February 2, 2010

Getafilm Gallimaufry: Best Picture Nonsense, Clouzot, Crazy Heart, Muriel, & More

[Note: This series includes scattered thoughts on various movie-related topics. I was looking for a word that started with the letter "g" that means collection or assortment, but lest you think I'm some elitist wordsmith, know that I'd never heard of "gallimaufry" and I don't even know how to say it, but it was the only other option the thesaurus provided aside from "goulash" (too foody) and "garbage" (no).]

The Best Picture Nominees

I scoffed at the decision to expand the Best Picture field six months ago, and I'm scoffing at it again now. To summarize: because The Dark Knight was not nominated for Best Picture last year and the Oscar telecast was again watched by a fraction of the population, the decision was made by AMPAS and the show's producers to nominate ten films instead of five, making the ceremony more appealing to Joe and Jane Public, who see 3-5 movies year, at least one of which is directed by Michael Bay and at least 2-4 of which star Brendan Fraser, Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Lopez, or Sandra Bullock.

And so in a year where so much went wrong at the movie theater (in my opinion, of course, and for the first time I didn't even bother with predicting the nominations), we have five stereotypical Best Picture nominees (Avatar, The Hurt Locker, A Serious Man, Up in the Air, and Inglourious Basterds), three passable Best Picture nominees (Up, An Education, Precious), and two tacked-on popular hits (District 9, The Blind Side; that The Hangover was somehow not nominated for Best Picture surprised me more than anything else in the nomination announcements). I'm not saying the wrong films were nominated - that's a given every year. I'm just saying that the expanded field only made room for more wrongly chosen films.

Of course the irony is that the inclusion of Avatar alone would have been enough to get people to watch the telecast, so the expanded field turned out to be completely unnecessary. Worse, the first-ever Pixar film to be nominated for Best Picture is arguably not even one of the best Pixar films. There was a case to be made for WALL-E last year, but not so with Up this year. Besides, it will win Best Animated Feature without any problem - wouldn't that have been "enough" without what is now a somewhat meaningless Best Picture nomination?

The Oscar telecast on March 7 will undoubtedly be the most widely viewed since 2003, when The Return of the King swept the awards. But will people be watching this year because Avatar will get a lot of airtime, or because they are just so excited that The Blind Side and District 9 were nominated? Do they truly believe either of those two will even be considered by academy members filling out their ballots over the next few weeks? This diluted field is a complete joke - the award is between The Hurt Locker and Avatar, and it would have been only with five nominees, too. Consequently, I'm not sure how an awards ceremony already struggling for credibility has done anything but taken a major step backwards this year.

The Wages of Fear (A)  

Back when I wrote about The Battle for Algiers I mentioned that I was inspired to see it after Rick Olson's take at Coosa Creek Cinema. As impressed as I was by that film, and as ignorant as I am about nearly every classic film, I had to of course follow up on another post of Rick's about Henri-George Clouzot's The Wages of Fear.

What a gripping masterpiece this is on first viewing (and no, I haven't seen the Roy Scheider-starring remake). I experienced The Wages of Fear almost as two movies in one - a harrowing thriller about an explosive truck on one hand, and a comedic cultural commentary on Big Oil and occupied territories in far-off lands on the other. It goes without saying that I loved it and need to add additional Clouzot films to my impossibly long must-see list. Thanks for sparking the interest, Rick.

Crazy Heart (B+)  

Against all odds I found myself actually tapping my feet along with the country music as Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) twanged along on stage. By the end of the movie I'd fallen for Bad's charm almost as improbably as Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal); for me the movie offered more than just an impressive acting performance. I found it to be an unflinching yet nuanced portrayal of the debilitating effects of alcoholism (as opposed to a somewhat underdeveloped character completely going off the rails, a la Leaving Las Vegas), and, much in the same way as last year's The Wrestler, I thought it moved along briskly with just the right touches of humor, drama, and sure, even melodrama.

Then I read this review by the ever-illuminating Jason Bellamy, where he perfectly articulated everything that didn't quite work in Crazy Heart, including a great comparison to The Wrestler and a keen observation about how the film lags in between Bad's performances. Despite Jason's reservations, I still would have taken Crazy Heart as a legitimate Best Picture nominee over something like The Blind Side, though the important thing about this movie - Bridges' performance - will get its due recognition anyway.

