Oscars 2011: Woody’s Roundup

The Oscars! The one night of the year when everything is grand. This year they have corrected the error of having to scrounge to find ten Best Picture nominees to present a pretty good spread. I’m hoping for some upsets, because if everything plays out the way it has been going, I will be sorely disappointed. Let’s go into the hopefuls in the categories that I care and know about!

Best Picture

127 Hours

Danny Boyle’s follow up to Slumdog Millionaire isn’t anything like that toe-tapping tale of exploitation that lead to further exploitation and ruined a nation forever. True, Boyle has retained the services of A.R. Rahman for his score, but he has replaced Dev Patel, Anil Kapoor and Freida Pinto with James Franco and pretty much no one and nothing else. To me, 127 Hours was a real mix: Franco is excellent as Aron Ralston, keeping himself sane through the mere effort of trying to survive combined with talking to his video camera. Boyle is marginally less excellent, engaging intermittently in gimmicky split screen tactics, most notably at the beginning and the end. There is also a segment displaying the drop in temperature at night, which would be handy if fahrenheit meant a damn thing to me. Alas, it does not. Boyle’s gimmickry does not always work against the film, though: the title card’s placement and timing is a masterstroke, and some of the fantasy sequences are quite striking.

Where Boyle goes horribly wrong is deciding to continue the fantasy into the epilogue, thus undermining the reality of what came before it. Franco is swimming with one arm only metaphorically, and gazing on everyone he knows on a lounge. Boyle doesn’t ruin the film but he damn near scuppers it.

So, while 127 Hours is a compelling movie anchored by a brilliant performance, it is too imperfect to credibly compete for Best Picture.

 

Black Swan

Black Swan! People who hadn’t seen this thought that it was going to be The Wrestler for ballet. It’s hard to conceive of anyone being more wrong. Black Swan is a tight psychological thriller that offers confusion as its main weapon. Is any of it literal? The lack of any points of view save Natalie Portman’s Nina confuse the matter. Black Swan is a good film hampered by an ultimately confusing premise: Nina is cast as both the Black and White Swans, but everyone thinks she’s not very good at it moments before the opening curtain. She has to conquer herself, but because the movie is so internal it can be difficult to see precisely how she relates to everyone else in the universe – if this is even relevant.

A love or hate movie, it doesn’t really stand a chance but I’d like it to receive some recognition – even though Portman is no longer my favourite choice for Best Actress.

 

The Fighter

The Fighter is easily the most standard issue of the ten Best Picture nominees. Totally unsurprising rags to riches story about a boxer who learns to tune out his manipulative family so that he can become world champion. Great performances by Melissa Leo and Amy Adams in particular anchor a movie that has to hinge on acting because it’s hard to care about its story – the boxing is barely featured, and when it is it is too derivative of Raging Bull. You’d think this would be one of the more likely lads because David O. Russell is nominated for Best Director, but even if both Christian Bale and Melissa Leo are destined for Supporting nods this movie feels destined for obscurity.

 

Inception

You’ll believe a man can BARM. Inception came out long enough ago and was popular enough to suffer the inevitable backlash. It is this year’s Avatar but has more going for it and ultimately more staying power. By virtue of this dream heist movie being a blockbuster and no longer fresh in everyone’s minds (except for the true believers, of course) it doesn’t stand much chance but it’s nice to see it nominated. One of the best film experiences of 2010, at any rate.

It would be worth seeing it win for the head explosions alone.

 

The Kids Are All Right

One of two black sheep of the Best Picture roundup, I’m kind of mystified as to why The Kids Are All Right is here. It’s not exactly a perfectly realised movie, you know? I’ll get into it more in the Actor and Actress roundups, but … nothing about this movie is particulary good. It’s an okay movie as a whole but it oversimplifies things in regards to Mark Ruffalo’s character and is really not compelling in any capacity. It was only last week that I realised it’s a “message” movie, that is, same-sex parents can raise children and form slightly dysfunctional families as well as any heteronormative parents.

