Sony Pictures via Everett Collection
There is a certain level of enjoyment you are guaranteed when signing on for a movie that boasts a cast of George Clooney, Matt Damon, John Goodman, and Bill Murray. And that's the precise level of enjoyment you'll get from The Monuments Men — that bare minimum smirk factor inherent the idea that your favorite stars are getting to play together. In FDR-era army helmets, no less. But what we also get from the film is an aura of smug self-confidence from project captain Clooney, who seems all too ready to take for granted that we're perfectly satisfied peering into his backyard clubhouse.
So assured is the director/co-writer that we're happy to be in on the game that there doesn't seem to be any effort taken to refine the product for the benefit of a viewing audience. An introductory speech from art historian Frank Stokes (Clooney) sets up the premise straight away: the Nazis are stealing and destroying all of Europe's paintings and sculptures, and by gum we need to stop them! The concept doesn't complicate from there, save for a batting back and forth of the throughline question about whether the preservation of these pieces is "really worth it." Stokes rallies his own Ocean's Seven on a fine arts rescue mission, instigating an old fashioned go-get-'em-boys montage where we learn everything we need to know about the band mates in question: Damon has a wife, Goodman has gumption, Murray doesn't smile, Bob Balaban is uppity, and Jean Dujardin is French.
The closest thing to a character in The Monuments Men comes in the form of Hugh Bonneville, a recovering alcoholic whose motivation to take on the dangerous mission is planted in a festering desire to absolve himself of a lifetime of f**king up. When we're away from Bonneville, the weight disspears, as does most of the joy. Without identifiable characters, even master funnymen like Goodman, Murray, and Balaban don't have much to offer... especially since the movie's jokes feel like first draft placeholders born on a tired night.
Sony Pictures via Everett Collection
But wait a minute, is this even supposed to be a comedy? After all, it's about World War II. And no matter what Alexandre Desplat's impossibly merry score would have you believe (coupled with The Lego Movie, this opening weekend might be responsible for more musical jubilance than any other since the days of "Make 'Em Laugh!"), warfare, genocide, and desecration of international culture all make for some pretty heavy material. But The Monuments Men's drama is just as fatigued as its humor, clumsily piecing together a collection of mini missions wherein the stakes, somehow, never seem to jump. We're dragged through military bases, battered towns, and salt mines by Clooney and the gang — occasionally jumping over to France to watch Damon work his least effective magic in years on an uptight Cate Blanchett, who holds the key to the scruffy American's mission but doesn't quite trust him... until, for no apparent reason, she suddenly does. We never feel like any of these people matter, not even to each other, so we never really feel like their adventures do.
The Monuments Men doesn't have much of a challenge ahead of it. Its heroes are movie stars, its bad guys are Nazis, and its message is one that nobody's going to refute: art is important — a maxim it pounds home with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, through countless scenes of men staring in awe at the works of Michelangelo and Rembrandt. And in this easy endeavor, Clooney decides to coast. How could it possibly go wrong? Just grab hold of the fellas, toss 'em in the trenches, and let the laughs and danger write themselves. "This is what they came to see," Monuments Men insists. "Just us guys havin' a ball." But we never feel in on the game, and it isn't one that looks like that much fun anyhow.
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The nominations for the 85th Academy Awards are out. But while Denzel Washington is laughing for having fooled the Academy into thinking Flight is an Oscar-worthy movie, Anne Hathaway is crying into her celebratory mimosa, and Kathryn Bigelow is trying hard not to cry for a completely different reason, we are scratching our heads. Thursday morning's announcement has left us with myriad ponderables. Here are 10 burning questions that have us yelling, "We want answers!" and running to Google faster than a cheetah on a treadmill.
The Best Supporting Actor category has a reputation for being dominated by Hollywood's veteran gentlemen. But, before this year, has there ever been an acting category filled with actors who already have an Oscar in their trophy case?
Nope. This would be the first time. Christoph Waltz won for Inglorious Basterds in 2010, Philip Seymour Hoffman for Capote in 2006, Robert De Niro for The Godfather: Part II (1975) and Raging Bull (1981), Alan Arkin for Little Miss Sunshine in 2007, Tommy Lee Jones for The Fugitive in 1994.
This could be the third Oscar for Robert De Niro and Daniel Day-Lewis. Who else has three? And who has the most wins?
Actors Ingrid Bergman, Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep, and Walter Brennan all have three Oscars. But Katherine Hepburn beats them all with four Best Actress wins. Competitors in non-acting categories, however, rake in even more awards. Composer Alan Menken has eight, costume designer Edith Head has eight, visual effects supervisor Dennis Muren has nine, and Walt Disney has the distinction of winning the most Academy Awards — he has 22.
