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Home » Culture and Criticism

Oscar Pool Postmortem

Submitted by on March 8, 2010 – 2:10 AM33 Comments

up-3I've done worse — but with 50 of the nominees under my belt, I should have done better.

The scorecard is below.

Best Picture: wrong
I really thought they'd try to split the baby between Avatar and The Hurt Locker; I'm fine with the outcome, though. I do wonder how Avatar will be thought about in 5-10 years, and whether not having a Best Picture statuette will make a difference there. I also wonder whether some of the non-Avatar voters were correcting for a perceived mistake with Titanic.

Best Actor: correct

Best Actress: correct
I'll give it to Sandra Bullock: she gave a great speech, and I think she knows that win is crap. One of my poolmates cynically pointed out that she's had several awards shows' worth of time to perfect that "I'm not worthy" shtick, but on the other hand, 1) Bullock showed up to the Razzies, and 2) she admits to her Botox. I don't love the win, but props for the handling of it.

Best Supporting Actor: correct

Best Supporting Actress: correct
Mo'Nique had a point, don't get me wrong, but she seemed out-and-out pissed, to the point where I wondered why she'd showed up if she's that resentful of the process. I agree that the campaign process/"season" for these awards is horseshit, but she didn't really play that, and she still won. Why focus everyone's attention on that aspect, then? Still, it's always fun when someone hits a nerve and the room doesn't know how to react to it. "Yeah! …Wait, did she just insult us?"

Best Director: correct
Now maybe we can focus on the work. Bigelow did a great job, but so did several others. I'm just glad this particular "it's time" discussion can end.

Best Original Screenplay: wrong
The directing made that writing look better than it is, in my opinion, but maybe something on the page did set it apart. HL wouldn't have gotten my vote, but I don't have an issue with it.

Best Adapted Screenplay: wrong
I liked Precious in spite of the writing, not because of it. The source material may factor in here. It's not the worst choice, but I'm not crazy about the win.

Best Cinematography: correct

Best Editing: correct

Best Art Direction: correct

Best Costume Design: wrong
Young Victoria is the only movie in the category during which I forgot that I was watching a Best Costume nominee. The clothes are gorgeous, but not necessarily all that striking (I admit that I don't care for that era, really…late Regency, whatever it's called). And must the winners in this category dress so kookily? It's a formal event, and there's a chasm of difference between an innovative design and accessory scheme and the fuglo prom dress from Pretty in Pink. (Maybe the specter of that miscarriage of fashion is what had Molly Ringwald so terrified onstage. I was tempted to take side bets on whether she would throw up.)

Best Makeup: correct

Best Original Score: correct
I feel bad for the interpretive dancers. They worked very hard, those side flips were rad, and yet the routines were completely irrelevant to both the scores and the subject matter of the films, to the point of being almost inappropriate. That portion of the show no longer speaks to American culture and needs swift and permanent cutting.

Best Original Song: correct

Best Sound Mixing: correct

Best Sound Editing: wrong

Best Visual Effects: correct

Best Animated Feature: correct

Best Foreign Film: wrong
If it means more people see El Secreto, great, but I think White Ribbon operates on a grander scale. Surprising outcome, to me.

Best Documentary Feature: wrong
I did not think the voters would go there, but it works for me.

Best Documentary Short: wrong
I considered picking it in the pool at the last minute, and didn't.

Best Animated Short: wrong

Best Live-Action Short: wrong
I'm happy The Door didn't get over, but The New Tenants was kind of obvious, too, in a different way. Still, a more satisfying result than I expected.

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  • Ali Arikan says:

    I tried my hardest to find the link between Giacchino's score for "Up" and doing the robot — alas, I failed. Next year, I hope someone does the Mayim Mayim to the "Toy Story 3" score.

  • Todd K says:

    The telecast was awful, I thought. Not the worst in my memory, because I lived through Snow White at the Coconut Grove, and more recently Chris Rock's vile hosting, but a big step backwards from last year in concept, planning and pacing. Moments that could have been powerful and memorable came off dreadfully anticlimactic in the last 45 minutes (at which point the show was simultaneously limping and scrambling, if that's possible), because there was so much bloat in the first two-thirds. To wit, did we need those king-sized clips from the Supporting Actor performances? C-minus.

