Oscar Quest Update: One Smaug Down, One Song Axed

When seeking to watch all the Oscar-nominated movies, sometimes the Academy rule book does you a solid. Rescinding the Alone Yet Not Alone nomination means the goal is within reach.

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When seeking to watch all the Oscar-nominated movies, sometimes the Academy rule book does you a solid. Rescinding the "Alone Yet Not Alone" nomination means the goal is within reach.

All along, Alone Yet Not Alone was shaping up to be the white whale of Oscar season. Having come from so far outside the film industry, after a distribution pattern that felt intended to purposely keep it away from heathen eyeballs, there was a very real possibility that it was going to be too challenging to track down. So last week's news that the Academy had rescinded the Best Original Song nomination for the film's title track, while a bummer for the song's writers and a missed opportunity for the Oscar telecast to have Beyoncé perform it on the Oscar telecast, was a godsend for fools like me who are trying to see all the Oscar nominees.

So where do things stand today?

Previous Tally: 17 nominated feature films, 15 nominated short films unseen

Progress Report: I figured I might as well get started with the biggest, most obvious film, so I bit the bullet for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. As somebody who thought the first Hobbit movie was decidedly okay, it was only the bloated running time that I was dreading here. But I found this second installment to be a big step down from the first, packed to the gills with a lot of obvious boondoggling as we wait for the merry band of dwarves to get from Point A to whatever the Point B is in the third and final film. God bless Evangeline Lilly and Orlando Bloom and Luke Evans and Stephen Fry but what were they all doing there? One silver lining (besides Aidan Turner as The One Cute Dwarf whose status as The One Cute Dwarf actually becomes something of a plot point) was the design work on the dragon, Smaug, so I suppose that Best Visual Effects nomination was warranted. In any other year, it'd probably win, but it's up against Gravity, so don't bet on it. (Also expected to lose: Iron Man 3The Lone Ranger, and Star Trek into Darkness).

Via the venerable and ancient technology known as DVD, I was able to watch The Lone Ranger, a notorious summer bomb that has nonetheless amassed some supporters among critics, including raves for the film's two action setpieces atop trains. These voices of support are ... commendable, I guess? I just don't know what film they were watching. Alternately dull and cringe-worthy, the film is a clear attempt by Gore Verbinski to recapture that Pirates of the Caribbean magic, but the moments of fun sprinkled throughout never quite manage to sustain. Also those action scenes atop trains were pretty standard action scenes atop trains. I understand that building actual physical trains to be demolished is admirable and old school effects way, but I was far more thrilled by the bullet train sequence in The Wolverine, despite its copious CGI. The film's other nomination is for Best Makeup/Hairstyling, for Johnny Depp's painted face and for making William Fichtner unrecognizable underneath layers of grime and gore. And also apparently for the framing scenes of Old Tonto, even though Depp barely looks human under all that prosthetic glop.

Finally, I took advantage of big city livin' and went and saw the Live-Action Short Film program at the IFC Center. The five nominated shorts were a better batch than last year, I'd say, and offer a fairly diverse range of subjects and tones, which makes predicting a winner somewhat tough. My favorite was Just Before Losing Everythinga fantastically tense French mini-thriller about a woman trying to escape an abusive husband with her children, and finding herself caught up in the bureaucracy and geography of the big-box store where she works. Also good: That Wasn't Me, which deals in the topic of African child soldiers; and Helium, a sentimental story about terminal illness at a children's hospital. The flashiest of the five is The Voorman Problem, which boasts actors you'll recognize (Martin Freeman and Tom Hollander) and a snappy Twilight Zone-ish plot. The final nominee to screen was Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?, which plays like a Finnish Modern Family, but which got big laughs out of a crowd that had endured a good bit of tension and drama from the previous films. If my audience was any indication, it's either this one or Helium for the win.

Availability Updates: Foreign-film nominee Omar is set to open in New York and Los Angeles theaters on February 21. The Croods made the jump from Netflix disc-plan only to Netflix Instant. The Live-Action and Animated Shorts programs are playing at both Nitehawk Cinemas and BAM Rose Cinemas in Brooklyn, in addition to the IFC Center. (In L.A., you're looking at the Landmark NuArt.)

Next Update: I've got screeners for The Grandmaster and The Great Beauty, and hopefully another shorts program. Also, this arrives shortly:

Current Tally: 14 nominated feature films (below), 10 nominated short films still unseen.

The Book Thief
The Broken Circle Breakdown
The Croods
Cutie and the Boxer
Despicable Me 2
Ernest & Celestine
The Grandmaster
The Great Beauty
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
The Invisible Woman
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
The Lone Ranger
Lone Survivor
The Missing Picture
The Square

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