To me, that’s not a message, it’s more implicit. Therefore I can’t see this movie as particularly important, or worth much more than a second guess. However, I suppose it takes on extra meaning if you’re surrounded by inhuman freaks who refuse to acknowledge that two women can find love with one another and … enjoy gay porn. This might be a ray of light for you, but it’s not that great as a movie.

 

The King’s Speech

Somehow this became the front runner against the evil empire that is Facebook and The Social Network. The King’s Speech is the ultimate in buddy movies: Bertie and Lionel vs the Nazis! Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush inhabit their roles thoroughly, and Helena Bonham Carter remembered somewhere along the way that she can act. Take her off Tim Burton’s payroll permanently and watch her grow. A well crafted movie that swells in all the right places and actually made me feel a bit guilty for having warm feelings towards the monarchy. Obviously an Australian in 2011 isn’t supposed to feel such a way.

What I do know is I’d rather be beholden to Colin Firth than Jesse Eisenberg any day of the week. The King’s Speech has the best chance of toppling The Social Network monolith, and I fervidly hope it does.

 

The Social Network

How did a standard issue movie become such a phenomenon? Why does everyone love this movie? Why do they think that Aaron Sorkin is some sort of Messiah? Nothing about this movie is remarkable, at least in my memory. I will admit that I did not see it multiple times, because once was enough. Rapid fire sometimes funny dialogue! Thoroughly unlikeable characters! A concept that I still don’t find very interesting: the founding of Facebook by one horrible nerd.

Yes, the script is good but it also has some horrible things said. If Zuckerberg had actually said that he likes clubs because “they’e exclusive. And they’re fun. And they lead to a better life” I would punch him in the face. If this movie is true to life, then life sucks. But it’s not entirely, because all of the women featured are either amalgams of real people or simple ciphers created to bolster Zuckerberg along on his quest for ultimate douche supremacy. Everything about the movie is technically well done but it adds up to a soulless and unpleasant mess. You could say that it’s caught the spirit of the age, but what’s scarier is that it has captured what a lot of people want to be the spirit of the age. In their minds, The Social Network is the mirror of our existence – that, apart from the whole Zuckerberg thing, this is how we live, how we operate Facebook, how we party in our intense Ivy League colleges, where a minimum of study is committed and we’re too shallow to recognise Bill Gates when he’s talking to us. More human than human, indeed.

My worst nightmare is that The Social Network will attain the sort of status that Atlas Shrugged managed, and that people begin to model themselves after Zuckerberg, ignoring the fact that Fincher and Sorkin have successfully painted him as a desperately lonely loser bereft of the knowledge of basic social contracts. Fortunately this will never happen, and Sorkin’s intent is opposite to Rand’s, but people have always been prone to taking the wrong thing away and fashioning it into an interpretation to their liking (see also: right wing people believing everything Colbert has to say).

If this movie wins Best Picture I will not be surprised in the slightest, but I will be disappointed. While technically very well made and written, it will be the worst Best Picture winner since, well, The Hurt Locker.

 

Toy Story 3

Yesssss, two years in a row Pixar manages to make its way into the Best Picture nominations. It is, of course, one of the best pictures of 2010 and it deserves everything it gets, although there’s no way that it will get this nod. Pixar’s kids movie for 25 year olds (ie me) is a perfectly measured example of the cinematic form in any medium. Movies really do not get much better or more heartfelt than this. Who cares if the characters are made of plastic? They’re obviously not real, but they are human. For that reason Toy Story 3 is a supreme movie, and that is why I love it. It stands no chance, but it’s nice to pretend that it ever did.

 

True Grit

I would honestly be happy if we gave the Coen Brothers a standing nomination each year, even if they didn’t produce something. But they have, and it’s the wonderful genre piece True Grit. Western gumption is all that’s needed for the perfectly balanced trio of Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Hailee Steinfeld to track down Josh Brolin. This is a supremely cleverly written and superbly acted film, presented with finesse by two of the best directors operating today. Up to the last moment it surprises, amazes and delights. If this wasn’t a two horse race I would like this to come from behind, but, again … I can only hope that not everything is written in stone.

