Tuesday, May 26, 2015

4 Ways a Best Picture Bloggers Roundtable: 2004

I'm not going to lie.  I'm horribly hungover.  I had a real late night last night and I've been struggling to get this compiled this morning, especially since I had yesterday off and I was unable to get anything put together yesterday.  I've been on the verge of puking all morning.  

I want to die.

I want to lie in bed and have someone come put me out of my misery.

This all seems oddly appropriate for the year in question!  LOL, it's time for our panel to discuss the year that was 2004 and Oscar's Best Picture (Best Picture, Animated, Foreign and Documentary) winners.

First, let's reintroduce our panel of experts:

Britt from Rambling Film
Drew (me, duh) from A Fistful of Films
Jeffery from jdbrecords
Wendell from Dell on Movies

We want to include a link to the director’s website, as she posts updates on the kids featured in this doc

Drew:  It’s time to talk Born into Brothels.

Britt:  This doc mad me so sad, I wanted to punch the adults that were yelling at the kids, calling them ‘cunts’…WTF?

Wendell:  The way the adults talked to these kids was flat out ugly.  I’ve heard some abusive language hurled at kids in my day, but this was on another level.  It’s no wonder they felt like they were bound to work the same slum.  Every grown-up who claimed to care about them told them they were worthless.

Drew:  Yes, I wrote down in my notes, “I hate people”, and it’s a shame, but that’s what this doc did to me.

Kevin:  I wrote down a quote that fits this heartbreaking story to perfection:
“One has to accept that life is sad and painful…” ~ Kochi
How sad to be a child with that level of awareness.  To know at 10 years old that you’re pretty much doomed.  One of these poor kids actually said that…and believed it!

Drew:  Yeah, it’s just emotionally crippling to watch these real life stories unfold, and having this particular story told through the mouths of children made such a sharper and more crushing impact.  It’s hard to disconnect from your own human feelings when watching this, because I hated every single grownup that subjected those children to that environment and prevented them from moving forward and yet, you have to realize that, as those kids admit, in time they will grow up to be those adults, which means that those adults were at one time these kids.  Life just fucking sucks.

Wendell:  It’s incredible sad to have already resigned yourself to such a pitiful fate that young.  Listening to the kids talk, it was like all this photography stuff was fun, but was ultimately going to be a short-lived fantasy and that they’d soon find themselves either prostituting themselves of being one of the drunks who uses them.  That’s a crushing thing to hear, especially for a dad.  It’s hard listening to kids that have no hope.

Drew:  Yes, as a parent this broke me.

Britt:  I thought it was very well put together, but it felt a little aimless at times.  I think it was a pacing issue.  I found it very interesting for the most part.

Jeffery:  The film is a little bit jumbled, much like the lives and details within the frame.  The editing was very heavy, sometimes jarring.

Drew:  This is purely from a ‘Hollywood has brainwashed me’ standpoint, but the end felt like such a FUCKING LETDOWN!  Like, this is not what I signed up for.  So, I guess that adds to you ‘pointless’ comment, Britt, since for me I walked away asking myself, “What was this all for?”

Britt:  That’s a question I saw a lot online in regards to this film.  A lot of people seem to think this doc was a vanity project for the director.

Drew:  Yeah, it struck me as odd upon reflection, and while it certainly raises awareness to a serious condition, elements cause me to get almost a self-promotional feel to the direction here.

Wendell:  Watching this was a gut-wrenching experience.  Right from the start it’s very absorbing stuff.  It’s just impossible not to fall in love with these kids.  I was particularly drawn to the one girl who we seemed to focus on most.  I think that was Puja.  What an incredible personality and tons of heart to go with it.  I both cheered for and was afraid for her when they took their cameras out into the street to take pictures and there were people ready to rip their heads off.  She wasn’t to be deterred.  Fell in love with her right there.  Actually, I fell in love with all of them.  This doc definitely has that effect on you.  Telling the story through their eyes was a perfect artistic choice.

Kevin:  I actually found the whole premise to be a bit unnecessary.  By that, I mean, if you go to a place like the slums of Calcutta, your first focus shouldn’t be to teach the kids photography.  How about literacy, maybe some math, then photography.  That’s the teacher in me there.  These kids need the whole package.  They don’t need some lady to drop some cameras off and then fill them with the hope of being artists.  I’m all about big dreams, but survival must be obtained before one can advance to artistic aspirations.

Drew:  Maybe that’s why most prominent people she talked to about her ‘project’ looked at her like she was an idiot.

Britt:  Kevin, I did have that though as well.  “Why cameras?”  But I suppose that’s what the artist in her wanted. 

Jeffery:  The use of cameras was an interesting way to see the struggles and realities of their daily lives.  There’s a stark, ironic moment when we suddenly see their pictures displayed at Sotheby’s.

Kevin:  Other than that, though, I found this movie perfectly well-made, interesting, beautiful at times, and ultimately heartbreaking.

Drew:  I did ugly face cry.  That moment at Sotheby’s was moving, for sure.

Kevin:  I certainly has no goals other than to just ‘show us’ ‘what’s going on’ ‘over there’ with no way to move forward.  Like Drew said, “Life just fucking sucks.”  This movie preached to the choir a bit.

Drew:  That why the conclusion upset me.  It was like…give me something to hold onto…don’t get my hopes up and then cop out with a “by the way, they’re all still going to grow up to be prostitutes” kind of ending.  Honestly, there was a point where I was like “TAKE MY MONEY NOW!  GIVE ME THOSE PHOTOS!  SAVE THESE CHILDREN!”

Kevin:  I did too man.  Poor little Avijit though.  I wanted to take that boy home with me and teach him about the finer things.  He had the true artistic skill and the worst life.  Lost him mother, druggie father, etc.  This movie DOES make you love these kids.  At least a couple got to stay in school, and I was very happy to see that the filmmaker did eventually run through the bureaucracy and help them apply to good schools.  What a horror of a place making people go through such craziness to go to school!

