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Jason Reitman

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2011 in Film.

Ten days into the new year, it’s past time to knock out GitM’s best-of-2011 list. To be honest, last year’s movie crop was somewhat underwhelming, and as always, there are a few more gaps I’d love to have plugged first — Cedar Rapids, Margin Call, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Take Shelter, Warrior — but, for what I saw last year, here’s the best of ’em…

Top 20 Films of 2011
[2000/2001/2002/2003/2004/2005/2006/2007/2008/2009/2010/The Oughts]


1. Midnight in Paris: Its wry take on the perils of nostalgia notwithstanding, my favorite film of 2011 didn’t aspire to be much more than a fun, low-key time at the movies. And that it was. One of the most carefree films in Woody Allen’s long and storied career, and featuring one of the best Woodster stand-ins in recent decades with Owen Wilson, Midnight in Paris was an amiable lark that entertained with a light touch and without resorting to the occasionally frantic enthusiasm of The Artist. In short, an unmitigated pleasure: In a so-so year for film, we’ll always have Paris.


2. Attack the Block: While this dubstep-fueled blend of sci-fi horror, Occupy London social commentary, and stoner humor may not be to everyone’s taste, Joe Cornish’s impressive debut was also a surprisingly fun movie and perhaps the purest adrenaline ride of the summer. In a year of big budget and often-suspect alien invasions, it was this lo-rent Block that best delivered the goods, bruv. Believe.


3. The Descendants: With carefully modulated performances from everyone involved, this well-observed dramedy about grief, infidelity, and family in Hawaii was Alexander Payne’s most humanistic film yet. And unlike, say, The King’s Speech or Shame, The Descendants for some reason never set off my usual annoyance with “poor little rich guy” tales — a testament to its emotional resonance.


4. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: The Circus has been compromised: With great actors all over the place, Tomas Alfredson’s dark, circuitous and densely plotted adaptation of John Le Carre’s cloak-and-dagger novel, redolent of cigarettes, desperation, and Cold War paranoia, is the 2011 movie I’m most looking forward to revisiting in the future. Give Gary Oldman the Oscar already.


5. X-Men: First Class: In a better year, this movie would probably be hovering around the ten spot. But, in 2011 — a year that saw no shortage of superheroics at the multiplex — Matthew Vaughn’s Mad Men-era reboot of the X-Men universe was one of the more entertaining and successful-on-its-own-terms films to come down the pike, with James McAvoy, Kevin Bacon, and especially Michael Fassbender adding ballast to the proceedings. To me once again, my X-Men.


6. Contagion: Ahem…sorry to cough a fine spray of phlegm all over the keyboard and mouse you’re currently using. Where was I? Ah yes, Contagion, Steven Soderbergh’s highly creepy medical disaster movie, which carries all the more punch for being so grounded in daily reality. With Haywire and Magic Mike heading to theaters this year, hopefully Soderbergh will continue to postpone his much-publicized retirement, at least until the plague comes through.


7. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol: Utilizing techniques honed at Pixar’s impressive animation stable, Brad Bird moved to the forefront of contemporary action directors and managed to revive both Tom Cruise’s waning career and a moribund franchise with this visceral and engaging thrill ride. This was easily the best pure action film of the year, or of the past several years, for that matter.


8. The Muppets: Overburdened with anachronistic 80’s nostalgia, yet leavened by a blissful infusion of Conchords — and, really, isn’t everything better with more Conchords? — Segal, Stoller, and Bobin’s heartfelt reintroduction of the Muppets was another very enjoyable evening out. I wasn’t much for the Walter framing device, but it was definitely grand to see Kermit, Fozzie, and the gang once more.


9. War Horse: Granted, putting animals in wartime peril is an easy way to get an audience emotionally invested. Still, Spielberg’s War Horse eventually overcame its early schmaltziness to become unexpectedly moving. And, if he’s up for more wartime shenanigans, perhaps Joey the wonder steed can get a cameo in Lincoln.


10. Hanna: When first putting this list together, I almost forgot this kinetic fairy tale, which, like Attack the Block, enjoys the benefit of a propulsive 21st-century score (here furnished by the Chemical Brothers.) One of the hidden gems of the spring.


11. Drive: I liked this Lynchian escapade less than a lot of critics. Its great opening scene aside, I found Drive to be all sleek surfaces and very little depth, and unfortunately the gorefest second-half never lives up to the meditative-samurai promise of the first hour. Still, the film looked great, and I look forward to seeing what director Nicholas Winding Refn comes up with next.