    [One of my poolmates cynically pointed out that [Bullock's] had several awards shows' worth of time to perfect that "I'm not worthy" shtick, but on the other hand, 1) Bullock showed up to the Razzies, and 2) she admits to her Botox. I don't love the win, but props for the handling of it.]

    Yes; I knew the win was coming, still disapproved, but thought hers was one of the night's best speeches. I take the point about her "I'm not worthy" shtick feeling a bit workshopped by this point; but by the modern yardstick of Jamie Foxx (the call-and-response routines with the audience; the teary paeans to grandma), it was barely in the yellow zone on the smarm-o-meter.

    [Best Director: correct
    Now maybe we can focus on the work. Bigelow did a great job, but so did several others. I'm just glad this particular "it's time" discussion can end.]

    I am too, but I don't have a doubt in my mind that it was the work that got the job done for her. Anyone could have made the same "it's time" argument for Campion with The Piano or Coppola for Lost In Translation, but this time there had never been a stronger case that the would-be ceiling breaker *had* made the outstanding film within the nominated field, and was the right person with the right material at the right time.

    [The directing [of The Hurt Locker] made that writing look better than it is, in my opinion, but maybe something on the page did set it apart.]

    It's the best screenplay she's ever had, but I don't disagree that the directing elevated the writing. What you say is even more true of her previous films: in fact, she's made a career of fighting problematic screenplays (including ones for which she was partly to blame) to a standstill by directing them with such style and energy, and by eliciting great work from good actors and acceptable work from bad ones. I had my share of "Oh, come on" moments when watching Blue Steel, Point Break, Strange Days, and even The Hurt Locker (the bit about the blood making the ammo unusable, and the solution to same)…but I never wanted to look away. It's an interesting body of work, and I hope this recent attention and the Oscar win lead people to give it a fresh look, and that she keeps adding to it.

  • MattB says:

    Well, first of all, there's a lot of politics. Giving HL "Best Picture" was a way of both giving an award to a great film and giving the shaft to James Cameron, who is notorious for being an asshole of an ex-husband.

    As for "Avatar", it deserved the Picture nom because it was an expanded field of 10, but it certainly did not deserve a win and it didn't get one. 15 years from now, I think "Avatar" will be viewed exactly the same as "The Abyss", "Terminator 2": as a fun movie that had some amazing special effects which changed the technology of movies.

    Ironically, I don't think it will be thought to be on the same par as Cameron's two main 80's movies – "The Terminator" and "Aliens" – which, effects aside, actually were genre-changers on a filmic level. "Terminator" was a landmark post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie. "Aliens" really was the first time that Heinlein's "Starship Troopers" concept was successfully put on screen. Nearly every movie "space marine" now can be traced back to "Aliens".

    Further, "Avatar" isn't on the same level as "Star Wars" or "Lord of the Rings" because, while Cameron put in the effort to making Pandora a real-looking world, he failed in creating a universe. SW and LOTR were each about more than whether Tatooine or the Death Star or Middle Earth looked real. They were about whether there was an overarching world that pre-existed Frame 1 of the movie. Lucas and his writers were so good at creating a fully-developed universe that when Lucas went back for the prequels, it felt like his expansion was, in fact, out of step with his own existing canon. LOTR on the other hand, had Tolkien to thank for Middle Earth being such a sweeping place (just like Frank Herbert's "Dune" was a fully developed universe).

    To be honest, Cameron completely half-assed the Pandora back-story. "Avatar" just goes to show how crappy a writer Cameron is. From the first minute, I was angry at the lazy writing – mainly because even the main character's name broke my suspension of disbelief.

    To all of you writers out there who somehow don't know anyone of Irish descent:


    Then there's the "Unobtainium" and the continual use of the video podcast as a crutch to get exposition out of the way. And the sex scene that didn't make it into the movie. Thankfully. Because Cameron's writing outcrapped Lucas' writing. Whereas Lucas nearly wrote Luke and Leia into an incestuous relationship, Cameron wrote Jake into having sex with not only Ney'tiri, but also the great ancestral tree, a horse, and two "dragons". Yes, the Na'vi are a race of furry, tree-humping, dragon-screwing, horse-f*ckers. Thank goodness we never got to see whether the Na'vi raised sheep.