Jeffery:  I can understand the misgivings some may feel with the filmmaker, but I think she did admirable work.

Wendell:  The premise was a bit odd, I agree.  My first thought was also, why not math or reading, but I have to commend Zana because she found a way to reach the kids.  It also helps that it’s something she’s enthusiastic about.  The other things might have been more practical, but a teacher is best when they themselves are excited about the subject and it shows here.

Drew:  Yeah, the more I think about it the more I understand where Zana was coming from…why she went this route.  I feel like we’re being a little hard on Zana.  She had great intentions and she came up with an avenue of expression she felt could help, even if it wasn’t the best (it was certainly more entertaining than teaching math), and it wasn’t her fault that it kind of failed.  I guess that it’s more my own expectations that got to me.  Like, I wanted all these kids to get adopted by beautiful loving families and go to great schools and become the special adults that they are meant to grow into, and so when those title cards of complete letdown started popping up, I was sick to my stomach.

Kevin:  No doubt.  It sounds like we’re hating.  Not at all.  I really liked this movie.  Quite a bit.  It has plenty to love.  First and foremost, I love being exposed to something I know nothing about.  Second, Zana obviously cares a great deal for these children, her work, and the work they did together.  She took a big gamble putting cameras in these kids hands and it paid off and then some.  She really was able to fashion a great narrative out of that.  The whole thing was completely immersive.
Drew:  Anyone else feel like about halfway through, Zana realized she was in over her head.  Even the way she interacted with some of the kids read of panic.

Britt:  I agree with Drew.  She sort of lost her focus.  Probably from panic? 

Wendell:  The ending is what seals the deal on the heartbreak.  While watching, we just know we’re being set up for their miraculous turnaround, especially after she gets so many to enroll in that school.  Then one by one, they seem to give up on their dreams and return to being hopeless.  After that, when those title cards popped up confirming the worst for most of them, I was devastated.  I just sat staring at the screen blankly.  Basically, the rug had been pulled from beneath my feet.

Drew:  Yup, exactly how I felt.  I was stunned…and wholly pissed off.

Wendell:  Yeah, it was a harsh, cold ending.

Drew:  But maybe that’s what we needed, a rude awakening.  The question is, did this raise the right amount of awareness?  When we see what others experience in these 3rd World Countries, it’s jarring because it’s so foreign to us.  We feel bad for the children of those Teen Mom MTV girls and yet, those kids live like kings compared to these poor children.  Like has been mentioned, these kids LOVE this, and they know nothing else.

Britt:  I’m just glad she updated her site because the end credits of this film were depressing.  Some of the kids whose parents made them stay in the brothels did get to school eventually.

Kevin:  Hell yes!  Just looked that that site.  Little Avijit went to NYU Film School.

Drew:  Maybe life doesn’t fucking suck!!!

Wendell:  It she was able to get those kids into school and out of the hell they were in through the donations and contributions as she claimed, then yes, it raised the right amount of awareness.

Drew:  And if that’s the case, then I’m resigned to say, “Oscar deserved.”  A-.  Artistic, raw, problematic and yet it truly reaches you, and like has been pointed out, it made a difference.

Wendell:  It definitely reaches you.  Based on how much the movie was able to draw me in and move me, emotionally, in multiple directions, I have to agree and go A-.

Jeffery:  I give it a B.

Britt:  I give it a B too.

Kevin:  I was moved enough by this to overcome my own misgivings.  I’m going B+.


Drew:  So, let’s talk about the first of two ‘cripples in a bed want help dying’ movies that AMPAS creamed all over this year; The Sea Inside.

Kevin:  I would find this movie extremely hard to like if Bardem wasn’t such a phenomenal actor.  His performance is truly powerful.  But seriously, was assisted suicide a hot topic in the news that year?  We just got gone with Remy and the Barbarians, now this?  And then, well, you know…

Wendell:  Thinking back to ‘03/’04, I can’t remember euthanasia being the hot button topic, but it seems like the Academy was going apes over it with this, that other movie we’ll talk about and The Barbarian Invasions from ’03.   I will say, I enjoyed The Sea Inside at least a trillion times better than The Barbarian Invasions, though.  It starts with the fact that I actually like Ramon.  Even though he clearly felt sorry  for himself, he wasn’t a sourpuss about it and recognized that others want and, in his opinion, deserved the right to die on their own terms. 

Britt:  I loved this one (a lot more than the one we’re going to talk about later).  I thought Bardem was excellent.  My only issues were with Rosa’s character.  I found her to be clingy and kind of bothersome. 

Drew:  I’m with Kevin on this one.  Bardem made this film what it was, but at the end of the day…it wasn’t much, sadly.  I found this so…dull.  Bardem was ver good here, VERY good, and I’ll always be bummed he won the Oscar for his most one-note and mannered performance to date, since he’s such a charismatic and talented actor FULL of range.

Wendell:  It was a good performance, but I’d have to say not as good as his Oscar winning turn.

Kevin:  I think I may be the opposite of you on this, Britt.  Not to say I disliked The Sea Inside.  Quite the contrary.  I found it beautiful at times and truthful about the sort of emotions and questions that come with terminal illness or disability.

Jeffery:  I agree that Bardem is the movie’s main strength.  He’s so expressive and dynamic.  The pristine look of the film and its frequent use of camera movement (perhaps to keep it from feeling static) were interesting techniques.

Britt:  I liked the fact that Roman put in the effort to try and smile every day, and I completely understand his reasons for wanting to end it.

Kevin:  Rosa annoyed me as well.  I was much more interested in the dynamic with Julia.  I totally side with Ramon and his decision to die on his own terms.  If my quality of life was that diminished, I would want to go as well.