12. The Artist: There may not be much there there, and I wouldn’t pick it for Best Picture — but The Artist is a hard film to hate on. This is a movie that works overtime — and without the benefit of sound — to show you a good time.


13. Source Code: While it’s not nearly as layered or as satisfying as his first film, Moon, Duncan Jones’ Source Code is still a small, well-made Twilight Zone episode of a movie. And it shows Jones has the chops to stage more than one compelling science fiction tale — Hopefully, his next, as-yet-untitled sci-fi film will make it a trifecta.


14. Captain America and Thor: I have a sneaking suspicion Joss Whedon’s The Avengers (from which the pic above is taken) isn’t really going to work. Still, veteran hands Joe Johnston and Kenneth Branagh managed to conjure up surprisingly engaging films out of Cap and Thor respectively. In both cases, I had a better time than I had originally expected.


15. Jane Eyre: The first film on the list I didn’t actually see in the theater, Cary Fukunaga’s worthy retelling of the oft-filmed Charlotte Bronte novel succeeds mainly by playing up the Gothic horror elements of the story. It also enjoys some of the most lavish cinematography of the year (this side of The Tree of Life.)


16. Young Adult: Thanks in no small part to Charlize Theron’s praiseworthy turn as “that girl” from high school all thirty-something and curdled, Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman’s darkly funny tale of When Rom-Com Values Go Bad represents a career highlight for them both.


17. The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn: Granted, I have a childhood fondness for Herge’s world that predisposed me to enjoy myself at this film — I have no idea how this flick plays for folks who’ve never heard of Captain Haddock or the Thompson Twins. But speaking for myself, I had a grand old time, and was glad to see that mo-cap is starting to move past the dead-eyed trough of the Uncanny Valley.


18. Crazy, Stupid, Love: A smart and tightly-written romantic comedy that I just caught on Netflix this past weekend. Crazy, Stupid, Love doesn’t break any new ground per se, but it’s still quite good for what it is — and given how terrible 21st century rom-coms can be, that is no small thing.


19. 50/50: Here’s another small-bore film that won’t light the world on fire. Still, Jonathan Levine’s cancer dramedy, thanks to Joseph Gordon-Levitt and work in the margins from Angelica Huston and Matt Frewer, works surprisingly well at straddling a delicate balance in tone between Apatowish bro-humor and Lifetime movie-of-the-week.


20. Bridesmaids: For better or worse, 2011 was a year in film that almost relentlessly looked backwards: From Midnight to Muppets to Hugo to The Artist, this was a year that wallowed in nostalgia for days gone by. (The future, it seems, brings either aliens or humanity-destroying plagues.) So, while Beginners, Win Win, The Trip, Hugo, or The Ides of March could’ve gone here, last spot goes to Paul Feig, Kristen Wiig, and Annie Mumolo’s funny, feminist reconception of the gross-out comedy. Let’s hope more mainstream films in years to come, comedies or otherwise, actually manage to pass the Bechdel test.

Most Disappointing: Had I more faith in Zack Snyder beforehand, this would go to his thoroughly terrible Sucker Punch, and, alas, the unfortunately botched Green Lantern came close to taking this spot as well. In the end, though, this goes to Jon Favreau’s misfire Cowboys and Aliens. Cowboys! Aliens! Daniel Craig! Harrison Ford! And yet, this one came out duller than dirt.

Worth Netflixing: The Adjustment Bureau, Beginners, The Conspirator, A Dangerous Method, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2, Hugo, The Ides of March, J. Edgar, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Tree of Life, The Trip, Win Win

Don’t Bother: Battle: Los Angeles, Blue Valentine (2010), Friends with Benefits, Limitless, Meek’s Cutoff, Shame, Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows, Somewhere (2010), Super 8, Water for Elephants

Best Actor: Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; George Clooney, The Descendants; Michael Fassbender, Shame
Best Actress: Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Charlize Theron, Young Adult; Mia Wasikowska, Jane Eyre
Best Supporting Actor: Uggie, The Artist; Christopher Plummer, Beginners, Eric Bana, Hanna; Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Best Supporting Actress: Shailene Woodley, The Descendants; Jessica Chastain, The Tree of Life, Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids, Cate Blanchett, Hanna

