrated artists and writers in the city. The “starving writer” Gil, seeks solace in a discovered early 1920s Parisian world filled with the writers and artist who inspire him. French culture abounds, taking center stage throughout the film.

The brilliant Martin Scorsese decided to share one of his loves with the world–a film about film. There’s a scene when Hugo and Isabelle sit in a library and open a book that talks about early film, silent film, and the first film made–about a train. Scorsese really thanks the past films that served as both mentors and inspiration for Hugo and his other films.

While Hugo hits the love of silent film, The Artist puts its complete focus on it, not only being a silent film itself, but telling the story of a forgotten silent film star in the rise of talkies. In the middle of the film emerges a love story that starts off innocently, transitioning to Peppy extending a saving grace to George, and then ultimately finds the two dancing alongside one another in the end.

Lost, But Not Forgotten

Each of the three films also press the issue of forgetting–Midnight in Paris reminds us to not live in the past, but also not to forget it and how it influences us today; Hugo tells the story of a forgotten filmmaker, and in the process delves into early film and how it got its start; The Artist takes the most personal route of the three, showcasing a silent actor’s life unravel as the world not only forgets silent film, but ultimately forgets him and moves on to “make room for the young.”

Woody Allen really plays a trick on us–the lesson Gil learns in Midnight in Paris is that you need to live in the present, that the past belongs in the past, and that you have to make decisions now and learn to live in the now. The trick is that the film also serves as a reminder of what was, and what past art and culture has done for the future. I viewed Midnight in Paris as Woody Allen’s way of saying, “Paris, art, beauty of the past–the world may have forgotten you, but I haven’t. Thank you for paving the way and opening it up for today’s artists. You continue to inspire me.”

Hugo shows the origination of film and brings to live a forgotten filmmaker and master of the art. It celebrates a life that was all built on a risk one day, turned to a dazzling career, and then seemingly forgotten, being shoved to the side with the coming of war, his films and effects destroyed in an impulsive act of sorrow and rage. Hugo journeyed back to the roots of film to share the beginning of one of the greatest mediums of time.

Yes, forgotten filmmakers and stars have “made room for the young,” and have also been left out to dry. George Valentin is a forgotten silent film star–along with the medium, watching as the world shifts its eyes toward younger stars and ears toward talkies. Valentin grasps onto what stardom and life he has left, trying everything in his power to get the world to divert its gaze just long enough to remember that silent film is still powerful, beautiful, and worthwhile. What do you do when the world forgets you? I think Michel Hazanavicuis answered that with bringing us The Artist in the twenty-first century.

What themes did you notice in the Best Picture nominees? Did you pick up any other common themes that I missed in these films?

The New Academy Darlings

I posted like crazy in the past 5 days, so I’ll be keeping it short today. Obviously, the Oscars were last night and most of the results did not come as a surprise to many of us. I’m thrilled to say that my top 4 picks won (Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Picture) [It’s true: check out my Oscar posts for acting, directing, and picture]. I’m beyond happy that Meryl Streep and Jean Dujardin won Best Actress and Best Actor. They were both wonderful in their respective films.

Perhaps Entertainment Weekly spoke too soon.*

*I loved Clooney and Davis in their films, but I loved Streep and Dujardin even more. 

Oscar Chatter with Kristin and Matt: Best Picture

Kristin: Out of the nine films nominated, I’ve seen all but War HorseHugo, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. The good news is that I don’t believe out of those three films, that any stand a chance of winning. The most likely of them is Hugo, but even then, I see Hugo vying more for Best Director than Best Picture.

It really comes down to the main two contenders that have won most other awards this season: The Artist and The Descendants. Both are good films, yet very different from each other. The Artist seems to be the frontrunner, and having seen both films as well Tree of LifeThe HelpMidnight in Paris, and Moneyball, I will gladly confess that The Artist is my favorite of them all, and in my mind, the most deserving to win Best Picture this year.

While The Descendants was a good film that I would even watch another time or two, I don’t think it quite bears all the necessary material to win Best Picture. It stars Academy darling George Clooney, and was written and directed by Alexander Payne, an experienced writer-director who is no stranger to the Oscars, having had his writing for both Election and Sideways nominated (he won the award for Sideways). Payne’s work is story-centered, and a lot of reliance on his work being brought to life rests on the actors’ shoulders. The Descendants‘s cast gives justice to Payne’s script, and it is no surprise to see the film receiving such high accolade.

That being said, The Artist really separated itself from the mass when director Michel Hazanavicius chose to make a black and white silent film. A lot of great things have been said of The Artist in the past couple posts. But aside from its originality in this time period, The Artist also stars strangers to American film, namely Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo, who won over the hearts of viewers. Their acting was flawless and moving, and they paid homage to the silent film era with their performances. Ludovic Bource’s score is unforgettable, and reveals the power of how a good score can complement a film that doesn’t rely on dialogue to tell the story. Hazanavicius was able to write a story with practically no words, and yet the story was easily told and understood by those who watched it. Of the six Best Picture nominations I’ve seen, The Artist, I believe, is the overall winner because it’s not strong only in story, but also in performances; not only is it a beauty to watch in the B&W film era, but also is the music stirring, the direction clear, and the film editing, visual effects, and art direction suitable for the film, delivering on all necessary levels. The Artist is the winner in my book. 

