Ranking the 2010 Best Picture Nominees

Ranking the 2010 Best Picture Nominees

For the second year in a row, the Oscars have gone with a 10-nominee field for Best Picture and a 2-host system. They still have no idea what they’re doing since Billy Crystal stopped hosting 7 or 10 or 13 years ago. But I like the 10-nominee format, despite the fact that the 5 not also nominated for Best Director will never win. These five movies should just be called the “Special Recognition Category” and there would be no winner. Thanks, Inception. You were brilliantly smart, visually ground-breaking and super entertaining. You get ringside seats to see The Social Network and The King’s Speech duke it out for the prize that you won’t get.

I made it a point to go see all 10 movies before the Oscars this year for reasons I’m not sure were very important. I guess I just wanted to pretend to be informed and sound snootier at an Oscars Party this year. Which I’m not going to. And sounding snooty to Jenn isn’t nearly as fun because she already knows I’m full of shit. But anyway, I ranked the top 10 Best Picture nominees in order of how good I thought they were, not who I thought would win. I asked Jenn to do the same so we could get the woman’s perspective and stole some info from Rotten Tomatoes to see what the snooty critics thought too. And yes, I was nice enough to compile all that info here on one blog post that no one will ever read.


Dustin’s Rankings

Inception
The Fighter
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
Black Swan
127 Hours
True Grit
The Kids Are All Right
The King’s Speech
Winter’s Bone

Jenn’s Rankings

Inception
Black Swan
The Fighter
The King’s Speech
True Grit
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
127 Hours
The Kids Are All Right
Winter’s Bone

RT.com Rankings

Toy Story 3 (99)
The Social Network (96)
True Grit (95)
Winter’s Bone (95)
The Kids Are All Right (94)
The King’s Speech (94)
127 Hours (93)
The Fighter (90)
Black Swan (88)
Inception (96)


1. Inception – It’s possible I’m being swayed by the brilliance of Memento and the Prestige, but this would probably still be my favorite movie if it was directed by the Farrelly Brothers. That’s a lie. Anyway, this is the kind of intelligence that people don’t put into movies anymore. He takes a concept and follows through with it with absolute precision. If you analyzed the dream within a dream concept of time, I’ll bet that it all adds up to what it’s supposed to, whereas most writers or directors wouldn’t care if there were little plot holes. Chris Nolan has done what I had hoped M. Night Shyamalan would. Except Nolan follows Memento with the Batman movies and a few other great movies, capping it off with Inception. Shyamalan had Unbreakable and then a bunch of shit (Lady In the Water? Really) that continually discredits The Sixth Sense. Transition from small budget intimacy to multi-million dollar blockbuster complete.

2. The Fighter – Apparently Mark Wahlberg has pigeon-holed himself into sports movies based on real-life events back in the 80s. But this one was more than a sports movie. This was more about addition than it was sports. I loved Geoffrey Rush in The King’s Speech but Christian Bale did the best acting job I think I have ever seen with his role in this. About 45 minutes into the movie, we find out that the HBO cameras shooting the documentary aren’t making a film about Christian’s comeback at all, but a movie about crack addition and it hit me like the reveal in the Sixth Sense. And that entire sequence played over Good Times Bad Times was awesome. You could feel the movie turn. I’m not sure how much of this was actually based on a true story, but that stuff doesn’t matter as much to me. This was great for many reasons. Go see it.

3. The Social Network – I’d have to check again, but I think this might be the best dialogue in any movie I’ve ever seen. It was fast, it was fun and it was smart. I was pleasantly surprised by this and I don’t think they made Mark Zuckerberg out to be an ass at all. Just a really justifiably arrogant and brilliant guy. I can relate. I just don’t think a movie about facebook can really win the Best Picture. If so, facebook has officially taken over the world. Congrats.

4. Toy Story 3 – This is an excellent movie when watched through the perspective of an anthropomorphic toy. But when viewed through the perspective of a college student’s emotional development, it’s a rather sad tale. Still, I cried once at the end. And then I REALLY cried at the REALLY end.