Unseen: 30 Minutes or Less, Albert Nobbs, Anonymous, Another Earth, Apollo 18, Arthur, Arthur Christmas, Atlas Shrugged, A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas, Bad Teacher, Barney’s Version, Beastly, The Beaver, Bellflower, Biutiful, Carnage, Cars 2, Cedar Rapids, The Change-Up, Colombiana, Conan the Barbarian, Coriolanus, The Darkest Hour, The Debt, The Devil’s Double, The Dilemma, Dolphin Tale, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Dream House, Drive Angry, Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, Everything Must Go, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Fast Five, Footloose, Fright Night, The Guard, The Hangover Pt 2, Happy Feet 2,The Help, Hesher, Horrible Bosses, I Am Number Four, Immortals, Incendies, In the Land of Blood and Honey, In Time, The Iron Lady, I Saw the Devil, Jack and Jill, Killer Elite, Kung Fu Panda 2, Larry Crowne, The Last Circus, Like Crazy, The Lincoln Lawyer, Margaret, Margin Call, Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Mechanic, Melancholia, Moneyball, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, My Week with Marilyn, New Year’s Eve, Our Idiot Brother, Paranormal Activity 3, Pariah, Paul, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Priest, Puss in Boots, Rango, Real Steel, Red State, Rio, The Rum Diary, Sanctum, Scream 4, Sleeping Beauty, The Smurfs, Something Borrowed, Straw Dogs, Take Me Home Tonight, Take Shelter, The Thing, The Three Musketeers, Tower Heist, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Twilight: Breaking Dawn, The Way Back, Warrior, We Bought a Zoo, We Need to Talk about Kevin, Winnie the Pooh, Your Highness, Zookeeper

    A Good Year For:
  • Jessica Chastain (Coriolanus, The Debt, The Help, Take Shelter, Tree of Life)
  • Electronica Soundtracks (Attack the Block, Drive, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Hanna)
  • Film History Buffs (The Artist, Hugo)
  • Ryan Gosling (Crazy, Stupid, Love, Drive, Ides of March)
  • Marvel (Captain America, Thor, X-Men: First Class)
  • Michael Fassbender (A Dangerous Method, Jane Eyre, A Dangerous Method, Shame, X-Men: First Class)
  • Tom Hiddleston (Midnight in Paris, Thor, War Horse)
  • Parisian Nostalgia (Midnight in Paris, Hugo)
  • Scene-Stealing Dogs (The Artist, Beginners, Tintin)
  • The Sex Lives of Depressed People (Shame, Somewhere (2010))
  • Emma Stone (Crazy, Stupid, Love, Friends with Benefits, The Help)
    A Bad Year For:
  • Gimmicks to Fill the Seats (3D, Reserve Seating)
  • Tom Hanks (Larry Crowne, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close)
  • Missions in Budapest (MI: Ghost Protocol, Tinker Tailor)
  • Movies starting with S (Shame, Sherlock 2, Sucker Punch, Super 8)
2012: 21 Jump Street, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, The Amazing Spiderman, American Reunion, Argo, The Avengers, Battleship, The Bourne Legacy, Brave, Bullet to the Head, Butter, Cabin in the Woods, Casa de mi Padre, Chronicle, Cloud Atlas, Cogan’s Trade, The Cold Light of Day, Contraband, Cosmopolis, Damsels in Distress, The Dictator, Dog Fight, The Dark Knight Rises, Dark Shadows, The Dictator, Django Unchained, Dredd, The Expendables 2, The Five-Year Engagement, Frankenweenie, Gambit, Gangster Squad, GI Joe: Retaliation, The Grandmasters, Gravity, The Great Gatsby, Great Hope Springs, The Grey, I Hate You Dad, Haywire, The Hunger Games, Hyde Park on Hudson, Inside Llewyn Davis, Jack the Giant-Killer, John Carter, John Dies at the End, Lay the Favorite, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Lock-Out, Looper, Magic Mike, The Master, Men in Black 3, Mirror Mirror, Moonrise Kingdom, Neighborhood Watch, Nero Fiddled, Only God Forgives, Outrun, Paranorman, The Pirates: Band of Misfits, Premium Rush, Prometheus, The Raid, Rampart, The Raven, Red Dawn, Red Hook Summer, Red Tails, Rock of Ages, Savages, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, The Silver-Linings Playbook, Sinister, Skyfall, Snow White and the Huntsman, Take This Waltz, This is Forty, The Three Stooges, Total Recall, Twilight: Breaking Dawn Pt. 2, Warm Bodies, The Wettest County, The Wicker Tree, The Woman in Black, World War Z, Wrath of the Titans, and…


No hat, no stick, no pipe, not even a pocket handkerchief! How can one survive?