Matt: There is little doubt in my mind who will win Best Picture tonight. Like last years winner, The Artist slowly drifted from obscurity into the hearts of the film world. It will win not only because it was a very good film, but because it is exactly the type of movie the Academy loves. I quite enjoyed the film, and found it to be an ambitious, charming homage to a forgotten time in Hollywood’s history. Will people look at this film in twenty years and mark it as a classic? While that appears to be seen, my gut instinct is that they will not. The film works wonderfully for what it is: a salute to the silent era. Does it break new ground for cinema? I cannot argue that it does.

However, do any of this years nominees break new ground? Will any of these films be regarded as classics in the coming years? Now I have not seen War Horse, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, or Payne’s much praised film, The Descendants. I thoroughly enjoyed Midnight In Paris. Sweet and charming, it may be my favorite film of the year; however, it is not the best film of the year. Moneyball may be the first sports movie in years that I have not gagged over. Great writing and acting made it an enjoyable film. Was it this year’s best picture? Not remotely. The Help makes you laugh and cry; it also reminds us of a very dark time in our nation’s history. And Martin Scorcese created a dream to educate us all about the origins of celluloid dreams.

All of these were good; some of them great. Among the nominees, however, there was only one film that came close to breaking new ground for cinema. With each new film, Malick continues to explore the possibilities of pure cinema. Of this year’s nominees, The Tree of Life was the only film I couldn’t get out of my head. The film’s many themes stuck with me for days after I watched it: The birth of the universe, the existence of God, the smallness of man. The joy and hardships of childhood, the death of loved ones, what happens after this life passes. It asked all the right questions without giving too many definitive answers. That is what art is supposed to do, isn’t it?

Matt brings up an interesting point–should a film win Best Picture because it breaks new ground? Or is a film that’s considered popular or “the best”  more deserving? Does it matter if a film has more influence, but isn’t considered “Best Picture” by the Academy?  Share your thoughts below.

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Matthew Roth is an aspiring filmmaker from the Madison, WI area. While his passion is narrative film, he currently shoots and edits promotional and event videos at Inframe. In his free time, Matt enjoys researching and discussing film over a cup of coffee or meeting up with fellow film junkies through Craigslist. Be sure to check out his most recent short film Memoria.

Oscar Chatter with Matt and Kristin: Best of Writing, Cinematography, and Art

Kristin: I’m still fighting off this unnerved frustration of seeing 50/50‘s Will Reiser being denied a nomination, but here’s what I think considering the nominees: It’s a tough call in this category, because most of the contenders are strong. I have not seen A Separation, so I cannot comment on Asghar Farhadi’s script, but I was very fond of the little Sundance film Margin Call that quietly slipped itself into the running. J. C. Chandor’s script is smart, well-thought out, and brought down to the level of those who don’t speak financial jargon. On the other hand, there’s Woody Allen’s writing for Midnight in Paris, which is witty and light-hearted, much like the film. I would sign off Kristen Wiig and Mumolo for Bridesmaids, although it’s neat to see the a comedy among the dramas in the writing department. Comedy rarely receives credit for how difficult it is to act, much less to write for actors. That leaves Michel Hazanvicius’s original screenplay for The Artist, which could also do something here. My guess is that Allen or Hazanvicius will win the trophy, although Allen certainly won’t be appearing at the ceremony as usual.

MattHow I wish I would have had the pleasure of seeing A Separation; it only recently arrived to a theater near Madison. My favorite for this category is Midnight in Paris; I love the way Allen took larger than life characters and brought them to life. As Gil met these famous artists of the past, I felt I was meeting them too. And who among us hasn’t met an annoying pseudo-intellectual like Paul? Allen writes great characters. I understand he had a lot of historical material to draw upon, but he wrote them in a way in which I understood some of them for the first time.

As far as The Artist is concerned, I felt this was a bit of an interesting nomination for a film that included such a small amount of dialogue. The screenplay is only forty-two pages long and contains mostly directorial notes. They say the screenplay should serve as the blueprint for a film; Hazanavicius’ script takes that approach quite literally. To me, the magic of The Artist lies in the visuals, the acting, the staging, and, quite ironically, the sound. The screenplay seems inconsequential.

Kristin: I’ve seen all of the nominated except for John Logan’s screenplay for Hugo. Although coming up with something wholly original means writers have to start from scratch, I consider the Best Adapted Screenplay category more difficult for two reasons: first, there is a far heavier competition in this category, because more films are based off books, comics, historical events, etc., today; second, there are grievances to deal with considering the author, family involved, and staying true to the original story while still making it workable for film format.

Having read most of Michael Lewis’s Moneyball, I hold a special appreciation for writers Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin as well as Stan Chervin for transforming a baseball statistics book into a an interesting sports story for sports fans and nonfans alike. I felt like parts of Ides of March were cliche, and its script not quite as smart as some of the other competition, such as The Descendants. I believe that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, a triumph in converting from book to film at large, possibly could have been brought to an even higher level by making it more understandable for the masses.

MattFirst of all, The Ides of March seems to be a very strange choice for this category. While enjoyable, I didn’t find it anything out of the ordinary. Characters say their lines which move the plot along; in short, there is a lot of plot, but little story. As far as Hugo is concerned, I have not read the book, but I found the film to be a fabulous, mythic retelling of reality.

I have to agree with Kristin about Moneyball; it does take something special to make a movie about sport’s statistics exciting, especially when that sport is one as dull as baseball. (I probably just lost everyone [don’t judge]; I LOVE football.) Moneyball‘s script is a great example of the hard work it takes to bring a film to the screen. The writing of a film is no less a collaborative effort than the actually production of that film. With great characters and fantastic dialogue, Moneyball is my choice for this category.

