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It’s your of end the week movie news non-filibuster

While Bernie Sanders did his thing on the floor of the senate today, Hollywood liberals, and a few conservatives too, we’re busy doing their thing so that the guys who owned all the studios would have all the more money to save from their big, big tax break. To wit…

* Robert Rodriguez and the other makers of  the modestly budgeted “Machete” got a nasty surprise from the Texas Film Commission, which appears to be reneging on $1.7 million in tax rebates. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, It has something to do with a law against providing the incentives to films portraying Texas and/or Texans negatively. Every film portrays people negatively. This reeks of political selectivity, probably related to the film’s deliberately nonpartisan lampooning of anti-immigrant hysteria and demagogic politicians. “Machete” goes out of its way to avoid naming the evil politician played by Robert De Niro as a member of either party, in fact.

If Texas doesn’t change it’s tune, and fast, I agree for once with the L.A. Times‘ Patrick Goldstein and seriously hope nobody from outside the state shoots a single foot of film in Texas until such time as the state seeks to elect non-mouthbreathers to statewide office. They have, indeed, fucked with the wrong Mexican.

Danny Trejo is

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Two kinds of eerie for a Black Friday evening

Viral marketing was very good for Neil Blomkamp on “District 9.” So, no wonder he’s indulging in it again for something which apparently first showed up in some kind of newfangled i-something version of Wired Magazine.

And now a brief clip from what seems certain to be one of the year’s biggest sensations and a very likely major Oscar contender, Darren Aronofsky’s “The Black Swan.” I’m really hoping this will be 50% Powell and Pressburger’s “The Red Shoes,” 50% Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion” and 50% something entirely new and original.

H/t Movieline and the Playlist.

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Trailer: “Skyline”

Now that Angelenos are getting our own “Law & Order” show and are coming out the other end of killer heat wave, I guess it makes sense that we get our first big movie alien invasion since, I think, the 1953 version of “War of the Worlds.”

This is supposedly a lowish budget affair and is impressive. I kind of dig the “District 9“-esque effects, and there are some decent low-budget actors here as well. Might not be bad.

H/t /Film.

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Some not very newsy awards news (updated)

The Writers Guild and the Sound Editors gave out their awards last night and it’s safe to say that, winners aside, no one’s world was too terribly rocked.

Journalist-turned-screenwriter Mark Boal was rewarded for his hard-earned real-world experience as an embedded reporter with a Best Original Screenplay nod for “The Hurt Locker.” In another completely unsurprising award, the well-liked and respected Jason Reitman was similarly rewarded for his critically acclaimed work on the adult-aimed topical comedy, “Up in the Air.” The documentary category wasn’t much of a surprise either, with the muckraking “The Cove” picking up yet another award.

This isn’t quite on the level of a statistical study, but it’s worth noting that, for the last couple of years at least, the WGA awards and the Oscars have been lining up 100% in the writing categories, so Oscar betters should take note.  This is a bit of a blow to any fans of Quentin Tarantino“Pulp Fiction” screenplay and the writers tend to be a bit more openminded about offbeat films than Oscar voters as a whole. who might have been hoping for some Oscar wins, as Best Original Screenplay has been “his” category in the sense that his only Oscar win so far has been for his

Still, older and/or less geeky fans of old-school post-war (as in WWII) realism are likely impressed by the real-life underpinnings of Boal’s work and Kathryn Bigelow’s film is just edgy enough, while not marred in the minds of some by being a “fun” war movie, and “Inglourious Basterds” is definitely fun. It’s also controversial to some degree, perhaps not the best combination if all you want out of a movie is award wins.

James Gandolfini and Mimi Kennedy in In the adapted screenplay category, I personally wouldn’t have minded seeing the award go to the brilliant and scabrous “In the Loop,” but that film was less widely seen and it’s humor might be bit too nasty (in a good, cleansing way) and British for some.

