Friday, July 15, 2011

OFF TO SEE THE WIZARD: My HARRY POTTER Movie Marathon, part 4

There were rumors of long, horrible lines and mass hysteria. It would be a madhouse, surely, when the final film was released at midnight. The truth, for my little band of adventurers at least, was that we arrived at the AMC around 8:15pm for our 9pm showing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1. There were a couple dozen people, perhaps, hanging about outside, waiting to be able to sit for their midnight showings, but we marathoners walked right in – as we’d been doing all week, and as the single-night experience-seekers (seeing both parts 1 and 2 last night, instead of just the final flick) were also doing – and made our way easily to screen #4. The small room was nearly full, but that had been the case all week. We selected our seats near the front and settled in, not for the first time wishing we were in one of the larger screening rooms (as the single-nighters were, since there were more people interested in that), so we’d have a bit more seating to choose from. Still, we were excited. We’d brought in wands and worn referential shirts and everyone around us was eager to talk amongst each other and share their anticipation. Before long, the lights dimmed, and we all cheered. The night did not disappoint.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part 1

For a movie that takes place over several months in which all our heroes do is move from campsite to campsite, a lot of things are accomplished in this movie, and it moves along pretty quickly. I have sentimental attachments to some of the scenes that were omitted, most notably the chapter entitled “Kreacher’s Tale”, but the animated story of “The Three Brothers” is exquisite no matter how many times I see it, and Hermione’s economical narration is haunting. And unlike the previous films, Hermione is really allowed to stand out as the heart of this one. She has accepted the task before them and is prepared and unafraid. She stands up for herself and her friends. She suffers at the hand of Bellatrix Lestrange but doesn’t let it deter her from their mission. And her love for Ron is so pure, so quiet, so deep yet unspoken that your heart breaks for her more than once. The end leaves me in tears again, wishing upon each rewatch that the blade doesn’t find its mark, but last night it also left me excited, because the conclusion was right around the corner. Last-minute realization: I don’t know how many times I’d seen this movie before last night, but it took me exactly that long to realize why the sharp focus on Bellatrix’s hair as it floated down onto Hermione’s “Mudblood” scar was so important: part 2!

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part 2

Anticipation during the break was high. The concession stand lines were clear to the front entrance. The lines for the women’s restrooms were long as well (the men had no lines, of COURSE), but thankfully moved pretty quickly. And the costumes! There were Hogwarts students of every shape, size, sex, and house. There was a Hagrid, a Mad-Eye, a Sirius in full velvet-suited galore, several Bellatrixes, and a girl in front of me in the bathroom line that had drawn a bloody hole on a piece of paper and taped it over her left ear. Harry Potter fans are marvelous.

As part of the marathon package, everyone in my theater got a special pair of 3D glasses that were in the style of Harry’s own specs. We donned them to great fanfare and applause, sat through a painful array of previews (because of the wait, not the content), and then we were on our way. I won’t spoil the movie for you if you don’t already know what happens, but suffice it to say that it’s a very satisfying end – both as an adaptation of the nearly perfect final book, and also as the finale to the film series. If you’re familiar with the book, you may balk at some of the changes that are inherently necessary in film adaptation for the purposes of efficient storytelling and proper pacing and overall visual appeal, but I believe that on future viewings you will come to appreciate the success that it is, just as I’ve come to better appreciate its predecessors. There are, I’m sure you know, devastating moments, and I will not deny that I wept openly at all of them. But there are also moments of great triumph – cue the audience cheers again – and moments that are nothing less than thoroughly gratifying. There are also reminders for us, the fans, that while Harry is gone (there are no more movies to come, after all), he will forever live in our hearts. He will be with us always because he IS part of us, and we are a part of him. Final thought: Thank you, Harry, Hermione, and Ron, for such a fantastic voyage. It was wonderful being part of your world, even for a little while.

And then there were none.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

OFF TO SEE THE WIZARD: My HARRY POTTER Marathon, Part 3

It was the penultimate installment of the week, and things were getting heated. Voldemort was back in earnest (not that people wanted to believe it), and the stakes were raised yet again. But these two films, which it occurred to me tonight really work well together as a pair, also raise the stakes emotionally, as relationships are forged and tested and two beloved characters meet their ends.



Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix


When I first saw this, it was easily my favorite movie of the bunch. The pure evil of Dolores Umbridge is perfectly captured by Imelda Staunton, and her almost erotic pleasure in the pain and torture of others makes her villainy even creepier. Not only that, but seeing all the films in sequence allows one to appreciate how truly scary this one is – one of the scariest, in fact – because while the other films frighten us with magical creatures and curses, this one deals in the all too real horrors of living under fascist rule. No one is allowed to speak up against Umbridge, much less the Ministry, lest they be considered traitors, and their tyranny continues virtually unchecked. In this new order, people can be tossed out of their homes, or thrown in jail, illegally questioned, corporally punished, or even tortured, all on the whims of those with the power. It is the actions of a select few, brave enough to dissent against what they know is wrong, who make the biggest difference. And that, is exactly the point. Dumbledore’s Army does what is right, even though it is not easy – another key moral in the series. Of course, Harry pays a terrible price for his bravery in the end. The loss of Sirius has always been a devastating one, but last night, watching it again, wishing it would end differently this time, I simply wanted to sob for days. Subtlety win: Every time Harry and Cho are seen or mentioned together, Ginny’s in the background, unhappily eyeing and assessing the situation.


Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince


This book is all about the history of Tom Riddle, about the discovery and understanding of the horcruxes, about Harry’s certainty that Draco is up to no good, and about Snape’s dreadful reveal at the end. Unfortunately, none of those things are easily transferred to the screen, given that they are mostly comprised of discussions and theories over actions and confrontations. Therefore, the movie becomes a showcase of the maturing relationships of our heroes and heroines: the stark pain of Hermione seeing Ron with Lavender, the shy awkwardness of Harry realizing his feelings for Ginny, the hopefulness and loneliness and confusion that comes with love. To underscore the importance of these developments, the reveal of the central mystery – The Half-Blood Prince – is secondary, downplayed against the other gut-wrenching events taking place. Some facts are altered or omitted in service of expediency, but as with Prisoner of Azkaban, I found on this viewing that I’m not as bothered by it as I was at first, because the efficient storytelling is so much more visible in the marathon setting. As the movie closed, a smattering of soft crying could be heard throughout the theater. Mourning our loss, we braced ourselves, as Harry did, for the daunting task to come. Continuity win: In Slughorn’s memories (the altered and the original), Riddle is wearing his grandfather’s ring (referred in the movie as his mother’s), which Dumbledore later reveals as the second horcrux.


Tonight my journey comes to an end, as Harry confronts old Tom Riddle for the very last time (after going on a long and stressful camping trip), and Bellatrix finally gets what’s coming to her, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, parts 1 and 2. And then I might cry for a while.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

OFF TO SEE THE WIZARD: My HARRY POTTER Marathon, Part 2

Last night, adorned in my time-turner necklace (an homage to my favorite book in the series), a hoodie aimed at warding off the theater’s chill, and a purse full of dollar store candy, I continued my journey through the world of wizards and witches with the next two movies of the Harry Potter series. By the time these were originally released, I'd caught Harry Potter fever and had read all the books, so I went in to the movies with more knowledge, and hence more expectations, than ever before.


Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

 
Even now, having devoured the four outstanding books that followed it (twice), this one is still my favorite. Rich in the history that brought Harry to where he is, this is the book that really started to give shape and definition to the universe, and complex story arc, that Rowling had created. It was with a certain amount of trepidation, therefore, that I went into this film initially. Not surprisingly, I wanted all that nuance from the pages to come to life on screen, and on first watch I must admit I found it slightly lacking. Where were the lovely details about how Lupin’s friends transformed themselves so they wouldn’t have to leave him on the full moon? Where was the winking indication of how they got their nicknames? Where was the secret of Snape being saved by James, and the resulting resentment toward him and Sirius that Snape has carried ever since? These were crucial points, I felt, and I was sad to see them edited out. Over the years I've come to better appreciate the film, and how it allows a lot of those nuances to be implied, but last night I truly marveled at how streamlined and focused this film is compared with the first two. Gone are the drawn-out endings and superfluous scenes. The childishness is gone, too, as new director Alphonso Cuaron allows the children to grow into teens, maturing emotionally along with the story, the themes, the humor, and the dangers. Embarrassing fact: Despite this film featuring my most beloved Sirius, my favorite part will forever be Hermione being distracted by how her hair looks from the back, because it is exactly what I would do in that situation.


Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire


It was when the worldwide frenzy occurred over the release of this book - a massive tome by any standard, let alone a young adult one - that I became really aware of the popularity of the novels. Everyone, it seemed, had a copy of this and was toting it around to read at every opportunity. This was the first book I owned - it was a gift - and because I am OCD that way, it meant I needed to buy and read the first three before I could tackle this one. It took me no time to get through the first two, since I'd already seen the films, and I devoured the third because, as I said, it instantly became my favorite. Within a week I was ready for this one, and it took me a mere three days to finish. I loved it, of course, but I had no idea how they would turn all of it into a movie. Answer: Pretty damn well. Once again, this movie is more streamlined than the first two, a fact that is made quite clear watching all the movies together in this marathon fashion. Pertinent items are still addressed, but extraneous ones are cut. The movie also takes another step forward in the maturity of the students (also more noticeable in the marathon setting, since it allows you to see the subtle gradations of change more clearly, like watching a blossoming flower over time-release video). Social standing and romantic leanings become the forefront of their everyday lives, and the primary arc of the Triwizard Tournament enhances that change by putting everyone in new and awkward social situations, be they first crushes, school dances, or petty rivalries. Of course, the tournament in itself is harrowing, and once again the stakes are raised, this time resulting in tragedy quite close to home. And while the movie ends on a dark note - it leaves me in mind of The Empire Strikes Back in that respect - there is still lightness and humor and hope to be had. Draco as a ferret, Moaning Myrtle in the tub, and Fred and George forever are just some of the abounding happiness to be found, as well as the reminder that Harry has friends and people who love him, which means he is never alone. Despite all the dark, all the terrible change to come, we can hold onto that hope that, united with his friends, Harry can overcome the evil awaiting him. Mind-boggling note: To maintain the disguise of Mad-Eye Moody, Barty Crouch Jr. was required to drink Polyjuice Potion every hour on the hour for about nine months straight.


