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Weekly Roundup

Weekly Roundup: January 29

Welcome to the first edition of Weekly Roundup, a new feature I hope to publish each weekend that will give me a chance to react to the week’s industry news and provide some quick thoughts on the films and TV shows I’ve been watching (and give people some idea of how much stuff I watch!). Let’s dive right in.

News:

Oscar Noms: The big news of the week has obviously been the announcement of the Oscar nominations. For me, there weren’t a ton of surprises outside of the Best Picture category. The Tree of Life made it, which was a pleasant surprise in spite of the fact that no one seems to know what the heck that movie is really about (other than the nebulous concept of “life,” of course). Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close becomes arguably the worst-reviewed movie to ever be nominated for Best Picture; as of Tuesday, its score on Metacritic was something like 48, which means that reviews were trending slightly negative. It’s the only Best Pic nominee I haven’t seen, so I can’t comment on whether or not its inclusion was warranted, but it was surprising nonetheless.

The inclusion of War Horse was equally puzzling. It has underperformed in many of the guild award nominations that Spielberg movies traditionally do well in, so there was a sense that support for the film was softening, but the Academy wouldn’t be deterred. As I wrote on Twitter (follow me @wonderifuwonder), Oscar voters who voted for this movie ahead of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo clearly don’t live on the same plane of reality as me. Richard Corliss of Time Magazine wrote in his review that “War Horse will leave only the stoniest hearts untouched.” Well, it appears I’ve reached a new level of cynicism, because War Horse is so corny it only took about 8 minutes of it for me to begin questioning my life as a film scholar and start wondering if law school is still an option.

Snubs: Second guessing the Oscar noms has become its own cottage industry. Among the more high-profile snubs are Leonard DiCaprio for J. Edgar (no one seemed to like the movie much), Michael Fassbender for Shame (apparently the Academy is still more prudish than we thought), and Albert Brooks (and Ryan Gosling) for Drive, which was probably the single biggest surprise on nominations morning given that he had been considered a frontrunner for the award for months. (And just like that, the seas parted for Christopher Plummer.) Also notable is Dragon Tattoo getting snubbed for Best Pic, which, though not an enormous surprise on its own, now means that David Fincher has had at least three superior movies (Fight Club, Zodiac, and Dragon Tattoo) get passed over by the Academy for nominations in that category. There’s something about the guy that the Academy doesn’t like, and I just don’t get it. (This is why we all should take the Oscars with a grain of salt.)

Canadian director Guy Maddin. Could you imagine this guy winning an Oscar?

DGA: This week also saw the Director’s Guild of America hand out their annual awards, with Michel Hanazavicius walking away with the top prize for The Artist. If you’re read my guide to predicting the Oscars, you’ll know that the DGA award is the single biggest predictor for the Best Director and Best Picture awards, which means that The Artist is now the prohibitive favorite in those races. I wouldn’t vote for it personally (there are at least a few movies I liked better this year, including The Descendants, Hugo, and Midnight in Paris), but it’s still pretty great to see a ballsy decision pay off. I mean seriously, who makes silent films anymore? (Well, Guy Maddin does, but could you imagine the Academy voting for him?)

A Fond Farewell to Chuck: In non-Oscar news, NBC’s Chuck signed off this week after five strong seasons. A personal favorite of mine, Chuck was the perfect show for the big-dreaming geeks among us, a unique combination of good humor and great action. It never insulted the intelligence of its viewers, which has got to be the cardinal sin for TV shows (take note, The Killing and pretty much every show on CBS), and one can only hope that its stars (Zachary Levi and Yvonne Strahovski) go on to bigger and better things. My favorite running gag on the show: the Buy More (the show’s send-up of enormous retail box stores like Best Buy) and its main competitor, Large Mart. I’d totally shop at a place called Large Mart, wouldn’t you?

Viewings & Reactions:

Geeks and Guns: The Chuck Formula

Chuck Finale: A fitting farewell, with a strong emphasis on Chuck and Sarah’s romance. Well done, and without giving away too many spoilers, a reminder to other serialized shows that you don’t necessarily have to tie up every loose end for the show to still be satisfying. (Lost apparently didn’t get the memo.)

