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.

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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.

Top Ten Favorite Movies of 2011

The time has come for me to finally make this list. I haven’t seen Tree of Life or Drive yet, so I feel like this list could possibly be adjusted after a viewing of either, but despite those exceptions, I still had a difficult time compiling this list. Without further ado, here are my top 10 favorite movies of 2011:

10) Something Borrowed

Of course I’m the only person out there who will be putting Something Borrowed on my list. It rated 14% on Rotten Tomatoes and received poor reviews all around. HOWEVER, this is my “dud” on the list. There’s a reason Something Borrowed makes my favorites list (as I not so subtly bolded the word favorite earlier), and not the list I consider to be the BEST movies of the year. I know it’s not going to be other people’s favorite, but that’s the point, right? This film resonated with me. I enjoyed the story (and the book it was based off), and maybe part of my problem is that I have this thing for John Krasinski. I don’t know.

9) The Muppets

And now to hit the movies that are on other people’s lists. I ended up seeing The Muppets twice. This is one of the most fun films to come out this year. Jason Segel did an excellent job reincarnating this group of lovable puppets that stole many hearts of earlier generations. From the screenplay to the original music, The Muppets won me over almost without trying.

8) Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

I found this newest edition to the franchise to be the most adrenaline-pumping of them all. Nonstop action, and some of the craziest stunts I’ve seen take place in a movie. There was great chemistry between Simon Pegg, Tom Cruise, Paula Patton, and Jeremy Renner for the latest IMF team. I really enjoyed the craziness of this movie and am happy to see Tom Cruise phoning in another good performance.

7) X-Men: First Class

This is one of the most exciting movies that came out this summer as well as the best one of the franchise by miles. Originally, I had never seen any of the X-Men movies, but on just a single viewing of  First Class, I was interested in the series. When a prequel can draw a non-fan in without annoying fanboys/girls with excessive detail or repetition (or really, just treating them like they’re stupid), then it can really be a great thing. I really enjoyed being introduced to the awesome Michael Fassbender as well as seeing James McAvoy play a young Professor X. And to top it off, a great soundtrack by Henry Jackman served as background.

6) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. II

I was one of the people who waited in line to see Deathly Hallows Pt. II and left feeling exceptionally underwhelmed, most likely due to steep expectations. After a second viewing of it, I came around and started thinking more about it. Deathly Hallows Pt. II was a great end to such a successful movie franchise. Although many fans of the books were left wanting with having many scenes changed or completely left out of this movie, it’s hard to argue that this movie didn’t move you in some way if you’re a Harry Potter fan. I was especially fond of the epilogue and the tone it left viewers with. There were so many great performances, that it’s hard to pick just one or two standouts. For me, it was exceptionally nice to see Daniel Radcliffe give all that he could to his Harry Potter role throughout the series, and then watch it all come together as he gave his life in Deathly Hallows Pt. II.

5) Midnight in Paris

I’m so happy to see all the critical chatter Midnight in Paris is drawing. I had heard almost nothing about it before I saw it, but I read a nice review by Roger Ebert. In the middle of a summer filled with lots of action, superheroes, and monsters comes this beautiful and creative stand-alone movie from Woody Allen. All the locations filmed in Paris alone serve as a great backdrop and historical picture of past and present Paris. I really enjoyed seeing Owen Wilson shine in a newer type of role for him alongside the gorgeous Marion Cotillard. From the music to the costumes to the humble, but smart screenplay, Midnight in Paris was easily one of my favorite movies of the year.

4) The Descendants

Since I first saw a trailer for The Descendants in theaters, I knew I would want to see the movie. I really enjoyed George Clooney’s previous Up in the Air, and I was excited to see him in an indie-styled film. Coming across as very grassroots, The Descendants takes a family that is seriously messed up and lets us journey with them through an especially harrowing time for George Clooney’s character, Matt King. What I enjoyed most about this movie was the realistic touch. Shailene Woodley gives her all in a dramatic role of playing a rebellious, but hurting teenager. It’s a story about family, making decisions, grieving, and dealing with unpleasant situations, and at the same time, it gives the audience a sense of realism. That pain and frustration and arguing and death is a real thing that happens every day, and shapes you as person as you deal with those times by your reactions to certain situations and interactions with the people close to you in life.