 

Winter’s Bone

The blackest sheep and the longest shot, Winter’s Bone is excellent genre work in a genre that I’m not sure has been strictly identified yet. What sets Winter’s Bone apart is that it depicts a part of American society that is never glimpsed in mainstream film. No one wants to know about the trials and tribulations of quasi-incestuous meth cookers in a poor and cold part of the nation, but the idea of cinema is that it can expose audiences to things that they didn’t know existed. It can take them anywhere, which is why we should not always settle for the boozed and coked up Harvard life of The Social Network, but should treat ourselves to truer grit like this and several others of the Best Picture nominees.

The dark atmosphere, oppressive mystery and marvellous characterisation make this a movie that has been elevated by its nomination into something that will be seen. Sometimes you can’t say fairer than that. If a wider audience accepts this movie (and its similarly excellent book), then I’m sure that’s almost victory enough.

 

Just a pity that The Social Network probably has this in the bag, huh?

 

Best Actor

  • Javier Bardem for Biutiful
  • Jeff Bridges for True Grit
  • Jesse Eisenberg for The Social Network
  • Colin Firth for The King’s Speech
  • James Franco for 127 Hours

I would like to make it clear that I have not seen Biutiful because my country is stupid, and that I think it’s laughable that Eisenberg was nominated for The Social Network. You may be sensing a trend around this time. Anyway. I think that Firth will win this, based simply on trends, but Bridges and Franco could take it and I would be just as happy. The three of them put in superb performances, and all in different measures. That the category can accommodate such a range of performances is heartening and also shows precisely how strong the field was this year. Firth’s nervous king was great, but so too were Bridges’ over-the-top marshall with a heart of gold and Franco’s hubristic adventurer.

The less said of the cro-magnon Eisenberg the better, I guess (why couldn’t he have been nominated for Zombieland last year instead?)

 

Best Actress

  • Annette Bening for The Kids Are All Right
  • Nicole Kidman for Rabbit Hole
  • Jennifer Lawrence for Winter’s Bone
  • Natalie Portman for Black Swan
  • Michelle Williams for Blue Valentine

Best Actress is consistently one of my favourite categories simply because I love actresses. I would be happy if any of these other than Annette Bening won (who honestly chooses Annette Bening over Julianne Moore?). Natalie Portman is going to take it because everyone loves mirror fighting swan girls, but I would personally choose Nicole Kidman above everyone else. Rabbit Hole was a fantastic movie that demanded more recognition and she was simply great in it. Kidman has a strong fan base despite the allegation that she’s box office poison and it’s movies like this that prove her precise worth.

Meanwhile, Lawrence carried Winter’s Bone, literally, and sold it to keep her brother and sister warm and sheltered. Michelle Williams is one of my favourite actresses and continues to impress with Blue Valentine, which, while not the best movie, was made by its leads. Gosling should have got a nomination over Eisenberg.

 

Best Supporting Actor

  • Christian Bale for The Fighter
  • John Hawkes for Winter’s Bone
  • Jeremy Renner for The Town
  • Mark Ruffalo for The Kids Are All Right
  • Geoffrey Rush for The King’s Speech

Christian Bale is the lock on this one, and this is something that I don’t understand. Yeah, he was fine in the role, but he made it too “natural”. Didn’t feel like he was acting at all. Which should sound like a compliment, but he was one of the more standard parts in a very standard movie. There’s a reason people lauded the actresses in that movie over the actors, and it’s simply because they were so much better. Personally, I would give this to John Hawkes or Geoffrey Rush. As Uncle Teardrop, Hawkes made the perfect foil for Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone (which, I will reassert, you really should see if you haven’t already), and Rush is a brilliant motivator for Firth – although he’s really more in line with a shared lead than a supporting.