Tonight the movies get even better while Harry's troubles take a turn for the (even) worse with Order of the Phoenix and Half Blood Prince. And then I'll be back tomorrow to talk about them.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

OFF TO SEE THE WIZARD: My HARRY POTTER Movie Marathon, Part 1

This Friday marks the beginning of the end.



Ten years and eight movies after the books became a literary phenomenon come to life on screen, the Harry Potter saga will at last come to a close as the final film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, is released in theaters. To commemorate this auspicious event – as any Harry Potter fan will tell you it is – my local AMC theater, along with dozens of other cinemas around the country, offered an opportunity to see all the films in the theater once more, every night for several nights, leading up to the midnight release – 12:01am, Friday, July 15 – of the newest film. Frankly, there was never a question of whether I would go. I’d been preparing for the end myself, recently having finished rereading the entire series, and since the third film I’d never not seen one on its very first showing. I was so there.


AMC’s plan was to play two movies a night for four nights, and last night I attended the first installment. There was a whisper, a faint buzz, of giddy anticipation in the air, and more people than I expected crowded into one of the smallest screening rooms, but when the movie started – without preamble – we were all instantly transfixed.


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone


I never saw the first movie in the theater. In fact, I pretty much ignored it, assumed it was a kid’s movie I’d have no interest in. (I’d never even heard of the books.) It wasn’t until it came to HBO that I got around to watching it, and boy, was I impressed. Yes, it was a kid’s movie, but it was a really well-done one, with heart and adventure and characters I easily found myself invested in. Seeing it last night on the big screen was a moving experience. Unsurprisingly, I’ve seen the film numerous times on TV and DVD, so I was familiar with it from start to finish, but sitting there in the dark, front row center, I felt transported back in time, watching something both familiar and completely new. The characters were all babies then, shockingly so. And the overly cutesy, jokey style of the film is largely incongruent with the tone of the films to come. It is overlong and drags in places, trying to fit everything in, and yet it is joyful and loving, without losing any of the thrill provided by the climactic gauntlet of tasks leading to the Stone. Sap factor: I cry every single time Dumbledore gives out the points at the end-of-year feast, particularly when he gives those last ten to Neville.


Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets


I still hadn’t read any of the books at this point, but I enjoyed the first movie so thoroughly that when my dad came to visit his infant grandson in November 2002 and expressed an interest in the sequel, we left the baby with his father and went out opening night. I clearly remember my shock and fright at the nature of the film. Yes, it still had the shine of director Chris Columbus’s jokey sensibilities, but this film was much darker, and much scarier than the first. Watching it again last night, it’s lost none of that terrifying feel. The spiders descending en masse upon Harry and Ron is a scene straight out of my nightmares, and the primary focus of the film – the Chamber of Secrets – is wrought with tales of death and monsters and unspeakable evil, not to mention the exposure of the all too real evil of racism – as much of a horror in the magical world as it is in the Muggle one. The themes are more mature than they are in Sorcerer’s Stone, and the villains are more plentiful, more powerful, and more frightening. But dark cannot survive without the light, and that holds true here as Chamber of Secrets introduces one of the simplest, yet most important and uplifting lessons of the series: We are all a product of our choices, and we have the power to choose to be better people. It’s a theme that will be revisited again. Of course, once again this movie ends about twenty minutes later than it should, but it’s still a thrilling, unnerving experience that leaves its audience hungry for the next installment. Punchy and exhausted as we all were after sitting in that space for six hours, there was much clapping along with Dumbledore and the rest of the school when Hagrid returned from Azkaban, and cheering for a successful first night. It was not unlike the first time I saw the film, with people who had read and loved the books, had eagerly anticipated the movies. I remember walking out of there that night with my dad, all those years ago, and expressing my shock at how scary it was for a kid’s movie. “It gets a lot scarier,” he said, having already read the next book. I was taken aback, and instantly hooked. Scary thought: Lucius Malfoy is halfway through “Avada Kedavra” when the newly-freed Dobby knocks him back and defends Harry. Was he really going to kill Harry Potter in the middle of Hogwarts, ten feet from Dumbledore’s office, just for thwarting his plan and losing him an elf? Seems like an overreaction.