[UPDATE: Aren't you people supposed to correct me when I write complete nonsense? If I had bothered to check a bit more carefully this morning before I wrote this, I would have noted/remembered that "Basterds" was not nominated for a Writers Guild award and therefore might have somewhat better Oscar screenplay chances than I initially thought. The same applies to "In the Loop." These scripts were not eligible under the WGA's rather arcane rules which also disqualified such worthy films as "An Education." If you're curious about the reasons why, Steve Pond, via Anne Thompson, had a partial explanation back in January. Anyhow, thanks to Anne Thompson, whose post on this showed me the error of my ways, or whatever. We now resume our regularly scheduled blog post.]

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Traditional Oscar bait takes a back seat at 2010 Academy Award nominations

Or at least that’s how I read the nominations that were announced this morning at the unholy hour of 5:38 by Anne Hathaway and some guy you never heard of — actually Academy president Tom Sherak. The short version of what happened was that there no huge surprises. “Avatar” and “The Hurt Locker” both got nine nominations, with “Inglourious Basterds” netting eight, and “Precious” and “Up in the Air” getting six apiece. You can see a complete list of the nominations courtesy of Indiewire/Eugene Hernandez, but Nikki Finke was kind enough to perform a handy count-up of the nominations.

“Avatar” 9, “The Hurt Locker” 9, “Inglourious Basterds” 8, “Precious” 6, “Up in the Air” 6, “Up” 5, “District 9” 4, “Nine” 4, “Star Trek” 4, “Crazy Heart” 3, “An Education” 3, “The Princess and the Frog” 3, “The Young Victoria” 3, “The Blind Side” 2, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” 2, “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” 2, “Invictus” 2, “The Last Station” 2, “The Messenger” 2, “A Serious Man” 2, “Sherlock Holmes” 2, “The White Ribbon” 2.

Without going into a lengthy dissertation on what makes for high quality Oscar bait, let’s just say that in many prior Oscar races the fact that “Avatar” is an effects driven space opera and “The Hurt Locker” a rather grim, eye-level, and uncompromising look at men doing an unpleasant job, would have all but eliminated both films. Admittedly, both films, however, benefit from certain features which have helped numerous other films: a certain degree of social consciousness never hurts with Oscar. Of course, really strong political statements are more problematic, but “The Hurt Locker” is simply honest about the psychological effects of war and hard to argue with from any political position, I hope — it could have been made about any war and been equally valid. “Avatar” is considerably more pointed and arguably even partisan, as our conservative friends love to point out, but the protective coloration of science fiction makes it all go down a bit easier.

OscarsOnRedCarpet

As for “Inglourious Basterds,” Quentin Tarantino‘s entire body of work is a poke in the eye to the earnest, highly digestible “socially positive” values and traditionalist presentation preferred by Oscar. The fact that he even gets nominated as much as he does is testament to his unquestionable talent and appeal. “Up in the Air,” which beat “Basterds” in the screenplay category at the Golden Globes, seems like much more like the kind of film that Oscar traditionally favors. It’s non-polarizing nature might also help it with this year’s odd voting system for Best Picture. (Voters rate the films by preference, rather than simply voting for one film.) Still, with ten nominations breaking up the usual demographic voting blocks — with younger voters and older voters sometimes having very different views of the award-worthy nature of genre films, for example — I really think that about half of the films in this category have a pretty serious shot at winning the award.

Now, let’s take a look at the this year’s expanded list of ten Best Picture nominees as provided by Indiewire, doubled to ten this year from the usual five:

“Avatar”, James Cameron and Jon Landau, Producers
“The Blind Side”, Nominees to be determined
“District 9”, Peter Jackson and Carolynne Cunningham, Producers
“An Education”, Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey, Producers
“The Hurt Locker”, Nominees to be determined
“Inglourious Basterds”, Lawrence Bender, Producer
“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”, Lee Daniels, Sarah Siegel-Magness and Gary Magness, Producers
“A Serious Man”, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, Producers
“Up”, Jonas Rivera, Producer
“Up in the Air”, Daniel Dubiecki, Ivan Reitman and Jason Reitman, Producers

Among the dark horses — the films I would be truly surprised to see win best picture — we have the very non-Oscar-baity “A Serious Man” which apparently beat out Tom Ford’s highly acclaimed “A Single Man” in the divisive sub-sub-sub category of minority-group driven movies whose title is “A (S-word) Man.” The Coen Brothers film is a scabrous comedy and also grim in a not obviously socially redeeming way. Disney/Pixar’s “Up“  and Neil Blomkamp’s science-fiction “District 9” are similar to “Avatar” in that they would be more Oscar friendly for certain of their elements (poignant comedy/smart political parable) if they were in non-animated and/or non-sci-fi but, unlike “Avatar,” they haven’t been sweeping up awards anyway.

