Mini-Reviews: 2011’s Oscar Nominees

Happy Friday (Friday) {Gotta get down on Friday}, everyone.  Normally this signifies the end of our blogging week here at Kevin Reviews Things.  This week – not so fast, my friends!  We’re going all the way up to the Academy Awards with blogs tomorrow and on Sunday.  Tomorrow, I’ll review the Oscar nominations, and on Sunday, I’ll present the 1st Annual Brownies – my version of the Oscars.  (Start filling out your Brownies office pools if you haven’t already.)  Today, it’s mini-review time to catch up on every Oscar-nominated film I haven’t reviewed yet on the blog.  And here’s the generic gimmick – in five sentences or less!  (Yes, there are probably going to be a lot of run-on sentences here.)  On we go!  In alphabetical order!  With lots of exclamation marks!

——

Beginners (Nominated for Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer)

This is a movie that I resisted for a while before finally buying in.  It’s almost a little too cute, with a somewhat depressing yet ultimately optimistic view of relationships, but it wins you over by the end.  Plummer is quite good as a 75-year old man who reveals he is gay after the death of his wife and stars a brand-new lifestyle.  But his virtual lock status heading into the Oscars feels more like a lifetime achievement award – there are probably better performances to choose from.  Strong central performances from Ewan McGregor and Melanie Laurent and a sharp editing style turn this into a good one.

Grade: B+

Yes, Ewan was better in Beginners than this.

Bridesmaids (Best Supporting Actress: Melissa McCarthy, Best Original Screenplay)

Bridesmaids isn’t the raucous laugh-fest that I was led to believe by an ad campaign painting it as the female version of The Hangover, but it’s still quite funny and very sweet in moments.  Kristen Wiig and Rose Byrne both stand out from a tremendous ensemble as two bridesmaids dueling to run their friend’s wedding.  While McCarthy has received all the accolades, Byrne is the film’s secret weapon.  And a big credit goes to Chris O’Dowd, who stands out in a mostly female cast, helped by some very sharp and realistic writing.  BAM, ONE SENTENCE TO SPARE.

Grade: B+

The Descendants (Best Picture, Best Director: Alexander Payne, Best Actor: George Clooney, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing)

The first third of this movie is nothing special, marred by a bunch of annoying voiceover that makes you wonder if Alexander Payne lost the script.  The final two-thirds hits every dramatic and humorous beat possible and elevates The Descendants to a worthy Best Picture candidate.  George Clooney has been criticized in some circles for “being George Clooney”, which is odd, since “being George Clooney” means being one of the best actors in Hollywood.  And this is as strong of a Clooney performance as I’ve seen.  I just wish they had figured out that first act…

Grade: A-

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (Best Actress: Rooney Mara, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing)

Technically superb in every aural and visual way, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo still didn’t shake me as much as I’d hoped.  Mara anchors a memorable lead performance, but Steven Zallian’s script seems intent on cramming in as many details as possible with little appreciation for keeping the audience’s attention at times.  David Fincher knows what he’s doing here, and the film looks great, but I just wish I had cared more while watching this.  Sadly, despite the talent involved, it doesn’t reach the dizzying heights provided by the book.

Grade: B-

Doing the Rockaway.

Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: Part II (Best Art Direction, Best Makeup, Best Visual Effects)

Potter – Version 7.2 – deserves all three of its Oscar nominations here, but sadly, nothing else.  I don’t think I was more disappointed by any 2011 release, with the epic, thrilling conclusion being stripped of all tension and thrown into an abandoned courtyard.  I blame screenwriter Steve Kloves more than anyone else for the relative failure of the Potter film series, a bunch of movies that were more good than bad but could have been so much better.  Why can’t Aaron Sorkin write everything?  I give it ten years until they reboot the whole damn thing.

Grade: C

The Help (Best Picture, Best Actress: Viola Davis, Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, Best Supporting Actress: Jessica Chastain)

A fairly slow-moving and not-always-interesting story permeates The Help, but it’s nearly negated by a bevy of great performances.  Davis and Spencer are front-runners for their respective awards, though Chastain and Bryce Dallas Howard do just as much to steal the show.  The Help is a big crowd-pleaser, and there’s nothing wrong with that, even if it’s not quite Best Pic-worthy.  And oh, Emma Stone, I love you so, but why isn’t your accent more consistent here?

Grade: B-

The Ides of March (Best Adapted Screenplay)

A George Clooney-directed movie featuring Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright…and this only got ONE Oscar nomination?  It seems like every performance cancelled every other one out, because this is a film full of tremendous acting.  It’s a fairly standard story, though well-told and well-acted, and every actor or actress gets at least one home run scene.  Nothing revolutionary, but still worth watching.

