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Anti-Film School’s Academy Awards Coverage: The Best Picture Race

by Charles Beall

Throughout the next month, I will be contributing articles about the Oscar race this year.  To start things off, let’s talk about the big race, Best Picture.

9 Best Picture nominees

When the Academy announced that there would be a new voting system to select a Best Picture nominee (a film has to have 5% of first place votes to gain a nomination), I aired on the side of skepticism.  At first, when the Academy announced that there would be 10 nominees two years ago, I cried foul.  This is the Academy Awards!  Why would we sully it by letting in five other films?  However, take a look at these ten films (the first five released in 2009 and the last five in 2010, respectively): District 9, The Blind Side, An Education, A Serious Man, Up, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, 127 Hours, Toy Story 3, and Winter’s Bone.  Aside from The Blind Side (total turd), these ten films are exceptional “unconventional” films that never would’ve been nominated if there were only five nominees.  Sure they can’t win, but they definitely were deserving of a nomination for Best Picture.  I decided that I liked this 10 Best Picture nominee system.

However, per the new Academy rules, there could be anywhere between five and ten nominees for the films of 2011.  The movies that were to be nominated had to, as I stated, receive 5% of number one votes.  So, with this complicated system, I assumed there would be between five and seven nominees.  Yet, there were nine.

Here are the tiers these films fall into:

(Note: films with an * are films I have not seen yet.  I can only give the impression I get from them, whereas the films I have seen, I can attempt to attest to why they were nominated.)

The Five- these would’ve been the five nominated films if there were only five nominees:

The Artist*
This is a film that has Oscar written all over it.  A nostalgic look at Hollywood, a silent film in black and white, and a feel-good, original idea, this movie is the kind of warm hug Academy members like.

The Descendants
The Descendants is the tailor-made, quirky Fox Searchlight Oscar bait we’ve all come to expect, yet don’t let that detract from how great of a film it is.  Alexander Payne is a wonderful filmmaker and this film, his first since the incredible Sideways, goes along with his theme of middle aged men “coming of age.”  Anchored by a wonderful performance by George Clooney (I think he deserves the Oscar), The Descendants is worthy of the respect heaped upon it, and even though it oozes of “Oscar prestige,” it truly is a great American film

The Help
The Help is the type of crowd-pleasing hit that the Academy loves to recognize to show that it isn’t a bunch of out-of-touch, pretentious white people.  I enjoyed The Help, yet I have some reservations about it.  First, it is entertaining without being overly confident in itself; it doesn’t wear its message on its sleeve.  We know that segregation in the South is a disgusting stain on our nation’s history, yet The Help doesn’t delve into how blatantly horrible it was to make the actions of the white people in the movie seem more noble than that of the Help.  With that said, it almost does go off the deep end.  Yes, it portrays the bravery of certain white women and certain African American women, but it comes off that without the white women, the Help would’ve never had their story told.  The film teeters on that cliff, but the filmmakers realize that that is too easy of a plot device, so I commend them for not taking the easy route.

While I would’ve liked a more “intense” portrayal of racism in the South, The Help suffices for reaching such a wide audience.  The film is honest and takes its time to develop its great characters.  In a year with only five nominees, I wouldn’t have selected The Help; however, when there are ten spots, I think it is deserving as one of the ten nominees.


Hugo
Hugo is a marvel and the best film I’ve seen this year.  This love letter to film, imagination, and life is completely engulfing.  As Scorsese’s first 3D film, he utilizes the technology to add, well, another dimension to the story.  There are no gimmicks and you are literally immersed into a world that could only come out of careful planning and love of source material.  I cannot praise this film enough, and in any year, this would be in the top five, if not number one spot.  Hugo deserves all of its 11 Academy Award nominations.


Midnight in Paris
The Academy loves Woody Allen, which is ironic because Woody never shows up to the ceremony.  However, if there is any comeback film for Allen after some flubs in years past, it is Midnight in Paris.  This is such a cute, original movie that offers an escape for not only the main character, but for the entire audience.  This is one of the best movies of the year and worthy of its four nominations.

The “honor-to-be-nominated” Crew- if there were five nominees, these wouldn’t have been nominated, but with the current voting system (and the former 10 nominee system), they are:

The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick’s fifth feature film is a simply beautiful, undeniably maddening meditation on life.  If there were only five nominees for Best Picture, this wouldn’t have been nominated (even though, I believe, he would’ve been nominated for Best Director-the Academy would oftentimes nominate a director whose film wasn’t nominated for Best Picture) but with the new system, it got in there.  There is an almost cult-like following for this film and I was honestly surprised that it was nominated.  It is a unique film, and this definitely “diversifies” the Academy’s canon of nominated films.  It won’t take home the big prize, but it definitely has been honored with its 3 nominations.