Oddly enough, the two most traditionally Oscar-friendly films on the list, “The Blind Side” and “An Education,” are both fairly large dark horses in most categories simply because they haven’t won that many awards up to now, the exception being best actress where Sandra Bullock seems to be running neck and neck for Best Actress with Meryl Streep in “Julie and Julia.” “An Education” and “A Serious Man” have the further downside in what I see as fairly ridiculous charges of antisemitism against both films (covered really nicely in this piece from The Jewish Journal). As a person of Jewish ethnicity myself, I think people who feel this way are really missing the point. Still, some of them may be Academy voters.

<a href=”http://cuzoogle.com/2009/02/20/bet-on-the-oscars-and-prove-to-all-you-have-a-problem/”><img class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-19855″ title=”OscarsOnRedCarpet” src=”http://www.premiumhollywood.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/OscarsOnRedCarpet.jpg” alt=”OscarsOnRedCarpet” width=”477″ height=”318″ /></a>

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Friday movie news dump: Critic’s Choice Awards; Hollywood helping Haiti (updated)

I’m getting off to a late start tonight, so let’s get on with it.

* Via Roger Ebert’s tweet, we have the news on the Critic’s Choice awards, which are voted on by broadcast and some internet critics. “The Hurt Locker” won best picture, and best director for Kathryn Bigelow. “Inglourious Basterds” also had an extremely good night, as did Jeff Bridges. There was a tie for best actress between Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep. Good ol’ Nathaniel R. liveblogged the proceedings.

Christoph Waltz in And, if I was a betting man (and I sorta kinda am), I’d be tempted to head up to Vegas and bet the farm on basterd Christoph Waltz and Mo’Nique of “Precious” for the supporting role categories at the Oscars.

UPDATE: I failed to note  earlier that “Avatar” managed a near clean-sweep of the more production/technical oriented awards, though the Best Make-Up award went to “District 9.”

* In light of what’s been going in Haiti, I’ve been feeling a bit guilty on not mentioning it and focusing on what is, after all, a business that is all about diversion and distraction. So, I’m glad to be able to make tonight’s longest item a mention of the massive fundraising telethon George Clooney is organizing and cohosting, along with Wyclef Jean and Anderson Cooper, on January 22nd. Nikki Finke is also reporting that Not On Our Watch, an “international advocacy and grantmaking organization” founded by Clooney and friends Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Brad Pitt, and others has donated $1 million to emergency medical care. The super-cool Anne Thompson has some more details and links to places where you can give, and also has some additional news on good works done by show biz folks.

It’s also nice to report that the interwebs have been doing a fabulous job of fundraising but, of course, this is a really massive disaster and more will be needed for a nation that has already been long on the ropes. On the political net, DailyKos diarists are posting new rundowns of places to help each day. The Huffington Post and Rachel Maddow‘s sites have an excellent rundown of organizations that need your help. If those links are a bit too latte-sipping Blue State for your tastes, conservative blogger the Anchoress has also posted a list of many of the same organizations. I’d also like to put in a plug for the excellent Oxfam America which is already on the the ground in Haiti and has been especially active in terms of providing water and sanitation, which is going to be absolutely vital. Please click on any of these links and, especially if you can afford to an haven’t already given something, do what you can.

* The bidding, or whatever it is, on MGM is underway.

* I should probably have mentioned yesterday how Nikkie Finke’s “Toldja!” yesterday was that Disney has a new production chief with a quite interesting creative background that includes the upcoming “Tron: Legacy” and Project Greenlight. Following up on yesterday’s news, Finke points out an apparent irony.

