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Ben’s 2011 Oscar Choices

 

Let’s be clear up front, I haven’t seen all of the nominated pictures for the top awards, but I don’t think that should preclude me from sharing my thoughts. So the following will be a list of the Best Picture nominees with a brief summary of my thoughts on each, followed by an overall impression of each of the remaining premiere categories. I will also pick which one I think should win, not which one I think will win – those are two completely different things.

Best Picture

The King’s Speech – I haven’t seen it yet. I have heard that it is marvelous by people whose opinions I generally appreciate. Plus Colin Firth as a stiff semi-bumbling English nobleman is almost like type casting, how can you not buy into the story.

The Social Network – This was a pretty great movie, though, the fictionalization of some episodes to create more drama and a more focused screen story always tends to make me nervous on what is true and what isn’t, forcing me to do a ton of post viewing research, which is always a pain. I also struggle with Fincher as a director. I mean he is great, but I don’t think that he can completely turn his skills over to the needs of the movie. He always has to flourish as if to say, “Hey ma!! Look at me!!” Take for instance the semi-montage scene of the Olympic trials that he shot with a Tilt Shift Lens effect. Sure it is a really cool looking, and I would love to play with it too, but it was out of  nowhere in a movie that had nothing else like it.

Toy Story 3 – Ok, this was a surprisingly rewarding film in a ‘franchise” that should be dying already. It is hard to make a film that allows you to attach so much personal feeling without it ruining the picture itself. Definitely a fun and near flawless movie, but I don’t think it deserves to be in this category.

Inception – This movie, for me, out of everything I saw this year, probably delivered the best on all fronts. I am not saying the acting was great, but it delivered what it needed to in order to serve the story. And so did everything else. I have a personal movie rating system that I haven’t quite figured out how to port over to a simple and understandable way to rate movies in reviews. I call it: Perfect Film/Perfect Movie. A Perfect Film is a film that I can’t second guess any of the decisions on. A film that achieves exactly what it sets out to do. It doesn’t even have to be a film that I like personally. My favorite example of this kind of movie is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  Also, I would include She’s Having A Baby in this list as well, since I think it delivers exactly the message that the filmmaker set out to deliver. A Perfect Movie is a movie that I can tune in anywhere at any time and just pick up right there and be entertained for however long or short of time it is that I watch it. The Dawn of the Dead remake is a good example of this. I can turn that thing on at any point during its running time and something cool is happening and it is happening in a well executed manner. She’s Having A Baby also fits this mold for me (can you tell that I love that movie more than I probably should – it just resonates with me on a personal level). Inception is a Perfect Film for me, but maybe not a Perfect Movie, mainly due to its singular strength which is making you think.

True Grit – Great film, seriously. I love the Coens. If you haven’t seen A Serious Man, then run out and see it now. This was a great adaptation, but not perfect. The imperfection is probably not due to any fault of the filmmakers but might be something inherent in the original story, since the John Wayne film has the same problem, though not nearly as troublesome there as it is here. The first two thirds of the movie are pretty fantastic, but the last third is mostly climax and resolution. And it is climax and resolution that is very Hollywood in execution. So for me tonally, it loses me there. The first two thirds of the movie is all character, and beautifully done – but that ending reminds me heavily of the ending of The Postman by Kevin Costner. I love almost that whole movie, but the ending is so contrived and pat that I felt it physically patting me on the head and saying “good boy” to me as I watched it. True Grit’s ending isn’t that egregious, but it has enough of that feel to it that it keeps me from loving it whole-heartedly. Having said that, the performances were wonderful across the board, much better than the John Wayne one.

Black Swan – This was an interesting film, but I will be honest, I didn’t really dig it. In theory, I like Darren Aronofsky a lot as a director and filmmaker, but in actual practice his movies are a bit too cynical for me to get completely behind. And this is especially true of Black Swan, a film that is really about the ugly parts deep within ourselves that drive us to make art outside of our reach. It was beautifully executed and there is no denying that the man is a master of his craft, but his films literally suck the joy of life out of you. Just look at his oeuvre to date:  Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, etc (except maybe the Fountain, which I did like, but probably would have liked more if it was more appropriately cast).