    Fair disclosure: I didn't watch the Oscars. I don't watch the Oscars. Instead, I watched "The A*Team" and "Xena: Warrior Princess" on Netflix. I think it was a better use of my time.

  • RJ says:

    I always say I'm not going to watch the Oscars.

    Then I watch the Oscars.

    First, the positives:

    – I was happy to see Mo'Nique and Kathryn Bigelow win. I was just excited to see a female director win, at last, and deservedly (at least IMO).

    – Sandra Bullock looked amazing, appeared to appreciate that her win was not necessarily based on best performance (Gaborey Sidibe was robbed), but still appreciated winning and gave a lovely speech. I like her in general, so while I was disappointed in the win, I was still happy for her.

    – I love Steve Martin as a rule, and Alec Baldwin when he works with Steve Martin (and on 30 Rock, although as a rule I'm not a fan of Baldwin). I really loved the "Paranomal Activity" bit – very funny. And I'll never see a Snuggie the same way again.

    – Jeremy Renner is kind of cute, in a weird way.

    Now the negatives:

    – Really, show? Interpretive dance again re: the nominated scores? I'm still not over seeing tap dancing scuba divers from the year "The Little Mermaid" was nominated. (@Todd K – yes, I too remember the Year of Snow White. I don't think there's enough alcohol in the world to erase that memory.)

    – Neil Patrick Harris. I like him. I just didn't like that completely unnecessary opening number. If you're going to use him, use him well, not for no reason apparent to anyone watching.

    – George Clooney – why so serious???? (Also, does he speak Italian? Because apparently his current GF speaks no English – according to my sister, he said as much on the pre-show red carpet – and spent the entire show looking as if she had no clue. Do they communicate with hand puppets or something?? Just wondering!)

    – Zac Efron, Taylor Lautner, Kristen Stewart, Miley Cyrus. Negatives in any context.

    – Martin & Baldwin had some funny bits, but there were a lot more bits that fell flat. (That exchange about Bigelow sending ex Cameron a gift basket with a timer, and Cameron sending her a Toyota? Really? They were in the awkward position of sitting near each other, but appeared – at least when the cameras showed them – to be civil, if not warm.)

    – What the hell was up with the cameras??? Half the time you couldn't see what was going on on stage. Angles from behind people's heads were weird and awkward. (I thought they were going to start zooming up people's noses after a while.)

    Lousy show overall, with a few bright spots.

  • Suz says:

    Although Bigelow completely deserved her Best Director, I was annoyed at all the PC build up. Voice over: "Will it be the first female or first african american best director? Or will it be those other white dudes, as usual?" The white men had no more control over their sex and race than Bigelow and Lee Daniels, so why make it sound like their winning would be a huge letdown? I'm all for crowing about a "first" after a win, but let's not set up directors who were nominated for genuine talent (well, James Cameron is debateable) to feel bad that they might win over a woman or an African American. Jeez.

  • attica says:

    I thought they killed the Debbie Allen interpretive Dance thing a few years back, but I see, like the zombies the 'cast feted, it's back from the dead. I agree: the dances themselves were lovely (which I didn't usually think back in the Allen days), but: no. Stop.

    What does it say about us that Fisher Stevens has an Oscar? Fisher freaking Stevens?!?

  • attica says:

    I hasten to add: Which is not meant to be a comment about The Cove. Just about Fisher Stevens. A lousy character actor best known for being dumped by Michelle Pfeiffer.

  • Jeanne says:

    With the exception of Reitman I think any of the Best Director nominees would've been worthy winners. Yes, even James Cameron. While I did want The Hurt Locker to win I don't seem to have the hate-on for Avatar that so many others in my age group do.

    I'm just so glad that Kathryn Bigelow won for a movie that no one can really question it's worthiness as a great film. I would've been so mad if Sofia Coppola won for the god-awful Lost in Translation, I still think if her last name weren't Coppola no one would take her seriously as a director.

  • Profreader says:

    @Suz: I was also annoyed. I don't like it when they try to take on the meta-commentary (if that makes any sense.) Like … it's fine for outside commentators to talk about the various history-making implications of someone's win … but when it's the actual announcer, it feels really odd to me. It's almost like there's a subtext of desperation … "In case you didn't realize, SOMETHING INTERESTING MIGHT HAPPEN SO PLEEEEZE HANG ON FOR ANOTHER HOUR."

