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Crazy Heart

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Na’vi vs. the IEDs.

Y’all are probably on top of this by now, but the 2010 Oscar nominations were announced this morning, and the big fight of the evening looks to be blue cats versus bombs: Avatar and The Hurt Locker led the pack with nine nominations each. (Before the meme sets in, it should be noted that former married couple James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow have been very supportive of each other’s films from the start.) Anyway, some quick thoughts:

  • Best Picture: Avatar. Out of the ten nominees, it’s a two-movie race, and this particular picture didn’t even make my personal top 20 for last year. There might even be a King of the World backlash after Titanic running the table in 1998. But I’m guessing, given its box office, that Dances With Thundersmurfs (in 3D) will win this pretty easily. Still, it’s nice to see A Serious Man and District 9 get their due. The biggest WTF here is The Blind Side. C’mon now, really?

  • Best Actor: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart. Oscar got four out of five right (Jeff Bridges, Colin Firth, George Clooney, Jeremy Renner), and of those, I’d probably go with both Firth and Renner over Bridges. But, if I had my druthers, Sam Rockwell would have been nominated and won for Moon. (He should’ve taken Morgan Freeman’s Invictus spot.) Anyway, I’m guessing Bridges is a lock.

  • Best Actress: Carey Mulligan, An Education. Unless voters factor in her youth against her, I’m going with Sally Sparrow. I haven’t seen any of the other films in contention in this category, but I’m guessing Helen Mirren (The Last Station) and particularly Meryl Streep (Julie & Julia) will be considered already amply rewarded, and Gabourey Sidibe (Precious) will lose votes on account of…

  • Best Supporting Actress: Mo’Nique, Precious. I haven’t seen the film, but from what I can gather, this is a lockity-lock. Given that the Up in the Air vote will split between Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick, the only real competition is Maggie Gyllenhaal for Crazy Heart. (Consensus seems to be Penelope Cruz (Nine) has been nominated for the wrong film, and she should be here for Broken Embraces.)

  • Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, Inglorious Basterds. Like the rest of the categories above, this seems pretty set to me already. With the possible exception of Woody Harrelson for The Messenger, it’s hard to imagine any of the others getting close.

  • Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker. The consolation prize to losing Best Picture to Avatar, this Oscar will be richly deserved.

  • Best Animated Film: Up. Again, seems like a lock, given that it’s the only nominee also listed in the Best Picture category. Still, I’d rather see this go to Coraline or The Fantastic Mr. Fox.

  • Writing (Adapted Screenplay): This one’s more of a toss-up, and I get the sense it will probably end up being my bracket-buster. I kinda feel like I have to pick In the Loop, my favorite movie of 2009. But I could also see this being where District 9 or Up in the Air get their recognition for the evening. (Precious too might be a contender, but, again, will likely lose some votes on account of the Mo’Nique lock.)

  • Writing (Original Screenplay): Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker. I’m glad to see the Coens on here, but they’ve won this before, as has Quentin Tarantino.

  • Documentary Feature: The Cove. I want to see several of these, particularly Daniel Ellsberg: The Most Dangerous Man in America. But all word seems to point to dolphins in peril.

  • Foreign Language Film: The White Ribbon. Haven’t seen it yet, but I haven’t heard any other contender mentioned as often.

  • Music (Original Song): “The Weary Kind,” Crazy Heart. Take it to the bank.

  • Music (Original Score): Probably Up. It won the Globe, and it’s the only one of these films whose score I can even vaguely remember.

  • Costumes: It sounds like a two-movie race between Coco Before Chanel and Bright Star, although I personally wouldn’t mind seeing this go to Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus.

  • Make-up: Really weird category this year. Of these three, I’ll guess The Young Victoria edges out Star Trek.

  • Technical Stuff: With the possible exception of Editing and maybe Cinematography (The Hurt Locker), I’m thinking all of this goes to Avatar.

Tender Mercies 2: Sing Tenderer.

