Posts Tagged ‘A Serious Man’

Oscarpalooza: Previews and Predictions

Even though Cablevision’s dispute with ABC means that I, along with several other million people in the NY-NJ area, will not be able to watch the Oscars, NPI’s Oscarpalooza carries on with previews and predictions. Of course, I am not a movie critic and, thus, have not seen all the movies nominated. Nor do I care about the majority of awards. So much of what makes the Academy Awards interesting to casual movie fans, though, is how a cottage industry of diviners and predictive pseudo-sciences has sprung up in response to the awards. Thanks to innumerable “Best Of” lists and predictive “secondary” awards like the SAGs or the Golden Globes, most people feel like they have a good idea of, say, Meryl Streep’s performance in Julie & Julia, whether or not they have seen it. Sifting through the critical white noise has become something of an art, and I’m offering my services so that those of you who would rather not watch Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin chaperone a four-hour self-congratulatory love-fest (or those of you who have Cablevision and simply have no choice), don’t have to watch to see who wins the eight major awards.

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Oscarpalooza: A Serious Look at A Serious Man

In honor of Oscar weekend, NPI will be rerunning its reviews of the Best Picture nominees. Here, John S champions A Serious Man:

“[The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle] proves that we can’t ever know what’s going on….But even if you can’t figure anything out, you’re still responsible for this on the midterm.”

So Larry Gopnik, the physics professor at the heart of A Serious Man, tells his class about midway through the new film from the Coen brothers, basically summing up the entire movie.

Most of the Coen brothers’ films follow an Everyman caught up in morally questionable dealings, butA Serious Man deals with moral uncertainty more directly than films such as Fargo or even No Country For Old Men. Part of this comes from the fact that Gopnik (played by Michael Stuhlbarg) may be the Coen brothers’ most innocent protagonist—unlike Jerry Lundegaard, Llewelyn Moss, or even the Dude, Gopnick doesn’t do anything (as he repeatedly insists throughout the movie) to bring on an onslaught of crises. Life merely seems to happen to him, and he spends most of the film trying to figure out why. Continue reading

A Continuation of My Praise of the Oscars’ New “Best Picture” Voting Process

The 2010 Oscar Nominees were announced today and I seek to defend my previous praise of the expansion of the “Best Picture” category to include ten nominees instead of the usual five. Without further ado, the ten nominees are:
Academy Awards Best Picture
Avatar
The Blind Side
District 9
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Precious
A Serious Man
Up
Up in the Air

Based on Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominees/winners and general Oscar “buzz,” Avatar, Up in the Air, and The Hurt Locker were shoo-ins to be nominated and Precious was pretty close to one. If we’re in the five-nominee system that leaves one more nomination and two NPI favorites: Inglourious Basterds and A Serious Man. One of those movies would most likely not have been nominated and would have no chance at winning “Best Picture.” Yes, with the expansion to ten nominees we get the inclusion of the undeserving The Blind Side and the filth known as Up*.
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The Not-So-Golden Globes

The Golden Globes were last night and since, as host Ricky Gervais kept reminding us, actors are the best and most important people in the world, we here at NPI cannot let that the occasion pass without some commentary. As usual with awards shows, it was a mixed bag.

The Best Three Things:

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Aught Lang Syne: The Top Ten Movies of the Decade

Despite my general negativity about movies of the Aughts, there were still plenty of great films released this decade (although I think a Top Ten list of 90s movies would probably omit films that could be #1 on this list). I’ve already provided a list of the ten funniest films of the decade, and there were other great comedies that didn’t make the list. Today, though, we turn our attention to the dramatic category. As Josh has already declared, though, genre concerns can be distracting, so I will not be bound my technical genre classifications. Consider this a list of films I like for “dramatic” reasons: 

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A Serious Look at A Serious Man

“[The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle] proves that we can’t ever know what’s going on….But even if you can’t figure anything out, you’re still responsible for this on the midterm.”

So Larry Gopnik, the physics professor at the heart of A Serious Man, tells his class about midway through the new film from the Coen brothers, basically summing up the entire movie.

Most of the Coen brothers’ films follow an Everyman caught up in morally questionable dealings, but A Serious Man deals with moral uncertainty more directly than films such as Fargo or even No Country For Old Men. Part of this comes from the fact that Gopnik (played by Michael Stuhlbarg) may be the Coen brothers’ most innocent protagonist—unlike Jerry Lundegaard, Llewelyn Moss, or even the Dude, Gopnick doesn’t do anything (as he repeatedly insists throughout the movie) to bring on an onslaught of crises. Life merely seems to happen to him, and he spends most of the film trying to figure out why.

If this seems reminiscent of the Book of Job, that’s because it is. A Serious Man is a loose retelling of the Biblical story set in suburban Minneapolis during the late ‘60s. Stuhlbarg spends much of his time playing Gopnik keeled over, with his head between his knees as he looks for counsel from generally unhelpful sources. Gopnik tries to get advice from the elderly Rabbi Marshak, who is more like an absent Godot than a God: He doesn’t do pastoral work anymore, he just congratulates the Bar Mitzvah boys. Instead, Gopnik has to settle for the junior rabbi, Rabbi Scott, who looks fresh out of rabbinical school, and Rabbi Nachtner, who tells him “the story of the goy’s teeth.”

The story of the goy’s teeth—about a dentist who finds a cryptic Biblical message on the back of a Gentile’s teeth—is meant to be advisory, but ends up coming across as completely impenetrable. This, of course, is the point. A Serious Man presents life in general as totally indecipherable. And yet, Gopnik, like his students, is going to be responsible for this. Continue reading