    Also, everyone at the party I was at was mocking the fact that it was "Will it be A Woman? Or An African American? Or One of the Men Who Have A Name?" Sheez.

  • RJ says:

    @Attica "What does it say about us that Fisher Stevens has an Oscar? Fisher freaking Stevens?!?"

    You know what I didn't get? How he could describe "The Cove" as a movie that was "both entertaining and enlightening."

    I respect the subject matter although I couldn't bear to watch this film, but the clips they showed alone almost gave my family a breakdown. "Entertaining" was NOT the right word.

  • Erin says:

    A friend noted that the best grounding comment he heard at the Oscar party he attended was, "It's not Sandra Bullock's fault that she won."


  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Alan Sepinwall addresses my issues with the treatment of Bigelow and her win:

    I'm happy for Bigelow, who deserved the win for directing one of the most exciting, yet unconventional, action movies in years, but everything about the presentation of her directing award left a bad taste in my mouth. The choice of Barbra Streisand to present (including Babs' opening remarks about how excited she was at the possibility of a woman winning) and then the orchestra's choice of "I Am Woman" to accompany Bigelow's walk off-stage all screamed that the only thing that mattered about Bigelow's achievement was her gender. Yes, it's long-overdue that a woman won (not that Hollywood gives female directors a ton of great opportunities), but it's insulting to Bigelow's immense talent to focus so much on that.

    …Exactly. Ditto the comments about how sweet it is for her that she beat her ex-husband; I really doubt she gives a shit, and assuming she does is condescending (and would be to a man as well).

    Sepinwall's full column on last night's telecast is here: oscars-2010-cant-anybody-here-make-good.html I've seen several columns praising the wit and pacing of the show, but I'm with Alan — it failed on both counts.

    And it's time to stop auto-approving Ben Stiller's ideas. They go on too long, and when he loses the room, you can feel him getting annoyed, and it's uncomfortable.

  • Jennifer M. says:

    The use of "I Am Woman" made me so mad! I almost felt like they were saying to us that she won the equivalent of a lifetime achievement award as opposed to a "real" Oscar.

  • Sandman says:

    I don't have the patience to watch the Oscars broadcast anymore ("I Am Woman"? REALLY, show? Cut that out.) but I caught Bullock's speech online, and thought it was nifty – humble without being cloying, funny, and moving. (Any speech that recognizes Streep's inherent awesomeness has at least that going for it.) I hadn't seen any of Bullock's other acceptance speeches this season, so maybe it seemed fresher to me than to most. (I'm a sentimentalist, I admit: thanking your mom = make Sandman cry.)

    I want to know when Ben Stiller ever had the room, exactly. Otherwise, I agree with everything Sars (and by extension, Sepinwall) said above.

    @Jeanne: If it makes you feel any better, I can't take Sophia Coppola seriously, even given her name.

  • Jen S says:

    I said "Shit!" out loud when Sandra won, but I have to say her speech was lovely, her acknowledgement of her fellows gracious, and her remark that her lover Meryl Streep was a "great kisser" genuinely giggle inducing (for Meryl, too, bless her heart!) And her dress was really nice. Not over dramatic but not "I hide my terror in basic black" either.

    Vera Fermiga was screwed by her hairdresser. The dress–eh, I can take or leave, and it was a bold choice, but that hair aged her twenty years.

    Perhaps when Bigelow wins her third or so statue people will start to care about her movies and not her genitals. She said wistfully.

    I really liked the peers of the Best Acting nominees coming out for the min-lovefest before the announcement. Yes, it's so much sunshine up the ass, but hey, this was a big moment for all of them, and it was nice that their fellows gave them such a big muffin of love for their actual, you know, work in the film. Hey, maybe we can do something similar for Directing next time!

    The dancing was so out of step with the themes of the music that I couldn't figure out why it was there at all, but the dancers were really good. And hey, they weren't all stick thin rails that you feared would collapse mid performance! Yay!

  • Holly says:

    Thanks for that Alan Sepinwall link. I was struck by this:

    "I liked the idea behind the opening musical number with Neil Patrick Harris and a bunch of showgirls (and/or "So You Think You Can Dance" alums dressed as showgirls) but can't remember the lyrics or melody to any of it the next morning.".