127 Hours – I totally loved this movie. So much so that I felt no overpowering need to research the validity of the story against the documentation of the actual event. It was uplifting and sobering at the same time. It broke your heart while at the same time building it up stronger than before. It inspired. Out of the nominees it is my choice to win Best Picture. And as big of a scandal as it is that Nolan didn’t receive a Best Director Nomination for Inception, I think it should be a bigger scandal that Danny Boyle wasn’t nominated. To me this is a Perfect Film, and will probably be a Perfect Movie as well.

The Fighter – This was a great movie for David O. Russell to make. Probably close to a perfect match of material and a director’s sensibility. The solid cast really helped nail it too, with two very outstanding perfomances from Christian Bale and Amy Adams. But that having been said, I don’t know that it is a Best Picture quality film. I don’t know that it moved the bar of filmmaking in any measurable way. It was solid good filmmaking well executed, should we praise films that do their job at a minimum?

The Kids Are All Right – I have not seen this one and honestly don’t know enough about it to make any snap decisions. Having said that it looks like it has a wonderful cast of actors that like to take chances and do a variety of challenging work. That can only be a good sign. But, honestly, there is no way it can be good as the original. The Who rock forever, man.

Winter’s Bone – This is a movie that I have been told repeatedly to see, but the timing has just never worked out. I recognize next to no one involved in the film, either on the production side or the cast side. The plus is the title makes it sound like an especially raunchy issue of the Jack of Fables comic from the immortal Bill Willingham and his loyal boy-companion Matthew Sturges.

Best Director – The nominees are: Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech, David Fincher for The Social Network, Joel and Ethan Coen for True Grit, Darren Aronofsky for Black Swan, and David O. Russell for The Fighter. For some reason this is the toughest category for me to pick this year, especially since Danny Boyle wasn’t nominated for 127 Hours, nor Christopher Nolan for Inception. Generally, I can make a quick snap decision and build a supporting argument on the fly. This year, it pretty much boils down to a process of elimination.

I think Fincher is a great, great director – but as I said earlier, I think he puts himself before his film and I found that especially egregious in the Social Network which really was close to perfect, at least when Fincher wasn’t mugging with the camera. Again, I think Aronofsky could become one of our most talented directors, but I don’t think he should win for Black Swan, which is good but not nearly as good or well executed as earlier efforts by him, like The Wrestler or Requiem for a Dream. I love the Coen’s and would generally love for them to win every time they are at bat, and as much as I really appreciated and liked True Grit and the way they re-presented it, I don’t think the film works completely as a whole, especially the overwrought and frantic ending – regardless of whether that came from the original source material or not.

Which brings me to the last two Nominees – David O. Russell and Tom Hooper. The Fighter was better than it had a right to be, with some truly great performances, but the movie itself is still pretty formula. And again, I haven’t seen The King’s Speech yet, but hear uniformly great word of mouth about it. So, honestly, even though I am going to say Tom Hooper is my choice for Best Director, I would be equally pleased if Russell won – especially if it meant we would get some behind the scenes footage of him cursing and yelling at the talent.

Best Actor – The nominees are: Colin Firth in The King’s Speech, Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network, Javier Bardem in Biutiful, Jeff Bridges in True Grit, and James Franco in ’127 Hours. I am sure that Firth was perfect in The King’s Speecah, and I know Eisenberg was solid in The Social Network if not a little too mannered. Bardem is always interesting in whatever he does, and I love Jeff Bridges dearly, but Cogburn is more of a supporting role in this new version of True Grit, so my choice would be for James Franco as Best Actor. He carried the whole movie, pretty much entirely by himself. It was pretty astonishing work, naturalistic and organic and deeply, deeply moving.

Best Actress – The nominees are: Annette Bening in The Kids Are All Right, Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole, Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone, Natalie Portman in Black Swan, and Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine. This is another hard category for me this year, mainly because I have only seen one of the performances. I think I would to see Hailee Steinfeld in this category instead of supporting actress, additionally since she was the core and chief protagonist in that film. So, let’s start eliminating.

