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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

1 comment:

  1. Another nice piece of writing - entertaining and informative! Love ya!