Tonight I see films 3 and 4 – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban & Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (hopefully with better seats) – and will be back tomorrow to discuss.

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Best Picture of the Year. Surprise, It Isn't in the Running.

Honestly, I had no interest in seeing Rabbit Hole. Most people probably never even heard of Rabbit Hole, and I wasn't much different, even with my Entertainment Weekly- and general Academy Awards-obsessions. I'd heard about it here and there, little snippets of positivity across the Internet and other movie media circles, but it would've been all too easy to ignore. Thankfully, its fortuitous Oscar nomination last week for Nicole Kidman in the lead actress role brought it to my local AMC (well, one of three, but this is the GOOD one) and I thought, "if the stars align, I will go see it this weekend and flesh out my nominated-films experience".


Mind you, this was more in the interest of obligation: to myself, to my movie-cred (however tenuous it may be), and to you, my seven disinterested readers. I have a duty to be as first-hand knowledgeable of the nominated films as I can possibly be, even if that duty is entirely imagined. So it was not with eager anticipation that I went to the theater yesterday but with nothing short of dread. Why, you ask? Oh, right, I forgot you haven't heard of the film or, more importantly, its premise. In short: Rabbit Hole is about two parents coping with the death of their young son.


(Oh, GAWD. Please don't make me see this.)


WAIT! You need to see this. I mean it.


I have seen a lot - a LOT - of really good films this year. It's been a strong year for movies, and I have seen all ten well-deserved Academy Best Picture nominees, most of the additional nominees in the acting categories (I'm missing Biutiful and Animal Kingdom, to be remedied ASAP), and dozens of other movies that excelled in their genres. I'm not a professionally paid critic, and therefore don't see hundreds of movies a year, but I average about four a month, or one a week. Compared to some people I talk to, who haven't seen a movie in the theater since The Matrix or freaking What Women Want or, heaven help me, The Phantom Menace, I see a hell of a lot of movies. Rabbit Hole is the best movie of the 2010 slate, bar none. It's, quite simply, perfect.


The problem with Rabbit Hole is that its premise is completely off-putting:  The assumption is it's going to be sad, heart-wrenching, overwrought. It will fall into schmaltz and treacle and scenery-chewing melodrama. It will be intentionally painful and exploitative. Disingenuous. It will insult your intelligence and assault your artistic sensibilities. It will force itself on you. It will leave you feeling emotionally violated.


I am here to tell you right now, it does none of those things. It IS none of those things. Everything Rabbit Hole does, it does exactly right. My "instant movie review" over Twitter said it was "Devastating and beautiful. Expertly constructed and acted." I stand by that again today. There isn't a single line, a single scene, a single look, or a single action that isn't in service to its story. Everything has a purpose; everything is there for a reason.


Now, don't go in expecting to know exactly what's going on the moment that it happens. The beauty of Rabbit Hole, the rarity of it, is that it's so tightly scripted you, as an audience member, are seemingly dropped into the middle of these lives, a silent observer of this moment in time. There is no exposition to let you know, for example, that the person who calls Becca in the middle of the night is her sister. There is no explanatory line, no "You're my sister, not my mom" call-out to let you know who these people are and how they relate to one another. You simply observe them, and it becomes obvious. Likewise, there is no emotionally manipulative, "Oscar clip" scene in which these parents Experience Their Loss. Instead, they live it, every day, in every scene. There's only one moment, in fact, when a summary of their son's death is given, and it occurs entirely in context, as it would were these real people, a real family, trying to walk the line between bereavement that never goes away and the lives around them that stubbornly continue forward.


The summary of Rabbit Hole is factually correct. It is absolutely about two parents coping with the death of their young son. But this summary is also misleading. Rabbit Hole is not what you expect. Pragmatic, authentic, and economical, it offers catharsis without histrionics, and resolution without trite insincerity. It is expertly constructed, a tightly woven story that refuses to undermine itself with cheap shots. It is expertly acted, without a single one-note or phoned-in performance (even Becca's sister's boyfriend, who has minimal lines, manages facial expressions that so clearly convey his thoughts he might as well say them aloud). It is devastating, undeniably, but in a very relatable, organic way. It is beautiful in its simplicity and its intelligence. It is a perfect, perfect film. And it's sad that it won't be recognized as such.


Find a showtime. Go see it.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Quick Thought on a Line

In the early goings of Winter's Bone, Ree, played exquisitely by Jennifer Lawrence, tells her younger siblings, "Never ask for what should be offered." In that one line, Lawrence conveys everything you need to know about Ree: she's headstrong, prideful, follows a strict moral code, and always has the welfare of her siblings at the forefront of her mind. But it also evokes emotion. Instantly, you're able to empathize with Ree's situation; you know where she's coming from, and you support her. At the same time, you pity her -- just a little -- for her rigid pride, and wonder if she might not have such a hard life if she knew how to ask for help.