* The extremely smart Jonah Hill to turn producer for…”21 Jump Street” with the directors of “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs“? Sure, why not?

jonah-hill-transformers-2

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Movie news for a dying decade

It’s the very last day of the aughts, the noughties, or the 2000s, whichever term you prefer, and there’s some movie news to pass along.

* It’s a funny day to have a stockholders meeting, but that’s appears to be what Marvel Entertainment did and, yes, they approved the widely heralded Disney merger. Russ Fischer at /film has the details.

* With, as far as I can see, no major wide releases or, as I far as I can tell, even large expansions to talk about and not much other information available, I’m dispensing with this week’s box office preview. However, Jolly Carl DiOrio is here to tell us that this weekend is going to look a little something like last weekend.

That’s not to say there aren’t some new movies out that you can see this week — though you’ll possibly have to live in New York or L.A. to see them. Since I dig Tennessee Williams, I’m sorry to see the bad reviews for “Loss of a Teardrop Diamond. South Korea’s “The Chaser” was a hit at home for director Na Hong-Jin and looks intriguing to me. It has also been optioned for a high profile American remake, possibly involving Leonardo DiCaprio and screenwriter William Monahan of “The Departed.”

the-chaser-movie-3

* Speaking of box office, I’m not sure this is exactly news, but, get this, “Avatar” is doing really well — it just passed the $800 million mark worldwide — and looks likely to continue to do extremely well for quite a long time. Even the busiest man in the world apparently couldn’t wait to see it in the White House movie theater (I wonder if it can show digital 3-D?) Also note that eight year-old Sacha and 11 year-old Malia were allowed to see it even though it has a PG-13 rating . Expect this to be discussed at length on the Sunday shows.

* I had to update yesterday’s post to correct this. Apparently, The Weinstein Company is going to leave “Nine” in the roughly 1,400 theaters it’s in, despite last week’s poor showing.

* It’s now “Sir Captain Picard” to you. Alongside Patrick Stewart, film and theater director Nicolas Hytner (“The Madness of King George”) just got an excuse to be extra snooty.

* Neil Blomkamp of “District 9” wants to make original films that aren’t based on older franchises and, so, has said he’ll stay away from large budgets. He’s not dumb.

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Celluloid Heroes: Jason Zingale’s Best (and Worst) Films of 2009

For film critics, the end of the year means only one thing: “best of” lists. It’s probably one of my favorite parts about the job, so when Bullz-Eye decided to do a decade-end feature in place of our annual retrospective, I didn’t let that deter me from putting one together anyway. This year’s crop of films was just as uneven as in past years, but while you might have had to dig a little deeper to find some real gems, there’s no denying that 2009 still delivered some truly great movies. Here’s a look at my ten favorite films, along with a few honorable mentions and a list of the year’s worst.

THE BEST FILMS of 2009:

1. “Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino’s WWII revenge fantasy is every fan’s dream movie. Not only does it feature the director’s trademark dialogue (and plenty of it), but it also boasts a stellar ensemble cast, award-worthy performances from Christoph Waltz and Michael Fassbender, and some of the most thrilling sequences of the year. The German bar scene may feature QT at his nostalgic best, but the opening chapter is his magnum opus. That “Inglourious Basterds” can run for an additional 120 minutes and still be just as engaging is a testament to the film’s supreme quality.

2. “The Hurt Locker

This Iraq war thriller is one of the most suspenseful movies I’ve ever seen, piling on the tension so high that you’ll literally spend the entire film on the edge of your seat. Jeremy Renner is a marvel to watch as the bomb squad thrill junkie at the center of the story, but the real star is director Kathryn Bigelow, who takes an otherwise barebones script and transforms it into a series of memorable set pieces that continually upstage the one before it. But best of all, “The Hurt Locker” proves that female directors don’t have to make movies for women to be taken seriously in Hollywood.

