2009 NOFF Awards

If you’re suffering from the post-Oscar blues, cheer up, because the 3rd Annual NOFF Awards are here! In addition to the usual snazzy photos, critical commentary and Awards Tally wrap-up, this year’s presentation also includes embedded links within each category to relevant clips, trailers and interviews. And now without further ado I present this year’s NOFFscars:

BEST PICTURE

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Coraline

Fantastic Mr. Fox

The Hurt Locker

The Informant!

Inglourious Basterds

 

 

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In the Loop

Police, Adjective

A Serious Man

Up

You, the Living

And the Noffscar goes to: Inglourious Basterds

Chapter 1 is entitled “Once Upon a Time…in Nazi Occupied France” – an obvious nod to Sergio Leone and a clear indication that the film you’re about to see is a stylish excursion into cinematic mythmaking. Imaginatively blending the men-on-a-mission war movie with the Spaghetti Western, Inglourious Basterds offers revisionist history Tarantino-style in a (tall) tale about a group of Jewish American Nazi killers known as “the basterds”. Not only do the basterds gain the attention of the Führer himself (who’s thrown into a tizzy over the basterds’ brutal treatment of captured Nazi’s), they also alter the very course of history by eliminating all the major players of the Nazi party, including the Führer, in one fell swoop! The basterds (and a “bitch” named Shoshanna) virtually singlehandedly win WW2! Tarantino understands and embraces the cinema’s unique capacity to transform historical reality into personal myth and it’s no coincidence that the film’s memorable climax takes place in a movie theater – a theater where all the Nazi brass gather to watch a piece of Nazi propaganda and where they receive their richly deserved comeuppance.

BEST DIRECTOR

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Roy Andersson for You, the Living

Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker

Pete Docter & Bob Peterson for Up

Joel & Ethan Coen for A Serious Man

Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds

And the Noffscar goes to: Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker

After Bigelow won at this year’s Director’s Guild Awards fellow nominee Quentin Tarantino called her the “Queen of Directors” – an apt description of a woman who’s been making solid films in a variety of genres for years (if you haven’t already be sure to check out Near Dark and Strange Days). Winning the DGA is usually a strong indicator of who will also win the Oscar but I was still worried that her ex-husband, James Cameron, would steal it from her as he did at the Golden Globes. Happily my worries were unfounded and the highlight of the Academy Awards show was when the Queen of Directors beat the The King of the World.

It took 82 years for a woman to win an Oscar for directing. It only took three years to win a NOFFscar. This category came down to a two man man and a woman race between The Queen and QT. It was a tossup but since Tarantino is taking home NOFFscars for Best Picture (see above) and Best Screenplay (see below) I’ll go along with the Academy and give it to Bigelow. And it’s not as if she doesn’t deserve it. Focusing on an EOD unit’s death-defying efforts to defuse bombs, her remarkable direction milks every last bit of suspense out of the film’s tense, edge-of-your-seat scenarios. Rarely has a film sustained such a heightened sense of imminent disaster for such a lengthy period of time – the film is 2 hours long and for the majority of that running time you get the uneasy sense that something’s about to explode. Much of the credit for that belongs to Bigelow. After the success of The Hurt Locker offers must be pouring in for her and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

BEST ACTOR

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Matt Damon in The Informant!

Colin Firth in A Single Man

Joaquin Phoenix in Two Lovers

Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker

Sam Rockwell in Moon

And the Noffscar goes to: Matt Damon in The Informant!

Why the Academy, in its infinite wisdom, nominated Matt Damon for his forgettable supporting work in Invictus but snubbed his eminently more memorable starring role in The Informant! was one of the inscrutable mysteries surrounding this year’s Oscars (another was what the Extraordinary League of Dancers were doing on stage). Perhaps it was because his rugby player in Invictus had worthy goals and transparent motives and was easily understood. The Academy tends to like that. His character in The Informant!, a corporate whistle blower working with the FBI, is not so easy to pin down. He’s a decidedly more complex figure whose shady goals and contradictory motives may have exasperated the Academy as much as the FBI agents for whom he’s ostensibly working.