Of course, that would require help being available to her, which is another matter entirely.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Happy Oscar Nomination Day!

It's been a relatively slow movie year for me, I think, in that I didn't go as often as I would've liked, and yet I've seen 9 of the 10 Best Picture-nominated films that were announced today. Sadly, Winter's Bone must've came and went through the city on a whisper, because I do not remember it ever playing here, but it's already at the top of my Netflix queue, so soon that problem will be remedied.

If you've heard anything about the Academy Award nominations so far today, it's probably been along the lines of "not a lot of surprises" and "all well-deserved" since many of the early frontrunners (and critical darlings) of the year have snagged key positions in the races. What's interesting about that to me, however, is that, with so many really well-received films getting well-deserved nominations, really strong arguments can be made for almost all of them as serious contenders. In my eyes, the field is wide open. So let's explore it! As we did last year, I'm going to take this space to discuss some of the major categories up for Oscars at next month's ceremony.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Christian Bale (The Fighter) is as close to a lock as anything in just about any other category (save Toy Story 3 in Best Animated Feature). Only a groundswell of highly vitriolic (and unexpected) anti-Bale sentiment could knock him off his current perch, and with final ballots due to the Academy by mid-February, that seems like an awfully small window of opportunity for such a thing to happen. Of course, if it did, Geoffrey Rush (The King's Speech) would be the one to topple him. Rush's character, an Aussie speech therapist to King George VI, is the charming and delightful heart of a truly charming and delightful film, whereas Bale's crack-addicted has-been performance, while transformative and mesmerizing, might be seen as unsympathetic and hard for some voters to relate to. Of the also-rans, Mark Ruffalo is something of a perfect foil to Annette Bening's nominated uptight matriarch in The Kids are Alright, Jeremy Renner is, by all accounts, the best thing about The Town, and John Hawkes (Winter's Bone) is an established character actor in a well-respected movie that gets a pleasantly surprising nomination, but all three will have to settle for the honor of being nominated.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Also honored to be nominated, Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom) has no chance of taking home the gold. The rest of her field, however, is a lot more open than most prognosticators will have you believe. Sure, Melissa Leo (The Fighter) won the Golden Globe, and is definitely the favorite over her co-star Amy Adams -- not to take anything away from Adams, whose performance was remarkable -- for tiptoeing the line so perfectly between the brash, strong boxing mom and the hurt, impotent woman faced with her older son's addiction and her younger son's distance, but the field is full of really strong contenders. Most notably, Hailee Steinfeld was able to snag a nomination in this category (despite clearly having a lead role in True Grit), and she was the best, most enjoyable aspect of a really enjoyable film. It's so rare to have a strong role for women -- much less girls -- that emphasizes strength, intelligence, competence, and bravery the way this role does, and it deserves to be rewarded. Some may not understand the politics of the Academy, but with heavy hitters like Natalie Portman and Annette Bening in the Lead Actress race, the Supporting category offers a much greater possibility of Steinfeld emerging victorious, and the fact that Academy voters made a point to list her in this category over the other is a good indication that they really want her to win. Of course, that still leaves Helena Bonham Carter (The King's Speech), a heavy-hitter in her own right, to contend with, and her subtle, restrained performance is something to behold, providing a lot of the emotional depth and heft of the film.

BEST ACTOR
Of course, Colin Firth (The King's Speech) is hardly wanting in the emotional depth and heft department. His stammering monarch is a tangle of duty and fear, hope and desperation, vulnerability and restraint. He's definitely emerged as the category favorite, though a few of his co-nominees have a strong shot at the Oscar as well. First, James Franco (127 Hours) quite literally IS his entire movie. From beginning to end, Franco's performance is the sole focus, the sole conflict, and, often, the sole character. He carries a movie that could have easily gone wrong in so many ways, and turns out a spectacular, nuanced, brilliant piece of work (also a testament to Danny Boyle's directing, for making the film as riveting as it is) that stays with its audience for days. Likewise, Jesse Eisenberg's polarizing portrayal of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (The Social Network) is still being talked about for it's unsympathetic view of an ambitious, manipulative, scathing, awkward genius. And don't count out dark horse Javier Bardem in the little-seen foreign language film Biutiful, which is making the rounds among the film industry (read: Academy voters) and generating a lot of strong, positive buzz for his gutwrenching performance. In a field this strong, a solid and entertaining performance by Jeff Bridges in True Grit -- a real contender in almost any other year -- gets relegated to longshot.