3. “Up in the Air

There’s a pretty good chance that “Up in the Air” would have moved up a spot on my list had I found the time to see it a second time, but as it stands, the Jason Reitman-directed seriocomedy is still one of the year’s best movies. Reitman may not get a lot of credit as a director, but between his funny and timely adaptation of the Walter Kirn novel and keen use of his actors, it’s pretty clear that he has a promising future in the business. George Clooney continues to charm the hell out of moviegoers in a role tailor-made for the veteran actor, while Anna Kendrick steals the show yet again in a performance that deserves to be rewarded come awards time.

4. “Fantastic Mr. Fox

I’m surely in the minority on this one, but “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is the best animated movie of the year. I love Pixar just as much as the next person, but while “Up” proved to be yet another excellent addition to the studio’s still-flawless portfolio, director Wes Anderson’s adaptation of the popular Roald Dahl children’s story is even better. From the spot-on voice cast and witty script to the incredible sets and wonderful costume design, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” has so many layers that you have to watch it several times just to soak up all of the rich detail that went into making the movie.

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Celluloid Heroes: David Medsker’s Top Movies of 2009

Let’s not mince words, because our very lives depend only upon truth: 2009 was not a great year for movies. It was the most profitable, but how much of that was driven by quality versus 3D and IMAX surcharges? And at the risk of sounding like one of those cranky critics who’s never satisfied, let me state that I did indeed find several movies that I enjoyed at the theater this year; I’m just not sure how many of them will stand the test of time.

This was very much a disposable entertainment kind of year, where movies were built to serve like a meal (consumed once), rather than a piece of furniture (stays with you for decades). Having said that, there were some damn good meals served up this year. Here are my ten favorites.

zombieland
10. Zombieland
The single best time I’ve ever had at the movies. It was at a theater that served beer, and the crowd was eager to have some fun. Needless to say, we did. I still think the death of the actor who turned in a brilliant cameo performance was cheap and illogical, but based on the woooooot! that it received when it happened, I am clearly in the minority.

avatar
9. Avatar
It’s not great storytelling – we’d actually pony up the dough for someone to punch up James Cameron’s dialogue if he’d allow it – but “Avatar” is extraordinary filmmaking. The landscapes of Pandora are so rich and unique that it’s easy to forget that none of it is real. To put in perspective just how huge “Avatar” is, the RoboCop-type battle weapon was the big showstopper in “District 9.” Here, there are dozens of them, and they’re just part of the scenery. People dog Cameron for his admittedly monstrous ego, but for God’s sake, look at this movie. Who else could make this? Nobody, that’s who. Love him or hate him, James Cameron makes sure every one of his movies gives you something you’ve never seen before, and holy cow, does he do that here.

district 9
8. District 9
That slapping sound you heard is Paul Verhoeven hitting his forehead for not thinking of this first. Neill Blomkamp’s aliens-as-Apartheid-victims story is the kind of art-imitates-life metaphor that makes Verhoeven involuntarily drool (and, sometimes, demand that an all-nude shower scene be written in somewhere), and Blomkamp works CGI miracles on a relatively miniscule $30 million budget.

basterds
7. Inglourious Basterds
It is such a treat watching Quentin Tarantino grow up. His stories are infinitely simpler, but they’re better because of it. “Basterds” is his simplest one yet, and while the movie is mostly dialogue, it’s not overly chatty. The scene in the sub-level German bar is worth the price of admission below, but Tarantino goes one better by delivering an over-the-top finale that is revisionist history at its most sublime.

coraline
6. Coraline
We love “The Nightmare Before Christmas” as much as the next Goth kid, but “Coraline” is Henry Selick’s best stop-motion feature yet, by a country mile. It has all of the spooky/funny elements of “Nightmare,” but the story, courtesy of Neil Gaiman, is ten times better. Most importantly, this movie is actually scary, as in ‘pay attention to that PG rating before deciding whether to show it to your kids’ scary. Unless you want to be awaken by your six-year-old’s night terrors for the next nine months, in which case we say go nuts.

hurt locker
5. The Hurt Locker
This has to be the front runner for Best Picture at this point, and it’s a most worthy candidate. Kathryn Bigelow’s been playing with the big boys for a while now, but even when she had big names (Keanu Reeves, Patrick Swayze) or big budgets (“Strange Days”) behind her, she never had a story as gripping as “The Hurt Locker” at her disposal.

