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Oscar snubs its nose at you, Matt Damon (et. al)

"What do you mean I didn't get an Oscar nomination? I gained 40 POUNDS!"

Every year begins with the same blasted vow: I won’t wear my heart on my sleeve. I won’t get sucked in. I’ll be strong and aloof. In short, I swear I won’t let myself get emotionally involved in the Oscar race.

PFFFFFFT. Go on. Now pull the other one.

Yeah, so that never happens. Never comes close to happening. It’s all gibberish. Maybe my real resolution should be that one of these days I might flush all these delusions of keeping my heart out of the Oscar race down le porcelain bowl … but it won’t be this year! Especially not this year, when the Best Picture race got expanded to 10 (what a nice, big, fat round number, no?), a sure signal that the Academy had opened its ranks to deserving films that, before, never would have had a chance.

While that may be true (say what you want about “Avatar,” but rare is the blockbuster that crashes the Best Picture ball), in true Academy fashion these snobbish cats have doled out some fairly glaring and some just-plain-wrong snubs. They are as follows:

Best Picture / “Star Trek,” “Two Lovers” — Mental gymnastics are required to reason out why “Avatar,” with its amazing visuals and so-so storyline, merited an Oscar nod while “Star Trek” did not. J.J. Abrams’ energetic, heartfelt summer blockbuster is nothing short of a total reinvention. Thrilling action, special effects, wit, verve, inside jokes, great acting — “Star Trek” has them all in spades. James Gray’s “Two Lovers takes what could have been a Lifetime TV movie — an aimless, emotionally damaged man (Joaquin Phoenix) torn between two women — and turns it into a nuanced character study with almost no melodrama, and a very fine motion picture deserving of some statues.

Best Actor / Damon, Maguire, Phoenix — Oh, the triple negligence the Academy has perpetrated in this, its 82nd awards season. First is their thoughtless brush-aside of Matt Damon, who comically and painfully captured the disordered mind of whistleblower Mark Whitacre in Stephen Soderbergh’s deceptively jaunty “The Informant!” (His acting there was better than “Invictus.”) Second was the blatant disregard of Tobey Maguire’s blistering portrayal of a POW so ruined by war that he cannot reclaim his family and life in “Brothers.” Last but for certainly not least is the absence of Joaquin Phoenix’s name, which is a travesty considering his troubled Leonard Kraditor in “Two Lovers” may be the most haunting, commendable piece of acting he’s ever done.

Best Actress / Abbie Cornish — In the Focus Features 2006 film “Candy,” Abbie Cornish gave us a glimpse of her blossoming talent, but in “Bright Star,”* about Romantic poet John Keat’s short-lived, passionate romance with Fanny Brawne, she emerges fully formed. She gives beaming vitality, spirit and life to one of poetry’s greatest-known muses, and for that she deserves much, much acclaim. Why, Academy, do you insist on withholding the love?

Best Supporting Actress / Laurent, Rossellini — Considering the hot, exhilarating mess of a spectacle that is “Inglourious Basterds”, perhaps it’s inevitable that someone would get lost in the mix. That someone, however, should not be Parisian actress Mélanie Laurent, for her Shosanna is the emotional center of the film; her outstanding one-on-one with Waltz in the cafe should have cemented that award. Isabella Rossellini, who plays Leonard’s worried mother in “Two Lovers,” is no less subtle or devastating. Her quiet performance is a thing of beauty, and it’s the crowning achievement of a career that hasn’t had that many. 

Best Original Screenplay / “The Brothers Bloom” — Rian Johnson is the man who gave us “Brick,” that outrageously stylish mix of gumshoe talk and teen hormones. And now this, a wildly twisty dramedy about two conmen brothers — one wants out; the other turns long cons into art — and the rich, innocent mark they’re about to bilk out of millions. Is it arty, maybe a bit too arch and complex? Maybe. Does it possess the kind of fiendish cleverness and originality Hollywood sorely lacks? Abso-damn-lutely.

Best Original Song / “Stu’s Song” — I’m not about to argue that “Stu’s Song,” hilariously performed by Ed Helms in “The Hangover,” is overflowing with the emotional depth of, say, “The Weary Kind” or has the glitter-and-sequins of “Take It All.” But it’s still an tremendously funny tune that manages to be clever and neatly sum up what “The Hangover” is all about. And that last line is PRICELESS.

*Review forthcoming

Judd who?: The randy dudecom returns in “The Hangover”

Ed Helms ponders that age-old question of "Which came first, the chicken or the hangover?" in "The Hangover."

Ed Helms ponders that age-old question of "Which came first, the chicken or the hangover?" in "The Hangover."

“The Hangover” is a rarity these days, as out of place in Hollywood as William H. Macy in “Wild Hogs”: a rude, crude and unapologetically lewd man-boy comedy. Remember those? The movies where guys got drunk on Budweiser, staged wrestling matches in pools of KY, did every dumb and random thing that popped into their sex-focused brains? Since that Judd Apatow character came along, dudecoms have been in short supply.

Not anymore. In fact, “The Hangover” feels a little like a big fat “suck it” to Apatow and his minions. Gone is the talk of feelings, the heart-to-hearts, the squishy male bonding. In its place, director Todd Phillips (hint: he made “Old School”) throws, well, everything else imaginable, from a tiger to a stolen police cruiser to a squirrelly Asian gangster who delights in “you’re so fat” jokes – all framed in a flashback narrative. It’s a trippy approach that manages to be as consistently funny as it is reliably surprising. And where’s the action? Vegas, baby, always Vegas.

And since “The Hangover” is a Vegas movie, it must begin with a bang: Tightly-wound Stu (Ed Helms), rakish Phil (Bradley Cooper) and bearded weirdo Alan (Zach Galifianakis) wake up in their trashed hotel room still drunk with no memory of the bachelor party they threw for groom-to-be Doug (Justin Bartha). Doug’s nowhere to be found, but that’s not the only problem. There’s a stolen cop car, a very pissed-off tiger, a man-purse overflowing with $80,000 in poker chips, a pragmatic stripper (Heather Graham) looking for Mr. Right. Oh, and a chicken.

Time to zip up about how these pieces fit together; the whole point of “The Hangover” is the gradual reconstruction of the gang’s epic bachelor party. The flashback framing gives Phillips the chance to monkey with time and structure, but “Hangover” is no “Memento”; it’s hardly that cerebral. What it is is a cheerfully crass whodunit-of-sorts that gives the actors plenty of room to get their joke on. Admittedly, some do it better than others. Bartha’s missing for 90 minutes, so he means little; he’s just the catalyst. He’s too vanilla, anyway. (He’s been unimpressive since his turn as a mentally-challenged hostage in “Gigli.”) Cooper, with his creepily blue eyes and (what I swear to be) an I’m-hiding-heads-in-my-freezer grin, pulls the charming jerk card. That works here. Helms works his barely-contained Andy Bernard rage to great comic effect at every turn. He’s Happy Gilmore with the volume on 4, or a kinder, gentler Phil Weston. Pay attention to his “riddle me that” speech; Helms makes it one of the movie’s funniest moments.

But the rest of those moments belong to Galifianakis. His awkward, socially-stunted performance has so many critics wetting themselves you might be tempted to think it can’t be that good. It is. Alan’s a socially-frustrated goob who always says the wrong thing, who aims for wit but lands on stupidity. Galifianakis lets that awkwardness flower, blurting out things like “I wish I could breast-feed” or calling Roofies “rapies.”  Don’t look away; this is how great comedy careers are born.

And how great franchises are born. Can’t wait for “The Hangover 2: Trippin’ Balls and Nailing Chicks.”

Grade: B