Pan Am Reaches New Levels of Ineptitude: Just for fun, watch this week’s episode of Pan Am back-to-back with Mad Men’s JFK assassination episode, “The Grown-Ups.” Point/Counterpoint in how to appropriately handle real-world tragedy. I feel bad for Christina Ricci.

Whitney: God help me, I’m actually starting to like the show a bit. After an incredibly poor start, it’s righted the boat somewhat, with greater emphasis on the idiosyncrasies of Whitney’s character. I’ve always been a fan of Whitney Cummings’ stand-up, which is consistently funny and insightful, so there may be some hope for the show. It’s sure as heck better than NBC’s other sitcom about a foul-mouthed funny woman, Are You There, Chelsea?

The Challenge: Battle of the Exes: What, you expected me to stick to scripted shows? Yes, I have a soft spot in my heard for terrible reality shows (I’d actually like to do a research project on The Real World some day), and this is certainly a good example of that. I’m consistently impressed by the producers’ ability to line up a string of generally terrible human beings for these things. For what it’s worth, I’ll be cheering for Naomi and Leroy (from the second edition of The Real World: Las Vegas).

Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud. Teaching us that sometimes a cigar is just a penis.

A Dangerous Method: From MTV to David Cronenberg… good luck finding that type of segue on any other blog. I tend to either love (A History of Violence) or hate (Videodrome) Cronenberg’s movies, and this one fell much closer to the former than the latter. Great stuff from Viggo Mortensen, and I was extremely pleased to see Keira Knightly playing anything other than an English aristocrat. (Okay, she plays a Russian aristocrat, but at least we’re broadening out a bit.) And like any good film about Freud, I came away from this movie thinking that just about everything is secretly a phallic symbol, so there’s that.

Warrior: I’m a big Mixed Martial Arts fan, but Nick Nolte’s performance aside, this movie was a disaster. I defy anyone to find a cheesier ending this side of a Rocky movie (which are pretty clearly the model for this kind of thing). There’s even an evil Russian. If you feel like seeing it, watch The Fighter instead.

Pina: An Oscar-nominated German documentary by director Wim Wenders that focuses on the life and influence of modern dance choreographer Pina Bauch. Someone with a greater knowledge and understanding of dance would probably appreciate the lengthy dance sequences more than I did, but it’s still a pretty beautiful portrait of a women whose influence is evident in the faces and words of her disciples, many of whom are interviewed for the film.

Albert Nobbs: All you need to know: Glenn Close is amazing. Overall a better film than I expected given the mixed reviews it’s getting, and aside from Albert’s tendency to talk to herself for no reason other than to explain the plot to the viewer, it’s well worth your time if you’re interested in a twist on the usual upstairs/downstairs dynamic.

Bullhead: Belgium’s entry into this year’s Foreign Language Film Oscar race, fresh off a nomination on Tuesday. An interesting film that is engaging if a bit scattered. It’s about a Flemish cattle farmer who gets caught up in the affairs of the Belgian mob. Most appealing are the ways it explores the character’s back-story through repeated flashbacks and its exploration of the enormous cultural divide in Belgium between Flemish and French speakers, something I know I’d never even thought about before.

Coming Soon:

Previewing features and articles I’m working on for I Wonder if You Wonder, some of which will be posted this week, some in weeks ahead, and others that’ll be abandoned due to laziness or frustration. (Hey, at least I’m up front about it.)

  • On Rooney Mara and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: The question of why movies with female leads consistently get snubbed for award nominations, the origins of her awesome name, and how David Fincher knew she was perfect for the role of Lisbeth Salander.
  • David Fincher and Trent Reznor: The Social Network, Dragon Tattoo, and why this unlikely pairing of director and composer work so damn well together.
  • Paradise Lost and The Thin Blue Line: Two documentaries that share a remarkable distinction.

That’s it from me for now. Have a great week, and for all that is holy, go see a movie! (Or at least watch The Challenge on MTV. That would be okay too.)

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About A.J. Simpson

Creator and moderator of I Wonder if You Wonder.

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