Feb 22, 2012

Quick Reviews: Best Picture Nominees

The Academy Awards are upon us. Starlets are picking out their dresses, Billy Crystal is getting his hair dyed and his forehead injected with some last-minute Botox, and we here at Tableau Your Mind have to review the nine films up for Best Picture. It’s been a strange road, mostly because there are so many movies that we did not want to see. Nothing shows the old, male WASP-iness of the Academy voters like this class of nominees. Almost no independent films made it on the list, veteran directors were rewarded for sub-par work, and schmaltz was praised above all. Unlike last year’s smorgasbord of impressive films, we are given this lackluster collection of nominees. Still, we’re sure we can get through these nominees and find a clear winner. Also, just for kicks, we’re going to include the movies that should have been nominated.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Exploitation, thy name is this movie
This is a pretty mediocre movie, and probably the most emotionally exploitative film of 2011. Everyone is basically shouting “9/11! Feel Something!” The performances are pretty solid, but child acting has never seemed so labored, and Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock have very little chemistry and basically seem like a father and daughter. The book is pretty great, so check that out and skip this movie.

Film Grade: C-
Odds of Winning: 1:50

The Help
We’ve already reviewed this film HERE, but our enjoyment of it has soured over time. It’s really just mediocre – totally fine, totally sweet, completely forgettable. It's really only nominated to give more credibility to Octavia Spencer's win for Best Supporting Actress.

Film Grade: B-
Odds of Winning: 1:25

War Horse
"You're not just a War Horse, you're a Friend Horse"
Beautifully shot and directed, this film is nonetheless a bit of a dud. It is well-acted but over-scored and over-stuffed with plotlines that go nowhere. Basically, a bunch of people meet a horse and a selection of those people die. Accents are middling. Then, the horse moves on and does not seem all that upset about all the murder going on, because he’s a horse and not a person with feelings. It’s hard to root for a horse when PEOPLE are dying…in a war. Also, two people actually solemnly proclaim ‘War Horse’ to one another and manage to keep straight faces. Now that we think about it, that actually is reason enough to give the Oscar to this totally inconsequential movie.

Film Grade: B-
Chances of Winning: 1:20

The Tree of Life
We had absolutely no idea what to draw.
Midnight in Paris is understandably pretentious, but The Tree of Life is unwavering in its pretentiousness. It’s such a flipping smug movie, and it’s about an hour too long. Terrence Malick, whose work we enjoyed in The Thin Red Line, seems to have bitten off more than he can chew here. Nothing really comes together, and it’s all a bit of a mess. Jessica Chastain and Brad Pitt are solid.

Film Grade: C+
Odds of Winning: 1:10

A Trip to the Moon
This movie, which celebrates childhood wonder and the beauty of film, is completely delightful. Martin Scorsese’s foray into child entertainment isn’t really for kids, it’s all about making adults (in particular, adults over the age of 60) feel like kids again. Sacha Baron Cohen chews the scenery like no other, but the lead kid Asa Butterfield is great, and Chloe Moretz is dependable. Ben Kingsley is wonderful but underused. It’s a film filled with beautiful imagery (the first 3D movie we’ve seen that was worth the extra ticket price) and wonderful moments. It won’t win Best Picture, but it’s pretty great.

Film Grade: A-
Odds of Winning: 1:5

Midnight in Paris
Things get all sepia at night.
Again, we’ve already reviewed this movie HERE. Let’s just say that it is delightful, beautifully shot and written, and (for the most part) impeccably acted. Sure, it’s incredibly pompous and Owen Wilson never sells himself as the intellectual he purports to be, but overall this is a very good movie. It’ll probably win Best Original Screenplay.

Film Grade: B+
Odds of Winning: 1:4


This movie, about statistics in baseball, is really pleasant. Brad Pitt is great, and Jonah Hill really holds his own. Being based on a true story and all, it’s kind of tonally all over the place, and once the team starts winning the storyline gets a little muddled. Still, the performances are strong (including a great performance from Chris Pratt) and the writing is understated and well-done. Still, it isn't a home-run (PUNS!).

Film Grade: A-
Odds of Winning: 1:3

The Descendants
That hose-bag is comatose
We were less than wowed by this movie. The last two-thirds are well-written, touching, beautifully shot, and incredibly heartfelt. The only problem is that the first act still exists, full of clunky voice-over, odd character introductions, and even more clunky voice-over. It’s upsetting, given how strong Alexander Payne’s other films are, especially Sideways, Election, and the best section of Paris, je t’aime. The main problem with the film, though, is George Clooney, who can’t stop being so George Clooney. That is difficult when he’s playing a husband whose comatose wife was stepping out on him pre-coma. Who would cheat on George Clooney, even a George Clooney in Tommy Bahama shirts? Judy Greer and Shailene Woodley are great.

Film Grade: B+
Odds of Winning: 1:2
It probably won’t win Best Picture, but it should win Best Adapted Screenplay.

The Artist
She's gonna boil that bunny.
The Artist is a totally fun movie, and it’s exploration of the silent film genre is really well done. There are great performances, brilliant editing and direction, and the textures and costumes are sumptuous. The storyline is simple and straight-forward, which is fine. It’s a funny, sweet romp. Jean Dujardin is great and charming, and his hammy acting actually fits the role. It’s basically a silent remake of Singing in the Rain, but we loved that movie, so we cheer on a remake. One quibble is that the main female character is super creepy. She basically stalks the main character as he falls on hard times – she watches him from the backseats of cars, in dimly lit theaters, on abandoned streets. If she wasn’t so attractive, she would be a boiled bunny away from Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. Keep the dog away from her.

Film Grade: A-
Chances of Winning: Even Money
This movie is a safe bet for a Best Picture win. Of the films in contention, this is total Oscar bait.

It's going to be a pretty bland Oscars this year. Most of the winners seem already decided, and none of the films really made enough money to be on anyone's radar. There isn't even an Avatar in the mix to cause some sort of debate. If only the following films had been more recognized - it may have livened up the proceedings a bit:

The Beginners - Hands-down the best movie of last year, and another strike against the Academy for refusing to honor the incredible acting of Ewan McGregor. 

50/50 - Funny, heartfelt, a deft handling of a tricky subject.

Win Win - Simple, understated, and glorious.

Bridesmaids - A funny and original voice, where the smallest moments are often the best.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 - sure, it's not perfect, but it should have gotten a nomination for the same reason that the last Lord of the Rings movie got nominated - the franchise is an important addition to the history of film.

Transformers 3 - Just Kidding.

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