5. Black Swan – This is the most critically acclaimed movie I will ever masturbate to. Wow. And it’s artsy and has ballet in it, so it’s OK. But wow. And honestly, Natalie Portman deserves this Oscar. What a fucked up character that she pulled off perfectly. And the whole ballet thing too. Those weren’t lookalikes. At least not all of them. The Fountain, by Aronofsky was one of the worst movies I’ve seen. This was much better. Pi was somewhere in the middle, as it usually is.

6. 127 Hours – Well, I reported on this movie at length already, but it’s worth seeing. Once. I think it was only nominated because somebody had the guts to make a movie which 75% of it was in one place stuck under a rock.

7. True Grit – Because it’s the Coen Brothers, I think I wanted to like this movie more than I actually did. It was fun in parts, but it was a remake of a movie that already exists and it was slow and boring for most of the movie. I don’t think it’s going to start a western revival. Hailee Steinfeld was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, despite having about 10-15 minutes more screen time than Best Actor nominee Jeff Bridges. They imagine this was because they wanted her to be in a category she could actually win. Can they do that? Aren’t there any fucking rules? If so, why not nominate her for Best Animated Short?

8. The Kids Are All Right – I need to start with the title of this. What the hell? Really? And they didn’t even play the Who song? I really liked that there was a movie about real life functional lesbians raising children. And I liked the message that life is hard. But they never really wrapped up the father’s character and I’m not sure what the point was. With the lack of a point comes the feeling that this was more like a series of things that happened rather than a plot. But cheers to the LGBT community.

9. The King’s Speech – I was tricked at first too. I was enamored by the performances of Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. But after peeling that away and reflecting a bit, I really didn’t like this film. It took London’s – nay – the world’s darkest hour in history and made it about a man with a stuttering problem. It was uplifting to deliver the news that the world was ending. Hitler was a legitimate role model for a few seconds. It’s about triumph over adversity and I love that concept of trying to make yourself a better person, and it drove the point home by including all the elements that normally go into a formulaic underdog sports movie. Cheesy montage workout scene longer than any in The Fighter leading up to a climax of an ending on the grandest of stages. And the worst was the beginning of the second act when the writers forced an argument between player and coach to create drama. History has met formula in a triumph I couldn’t care less about.

10. Winter’s Bone – People aren’t just good or bad. They have different motivations that may blur the lines between what is conventionally right and wrong. There. I saved you 2 hours of your time. You’re welcome. Oh, and the deep south is fucked up. Like you needed me for that one.

Ranking the 2009 Best Picture Nominees

Ranking the 2009 Best Picture Nominees

I know. I’m late. Jenn and I went to an Oscars party last year and I for one, was excited to see the revived 10-movie nominee format. Later, after watching A Serious Man and Precious based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, Jenn suggested that we put District 9 on the Netflix cue so we could watch all 10 nominees. This was rather surprising because the first time I asked her if she wanted to watch it, she said it looked like the two worst movies in the world got together and had a child and beat the shit out of it (paraphrased). I was excited. I think I may have accidentally tricked her into suggesting this but I wasn’t about to feel guilty.

And so we watched all 10 nominees. By then, we had already heard all the hype about Avatar and saw The Hurt Locker undercut the biggest movie of all time. Neither of us had any love loss, as we both thought Up was far superior to either. So I decided to rank the 2009 Best Picture nominees from 1-10. And I asked Jenn to do the same, just because I like to get into fights. Then I checked Rotten Tomatoes to see how the critics felt about them. And here I present to you my findings as a completely unqualified movie critic.