But his complexity is precisely what makes him a far more interesting character. He possesses a child-like enthusiasm yet thrives in a cut-throat corporate environment. He’s endearingly naïve (does he really think the Board is going to make him the CEO after his whistle blowing activities?) yet cunningly shrewd. He considers himself the “good” guy even though he’s embezzled $ 5 7 9 11 13 million out of his company (the number keeps going up the more we find out). You never know when/if he’s sincere, withholding crucial information, or outright lying – which makes him, hilariously, the most unreliable narrator imaginable. Is he a sociopath? a repentant do-gooder? a poor deluded schmuck? It’s a fascinating, quirky character study and Damon, sporting steel-rimmed glasses, a ratty mustache and a paunch, delivers a brilliantly nuanced performance which explores every delicious facet of his eccentric character.

BEST ACTRESS

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Abbie Cornish in Bright Star

Charlotte Gainsbourg in Antichrist

Kelly Macdonald in The Merry Gentleman

Carey Mulligan in An Education

Tilda Swinton on Julia

And the Noffscar goes to: Tilda Swinton in Julia

I like Sandra Bullock. She’s a charming, delightful lady. But that doesn’t change the fact that there’s an Oscar statuette sitting on her mantel that needs to be taken away. (The Razzie she received for All About Steve can stay). In The Blind Side, one of those soggy inspirational movies the Academy embraces, she plays an admirable middle-class white woman who selflessly adopts and improves the lot of an orphaned black boy. Her win was a safe and predictable choice. The industry has now rewarded Bullock, a bankable star, for years of loyal service. Bullock has graciously thanked the Academy. Now life will go on as usual. Bullock will move on to the next middling romantic comedy or whatever, and chances are she won’t hear from the Academy again for 30 years when it honors her with a Lifetime Achievement award.

But let’s talk about a truly deserving performance. Despite appearances in a few recent blockbusters and an Oscar for her role as a heartless corporate attorney in Michael Clayton, Tilda Swinton is not an actress who has, or ever will, “go Hollywood” (let’s not forget that she started her career in the avant-garde films of the late Derek Jarman). Unlike most actresses she is not looking to be liked, nor does she crave the approbation of the Academy. She seems to thrive on taking on challenging, risky roles, and as the alcoholic, promiscuous, thoroughly unlikable titular character of Julia she delivers the year’s best, and bravest, performance. Ironically, Swinton’s character, like Bullock’s, ends up saving a kid too (albeit in a very different way), but not before she kidnaps him by knifepoint, literally scares the shit out of him, and holds him for ransom! That she followed up her Oscar win by playing such a repugnant woman is a testament to her artistic integrity. What will Sandra B. do? All About Steve 2?

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

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Peter Capaldi in In the Loop

Christian McKay in Me and Orson Welles

Fred Melamed in A Serious Man

Tom Noonan in The House of the Devil

Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds

And the Noffscar goes to: Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds

Tarantino certainly has a knack for casting. He has resurrected the careers of some (John Travolta), provided choice roles for others (Samuel L. Jackson) and now he’s boosting the careers of some relative unknowns in Inglourious Basterds – Michael Fassbender, Diane Kruger and Mélanie Laurent. But he may have outdone himself with Christoph Waltz. Where did this guy come from? It’s probably safe to say that before Inglourious Basterds few had ever heard of Waltz outside of his native Austria; now he’s virtually a household name.

There is virtual unanimity of opinion among critics that Waltz delivered the best performance of the year in a supporting role and I am not about to be the lone dissenter. After watching just the first few minutes of the great opening scene I knew he’d be a shoe-in for the NOFF award. Since the ‘40s countless Nazi’s have been portrayed in film but none like the one Waltz plays. His character, Col. Hans Landa, displays no outward sign of his loathing of the Jew; he just goes about his job as “Jew Hunter” with good cheer, hiding his sinister intentions behind a charming, affable exterior. His is a study not in the banality of evil but in the geniality of evil.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

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Penelope Cruz in Broken Embraces

