Thursday, February 24, 2011

Oscars 2011: Breaking down the Best Picture Nominees

I can't be absolutely complete with my breakdown, as unfortunately, I haven't seen The Fighter or 127 hours, but as someone who has seen 80% of the Best Picture nominees, I feel like I have a pretty solid handle on the category this year. I have ranked the movies I have seen from 1 to 8. Well, technically, from 1 to 10 skipping 8 and 9, as I disliked The Kids Are All Right so much that I already know I like 127 hours and The Fighter more than that movie, even though I've never seen them. Perhaps I'll see the last two I'm missing at some point and update this list, but for now: Here are how I have the nominees ranked, first the two that I missed, and then the 8 that I did see ranked from worst to first.

The Two Films I didn't see (and yet still like more than The Kids Are All Right):

The Fighter – Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, and Amy Adams in a look at the early years of boxer "Irish" Micky Ward and his brother who helped train him before going pro in the mid 1980s.

127 Hours – James Franco is nominated for Best Actor playing Aron Ralston, a hiker who becomes trapped while hiking near Moab, Utah, and has to resort to cutting off his own arm to survive.

The Countdown of the 8 I did see:

The Kids Are All Right – (10 of 8)
Ugh. This wasn’t the worst movie I’ve ever seen nominated for Best Picture. After all, The Hours got a nomination, and Crash, The English Patient and Million Dollar Baby all won, for crying out loud. However, this is easily the worst movie that garnered a nomination this year. (And I say that not even having seen The Fighter or 127 Hours, but I refuse to believe either could fall south of this one on my list. The Kids Are All Right is the simple story of two lesbians who have raised a family together when suddenly their sperm donor is introduced to the family. The sperm donor seduces one of the lesbians, the lesbians reunite, and then general manufactured alternative family drama ensues. Egad. Annette Bening does an admirable job playing the career oriented bitch, but again…much like Jeff Bridges in True Grit, I’m not sure she’s acting. She always has a knack for playing a convincing uptight career woman, this character is basically the alcoholic lesbian version of her character from American Beauty. The perfect illustration of why I hated this movie can be found in the fact that the two lesbians (Bening and Julianne Moore) get in the mood by watching male gay porn. What?!? I would say avoid this one like the plague, I really despised it.

Winter’s Bone – (7 of 8)
This under-the-radar thriller shows the perils of living life as a member of a drug dealing family in rural Arkansas. The movie radiates the feeling of being cold. Seriously, if you watch it, bring a blanket. This dark movie shows the resilience of a young girl’s love for her brother and sister in light of a terrible situation. Jennifer Lawrence brings a good deal of innocence and an even larger sum of determination to her role as a 17 year old in over her head. Her dad has put the family home up as collateral on a bail bond, and she must fight a code of secrecy and some scary backwoods crank dealers to try and find her father and keep the state from taking away the home. That modest log house is holding her stressed family together by a string, as she struggles to provide for her siblings and their mentally disturbed mother. Losing the house means losing her family, which she is unwilling to consider. Facing death, beatings, or worse, she plunges headlong into dark and foreboding circumstances with no clear idea of what she needs to do, but with a determination to do whatever it takes to keep her family from being tossed out in the cold. Winter’s Bone is another film that is in the good but not quite great range. I’m sure just getting nominated felt like a win for these small film makers. While I wasn’t blown away by the flick, its quality is undeniable.

The Social Network – (6 of 8)
I can distinctly remember thinking to myself that Hollywood is officially out of ideas when I heard they made a movie about the creation of Facebook. Turns out, I was wrong. The Social Network takes Jesse Eisenberg, an actor whom I previously only associated either with fighting the undead in Zombieland or looking like a dead ringer for Michael Cera and it turns him into an acting force. Eisenberg’s nomination for Best Actor is well deserved, even if I don’t think he has much of a shot at winning. The Social Network shows the perils and pratfalls of having success thrust upon you, and how that can have both good and bad ramifications. I found the Social Network to be enjoyable and in step with human emotions as they relate to sudden success and sudden failure sometimes both of which arrive for the main characters simultaneously. Eisenberg’s portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg shows a proper level of arrogance and naïveté, and helps explain what it might have been like to create a mammoth like Facebook. I have heard some conspiracy theories that perhaps Social Network will win Best Picture because so many people use Facebook that it would be a boon to the Oscars. I, however, don’t fully understand the logic of this theory. I have a Facebook account, but I can’t see myself being excited if somehow The Social Network won an Oscar just because I use it. I use Facebook much like I use a McDonald’s drive through. It’s helpful and useful, but I’m not going to go gaga if Mickey D’s wins Burger of the Year just because I enjoy the occasional Big Mac. While The Social Network is a very good film, I think it falls rather short of greatness. I’m okay with it’s nomination for Best Picture, but I’ll be upset if it somehow manages to win over more deserving candidates.