In addition to his hosting duties, Seth MacFarlane was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Original Song category. Is this the first time a host has also been up for an award?
Nope! Just two years ago, James Franco co-hosted with Anne Hathaway while he was also nominated for Best Actor for 127 Hours. And before Franco, six other hosts played dual roles on the big night: Frank Capra (1938), Bob Hope (1952), David Niven (1958), Michael Caine (1972), Walter Matthau (1975), and Paul Hogan (1986). Capra, Hope, and Niven also walked away with trophies their respective years.
Austrian tear-jerker Amour has five chances to take home a trophy this year. How many times has the same movie been nominated for Best Picture as well as Best Foreign Language Film? And has the same movie ever won the Oscar in both categories?
There have only been nine foreign language films nominated for Best Picture: Grand Illusion, 1938; Z, 1969; The Emigrants, 1972; Cries and Whispers, 1973; Il Postino, 1995; Life Is Beautiful, 1998; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, 2000; Letters from Iwo Jima, 2006; and Amour, 2012. Of those movies Z, Life Is Beautiful, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon won Best Foreign Language Film rather than Best Picture. The Emigrants is the only film to lose both. Grand Illusion was nominated before Best Foreign Language Film was created, Letters from Iwo Jima was ineligible because it was an American production, and Cries and Whispers and Il Postino were not nominated. No movie has ever won both categories.
Silver Linings Playbook has nominations in the five biggest categories (Best Picture, Director, Actress, Actor, Screenwriting). Has a film ever swept all five?
In Oscar history there have been three films to sweep the major acting categories as well as take directing, screenwriting, and Best Picture awards: It Happened One Night (1934), One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), and The Silence of the Lambs (1991).
While Argo and Zero Dark Thirty are considered frontrunners for the Best Picture win, their directors (Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow, respectively) weren't nominated for Best Director. Is it rare for a film to take home Best Picture and not Best Director?
In a word, yes. Of the 85 films that have been awarded Best Picture, 65 of them have also taken home the award for Best Director. And in only three instances have the directors of Best Picture-winning films not been nominated themselves — Wings (1928), Grand Hotel (1932), and Driving Miss Daisy (1989).
Eiko Ishioka, who passed away this year, is nominated for Best Achievement in Costume Design for her work on Mirror, Mirror. How many Oscars have been awarded posthumously?
There have been 15 posthumous awards won in the competitive categories out of 73 nominations for people who were also in the "In Memoriam" reel that year. The most recent winner was Heath Ledger in 2008 for Best Supporting Actor in The Dark Knight. Composer Howard Ashman has the most posthumous nominations (he has four). Art director William A. Horning has the most wins: he won two awards in two consecutive years, for Gigi in 1958 and Ben-Hur in 1959. In 1959 he was also nominated for art direction of North by Northwest. That's one busy corpse! In Ishioka's Best Costume Design category there have been four posthumous nominations (three for the same person) and zero wins.
Lincoln, which has so far raked in over $145 million at the box office, is the only Best Picture contender this year you could really call a "blockbuster." What was the lowest grossing film to ever take the Best Picture category?
The lowest grossing Best Picture winner was The Hurt Locker in 2010, which only grossed $50 million. Four of this year's nine Best Picture nominees have currently grossed even less than that. Silver Linings Playbook has only made $35 million, Beasts of the Southern Wild has only made $11 million, Zero Dark Thirty has only made $5 million, and Amour $340,798. That makes The Hurt Locker look like Titanic.
Is Quvenzhane Wallis the youngest person to be nominated for an Oscar? And who's the oldest?
Nine-year-old Wallis is not the youngest person ever to be nominated; that distinction belongs to Kramer vs. Kramer's Justin Henry, who was eight at the time of his nomination. Wallis is also tied with Skippy's Jackie Cooper. Wallis is, however, the youngest actress to ever be nominated in the Best Actress category, beating out former youngster Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider). If she wins, Wallis will be the youngest person to ever win an Oscar. On the flip side, Amour's Emmanuella Riva is, at 85-years-old, the oldest woman to be nominated for Best Actress. And she is the second oldest person to ever be nominated for an acting Oscar — Gloira Stuart, who was 87 when she was nominated for Titanic, holds that title.
Quvenzhane Wallis was nominated for her first-ever film. Has an actor or director ever won the award for his or her debut project?
This happens a lot more often than you would think — 23 times, to be precise. Five actresses have won the Best Actress Oscar for their debut films: Shirley Booth, Come Back, Little Sheba (1952); Audrey Hepburn, Roman Holiday (1953); Julie Andrews, Mary Poppins (1964); Barbra Streisand, Funny Girl (1968); Marlee Matlin, Children of a Lesser God (1986).
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[Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox]
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