Mo’Nique in Precious

Rosamund Pike in An Education

Diane Kruger in Inglourious Basterds

Mélanie Laurent in Inglourious Basterds

And the Noffscar goes to: Mo’Nique in Precious

As the abusive mother of Precious, Mo’nique gives one of those rare performances that seem to transcend mere acting. The raw, emotional ferocity of her playing – the highpoint of which is her searing, self-justifying monologue – suggests that she must be tapping into some dark, personal emotional reservoir for inspiration (and the unsavory details of her interview with Barbara Walters provide some clues as to what that might be). Her performance is all the more remarkable considering that she’s primarily known as a comedian. But will Mo’Nique follow up this bravura turn with equally impressive work or is she a one-trick pony?

BEST SCREENPLAY

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The Informant! by Scott Z. Burns

Inglourious Basterds by Quentin Tarantino

In the Loop by Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci & Tony Roche

A Serious Man by Joel & Ethan Coen

Up by Pete Docter & Bob Peterson

And the Noffscar goes to: Inglourious Basterds by Quentin Tarantino

One of Tarantino’s avowed cinematic heroes is Sergio Leone, but the influence of the great Italian director is not immediately apparent in Tarantino’s heavy emphasis on the spoken word. After all, Leone’s films were known for their long dialogue-less sequences which emphasized the anticipation of imminent violence rather the violence itself. Leone loved building a scene slowly, drawing it out well past the point most directors would, and then bringing it to a swift conclusion with a quick burst of violent mayhem. Tarantino does the selfsame thing, except that whereas Leone primarily used music to extend scenes Tarantino uses dialogue instead.

Inglourious Basterds provides one of best examples of Tarantino’s knack for building tension through extended dialogue between adversaries. At a small, out of the way bar some of the basterds, disguised as Nazi’s, meet an informant to discuss their plan of action, not anticipating that some actual Nazi’s are celebrating there. The basterds’ lives soon fall into jeopardy when the Nazi’s decide to strike up a conversation with them. The ensuing scene is all talk, talk, talk, but a foreboding pall hangs over the conversation even at its most banal, and as the conversation goes on matters become increasingly strained until finally the scene climaxes in a sudden explosion of bloody violence. It’s a testament to Tarantino’s screenwriting skills that the suspense is already built into the film via the script long before anyone sets foot on the set.

BEST EDITING

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Il Divo

The Good, the Bad, the Weird

The Hurt Locker

Inglourious Basterds

Watchmen

And the Noffscar goes to: Watchmen

Not surprisingly Watchmen was shut out by the Academy. Was it because of its early release date? its bleak, gloomy subject matter? or perhaps because they didn’t want to acknowledge a film that was commonly considered inferior to the source material? In any case, it would have been too much to expect a nod for any of the major categories, but what about the technical categories? If nothing else the technically brilliant Watchmen was certainly nomination-worthy in cinematography, sound, costume design, makeup, art direction, visual effects and, of course, editing. The editing as a whole, which weaves together multiple storylines with clarity and paciness, is superb. But it’s in the individual sequences where it really shines, notably the memorable credit sequence, an extraordinary montage showing a short history of masked heroes, from their glory days to their ignominious demise, hauntingly set to Bob Dylan’s classic ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

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Antichrist

The Hurt Locker

Inglourious Basterds

Tetro

The White Ribbon

And the Noffscar goes to: Tetro

Coppola and his talented DP, Mihai Malaimare Jr., use state-of-the-art HD cameras to evoke the classical high contrast B&W photography of yore, and the results are stunning. The stationery camera setups and static, formalized compositions allow the viewer to luxuriate in the richly detailed B&W imagery in a way rarely seen since the ‘60s – which should offer hope to those lamenting the inevitable transition from film to digital technology.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

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Coraline by Bruno Coulais

Listen

Drag Me to Hell by Christopher Young

Listen

Fantastic Mr. Fox by Alexandre Desplat

Listen

The International by Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek & Tom Tykwer

Listen

Up by Michael Giacchino

Listen

And the Noffscar goes to: Up

In an interview Giacchino said that Up “”is essentially a love story about Carl and his wife Ellie, and so it was just about going there and finding out what that means. What I ended up doing was this very simple waltz that grows and twists and turns.”