Moneyball*
A movie about math and baseball, written by Aaron Sorkin, and starring Brad Pitt.  I haven’t seen it, but heard it is great.  This is the Academy trying to be cool, I suppose.


War Horse*
Steven Spielberg.  World War I.  Epic.  Is the Academy still sorry for snubbing Saving Private Ryan?


Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close*
This smells Weinsteinesque (more on that later).

Harry Potter WAS NOT snubbed

Fans are crying foul on the “snub” of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 in the Best Picture race.  Folks, there was no snub.  This film did not deserve a nomination for Best Picture; it was the worst film in the franchise.  Now, before you call me a death eater or a Slytherin, I urge you to do some soul searching and ask yourself if this really was the movie you thought it was.

Now, in defense of the Academy, they have opened their minds somewhat when it comes to films of different caliber.  The Lord of the Rings trilogy, for instance, was nominated for 30 Academy Awards, winning 17 (including a clean sweep for The Return of the King).  Yes, the Academy has been stingy on which films they nominate (fantasy/science fiction-wise), but The Lord of the Rings films were exceptional, bridging fanboy/girl devotion with a mass audience appeal.  That isn’t to say the Harry Potter franchise didn’t do such a thing; it did, but not to the extent of respecting the source material in such a way that the LOTR filmmakers did.

Now, as I stated earlier, ask yourself if the final film really was that incredible.  Take a look at both the entire final book and the penultimate film in the series.  Both of these took their time developing both the story and the characters; the final film did not.  There was a checklist of obligatory plot points to be filmed and they were done in such a rapid succession that one did not have time to emotionally process what was happening to the characters we have grown to love.  The final LOTR film was 200 minutes.  The final Harry Potter film was barely over two hours.  With so much story left in the second half of the book, the filmmakers didn’t develop it into drama; they shot it and sent it off to 3D rendering.

Is the Harry Potter film series terrible?  Absolutely not.  I believe that for such a massive, original world that J.K. Rowling created, the filmmakers did a reasonably excellent job in adapting it for the big screen.  However, after seven well-made films, the eighth just floundered, portraying itself as something that it was not and seducing loyal fans into thinking it was the best in the series.

Don’t hate on the Academy for this “snub.”  There have been sequels that were nominated for Best Picture (and some that won) that were far more deserving than Part 2.  True, The Return of the King won Best Picture for two reasons: it was a great film, but also the conclusion to a flawless motion picture trilogy.  That is what gets rewarded by the Academy, not an “easy” sequel to an otherwise great film series.

“But The Blind Side was nominated for Best Picture,” one might say.  I know…I never said the Academy was perfect.  However, there is a huge difference in an unworthy film getting nominated for Best Picture and an unworthy film not getting nominated for Best Picture.  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 falls into the latter category.

In conclusion, it must be said that the Harry Potter film series, as a whole, stands as a landmark in motion picture history, and for that, both as a lover of the series and as a cinephile, I sing its praise.

What should’ve been the “ninth” and tenth films?

I put “ninth” in quotes because, while the 8 films that were expected or had a reasonable chance of being nominated for Best Picture were, the ninth film, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, was a shocker.  There is a hardcore group of fans of this film, and while I have not yet seen it, I can tell you that it is one of the worst reviewed films of the past ten years (according to Rotten Tomatoes) to be nominated for Best Picture.  So what happened?

As I stated earlier, the way the Academy has changed their voting rules over the last three award cycles allows films like Loud (and The Blind Side) to sneak in and nab a spot.  What happened with Loud is that there were 5% of people who loved this movie so much that they put it as the number one spot on their ballot among the list of 300 plus eligible films from 2011.  There is a great article from Entertainment Weekly that explains this whole system, and the link to that is right here:  http://insidemovies.ew.com/2012/01/24/oscars-best-picture-why-nine-nominees/

So, now that you have your head wrapped around that, let us look at which films were “bumped off.”  I believe that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Bridesmaids were bumped off by Loud.  Some may argue that The Tree of Life also was a surprise, but with its devoted fanbase, I think it was always a shoo-in for a nod.  As explained in that Entertainment Weekly Article, Tattoo and Bridesmaids were probably voters third or fourth pick for their favorites of the year, which would’ve helped in other years, but not this one.  So, Academy members, if you find yourself passionate about a particular movie next year, make sure it gets your number one spot.  If The Dark Knight Rises is as incredible as its predecessor, you know what to do.

So, that concludes my analysis of the Best Picture race for 2011.  There will be more to come before and after the Academy Awards, so keep checking Anti-Film School for more updates.