BEST ACTRESS
On the other side of the aisle, there are no longshots among the women nominated for their lead performances. True, Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole), Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine), and Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone) aren't the names everyone's picking to win, but their supporters all have extremely compelling arguments for these roles. I haven't heard a bad thing about any. Their biggest detractor, then, may be the simple fact that most people (including myself) haven't seen the films due to limited distribution. On the other hand, for small and (in the case of Black Swan, certainly) offbeat films, The Kids are Alright and Black Swan have both been successful at the box office, leading to a lot more people talking about the performances of Annette Bening and Natalie Portman. Black Swan is (as I've written about here a few weeks ago), not without controversy, but Natalie Portman acts the hell out of her role, infusing it with overwhelming tension as taut and fragile as a violin string. Her growing madness and frustration and ultimate capitulation to the pressure draws the audience in and holds them captive, as terrorized by it all as Portman's Nina. Bening's character, too, breaks under the pressure of events unfolding around her, but holds it together as she must, as she constantly strives to do, as she and her family expect her to do, with a pitch-perfect portrayal of forced strength through pain. Not the most likeable character, being the controlling disciplinarian of the clan, Bening's Nic is somehow still the most relatable, thanks entirely to Bening's ability to deftly maneuver through the minefield of emotion in the film without taking a single wrong step. And as an Academy favorite (with 4 previous nominations but no wins), she may finally be able to snag the statuette.

BEST PICTURE
Unlike last year's five strong contenders versus five questionable ones, this year all ten nominees are excellent films worthy of the honor. However, not all ten films have the same chance at winning. Inception was the first contender of the year, but, especially given its lack of more nominations, it hasn't held up as more films came out in the later months to supplant it. Still an excellent, mind-boggling and visually enthralling movie, look for it to pick up awards in Cinematography and Visual Effects. Similarly, The Social Network was a shoo-in for Best Picture when it first came out, and the theatrical re-release in December certainly helped its awards-season showing, but it might not be as likely a winner as it once was. I could actually see it walking away with nothing but Original Score and Adapted Screenplay, and even those aren't locks. Toy Story 3 is nominated in the Best Animated Feature category, so Academy members will see no need to reward it here. Winter's Bone is the pleasant surprise nomination, which almost always means it won't win, and Black Swan is too campy, too out-there, too polarizing to have a real shot. The Kids are Alright is good, but without Bening's performance it wouldn't have stood up half as well as it does, and 127 Hours just hasn't had the awards-season momentum it probably deserves. That leaves The Fighter, The King's Speech, and True Grit. My favorite of the three was The Fighter, with it's different-yet-familiar take on the sports-triumph genre, though the Academy might be content to just reward its actors. True Grit was really good, and the biggest box office smash of this particular group, which the Academy does love to acknowledge. Coupled with the unstoppable and highly-revered duo of Joel and Ethan Coen, it could win. But my gut is telling me The King's Speech prevails. Leading the way with 12 nods, it certainly can't be pushed aside as a quaint addition to the list, and it's a solid A/A- film that clearly has a lot of supporters. Will it win? Or will The Social Network make a full circle back around to favorite and snatch the win away? Tune in to ABC on Sunday, February 27 at 8pm ET to find out!

For those of you who like to be thorough, here's a list of all the nominees:


 
Performance by an actor in a leading role
  • Javier Bardem in "Biutiful" (Roadside Attractions)
  • Jeff Bridges in "True Grit" (Paramount) 
  • Jesse Eisenberg in "The Social Network" (Sony Pictures Releasing)
  • Colin Firth in "The King’s Speech" (The Weinstein Company)
  • James Franco in "127 Hours" (Fox Searchlight)

 
Performance by an actor in a supporting role
  • Christian Bale in "The Fighter" (Paramount)
  • John Hawkes in "Winter’s Bone" (Roadside Attractions)
  • Jeremy Renner in "The Town" (Warner Bros.)
  • Mark Ruffalo in "The Kids Are All Right" (Focus Features)
  • Geoffrey Rush in "The King’s Speech" (The Weinstein Company)

 
Performance by an actress in a leading role
  • Annette Bening in "The Kids Are All Right" (Focus Features)
  • Nicole Kidman in "Rabbit Hole" (Lionsgate)
  • Jennifer Lawrence in "Winter’s Bone" (Roadside Attractions)
  • Natalie Portman in "Black Swan" (Fox Searchlight)
  • Michelle Williams in "Blue Valentine" (The Weinstein Company)

 
Performance by an actress in a supporting role
  • Amy Adams in "The Fighter" (Paramount)
  • Helena Bonham Carter in "The King’s Speech" (The Weinstein Company)
  • Melissa Leo in "The Fighter" (Paramount)
  • Hailee Steinfeld in "True Grit"(Paramount)
  • Jacki Weaver in "Animal Kingdom" (Sony Pictures Classics)

 
Best animated feature film of the year
  • "How to Train Your Dragon" (Paramount), Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois
  • "The Illusionist" (Sony Pictures Classics), Sylvain Chomet
  • "Toy Story 3" (Walt Disney), Lee Unkrich