Just a Small Town Girl.


To give credit where it’s due: I have complained earlier that Diablo Cody’s penchant for having her characters speak in endless hipster bromides suffocated both Juno and Jennifer’s Body, and that Jason Reitman’s Juno and Up in the Air were both too slick and vapid in their presentation to make much of an impression on me. But Reitman and Cody’s low-key and funny Young Adult, their second collaboration, marks a step in the right direction for them both.

Perhaps because it clearly has autobiographical qualities, Young Adult is also Cody’s most adult work so far — her Jackie Brown, as it were. Gone are the wall-to-wall witticisms of Juno and Jennifer, although Charlize Theron (really excellent here) still makes a worthy neologism of “Kentaco Hut” (i.e. one of those Taco Bell/KFC/Pizza Hut three-for-one deals found in the contemporary strip mall) and Patton Oswalt’s character still finds time to squeeze in Star Wars references and Betty Friedan and Sylvia Plath jokes. And, unlike Juno and Up in the Air, this film has a more ragged and lived-in quality than Reitman’s prior films. Rather than oversweetening the product as usual, his tendency towards the glib works to leaven the real bitterness at the heart of this movie.

The end result is a smart, well-written character study of one rather awful Minnesotan, Mavis Gray (Theron), who, having reached the grim age of 37 (iknorite!), journeys back to her hometown to woo her now-married-with-child ex-boyfriend (Patrick Wilson). Formerly the Queen Bee of her high school, and now a divorced ghostwriter of Sweet Valley High-ish YA fiction in Minneapolis, Mavis is — unfortunately for the hapless denizens of Mercury, Minnesota — also a primping, egotistical, and self-absorbed neurotic, who is, more often than not, three sheets to the wind. Nonetheless, she is determined to use all of her wiles to force the Road Not Taken into existence and save her dopey ex from a dismal life of marriage-with-children in the provinces, whether he likes it or not. (Unwavering determination: Great and often rewarded in rom-coms; sad and stalkerish in real-life.)


In other words, like Noah Baumbach’s Margot at the Wedding and Greenberg and Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm — this is one of those comedies where you spend most of the film watching a truly lousy person navigate normal social situations and squirming as their horrible natural tendencies exhibit themselves. Since it’s so popular these days, you probably already know your tolerance for this Theater of the Socially Awkward sort of thing: I myself kinda dig it. (Also along to witness the slowly unfolding train wreck is comic Patton Oswalt, playing the amiable nerd who held the locker next to Mavis back in the day and who was, of course, completely invisible to her.)

Unfortunately, Young Adult doesn’t quite stick the landing: The film loses purpose after the climax of Mavis’ gambit, twenty minutes or so before the end of the picture, and an attempt at a late-in-the-game twist — it involves a conversation Mavis has with Hot Tub Time Machine‘s Collette Wolfe — just feels like (more) screw-you score-settling by Cody. Still, for the most part, this is a dark and well-observed film that doesn’t overstay its welcome and makes for some enjoyable counter-programming in the recent sea of holiday blockbusters. Just don’t let Mavis move next door to you or anything.

Stuck Inside of Mobile.

“You wake up at Seatac, SFO, LAX. You wake up at O’Hare, Dallas-Fort Worth, BWI. Pacific, mountain, central. Lose an hour, gain an hour. This is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time. You wake up at Air Harbor International. If you wake up at a different time, in a different place, could you wake up as a different person?”

Sure, constant work-related jetsetting may have hastened Tyler Durden’s descent into borderline psychosis in Fight Club. But, if you need a second opinion, airports are the sea in which George Clooney thrives in Jason Reitman’s well-made but disappointing Up in the Air. I found it hard to pin down exactly why this movie bugged me at first, until I thought more about that memorable rant from Fight Club: “Everywhere I travel, tiny life. Single-serving sugar, single-serving cream, single pat of butter. The microwave Cordon Bleu hobby kit. Shampoo-conditioner combos, sample-packaged mouthwash, tiny bars of soap. The people I meet on each flight? They’re single-serving friends.