Dustin’s Rankings
Up
The Blind Side
District 9
Avatar
The Hurt Locker
A Serious Man
Precious
Up in the Air
An Education
Inglourious Basterds
Jenn’s Rankings
Up
The Hurt Locker
Avatar
District 9
The Blind Side
Precious
An Education
Inglourious Basterds
A Serious Man
Up in the Air
Rotten Tomatoes

Up (98)
The Hurt Locker (97)
An Education (94)
Precious(91)
District 9 (90)
Up in the Air (90)
Inglourious Basterds (89)
A Serious Man (88)
Avatar (82)
The Blind Side (68)


1. Up “But it’s a talking dog!” Charm, surprise and characters. Laughter, tears and romance. But mostly the dog collar that made the dogs talk. That did it for me. All movies, especially full length animated features, have their share of side acts and there have never been any better than the talking dogs in this movie. And Pixar was able to develop a relationship that made the audience care about it so much, about 98% of the crowd cried in the first 7 minutes of the movie. That was brilliantly done. And to this day, I’ve never heard anybody say anything about the little boy scout kid being Asian. Nobody. Weird. That’s how good the movie was. Seriously.

2. The Blind Side – It was a movie about football. REAL football. And Tim McGraw was in it. Maybe I’m grading on a curve because it’s based on a true story, but it was good. And based on football.

3. District 9 – This was the surprise of the year for me. This film was amazing. It started out as a documentary and ended as a narrative, but made an almost seamless transition between the two forms. It was impressive. Also, this was the first movie I’ve ever seen where there were aliens coming to earth and they were actually in trouble. They weren’t evil and trying to take over the world like we all thought. What a refreshing take on the topic. But this is where my love affair with Sharlto Copley started. If I had a hall pass from my engagement, this is the man I may go after. If I can’t get Portia de Rossi, that is. It was original, moving and clever and I have no idea why I ranked it below The Blind Side when I ranked them last year around this time.

4. Avatar – A lot of people liked to pick on Avatar for shit, mostly unjustified. It got a lot of crap for being a remake of the Sacajawea story. Didn’t the Coen Bros get praised for their adaptation of the Odyssey? Nominated for an Oscar even? Maybe if James Cam said he was doing remake, it would have been OK. And you could play that game with almost any movie. Hurt Locker: Guy loves his life-threatening job so much, he can’t stand to be with his wife and child and it ruins their relationship. Hello? Better get a good lawyer because David Simon did that first in the Wire. And Up’s brilliantly clever story of a disgruntled old man who loses his wife and falls into a deep depression and befriends a young kid to help him through it. Didn’t that already win best picture when Matt Damon and Ben Affleck called it Good Will Hunting? Avatar was, however, a three-dimensional movie with one-dimensional characters. But it was pretty kick ass, despite all that.

5. Hurt Locker – This was the best picture of last year. And it was good. But it was also slow and predictable. I fell asleep the first time I tried to watch it. Which isn’t horrible as I fall asleep a lot, but it’s not best-picture worthy. There were some very riveting scenes – one where he pulls the wire and 6 bombs surround him and another dealing with a bomb hidden inside a kid – but it felt a little slow in parts. And it doesn’t hold a match to District 9.

6. A Serious Man – This is the next Coen Brothers movie. Not necessarily a sequel to No Country for Old Men, but almost the same exact film. They have a knack for putting their main characters through the wringer and this is at the root of it all, a story about suffering and how to deal with it. I am not, however, Jewish – nor was I alive in 1967. And they stopped writing ends to their movies. They just kinda stop filming. They lucked out with No Country, but let’s not start whacking each other off just yet.

7. Precious (based on the novel “Push” by Sapphire) – Sadly, we as a nation had to say all that nonsense. Lots of movies are based on novel. Why the fuck do we have to qualify this one? I was pissed before I started watching it because of that. But then the movie got good. Mo’Nique, or however I’m supposed to spell her name (see, it gets confusing when you add shit that aren’t letters), was awesome. And not just for a female stand-up comedian. But for a real person, too. Seriously, she was good. And the movie, in its bleakness, was good too. Sad and over the top in parts, but a

believable look into what being raised in the hood is like for poor black people like me.