 
Achievement in art direction
  • "Alice in Wonderland" (Walt Disney), Production Design: Robert Stromberg, Set Decoration: Karen O’Hara
  • "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1" (Warner Bros.), Production Design: Stuart Craig, Set Decoration: Stephenie McMillan
  • "Inception" (Warner Bros.), Production Design: Guy Hendrix Dyas, Set Decoration: Larry Dias and Doug Mowat
  • "The King’s Speech" (The Weinstein Company), Production Design: Eve Stewart, Set Decoration: Judy Farr
  • "True Grit" (Paramount), Production Design: Jess Gonchor, Set Decoration: Nancy Haigh

 
Achievement in cinematography
  • "Black Swan" (Fox Searchlight), Matthew Libatique
  • "Inception" (Warner Bros.), Wally Pfister
  • "The King’s Speech" (The Weinstein Company), Danny Cohen
  • "The Social Network" (Sony Pictures Releasing), Jeff Cronenweth
  • "True Grit" (Paramount), Roger Deakins

 
Achievement in costume design
  • "Alice in Wonderland" (Walt Disney), Colleen Atwood
  • "I Am Love" (Magnolia Pictures), Antonella Cannarozzi
  • "The King’s Speech" (The Weinstein Company), Jenny Beavan
  • "The Tempest" (Miramax), Sandy Powell
  • "True Grit" (Paramount), Mary Zophres

 
Achievement in directing
  • "Black Swan" (Fox Searchlight), Darren Aronofsky
  • "The Fighter" (Paramount), David O. Russell
  • "The King’s Speech" (The Weinstein Company), Tom Hooper
  • "The Social Network" (Sony Pictures Releasing), David Fincher
  • "True Grit" (Paramount), Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

 
Best documentary feature
  • "Exit through the Gift Shop" (Producers Distribution Agency), A Paranoid Pictures Production, Banksy and Jaimie D’Cruz
  • "Gasland", A Gasland Production, Josh Fox and Trish Adlesic
  • "Inside Job" (Sony Pictures Classics), A Representational Pictures Production, Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs
  • "Restrepo" (National Geographic Entertainment), An Outpost Films Production, Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger
  • "Waste Land" (Arthouse Films), An Almega Projects Production, Lucy Walker and Angus Aynsley

 
Best documentary short subject
  • "Killing in the Name", A Moxie Firecracker Films Production, Nominees to be determined
  • "Poster Girl", A Portrayal Films Production, Nominees to be determined
  • "Strangers No More", A Simon & Goodman Picture Company Production, Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon
  • "Sun Come Up", A Sun Come Up Production, Jennifer Redfearn and Tim Metzger
  • "The Warriors of Qiugang", A Thomas Lennon Films Production, Ruby Yang and Thomas Lennon

 
Achievement in film editing
  • "Black Swan" (Fox Searchlight), Andrew Weisblum
  • "The Fighter" (Paramount), Pamela Martin
  • "The King’s Speech" (The Weinstein Company), Tariq Anwar
  • "127 Hours" (Fox Searchlight), Jon Harris
  • "The Social Network" (Sony Pictures Releasing), Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter

 
Best foreign language film of the year
  • "Biutiful" (Roadside Attractions), A Menage Atroz, Mod Producciones and Ikiru Films Production, Mexico 
  • "Dogtooth" (Kino International), A Boo Production, Greece
  • "In a Better World" (Sony Pictures Classics), A Zentropa Production, Denmark
  • "Incendies" (Sony Pictures Classics), A Micro-Scope Production, Canada
  • "Outside the Law (Hors-la-loi)" (Cohen Media Group), A Tassili Films Production, Algeria

 
Achievement in makeup
  • "Barney’s Version" (Sony Pictures Classics), Adrien Morot
  • "The Way Back" (Newmarket Films in association with Wrekin Hill Entertainment and Image Entertainment), Edouard F. Henriques, Gregory Funk and Yolanda Toussieng
  • "The Wolfman" (Universal), Rick Baker and Dave Elsey

 
Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score)
  • "How to Train Your Dragon" (Paramount), John Powell
  • "Inception" (Warner Bros.), Hans Zimmer
  • "The King’s Speech" (The Weinstein Company), Alexandre Desplat
  • "127 Hours" (Fox Searchlight), A.R. Rahman
  • "The Social Network" (Sony Pictures Releasing), Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

 
Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song)
  • "Coming Home" from "Country Strong" (Sony Pictures Releasing (Screen Gems)), Music and Lyric by Tom Douglas, Troy Verges and Hillary Lindsey
  • "I See the Light" from "Tangled" (Walt Disney), Music by Alan Menken, Lyric by Glenn Slater
  • "If I Rise" from "127 Hours" (Fox Searchlight), Music by A.R. Rahman, Lyric by Dido and Rollo Armstrong
  • "We Belong Together" from "Toy Story 3" (Walt Disney), Music and Lyric by Randy Newman

