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.

******************************************************************************************************************

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.

50/50 . . . more like 90/10

50/50 is easily one of the best movies to come out in 2011. And if you think I’m making more of it than what it was, 93% of our nation’s critics agree with me. Out of 16,000 Rotten Tomatoes users, 94% of them agree with me. See what I mean? It’s far more 90/10 than a 50/50 odds that this movie was stellar.

Here’s why

  • Will Reiser’s screenplay

Will Reiser’s main character in 50/50, Adam, is not only a reflection, but also an autobiographical representation of himself. Reiser was actually diagnosed with spinal cancer and did survive it. Although inspiration can work great as the foundation for a screenplay, I believe human experience trumps inspiration. As Richard Roeper mentioned in his review of the film, 50/50 gives a little more of a real and accurate account of a person who has cancer. Even though many people knew the ending of the film, Reiser’s screenplay drove viewers into the heart of the story and made us feel not only for Adam, but also for the other cancer patients he befriended. It was easy to get caught up in the story. My first thought when the credits rolled was, “Wow, that felt real.”

  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt

I’m convinced this was Gordon-Levitt’s best performance to date. He continues to carefully choose creative and interesting roles to fill his resume, and 50/50 couldn’t have been a better choice. The role that’s most closely associated with his in 50/50 might have been The Lookout. Unlike that film, however, Gordon-Levitt was able to better capture the feeling of dealing with a deadly disease.

  • Supporting cast

Seth Rogen might typically play this kind of character, but he still succeeded in fulfilling his role. Anna Kendrick took on an interesting role again (Up in the Air, anybody?) and brought it to life. Even Anjelica Huston connected with her role in a way that made you care for her. Although Bryce Dallas Howard hasn’t received the best reviews from critics, she was able to play her part. She played a role considered cliche for the situation, but she was believable.

  • Better than the trailer

This might not sound like a legitimate reason, but many people will agree that movie trailers  are often better than the movie they’re promoting. In the case of 50/50, I think the complete opposite is true.* What sets the movie up as bromantic comedy turned out to be not only a hilarious film, but also a heart-wrenching, touching, and moving drama based on the story of a real person who had a 50/50 odds of beating cancer.

*This particular 50/50 trailer, which was not aired as often as the shorter trailers, is the exception. Also, today is the first time I ever saw this trailer. I don’t believe it is the theatrical one or one of those aired on television. Regardless, watch this trailer before seeing it. It’s the best one.

I don’t typically review movies, but when I get the chance, I like to write about what I thought of them. 50/50 would get a high score from me. Maybe in the near future I’ll consider reviewing movies on here more often. Until then, go out and see 50/50. I promise you won’t regret it, even if movie theaters steal way too much of our money!

Taking Chances

More times than not, I find out that when I go see a movie that I’m semi-sorta interested in viewing, I end up being pleasantly surprised. Of course, this isn’t the case every time; theoretically, it can’t be. There just aren’t enough good movies coming out in current time that one can be pleasantly surprised about. That’s probably not theoretical, but it sounded right at the time. Perhaps it’s technical.

Regardless.

Originally, my highest hopes for 2011 summer films went to Captain America, Crazy Stupid Love, and the final Harry Potter. You can read my Harry Potter review here. While each film had good things going for it, such as Crazy Stupid Love‘s cast (Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling – come on?!), or the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2 being the final film of the series, each of those films ultimately disappointed me in some way or another.

X-Men: First Class

Three other movies, however, unsuspectingly sneaked up on me this summer and surprised me in that pleasant kind of way. Originally, I had not intended to see the biggest surprise for me, which was X-Men: First Class. I had never seen any of the X-Men films. They didn’t appear attractive in any sense to me, from story line, to cast, to special effects. I mean, come on, it’s Halle Berry with blonde hair. Do you really expect me to approach that movie with any seriousness?

But the previews were looking good for this prequel, and already being a fan of James McAvoy (anyone see Wanted? YES!), I figured paying matinee price at a lower-end theater two towns away on a plan-free Friday evening would be harmless. I was immediately drawn in, like most people would admit to a first viewing of the film. I was also really impressed with Michael Fassbender. The colors were bright, the characters were interesting, and the effects were great. Possibly one of the best moments was Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine cameo. I didn’t have to be a fan of X-Men to know Hugh Jackman was Wolverine and that was one of the best cameos . . . ever. Kevin Bacon proved once again to be a slimy, rather humorous villain, and Henry Jackman’s score won me over before the film ended. Despite the mediocre reviews, I would place X-Men: First Class at the top of my summer 2011 movies list.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

The second surprise for me was Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Although I have never watched a previous Planet of the Apes film in its entirety, I did attempt to make it through a few short scenes in the Mark Wahlberg version. It was just too much. With that in mind, I was assured this movie would be deemed OK, if anything positive. I am a major James Franco and John Lithgow fan, but I didn’t expect great things from the zillioneth remake of watching humans in ape costumes bat eyes and imprison non-speaking humans in cages. Alas, this movie was nothing like it’s predecessors, as confirmed by Apes fans and viewers of the older films. This film served more as a back story for what was to come–what all of us know as the Planet of the Apes movies. Lithgow was a believable Alheizmer’s victim, and it was nice to see Slumdog Millionaire‘s Frieda Pinto on screen again. Possibly the best performance goes to Andy Serkis, who played the main ape, Caesar. Overall, it was a fun and even occasionally, touching movie. Tom Felton’s Dodge Landon served his purpose, battering the apes into forming an alliance among one another. It was an enjoyable film that outdid many of its fellow summer flicks in my opinion.

The Help

The Help was probably the one to shock me the least, primarily because my expectations were fairly high for the movie. After a look at Rotten Tomatoes average rating for it, however, my expectations lowered. I didn’t expect to be moved the way I was. The story was powerful and it was impossible to not be moved during it. I, personally, was a huge fan of the costumes. The story took place in the ’60s in southern Mississippi. Bryce Dallas Howard has apparently moved up in the world of character actors–her performance was flawless. Emma Stone proved me right once again that she has yet to give a poor performance. Jessica Chastain made a nice film debut playing the sweet and hilarious Celia Foote. The stand-out role easily goes to Viola Davis. This is a gorgeous story that demands to not be taken lightly. I’m inspired to read the book now.