Friday, February 25, 2011

2011 Oscar Preview and Picks

Posted By on Fri, Feb 25, 2011 at 12:52 PM

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Best Picture

127 Hours

Black Swan

The Fighter

Inception

The Kids Are All Right

The King’s Speech

The Social Network

Toy Story 3

True Grit

Winter’s Bone

Who should win? The Social Network. While Toy Story 3, Inception, and The King’s Speech are all phenomenal films deserving of praise, none of them will still be discussed, debated, and studied in 10, 20, even 30 years from now. The Social Network will be. Like Citizen Kane and The Godfather before it, it’s a grand spectacle about nothing less than the cold reality inherent in the acquisition of The American Dream. It’s a film about the way an entire generation relates to the concepts of ambition and upward mobility. Plus, it’s a flawlessly realized and executed film from every possible angle

and isn’t that what the words “Best Picture” should mean?

Who will win? An extremely tough call between The Social Network and The King’s Speech, for several reasons. The two films have each won a nice share of prizes to date, and together they’ve shut out every other film. The Social Network picked up the Golden Globe, as well as nearly every critics award, while The King’s Speech nabbed the top award from all three major guilds (Actors, Producers, Directors). And, looking at it from a different perspective, The King’s Speech is the quintessential Oscar pedigree film (an impeccably acted historical drama about royalty and overcoming disability), while The Social Network is the cutting edge movie from the new guard about what’s happening right now. Prior to 2007, The King’s Speech would have been the sure thing. But the last few years, the Oscars have rewarded edgy critical favorites—films that would have never stood a chance as recently as five years ago (when Brokeback Mountain lost to Crash)—such as No Country For Old Men, Slumdog Millionaire, and The Hurt Locker. Will the trend continue, or will Oscar revert back to his old ways? Because of recent history, and because I desperately want to believe that the year’s best movie will be honored as such, I’m picking The Social Network. But with some hesitancy.

Who got screwed? You could make a good case that the best ten movies got nominated, which is certainly a nice endorsement for the Oscars having upped to ten Best Picture nominees last year. My only complaint is that the criminally underseen Barney’s Version couldn’t find it’s way into one of the slots. A wonderful movie about one man’s quest through three marriages and a murder charge to find true happiness, it deserved more love and attention. While Winter’s Bone had a great story, it didn’t have the same range of emotion as Barney’s Version. I would have swapped the two.

Best Director

Darren Aronofsky: Black Swan

Joel & Ethan Coen: True Grit

David Fincher: The Social Network

Tom Hooper: The King’s Speech

David O. Russell: The Fighter

Who should win? David Fincher made the year’s best movie, and he did so with an unbelievable degree of difficulty; all dialogue, no love story, three points of view, mostly just college kids at computers or in a deposition room, and a protagonist who had to come across as both sympathetic and an asshole. Not an enviable task, but he couldn’t possibly have done a better job.

Who will win? As with best picture, it’s definitely down to The Social Network vs. The King’s Speech. Fincher has been nominated before (two years ago, for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), while Hooper is a first time nominee. But Hooper picked up the director’s guild award, which almost always predicts the Oscar winner. Even still, I think Fincher will pull it out—he’s been considered one of Hollywood’s leading visionaries for fifteen years (also directing Seven, Fight Club, and Zodiac, among others), and there will never be a better opportunity to recognize him.

Who got screwed? Aside from Fincher and Hooper, nobody made a better film in 2010 than Christopher Nolan with Inception, and he had arguably the most difficult job to pull off. Giving us a slumberland of spinning rooms and Paris folding in on itself deserved recognition, but Nolan has been snubbed so many times before (Memento, The Dark Knight) that he should be accustomed to it.

Best Actor

Javier Bardem: Biutiful

Jeff Bridges: True Grit

Jesse Eisenberg: The Social Network

Colin Firth: The King’s Speech

James Franco: 127 Hours

Who should win? As much fun as it would be to see James Franco win while also hosting the show, Colin Firth is really the only answer here. Countless actors have admirably portrayed characters with physical disabilities by changing their voices, speech patterns, movements, and mannerisms, but Firth might be the first guy we’ve ever seen act with his throat. Upon seeing the film a second time, I couldn’t take my eyes off the way Firth used subtle movements in his neck to show his character trying to form words that just wouldn’t come—and that’s just one of the many elements in a stunning performance filled with warmth, nuance, and frustration. This one will be remembered.

Who will win? Firth. Not to diminish the other four actors—who were all fantastic in their own ways—but none of them stands a chance. The fact that many believe Firth should have won last year (for A Single Man) only seals the deal even further.