And Up in the Air? It’s a single-serving movie, albeit one you might get in business class — glib, pre-packaged, wrapped in plastic, and, alas, not as tasty, nutritious, or filling as it looks. (After coming to this realization, I discovered Stephanie Zacharek felt much the same: “The picture is brushed with a fine glaze of slickness, a product sealed in a blister pack. It’s like airplane air — it has a packaged freshness that isn’t really fresh at all.“) Sure, from moment-to-moment Up in the Air is engaging enough, but sadly it all adds up to the less than the sum of its parts. (And I have a sinking feeling the Oscar of Crash, Million Dollar Baby, and Slumdog Millionaire will love it.)

Even notwithstanding an 11th hour jag that makes for a more satisfying landing than I originally suspected, there’s a lot of rote here: the obligatory wedding scene, the standard-issue epiphany in the middle of a public speech, the in vino veritas, letting-the-hair-down night among co-workers (set to not-so-Young-anymore MC); the Elliott Smith-scored nostalgic reminiscences of those days gone by, etc. etc. Up in the Air is impressively made and a Quality Production™ through-and-through, but it’s also over-stylized and curiously hollow, and it too often feels like a movie conceived by a marketing department. Imho, it needed more of that ragged, hand-crafted, DIY flair that marked the other two recent Clooney flicks this year, The Men Who Stare at Goats.

To give credit where it’s due, Up in the Air does boast one of the more memorable credit sequences I’ve seen in recent years — lovely aerial shots of the American landscape, set to a funked-up version of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” (by Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings.) But things get gloomy pretty quickly thereafter, with — ripped from the headlines! — a lot of people like you and me finding out that they’ve been given the axe. (Reitman apparently put out ads in Detroit and St. Louis looking for recently laid-off folks — It’s as close to home-spun as Up gets.)

Anyway, holding the handle is Ryan Bingham (Clooney): A professional firer by trade (when he’s not giving motivational speeches on the side), Bingham spends his days breaking employees the bad news so their bosses don’t have to. This job keeps him on the road pretty much constantly…which is fine by Bingham — he’s an Airportman, never happier than when he’s lounging at the American Airways VIP club, or checking into a hotel for a layover, or cruising at 50,000 feet above the heartland. (In his defense, he does live in Omaha — would you want to go home? Also, his travel experiences generally seem a lot less shoddy than almost all of the ones I can remember, but perhaps that’s a function of the miles.) In short, for Bingham transition is bliss: He’s a ship always at sea, never reaching port, and being a million miles from home only means he’s got nine million more to go.

But, naturally, new forces threaten Bingham’s airline Eden. Perhaps most importantly, his squirrelly boss (Jason Bateman) has recently made a hire out of Cornell — Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) — and she has the bright idea to start firing people over the Internets — Thus, no more endless junket. (To which I say, good idea! If I were getting fired either way, I don’t see how having smug-ole-George Clooney hand me a packet in person is going to improve my mood about it.) For another, his little sister (Melanie Lynskey) is getting married (Danny McBride), and their honeymoon plans (and the nagging family responsibilities they confer) make it harder for Bingham to pack light, as is his wont. And confusing the situation further, Bingham meets his female counterpart in Alex (Vera Farmiga), an eye-catching gal who shares a fondness for traveling constantly and in luxury. Does all of this mean it’s time for Ryan to put down some roots and live like the rest of us, or has he had the right idea all along?

In my Best of 2006 list, I said of Reitman’s amiable but botched take on Thank You for Smoking that “[w]hat Smoking needed was the misanthropic jolt and sense of purpose of 2005’s Lord of War, a much more successful muckraking satire…But Smoking, like its protagonist, just wants to be liked, and never truly commits to its agenda.” Well, Up in the Air has the same sense about it. I haven’t read the Walter Kirn novel this is based on, but I’m willing to bet Bingham probably comes across as more of a jerk therein. It sometimes seems that the sharp edges of this tale — “fly the unfriendly skies” and whatnot — have been filed off here. Similarly, I don’t want to give away the ending, which you deserve to experience unspoiled after sitting through the interminable high-school-nostalgia and wedding scenes. But it also feels a bit like Reitman flinched from the material in the end, or even that the finish we get isn’t the one he’d have liked to be building to.

I’m probably being harder on this film than it deserves, but if I was complaining about Cormac McCarthy’s relentless misanthropy just the other day, Up in the Air veered too far for me in the other direction. As in Reitman’s Juno, everyone’s likable and well-meaning perhaps to a fault, even when they’re acting horribly. And, when things go south, well there’s always some sugary-sweet, anesthetizing indie ballad that can soothe the pain and take you to commercial. It’s a sales job Bingham would be proud of.