The “twists and turns” of his lovely waltz, which begins as a jaunty swing melody and ends as heartbreaking elegy, reflect the joys and sorrows, hopes and disappointments of Carl and Ellie’s marriage over the years in the extraordinary 4 ½ minute “married life” montage. With a dizzying assortment of instruments (clarinet, violin, piano, xylophone etc.) and a few changes in tempo to suit the shifting tones of the montage, Giacchino weaves together a rich tapestry of emotions out of that “simple waltz”, transforming the composition into an emotionally complex commentary on the seasons of a marriage. Film score fans lamenting the relative paucity of melody in modern film scoring should be rejoicing over Michael Giacchino’s melodious main theme – steeped in nostalgia and sounding as if it might be coming from your grandmother’s scratchy old Victrola, it is perhaps the most instantly recognizable movie music of the last decade.

BEST ART DIRECTION/SET DESIGN

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Avatar

Coraline

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Moon

You, the Living

And the Noffscar goes to: You, the Living

One reason You, the Living took three years to make is because its director, Roy Andersson, dislikes digital effects, and so all the sets had to be meticulously constructed by hand the old-fashioned way. And a lot of sets had to be made because the film is comprised of 50 short vignettes in many different locations – bars, restaurants, dining rooms, bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens, offices, barbershops, train stations etc. The sets are particularly important, too, because Anderssen’s static long takes draw attention to them – he wants the viewer to be aware of his characters’ surroundings because they reveal much about the characters and their place in the world. When his camera focuses its gaze on a lonely man watching television in his living room, for example, Andersson says he wants to “emphasize the existential vulnerability and loneliness of the individual by accentuating the room.” Few filmmakers, indeed, place as much significance on set design as Anderssen.

BEST SOUND

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District 9

Drag Me to Hell

The Hurt Locker

Inglourious Basterds

Watchmen

And the Noffscar goes to: Watchmen

In Watchmen‘s great opening scene, a masterpiece of editing and sound design, an unidentified intruder attacks The Comedian at his high rise apartment. Set to Nat King Cole’s ‘Unforgettable’, the brilliantly choreographed mano-a-mano, which concludes with The Comedian being hurled to his death through a plate-glass window, is enhanced immeasurably by the precisely mixed, remarkably vivid sound effects – punches landing with punishing force, glass shattering with ear piercing sharpness, weapons whistling threateningly through the air, and through it all, Nat’s incongruously silky smooth singing.

BEST FOREIGN FILM

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Il Divo

Police, Adjective

Summer Hours

Tulpan

You, the Living

And the Noffscar goes to: Police, Adjective

Less a police thriller than a thoughtful character study/morality play, this Romanian drama focuses on the crisis of conscience experienced by a cop assigned to an investigation that could result in the arrest and incarceration of a high school boy merely for smoking weed. The remarkable concluding scene – in which the authoritative Police Captain makes the cop read the definitions of various words from a dictionary – moral, law, conscience etc. – in order to remind the cop of his duties as a police officer – provides a perfect example of the unbridgeable chasm between Hollywood popcorn movies and serious art films. Hollywood would never allow a police drama to conclude in this fashion, yet the Captain’s subtle abuse of power through dictionary discipline is more riveting than a summer action movie’s worth of high speed car chases and violent shootouts.

BEST DOCUMENTARY

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Anvil! The Story of Anvil

Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed City

Food, Inc.

Second Skin

Tyson

And the Noffscar goes to: Food, Inc.

You don’t have to be a member of PETA or a vegetarian to acknowledge there’s something seriously wrong with the food industry. Did you know that cows spend much of their lives knee deep in feces? Did you know that chickens are pumped full of antibiotics to make the breast meat plumper? If you don’t care about the humane treatment of cows or chickens, you might care that the cow shit routinely finds its way into your meat and that the inoculation of chickens could create antibiotic-resistant bacteria which could potentially infect humans. These are just two alarming facts in this eye-opening documentary which persuasively argues that the corporations controlling the food industry place maximizing profits ahead of the health of consumers.