Kristin: There isn’t a doubt in my mind that the most deserving of the nominated is Emmanuel Lubezki for his gorgeous and harrowing work in The Tree of Life.

Matt: It took cinematographer Wally Pfister four Oscar nominations before finally snatching the award for Inception. Emmanuel Lubezki is on his fifth nomination. Those previous nominations include such films as The New World and my personal favorite of his work, Children of Men. Lubezki’s floating camera in The Tree of Life gives a real immediacy and intimacy to the events we witness. The real and surreal are equally delivered with breathtaking beauty. Lubezki needs to win the award for this category.  

The Artist‘s cinematography does what it must do in order for the film to work, in that it emulates what a film of the late 1920s would look like. I appreciated the fact that it does not rely on editing to portray the information necessary to the scene. Guillaume Schiffman packs a lot into the frame, something film critic Jim Emerson explains in greater detail here.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is, without a doubt, beautifully shot. Jeff Cronenweth, like his father, is a good cinematographer. It is difficult, however, to judge how much of his work rests on his own talent and how much is due to frequent collaborator David Fincher. You know a Fincher picture by its visuals from the first shot onward, even though he has used several different DPs throughout his career. For a Fincher picture, the DP doesn’t seem to matter as long as he is good. As for Cronenweth, he shouldn’t despair; Roger Deakins has been nominated nine times without a single win.

Kristin: Each of the nominated films in this category had incredible sets. To pick just one and say that it’s been than the rest is proving difficult for me to do, but I will say that Midnight in Paris served as a favorite of mine in this category because the locations of where it was filmed made me feel like I got to take a trip to Paris with Owen Wilson. Every scene held some kind of beauty and intrigue, taking Wilson to places he read about in books or learned about in a class. My vote is for Midnight in Paris.

Matt: Midnight in Paris really immerses you in the world of 1920s Paris. Nothing about any of the sets felt contrived. The art direction sucked me into that world, and like Gil, I was pretty depressed when I had to leave that world and come back to the 21st century. In Hugo, I especially enjoyed the recreation of Melies’ sets for the film. The automoton was pretty fabulous as well. The Artist had an interesting challenge in that they had to recreate several 1920s film sets. I would be okay with Harry Potter getting some recognition in this category; however, I’d have to go with Kristin on this one.

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Matthew Roth is an aspiring filmmaker from the Madison, WI area. While his passion is narrative film, he currently shoots and edits promotional and event videos at Inframe. In his free time, Matt enjoys researching and discussing film over a cup of coffee or meeting up with fellow film junkies through Craigslist. Be sure to check out his most recent short film Memoria.

Oscar Chatter with Matt and Kristin: Best in the Acting Categories

Kristin: I’ve seen all the nominees except for Demian Bichir in A Better Life. I was surprised Michael Fassbender from Shame didn’t get nominated, and I was disappointed to see JGL miss a nod for his great work in 50/50. I’m rooting for Jean Dujardin from The Artist to pick up this award, especially since he’s already picked up the Golden Globe and the SAG among others. I prefer Dujardin to Clooney, who may be his only serious competition, although I still see Dujardin winning. I’m also happy for Gary Oldman to get a nomination, even though I think he has better work that was previously ignored.

Matt: In the first twenty minutes of The Artist, Jean Dujardin painted a grin on my face that would last nearly the rest of the film–he was charming in every way. It is a unique performance, if not just because Dujardin must convey his character’s thoughts and emotions without the luxury of ever speaking. In short, I would be very surprised if the Academy does not pick Dujardin. Unfortunately, I have yet to see The Descendants, but as Kristin has said, it seems that Clooney would be the only other close competitor to Dujardin. That being said, I found Brad Pitt completely deserving of his nomination for Moneyball. Of the nominations I’ve seen, Pitt was the only one whose role truly carried the entire movie. In my opinion, without Pitt playing Billy Beane, Moneyball simply doesn’t work. I actually forgot I was watching a Brad Pitt movie.

Kristin: I completely agree that Dujardin was utterly charming in The Artist, and you couldn’t help but smile throughout that film. The thing with Clooney is that he’s an Academy darling, even more so than Pitt. I know Clooney didn’t win much of anything for Up in the Air a couple years back (which I actually enjoyed more than The Descendants), but sometimes I think he’s receiving nominations just because he’s Clooney. He was good in The Descendants, but maybe I missed the “greatness” aspect. Glad you enjoyed Moneyball so much. I appreciated the film because I read most of the book it was based off, and I would agree Pitt embodied the Billy Beane. I’ve heard some complaints that Pitt should have been nominated for Tree of Life instead of Moneyball, but I agree with the nomination.

Matt: For me, what made Pitt’s performance golden were subtle things; for example, him constantly grabbing candy from the candy dish in the scene where he first notices Peter Brand. I think Pitt could have been nominated for either role, though a nomination for The Tree of Life would have had to be for Best Supporting Actor. Has an actor ever been nominated for Best Actor/Actress and Supporting Actor/Actress? A quick Wikipedia search yielded this answer: “Thanks to a voting quirk, in 1944 Barry Fitzgerald in Going My Way became the only actor nominated in both the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor categories for the same performance, winning the latter.” Today’s Academy bylaws disallow this, of course. I was unable to find an actor or actress that has been nominated twice the same year for two different roles. That probably won’t ever happen either.