8. Up in the Air – For a few weeks, I liked to go around to people and ask them if they’d seen Up. Then when they started to answer, I’d say “in the Air.” They slouched. The excitement would leave their body. I had them at that moment. They were mine. Then I would kick them in the balls. That’s kinda like how this movie was. In other words, average.

9. An Education – This movie was the last one we’d seen in the batch of 10. It was well on my way to being in my top 3 or 4 about an hour and a half into it. Then the last 10 minutes happened. It went from a realistic exploration of the boundaries of having a relationship with a teenage girl (or an older man, depending on your perspective) to a cheesy uplifting Lifetime movie special in one stupefying scene. I was stunned. Like the last scene of Arlington Road, but for a much different reason. I couldn’t believe the movie sold out like that. It had something deep and meaningful and controversial. Then it all but came out and capped the movie by saying “stay in school and listen to your parents” Aesop-style. It was insulting and degrading. If I ever watch it again, I’m going to shut it off before that last 10 minutes happens.

10. Inglourious Basterds – I’m done giving Quentin Tarantino the benefit of the doubt. I don’t know why he misspelled both of the names in the title. I don’t know why he didn’t translate certain words in the captions. I don’t know why he made this movie. I’m done. It was stupid. Sorry. It was stoopid. Certain dialogue was left untranslated at times and not in others. Like the word “oui” for example was occasionally translated to say “yes” at the bottom of the screen when spoken, but also occasionally translated to say “oui.” Why? Is he that bored now? Or that high with power? I didn’t much care for anything that happened in this movie, but if I was, I was too distracted by nonsense like that to care. Just retire already please. You made your two movies. Now you’re just embarrassing yourself.

Inside the Head of a Performer IV: The Remount – Part 2

In case you missed it:

Inside the Head of a Performer IV: The Remount – Part 2
Logic, Luck and Love

The music was barely audible over the applause. This show had really caught fire in the media. Or Amy’s introduction was disproportionately flattering. We could barely hear the music, which was unfortunately the cue for the other three to sit down. They figured it out. Whew. Thankfully I work with smart people.

If any of you believe in romance… and would like to continue to be fooled, you may want to leave now.” That line usually gets a muffled “heh” from 3 to 5 people. This crowd broke out in real laughter, almost reminiscent of a sitcom. And that theme continued. There were literally applause breaks where there wasn’t even laughter before. At Fringe, I had resolved myself to believing that the opening part just wasn’t going to get laughs. It was too smart to really be the kind of humor that makes people laugh out loud. And it was OK.

Not anymore. I really, really had the crowd that night. I got laughs on several occasions just with a cock of the eyebrow or a slight tilt of the head. I was so completely in the moment. I intentionally walked to the other side of the stage after the first “certain… sexual… acts” delivered to a brunette in the 2nd row only to drag out the callback 15 seconds later. I smirked more. I felt cockier. I used the hell out of pauses. My facial expressions were something I hadn’t even practiced. I don’t know that I could have. I’m just thankful to have had the instincts to let loose with them.

There was one time and only one time that I was “on” in basketball. I was just shooting around – I think with no one – on the outdoor courts at UMBC. I just got this feeling like every shot I took was going to go in. And they did. It didn’t last long – maybe only 2 shots – but I KNEW it. Before I even took the shot. And the first one I missed, I even felt that too. This was like that. Only I wasn’t by myself in the freezing cold avoiding Laura Garms tonight.

I think a major role in how loose and present I was had EVERYTHING to do with me not having to memorize stage commands. Last year, I had to concentrate so hard on remembering to walk while thinking, stop to make a point, take a step to the left, end up in the middle to deliver the thesis, don’t retreat, NEVER retreat. Not now. There was a flood light on the entire stage every moment I was speaking and I just tried to make sure not to fall off of it.

I got through the first two pieces with as much laughter as I’ve ever heard. And after those first two pieces, I get to sit for about 15 minutes and just watch. And sing. And of course I got to deliver one of the biggest laugh lines of the show with “I [pause] see dead people.” I decided to add the pause this time to make the crowd expect a sentimental moment from me, only to yank the football away again. Once again, awesomeness.