But let’s look at the undeserving: Jeremy Renner and Mark Ruffalo both, what the hell? The Town was an inexplicable success, and Renner was as good as the rest of it, which is to say serviceable. Definitely not Oscar material, although it’s nice to see Ben Affleck making a go of a career behind the camera. And Ruffalo? What did he do to impress anyone? Nothing! His character was a jerk and he played him Ruffalo style. How can all of the actress categories be fierce battles but the actors are such a mixed bag?

 

Best Supporting Actress

  • Amy Adams for The Fighter
  • Helena Bonham Carter for The King’s Speech
  • Melissa Leo for The Fighter
  • Hailee Steinfeld for True Grit
  • Jacki Weaver for Animal Kingdom

Steinfeld, being in every scene of True Grit, should really be up for Best Actress. But it was not to be. Unless the politics of placing her own ads comes back to bite her, Melissa Leo has this locked. Why should she? Amy Adams was so much better than her in The Fighter that it isn’t funny. Adams was the single best part of that movie and I loved her for it. I know she’s made some bad movies in her time, but the only one I’ve seen was Julie & Julia, and that wasn’t enough to tear me away. She is brilliant.

So I would personally give this to Adams if we had to give it to someone from The Fighter, but Steinfeld deserves it for her place in True Grit, and Bonham Carter really tied The King’s Speech together. That is of course entirely ignoring the dark horse …

Jacki Weaver. My compatriot has finally been noticed on the international radar, and for such a role! It’s a pity that her iconic character was called “Smurf”, but Animal Kingdom is the best film to come out of Australia for a while and it deserves a big audience, and that’s in no small part to Weaver’s  no small part. The sinister nature of her character is never far below the surface and she is half of what gives the film its amazing ending. Like Winter’s Bone, for Weaver the nomination is victory enough. But how good would it be if she did win? She has my support all the way, but Best Supporting Actress is the single strongest category this year.

Best Director

  • Darren Aronofsky for Black Swan
  • Ethan Coen and Joel Coen for True Grit
  • David Fincher for The Social Network
  • Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech
  • David O. Russell for The Fighter

Three horse race! Regardless of what I think of The Social Network, Fincher did a good job of presenting a Machiavellian dweeboid in muted hues. However, he is disqualified for the boat race. That was unforgivable. The Coens take the prize for genre presentation, while Aronofsky bags the visually stunning award (the “Fade-To-White” Award for Achievement in direction). Tom Hooper deserves more credit than he has received for The King’s Speech because he actually did do a great job of building atmosphere and swelling the scenes. O. Russell on the other hand failed to impress. He got good performances out of his actors but didn’t transform them into a movie that someone would bother seeing more than once.

I’m tempted to give it to Aronofsky, to be honest.

Best Original Screenplay

  • Another Year
  • The Fighter
  • Inception
  • The Kids Are All Right
  • The King’s Speech

The King’s Speech is based on a book, or at least tied in to a book, so I’m not sure how it’s original. Calling The Fighter original is an insult, easily. Inception is the most obviously original of all the films, because it has skyscrapers on the ceiling.

I realise that you don’t actually give the awards based on their originality, but I tell you what? I would give this to Another Year. Leigh put a lot of work into that film and it shows. The film itself is too subtle to win anything, unfortunately, but it’s a worthy film. Another Year and Inception should have a cage match, because they’re both very well written (although I realise that’s a red rag to the Inception haters in the audience).

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • 127 Hours
  • The Social Network
  • Toy Story 3
  • True Grit
  • Winter’s Bone

It’s Sorkin, he’s got it on lock for The Social Network. But I know for a fact that Winter’s Bone is a very good adaptation of the source material, that 127 Hours is a cohesive version of an autobiography, and that True Grit and Toy Story 3 are very well written besides.

So it’s going to go to The Social Network, but wouldn’t it be fun to give it to Toy Story 3? Yes it would. But the Cohen brothers could always do with another screenplay award, we must not forget this.

 

So now you’ve got a basic feel of the Oscars, knock yourselves out and let’s not get too bored this year!

 

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One Response to Oscars 2011: Woody’s Roundup

  1. Wavatar Mark Z says:

    Worse ending: Please welcome the PS22 chorus with their rendition of ‘Creep’…

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