To sum up, while I enjoyed Pitt and Dujardin’s roles immensely, I think it has been a rather weak year for Best Actor. None of the roles nominated hold a candle to other recent years, say Colin Firth’s role in The King’s Speech or Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood. Such performances are ones that I will remember for quite a long time.

Kristin: I saw Glenn Close only in an extended preview for Albert Nobbs, and it certainly looks interesting enough, despite many believing that last spot belongs to Tilda Swinton in We Need to Talk about Kevin or Elizabeth Olson in Martha Marcy May Marlene (or others I’m sure!). Previously, I had complaints over Emma Stone’s performance in The Help being completely overlooked, despite my loyalty to Viola Davis. This category is said to be the only real competition this year–between Meryl Streep and Viola Davis. I saw both films and much preferred The Help over TIL, but I think both performances are on equal ground. Honestly, it’s been YEARS since Streep actually won an Oscar, and she keeps getting told “you’ll get one next year.” So I’m rooting for Streep, although I’d be happy if Davis walked away with it too.

Matt: While I did think Emma Stone’s performance in The Help was good, I felt it was one of the easier roles in the film, and hardly on par with Viola Davis’ role. Her performance in the final scene of the film is one of the best (and most heartrending) I have seen this year. As for Streep, while I look forward to seeing her performance on DVD, poor reviews for The Iron Lady stopped me from dropping $8.25 to see the film in theaters. But what are the Oscars without a Streep nomination? After all, with The Iron Lady, Streep receives her 17th Oscar nomination. It would be interesting to see Glenn Close win the award; however, I would be surprised if it is given to anyone other than Davis.

Kristin: I have to agree that Davis had the most moving performance in that film. The Help really had a fantastic ensemble to carry it. I still would have liked to see Stone get some love for her work, even at just the Golden Globes, but I know her role wasn’t quite as dramatic or polarizing as the others. I wouldn’t even recommend seeing The Iron Lady with the exception of Meryl Streep. She gave an excellent performance. The direction of the film was off– it lacked an opinion, had too much focus on Thatcher’s dementia, and just felt too disjointed. That said, Streep’s performance somehow proved that you can have a crappy film and an incredible performance come out of it. I would love either Streep or Davis win, and I’m sure one will. Close and Mara definitely won’t win, and Williams’s nomination reminds me a little of Jennifer Lawrence’s last year, in that the real honor is the nomination.

Matt: I love Streep, but I really hope Davis gets the win. She would be only the second African American woman to win the Best Actress Oscar. I can’t think of a more appropriate role by which to win it.

Kristin: Nick Nolte in Warrior was the surprise addition to this category, and I was very glad to see it. I’m assuming Plummer will walk away with the trophy for his work in Beginners. He gave an exceptional performance, so that would make me happy. I thought Ewan McGregor was brilliant in Beginners and forgotten for his great work. It’s also cool to see a name like “Jonah Hill” join the ranks among the Oscar nominated, although it’s a sure thing that he won’t be winning. I’ve heard great things about Kenneth Branagh in My Week with Marilyn, but I have yet to see that film. I did finally see Drive and think Albert Brooks should have received some kind of credit, although I don’t know if I would have put him in place of Plummer, Hill, or Nolte. The interesting turn in this category is seeing Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close‘s Max von Sydow pick up a nom. I’m curious to see him in that film now.

Matt: I quite liked Jonah Hill’s work in Moneyball. It was nice to see him actually play a role other than the funny, fat kid. While I hadn’t given him much thought before Moneyball, he now is someone I will watch. I enjoyed seeing Nolte in Warrior; in fact, his role may have been the only thing about that movie I truly did enjoy. However, I didn’t think his performance was anything out of the ordinary; it was enjoyable, but not groundbreaking. I will readily admit my lack of knowledge for the other noms in this category, as sadly, I have not yet had the opportunity to view them. It is nice to see von Sydow get some recognition, albeit only his second nomination. Seems rather sad in such a great career that has spanned over six decades, but many great performances are not realized until decades after their release. So, yes, he should have been nominated Best Actor for his role in The Seventh Seal, not that anyone outside of Sweden would have even recognized his name at that time.

Missing from this section is Brad Pitt for his outstanding role as Mr. O’Brien in The Tree of Life. And the little Jack Russel Terrier from The Artist. 🙂

Kristin: I hope Jonah Hill gets offered some better roles in the future with his success from Moneyball. I know he’s in some upcoming silly movie with Channing Tatum, which probably won’t do him much good, but perhaps he’ll make it a point to be in the occasional drama. I’m happy to agree to disagree with you on Nolte. He probably had the best performance in the film, but I would consider his performance groundbreaking in Warrior.

I think it’s interesting that like many years, a lot of the actors nominated in the supporting category tend to be in films that are not widely released until later, or they never get a wide release altogether with the exception of a few big cities. I really enjoyed Beginners, and it doesn’t surprise me that its only nomination is for Christopher Plummer, given who he is and the role he played. My Week with Marilyn, Drive, Beginners–none of these movies scream Oscars at all, despite earning one or two nominations each. It’s movies like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close that work to be an Oscar film, and turn out successful enough (nomination for Best Picture/Best Supporting Actor), and go along a point of view that you hold, Matt–actors like von Sydow missing out in the past for great work and getting nominated currently for more mediocre or just good work. I finally saw The Tree of Life and wasn’t blown away by it in any sense other than cinematography, although I would agree Pitt was the obvious stand-out performance in the film. And I would be perfectly fine with the JR terrier from The Artist making an appearance 🙂

Matt: In regards to Nolte, he’s pretty much always great; I just thought his role fairly insignificant in comparison to his previous performances, in particular Colonel Gordon Tall in The Thin Red Line. In that film Nolte plays, with conviction, a selfish, power-hungry commander willing to sacrifice whatever number of human lives necessary to move his career forward. In regards to “make-up Oscars,” it’s annoying when the Academy chooses to acknowledge an actor they missed out on the first time (or first ten times, as it may be) around. No number of “make-ups” changes that they failed to realize talent in the first place. In reality, a “make-up” nomination is nothing less than degrading.