Britt:  Agreed.  Julia was more interesting.  Bardem’s performance really elevated it for me.  I thought he was better here than he was in Biutiful.  I was with Ramon 100%.

Kevin:  I loved the relationship between Ramon and the nephew.  So touching.  And the scene where the priest comes to talk to him out of killing himself was just filled with genius writing.  Genius.  So funny too!

Wendell:  Yes, the scene with the priest is amazing!  I felt bad for the kid who had to play messenger between the two.  Totally agree that this was filled with genius writing.

Drew:  The whole relationship with Rosa was so forced and made no sense and felt so out of place and tonally awkward.

Wendell:  I think Rosa’s character was supposed to be clingy and bothersome.  She was a woman desperately looking for love and thought Ramon was the one to give it to her.  She was willing to go to any lengths to prove it to him even though he clearly didn’t feel the same.  For that reason, even though I didn’t like her, I don’t think we were supposed to.  The relationship with Julia was much more interesting because she was a more interesting person.  She had a lot going on and she was strong on her own rather than looking for strength from him.  That’s far sexier than someone who is entirely needy, like Rosa.

Britt:  Rosa got a bit of redemption as she helped him in the end, but she was awkward.  It was everyone else that was better.  I did have a slight gripe with the way they showed him getting injured.  It felt like it didn’t flow with the rest of the film.

Drew:  Yes, Britt…it felt out of place for me too.  My main issue with this film is that it felt so stagnant.  It never really moved for me.  I agree with Kevin on the priest scene…I found that moment inspired and sharp, but it wasn’t enough to really drag me in here.  I disagree with Britt on Bardem’s performance here vs. his Biutiful perf.  I LOVED him in Biutiful and found the film, while uneven, to completely immerse me in the life of Uxbal.  I felt his motives and I completely understood him as a man, as a father, as a human being.  For me, The Sea Inside fails to really establish Roman as a person.  It sets us up with his backstory (or some of it) and his circumstance and wishes but never really develops them completely.  It just kind of lays it there.  I also found the relationships (not just Rosa’s) that are developed here to be incomplete.  They felt skeletal.  The moment with his nephew just felt so…pointless.  Like, I get it, but it needed to really drive those points home.  It’s like it had things it wanted to say but didn’t know how to really explain them, so it just said stuff and walked away from the moment, completely tossing out the point.

Wendell:  I wasn’t too fond of the relationship with the nephew.  I knew what they were going for, but it felt like forced sweetness.  I thought the relationship with between Ramon and his brother worked better.

Kevin:  Yeah, everything was just a little too scant in this movie to make it great.  Once again, I noted how I wished this movie had hit me harder.  The emotions were not fully there, the relationships were not fully drawn or developed, etc.  I wanted to much more than just a great performance from Bardem and a few moments of humor and beauty and sadness.  The backstory shouldn’t been a much bigger player considering the audience truly needs to know who Ramon was before, not just after.

Drew:  Yeah, all the ‘Bardem with better hair walking the beach’ shit had NO context and so it felt so awkward and horrible underdeveloped.

Jeffery:  Overall I liked The Sea Inside and all of the different character interactions.  For me, the diving accident scene worked.  It felt like a re-recurring nightmare.  Same with the window-jump sequence. 

Wendell:  The way the diving scene played out didn’t bother me.  It felt very surreal as did a lot of things Ramon thought about.  That all had a very dreamy quality to them.  The scenes of Ramon dreaming that he was flying and meeting up with Julia were absolutely beautiful.

Britt:  I don’t think the relationships were incomplete.  I got a good sense of what his nephew meant to him, what Julia did, and how their situation prevented them from going further.  Regarding back story, I think the point of it was that Roman is never going to get any of that back, so we as the audience only need to know what’s happening now, and what will happen going forward.  We can’t dwell on the past, because Ramon doesn’t want to.  He’ll never have that again in his life.

Kevin:  Yeah, the nephew character and Julia were well-developed.  I also really felt something from the brother and sister-in-law characters, but just think how powerful it would be to see the beginning of the story, of them becoming his caretakers.

Wendell:  Oh, can’t forget about the sister-in-law!  She really gave up her entire life to care for him.

Drew:  I guess I can see that narrative point.  He was very adamant about not looking backwards, so maybe that was a directorial choice made to drive that point home.

Wendell:  The backstory was something Ramon himself didn’t want to give up.  He was adamant about it so I thought that it fit well not to have us go through his life before the accident.  He made a point of only looking forward and, understandably, had a hard time when looking back. 

Kevin:  That makes sense as well.  I don’t know, maybe I want too much!

Jeffery:  The movie has a dreamy, ethereal feel.  Bardem coupled with the fact that the story was based on true events made it feel more impactful than it could have been.

Drew:  I didn’t connect to it, so it didn’t work for me, but I get it.

Britt:  I think it would’ve been even more depressing to see all of that taken away in real time.

Drew:  Um, I’m all for depressing it if makes me ugly face cry!  LET ME FEEL!

Kevin:  But, see, I never got super depressed.  YES!!!  I want to cry, Drew.  YES!!!

Drew:  And…this is why my wife says I have a vagina.

Britt:  LOL, see, I hate getting ugly cry face.  It happens too often.  I blame my husband.  He made fun of me for crying in The Hunger Games.  I can’t embrace it anymore.  I’ve been shamed.

Kevin:  It didn’t happen, and I wanted it too.

Drew:  BAH!  I live for crying my eyes out at the movies.  LIVE for it!  Also, I need to say this…but this beat Downfall for the Foreign Language Film Oscar…and like…that movie is a BRILLIANT character study of a very difficult subject.  And, like, Bardem is great here…but Bruno Ganz is otherworldly!

Britt:  I didn’t see any of the other nominees, but Downfall and As It Is in Heaven sounded interesting.