Oscar loves Michael (and Juno).

Writers’ strike or no, the 2008 Oscar contenders were announced this morning. And the nominees are:

Best Picture: Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton, No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood. Juno? Michael Clayton? Man, these are some weird choices (and I’m Not There and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly are notably missing.) Of these, I personally would pick No Country, but I could see Atonement garnering the staid English Patient/Beautiful Mind vote.

Best Actor: George Clooney, Michael Clayton; Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood, Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd, Tommy Lee Jones, In the Valley of Elah, Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises. Nice of ’em to give Viggo a nod. I’d give this to Tommy Lee Jones for Elah, but I suspect DDL’s scenery-chewing Daniel Plainview will be hard to beat. He drinks Oscar’s milkshake.

Best Actress: Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth II: The Golden Age, Julie Christie, Away from Her; Marion Cotillard, La Vie En Rose; Laura Linney, The Savages; Ellen Page, Juno. Glad to see The Savages get some run, even if Linney makes more sense in the Supporting Actress category. Still, I haven’t seen Away, but I expect Julie Christie will run away with it.

Best Supporting Actor: Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men; Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson’s War, Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton. Ok, while Hoffman was Best Supporting Actor of the year (this, Savages, Before the Devil), Tom Wilkinson is still owed for In the Bedroom, and Hal Holbrook is basically this year’s Peter O’Toole, I’m guessing Javier Bardem is a lockity-lock. And why is Casey Affleck here? He’s the main character in that three-hour film.

Best Supporting Actress: Cate Blanchett, I’m Not There; Ruby Dee, American Gangster, Saiorse Ronan, Atonement, Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone, Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton. Again, some strange choices here: Ruby Dee is one of the best things about Gangster, but she’s barely in it. Tilda Swinton is a good actress who I thought was a net negative in Clayton. And Ronan was fine in Atonement, but why not Romola Garai? At any rate, this is a two-woman race between Ryan and Blanchett, and it’s looking like Blanchett is pretty much a lock. (I thought Ryan was superb in Gone, but if more people see I’m Not There because of this win, I’m all for it.)

Best Director: Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood, Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men; Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton; Jason Reitman, Juno, Julian Schabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. This is tricky. I’d guess whichever of No Country and TWBB doesn’t win best picture will win here. But, since Schabel’s Diving Bell got locked out of most categories, it could win here too. For now, I’ll say Coens.

Best Cinematography: Roger Deakins, The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford; Roger Deakins, No Country for Old Men; Robert Elswit, There Will Be Blood; Janusz Kaminski, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly; Seamus McGarvey, Atonement. Hmm. Normally, I’d say Deakins, but given that he’s nominated twice, his vote will split. So, it’s Elswit for TWBB, I guess.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Atonement, Away from Her, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood. Again, a tough one, I’ll go the Coens for No Country.

Best Original Screenplay: Juno, Lars and the Real Girl, Michael Clayton, Ratatouille, The Savages. This is often the “clever” award, given to movies the Academy otherwise didn’t much vibe to. My guess is this year it’s Diablo Cody’s for Juno.

Little Miss Sonshine.


Update 1/7/08: If you’re visiting from Electrolicious, Ypulse, or elsewhere today, welcome. In case you’re interested, the main site is here, and the other collected movie reviews are here (including the best of 2007 list.)

That ain’t no etch-a-sketch. That’s one doodle that can’t be un-did, homeskillet.” If you find people talking in such overstylized hipster-speak for ninety minutes witty and/or adorable, you’ll probably enjoy Jason Reitman’s Juno quite a bit more than I did. While it’s not a bad film, and it has the advantage of clever repartee and appealing performances across the board, Juno — like everyone’s favorite indy comedy last year, Little Miss Sunshine — is, IMHO, being significantly overpraised. Suffering from dialogue that’s been stylized within an inch of its life, and with every scene festooned with kitschy pop culture bric-a-brac and scored to uber-sensitive indy rock, I came to find Juno cloying to the point of claustrophobia. (And hearing The Kinks (“A Well-Respected Man”) and those overlords of twee, Belle & Sebastien (“Piazza, New York Catcher”), at various points on the soundtrack only confirmed the sensation that I’d somehow wandered into a Wes Anderson after-school special.) Speaking of Wes, I feel about this film much as I did about The Darjeeling Limited — if this is your sort of thing, have at it. But I for one eventually grew exhausted and even somewhat annoyed with Juno, even as I found myself in sympathy with its denouement.