Kristin: I think the obvious choice is The Help‘s Octavia Spencer, since she’s graciously won the award at about every award ceremony so far. I thought she was brilliant in the film and is well-deserving. Although I wouldn’t mind Berenice Bejo receiving some credit. But I think we all know that Spencer has it in the bag. Oh, and I think it’s kind of ridiculous that Melissa McCarthy got a nomination for Bridesmaids. She’s a hilarious actress, and I’m all for comedy making its mark at the Oscars, but how on earth was that role Oscar-worthy?

Matt: Spencer’s performance in The Help was thouroughly entertaining. I doubt I will ever think about chocolate pie the same ever again, nor will I think of it without seeing Spencer’s face. It is interesting that both Spencer and Chastain were chosen for their roles, as much of their time on screen is spent together. Their chemistry was great, and I loved Chastain’s performance, but I couldn’t help but think two things: 1) As long as we’re doling out nominations for The Help, what about Bryce Howard’s role as Hilly? She embodied pure evil pretty convincingly for me. 2) Hasn’t Chastain been nominated for the wrong role? What about her embodiment of grace and motherhood in The Tree of Life?

Snubbed? Marion Cotillard for her role in Midnight in Paris. Can you think of a sweeter or more charming performance that you’ve seen in recent years? I can’t.

Kristin: I really enjoyed this category because there were so many great performances nominated. Spencer and Chastain both played character roles in The Help, so it doesn’t surprise me that both were nominated. It was nice to see Chastain show yet another side of her acting ability. Bryce Dallas Howard actually received a lot of slack for her role. I’m not entirely sure why, but the common consensus is that she keeps playing the villain (both The Help and 50/50). She completely embodied the evilness needed for the role.

I’m glad that Chastain got nominated for The Help and not The Tree of Life, primarily because I enjoyed her role more in the former. I’m just not Terrance Malick’s biggest supporter in his heavy amount of editing in his films. Perhaps performances could have been stronger if he would have dropped the scissors and let actors just breathe. But that’s a whole other story. As for your snub mention–I never even considered Cotillard as an option, but I think you bring up a great point–she was graceful and lighthearted in Midnight in Paris, and it almost is surprising to see her not nominated.

Matt: Chastain’s roles in The Help and The Tree of Life show just how dynamic of an actress she is. She has had quite a year, and I look forward to catching up on some of her films that I missed. As far as Howard is concerned, I’m not sure how much the Academy likes to nominate villains. Nominations tend to fall on “hero” roles only. Even three dimensional villains rarely get a Oscar nod. I suppose everybody wants the “good guys” to win, even at the Oscars.

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Matthew Roth is an aspiring filmmaker from the Madison, WI area. While his passion is narrative film, he currently shoots and edits promotional and event videos at Inframe. In his free time, Matt enjoys researching and discussing film over a cup of coffee or meeting up with fellow film junkies through Craigslist. Be sure to check out his most recent short film Memoria.

Oscar Chatter with Matt and Kristin: Best Director

Hi all! I’ve been MIA since last Friday, so apologies for being gone so long. The Oscars are right around the corner, and now I’m back with some Oscar discussion between me and my movie friend, Matt. Today we’ll be talking about Best Director. Stay tuned for more Oscar discussion in the next couple days.

Matt: The Director is the author of the film. At least, that is how things should be. When we watch a film, we should be learning something about the director, about the things they love, the things they hate, perhaps even something as deep as their belief in the existence of God. Just as we do not study works of literature (and isn’t good film just literature in moving format?) without studying the author, so we should not study a film without investing our time to learn about the director. Having said that, I find it appropriate that each of this year’s nominees also served as writer of their respective pictures.

Kristin: I think Matt has a nice, all around take on the Best Director category. It’s an interesting point that he brought up that each of the directors served also as writers of their films this year. I’ve always thought admirably of those who take on the task to both write and direct their own films. It’s almost as if the director gets a one-up on his project, because he’s already very aware of which direction he wants the film to go.

Matt: One of the nominees is a newcomer, one a seasoned veteran, and three are masters/legends of the cinema.

Michael Hazanavicius and The Artist

Matt: Michel Hazanavicius’s The Artist is no doubt one of the most ambitious films of recent years. No one in his right mind would attempt to sell a silent, black and white film to the masses when most theater dollars come from the “was that a shiny object” Facebook generation.  They say you shouldn’t say the word “fire” in a theater; the truth is, a greater panic typically ensues when the words “silent film” are uttered in said establishment. And yet, Hazanavicius created an extremely engaging film without, for the most part, any sound, a movie that went on to be loved by filmgoers of all ages.