Toy Story 3 – (5 of 8)
Toy Story 3 has a lot of things going against it in a quest to win Best Picture. Firstly, it’s a sequel, Godfather II and The Lord of the Rings - The Return of the King are the only sequels to have ever won Best Picture. Secondly, it’s an animated movie. It is only the third animated movie to have ever been nominated for the highest award the Academy presents, so that’s an accomplishment by itself, but I don’t think that it can win. I find it hard to believe the Academy would see fit to present it’s highest reward to a film in a genre generally regarded as kids fare; Which is a shame, because Toy Story 3 actually delivers a more emotional punch than most live action films can hope to muster. Still, it’s hard to see a movie with this much merchandising (everything from Action Figures to lunch boxes) also garnering a Best Picture. Yet, if you can strip away the Disney marketing, you’re left with a movie that tells the story of the bitter sweetness of children growing up from the perspective of the child’s toys. At its heart, Toy Story 3 is a statement about the fleeting nature of human life and how we all are here but for a moment, which is a pretty heavy concept to attach to a Happy Meal. Kids probably miss a lot of this, but if you see it as a parent, it can get you a bit verklempt…Talk amongst yourselves…I’ll give you a topic: The Kids are Alright is a Bad Picture and yet got nominated for Best Picture…discuss…

Inception – (4 of 8)
Is it possible that Leonardo DiCaprio is under appreciated? Despite the fact that he has fame and acclaim to beat the band, I still feel like the world underestimates how good he is. Inception is a great vehicle for him. It’s rare that a movie is both this good and this well received by the general public. Inception owes much of its success to its premise, which is logically coherent even as it is ridiculously implausible. The fact that the viewer doesn’t get hopelessly lost in a dream within a dream within a dream within a dream is a feat of writing in and of itself. The story and structure kind of overpowers the actors, who all do a good job in their roles, but no one really steals the show apart from perhaps a brooding Leo. It was a superbly written and directed movie, and it is both eye candy and a mind bender that I really loved. I don’t see it having any legitimate shot at bringing home the Oscar, but it is a nod to big time moviemaking that it was nominated. If the Academy only nominated five films like they used to prior to last year, this one is probably on the fence as to whether or not it would receive a nomination. Films like Inception are making me rethink my original position that 10 nominees are too many. The more I ponder it, the more it seems like a good idea.

Black Swan – (3 of 8)
Although Black Swan is not my second favorite film nominated, I would guess that it would be the second place finisher for Best Picture if the Academy ranked the nominees rather than just handing out a single winner . I hated this movie for the first 70 minutes, but then it comes together and blows you away with the way it bursts to the finish. Black Swan makes you question what is real and what isn’t, and it examines how far being driven to succeed can carry someone both positively and negatively. It’s a frightening look into what it might be like to lose your damn mind. Natalie Portman displays the greatest acting chops she’s ever shown and single-handedly carries this movie to the next level. If she doesn’t win Best Actress, I’ll be very surprised. The Black Swan is dark, swirling, and disturbing; but ultimately it’s a great film. I’ll probably never watch it again, as it’s a movie you survive rather than enjoy, but there is no denying its greatness and the impact it has on you long after you see it.

True Grit – (2 of 8)
I’m an unapologetic fan boy of the Coen Brothers, and I found True Grit to be exceptional. You’ll hear many people call this one a remake of the John Wayne film, but don’t be fooled. The Coens didn’t refer to the 1969 picture at all in the making of this film. Rather they decided to start fresh and make the film as a more faithful adaptation of the Charles Portis novel. The resulting film is perhaps one of the most accessible Coen brothers’ films in their catalog. It is a tremendous script with complex dialogue that is handled adroitly by the accomplished cast. Jeff Bridges plays Rooster Cogburn in a drunk and disorderly manner which I would think might be worthy of consideration for winning the Best Actor award, except after seeing him in Crazy Heart and The Big Lebowski I’m not sure playing a drunk and disorderly character is acting for Bridges. I think he just IS that crusty lovable drunk. Matt Damon plays Texas Ranger LaBoeuf well enough, I suppose, although he won’t blow you away. To me the best performance in the film is that of 14 year old Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross. The script was so difficult that it seemed unlikely that that the Coens would be able to find anyone young enough for the role and yet capable enough to do the part justice. Steinfeld not only does a passable job, she hits the role out of the park. She often outshines the all-star cast that includes Bridges, Damon, and Josh Brolin. Steinfeld is nominated for Best Supporting Actress, and it's tough to choose between her and Helena Bonham Carter from The Kings Speech. True Grit is a must see if you enjoy Westerns and really even if you don’t. This one is a doozy of a straightforward Western with just enough Coen quirk flavoring it that you really should check it out. It really won me over despite the fact that generally I'm not a huge fan of Westerns.

The Kings Speech – (1 of 8)
The premise of this movie makes it sound like there is no possible way this movie could even be good, much less great. Here is the basic setup: The Duke of York has a debilitating stammer, also he was somewhat abused psychologically as a child as a result of his stutter. His confidence is shaken and he really does not want to be king. However, he is forced into the crown when his brother abdicates the throne. Unfortunately for him, his crowning as King arrives at a moment in history where radio is changing what is required of a king. It is no longer okay to just look regal, you have to speak regally to your subjects now. He is a strong guy, but deals with a lot of fear of public speaking. To correct this, he goes to a speech therapist that helps him not only with his stutter, but he also helps him to be a better man, and at the end, he helps the King deliver an important radio address to the nation in time of war. Yup, that is the movie in a nutshell, and it sounds dreadfully dull. However, once you see it, you’ll understand. This story is inspiring, heart-warming, emotional, and the acting performances are unreal. Geoffrey Rush as the speech therapist is exceptionally lovable. Helena Bonham Carter does a great job as George the Sixth’s wife. Colin Firth really needs to win Best Actor for his betrayal of a flawed and stammering, yet ultimately strong man and king. I can’t recommend this movie highly enough. If it doesn’t win Best Picture, I’m going to be bummed.

1 comment:

Katrina said...

Thanks for the breakdown. I really enjoyed reading it! And it gave me some perspective, as I have seen NONE of the nominees. :) Miss you guys!