Drew:  You know what did make me ugly face cry…?  The other ‘cripple lays in bed and asks to be murdered’ movie we’re going to talk about later.

Britt:  That gave me something I like to call “bitter bitch face”.  It got none of my tears.  It wasn’t worthy.

Kevin:  I ugly face cried there as well and can’t wait to talk about my feelings on that.  Also, I want to go on record and say that Bardem’s Oscar win is from a genius against-type performance and is not one-note.  It is utterly terrifying.  I can’t wait to discuss 2007!!!  I’m literally chomping at the bit.

Britt:  Yeah, I can’t call Bardem one-note in No Country for Old Men.  Dude was SCARY!

Kevin:  I haven’t seen any of the other nominees for Foreign Language with this one, but I’m sure I would’ve liked one of the other ones at least a little bit better.  My team never wins.

Drew:  UGH, I am so in the minority about that Bardem Oscar win…but we’ll talk about that later.

Wendell:  Again, I haven’t seen any of the other nominees in this category, so I can’t rightfully say how this stacks up.  However, I do know that I liked it a lot.  In the end I felt great for Ramon.  He finally got what he wanted.  I felt back for both Rosa and Julia for different reasons.  I thought he just took advantage of Rosa’s neediness.  She might temporarily feel good about helping Ramon, but would soon find herself back in the same position of looking for love.  Poor Julia reached a point where none of it means anything to her.  I did find myself moved by this movie.  It’s hard to imagine this movie without Bardem.  He definitely elevated everything and everyone around him.  Not sure what this would be like in his absence.  Oh yeah, it was The Barbarian Crapvasions.  Sorry, just can’t let that go.  Anyhoo, I really appreciated The Sea Inside.

Britt:  A- for me!

Drew:  I’m at a…C…

Jeffery:  B+

Kevin:  I wanted it to do more, thought it was quite effective at times.  Bardem is excellent here.  I’m at a B.

Wendell:  A-.


Drew:  So, did we find The Incredibles…incredible?

Kevin:  It truly is incredible!  It’s not the masterpiece that Finding Nemo is, but it is certainly a blast to watch.  And, on re-watch, I was reminded just how funny it is.  I also noted how interestingly well-made it is.  Brad Bird is a genius in my book.  His choice to shoot this to look like a live-action action movie…just brilliant!  The set design/art direction, costumes, etc., are as excellent as the cinematography, and the sort of 60’s jazzy score!  Perfect for the look!  This is an animated movie that is just pure cinema!

Jeffery:  Agree, the jazzy score works well.

Drew:  The score is honestly one of my favorite scores, ever.  One thing that always impressed me about this was the way that it etches out the family dynamic so well, and this never feels like a solitary story, focusing only on Mr. Incredible’s midlife crisis.  It gives equal urgency to ElastiGirl and, to a lesser degree, the kids.  This feels very much like a superhero story that is grounded very firmly in something real…in family.  It was also such an interesting way to weave a superhero film.  So many superhero movies insist on origin stories, which are great but can take a while to get into (at least from an action perspective), but here we have a pre-established hero group that never feels underdeveloped despite not knowing their entire beginnings.  Instead, we get to see how they handle downtime after thriving as heroes, and I found that so interesting and compelling.  And the action here is every bit as good as the action seen in those Marvel movies!

Kevin:  Yes, sir!  There is true brilliance in the way this story is told from the very beginning.  It is unlike any other superhero story.  The opening scenes are equal parts hilarious and informative, giving us just enough exposition to not need a full origin story.  The Mr. Incredible as working stiff is so much fun to watch.  All of these characters seem so real.  I find this a more realistic and truthful portrait of superheroes than anything Marvel has ever done.  In addition to the action, as you mentioned, Drew.

Jeffery:  I didn’t get into the action sequences as much as the layered family dynamics.  That’s kind of a problem on whole with me form movies of the 2000’s and beyond.  The action sure is dazzling technically, but I don’t feel much urgency or danger.

Britt:  I liked this one as well.  Like you guys already said, it’s a different take on a superhero movie and I really liked the family dynamic. 

Wendell:  Love this movie!  This is a brilliant take on the superhero.  Pixar manages to make Mr. Incredible both incredible and relatable.  Same with most of the characters.  It’s terrific that ElastiGirl was as developed as her hubby.  This really added to the family dynamic that worked so well.  The Incredibles is definitely grounded in family.

Kevin:  I totally didn’t give enough credit to the excellent family dynamics at play.  You guys said it all.  I agree all the way around.

Drew:  I’m not gonna lie, I prefer this to The Avengers.  Also, as much as I find Finding Nemo to be the better film (and a lot of that, for me, has to do with a personal connection), this is the sequel I’m most excited for!

Kevin:  After recently watching the new Avengers, I yearned for The Incredibles.  And I’m looking forward to this sequel more as well.

Wendell:  I’ve been waiting for the sequel ever since first seeing this way back when.

Drew:  It’s in the works! 

Jeffery:  A sequel is always in the works.

Drew:  My only real gripe here is that everything that happened on the island was far more exciting than the big ‘city fight scene’ and that scene felt less like ‘King Kong attacks New York’ and more like that tacked on T-Rex moment in The Lost World…unnecessary.  AND…once Jack Jack turns into a demon at the end, I really wished that he had been a bigger part of the movie…but that’s what the sequel is for!

Jeffery:  Hated the cheapie cliffhanger ending.  Otherwise, a pretty crackling, smart film, especially of the animated kind of this era.

Kevin:  I really don’t have any gripes.  Maybe it goes on a bit too long with all the action in the end, but it’s dang near a perfect movie.

Drew:  It’s not really even a gripe from me…it’s just the one aspect of the movie that isn’t as perfect as the rest, for me.

Wendell:  My one real complaint is that it does run a little long.