Kristin: Michel Hazanavicius seems to be the favorite going in this year, having already won the Best Director award at the BAFTAs, DGAs, and various film critic groups and associations. Like Matt said, he’s definitely the newcomer in the category with few American films below his belt, even though The Artist is really considered a French film. You can read my review of The Artist here, or see where it ranks on my top 10 favorites films list. Clearly, I love this film. But why should Hazanavicius win the award? Because he took the idea of silent film and brought it to an unlikely generation, and the results couldn’t have been better for him. Even if someone didn’t love The Artist, one can hardly admit that the direction of the film isn’t obvious–well-constructed, moving, intelligent and talented actors chosen in order to teach that a lost art isn’t forgotten, even if the rest of the world seems to have moved on without you.

Alexander Payne and The Descendants

Matt: I’m sad to say that I have not yet seen Alexander Payne’s film The Descendants. I actually have not seen any of his films (gasps!), but I look forward to catching up on the things I have missed.

Kristin: It’s OK, Matt. There’s only so many films you can see in a year! Luckily, I was able to see Alexander Payne’s The Descendants right around its wide release over here, so I can say a little at least. The Descendants is a different story altogether. But as for Payne? Well, the film has seen success in practically every category across the board except for Best Director. Although Payne’s been nominated in multiple awards ceremonies, he hasn’t won. His writing seems to be the stand-out for the film more so than his direction of it, and I personally believe the writing to be the reason for the film’s success. After all, he’s won the award for Best Screenplay (Adapted most times) six times at various critics awards and societies. I don’t see Payne being the front-runner, the upset, or the dark horse in this category.

Woody Allen and Midnight in Paris

Matt: From the aspect of pure enjoyment, Woody Allen’s film Midnight in Paris was probably my favorite film of the year. That’s not to say that I believe it was the best or most important film of the year. I have come up with no better term for movies like this than the “Cinema of Joy.” I was charmed from the clock’s first chiming of midnight. I don’t think I am alone in admitting that this was the first Woody Allen movie that I have seen (so many great movies, so little time). But do not worry, I will not stay film illiterate, in regards to Allen, for long. Manhattan and Annie Hall will be ordered through inter-library loan just as soon as I can. I will expand more upon Allen’s work when we discuss Best Original Screenplay. For now, that is all.

Kristin: Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris was also one of my favorite films of the year too. It’s completely enjoyable and lighthearted. Although Oscar nominations have proven Allen to be a winner in the Screenwriting category, Allen has also seen great success in the Best Director category, having been nominated seven times. Altogether, he’s been nominated 23 times at the Academy Awards, won three times, and made only a single appearance at the Oscars. Apparently, he’s not all into showing up for the recognition, despite being a largely nominated writer and director (and also actor before!). I’m with you, Matt, in that there are great films of his such as Annie Hall that I have yet to see, but like most movie geeks, I work hard to not be film illiterate and give as much time as I can to catching up. Overall, I see Allen garnering more success in the Best Original Screenplay category.

Martin Scorcese and Hugo

Matt: One of my first acts upon returning home from the theater after seeing Hugo was probably exactly what Martin Scorcese intended–I looked up the full version of George Melies’s A Trip to the Moon, and enjoyed it immensely. My second act was to order a collection of Melies’s shorts. Hugo is as dreamlike as the movies of the filmmaker to which it does homage. Scorcese’s choice to shoot in 3D is only the second justifiable use of the medium I believe I have ever seen, Avatar being the first. But it is the way that Scorcese uses 3D that is so fantastic; unlike Cameron, whose shots tended to roar out, “Hello, I’m in 3D!,” Scorcese’s use is much more subtle. It complements the cinematography rather than distracting from it. Often it is extremely difficult to squeeze barely passable acting out of children. Scorcese shows his prowess in directing his actors; Asa Butterfield delivers probably the best child performance I’ve seen since Haley Joel Osmond in The Sixth Sense.

Kristin: I’ve seen quite a few of Martin Scorcese’s films, but Hugo is one I have yet to see. I guess between the two us, we’re able to see all of these films and offer an opinion on this category. I was surprised to learn that Scorcese was directing more of a children’s film, and Hugo is actually considered his first children’s film to direct. However, based off of feedback I’ve heard from multiple people, I’ve come to the conclusion that Hugo serves more as an adult film with a youthful lead. Best Director is a category Scorcese has become a favorite in, and if anyone in this category could beat Hazanavicius, I think it could be Scorcese.

Terrance Malick and The Tree of Life

Matt: There are few movies I can think of where the audience’s response has been more polarized than Terrance Malick’s The Tree of Life. You either loved the film, or you hated the film. We’ve had it engraved in our minds that a movie has three parts: a beginning, a middle, and an end. These three parts must follow chronologically, or the viewer is lost. Mess with convention, and you better be ready to hear the public roar.

Malick is a painter and a poet. He will film the same scene multiple ways, once with dialogue, once without, once at midday, once at magic hour. For Malick, filming is gathering the different elements necessary to create the hues to paint his picture. Once his palette is full of colors, he makes his brush strokes in the editing room. Add voiceover, Malick’s window to his characters’ souls, and the poetry and painting is complete. The creation is somewhat abstract, but now the viewer may peel back layer after layer of meaning. The Tree of Life is hypnotic, dreamlike. The film whispers about the joys and sorrows of childhood, man’s place in the universe, and the mystery of the ways of God. Those were but a few of my thoughts as I left the theater. I do not doubt that others’ experience of the film, whether good or bad, differed greatly from mine. I think that great cinema resounds with individuals differently. I don’t think I have to tell you who I would pick for Best Director.