The 4th Annual Muriel Awards

For the second year in a row I have the great honor of voting in the Muriel Awards, otherwise known as the only awards that matter (what else would you expect me to say?). Beginning on Sunday and continuing through February 28th, check in at Steve Carlson's blog to see the winners in each category announced, including Best Body of Work in 2009 (for anyone - actor, director, composer, etc.), Best Cinematic Breakthrough, Best Ensemble, and one of my personal favorites (hint: here were my votes): Best Cinematic Moment. Also stop over at voting member Craig Kennedy's place for some outstanding poster art in honor of the last year in film. If you're curious about the awards, take a look at last year's winners.

Top 10 Sundance Documentaries of the Decade

Recently I was contacted on behalf of the Sundance Channel (following up on my two-part list of the Best Documentaries of the Decade), informing me of their festival coverage and 31 Days of Sundance programming, as well as some fun lists they have on their website, including the Top 10 Sundance Documentaries of the Decade as chosen by Dennis Lim. I have to say he has excellent taste - I've seen six of the 10 he selected, three of which (No End in Sight, Grizzly Man, & The Weather Underground) were on my own list. Sounds like it's time for me to catch up on the four I haven't seen - Biggie & Tupac, Dig!, Zoo & The Unforeseen.

On a somewhat related note, the first documentary I mentioned in my 2010 Movie Forecast, Restrepo, last week won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at Sundance. Keep an eye out for that title when Oscar nominations are announced next January.


  1. "Besides, it will win Best Animated Feature without any problem - wouldn't that have been "enough" without what is now a somewhat meaningless Best Picture nomination?"

    I actually wrote a post about this a while back. Not sure if you ever saw it, but it stirred up a bit of debate, and you might have some interesting thoughts to add. To summarize, I basically talk about the worthlessness of the animated category. The argument might have lost a little bit of weight since Up was nominated this year, but I still think there's something to it.

    If you do try to say anything, I'd recommend reading the comments first because I made a lot of detailed responses in the comments section to expand the support of my "question":


  2. I love The Wages of Fear. It's at the very top of my list of best foreign films.

    As for - "and no, I haven't seen the Roy Scheider-starring remake." Sorcerer is outrageous, but compelling, well-acted, and artistically filmed. Actually, it's my favorite Friedkin film. It needs a better - and widescreen - DVD edition. The cheapo I got for Christmas is cheapo.

  3. Really interesting post you have there, Danny, and conversation in the comments. I'm still in two minds about the whole thing and until you talked through some of the issues I never consider the meaning of an animated film getting nominated for Best Picture. As it is I think I still land in the middle, agreeing with the current set-up. I think animation has evolved enough over the last 10 years to deserve its own award (whether that be technical or artistic), but if a film is "good enough" it should deserve consideration for Best Picture as well. I would argue WALL*E was in that class, but not Up. It's a tough call, but as things are now I'd have to contend that the Best Animated Feature should not be eliminated. It's easy to say in a year with animated films as strong as 2009 (Up, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Coraline, Princess/Frog, etc.), but I don't consider it a pity award at all. Also, as Dezmond argues in your post it's difficult to think about bring animated films into the BP mix but not documentaries and foreign.

    Plus the inclusion of The Secret of the Kells does mix up the typical fare a bit. Who knows - maybe the real question is, why was the Best Animated Feature expanded from three films original to five now?

    Hokahey, in reading up on The Wages of Fear I've found a number of people actually defending Sorcerer as the better film. People seemed to have a real problem with the first half of Clouzot's version and the dancing drive finale. Not having seen Sorcerer I can't weigh in, but neither of those aspects of The Wages of Fear bothered me in the slightest. And since you mention DVD quality, I saw the Criterion version of Wages and it looked fantastic.

  4. Don't worry. The Wages of Fear is the better film. I suppose the first half of Sorcerer has more action - and I love how it shows the backstories of the drivers and how they ended up isolated and desperate, but I like the slower pace of the beginning of Clouzot's film. Also, the endings are essentially the same: guy gets the money and then fate steps in - sort of literally in the case of Sorcerer. Birthday's coming up and I know what I want: the Criterion Wages of Fear.

