Saturday, February 19, 2011

Oscar Fever - My picks

My picks for who should win, who will win, who got snubbed, and a few thoughts on the 2010 movie season

2010 was a tough year for many of us, and perhaps for the major movie studios as well, but there were plenty of great movies to be seen. The first movie of the year to have a real impact on me was Debra Granik’s Sundance winner, Winter’s Bone. At the risk of over-hyping the film, it tops my list of the best movies of last year. Then there were the summer blockbusters: Inception; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part One; and Toy Story 3. I loved Harry Potter! The animated sequence in the middle of the film was beautifully done, and the young stars we’ve watched grow up on screen have become fine actors, due in part to the stellar cast of adult wizards and witches that have surrounded them from the beginning. Toy Story 3 definitely deserves its place in the top ten, but even though I thoroughly enjoyed sitting through Inception, I was ultimately disappointed. For me, it was a whole lot of style, but not enough substance.

The more traditional “Oscar-bait” films, released throughout the fall and winter, were quite good. The Social Network took me on a thrill ride of rat-a-tat dialogue and Internet intrigue. The King’s Speech and The Fighter wowed with their excellent storylines and amazing casts, and the Coen brothers vividly brought Charles Portis’ world – and words – to life in their adaptation of True Grit.

As for this year’s crop of nominations, I think the Academy mostly got it right.

Actor – Leading

Should Win: 2010 was another great year for prime male roles in Oscar-worthy movies. I loved Jesse Eisenberg’s fast-talking, hyper-aware version of Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network and Jeff Bridges’ laconic take on Rooster Cogburn in True Grit. I didn’t love 127 Hours, but James Franco’s go-for-broke performance was riveting. Javier Bardem is the only reason to see Biutiful, and he delivers an understated, haunting performance as the doomed Uxbal. His is the only performance in the same league with Colin Firth’s portrayal of the reluctant King George VI. Since Bardem already has a little gold man, my vote is for Colin Firth to win the statue.

Will Win: All five nominees delivered award-worthy performances, but this is Colin Firth’s year. His turn as the stammering King George VI in the heart-warming and genuinely moving The King’s Speech will secure his future as “Oscar-winning actor, Colin Firth.”

Snubbed: I’m not a fan of boxing movies, but The Fighter is in my 2010 top five. Mark Wahlberg’s portrayal of Micky Ward was subtle, but he was the straight man in the film. So often the quiet performances are the ones ignored come Oscar time. Ryan Gosling was heartbreaking in Blue Valentine, even better than Michelle Williams, who scored a nod. Alas, there were too many great performances, not enough nominations.

Actor – Supporting

Should Win: Wow. Another category filled with deserving actors. I was thrilled to see John Hawkes rewarded for his dark, menacing role in Winter’s Bone. He’ll have trouble staying unnoticed as a character actor now. Jeremy Renner delivered the creepy thug goods in Ben Affleck’s The Town, and Geoffrey Rush was his usual impeccable self in The King’s Speech. Mark Ruffalo livened up The Kids Are All Right and more than held his own against the hugely talented Julianne Moore and Annette Bening. But it’s Christian Bale’s tremendous performance in The Fighter that deserves Oscar gold.

Will Win: When Christian Bale first appears on screen as Dicky Eklund in The Fighter, he is all but unrecognizable. He completely embodied the hotheaded, drug-abusing ex-boxer. The other four nominees don’t stand a chance.

Snubbed: Where’s the love for Matt Damon in True Grit? I thought he was just as good as nominees Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld, playing the comically gallant Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf.

Actress – Leading

Should Win: Once again, Hollywood lets the ladies down with a dearth of great leading roles. While all the actresses in this category delivered praise-worthy work, it seems the men continue to get the juiciest lead roles in the best movies. My pick for best actress in a leading role is the young Jennifer Lawrence, so vulnerable yet determined in Winter’s Bone. But she won’t win; her reward is the nomination. Ditto for Michelle Williams and Nicole Kidman, in the movies Blue Valentine and Rabbit Hole, respectively.

Will Win: This contest is thought to be a tight race between Natalie Portman, who takes the viewer on quite the psychological thrill ride in Black Swan, and Annette Bening, the harried, controlling wife and mother in The Kids Are All Right. While I thought Ms. Bening delivered a nicely nuanced performance opposite her talented costars, I fear she will miss out yet again on the prize. My money is on Natalie Portman, who deftly embodied the emotionally fractured Nina Sayers, and danced like a bona fide ballerina in toe shoes.