    God, I can. The bunch of us watching were barely paying attention, but one thing struck us immediately and couldn't be unheard: "Did the first line of that song actually consist of a prison-rape joke? Classy."

  • Tisha_ says:

    Am I the only person who actually thought the Ben Stiller thing was pretty funny? And yes, it went on too long, but… that's kinda his schtick, isn't it?

  • DuchessKitty says:

    I actually liked last night's ceremony. And I'm clearly in the minority because I really enjoyed the interpretive dancing to the original score noms.
    The only things I would've scratched were the opening number with NPH (please Neil, I love you but you're dangerously close to over-saturation annoyance); and the dumb and totally irrelevant horror movie montage tribute.

  • EB says:

    I haven't paid much attention to the Oscars because I never get to the movies anymore, but I thought one of their old affectations was to say: "And the Oscar goes to [insert name here]" instead of "the winner is blah-blah-blah they're all winner-cakes." But I definitely heard "and the winner is" last night? Does anyone know if that is something new?

  • Grainger says:

    "[I]it's time to stop auto-approving Ben Stiller's ideas. They go on too long…"

    Yeah; the "this seemed funnier in rehearsal" got a laugh out of me. But then that's the part where you shut up and get on with it. I think that the problem is the Oscar show writers do up these bits, and then they don't include any off-ramps for when the presenter loses the crowd. You're On The Railroad, boy.

  • M says:

    What bothers me is that some poor schlub whose partner hogged the mike never got to thank his mom & dad on the happiest day of his life and the only time he'll ever be on that stage because the Oscar Time Nazis just…cut off the microphone when his partner finally FINALLY stopped talking – to allow time for this sort of un-funny shit? I feel so sad for voiceless little schlub guy, and I would MUCH rather have heard his thank-you speech than ANYTHING Stiller had to say (among others – some of that "entertainment" is just trying way too hard. It's icky to watch…)

    EB, maybe it depends on the age of the presenter…

  • Sandman says:


    @MattB: This is where Cameron pipes up with "Dude, it's the FUUU-TURE. Or whatever."

    @Grainger: Is it fair to say that another name for "off-ramps for the when the presenter loses the crowd" is "improvisational ability"? Or "stage experience of any kind whatsoever"? In other words, I think there's only a certain amount of suckage that can plausibly be blamed on the writers. But I have a lower Stiller threshold than most people.

  • Loz says:

    One of the irritating aspects about the "Best Director" presentation is that, while there's a laundry list of complaints to be made about the marginalization of women in Hollywood and about the opportunities given to female directors, the actual awards show is probably the least culpable in that respect. (You could argue with the nomination process, but the real problem is further back down the line.) Actually, all the previous female nominees in that category lost to pretty deserving winners – Spielberg over Campion, Peter Jackson over Coppola, and Wertmüller lost to Avildsen for Rocky in a race in which the biggest loser was the unnominated Scorcese for Taxi Driver.

    Re: Best Foreign Film РI wasn't that surprised to see Haneke lose, since there's been a fair few German language films winning lately. In any case I find his terminal grimness depressing (although this was one of his more accessible films!); I thought Un proph̬te was better in the 'gritty' department; and the Argentine film was fun Рsometimes not to be underestimated. I can only wish that some of the good international films would make it out of the subtitle ghetto into the main prize. (I know it happens occasionally; I know they're not marketable generally, but a lot of good work gets shafted this way.)

    The dances should go back to wherever they've been hibernating – preferably permanently.

    Otherwise, I agree – both bloated and rushed. And why have extra nominations, stupid dances and bad jokes, and then shift the honorary Oscars (which this year had GREAT recipients – including Roger Corman and Lauren Bacall) into a minor ceremony instead? Random teens do not make me tune in.

    Oh, and the "Americanness" of many of the awards were striking – not in a negative sense, but some much praised performances and films really didn't resonant with me at all.

    Overall report card: I don't regret the time spent watching, but needs improvement to keep me caring long-term.

  • Jaybird says:

    Ha ha ha HAAA, James Cameron. HA. I don't care that a woman beat him out of those Oscars. I wouldn't have cared if it had been a cross-dressing platypus with ADHD who won out over Cameron. Just as long as somebody did. Good thing I'll never get near an Academy ballot, I guess.