Kristin: Unfortunately, Matt, I’m nearer the side of those who “hated” Terrance Malick’s The Tree of Life, although I think “hate” would be too strong of a word to describe my feelings toward the film. The odd thing is that I believe Malick is a fine director, but that he’s too glued to the cutting board. Anomalous Material offers a great article including a video of some Oscar nominees (and others) discussing multiple things, including Malick’s attachment to a pair of scissors. While I’m all for the gorgeous cinematography and the idea of expressing your feelings in a more artsy type of way, I couldn’t imagine Malick winning the award, much less getting close behind any of the other nominees. What I will say about Malick is that he has successfully garnered a lot of discussion over The Tree of Life, which makes for great round table talks and thought behind the film.

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Matthew Roth is an aspiring filmmaker from the Madison, WI area. While his passion is narrative film, he currently shoots and edits promotional and event videos at Inframe. In his free time, Matt enjoys researching and discussing film over a cup of coffee or meeting up with fellow film junkies through Craigslist. Be sure to check out his most recent short film Memoria.

AEOS Review: Margin Call

The Oscar-nominated script for Margin Call is nothing short of deserving for the honor of being nominated in the Best Original Script category.

Rookie director J. C. Chandor, who also wrote the detailed screenplay, somehow manages to gather a high-talent cast to tell the story of Margin Call, Kevin Spacey heading them.

Now I’ll be the first to tell you that when it comes to the financial jargon, I’m as lost as they come. After viewing Margin Call, however, I realized that the heart of the film doesn’t lie in the language in which the business players speak, deal, and trade, but in how each employee on the chain deals with the current card dealt, a card in which Margin Call‘s case is ugly.

You already knows there’s a problem from the get-go when an all-too-familiar cast that might has well been from Up in the Air (2010) appears through the elevator doors bearing empty boxes, tapping employees shoulders and directing them to another room for a chat. Paul Bettany, who seems to thrive in whatever role he’s cast, warns younger employees Peter (Zachary Quinto) and Seth (Penn Badgely) not to watch the firing that is about to take place.

Eric Dale, played by the ever versatile Stanley Tucci, has just been let go from the company, and tries as he must to let others know there is a certain project he’s in the middle of that must be looked at, is ignored until Peter attempts a “thank you” speech before the elevator doors close on Dale.

The key turning point happens immediately after, when Dale hands Peter the flashdrive with the unfinished project and gives the warning, “Be careful,” as the elevator doors close perfectly in sync with Peter’s mixed look of confusion and curiosity.

Thus, a plot is born as Peter discovers the ending to the unfinished project, and makes a phone call that turns into one meeting after another until the CEO (Jeremy Irons) is present at an 2 a.m. executives meeting. Only one resolution seems probable, although Sam (Kevin Spacey) sees that one option as more dooming than necessary. There’s give and take as characters discuss, reflect, and react the remainder of the film.

There’s a lot of takeaway from Margin Call, and perhaps that’s why the screenplay resonated so well with Academy voters to nominate it. One theme lightly hammered in by Irons’s character is that of the physicality of the situation. In trading, they’re dealing with numbers, not tangible money. Yet when he regards money’s role, he calls it pictures on paper. There’s a whole lot of green passed around throughout the film, be it to trade or act as severance to “tie up the loose ends.” And then the other side to consider is that of the problem. As viewers, we don’t physically see the problem, but we hear about it, we understand it, and yet all we see is the actors viewing the problem on a computer screen, and then the domino effect as the problem reaches higher on the chain of command.

Margin Call‘s other high point comes from the story’s themes subtlety delivered through well-casted characters. Simon Baker is pitch perfect in his role, utilizing smarts, a pin-stripe suit, and a bit of professional slimyness similar to his role in The Devil Wears Prada (2006). Spacey, be it playing the hilarious and altogether psychotic boss in Horrible Bosses (2011), or playing the everyman deemed “soft” for not wanting to pull the plug in Margin Call, balances quite well the different emotions his character Sam is forced to meet with throughout the film. Jeremy Irons suited the role of the calculating, single-minded, rich CEO, while Penn Badgely bore the youthful presence on screen, who didn’t think much past how much money he or anyone else was making.

The majority of the film takes place in an upper floor of a New York City skyscraper. There are multiple shots of the city brightly lit at night, almost giving the city and the building a minor role in the film. My favorite scene is right near the end. The news has just been delivered: while most employees will be dumped, at least financial hope remains for those who successfully sell 93% of their holdings. The office is abuzz, and Paul Bettany’s voice stands out while the scenes of phone calls being made, the inside of the office, the color and life of the city serve as background. He’s fully composed, checking sellers off his list, convincing buyers to accept his offers.

One complaint I do hold is the B story regarding Sam’s dog. The analogy was present and meant to evoke a thoughtful response, but I felt like it wasn’t paid enough attention for us to draw more of a conclusion than that of Chandor attempting to be metaphorical, especially when the sound of digging and breathing lingered into the credits.

Margin Call reminded me much of last year’s The Company Men in watching suits deal in the business world whether losing their jobs or acting out whatever action necessary to grasp tightly onto them. While the lingo of Margin Call similarly reflected that of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010), the heart of it touched on the idea that minor details that slip through the cracks are, in time, not so minor. Even closer did the film reflect that not money, but the ruthlessness needed to hold onto money, is the god of the market and its workers.