BEST ANIMATED FILM

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Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Coraline

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Mary and Max

Up

And the Noffscar goes to: Up

It’s a good thing that the Academy increased the number of nominees to 5 this year because it was a particularly strong year for animation (I wasn’t able to find a spot for the enjoyable Sita Sings the Blues and I didn’t even see The Secret of Kells or A Town Called Panic). Still, Pixar continued to reign supreme with Up (though I wouldn’t put up too much of a fight against those preferring Coraline or Fantastic Mr. Fox). A hugely entertaining adventure story about a widowed balloon salesman who attaches thousands of balloons to his house and takes off seeking the adventure he and his wife always dreamed about but never found, Up mixes sophisticated adult themes (see Best Scene below) with delightful kid’s stuff (talking dogs, goofy purple birds etc.) to genuinely disarming effect.

Note: I was disappointed that Partly Cloudy, Pixar’s charming short that played before Up in theaters, was not even nominated in the Best Animated Short category. I thought it was better than all of the other nominees, especially the dreadful Granny O’Grimms’s Sleeping Beauty.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

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“Dreaming” by Bruno Coulais from Coraline

Listen

“Other Father Song” by They Might Be Giants from Coraline

Listen

“Rama’s Great” by R. Sukhdeo & Nina Paley from Sita Sings the Blues

Listen

“The Weary Kind” by T-Bone Burnett & Ryan Bingham from Crazy Heart

Listen

“You’ve Got Me Wrapped Around Your Little Finger” by Beth Rowley from An Education

Listen

And the Noffscar goes to: “Other Father Song” from Coraline

How do you write a catchy, thematically relevant ditty in less than 30 seconds? Look no further than They Might Be Giants’ sole contribution to Coraline. An upbeat yet vaguely creepy ode to Coraline sung by her “other” father, the exhilarating song sprints from beginning to end lickety-split and possesses a refreshing sense of spontaneity as if it were being made up on the fly.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

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Avatar

Star Trek

Watchmen

And the Noffscar goes to: Avatar

Whatever reservations I have regarding Avatar’s story (and there are many), there’s no denying the brilliance of its groundbreaking use of CGI and 3D. Rather than merely tossing things in front of your face like the usual 3D film does Avatar achieves something much more impressive: it immerses you in its world so completely that you actually feel as if you’re part of the action. That’s a significant achievement, and for that it deserves the accolades it’s receiving. Nevertheless, I suspect that Avatar is not going to hold up well. It won’t be long before its groundbreaking technology becomes commonplace, and when its novelty value wears off, all it will have to offer is its thrice told tale and poorly developed characters.

BEST SCENE

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Antichrist:

Prologue:

Sex between husband and wife juxtaposed with the tragic death of their child

Black Dynamite:

Black Dynamite and his crew figure out how The Man is shrinking the black man’s manhood through cheap malt liquor

Watch

Brüno:

Brüno as “Straight Dave” makes sweet love to his manly cage fight opponent in front of an enraged crowed of macho homophobes

Il Divo:

Horse race crosscut with motorcycle mob hit

Watch abbreviated version

Fantastic Mr. Fox:

The rules of Whackbat explained

Watch abbreviated version

 

 

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The Good, the Bad, the Weird:

The action scene that would have been hailed an instant classic had Spielberg directed it rather than an obscure Korean director

Watch

The House of the Devil:

Imperiled girl obliviously dances to “One Thing Leads to Another”

(Note: the clip below works better in the context of the film because unbeknownst to the girl her best friend has just been murdered)

Watch

Humpday:

Two straight buddies try to will themselves to have sex with each other for a porn film

The Hurt Locker:

Team leader of an Explosive Ordinance Disposal unit frantically searches for a well hidden car bomb

Watch

Inglourious Basterds:

Once Upon a Time…in Nazi Occupied France: The Jew Hunter down on the farm

Watch

 

 

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Inglourious Basterds:

Disguised as Nazi’s, the Basterds’ cover is blown at a basement pub when confronted by real Nazi’s