  • e says:

    @MattB: Um, My ex-husband's best friend's last name was Sully. Stitched on his USAF uniform pocket and e'thang.

    Google "Sully surname" and be surprised.

  • ferretrick says:

    Someday, somewhere, someone is going to figure out that Ben Stiller is a funny presence in a movie. I don't know that much about him as a standup, but he is NOT funny doing Oscar shtick. It just is not his format (although I liked the fishing pole). Make it stop.

    NPH can do no wrong. Period.

    The other thing that REALLY annoyed me during the telecast-did you notice how everytime Precious was mentioned, they just started focusing the camera on random African Americans in the audience whether they were involved in the movie or not? Like-oh this film is about black people, so find Morgan Freeman! And Samuel L Jackson! Wait, did we forget to invite Jennifer Hudson?

  • Jeanne says:

    @e right you are. My research tells me the surname Sully is French in origin, likely referring to one of several towns called Sully in France. And now I'll take my nerd hat off.

  • DMC says:

    Molly Ringwald ALWAYS looks like that – surprised, and a little drunk. Do you watch Secret Life of the American Teenager? You should, because oh em gee, it is terrible. She's on that show. Like I said: terrible. Must see TV!

  • Mac says:

    Even though I am a major Sandra Bullock fan, and I loved the Blind Side, I didn't necessarily think she deserved to win, but I wasn't a bit surprised.

    My theory is that she won for the same reasons Reese Witherspoon did. Both have been primarily known for lightweight, "rom-com" / "chick flick" style movies, so when they stepped out of their boxes and showed that they actually can act in a serious movie (both playing real life strong women to boot), the Academy was so shocked they immediately thought "Best Actress."

    Whereas everybody already knew, and always has known, that Meryl Streep has major chops, so even when she's brilliant she's handicapped by her own talent … it's perceived as just the "same old, same old" and therefore she doesn't elicit any significant support. After all, this is the 14th time she's been nominated and NOT won, as Steve Martin so kindly pointed out.

    And as fantastic as Gabourey Sidibe was, what were the odds the Academy was going to give it to a literal newcomer who hasn't paid her dues? A supporting trophy sure, but not THE acting award.

  • Jen S says:

    Ferretrick, I thought I was imagining it! Precious is announced! Quick, find the black people! I was surprised no Denzel in any of those shots–was he not invited this year?

  • Carrie Ann says:

    Last year's Oscar ceremony was the best I can remember in my 25 years of watching (OK, maybe I don't remember the ones from my toddler years very well), but afterwards, I saw a lot of reviews saying it was boring.

    I mean, that show had Hugh Jackman being awesome constantly, the great decision to have legendary actors introduce the thrilled and humbled nominees, and Heath Ledger's family accepting his award while I sobbed into my prosecco. I felt like that show was full of great moments, and everything seemed to work.

    This year, I felt like almost nothing worked. Martin and Baldwin appeared to be trying out their material for the very first time, just reading straight from the teleprompter, and missing all the punchlines. Not that the punchlines were funny to begin with. The NPH thing felt gratutitous and desperate and again not funny. Then it just felt like Ben Stiller – stop talking, dancers – go home, Young Hollywood – whatever.

    I did like the presentation to the Best Actor/Actress by someone who knows them, but why not do the same for Supporting or Directing?

  • RC says:

    @Carrie Ann: "I did like the presentation to the Best Actor/Actress by someone who knows them, but why not do the same for Supporting or Directing?"

    Duh: because then we wouldn't have time for completely misinterpreted interpretive score dances featuring the robot for movies with no robots in it, Miley Cyrus and the kids from Twilight, or "homages" or whatever to horror movies (btw, since when is Young Frankenstein an actual horror movie? Um… what? Also, Edward Scissorhands? And Beetlejuice and The Sixth Sense are borderline IMO. Shut up, Oscars). I must have been really bored to have sat through all (most) of that…

  • Grainger says:

    @ferretrick: Yes, noticed that; although, in a funny misunderstanding, I thought that they were doing something similar when "Up" won an award and the camera gave us reaction shots from Christopher Plummer and Ed Asner. I was like, "so this is Token Oscars and they're showing us the Token Old White Dudes now?" (I didn't realize that Asner and Plummer were in Up!)

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