I cannot look at Nicole Kidman without focusing on that marble sculpture of a forehead. Immovable as solid stone. It is so prominent and jutty, almost like she is hiding a space helmet under there like in Mars Attacks. I used to love her in movies and would look forward to seeing her, but now it just fills me with an uneasy creeping dread that I can’t get past – so regardless of how wonderful her performance was here I can’t bring myself to give her the nod. I don’t know what the geek contingent fascination is with Natalie Portman? I don’t find her terribly attractive and honestly don’t think very highly of her talents as an actress. I find her stiff and a bit pre-meditated. Which, honestly works very well for her character in Black Swan. Aronofsky has probably cast her to her abilities better than any other director to date. But she still looks like she is acting to me. I love Bening, she is aging beautifully and is so solid no matter what she is in. I miss her on the screen. I wish she did more. Hopefully she played Pete Townsend in this movie and not Roger Daltrey – I would hate to see her in a muscle-T swinging a microphone in wild arcs by its cord while on stage screaming at the audience. Wait…. I take that back, I would love to see that.

I know nothing about Jennifer Lawrence and I surf a ton of Hollywood gossip sites, so my opinion is still pretty unformed at this point. I wouldn’t be adverse if she won, though. I firmly believe in shaking up the status quo every now and again. And with Hollywood just being a synonym for status quo, that would be a good thing. I just think Michelle Williams is completely under-appreciated, though since the passing of Heath Ledger she is getting a bit more acknowledgement (which is a negative commentary on the industry today itself). I fell completely and unabashedly in love with her character in The Baxter – and for that alone I think she should win.

Best Supporting Actor – The nominees are: Christian Bale in The Fighter, John Hawkes in Winter’s Bone, Jeremy Renner in The Town, Mark Ruffalo in The Kids Are All Right, and Geoffrey Rush The King’s Speech. Firstly, this is the category that Jeff Bridges should be in for True Grit, but even then I don’t think his was the most key supporting performance of the year. I can’t speak to John Hawkes, so I will ignore him, but Renner was solid in The Town, however, the role itself was pretty by the numbers and pretty much existed to serve a plot point and create internal struggle for the main character. Really, Renner didn’t bring anything additional to the role than was already there to begin with. Ruffalo is always an interesting down beat presence in anything he does, it would be nice at some point for him to get recognized, but this role from what I can tell (not having seen the movie) is no real big stretch for him – so, maybe his time will come when he appears as Bruce Banner in the Avengers.

It really comes down to Christian Bale in the Fighter and Geoffrey Rush in The King’s Speech, and honestly, Bale was phenomenal. Far and away the best thing in that fairly pedestrian movie, followed by a wonderful performance by Amy Adams. The two of them together gave that movie a soul, so Bale should get it, no questions asked.

Best Supporting Actress – The nominees are: Amy Adams in The Fighter, Helena Bonham Carter in The King’s Speech, Melissa Leo in The Fighter, Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit, and Jacki Weaver in Animal Kingdom. Off the top of my head I don’t believe I have ever heard anything about Animal Kingdom and the name Jacki Weaver doesn’t ring any bells, so at the risk of coming across as callous to Jacki’s feelings I am just going to suggest we move along and eliminate her from the discussion. I am sure Helena Bonham Carter was great in King’s Speech, but at this point I don’t know that she is a defining character in the film – you know the one about the King of England and his Speech Therapist.

Melissa Leo was absolutely solid in the The Fighter, but again as I have said on several other nominees – her performance was more story driven than character driven. I don’t think she was key in making the movie work. Hailee Steinfeld was perfectly cast in True Grit, but really she should be up for Best Actress and not in this Category. That whole movie was about her journey and it is a shame that she is relegated to a lesser category because of the political and awards maneuvering of the studios and the Academy. Even, still her performance doesn’t match up to the great and wonderful turn that Amy Adams did in the Fighter.  She like Bale is almost unrecognizable. It is a performance completely different from what she is normally known for, plus she wears a see through bra in one scene. She should win.

Best Animated Feature Film – The nominees are: How to Train Your Dragon, Illusionist, and Toy Story 3. I know the sentimental favorite always goes to whatever Pixar film is out each year, but let’s show some individuality here, people. Sure it was great, but it totally ripped off The Great Escape. I’m not saying that is a bad thing, I’m just saying is all… How to Train Your Dragon was surprisingly fun, too. Though, it didn’t get good until about half way in. My real choice would be for the Illusionist to win, even though it stand no chance in hell. I loved Triplets of Belleville by the same creator and even though I haven’t seen this yet, I think something a bit different than another sequel or adaptation of a children’s book would be nice – especially something with a real vision to share.

Anyway, those are my, admittedly more or less uninformed, choices for the main categories for this year’s Academy Awards. Feel free to disagree in the comments section below, but remember – they are just my personal opinion.

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