Who got screwed? Nobody. While I would have loved to see Paul Giamatti squeeze his way in for Barney’s Version, it’s really pretty difficult to dispute these five. However, and just for the sake of argument

what about Jaoquin Phoenix for I’m Still Here? At the very least, it’s a performance that redefines the concept of method acting forevermore, and it will certainly be remembered, even if not for the right reasons. But if fooling the majority of the country into believing you’ve gone off the deep end isn’t a great acting performance, then we should reevaluate exactly what great acting is.

Best Actress

Annette Bening: The Kids Are All Right

Nicole Kidman: Rabbit Hole

Jennifer Lawrence: Winter’s Bone

Natalie Portman: Black Swan

Michelle Williams: Blue Valentine

Who should win? As much as I’m in the camp that thinks Annette Bening should own an Oscar, I just can’t root for her over Portman. Portraying a steady and methodical decent into psychosis and anchoring a film that has no frame of reference to distinguish reality from hallucination, Portman threw everything of herself into her performance.

Who will win? For most of last year, everyone thought it was a done deal that Bening would finally have her Oscar. But momentum can be a powerful thing come awards season, and Portman has 100% of it. Don’t expect that to change.

Who got screwed? Well, I thought the best lead actress performance of the year was Julianne Moore in The Kids Are All Right, but she wasn’t nominated. Her monologue towards the end of the film about how difficult marriage is and how much work it takes was one of the most touching moments of 2010. She got screwed.

Best Supporting Actor

Christian Bale: The Fighter

John Hawkes: Winter’s Bone

Jeremy Renner: The Town

Mark Ruffalo: The Kids Are All Right

Geoffrey Rush: The King’s Speech

Who should win? In the opening moment of The Fighter, Christian Bale’s Dicky Eklund sits down on a couch and starts speaking to the camera. Precisely twenty seconds after that, I knew Christian Bale would win an Oscar. It’s rare that a performance makes you realize instantaneously that it will result in an Academy Award, but this is one of them. He’s just that good.

Who will win? Did you read the last part? As good as Geoffrey Rush is, and as loved as he is, and as acclaimed as The King’s Speech is, there’s just no way Bale loses this. When he’s on screen, you lose all realization you’re even watching an acting performance.

Who got screwed? Andrew Garfield. As The Social Network’s victimized Eduardo Saverin, Garfield plays the Fredo to Mark Zuckerberg’s Michael Corleone. Towards the end of the film, when Saverin realizes he’s been cruelly forced out of the company he helped create, and he ignores his tears as he defiantly looks at Zuckerberg and whimpers “lawyer up asshole,” it was impossible not to feel every emotion of his character. John Hawkes’ slot belonged to Garfield, and it was one of the biggest stunners of this year’s nominations.

Best Supporting Actress

Amy Adams: The Fighter

Helena Bonham Carter: The King’s Speech

Melissa Leo: The Fighter

Hailee Steinfeld: True Grit

Jacki Weaver: Animal Kingdom

Who should win? A case could be made for all five, but I think Adams’ performance in The Fighter had the most meat to it, if for no other reason than the scene where she confronts the title character’s seven trashy sisters as they taunt her with the unflattering moniker of “MTV girl.”

Who will win? A few weeks ago, Leo had this in the bag. But then she thought it would be a good idea to finance and create her own campaign in the Hollywood trades, wearing fur and looking waaaaaay too into herself. To say that was a bad move is an understatement—it will likely cost her the Oscar. At this point the race is wide open, and Adams could likely receive many of the votes that people were prepared to give to Leo. On the other hand, True Grit was widely loved by both critics and audiences, and this may be its only chance to take home some hardware. In a category that’s known for young actresses upsetting established veterans, the same could happen this year. Now if only Melissa Leo could be called on stage to hand the award over to Steinfeld, since that’s effectively what happened anyways.

Who got screwed? Annette Bening. It was decided over the summer by the powers that be that her Kids Are All Right performance would be campaigned for as a lead actress, when it really could have swung either way. Now she’s in an un-winnable Best Actress race with Natalie Portman while the Supporting Oscar would have been hers for the taking. As for people who weren’t nominated in any category, I’d love to know how Lesley Manville’s hilarious manic performance in Mike Leigh’s Another Year didn’t make the final cut. However, you won’t see me arguing that Mila Kunis should have been a nominee for Black Swan. She played a cute temptress with a naughty side—remind me why that was difficult?