  5. fantastic post here Dan with a number of excellent sub-topics. Well, I don't agree that UP is in any way 'lesser' Pixar, and I do believe it deserved to be nominated even if there were only five nominees (it was my #4 film of the year, and for me second best to WALL-E in their catelogue) I do agree with every other point you made including the motives behind the change, and the foolishness of including a number of films that never had a chance in the first place. But as we well know, it's all about money. It was nice that A SERIOUS MAN, UP and DISTRICT 9 did get some recognition though because of the expanded field, but admittedly there are more debits here than assets.

    Yes, Rick had it right with WAGES OF FEAR, and your effusively-positive reaction doesn't surprise me, especially as this tense and gripping film has a documentary feel to it.

    Jason Bellamy's review on CRAZY HEART was actually the BEST review of that film I've read anywhere. He really dispenses with the nonsense and gets down to its essense.

    And congrats on you're voting for the Muriels this year. I can't wait to know how you go.

  6. Hope you get your b-day wish, Hokahey. I'd love to hear your extended thoughts on it after viewing, if it happens.

    Thank you, Sam, and my diminishing of Up shouldn't be read as anything more than a comparison to WALL*E. It ended up in my Top 25 for 2009, but for all the years Pixar fans have complained about never getting a shot at an Oscar nod, I can't help but think that Up wasn't the strongest horse they've ever ridden. But what do I know, it still should be an easy winner for Best Animated Feature.

    Like that thought about the Wages of Fear having a documentary feel to it, particularly with the indigenous population at the beginning and the ironic parallels to documentaries like Crude.

    Can't say anything more about Jason's review, or any of his other posts. As a sneak preview of my Muriels votes, look for his site in my list of best web-based criticism. For the purposes of simplicity I tended toward more individually-written blogs in my voting instead of team-written sites, but I'd take a look for WitD to deservedly pop on someone's ballot as well.

  7. You already knew the Picture Noms were going to be nonsense after the noms were opened up to new pictures. Are you really surprised that popular slop was nominated?

    If teens could vote, Twilight: New Moon would be the front runner for Best Picture.

    "the decision was made by AMPAS and the show's producers to nominate ten films instead of five, making the ceremony more appealing to Joe and Jane Public, who see 3-5 movies year, at least one of which is directed by Michael Bay and at least 2-4 of which star Brendan Fraser, Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Lopez, or Sandra Bullock."

    AHAHAHAHHA. Good one.

    The Oscars would be called something else if The Hangover was nominated for best picture. The Jokes. The Shame-on-You's. The Garbage. The possible titles go on and on.

    Wall-E was a big disappointment. The Fatties, please. Battle for Terra is a thousand times better than that film.

    Avatar should NOT have been nominated for best picture. Christ no, unless it was nominated under its proper title: Dances with Wolves: The Lesser Redux.

    The Hurt Locker will take it. Too bad The Brotherhood of War didn't come out this year. That is a war movie.

  8. "The Oscars would be called something else if The Hangover was nominated for best picture. The Jokes. The Shame-on-You's. The Garbage." Haha, nice. Well SNL did a real number on it last week, which was great.

    Haven't seen Battle for Terra, but, hmm - a thousand times is quite the claim...

    Yeah I think The Hurt Locker will walk away with it and the end of the night, showing that the Academy can have its cake (massive TV ratings because popular films were nominated) and eat it too (awarding a film a fraction of the population has even heard of). I'll have to look up The Brotherhood of War as well.

  9. I was too zealous. 100 times better.

    Remember, many people didn't see No Country for Old Men or Spirited Away until they won an Oscar.

  10. Man I loved Spirited Away. I need to see that again but the theater experience for a Miyazaki film is so much richer for me than on DVD, so I don't want to cheapen it.

  11. It was good, very good. It is the little things that make that film stand out. Remember that part when the girl gets told to do something, does it then the little creatures mimic the exact same actions? Magic, beyond a Disney film.

    Get the blu-ray, a high-def tv, pull your couch back to the proper distance away and enjoy.

  12. Yeah I do vaguely remember that scene, and a general sense of enchantment around the whole experience. Didn't happen in quite the same way with Ponyo last year, but that was still a terrific little adventure.


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