3) The Help

Based off the novel by Kathryn Stockett, the story of The Help is both moving and inspirational. This movie was able to accomplish both of those tasks–move and inspire viewers–without the unnecessary pizzazz or cheesiness that tends to accompany many films of the same genre today. Stripped of all the colors from the costumes, The Help makes you think beyond the movie theater and the book. Some of the best performances of the year took place in this movie, from Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer to Emma Stone. Jessica Chastain was hilarious in her supporting role as well. Although there’s still controversy over this movie, The Help is no doubt one of the best movies to come out in 2011.

2) 50/50

Barely missing the top spot for my favorite film of the year, 50/50 made me cry and laugh and walk away very thankful for life by the movie’s end. Perhaps because the story was written by the guy (Will Reiser) who was actually diagnosed with cancer–and has now survived it and is in remission–50/50 offers the most realistic look at a young person dealing with a rare form of cancer. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is both brilliant and endearing in this role, seeming to act the part from the inside out. A great supporting cast of Anna Kendrick, Anjelica Huston, and even Seth Rogen ties this dubbed “bromance comedy” together. Both moving and hilarious to watch, 50/50 was one of my favorite movies of the year.

1) The Artist

Until this past Sunday, 50/50 held the number one spot in my list of favorite movies for 2011. And then I saw The Artist and couldn’t shake the feeling that I had seen one of the greatest films to come out in a long while. I walked in with low expectations, assuming I would be bored or disinterested, but found myself unbelievably surprised and thankful for the opportunity to see this movie gem. Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo are flawless in this Michel Hazanavicius film filled with great performances, a great score, great writing, and great cinematography. It’s difficult to restrain from overpraising The Artist, not only because was it that good, but also because nothing else remotely similar has come out in ages, much less would be comparable to it. The Artist will probably hit it big at every awards ceremony this year, and rightfully so. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, please do so. It’s definitely my favorite of 2011.

What was your favorite movie of 2011? Did you like any of the ones on my list? What was missing from my list, and what do you think I should see still? I missed out on just about all documentaries in 2011, so I’m definitely looking for suggestions!

Ten Facts about Joseph Gordon-Levitt

It’s no surprise that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is hitting the spotlight more than ever in the past couple years. He’s played roles in some big films as well as taken part in smaller projects that mean a lot to him. Instead of giving another biography about the dude, here’s a list of 10 facts (generated from various websites) that I found interesting.

10) JGL owes a warm thanks to James Franco. Why? Because of Franco’s scheduling conflicts, JGL replaced him in his supporting role as Arthur in Inception. His role in the thriller connected him to director Christopher Nolan, who now cast him in his up and coming batman film, The Dark Knight Rises.

9) So far, Gordon-Levitt has received only one high awards nomination for a film: Golden Globe for Best Actor in (500) Days of Summer.

8) Despite his growth and up and comingness (like that word I just made up?) in film, JGL never received credit for a silent and momentary cameo in the Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody 2008 mediocre flick, The Brothers Bloom.

7) Back in a 1998 interview with Conan O’Brien, JGL explains that he has “two” last names because his parents were hippies, and they figured, why should a woman lose her last name? His mom’s last name is Gordon and his dad’s last name is Levitt.

6) After starring in The Lookout, a film reviewer from the San Francisco Chronicler said that Gordon-Levitt “embodies, more than performs, a character’s inner life.” I think his role in this year’s 50/50 only further proves that insight.

5) It’s been said that JGL has an uncanny resemblance to former 10 Things I Hate about You co-star Heath Ledger.

4) Prepare yourself for a very Joseph Gordon-Levitt 2012. So far he is slated to star in five films: The Dark Knight Rises, Premium Rush, Looper, Lincoln, and the Quentin Tarantino film Django Unchained.

3) JGL is one humble dude. He is quoted saying,

“The whole concept of celebrity pisses me off. While I’m not a celebrity, it’s such a weird concept that society has cooked up for us. Astronauts and teachers are much more amazing than actors.”

2) Gordon-Levitt’s brother, Daniel, died at age 36 of drug overdose, just in October of last year.

1) JGL was also not the first pick to play the real life character Will in 50/50. James McAvoy, the original pick, had to leave after just a few days of filming due to a family emergency. Seth Rogen and Will Reiser, who were currently living together at the time, thought first of Gordon-Levitt for the role after McAvoy’s departure.

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!