Ok, so maybe Texas is a Country for Old Men. A kissing cousin to 2008’s The Wrestler and a close nephew to 1983’s Tender Mercies, Scott Cooper’s Crazy Heart, which I caught last night while fighting off a nasty cold, is, well, thoroughly ok. If you see it, you won’t feel cheated. If you don’t, well, you haven’t missed all that much.

Like its main character Bad Blake, a former country-and-western star now way past his sell date, the movie sorta grows on you in its middle hour with its sly, drawling wit. But, taken as a whole, we’ve heard this particular song — Old Guy in a Rut slouches toward a New Leaf — quite a few times recently, in The Wrestler, Gran Torino, The Visitor, About Schmidt. And, as such, there’s not really enough new here to recommend the experience, not even the admirable (and likely Oscar-procuring) performance by the consistently excellent Jeff Bridges.

Here, Bridges is a washed-up country singer and (barely-)functioning alcoholic, not unlike Robert Duvall (who also appears here as Bad’s bartender pop) in Tender Mercies. Left behind, financially speaking, by his ex-sidekick and protege Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell, playing it nu-country), Bad now ekes out a living as a King of the Road: In his long-suffering ’78 Suburban, Bad drives hundreds of miles a week to play run-down bars and out-of-the-way bowling alleys with pick-up bands for petty cash. (In fact, Bad’s first line is something along the lines of “Ugh, another g*dd**n bowling alley.” — So, yes, the Dude is rolling again, although now he’s been pretty-well fused with Sam Elliot’s Cowboy.)

Anyway, it’s a godforsaken living and no mistake, and it’s either made slightly better or considerably worse by Bad’s trademark penchant for McClures (re: cheap) whiskey, not to mention his tendency to smoke like a chimney. And so he rambles on through Texas and the Southwest, nursing his grudges and his booze as best he can. Until one day, he makes the acquaintance of a bright-eyed new ladyfriend (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and her young son Buddy (Jack Nation) — (More shades of Tender Mercies here, which, by the way, is a movie I saw in English class in high school and didn’t much care for. But, given my age, it could’ve been a pearls-before-swine type of thing.) Will Bad take this opportunity to change his ways, maybe mend some fences with both his former apprentice and the son he left behind years ago? Well, old habits die hard, and at least so far, the bottle’s never let him down.

For most of its run, Crazy Heart is decently entertaining from moment to moment, although I suppose folks who don’t dig bar-band-type country may well get sick of some of the extended musical scenes. And, until the last half-hour or so, when the movie bogs down in both child-in-peril cliches and rehab platitudes — it ain’t much fun once he quits drinking — I felt like this flick was slow-paced but pretty engaging. It mostly follows a tried-and-true chord progression, sure, but the film still plays it lively and switches up the melody enough to make it seem like you were experiencing something new.

But by the end, when everything falls into order just a little too tidily, Crazy Heart loses its rhythm and starts to feel more than ever like just a country-style cover version of The Wrestler — or worse, like The Wrestler for folks who wanted a little more sugar to ameliorate that film’s downer ending. (And weirdly enough and compounding the Wrestler similarities, it looks like Bridges will be the Mickey Rourke to Colin Firth’s Sean Penn in this year’s Oscar race. That is, of course, Clooney notwithstanding, and despite the fact that I’d probably still go with Sam Rockwell in Moon.)

Speaking of which, Bridges is a consistently great actor who by now deserves an Oscar for something. But I’m not necessarily sure that the collection of boozehound, Leaving Las Vegas-y tics on display here is really what I’d honor him for. It’s not a bad performance by any means — To the contrary, Bridges rings true throughout. (And in fact, the Dude isn’t even all that bad a country singer. Just don’t ask him to play the f**king Eagles.) But, however much Bridges wisely underplays his character, Bad’s story here feels so thrice-told and Oscar-baitish at times that I found it hard to feel too much for the guy. There’s a Devil in the Bottle? There’s a Tear in My Beer? If that ain’t country, I don’t know what is.

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