 
Best motion picture of the year
  • "Black Swan" (Fox Searchlight), A Protozoa and Phoenix Pictures Production, Mike Medavoy, Brian Oliver and Scott Franklin, Producers
  • "The Fighter" (Paramount), A Relativity Media Production, David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman and Mark Wahlberg, Producers
  • "Inception" (Warner Bros.), A Warner Bros. UK Services Production, Emma Thomas and Christopher Nolan, Producers
  • "The Kids Are All Right" (Focus Features), An Antidote Films, Mandalay Vision and Gilbert Films Production, Gary Gilbert, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte and Celine Rattray, Producers
  • "The King’s Speech" (The Weinstein Company), A See-Saw Films and Bedlam Production, Iain Canning, Emile Sherman and Gareth Unwin, Producers
  • "127 Hours" (Fox Searchlight), An Hours Production, Christian Colson, Danny Boyle and John Smithson, Producers
  • "The Social Network" (Sony Pictures Releasing), A Columbia Pictures Production, Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca and Ce├ín Chaffin, Producers
  • "Toy Story 3" (Walt Disney), A Pixar Production, Darla K. Anderson, Producer 
  • "True Grit" (Paramount), A Paramount Pictures Production, Scott Rudin, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, Producers
  • "Winter’s Bone" (Roadside Attractions), A Winter’s Bone Production, Anne Rosellini and Alix Madigan-Yorkin, Producers

 
Best animated short film
  • "Day & Night" (Walt Disney), A Pixar Animation Studios Production, Teddy Newton
  • "The Gruffalo", A Magic Light Pictures Production, Jakob Schuh and Max Lang
  • "Let’s Pollute", A Geefwee Boedoe Production, Geefwee Boedoe
  • "The Lost Thing", (Nick Batzias for Madman Entertainment), A Passion Pictures Australia Production, Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann
  • "Madagascar, carnet de voyage (Madagascar, a Journey Diary)", A Sacrebleu Production, Bastien Dubois

 
Best live action short film
  • "The Confession" (National Film and Television School), A National Film and Television School Production, Tanel Toom
  • "The Crush" (Network Ireland Television), A Purdy Pictures Production, Michael Creagh
  • "God of Love", A Luke Matheny Production, Luke Matheny
  • "Na Wewe" (Premium Films), A CUT! Production, Ivan Goldschmidt
  • "Wish 143", A Swing and Shift Films/Union Pictures Production, Ian Barnes and Samantha Waite

 
Achievement in sound editing
  • "Inception" (Warner Bros.), Richard King
  • "Toy Story 3" (Walt Disney), Tom Myers and Michael Silvers
  • "Tron: Legacy" (Walt Disney), Gwendolyn Yates Whittle and Addison Teague
  • "True Grit" (Paramount), Skip Lievsay and Craig Berkey
  • "Unstoppable" (20th Century Fox), Mark P. Stoeckinger

 
Achievement in sound mixing
  • "Inception" (Warner Bros.), Lora Hirschberg, Gary A. Rizzo and Ed Novick
  • "The King’s Speech" (The Weinstein Company), Paul Hamblin, Martin Jensen and John Midgley
  • "Salt" (Sony Pictures Releasing), Jeffrey J. Haboush, Greg P. Russell, Scott Millan and William Sarokin
  • "The Social Network" (Sony Pictures Releasing), Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick and Mark Weingarten
  • "True Grit" (Paramount), Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff and Peter F. Kurland

 
Achievement in visual effects
  • "Alice in Wonderland" (Walt Disney), Ken Ralston, David Schaub, Carey Villegas and Sean Phillips
  • "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1" (Warner Bros.), Tim Burke, John Richardson, Christian Manz and Nicolas Aithadi
  • "Hereafter" (Warner Bros.), Michael Owens, Bryan Grill, Stephan Trojanski and Joe Farrell
  • "Inception" (Warner Bros.), Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley and Peter Bebb
  • "Iron Man 2" (Paramount and Marvel Entertainment, Distributed by Paramount), Janek Sirrs, Ben Snow, Ged Wright and Daniel Sudick

 
Adapted screenplay
  • "127 Hours" (Fox Searchlight), Screenplay by Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy
  • "The Social Network" (Sony Pictures Releasing), Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin
  • "Toy Story 3" (Walt Disney), Screenplay by Michael Arndt, Story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich
  • "True Grit" (Paramount), Written for the screen by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
  • "Winter’s Bone" (Roadside Attractions), Adapted for the screen by Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini

 
Original screenplay
  • "Another Year" (Sony Pictures Classics), Written by Mike Leigh
  • "The Fighter" (Paramount), Screenplay by Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson, Story by Keith Dorrington & Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson
  • "Inception" (Warner Bros.), Written by Christopher Nolan
  • "The Kids Are All Right" (Focus Features), Written by Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg
  • "The King’s Speech" (The Weinstein Company), Screenplay by David Seidler