Horrible Bosses (2011)

by Steve Habrat

Let’s be honest, the premise of Horrible Bosses, a revenge-fantasy comedy that places three Average Joes at the center of an intricate plot to off their bosses a la Alfred Hitchcock’s Stranger’s on a Train could strike a chord with many casual moviegoers. Why? Because who HASN’T had a boss that has made their lives a living hell! It’s an amusing “What if?” that provides some minor laughs in the dead heat of the summer and a surprisingly small picture going toe to toe with films like Transformers, Harry Potter, and Captain America. But the film has a charming underdog persona that many can’t quite ignore (It also happens to feature an all-star cast!) and leaves you hoping it will be remembered once it’s long gone from theaters. I say this because the film walks the fine line between classic dark comedy and comedy-no-one-will-remember-in-a-year territory. I consider it a blue-collar comedy that pours it’s blood, sweat, and tears into all the shenanigans to make you laugh but sometimes it comes up a bit short. It’s a shame it might get lost in shuffle.

Every summer has a sleeper hit that audiences pass on via word of mouth. It ends up making a boatload of money and it usually turns out to be a comedy. We’ve already had a 50/50 summer when it comes to comedy and, frankly, comedy has been very uninteresting for quite a while. We had Bridesmaids which was a surprise smash and was a breath of fresh air. Two weeks later, the guys of the Hangover crashed the party and left everyone with a bad taste in their mouths. We’ve also seen Bad Teacher, one that was heavily hyped but largely written off by many and Zookeeper, another dud chucked out by Happy Madison. Now we have the often witty, sometimes disappointing Horrible Bosses, in which three nice guys decide they’ve had enough of their tyrannical bosses and decide to off them for each other. By killing each other’s, they are spared a suspected motive by the police and they end getting off punishment free. It’s a bit of a tired premise and really isn’t that inspired of an idea, but it will resonate! Especially if you take the dry asides of Jason Bateman (Arrested Development), the screeching insanity of Charlie Day (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and smart-ass narcissism of Jason Sudeikis (SNL) and pair them up against the sadistic Kevin Spacey, man-eating Jennifer Aniston, and the under-used coke addict Colin Farrell.

The three amigos, Nick (Bateman), Dale (Day), and Kurt (Sudeikis) enlist the help of a professional killer in Mother Fucker Jones, played by the dead-pan Jamie Foxx. They slam their heads together and they embark on a bumbling journey to expel their demonoid bosses from planet earth. The usually sticky situations follow and they are mostly all amusing. They sneak around their intended victims homes, accidentally get high on cocaine, stupidly leave their DNA everywhere, and drool over a lingerie clad Aniston as she deep throats a popsicle, a banana, and a hot dog. It’s good to see a fresh line-up of comedians like we have here, but they seem a bit new to the scene, in all honesty. They try to ad-lib with the best of them but sometimes it’s a bit forced and amateur, especially from Day who relies on his bat-shit crazy persona he crafted for his character on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. He rattles off some winners and delivers some stink bombs that are intended to shock the audience into belly laughs. The most laughs come from Bateman, who delivers some zingers (One about fleeing to Canada will have you in stitches), Foxx who demonstrates extraordinary comedic timing (His explanation of how he got the name Mother Fucker will have you covering your mouth), and the largely ignored Colin Farrell, who delivers countless one liners that will leave you quoting for weeks (Wait until you see his outtakes!). Sudeikis fails to grab many of the chuckles and he passes himself off as a second rate Nick Swardson, who is funnier anyway. The casting could have been a bit stronger without his character. Spacey is clearly having fun but his character descends too far into downright evil territory. I know we are supposed to hate him but c’mon!! Aniston has some eyebrow-raising moments, mostly when she shows up almost nude in one particular scene and fires off more racy innuendos than any character in a Judd Apatow picture. She surprisingly churns out one of her better performances since Office Space. Julie Bowen (Modern Family) also shows up as Spacey’s wife but she is basically ignored in all the chaos.

There isn’t much to say in the way of Horrible Bosses. It’s charming even if it’s consistently raunchy and it’s hard to dislike it. There are clever gags and the film does not overstay it’s welcome by any stretch. It was a nice breather from all the explosions and superheroes that have been zipping around theaters. But I think that filmmakers could have poured a bit more time into this film. It’s a bit rough around the edges and appears rushed at times. You are left feeling that all the events that took place in the film were minor and insignificant. You want to rally behind it but sometimes it’s impossible to do just that. When all is said and done, it never really feels like these horrible bosses have had it stuck to them. Further, it falls short of the sleeper status that I thought would surely follow in its wake. Overall, it grasps at comedy greatness but comes up with comedy goodness. Don’t worry though; it will still have you chuckling to yourself as you punch the clock the next morning.

Grade: B-

Horrible Bosses is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

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