Kevin:  I do agree that a few minutes could’ve been shaved here and there, especially in the last act.  Bird likes action sequences, doesn’t he?  It’s all so much fun though.

Jeffery:  Yeah, agree that it could have been a nice 90 minutes.

Wendell:  I might not trim it that far down, but 100-105 would’ve been perfect. 

Britt:  I will say, I don’t think this film holds up well after time.  When it first came out, I thought it was one of the best animated movies out there, now it wouldn’t make my top ten.  I do still laugh at all the ‘reasons why capes are terrible’ jokes.

Kevin:  That’s so strange.  I’m exactly the opposite.  I’ve liked it better with each subsequent viewing.  I’ve seen it three times.  My last watch was the best.

Drew:  It’s funny to me that Britt mentioned this not holding up, because I was thinking that before I rewatched it.  I’d kind of forgotten all about it and so I assumed it hadn’t aged well, but when I rewatched it I was sucked right in.

Wendell:  Still holds up as well as it ever has, for me.

Jeffery:  This is the first time I’ve seen it.  It feels fresh and vibrant to me.

Kevin:  Same.  By the way, the voice work in this one is every bit as good as Nemo.  I especially dig Sarah Vowell as Violet.  Her voice is oddly perfect.  And this movie is just so witty and smart, especially early on.  I love it!  I’m so glad that Oscar honors the best Pixar movies.

Jeffery:  The dinner scene is pretty great.  Loved Sarah Vowell as the daughter.

Kevin:  She’s so awesome.

Wendell:  The comedy works very well here.  I laugh often every time I watch this.  I laugh especially hard at the sequence on capes.  I also laugh really hard when FroZone is frantically trying to find his costume while that giant robot is attacking the city.  Sadly, when I can’t find an article of clothing I’ll say to my wife, “Honey, where is my super suit.  Honey, WHERE IS MY SUPER SUIT!?!?”  That reminds me that Samuel L. Jackson is as excellent as ever. 

Britt:  LOL!  Jackson’s voice is definitely my favorite in this.

Jeffery:  The sound design is incredible!  It sounds amazing (it won the Oscar for Sound Editing).  Also loved the voicework.  Holly Hunter was inspired casting.  I think she’s great in this.  Cool end credits.

Drew:  She may be no Dory, but Edna E. Mode is amazing, and the fact that Brad Bird voiced her blows my mind!  Let’s take a second to talk about the weak competition.  Shrek 2 and Shark Tale.  EEK!  Some of y’all mentioned liking Shrek 2 better than the first (I found it a bore) but Shark Tale feels so cheap, despite every famous person ever being in the movie.

Kevin:  I remember nothing of Shrek 2 other than, “it’s sort of funny…”  The end.  I never saw Shark Tale.

Wendell:  The competition was definitely weak, but that doesn’t detract from this film’s greatness.  It just means that AMPAS got it right.  Not sure if I would ever have had this in my Top 10 animated movies of all time, but I’m fairly certain it would be among my Top 10 superhero movies.

Drew:  Probably Top 5.

Wendell:  Giving this a solid A

Kevin:  Grade A

Drew:  I’m also an A

Britt:  Solid B for me.

Jeffery:  B+


Drew:  I’m sure there will be some heavy opinions about this one, so I’ll leave it to you first…let’s talk Million Dollar Baby!

Britt:  I started off kind of bitter about this movie, because I literally got the ending ruined for me when I was standing in line at the theater.

Drew:  FUCK THAT!  I hate when that happens.  I would have been bitter too!  I have to say, I didn’t see the second half of this film coming at all.  I had no idea what all the hoopla was about, why this was suddenly the Oscar frontrunner, but when the second half happened I knew…it made sense…and while I can see why some find it manipulative, I found it remarkably moving and over time have grown to really admire this film.  It also gives me ugly cry face, like pretty much throughout the whole thing.

Britt:  I was deprived of ugly cry face because of said theater patron walking out going, “OMG I CAN’T BELIEVE SHE DIED IN THE END.”  But, bitterness aside, this film was well done top to bottom, and the performances were so strong.  It wasn’t my favorite of the year, but I will never deny that it’s just flat out good.

Drew:  I would have punched said person in the throat and demanded they pay for my movie ticket.

Britt:  I should’ve speared them.  That was on me.  I failed, LOL.

Kevin:  I knew nothing, avoided everything and was just blindsided by the end of this movie.  This is more than a good movie.  It’s a classic piece of American cinema.  It’s classically made.  It’s small but grand in its achievements.  Screen acting almost doesn’t get better for me.  Swank is incredible here, as I went on and on about during the Twice a Best Actress Roundtable.

Drew:  Yup, it’s very, very well made.  Not my favorite of the year either, and I slightly prefer Sideways of Oscar’s lineup, but it’s a very respectable winner. 

Wendell:  The first half of this plays like it’s going to be a female Rocky, but the second half is a very different film.  Luckily both halves work.  It is indeed very moving.  The way the story is told draws you in further and further as it goes along then it does THAT to you.  Manipulative?  Yes.  Excellently done manipulation?  Hell yes!  I’m cool with that.  It’s only manipulative if it doesn’t work.  When it does, we call it emotion.  This movie is very emotional.

Drew:  What do we think of the religious subplot?  I’m always interested in hearing what people think the film is trying to say about religion.

Britt:  With the priest?  I never gave that too much thought.  I think to show Frankie made the ultimate sacrifice at the end?

Kevin:  I never really gave the religion angle much thought either, apart from relating to a character so bitter about life and the way religion doesn’t seem to help him the way it does other people. 

Drew:  I always found it interesting that Frankie continues to go to church, apparently seeking some sort of solace for his past offences as a father, husband, person and yet the priest vocally considers Frankie unworthy of it…and so outside of the church Frankie finds his solace in an unexpected face and ultimately reaches personal redemption in acts that are outright condemned by church.  I just always found that an interesting angle to weave into the fabric of the story.