Reaction to Oscar Nominations

Everyone’s going to have their own quips about what film was nominated, what film wasn’t nominated, who got snubbed, who got included who shouldn’t have, etc. Some will and some won’t agree with me on any or many of these.

If you read my previous post, you’ll already have a one-up on this one. In more detail, here are my reactions:

What Disappoints Me

  • Shailene Woodley not making the cut for Actress in a Supporting Role. Who got it instead? Melissa McCarthy from Bridesmaids. I can’t even comprehend how there’s a comparison here. I really don’t care to vote between comedy or drama; in terms of role performance, in my humble opinion, Woodley–not McCarthy–should have been nominated.
  • Drive‘s lack of nominations. With its overall positive reviews, ratings, and plug for Ryan Gosling, I’m stunned that it’s walking about with only a single nom. In my latest post, I mentioned the forgotten Albert Brooks. I feel like Drive is walking away forgotten.
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt missing the nomination. I know most people are more upset over Fassbender not on the ballot. I haven’t seen Shame, and honestly, have little interest in seeing it. Although I would like to see it since there’s been a great deal made about it. This disappointment, however, is regarding JGL–and I am disheartened to see that he has yet to get past Golden Globe nods and break through that Oscar glass.
  • Speaking of JGL, how about Will Reiser’s script not passing for Best Original Screenplay? I’m a little hesitant to praise Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig for their Bridesmaids script, and I haven’t seen Margin Call, but I’m still wondering how 50/50 didn’t get nominated.
  • Harry Potter series walks away with zero acting nominations. As discussed with some on Anomalous Material, this isn’t entirely surprising. Actually, considering some of the biggest film series with huge casts, it’s almost not surprising at all. But for us Potter fans, it still hurts a little inside to see not even Alan Rickman get some much-deserved credit, much less a host of other fantastic supporting roles. Oh, and did I mention Daniel Radcliffe? I know I’m not in the majority thinking this, but I can’t help but admit that he did such incredible work, especially in the last film. Not even a Golden Globe nod? What do I say to all that? Boooo.
  • The snubbed Mr. Ryan Gosling. Between DriveIdes of March, and even Crazy Stupid Love, which strangely earned him a Golden Globe nod, Gosling walked away without a single nomination. So I think it’s sad that he didn’t pull through for Drive  or even Ides. With a year that boasted his name more than any other, it’s disappointing.
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close making the Best Picture cut. Are you serious? Here’s a better question: how does a movie with a 48% rating on Rotten Tomatoes get nominated for Best Picture?

What Confuses Me

  • Why is Viola Davis considered the lead actress in The Help? I have no problem with her being nominated. In fact, I support that. But here’s my beef: I watched The Help, and I was under the impression the entire movie that Emma Stone was the lead character. This is lost on me.
  • Why is Emma Stone completely forgotten from The Help? I realize she plays straight to the characters portrayed by Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, etc. I even almost get that most would not consider her performance Oscar-worthy. But that leads me to three more questions–Why does she not get credit at any awards ceremonies this season for her work in the film? Why is her performance in Easy A considered Golden Globe worthy, but not her role in The Help? And finally, why does Melissa McCarthy get credit for her role in Bridesmaids at the freaking Oscars, but Emma Stone doesn’t get any credit for The Help . . . AT ALL?! Anyone?
  • Why is Berenice Bejo in the Actress in a Supporting Role category? Perhaps this one is more obvious. Jean Dujardin is clearly the lead. Understood. But wasn’t Bejo the lead actress in The Artist? It was the same way at the Golden Globes. I’m just really confused about this.
  • Why is everyone making such a big deal about Rooney Mara in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? I realize it was a very polarizing, intense role to portray. I get it. And I can even understand the Oscar nomination. What I don’t get? Why is there all this crazy fuss about her? What other work has she given to film that makes her stand apart from the rest? OK, so she’s just getting nominated for TGWTDT. Understood there. But isn’t that kind of a slap in the face to Noomi Rapace from the Swedish version? I mean only two years prior, she played the same role–and fantastically, I may add–and didn’t receive any of this accolade that is being poured on Mara. Why is that?
  • Why can’t the dogs from Beginners and The Artist get nominated? After all, the one from The Artist saved Dujardin’s life. And the one from Beginners? Doesn’t get much cuter than that. Academy, how about we add a new category, eh?

What Makes Me Happy

  • Perhaps the nomination that delightfully surprised me most was Nick Nolte in Warrior. The film itself hadn’t gotten much praise–good reviews, but not great ones. I realize everyone mentions issues with the film from cliche type story line, to boring cinematography, to “we’ve already seen this movie a zillion times in other sports films.” Got it. But I’m incredibly happy to see Mr. Nolte get some credit for his role. With great performances all around in Warrior, Nolte stood out to me, even considering Edgerton and Hardy. What a well-deserved nomination.
  • The Help and Midnight in Paris showing up on the Best Picture list. Although neither film will be a contender for that category, I’m happy to see both get nominated. The Help received a massive amount of criticism, and I wasn’t sure Midnight in Paris would make the cut, even with its growing popularity.
  • Cars 2 didn’t get an Animated Film nomination. Sorry, Pixar, but 2011 was not your year. Glad to see better animated films get nominated.
  • Gary Oldman nominated. I know this will make a lot of people’s lists of things that made them happy for this year’s Oscars. Although I wasn’t blown away by Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, I will say that I’m happy to see Oldman receive so much-deserved credit.