Juno begins with a chair. A recliner at a yard sale, in fact, which is being eyed by a Sunny D-chugging teenager named Juno MacGuff. (Ellen Page of Hard Candy and X3 — This role will no doubt cement her status as the new sassy, quick-witted, adorable-but-approachable brunette that middle-school fanboy types will crush over, a la Princess Leia, Winona Ryder, and Natalie Portman in their day.) As it turns out, this chair has a special meaning for Ms. MacGuff, since it was one quite like it where she and her nerdy best friend Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera of Arrested Development and Superbad, in his wheelhouse and terrific) lost their virginity in a fit of (what’s being billed as) boredom. And now, two months later, Juno is, as the sayings go, knocked up, preggers, in the family way, with a bun in the oven. (She later memorably deems herself “the cautionary whale.”) What to do?

At first, Juno considers “procuring a hasty abortion,” but something about the waiting room at Women Now! gives her the heebie-jeebies. And so, after some discussion with her best friend (Olivia Thirlby of United 93, an appealing presence), Juno decides to go for it and have the baby. She informs her parents (J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney, both excellent) and finds a baby-craving couple on the right side of the tracks (Jason Bateman and an impressive Jennifer Garner — she and Cera are the best parts of the film) to handle her spawn in its post-born phase. But, of course, it’s never that easy. For one, it turns out the Lorings may not be as ideal a couple as they first appear. (The wedding pics everywhere should be a tip-off, as they were in In Good Company.) For another, Juno slowly comes to discover that certain things — bearing a child, falling in love — are actually much harder than they’re made out to be on the TV and the Internets, and all the clever comebacks in the world aren’t going to protect you when life takes a painful turn.

Now, some caveats. First, Ellen Page’s Juno is basically a pop-culture variant of the hyperliterate teenagers you find in Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan or Wes Anderson’s Rushmore, and, as I’ve said before, I am really not a big fan of that genre. Page is as good as she can be in the role, but the character as written is drowning in self-conscious quirk. Now, as my brother pointed out, so was Ferris Bueller back in the day, so perhaps I’m just getting old. Still, every time Juno emotes wildly over seventies punk rock acts like Iggy and the Stooges or namedrops Dario Argento movies, all I heard was screenwriter Diablo Cody unrealistically foisting her own pop culture bona fides on a sixteen-year-old character. (I had the same problem with Scarlett Johansson karaokeing Roxy Music and The Pretenders in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation.) To borrow from I’m Not There, “Live your own time, child.

For another, and as Lauren Wissot pointed out at THND, every character in the film — with the exception of Jennifer Garner’s earnest yuppie mom-wannabe, who is defined mostly by its absence — speaks with the same arch, cynical, highly referential voice, spewing forth peppy bon mots and pop-culture zingers that tend to read a lot better on the page than they sound on screen. “Silencio, old man,” “I have to pee like Seabiscuit,” “The baby looks like a Sea Monkey right now,” “Thundercats are go!” Everyone from Juno’s parents to her girlfriend to her lab partners to Rainn Wilson at the Circle K indulge in this hyperstylized quipping to the point of exhaustion, including the director. (Check out the “jocks really love goth librarians” scene, for example.) Now, this is the exact same problem I have with most of Joss Whedon’s output and particularly Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so undoubtedly fans of the latter may have more of a tolerance for Juno‘s endless string of impeccably-crafted, unrealistic-as-delivered witticisms. Still, Juno eventually reminded me of the exchange in Fight Club when Ed Norton makes the crack about people on planes being “single-serving friends.” Says Pitt: “Oh I get it, it’s very clever. How’s that working out for you? Being clever. Great, keep it up then…