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Best Adapted Screenplay

Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy: 127 Hours

Aaron Sorkin: The Social Network

Michael Arndt: Toy Story 3

Joel & Ethan Coen: True Grit

Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini: Winter’s Bone

Who should win? Toy Story 3 had a truly touching and original story (it’s only considered an adaptation because it used previously existing characters), but it just can’t compare to Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay for The Social Network. Juggling three viewpoints and two timelines while delivering some of the best dialogue ever, it’s a piece of work that aspiring screenwriters will be poring over for decades.

Who will win? Sorkin. The other nominees could use this moment to take a bathroom break.

Who got screwed? At the risk of sounding predictable, this is yet another category that Barney’s Version could have been recognized in, and likely should have been. But the movie I really wanted to see get some love here is the acclaimed but financially disastrous Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Adapted from the wacky series of graphic novels, the movie took a completely original approach of re-imagining the story as a video game. While a bit on the silly side, it was one of the year’s truly unique films, and we may find ourselves looking at it in five years as an extremely influential work.

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Best Original Screenplay

Mike Leigh: Another year

Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, & Keith

Dorrington: The Fighter

Christopher Nolan: Inception

Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg: The Kids Are All

Right

David Seidler: The King’s Speech

Who should win? If someone had asked you six months ago if you’d like to see a movie about a long dead British monarch battling a speech impediment, would you have said yes? That’s what I thought. It takes one hell of a good screenplay to carve a fascinating and inspiring story out of subject matter that most rational people would call boring. Lucky for us, David Seidler wrote that screenplay.

Who will win? This is one of the only categories where The King’s Speech isn’t locked in mortal combat with The Social Network, so one has to believe that opportunity will be seized upon. However, this award often goes to movies that take a trek out to bizarroland, so don’t count out Inception. Nolan has plenty of supporters, and he could well get some sympathy votes for being shut out of the Best Director race.

Who got screwed? Easy A deftly combined high school hysterics with the Puritan literary classic The Scarlet Letter, and did so with a biting wit. But post-Juno, everybody seems to have decided that snappy teen comedies are no longer impressive works of screenwriting. Too bad. I would have given Bert V. Royal (Easy A’s scribe) the nomination that went to The Fighter.

Best Animated Feature

How to Train Your Dragon

The Illusionist

Toy Story 3

Every year, the gap between Pixar and the rest of the animated-film-making universe narrows a speck more. Dragon just might be the best non-Pixar computer-animated film yet—a cute and funny story about finding your niche in the world. But it’s still not Toy Story 3, or as it’s otherwise known, The Movie that Made Grown Men Cry. Perhaps the most touching movie ever made about leaving childhood behind, it doesn’t even have a .01% chance of losing. One year, Pixar will lose this category. This is not that year.

Best Animated Short Film

Day & Night

The Gruffalo

Let’s Pollute

The Lost Thing

Madagascar, a Journey Diary

A tough call, because Madagascar has the most inventive animation, but no real plot to speak of; The Gruffalo is the only one with Hollywood voice talent, but it’s not terribly interesting; Let’s Pollute is the funniest and has great biting satire, but feels a tad vapid; Day & Night, meanwhile, is by Pixar, which may be all that matters. Having been shown in theaters before Toy Story 3, Day & Night likely reached the widest audience. Plus it’s not too shabby in the quality department. I’m betting on it to pull out the win in a tough category.

Best Art Direction

Alice in Wonderland

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows—Part 1

Inception

The King’s Speech

True Grit

Tim Burton films don’t often lose this category, and this year should be no different. Despite the great dreamscapes of Inception, count on Alice in Wonderland.

Best Cinematography

Black Swan

Inception

The King’s Speech

The Social Network

True Grit

The dark atmosphere of Black Swan and the trick shots of Inception should both gain a bit of support, and this is also a category susceptible to a movie on a sweep, meaning The Social Network and The King’s Speech each have a decent shot as well. But the Oscar should belong to Roger Deakins, a nine-time nominee who has gone home empty handed his first eight tries. The man behind the classic visuals in movies like The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, and No Country for Old Men, he should finally earn his little gold guy for his impressive work on True Grit.

Best Costume Design

Alice in Wonderland

I Am Love

The King’s Speech

The Tempest

True Grit

I’m tempted to say that with only one British historical drama in this category, The King’s Speech should be a sure thing, but Alice in Wonderland is so over-the-top opulent that it could bowl people over. I’ll still bet on Speech.

Best Documentary

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Gasland

Inside Job

Restrepo

Waste Land

The biggest question with Best Documentary this year isn’t who will win, but rather why Waiting for Superman wasn’t among the nominees. A scathing and heartbreaking look at America’s broken education system (by the makers of An Inconvenient Truth), Superman was tremendously acclaimed and the presumptive winner of this category. Sadly, rules stipulate that you have to actually be nominated in order to win. That leaves two alternate choices: Inside Job, an intelligent and thorough examination into the economic collapse of 2008, and Exit Through the Gift Shop, a raucous art world farce. Neither would be a surprise, and I thought Inside Job was the better of the two. But Gift shop is so unique and startling that it’s more likely to stay in voter’s minds.

