Well! The Oscars are officially here and my preparations are in order. Oscar ballots? Check. Yummy snack recipes? Check. Preparation by seeing all the Best Picture nominated films? Check and check!
And while I didn't quite finish up my own project (sadly, I just didn't have time for everything), I'm feeling pretty prepared for the Oscars. Ten films in one month! You must be proud. I know I am.
Now, this doesn't mean I've seen every movie nominated for every category. Far from it. In fact for a ceremony that has nominated ten films for Best Picture, it hasn't always pulled from those films for the other major categories. For example; Javier Bardem has been nominated in the Best Actor category, while Biutiful was not nominated for Best Picture. Same for Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole. But I digress...
I am so glad I've seen them all. It's like actually doing my homework before class. I feel prepared and excited for the show, and I can beat the pants off everyone else in my Oscar pool. I hope.
Below, I have ranked the films in order of "winability," with the first being the one I think will win, and the last being the one I know won't win. Read on.
The King's Speech
It was a close call for me between The Fighter and The King's Speech. The King's Speech is a great movie (as I've already documented). And for sheer light-heartedness there's nothing better. You will absolutely leave this movie smiling and feeling better about life. And you will like it, I promise. The acting is great, the costumes are beautiful, and you feel smarter for having learned something about history that you can bring up at the next cocktail party. But there is a grittiness I missed with this movie. A connection I had trouble making, no matter how likeable the cast. This feels like a beautiful fairy tale. But for Oscar gold I think this film will sneak in and win. The Academy has been going for mass appeal lately.
This movie, on the other hand, is about as far from a fairy tale as you can get. Unless we're talking wicked stepsisters. The film is not perfect. Christian Bale is so good in his role that he far outshines the other cast members, making you forget who the real protagonist is. Everyone, in fact, seems to be out for what they can get, throwing their excellent acting chops around in order to eat up these gritty roles. I feel bad for Mark Wahlberg, he has to play the straight man to the colorful crazies around him. Although I must say Mark Wahlberg plays an excellent Mark Wahlberg. Despite its imperfections, or perhaps because of them, this film gets to me in a way that The King's Speech doesn't. I know these people, I feel for them, and I am riveted by them. Every failure felt like a sucker punch, and I waited on the edge of my seat, desperate to know the ending. They are both so different, and so good, it is hard to tell. But while I think The King's Speech will win, The Fighter is the better movie.
The Social Network
I was surprised to hear that until recently, this film was the heavy favorite to win best picture. Maybe I have an inherent dislike of David Fincher, brought on by my first film teacher. He's got this kind of cheap thrills vibe that drives me nuts, and I feel that he relys more on camera and plot tricks than character development to get through his films. Like a "look what I can do" attitude. I thought the best thing about this movie was Jesse Eisenberg. He is vulnerable, confused, socially inept, and trapped inside a cruel, sarcastic shell. He made me love an essentially unlikeable character. The rest of the film was entertaining, and it held my attention the entire time. But Award worthy? Like a friend recently said, "It was great and everything...but at the end of the day...it's about fucking facebook!" Good point. This movie can't win, because then I'm not sure I would trust the direction our society is heading in anymore. What's next? Twitter: the next revolution.
I was torn between this movie and 127 Hours, but I felt that if we were picking the Academy's favorite, this one seemed more their style. Wow, this movie was hard to watch. I don't think I can even look at my cuticles anymore without getting queasy. This movie is trippy, confusing, and gratuitous--exactly what you would expect from the man who brought us Requiem for a Dream (Darren Aronofsky). Manohla Dargis from the New York Times said it best when she called this film, "visceral and real even while it’s one delirious, phantasmagoric freakout." I felt like the scenes were leaping off the screen and ripping my own skin off. Although, I have to wonder, Mr. Aronofsky, if you know women that well. Because though I am dragged on a journey through one woman's increasingly twisted mind, she seems to me to be an incredibly two dimensional character. She's a neurotic, insecure, workaholic virgin who looks so fragile you could snap her like a twig. She's got a mother than reminds me of Mrs. Danvers and a psychosis that is never explained. And really? Gratuitous lesbian scene? Is she so frigid because she only likes women or is this your way of being artsy? Or perhaps I'm missing the point. All I know is I spent the entire film in a state of acute discomfort, and unlike 127 Hours, it did not pay off in the end. However Natalie Portman was brilliant in the role, and she's a lock to win for Best Actress. She makes her character more than the cliche she was meant to be. And she did all her own dancing. Sorry, Black Swan fans. I don't think I'm erudite enough for this.