Now, this reaction posed a bit of a quandary for me, since, as y’all probably know, Juno is not the first unplanned-pregnancy-for-a-hipster-parent comedy to come down the pike this year. And when musing on Knocked Up over the summer, I put its many knowing pop-culture references — jokes involving Matthew Fox and Robin Williams’ knuckles, for example — in the plus column. So why can’t a 16-year-old girl make the same sort of wry cultural asides to her friends as a 23-year-old man-child? I guess the main difference is that I don’t remember Knocked Up being so wall-to-wall with the punchy quips, or the dialogue feeling so writerly or artificial throughout. (For example, there’s nothing that feels as true-to-life in Juno as the automobile argument in Apatow’s film.) Until I see Knocked Up again, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Also, while Juno is being billed in some corners as the female response to Knocked Up, it is and it isn’t. Obviously, the parent drenched in pop-culture irony this time is female, but in other ways the films are rather similar in their gender portrayals: The relationship dynamic between Garner and Bateman for example, plays quite a bit like the one between Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd in Knocked Up — She’s the Voice of Responsiblity, he wants to keep playing with his toys. At any rate, while I prefer the former, Knocked Up and Juno would probably make a quality double-feature in the future. If nothing else, they’ll help pop-culture aficionados of both sexes figure out what to expect when they’re expecting. Just make sure you have insulin or ipecac handy in case the overwritten, indy-pop sentimentalism of Juno proves too sugary-sweet, as it did for me.

Smoke Signals.

Brimming with affable actors and a cool, refreshing menthol topicality, Thank You for Smoking, which I caught last night in Union Square, is a wry, decently amusing satire — one that’s not much for side-splitting bellylaughs but good for a consistent chuckle throughout. Very few scenes go by without a few snappy lines or clever sight gag, and the film is all the more endearing for its understatement — like cigarettes, a lot of these jokes almost sell themselves. Still, I haven’t read Chris Buckley’s book, but I can’t escape the suspicion that a devastatingly funny movie could’ve been made from this source material if the filmmakers had just gone for it, um, unfiltered. More often than not, the film seems to want to be liked, when what it really needed was a jolt of the same type of dark misanthropy that propelled last year’s Lord of War (i.e. Thank You for Shooting.) I’d say it’s worth seeing, and I was definitely smiling through most of the film. But, at crucial times, and particularly in the second half, Thank You for Smoking feels too lo-tar and antiseptic for its own good. (Oh, and sorry, Tom Cruise conspiracy theorists: Katie Holmes’ brief sex scenes are still here.)

For those who haven’t seen the preview, the film follows the exploits of uber-charismatic cigarette lobbyist Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart, doing a friendlier variation on his In the Company of Men turn), a guy who basically has the heart of The X-Files‘s Cigarette Smoking Man in the body of Mr. Smith (Think Capra, not Matrix.) Sent on various charm offensives by his immediate boss (J.K. Simmons, pitch-perfect) and the head office in Winston-Salem (Robert Duvall, doing his R.E. Lee schtick again), Naylor must flatter, cajole, bluff, and wheedle his way past a number of moderately funny archetypes, including a Birkenstock-clad senator from Vermont (William H. Macy), a ruthless Orientophile Hollywood exec (Rob Lowe), their various flunkies (Todd Louiso, Adam Brody), and a thoroughly disgruntled Marlboro Man now suffering from lung cancer (Sam Elliott). Along for the ride on this tobacco tour is Naylor’s kid (Cameron Bright) — on loan from the ex-wife (Deadwood‘s Kim Dickens) and her new doctor boyfriend,(whose studiously scruffy beard is one of the many funny details herein) — and Nick spends much of the film trying to inculcate his son in the ways of activism for the amoral. (I have to admit, it’s hard to watch these scenes and not think of the author and his own dad, the venerable William F. Buckley, Jr..)

Like I said, for the most part Thank You for Smoking is a jaunty and amusing two hours, with enough clever moments to keep the general atmosphere lively and droll. Still, at times, it’s hard not to feel that there are opportunities missed here, particularly when the movie loses its step. (The climax, in which Naylor testifies before Congress, is basically a non-starter.) For one, the film occasionally jumps to voiceover (a la Lord of War), without ever really committing to it, and so it ends up feeling like lazy writing. And some potentially funny jokes just seem clumsily telegraphed — to take one small example, when Naylor’s gun lobbyist friend (Anchorman‘s David Koechner) has trouble with a security gate. Speaking of Koechner, he and Eckhart share several scenes with alcohol lobbyst Maria Bello (The Cooler, A History of Violence) as the “MOD” (“Merchants of Destruction”) Squad, which feel like they should be the centerpiece of the film. But Bello (an actress I’ll admit to rooting for) is almost criminally underused here — her best gag ends up being her quintessentially DC power-suit.

Not to miss the carton for the smokes, Thank You is a smart comedy that’s aimed at adults and funny enough to recommend…but I can’t help thinking it needed to be more rough around the edges, more stogie and less nicotine patch.

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