Snubbed: How do Annette Bening and Mark Ruffalo score nods, but Julianne Moore does not? As the free-spirited, slightly flaky other wife and mother in The Kids Are All Right, she is every bit as deserving. But I think the most egregious omission is Noomi Rapace, who took on the tough role of literary heroine Lisbeth Salander in all three Swedish film adaptations of Steig Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, and made it her own. Rapace was absolutely brilliant in each of the films, but my favorite was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Actress – Supporting

Should Win: Where to start? Hailee Steinfeld should have a long career ahead of her. She certainly held her own against veterans Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin in True Grit. Jacki Weaver, an Australian treasure, was an unsettling force of nature as the matriarch of a crime family in the gritty, underappreciated Animal Kingdom. And Helena Bonham Carter traded her witch’s robes for royal garments in order to play the devoted, loving, and compassionate Queen Elizabeth in The King’s Speech. I’d love to see a tie between Amy Adams and Melissa Leo, who both rose to new acting heights in The Fighter. It’s more family drama than sports flick, and you’ll see Amy Adams in a whole new light. But if I have to pick one, Melissa Leo takes the prize for her tough-as-nails boxing manager mom.

Will Win: When the nominations were announced, this category seemed a fairly sure bet. Melissa Leo has won in most previous award ceremonies. However, that was before she took out a series of “For Your Consideration” advertisements in the press. It seems the one thing Hollywood frowns on is self-promotion. Go figure. If Melissa Leo’s name is not called, look for young Hailee Steinfeld to eke out a victory over BAFTA-winning Helena Bonham Carter.

Snubbed: There were many great supporting performances from women last year, but since there are only five nominations, somebody has to be left out in the cold. This year it’s Mila Kunis, who as Lily in Black Swan presented a sexy, confident counterpoint to Natalie Portman’s fragile Nina.


Should Win: This category is a hard one for me to call. I enjoyed all five films nominated for the directing award. The weakest in this category is probably Darren Aronofsky, but whether you liked Black Swan or not, it was visually and emotionally compelling. Most of you know I’m a huge fan of the Coen brothers, but although I really enjoyed True Grit, I don’t think it is their best work. That leaves David O. Russell, Tom Hooper, and David Fincher to duke it out for The Fighter, The King’s Speech, and The Social Network. Of the three, my favorite is The Social Network. I loved how Fincher directed the movie, cutting expertly back and forth to tell this incredible story of friendship and betrayal from various viewpoints and at break-neck speed. He’s my pick to win. (And I can’t wait to see what he does with the American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, due in December.)

Will Win: Can modern-day class warfare and shady business deals top a British drama set on the verge of World War II? I firmly believe either David Fincher or Tom Hooper will take home the Oscar trophy. The DGA picked Tom Hooper, who elicited masterful performances from his cast of stars, and the Academy has a history of rewarding period pieces. In a close race, I’m predicting Hooper will be the Academy’s pick.

Snubbed: I suppose I should be thankful that Winter’s Bone received four nominations, given its low-budget independent status. But if it were up to me, I’d switch Darren Aronofsky with Debra Granik, for her starkly beautiful portrait of the Ozark mountain people and one family’s struggle to survive. (And no, I don’t think Christopher Nolan was unfairly excluded. There was a brilliant movie somewhere in the overall mess that was Inception, and if he’d done his job correctly he’d be here.)

Best Picture

Should Win: Surprise, surprise -- my favorite movie of 2010 was Winter’s Bone. It won’t win, but I think it should. My second favorite movie was The Social Network, and it’s a film I believe will stand the test of time. Ditto my third favorite, True Grit – and I don’t generally like Westerns. Truth is I’d be happy with any of the nominated movies winning, except for Inception, 127 Hours, or The Kids Are All Right. Yes, that’s correct. I wouldn’t mind Toy Story 3 winning. It was a great film, and the fact it’s animated takes nothing away from its brilliance.

Will Win: Another year, another ten films vie for the top prize. I’m warming to this new idea of rewarding more films, but it’s easy to weed out the five that weren’t nominated for directing. The awards for directing and picture matched last year, but they might not this year. I don’t think the Academy has enough of the youth vote to push The Social Network to the top. Therefore, The King’s Speech will march to victory and Oscar gold.

Snubbed: I actually think the Academy got it right, except for one surprising omission. Widely critically acclaimed, The Ghost Writer is the best movie from 2010 that no one seems to have seen. It’s basically an old-fashioned film noir set in the recent past, and it definitely owes a debt of gratitude to Alfred Hitchcock. Adapted from the Richard Harris novel, The Ghost, the film is expertly cast and superbly directed by Roman Polanski.

I don’t have strong feelings about the other awards, but I think it would be cool to see Trent Reznor on stage accepting the best original score award for The Social Network. Pixar Animation Studios could snag two awards: animated feature, Toy Story 3; and animated short film, Night and Day. The Writers Guild of America singled out Christopher Nolan for Inception, and Aaron Sorkin for The Social Network. It’s likely the Academy will do the same, though I’d prefer to see The Fighter or The King’s Speech take original screenplay. The documentary win should go to Inside Job, since Waiting for Superman failed to make the cut.

I’m looking forward to whatever James Franco and Anne Hathaway have in store for us on Oscar night. If you want to keep me company, be sure to bring a bottle of bubbly. I’ll make the popcorn!

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