fantastic fox
4. Fantastic Mr. Fox
So delightfully odd that it’s almost impossible to describe. The animals, while incredibly well spoken, are still animals at heart – stay away from Mr. Fox when he’s eating – but Wes Anderson makes sure they’re also as human as can be. Bonus points for recruiting Jarvis Cocker to write the movie’s campfire song.

up 2
3. Up
It took repeat plays with my son to see just how bold and nontraditional this movie was. If the directors at Pixar are parts of the body, Pete Docter is unquestionably the heart, and his tale of a lonely widower and the little boy unfortunate enough to be on his porch when he sails his house for South America tugs the heartstrings like no other movie in Pixar’s catalog. When I interviewed Docter earlier this year, I told him that the “Married Life” montage brought me to tears…but not before I called him a bastard for making me cry. (He thought that was hilarious.) I’ve now seen the movie another five or six times, and damned if I don’t cry at that scene every single time. Fuck you, Pete Docter. You’re awesome, but fuck you.

500 days
2. (500) Days of Summer
The story of a guy who’s prone to fugue states, likes sad British pop music and singing karaoke, and spends years in the work force doing a job he has no business doing, and then he falls for the girl that is both the end-all-be-all and bane of his existence? Let’s just say that this movie spoke to me. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel are too cute for words as Tom and Summer, and director Marc Webb stages one of the simplest but most brilliant scenes of the year with Tom’s expectations of Summer’s party playing out side by side with the reality. Also had the best musical number of the year.

up in the air
1. Up in the Air
Director Jason Reitman taps into into George Clooney’s effortless, endless reservoir of cool and uses it to make his protagonist, the terminally single, travel-happy hatchet man Ryan Bingham, a likable guy. Clooney has never been better, and Anna Kendrick (props to EW’s Owen Gleiberman for his pitch-perfect description of her character as a ‘bottom-line chipmunk’) goes toe to toe with Clooney from start to finish. Just when I thought I knew where Reitman would go next, he veers off in a different, much better direction. He’s only made three full-length movies, and he’s already a better director than his father.

Honorable Mentions
Moon
Anvil: The Story of Anvil
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
Star Trek
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

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Golden Globes movie nominations: “Up in the Air” leads the way

I’ll start with the facts on the Golden Globe movie nominations, which came out this morning, and move on to just a bit of opining about the awards themselves later on. (Will Harris has his thoughts on who should win among the television Golden Globe nominees down below.)

As the above indicates, Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air” collected the most nominations from the awards given annually by the Hollywood Foreign Press Assocation (HFPA) with six nods. Just behind it was most of the other films that are emerging as this year’s awards usual suspects. The Broadway musical adaptation from director Rob Marshall, “Nine,” got five nominations; “Avatar,” and “Inglourious Basterds” received four nominations each. Following with three nominations were “The Hurt Locker,” “Invictus” and “Precious,” as well as two names that are somewhat new to this year’s awards sweepstakes, Tom Ford’s “A Single Man” and the upcoming star driven comedy from Nancy Myers, “It’s Complicated.” (Thanks to Nikki Finke, or her inevitably long-suffering assistant, for providing not only a complete list of nominations, but also a convenient awards tally not only by film, but also by studio and TV network.)

Neither “A Single Man” nor “Invictus” made the cut for “Best Picture – Drama.” Meryl Streep and Matt Damon both got two acting nominations, with Streep competing against herself in the “Best Actress – Comedy” category for “Julie & Julia” and “It’s Complicated.”

One factor that somewhat complicates covering the Globes is that they separate dramas from comedies and musicals. This year, “Up in the Air,” which bills itself as a “dramatic comedy” but which a lot of people seem to see as simply a mature and relatively low-key comedy with topical overtones, was nominated in the drama category. This prompted the AP (via MSNBC) to opine that the nomination in that category could give it more “weight” for the Oscars. I have to say that, while it’s so wrong in some many ways, there may be some truth to that and getting the meme out that the film is more drama than comedy might help Oscar voters to nominate it.

up-in-the-air-movie-review2

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