Jeff Bridges or Matt Damon are particularly attractive in this film. Jeff Bridges is a curmudgeonly old drunk with a secret heart of gold and a quick trigger finger. Matt Damon is bearded in a way I never though to see, playing a Texas Marshall with high morals but questionable follow through. Also, did anyone else notice he came off vaguely as a child predator? Not enough to condemn him, but just enough to creep me out. And then of course there is Hailee Steinfeld, who plays the precocious 14-year-old bent on revenging her father's death. She's the best part of the movie. She's funny, sharp, and just when she starts to get annoying, vulnerable enough that you forgive her. The scenery is beautiful, the plot is fun, but the ending fell a little flat for me. Not enough to secure Oscar gold in my opinion, but with enough tender, funny, unexpected moments that it deserves to be up there. Though Westerns don't have the best track record for actually taking home the statuette.
John Hawkes gives his breakout performance as Ree's uncle, and actress Dale Dicky does a wonderful job as the haggard wife of one of Ree's relatives. Jennifer Lawrence's performance as Ree is perhaps the best in the film. She is a true hero, fighting to save her family without a lot of options. Unfortunately for her, I couldn't really get over how pretty she was. It's not her fault, but everyone else in this movie looks so beat, her classically beautiful features stand out far too much, even in men's flannel. It was long, cold, and depressing, but certainly this is what Oscar films are made of.
Toy Story 3
The Kids Are Alright
Annette Bening were a man we would have another middle of the road family drama. But because it is "exploring" a new family dynamic, suddenly this film is artsy and cool. Bening just comes off as an unlikeable tight-ass whose character doesn't really mature. Julianne Moore is a floozy who can't quite get her life together or take responsibility for her actions. And Mark Ruffalo...well I love him in anything so I'll lay off him. The kids are much more interesting than the adults in this film, but unfortunately we don't get to see all that much of them. The ending is inconclusive, without any of the characters really growing at all. I thought it pretentious and confused, with a few minutes of witty and unique levity that kept me from hating it completely. This movie made me feel lukewarm. Warning: don't see this film with anyone whom you would be uncomfortable watching graphic sex with.
So there it is! My take on the nominated films this year. I think The King's Speech will win the day, although The Social Network or The Fighter may sneak up from behind and snatch the award instead. As far as the other categories, Natalie Portman will win for Best Actress, hands down. And if Christian Bale doesn't win for Best Supporting Actor, there is no justice in this world. I would have pegged Colin Firth as the Best Actor winner, but I thought James Franco pretty incredible, and Jesse Eisenberg might just surprise you. Supporting Actress is a three way split between Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, and Helena Bohnam Carter, although I think Leo will squeak through. And Best Director is any man's game, although I think the Academy may give it to Fincher (shudder). Here's a link to the academy's own ballot: print and play with friends!
My theory in this blog so far has been that the movies nominated for Best Picture say something about the time in history that those movies were made. Casablanca (1942) is all about finding the inner hero within oneself and never giving up the fight--all during World War II. Rebecca (1940) on the other hand, is all about being trapped in a slowly declining hell of one's own making, right when America was beginning to be drawn into the war. Every year, too, someone tries to come up with the theme of the Oscars. Last year, it was "the military." A few years before that, it was all about the foreigners. So this year I spent some time coming up with a theme of my own for the films nominated, and how that applied to the current mood of America today.
I think this year's theme is a journey. Each of the main characters above are on some kind of mission, or hero's journey, to get something they desperately need. The King needs to loose his stutter; the fighter needs to win a match. The geek needs to be socially accepted (and create facebook) while the ballerina needs to dance her part and the hiker needs to get out from under that rock alive. One young girl needs to avenge her father's death, while another needs to find her father. The dreamer needs to get home to his children and the toys needs to escape daycare. And finally, the children need to find their father while their parents need to find themselves.
In the end, each person finds what they are looking for, but with an unexpected cost. They find the end of their journey, only to find that the journey, or the ending, is not quite what they expected. Last year, I think the films were a confused mixture of fantasy and despair, in the wake of crippling financial crisis. We were either trying to escape the world we lived in or give in to the feeling that it was never going to get better, all the while wallowing in nostalgia. This year, the characters are moving forward. The endings may not be happy, but the goals are achievable. We are getting there, and there is hope now, where there wasn't a year ago.
The king may be finally able to speak clearly, but only after going on an emotional journey with a strange speech therapist, something he wasn't expecting. And the ballerina finally dances perfectly, but only after losing her mind and stabbing herself. Goals are attainable, just maybe not in the way we once thought. People are beginning to take changes again, to hope, and to realize that their goals are possible if they broaden their expectations of where they want to go. In this way, I've decided the nominees represent a journey, a goal achieved, and most of all, hope in the face of the impossible. It's not necessarily positive, but it is heading in the right direction.
That's enough for now! Enjoy the show and I'll be back again later with my thoughts and highlights. And the winner is...