Wendell:  Honestly, I don’t think there really was a religious aspect, at least not in the sense of making some statement about religion.  I think all of that was really an effort to drive home different parts of Frank’s being.  When with the priest, we got to see him at his most cynical and his most vulnerable, since he was clearly pining over the relationship with his daughter.  This gave his relationship with Maggie a little extra oomph so that what eventually happens would have maximum impact on both Frank and the audience.

Kevin:  I really find the scenes between Frankie and the priest funny and enlightening.  Haggis’ script is really great, highly engaging.  Morgan Freeman’s voiceover is perfection.  I don’t care how much it’s done.  When the writing is good like it is here and in Shawshank, it just works.

Britt:  I will NEVER complain about a Morgan Freeman voice over.  He can narrate everything as far as I’m concerned.

Kevin:  Same.  His work here is so Oscar worthy.  I loved that win especially.  And how good is Eastwood’s score!  Old dude Robert Rodriguez-ed this thing, as he did a lot at that point in his career.  Back to Haggis’ script and Freeman’s voiceover.  There is nothing I love more than that scene where Maggie is training herself, shrouded in shadows and that gorgeously written voiceover declares a love for the challenges of boxing, how it is “an unnatural act” in that boxers are trained to step into punches when the fight instinct tells us to run away.  That is the beauty of all sports.  The intricacies of boxing are nailed here.

Drew:  Eastwood’s score and direction are great here…but I’m more impressed by his tremendous performance.  Like, I’d argue that he was the very best of Oscar’s personal lineup.

Kevin:  Agreed.  I haven’t seen Ray, so I can’t speak for Jamie Foxx’s win.  Eastwood was pretty much a true one man show in making this movie perfect.

Drew:  Foxx’s moment of mimicry feels, in retrospect, like a really great SNL impersonation.

Kevin:  I avoid biopics.  I almost never love them.

Drew:  There was a time when I consumed them because I found real life to be so fascinating, but then they all became so much of the same.

Britt:  I thought Foxx was excellent in Ray.  I was rooting for DiCaprio because I always do, but I was fine with his win.

Wendell:  The acting was superb across the board.  Swank delivers a knockout performance…I know, easy, weak clichéd pun.  Doesn’t change the fact she was fabulous here.  She was perfect for and perfect in this role.  Clint did his grumpy old man thing to marvelous effect.  Morgan Freeman is great in the sidekick role and, of course, nails the narration.  That voice is so magnificent I’m mesmerized whenever I hear it.  I can listen to him wax poetic about anything; life in jail, life in a boxing ring, life as a penguin.  Anything.  Always loved Anthony Mackie.  He’s been excellent in everything I’ve seen him in, including some real clunkers.  Glad he’s got a shot to rake in some big bucks by becoming part of the Marvel machine.  The real surprise, though, is Jay Baruchel as Danger.  Too bad he gets lost in the glare of all the star power surrounding him, but I thought he was excellent.  BTW, I think the Academy got it right on the acting awards with wins for Swank, Freenman and a nod, but no win for Clint.  I thought Foxx was amazing as Ray Charles.  I don’t know if he was as good as Don Cheadle or Leonardo DiCaprio that year, either.  If I had my druthers, Id’ take away Depp’s nom (even though I’m not a JD hater) and give it to Paul Giamatti for Sideways, another performance I’d have ahead of Clint’s.  Sounds like I’m bashing Clint, but I’m not.  I just love those other performances more.  Plus, this is the first year where I get to flex a little muscle, having seen many more of the nominated films than I have for the previous years we discussed.

Drew:  How do we feel about Maggie’s family?  I know that many who actually like this movie loathe those characters and feel that they are cheap clichés that bring the film down a bit.  I do find them obvious extremes and rather distasteful (like, they are loathsome people), but Margo Martindale is so viciously funny (unintentionally) and so I kind of love that they’re in the film, no matter how ridiculous they are.

Kevin:  Maggie’s family is a bit overwritten to achieve a certain effect, but I don’t care.  I know people who think like that.  I live in the rural South, and people are so like that.  Looking for handouts, abusing the system, perpetuating the stereotypes, if you know what I mean.  It’s not really a cliché, even though I hate that that’s the depiction of the South in the media.

Drew: Fucking Disney Land.

Kevin:  LOL!  So true.

Wendell:  Maggie’s family works in much the same way as the priest.  They’re really there to make Frank look like a much more preferable option to Maggie.  It’s strengthening one bond by stressing the weakness of the other bonds.  While they are certainly outrageous caricatures, there is some truth to them.  I know too many people with the same mentality and Martindale absolutely killed it.  Would love to have seen her get an Oscar nod for this.  She is awesome every time I see her and this is no exception.

Britt:  Maggie’s family was too over the top.  They were like cartoons.

Kevin:  I see that, Britt, but I also have to say that I think that plays to the strength of this movie.  It is a movie…after all.  To me, this movie wants to tap into your emotions.  It doesn’t want to be super realistic the way I see it.  Million Dollar Baby plays like a movie from a different time.  I guess people do see that as manipulative.  I love these things about it.

Drew:  A different time is a great description as this reminded me of something you’d see made in the 40’s.  I have to say, I made the mistake of watching this when my firstborn was a few days old (she had colic and I was stuck on the couch for days) and the whole “Mo Cushle” scene ruined me.

Kevin:  Oh, dude.  Yes!  The final lines of Freeman’s voiceover over the final shot.  That’s when the levee breaks for me.  It really does have this feel of an earlier era of Hollywood, Drew.  It’s classically cinematic storytelling.  And Maggie is so badass!!!  “See the way she did that?  Sugar Ray would do that.  Girl’s got sugar.”

