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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Best Picture 2010

Tonight the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will hand out a truckload of Oscar statuettes. It's one of the biggest days of the year for film buffs, and despite my misgivings about the cult of celebrity, I'll tune in once again.

For the second time in the 21st century, the Academy has nominated ten films for the prestigious Best Picture award. Overall, this year's field was about as strong as last year's, though the worst nominee this year is much better than last year's worst nominee, The Blind Side. Here's my ranking:

10) The Kids Are All Right
Unconventional family, conventional script. The performances are fine and it's nice to see a film that treats gay relationships as normal, but neither the writing nor the direction really lift this above standard dramedy fare. I enjoyed it, but I don't see it as a Best Picture nominee.

9) Toy Story 3
Toy Story 3 is warm, funny, and a great final act for these lovable characters. However, as I get older and more crotchety, I'm finding that Pixar's brand of heartfelt sentimentality is wearing a little thin. I hope they don't ruin John Carter of Mars.

8) True Grit
I love the Cohen Brothers, but they can be a little hit and miss. There's nothing wrong with this "gritty" western, but it's not particularly challenging, either, especially compared to last year's Cohen nominee A Serious Man. Frankly, I prefer the 1969 version, with John Wayne.

7) The Fighter
This film is all about the acting. Fortunately, it's full of great performances, from recovering addict Christian Bale to Melissa Leo's sometimes overbearing but ultimately sympathetic Alpha Mom to the adorable Amy Adams' tough but underachieving barmaid. Funny, sincere and about as uplifting as a film about the sport of beating your opponent unconscious can be.

6) Black Swan
I expected to enjoy this more than I did. The makeup effects, editing and cinematography are top-notch, the performances fine, but I was looking for a little more ambiguity from the storyline. There's also an unfortunate subtext about the "dangers" of female sexuality that turned me off a little. Why are women so often punished in popular culture for having orgasms, or even seeking them out?

From this point on, the rankings become a lot more difficult for me. I loved all five of the following films for different reasons, and on a different day I might rank them in a completely different way. But for now, here's how I stand.

5) The King's Speech
This one's all about Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, and the two play off one another beautifully. Bonus points for recreating a fascinating era in British history. Plays a little fast and loose with history, but still worthwhile.

4) The Social Network
David Fincher's direction is as cool and austere as ever, which suits this film perfectly. The Social Network uses one man's fascinating story to capture the feel of this peculiar era of North American culture. Aaron Sorkin's script is wonderfully cynical, while at the same time showcasing human vulnerability.

3) Winter's Bone
Against a backdrop of grinding poverty and the omnipresent threat of sudden and brutal violence, Debra Granik's brave thriller presents no easy answers. But Jennifer Lawrence as Ree Dolly gives us a wonderful feminist heroine, a tough but not invincible 17 year old who refuses to let almost insurmountable obstacles prevent her from protecting her younger siblings.

2) 127 Hours
Of all this year's nominees, I wanted to see this film least of all. I didn't see how even Danny Boyle could make a one-man-show about a rock-climbing accident interesting. But it's much more than interesting - it's absolutely compelling. James Franco is astounding as Aron Ralston, a somewhat self-absorbed young man who finds himself trapped in a narrow canyon, his arm pinned between a rock and a stone wall. This film sends a powerful message about the two conflicting but equally powerful forces that shape human culture: the power of individualism, and the importance of community. I was deeply moved by Boyle's masterful handling of these forces, and how he brings them together into a seamless, utterly vital whole.

1) Inception
It's the most original film in years. Chris Nolan has crafted a sublime film about the creative process, the importance of emotional catharsis and the subjective nature of reality. Far more than a simple caper film with a clever gimmick, Inception rewards careful analysis and repeated viewing. One of my favourite films in years.

Of course, Inception won't win tonight; that honour will go to The Social Network, or if the Academy is fickle, The King's Speech. All in all, not a bad set of nominees.


Maurice Tougas said...

I liked Inception, but it really didn't make any sense at all, when you think about it. Very cool visually, however. Loved the King's Speech, and I disagree with your 'fast and loose with the facts' line; in regards to the storyline itself, it was as factual as any movie, maybe even more than some. True Grit was OK, but really overrated, I think. Loved Toy Story, and I disagree with your assessment of Pixar's sentimentality quotient. I thought it was dead on. Winter's Bone was good, but also overrated.
As for the rest of the films... haven't seen them.

"By Any Other Jeff" said...

I also only saw Toy Story and Inception, so I guess some kudos to Earl for going out and supporting the Hollywood film industry when I'd rather just stay home and watch Wipeout.

Inception was fun, and it has its moments, but I also thought it was overwrought and underbaked. What bugged my wife and I was all of the gunplay. Don't get me wrong, I like good gunfights in movies, and these were good. All those bullets just don't fit, though. Normal people don't dream about gunfights, and if there are sunconscious defense mechisms in play, they usually don't involve shooting things up. I have to try very hard to come up with the last time I even saw a gun in a dream let alone had one go off.

Inception was thoughtful and original, but it could have been thoughtfuller and originaller. And it suffered from Third-Act-itis, were the end of the film uses up the goodwill gained from the first two acts, a common enough trait in Christopher Nolan films.

As for Toy Story, well, more Third-Act-itis, a whole film of it. I found it uncomfortable to watch. Technically acceptable, but lacking in story and character. Replaces honest storytelling with bobast when given the choice. It doesn't help that the idea of toys "going bad" through negligence on the part of the child owner invalidates the premise of how Sid's toys survived the first movie. I guess there are those who love #3, but like Andy, I am pleased that the toy box will be closed for good.

Stephen Fitzpatrick said...

I loved The Social Network's screenplay, and was very happy to see Sorkin on stage getting the statue, but even though there are a lot of cynical characters in it, I don't think I would describe it as cynical in and of itself. For instance, as much as I am predisposed to despise wealthy, handsome, confident and athletic frat-boy types, I found the Winklevoss twins extremely sympathetic and occasionally admirable, especially when they were meeting with the president of Harvard.

Sego Sanka said...

No real argument with your choices, except that in general, there is no real comedy, no real zaniness, represented in today's cinema, unlike what this veteran North Country musical duo continues to purvey: