In anticipation of the 83rd Academy Awards tonight, on ABC, let's take a look at the ten film nominated for Best Picture. They are, in good ol' ABC (!) order --
The Kids Are All Right
The King's Speech
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
Let's get this omni-bus rollin'!
Danny Boyle, who won in 2009 for what Joel McHale called "the worst India tourism commercial ever" at the Indie Spirit awards last night, follows his golden success with what McHale subsequently called "the worst Mountain Dew commercial ever". With all kidding aside though, Boyle's penetrating exploration of Aaron Ralston's incredible true story - the man's arm was trapped between a rock and a hard place for almost five days - shines a light on his extraordinary abilities as a director, and gives a chance for James Franco to give the performance of his career, at once vulnerable and cocksure, at once surfaced and as deep as the canyon he unwillingly inhabits.
Darren Aronofsky is still getting bits of The Wrestler out of his system, as is evident in small moments in this film. And while he's seemingly abandoned the whiplash editing techniques that made him recognizable to audiences after Pi, Requiem for a Dream, and The Fountain, his take on dehumanization and the psychology of a breakdown has cemented him as one of America's greatest modern directors. I had a chance to meet him at an advanced screening of The Wrestler and speak a minute about his rehearsal process. There isn't much of one, he said, as he wanted his actors to feel more in the moment and for it all to flow as naturally as life itself would. Rehearsal wouldn't allow for that, majorly. This is evident in Black Swan, regardless of Natalie Portman's year long intense ballet training, and the meticulous editing of the infamous club scene. Still, even though the story is anything but natural, the easiness of the film flows like the nervous breakdown it presents.
David O Russell is a weird director. He finds humor in the strangest things - the oddly funny, yet remarkably intense Three Kings to the hilarious yet psychologically deep I Heart Huckabee's, he breaks it all down to its simplest forms and presents the story as it should be - a fighter, boxer by trade and gift, tries to get his mojo back fighting off circumstance and his cracked (sometimes literally) family. Christian Bale, due for his impending Oscar win tonight, gives the strongest performance of the bunch, and possibly the strongest performance of the year, as Dicky Ecklund - graceful boxer turned disgraced drug addict. Fellow nominees are Melissa Leo and Amy Adams in strong, if stunted performances.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about Inception isn't its maze-like plot, nor the claims that the film lacks enough characterization to get you to feel for the cast, but the fact that Christopher Nolan, again, missed out on a Best Director nomination. Still, he got a screenplay nod and one for producer as well. He stands to lose both, but at least he was mentioned. The film itself, however, is just about as perfect as I could want a summer blockbuster to be - large and operatic action sequences, brooding heroes and heartless villains, and an ending more mind-bending than the rest of the film. That, and Inception gave us some of last year's most memorable internet memes. Another thank you is due to Christopher Nolan for that.
The Kids Are All Right
Featuring probably the most natural ensemble of any film this year, and an absolutely stellar performance from the vastly undermentioned Mia Wasikowska (starring in the upcoming Jane Eyre... for which I refuse to wait any longer), this film presupposes a world where same sex families aren't a "thing" in other people's eyes and a world where sperm donor fathers aren't a "thing" either. It's a portrait of two beautiful hypotheses slamming together and trying to find a way to fit peacefully in each others' worlds. And Annette Bening, in one of two outstanding performances this year, puts her coldness to warm effect. The kids were more than all right, too. Mia Wasikowska is a name that should have been mentioned in many a Supporting Actress category. It's unfortunate that she's been so overlooked.
Probably more inspirational than The Fighter, and certainly a breezier watch than most films this year, it harks back to the glory days of Merchant/Ivory and doesn't balk at its predesignated audience - stuffy old white people. The film knows its core, and by recognizing all of that, it found a home with the hearts of millions of filmgoers, remaining in the top10 box office longer than any other Best Picture nominee. Was it the highest earning? No. Is it the best reviewed film of the year? Top five, definitely. Is it one of the best of this year? I'd wager so. Will it win Best Picture? In a landslide.
Aside from Shutter Island, this is the best film of the year. Miles ahead of any other nominee in terms of production and technical aspects, and light-years in terms of scripting. It is the film that, one way or another, defines my generation and manages to singularly tell a tragic story worthy of Shakespearean nods. It has brilliant and deeply internalized performances, pitch-perfect direction, and one of the finest scores of the 2000's. Eleven years into this millennium, this film is bound to be remembered and probably taught for the next fifty or so. If it were up to me, out of the nominees, this would easily be named the Best Picture of the year. And, despite what most pundits will tell you, it still has a shot. An outside one, but it has a shot. A couple of months ago, it was a fool's bet to name anything else. But, of course, The King's Speech has become the favorite.
Toy Story 3
Highest grossing, best reviewed, most loved all around, and what might be the biggest tear-jerker of the year - I wept like a beaten infant. It was bad, let me tell ya. The best way possible to send off the trilogy, and proof that Pixar is king of the mountain in terms of animated films. Beautiful animation, deeply touching story, and warm/inviting/hilarious voice performances from all involved, it's also only the third animated feature to be nominated for Best Picture. And so richly deserved, it's unreal. The film is the favorite to take home the Best Animated Feature Oscar tonight. Of course, being the only animated film nominated for Best Picture this year, it wouldn't surprise me at all if it did. And, of course, it will. No other film will come close. It is also nominated for Adapted Screenplay.
Who says the western is dead? Over 100 million bucks at the box office says differently. Of course, a film like this comes from the Coen brothers and speaks volumes about where the future of film is headed - audiences latched onto this film for dear life. This, and Black Swan. It's impressive that two different and insanely artistic films did so well with average audiences. Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper... solid cast, all around and a wonderfully intuitive performance from newcomer Steinfeld. She has a hell of a career ahead of her. The most impressive thing about the film, however, is its beautiful cinematography from Coen-frequent Roger Deakins. He stands to win his first Oscar tonight, and I have a hunch he finally will. Even looking at the picture above, it's something he dearly deserves.
I called this an essential piece of 2010 viewing, and I still believe that it is. Another wonderful performance from a young and new actress, Jennifer Lawrence, and it brings us John Hawkes' first Oscar nomination - a performance that deserved it over many other. He's seething. The film's opening, which depicts life in southern backwoods American under the a Capella 'Missouri Waltz', is still my favorite scene of last year. And I believe that director Debra Granik is a storyteller to watch out for. There isn't a false note in the entire production. Dale Dickey won the Spirit award for her deliriously devilish performance in the film last night, and the film took home other prizes as well, notably for John Hawkes.
Got a notion on who the winner should be? Or are there any films you think should have been nominated? I know I'm still lamenting Shutter Island's exclusion, as I am The Town's. But, life is life, and this is what we have. Solid group, over all.