Jeffery:  The movie is borderline mawkish but it’s pretty solid as a throwback weepie.  Now a fan of Eastwood’s acting here, but Swank and Freeman make it work.  Also love Margo Martindale.  This isn’t one that has much re-watchability.  It’s slow-paced and fairly grim, but it’s a solidly-made picture.

Drew:  I like that term, throwback weepie.

Wendell:  I’m more than okay with this getting Best Pic, but I wouldn’t gripe if it were Sideways or Ray, either.  My only real beef with this movie is the way the boxing scenes are filmed.  For the most part, it looks nothing like boxing.  I’ve been a fan of the sport since Muhammad Ali was still floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee.  I’ve seen a fight or two.  This movie is terrible in that regard.  I lied, there is one other thing.  Maggie meets Frank after she wins a fight on the undercard of a highly touted contender.  To get to that point, she would already have to be at least somewhat accomplished as a fighter.  Trim that off, have her meet for Frank for the very first time when she wanders into the gym and tidy up the boxing sequences, and you’d have a flawless film.

Kevin:  Wendell, now I have to watch this again and really pay attention to the boxing scenes.  I never notices anything that stood out.  Granted, I have only gotten into the sport in the last few years.

Drew:  Cinderella Man, in my eyes, had stronger boxing scenes.

Kevin:  I can dig that.  Love that movie.  Million Dollar Baby had me so emotionally involved I never noticed.  And I feel like this movie loves the sport.

Wendell:  Too many of the fights where she hits someone once or twice and they collapse to the canvas and never get up.  The one fight that went on for a bit was just her and her opponent taking turns hitting each other without missing.  That’s just not how boxing works, at all.  I’d say the movie loves boxing from a philosophical standpoint, but fails to capture the nuances of its physicality.

Kevin:  I get that.  I think that’s just as well for me.

Wendell:  Obviously not a deal breaker because it’s still a great movie.

Kevin:  Definitely.

Jeffery:  B+

Britt:  I give it a B

Drew:  A- for me.

Kevin:  A+.  Boom!

Wendell:  A-, the minus for those fight scenes and the fact that it was a strong field for Best Pic noms.


YEAR SCORE: 303/400


1) The Incredibles (82 Points)
2) Million Dollar Baby (80 Points)
3) Born Into Brothels (73 Points)
4) The Sea Inside (68 Points)

Closing Comments

Drew:  Once again, it’s closing comments time!  I think I may be team superheroes this year.

Kevin:  To me, this is the most overall solid year so far.  I failed to mention my love for some of the other BP nominees in Sideways, which I would also grade A+ and probably prefer as the winner.  And Finding Neverland…talk about ‘ugly cry face’.  But I really found all of these winners to be rich and engrossing.  And I’m right with you with the superheroes, Drew.

Britt:  This was a solid year, and it will always be special to me because this is the year I started to get into awards seasons.

Drew:  I love this year, as a film year, but Oscar’s slate was so…safe.  I love Sideways and Million Dollar Baby…but there was so much better to be seen.  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of the most brilliant movies…EVER!  Dogville, Mean Creek, Vera Drake, Mean Girls, Clean, Birth, Spider-Man 2, Brothers, Maria Full of Grace, I Heart Huckabees, We Don’t Live Here Anymore, Closer…UGH, this year!

Kevin:  Oh, I Heart Huckabees!  I heart that flick.

Britt:  Love so many of those flicks you mentioned…except Dogville, UGH…LOL.

Wendell:  Best year so far as the winners go.  4 excellent movies with none that I’d call weak link.  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind would be my personal winner with Maria Full of Grace as my top foreign film.  This was the start of a 2 year stint working at Blockbuster for me, which really broadened my cinematic horizons.  As proof it was the first year I’ve seen all the Best Pic noms.  Yes, the Oscars were safe, but it was a good kind of safe.

Jeffery:  Closer and Hotel Rwanda were my favorites of the year.  Also remember liking Million Dollar Baby and The Aviator when they came out, but they don’t have much re-watchability factor.  I think they could have been more adventurous with their Best Director and Actress choices.

Drew:  Yeah, like by rewarding Kate Winslet for one of the greatest comedic performances of all time!

Jeffery:  Kate Winslet was amazing in that!

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  1. It would have been perfect if Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind had won. The film is so perfect. Million Dollar Baby is great too. I liked it a lot. And The Incredibles is incredible. What can I say, is INCREDIBLE. Also The Aviator was good, it looked great and DiCaprio wasn't bad but it was so long. It goes to much into Martin-Scorsese-wants-an-Oscar category for me. I don't remember it very well but I liked Finding Neverland, it was okay. I never saw neither Ray nor Sideways. I'm kind of sad that Clint Eastwood never won the Oscar for acting, he is an icon in acting already. Also Closer was fantastic, I love that film. No mention for either Before Sunset nor Kill Bill: Vol. 2? Fair enough. That's a really a something. I love both of these films.
    I would love to see the Academy giving awards to more darker films or to more family friendly films, not just Oscar baiting shit.

    1. Yeah, for me The Aviator is handsomely made and yet SO MUCH Oscar bait, and not in a wholly engaging way. Finding Neverland is, upon reflection, rather slight. It's just a 'nice' movie, but there isn't much more to it than that.

      Like I said, Oscar's ballot was really, really safe. Personally, it's 'dull' safe, especially considering the films that could have been nominated.

      Love Before Sunset and Kill Bill, vol. 2. I'm also surprised they didn't get mentioned between us, but you can't always think of everything on the fly like that.

  2. I loved The Incredibles, but I wasn't a fan of Million Dollar Baby. I didn't hate it, but I personally found it to be emotionally manipulative towards the end and while they were good, I didn't think that the main actors were breaking any new ground. It didn't really click with me. If Eternal Sunshine had been nominated, it would've easily been my pick.

    1. I really wish that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind could have been a Best Picture contender. I bet it would have made it in an expanded field!