Best Documentary Short

Killing in the Name

Poster Girl

Strangers No More

Sun Come Up

The Warriors of Qiugang

The one category I know nothing about, but Killing in the Name, about the aftermath of a suicide bombing at a Jordanian wedding, sounds the most interesting.

Best Editing

127 hours

Black Swan

The Fighter

The King’s Speech

The Social Network

First thing’s first: a federal investigation should be launched to figure out why Inception wasn’t nominated. The final hour of the movie takes place in five different layers of dream concurrently; one could use the film to teach an entire class on editing. As for the nominees, all have the pedigree to win. Black Swan builds the best suspense, but that’s still likely a second place achievement to The Social Network, which shuffles back and forth between multiple viewpoints and two timelines.

Best Foreign Language Film

Biutiful (Mexico)

Dogtooth (Greece)

In a Better World (Denmark)

Incendies (Canada)

Outside the Law (Algeria)

Starring Javier Bardem and directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (21 Grams, Babel), Biutiful undoubtedly has the most prestige and name recognition of the nominees. But it’s also inconsolably depressing, so I have a hard time believing it will rally tremendous support. In a Better World and Outside the Law both garnered acclaim on the film festival circuit, and are also by filmmakers who have been nominated in this category before, so either one could win. Better World, by Susanne Bier (a nominee in 2006 for the great After the Wedding), took home the Golden Globe, so it’s a good bet to repeat.

Best Live Action short Film

The Confession

The Crush

God of Love

Na Wewe

Wish 143

Set during the Rwandan genocide of 1994, Na Wewe creates a lot of intensity for a film not even twenty minutes long, and it also has interesting insights about ethnic and national identity. The only thing that could be more impressive is a short film nearly causing me to burst into tears, which is actually what Wish 143 accomplished. About a teenage boy with terminal cancer who tells the Make-A-Wish foundation that he just wants to have sex with a girl before he dies, the film initially plays the concept for a few laughs. But then, from out of nowhere, we get slapped in the face with a scene so touching it hurts. I have no idea if it will win, but I’m absolutely rooting for it.

Best Makeup

Barney’s Version

The Way Back

The Wolfman

With old-school creature effects out the wazoo, Wolfman should have no problem winning.

Best Original Score

127 Hours

How to Train Your Dragon

Inception

The King’s Speech

The Social Network

The scores for Inception (Hans Zimmer) and The King’s Speech (Alexandre Desplat) are both wonderful and serve their films well. But they don’t quite stay with you and haunt you the way the truly timeless scores do; Trent Reznor’s score for The Social Network (working with Atticus Ross) does exactly that. I wouldn’t discount Desplat—a four-time nominee who has never won—but Reznor’s first ever film score (he moonlights as the mastermind of rock ‘n roll artist Nine Inch Nails) is one for the ages. It should be honored as such.

Best Original Song

“If I Rise” (Dido, A.R. Rahman, & Rollo Armstrong):

127 Hours

“Coming Home” (Tom Douglas, Troy Verges, & Hillary

Lindsey): Country Strong

“I See the Light” (Alan Menken & Glenn Slater):

Tangled

“We Belong Together” (Randy Newman): Toy Story 3

Rahman won this category two years ago for his work on the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack, but “If I Rise” just isn’t good enough to take home a statue—there’s no hook. Alan Menken is usually a good bet to win here, but “I See the Light” is drivel. Country Strong, meanwhile, bombed in theaters so colossally that it’s difficult to see it winning anything. That leaves Randy Newman’s song from Toy Story 3. While not quite a classic on the level of “You’ve Got a Friend In Me” (from the original Toy Story), it should be more than adequate to win this year against seriously weak competition.

Best Sound Mixing /Best Sound Editing

Inception is nominated for both, which should be all we need to know, although Unstoppable’s runaway train might have an outside shot in the Sound Editing category.

Best Visual Effects

Alice in Wonderland

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows—Part 1

Hereafter

Inception

Iron Man 2

I pity the fool who bets against Inception’s zero-gravity fist fight inside of a spinning dream. It’s literally impossible to watch that scene without saying to yourself “how the hell did they do that?”

Daniel Joyaux is a film critic based in Ann Arbor. His posts can also be found at his regular blog, Third Man Movies & Culture (thirdmanmovies.blogspot.com).


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