Everybody seemed more relaxed. Kevin had the crowd laughing, Molly even called out to the crowd at one point and Jenn (performer) was completely audible to the latecomers in the back, which we were all worried about for good reason, but turned out to be just fine. I think. Truthfully I’m not sure. Get here on time next time.

“What’s wrong with you?” Crazy Bitch blares over the now much more audible speakers. My turn to get back up. And if the crowd liked the opening bit that much, I couldn’t wait to see how they’d react to the part that is supposed to be funny. And they ate it up. This article is becoming very boring for me to write now, since it seems like that’s all I have to say. I settled down in the Brick Street piece much more than ever. Better than rehearsal had ever been. I specifically remember taking my time when I went to mount the “dancer.” I lifted my leg up and put it down several times as if preparing for the kill. It’s something that hadn’t even occurred to me to do until just then on stage. Just using more negative space for humor.

This was also finally the time I had actually lost control of myself during the douchebag dance. I found myself falling back toward my seat (thankfully not forward), but was able to regain control without breaking form for the 7 seconds I need to do the stupid dance. Apparently it’s harder than I gave it credit for being. Poor douchebags.

My last piece was emotional. It’s the story of origin of Jenn and I. I was getting a little choked up at this part, which is somewhat by design. I like to show the crowd that I’m not just a superficial tail-chasing frat guy, but I have changed. The show gets heavy at this point and not only does thinking about Jenn (fiancée) make me emotional, but so do the other performer’s stories. My heart still stops every time I see Kevin push back his box. And I get my emotions from another source on this night. Tonight, I am proud of the work we have put together. I feel that I’ve done something meaningful. Something real. Something my dad would be proud of. This isn’t just 5 minutes of dick jokes anymore. This is inspiring people. And that is inspiring me. And it gets me emotional. So I let it use me and I use it. I got through the longest (and most emotional) part of my show perfect and after “If you spend you whole life changing the radio station just in case there’s a better song on the radio… you’re not gonna listen to a whole lot of music,” I got applause. Loud and genuine applause.

I sat down and watched Jenn (performer) finish her hopeful bit, Molly finish her uplifting bit, and Kevin cap his tragedy in especially heartbreaking fashion. He got to his part about the box and I got chills. Still, after all this time. I had to repress the emotions to close the show. It was only three sentences and honestly, I wish I had left a few tears in my eyes when I said them. But it was still moving. And real. For the record, if you’ve seen the last part of the show and feel like I’m cheating by summoning that emotion, well the truth is that I always feel that. Every performance. It’s just a matter of how much I choose to suppress it. And for those who still believe that tears are only an indication of sadness, I hope you’ll grow out of that one day.

The unfortunate thing about this performance is that I’ll never again be able to perform for less than 250 people. This experience was too good. I’m going out on top. And since this is so meaningful and inspirational, I’m likely not going to ever be able to do stand up again. Five minutes of dick jokes isn’t even a craving of mine anymore. Even the Speakeasy stage, which was once my light house, has become my albatross in equal measure. Yeah, I’m still not sure what that metaphor means.

But anyway, I just heard today that we’ve been accepted as part of the Fringe Festival again this summer. So it looks like the beat will go on. And others will get to see the show. Don’t miss out this time. And bring a date. Trust me. It will work.

Inside the Head of a Performer IV: The Remount – Part 1

Inside the Head of a Performer IV: The Remount – Part 1
Logic, Luck and Love

I’ve apparently written over 7,000 words on the first five-day run of Logic, Luck and Love last summer. Don’t worry. I no longer have that kind of time on my hands.

Sold out show. Atlas Theater. 250+ people in the stands at $22 each. I’d seen this large a crowd before at the Funny Bone in Cincinnati. But those people were there to see Adam Ferrara or Steve Trevino. I just had to tell five minutes of dick jokes and hand off the microphone to the people that the crowd really came to see. This time, I was Adam Ferrara. Or at least one of four Adam Ferraras.