  3. The Sea Inside got the lowest score and it was my favorite of the four. Damn. lol

  4. The smaller range in scores speaks to the overall quality of this year's winners. Solid from top to bottom, for me.

  5. I remember that documentary winning and I looked it up and thought it would be depressing and most of those kids are adults now and not in a good place except for that one girl it seems. If you save one, you have done well. I have not seen the foreign film but having euthanasia become legal has always been a battle in Canada and last year it made strides. I love "The Incredibles". One of my favourites was the main dad/hero. I also loved the lady who created the costumes-perfect Edith Head. I finally saw "Million Dollar Baby" last year and , at first, I was thinking it was a female Rocky but then it became more involved. It was excellent. I have not seen Eternal Sunshine which I keep hearing is just great. I love Hotel Rwanda and felt Don Cheadle should have won the Oscar

    1. I just adore The Incredibles and love that it won this year.

      You MUST see Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I know that I recommend a lot of movies and you have a list a mile long from this blog alone, but that film is in my Top Five movies OF ALL TIME! Not joking. It's PERFECT!

  6. It's been a while but I remember Born Into Brothels feeling incredibly manipulative... but mostly earned? It definitely brought up a lot of discussions afterward about the "job" of a documentarian and how much they should insert themselves into their film, and how much they should just observe versus how much they should be obligated to DO something if they witness something inhumane. B+/A-, if memory serves.

    I agree with you guys that The Sea Inside is mostly saved by Bardem's performance alone. It's a good script but feels like a slight film, which it shouldn't given the subject matter. Solid B.

    I always forget how good The Incredibles is. I mean, I love it, but it always seems to fall in the middle of my favorite Pixar films list. Which is weird, because every time I watch it I'm surprised at how strong it is. Possibly a bit too long, but I can't think of what exactly I'd cut. The family dynamics are really, really great, but what resonates with me most is the villain and the whole discussion of what makes someone special: Is it what they're born with or what they do with it? I love the family cheering at Dash winning second place at the end. A/A-.

    I haven't seen Million Dollar Baby. I know.

    1. Also: 2004 was a decent Oscar lineup in Best Picture, but I weep for what could have been with all the truly GREAT films released that year, Eternal Sunshine first among them.

    2. I like the point you raise about how involved a documentarian should be. And I love the point about what makes someone special. The Incredibles is also a film that I often forget how good it is...like I said...I think it hasn't aged well because I don't think about it and then I watch it and I'm like WOW, this is great!

      Million Dollar Baby is definitely worth seeing.

    3. And, yup, I'm right there with you on the ballot that could have been. Even just nixing Ray and Finding Neverland for Vera Drake and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (which were probably in the running) would have vastly improved the lineup.

  7. I'm a little late commenting because I had intended to watch The Sea Inside last week so as to avoid only having seen one of the winners but it was delayed and I only had a chance to watch it today.

    So I'll start with it first. While Bardem is excellent, almost wholly the reason to watch the film, I had a very deja vu feeling watching it of Whose Life is it Anyway? That is not meant as a knock on the very real struggle that Ramon endured but I did feel that it covered very similar ground and I liked-if that's the proper word for so grim a topic-the first film more....thirty years ago. Aside from Javier there were some part that were well done, like everyone else I thought the showdown with the priest was brilliantly managed, but I can't believe it was the best foreign film of the year. I do have to say that my favorite character, and that includes Ramon, was the sister-in-law. She was a fearsome ally to Ramon and when she let fly at the priest the depth of her feeling was so raw and moving.

    The only other of the winners I've seen is Million Dollar Baby which I had avoided for years but finally broke down and watched early this year in my quest to see all the Best Picture winners. While I didn't hate it I had always felt that The Aviator should have won the prize and my opinion wasn't any different after viewing this. I felt manipulated from the beginning of the picture all the way up until the last frame. I realize that most, if not all, film try and direct your emotions in some way and that's more or less their reason for being BUT I don't want to be aware of it the whole time I'm watching a film.

    Freeman was wonderful (no surprise there) and Swank fine, although there is no way she should have won over the brilliance of Imelda Staunton in Vera Drake but I can't envision ever watching the picture again. Someone mentioned Margo Martindale, a very under-appreciated talent, and while I thought she got the most she could out of her rather cliché character she's had better showcases. She was ROBBED of a nomination for August: Osage County by Julia Roberts’s shameless category fraud campaign and nomination. She did more in her few moments on screen then Roberts did in the entirety of her lead performance. Grrrrrrrrrrr!!!!

    1. I haven't seen Whose Life Is It Anyways...I should check that out!

      I like The Aviator, but I prefer Million Dollar Baby as a film experience. It may have manipulated me, but it earned that manipulation, in my eyes.

      Maybe I do need to see August: Osage County.

  8. "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of the most brilliant movies…EVER!" ... Drew, I knew there was a reason I liked you so much. ;-) I couldn't agree more. Great discussion! I can't bring myself to watch Born Into Brothels. I do need to see Million Dollar Baby though.

    1. Born into Brothels is a very hard watch, so I completely get why you don't want to bother with it.

      Eternal Sunshine is my #3 favorite movie of all time! It's utter perfection.

    2. 1) Mommy (Dolan, 2014)
      2) Jules et Jim (Truffaut, 1962)

  9. Great stuff man! I love this year too. Apart from Ray, I quite like the Oscar lineup, even if it is safe. MDB is a solid winner, though I do wish The Aviator had won. That film gets better for me with each viewing. The Incredibles is one of my favorite Pixar movies, but I think it's the least of Bird's animated films. Bardem's performance drives The Sea Inside, which is otherwise somewhat forgettable. I haven't seen Born Into Brothels, but I do kinda wish Super Size Me has won. Like, I've seen that doc probably 10 times. Love it!

    1. That doc is so great as well, and it really hit on a universally 'needed' note.

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