Grade: B+

The Iron Lady(Best Actress: Meryl Streep, Best Makeup)

The Iron Lady never establishes any forward momentum, choosing to take its story up and down, left and right in a strangely assembled and edited screenplay.  It picks seemingly random moments from the life of Margaret Thatcher and throws them together at the screen.  But in terms of its nominated categories, it’s certainly worth the two nods it’s gained.  Streep is a technical marvel as Thatcher, playing her in her early years of Parliament and in the present day, thanks to an astonishing makeup job that paints Streep as a 70-something Thatcher.  Without her, this would be just about worthless.

Grade: C-

Moneyball (Best Picture, Best Actor: Brad Pitt, Best Supporting Actor: Jonah Hill, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Sound Mixing, Best Film Editing)

Give credit where credit is due to Brad Pitt and screenwriters Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zallian for turning a book about on-base percentage into an Oscar-nominated monster.  Moneyball mostly works, but its biggest problem is one it can’t overcome – the source material itself.  When push comes to shove, this is still a film about baseball statistics, and the movie squeezes as much heart as it can out of the story while being somewhat limited.  I liked this, don’t get me wrong, but Pitt was much better in The Tree Of Life this year…and why, exactly, is Jonah Hill nominated?

Grade: B

The Muppets (Best Original Song: “Man Or Muppet”)

The original song category is an absolute travesty this year, with only two songs nominated, and the best two tunes from The Muppets (“Life’s A Happy Song”, “Pictures In My Head”) missing out.  “Man or Muppet” should still crush whatever song from Rio got a nomination.  But it’s a shame The Muppets were stopped there, as it’s the happiest and most purely enjoyable movie I’ve seen in a long time.  And I was near tears for a good chunk of the film the first time.  (And even closer to tears the second time.  I NEED A SIXTH SENTENCE BECAUSE I LOVED THIS SO MUCH.)

Grade: A

I’m not even going to make a snarky comment here, I just loved this movie so damn much.

Rango (Best Animated Feature)

Thank goodness director Gore Verbinski got out of the Pirates of the Caribbean blockbuster machine, because Rango is an absolute animated blast.  The wacky character designs and great voice work make it easy to see why this is the front-runner for the year’s best film.  Hans Zimmer’s score is superb, Johnny Depp’s lead lizard is fantastically bizarre, and the film is a loving homage to classic westerns.  (And Timothy Olyphant’s one-scene impression of a certain someone is terrific.)

Grade: B+

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Best Actor: Gary Oldman, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score)

Tinker Tailor is a technical marvel.  Its cinematography and art direction probably should have been nominated, and its amazing cast of actors is led by a perfectly measured performance from Oldman.  There’s just one problem – it’s a totally confusing mess, screenplay-wise, and took four people and ten minutes staring at the poster afterward to sort it out when I watched.  (Wait…is that a screenplay nomination?  What?)

Grade: B

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8 responses to “Mini-Reviews: 2011’s Oscar Nominees

  1. Kevin, Good calls! I especially agree with your take on Clooney. Not sure if I can say he is under appreciated in light of his nominations but I think his looks underplay just how talented he is. If you want to see him really shine, watch him in Michael Clayton. I’d give both The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and Tinker, Tailor a B+.

    • Michael Clayton is great, another outstanding Clooney performance. I had some trouble following it – haven’t seen it in about four years now, though.

      • Understood, Michael Clayton is complicated and needs to watched at least twice to figure out the the twists and turns. I’ve seen it multiple times and still find it interesting. Time for you to give it another “look see.”

  2. I found Melissa McCarthy’s performance in “Bridesmaids” to be deserving of all the acclaim she has received. By far, it was the best performance I’ve ever seen of anyone to take a massive dump in a sink.

  3. I Enjoyed Bridesmaids, because i watch movies to be entertained and not have to think, but i could have done without seeing one bridesmaid vomit on an-others head. I hope i don’t ruin that for anyone who has not seen the movie.

  4. I really think you shortchanged Bridesmaids here. That was the funniest movie I’ve seen in a long time. I honestly cannot come up with a bad performance in it. It was one of the few comedies that perfectly blended physical humor (ex: including vomiting and dumping in a sink) with clever writing. It managed to be ridiculous but not stupid.

    • A B+ isn’t that shortchanging, though I don’t think I enjoyed it quite as much as you. Still a very good movie though.

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