Inglourious Basterds:

Revenge of the Giant Face: The Führer and company get their comeuppance at the movies

Watch

The International:

The Guggenheim shoot-out

Watch

Police, Adjective:

Dictionary discipline

Watch

A Serious Man:

A parable about the goy’s teeth

Watch

 

 

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Tulpan:

Concerned and ticked off mother camel follows her injured baby riding on a veterinarian’s motorcycle sidecar

Up:

Scenes from a Marriage: the Married Life montage

Watch

Watchmen:

Prologue:

The death of the Comedian

Watch

Watchmen:

Credit sequence:

The end of masked heroes

Watch

You, the Living:

Newlyweds on the Honeymoon Express sent off by a crowd of singing well wishers

Watch

And the Noffscar goes to: Married Life montage from Up

When I saw Up at the theater I felt mildly out of place as a middle-aged man among a crowd of stay-at-home moms and their children. Until the “married life” montage started, that is. Detailing the ups and downs of a married couple over the years, the montage featured remarkably adult subject matter, including infertility, unfulfilled dreams, and death and grieving! Suddenly it was not I but these children who seemed out of place. What did they know about such things? What were they doing here munching on their popcorn and twizzlers? Damn, I love Pixar.

NOFFSCAR AWARDS TALLIES
46 films represented from 18 categories out of the 142 eligible films seen

3 Wins
Inglourious Basterds
Up

2 Wins
Watchmen

1 Win
Avatar
Coraline
Food, Inc.
The Hurt Locker
The Informant!
Julia
Police, Adjective
Precious
Tetro
You, the Living

12 Nominations
Inglourious Basterds

7 Nominations
The Hurt Locker

6 Nominations
Coraline
Up

5 Nominations
Fantastic Mr. Fox
A Serious Man
Watchmen
You, the Living

3 Nominations
Antichrist
An Education
Il Divo
The Informant!
In the Loop
Police, Adjective

2 Nominations
Avatar
Drag Me to Hell
The Good, the Bad, the Weird
The House of the Devil
The International
Moon
Tulpan

1 Nomination
Anvil! The Story of Anvil
Black Dynamite
Bright Star
Broken Embraces
Brüno
Burma VJ
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
Crazy Heart
District 9
Food, Inc.
Humpday
Julia
Mary and Max
Me and Orson Welles
The Merry Gentleman
Precious
Second Skin
A Single Man
Sita Sings the Blues
Star Trek
Summer Hours
Tetro
Two Lovers
Tyson
The White Ribbon

5 Responses to “2009 NOFF Awards”

  1. Good work again Mat!

    Nice choices, I’m glad ‘You, the Living’ didn’t win Best FL Award.

    BTW, do you know that only 85 people voted for Academy’s Best FL Picture? The polls we make on the Classic Board have more validity.

  2. Thanks, boudu.

    85, huh? Can any member of the Academy vote in the FL category? If so, 85 out of 5800 total members is a whopping 1.5 percent of the membership! I knew that not everyone voted, but that’s ridiculous.

    I’m sure that must have something to do with the limited opportunity to see those films. According to the IMDB, only The White Ribbon had a (limited) U.S. release in 2009. Ajami and A Prophet weren’t released in the U.S until February 2010 and the winner, The Secret in Their Eyes, is not scheduled to be released until April 2010. And The Milk of Sorrow doesn’t even have a scheduled 2010 release date at this point! So, presumably the only way members could have seen these films would be at film festivals, special screenings for Academy members, or if the studios sent them screeners.

  3. 263 members have seen all the movies (in the special screenings) and among them only 85 voted.

  4. I’m not sure what’s more unfortunate: that only 263 members saw all the movies, or that only 85 of those who did bothered to vote.

  5. I’m not the greatest war movie fan in the world but I have to say that IB is unquestionably dazzling! The way the tension develops during particular scenes will have you hooked. The flick in general is visually spectacular ; add to that a excellent cast and a solid script and you have yourself one hell of a film which deserves the hype it got along with all the awards it one. A real gem of a film!