So yeah, I was nervous. I was fine – actually feeling good – until the day before when I got a text message from Jenn (performer) saying she was just starting to get nervous. That text was a virtual computer virus because I caught her nerves just from opening the message. But it didn’t really hit me until the day of.

Half an hour to show time. That’s really when it hit me. Kevin was trying on shirts and talking to Molly about something unrelated to the sheer terror of performance storytelling. I couldn’t listen anymore. I went to the other section of the green room to reinforce my rib cage so my heart would be less likely to burst completely out and onto the ground. Unfortunately the three beer rule doesn’t apply to theater. Not when I have other people counting on me. I don’t know why not, really. Seems sort of idealistic for no fucking reason now.

It was time. Ten minutes to curtain (a business term I’ve since picked up). Time to go upstairs and pace around backstage and try not to piss or shit myself. I can’t specifically say that I’ve never been this nervous, considering this is an immeasurable variable and knowing the fallibility of human memory, but I had started chewing Kevin’s fingernails.

I peeked out from behind the curtain at the growing crowd. There are several parts of my opening monologue where I need to call out people in the audience and connect with them through eye contact so I could project my desires onto them. They don’t need to be too specific, but I need one to not be obese (“no fatties”) and another to be female (“the willingness to perform certain… sexual… acts”) – preferably hot – and I’d like to know before I walk out there where I can look to find these people. After the rehearsal, I wasn’t sure how far I’d be able to see into the crowd. It got pretty dark out there and since I was first up, my eyes would have no time to adjust.

ANYWAY, I peeked from behind the curtain, something Kevin does often, but the two ladies see as unprofessional. And then I saw the middle section third row. From right to left (how I saw them) was Ashley (my cousin’s girlfriend), Johnnie (cousin), Uncle John, Aunt Joyce, Jenn (fiancée), Meatwad, and his date (or so I assumed and was wrong). I owned that middle section third row. And something honestly unprecedented happened.

I had a sense of calm. I got this. This show is going to be awesome. And easy. I had been walloping my lines into my gray matter all week long and I felt a confidence I hadn’t ever felt before. In anything. I probably never had any material that I had rehearsed even a tenth as much as this stuff. And as opposed to last summer, I wasn’t just done writing it the week before. I stopped the constant rehearsing of the opening act I’d been doing in my head for the last 25 minutes. I knew I’d be fine out there. Not only that, but I knew I’d be able to be in the moment out there, talking to the crowd. Not thinking about the next line as I’m saying this one. Thus making it more real. I felt a cocky. Which happened to be good for my character. This was better than OK.

Amy came up, said some stuff, introduced us, and I was ready to go. The music started. Quietly. Too quietly. Something was wrong. We were on opposite ends of the stage. Both sides missed the cue but thankfully we came out at the same time. And when we walked on stage, there was a wave of applause. That had never happened before. This was going to be easy.

(to be continued tomorrow (hopefully))

Street Life

Street Life

I saw a man walking two elementary school-aged girls across a busy Baltimore intersection today against a very obvious red light. A car came by at a normal speed and missed the three of them by enough distance not to concern me. This man strangely got very upset at the car and despite the windows being rolled up and the distance the car was already away from the father-of-the-year, started yelling something to the nature of “I have kids here! What the hell do you think you’re doing?!” This man seemed to be under the impression that children trumped the laws of traffic. For the record, I’m against running over children with cars in any avoidable circumstance, but even if this was true, it most assuredly does not trump the laws of physics.

I thought to yell out and ask him why he was dragging his two girls across the street against the better advice of the solid orange hand and if he thought maybe that was an issue that should be addressed. Then I thought better of it. I’m not speaking to this man’s intelligence or his love for these two little girls – but in the equation that equals dragging these girls through traffic against even their better judgment, one of those variables is bound to be far lower than average.